The closest thing to a rock record I ever owned was the soundtrack to Elvis'
It Happened At The World's Fair, which I requested and received for my 8th
birthday. It was the first Elvis movie I saw in a theater when it was released.
My brother and I didn't even want to go at first, when our parents dropped
us off at the show for the weekly kiddie matinee - 3 p.m., 20 cents admission
- because we thought Disney's Savage Sam was playing and Elvis Presley was "for
girls." But our teenage cousin Patty convinced us that Elvis was pretty
good, so we went, and that was that. Even in 1963, even in what is probably
considered one of his worst films, he was the coolest thing we thought we'd
ever see. I recognized "One Broken Heart For Sale" from the radio
("So that's Elvis Presley?"), thanks to a teenage aunt who lived
with us and some very cool baby-sitters (I never hear "A Lover's Concerto" without
thinking of Ida Gomez) who made sure CKLW (greatest station ever) was playing
constantly. Not long after that, I adopted Elvis as my personal lord and savior,
and I still love "Beyond The Bend," "Take Me To The Fair," and "Happy
Ending" from that album. "A Fool Such As I" remains my favorite
Elvis song of all-time, though (which is why I was so pissed off they used
the wrong version on that Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits album).
I got to see Elvis four times in the '70s, including the Vegas show that opens
Albert "Dickhead" Goldman's book (he got it wrong, btw - August 6,
1973; the previous night, we got to see Bobby Darin's last show ever, which
was great - he ended with "Dream Lover" and "Splish Splash").
And - I kid you not - the Vegas show where Elvis said "Elvis isn't strung-out
on drugs ? and if I find out who said that," striking a karate pose, "I'm
going to break their neck." He got a standing ovation. It was also the
show where he introduced his ex-wife and Lisa Marie, muttering something about
Mike Stone having no balls, and the one he started over because Vicki Carr
had arrived late and hadn't heard him sing "It's Now Or Never." But
the best Elvis show was in April '77, four months before he died, in Saginaw,
Michigan. He looked horrible but - maybe because the audience was factory workers
and farmers, not Vegas high rollers - it was a terrific night. The illusions
were all intact and nothing before or since comes close to the devotion I saw
in that auditorium that night.
First record I ever bought myself, though (with grandparent Christmas money)
was J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers' "Last Kiss," again thanks
to CKLW. Still love it to this day. Don Waller played me Wayne Cochran's original
version four years ago, not long after he found it (it came out on CD shortly
thereafter) - and I still can't decide which one is better. I do know that
Pearl Jam's version sucks because it didn't have the bass riff, and "Last
Kiss" is the bass riff. (I also once heard a great version of it, with
the riff, sung entirely in Spanish on the radio in a Mexican restaurant --
but I've never been able to trace it since.) I was also in a college band that
covered it in the '80s and the crowds always loved it. Very cool because you'd
see Mohawked punks and college preps singing together during the chorus. I
recall Dave Marsh calling it a bad song in one of his Book Of Rock Lists, which
I never understood since Springsteen's "Wreck On The Highway and the Ramones' "711" seemed
to be such direct spiritual descendants.
First concert: The Monkees, Olympia Stadium, Detroit, winter 1966. My mom took
us. She was horrified, calling it "mass hysteria" and comparing it
to Nazi Germany. The Monkees were actually pretty good, and I'm glad I got
to see that '60s rock hysteria firsthand. But I wish we'd have seen the Beatles,
instead. I never saw another show until my friends could drive and we saw the
debut of Alice Cooper's Killer show in Saginaw the day the album was released.
We went to a Taco Bell several hours before and actually met Alice, Shep Gordon,
and the whole band who just happened to be eating there and who gave us backstage
passes and then beers after the show. It was an event that led me down the
road to perhaps wasting my life, but oh, well?
Bill Holdship is a former editor of Creem and BAM and a longtime contributor
to Mojo magazine
Fein Mess /
AF Stones Monthly
L.A. is like France. Everyone makes fun of it, but secretly wants to be there.
One article in the July 2004 ish of Mojo, the lavish British rock & roll
magazine, listed fifty important songs that came from California. But giving
writers that carte blanche, it was fifty opportunities to hurl damnation at
our wonderful town!
