Friday, July 29, 2011

And in the End…Maybe Baby Says Goodbye

In 52 stories, over two years, Maybe Baby has brought you its own version of rock and roll history, hitting the near-misses, breathing life into the accidental deaths and repaving the roads not taken. Partly truth, partly fiction, we hope you’ve found them as fun to read as they were to write.

With over 1,500 fans on Facebook, and countless more via constant reposting from readers and links from band sites, Maybe Baby has been read by many. Though the new stories are over (for now), we will stay alive through daily Twitter and Facebook updates and links to past stories. And someday, maybe, who knows, baby, we’ll come back in book form!

So my great thanks to you all, and lots of love.

Goodnight everybody, everybody everywhere.

Jeff Katz

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Meanwhile at the Stupid Club

“We were in, I think we were in Ames, Iowa and I asked this kid, his name was Freddy and he played bass in the band that opened for us. They were like, they were, I think the best band in Ames, Iowa, right? So I said to Freddy, ‘Hey Man, you’re hip to the scene, where’s the action around here and…”

“Oh baby, you are crazy, I just love you man!” yelled Janis. She sat down on Jim’s lap, leaned in and plunged her tongue into his mouth. Jim crossed his eyes and made a face that screamed “not interested.”

“Aw, listen honey, this is my heaven too and if I wanna ball then you’re gonna ball!” Janis tugged on Jim’s left shoulder, hard, until she pulled from him another Jim Morrison. She grabbed the new Jim’s hand and led him away. The real Jim continued babbling.

“…and I met this blonde, she was like a farmer’s daughter or something, you know, a stone fox.”

“Oh, I know that kinda chick, man. Hey I wrote ‘Foxey Lady’ so I know what I’m talking about.” Jimi played the riff – wooo woo, wooo woo – on Charlie Christian’s Gibson ES-150 electric guitar – and let out a guffaw so loud that Sid was stunned awake.

“What? Where?” he spluttered in confusion. He turned his head from left to right in quick motion, soaking in his surroundings. “Oh yeah, I remember” and he free fell backwards into his beanbag cloud. Suddenly, a spike appeared in his arm and the plunger went down. As he drew it in, a figure appeared in the distance and Sid squinted to get a better look. Jim followed his gaze.

“Oh, I know that guy. Good band; they had like two or three albums. You know, they don’t make records anymore, it’s like a little silver disc from space and…”

“Oi! What ya doin’ mate,” Sid called cheerily. “I like your ripped jeans, but, what’s that then, your grandma’s cardigan?” His top lip curled up as he bent over and slapped his knees.

Kurt was a frightened sheep, his scared eyes darting back and forth. They were all here, all his rock heroes – Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Sid Vicious. Was that Janis Joplin straddling Jim Morrison? But Jim is here and he’s talking, but…

“I’m comin’ baby, hold on,” Janis whooped.

“Hey, I ‘eard you used to use my name down there you wanker, signing into hotels as Mr. and Mrs. Simon Ritchie with that slag of yours. I got a right bollocking from St. Peter, he of the pearly gates: ‘Were you down there again Sidney,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck you, you twat!’ Gave him the finger too!” Sid cackled louder than before.

Kurt was nervous as Sid approached.

“Ah, just taken the piss mate,” he grinned as he cuffed Kurt on the head, sending his dirty blonde hair over his eyes.

"Am I where I think I am?” asked Kurt quietly. A minute ago he was sitting in the room above his garage, a needle in one hand and a shotgun in the other.

Jimi spoke. “Yeah baby, this is heaven alright. Nice to have a brother from Seattle up here. How are things down in my old hometown? You know, I skipped out soon after ‘Louie, Louie,’ you know. But up here, everything you want. You just gotta think it.”

“Think it?”

“Yeah, you wanna play the hottest guitar, like this one, you just think it and it appears. You want the sweetest smack you ever shot up? Look at Sid. It just happens. It’s sooo warm. And you never run out of bread so you always get to use the best stuff. You wanna fuck Cleopatra, you just…”

In a long golden gown and tiara, Cleopatra appeared behind Jimi’s celestial throne. He looked over his shoulder. “Baby, it was just an example.” As she began to fade Jimi thought again.

“Wait, sugar. Jimi’s gonna need you in about 15 minutes. Don’t go away now.”

Kurt looked as Sid stirred. He was off on an even higher plane. Suddenly, Sid twitched and tossed a full beer bottle Kurt’s way. It flew over his head and descended through the clouds, landing in Pittsburgh.

“Stevie Winwood was wrong baby," Jimi said. "Heaven ain’t just in your mind. It’s the real deal.”

Kurt rubbed his eyes, holding the stretched out sweater sleeves in his palm. “Heaven,” he thought as he jumped backwards onto a cotton ball cloud. Kurt put his hands behind his head and stared up at the brilliant blue sky; the sky stared back at his brilliant blues eyes. He closed them and smiled.

His nose involuntarily wrinkled as it got a strong whiff of cheap scotch. He opened them and saw Janis up close, her face nearly touching his.

“Hey baby, you’re new here, right?”

Kurt nodded his head.

“Wanna ball?” she asked plaintively.

Kurt shook his head.

“Aw, listen honey, this is my heaven too and if I wanna ball then you’re gonna ball!” Janis tugged on Kurt’s right shoulder, hard, until she pulled another Kurt Cobain from the original model. It didn’t hurt. She led the new Kurt off.

Kurt looked over and watched Janis Joplin fucking his other self. He laughed and looked back at the sky. This was good, very good.

Ah, Nirvana.

Jimi Hendrix died on September 18, 1970. Janis Joplin died on October 4, 1970. Jim Morrison died July 3, 1971. Sid Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie) died February 2, 1979. Kurt Cobain died April 5, 1994.

When Kurt’s mother Wendy Cobain spoke to a reporter after her son’s suicide by shotgun blast, she sadly said of her son “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club.”

“And so dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on. The dream is over.” – John Lennon

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Friends Came to Me

With the comfort of Pete Ham at his right, George picked the opening notes to “Here Comes the Sun.” The crowd roared approval and George let loose a sly smile before returning to his terrified gaze. An hour into the concert, he still had a bit of nerves and though he had Badfinger with him now, and a horde of friends throughout, he was consumed with worry and deep blue thoughts.

So far, so good. It was happening, this Concert for Bangladesh, by all standards a huge success. He was front and center for the first time, his shoulder length hair spilling onto his burnt orange shirt, the white coat of his gleaming suit discarded. George’s serious demeanor, coupled with his long Egyptian pharaoh beard, made him look well beyond his 28 years. He stared out, thinking.

Would Bob show?

It was difficult for George to behave normally around Dylan; he worshipped the man and the man didn’t make it easy on George. Dylan wouldn’t commit. Oh, he had lots of reasons, most circling around his almost absolute disappearance from the stage these last five years.

“Hey man, you know this isn’t my scene,” Bob drawled laconically.

George was near breaking point from the gaggle of lawyers, record executives and accountants who circled like vultures, looking to pick the charity carcass clean. Bob was an idol and friend, but at this moment of great human suffering, he was acting selfishly. There was a higher purpose here.

“Look, it’s not my scene either. At least you’ve played on your own in front of a crowd before. I’ve never done that.” Never. He’d always been comfortable in the back. “The Quiet Beatle?” There was something to it. He didn’t want to be the focus, but that was the way God planned it.

Would John come?

John owed him. George had been willing to play with John and Yoko when others in the band wouldn’t. Avant-garde? That’s French for bullshit, but George was a dutiful friend. He’d played vicious slide guitar on John’s anti-Paul vendetta “How Do You Sleep?” George had played the dutiful follower but now he’d grown up and John was confused, lost in maya, apart from true love and unity.

He’d agreed though, at first. Even when George put his foot down and told him “No Yoko,” John was still ready to play. The last few days brought silence. George knew that for all John’s “peace and love” crap, he was a competitive bugger and was consumed by jealousy as George went to the top of the charts and sold millions of records. Little George as charitable hero? Well, that was too much for John to take.

George needed John’s help and knew he deserved it.

Would Paul come?

Ah, Paul. The yin and yang of Mr. McCartney. There’s love there and hate, friendship and spite. Hare Krishna. There was no surprise when Paul answered the request with a demand to end the Beatles’ legal partnership. He’s deep into the material world, and should see this concert serves the Lord; it’s not simply a matter of money and paper. But Paul is Paul and he behaves in a way that causes him to stand alone sometimes. It’s why George was surrounded by friends and Paul worked with his wife.

What does Bob say? “I waited for you when I was half sick; I waited for you when you hated me.” “I’ll wait still. These are my brothers,” George thought as he picked the notes at the end of “Here Comes the Sun,” and felt panic creep. With the song over, he grabbed a drink from atop an amp and began pacing, unsure, as he looked to his left. He’d written “Bob” on the set list, and if Dylan didn’t show what came next?

When he saw a dim figure in blue denim and tight curls, George relaxed. But when he saw another figure in denim and granny glasses, he was elated. It was John!

