Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Across the Great Divide

When I pulled up yesterday, like “Mr. Big Rock Star” in a long black limo, I couldn’t believe what I saw. There, on the field between the house and woods, were five guys, some in black jackets, or vests, most with one kind of hat or another, all with cowboy boots. They looked liked Jesse James and his gang, a band of outlaws, bearded and mustachioed. Was I having an acid flashback? No, it was real. The one with the bushy beard kicked an American football high and far to another wearing a cowboy hat with a flat topped crown.

Ever since I had been slipped the tape of The Band’s songs, I’d been hooked. It was a drug to me; I couldn’t stop listening to it. These songs pointed out to me everything that was wrong with Cream. Jack and Ginger would go off and do their own thing, and I would hole up listening to the tape over and over again. Every track was beautiful and grown up, not like the useless and pointless music I was playing. I adored the economy of their playing. It ran rings around our virtuosity. We were ridiculous in comparison. Levon Helm’s drumming did more in four minutes than Ginger Baker could do in a ten minute solo. I realized then that their music was what I wanted to play. They had it all – country, blues, rock – great songs.

I met Robbie Robertson out in L.A. and told him how much I dug what his group was doing and he invited me out to meet the guys in Woodstock. I finally managed to get out East. After meeting them all, we went inside the house. I had heard what Dylan had been laying down and now saw where Bob did his recording. It was a garage, not a basement – that’s what people had called the new songs, “The Basement Tapes” – with cinder block walls and a concrete floor, not nearly covered by a big rug. There was a steel furnace in the corner, piano, drums and recording equipment scattered around.

Robbie asked, “Hey Eric, want to play?” The whole group turned to face me, waiting for my answer.

“No, no, I just came to watch.” I wasn’t ready to play with them, not where my head was at. I didn’t think I could play with them, though I really wanted to. In fact, I had come hoping they would ask me to be in the group. Or I would ask them, if I had the guts.

The five of them sat in a circle, playing at a low, relaxed volume, like a conversation. I loved how they looked at each other. I thought about Cream. What a con we were! Here were these guys, totally into each other as a band. When we played we were three separate planets, each in our own orbit, far from each other and staring out to the audience. We hardly ever looked at each other. Jack and Ginger loved each other, I guess, but they couldn’t stand each other’s face. I tried to keep the peace, but that gets on your wick after a while. At least it did mine.

The Band was playing a song about the civil war. Beautiful, man, just beautiful. This is what I want to hear, this is what I want to play. Musically, these are my soul mates. No more maestro bullshit, no more “Clapton is God.” Please! Rolling Stone was right when they said my playing was boring and full of clichés, pointless jamming with no musical value. That review knocked me on my heels, man, but it was true, the Emperor had no clothes, you know?

It was so nice just sitting and listening to these mountain men, playing mountain music. They didn’t jam, they worked, liked serious musicians, perfecting their craft with joy and integrity. Cream’s psychedelic insanity was already passé and stale. The Band’s music was real.

"Dog eat dog, cat eat mouse.” That’s a great line Levon just sang. Like Cream itself. We’ll eat ourselves if it doesn’t end. These songs feel as old as the hills, timeless. They finished playing and Robbie motioned to head upstairs, so we did.

It was a great night. So comfortable, laying back in the overstuffed couch, feet up on the coffee table. No drugs, much booze. Everyone had a bottle for themselves. Richard Manuel and I plowed through gallons of Johnny Walker Red, or so it seemed. Levon talked about Sonny Boy Williamson. Turns out they were from the same place in Arkansas, West Helena.

"The Yardbirds played with Sonny Boy when he came to England,” I said, a bit of pride in my voice.

“He told me about that once,” said Robbie. “We were playing and he said, ‘I just played with some white motherfuckers over in England,’ you know how he talked. ‘Yeah, these white boys like to play blues real bad, and that’s how they play it, real bad.’”

Everyone laughed. I did too, but I was hurt. I wanted to be accepted by these guys, wanted to be seen as a serious musician who could add something to what they were doing.

That was yesterday. I heard the birds chirping as I looked out the window this morning, the trees already losing their leaves. There’s a workman outside already, covered in plaster from head to foot. No, wait, it’s Rick Danko.

It’s paradise here. It must be nice not dealing with band mates who are looneys. This is where I want to be, this is what I want to play.

A knock on the door.

“Yeah, come in.”

Robbie walked in. “Hey Eric, could you come downstairs? Me and the guys wanted to ask you about something important.”

Eric Clapton was introduced to the music of The Band when L.A. entrepreneur Alan Pariser gave him tapes of what would become Music from Big Pink, the group’s first album, released in July 1968. It had a profound effect on Clapton and he realized that the music of The Band was what he wanted, the proper place for a serious musician such as himself. He told his Cream band mates, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, that he couldn’t go on anymore with what they were doing. Clapton visited The Band in the fall of 1968 in the hopes of joining them, but he didn’t have the nerve to ask. Cream would break up in November. The following year, Blind Faith would become the first supergroup, Eric hooking up with Steve Winwood, who was available after his own band, Traffic, dissolved in January 1969.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Starting Over

Up on the tenth floor of The Record Plant, John, Yoko and producer Jack Douglas were putting a few finishing touches on “Walking on Thin Ice,” a new Yoko single, They’d been in the studio for over five hours, since 4:30, and the trio was getting tired.

Earlier, David Geffen had stopped by the studio to bring everyone the good news. Waving them into the control room, Geffen said with glee, “Well, congratulations, two weeks out and your album is gold and quickly headed to platinum.” John was relieved. He’d been nervous that, after a five year layoff, no one would buy a new album of his and Yoko’s. Now, Double Fantasy was a certified hit. Geffen was relieved as well. As President of the new Geffen Records, he wasn’t sure John Lennon would sell in 1980. Let alone an album that was half John, half Yoko. It’s not like Yoko records had ever sold, or ever been released without an accompanying torrent of scorn.

Geffen also gave a listen to the day’s work. Impressed, he offered to take out ads promoting it. John was elated. “Fantastic, Mother,” he said to Yoko, “you’re getting ads!” John jumped up and down, clapping his hands like a spastic child. “I’m telling you, the ‘80’s are gonna be great.” Then, dropping his voice into a deep serious tone, “Brothers and sisters, everything will be fine if we all pull together.” John glanced again at the Soho News on the chair next to him. Inside was an article, “Yoko Only,” that praised Ono the artist. “Even the critics love you now, Mother.”

At 10:00, as the session was winding down, John talked giddily about writing a new song for Ringo, and getting some of the extra tracks from August out as a second John and Yoko record. As “Walking on Thin Ice” played over and over again in the background, John and Yoko got up to leave.

“I’m famished. Perhaps a stopover at the Stage Deli before we get home. Are you ready Jack?” asked John. Douglas, who lived two blocks from the Lennons’ Dakota apartments, always got a ride back with them at the end of a hard day’s work.

“Can’t do it John,” Douglas said slowly, running his hand through his hair and shaking the cobwebs out of his head. “I have another session to do.”

“Really?” John turned to Ono, her coat already on to ward off the December weather. “Yoko, love, mind if I stay with Jack for a few hours more?”

“That’s fine John. I’ll see you later.” She leaned over to permit John a peck on her cheek and left.

“So, let’s get down to work, Jack,” proclaimed John arms outstretched, hands intertwined, knuckles cracking. “First things first. What should we get to eat?”


At 10:00, as the session was winding down. John talked giddily about writing a new song for Ringo, and getting some of the extra tracks from August out as a second John and Yoko record. As “Walking on Thin Ice” played over and over again in the background, John and Yoko got up to leave.

“I’m famished. Perhaps a stop over at the Stage Deli before we get home. Are you ready Jack?” asked John. Douglas, who lived two blocks from the Lennons’ Dakota apartments, always got a ride back with them at the end of a hard day’s work.

“Can’t do it John,” Douglas said slowly, running his hand through his hair and shaking the cobwebs out of his head. “I have another session to do.”

“Too bad. Walk us to the elevators, then.”

As they strolled, John talked about mastering Yoko’s song the next day, December 9. The doors slid open and, before entering, John said “See you tomorrow morning, bright and early.” With a cheerful smile, and a silly wave, they were gone.

In the limo home, John changed his mind about stopping for dinner and, suddenly completely exhausted, wanted to get home to bed. The car pulled up in front of the 72nd Street entrance to their building. Yoko got out first. As usual, there was a small coterie of fans hoping for a glimpse of Beatle John. A short, dumpy man, behind rose tinted glasses, said hello to Yoko. John got out and, upon hearing someone speak to his wife, turned to face the greeter.

“Oh, hello, again. Still here?” John had signed a copy of Double Fantasy for this same person earlier in the day. Mark Chapman mumbled a muffled “hi” in return. He couldn’t believe that John Lennon, John Lennon! had not forgotten him. John and Yoko entered the building.

John hailed the night man as they walked past the office. “Bon soir, Jay. How are you tonight?”

The hefty bearded Jay smiled as the couple made their way to the elevators.It was the best part of being the night desk man, exchanging pleasantries with John Lennon.

Outside, Mark Chapman turned and headed back to his lonely room at the Sheraton Centre, a twenty block walk.


