When history considers the “L.A.” or “West Coast” sounds of Southern California in the 1960’s, we tend to turn our attention to a relatively small yet incredibly prolific and powerful grouping of Artists and Musicians. The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and the various other writers, artists and producers, that made up the music community referred to as “Surf Music” and perhaps more importantly the Artists that made up “The Laurel Canyon Mafia” ( details to which you can read about here at SMS )…However, as disparate and diverse these ground breaking pioneers may have been,Their music and the “Sound of L.A.” was too often critically described as “Mellow” “Laid Back” “Heady” and “Harmonic” Not necessarily bad words, however, we’re here to look at what was going on in the streets and clubs of L.A. while Brian and his brothers were catching the wave and Joni, Graham, David and Cass were setting up house in Laurel Canyon….. Ten minutes East of Pacific Coast Hwy. and at the Southern most tip of Laurel Canyon Blvd. You are there! The whisky au, go, go” the London Fog” The Trip” and “Pandora’s Box”….A little further east and there’s “The Sea Witch” ” Bido Lito’s” and The tremendous “Hullabaloo Club” The Sunset Strip was home to an energized, vital and fertile Bar and Club scene. BUT ! The music coming out of these clubs in the mid 60’s was anything but “Mellow” or “Laid back” Quite the contrary, I spent my summer of 1966 hanging, hopping, and living in these clubs with the Artists and music they housed. Meanwhile, in your consideration of the bands we’ll focus on, keep in mind that on any given night in the summer of ’66 nearly all these bands were appearing, frequently at the same club on the same bill !
Do you remember “Love” with Arthur Lee? perhaps no other L.A. Band maintained and reflected the musical and cultural diversity of the city it called home, quite like “Love” did. Remember their breakthrough single, “My Little Red Book”? Of course you do, but did you know it was written by “easy listening” oldsters Burt Bacharach and Hal David ? who some of you may claim would be the purveyors of “Laid Back” and “Mellow” BUT NO, not after Arthur Lee and “Love” got hold of it, turning it into a brain pounding, eighth note driven rhythm and melody that thumped thru your mind long after the record ended. Additionally, Arthur’s vocals have been compared to Otis Redding and even Johnny Mantis. But on “Little Red Book” to me, he simply sounded scary. And live at The London Fog club on Sunset….HE WAS !
“Love” went on to sign with Jac Holzman’s Electra records ( The first band to sign with the label ) As a credit to “Loves’ creativity and Electra’s commitment “Love” recorded and released their first three albums in only 18 months, perhaps you own one…”Love”…….”Da Capo” and what critics call their masterpiece “Forever Changes”…
Have you heard them? You need to!
However, it could be argued that the greatest contribution that Arthur Lee made to Electra records was when he convinced Jac Holzman ( Electra’s founder and CEO ) to make a visit to The Whysky au go, go and hear his friends band. His friend was Jim Morrison! Holzman was so impressed with Jim and The Doors, he offered them a deal on the spot. You know the rest of the story. ” In L.A. You know Where That’s At”
Yes !…Jim Morrison and The Doors, no doubt, your favorite from L.A. back then and without question the most successful and notorious! and no other band worked harder. They were the house band at The whisky, The London Fog and The Galaxy clubs, as well as regulars at Pandora’s Box, Bido Lito’s and The Hullabaloo club with its revolving stage and perception altering Strobe light production. On a really good night, you could catch The Doors early show at The Hullabaloo club, then hitch hike west on Sunset 2-3 miles back to The whisky and catch them closing for The Seeds or The Music Machine just prior to last call. Even in those early days there were no questions regarding Morrison and sobriety and it is an unfortunate truth that my friends and I would rush to a late Doors show, just to see how annihilated Jim could get….But, he, along with the best drummer, John Densmore, Guitar player, Robby Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzereck in L.A, would always “tear down the house” The Doors were neither “Mellow” or “Laid back”The Doors were young, the band was incredibly TIGHT and they were writing great songs……Did you know, by the way, that “Light My Fire” was written by guitarist Robbie Krieger, not keyboardist Ray Manzerick, and it was the first song Krieger ever wrote….”In L.a. You know where That’s At”
