Music, Pop Culture

Help me Rhonda. The real story.

Help me Rhonda

Original publish date:  February 20, 2015

This week marks the 50th anniversary of a song that is considered by many to be a rock ‘n roll classic, by others as an an ear-worm impossible to forget and to me an anthem to my lovely wife. On February 24, 1965, the Beach Boys recorded “Help Me, Rhonda”. The song, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, peaked at number one on May 29, 1965, knocking the Beatles “Ticket to Ride” from the top spot before being displaced by the Supremes “Back in my arms again” two weeks later. It was the band’s second # 1 single after “I Get Around” in 1964. The song became part of the “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” album in June 1965.
It tells the story of how a boy fell for a girl who dropped him for another guy and the boy begs his friend Rhonda to help him forget about her. Got it? Brian Wilson has always stated that Rhonda was not based on anyone in real life. Simple, right? Not so much. There is a long and twisted back story to the song, the recording session and the Wilson family dynamic that goes a long way towards explaining why Brian Wilson eventually became such a tortured soul. Oh, by the way, the song features Glen Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano. And you thought “Help me Rhonda” was just a cute and catchy little tune, didn’t you?
The first version was recorded in two sessions at United Western Recorders Studio in Hollywood on January 8 and 19, 1965. The song was originally titled “Help me Ronda” and it was the first single to feature Al Jardine (the band’s only non-Wilson) on lead vocals. Curiously enough, it begins with a brief ukelele intro. This first version became legendary for what happened in the studio rather than what happened on the track itself.

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Murry Wilson and the Beach Boys.

Well into that first session, a drunken Murry Wilson (Brian, Carl and Dennis’ Dad and Mike Love’s Uncle) arrives and proceeds to take over the session with an odd, but very caustic mix of psychodrama, scat singing and abusive melodrama. Murry’s drunken rants and criticisms drove the normally placid Brian to the breaking point. The recording reel continued to run, capturing the legendary confrontation in its entirety. Today the alcohol fueled spat circulates among fans as a classic bootleg recording.
In the studio, Brian screamed expletives, removed his headphones, and confronted his father. On the tape, Murry wanted to stop the recording but Brian insisted on keeping the tape rolling. For Beach Boys fans, it’s a good thing that Brian won out, because this audio verifies many of the Murry Wilson horror stories and portrays Brian in a very sympathetic light. Perhaps contrary to the image attached to Brian over the past 25 years, in these 1965 tapes, 22-year-old Brian Wilson sounds mature, patient and sane compared to his alcoholic, abusive stage father.
The entire 39-minute tape can be found on many sites on the net. It is well worth googling for both historical and entertainment value. I say entertainment because Murry Wilson, father of three of the most talented musician brothers this country has ever produced, comes across as a caricature. The first several minutes of this session are spent trying to get the correct vocal balance on the microphones. Brian is in control of the crowded studio, including a gaggle of onlookers and hangers-on, mostly friends of the band, but it must be remembered that Charles Manson and his family were once included among this entourage.
z 135580_209736452491521_934836408_oThe banter among the bandmates and “Wrecking Crew” studio musicians is typical witty chatter with hints of the Era in which the recording was made scattered thourhgout. Mike Love saying “I got Vietnam-itus in here.” Al Jardine replying with a giggle: “I was just thinking of that, you know that?” Mike: “What?” Al: “Vietnam…for some reason, I don’t know why…” and Brian yelling from the booth: “Get in the front of the mic, Carl!”
Mike and Al shift their conversation from Vietnam to the Cold War, namely Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles…Mike: “their ICBMs…all aimed at the Capitol (Records)Tower…” Carl (reading the manufacturer’s emblem on the Telefunken microphone): “Made in Western Germany…” Al: “Oh, my God!” Dennis (to his brother Carl): “You got the biggest butt in the world….” Carl: “Well, it’s big, but…” Brian says “Here we go!” Shortly, afterwards, Murry stumbles into the studio and attempts to take control of the song.
Murry chastises Brian repeatedly for not singing from the heart and repeatedly tells “the boys” to “sync-o-pate, sync-op-ate, sync-o-pate.” Brian bristles at the instructions and asks his father several times to leave. On the tape, Brian briefly berates Murry by reminding him that he is deaf in one ear as a result of one of Murry’s blows to his head (allegedly with a 2×4). When Murry continues to berate the young men for letting fame go to their heads while drunkenly professing his love for all of them, Brian begins to respond by repeating the phrase, “Times are changing.” Towards the end of the argument, Murry utters the line that summed up his entire relationship with the band when he slurred at his son, “Brian, I’m a Genius, Too” at the 30:55 mark of the recording.
z 9403721_origAt this point, Murry departs with the boy’s mother Audree in tow and the Beach Boys continued on with the session. Emotionally devastated by the evening’s drama, the Boys called it a night, returning the next day to redo the vocals. Brian would have the last laugh in this battle by sneaking the song “I’m Bugged At My Ol’ Man” onto the album at the last minute. It would be another three years before Murry again attended a Beach Boys recording session. Legend claims that from that point on, the band purchased a fake audio console for their sessions, so Murry could twiddle knobs on the fake mixing board to his heart’s delight without destroying anything.
Murry so destroyed this recording session that The Beach Boys re-recorded the entire song at Universal and Radio Recorders studios in Hollywood on February 24, 1965. They also changed the song’s name from Ronda to Rhonda, perhaps to erase all connection to that nightmare session six weeks previous. It is this second version that became the hit single we are all so familiar with. After reaching # 1 in the U.S., the song became a staple of the band’s live set. In what must have been a surreal footnote in American music history, The Beach Boys performed the song with the Grateful Dead on April 27, 1971 at the Fillmore East in New York City. The Beach Boys sang vocals while Jerry Garcia backed them. It was a one-time collaboration and the Fillmore East closed exactly two months later. The song has been covered by Roy Orbison, Johnny Rivers, Jan & Dean and Ricky Martin.
z 899a1dd6a86a20899f682ee1e40719b1In 1964, Murry Wilson’s wife Audree left him and they separated. The marriage ended in divorce in 1966. In a letter written on May 8, 1965, just a few months before Brian recorded what is arguably the band’s masterpiece, “Pet Sounds”, Murry gives a glimpse into the complicated, psychologically messed up relationship with his son.
“It has become very apparent to me that our family can no longer exist under the worrisome and trying conditions that have been going on for the last five or six years, and I think the time has come for us all to face facts…I guess the major factor which caused a loss of feeling in the family from sons to their father was that my wife could only remember how kind her mother was…Audree was trying to raise you boys almost like girls…although from time to time she took a coat hanger to you boys or bawled you out when you did something she felt was wrong, none of her correction really meant a lot or was too effective because you could only compare the more strict punishment I could render as a stronger human being, such as spanks on the bottom and, on occasion, more violent punishment and severe tongue lashings…I could no longer reach you, and your natural resentment against me which had been building up…you acted like you hated me on many occasions. I cannot believe that such a beautiful young boy, who was kind, loving, received good grades in school and had so many versatile talents, could become so obsessed to prove that he was better than his father.
z the-beach-boys-help-me-rhonda-1965-13I am over the big hurt of losing my three sons as a manager for their benefit and good fortune, but I am not over the fact that I have lost my three sons’ love, and I mean real love, because you are all in a distorted world of screams, cheers and financial success. The money will not mean a damn thing to any of my sons if they are not happy when the job is done and it is a sad thing for three young beautiful sons to place their life’s success on the success of a record album or a 45 RPM disc or to how successful they are in the eyes of the music world from how many seats they sell in a live concert. I hope to God that you and your brothers review your thinking now before it is too late, because only more damage can arise from this temporary, fleeting image of success known as The Beach Boys.
Brian, your mother and I are growing further apart and a beautiful thing is becoming destroyed…she is weak in her way because she loves you all so much and cannot bring herself, after all these years of siding with her babies, to do the right thing and really lay down the law to you fellows on the honesty and character bit. I want you all to know that I loved you as my sons and still do, but I am absolutely crushed to think that it would all turn out the way it did and I do not say that it is all your fault – I know I failed my sons many, many times and couldn’t spend time with them in their earlier stages of life when I wanted to…Please try to understand that all I tried to do was make you all honest men, and instead of hating me for it, I ask that you all try to search your own hearts once in a while and try to be better.”
z 2947226Although a marginally successful songwriter and musician, the self-aggrandizing and ostensibly talented Murry Wilson’s primary claim to fame was as the patriarch of the Beach Boys. Once the Beach Boys established themselves, Murry managed to finagle a solo album deal for himself in 1967; “The Many Moods of Murry Wilson.” It was not commercially successful. Murry Wilson died on June 4, 1973 after suffering a heart attack at the age of 55.
z brianBrian Wilson spent the bulk of the two years after his father’s death hiding in the chauffeur’s quarters of his home; sleeping, abusing alcohol, taking drugs (including heroin), overeating, and exhibiting self-destructive behavior. He attempted to drive his vehicle off a cliff, and at another time, demanded that he be pushed and buried into a grave he had dug in his backyard. Although reclusive during the day, Wilson spent his nights fraternizing with Hollywood colleagues known as the “Vampires” including Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Keith Moon. The Monkees Micky Dolenz recalls dropping LSD with Wilson, Lennon, and Nilsson, while Wilson “played just one note on a piano over and over again.” During this period, his voice deteriorated significantly as a result of his mass consumption of cocaine and incessant chain smoking.
Today, Wilson suffers from auditory hallucinations, and has been formally diagnosed as “mildly manic-depressive with schizoaffective disorder that presents itself in the form of disembodied voices.” According to Brian, he only began having hallucinations in 1965 shortly after experimenting with psychedelic drugs.
z photo-of-beach-boysOn December 28, 1983, three weeks after his 39th birthday, Dennis Wilson drowned at Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles. After drinking all day, he dove into the Marina searching for items he had thrown overboard from his yacht three years before. He never resurfaced. Carl Wilson died of cancer in Los Angeles on February 6, 1998, just two months after the death of his mother, Audree.
In a 2004 newspaper interview, Brian Wilson said this about his father: “He was the one who got us going. He didn’t make us better artists or musicians, but he gave us ambition. I’m pleased he pushed us, because it was such a relief to know there was someone as strong as my dad to keep things going. He used to spank us, and it hurt too, but I loved him because he was a great musician.”
z beach-boys-help-me-rhonda“Help Me, Rhonda” came at a time of amazing creativity and overwhelming psychological turmoil for Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Wilson was trying to come up with enough material to fill three albums and four singles per year, material good enough to compete with the Beatles, all while undertaking grueling tours with the band. In December 1964, Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown and stopped touring with the Beach Boys, but the relentless schedule of record releases did not let up. Just two months later, the “Help Me Rhonda” sessions took place. Who knew such turmoil and drama could surround such a catchy little tune?

