The Can Can Room – 1965 St. Louis, Missouri

REFLECTIONS: Larry, Dave, Les, & Mac

[This is from a collection of scenes, stories and little chapters that were left on the cutting floor now that Things We Lost In The Night is complete.]

In early 1965, before the guys in my vocal group, the Reflections, left for California in April, we’d tried to develop a little floor show to play in clubs around Indianapolis to make some extra money. I had serious reservations about that, we’d rarely performed publicly, we didn’t play instruments, and my wife, Pat wasn’t thrilled about the idea. While Dave and I had been singing together since high school, Mac had joined us a few months earlier, and Les, who was supposed to accompany us as our guitar player was drafted into the group as our new bass singer a couple of weeks before we were due to try out our new act in Birmingham, Alabama at some place called the Boom Boom Room. Since Les was going to sing with us and not play guitar, we had to find musicians to back us up. Les found a little trio called the Zeb Miley Trio playing in an Indianapolis downtown bar called Susie’s Twist Club. They agreed to go out on the road with us for a few weeks to tighten up our show in hopes we could find some places to play around town. We named the combined band and singers, the Checkmates, and ill-fated choice as it turned out.

Now Mac had been in the Casinos, a show band from Cincinnati, when we met him. They later had a hit with the ballad “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” so he knew how dance around the stage and to construct these little shows, though the rest of us shared one single left foot, and a clumsy one at that. At some point I’ll post something about our adventures at the Boom Boom Room right in the middle of the civil rights marches going on at the time but I thought I’d like to post this little bit from the Can Can Room, the next club we played in St. Louis, Missouri, first.

The Checkmates – Monday, March 1, 1965, St. Louis, MO.

We walked out into the cold Missouri night to find Zeb Miley and Johnnie Lamb in a heated discussion with a portly older man in a navy blue suit with an open collared white dress shirt. The heavyset man was poking Zeb in the chest while Johnnie was walking around in little circles looking at the ground. When I walked up the man was saying in a cloud of frosty breath, “. . . what were you thinking, that you could walk into this club on Union paper with non-union musicians in your band? What kind of idiot are you?”

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“Musician’s Union bullshit,” Zeb said. “The usual union crap. As usual, they do more to stop you and then help you get work.”

“You know,” the man said to Zeb, “you should be thanking me. I could yank all of you off the stand right now. Yes I could. Club operator would never have another union band in this joint if they didn’t comply.

“Half your band,” he went on, waving his hand around, “is behind in their dues and the other half,” waving his other hand, “don’t have any union cards at all.”

Zeb turned to me, frowning and said, “He’s the local union rep and he’s saying you guys ain’t union so you can’t go back on stage.”

“You,” the man said, turning to make me his center of attention. “Whatinhell do you think you are doing up there without a union card?” While belligerent, certainly, he also seemed a little perplexed.

“Why would I need a union card,” I said, even more perplexed. “Why would singers need to belong to a musician’s union? We don’t play instruments.” I looked at Zeb trying to comprehend what was going on.

“If you sonsabitches are on that stage, you gotta have a card, period.” Mr. blue suit insisted.

“We just played in Birmingham, Alabama last week, before we came here. No one said anything about union cards to us.”

“Do you know where you are, sonny? Do you now?”

“Yes sir. This is St. Louis, Missouri. And it’s a beautiful city,” I added.

“And, does that mean anything to you, music-wise? Ring any bells?” he continued smugly.

I looked around for a lifeline but no one else seemed to have a clue, either. “Nosir I don’t.

“Well, you ignorant SOB, this is Local #2 of the Musician’s Union of America. Now I suppose you’ll have to tell me that you don’t know what that signifies, won’t you?”

I shook my head negatively. I had failed so many classes in school and now here I was failing Musician’s Union 101, dammit.

“No?” he said, continuing to rub it in. “No, you still don’t know? Well, I’ll tell you. We were the second local union formed, right after New York City. This is probably the strongest local in the United States. You do not fuck with St. Louis Union Local #2. Is that clear?”

“Yes, but I don’t see …”

“No pissant city like Birmy-fucking-ham, Aly-fucking-bama decides whether you need a union card in St.-fucking-Louis. Is that clear?”

