For those of you who just can't get enough. For those who crave every morsel of the sixties--especially the California Sixties, these pages are for you.
These are stories I had been writing for my book, but as I said on the home page, the stories have been redirected into a screenplay. You may have read bits and pieces of these tales on the site, but here are the detailed versions. They aren't necessarily in chronological order, because dates are hazy, but the stories are true and close to my heart. Most of them are so incredible that they would be difficult to forget anyway.
I begin by explaining how I got to Hollywood in the first place.
LEAVING FLORA DRIVE
It had to have been sometime in 1965 that I arrived in Hollywood for the first time. I couldn't have been any greener--straight out of the cornfields of central Illinois-- oh so unworldly and gullible. Prior to my arrival, things back home had become incredibly complicated for me, after the heartbreaking loss of my grandfather. Losing him was bad enough, but I was blaming myself for his death. He died just a few minutes after an explosive argument with me. I had expressed to him that I wanted to go down to Selma, Alabama and march for the 'colored people'. He went ballistic--died just a few minutes after our hot-headed battle, of heart failure. I stayed with my grandmother for a few months, but we didn't talk much. What we both wanted to say just wouldn't come out. The tension between us finally released itself one day over a teeny incident, but quickly escalated into yelling and fighting.
I was screaming obscenities and throwing things in the back of my '63 Corvette- -never bothered to pack--just threw records, clothes, jewelry, cosmetics into the back of the car. Granny stood at the garage door shaken and tearful; and watched me slam my car door for the last time. Then she uttered, "Well, God bless you, honey." I screamed back at the top of my lungs, "There - is - no - God! If there was, he wouldn't have taken my grandfather away from me!"
I screeched out of the driveway and left a trail of black rubber on Flora Drive; while my grandmother stood there on the driveway in tears waving goodbye. I headed out of town straight to Route 66 going west. I had no idea where I was going. I didn't care. I just wanted to run. I couldn't take the pain of losing Grandpa anymore. Somehow I had to try and get away from it--the pain, the house, Granny, all of it! I had a drummer friend, Tommy McCormick, who had moved to Phoenix from Champaign. That's all I knew. "Tommy was in Phoenix." I had no idea where in Phoenix that he was, but somehow I did find him playing drums at the Camelback Country Club in Scottsdale which borders Phoenix.
Tommy turned me on to Robitussin cough syrup, and to a dancer friend of his named Haley. Since I had danced a little go-go back home, I started go-go dancing with her around Phoenix and in Tucson. After a few months, it got old, and the guilt of abandoning my grandmother in such a state of sorrow finally had gotten the best of me. I'd never even called her. She didn't know if I was dead or alive. I decided to head back to Illinois.
On the three or four hour drive up to Flagstaff back to Route 66, it occurred to me how close to California I really was. I thought "When will I ever be this close to the west coast again?"
It was right then on the spur-of-the-moment that I
decided to literally just 'swing through' Los Angeles on my way back home, so I
turned west on 66 out of Flagstaff. I followed the signs to Los Angeles and then
to Hollywood. I must have driven up and down Sunset Boulevard a couple of times
before I realized that I hadn't seen anything that looked like the illustrious
Hollywood I had read about and seen in the movies. I stopped at a drugstore to
get directions. The guy behind the counter said, "Doll, you are right in
the middle of it." I was in the legendary Schwab's Drug Store known for
Lana Turner's discovery. Astonished, but thrilled that I had found this famous
place; I cruised around the area for awhile.
Schwab's Drug Store
I found a little club later that night on Sunset where the Righteous Brothers were singing-- might have been the Red Velvet. Bursting with joy, I sat just a few feet from them right in front of the little stage that night. That was utterly incredible to me, and it had been so easy.
I remember I had seen Sal Mineo walking down Sunset earlier that afternoon with an entourage of body guards--MY God! A movie star right there on the street in front of me! And rock stars! I found myself drag-racing later with Jan and Dean down the Strip near Hollywood High School from a red light. This was all too much! I had to stay and find a place to live, and find a job--probably as a go-go dancer. I found an agent in the newspaper classifieds. He seemed surprised that I considered myself go-go dancer material. He told me I wasn't pretty enough, and if I wanted to work as a go-go dancer, I would have to go topless. Then he asked me to remove my blouse right there in front of him, so he could have a look at what he'd be representing. Since I thought this was a big Hollywood agent who actually advertised and all, I took my shirt off and my bra. Actually, I wanted to die right there on the carpet in front of him, but I felt it was a job requirement. Then I left his office and vowed never to go back. I couldn't do that for money.
"Who's Your Favorite Star?"
After just a couple more days of job hunting, I gave up on Hollywood and called Dad to wire me enough money for me to get back home. After I bought a couple of wigs, trying to look better/prettier, I was broke. When I got back to Illinois, I revealed to my little sister (Dixie) my unbelievable first impressions of Tinsel Town. She just had to see that place someday, too. I begged her to go back with me after we saved up the money. She was reluctant, however and very young--only sixteen. I tried bribery. I said, " Dixie, you will never have to work a day in your life. I will always take care of you. I'm a dancer now, with an agent in Hollywood. All you have to do for the rest of your life is be my companion."
She still wasn't willing, so I asked her, "Who's your favorite star?" She answered that it was Gary Lewis.
"Dixie, do you know that they have maps to the stars' homes out there? There's guys right on the street sellin' em. All we have to do is grab a map, and go up to his house!" I believe that was the part she wanted to believe the most--her dream man, Gary Lewis, was practically at her side. All she had to do was get across country.
