The dog who wasn’t there

I heard barking from a nearby apartment for a couple of days before I corralled the super who opened the door. The occupant had skipped without notice, leaving the dog behind in an apartment that was empty, other than days’ worth of doggy-droppings and maybe a bowl of water.

I volunteered to watch over the dog, a long-haired terrier mix about the size of a shoe box. A week or so later, the woman came back, explained that her new apartment (a block away) didn’t allow pets, and said she’d pay for dog food while I kept the dog for her. I countered that it was now MY dog.

Time passed — maybe a year. The woman’s daughter, who was maybe 10, would stop by every once in a while and say hello to the dog. Then one day she knocked on my door and told me that her mother had said that the kid could borrow the dog for that night, her birthday.

The noive,” you say. As did I. On the other hand, I knew that dogs weren’t allowed in the new place, and I felt sorry for the daughter. So I let her borrow the dog, which she was to return before school the next morning.

Seven-thirty in the morning, the phone rang. It was the girl, in tears. The dog had got loose, she explained, and was hit by a car as she dashed across the street.

That’s terrible, I replied. I’ll come right over and pick up the body, so I can have her properly buried. As I’d expected, she said the body wasn’t available. The police said it was a civil matter (theft?), so I sued. The mother didn’t show up in court; later, the marshals said they’d been unable to serve her — though I didn’t get their fee back.

I finally said the hell with it; the kid has enough problems with her mother. But for many months, I would instinctively reach down to pet the dog who was no longer there.

It’s been twenty years, easily, and — thought there were always dogs, and for many years a cat, in my family home as I grew up — I’ve never had another pet.

Published in: on June 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thrills and (Stephen) Stills at the Granada in Santa Barbara

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I, at least, don’t go to a Stephen Stills show for the singing – at least it isn’t high on my list of priorities. When I see Stills, it’s first for his guitar playing, and second for his songs. Singing, which to me has never been his strong suit, comes in third.

That said, Saturday night’s two-and-a-half hour (plus intermission) performance at the 1,600-seat Granada Theater in Santa Barbara lived up to my hopes. It even supplied a fourth priority: showmanship. That, Saturday night, placed between “guitar” and “songs.”

With a few exceptions (surprisingly, maybe, in his upper and lower register), Stills seemingly approximated more vocal notes than he actually hit.

The old folkie in Stills made a strong appearance as he chatted with the audience between songs: cracking jokes, telling stories, making political comments and even imitating the speaking (!) voices of Tony Bennett and Fred Neil. In addition of the songs probably expected of him – he opened with, “Change Partners” and “Helplessly Hoping” and closed with “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth” – he tossed numbers from his Greenwich Village contemporaries Neil (“Everybody’s Talkin’,” Tim Hardin (“Reason to Believe”) and Bob Dylan (“Girl from the North Country”). He also performed songs identified with Graham Nash and – maybe the most powerful performance of the evening – Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World.”

Explaining the number of other people’s songs in his set, Stills explained that he’d been listening a lot to the upcoming Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young box set, and that “I’m sick of ‘me’.”

(Incidentally: I’m all in favor of acts doing outside material — they can often tell you more about the performer than his or her own songs do).

Highlight among his own songs were a relatively rocking version of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and, from the album he did with the band Manassas, “Johnny’s Garden,” preceded by a funny reminiscence of his long-ago residence in the UK.

While far from lazy, the energy level of most of the show was varying degrees of “relaxed,” with this version of “Bluebird” downright flaccid in comparison to the Buffalo Springfield original.

Backing was by a strong quartet of Todd Caldwell on organ, bassist Kevin McCormick, former Wallflowers drummer Mario Calire, and Stills’ young son on percussion. Mid-set, a cake was brought out to commemorate Caldwell’s birthday. David Crosby, who lives in the general area of Santa Barbara, showed up early in the show to duet on “You Don’t Have to Cry.” Caldwell was the only other soloist, and Stills played a lot of guitar.

From the look of it, the average age of the near-capacity audience was north of sixty; still young enough to rise from their seats several times during the show and greet “Love the One You’re With” as though they were still in their twenties.

What you won’t read in Darlene Love’s autobiography

I see that, as of a few months ago, Darlene Love’s autobiography has been reissued in paperback. She was strongly featured in the Academy Award®-winning film “20 Feet Fron Stardom”. And now, the autobiography is being made into a movie for Oprah Winfrey’s network.

One thing at least the original version didn’t include was the part I and a few of my friends played in her comeback c. 1981-’82.  I doubt it’s in the new edition, either.

