SUMMER OF LOVE
As Summer ’67 neared, Mt. Holly picked up where it had ended the previous year. The crowds were still growing. Many of the Michigan groups which had gained exposure there were developing their own followings from the Holly engagements and were reaching headliner status, especially Seger, Nugent, and Dick Wagner from Saginaw.
Release of the much-heralded new Beatles effort was scheduled for June 1st.
On Monday of Memorial Day Weekend, I waited for two hours at the Greyhound Bus Terminal for “a package” to arrive routed directly to Flint from Capitol Records in New York. The bus pulled in at 6:45. Minutes later, I was back in our WTAC studios with an advance copy of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”.
It was all I played that night for five solid hours.
Phones exploded and the Detroit stations screamed. We were among a handful of stations “breaking” the album a bit ahead of schedule. Political connections pay-off in the radio business as much as they do in any other walk of life.
What cliches of the time can be used? I was “blown-away”? I was “knocked-out”? I was “turned-loose”?
Afterwards, I brought home a tape of the album which had been recorded off-the-air. I listened until dawn broke. You could hear it over and over and over again and still pick up things you’d missed the first few dozen times around. Each side was seamlessly presented. “Sergeant Pepper” was, in the final analysis, a continuous stream of words, thoughts, ideas, images, dreams and schemes; all impeccably produced and musically magnificent. It was a flawless masterpiece. We knew this at once, without the slightest question or most remote reservation. And it was the Beatles!
A great topic for retrospective review in the latest hours of a good evening’s “go” is the issue of whether or not anyone except the Beatles could have pulled off “Sergeant Pepper”.
To begin with, it was their unique popularity and astounding initial success with resynthesized American rock, rhythm and blues which provided the financial and psychological wherewithal to initiate and complete the project.
Only the Beatles were the Beatles. Only the Beatles could command such an unparalleled amount of concurrent artistic respect, admiration and cooperation. They were regarded with awe to a degree previously unknown in the new era of global communication. Even Elvis needed writers. Of even more importance was the undeniable fact that they were true innovators and originators and had now elevated Rock ‘n Roll music to an incredibly advanced level. Hints of their new direction had come from tastes and touches in prior pieces, but “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” was the complete, integral, unyielding, uncompromising whole.
It is also certain that time and circumstances had much to do with it.
“Sergeant Pepper” threw away rules, broke down barriers, shattered preconceptions and permanently changed the face of contemporary music.
It had come to Flint as a brown paper package in the bottom of a Greyhound bus.
Later in June, the Monterey Pop Festival in California created more new musical history. It was a three day event featuring performances by Simon and Garfunkle, Eric Burdon, Otis Redding, the Byrds and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Big Brother included a little sister named Janis Joplin. Also appearing were Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane and others. The Airplane was currently #1 on WTAC with “White Rabbit”. Ten thousand were crowded each night into an amphitheater built to accommodate far fewer, while twenty thousand more, unable to gain ticketed entry, remained outside listening to the music as best they could. At least they were there. Being there was becoming a cultural imperative, wherever there might next be.
Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters were there at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco where a young hustler named Bill Graham had visited the Pranksters’ “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” experiment. This had been staged as a one-time, spur-of-the-moment “happening” at the facility. Knowing promise when he saw it, Bill had taken out a lease on the hall and had turned the place into a regular Rock ‘n Roll Emporium. He peddled Big Brother and Janis, The Doors, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead.
“Acid Rock” became a generic description of the Fillmore bands. Los Angeles record execs rushed up to ‘Frisco. They had checkbooks in hand, stashes in briefcase and contracts at the ready. The surfer boys were catchin’ the wave.
“They say Janis likes Southern Comfort.”
“Murray, pull over at that liquor store!”
“Morrison’s a drunk.”
“Howie, make that a dozen cases of Cognac!”
“Garcia does LSD.”
“Harry, where’s that goddamn, long-haired bastard we hired for the mailroom? We need somebody up there talkin’ for us who can relate!”
In early August, a black Seattle-born guitar player had moved to England and returned home. He emerged from obscurity into national prominence with his Monterey appearance. “Purple Haze” was released as a single. Jimi Hendrix was a “Top Ten” request within hours on WTAC.
