“…and the rest was.....
.......Rock n’ Roll…...”
Crystal Books, Beverly Hills
This Crystal Book contains the complete text of the original
Hardcover Edition. It has been completely reset in a typeface
Designed for easy reading and was printed from new film.
…and the rest was
.......Rock n’ Roll…
A Crystal Book / published by arrangement with Jaeger
Enterprises and Crystal Publishers
2013, 2014 and updated 2015
Crystal edition published 2015
All rights reserved
Copyright 1955-2015 by Nate Jaeger.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by
Photocopy or any other means, without permission.
For information address: Crystal Publishers Beverly Hills,
No author has ever written a book totally alone-somewhere along the line, he had assistance. In most cases, that assistance has been great. This book is no exception.
First, I thank all the pimps, pushers, prostitutes, drug addicts and Cops I ever had the pleasure of running into as a child. The Doctors I never saw and the Hospitals I never had the chance to enter. I would also like to thank all of the Priests who never knew I existed, but most of all The Juilliard School of Music that resuscitated a young child and saved his life…just because…
[Included with this book are 8 Compact Discs containing over 200 + Musical Performances, the original 1956 Gold Albums “First Kiss” and “Last Kiss” and several Videos by Nate Jaeger from the earliest year 1955 through the present day 2015? Most are live performances never before released. They represent historical Blues, Country, Rock n’ Roll and Rock music from the Thirteen Disk Boxed Edition “The Roots of Rock n’ Roll”.]
1. Body Bag, Please
2. Classical Only
3. Love At First Sight
4. Graduation & Jail Time
5. The Sunny Years
6. Welcome To Hollyweird
7. Next Stop Saigon
8. Cops And Rockers
9. Another Brass Ring
10. A New Era
11. The Fast Lane
12. Last Chance
13. The Jaeger School and Fade To Black
* Throughout this Book many people are mentioned who were enormous “Music Stars” but who have been forgotten by the young people of today, so we explain who they are when we mention them.
Body Bag, Please
ONCE UPON A TIME...
...there was the night I was born; the thunder shook the tenement building, rain poured like lava over a pitch black room. Alone, no doors, no windows, freezing cold, a second failed abortion and I still crawled out alive.…you couldn’t kill me, you could only set me free…Welcome to Hell's Kitchen 1940.…Welcome to the Jungle.
"Hell's Kitchen" New York, generally refers to the area from 34th to 57th street and was completely forgotten by the world. As a result, most of the buildings are older, dilapidated, walk-ups without running water. Hell’s Kitchen was a particularly infamous tenement district populated by the “dirt poor“, prostitutes and assorted criminals that congregated at 39th Street and 10th Avenue (my home). "Hell's Kitchen” was "probably the humanly lowest, crime ridden and filthiest area in the U.S., let alone the City of New York." At the turn of the century, the neighborhood was controlled by professional as well as aspiring youth gangs, including the violent Gopher Gang led by the notorious Owney Madden. The youth gangs were: White Kids, The White Shoe Boys, Black Kids, The Black Barts and the Puerto Rican Kids, The Del Rio’s Warlords.
The violence escalated during the 1920s, as Prohibition was implemented. The many warehouses in the district served as ideal breweries for the rum runners who controlled the illicit liquor trade. They made Mama Beasley rich. Gradually the earlier gangs such as the Hell's Kitchen Gang were transformed into organized crime entities around the same time that Owney Madden, (Owney "The Killer" Madden (December 18, 1891–April 24, 1965) was a leading underworld figure in Manhattan, most notable for his involvement in organized crime during Prohibition. He also ran the famous Stork Club, Cotton Club, and the 1953 Manhattan Escort Service and was a leading boxing promoter in the 1930s.
Madden gained the nickname "the Killer" after gunning down an Italian gang member in the streets, after which he shouted, "Owney Madden, Hell’s Kitchen" Despite the public nature of the murder, no witnesses came forward linking Madden to the crime. By 1910, at age 18, Madden had become a prominent member of the Gophers and was suspected in the deaths of five rival gang members. Owney was my mother's boyfriend from 1939-1945) he became one of the most powerful mobsters in New York. People who knew about my relationship with him made a wide berth around me. He once bought me a toy cowboy pistol with orange grips.
During the 1950s, immigrants, notably Puerto Ricans, moved into the neighborhood in large numbers. The conflict between the White trash, Irish, Blacks, Italians, and the Puerto Ricans was highlighted in the movie “West Side Story”. The movie was filmed at 65th Street and 69th Street between Amsterdam and West End Avenue, north of Hell's Kitchen. In 1959, an aborted rumble between rival Irish and Puerto Rican gangs led to the notorious "Capeman" murders in which two innocent teenagers were killed. By 1965, Hell's Kitchen was the home base of the Westies, a very violent Irish American crew aligned with the Gambino crime family. I ran numbers for John Gotti’s father and John Gotti was my best friend. The senior Gotti was a generous but violent man, who liked me as a son and feared Owney. He told me his family would always respond to my needs. When “Honor among thieves doesn’t work” violence ends the competition”. The rule of “The Jungle” produced me and John Gotti Jr.
In 1940 the Depression was just ending, World War Two was beginning in Europe, service men were everywhere and pretty young women worked the streets and tenement rooms with fervor to earn money, most of it for the pimp, some for drugs and the rest for milk and cereal for their bastard kids. Lucky ones died in the back alley from coat hangers and it was over quick. The kids that survived grew up angry, fearing the "Morgue Man". He was the precursor to the Coroner’s van and the black body bag. Every kid grows up going through the Boggy Man phase of childhood, the result of a vivid imagination. In Hell's Kitchen he was real and a lot of kids where around one day and gone the next, forever. When you saw a friend, instead of a “Hello” you’d ask "How you feeling" and you would listen to see if they had a cough before you played or got close. Kids in my building, with bad coughs, could be heard day and night until at some point, they just disappeared. Usually hauled out by the "Morgue Man". The Boggy Man in my neighborhood, folks, was the real deal.
There were only three ways out of Hell's Kitchen, a body bag, Riker's Island for life or the prize fighting ring. The latter was reserved for the really tough kids, mostly Hispanic and Black who stayed away from the heroin needle and learned to box at the dilapidated gym down the street. If they worked hard and avoided criminal acts they had a chance to survive another day. A chance to have their brains beat out at five dollars a match on Friday and Saturday nights. So there I was in the middle of Hell‘s Kitchen, bottom of the barrel, a white trash with a German last name in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. It didn't help to have an Escort Service woman for a mother and an older sister preparing for the same illustrious career.
Illnesses were handled without doctors, hospitals or pharmaceuticals and you got well by toughening it out. Nobody held your hand or kissed your forehead for comfort. No one said they loved you. They were too busy working the streets or raising hell in the rooms next door till morning. When you weren't running numbers for the Italians in the bar down the street, stealing food or other necessities, you went to public school. Welfare kids didn't get regular school books, just recess and colorful magazines. The caveat was "That'll keep them busy for now". School was interesting at best, you sat down and listened to how "If you applied yourself for twelve years with a primary education" you could go to college and enter into the world as a contributing member of society. Yea, if you jumped over winos, dead junkies and pools of vomit in tenement hallways and out ran gangs that took your lunch money, coat and shoes you might even get an athletic scholarship or signed by the NFL.
The angels of mercy were always out to save us with words, but nobody ever took action to improve our way of life. Each day the school got paid for every child who answered up for roll call. After roll call their job was done. If you were lucky you could read, write and do arithmetic at the end of twelve years. Nobody really survived in school for twelve years in Hell's Kitchen. Most were in Little Riker's, the Military Service or dead by then. There were very few youthful suicides. How do you jump off the basement? So we always gave outsiders a smile when they spoke about the future waiting for us in the real world. If you were lucky some poor sap of a temporary teacher would come in with a mission to save you, then you actually learned something in class.
Otherwise, your real goal was to acquire a switchblade knife and become a made man in The White Shoe Boys, Del Rio's War Lords or the Black Barts. Until then you had to watch the streets you traversed doing your daily business. You learned to use the shadows and conceal yourself going from place to place. Smart kids knew where every emergency exit was, “down an alley“. These skills would become invaluable to me as a Marine Corp. Scout Sniper in Viet Nam years later. You never wasted a second feeling sorry for yourself or dropping a tear for anyone or anything. When someone left with the morgue man it meant more food, more space, less competition and more room for advancement in the future. You lived for the day, yourself and trusted no one. Nothing you heard and ten percent of what you saw was reality. The rule, “Never give a sucker an even break”. No next month, next week or even a tomorrow. There was just today when the sun came up. If you were smart you were on the street long before that occurred. Every minute was spent trying to manipulate the system. Making a phone call was easy. You used a bobby pin, straightened it out, and placed it in the second row of holes on the receiver of a pay phone. The other end was touched against the money box key hole. When it shorted out with a spark you got a dial tone and a free call.
The good money was in the newspaper business. All that was required was a Newspaper Boy’s Delivery Sack and a bucks worth of nickels. Now you were self-employed with no overhead. You rode the bus, changing routes every day, getting off every three or four blocks. Drop a nickel in the coin box of the newspaper rack, open it, take five papers, and put them in your bag, hop back on the bus and ride down to Wall Street. The papers were gone in twenty minutes and you did the same thing heading back to school. Halfway, you got off the bus and sold the papers in the garment district. Then back on the bus with an initial cash out lay of $.40 and gross profit of $6.00, net $5.60 a day. In 1948 $5.60 a day was a small fortune for an eight year old kid. Welfare paid $26.00 a month for a family of three. Riding the Public Transit was lucrative.
Thirsty! You just went to the grocery store, back to the Coke Cola Machine Box and instead of putting in a nickel and dragging the bottle down the grate to the drop slot; you carefully "Popped" the cap, stuck your straw in, drank up, and replaced the cap carefully. Self-discipline over your intake meant success. In the Grocery Market you only took a third of a bag of chips, placing the bag at the back when finished. One piece of bread from the back of the bread bag and two finger scoops of peanut butter from the peanut butter jar. Then you made sure to smooth it out before putting the lid back on. Every day or so you would move the items you pilfered, to the back of the stack. Many times they were disposed of, due to age, before your theft was discovered. What we called “Backstopping”.
Control your greed and success was yours at all times and under all circumstances. You always paid for your desert, a candy bar, on your way out of the Mom and Pop Grocery Store. What kid would steal food and pay for his candy? There were a lot of those stores in Hell's Kitchen. When you move quick, “Backstop” and cover your tracks, you could finish the day with a full stomach and a pocket full of cash. Next Saturday at the movies you would be set to buy a ticket, popcorn and candy. You paid for the movie unless someone, already inside, opened the fire door quickly so you could slide in for free. I called that a “Half Price Movie” You paid $.10 for that.
If you’re big enough and tough enough, you form a gang. Now a gang can be a bunch of kids making noise and defacing personal property or it can be a well-trained and directed group of entrepreneurs. A good gang leader trains and supervises his “Crew”. He plans every move the gang makes and he enforces discipline. Setting up the mark is the first step. You select a store that you will have a legitimate business interaction with such as shopping for the Hookers in your tenement. Taking their cash to the selected store you place one “Spotter” across the street. Three crew are placed on each side of the store remaining out of sight. We call those “Passers”. One “Scout” would go into the store and make selections noting where the merchandise was located, return outside and advise the “Mover”. Noon time meant that most of the sales people would be out to lunch leaving two or three people to cover the floor of the store. In goes the “Distractions”, one for each salesperson. The “Mover” goes in and brings the selected merchandise slowly to the front of the store and places it. The “Handoff” goes in and the “Spotter” signals the “Pickups” to alternate crossing in front of the store. The “Handoff” passes the merchandise to the “Pickups” and they leave the area. The “Distractions” make their legitimate purchases for the Hookers and leave the store. Everyone meets up and 50% goes into our “Hold” and the rest is divided up amongst the gang members. Now to see if the rest of the day turns out alright. Today was a good one if you made it home in one piece and your mother's customer didn't tip a few to many, run out of smokes and punish you for their oversight. You learned to eat out and to amuse yourself in your area of the 400 sq. ft. you occupied with other family members and the visiting "Uncle" from time to time. I would always keep a few pints of liquor and several packs of cigarettes stashed in an old military trunk. Their possession came from some real savvy petty theft at the local liquor stores down the street from the tenement.
If a John got unruly and it looked like I would get hit, I would break out the peace gifts and get through the night until he passed out or left. My fondest memory was of a guy who, while waiting for service, picked up my silver cowboy pistol with the orange grips and clicked it repeatedly until he broke it. He smiled at me and threw it across the room. Human Beings, you gotta really love them. This is the way it went for most of the 1940’s until the glorious end of the war. After that, most nights, everybody was drinking and "Funning" until early in the morning, especially on the weekends. Sailors, Marines and Soldiers were everywhere, still coming home after cleaning up Europe and waiting for a discharge. Business was now booming for the newly formed "Manhattan Escort Service" in uptown. The pretty young girls from Hell's Kitchen got lots of work, plenty of penicillin and many new offspring. It was a real boom time and I was free to roam about the picturesque neighborhood at all hours. I had a gang and was big and tough enough, armed with a switchblade knife, that I knew how to use, to survive.
My favorite hangout was on the second step of Mama Beasley's Roadhouse down on the docks. I took a picture of the place with a small Kodak Box Camera that just jumped into my newspaper bag one day on my way up town. It is one of my favorite photos in my life. With the camera you would shoot snapshots, mail the camera to Kodak and they would send you back your photos with a new cardboard box camera. Years later I used the photo of Mama’s place for a Blues Album Jacket. Black musicians from all over Chicago and the South would gather there. People who would later achieve great fame with the ever popular boogie style blues sound which became Rock n’ Roll. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Sunny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, Ike Turner, Crudup and Little Richard just to name a few.
I had been listening to the radio, mostly “Race Stations”, since I acquired my radio under the long standing and unwritten rule "If it's not nailed down, it‘s yours". I attached the antennae to the tenement’s roll out metal frame window and suddenly I could hear those stations playing Howling Wolf, Sunny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, Little Richard and best of all Jimmy Reed. Jimmy Reed was my favorite and I fell in love with the instrument he used to create his sound, the guitar. Mama Beasley would tell me who was going to be in New York and playing at her club each week. Finally one day she said Jimmy Reed would be playing on a Saturday night and I was invited. I got down to the docks at 10:00 p.m. and sat on my step looking in through the screened door. The music was loud and blaring and had a beat that was sexual in nature. The women wore tight blouses and skirts. They moved in the most provocative ways in front of their male dance partners. The booze flowed and every once in a while someone would come flying out the door with the warning from the bouncers to "Straighten up and fly right" or don't come back. It was very cold so Mama Beasley would bring me a couple of "Bourbon Shooters" and several cigarettes to keep me warm.
Winter in New York's Hell's Kitchen was a bit sobering. I enjoyed the relaxed feeling that the straight bourbon gave me on an empty stomach and the way it intensified the music's rhythm. That would come back to haunt me later in life. I quickly learned to love the blues and set out to use this fabulous music to get out of Hell's Kitchen. My childish plan. All I needed was a guitar and a little practice. I would become a STAR!
Night after night I would sit until just before 2 a.m. when the beat cop would come to close Mama down and get paid. I would slide out and head home only to get up at 6 a.m. to start my private Newspaper Enterprise on my way to school. The door man at Mama's, Mr. Pops, was a pretty good blues guitar picker when he wasn't loaded on "Horse". He showed me how to play the open "E" chords and taught me how to apply the blues rhythm to my strums. Then came individual notes between chords that gave the song some snap and let you turn it around to start all over again. It took months to learn because I could only practice when Pops wasn't loaded and could loan me the guitar. Finally, he constructed for me a fake guitar out of a flat piece of wood attached to a cigar box. He glued down some newspaper bailing wire, six strands, and the length of the flat stick and carved and painted the notes for each string at each fret. He then taught me scales, chord positions and fingerings that I would practice without sound.
When I had memorized them he would let me play them on his guitar. I started getting good and I mean “Real” good. When I got the chance to use his guitar I would play every note over and over, up and down the neck until I could hum each note as I played the Cigar Box Special. Soon I didn't need to wait until he sobered up to play songs. I could vocally create the sound for every note on the neck myself. That's the way I did it every day and night for two years. I was getting out of Hell’s Kitchen. I would carry that fake guitar everywhere while practicing singing, scales, notes and chords. Even going to and from school each day. When I needed an audience, I serenaded the bus patrons. It must have looked like I was a "Nut Case" to passengers until one hot summer day, a woman at the bus stop approached me and asked where I learned to play and sing. I told her I taught myself. That wasn't the actual truth, but close enough for Government Work.
After we met a few times she asked to talk to my mother, which was a ludicrous idea in my mind, about doing something with my alleged talent. We strolled back to my cold water walk up tenement and climbed the six flights to our room. My mother had just concluded a business arrangement and her customer was leaving. She demanded to know, from the woman, what I had done and how much it would cost to fix it. The lady explained that she worked at a special school where she felt I could benefit educationally. My mother asked if it was free because “she wasn't paying for nothin’“. The lady said that the schooling would include a regular education with musical training. The lady said she felt I was talented but would have to be interviewed and tested by others at the school. If I was accepted, the schooling and training would be free on a Poverty Grant from wealthy benefactors. Meals and my “open” bus pass would be included. My mother said she didn't care as long as she didn't get “a bill for anything“. So now I was going to get a strange break in life. I was going to be a "Poverty Grant" child at some place called "The Juilliard School of Music" in uptown. Sounded good, especially the free meals part, I was always hungry. What she saw in me I wasn’t fully aware of until years later on stage, in front of people listening to me perform and apparently liking it. Anyway, it was still a long road ahead, but at least I wouldn't be ducking and dodging to and from school every day. The bus stopped right on the corner of my tenement building, so it was a short walk and very convenient. It made my newspaper enterprise more lucrative. Just imagine a free bus pass, good on any Bus, at any time, day or night without "On and Off" restrictions. The most important point was I had a legitimate reason for being on the buses. I was special. I was a student at Juilliard School of Music, slick.
All of the stops along the way were rich with Newspaper Racks. I could pitch the morning paper on the way to school and snag the evening news on the way home. Neither paper company would miss getting short sheeted four times a week. Besides even adults steal. Kind of a public limo ride to and from school, a built in small business and three squares a day. All I had to do was play a guitar, which I loved doing anyway, and a real one to boot. Now I would see if the local "capo" would let me "Run Numbers" on the weekend. That would bring in some additional money each week to pay my way in the tenement. I could save up for a real guitar, one of those new "Electric Telecasters (Officially Broadcaster) like Jimmy had last time I heard him at Mama's place. Things were looking up in the summer of 1949 and I was ready to move on.
Well, what a surprise my first day at Juilliard (The Juilliard School), now located at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, is a performing arts conservatory. It is informally identified as simply "Juilliard," and trains about 800 undergraduate and graduate students in dance, drama, and music. In 2007, the school received 2,311 applications for admission, of which (149 were admitted for a 6.45% acceptance rate.) I got to Claremont Avenue in Morningside Heights an hour early. Just wanted to see which gangs were in control of the area, but I couldn't see anyone that remotely looked like a gang member. Kids showed up in Private Cars or Limousines and the boys were dressed like squares, with checkered shirts, khaki colored pants belted almost up to their necks and short Crew Cut hairdos. The girls had Ponytails and wore long Circle Skirts, the forerunner of those dresses with the dopey looking poodles sewn on the front in the mid-fifties. They carried neatly folded sweaters over their left forearms and had penny loafers with lucky pennies in the shoe bands. They all chattered about Frank Sinatra and Al Martino and how groovy this or that song sounded.
One girl was bragging about the new television her family had just purchased. I had only seen a TV, once, in a store window uptown. The main thing I noticed was how clean their appearance was compared to mine. I realized slowly their attention was drawn to me the longer I stood on the corner in front of the school. I was tall and skinny for nine years of age, with long dark hair combed into a pompadour style in front and a perfect Duck’s Ass style in the back. My ensemble consisted of a black beat up leather jacket, a white t-shirt and pegged black Levi's that could stand in the corner of a room by themselves, capped off with a pair of old black dress shoes. Want new shoes? Just cut out cardboard to fit in the shoes and cover the holes coming through the worn out soles. My fingernails were dirty and my general appearance was quite rough. Finally one of the teachers came out to muster everyone inside. He stopped a passing beat cop who then came over to me and said “Scram or else”. Saved by the bell when my benefactor came out and told the cop I was with her. The auditorium was large and the Head Master gave a welcome speech as I stood in the shadow of one of the pillars in the back. Each kid was asked to stand and introduce themselves and tell something interesting about their lives and their future goals at the school. I didn't have to worry about doing that because I was well hidden behind the pillar. Later my benefactor, Alice, told me to follow her to a large room where I was introduced to the Head Master Mr. William Shuman and an old man who was seated behind the longest piano I had ever seen. Around the room were scores of stringed instruments from guitars to violins to stand up basses. They were all in rows like little soldiers and on their stands were descriptions for each.
The man’s name was Fritz and he was a dead ringer for a photo of Albert Einstein I had seen in Sunday's paper. I was introduced to him as Nathanial Jaeger and he took notice of my last name. He decided that I would be called "Nate" for short as he had an uncle named "Nathanial" he despised. He was unhappy with my last name as it was German and the Germans were not popular in America in 1949, or anywhere else. Nathanial was apparently a significant Jewish name so I became Nate Jaeger there and then forever. He told me to go to the back of the room and turn around and face the wall. He played one note after another for me to sing. When I told him what each note was alphabetically he seemed amazed. It was simple for me because it was just another form of math. I simply could, in my mind’s eye, see every note; it's placement in the scheme of things and could hear it in my head. I told him that the last note was indeed off pitch on his piano. Apparently he couldn't hear it. He asked if he could see my fake guitar and wanted to know what it was I did with it. I told him that I practiced all the chords, scales and individual notes on the neck and that I could hear them in my head as I played. Fritz told me to pick out a guitar that I liked and which felt comfortable and bring it over to the chair next to him. I surveyed all of the guitars and picked out the best one, a near new Martin Acoustic. I sat down and he instructed me to repeat the strings of notes he played for me. Then he played chords and I followed suit. The Martin Guitar, I picked, was amazing. The action was very low, someone had shaved the bridge and the metal frets so the strings were real close to the neck and you could glide from chord to chord and note to note real fast. What an amazing guitar and it fit my gangly body perfect. Fritz told me he was going to play Paganini, specifically his Caprice # 24, and he wanted to see how many measures I could remember and follow. Who was Paganini, oops, I'm in trouble now? I then realized that I was able to repeat every note he played and could play the whole string back when he finished without error. He realized it too and told Alice I should begin classes immediately, but I was to be put in the advanced section, whatever that meant?
