Monday, May 27, 2013

Chapter 49 - He Had the Knack

One day, after coming back safe, sound and shirtless from Vegas, Robin Stewart, Stephen and I were in Licorice Pizza, a record store on Sunset and San Vincente, browsing through records we couldn't afford to buy (not many musicians can) when we saw a tall, skinny brown-haired dude behind the counter who looked a little familiar to me. Remember how I said that everyone stacks the deck when recalling the past? Well, Robin claims she said the following to the pale skinned cashier (Stephen says he said it): We had just bought a Rolling Stone magazine and the guy behind the counter asked if there were anything else he could help us with. She said, “Hey, you don’t know anybody that plays bass and sings real high, do you?” The dude smiled his cocky grin and said, “Yeah ME.”  He said his name was Doug and he told us he lived right down the street with his girlfriend Judy. He played a Gibson Eb-3 bass, just like the one Jack Bruce played in “Cream”, and he had a Revox two track tape recorder so we could tape our practices. I said he would be a great addition to Silverspoon if he wanted to join but he would have to be vetted by the rest of the band. I knew Stephen would have no problem with Doug—it was Larry I was worried about. My suspicions about Larry proved to be correct and even though he complained about Doug’s bass playing not being in the pocket, he admitted that his vocals were great and would be a fine replacement for Joey who was out there somewhere in motorcycle gangland with all the accoutrements that go along with the biker lifestyle.
We started a new incarnation of Silverspoon called “The Doves” with me, Stephen. Larry, Doug, Chas and Terry Rae on drums—it was a really good combination and Stephen was over the moon about how it sounded when we blended together in three part harmony—sometimes even four parts. We got a gig at the Central (which is now called The Viper Room) on Sunset two doors down from Licorice Pizza, and it proved to be the only performance we ever did together.
 Doug and I were becoming fast friends and one day he and I drove out in his British racing green Triumph GT – 6 to purchase a Vox Super Beatle amplifier from an ad he saw in The Recycler. I told him that I doubted an amp so big would fit inside his two seat sports car but he said, “Sure it will Jimmy, I've gotten much larger things in the back. The seat folds down.”
Robin was becoming great friends with Judy too, and we spent many lovely days and nights on the white carpeted living room playing Scrabble and Dictionary (a game where you would look up an obscure word and try to guess its meaning) and painting watercolors. Judy was a fantastic cook and would make these gourmet dishes for us. One thing that always bothered me though was Doug’s fastidiousness. He always made us take off our shoes before we entered his and Judy’s humble abode— which usually revealed my holy socks. If I would have had to take of my pants I’m sure it would have also revealed my holy underwear as well. I remember one watercolor Doug painted of me playing guitar and he named it, Rock out with Hamish. I wish I still had that painting— I wish I still had a lot of things from that era. Because we spent so much time with Doug and Judy, Robin and I decided to move out of Detroit Street and find a place closer to town. We found a nice one bedroom with slanted ceilings and off-white carpets (you didn't have to take your shoes off) on Clark, right across the street from the Whisky and from Doug and Judy. The four of us were inseparable. 
A few years before Robin and I were together, she used to date a drummer named Bruce, a guy I had seen around who had a pretty good reputation but was a bit of an egomaniac. I had seen some pictures of them together in her photo album and I used to tease her about him all the time, especially when we got in one of our rare fights. I would don a long scarf and prance around the room pretending to be Bruce. It really pissed her off which made me happy because it indicated I was doing a good job impersonating him.
Well Doug did join Silverspoon in ’77, but he had ideas of his own. I knew he was as much, or even more of a Beatle freak as I was, and he had this concept for his own band that would be modeled after the Early Beatles. He got a group of guys together by holding auditions and general word of mouth. He had decided on a guitar player named Burton, who looked more like an accountant or a chess enthusiast then a musician, a Marc Bolan look-alike bass player named Prescott and Bruce, my old nemesis on drums.