food, Indianapolis, Music, Pop Culture

Merrill’s Hi-Decker in Indianapolis.

merrill's high decker
WIBC radio booth atop Merrill’s Hi-Decker.

Original publish date:  August 6, 2015

Summertime is closing fast and the Indiana State Fair has come and gone for another year. So I figured I’d break out one last gasp of summertime from 38th and Fall Creek that might jog a memory or two for you. Back when Elvis was blonde, the Tee Pee stood tall and Ike was in charge there was a place called Merrill’s Hi- Decker restaurant located right across the street from the Fairgrounds (officially 1155 East 38th Street). The Hi- Decker took over a restaurant known as “The Parkmoor” in 1956 as a curbside drive-in hamburger stand restaurant whose most famous whose most famous “deckhand” never sold as much as one burger or milkshake.

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WIBC Disc Jockey Dick Summer.

His name was Dick Summer and he manned the coolest DJ booth in Indianapolis in the late 1950s. His glass booth sat on the roof of Merrill’s High Decker. The restaurant was shaped like a stack of records anyway, so the addition of the rectangular booth with the circular roof made the High Decker one of the city’s hottest spots when Summer was in session. The booth was brightly lit with neon lights featuring the “WIBC 1070 On Your Dial” marque sign ablaze like a Rock-N-Roll sun. Indianapolis radio station WIBC was the No. 1 station among teens.
All the “flattop cats” and “dungaree dolls” spent their weekends buzzing Merrill’s and other drive-ins like Laughners at Irvington Plaza on Washington Street, Jack ‘n Jill’s on North Shadeland, Knobby’s at Shadeland & 38th Street and the Blue Ribbon on 10th Street. The Northside Tepee across the street from Merrill’s was Shortridge and Broad Ripple territory and the southside Tepee was for Sacred Heart and Southport. Spencer’s North Pole at Lafayette Road and 16th was for Washington and Ben Davis high schools. And who can forget Al Green’s at Washington and Shadeland and their freebie drive-in movies for restaurant patrons (The joke was that the service was so slow, they had to do something to keep people from leaving). But none of them had Dick Summer.

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WIBC Disc Jockey Dick Summer.

