Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time debuts on the cable television premium network EPIX on Sunday, May 31st at 10 p.m. and concludes the following Sunday, June 7th at 10 p.m. Director Alison Ellwood earlier helmed the authorized History of the Eagles. During 2019-2020 I served as a consultant on the production.
It’s an intimate portrait implementing rare and newly unearthed footage mixed with audio recordings and photos. The production also features all-new interviews with Love co-founder Johnny Echols, Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Little Feat’s Paul Barrere, Sam Clayton and Bill Payne, Alice Cooper, Richie Furay, Michelle Phillips, Micky Dolenz, Graham Nash, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of the Doors, the Turtles’ Mark Volman, Jim Ladd, David Crosby, Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Bernie Leadon, Eliot Roberts, David Geffen, Russ Kunkel, Owen Elliot-Kugell, daughter of Mamas Cass Elliot, as well as photographers Nurit Wilde and Henry Diltz.
Executive produced by Frank Marshall, The Kennedy/Marshall Company; Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey, co-presidents of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television; Craig Kallman and Mark Pinkus, Warner Music Group; Alex Gibney, Stacey Offman and Richard Perello, Jigsaw Productions; and Jeff Pollack. The film is produced by Ryan Suffern, The Kennedy/Marshall Company and Erin Edeiken, Jigsaw Productions.
In 2009, I wrote the book Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon, published in paperback edition in 2012.
I penned the liner notes to the 2008 2-CD deluxe edition of Carole King’s Tapestry. In 2013 photographer Henry Diltz, archivist/librarian Gary Strobl and I teamed with ABC-TV in 2013 for their Emmy-winning one hour Eye on L.A. Legends of Laurel Canyon program hosted by Tina Malave.
I graduated West Hollywood’s Fairfax High School and took my driver’s education lessons in the same region. Friends and fans constantly encourage me to continue presenting a words-eye-view history of Laurel Canyon’s musical legacy.
So I’ve assembled some edited oral histories for a multi-voice narrative from my own 1974-2020 interviews conducted with the Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time screen participants.
“I first met Gene Clark when I was at the Troubadour one night when they had tables near the bar. And there was my friend David Crosby and Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, with another guy. ‘Hey Tad. Meet our new friend Gene Clark. He just moved here from St. Louis and we’re going to start a group and call it the Beefeaters.’ I went, ‘Oh man, that’s great.’ I was Tad at the time, and changed my name, like Jim later did to Roger, from our belief in Subud.
“They loved the Beatles. McGuinn would get up on stage at the Troubadour hoot nights and do Beatles songs solo on a Rickenbacker. I sent my girlfriend Alexa in Hawaii a letter about the MFQ in Hollywood and the new Beefeaters group.
“In 1965 I was living in Laurel Canyon. I went to Gold Star studio in June 1966 when Buffalo Springfield was doing their debut album. I had recorded there before with the MFQ and Phil Spector. I was in the room in July when Buffalo Springfield cut ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing.’ I met their dog Clancy in the parking lot.
“For their Buffalo Springfield Again back cover, Stephen called me one day and said, ‘Hey. I’d like you to write out this list of names that inspired us in your calligraphy handwriting. People we want to thank.’ I’m in there as Tad Diltz, my old name.
“Then the Monterey International Pop Festival happened in 1967. As a photographer John (Phillips) asked me to do it. I never thought I was doing something historic. My job was to hang out and take photos of everybody doing what they did because I enjoyed doing it. And it got me around observing me and watching. I was used to hanging out with my friends and just documenting all the things that went on around them. And John Phillips knew that, too. Phillips was full of life and a great idea guy, very good nature. In 1966 and ’67 I had photographed Love-Ins in Los Angeles and people just walking around. Shooting random shots of people who looked good and asking them ‘Can I take your picture?’
“I saw Ravi at the Monterey International Pop Festival. George Harrison’s devotion to Ravi was heartwarming. We were all discovering India. Ravi’s records were always played in Laurel Canyon with lots of incense curling in the air. And it was sort of psychedelic. And then we were reading Autobiography of a Yogi. And so we were all things India, a place that was looming, a very deep and interesting and informative world.
“Ravi Shankar was our hero. All you ever heard in Laurel Canyon before the festival in the afternoon was his music and incense burning. It was just the soundtrack to our lives. To really see him was great. That was very special. At Monterey everyone was in a trance. Not just the audience, but the others artists in the crowd, like Michael Bloomfield and Hendrix, were really getting into it, too.
“Ravi at the time was the soundtrack of Laurel Canyon. And there is a relationship between the banjo and the sitar. They have drone strings, like a bagpipe. There is one note that plays over and over again, which is banjo. It’s the fifth string. It was in mountain modal music. And it was kind of head trippy, you know.
“At the Love-Ins in L.A., there were several hundred hippies meeting in the park having a very pleasant Sunday. People were smoking pot there. In January of 1967 in San Francisco they had the Be-In. And, this was the era of peace and love. And I mean it wasn’t just a word, you really felt that. People were smoking a little grass, which makes you just relax and just enjoy life and everyone becomes your brother. Pre-all the bad stuff, just a bunch of gentle hippies gathering to hear the greatest music in the land.
“I just remember being in warm crowds of fellow musicians, not a lot of record company people or promo men, I think they were all huddled together themselves over on the side somewhere.
“At Monterey some of the big boys introduced cocaine, and that was too bad, because that was part of the downfall of that whole wonderful scene. You know, backstage the musicians were eating and the ones schmoozing around together and sitting at tables introducing themselves, ‘Hey man, I’m so and so,’ just getting to know each other.
“I loved the Mamas and Papas. Michelle Phillips was very sweet as far as I could see. The camera loved her, a beautiful young girl. The ideal flower child. She had energy.
“Mama Cass was a force of energy. She really was an earth mother and a great spirit at that time. Mama Cass was very intelligent, very funny, and she was very hip, and those three things together were amazing. And she was warm and open and wanted everybody to be friends. She and the group had the first money, big success. Many people came through and stayed at her house. You could go up there anytime and not know who would be there, you know. But that’s the way the sixties were. People hung out for the afternoon, and then they'd all go off somewhere else to a club. I loved the Mamas and Papas.
“I knew the Byrds as fellow musicians. I was with the MFQ, did some sessions with Phil Spector, and I played on Bob Lind’s ‘Elusive Butterfly’ that Jack Nitzsche arranged. I didn’t see the Byrds play a lot in 1965 and 1966, except once in ‘66 in downtown L.A. because I was working with the MFQ.
“I knew that Al Kooper has said that during the Byrds’ Monterey set you could see the group breaking up on stage and there was a lot of tension between McGuinn and Crosby. Roger was really steamed when David sat in with the Springfield. It was a different sort of Byrds set from what I’d seen over the two years before. To stand there and watch McGuinn play that Rickenbacker 12-string was mesmerizing. It just put me into a place, and the harmonies—those were the songs we heard everyday driving down Sunset Strip on the radio. So, to me it was magic.
“I do know at Monterey there was tension in that group. Crosby was rubbing McGuinn and Chris Hillman the wrong way somehow. Well, Crosby is a Leo, the royal sign. He’s like a young crown prince of rock ‘n’ roll. He’s a great harmony singer and wrote some fantastic tunes. And Crosby has kind of a naughty boy thing. Holding up the guitar at Monterey with an STP sticker and doing his rap about the Kennedy assassination.
“In 1968 I went to the Miami Pop Festival. Marvin Gaye blew my mind there, in the daytime. The ‘love crowd’ wasn’t in Miami. They were Florida kids and college students, not the ‘Love- In’ crowd of California. I did see the impact of Monterey at Woodstock. But at Monterey there was a lot of hanging out and people and the artists being together.
“At Woodstock the groups flew in on helicopters and didn’t stay and hangout. And the groups like Canned Heart, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix were younger and kinda fresher at Monterey. There was a lot of love at Monterey and people performing for their peers. Some of the vibe of the Renaissance Fair of the San Fernando Valley and Agoura area carried into Monterey. The Renaissance Fair was Shakespeare mixed with the L.A. hippie scene, all these booths and lots of foods to eat and wares to buy. They had that at Monterey as well. At Monterey it was a closed venue, a contained little group in an outdoor festival with bleachers on the side and at Woodstock the massive sea of faces went on forever. It was a huge hoard of people for all the eye to see.
“I knew Stills, Crosby and Nash in their former groups. One day Gary Burden called me. ‘Come on over. We’re gonna take some publicity pictures of Crosby, Stills and Nash.’ We both knew them socially very well. We drove around West Hollywood and took photos in an old antique clothing store. Some photos in Gary’s garage. And then Graham said, ‘a couple of blocks from here I saw this little house that looks kind of nice.’
“We went there and took some publicity pictures, really. Then we got that great shot of them on the couch. By the way, they had not yet named themselves Crosby, Stills and Nash yet. Would it be Stills, Nash and Crosby? And then they figured out Crosby, Stills and Nash right about the time we got the slides back. We had a slide show. ‘Well that looks great, if we call it Crosby, Stills and Nash.’ They are sitting Nash, Stills and Crosby. It would be so simple to go back and put them in order and shoot them the right way.
“However, when we got there a couple of days later, the house was gone. It was a vacant lot. We decided to stick with the album cover, although there was talk about flipping it. If you did that they would be in the right order. I remember my comment: ‘Don’t do that. People’s faces are not symmetrical.’ You can tell if one of the pictures is backwards.
“The debut Crosby, Stills and Nash album along with The Doors’ Morrison Hotel are the pictures I get asked to sign the most. I do them with a brown sharpie and do it on the back.
“As far as shooting musicians live, I prefer being to one side of the stage so the microphone is not in front of the person on stage. And you pick one side or another depending on which way the guitar looks the best. And you sort of get a side front ¾ view from either way. I like to have a nice telephoto lens so I can get them waist up and guitar up. And that fills the frame generally in a vertical way.
“It never occurred to me back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I was really shooting all these things that it would ever be an archive and that it would be a piece of social history. That’s what it has turned out to be. And that was a total accident. The thought never occurred to me.
“The 12-inch album cover was an art form. It became a real art form. It was the perfect size to hold in your hand while you heard the record and stared at it, read the back and also looked at the pictures. Now, it’s really too small to do that. So nobody sits there and stares at the CD cover.
“Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliot were telegenic as well as James Taylor and Jackson Browne. The Doors were interesting and weren’t a guitar band. They came from a different place. It was that keyboard thing. They didn’t have a bass. Ray Manzarek played bass on a keyboard with his left hand. It was a little more classical and jazz-oriented. And then you had Jim Morrison singing those words with that baritone voice. It was poetic and more like a beatnik thing. It was different. And Jim wrote all those deep lyrics. I took photos of them at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968 when they did a concert.
“Jim lived in Laurel Canyon. So did Robby Krieger and John Densmore. We were all friends in the area. I knew him as a musician just as I was first really taking photos. I did one day with the Doors in downtown L.A. for Morrison Hotel and got that picture. Then two days later they needed some black and white publicity pictures and we walked around the beach in Venice.
“I started taking photos and never thought one day I’ll have an archive of history. I think it’s great people can see, purchase and own signed limited editions of musicians. Portrait and concert shots. Wonderful days of peace, love and brotherhood. I’m glad I have this body of work that reflects those things. The fun of framing something up and pushing the button and capturing things that were lovely moments to me.
“My theory about the music of Laurel Canyon was that it was the flowering and the renaissance of the singer/songwriter. I think it had a lot to do with that change that it came from folk music. And then they started putting their own lyrics into it. And, smoking grass had a hell of a lot to do with it. Smoking grass had everything to do with the whole ‘60s thing. Long hair, hippies, peace and love, because that’s the way it makes you feel. And love beads and the music. Smoking a little grass makes you very thoughtful and increases your feeling and focus on things. You start thinking about trying to put thoughts into words and songs.
“When I recorded the vocal on ‘Mr. Tambourine Man” I was trying to place it between Dylan and John Lennon.
“Chris Hillman and I knocked that off ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ in very late 1966 at his house in Laurel Canyon. It really wasn’t about the Monkees. We were looking at a teen magazine and noticing the big turnover in the rock business and kinda chuckling about it, you know, a guy was on the cover that we’d never seen before and we knew he was gonna be gone next issue. A funny little song. People didn’t know how to take it. We just meant it as a satire. We got along well and we wrote well.