His final request was that I play some selections of music that I liked. I picked up the Martin and checked it’s tuning. He said it was now my assigned school instrument. I began with "Don't Start Me Talking" in the key of "F" followed by "Hoochy Coochy Man" in "G" and for my delightful finally I did my version of ‘Choo Choo Boogie” from the new music called Rock n' Roll. He looked at me and said "Never Again, Not Here". School consisted of classes in Theory (first year): Basic introduction to note reading, key signatures, scales, rhythm, and time signatures. Independent research culminating in oral presentation in the second semester. Music Workshop (first year): Uses theory, composition, and improvisation in an experiential way to approach musical performance. Musical challenges such as: What turns sound into music? How are ideas of unison, dialogue, and obstinate used to create music? Musical examples through a broad spectrum of genres illustrate the artistic application of these same principles. Theory (second year): Review of first year, especially circle of fifths and major and minor scales. Continued rhythm work. Introduction to intervals, dictation, and harmony. Music as Art (second year): Provides an historical context for Western classical music. Students learn about music through various points in history, from the pre-historic era to the dawning of the 20th century. Performance Workshop (both years): Basic concert etiquette for the performer and audience member is taught through the use of in-class performances. Issues discussed include practice, constructive criticism, combating performance anxiety, careers in music, and proper performance attire and preparation. An informal discussion format is used. Ear Training (PATHS): Melodic and rhythmic dictation, and solfège (ear-training). Introduction to chord structure and chord progressions. Piano Skills (PATHS): Provides working knowledge of the keyboard. Introduction to harmony, applied theory, transposition, sight-reading, improvisation, and piano ensemble skills. Provides working knowledge of the piano for non-majors. PATHS Seminar: Provides students with a more intense and focused performance setting. Students perform in class, and prepare two outreach concerts per year. Topics discussed include orchestral etiquette, leadership, and issues in the arts. Chamber Music (PATHS): All students are required to play each week in chamber music class. Small ensembles of mixed woodwinds, brass, strings, and piano. Math, English, Reading, Writing, History, and Geography were taught separately. What was nice was that each class had a maximum of 15 students and you could ask all the questions you wanted and the teacher would repeat things over as many times as you needed until you got the concept. There was no ridicule or chastising you for mistakes only "That a boys" when you finally got it right. No smacking you in the back of the head if you got your numbers crooked on the blackboard and most of all smiling teachers at all times. I ended up staying at the school through evening meal and until midnight in the rehearsal studio playing my lessons over and over until they were up to speed and perfect. Then a little Rock n’ Roll. I usually got home at 1 a.m., crashed and got up early spending as little time in the tenement as possible.
Eventually they gave me a part time job at the school as a janitor. The training I got from Manny Mendez, the Head Janitor, would really come in handy years later when I hit Memphis, hungry, homeless and on the run from the Juvenile Authorities in Harlem. They paid me $2.50 a week to clean the classrooms on the first level, the auditorium and bathrooms. That made it possible to keep my two changes of clothes in a locker and put them in the school laundry every other day for cleaning. I was able to shower every day after Physical Education and I bought a finger nail clipper and used it daily to increase my finger pressure on the guitar strings not to mention the cleanliness issue. I still looked like a thug and no student ever looked me in the eye, spoke to me, or sat next to me in class. I started wearing my janitor overalls to class each day and that seemed to keep everyone at ease, like I wasn't intruding anymore. I looked like staff and I looked clean, but the hairdo stayed. That's what made me, silently, part of the music that I could only play when everyone left the school and I was alone with access to acres of instruments. Interestingly enough I taught myself to play piano long before the school assigned me a piano teacher. The violin had to wait until I was accomplished on my first two instruments. One of the requirements for graduation, up the line, was the ability to read, write, transpose on the fly and score your original compositions. It was necessary for you to play, at a professional level, at least three different instruments. This included voice if you chose that to graduate. It was a given that you passed your studies in all academic areas as well and concurrently with the musical schooling.
As time passed I began to present myself at recitals. I attempted to hold back in my presentations so that I didn't become the star of the school and antagonize the parents and other students. It was difficult because I was putting in hundreds of hours of after school practice and many times slept in the laundry room all night so I could get back to the music first thing in the morning. I meticulously cleaned the Head Master's Office, staff's offices and made the morning coffee. This kept me in good stead with all of the teachers. Showering, getting dressed and ready for class early put me at the front of the breakfast line and entitled me to the best hot food. I was really starting to grow and gain some needed weight. I was also becoming civilized. One of the great side benefits of my traveling to and from the tenements looking like a newspaper boy was my ability to get off the bus on Friday nights at The Roxy Theatre in New York City. It was a 5,920 seat movie theater at 153 West 50th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. It opened on March 11, 1927 with the silent film “The Love of Sunya“, produced by and starring Gloria Swanson. The huge movie palace was a leading Broadway film showcase through the 1950s and was also noted for its lavish stage shows. It closed and was demolished in 1960. I would bring a pint of Jack Daniels to the side stage door where Mr. Tyrone James would be sitting and leaning back on his metal chair. I paid my admission with a pint and a paper and went into the back stage area and handed out free evening newspapers to the people who looked like they were in charge. Then I would watch the stars go out and perform. One night, in 1953 Tony Martin headlined and I watched him with his wife Cyd Charisse get ready to go on stage. He came up alongside of me, looked down at me and said “How are you young man”? “I said fine, I’m going to be a performer like you someday”. “He looked at me and said “Well when you do, come and see me”. Now I took him serious and on March 19, 2009 at the Catalina Jazz Club I was sitting at stage side when he came in to do his show. He was as dynamic at 96 years old as he was in 1953. I came to see him like he asked me too. I saw many stars perform from behind that curtain including Edith Piaf. I will never forget this tiny woman who stood next to me behind the curtain. I didn’t know who she was but when this little woman went out and started to sing the audience went to their feet and stood clapping for ten minutes. She sang “La Vie En Rose” to another standing ovation. She closed the show with the French National Anthem and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Finally, the last show I ever saw and the one that showed me the life long road to entertaining, the road I followed because of David Whitfield and the song “Cara Mia” that he sang that night. I wanted that kind of attention someday. I wanted to sing like him, but of course no human will ever do that again. Going home and being around the tenements was becoming harder every day until something marvelous happened. A beautiful girl moved into the tenement room one floor below me. It looked like 1953 was going to be a great year for a lot of reasons.
Love at First Sight
There she was with her mother, the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I watched her climb the steps to the fifth floor and offered to help them carry their bags up. The apartment they rented was larger than our space and it had divided rooms, with real walls and carpets on the floor. It had its own bathroom with larger windows facing the street. The girl had a bit of a superiority attitude and that's because her mother worked for the Manhattan Escort Service where the big money earners worked. I later learned that she no longer did escorts but was instead put in charge of the girls living in our tenement. She was given the best set of rooms in the building with hot and cold running water. The company had apparently grown to the point that they needed to supervise the girls directly at the point of service. Anyway, her daughter Desirae was a dream come true and the same age as me, 13. She was very smart and made me chase after her whenever I saw her. I know she liked me because I would catch her taking sneak peeks at me when I played and sang on the tenement front stoop.
I had to start making decisions about her and how much extra time I spent at school and whether I should come home from school each day early instead of staying all night. The decision was simple, her. I also needed to work on my paper business to replenish my cash. I started coming home each night and began teaching her to play guitar and sing. Johnny Ray (John Alvin Ray (January 10, 1927 – February 24, 1990) was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Popular for most of the 1950s, Ray has been cited by critics as a major precursor of what would become rock and roll, for his jazz and blues-influenced music and his animated stage persona. (He was totally deaf.) He was the big heart throb by then and I bought her his records. He was going to play at the Paramount Theater in a couple of weeks and I just had to make some extra money so that I could take her there first class. So I went down to "Corky's", the local corner bar where the well-dressed Italians hung out. There were always two big guys standing out front checking everyone who went in to see the "Capo". When I walked up, there was Anthony, my friend, waiting to take me in and vouch for me to the Capo. So now I could get a job selling numbers in my neighborhood. He was a large, well dressed, diamond stud wearing Italian man with gruff manners and a dead mean stare in his eyes. Anthony vouched that I was dependable and had deep connections in the neighborhood as well as connections with Mama Beasley's customers. They were plentiful and loved to gamble. Italians and Blacks didn't get along well and blacks wouldn't buy "oxygen on sale" from them. So I was a shoe in for that market and I was now playing along with Mama's musicians with the moniker of "The Golden Boy".
The Numbers Game was the first real Lottery in America, I mean you really won good pay outs and frequently. My sales were great, both with my neighborhood call girls, their clients and the black population in the neighborhood. I would use my trusty "over the shoulder” newspaper bag and a phony receipt book to go from door to door in the neighborhood pretending to collect on a nonexistent paper route. I would collect money and give the customer their tab and number for the day. If they won I would bring back their winnings in an envelope the next day. Each week I would turn in my spent number’s sheets and return the net profits less pay outs, directly to the Capo. He in turn would pay me 20% of the profits. I was getting closer to that new guitar and the Paramount Theater tickets.
Desirae and I were now an item and were holding hands everywhere we went. I bought myself a cool pink and black speckled sport coat, a black silk shirt, black pegged pants, white bucks and a silver cross necklace for the Johnny Ray Show. I surprised Desirae with a sweater, blouse, skirt and penny loafers for the show. I wanted her to look like the uptown girls that attended my school. She looked great, we looked wonderful together and when I took her to a dance at my school everyone immediately liked her and seemed to accept me now too. I was on a roll. We would go down to Mama Beasley's every Friday and Saturday night and sit on the front steps while I played along with the musicians appearing at the roadhouse inside. Every once in a while they would move outside where "The Kid" could really whale with them and not have the beat cop charge Mama with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Those were some memorable jam sessions and I knew I had arrived when some of the pros would later ask me "How I did that" on the guitar. What I needed to do was find some kids my age that could form a band with me. Rock n' Roll was moving off of the black underground radio stations and becoming prominent with white radio stations. White singers were singing it and that left the music sorely deficient. White guys like Pat Boone had no rhythm. If a white guy could sing and play black Rhythm and Blues with a back beat like a black artist, then you might have a potential Rock n' Roll Star in the making. At the moment, being with Desirae and playing music on my own was fine.
One more year and I would graduate high school at fifteen. Still too young to do anything with my knowledge and ever advancing skills. There had to be something, somewhere for me after all of this work. We didn't have telephones in the individual tenement rooms and the hall phone was strictly for addicts to score with their suppliers. You didn't disturb them when they were placing their orders. Desirae's mother had a phone but that was for communication with the agency only, so we had to devise a way to talk to each other at will, day or night. One of the kids at school was an Eagle Scout and he showed me how to cut a milk carton in half, wax a twenty foot string with a melted candle, punch a hole in the bottom of each half and connect the string to both via a knot in the center of the bottom of each carton half. You step back, pull the string taught and take turns talking and listening by saying "Over" so the next person can answer or talk. I would slowly lower Desirae’s half carton down to her room window each night and we would talk for hours. Sometimes I would sing some of the songs I wrote until the neighbor woman would bang on the wall with a warning that I was "killing her customer’s mood". These were the times I always remembered when things got real hard and life was just a series of one night shows, crazy driving all night, noisy fans, cheap motels and brown bag room service. I missed those cold nights when we had lots in common and dreams yet to be realized. We would talk about buying a home with grass and a fence. Maybe have children born away from Hell's Kitchen. Big Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners with friends all around singing carols like in the movies. At night we would keep asking the same question after just a few minutes of idle chatter "Do You Love Me"? The answer was always the same "Yes" and the thought was always the same, "We got to get out of here if it's the last thing we ever do".
Graduation& Jail Time
Graduation was just days away when I attempted to deliver my weekend numbers money to the Capo's bar. While making my delivery the place got raided and we all ended up at the Police Precinct. We were charged with various misdemeanors including me being charged as a "Wayward" with no viable supervision or means of support. I didn't dare tell them that I had a mother and what her occupation entailed. So there I sat in Little Rikers awaiting a Juvenile Hearing. I was set for trial and allowed, under police supervision, to attend my graduation at Juilliard School.
Graduation consisted of playing one classical piece on three instruments or two instruments and a vocal rendition of choice. When you stepped up on stage you were told which musical keys were required for each piece. You were thrilled if the keys you rehearsed were the assigned ones. Previous to your final exam you were allowed 8 hours to prepare, and I was lucky enough to have rehearsed long hours before I was arrested. So I just stepped up on stage with a violin and an acoustic guitar and placed them next to the piano. The piece selected for me was the same piece Felix had tested me with five years before. I guess he was trying to help me since I didn't get to practice with him. Paganini's Caprice # 24 arranged by me for guitar.
I first played it on the piano, then the violin and finally on guitar flawlessly to a standing ovation and the presentation of my Diploma. I always felt sorry for the poor Old Cop sitting there waiting for me to finish so he could take me back to Little Riker's. Everyone was crowding around the students so I laid the guitar into the rack near the side door and slipped out of the auditorium. At a dead run to the curb I hailed a cab and told him my money was at home and that I was good for the fare. When I got to the tenement Desirae was stunned to see me and broke into tears. I had plenty of time because I never did tell the police where I lived. We spent an hour together and I told her I was facing jail until I was twenty one years old and that I couldn't let that happen. I promised her I would return and take her with me as soon as I got situated. It would be tough because I didn't have a Social Security Card or a Driver's License but I did look older then fifteen.
I was going to head down to Memphis, wherever that was, and somehow work my way into the music business. I knew it would be tough but I would come back and get her soon. We arranged it with her mother that I could call her at the Agency's phone once a week at 8 p.m. I grabbed my 52 Telecaster (Broadcaster) my five sets of clothes and the $800.00 dollars I had stashed for the future and left Hell's Kitchen forever. My mother looked out the window as I walked away and said "You still owe me rent". I started hitching rides down the East Coast and then inland to Memphis, Tenn. When I arrived I took a cab to RCA's Office where I had heard Steve Sholes worked. (He was born Stephen Henry Sholes, in Washington, D.C. His family moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his father worked in the RCA plant. He convinced RCA to build its own recording studio in Nashville on Seventeenth Avenue South in 1957. He also recruited Eddy Arnold, The Browns, Hank Locklin, Homer and Jethro, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, and Pee Wee King. In 1955, he signed Elvis Presley for RCA. He became the company's pop singles manager the same year, pop singles and albums manager in 1958, and West Coast manager in 1961. The latter promotion took him to Los Angeles, California. In 1963, Sholes became RCA Records vice president for pop A&R and returned to New York.
I was going to be discovered, right there and then. I went in and asked if I could have a meeting with him as the secretary looked at me, laughed and said “NO“. I told her I was a Rock n' Roll guitarist and was also looking for Sun Records. (Sun Records was founded by Sam Phillips, Sun Records was known for giving notable musicians such as Elvis Presley (whose recording contract was sold to RCA Victor Records for $35,000 in 1955 to relieve (alleged) financial difficulties Sam was going through). Sam held contracts on Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Buddy McNeil, and Johnny Cash and was the man who launched their careers. Before those days Sun Records had mainly been noted for recording African-American artists, as Phillips loved Rhythm and Blues and wanted to get black music recorded for a white audience. She gave me the address of 706 Union St. and I took a bus instead of a cab to conserve money.
When I arrived it was January 5, 1955 and there stood the little studio called Memphis Recording Services, D.B.A. Sun Records. I straightened up, adjusted my shirt and pants, adjusted my guitar sack strap across my shoulder and walked into the small reception area. Marion Keisker was at the desk reading a United States Air Force Recruitment brochure. I asked her if the owner of the establishment was available and she very nicely asked if I was there for the janitor’s job. I immediately said “Yes” and I told her I wanted to sign up as a studio musician and touring sideman also. She asked me how old I was and I said eighteen. I showed her my Diploma and she didn't seem to have ever heard of Juilliard. A diploma substantiated that I was at least 18 years old. Suddenly a dark haired man came out and introduced himself as Sam. He asked me if I was there to record and if so what kind of music did I play and sing. Marion told him of my interests and he said the only thing he needed was a "Janitor Go-for " and a set up guy for live shows.
The job paid $25.00 a week and a room in the back to sleep. Personal needs could be cared for at the YMCA down the street. The only other requirement was "no noise" during recording and no annoying the talent that comes in "Yes or No". I told him I had experience along those lines and could start immediately. When I showed him my guitar and my Diploma he simply nodded and said he would listen to me later as "Pickers" were a dime a dozen in this town. He told me Taylor's across the street served good meals and that two meals a day were included in the employment. He wrote out a note to The Suzore Theater manager stating I was working for him and if they needed someone I was a good prospect. He told me I'd get to see the movies for free. I told him I had a new Sony pocket sized transistor radio for listening and he recommended that the best radio stations in town were WHBQ with Dewey Phillips and for "Race Music" WDLA and FWEM. He then said if I wanted to hear good live black music they all played out over on Hernando Street, but he doubted I could get in.
The only good TV Show was Wink Martindale's and there was a twelve inch B &W TV in the control room. “Make sure you turn it off or the tube will burn out“. He then walked back through the door as he said "You can move in now and start cleaning this mess up". That was Sam. Marion asked me if I needed an advance and I told her I was "Flush". Two hours in Memphis and I was "In". Little did I know that I was in the middle of history? That night I called Desirae collect and talked to her for ten minutes using our code for where I was and told her I had scored a job, meals and a place to sleep after an hour or so in town. It wouldn't be long and she would be with me. I also told her I was going to be able to watch TV. That night I finished washing and waxing the floors and hand washing the walls, really cleaning the place up beautifully. It had been a mess. I went into the control room and viewed the television set. Pretty simple, an on knob and a tuner knob with numbers on it. I turned it on and there was just some kind of pattern that looked like a bull’s eye. I turned the tuner and all of a sudden a picture came on of people playing a guessing game.
It was really strange watching this glass window with live action. I tried tuning in other channels but I had to move the rabbit ear device on top of the television to get a better picture. Sam had a list of channels and times written down so I followed that list the rest of the evening. I watched the local news and didn't realize how important Mrs. Stack's Strawberry Preserves Award was to the locals. It was a long day and I crashed. Tomorrow would be a day spent over at the theater trying to coordinate the two jobs since the lucrative Numbers Game doesn't exist here at all. What a huge cultural shock it was, especially the way they treated black people and the accents of the white people. They were not too bright either, but that's another story for another time. I now live in what would become the most important recording studio in history. One step away from fame and fortune and Nate and Desirae.
The Sunny Years
“We All Did Look and Sound Alike” 1955 -1957 Sam Phillips had entertained a steady stream of local black talent, most of whom had never seen the inside of a recording studio. In 1951 Phillips recorded local disk jockey and aspiring blues artist B.B. King and shortly thereafter recorded "Rocket 88" by Jackie Benston and Ike Turner often cited by music historians as the first Rock and Roll record. Then in the summer of 1953 a painfully shy young truck driver wandered in to record a couple of sentimental songs for his mother. He hung around over the next few months, and Phillips made a mental note of the young man with the strange name and even stranger appearance, Elvis Presley.
There was something in that voice, he thought. Phillips was solicitous of just such unpolished talent. Indeed, he had staked his tenuous fortune on the artistic enfranchisement of the poor and the racially marginalized, those who had never had the opportunity to record. Phillips mentioned Presley to a couple of session men and finally decided to call the kid in. After a lack-luster afternoon performing a repertoire of pop songs and ballads, Presley picked up his guitar and began to play around with a blues song, "That's Alright Mama." This anonymous moment with the microphone turned off could so easily have signified nothing. "I was surprised Elvis even knew the song," Phillips later said. No matter. What he heard, and what he understood about what he heard, changed American musical history. For he saw that Presley infused the simple country blues with an emotion and legitimacy that defied classification...Warren Smith had already achieved the same sound with “Rock n’ Roll Ruby” and Sam was looking for a more cooperative clone. Now people always asked me “Did you know Elvis? My answer was “I never knew the Elvis you think he was, I knew and observed the real kid from Tupelo”.
The first day I saw Sam's "Big Talent" was January 8, 1955 when he came into Sun Records to celebrate the release of "Milk Cow Blues Boogie" with "You're a Heartbreaker" on the flip side. It was the guys 20th birthday and Sam and Marion had a big cake ready for Elvis. Scotty Moore, Bill Black, D.J. Fontana, Gene and Junior Smith were there as well as many people I didn't recognize. Well I must say that I was surprised that this was the guy who recorded "That's Alright Mama" and started the real awakening of Rock n' Roll causing me to come South. He stood about 5'11" with Dishwater Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes, serious Acne, a Chipped Front Tooth with the rest somewhat crooked. His Nose appeared to have been broken at one time and not properly repaired. He had a terrible stuttering problem. He talked real fast once he got going and it was hard to figure out what he was trying to say most of the time.
He wore a chartreuse sport coat over a pink shirt with a black western tie of sorts and dark blue pegged pants with white buck shoes. Later they gathered around to play his new releases live. He managed about three chords on the guitar as he played and sang. He also apparently couldn't afford deodorant. That was my assessment at the time. I was amazed, the circus wasn't in it, and I didn't blend in here anymore then at Juilliard. I was introduced to him but he put me off with a "Yea" and then turned to talk to Scotty about a fair salary for the upcoming Tour and the Louisiana Hayride, Clarksdale, Helena, Boonville, Sheffield, Leachville, Sikeston and a live performance at The Eagles Nest in Houston, Texas to be broadcast over KNUZ radio. Elvis shrugged his shoulders and told Scotty "You don't cause the screams and yells from the girls, do you?" "They pay to see me". Oops! Another fat head and I had seen the same behavior at Juilliard from the rich kids and they were usually the least talented. After Elvis came back from Leachville, Arkansas he was tired. These guys were doing a show in one town and driving all night across the Southern States doing everything from, County Fairs, to High School Proms to Grocery Store openings. A lot of small work for someone who had the big hit "That's Alright Mama"
It turned out to be a local hit with 15,000 copies sold. Not a big deal in today's market. It also seemed that he was not getting the lion's share of the proceeds from all his hard work on tour. A guy named Bob Neal seemed to be making the big money off of Elvis's group "The Blue Moon Boys". Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D. J. Fontana were the backbone of the group since Elvis couldn't really play guitar except for playing Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Running" over and over again with a simple riff turn around. Matter of fact he would confidently grab a guitar and play that one song all the time when girls were near. It seemed that was his repertoire. He did the same thing on his 68’ Comeback Show. The only thing he could play all the way through with minor mistakes in the rhythm. I thought it strange that Red West would take a new song they were working on and literally sing and physically perform it for Elvis as if he were Elvis, but coordinated. I found myself among some very good guitar players and one guy who was living the Rock Legend before he ever made it.
It was like watching some old World War II veterans retelling their exploits and puffing their chests out, except with these good old boys it was bragging about how good they were and all the chicks they balled and getting no work done. There wasn't much in the way of disciplined music practice. I just kept quiet about my abilities for fear of scaring them all into getting rid of me. After all, when everyone left I had full access to Sam's Acetate Studio lathe. If I put together a group and we recorded when the studio was closed and Sam was out of town, I could cut all the demos I wanted. We got an amazing sound from the two Ampex Taping machines wired together. The delay caused a "Slap Back" echo which was the secret behind all of Sam's recordings. All of my first recordings were pressed at Plastic Products on Chelsea Av. in Memphis.
Sam came in unexpectedly one night and I was playing and singing real hot. He looked at me and said "You’re amazing, to bad you’re so young". "If you’re smart you won't let these local boys know you can do that". Enough said. A guy named Whitey Ford was always coming around the studio carrying a dog eared contract for Elvis's parents to sign because he wasn’t 21 yet. He would then wander off after Elvis ignored him. I later found out it was Tom Parker who kept sending him around. , The Colonel ("Colonel" Thomas Andrew "Tom" Parker (June 26, 1909 - January 21, 1997) born Andreas Cornelis ("Dries") van Kuijk, was a Dutch-born entertainment impresario known best as
I was getting an idea that the foundation for this new musical birth called Rock n’ Roll was founded on Jack Daniels, country girls and bullshit artists. It wasn’t much different than the New York Grifters who taught me every scam in the book. None of these people ever learned the gentle art of "Setting Up the Mark" 101. So I set my goals for working and saving for Desirae and waiting for a chance to record a record. Hopefully, one that George Kline might play locally so I could get a foothold. I had to remember my limitations which were: I was just a tall, good looking and talented 15 year old in competition with some older, self taught, loudmouth Okies, or so it seemed. I had anger issues because I felt held back. The one person I thought had all the talent in the world, but no looks and less stage presence was a guy named Roy Orbison and his song co-writer Joe Melson. Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988). He was an American singer-songwriter and musician, well known for his distinctive, powerful voice, complex compositions, and dark emotional ballads. Orbison grew up in Texas and began singing in a Rockabilly / Country & Western Band “The Teen Kings” in high school until he and the “Teen Kings” were signed by Sun Records in Memphis. Orbison watched his classmate Pat Boone get signed for a record deal early on.
