Memories of Gold
Basically, I've decided to make this page straight from my jotted down notes. Therefore, it may be fragmented and a little disjointed in presentation. Sometimes jumping forward and backwards in the year 1969. You can handle it. Stay with me.
I had moved into an apartment complex called the Franklin apartments on Franklin Street in Hollywood, next to the Magic Castle. Joe Schermie and his wife lived downstairs. The Chambers Brothers, famous for their hit record "Time Has Come Today" were living in another apartment complex next door. I'm unclear as to this next part. Something about Janis Joplin's place of death or former residence. It was either in the Franklin apartments or next door. Whatever. Just a little rock death name-dropping, I suppose.
This was a time of change; a time of change in radio format, as well. Remember, AM (mono) radio was the standard up to this point. Now, all of a sudden, there was FM radio. AM radio was famous for it's "Boss Jock" approach and single after hit single format. You know, "Alright kids. sockin' it to ya all night long where the hits just keep on coming" etc. I've heard that the Beatles loved American radio, in contrast to Great Britain's BBC1 and BBC2 with a very tamed presentation. FM radio, however, was distinctly different. Not only was it in stereo (major better), but the disc jockeys, often female, always snuggled up to the microphone and talked very softly. Very hip. It was called "underground" back then, due to it not being the standard AM format and the "take a chance with some new programming" attitudes that were just then evolving. A cool thing to get air play on FM back then. Richie Podolor used to mix quasi-stereo with very few things being placed hard right and left in the stereo field of sound. He did this so our albums, upon being release, would sound good over AM radio when they were getting the initial play by the disc jockeys. I'm sure you've heard stereo music played over a mono system before. Major things happen to the mix. Anything that was placed in the center, like a lead vocal or a bass, would get louder to the listener. Modulation occures, and phasing can weaken certain frequency responses. That's another story. Sorry. My engineering "jones" can be irritating.
It was also common place to find bedrooms with speakers mounted directly to the left and right of the pillows. Does that sound mundane and unimportant? Maybe now. Not then. I had a bedroom in 1969 that included a full-blown parachute, hung from the center light. It was multicolored, orange, white and army green. A little incense. Pier One tapestries hung in the bathroom. Some underground music. Excuse me! Life was getting good.
Our second album, called Suitable for Framing, featured the 3 singers on the cover, as would most albums. The entire band was shown on the back and in the middle. In the next few years we would be doing 2 albums a year, plus touring and tv shows.
I was invited to a jam session at an FM radio station in Los Angeles, out in the valley. It was live, (KFWB/KPFK?) with a bunch of different musicians, including the drummer for SPIRIT. Cassidy was his name. Head shaved bald dude. Good player. Was this fun? Duh! Come on now. Being invited to go down the street a few blocks and jam live on FM radio in 1969? This was the shit!
Early in 1969, our management suggested that an English tour might be a good idea. Hendrix had gone there and came back to a successful launch of the "Experience" career. To the American public, the English thing was still special, due to the 60's British invasion. From June 1st - 19th, we were in England and Germany. I was 22 years old and in London. We played a place called The Revolution Club. Supposedly, the Beatles had played there once. I don't know the truth of it. A couple of English mates named Reg and Bernie came down to see and talk with us. They had some more songs that they were hoping we would do. "Reg" was Elton John and "Bernie" was Bernie Taupin. We had just recorded "Lady Samantha" written by the two of them. Somewhere, Danny (Hutton) has a letter from Elton concerning Lady Samantha. You'd have to ask him about it. A good song. Later on, Danny wanted to do another Elton/Bernie song called "Your Song" and we did. It came out great. Just about this time, Elton's solo career started taking off. He, in fact, released his own version of "Your Song" and had a hit with it. We were to only do one more of their songs, a song called "Take Me to The Pilot," that we never released. We weren't completely happy with the results. It was good, but just not quite right somehow. It stayed in the can.
My next disjointed memory is us playing a famous venue in London called The Marquee, where the Stones, Hendrix and others had played. We did a gig there and it was, in fact, very cool. Nice to have done it.