“Actually, (David) Crosby and I wrote well too for a while together when we were writing, and so did Gene (Clark) and I. We had some good times writing songs. Chris Hillman played us ‘Have You Seen Her Face’ in the studio and we cut it. We weren’t into making demos back then. Demos came along in the ‘80s (laughs). Chris Hillman is a very gifted musician. The way he transitioned from mandolin to bass was amazing. I don’t know if he was completely influenced by (Paul) McCartney, but he had this melodic thing, I guess more from being a lead player. He incorporated a lot of leads into his bass playing.
“David is an incredible singer for harmonies and he’s written some wonderful songs as well. I also really appreciated his rhythm guitar work. I thought he had a great command of the rhythm part of it and also finding interesting chords and progressions
“We sang together well. I give the credit to Crosby. He was brilliant at devising these harmony parts that were not strict third, fourth or fifth improvisational combination of the three. That’s what makes the Byrds’ harmonies. Most people think its three-part harmony, and its two-part harmony. Very seldom was there a third part on our harmonies.
“I was driving my Porsche up La Cienega Blvd. and got around to Sunset and Jim Dickson, our former producer and manager, he had been fired by the Byrds shortly before that, he still liked us, or some of us, and he pulled up in his Porsche and signaled for me to roll my window down. “Hey Jim. You ought to record Dylan’s ‘My Back Pages.’ I said, ‘OK. Thanks.’ The light changed, I drove back up into Laurel Canyon and pulled out the Dylan album that had ‘My Back Pages’ and learned it. I then took it to the studio and showed it to the guys. And Crosby hated it because he was mostly upset because he wasn’t getting his own songs on the album, and the reason why he left the band. There was a riff in the band, and he wasn’t getting as many as some of us.
“So anyway, I liked ‘My Back Pages’ and don’t remember any resistance from anybody else in the band, just David. And it was a hit and a good tune. I’m real happy with it. It was Dickson’s suggestion and I hadn’t thought of it as a song for the Byrds’ repertoire. I liked the wisdom of the song and it’s a very insightful song on the thing that happens when you think you’re so knowledgeable and wise when you’re real young. And then when you get a little older you realize what you didn’t know. Dylan’s stuff is brilliant. I coined the term that he was the ‘Shakespeare of Our Time.’ It was like knowing Shakespeare here. Dylan was carrying on Kerouac and Ginsberg. The baton had been passed. I remember Ginsberg said ‘I think we’re in good hands.’
“We did Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom’ at the Monterey international Pop Festival in June 1967. I loved the imagery. You can’t pin it down as a peace song or whatever, but it’s got overtones of that. It’s brilliant. I just identified with it and could relate to it. I love ‘All I Really Want To Do.’ It’s kind of a simple little love song, you know, but it’s got a really sarcastic whimsical attitude. He doesn’t want to be hassled. He just wants to be friends. We changed the arrangement from the 3/4 time to a 4/4 time. We became his ‘unofficial, official’ band for his stuff. I remember when Sonny & Cher got the hit with ‘All I Really Want To Do,’ Dylan went, ‘On man, you let me down…’ Normally, a writer would be happy to get a hit with his own songs. Who cares who did it? He was on our side.
“Gary Usher got the tune 'Goin’ Back' to the Byrds and brought it to us in the studio and played it for us as a demo. I didn’t know of Carole King, even though I had worked in the Brill Building earlier on. And I had never heard of the Goffin/King songwriting team. But I loved the tune and thought it was really good. Gary explained that these were ‘Tin Pan Alley’ writers who had just kind of taken a sabbatical and come back and revamped their style to be more contemporary, like we were doing. So it really fit well I thought. We learned it and put a kind of dreamy quality into it.
“I had a lot of history with a lot of people at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival. I was also on the Board of Directors and involved in it. It was a real wonderful thing that they did. And Derek Taylor was our publicity guy who worked with the Beatles.
“I really loved Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. We were rehearsing and Gram [Parsons] came in, and there was a keyboard of some kind and I asked Gram if he could play any ‘McCoy Tyner’ because I wanted to continue in the vein of ‘Eight Miles High’ jazz fusion with a (John) Coltrane kind of thing. And he sat down and played a little ‘Floyd Cramer’ style piano and I thought ‘this guy’s got talent. We can work with him.’ That was my original thought.
“Not knowing that he had another agenda and that Chris and he were like kinda in cahoots and going to sway the whole thing into country music. But I really liked country music having come up in folk I always considered country music, especially the Hank Williams and the traditional country music that Gram was into a part of folk music, so it wasn’t alien to me. And I started harmonizing with Gram, and he and I had a good blend. I was getting into it. It was fun. He and I had a lot of fun for a long time up until he left. Chris and I made a pact that we would never have any more partners and that he and I would be the only partners. And that everyone else would be workman for hire. That was our understanding.
“When Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released some people were heartbroken. There wasn’t a sense of despair, some were disappointed because they didn’t hear the Rickenbacker but those people didn’t show up to the gigs. The people we got were into it and they liked it. There was a fan base that was gonna go along with us no matter what we did. I remember meeting Peter Buck later saying, ‘Well its country, but its good country!’ There were people liking the album right off, and some people were put off by it but they liked it later. After, how long has it been now?
“It takes faith and perseverance. I’m a happy guy. It’s only recently over the last decade that I realized the impact this record has had on people, especially after meeting Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. What is amazing to me is the whole sub culture that formed out of basically Sweetheart of The Rodeo.
“I was a fan of country music and we were dabbling in country rock before Gram came in. And even ‘Mr. Spaceman’ has a country beat to it. I mean, it’s a silly sci-fi song but it’s got a country, Buck Owens approach kind of song. We were dabbling in that and something we did for fun, and the only difference when Gram came along is that we decided to do an entire album of it and do nothing but that. That was the difference. And I think it was because Chris had an ally. That’s what he feels. He found an ally in Gram. And the two of them kind of swung it over to that at the time.
“When we did Sweetheart of the Rodeo there was unity. We used to play poker every day. I mean we were buddies who would sit around, drink beer and play poker. And when we were off in L.A. we’d ride motorcycles together. I mean, we were having a good time. It wasn’t like there was this weird animosity. There was very little of that going on. It was a friendly band, maybe too much fun. We enjoyed it. ‘Lazy Days’ is a cool song Gram wrote. They’re all good songs and we have to give Gram credit for bringing a lot of them to the sessions. Gram brought in a batch of songs. ‘Hickory Wind,’ William Bell’s ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water,’ and The Louvin Brothers’ ‘The Christian Life.’
“We all got along great with the musicians in Nashville and stayed at this Ramada Inn and played poker all day until the sessions at night and had a ball. We were country boys. We got into it. I mean we had cowboy hats and boots. I loved it, a very enjoyable experience. We were just role-playing, even Gram. He wasn’t that kind of kid. He was a folkie. He was a preppie. Basically Gram got turned on to Elvis (Presley) when he was 10 years old, and that changed his life and he wanted to be a rock star, which he eventually became. And then he got into country, he got into Buck Owens and he got into Waylon and Willie.
“I think what he really wanted to do was get rid of me and get a steel guitar player. Let’s form the Burrito Brothers and call it the Byrds basically. I didn’t want that to happen. I had put too much into the Byrds.
“The music of the Byrds is melody and lyric. One thing I’ve said before and what our manager Jim Dickson drilled into our heads, the greatest advice we ever got, and he said, ‘Go for substance in the songs and go for depth. You want to make records you can listen to in forty years that you will be proud to listen to.’ He was right.
“Here we were. Rejecting ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ Mind you, I was the bass player and not a pivotal member. I was the kid who played the bass and a member of the band. Initially all five of us didn’t like what we heard on the Bob Dylan demo with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. We were lucky. And Bob had written it like a country song. And Dickson said, ‘Listen to the lyrics.’ And then it finally got through to us and credit to McGuinn, mainly Jim arranged into a danceable beat. The Byrds do Dylan. It was a natural fit after ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ was successful. Roger (then Jim) almost found his voice through Bob Dylan, in a way, literally voice through Bob Dylan in a sense.
“I’m not a big fan of the Wrecking Crew’s track of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ It’s way too slick for me. Yes, we probably could have cut it. I don’t know if we would have had the success. And I understand completely from a business sense why Columbia and Terry brought in good session guys to cut a good track. Let’s hedge our bets here and let’s get this thing and get it as best we can. That’s fine, but not my favorite Byrds record. Whatever that means.
“Recording at Columbia studio. I remember that Columbia was a union room. The engineers had shirts and ties on. Mandatory breaks every three hours. Record producer Terry (Melcher) was a good guy. I didn’t really get to know him. I was shy. Columbia was comfortable to record in there. Terry was good. I liked him. I will say this, and on the Byrds albums I was not mixed back. Sometimes it worked. And I do have to say all five of us were learning how to play. Once again, coming out of the folk thing and plugging in. And we were all learning. Roger was the most seasoned musician, and we all sort of worked off of Roger. He had impeccable time. Great sense of time. His style and that minimalist thing of playing that was so good. He played the melody.
“And then we start doing some Dylan stuff. ‘Chimes of Freedom.’ Great song. ‘All I Really Want To Do.’ At Monterey we included Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom.’ I didn’t realize how beautiful that lyric was until years later. ‘Chimes of Freedom’ is a killer. It’s just one of Dylan’s beautiful songs. And he was just peaking then.
“‘Bells of Rhymney’ is my all-time favorite Byrds’ song. What song best describes the Byrds? I would say that, because of the vocals on it. The harmony, because of the way we approached the song and we had turned into a band. We had turned into a band with our own style.
“We went from doing Bob Dylan material and then we take ‘Bells Of Rhymney’ and it’s our own signature rendition of it. It’s not like Pete Seeger’s at all. It’s our own thing. And Michael Clarke, who was a lazy drummer but when he was on he was great. And he’s playing these cymbals. A great experience. I just love that cut.
“The Younger Than Yesterday album. I started really writing songs after Crosby and I were on a Hugh Masekela session that Hugh was doing with this South African gal, Letta Umbulu. A wonderful singer. All the musicians were South African with the exception of Big Black. I played bass on a demo session. Such warm loving people. And David was a good rhythm guitarist. A pianist Cecil Bernard was very inspirational. I went home and wrote ‘Time Between Us.’ And ‘Have You Seen Her Face’ influenced by a blind date Crosby had set me up with along with other young ladies.
“The Byrds on Turn! Turn! Turn! album with ‘Satisfied Mind,’ which really was a Porter Wagner hit, and I think we had heard Hamilton Camp do it, but it’s such a great song. And then, I still think ‘Time Between’ was our country rock song of the time. That’s when we started doing that stuff. When we had Clarence White come in and played on Younger Than Yesterday. I’m not taking credit for any of that. Rick Nelson deserves credit in the country rock thing, too. Big credit. Way beyond anybody else. But you know how this business works.
“Gary Usher was an incredibly gifted producer to work with. Especially at the very end, and it was just McGuinn and I trying to finish Notorious Byrds Brothers. And Gary worked with us as another band member. Good ideas. Gary Usher brought us the Goffin and King ‘Goin’ Back.’ I don’t have a problem with that record. That was Gary bringing in a song that fit us like a glove. It was perfect and its Roger and I singing lead. It’s a little too pretty but it’s OK.
“The original concept in 1969 of the Flying Burrito Brothers was as plain as day. Here we are. We wanted to do country stuff. And the first two years with Gram was very good, very productive and on the same page. I think if I was to look back and say, ‘Well, if only…’ and I don’t go there, but if I did, and it was a question presented to me. He was far more confident. He was a charismatic figure. He was an interesting man at the time. I’m not saying he was a great singer. He wasn’t. He was a good singer on a couple of tracks, probably on the first album.
“I knew Gram and I will always cherish a couple of years when we really worked together. We were sloppy. The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram. I just had come out of a band that recorded ‘Eight Miles High’ that went from doing Bob Dylan songs to being able to do a song like that, to doing something that musical and to be on a par with the Who or the Beatles. The point is we became a really tight good band. And I’m in the Burritos, and I’m looking at it not from a sterile place of it should be perfectly tight, but it wasn’t.
