I met Francine Brockey at the Classic Cat. She was working as a cocktail waitress. She was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood--long straight red hair with bangs. Very thin. Beautiful classic face. She was from Tulsa. Kay Poorboy, also from Tulsa, worked at the Classic Cat as a dancer. Kay was a tiny little spitfire who was also very pretty. She loved the blues and wanted to look and talk the part. She had an accent that was half Oklahoma and half Muddy Waters. She turned me on to a lot of old blues people that I still listen to today. Kay liked living the blues, too. Her voice was always husky due to heroin or partying all night, and lack of sleep. Her favorite expression was, "Thatís exquisite" dragging out the "x-kwiz-zit" part. I clicked with those two girls immediately--wanted to do what they did, and meet some of the people they knew.
One of the first places Francine ever took me to was up to Gram Parsonsí house. She wanted me to meet him, because she was going out with him at the time. She said that some chick that Gram knew didnít like the fact that she was seeing him, so they had to see each other on the sly. I kind of knew who Graham was, but it didnít really sink in until twenty years later.
Francine didnít knock; we just walked on in his house. Gram was playing guitar and "working on some song ideas" he said, and stopped to offer us a glass of wine. He then motioned for Francine to follow him into a room down the hall and he closed the door after he went inside. They were in there for what seemed to me like a long time. I just sat at the dinning room table waiting for them to come out. When they finally did, Francine wanted to leave. The introduction to Gram didnít mean too much to me. It was so brief, but Francine didnít want to stick around for very long. As we were leaving though, someone else came walking in. I was introduced to Brandon de Wilde, an actor, who was a good friend of Gram's.
After a lot of persuasion from Kay and Francine, I finally agreed to go over to the Valley with them one night and hear their friends, Bonnie and Delaney. I hadn't been too thrilled about going over to the Valley to see a group I'd never heard of, but they pestered me until I went. I will never forget the image of Leon Russell that first night when I walked into the club. He was dressed in a white tuxedo, white top hat playing a massive white concert grand piano which took up half the stage. I absolutely was totally in awe of that man and the way he played. Bonnie Bramlett was incredible, too. I had never heard a white girl sing like that before. She sang like Mahalia Jackson and she instantly became one of my idols. Afterwards, we went to a record release party at a hotel, can't remember which one, but I got to meet Bonnie and Delaney! I became a big fan after that. I wished then it hadnít taken me so long to get over to the Valley. Their fame was rising fast and in not too long, they wouldnít be in a small club setting.
For awhile, Kay was going out with Eric Burden.. What a trip that guy was--a cursing
machine! Very funny though in an English accent. I started seeing
another member of
the Animals band that I met through Eric, the bassist, Chas Chandler. We all went to a party that War threw one time and like a lot of other parties, didnít remember a whole lot, but I remember I left when everybody started disrobing to jump in the pool.
One time, when the three of us walked into Ericís house, he suddenly realized heíd just been robbed again! For the third time! They kept stealing his gold record off the wall and the record company kept having to replace it. He took it down and played it for us one time and it turned out to be an old Benny Goodman record with Ericís album label stuck on it.
It wasnít easy to keep up with the guys that Francine and Kay were hanging out with. For a while, Kay was seeing Joe Cocker. We went to a club on Sunset one time where he was singing. He was so plowed before he got up on stage, that he couldnít even finish a sentence. In that Cockney accent, I didnít know what he was talking about most of the time, but when he got up on stage, it all just kind of diminished. He sang unbelievably well. The only hint anybody got that he was drunk, was when he suddenly stepped back, leaned over and puked in front of the base drum, then he straightened up, grabbed the microphone and started wailing again. Most of the people in the club didnít even see him do it. It happened very quickly and he was keeping a beat with his arms the whole time. It almost seemed like it was choreographed because he never lost a beat, but maybe he was just experienced at it.
