Interview with Alan Merrill

Mid '60s-Hippy New York
Late 60's - Cool Tokyo

Japanese

 

The untold story behind I love Rock and Roll.

 Alan Merrill is the composer of Rock'n'Roll Calssic "I love Rock and Roll" which  Joan Jett had an eight week # 1 hit with in 1982.He wrote it for his band Arrows in '70s. I interviewed him about his unique music career .
He was born in NY, His mother was famous Jazz singer, Helen Merrill. He started his music  career in Greenwich village.
In '68 he  moved to Japan , and joined Group Sounds called The Lead .It was a band consisting exclusively of foreign musicians.  In late '72 he formed legendary  band Vodka Collins with Hiroshi Oguchi (ex Tempters and PYG) .
He is onlyperson who was in '60s garage punk band and Japanese GS!
 

Hitomi:How did you start the music?
Alan:My father bought me my first guitar when I was 15. I was already playing piano, self-taught mostly. I had a few classical piano lessons when I was 10 years old, but they were just finger exercizes really. I figured out a system of playing pop music by myself.I was using my legal name, Allan Sachs, until I got to Japan.
H:Please tell me about your first band,Alabasters.

The band started (my first band) when I had Christmas dinner at jazz pianist Marian McPartland's house with my mother, Christmas 1964.
Marian had a friend who's son was starting a band to play at local junior high school dances and parties.I had been playing guitar only six months, and the other guys were older, they were 16 and 17. I went up for a rehearsal, to Dobbs Ferry New York, and it worked out. At some point we changed our band name to the Savage Knights, but not for very long, only a few shows. The band broke up after about a year. The band was Alan Vollweiler (rhythm guitar/vocals), Richard Persinger (bass), Marc Ziner (Guitar), Seth Bloomberg (Hammond B3 organ), and myself on lead gtr/lead vocal.Our first show was in front of the Junior High School assembly in early '65.
We played "Louie Louie", "Surfer Joe", and "I'm a hog for you baby"", and it was a success. All three chord songs ! For Live shows we did "House of the rising sun", "You Really Got me". "Beautiful delilah" "Route 66", "Slow Down", "King Bee", "I Saw Her Standing There", It's All Over Now" and others. We got lots of work in the area. Made good money too !!!! Nice surprise for me, a young teen.About one year later... When the biggest local band broke up, John and The Housemen, I called Carl Peachman who was their drummer. I got the number from their bass player Stephen Collins (now an actor in the popular show "7th Heaven") who was going out of state to college. Stepehn had come to see an Alabasters show at hastings High School. I called Carl right away and suggested to we try a jam, and that was arranged at guitarist Alan (now with Garland Jeffries' band) Freedman's house. The jam session lasted all night with many different musicians joining in. I took the train back home to the city at 7 AM with an assortment of hippies who had been at the jam session ! That was the start of Watertower West. Our first gig was a Tim Leary party at Peggy Hitchcock's upper east side mansion in Manhattan. The band had no name yet. Carl on drums, and me on guitar. the start of the Watertower West. That night Shelly Leder was on rhythm gtr, Mark "Moogy" Klingman (not yet MOOGY ! )on Farfisa organ, and Fred Ebner on bass. Fred and Shelly had been playing with a band called the Jagged Edge at that time. For historical content, the Jagged Edge (with guitarist Don Brown) were the house band on the Donovan album with "Sunshine Superman", "Season of The Witch" and other hits. The scene was pretty small back then and everyone knew each other. It was a small fraternity of long hair and guitars.


H:Let me know  about ,Watertower West.
A:The Watertower West was a teenage band from New York.
The members were:

Carl Peachman-Drums
James "Bucky" Hall-Bass and lead vocals
Jerry Mamberg (later name changed to Jake Hooker)-Guitar and background vocals
Allan Sachs (later name changed to Alan Merrill)-12 string guitar and lead vocals

This was an edgy folk rock group. Lots of Byrds and Leaves influence.
The Watertower West started in Hastings on Hudson New York in 1966.
The first name of the band was The Kaleidoscope, but there was a San Francisco based band using the name. The band then changed it's name to The Rayne. This sounded too English, so the band changed the name finally to the Watertower West. The name came from the Watertower in the West side of Hastings-on-Hudson where young people would go to smoke marijuana. It was remote and private.

