Chapter 4 - LA LA Land - Take 1
Summer of 69 college had come to an end. I had no prospects for another record deal in LA, although Frank Slay (Yankee Dollar Producer) invited me to drop by his production office when I got to town. My family was now living in Anaheim. My Dad had taken a job running a travel division for a bank in Orange country. He seemed a lot happier.
I remember coming home for a few days and at some point my Dad engaged me in one of those “what are you going to with your life” conversations. He had been very supportive of my music ambitions during college, but for some reason the tone of his inquiry drifted back to earlier conversations where I felt like I was being interrogated.
I was surprised that I had to say it, but the answer to his question was... I was going to continue pursuing my rock and roll fantasies and creating stories as a songwriter. He kind of made a face and grumbled something about “getting serious” about my life. I could feel where this was going. For some reason he apparently felt that the Yankee Dollar adventure had been a college diversion and now I was supposed to get serious about life, whatever that meant.
Instead of getting angry, I said one of the few things I ever said to him that resulted in the conversation shifting. I told him for years he had dogged me about being something else than I was. It wasn’t direct, but it felt implied that I did not have his approval. So this time I said, “I’ve heard your complaints about me for a while. You tell me who I should be that you would approve of. A doctor, lawyer etc.”
The question kind of stumped him and he fell quiet. After a moment, to his credit he said… “I just want you to be happy” I looked right at him and quietly said “I am.” I had no idea if pursuing music was going to work out, but this was the time to find out before I got into what life offered later. That seemed to end the conversation … forever. I never felt like I had disappointed him again. It was a defining moment for me. Now, what might have happened if I had not had a hit song 18 months later I don’t know, but I prefer to think we settled it. Certainly by the time he died 10 years later, there was no question that I felt loved and approved of by him.
Towards the end of senior year Anita had come back into the picture as a friend mostly. I told her I needed a job in LA while I pulled myself together. Her father knew the head of hiring at Universal Studios and connected me. I said I would do anything. I guess they took me at my word, because they put me in tours. (Not on the studio lot)
Universal had pioneered this idea of taking tourists around the studio. In the beginning it had been kind of real, but as more tourists showed up the folks making films and TV complained, so they set aside an area of the lot that was just for tours. Tourists would occasionally see a movie star, but most of it was fake.
They eventually put me in the camera shop of the Tour Plaza, a fake street full of souvenir shops at the end of the tour. The camera shop sold film (remember there were still film cameras in those days) and occasionally offered tourists help with their cameras. Not knowing much about cameras I faked it.
My most terrifying moment was when a family came in with a 35mm camera they had borrowed for their vacation and asked me to unload it. I would put in a black bag, pop the back and roll the film into the canister. More than once as I popped the back I felt the film shoot out of the camera into the bag. They had obviously loaded it wrong. I stood there with my hands in the bag trying to figure out a way to tell them they had no pictures from their trip.
One of the great things about the camera shop was that it wasn’t very busy so I would write song lyrics between customers. I had quite a download at that point that eventually formed the core of the songs for the Sweet Pain album.
The other landmark moment in the camera shop was July 20, 1969, the landing on the moon. I smuggled a TV into the shop against regulations and set it up at one end of the counter. The shop gradually filled up as everyone wanted to witness this moment in history. It’s one of those “where were you” moments for us boomers.
The summer drifted by. I was totally bored so I called HR and asked if there was anything actually on the lot. There was one opening in the mail room at the base of the iconic Universal Studios black tower.
In those days (pre-internet) all mail was paper, packages and postage. Everything the studio ran on, schedules, contracts etc. all came through the mailroom. The other rumored tradition was that Lew Wasserman, then the head of the studio, had started in the mailroom, so we jokingly called the mailroom the Executive Training Program.
Here’s the kicker. Because some of the mail routes went up into the executive offices in the black tower we all had to wear suits and ties. Mail, particularly packages, are incredibility dirty, so we would literally have ink up to the elbows of our dress shirts. The most fun was getting one of the back lot routes because they gave you this golf cart to zip around in. We regularly passed the tour trams with everyone straining to see if we were someone famous and sometimes we waved as if we were.
The other unwritten tradition of the mailroom is that you didn’t mess with us. Even though we were the low rung on the totem pole, if anyone came back from a route and said someone (usually a secretary) had been rude or worse, we would simply “lose” their mail for a few days. Panic calls would come in about some contract or document and we would just smile and say, we will get right on it. Our Christmas gifts from everyone were nice as well.
In 1969, Universal Studios still had remnants of the old studio system. Famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock had offices on the lot. One time I actually handed the man his mail and he grunted.
Writers also had bungalows and TV actors like Raymond Burr of Perry Mason fame had dressing rooms. One time I walked in expecting to find Perry Mason and instead Raymond was dressed as a woman. I backed out as fast as I could.
The point of the mail room was that it was supposed to get you around the lot to talk to people and move up from there. The mail room was filled with guys with film degrees. My music aspirations didn’t mean much because they only occasionally recorded movie scores on the lot, but for the film guys it was a chance to meet people.