“We didn’t put any time into it. And I must say, and I’m not padding myself on the back, when Gram left and Bernie (Leadon) and I took that band and we tightened it up and we made it a good band. And when Bernie left we lasted another six or eight months. It became a musical band then. Did it have the magic that Gram offered? Not really. I still was learning how to sing. And Gram was an interesting guy. He had that thing. And I don’t know what the attraction is that other than he died in such a mysterious way. Yes, he did some good songs. He had a bunch of good songs. Two songs, ‘Hot Burrito #1’ and ‘Hot Burrito #2’ are Chris Etheridge songs. Chris brought those in and Gram helped finish them. ‘She.’ Great song. Etheridge. And with all due respect to Gram, he was a good collaborator.
“After 1967 Monterey, what was a cottage industry and starting to develop into a profitable industry and then started to draw in…The ethics took a bit of a slide, not that they were always there, but what was a little cottage industry that was really run by music people, Jerry Wexler, the Chess Brothers, Ahmet [Ertegun] and Mo Ostin, and the people who loved music. And 1967 Monterey all of a sudden the business started to really expand. The gates opened, the flood gates opened. And FM radio, and Tom Donahue was the FM guy and he brought that to the forefront I think. You are looking at a profitable situation and we had the golden area of the recording industry and that the artists had more artistic freedom. They were signed and kept around for 2 or 3 albums. It wasn’t platinum out of the box or you are out of the label. It was still this little tiny business that kept growing and growing.
“However, after Monterey and I always say 1968, the next year is when everything changed, politically and socially, every which way in our society. Yes, Monterey did open up the record business. I was learning as I went along. I got quite an education. Everyone started to get a little smarter.
“I got to know Paul Butterfield little bit. I remember doing a music festival with him in 1969 in Palm Springs, with the Burrito Brothers. I remember walking with Paul to the promoter’s tent with Butterfield, and he’s got his brief case with a 38 Colt piece in it, and I said to myself ‘this guy really did work on the south side of Chicago.’ Oh…Here we are in the peace and love bull shit and here he’s got his 38 loaded to go and collect his money!’ This guy is real. A real blues guy!
“After the Monterey International Pop Festival we did the Philadelphia Folk Festival with the Burrito Brothers. I didn’t do Woodstock, and I remember Gram Parsons and I were sharing a house in the San Fernando Valley on De Soto Avenue, and Woodstock was on the news, the situation there. We were laughing, and I said: ‘That’s no Monterey!’ And it wasn’t! Isle of Weight came along, and the Burritos were on that Festival Express in Canada in 1970. But we were only on for a couple of shows after we let Gram go. Bernie and I were rockin’ there.
“What holds up that era were melodies. When you heard a new song on the radio the melody will catch you right away. You might hear a couple of lyrics then when you hear the lyrics if they’re strong and really saying something, yes, we do have songs that are sort of very catchy songs, but didn’t last long, like a fast food meal. It was good when you ate it but wasn’t good later. That was it. The Beach Boys. Melody, melody, melody. Even though ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ lyrics fit the melody. It worked. It swung. That era…
“When I do shows, I have people who come to see me play. Either they’re my age or they are young kids. Twenty to twenty five, twenty six who are enamored by the Beach Boys, Beatles, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. I think that’s as big part of it and it was real and so honest. Of course, I’m preaching to the choir and telling you things you already know. But the record companies were run by music people, people who loved music. It was not a corporate monster. And they’d sign you and you’d be on the label for three or four albums, you know.
“I first heard Buffalo Springfield before anyone else when Barry Friedman called me to come over to his house and listen to this band. I go listen to them, got ‘em a job at the Whisky, a year before Monterey. They were good live. They were better live than they were on record, right. And the Byrds were better on record than we were live.
“The sixties were wonderful. I look back at the sixties and it’s amusing to me. I don’t hold any grudges about people. I have no animosity toward anyone I worked with. But I look back and almost have a chuckle. People are obsessing over that period, still to this day. Yes, youthful idealism. You have to be that way when you’re that age. Yes we want one great world and it’s lovely. The human condition does not allow for that. OK. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have those wonderful things when you are a young person.
“I also used to frequent a place called the Omnibus, a coffee house. It was in the early ‘60s, this was probably the closest thing to a cusp between the beatniks and the hippie area, on Cahuenga or Las Palmas. I remember clearly it was my first foray into post teenage life, the adult world. I’m going to a junior college in the San Fernando Valley, age 18 or 19, well after Circus Boy. No drinking and only coffee. This was bikers and beatniks. No paisley, no bell bottoms, people in black. And still snapping their fingers and reading poetry. I had no idea what the music was about. I was doing Monday night jams at the Red Velvet.
“A little while afterwards, at the time, a lot of the San Francisco groups, 1966, ’67, ’68, all came down to Hollywood and recorded in the same studios The Monkees used, with some of the same engineers. Sometimes they were on the same record labels as us. Also, before I even did the TV pilot for The Monkees in 1965, and the series started to air in 1966, I was at RCA studios every night watching the Wrecking Crew and the studio musicians, play with the singers and songwriters, on Mamas and Papas sessions, the Association songs, the Beach Boys songs. And these same musicians were playing on our songs. I was a singer, I sang. I can’t express how important it was then, and now, to have songwriters. Before The Monkees I had recorded a couple of singles with the Wrecking Crew as a solo artist a year before I went on The Monkees audition
“I remember people talking about the Monterey International Pop Festival happening, but it was almost a spur of the moment thing. We were looking for a great opening act at the time as we had a tour planned. I had seen Jimi Hendrix earlier as a backup guitarist for John Hammond, Jr. in New York. He was a sideman in 1966. Someone told me I had to go to this club to see this guitarist who played with his teeth. I didn’t know his name. John Hammond was pretty incredible.
“Then, at Monterey, I’m sitting and Jimi, Noel (Redding) and Mitch (Mitchell) come on stage, Jimi had gone to England, and Chas Chander put a band together for him. The Jimi Hendrix Experience. By the way, does that mean they were manufactured? Half of Jimi Hendrix’s set at Monterey were cover versions, too.
“Jimi walks out on stage, and I recognize him because he’s playing guitar with his teeth. ‘Hey! That’s the guy who plays guitar with his teeth.’
“I suggested him for our tour because he was very theatrical. And, the Monkees were theater. You know, let’s not forget that The Monkees were a TV show about a band, an imaginary band that lived in this beach house and had these imaginary adventures.
“It was theater. It was probably the closest thing to musical theater in television. It was about this band that wanted to be famous, wanted to be the Beatles, and it represented in that sense all those garage bands around the country and the world. On The Monkees show the group was never famous, it was all about the struggle for success that made it so endearing I think to the public, anyway. I saw Jimi at Monterey, told our producers, who got in touch with Chas Chandler and then Jimi’s booking agent. Everyone thought it was a great idea.
“I was studying drums at that time and working. Ravi Shankar was the most moving, spiritual experience and it allowed you to get into the pulse and the rhythm and into the deepest meditation. It was two hours of uninterrupted meditation in the afternoon. It was just being in the presence of those musicians (Ustad Alla Rakha and Kamala Chakravarty) and experiencing a form of music. The Beatles had sort of introduced it to us, but we had never heard Ravi Shankar do a concert. But this was something new to the entire audience. It was as close to a kind of ‘born again’ experience that anybody could have had in that audience.
“At Monterey during that time, it was all one sort of zeitgeist and the community then was quite small and local, it was only really California and New York that had any real to speak of hippie community, because it was the counter culture, and there was only a couple places in the country you could get away with it without being arrested.
“In fact, one of the most important things I think The Monkees show contributed to the culture was the idea that you could have longhair and wear bell bottoms and you weren’t committing crimes against nature. At the time, the only time you saw people with longhair on television they were being arrested or treated a second class citizens. The people at Monterey, before and after, at my house were all the same people. Jim Morrison was up at the house all the time. I did some basement recordings with John Lennon. I had the first Moog synthesier in town that I got from Paul Beaver.
“The culture difference between San Francisco and L.A. still exists to some degree. At the time of Monterey I think I made a donation to The Oracle alternative newspaper in San Francisco. I do remember making a huge contribution, a lot of money at the time, to some Indians in Seattle or in Alaska, who were put in jail because of a fishing rights dispute. They sent me a beautiful painting after that. I gave them thousands and thousands to bail them out. I wasn’t deeply invested into that counter culture as others might have been. At the time, there were some people who got what The Monkees were all about, like Frank Zappa, my friend Harry Nilsson and John Lennon.
“Before the hippies there were the beatniks, really. And the commercial pop environment came from that. I’ve often thought The Monkees were hit pop music. Dr. Timothy Leary said in that book, Politics of Ecstasy, ‘The Monkees brought long hair into the living room.’ And I think that may be the legacy. It made it OK to be a hippie, have long hair and wear bell bottoms. It did not mean you were a criminal, a dope smoking fiend commie pervert. That’s what happened. A kid says, ‘Hey mom, The Monkees have long hair and wear paisley bell bottoms.’
“I remember Ringo once, years later, telling me how the music business has changed so much. ‘You know, all you had to do in the old days was show up with your drums and you were in the band.’ And, that’s true. And there were others who honestly didn’t get it. Rolling Stain magazine to this day still doesn’t get it.”
“As far as the vocals and particularly the background vocals on the recordings of the Turtles, the basic overall philosophy of the vocal sound of the Turtles—and this goes back to the four of us: Chuck Portz, Jim Pons, Howard [Kaylan] and myself, and then narrowed down to the three of us, Jim, Howard and I—was that it was necessary to have complementary voices. One of the things that we learned going as far back as Westchester High School was that the second tenor parts, which basically brought the melody, were important for the sound quality of the group. That was left to Howard and I. A lot of times when we would do a record, before Jim Pons became such an integral part of the singing, the backgrounds were done by me, Howard and Al Nichol. Jim Pons brought a lot to the table.
“Howard knew my strengths were in the quality of my voice. My voice got much more familiar to the Flo & Eddie fans, going back to the early Flo & Eddie records. I think there was always something about how we put together first and second tenor, a baritone and bass. I think there was a lot of thought in those background parts, a natural thing. As we became more and more in charge of our records and in arrangements the stuff that we brought became more and more obvious. We were pretty much the shit in terms of production of the sound.
“But, you know, Howard understood that we had the songs and a friendly voice when we made records in the sixties. We had records and a familiar lead singer from song to song on the radio. That was very valuable. A familiar sound. Howard Kaylan of the Turtles or Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. We understood how important Howard was as a lead singer.
"'Elenore’ was written by Howard in a hotel room in Chicago as they [White Whale Records] wanted another ‘Happy Together.’ We sat down and shaped that song into the record that would eventually come out. Check out the second chorus. Chip Douglas produced it.
“Chip Douglas was now our producer. ‘The Story of Rock and Roll’ might be one of the greatest productions we have ever done and a powerful arrangement. Unbelievable. That whole high voice thing that we would eventually use on T-Rex records like ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ and even with Zappa and Flo & Eddie.
“‘The Story of Rock & Roll’ was the best recording we ever made. Put it on. We were creating Flo & Eddie with that recording, the songwriting and production. It also showcased for the first time the way sharing our vocals. Howard always had that control and that was the way it worked. You can argue that Howard is one of the best singers of that era. Or any era. Still. A great singer.
“The Guy Webster photos of the Mamas and the Papas work in black and white and in color. First of all, we were a very unusual looking group. And it didn’t have to be. Remember the name of the first album: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. If you believe your eyes you’re gonna look at that picture. And it doesn’t matter if it’s in color. It’s fine in black and white. Because everyone is looking at this very overweight beautiful woman who sang like a bird, and then there was this tall thin blonde with long hair and this beautiful Denny and this tall guy with a mink hat on. It was something that you just didn’t look away from. You were gonna look at that picture and try to dissect who these people were. We were always very animated, too. So it wasn’t a static pose. The pictures of the group all the way show that we were going through so much. We were always kind of living our drama and seen in many of those photographs.