George stood behind the microphone.

“Like to bring out a friend of us all, Mr. Bob Dylan.”

Madison Square Garden exploded. The crowd saw John before George had the chance to announce him. John strutted on and did his spastic walk and retarded clapping. For all his reputation, John was a cruel bastard and not above making fun of the afflicted. But it was funny. George laughed; John always did that when he was nervous. When John stopped and beckoned offstage, George panicked. He brought Yoko!

But it was Paul.

Paul sauntered on stage, cooler than John, exuding Vegas-y confidence, a real rock star.

Dylan gave George a nod of the head. John came close, grinning broadly as he patted George lovingly on his hairy cheek. George bowed imperceptibly. Paul gave him a brotherly hug, tight and warm. Both John and Paul turned to Ringo, already onstage, and gave a bow. The band – Klaus Voorman, Jesse Ed Davis, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton - stood at the margin of history and cheered.

That was it. George thought back to the happy moments recording Abbey Road, even when it was clear they were coming to the end of the road. It was great fun to work on his own, but he never wanted to see the end of The Beatles, at least not the Beatles as he saw them.

People had imagined The Beatles as something else entirely, but the four of them were the only ones who knew what it was like. Now, nearly two years since the breakup and speculation over what was happening, separating what was real from what wasn't, what could have happened from what wouldn't, it was all over.

Just like that.

After Ravi Shankar asked George Harrison to do something for the ravaged people of Bangladesh, George put together The Concert for Bangladesh, a charitable event. Bob Dylan refused to commit and George was unsure whether the elusive Dylan would show until the very moment he walked on.

John Lennon had initially agreed, though he was skeptical of benefit concerts. Though George had refused to allow Yoko Ono to appear, John didn’t seem to mind but as the date grew near he grew uncomfortable without Yoko. On the eve of the August 1, 1971 show, John bowed out and flew to Paris. Paul McCartney agreed to appear, but only if George would help dissolve the Beatles legal partnership. George refused. Ringo Starr, of course, immediately agreed to play.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Back Up Against the Wall

“Paul, have you cleaned up your room?”

There he goes again, the stern voice from beyond my bedroom door. He’s a bright fella, my Pa, self-taught and all that, but, on his own, Bob was a bit lost, a bit too rigid. Clearly he misses my Ma, but she’s dead, right, and we all have to go on the best we can. For me, that means carrying on with no rules.

Not so for our Bob, who must be obeyed. I can’t believe his views. Today, he showed Norman and me his new system. A list of who would be responsible for which chore. Do the beds, vacuum the floor, mind the washing. And all pinned on a note to the kitchen door. He was no Martin Luther, I can tell you that. Pa’s 95 Theses were about doing the bloody laundry.

And Norman was right with him, my big brother trying to be a big man. Who’s he to boss me around? I’m already 14. It’s too bad I missed him when I threw the kitchen knife at him.

The door swung open.

“Paul, did you buy the dinner like I asked you?” Pa was steaming; he didn’t even knock before he entered my cupboard sized box-room.

“Could you knock first? I could be busy, you know?” That’s not how to talk to the old man; I know that, but what of it? Who was he after all? A postal clerk who didn’t listen anyway. Oh, he’d go on about “Gerry this and Gerry that” from the office, but if I had something to say, something important, he was a brick wall. And if I talked back, he’d erupt, like the time I was ten and he locked me in my room. He could be an ass, for sure.

“It’s my house and as long as that is the case, I have no need of knocking.”

OK, fine, it was going to be that way. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of looking his way. Instead, I faced the floor, running my hands through my hair. If I closed my eyes could I make him go away?

“Paul, I know it’s been difficult for you since your Ma passed, difficult for all of us, but we need to come together as a family and you are not doing your part to help. Your brother Norman is working, I’m working and you need to care for the house. We’re….”

Ah, he keeps prattling on. I tuned him out. What a bore. Just like a Catholic, with their arbitrary rules and orders and guilt. Why’d a nice Church of Ireland girl marry a Papist and endure the wrath of her family and mates? My Ma was so sweet and gentle. She deserved so much better than Bob. Though Dublin’s no Belfast, it didn’t do me any good to come from a mixed marriage like that. I’m glad she brought me up the way she did. Let Bob Hewson go to Mass alone. He deserved it. Ma’s death was a punch in the gut and, when I gulped for air, my eyes widened and saw everything clearly. For the first time really.


“Will you just shut up, you bloody Fenian.” The words just came out. Not loud, not screaming. Cold and calm.

My Pa turned white as a sheet, though I hadn’t seen a clean sheet in weeks. Laundry was another one of my chores.

“What did you call me?” Oh, he heard me loud and clear and didn’t like it.

“Fenian. Well, you are aren’t you?”

Bob went from pale to scarlet in a flash.

“Listen you little whelp. Iris and I suffered enough at the hands of our parents and so-called friends when we married. I will not hear it from a snot-nosed little boy, even if that boy happens to be my son.”

I never thought about their struggles, not once, but I saw in the moment that my mother was wrong to marry a Catholic, that the troubles outside raging were the fault of Catholics looking to overthrow the rightful government in the north. And old Bob Hewson, my Da, he was one of them. I’d had enough of it.

“Ma was right to bring us up Anglican. That’s who she was and that’s who I am.” It was time for my own Reformation. “The Protestant Ulstermen are right.”

Pa’s ruddy face blanched. He seemed to shrink a tad.

“You’re part me, you may have noticed,” he put forth without passion.

I thought on that a moment. He was wrong.

“Nah, not really. I can’t imagine the life of a postman, shuffling papers and waiting to have a pint and a singsong with my mates on Friday night. There are big things out there, big causes, and I’m going to find them out.” I stood up and there you have it.

“You’re a 14-year-old schoolboy. I forbid you to leave this house.”

I surprised myself when I pushed him aside from the doorway he blocked. I’d read about the Ulster Young Militants, the youth wing of the Ulster Defence Association. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d find my way North and, even if I got there, how I’d find the loyalist sons of the land.

“You’ll regret this son. I swear on your Mother’s memory that you’ll be back. And when the day’s come that you return, don’t be so sure you’ll be welcomed with open arms.” That was my Pa, strict and cocksure, to the very end.

“You’re wrong there,” I answered, giving him a steely look. “Someday, Bobby, someday, you’ll get yours.”

He was dead silent as I brushed by him. My new passion overcame me and I spun around, fist upraised.

“No fockin’ surrender! Remember 1690!” And I was gone.

Paul Hewson, the youngest son of Bob and Iris Hewson, grew up in Dublin, the child of a mixed marriage. Though Dublin wasn’t victimized by the religious violence of the Northern “Troubles,” his parents mixed marriage (Bob was Catholic and Iris was Protestant), caused young Paul much uncertainty and confusion. After the sudden death of his mother in September 1974, Paul rebelled against father. Though Iris had taken Paul and his older brother Norman to Church of Ireland services, Paul had no religious affinity as a result of his parents differing religions. Soon after his mother’s death, Paul found a religious awakening in the early “Charismatic” movement at Mount Temple School. Now known around school as Bono Vox, Paul answered a note posted at school by Larry Mullen, looking for kids who wanted to start a band. David Evans (The Edge) and Adam Clayton also responded to the post and in the fall of 1976, these schoolboys were on their road to becoming U2.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

2000 Light Years from Home

Like a sunrise, the top of Brian’s strawberry-blonde head peeked out over the black and white issue of Rolling Stone. Sunken into the couch, surrounded by Moroccan cushions, he was almost invisible but for his hair and hands. The long lounge room was still until Keith shattered the quiet.

“What does it say?” At the other end of the sofa, Keith stared intently at the cover, four headlines straight down the center screaming in capital letters about Pigpen, The Beatles, Monterey and The Doors. Framing the stories were photos of Jim Morrison.

“Well, he writes that our status is in jeopardy. That it’s an insecure album with poor production. Let’s see, ‘amorphous, aimless.’ We mistook the new for the advanced. And Mick can’t sing consistently well.” Brian hissed his “S’s” slightly, and lowered the magazine slowly to reveal a devilish grin. He relished a good poke at Mick.

“What’s that ‘amorphous’ bit mean?” asked Keith, his dark brows knitted with confusion.

From his spot alone on the hearth, Mick snidely commented. “It means without form. No substance.” He stood to remove his green velvet jacket.

Keith, his hair a wild, angry mass of strands attempting to escape from their roots in every which direction, turned to face Mick.

“I bloody well told you we shouldn’t have done it! I knew we couldn’t pull it off. The Rolling Stones? Flower power? Nobody would believe we love anyone! ‘We love you.’ Bah!”

“Look, Keith,” Mick spoke coolly, calmly and collected, as if addressing a dim schoolboy, “I told you that psychedelic music is where the money is at,” Mick said condescendingly, shaking his shoulder length hair. “Their Satanic Majesties Request is selling, isn’t it?”