His greatest success was with Monument Records in the early 1960s where 22 of his songs placed on the Top Forty, including "Only the Lonely", "Crying", "In Dreams", and "Oh, Pretty Woman". His career stagnated through the 1970s, but several covers of his songs and the use of one in a film by David Lynch revived his career in the 1980s.The stagnation with his career was the fact that he and his wife were riding motorcycles and she was hit and killed. Later his house burned down, killing his parents and his sons. A good reason to stagnate, if not just die for ten years. He joined the super group The Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne and released an album in 1988. He died of a heart attack at the age of 52, at the zenith of his resurgence. Roy could play a guitar, had perfect pitch, a deadly (4 Octave) falsetto range and the most melodic sad songs I had ever heard in my life. No one else can sing them because there is no way to arrange them in a single key. If you lower the song to hit the high notes you sound like a frog at the lower end and if you sing in the lower range comfortably then you sound like someone is "Squeezing Your Nuts" at the high end. The only song I ever covered of his was "Blue Bayou" and that satisfied me and it didn't hurt my privates to do it.
Jerry Lee Lewis was always stopping by with several girls on his arm. He played a mean piano, but was kind of stuck in a "Boogie" rut. Jerry Lee Lewis, in November 1956, came to audition for Sun Records. (Lewis was born to the poor family of Elmo and Mamie Lewis in Ferriday, Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana, and began playing piano in his youth with his two cousins, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart. His parents mortgaged their farm to buy him a piano. Influenced by a piano-playing older cousin Carl McVoy (who later recorded with Bill Black 's Combo), the radio, and the sounds from the black juke joint across the tracks, Haney's Big House, Lewis developed his own style mixing rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie, gospel, and Country Music, as well as ideas from established "country boogie" pianists like recording artists Moon Mullican and Merrill Moore. Soon he was playing professionally in Memphis. His World Wide big hits were “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On”, “Great Balls Of Fire and “Breathless”.) I once teased him about playing the "Devil’s Music."Are you still playing the devil's music?" Lewis replied Yes, I am. But you know it's strange, the same music that they kicked me out of religious school for is the same kind of music they play in their churches today. The difference is, I know I ‘m playing for the devil and they don't." He ended up as a well paid performer but only had a handful of hits. He was wild in nature and could become violent very easily. He loved to spread mustard inside your sun glasses if you laid them down near him during lunch, but became incensed if you played a practical joke on him. He took it as a demeaning act instead of something funny done for a good laugh. It could also be the result of the "Bennies" they all took habitually to stay awake when they drove all night and had to perform late shows with energy. I saw that with all of them including Elvis. Marijuana was like silverware at dinner time. They all smoked it and said it calmed them before they recorded. You can't imagine all the big hits that were recorded by "Stone Heads" long before the mid-sixties.
One day, out of nowhere, a guy pulls up out front of the studio in a turquoise 56 T-Bird Convertible with a whole entourage of people and cars including his girlfriend “Lucile”. He barrels through the door with a huge Pompadour Hairdo and some of the most well known sidemen ever to perform music. His flamboyant attitude was impossible to mistake. He was the guy I heard on radio doing jump blues as far back as 1951. He asked to see Sam, but Sam was downtown renewing his business license. Anyway, in the door comes his people with their instrument cases. "The Upsetters," which included saxophonists Grady Gaines, Wilbert 'Lee Diamond' Smith, and Clifford 'Gene' Burks, along with New Orleans drummer Charles 'Chuck' Connors, Olsie 'Baysee' Robinson on bass, and Chadrick 'Buster' Douglas on guitar. He had released records each year from 1951-54, but none were significant hits because he was black and his music was white. Pat Boone covered him. They set up and prepared to rehearse until Sam came back. I had heard the song years ago but with very sexual lyrics. I had played the song over and over for months while at Juilliard. I told him Sam wouldn’t record him on his label unless he changed a few things. He turned to me and said I‘m a movie star now, does Sam know that? I said you were great but the lyrics in "Tutti Frutti" can‘t be recorded, don’t shoot the messenger. He said a janitor shouldn’t stick his nose into the creative end of Sam’s business. I just went over to the closet and pulled out my Fender case, opened it and mounted up. I did a quick “Tune Check” and plugged into a hot amp. I cranked up the treble and the volume and stepped in front of the microphone. He looked at me and twisted his neck sideways saying “I’m not holding auditions ya know“. I smiled and said just listen to a few changes before you close your mind off. We changed "tutti-frutti, good booty" to "tutti frutti, aw rooty" which was black slang for “all right”. I thought I’d have some fun and combine the rhythm with individual note picking. I performed the song in a Rockabilly style and his guys jumped in with me. He gave me a sly look and signaled for me to turn it around so he could come in from the top on the vocals and piano.
What a fabulous moment that was for me. We were doing one song after another and pretty soon the street started getting crowded with people looking through the windows. Sam came in and was pleased to see Richard Penniman (Little Richard). ( Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932) known by the stage name Little Richard, is an American singer, songwriter, pianist and recording artist, considered key in the transition from rhythm and blues to rock and roll in the 1950s. "He was "the architect of Rock and Roll," and history would seem to bear that out. More than any other performer - save, perhaps the errant credit given to Elvis Presley, Little Richard blew the lid off the Fifties, laying the foundation for rock and roll with his explosive music and charismatic persona. On record, he made spine-tingling rock and roll. His frantically charged piano playing and raspy, shouted vocals on such classics as "Tutti Frutti", "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" defined the dynamic sound of rock and roll." He was the “King of Rock n’ Roll” and the only King of this music.
Anyway they couldn’t reach an agreement on price and the lyrics were still a problem since Richard was very stubborn and had an ego as big as his talent. I heard he finally recorded it at Cosimo Matassa's J & M Recording Studio in New Orleans using less offensive lyrics. He had a straight run of about 14 No. 1 hits after that song broke. In my mind, then and now, he was the father of Rock n’ Roll and every beat and every rhythm you hear today can be found in his music of 58 years ago. Sam had no problem keeping me out of the recording room during anyone's sessions because of the smoke. The sessions always looked like the airport scene in "Casablanca" with heavy white fog lingering.
I remember one afternoon when Marion was out to lunch and Johnny Cash, (Johnny Cash was born J. R. Cash in Kingsland, Arkansas, and raised in Dyess, Arkansas). Cash was given the name "J.R." because his parents could not agree on a name, only on initials. When he enlisted in the United States Air Force, the military would not accept initials as his name, so he adopted John R. Cash as his legal name. In 1955, when signing with Sun Records, he took Johnny Cash as his stage name. Cash was one of seven children: Jack, Joanne, Louise, Reba, Roy, and Tommy. His younger brother, Tommy Cash, also became a successful country artist. In 1954, Cash moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he sold appliances while studying to be a radio announcer. At night he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant. Perkins and Grant were known as the Tennessee Two. Cash worked up the courage to visit the Sun Records studio, hoping to get a recording contract. After auditioning for Sam Phillips, singing mostly gospel songs, Phillips told him that gospel was unmarketable. It was once rumored that Phillips told Cash to "go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell," though Cash refuted that Phillips made any such comment in a 2002 interview. Cash eventually won over the producer with new songs delivered in his early frenetic style. His first recordings at Sun, "Hey Porter" and "Cry Cry Cry", were released in 1955 and met with reasonable success on the country hit parade. Cash's next record, "Folsom Prison Blues", made the country Top 5, and "I Walk the Line" became No. 1 on the country charts and entered the pop charts Top 20. Following "I Walk the Line" was "Home of the Blues", recorded in July 1957.
Carl Perkins, ( Carl Lee Perkins (April 9, 1932 – January 19, 1998) was an American rockabilly musician who recorded most notably at Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee beginning during 1954. His best known song is "Blue Suede Shoes". Carl Perkin’s songs personified the rockabilly era, and Carl Perkin’s sound personifies the rockabilly sound more so than anybody involved in it, because he never changed. Perkin’s songs were recorded by artists (and friends) as influential as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Johnny Cash, which further cemented his place in the history of popular music. Luther Perkins, (Luther Monroe Perkins (January 8, 1928 – August 5, 1968) was an American country music guitarist renowned for his work as a member of the Tennessee Three with Johnny Cash and their "boom-chicka" rhythmic style.
Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis were smoking for about an hour while exchanging musical ideas. The front door opened and into the reception area came the old straight laced beat cop. I was cleaning the storefront windows. He asked if Sam was around and I told him I'd check. When I told the guys he was here they went into panic mode running wildly around the room waving magazines trying to thin the smoke clouds, while Elvis ran out the back door saying his Mama would whoop the shit out of him if he got pinched. They were like keystone cops knocking each other down and then tripping over each other trying to get out the back door. They jammed up in the doorway as the cop came in the music room. I wish I had a picture of their faces when they turned around and saw the cop standing there with the evidence all around. Then the old guy sneezed and pulled a hanky out of his back pocket and blew his nose. A nose I had always thought was red from hitting the bars all day on patrol. It turned out, in this case, that he had a bad cold and when he saw Sam wasn't there he turned around to walk out exclaiming "Smoking will kill you boys". I said "Your right Officer it's a terrible habit, have a good day"
When it came to girls hanging around the studio there was no question that Elvis’s friends would spread the word that Elvis would be in town, at Sun, and they would come running down. Many of them he apparently knew for a long time, like Caroline Ballard who was a minister's daughter. She would come to see him from East Tupelo once in a while. He used to introduce her as his first girlfriend “ever“. Then there was Eloise Bedford and Betty Mc Mann, very sweet and down to earth. Elvis wouldn’t stutter around them and he would drop his half Marlon Brando half James Dean swagger and speech mannerisms when he interacted with them. He seemed normal. There was also some very sexy off and on again local girls like Dotty Harmony, Barbara Hearn, Dixie Locke and most of all the girl who he wanted to marry early on, Anita Wood. She was a Disc Jockey at WHHM Radio. She was gorgeous, but I never understood why he referred to her as "Little Beadie" but then everyone referred to him as "Jimmy Sideburns ". He obviously felt at ease with them and trusted them. In time I would have the same effect on him, almost like I was his little brother. He apparently lost a brother at birth and ended up a lone child. When he was naturally relaxed he was very charming and witty. Although he would have lasted about a New York minute in Hell's Kitchen and met the Morgue Man very quickly. He just wasn’t tough enough to survive and he didn’t. I once showed him my stiletto (switchblade knife) and gave him an example of how you used it in a knife fight. Sometime later I saw him use my moves in "King Creole". He had a problem understanding how to keep time when strumming a guitar and one day I put down my broom and said try it this way. I was amazed when he said he didn't realize you could strum both up and down in the same measure. He would only change direction after each measure.
Only Roy and Scotty were great guitar players and could play professionally. After that exchange he said I was apparently a smart "Kid" and referred to me as such whenever he mentioned me to anyone. Johnny Cash started doing it too. So whenever anyone wanted a coffee and donut run they'd yell out “What's the Kid doing right now” and off I would be sent. Johnny was having a problem with Luther's electric guitar. He couldn’t hold down all the strings with a bar chord mid neck. He asked me to take it to a guitar shop and have it fixed. He gave me five bucks to pay for the work. I waited until he left and then I removed the strings and carefully cleaned and lightly shaved the frets with a fine file I had in my guitar kit. I replaced his strings with a new set of # 9s, lowered and angled the bridge low "E" to high "E" and tuned it at the first fret and harmonically at the twelfth fret. I finished by polishing the whole guitar. When he came back the next day and played the guitar he was ecstatic with it and started bringing other guitars in for me to take to the fictitious guitar shop. Soon many local pickers were dropping off their guitars to be worked on by my phantom repair shop. My overhead was $.49 per set of strings plus my labor. I made $4.51 profit per guitar and found a new source of revenue.
I eventually went to see Alex at Troy's Guitar Shop and offered to bring my customers there to do my work. Many guitars needed special work and I didn't have the tools to fix them. He agreed and I gave him 25% of my profit and worked twelve hours a day Saturday and Sunday on my customer's guitars and the walk in customers. I built up a great reputation in the Memphis Picker's Circle and eventually I pulled down good money by also giving guitar lessons in the evenings at the shop. I was now making $450.00 a month cash, plus Sam’s pay, no taxes. I went to Lansky's where Elvis bought his clothes and purchased a complete outfit in black leather, replete with pointed toe boots and a pair of Black Aviator Style Sun Glasses. Roy Orbison liked my look but more for concealment purposes. The concept of Nate Jaeger and The Rock n’ Roll Express was born that day. Now to find some cool band members who wanted to do music other then "Calling In The Cows" Bluegrass or "Drank Myself Drunk Cause I Lost My girl" Country songs. It felt like it was time after six months here in Hick Town. Sam heard about my guitar work and by now he had heard me play a lot around the studio. He asked me if there was any genre or style I couldn't play and of course the answer was no. When a band was absent a player or somebody just didn't show I would review the lead sheets or the piano guy would play the song for me and I would improvise the rest. Sam would still get the session and I would get paid extra. I, of course, was working up to him recording me with an original Rock n' Roll song.
Sam approached me one afternoon in the first part of June 1955 and asked if I wanted to move up in the company to the position of Tour Manager. It would consist of setting up all equipment, maintaining the instruments, doing the sound check, fueling and maintaining the cars, checking into the Motels and moving baggage etc. In other words “Head Gopher”. I would be his eyes and ears on the tour. Most important I was to report immediately any contact by "The Colonel " with Elvis and report what Johnny was doing with the booze and pills. I told him I had a good business going with the guitar shop, but that I needed his job for room and board. He said he was hiring a black man to do my studio job so that job would be over anyway. I asked him if he could keep me at $450.00 a month and provide me housing when I returned from the Tour? If so I would do it. He said it would be a lot harder work then I imagined and that it was $850.00 a month during the Tour and $450.00 when I returned. I could then start as a session man. I had to pay for my own room and meals out of my salary. I could also continue the guitar repair work when I returned. Then he said the big word. "If all goes well, when your back we'll look at a couple of songs Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup was writing for Elvis. “Elvis feels he's done enough of the high energy stuff“ and isn‘t interested.
Of course the song that started Rock and Roll was his creation and no one ever paid him a dime. I have to introduce him to you as an example of greatness. Born in Forest, Mississippi and living and working throughout the South and Midwest as a migrant worker for a time, he and his family came to Mississippi in 1926. He sang gospel, then began his career as a blues singer around Clarksdale, Mississippi. He visited Chicago as a member of the Harmonizing Four in 1939 and stayed there to work as a solo musician, but barely made a living as a street singer. Record producer Lester Melrose found him while he was living in a packing crate, introduced him to Tampa Red and signed him to a recording contract with RCA Victor's Bluebird label. He toured throughout the country, specifically black establishments in the South, with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James (around 1948). He also recorded under the names Elmer James and Percy Lee Crudup. He was popular in the South with records such as "Mean Old Frisco Blues", "Who's Been Foolin' You" and the now legendary "That's All Right Mama".
Later, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, while he lived in relative poverty as a field laborer, he occasionally sang and supplied moonshine to a number of drinking establishments, including one called the Dew Drop Inn. This was his occupation prior to his death from complications of heart disease and diabetes. On a 1970 trip to the UK he recorded Roebuck Man with local musicians. His last professional engagements were with Bonnie Raitt. It would have been an honor to record one of his songs and the possibility made me accept Sam's proposition.
I was really jazzed about the possibilities of having a hit record of my own and bringing Desirae to Memphis. So I started getting everything ready for the "Tour", and I use the term lightly, since it would probably be like the prior tours I heard about from others. A little music, lots of booze, broads and pills while driving all night from town to town to make the dates. We packed up the cars and piled in on June 14, 1955 and headed for Tupelo, Mississippi. It was a huge crowd of screaming and shrieking females chanting Elvis, Elvis, Elvis. I started to think that maybe I had underestimated this fellow named Elvis. Our next stop was Gobler, Missouri and Elvis's parents wanted to meet us there but " The Colonel " nixed it and I think that was a good idea. After the shows it was a steady stream of women in and out of Elvis's motel room all night long not to mention the other guys. I asked Red West if the guys were being careful and he said "Only Wussys wear crash helmets for nuts driving hot rods". That would come back to haunt Elvis with Lucy DeBarbin, Barbara Jean Lewis, Patricia Ann Parker, Terri Taylor and Barbara Young to name a few that I learned of through the grape vine. Bob Neal and " The Colonel " met us at the Big D Jamboree show at the KRLD Radio Station and I reported everything immediately to Sam. Country singers Martha Carson, Anita Carter and June Carter were also there. Elvis dated Anita for a while until she caught him with two girls at her sister's house "Jay Bird Naked" in June's bed.
They had broken in to eat and sleep. We performed at the Sportatorium in Dallas and then on to Magnolia Gardens in Houston where the boys got into a fight at the motel over another tenant's wife. We then hit Beaumont, Texas then on to Vernon, Texas, Lawton, Oklahoma, Altus and Biloxi, Mississippi. It was in Biloxi that I met Marty Robbins, a real guitar player who could read and write music. We played all day together when he wasn't backing Elvis. We started singing together and he told me if I ever needed a performance partner when I came of age he'd be more then glad to add me to his show. We played the NCO Club at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and the Radio Ranch Club in Mobile, Alabama. Next Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the Hayride Show. We drove back and did a radio show on Keys Radio in Corpus Cristi, Texas and The City Recreational Building in Stepenville, Texas. It was on to Odessa, Texas, The Field Artillery Armory, Tampa, Florida, Orlando, Florida, Jacksonville, the Gater Bowl, Daytona and on to Sheffield, Alabama and finally ending up in Tupelo. We finished at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis. By now I had learned to drive and was able to get a driver’s license back in Memphis. I needed to buy my own car, and then maybe I could drive up to New York and bring Desirae back with me. You could marry at 16 in Memphis. Again I use the term "Tour" lightly. I'm referring to the truck stop appearances being made for $400.00 to $600.00 a show. Bob Neal and “The Colonel " took most of the money as Talent Managers. Sam was paying me and that came from traveling record sale profits of Elvis, Charlie Rich, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis to name a few.
When I talk about record sale profits I am referring to local popularity in the South where the live shows were performed. Radio Stations would, for a little brown envelope with cash, do Sam a favor and promote his artists. An example would be the sale of a new record of about 20,000 units from Memphis to Houston in a thirty day period. They were dropped off at radio stations and record shops all along the route with a return, stamped envelope for payment. That was also part of my job since I seemed to do real good with math as I had for my "Capo" in New York. The pressed records were now small 45 rpm discs that didn't break when you dropped them so the boys and shops couldn't keep a little extra cash by claiming breakage. Cost per disc was about $0.16 X 20,000 or $3200.00 and $.49 a disc retail would be $9800.00 gross. A profit of $6,600.00 gross less Record Shop revenue of $.20 a record. This left the recording company with $2200.00 or so. Warren Smith who was the original designated "ELVIS" persona for Sam sold 65,000 records in a very short time before I arrived with "Rock n' Roll Ruby". That's a big pay day and a real incentive to have the most successful small recording studio in the country handle you. Being right in the center of the musical storm was a real chance for stardom as we can see with Elvis. He would have burned out and gone back to driving an Electrical Truck had it not been for Tom Parker aka “The Colonel “purchasing his contract from Sam for an unsuspecting RCA.
Elvis was the last in a long line of men Sam tried to mold into the "Elvis" image created long before Elvis came along. My count was about eleven. Those who could sing and play guitar but were homely. Those that were handsome but didn't sing well or play well and those like Warren Smith who could do both and were good looking. Warren Smith was the one everyone up North at RCA was interested in around late 1955. For the young people here in 2010 it should be stated that in 1955 there were few personally owned cameras, no video cameras, no computers, no email to send photos, no wide spread Television transmission and no cell phones. You could be a huge star in a geographical location and people wouldn't know what you really looked like unless they saw you in person or in a bad black and white photo in the local paper. Most papers wouldn't even acknowledge a sinful "Rock n' Roll" antisocial and lose their local advertising revenue. Your record radio play sold you and no one could see you on a radio. That's how Elvis got to RCA and why Sam sold him for $35,000 to RCA through “The Colonel “sight unseen. Elvis's "That's Alright Mama", his appearance and his singing and playing skills would never be good enough to draw RCA's direct attention then or now and both of them were right there in Memphis. In the beginning Elvis looked odd, performed oddly and wasn't all that talented, maybe that's why you never hear about his guitar skills or vocal teachers or any reference to his training with the exception of that old and tired story about his mother seeing a $12.00 guitar in a Pawn Shop Window, buying it, and launching his career.
That's really nonsense, believe me, a $12.00 guitar is good for one thing only, a fly swatter. You couldn't keep it in tune between strums and it would be a source of so much frustration that you would quit playing in ten minutes. There goes the Rock n’ Roll career and fast. The major part of my success came from the finest teachers, guitars, violins, and pianos Juilliard had to offer and I spent 8-16 hours a day utilizing that opportunity. Music and the sound I heard on that little radio tied to the window frame in New York was going to be my ticket to having the girl of my dreams and all the beautiful things I was going to buy her. When I looked around me I realized that although Hell's Kitchen presented me with a life of imprisonment, Memphis, with its sense of freedom, still existed in a bubble of Country Twang Music and the new sound was as close as it could get to being aborted. I had to get a score on the board as soon as possible. Although I was young, there had appeared at the time magazines promoting teen heart throbs most of which were young actors and East Coast singers my age. So the age issue was fading except for the ability to perform in bars or a venue that served alcohol. The spots that we played on this last tour were either open air venues or high school auditoriums and the audiences were as young as me. Now was the time to approach Sam about moving up front and performing on his tours. The question would be how would the others feel about more competition and losing another share of the pie. I had to convince Sam and them that I could increase revenue for everyone.
Sam still hadn't found the person he was looking for as his "Total" package. Warren was perfect but he wouldn't take orders from Sam after his big hit and he wanted to go in reverse as far as song selection. Sam needed to promote what is termed today as Rockabilly or as we called it back then Rock n' Roll. The money was in satisfying the teenagers. The Search for "The Elvis" or Warren’s Replacement was Sam’s goal. Warren Smith (the original Elvis personality created by Sam Phillips) February 5, 1956. Phillips, who was hedging his bets over whether rock and roll would maintain its popularity, released that record with a country crooner, aptly named "I'd Rather Be Safe Than Sorry", on the flip side. By May 26, "Rock & Roll Ruby" had hit No. 1 on the local pop charts. Smith's first record for Sun went on to outsell the first Sun releases by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Carl Mann was raised in rural Tennessee; his parents owned a lumber business. He sang in church and did country songs for local talent shows, playing guitar and piano. In 1955, he released his first single on Jaxon Records, "Gonna Rock and Roll Tonight" b/w "Rockin' Love." Several further singles on Jaxon followed, after which Carl Perkins' drummer, W.S. Holland, became Mann's manager, signing him to Sun Records. Sun owner Sam Phillips signed Mann to a three-year contract, and soon after Sun released Mann's rockabilly version of Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa." Mann and Conway Twitty both released single versions of the tune at the same time, and both charted; it was sixteen-year-old Mann's first hit. Johnny Burgess (born Albert Austin) on May 28, 1931, on a farm near Newport, Arkansas to Albert and Esta Burgess) is an American rockabilly guitarist and singer. In the early 1950s, Burgess played boogie woogie music in dance halls and bars around Newport. Burgess, Kern Kennedy, Johnny Ray Hubbard, and Gerald Jackson formed a boogie-woogie band they called the Rocky Road Ramblers. In 1954, following a stint in the US Army (1951–53), Burgess re-formed the band, calling them the Moonlighters after the Silver Moon Club in Newport, where they performed regularly. After advice from record producer Sam Phillips, the group expanded to form the Pacers. The band's first record was "We Wanna Boogie" in 1956 for Sun Records, in Memphis, about 80 miles southeast of his birthplace. The flip side was "Red Headed Woman." Both were written by Burgess. The songs have been described as "among the most raucous, energy-filled recordings released during the first flowering of rock and roll."