The band played mainly at "The Cafe Wha ?" in Greenwich Village, where they were a regular house band. They also played at hippy events like The Palm Gardens with "Group Image" and at some wild Timothy Leary parties. There were also many high school and college events this group played at in the Westchester area of New York.

The other bands playing at "The Cafe Wha?" at this time were Kangaroo (with Jon Hall on bass, who eventually formed "Orleans", and ALSO "The Castilles" (Bruce Springsteen's early band) who were also regulars. These were the "day shows" and no alcohol was served.
At night people like RitcHie Havens and Jimi Hendrix played this club. It was an exciting time.

H:Oh really. I know Bruce's band took the name from soap.

H:Who's who of Wotertower west in the photo ?
A:On the left ,it's me  in the middle drummer Carl Peachman, and on the right, Jake Hooker. The bass player, James "Bucky" Hall ,is taking the photo.
 
 


H:Here is the map.
A:I can remember when "I Love Allan" , and "Watertower West #1" was written in grafitti on Minetta Lane by young fans.

H:How to start the band?
A:The band started by a jam session at guitarist Alan Freedman's house in Hastings. The original group was Alan (this is ME, not Freedman), Carl, Bucky and Jimmy Reilly as The Kaleidoscope. Jimmy was fired from the band and eventually died of a Heroin overdose.
At the time he died he was playing with Tony and The Tigers, with Tony and Hunt Sales. I introduced him to Tony and Hunt (recently with Bowie's Tin Machine) because I had been Tony's guitar teacher. Jimmy Reilly was replaced in our band then by future Arrows member Jake, who was in the same school as me in The Bronx (Taft High School). Freedman was never in the band, but was a close friend to all members.
By the way, Alan Freedman (who eventually played guitar with Bob Dylan and Lou Reed) became a producer of Garland Jeffreys. He was a jazzy player. He used to have hippy jam sessions at his house in Hastings-on-Hudson. Freedman was the guy who introduced us all to each other.
The Watertower West  never made a record, although we did an audition tape for Art and Bob Polhemus who produced the Blues Magoos. They didn't sign the band.
They thought we sounded too much like The Byrds.
Watertower West members..now-
Carl Peachman (the drummer) is an architect, and he has many famous clients. Carl and his wife were involved with booking coordination for Moby Grape. They are very much involved with Big Brother and the Holding Company.
James "Bucky" Hall(the bass player) plays tuba in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Jake Hooker, mainly a stock trader, is  alsothe manager of Edgar Winter and Eddie Money.
Jimmy Reilly died at the age of 17.
As you know I am still making records.

H:What  songs did you play,mainly cover ? Did the band have any original?

A:The songs we played were "Hey Joe", "Mr. Spaceman", "Eight Miles High" "Nowhere Man","So you wann be a Rock N Roll Star", "I Got You Babe", "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" "Til The End Of The Day" ,"Wait And see", "Tell Me What You See", "5-D", "My Love Don't Care About Time", "Carrie Ann", Turn Turn Turn", "Tamborine man", "Why", "Feel A Whole Lot Better", and more.
I also was starting to write songs and we did some of those originals.
"Visions Of A Kaleidoscope", " The Ground", "You Made Me Cry", "Still Couldn't See".
 It was an exciting time.
Watertower West did "Gloria" and "Here Comes The Night" .We actually did "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" with me on 12 string. Chuck Berry on a 12 string is really strange.I also had a Fender Esquire for six string with the group. I played six string sometimes for "Shapes Of Things", and "Well Respected Man"

H: Are there any tapes ?
A:If there are any tapes of Watertower West, I don't have them, and Carl and Jake don't either. "Bucky" Hall, the bass player, might have a tape, because he taped everything of our rehearsals and such. This was his hobby. He did tend to then erase everything and use the tape again.

H:It's pity!!!
A:There are very few photos remaining.

 Kaleidoscope:1966
left  to right
Alan Merrill,Carl Peachman,Bucky Hall


Watertower West  September 1967
left to right
Alan Merrill,Jake Hooker,Bucky Hall,Carl Peachman

H:Was the audience of daytimeshow teenager?