“I don’t give a fuck about that, man. You’re not at the London School of Economics anymore. We ain’t the Beatles, baby. You have Beatles on the brain.”

“What of it? We haven’t gone very wrong following them, have we? They took from America, we took. They sold a lot of records, we sold a lot of records. They got into drugs, we got into drugs. Now they’re into peace and love and so are we. It’s not so very complicated.”

“None of that means monkeys to me,” Keith snarled. “You’re not a poet, you’re not John Lennon. You’re a middle class bloke from Dartford, a white blues singer. And not a very good one based on what Brian just read us.” Keith looked back at Brian and they shared a giggle.

“Well, Sgt. Pepper was a gas. I never said I liked what we recorded, it just made sense to go with the flow.” Mick protested mildly.

“That’s a lie. You said you loved it, that you were happy with it,” countered Keith.

Brian jumped up, mouth opened wide, pointing. “You did say that! You did!” He turned to Keith. “He did say that.” Then he fell back into the warmth of the pillows, pulled his fur-collared Afghan coat tightly around his chin and closed his eyes.

“And now we are right fucked.” Keith picked up a stack of papers and read the quotes.

“Disastrous.” He dropped the tabloid to the fur-carpeted floor.

“As unfortunate a recording as any for any group in the world.” Splat.

“Pretentious, non-musical, boring, insignificant, self-conscious, worthless.” Another fell on the pile.

“Junk masquerading as meaningful.” The last one fluttered to earth. Keith glared at Mick, the heat from his stare scorching Mick like the fire from behind.

“You led us into a little Sgt. Pepper trap, didn’t you,” Keith spat. He bent over to grab a review. “Look at this one, ‘concepts too large and too advanced for them.’ We’re bloody fools.”

“Well, I hated it. I told you it would bomb,” Brian chirped.

Mick would have none of it. True, he did like the songs, though he didn’t think they were much good. The effects, the electronics, it all made for a pleasant sound experience. And it was where the cash was.

Mick spoke soothingly. “We’re progressing. We’re just changing.”

“NO!” Keith yelled. “We don’t progress, we don’t change. We’re The Rolling Stones! We play rock, we play blues, and we don’t make ‘art.’” Keith dripped sarcasm. “I didn’t fancy art school when I was there, you know.”

Mick thought on it for a second. “Well, what shall we do about it then? Are we going to be a bunch of London wankers playing old Chicago blues songs ‘til we’re 70 years old, or a hugely successful pop group that changes based on what’s happening all around us?”

“Ooh, wait, he wrote about that,” Brian interrupted as he thumbed through the Rolling Stone. “Yes, here it is. ‘An identity crisis of the first order and it is one that will have to be resolved.’”

“How shall we resolve it then?” intoned Mick, the hand of fate holding each word. He’d known Keith for years, since they were kids, and knew it was impossible to win him back after he’d made up his mind. There was a chill in the room, like the February cold outside.

Keith felt it too. He picked up the new album and stared at the eye-bending 3D cover. It was atrocious, a contrived bit of gaudy self-mockery. Look at me, he thought, a clown in a floppy hat holding a lute, or something. And Mick, a bloody wizard! A clown, taken in by Mick’s greedy logic. It won’t happen again. Not to me.

“Sorry mate, back to basics for me, Chuck Berry, Elmore James.” Keith faced Brian. Remember when we met you at the Ealing Club? You were playing slide guitar. Never saw anything like it before. It knocked me out.”

Brian rubbed his face, smoothing out the bags that hung deeply. “Ah, those were fun days. I’d like to get back to that, play the blues, Chuck Berry, those blokes.”

Keith and Brian chatted about the old days, as if they were decades passed, not six years earlier. But it felt like so long ago, before the fame, the girls, the drugs, the harassment from the law. They were oblivious to Mick’s presence. As they reconnected, Mick stood by the fire, the flames burning his ass.

As he left without a word, he could hear an old bit of music where Brian and Keith play seamlessly together, as if they were one. He chuckled to himself as the ending strains of “It’s All Over Now” ran through his head.

Brian Jones hated the Rolling Stones’ entry into psychedelic music. Though Their Satanic Majesties Request would “ship gold” upon its December 1967 release and make its way to #2 on the US album charts, it was the most critically savaged record of the Stones’ career and led to a crisis for the band. That year saw the potential end of the group with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ arrest following a drug raid at Richards’ Redlands home. Mick would spend two nights in jail. In a separate case, Jones pled guilty to smoking pot and was remanded to Wormwood Scrubs.

The Stones rebounded in 1968 with Beggars Banquet and survived well past Jones’ 1969 death. Mick and Keith would eventually break up the band during the second half of the 1980’s, before reuniting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Promised Land Callin’

“What are you doing Brother Berry?”

Well, any fool could see what I was doing. I was mopping up the damn mess hall floor. But I wasn’t about to go off on Big Earl Little. No doubt, Earl was the biggest, baddest man locked up at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, MO.

“Just mopping the floor, Earl, minding my own business.” Didn’t matter that I answered politely, he got angry all the same.

“I can see what you’re doing right now. I’m not a blind man,” he hissed from behind clenched teeth. “What are you doing with your life?”

A lot. I’d been studying some business management, some law, and a lot of history. I loved reading about American history, but world history, you could take that. I hated it. I figured while I was doing my stretch of time I could get my diploma. I always felt embarrassed about not graduating high school.

“Oh, nothing much. Writing some songs, working in the kitchen, doing half-assed jobs to make the time go by. I’m studying for my high school diploma and –"

“Now why you doing that? For the white man’s stamp of approval? You need the white devil to tell you you’re qualified? That you rate? That’s not where it’s at brother.”

I stopped mopping and leaned my chin on the handle. Is that why I was doing it? I didn’t think so. The Man was never going to give me his blessing. That was sure enough. What’s it been, five years, since the law got on my tail, starting in June of ’58 when a tire blew out on the way home from Topeka? Joan was in the car, a fine young thing, when that flat-top stopped and the state patrol officer got out.

“What’s the trouble, boy?”

Not that boy shit. I got all humble and sweet.

“Just fixing my tire officer. Then I’m on my way home to St. Looie.”

It wasn’t long before he searched my peach Cadillac and found a week’s pay, almost $2000, and my revolver, which I always took for safety on those long car rides after a gig. He didn’t ask me no questions, just slapped on the cuffs and brought me to the station. Possession of a concealed weapon. I signed my own bond and got out of there pronto, but they kept my money, and my gun. Joan was escorted home.

“I don’t see it that way Earl. Just trying to better myself.”

Earl clucked his tongue.

“Have you heard of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, The Messenger of Allah?”

I shook my head.

“He’s a black man, like us, and a great teacher. Do you know the true knowledge of the black man? We are the original men, raped, murdered and exploited by the devil white race. Just look at what they did to you.”

December 1959. Two black plain clothes cops came down the stairs at Club Bandstand, my club.

“Do you know Janice Escalante?”


“Did you bring her from Yuma, Arizona?”

“No sir, from El Paso.”

“Do you want to make a phone call?”

That was it. Charged with white slavery, but made bail again. She said she was 21, but I didn’t know that for sure. Find ‘em, fuck ‘em, forget ‘em. I forgot that last one when I hired Janice to be a hostess, dressed as a squaw. After all, she was an Apache Indian.

“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad has said that black prisoners are the symbol of white society’s crime of keeping the black man oppressed and turning them into criminals. The true history of the world has been whitened. Blacks have been brainwashed for hundreds of years, told they are worth less than the white man, especially in this country, a country that made us slaves and cut us off from our African history. We have no knowledge of our true identity Brother Berry.”

I was listening; maybe this Elijah fellow was onto something.

“The Negro,” he spat out the word like something foul in his mouth, “was beaten into worshipping a blond, blue-eyed, golden haired god. They turned the Negro against himself, taught him that black is a curse, and the Negroes learned to turn the other cheek, grin, bow, shuffle, sing the devil’s music and prance around for the amusement of white society.”

I thought of my eye-rolling and duck-walking and a wave of shame swept over me. I was an entertainer, a clown, a joker and a minstrel for the white man. I was left wide open to take in his words, words that seared my soul.

“Once there was a paradise on earth, a blissful world of black men and women. The moon separated from the earth, then the original men came and Mecca was founded. But there was one man, Mr. Yacub, who preached angry words in Mecca and was exiled. He put a curse to create a bleached out person as revenge on Allah. It took centuries and centuries to make the devil whites dominant. When it happened, the devil race turned our heaven into their hell.”

My hell began in January of 1960. They said I violated the Mann Act, that Joan was underage when I took her across state lines. Then, in March, I appeared before a cracker judge, again charged with violating the Mann Act. This time they said Janice was only 14. They had no proof, but all you had to do was look at that girl to know they were wrong. No way she was 14!