We worked as dancers in Illinois for almost a year and saved up $400. An agent in Illinois was booking me as "Miss Nancy-a-Go-Go"; "Here she is-- straight from Hollywood, California !" Yeah, right ...I'd been there a whole week job-hunting, but it got me jobs and I dragged Dixie along with me--kind of teaching her the ropes, priming her for Hollywood. Teaching her how-to-be-groovy, how to not look or act like some farmer hick, and how not to embarrass me.
One of my lessons in sophistication was trying to get a benny down her throat. She gagged and coughed, ran around the room squealing. I remember thinking, "God, I don't think she'll ever be worldly." With our $400, we finally left for L.A. California Dreaming was the song we heard blasting on the radio many times on Route 66 heading west. We found an apartment at the St. Regis on Sunset Boulevard. We had to have a Sunset Strip address, so that our family and friends back home would be impressed and assured we were doing well. I looked for work dancing in the daytime while Dixie scouted around the Strip and Hollywood Boulevard. At nights, we cruised around in the Vette stumbling in and out of restaurants and a few clubs. She was too young to drink and didn't have an ID, so they wouldn't let us in many drinking establishments.
We tried to get in the Whisky one night, but the doorman refused to let us in, so we walked up the block a few doors and tried again at a place called London Fog. A band called the Doors was playing. The club was almost empty. I think that's why they let us in. They needed the business.
We'd Never Heard of the Doors
I remember one bartender being there, one waitress, two patrons at the bar, and three or four people at one other table up against a rear wall, the band, and US.
We plopped ourselves down at a table right in front of the stage, and stared up as the Doors played their set. We had never heard of the Doors, but decided that we really liked their music.
When they took a break, two of the members of the band, Jim Morrison and John Densmore came over and introduced themselves, and sat and talked with us for the rest of their break.
We told them that we were dancers out of a "suburb of Chicago" --that we had just arrived in town looking for work; we had many auditions lined up; and it was just a matter of time before we settled down and began our dancing careers in Hollywood movies and shows.
Lies! There were no auditions lined up, and the suburb (Champaign) was 120 miles south of Chicago! We were just trying to impress these big city people. We couldn't tell them we were really from a farming community! Anyway, we had already rehearsed it in the car on the trip from Illinois-- what we were going to say, where we were going to be from, and the kind of image we would try and convey to people.
The Doors sat with us at every break, but remember, the club was almost empty except for us. There was not a big choice of women to meet there. Afterwards, we went to Ben Franks for breakfast, and then to our apartment at the St. Regis.
I had a big crush on Jim already, but Dixie pulled me aside at our apartment, and told me that John was acting like he really liked her, but she was not interested in him, because she didn't like guys who wore sandals. That was the end of John and Dixie, but Jim and I continued to see each other.
He Liked My Car
Jim Morrison and I liked each other and continued to get together for the next couple of weeks--maybe three or four--not sure. Pamela Courson must have been out there in the perimeter somewhere, I'm sure, according to what I've read. I never met her; I never even knew she existed back then. Morrison was seen with a lot of women in Hollywood. What he and I had, I believe, was pretty piddly...But we liked cruising the Strip in my Vette; we'd drive through the canyon or up to Mulholland, or follow Sunset Boulevard all the way out to the beach. We'd often end up at some coffeehouse, especially the ones on UCLA campus. I don't remember ever drinking with him, but we smoked a little pot. We drove to Ray Manzarek's house out on the beach one night. Ray's wife, Dorothy, was very cordial offering little snacks and tea.
It was another quiet uneventful evening with Jim, but I remember waking up with him the next morning while the waves were rolling in. We slept in a bed out on a little porch that faced the beach. Now THAT was memorable. I also remember waking up with him on the living room floor at my St. Regis apartment one morning. We had spread out a blanket on the tile floor. I don't remember ever falling to sleep with him or what we did or talked about before we crashed. I don't remember any spicy details, but I wouldn't make it public even if I did. If there had been anything special about his body or his lovemaking, I would have remembered it. That's all I will say on that subject, other than he had the most beautiful face I have ever stared into. I was seeing a couple of other guys, too. Jim and I weren't a "steady" thing. We just liked hanging out together. I think he liked my car. Remember, he was poor at that time; and he was probably used to riding around in old Junkers. Morrison was a very sweet man in those days, very quiet-even bashful. We had many awkward silences between us. Either he had nothing to say, didn't feel like talking, or didn't know what to say. I remember often feeling uncomfortable with him. I'm very verbal and outgoing. He wasn't. I would say something I thought was really clever or cute, and there'd be no response. He was very calm and subdued almost all the time-pensive. Most people are only familiar with his stage and drinking performances. The real Morrison was buried deep below that exterior.
Our Third Half--Cooker
My sister, Dixie, in the meantime, had been making friends while I was hitting the job trail in the daytime. She told me one day about this little New York character she had recently met, named Cooker, and she wanted me to meet him.
What an oddity that guy was! I don't think he weighed 100 pounds, barely five feet tall, green teeth, a monkey on his back, and his hair was falling out! He was sixteen.
Dixie and I became absolutely enchanted with Cooker. When he sat down and played his guitar and sang, both of us sat on the floor at his feet staring up at him completely engrossed in his voice and his songs. He played a lot of old blues songs, and since he had this teeny little cracking thing in his voice that quivered when he sang, everything about him was totally out of the ordinary. We took him in under our wing immediately--like we'd rescued a cute little puppy, and adored everything he did, everything he said, and of course, everything he sang and played fascinated us. One afternoon Jim and were making out on the couch at the St. Regis when Cooker walked in unannounced. He said "Hey, how ya doin." and walked on back to the bedroom. Since he'd be staying with us, I never thought the incident meant much to anybody; but later on that day, Cooker pulled me aside, and told me that I was going to have to choose between Morrison or him. I didn't know what to say. I didn't even know he cared for me like that.