In the limo home, John changed his mind about stopping at the Stage Deli and, suddenly completely exhausted, wanted to get home to bed. The couple talked about Jack Douglas, how they’d met him, way back in 1971 when he was the remix engineer for Imagine and how Jack had always understood Yoko’s work. John went on about the morning photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz and how happy he’d been with the Polaroids she’d shown him. It was a very good day.

The car pulled up in front of the 72nd Street entrance to the Dakota. Yoko got out first. As usual, there was a small coterie of fans hoping for a glimpse of Beatle John. A short, dumpy man, behind rose tinted glasses, said hello to Yoko. John got out and, hearing someone speak to his wife, turned to face the greeter.

“Oh, hello, again. Still here?” John had signed a copy of Double Fantasy for this same person earlier in the day. Mark Chapman mumbled a muffled “hi” in return. He couldn’t believe that John Lennon, John Lennon! had not forgotten him.

As John and Yoko headed toward the building, Chapman snapped out of his trance, remembering why he’d come to New York, his mission. Stepping towards the arched carriageway, Chapman pulled a snub nose .38 from his pocket and, with no warning, shakily opened fire on the couple. Yoko was hit on the shoulder and knocked to the ground.

“What the fuck?” screamed John as he grabbed his right arm, ablaze with pain. He’d been shot as well.

Two blasts were fired before Chapman was wrestled to the pavement by Jose the doorman. John, blood washing over the sleeve of his leather jacket kneeled over Yoko, who was crying in agony, “No No No!” Her shrieks blended with the wailing sirens of the police cars descending on the scene.

“Hang on love, you’ll be fine,” John whispered as he held Yoko, both of the trembling.


As John and Yoko headed toward the building, Chapman snapped out of his trance, remembering why he’d come to New York, his mission. Stepping towards the arched carriageway, Chapman pulled a snub nose .38 from his pocket and assumed a combat position. Knees bent, one hand holding the gun, the other supporting his wrist, Chapman called out calmly.

“Mr. Lennon?”

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We've Been Good, But We Can't Last

“God damn it, stop the tape! What the fuck are you guys doing?” Hot anger poured out, his voice getting squeakier and squeakier. “Get your shit together, right now!”

The other band members looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and put their hands in the air. Here we go again, another tantrum. What else is new?

“I can’t take it anymore, really. You guys want to cut this record the right way, MY WAY? If not, we can stop right now, because this is bullshit!”

“Alvin,” Dave spoke quietly, soothingly, from the engineer’s booth.

“No, Dave, no. I’m the star here; I’m the one that carries all the weight.”

“Alvin.” A hint of testiness emerged in Dave’s voice.

“Fuck it, man, just fuck it.”


“You know what Dave, this time it’s not okay!” Alvin threw his headphones on the ground.

Dave left his seat behind the mixing board and came down to talk, face to face. He and the boys had been put through the wringer lately by Alvin’s unseemly behavior. Simon and Theodore were aware that their brother was into some hard stuff. Sometimes, when they sat down together to eat, a pill would fall out of the shell instead of a nut. Alvin would glare at them, daring them to start something, but they wouldn’t. Simon was too smart to provoke a fight, Theodore too sweet. But now they both had the sense that it was all going to blow up right here, right now. Simon removed his round frames and rubbed his eyes.

“Dave, if I may interject for a moment,” Simon offered professorially, prepared to help clear the air.

“Come off it Simon, you four-eyed fuck. I don’t want to hear any more of your ideas or your clever plans.” Alvin was unreachable, his enormous front teeth menacing. The Chipmunks had been together for over a decade. Though uncredited on David Seville’s number one single “Witch Doctor,” it was their background singing that caught the public’s ear and, a few months later in the fall of 1958, they broke through with “The Chipmunk Song.” Hit followed hit and, unlike most of their peers, they survived the British Invasion of 1964. Hell, they were so big they could cover The Beatles’ hits and still sell a pile of records.

Simon was undeterred. “If you look back, you can plainly see that Alvin changed dramatically during the recording of Chipmunks a Go-Go in 1965.”

“Hmm, Simon, I believe you’re right,” Dave agreed, as Theodore enthusiastically nodded his head. It was true. Four years before, when the band was recording “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Alvin began acting strangely. It was the mushrooms. It wasn’t odd that a chipmunk would eat a mushroom, it’s part of their diet, but Alvin was dipping into fungi of a distinctly hallucinogenic variety. No big deal, Alvin thought, everyone was doing it that summer. Not Simon and Theodore; they were too straight, real squares. It was then that the three began to drift apart.

They managed to hold it together for their next album, The Chipmunks See Doctor Doolittle, but the band was coming apart at the seams. In an attempt to regain their sense of unity, the three went on a spiritual retreat to Indiana, where they sought to find their inner rodent through meditation. It was pointless and they found themselves going around and around in circles, spinning their wheels. They learned nothing.

Arriving back in L.A. late in 1968, Alvin separated further when he began to spend all his time with a new girlfriend, Cathy Bara. She was trouble, always telling Alvin how he was the only talent in The Chipmunks and that he didn’t need the other two, or, for that matter, David Seville. Worse, she was into serious shit and introduced Alvin to poppies. It became more and more difficult to get Alvin to concentrate, his upper lip often dotted with residue. It proved to be a habit that would trail him for years to come.

After Alvin promised Dave he would be a good chipmunk, the band decided to try it one more time in 1969, and, it was during the recording of The Chipmunks Go to the Movies, that everything unraveled.

“I don’t have to take this shit from you two. You’re nothing but dead weight.” Alvin hastily grabbed his long red sweater with the large capital “A” on the front, and his red cap, and began to leave.

“See you in the funny papers,” he snickered as he pushed open the door.

Devastated, Dave looked at the other two. “What do you think we should do next?”

Simon spoke first. “This is an utter disaster, Dave, an utter disaster. First, Alvin gets into drugs, and now he has this horrible Cathy telling him what to do. It’s terrible.”

Theodore looked towards the ceiling, and then spoke. “I think she’s nice.”

“Theodore, just because she brings you food doesn’t make her nice. Plus, she’s not even a chipmunk. She’s a Mongolian gerbil,” Simon argued.

Theodore thought about that for a minute. “Well, I think bringing me food does make her nice.”

“Speaking of food,” Dave pressed forward, ignoring Theodore, “Alvin is the front man for the group and, without him, I’m not sure we can still be successful. Do you guys still want to perform? Simon, would you want to do the singing?”

“Oh no, Dave, no.”


Looking nervously from left to right, then right to left, Theodore quickly said, “Me neither, Dave, me neither.”

Dave sighed. “Well then boys, I think we’re through. What will you do?”

Simon was cool as ever. “Dave, don’t worry about me. I have lots of other things I can do in the music business. In fact, I recently invented a tiny silver disc that contains music that is read by a laser beam.”

“That’s great Simon, just great.” Dave was proud of this boy, a genius who gladly went along for the ride to help his brothers achieve their dream. He wondered if Simon had been held back from doing great things. “And you Theodore?”

But Theodore was already gone, chasing after Alvin in the hope that there would be food.

The Chipmunks broke up in 1969 after the recording of The Chipmunks Go to the Movies. David Seville died in 1972. For most of the 1970’s, Alvin would battle his addiction to psychedelic drugs and go in and out of rehab. Finally clean by decade’s end, Alvin emerged on TV with The Alvin Show, a midseason replacement on NBC. The show was a return to form and garnered Alvin his best reviews in years. Talk of a reunion ensued and, in 1980, Alvin, Simon and Theodore recorded Chipmunk Punk. Hailed by critics, it was a huge success and The Chipmunks were back on top. They’ve been together ever since, on record, on Simon’s patented invention, the compact disc, and on television and movies.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maybe Baby Needs Your Vote!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Let’s Go Away For Awhile

As he sat on the bed, head down, thinking about the day, Brian Wilson sobbed, a torrent of tears streaming down his doughy face. In the solitude of his Houston hotel room, Brian couldn’t bear the thought of performing on stage in a few hours. Not in the state he was in.

He told Marilyn before they got in the car that he had a bad feeling about the day, dark visions clouding his mind. Maybe some of the bad vibrations were caused by his usual dread of standing before a crowd of screaming kids. Maybe some of his anxiety was a result of the constant fighting with his new wife. Either way, Brian wanted to quit, again. He knew he didn’t relate well to people and would shell up, but today he burst from his defensive armor and exploded. What a scene!

With only two days to go until Christmas, he should have been happy, but the pressures of writing, recording and touring were sucking all the joy out of his life. Even his new marriage wasn’t providing any peace. He and Marilyn were constantly at odds. They were so young; they shouldn’t have married at all. Brian hated being on the road in general, but especially now. He and Marilyn wouldn’t have the time to work things out if they were apart.

When they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport for the flight to Texas, Brian was thankful that Marilyn didn’t drop him off, but parked and went inside with him. It was the usual holiday chaos: insanely huge lines nearly impossible to get through, screaming kids, angry adults, surly workers. Brian’s head was swimming. The mob was turning into beasts and demons before his eyes, flashing pointed teeth and snarling as he passed by nervously.