* L.A. (Fullerton) native Kristine McKenna sees Xs song Los Angeles delving
into the stinking urban maelstrom papered over by Hollywoods dream factory. The
stinking maelstrom she, or they, describe has a lot to do with rock & roll
kids lying in gutters, which occurred worldwide, and was a lifestyle choice.
And Hollywood papers over life, not L.A., last I checked.
* Immigrant (So why does he live here?) Mick Farren, praising Tom Waitss Small
Change album, says it reminded surfers and sun bunnies that Skid
Row started around 5th & Alvarado where ghosts from old movies waited with
dead eyes, cheap suits and Saturday Night Specials should the hedonists in
the T-Bird stray from the freeway. It is difficult to count the cliched
groupings here, but its a load.
* No-Cals Jan Uhelski, writing about F-Macs Go Your Own Way says
they were harnessing the zeitgeist of drugs, sex, and self-indulgent
rock found in L.A. That the song lacks all these things notwithstanding,
perhaps she dipped into German to mislead the reader to overlook two of these
qualities present in her own back back yard -- The Bay Area is no stranger
to drugs (ha!) and self-indulgent rock (the friggin Grateful Dead!).
But, alas, its not known much for sex.
* John Harris, no nationality given, sees the Monkees Pleasant
Valley Sunday through psychedelic glasses when he explains it was about some
Valley Girl or Boy making it home from he Strip to find that whatever they
had ingested had warped their view of the mundane. The song is just a
comment of the boredom of suburbia, inspired by songwriters Goffin & Kings
move to a suburb of New York.
* L.A. resident Kirk Silsbee writes that Chet Bakers langour (naturally concealing
the rot inside) seeped into the L.A. musical psyche and would become
a recurring, if not THE recurring, theme of the next 50 years of L.A. music. As
Hank Locklin wouldve written if hed been from L.A., Please
help me Im snoring.
And, off topic, Dave DiMartino, writing about Hotel California, ponders
the infamous cover photo. What infamy is there? Its simply
a word poorly chosen to sound more important than famous.
I wrote back aways that I had mind-boggling skin itch on my arms. In September
the doc gave me Ultravate ointment and the condition disappeared that day.
This reminds me of 15 years ago. I had a red tint around my lips like an old
woman whod over-reached her lipstick. I lived with it desperately (I
have tv shows where I can see it) for years til I went to an herb guy and he
gave me something and it went away in 2 days.
Call me a skeptic, but I suspect in both cases that the ailment had just run
Ich Bin Ein Hilburn
In his 10-7-04 L.A. Times wrapup of chart positions, Bob Hilburn illuminates
the success of Brian Wilsons Smile album by quoting -- Randy
Lewiss review from the 9-27-04 L.A. Times. Journalistic incest is standard
fare at the Times.1
Im glad he didnt quote this: Lewis, citing Wilsons use of
the Crows Gee to segue into Heroes & Villains crows
it was his way of telling pop fans Youll never hear doo-wop
Thats a nasty little trickle, especially when its encased in quotes
as if Wilson said it. Wilson loves doo-wop, even if Lewis doesnt.
1 I, like Hilburn, quote L.A. Times writers
to make a point.
I Solve Things
I have the answer to some world problems, but nobody asks.
-- The guttural sound that leads such words as Channukah needs
to be spelled kh, which clearly makes you do the hard K and then
exhale. Just because some idiot made it ch without knowing there
was an English sound already using that letter combination doesnt mean
we need to continue honoring it. Likewise the second consonant in cashmere is
not sh, as we already have one of those, but zh. And
while were on words, lets reduce Wednesday to Wensday, OK? Its
time to retire the god Wednes; hes had his day.
-- When parking, we were taught to drive past the space, stop, signal, and
back up. But of course, since nobody knows were parking, the car behind
you rides up your bumper and then the driver honks his horn (or, in some neighborhoods,
shoots you). The proper etiquette should be to stop the car decisively BEFORE
the space, put on your turn signal, then shoot forward fast (before the creep
behind you creeps behind you) and back up. Its elementary.