The Seeds played everywhere, all the time. Do you remember The Seeds led by Sky Saxon? perennial Wannabe’s ! They worked hard and put on a very loud raucous show. But they just never took first position on any club stage. No one went out into the warm Hollywood summer night to SEE THE SEEDS, nope, they were there, but as the opening act. Sky’s voice was nasal, a bit whiney and the band was unremarkable, except for Keyboard player Daryl Hooper. He brought a sense of style and fashion to an otherwise drab outfit with hair to his mid back and knee-high boots “Quite the Dandy” actually. It should be noted that The Seeds were the first band to not include a Bass player in their live show. Daryl provided the bass parts by playing them on the keyboard. This is something that Ray Manzereck and the Doors got a lot of attention for doing. But it was Daryl Hooper in The Seeds that did it first. The Seeds struggled to break beyond just L.A. notoriety, but you may remember a title or two. Do you recall “I can’t seem to make you mine” ? The band and their label, Crescendo, believed in it so much they released it twice…..But, do you remember it? I’ll bet you don’t. The Seeds actually appeared and performed it on two popular T.V. Shows
“The Mothers in Law” and The Patty Duke Show, you still don’t recall it, do ya ? Furthermore those T.V. Appearances added to the bands lack of credibility. Crescendo released two more tracks Mr. Farmer” and “You’re Pushin To Hard” The latter being the one song you may remember. It received a fair amount of national attention. But The Seeds still couldn’t break thru the second place or opening act position in the So. Calif. music scene. They have been referred to as Ground Zero for garage rock and Proto Punk. Unfortunately for Sky Saxon and The Seeds, even that generous comment just isn’t true.
However, just down the street, we would stand mesmerized watching a L.A. Band that had the diversity of “Love” the darkness of The Doors and raw attitude of The Seeds……..The Music Machine. Do you recall them? I’m certain you recall and loved their third single and mega hit “Talk Talk” a mere one minute and fifty-six seconds of runaway energy, drum breaks and “fuzz” bass, all delivered by lead singer/ songwriter and founder Sean Bonniwell “Talk Talk” was sonically irresistible, and at 1:56 no disc jockey could avoid playing it. But it was the bands relentless live shows where Bonniwells vision of a Music Machine was realized. The band entirely dressed in Black, hair dyed Black and wearing one Black glove, the look and image was dark, imposing and even, yes, Surrey. However, to truly drive the point home, The Music Machine’s standard set ran One hour and ten minutes, NON STOP! That’s right Bonniwell wrote short segues to string all their songs together. No space, irrelevant banter or even a breath between songs….Just non stop, aggressive Rock, ripping your ears off and completely void of “mellow and “Laid back”. One night, at the Hullabaloo club, some joker from a rival band cut the power on the band in the middle of their set. What followed was incredible, in front of 800 dazed fans…. In silence Sean moved to the edge of the stage, proclaims “Nothing can stop a Music Machine and singularly hurls out a searing a capella performance of “Talk Talks” b-side ” Come on In”……One dark voice, under one dim spot, but as the old saying goes “There wasn’t a dry seat in the house” my friends and I held on as Sean Bonniwell brought the house down at The Hullabaloo Club….”In L.A. You Know Where That’s At”
Meanwhile, it’s time now to hitch down the street catch “Spirit”at Bido Lito’s and back to The Hullabaloo to see the closing set from “The Palace Guard”…Check out “Talk Talk”
Didja ever see them? Wereya ever there?
( SMS just hasta know )
The truth is most people didn’t! “Head” was the first and last feature film starring The Monkees! Released 49 years ago today Nov. 20, 1968….Columbia Pictures produced and distributed the film and everyone believed it was a sure bet. Their hugely popular series had just concluded a few month’s earlier, and they were still selling millions of records. The film was directed by Bob Rafelson ( the producer and director of their T.V. Series and the screenplay was written by…..wait for it…Jack Nicholson. Yep, THAT Jack Nicholson.