As I walked in my first day I was greeted by a tall, energetic man who said to me.. “turn around, walk away and don’t look back”. This encounter began a long friendship with Herb Wright who eventually went on to write and produce for Star Trek. More about our escapades later.
The last thing I will say about the “tower” story is this. Every now and then we would get a call from Jules Stein’s office on the 14th floor of the tower. Stein was one of the original founders of Universal and kept a full suite at the top of the black tower. It was so private the elevator did not go there. Occasionally they needed some help with something and they would call down. The one of us with the cleanest suit would go. You would ride the elevator to the 14th floor and then walk up this grand spiral staircase to the private floor. It really was like something out of a 30s or 40s movie.
When I got the job in the mail room I had to move to be nearer the studio. Herb and his wife Elaine (who was an TV actress of note) offered me a couch and eventually I got my own unit in these 40ish Hollywood bungalows.
In four months I had a job, a place to live, was writing songs, but was incredibly lonely. I had friends from work, but no real community. I missed not being in a band. If you are not working inside the entertainment business, LA is a depressing place to be. Occasionally, I would run back up to San Luis Obispo for playtime, but mostly I kept to myself writing.
Finally, I had enough and visited Frank Slay as he had offered. Frank was very supportive. In addition to being a record producer, he had a music publishing company called Claridge Publishing. That is where the real money was made in music. Owning copyrights of hits. Here is a picture of a young Frank with Dick Clark.
Frank collected wayward writers like me and paid us just enough to live on to write songs for him. We would sit around his office and some request would come in from an established artist looking for a song like X. It was a little like being in school. We would throw together music and lyrics and record a demo in a small two track studio in the back of Franks building almost every week. Here's an example of one. A country western song I wrote called... "The Last Picture Show." Can't remember which artist it was for.
Occasionally, other writer’s demos would come into Frank’s office. I remember listening to Carole King before she was a record artist. The sound of her song demos was unique even in those days and would later translate into an incredible career as a performer. One of the things about the two track demo studio was that it was available to us. We would rush through doing the song demo and then play around with our own stuff. The goal was to get our own record deals. I certainly wanted to be a band again.
Two of the writers I met and hung out with at Franks were Jerry Corbetta and JC Philips.
Jerry was an extraordinary jazz pianist by training, a child prodigy and JC was a good lyric writer. I could write both music and lyrics. After attending the “song writing school” for some months, all three of us got record deals. Me and JC with Sweet Pain at United Artists and Jerry with Sugarloaf at Liberty Records.
There was no magic to these groups forming. Many of the musicians in LA made a living as studio players so there was always talent around we could jam with. Sugarloaf was formed of studio players and never went out on the road until “Green Eyed Lady” topped the charts. Both Sweet Pain and Sugarloaf were recording our albums in the same recording studio complex when one of those moments happened that changed my young life.
Green Eyed Lady (GEL)
When we were on break from our Sweet Pain recording sessions, we would go over to see how Jerry was doing. Sugarloaf’s album was almost finished. It had a jazz-rock orientation because of the way Jerry wrote and played. A very unique sound for the time.
Jerry was bummed out one day when we went to visit. He said they had a good album, but no AM radio single. The record company was pressuring him for one. At that moment, Jerry, JC and me did something that we had been doing for a year. We asked him if he had any music ideas. Jerry was brilliant at coming up with these memorable musical hooks. He went to his piano and played us the eight bar stanza that would become the signature opening of GEL. We went wow… We asked if he had any bridge sections and he again rattled off something. We literally put the music track together in about 15 minutes. We liked it, but we didn’t think it was that different from the usual way we wrote. People have often asked if there was a religious moment when GEL downloaded and I have always said, not really. We had developed the skills and were in the right place at the right time. Usually, in my experience, that's how things mostly happen.
Jerry asked if we had any lyrics. I had been working on some about a mysterious girl walking by the ocean. Jerry said he and the band would record the track and we were to finish the lyrics and meet back at the studio in a couple of hours. As JC and I finished the lyrics I christened the mysterious woman... “green eyed lady.” Only one in my life was Anita. She was the inspiration.
When we walked back into the studio some time later we found the GEL “track” was not 3 minutes long (AM single length) but 5 minutes plus. Jerry had come up with this amazing organ solo in the middle of the track as they jammed. He looked at us sheepishly and said “sorry.” We asked if he still wanted the lyrics. He said yes and proceeded to put them on the beginning and the end, with the instrumental jam in the middle. We all liked the result, but didn’t think much of it… really. The first sign that GEL was something special was when the record company heard it and insisted that it be the first cut on the album.
The Sugarloaf album released with the long version of GEL and it immediately became a much played song on FM radio. It was on all the time. I’d had songs on the radio before, but not like this. Everywhere it went on FM playlists the same thing happened. The record company soon insisted we cut the 5+ minute track to AM radio single length.
