Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Memory Lingers On

Stan Kenton and his orchestra
The song is ended but
The memory lingers on.
Irving Berlin, "The Song is Ended"

The philosopher in me resists simply saying "I love music."  Even plants love music and reportedly grow faster when the greenhouse is wired for sound.  I was raised on a musical diet of "Warsaw Concerto" and George Clooney's aunt singing "Come On-a My House."  My genealogy contains no musicians, my DNA is bereft of tonality.  There is no charisma in my off-key voice. The clarinet attracted me because to my 10-year-old mind it looked and sounded cool.  Practice and performance early on generated praise and encouragement.  I opened my ears. As a teen my favorite songs included "One Mint Julep" by the Clovers, "Lullaby of Birdland" by Ella Fitzgerald, and "My Funny Valentine" by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker.  I hated hillbilly, Hawaiian and classical music.  The counter-cultural aspects of being a musician appealed to me, as well as the possibilities of fame and fortune.  I got a tiny taste of it before deciding I could never make the cut, and got rid of my clarinet and alto sax.

Me and Peggy Lee
As a reviewer of records in a local newspaper, I valued the tangibility of free LPs and 45 rpm singles almost as much as I appreciated the sounds of music they contained.  Discs could be treasured, or traded and sold.  Seeing my byline over a column of judgements that might induce or dissuade a consumer from a purchase gave me a sense of power.  Musical criticism, while always subservient to the performance, had ample rewards: free tickets to concerts, backstage passes, the best seats in clubs, and a way to meet and play like friends with the famous.  I was courted by record companies and press agents looking not for my opinions but for unpaid promotion for their artists.  It was a slight seedy game.

Mike Ochs and I at the Whisky A Go Go
The last act of my musical life took place in the 1970's when I became a rock and roll press agent in Hollywood.  For five years I worked for Atlantic, Fantasy and MCA records, as well as the hip PR firm of Gibson & Stromberg. Only in my early 30's, I consumed copious quantities of alcohol and drugs in pill, smoke and powdered form.  My marriage foundered and I neglected my kids.  Access to rock stars was almost unlimited and I watched concerts by The Who, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young from the side of the stage.  It was a non-stop express of a life that required uppers to wake up and downers to sleep.  I smoked dope with Willie, Jerry Jeff and Waylon in Austin, inhaled a speedball before flying first-class across the country with Al Kooper, took acid with guitarist Lenny Kaye in a Vermont stream, watched the Stones record in Jamaica, celebrated Atlantic's 25th anniversary in Paris where Stephane Grappelli played dinner music, and got thrown in jail with The Who in Montreal after my hotel suite was trashed by Pete and Keith.  In the end I was unceremoniously fired by the gold-chain wearing head of Atlantic's west coast office and told to turn in my company credit cards. I fled to Northern California to nurse my wounds, and it took me a year or more to recover from the cocaine-fueled fantasy years.

David Geffen and Joni Mitchell
In my experience, there were two classes of blood suckers in the music business who clustered around the famous and wannabe entertainers.  On one side there were those who saw an opportunity to become rich off someone else's creativity.  David Geffen is the ultimate representative of this breed. Making money off those you supposedly served usually required lying, stealing and cheating, all at the same time.  On the other side were dopes like me who loved the sound of the music as well as the spark of excitement caused by proximity to power and fame.  While I had a sizeable expense account, and could host press parties that cost thousands of dollars, I spent all my earnings and left the scene almost penniless.

Aretha and Wexler
Atlantic's office when I started at the beginning of 1970 was on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood. I introduced myself to Jerry Wexler, the label's celebrated producer, with a letter describing the role his work (Ray Charles, Aretha, the Drifters, Wilson Pickett) had played in my musical upbringing; he liked it. In my first month the company's annual convention for record sellers and DJs was held in Palm Springs and the headliners were Delaney and Bonnie and friends featuring Eric Clapton. It was the era of "house hippies" when longhairs were hired to keep the record companies hip, or at least give the illusion of it. In that role I was sent to Goddard College in Vermont, in June to represent Atlantic at the now-infamous Alternative Media Conference.  Our artists Dr. John and J. Geils Band performed, Ram Dass and Jerry Rubin talked, and on the last day everyone took acide while Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm rode around the campus in their bus throwing vegetables to the crowd.