It was almost 1978 now and Doug had sold his GT-6 and his father, living near Detroit, matched the three grand to invest in his project. He needed a demo recorded and I suggested Richie Moore as engineer who was living near San Francisco with his girlfriend Annie. He agreed that Richie was a genius and would give the demos that little extra Beatle touch. Richie, who looked like a choirboy with his medium length wavy, red hair and freckles and Poindexter glasses that were held together with white surgical tape, was flown down to L.A. to commandeer the control room board. Doug had asked Robin and I to keep an eye on him knowing full well of his history with drug abuse, especially downers. It’s funny, when Richie was up north and with Annie he could steer clear of the drugs—but not in L.A. I remembered that Al and Mary lived a block away and still sold Quaaludes by the barrel. It was our job to keep him straight and it would prove to be a daunting task.
 One day when I was out rehearsing or writing with Stephen, Robin was flying solo. Richie had asked her if he could go down to the Catholic Church in West Hollywood and she honored his request even thought he was staggeringly high on something. She thought it was like an AA thing for him, or something, so she drove him down there and he stumbled out of her car into the church with her following closely behind like he was a dog without a leash in an Alpo factory. Robin watched as Richie went over to light a candle while a priest was watching Richie falling over and almost knocking all the candles off the shelf. Richie was wearing a wristband from a hospital so Robin explained to the priest how he wasn’t high, but was suffering from asthma or something like that. She thought she saw him picking something up from a candleholder but couldn’t be sure. When she drove him back to the apartment on Clark, she noticed that he was completely stoned out of his mind like he had taken more Quaaludes. She found out later that Al and Mary had made a drop and left the drugs for him in the candleholder at the church. The timing had to be precise—remember there were no cell phones in those days but Richie, as I said, was a genius especially when it came to scoring drugs.
He did manage to stay straight enough to record Doug and his band at John Thomas Studios in North Hollywood and the tapes were great. One of the songs on the tape was a song Doug had written with Burton about a girl he knew (who was his main groupie), by this time he had broken up, or was in the process of breaking up with Judy. The song sounded like a complete rip off of Spencer Davis’ hit “Gimme Some Lovin’” and I told him that. That’s when quoted Picasso and said, “Jimmy the good ones borrow but the great one’s steal.” The song later became a huge hit called “My Sharona” and the band was “The Knack.”
They did a showcase after the tapes were finished at Casablanca’s sound stage in Hollywood. They had a keyboard player who didn’t fit their image with long hair and such, while all of their hair styles were early Beatles style. After the showcase, he asked me to join the band to replace the out of sync keyboardist and I agreed—even though I knew Doug would never let me co-write or perform any of my originals with The Knack. I performed their first real gig with them at the Whiskey on June 1, 1978 and it was amazing. The next gig was at the Troubador a few weeks later. I never got along with Bruce Gary, the drummer, and it was ironic being in a band with someone I had been making fun of just a few months earlier. Bruce had it in for me because I was now singing the parts he used to sing and felt that the band didn’t need a keyboard player—The Beatles didn’t have a keyboardist and Doug was swayed by his salesmanship. I got a phone call from Doug a few days later and he told me they decided to continue as a four piece band. I was fired. I don’t think I spoke to Doug for several months after that, knowing they were going to be huge, and again I was left holding the bag; the fifth wheel on a four-wheeler. We did re-connect later after the band’s debut album went gold and I was in the process of recording my own solo project at Electra Records with Chuck Fiore and Beau Segal. Doug Fieger was an enigma who had succumbed to the pressures of the rock and roll world by getting into drugs and alcohol. He did get sober and stayed that way for over twenty years until his untimely death from brain cancer on Valentine’s Day of 2010 at the age of 57. I still look back with fondness on those amazing days. I miss him terribly. He had the knack.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Chapter 48 - Lost My Shirt in Vegas

After the debacle with Bob Ringe at Mr. Chow’s in August, Larry was now living full time in Las Vegas with Caroleen Fisher, the heiress to the Fisher pen fortune. He would still drive in on the weekends to write and play music with Michael Japp, (who had just gotten a deal on Motown Records) and Stephen, (who was commuting from Santa Monica or staying on Michael and Ciri’s couch) on a part time basis. Robin and I felt like it would be a good idea to get away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and pay Larry a visit in Vegas. It would be nice to go out to the desert without having to deal with any UFO’s or channeling religious zealots getting inside information from the rings of Saturn.