We proceeded to get to work. Everyone wanted to protect something they had contributed. The lyrics and the basic track we had created were not the issue because you had to have those, but all the other solos in the long cut needed to be majorly edited. We tried for a month. There were many versions, but none of them lit us up. The record company finally threatened to do it themselves when we got a strange call. A disc jockey in Texas had called Franks office and said he had heard we were trying to cut the long track into a single. He said he had done it. We said… right, but he sent it anyway and when we all heard it, we realized that was it.
Even though the long version of the record was getting lots of FM airplay, the single version started slowly on AM radio on the west coast. It kept getting played in secondary markets and always going to number 1#. It finally broke through in Seattle, a major market watched by the industry. Then it just took off. It got played everywhere in the west and gradually worked its way east. It was off the charts in the west before it hit in the east, but that meant lots of weeks on the national charts and big sales. Here, my dream was coming true of having a big hit song, but in some weird way I got a bit tired of all the attention. It’s all any of my friends wanted to talk about. Seriously.
One Saturday my Dad called and I started whining. He had become my biggest source of information about the song, following it on the Billboard charts.
I would call in to Frank’s office each week to see if it went up, half expecting it to stall like YD’s Sanctuary did, but each week it kept going up. Everywhere it played it went to number 1 as it competed on the national charts with the Beatles etc. . Our little song. The video above presents the top 50 songs of 1970. GEL is number 30. Watch the Billboard video to see the other songs that GEL was included with. It's quite a list of classic songs. It was an honor to have GEL included with those hit songs. GEL is at: 1:50:56 in the video.
Anyway, my Dad suggested I come over to his house and watch the football game. I thought it would be a nice break. At half time the Stanford band marched out on the field and played it. I screamed. My favorite college band of all time was playing something I co-wrote. Go figure.
Jerry very quickly put a band together to go on the road. Our Sweet Pain album was released at roughly the same time and it did well enough that we moved up the concert food chain to the second act right before the head liners. Sometimes we played with Sugarloaf and just marveled at how this had all happened.
You can listen to the Sugarloaf GEL hit and my acoustic version of GEL recorded with my friend Carl Johnson as I was trying to work out the lyrics against the music track. Click here.
Green Eyed Lady Forever
The amazing thing about the experience of having a number #1 hit record, particularly one like Green Eyed Lady that was popular for such a long time, is that it continues to play on radio forever. Here we are 50 years later and I still hear it. The longevity of this creation has been amazing to me.
Over the years as I moved away from the music business, the only news I would get about the song was through my royalty statements. Every now and then, royalties would spike up and I would call Jerry to see if he knew what happened. Here are two of the many crazy stories of the song continuing to resonate.
Story 1: Dwight Yoakum, the country music pioneer, was on the Tonight show with Johnny Carson.
Johnny asked him what his musical influences were expecting them to be country. Dwight said he was actually more influenced by rock music and mentioned “Green Eyed Lady” as one of his favorites. When they went to commercial break, Doc Henderson, the famed bandleader on the show, played the first eight bars of GEL. Apparently, he liked how it worked so much so that they put it into rotation on the Tonight show for about 6 months. Each time they played that clip, we got a very nice television royalty. Thank you Dwight and Doc. The other story was much later.
Story 2: We had moved to Whidbey Island in 1998 and one night Matt and I went to the video story to get a movie to watch. The only one he wanted was Home Alone 3.
Begrudging, I agreed and we took it home. About half way through it I fell into a light sleep on the coach. As I was in a semi-conscious state when I heard a parrot singing “Green Eyed Lady.” I thought I was dreaming. By the time I woke up the moment had passed. I asked Matt to rewind the tape back a few minutes. In the movie, the kid set a trap in the shower for the bad guys. The scene was designed to be a takeoff on the famous shower scene in "Psycho." The kid put a parrot in the shower to lure the bad guys into the trap. The song that the parrot was singing was Green Eyed Lady. It was bizarre. I never did find out why some music director for the film chose GEL for that moment, but the song royalties for a film use like that are sweet.
In the same year (1970) that Green Eyed Lady became a number #1 hit I marveled as it climbed the charts that our little song was competing with the likes of "The Long And Winding Road" by the Beatles for the number 1 spot. That song was also their last hit single before the news came. They were officially breaking up. The title of that last flicker seemed to say it all.
The Beatles are considered the most influential rock band of all time. Their split changed the music scene at the start of the 1970s and traumatized fans all around the world. The Beatles’ break up was sparked by a number of factors, including the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, in 1967, the domineering nature of Paul McCartney, the strain that Beatlemania put on the group, and the use of heroin by John Lennon along with his relationship with Yoko Ono.
During the second half of the band’s career, it was clear that the members were beginning to express individual styles, causing some arguments about the direction of their music. After Lennon informed his fellow band members privately that he wanted to leave the band in 1969, it was on April 10, 1970 that Paul McCartney stated he was no longer working with the band in a public press release. McCartney’s statement worsened relations between him and the rest of the band, and sparked a widespread media reaction. Due to legal reasons, the official split-up of the band was not finalized until 1974.