I talked to my sister, Dixie, about what I should do, and she said, "Oh, Cooker, definitely choose Cooker. He's so much more fun." She was right. I loved staring at Jim Morrison. He was beautiful, but as far as busting guts and having an all-out blast, he was a little "boring" compared to Cooker's humor and playfulness, so I promised Cooker that I would not see Morrison again and I didn't, except socially. Cooker's band, The Groupies, and the Doors had become rivals, too, along with some other local bands in those days, so there was also jealousy brewing between them when I came along. Dixie and I were big Groupie fans the instant we met them. I loved the Doors, too, but Dixie didn't care for them as much. Hence, my decision.
Hanging out in Hollywood on Sunset Strip in the sixties, was very much like roaming around in Alice in Wonderland. As young teens and twenty-some-things, that's about the closest I can come to describing it. It reminded me of fairy-tales read to me not so long ago, and how I used to pretend I was one of the characters flying or floating or wishing.
Everything in my Hollywood life seemed surreal and dreamy--like "don't pinch me, or I'll wake up from all this." My naive and uncomplicated self had only heard about this place called Hollywood on the radio, and I'd seen bits and pieces of what Hollywood might be like on TV, but I never dreamed in a million years that it would be so majestic.
I was in awe of seeing famous people right before my eyes, and the fabulous homes sprinkled all over the hills, the Rolls Royces, all the rock and roll clubs, the traffic at night; and there were hundreds of kids just like me going through the same thing that I was--we were literally walking through a fairy-tale every day and night of our lives out there on the Strip.
We became part of what we had fallen in love with in the first place; so we loved our town, we loved each other, the life we were living, the air we breathed, and the ground we walked on. Life never got much better than that.
IN LOVE WITH LOVE
People often ask me what the most memorable event was I ever witnessed. I can't think of one that stands out more than others. There were so many incredible days and nights back then. My fondest memory is the entire indescribable sixties "show" out there on the Strip. It was the parade of hippies out on the street every night, the drugs, the lights, the rock stars, the money, the traffic, the hang-outs, the parties, my funny, wonderful friends and all the great times we shared. It's all rolled up into one big fat unbelievable celebration of life. We laughed, we loved so intensely, we danced and we partied till we dropped. We got high on anything we could find. We were trusting, loving, good human beings--nothing was laced with nothing, unless it was ornamental.
I had promised my sister, that if she would go with me to California that she'd "never have to work. Just be my companion." ...Well, things just didn't work out that way too long for Dixie. We needed more money. I was trying to support her and Cooker, and most of Cooker's band members, The Groupies, from New York, on my ten dollars an hour topless dancing money. We needed rent, food, drugs, clothes, a fancy car that was mechanically sound, and club money. Somehow, some way, I actually did convince that poor young innocent little girl--freshly ripened with breasts--large round ones, unlike my flat double-A fried eggs, to get up on stage one night and dance topless at a biker bar in San Bernardino. She was gorgeous, and the bikers were hooting and hollering like cave men. She was obviously a big smash, but if the room hadn't been so hideously loud, I swear you could have heard her knees knocking. She was scared to death of them. I wasn't too convinced that I had done the right thing, myself. Bikers! Geez! "What have I done here?! We could be dead by morning!"...and Dixie was still a virgin!
That night Dixie was befriended by Buzzard, who was the vice-president of the biker club in town that night. Buzzard instinctively knew how scared and wet behind the ears she really was. He stood guard over her for the rest of the night, including ushering her from the dressing room to the stage and back, walking us out to our car and escorting us to the interstate on his Harley.
He and Dixie became great friends after that. He took her Harley riding several times and once he took her up to the Hell's Angels' mansion outside of San Bernardino.
Dixie swears he never ever laid a hand on her--that she always felt safe with him. "God bless you, Buzzard, wherever you are." We may have worked that club a couple more times, but Dixie said that if she had to dance topless for a living, it was not going to be in biker bars. She said she would start at the top auditioning at only the best clubs in Hollywood, and work her way down from there.
She auditioned and landed a job at the first club she went to--The Classic Cat right on the Strip, and worked there until the early seventies.
Dixie on stage at the Classic Cat with the
Wiener Man and his wife.
Dixie and I had always gravitated to musicians, and vice-versa. It was probably because our dad had played in big bands since the early 1940's. We knew almost every musician in our home town through Dad and by attending hops and dances on Friday and Saturday nights. Larry Hindman was a tall, gawky 4-eyed drummer who played the Moose Club dances. We got to know him because it was so hard not to notice his talent and his humor. The guy was hilarious! He was one of the most comedic people I have ever met. We would laugh till it hurt begging him to stop.
Larry had birdlike characteristics and mannerisms, so his nickname was The Byrd. We stayed in contact with him after we moved to California; and finally after dispelling all his fears about leaving Urbana, Illinois, he hopped a Greyhound bus and took off for L.A. to meet up with us. ...but oh geez, what a surprise when Byrd stepped off the bus that day! He had on his thick black horn-rimmed glasses. His hair was greased and slicked back He was wearing a long black trench coat over a suit! Dixie, and I were standing there in our hippy garb; Cooker had on his standard issue confederate jacket. We stood there dumbfounded staring at Byrd like he was some kind of alien, which actually he was! "We gotta fix this situation fast!" Byrd just didn't fit the divine image we aspired to have in Hollywood. Well, we fixed him, and we fixed him real fast with LSD, pot, speed and downers.
