Monday, January 12, 2009
(part 111) A NIGHT AT THE TROUBADOUR: DANNY WHITTEN
I met with Herbie and Martin Cohen at their offices on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, as scheduled, a couple of weeks later. We talked about publishing and how many available songs I had at the time.
I asked them, "How many do you want?" They kind of snickered at me and said, "No seriously, how many unpublished tunes do you have available?" I told them I wasn't being cute, that I meant what I said. "I write so many songs that it's hard to keep track of how many, but if you give me a minimum number I can come up with it, whatever it is."
This dance went on for a while, and I finally convinced them I could fill up a publishing company by myself. In other words I could create an entire catalogue of finished, ready to record songs, in less than a year.
We came to an agreement that it would be my publishing company, Arizona Music, and they would administrate it, whatever that meant. For this arrangement, I agreed not to write any songs for anyone else for a year, unless the Cohens refused the song after hearing it. Then I could put that song somewhere else.
They agreed to pay me $100 a week for the first year, and then we'd see how it was going after that. I agreed to this arrangement, because I was broke, and because I thought they would get some of the songs placed. I also believed they could get me signed to a new label deal, because they had some power in the business.
After signing this agreement with the Cohen Brothers, I started getting a weekly salary. I felt pretty good about what was happening. I moved into Gavin's house for $250 a month, and got to sleep on the couch in the living room, while Gavin and Ron Radkovitch both had a bedroom downstairs.
It was a lot of money for me to pay back then, but it was a nice house and they treated me like one of them, so all and all it was the right thing to do at the time. I spent my time writing songs, making tapes, and partying with Ron and Gavin, and everything was going along pretty well, or so I thought...
I started going down to the Troubadour Club at night, which was located about a mile and a half from the house at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Doheny Drive. I'd go down there for a couple of beers and hang out to see who was playing.
One night in 1972 they were having a hoot night at the Troubadour, you know, a time when anybody could get up and play. I ran into Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina there. Danny said he was going to play a solo set.
He told me he was straight, and I asked him how he felt about playing sober? "Hey, I'm alright." he said, "I feel good." I eye balled him for a moment and said, "I don't know Danny. Playin' straight when you're used to playing loaded is a real bitch." "No really man, I feel good. I'll be alright," he said.
I tried unsuccessfully a few more times to get him not to try it, but he insisted that he was OK, and looking forward to it. When his turn came up a while later, Billy, Ralph, and I think Bruce Hines, all got his gear up on stage so he could play.
I stood there wishing he would't do it because I knew how important it was to him, and if it didn't come off good he would be crushed. He was a sensitive dude and I had known him for a lot of years. I was afraid for him because once you look out from a stage sober, at faces, it's a lot different than just playing for a couple of friends in an apartment.
Anyway, Danny was determined to go on and he did. He sat on a wooden chair, as I remember, and said a few things about being there and wanting to play and then began. I watched him as he started and he seemed to have it together, but then all at once it began to fall apart, and I knew what was happening in his head at that moment.
I'd been there before myself and it sucks! You just go blank, and it's like you don't know what you're doing, and the panic of public humiliation comes down on you like a landslide.
I stared at the floor in misery for Danny, as he said he was sorry and left the stage. I knew in the deepest part of my heart what this must have done to him. He left that night and barely said anything to me, and I remember his face and how he looked the last time I ever saw him.
Later in 1972, I heard that he had overdosed after Neil Young fired him, and it broke my heart some more. Danny was 29 years old. I remember teaching him his first guitar chords in 1964 on Franklin Ave. in Hollywood, when we all lived together...