Saturday, July 7, 2012

Chapter 4 - Tumbleweed Connections

I was in my senior year at Beverly. Stephen and I had  put together a group to compete in the "battle of the bands". There was the two of us on guitars, Greg Rom on drums, Tim Weston on bass and Tom Dunstan on electric banjo. That was a Rickenbacker banjo and it was so jangely and bright giving us a country rock sound so we called the band "Tumbleweed". We did a twangy version of Merle Haggard's Mama Tried and if I'm not mistaken, we attempted a Buffalo Springfield tune or two. There was some pretty stiff competition that year especially from a blues band headed by a toe-head singer/ guitarist named Steve Tetsch. I didn't think we were going to win, but we DID! Reasons? Either we were actually good or our friends stuffed the ballot boxes with extra votes, maybe both. 
It was convenient that we could practice up at Greg's pool house in Trousdale Estates. That was the good life - after rehearsing for a couple of hours we would take a cool dip in the Olympic size swimming pool. Greg's father was one of the top insurance people in the area and had an office down there on Wilshire and Canon called Rom and Associates. Tim's father was Paul Weston a famous orchestra leader that performed on the Jackie Gleason show many television show in the 60's including his wife, Jo Stafford's show. Yep, by doggety, there was a lot of talent there in the hills of Beverly. There was one guy who wanted to be in Tumbleweed but Stephen and I really didn't think it would be right for the band. He was Steve March or Torme, the son of Mel Torme and stepson of Hal March. it's not that he wasn't talented because he was and still is, it was that we thought too many cooks would spoil the broth, a theme Stephen and I should have listened to later in our careers.
In June of 1970 I graduated Beverly with Stephen and Debbie and she went off to Hawaii to live with her mom and step father. I'm not sure what happened to Stephen but I think he was busy with his Debbie. I went to San Fernando State College which later became Cal State Northridge and hated it. The classes were boring and antiquated. There was absolutely no music scene and all I could do was think about Debbie and how nice it was for her on the golden sands of Makapoo Beach. In December of that year I went on a two week vacation to visit her on Oahu. Her mother had married a Colonel in the Army or Air Force and was living on Hickman Air Force base not far from Pearl Harbor. I remember packing a few joints in a deck of playing cards barely concealed in my shirt pocket. Who in their right mind would attempt to do this kind of thing today? Once more the folly of youth but that time it had worked out. That's more than I can say for other times both in the past from this vantage point and later on in my life. 
It was beautiful there on the island with the warm gentle breezes, clean air and water contrasting from the ugly smoggy skies and polluted looking oceanside of western Los Angeles. I think it was there when Debbie convinced me to stop blow drying my hair and let it go natural. I had no idea I had such curly hair. The vacation was over and I was back in LA and Debbie wouldn't be coming back for a couple of months. I retreated to the sanctum sanctorum of my back room.