Bob Dell was personally overwhelmed with happiness. He was deliriously ecstatic at the thought of a “Psychedelic Coon”. He played “Purple Haze” every fifteen minutes the afternoon of its debut, refraining from enthusiastically using the phrase over his microphone only through admirable self-restraint. He meant nothing racist with his off-air remark, offering it more as a congratulatory exclamation than anything demeaning. When the album “Are You Experienced” was released, Bob approved most of the cuts for immediate exposure.
Bob had also appeared at several college fraternity parties with a Black novelty group out of Detroit. These gentlemen dyed themselves blue from head to toe before taking the stage. They performed professionally as “The Screamin’ Purple Niggers”. They were booked on campuses everywhere in Michigan for absolutely top dollar. Around Dallas, Country/Rock connoisseurs could check out “Kinky Freedman and The Texas Jewboys”. It was a different time. In certain circles, there was curious, yet invulnerable pride in self-disparaged identity.
Major promoters put Jimi Hendrix on tour to open for “The Monkees”. As “Purple Haze” started ringing up cash registers from coast-to-coast, Jimi was tossed-off the bill. An official complaint had been registered by National Headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution that Mr. Hendrix was “too erotic for young people”. Who wanted to piss-off Betsy Ross? Mickey Dolenz had been “Circus Boy”. He was safe!
Atwood Stadium was an old high-school athletic facility in Flint. In August, “Herman’s Hermits” were scheduled to headline a major show. Among the opening acts were several young British musicians who had banded together in 1965 and had been introduced to U.S. airwaves over WTAC later that year with their first Decca single. It was called, “I Can’t Explain.” It is well known and acknowledged in Rock ‘n Roll history books that WTAC was the first radio station in America to ever play The WHO.
By cosmic convergence, August 23, 1967 was also Keith Moon’s Twenty-First Birthday. He and the group brought a birthday cake to our WTAC studios in celebration of the momentous event and in appreciation of our earlier efforts on their behalf. We thought it was pretty wild. It was his birthday and we got the cake. Far out!
We interviewed the group for awhile and pushed the show a little. Ticket sales had been slow. Nobody really knew who the WHO were yet. This was their first major tour of The States with little attention being yet paid by the trades or in “teeny-bop” magazines which now flourished seemingly everywhere. The promoter had been counting on “Herman’s Hermits” for drawing power, but they were on a bit of a fade. “Mrs. Brown, You Have A Lovely Daughter” only sounded good under the influence of bubble-gum.
I arranged to get the night off in honor of Keith’s birthday. We had been promised an extraordinary treat. The promise was understated.
Under cloudy skies and with only several thousand in attendance, the sponsors didn’t break-even. The “Blues Magoos” were introduced and did a nice thirty-minute set, closing with their biggest hit, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”. How prophetic.
After twenty minutes of equipment changes, the WHO took charge and EXPLODED!
Take no prisoners. Balls to the walls. It can’t get any louder. Yes, it can. He’s setting fire to his guitar. Shit! He’s breaking everything up! There go the amps! He’s kicking-in the bass-drum! The singer just booted the tympani drum over the goal post! Everything’s blowing-up!! Feedback’s still screaming!!! They left the stage completely destroyed!! The show’s over!!! ROCK ‘N ROLL!!!!
The crowd reacted with proportionate appreciation.
Hope I die before I get old.
Backstage, every member of “Herman’s Hermits” was ashen-faced.
They had to go on after that and sing twinky little tunes about some fat king with eight wives? Fuuuuuuuck.
We left with the WHO after they playfully trashed what was left of their make-shift “dressing rooms”, still being pumped. The piece de resistance had been Roger Daltry making the field goal with the tympani drum from a good fifty feet away. This had been executed at the spur of the moment with miraculous precision. Backyard soccer had finally paid off for this lad of Hammersmith and his mates were justifiably joyous.
More than half the crowd had deserted the stadium, exhausted from the WHO’s remarkable presentation and in no mood to bring themselves down. Herman’s Hermits bravely started-off their set with “There’s a Kind of Hush”. They had that right. No matter. Within weeks, the Hermits were scheduled to play the Shah of Iran’s Coronation in Teheran. Fuck Flint.