“Why does our music still resonate and have influence? I’ll tell you what I think. I think that we put a lot of energy into making the material great. John Phillips was such a perfectionist. And so was Lou Adler. That was a big romance. John and Lou were perfectly suited for each other. They bounced off each other. They really appreciated each other’s gifts. John and I had never heard ourselves sing with anything more than one guitar when we went to audition for Lou Adler. So when Lou put together Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn, Larry Knechtel and engineer Bones Howe, when we heard ourselves with a band it was amazing! It just inspired us more and more. And you know, I think we were very lucky that we picked a lot of good material.
“When John gave you a part you had to learn these incredibly difficult parts. He would say things like, ‘You’ll thank me for this someday.’ And he would keep us in the studio doing take after take until it was perfect. And we would already be complaining an hour before we finished. ‘But that’s the perfect take, John! It’s not going to get any better than that.’ ‘Yes it is.’ And there was just so much material.
“As far as the Mamas and the Papas always connecting. Years ago I came home one day and turned on the television and a special from Vietnam was being broadcast. The camera panned across this audience of soldiers and marines who were fighting in Vietnam. And there is such a look on their faces, this is like 1966, ’67, just right in the middle of this horrendous war, and you can see it just etched on their faces. And the camera pans across them and there is this huge banner that says 'California Dreamin’. And, that just shook me to my core. It became a destination anthem. I’m the co-writer of that song. And there are still millions of people that hear the music of Los Angeles and it represents their youth that was so tumultuous and so frightening and to so many of their friends and relatives.
“And in a way Mamas and Papas music is comforting to them. You know what I mean? They can go back into their childhood and say, ‘That was the music of my era.’ And ‘California Dreamin’’ has surpassed any kind of era. And I think ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ has done the same thing.
“I think the Mamas and the Papas were kind of like a bubble. It was wonderful when that bubble was floating. And then the bubble popped. And that was the Mamas and the Papas. When you think about it we were only together for two and a half years.
“I think Monterey Pop is a really wonderful film. I saw it two years ago on the big screen in Hollywood for the first time since it came out. You get to see what the festival was really like, and how beautiful everyone felt in 1967 on June 16th, 17th and 18th were all bright sunny days. You see other festivals and they are rolling in the mud. Monterey Pop is so representative of the time. People actually did paint flowers on their faces, put big teepees up, a time of arts and crafts.
“Arthur [Lee] started coming to my gigs before he started playing. Because he was a conga player and I would take him around to gigs I played with Henry Vestine and Larry Taylor, before they had Canned Heat. We had a group that played frat parties when we were like age 15. Arthur would hang out and come around. So, he kind of trusted that I knew what I was doing. And one of the things that I learned from Adolph Jacobs was that you’re always supposed to make the singer shine. So what you do is leave room for the singer to express himself and always, always play to the music and not to yourself. If I wanted to I could cut loose on songs and do, you know, a lot of flourishes and stuff that were superfluous really to the music. I chose to try and make the song the king and the songwriter. The vocalist should shine rather than the other way around.
“If you listen to some of the first songs we did they are rather pedestrian songs. But they were not pushing the envelope. And that happened later after some experimenting and all of that. But the pushing of the envelope happened later.
“Actually, I was not all that enamored with Arthur’s voice for a long, long time. In the beginning the type of music we were doing was not really the kind of music that his voice would shine on. So later on when we started doing his songs and he was writing songs especially for himself. Because he wanted to be a songwriter and have other people do his music. So later on Arthur started to progress. I asked him and all of a sudden he leaps light years ahead of where he was as far as his songwriting was concerned. And he didn’t know how or why and neither did I but I noticed it. And he was pushing me ‘cause I had to kind of push the envelope a bit with my guitar playing in order to catch up and in order to make the music that we were doing work.
“I also then started realizing even more now important guitars and amps were to sound. I met Don Peake at Wallichs Music City in Hollywood and he takes us down the street to his house on Rossmore and he had this 1959 Fender Bassman Amp. He played this thing for us and I noticed the sound of this and Don hooked us up with that sound, because the over driven harmonics and the tubes, that amplifier was probably one of the first ones that really had that blues sound. And so Don hooked me up with that and I went and got one like that. Then I got a Stratosphere guitar. There was this guy out in Hawthorne who was a country music player. I had the Stratosphere but at that time it only had a mandolin neck on it.
“And then I went off to Carvin Guitars, I had their catalog, and got a neck made out there, so I was able to put a 12-string neck on the 6 string and that started me using it. Guys like Joe Maphis and people like that, now he had used them but they didn’t use 12 strings, they were using mandolin and a 6 string. That was the country sound. So I think I was probably one of the first people who did marry a 12 string neck to the 6 string neck.
“I had more options and could play and go between the necks. I could play 12 string parts and then go onto 6 string parts and not have to continue to pick up one instrument and put down another ‘cause I could always keep it in tune. ‘Cause I’m playing them both together.
“In 1964, ’65, we were playing out in Montebello at this place called The Beverly Bowl and we started to develop a large following. And there was a friend across the street, Alan Collins, he had a club up in Hollywood, a gay bar. It was the Brave New World. He said he wanted to switch it over to straight people and asked if we could come there and play. So the first couple of nights we’re there nothin’ but guys there and so, we’re thinking, ‘fuck, we gotta get the hell out of here.’ (laughs). And we would go up to Ben Frank’s restaurant on Sunset and by then we were called the Grass Roots.
“Love had contract offers from MCA (Decca), we were thinking of signing with them, and Columbia, and we chose not too because of the simple reason that Elektra Records was the only company that would let us own our publishing and masters. We learned that from Little Richard. ‘Do not let them take your music publishing.’ So I insisted.
“My role with Arthur and Bryan was basically an ombudsmen to kind of keep these two personalities happening. So I knew that from the very start, because they would have been at loggerheads all the time, because they liked the same chicks, if you listen to some of the songs. That is rock ‘n’ roll. That’s tight, of course, but there was always that strong tension between the two of them and I was always stuck there in the middle kind of keeping the peace but also drawing the best out of them that I could. Because otherwise, you know, Bryan was very much a show tune kind of guy and I knew we could not release show tunes so we had to do a lot of work on his songs to meld then into something that was acceptable to an audience that we were developing.
“Bryan’s ‘Come Softly to Me’ blew my mind. Absolutely. We started putting a jazzy beat to it because Bryan’s songs were very much show tunes and so we had to do a lot, you know, kind of tinkering with the songs to get them to fit in the mold that we were trying to create for Love. Yea, it was conscious and thought out in advance and the way the group looked the makeup of the group. It was never accidental. We decided what kind of group we wanted, what kind of music we decided and what kind of instrumentalists we wanted. We wanted a strong, strong rhythm player, which was Don Conka, who played the hell out of the drums and Kenny Forssi was a very deft bass player. But he didn’t have that heavy low down low bass that you heard on rhythm and blues. He had a really soft touch but it was perfect for the music. He knew what he was doing and we could write it down. We could write charts and everybody could read the charts and play the music and knew what we were doing. And so we thought out what kind of group we wanted.
“I knew we were not doing disposable pop music, because that was the thing about musicians then. There was this kind of this competition to do the best that you could do. It wasn’t just for the money. We wanted to work, get paid, but we also wanted to actually push the envelope. We wanted to play music and we were listening to people that were serious musicians. And we wanted play rock music and do it as serious music like the Beatles were doing. It wasn’t just a C to A minor to F to G. They were playing chords that actually flowed with the music. And that’s what we were trying to do, a different chord structure. Stuff that actually fit the songs and also to try and have an effect on how it was recorded. A lot of time we would get in trouble with the engineer because I would insist in doing it live the way it was supposed to sound and not let them fix it later.
“‘Cause they never did. And that’s why ‘7 and 7 Is’ took forever to do. I had all the treble turned up on my guitar and plus I have this vibrato and I have to have the drummer has to play in time with the vibrato. And that was the problem with poor Snoopy. Because he could not keep up with it ‘cause it was like he was playing with a clock track, which, of course, nobody had played with a click track back then. They didn’t exist. But he had to keep up with this vibrato and if he lagged behind even a little bit than the song was off. So that was pre-conceived. We knew what we were doing. We knew why. Kenny Forssi was probably the first one that used a pedal. We had gotten that from Thomas Instruments out in the Valley. They gave me one of the first wah-wah pedals which I didn’t use.
“We did some shows, even gigged in Arizona, not the best sound systems or having to use the house PA. There was another reason about why we didn’t play out. It’s a down reason but the thing was if we had been an all-black group we would have perfectly been fine going through the south and mid-west playing.
“On the album Da Capo I took a lead vocal on ‘Revelation.’ I would do that on a lot of songs. And a lot of songs that you listen to and you think are doubled, if you ask me like on ‘My Little Red Book,’ you are hearing both Arthur and I sing. So several songs were like that. It just kind of evolved. I was more comfortable in taking the role in leading the band and making sure everybody was playing right and making Arthur sound the best that he could. So that was kind of my role as like musical director. It morphed into that. But as more it just did it. It wasn’t something that was planned. But Arthur seemed to be more and more comfortable talking to the audience, doing the lead thing and I was more comfortable in just leading the band. And that’s how it worked.
“With Forever Changes we started with kind of an idea after hearing the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers. And we decided that we wanted to do something that had horns and strings and we knew from the very start how this album was going to be. And what we were going to do and that we were going to try to make this what we would consider our magnum opus. This was gonna be the thing that defined us. And it was either we were gonna take off and just go all the way or something was gonna have to happen. We were going to really leave the three minute pop song format. We were getting bored of the three minute rock tune and wanted to push it.
“We liked the Beatles from the time Billy Preston came back from Europe and knew about them. I had played with Billy before Love and he was a good friend and I met them in 1965. They sent us backstage passes for the Hollywood Bowl show. I went with a fantastic jazz musician Michael Boliver.
“It was loud. And we saw this fantastic thing that we had not expected. At that time there was this thing happening with the audience and the musician but never like this. I mean, this was over the top. And that was the point and I had to tell Arthur about it. ‘This is where we want to go, man.’ We wanted to leave the chitlin’ circuit and whatever that’s gonna be behind. And we want to move to this circuit. ‘Cause this is where the money’s at and this is where all the happenings are. ‘Cause they can play the kind of music they want, out of respect, be revered, loved and have this huge audience. That was where we wanted to go. We knew with Sgt Pepper’s there was a whole new sonic thing going on. Absolutely.
“The material and concepts of an outline of it were written before we went into the studio. Arthur was not very much of a guitar player. He could play a few chords and basically would sing the songs to me and basically play the outline of them and then I would get together with Kenny mostly and we would work out some structure for the song. Bryan had a way, a kind of a counter point that he would do with his finger picking that would work against what we were playing. We would always have the rehearsals with Kenny and me first and then Michael Stuart.
“Lyrically Arthur was writing some absolutely phenomenal lyrics. I was knocked on my ass. Hell yes it did! Because I am expecting the pedestrian the same old stuff that I’d heard before. Then I started reading these lyrics and looking at them. And this isn’t Arthur I know. A dude that I’d fought with and wrestled around the ground with. This was a poet. And I am listening to this poetry and it was absolutely shocking. Because it just came out of no fuckin’ where and still to this day, and it was only for this brief period of time that it was just profound. After that it was, you know, good and but it was not extraordinary. The writing for that brief moment of time was just extraordinary. And I don’t understand it. I’ve asked him over and over and he did not understand. Because he did not realize how fuckin’ profound they were. He didn’t know.
“Forever Changes could only happen in the city of L.A. And could only happen at that particular point in time, and only in L.A. Because you did have that cosmopolitan freedom, you know, that you didn’t have people necessarily put into little categories and boxes. You were able to go anywhere. In the L.A. area you could be able to hear blues one night and go hear rock and go hear experimental or avant garde jazz, or whatever. So you were right in the same area you are exposed to all these different cultures and also on the radio. If you listened to the radio then the DJ’s were playing Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, they were playing Dick Dale and Frank Sinatra. All on the same radio station. So you were exposed to whole different genres.
“And John Fleck and Michael Stewart were different players. Michael is one of the finest drummers on this planet. And he just knew exactly what to play. He’s a percussionist but a deft percussionist. He’s not one playing all over the solo. (Don) Conka was one of the finest drummers I’ve ever known but he could not have played Forever Changes because he did not have the light touch Michael Stewart had. And John Fleckenstein, too. And Kenny Forssi a phenomenal bassist.