Sam recorded just about every black or white artist he could find. It was like he was on a mission to document all the original music ever played or sung in the south. He was always looking for a handsome white boy who played guitar and was uninhibited enough to withstand the cat calls he would receive if he sang and moved with the raucous black music (Race Music). The term itself, Rock n' Roll, was a black term used to describe the sex act between a man and a woman, pure and simple. Everyone knew it and that made the music described by that term a "filthy sound" produced by black artists only. Sam knew that white kids loved the back beat and it gave them music of their own and they didn't, for the most part, have the same ingrained racial attitude that their parents had learned from their parents. Sam had a vision and he auditioned a lot of local white boys and asked all the booking agents to send any talented prospects to see him with a promise of a free recording session. Most of the searching had been done by the time I got to Memphis and Sam was about to give up since he now had a pretty good stable of revenue producing acts. Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich and others. Elvis made Sam good money but you never knew how he would be received from one show to another.
At many of the shows I watched, Elvis was received poorly after Roy Orbison or Jerry Lee Lewis played. I remember at one show after his first song the crowd just stood there staring at him until one teenage boy yelled out "What the Fuck was that". Elvis came to the edge of the stage in his purple coat, green shirt, yellow pants, white bucks and western tie and yelled out "I'm singing Rock n' Roll boy, have you heard of it?" and the guy yelled back "I heard you and it sounds like shit to me". Elvis took his guitar and strap off of his shoulders and beckoned to Scotty to take it from him. Johnny Cash ran up and started getting between Elvis and the kid as the other guys in the audience yelled things like "The Sissy’s going to fist city" and the girls started pulling back on their boyfriend’s arms. Johnny took Elvis off stage as the band started playing again and things got back to normal. That happened because, I believe, Elvis was insecure and couldn't turn it around by changing up his performance with, say, a great guitar solo or something extraordinary like a Roy Orbison vocal.
Anyway Sam had overhead and he needed an infusion of cash to help him produce and promote the proven talented people at the studio. He continued to see new talent and would send them out to view the successful entertainers. These were the ones that were close to what he was looking for, but most returned and simply imitated Warren or the others. Lots of guys came in with the "Tony Curtis" pompadour that originated from the movie "Seven Bridges to Cross" with George Nader, introducing Tony Curtis. It became the Rock n' Roll hairdo in1951 and absolutely every Rock n' Roll hopeful started off with the hair. Then the Short Jacket ( James Dean), then the White T-Shirt (Marlon Brando), then the Pegged pants (Jackie Wilson) and finishing with White Buck shoes (which came from Pat Boone in 1955) or Blue Suede shoes which came from Carl Perkins. Perkins was another great singer and picker from Sun Records who was there from the start. He was like Chuck Berry, just too old to be really cool. So just imagine sitting in the reception area of Sun Records day after day and having all these young guys showing up looking like clones with Southern drawls and guitars slung over their shoulders announcing " I think I'm the guy Sam's looking for".
Well when Marion wasn't there guess who had to audition them before Sam would see them? Most had the look and it was perfect, but when they started to sing or play or both, you, after a while, would need a stiff drink. Even Elvis was basically better than the ones I saw and I had no intention of letting them through and getting my ass chewed and Sam could deliver a sound ass chewing. While doing my job I had to contend with "The Colonel” sniffing around to see if Sam had made any inroads into discovering the next Eddie Arnold, Hank Williams or Warren Smith. I kind of got the feeling something would be happening soon with “The Colonel” and Elvis. On August 15, 1955 Elvis signed a contract with "The Colonel" giving him the right to manage his career. Sam didn't care since he didn't see Elvis as the answer to his money woes unless he could get a few bucks from a sale of Elvis's popular recordings or some tour money from the Colonel. Bob Neal still had a piece of Elvis for one more year and got the lion‘s share. Elvis had little value. No one including disc jockey Bill Randle, who had replaced Alan Freed in Cleveland, would play Elvis's music North of the Mason Dixon Line.
In order to get any interest from the major labels you had to get play time, and plenty of it outside of the South. Northern disc jockeys required a much fatter brown envelope with cash to play unknowns in the record market up North. The only one to make it out of the box from the South was also managed by the Colonel. Tommy Sands, he was a Northerner and he looked like the rest of us and had a great voice. “The Colonel “got him a singing contract with RCA when he was fifteen years old. So it could be done." The Colonel " knew Elvis, above all else, wanted to be a Great and admired actor like Rudolph Valentino and Marlon Brando. So he promised him that he would make that dream come true if Elvis signed with him and cut Sam and Bob Neal out. Elvis was never very loyal as was demonstrated with his unfair conduct in paying Scotty, Bill and D.J. for their tremendous musical support they gave him. That included all the practice work they did outside the studio just to help Elvis pass his audition with Sam in the beginning. Elvis traveled north to demonstrate his talent to Cleveland's Bill Randle at the Circle Theater and Bill coined the term "The Hillbilly Cat" which infuriated Elvis. The truth was Bill hit it right on the head. I noticed that Elvis was starting to lose his stage fright and seemed to be calmer, more humorous and confident. He needed to learn how to take criticism and it was hard because his abilities were limited at that time and he was doing the best he could, and he knew it. What goes around comes around and “The Colonel " was just as back handed.” The Colonel “was asked to produce Elvis in New York for the lead role in Kraft Television Theater's production of a show called "Sing, Boy Sing" loosely based on Al Jolson's 1930's film. I remember “The Colonel “in the office one day discussing it with Sam using reverse psychology and trying to work out a cut of Sam's side of the deal. He told Sam that Elvis was too much of an "Okie” to play the role of a Jewish Boy successfully. Sam didn't take the bait and wouldn't release Elvis so Tommy got the role and “The Colonel " already owned him.” The Colonel “never told Elvis how he cut him out of his first "Movie Star Role" but instead sent Tommy Sands up North to take the part. Joe Allison wrote the show's composition called "Teenage Crush" and it went over big with the young audiences. It was released as a 45 rpm single by Capitol Records, it sold millions in days.
Shortly after, Elvis and "The Blue Moon Boys" tried out for Arthur Geoffrey's "Talent Scout" show just to show everybody he was better. The producers showed him the back door. Elvis came back to find his parents had been served an eviction notice and he just gave up. Nobody had sympathy for him. I felt sorry for him because I had always told him that you have to be good to people on your way up, because you never know who you'll need help from on the way down. He always laughed and said "I'm never gonna come down". Well “The Colonel” got an offer for the contract of the singer of the song “Rock n' Roll Ruby", sight unseen, simply by saying he was handsome and a talented performer. Decca Records offered $25,000.00 and RCA $45,000.00. “The Colonel " had two problems. Sam had no control over Warren Smith, who performed the song, which " The Colonel " didn't know and Sam still had a piece of Elvis and the right to everything he had recorded. Sadly Sam could have gotten more money for Elvis but he had reused the master tapes that contained many songs that were never recovered before he reused the tapes. That’s how much faith Sam had in Elvis’s future. Again Sam's credit had run out with the record pressing plant and he needed cash to pay for the records for the growing sales of his other artists. Finally “The Colonel " got his way and gave Sam $35,000 via RCA for Elvis's contract and all the existing Masters. He didn't tell Sam he kept the other $10,000 for himself which was a whopping 25% for nothing.
It was rumored that Elvis got $5000.00. Elvis got nothing for the deal except a promise from “The Colonel " of a film career and the privilege of giving the RCA executives virtual heart attacks. I assume that Elvis walked through the doors in New York wearing his traditional wild rainbow colored clothing, greasy hair, acne, chipped tooth and crooked nose. I have to say that I wish I had been there that day to see the RCA people at that moment. RCA never did business with “The Colonel” on any other discovery of “The Colonel’s “again, but as it turned out it wasn't necessary. At last Elvis had unlimited resources to invent an image palatable to the more traditional American audience. Sam’s original idea would be born at RCA. Now if I played it right someone would have to replace him on the upcoming tours and I was going to beg Sam for a chance. I was soon to be 16 and was now six feet tall and had gained some flattering weight. After all I had been collecting Lansky performance costumes for two months. Sam came in that Saturday with a smile on his face and said he was on a roll. Everyone has been led to believe that Sam, later on in life, regretted that he sold Elvis. The truth was Sam didn't see any chance of Elvis taking music serious for its own sake. Instead Elvis would just continue to jump around pretending to play guitar and yelling off key to get the attention of young girls. Once he achieved that he was basically useless. Sam was going to let him go as soon as his songs stopped selling. No one seems to realize that Elvis did not write songs that had a distinctive and unique sound as did Roy Orbison or Jerry Lee Lewis. He sang remakes, covers, Old Country and Blue Grass songs. The sales would dissipate quickly soon after his appearances. It wouldn't be until twenty years later that we would all make a fortune doing covers.
So Sam never regretted his decision and he later made several million off the other performers. He actually was happy that he didn't have to break Elvis's mother's heart by releasing him. He didn’t know that the worry over Elvis's life style would drive her into the grave early anyway. I asked Sam if I could audition and he said yes. We made an appointment for Sunday. I got decked out in my leathers and the boys came in to set up. I had given them the arrangements earlier in the week. There were two guitarists plus me, and my 1952 Telecaster (Broadcaster) by Fender. There were drums and piano with a stand up base. Sam said he was short on tape but would record us and we would get a couple of takes of each song. Earlier that week two song writers, Lincoln Wayne "Chips" Moman and David S. Gillam had dropped off a couple of new songs for Elvis called "A Teenager's Romance" and "This Time". They said they were a little more middle of the road then Elvis’s Rockabilly work. They obviously didn't know Elvis was gone and history. Phil Medley dropped off “A Million To One” and another famous writer Hal David dropped off “My Heart Is An Open Book”. Everyone wanted a piece of the new teen music. The news hadn't hit the street yet and RCA wasn't saying a word, because they were just licking their wounds and fearing pink slips.
We had worked on the arrangements all week and rehearsed for hours. I was ready and knocked them both out in two takes. Sam said they were so good he was going mix and master them that afternoon. I didn't ask him if it was going to be alright with the writers, since they were expecting Elvis to record the songs and make them wealthy. I also didn't ask him if he was going to "Press them" either. I just listened to them, packed up my gear, thanked him and left. I did notice that he was playing them over and over looking for "Clunkers" and I knew there were none. I told the guys that if anything happened with our work, I would give them 50% of my royalties. It wasn't a matter of me being a bleeding heart nice guy; it was just good sense to keep the guys who helped create my sound around in case I needed to repeat the performance in front of a live audience if ever there was one. The first lesson I learned from “The Colonel ", Bob Neal and Sam was that the "Music Business" was just that, a business and all that counted was "Cash In Hand" period.
I had no interest in groupies, chasing skirts, smoking dope or fast cars. Just the cash and the next pay day. I knew Sam was amazed with me and was thinking pay day too. We had a major meeting and Elvis’s boys decided that they would move North with Elvis and back him on his media events. That meant it would prevent them from backing up a new Tour after the first of the year of 1956. They didn’t know it but Elvis and “The Colonel “intended to pay them $200.00 per appearance with Elvis and that included the major television shows for two years. It was rumored that Elvis had a written agreement on a Taylor’s Restaurant napkin that called for "The Colonel” to get 51% of all profits before taxes and Elvis would get 49% of all profits after costs and taxes. If true, that was a slick deal for "The Colonel". Elvis never asked "The Colonel" how much money was made on appearances Elvis made from 1956 through 1958 when he went into the Army. Elvis needed "The Colonel" and never questioned him on anything, even when he made Elvis break up with Dixie Locke. I personally was glad to see all of them gone and it made room for others and their careers. To me it was phony. There is always Professional Jealousy and I was not above it then. Sam wanted to start up a new tour but he was four musicians short and no front man that could draw the crowds, especially the girls. I stepped up and volunteered saying that Elvis sang nothing but popular Country songs and it was just a matter of going out and doing the same show he did. Elvis will be tied up for a long time with RCA, getting plastic surgery and recording non country songs. Boy was I wrong. Now’s a chance for us to build a new following from the same people, especially the girls.
We can hit all the same spots along the Southern Belt from Nashville to Texas. Sam wasn’t sure, so he went home to think about it. He asked me to take four new Sun records over to George Klein. I had to make this happen so I printed my two songs off on a reel to reel tape and took them over to George Kline along with Sam’s records. I told him my tape recording was Sam’s new front man. George took the bait and promised to play them when he could fit them into the show’s format. I told him Sam was out of town so he wouldn’t be able to report back on the listener response but that I would be at the studio and he could call me. I took off and got myself set up to answer the phone during the evening show. Sam guarded his reputation and if the songs flopped and George chided him he would quickly figure out what I did. If they had a good response he would still kick my ass. Anyway I called Desirae and told her and she was angry with me for taking the risk. So we waited out the night, with me calling her intermittently to let her hear the audience calls in response to George’s show playing my songs. Well it was astounding, girls wanted to know if it was Elvis and when George said no, they demanded to know who it was and George really didn’t know. At about midnight the station was playing both songs in succession over and over again. Finally George couldn’t take the harassment and without me knowing, called Sam at home and put him on the air. Sam was very shrewd, remained calm and asked to hear them several times, great ploy, then he quietly stated that I was not Elvis but instead his new musical secret weapon for the 1956 Tour. He told the fans that the new artist would give a free concert at the Fairgrounds Saturday night and that the record would be on sale on site. Then he said he would certainly talk to the artist about it tonight.
Desirae and I both said ooh, ooh. I hung up and waited for Sam. He called and simply said to enjoy every breath I took tonight. I broke out my pint of Southern Comfort and waited for the morning. Surprisingly when he came in he wasn’t mad at all and got busy writing up an agreement between the two of us. He knew I was sixteen but said it would be a gentlemen’s agreement. I didn’t care because my shot had come just one year after I got here. I told him I had a band picked out and that they were as good as me. He said we would split 50/50 and he would pay the costs up front from his share. The record shops in town were already calling for product and the following day every radio station that had played Elvis, willingly, were now playing “A Teenagers Romance” and “This Time” nonstop. It appeared that we would start the tour with several hits to sell. Sam immediately handed me a stack of songs, some new and some old covers and I picked out Fats Dominoes “I Hear You Knocking” and one of mine “Boogie Girl”. The next day we recorded. I still ended up packing the cars and was still in charge of the instruments and all of the logistics. I was doing double duty. Lansky’s gave me a charge account and that made it possible for all of us to be decked out to the nines for the whole tour.
We rehearsed up until late Friday night. We had 500 45 rpm records to sell at the fairgrounds and we were scared to death that we would let Sam down, not that we wouldn’t perform well, only that we might not be accepted absent Elvis. We formed a circle and said a prayer, as country boys do, from time to time before you go on stage. Nonsense! Tommy the bassist looked out and said there were girls as far as you could see and that they were listening to us on George’s Radio Station. That was a nice touch that Sam arranged. The guys went out and got situated, tested their instruments and started right in with a high energy version of “That’s Alright Mama” and I came out in my Pompadour Hairdo, black leather jacket, black t-shirt, black leather pants, black Telecaster (Broadcaster) and of course my traditional black sunglasses. The girls roared in approval, in that we paid a tribute to Elvis. We followed up with another high energy song “Just Because”. I am so glad that Sam set up his new Wollensach miniature reel to reel tape recorder and ran the mini mike and cord up the microphone stand because I still have a fabulous copy of that show. Once we had them warmed up I let loose with “I Hear Ya Knocking” but not Fats Dominoes’ version. I had taken the song and straightened out the melody line and fired it off in a style that would someday be called Blues Rock. I used a real bluesy slide guitar sound and did a long solo. I made it a very angry song. I then went into “Boogie Girl”. When I finished the girls had stopped screaming and just stood there looking at me so I went right into the opening notes for “This Time”. When I finished and started “Teenager’s Romance” I had them eating out of my hand again.
In a live performance things can go South quick. We had one hundred records left at the end of the show and the parents loved my ballads. I had redeemed myself. Sam told me I couldn’t sing those middle two songs again because they were too much like Chicago Urban Blues and people down here aren’t sophisticated enough to understand them. I agreed and stayed with the Rockabilly and Love ballads. Based on the popularity of Elvis with the Radio Stations in the South we had no problem getting air time before we arrived. Some even billed me as “Elvis’s Little Brother” which didn’t thrill me, but my 50% was up to $800.00 dollars now and we hadn’t yet begun. I started covering “Johnny B. Goode” which Chuck Berry was doing everywhere but he hadn’t recorded it yet. He had submitted it to Sam as a song writer. It was very popular and I turned it into a double solo guitar performance. I was able to record the next show with Sam’s recorder. Sam wanted to have the Radio Stations play our live performances on the air to get people interested in coming to see us for an exciting musical outing. Television Stations did not have portable cameras or use broadcasting capabilities for “Nobodies” in those days and the TV stations wouldn’t waste 16 mm film on unknowns. So audio was all you could get but it worked well. You just had to keep them screaming and you had to stay close to the microphone.
I think Sam invented the Live Concert Broadcast first. Well every town down the line would call ahead to book us and we just traveled in a straight line to Texas. Every morning I would wake up and have no idea what town we were in that day. I stopped saying “Hello Such and Such Town” at the shows. Sam actually hired an eighteen year old kid with an old crop duster to fly our 45 records out to wherever we were performing and we would go to this farm or the other to meet him and pick them up. We started in Nashville and then ( not in order) New Orleans, Municipal Auditorium in Texarkana, Ark., The Sportatorium in Dallas, Tex., Bono, Ark., Siketon, Missouri, Clarksdale, Mississippi, City Auditorium in Norfolk, Virginia, Ashville, North Carolina, Wilson, North Carolina, Richman, Virginia, Kingsport, Tennessee, Wichita, Kansas, Conroe, Texas, Austin, Texas, Abilene, Midland, Amarillo and Odessa. We finished up at the Cotton Club in Lubbock, Texas where I met Buddy Holly and The Three Tunes and his friend Mac Davis. Now Mac Davis was fourteen and a junior at Lubbock High School and during vacation time had followed Buddy Holly around town helping to set up his local performances. He was always dragging around his Song Notebook and guitar. Elvis was performing there and in Houston for RCA and then would return to Memphis to record “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” for RCA. Elvis had a hotel room in the next complex. He had a pink and white Cadillac parked out front. One night we were all in Elvis’s Motel room singing and playing when Mac said he had some great songs for Elvis. Everybody laughed and said “How good can a fourteen year old write with no life experience? Anyway he played and sang his songs after which everybody, but me, said they were lame and not Rock n’ Roll or Country. Again, a lot of talent got overlooked and lost that night. Some of the songs Elvis turned down were "In the Ghetto”, "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me", "One Hell of a Woman", "Stop and Smell the Roses", "A Little Less Conversation", "Don't Cry Daddy", "I Believe In Music" , "It's Hard To Be Humble" ,"Let's Keep It That Way" , "Texas In My Rear View Mirror", ” Memories”, "Hooked on Music" and "I Never Made Love (Till I Made Love With You)". You get the picture!
There was a guy hanging around that was still upset that Elvis wouldn’t sign a contract with him and he pursued us for the three days we were there. Buddy Holly was essentially a Country singer and he had no idea of how to produce a Rock n’ Roll tune. While in Lubbock, Eddie Crandell also chased us around and I recommended that he sign Buddy. He did and I heard later that Buddy recorded some Rock n’ Roll, but it was so disastrous that Decca Records never released the recordings. We were still there when Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Floyd Cramer and Web Pierce came on the bill with us and it was an unbelievable show. I couldn’t record it because I was out of tape. Web told me my success would be short lived because RCA was about to release some new Elvis work and “I think he’ll put us all out of business” I called Elvis (48-4921) at his rented house on Getwell Street in Memphis and his mother answered and confirmed that some big things were in the works including a spot on the Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan Shows and that Elvis was given a new Johnny Ray song to sing. Johnny had rejected it. I didn’t know what that meant yet but it was unsettling.
So back to work playing the shows and hitting the Radio Stations and Record Shops. Sam got us another 500 45 rpm’s just before we appeared at the Saddle Club in Bryan, Texas. It was there that I met Cy Cooper. He said he loved “Boogie Girl” and “I Hear Ya Knocking” and if I ever got “Unhappy” doing Rockabilly and came to Los Angeles, he was sure he could promote me and my style of music as well as place me in the studios as a studio guitarist. He thought that the “Rockabilly Sound” was about to get replaced with Rock n’ Roll, a “Northern White Teenager” genre. In his mind, nothing stayed static in the music business for long and Elvis had Rockabilly music all tied up with RCA. I kept his card. I had learned long ago to keep my eye on the ball. It was a good feeling to get back to Memphis and record some new music. Sam had found new talent and for a week or so I played backup for Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. Eddie Cochran had gone out on his own and Hank Cochran started a serious career in song writing. They had toured as the Cochran Brothers but were not related. Eddie was very talented but only stood about 5’7” with Blonde Hair and looked like a cross between Elvis and Alan Ladd. He wrote his own songs and the genre was strictly Rockabilly. The rest of his performances were old country and covers of recent successful songs on the top 100 list. He had a great sense of physical rhythm and a splendid personality for an eighteen year old. He was the absolute professional when it came to preparation for recording. He had a very natural sex appeal without pretense.
Gene Vincent on the other hand had a beautiful recording voice but no stage presence and he was always scared to death to perform publicly. He had a lead/rhythm guitarist and a base player who where the epitome of professionalism on stage. His big hits were “Summertime Blues”, “Sitting In The Balcony” and “Twenty Flight Rock”. The lead/rhythm player was, in my opinion, the Jerry Lee Lewis of Guitar. He was a good old boy who would knock them dead with his lead work. Gene had a bad leg from a motorcycle accident he had on leave in Japan while serving in Korea. He was so nervous that he would constantly stare at the ceiling during live performances and spread his legs out to accommodate his hidden disability. Every once in a while I would see him wearing a steel leg brace. His biggest hit was “Be Bop A Lula”, a song he wrote on the train to the West Coast in 55’ for the Capitol Records Band Contest. His song “Woman Love” was on the flip side when we recorded it. That song got him tried “in absence” in West Virginia for obscenity because he slurred the words “Hugging and a loving“ to “Hucking and a lovin” Six months in jail and a $10,000 dollar fine. On tour, when he was asleep in the back seat I would yell” Wow! Look at that sign, “Welcome to West Virginia”. He would wake up screaming “Stop! Stop! Stop“! “Don’t cross the state line or I’ll go to jail“. When we traveled around California in 58’ to do The Town Hall Shows in Compton, I could still pull the same prank. Eddie Cochran and I were going to form a band after he came back from England on a tour with Gene. I turned down an offer to go along as a rhythm/lead guitarist in 1960 because of my marginal success at the time and I was attempting to get a big hit. On the way to Heathrow Airport their cab went off the road, flipped over, and Eddie was thrown from the cab and was killed instantly. Gene was injured and returned home. He told me that he had urged the driver to speed up so they wouldn’t miss their plane at Heathrow Airport. I could have been in that cab. He spent the rest of his life on pain pills and booze.