It all began when I saw a small display ad in the Los Angeles Times, promoting an appearance by Darlene at Medley’s, a club fronted by the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley, in Southern California’s South Bay area.

I was amazed: to my knowledge, Darlene — one of the greatest singers in pop music — didn’t perform “live”; she was best known for her career as a background singer on hundreds at least) of recordings made in Los Angeles, and for a few records issued under her own name and produced by Phil Spector.

Ringers abound in club appearances by purported stars — I recall seeing “Ral Donner” at the Palomino several years after he’d died; and someone who falsely claimed to be Porter Wagoner’s son at another show. But I doubted that Medley would showcase a fake Darlene Love. As a member of The Blossoms, she’d performed on many of his and the Righteous Brothers’ records; and they were said to have had a love affair at one point. So it seemed like a trip south would be worth the gamble. A friend and I drove down.

It was indeed Darlene Love.

She was sensational; looking good, and singing at least as well she had on the records we all remember. But the songs were something else — a set of material that virtually any other singer might have done (I remember Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5″), with a brief medley of some of the records she’d made on her own.

What a waste!

As it happened, there were two ways in which I might be of help. First, though I was at the time jobless, I had contacts at various papers around town, and I decided to pitch a story.

The L.A. Weekly, for whom Judy Raphael and I were writing the country music club and concert listings, wasn’t interested. So I approached Robert Hilburn at the Los Angeles Times. I knew him socially, but hadn’t worked for him. But I figured the story was too good for him — well-known as a Spector fan — to resist.

He resisted.

Then, a long shot: I called the city’s second (in terms of circulation) paper. I didn’t know anybody there, so asked for the features editor. Caught him at the right time; he talked to me. And he went for the idea.

More or less concurrently (I can’t remember the timing), I alerted some friends who’d been producing an annual New Years’ Eve party. A private affair, admission was charged ($35!) and “name” acts were booked. Good ones, including r&b singers Roy Brown and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. I had nothing to do with the organization of the party, but knew the people who did (in no particular order: Art Fein, Bill Liebowitz, Bob Merlis, Gene Sculatti and a few other friends). And I suggested Darlene. After another trip to Medley’s, this time with a couple of the party’s organizers, things were set up.

My friend Billy Cioffi, whom I’d met when he was working with Gene Vincent, came in as bandleader. He assembled a group of people he’d worked with and shared his love of ’50s and ’60s material.

We created a set-list; Billy had new charts made for all the Spector songs she wasn’t performing (which was, virtually, all of them); and she debuted at the party, held at Hollywood’s Starwood club.

That clip is the first time she ever performed “Christmas” outside the recording studio.

With no agent involved, we had her booked on a series of live shows including the Roxy, where Bruce Springsteen, Dionne Warwick and Robert Mitchum (!) were in attendance. Darlene Love played Club Lingerie in Hollywood on Valentine’s Day. Another gig resulted in the “Darlene Love Live” album on Rhino. Then she ditched us all; within a couple of months she was back playing on cruise ships and lip-syncing in gay bars.

We were kind of dumbstruck, even though, we never intended to run her career — just take her to the point where someone who knew what they were doing could. And, to various degrees, we lost money on the project — Darlene always got paid, though of course nowhere near what she’s worth.

She never officially fired us — just started accepting gigs on her own, and asking “our” sax player to lead the band. After, I think, one gig, the sax player didn’t want to work with her, either. She asked an old friend to manager (fine with us); unfortunately for her, he had a full-time job and had evidently lost many of his former show-biz contacts.

Just to make things clear: we were all thrilled to work with Darlene and proud of what was accomplished during a maybe six-month period. My guess is that she was just overwhelmed by the whole thing, and didn’t know how much she could trust us. Though she was very nice and easy to work with at the time.

On a commercial basis, she wasn’t all that old; nor, though, was she a teenager. That was probably a factor. And you’ll still that while she still makes the occasional record, she never did develop a career that involved hits, touring and that kind of stuff.

What she did do was move to New York City, co-star in “Leader of the Pack”, a jukebox musical based on the life of composer Ellie Greenwich, play Danny Glover’s wife in three “Lethal Weapon” movies, appear in Broadway musicals “Carrie” and “Hairspray,” and sing “(Christmas) Baby Please Home” on David Letterman’s last show before the holiday every year for the last couple of decades. In other words, she’s done pretty well without selling millions of records under her own name.