It was 1971 now and I had transferred to LACC (Los Angeles City College) from San Fernando State College which is now University of California at Northridge. I was driving that 1967 yellow Kharman Ghia my sister had left me to borrow when she took a year abroad at the University of Birmingham, England. She will never totally forgive me for the way I let that car go downhill and I don't mean just rolling down an incline, but I was broke and couldn't afford to fix things like a busted trunk lid hinge or a hole in the seat. So inadvertently, the car was a bit of a wreck. It still ran though and gas was only twenty five cents a gallon. I could fill the tank for about three dollars which would last me all week or more. That was a cool car indeed.
I met another guitar player at school who was a few years older than I named Jim Stanley. I believe he is still making records in Woodland Hills, California and goes by the name of James Lee Stanley. He had this rustic cabin like tree-house in Silverlake or Echo Park and he invited me over to partake in some of the more popular libations of the period. He had a pretty blonde girlfriend named Claudia who he met on campus, or so my hazy remembering will allow. He used to sit in the archway of his bathroom with an acoustic guitar in his hands and write songs. He said the acoustics were the best in that spot plus it had the "vibe". He had written a song called "Running After You" and was keen on getting it properly recorded. I helped him add to the feel while playing my 1952 red Telecaster through a Vox Royal Guardsman with Top Boost.
I think it was Gold Star recording studios on Vine where we ended up cutting the record and this was my very first recording session. It must have been eight track or maybe sixteen I'm not sure because I spent most of the time in the recording room with the likes of Leland Sklar on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums and the two Jimmies, Stanley and Haymer. It all went down live to tape. There was this part in the song where I held a feedback note on the guitar with my left hand while my right hand was turning up the volume on the amp so it would sustain throughout the whole second verse. I guess my left hand knew what my right hand was doing back then.
Meanwhile that thought of needing a band in the back of my mind was coming to the forefront. I was wondering what my old friend Gries was up to. We always worked well with one another with our differences and similarities in style and influences. We both loved the Fab Four of course but he seemed to be more the McCartney type and I was John and later George. Stephen was now living in his van in the driveway of one Carol Burnett and one Joe Hamilton. There was a guest house on this palatial Beverly Hills estate where Joey and Jeff Hamilton called their own.
I heard Stephen was washing dishes at the Black Rabbit Inn off Melrose near La Peer. I hadn't seen him for a few months so I parked the Ghia next to his old aqua blue/green Volkswagen van and walked in through the back door to the kitchen and I couldn't believe what I saw. There in front of me was this tall, skinny blonde dude with hair down to the small of his back wearing those prescription glasses with the tinted polarized lenses. I didn't know anyone who could possibly grow their hair so fast( I guess it had been about six months since I had seen him last) but it was Stephen alright.
The day I went over to that Hamilton Back House and heard Joey and Jon Marr singing and playing his Martin acoustic with Stephen playing some nice Harrisonesque fills on his Martin. I had brought my trusty D-18 over and played along. I thought it sounded great and what a cool little tune with some interesting chord changes. I think it went from G to B seventh to E minor to C. If you are a musician you can appreciate this if not trust me, it's a little different from the typical 1, 4 , 5 progression everybody else was playing at the time. I had finally found the band to join if only they would have me. 