I Shall Be Released
Like so many L.A. drivers, I am polite almost always. I let people in, help
people out. But I got into an interesting quandary recently.
Fairfax and La Brea are two major N/S streets a mile apart in Hollywood. If
you want to dodge them at rush hour you can take Gardner, halfway in between.
But since someone wrote a book about L.A. shortcuts, this formerly-good sidestreet
is now worse than its -- say, what IS the alternative to an alternative? --
those others, which are multi-laned.
I was heading north on Gardner, having just gotten takeout at Astro-Burger
at Santa Monica, and found myself 12th in the line of cars waiting for the
light to change at Sunset. Due to the follies of life -- pedestrians blocking
the right turn, a left-turner straddling two lanes -- only 3 cars usually get
through despite the light lasting 30 seconds. I waited for the first clump,
and indeed they were only three. Then another green -- 3 cars, damn. Next green
- 3 cars again, but now I was third in the batch.
Then a woman in the alley to my right got into a car, backed up swiftly, then
drove 90 degrees towards my car. She nosed into the insufficient space between
me and the guy ahead, and motioned, imploringly, with her face and index finger Let
I was flummoxed. I had waited a long time, shouldnt she? I had food that
was getting cold. I had sat through three long-waits like Marcello Mastraionni
at the beginning of 8 1/2. As quickly as she motioned to me, I
shook my head no, and pointed to the car behind me. This, of course, she took
as an OK, and when the green came I went forward simultaneous with her. She
jerked to a stop2 and,
in a rage, honked her cars horn and raised her two hands in exasperation.
I went forward and the guy behind me let her in. (Ladies first!) She also,
somehow, got around me and moved very fast beyond me, probably in high dudgeon.
Without telecommunications I could not explain my position.
She thought I was a maniac.
This, often, is my lot in life.
2 Her decision to not
continue forward was not based as much on calculation as economics -- she had
a new BMW convertible. Though my car is shipshape and even shiny it is not
new, and I have found that when my car is visibly inferior to another in a
traffic standoff, the other guy always concedes. I learned this in extremis
10 years ago when a Rolls-Royce in a disappearing lane tried to nose in front
of my Yugo.
Eagle-eyed Todd Everett noticed in a recent movie a Bass Ale mat facing the
bartender when the shot was from his POV. Obviously, they place these
mats facing the customer in a bar, but since Bass Ale paid the fillmmakers
for this placement, they must have insisted it be read from both camera angles. And
I, scanning past Corky Romano, bristled when I heard the title
character say, when viewing a printer, Is that one of those Epsons you
can download greeting cards on?
Movie-ads are not new -- I heard that Jerry Lewis3 pioneered
it. I just saw Forrest Gump for the first time, and when he was
on a park bench he pulled out the worlds finest shoes (something
like that) and the Nike box was clearly shown. That clicked in my head, but
in case it didnt in everyone elses, later he ran a marathon wearing
a t-shirt with the huge NIKE letters on it. Furthermore, in his film Catch
Me If You Can, Hanks offers cake to fellow govt agents saying Nobody
doesnt like Sara Lee. (Was this extant in 1962, the time the movie
Does Hanks need the money? Couldnt/shouldnt he decline wearing
a sandwich-board at his level? Struggling independent filmmakers need money,
but they dont get it5,
the rich ones do. Only the biggest pigs at the trough get fed.
I recall a bartender friend who, when I asked about the Camel cigarette ads
on the drink napkins, said they were ad-placement. But, I asked, did it result
in an increase in Camel sales there? Half the cigarette sales are now
Camel filters he said. Sheep, led coughing to their doom.
But back to Nike, I cannot forget a Winter Olympics when network broadcasters
were ordered by their management to stop wearing Nike logo jackets on camera.