A:The audience at the "cafe Wha?" was teenagers, and tourist groups. There was lots of screaming from young girls. I just now remembered another band, called The Things. They did a great version of "Strawberry Fields" at the "Cafe Wha?". !

H:Did you booked the band by yourself? How much did you earn? Was it big money for teenager?
A:We booked ourselves until we auditioned for BLM (Bob Levine Management) and got his office to act as an agent. We passed the audition !
We made good money for some jobs and not so good for others. Anywhere from $30
per member, to $200 per member for a show.

H:Do you know N.D.Smart II who was drmmer of Kangaroo?
A:We played the same show as Kangaroo often. I knew N.D. Smart back then. He was not very friendly. He was a little older, and in those days that had big meaning. Ted Spelios was the nicest guy, and an AMAZING guitarist. Only Hendrix was better. Ted was my age.  Jon Hall was nice at first, but as soon as he got his record deal he became a snob. Silly boy.
The best bands playing in Greenwich Village were-at the "Cafe Wha"- The Peeple, The Raves, Blue Mystics, Overland Stage, and the ones you know like Castilles and Kangaroo. And around the corner at the Night Owl Cafe- James Taylor and the Flying Machine, Loving Spoonful, The Strangers (Carl Peachman was with them for a while before the Watertower West) Blue Magoos, Barry and The Remains, The Vagrants with Leslie West, so many good bands on one city block !

H: Amazing! I wish I was there.

A:My band lived in Westchester and had to get home after playing at the Cafe Wha.Hasting-On -Hudson is a suburb of New York City. I lived at 41 west 72nd st, very near The Dakota, where Yoko Ono now lives.When I finished playing all day at the Cafe Wha, I would go next door and play at the Underground Club, solo on my electric 12 string, for the tourists ! I made more money. At this time my mother was re-married and living in Japan, and I was alone in New York (1967) in my own apartment, and I needed the money. I worked day and night because I loved it ! It was music. If I wasn't playing in clubs I would have been playing at home. I loved it so much. More than I wanted girls , I wanted to play music !

H:What kind music did you play at Underground Club?
A:The "Undeground" was a club in the basement a next door to the Cafe Wha. They  sold posters and psychedlic incense and oils in one room, and had music and  beverages in the other room where I played. No singing, just 12 string guitar (Rickenbacker) like Jim McGuinn. I had two of them. Blond and cherry colours.
At the "Underground" I did Dylan, Donovan, Byrds and Beatles covers. I would throw in an original tune once in a while. I sat in the middle of the room on  a plush velvet Ottoman. I played and the audience would gather around me in a  circle, Sometimes an organ player named Bill King would join me. We would play jazz/blues. He eventually moved to Los Angeles. They were fun days.I had very long hair and wore a British policeman's cape and prescription sunglasses
at night ! My mother's friend Marian McPartland ( the jazz pianist) met me accidently in the street and then called and told my mother (now she was already living in Japan) that I looked like a vampire. I had a very  progressive look for the time.

H:Let me know more details about your fashion and hair. Didn't the band around Greenwich Village wear uniform?

A:Long hair, all one legnth, no layers. No uniforms for us. Some bands had them, usually soul music and R&B groups. We wore clothes like the Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, and Moby Grape (Watertower West's drummer Carl Peachman now is the agent for Moby Grape !)
H:Did you seem like hippy?
A:Yes, we were dedicated hippies.
 
Message from Carl(The drummer)

Hello Alan:
Thought you would enjoy some of our past that I am recalling.  Started 
playing R & R April 64 - June 65/June 66 Houseman with John Houseman, Steve Collins.  Nov. 65 I threw out my college books in a basket on 72nd St. and Broadway, took the A trin to Sheriden Square, walked by the Night Owl Cafe and saw a sign "Drummer Wanted". I walked in and got the job with the Strangers, a Motown cover quartet of hippies.  A good job and I stayed with them playing Heat Wave maybe two weeks.  Then back uptown to Steve Paul's Scene with Houseman and a band called Jeff Monn and the New Mode of Grass.  Played there off and on through spring 66.  Houseman and Danny Armstrong and I also had a trio called Pure Shit during this period.  The bass player and rhythm guitar player were both Canadians came from the house band at Ondines called The Pure and were great to play with.  Then holy shit Al, we talked about our meeting in the past e mails. 

