Jim Gordon – the Different Drummer

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derek-and-the-dominos-layla-and-other-love-stories-insideIf people wanted to hear music before the invention of the phonograph, in 1877, they had to either perform it themselves or find someplace where musicians gathered. In these modern times, listening to music is as easy as pressing a button. You can’t avoid hearing it in shops, at work, or even as you walk down the street and chances are that daily—if not hourly—you will hear a song featuring session drummer Jim Gordon.

20130516-jim-x600-1368736360jim_gordonJim Gordon was born to play drums. In 1963, at the age of seventeen, the Los Angeles native was recording and performing with the Everly Brothers. His skills, all-American good looks, and solid work ethic made Gordon an in-demand session drummer. It was not unusual for him to take part in three different recording sessions in one day. He would often do multiple recording sessions in Los Angeles, then hop on a plane to Las Vegas to play drums for Andy Williams’ or Mel Tormé’s shows in Vegas’ “big room.”

mel-torme.jpg-2435Gordon played drums on such hit songs as the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze.” He played on most of the recordings by the Monkees and Bread and was the primary drummer on albums by mainstream artists like Cher, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, The Manhattan Transfer, Nancy Sinatra, Harry Nilsson, Mama Cass Elliot, Randy Newman, Hoyt Axton, Neil Diamond, The Partridge Family, John Denver, Hall & Oates, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, and the Captain and Tennille. 200px-Andy_williams_1969

Gordon played drums with legends like John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, The Byrds, Donovan, Gene Vincent, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Alice Cooper, Jackson Browne, and Joan Baez. Country stars Merle Haggard, The Dillards, Van Dyke Parks, and Lowell George hired Gordon, as did bluesmen Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, and B.B. King. Unconventional artists like Frank Zappa, Elliott Murphy, Hugo Montenegro, Nils Lofgren, Doug Kershaw, Jimmy Webb, and Leon Russell welcomed the straight-talking, buttoned-down, and polite young drummer into their sessions.

As a twenty-one-year-old man making good money in Los Angeles’ music industry in the late 1960s, Gordon had a nice car, a great apartment, and all the women he wanted.
sunset st
But all was not right with the young man. Gordon would sometimes disappear for days at a time, coming back in disarray. In those archaic days of psychology, most mental conditions that are now commonly diagnosed had not yet been discovered, so nobody knows when Gordon started hearing voices in his head. It did not help that drug abuse among the era’s musical stars was rampant. It was routine for the person booking a recording session to lay out huge lines of cocaine for his supporting musicians to snort during the session. Gordon fell victim to its allure.

cocaineWhile touring with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Gordon met and befriended British guitar

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends

legend Eric Clapton. After the tour, Clapton grabbed Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock from Delaney & Bonnie for his new project, Derek and the Dominos. After an English tour, the band retreated to Criterion Studios in Miami, Florida, to record the classic rock album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

Duane Allman

Duane Allman

Early in the session, Clapton caught the Allman Brothers Band performing in Miami. Clapton, a huge fan of Duane Allman’s guitar playing, was awestruck by his proficiency. He chatted with Allman after the show and drafted the renowned session guitarist into the band. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs turned into one of the first masterpiece double albums of the rock era. Anchoring the album is the rock classic “Layla,” co-written by Gordon and Clapton. Legend has it that Clapton was unsure how to end the song when he overheard Gordon playing the melancholic piano melody. It became the flowing coda of the song. Hefty doses of heroin, alcohol, speed, and cocaine during recording, along with Clapton’s infatuation with George Harrison’s wife, Patty, added to the heavy atmosphere of the album. The motorcycle death of Duane Allman, and Clapton’s escalating heroin habit, put the band in limbo.lalay

Gordon was continuously employed as a session drummer throughout the 1970s. He is listed as a performer on twenty-nine albums in 1973 alone. But toward the late 1970s, Gordon’s mental illness became more significant. He started acting bizarre at recording sessions, and the assignments trickled to a halt when, while playing drums for Paul Anka in Las Vegas, he stopped playing in the middle of a song and walked off the stage.timer-002

Institutionalized half a dozen times between 1977 and 1983, Gordon’s mental health was often misdiagnosed as drug and alcohol difficulties. By 1980, Gordon was such a mess that he could no longer play his beloved drums. He was delusional, with his mother the focus of his disorientation.

Jim-GordonOn June 3, 1983, Gordon drove to his mother’s home in Burbank and beat her to death with a hammer as she opened the door to him. The next year, he was sentenced to sixteen years to life in prison. At this writing, Jim Gordon is incarcerated at the State Medical Correctional Facility in Vacaville and will probably never be paroled.

State Medical Correctional Facility in Vacaville, California where Jim Gordon has lived since the mid 1980's

State Medical Correctional Facility in Vacaville, California where Jim Gordon has lived since the mid 1980′s

Gordon is one of the richest men in the California prison system, due to royalties from “Layla.” He also receives a significant sum in royalties for his work with Traffic, George Harrison, John Lennon, and dozens of others whose golden oldies are played a thousand times a day.Getty_JimGordon630_051713

In 1993, Eric Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla” received a Grammy Award. It is doubtful that the warden allowed Jim Gordon to display his award in his cell.gold record Continue reading

Spade Cooley – The King of Country Swing and Murderer

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For a decade, starting in 1941, Spade Cooley was the king of all media, fifty years before Howard Stern. A star of stage, screen, radio, and television, Cooley was known as the King of Western Swing, a title he won by beating Bob Willis and His Texas Playboys at a battle of the bands held at the Venice Pier Ballroom in 1942. images

Born dirt poor in Oklahoma on December 17, 1910, Spade was christened with the improbable Celtic name Donnell Clyde Cooley. Cooley’s father, who was a hoedown fiddler, recognized young Donnell’s talent on the violin and made sure that he would be a properly trained musician. Old man Cooley’s foresight would serve Donnell well in his career.

2009-09-06-3676281626_9c13be8fc7By the early 1930s, the Cooley family, as well as thousands of others, fled the dust bowl to the bountiful west coast. Finding himself with a wife and child in Modesto, California, in the early 1930s, Donnell worked menial jobs and played his fiddle at hoedowns and roadhouses up and down Highway 99. He acquired his nickname while playing in Modesto, as a result of his poker skills.

By 1935, Spade realized that he preferred playing music over toiling in the hot and dusty San Joaquin Valley for a few dollars a day. Moving his family to Los Angeles, Spade immediately became an in-demand musician, essentially because he could read music. 3

Spade struck up a friendship with Roy Rogers while performing with Rogers’ former band, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Rogers got him a job as his stand-in/extra at Republic Pictures. At the same time, Spade was playing nights as a sideman with Los Angeles bands.

With the rise of sophisticated western swing music, a hybrid of hillbilly, bluegrass, and jazz, Cooley put together a crack band of musicians and jumped on the bandwagon. His musicians varied, but generally there were a dozen in the band, plus a female singer.Spade Cooley and band2 Spade was the quintessential front man, and his musical skills were irrefutable. He and his band dressed to the nines in flashy rhinestone-studded western suits and cowboy hats. The band performed at the Santa Monica and Venice piers for a year-and-a-half to packed crowds.

Spade Cooley had his first hit with his second single, “Shame on You.” It bounced up and down the top ten charts all through 1945, hitting the number one position nine different times between March and July. Spade rang up five more top ten hits in the next three years. mbkRTsR8LSCMJ2S16hEnDAA

PDVD_029When Spade was not performing or handling the business end of his band, he performed in Hollywood westerns, often with significant roles, as well as a song or three. He eventually appeared in more than fifty films, mostly westerns and one-reelers.