Two weeks later I was found guilty, sentenced to five years behind bars and fined $5,000. I won an appeal, and then the Joan case was dismissed in June. But they weren’t going to let me off that easily. Not the racist white judge, not my Jew lawyer who started by begging for mercy, not even trying to show I was innocent. It made me sick to my stomach. Three years, $10,000 fine. That’s why I’m here, 35 years old, in prison clothes, a black man who never stood a chance. I saw that as clear as day now that Earl explained it to me.

I was deep in thought when I realized Earl was still talking.

“Muslims do not defile their bodies with narcotics, tobacco or liquor. A Muslim does not eat pork, a filthy creature that bathes in its own excrement. The key to being a Muslim is submission, reaching toward Allah. Brother, could you bend your knees and pray with me?”

It was hard to kneel in prayer. Why? I’ve bowed and stooped and strutted and walked like a beast for the amusement of the white world that only responded with scorn, prejudice and violence. Why couldn’t I bow to Allah?

As if he heard my thoughts, Earl said, “You’ve bent down for shameful reasons. Do it now for exalted ones.”

My knees hit the hard floor. From that position there was nowhere to go but up.

“You are lost Brother Berry. Are you willing to be found? Are you willing to join your brothers and sisters in the Nation of Islam?”

I would be getting out in October, again a free man. But now, with the things I’ve learned, I’m already there. Sorry great white father. You can’t imprison my soul.

Chuck Berry’s legal troubles began in June 1958, charged with possession of a concealed weapon on his way home from Topeka with Joan Mathis. The following December he met Janice Escalante in Juarez, Mexico and hired her to work at his club. Berry was arrested on white slavery charges at the end of the month. The Mathis trial began on January 25, 1960 and was dismissed on June 2. The Escalante trial started on March 12. Two weeks later Berry was found guilty but won on appeal. In October 1961, he was found guilty and sent to prison. Berry wrote “No Particular Place to Go,” “Nadine,” “You Never Can Tell” and “Promised Land” while in Springfield. Chuck Berry was released on October 18, 1963.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Twentieth Century Fox

All the colors faded to black and white before they returned, brighter and more brilliant than before. From the floor came a voice.

“Ray, you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, haven’t you?” asked Jim, an earthen vision in brown corduroys and t-shirt.

Ray thought he heard someone speak in a muffled walrus sound. He sat on the couch, under an Indian bedspread, unmoving. Time had stopped.

“Whoa. Do you feel it Jim?” Ray spoke, starting his own conversation. “This is great shit.”

“Where did you get it?”

“World’s Biggest Drug Store!” They erupted into a paroxysm of laughter, reveling in the reference to Huxley.

Jim returned to his own line of thought. “Well, you remember how it all starts in black and white, maybe sepia, I don’t know. Then, but then, when Dorothy’s house crashes and she opens the door, everything is incredible, the colors, like, they jump out of the screen.”

Ray wasn’t listening, stuck in his own head. “It’s like the end of 400 Blows, you know. When Doinel is at the beach, locked in the frame, frozen for all time.” It had been four hours since Ray had sucked his LSD-laced sugar cube until it dissolved and he was so tired.

Jim was anything but lethargic. His energy was without bounds, and when he talked about movies, or literature, there was no stopping him.

“Do you think everything was in black and white back then? It’s like, you know, you never see things in color from 30 years ago?” Jim was sprawled out on the Oriental rug, looking off into space beyond the ceiling, some of Ray’s film magazines strewn at his side.

He’s an interesting cat, I gotta give him that, thought Ray. Ever since the two met at UCLA, both enrolled in film school, sharing classes, he was intrigued. The guy was smart, though strange. He knew every book he’d read by heart, wrote poetry, made movies, had wild ideas.

“I’m pretty sure things have been in color forever, but I never thought about it.” Jim could be right, couldn’t he?

“When I was back in Florida, there was a person there who put me in a movie for Florida State. It was a gas. I had to walk to the mailbox, and read a rejection letter. I had a scene with some old square. I had to ask him, uh, ‘What happened? How come my parents didn’t look ahead?” Jim emitted a snide chuckle.

“Is that why you decided to study film?”

“Ah, no, man. That wasn’t a movie, it was a commercial, man, a warning. I wanted to make movies, movies that say something, you know.”

Ray had seen Jim’s student film. It was crazy, man, wild. It had no plot, something about a stag film, and hand puppets. There were Nazi storm troopers, some broad’s ass jiggling as she walked, the sounds of balling and kids chanting in the background. Oh man, the professors hated it. Everyone hated it. Ray thought it was pretty good, though it was clear Jim knew nothing about editing or camera work.

“Film is where it’s at, Ray. You know that - Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut. They’re for real. They know, man, they know what’s going on. Even tripping we were both thinking of movie scenes. It doesn’t get more real than that.”

“Hey, did I tell you about this cat I met at my meditation class?” Ray and his girlfriend Dorothy were hip to the TM scene, attended talks by the Maharishi himself. “I was talking to this guy, John, he’s a pretty good drummer, and I mentioned the 400 Blows. He cracked up, man, thought it was about blow jobs or something.” Ray laughed; Jim didn’t.

“I’ve been thinking about a film I’d like to make. It starts with me swimming in a quarry, waterfalls surround me. I get out of the water and dress, and, I’m walking alone. It’s very quiet and I’m walking through jagged stones, desolate, immaculate. Then I’m hitchhiking in the desert but no one will give me a ride.”

It didn’t sound like much of a movie to Ray. Where was the story? Jim was in a trance-like state, watching the weird scenes playing in his head.

“Then I talk about the Indian workers, you know, from that truck accident. I’ve told you that story, about the Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding. I must’ve been around four years old, I think, looking out the window my parents’ car, redskins lying all over the highway. I felt like the soul of an Indian, leapt into me while I was locked in the car.” Jim paused dramatically. “I tasted fear man, for the first time.”

Jim went on.

“Then there’s an old junked car half-buried in the sand and, and, I come out of it. Finally a car pulls over to pick me up, but, this’ll blow your mind, there’s no driver. I’m the driver! You get it? And, and I’m driving down the highway, just me, no one else for miles around, only desert and mountains.”

Ray didn’t get it. “I don’t see the point. I don’t know, it sounds kinda boring to me.”

“Oh, no, it’s not boring, not boring at all,” Jim was on a different plateau now.

“Well, it’s, you know, come on, it’s obvious. Then I’m at a service station, or a truck stop, looking at the magazines, spinning the paperback book rack, around and around. There’s a dog bleeding on the highway, wailing a sad mournful cry. But I’m back in the car, bopping along, screaming for it to stop, you know. It’s in my soul, it takes me over. So, OK, so then, I drive the car in circles, spinning the tires, kicking up dust. Then I’m jumping up and down with these kids, but I’m really in the car, driving. It was like, it was a vision. Then it’s night and I’m reading a map by headlight, trying to figure out where to go.”

“Where?” asked Ray, hoping this would lead to something interesting.

“I don’t know that’s not important. I’m searching, you know, on a quest. Next scene, it’s morning, and I need gas. You know where I’m headed? Joshua Tree. That’s what the attendant says. You see?” Jim points to his temples.

Ray lit up a joint and took a long drag. He said nothing.

“But I don’t go there. Now I’m headed into L.A. through different neighborhoods, Chicano, white, black. Lots of cars, a long way from the desert, right. Houses and palm trees, like a dream. I go to Venice, lots of freaks and old people. Then to Hollywood, the Strip. Gradually day destroys the night, but it’s not like night in the desert, when I was reading the map. Oh no. It’s noisy, horns honking, traffic rushing by, music in the air. I’m in a phone booth, telling someone I’m back in town from the desert. Just a regular conversation, as if nothing happened.”

“But nothing did happen.” Ray was lost. Or Jim was crazy.

Now Jim sat up and stared deeply at Ray. He began to yell.

“Listen man, you got a problem? Don’t you see? It’s spiritual, it’s deep. I killed someone out in the desert! And I don’t care. It was the guy who gave me the ride. I wasted him. That’s why you didn’t see him. I walk the streets; no one knows my terrible secret. I ask a guy outside a club if there’s any pussy, or LSD, trying to provoke him. Last thing you hear are sirens and gun shots and alarms and, so, they catch caught me, see?”

Jim exhaled, instantly calm. A beatific smile played on his lips.

“That’s the kind of movie I want to make. Beautiful, spiritual. It speaks to the human experience. We’re all killers.”

Ray didn’t know what to say. It was ridiculous, valueless. Ray switched the subject.

“What about music?” Ray started seeing glowing colors, the weed kicking his waning trip up one last notch. He pulled off his frameless glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“What about it?” Jim replied crisply, annoyed that Ray was disinterested in his epic.”Film is the great art form of the twentieth century. There are no rules. I like that.”

“OK, but remember we talked about starting a band? I could ask John if he’s interested and if he knows anyone who would want to join. We could be the American Rolling Stones!” Ray chuckled. He knew Jim loved the Stones; they really blew his mind. Not now though. When Jimbo got angry, he didn’t let go.