The Beatles were a pioneering band in so many ways. They were central to the development of 1960s counterculture, as well as achieving recognition of the popular music as an art form. They revolutionized areas of the music industry and were considered leaders of the youth and socio-cultural movements of the decade, making their split a significant ‘end-of-an-era’ in music.
Their songs voiced what we all were experiencing about five minutes before we became aware of it. All three songwriters, John, Paul and George tapped deeply into the zeitgeist. They certainly were one of my major influences. Even though towards the end they were writing separately, there was something about them recording as the Beatles that for me always topped what they would create individually after that with the exception of Lennon's "Imagine" or Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." Truly the end of an era.
Sweet Pain – On the road
The dream of any rock and roll musician in the 70’s was to make records and go on tour. It wasn’t enough to have the record labels promote the record. The band needed to go on the road to markets where the record was either playing on the radio or was close to being added. However, before we head out into those stories, I wanted to say a little bit about how the music I was creating evolved from the days of me first singing folk music to the Yankee Dollar. YD had a late sixties pop psychedelic sound. When I listen to my voice now it was young, open, very much like an extension of the first voice I found when Mark and I were playing folk music. Frank liked my voice that way for some reason, so YD as I listen to it now, sounds like a version of my first "folk music" voice.
But I also had this rock and roll voice in me as well. So when Sweet Pain formed I punched it up and really expanded the range of my singing. If you listen to the SP singles in the "body of work" music section, you will hear this more powerful, gravely, r&r voice that I marvel at these days. That voice took a lot of work and practice to develop both in terms or range and power. It’s not something I can do now.
I really enjoyed it, but later when my more personal albums emerged, I went back to a more folk/pop tone that was actually closer to my natural voice, such as it was.
I never considered myself a great singer. I worked hard at it and loved harmonizing with others, but the real blessing in singing for me was expressing out loud some of what was going on with me at the time. After my career came to an end I kept a couple of my favorite guitars out of the many I had then. An acoustic (Gibson Hummingbird) an electric, (Gibson Standard) and the stage acoustic (Ovation) with its weird fiberglass rounded back. I would put them away for long stretches of time but when I did get them out, I realized how much I love playing and singing and wondered why I didn’t do it more often.
The simple "Wolf Tales - Howling at the Moon" recordings originally showed up in 2001-3 as a kind of a swan song for me as a writer and singer.
My voice on Wolf Tales had matured to a point it felt more authentic. Those songs were a final collection of what I originally loved about expressing myself that way. Just me and my guitar.
The LA Venues
Being a LA band, Sweet Pain played all the club venues in Hollywood and the surrounding communities. This included the infamous ones. The Whisky a Go-Go... named for when it opened with actual female go-go dancers in cages suspended above the dance floor.
By the time we played there the Go-Go cages were gone. The Whisky was the pre-imminent rock and roll club in LA. Loud, smoky and crazy. To give you an idea of how crazy, the Doors were the house band for a while. As the story goes Jim Morrison would sing with his back to the audience. The club was also home to folks that showed up in costume or some alter ego. Usually drug fueled. Backstage was the typical gathering of musicians, hanger-on’s and record executives.
The Troubadour was the other showcase club. It featured rock bands playing semi-acoustic sets.
Sweet Pain could go either way so we really enjoyed the calmer atmosphere of the Troubadour. Both the Whiskey and the Troubadour were considered “showcase” venues. That meant that record executives would come to check out the up and comers for potential record contracts. Lots of deals were done on a handshake in the darkened halls backstage or out in the parking lots behind the clubs.
In the seventies, there was also a string of other clubs scattered around the LA basin. Places like the Ice House in Pasadena or the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach.
When we were in town we liked to play the clubs to try out new material. My favorite Ice House story was meeting the comic George Carlin.
The Ice House in addition to featuring acoustic music acts offered slots to comics. George had been a fairly straight standup comedian in the 50’s. He’d had success, appeared on the Ed Sullivan show etc. but as times changed, something new emerged in him. George was using his Ice House sessions to try out this newer, edgier material that later he would became famous for, like “The 7 words you can’t say on television.”
By chance we were booked on the same night as he was. Backstage he was really nervous about his new material being any good. It was a big departure from his regular stand up at the time. He went out that night and slayed them. Backstage we were on the floor in tears we were laughing so hard. He came off still not convinced it had gone well. After that the rest was history. He became one of the most influential comics of our generation.
Another reason I liked the small clubs so much is that they were intimate venues as opposed to big impersonal concerts. We musicians would hang around backstage and talk. We shared these envions with the likes of Chicago, Linda Ronstadt, Traffic etc.
Sweet Pain on the road meant endless gigs of all types, interviews with radio stations and all the hi-jinks of the road that was fun for a while until it became old. The time you actually spend on stage playing was a fraction of the overall schedule. The rest of it was traveling, hotels, endless waiting for the next gig and wild after concert parties. We experienced some of the wildest scenes at these parties in the mid-west. Way more there that the west coast. They were some radical imitation of what mid-westerners thought was happening on the coasts. Some nights you just had to wonder…
Part of the rock and roll lifestyle included the groupies of course. When we traveled we would do what they called "radial" booking. We would fly into a major market, play one night in the big city and then drive to all the secondary markets around it. These tours could last a couple weeks.