 

Spade constantly strove to get better and hotter musicians for his band. Always staying a step ahead of the current musical trends, if he could not hire the hottest musician, he hired the next best. He was a kind and generous man when sober, but when in his cups, he was a tyrant. He would fire musicians for an imagined slight, only to beg them to come back after he sobered up. He would turn violent if one of his musicians formed a competing band, especially when they took other members with them. He once fired his singer, Tex Williams, on stage in front of a full house. Williams’ crime was that he had recently signed as a solo artist with Capitol Records. Most of Spade’s band quit in protest and joined Williams as his band. Spade hired new musicians. Spade Cooley

Cooley had a mind for business but a weakness for the ladies. In 1945, he hired twenty-one-year-old Ella Mae Evans to be his singer, even though she was not up to Cooley‘s high standards. It was not long before Spade divorced Anna, his long-suffering wife.
Nor was it long before the tiny and blonde Ella Mae became pregnant. Her career was over, at Spade’s insistence. Their daughter, Melody, Spade and Ella Maewas born in 1946, with a brother, Donnell, entering the world in 1948. Believing that his children would have a better life away from Los Angeles, Spade bought a remote ranch north of there, in the Kern County town of Willow Springs. Spade spent most of his time at his Ventura Boulevard mansion, where he entertained an assortment of female companions. Spade Cooley Poses With Chorus Girls

The future looked as though it would provide endless opportunities for Cooley. In 1946, he had his own popular radio program, Spade Cooley Time, on KFVD. The next year, he signed a seven year lease on the eight thousand capacity Santa Monica Ballroom. The year 1948 found Spade with a television variety show, The Hoffman Hayride, on KTLA-TV. It was the most popular Saturday night television program in the Los Angeles region.king of western swing

Cooley toured up and down the west coast performing in shows, with just enough time to make it to his television show and then out to Santa Monica for The Hoffman Hayride. Cooley was so popular that it has been alleged he had four different Spade Cooley bands out on the road, complete with Spade Cooley imitators. untitledAAABy the mid-1950s, the western swing craze had completely disappeared, and so had Cooley cash cows. He was no longer the clean-looking showman. His television and radio programs were cancelled. The years of whoring, boozing, and pill-popping had turned him into a belligerent, washed-up, middle-aged man. Spade may have been a jerk, but he was worth more than twelve million dollars. spade and ella

Spade sold off his Encino home and moved to his lavish spread in Willow Springs, where he spent much of his time accusing Ella Mae of infidelities. He interrogated her mercilessly and beat her. He was drunk all the time, and his routine of taking uppers to get up and downers to sleep added to his psychosis. He cowed Ella Mae into admitting to whatever twisted sexual fantasy his perverted mind imagined.

Inspired by Disneyland, Spade put together some investors and planned out a Spade Cooley-themed water park, called Water Wonderland. The project was to be built close to Cooley’s home in the Tehachapi Mountain foothills; unbeknownst to his investors, much of the land needed for the huge park was owned by one of Cooley’s partnerships. Spade Award2

Cooley divided his time between the Water Wonderland project, his various other business interests, his stable of Los Angeles girlfriends (who he had living in nearby motels), and beating the crap out of Ella Mae. He hired a private detective to look into Ella Mae’s life while living in the middle of nowhere. Cooley was certain that she had been unfaithful to him while he was in Los Angeles performing on stage and screen.

Ella Mae finally had a nervous breakdown, sent her children to live with relatives, and checked into a sanitarium to rest. Despite his wife’s delicate position, Spade did not let up on his mistrust, even though his private detective could find no evidence that Ella Mae was ever unfaithful to him.

irony?

irony?

After Ella Mae recovered somewhat she returned to the ranch, where she was virtually held prisoner, suffering more beatings and interrogations from Spade. Daughter Melody overheard Spade telling someone on the telephone, “In six months, we’ll be married.” She tried to get her mother to leave, but Ella Mae was too weak to drive her car. Spade tried to get Ella Mae to go for a ride with him, but she was terrified of the man, and became hysterical. Allegedly, Spade had once tried to push her out of his moving car. Ella Mae was a shell of a human being.

On April 3, 1961, Spade was drunk and irritable at a Water Wonderland meeting with his investors. He left abruptly and angrily. Nobody knows exactly when Spade beat Ella Mae to death, but she was dead in the late afternoon when Melody came home from a friend’s house.spade and roy

When Melody arrived home, Spade was on the telephone, and Melody saw that her father was sweaty, with spots of blood on his clothing. She heard him tell the person on the other end not to call police; he then hung up quickly and asked her to talk to her mother.spadecooley He dragged the teenager into a bathroom off the den and showed her Ella Mae, who was bruised and bloody, lying naked in the shower. Spade grabbed Ella Mae by her hair and dragged her limp body into the den, pulling Melody along with him while calling his dead wife a slut and other obscenities.

Spade asked Melody if she thought Ella Mae was dead, and then stomped his wife hard several times with his cowboy boots. He then put out his lit cigarette on her dead body, pulled out a gun, and asked Melody if she wanted to die. Suddenly the telephone rang, distracting the inebriated King of Western Swing long enough for the young woman to run out of the house.smokey-cooley-show

The police were not called until after 10:00 P.M., and arrived around 11:00 P.M. Spade’s manager, a family friend, and Spade’s adult son from his first marriage, along with his son’s wife, all waited with Spade for the police.

Cooley was arrested and taken to the Kern County Jail, sixty-three miles away in Bakersfield. Spade Cooley Murder 1961

All of the positive things that Spade had done for California’s large “Okie” population through his music and persona were undone. The negative stereotype of Okies being incorrigible, brutal, drunken hicks was proven once again, and by their most celebrated son. Spade received no love from his old fans.

Cooley also found zero support among Los Angeles musicians and media. He had burnt all of his bridges when he was on top. His reputation of violent behavior and womanizing left no doubt in the minds of most of his former associates that he was very capable of murder.

crime scene

crime scene

Bakersfield in the early 1960s was one of the hottest musical locations for country music. Dust Bowl refugees Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, the leaders of the hard-driving, rock ‘n’ roll influenced country sound, stayed away from Cooley as if he were the plague.

Cooley pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and made sure his trial was as dramatic as his alcohol-soaked mind would allow. Fainting spells, tears, and an alleged heart attack helped make his thirty day trial the longest in Kern County history.

Melody Cooley on the witness stand

Melody Cooley on the witness stand

The evidence was overwhelming. Kern County District Attorney Kit Nelson accused Cooley of murder by torture, and with the aid of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, had a very strong case. Forensic expert Clifford Cromp pointed out that Ella Mae’s body had old bruises, as well as new ones. She had numerous cigarette burns on her in different stages of healing. Her genitals were badly bruised, and a broomstick found in the home had traces of hair, blood, and vaginal and fecal matter on it.

It was daughter Melody’s testimony that sealed Cooley’s fate. The fourteen-year-old bravely went on the witness stand to tell the jury about life at the Cooley ranch. She told of Spade’s drunken behavior, gun play, threats, and the beatings that he gave Ella Mae. Her story could not be shaken by the attorneys for the defense.

Spade breaks down in court

Spade breaks down in court

Cooley didn’t make things any better for himself when he took the witness stand and denied everything. He stuck to his story that Ella Mae had fallen out of his moving car a few days before, and that he had found her unconscious in the shower. He denied stomping his wife in front of his daughter and using her as an ashtray. He could not explain his bruised fingers and hands when he was booked into jail. Fiddlers are generally very careful with their hands.

Cooley rambled off-topic and told the jury that his wife was part of a sex cult, and that, at one time during their marriage, she had had an affair with Cooley’s friend and neighbor, actor Roy Rogers. An angry Rogers categorically denied the affair, and told the press that he had never even been to the Cooley ranch without Cooley being present.

The jury came back with a guilty verdict, and Cooley withdrew his insanity plea. Judge William Bradshaw sentenced the King of Western Swing to life in prison. Due to Spade’s delicate health, he was sent to California State Medical Facility at Vacaville rather than to notorious Folsom or San Quentin prison.Spade-Cooley-star200

While in prison, Cooley found God, was a model prisoner, and played in a prison band. Governor Ronald Reagan, a former B-actor who had surely rubbed elbows with Spade during their Hollywood days, made the parole board aware that he wanted to see Cooley paroled. The parole board agreed, and Spade was set to be released on his sixtieth birthday, February 22, 1970.

But Cooley did not live to be a free man. On November 23, 1969, Cooley was given a seventy-two hour furlough to perform at the Oakland Auditorium for a benefit for the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Alameda County. Moments after he left the stage to a standing ovation, while signing autographs backstage, Spade suffered a massive heart attack. Prophetically, his final song of the night was It’s Time to Live, It’s Time to Die. He wrote the song while in prison.

the last photo of Spade Cooley...

the last photo of Spade Cooley…

 

Eddy Cochran – Rock’s Greatest Loss

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RememberEddieCochran_portal_image03There has always been speculation about what would have happened had certain rock stars not died. Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Holly, Marley, Lennon, Zappa, the list goes on. The big what if? I believe that Hendrix would have quit all the onstage wiggling and fooling around and would have had a career parallel to Carlos Santana – experimentation with jazz and the blues, would have become a devoted of some Eastern religion, and a hit album every fifteen years. It is not hard to believe that Janis Joplin would have gone country, becoming a member of the Austin based Country Outlaw scene with Waylon, Willie and Johnny. Jim Morrison would not have added up to much, but Bob Marley and Frank Zappa probably would have become politicians. John Lennon would have always been famous, who knows if he would have produced anything fantastic as none of the other Beatles did anything ground breaking after 1980.

