When Edwin Letcher asked if I'd be interested in helping him interview Phil Sloan, I was delighted to accept. We're both big fans of his work as a songwriter and artist, but conveniently Edwin's interests skew more towards his early career and mine towards the later part. We made two visits to Phil's sylvan estate in the heart of West L.A., the first a social call that gave him a chance to check us out (and tell some amazing off-the-record stories about rock and roll and his fascinating spiritual practice), the second a formal interview. Once that was on tape, it was easy to split it down the middle, with part one running in issue #10 of Garage & Beat and the conclusion appearing here. If you want to get the full experience, including a mystical audience with Elvis Presley The Sun King and how Phil discovered the Beatles (and the Stones), visit www.garageandbeat.com for ordering info. Or just dive in below. It's 1964 and Phil is working as staff songwriter and underpaid A&R man at Screen Gems and recording groovy genre-rock under a slew of fake band names, including Willie & the Wheels, the Trash Cleaners, the Wildcats and the Fantastic Baggys. Soon he'll form the Grass Roots, write "Secret Agent Man" and release great Dylan-inspired protest pop under his own name. But for now, he's still a sideman... -Kim Cooper
Kim: And where do Jan & Dean fit into the picture?
Phil: Jan & Dean were already in the picture. Jan & Dean were like major stars for me. They would come into Screen Gems to talk to [Lou] Adler, who was their producer. Of course we never got to talk to them or see them. When they came in they were pushed in another room. And eventually what happened was when Jan & Dean had done "Surf City," the Matadors had fallen apart, they had their own record deals, and they were sold under different names. So the Matadors decided to go out on their own, because Jan never paid any money. I don't mean to give Jan a bad rap, 'cause to be honest with you it was a privilege to work with him, but, y'know, you still needed some money! Apparently, whatever the reason for the break up, the Matadors broke up, and (sighs) Phil and Steve [Barri] were there to take their place. And we became Jan & Dean's back up group. And eventually I became Dean, I took on Dean's part, and then singing all the background parts, and then eventually Jan wanted me to do his part! So on some records I'm singing Dean and doubling Jan and doing the middle parts.
Kim: Where did you do all that?
Phil: "Little Old Lady," "New Girl in School," all the hits right after "Surf City," I'm on "Drag City"--”
Edwin: What about "One Piece Topless Bathing Suit"?
Phil: I'm on that.
Kim: Did you write that?
Phil: Yeah. (laughter)
Edwin: That was one of my favorite songs when I was a kid.
Kim: I assume you were inspired by all the kerfuffle about--”
Phil: Chuck Berry.
Kim: --”Rudy Gernreich--”
Phil: It was Chuck Berry and it was the hoopla at the time.
Kim: He was designing down on Melrose.
Edwin: I've seen pictures, but I think it was probably just a model wearing it in the studio. It could be that it was worn in France, I don't know. There are plenty of beaches where the folks are a lot less uptight about that sort of thing. I didn't think it was very flattering.
Kim: No, the only girls who looked good in it are really flat-chested. (Phil cracks up over all the attention we're giving the roots of his tune's title)
Kim: Did you go out on the road with Jan & Dean?
Phil: Yeah, one time they let me out of the office. I went to Hawaii. The Baggys had a Top Ten record. I went over there with the Beach Boys. Jan & Dean, Bruce Terry, Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine and me were the backup band. Someone didn't tell me that Glen Campbell was going to be playing guitar, so I wound up playing bass. They just stuck a bass in my hands and said, "Here." I had to play bass for forty bands. Grateful.
Edwin: That was probably quite an education.
Phil: I had never been on stage. I had been waiting to get on stage and there I was. Playing in this backup band for me was getting to see the musicians up close. I was really into seeing all these guys and girls up close. Why, I don't know.
Edwin: It seems to me we are just about up to the point of the Grass Roots. Did the Grass Roots seem demonstrably different than all the Willie & the Wheels, Baggys and others, or was it just another studio band?
Phil: Well, it started out to be. That's the reason I had to leave Dunhill. At that time Dunhill had connections with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Barry McGuire... and P. F. Sloan? This was a joke with them. They wanted to promote P.F. Sloan, but not really, because if P.F. Sloan happens to leave the office and go out on tour, they felt they didn't have a company anymore.