“My theory on why Forever Changes is so popular and in the top ten of all time, the magic of the record is that it is unexpected. It just came all of a sudden there is the atom bomb. You are dealing with regular TNT explosions and all of a sudden you’ve got an atomic bomb. It just pushed the envelope so far outside of the mainstream that it took a while. Now if it had been released in the last few years it would have done a whole, whole lot better commercially ‘cause people are ready for that. But back then people were just kind of stunned. All of a sudden you go from here to there and then stunning Arthur lyrics. Everything was just different. The way the horns were done. The way the jazz was blended in with folk music, was blended in with kind of show tunes and rock ‘n’ roll.
“It was all put together. But also because the times we were living in. We had civil rights movement. We had the Vietnam War all of this turmoil and out of the turmoil there’s a rose landed in all of this shit. There are assassinations. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis. Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles in Wilshire Boulevard. So there we got a rose coming out of all this shit and it is blooming. And it is kind of permeating the air with sweetness.
“I lived in Canada from 1961-1965 and went to the Ontario College of Art. I worked as a waitress at the 5th Peg and the Purple Onion. The started doing lights at the 5th Peg. There was a big art and music scene in Ontario.
“I came to Hollywood at the end of 1965. I was on the scene working at the Troubadour and the Whisky a Go Go doing lights and sound. I met Barry Friedman, I was a little transient when I first got here and needed a place to stay. He had this great house in West Hollywood with a big Saint Bernard. There was a bath tub and shower in the living room. Barry was working for Doug Weston at The Troubadour. Earlier he had done publicity for KRLA DJ Bob Eubanks and the 1964 Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Barry had worked in a circus and was still doing a little bit of fire-eating. Barry always had various musicians around, like the Kaleidoscope. I was crashing at Barry’s place and then Dickie Davis, another person whose couch I flopped on.
“I did see a bunch of the first Whisky a Go Go Buffalo Springfield shows. There were a lot of girls dancing in front of the stage always flirting with the musicians, you know. Around Neil there was always an air of ‘who is this guy? What is he doing vibe?’ But he’s always kind of had that from the earliest time I knew him. He was shy. Remember: Neil and I came from Canada. A country that was behind the U.S. and especially Hollywood in the social world.
“Neil and I started hanging out. We would sit around. Musicians would jam. I was really good at rolling joints I just wasn’t into smoking them. None of the musicians would be discussing politics. Not at all. Even the girls around didn’t have any concept of politics. It just seemed to me that the music scene, for the most part was real onto itself. To me everyone wasn’t political, although Stephen’s song ‘For What It’s Worth’ was political.
“Richie Furay was always a kind and nice guy. He wasn’t show business. He was a terrific singer. I never got close to Dewey (Martin). He was another Canadian but there was something rough about him. I went to his wedding and took pictures. I liked Bruce (Palmer).
“I heard all the songs that were earmarked for their debut LP. I loved their music. I went to Gold Star. But good tension between Stephen and Neil. I think it was the competitiveness. They continued that not only on stage with their guitar work, even though they were very different players, but they competed to hear whose song would be a single. They were both great writers and great musicians. And the music was the magic.
“Neil and I hung out a bit back in Hollywood when he lived in Laurel Canyon. It was a little bachelor pad. It had one room. When you walked in it had a kitchen bar, a room with a bed and some furniture on the property of Kyo. Neil and I decided one day we would take some photos and try to make him look like a movie idol (laughs). We were just kids, you know. They weren’t really posed. He sat on the bed and there was a nice natural light coming in through the window. I had a Pentax camera at that point. And Neil was wearing a poncho and had a guitar in his hand and was kind of strumming, thinking and looking. Maybe he was posing but I didn’t see it as a pose. I just sat there until I thought I had a good look. We hung out and laughed for two or three hours.
“I also went to some of the sessions for Buffalo Springfield Again at Sunset Sound. I took my camera. Neil had changed a bit. He wasn’t kind of sloppy looking as he used to be. He had his teeth fixed or something. I have a picture of him with a big smile with all his old teeth showing, because really didn’t have good teeth. It’s a different Neil at Sunset Sound primarily in the sense that he was now sitting at the control board instead of Charlie (laughs). He was wearing a sweater. Jack Nitzsche was around. They had a thing going on. They would be at the side of the studio conferring.
“I lived at Peter Tork’s house and Stephen would hang out a lot. And Stephen had bought Peter’s house.
“I always wondered about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as a band. I knew them. I went out briefly with David when he was in the Byrds. Green swede cape with his haircut like Prince Valliant. He was thinner then, too. A little pudgy. I liked him. I was attracted to him.
“I met Graham Nash at Cass Elliott’s house. Lovely man. In 1969 Crosby, Stills and Nash make this great album. And I thought ‘what in God’s name are they doing, you know, now bringing Neil in?’ I had seen a lot of tension in Buffalo Springfield. But maybe it helped the creative juices. To me the only way it made sense for Neil to join that band and because of his previous tension with Stephen, I think they were good foils for each other.
“That L.A. and Hollywood music scene in the mid to late sixties was such a great nurturing scene for real musicians. And someone like Neil, who was very talented, deserves to be where he is today.
“John Phillips was charming and very persuasive. He really was a guy who enjoyed power. Aggressive, but the word is power. So, he enjoyed that role of offering a venue to acts for Monterey. And people really responded to that.
“Michelle Phillips worked very hard on the Monterey festival. I wouldn’t say we had a camaraderie. She had her place as one of the Mamas and Papas. She and I had a history because of John. She was good and always a nice person. She did not have an attitude. I always thought she was really down to earth. She wasn’t intoxicated in her own fame. I always liked her and always thought she was a right on kind of person. She never seemed to take advantage of her position. Not that I saw.
“I then went to the festival and did not realize it was going to be some sort of seminal event at all. Not at the time, different music scenes of Hollywood and San Francisco. They had their scene up there and really held disdain for the Hollywood crowd. It was overt. And I had stayed up in San Francisco at the Jefferson Airplane’s house on Fulton Street. I knew Paul Kantner and years later the daughter he had with Grace, China, moved next door to me when I lived in West Hollywood and we became friends again. That was funny.
“It wasn’t that the San Francisco people were bad rapping the people in Hollywood and L.A. but, you know, just in the way they said things and the tone. The way they put Hollywood and music of Hollywood together with show biz, as opposed to pure music. Like the purists versus the commercial musicians. They all signed record deals and ended up coming down to Hollywood to record. I think there was a little envy there certainly for the commercial side. But there was always competition it seemed to me, among the groups themselves and not so much in Hollywood as in San Francisco. Like in Hollywood I always felt the musicians loved to share their music with each other and always boosting each other. And what I noticed, and even though I didn’t have much experience up there in San Francisco, is that they were a little more competitive with each other up there in San Francisco. There wasn’t as much good will.
“It is amazing to me that people today are so enamored with the sixties. And constantly want to know what it was like and what went on. When you are living it you don’t realize, you know, that it’s a particularly special time, although the music was very special.
The best time for Buffalo Springfield? As far as I’m concerned, it was right at the beginning when we were the house band at the Whisky (May-June 1966), with the five original guys--Steve and Neil, Bruce, Dewey and me—there was an undeniable magic. Whether or not we were the best musicians didn’t matter; we had magic, and we all knew it. We had replacements later on when Bruce had his immigration troubles--and Jimmy Messina was the only one who came close--but that original group was our best.
“Look, walking in to Gold Star studio. I’m a young kid from Ohio. And to go in that studio, with all the history, and hear our music coming through those speakers, even though it’s a four track, was bigger than life.
“Ahmet Ertegun also encouraged us to learn the board. So we’d go in and we would record ‘em like some of the vocals were going to be done. Ahmet had heart and soul for the band. ‘Make these demos. Do whatever you need to do to make the product.’ Because of him the band got launched a lot quicker then maybe it could have. He definitely saw something in this band right away.
“Everything happened so fast. We were young. We were new. When we did a six week house band stint at The Whisky we thought we had no competition. It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it? Five young guys who brought five different elements together. When we put out stuff together, it was like ‘here’s what I want to contribute to your song, Stephen and Neil.’ We took elements of folk, blues, and country and we established our own sound. We were pioneers, and I see that.
“People make bands a part of their life. We were always comfortable singing someone else’s song early on. The first album and some of the second, you can hear the cohesiveness was a group effort, there was not the possessiveness of ‘this is my song, this is my baby, I’m singing it because I wrote it.’ Early on there was this ‘what does this sound like with you singing?’ I know we tried ‘Mr. Soul’ with everybody singing and it sounded best with Neil. The individual members brought their own take on what was being presented to the song. We liked The Beatles with John and Paul singing harmony. Stephen and I did a lot of that unison singing. That we picked up from The Beatles but then there was a lot of experimentation.
“As far as Buffalo Springfield’s catalog, why it still reaches people, I guess it has to be the songs. Buffalo Springfield was very eclectic. I mean, we reached into so many genres. Look, the original five members of Buffalo Springfield couldn’t be replaced. There were nine people out of the Springfield in two years. Jimmy Messina came in late in the game and did a fine job. I worked with him on Last Time Around.
“I think we’re one of the most popular, mysterious American bands. The mystique has lasted for some reason. Two years, a monster anthem hit of the ‘60s, but no one really knew us. Neil has gone on to become an icon, Stephen has made enormous contributions, CS&N, and look at me in Poco, which I believe opened the doors for the contemporary country rock sound. Our legacy speaks for itself.
“You know, kid, the truth is there’s a part of me that really believes none of this would have happened without Rodney Bingenheimer. Incredible music has been made from that moment. In 1966 Rodney told me about a Mamas and Papas recording session when we met at a Liberty Records label gathering for the Hollies.
“I only went with Rodney to see Michelle. But Michelle, Denny (Doherty) and John (Phillips) were doing an overdub in the studio, and Cass was outside the studio. I started talking to Cass
“So then in the hallway down there at United Western studio Cass said, ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ 'Well, I don’t think we’re doing much.' We were staying in Hollywood at the Knickerbocker Hotel. And she picked me up around noon in her convertible Porsche. I said, ‘where we going?’ ‘We’ll be there in five minutes. Don’t worry.’ And drove me up to Laurel Canyon and I met Crosby. And once again, my life has never been the same.
“It not lost on me that you can be in the Laurel Canyon from Hollywood in 5 minutes. Not like in England where it’s 90 minutes that’s to get to the nearest bus stop. So I was in heaven. I was free. My first wife and I were getting divorced. I had already separated from Rose. I was a free man. And I must tell you that I took to the Laurel Canyon scene like a duck to water. It was just amazing to me that these bunch of people would be living in this kind of very rural area
“I just felt so free. And more importantly, I felt appreciated. And that goes a long way with me. If you know what it is I can do and you appreciate that, I feel a lot better about things. And it seemed to be the Hollies’ reputation in the Laurel Canyon scene was a big one.
“I gotta tell you, I spent the first ten years in America kind of trying to separate myself from the Hollies. You know. In all truth, it was a great band. The Hollies were a great band. Unbelievable. Bobby Elliot is a fantastic drummer.
“A lot of people used to say to me, 'you’re leaving the bloody Hollies? Are you fuckin’ crazy? All those hit records, money and that stuff.' They had not heard what I had heard.
“Coming to Los Angeles after leaving the Hollies was a geographic re-birth. I think so. I remember the first time I ever came to Los Angeles. It was paid for by Cass. And it went like this. The Epic Records contract with the Hollies was coming up and completed. Cass knew this and she figured that Lou Adler, through his Ode label would want to meet with us. So, Cass paid for first class tickets for all the Hollies to come to Los Angeles. I get out of the plane, walk down the ramp, leave the United Airlines terminal and climb the nearest palm tree. And I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m never going back.’
“I just decided for some reason, whatever consciousness is running this planet wanted me to be in Los Angeles. And I was gonna take full advantage. And I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, you know, what my future would entail. But I trusted myself, because my parents always told me and taught me to trust myself. I discovered Henry Diltz through Cass and the Lovin’ Spoonful through Cass.