Summer, a wildly handsome young Disc Jockey from Brooklyn New York, had a perfectly quaffed pompadour and an act to matched. He had a show called “Summertime, live from the Skyline Studio”. Summer would play the newest rock-and-roll hits from his WIBC radio booth on high. His show included a nightly segment after the 10 PM News he called “make it or break it.” He would spin new “Hot Wax” 45 rpm releases, many from local bands, and ask the cheeseburger chompin’ patrons parked in their cars below to vote on them. Patrons would vote by sounding their car horns. The results would decide whether the record would be played on future shows or if he should break it. Car horns could be clearly heard over the air. If the “No’s” won, Summer would break the record over his microphone. If more people honked for “Make It” that record was played every hour for the next week.
Every Saturday night Summer did a live broadcast featuring a different local band which set up right out on the parking lot. Any time recording artists and bands came to town, Summer interviewed them out in the Merrill’s parking lot. Part of these interviews included an opportunity for the people eating at the restaurant to walk over and ask questions of their own. One of the things fans remember best was the midnight story feature. Every midnight Summer read a short story, most often something by Edgar Allan Poe.
Summer, now retired, recalled a funny story from those years, “The manager of the restaurant was a young guy who was very much into guns. One night as I was doing “Make It Or Break It” he decided that he REALLY didn’t like the record I was playing, so he pulled out his hand gun and shot me. Seriously. I watched him, standing probably 20 feet away, reach into his belt, pull his gun, aim, and squeeze the trigger. The blast was huge, and I thought I was dead. It was a blank. He hit the ground laughing. So the next night I wedged a pound of Limburger cheese right on the engine block of his car. He got the first laugh, but mine lasted longer.”
z merrill'sAnother Summer gimmick was to slowly bite into a juicy hamburger before he kicked off every commercial during his show. Doesn’t sound like much now, but apparently back in the day it drove customers crazy. Not to mention it sold a lot of hamburgers. The only way into the glass booth studio was up a fire escape ladder leading up to the roof, and then into the tiny studio via a trap door in the floor. Legend claims that George Lucas used Summer’s “Skyline Studio” as the inspiration for Wolfman Jack’s studio in his movie American Graffiti. You’d have to rent the movie and see for yourself because Merrill’s Hi-Decker and the radio booth are long gone now.
Even though Summer’s gig kept the Hi-Decker in the black in the Ike Era up into the John F. Kennedy Camelot Era. But Summer eventually left WIBC and went to WIL-AM, in St. Louis. WIBC kept rolling along nicely, but the Indy radio scene really took the blow hard. The British Invasion pretty much sealed the fate of local radio hijinx. And Merrills was in big trouble. Within a short time after Summer’s departure, the Hi-Decker had to make a deal with an auto dealer up the street to park his used cars in the drive-in parking lot on the weekends to look like it was still doing a bang-up business. It was a far cry from the days of two block long traffic jams of tail-fin and fuzzy dice cars waiting to cruise the Hi-Decker.
Recently Summer waxed poetic about his time in Indy and parts elsewhere as a young DJ: “It is truly hard being an aging young person. Hide and seek, ringalevio, kick the can, double dutch, punch ball, stick ball, box ball, stoop ball, doctor-lawyer-indian chief thoughts keep popping up in my head while I’m trying to be serious doing my day job. Pay checks are poor substitutes for wax lips, candy drops on rolls of paper and chocolate cigarettes. Kid-hood had stresses like “are you going to be the LAST guy picked to play on the stickball team?” (Guys will understand.) Adult-hood has stresses that involve having to override your body’s basic desire to choke the living crap out of some idiot who desperately deserves it…and would probably never even be the last person ever picked for any stickball team. The most wonderful part of the kind of radio I did was as long as I was on the air, it was never too late to have a happy childhood. I don’t ever want to get too old or too angry to do goofy stuff. That’s why I always listen carefully to what my Rice Krispies tell me when I pour milk over them at breakfast…Radio seems awfully grown up now. Talk shows are angry, computers spit out carefully researched music lists, and there’s no time to broadcast local kid bands live from a drive-in while the guy on the air munches his juicy hamburger.”


Jim Croce. The Day the Music Died… for me.

Jim-Croce-r01Original publish date:  September 18, 2013

But February made me shiver~With every paper I’d deliver~Bad news on the doorstep~I couldn’t take one more step~I can’t remember if I cried~When I read about his widowed bride~But something touched me deep inside~The day the music died~Bye-bye, Miss American Pie~Drove my Chevy to the levy~But the levy was dry~And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye~Singing this’ll be the day that I die.

I don’t know what that song means to you, but for me, it brings back a sad memory from my childhood. I know why it was written. Although Don McLean has never clearly defined the meaning of the song, he dedicated the album to Buddy Holly. And though it is clearly an homage to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, none of the artists are mentioned by name in the song. When asked to decipher the lyrics, McLean explained, “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me…They’re beyond analysis. They’re poetry…Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.”

The song was released in 1971 and eventually rose to number-one on the U.S. charts, where it remained for four weeks in 1972. It is generally considered to be one of the finest rock / pop songs ever written and anyone born before 1980 can sign the song word-for-word. It’s one of those songs that if most people were awakened at 3 in the morning and asked to sing it, they could.

JimCroce1973To me, it reminds me of a day 40 years ago this week, September 20, 1973. The day Jim Croce died. Like McLean in 1959, I was a paperboy in 1973 and I discovered the news by cutting open my stack of newspapers in preparation for fold-and-deliver. As fate would have it, the news came across the AM radio at exactly the same I was opening my stack. I don’t consider myself a die-hard Jim Croce fan. I listen to his songs occasionally and still believe that “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” ranks with Mclean’s “American Pie” as one of the greatest American pop songs ever written, but that’s about it. Still, I can remember the moment of that tragic discovery as if it happened yesterday.

It seemed to me that Croce’s death was not unlike a Greek tragedy. Here was a man who, but all accounts, was a very nice guy. Everyone who knew him, liked him. He had worked hard for a decade to become an overnight sensation and died tragically just as he was reaching the top. Being the morose child I was and the nostalgic person I have become, I couldn’t help but wonder what might have been had Croce lived. With his natural ability to spin a phrase within a musical story, there can be little doubt that we lost many classic songs when that plane went down. Keep in mind, I’m still mad at John Belushi for checking out too soon. Although I love John Candy, Belushi would have owned that Uncle Buck movie. But that’s ANOTHER story.

Croce’s death was a blow to me. True, it came after the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Duane Allman and Gram Parsons (who died the day before Croce’s death), but these deaths seemed almost predictable. After all, the string of “death by lifestyle” in the music business stretches all the way back to Hank Williams, Brian Jones, Robert Johnson and Frankie Lyman. But Croce’s sudden passing, like Holly/Valens/Richardson a generation before and Otis Redding contemporarily, was different. Sudden, shocking, unexpected, undeserved perhaps?

Jim Croce’s life story can’t help but bring a smile to anyone who hears it. He was born in South Philly on January 10, 1943. Jimmy took a strong interest in music and by age five, he had learned his first song on the accordion: “Lady of Spain.” Croce did not take music seriously until he studied at Villanova, where he formed bands and performed at fraternity parties, coffee houses, and universities around Philadelphia, playing “anything that the people wanted to hear: blues, rock, acappella, railroad music… anything.” Croce’s band was chosen for a foreign exchange tour of Africa, Middle East, and Yugoslavia. He later said, “we just ate what the people ate, lived in the woods, and played our songs. Of course they didn’t speak English over there but if you mean what you’re singing, people understand.” Croce met his future wife Ingrid Jacobson at a “hootenanny” at the Philadelphia Convention Hall, where he was judging a contest.

From the mid-1960s to early 1970s, Croce performed with his wife as a duo. At first, their performances included covers by Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie, but in time they began writing their own music. Croce and Ingrid married in 1966, and Jim converted to Judaism, as his wife was Jewish. This in spite of the fact that he was generally anti-organized religion.

He enlisted in the Army National Guard that same year to avoid being drafted and deployed to Vietnam. Jim served on active duty for four months, leaving just a week after his honeymoon. Croce, who was not good with authority, had to go through basic training twice. He said he would be prepared if “there’s ever a war where we have to defend ourselves with mops”.

In 1968, the Croces’ moved to New York City, settling in the Bronx, where they recorded their first album with Capitol Records. During the next two years, they drove more than 300,000 miles, playing small clubs and college concerts promoting their album.
Becoming disillusioned by the music business and New York City, they sold all but one guitar to pay the rent and returned to the Pennsylvania countryside, settling in an old farm in Lyndell. Croce got a job driving trucks and working construction to pay the bills. All the while Jim continued to write songs, many featuring the characters he met at local bars, truck stops and jobsites.

The couple returned to Philadelphia and Croce decided to be “serious” about becoming a productive member of society. He landed a job at a Philadelphia R&B AM radio station, WHAT, where he translated commercials into “soul”. “I’d sell airtime to Bronco’s Poolroom and then write the spot: “You wanna be cool, and you wanna shoot pool… dig it.” See what I mean? Croce’s story brings a smile to your face.

In 1972, Croce signed a three-record deal with ABC Records and released two albums, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” and “Life and Times”. The singles “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”, “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)”, and “Time in a Bottle” received heavy airplay and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” hit No. 1 on the American charts in July of 1973. By then, the Croces’ had again relocated to San Diego, California.