One of the jobs of our roadies, was to manage the flow of women to the backstage area. Young women would show up and for whatever reason try to get close. The best of them we invited backstage. The only problem with playing events in a circle of 100 miles is that women from each stop would show up at the last concert on the tour. Many a moment ensued that I am not proud now, but it was part of the drill. Not a great time to have a girlfriend back home or be married, but some of us did anyway. J.C Phillips, one of the singers in Sweet Pain, was gay. At the time this was still against the law in some places and it certainly wasn’t something you advertised. We used to joke that JC got more “action” on the road hanging out with his “nephews” than any of us.
Social life around Sweet Pain was varied. We all lived at Seal Beach about 30 minutes south of Hollywood. When we were home or not recording we would go to the beach and enjoy the pleasures of the SoCal lifestyle. Some band members had wives, most of us had live in girlfriends like my Linda Brown.
Linda was the sister of one of our recording engineers. She was such an archetype for the times. A beautiful, free spirited woman who loved music.
Unfortunately, she had to endure me and all the road hijinks I would get involved in. Eventually she had the good sense to move out at some point and I experienced my first real “broken” heart. You would think I wouldn’t have cared, but something about her leaving triggered some deep wounding in me about being left. It was a sobering experience for me and hopefully I learned something from it. But this primal wounding of mine was something that would plague me until I finally decided to deal with it in the nineties. I will save that story for later.
On a side note. Anita, my original college love, would show up unexpectedly sometimes at our concerts. We actually returned to Cal Poly to play a big concert. I remember looking off the stage and there she was. Tanned from living in Hawaii. She had her usual look of mischief on her face. Anita sampled a variety of lifestyles after college from navy girlfriend to cowgirl in Montana. But we had this thing occasionally, where we would meet up no matter what else what happening in our lives.
The music business in those days was much smaller than it became later. You could still make a bunch of money, but it was a much smaller community and as a result there was lots of cross influencing going on. We would run out when someone we liked released a new album to discover what new things they had tried. The best of them we included in what we were doing in our own way.
When the first Sweet Pain album came out we went out on the road to promote it. This took us all over the country from the Northwest to the Eastern seaboard and everywhere in between. In those early days music was really regional. What was known nationally was what was on the coasts, but in-between we would run into groups with big followings that those of us on the coasts had not heard of. I remember one night in Cleveland hearing the power trio Grand Funk Railroad play to thousands of people. We wondered who were these guys?
Some have asked why with such a big hit as Green Eyed Lady, we never followed it up. The reason was simple. When Jerry put Sugarloaf together and went out on the road, he really didn’t believe that the jazz rock sound he had created was that hip. He really wanted more of a rock and roll power band, so very soon after GEL he added a power guitar player to the group. This guy was really good and also wrote songs so by the time Sugarload recorded their second album, their sound had really changed.
For whatever reason, the singles after GEL with this new sound did not do that well. Jerry started to realize that Sugarloaf was not a power band, but jazz oriented and that was unique. Frank Slay pushed Jerry, JC and I to write a GEL follow up in that style and what emerged was “Mother Nature’s Wine,” pulled from some of my road trip memories thoough the Napa Valley and Yosemite. You can hear this record in the AM Singles section.
It fronted the next album, but by this time it was two years later.
It climbed to about 50 on the charts and then fell off. Whatever traction we got with GEL was over. What I learned was that it is hard sometimes to appreciate what you have in the moment, until it is gone. Sort of a mantra of life for many. I am not saying we would had a long run, but the jazz sound that Jerry created coupled with our storytelling was unique and could have been worked with, much to the enrichment of us all. Missed opportunities are a natural part of life, but going forward it raised my awareness about enjoying and appreciating what is happening in the moment, rather than living in some imagined future. It’s good to dream, but life works itself out in the present. When I realized that, it helped me grow up a bit.
Uncle Sam Wants You!
About two months after Green Eyed Lady became a hit I was touring with Sweet Pain when I got a draft notice in the mail. It was the end of 1970 and the Viet Nam war was in full swing.
Here is a link to an interview my step daughter, Claytie Mason did with me in 2014 where I talked about this experience in depth for the first time.
The Tet offensive in 1968 had convinced any sane person we were not going to win this war. It was one of the reasons not to go. What the Tet offensive revealed, among other things, is that the South Vietnam government had NOT won the hearts of their people. I didn’t have a college deferment anymore, but I was living this life of rock and roll and didn’t think about the war much as it related to me. Usually they were supposed to send you a notice to report for a physical before you would get an actual draft notice. This gave you six months to decide what you were going to do. But me, I got an actual draft notice out of nowhere. It turned out that the time I spent in ROTC at Poly (one year) included a physical, so technically I could be called. You can imagine me opening the notice and feeling my knees buckle.