But there is one rock musician whose death set rock music back ten years.tuning

Eddie Cochran was a good looking and talented musician from Albert Lea, Minnesota. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1953, when Eddie was fifteen years old, settling in a house a stone throw from the Los Angeles River.

the Cochran Brothers

the Cochran Brothers

At 16 years-old he formed the country band the Cochran Brothers, with Hank Cochran, who was unrelated to Eddie, and they played the juke joints around Los Angeles County and the roadhouses up and down central California’s Highway 99, earning a reputation as a good performing act. When not on the road, Eddie worked as a studio session musician and started writing and recording demo songs. After releasing a couple of 45’s that went nowhere, the Cochran Brothers went their separate ways.

After hearing Cochran’s first single “Skinny Jim,” a Hollywood movie producer hired him to appear in the great rock and roll movie, The Girl Can’t Help It. Cochran appeared in the movie on a television set, and rocked out on a song that he co-wrote, the classic, “Twenty Flight Rock.” Cochran, in a pink sports jacket, light blue baggy trousers and playing his beautiful 1955 Chet Atkins G-brand Gretsch guitar through a large amplifier, with his feet wide apart, while the actors, Tom Ewell, Edmond O’Brian and sexbomb Jayne Mansfield react in dissimilar ways to the new sound that the kids were dancing to.

Eddie in the Girl Can't Help It

Eddie in the Girl Can’t Help It

The film was supposed to be a launching pad for Mansfield’s career, but it ended up being the quintessential early rock and roll movie. Teenagers all over the world got their first visual exposure to Rock and Roll, and the world was never the same after experiencing the performances by Cochran, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Gene Vincent and his Bluecaps.

At age 19, Cochran released his only LP, Singing to My Baby in 1957 on Liberty Records. Like most record labels of the era, Liberty did not know what to do with the young rocker who wrote his own songs. Liberty’s biggest stars were Henry Mancini and the novelty group, the Chipmunks. They had Cochran sing ballads and pop songs, but Cochran sneaked in a rocking version of John D. Loudermilk’s “Sitting in the Balcony,” complete with a rockin’ rockabilly guitar break. It peaked at number 18 on the Billboard’s charts.

Cochran in the studio recording Summertime Blues

Cochran in the studio recording Summertime Blues

Cochran knew what he wanted and he quickly recorded and released the rock and roll classics, “C’mon Everybody,” “Something Else,” and “Summertime Blues.” He was a teenager, writing songs for and about teenagers. Eddie wrote songs with his manager, Jerry Capehart, his brother Bob Cochran and his girlfriend Sharon Sheeley.

He usually recorded at the legendary Goldstar Studios. He also continued working as a session guitarist and producer, and was one of the first musicians to produce his recordings. While doing sessions he worked with dozens of musicians including fellow rockers Johnny Burnett and Gene Vincent. Eddie was twenty years old!rocker

Not all of Eddie’s records were great. He had his share of flops, usually an Elvis type ballad or an old standard pushed on him by the record label. It was not unusual in those days for record labels to force an act to record a song that they owned the publishing rights to. Cochran knew how to play the game, and did a good job on songs that were not his own.

Cochran with Sharon Sheeley at Goldstar Sound-

Cochran with Sharon Sheeley at Goldstar Sound-

He did the package tours with a dozen other rising stars, playing three songs in front of screaming teenagers, twice a day for a month at a time. Radio DJ’s loved interviewing Eddie as he was different from the other rock singers of the era. He was urbane, an L.A. boy, not some mealy-mouthed hillbilly. He looked and dressed great. He was blonde and had a tan. He was a real musician and songwriter to boot. And the fucker was only 20!cool eddie

While on these tours Cochran became friends with Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly. There is a hundred percent chance that they talked a lot about keeping control of their careers and away from the suits at their labels. There is also a hundred percent chance that they drank a lot of beer and played a lot of music together. Cochran was devastated when Holly and homeboy Valens died in an airplane crash on February 3, 1959. He had no idea that he only had a little more than a year left to his own life.eddie

1960 was a bad year for rockers. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in an airplane accident the year before. Chuck Berry was sentenced to prison for having sex with a 14 year-old female, thus violating the Mann Act (transporting females across state lines for immoral purposes), Little Richard got married and found God, Jerry Lee Lewis revealed himself as a pedophile after he married his 14 year-old cousin effectively putting the skids on his career, Johnny and Dorsey Burnette split up the Rock and Roll Trio and Elvis was in the Army. But Eddie Cochran was going strong, and in late 1959, English television director Jack Good invited Cochran and Vincent to tour the United Kingdom. Cochran was on a Midwest tour and joined Vincent on January 10, 1960. The night before his flight to London, the tireless Cochran recorded three songs, “Three Steps to Heaven,” “Cut Across Shorty,” and “Cherished Memories.”

eddie-cochran shirtlessThe tour was extremely successful, thanks to appearances on BBC entertainment shows. Vincent and Cochran were opposite looking from each other. Teenage girls were enchanted by the young, tanned and well quaffed Cochran and the guys were amazed at his natural guitar talent and voice. On the opposite side, the teens were fascinated with Vincent’s pockmarked face, bad teeth and crippled leg. They were one of them. All that they wanted to do was rock. More shows were added as every teenager in the UK wanted to see this mismatch of American culture.6a0133f4ebe468970b0168e92a4af7970c-500wi

More dates were added to the UK tour, and every future member of the forthcoming British Invasion saw them. The late pioneer glam-rock musician Marc Bolan carried Cochran’s guitar to his limo after a show in London. The English could not get enough of Cochran and Vincent.pals 2

eddie_cochran liveWhen the tour finally ended on April 16, 1960 in Bristol, Cochran along with his now fiancé, Sharon Sheeley and Gene Vincent hired a taxi to take them to a London hotel so that they could rest before their transatlantic flight the next day. Cochran and Vincent were looking into starting a group together, which would have been the very first rock Supergroup. In the early morning hours of April 17, 1960, the driver made a wrong turn, over-corrected, and lost control of his vehicle, crashing into a light pole. Sheeley had severe injuries that included a broken hip, Vincent re-injured his already damaged leg, and Cochran died of a severe head injury later that day.go cat go

The music that Eddie Cochran created fit the baby boomers like a hat and glove. Besides being preteens when Rock and Roll first hit the airwaves, Cochran was one of them. He was not a middle-aged musician jumping on the rock and roll bandwagon. eddie-cochran-gene-vincentCochran was a cool Southern California teen, with the same problems that they had. After his death, rock music hit the skids as the Tin Pan Alley hacks got their songs back on the radio. It wasn’t until three years later when the British Invasion of young English musicians who were inspired by Eddie Cochran, did rock music recover.MPW-63424Eddie Cochran was only 21 years-old when he died, and he will forever be twenty-one years old.BroadcastsGene Vincent never recovered from the physical and emotional scars of the accident. He kept rocking, in smaller and smaller venues until he died at age 36 in 1971.

1366711309_eddie-cochran-somethin-else-2004Sharon Sheeley went on to be one of the most successful songwriters of her era, penning songs with Jackie DeShannon. She married LA DJ Jimmy O’Neill, who was the host of the mid-60’s TV program, Shindig. After they divorced five years later, she dropped out of the music scene.

Hank Cochran went on to a long and successful songwriting career writing hits for Burl Ives, Merle Haggard, George Strait and Ronnie Milsap. His biggest hit was Ray Price’s version of “Make the World Go Away,” and “I Fall to Pieces,” which he co-wrote. He died in 2010, fifty years longer than his old bandmate.

dude

 

The Brat Wagon

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this story appears in my 2013 book, California’s Fruits, Flakes and Nuts -True Tales of California Crazies, Crackpots and Creeps

Like millions before and since, Margaret Rowney moved to California to start a new life.  The twenty-seven-year-old widow brought her four children to Encino in 1948 after her railroad worker husband was killed on the job.  The Pennsylvania Railroad supplied her with a generous pension.  The Baltimore native probably thought that the sunlight of Southern California would wash away the grit that stained her heart.

She had a stable relationship with Raymond Bennett, a thirty-six-year-old foundry worker who cherished his instant family.  Margaret called their wood-paneled station wagon “The Brat Wagon,” and she had the children’s names painted on both sides of the car.  Painted on the driver’s side door was “Ray,” and “Margie” was written on the passenger side.

In the early morning hours of December 14, 1950, while Ray was on the graveyard shift, Margie braided her long hair around her head and put on her blue jeans and a leather jacket.  She roused her children—seven-year old Peggy, five-year old George, four-year old Guy, and three-year old Thomas—from their beds and got the pajama-clad kids into the backseat of the Brat Wagon.  She drove up Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains and found a secluded spot under a giant oak tree in Topanga Canyon.  Carefully, so as not to wake her sleeping children, Margie took a vacuum cleaner hose and attached it to the exhaust pipe of the Brat Wagon, putting the other end into the passenger compartment.