“You really think The Rolling Stones are gonna last forever? The Beatles? Come on. Film is where it’s at, eternal. Remember that class we took with von Sternberg? I mean, his movies are like 40 years old and they’re still important, dark, mysterious; they still survive. I didn’t start living until I began to study film. I’m not ready to stop now. I want to live forever man, immortal.”

“Poets live forever. Your poetry makes for great lyrics, great songs. They’ll last. And songs are only three minutes long.”

“I’m no singer. You think I want to be the next Fabian?” Jim snapped. “That’s not my bag. Rock and roll is for teenyboppers and little girls, man, it’s not serious.”

Ray was taking another drag when Jim ripped apart his future plans.

“Anyway, I’m going to New York, that’s where the real film culture is, not Hollywood, not plastic L. A.”

Ray knew that when Jim left he’d never see him again. Jim wasn’t much on staying in touch. He didn’t talk to his own family. There was only one thing to do.

“Want some more?” Ray offered another sugar cube.

Jim smiled, an inscrutable smile of innocence and deviltry, as on his knees, he leaned forward, mouth open.

The ceremony was about to begin.

Ray Manzarek met Jim Morrison at UCLA, where they were enrolled in the film school. Both graduated in May 1965, Jim with a B.A. in film, Ray with a Master’s. After talking about music while walking Venice Beach in July, they formed The Doors (taken from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception). The group, which included Ray’s friend John Densmore from his meditation class, and John’s friend Robbie Krieger, made a demo in September. Signed to Elektra, they finished their first album in the fall of 1966, though it wouldn’t be released until January 1967.

Jim maintained his interest in film, directing promos for “Break on Through” and “Unknown Soldier,” as well as a 51 minute movie entitled HWY- An American Pastoral (1969), described by Jim in the story above. At the time of his death, Morrison was rumored to be working on a feature film project.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Eyes Wide Open All the Time

As a freshman at Berkeley, I joined the staff of The Daily Cal, the student run newspaper. On February 24, 1969, I was given a plum assignment - cover Johnny Cash, in concert, at San Quentin Prison. Here’s what I wrote. Not sure I need permission of the school to reprint this; I’ll just let ‘er rip!

Approaching the towering concrete walls of San Quentin, mist descending, clouds giving the moon behind them a spectral glow, I was reminded of the castle on the hill in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. Remember that movie? It’s the one that ends with the dam blowing up and the monsters fighting, and dying, as the rampaging waters tear apart the castle. I love those old Universal horror flicks. But I digress.

I entered through a doorway and was met by a kindly old guard, who asked for ID. As he perused my papers, I gazed at the concrete and steel that surrounded me. A regular fortress, with the echo of slamming doors a constant sound. Having made it through Checkpoint Charlie, I was led, via a huge expanse of yard, to the mess hall, where Johnny Cash and his band were to play. The heat of the room, packed with 1,400 hardened criminals in blue and gray denim, was hellish. The white glare of the overhead fluorescents laid bare the barred archways, men peering through, men on metal steps and guards by the door and on the catwalks above. There weren’t that many men in uniform, at least not in comparison to the horde of prisoners in the room. If there were 100 guards it wasn’t enough; another 100 wouldn’t have been enough either.

When I passed through the mess hall, I couldn’t help noticing a fork, with old spaghetti dangling, stuck in wall. How hard do you have to throw that to make it stick? I admit it scared the shit out of me. So I took a place at the side of the stage, surrounding myself in a blanket of armed men. On the wall behind the drums, a wall painted red with the greeting “San Quentin Welcomes Cash.” This howdy was scrawled, graffiti-style, complete with the “s” in Cash made into a dollar sign (clever, Cash = Cash). There was even a healthy use of glitter. A bulletin board project made by a class of evil kindergartners. This wasn’t the Fillmore, I can tell you!

The crowd erupted, a spurt of applause that echoed through the cavernous room as Cash, already sweating, in high button black shoes, prison grey slacks, blue open collar shirt and a long black coat, made his way on stage. Rows and rows of vicious men, powerful men, mean looking men with giant heads, their piercing gaze looking for an opening, clapped in eager anticipation. These guys were served by weaker prisoners, “bitches” at their beck and call. It was surreal; Owsley himself couldn’t have cooked up a batch of acid to produce a weirder scene.

The band was already off to the races on “Big River.” Man, those guys cook! Carl “Mr. Blue Suede Shoes” Perkins was blazing. Johnny’s old guitar player, Luther Perkins (no relation to Carl) died last August in an inferno caused by a dropped cigarette. Is that enough fire imagery for you?

Cash had his (literally) captive audience in the palm of his hands as he tore through some old favorites. Knowing that there were some fellow Southerners in the crowd, Cash made his seeming connection plain and simple. His image is based, at least in part, on the idea that he’s a real rebel, a fellow outsider. But does he really know what it’s like to have to find something to eat? Come on, it’s a bit of a put on. And when he told the crowd, if people put the screws on him he’d screw right out from under you, well, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

One thing I did get was that every time Johnny said “shit” a wild response was sure to follow. That’s pretty easy pickings, even for an old Arkansas farm boy. It was all innocent enough, down to his sort of tough stand against Grenada, the British TV channel filming the show.

“They said, ‘you gotta do this song, you gotta do that song, you gotta stand like this, you gotta act like this,’” Johnny drawled. “I just don’t get it. I’m here to do what you want me to and what I want me to. So, whaddaya wanna hear? All right – ‘I Walk the Line.’” And that’s what he played, as if it wasn’t on his set list anyway.

After that, Cash gave the inmates advance notice of a song he’d do later, a new tune he’d written about San Quentin. This was Cash fourth time around behind the thick walls, and he was ready to unveil his own feelings about it. The response to the tease was deafening.

The prisoners snapped to attention with the introduction of Cash’s wife, June Carter. As the pair launched into their version of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darlin’ Companion,” things began to spiral out of control. A woman! The looks on the incarcerated faces was pure desire, the catcalls vocal incarnations of the lust they held in their hearts.

June looked nervous, yet stirred the already boiling emotions. In her frilly, virginal white skirt, just above her knees, she put her left hand on her hip and did a little shake. Tease that crowd? Oh, man, that was dangerous. She snapped her fingers, lifted her skirt a bit higher as she thrust her hips. It was a slight move, but too much for these men. Maybe she felt safe next to Johnny, but acting the way she did while singing these lines:

Oh, a little saucy mare like you should have a steed.

Oh, a little bridlin' down from you is what I need.

had these womanless men licking their lips, hungry for some female company. And here were four, June out front, her two sisters and Mother Maybelle on either side of the drum kit in back. Each had a look of terror, for fear that, with the flick of a switch they could be in real danger. They stared far away, as if a closer look would bring them face to face with a scene of too ugly to consider, hundreds of vermin smothering a delicious find of pure honey.

Cash had a clear affinity with these caged men. You know his song “Starkville City Jail?” It’s a jokey tune about Cash’s arrest for picking flowers. That’s what gives him, he thinks, the currency to call himself a fellow rebel, an outsider.

But is he, really? Johnny was jailed for disturbing the peace. San Quentin is filled with murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and stranglers. I even heard the story of a guy who beat someone to death with a baseball bat. These dudes are badass. There’s always the potential for violence. They may be a Johnny Cash fan one moment, and be happy to take a knife and cut him all to hell the next. And Cash thinks paying a $36 fine and spending one night in jail makes him a brother? When he tells the crowd, “You can’t hardly win,” he ain’t talkin’ their language.

All that exploded into the obvious when Cash introduced “San Quentin,” the song he’d promised to play. “I was thinking about you guys yesterday and I think I understand a little bit about how you feel about some things, none of my business how you feel about some other things, and I don’t give a damn how you feel about some other things, but, anyway, I tried to put myself in your place and I believe that this is how I would feel about San Quentin.”

Perkins’ fuzzy, angry guitar was the shot heard ‘round the hall, and, with that, the war was begun. There was shock when Cash sang “San Quentin, you’ve been livin’ hell to me.” “San Quentin I hate every inch of you,” caused an eruption. “San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell,” caused an overflow. I could feel the guards around me getting antsy.

Cash’s eyes were burning, his jaw tight, as he scowled at the guards to his left. He wasn’t about to pull back on the emotions he’d just stirred up. With a sinister smile on his lips, he asked for a glass of water, then, after his first sip, flung something on the floor, as if there was something other than agua in his tin cup. Was it real? Was it a stunt? The guard smiled nervously as the prisoners hooted, stomping their boots on the concrete floor. It was a scene out of a Cagney movie. I love those old prison pictures, like White Heat and Brute Force, but I digress.

And then he sang “San Quentin” again!

This time it was more furious, more edgy, Carl’s guitar a veritable Tommy Gun spraying notes throughout the room. Almost eight minutes worth of provocation was too much and the prisoners went nuts. So did Cash. Something snapped in him, you could see it. He’d been holding that crowd by the thinnest of threads, and it tore.

“The time is now!” he yelled.

The mob cheered as they pounded on the tables. They remained seated, assuming this was all part of the act.