This is a photo taken of us in 1969 standing in front of Buckingham Palace. The changing of the guard is just as cool of a ceremony as they say it is. Great uniforms, with tall furry hats, looking straight ahead, never speaking and standing perfectly motionless until commands for the "change" are being shouted out. Throughout it all, keeping a stiff upper lip in that wonderful English tradition.
While in England, we played a theater called the Sundown Theater. A new group called Uriah Heep opened for us. Nice guys. Good group. They later toured the southern U.S. with us. We were flattered because we saw a difference in them in the U.S tour after playing with us in England. They had incorporated some our approaches on stage into their show, or so we thought. Like I said. Nice guys. Good band.
We also played the city of Manchester. It was an outdoor venue where it was so cold that they had heaters blowing up on the stage behind us. I would go over to warm my hands, but in the process of leaning over toward the heat, my guitar would de-tune, so it was a trade-off. 1) Be so cold that the guitar strings felt like barbed wire, or 2) have thawed fingers, but be out of tune. In other words, there was no choice. Just play with stiff hands and bear it. This situation was only outdone by our New Years Eve gig this past year, (Dec 31, 2001) in Atlanta, GA downtown, "underground." The bandstand was NOT underground. Brutally cold. Chill factor down about -15º F, or so it seemed. This time the strings felt like razor blades for the first two songs. After that, it got laughable and we got into the bizarre'ness of it all and had fun. Paul Kingery played bass with deer skin gloves on. (I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to 1969)
We also played up in Northern England in a town called New Castle. Now here's a bizarre memory for you. This is a definite "old guy" defining story. The only way to eat fish that I knew was pan fried or broiled, with lemon on it. Keep in mind that this was 1969, so give me a break when I tell you that it was my first introduction to FISH AND CHIPS. There were no chain restaurants like "H Salt fish and chips" or "Long John Silver's." At least not to my knowledge. Not in Modesto, California anyway. Not only did it taste wonderfully different, but add to it the perspective of a young man of 21 or 22 years, going to a foreign country for the first time in my life and what you have is a major revelation on a food level. Ahhhh. Feeling so worldly and multi-continental. Yes, even I, had fallen prey to an embellished image of myself that was sheer bullshit, but oh so much fun. Mister world traveler, no less. It goes without saying that I'm a complete realist now. Oh yeah. And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. I DO have fun with life and all its many adventures. More than most. That IS a fact; an undeniable fact.
Let's see now. While in London, Greenspoon and I went out to Kings Road to do a little antique shopping. A great place to do that, if you're into antiques. I remember we both came back with a couple of vests that were very 60ish. They had thick lamb's wool, I think, on the inside. In just a few days both of our vests were stinking to the high heavens. Bummer. We failed. Something to do with the skin not being treated correctly or something. Served us right, buying witto lambies fur and skin. For shame.
Next memories: Piccadilly Circus. Neat London cabs that were black, small, right hand drive and looked like a mini limo. I wanted to buy one and bring it back. Loved their red phone booths and two story buses, too. Hated their luke warm milk and room temperature beer. A European thing, I'm told.
Next memory, back at the hotel. Richie Havens was staying there. Steven Stills, too. Just by chance. We were, at different times, bonding on a rock n roll peer level with some sort of round, black sticky stuff called Temple Balls that were ingested off the end of a straight pen. Oh, give me a break. Like we were the only ones? 1969. Remember? Fun sitting there with Steven; he really plays some great acoustic guitar. He was into some different guitar tunings even way back then. After one of these 60's kind of "hotel herb jam and peer bonding" sessions, Richie Havens had to leave cause it was late and he had to get up early to go to church in the morning. Kind of funny, in retrospect, but when you think about it, not really. Richie was a very sincere person, though I don't know him well. That was the only time I ever sat down face to face with him, but I liked him and he seemed like a "real" person to me. Likable, friendly. We did cross paths on a few gigs over the years. Some festivals, but we never hung out after the gig on any of them. Just performed together.
Next we were off to Frankfort, Germany. When we arrived, we were greeted by Heidi Esser of EMI records. Funny how you remember small things, but Heidi and her girlfriend, Evelyn, I think, had a saying for someone who was bursting with energy, as if on amphetamines. They'd say "That chap is heavy on wire." We ended up with a kid that drove some of us around in a BMW. His name was Ozzie and he most definitely was "heavy on wire." Drove like a maniac, but we loved it.