“Okay. Okay,” Mac said, “We understand.” By this time, Dave had joined us on the street. Drivers and passengers in the cars passing us by were looking at us. It was freezing out here. “But,” Mac continued, “We don’t play instruments. I don’t get how we have to belong to a union?”

“So you don’t play an instrument, you say, even though I say, if you step on the goddamn stage in there you got to be union. Well, let me ask you something sonny boy. What was that funny metal thing you was tootling around on while ago marching around that club like a loon? What was that anyway? Looked suspiciously like a saxophone, of course I could be mistaken. Maybe you was playing the radio,” the Union rep grinned.

“Aw that was  nothin’. I don’t really play sax. I just tote that thing around when we’re doing this dancin’ thing. Can’t play but two notes. You can’t count that,” Mac said.

“And where’s that tall boy,” the rep continued. “Oh, here he is right here. I don’t suppose you play that trombone though you was pushing that slide back and forth like you knew what you was doing. You just another mummer, too?”

“Hell, I just go here,” Dave said, “I got no clue what’s going on. I play a little trombone. I’ll tell you how much though, damn little.”

“Damn little is plenty enough,” said the man as he turned to me. “And then there is you. Yes, you were banging two pieces of wood together so I expect you’re going to tell me you weren’t playing an instrument either. That so?”

“Yeah, I mean no, I don’t think so …” I said, wondering a bit.

“Claves,” he said. “those pieces of wood are called claves, they’re south American musical instruments my fine young friend so you and all the other guys without union cards, including the last guy who had a guitar strap on last time I saw him are not in compliance with union rules and regs. I can fine your asses up to $500 apiece.”

I went white. “Why that would end it for us. We’re just trying to get started. This is only are second job. That’s not fair. That can’t be what the union is for,”

“Fair, did you say. Well fair is as fair does and Zeb Miley here, well he’s the leader of the group. He knows the rules and he’s the one that broke ‘em. I’ll likely be pulling his card tonight and he’ll have to attend a hearing in a couple of weeks to find out how much it will cost to get it back. If he can get it back,” the rep said with finality.

We were all well and truly cowed and intimidated. “Is there some way we can make this right?” I asked. Zeb through his hands down in disgust and turned away. “We weren’t trying to avoid anything. Really, we just didn’t know.”

“I dunno,” he said, looking around at us. “Some of you don’t seem so willing to see the error of your ways.”

“C’mon guys,” I said to everyone on the street. Scott and Les were still inside somewhere. “Please, Mr ….” I started. I didn’t even know his name.

“I am Jonas Lawndale,” he said, “and here is my card. ‘Bout time somebody asked if I was legit.”

“Mr. Lawndale, we are a young band, just trying to get a foothold. If you could see your way to give us some leniency and help us find a way through the mess we’ve made here, we’d really appreciate it.” I said.

“Well sir, Mr. Miley,” Mr. Lawndale gestured in Zeb’s direction. “Does this fellow here have the right of it or do you continue to take exception to my pointing out your failings here? You are the rightful leader, signed onto this contract, and it is in your hands.” He stuck his chin out toward Zeb.

Our looks at Zeb must have conveyed enough fervor for him to get the message.

“Yeah, yeah, I know we’re in the wrong,” said Zeb with difficulty. He thought about it a bit and then said, “I didn’t rightly think these singer guys would have to be in the union especially as they don’t sing but 10 songs a night. But it’s so that a couple of us are late on our dues, so yeah, we need your help if you’d be offering.”

“Hmmm,” hummed Mr. Lawndale, seeming to figure what he would say to us. “First off those ‘singer guys’ as you call them, they ain’t going back on that stage tonight and not again ‘til they got union cards.

We didn’t say anything. Thank God, we’d finished our second show. There was one more set to go but we didn’t go on stage for that.

“Now I’m willing to forget about the fines for ya’ll since you’ve explained so nicely about where your confusions was, and I’ll forget about them late fees as well, but all you union guys got to have your cards up to date starting tomorrow night. And I am firm about that.

“By the way, it does seem that one Mr. Lamb does seem to be up to date so he can play it seems.”

“Mr. Lawndale,” I asked as gently as possible, “What does it cost to join Local #2 of the Musician’s Union of America?”

“Well son, I believe we can make you a member for $150 tomorrow down at the union house.” Jonas Lawndale beamed.