Fidgety and agitated, the sight of the Beach Boys near the gate gave him some comfort. They greeted him warmly. Wait, what was that? Was Marilyn staring at Mike? Was Mike staring back? Brian was getting juiced up by the black thoughts seeping into his skull. Were Marilyn and Mike in love? Brian was crushed, but, hanging on to his ego, he went off.

“What’s going on here with you two? You two want to fuck?”

Marilyn and Mike were stunned. Marilyn tried to calm him down; “Don’t be silly,” she said sweetly, but Brian was not in a position to be stilled. It sure wasn’t how Brian wanted to leave Marilyn, but that’s how it went. Thinking about it now from so far away sunk him deeper in his depression. Then came the plane ride. Oh man, it was awful!

Five minutes out of LA, Brian stared vacantly at the back of the seat in front of him. He counted the stitches in the seams, some of them coming apart. The hum of the plane’s engines sounded to his one good ear like a cacophony of animal screams. His hair felt as if it were pulling away by the roots. Suddenly, Brian pounded his white knuckled fists on the headrest facing him. His face was contorted, beet red.

“I want to get off this airplane,” he shrieked. “Right now.”

“Cool it Brian,” begged Al, the smallest member of the band, frightened by the imposing figure of Brian Wilson totally out of control.

With terror in his stark, wide eyes, Brian turned and looked at Al. “I’m going to crack up any minute!”

Al passed a pillow to Brian, who pressed his face into the soft whiteness and began to cry and howl.

A stewardess hearing Brian, rushed over. “We just took off sir. You need to calm down.”

Brian bolted out of his seat, knocking the slim blonde aside with a forearm. Now tearing down the aisle, screaming “She doesn’t love me,” over and over, he passed his brothers. Carl and Dennis had heard his outburst but were not prepared to see Brian run past. They both jumped up and chased him down, wrestling him to the cabin floor.

“My God! What’s wrong, Brian? Please tell me what’s wrong!” Carl implored.

“I can’t take it. I can’t take it. Don’t you understand? I can’t go on.”

His brothers restrained him long enough that he eventually quieted down. Brian sat back next to Al, still shaking. He wouldn’t eat, a further sign that something was seriously wrong. He never passed up a meal.

As soon as the plane touched down in Houston, Brian wanted to go right back to Los Angeles. Instead, he was taken to a nearby hospital and given a tranquilizer. Though groggy, he still insisted that he needed to get back to Marilyn right away and patch things up, but the band wouldn’t let him. There was a show that night, and they needed him, so they brought him to his hotel room, gave him another sedative and placed him gently at the edge of the bed where he remained with all his worries and his fears.

It was impossible to regain his composure, and added to the constant crying was a painful knot in his stomach. Everything was coming apart, that much was clear. He couldn’t perform any more, the demands on him to write hit songs were becoming too great, his family depended on him too much. It was a dream of Brian’s to sing with his brothers and cousin, but now that it was happening, there was too much pressure. Carl was sweet and supportive, but Dennis was a hot head. And Mike? What kind of cousin was he, always out to hurt Brian? Thoughts returned to the airport, and the possibility of Mike and Marilyn together.

No more. What was the point? He was distressed at playing his music, disappointed with his family and distraught about his marriage. No more.

His movement slowed by the double dose of barbiturates, Brain staggered toward the bathroom. Sluggishly he removed his belt and buckled it around his neck, looping the other end around the shower curtain rod nearest the wall where it was fastened in the tightest. Once it was secure, Brian Wilson sat down hard, pulling out his legs from beneath him. The screws popped out a bit from the brackets but held.

The sound of someone pounding frantically on the double-bolted door gave way to the strains of a teenage symphony from God.
Two days before Christmas 1964, The Beach Boys flew to Houston for a concert. After “seeing” his wife Marilyn and cousin Mike Love exchange intimate glances, Brian flew into a rage. Soon after the airplane took off, Wilson suffered a breakdown. After arriving in Houston and performing that night, he returned to Los Angeles. Doctors informed Brian that continued touring would cause additional damage to his left ear (he was deaf in his right) and irreparable mental damage. Brian broke the news to The Beach Boys who, except for Carl Wilson, reacted angrily. Over the next 17 months, Brian Wilson suffered two more severe breakdowns. He would not tour for over a decade.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mr. Pitiful

Sitting on the deck of the gay disco Paradise Garage, Otis Redding watched the planes fly away. New York shone at night, and the view of the illuminated skyline was magnificent from the rooftop patio atop the West Village nightspot. The fall air was crisp and Otis needed to cool down, his powder blue jumpsuit drenched with perspiration from the ruffled sleeves down to the flared cuffs. He’d just come offstage and, after stopping at the bar, made his way upstairs. He passed by the movie room, filled with people watching Mark of the Devil.

“Otis, my man!”

An effeminate black man greeted Otis cheerfully. Why were people saying this to him all the time? He’d noticed that the phrase came up over and over again since mid-summer, but why? Folks say the strangest things, he thought as he sipped his grapefruit juice. The Garage didn’t serve alcohol, but Otis didn’t mind. He wasn’t much of a drinker, or a drug user, for that matter. Occasionally he’d smoke a reefer, but not often. He thought back ten, or was it eleven, years ago to Monterey and all those cats taking stuff - smack, weed, acid. He never was shocked by it, hell, even Shang-a-Lang was hooked on junk. As long as he could blow his horn, Otis didn’t mind.

Monterey. Was it really over a decade since then? Otis loved those rock and roll kids, they really got the groove he was laying down and he got where they were coming from. He dug Dylan and The Beatles, and it changed him. “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” couldn’t have been written if he hadn’t heard those rock songs. He went with the flow, becoming a rock star because that’s what the people wanted. The more he got into the psychedelic scene, the further he got from his pure soul sound.

He always had that voice, sometimes soft, sometimes hard, sometimes weak, sometimes boastful. He was “The Big O,” the man who supplanted Elvis Presley as the greatest vocalist alive, but like the King, Otis fumbled his way through the musical fashion of the moment – soul, psychedelia, funk, Philly soul and now disco. He had lost his way. One of Otis’ inspirations, Jackie Wilson, suffered in similar ways, led into musical dead ends and winding up collapsing in some place called The Latin Casino in New Jersey back in ‘75. For three years now poor Jackie was lying in a bed someplace in a coma. They used to play together in “cattle call” shows, a slew of acts running out on stage to sing a couple of songs at fast tempos. They’d do their thing, and then run off to make way for the next singer. Man, Jackie could belt ‘em out.

What the -? The force of a hard back slap sent Otis’ drink flying. “Hey Otis, my man.” Reaching down to pick up the glass, Otis sighed, stood up and looked at the stars. Almost 37, Otis’ afro was showing specks of gray, his midsection puffy enough to strain the polyester of his outfit.

Monterey Pop, June 1967. Three days of beautiful music and far out people, almost 100,000 hippies grooving during the Summer of Love. Otis was the headliner on Saturday. All day long, the great bands wowed the crowd, one after the other – Electric Flag, Janis and Big Brother, The Byrds. Otis thought back and could see himself, younger and finer in his aqua jacket and pants, and light green shirt, almost square, hanging off stage, and digging Jefferson Airplane. When they finished, he was on.

After smoking a quick joint, Otis hit the stage at 1 AM and, with Booker T. and The MG’s grooving from the first note, blasted “Shake” with a power that shook the crowd and lifted them from their seats. Monterey made Otis Redding an international sensation. Now, in 1978, he was belting them out in a gay black disco club, singing novelties like “Disco Shake,” “Love Man Boogie,” and a discofied “Knock on Wood.”

Another plane roared over head. Otis put the empty glass to his lips and chewed some ice to cool down further. The rooftop reverberated from the beat of the records played below. This shit all sounds the same, Otis thought.

“Hey Otis.”

Otis was deep in his mind. Gotta get back to my thing, straight ahead rhythm and soul. Maybe call the old band together. Get those old Stax guys like The Bar-Kays, Booker T., Steve Cropper, “Duck” Dunn. Steve and “Duck” were deep in their Blues Brothers scene, but Otis knew they’d want to be back with him, the real thing. This disco shit was ruining him, he knew that much.

“Otis, my man!”

Otis was in his own head, thinking of all his wrong turns. He had been on top of the world, adored by all, but slowly, year by year, he was falling. Everything had gone wrong. He lost everything he had and, as he went through all this in his mind, he knew he had to go back to what made him great, to be able to sing his song to everyone.

“Hey Otis! My man!

“WHAT?” Otis was shaken from his reverie. “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

Up close now, Larry the DJ lowered his voice. “Otis. Hey, man, relax. You’re on.”

“Oh, oh, yeah, OK. Sorry I yelled at you,” Otis replied, his voice filled with sadness. Larry walked away, shaking his head, puzzled.

Otis descended the stairs to the stage floor, red lights glowing, rhythm pulsating, the heat unbearable.

Otis Redding, along with four members of The Bar-Kays, were killed on December 10, 1967, when their plane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin. Paradise Garage, the legendary disco club at 84 King St. in the West Village, was a member’s only club that catered to a mainly gay black clientele. It closed in September 1987.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Trace of Doubt in My Mind

“Cut! Cut! Cut!”