In addition to Micky, Davey, Peter and Mike,”Head included Cameo’s with Victor Mature Sonny Liston, Peter Fonda, Frank Zappa and Annette Funicelo. Originally called “Changes”this 87 minute mish mash with no script, no plot and no direction outside of The Monkees desire to explore and move beyond their “slapstick and silly 30 minute T.V. Show. They knew their core audience were young “teenagers” and believed “Head” would attract and appeal to a more mature and sophisticated audience which would bring them something they desperately desired CREDIBILITY!
“Head failed miserably, the film never came close to appealing To “the mature audience”, Afterall it was, The Monkees! But, even worse, with the films emphasis on Psychedelia, “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll in Hollywood, much of their young core audience couldn’t or wouldn’t be allowed to see it.
Here are the hard numbers…”Head” cost $760,000 to produce, and the total box office receipts were… Wait for it….just a little over $16,000….Yikes ! To this day , Wikipedia describes “Head” as “Stunningly Unsuccessful”
Fans of the film claimed it was a sincere and valid attempt to emulate The Beatles and “A Hard Day’s Night”….Not even close.
comparing the greatest band in the world to the…er…ah…um Well, they weren’t even a real band!
Sooooo, we think you GET IT. But here’s the bottom line. Some historians ( including The Monkees) believe “Head” ended the careers of Mickey, Davey, Mike and Peter both as actors and musicians. Blaming Director Producer Bob Rafelson!
However, “Head” does have a reason for being, many more film and music historians believe “Head” should be celebrated and revered as the quintessential Movie of and about The 1960’s celebrating the excess, Psychedelia and creative experimentation we all attempted to indulge! For our money “Head” delivered Thee best Monkee’s song from their substantive catalog.
It’s called “The Porpoise Song” and it open’s and closes the movie. AND, it was written by Carole King and Jerry Goffin. A loud driving, yet plaintive ballad that is basically a Hammond B-3 organ and Mickey moaning his way thru a senseless lyric. BUT IT WORKS! And set’s the stage, that your about to experience something you’re not prepared for, by four Guy’s you never expected it from…. And in those brief moments of The Porpoise Song , My friends and I got “Head” in 1968….So, what about you, did you see this rare and unusual film Have you heard “The Porpoise Song”?
We bet you’ve heard it and never knew it. So, our advice to you is run to your nearest source and get “Head” in 2018… ( nostalgia and “Train Wreck Syndrome)
But first, let’s hear “The Porpoise Song…
In the late Sixties, into the early Seventies, the “Club Scene in So. Calif. was thriving. World Class venues like “The Whisky au, go, go “The Hullabaloo Club, “The Trip, Pandora’s Box” “Bito Lido’s” “London Fog” and “The Roxy” with its adjacent “Super hang” bar and grill, “The Rainbow Room! If you even thought of playing guitar, you had to drop into The Rainbow room, have a slice of their “World Famous Pizza and hang out with the real world of “Rock Royalty….
However, it’s the club that’s away from the traffic crunch of “The Sunset Strip” that enjoy’s the longevity, legends and infamous notoriety more than any other nightspot in L.A. Or the world…Doug Weston’s Troubadour! You surely know the story. The club opened in the late 50’s as a coffee-house that gradually grew into a folk music venue. But in the Sixties, The Troubadour moved to its current location on Santa Monica Blvd. and immediately became thee venue for the surge of music both locally and internationally that was taking the 60’s by storm.