Crowe at left, Led Zep in SF, 1973
My job was to cultivate the press. As a house hippie, I refrained from hyping the company's schlock and fortunately there was only a little of that (Iron Butterfly was the most successful). My tribe consisted mostly of other rock and roll flacks and we shared records and invited one another to our functions involving music and booze.  Among the young writers I encouraged were Lester Bangs and Cameron Crowe, two kids from San Diego.  I accompanied King Crimson to their city and Cameron introduced me to the girl who would became Penny Lane in his film "Almost Famous" about the years I knew him.  Lester, like another San Diegan, Tom Waits, whose first bio I wrote, arrived in Hollywood not fully formed and took on a new persona; it killed Lester but made Tom famous.

Bette Midler and Ahmet
Occasionally I accompanied Atlantic's president Ahmet Ertegun around town to meet and listen to aspiring recording artists.  I recall one trip in his rented convertible with the top down, and a singer whose specialty was unrecorded Dylan songs.  I was one of Ahmet's "ears" on the coast but rare heard anyone he might find interesting other than a retired Monkee looking for a resurrection and a scary drummer who played his knees.  Another of his ears was Diane, a publicist friend who was also Chuck Berry's main squeeze.  At the Palm Springs conference I tried to put her in a room with John Carpenter, scene maker and music editor of the Los Angeles Free Press, but learned quickly that he was gay, an alcoholic and a drug addict.  John was a much loved, larger than life character who ended up living near me in the Santa Cruz Mountains and he was killed one night while walking drunk down the center of the highway.

Jann Wenner in the early years
Not long after joining Atlantic, Jann Wenner offered me the job as Los Angeles correspondent of Rolling Stone.  Legendary critic Ralph Gleason, who had helped start the magazine, had recommended me because I got to know him while taking dictation at the San Francisco Chronicle when he was covering the Monterey Jazz Festival.  Carpenter had been the first LA editor and Jerry Hopkins, the second, was leaving, but I had to turn Jann down.  Dave Felton, who accepted, had written about comedy with me on the teen section of the Star-News.  He got to cover the Manson trial and later helped start MTV. Rolling Stone was then in San Francisco and when our acts played the Boarding House or one of Bill Graham's venues, I visited their offices often to talk with John Burks (a colleague from a few years earlier on the Daily Cal), Ben Fong-Torres or Ed Ward.

Music critic Ralph Gleason
Gleason called me again after I'd been with Atlantic for a couple of years and offered me a job as publicity director with Fantasy Records in Berkeley, the label made rich by the success of Credence Clearwater Revival.  During negotiations, I was guiding Wexler through interviews around Aretha's appearance at the Fillmore (a fantastic show in which she was joined onstage by Ray Charles), and he never forgave me for dealing with the competition.  Fogarty and company were embroiled in lawsuits with company head Saul Zantz when I arrived and he was laying plans for the film company that eventual produced a string of critically acclaimed films. Gleason, it turned out, had little interest in publicity.  I became friends with Tom Fogarty and went to hear him jam at a small club with Jerry Garcia and keyboard player Merl Saunders. My greatest accomplishment at Fantasy, however, was starting a poetry magazine with Pat Nolan who worked in the warehouse, and we printed it secretly on the company's mimeograph machine.

A younger, less flashy Elton
During the music daze of 1970-74, I worked only six months for Fantasy and an equivalent time with MCA Records which included The Who's Quadrophenia tour of the U.S.  I also traveled briefly on the Starship with Elton John whom I'd first seen at his American debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, before the costumes and huge glasses.  I fell for "Your Song" which is now a staple in elevators.  Elton's British LP had made legions of fans before it was ever released in the U.S.  After resigning in exhaustion from MCA, I took a gig with Atlantic following the British group Yes to several concert auditoriums and taking DJs and record store owners for a ride in a hot air balloon decorated with Roger Dean's famous art work.  Either high winds or too many obstructions in parking areas made the project impossible. So I went back to doing PR out of the Hollywood office.