Within a week, he had sold his stereo, his suit was ruined, and he was broke. Done deal. He fit right in. The Groupies had a new drummer!
We all moved into one room at the House of Awareness because it was cheap--ten bucks a week for the four of us-Dixie, Cooker, Byrd, me. Pete, who was Cooker's guitar player in the band, and Jay Eisenburg, took a room downstairs. The House of Awareness was just a block and a half up from Hollywood Boulevard on Wilcox. There were two hookers living on our floor across the hall, and a guy named Sky Saxon lived at the end of the hall. We shared a bathroom with the tenant who roomed between Sky and us. The first thing we did to make the room look hipper, was paint it black--ceiling and walls. Then we stole a "No Parking" sign that we planted in the very center of the room. At night we would light candles and sit in a circle around the sign. It would feel like we were outside under the stars, and out in the street, I guess. I don't really remember, but it was trippy and unforgettable. This worked for us for awhile.
There were lots of Snickers across the street to shoplift at the 7-11, and Moonpies, etc., if you were quick enough to get out of there before they melted down your pants. Hollywood Boulevard was just a few steps away, and what a trip that could be at night with the sidewalks full of screamers, hookers, pimps and johns, and old whining starlets that never made it...very entertaining on acid.
That block or so on Wilcox of rooming houses was rockin most of the time. Muddy Waters lived down on the corner in another boarding house. I remember going to his room, meeting him, and shaking his huge hand. He was fairly well-known even then, but he was struggling as it is well known that the record execs were stealing from him, so he was obviously low on money just like us. Therefore we could all relate. We were poor, lived for music and did drugs whenever possible.
One Thanksgiving we all chipped in and bought Dom Perignon and several boxes of macaroni and cheese to celebrate the holiday. We had to wait in line to use the House of Awareness kitchen, but mac-n-cheese tasted awesome with pot and Dom, and your closest friends-another most memorable occasion at The House.
"I'm In the Mood For Food..."
The time we spent living there were some of the most enduring memories of my life. I laughed so hard it hurt. I laughed till I cried. I laughed till I peed my pants, and then some. I'm still laughing just looking back.
Contrary to popular belief, there was not much sex to speak of. Cooker and I may have managed it once in a while, but how and where do you have sex living in one room with five or six other people hanging around and paper-thin walls? Nope, we stayed high on laughter and each other. We were hilarity perves. "I'm in the mood for food...simply because I'm STARVING!" That was our theme song. We sang it loud and often--in key, with harmonies and big crescendos that faded softly into... "funny, but when I'm starving... I'm in the mood for food ."
Byrd, Pete, and Cooker ran into an old friend, Frankie Rowena, from Brooklyn, who had just opened up a clothing store with his New York drug money, called Head East. Frankie hired the three of them to work there. Pity poor Frankie, but I guess he knew what he was doing. Frankie was just like all of us--just a little luckier maybe. We all helped each other out back in those days anyway. It was our credo.
Anybody and everybody came into Head East to shop, and to score--Sharon Tate, Ann Margaret, Warren Beatty, The Jackson Five, Ringo Starr, Sly Stone, John Kay, Tony Curtis, Pete Townsend, Roger Daltry, Little Richard, and Jimi Hendrix just to name a few.
After the store closed, there were many parties upstairs on the second floor above the shop where Frankie kept all of his "inventory."
I was leaving West Hollywood one morning driving down Sunset. I'd probably been out there partying, but I was shocked when the huge Beatles billboard came into view. The profiles of the four Beatles heads rose up above the actual sign, but the tallest one of Paul McCartney, was missing. His head had been removed from the giant sign! This was horribly upsetting to me and soon to the entire Hollywood community as the news quickly spread. Remember, he was the one walking barefoot on the Abbey Road album cover. There were many references to his impending death in those days. When the press tried to find McCartney to confirm that he was ok, he was nowhere to be found.
For two or three days, Paul was just "missing" and we were all freaking out. "Paul McCartney Is Dead" were the headlines across the nation, and across the world. When McCartney himself finally heard the news, he notified the media. He had been yachting out at sea for a few days without contact purposely with the rest of the world just to "get away" and relax. The "Paul McCartney Is Dead" story faded in the news.
A week or two after the story had resolved itself, Cooker and I went to one of Frankie's parties at Head East after hours. We were on the second floor hob-knobbing when Frankie approached us, pulled us aside, and said he had something very important to show us. We figured he wanted to turn us on, or show us what a hundred pounds of coke looked like or something.
We followed Frankie up a winding flight of stairs to a THIRD floor where he proudly stood and pointed to the giant head of Paul McCartney leaning up against a wall! Frankie explained that he had simply gotten loaded to the gills one night, climbed up onto his roof where the billboard was perched, and on up onto the billboard scaffolding with a wrench, and performed the dirty deed which created headlines around the world. Whatever happened to Paul's eight-foot head after that, I haven't a clue. Frankie died of heart failure just a few years later.
Dixie was doing well at the Classic Cat. She was well-liked, and was making
friends with the other girls who worked there. I stopped into see her as often
as I could. The Cat wasn't far from the Whisky-a-Go-Go, so if I wasn't working
too far out of town, I could be back early enough to stop in both places before
they closed. I loved the Classic Cat. It was a ritzy club with beautiful dancers
and cocktail waitresses. You never knew who you
would run into in that place.
