Debbie Reynolds – So Full Of Life and Spontaneous Generosity

Debbie Reynolds & Harry Karl, Caesars Palace, Nero's Nook, Jan 1967I didn’t get to meet Debbie Reynolds the night she and her husband came to see us. My mistake, though our lead singer, Dave, had the honor. It happened on one of the most remarkable nights in our career as entertainers and musicians. We’d been hired by Caesars Palace in late December of 1966 to help open the re-imagined Nero’s Nook Lounge nestled next to the new hotel’s casino. It was a gorgeous showroom and the hottest ticket in town. I hadn’t realized when I’d signed the contract that we’d be limited to singing ballads and mellow pop songs, like the Letterman. Another restriction in our contract forced us to appear as The Big Spenders instead of Stark Naked and the Car Thieves, another difficult pill to accept.

We decided we couldn’t live with the constraints being placed on our performances any longer. The Saturday night we decided to break out and play our best material whether pop, rock, or rhythm and blues regardless of the consequences just happened to coincide with a night full of stars from movies and television, international personalities, and hotel headliners from all up and down the Strip. Behind the curtain, we stood nervous but excited. We couldn’t be sure the audience wouldn’t hate us, or the entertainment manager wouldn’t close the curtain in the middle of the show. We risked losing our new 3-year contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (and in the end it did), but together, we’d made the final decision to be true to our nature in the dressing room before coming to the stage, so here we were.

We opened with an Otis Redding tune, “Can’ Turn You Loose,” if I remember correctly and moved through our version of Bobby Hatfield’s “Unchained Melody.” It was probably Sam and Dave after that, and we mixed in “The Way You Look Tonight,” Letterman style, and on through the set list until we came to our closer. The audience response had been more than we could’ve hoped for so far. We’d worked long hours to perfect the Four Seasons “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and I don’t think the Seasons could’ve done it any more justice that we did that night. But the topper of the entire show came as we started into the song’s dramatic ending. I’ve excerpted the following from Night People since I can’t tell it any better …

“I tried to make out the figure moving below us through the blinding lights, until . . . wait—holy crap! That’s Debbie Reynolds down there pulling on Dave’s leg!

“Sing it, baby, sing it!” she yelled. A broad, encouraging grin spread across her face as he stood braced, high above her, to hit the high full voice note near the end of I’ve Got You Under My Skin. When we peeked through the curtain earlier, we’d seen Debbie Reynolds seated at an aisle table a few rows from the stage with her husband.

As Dave’s ringing tenor swept high, and then higher, into a dramatic falsetto run, she’d stretched on tiptoe to grasp the only part of him she could reach, his left pants leg just above a white patent leather boot. Laughing with joyful spontaneity, she shook it back and forth, like a dog with a sock puppet.

Dave had to be as astounded as the rest of us, but he closed his eyes, pushed his mic farther up and out, and leaned back to let those golden pipes of his rip.

“I’ve got you . . .” Dave crooned a cappella, working into the final phrasing of the song with the movie star still hanging onto his pants leg, staring at him with a wide smile. I stole a glance at Mac, his eyes wide as beacons. I knew mine were just as big as we joined our voices with Les and Craig in building the ending harmony.

“Never win, never win . . .” The lounge erupted, peppering another standing ovation with yells and excited shouts that crackled over thundering applause. More people rushed to the front of the stage as we hit the big finish and took our bows while the frenzied uproar mounted to a pounding pressure.

I looked left toward the rest of the band, trying to take us in. Jackets from our dark suits lay rumpled around us. Purple-and-white polka-dotted ties hung loose or strewn across the stage or amps. Burgundy cuff links on our custom tailored white-on-white dress shirts sparkled in the brilliant light. Leonard was sopping wet behind the drums, his dress shirt translucent.”

Debbie Reynolds put the icing on the cake for us that night. Her spontaneous encouragement and appreciation, more than anything else, endorsed our decision to let loose and show ourselves for who we really were. After the show, there was a note inviting Dave and the rest of us to her table. Dave beamed as he went out to meet her. Me? I’d chosen to go to Sammy Davis, Jr. who had also sent us a note. I’d recently read his autobiography, “Yes I Can” and wanted desperately to meet him, and that was a great privilege. But I sacrificed meeting one of the most amazing superstars ever to grace show business. Someone so full of life and so willing to share it, she’d rushed to the stage in front of everyone to express her excitement. To me, it’s not just another Las Vegas anecdote, it’s a moment of generosity I’ll never forget. I’m sure I’m giving voice to all of us on the stage that night when I send a wish from us that she rest in peace knowing that ours were among the thousands and thousands of lives she touched.

