Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Sunset Strip

I barely remember the black and white TV show, "77 Sunset Strip", which starred Ephrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Ed Byrnes, who played "Kookie", pronounced "Koo-key", and whose role and vast popularity spawned the hit, "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb". The actor and less talented singer actually sang lead on that monster hit. One line from that song went..."I've got smog in my noggin, ever since you made the scene". Yikes. Sunset Strip was larger than life in my brain, a place that actually existed somewhere in Los Angeles, where they made famous TV shows, but a place a kid can only imagine, if you are growing up in Portland, Oregon.

But in 1969, touring with my band, "The Morning Reign", I got there. We had been in L.A. for various reasons, to record, to be on a TV show, and to meet with some management people, who had shown interest in our group. We stayed at one of the band member's folk's house in South Pasadena. We only had a few days in the area, but we made it count, doing what we had come for, but seeing the sights too. On two consecutive nights, we all traipsed down to Sunset Blvd., to go to "The Whiskey a' Go-Go", and another popular club on the strip, "Gazzarri's".

"The Whiskey", as it was known in the day, was the most well known of the two, and we had gone there to see a group known as "The People," who were managed by one of the companies that was interested in our band. They had suggested to us that we go see the band play. Before the show, standing outside at the crosswalk, I just about shit when I realized I was standing next to the non-chalant L.A. pedestrian, Eric Burden. A couple of years earlier, I had played a 45 of the Animals "The House of the Risin' Sun", which of course he sang lead on, to approximate death at the house where Sandy Stone used to babysit.

Inside, we were all impressed with The People's set, including their smash hit, "I Love You" (yes I do but the words won't come) a Chris White penned number which had been lifted from a Zombies LP. Their final number, an instrumental , their version of "The William Tell Overture", and featuring their two drummers, was over the top, blew me away. I was certain that "The Morning Reign" could never be that good.

The next night, amid huge billboards advertising TV shows, movies and musical acts, we showed up at Gazzarri's, a lesser known but hip club, just down the street from the Whiskey. We were all barely 21, but the beer was flowin'. The house band, known as "Eddie James and The Pacific Ocean", a four member finger poppin' soul music group, was onstage. I recall that their version of "I Wanna Testify", featuring the vocal acrobatics of the rough voiced, pock-marked, skin tight bell-bottom wearin' Eddie James, was unbelievable. And these guys didn't even have a record deal! I was not that surprised, however, to find out years later that the popular actor, Edward James Olmos, and the rocker Eddie James from Eddie James and The Pacific Ocean, are the same guy. Record deal or not, dude made it in show biz.

But the thing that sticks in my mind most from that evening is a moment I have always had a hard time describing, cuz it was so surreal, but I will give it a try. Sitting there, nursing my beer, groovin' to the tunes, and missing my baby daughter Stacey, who was back in Oregon, I heard what I thought to be, out of the corner of my ear, an English accent coming from a table or two behind me. After I listened a wee bit more, I turned carefully to see who it was, you know, maybe someone from The Who. But I was shocked to see that it was one of the members of my own band, not mentioning any names, who was talking to a female patron, well, trying to pick up a female patron, and using a fake british accent. I mean we are talking a guy from Eastern Oregon. I listened more. I couldn't believe it. I had never heard him do this before. It was not a horrible fake, but to me, it was obvious. Part of me was stunned, part of me was thinking how ridiculous it was. Several of us gathered at my table to eaves drop for maybe an hour. For the rest of us rather clean cut and straightforward college types from Oregon, it seemed crazy. At that moment, hearing his phony accent and made up stories of rock stardom, I realized that some guys will do anything to impress a chick.