Some of the other celebrities that were seen there were: James Arnez, Evel Knevel, Adam West, Bob Crane, Robert Conrad, Richard Deacon ("Mel" from the Dick Van Dyke Show,) Louis Nye, Charleston Heston, Jim Morrison, Doug McClure, Lana Turner, Dennis Cole, Chevy Chase, Steve Jaffe, Leslie West (Mountain) Dino Valenti, "Jethro" from The Beverly Hillbillies, and Stan Freberg who produced many famous commercials in those days, such as the famous shaving commercial--"Take it off, take it all off," These are people that I know personally were there, but there were many other famous people known to have been seen there.
One dancer, Kay Poorboy, and her friend Francine Brockey, a cocktail waitress, had moved to Hollywood from Tulsa. I struck up friendships with both those girls immediately, but of course, if you knew one of them, you knew the other one; those girls were so tight, they were like twins. Kay and Francine became the first females that I made friends with in Hollywood.
I loved to brag about Cooker and the Groupies, so that's one of the first subjects that came up when I met my new girlfriends. They in turn, told me about their Tulsa friends who were in a band called Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. Kay and Francine vowed to come and hear Cooker play, if I promised to go out to the Valley some night to hear Delaney and Bonnie. They probably heard Cooker for the first time in somebody's living room, but I went out to the Valley one night with Kay and Francine to hear their favorite band.
I probably hadn't been inside the door for more than fifteen seconds, when I found my body, mind, and soul instantly seduced by one member of that band. He had on a white tuxedo, a white top hat with long salt and pepper hair streaming underneath his hat. He was onstage sitting at a concert grand piano and playing notes that were aimed straight to my heart-or so it seemed. In an instant, I was madly in love with Leon Russell.
God Plays Piano and Wears a White Tux
Leon became my essential new god. I could become an instant babbling idiot if I found myself breathing the same air as he was. He was bigger than life. He looked the supreme almighty part, too-- sounded like a god would sound if given the amplification. He even had back-up singers that conveyed the essence of Mahalia Jackson's gospel sound. Yep! That's how my god would manifest Himself on stage, that's how he would look; he'd be wearing a white tux, and he'd have long salt-and-pepper hair. Leon was beautiful to stare at, and faultless--perfect in every way, an exceptional musical entity. How did I feel about myself in His Presence? Like a common idiot, of course.
After leaving the club that night, we went to a record release party at a hotel where I was introduced to Bonnie and Delaney. Leon wasn't there, but I became a big fan of the entire group after that night. I wished then it hadn't taken me so long to get over to the Valley. Their fame was rising fast and soon they would no longer be performing in small intimate clubs.
Kay and Francine were very close to Leon. I was never sure how that happened, but I suspected that Leon was like a big brother to those two girls way back in Tulsa. He was ten years or so older, and I think he was trying to keep an eye on them; they were always drinking and doing dope and partying hard.
Kay and Francine were both living at Leon's house on Skyhill Drive--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, miles of wires and cords, and a grand piano in the far right corner. Off this room, separated by a partial glass wall, was a sound-proof cubicle that housed the recording console. Leon gave Kay a closet upstairs. She kept a sleeping bag on the floor, a clock, a radio, and clothes in her "room." Leon's was across the hall at the top of the stairs.
At the end of the hall was where Francine and Chuck Blackwell
stayed. Down at the opposite end of the hall was a room where everybody liked to
hang out. The ceiling was draped with a parachute--a yellow-with-age silky,
fluffy parachute. I remember a stereo system of course, and a TV that nobody
ever watched. Old crappy 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 singers, Claudia Lennear
and Kathi MacDonald, were there on a
regular basis recording.
Bonnie and Delaney often stopped by and Emily, a heavy-set wild-haired woman who was Leon's so-called pet, and it seemed like she was ALWAYS there. I never knew the story about Leon and Emily--how they met or what her relationship was to him, but I heard she was a cousin. 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. Don't know what I ever did--it may have had something to do with my slender figure, but I always tried to avoid her even though it wasn't very easy.
She was known for her threats and her rolling pin! One time she answered the front door when I came knocking, and I just swung around and scampered back down the steps, jumped back in my car and hauled ass down the hill. I just wasn't in the mood to deal with her that day. She was very intimidating and she knew it. It was as though Leon had a human pit bull.
My Encounters With Leon
The other person that scared the daylights out of me was Leon himself. I could be in a great socializing mood--the life of the party, laughing and talking ninety miles an hour up in the parachute room, but if Leon walked in, I would immediately just clam up, afraid to utter another stupid-ass word. An entrance by Leon could turn me into wallpaper instantly.
One particularly memorable time, I was headed downstairs and noticed an audio headset hanging over the banister at the bottom of the staircase. I could hear music faintly drifting out of it, so I put it on and started listening to what must have been one of the new album cuts they had recently recorded. I immediately drifted off into the music right there on a bottom stair step. I closed my eyes and lost myself immersed in the music for a few moments. When I came out of my trance and opened my eyes, Leon was standing at the landing right in front of me observing my mesmerism all that time evidently, and grinning at me. Me! I'm sure I muttered something like "nice song" in a teeny tiny meek little tongue and immediately scurried off. Damn it! I just never thought I could say anything worthy to him. In my mind, Leon was perched high above me on a pedestal. I couldn't relate to him. I wonder if my fear of him had something to do with my being young and stupid and shallow at that time. Possibly, but if I turned around at this very moment and found him looking over my shoulder and reading these very words, I would die a thousand deaths on the spot--meaning there would be nothing left of me, but a large brown puddle on the floor of my office. To me, he's still "way up there" and that's where he will always remain in my world.
