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

NIGHT PEOPLE LAUNCH PRE-ORDER SALE!

Night People, Book 1 - launch on June 15thFRIENDS AND FAMILY PRE-ORDER SALE FOR KINDLE BOOK – $2.99

It’s almost here! 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, goes public on June 15th. The print paperback will go allegedly go on sale at the same time, though we’ll see how accurate that is.

I’ve still got some free ARC books for anyone who would like to get one from me. Just let me know. I’ve got them ’til they’re gone.

In other news …

FOREWARD REVIEWS will feature NIGHT PEOPLE in it’s Fall catalog under the Biography/Memoir section along with 7 other books.We’ll also be mentioned in the AbFab section but the big news is being in the major part of the catalog. This catalog is racked at a majority of the Barnes & Nobles, something 11,00 libraries and several other places, plus the book will be shown at the American Library Association Exhibition in San Francisco later this month.

I’ve received 7 Goodreads reviews for NIGHT PEOPLE, and hope there will be more so we can open up on Amazon with a splash.

The Girl Who Named 3 Dog Night – June Fairchild

June_Fairchild-gazarri_dancers.com

June Fairchild (Wilson) 1971

Larry J Dunlap – http://larryjdunlap.com/ljd-blog/

I never met June Fairchild, though I first heard about her in 1968, and even then I didn’t know her name. Her given name was June Wilson and she was born in Manhattan Beach, California. Like many of the young beautiful girls of the 60s, she wanted to be a movie star. During the years she was with Danny Hutton of “Roses and Rainbows” fame , she took the fateful step of joining the Screen Actors Guild, discovering that someone had already taken that name. Danny, apparently suggested Fairchild for her stagename and that was accepted. June is famous for naming as well. When she read in a National Geographic that Australian Aborigines defined how cold nights were in the Outback by how many dogs you needed to sleep with to keep warm enough to survive she told Danny that’s what he should name his new band. If it was really cold, it was a three-dog night. It stuck and Three Dog Night when on to a memorable career.

It appeared that June would go on to a memorable career too, as she worked in several movies and danced on Hollywood A’ Go Go TV show with a troupe called the Gazzari Dancers,  though they have no official connection to the Gazzari’s night club where we and many, many other 60s band played. Somehow, in someway, in a haze of drugs and alcohol, she fell through the cracks. The Manhattan Beach prom queen, famous go-go dancer, actress with a brilliant life and future fell all the way down to a skid row cardboard box in downtown Los Angeles. The mean, mean streets of rape and beatings.

Floyd Sneed, pictured here with June last September, was who told several of the guys in our band that some people had come in to see us, as we sat around a table at the

Floyd Sneed with June Fairchild

Floyd Sneed with June Fairchild

Rag Doll night club in North Hollywood in 1968. But they’d missed us, it was our night off. Floyd had been playing our off-nights with an excellent little trio called “Heat Wave,” and we’d become friendly. Especially with our drummer Leonard. One night Leonard asked Floyd, who held his sticks like hammers, about his unusual style and Floyd said, “African Lighting, baby, African Lightning.” He explained that even when the people who came to see us discovered we weren’t playing that night, they stayed anyway and then asked him if he’d like to audition for this new super group they were forming. “Three lead singers,” he’d said. “I told you guys I wanted to play in a group like yours, and look what happened?” I can’t remember for certain but I’m pretty certain it was Reb Foster, one of Three Dog’s managers, and Danny Hutton.

When one of us asked what the name of this hot new super group was, he said Three Dog Night, Leonard, puzzled, wanted to know what that meant. Floyd shrugged. “I dunno. Danny’s girlfriend read something about how many dogs you gotta sleep with on a really cold night, but,” Floyd grinned, and leaned back in his chair. “How can guys in a band called Stark Naked and the Car Thieves question anyone else’s wacky name?”

June died of liver cancer last Tuesday, at the age of 68 in a convalescent home. http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-june-fairchild-20150219-story.html Two of her high school girlfriends rescued her several years earlier from the streets to get her to come to a reunion. Though life was difficult her living on social security disability she remained living in small downtown hotels doing her best. It may not be the newest story of the high-flying 60s, of the time and place, but it reminds me of the pitfalls and dangers my friends and I saw take down so many. There’s a donation site for June at http://www.gofundme.com/JuneFairchild I’m going to go donate to it in our group’s name. For June, and for many others who burned so bright and fell so far in those days of music and love.

Tonight: The War in Vietnam – The Sixties

DON”T MISS IT. Tonight The Sixties on CNN, 9 pm (EST), 6 pm (PDT), plus there are usually several re-runs. Covers the war from its beginnings through 1968. The face of war changed forever with this escalation.  Combined with the pictures that brought the brutality of the war to the home front, a new sense of power and disenfranchisement from the country’s youth, and the hangover from the loss of a young and popular president, the support for this war faded as the commitment to it by the government went up. Up until this war, as Bill Murray exhorts his army buddies it in Stripes, “We’re 10 and 1!”

For me, it was trying to find a way to stay with my band when the army was bound and determined to induct me. I had no political viewpoint in the beginning, and to the degree I did, I tended to trust the government implicitly then.  That all began to change when it started to impact my life and I had to figure things out.

My most personal experience was when Stark Naked and the Car Thieves performed for a couple of months at a nightclub in Honolulu in April of 1968, as the buildup of American forces followed the Tet Offensive during the height of the Vietnam War. 80% of the guys in the club were either on R&R coming from the war or going home. The emotional power of the songs we played to remind these warriors of home, girlfriends and wives, high school, families, and buddies, some of them lost by their side, came through to all of us there. As the messengers through our music we became instant friends, somehow passed into the intimacy of one solder to another, and it was all we could do to hold onto our own feelings sometimes. We heard many stories from the battlefield, reminisces from home and witnessed soldiers at the outer  limits of their ability to endure. But as humans do, they found humor and understanding and love in their experiences. While they thought we were enriching their lives, it was they who were enriching ours.

Over the last few years I have received a surprising number of messages from soldiers who saw us at the Lemon Tree on the beach in Waikiki. To a man they remember us for the music and how it helped connect them to the things most important to them. God love them all.

Here’s a little quiz about the 60s you might enjoy – What 60s personality are you?

Larry J Dunlap, Things We Lost in the Night, a memoir of love and rock n roll music

Watch The SIXTIES on CNN Tonight

Hey Everybody!

cnn_sixties_digital_myturnerDon’t forget to catch the first episode of The SIXTIES tonight on CNN. Shouldn’t be hard. It’s running several times over the evening. It was one of the most transformative decades of the past century. I’ll have mixed feelings looking back on it all.

Stark Naked and the Car Thieves 1968 Nehru jackets

Stark Naked and the Car Thieves 1968 Nehru jackets

And please keep your eye out for Things We Lost in the Night, a memoir of love and rock n roll music  set in the late sixties and coming soon in 2014. You had to be there to believe it, or at least have read the book.

All the best – Larry