Saturday, March 22, 2008
(part 42) MONDO HOLLYWOOD, FRANK ZAPPA, AND PENTHOUSE RECORDS
Like I said, I liked writing songs and making records, so I kept at it for a long time. It was just what I did. If I wrote a song and liked it, it seemed only natural to record it so I could share it with people. Then I could say, "Hey listen to this." That was what it was all about for me, the music. The music business was just a way to accomplish that, not the other way around. When I looked at what I had done and realized I hadn't made a dime I would tell myself, "Just keep writing and recording Bobby. Sooner or later you'll get a hit and everything will work out fine." I really believed that so I just kept doing it.
It was early 1966 and a lot of things happened in that year. When "Vietnam" was recorded with The Leaves, Bob Cohen filmed it for a movie he was making called "Mondo Hollywood." I never thought much about it at the time, it was just something I did because somebody asked if I wanted to be in a movie and I said, "Yeah OK." It was just about that simple.
I signed a release form, not a contract, but a release form saying it was OK to show me in the movie and use my songs. "Wham Bam Thank You M'am" kind of stuff. You would have to get Bob Cohen to show you the piece of paper and I do mean a single slip of paper. It was not a contract. Cohen put out a soundtrack album on Tower Records and Sidewalk Records called "Mondo Hollywood" and I have never received a penny from it. The movie was on VHS tape, and is now a DVD, but I have never gotten a penny from either, nothing. So who knows what that little piece of paper says?
I moved out of Lois Johnston's house again and was going out with a girl I'd met at "The Trip" on Sunset Blvd. It was a new rock n roll club on the strip and she was a cocktail waitress there. Her name was Gail Sloatman. If you've ever watched "Mondo Hollywood," and depending on which version you watch, there is a scene at the beach where I am walking with a girl, that's Gail.
I drive away with that girl in a Corvette in the movie and that was Pam Burn's car. It was leased by Randy Wood for Pam because she worked for him. Pam used to let me drive it so I could look like a successful recording artist. That's how it got in the movie. Everything I showed up in or with was either loaned or borrowed. I owned my clothes and that was about it. The interesting part about Gail was she became Mrs. Frank Zappa, about a year later. But before I write about that there are a number of things that happened that are relevant to the whole story and its factual context.
I started living with Jeff and Stu Eisen up off Woodrow Wilson Dr. above Laurel Canyon. Stuie and Jeffie, as they were called, used to sell a lot of LSD, and for the most part it was still legal at the time. I moved into their house, along with a lot of other people, so I could be close to the source of the acid. The trouble was I was too close, so I spent a lot of time loaded on it. It was during that time when the use of downers increased as a way to compensate for getting fried on acid a lot.
It was in that house that I came in to direct contact with Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols from Love. I used to sit on the living room floor, there wasn't any furniture, and make up songs and play them. That is as close as Arthur Lee and I ever got musically. Me loaded on LSD singing songs in that house.
Another regular occurrence were the "love-ins." They happened mostly in Griffith Park. This was where I got to know Frank Zappa, because he'd show up just about anywhere and play. That's how Frank was in the beginning. Try to imagine a time before Frank Zappa was famous, that's what I'm talking about. Before "The Mothers Of Invention." Frank would go to the Whiskey A Go Go if he could play, or to a parking lot gig, it didn't seem to matter. He'd just show up and play and that's how he got known.
I would go to all the same places as Frank and we just got used to seeing each other and started talking. I liked Zappa and he liked me so we decided we ought to make a record together, in fact we made more than one. I have to jump around here because a lot of different things all happened at the same time. I will try to be as clear as I can.
After "Vietnam" Randy got involved with the distribution of a new label called Penthouse Records that was started by Ken Handler and Norm Ratner. Ken Handler was the son of the people who owned Mattel Toys, and Norm Ratner was the son of the people who owned Troy upholstery, a well known business in L.A. in the 60's. They were rich kids who wanted to be in the record business, so they were.
I was introduced to them by Randy Wood and Mira Records as an artist for their new label. I guess Randy thought it was a way to keep me close and have someone else pay for it, and who better than a couple of eager rich kids who Randy made a deal with to distribute whatever they released.
I made 2 records for Penthouse. The first was "Reconsider Baby" which I had written after hearing Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Women." This is when I went to Zappa and asked him to work on the record with me. He agreed, because amongst other things Frank was a studio musician and arranger. He was a Union member and he did dates, so I got Penthouse to hire Frank to work on "Reconsider Baby."
Frank did everything. I played him the song and told him about the Percy Sledge record and he understood completely. He put together the band, got the girl backup singers, The Dixie Cups, (I could be wrong on the name) and wrote all the charts. He basically arranged and produced it but received no label credit at all from Penthouse, who printed on the label that the record was arranged and produced by Handler and Ratner, which is bunk. They did shit.
Frank and I made the record along with the players, most of whom became The Wrecking Crew. The record came and went nowhere like all the others, but to my surprise Penthouse didn't quit. Ken Handler said he figured he'd have to learn some things about the music business, and that he wasn't going to quit just because his first record wasn't a hit. He told me he intended to be successful and that he wanted me to make another record for Penthouse and I agreed.