Kay and I wanted to start a band. I had taken up playing guitar a little-- meaning, I knew three chords and I had written one crummy song; and Kay wanted to play bass. Leon's studio was right there in the house, so Kay and I liked to get blasted when Leon wasn't 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 actually serious for awhile--as serious as two stoned young girls could be, that is.
One night we were all 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 like tuna and listened to the entire album at top volume. After that, all of us continued to party until people started passing out or left. Everybody but me and Kay, that is. 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 songs. My fingers were hurting from playing guitar,
so I sat down at the piano, and was plunking out something. I had taken a whole
year of piano lessons, so I felt capable on keys--at least I did that night.. I
must have been in deep musical concentration, because I didn't notice anybody
sit down next to me on the bench, but I heard the notes being played at the top
end of the piano. Those notes just kind of started filtering in softy, and when
I realized who was sitting next to me, I just sort of oozed off the bench like
mush and moved down where Kay was sitting on the floor. God was in the house,
and he's playing piano.
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 he could have created for us in that incredible middle-of-the-night interlude.
We couldn't speak; we telegraphed elation with our eye movements until we eventually just gave in completely, and sprawled out on the tile floor amidst the cigarette butts, guitar cords, and beer and wine bottles where we lost all conception of time. We were carried off in song that night; where we floated into regions of Leon's musical brilliance. Melodically, I think we traveled all through-out the heavens with him until reality finally tapped in. It was daylight; he'd been playing for several hours.
I have been accused of reverting back to my past time and again, but these days when certain songs come on the radio, I have recollections of some wonderful memories, and there's one song in particular. Whenever I hear Leon's version of "Song for You" and the words... "we're alone now and I'm playing this song for you," my arm hairs stand up, and my heart and soul is flooded with the memory of that night when Leon played just for the two of 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 asked Francine and I to fix dinner. We were both ecstatic, but before we could cook anything, we had to clean up the kitchen; it didn't get cleaned very often. If fact, I don't remember ever eating anything in there but Reds. Francine and I figured that if we did some speed and downers, it would make the job more fun, less painful. Then we frantically went to work on making that kitchen shine. We scrubbed pots and pans and dishes and glasses encrusted with food for god-knows-how long. We washed walls and cabinets, mopped and waxed the floor.
Outside the kitchen that day just a few feet from the door, Claudia and Kathi 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 muffled laughter, and the sounds of those pots and pans clanging and banging.
I think we finally conquered the kitchen, but I don't remember for sure. I don't remember serving Elton John any supper either. Francine and I passed out and missed the entire event.
No, I didn't meet Elton at the house, but I did get introduced to him back stage at the concert two days prior to the "dinner." I got to hob-knob with him a whole five seconds or so.
The night of the concert, everybody climbed into Leon's Rolls Royce, including Emily, so since there wasn't room for me, I followed them in my car. After we got to the arena, somebody made sure I didn't get a backstage pass. Everybody went in but me, and I sat out in the parking lot for what seemed like forever, but Kay finally emerged with a pass and I got in. Those were the days of Elton's big rhinestone glasses and chunky shoes and wild antics on stage. I wish I had been more conscious in those days, because Elton John and Leon Russell are two of the greatest artists I have ever had the privilege to see in person; and to have both of them at one concert was a rare experience. I wish I could have appreciated what those events were back then--realized the impact they would have on me today
I was living at the Plantation for awhile. Leon has a song on one album called "Shootout On the Plantation." It was nothing close to what most people would have pictured in their mind as a plantation at all. It was a two-story frame house out in the Valley in a "normal" residential area--well 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 is the Plantation. In fact I was standing behind the door when the photographer shot those photos. I was with Taj that day hanging out with him.
I don't recall how we met, but it may have been at producer, Denny Cordell's house. I must have been under attack by Cupids love arrows the day I met Taj. I fell hard. I had so much admiration for him as a person and for his music, but he had a towering physique--tall, dark, and muscular. Taj never drank, never smoked, and never took any drugs. He didn't 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 he'd really want to get serious with me, but I couldn't. For one thing, I had to take something for encouragement and backbone when I was around him. I was so afraid I would do or say something wrong, but what I worked on the hardest, was taking drugs around him and not getting caught; but he'd nail me every time! Guess it was just too obvious to him.
He lived out near Venice Beach. His house wasn't 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 back yard. I spent a couple of evenings at his house gazing at the stars and the moon, and eating my favorite sandwich.
Taj was a vegetarian. He made a sandwich one day and it was so good, I asked him what it was and how to make it. It was avocado and alfalfa sprouts, sesame seeds and Swiss cheese, toasted open face on whole wheat bread. I still love that sandwich and make it for myself 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 remember, he was a strapping large man to own such a tiny car.) We went to a club out in Topanga Canyon and on the way home; I turned my face to the window on the rider's side and tried to slip two reds (seconols) 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 don't 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 couldn't get it through my thick skull, that he wasn't into me because I was into drugs. These days I feel lucky that I got to spend any time with him at all. He must be a very patient man. To me, he was a gentle giant.
I went up to Leon's almost every day. If I wanted to find Francine and Kay, that's 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.
One evening I popped in to Francine's room and Kay was sitting on the bed with somebody I didn't 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 got to tell you this story; and I told him about the time I promised Dixie that I would introduce her to anyone of her choice if she would just go with me to California. She said she wanted to meet Gary Lewis some day, so I "swore" that someday she'd get to meet him.
Gary said, "Go call your sister. I'd like to meet her." When I got Dixie on the phone I said "Hey, I didn't break the promise I made to you. Come on over to Leon's. Gary Lewis wants to meet you." She never came. By that time she had gotten so hoity-toity with herself that her response was, "Nancy, don't be ridiculous. He's so corny now. I have no desire to come over there and meet him." All I can say is that I did keep my promise.