Director James Frawley sprung out of his chair and made a beeline for Stephen Stills. Micky, Davy and Mike casually sauntered to the side of the set, stage left, glad to be out of the line of fire.
“Stevie, baby, you’ve got to be staring at that chimp. You’re wandering off into space. You’ve got to concentrate.”

“Mmm, OK,” Stills muttered.

Concentrate. Concentrate! On a staring contest with a monkey! This is a big mistake. I should be writing and playing with the band. Just last month we were wowing them at the Whisky, now I’m facing off with an ape. I never should have auditioned for this show, and now I’m stuck.

"That’s right Stevie, a blank stare, just like the one you have on right now,” Frawley went on, congratulating himself on getting what he needed from his “actor.” For a first time director, it was a challenge working with the musicians in The Monkees, Stills and Nesmith. The show biz guys, Jones and Dolenz, were fine, happy to ham it up without feeling self-conscious, without thinking they were selling out to the man.

Stills turned to the chimpanzee on the stool before him.

We were set to take off in the summer of 1966 and our shows at the Whisky a Go Go were our coming out party. All the labels were there, itching to sign us on. All of them spouting the same pitch, “We gotta have Buffalo Springfield. We’ll make you guys big stars.” But I couldn’t do it. I was spoken for. I never should’ve gone to that audition, but that was in September of ’65 I was going nowhere, the band didn’t even exist, Neil was still in Canada. So, what the hell, why not try TV? I knew it wasn’t my bag, that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. They liked me and, for what it’s worth, that was good enough for me.

Frawley pushed back his dark hair and hiked up his white slacks.

“Stevie, come on, I know you’re the sensitive type, but you have to clown around more. Get into it, man. Have fun. Free up.”

“Free up?”

“Yeah, remember our improv classes, be free, be bold, be committed to your role.”

I should be committed, committed to my music, not this slapstick shit. Here it is, the middle of June, and instead of writing songs I’m playing with a monkey. Hell, I am a Monkee! I wish I could find a way to freedom, but what’s the cost of breaking a contract?

“Action!” Frawley yelled. Stills held his gaze on the simian before him. The chimp looked back. Was that a sympathetic look?

“Cut! Nice job guys, nice work Stevie. Head to costumes for the war scene.”

The war scene? What the…? Oh yeah, camouflage and greasepaint. Meanwhile there’s a war taking place for real out on the streets. The heat were pressing hard down on the kids on the Strip, kids just grooving to the sounds coming from the clubs like the Whisky and Pandora’s Box. Battle lines were being drawn out there and I’m in here, putting on a beret and uniform.

Micky was working it like a pro from his platform, breaking his pointer on the map, but Stills was drifting off again, thinking about his music, thinking of the electricity the Springfield created on stage. Frawley noticed but did nothing, hoping Stills would snap out of it. He wouldn’t.

“Cut! Cut! Cut!”

Stills slowly looked up and Frawley was already on top of him.

“Stevie, baby, you have to pay attention. When Mike and Davy turn their watches over you have to be ready to turn yours over too, kapish?”

“I don’t have a watch.”

“I know, I know,” Frawley was exasperated. “You don’t have a watch, that’s the gag. You have to turn over a big hourglass. Where’s your hourglass?”

“Umm, I must have forgotten it in the dressing room.”

“Props! Bring out the hourglass.” Frawley ordered loudly.

A stagehand scurried out quickly, huge comic hourglass in hand. She began to attach the band to Stills’ wrist.

“OK, Stevie, timing now. Be alert. You have to turn over the hourglass after the other two boys turn their watches. Ready. Now…action!”

Now ATCO wants to sign us for an album and they’ll have to do it without me. Even though they won’t let me play on The Monkees tunes, I can’t play with the Springfield. Over here, they prefer ‘studio musicians.’ Well, I did session work too, but that’s not good enough for them, I guess. Time to turn my hourglass.

Stills turned his hourglass upright on cue. Scene over.

“Cut! Print! Nice job boys. Good work Stevie. Next shot is the hotel room. Don’t forget Stevie, you get to play a footstool in this scene. It’s gonna be a gas!"

A footstool! Figures; that’s how I feel anyway, a piece of furniture with nothing to do but get walked on.

As Stephen Stills left the set, stage right, he noticed the sign by the fire extinguisher on the wall – “In Case of Fire, ‘Run’.”

In early September 1965, Stephen Stills auditioned for The Monkees television show. While the producers liked him very much, Stills declined, realizing it was not for him. He recommended his good friend Peter Tork, who got the role. From May 2 through June 18, 1966, Buffalo Springfield, featuring Stills and Canadian pal Neil Young, played a series of legendary shows at the Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Strip. After the Sunset Strip “riots” in November, Stills penned “For What It’s Worth,” the song which catapulted him to stardom.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Drifter Did Escape

Sitting at the piano writing, dark glasses on his thin face hiding bags under his eyes, his hair wild, the mercurial Bob Dylan was tired, tired of himself and all his creations. The gigs were too many, the business too stressful, the drugs too plentiful. Fame was a trap from which he had to escape. But when? How? He had to work on new songs for Blonde on Blonde. First in New York for six sessions with Levon and The Hawks, but something didn’t work, didn’t jell. Now, here, in Columbia’s Nashville studio, surrounded by top notch country pickers and players. The room was so stuffy he could hardly breathe.

There was never a break. Tour dates on weekends, then weekdays in the studio. The 1965 tour became the 1966 tour, and though The Hawks had become his band, on salary, the booing and catcalling they received as Dylan plowed forward with his electric music was becoming too much. The Hawks were used to worse from playing bars, bottles thrown at the stage, fights in the crowd. That was just violence. This was pure hate. Levon Helm, tough as nails, had enough. After the first two sessions in New York failed to create magic, he was gone and a new drummer had to be found. Only Robbie Robertson made the trip down to Tennessee.

The pressures weren’t only in the touring and recording. Dylan’s contract with Columbia, his label for four years, since he was 20, was due to expire. MGM was dangling a million bucks at him to switch labels. And his publisher was clamoring for Tarantula, which was long overdue. Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, was on him every day about business. Why did he sign a book contract without any idea what he would write? The money of course. The pressure hurt so much. It was all pulling him down, and the drugs made it worse. Grass, speed (particularly Benzedrine and Methedrine), opium, hash, pot- they’d be sure to bend your mind a little. He experimented with LSD and cocaine. His behavior on stage signaled drug use, but he tried his best to deny it. He was a little boy, lost.

On the day after Valentine’s Day, Dylan sat working on a song for his new wife, Sara. They had married last November, and her pregnancy was kept under wraps. Sara was providing solid ground amidst the shifting craziness that was his world. He knew having children would change his life. Dylan, for all his counter culture image believed in marriage and family. Sara, a former Playboy bunny who Bob had met back in 1964, was so out of touch that she thought Dylan was Bobby Darin. She wanted to settle down as well, to give her daughter Maria, a product of her first marriage, a home. For both of them it was becoming clearer that outside family nothing held interest.

This song, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” laid it all on the line. He was ready to slow down the pace a little, just didn’t want to live that way anymore, the road, the drugs, the fans, all pulling him down. For the woman he loved he would give up his crown and his music, at least for a while. “My Arabian drums, should I leave them at the gate?” Yeah, that sounded good. “Your magazine husband who one day just had to go.” Would anyone heed the clues?

Country players, used to the quick two minute song, didn’t quite know what to make of this song. It stretched on, four, five, six minutes. At the 10-minute mark drummer Ken Buttrey cracked up in disbelief. What was going on here? But one take was all it took. And the whole time Bob thought and thought of how to get away.

Even after the album was slated to be finished, it was back on the road again. Phil Ochs had written in Broadside that it was increasingly dangerous for Dylan to perform in public. Bob could be pretty rough on Phil, to the point where Ochs felt Dylan hated him. But Bob had to admit that it was scarier on the road than before. What was it Ronnie Gilbert of The Weavers said when she introduced him at the Newport Folk Festival, back in ’65 before Dylan and his electric band blasted the folkies with a barrage of rock and roll? Something like “take him, you know him, he’s yours.” Nobody knew him, and he certainly didn’t want to be taken. He didn’t belong to anyone. All he saw himself becoming was Elvis; he never wanted to be a prophet or a savior. The Voice of a Generation. Hah. Nothing you plan ever turns out the way you plan it. Everybody else thinks they know his fate, they’re just gonna have to wait, he thought.

How to find a way out?

On April 7, Dylan headed to Hawaii, the four 1-sided acetates of Blonde on Blonde in hand. Two days later would start another round of shows, this time in Europe after a kickoff in Australia. Two months, England, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, France. England would be pretty hostile, he knew. In Copenhagen on May 1 he got word that Richard Farina had been killed in a motorcycle crash. Richard and Mimi were making a name on the folk charts. When Bobby was dating Joan, Mimi Baez was just her kid sister. Richard was leaving a book signing party for Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me near Carmel and hopped on the back of a friend’s Harley. That was that.