As his career picked up, Croce began touring the country performing gigs in large coffee houses, on college campuses, and at folk festivals. The music business in 1973 was by no means the mega-millions business to has become today and the Croce’s financial situation remained dire. The record company had fronted him the money to record the album, and much of the money the album earned went to repay that advance. In February 1973, Croce traveled to Europe playing concerts in London, Paris, and Amsterdam to rave reviews. Croce also began appearing on television, principally Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special, which he co-hosted. Croce finished recording the album “I Got a Name” one week before his death. After nonstop touring, Croce grew increasingly homesick, and decided to take a break from music and settle down with his wife and infant son after his “Life and Times” tour was completed.

rs-183425-144972709On Thursday, September 19, 1973, Croce’s single “I Got a Name” was released. The next day, after a gig at Northwestern State University’s Prather Coliseum, Jim Croce and five others boarded a chartered Beechcraft E18S twin-engine airplane taking off from the Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The group included musician, songwriter Maury Muehleisen, an artist best known for his live accompaniment with, and strong influence on, the Jim Croce sound. Along with comic George Stevens, Croce’s opening act, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortose, road manager Dennis Rast, and pilot Robert N. Elliott. Croce was flying to Sherman, Texas, for a gig at Austin College.

At 10:45 pm, less than an hour after Croce walked off the stage, the plane crashed after take off. Everyone on board was killed instantly. The plane traveled an estimated 250 yards south of the runway rising some 30 feet in the air before clipping a tree. Investigators said the tree, a large pecan, was the only tree for hundreds of yards. The weather was dark, but with a clear sky, calm winds, and over five miles of visibility with light haze. At the time of the crash, Sheriff Sam James said. “For some reason they didn’t gain altitude fast enough. It flipped, landed upright and was turned completely around.” The pilot, was thrown clear of the wreckage. The other victims were found in the plane.

The official report from the NTSB listed the probable cause as the pilot’s failure to see and avoid obstructions due to pilot physical impairment and fog obstructing vision. The 57-year-old charter pilot suffered from severe coronary artery disease and had run three miles to the airport from a motel. He had an ATP Certificate, 14,290 hours total flight time and 2,190 hours in the Beech 18 type. A later investigation placed sole blame for the accident on pilot error due to his downwind takeoff into a “black hole”.

The album “I Got a Name” was released on December 1, 1973. The posthumous release included three hits: “Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues”, “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”, and the title song. The album reached No. 2 and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” reached No. 9 on the singles chart. The news of the singer’s death sparked a renewed interest in Croce’s previous albums. Consequently, three months later on December 29, 1973, “Time in a Bottle”, originally released on Croce’s first album the year before, hit number one. It became the third posthumous chart-topping song of the rock era following Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” and Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee”. A greatest hits package entitled Photographs & Memories was released in 1974.

Jim Croce was buried at Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Frazer, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia. A letter Jim had written to his wife Ingrid arrived after his death. In that poignant letter Croce stated his intention to quit music and stick to writing short stories and movie scripts as a career. In essence, Jim intended to withdraw from public life to spend more time with his wife and unborn child. The song “Time in a Bottle”, which hit number one after Jimmy died, was written for his then-unborn son, A. J. Croce. How can you not be touched by such a story? This week, kiss your wife or significant other. Hug or call your kid. And in short, enjoy life for a moment. If not for yourself, do it for Jim.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Close Encounters: The Beatles John Lennon and UFO’s.

lennonnyc-ufoOriginal publish date:                August 18, 2013

If you haven’t noticed, I like trivia. In my lifetime, I’ve watched as trivia has leapt from the pages of obscure library books to become popular board games and highly rated TV game shows. I try hard not to replace or confuse trivia for history, but I think trivia has a place in our history books nonetheless. Sometimes, trivia about a historical person or event helps rationalize or humanize that person, place or thing allowing us to relate to it in a more down-to-earth fashion. So, since I can’t find anything else to write about this week, I’ll share with you a trivial story that I’m betting you’ve never heard of before.
39 years ago this Friday (August 23, 1974) was a typical hot summer night in New York City. Beatle-gone-solo John Lennon was on what he would later call his “Lost Weekend”, an 18-month-long fling with former assistant May Pang during his break-up with Yoko Ono lasting from the summer of 1973 to the winter of 1975. John and May had just returned home to their East 52nd street apartment, after spending the day at the Record Plant East recording studio, where John was in the final stages of his Walls and Bridges album. Lennon loved the location of the 52nd street address as it was only one building away from the East River. The view from his top floor apartment, overlooking Brooklyn’s navy shipyard docks, reminded him of Liverpool. Another draw for Lennon was the fact that reclusive actress Greta Garbo also lived on the block and he counted himself among the legion of her fans who tried daily to catch glimpse of her.
Lennon-PangThat August night began no differently from any other evening for John and May. John made and received phone calls, watched TV and listened to the day’s recorded studio work while making notes. The 52nd Street apartment was hot that night, but by 8 O’ Clock the air had cooled off enough for May to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows to catch the breeze coming off the river. Just a few feet off the apartment’s living room was the building’s roof, accessible through a side window. This rooftop acted as the couple’s private observation deck, offering a million dollar view of New York’s Eastside. The haze had now cleared over the cityscape and around 8:30 p.m., May decided to take a shower, leaving Lennon alone in the living room reviewing mock-ups of his new record’s cover. The cover art on the final product would be a painting by a 12-year-old John Lennon.
As May was drying off, she heard John yell from the outside roof, “May come here right now!” Startled, she ran out to find him completely nude standing on the roof and pointing wildly at the southeastern sky. May wasn’t surprised by finding John naked on the roof, (John was a closet nudist: if you need proof, Google “Two Virgins” and you’ll understand), what surprised her was what he was pointing at. Just south of the building was a brightly lit “textbook” circular UFO, hovering silently less than 100 feet away from the couple.
As John Lennon would later describe, “I wasn’t surprised to see the UFO really, as it looked just like the spaceships we’ve all seen on the cinema growing up, but then I realized this thing was real and so close, that I could almost touch it!”. As they watched in astonishment, the UFO glided silently out of sight. May later told a reporter, “the lighting on the thing left us awe-struck, as it would change its configuration with every rotation”. According to May, the object made no sound and the main structure of the craft could be clearly seen for the duration of the event; lit by the dying rays of the setting sun. May ran back into the apartment and grabbed her ever-present 35mm camera (Her mountain of photos of John Lennon and their “lost weekend” are legendary).
Once back on the roof both she and John took numerous pictures of the craft. May recalls how John stood screaming at the UFO, arms outstretched, to come back and take him away. She said, “He was very serious and I believe he really wanted that thing to take him with it back to wherever it came from, but then that was John Lennon, always looking for the next big adventure”. The couple watched as the object glided past the United Nations building and slowly veered left, crossing over the East River, then over Brooklyn before simply blending in with the heavy commercial air traffic found over southern Long Island. The couple climbed back into the apartment and John picked up the phone to call his friend, noted rock photographer Bob Gruen. Lennon told Gruen to get over there as soon as possible as he had some film he needed developed immediately. As they waited for Gruen to arrive, John began drawing sketches of what he had seen, noting its size and distance. John then called Yoko Ono at the Dakota apartment to tell her about the UFO. May remembers that Yoko became upset at John because she hadn’t seen it too and felt that he had “left her out of all the excitement”.
1280x720-z7RBob Gruen arrived and John excitedly told the photographer what had transpired. Gruen later recalled “I took the film home and put John’s roll between two rolls of film I’d taken earlier that day and developed them”. “My two rolls of film came out perfectly but John’s roll was blank. Later I asked him ” did you call the newspaper?” and he said “I’m not going to call up the newspaper and say, This is John Lennon and I saw a flying saucer last night”… So Bob Gruen called up the local police precinct and asked if anyone had reported a UFO or flying saucer. The police responded with “Where? Up on the East Side? You’re the third call on it”. Then Bob called the Daily News and they said, “On the East Side? Five people reported it”. Finally, Gruen called the ultra-conservative New York Times and asked a reporter if anybody had reported a flying saucer? The reporter hung up on him.
Neither John Lennon nor May Pang would ever forget their UFO experience. John even mentions the encounter in the booklet that accompanied the Walls & Bridges album released in the autumn of 1974. On the bottom right of the back cover it reads “On 23 August 1974, I saw a UFO J.L.”. May Pang has an audio tape of John, recorded just a few weeks after their experience, where Lennon discusses his thoughts on UFO’s in general. Lennon states that he had “no doubt that the craft he saw was from another world” and nixed the idea that it could have been a “secret government test plane”. John Lennon believed the craft he saw was part of a much larger fleet stationed just north of New York City, near the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
In the tape, Lennon expressed his personal theory of how these craft use the earth’s gravitational field and take energy from our nuclear plants to counter the earth’s gravity. John also voiced his opinion and suspicion of a high level conspiracy to cover up verifiable UFO sightings and close encounters with aliens. He continued that “if the masses started to accept UFO’s, it would profoundly affect their attitudes towards life, politics, everything”. He added, “It would threaten the status quo…Whenever people come to realize that there are larger considerations than their own petty little lives, they are ripe to make radical changes on a personal level, which would eventually lead to a political revolution in society as a whole”.6-25-2015-4-15-07-PMHand drawn, autographed UFO sketch by John Lennon.