Chapter 3 - The Ballad Of Lark Chicane

I tried to keep things as cool as I could but I was frustrated without a car and having to hitch-hike to school on Olympic and Doheny. Sometimes friends would drive by in their new Mustangs and Camaros. On a few occasions Tony Sales and his girlfriend, Nancy, who drove a brand new black Trans AM, would give me a ride to school. Now that I think about it, why would they be driving west on Olympic Blvd, when the Sales home was north of Santa Monica? Santa Monica Boulevard was the Mason-Dixon line of Beverly Hills. A dividing line between the affluent and the sort of affluent. The north won out on that one, too.
Tony's dad was none other than Soupy Sales who I watched religiously on Saturday mornings in Jericho, New York. Rumor has it that he was fired from his show after telling the kids at home to go to their mommy's purses and take out those tens and twenties then mail in the cash to his home address.
Nancy was a pretty, curly-headed blonde that looked a couple of years older than Tony. I don't know if many of you know but Tony, a few years later would play on Todd Rundgren's first album, Runt (1970). He and his younger brother, Hunt went on to play with Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Tin Machine. When I went over to the Sales home a few months later, he played the record while I listened dumbstruck in the easy-chair. I knew right away Todd Rundgren was going to a household name.   Wouldn't you know Nancy was Nancy Allen, who would later become a movie star and marry Brian De Palma in 1979. She set the standard for all future "bitch-goddess teenagers" as Chris Hargensen in Stephen King's "Carrie". I guess it's a shame they got divorced in 1984.
It was August of 1969 I had a my right arm in a sling. I can't remember why but it was probably from punching a door or a wall. I have anger issues that were negatively expressed to a much greater extent in those days. I had wandered over to Roxbury Park wearing a white cowboy shirt and bleached out jeans or cut-offs. There were a few people over by the swings and I noticed one of them was a pretty, round faced girl with dark blonde hair. She must have thought I was hurt and started talking to me, which was completely unintentional but it turned out to be a pretty good ploy - sometimes you get lucky.  She said she had just moved here from Hawaii and was going to Beverly in the fall. That night Charles Manson and his gang set out on their murdering rampage in the hills of Benedict Canyon. I found out when we re-united  that September, her father, John Floyd (Bud) Taylor was friends with Jay Sebring, one of the victims of that horrible night. It's ironic that seven years later Silverspoon would perform the Beatles songs for the movie "Helter Skelter" directed by Tom Gries.
Bud Taylor was a total trip. He drove a black Porsche 911 and had a membership at the Candy Store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, He was a mover and shaker all right and liked to have a good time, all the time. Debbie was not too keen on this kind of behavior from her father but it didn't stop us from partaking in the joys and benefits of the multiple occasions. We went on houseboat trips on the Sacramento River where I forgot to let go of the rope on my first and last water-skiing adventure and suffered a sinus infection. I was usually the free entertainment, playing the baby grand piano at Bud's parties in that rustic condo in Westwood. Bud had a friend name Fred Beir that had written a screenplay about a western hero that saves a town with his six-guns but goes to town on Saturday night as a transvestite. It was called "Lark Chicane". I was given the opportunity to write the theme song. called "The Ballad of Lark Chicane", my first actual completed song, with words music and everything! The movie never sold and the song never published but it was recorded by the band at the "Sunset Sound Sessions" which would prove to be a turning point in the lives of the band yet to be known as Silverspoon.