Kay and Francine were always checking in on Leon or maybe he wanted them to check in periodically. I was never sure, but I suspected that Leon was kind of like a big brother to those two girls. I think he wanted to keep an eye on them, because they were always drinking and doing dope and partying hard. Kay and Francine were living at Leonís house on Skyhill Drive. It was a two-story house in the hills of North Hollywood. Except for the kitchen, the downstairs part of the house had been converted into a recording studio. What had once been a living or sitting room was the studio itself, filled with mikes, amps, guitars, drums, headsets everywhere and miles of wires and cords, a grand piano in the far right corner. Off this room was a closet that had been converted into a sound booth with glass installed in the wall that separated the two rooms.
Leon let Kay have a closet upstairs. She had a sleeping bag in there and a clock and a radio and some clothes. That was her "room." Leonís was across the hall. And down at one end of the hall was where Francine and Chuck Blackwell, Leonís drummer, stayed. (I told you Francine and Kay got around a lot and the two of them were best friends. Sometimes Chuck was Kayís man.) Down at the other end of the hall was a room where everybody like to hang out. The ceiling was a parachute. There was a stereo system in there and a TV that nobody watched. Sofas and chairs lined the walls. There were always tons of people in and out of there, a steady stream of musicians, singers, their friends, girlfriends, etc. Then of course, the back-up signers, Claudia Lennear and Kathi MacDonald were there on a regular basis. Bonnie and Delaney often stopped by and Emily--a heavy-set wild-haired woman who was Leonís little pet. I never knew the story about Leon and Emily--how they met or what her relationship was to him--maybe she was a relative. For some reason, the subject never came up. She was just there! An impending presence that was almost always looming about somewhere in that house. She hated me and she made that very clear. Donít know what I ever did, but I always tried to avoid her even though it wasnít very easy. One time she answered the door, and I just turned around and went back down the steps and took off. She was very intimidating and she knew it. It was as though Leon had a human guard dog.
The other person that scared the daylights out of me was Leon himself. I donít know what it was about him, but I could be talking ninety miles an hour, and if he walked into the room, I would just clam up. One time I was going downstairs and noticed a headset hanging over the banister. I could hear music faintly, so I put the headset on and was listening to one of the songs Leon had been working on earlier.. I immediately drifted off into the music right there on the stair steps. When I closed my eyes, I lost myself for a few moments. When I opened my eyes, Leon was standing at the bottom of the stairs looking up and me and grinning. I probably muttered something like "nice chord changes" and scampered off. I just never thought I could say anything worthy. I had him way up on a pedestal. I wonder if my fear of him had something to do with my being young and stupid and shallow?
Kay and I wanted to start a band. I had taken up playing guitar a little and Kay wanted to play bass. Leonís studio was right there in the house, so Kay and I liked to get blasted when Leon wasnít around and go down in the studio and mess around with the equipment as though we knew what we were doing. Leon had expressed to us, though, that if we got a band going, he would stand by us, support us musically, whatever he could do to help. That put some fire under our butts so we were serious for awhile--as serious as two stoned girls could be that is. One night we were celebrating because the album was finished. Bonnie and Delaney, Chuck and Francine, Leon, Emily, me and a couple of other people I wish I could remember--we all dropped acid and crammed into the sound booth and listened to the entire album at top volume. After that we all partied until people started passing out or left. Everybody but me and Kay. We must have done some speed too, because we were hopped up on the music thing that night. Kay and I went into the studio when we thought everybody was sleeping or gone and started working on some songs. My fingers were hurting from playing guitar, so I sat down at the piano, and and was plunking out something. Well, I had taken a whole year of piano lessons when I was twelve, so I felt fairly capable on keys--at least I did that night.. I must have been in deep concentration because I didnít see anybody sit down next to me, but I heard the notes being played at the top end of the piano. Notes that started filtering in slowly into my dull cerebral landfill. When I realized who was sitting next to me, it was like an instant dose of humble pie, and I literally slithered off the bench and onto the floor crawling over to where Kay was sitting.
Leon started making that piano rumble and roll like only he can do. Kay and I felt as though a magic wand had been waved over us. We fell into an extraordinary euphoria that only Leon himself could have created for us. We finally sprawled out on the floor amidst the cigarette butts, guitar cords, and beer and wine bottles losing all conception of time. We were carried off in song that night; where we wandered into regions of Leonís musical brilliance. Melodically, we traveled all through the universe with Leon until reality finally tapped in. It was daylight and he had been playing for several hours.