 So early one late summer’s morning, we drove up to the ultimate American city of sin in my mom's Mercedes with no more than fifty bucks between us. Fortunately, my mom had lent me her Union 76 credit card for gas, which was about seventy cents a gallon. We had packed a pup-tent and planned on pitching it at one of the local campgrounds in the area if it wasn't too expensive— if it was, we thought we might set up camp in one of the empty lots next to a hotel on the Strip. We stopped at Bun Boy in Baker, California and we ordered the cheapest burger on the menu, then I went to a phone booth (remember them?) to give Larry a call. He said he would meet us at Cleopatra's Barge in Caesar's Palace, the place he used to play music with Bruce Westcott four or five years earlier. On the way there, we checked out some of the campgrounds but they wanted too much money so we decided we were going to find somewhere on the strip or nearby to make camp.

We arrived in Vegas about three in the afternoon and the sun was blistering hot so we thought it best to wait until dusk to make our camp We scouted out  a place to pitch the tent in an empty lot between The Tropicana and some new hotel they were building that was about half way completed. In the meantime we would try to find Larry and maybe I would gamble a little, if he was late, and he usually was.
 We got to Caesar's Palace a little early, so I thought I would try my luck at blackjack. I promised myself I wouldn't gamble with more than twenty dollars—that would be my limit. I had envisioned making a windfall but the only way to do that was to win right off the bat. I went to a two dollar table where there was an attractive blonde dealer who seemed to fancy me. It was all an act I realized, because after five minutes I had lost all my money. Robin was pissed off and I didn't blame her. Fortunately she still had around twenty dollars left and we figured, as long as I didn't gamble that away, we would have enough for dinner and breakfast in the morning.
Larry was at his designated post at a table in front of the barge and we sat down and he ordered drinks for all. His girlfriend Caroleen showed up fifteen minutes later and he bought her a gin and tonic. Caroleen was an attractive looking blonde, (Larry always had attractive women in his life) with big blue eyes and a toothy smile. She reminded me a lot of Cynthia but without the big Farrah Faucett hairstyle. We sat down and listened to Bruce Westcott (yes he was still there four years later) and his band and after awhile Larry was asked to sit in. They sounded pretty cool for a Vegas cover band. After awhile Larry wanted to do a little gambling and I was embarrassed to say that I couldn't join in because I had already exhausted my allotted funds. We figured it was best we parted company— saying if time allowed we would meet up again the next day, besides, it was around sunset and we had a tent to pitch. We parked the Mercedes in the back of the empty lot behind a billboard sign so no cops would hassle us and we made camp. It must have been a funny sight to see a small two person pup-tent in between a luxury hotel and the construction site of a halfway completed luxury hotel. The ground was hard and rocky and I don't think we got a minute's sleep, besides, the heat was unbearable, even at night.
The next morning we woke just before dawn and the wind was blowing furiously like a gale, and it was difficult to break down the tent but somehow we managed. I knew gambling was out of the question but we thought we had enough money to get one of those cheap Vegas breakfasts at one of the hotels. We found a place at the Denny's for $1.99— two eggs, toast and coffee. We even had enough to leave a dollar tip. We filled the tank at a 76 station and then headed out to Lake Mead where we figured it might be a little cooler by the water. It wasn't. The hot wind was blowing hard and when I put my blue and yellow Hawaiian shirt down on the sands then got up to go to the water's edge, I saw my shirt blow away. I tried to run after it but every time I got close it would blow further away. It was no use—it was gone—another artifact claimed by the age-old Indian Demi-God of the desert. I had literately lost my shirt in Vegas. After that, feeling totally despondent, me without a shirt and Robin without any sympathy, we drove straight back to LA without even stopping for food or drink. All we had left was a dollar fifty and a big jug of Arrowhead spring water.