In 1971 I was a Pall Bearer at Gene’s funeral. Anyway, we were all good friends. Gene was about five years older than me and Eddie about two years older. It was like having two big brothers watching out for you all the time. We were doing a somewhat more modern music which corresponded to Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” and Buddy Holly’s massive hit “That’ll Be the Day”. The Sound of “Rockabilly” was fading away. Sam asked me to do some country covers for the local country radio stations and I complied. Money was money and country was big so I did “What’s He Doing in My World” and “Make the World Go Away” along with “Am I Losing You” and “He’ll Have To Go”. Surprisingly they started getting good play and sales started to branch out across the Bible Belt. We decided to put out an album with the lead song being “Teenager’s Romance”. I had purchased a 1947 Indian (side shift) motorcycle to get around so we took a picture of me on the bike for the album jacket and inserted an old picture of Desirae and I kissing in the upper right hand corner. The album started selling in large numbers and I was getting more attention with the album then I had gotten doing singles. I was also getting offers to do studio work for other country artists. My personal wealth had grown to about $15,000 so it was approaching the time to go and get Desirae. It was now late January 1956 and rumors were flying around town that RCA was boasting in Billboard that Elvis’s records were selling at a rate of $75,000 a day with releases of singles at 50,000 unit’s a day and his first album at eight thousand a day. It looked like our last hope was fading away with his success. Up until this time we all were doing the same music and we all pretty much looked alike. Tall, dark and handsome with pompadour hairdos, a guitar and brooding eyes. The only thing stopping Elvis was that most of America couldn’t see him yet and he was still building his career one live appearance at a time which might take too long and he could eventually fade out just like Rockabilly music. Did Mrs. Presley know what she was talking about and was the end for us as near as she indicated to me?
I encouraged all the offers I would get to do studio playing and local shows. I would perform Blues, Country, Rockabilly, Rock n’ Roll and Pop music anywhere we could book ourselves as Nate Jaeger and The Rock n’ Roll Express, or Country Express or Blues Express or any kind of Express. Elvis made an appearance on Television called “Stage Show” and sang Shake, Rattle and Roll” as “Flip, Flop and Fly” which few people saw and those that did were shocked as this was not their kind of music. The host Milton Berle publicly complained about having to pay $1200.00 for the appearance. Did I still have chance? We released an album “First Kiss” and it skyrocketed in sales and I thought this was it. Then came the “Cover” boys and the big record companies. Well I got pretty wealthy just before they re-recorded the hits on the album and released their own singles. A very bloody business. When I heard that my hopes were dashed and I started looking for more middle of the road music to avoid the same mistake. Elvis was flown back from Houston abruptly by Steve Sholes to RCA’s Memphis recording studio to try to fix the mistake. The song Johnny Ray turned down “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” was put into full production and we were invited by Red West to come over to the studio and give Elvis moral support as the “Stage Show” fiasco had really knocked him down. They recorded it over and over and over all day and all night. Finally Elvis walked out and
went back to his tour in Houston. Sholes was furious because in those days you were working with “Two Recording Tracks” One track was for all the music and musicians and one track was for the vocalist. The musicians would be mike’d up and their sounds separated by various volumes and placement in the baffled sound room. They would play over and over until a perfect rhythm track was achieved. Then the vocalist would sing and sing and sing until he gave a near perfect performance. The more perfect the performance the less Reverb and Sound Effects had to be used in the final product. You could always tell a good performance from a poor one (including me) by whether you can hear the singer clearly or just hear a mottled miss mash of sound. If you don’t understand the lyrics then the artist has missed the mark.
Steve Sholes refused to give up and he personally took all the recorded takes and used a razor blade to cut and tape together the good parts from all of the recordings. He added in reverb to cover the cuts and Elvis’s first “Middle of the Road” recording was in the can. Sholes had the song released prematurely and it went through the roof all over the country. The song had been written for Johnny Ray’s staccato singing style which was the result of Johnny being totally deaf from a young age. His style was that of a deaf person trying to pronounce distinctly via sound vibration in his jaw. Knowing he was deaf you could tell why he sang so differently but his style caught on. He was the bridge between Big Band and Rock n’ Roll”. Suddenly, the announcement came that the song was so big that Steve Allen bid to get Elvis on his Saturday night Variety Show. Steve Allen was the most watched television show in America with millions of middle class viewers. This song would be heard and Elvis would be seen by literally every record buying person in America. It would be the equivalent of a personal appearance at every venue in America at one time and in one place. The song would be a dramatic Love Song performed by a now handsome Elvis. RCA had capped his teeth, shaved his facial skin, grafted skin from his butt onto his acne scars, straightened his nose, degreased his hair and dressed him conservatively in Rock n’ Roll sports coats, pants and shoes. He was now very handsome. This might be devastating for the rest of us. If our looks, music and style were to be accepted by America in the persona of one performer, Elvis Presley, then the brass ring would be had and the merry go round would stop for everyone.
Overnight, instead of being individual rockers with our own large followings we would be considered “Clones”, “Look a Likes” and “Impersonators” of the one and only “King of Rock n’ Roll”. Virtual “Wantabes”. It wasn’t much consolation to know that people, in general, still couldn’t pronounce his name. I started recording anything, song wise, that “couldn’t run away from me” as did everyone else before the Tsunami hit the music business. We started another tour, same places, same towns, same radio stations and record shops. We hawked our 45 rpm’s at every whistle stop. We all felt like the future Indiana Jones running in front of a speeding boulder. My album started to get good play in the South and it was a nice feeling as you drove through towns and heard yourself on the radio being referred to as the “Coolest Hep Cat”, “The Swinging Dream Boy” etc., but what counted was the cash and nothing else. When I got back to Memphis, Sam was waiting for me in his office. He handed me a check because he said “It was way too much money to be carrying around in cash”. He told me there would be another check that size when he came back from Clarksdale “Talent Hunting” the following week. I asked him how I would cash it and he said I could go over to the bank and he would co-sign on a savings account for me. I was looking at a check for $12,500.00, more money than I ever expected and I knew it was accurate to the dime because Sam was dead honest in all of his dealings. He asked me what I was going to do with the money and I said I was buying a car today! Then I went to the bank, opened the account and took out $500.00 dollars. Down to the Stassen Rooms Apartment where I rented a furnished flat with a bathroom, tub, cook top oven, ice box and a view of the street on the third floor.
Off I went to the hardware store where I bought an electric floor heater. Next stop was the used car lot near the studio where I purchased a near new 1950 Chevrolet Bellaire two door hardtop and transported the floor heater back to the apartment. I was ready to go to New York and wisk Desirae away. In the meantime, Elvis had purchased a beautiful ranch style home outside Memphis for his parents on Audubon Way and after close of escrow asked if all the guys would help him move in on a Saturday. We all pitched in and Red brought a ton of beer and supplies for the barbecue in the back yard. Fans started to show up on the driveway and Elvis would periodically go out and sign autographs and hand out records. Red told us about all the medical work RCA had paid for on Elvis and we acknowledged that he looked great, dressed well and smelled fresh. When Elvis came out back to get his super deluxe cheeseburger, Red asked him if he had an urge to sit in a chair on his face rather than his butt and we all laughed at the reference to the skin grafts. Sonny West said that with the new “Capps” on his front teeth he could give Bugs Bunny a run for his money. Elvis laughed and said “Joke all you want, but I’ve got more money than God”. That was the real measurement that counted to me. He was almost there and ready to grab the brass ring.
On July 1, 1956 Sam called the studio and said his car had broken down outside Clarksdale and he wanted me to pick him up. He said to bring a chain so we could pull his car back. When I got back to the studio there was a guy waiting there to see Sam and I recognized him as the standup bass player who we met with Mac Davis in Lubbock, Texas on the first tour. He was about nineteen years old and asked if Sam was in need of musicians. I wanted some company on my drive south, about an hour and a half, so I said if he came along he could ask Sam himself. We found Sam alongside the road about forty-five minutes into our trip South near a phone booth and towed him to a gas station where they fixed his ignition coil, and off he took. Sam liked the guy with me and hired him. It began to rain real heavy and so I started driving back real slow because the driver side window wiper broke and I couldn’t see very well. A few minutes into the trip we saw an old Train Car Dinner on the road so we decided to get something to eat. When we got inside we found that a cute waitress was standing on a stool trying to tune in the 12’’ black and White TV hanging down from the ceiling behind the counter. She was really upset and kept saying “Elbis Presty” was going to be on the Steve Allen Show tonight and I corrected her by saying several times “It’s Elvis Presley”. She kept mispronouncing his name and justified it “because the important thing” she said “was that he was the handsomest most wonderful singer in the world and I have all of his records“. She haphazardly took our order and just after the show started she laid our plates down and just stood dumb founded in front of the TV as Steve Allen announced Elvis Presley. He came out in a Tuxedo with his guitar, mascara and eye shadow darkened eyelids, perfect pompadour hairdo, standing up in all of his regalia posed to go into his new hit record “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” and “Hound Dog”. We asked the waitress for our plates of food and she turned around and said “Shush Up”.
So there I sat hungry and watching as my career ended. When Elvis finished I could hear the world proclaim him king. It was the greatest performance of the 20th Century and everyone who counted in the world, saw it and fell in love with him. I turned to my travel partner and said “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name” and he answered “Waylon, Waylon Jennings”. Then he said “Ya Know What”. I said “Yea”, and we both said in unison “It’s all over for us tonight”. We drove back to Memphis in dead silence. Waylon went on to be a local Disk Jockey in Arizona and then out of nowhere many years later a top Country singer. I met him again in Valencia, California when I worked on a movie for TV that he was appearing in around 1981. It was with Susan Blakley in “Oklahoma City Dolls“. He was married to Mirriam Eddy formerly the wife of my friend Duane Eddy, the guitarist. Duane and I met in New York as kids before he moved away in 1951. She had changed her name to Jessi Colter and had become a big Country Star herself. On the film set we talked about the Sun years. He confided that he was with Buddy Holly the night he died. I told him I had heard he gave his plane seat up to “The Big Bopper” because Richardson had indigestion and wanted to get to a doctor in the next town. Waylon said that it wasn’t his near brush with death that bothered him so much as it was his response to Buddy Holly after Buddy said “I hope the Tour Bus freezes up”. Waylon said jokingly “I hope your plane crashes” and of course it did killing everyone on board.
Shortly after Elvis’s big night it was difficult to stir up a large tour because everyone was waiting to see if Elvis was going to ride down from the North on a white stallion, with golden microphone in hand, and perform for his loving Southern fans. We were all somewhat jealous because we knew that our musical period in history would soon move into obscurity. RCA was pumping out Elvis records and “The Colonel " was marketing Elvis’s likeness and name on everything from Phonograph Players to Lunch Boxes to Ball Point Pens. Elvis started work on “Love Me Tender” and “The Colonel " made good on his word to make Elvis a movie Star. Everything was Elvis and stayed that way until he went into the army in 1958.
The music and the look changed which left very little live performance opportunities for us. Everyone struggled to make a living and by now many entertainers were heavy into Rock n’ Roll. The music was modernizing and more and more guys my age were jumping into the business from every corner of the country. The music was also causing a ground swell in England which in a short time would kick the other leg out from under all of us. The British were disciplined and their Rock n’ Roll groups were excellent, educated musicians. That would later come to haunt all of us trying to change gears and become studio musicians. As I look back now I don’t think it would have made a difference whether I was my age or five years older since the first guy to cross the finish line would get not just his share of the Rock n’ Roll pie, but the entire pie , all the plates and all the forks.
I called Desirae over and over again after she stopped writing me. Every day for a week in December 1956, I called, but her mother said she was either out or at school. Finally I said if she didn’t call me back I would come back up to New York. Her mother said the Juvenile Authorities stopped by once a week looking for me so that my coming home was a bad idea. Finally Desirae called me and told me that a boy from Juilliard, whom she had met when I took her to the school functions, was seeing her. He was rich and that it was a romantic situation. I asked her how long she had felt that way and she said since shortly after I had left New York. All I could think of was the excitement I thought we were enjoying together. I was working my way up for both of us and apparently she was just New Yorking me all along. However, that’s why I loved her so; she was smart, took no chances, bullshited everyone and played the percentages. She said he was at the door and wished me the best of luck in the future. I hung up and went back to my apartment pretty down hearted but not lonely. I came into the world alone so I was used to it and besides it was a case of out of sight out of mind. The next day I called Cy Cooper and asked what was happening on the West Coast. he said there were plenty of record companies ready to sign me based on my record sales and plenty of song writers pitching great new Rock n’ Roll songs, not Rockabilly, in Los Angeles. Chances for film work in Rock n’ Roll oriented movies and plenty of large local venues like Town Hall. The end of the month came and I told Sam I was heading to California, but I would fly back if he had anything substantial for me in the future. He gave me my Master Tapes; I canceled my apartment rental, packed my car, gassed up and headed for California on January 2, 1957, my seventeenth birthday. When I crossed the Tennessee State border I knew a period in my life had ended and going back to New York was out of the question. Sam said he would continue to sell my records and put the money in my bank account and he did. “First Kiss” and “Last Kiss” packed my Savings Account. What next?
Welcome to Hollyweird
“Well I just got into town about an hour ago, I took a look around to see which way the wind blows” Hollywood was amazing with all of the Movie Studios, Disneyland, and the Clubs on Sunset Strip. All during the sixties, even when I was in Viet Nam, Sunset was the home of just about anyone hoping to be discovered. Clubs like The Troubadour, The Trip, London Fog, Sneaky Pete’s, The Experience, Lido Bido, The Roxy, Pandora’s Box, The Fifth Estate, The Galaxie and The Body Shop (which was a popular strip joint). In the later sixties when I was back from Viet Nam I would go to Los Angeles often to do studio work. I had a friend named Arthur Lee who fronted the band “Love”. He told me he had gone to Electra records and when they wanted to sign him he convinced them to sign The Doors. Another friend was Doug Ingle who was a pizza cook at the Pizza Kitchen. He was always asking me to give him and his group a good word at the studios. I went to see them play live one night and I realized where music was going. They were amazing but with a name like “Iron Butterfly” I didn’t think they would ever make it in the business.
Anyway I had made several thousand on the last tour plus I was still making a small fortune with “First Kiss” and “Last Kiss”. That made me flush with $50,000 in the bank. I decided to see Cy Cooper as soon as possible. His office was on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. We set a lunch meeting at Nate & Al’s restaurant in Beverly Hills where he told me where to go to get “Headshot Photography” and a new apartment. He was quite helpful and we signed a contract making him my acting agent and his wife became my publicist. I then went over and signed up with Central Casting for acting jobs or what they called “Musician Extra Work”. He sent me over to Decca Records and Capitol Records where Gene Vincent had put in a good word for me as an instrumentalist. I found a two bedroom apartment in Hollywood with a great view of Sunset Strip. It had parking under my Apartment so I could watch my car. It wasn’t ten minutes after I got my phone installed that I called Cy. He Told me he had an audition for me over at Gold Star Studios. Now let me explain who they were.
Los Angeles had a recording studio on every other block. They were like Liquor Stores and Bars, everywhere, and Gold Star was no different except it had an echo chamber in a basement area and was the filthiest place outside of Hell‘s Kitchen I‘d ever seen.
In the late 50’s and early 1960s, a little short guy who’s claim to fame in late 1958 was writing the song and singing with The Teddy Bears on “To Know Him Is To Love Him” which sold 1,200,000 copies on 45 records. His name was Phil Spector and he usually worked at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles because of its exceptional echo chambers, essential to his invention of the Wall of Sound technique.
The Wall of Sound was a music production technique for pop and rock music recordings developed by Phil Spector at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, California, during the late 50’s and early 1960s. Working with such audio engineers as Larry Levine and the session musicians who became known as The Wrecking Crew, Spector created a dense, layered, reverberant sound that came across well on AM radio and jukeboxes popular in the era. He created this sound by having a number of electric and acoustic guitarists perform the same parts in unison, adding musical arrangements for large groups of musicians up to the size of orchestras, then recording the sound using an echo chamber.
Microphones in the recording studio captured the sound, which was then transmitted to an echo chamber—a basement room outfitted with speakers and microphones. The signal from the studio was played through the speakers and reverberated throughout the room before being picked up by the microphones. The echo-laden sound was then channeled back to the control room, where it was recorded on tape.
The natural reverberation and echo from the hard walls of the echo chamber gave Phil Spector's productions their distinctive quality and resulted in a rich, complex sound that, when played on AM radio, had an impressive depth rarely heard in mono recordings. When I first met him he was seventeen and a senior at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.
Anyway there was always a call out for superb musicians who could read and write music and who were capable of reading cockeyed Lead Sheets. Another requirement was to make changes on the spot and improvise to make a hit record. In New York, if the composer didn’t have it written down the Musicians Union Session Guys would tell the composer and producer to shove it. They would sneer and say “I don’t improvise and I don’t play by ear, if I add anything, my name goes on the published sheet music”. On the West Coast it was “I’ll do anything for a chance to be on a hit record and I don’t need credit, just cash”.
Now to get on the heavy gigging you had to be good, and I mean really good!!!!!! You had to be accepted into the “Wrecking Crew”. You ask me who we were, well I know you think the Beach Boys, The Monkeys, the Carpenters, The Mama’s and the Papas and almost every popular group between 1956-1970, except for a few, played the instruments on their own records, NEVER. They were not good enough and no record company would pay tens of thousands of dollars in wasted studio time for a bunch of amateurs, who wrote good songs and sang well but needed weeks to learn how to play well enough to produce a hit record. Instead we did it, sometimes a whole album in one day.
THE WRECKING CREW, the musicians on all the hits, hundreds of them. The Wrecking Crew's members typically had backgrounds in jazz or classical music, but were highly versatile. The talents of this group of 'first call' players were used on almost every style of recording, including television theme songs, film scores, advertising jingles and almost every genre of American popular music, from The Monkeys to Bing Crosby. Notable artists employing the Wrecking Crew's talents included Nancy Sinatra, Bobby Vee, The Partridge Family, The Mamas & the Papas, The Carpenters, The 5th Dimension, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and Nat King Cole. The figures most often associated with the Wrecking Crew are Phil Spector (who used the Crew to create his trademark "Wall of Sound"), and Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, who used the Crew's talents on many of his mid-1960s productions including the songs "Good Vibrations", "California Girls", the acclaimed album “Pet Sounds“, and the original recordings for Smile. Members of the Wrecking Crew played on the first Byrds single recording, "Mr. Tambourine Man", because Columbia Records did not trust the skills of Byrd musicians except for Roger McGuinn. Further recordings of the Byrds were conditional on the success of the single. All of the Byrds played on their subsequent recordings. Spector used the Wrecking Crew on Leonard Cohen's fifth album, Death of a Ladies' Man.
According to Blaine, the name "The Wrecking Crew" was derived from the impression that he and the younger studio musicians made on the business’s older generation, who felt that they were going to wreck the music industry. You played and got paid the same day and no one was listed on the hit records and albums because of the embarrassment of the alleged “Super Stars” who couldn’t play their own music. Dick Clark of American Bandstand fame knew it and kept it secret because he said “ If the teenagers knew they would yell Fraud and it would reduce sales substantially. I kept a record of all the songs I played guitar on and that was good enough for me at the time. The Wrecking Crew worked long hours and 15-hour days were not unusual, although the rewards were great — I once commented that during my peak as a session musician, I earned more my one year than the President. People have always been amazed at my ability to play all Genres without hesitation going from Blues to Rock in an instant. I owe the versatility to the Wrecking Crew and Tommy Tedesco, the greatest guitarist and most successful recording artist in the history of music.
I have to tell you how great Tommy Tedesco was. Thomas J. Tedesco (July 3, 1930 – November 10, 1997) was an American master session musician and renowned jazz and bebop guitarist. Tedesco's credits include the iconic brand-burning accompaniment theme from television's Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, Vic Mizzy's iconic theme from Green Acres, M*A*S*H, Batman, and Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special.
Tedesco was described by Guitar Player magazine as the most recorded guitarist in history, having played on thousands of recordings, many of which were top-20 hits. He recorded with most of the top musicians working in the Los Angeles area including The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, The Everly Brothers, The Association, Barbra Streisand, Jan and Dean, The 5th Dimension, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Zappa, Ricky Nelson, Cher, and Nancy and Frank Sinatra as well as on Richard Harris' classic MacArthur Park. His playing can be found on Jack Nitzsche's The Lonely Surfer, on Wayne Newton's version of Danke Schoen, The Rip Chords' Hey Little Cobra, The Ronettes' Be My Baby, The Sandpipers' Guantanamera, The T-Bones' No Matter What Shape, and Nino Tempo & April Stevens version of Deep Purple. For Guitar Player, Tedesco wrote a regular column called "Studio Log" in which he would describe a day's work recording a movie, TV show or album, the special challenges each job posed and how he solved them, what instruments he used, and how much money he made on the job.
Tedesco also performed for film soundtracks such as The French Connection, The Godfather, Jaws, The Deer Hunter, Field of Dreams, plus several Elvis Presley films. He was also the guitarist for the Original Roxy cast of The Rocky Horror Show. Additionally, he performed the opening guitar solo for the Howard Hawkes and John Wayne film Rio Lobo. He was one of the very few sidemen credited for work on animated cartoons for the The Ant and the Aardvark cartoons (1968–1971). Because of his influence I enjoy billing myself as One Man, One Voice, One Guitar…all the Music.