*** There is a part in an earlier section of this column, when I explained that I had to bribe my sister into going out West with me. I told her that she would never have to work--that I would support her, and I promised that I would introduce her to the 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, who she had chosen as her favorite star, then we would just grab a map and go up to his house. She fell for it and went out to California with me. When I did have a perfectly honorable chance for her to meet Gary, she passed.
More On Morrison
I was at the Whisky one night with my little dancer friend, Kay Poorboy. I was in the restroom when I heard a ruckus outside in the hallway. When I stepped out, Little Kay was cussing a blue streak at Morrison and attempting to kick the holy crap out of him. He had a hold on both her wrists and had pinned her in a corner when he literally lost it-- puked all over the front of Kay. It ran down her chest soaking her blouse. She had called him a “drunken old has-been” after he apparently had tried to play grab-ass with her, and he called her “a filthy f--- bitch.” The bouncer and a couple of patrons soon broke up the fight. Morrison was hideously drunk that night. Most everyone was staying clear of him—at least the club regulars who knew him were. When he got in one of his crazy drunken sprees, it was best to just keep your distance--don’t mess with him.
At closing time when the lights came on in the house, we found Morrison leaning over the balcony upstairs screaming and cursing like a madman to the crowd down below. Some of the swearing was aimed at “God and his f--- son.” The tourists became hysterical; they were scrambling for the front door. I’m not sure they even knew who he was. He looked like a bloated Charles Manson. Maybe they did know and that fact was scaring them all the more. I remember that I was fearful, too. What was he gonna do this time? Those days he was always up to something strange and unique in the lunacy department. He created a lot of panic that night and it was both sad and frightening at the same time. I knew he couldn’t continue on that way. Something had to give. He had become a raving psycho.
A little later, there were about six of us hanging around John Mayall’s Mustang back behind the Whisky a few minutes after the club finally closed its doors. We were trying to decide what we were gonna do next when off in the distance, back in the bushes lining the parking lot, I heard whimpering. At first I thought someone was moaning or weeping, but it also sounded a little like singing. I realized when the shadow of a man edged closer, that it was Morrison. God, I felt sorry for him! I thought there must be something I could do. The man was pitiful—a suffering, pathetic mess. I asked Kay if we could take him with us as we had decided to go up to Leon’s (Leon Russell) and party some more. Kay lived at Leon’s and flatly did not want Morrison in her home. She had no sympathy whatsoever for Jim Morrison. She had just been puked on! …so we left him standing there in the parking lot sobbing, singing the blues, and roaming around in the shadows drunk out of his sorrowful mind….
Sadly, that was the last time I ever saw him alive.
Rita Coolidge and Rod Stewart
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. I was all braced to hate her because the was so beautiful, but she ended up being so very sweet and gracious.. 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 saying that he was "expecting a bloke." Huh?! Francine explained to me that he was bi-sexual and he was waiting on some guy to come up. Could have been true or not. He may have just wanted an excuse to get rid of us, too. Maybe we were too crazy and rowdy for Rod Stewart. Yeah, right!
The New Music Explosion
New music groups were forming, and the Mad Dogs and Englishmen had emerged. I heard 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 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 emerged, and the rest is history.
Someone else that I met through Francine and Kay was a girl from Atlanta, Georgia named Patsy Camp. It would seem at first like she didn't 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. I kept forgetting that she was actually a hooker, but she didn't think it was any big deal. 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--didn't talk much--just kept to himself in the motel and played his guitar. I couldn't 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 he'd written like "Crazy Mama" "Magnolia," "Cocaine", "Call Me the Breeze", "After Midnight", 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 one that impressed the hell out of George. George told Eric Clapton, etc. That's the way I heard it--that J.J. Cale was the straw that broke the Englishmen's back, so to speak.
Most of those songs on that first album of J.J. Cale's were about Patsy, the Magnolia from Atlanta. There were many references in those songs to the skinny little girl from Georgia. Patsy Camp was Crazy Mama.
Steven Stills--The Biggest A-hole I Ever Met, and The Awesome David Crosby
I ran into Steven Stills two and a half times in the state of Hollywood. The first time was early on--mid-sixties. My sister, Dixie, and Eddie Hoh***, drummer for the Mamas and Papas, were hitchhiking down Sunset early one pitch-black, stars-were-still-twinklin' morning, when a big ole long black hearse with Ontario, Canada license plates, stops and offers them a ride.
Inside the hearse were Steven Stills and Neil Young, of Buffalo Springfield. They hadn't been in town for too long. Nobody had heard much about Buffalo Springfield yet. The subject of getting high came up (pretty popular topic back then) and they all headed for our St. Regis apartment further down Sunset Boulevard to smoke a "J" and listen to some tunes.
I was sleeping when the four of them arrived at the apartment, but woke up to the racket. I wanted to be part of that noise, (didn't want to miss anything) and meet whoever it was Dixie had dragged in. Most everyone you met was pretty interesting in those days; I don't care who it was. We all had something in common--music, pot, hair, yucky parents, the cops; so I enjoyed meeting most people, but soon decided I didn't care for Stills very much. He was too self-centered. He acted like he was gonna be a big star someday-big musical icon…puh-leez. Dixie wasn't too hot on Neil Young either. She said when he tried to give her a back rub, it felt "kinda creepy." She liked Eddie Hoh. He was more her style-funny, cute, harmless. Little did they know that Dixie was still a virgin at the time and I was the next best thing to being one myself, if you bear in mind that I was dumb as a-box-of-rocks when it came to sex back then. It didn't take long for The Buffaloes to "sense our vibes, man." They soon gave up on us for amorous amusement and went out to the hearse and got their guitars. (We didn't mind 'em playin' with their six-string!)