I had always wanted to try and find the right moment and the right words to express to Leon how much his playing meant to me that night, but I never did.
I have been accused of reverting back to my past too much, but when certain songs come on the radio, I have recollections of some wonderful memories. Whenever I hear "Song for You" and the words... "weíre alone now and Iím playing this song for you" my heart just floods with the memory of the night that Leon played just for us.
Elton John was coming to town for an Elton John-Leon Russell concert. Leon said that on Sunday following the concert, he had invited Elton over to dinner and he wanted Francine and I to fix dinner. We were both ecstatic, but before we could cook anything, we had to clean up the kitchen. It didnít get cleaned very often. If fact, I donít remember ever eating anything there except for pretzels and chips. Francine and I frantically went to work on making the kitchen shine. We scrubbed pots and pans and and dishes and glasses encrusted with food for gawd-knows how long it took. Outside the kitchen that day just a few feet from the kitchen door, Claudia and Kathy were doing vocals. Most of the time those voices, because of their power, were louder than the racket we were making, but anytime I ever heard that album, I listened for those pots and pans making a racket. We got the kitchen cleaned up, but I donít remember ever serving Elton John any supper. Knowing Francine and I, we probably passed out and missed the whole thing.
One thing that sticks out in my mind the night of the Elton John concert, is
something silly and childish that I did. One at a time, each of us took charge of the bathroom to shower and get ready for the show. I was in the hallway waiting outside the door because it was my turn to go in and shower. When the door finally opened, Leon came out, so when I went in. Of course, I was immediately struck by the fact that I would be using the same soap, same shampoo--maybe even standing in some of the water he stood in. (It was silly, I admit, but I was young.) After my shower, I was standing in front of the mirror and I reached for the hairbrush that was lying on the sink, but when I picked up the brush, I noticed it was full of Leon's long salt and pepper hair. I pulled a bunch of it out of the brush and threw it in the wastebasket. A few moments later, I realized that I had thrown something away that I would love to keep forever. I retrieved the hair out of the trash can, found a matchbox to put it in, and stuffed as much hair in it as I could. I kept it for years and years. I looked for it recently in all of my keepsake and treasure boxes, and it is gone. I have lost one of my life's greatest little treasures.
I didnít meet Elton at the house, but I did get introduced to him back stage at the concert. I probably got to hob-knob with him a whole five seconds. The night of the concert, everybody climbed into Leonís Rolls, including Emily, so I followed them in my car. After we got to the arena, Emily was going to see to it that I didnít get a backstage pass. Everybody went in but me, and I sat out in the parking lot for what seemed like forever. Kay finally emerged with a pass for me and I finally got in to the concert. That was the days of Eltonís big glasses and chunky shoes and wild antics on stage. I wish I had been more coherent, because Elton John and Leon Russell are two of the greatest artists I have ever had the privilege to see, and to have both of them at one concert was a rare experience. I wish I could have appreciated those events more back then.
Leon has a song on one album called "Shootout On the Plantation." I was living at the Plantation for a while. It was nothing close to what most people would have pictured in their mind as a plantation at all. It was a two-story wood frame house in Sherman Oaks in a "normal" residential area-- the Plantation was the only abnormal thing in the neighborhood. Taj Mahal has an album cover where he is sitting on a sidewalk in a chair out in front of an old house. That house is the Plantation. In fact I was standing behind the door when the photographer shot those photos. I was hangin' out with Taj that day.
I donít recall how we met, but it may have been at Denny Cordellís house. (Denny was a producer.) Cupid really stung me hard with little love darts the day I met Taj. I fell hard. I had so much admiration for him as a person and for his music. Taj was a big muscular man who had a powerful presence. He never drank, never smoked, never took any drugs. He didnít like the fact that I did either. He was constantly lecturing me on that subject. I tried so hard not to take any, because I figured if I could stop, then maybe heíd really want to get serious with me, but I couldnít. For one thing, I had to take something to relax when I was around him. I was so afraid I would do or say something wrong in his eyes, but what I worked at the hardest was taking drugs around him and trying not to get caught; but heíd nail me every time! Guess it was just too obvious to him.
