South-By-Southwest is coming up March 18th in Austin. For all the crabby comments you read by rock-journalists (but that is their metier, isn't it -- crabbiness? Something has gone terribly wrong in the rock press) it is great fun -- there are 300 or 400 acts to see over, officially, five nights, and you can have an everlovin' ball. It's Woodstock for humans. A full-range pass allowing you to attend panels (daytime) of 'experts' discussing all aspects of rock music making and marketing and VIP (no waiting) access to all clubs (nighttime) costs something like $500, which is a lot but worth it for the exquisite music and ambiance. (Ever been to Austin? It's somethin' else.)
Though it's called a 5-day extravaganza, the main focus days have traditionally been Thursday, when the conference opens, and Friday. Equally good and plentiful acts (and panels) exist on Saturdays, but many non-paying visitors (like earlier panelists, and lazier A&R people) split on Saturdays, leaving more room for everyone. Sunday night, once billed as equal to the others, is virtually non-existent now, though no less glorious: at that point you've got mostly Austinites, and that ain't bad. What's different this year is that Wednesday night, officially the night before the conference, is as powerful as any other. (It would be brilliant of me to name some of the acts, but I can't find my SXSW calendar, and the Oversight editorial staff is damned serious about deadline for this column.)
If you're going, I suggest getting there Wednesday -- I'll be at the Waterloo Brewing Company at 9:00, with the two acts I'm "contributing" to this year's fest, Harvey Sid Fisher ("the singing astrologer") and P.F. Sloan.
As ever, I am finishing up the second edition of The L.A. Musical History Tour, my book about Los Angeles rock & roll landmarks. It will be published in May by 21361 Publishing, Henry Rollins' company. I had hoped to find certain information about Capt. Beefheart -- the address of his Magic Band house in Woodland Hills where he recorded part of Trout Mask Replica in 1968*, and the circumstances, date, and billing of their first gig at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds -- but have now given up, as nobody seems to be able to supply it to me.
In mid-November I went to Orange County to photograph two locations for my book -- Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim (a roots-rock roadhouse everyone plays) and the site of the Rendezvous Ballroom, which burned down in 1963, in Balboa where Dick Dale invented or perfected surf music (using fuzz and mega-amps designed for him by Leo Fender), where Dale said there was a commemorative placque.
It's a 45 minute drive to Anaheim from my home in Hollywood, and you can't drive through downtown L.A. til rush hour's over, so I didn't leave til around 10:00. Someone gave me faulty directions to Linda's which caused me to waste 45 minutes on Lincoln Street, driving up and down back and forth on my friend's assurance "you can't miss it." (It turned out to be one block away from the street I was prowling, but how could I know? Nobody answered at the club, and the address wasn't listed in the phone book.) Frustrated, I headed for Balboa to seek the ghost of the Rendezvous, fearing that hothead ("You one of those writers who always say Dale ALLEGEDLY invented surf music? Well if I didn't invent it who the fuck DID?") Dale's directions might be faulty too.
They were. He said there was a big condo on the site of the old ballroom, south of the Balboa pier. I parked easily on Balboa Blvd. (I was glad I waited til November to do this -- navigating this beach community in the summer is hell, and this was the hottest summer in memory) and walked toward the pier, then turned left: no condos, just small beachfront rentals. I looked for a placque, none. I went to a phone and called the Chamber of Commerce and they didn't know what I was talking about. (I was thinking "You apparently put up a placque there, doesn't anyone keep records of such things?" but I kept mum.)
Finally I decided I would stand on the pier, take a photo of the north side and the south side of the land, find out later where the ballroom was, and I'd have the right picture. I snapped two, and was heading for my car when I saw a guy in his 50s with slicked back white hair and a Hawaiian shirt emerging from his car. "This guy looks like a local, an old surfer or something" I said to myself. I decided to collar him when he walked by.
Then I realized he was Bill Medley!
I started laughing giddily. What was the chance of this happening? Orange County, just south of Los Angeles County, had produced two major rock & roll acts, and I had spoken on the phone to one of them (Dick Dale) and now here I was stumbling upon the other one (Medley, one half of the Righteous Brothers). The preposterousness of it slayed me -- It was like two bullets meeting in mid-air. If I hadn't driven nearly an hour around Anaheim looking for Linda's Doll Hut this wouldn't have happened.
"Bill" I said, trying to stanch my laughter for fear that he, like so many people, would think I was a nut.
"Hi there" he said politely, and started to walk by.
"No, wait for a second. I'm Art Fein I'm doing a book on rock & roll landmarks and I need to know where the Rendezvous Ballroom was."
"Right over there" he said, pointing. "That's where me and Bobby got our start. My dad was lighting director there."
"Would you let me take a picture of you pointing to it for my book?"
"Sure" he said.
FYI. There's a brilliant Bill Medley composition, "Try To Find Another Man," that I never heard til I came across it by Tommy McClain, the Louisiana white soul singer. (The Righteous Bros. recorded it on Moonglow.) In 1977 I put it on a compilation tape that I was circulating to friends. I was working at Elektra that year, and gave a copy to John Prine -- and he began including it in his shows. (I wonder if Medley knows that Prine does that song.)