Kim: You were their hit man.
Phil: I was producing, doing A & R, writing, arranging, doing all the records. They wanted me there, and yet they wanted to make some money.
Kim: Were they the ones pushing you to do stuff on your own?
Phil: The first album they did because Steve Barri was begging them to do an independent project. They said, "Okay, then produce Phil." So I was doing "Eve of Destruction" and Steve was in there with Chuck Britz, the Beach Boys producer [editrix' note: Britz was an engineer who worked with the Beach Boys from 1962-66], and they weren't even listening to the songs. They were talking about things like Brian's new recording and they'd turn around and say, "So are you done with that song?" I'd say, "I guess so. Can I listen back to it?" "No, we haven't got time. Let's go on to the next one. What's the name of this next one?" "Take Me For What I'm Worth." "Okay, so Chuck, how did you get that Beach Boys thing?" I was doing the whole album by doing a guitar track and overdubbing another. And I talked them into letting me put drums on a couple of them. Basically they put it out as P.F. Sloan and "Sins of the Family" took off. Like "Eve of Destruction," it escaped. They didn't want P.F. Sloan; they wanted a kid that they could sell to all the different markets. They didn't want something to all of a sudden stick to this kid. If something stuck to this kid, they were stuck with it. They didn't like "Eve of Destruction." They said they wouldn't publish it. They didn't like "What's Exactly the Matter With Me." They didn't like "Sins of the Family." They didn't like "Take Me For What I'm Worth." They didn't like all the songs I had written. They wouldn't publish them. They said, "These are not songs that are up to the standard of this publishing company."
Kim: Were they troubled by the topical nature? What do you think the problem was?
Phil: The head of the company said, "This is communistic crap. We can't publish a song which has the words 'prostitute,' 'liquor' and 'schizophrenia' in it." These were real life experiences, unfortunately. But anyway, they released it and I'm on billboards all over town. People would call the office and ask if they could get P.F. Sloan to play, and they would say, "No, there is no P.F. Sloan." They'd say, "Well who is that?" and the office would say, "That's just a made-up person."
Kim: There's the problem. You were doing everything else; you should have been the receptionist too.
Phil: I was in love with the receptionist.
Kim: We'll get to that.
Phil: I think that's how I became successful... because I was in love with the receptionist. Make that a note to any of your readers who want to go into the music business: if you happen to fall in love with the receptionist at the record label, you are guaranteed success. Those people run the business. They are the only ones that the head of the label would come out to and say, "Hey, do you know this group called the Kinks?" "Yeah, they're fantastic." "Okay, I guess we'll sign them then."
Edwin: How did the Grass Roots enter the picture?
Phil: Well, we have to talk about Bob Dylan a little bit before that. The Grass Roots started because of Bob Dylan. Basically, Bob Dylan called Dunhill records and said, "I want to talk to P.F. Sloan." The receptionist, who I was in love with, was used to me calling up and doing imitations, saying I was Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson and what have you. "Hello, this is Elvis. I want to talk to P.F. Sloan, please." "Oh Phil, get off the friggin' phone. Call me later." "Hi, this is Rick Nelson--”" "Get off the phone, Phil!" So she hung up on Dylan five or six times. Finally he got through to the head of the label and they said, "Bob, we'd love to have you come up, but you'll have to leave Columbia Records and sign with Dunhill if you want to have a conversation with Phil." Then they called me into the office and said, "If Bob Dylan calls you and you have a meeting with him, we will take you to court, strip you of your royalties, keep you under contract and you will never record ever again. We'll keep extending your contract, but we will never record you. If you try to sue us, good luck. Don't talk to Bob Dylan." So Bob Dylan comes in to see Phil Spector one afternoon. This is another example of seeds of the beginning of the end. Bob comes in to Phil's and they write out a two million-dollar check. They went to Dunhill and said, "Here's a check; we want to buy Dunhill Records. Now, where's P.F. Sloan?" The guy ripped up the check for two million dollars and says, "You'll never talk to P.F. Sloan."