In her own telling these days, she’d given up singing to work as a housekeeper until one day she heard one of her records on her client’s radio — and was moved to return to music. Forget about us; she doesn’t mention Dionne Warwick, who hired her as backup singer for her live shows for many years. She doesn’t even mention Medley, who is the real hero of this story.

As for me, I wen to work for that paper — the Los Angeles Herald Examiner — for several years; moving from free-lance to staff “music guy.” Billy Cioffi, the bandleader, kept the backing musicians and worked for many years with various personnel changes doing their own shows, working as house band for oldies revues, and suchlike. He also worked as musical director at times for acts including Del Shannon and Chuck Berry. Some years ago, he moved to Arizona to further his education and continues to write, perform and produce music professionally, regularly.

One more thing: for several years, Darlene groused about Spector’s not paying her the royalties she “deserved.” While we were working with her, she claimed several times, quite proudly, that she’d taken a triple-scale (I think) buyout, because she had a family at home and was making plenty of money as a studio singer. Also, of course, there was no guarantee that she would become a big star as a result of those records. Off the top of my head, only the Righteous Bros. did, and they were an established act before signing with Spector. But that’s another story.

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 7:35 pm  Comments (1)  

The “Broomstick” Connection

Researching the liner notes I was writing for a Brenda Lee album, I came across an anecdote that illustrates how things, seemingly unrelated, can be closely connected; sometimes with a simple, albeit unlikely, connection. Like this story, which takes from American folklore to a British hit record, then into an even bigger, worldwide hit.

The idea of “jumping the broomstick” as a euphemism for getting married dates back at least to the slavery era. Prohibited (according to at least one account) of engaging in Christian wedding ceremonies, the slaves devised their own rituals, one of which involved jumping over a broomstick.

How this wound up as a song recorded by Brenda Lee that became a hit in Europe, if not the United States, is by this point anybody’s guess. “I probably didn’t know what it meant,” Brenda allows, “just that it had a great rhythm and was fun to sing.”

Let’s Jump The Broomstick was a hit in the UK; well enough known when the Beatles – who had opened for Brenda on tour – appeared on the October 4, 1963 episode of “Ready, Steady, Go,” four girls mimed Brenda’s recording in a contest.  Paul McCartney declared thirteen year old Melanie Coe the winner.

Four years after the television appearance, Melanie, pregnant out of wedlock and afraid of her parents’ probable reaction, bolted from her well-to-do family’s house one afternoon with a croupier – not the baby’s father, incidentally. Unaware of the circumstances of her disappearance, her parents launched a search, the incident becoming front-page news (she was located after a week, and returned home).

“As a 17-year-old,” she later explained, “I had everything money could buy – diamonds, furs, a car – but my father and mother never once told me they loved me.”

Melanie’s story, with some artistic license, was immortalized in song by McCartney as She’s Leaving Home.

“See you real soon. Why? Because we want your $92!”

I’ve seen several stories on Disney’s raising their park admission prices — again — and a lot of reactions on the order of “we’re never able to [afford to] go there again”; either on principle, because it’s no longer affordable, or both.

The new top single-day adult admission price to Disneyland will be $92, a 6% increase (and only to Disney does anybody 10 and over qualify as “adult”). A year-long pass tops out at $669. That means for the price of about 7 single-day tickets, you can get into the parks all year long. (For nearly $1000, you can get into Disney World all year, too).

That’s a pretty damned good deal, if you like Disneyland.

Suppose it’s too damned good a deal? Every person in the park on an annual pass means that, probably, one person isn’t getting in for $92. Also, I’ll bet, passholders come alone or in pairs; not bringing the whole family. And Disneyland does sell out.

So following that reasoning (and I haven’t seen stats on this), suppose the Disney accountants figure they’re selling too many annual passes? Raise the price; thin the herd. Don’t do away with annual passes entirely. That’d cause entirely too big a stink; and, besides, Disneyland regulars are fiercely loyal

As to the raise in daily prices, why not? It’s not as though park attendance is significantly decreasing, though it may be a couple of points down. And everybody who comes into the park is going to spend money on food, hats with Mickey Mouse ears, snow globes, whatever. And they’re raising the parking prices, too.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the imagineers in Disney’s accounting department were working on a plan to charge customers for leaving early.

During the off-season, reduced prices are offered to people who live in local ZIP codes — the same group of people who’d buy season tickets, if they had more money.

Folks: no matter what they say, Disney doesn’t care about you; at least as an individual. What they do care about is tour buses full of tourists, big spenders from across one ocean or another, and others who will stay at the Disney hotel overnight; then go home.

Published in: on June 6, 2013 at 9:41 am  Comments (1)  
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