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.”

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.