Police on routine patrol found the car.  The engine was out of gas, but still warm.  The children in the backseat were tumbled across each other just like sleeping children do.  Margie was sprawled on the front seat.  There was no note.

The murder-suicide perplexed everyone who knew Margie.  Her sister, friends, neighbors, and boyfriend Ray had no idea why Margie would do such a thing.  On December 19th, Margie’s sister Violet flew to Baltimore with five coffins to be interred in her hometown.

Later that day, the heartbroken Bennett took the family dog Inky with him into the garage at the home that was once filled with joyful noise.  He ended his life in the Brat Wagon exactly like Margie did.  An empty bottle of whiskey and a note was found inside the home at 4973 Noeline Avenue.  The note made no more sense than Margie’s actions:  “We would have started where we lost them, but we didn’t want to be stopped.  We will find the reason.”

Police photo of the Brat Wagon after Raymond Bennett used it to end his life

Police photo of the Brat Wagon after Raymond Bennett used it to end his life

 

The Rodney Dangerfield’s of Rock

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rodney_dangerfield

The book of Rock and Roll is littered with heroes who have fallen from grace.  Most of them for good reason, but there are some musicians and bands that have fallen through the cracks of recognition, even though they have contributed greatly to rock music pioneering the use of samples, synthesizers, guitar techniques and even entire genres.  Like the late comic great Rodney Dangerfield routine, they get no respect.

 

Grand Funk Railroad

In 1969, Mark Farner, Mel Schacher and Don Brewer formed a band that rewrote rock music.  Guitarist Farner, and drummer Brewer were backing Terry Knight and the Pack and Schacher was playing bass in ? and the Mysterians plowing through the mid-Michigan club scene.  Knight, knowing that his time as a singer was over, decided to manage these young men from Flint, christened Grand Funk Railroad.

They were an American Band

They were an American Band

Knight used his extensive music connections and experience to get Grand Funk on the bill of the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, where they went over so well on the first day of the festival that they were put on the bill on the next two days.  By the last day of the festival, the band signed with Capitol Records.  The band came out of the starting blocks blazing and their first LP, On Time went gold. Their second LP, Grand Funk produced the hit song, “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home).”  In 1970, Grand Funk Railroad sold more records than any other American band, and with minimum radio airplay.  In 1971, they sold out Shea Stadium quicker than the Beatles did five years earlier.

A billboard in Times Square?  Who gets that?

A billboard in Times Square? Who gets that?

 Grand Funk Railroad put on raucous, hard rocking performances that pleased the post-hippy teenagers who were the bulk of their audience.  They toured all over America, and were huge in Japan. They were one of the first rock bands to play stadiums instead of arenas, but the band refused to play in their home state of Michigan because of the bad press and ill-feelings from the Detroit music scene who felt that Grand Funk had not pay their dues. 

Around this time, Mark, Don and Mel thought that Knight was no longer needed and they fired him just months before their contract with him ran out.  Knight reacted by repossessing the band’s equipment during the band’s sound-check at Madison Square Gardens.  The band still thought that it was worth it.grand funk liveOnce the contract problems were worked out, Grand Funk added keyboardist Craig Frost and the band took a different direction with a more pop music oriented sound that only produced more gold records for the band.  The Todd Rundgren produced LP, We’re an American Band was certified gold a month after its 1973 release.  Finding success with Rundgren, who at the time was one of the most sought after producers in the industry, they hired him for their next LP, Shinin’ On, which went gold and produced the single, a cover of the Little Eva song “The Locomotion.”

Their next LP was the horribly titled All of the Girls in the World Beware, that had the great rock pop song, “Bad Time” and a cover, “Some King of Wonderful,” which both charted in America.  Despite the tacky cover that showed the boy’s heads superimposed on the bodies of weightlifters, the LP went gold and the band went on a lucrative world tour. 

Grand Funk Railroad -Closer to Home (I’m your Captain)

The following LP’s, 1976’s Born to Die didn’t chart as well as their previous LP’s, and their next LP, Good Singin’, Good Playin’ flopped despite being produced by Frank Zappa.  The band called it quits after that, although they have reunited in one form or another since then. 

the dumbest record cover of all time

the dumbest record cover of all time

 Grand Funk Railroad rose to great heights right out of the starting blocks due to Terry Knight’s management, but the band had talent, drive and a no bullshit factory town attitude that worked in their favor.  They toured relentlessly, and did not care what music critics or their jealous Michigan contemporaries had to say about them, as the sold out stadiums was all the proof that they needed to justify their success.  Grand Funk Railroad Live in LA 1974 -

From 1969 to 1975, Grand Funk Railroad were one of the biggest selling rock acts in the world, recorded 11 studio records and sold millions of records.  Not bad for three guys from Flint, Michigan. 

The Official Grand Funk Railroad website

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REO Speedwagon

Even at their peak in the early 80’s, when their ballad heavy LP “High Infidelity” produced four top ten hits and sold over 10 million copies, REO Speedwagon were poopooed by everyone but secretaries and dental assistants.  But what music snobs forget is that REO was a hard rock band from Champaign, Illinois who had spent over a dozen years on the road, playing every town on the upper register of the Interstate Highway System.   There was not a town that was too small for the REO to play in, and they never did a bad show.  They were kind to fans and local musicians.  REO also was a band that evolved naturally, with singers and musicians coming and going. 

REO Speedwagon during their Hayday

REO Speedwagon during their Hayday

 REO Speedwagon sold millions of records in the 80’s, and their music is the soundtrack of that era… can you forget “Keep On Loving You” and “Take It On the Run?”  Those two songs are the template for all of the power ballads that came after it.  Lead guitarist Gary Richrath’s razor sharp leads and perfect tone are the pinnacle of hard rock lead guitar playing.  He is definitely one of the most underrated guitarists in rock.

REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon

Listen to their 1977 platinum selling live LP, Live: You Get What You Play For to understand what a solid rock band they were.  The years of playing at high school gyms in Midwest and rodeo arena’s in the west came to fruit.  Forgotten rockers like “Keep Pushin,’” “(I Believe) Our Time is going to Come,” “Golden Country,” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” are played to perfection.  Although they had their peak in the 1980’s, REO Speedwagon is still a working band, and probably playing in a town near you.

The Official Website of REO Speedwagon

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Doug Yule

People talk about the Velvet Underground as if they were created by God.  Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Mo Tucker, John Cale and Nico are all fawned upon by fans, but nobody ever speaks of Doug Yule.  Stepping in at the tender age of 21 to fill out the band on bass guitar after Reed fired John Cale.  Yule was in the band from 1968 to 1973, and put up with more crap than a Chuck Berry groupie.

How everyone remembers the Velvet Underground

How everyone remembers the Velvet Underground

Yule, a multi-instrumentalist contributed on lead vocals on a number of songs, and filled in for Lou’s vocals when Reed had problems with his voice on the road. Yule’s mistake was continuing the VU after Reed quit the band.  Reed went on to insult and berate Yule in interviews, and even John Cale butted in, siding with Reed when the VU was preparing for a reunion tour in 1993 to not to allow Yule on the bill. 

How most people saw the Velvet Underground

How most people saw the Velvet Underground – with Doug Yule

 After VU, Yule joined country band American Flyer with Steve Katz, and later moved to Seattle where he is a master violin luthier.  Despite that he was in the band longer than anyone other than Lou Reed, Yule was denied entrance to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the VU was indicted in 1996.  

Doug Yule Violin Maker

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Bill Nelson

Mention the name Bill Nelson to any audiophile and they’ll answer, “Oh yeah, Be Bop Deluxe,” or they’ll say, “I used to dance to Red Noise when I was first allowed in clubs.”  Yes, Nelson did front the great mid-70’s art/glam/prog rock band Be Bop Deluxe.  And yes after Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson did create electronic dance music in the early 1980’s, but he has done so much more than that during the last 30 odd years, releasing over 100 LP’s since 1980. 

Be Bop Deluxe - at your service

Be Bop Deluxe – at your service

Nelson, whose guitar playing can only be described as dazzling, busted out towards the end of the glam era with his band Be Bop Deluxe.  After their first LP, 1974’s Axe Victim was released Nelson fired the entire band, and brought in new musicians.  The band did well, and released five studio LP’s between 1974 and 1978, but the attraction of the band was Nelson’s fluid and melodic lead guitar playing.  

the coolest album cover of all time

the coolest album cover of all time

After Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson went into electronic dance music with a project called Red Noise.  Do You Dream in Colour?” was a hit in the dance clubs.  Nelson, never one to sit on his laurels, started leaning towards ambient music, inspired by his muse, pioneer multi-media artist Jean Cocteau. Capital Records, as well as the other majors did not want to risk any money on the prolific and ever changing styles of this man from Yorkshire.   With his manager Nelson created Cocteau Records to release his more esoteric and ambient LP’s.   Records came out, with elaborate covers and CD booklets.  A pioneer in the use of samplings, Nelson had sampled Gregorian monks chanting to beats years before the monks cashed in on that fad.  On his 1983 EP, Savage Gestures for Charm’s Sake, Nelson out Fripp’s Robert Fripp and out Eno’s Brian Eno.  Nelson bounced around on record labels big and small throughout the 80’s, releasing 25 albums that decade.