“Wow!” I said, stunned. “Wow!” I repeated since I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“We belong to a different Local, Mr. Rep,” Zeb said, a bit sourly, so do we have to pay our fees on  Local #2’s schedule?” I do believe he had already forgotten the fellow’s name.

“Well, Mr. Zeb Miley, we at Local #2 have a great fondness for our brothers across this great land and so, in token of that respect, we honor paying fees that we forward to those locals. So, in short, you must pay, down at the union house, the fees appropriate to your schedule at your home local.” Mr Lawndale added, “If you decided that you wanted to change your affiliation to the best and strongest union in this United States, while I’m sure we could get you a significant discount, however.”

“Well, then, Mr. Rep, we will get us into compliance first thing tomorrow. But I also reckon we better get ourselves into that club and finish our last set or we won’t have no job to save.” Seeing Mr. Lawndale’s look he added, “And that means without them singers. I know.”

“You will be seeing me tomorrow night, Mr. Miley. I give you fair warning, though, should you fail in any respect to meet the stipulations I have given you, I will not be so easily swayed as I have been tonight.” Mr. Lawndale turned without another word and walked into the night.

“Damn, where are we going to get $150 each I said to Dave and Mac?” I said despondently.

Before Zeb headed into the door, he said, “That’s not the hard part. You guys can run back to Indy and get union cards for $35. The big problem is your guitar player. Boy is underage and I don’t know if he can figure a way to get hisself a union card. You better check with him about that.”

Death of an Aristocat

Chuck, Dave, Pat, & Larry - The Reflections 1964

Chuck, Dave, Pat, & Larry – The Reflections 1964

The doorbell on the side of our house next to the driveway rang. This doorbell, with its own higher pitched ring than the front doorbell, rang in the my bedroom in the basement, commonly referred to among my friends as the dungeon due to my insistence that it be painted battleship gray and because to get to it, you had to traverse the furnace room with it’s spooky tentacled maze of vents rising up from of the furnace’s heart to snake across overhead. In my teen years it had served as the bridge of a starship, the conning tower of a submarine, and clubhouse before becoming our rehearsal room. I went up the basement stairs and ushered in Hasty Smith and another guy who seemed to tumble down the open steps all elbows and knees. Chuck Tunnah, Hasty said, introducing him to Pat Baldwin and me, was an inch or two over six feet and kind of gawky like he hadn’t quite grown into his skeleton. He had dark hair combed back from a widow’s peak that made him look fiendish.
“Now listen you guys. Don’t start that “Charlie the Tuna” crap with me,” he said with a big grin, like the Joker’s in Batman, in reference to the Starkist Tuna cartoon spokesfish, “because I do taste great and unlike that cartoon Tuna, I have great taste. Just want to get that clear”

That was how I met Chuck Tunnah, the fourth singer of my original vocal group as we formed the Aristocats, in the Fall of 1957. On July 5, 2016, Chuck, Charles E. Tunnah, died peacefully at 75 years of age in an easy chair with the Indianapolis Star in his hands. As with so many of my friends and associates passing into their later years are beginning to disappear I fear my blog will become an obit page, so I will resist that except in special circumstances. Though Chuck and I had not been in touch for many, many years, this loss struck very close to home to me. Hasting Smith, Jr., mentioned above, and Chuck sang in our high school choir and the exclusive Madrigal singers, and both patiently taught Pat Baldwin and me, both complete neophytes, how to learn and sing the popular music we liked. Hasty soon left us to go to Purdue, and eventually to become a nuclear rock scientist in Los Alamitos, New Mexico, where he passed away prematurely and suddenly as he warmed up to begin an early morning run.

Chuck, Pat, and I found Dave Dunn and went on to become the Reflections, and to record and release our first two records in Indianapolis in 1964. One of them, In The Still of the Night, became a regional hit on Chicago’s WLS, outcharting the Beatles for a couple of weeks. Chuck is the bass singer who first started the bass line that brought that version of a classic to prominence for us.

In Night People though, Chuck is introduced and disappears in the same paragraph; he never made the trip to California and on to the adventure that turned us into Stark Naked and the Car Thieves. Though he could be generous and kind, he could also be loud and obstreperous and because of that, he ended up relegated to staying in Indiana. He, and Hasty, have now passed beyond the curtain of life. When Hasty died, I felt the harsh breezes of change whispering through the hole in my history he left behind. The wind has picked up.