I hopped in the car with my new Les Paul Guitar and arrived at noon. Jim Mc Pherson came out of his office and took me down to one of the recording studios. We went in and I met several musicians and a singer/songwriter (an old friend) named Garnet Mimms and another man named Jerry Ragavoy. Both of these men would later open the door to Blues Rock and they were the beginnings of the sound in music for the sixties. Jerry wrote “Time Is On My Side” for the Rolling Stones and he and Garnett wrote “Piece Of My Heart” and “Cry Baby” which were hits by Janis Joplin later on. I played on the rhythm tracks of two songs of an R&B nature and was paid $250.00 cash. They said they were pleased with my ability to read and play so precisely from the Lead Sheets. Jerry asked me if I was available on an open basis to record in the future. I told him I was new in town and would be available any time he needed me. He said he would pass my name and number around. I started receiving a tremendous amount of work both for Rock n’ Roll music and film work. Commercials were really good money as were Television Jingles. Finally, one day there was a job on a movie set with three lines in an Industrial Film. Cy sent me over and I did it in two takes. I met a guy who worked three days a week at the Ozzie and Harriet Show standing in for Ricky Nelson, his name was Kent McCord. I gave him my card and he said he’d give it to the musical director for the show. Anyway that small part got me into the Screen Actors Guild and shortly after into AFTRA, AEA and of course I was already a member of The Musicians Union. About a week later I got a call from the Ozzie and Harriet Show Producer and he said Ricky would like to talk to me about doing a tour. I went to see him and he didn’t want to use me on a tour, but instead he wanted to tell me that an inquiry showed that I still had a song on the charts in the south that he was about to record and sing on The Ozzie and Harriet Show, "Ricky the Drummer" episode. Nelson got the chance to perform the song. The song, “A Teenager's Romance," went on to reach number two on the charts, remained there for weeks, launched his career and made him a lot of money. He apologized for taking it away from me. Never saw him again. The only real shot I ever got was through Cy Cooper in 1958, a song written by H. Shuman and D. Pomus called “TURN ME LOOSE”. They had sent it to Sam for Elvis, but by then “The Colonel " had complete control. He had even told Elvis that he couldn’t do “The Rain Maker” film with Burt Lancaster. Anyway I flew back to Memphis and we recorded the song. Sam released it and it was doing well enough for the Dick Clark people to want to see me in Philadelphia. Dick Clark ( Richard Wagstaff "Dick" Clark) (born November 30, 1929) He is best known for hosting long-running television shows such as American Bandstand, five versions of the game show Pyramid, and Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve. I flew up to the audition and of course was dressed in my black leather jacket and pants, white silk shirt and black leather pointed toe shoes. I brought just the rhythm track and performed it twice in Dick Clarks office for him. He said it was too sexually graphic and my performance was to threatening for his teenager’s parents. I said thanks and left the office. I flew back to Memphis and told Sam that you can’t sing that song and look like Pat Boone, who I assumed would steal it like all of his hits. I was wrong because Dick called Bob Marcucci who was the agent for Frankie Avalon. Frankie knew a good looking kid from his neighborhood who wanted to get in the business and besides his dad had just passed away and they could use the work. The only drawback was the kid couldn’t sing, but he looked great. Dick and Marcucci had him copy my style and through “Payola” got the song some air time. (Fabian Forte (Fabiano Anthony Forte (born February 6, 1943, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) better known as Fabian, is an American teen idol of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He rose to national prominence after performing several times on American Bandstand. In total, he charted 11 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100. "Turn Me Loose" was his biggest hit, His career in music basically ended with the payola scandal of the 1960s, when it was alleged that his records were doctored significantly to improve his voice. He appeared on National Television via The Dick Clark Dance Show and the rest was history. My version sold well in the South and then died out when Dick Clark backed the new version coming out of the North. It still put some good money in my pocket. When I performed it live, girls would come up to me and say “That was better than Fabian’s hit”. I loved it in 1961 when Troy Shondell, born Gary Shelton, May 14, 1940, Fort Wayne, Indiana, achieved a modicum of fame and recognition in the early 1960s. He became a transatlantic one-hit wonder, by releasing a single that made the record charts in both the US and the UK. The song, "This Time" (or sometimes billed as "This Time (We're Really Breaking Up) sold over one million records, earning gold disc status. Indeed, in a single year, sales rose to more than three million copies. He covered my song “This Time” on “First Kiss”, had a million seller and became world famous. Almost enough to just give it up. Never happen. I ran into some really talented musicians on the Sunset Strip playing in clubs. We hit it off and started practicing. We decided to form Nate Jaeger and The Rock n’ Roll Express. First photos, then costumes and we started playing clubs. Our first booking was The Troubadour Club. The Troubadour is a nightclub located in West Hollywood, California, USA, at 9081 Santa Monica Boulevard just east of Doheny Drive on the border of Beverly Hills.
The club opened in 1957, named after the Troubadour Club in London, England, which was already showcasing rising folk musicians and singers. It was a major center for folk music in the 1960s, and subsequently singer-songwriters and rock. We built a great following and packed the place every other week. $500.00 bucks a show and we split it four ways. That’s the way it was until 1960. I had been working and saving until I was able to basically live off the interest and my investments with my original savings. Cy told me that San Francisco was becoming the new center for music. He sent me up to meet with Greg Snazelle and we got along real good. He was friends with Anne Brebner who ran the largest casting agency in San Francisco. Everyone encouraged me to move up for a while and see what I thought. I agreed and they kept me busy constantly. I would drive down to San Jose on the weekends and I really loved the place. It was a 45 minute drive into the suburbs. I started looking for a house and found one in Strawberry Park. Three bedroom, two bath with a front yard fence and a beautifully landscaped back yard. The price was $8500.00 and I bought it for cash.
I installed wall to wall carpet and bought a new Color Television. Now there is a funny part to the Wall to Wall carpet situation. Where I came from you had wood or cement floors that you swept frequently to keep your space clean. In Memphis I had stone floors. I always thought that it was strange that people would cover their floors with cloth (carpet). Anyway I went to a carpet company and contracted with them to install carpet. They showed up on a Saturday to install but I stopped them when they referred to what they were going do as “Wall to Wall Carpet my house”. I will never forget the smile on the installers face when I said “Just the floors, I don’t want carpet covering the walls”. My response was from my paranoid upbringing in New York and the constant Grifting that went on using semantics. The installer looked at his smiling assistant and said “Ok Bob, we’ll just do the floors on this one”. When I told my neighbor about the money I saved he actually sat down on my lawn and laughed uncontrollably. Then he told his wife who came out and she did the same thing. He explained to me that the term meant floors only and the only thought that came to mind was “I’m glad I can at least play guitar”.
I moved all my belongings up from Los Angeles and gave up my apartment in Hollywood. Cy kept me busy enough that I had to buy a new car to travel to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was a 1959 Chevy Impala Bellaire convertible 409, 348 Tri-Power, four speed. It was the fastest thing on wheels. It was cherry red with a white top and red and white interior. On Friday and Saturday nights there was a cool ritual called “Dragging the Main”. All the local High School kids and the College kids from San Jose State College would pack into their cars and by the hundreds drive up and down a five mile long strip which had Drive-In restaurants lining the street. You would go in and park as waitresses on skates would come to your car and take your orders. Rock n’ Roll blared from DJ booths and you could have the waitresses put in your request for a song. I happened to have some of my 45 rpm sample records with me on one occasion and sent four or five up to the booth. After the DJ played them I think he realized that since they were all the same artist it might be me. He came out of the booth and introduced himself and asked me straight away if I was Nate Jaeger. I told him yes and he went back into the booth and announced my presence. The next thing I knew my car was surrounded by dozens of boys and girls. They kept yelling “request”, “request” so I put the top down and serenaded them for an hour with my Martin Acoustic Guitar.
Everyone asked me where I was performing and I told them I wasn’t booking clubs, just visiting on my way south. After I left I started to inquire around and found a place called Hambones on North First St. They wanted acoustic only music. So I sat down and played flamingo style and they booked me for every Friday and Sunday night. That paid $200.00 a week so I was just cruising. Everything was cool until one night at John’s Drive-In. I was sitting in my lane having a burger when the car next to me left and a beautiful 1957 Orange and Black Corvette convertible pulled up alongside of me. I looked over and almost dropped my burger in my lap. She looked over at me, smiled and said “Hello! Wanna Race for Pinks”. I answered no that I was happy with what I had at the moment. She then ordered a cherry coke and told the waitress it was on me. I laughed and asked her where she learned to be so shy? She asked me if I was going with anyone and I said no. We talked a little longer and she finished her coke and pulled her car out saying “I’ll see you here next week”. Off she went and she was an absolute angel, probably wealthy and around my age twenty. She had me at “Hello”. I thought “Did I want to go through this again“? Need I say, I was back at John’s Drive-In early and tipped the waitress so I wouldn’t have to leave?
When someone wanted to leave behind me I would drive out, let them out and back right up into my slot. Midnight came and “She was a no show”. Just as I started to pull out I heard a horn beep. I looked over and there she was. She yelled out that there was no slot open so she would park her car on the street and come back to mine. That’s what she did and just hopped in my car. She said “I’m Starved”. I beckoned to the waitress and she came over to take her order. We sat and got to know each other as I just marveled at her beauty until 2 a.m. I drove her to her car and she turned to say”See you next week”. I said “I’ll be here“. I was falling in love with this beautiful, intelligent girl that fascinated me. She didn’t have any idea about my past and I kept it that way for now.
For two weeks we met this way and I finally asked her out to dinner for the next Friday night. She said she would meet me at Original Joe’s Restaurant on North 1st Street at 8 p.m. I gave her my home phone so she could call me to cancel if need be. I actually got a haircut; of course I still combed it the same way. I wore a new dark blue suit with black dress shoes, white shirt and a pale blue tie. I arrived at the restaurant an hour early. I got a booth by the window and ordered a glass of Chardonnay Wine. I rehearsed everything I was going to say and the evasions to personal questions this very aggressive young lady was certainly going to ask. The problem was she had parents and family that, if this got serious, would certainly check me out. There she was exactly at eight p.m. but walking with her was a very tall middle aged Police Officer. His insignia I later learned was that of a Deputy Chief. I got a sinking feeling that somehow she found out about me and my fleeing New York five years earlier. Well too late now, right. They approached my table as I stood. She broke into a big smile and introduced her escort as her father who just happened to be down town and in the area. I shook his hand and we all sat down. He told me that she had spoken of me to the whole family, who also happened to be cops. Her uncles, her brothers and most of her older cousins. I felt like excusing myself and running for my life. I would have, but she was just too beautiful in a lovely black dinner dress and her dark hair was long and flowing over her shoulders. Now I wished I had gotten a better haircut. Her father was straight forward and told me to be good to her because she was his only daughter. He stood up and said I think I like you “Ever think about being a Cop, we’re hiring this summer? “ I simply said “That the profession had always intrigued me and I would think about it“.
We had a great time and she invited me to dinner at her house for the next Saturday. I went and met the family and we all seemed to get along. Her father again inquired as to my interest in Law Enforcement and I conceded I was interested, but I had some prior commitments. New York had never taken my fingerprints and at that time there was no Nationwide System which could identify me as a fugitive, especially a kid fugitive. We dated until 1961 and I turned 21. I asked her to marry me and she said yes. I had, since I met her, and very slowly, told her only about my life in California, coming from a broken home, graduating from school early, my wall to wall carpeting story and my current work in music. She would, once in a while, inquire about my family which I said “I had none” and that I was basically on my own since graduating from school early, allegedly in Los Angeles. I kept it very general and relaxed when she asked questions. I felt bad, but what could I do. She finally dropped the subject and besides there was so much going on with our wedding plans. The big day was coming and I looked good on paper, what with owning my own house free and clear and two automobiles. My bank account was six figures and growing. Sam had sent me my last royalty check of $19,000.00 and told me not to expect much more. He also asked me if I had heard all these Big British Acts that were coming over here by the droves. I told him studio work was drying up as a result of that vary situation. The Brits were good musicians and could record and appear live with no problem.
American singers were having a hard time and Elvis just gave up after getting out of the Army and returning home. He bought a ranch outside of Memphis, placed mobile homes on it and fooled around with the guys playing “Demolition Derby” pickup trucks. He left Graceland and the ranch twice a year to do a seventeen day movie for $5,000,000 each and then returned to “Pills” and crashing cars until 1968. You knew if Elvis gave up, it was over. In 1968 he had $180,000.00 in the bank, that‘s why he resurrected the old image and it worked. The radio was playing silly stuff like “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Polka Dot Bikini” and “The Purple People Eater” etc. My work dried up eventually and the British took over the world wide music stage. By 1965 they owned the American fans.
Our wedding day was beautiful from every aspect. She was walked down the isle by her father and I have never seen a more beautiful bride or seen so many cops in one place in my life. We said “I do” and left for Hawaii that day. Two weeks there and back home to a waiting career on the Police Department. I was sworn in and got two weeks training driving around with a Sgt. who constantly swigged from a flask at every stop light. My training was the following: a small cue card of ten “Moving Violations”, “Ten Parking Violations” and the ten “Most Popular Criminal Codes” such as Disturbing the Peace, Drunk in Public, Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Homicide etc. The main rule was “If it makes you mad, don’t take action”. If it makes “A bunch of citizens Angry” solve the problem or call the Lt. Thankfully I must say that 98% of the time you received Dog Barking calls, Car Clouts and day old Burglaries. Mostly paper work and when there was a violent crime all the “Hot Dogs” answered up and went Code Three to the call and arrived long before I could get there. I would just hesitate from answering those calls for three seconds and the “John Wayne’s” would steal the call. Easy 8 hour a day job. Somehow I always got Monday through Friday with weekends off on the beat where I lived. Music took a back seat for some time. Well all good things come to an end and on December 31, 1961 I opened the mail and received a Draft Notice for the Army. I checked with the Police Department Human Resources Office and my father-in-law and the only way to get a deferment was if the department couldn’t spare me. That not being the case, at least the City Municipal Code provided that my job would be waiting for me when I got discharged. My wife would be well cared for. The house was paid off, my savings were good and her parents wouldn’t let her go without. I didn’t like the idea of going into the Army so I beat the clock by enlisting in the Marines for three years. It meant a year longer than an enlistment in the Army.
I was guaranteed that after Basic Training at MCRD in San Diego I would be stationed at Moffett Field. Moffett was about twenty miles from my home and they had a Marine Military Police unit there. It was a guarantee based on my Police experience.
Next Stop Saigon
The big day came and I reported for duty at MCRD. The basic training was brutal and the Drill Instructors like wise. Fourteen weeks of misery and ten more weeks of Infantry Training at Camp Pendleton. Then came the surprise after Graduation that I would be immediately sent to Okinawa due to something going on in a place we couldn’t even pronounce, Viet Nam. Thank God when I was at Camp Matthews on the Rifle Range that I was the first Recruit in 5 years to score perfectly on my qualification with the rifle three times. That gave me an opportunity to volunteer for “Forced Recon” at Camp Del Mar, a quick trip to Fort Benning, Georgia for an abbreviated “Jump School“ and then to Fort Bragg for the Marine Corp. equivalent of “Ranger School” called “Pathfinder School”. The Marine Corp. couldn’t afford their own school so we trained at the Army Bases. I was now able to stay stateside, remain at Del Mar and go home on the weekends.
It was a long drive every Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. from San Diego to San Jose but I made the drive for 9 hours up the coast. Then I started to take the train from San Clemente and my wife picked me up at the train station in San Jose. I would be refreshed by not driving and we enjoyed a more restful three days off each week. Surprises come in threes and she told me we were expecting a baby. When I got back to Del Mar they told me after graduation I would be off to Okinawa. Then came an open slot in a new unit for exceptional riflemen. They were preparing a team to go to The Camp Perry National Match in Ohio. It was located on the Southern Shore of Lake Erie. The object was to win for your Service on the 1000 yard range, The National High-Power Championship. Lt. Jim Land was there and after we took the top three places he offered me and Cpl. Carlos Hathcock a position in a new unit which he termed The Marine Scout Sniper School back at Camp Matthews. It would entail learning scouting techniques and improving our shooting skills so we could train a new unit. I asked him how long the assignment would last and he said until the unit was operational. I asked him where they were going when the training was over. He said it was confidential.
We returned to Camp Matthews and set up the course for Monday through Thursday with Friday through Sunday off. It was a gravy job and almost like being self-employed. We fired thousands of rounds day after day until we could systematically hit targets from 700 to 1000 yards while telling each other jokes. We spent days and nights sewing Gillie Suits in both green tones and desert tones and spent many nights practicing digging hides and camouflaging them. Finally we had 40 Sniper/Spotter Teams to deploy somewhere in the Marine Corp. All this time I was able to ride the train to and from San Jose. My oldest daughter was born. It was great; there she was with dark hair and blue eyes and eager to come into the world. We set up a nursery and played house until Lt. Land announced that we were moving our school to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii in thirty days. By this time I was a Corporal E-4 and entitled to have my family with me at the new Duty Station in Hawaii. We let my wife’s brother live in our house and we moved into the Kaneohe Bay base housing which was brand new and very comfortably furnished. We had great medical care from the Navy Hospital and a fully stocked Military PX.
We spent days crawling around the terrain of Hawaii which according to Land was similar to where the trainees were going. Weeks turned into months with my family and I spending weekends on the beautiful beaches and soaking in the sun. Then came the arrest and assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam and his brother. It marked the culmination of a successful CIA-backed coup d'état led by General Duong Van Minh in November 1963. On the morning of November 2, 1963, Diem and his adviser, younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, were arrested after the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) had been successful in a bloody overnight siege on Gia Long Palace in Saigon. The coup was the culmination of nine years of autocratic and nepotistic family rule in South Vietnam. Discontent with the Diem regime had been simmering below the surface, and exploded with mass Buddhist protests against long-standing religious discrimination. The government was shooting protesters who defied a ban on the flying of the Buddhist flag. The Buddhists were setting themselves on fire to protest. Henry Cabot Lodge was holed up in the American Embassy afraid that Generals Duong Van Minh and Tran Van Don, respectively the Presidential Military Adviser and Army Chief of Staff would break from the U.S after the successful overthrow and kill him too. Out of nowhere we were awakened in the middle of the night and packed up for an unknown location. We were allowed to call our wife’s, those who were married, and our wife’s in turn called the families and girlfriends of the unmarried guys. On to a C-147 and off into the night heading South West. What did I get myself into?
We made a day jump from fifteen hundred feet, 50 clicks outside of the City of Saigon. Then a forced march toward the City as The Seventh Fleet stormed into the China Sea. I kept asking myself how a platoon of 65 Marines was going to extricate Henry Cabot Lodge from the Embassy without firing a shot, as ordered. Somebody in high command had seen to many John Wayne movies. It was 120 degrees in the shade as we kept marching and the blisters on my feet where popping as we entered the outskirts of the city. It was perfectly calm as we entered since there were about 5000 fully armed unpopular U.S. Military present in the Country. We marched toward the Embassy as Vietnamese jeered at us along the route. When we arrived we were met by the Embassy Guard Marine Captain as he exclaimed “This is it, this is all of you”? Lt. Land said that the rest were still surfing at Kaneohe Bay and would be along shortly after the last “Big Khuna”. The Captain didn’t laugh but did say we had to store all ammunition under lock and key as Ambassador Lodge did not want any accidents with the angry mobs outside the Embassy Gates. Lt. Land asked if we could keep our K-Bar knives to sword fight the peasants if need be and the Captain didn’t think that was funny either. We got quartered, fed and settled in until about 11 p.m. when the power went out. We had used sand bags to build fox hole barricades minus foxholes because Henry, the Ambassador, didn’t want his wife’s garden dug up. So we lay behind the sand bags, fully armed without ammunition until 3 a.m. when we saw thousands of torches held by thousands of people screaming “Yankee go home”. They were coming toward the Embassy and us. Boy did I miss Sun Records and my broom about now and all I could think of at this point was the ten grand my wife would get when these people finished quartering me.
Then came an early Christmas, Lt. Land moved from position to position giving each of us two shrapnel grenades with the caveat that we wait for his command. Things got tense as the mob started throwing what looked like cantaloupes at us. Never bring cantaloupes to a grenade party. Wave after wave of peasants ran forward and tossed their cantaloupes and we would yell “Bulls Eye” even though they fell some fifty feet short of us. We were surprised that the melons didn’t burst open and shower us with juice. About 4:30 a.m. the Melon Fight was over and nobody got hurt and the local gentry finally went home. We laid back for a little shut eye. We survived the melon wars. All of a sudden we hear these blood curdling screams from all around the compound. The Ambassador’s wife is standing on a small balcony above us screaming her lungs out pointing at the ground. My first thought was that we would be picking up melons all day because she would want her garden refurbished. Well when I stood up and looked around it seemed like there were buckets of blood everywhere and the melons turned out to be the heads of decapitated Civil Employees and relatives of the deposed President.
It made for a busy day picking up the heads and putting them in gunny sacks. We called it National Headhunters Day. This was my introduction to Viet Nam. We remained at the Embassy for about three weeks until things calmed down and then we moved out of town to a place we later called Hill 55, our new home away from home. We started patrols in groups of twos in and around Antelope Valley for the support of the Vietnamese Army and our Military Trainers. The situation got worse as the North Vietnamese started down the Sihanouk Trail with supplies and the war was initially “On” due to the unrest in the South. When it became known that Henry Cabot Lodge prevented the escape of the deceased President and was the one who set him up to be caught and murdered things got a little more uncomfortable for the Ambassador. I watched him closely at the Embassy and he was the epitome of U.S. ruthlessness and unconscionable deceit and I never gave him another thought. Soon Kennedy would be killed. Another Clown. Now we have to diverge for a moment as regards the assassination of President Kennedy. Since I was a Sniper I have to take exception to the Kennedy Assassination myth. First, Oswald was never able to qualify on the rifle range during his enlistment. He tried to get a “Humanitarian Discharge” due to his mother’s health which was denied by guess who, John Connolly, Secretary of The Navy and later the Governor of Texas. Oswald sent him a threatening letter and instead got a “Bad Conduct Discharge”. Now in those days that kind of a Military Discharge without an education to fall back on meant personal disaster for life. Something to kill for, but not a President who did nothing to harm you except being a dud.
Oswald went to Russia where he divulged the approximate altitudes that the U-2 Spy Planes flew. That caused one to get shot down and justified the Russians in sending missiles to Cuba. In some circles this Bumpkin Marine was considered responsible. Now he had this information because he knew and he bunked with a Marine at the Atsugi, Japan Naval Air Base where the U-2's flew out of every week. He didn’t work in the “Top Secret Section” managing the flights but he drank lots of beers with the guys who did. To be valuable, and if you understand how “Sam Missiles” work, all he had to glean from his buddies was the approximate heights at which the U-2 flew on its missions. He wanted the information because he was just curious at the time. When he gets back to Texas from Russia he starts his “Cuban” program and guess who is Governor and who Oswald threatens again, you got it, Governor John Connolly. Well the Governor sends the Attorney General after him and dogs him day and night.
Now, all of a sudden, Oswald has a job at the very Book Depository that the President’s Motor Route is abruptly changed too, absent the bullet proof glass bubble. He is credited with owning a World War One Italian Carcano Carbine that has a .22 Cal Scope sloppily attached without the ability to correct for “Parallax”. A rifle he may have fired 5 or 6 rounds through while he owned it. This $10.00 rifle was good for the same thing as a $12.00 pawn shop guitar. This man, with this rifle, allegedly hand bolts it three or four times in three seconds, keeping it in his shoulder while staying on a 100 yard linear moving target and hits two people, one of them twice. Now as a Scout Sniper I had the best training in the world from champion marksmen, fired tens of thousands of rounds from pristine weapons and made 700-1000 Yard Moving Shot Kills, 58 of them confirmed, 313 overall including “Blood Mountain“. All but one was coming at me armed.
In 1976 I attempted the same shot with the exact equipped rifle and couldn’t come close time after time. The Secret Service had received the New AR-15 short stock machine gun to carry under their coats on the Presidential detail. They did not have time to train with them before Dallas. They were behind the President in a convertible with no windshield. A shot may have been fired by someone else that did not come near the President and when the Secret Service man on the right passenger side went to bring the weapon to his shoulder, it possibly, accidentally discharged behind the President hitting him and Connolly. See the video on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY02Qkuc_f8 of the moments before the motorcade took off showing the Secret Service Agents arguing with their Supervisor about being pulled off the back of the Presidents Limo, leaving him unprotected until his death, make me wonder.
If it was accidental, who would have believed the Government or Johnson didn’t do it to get rid of an incompetent Playboy President who brought Prostitutes into our White House, brought us to the brink of Nuclear War and botched the “The Bay of Pigs” invasion. We now know that the Republican Extreme Right Wing, which produced Nixon, was repeatedly ecstatic as everyone who opposed Nixon from 1960 to 1968 for President was assassinated or seriously wounded. Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Governor George Wallace. It is better not to let people think that an unrelated plan to kill the President, using Oswald, under a ruse of avenging himself against Connally, failed when Oswald chickened out. The Right Wing tried the One Dead Assassin, One Dead President, case closed plan, but the plan failed. Ruby of course took care of the failure. It’s interesting that the decade between 1960- 1970 produced only deaths that cleared the road to the White House for Nixon, a man prone to political deception and violence. Reference the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss and McCarthyism. ( McCarthyism is the politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence.) Nixon personally murdered the Rosenbergs with his perjury and phony evidentiary “typewriter”. He destroyed and imprisoned Hiss with lies. Anyway, getting back to our story.