Kim: What were they afraid of? What were you going to say to them?
Phil: Bob Dylan was the biggest entity in the world. Even greater than Beatles or at least equally on that level. For that level of person to want to talk to me, the kid in the little tiny room with a piano, working for forty dollars a week now, for him to want to talk to me tells them: "Oh shit... "
Edwin: You're going to find out that you're getting screwed.
Phil: Exactly. He's going to find out that getting forty dollars a week is not the end all to beat all. They wanted to keep that where that was at. So Dylan calls me up at home and I go and see him. We meet and he plays me his new album, Highway 61 Revisited. We're both sitting on the floor, listening to his little tiny masterworks, and he puts on "Mr. Jones." I fall over on the floor laughing and Bob falls over on the floor laughing. He's so happy that someone got it. He said, "Columbia is trying to kick me off the label because of 'Mr. Jones.' They don't know what it's about. They think it's a communist song. Obviously you get it. No one who's heard it understands it, not even my producer. They don't want it on the album. Is there something wrong with me? Have I lost it? No one understands any of these songs." Then he plays me "Highway 61" and I'm rolling on the floor laughing. These are like the best jokes I have ever heard. And he's rolling on the floor laughing because he's so happy that someone has finally got it. Then in comes David Crosby. Let me back up. I had worked with Terry Melcher on "Summer Means Fun" and the Rip Chords. Terry was given a new group called the Byrds, but he only had one more month to go on his Columbia contract and they wanted him out. They considered him Doris Day's boy and they figured he came into Columbia because of Doris Day and Marty Melcher. They didn't think he was a viable music person, so they gave him this unknown group that no other producer wanted. Terry calls me up at twelve o'clock at night and said, "I've submitted a song called 'Mr. Tambourine Man' to Columbia and they rejected it. I want you to come over to Columbia and tell me what's wrong with the record." I go over. He's only got five hours and then they're going to lock him out. We listen to "Mr. Tambourine Man" and there's no echo on the record at all. It doesn't sound very good, to be honest with you. Terry and I started talking about "Summer Means Fun" and how we put the guitar ending in triple echo and I said, "Let's do that with 'Mr. Tambourine Man.'" He plugged into all the echo chambers in Columbia and by four o'clock in the morning, we had mastered "Mr. Tambourine Man" with all the echo on it. They locked him out at five and that was supposed to be it; Terry was supposed to have been gone from Columbia Records. But he submitted the record and for some reason they put it out. They didn't expect it to be a hit. Neither did Dylan. Terry told me the Byrds had gotten a gig at El Monte Legion Stadium following Don & Dewey.
Kim: That was a big gig out that way.
Phil: Yeah, but it's all Don & Dewey fans, fifties people. Up come the Byrds on stage. Terry had asked me to go to El Monte and keep an eye on the guys and help them because it was their first gig. There's McGuinn and his glasses and Crosby with a purple cape. Michael had an actual set of drums. He didn't own his own drums and was playing on orange crates up until then. And there was Chris Hillman and they're on stage and they're doing everything except "Mr. Tambourine Man" and the crowd is booing and booing. The manager comes up and asks if these are my boys. I tell him yeah and he tells me to tell them to get off the stage right now. I jump on stage and whisper into David Crosby's ear, "The manager said get off the stage, but fuck him! Do 'Mr. Tambourine Man' now or you're going to get kicked out." They went into "Mr. Tambourine Man" and it was like the song, "Whiter Shade of Pale," where the roof completely disappeared. It left these poor people, stuck in 1959, it left them homeless, forever. The universe and all the planets and all the rays of light were there in the Byrds. Crosby never forgot and he said to me, "If you ever interrupt my set again, I will have you killed." So here I am with Bob Dylan and David Crosby walks into the room and yells at the top of his lungs, "Why do you have this piece of shit here?" Dylan excuses himself, walks over, grabs Crosby and takes him in the other room and I can hear him slapping him around. At that point I'm sitting on the couch in this hotel room on the fourteenth floor of the Sunset Plaza by myself. The door opens and in walk two topless girls wearing pink pantaloons with bells and rings on their toes. They're twins, blondes, and they sit down on both sides of the couch. I'm there