The on-air chuckleheads revolted at this assault on their freedom and demanded
they be allowed to wear them. Theyre nice jackets. Nike gave them
The network wanted to be paid for the broadcast endorsement. The news-heads
felt empowered by their closeness to the marvelous company. Somebody shoot
And what about the Continental Airlines Arena? And the restaurants that Proudly
Serve only Coca Cola Products? (You want 7-Up? We dont have a kickback
deal with them, so you go to hell.) What really gets my goat is AT&T
Presents So-And-So At The Hollywood Bowl. I at first figured that if
AT&T is presenting it, its for free: Thank you Big Corporation! Then
I found that it meant nothing, the tickets are still $75, only the musician
gets a few more bucks shoved in his pocket.
Who was that sports figure who, when recovering from a heart attack first thanked
Nike, then God and his wife?
3 A 6-movie DVD set of Jerry Lewis movies
was recently released. NY Times reviewer Dave Kehr cannot resist (New DVDs,
10-12-04) telling us about the long-running debate about Lewiss
value, and how the French revere him. He MUST bring up these writers-only points
(What care Lewis film fans?) because he needs to telegraph to other crits that
he is aware. It would be possible to simply evaluate the work,
but thats never done. In loyalty to his kind, Kehr continues the obstruction.4
Also, Kehr, apparently a foreigner, says the French may see Lewis as typical
American just like Americans sentimentally (and inaccurately) believe
Maurice Chevalier to represent the French soul. WHAT Americans? If stupid
Americans stupidly think this, what nationality is Mr. Kehr? Theres a
4 Now that the Jeff Airplane has licensed Revolution for
an online stock-trading ad, how about Up Against The Wall Motherfucker for
a new line of wall-mounted tvs?
5 In the movie Barfly, generic
beer is shown. No beer company would permit the use of their brand being swilled
by the alcoholic Charles Bukowski/Mickey Rourke. Not even for free.
Call ME Eagle-Eye too
People like us see the music content in movies. Like in Whos Afraid
of Virginia Wolff -- Whats Another Side of Bob Dylan doing
on the wall inside of the bar? The Albert Finney movie Gumshoe is
noteworthy only because the detective is obsessed with Dion.
And also the music content in music movies. Like the wrong version of Do
You Love Me used in The Wanderers. Or when a guy in Thatll
Be The Day pulls a record out of a Buddy Holly album, puts it on the
turntable and we hear La Bamba.
Most recent sighting, for me, was in the sci-fi movie Minority Report. Fugitive
Tom Cruise is spotted on a commuter vehicle by a man behind a newspaper. The
ogler is Cameron Crowe. Of course I consider him a music person, even though
hes made a couple of movies.
It Started In Austin
A recent NY Times article about the Whole Foods Market chain said some people
referred to it, with its unforgiving prices, as the Whole Paycheck Market. Now
New Yawk, New Yawk!
In Eyes Wide Shut6,
the character visits an apartment that has a bathtub in the kitchen. My viewing
companion, who had lived there, said Ha! I had a place like that!
Many years ago I was at an apartment there, and could hear, at intervals, the
sound of breaking glass outside their open courtyard window. Thats
the welfare people in the next bldg throwing their bottles out the window said
my friend, blithely. I mentioned this to another New Yorker and they said, Oh
sure, its like that at my place too.
Yet they make such good musicals!
6 At our New Years parties (see Bill Liebowitz
obit, at end7), we
sold tickets only to our friends. Once, only, a guy came to me and said This
is not what I expected, I want my money back. We were aghast: these tickets
were sold only to friends. I asked him where he got his, and he cited someone
we didnt know. We refunded his money and escorted the stranger out. Just
like the party scene in Eyes Wide Shut!
7 This pre-echo, referring to something
that hasnt been seen yet, is like the opening of Babe Im
Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin, where the echo from the vocal outburst
comes before the actual sound. That was caused by a reel of tape imprinting the
singing on the previous layer of tape. Dont know what caused it to happen
Be My Blabby
Listening to a long Ronnie Spector interview from the late 1980s, I heard a
lot of time- and fact-shifting. She said the Ronettes backed up Tom Jones when
he appeared at the Peppermint Lounge in 1962. Maybe she did, but I doubt it,
as his first record came out in April, 1965, when the Ronettes had a long string
of hits behind them. Also she referred to decrepit Goldstar, which
was a bit mean. Also said she worked with Barney Kessler, possibly the guy
who makes the whisky.