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NIGHT PEOPLE Book Party, Indianapolis, Oct 11

IRB-NP-102515 Flyer copy

Summer of Love

The History of San Francisco Music in the ’60s and its Influence Today

A look back at the festivals of the ’60s whose influence can still be felt in the music and festivals of today. Source: Summer of Love: The History of San Francisco Music in the ’60s and its Influence Today

 

A look back at the festivals of the ’60s whose influence can still be felt in the music and festivals of today.

The year was 1967 and the place was San Francisco. It was the Summer of Love; a season of creative expression, free society, cultural revolution and arguably the beginning of what we now enjoy as modern music festivals.

I hit the road for Outside Lands this week and I can’t help but reflect (or slightly obsess) over the rich musical history that once graced the Bay Area. It was a time like no other — it was pure, quick-moving, and psychedelic — the Summer of Love irreversibly changed our culture forever. I grew up in Northern California, an hour outside of San Francisco, with my dad’s vinyl collection on continual rotation. The likes of David Crosby, the Doors, and the Who were constant companions of mine and I was captivated by an early age. I was in. But, alas, two decades too late… so this year I wanted to make a point to research this beautiful history and experience “today’s” San Francisco music festival with this knowledge in my back pocket. To feel the energy of the past, to respect the history and the people who pushed an artistic and creative generation forward.

Aug 04, 2015

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Lest we forget. I remember too, Joanna. The first third of NIGHT PEOPLE takes place in 1965 and 66 in the music and nightlife of San Francisco. A fantastic time, though not all just good-time music festivals. And there were powerful musical stories taking place outside of Golden Gate Park, as well.

 Posted by Larry J.

NIGHT PEOPLE – ON SALE NOW thru JULY 23 – $2.99

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

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

ON SALE NOW for the next week – July 16 thru July 23 for $.299!

GET YOUR COPY NOW!

 

In one of the earlier chapters of Look…

In one of the earlier chapters of Look Back In Love, before I leave Indianapolis, everything is in turmoil. I’ve started the stub of a psuedo life, working at the RCA plant on the west side assembling record players. There’s a chapter called “Rita” where I meet a girl who shores up my confidence by showing interest in me and the story of how the vocal group failed to become a band. This image is not the real Rita of course, in fact I purloined it from a Lands End ad, but it reminded me enough of her to save it as a model. Thought I’d show it to you.

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.

Naked in Vegas at the Pussycat A’ Go Go in 1966

LAS VEGAS HOTELS AND LANDMARKS IN 1966

A Two Night Stand at the Cat

Major Las Vegas hotels and landmarks in October 1966 for Look Back In Love, memoir of A Naked Car Thief

When Stark Naked and the Car Thieves came to play the Pussycat A’ Go Go in 1966, there were twelve major hotels on the Las Vegas strip. The Cat was behind a race book, on ground that is now covered by the Wynn Hotel, south of the Desert Inn. It’s sign was a slyly smiling silhouette of a cat that stood high above the boulevard. Continue reading…

CROW CANYON ROAD

Pleasant Hill to Hayward, California via Crow Canyon Road

Back when our band, then called The Checkmates, came to California, most of us lived inland around Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek because the first club we worked in was in Pittsburg, CA a few miles further north and east. When we started working at the Town Club in Hayward in late spring of 1965 we had to make that trek each night back and forth from work.

Google maps, Pleasant Hill to Hayward, CA via Crow Canyon Road 1965

The hard part was the weekends. Not only did we have to play Friday and Saturday, 9pm to 2am like the other nights, we also had to be back Saturday and Sunday mornings, 4 hours later when the bar opened and liquor could be served to play a 4 hour jam session. Not enough time to get home and back so we found ways to stay up all night, at afterhours clubs like Soul City or even sleeping in the back seat of a car for a few hours. Later, to make more money we even became the house band at Soul City, which meant we were expected to play for 12 straight hours before we could drive from the East Bay back inland to our apartments.