Not hip enough? Barry Manilow
In addition to publicity, I was also assigned A&R duties, which meant recommending to the powers any potential money makers for the record companies that I heard, at Troubadour's "Hoot" night or elsewhere.  Quite often artists on the labels I preferred, like my favorite singer Judy Mayhan, were not commercially successful.  While traveling with Ahmet's discovery Bette Midler I got to know her pianist and musical director Barry Manilow.  He'd made a pile of money writing commercials for McDonald's and other brands, but he wanted his own career.  I really liked "Could It Be Magic" which he played in Bette's show.  When Barry brought me a completed record he'd paid for on his own, I sent it back to Jerry Greenberg, then heading the company, with a strong recommendation.  His response?  Not hip enough for Atlantic.  Although he's ertainly no Otis Redding, Manilow has done quite well since then.  Another discovery was Holly Near, an actress in several films and a spokeswoman for feminist issues.  Our west coast office went to see her perform her songs at the Ash Grove and tried to get the company to sign her.  She was rejected, however, and went on to establish her own company for artists considered marginal.

Me on the verge of R&R blowout
During my final days in the music biz as the songs were ending, I locked myself in my office,, which contained only a couch and coffee table rather than a desk (a style perfected at Gibson & Stromberg) and played my favorite music at aircraft volume.  This noisy retirement resulted from a combination of too many drugs and an aversion to the new boss, brother to the New York toad who had rejected Manilow as not hip.  Bob, with his string of gold chains, was the essence of not hip, and a sure sign of Atlantic's decline from the peak of hipness. I went home to pack and a week later was traveling with my girlfriend up to the Santa Cruz Mountains to begin a new life.  We broke up a month later.  I went back to Hollywood one more time, but after three days of debauchery, I woke up to realize that getting out of Dodge was my only survival strategy.  It worked.

With Roberta Flack
My career in and around music ended in 1975.  A good many of my friends on Facebook today were my companions in the music business during the early 1970's, so the memories linger. My closest friend in Bangkok, in fact the reason I came here almost 10 years ago, is Jerry Hopkins, chronicler of Elvis, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and more.  Often we reminisce about the glory days.  His biography, which he refuses to write, would be much more interesting than mine.  Before I left America, I gathered together on an iPod all of the music that was memorable in my life, from jazz to rock, country to classical, and all of the hybrid genres in-between.  My eldest son sometimes clues me in to the latest of his musical finds, but for the most part I'm ignorant of the current scene, other than icons like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.  I bring YouTube videos of some of the newest stuff Thais like to my class so the monks, students of English, can write down missing words in the lyrics of the song as it plays.  They like this teaching exercise. And so do I.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My Post-Musical Life

When I was 10, mesmerized by the movies, I wanted to be an actor.  "Drown him," advised Uncle Ted, my father's twin who had acted on Broadway in Jose Ferrer's 1952 production of "The Chase" (Jason Robards was his understudy).  So I turned my attention to the clarinet and decided to become a musician (my second instrument was the alto sax, not the tenor pictured which I borrowed for a jam session at Guitar Player Magazine).  My career goals were never very practical.  In the years before rock and roll, I was devoted to jazz and my ambition was to play in Stan Kenton's band.  He released an EP called "This is an Orchestra" in which he introduced the members of his band, all well-known jazz musicians on their own.   I wanted to hear myself included among their number.  In my teens I had some success, playing in a dixieland band and winning a contest with my own jazz combo. But, as I wrote in my last post, after a car accident the first week of college, I was confined to my bed with a broken leg for six months.  In some respects, this was the best thing that could happen to me.  I discovered a love for for solitude, for reflection and spiritual speculation, and for reading and writing.  I concluded that I would never be as good a musician as I wanted to be, and put my instruments up for sale. These are the stories about what happened after I gave up my musical ambitions.