Chapter 2 - Baja Beverly Hills

Chapter 2 – Baja Beverly Hills

It was now 1967. I was a sophomore and my sister was a senior at Beverly Hills high School. My brother, Robbie, was still in sixth grade at Beverly Vista. Even though I wanted my own space, I still shared a room with him before that fateful day when I finally convinced my dad to turn that garage in back to a bedroom. Thus in early 1968, I gained my independence and escaped to the sanctuary of the famous (or infamous) Back Room. 
 My best friend and fellow songwriter at the time was Stephen Gries or Adamick, depending on which father he was on better terms with. We were first introduced by Russ Freeman that year on the front lawn of Beverly Hills High School. He said something like, “Hey Haymer, this is Steve Gries, he plays guitar too.” Two years later, Stephen, and his girlfriend at the time, Debbie Griffin, and I drove up to Carmel, California to meet his real father in for the first time. Every older gentleman that walked through the door of that restaurant we would say, "that's him” or "there he is" but when the real Chick Adamick strolled in it was undeniable. Stephen looked exactly like his father.
 Beverly Hills High School in 1968 was (and probably still is) a sub-culture of well to do progeny sprung from the loins of well to do mothers and fathers making their living in the area's number one industry—showbiz. Oh sure, there were many other families in insurance and law etc. but even they had ties to the entertainment field. You couldn't help it, it was ubiquitous, everywhere. Stephen invited me over to his house at 701 N. Alpine Dr. in a very exclusive area of Beverly Hills. The streets were lined with tall alpine trees and there was an elementary school playground right across the street. It was a beautiful Spanish/adobe style home with a back house, an office, and recreation room where his step-father, Tom Gries, spent a lot of time honing his writing and directing skills. 
   Stephen's mother, Mary Munday, hated me at first sight. I don't know why I have that affect on people sometimes, but I just do. I guess you either love me or hate me although I'd like to believe I have found some kind of middle ground over the years. Or as Stephen more delicately puts it “I had a suspicion that she disliked Jimmy for no apparent reason. As you know my mom was very opinionated and even more stubborn. If she liked something or someone then they could do no wrong, conversely, if she didn't like them, they could do no right, ever. She loved Jon Marr because he did the dishes and cleaned the ashtray. She didn't like Jimmy because, when she eavesdropped on his phone conversation, after she came up to me and said: I don't like that Haymer kid. He's a bad influence. I know he's got you smoking pot  and your gonna end up stoned and sent to Vietnam where you will become a faggot junkie and get killed and it will all be his fault. (Yeah oh mom, have a valium). My mom (Mary) and I finally came to excellent terms and understanding in the months before her passing.”   
One evening after Stephen and I were up in his room playing guitars, his was a red Gibson SG probably about a 64 and mine was a 1952 Red Telecaster. That guitar is probably worth, even in this tanked economy about $30,000. I wish I still had it. I think this particular evening was the one where we were partaking of the herb and were busted by Moses himself. As Tom Gries was giving his guest the dime tour, Charleton Heston had peeked his head into the room. I panicked and dropped the lit joint on the yellow carpet and crushed it with the well calloused fingers on my left hand. They came in the room and I was frozen. Stephen was too. I slid my body over trying not to expose the evidence and reached for my guitar. Stephen got the cue and grabbed his and said, “We've been working on a new tune, Dad wanna hear?” His dad awkwardly smiled and said, “That's ok son, I was only showing Mr. Heston around.” He closed the door and we laughed our asses off then started playing Mr. Fantasy by Traffic.
One night I called my house to ask permission to have dinner over at Stephen's and I had a feeling someone was listening on the line but I didn't know if it was on my end or my mom's. All of a sudden, Mary comes stomping down the stairway shouting, “That boy is not having dinner in this house.” I was shocked, angry, and appalled. I hung up the phone and headed for the wooden front door beyond the cold expansive marble foyer. I turned around and gave Mrs. Gries a look as if poison darts were shooting out of my eyes. She swore as long as she knew me that I had said the F word to her. I never did . . . but I WAS thinking it.
   After that, it was very difficult to maintain a friendship. Now jam sessions were mostly at Oakhurst Drive or at Alpine Drive when Mary was away, but that was a risky proposition. Stephen has two younger half-brothers, Cary and Jon although Stephen was unaware this. Tom Gries had adopted him at the ripe old age of one; as far as he knew Cary and Jon were his blood. He had an older step-brother (who I think he thought was his half brother) Peter, who was a photographer, a bass player, and a big influence on Stephen. 
Cary and Jon were about eleven and ten respectively at the time, and they always helped as lookouts. I guess it was fun for them – like a real game of hide and seek. Tom was on my side. I guess it was the Jewish connection (even though he was raised Catholic. His mother was Jewish but converted after marrying Muggsy Spanier, the famous jazz horn player), or that he could see I was sincere about my music and he respected my discipline.
When Mary came home early one afternoon and caught me in the back house Tom said, “Oh Mary for God sakes why don't you leave the kid alone.” After being shown up,  she stormed back into the house. I can only imagine what the conversation in their bedroom was going to be about that night. He probably spent it in his studio or some other room. The house was a mansion, at least in my eyes it was. 
     Well Mary's son and I never went to Viet Nam. We both had high lottery numbers or maybe it was because I'm colorblind and flat footed and Stephen was extremely myopic. Stephen remembers it like this. “Concerning Vietnam, I missed getting sent there by I think three numbers in the draft. I had to go to The FBI bldg. in Westwood with Tom and had a meeting with a five star general who wanted me to enlist right away. I said I didn't want to go to another country and kill people for reasons I don't even know on your say so. If they come on our US Shores, I will go to the front line and defend America without question because I love this country. Well, I ended up not getting called, and during that short time, I was listed as a conscientious objector, (which was later dropped).” 