Dylan thought Farina was lucky. It was an accident and an answer. Bob liked his bikes and the press knew that. The papers, they always bought his stories, ate them up. When he hit the scene and told people he’d done some hard travelin’ just like Woody Guthrie, they accepted it as the gospel. No one bothered to see that he came from a middle class Jewish family from Minnesota. Now they hung on his every word, even more so than before. The European tour would end on the 27th, and though he was scheduled to go back on the road in July, he couldn’t face it. No way.
Since Jesse was born in January, Dylan just wanted to try to be quiet, seeking salvation from the life he was leading. He couldn’t see where he was going, but Sara said she knew and he took her word. A motorcycle accident? They’d listen to his story like they listened to his songs. With all the confusion, he just needed some relief.

A motorcycle accident?

On July 29, 1966, news reports told the world that Bob Dylan had been seriously injured in a motorcycle accident near his Woodstock, NY home. The police were not called to the scene and there are no public records of a crash. Bob Dylan’s medical files remain private. He would resurface 18 months later, a different man, sounding relaxed and peaceful on John Wesley Harding.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

And Now, a Brief Commercial Message

A Review of Rock & Roll by "Cousin Brucie" Morrow

First, a confession: I love "Cousin Brucie." Growing up in Brooklyn and Long Island during the late 1960's and 1970's, the voice of Bruce Morrow on the radio provided a constant narration to my own "wonder years." How can I describe his voice in words? It was deep, it vibrated and if he got excited about a tune, you got worked up too. When Bruce called you "cousin," he lowered his voice and, in those moments, it really felt as if he were talking to you.

But don't think it was all a show. Bruce Morrow was deeply influential. Elvis credited Bruce for playing a large part in his success. From the stage, "Cousin Brucie" introduced The Beatles to the squealing crowd before their second Shea Stadium show in 1966. My trusty box of 45's is infused by his powers of persuasion. From The Doors to The 1910 Fruitgum Co. to Herb Alpert, the mark of Morrow is omnipresent.

Rock & Roll, the new book by "Cousin Brucie," is a panoramic overview of the culture Bruce Morrow helped shape. Music, movies, pop culture - it's all here. This is the type of book coffee tables were created for. Lots of great pictures, short and entertaining blurbs, it's a book to keep within reach if you're in need of a quick smile. If you don't have a coffee table, get one.

As someone who never gave up on vinyl, and happily received the collections of those who felt records were outdated, I particularly like the use of album covers and 45's throughout the book. You can almost feel the crisp paper of the sleeve enclosing Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day." There are lots of action shots, many which I've never seen before, which is saying something. Check out Chuck Berry on page 53, doing a split in front of a crazed crowd of teenyboppers. "Here come ol' flattop!"

A book like Rock & Roll makes you realize how quickly things changed. A very square and sedate Neil Sedaka on the sheet music of "Little Devil" is followed by a shot of Marvin Gaye, looking tormented as he belts out a song. Granted, the Gaye picture is out of place chronologically (from the 1970's, not the early 1960's), but you get the point. Plastic music gave way to soul. The Beatles follow Roy Orbison and, though greatly influenced by Roy, they are a physical leap from the bespectacled crooner. The times they are a-changin' indeed.

And there was "Cousin Brucie" lording over all of this cultural transformation. You forget, particularly in this 40th anniversary year of Woodstock, what pop music encompassed. It's nice to think it was all revolutionary, ground breaking stuff. It wasn't. As an AM deejay, Bruce was as likely to play The Rolling Stones as to play Paul Revere and The Raiders. For every groundbreaking song that changed rock and roll, there was the manufactured product of a band like The Cowsills. Only Bruce could give that grand overview. After all, he was there.

I do have some quibbles with the book - out of order photos, nods to bands that Brucie would never have come close to, like The Stooges (I sincerely doubt "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was ever played on either WABC or WNBC) - but those are small potatoes. It's a fun time, filled with wonderful memories. Any book that pairs Batman with The Yardbirds, or has a pic of Bobby Darin belting out a song with George Burns, has a place in my universe.

One more story. When my wife and I went on our first date way back in January of 1986, we went to a New York Knicks basketball game. It was the beginning of a great date, and who should be on the radio when we got back to the car? "Cousin Brucie," of course. He's that big a part of my life. He should be part of yours, and Rock & Roll is a great place to get started.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Time to Change the Road You’re On

“No, Keith. No, no, no!”

“Pete, darling, it’s just one little session.”

“No Keith. I’m telling you mate, you play with anyone else and you’re out of the band.”

“Pete, you’re my dearest friend, but in that case, sod off!”

With that Keith Moon stormed out of Eel Pie Studios, leaving in his tracks a dumbstruck Pete Townshend.

That scene was on Keith’s mind later that day as he sat behind the drum kit. Yeah, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page could play, but this “Bolero” was boring the hell out of him. Something was needed to turn it loose.


Moonie’s hysterical scream halfway through the track was the turning point. “Beck’s Bolero” went from sounding, well, just like regular Bolero – a bit tastier, a bit psychedelic, but fairly straightforward - until the madman’s wild shriek cut the air, and – bam, bam, bam- Keith’s drumming propelled the group to bombastic heights of volume and heaviness. Jeff and Jimmy’s guitars meshed seamlessly together, two metal machines perfectly melded.

“Barbaric, man, simply barbaric,” shouted Beck. He smiled as Moon bent over to pick up the smashed cymbals and microphones that were the victims of his percussive carnage. After leaving The Yardbirds, (or was he fired?) Beck had regrouped and, here at De Lane Lea in Soho, he had gathered some mates to record. July 1966 had started out sunny and warm. A good portent, Beck thought.

The rest of the guys were also laughing at Moon’s carrying on. That was normal. Keith was constantly clowning, dressing up in ridiculous costumes, undoubtedly pissed. Today, he came to the studio in dark glasses, incognito and, shockingly, completely sober. Beck knew that The Who were in disarray, always fighting, but he wasn’t aware of the fit Moon had pitched when he walked out on the group.

Moonie was deep in thought. He couldn’t believe Pete said that, that he was out, and thought he just might be better off playing with someone else. He’d been invited to Jeff’s session and knew it’d be a blast. Besides Jeff and Jimmy, there was John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins. Nicky had played on the first Who album, “My Generation,” and he was a monster. They were all great players and Keith was looking forward to bashing about. Nothing Pete said was going to stop him.

While the drums were being reassembled, Page leaned towards Beck.

“That’s the sound, man, that’s the sound.”

“They’ll never play it on Top Gear, though.”

Page laughed. “I’m not thinking about how to get on the BBC. I’m thinking about how to play. It’s what I wanted in the Yardbirds before you quit.”

"Got the sack, you mean.” Beck sneered.

“Temper, temper,” Page swept back his unruly black hair in order to see Beck better and gauge his mood. Beck was always on about something, anger simmering, waiting to explode. Page tuned his guitar, a 12-string, as he waited for Beck to cool off.

“Sorry, mate, but you did kick me out.” He was fine.

Page pleased that a row was averted went on. “Long playing, like what we just did. Five, six, seven minutes, totally free. We wouldn’t be a singles band, that’s for sure, but album sales, man, we’d sell a bundle.”

“Are you thinking about this lot?’ Beck waved the neck of his Fender at the other blokes in the room.

“I do fancy Jonesy’s playing. He’s got a heavy bass. Nicky – love his playing but I don’t hear a piano in this.”

“And Moonie?”

“Would he really leave The Who? You know how barmy he is. Can’t be counted on.”

Beck yelled over. “Hey, Keith. Come here a minute.”

“What are you geezers goin’ on about?” Keith shouted as he shuffled over, removed his shades and tucked them inside his white Oxford shirt. Not in the pocket, mind you, but inside the shirt where they disappeared.

Beck took the lead. After all, it was his session. “Fancy playing with us?”

“I ‘ave been playing with you.”

“Naw, I mean permanent-like.”

It had been a few hours since Keith’s tantrum, but he was still sorely miffed. Maybe his time had come to split.

“I’m all ears, Jeffrey, all ears.”

“Jimmy and I were just talking about what happened here, after you howled. We love that sound.”

“You mean when you sounded like The Who?” Keith playfully responded.

Jimmy interjected. “Maybe a bit, not really. Pete’s great, I love Pete, but he can’t compare with me and Jeff together.” Page harbored a bit of a chip on his shoulder after Pete wouldn’t give him credit for his work on “I Can’t Explain,” the band’s first smash hit.

“I adored it too, seriously.” Keith had had more fun playing on that than he’d had at the recent rancorous Who rehearsals. They were scheduled back at IBC Studios in August to start recording their next album. They still wouldn’t let him sing, but Pete promised he’d have a cut on the LP. Yeah, we’ll see about that. Not after today, that’s for sure.

“I’m in. I love it, but it’s no good. It’ll never work. Probably go down like a lead zeppelin. Could I sing?”

Page and Beck gave each other a knowing look.

“You know that singer for Long John Baldry?” Beck asked

“Rod the Mod? Of course, he has that rooster hair sticking straight up, don’t he?” asked Keith.

“That’s him. I thought I’d give him a ring.”

“Why don’t we work on something right now? You know the Willie Dixon song, ‘You Shook Me’?” Jimmy was eager to hear that sound again.

With a fuzz guitar lead in, and an incessant pounding on the bass drum, the new group started up.