Kingston Trio
My new ambition, after having written about music for a teen section in the local newspaper, was to pursue a career as a writer.  Music would be my initial vehicle.  The field was changing rapidly. In the beginning of my trajectory it was Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole (whom I interviewed at his home). Folk music entered with the Kingston Trio (interviewed at  TV station) who built on the accomplishments of the Weavers and Pete Seeger.  Rock was evolving through the popularity of Bill Haley and Elvis Presley (who I did not initially appreciate) in the encounter of white musicians with black rhythm and blues, the music I had listened to in high school. Jazz, too, was changing with the atonal sounds of Ornette Coleman (I had the same reaction to Coleman as with Presley). I loved most forms of contemporary music and particularly liked the free records my status as a reviewer allowed me to accumulate.

Phil Ochs
After going through a train crash on the Texas-Louisiana border and watching the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination on TV at my parents' house in North Carolina, my first wife and I finally made it to New York City.  Our possessions included a record player and Bob Dylan's 2nd LP.  One night we listened to Dave Van Ronk and Mississippi John Hurt at the Gaslight in the Village and found ourselves afterwards in the Kettle of Fish next door where Phil Ochs was holding court and telling stories.  Jack Elliott needed a place to stay and we offered him our couch.  He left his guitar at our apartment for a week.  I wrote a series on folk music for my employer, Radio-TV Daily, and got press credentials to the 1964 Newport Folk Festival where we rubbed elbows with the leading lights. From the press section in front of the stage we saw Seeger, Dylan and Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary up close and personal (it was the year before Dylan went electric and everyone was still friends). One night at our friend Alicia's apartment we watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.  Seeing "Hard Days Night" soon after, it was obvious that the musical world was changing.  In high school I'd had a pen pal in Scotland who'd sent me tapes of "The Goon Show."  In many respects, the Beatles were the Goons put to music (Monty Python is the end result of the Goons).

The following year, in search of adventure, we moved to London where I persuaded the journalist's union to give me a work permit to write for TV World, the program guide for commercial TV in the Midlands around Birmingham (but published from London offices).  I wrote about American TV shows syndicated in England, like "The Fugitive,"  and also covered the music scene with another journalist. At the taping of one show, I met Donovan who had been hired to write an original song each week about the hit parade even though he'd not yet released his own record.  I thought he was trying to imitate Dylan too closely. Written on his guitar was "This Machine Kills."  I pointed out that Woody Guthrie's guitar had "This Machine Kills Fascists" on it.  Donovan told me he thought there were no more fascists.  I wrote a short piece about him in my magazine and invited him to dinner at our apartment near the Portobello Road where we talked about folk music and the story I was writing about Rambling Jack Elliott for Sing Out! in the states.

Jack Elliott and Derroll Adams
Jack rambled to England in the 1950's and invited his friend, banjo player Derroll Adams, to join him.  They busked around the continent for food money and recorded a couple of now classic albums.  When Jack returned home, Derroll stayed on and became a legend.  My wife was pregnant with our first child when we crossed the channel and we eventually tracked him down at the Welkum Cafe off the main square in Brussels.  The writer of "Portland Town" (copyright stolen by John Stewart when he was with the Kingston Trio, who then sold it -- he told me -- to a mafia music publishing company) Derroll spoke and sang in a soft voice surrounded by admirers.  We strolled in a group around the city to different bars and several performed for drinks.  Not long after we returned to London, Derroll showed up on our doorstep, hungover and destitute.  He lived with us for a period of time and we tried to help him get back on his feet.  Alcoholism was his Achilles' heel.  He got together with Donovan and they can be seen in one scene of Dylan's film "Don't Look Back."  Derroll was drunk.  Before he returned to Belgium, I wrote about his life for Sing Out!  After meeting his wife Danny and settling down in Antwerp, Derroll straightened out his life and was highly acclaimed for his influence and inspiration by musicians everywhere before his death in 2000.