I recall an afternoon when Ozzie took me and Schermie out of town to this old Roman Castile about 40 miles outside of Frankfort. Until then, I didn't realized that Frankfort had been part of the Roman Empire at one time. When we got there they had just closed the castile for the day. We were disappointed, but Ozzie said you can probably walk up and look over the top of the wall, so we did that. There were 2 moats in front (no water, though) and the gate was closed. With a little effort we climbed up the wall and looked over. Ozzie pointed out where the soldier's quarters use to be and where the horses were kept. It really was a site. Your basic square-jagged-edged-stone rim structure, just like you'd imagine a fortress to be.
real Joe Schermie. Guitar in hand. Inspiration
The real Joe Schermie. Guitar in hand. Inspiration covered.
We then went to a little town in Germany called Baden Baden, meaning bath bath due to the natural warm springs that were located there. We went there to do a television show. The tv studio was quite good and the resolution on the tv screens was way better than in America. More lines per inch giving it way more depth. Kind of like high definition tv, but back in 1969. The area around Baden Baden was the Black Forest, the area that Mary Shelly's Frankenstein stories were based in. The autobahns, with no speed limit other than "what is safe," made for a fun journey.
I believe it was in Bremen, Germany that we went to a radio station for an interview. Upon arriving, there was a young German schoolboy dressed in his school uniform, which included shorts and a tie. He walked up to me while holding a clipboard with some paper on it, turned it over and offered it to me. Now understand, he was being very polite, but in his most darling German/English accent he said, "You vill sign here, please"! I fell out. At first, I thought he was putting me on with the "you VILL sign ..." routine, but it was in earnest and meant to be a polite request. Still, I got a good chuckle out of it and it has stayed in my mind ever since. Yes, I certainly did sign the autograph and thanked him for asking.
We were to return to the continent in 1972, and to be quite honest with you, I may have some of these events confused between the two trips. I'm doing my best to recall them in the correct year and sequence.
Once back in the U.S., we were back to touring. I remember us boarding a plane at LAX and were watching out the window as the ground crews were loading our stage gear onto the plane. At that time, Jimmy was carrying his Hammond B3 organ and Leslie speaker ON THE ROAD with him. Today, the promoters provide it locally. As we looked out the window of the plane, we could see the ground crew pick up the organ, look up at the plane (us) and then blatantly drop the organ so as to trash it. They were sending a clear message. That message: "DO NOT BRING THIS BIG BEAST OUT HERE AGAIN, CAUSE WE WILL DROP IT EVERY TIME IF YOU DO." In time, we got the message.
Think back to this time. 1969. A time when there WERE no airport security machines or check points. A time when smoking on airplanes was perfectly acceptable. No smoke detectors in the bathrooms, either. If you didn't feel comfortable smoking in the main cabin, you could always go to the back of the plane and go in the bathroom and smoke whatever you chose. As you bent over the sink, while holding the sink drain plug open, it would suck the smoke down the drain. With that in mind, here's a story about one day at the Los Angeles airport with Steppenwolf and us.
Both groups were flying out together for a tour. Steppenwolf's bass player, Nick St. Nicholas, walks through the entire airport, shows up at the gate and boards the plane, wearing a pink full-bodied bunny suit with booties and a tail ... with a jock strap over it. He walked into the plane and nobody said a word. Not a passenger, not a stewardess (flight attendant hadn't been invented yet). Not one crewmember said a word. Nothing! Nobody dared to say anything. These were the days that we rock n roll people were doing outrageous things on a regular basis, just to blow people out. As I've said before, "Rock n Roll, it's like every day is Halloween." Long hair was a major statement back then. Not Beatle length long hair, I mean LONG hair. You had your basic regular society peoples and then you had your Long Haired Rock Weirdo's. Put about 15 rock pukes with road crew on a plane together. Add Nick walking on board in a pink bunny suit with a jock strap and you've got yourself one of those "situations." Nick got some "rock" respect on that one. Totally outrageous. So funny. The rest of us just tried to act normal, as best we could, trying to hold back our laughs. Not one person on that entire plane said a word about it. I mean NOT ONE. They wouldn't dare. They didn't know if this guy was a screwball or what. He might go off on them or who knows what. It wouldn't happen today, but it was really funny back then. At the end of the flight, he just got up and left the plane. End of story.