A monumental recollection in Dec. 66 we were finally rehearsing with Bucky and Jimmy at a house in Hastings in front of a fireplace with lots of crazy people and drugs around.  Wierd Beard shot up and when the parents came home and saw it the rehearsal ended abruptly to say the least. 
Anyway, I remember after that playing a couple of Byrd tunes and you and I deciding we could play this music and people loved it.  This was for me the beginning of the Kaleidescope, Watertower West adventure and I have never forgot it.

The next great moment for me was after we got the job at the Cafe Wha? and when you and I took our equipment back to 72nd Street.  We were in a cab on a sunny afternoon bouncing up 6th Avenue literally in euphoria.  Do you remember that moment at all?  Another fantastic event was in Feb. 67 when we auditioned for BLM and nailed it.  Things happened for us from Dec. 66 through summer 68 quite regularly didn't they?  I loved playing the Cafe Wha?. I could have played clubs forever.  We had such great happy sunny days in the West Village.  This is where I will pick up next time and I hope you enjoy the remembrances as I do and will have a great day today.

PS  Another great date you will never forget is playing the Palm Gardens with 
the Heavy Metal Duck and Group Image.  I remember the projections all over. 
Hugh Romney, Sandy and the Angels.  Remember the girls dancing naked in a
black lite cube with motorcycles slowly going around them. Fun, fun, fun. 
What a great time and place.  The Dead played there for Christmas.

                                               Carl

H:Do you remember  some episodes at  the time ?

A:When Bruce Springsteen first played at the Cafe Wha, I showed him and his band where to set up his gear, and basically we got along very well. We had an instant liking of each other that is so easy at that age. Bruce was new to the city, and had been in New Jersey which is a pretty sheltered place to grow up. He was not yet worldly.He had a homosexual man named Josie make
advances to him. Josie did this everyone, but Sprinsteen was really freaked out, because Josie would grab at the young musicians and touch the private parts and was very playfully aggressive. I calmed Bruce down and explained that Josie was harmless, and that he did this with everyone, and Bruce relaxed and then told Josie to go away.
It was a funny moment. Josie would grab your private parts and say, "How's your hammer honey". The first time it happened it was shocking, but then you got used to it. He was just a character of the Village scene. He got many many punched and blackened eyes. Josie was a poor lost soul.Bruce played his first set at The Cafe Wha and I remember he did mostly R&B covers.
We sat together and I showed him Ted Spelios playing with Kangaroo. Bruce was totally freaked out. Ted was just incredible. He was so good we all just wanted to give up playing. I hear that Ted became mentally ill, then recovered, and became a monk. Anyway, this is the legend. he was, after Hendrix, the best player in the Village. The Kangaroo album didn't really show how amazing he sounded, although he is impressive on it.

H:The first appearance of The Castilles was December '67.

A:Jon Hall and kangaroo came from Wasington D.C. Jon was a student of guitarist Roy Buchanon. He played bass in kangaroo. A Hofner. ted Spelios played a Fender Broadcaster. The first Broadcaster I ever saw. It had a terrible high action, but Ted could play it. When Bruce and I tried it we were horrified. The strings were so high off the fret-board. Teddy was a wierd genius. He burned out very young. His last band was Holy Moses. Then he was smoke and
dust. Gone. That was your Greenwich Village taste for the day circa 1965-68.

H:When did you come to Japan? and how did you join GS ,The Lead?

A:I arrived in Japan in June 1968 from New York.
I spent the hot summer in Karuizawa(summer resort), but would return to the city sometimes.
At that time I didn't know anyone my age in Japan.
My mother and her new (2nd) husband took me out to a disco called Mugen. One of the cute gogo girls fancied me and I took her phone number and started to date her. She was dancing at the Akasaka Pasha Club winter of 1968, and she called me and told me there was a GS called The Lead that needed a replacement guitarist. I went to the Pasha club and talked a bit backstage. The band were all nice guys. The other band at The Pasha club that day was The Clinic from the UK.
I replaced Mark Elder on lead guitar after Mark had a problem with the police in Japan.Mark was still in Japan, but leaving the next day. It was his last show with the band.I jammed a bit backstage on Tamia's guitar with Mark, and that was enough for Phil Trainor. Phil said "he's in the band" and from then I was in the group.