Colin Wilkie and Shirley Hart
The British folk scene in the mid-1960's was booming, with clubs, usually connected with pubs, on every corner.  Paul Simon, on the verge of success with his recording partner, performed solo at the Troubadour in Earl's Court.  We became friends with Colin Wilkie and Shirley Hart, a popular folk team and they introduced us to their crowd, including Alex Campbell from Scotland, and Guy and Candy Carawan from Georgia.  Through Derroll I met the Pretty Things as well as Alexis Korner who was an influence on the Rolling Stones. Other friends included an Australian duo, Lyn and Graham McCarthy, who had recorded several LPs. Folk singers from America came over to appear on TV and I interviewed Buffy Sainte-Marie, Carolyn Hester and Julie Felix, among others.  Weston Gavin, who'd sung with Woody and with Derroll in Topanga Canyon in the 1950's (his name before Subud was Jimmy Gavin), became a close friend.  He had a bit role as a villain in the first Superman movie.  I wrote about folk music for English publications.  Attending rehearsals for music TV shows, I got to listen to the Byrds and Sonny and Cher who had taken London by storm, somewhat reversing the influence of the British invasion of the U.S. But one day I wandered into an art gallery (owned by Marianne Faithful's husband, the exhibit where John met Yoko) and saw a copy of the Los Angeles Free Press and learned about the hippie revolution in California.  A few months later we returned to the U.S. with our newborn son.

I imagined a job in the movie business but I ended up in public relations.  The first firm had an office on the Sunset Strip at the same time as the riots, sung about by the Buffalo Springfield in "For What It's Worth," were taking place.  With one child and another on the way, I felt on the other side of the generation divide from the hippies whose presence was growing stronger every day.  I wore a tie and made up words to put in the mouths of our celebrity clients.  Because I had lived in Pasadena, I was given the Art Museum as an account and told to provide a Hollywood gloss for the opening of a show by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.  The firm had the bright idea of unveiling a billboard for TV cameras on La Cienega's art gallery row which I had to oversee.  Roy and his manager Leo Castelli were gracious but I felt mortified.  Not long after I quit the PR company with a dramatic "fuck you" letter and went up to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco to spend time with the hippies.

Fatherhood kept me from running off permanently, and I resumed my job as a reporter and music columnist at the Pasadena Star-News.  I covered acts at the Ice House and reviewed shows at a converted ice rink featuring groups like Strawberry Alarm Clock and Alice Cooper.  The Grateful Dead played the Civic Auditorium and marijuana joints flew through the air; it seemed like they only played one long song. The studios of KPPC, one of the pioneering FM stations, was in the basement of a church next door to the newspaper and I interviewed musicians that visited the radio station.  One day I had an appointment with the British group Ten Years After.  But they came instead to the editorial room, leader Alvin Lee and his British band along with a couple of scantily clad groupies.  We huddled in a corner of the City Room but all activity around us stopped, the normally noisy typewriters silent.  The press liaison for a festival at Woodstock called one day and tried to cajole me into coming east for what she said would be a memorable event.  I laughingly declined and will eternally regret missing that defining moment of my generation.  After writing about a forgettable British group with a record on Atlantic Records, I got a call from the company's head of publicity in New York.  Would I be interested in a job as Atlantic's west coast publicity officer?  It was the last month of 1969 and my life was about to change.

Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band greets me and my friends

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A life in (and mostly out of) Music

"I could have been a contender.  I could have been somebody." 
--Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront" lamenting his failed boxing career.

I fell in love with the clarinet when I was 10 and saw one played by a boy who lived up our street in Greensboro, North Carolina. The following year we moved to the small town of Lenoir in the foothills of Appalachia where the high school marching band had won a state championship.  I was in fifth grade at the elementary school where the music department was the farm team, and interested students were given free instruments.  I picked the clarinet and became a student of George Kirsten, the brother of operatic soprano Dorothy Kirsten who was world famous in the 1940's and 1950's.