From “The Laurel Canyon Mafia, James Taylor with Carol King to Elton John, Comedians like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and A Banjo playing Steve Martin. But! The Troubadour soon became famous for what was happening off the stage as well as on. The troubadour is where Lenny Bruce was thrown off the stage and arrested on “obscenity Charges” for using the word “Schmuck” on stage..There was the night comedian George Carlin was having a very bad night, the crowed was booing, when club owner Doug Weston walked on stage, turned around, bent over, pulled down his pant’s Screamed “Kiss my Ass” and closed the club!….No apologies, or of course refunds. The troubadour was where Elton John made is American debut. Far from a “Household” name, Elton sold out 3 nights and shut down Santa Monica Blvd, with his busses and throngs of die-hard fans. There was the night Steve Martin was unhappy with the sound, or temperature in the room. So Steve put an arrow through his head, invited the FULL house to go outside and join him on Santa Monica Blvd. where he did his entire show! HOWEVER, the most notorious event that ever happened at “The Troub” was the night John Lennon and Harry Nilsson dropped by the club and proceeded to get completely trashed. As the party ensued a very drunk John Lennon tied a woman’s tampon to his head. A very agitated waitress grabbed Lennon by the arm and asked him to leave the club, when Lennon barks “Do you know who I am”? The waitress snapped back with “YES, your some asshole with a Tampax on your head”! YEAH, YEAH, YEAH…Good times at The Troub!
But, perhaps the most interesting twist Doug Weston introduced at his club was “Hoot Nite Monday’s” today you’d call it “Open Mic Nite” Every other club in town was “Dark Monday’s” club speak for “We’re closed Mondays’.
But, Weston opened The Troubadour on Monday nights to anyone who wanted to perform on his stage. If you could sing, play, or tell a good joke. You could get on The Troubadour stage, usually to an audience of a couple dozen patrons at most. However, as it was the only bar in town that was open on Monday night. The large bar that lead to the showroom was teaming with thirsty “Wanna bee’s” and more. Many, killing time till it was their turn to take the stage, but mostly locals and drifters looking for a drink and place to hang and collaborate with either musically or whatever…As word and popularity of what was going on in The Troubadour bar on Monday nights grew, the clientele enjoyed a distinctive up tick. The bar was jammed with the artists “Movers and Shakers of the music industry. On any Monday night, a quick glance around the bar, you’d find Tom Waites sitting at his regular corner stool, nursing a glass of whisky with his “Ole 55 parked in the alley. Linda Ronstadt “The Queen of Hearts” would burst into the bar, on some kind of mission, alway’s nervous, curiously scanning the bar for someone or something.
Grabs a glass of something which she sips through a straw and then she’s gone. Henley was there as was Frey, but not together
The Eagles were still a few years away. First they had to join Ronstadt as HER back up band.The past, present and future of pop music were all drinking and plotting in ” The Sad Cafe”, The Troubadour Bar
It was Don Henley who nicknamed the club “The Sad Cafe” He and Glen Frey chronicled their times and experiences at the club in their song of the same name, which can be found on their late 70’s album “The Long Run”
But, one summer Monday night something spontaneous and incredible happened!… Our old friends Rob Grill, Joel Larson and Warren Entner from “The Grass Roots,” fresh off a string of huge top 40 hits….”Two Devided by love” “Sooner Or Later” “Heaven Knows” and their double platinum monster “Midnight confessions” took a break from constant touring and opted for some downtime in their homes in West L.A. All mere blocks from “The Sad Cafe”
The three Roots were Monday night regulars in the bar, commandeered a large table in the corner, drinking and singing! Yes…..Singing! But they were singing “Doo Wop” The Sad Cafe, The Grass Roots and Doo Wop provided me with the best Summer and musical night of my life.
