Crashing “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”

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 twenty-two 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 revue, 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, and so couldn’t wrest 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 band mastermind Denny Cordell — perched on my shoulders. I looked down into the first few rows of the audience and saw the A&M publicity guy who had turned down my ticket request, Bob Garcia. I’m not sure whether he saw me, but differences healed long ago, our friendship has long outlasted A&M Records.

It was another lovely show, and of course the sound was fine.

And fortunately, nobody asked me to sing.

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One comment on “Crashing “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”

  1. Charles says:

    Great tale, Todd, thanks.

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