As I had already mentioned before, Larry’s lady-friend Christa was brutally murdered in February of 1977 and he was really shaken up about it. Now living in Boulder City, Nevada with Caroleen secured a promising future for the young man. I believed her really loved her and seemed fantastically happy with Caroleen but I don’t know what happened, maybe it was his frequent trips back to LA to play music with Michael Japp or that he wasn’t marrying material (being a musician which were deemed or doomed to be rather flaky) for the Fisher family, but they eventually broke up later that year. Sometime in 1980, Caroleen had gotten into a horrendous car accident which ended her life way too soon—she was only twenty-seven years old. This is the second tragedy of the heart Larry had encountered and I am sorry to say there would be others in the future. He may be blessed with talent, good looks and a great sense of humor, but I am afraid he is cursed in the love department. But there always is hope that things will turn around. Ah yes, HOPE…the most effective stimulant in this game we call life.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chapter 47 - JET

Joey and Jeff Hamilton had met Dave Arden at the Rainbow and started talking about Silverspoon. They had played him the tapes and he was interested in presenting the band to his father, Don Arden who owned a new record label called Jet Records, and their only signed band at the time was ELO. I was still living with Robin Stewart on Detroit St. and really didn't get involved with any Spoon activities anymore. I had had enough, or so I thought. I heard from Stephen and Joey about pending contract negotiations with Don Arden and Jet Records but I told them: "I don't want to hear any bullshit. When you have a contract for me to sign in black and white, I will look it over but until then keep me out of it." I had heard too many promises and seen too much to get my hopes up only to be let down and every time it was getting harder and harder to deal with, besides I had resigned myself to the fact I was now a solo artist and I was relishing the idea. Life without Silverspoon was feeling mighty good to me although I knew the door was not completely closed if something substantial came along.
Joey, Jeff, Stephen and Larry were dealing with the negotiations and had even retained the services of a lawyer, Barry K. Rotgutt. I heard through the grapevine that there were meetings happening on a regular basis, maybe once a week and an actual contract was prepared with a clause that stated Barry K. Rotgutt was representing Silverspoon and Jet Records, which is highly unethical if not illegal. He waved the pen under the collective noses of the Spoon sans me. When Joey saw this clause he was livid and stormed out of the office. There was another contract, one with Jet Records, but it wouldn't be considered unless the contract was signed with Rotgutt first. Joey was appeased and calmed down. They called and told me of the situation that they had two contracts to sign— real typewritten pages that I could scan, peruse or generally look over. I was slightly impressed. It was the first time I had seen Joey actually take the reins, really make an effort to do anything but score drugs. Maybe he was changing, growing up? What about the unscrupulous Don Arden? The following is an abridged version of Don Arden’s obituary: “He was the most notorious of all British pop-rock music managers had a career that spanned 60 years. He promoted and managed some of the biggest names in pop music. His ruthless business dealings and willingness to intimidate both his charges and his competitors earned him the nickname the Al Capone of pop. Arden was born Harry Levy in Cheetham Hill, Manchester. He would describe the neighborhood as "a Jewish ghetto .He left school aged 13 and adopted the name Don Arden to avoid encountering anti-Semitism from bookers. During the WWII, the teenage Arden found work as a stand-up comic and singer on the vaudeville circuit, entertaining the troops before he was drafted. In 1959, Arden promoted the first UK tour of American rockabilly singer Gene Vincent, who was so impressed by his British following that he shifted to the UK, employing Arden as his manager. Arden kept Vincent busy touring Western Europe, but the two men parted in 1965 amid much bitterness, so setting a pattern for Arden's working relationships. By then he had begun to earn substantial sums by promoting package tours of American 1950’s rock'n'roll artists, yet he lost a ton of money from the onset of Beatlemania and British teenagers declared US artists passé.
Arden set off in search of young British talent and met the Newcastle-based band the Animals, whose manager, Mike Jeffrey, was looking for an agent—one who had a lot of influence in the industry. Arden brought the band to London and helped secure them a recording deal. Their huge immediate success benefited Arden - now their worldwide agent - but he soon fell on bad terms with Jeffrey, so sold his rights to book the band and began managing the Nashville Teens. Arden offered little artistic direction to the Teens, instead keeping them on a grueling tour schedule.  
In 1965 he signed the Small Faces and guaranteed their debut single would be a hit by laying out several hundred pounds to chart fixers. Arden kept the highly successful band on a £20-a-week salary. When the band demanded to see their royalty statements in 1966, he countered by informing their parents that the band were drug addicts. Hearing that Australian entrepreneur Robert Stigwood was interested in the band, he dangled Stigwood off his fourth-floor balcony as a warning. The Small Faces eventually won their freedom, but all attempts at retrieving royalties due from Arden found them locked in court battles, finally receiving payment in 1977.