On July 12, 1966, Jeff Beck, now ousted from The Yardbirds, held a recording session with former band mate Jimmy Page, session musician John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins and Keith Moon. They recorded the Page-penned “Beck’s Bolero.” In 1968, in the middle of troubles with The Who, John Entwistle and Keith Moon were rumored to form a band with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Either Moon or Entwistle said the new group would “go over like a lead zeppelin.” In 1968, The Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart on vocals, invented heavy metal. Led Zeppelin would follow months later. Both would cover “You Shook Me.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Am Waiting

From the bottom of the pool he could make out the light above. He thought he heard someone shout, “Brian! Brian!” but couldn’t be sure. At first, Brian thought Frank was being playful when he started to dunk his head under the water, but he realized quickly that it was turning violent and that there was real menace to this “play.” It scared Brian and he retreated to the bottom of the pool. Brian had fired Frank Thorogood as his builder after he found out that Frank was badmouthing him as a spoiled rock star and ripping him off to boot. Still, he let Frank live at the house at Cotchford Farm.

July had started hot and a dip in the pool was in order. Frank was there with his girl, Brian with his new bird Anna. He had been hitting the drugs less in the weeks since Mick, Keith and Charlie came to his Sussex estate to inform him he was out of the group. Out of the group! He, Brian Jones, had named The Rolling Stones. He, Brian Jones, had formed the group with his innate genius in bringing people together. And, at the beginning, he was the most forceful advocate for and defender of their music. He was a born leader and the most quoted. Now he was out.

Brian had a few glasses of Blue Nun and felt a little pissed, not too much. Frank thought he could take advantage of Brian in the pool, but he didn’t know that Jones was a damn good swimmer. Even the roughest waters were no match for his skill. His deep diving stunts always amazed his friends. When Brian had a tantrum at Keith’s house at Redlands last June, and pretended to be drowning in the shallow moat, Mick knew he was faking. Jagger pushed his head under water - “You want to drown, you bastard?” - knowing he wouldn’t. Mick’s violence was a put on, another false face, but Frank’s was real, so Brian went down to escape.

The quiet that surrounded him gave him time to think. Surely, he had suffered. Mick and Keith were easy stars, accepting their new found royalty in a way Brian could never adjust to. There was always a level where Brian didn’t make it with the other two. Somewhere inside he was alone. He was much cleverer than the rest. He knew Satanic Majesties would be a joke, a pale copy of Sgt. Pepper but Mick was insistent. Brian was right, and when the reviews came, savagely, Mick and Keith got angry at Brian. Just like Keith to side with Mick.

He was also was the best musician of the lot. Brian was the sound of the Rolling Stones, the soul. The sitar on “Paint It, Black”, that was Brian. The slide guitar on “Jigsaw Puzzle”, that was Brian. The flute on “Ruby Tuesday”, Brian too. Whatever needed playing, he played – mouth harp, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dulcimer. The Arabic sounds on “We Love You”, that was Brian on mellotron.

Drugs had taken their toll, to be sure. At 25, he was fat and tired, with deep, heavy bags under eyes. His face wore the pain of the cruel treatment administered by the police, who had busted him twice in the last two years, and by his “friends.” Mick and Keith were prone to ganging up on Brian and it had only gotten worse over the years. Mick, always jealous of Brian’s musical ability and his looks, had told him ‘You’re all washed up.” Keith had stolen the love of his life, Anita. “With friends like these,” he thought. Then, on top of it all, they give him the boot.

Mick, Keith and Charlie came to see Brian at Cotchford Farm, the former estate of A.A. Milne. That was June 9. Oh, they tried to say it wasn’t any good, that Brian wasn’t fit to tour the States with them, that it was temporary, just for the near future, but that was rubbish. He expected it, but it hit him hard. They were right, he wasn’t fit to do the road thing again, but it didn’t seem real. There was Mick, acting the ponce, explaining the reasons they couldn’t go on like this. Just like Mick to make it about money, too, offering 100,000 pounds up front and 20,000 pounds a year as long as the Stones lasted. How long could that be, really? When they left, Brian sat in the Christopher Robin garden, crying, alone.

But as he hung below the watery surface, he realized he didn’t want to be part of the group anymore. He had other musical interests beyond the sound of The Rolling Stones, now boring to his ears. They weren’t seeing eye to eye about the music, and he wanted to do so much more. His trip to Morocco to record the musicians at Jajouka opened a new world. He had hoped to add their exotic rhythms to the Stones sound. Now, maybe he could produce his own music, his own way. Over the years his travels had taken him all over the world - Ceylon, Marrakesh, Tangier. There were new sounds to be discovered, a world of music he could use.

In the weeks since the firing, he had turned a new leaf. He was happier than he had been in recent years, enjoying Creedence’s “Proud Mary,” and The Beatles’ “Ballad of John and Yoko.” He felt a bit crucified, if you can be only a little crucified, he laughed to himself. Charlie had visited a few times. He had been rehearsing with various musicians every day for two weeks, excitedly ringing Keith up to tell him how things were going.

There could be life after the Stones. He had that knack of getting people together. Not just his former band, but others, like hooking Nico up with The Velvet Underground. Recently he had spoken with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix and they had both left the door open to work together with Brian. Brian had started one group with his skill and push. He could start again; he could be that leader again. When the Stones started out, he felt he was doing exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He had just gotten off course. It was time to get back to his love, making music.

With that, Brian Jones kicked off the bottom of the pool and headed up to the light.

In the early morning hours of July 3, 1969, nearly one month from being fired from The Rolling Stones, founding member Brian Jones drowned in the swimming pool at his home, Cotchford Farm, Sussex. The verdict was death by “misadventure.” Jones was an excellent swimmer and drowning seemed unlikely. Mystery immediately surrounded his death, and hints of murder arose. Frank Thorogood was the prime suspect. When word reached the Stones at Olympic Studios at 3 AM, during the first sessions with Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor, they were recording Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lay Back and Groove

“Another white motherfucker?” Miles rasped.

“Miles, Miles,” Jimi shook his head slowly, a wry grin on his face. “He’s a great cat. Why can’t you just be groovy, man?”

Miles glared as he leaned back on the control panel. “You want to play jazz, you want to play black music? You can’t do that with some ofay rock star on bass.” Jimi leaned forward to catch Miles’s whispery voice.

Through the wood-framed window, Hendrix could see into the studio. Tony Williams, Miles’ drummer, looked with disdain at Paul McCartney. When Jimi and Miles had talked about doing a session at Electric Lady Studios, Jimi thought of one bass player only, McCartney. Paul had always been a big supporter of Jimi’s and had gotten him the gig at the Monterey Pop Festival two years before. Jimi’s popularity exploded after that performance, loud, feedback drenched pyrotechnics that included dousing his axe with lighter fluid and setting it ablaze. He owed Paul something in exchange for his faith. More than that, McCartney could play anything. Looking out at the two, Jimi could see Paul, friendly as ever, waving his hands in the air as he talked animatedly to Tony. McCartney never noticed the disgust in Williams’ eyes.

“Miles, Paul is the best bass player in the world, and…”

“Don’t you tell me that. Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus, Ron Carter. Don’t you tell me Paul McCartney is the best. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Plus, he can’t read music.”

Hendrix laughed and crossed his arms, the ultra-wide sleeves of his floral print blouse hanging loosely down. “Well, you know I can’t either. Every time you mention diminished chords you know I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Jimi respected Miles Davis, loved playing with him, but he was hard to take sometimes, a lot of bad vibes. Jimi’s mind drifted to the time Davis dropped by his apartment and they jammed. Miles’ muted trumpet and Jimi’s unplugged guitar were magic together. Jimi just wanted to play and not deal with this racist bullshit. He fiddled with the red and black knobs on the control panel as he thought about the music that could be, if Miles would just be cool and relax.

“Can’t we just play?” pleaded Jimi, as he quietly strummed his Fender.

For all his strident independence, Miles Davis had become something of a follower when it came to Jimi Hendrix. After seeing Jimi’s blowout hairstyle, he left his Afro behind and began to wear his hair the same way. No more dark suits, either. It was pure psychedelics in the Davis wardrobe now, bought from the same shop in Greenwich Village that Jimi frequented.

It wasn’t only Hendrix’s fashion sense that knocked Davis out. There was no doubt this motherfucker was a natural. When Miles showed him something on the horn, or played him a record, Jimi would pick it up faster than anyone Miles had ever played with. And Miles had played with everybody. Miles genuinely liked Hendrix and was amazed at his musicianship, but, man, he did not go for Jimi’s taste in music. He fiddled with the buttons of his multi-colored vest as he considered Jimi’s request.

“You know I hate that hillbilly shit you play, always having these white folks playing with you. What about my music, Trane’s music? That’s where your head should be at, not with these rich honkies playing teeny bopper shit. You come from the blues, man, stay with that. You want to play Carnegie Hall with me, like we talked about, you listen to me.”

“It’s just music man. I dig you, you know that. I dig Trane. But I also dig Sgt. Pepper. I don’t go for that radical rap. There ain’t no black music. There ain’t no white music. It’s just music.”

“You’ll never win them up in Harlem. You think the cats at Small’s Paradise gonna love you now, playing Bob Dylan shit with a white band?” Miles knew Jimi had a thing about not making it uptown with his own people. Jimi had told Miles how he went to Small’s thinking he’d be cheered, the new black hope in rock music. Strutting into the room wearing bell bottoms, a ruffled purple shirt and a wide-brimmed black hat adorned with a chain of silver rings and a lilac scarf, he was met with insults and put-downs.