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Book Cover for NIGHT PEOPLE, Book 1 - Things We Lost in the Night, A Memoir of Love and Music in the 60s with Stark Naked and the Car Thieves

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“Pleasure” Atlantic City 1967

http://www.atlanticcityweekly.com/
The Pleasure Of Your Company/Maria, Love and Music“I remember my mother watching your show when I was a child. Those songs are still in my head as an adult. I would like to know who sings “I’d Like to Have the Pleasure of Your Company” and what year was it released? Thank you — Veronica, via Facebook
”

“The group was called S.N. and the CT’s (Stark Naked and the Car Thieves). Basically it was a studio group that put it together on a little independent label called Sunburst. Didn’t do anything much nationally, but locally a great hit and can be found on the Geator’s For Dancers Only CD, volume 2. Great cha-cha record. The year was 1968.”

 

Trackback: http://www.atlanticcityweekly.com/news-and-views/ask-the-geator/Marvin-at-Midnight-132630228.html

A Lost Recording from 50 Years Ago!

The Reflections / Illusions '63 & '64

The Reflections / Illusions ’63 & ’64

For those of you who’ve been following along, Stark Naked and the Car Thieves began as an acappella vocal group back in Indianapolis. We called ourselves the Reflections when our very first recording was released in late 1963 on WLS radio in Chicago. Unexpectedly, our uptempo version of In The Still of the Night hit the Chicago charts in early 1964 at the same time the Beatles did with I Want to Hold Your Hand. If you can read the chart below you’ll see we arrived at #17 while the Beatles languished at #40. Our producer screwed up and lost or accidentally destroyed the master of In The Still of The Night so even though we got great airplay and were about to break out nationally, when the charts came out two weeks later, our record had fallen off into oblivion while the Beatles were on their way to number one.

WLS Chart Jan 17, 1964

WLS Chart Jan 17, 1964

What you don’t know is, and that’s because even I’ve never heard or seen a copy of the record since we recorded it 50 years ago, our producer rushed us into the studio to get another record out to try to take advantage of the tremendous interest in the Reflections up in the Windy City. Since we sounded a lot like the Four Seasons, he found a song by Larry Huff, who’d co-written Easier Said Than Done for the Essex, called In the Beginning. We tried to adapt to sound like it was from the original Jersey Boys right in the studio, recording literally overnight. By the time it was pressed, the Reflections who recorded (Just Like) Romeo and Juliet) had hit with their song, and our name and all the good will we’d built up with the previous record was lost.  He had to decide on the spot what we would be called so he decided we were the Illusions. But the record failed and soon the Indy Sound no longer existed.

Today, doing some research for Things We Lost in the Night, I ran across our recording on YouTube.  I can’t tell you how amazed and pleased I was. Made me glad I got up this morning. It’s the weirdest thing though, strangers have put almost all our records up on YouTube. I’m hoping the person who posted this knows where I can buy a copy of the original record.

OPEN HOUSE AT LARRYJDUNLAP.COM

Probably as good a time as any to invite you to the Open House at my new website! I’m halfway through my final draft and scheduled some time to get my site in order. Among other features, is a list of thirteen songs we recorded and that are an important part of Things We Lost in the Night. They’re listed in chronological order (excepting this one of course), and make something of a musical history of the band under its various names. It’s on the THINGS WE LOST page in the Songs from TWL tab here on this site. There’s also a First Chapter sample from the book and two audio excerpts as well as short blurbs from the book. Come one, come all! Look around. Log in , say hi. Let me know what you think.

Thanks – Larry

Blog Party for BAND, memoir of A Naked Car Thief

Larry-photo-stillnakedHi, I’m Larry J. Dunlap, and I’m introducing my memoir BAND, memoir of A Naked Car Thief. I’ve been writing since the late seventies when I was in the business side of music. I did artist reviews and a cartoon strip for local music magazines then. Wrote my first story, a science fiction tale about built around a play-by-mail space empire game I was addicted to about then, too. I began professional technical writing after I’d gotten involved in technical training, eventually writing for Fortune 100 companies on contract. In recent years as the press of professional life lessened, I have returned to something I knew I’d have to do before embarking on any other authorial projects, a remembrance of my transition from a young Midwestern man/boy dreamer to a creator’s life in the warm California sunshine via a mid-sixties rock band. An excerpt from this memoir was published in an Inlandia Institute anthology last November.