Chapter 1 - Harmony Rocket

The Silverspoon Story

(The Greatest Band Nobody Ever Heard Of)

I ALWAYS THOUGHT I would travel my musical road alone, like Bob Dylan or Elvis (Presley and later Costello), but I was the boy with the four sevens. After that I knew I needed a band. After all, Bob had The Band, and Bruce had the E Street Band, and who could forget those four Elvis's, John, Paul, George and Ringo. Sure, they would have done all right on their own, but together they became the greatest band the world has or will ever see. That's what I wanted, too.
 The four sevens you ask? It's an ancient Welsh form of fortune telling with a regular deck of fifty-two playing cards. in 1976 or 1977, my girlfriend, Robin Stewart, sat me down with her mom, being a Welsh descendant herself, and when she dealt me that rare and unusual hand on my first deal, I saw the look of shock and amazement on her jolly, round face. That hand, even though it could have been nothing more than a parlor game, a cheap form of entertainment, gave me the confidence and reconfirmed the notion that I was meant to do something great. I hoped it was in music since I didn't want to set the world on fire as the world's greatest accountant or something, although accountants are cool, but music was my thing.
   The minute I got my first instrument, a flute-o-phone in second grade I thought I was on to something. My sister, Susan, you see, was an excellent student who spent all her time studying or listening to Barbara Streisand. That was not my cup of java (or Coca-Cola), so I never studied. Thank God I had a good memory. But my folks knew that I was intimidated by Susan's straight A's so my parents were advised by the guidance counselor to encourage me in something that I excelled in. They thought that music was a good way to go and before too long I was whipping out scales and picking out melodies from the radio. They believed it was my calling and they suggested I go for it. I did. Thanks Mom. Thanks Dad. I think.
 Anyway, the four sevens was ten years later, and I should go back to where my real musical education began - in Los Angeles.
   Four days after my Bar Mitzvah on June 25, 1965, we moved to California from Jericho, New York. It was like we drove in the Lincoln Tunnel and came out on the Hollywood freeway with nothing in between. It's ironic that almost thirty years later I would move to Middle Tennessee.
   Once we arrived in La La Land, Carl Reiner told my father that whatever he did, he had to get his kids into the Beverly Hills School System. My Dad's mother and my Grandma Betty lived on Arnaz Street near Olympic not far from La Cienega Park, so my sister, brother, and myself stayed in her one bedroom apartment while my parents scoured the hills of Beverly for a three bedroom apartment. In August of '65 we moved to 454 S. Oakhurst, fifty yards inside Baja Beverly Hills.
  The first two music people I met in LA were Jeff and Joey Hamilton. They had recently moved from Scarsdale, New York because their father, Joe Hamilton Sr. (Joey the oldest son of seven children at the time) married Carol Burnett. One day I invited them over after school and waited outside on my front lawn for them to arrive. These were the days before cell phones, so either you sat inside by the phone or you just waited. I think people had a little more patience in those days before the instant gratification of the twenty-first century.  
   I saw two bony figures meandering down the street smoking cigarettes. As they got closer I could see they both had beards (although Joey's beard was more pronounced). Joey was 14 and Jeff was 13. What a couple of little criminals they were, or at least they tried to come off that way, however, it was good to commune with a couple of fellow New Yorkers in this strange and wondrous land. Inside the confines of the Back Room, we played and sang Beatles and Buffalo Springfield songs with a little Lovin' Spoonful to boot. 
   This association led to my first band in LA with Peter Grossbard on rhythm guitar), Mark Mandel on drums), the afore mentioned Joey Hamilton on lead vocals, and myself on lead guitar. We covered songs such as Believe in Magic by the Spoonful and I'll Cry Instead by the Beatles. I loved playing those solos that were in essence country licks turned upside down or inside out. My mom or dad would drive me up Coldwater Canyon to Mark's house to rehearse on Saturdays (I wouldn't have a driver's license for another two years). I was eternally grateful to them since it was too far to ride my bike with a 1964 candy-apple red Harmony Rocket electric guitar strapped across my back. Man, I loved that guitar.