with these girls on either side, waiting for Bob and I hear him slapping Crosby around. Crosby's going, "Jeez, I didn't know. I'm so sorry. Bob, how would I know?" And from out on the balcony flies a man on a rope. He is also topless and is wearing a Zorro mask, a Zorro hat and black silk pantaloons. He signals to the girls and he takes them by the hand and they do a little dance in the middle of the floor and then they go out the door. Crosby walks in and says, "Jeez, I didn't know" and he walks out. Then Bob comes in and says, "Jeez, I don't understand these people" and we go back to listening and he says, "Y'know, I'm so glad you get it. Nobody gets it, but you get it. Maybe you can help me out here." He said, "I really like your sense of melody, man. You're a better melody writer than me, man. I really wish that you'd help me with some of my melodies, man." I said, "Yeah, like maybe 'Girl From the North Country'? Where the melody is just like one of the greatest melodies ever written?" I said, "Maybe I could help you learn how to screw up a couple of your B minors." He said, "You really think I can write good melodies?" I said, "Bob, you're the absolute best." "Naw, you're a much better melody writer than me, man. I could learn a lot from you, man." Then I started naming off five or six of the greatest melodies that he had written. Even some of his throwaways. He said, "You really think I have good melodies?" "Yeah, they're timeless, fantastic." He gives me "Mr. Jones" and I go over to the record label, after they had fired me and rehired me, and they said, "Okay, why don't we get a group and do 'Mr. Jones'?" I flew to San Francisco and I meet the Grateful Dead and the budding Jefferson Airplane and I get to hear Jerry Garcia's vision of the future, which expands into the year 2050. He knows what the world's going to be like up to the year 2050. I've been told what the world's going to be like. From writing "Eve of Destruction" until the year 2020. I was told that communism was going to fall and this whole thing has been prewritten. Here's Jerry Garcia telling me about the Internet and how people are going to be putting music out for free and that people will send them a penny or a nickel or a dime and that will keep them going and this way there will be no record labels. This was back in like 1965. They turned me on to a blues group called the Bedouins. I go to the Bedouins and say, "Hey, I've got this song that Bob Dylan wrote, nobody's got it, how would you like to come down to L.A... ?" They do, the song's a hit, they go to the record label and say how about some money? The label says no. "But we got a hit." "No." "But we're on tour." "No." "But our manager... " "He'll be dead in a week." They show them pictures of bombs and people without arms. Any manager that came into Dunhill Records and said, "We need some money' they get shown pictures of dead people. They left. They ran. I ended up being the Grass Roots. I wound up doing all the follow-ups and filling in the albums and stuff like that.
Kim: I wanted to ask you about the Grass Roots' name. The band Love was using that name before.
Phil: Originally, yeah.
Kim: Was that just a coincidence?
Phil: Yeah, it was. Jagger had called me up and he said, "I want you to give a message to Jim Morrison for me." I said, "What's the message?" He said, "Tell Jim that he's a turn on and that the Rolling Stones dig him, but..." [Jagger's comments on Love are deleted at Phil's request] I went to see Jim and he was already drinking very hard. I gave him the message from Jagger. You have to understand that the Doors were considered third-rate Rolling Stones. Even though they were having hits, they were not considered artists. Jagger considered them to be artists and he wanted me to tell Jim for fear that he'd kill himself. That the Stones, who they were imitating, considered them to be artists. I gave the message and then I went to see Love, who were playing at Pandora's Box on the night of the Sunset riots. I was there with Steven Stills.
Kim: They were still having shows at Pandora's Box? They had instituted the curfews and the kids had to be off the streets by ten.
Phil: The night that Steven wrote "For What It's Worth" we were together at Pandora's Box. I was delivering a message to Arthur Lee. The riot happened outside. Steven and I were walking outside as they turned over a bus and they drew a line out there. Steven says, "Look, they're drawing a line. There's something happening here, Phil. Look, there's a man with a gun over there." He was just speaking the lines which became the song. At the time I was living with Richie Furay. He needed a roommate when I was trying to get out of my house.
Kim: Where did you guys live?
Phil: Near Turner's [liquor store].