The early 1990’s found Bill Nelson bankrupted and divorced.  When he went to his record label from the Be Bop Deluxe days, he found out that all of the royalties from all of the Be Bop Deluxe LP’s went to the band members who only played on Axe Victim.  Not a penny was assigned to Nelson.  With no money to sue with, Nelson retreated back to his first love, the guitar.  It helped that he had over 40 guitars of every different type. Nelson got back on his feet, remarried, got the rights back to his music, and dived back in, procuring record labels to rerelease his catalog, while producing ecstatically positive guitar oriented LP’s.

Bill Nelson will quit playing music when they pry his cold dead hands from his guitar neck

Bill Nelson will quit playing music when they pry his cold dead hands from his guitar neck

Bill Nelson performs occasionally, and has a hardcore group of fans who gather at the annual Nelsonica convention in which Nelson is the star.   Besides writing and recording music for television and films, Nelson still releases an average of four LP’s a year.  Unarguably, the most prolific songwriter in rock history, a forerunner of dance and ambient music, a pioneer of digital sampling and a true guitar God, Bill Nelson’s name is rarely mentioned these days. 

Red Noise – Sound On Sound – entire LP

Be Bop Deluxe – Modern Music full LP

Bill Nelson & the Gentlemen Rocketeers – The October Man live 2011

Welcome to Dreamsville – the Official Bill Nelson website

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The Walkabouts

Founded in 1984 by brothers Chris, Curt and Grant Eckman, and Chris’s longtime girlfriend Carla Torgerson, the Walkabouts played their share of art gallery basements, dive bars and rented halls in the formative pre-grunge era in their hometown of Seattle.  More musically talented, arty and folky than most bands of that era, their sets were welcome relief from feedback filled gloom and doom and noisy punk that the Walkabouts shared bills with.  Not that the Walkabouts did not rock, but they played better than most bands of that era.  Years later their sound was termed Americana.  

Early Walkabouts

Early Walkabouts

The Walkabouts released their first record, the EP 22 Disasters in 1985, and went on an American tour without bassist Curt Eckman.  Michael Wells replaced him and has been in the Walkabouts more or less ever since.  Their first LP, Weights and Rivers, was going to be released by Wrestler Records but the company went bankrupt before it could hit the shelves.  It was years before the band got the masters back. 

See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens...

See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens…

Their second LP, See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens was put out by Seattle’s eclectic PopLlama Records in 1988.  They released five LP’s on SubPop and SubPop Europe/Glitterhouse, between 1989 and 1994, toured the states on the same bill as other stalwarts of the 90’s like the Chills, Throwing Muses, Uncle Tupelo, Glass Eye, the Jazz Butcher, Thin White Rope, and FireHose, but their real draw was in Europe where their poetic lyrics and desolate tunes struck a chord with the youth of the day.  Their LP’s scored high on not only the alternative charts, but on the mainstream radio networks in Greece, Norway and Eastern Europe. 

walkabouts-2012-01-15-wienSigning to Virgin Records in Germany in 1995, the Walks looked forward to having major label backing and released Devil’s Road and Nighttown, their two bestselling releases, but selling 90,000 units was nothing to Virgin and they were dropped by the label, despite their videos being on heavy rotation on MTV Europe.  Glitterhouse immediately signed the band to their label and released their LP’s for thereafter. 

The Walkabouts – The light Will Stay On

Walkabouts – “Feel like going home”

Their success in Europe did not transfer to North America, and when Americana got popular in the mid-90’s the Walkabouts were that band in Europe who only had reviews in languages other than English.  No matter that the Walkabouts basically created the template for hundreds of bands using the mandolin, cello, harmonica, and acoustic guitars; they get no respect in their home country.  The only American shows that that Walkabouts do is in Seattle, during the holidays, if Chris comes home to see his family.  The Walkabouts filled concert halls in all the major European cities, but are reduced to playing one show in a neighborhood bar in Seattle when they play America.

The Walkabouts – Bordertown

The Walkabouts – Jack Candy live

The Walkabouts – Man From Reno

The Walkabouts – Got No Chains – SubPop 200 1989

Just remember, every ancient punk rocker playing a contemporary version of Woody Guthrie to packed houses and admiration… Every pretty bearded boy band playing acoustic music and selling millions of records…  Every washed up musician who adds a string section to make their music more listenable… have the Walkabouts to thank for setting the woods on fire.

The Semi-Official website of the Walkabouts

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The Tubes

If there was anything revolutionary about American rock and roll in the 1970’s it was The Tubes.  The San Francisco based band put on freak show unlike any other up to that point.  Led by singer Fee Waybill, who changed outfits and characters about every three songs, the Tubes were a mixture of theater, shock and prog rock.   The duel guitars of Rodger Steen and Bill Spooner held down the rock, while pianist Vince Welneck added class, Michael Cotton flew on the APR 2600 synthesizer, and drummer Prairie Prince and bassist Rick Anderson laid down a solid rhythm, all the while semi-naked dancing girls romped around the stage, there was nothing like the Tubes, anywhere.   

03 1977 - Fee Waybill - The TubesTheir first LP, the Tubes was released in 1975 and included what became their signature song, “White Punks on Dope.”  During the performance of the song, Waybill, as rock star Quay Lude, wore a fright wig and a jock strap with his penis hanging out of it, while romping around the stage in 18 inch tall platform shoes.  The rest of the LP, along with their second, Young and Rich, was well guided and clever Prog Rock, with a subtle touch of social commentary. 

The Tubes - 1974

The Tubes – 1974

Their third LP, the Tubes Now, was even more theatrical with Welnick’s beautiful piano work dominating the record, but it was their fourth LP, the concept record, Remote Control that should have sent the Tubes record sales soaring.  Produced by Todd Rundgren, Remote Control is the quintessential early 80’s record.  Too bad it was in 1979, and about five years ahead of its time.  A & M Records never knew what to do with the Tubes.  Their singles were radio friendly, but their stage act was R Rated and whenever they had someone on the label supporting them, that person would end up getting fired.  A & M did nothing to promote radio play for the band and dumped them after rejecting their next LP.  The label then released a live LP to fill out their contract.

Mondo Bondage – the Tubes

“Turn Me On” from the Tubes Remote Control LP

Signed to Capitol Records, the band rolled up their sleeves to become more radio friendly.  Their 1981 LP, the Completion Backwards Principle found the band tossing out their props and wild outfits, and opting for business suits.  The rocker Talk to You Later was perfect for radio and the newly launched MTV and the Tubes finally found some success.  Their next LP, 1983’s release, Outside Inside produced the Tubes only American hit song, “She’s a Beauty,” which was number one on the radio rock charts.  Returning to Rundgren for their next LP, Love Bomb did nothing to help the Tubes.  Capitol dropped them, and kept an entire LP, known as the Black Album, from ever getting released.  It is still sitting in a vault somewhere in Southern California.  

This was in 1974!!!

This was in 1974!!!

Although the Tubes did not sell a lot of records, their live shows were always popular; unfortunately, they were an expensive band to take on the road.  Their elaborate sets needed carpenters and electricians, their outrageous costumes needed seamstresses and helpers, along with dancers and roadies, a second tour bus was needed to get the crew from show to show, and all of them needed to be fed and housed while the band toured.  Their tour for Love Bomb put the band a half million dollars in debt.

The Tubes Live 1982

Waybill left the band, and Welnick joined the Grateful Dead as their touring pianist, a notorious roll for the band, as all the former pianists died.  While with the Dead, Welnick became fast friends with Jerry Garcia, something the rest of the band resented and when Garcia died from a heart attack while detoxing from longtime heroin use, the surviving members of the Dead shunned Welnick, and did not include him on any further projects.  Welnick took the rejection hard and eventually committed suicide in 2006.

No Titties in the Twin Cities

No Titties in the Twin Cities

In 1993, The Tubes reformed with Waybill on vocals, but without powerhouse guitarist and musical director Bill Spooner.  Welnick and Cotton also declined to rejoin the band.   Prairie Prince went on to being one of the most recorded drummers in history and still plays with the Tubes, when he isn’t busy with sessions and touring obligations.