But musicians dont know details. Thats for music eunuchs like.....
Hearing some of her later recorded work I was struck by how she stretched out
that vibratto to excessive lengths in her later recordings. Its a sexy
gimmick when used lightly, like the little oomph at the end of You
Baby. Todays gal singers oomph and purr and sex-growl
all through a song prompting only a rise in headaches.
Baffling 50s Memories
- School swimming classes, til my high school departure in 1963, were held
in the nude. I did not understand this, then or now. The girls did not swim
thusly. Were we being molded into Greek warriors? Being readied for the routine
humiliation of the military?
- My mother told me not to sit too close to the tv because the radiation would
cause me to be sterile. Has there been a decline in birth rates since the arrival
of lap-top computers?
- For a segment of the kids show Winky Dink & You, Winky8 had
you draw on the tv screen on a plastic roll-on that you sent away for, connecting
dots to make stairs or a boat. Of course, many kids didnt have them,
so they sat helplessly while Winky Dink climbed up stairs that were not there.
I, in fact, had the plastic applique, but I know who didnt -- Andy Kaufmann.
On his 1983 Chicago tv special he did a mock kids show and he urged everyone
to follow him up stairs that cannot be seen because you, the viewer, dont
have the magic screen. His anguish was long-lasting.
- Every boy had a woodburning set. What happened to this hobby?9 You
had a penlike thing with an electrical cord and a thin wood sheet with a drawing
on it and you were to trace that drawing with the red-hot pen tip. Did kids
burn their fingers? Did they ever! The pens had differing tips, so you can
imagine the opportunity for injury when a kid changed one. And it was impossible
to burn wood in a predictable line*10.
- Softball in Chicago was played with a soft ball. Still is. It is a large,
beanbag like thing with enough solidity to be hit a good distance by a big
man. Naturally, you dont wear a glove, as the ball can be caught easily
without injury. When I arrived in Colorado in 1965 I learned that a softball
is an oversized hardball. Wha? My daughter briefly played softball at
school here year before last, and I was relieved when she quit.11 Being
hit by one of those rocks could ruin you for life.
8 If this were being written for the NY
Times, I would say Mr. Dink.
9 In fact, after writing this I found a
woodburning set at Michaels Art Supplies in Glendale. I did NOT buy one
for my daughter.
10 At swap meets you see people selling
paint-by-number canvasses and twisted plastic lariat key chains kids made at
camp, but never wood-burnt art. Thats because nobody ever did one without
11 When I wrote that, I also wrote that
it was cruel for parents to cheer the strikeouts of 8-year-olds. A couple of
people dished me for mollycoddling, saying kids should get used to hardship.
But at 8 some have no idea which end of the bat to use. Its especially
tough to have people laugh at you when youre just learning, though it
is, I admit, a glimpse of whats coming in life.
I was at a deli with Harold Bronson, former Rhino co-owner. When I ordered
a Cobb Salad12, I asked
him, with mock-superiority Harold, did you ever have a Cobb salad at
the, mmmmm, BROWN DERBY?
The Cobb Salad was invented at that famous Hollywood watering hole which closed
around 198013, and
I thought I had one on him. Ive got you topped on that, but Ill
tell you later he said, giving his order.
This shocked me twofold. Number one, slyly saying that he had me topped without
preening or at least returning my bravado was remarkable in friend combat --
not many people understand my style14.
Two, I couldnt figure out how he could top me. We ate and jawed, and
then, with the suspense nearly killing me, I said So how do you have
Coolly, without visibly savoring the thrill of victory, he said My father
was a wholesale produce salesman, so sometimes I would go with him to his accounts.
One account was the Brown Derby, so I met Cobb himself.
With that poker face, he should play poker.
12 Cobb Salads are never the same at any
two places. And without the Brown Derby there to set the standard, it is left
to the marketplace to define at will.
13 My playfulness with other
people has got me in trouble all my life.
14 I had lunch there in 1973 with John
Lennon. John was delighted that the Capitol corner booth, surrounded by framed
musician caricatures, had a drawing of Gene Vincent. (And where did those go?
Did the wrecking ball get them?)