Kim: Around Hillsdale and Clark?
Phil: Yeah. Every night I was at the Whiskey Au Go-Go watching the Buffalo Springfield. They had been turned down by every record label in town. Finally Neil Young says to me, "Phil, I'm leaving the band. I've given it a year and nothing's happening." I say, "You guys are going to be as big as the Byrds." He says, "Yeah, Phil, right." I say, "Look, I was right with the Beatles. I was right with the Stones. I worked on the Byrds' records. You guys are going to be as big as the Byrds." He says, "Well, here's our demos. Take them over to Dunhill." I took them and played them to the head. He listened to "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" and "Mr. Soul" and tells me that if I think that is music, I don't belong on Dunhill Records. They fired me for bringing in Buffalo Springfield. I took them over to Sonny and Cher. I had a friend who worked at the office there. I gave him the demos and he gave them to Sonny. Sonny doesn't like them, but he sent them to Atco as a favor. The head of Atco turned them down until some kid listening outside the door said, "Hey if you let me remix this, I think you have a winner." The word gets back, I get the tapes from Neil, they go to Sonny, they go to Atco, they go to the kid who mixes it and boom, they're signed to Atco. I was then reinstated after their first hit. The Grass Roots. A new group comes in to take their place. Warren Entner, who had gone to Fairfax High, where I had gone--”
Kim: Who were the Thirteenth Floor, right?
Phil: Yeah, they were working in town. I was at Gazarri's, the Au Go-Go, the Trip and that's how the Roots got signed. The point where it was getting close for me to be leaving was when the group had had a number of hits, but still had no money. They were on tour calling me in the middle of the night, saying, "Phil, we don't have any money for food or for getting anywhere." I'd go into the big man and say, "Hey look, these guys are out there working their asses off. Their instruments are breaking and they don't have food." He'd simply say, "They're a dime a dozen. We can get the next group at Gazarri's for nothing and send them off with nothing. What do you care? Why are you attached to them? I thought you were with us. Why do you care about these people?" That's how I wound up leaving the Grass Roots. I wanted the group to have integrity. I was forcing them to write their own songs. I wanted to, eventually, not write any songs for the group. I wanted them to be their own musicians and the company was fighting me tooth and nail. "How dare you let their drummer play on their record." But "Where Were You When I Needed You" was recorded by Bones Howe, not Hal Blaine, the professional hit drummer. Bones Howe was an engineer, who was a hobbyist drummer, but I wanted a drum sound from a guy who loves to play drums and Hal likes to play drums sometimes and loves to play drums sometimes, but he's a professional and he can't get the feeling of a passionate person who will play drums for nothing. Hal plays drums extremely well, but I wanted somebody who would make a mistake. I grew up listening to "Angel Baby." Remember that song?
Edwin: Oh yeah.
Phil: "What key, what key?" The piano player actually says, "What key?" because he didn't know what key to play and you can hear that, and the record went to number one. And Jerry Lee Lewis, if you remember "Great Balls of Fire," the drum riff, he plays a double drum riff. Instead of playing a typical drum riff, the drummer was so passionate about what he was doing that he made a mistake. The song went to number one and that mistake inspired Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac. It's mistakes that turn people on if they're passionate and real. He said he became a drummer because of listening to the mistake that was made by the drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis. I wanted a drummer that wouldn't be afraid to make mistakes. It was just the opposite of what Capital wanted for Brian Wilson. They wouldn't let Dennis play because they said he made mistakes. I was telling Brian he's the best, he's up there with Ringo or anyone you could think of, because he makes mistakes. There's something about a teenager who listens to music that is passionate because he's supposed to take risks. He learned to do that instead of being perfect. It's like yeah, that's perfect, but I've got zits.
Edwin: It makes all the sense in the world. Without taking the risks, you aren't going to expand the art form.
Phil: They're not interested in the art. They're only interested in the perfection of sales. That's all they ever care about.
Kim: So you must have really dug punk rock when it came out.
Phil: Yeah, they dissed punk rock.
Kim: What about you? How did you feel about it?
Phil: My uncle had called me a punk when I was fourteen.
Kim: But it had a different meaning back then.