Video_amplification_The_Tubes_sThe Tubes were too wild and crazy for their era.  They wrote intelligent and humorous songs that musically bridged the 70’s to the 80’s, all the while putting on the best live shows of their era.  The Tubes were too clever for their own good, and were musically a few years ahead of everything else out there.  Innovators are rarely rewarded and the Tubes, who still perform, are living proof.

The Tubes Official Website

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Harvey Mandel

Detroit boy, Harvey Mandel cut his teeth in the blues clubs on the south side of Chicago in the late 1960’s, playing on the groundbreaking 1966 LP, Stand Back!  Here Comes Charlie Musslewhite’s Southside Band.  Moving to the burgeoning scene in San Francisco the next year, Mandel released a solo LP and jammed with the likes of Jerry Garcia, Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, before being drafted by Canned Heat as their guitarist.  His third show with the band was at Woodstock.

Young Harvey Mandel

Young Harvey Mandel

After playing with Canned Heat for two years, Mandel joined British blues legend John Mayall’s band.  When the Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor left the band, Mandel was picked up by the Stones and contributed the incredible lead guitar to the hit song “Hot Stuff” and fan favorite “Memory Motel.”  Fellow Brit Ronnie Wood was eventually hired as the Stone’s permanent second guitarist.  Mandel stayed busy over the years releasing over 19 solo LP’s to date, and later rejoining Canned Heat for live performances.

Harvey "The Snake" Mandel

Harvey “The Snake” Mandel

As if his career was not impressive enough, Mandel is credited with being the first electric guitarist to use the technique called fretboard tapping.  Tapping or hammering is when the musician taps the strings of the guitar with their fingertips, in a hammering motion, instead of using a pick.  The technique is especially impressive through an amplifier and effects, and Mandel is the master of two-handed tapping.  Eddie Van Halen made a fortune from that method of guitar playing. 

Harvey Mandel’s Offical Web Site

1983-Rappin'-Rodney

 

 

 

 

The Ten Most Drugged Out LP’s in Rock History

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A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a blog about the 12 most drugged out LP’s of all time.  I did not agree with the majority of entrees, so being a pop culture historian, I decided to write my own list. 

 

Meddle – Pink Floyd (1971)

pink floyd meddle

Listening to Pink Floyd’s sixth LP is like taking an acid trip. From the opening song “One of These Days” to “Echoes,” which takes up the entire second side of the LP, this is one tripped out album.  Although the members of Pink Floyd now say that they were never under the influence of drugs while writing and recording their music, the photos of the band from this period tell a different story.  The eyes don’t lie.

They don't look stoned at all.

They don’t look stoned at all.

L.A.M.F. – Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (1977)

heartbreakers-lamf-bigGuitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan left the pioneering band the New York Dolls to start the Heartbreakers along with bassist Billy Rath and second guitarist Walter Lure.  Thunders and Nolan were known as unreliable junkies and their reputation soured any American record labels from touching them.  Invited to tour in the UK by Malcolm McLaren, to open for the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy Tour, the band was left stranded in England when the tour fell apart.  British indie label Track Records took a chance and signed the Heartbreaker to record an LP.  L.A.M.F. is junkie street slang for “Like a Mother Fucker,” and the boys were slamming heroin like a motherfucker throughout the recording.  Gloriously sloppy and rockin, L.A.M.F is one of the seminal rock albums of all time. 

Why, they look like nice boys.

Why, they look like nice boys.

Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1971)

cover-csny-deja_vu1You can almost smell the marijuana coming out of your speakers.  It increases my paranoia, like lookin’ in the mirror and seeing a pole-lease car.

good try, but you guys all look stoned

good try, but you guys all look stoned

So Alone – Johnny Thunders (1978)

Johnny+Thunders+-+So+Alone+-+CD+ALBUM-339475Fresh off the breakup of The Heartbreakers, Thunders corralled former Heartbreakers Billy Rath and Walter Lure, as well as such rock and roll bad boys as Paul Gray (The Damned, Eddie and the Hot Rods), Peter Perrett (The Only Ones), Steve Jones and Paul Cook (the Sex Pistols), and Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) to help him record his solo album.  According to Perrett, Thunders was so loaded on heroin during the recording, that he was basically useless and spent most of the sessions passed out in a corner.  Perrett and Jones played most of the guitar parts in the style of Thunders, and roused Thunders to do vocals.  Heavy on cover songs, So Alone is still a mind blowingly great rock record.

But his mother loved him

But his mother loved him

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominos (1970)

layla

Guitarist Eric Clapton was at a loss with his career.  Set adrift after the breakup of Cream and the supergroup Blind Faith, Clapton just wanted to be in a band again, without the hoopla of superstardom.  Teaming up with session musicians Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman, Clapton set up house in Miami to record.  Clapton was suffering from mental fatigue and an infatuation with his good friend George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd.  Clayton self-medicated himself with heroin, as well as cocaine and other substances.  The result was one of the greatest collaborations in the history of rock music.

Pick out the guy who is not stoned out of his mind?

Pick out the guy who is not stoned out of his mind?

Raw Power – Iggy and the Stooges (1973)

IggyTheStooges_RawPower_300One look at the photos on the LP, will tell you almost everything.  One listen to this record, will tell you everything else.

 

He's got a rocket in his pocket and a monkey on his back

He’s got a rocket in his pocket and a monkey on his back

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967)

beatles 5The Beatles 8th studio album needs little introduction as it is regarded as the most influential albums of all time.  Written and recorded under the influence of marijuana, hashish, and LSD, and full of drug references, Sgt. Pepper’s closed the book on the moptop lads from Liverpool, and led the way to an entirely new sound that incorporated studio tricks, nontraditional arrangements and odd musical instruments that was fun to listen to when high. Thousands of rock bands threw out their set list, bought used band uniforms, grew mustaches and started taking acid.  Hey, if the clean-cut Beatles were smoking weed and dropping LSD, there must be nothing wrong with it.

The Beatles decide whether or not to keep the fake Paul in the band

The Beatles decide whether or not to keep the fake Paul in the band

A Wizard, A True Star – Todd Rundgren (1973)

wtsTodd Rundgren himself admitted that he had not smoked marijuana until the time that he wrote and recorded 1972’s Something/Anything, a wonderful album of pop songs and ballads.  Record executives were drooling for the next “I Saw the Light,” and “Hello, It’s Me” to hit the pop charts.  What they didn’t know is that the 24 year-old Rundgren was dropping LSD, and experimenting with synthesizers and multi-tracking.  With unlimited studio time, Rundgren recorded most of the album by himself, packing in twelve songs on side A, and seven on side B, creating a masterpiece of hallucinogenic, prog pop that didn’t take itself too seriously. 

Todd is seeing double

Todd is seeing double

Exile on Main Street – the Rolling Stones (1972)

exileWhen the Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main Street, they could not have been more famous, rich and decadent.  Recorded in a villa that Keith Richards had rented in the south of France, the band was enjoying their earnings and their freedom from their former management.  The mansion was party central, and great quantities of heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and cannabis were abundant throughout the sessions, resulting in one of the greatest double albums of all time.

Mick and Keef livin' the dream

Mick and Keef livin’ the dream

Junkyard – The Birthday Party (1982)

junkyardFrustrated with the music business, and barely hanging together as a group, the Birthday Party went into the studio reeking of anger.  The band had been reduced to fighting their audience and each other onstage, bassist Tracy Pew got arrested for drunk driving and was thrown in jail for two months, and singer Nick Cave was shooting heroin.  All the violence, anger and abuse rose to a head like a zit on a teenager’s face.   

Play nice boys, play nice

Play nice boys, play nice

Helpful Tips for Visiting California

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Driving in California

Unless it is posted otherwise, U-turns are legal in California

U-turn-permitted-cropped

It is legal to pass on the right in California, so always check before changing lanes.

Drive with the traffic.  Hence the saying, “When driving on I-80, drive 80.”

When you are near your off ramp, take action to get into the exit lane immediately.

Expect bumper-to-bumper traffic when driving in the Napa Valley on a weekend.

If you are driving on a mountainous road and a speed limit sign says “Curve 40 M.P.H.,” believe it.

If you are driving on a two lane rural highway, and there someone tailgating you, pull over and let them by.  It is either a local who is late for work, or a tweaker, who is also late for work.  It’s hard to tell. tweeker

You will notice some amazing motor vehicles while you are in California.  On any sunny day, you’ll see antiques, low-riders, customs, and rare foreign sports cars.  A car nut buddy of mine came to visit and he would stick his head out the car window like a dog to ogle a car, which would usually result in the driver asking him, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”  It is okay to look and admire, be sure to make eye contact with the driver and nod.

