This is the third part of my memoir about living in Los Angeles as Melody Maker’s man in America.
Within three weeks of my arrival in Los Angeles Gram Parsons was found dead in a motel room in the Joshua Tree National Park, down in the southeast corner of California, a local rock story given great prominence because Parsons’ friend and road manager Phil Kaufman, acting on instructions from the deceased, made off with his body and cremated it nearby. It was the talk of the town in rock circles and I duly reported these events for MM’s readers back home.
Keenly aware of how much the Eagles were indebted to Parsons, I thought it best not to mention all this when I interviewed Glenn Frey and Don Henley two weeks later in a sprawling ranch-style house atop one of the canyons between West Hollywood and the valley on the other side of the hills. We talked in a spacious living room strewn with guitars while a succession of gorgeous blonde girls, barefoot in tight jeans and loose tee-shirts, wandered in and out delivering cups of coffee. I got the impression the senior Eagles were accustomed to being waited upon by beautiful handmaidens under edict to cater to their every whim.
This was before the Eagles became multi-platinum brand leaders of the laid-back LA country rock sound born largely in the barroom of Doug Weston’s Troubadour Club on Santa Monica Boulevard and soon to come largely under the control of Asylum Records boss David Geffen. It was a movement I was duty bound to cover for MM and to this end also interviewed Jackson Browne, who, along with Frey, wrote the Eagles’ first hit ‘Take It Easy’, and also Linda Ronstadt, both alumni of Weston’s club.
“I did a week at the Troubadour and they passed on my option because I hadn't taken up any record offers that came in, so they thought I wasn't interested,” Jackson told me at Asylum’s offices on La Cienega Boulevard.
I soon learned that Doug Weston was a canny businessman who habitually coerced musicians to sign contracts with ‘options’ that guaranteed they would play three or more seasons at his club for the same or only marginally increased fees. This ensured that should they become enormously successful in the meantime he would have the right to re-book them cheaply or, even better, promote their shows in a much larger venue. If they baulked at this he would point to the early contract and threaten legal proceedings unless substantial payment in lieu of the appearances was forthcoming.
“Doug Weston was disgusted and didn't hire me,” continued Jackson, “but I knew I needed a manager, and a friend told me about David Geffen. I had the impression that you needed an audition to get through to him, and an introduction, but I made a demo tape and sent it to him.”
A few days later I met Linda Ronstadt in her bijou house in the hills beneath the Hollywood sign and chatted with her while Emmylou Harris, her houseguest and Gram Parsons’ one-time musical partner, worked on a crochet in the corner of her kitchen. Pete Frame, the editor of Zig Zag and later to become renowned for his Rock Family Trees, sat in on the interview. Pete and I remained good friends from that day onwards and a decade later, as editor at Omnibus Press, I published several books of those Rock Trees.
That same week I saw Linda perform at the Roxy Club where she dressed for the stage in a blue Boy Scouts uniform complete with skimpy shorts, a yellow kerchief and activity badges sewn on to her shirt, and very fetching she looked too. Linda had told me about an English pub in Santa Monica called The Brigadoon but I was too shy to ask her to go there for a drink with me. Perhaps I should have done as I subsequently discovered that her boyfriend at the time, the songwriter JD Souther, another contributor to Eagles recordings, was two-timing her with Joni Mitchell, a former beau of Jackson Browne; very incestuous this lot in those days.
As it happened my arrival in LA coincided with the opening of the Roxy Club, a 500-seater joint on Sunset next to the Rainbow Bar & Grill, owned and operated by a consortium of A-list rock and roll businessmen that included Geffen, Ode Records boss Lou Adler, record producer Peter Asher, Whiskey proprietor Elmer Valentine, and Elliott Roberts, who managed CSN&Y and Joni. I was there to watch Neil Young play on the opening night, rubbing shoulders with all these men, the great and the good of the LA rock biz establishment, slightly wary of the company I was keeping and trying desperately not to appear gauche amidst them all.
Neil Young was preceded on stage by Cheech & Chong, the stoned comedians, and Graham Nash who’d been recruited at the last minute to take the place of Nils Lofgren who had laryngitis. Nevertheless, Nils was well enough to take his place in Young’s back-up band and play guitar during an hour long set of new material from Young’s forthcoming Tonight’s The Night album, now regarded as a highlight of his long career. I evidently agreed. “The new songs reflect a change from the lost soul that Young has moulded for himself,” I wrote in MM. “On all but one he was attacking a Fender Telecaster instead of an acoustic jumbo and the music slotted more into rock than folk category. Of the new songs, the one I preferred was called ‘Open Up Those Tired Eyes’, a track apparently written as a warning to dopers in which Neil offers advice apparently from personal experience.”
I doubt Cheech & Chong took the song to heart.
Upstairs at the Roxy was the private On-The-Rox Club where, for the first time ever, I and no doubt many others played a computerised slot-machine, a ping-pong game that involved knocking a blip back and forth between two illuminated bars. Customers queued up to put their quarters in the slot. Its popularity augured well for this sort of thing, I thought, never realising that the day would come when computer games would outsell records and the uses to which a computer could be put would one day deal an almost fatal blow to the record industry of which I was now a part.