“Hey man, take those fag clothes back downtown.”

“Where’s your purse, Miss Thang?’

He did not go over well with the short-brimmed, straight-legged patrons at Small’s.

Miles knew how to shove in the knife. Jimi was hurt by the recollection and wondered why Miles was so angry. Did he know that Jimi was getting it on with Miles’ wife Betty? Nah, he couldn’t; it was too new a thing.

Jimi looked back into the studio. There, Tony and Paul were jamming, Paul following Tony’s subtle swinging, an indisputable groove forming. Paul was laughing and Tony couldn’t help but smile.

“Look out there. You see I’m right.” Jimi said happily.

“Turn it up,” ordered Miles. Jimi pushed the controls northward. It was a slow tune, but it swung.

“I don’t know that tune,” Miles said curtly.

“It’s a Beatles song called “The Fool on the Hill.” Paul wrote it,” Jimi smiled. “You should be more hip to the scene, man, everyone knows that song.”

Miles turned to watch the rhythm section playing like they’d been together for years. He had no reaction at all. He turned to face Jimi.

"Fuck you, man.”

Jimi grabbed his white Fender guitar and headed out to play. Miles picked up his horn, right behind him now.

Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix met in 1968 at the hairdressers. They had talked about jamming together and met once at Jimi’s apartment. When it came time to plan a session, Miles and drummer Tony Williams each demanded rock star money - $50,000 each. That scuttled the deal, but not before Hendrix had sent a telegram to Paul McCartney inviting him to play with the group. Tony Williams recorded “The Fool on the Hill” on his last album in 1998.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Change Partners

Graham Nash just couldn’t play the music business game. An album of Dylan songs sung in the group’s bubbly style? The Hollies didn’t have enough to do justice to Dylan, and Nash wouldn’t do it, even if everyone agreed it would be a sure smash. Who was Nash to argue? He was moving forward artistically, writing things like “King Midas in Reverse.” But the tune had lived up to its title and, rather than turn gold, it was a flop. Nash’s pleas to experiment, to grow, were not going to convince anyone after his song didn’t sell, especially after The Hollies had three top ten songs hit the American charts. So he left the group, a hard decision since they’d been together for years. He knew Allan Clarke since they were five years old! He had no choice; they were too far apart on how they viewed the band. It wouldn’t be announced officially until the end of the year, but now he was solo, living in a loft, trying to figure out his next move. Things happen, magic connections are made, you just never know.

It was kind of Cass to invite him to her Hollywood home that night. He knew most of the people that were expected to show up. David Crosby, he was heavy. When Graham first saw him and other members of The Byrds strolling down Bleecker Street when The Hollies were playing the Paramount in early 1966, he was way too nervous to say hi. Something in the vibe that Crosby exuded made Graham nervous. Graham liked the Village, checking out the jazz clubs and getting the chance to see Mingus and Miles at places like the Village Gate or the Vanguard. He heard Stills might be there as well. He liked Stephen, had met him during a Hollies American tour. They hit it off, talked about making some demos together.

Stephen Stills loved to ride. It was the reason he chose to live in Topanga Canyon instead of Laurel, where so many of his friends set up house. Topanga was horse country, Laurel Canyon was motorcycle territory. Astride his chestnut mare, wearing worn cowboy boots, faded jeans, dark brown Hank Williams hat and a beat up old football jersey, he had lots of time to think. The horse paused for a moment, slowly turning, unsure of her next move. Where was he headed? Stills wondered.

At 23, he had already hit some major highs and lows. Buffalo Springfield ended up a bad scene, but, man, they had a Top Ten song with “For What It’s Worth.” Who would have thought that a pop song about the Sunset Strip “riots,” the establishment’s name for when cops beat on kids grooving to the new music scene, would be a big hit? Springfield was at the heart of that scene, had really started it, but now Stills watched it go by without him. He and Neil surely had a wild ride. Their relationship was always turbulent, from the very beginning when Steve was touring Canada with a folk group, early ’63 he thought, and saw a 17 year old Neil Young playing kinda folky, kinda rock. Now it was June 1968 and Stills was without a band, without direction.

Having just cut an album with Al Kooper, Stills was playing, and playing well. After Judy’s sessions at Elektra Studios in April, Stills peeled off a few hundred bucks to keep the engineers at the board so he could get all his new songs out. The guys were happy to hang and just roll tape, especially after a tedious night of easy listening Collins tunes. It felt good, but aimless.

Drifting was not new to Stephen. He moved a lot as a kid - Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, Florida, even Costa Rica. Topanga felt like home. This was real hippie country, and Stills dug it, riding horses he would give names like Major Change and Crazy Horse. It was a fine way to kill time while waiting for something to come up.

Tonight’s party at Cass’ house would be fun. He knew David Crosby would be there. Stills and Crosby had a deep spiritual connection. Perhaps they would write together some day. He hoped Peter would be there as well. Stephen had auditioned for The Monkees in September of ’65, and while the producers thought he was perfect, Stills had a different point of view. “This is really not my bag, but I have a friend who would be great.” That friend was Peter Tork, who was washing dishes at a Santa Monica coffeehouse. Now Peter was huge, making big dough and big news. Stills had heard there was a July 4th party in New York that Peter was hosting. The Who would be there, along with Cass Elliot, John Sebastian and Harvey Brooks of Electric Flag. Steve wasn’t sure if Peter had left for the east coast yet.

At least Crosby would be there and they could play. Plus, there was bound to be a lot of coke, and Stephen looked forward to that frozen feeling at the tip of his nose.


If Cass Elliot was “The Queen of Los Angeles Pop Society” as one of The Mamas & The Papas, then David Crosby was the prince regent. The two were tight, so tight that David would often pop in unexpectedly for a swim. Cass always had delicatessen food for Crosby, his favorite. Sometimes the visits were so square that they would sit and watch The Huntley- Brinkley Report at 6:30 and just talk. Other times were wild, and Cass’ parties were always a riot. There was the time when Eric Clapton and Steve Stills were there, and Crosby joined the jam session. Then Buddy Miles walked in. Buddy knew Stills from a jam session with Jimi Hendrix at Stephen’s house.

Sometimes David needed to get his head ready for the party, but usually there were plenty of drugs at her pad. Crosby was already deep into coke and heroin, ever since that first time he tried some China White. Cass was doing it too. Man, the fans would go apeshit if they knew that “Mama” Cass, the fat, funny one, was a junkie. The party tonight was bound to be a trip. Stills was expected to show up, and so was Neil Young. Graham Nash, too, and David had grown to feel a strong bond, almost brotherly, with the soon to be ex-Hollie. Yeah, he had heard Graham was splitting the band. Couldn’t blame him for not wanting to do pop tunes for 12 year old fans. But leaving a band was tough and he knew that sure enough.

After three years with The Byrds, after the former young folkies became rock stars, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” both hitting number one, Crosby was shitcanned. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman pulled up one fall day in ’67, one Porsche after the other entering Crosby’s driveway. Crosby wasn’t that surprised when their words came flowing out, “We can’t work with an egomaniac like you.” And, “Hey, man, we want you out of the band.” And, “ We don’t dig your songs.”

No shit, David thought. During a Crosby song like “What’s Happening?!?!,” McGuinn would play and then stop to look at his watch, wanting out of the tune. Hillman’s bass line would crash to a halt, maybe for six bars, enough time for to take a drag from his cigarette. True, man! It was a bad scene with the Byrds, but getting fired hurt, deeply.

The Byrds were freaked out when Crosby ranted about the Kennedy assassination at Monterey a few months back. They were even more uptight about Crosby playing with Buffalo Springfield. When Neil Young split, Stills turned to Crosby. After all, the Byrds had hired Springfield to open for them at $125. It was their first gig. Crosby really dug that Stills liked to play, not like McGuinn and Hillman who always were looking for excuses to argue. Steven had become a bigger part of Crosby’s life in the last couple of years. There were few people David admired more. He thought Stills was a stone genius and wanted to hang out with him whenever possible.

Escaping L.A. after his dismissal, Crosby went down to Florida to his pride and joy, The Mayan. Sailing was a dream of David’s since he was a little over 11, and when he saw the boat he had to have it. What he didn’t have was money, so he borrowed $22,500 from Tork, flush with Monkee money. Crosby always laughed when he thought, “that’s a lot of bananas.” Now he was back on his home turf, Los Angeles, with a young singer he discovered in Florida, Joni Mitchell. Crosby saw her, blonde, waif like and beautiful, at a club in Coconut Grove and brought her back with him. He used his clout, what was left of it, to act as a producer . She was ever-thankful that the record, Song to a Seagull, came out just how she wanted it to. David had protected her. He was like that. Good vibes were present during the sessions at Sunset Studios in Hollywood. Buffalo Springfield was there, too, and Joni had a chance to introduce David to her old pal Neil from Canada.