We started flying up to Duc Pho, Quang Ngai Province in the South Central Coastal region of Vietnam each day in a CH-46 Sea Knight Helicopter and sat up on a hill with fifty caliber machine guns facing down into the valley area. Warm sunny days with lots of bourbon while sleeping in hammocks. Every two weeks we went into Saigon to the PX and bought Skoals Sun Tan Lotion and filled the bottles with bourbon which was the same color. Then I would go over to 3rd Marine Division Company Command and call home for twenty minutes. I would send photos, after inspection by command, to my wife. She decided, since I would not be coming back to Hawaii, she would go home and I agreed with her. She flew back to the states with the kids. Her brother stayed with her and we just marked time until this Marine Corp. thing was over. The war was heating up and they started clearing the area near Da Nang for very long runways in support of incoming C- 147’s on a regular basis. We were sent up to provide a thousand yard perimeter around the construction base to protect the construction workers. Every once in a while some fool with an AK-47 would fire a shot or two at us from a 1000 yards away when the effective range of their rifles was about 300-400 yards. We would take turns drawing the shooter out by standing up, turning around and “Mooning” them. They would stand up to shoot and we would drop them with one shot. ”One Shot One Kill” very economical. We carried Pre-1964 Winchester Model 70’s, 30-06 cal., free floated barrels and John Unertl 8X power scopes. They were right from the Sporting Goods Stores and our Armory guy would set them up. The kills started mounting up day after day and our “Scoop Books” were filling up like dance cards. Our biggest problem was the construction workers sneaking out to the local hooch’s to meet with the local girls at night.
From time to time we would hold roll call after hearing screaming from about a half a click away in the middle of the night. Sure enough some new stud would be missing and there was no way to go assist them when the screaming started. It would stop after a few hours and in the morning it was customary to go out and retrieve the body. Yep, a shaved head, what was left of it after being covered with peanut butter and a basket? Baby rats were placed inside to gnaw away all night. A pretty hard way to go in my mind. All for about five seconds of pleasure. Soon we were being required to be more pro-active and so we went on patrols every other day advising the villagers not to help the Viet Cong. These poor people would have the South Vietnamese soldiers burn their villages if they helped the Cong and the Cong would burn their villages if they helped us. No wonder they hated us, especially when you see that the Viet Cong kicked our asses and drove us out of the country eventually. I know the politicians say we didn’t lose the war, but what do you call it when you don’t win and you leave everything behind and run home. A war that made a lot of people rich! Wealth purchased with 58,000 American youth.
The closest call I had was on patrol one day when we came upon a village. The people were in the center of the village moaning and screaming. Small children were in a circle and there were fingers scattered all around near their feet. They were bleeding profusely and I called for a chopper and medics. They arrived and collected the wounded and the fingers and transported them back to our CP Medical unit. I asked the village elder to describe the assailants. There were twelve black pajama wearing soldiers with a leader who had a red scarf wrapped around his head. They were headed North so we split up and circled around them at a dead run, waiting just above a clearing about 10 clicks out. My spotter set up and I waited. I wasn’t surprised when from my left a small group of Cong came into the clearing with the red bandana leader at the head of the column. I put down my Pre 64 and used my M14 on single action. I adjusted for Battle Sights, 300 yards, and picked off the last man in line, then the second to the last, then the third from the last. They started to run for the other side and that old animal instinct kicked in, the one I counted on. They were 2/3 thirds on their way to safety when they turned on a dime and started to run back to their “Last Known Place of Safety”. I popped off four more as they turned and jumped behind a small log. As they peeked up over the log in the 120 degree heat I snapped them off one at a time until only the man with the red bandana was left. I told him to surrender in Vietnamese and he threw his pistol over the log and started shouting something about the Geneva Convention. He walked toward me. He was telling me he was a captured combatant and his black pajamas were his uniform. I agreed with him as I shot him in the left knee, then the right knee, then at close range in each palm. I told him “Remember the children” as we walked away.
Suddenly it appeared that we were possibly surrounded so we dug a shallow hide each and covered up about twenty feet apart. We lay quiet as I tried to pull some grass toward an exposed area of my hide roof. I felt a foot step up and land on my hand and then the sound of a match being struck. A Cong was standing on my hand smoking a cigarette as he watched his men inspect the bodies of his advance scouting team. Then, when his men told him everyone was dead he signaled them to move out. We waited for six hours and then came up for air. We hustled back to camp. When we got back to our base we agreed we wouldn’t claim the kills. It was time for a stiff drink or six. That was a close one and we agreed not to be the Lone Ranger again. Our time here was getting short even though the war was beefing up despite the growing unrest on the college campuses. We were scheduled to depart when the runways were done. As they were completed the reinforcements started coming in but not by Platoons, instead by the thousands. Something was going on and we weren’t hearing about it through the Stars and Stripes Newspaper and our superiors ignored our questions. Some new Marine arrivals were unloading ammunition and grenades and they started playing hot potato with a live grenade that fell out of a crate. Someone dropped it as they were passing it around. It went off and I felt a hit on my shoulder through my tent wall.
Outside there was dead silence and then screaming with complete pandemonium. Seven dead and thirteen wounded including me. When we determined that it wasn’t a Cong attack we moved our equipment to a tent as far away from the new arrivals as we could. Soon there was one “Friendly Fire Death” after another until it was getting ridiculous. These young Marines were being given live ammo for the first time in their service life and they were accidentally shooting each other. They would go out on patrol, come back into the wrong sector, give the wrong password and end up triggering wild fire fights against each other.
Things were getting dangerous and not because of the Viet Cong. We started seeing obvious drug abuse around the base and we were all hoping to get out as soon as we could. I lucked out and was able to go home on leave for 45 days in 1964 and was so pleased to see my growing children. I had received pictures frequently so I was up to date. My wife was looking radiant and the entire family was in good health. The Police Department threw us all a great party and I performed live for the first time in two years. I got a call from Cy Cooper telling me he would like me to meet with Garnet and Jerry in Hollywood while I was home so we took off for Disneyland and to see the guys. While the family went back for the second day at Disneyland I met with the guys on Melrose Av. Garnett was recording “Cry Baby” and Irma Franklin was recording Jerry‘s “Piece of My Heart”. Dionne Warrick was a young background singer for the session and Aretha Franklin was there coaching her sister. After the recording session Garnett and I went out for a burger and discussed the session. I told him the songs where great and the vocals were great, but it was the same old R&B. I demonstrated for him the arrangement I had in my head after hearing the songs recorded. He said he was going to go with what they had and I asked “if it doesn’t work I would like to give them a try when I get done with this Marine Gig“. He said he would think about it.
I picked up the family and we started back for San Jose. We spent the rest of the time together as a family enjoying a normal life. I was surprised at the tremendous drug use and violence on the College campuses. Most of all I was interested in the switch from Brit Rock to Home Grown Blues Rock emerging out of the San Francisco area with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It was becoming a large Mecca for young people leaving home and congregating in the Height-Ashbury District. Cy told me that Bill Graham was doing something in regards to the old Fillmore Auditorium and it might be a performance palace in the future. Of course it did, but we are getting ahead of our story. Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Country Joe and The Fish, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, The Committee, The Fugs, Allen Ginsberg, and, a particular favorite of Graham's, The Grateful Dead would call it home. Bill was the manager of Jefferson Airplane during 1967 and 1968. His successes and popularity allowed him to become the top concert promoter in Rock Music.
I returned to Viet Nam to one more close call and an almost Court Martial. There was a hill up North from which the Command wanted to do observation. I told them it was a death trap because the Real Estate changed hands daily. They ignored me and sent an Army platoon up to the top of the hill under darkness. They were immediately surrounded by a two companies of Cong. Now these idiots come to me and tell me to go up and sneak them off the hill. My spotter and I moved through the Cong and made it to the top of the hill. We joined up with the platoon of soldiers, the oldest of which was nineteen. They had no Officer in charge and only one Sgt. alive. I radioed Command and they told me I had a Battlefield Commission to Second Lieutenant, now I was in charge. The Cong attacked repeatedly from all sides killing one panicked kid after another until close air support came in and made several low level passes cutting them up with machine gun fire. Soon night came again and a low level fog descended. There we were on top of this hill 10,000 miles from home about to be annihilated. We needed suppression fire if a Chopper was to have any chance of evacuating us off that hill.
Due to the fog, that would be a problem and we only had twelve men left including me and my spotter. I set up a phony MLR and positioned the AR-16 rifles from our deceased around the top of the hill. Through the night we ran from position to position firing down the hill and tossing grenades. Finally we made contact and plans with a chopper pilot out of I Corp. They needed light to see the hill top for extraction. One of the wounded soldiers told me that there was a stash of gasoline cans buried nearby for chopper refueling and a generator. So after a moment of thought we decided to take the clothing from the deceased soldiers and make piles of gasoline soaked dungarees, placing them around the hill top. We set them on fire as the chopper came near. The chopper had a great door gunner and he added cover fire with us each time they came back from off-loading the wounded several miles away. We switched off between re-soaking the clothing and firing weapons at the Cong.
Finally just myself and my spotter were left and the pilot ordered us into the chopper. I told him it was almost light and that we would stay with the deceased until close air support could return. He kept saying it was a direct order and I kept saying there was no such thing out here. I told him if he stood still any longer the Cong would settle the argument. He left and we continued to defend the hilltop. When morning broke the horizon was black with Choppers and low flying fighter planes. Apparently the gunner on the chopper had told his people that we had stayed behind to protect the dead, Marine style. No one was going to be chopped up or mutilated by the Cong. So here came the Calvary and I mean every chopper and fighter plane within 250 miles of our position both land based and carrier based. The fireworks were spectacular and the following after action report showed 1100 plus had died which included a Battalion of Regulars sent to reinforce the attackers. I never heard anything about the alleged Court Martial and the pilots and door gunner got the Silver Star. The sad part was all the human beings, on both sides, who died for nothing. Shortly, it was over for me and in the Summer of 1964 I headed to Hawaii for “Debriefing” and to be told I couldn’t kill people who pissed me off anymore. I promised not to and came home to Moffett Field for a short time doing Gate Guard Duty. I took over the Viet Nam burial detail after being demoted from my Battle Field Commission to Sgt. E-5. I had to go get the dead list and after action reports for the funerals each day. I would get up early, get in my Dress Blues, muster everybody together and we would all go out on the Base Bus and bury the dead “Friendly Fire” Marines. I’ll never forget one family whose son we buried one day. I presented the mother and father with a flag and a Purple Heart which was the standard fare. We then started back to Moffett. Traffic slowed and we got stuck. As I looked down from our military bus window I saw the mother of the boy I just buried holding tightly onto her flag and Purple Heart “Cardboard Box” as if it were a small baby. She looked up at me strangely. I was the only one that knew he had been killed accidentally by his own platoon. It was hard to remember the great days at Sun Records. It now seemed like some of the best years of my life and I couldn’t grasp how it was possible to go from those care free days, with those talented people, to this very real and vary dark existence. How do you get here from there?
Cops and Rockers
I kept marking off a calendar until my last day in the Corp. and I was finally through and honorably discharged as a Sgt. E-5. I drove home from Moffett Field and rested up while my hair grew out. I had received word that Bill Graham was starting up a Rock n’ Roll Performance venue at the Fillmore West Theatre and a new kind of music was on the horizon. There was a drawback. It was laced with every drug known to man and hygiene was a thing of the past. There was “Free Love” and free decease everywhere. Girls wore flowers in their hair and danced like fairies in the streets. Bill needed a lead guitarist who could step in and cover for the various band’s guitarists who would arrive stoned. Now, even the British Rockers, talented musicians, were getting stoned 24/7 and that opened the recording and live play door for me. You can play just about every musical instrument stoned, except lead guitar.
I reported back to work at the Police Department and requested to go into the Traffic Division. As an alleged war hero I had my pick of duty. I wanted the Motorcycle Officers position because while I was gone hair length had become extremely long with musicians and I wanted to fit in up in San Francisco. Now I didn’t want to create a problem with the guys on the department so my wife did a tight Permanent Wave on my very long hair. During the week I would keep it tight and under my helmet and on Friday night we would straighten it out down to my shoulders. You drove your Police Motorcycle to and from work and would just drive to your beat and commence writing tickets. Seldom did you go to briefing at the Police Station, usually a ten minute meeting with the Lt. at a Donut Shop each morning to give him your ticket book. Another great gravy job. Next came the bell bottom jeans and the brightly colored poet shirts. Last would be the puka beads, platform shoes and other jewelry. I was the cleanest Hippy in San Francisco. I was happy that we went to a 4/10 work week which left me with Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. It seemed like another period in the music evolution was beginning just like Rockabilly and Rock n’ Roll out of Memphis. All new people and a whole new sound which had as many successful American Groups as there were British Groups. Business was booming again in the studios both in L.A. and San Francisco. I went down to L.A. to reconnect with my buddies from The Rock n’ Roll Express and we renamed it The Rock Express.
The term Rock n’ Roll dated you because now the music was hard with crass lyrics and tremendously overloaded with distorted volume. I simply loved it and all the groups playing the music. We went back to the Troubadour and played some gigs on weekends. While there I struck up a friendship with a legally blind kid who was a janitor. He was a talented kid who fancied himself a songwriter. He was from Germany originally and then moved to Canada. His songs were quite good but he simply didn’t have a good look. I kept him in the back of my mind as an example of physical limitations preventing success. Gene Vincent was in town and performing at the Pan Pacific Auditorium before going to England on a 50’s Rock n’ Roll Revue. He had done that in the past and The Beatles opened his show for him before they were big. He asked me to go with him as a lead guitarist but I told him I was a Weekend Warrior for extra dough only. I played his show as a guest artist for a couple of duo numbers.
The guys and I went back to his apartment to drink some beers before I headed back to San Jose. When we arrived we found the front door of his Hollywood apartment cracked open. When we went in we found a kid with long brown hair waiting for us. He told Gene that Gene was a God and his musical hero. He was stoned. We called the police and they hauled him off. Later Gene’s conscience got to him and we bailed the kid out. I headed home with a smile on my face. The kid said someday he was going to be a star like Gene. Well we were all going to be stars, I just wanted to make some money before I got too old to go on stage and perform. Back home I did my job during the day and became an Acid Rock Star on weekends. I stopped dreaming of being a head liner. I did enjoy going to see some of the new pop stars with my wife like Tom Jones and Neil Diamond etc. I had once met Tom when he was in Sydney, Australia performing at the Playboy Club as Tommy The Tom Cat and I was on R&R from Viet Nam. I had also met Eric Burden there when “House of the Rising Sun” was big. The manager there knew who I was at the time and was amazed I was in the service. He thought I was too important for that.
The first musician I met at the Fillmore was a kid that had just quit working for Little Richard. Early in 1964, Little Richard brought a fledgling Jimi Hendrix into his band. Hendrix began dressing and growing a mustache like Penniman's. He toured with Little Richard and played on at least a dozen tracks for Vee Jay Records between the spring of 1964 and 1965. Three singles, including a cover of Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On, would again hit the charts with moderate success. In 1966, Hendrix was quoted as saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice." It was an amazing time for me in that I would sit in the Green Room and talk with all of the people who had come from every city in the U.S. to be part of the San Francisco music scene. They wanted to be heard and signed to contracts by the major labels. It was also apparent that the music that was in my soul was a thousand light years away from what I was hearing. I could perform all of it, and musically it was simple, but it was not “Leather Clad” “Swinging Hip” music that I had started with in New York. I felt like an old man with very little in common with these anarchists, although I still was a “Rebel” at heart.
They hated the government, the war, cops and any form of discipline required of a civilized society. I look back and realize that if they had known that not only was I a cop, but I was one of those “baby faced baby killers from Viet Nam” I would have been strung up and tarred and feathered. I certainly could never discuss all the drug use that occurred which amounted to hundreds of Felony violations. It felt like Walter Cronkite and his 1950’s TV Show “You Are There”. You sit on a stage sober and watch Jimi Hendricks, Cream and their guitarist Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin with Bobby Plant and Jimmy Page, Deep Purple, and The Jeff Beck Group with Jeff Beck somewhat stoned, making up ditties trying to outdo each other on guitar techniques. In one afternoon you had the most talented and diverse people from all over the world sitting around waiting to break out of obscurity and into stardom…and they did despite being loaded to the hilt twenty-four seven. I don’t know what their music would have sounded like had they composed it sober, it probably would have flopped.
I decided to contact Mimms and see if he would let me try to do something with his and Jerry’s songs. He agreed and mailed me the Lead Sheets. I went into a studio owned by Bill Graham in the Fillmore District and spent three days arranging and recording “Piece of My Heart” and “Cry baby”. The result in my mind was amazing and I thought I should redo “Boogy Girl” and an old Fats Domino song “I Hear You Knocking”. I had performed my songs, for years now, in front of Be Boppers and they just sat on their hands, maybe now they would work. I recorded, mixed and mastered the best takes and created my Demos. That’s where it ended. I tried pushing them but I kept getting told by everyone I approached that the songs and arrangements were great and done well, but they still sounded like they were performed by someone out of the distant past. So I put them in my suitcase and worked a few extra shows to recover the $300.00 bucks it cost to produce them.
Meanwhile a very talented girl from Port Arthur, Texas started singing folk music in the coffee shop where we hung out between shows. She billed herself as Janie Lyn and had a very distinctive sound. Peter Albin, Jerry Garcia, Ron McKernan, Sam Andrew, James Gurley and Chuck Jones heard her and started working her around to be in a band they were rehearsing. They ended up with a lot of different names and players like Kozmic Blues Band, Country Joe and the Fish and Full Tilt Boogie Band starring a lot of different people including Ben Nieves, David Getz, Nick Gravenites, Kathi McDonald, Dave Schallock and Tom Finch. Anyway she started fronting the new band Big Brother and the Holding Company doing a lot of old covers in a new Blues Rock way like Ball and Chain etc. She went back to her real name Janis Joplin when she started to catch on. She was overweight, unkempt and very homely. She had zero confidence off stage, didn’t bath much and used multiple drugs. When she stepped up on the stage that all changed. She was a power house who sang out every emotion a human being could feel. I never saw anyone who could stay with her and most performers just backed off and let her take the spot light. For moral support we accompanied her to Los Angeles to film an episode of the Tom Jones Show. She held it back during rehearsals and let Tom carry the show. He was a nice guy, short, about 5’ 6” or 5’ 7”, with a huge well deserved ego. He ordered everyone around and took long breaks with woman in his dressing room. When it came to show time he and Janis went out to the center of the stage as the audience prepared to see the live show. Tom started singing along with Janis on one of her standards and half way through Janis just power housed it with her voice and hippy dance moves. Tom tried to keep up but realized it was being filmed and he started to look like a fish out of water standing next to her. The power struggle went on for another verse and Tom slowly moved back off camera toward the dancers and let Janis have the stage to herself. A good career move in my mind. He was a marvelous performer of pop songs, but she was the Queen of Blues Rock.
When we returned to San Francisco I had to go back to work around the Santa Clara County Area and prepare for what I thought was one new baby boy. I transferred into the Narcotics Division so I could keep my hair very long and dress like a hippy all the time. Now I could stop the hair curling and just do my job and then head for Frisco to do my music. Things were great and I stayed in touch with Sam who was back to recording legendary blues artists from all over the South before they died. Elvis was still doing a “Plastic Movie” two times a year with absolutely horrible songs and story lines. My money was good since Bill Graham would pay a standard fee of $144.00 per set per group who needed a rhythm or lead guitar player. Usually every group would show up stoned so you covered three or four during a concert on Friday and Saturday nights. A weekend would net you tax free an average of a $1000.00. That was about $5000.00 a month plus evenings doing studio work at $75.00 an hour which was another $3000.00 a month for about 10 hours a week.
So we were doing very well because the American groups needed studio sidemen to record their rhythm tracks. The record producers fed them drugs as part payment and ripped them off big time. You snooze, you lose! One beautiful Summer Saturday I was in the Green Room down stairs (the green room wasn’t green and it was the place where everyone sat and waited to go on stage) Janis and Crosby (later to be Crosby, Stills and Nash) came in with Jimi Hendricks to go over a new performance they were planning to put on that night. Surprisingly, to me, they were stone sober and well rested. They told me that The Troggs (The Troglodytes ) were coming in to San Francisco Airport that afternoon to do their hit “Wild Thing” and that I would also probably have to do some work for them and Reg Presley. The group called Steppenwolf was also appearing along with the head liners, The Doors. Well that sounds like a huge collection of greats but in reality they were all just becoming known in rock circles. Janis asked me if I wanted to go on and open their show for 20 minutes and I said I had enough material to do that. I told her to listen to the two songs from Mimms and Ragavoy that I would do and see what she thought of them for her future shows. The night came on and I took the stage in front of a crowded theatre. I started off with “I Hear You Knocking” and the stoned crowd went wild and demanded three encores. I followed with Boogy Girl and then Piece of my Heart. They went nuts and started yelling “More” “More” “More” so I did my modern version of an old Blues number Hoochy Coochy Man and settled them down for Janis with “Cry Baby” which again I had to do twice before I announced Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company. Back stage I ran into John who used to be the janitor at the Troubadour. I told him how cool it was for him to be up here in Frisco. I asked him if he was working here now and he said just for the weekend. I told him I would see him later and waded through all the record people and their friends dressed like pretend hippies. I came back out and ran into a familiar face of a kid I had met a few years before when he broke into Gene’s apartment. He looked at me and said “Whoa man, your Gene’s friend who bailed me out of jail“. You know Gene Vincent dropped all the charges”. “How’s he doing? I told him Gene was touring. He said he saw me perform tonight and loved it. I was wandering what he was doing backstage but I minded my own business. Then Bill Graham came up to us and said “Your On Dude”. I started to say I’ve just finished when the kid said ok and ran over to a band going on stage. I went to the edge of the curtains as he started singing "Light My Fire," then “L.A. Woman”, then “People Are Strange" and “Love Me Two Times." The burglar had been an unknown Jim Morrison who became The Doors, so go figure. Surprises didn’t end there. John (the janitor) came up to me again and said “Watch This”. He went out on stage with a group called Steppenwolf and began singing the hit song from the movie “Easy Rider” “Born To Be Wild”. John was Steppenwolf. It just goes to show you how you should never give up.
The next time I saw Janis she asked about the songs I had sung and who owned them. She had her little box phonograph with her and plugged it into the wall. I told her I had my demos with me and I gave them to her with the lyric sheets. She played them over and over while she waited to go on stage. I never saw her again until I went with The Mama’s and The Papa’s to the Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey to see her and The Who Perform. She and I did Bo Diddley as an opening song. I heard that Jerry Ragavoy became her manager and took her on tour to England. When she died I bought her Pearl Album and found both songs on the 8 track cartridge. She was amazing.