By this time I had evolved from a kid that thought the military was kind of glamorous to understanding that war was a psychotic experience from hell. If you ask anyone who has ever actually been in combat, particularly ground combat, they will tell you that war should be the absolute last option in any crisis.
The lucky thing for me is that I wasn’t just a kid with no options. I was an artist with a very big record company, which at the time had a vested interest in me making records. I remember taking the notice to our executive at United Artists and saying “look what I got”. He didn’t freak out. He said he would send me to an outside lawyer that dealt with these things for company artists. Not to worry. Later, I walked into the office of that lawyer who at the time was not that much older than me. This began a two year odyssey with David Wood as my wing man that would change me in many ways.
In my life, I had always been able to walk away from things I didn’t like. Even with school, I always found a way to avoid the worst of it. This was different. It was the first time I had been faced with something that would not leave me alone. It was something I would have to step up to. David Wood was a member of a network of draft lawyers. The draft law was complicated and full of holes that entitled ones like me could exploit. Someone as smart as David had a field day. He originally said the same thing the record executive said. “Don’t worry, I will take care of this.”
What complicated matters was that I had actually received a real draft notice not a notice of a physical. Once received you can either enter the armed forces or you can refuse induction, which was a felony. The first draft notice included a date about three months off when I was supposed to report for duty in Oakland. Home of some of the biggest protests against the war.
The reason for Oakland was you signed up for the draft with your local draft board. So, growing up in Berkeley mine was in Oakland. David bought us some time by using loopholes in the law that allowed you to miss the induction date in Oakland if there was no way you could get there because you were in LA. We would send a letter stating this. This would buy us about two months as the letter made its way through the system. At the end of that time they would send another draft notice for Oakland and we would start all over again. We did this about three times.
However, this did not solve the problem. I kept getting more notices that we would respond to, but I remember feeling dread every time I looked in the mailbox. This was not something that was going away and the truth of it was I could end up a grunt in Vietnam or in prison.
I will never know whether the stress of all this caused what happened next. I woke up one morning with a searing pain in my back around the kidney area. It felt like someone was sticking a knife in me. I got to the doctor and he said I was having a kidney stone. This was an errant formation of calcium in the kidneys which made a real stone that would then try to make it out through the urinary track. It wasn’t supposed to do that, hence the searing pain. The only thing you could do was ride it out and it eventually passes or they have to do surgery. I remember the doctor telling me as I sat there in this pulsing pain, “the good news is they won’t take you into the army.”
Kidney stones are partially caused by stress and the Army couldn’t afford for you to get a stone in the middle of an attack. David, my lawyer, welcomed this news, got the documentation together and got ready for the next step. David had my California Senators, George Murphy and John Tunney, intervene of my behalf. (he had connections) . One was a Republican and one was a Democrat. They told the draft board I deserved a new physical based on the kidney stone incident .
It didn’t get the draft notice cancelled, but it allowed me to show them the documentation of my medical issue. So, off I went to the LA induction center to have a new physical. At the time the war was in full swing and they needed bodies to process. In a big center like LA they were processing 200 guys an hour. In some of the smaller centers it was way less.
I went through all the tests and ended up in front of a military doctor. He looked at my kidney stone info for just a moment and then said “your ok.” If this is really a problem they will kick you out during basic training AFTER you are in the service. He said I would get another induction notice in about a month. I walked out of the center shocked. David was surprised, but said he had other ideas so not to worry.
Those other ideas included working on a psychological deferment. If you could prove some depressive or anxiety malady, they would stamp you “crazy.” To that end, David sent me to a psychiatrist named Gene Landy. Gene was a Hollywood shrink, a doctor to the stars. When I met him the first time I thought he was nuts. It turned out he was what they called in those days a “radical” therapist that used all kinds of bizarre techniques to treat people, some of them controversial. I remember sitting in my first session with him when he took an emergency call from a patient threatening to commit suicide. He told them to go ahead and do it while he was on the phone. Years later Gene became semi-famous because he became Brian Wilson’s (Beach Boys) shrink. Gene actually got him out of his deep depressive sandbox and somewhat functioning but later he would try to convince Brian to give him half his royalties. It became a very public case and Gene was eventually thrown out of the therapy profession.
My “treatment” (and psychological deferment) was going to require a few days in a mental facility. He coached me on what to do. I was to go into a kind of a stupor on stage one night seemingly forgetting the lyrics, They would come and take me to this high priced mental facility for observation. He reasoned when the draft board saw this they would be convinced. And the interesting thing for me was that it wasn’t totally fake for me. I was beginning to feel the stress and I thought what’s a few days behind locked doors. Well, we would prove that notion was mistaken.