However, John Lennon was not a newcomer to the “UFO Phenomenon”. He was a known subscriber to the British UFO journal “Flying Saucer Review”, aka “FSR”, as far back as his years with The Beatles in the late 1960s. Several copies of “FSR” have been found, and subsequently auctioned off, addressed to John Lennon. May Pang reports, “Oh no, 74 wasn’t John’s first sighting… In fact he told me that more than once he suspected he had been “abducted” as a child back in Liverpool!…She continues, “And he felt that experience was responsible for making him feel different from other people for the rest of his life”. Yes, according to May Pang, John Lennon believed he had been “Abducted” by aliens as a lad in Liverpool, but he didn’t like to talk about it.
The more you know about John Lennon, the less you understand. He was a walking contradiction. He was fiercely anti-Capitalism but lorded over nearly every “Beatle” mass marketing scheme during his early days with the Fab Four. He was deeply spiritual, but averse to organized religion. He was an intensely private person, yet readily greeted and signed autographs for fans outside his Dakota apartment. Those last two contradictions contributed to his untimely assassination by a crazed, mentally disturbed fan in December of 1980. Knowing this, can it come as any real surprise that John Lennon believed he had seen a UFO 39 years ago? I suspect not. When dealing with John Lennon, one need only refer to John’s own words, spoken only hours before his death, to San Francisco DJ David Sholin of RKO radio, “Who knows what’s going to happen next?”


A drawing of that 1974 sighting, sketched for his “Walls and Bridges” album, depicts what appears to be a classic flying saucer with the word “UFOer” written on the bottom of the object. On the album’s liner notes, the famed musician wrote: “On the 23rd Aug. 1974 at 9 o’clock I saw a U.F.O. J.L.” Drawing was auctioned on March 21, 2017 by CooperOwen Auctions of London. The album sleeve was originally expected to bring in between $1600 to $2500, but ended up selling for just over $16,600.

Music, Pop Culture

Warren Zevon. Accidentally like a Martyr.