For us, it was on to Keith’s Twenty-First Birthday Party at the Holiday Inn on Bristol Road. It was right by the airport.
There was a gigantic cake and, sure enough, out jumped a half-naked girl with frosting-coated breasts. Yummie. All the “heavy” record guys from Detroit were on the scene. Word was out. Decca Records had rented the largest available conference room for heavy-duty celebration and it opened right onto a large poolside party-deck. Perfect! Bottles of expensive champagne lined the festively decorated table. Outstanding! The bar was wide-open and we could have as much of anything else we wanted. “Make that a triple-Chivas, please.”
There was an enormous buffet table groaning under every delicacy in the world.
“Can shrimp sail?”
“Whoa, that one did! ”
“These little “poodle-pecker” hot dogs? Squeeze just right and they’ll sail right down the front of that lady’s dress over there!!”
“I’d like another double-triple, Four-Eyes.”
“I wear glasses too.”
“But, I look like Buddy Holly.”
“You look like Harry Truman.”
The wheels were up. We were soaring with the WHO!!
Food was also flying. Whoops.
“Who gave Keith the car keys?”
” He’s pretending he’s going to drive it in the pool.”
“Watch, he’ll stop at the last minute!”
“He’s in the deep end, too! ”
“Oh, there he is”
“Good swimmer! ”
“But, he drowned the Cadillac!!”
“Anybody know CPR? Cadillac Pool Rescue”??”
Leaving havoc in our wake, Bob and I were joined by several band people and Peter Townshend in a drive to Contos. Since most of the Contos crowd didn’t know the WHO from whomever, we were left alone to have a few more beverages before dropping Peter and associates back at the Inn. By that time, things had calmed quietly down. Peter Townshend struck me as being exceptionally intelligent and an accomplished conversationalist. He was particularly struck by the way everyone seemed to say “fuck” or variations such as “fucked”, “fucking” and “fucker” with every other word in Flint. He observed that it was much more lively and descriptive than “bloody”, which he defined as kind of an English equivalent rendered pale by comparison. He thought all the “fucking” gave the town an “interesting” quality.
Keith reported that he had experienced possibly the very finest Twenty-First Birthday Party in the history of all birthday parties. He looked forward to his twenty-second with thirsty anticipation. Unbelievably, the party had outdone the performance. We were impressed!
The Doors entered the charts with “Light My Fire”. WTAC also added “Break-On Through” as a “Hitbound Extra”. We were regaled with stories of the Doors’ wild singer, Jim Morrison, “eating every girl in sight” and being so screwed-up he couldn’t finish most live performances without passing-out in front of one and all. The crowds loved it. This was interpreted as testimony to his incredible artistic credibility. Very dark. He was Irish.
Scott McKenzie saluted the end of summer with “San Francisco”, where all those hippies wore flowers in their hair. Dr. Timothy Leary of Harvard had experimented with D-lysergic acid diethyamide and urged all to “Turn-On, Tune-In and Drop-Out.” The streets of Haight-Asbury had become crowded with thousands of run-aways and would-be seekers of truth and love. They wore beads and tie-dyes. They smoked dope. They did speed. They dropped acid. They worshipped at the altar of Rock ‘n Roll. There was standard ritual in the absence of formal liturgy.
Chuck Berry also played Flint in early fall at the I.M.A. Auditorium. It was great hearing the old Rock ‘n Roll again. He was highly regarded by the Beach Boys, who also appeared at the I.M.A. and stopped-by WTAC for interviews.
After Berry’s performance, Bob and I took him to another Flint nightclub, “The Stardust Lounge” on South Saginaw Street. He joined Johnny Gibson’s band from Toledo in a few of his classics. I got to carry Chuck’s guitar-case!
Chuck Berry was a soft spoken gentleman, but had prison-hardened eyes from time served and bitter experiences with the white establishment in the late ‘Fifties. He had been convicted of violating the “Mann Act”, which prohibited transporting a member of the opposite sex across state lines for “immoral purposes”. It was bullshit stuff. There could be no doubt he ultimately had been jailed for his success in establishing a fundamental foundation for “that music” . Certain suspicions and cynicisms remained. Chuck Berry had been screwed more than once, within the industry and without. It showed on the showman. Some stars carried scars.