One Monday, The Roots were settled in the corner Rob and Joel, finger poppin and Doo whopping their way through the Doo Wop classic “So Fine” I wasn’t invited but at the chorus, I leaned in and added a deep third part. At 22 years old, I was barely 5′ 6″ and was pushing 120 pounds from the low side. But I had been gifted with a “Basso Profundo deep voice that blended perfectly with the Alto Sopranos of The Grass Roots. The Roots heard this sound coming out of this kid and thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen and heard. Monday after Monday, there we were, holding court and performing the best a capella Doo Wop this side of a Brooklyn “Stoop” Soon the bars clientele would join in. Tom Waits shuffled over one night, sat down and tried to growl his way through “Gonna Find Her” but we were too happy for Tom so he moved on…J.D. Souther sat in one night. We were paralyzed! Randy Meisner leaned in a couple of times and it was like the gates of heaven opening…Glen Frey sat down one night….”Fuh getta bout it” One evening Senator Al Franken ( Yes that same Al Franken) sat in. In the early Seventies, Al was a stand up comedian and showed up every Monday to work on his act. He took a break grabbed a drink and joined the chorus.
Forget about his politics The Senator CAN NOT SING…
But it was our final Monday night that was the most fun and poignant. Midway through “Our second set” Rob, Joel and I decided we should go out for chilli dogs! We know you’ve been there. We all got in the car and headed down Santa Monica Blvd. to “Pinks” hot dogs, thee best chilli dog stand in L.A. And only 5 minutes from the Troub. On our way we see a vision! It’s a classic Mid 50’s Candy Apple Red Mercury Cruiser, complete with Fuzzy dice hanging off the rear view mirror and hydraulic jacks bouncing it up and down Santa Monica Blvd. with the radio blasting some Latin music station. But wait here’s the most incredible part, as we pulled along side we saw that the cars owner had air brushed something on the rear side windows ( that was a thing in certain communities in L.A. Back in the day) He had painted each rear window with the words “Midnight Confessions”……Rob and Joel saw the windows of this “SHORT”
emblazoned with the title of their last monster hit and they went insane, laughing hysterically, jumping out of the car and hoping on the back of the Mercury. This was a photo-op gift from God and The Roots weren’t going to miss it…
Meanwhile, inside the Merc are four kids, who are clearly out of their neighborhood, out of their league and are at once, terrified, confused and really pissed off!
Four young latino’s barely old enough to drive on a “Joy Ride” through Beverly Hills. When out of the blue a car full of “Long haired white dudes pulls up and in an instant they’re hanging and posing on this beautiful car screaming and singing”Midnight Confessions” snapping off pictures, while the Merc driver is going crazy swearing he is going to kill all of us. But! Before anything serious developed the Merc driver hit the gas and sped off, throwing everyone to the ground and taking Robs new “Ray Bans” along for the rest of the joy ride….As we dust ourselves off it’s agreed that we should head back to the troubadour, have a nightcap, assess any damages and sing a couple tunes!
Back at The troubadour, we settle in…Good news, our table is empty! Bad news, so is the Bar! But for one lone customer. “Linda is at the bar, looking nervous and sipping a drink through a straw. The Roots and I begin a soft, well tuned version of “Bye Bye Love” “Queen Linda looks up and over, and in a moment OMG! Our Queen is moving towards our table. Like a gossamer vision, she drifts up to our table, and as she surveys the faces, a look of disappointment comes over her Angelic face….”Pardon me”, sez The Queen “I thought I heard someone I know”…Whoa?….Who?
With that, Linda Ronstadt turns around and walks away. As the moment unfurls Rob Grill, at first, laments his lost Ray Bans, but then, leans over to me and say’s “Ya know Rick, the only good thing about watching Linda Ronstadt walk away from your table is WATCHING Linda Ronstadt walk away from your table…
A Sad Cafe Indeed…
However, somewhere there is a photograph of a blurry red quarter panel, with distorted images of Ray Bans and Grass Roots with multiple arms and legs in the air and if you look real close you can see the words “Midnight Confessions” stretched across a car window while deep in the background you can see the dim glow of neon guiding you to Doug Weston’s “Sad Cafe”
How about you?….Have you ever been there? Do YOU have a story?
Meanwhile, take a moment to enjoy The Eagles tribute…
“And meet me at midnight baby, inside the sad cafe”….