“Break! Take over!” He was serious.

And with that, the riot began. The men all got up; they were ready. The prisoners scattered every which way, some standing on tables, some raising their fists in the black power salute. The cameramen took cover. The guards, though overmatched, clicked their guns and got ready to fire, but the swarm overtook them. Cash smiled, he thought this was funny, until it became clear to him it was out of his control.

A few guards went for Cash, grabbed him by the shoulders and began shoving him towards the door to escape. Sure, they were plenty angry, but they knew he had to be saved. I forced my way into that mass, knowing it was my ticket to safety.

I’ll never forget the piercing shriek of the women. In the chaos, it was every man for himself, and, for a moment, even Johnny lost his head. When he heard June’s scream for help, he tried to wrangle his way out from the men who held him, but it was no use. He was helpless. So were June and the girls. My last glimpse of them was horrible. Two were bracing themselves against the blood red walls. The other two, well, I could see their arms and some tattered clothes being thrown into the air above the scrum.

And that’s where it stands right now. I’m back at The Daily Cal office writing and the prisoners have taken over San Quentin. The women? No one knows. Johnny Cash? A well-meaning man who thought he was one of the inmates, and found out the hard way that he wasn’t. Now we wait. Down, down, down, indeed.

On February 24, 1969, Johnny Cash and his band played San Quentin prison. The inmates went wild for Johnny’s music and outlaw persona. Years later, Cash confessed that in pursuit of some excitement, he was tempted to tell the prisoners to revolt. He believed if he yelled “Break, take over,” they would have risen up. It was only after thinking of June and the Carter women that he controlled himself. June was terrified that the prisoners would “jump my bones” and those of her beautiful mother and sisters. Producer Bob Johnston commented that had a riot broke out, Cash and his family would have been killed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ain’t No Crazy Dream

By Jerry Lee Lewis (as told to Jeff Katz)

Let me tell you, I remember that day like it was just yesterday. Boy, you don’t forget a day that changed your life, I can tell you.

We were at Sun Studios. Man, I loved that little place. It had such a good feeling, a real special feeling. That’s why those Sun records still sound different today. Let’s see, James Van Eaton was there on drums. J. W. wasn’t there yet.

We were goofing off a little, then I got something into my head. I started pounding out a boogie woogie beat on the piano and began a little ditty I’d just thought up.

I got a girl, her name is Myra Brown

She has got the cutest ass in town

When I see her, I’ll pull her panties down.

Yeah I got a girl, her name is Myra Brown.

Van Eaton laughed and got up from behind his drum kit. He perched himself against the acoustic-tiled wall, put his right foot on the piano bench and leaned forward a bit.

“Oh Killer, you are too much.” Jimmy was having a ball, thumping out a beat on his knee. I was too much back then, a real tornado. It was a funny little tune, and I was getting into it myself.

Up in the booth, I saw Sam Phillips shaking his head. He didn’t like it when I got a little rude, but I’m pretty sure I saw him smiling. I saw him bend down to the microphone near the console. Then I heard his voice.

“Now, Jerry,” he said, scolding me like an old schoolmarm. “That’s not very nice.”

“Just havin’ a little a little fun, Mr. Phillips.”

I got a girl, her name is Myra Brown

She’s the greatest piece of tail around

I was wailing now. Almost knocked Van Eaton over when I stood up and sent the piano bench sailing. My hair was flying. No greasy kid stuff could hold it down now. I felt it as it shot up and down atop my head like a piston, some of it falling like snakes before my eyes. I tossed it back and noticed that Jimmy was shifting his eyes to the side, signaling to me without words that I’d better take a look around. I didn’t take the hint.

Yeah, I got a girl –

Except for me, it got real quiet. I didn’t hear the front door open and shut, didn’t hear the “How are you today Marion?” greeting out in the reception area. I didn’t know that J.W. was standing at the front of the studio, listening to every word I sang.

“Uh, I’m going next door to Taylor’s,” spluttered Van Eaton. “Anyone want a cup of coffee?” You could hear a pin drop.

Now, let me tell you a little about J.W. J. W. was a second cousin of mine, and played a solid-body bass guitar in my band. He was good kin. He and his wife Lois let me and mine move into their house. Jane and I were having lots of trouble back then. She was a hellcat! Always sneaking out to see other fellas. And with a baby at home too! What kind of a woman does that?

The Browns were very kind to us. And their 13-year-old daughter babysat Jerry Lee Jr. Yup, that’s Myra Brown. That’s the girl I was singing about.

“Jerry Lee Lewis, why the hell are you singing about my little girl that way?” Oh, he was spitting fire!

You see, Myra had had a big crush on me then, ever since we moved in. I was mighty fine then too. Crazy blonde hair, cool clothes, fancy shoes. Who could blame her, right?

Yeah, she was 13 all right, but she was all woman, responsible, kind. I wanted her too. Just the thought of her drove me wild.

“J.W., how’re you doin’?’ He wasn’t in the mood for any Sunday pleasantries.

“Did you not hear me, Jerry Lee? Why are you disrespecting my daughter that way?”

“Cousin, I guess it’s time for me to come clean with you. You see, Myra and I have a little thing goin’ on. I love her J.W. I look at her, I smell her, I mean, I just go wild, man, just wild!”

J. W. started to move closer to me. “You serpent! You snake in the grass! We took you in, took in your whole damn family, and this is how you repay us for our kindness. I’m gonna skin you alive, Jerry Lee Lewis!” I admit I was getting scared the closer he got to the piano. I hadn’t moved.

Lucky for me, Lois walked in.

“J.W., why are you yelling at Jerry Lee?” she asked, confused.

J.W. turned to face his wife.

“This man,” he pointed to me. “This man is in love with our daughter. She drives him wild, he says. Our baby girl, his cousin. That’s who he wants to be with.”

Lois screamed bloody murder. “Lord help me!”

“He was singin’ a smutty song about our Myra, singin’ about pulling her panties down, can you imagine?”

“Jerry Lee Lewis, you are the devil himself, playing the Devil’s music!” yelled Lois. Then, just like that, she fainted. Fell right to the floor like a tree struck by lightning J. W. rushed to her side. I was glad to see him move away from me, sure enough.

J.W. kneeled beside his wife and looked up at me.

“Is this why Myra dropped out of the eighth grade?” J.W. asked, quieting down some. Not much, some. I nodded my head. “Yes sir, that’s why. We’ve been talking some about getting married.”

“Married, she’s a child!”

“Not to me she isn’t. Myra even said to me a person could get married at 10 years old if they could find the right husband. And she found me all right.”

Mr. Phillips had been listening the whole time. He finally descended from the booth and calmly walked to the center of the room, moving a microphone aside as he passed. He was right between me and J.W. when he spoke, first to me.

“Jerry Lee. You listen to me. This is not acceptable. Not one bit.”

I was about to interrupt, but the look on his face, a dark scowl under arched eyebrows, made me bite my tongue.

“I can’t believe I have to explain why it’s wrong to marry a 13-year-old girl when you’re how old, 22, but to do this to J.W. and Lois, who brought you in to their home and treated you with love and respect, is an abomination.”

I’ll say this about Sam Phillips, when he spoke, he spoke with authority. He could be a little scary too. I bowed my head and said, nothing, thinking over his words.

He turned to J.W. “J.W. I know this is a shock to you, but we’re all family here. Jerry Lee will no longer see Myra, not in that way, and we can all go back to what we do best, making music. We have records to make, records to sell, careers to look out for.”

J. W. nodded his head and looked back at Lois, still out cold.

“Now you two shake hands on this and let’s get back to work.” Mr. Phillips didn’t wait to see what we’d do. He walked back up to his seat in front of the console.

I walked over to J.W. and put out my right hand.

“I’m sorry, boy, really. I was out of my head for a while. It won’t happen again.”

So, what would’ve happened to me if I had married Myra, a 13-year-old girl, a cousin? Well, sir, I can’t really say. All I know is it feels like I missed one big ol’ disaster. Thanks, Mr. Phillips. You saved my hide.

After filing for divorce from his second wife Jane in September, Jerry Lee Lewis continued to live at his cousin and bassist J.W. Brown’s home on East Shore Drive in Memphis, spending all his time with the Brown’s daughter Myra Gale. Jerry Lee and 13-year-old Myra married on December 12, 1957, lying to her parents they were going to see Lewis in the new movie Jamboree. Problem was, Jerry and Jane’s divorce would not become final until May 1958.

That same month, The Browns accompanied Lewis on a tour of England. Despite Sam Phillips’ wishes, Jerry Lee announced to the British press that he and Myra were married. The tour collapsed as crowds were hostile to Lewis and his child bride scandal. The news so offended English sensibilities that questions were raised in Parliament. To make their situation legal, Jerry and Myra were remarried in June. Jerry Lee Lewis’ career was never the same afterwards, though he forged a comeback as a country music star in the 1960’s.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You Send Me

Aretha was shaken. The fervent applause of the Apollo audience did nothing to convince her that she’d done well, that her nervousness wasn’t on display for all to see. Oh, she could sing, she knew that alright, but moving around the stage, that was beyond her. Standing alone, off-stage, Aretha put her head down, a picture of low self-esteem and fear. She was 18.

