I recently found some masters produced by Easy Street Productions from my old recording studio, City Recorders. It was located in the basement of the Sunset Gower Studios near the corner of Sunset and Gower in Hollywood. These were from my last music producing sessions in 1981.
There is life after memoir, and though I didn’t have a clue what that afterlife would be when I left the band to manage it in 1971, ten years later I owned a studio, a production company along with a personal management company. But I was sick to death of the music industry and was getting ready to make a big leap into a new business offering computer games over cable television after these recordings.
These last three tracks are instrumental only; I was never happy with the vocals and decided I’d rather leave them off. These tracks remind me of the great a sound we could get out of the joint and how talented some of the people I got to work with back then were. The credit for these sessions go to Neil Diamond’s fantastic musicians, and arranger, our inhouse rhythm section, and mainly to Wizard (Richard Hart) our chief sound engineer, and Mark Evans, who was second engineer for these sessions, drummer, and my inestimable studio manager. You can HEAR THEM HERE, if you would like.
Finding time to produce was difficult because there was such a need to keep the rooms booked to pay the lease and the staff, and occasionally to find a few bucks for me. And producing was the main reason I got into the studio business, but like a drug you want better and better equipment and it costs more and more and you need more and more customers…
It has been a long slog that began a long time ago for research, and nearly full time writing around a year ago. I’ve written enough words for two and a half books but I have finally completed the first draft of My Life as A Naked Car Thief. I must admit there are a couple of caveats: there are some unfinished chapters related to playing the Crown Room at the International Hotel while Elvis was in the main room. I am so pleased that Jim and Jan Seagrave are dipping into their vast resources to try and help me find the correct dates. And there is a slight hiccup with our Caesars Palace dates, which are minimal. It has been surprising to me the dearth of information about the Las Vegas of our era.
The final four chapters actually got written simultaneously for the most part; and there are some rough parts but it all works. The most exciting thing to me, something you just really can’t know until you finish a draft, is that there is a very real story of some pretty ordinary guys, okay I’ll just speak for myself here, an ordinary guy, since there was a lot of talent around me, from the Midwest who fell through the rabbit hole of the sixties and landed in San Francisco where they formed a band that lasted for a lot of years. My fear now is not about the story, it’s only in my own ability to do it justice. Though it is set in the drug-laced and culture-shifting sixties and the music and entertainment business of California, Las Vegas, and Honolulu, it’s mainly about people and how they struggle to survive and flourish, and fail and succeed, in such a maelstrom. It’s about a journey of time and place but also of growth, from callow youth to maturity. It’s about love and loss and living when you’re not sure you can. About realizing that what you get is sometimes worth more than what you want.
I may have to take a small break to get my breath back, I was pounding out many, many pages a week during the last couple of months as I sensed the finish line, but I’m looking forward to diving into the next, the really hard phase, shaping the second draft of these words into a readable story. I want to thank everyone, really everyone, that I have come in contact with during the process who have been so supportive, positive, and helpful in getting me this far. I’d just like to point out a few, my wife, Laurie, Christine and my brother writers from the Coffee House Writers Group, the band mates and wives I’ve been in touch with and some I haven’t, and the tens of people who I’ve contacted for research information. And, of course, the tubes of the World Wide InterWeb. It’s been a great to have so much help.
Last August I began writing “A Naked Car Thief” as a remembrance of the years I was a member of our band, Stark Naked and the Car Thieves. Prior to that, I spent about four months in intense research and writing certain scenarios that I vividly remembered like when we opened Nero’s Nook at Caesars Palace. I was testing to see if I could develop the skill to write something worth the effort it would take and if I could actually dedicate the time and effort and will to finish it. Though I have previously worked as a technical writer professionally for over eight years for three Fortune 100 companies, started an unfinished novel and a few short stories (one published in a game sci-fi magazine), I had never taken on anything like the scope of this project. Of the number of books I have absorbed in trying to develop this skill set, I realize that I should make clear the expectations and limits to what should be expected in a memoir, what it means for my goal, and why I chose this form. I am quoting below from one of the influential books that is guiding me.
“Memoir is a rendering of lived life, as filtered through memory and the wider net of the needs of narrative. Memoir just tells the story, no explicit thesis here. Memoir examines a life, a self, and does so through a period of time, say early childhood or the month you spent with Grandpa in France. Like novels and short stories, memoirs tend to operate in time and space, tend to have a story arc, rising action leading to a climax, a balance of scene and summary. A reflective voice might tell the story, might analyze events, but it tends to stay in the background, tends to let the action do the work. Research can support the storytelling, but the point isn’t a display of facts or information. A memoir lays out the evidence of a life, lets the reader make the conclusions. The mode ranges from pure, plain storytelling to more reflective storytelling. Some memoirs get so reflective and analytical that they move close to and overlap with the personal essay. A few pages, a book, a few volumes, memoir is an expansible form.”