The Fillmore represented the pinnacle of creative music making in the late 1960s. From December 10, 1965, when Bill Graham produced a San Francisco Mime troupe benefit (Jefferson Airplane with Great Society and Mystery Trend; the Warlocks, later the Grateful Dead, kicked off the show), until July 4, 1968, The Fillmore audiences experienced a 2 ½ year musical and cultural Renaissance that produced some of the most innovative, exciting music ever to come out of San Francisco. The careers of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Moby Grape, the Butterfield Blues Band, and countless others were launched from The Fillmore stage. The most significant musical talent of the day was appearing there: Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Cream, Howlin' Wolf, Captain Beefheart, Muddy Waters, The Who - well, you get the picture. Or you've heard the stories. If you're lucky, like me, you were there. A sample month of shows Bill presented at The Fillmore, August of 1967: Aug. 1-6: Muddy Waters, Buffalo Springfield, Richie Havens. Aug. 8-13: Electric Flag, with Moby Grape and Steve Miller Blues Band. Aug. 15-17: Chuck Berry and Charles Lloyd Quartet, with Steve Miller Blues Band opening. Aug. 18-19: Young Rascals and Charles Lloyd Quartet. Aug. 20-21: Count Basie Orchestra with Charles Lloyd Quartet. Aug. 22-27: Butterfield Blues Band and Cream. Aug. 29-31: Cream, Electric Flag, Gary Burton. The Fillmore was also used to stage non-musical events, including Michael McClure's The Beard; Leroi Jones “The Dutchman“. They performed on the floor among the audience at a Byrds show; a reading by Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky, paired with Jefferson Airplane (no other theater in the Bay Area would rent its space to a Communist); Lenny Bruce's last public appearance on a bill also featuring Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention; and Thanksgiving dinner for The Fillmore family and friends, which became an annual tradition. I had the privilege of attending two of those dinners with Janis Joplin on my right and Eric Burden on my left. The second time I had dinner with John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters and we talked about me “The Kid” on the second step of Mama Beasleys “Hell’s Kitchen Club”. Always, a Fillmore ticket was a ticket to see and hear the most exciting up-and-coming talents, in an exciting place, the place where it was all happening.
It wasn't only because you'd be as likely to see Miles Davis opening for the Grateful Dead as a three night run of Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service with the Mothers of Invention opening the show. Partly, it was the free apples in the gleaming copper bucket at the top of the ruby-carpeted stairway or the catered New Year's Day breakfasts Bill Graham served for 1,200 after twelve-hour music and dancing marathon. Bill Graham's policy of introducing Fillmore audiences to eclectic musical combinations turned on a generation to the music of people like Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Jimmy Reed, The Staple Singers and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. In the process, Bill created and refined the art and skill of modern concert production as audiences all over the country have come to know it. Bill invited artists like LeRoi Jones, Otis Redding, Lenny Bruce and Chuck Berry to play at The Fillmore - some with a simple phone call, but to woo Otis he went to Macon, Georgia. He went to Wentzville, Missouri to sell Chuck Berry on The Fillmore in person. 'Back then, it was a brave move to mix up soul acts with the most extreme of white music at the time. Bill was the first one to do it in a big city on a regular basis,' The Stones' Keith Richards says. 'Especially in a community joint like The Fillmore where people virtually lived...Bill really did create an opportunity that changed a lot of things.' Bill said farewell to The Fillmore on the Fourth of July with a show featuring Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf and It's a Beautiful Day.
The audience for the music had mushroomed, and the shows moved to the Carousel Ballroom at Market and Van Ness in San Francisco (later renamed the Fillmore West) and Winterland. That brought to a close one of the most seminal periods in The Fillmore's long and colorful history. Bill's death in a helicopter accident in October 1991 inspired everyone at Bill Graham Presents to finish one of Bill's final pet projects: to restore and once again make music in the building he loved more than any other. The Fillmore reopened April 27, 1994 with The Smashing Pumpkins, Ry Cooder& David Lindley and American Music Club. Tickets for the show sold out in less than one minute. Linda Perry, formerly of 4 Non-Blondes, opened the show with a surprise set featuring a cover of Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love.' The Fillmore's opening month lineup included Primus, Chris Isaak, Michelle Shocked, The Afghan Whigs & Redd Kross, Queen Latifah and Solsonics, Gin Blossoms, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Marshall Crenshaw, D'Cuckoo and Pele Juju, Sir Douglas Quintet and The Hellecasters, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Mother Hips, Ali Farka Toure and Ben Harper, Huey Lewis and the News, NRBQ, Blues Traveler and Soul Hat, They Might Be Giants and Frente!, Counting Crows, Thinking Fellers Union Local #282, Steel Pole Bathtub and SF Seals, Twister - A Ritual Reality, performed by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters with music by Jambay, Jefferson Starship, and Merl Saunders
Throughout the decade since the club celebrated it’s reopening, the quality, variety and number of shows held there has been staggering. The most appearances award would go to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who have played a total of 27 times at The Fillmore; first a 20-show marathon; the second run a meager 7 nights. Los Lobos brings down the house annually in December; Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams both appear to have a soft spot for The Fillmore. No Doubt, Radiohead, The Cure, Sonic Youth, Prince, The White Stripes, Dave Chappelle and even Tom Jones have graced the stage multiple times. Time went by quickly and the hippie period ended with Hard Rock coming in along with heavy Metal and Glam Rock. Very theatrical people came on the scene like David Bowie, Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust and The Band Kiss. Again It looked like a dry spell coming. The new genres started to sound like boiled noise.
Then came movies like American Graffiti and old time Rock n’ Roll came back with a vengeance all over the world. Even Elvis came out of retirement, dawned his black leathers and did a comeback show followed by Jump Suits and Capes and big Television Tours. A TV Show called “Happy Days” drove the demand for the Old Time Rock n’ Rollers to come out of hiding and the Tours began to ever increasing numbers. Venues were screaming for entertainers from the past to jump on the band wagon. The money was excellent and started rolling into the bank. Nate Jaeger and the Rock Express were booked every night from San Jose to Oakland and two shows a day on the weekends. Low cost air fare allowed us to branch out as far as Vegas, Denver, Phoenix and New Mexico. Soon Texas was in the deal for long weekends. We were getting $2500.00 a show plus all the revenue from the new media Cassette tapes. Glossy photos and t-shirts were next and the revenue jumped through the roof. Cassette tapes were $.15 cents apiece and we got $5.00 each at the show exits. You could carry a 1000 of them as luggage on th
the plane and you could duplicate them at almost every stop with ease.
Soon all you had to do was carry your cassette inserts with you and the rest was produced locally overnight. The age of technology was upon us. Sam was constantly calling me to quit the Police Department and go full time on his new Rock n’ Roll circuit, but I always felt a bird in hand is worth two in the bush and kept my day job which prevented long trips. Besides I was pulling in $20,000 a month and stashing it in the bank. The new world music wasn’t doing well but Rock n’ Roll was back. I would see Ike Turner with his wife Tina at all the Rock n’ Roll reviews along with Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and all the rest. Music was fun again and the drugs were easing out of the general music for a while. I built my show up to 15 performers including backup singers and dancers. I had impeccable costumes for everyone with hair, makeup, lighting and sound and the best mobile equipment money could buy.
We bought a large new motor home and a Tech Truck that carried everything but our guitars. We had an expandable aluminum erector set stage and two powerful low nose generators. Light bridges allowed us to construct our own custom lighting. We could play inside or out, and we were really self-contained. Pop into town, set up, wow them, pack up and run. I now carried two cassette duplication machines and product was produced driving to and from shows. It was a slick operation. I had three rules. Keep your hands off of our employees and the customers daughters and no drugs. Things were rocking. I almost hated to go to work at the Police\ Department and be away from the fun job. I spent plenty of time at home and stretched the performances out over every other week. My wife and kids went with me most of the time and they stayed in local first class hotels. We were a busy and growing family. Soon my second son and daughter were born “fraternal twins”. Lyle Cole, my second lead guitarist would front the band when I couldn’t travel and we made just as much money. He had the whole package and could play and sing like Warren Smith. It was almost the invention of cloning. I could take several weeks off at a time and just drive around in an undercover police car. Although it was fun I needed a relaxing break from the performance life.
A Little Police Work In Between. Needless to say, Police work was 98% total boredom and 2% stark raving terror. You had a combination of personalities that ranged from angels of mercy to defenders of justice. There were those that sat around talking about “Dustin, Popping, Capping and Sending the bad guys and those that wondered out loud “Why can’t we all just get along”. You had your “John Wayne” types and your trigger happy “Wyatt Earp” fellows. They were always changing their handguns to bigger and better models, quicker and slicker holsters as well as longer and harder night sticks. It was a bit amusing when they would take off their jackets and, there, exposed to the world was a shoulder holster holding a second “Backup Gun”. Most amazing would be the ankle holster with a Third Smith and Wesson two inch “Air weight” backup revolver in it. Now with handcuffs and holder, radio hand pack (2lbs) bullet loops and bullets, extra cartridge holders, baton sticks and holders, mace and mace holders, Bullet Proof vest plus three service guns and holsters you were constantly worrying about what would happen if they stepped into a deep puddle.
The good thing was you never had to worry about the “Hot Call” because these guys would get there first no matter how far away they were from the incident. They accounted for about 20% of the people you had to work with from time to time. I will never forget the kid who wore his gun belt and equipment around his waist, in his t-shirt and shorts, while mowing his front lawn on his day off. There were those who considered themselves to be “Great Lovers” of their times and could be seen sporting a Porsche and a lovely eighteen year old blonde when off duty. Young coffee shop waitresses, going to college were the target of choice. The odd part was the cops were 40 and working on their second divorces. Motor Officers were the Rudolph Valentinos of the department. Tailored uniforms, washed and waxed motorcycles with bright chrome and selective posturing when woman were around. Sometimes you would run into celebrities when working traffic on Highway 101, which ran North to South from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I was writing speeding tickets in my “Duck Pond” when a new Mercedes came roaring past me. I got behind the culprit and pulled him over. There were four men in the car. I asked for and received the driver’s license and began to run a radio check on him. The dispatcher became exited and I thought I had “John Dillinger” stopped forty years too late. The dispatcher told me I had stopped Clint Eastwood. I looked at the license and it read Clinton Eastwood III. I didn’t know who he was because his TV series was on when I was in Viet Nam. Now at the time my service weapon was a Smith and Wesson Model 29 six and a half inch barreled 44 magnum. I carried it in a swivel holster that hung low on my gun belt. On either side of my gun belt were twelve cartridge loops filled with bullets and as I came back to Eastwood’s car to give him his ticket he stared at my gun belt. He signed his citation and asked me what kind of a cannon shoots that size of bullet? I told him and he asked if he could hold it. I laughed and said handing him my gun after giving him a ticket didn’t seem wise.
Anyway I told him it was the most powerful handgun made in the world and nothing could survive being hit by it. He asked me if I could tell him where to get one “right now” and I told him to follow me up the road. We stopped at Guerra Bros. Sporting Goods and went into the store. Mr. Guerra was amazed to see Clint Eastwood and told us he did not have a model 29 but did have the exact same gun in 41 magnum. Now Policemen didn’t have to wait five days to get a gun they purchased, but civilians did and Clint needed the gun as a prop for a movie he was going to make shortly. He was on his way to San Francisco to do location hunting for the film. Guerra wanted the sale and I owed him so I bought the gun in my name and then turned it over to Clint with a bill of sale from me to him. That was legal in those days. He got to take the gun with him.
Later that year I took my wife and kids to the drive-in movie and saw a film entitled “Dirty Harry”. There was Clint Eastwood holding my gun (actually he used a S&W Model 41, 41 magnum for the movie because he had dropped the 44 Mag and smashed the front and rear sight and there was no time to fix it) on the big screen and saying “Did I fire five or did I fire six?” “Well Punk, do you feel lucky”. I actually ran into him in Carmel and Los Angeles several times and he just smiled and said “Well the gun idea really worked for the movie” “It paid for the ticket”.
The funniest time was the day I was going into the Police Department at the end of my shift and I saw a new Rolls Royce pulled over off of the freeway. I stopped to see if I could be of assistance. As I approached the vehicle a man stepped out and said his car had “Just stopped”. It was at this point that I recognized Alan Funt from Candid Camera. Right away I turned around and started to get in my car to drive off in a hurry. He’s chasing me yelling “Come back, this is for real”. Next morning, at briefing the Captain stated that Alan Funt had complained about an officer not helping him the day before. Even the Captain understood the nature of Mr. Funt’s show “The Embarrassing Ambush” on unsuspecting suckers of which I did not want to be one.
Shortly after that incident I was working nights and received a call to respond to Captain Cook’s Restaurant on Steven’s Creek Blvd. It seems a giant was in the restaurant and had chased everyone out. It sounded strange to me too. When I get there the customers and staff are standing outside in the rain getting soaked. The manager approaches and says the giant is in the bar area. Well since my 44 Magnum works well on Elephant and Water Buffalo why not mythical giants. I enter and go down stairs and there at the bar is the largest human being I have ever seen. He turns around and in a loud voice states “Get out of here or I’ll throw you out”. Of course he’s dead drunk and of course I tell him “No“. He starts to move toward me and I pull out my 44 and point it at him. He states he’s not afraid of me, that I can’t shoot him for being drunk and he is going to do a Proctologist Exam with my gun, on me. I cock the hammer and tell him I have no intention of shooting him deliberately, but when he grabs me the gun will go off and it’s a Smith and Wesson Model 29 44 magnum and will blow a hole through him as big as a freight train. He stops and says “Your crazy”, to which I slowly answer “You’re absolutely right and you should remember that.” Luckily another cop arrives and this guy knows him. It turns out they are both champion Shot Putters on the U. S. Olympic Team and this guy is also an Oakland Raider Football Player.
We couldn’t get cuffs on him because his wrists and arms were huge so the other officer just patted him on the back and walked him out. I did hear the suspect say “You know that other cop is crazy” and my fill officer said “I’m glad I got here when I did”. I should relate to you another funny story. One day in briefing we were told that there would be a motorcycle rally in San Jose of Hells Angels and Gypsy Jokers. It was believed that there would be approximately 400 bikers and that they had called the department to announce that they would circle the Police Department several times on their way out of town. I had to come back to the Department around 3 p.m. that day and as I arrived on North First Street, there they were in full regalia going round and round the block circling the building. I sat there contemplating what I would do when one of them came into the intersection on a red light and waived everyone else through stopping all other traffic.
When the last of the 400 or so bikers got through I put on my siren and gave chase. They all took off in a roar onto Highway 17 North. I radioed ahead and the California Highway Patrol blocked all of the off ramps and set up a road block near Milpitas. It was hysterical to watch them toss guns, chains, knives and dope over their shoulders in flight. The freeway looked like Hitler’s Brown Shirts had conducted a parade on it. Anyway they all came to a screeching halt and pulled out their driver’s licenses, those that had one. The Police Department sent out a large stack of citation books and we all began to write with me signing the citations. Forty or so went to jail for outstanding arrest warrants and we collected the arsenal and debris off of the freeway. Well the job could be fun if you didn’t take it serious all the time. Not one ticket got “Fought” in Court.
Eventually I had to find a way to invest my money. I opened a string of Police Uniform Shops up and down the San Francisco Peninsula by bringing in my relative cops as partners. I provided the startup money, the suppliers and the store operational formula. As some of them retired they worked the stores full time giving me 25% yearly of the net profits. That worked out so good that I decided that I wanted to do my own recording and record producing so I bought an existing state of the art, for the time, recording studio in Santa Clara about ten minutes from my house. By state of the art I mean the best four track studio in town compared to the 200 plus track studios you have today. We started recording individuals, groups and my guys when not touring. When in town I would run the studio. It was the result of what I learned from Sam at Sun Records.
Things went along this way up until 1975 when guess what, the second Rock n’ Roll fad started to die out and I was now an old man of 35 years. In the late seventies certain groups like Kiss, Journey, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith and the soft rockers started to seep into the music world. Soft Rock, Glam Rock, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Progressive Rock, and Punk Rock started to take over the air waves. The real old timers were doing the Traveling Doo Wop Shows and Chuck Berry, James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis were now back playing small local clubs. I would do off duty security work in town when they played so that I could surprise them in their dressing rooms before their shows. I did that to Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown in 1977 right after Elvis died. James and I talked for an hour about the good old days and Elvis’s death before he went on stage at the Odyssey Club. Little did I know he would end up so tragically?
During this period I also purchased a Pizza Parlor on Winchester Blvd. and worked there several days a week when I had time. It was fun to deal with the customers and the kids. I used to have a big bowl of little toys and the kids loved to reach in and grab one on the way out of the restaurant. I would make a Super-sized pizza and take it home to my kids with toys at the end of the day. One night I was telling jokes and stories to the customers and doing a little acoustic set of Lieber and Stoller music. A teenager came in with his sister and several older men and women. After my mini show he asked me if I would like to be in a film he was making called “Two Bits”. We set an audition date and I showed up to meet the producers who worked for the kid I had spoken with at the Pizza Parlor. Apparently he was financing the film. Anyway we made the film. Turned out pretty silly but fun. He approached me one day to do a second film and we completed that one the following week with a guy, “Bo Gentry”, who was one of “The Pharaohs” street gang in the movie “American Graffiti”. His big line was in the back seat of their car with Richard Dreyfus when he said “Who cut the cheese”.
The young kid and I got to be friends and we came up with a great idea. Now remember there still were no portable video cameras in those days and Motion Picture cameras were huge and required tons of support and personnel. He asked if he could ride with me on patrol and film my calls. I checked with the department and got an ok with the stipulation that on any serious or dangerous call I would leave him off on a street corner and pick him up later. So off we went with him using a Super 8 Sound Camera to film my calls. This went on for a year and he got real good at creating cop stories with the film he took. Soon he started college and we didn’t see each other again until I was watching television in the early 1990’s and was entranced by a show called “COPS”. I said to my wife, Wow, somebody stole Paul and my cop filming idea and made a multimillion dollar show out of it. As we watched the titles roll, there it was Creator and Producer Paul Stojanovich.
The kid made it big. I called his father and Paul called me back and told me he had another show called “America’s Hot Cop Chases” or something like that for ABC television. He invited me to the premier at a friend’s house in Malibu. It was good to see him and we drifted apart again until I saw him at a restaurant in Beverly Hills with David Bowie. We talked and our ships passed again in the night. In the early 2000’s I heard that while on a walk in the Oregon forest, overlooking a cliff and the ocean, he jokingly climbed out on a tree branch. He apparently asked his finance to take a picture of him fooling around. His hands slipped and he fell to his death, leaving behind two children by his first marriage. That took some getting over.
By 1977 the recording studio, pizza parlor and uniform shops were self-sufficient and producing about $100,000.00 a year for me. That dwarfed my $25,000.00 a year salary from the department. I only had 3 years to go and I could take an early vested retirement at 20 years but I wouldn’t collect a pension until I was 55 years old. That wasn’t a problem financially and who would have known that Elvis would end up killing himself at an early age. I knew it was coming when I saw him in San Francisco in late November 1976. Red West asked Sam if he had any contacts on the West Coast for security, especially off duty cops with police authority. Sam had Red call me at home and we talked about the old days. He was in good spirits and asked me if I had seen him on “Ba Ba Black Sheep” with Bob Conrad. I told him I thought that was him and that must be a cool gig. He invited me down to meet Bob and Pappy Boyington, the man the series was about, during NBC Affiliate Week 1976. My father just happened to be a listed member of the Flying Tigers 1941-1942, George Jaeger.
Red wanted to hire twenty off duty police officers for security at the San Francisco Hilton when he got back to Memphis. I told him I would head up the detail. I acquired the officers from three local police departments. We would provide the security both in San Francisco and for the back and forth plane trips to and from Denver. Elvis wanted to stay in San Francisco as his home base while he performed in both cities. He was going to go to Hawaii when the San Francisco/Denver shows were over. I took a weeks’ vacation and we started the week of the 26th of November for five days of security. I scheduled the hours and days and supervised the operation. One of the guys got into an argument with Sunny West about his leaving the Security Door Shunt off when he went out by the pool to have a smoke so I had to go up on a Friday night at midnight to replace him.
When I got there I again met with Sunny and Red and we talked about old times for hours. Elvis’s alarm went off and I responded up to check it out and say hello. I entered the Penthouse and saw the pool side door open. I went to look for “E” and found an extremely overweight man in a red robe and shocking white hair sitting with his back toward me dangling his feet in the water. I thought it was Vernon, Elvis’s father. Sadly the man had his face in his hands and was sobbing. I approached and he heard me and turned around. He looked up and asked me if I was Security. I said yes “E” it’s me “The Kid”. He spun around and wiped his eyes and said “My Boy! My Boy!” staggered to his feet and hugged me. He asked me how I got here and I told him. He wanted to know everything that had been going on in the two decades since I last saw him and we talked for hours. He told me his marriage was over and that he had a medication problem which was obvious. I told him if he wanted to, he could come down to Saratoga where I had purchased a 3000 sq. ft. home and stay in the Guest House while I secretly helped him clean up. I could see by the spaces between his fingers and toes that he was seriously addicted and it wasn’t legit medications. He seemed to cheer up and asked if it could be done. I told him I had a lot of experience with people who had drug abuse problems. I assured him he would be around people who cared about him. He said he would think about it. We went inside and he lay down on the couch. He asked if I could read a book or something until he fell asleep. He went to and from the bathroom several times as we talked and then fell asleep. He wanted me to leave a light on. I knew from Lamar Fife, his cousin, that he had been afraid to sleep alone and was also afraid of the dark. Before I left I stood and looked at him and I couldn’t stop the pain I felt. There, but for fate, I could have laid.
I saw Sunny on the way out and told him I would call after they returned from the Denver Shows. I didn’t know Red hired me because they didn’t trust SFPD or Denver PD to give Elvis a walk if they saw him using so they wanted someone they could trust to get him through the end of the tour. I drove home crying, I felt so bad. When I got home I went into the kids bedrooms and kissed them and then went into our bedroom to kiss my wife realizing I was looking at all the fame and fortune I could ever pray for in my lifetime. I never heard from “E” again. His pain got so bad that he ended it himself.
One strange occurrence did take place prior to my retirement. I was on patrol one day and the Captain called me into the Police Administration building without explanation other than a relative was trying to find me. I got into the office and was told that a fellow by the name of Jack Jaeger was at the Penthouse Suite in the North First Street Hyatt House Hotel near the Airport. I got back into the patrol car and headed over with the prospect that a long lost relative, of which I had none, had found me. When I arrived I went up stairs to the Penthouse and knocked on the door. A tall robust man answered the door and asked me what I wanted. I told him someone here had asked to see me and that I was Nate Jaeger. He excused himself and came back with another tall gentleman who said “You are the spitting image of your father, my brother, come in.” We spent a few minutes talking and I was convinced after he showed me the photos and I called my mother and she confirmed that he was Ralph Jaeger, my father’s brother. He said his wife was getting ready to go out and that they were heading to the Winchester Mystery House. He asked me if I could escort them there. I told him yes and that I owned a beautiful custom home near there and he was welcome to stay in the guest house and have dinner with us and meet his brother’s Grandchildren. He advised that my father had died in 1967 in Idaho where he and his wife now lived. They started out after World War Two with a small car lot and had built that into four major new automobile agencies. He was down here with his wife and chauffeur to see a few of the California sites including the Winchester Mystery House. Anyway we went down stairs and his chauffeur followed me in their big black custom limo. When we got to the Mystery House he stepped out of the limo as I asked him what time would be good for dinner. His wife just started walking toward the entrance and he turned to me and said “It’s been nice seeing you and I hope you have a good life”. He turned and walked toward his wife as his chauffeur stepped between us. I got in the patrol car and went back into the station and canceled the vacation time I had requested over the radio earlier to spend with my new found uncle. I told my wife and she just cried. I never saw him again but I did, years later, hear from his attorney.