Harold Bronson in my living room, 1985, with Kittra,
for Rhino Christmas album cover shoot.
Letter to The Editor, L.A. Times, 10-15, 04 not published.
Regarding a 10-14-04 article about the wonderful Z Channel, which ran on L.A.
cable in the 80s:
I, too, loved the Z Channel. However, when founder Jerry Harvey committed
suicide, he first killed his wife. Someone close to me was close to Mrs. Harvey.
She simply refers to him as the murderer.
In Bob Dylans book he says he was picked up while hitchhiking from Minnesota
to New York by someone driving a 1957 Impala 4-door.
That obscure reference may be a key to the truthfulness of his autobio: there
was no 1957 Impala, and the 58 (model debut) made no 4-doors.
And Jerry Lees 1995 Young Blood album has a song he wrote with the band, Crown
Victoria Custom 51. The Crown Vickies came out in 1953.
This reminds me of the L.A. Times article about a drive-in restaurant that
egregiously cited people cruising in their 57 Chevys and 43 Fords.
You dont have to know Fords to spot THAT American history error.
Girls Girls Girls
Its not easy being a man, vis-a-vis
women. My kids friends mother just got her tits reduced. What am
I supposed to say -- Nice? I darent because women are.... women.
I always thought visible bra straps were gauche. And not too long ago wasnt
the VPL, visible panty line, a no-no? What, now, then, visible thong straps?
Theyre wearing them up around their rib cage, yet were not supposed
to look. Or we are, but not acknowledge.
The style invites not only comment by hygienic concern. I know I sure wouldnt
want a ropelike piece of cloth sawing MY rear. But then Im not a gal,
so Im not made of sugar and spice15.
15 The gal
I saw sitting in the Gaucho Grill with the top of her ass crack showing was
apparently asked by the mgmt to cover it up. A purse ended up shoved sideways
in her pants-top. Maybe it was upsetting customers, maybe the restaurant feared
the health dept -- Who could tell what might fly out of there?
I have always liked the Bobby Darin song Beyond the Sea, so when
I looked it up in an international listing, I was shocked to see that french
versions changed its title to LAMER.
If they ADMIT its lamer than Bobbys version, why list it at all?
- 57 -
Obits, in order of disappearance --
On Greg (d. 10-19-04)
A couple of years ago I memoirized herein that I met Greg Shaw at a St. Vincent
de Paul in Oakland in 1971. He was looking at records. That was a shock: I
had never seen another person culling 45s at a thrift store. We became friends.
A week later, though Gregs introduction, I drove to Ed Wards house
in Sausalito. I had told Greg that I had a (dupe) copy of Jack Scotts
first album on Carlton, so Ed traded me the Roy Orbison album on Sun for it,
in behalf of his friend John Morthland.
I then went to Gregs house in Fairfax with my box of doubles. Greg picked
out 39 of mine and offered me 13 in return. I came to find out this was not
an atypical Greg swap, but since some of his were Suns that were unknown to
me, I conceded. After all, what good were doubles to me -- I knew no other
collectors. I recall that Greg couldnt remember who did the version of Que
Sera Sera that sounded like El Watusi and I told him it was
Greg and then-wife Suzy introduced me to a point of view different from the
hippie-symp lifetsyle I knew. I said something about public tv and she said Oh
thats just a bunch of professors with beards. Their anti-intellectuality
was populist, based entirely on honest rock & roll. They moved to L.A.
a little after I did, where he kept close company with Ken Barnes, another
recent immigrant from NoCal.
I would read Bomp magazine with relish; it was the first publication I saw
that organized rock & roll history. But I never joined the Bomp crowd as
I met Ronny Weiser and enlisted, instead, in the Rollin Rock army.
In the mid-1970s, when labels were indulging rock critics, Greg edited Phonograph
Record Magazine for United Artists Records. PRM contained enthusiastic reviews
of new, often non-UA records and even occasional slams at UA records. This
could not go on forever, and didnt.
In 1976, Greg, and Sire Records, hosted the Flamin Groovies big-time
debut at the Roxy. However, the set was plagued with equipt problems, exacerbated,
I recall, by their not having backup guitars, necessitating long tuning interruptions.