“What’s the matter with you girl? You did fine.”

Aretha looked up to see Sam Cooke, her co-star, family friend, idol and love. She adored Sam from the first time she’d met him, when she was seven years old and Sam visited her family’s home. He was beautiful back then; still was. His soft eyes made her melt; his close cut natural framed his handsome face. And that smile, so warm, so inviting. Man, he just wore her out!

And who was she? A preacher’s daughter. A short, teenage ugly duckling who loved to cook and eat. Food was her constant friend, her constant foe. Aretha’s face was a round, chubby juxtaposition of baby fat and sadness, her deep-set dark eyes mournful.

“Oh Sam, I didn’t know what I was doing out there. How’d you learn to move like you do? I felt like I was falling over logs.” It was true enough. Her voice carried the crowd, but her awkwardness was apparent. The gawkier her moves, the more self-conscious she got and stiffened up.

She knew Sam could help her. He’d gone through the same thing when he gave up gospel singing for pop and learned how much to give an audience, how to stand, how to phrase, how to sell a song. Aretha had studied his show but could never figure it out.

“How’d you do it Sam? How’d you get so smooth?” she begged.

“Simple, baby, you gotta make that crowd feel good. Don’t fight it, feel it.”

Aretha knew she couldn’t do that. She reached into her purse for a cigarette.

“When did you start smoking Kents?” laughed Sam. “Let me have one of those.”

She handed one over and gave him a light. She’d given up her Kools for Kents. After all, that’s what Sam smoked, wasn’t it? Ever since she’d heard Sam’s “Nearer to Thee,” she’d fallen head over heels for the man, worshipped the ground he walked on, would do whatever he asked of her. Sam stood out, he was special. From that point on, Aretha kept scrapbooks of Sam and even saved a crushed cigarette package of his that he’d left behind.

“Girl, do you remember the first time I met you?” Sam smiled as he spoke.

“Oh yes. You sang with the Highway QCs in Detroit and came over to my daddy’s house after the show.” Aretha’s eyes twinkled as she thought back on her little girl self, staring moony-eyed at the fine 18-year-old lead singer right there in the living room of her mind. “What did that QC stand for?”

Sam laughed. “We never did get that figured. Nobody knows. We planned to come up with some words but once we started singing we forgot about it.”

“That was when my daddy first heard you. I remember he went on and on, ‘Sam Cooke this, Sam Cooke that.’”

“C.L. is something. I never met a man like that, so strong-willed, so powerful.” Sam wondered if C.L. Franklin had done right by his daughter. C.L. had gone from a young Baptist preacher to a money raising powerhouse, his New Bethel Church a gospel mecca. But now, in early 1961, he had big plans for his daughter. C.L. was a hustler, a real sharpie, always on the lookout for a buck. His influence on his daughter was too much, too strong.

Aretha toured with her daddy starting in 1957, hitting the gospel road as the “World’s Youngest National Gospel Singer.” On the road, 14-year-old Aretha searched for news of Sam Cooke and, when “Lovable” was released, and Sam became a pop star, she had her heart set on joining him. Sam had the same idea, and tried to talk her into doing duets, but C.L. laid down the law. It was strictly gospel for his girl until she turned 18. Then she could become a hit maker, but only to make records for a major label. She was her father’s plaything; not flesh and blood.

But Aretha was crazy for Sam and wanted to sign up with his SAR label. Daddy wouldn’t have it, especially when Motown, RCA and Columbia came calling. Aretha signed with Columbia, just like C.L. wanted, right after her birthday. Now she was on the road, not sure what to do, how to act, how to sing. She missed the church, the old time spirituals that had uplifted her heart. Singing "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” had no meaning for her, held no place in her soul. Had she made a mistake? Was the pop world right for her? She was already a mother of two. The road was no place to be.

She looked straight into Sam’s doe eyes. “Tell me, am I doing the right thing?”

“Have mercy, child, you’re a star! You’re doin’ fine, but you gotta remember this. If it don’t make you feel good, don’t do it.”

As soon as the words left his mouth, Sam realized Aretha didn’t feel good about it at all, that this wasn’t the life for her. He knew Aretha admired him and as she sighed, he knew what to say.

Sam reached out for Aretha’s hands. “Honey, don’t do it. This life isn’t for you.”

“But Sam, daddy would be so angry.”

Forget C.L. Unlike her own daddy, Sam had always treated Aretha with consideration and respect.

“Do I have to spell it out for you?” Sam spoke strongly.

“Money is my God now. You should stay with the Lord.” As he spoke, Sam realized how much he’d changed since he left the gospel world. “Baby, I’m lost. I can’t find my way back. I won’t let that happen to you.”

Aretha smiled, for the first time in a long while.

“Really, Sam, do you think I should?”

Sam nodded. “I’m sure. Don’t you believe me baby?”

“I do Sam, I do. You’ve always done right by me.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for the star of our show,” shouted the MC from on stage. “Please welcome 'Mr. Soul' himself! How ‘bout it for Sam Cooke!”

Sam gave Aretha a peck on the cheek and strolled out.

“How you doin’ out there?” Sam squinted through the white hot spotlight and looked out to the crowd, a writhing, shrieking mass. “I said, how you doin’ out there? Is everyone doin’ all right?”

From off stage, Aretha Franklin smiled. She was doing just fine.
Aretha Franklin first met Sam Cooke in February 1949 after a gospel program in Detroit. Her father C.L. Franklin was a young Baptist preacher at the New Bethel Church. C.L. had big dreams and became a skilled fund-raiser and self-promoter, making several spoken word records before turning his attention and ambition to his talented daughter. Aretha signed a pop contract with Columbia and legendary producer John Hammond in the spring of 1960. Her career drifted aimlessly until her 1967 move to Atlantic records and her breakout album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You.

Sam Cooke was shot to death by the manager of the Hacienda Motel on December 11, 1964. Cooke, drunk and distressed, wearing only a jacket and shoes, had checked in with a woman (later picked up for prostitution) who may have robbed him. Cooke stormed into the manager’s office in a rage and was killed, a casualty of the rock and roll lifestyle.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Heading Back to Old Familiar Places

“It’s D-minor, E, A-minor. Christ!” Jimmy was furious. “Medicine Jar” was his, the one track Mr. McCartney allowed him on the new Wings album and, as usual, Macca’s wife was cocking it up. As usual, Jimmy flew into a rage.

“I’m sorry, luv, but I am trying,” Linda responded, lips quivering a bit as she tried to hold it together.

“You are trying, that’s for sure. Let’s have another bash, luv, and try to get the fucking chords right,” McCulloch replied venomously, mocking the oh-so-proper British accent that ex-New Yorker sported upon marrying Paul.

Linda struggled mightily to hold her own with her band mates, but the pressure was constant, relentless. It turned out that marrying a Beatle wasn’t so easy.
“Lay off, Jimmy.” Denny, not Paul, rose to Linda’s defense.

“Piss off. Why don’t you mind your own tuning instead of helping the boss’s wife? You sound horrible.” A 22 year old guitar prodigy with a massive ego and a bigger heroin problem, Jimmy was strung out, abusive.

“Fine. It’s your song. Do it your way.” Denny put down his double necked Ibanez and stormed out of the studio.

“Jimmy, can we please get on with it?”

Finally, Paul spoke up and when Mr. McCartney chimed in it was time to get back to work. Paul tried his best to make Wings a real band, letting any member record, mix, and even write songs. There was great freedom there, but it didn’t seem to be working out.

Jimmy relaxed a bit.

“Sure, Paul, just give me a minute. I’ll be right back.” Jimmy headed out of Sea-Saint studio for his midday fix.

Paul looked to the vacant black padded stool behind the bass drum. Once again, Wings was going through a change in personnel. Geoff Britton hadn’t worked out. Another firing, but it was clear Geoff couldn’t get along with Jimmy and Denny (who could?) and that he was dreading the trip to New Orleans. Paul caught wind of Joe English, dug his playing and asked him to give it a try, but Joe was about to go out on tour with Bonnie Bramlett and needed some time to find his replacement before he set out for the Venus and Mars sessions in New Orleans.

Softly strumming the melody to a new tune, Paul looked to his wife.

“Alright then?”

Linda wiped a quick tear. “Fine, fine. God, I despise these guys sometimes. Who do they think they are? It’s not like it was back in the day, you know?”

It was as if she’d read his mind. As he watched Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch argue and carry on, Paul couldn’t help but wonder why he was working with a band of lightweights, struggling with a group of mediocrities he hardly knew and with whom he had no history. All they did was give him trouble. At least with John and George, there was always love there, you could feel it, even in the worst of arguments.

“I was thinking the same thing. Even when John takes the piss out of me I’m still sure he loves me. Does that make me barmy?”