Overall, Californians are fine drivers.   Road rage has virtually disappeared in California since 2012.  Not that it doesn’t happen; – there are jerks everywhere, but keep in mind that in a state with over 30 million residents, we have more rednecks than most states have people. In case you are faced with road rage, here is a tip: Admit that are a jerk, idiot, or asshole.   This pretty much works 100% of the time.  They can’t argue if you don’t.  Sometimes I’ll mouth the word “sorry.”  That usually works too.

Driving in L.A.

Do not be afraid of Los Angeles.  It is truly one of the great cities of the world.  It is a friendly city too.  And the street traffic is not that bad at all

There is a stereotype about Los Angeles traffic.  Considering the size of LA, it really isn’t bad.  In China they have traffic jams that last a week.  You’ll see some bad driving, but keep in mind, that driver may just be visiting like you are.

a Chinese traffic jam in 2013

a Chinese traffic jam in 2013

Driving in San Francisco

There are only four kinds of drivers in San Francisco:

1        Working people in pickup trucks,

2        Clueless tourists driving rented cars

3        Cab drivers

4        Super-rich people driving expensive cars  with the look of disgust on their faces.

Driving in the San Francisco Bay Area is a harrowing experience.  Everyone is rude on the freeways, and they drive as if it were a competition.   When driving in the city of San Francisco just expect that you will be in a fender bender, and you will have a relatively stress-free driving experience.

San Francisco aka the City

San Francisco aka the City

If you are driving a manual transmission car in San Francisco, good luck with that.   I have heard many stories about burning out a clutch on the upside of one of the many beautiful, car-lined streets that SF is made of.

Parking in San Francisco is very limited.  To avoid great frustration, it is often better to arrange your itinerary based on the first empty parking space that you find.  Write down where you parked and jump a tram, bus, cab or cable car.  Taxies are fairly cheap in SF, and the cabbies get you to where you are going very quickly

Helpful Tips about California

San Francisco is a city and a county.

The proper term is Asians, not Orientals.

Stockton resembles a Third-World County.

There are many Slavic immigrants in California._Fearless_Leader__thumb

Fresno is the dividing line between Northern and Southern California.

We have Sikh police officers, especially in the northern Sacramento Valley.

Los Angelinos really do go into great detail on the best way to get to somewhere.

There are a lot of Catholics in California.  Most of our cities are named after saints.

San Francisco is called, “The City” by most Northern Californians.  It is never, ever called “Frisco.”

It can be 40 degrees at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, and 70 degrees in North Beach on the other side of town at the same time.

The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento has recently tripled its size and it is currently the newest art museum in America.

Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is not a crime in California.  As long as you are not smoking while driving, which is treated as a DUI, the worst thing that can happen to you is that you will get a citation.

When out in the forest or wilderness, especially in Northern California, do not be nosey.  Mind your own business.  There are some places, like in the Trinity Alps area, that are ruled by illegal marijuana growers or meth manufacturers.

Never, under any circumstances make any derogatory remarks about Hispanics.

grandma

grandma

Even if you think that you are in a room full of Caucasians, African-Americans, or Asians, because almost every native Californian has Hispanic blood in them, usually their grandmother, and of course, she was a saint.

The San Joaquin Valley, (which is approximately south of Stockton and north of Bakersfield) is a primarily Spanish-speaking area, governed under a feudal system.  Rich corporate farmers and poor Spanish speaking workers are the inhabitants of the “Breadbasket of the World.”  If you want to see poverty in America, you have come to the right place.

You will notice that there is a usually a layer of smog in the San Joaquin Valley.  That’s because everything is powered by diesel fuel.  Tractors, semi-trucks, farm machinery, and generators belch choking exhaust in what should be should be fresh clean air, and even though the farmers could easily make bio-diesel from their own land, few do.

smell that fresh country air

smell that fresh country air

They blame the smog on the San Francisco Bay Area traffic.  Check out the great Spanish language radio stations that play everything from Ranchero to Cumbia to Mexican gangsta rap.

Remember, there is no place else on Earth where so many people, from so many different cultures, races and religions live together in relative harmony.  We also have the best food and drink in the world.

California Fruits, Flakes, and Nuts – True Tales of California Crazies, Crackpots and Creeps preorders available now

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ffn coverA freewheeling catalog of misfits, eccentrics, creeps, criminals, and failed dreamers, this compendium profiles 45 bizarre personalities who exemplify the Golden State’s well-deserved reputation for nonconformity. In the pages, Gold Rush pioneers are revealed as murderous madmen; Hollywood celebrities are shown to be drug-addled sex maniacs; early hippies are just 1950s weirdos; and even seemingly ordinary Californians have a talent for freakish, crazy, and criminal behavior. From frontier lunatic Grizzly Adams, whose head was one massive wound after multiple bear attacks, to I Love Lucy star William Frawley, a racist, misogynist, foul-mouthed drunk, and legendarily awful film director Ed Wood, California Fruits, Flakes, and Nuts is a side-splitting look at the people who made California the strangest place on earth.

The Assassination of Bugsy Siegel

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Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel grew up a poor Jew in the slums of Brooklyn. Everywhere he looked there was disease, poverty and crime.  The tough streets honed his body into a catlike creature, alert and responsive.  Before he was a teenager, young Ben ran extortion rackets in his neighborhood, demanding protection payments from street cart venders.  If the merchant didn’t pay up, their cart would mysteriously, or not so mysteriously, catch fire.

Siegel smiles for his mug shot in the 1920s

Siegel smiles for his mug shot in the 1920s

A handsome man who only wore the best and latest fashions, Siegel rose up the criminal underworld’s ladder.  Teaming up with the soon-to-be infamous mobster Meyer Lansky, the Bugs-Meyer mob stole cars for Lucky Luciano’s men to drive during crimes and ran gambling and bootlegging rackets in the Tri-State area. Lansky and Siegel also did their share of raiding warehouses and hijacking trucks.

No one ever called Siegel, “Bugsy” to his face.  His friends called him Ben.  Siegel was a hothead, always ready to solve disagreements with beating. He also had no qualms about murder.  Siegel was a professional— he always made sure to puncture his victim’s stomachs with a long knife, so that when the victim started decomposing, the gas would escape through the wounds and the body wouldn’t float to the surface.  Siegel was known to have murdered mobsters Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Tony Fabrizzo, Waxey Gordon, Charles “Chink” Sherman, Bo Weinberg, Joey Amberg, Louis Amberg, Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg and Whitey Krakower.  Only Siegel knew how many people that he actually murdered.

Bugsy Siegel getting some water during a break in one of his many trials

Bugsy Siegel getting some water during a break in one of his many trials

Siegel was part of the hit team that whacked the old-school New York mafia Dons Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano in 1931.  Getting rid of the two men effectively ended the rule of the Mustache Petes’ and brought the Mafia into the modern era. Known as “The Syndicate,” the East coast crime families agreed to cooperate with each other and expand their territories to Florida and the western states.  Along with Lansky, Siegel co-founded Murder Inc, which supplied mob families with made-to-order hit men, ready to travel anywhere to quietly kill enemies of the Syndicate. This was the greatest era of expansion for organized crime, and it would be thirty years before the U.S. Justice Department cracked down on the mob during the Kennedy administration.

Ironically, Siegel was a charming man who moved easily in high society.   He was as comfortable with politicians and celebrities as he was with hookers and drug pushers. Siegel was the Syndicate’s ambassador.  He was the go-to guy to grease the gears of city halls and zoning boards around the eastern seaborne.

Siegel was quite the sharp dresser

Siegel was quite the sharp dresser

Siegel was a hands-on kind of mob boss.  He loved working over a deadbeat or shooting a double-crosser.  Eventually, though, he made too many enemies among the various rival gangsters. In 1937, the Syndicate decided that it would be wise to send Bugsy to California to keep him out of harm’s way and to shore up the rackets headed by L.A. crime boss Jack Dragna.

In California, Siegel set up a national wire service to connect Dragna’s gambling dens and bookie parlors to the rest of the country.  It made enormous profits for the Syndicate.  He also muscled in on Dragna’s drug, extortion and numbers rackets in Los Angeles. Because Siegel had the blessing of the Syndicate, Dragna had only two choices: comply or die. Dragna wisely complied.

Siegel rented a thirty-five-room mansion in Beverley Hills and looked up his childhood buddy, now movie star, George Raft.  Raft introduced him to Hollywood royalty.  Siegel’s charm and fashion sense fit right in with the Hollywood crowd and he was soon hobnobbing with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper and dozens of others show business fixtures.  Siegel threw extravagant parties and spent as much as $10,000 a day at the Santa Anita Rack Track.  He puzzlingly almost always won.  He dated a string of starlets, even though he had moved his wife and children to Los Angeles.