H:Do you remeber exactly  date ?
A:November 1968. It was quite cold, and I wore a black jumper, a grey suit jacket, black velvet pants (straight leg)black Beatle boots, a long purple wool scarf and a herringbone grey coat. Mark was still in Japan, he had been arrested, and released by the police. The Pasha Club was his last show with the band. I joined for the next show. Mark was gone after that from Japan forever.

H:Let me know the new lineup
A:Tamia Hasegawa Arbuckle(side gtr.), Alan Hill(drums), Phil Trainor(bass) and
I (as Paul Merrill)
The production company  changed my name to Allan Merrill because of my mother's popularity. Then we tried changing my name to Paul Merrill because there was already Allan Hill in The Lead. We didn't want two Allan's in the same group. Too confusing. When the Lead broke up I went back to Allan Merrill.

H:Did you contribute  to  the recording of their 2nd album?
A:All the backing tracks were not finished yet, but I can't remember any songs we put to tape except for "Hey Jude". I played on perhaps three backing tracks. The rest were already finished. My guitar on "Valerie" was an overdub. That track was done. I played some other lead solos but nothing too memorable. I was very proud of my guitar on "Valerie" though. It was hard to live up to Mark's legacy. He had such a reputation, so I was aware of always being compared to him, and so I had to try my best all of the time. Feeling like Jimmy Page replacing Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds.
Not an easy job. Phil was the singer of "Valerie" and I did the harmony. It  was a strong blend of voices.All the members had a lead vocal on that album. My "Spoonful" was awful (wince) and I was trying to copy Jack Bruce.

H: How the live was?
A:Live, The Lead would play "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", "Justine", "Jeff's
Boogie", "If it don't work out", "Spoonful", "Light My Fire", "Aoi Bara(original)", "Jumping Jack Flash", "Back In The USSR". It was stylistically a mess. We were like a radio. Still there was lots of energy, we all took turns singing lead vocals,and the girls went mad screaming. Almost all cover songs as I recall.

H:Please let me know you and the each members' fashion.
A:We dressed like the Small Faces. Carnaby street mod. Paisly patterns and wild colours.Phil sometimes wore a soul man's cape, with a matching suit.

H:What kind pants did you wear, slim , hipsters? or bellbottom?
A:I had lots of clothing. I wore some bellbottom, both wide and slight flare.
I also had suits that had trousers shich were were slightly flared.
My dress style in Japan was very mod British rock. Before Japan I dressed in the hippy style in New York. I was younger in New York, and Tokyo was a more formal city, so I dressed up more fashionably in Japan. There is a big difference between being 16 and 18 years old in dressing. That was a factor.

H:Why the Lead disbanded?
A:The wierd side of that story is that I called Phil for days, and there was no answer. After a few days I got worried and went to his apartment . There was no answer. I thought that Phil was probably not home but with a girl, at her apartment, but he usually called me to check in to see if there was any news about work. This was strange.
Phil was arrested for possesion of Marijuana,  So sad.It was already four days and I had no word from him.  After I went home I picked up the newspaper, and read about Phil being arrested. He then went straight to Italy to join the Clinic. I met up with him in London about six months later and he told me the story of his ordeal. He never returned to Japan.Victor Geino(management office), and our manager had had enough of the band at that point.

H:I'm not sure you like I call Watertower West as garage band, how do you think to compare the bands in Greenwich Village circuit to Japanese GS ?
A:We rehearsed in Bucky hall's garage. I guess that makes us a garage band. One time it rained hard, and we went down to rehearse. Bucky's Fender bass was floating in a pool of water. We cancelled the rehearsal. hahaha....
GS were mostly controlled by the music industry. US Garage bands were free creatively and there was no manager involved. We did what we wanted to do in New York. I guess that there were semi-pro bands in Japan that had that freedom, before they got involved with management.

H:How do you think about Psychedelic music?
A:Watertower West was a psychedlic band. So these are my roots. When I was just 14, I was at Millbrook in Poughkeepsie with Tim Leary's group of people, because my mother knew Tim and his crowd. There was acid in the food I ate, and I was tripping daily then, without really knowing that it was being administered to me. It was an errr........., interesting holiday.
When I got complete studio freedom with Vodka Collins, the psychedelic factor came back in.
It's always there in my music, because of my jam sessions in my youth. We would jam on one chord for hours with Watertower West, modal raga-type stuff, while we were stoned. It was wonderful.
 