“No, no, I think you’re right. Watching you two play together last year was great, really great. And he enjoyed it, I know he did.”

“Yeah, seemed that way, didn’t it?” Paul’s thoughts turned to last March, when he and Linda popped into the Burbank studio where John was starting to produce Nilsson’s newest album. Paul took his place behind the kit and sang along with John, who, though clearly coked to the gills, gladly jammed with him for the first times in years. It was wonderful. Now that John had a number one hit, he was feeling confident and publicly sentimental for The Beatles. He even told a reporter he’d love to record with them again. Typical John. Now that he was at the top of the charts he felt like mending fences. On his terms, of course.

“I think May is good for him, don’t you?” Linda broke Paul’s reverie. “He seemed like old John, having a bash with his mates.”

“You’re right. Wasn’t it a blast with them in Santa Monica?” Paul and the girls had dropped in on John and May’s beach house on the Pacific Coast Highway. Since Yoko pushed John out of their Dakota apartment and into the hands of her assistant, Ms. Pang, John was more available than ever. Paul and Linda even popped in to their apartment in New York. They were getting along well enough that Paul nervously asked John if he wanted to come down to New Orleans for a bit. So why was Paul secretly pleading Yoko’s case to John? It was confusing, as life with Lennon was apt to be.

“I do miss him, I can’t pretend I don’t,” Paul said sadly. He returned to his guitar and, head down focusing on his fingers, sang softly.

I Can See the Places That
We Used To Go To Now
Happiness in the Homeland

Deep in song, Paul didn’t notice Linda snap her head and leave the room. He didn’t hear her as she made her way to the studio door and said, “Hi, duckie.” And he didn’t notice the company until the visitor spoke.

“Valiant Paul McCartney, I presume?” Ah, his old name from Beatles’ Christmas shows long past.

Paul looked up and smiled away.

“Sir Jasper Lennon, I presume?”

By the summer of ’73, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were in the midst of severe marital problems. Yoko banished John from their New York apartment and delivered him into the arms of their assistant, May Pang. With Yoko out of the picture, John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw each other often. On March 28, 1974, the two ex-Beatles jammed with Stevie Wonder, Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson in rehearsals for Nilsson’s Lennon-produced LP, Pussy Cats. Paul pled Yoko’s case to John during this time.

By the end of 1974, with John’s "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" at #1, Paul invited John to New Orleans as part of what would become the Venus and Mars album. Lennon told May he wanted to go and thought it would be fun to watch Paul record. Lennon’s enthusiasm for the trip led Pang to believe John was ready to write and record with Paul again.

Lennon and Pang were set to fly to New Orleans in February of 1975, but, on Friday January 31, Lennon headed to Ono’s Dakota apartment, where she had arranged for a hypnotist to help John quit smoking. He would never return to Pang or McCartney.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

There’s a Better Life for Me and You

(Reprinted courtesy Creem Magazine, 1977)

The Beatles, gone. Cream, vanished. Jimi Hendrix, dead. The Animals, still standing, after years of squabbling and turmoil. Though the band underwent a series of lineup changes in the second half of the Swingin’ Sixties, they hung in there and now, with original keyboardist Alan Price back on the ark, The Animals are howling away as if the clock stopped circa 1965. A reunion, of sorts, is happening, with some original members of the band joining the Animal lineup that has remained intact since late 1968, the latter configuration that features Zoot Money on keyboards and Andy Somers on guitar.

The Animals were always the top white blues band, Jagger be damned. Nobody, NOBODY could growl them out like Eric Burdon, his beautiful soulful crooning a contrast to his gnome like stature. They broke big in ’64 with “House of the Rising Sun,” Burdon’s vocals melding with Price’s insides-ripping organ solo. (My fave rave was always their “Story of Bo Diddley,” a brief history of the British Invasion complete with tongue in cheek impersonations of The Fab Four and the Stones.) There was no stopping them. Or so it seemed. Like any marriage, money problems led to family squabbles.

See, Price was given arrangement credit for “Sun,” and the gang assumed it’d be split equally. So did Price, until the record soared to number 1 in England and the U.S.A. Ol’ Alan gave things a second look and wasn’t quite sure he wanted to share the loot. By mid-1965, after the seminal “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” was recorded, Price took his piano and left the band.

“Fear of flying,” he said.

“Fuck off and give me my money,” Burdon replied.

Burdon and Somers dropped in to the Creem office for a little chat and mucho alcohol. Burdon looked like any old aging hipster, late 30’s style, sporting Jordache bell bottoms and a leather coat that looked like dried chocolate frosting. His platforms gave a bit of lift to his 5 ½ foot height. Andy look was more current, black jacket and slacks, shaggy blondish hair. Though only one year apart, they look as if they were of two different generations. Not father and son, but older brother who never attained his potential and younger who hasn’t yet tasted the big time. But Eric’s big time didn’t last too long after Price took the money and ran.

With Alan out of the picture, it was a non-stop Burdon ego-trip. “Eric Burdon and The Animals” the records and marquees shouted loudly. It’s hard to remember how bad this band sucked in the late ‘60’s. “Monterey,” “Sky Pilot,” pure unadulterated drivel. Their 10 minute cover of Traffic’s “Coloured Rain” was about the worst pile of shit ever recorded, though it did mark the debut of Somers. Andy’s intelligence-destroying 200-bar solo was almost enough to make you want to go deaf. It was at that point the band was ready to call it quits. Seemed like a good idea.
At the height of his beads, batik and bongs flower child phase, Burdon abruptly announced he was going to quit the band and make movies about American Indians. Could there be a more dated hippie stereotyped path than that? The rest of the band was left hanging, but not for long. They summoned Burdon to Somers’ Laurel Canyon home and threatened to beat the crap out of him unless he reconsidered. As Andy waved a fireplace poker in front of Burdon’s face, Eric quickly decided it may be better to stay together.

Once the metal tools were put down, the group got to talking, real seriously, about their direction and it was then and there they decided to move forward by looking backward. Back to the blues, back to black music, soul-shaking, funky sounds that once upon a time they did best. No more Shankar inspired sitar shit.
It wasn’t easy. Somers wasn’t a Clapton, brought up on the blues, but the guy could play and he set out to master the style. No more trippy, long-winded, six-string jerk-off solos. And the return to form paid off with “Spill the Wine,” a loose groove that had the teenyboppers dancing and buying 45’s. Just like that, they were back.

The first half of the ‘70’s were solid for the band. Festivals, records, television appearances, the occasional magazine cover, but something, or someone was missing. It was time to bring Price back in the fold.

Eric tossed an acetate of the new album on our hi-fi. We opened another bottle of gin, and gave a listen. The Animals laid out a tight groove track after track. Burdon’s vocals are spot on and Somers plays some tasty blues licks. On “Please Send Someone to Love,” Price shines on piano as Burdon stretches his range, hitting notes from thundering low to screechy high. Eric gives a grudging nod of approval, eyes closed, ears open.

“Alan’s a greedy fuck and that hasn’t changed one bit,” Burdon snarled through a forced grin. “But if I don’t think about it too much, we can work well together. There’s nothing like the magic of those first few years of The Animals and we both want that back again.”
And Somers? “It’s fine by me. It makes Eric happy and Alan is terrific. It was very easy and comfortable integrating all the personalities. So far, so good.”
Can The Animals’ blues sound make its way through the disco and punk that dominate the current musical landscape?

Eric thinks for a moment. “In a strange way, we have more in common with disco than punk. R & B, blues, dance music, the whole black tradition is in our music and in disco. We’re no Bee Gees, though!”
Burdon took another swig as he moved on to punk. “Music has always come first for us and making a political statement was never a big concern. Even ten years ago I was into peace and love, not overthrowing the ruling class, you know?”

Somers is more in tune with the British youth movement. “Yeah, I agree with Eric. I’m a guitar player, not a revolutionary. But there are some fine musicians out there. Elvis Costello is a fantastic songwriter. I like what I’ve heard of The Clash, and there’s a group I met in Newcastle that’s led by an American drummer, and a local bass player. They have a pretty weak guitar player. They’re backing up Cherry Vanilla, from New York, but they deserve better.”

The Animals deserve your time. You want bullshit posing and faggy ass-shaking, go buy the last Stones albums. You want the real deal, buy The Animals next one.

Though “House of the Rising Sun” was a group arrangement, executives insisted on a single member receiving credit. Alan Price was the fortunate Animal. That was no problem until the money came flowing in. That, plus a rift between Price and Eric Burdon on the direction of the group, led to Price’s departure in May 1965. Many lineup changes ensued, the last included Zoot Money and Andy Somers in late 1968. Burdon broke up The “New” Animals in December. Burdon went downhill, except his short lived involvement with War. Their collaboration on “Spill the Wine” resulted in a #3 hit in 1970. A reunion of the original Animals took place in both 1977 and 1983. Somers, who later changed his last name to the easier-to-spell Summers, joined American-born Stewart Copeland and Newcastle bassist Sting to form The Police.