Mad Dogs, Englishmen, and Me

Joe Cocker needed a band; Leon Russell needed a gig. Thus was born the recording and (mainly) touring group known — improbably, after a Noel Coward song — as “Mad Dogs & Englishmen.”

The tour began in New York City in March, 1970, and crossed the country before winding up in Los Angeles seventeen years ago today.

But I’m getting ahead of my story.

The band consisted of Chris Stainton, the English keyboardist who’d played in Cocker’s Grease Band; and a group of Americans assembled by Russell, who doubled on guitar and keyboards. It looked to be a party, and Russell evidently had trouble turning anybody down. So the group included five percussionists and nine backup singers in addition to the expected bassist (Carl Radle) and a couple of horns. Framed as a review, the show featured several members of the group in solo spots in addition to Cocker, the nominal star.

Final rehearsals were held on a sound stage at the A&M Records lot in Hollywood before an invited audience, including Yrs. truly. They were recorded, and two songs from those rehearsals — “The Letter” and “Space Captain” — were released as a single. The tour itself was filmed and recorded.

In concert, everybody was onstage at once; the singers — together with wives girlfriends boyfriends, kids, and maybe a dog or monkey — were on choir risers, toward the rear of the stage.

I wanted to see the Santa Monica show, of course, but was on the outs with the record label at the time, so couldn’t wangle a ticket from them. And both the early and late shows were sold out -– house capacity was less than 2,500, and at the time this was one of Los Angeles’s biggest and most prestigious venues for rock and roll. The 18,000-seat Forum hadn’t opened yet, and the outdoor Greek Theater was open only during the summer.

But those were more innocent days. I simply showed up a couple of hours early, wandered backstage through the loading doors, and tried to keep out of everybody’s way. Though these days there’d be several levels of security to contend with, at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on April 17 1970, nobody paid any attention to me. There were so many people there, and (as I recall) no stick-on backstage passes. Can’t remember if I was smart enough to carry a clipboard, but those always look official.

When the first show started, I stood in the wings, along with whoever wasn’t on the choir risers. It was a terrific show, of course, but all the sound we heard was coming from the barely-adequate (this was 1970, remember) stage monitors, and they were aimed at the musicians, not at the wings.

So, for the next show, I headed for the choir risers.

With short hair and non-hippie clothing, I was probably the straightest-looking person backstage other than, maybe, some of the custodial help but nobody gave me any trouble. I stood somewhere in the center, and wound up with a kid — who I like to think may have been the son of Denny Cordell — perched on my shoulders.

It was another lovely show, and of course the sound was fine. I looked out into the audience and waved at the A&M guy who wouldn’t give me tickets (we’ve long since reconciled); and fortunately, nobody asked me to sing.

* * *
L.A. Weekly food columnist Jonathan Gold was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for criticism yesterday, beating two Los Angeles Times writers (neither of them “food”) nominated in the same category.*

Ironically, Gold — who specializes in out-of-the-way eateries rather than The Times‘s high-end territory — used to nibble his couscous on The Times‘s tab.

Here’s some of his writing.

* * *
Speaking of The Times, here’s a note from L.A. (a subscription site). Italics are mine.:

(April 17, 2007) Robin Abcarian, a one-time LA talk show host, is a distinguished writer at the Loa Angeles Times. Last Friday, Robin and Meg Jones bylined a story about Don Imus. They concluded their piece with the following: “But Imus made it clear elsewhere that he didn’t intend to fade out quietly. He called the ‘Conway & Whitman’ show on Los Angeles radio station KLSX (97.1 FM) Thursday and complained that he had been fired while he was doing a charity show. He vowed: ‘I plan to be on the radio. I plan to work again. I’m not going to sit around like an old woman.’”

But it wasn’t Don Imus who called the station. It was one of the many voices of Brian Whitman…playing Imus. “I was at first, flattered that my impression had fooled, although that was never our intention, the LA Times,” said Brian. “I was also shocked that Southern California’s newspaper of record would run that story without making certain that it WAS indeed Don Imus on our show. Ultimately, I must say that Tim and I had a great laugh about it and I am surely flattered that my impression of Imus [who I have loved and admired for years] fooled our own listeners and a handful of journalists at such a well respected newspaper.”

The LA Times ran a correction on Saturday. “What happened was classic Phil Hendrie stuff: a Times staffer who hasn’t lived in L.A. that long and was flipping around the dial on the way home and came upon this show, which the staffer had never heard before,” emailed Lee Margulies, deputy editor of the daily LA Times Calendar section. “The impersonation obviously was convincing, and the portion that the staffer heard was not jokey, the way one might expect in such circumstances. The staffer phoned in a quote and it was added to the end of the story. Robin never heard it.”

Although Abcarian is hardly a newcomer to Los Angeles or Los Angeles radio (where, as noted above, she has served as co-host of a talk show), evidently I’m not the only one to fret over newcomers to town writing so much Times stuff.

* * *
Today, Tuesday, is free ice cream cone day at Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops. Noon to 8 p.m. It’s almost as good as being onstage with Joe Cocker and Leon Russell.

*Times reporters Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling and photographer Rick Weiss did win a Pulitzer, for a five part series on what the paper calls “the profound degradation of the world’s oceans.” A full list of Pulitzers here


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