— Roorbach, Bill (2008-06-17). Writing Life Stories: How To Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays And Life Into Literature.
I chose this form specifically because I am dealing with a time now well over 40 years ago, where memory does it’s best but cannot mirror specifics. Time and again, after relating vignettes about our group’s adventures people would say “you ought to write a book”, even sometimes a band mate. But as I got further into the project I realized that the story I had to tell, was really about my specific adventures through the lens described above; the band’s story and the story of the times and places had to become the background of my story. It had to become my story, not the band’s.
At first it was for a practical reason, it had become clear that some members of the group had glaring differences in interpreting the memories of our shared experiences. As my goal was to get at the truths that were seminal to my growth through those years; accuracy was bound to take a hit so I dedicated those early months to research and I continue to do spot research during the writing to be as accurate as possible. I also don’t want to take the stance of invalidating anyone else’s recollections so by personalizing them as mine and mine alone, though I make every effort to find common ground, I am only responsible to being true to my own sense of this experience.
But more importantly I have come to realize in this much more personal approach I am uncovering things that go beyond the band and into my relationships with family and friends with far-reaching consequence. I also realized that I wanted to write a story, a book, that anyone could pick up and read for the adventure and journey of several fairly ordinary guys who combined their talents in a leap of faith, and ended up experiencing extraordinary events at extraordinary places at an extraordinary time, the middle to the end of the 1960’s, in music and culture.
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.
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.
A Stratocaster and a Twin Reverb-Amp—one of the all-time great Fender guitar/amp combinations
Fender has been noted worldwide for well more than half a century as one of the few manufacturers that is equally acclaimed for its guitars and amplifiers. Down through its long history, a handful of Fender guitars and amps have been paired together in what proved to be classic combinations.
Although Fender has evolved with the times over that long history, those classic combinations are without exception still present in modern-day versions of their time-honored predecessors. Here then are four great Fender guitar/amp combinations, including modern counterparts that await you today at your nearest Fender dealer …
1. Telecaster®/’65 Twin Reverb®
This is the sound of country. The real-deal clear, trebly twang of a Telecaster plugged into a 1965 Twin reverb amp has defined the sound of pure country music for more than four decades now. As author Dave Hunter notes in his Guitar Rigs: Classic Guitar & Amp Combinations, “it’s the instrument that put the twang into country, and for plenty of guitarists, this first-ever mass production solidbody guitar is the only tonal tool that needs to live in the toolbox.”
Texas Stratocaster virtuoso Eric Johnson is a musician’s musician admired worldwide for his immediately identifiable pure guitar tone, and not for nothing has he been one of Fender’s most popular signature artists for several years now.
The good news for guitarists is that Johnson’s utterly glorious tone is not at all unattainable. In fact, one need look no further than the guitarist’s own signature Eric Johnson Stratocaster model, which has pickups wound to Johnson’s specifications, a quartersawn V-profile neck and other features specified by Johnson himself. Amp-wise, Johnson’s signature clean tones have always come from a Fender Twin Reverb; sounds you can nail using a Vintage Reissue series ’65 Twin Reverb.
3. Jazzmaster®/Showman® Amp
Nothing epitomized the reverb-drenched sound of the surf era like a late-’50s Jazzmaster through an early-’60s Showman amplifier (and its subsequent sibling, the Dual Showman®). With a Fender Reverb unit between instrument and amp, seminal instrumental groups like the Ventures, the Surfaris and the Chantays brought the roar of the ocean to stage and studio alike.
Surf music has enjoyed a hip resurgence in the past decade or so—bands such as Los Straightjackets, the Bomboras, Satan’s Pilgrims, Man or Astro-Man? and the Mermen have all rode the wild surf with renewed vigor and just as much reverb. Fender is still there to catch that wave too, with current gear such as an American Vintage series ’62 Jazzmaster through a ’65 Twin Custom 15 or, if you crave that surf-classic blonde piggyback look, a blonde Super-Sonic™ head and matching blonde 212 cabinet. Cowabunga, dude.
4. Pre-CBS Stratocaster/late ’50s Bassman®
“Strong contender for the title of ‘All-Time Most Beloved Rock Rig'” and “one of the most versatile, toneful and desirable pairings known to the electric guitarist” writes Hunter in Guitar Rigs: Classic Guitar & Amp Combinations.