Countess Dorothy Dendice Taylor diFrasso fell madly in love with Siegel and introduced him to movie moguls Jack Warner, Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer.  Siegel later extorted money from those producers and their studios.  Later, on a trip to Italy, the countess allegedly introduced Siegel to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and Hitler henchmen Herman Goering and Dr. Joseph Goebbles.  Siegel was so disgusted by the Nazis that he allegedly had to be talked out of murdering them by the Countess.

Through Virginia Hill, an aspiring starlet and mob money launderer, Siegel made Mexican connections and set up a heroin and opium smuggling operation that distributed dope throughout the United States.  This action marked the beginning of the drug trade on the West Coast. Hill was the love of Siegel’s sordid life. Although he was married and had constant affairs, he always went back to Hill’s bed.

Gun Moll Virginia Hill, Siegel's mistress

Gun Moll Virginia Hill, Siegel’s mistress

The laid-back West Coast atmosphere didn’t change Siegel.  He was still a hands-on mobster.  He would go to a Hollywood premiere or out nightclubbing with the stars, only to excuse himself to torture or kill an underworld figure who had fallen out of the graces of the Syndicate.   Siegel made the most of his knowledge of the vices of the rich and famous, blackmailing them to keep their dirty laundry hidden.

Siegel financed a posh gambling ship, The Rex, which anchored twelve-miles off the coast, just beyond the United States boundary.  It was because of this investment that Siegel got the idea of starting a casino in a small, dusty desert hamlet – known by most people in Nevada as a lonely railroad tank town -Las Vegas.

Taking advantage of Nevada’s lax gambling and prostitution laws and using three million dollars of the Syndicate’s money, Siegel built The Flamingo Hotel in the little town and, in essence, put Las Vegas on the map.

The first few months were rough for The Flamingo.  Hordes of gamblers didn’t head out to the luxurious hotel right away, and the place was losing money.  Siegel needed more money to promote his venture.  He hired the biggest entertainers of the day, many who were repaying favors to Siegel, to perform at The Flamingo.  His Hollywood pals followed suit, traveling to Las Vegas for nights of wild partying, making the once sleepy tank town a fashionable place to be and be seen.

But the money wasn’t coming in fast enough for the Syndicate and the boys back east felt like they had financed Siegel’s personal playroom.  Mob boss Lucky Luciano called Siegel to Havana, Cuba, where Luciano was secretly living after being deported from the United States, to ask for his investment back.  Siegel getting too big for his own good and, believing that he was an equal to the powerful Luciano, told his old pal to “go to hell.” In true Godfather fashion, Luciano didn’t say a word and Siegel went back to the west coast and what he thought was his personal criminal fiefdom.

Luciano called Siegel’s mentor and old business partner Meyer Lansky, telling him that it was time for Bugsy to go and there would be no discussion of the matter.  Allegedly, Lansky called his old friend and begged him to pay Luciano and apologize for his disrespect.  Siegel ignored his old partner.

On June 20, 1947, Siegel was reading a newspaper in Virginia Hill’s extravagant Beverly Hills home when someone fired three shots from a 30.30 rifle through a window, killing the mobster immediately.

Benjamin Siegel laying in a bloody heap in Virginia Hill's living room.

Benjamin Siegel laying in a bloody heap in Virginia Hill’s living room.

Hill was “vacationing” in Europe at the time and Bugsy’s bodyguard just happened to leave the room when he was shot.

Only Siegel’s immediate family showed up for his funeral.  His Hollywood friends, including George Raft, stayed away. The man who founded America’s adult playground was put in his crypt with a mere five people in attendance.

Assassination in Germantown – May 5, 1878 – Germantown / Artois, Colusa County

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We don’t know much about Christian Mutschler, but what we do know is that he wasn’t a very intelligent man. The Germantown blacksmith also made poor choices in his friends.

On May 5, 1878, Mutschler (also spelled Mutchler), along with two of his buddies, John Kelley and Henry Holmes, had words with a saloonkeeper named Hageman. Mutschler, who was mentally the slowest member of the group and had been known to light fires, was persuaded by Kelley and Holmes—along with W. Hagaman, F. Todt, Charles Hansen and Carl Regensberger—to collect a sack of wood shavings to light on fire in Hageman’s saloon. They figured they’d all get a good laugh by stinking up the place.

Artois is now basically an abandoned town

Artois is now basically an abandoned town

Inside the saloon, Mutschler’s buddies gave him the signal to torch the shavings. As he lit the bag, a couple of no-nonsense cowboys pulled out their pistols and shot Mutschler in the leg.

Brought before Germantown’s Justice of the Peace, named in the press only as Boardman, Mutschler was charged with arson. No charges were brought against the cowboys, it being perfectly legal in California to shoot someone committing a prank in a drinking establishment. But since no one would testify against Mutschler, Boardman released him.

Mutschler may have been stupid, but he was smart enough to know that it was a good time to leave Germantown. The blacksmith started limping in the hot spring sun toward Orland. He had to walk because all of the stage drivers leaving Germantown were told not to give him a ride. Mutschler was being set up.

Another abandoned business in Artois.

Another abandoned business in Artois.

Justice in California functioned in baffling ways back in 1878. For some reason, Mutschler’s friend, John Kelley swore out a warrant on Mutschler for threatening his life. A deputy was sent up the road toward Orland to apprehend the wounded and hapless Mutschler. He was placed under arrest until he could make his thousand-dollar bond, which was quite impossible for a humble blacksmith.

Mutschler was put in the protective custody of Constable William McLane, who also owned a Germantown saloon. Since Germantown had no jail, McLane housed the blacksmith in his bar for the night. It proved a bad idea because sometime during the night, a group of twelve to fourteen masked men broke down the door to McLane’s saloon. They grabbed Mutschler, took him some 250 to 300 yards out of town and shot him to death.

Mutschler’s friends, Holmes, Kelley, Hansen, Regensberger, and R. Radcliff were all arrested in the investigation. Constable McLane apparently wasn’t suspected of dereliction of duty or wrongdoing. Hageman, Todt, and Oscar Scholtz were taken to Willows for examination and held on $10,000 bail, which they immediately paid.

According to the testimony of Constable McLane, the masked men broke down the door to his saloon and pointed their pistols at the officer. They took Mutschler away and ten minutes later, McLane heard the fatal shots.

John Kelley testified that he was asleep when the “jailbreak” occurred. Under oath, Kelley stated that although there was never any difficulty between him and the victim, Mutschler had on one occasion made direct threats against Kelley’s life if he revealed certain secrets that they shared.

Radcliffe, Regensberger, Holmes, Kelley, and Hauser were brought before Judge A. Caraloff at Willows and after four days of examination, were charged with murder. The men hired the attorneys A.L. Hart of Colusa and General Lewis of Tehama and pled not guilty. The men were released to the custody of the Sheriff of Colusa County but were later released by Judge Keyser on an $8,000 bail.

Mutschler’s brother Ludwig hired R.B. Hall, a private detective from San Francisco, to investigate the murder and found evidence that the men had threatened Mutschler’s life and had been overheard saying so. The men also tried to get several other Germantown men to join their lynching party.

On August 31, 1878, the Colusa Sun reported, “These cases are going to cost the county an immense amount of money at best, and when we see it needlessly squandered, we feel that it is time to put in a protest.” Legal charges made by detective Hall would have the Sun add that “if smart San Francisco detectives must do anything, let them hunt up evidence, and not undertake to put the county to so much expense for nothing.”

California Governor William Irwin offered a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of any of the assassins, but no one was ever awarded the money.

The trial of “People vs. John Kelley, H.P. Holmes, Carl Regensberger, R. Radcliff, and C. Hansen” was initially set for September 18th but later postponed to December 14, 1878. On December 7th, the District Court dropped the charges against all parties indicted for the killing of Mutschler “for the reason that important witnesses for the people cannot be found.”

Artois was known as Germantown, until the US got involved in WWI.  Allegedly, a trainload of soldiers rode to Germantown and beat up the locals.  The town's name was changed to Artois shortly after that

Artois was known as Germantown, until the US got involved in WWI. Allegedly, a trainload of soldiers rode to Germantown and beat up the locals. The town’s name was changed to Artois shortly after that

Whether because of his mental handicap or penchant for starting fires, Mutschler obviously wasn’t a very popular person in Germantown. Perhaps he was murdered because he knew something that he wasn’t suppose to know, but we’ll never know. Being a blacksmith, Mutschler may have been hired to make incriminating paraphernalia for outlaws, like burglary tools and irons to change brands. The townspeople may have just been tired of him lighting fires in the dry Sacramento Valley where an entire town could turn into ashes in minutes.

During World War I, there were very strong anti-German feelings throughout many parts of the country and many German named towns across America were renamed. The U.S. Post Office discontinued the local Germantown name and adopted Artois on May 21, 1918.