Doubly bad, they were overshadowed, immensely, by the opening act the Ramones,
making their L.A. debut.
Greg appeared on a 1990s tv documentary about San Francisco in the mid-1960s.
I kidded him about this, as that towns hippie music was sorely in opposition
to what Bomp stood for. But he had been there, at Haight & Ashbury, as
a kid, and could comment knowledgably.
I had Greg on my tv show once or twice. Wed see each other here and there.
I have him on videotape as a bystander at a mock music argument between myself
and Phil Spector. I called him a couple of times last year about being on the
show again. He said he was pretty sick, and on child duty a lot. I should have
tried harder. He was a great guy.
On Bill (d. 10-26-04)
Bill Liebowitz, owner of this towns Golden Apple comic book stores, was
a larger than life character. His store promotions for comic writers, cartoonists,
pinup girls, rock & roll bands and yo-yo exhibitions were the stuff of
Sometimes he wore an oversized styrofoam cowboy hat and called himself Major
Bill. At 6 foot 5 he himself was oversized. He said a distributor once told
him Youre one big Jew. I took a photo of him back to back,
equal heighth with Sleepy Labeef. At one time he owned Isaac Hayes enormous
Lion of Judah cape, bought from the guy to whom Hayes gave it as collateral
on a loan. Big Bill could wear it with the same command as Hayes. Bill is on
the front cover of Swamp Doggs Im Not Selling Out, Im
Buying In album, looking pensive fourth from the left. (I am second.
) And he is on the backcover, wearing the cowboy hat.
I met Bill in June, 1973, at a Dick Clark 20th Anniversary tv special taping
at the Hollywood Palace. I was there, like Bill, to see Little Richard. But
as the day wore on, Richard was a no-show; I think he wanted more money. The
place had been full at 10:30 am, and Three Dog Night and Paul Revere & The
Raiders were entertaining in their segments, but at 6:00 Clark came out and
said we could all be excused, since it might be a while til Richard actually
made it. We can dub in the audience response he said.
Those were wasted words for Bill, me and about twenty other desperate rock & roll
fans. We all waited til 10 p.m. for Richards arrival, and it was worth
it. He came out to a roar disproportionate to our meager number, and looked
shocked. Though we came in the theater strangers, we were united in supplication
to our savior, the King of Rock & Roll.
Soon after this, Bill co-promoted, with Jim Pewter, a Jan & Dean reunion
at the Hollywood Palladium. It put him in good stead for a future series of
smaller but equally spectacular musical events.
In 1973 I lunched regularly with some guys from Warner Bros. Records including
Gene Sculatti (fifth on the Swamp Dogg album cover) and Bob Merlis (first,
on the left). We shared an interest in characters, and old rock & roll.
One day I met Dick Blackburn, a record collector, actor, director (Lemora, and
later Eating Raoul co-director and -writer) and introduced him
to our group. He was inducted. Soon Bill Liebowitz came along, and made us
five. Together we formed a company called Pumping Piano Productions for the
purpose of holding a New Years party for our immediate circle of friends.
The first one was 1978/79. Bill was in real estate management then, and located
the site, an abandoned Bagel Nosh in the Marina. We were like five Andy Hardys
putting on a show. We had Dr. Demento judging the Beatnik Poetry contest, Swamp
Dogg (who signed on as the 6th PPP member) made a steel-drumful of gumbo, had
the Rubber City Rebels play a set, held a twist contest and other then-mad
things. Each of the hosts, all non-performers, did an act. Bills act
was scratching a rub-board while wearing a piece of gold foil on a front tooth,
playing Cleveland Chenier to my accordian-wielding Clifton.
It was a raging success. The following year we held it at Troupers Hall in
Hollywood. That one featured Roy Good Rocking Brown with a backup band including
Lee Allen and Pee Wee Crayton, and we gave away a 62 Cadillac as the
door prize. (Purchased at 4 pm Dec 31st for $200. It went OK in reverse, but
forward it slipped out of gear at 20 mph.) Chuck Weiss and Tom Waits came again
(buying tickets, like all our friends - nobody got in free, except Johnny Legend,
who stiffed us with a bad check) and Tom met his future wife there. It was
another raging success.