“So pursuing this new musical project I was in heaven. I’m a musician, first and foremost. I’m a believer in beauty. I’m a believer in the fact that truth and justice will prevail in the end. I’m a believer in all that. I never expect anything. I had friends whose fathers went away to work and would come home and the fuckin’ house was gone.
“So, English people probably eat everything on their plate because they never knew when the next meal was gonna come. Years previously food rationing was just a drag. I never starved. I went hungry often, but I never starved. But it was basically bangers and mash. Cheap stuff. A cup of tea would really go a long way to calm you down.
“The music always kept me going. I don’t know what I would have done. And I don’t know where the fuck I would be if it hadn’t been for my love of music. And thank God, my mother and father appreciated my passion, appreciated the fact that I would give up everything to be able to play music. And they supported me in that. The Hollies passed on ‘Teach Your Children,’ ‘Lady Of The Island,’ ‘Marrakesh Express’ and ‘The Sleep Song.’
“What happened was that I’d written this song ‘King Midas In Reverse,’ probably one of my earliest, real songs. You know, I’m talking about myself. I’m talking about what I think about my life and how fragile it all is. And although we made a great record of that song, it kind of failed by their standards.
“I mean every Hollies song that we made kind of went into the Top Ten. ‘King Midas’ didn’t. And at that point they started to lose their faith in the direction that I personally wanted to take the band. They did an album of Bob Dylan covers, Hollies Sing Dylan. My voice is on ‘Blowin’ In The Wind.’ It’s one of the reasons I knew that my time with the Hollies was up. I mean, totally Las Vegas.
“When I joined David and Steven I didn’t talk about my time with the Hollies. It’s almost like you don‘t talk to your new lover about your past lover. You just don‘t do it if you’re smart. My relationship with the Hollies was pretty sour after I left, obviously. They felt that I deserted them. I personally felt very bad about leaving my friend Allan Clarke behind.
‘“Marrakesh Express’ I wrote in 1966 and it was intended for the Hollies and they did the first version of it. I’m in England. I’ve been reading about William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg with Peter Orlofsky and they’re having a great time. ‘Boy, that’s sounds like a great idea. I’m going.’ So, I grab my wife, Rose, and a dear friend of ours, Joanne, a friend of Rose’s, and we went to Morocco. And took the train down from Casablanca down to Marrekesh.
“All my pores were open. I was just soaking in this atmosphere, soaking in this train. I was in first class with Rose and Joanne and a couple of older American ladies that had blue hair. I was carrying all these tunes in my pocket just waiting for the right moment. Waiting for the appreciation.
“Ashley Kosak was Donovan’s manager, and Donovan was the one who taught me to fingerpick. And it was Donovan that first really gave me my first inkling that I could be an independent artist. I was still in the Hollies, of course, and both Ashley and Donovan encouraged me to keep writing and make a record myself.
“Laurel Canyon informed myself and Donovan psychologically, spiritually and musically. One of the first people, apart from Donovan and Ashley was Crosby. In a way, and I’ve said this before, he saved my ass. He saved my life.
“When I was in the Hollies and writing ‘Teach Your Children’ and ‘Marrekesh Express’ and they didn’t want to deal with them, you know, it made me question myself, and that’s the worst thing you can do to an artist. And so Crosby is looking at me with that impish smile, ‘They’re fucked, man. Don’t even listen to what they are saying. They’re totally fucked. I love those songs.’
“I was completely free. And it was an amazing to me. Very often I’ve said I’m one of the luckiest men in the world. I know a lot of people think that way about their life, but it’s really true to me. I’m really an incredibly lucky man. I must have done something right somewhere. I don’t know what the fuck it is kid. But I must have done something. It’s an incredible story, isn’t it?
“I think that my time with the Hollies was done. And I knew that instinctively. That was a little tense. I left them on December 8, 1968. On December 10th I was in Los Angeles with David (Crosby) and Stephen (Stills). I end up at Cass Elliot’s house. Cass’ house was kind of a central point for a huge amount of very bright and very colorful people. Basically, I was hanging out with David and Stephen and Cass. I didn’t know many people. I knew Henry Diltz, since he took photos of the Hollies in 1966. In terms of friends, I only really had David, Stephen and Cass and Elliot (Roberts), probably.
“December 1968 as I said before, I was with the Hollies and by December 10th I was in Los Angeles with David and Stephen. We went to New York to Sag Harber to our friend’s John Sebastian’s place and John was being recorded and produced by Paul Rothchild at the time.
“In fact, John was almost going to be a member. We sang with him. We were in New York and Paul Rothchild was in New York. We had already blown Paul’s mind. Because he was a great record producer and he could really hear a hit. He had heard one after another of great songs. So he says, ‘Come on. Let’s go into the Record Plant in New York.’
“I will never be able to repay David for what he did when the Hollies were refusing my material and I was incredibly depressed about it. He really saved my life. By supporting me. By appreciating the music that they didn’t want to record. I mean, Crosby has been there for me at the very beginning.
“When I first came to America I didn’t bring any money. It was months before my money from my bank account and the Hollies made it through all the financial scenes of being transferred to a different country. I borrowed $80,000 from Crosby and he never batted an eyelid. It was a big ego blow for David to be thrown out of the Byrds. What did he do? He went and bought a boat and started living on it in Florida. His life was pretty cool.
“I felt pretty good about being the only Brit in a group with two Americans. Because, you know, I have a decent sense of humor and I have a decent understanding of how the universe works. And I was faced by these two, and they really were Americans. Crosby was so fucking American. American attitudes. American ego. And Stephen was the same. I must say, I was completely bowled over. I admire Stephen and love him dearly, but Crosby is a different animal on this planet. And I recognized it from the very first moment I ever met him. Which of course was through Cass. I was with two real Yanks. Absolutely. I was with two Americans of doom.
“I felt fantastic. I know that because of the British invasion and what British music was doing to the American scene and how admired British groups were by American groups, I felt pretty confident in myself. You know, I happen to believe, and this is not ego talking, I’m pretty good at what I do.
“You gotta understand. David, Stephen and I came from harmony bands. I mean, we were harmony freaks. So although, as I’ve said before, CS&N never had any claim on any of the notes that we sang. It’s just when that sound happened it was instantly recognized by me, David and Stephen as something stunning.
“We had [managers] Geffen and Roberts, because they were sharks. I loved Elliot. He was an incredibly funny man. You know, he should have been a standup comedian. He really should have. With any balls he should have. He loved the music. Don’t forget, he was already managing Neil and he was already managing Joan. So we knew that he had incredible taste.
“When David (Crosby) was producing Joni’s first record, obviously he was one of Elliot’s best friends. And so, it made sense that Elliot, who managed Joni, managed Neil, was best friends with David, knew Stephen, it was obvious that he would be our manager. Then we needed business acumen that wasn’t there in Elliot at that point.
“When they both said to us ‘Listen. Do what you do. Leave the rest to us. We know how to do this. We know what this means. We know how to position this. We know how to promote this. Do what you do and leave the fuckin’ shit to us.’ And that was fine with us.
“When I first went in to Wally Heider’s studio on Cahuenga to record with engineer Bill Halverson, I thought. It was small, it was funky. I never met Bill Halverson. We got in Crosby’s Volkswagen van and drove up to the studio and brought our guitars and amps out and started to make the records.
“We knew that we had fabulous songs. I would never play anybody a song if I didn’t feel two things: One that it got past me. And two and I would hope that it would be interesting for you to hear. So I have those two criteria whenever I’m writing. First of all it has to get past me. I have to figure out whether the song has to resonate, has a reason for existing, and after that, do I want to put this on to somebody else? And the answer to those two questions is yes then you’ll get to hear the song. Cass sings on ‘Pre-Road Dawns.’ We found a spot for her to join on us a vocal.
“Even though we were together right then. And, at some point, this record took off like we knew it was going to do, that we would have to go on the road. And that made me kind of sad. Because I know what the road is. And it can be a lonely place. And so ‘Pre-Road Dawns’ was me feeling down about having to go on the road. We recorded it and then Stephen said, “You know, why don’t we put in roaches and midnight coaches?” And this is Stephen, which is really unusual because he was not a smoker at all. Crosby and I were the only smokers. He helped me with that chorus. That’s where Cass came in.
“When I first heard ‘You Don’t Have To Cry,’ a Stephen Stills song. That’s the brilliance of Stephen Stills, man. When I first heard the ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ I couldn’t believe it. As a songwriter and as a performer I could not believe this song. It was stunning in its composition. It went this way, and then it went that way, then it sped up, then it slowed down and then it peaked. I couldn’t wait to record it.
“It’s not lost on me that I am coming from Laurel Canyon into Hollywood to record. And sometimes I would walk from Joni’s house to the studio. I was in heaven. I was a musician making music with incredible people with a bunch of incredible songs and the freedom to keep everybody out of the studio that would fuck it up.
“The neighborhood was Micky and Samantha Dolenz. They were close. Henry Diltz, his archive is a history of those times. David Blue, he was crashing at Elliot Robert’s house, two houses up from Joan. We would go to the little Italian restaurant at the Laurel Canyon Country Store. We’d go to Art’s Delicatessen, to Canter’s Deli, Joni would cook dinner. We’d go to Greenblatt’s Deli. Musso & Frank Grill.
“Joni loved Crosby, Stills and Nash as much as we did. She was the very first person on this planet to hear that sound. Just me. We did go and sing for Cass but the very first time was in Joni’s living room. We knew that we had these songs to do. That if we got as live as possible, and as immediate as possible the very essence of the song down, and the expression is there and the emotion was there, and the slight retards and the slight speeding ups that you need within a piece of music sometimes, once we had that essence down, and we looked at it, and then added more voices to that, and then maybe added a guitar or something it took on a life of its own.
“This album kind of made itself. We had the songs. We had the energy. We were happy as fuck. All of us, Stephen was going out with Judy (Collins). I was with Joni, and David was with Christine. (Hinton). How better could life be? And Crosby had a lot to do with the best herb. (laughs).
“I must tell you that Stephen Stills was an incredibly impressive musician at that point. He played everything. He was an amazing musician and generous. And one of the things that we loved was that there were no rules. And there have never been any rules. And there will never be any rules in CS&N. It doesn’t matter who sings, maybe we switch in the chorus, ‘you sing the high part and I’ll sing the low part.’
“There were never any rules. And so when Stephen said on ‘Forty Nine Bye Byes’ and putting his guitar backwards. I sat there and watched him, going ‘How the fuck does he remember the chords backwards?’ So that when you then flip the tape back to play the real way that his guitar, not only would be backwards with this incredible sound, but would change with every chord change. It was an amazing thing to see Stephen do that. To see Stephen do the guitars on ‘Marrekesh Express.’ I’d never seen anybody do anything like that.
“Living in Laurel Canyon. There’s no way to describe it. My life was unbelievable on every level. Not only as a musician, but as a lover, as a friend, as a songwriter. My life was unbelievable at that point. I would be going and recording ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ with David and Stephen and then bringing tapes home and playing them for Joan. And having her absolutely get it.
“I mean we would do normal stuff. But what was happening is that with Joni writing so much and me writing so much, and with Joni recording and me recording we didn’t get a lot of time to socialize a lot. But people would come by the studio like Henry Diltz, who had an open invitation to come by at any point, you know.
“No formal rehearsals before we went into the studio. Our rehearsals consisted of private going through the tune, and then saying, ‘Fuck, let’s go to (Peter) Fonda’s house. Fuck. Let’s go to Paul Rothchild’s house. Let’s go to Alan Pariser’s house. Let’s go and sing them this shit!’ Eventually we could sing that entire album on a couple of acoustic guitars and blow people’s fuckin’ minds.
“When we finished the album we realized that we would have to go out and play live. We knew it was going to be a hit when we walked out of the studio and gave the two-track to Ahmet Ertegun. And I have a photograph of David and Stephen outside the studio with Ahmet at that very moment. We knew it was going to be a smash. We just knew. Ahmet got it immediately. He listened to that music and said, ‘Ah fuck…I want.’ So they worked it out between Geffen and Ahmet. I was on Epic, Columbia wanted Poco, and there was a trade and we all ended up with Ahmet, for which we were incredibly glad.