Back then there wasn’t a freeway that ran through the mountains so we had to traverse twisty Crow Canyon Road when we were often so exhausted we would hallucinate. I remember staring out the window from the passenger side (not driving fortunately) and seeing mailboxes we were passing and losing all sense of motion and thinking they were rabbits. Going through the canyons was definitely like being down the rabbit hole. We did it for six months and in the end we had a much tighter band and a new name.

What I find particularly interesting is that in Google Maps, choosing directions between Pleasant Hill and Hayward, there is a ‘3D’ button. When pressed it actually switches to satellite view and animates traveling along the route, up and down and around along Crow Canyon to where it comes out on the backside of the mountains near San Ramon before heading north through Walnut Creek and into Pleasant Hill. Maybe I’m easily amused but I love taking that trip because it reminds me of those days. Many years ago it inspired me to write a short story, ‘The House on Crow Canyon Road’. Unfortunately through years of moving I seemed to have misplaced it. I hope in one of those motivated moments when I decide to really straighten out the garage that I’ll find it again.

The Indianapolis Times 1964

The Indianapolis Times

My last job in Indianapolis was at the Indianapolis Times. I was hired in 1963 to sell classified advertising. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was a dead end job because Scripps-Howard had already announced they planned to discontinue the paper. The Indianapolis Star, a morning paper, had already gobbled up the Indianapolis News, portending the change in the business environment. You needed to know the news before your working day not leisurely looking at in the evening.

The venerable Indianapolis Times, also an afternoon paper, held on even longer than it should have to try and keep Indianapolis from becoming a one newspaper town. Even then it was realized how dangerous it was to have only one news source (FoxNews crack addicts are you listening?).

[Location: 300 block W. Maryland Street at Capitol Avenue, Indianapolis (Marion County, Indiana)]

Life at a Dying Newspaper

I was excited at the prospect of working for a newspaper at first but my department had realized long before I arrived that there was no future in working hard at the Times. We met at 8 o’clock in the morning for a half an hour sales meeting, usually including donuts and coffee (some people surreptitiously adding a little kick to their coffee even that early). Then everyone left, supposedly to work on sales for the classified ads. I was told to ‘cold call’ car lots, gas stations, radio stations, local businesses, etc. to drum up sales but within a couple of weeks some of the old timers told me not to waste my time. I would get ads from the companies that just wanted to be in every publication but I wouldn’t get any new ads because everyone knew the Time wouldn’t be in business much longer and circulation was way down.

Everyone in the department except me was split into two groups. The golfers, who left immediately for the links after the morning sales meeting, and the rest, who left for the bars. Around 4:30 everyone would gather again for the final sales meeting before leaving for the day. That could be a hoot as the barflys could be raucous and unruly and the golfers told outrageous lies about their golf game or sexual adventures.

For me, I found that I could slip into a library and read science fiction novels or meet up with some of the guys I sang with, most of whom were chronically unemployed. Often there were enough of us to get in some a cappella practice time. 1964 was the year we had a close brush with fame after recording “In The Still of The Nite” and our trips to Chicago to support the record. In the first few months of the year we still hoped we might be able to keep recording but the Indy Sound and Jan Hutchens Productions died as quickly as it had risen. It was on one such day in the fall that I recruited Mac Brown from the Casinos to come and sing with us. At our New Year’s Eve party on the last day of 1964, knowing that the day the Times would close was near I agreed to a brash proposal to try our luck as The Checkmates (precursor to Stark Naked and the Car Thieves) singing in night clubs. So in early February of 1965 I gave notice at the Times and tried my luck as a bar singer. Though that experience was a complete disaster life was never the same again.

Display Artist

One of the best things I learned at the Times was from the display artist. I would bring him display ads and he would draw them up right in front of me. He was half cartoonist and have illustrator. His main tools were a metal ruler and a #2 pencil. He would use the ruler to tear through newspaper pages and his pencil to block out new art, write in new copy using the ruler edge, and illustrate where and when needed. I’ve always been influenced by his rough and ready skill and talent even though the medium has changed to a digital world. I still keep a couple of steel rulers around for when I work on art in article, brochure, or book form even in this digital world.