The following three parties featured Screamin Jay Hawkins, Bull Moose
Jackson, the Blasters, Los Lobos, Darlene Love, Jo-El Sonnier, The Beat Farmers,
Joe King Carrasco, Dino Lee and others. When we held it at the
Starwood, Bill cut an unforgettable figure as Bruce Springsteen, with bandana,
jeans and an unplugged electric guitar lip-synching Robert Mitchums Ballad
Of Thunder Road. As the parties grew in rarified fame, they grew unwieldy,
and we all gave up in 1986. Besides, by then all the old musicians we could
get for a song were back on the road as the world rediscovered them.
Bill was always up for fun. We - the PPP guys and spice - would annually go
to a Saturday night dance at Verbum Dei High School at 110th & Central
in south Los Angeles to see Clifton Cheniers sainted appearances. Bill
would slavishly attend doo-wop shows from coast to coast. I accompanied him
to one in New York, and when our plane stopped in St. Louis got him an I
Love The Cardinals cap. (The Cardinals were an early Atlantic Recs vocal
group.) And he and his wife Sharon and my gf Kathe conspired to give me the
most shocking, successful surprise birthday party anyone ever had. Bills
and my birthdays are 2 days (and 5 years) apart, so we frequently double-dated
for bday dinner, and it was at Bills house that I nearly had MY heart
attack, walking into a room full of people, culled from my phone book by Kathe,
shouting Surprise! It was deathly shocking because some of them
were not my friends: I didnt like everyone whose phone # I carried.
Bills and my music tastes often dovetailed. We were each others
most fervid Queen-fan friend. Recently he reminded me that we once left a Led
Zeppelin show bec we were both bored. (Too much guitar soloing.) He and Sharon
attended every Jerry Lee Lewis show at the Palomino in the 1970s. He was crazy
about Waylon Jennings and David Allen Coe. Bill & Sharon set up a Golden
Apple table at the giant 2002 rockabilly bash in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where
Bill was agog seeing Jack Scott, Dale Hawkins, Sleepy Labeef and others. He
was astonished when I got the Persuasions to sing my tv theme song, but confided
that in the 1980s he had employed a Persuasion as a cleanup man at the store.
Our biggest difference was our bank accounts. Bill loaned me $800 in the early
90s: When I repaid it in 1997, he nearly swooned. By then he had long ago quit
his realty job and started Golden Apple Comics, scientifically named for the
name already printed on some surplus bags he bought. He had taken a bold step
of independence from the 9-to5 grind, and he succeeded incredibly.
Many film and music figures came to Golden Apple for both comics and conversation.
He only closed the store on very special occasions, such as when Michael Jackson
came in, always wearing exotic costumes, one a beekeepers outfit.
When Michael asked the price of a monster head, Bill gave him a figure. When
Michael responded How much for three of them? Bill responded So
now youre Jewish? He said Michael cracked up. I think Bill was
a little amazed at himself.
Bill did it all, marrying well, raising a family, making a living his own way,
spreading joy throughout. His only flaw was his choice of child-names. When
their second son was about to be born, I graciously contributed the name Jerry
Lee. It was a winner; the kid could be called Jerry, yet when he used his full
monicker, Jerry Lee Liebowitz, who but the sourest cynic could help but stand
up and cheer? Though the child has repeatedly told me he prefers his actual
name, Ryan, I think he said it just to make the old man feel good.
Bills story is one of a heart full of love for his friends, family, and
his many interests. He had a heart scare twenty years ago and underwent a quadruple
bypass operation, cheating the death he had forecast for himself: his father
had died of heart failure at age 40. He beat the Reaper for 23 years, during
which time he grew from a character known among his close friends to one whose
fame as a retailer and offbeat-culture maven grew to national stature.
One obit started The comic book world was rocked by the news of the death
of Bill Liebowitz. He made a huge impression, living and dead.
AF, BILL, BOB MERLIS, TROUPERS HALL, HOLLYWOOD, JAN. 1,