S P I R I T G U I T A R . C O M
Hawaii : The Early Years
Russell grew up in Kailua, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. His father Dan worked as a radio electronics engineer for the Navy at Pearl Harbor. His mother Fran was a stay at home housewife. It was the early 1960s, and most days after school Russell would ride his bike to Kailua Beach, with his homemade surfboard towed behind, where he and his friends would surf the shore break until sunset.
At the age of 14, Russell met a new kid in the neighborhood who played a D28 Martin acoustic. When Russell heard him play it for the first time in his living room, he was spellbound by the sound. He talked the new kid into teaching him 3 chords, but he picked it up so quickly that the kid refused to teach him any more. This was the beginning of Russell's lifelong fascination with the guitar.
His parents bought him his first acoustic for Christmas that year, followed by his first electric, a Sears Silvertone with an amp built into its case. He developed his playing by figuring out the chords to songs he heard on the radio. For his 15th birthday, his parents drove him to Honolulu and bought him a cherry red Les Paul Junior, his dream guitar.
Dan DaShiell held several patents in early tape recording technology, and he taught Russell how to record sound on sound on a 1/4" two track. On days when the surf wasn't any good, he'd spend hours practicing and overdubbing guitar. In addition to his sound on sound experiments, on weekends he'd sit in with a few other rock 'n' rollers in the neighborhood who would set up their amps and jam.
Florida : The Sugar Shack Days
Dan and Fran DaShiell moved the family to Florida in 1963, a big disappointment for Russell. The Atlantic ocean surf couldn't compare to Hawaii, so he gave up surfing. But things worked out well for his music - he joined his first rock band that year. On weekends his band gigged at a local night club called the Melbourne Beach Casino. He was under age, but nobody ever checked his ID. The band lineup was 2 guitars, drums and a lead singer. The 2nd guitarist tried to convince Russell to play bass, but he didn't want to give up playing guitar. So they continued on without a bass player.
Around that time the Beatles were topping the charts, and Russell took over lead vocal duties for the band, now a trio with 2 guitars and drums. A new teen club called the Sugar Shack opened up featuring 3 stages, and it was immediately the most popular gig in town. Russell's band played there one night on one of the smaller stages, and after Russell sang a version of the Beatles' "All My Lovin", a bass player named Doug Killmer introduced himself and asked Russell if he'd be interested in joining his band, the Sonics. Russell was ready for a change, so that week he sat in with the Sonics and decided to take the gig.
Doug and Russell complemented each other well but they soon began to feel the Sonics were holding them back. A personnel change was imminent, and a hot local drummer named Rick Jaeger was just what the doctor ordered. After a half dozen phone calls they persuaded Rick and his guitar player to do a merge. Rick suggested naming the new band the Beau Gentry. They were 17 years old.
The Midwest : Band On The Road
After a year of playing beach clubs and fraternity parties in Florida, the Beau Gentry were ready to move forward with their career. They asked their good friend Sam McCue of the Legends for help. Sam called his agent in Wisconsin, Ken Adamany, who agreed to book them for a summer of gigs in the midwest. The Invasion From The South tour went so well that the Beau Gentry ended up gigging in the area for over 2 years.
By that time Jimi Hendrix and the Cream were dominating the music scene, and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album was released. The Beau Gentry were now writing their own songs, and they grew weary of playing covers. So in December 1968, a year after the infamous Summer Of Love, Rick, Doug and Russell decided to move to San Francisco, play all original music and try to secure a record deal as a trio.
San Francisco : Spirit In The Sky
Doug relocated to Marin County a few months before Rick and Russell drove out, towing a u-haul trailer filled with a Marshall stack and a set of Rogers drums. They began rehearsing in the basement of a house in San Anselmo that they shared with the A B Skhy band. Doug suggested calling their new band Crowfoot.
Doug mentioned he had a recording gig with Lovin' Spoonful producer Erik Jacobsen. Erik was looking for a lead guitar player for the sessions, so at Doug's suggestion Erik invited Russell to audition at the Sausalito Heliport. He got the gig. The artist was Norman Greenbaum, and after several rehearsals they cut a batch of songs at Coast Recorders in San Francisco. Doug and Russell were initially paid $50 a song.
Over the next several months Crowfoot played various gigs in the Bay area, including the Matrix and one night at Fillmore West, but a record deal proved to be elusive.
In June of 1969, Harvey Mandel invited Rick and Russell to join his band for a summer tour. With Crowfoot making no progress, they talked it over with Doug and decided to dissolve the trio and take the gig. Doug returned to the midwest to play the blues.
After the tour, Russell stayed on with Harvey to record his Games Guitars Play album at Wally Heider's in San Francisco, with Eddie Hoh on drums and Larry Taylor on bass. Rick joined the A B Skhy band. Russell then got an offer from Creedence engineer Russ Gary, who engineered Harvey's album, to record a solo album at Wally Heider's. With Rick playing drums, they recorded the album on spec during off hours at the studio.
In early 1970 Russell got a call from Erik Jacobsen. One of the songs they recorded with Greenbaum months earlier, "Spirit In The Sky", was getting major airplay and selling 25,000 units a day. Russell called Doug in Wisconsin and they quickly put a band together with Norman to do a national tour, booked by agent Dan Weiner. "Spirit" ended up hitting #1 on most charts and sold over 2 million units.
The Spirit In The Sky tour included arena gigs with Chicago, Grand Funk Railroad, The Moody Blues, Spirit, John Mayall, Iron Butterfly and many others. The band also appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. The highlight of the tour for Russell was appearing with The Doors at the Honolulu International Center. It was a great way to return to Hawaii where he grew up.
After the Greenbaum tour Russell signed a deal with Paramount Records for the Crowfoot album he recorded with Russ Gary. Paramount wanted him to support it with a tour, so he put a band together with Rick Jaeger, their old friend Sam McCue, and Bill Sutton on bass. Ken Adamany, who was now managing Cheap Trick, booked a series of shows in Wisconsin, followed by a showcase at the Bitter End in New York.
L.A. & Maui : More Recording & Touring
In 1971, after releasing a 2nd Crowfoot album, Russell moved to the Hollywood Hills and built an eight track recording studio in his house. Over the next several years he focused on writing, recording and doing session work in L.A.
In the late 70s he teamed up with Creedence members Doug Clifford and Stu Cook for several albums and tours, the highlight of which was a Knebworth, England gig opening for the Rolling Stones, with an audience of over 100,000.
That year he also recorded a solo album backed by Doug and Stu called Elevator, signing a deal with CBS Records. He then moved to Las Flores Canyon in Malibu and set up a 24 track studio in his house. He wrote and recorded over 50 songs that first year, making music and enjoying the California sun.
Island Life & Foreverland
From 1980 to 2000, Russell continued writing and recording. He also traveled to the UK, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Italy, Hong Kong and Australia, either working on music projects or just experiencing life in interesting places.
By the year 2000 both Dan and Fran DaShiell had passed away, and Russell decided to move back to Hawaii. After a few years of artistic hiatus on Maui, he returned to California with an instrumental album called Island Life.
As of 2016, Russell is busy developing an animated film project called "Foreverland Forest", which includes an album of original songs. He also has an assortment of new songs in various states of completion, and he's contemplating his next move, still playing his guitar.