Always following a singular path, Crosby chose a house that was not in the counterculture nature retreat that was Topanga Canyon. Nor was it in Laurel Canyon, a psychedelic swath that ran from Schwab’s Drug Store all the way to the San Fernando Valley. Instead, he settled into a little wooden house on Lisbon Lane in Beverly Glen Canyon, which separates Beverley Hills and Bel Air. He decided to take his hippie house on wheels, a beige VW bus with a Porsche engine and headed south to Sunset.

Ah, Sunset Strip. The Byrds’ first success was here at Ciro’s, a club decorated like a plush Vegas lounge, cheap looking. Here began Crosby’s ascent to star status, the paranoid king of the world as a Byrd. Now, since his firing, he was virtually dead as a recording artist, and, though still volatile and definitely opinionated, he was now more at ease. Living with Joni helped a lot. He drifted back a couple of years to Pandora’s Box, the purple painted coffeehouse on the Strip across from Schwab’s. The fuzz came down hard, said the kids were conducting a riot and brought out the mace, batons and tear gas. “For What It’s Worth” was released one month later. That Stills, he was too much.

Getting off to a late start, Crosby hoped he hadn’t missed the fun. He was going to take Sunset up to Mulholland and hoped there wouldn’t be too much traffic. Steering with his left hand and fiddling with the radio dial with his right, Crosby paused for a few seconds at the sound of a pedal steel guitar. At first he thought it was a sitar, which he loved, but, man, he hated this corny country shit. Hillman used to play that crap all the time. It drove David nuts, racist crackers singing about stupid shit.

While fiddling about for another station, Crosby heard a loud boom and he lost a little control. He pulled over and got out. Fuck, fuck, fuck. A blowout. He would never get a tow truck and it was too far too walk. He paced, leonine, his long hair, receding and swept back like a mane, his droopy mustache looking like whiskers. He tried to hitch for a bit, but no luck. He looked pretty scruffy. A pay phone was nearby, but he didn’t have a dime. He wasn’t about to ask a cop for help, not with a bag of weed in the pocket of his fringe jacket.

He squatted down on the curb, trying to figure what to do. This was a bummer and he was in no mood for the party. He just wanted a ride home. Looking up, he saw, to his amazement, a rare L.A. cab. Flagging it down, he gave his address and headed back for a restful night with Joni.

Crosby, Stills and Nash did attend a party at Cass Elliot’s Hollywood home in June 1968. Nash asked Stills and Crosby to sing “You Don’t Have to Cry.” Nash looked at the ceiling and, after about 10 seconds, started a third part like he’d sung it forever. CSN was formed that night. By early 1969, Joni Mitchell was living with Graham Nash in Laurel Canyon.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Other Voices

In March of 1973, I had the good fortune to interview Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and sometime bass player of The Doors. Having lost Jim Morrison on July 3, 1971, the remaining band members had persevered as a trio, releasing two LPs, “Other Voices” and “Full Circle.” When I sat down with Ray, he, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore were in London on a search for a new singer. Manzarek, who had just turned 34 in February, looked like a hipper John Denver, with shoulder length, reddish-brown hair and round glasses. Wearing dark purple slacks, a black button down shirt and a dapper white sport coat with robin’s egg blue stripes, Manzarek was quite relaxed as we began.

JK: Belated Happy Birthday. I noticed you share a birthday with Charles Darwin.

RM: True and I’m always trying to evolve.

JK: That’s a good segue, actually. Can you give some glimpse into what it has been like for the band since Jim’s death?

RM: I would prefer not to dwell on that. Jim had left for Paris in March of ’71, saying that he wouldn’t be back, that his rock star days were over. We didn’t necessarily believe that. A few weeks before he died, Jim rang John and asked how “L.A. Woman” was doing. His concern for album sales didn’t sound like the kind of question a retired rock singer would ask. (Laughs)

JK: So, you expected him to return to the States?

RM: After that conversation, yeah, we all did. It was a shock when we heard the news, but he’s not totally gone. Jim is always with us – in the air, in our music.

JK: But you didn’t break up.

RM: No, we didn’t. We had been working on songs that would be ready for Jim’s vocals when he came back, so we just moved forward. That became “Other Voices.” We had the good sense not to replace Jim at first. It was weird from our point of view, especially when Robby and I sang. We’d fight about whose voice was worse! Jim as a person was impossible to replace, but we thought, well, anyone can be a rock and roll singer. It turned out to be a little harder than that.

JK: How hard?

RM: As I said, you don’t replace all that Jim Morrison was. He was so much more than a singer. He really represented The Doors. You know, The Who could go on without Roger Daltrey, because Pete Townshend writes the tunes and is a great singer. Look at The Stones. They didn’t skip a beat when Brian Jones died. I think Led Zeppelin could exist without Robert Plant. To me, it’s their music that resonates, not the vocals. Not so with the Doors. The three of us are still producing Doors music, but, let’s be honest; it’s not a complete package without a vital singer. So, almost two years later, we are searching for identity.

JK: You guys sound great, both on the two records and live.

RM: I believe we are a much better band without Jim. That sounds terrible, but it’s true. Musically, we can stretch out. Inviting jazz musicians like Charles Lloyd to play with us is a good example. [Lloyd played flute and tenor saxophone on “Full Circle”.] We still need to find ourselves in that context. Clearly, singing is a weakness.

As if on cue, Paul McCartney walks in and pulls up a chair. His hair is identical in style to Manzarek’s, though darker. Still the same “Cute One” a decade after The Beatles exploded on the English scene, Paul wears a black button down shirt as well, collars flared over a red, white and black striped sweater and wide bell-bottom blue jean. He joins the interview.

JK: Right on time. Paul, Ray was just commenting on his weakness as a singer.

PM: Well, he’s alright, actually. Don’t be so humble.

JK: Can you talk about how you and Ray came to meet?

PM: I always liked the Doors and was sorry I missed them at Isle of Wight. It was a few months after the breakup and I wasn’t in a good place. But their music has always been cool. And how did the Doors feel about Paul McCartney, Ray?

RM: Paul and I have spoken about this. It’s funny, but while we thought the Beatles were incredible, it was the Stones that made me and Jim think we could play rock. Sorry, Paul. Actually, that may be a compliment. I will say this. We all knew that we came in at the tail end of the British Invasion, and that The Beatles had done it and made it easier for people like us.

JK: Which brings us nicely to the point. Ray, what brought the band to London?

RM: As I mentioned, it was clear we needed to find a new front man. We couldn’t go on with me and Robby. So we figured let’s go to London and find someone. We thought about Joe Cocker- he’s a great singer. Iggy Pop came up. Do you know him? From the Stooges? Really raw and onstage he’s kinda like Jim, way out there. We were talking about singers we liked and Robby loved Little Richard. He said “that’s rock power.” That’s when I thought, what about Paul McCartney? Besides singing better than all of us he is the best bass player around and I won’t have to play bass anymore. We’d be like Lennon, musically at least, and provide that darkness and edge. So I called Paul and I was happy he agreed to come by and talk.

JK: Paul, what did you think when Ray called?

PM: I had just left a band, hadn’t I? Wings was just taking off and sales were very good. The Wings tour went well, but, not to take the piss out of the band, I realized I needed a better sound. I love Linda, but she doesn’t really want to be in the band, onstage, and Ray is a much better player.

RM: I would have to agree with that.

PM: Still love you honey. Anyway, as I said, sales were great, “McCartney” was a number one, “Ram” a number two. “Uncle Albert” a number one as well, but something was missing.

JK: The rock press was pretty rough to you.

PM: Definitely, definitely, and while I could handle the bum notices, it certainly stings. You know, I’m not really rubbish, am I? After a while one does doubt one’s self. Even after “My Love” came out a week or so ago and started selling, the press was devastating. “Sappy” and “The worst qualities of McCartney” are two of the nicest things I’ve read. Though I have an album coming out next month, I thought it may be time for something different, and that’s when Ray called.

JK: And you joined, just like that?

RM: He did.

PM: I did. I do have the freedom to do what I want. Someone’s knocking on your door, you let them in, right. (Laughs)

RM: It’s nice for us as a group. Playing with Jim had its joy and its sorrow. There’s was a show at the Concertgebouw in ’68 when Jim was so drunk he passed out and the paramedics took him away. At least with Paul, we have a pro who makes performing less stressful. Plus, he’ll keep his pants on.

PM: Now, Ray, you don’t know that for sure.

JK: The Doors sound and the Paul McCartney sound don’t necessarily mesh. How will that work?

PM: Look, it’ll be fine. Don’t forget I wrote songs like “Helter Skelter.” I have my dark side.

RM: And The Doors had a variety of sounds. Paul showed us a new song about a band running from the law that’s musically adventurous and lyrically interesting. It will be easy to create a group sound.

JK: I have one last question - the name.

RM: We haven’t gotten to that yet.

PM: That’s not a question!

In March of 1973, the three remaining Doors arrived in London to search for a new singer. Thoughts turned to Joe Cocker, Iggy Pop, and Howard Werth (of Audience). Then, Ray Manzarek suggested Paul McCartney. None of these suggestions bore fruit. London that month was frigid, and blackouts were commonplace. The end of winter brought constant cold and rain and it didn’t help the mood of the band when their hotel shut off the heat at night. After an argument about the group’s musical direction, Ray took his pregnant wife Dorothy back to the States. It was then that The Doors broke up for good.