We did the Donald O'Conner tv show in late 1968. I remember Wilfred Hyde White was on with us, an old actor you would recognize if you saw him. He had invented a word. "Folf." It stood for the stuff you find in the cuff of your pants. The fuzz and lint. Folf. A good word. I think Betty White was on the show, too.
During the early years, we played the Red Skelton show over at the CBS lot in Hollywood, when he had another run with his weekly shows. It was wonderful to meet him; I'll never forget it. Backstage, before the show started, Red walks up to us and says "hi" and then proceeds to tell us a dirty joke. We, of course, were completely blown out that Red would tell a dirty joke. It wasn't that dirty, but just the fact that it was Red telling it made your jaw drop. He knew that, too. His way of putting us at ease on his show. A real gentleman, a pro and major talent of our time. No less a genius than Charlie Chaplin or Stan Laurel. America's own. An honor and a privilege to have shared a laugh with him and then performed on his tv show.
We did another "short-lived" television show at CBS, that was named something like "Solid Gold." It lasted only a season or two. I say "something like" because there was another show by that name over at ABC later on. We played that one too, but this was earlier and at CBS. The time, in particular, that I'm thinking of, both Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night were filming on the same day. We showed up. Jimmy had his Hammond B3 organ with him on dollies. The stage was high, about 3 to 4 feet, I suppose. We were ready to start running it down, so they could block out some camera shots, etc ... , but the organ was still off to the side of the stage. We thought some CBS crewmember would have gotten it up on stage. A couple of our crew guys went down to lift it up on stage and an older gentleman came running up and said "On no! You can't do that. That's my my job. I'm a union man." They said "okay, go ahead." He said "I'm not lifting that thing" and that is when we got the "union mentality at the tv studio scenario" down pat. I forget how we resolved it, but we did.
Same show: Solid Gold. Steppenwolf is running down their stuff, blocking out camera angles and such. You have to understand that even when you are just rehearsing for the cameramen and director, that lights are being set and all kinds of things are happening at once. You have gone for make-up before you got on stage and have had "pancake" on for a good period of time. While "running it down" for the cameras, you often sweat a lot under those lights. It gets real toasty. There is always a stagehand from the make-up department that stands by and takes care of everybody on stage. When you start sweating, he would come out with a make-up kit that had a little pillow patting thing in it for keeping you dry, as to not let your make-up run.
Having said all that, while Steppenwolf was doing their "blocking," guitarist Mike Monarch needed to be "patted down" by the make-up guy, but he was nowhere to be found. Mike, being the "young semi-spoiled rock dude," steps up to the mic and calls out loudly so everybody in the place could hear it, "MAKE-UP FAG!! Hey, MAKE-UP FAG!" We fell out! Unbelievable. You've got to know that at least 50% of the working crew are commonly gay on many of those television studio crews. And the darn thing about it is, THEY'RE THE REALLY GOOD ONES, too. If you want a good make-up artist, I guarantee you, the best ones in the business are the gay ones. Bar none. It's a standard throughout the tv industry. To this day, we still joke about the "Make-up fag" line. Our current production manager, Matt Patterson, has a fresh new battery for my wireless guitar transmitter every night back stage before a show. If he's forgotten to have one there for me on any night, it has become a joke for me to yell out "Oh, BATTERY FAG!." No, Matt's not gay. Makes no difference, we hammer him anyway with Mike Monarchs famous line. A classic that has a life of its own. No, we aren't "gay bashers" per se. We've got no problem with the gay community at all. Truth is, we're just as hard on them with our humor as anybody else. Nobody is safe around this group. Greenspoon is probably our biggest threat with the one liners. Mike Monarch's classic line deserves to live on. Luckily, Matt graciously roles with the punches and laughs with us.