Most all of us, new young “execs” in the record biz, the radio and press people, and the artists themselves were born from the counter culture of the 60’s. And this counter culture had it’s own code, it’s own loyalties, it’s own rules to live by. The priorities were being cool, being sincere, and as the Youngbloods’ song says the vibe was very much, “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together and try to love one another right now.”
I tell you this because my stories at the beginning portray a less serious music business, a more innocent time, and one that allowed for more fun and accent on the kind of things I’ve already told you about. Yes, in the end we all wound up being very highly respected promotion and marketing professionals, but in the beginning we were all, industry people and the artists alike, making it up as we went along.
The band Spirit was one of the most progressive of it’s day, and as an integral part of that outfit Randy California was one of the true early innovators of stretching the sounds of the electric guitar. He used to plug his guitar into a magic black box that sat on a table next to him onstage. Aside from his fabulous songwriting (“I’ve Got A Line On You,” “Nature’s Way”) he constantly blew minds with the sounds that came out of that box! He had played with Jimi Hendrix in Jimmy James and the Flames, and for sure Hendrix had a huge influence on him. He was a beautiful guy and an artist’s artist, only caring about making music and quite naïve when it came to anything business. I kind of befriended him, Ed Cassidy, and the band and I sometimes I’d go up to Topanga Canyon and listen to them practice.
So, please imagine this very magical hippie like young guy entering my office at Columbia Records on Sunset Blvd. circa 1970.
He walked in dressed kind of Hendrix-y, wearing a high E string from an electric guitar looped through his right ear like an earring. Under his arm he was holding the master tapes of the long awaited Spirit album “Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus.”
“Here,” he said as he plopped the tapes down on my desk. I explained to Randy that I was the local promotion manger for albums at the Columbia label and that he needed to turn the tapes over to the A&R (artist and repertoire) department at our sister label Epic across the hall where he was signed.
He said, “No way, they scare me!” I assured him that the Epic folks were, in fact, very nice people and that’s where the tapes needed to go. But he insisted on leaving them with me because I was “cool.” Can you imagine? Leaving your most important work to date with someone just because they were cool??!!
I finally took him by the hand and personally brought him over to Epic. On the way we had a quick remarkable conversation. I asked why he was wearing an E string in his ear. He said, “I always break that string at every show, and believe it or not, I can whip this thing out of my ear and re-string my guitar faster than any roadie!”
Randy also loved baseball and played for the Topanga Canyon baseball team. He told me now that the record was finished he was going to take the summer off to play baseball for the team. I asked in a nice way that upon the release of one of Spirit’s greatest albums wouldn’t he want to be gearing up for a tour? “Randy, I asked, “what about your priorities?” His eyes lit up and he replied, “Yeah Paul, exactly!,…it’s baseball season!”
Those were the days for sure.
Tune in next time for a pretty funny story about Mott The Hoople, Ian Hunter, and me!