Arden then took over managing the Move, and out of this band came the Electric Light Orchestra, which went on to sell millions of albums internationally, generating huge wealth for Arden. He settled in Los Angeles, purchasing Howard Hughes' mansion in 1972. Again, the relationship ended bitterly. By 1980 Arden was managing Ozzy Osbourne after the singer's split from Black Sabbath. Osbourne left his wife to marry Arden's daughter Sharon - she, having worked for Don since her teens, had inherited his tough management skills - and when the couple left Arden to go it alone in 1982, Don ensured that much litigation followed.
In 1986 Arden and son David were charged (as Harry and David Levy) with blackmailing and imprisoning an accountant who they had fallen out with. The sensational court case found a jury declaring David guilty, while Don was acquitted. Osbourne had told her children that their grandfather was dead, and they first saw him when she began screaming abuse at the elderly Arden upon encountering him on a Los Angeles street. In 2004 Arden published his autobiography, Mr. Big: Ozzy, Sharon and My Life as the Godfather of Rock, to modest interest. Sharon Osbourne's 2005 autobiography Extreme sold two million copies. They eventually reconciled but portrayed him as a villainous, if occasionally generous, man. His wife Hope predeceased him. He died July 21 2007 and is survived by Sharon and David.”
There was a social gathering in one of the massive bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel hosted by Don Arden. His son Dave was present but Sharon wasn’t—I had heard that they hated each other. I went there with Larry and Joey and couldn't believe the spread of food, wine, booze and a small amount of drugs, anything and everything you could want. I only wanted a record deal but Larry convinced me to be patient and play this little Hollywood game a little longer. It seemed this time things were on the level and a deal would be forthcoming. But as usual negotiations came down to the eleventh hour and Jet Records had passed on the deal.  Stephen believes the reason why is another one of his conspiracy theories. He thinks that Don Arden wanted to get his unknown band, ELO, on the Carol Burnett (Joey's step-mother) Show, but when ELO started to gain a little notoriety he didn't need Carol Burnett anymore and subsequently didn't need Silverspoon. I don't go along with this theory because it is filled with too many holes; it sounds like we are the victims of some elaborate scheme. What it came down to, I believe, is that it was just another deal that went sour. Was it our immaturity or our reputation that preceded us, or the fact that Jet Records had a band now that needed their full attention? I think it was the latter. If they really wanted to sign Silverspoon, an appearance on the Carol Burnett show wasn't going to be a make it or break it thing. Joey was devastated having spent so much time and energy on the deal and now it had all blown up in his face. He retreated back into his comfort zone with hard drugs and alcohol. For me, it was another carrot that was being dangled in front of my nose but this time I wasn't as invested in the race as I was before so I took it all with a grain of salt. I had my solo career to look forward to, but it wasn't over for Silverspoon, not in the mind of Stephen Adamick-Gries anyway; he was hatching another plan with The William Morris Agency that I mentioned in Chapter 46. We shall see, said the blind man, we shall see.
In his book, Gods, Gangsters and Honour, Stephen Machat has a chapter called, Who’s Afraid of Don Arden, where he talks about how he and his father had taken over the legal proceedings for Jet/CBS Records. As he writes in the book: “CBS would offer the management a second deal: a co-production deal for other artists. Let’s say those other bands flop and flop some more. They almost always do. Well, all the losses incurred by those “loser bands” will be set against your one hit band (ELO). Pretty soon, you could even find yourself owing money to the label and unable to pay your one successful band. CBS had to approve all subsequent contracts with artists if they were to be released on Jet/CBS in the United States—but not if they were released in the UK. So in the future all I did was write contracts that CBS could not approve.” A light in my head illuminated. Could Silverspoon had been one of those so-called “loser bands”?
When I called Stephen Machat the other day, he told me that the first thing Don Arden did when they hired Machat and Machat was to fire Barry K. Rotgutt. He said that their law firm didn’t get involved until after Silverspoon had come and gone in the lives of the notorious Arden clan. It was all Rotgutt. He screwed thing up so badly in the contract negotiations that CBS had no choice other than to drop us. It would have been a legal nightmare for them. It was unsalvageable.
