Iron Butterfly was an American rock band that played an important role in the commercialization of album-oriented rock in the late Sixties. Their only major hit song, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," with a running time in excess of seventeen minutes, occupied one full side of their album of the same name. That album, released in July 1968 on Atlantic Records' ATCO label, has been claimed by the group and its record company to be the first to sell a million units. The RIAA did not have an official "Platinum" certification at the time, but has since awarded the album "4x Multi-Platinum" status. Having accomplished this with a song that literally did not fit either the 45 RPM single or any AM radio format, Iron Butterfly demonstrated the commercial possibilities of the music of the Counterculture.
The music of Iron Butterfly is usually put in the category of "psychedelic rock." However, unlike most of the best-remembered psychedelic bands, such as San Francisco's Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, they lacked roots in American folk and blues music. Their sound was built upon the guitar-based "garage band" pop music that emerged in the U.S. after the Beatles' 1964 breakthrough. Although they are best known for a recording that is almost all instrumental, their instrumental work, at least in the studio, was more deliberately constructed than the improvisations of bands like the Dead. They used the whole "psychedelic" toolkit of electronic sound modifiers, but the result was often perceived as sterile and pedestrian. On the other hand, some of their instrumental sound foreshadows the "progressive rock" sound that would become important in the Seventies. Their lyrics - "don't you know that I'll ALWAYS be true" - were often as primitive as those of any garage band.
Iron Butterfly was formed in the San Diego area in 1966, but soon moved to Los Angeles. Playing in the clubs on Sunset Strip, they built a reputation that led to a recording contract and the album "Heavy," released in early 1968. This first recorded version of the band consisted of guitarist Danny Weis, vocalist and organist Doug Ingle, bassist Jerry Penrod, drummer Ron Bushy, and vocalist Darryl DeLoach. After recording "Heavy," Weis, Penrod, and DeLoach all quit, leaving Ingle and Bushy with the "Iron Butterfly" name and a contract to produce two albums a year.
A four-piece Iron Butterfly was soon put together, adding Lee Dorman on bass and Erik Braunn (then using the name "Erik Brann") on guitar. The new musicians aimed at duplicating the sound of their predecessors, and Weis has claimed that Braunn bought much of his equipment and even some of his clothing: "they tried to clone me..." The new band's lack of new material for their second album was a factor in their decision to stretch "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" to the length of one side of an LP. (Another Los Angeles band, Love, had already released their album "Da Capo," the second side of which consisted of one even longer track.)
After the unexpected success of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," the four-piece Iron Butterfly released another studo album, "Ball," in 1969, and a live album in 1970. "Ball" sold well, but is not remembered as an important album, while "Iron Butterfly Live" adds little to its remakes of earlier Butterfly songs.
The 1970 album "Metamorphosis" introduced a new Iron Butterfly, with two guitarists, Mike Pinera and Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt, replacing Erik Braunn. However, that version of the band broke up in 1971 without recording again or getting anywhere near the success of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."
In the mid-Seventies, Erik Braunn and Ron Bushy brought back the Iron Butterfly name for two obscure albums on MCA, "Scorching Beauty" and "Sun and Steel." This was the final new direction for Iron Butterfly; all subsequent incarnations of the band catered to the Baby Boomer nostalgia market. As of 2008, Bushy and Dorman continue to tour with a four-piece Iron Butterfly.