“But we realized we would have to go out and play live. OK. So, we’re talking about this. And, Stephen says, ‘Man, I really need to spark off somebody. You and David are pretty good rhythm guitar players but man, I wish we had another…Somebody, maybe an organ player that I can jam with and solo.’ We talked with Stevie Winwood. We talked with Van Dyke Parks. We needed somebody just to keep Stephen on his game and competitive and on fire.
“And I think basically that Stephen and Ahmet came up with the idea of, or maybe it was Ahmet to Stephen, getting Neil on board. I was the only one reluctant to bring Neil into the band. And the reason was that we had spent the last few months making this incredible record and developing this beautiful harmonic sound, right. But Neil wanted to be more than a musician for the road show. I can’t commit this. I know who Neil is.
“One of my favorite songs is ‘Expecting to Fly’ from Buffalo Springfield that he did with Jack Nitzsche. Listen to it. So I knew who Neil was and I loved this fucking song. I was a big fan of the Buffalo Springfield. How could you not? I listened to Buffalo Springfield. ‘On The Way Home.’ That’s a great one. ‘For What It’s Worth.’
“But I said I can’t commit to this until I meet Neil. I gotta sit down with this cat. I wanna know who he is. I wanna know if I can go on the road with him. I wanna know if I want him to be a part of my life. And, that made sense to them. So, at a coffee shop on Bleeker Street in New York I went and had breakfast with Neil. After that breakfast I would have made him the President of Canada. He was incredibly funny. He had an incredibly dry sense of humor. He always had a bunch of songs that I loved, ‘Expecting to Fly’ being the primary example. And at the end of that breakfast and walked down to the Village Gate where we were rehearsing and I said, ‘OK.’
“It was obvious that this man was as serious as a heart attack about his music. It was obvious by hanging out with him that he was destined for great things. And it was obvious by hanging out with him that he could put a fire under Stephen that we needed.
“We used to start acoustic on the debut tour. We would begin with ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ and blow their minds. What would happen is that the curtains would open and there would be a line of Martins, and the drums and the bass. And then we’d say, ‘We’d like to introduce you to our friend, Neil Young.’ And the place would go fuckin’ bananas, right. We rehearsed for the first tour on the Warner Bros set of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They in Burbank. So, it was pretty obvious from the sounds I was listening to and the way that Neil was affecting Stephen that this would be a really great thing.
“Summer 1969 we did Woodstock. And getting together of a half a million people that thought the same way that we did. Hanging out backstage in John Sebastian’s tent and of course John breaking out his best stash. And realizing that nobody there has ever seen our band. They loved the record and they were all going, ‘well, you know, fuckin’ show us.’ ‘Shit or get off.’ I could never figure out why Neil didn’t want to be in the Woodstock movie.
“At UCLA director Josef Von Sternberg was the guy who really kind of gave a real sense of darkness to the Doors, not that we wouldn’t have been there anyway. But having Von Sternberg seeing the deep psychology of his movies, and the pace at which he paced his films, really influenced Doors’ songs and Doors’ music. The film school is always there. Our song structure was based on the cinema. Loud. Soft. Gentle. Violent. A Doors’ song is again, aural and oral cinema. We always tried to make pictures in your mind. Your mind ear. You hear pictures with the music itself.
“First of all, the left hand created that hypnotic Doors’ sound. For instance, during the ‘Light My Fire’ solo section, it’s an A-minor triad to a b-minor triad that just repeats like (John) Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things.’ The same sorta modal chord structure that Coltrane used in ‘My Favorite Things.’ Left-handed I’m playing the same thing over and over. The right hand is just playing filigrees, comping behind Robby Krieger, punctuating with chords, punctuating with single notes, playing with Robby Krieger. When I’m soloing I’m playing anything I want to play. And that bass line just keeps on going. It never varies and it never stops. Over and over like tribal drumming or Howlin’ Wolf playing one of his songs without any chord changes. On and on and on. The same pattern. Now, if I were to have added a live bass player to play that the guy after about 2 or 3 minutes playing the same two triad…I’ve had guys say to me, ‘I can’t do this Ray…’
“The same three notes over and over. And off he goes, man. So I think the secret to the Doors hypnotic sound comes out of the left hand keyboard bass. Meanwhile the right hand thinks its Johann Sebastian Bach.
“A fifth person, another physical element on stage, would have made it not a diamond. It would have taken away the diamond with Morrison at the point. As we faced the audience Morrison is at the point, (John) Densmore is at the point, behind Robby and I, who are point left and point right, a four-sided diamond, the purity of the diamond shape rather than some kind of pentagram star thing. And a fifth element would have confused it. Another guy playing would have made a more confusing bottom.
“Producer Paul Rothchild and engineer/producer Bruce Botnick are Door number 4 and Door number 6. There’s four Doors in the band and two Doors in the control room. They were always there, always twisting the knobs and really on top of it, a couple of high IQ very intelligent guys. We couldn’t have done it without them.
“I never lived in Laurel Canyon but in Venice with my wife Dorothy. The sun and the beach and the light and the sand it was all there. I lived with our father in the sky, the sun our mother, the ocean and the sand. Whenever we went to Laurel Canyon it was to visit someone like Paul Rothchild. John and Robby lived in Laurel Canyon. And Jim and Pam were overlooking the Canyon store.
“When Dorothy and I got married Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson were with us and we went down to City Hall to get married. And the bridesmaid was Pam and the best man was Jim. And we had our celebratory luncheon on Olvera Street where we had enchiladas and margaritas. And the next night we played the Shrine Auditorium with the Grateful Dead. Psychedelic, man.
“Laurel Canyon was the natural place. In L.A. there were two places. One was the beach, where we were conceived and Laurel Canyon was the more mature forest place where you were in touch with the earth and the sky. Mainly the earth and the trees. The vegetation of Laurel Canyon was very conducive to songwriting. The Doors were always part of nature. It was always an intense, closed in locked in the four Doors entering that unified space that they occupied of creativity. It didn’t matter where we were. We could be in a Hollywood recording studio or Laurel Canyon, or the beach. It always had to do with the music and the submersion in the music. After you played your music you stepped outside and you were with nature. It was always great. Laurel Canyon was a great place to join my fellows.
“Our third album Waiting For The Sun. We loved that title. That’s what we’re all doing. That’s what everybody is doing. Everyone is waiting for that sun of enlightenment. That blasting searing sun. The purity of the sunlight to be purified. To leave our closed circle bodies and expand into the light. And we have a song working on the song, time to go into the recording studio, and the one song that hasn’t jelled is Waiting For The Sun. It was not right. Well let’s call the album Waiting For The Sun anyways.
“That’s how it happened. Songs were like that. Not how long they would take. You had to put them in the oven and bake them in the collective oven mind of the Doors. And some of them came out virtually. That song is right. That song is the way it should be. Others took longer. Waiting For The Sun was a song that had a long gestation. But the baby was certainly worth the wait.
“By the third album, Waiting For The Sun, Paul Rothchild was becoming a real Laurel Canyon connoisseur of veteran potent herb that was being crossbred by the Northern California growers. All those guys up in Humboldt County. For recording sessions, Rothchild had two types of marijuana: Work dope and also playback dope, which was a little stronger for listening later, one of the benefits of being a known rock ‘n’ roll band.
“But don’t forget that’s late 1967, and the potheads were aware. That’s what was so great about marijuana opening the doors of perception along of course with LSD. Marijuana makes you aware that you are on a planet. It’s God’s good green earth and you’ve got to take care of God’s good clean earth. The pot heads were the first mass ecological movement. And I hope they continue on and continue it into future because it’s our obligation to save the planet.
“We were working in the future space. The Doors on their third album were in the future. And many things have come to pass that Jim Morrison wrote about.
“The Soft Parade. Well, we had done out horns and strings experimentation. We had had a great time. I had a great time. Critically it was our least acclaimed album. However, it has stood the test of time and there are many great songs on there. So, you know what? We’ve done that experimentation. Let’s go back to the blues. Let’s get dark and funky.
“Morrison Hotel. Let’s go downtown for the album cover. We went to the Hard Rock Café on skid row with Henry Diltz. And we went to a flophouse called The Morrison Hotel. Rooms A sign read $2.50 and up. It was definitely supposed to be a funky album and you can see that on the inside photo and the front and back cover.
“Album covers were always important. We were involved heavily in that process. You could never just turn it over to the record company. Everything that the Doors turned out had to be stamped by the Doors. We approve of this. It was a barrelhouse album and barrelhouse singing. He’s smoking cigarettes. ‘Jesus Christ, Jim. Do you have to smoke cigarettes and drink booze?’ He didn’t say it but it was like, ‘This is what a blues man does.’ Oh fuck. That’s right. You’re an old blues man. He says that in one of his lines. ‘I’ve been singing the blues since the world began.’ And Rick and the Ravens was a surf and blues band from the South Bay. The album was definitely blues, Raymond Chandler, downtown Los Angeles, Dalton Trumbo, John Fante, City of Night and John Rechy.
“'L’America’ is on Morrison Hotel. It was written for the director Michaelangelo Antonioni for his film Zabreskie Point. And we played it for him at the rehearsal studio and backed him up against the wall with the volume. We played it the way we normally play and too loud for this elderly Italian gentleman. I could see him pressed up against the door trying to get out of the place. We finish the song, he slides the door open and steps outside and it was almost like he was saying, ‘Goodbye boys. Goodbye Hollywood.’ And then he goes with Pink Floyd. It was all too much for him. He just couldn’t do it.
“On L.A. Woman we played the songs in the studio so Paul Rothchild could hear what the songs were. First at the rehearsal studio and then over to Elektra. I think we went back to Sunset Sound, too. We were bored. He was bored. We played badly. And Paul said, ‘you know what guys? There’s nothing here I can do. I’m done. You’re gonna have to do it yourselves.’ And he walked out the door.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘Shit. Bummer.’ And Bruce Botnick said, ‘Hey, I’ll do it! I’ll be the producer.’ John Densmore said, ‘We’ll co-produce with you.’ Bruce said, ‘That’s a deal. Let’s all do it together.’ And then Jim said, ‘Can we record at our rehearsal studio?’ And we all said, ‘Hey, we play great at our rehearsal studio. Let’s do it. Can it be done?’ And Bruce said, ‘Of course I can do it there. I’ll set the board up and a studio upstairs. You guys record downstairs. That’s where we make the album and it will be virtually live.' ‘Yea!’ And we got excited like that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland ‘Let’s put on a show!’
“The only thing with Bruce that was really different than working with Paul was that we didn’t do as many takes. We knew when we had it. The thing about Rothchild, ‘he was a slave driver.’ That’s not really true. We did do a lot of takes on ‘Unknown Soldier’ and that drove Robby crazy. Botnick brings in a guy to play bass, Jerry Scheff, who is going to be playing with Elvis Presley. ‘I got Elvis Presley’s bass player.’ ‘Shit, man.’ He came in, a very cool guy who is playing with Elvis Presley.
“L.A. Woman I think it’s the same Doors but a continual growth, continual evolution of the Doors, the continual revolution of The Doors. The track 'L.A. Woman’ is just a fast L.A. kick-arse freeway driving song in the key of A with barely any chord changes at all. And it just goes. It’s like Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg heading from L.A. up to Bakersfield on the 5 Freeway. Let’s go, man.
“Robby was a different sort of lyric writer. You know, Robby might be the secret weapon of the Doors, we get this great guitar player who plays bottleneck, and all of a sudden he comes in and plays ‘Light My Fire,’ the first song he ever co-wrote with Jim. And then Robby wrote ‘Love Me, Two Times,’ ‘Love Her Madly.’ ‘Touch Me.’ Lots of Doors’ hit singles. Another guy with a high IQ.
“As far as the Doors at the Hollywood Bowl, it was amazing to be asked to play the Bowl. Growing up in Los Angeles and playing the Bowl must be like playing baseball in New York and playing Yankee stadium. We were really psyched! So much so that we actually rehearsed! [first time ever just for a gig] and we decided to capture the whole thing on film [and 8 track tape]. Normally, we would just wing it at gigs...We might discuss what to start with, 2 or three songs and then just go with the flow.