I don't remember any of the songs they played that morning, but those guys were good. I remember being impressed. We liked their music and songwriting just fine-just didn't consider them to be a groovy love connection or anything. There was no romantic interest on our part at all, so that was, in essence, the end of our little encounter. Stills may have come on like a hotshot, but he wasn't the only snooty one in the group that morning; Dixie and I gave "good cold shoulder."
***Eddie Hoh, by the way, once you learn how to spell his last name, (Ho, Hoe?) you will find him all over the internet. Besides the Mamas and the Papas, he drummed on Flying Burrito Brothers albums, Paul Butterfield's infamous 'Supersession' album, and albums from The Monkees, Lee Michaels, Charlie Musselwhite, Harvey Mandel, Al Cooper, Tim Buckley, Gram Parsons, and on and on. He was credited the name "Fast" Eddie Hoh. In a Rolling Stone interview with Steven Stills, Stills praised Eddie's drumming on the Supersession album. I need to listen to that again. I remember how much I loved it back then. It is a classic.
A few months elapsed (and I don't even remember this particular train wreck, but my sister does-this is why I call it "the 1/2 time" I crossed his Steven Stills' path. Dixie said she and I were both at a party when Stills and Young suddenly bolted out of a closet they had been in for a long time that night. Steven announced, "Check out this song I wrote!"... and they proceeded to sing and play "There's something happening here, What it is, ain't exactly clear" …that ole hippie anthem, "For What It's Worth" written by some chump that just jumped out of a closet one night back in 1966!?
I don't remember anything about that night, but Dix says I was there. Wish all of me had been there. She was one of the first people on the planet to hear that song. Me? I don't remember a note. Don't remember even seeing those guys there that night. I don't remember the party! The "one half" encounter was probably the best one of all, and I missed it!
The third and last time I ran into Stills was a little different. It was a couple of years later. He was famous as hell by then, and had won my respect and admiration; so I was a little kinder--more receptive. I met him at another party. (It was one big party out there...seems like they all kind of spilled over into each other.) I remember Stills noticed me in the crowd, and once again approached me, but he didn't remember me from the St. Regis. I must have just been his type--the kind of he was always drawn to--a tall, blonde bag of hot air--like a moth to a flame, boy. We ended up at his place that night. I hadn't been inside the door too long when I noticed an elegant silvery gray and black piano shawl on the back of a chair and commented on how gorgeous it was. He said, "Oh, take it. You can have it." The shawl probably belonged to the girl that had been there before me, but I didn't really care. It was mine now. I think I might have slept with Stills that night.
I cherished that magnificent shawl! It was such an awesome shimmering piece with long fringe; and I started wearing it at work--when I made my entrances/exits from the dressing room to the stage and back; and I wore it through the first song of every one of my sets. Then I would let it drop to the stage. One night after my last song, I reached down to pick it up, and it was gone! Nobody seemed to know anything about what had happened to it. At least they weren't admitting that they knew. Those jerks! The shawl utterly vanished that night. Poof! I'm still upset over that. It was incredibly beautiful.
The night that Stills gave me the shawl? Yeah, I slept with him. Well, that was a very nice shawl. The following day we got up and decided to take off and just ramble around-no destination in particular, just wanted to meander around and see what kind of good trouble we could find. Eventually we found ourselves at David Crosby's house up in Beverly Glen. I have always described his home as something resembling a 'gingerbread house.' Nobody else has ever described it that way, but that's how I've always pictured it in my mind. I bet I could stand outside that house in the flower bed, snap off pieces of it, and pig out.
When we walked in the front door that day, Crosby was sitting prominently on the sofa in front of a salad bowl--a profoundly noticeable bowl it was, too; because about that mammoth clear glass bowl was full of white powder. Whoa! Trouble had been found. What a day that turned out to be! I loved David Crosby! Took about a minute and I felt like I'd known him all my life--a new old friend. He was so comical and easy-going. We all laughed hysterically for hours; as we swapped stories, sang old childhood songs (like, It-Is-No-Secret-Jesus-Loves-Me-When-Michael-Rows-the-Boat-Ashore) and we gravitated illogically to that bowl from time to time. Stills and I did depart once to the bedroom for a break from all that born-again singing, but I made sure it was quick because I preferred to be in the living room with Crosby and The Bowl.
I don't remember how the day ended--probably some kind of gradual meltdown. It doesn't matter. The highlights could all be linked to Crosby's captivating mood and his big ole Bowl. David Crosby was in possession of the wheel that day; Stills had to park his hot-dog butt in the back of the bus and eat humble pie. I'm sure it wasn't the first time Crosby stole the show. Stills couldn't hold a candle to Crosby's charm and he seemingly had already learned that.
I think good ole Steven Stills and I finally went our separate ways on a sour
note if I remember right. We weren't very compatible. He was too high-strung,
too full of himself; and all that conceit used to irritate the hell out of me.
I, on the other hand, was a showy, loudmouthed know-it-all. I would never shut
up long enough to listen to his arrogant bravado. Nope, the two of us never
exactly walked off into the sunset together. It was never meant to be, but I got
what I desired at the time-I had the shawl in my possession-- for a while, got a
taste of Beverly Glen Cola, spent quality time with Crosby, and I knocked out a
whole day laughing my ass off. Those gratifications were a few of my personal
faves back then-a couple of those things still are.