Recently I did a series of stories called “Folkies.” In it, I talked about folk-rock and its origins in the coffee houses of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The stories were surprisingly well met along with many requests to continue. I finished Folkies with a story about going to California along with a hundred thousand other guitar players aspiring to become famous in this new musical form taking shape. To continue, you will read stories of exhilaration, pain, laughter, and tears. And the real truth about Hollywood. “When you’re hot you’re hot and when you’re not you’re not.” PERIOD !
At the end of the last stories about the folkies, I had just arrived in Hollywood and hooked up with a group of old friends including Michael Brewer. I had discovered an open mic night at the Troubadour and began writing songs with Michael. While there were no places for a beginning singer/songwriter to get work in Hollywood, there were places a driving distance from LA, where an unknown musician could get hired. I remember traveling to small clubs in places like Newport Beach where I could find a gig and make an attempt at staying alive.
It didn’t take long to understand the music business in LA. It went something like this. The Beatles had recently come to the US and money was pouring into Hollywood like water over Niagara. Like all major industries, the “suits” ran the business. Like “suits” everywhere they were guys in their late 40s and 50s. And like their peers, which would include my parents, thought this Beatles’ music sounded like crap. They didn’t get it. They did, however, get the fact that it was making money faster than Eddie Van Halen could play guitar. I guess they figured if something sounded like crap to them it stood a chance of making a fortune. This resulted in the music business throwing huge sums of money at all sorts of things. Some really good and others really terrible. They couldn’t tell the difference.
This was a saving grace for those of us just starting out. It meant that, if it was correctly presented, a project could get front money whether it was good or not. A songwriter could sell the publishing rights (50%) to a song for $125. I had managed to sell the publishing on a few of my songs to A&M records. Somehow it gave them the idea to put me together with a beautiful and extremely talented young lady, Ruthann Friedman. We were to record a song called “Little Girl Lost and Found” and call ourselves The Garden Club. All we had to do was go in every day and sing to a melody with an odd musical track and make $50 for a 3-hour session, which was the going rate. I was saved and I hoped Ruthann was as well. At least, for a while, there would be food on the table.
I recently found a link to a music video of the song: The Garden Club – Little Girl Lost And Found.
A&M also had designs on Ruthann and Me becoming a group or at least a songwriting team. We would get together, I believe in David Crosby’s basement, to rehearse and work on material. I had started a song “She’s Got the Time And She’s Got The Changes” and Ruthann was working on a song of her own. Michael and I had begun writing songs together as well. One evening I was supposed to get together with Ruthann, but Michael and I were in the throws of writing “She Thinks She’s A Woman,” which would eventually end up on our “Down In LA” album. I told Ruthann I would get with her the next day and we could work on the song she was writing. By the following day, she had finished it and asked if I would help her record the demo. We rehearsed and in no time there was a demo of her song. “Windy.”
Michael and I had begun hanging out with a band called The Poor. As I recall a lot of smoke went up the pipe as we hung out in their funky apartment in West Hollywood. The bass player and one of the singers in the band was Randy Meisner who went on to become a founding member of Poco and later The Eagles. Randy’s highest point is the writer and lead singer of the song “Take It To The Limit.” At some point, The Poor decided to record the “Time and Changes” song that I had been working on when I had gotten together with Ruthann. “I finally got one of my songs recorded,” I thought. “How cool is that?”
And here comes the part where I learned everything I needed to know about Hollywood and the music business. The old “When you’re hot you’re hot,” thing. Ruthann had found success. The Association recorded and had a number one hit with “Windy.” We were all ecstatic. A big hit couldn’t happen to a more beautiful person, inside and out. “Way to go Ruthann.” Finally, someone from our circle of relative unknowns had found success. And then it appeared it was my turn.
The Poor had recorded my song “She’s Got the Time and She’s Got The Changes.” Not only had they recorded it but it was shooting up the charts in LA and the record company had taken out a full-page ad in Billboard magazine promoting it. A very cool and provocative ad I thought. A sultry, half-clothed young woman laying on her side with the title of the song stretched out beneath her. “Ok,” I said to myself. “Now it’s my turn.” And here is where the lessons of Hollywood come in. My song was becoming a hit in LA and about to be released nationally when the disc jockeys went on strike and stations went to playing oldies for a solid month. After which, the songs that had been on the charts were gone, supplanted by songs that had just been released.
I was back to ground zero. I had been “hot” and now I wasn’t. Fame had passed me by and reality once again visited my door. But I had learned the most valuable lesson of the entertainment business. One that has stayed with me to this day. “Don’t count on being hot just because someone strikes a match.”
Here is a link to a music video of that song: The Poor – She’s Got The Time (She’s Got The Changes)
P.S. Please excuse me if you found the music on the above links to be different than you might have expected from Brewer and Shipley history. What can I say? It was Hollywood in the 19960s.