They put me in a room with a guy who didn’t sleep. He would suddenly yell out and the orderlies would come running. I didn’t sleep at all while I was there. Meal times were also fun when they let out the really crazy patients from the security ward. I would have sessions with the doctor and to this day I am not sure if he was in on it or not. I was gradually supposed to come out of my stupor and I would be discharged. On the second day some of the band came to visit and I was really happy to see them. My experience in those wards is that you gradually start feeling like you belong there, so I was relieved to go home. I had the documentation and David arranged for another physical. They didn’t even blink… they passed me again.
About the same time, Congress passed a new draft law that got rid of some of the loopholes that people like me were using. Our old ruse of not showing up would not work anymore. If you knew you could not get to your own induction center you were supposed to go to the one you were closest too. For me that was LA.
The other thing that happened is that they created a draft lottery. Your birthday was your lottery number. They drew tickets out of a bin. The first third chosen would automatically be called, the second third was a maybe and the final third not at all. I remember watching the lottery on television. I was really nervous. So, nervous I did not see my birthday pulled in the first third. For two days I walked around convinced I was in the last third. For my case however, with a still pending draft notice, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. David requested my file from the draft board. It was over 80 pages and it was clear they were tracking me. I was not going to get away.
So, it came down to a final act. David had one more dangerous idea. He had done everything he knew how to do including getting both California Senators to intervene on my behalf and it hadn't mattered. We were coming to end of a long trail. (Yes I had been playing and recording through all of this.)
David’s idea was to pick another induction center rather than LA or Oakland. He was a member of the draft lawyer network and they kept track of the number of guys that were inducted at each center every day. The big ones like LA and Oakland processed in the hundreds where others in small towns might do 10. David reasoned that my last stand could be at one of the smaller ones that might listen to my story.
The week of my draft induction date it came down to a center in Hawaii, two others in the East and one in Fairmont, West Virginia, a very small town in the Blue Ridge mountains.
We were playing in Cleveland that week and Fairmont was about a three and half hour drive to the south. I decided this was it. I had played pretty much by the rules. Now I was going to do anything not to go. The risk was that if they passed me I would be on a bus to Ft. Dix Georgia that night or I would have to refuse induction and be charged with a felony. High stakes, but I was so exhausted I was ready to get it done one way or another.
We finished up in Cleveland and I prepared to drive all night to get to Fairmont in the early morning. I remember taking a lot of speed and what not just to stay up. By the time I got to Fairmont my eyes were stuck wide open in an unnatural way. I arrived in the pouring rain about an hour before the center opened. I had brought my entire file with me and I stood in front of the entrance to the little induction center in the pouring rain for a while, long wet hair, the whole nine yards.
I was a sight. Completely soaked muttering something about they were out to get me. Finally, a low level PFC started preparing to open up and he saw me in the rain. He opened the door very cautiously and asked me what I wanted. I stated something in a low voice that I was being chased. He looked at my file and saw the draft date was this day. He pulled me in out of the rain and went to get help. While I was sitting there 5 other guys came in. In total this center was going to process 5 maybe 6 with me that day. That was it. They would be done by noon and go enjoy the rest of the day in the beautiful mountains. A far cry from LA.
Eventually a tough looking master sergeant started calling names. He called the other 5 first and they responded and then he called me. This is where my performance began. I would convince them that I was bat shit crazy or die trying. He called my name again and I didn’t answer. He finally walked over to me and showed me my name on the draft notice and I just nodded.
The first thing they did was try to find out why I was there. I was supposed to be in Oakland CA. I suspected they would call LA, so I had my story for that. I spun out a tale that people at the LA center were out to get me and I had run away ending up here half way across the country. It turned out that was partially true. Now in LA that story would have been ignored, but here it seemed to have some weight. They told me to undress and get ready for the physical. The other five guys were already being processed. They looked at me like I was something from Mars.
By now I knew the drill. It didn’t matter whether I failed the hearing test or the color test, the only thing that mattered for me was getting to the commanding office and telling him my story. No one else had the authority to do something. But that was more than a half day off. I failed the tests and then they made their next move. The assigned me a buddy, one of the privates working at the center. He tried to tell me it was not that bad in the army. I had been though this drill before in LA. I was totally rude to him and when he stood me up, I grabbed a hold of a big shelf and just pulled it over. If it was going to take me pissing on someone's desk I was ready to.
My stunt landed me in a bleak room with a bad two way observation mirror. I could actually see them behind the glass. By this point it was after lunch and the entire staff was standing around wondering what to do with me. I had to up the ante. I decided to think of every bad thing that could happen in my life and let it take me into a hysterical state. Uncontrolled tears, heaving chest, the works. Staff would walk by the door and say things like “check this guy out”. When they came back in I kept saying I had to talk to the head guy. This went on for a couple of hours and I ran out of things to be upset about. I was worried about what I would have to do next. They could not go home until I was processed so they finally took me to the commanding officer.
He was a nice enough guy, a doctor, a major in rank, a very calm person. I was a sight visually and emotionally. He first wanted to know why I was in Fairmont. West Virginia instead of Oakland. It was the perfect segway to my “they are trying to get me” story. I looked at my file and there was one doctor in LA that kept passing me through. Either he didn’t believe me or he had a quota. It was the reality of an unfair draft.
