Elsewhere on Just Backdated under the Melody Maker category there’s a post about MM in 1972 in which I write about the American Editor’s job and how I came to get it. This post follows on from that…
On the first night I arrived in LA, towards the end of August 1973, I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Jackson Browne supported by America, and made immediate contact with an English girl who once worked for EMI in London and now worked for Browne’s label Asylum. After the show I was invited backstage and, still on UK time, found myself chatting with David Crosby. I was introduced to a blonde girl called Victoria who offered to drive me back to my hotel, the Chateau Marmont, and on the way we passed a street-scene being shot for a movie, stopping to watch for a while. It was after 2 am when she finally dropped me off – 10 am in the morning in my head – and she was probably wise to decline my invitation to join me for the night.
I spent my first month in LA in the same suite of rooms Michael Watts had vacated at the Chateau Marmont, a gothic castle set back from Sunset Boulevard opposite Schwabs, the bright pink drugstore-cum-diner where starlets in tight skirts hung out in the hope of meeting film producers. The Chateau wasn’t really a hotel, more like spacious apartments and bungalows with a communal swimming pool. There was no bar or dining room and it was too ancient and dilapidated to be described as luxurious, but it suited me just fine as it was within a few minutes drive from everywhere I wanted to go, the Whiskey, the Roxy, the Rainbow, the Troubador, various record company offices, the Hyatt (Riot) House where all the rock stars stayed, and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco where, in return for three copies of that weeks MM which Rodney left on the bar – probably the first to be delivered anywhere in LA – I could drink for free and meet jailbait.
Michael had left me a list of contacts and so the first morning I called up all these PRs at record labels, introduced myself and hoped for the best. Sure enough, within days LPs started arriving, although I had nothing to play them on, along with concerts tickets and invitations to parties. Those were the days.
Driving was mandatory in LA. I leased a red Ford Pinto and parked it in the garage beneath the Chateau. I didn’t need to learn to drive or even to have a California driving licence, but I got one anyway as it was useful for ID, took a test and passed. The examiner asked me if I’d driven a lot and when I pointed out to him that I had a UK licence and could carry on driving even I failed his test he simply asked me to drive round the block and passed me.
While I lived in the Chateau I interviewed the Carpenters, driven to their home in Downey by A&M’s lovely PR girl. I was amazed that Richard and Karen, 27 and 24 respectively, still lived at home with their parents, home being a decent sized detached house on a nice upper-middle-class estate that had been turned into a gallery in which all their awards were on display. It contained their own recording studio where I talked to them and they seemed strangely naïve about the rock world, apart from it in many ways yet rubbing shoulders in the charts with the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Stones.
It was while I lived at the Chateau that I saw Elton at the Hollywood Bowl, Neil Young at the Roxy and Van Morrison at, I think, the LA Town Hall. I interviewed Tim Buckley too, a rather strange, intense man, and Ray Manzarek of The Doors who was pleasant enough but a bit pompous, the interview arranged by their aide-de-camp Danny Sugerman, who remained a friend for two decades. I went to visit the Eagles in a house atop one of the canyons and talked with Glen Frey and Don Henley in a living room strewn with guitars while a succession of beautiful blonde girls in tight jeans and halter tops wandered in and out delivering cups of coffee.
I had a month to find somewhere cheaper to live so it was fortuitous that among the many music business folk I encountered was Michael Ochs, brother of Phil, who was in music PR. When I told Michael that I needed a new home in LA he suggested Phil’s place on Rangeley Avenue, just across Santa Monica Boulevard at the bottom of Doheney; a convenient walk from the Troubador and Dan Tana’s, the Italian restaurant next door where music biz types hung out. Michael explained that Phil was in Africa, seeking out revolutionaries with whom to write and sing, and was unlikely to return for at least three months. It suited me to a tee.
I stayed in Phil’s flat for three months and wrote about the musicians of LA, the Eagles, Linda Rondstadt, Jackson Brown and many more, on Phil Ochs’ portable typewriter. I also wrote about English acts passing through, The Who on their Quadrophenia tour, Rod Stewart & The Faces at the height of their powers, even John Lennon, on the run from Yoko and other assorted demons, who was shacking up with Yoko’s lovely Chinese assistant May Pang at a Bel Air mansion owned by Ode Records boss Lou Adler.
The girls in LA were beautiful and willing, but the only relationship of note that I struck up there was with a wholesome blonde English rose, name of Caroline, who was working as an au pair in Santa Monica. We met at the Rainbow, introduced by a photographer. It turned out that she’d come to the US with her boyfriend, also British, but he’d abandoned her to head off to Mexico. I stepped into his shoes, briefly as it turned out, and Caroline accompanied me to all manner of music events. We went to Anaheim together to see the Beach Boys, staying overnight in a hotel and spent the following day at Disneyland. After our whirlwind romance the errant boyfriend returned and Caroline dumped me.
This happened on the night before the day I was due to leave LA and on the very same evening, as I was digesting the news about Caroline, Phil Ochs turned up at the apartment for the first time, a meeting dealt with elsewhere in these memoirs. In fact I was reeling with shock and disappointment and the next day, as instructed by Ray Coleman, I flew to New York and settled into the Gorham Hotel at 136 West 55th Street. From now on I would be MM’s US correspondent based in the Big Apple, like Roy Hollingworth and Michael W before me.
I had to find an apartment and a friend who worked for Columbia Records came to my rescue, finding me a one-bedroom apartment on Lexington Avenue somewhere around 56th Street. It belonged to a friend of his, a girl who’d gone off to live with her boyfriend, so I found myself surrounded now by all the possessions she couldn’t bring with her, books, records and kitchen stuff. The closet was full of her clothes too, so had I been a transvestite I’d have been in heaven.