He lived out by Venice Beach. His house wasnít fancy, but it was roomy and sparkling clean. That was unusual in those days unless you had a maid. He had a telescope set up in his yard, so we spent a lot of time at his house watching the stars and the moon. Taj was a vegetarian, too. He made a sandwich for me one day and it was so good, I asked him what it was and how to make it. It was avocado, alfalfa sprouts, sesame seeds and cheese, toasted open face. It is still one of my favorite things to eat. I make it on a regular basis and every time I do, I think of him.
The last time that I remember being with Taj was in his little Volkswagen (and I don't even know how he managed to fit in the thing.) We went to a club out in Topanga Canyon (Topanga Canyon Corral, I think it was) and on the way home, I turned my face to the window on the riderís side and tried to slip two reds in my mouth. He caught me doing it and slapped them out of my hand. I believe that must have been the final straw for him, because I donít recall seeing him alone again. I tried to get him to explain to me what was going on at the Whisky one night, and he probably did a hundred times prior, but I just couldnít get it through my thick skull, that he wasnít into me because I was into drugs. These days I feel lucky that I got to spend any time with him at all. He was a very patient man. To me, he was a gentle giant.
I went up to Leonís almost every day. If I wanted to find Francine and Kay, thatís where they would most likely be in the daytime. Sometimes I would go up there and never leave because of the constant activity--all the people and drugs that went in and out of there. If I ever got bored, I went to Leonís.
One evening I popped in to Francineís room and Kay was sitting on the bed with somebody I didnít know. She said, Nancy, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Gary Lewis. I let out a yelp!--started jumping up and down--I said I've got to tell you this story. And I told them about the time that I promised my sister, Dixie that if she would go out to California with me, I would introduce her to anyone of her choice and that she had chosen her teenage idol, Gary Lewis. He said "go call your sister. Iíd like to meet her." When I got Dixie on the phone I said "I didnít break my promise. Come on over to Leonís. Gary Lewis wants to meet you!" She never came. By that time she had gotten so hoity-toity herself that she said, "Nancy, donít be ridiculous. Heís so corny now. I have no desire to come over there." At least I tried to keep my promise. **
Kay and I went to the Whisky one night. Donít remember who was playing, but Jim Morrison was there drunk and high as a kite. He shoved Kay up against a wall back by the restrooms and tried to fondle her. Kay got pissed! She called him "a cocksuckin old has been!" which must have upset his stomach because then he puked all over her. Later that night when the lights came on at the Whisky, everybody was leaving--lots of tourists and all--and Jim was hanging over the banister upstairs shouting at the top of his lungs obscenities about God and Jesus. Just ranting and going on and on like a wild man about the "fucking Lord and his fucking son." The tourists began clamoring for the front door. When we were outside afterwards, behind the Whisky, piling into John Mahallís Mustang, I noticed Jim back there roaming around the parking lot half moaning-- half singing. I remember feeling so sorry for him and I said to Kay, "You know we ought to take him with us. I'm kinda worried about just leaving him here. Heís pitiful." Well, Kay, of course, wouldnít agree to that. She had just been puked on and was still pissed. She said Morrison would have puke all over Leonís house and probably crash and burn the studio and equipment if we let him go over there. And what would Emily do to us? No way was Jim Morrison invited over to Leonís. So we drove off and left him standing in the parking lot alone, which was the last time I ever saw the man alive.
Later, when the movie came out about Morrison, I thought, "Wow, I canít wait to see the part where he raised a big ruckus that one night at the Whisky," but, as we all know, that stuff wasnít in the movie.