 

It was mid '69.Merril became solo  and did live with Japanese band, The Funnies, and Rock Pilot along with working as fashion model.
Nissan Sunny Excellent

He released 2 solo alblum.  In early '72 he formed a band called Godzilla, but it was short life, in late '72 he formed  glam rock styled band,Vodka Collins.

1971

     The band Vodka Collins was formed of an alliance between superstar drummer
Hiroshi Oguchi (of the Japanese hit bands "The Tempters" and "Pyg") and solo recording artist Alan Merrill, a popular foreign resident rocker in Tokyo .
Oguchi, a conceptual artist, started to propose the idea of forming a band to Merrill, while they were backing up other artists such as Yuya Uchida, Monsieur, and Mickie Curtis. Both were looking for new projects to get involved in at the time, and they went into rehearsal to try out new songs composed by Merrill. The rehearsals went well, and a unique sound was being established.

      After getting a set of original tunes together, they pulled a bass player, TakeYokouchi, out of a band called High Society. Thus Vodka Collins was born, and they quickly rose to be one of the hottest acts in Japan, performing for huge crowds with their high energy rock 'n roll. They recorded their original songs as an album for EMI/Toshiba titled "TOKYO-NEW YORK", and the album was very well received. The hit songs from the album were "Automatic Pilot", "Sands Of Time", and "Billy Mars".  The song "Scratchin'" was used as a TV theme for a popular weekly show starring former Oguchi bandmate, Tempters singer Shoken.
Although the rise of the band was meteoric, the fall was just as quick and
sudden.
       Poor management broke up the band at their peak, and Merrill reluctantly left Japan to form the hit group The Arrows in the UK. Oguchi then went on trips to India and Africa to research the drumming of different cultures. Vodka Collins only existed for a short time,1972-73, but their debut album TOKYO-NEW YORK is still reissued today on CD, not only in Japan but all over the world. It has been hailed as a glam rock classic, even getting high compliments from T.Rex's Marc Bolan.

        The band reformed due to popular demand in 1995, to record and release three
reunion albums, "CHEMICAL REACTION" (1996), "PINK SOUP" (1997), and "BOY'S LIFE" (1998) with a new line up. The players included founding members Hiroshi Oguchi and Alan Merrill, and also new additions "Mabo" Masayoshi Kabe on bass, and The Spiders' legend Monsieur, on rhythm guitar.
 
 

Voco Records VC7398

After He quite Vodka Collins, Merrill moved to UK to form Arrows.
Their debut 45 "Touch Too Much" won top 10 hit.He wrote "I love Rock'n'Roll" for the band. Joan Jett covered it which became Rock'n'Roll classic now.

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To know more about Merrill's works
Go to
The Arrows official Page
 


 

ARROWS' SINGLES COLLECTION PLUS... CD is released on CHERRY RED REDCORDS
 
 

Never Pet Burning Dog ('85)
now availabel on CD

Rick Derringer  -  Guitar (Rhythm), Vocals (bckgr), Producer
Mick Taylor  -  Guitar, Slide Guitar
Steve Winwood  -  Synthesizer, Piano
Alan Merrill  -  Organ, Synthesizer, Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals, Producer
Mike Driscoll  -  Drums
Fiona Flanagan  -  Vocals (bckgr)
John Gifford  -  Engineer
Steve Gould  -  Guitar, Vocals (bckgr)
Rod Houison  -  Engineer
Kevin Jones  -  Engineer
Donnie Kisselbach  -  Bass, Vocals (bckgr)
Brian McGee  -  Engineer, Mixing
Trevor Spencer  -  Drums, Producer
Dave Still  -  Percussion, Engineer, Mixing
Tom Strohman  -  Sax (Alto)
Nick Sykes  -  Engineer
Alan Tarney  -  Guitar
Dallas Taylor  -  Percussion, Drums
Terry Taylor  -  Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals (bckgr)

AT THE CANDY SHOP

 
 

Cupid Deranged

 
  his CDs are available on TOWER RECORDS
 

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