Zevon Original publish date:           August 22, 2013

It’s hard to believe its been a decade since Warren Zevon died. If the name is not familiar to you, his songs might be: Werewolves of London, Poor,Poor Pitiful Me or Lawyers, Guns and Money should ring a bell. Zevon was considered the rock star’s rock star known for his songwriting talents in songs that showcased his quirky, sardonic wit in the dark humor of his ballads. Rock ‘n roll royalty like Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young praised his talents and called him friend. Born in Chicago, Illinois on January 24, 1947 he became the quintessential West Coast rocker literally living the LA lifestyle right up until his death on September 7, 2003.
It’s easy to figure out why musicians thought Warren Zevon was so cool. From his earliest days, his personal pedigree, made Warren unique and different. Zevon was the son of Beverly and William Zevon. His mother was from a Mormon family and his father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia whose original surname was “Zivotovsky”. William was a bookie who handled volume bets and dice games for notorious Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen. Known as Stumpy Zevon in Cohen’s employ, he was best man at Mickey’s first marriage, and worked for him for years.
The family moved to Fresno, California when Warren was 13 years old. His British-born mother insisted that Warren take piano lessons. So Zevon started taking his lessons at the home of Igor Stravinsky, the Russian-American composer, pianist and conductor widely considered to be one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. There, Warren alongside future American conductor Robert Craft, briefly studied modern classical music. Zevon’s parents divorced when he was 16 years old and he soon quit high school and moved from Los Angeles to New York to become a folk singer.
Zevon got his first taste of success with the song called “Follow Me” as the male component of a musical coed duo called lyme & cybelle pronounced Lime & Sybil). He left the duo citing artistic differences and spent time as a session musician and jingle composer. He wrote several songs for “the Turtles” and another early composition (“She Quit Me”) was included in the soundtrack for the film Midnight Cowboy (1969). Zevon’s first attempt at a solo album, Wanted Dead or Alive (1969), was well received but did not sell well. Zevon’s second effort, Leaf in the Wind, went unreleased.
During the early 1970s, Zevon led the touring band for the Everly Brothers, serving as both keyboard player and band leader/musical coordinator. In the latter role Zevon became the first to recognize the talents of guitar player Lindsey Buckingham by hiring him for the band. It was during his time with the Everly’s that Lindsey and girlfriend Stevie Nick’s left to join Fleetwood Mac. Warren Zevon was a roommate of the famous duo in a Fairfax district apartment in Los Angeles at the time (September 1975 ) . Zevon would remain friends with both famous duos for the rest of his life maintaining neutrality during the tumultuous breakups of both the Everly Brothers and Buckingham-Nicks.
In late 1975, Zevon collaborated with Jackson Browne, who produced and promoted Zevon’s self-titled major-label debut in 1976. Contributors to this album included Nicks, Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, members of the Eagles, Carl Wilson, Linda Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt. This first album, although only a modest commercial success, was later recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as a masterpiece. Although Zevon shared a grounding in earlier folk and country influences with his LA peers, this album brought Zevon to the forefront as a much darker and more ironic songwriter than other leading figures of the era’s L.A.-based singer-songwriter movement. Rolling Stone placed Zevon alongside Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Springsteen as one of the four most important new artists to emerge in the decade of the 1970s.
3d0e7b5baa81911bd66d3e0642286d51.1000x1000x1In 1978, Zevon released Excitable Boy to critical acclaim and popular success. This album received heavy FM airplay mostly through the release of the single “Werewolves of London”, featuring Fleetwood Mac’s Mick Fleetwood on bass and John McVie on drums. The song is considered a classic, and has been covered by artists ranging from the Grateful Dead to Bob Dylan to comedian Adam Sandler. The song has become a Halloween season staple. For all you trivia buffs out there, The Chinese restaurant mentioned in the song (Lee Ho Fook) is a real location situated on Gerrard Street in London’s Chinatown.
Although Zevon never again achieved popular acclaim, he continued to be recognized as an artist’s artist , releasing 9 more albums over the next 25 years. It was during that quarter-century that Zevon lapsed in and out of the throes of excess, obsession and addiction. To say that Warren Zevon suffered from excessive compulsion disorder would be a severe understatement. Warren had a continuing battle with drug addiction and alcoholism and was also a sex addict obsessed with the color gray and personal fame, or lack thereof. During this time, he and actor Billy Bob Thornton formed a close friendship galvanized by a shared obsessive-compulsive disorder and the fact they were neighbors living in the same apartment building.
One of Zevon’s compulsions was collecting identical Calvin Klein T-shirts. Like everything else in his life (his car, his couch, his carpeting and wall paint). The T-shirts were gray in color. One story relates how Warren insisted upon traveling to every department store carrying Calvin Klein T-shirts while touring on the road. If the store carried Warren’s prized Gray Calvin Klein t-shirt, Warren obsessively purchased every one of them and stowed them in the tour bus. When asked why, Warren replied that the new ones were being made in China and that those still on the shelf had been made in the USA and were “sure to become collectors items and go up in value.”. When he died at age 56 thousands of gray Calvin Klein t-shirts were found in his LA apartment; unopened in their original packaging.
A voracious reader, Zevon was friendly with several well-known writers who also collaborated on his songwriting during this period, including Gonzo author Hunter S Thompson, Carl Hiaasen, Mitch Albom, Norman Mailer and Maya Angelou. Zevon served as musical coordinator and occasional guitarist for an ad-hoc rock music group called the Rock Bottom Remainders, a collection of writers performing rock and roll standards at book fairs and other events. This group included Stephen King, Dave Barry, Matt Groening and Amy Tan, among other popular writers.
Zevon cemented his superstar status by appearing in various TV shows and movies during his career, most often playing himself. Zevon played himself on two episodes of Suddenly Susan in 1999 along with singer/actor Rick Springfield. Warren also appeared as himself on the Larry Sanders Show on HBO, alongside actor John Ritter as talkshow guests in the same episode. Ironically, Zevon and Ritter would die within four days of each other.
Although highly intelligent, well read and obsessive-compulsive In every way, Zevon had a lifelong phobia of doctors. Shortly before playing at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in 2002, he started feeling dizzy and developed a chronic cough. After a period of suffering with pain and shortness of breath, while on a visit to his dentist, Zevon was ordered under threat of kidnapping to see a physician. A lifelong smoker, he was subsequently diagnosed with inoperable peritoneal mesothelioma (cancer of the abdominal lining commonly associated with exposure to asbestos). Refusing treatments he believed might incapacitate him, Zevon instead began recording his final album, The Wind, which includes guest appearances by close friends Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh, David Lindley, Billy Bob Thornton, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty, Dwight Yoakam, among others.
1431476295_david-letterman-warren-zevon-640     On October 30, 2002, Zevon was featured on the Late Show with David Letterman as the only guest for the entire hour. The band played “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as his introduction. Zevon performed several songs and spoke at length about his illness. Zevon was a frequent guest and occasional substitute bandleader on Letterman’s television shows since Late Night was first broadcast in 1982. He noted, “I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years.” It was during this broadcast that, when asked by Letterman if he knew something more about life and death now, he first offered his oft-quoted insight on dying: “Enjoy every sandwich.” He took time to thank Letterman for his years of support, calling him “the best friend my music’s ever had”. For his final song of the evening, and his final public performance, Zevon performed “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” at Letterman’s request. In the green room after the show, Zevon presented Letterman with the guitar that he always used on the show, with a single request: “Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.”
Zevon waqs given only a few months to live after that fall of 2002 diagnosis; however, he lived to see the birth of twin grandsons in June 2003 and the release of The Wind on August 26, 2003. The album reached number 12 on the US charts, Zevon’s highest placement since Excitable Boy. When his diagnosis became public, Zevon told the media that he just hoped to live long enough to see the next James Bond movie, a goal he accomplished. The Wind was certified gold in December 2003, just weeks after Zevon’s death, and Warren received five Grammy nominations, winning two posthumous Grammys, the first of his career.
I have a brief personal connection to Warren Zevon. I interviewed him in the pre-holiday winter of 1988 after a concert at the Vogue in Broad Ripple. Zevon was touring with a patchwork band that included Timothy B Schmidt of the Eagles. He performed all of his expected hits along with a couple covers. I specifically remember an unforgettable version of the Tom Jones standard “What’s New Pussycat?” as well as the Eagles former bass player Schmidt performing his signature song, “I Can’t Tell You Why”.
After the show, I was led through the music hall to the back of the Vogue and told to wait. Meantime, out walked Timothy B. Schmidt and the rest of the band. Soon, Warren Zevon emerged. With his long blonde curls and John Lennon glasses, he looked more like a professor than a rock star. He maintained a constant smile throughout our session. Luckily, I struck a positive nerve by remarking that I had recognized him from his brief appearance during the closing credits of the 1988 Kevin Bacon film, “She’s having a baby.” Zevon leapt from his perch atop the bumper of his band’s equipment truck and began calling to his bandmates, “Hey guys, he saw me in the movie! I told you I was in it.” His band mates shrugged, but Warren thanked me for confirming what had until then, been just a rumor. As I recall, Zevon’s only word spoken in the film came in the naming the baby segment when he offered the name “Igor”.
I really can’t remember much of the encounter after that. I do remember Warren signed my copy of “Excitable Boy” and the interior paper cassette tape insert for “A Quiet Normal Life”, relics I still have. But the rest is a blur. There is a more important residual incident connected to that incident. That was the same night that my future wife Rhonda agreed to go out on our first date. Yep, I took her to a Sam Kinison comedy show at the old Indianapolis Tennis Center. Romantic huh?
2d4bdd88bf7c6e505597168a4ecc66cd.252x252x1Two decades after that first date, Rhonda bought me the book, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon” written and compiled by Zevon’s ex-wife Crystal Zevon (published in 2007 by Ecco Books). The book tore down every “nice guy” image I ever had of Warren Zevon, telling his life story through interviews with those who knew him. I walked away from it thinking “Wow, they had a real hard time finding anything nice to say about this guy.” The book has been described as being “notable for its unvarnished portrayal of Zevon”. Only later did I realize the book was written this way at Warren Zevon’s own request. As the words to Zevon’s song “It ain’t that pretty at all” bounce around in my head, I must say that I am not surprised or disappointed.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Genesis: John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s First Meting.