In Machat’s book he describes how Jeff Lynne was terrified of Don. In contract negotiations with ELO, CBS required what is called an inducement letter—which confirms that the individual will look only to the production company for the money and not CBS. Everyone was terrified that the deal was going to go south. The problem was the insurance clause that stated that in the event of Lynne dying, Don would get the insurance pay-off. Jeff was convinced this would encourage Don to kill him off. Only when the clause was altered, so that CBS became the beneficiaries, would Lynne finally sign on the dotted line.”
Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I could see that not signing with Don Arden and Jet Records a real lifesaver—a blessing in disguise. We would have been either killed or had our legs, arms or fingers broken and Joey, with the way he was acting at the time would have had his vocal cords slashed. Sour Grapes? Maybe—maybe not; I guess we’ll never know.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chapter 46 - Secret Agent Man

Sometime in the middle of 1977, thanks to the help and promoting by Maria Corvelone, Silverspoon signed a contract with The William Morris Agency and the agent assigned to us was a fellow named Bob Ringe. According to Stephen, it was the first time William Morris had signed an act without a recording contract. We had weekly meetings at the office on El Camino Drive in Beverly Hills, but I can't for the life of me tell you what went on at those meetings. Did they get us any gigs? No. Were any promotional pictures taken of the band? No. Did they look over any contracts the band had pending? No. Were we wined and dined at the expense of the agency? Once or twice. Did they listen to all the songs to determine which were the most commercial or saleable? Not really. What did they do, you might ask? Nothing really. As I said, we did have weekly meetings with Bob which were nothing more than extended lip service—flapping lips moving nothing but stale, putrid, hot air. It stunk. Having an agent served no purpose other than bragging rights at The Rainbow, or at parties. I think it got Stephen and Larry laid a few times and people might have bought us a few drinks— that's it!
Almost a year had gone by since the movie "Helter Skelter" was released, and there was no talk from Bob or anyone else outside the band about a soundtrack album—we all thought this was a huge mistake. We had a meeting set at the Chinese restaurant— Mr. Chow's I think it was called— right down the street from William Morris. That was on August 16, 1977. Bob, Robin and the rest of Silverspoon all sat down at the table for lunch, had a few drinks and we pleaded our case. Bob seemed like he was leaning our direction and was about  to get the ball rolling when the waiter came over and announced to everyone at the table that Elvis Presley had just died. We were all devastated. After that nothing got done. The whole industry just closed up shop. It was like: "So Bob, I know Elvis just died but don't you think you should get on the stick and make some calls?" 
"Nah, I don't feel like it now, and I don't think anyone will be in the mood to discuss business at a time like this," he said. How many more opportunities would Silverspoon be exposed to only to have fate, or whatever you might call it, slap us in the face just when we thought we were going to be on our way to the big-time—the Valhalla, the pinnacle of rock ‘n roll glory. I guess the Rock and Roll hall of fame was going to have to wait a few more years than we expected. It felt like we were a cursed band, a real hard luck bunch of Beverly Hills brats. For me, I felt like I didn’t need to be a star—I wanted to be a working musician and respected songwriter. The only other member of the band who felt like that was Larry—the Baltimore Kid. The only thing was, Larry was living in Las Vegas commuting to LA on the weekends. I needed something a little more permanent and less transient than that.
Getting back to Bob Ringe, he had problems of his own to deal with at the time. He was going through a bitter divorce and was starting to abuse drugs and alcohol, and I guess I could hardly blame him; his soon to be ex-wife was a beautiful blonde form Sweden or Norway and had left him with a big house in Encino Hills with mortgage payments, car payments and God knows what else. I don't think there were any children involved, but I really don't remember one way or the other.
I found out later Bob had regretted signing us to William Morris. He thought we were a bunch of spoiled brat, dilettante, ego maniacs who were strung out on drugs and booze. That was "the pot calling the kettle black", or "it takes one to know one", or any other expression you could name indicating someone who was just as, if not, more abusive than we were. 
After that horrendous week, we knew in our heart of hearts our contract with The William Morris Agency wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. With no agent, no Jet Records contract ( which I will go into later), not much of anything going for us, I retreated back to the security of my solo career and Robin, although in a week or so we would meet a musician that would change things in mine and Robin's life forever. But at that moment I felt like I had some serious drinking to do—so did the rest of Silverspoon.