Kirsten loved music and gave me a firm foundation which I took to Atlanta where I joined the marching band at Henry Grady High School.  The school's colors were red and grey and the band's uniforms were spectacular.  I particularly remember the white buck shoes which were awesome.  Learning to read music attached to the clarinet while performing intricate marching moves was a bit of a challenge, but I looked forward to the bus trips to away games.  Years later when I worked for MCA Records I went to a club opposite the field where the band practiced to hear one of Al Kooper's southern discoveries (the other was Lynyrd Skynyrd).

I had my first glimpse of fame in Atlanta when Johnny Ray, famous for his passionate songs about crying, came to perform at the Fox Theater, a large hall known for the stars and clouds that moved across the ceiling.  I went to see him on my own, an independent 12 year old.  Inspired by such diverse influences as Kay Starr and LaVern Baker, Ray moved his fans like Sinatra before him and Elvis after.   His first big hit in 1951 was "The Little White Cloud That Cried,"  and he was probably touring after his first LP when I saw him. Ray has been viewed as a possible bridge between late 40's pop and rock and roll.  Somehow I ended up backstage after the show and I remember seeing an adoring woman remove one of Ray's cigarette butts from an ash tray and wrap it in her handkerchief for a souvenir.  Ray, who was mostly deaf and wore hearing aids, was not exactly a matinee idol.

In Southern California where we moved next, there was no marching band but I played in the junior high school orchestra where I studied theory and harmony.  I soon met a drummer who was organizing a dixieland band.  We met regularly at his house and were taught the ropes by a music veteran paid for his efforts (it must have seemed like a real come-down to him).  We debuted at the Youth House and played a series of dances over the summer to some acclaim.  My father, who'd played the drums in his 20's, used to stand at the back of the hall to listen (I only learned this many years later).  Sadly, there were no groupies at this venue so I remained a virgin well into my music years.

For my 14th birthday in 1953, I was given an RCA Victor 45rpm player and my next door neighbor gifted me with "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley.  Friends introduced me to rhythm and blues and I listened to Huggie Boy and Hunter Hancock's late-night shows in bed on my transistor radio (the double-meaning lyrics were verboten during daylight hours). I added "Gee" by the Crows and "Earth Angel" by the Penguins to my growing record collection.  My first job was sweeping the floor at a local record store and I got to know the stock, particular the jazz LPs (then mostly 10-inch) like Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic series.

At John Muir High School in Altadena, I joined the marching band but my heart was no longer in martial music.  Another drummer, this one from the tony suburb of San Marino, invited me to join his band, and he got us a few gigs at college fraternity parties.  At one we shared the bill with a comedy duo called the Smothers Brothers.  In order to get to the dates he arranged, I had to sneak away from the band after the halftime show.  Eventually I was caught and received a grade of F in band, the only class I ever failed.

At some point I acquired an alto sax and tried my best to play speedy bebop jazz solos.  But I was no Charlie Parker just as my clarinet playing fell far short of Benny Goodman's standard.  Still, I put together another combo and we won a Battle of the Bands contest at my high school.  the master of ceremonies was John Tynan, west coast editor of Downbeat magazine.  Coming in second was a group that included the 17-year-old vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson who went on to fame and fortune beyond my wildest dreams.  If truth be told, Bobby's group was much better than mine and only lost because there were more white parents clapping in the audience than black ones.  A few years later, someone I knew burned down a garage containing his vibes and Corvette because he was dating a white girl.

The prize for winning the contest was several appearances on a radio show for teens that had been started by two high school teachers.  Soon I was reviewing records with a soon-to-be Rose Queen, giving them a "hit" or a "miss" like the popular Jukebox Jury TV show.  When the teachers started The Teen Scene, a weekend page in the Pasadena Star-News, I wrote a record review column called "Tracks on the Wax" and cultivated industry contacts who would send me free records. My mentor, a seasoned reporter who reviewed jazz, told me he had a collection of over 1,000 LPs, none of them paid for.  The humor column in the teen section was written by David Felton who later covered the Manson trial for Rolling Stone and was a founder of MTV. On the radio I interviewed musicians like Bud Shank and Red Norvo and in the paper I ran columns from interviews with the Kingston Trio and Nat King Cole.  Performing began to take a back seat to writing.

