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.”

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

 Posted by

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!

 

Across the Musical Universe

Caesars-Palace-1966-300x230IN AUGUST OF 1966, CAESARS PALACE, the most incredible casino/resort/hotel of it’s time, opened its doors to the public. A few months later the most improbable event imaginable happened when Trish Turner, a talented R&B singer who occasionally sang with us in early morning jams introduced me to Clyde Carson, a slight, pasty-faced guy with a mustache so thin it looked painted on ….

“Clyde made me the most inconceivable proposition I’d ever heard. “Would you guys be interested in playing across the street at Caesars Palace?” he said after we’d settled in with our drinks.

He told me he was well connected at Caesars and thought he could get us an audition to open the rumored new Nero’s Nook lounge at the opulent resort hotel. I was incredulous, it had to have been written all over my face. Caesars Palace being just across the street from the Pussycat might be geographically true, but for a band like Stark Naked and the Car Thieves that mammoth edifice was far across the musical universe from us. Only the biggest, most well known stars played there. Andy Williams, who hosted his own prime time television show, opened the main showroom to an international audience of celebrity and wealth flown in from all over the world just a few months ago. No rock star or group, no matter how famous or talented, had ever broken into a major Las Vegas Strip hotel, not even in the lounges. It would happen one day, but it was utter fantasy to imagine that event would take place now, with an unknown group like us. And certainly not at Jay Sarno’s, Jimmy Hoffa financed, luxurious Caesars Palace, already legendary among the elite for glamor and extravagance. When a rock artist did break that barrier, it would be the Beatles or Elvis, or maybe the Four Seasons, somebody famous worldwide taking the stage. Never an unknown band with no hit records, no matter how good anyone might think we were. It was laughable to think how being popular in a local rock n roll dance club would translate to a stage in the immense casino. Caesars overshadowed every other hotel on the Las Vegas strip, even the storied Sands and Flamingo. What Clyde was suggesting was like a talented Little League team being offered an opportunity to play with the Yankees in major league baseball.

And, of course, as is the case in fairy tales, there was a catch. We’d have to kiss a frog — Clyde Carson. He wanted to be our personal manager.” Continue reading…

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

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.