Lennon-McCartney 1st meetingOriginal publish date:  June 29, 2015

58 years ago this Monday, the headline on the front-page of the July 6, 1957 Liverpool Evening Express read “MERSEYSIDE SIZZLES.” England was in the 10th day of a heat wave that had enveloped all of Europe. The day before it reached 98 degrees in Vienna and a staggering 125 degrees in Prague. The headline proved prophetic because that day was the first meeting of two Liverpool teenagers who would change the world: John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
On that fateful Saturday afternoon John Lennon’s “skiffle” band, “The Quarrymen” performed at St Peter’s Church in Liverpool. The church fair featured booths selling crafts, cakes, carnival games, police dog demonstrations, and a parade culminating with the crowning of the Rose Queen. The first parade truck carried the Queen and her court. The second truck carried John Lennon and his Quarrymen.
The band was asked to play and sing while the truck slowly lurched its way down the street. When the bumpy ride prohibited the standing band’s ability to play coherently, Lennon sat on the edge of the truck, his legs dangling over the edge, as he dutifully played his guitar and sang for the curbside crowd.
Eventually the trucks came to a stop and the Quarrymen’s first set took place on a molten hot stage in a shadeless field behind the church. 16-year-old John Lennon was the undisputed leader of the band. Even though his guitar skills were rough and he often forgot the lyrics to the songs he was performing, he covered it well by ad-libbing his own lyrics. Midway through that first set, 15-year-old Paul McCartney arrived and watched, transfixed, as John held the crowd with his charm and swagger.
The band’s second set took place that evening inside the Grand Dance Hal at St. Peter’s church. Admission to the 8 p.m. show was two shillings (about 10 ¢). After setting up their equipment to play, bass player Ivan Vaughan introduced the band to one of his classmates, Paul McCartney. It was 6.48 pm on July 6 1957 and the older, cocksure Lennon sat slouched on a folding chair. When Ivan introduced Paul to John, the two didn’t shake hands, they just nodded warily at one another. Ivan arranged the meeting but recalled that Paul wasn’t going to go until he was informed that it was a good place to pick up girls. At first Ivan thought he’d made a mistake as the two hardly spoke to each another. But Paul, who Lennon himself often described as precocious and wise far beyond his years, was determined to make a good impression.
young_paul_mccartney_thumbPaul, sharply dressed in a white, silver flecked jacket and black stovepipe pants with a guitar strapped to his back, whipped out the guitar and began playing Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” followed by Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula” before launching into a medley of Little Richard songs. Lennon was floored by the demonstration. McCartney sealed the deal by tuning Lennon’s guitar and writing out the chords and lyrics to some of the songs he’d just played.
After the Quarrymen’s show the group invited McCartney to come along to a local pub where they lied about their ages to get served. For Lennon it must have been a dilemma to invite the talented youngster into the fold as a possible challenge to his own superiority within the group. Lennon, even then a savvy businessman, realized that McCartney’s addition might mean the difference between success and failure. Two weeks later Paul joined the band.
In a 1995 interview, McCartney recalled: “I remember coming into the fete and seeing all the sideshows. And also hearing all this great music wafting in from this little Tannoy system. It was John and the band. I remember I was amazed and thought, ‘Oh great’, because I was obviously into the music. I remember John singing a song called Come Go With Me. He’d heard it on the radio. He didn’t really know the verses, but he knew the chorus. The rest he just made up himself. I just thought, ‘Well, he looks good, he’s singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me.’ Of course, he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave. I remember John was good. He was really the only outstanding member, all the rest kind of slipped away.”
Lennon was equally impressed with McCartney’s instant ease in playing and singing songs that the Quarrymen worked long and hard to learn. McCartney remembered, “I also knocked around on the backstage piano and that would have been ‘A Whole Lot Of Shakin’ by Jerry Lee. That’s when I remember John leaning over, contributing a deft right hand in the upper octaves and surprising me with his beery breath. It’s not that I was shocked, it’s just that I remember this particular detail.” Yes, at that historic first meeting, 16-year-old John Lennon was drunk.
In his 1964 introduction to bandmate Lennon’s first book, “In His Own Write”, McCartney recalled: “At Woolton village fete I met him. I was a fat schoolboy and, as he leaned an arm on my shoulder, I realized he was drunk…We went on to become teenage pals.” More recently, Paul recalled: “There was a guy up on the stage wearing a checked shirt, looking pretty good singing a song I loved, the Del-Vikings’ Come Go With Me. He was filling in with blues lines, I thought that was good, and he was singing well. He was a little afternoon-pissed, leaning over my shoulder breathing boozily.”
Pessimists may assume that John and Paul would eventually have met on some other day had that hot and humid Saturday introduction 58 years ago never happened. But despite their mutual passion for music, the two lads lived in different neighborhoods, went to different schools and were nearly two years apart in age. All recalcitrant intentions aside, ‘Imagine’ if John Lennon had never become a Beatle. ‘Imagine’ if the band that changed pop culture forever had never existed. Fate is a funny thing. Encounters like this are often the stuff of legend; primarily unwitnessed, unobserved, and unrecorded thereby making them unprovable.
DYRYyu3X4AAEnC3But wait, there is proof. That July 6, 1957 Quarrymen’s set was recorded by a member of St Peter’s Youth Club, Bob Molyneux, on his portable Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder. Made just moments after that historic meeting, it remains the earliest known recording of Lennon. The three-inch reel includes Lennon’s performances of two songs; “Puttin’ on the Style,” a No. 1 hit at the time for Lonnie Donegan, and “Baby Let’s Play House,” an Arthur Gunter song made popular by Elvis Presley. In 1965 Lennon used a line from the Gunter song – “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man”- as the opening line of his own “Run for Your Life”. In 1963, Molyneux offered the tape to Lennon, through Ringo Starr. But Lennon never responded, so Molyneux put the tape in a vault.
In 1994 Molyneux, then a retired policeman, rediscovered the tape and contacted Sotheby’s auction house. The tape, along with the portable Grundig TK8 tape machine that made it, was sold on September 15, 1994 at Sotheby’s for £78,500 (Roughly $ 730,000 US) to EMI records. EMI considered using the recording as part of their Beatles Anthology project, but chose not to as the sound quality was substandard. It was recorded with a hand-held microphone in a cavernous church hall with a high, arched ceiling and a hard floor. EMI decided that although it was an incredibly important recording made on a historic day, the poor sound quality made it unsuitable for commercial release.
The two Beatles never forgot the friend who brought them together. Ivan had first met John when he was three and the two boy’s shared adjoining backyards. Years later, Ivan recalled, “One wet morning, John appeared on my doorstep clutching his Dinky toys, looking to make friends. And we did, going on to play cowboys and Indians in the fields and cricket in the park.” Paul and Ivan were born in the same city (Liverpool) on the same day (June 18, 1942).
For a time the Beatles put Ivan on the payroll of Apple records, in charge of a plan that never took off to set up a school with a Sixties, hippie-style education theme. Ivan’s wife Jan, a French teacher, was hired to sit down with Lennon and McCartney and help with the French lyrics to the 1965 classic “Michelle.” In 1977 Ivan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and spent the next 15 years working on a search for a cure. During those years Ivan and Jan often spent the evening’s out with Paul and his wife Linda in London restaurants. Ivan died in 1993. His death upset Paul so much that he started writing poetry again.
In 2002, Paul wrote the book “Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999″ in which he honored his old friend with a poem titled, Ivan: ” Two doors open, On the eighteenth of June, Two Babies born, On the same day, In Liverpool, One was Ivan, The other – me. We met in adolescence, And did the deeds, They dared us do, Jive with Ive, The ace on the bass, He introduced to me, At Woolton fete, A pal or two, And so we did, A classic scholar he, A rocking roller me, As firm as friends could be, Cranlock naval, Cranlock pie, A tear is rolling, Down my eye, On the sixteenth of August, Nineteen ninety-three, One door closed.” And it all started 58 years ago: July 6, 1957.

Music, Politics, Pop Culture

Guess Who’s coming to Richard Nixon’s White House?