In case you are wondering where Cooker was during all this, he was around town having his fun. We would split up, then go back together over and over time after time. I would see him with some girl and then I would want him back again. Then he would drive me up the wall and Iíd kick him out or he would leave. It was on-again--off-again for years. He told me later in life that he had slept with Francine and with Kay. Well, I was sleeping with other guys--besides, it was when we were broken up. Cooker lived at the Plantation for a while, too, but not while I was there. He was living with another waitress from the Classic Cat named Cher. I think she must have had a mind like my sister and I--very gullible--very vacant, because Cher and Cooker were walking down the street one day when a cop pulled over and approached them. Cooker had a nickel bag of heroin on him and he gave it to Cher to stick in her blouse which she did, but it was a see-through blouse! Cooker spent six months in a prison north of L.A. Cher and I used to take turns going up to see him. One time we blew his mind and went together. He was pretty speechless that day--stuttered a lot. I tried to like Cher even though she was with Cooker at the time, but I admit I was jealous. I didnít want him, but I didnít want anyone else to have him either. Besides that, I blamed her for getting caught with the heroin. Looking back though, I think she must have been a sweet girl--just naive.
Francine took me to a Rita Coolidge-Rod Stewart concert one time. I got to go backstage and meet Rita who was so warm and friendly to me. I was all braced to hate her, and she was so very sweet just like her beautiful voice. She said that Rod was having a party later at the Hyatt House on Sunset. We all went over there and went up to his room. We stayed long enough to get high, then he shooed us all out, all ten of us. Rod said he was "having a bloke come up." Francine explained to me later that he was bi-sexual and he was expecting a guy to come up to his room at the hotel. Could have been true or not. He may have just wanted an excuse to get rid of us, too. We were known to get pretty crazy.
New music groups were forming, and the Mad Dogs and Englishmen had emerged. I heard that the way that happened was that George Harrison had come over from England and was so impressed with the music from Leon and Taj and Bonnie and Delaney, and J.J. Cale that the word got out to his other English musician-friends--then Eric Clapton was introduced to the Oklahoma people and got the Derek and the Dominoes-thing going. He had met J.J. Cale and loved his songs. The music styles started melding, the Mad Dogs and Englishmen merged, and the rest is history.
Someone else that I met through Francine and Kay was a girl from Atlanta, Georgia named Patsy. It would seem at first like she didnít work, because she was not a waitress or a dancer or singer or anything, but it turned out she was a hooker. Patsy had a gregarious Southern personality. We clicked immediately. We loved clothes and we would get together to design and make new outfits, so we would never be seen in anything twice. She kept talking about "her Johnny" and how she would love to introduce me to him. From the way I interpreted her description of him, I had somebody pictured who was kind of no-good and leachy. She paid for his rather seedy motel room. She said that Johnny was very shy--didnít talk much--just kept to himself in the motel and played his guitar. I couldnít picture her with someone like that. She did bring him over one day; he sat on my couch for two hours or more playing songs one right after the other--never saying much in between. He played songs that heíd written like "Magnolia," "Cocaine" "Call Me the Breeze" "After Midnight" "Crazy Mama"-- every song--Fantastic! Then they left and I never saw him again, but I have been listening to his music now for thirty years. J.J. Cale was one of the musicians that got his break when George Harrison came to town. He was the one that impressed the hell out of George. George told Eric Clapton, etc . Thatís the way I heard it--that J.J. Cale was the straw that broke the Englishmenís back, so to speak.
Most all of those songs on that first
album of J.J. Caleís were about Patsy Camp, the Magnolia from Atlanta.
** There is a section in an earlier
chapter of my book when I am trying to bribe
my sister into going out to California with me. I told her that she wouldnít
have to work--that I would support her and I promised that I would introduce her
to the favorite star of her choice. I explained to her that they had maps to the
movie stars homes right there on Sunset, so if she wanted to go up and meet Gary
Lewis, whom she had chosen, then we would just grab a map and go up to his house.
She fell for it and went out to California with me. Introducing her to Gary meant that I had kept my promise, but of course, she
could have cared less by then.
Honey, there are some days
When dreamin' don't come easy
And breezes blow so queasy
'Cross the stone
Honey, there are some days
When livin' don't come natural
'Cause your eyes are starin' backwards
At the bone...
R.D. Simone ©1987 Third Stone, First Rose