“Looking back, the rehearsal may have been a mistake. I think it may have made things a bit unspontaneous, not a good thing when the Doors were supposed to be so wild and free, never knowing what might happen next.....Also the fact that Jim was peaking on acid was not in line with such a tightly controlled show. Luckily, the footage from the Bowl looks great and we fixed up the missing songs, so we now have the complete show.
“Henry Diltz always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Henry Diltz has been present at incredible moments and has captured the essence of the so-called ‘California sound.’
“When we started The Soft Parade it was after the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s. The Soft Parade was recorded in West Hollywood at Elektra Sound Records on La Cienega Boulevard, produced by Paul Rothchild, who brought in arranger Paul Harris to do the string and horn overdubs.
“I never liked the idea myself of strings and horns. It was an experiment. But once we decided to do it, we did it. In fact, we knew going in that the arrangements made for the songs were actually tailored to have strings and horns. I would work with Paul Harris ’cause I knew very little about orchestration. I would give him ideas for a horn line here and there and hope for the best. But he really did most of the work.
“Paul Rothchild was great. He was just what we needed. A very strong personality and real smart, which Jim looked up to. And he knew a lot about recording, you know, which we knew nothing about. There are very few guys that Jim would look up to, actually. And the same with us. He would make us do 50 takes. Bruce Botnick, our engineer for all the albums and the producer of L.A. Woman, is a little bit overlooked. He is a perfectionist. So is Paul. Bruce is the guy who actually turned the knobs, and you can’t argue with the sound he got. He was very young but had produced the Supremes and a lot of stuff.
“It was a blast to have Curtis Amy in the studio. That was the most fun part. You got to meet all these great musicians and hang out. They were our heroes. Like on ‘Touch Me,’ Curtis took the solo. That was the first time that happened. It served the song. That was another example of egos not getting in the way for the sake of the song. Leroy Vinnegar was on our Waiting for the Sun album. In fact, he played on ‘Spanish Caravan,’ which was pretty silly ’cause it wasn’t his type of forte.
“The only reason we wanted a stand-up bassist was that it was right for the sound and Leroy was a good reader, and it was a written part. Probably any guy could have done it. Doug Lubahn and Harvey Brooks were the bass players on The Soft Parade. Leroy was a bit taken back when he saw what we wanted to do. ‘This isn’t really my thing.’ ‘Come on, Leroy, you can do it.’ [Laughs.] Onstage we didn’t have a bass player, just the three musicians. Ray covered it. There were a couple of other groups who did that, the Seeds and Lonnie Mack. I loved Lonnie. He played on ‘Roadhouse Blues.’
“I came in with some songs, and it was not like I had not done that before, like ‘Love Me Two Times.’ It was more like coming up with stuff on my own. Jim was getting more and more hard to work with as far as songwriting goes. It wasn’t the Jim who was writing ‘You’re Lost Little Girl.’
“I had never written anything political and I heard this song by Leadbelly called 'Fannin Street' about a street in New Orleans. And he had this line in there, ‘Follow me down.’ I really liked that line.
“'Touch Me' was originally called 'Hit Me, Babe' and Jim thought people might take it literally on that. [Laughs.]
“I remember seeing Otis Redding at the Whisky. I was standing right in front of the stage for the whole show. I never heard of Otis Redding before and I was amazed at the energy that he created onstage. I would stand right there on the dance floor, stage right. I wrote the song ‘Runnin’ Blue’ but when Jim Morrison started to sing it, he just came up with that Otis dead gone part right on the spot. Seemed to fit pretty good, so we left it in. I guess the horn parts reminded him of Otis. That was different. It was a crazy little song that I had and when I sang it to the guys they really liked how I sang it. ‘You sound a little like Bob Dylan. Maybe you should sing that song.’ And then Jim added the part about Otis Redding.
“That’s an example of how Jim would make my songs better. We had an ethic that we wanted to make the song better. Jim was amazing in that way. Possibly the least ego-bound songwriter I have ever worked with, no question. He was always open to discussion and for things I told him to sing. He wasn’t really a musician, but usually what would happen is that he would come up with something better.
“Jim and I had a telepathic relationship. It was a perfect combo. That’s how you make a great group. You have three, four or five guys who come together and have that perfect intuitive relationship and stuff comes out.
“When we did the first Doors album Jim was totally inexperienced in the studio as far as recording his vocals. He had a year with his voice playing live every night. He had never done anything in the studio. And I think by the time The Soft Parade came around his voice had matured a lot as far as low notes and range. Stuff like that. I don’t think he could have sung ‘Touch Me’ nearly as good if that was on our first album.
‘“Do It’ started off with a lick that I had and we needed words for it. And I didn’t have anything. And so we would go to Jim’s poetry book. A lot of times that’s what happened. Like with ‘Peace Frog.’
“‘Wishful Sinful’ is definitely one of my favorites on the album. The orchestration is really good. I love the chords and stuff I came up with on that song. I wish I knew how I did it. [Laughs.] ‘Wild Child’ is one of my favorites because it’s live. That one didn’t need strings or horns. The title song ‘The Soft Parade’ was quite a work. It was actually three songs in one.
“We didn’t tour The Soft Parade album. We only did it twice. It was another step for the Doors to try something different. The reason I didn’t like it was that I felt we were kind of doing the album for somebody else. But I definitely like how it came out, you know. A couple of years later we tried remixing some stuff without the strings and horns, but it didn’t quite work. We had actually tailored the arrangements to horns and strings, and to put that out again would be a lot of work, or alter the arrangements.
“The Doors wrote extraordinary songs that speak to people in a way that pop music does not. The Doors get inside of you. The Beatles get inside of you in a way pop music doesn’t. The Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter.’ The difference with these guys is that they have a way of writing a song that became popular but at the same time it’s talking about breaking on through to the other side. ‘Not To Touch the Earth.’ ‘Ship of Fools’ from Morrison Hotel which talks about the human race dying out. This is stuff that is still applicable today.
“A kid hearing The Doors’ ‘Peace Frog’ in 2010 for the first time is going to hear it different than I did because the Vietnam War is not raging or the 1968 Democratic Convention with people being beaten up in the streets. However, they are going to hear it in the context of their world. I can’t presume to know what that means. Today I can play that song in the context of today and make it work. So it is still relevant to me because even though it was written back then I can put it together with something new.
“The only thing today’s kids are missing is context. I have to keep in mind that the song says something to me but it may say something completely different to someone in the audience. So all I can do it is play it in a way that says something to me and then how it is interpreted by them in the context of the set it may be different. If I put the songs together correctly people should recognize, ‘OK. Morrison is saying something in ‘Five To One.’ That’s why you have to listen to the lyrics when you listen to my radio show.
“Years ago, the recordings of ‘Helter Skelter,’ ‘Peace Frog’ and ‘Gimme Shelter’ were warnings and they are reality now. Sometimes the particular or current issue drama will change but the human condition that causes them is the same. The thing that caused war in Vietnam or war in Iraq is war.
“In summer of 1971 I announced the death of Jim Morrison. I was at my parents when I got the word. So I went on the air and we were mourning his death when the story broke.
“I lived on Fountain down below Sunset, and then moved to Topanga Canyon as soon as I could, by 1969. I moved to L.A. in Aug. 1967. [Don] Henley and [Glenn] Frey shared an apartment over off Cahuenga, just below Hollywood Bowl, when I got to know them well in 1971. Randy Meisner had a place in the San Fernando Valley, around Studio City.
“At Studio Instrumental Rehearsal the Jackson Five were in the next room, and racks of their costumes were in the hallway. This day was when Glenn and Don were trying out me and Randy. I clicked, and that was that. ‘You guys want to be a band?’
“They were not a team yet. Henley only wrote half a song on the first album with me, ‘Witchy Woman.’ Frey proclaimed Don and I a songwriting team. Henley's first complete song was ‘Desperado,’ which I still find amazing. He had taken English and composition in college. Damn good song.
“I was in the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons. ‘My Man’ was about him. He died the week after I did an overdub session for him down at Capitol L.A. studios. I flew to London to start the 3rd Eagles album, and we found out about Gram dying right after we woke up from jet lag in London. I was really bummed out, as Clarence White had also died recently, and I had gone to his funeral with Gram, and we had sung ‘Farther Along’ at the grave site. Now Gram was gone. So I started the song there.
“Those sessions in London with Glyn Johns didn't result in much, only two complete recordings [but one was the Eagles first #1- ‘Best of My Love’]. I finished it in the studio in L.A. after we changed producers to Bill Szymczyk. Henley suggested a line in the second verse. ‘Hickory Wind’ reference. ‘Bitter Creek’ was the name of an associate of the Dalton Gang, which the ‘Desperado’ album was mostly about. Glenn Frey suggested I write a song about that guy, and so that was the beginning of that song.”
Portions of this article first appeared in cavehollywood.com
Harvey Kubernik is the author of 18 books, including Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon and Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972.
Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Kubernik’s The Story of The Band From Big Pink to the Last Waltz. Kubernik is currently writing and assembling a 2021 book on Jimi Hendrix for the same publisher.
Otherworld Cottage Industries during July 2020 will publish Harvey’s 500-page book Docs That Rock, Docs That Matter: Conversations with the Greatest Rock Documentarians of Our Time. Kubernik interviews D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Andrew Loog Oldham, Curtis Hanson, Dick Clark, Allan Arkush, and David Leaf, among others.
Kubernik was the Consulting Producer on the 2010 singer-songwriter documentary, Troubadours, (http://www.thetroubadoursmovie.com), directed by Morgan Neville which examined the careers of Carole King and James Taylor. Kubernik contributed two feature essays about the singer-songwriter genre and Carole King’s Tapestry album, now online at the American Masters home page on the PBS- TV website (http://www.pbs.org/americanmasters).
During 2014, the Los Angeles-based Grammy Museum requested Harvey Kubernik, Henry Diltz and Gary Strobl to develop the California Dreamin’: The Sounds of Laurel Canyon, 1965-1977 exhibition of the Laurel Canyon music scene. Harvey, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Gail Zappa, Joel Larson of the Grass Roots and Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night chaired a panel discussion on the region.
In 2014 Kubernik and author Jan Alan Henderson were feature interviews for London-based BBC Radio 4 and their radio documentary California Dreaming, Laurel Canyon, produced by Andy Parfitt.
Lenny Waronker, Graham Nash, Gary Burden, Dwight Yoakam and Harvey Kubernik discussed the history of Laurel Canyon in 2015 on the David Dye-hosted NPR radio program World Café.
Palazzo Editions arranged Harvey Kubernik’s music and recording study illustrated history book, Neil Young, Heart of Gold in November, 2015, published by Hal Leonard (US), Omnibus Press (UK), Monte Publishing (Canada) and Hardie Grant (Australia), that coincided with Young’s 70th birthday. A German edition was also published for May, 2016.
In July of 2017, Harvey Kubernik appeared at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio as part of their distinguished Author Series discussing his book 1967 A Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love.
Harvey and brother Kenneth Kubernik co-authored the highly regarded A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival, published in 2011 by Santa Monica Press.
Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik also wrote the text and biographical portrait for legendary photographer Guy Webster’s first book of music, movie and television photos for Insight Editions; Big Shots: Rock Legends & Hollywood Icons: Through the lens of Guy Webster, published October 21, 2014, with an Introduction by Brian Wilson.
Harvey Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Otherworld Cottage Industries in February 2018. It was nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.
Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, most notably The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats and Drinking with Bukowski. He was the project coordinator of the recording set The Jack Kerouac Collection.
In 2006 Harvey spoke at the special hearings initiated by The Library of Congress that were held in Hollywood, California, discussing archiving practices and audiotape preservation.
Kubernik’s 1995 interview, Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown appears in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader edited by David Brackett published in 2019 by Oxford University Press. Brackett is a Professor of Musicology in the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Canada. Harvey joined a distinguished lineup which includes LeRoi Jones, Johnny Otis, Ellen Willis, Nat Hentoff, Jerry Wexler, Jim Delehant, Ralph J. Gleason, Greil Marcus, and Cameron Crowe.
Kubernik’s 1996 interview with poet/author Allen Ginsberg was published in Conversations With Allen Ginsberg, edited by David Stephen Calonne for the University Press of Mississippi in their 2019 Literary Conversations Series).