The newspaper reporter and I started a jazz club that met Sunday afternoons at Zucca's Cottage in Pasadena when underage kids could attend.  In addition to Shank and Norvo, I recall seeing Chico Hamilton there.  The reporter had a late night show on the all-jazz radio station KNOB in Long Beach and one night I accompanied him in his convertible with the top down.  On the seat was a book he had just bought called "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac.  When my family went to visit my uncle up north in Tiburon, one evening we drove down Grant Street in San Francisco past Coexistence Bagel Shop and the infamous club with the swing in the window.  My mother kept the doors locked and the windows shut for fear beatniks might run into the street and attack our car.

I tried to see as much live music as possible for someone not yet old enough to drive.  Sitting in the last row of the last balcony at the Shrine Auditorium, I saw Ella Fitzgerald, lit only by a candle, sing "A Foggy Day."  Older friends took me to Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse down in Hermosa Beach which held Sunday jam sessions, and I went to clubs in Hollywood to hear Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and the Jazz Messengers, all before I was 16.  I also went to rhythm and blues shows at the Shrine where I saw a young B.B. King while outside the hall customized cars cruised the sidewalks.

During my first week at Pasadena City College, I got drunk at a fraternity rush party and passed out at the wheel of my car on the way home while negotiating a turn.  I drove into a candy store and broke my right femur.  The result of this mishap was two months in traction at the hospital (back before medical costs hit the roof) and four months in a half-body cast in bed at home.  My world changed forever.  I read voluminously and wrote letters to friends on a portable Smith-Corona.  I collected college catalogues (which used to be free) and travel brochures, and at some point decided to sell my clarinet and alto sax.  Playing in Kenton's band no longer seemed a realistically goal (though my friend Keith joined his trumpet section a few years later).  I decided I would become a writer, and among the topics I would write on was music.

Recovering from the accident, I reenrolled at PCC and quickly became an A student.  In a music appreciation class I remember the teacher played Bach's "Air for G String" and wept while the class listened.  She instantly converted me to a love of classical music.  It took a little longer to appreciate hillbilly and Hawaiian music, among the many genres out there.  This was the era of the folk music revival, and at Berkeley I started a folk club with guitar teacher Barry Olivier while working on the Daily Cal.  Olivier opened a nightclub in Berkeley where I saw Jesse Fuller, the one-man band.  I wasn't ready to study however and dropped out of school, twice in fact, and got a job as a copy boy at the Star-News, working my way up to city desk reporter and feature writer. I wrote a record column called "Jazz, and All That" to fuel my record collection, and covered acts like Hoyt Axton and Barry McGuire who played the Ice House in Pasadena that had just opened (and is still going nearly 50 years later).  I promoted a concert with Mike Seeger, brother of Pete, and met Jim Kweskin, later of the jug band, and David Lindley, just getting his start with the Mad Mountain Ramblers, at my roommate's coffee house, the Cat's Pajamas in Arcadia.  Later Lindley would form the band Kaleidoscope with some of my neighbors in Sierra Madre Canyon.

Looking back on this period, I often wonder if I might have succeeded as a performer had I tried harder, practiced more diligently, and cultivated ambition.  Music was my second career goal (the first had been acting, pretty much a non starter), and writing was the third.  What if I had not sold my clarinet and alto sax?  What if I had applied myself to writing songs?  All of the great names in popular music today were cutting their teeth during these early years as musical styles in America changed dramatically (from Lawrence Welk and Perry Como to the Grateful Dead and Lady Gaga).  So while I gave up any dreams of performing, I turned my attention to listening to and writing about music, but always as an outsider.

In my next blog post, I'll tell the story of my encounter with folk music in New York City and London where I lived for two years, and the glory days of the 1970's when I worked as a PR man for several West Coast record companies and went on the road with Led Zeppelin, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, The Who and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.