This Major then engaged me in a conversation about the justness of the Viet Nam war. My sense of it was he was not in favor of it, but I could not let on that I was thinking coherently. He also took time to read my file. I have no idea if he saw my legitimate reasons for not going or not. The next thing he did was test me. He said based on my blood tests I had a bunch of stuff (speed) in my system and it would take 24 hours for that to sort itself out. He asked me if I would stay overnight and see him again the next day. He also asked me if I needed supervision or if I could I stay on my own. I guess my performance, somewhat real and somewhat acted was effective. I said I could stay the night on my own, thinking to myself… shit.
He sat quietly after that reading my file for what seemed like an eternity and then clicked his pen as if he had made a decision. He said… “I could hold you overnight, but frankly psychologically I find you 4F (unsuited for service) permanently.”
He emphasized “permanently.” I could have jumped over his desk and kissed him, but I had been through it all before and I didn’t know if this was just another test. He handed me back my file and another document and said, “give this to the sergeant on your way out.” I got up and made my way towards the front door thinking this could all be some sort of ruse. As I got to door, the original private that had found me in the morning was there and said “feeling better?” I simply nodded and exited the center in a daze to find my car. The whole experience had a surreal tone to it. I had no idea what time it was. It turned out it was 5pm. This crazy hippie had kept them there all day.
I found my car and drove back towards Cleveland through the mountains wondering if that just happened. No cell phone in those days so I waited until I got back to Cleveland to call my lawyer. I told him what had happened and he asked me to repeat exactly what the commanding officer had said. David just paused and then said… “I think you are out” but went on… "you know I had roughly 400 cases over three years and yours was the only one I thought I could lose. I didn’t want to tell you, but you were in real danger of either going to Nam or having to refuse because someone in L.A had decided to take you no matter what.” This whole experience took me to the depth of what I was capable of at that young age. It was the first time I had to confront something head on that I could not run from. That prepared me for later when other seemingly impossible situations arrived.
I have often thought about approaching the Viet Nam war in this way. I had friends that served and came back damaged. I was not wrong about that part. This was a war I wasn’t willing to give my life for OR take some poor Viet Cong soldiers life either. Later on I was in the American Zoetrope recording studio in San Francisco. Francis Ford Copula also used the facility to process his dailies from “Apocalypse Now”, his Viet Name tome.
Friends who had been in Nam, watched the footage come back and said as crazy as it was, it was nowhere near what the real thing felt like. What I ended up believing is that somehow in this life, war was not on the menu for me. Maybe I was a warrior in another life time, which was why I was so drawn to military history as a kid, but this life somehow was not about that for me.
However, I have always felt strongly we did not treat those that went with the proper respect or care when they came home. Viet Nam was an unpopular war particularly with my age group. It was like we almost wanted to forget it happened. I have never understood why the US government sends soldiers into harm’s way and then does not take care of them when they get home. It is the ultimate disgrace. I don’t think we should have fought in Viet Nam, but those that did go are still owed more than we ever gave them.
I was saved from Viet Nam, but Sweet Pain was wobbling and this would begin the next transition for me from LA back to the Bay Area. We had fun as Sweet Pain, experienced a version of the successful rock and roll fantasy lifestyle and although we had some records that did okay, we never broke through. When that happens to a band pressure builds to do something else.
Something that is also true about bands is that the ones that achieve great success find a way to stay together during their formative stages. All bands need time to find what is unique to them. Two examples for me were The Beatles and the Eagles. Both I admired for their songwriting skills. Each of them, at least the core group, was together for multiple years before they broke through.
The Beatles played together, with the exception of adding Ringo as they went to make their first record, through thousands of club gigs. The Eagles the same. They were told for some years they were nothing special. It took them awhile to find something that was unique to them. Sweet Pain was together for basically about a year and half. We made one album and a couple singles. We toured the country but ultimately the personalities in the band could not find a way to stay together long enough to see what we could do together. We tried a great many experiments where we would go into the studio and play with new material. Here is a rehearsal track from one of those sessions. It's basically live. An unfinished tale of a teenage couple we picked up in our tour bus. They were hitchhiking, running from abusive parents.
Sweet Pain was the last real road band I was a part of. What began in college with all those bands and hundreds of gigs, would now continue with me basically as a solo artist. Lots of great musicians played with me in the studio as a solo artist, but the touring was done. Still, there is nothing like that feeling of connection when a band is aligned. I would miss it going forward. We played some final gigs as Sweet Pain and then it was over.
About the same time Linda finally moved off to more healthy relationships for her and I was feeling kind of lost not knowing what was next.
I moved out of my SoCal beach apartment and drove in my big red American Hollywood convertible north to Marin County to visit a friend. Back in the land of VW buses. My Hollywood car seemed like a metaphor for being sadly out of place. Music, particularly writing songs, still interested me, but how that was going to happen again was anyone’s guess. Four more albums were in the future, but for now I had enough money to not have to do anything for a while, so I tried that.