I’ve always known it was likely I’d be a writer since I have been such an inveterate and addicted reader. For many reasons, I never attempted to write for a wide audience until relatively recently. During the six plus years I was leader of the rock band that grew out of my homespun vocal group in Indianapolis, I formed incredible bonds with my band mates. When we gathered to reminisce, we’d always remind ourselves of the interesting adventures we’d survived. I was always prompted by the guys saying, “Man, you have got to write a book about this.” As the years went by I heard from several of them saying that it was hard to talk about what we’d accomplished because no one could relate to their memories. When I could finally devote myself to this project I wanted to rectify that impression. I realized that vignettes, told out of context, sound like either bragging or disconnection. Telling our story would put it all in context. However, with our fading and differing memories there was only one way to do that, as a personal memoir. The more I settled into the project the more I realized I’d come to the right conclusion. I needed to write about my story, how I felt, what it meant to me, and let the rest of it shine through as I remembered and retold it.

My memoir starts on New Year’s Eve of 1964, though Book cover, BAND, memoir of A Naked Car Thiefchapter one covers a dangerous and violent night relating to the near hit record our vocal group in Indianapolis almost accidentally had in our nearby big city, Chicago. As a husband of two wonderful little boys and my high school sweetheart wife I loved, I was struggling with finding my creative place in the world. The environment around us in the structured world we grew up in and the hard line taken by our parents finally blew up when the group and I tried to turn ourselves into a working band. Though the first incarnation failed, a miraculous event sealed my fate and I was off to California to join my old buddies in a desperate attempt to create a rock band within a week in the seething musical chaos of San Francisco’s east bay dive bars. At the cost of the wrenching destruction of my family, the journey began that would carry us into adventure after adventure, to the top of San Francisco’s night life, through Hollywood, famous personal managers and record producers, to the heights of Las Vegas’ rock scene and the top of the largest Vegas resorts. A side trip to the Hawaiian islands found us performing for American warriors on R&R during the height of the Vietnam war, where I met a Hawaiian girl who touched me as deeply as my first love. As our status as performing stars rose, though we struggled with recording success, I was certain I’d reached the pinnacle of happiness and success. But there were undercurrents beyond my control that would bring me to the edge of sanity and the end of the music. Somehow I’d have to save my band, hope to save my new family, and try not to lose myself.

I’m currently working my way through the second edit. Memoir is a special form that I’ve come to really appreciate; I learned a lot from Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and Candy Girl, by Diablo Cody, and read many, many others as I prepped for, and continue to write. I’ve adopted a narrative style including dialog to my memoir because that’s how I remember it even though it was so long ago. We moved through a time of great historical and cultural change the background behind the events of the story; there is no need to embellish the dramatic arc at all, it just is what it was. I hope other memoirists see their story as vividly as I see mine. I’m looking forward to finding more examples of this style to continue to inspire me.

Unfortunately, most memoir readers and many memoir authors see them as tearjerkers, while there’s certainly a low point in my story, so low that it feels more like black humor to me, I’m not looking for sympathy or redemption. Personally, I hate saccharine sweet stories. In my eyes I’m just trying to recount what I think of as a great adventure that I was lucky enough to be a part of, and survive — without judgment. To do this requires honing the skills and dramatic arts of authors of fiction. I hope from the Memoir’s Discussion Group on LinkedIn to be influenced by others who approach their life adventures in this way, and to be a source of influence to others in the style I’ve chosen.

Jimmy O’Neill dies at 73

Jimmy O'Neill, manager of Stark Naked and the Car Thieve 1967-68 It with deep regret that I read in this morning’s LA Times that Jimmy O’Neill had passed on at 73. Only a couple of weeks ago I posted a story about Jimmy, how he was our personal manager from early 1967 into 1968. He introduced us to Eddie Cobb of the Four Preps who became our first producer, and Seymour Heller, who became our personal manager after Jimmy. Jimmy’s partner was Burt Jacobs who after managing us with Jimmy, went on with Bill Uttley and Reb Foster to form and manage Three Dog Night. Jimmy’s second wife, Eve Johnson, was with him when we met him. It was a difficult time for him, he never quite recovered from the cancellation of his TV show Shindig! I’m sure I speak for all my bandmates of 1967-68 when I send condolences to his children and the hope that he rest in peace.