Tricia Nixon and the Guess WhoOriginal publish date:  July 12, 2015

If you were born after 1970, this story probably won’t mean a thing to you. But if you’re a baby boomer (like me) you might get a giggle out of it. First families seem boring nowadays compared to the sixties and seventies. Caroline, John-John, those strung out Ford kids, Amy & Billy Carter and even the dissenting Reagan siblings, they always made for good copy. True Roger Clinton had his moments and the Bush twins had some hi-jinx, but for the most part…BORING! But those Nixon girls, now THEY were some rebels!
Okay, maybe not. Julie Nixon (Eisenhower) was America’s sweetheart and her sister Tricia Nixon (Cox) was not far behind. But for a time, Tricia gave “wild and crazy” a run, even if was in a very WASPish sort of way. For our generation, finding out that Tricia might have been edgy and cool is like watching The Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Lady Gaga sing with Tony Bennett. Might be hip, but it ain’t very cool.
45 years ago this Friday (July 17, 1970) Tricia Nixon’s favorite band, The Guess Who, played the White House. The Guess Who, a Canadian rock band from Winnipeg, Manitoba led by Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman (of Bachman–Turner Overdrive), had a string of hit singles, including “Laughing”, “Undun”, “These Eyes” and “Share the Land”. So I suppose the Guess Who were about as cool as Tricia could get. By the time the band hit the White House, they were in the midst of a transformation from AM radio popstars to a louder, sharper Underground Rock Band for FM radio. With songs like “No Time”, “No Sugar Tonight” and “American Woman” (which would hit # 1 on the charts), the band was changing it’s image. That change in tone did not go unnoticed by Tricia’s mom. Pat Nixon.
maxresdefaultDespite it’s popularity and Patriotic sounding title, “American Woman” posed a problem for the Nixon family and more importantly, the Nixon White House. The song was viewed, rightly or wrongly, as as war protest anthem and this was not your ordinary White House garden party. It was a royal reception for England’s Prince Charles and Princess Anne, who were guests at the White House. No doubt the fact that the band was from Canada, a British territory ruled by the Royal guest’s mother, made perfect sense and sealed the deal.
In the summer of 1970, America was embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam, still struggling with Civil Rights, the Cold War, Inflation and global instability. America was a target, and here was this ubiquitous song, heard everyday on radio stations across the country, casting further aspersions on the United States. And worse, the band that sang that song was invited to play on the White House lawn. This could get complicated.
Canada’s official diplomatic position during the Vietnam War was that of a non-belligerent. Although our neighbors to the north imposed a ban on the export of war-related items to the combat areas, they weren’t necessarily against supplying equipment and supplies to the American forces, as long as those goods weren’t sent directly to South Vietnam. Those goods included relatively benign items like boots and gear, but also aircraft, munitions, napalm and commercial defoliants, the latter of which were fiercely opposed by anti-war protesters at the time. Between 1965 and 1973, Canadian companies sold $2.47 billion in materiel to the United States. Canada, in accordance with existing treaties, also allowed their NATO ally to use facilities and bases in Canada for training exercises and weapons testing. A sticky wicket to be sure.
But what about THAT song, “American Woman”? Let me refresh your memory. Although the band denies it, critics and wags alike claim the song is a “Thanks, but no thanks” anthem about the Vietnam War. Rightly or wrongly, Canadians believed that America was trying to get Canada to adapt nuclear missiles and join them in their Cold War jungle conflict. When the song warns the American Woman to “Don’t come hangin’ around my door, I don’t wanna see your face no more, I got more important things to do, then spendin my time growin old with you” he’s basically saying that Canada has its own troubles and that the USA burned the blister, now they must sit on it.
The rest is pretty self-explanatory: “I don’t need your war machine” refers to nuclear weapons. “I don’t need your ghetto scenes” refers to the after math of the explosives. “Colored lights can hypnotize” refers to explosions of the bombs. “Sparkle someone else’s eyes” means, well, get lost. Despite the fact that the song was a huge hit at the time, it wasn’t the type of song Tricia would play for the folks. The Guess Who didn’t perform “American Woman” that day because they were asked not to “as a matter of taste.” That request came from first lady Pat Nixon’s press secretary. Fits right into the “clean hands doctrine” of the Nixon White House that would end a President’s tenure a couple of years later, huh?
Burton Cummings, who wrote and sang the song, insists it has nothing to do with politics but is a song about, what else, girls. “What was on my mind was that girls in the States seemed to get older quicker than our girls and that made them, well, dangerous,” he told the Toronto Star in 2014. “When I said ‘American woman, stay away from me,’ I really meant ‘Canadian woman, I prefer you.’ It was all a happy accident.” Yeah I know, that excuse doesn’t wash with me either.
In John Einarson’s book, “American Woman-The Story Of The Guess Who”, Cummings offered a more plausible explanation: “People read their own meanings into that song. They thought the American woman I alluded to was the Statue of Liberty and RCA contributed to that image with the ad campaigns. It came from looking out over a Canadian audience after touring through the southern U.S.A. and just thinking how the Canadian girls looked so much fresher and more alive. As opposed to an anti-American statement, it was more of a positive Canadian statement. ”
45758d0412b1a49eae642d00c598e257--the-guess-who-electric-warriorCummings went on to say this about about playing The White House: “It was strange. All the guests were white, all the military aides were white in full military dress, and all the people serving food were black. And the way the White House was landscaped it kind of looked like Alabama …before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It left a bad taste in my mouth. It was terribly racist and this was 1970. I remember sitting with Edward Lear, heir to the Lear Jet fortune, and Billy Graham’s daughter was there. It was really the so-called upper crust aristocracy of America, very stuffy, boring people…We were told not to play “American Woman” but we did “Hand Me Down World.” We thought we were just as cool for doing it. But we did get a great tour of The White House, though, and (band mate) Leskiw and I spent an hour going through all these rooms and corridors seeing stuff most people don’t get to see.”
The 68-year-old Cummings now has no doubt the band was brought in to impress the royal guests. “It left a bad taste in my mouth,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press recently. “They wanted a Commonwealth act when Charles and Anne went there. We were the token Commonwealthers.”
Even though he had left the band by the time of The White House gig, guitarist Randy Bachman remembers the song having a much more spontaneous genesis: it was written on stage with no thought given to deeper meaning or politics.The Guess Who was playing a show at a curling rink in Ontario when he broke a string on his guitar. In those days, that meant stopping the show until he could replace it. His bandmates left the stage, and Bachman put a new string on his ’59 Les Paul. The next challenge was getting it in tune (he didn’t have a tech or even a tuner in those days), so he went in front of Cummings’ electric piano and hit the E and B notes to give him reference. As he tuned his guitar a riff developed, then something magical happened.
“I started to play that riff on stage, and I look at the audience, who are now milling about and talking amongst themselves,” Bachman said. “And all their heads snapped back. Suddenly I realize I’m playing a riff I don’t want to forget, and I have to keep playing it. So I stand up and I’m playing this riff. I’m alone on stage.” The band’s drummer Garry Peterson, who had made his way to the audience, jumped on stage and started playing. Bassist Jim Kale heard the ruckus and joined them, and finally Burton Cummings came up and grabbed the microphone. “Sing something!” Bachman implored him. Burton obliged: the first words out of his mouth were, “American woman, stay away from me.” The crowd, which included a fair number of draft dodgers and war protesters, loved it. And the rest was history.
Tricia Nixon cool? Well, maybe not by today’s standards. But maybe you’ll see that Guess Who gig in a different light when you learn what else was going on at that party. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ll get a kick out of next week’s article when we explore Tricky Dick Nixon and the hook-up.

Next Week: Part II: Tricky Dick Nixon and the Hook Up.