OBITUARY LOS ANGELES TIMES JANUARY 15, 2013

General George and the Ventures

The Ventures Instrumental Guitar Band

The Ventures

When Dave, Mac and I first met Les, we didn’t realize what a good singer he was. He had an instrumental guitar band called the MG’s, who were highly influenced by Nokie Edwards and the Ventures. They were playing weekend sock hop dances with Bouncin’ Bill Baker for WIBC radio in Indianapolis, where they also backed our vocal group for a few appearances. Later, the MG’s backed us as the Reflections in our first studio sessions. When the vocal group made its first attempt to become a band, Les joined the three of us as a singer, and later became Stark Naked and the Car Thieves’ guitarist and vocal arranger. I do remember what a big deal it was when Nokie Edwards came in to a club to see us.

I just recently discovered that the Ventures’ first drummer, when they recorded Walk Don’t Run, and practically still a garage band, was George Babbit. Apparently, he was too young to play in many of the venues they were booked into when their record started to break. He entered the U.S. Air Force  and went on to become a four star general.

If your love rock ‘n roll, and remember the Ventures, I invite you to click on the link below to watch this reunion. I think it’s pretty cool and I enjoyed it a lot. Hopefully you will too, and it brings you a smile.

General George Babbit and the Ventures reunited

SIX DEGREES OF STARK NAKED

Though I did almost four months of research before really getting my teeth into this memoir, I still have to periodically find things to help me when I’m writing. Recently I have been writing about Jimmy O’Neill, who was our personal manager for a little over a year and a half, starting in 1967. Jimmy had been a big time DJ for KFWB, wrote for Teen Magazine, started the first teen nightclub, Pandora’s Box on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, and had been married to songwriter Sharon Sheely until shortly before we met him at the Rag Doll in North Hollywood. Though not everything went smoothly, Jimmy did a lot for us.

He was especially important to me. Before there was a glimmer of a thought of us ever leaving Indianapolis, the same group of us who recorded In The Still of the Night, had also recorded an audition tape for Jimmy O’Neill for Shindig! the television he was going to host. If I remember correctly, we read about an open call for audition tapes to become the backup vocal group on the show in a music magazine. With an astonishing amount of naivete we worked hard to get three songs ready, sang them, and sent off the tape. While I don’t remember exactly which songs were on that tape, and how that tape eventually wound up in New York City, and sent us another adventure that I’m leaving out of the memoir, one of them was a Beach Boys song, either In My Room, or Surfer Girl. We must have had another copy of at one time because somehow, it found its way to WIBC radio and the Bouncin’ Bill Baker show. He played it all of a day and a night offering a prize to anyone who knew who the artist was. I must admit, it was a solid copy of the Beach Boys, Dave sounded breathy, exactly like Brian Wilson, and the rest of sounded like we had sand between our toes.

Of course, everyone guessed the Beach Boys until Bill broke the news that it was The Reflections, as we were known them. But the point was we sent this to Jimmy O’Neill and never heard anything back. When the show came on, there were the Wellingtons, who had become the backup vocal group. The Blossoms were the girl vocal backup group, with none other than Darlene Love. The musicians called themselves the Shindogs and had such luminaries as guitarist James Burton and songwriter/guitarist Delaney Bramlett. I was just dying with the thought of what might have been.

Four years later, Jimmy O’Neill, who lived near where we were playing at the Rag Doll in the San Fernando Valley, dropped in to see us, as a guest of Tony Ferra, who owned the club. A few short weeks later we signed on with him as our personal manager. We were so excited, at least I was; he brought us to Greengrass Productions and Ed Cobb, a member of a fantastic vocal group, the Four Preps. I thought our future was made. Jimmy was partnered was Burt Jacobs who later went on with Reb Foster and Bill Uttley to build and manage Three Dog Night, and that friends, is a story for another night.

Anyway, I stumbled across the following interesting website, Six Degrees of Stark Naked from Iowahawk, you should definitely visit. It starts in one place and wanders via video in weird ways to several others …

Larry