Phil: No, it was the same thing. It means anti-establishment. It means a person who is out to destroy society in their minds. The difference between destroying society and changing society and building society is that you first have to take down what needs to be repaired and build it up and that was a punk. Corporate rock had already taken over when punk came in. One of the first songs I ever did, "That's Cool, That's Trash," was a garage band record that they sold...
Edwin: Was that the Kingsmen?
Phil: We did the record and then the Kingsmen covered it for their album.
Edwin: That's a great song!
Phil: If you listen to it, it's three chords punk. I liked punk because they knew what they were doing. They were trying to destroy the corporate message of rock, saying, "It belongs to me. It doesn't belong to you. Rock and roll is what I feel, not what you can sell. It's what I think, what I feel." Corporate doesn't like the fact that music belongs to the artist. It should be able to be cloned, manufactured and sold. They don't like the idea of someone saying, "Music is this. It's one chord with a broken string."
Edwin: One of the biggest changes that the Beatles brought to music was the idea that this group of musicians would write the songs and perform them and do the whole thing.
Phil: The Beatles were never accepted in Los Angeles. The record labels never accepted them. As a matter of fact, they tried to sell the Beatles to Dunhill.
Edwin: They didn't get the concept.
Phil: They got the concept. They were out to destroy it. They didn't want the concept. They were biding their time. They tried to get rid of the Beatles after their fourth number one. Columbia turned them down for $50,000 because they said they never had a group that made more than two number ones. Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Capital. They didn't know number ones. They thought the group was over at three number ones and tried to sell them for $50,000. Nobody would buy them. It was in Variety. "Beatles Are Through." Fourth number one. There was nowhere to go but down.
Kim: I want to ask you about the song that Jim Webb wrote about you.
Phil: What about it?
Kim: Were you acquainted with him? Was he a fan of yours?
Phil: Jimmy Webb was turned down by every publisher in L.A. He was a kid from Oklahoma and Los Angeles doesn't like people from Oklahoma. Los Angeles doesn't like people from England. Los Angeles doesn't like brown skinned people. They don't like Japanese people.
Kim: Who do they like here?
Phil: They don't like anybody here except L.A. people. He's from Oklahoma so he was turned down. He met a woman who ran a recording studio called Harmony, where I had recorded when I was fifteen. She told him that he should talk to me. Jimmy was staying with this woman in the Hollywood Hills. I went in to see Jimmy and he played me "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Up Up and Away." He was working on "MacArthur Park" and he said, "I have to cut down the instrumental section. It's way too long right now." I asked him to play me the whole thing and he did and said he could cut it down and I said, "No, keep it in." Tears were rolling out of my eyes while I was hearing these songs. He says, "So Phil, what do you think?" I said, "Every one of those are #1 records." He just breaks down and cries and I'm crying and he said, "You're the only person in the world that can hear this."
Kim: When was this?
Phil: I was gone [to New York] by '68 so it must have been '67. It was at the time of the 5th Dimension that Jimmy got signed, I guess, by Johnny Rivers. They put out "Go Where You Wanna Go," which was not a hit by the Mamas and Papas. At this time Barry McGuire's next single after "Eve of Destruction" was going to be "California Dreamin'" with the Mamas and Papas singing background. The head of the company claimed that when he first heard the Mamas and Papas that he knew they were going to be as big as the Beatles. He didn't like them and he said to me, "Phil, you produce them." Barry had brought them in and so they became Barry's backup group. John had written a song called "California Dreamin.'" I said to John, "Do you know 'Walk, Don't Run'?" He said, "No. I don't." I said, "I think that's the way 'California Dreamin' should go." We rewrote the song for Barry McGuire. It was supposed to be Barry's next record. "Go Where You Wanna Go" stiffed so Dunhill didn't think the Mamas and Papas were anything important.
Edwin: Did "Go Where You Wanna Go" become a hit later, like a second time around sort of thing?
Phil: Fourth time around. First the 5th Dimension did it and they hired Jimmy Webb to do the arrangements even though he was still an unknown songwriter. He called me up and said, "I'm working for the 5th Dimension. Why don't you write a song for them?" I wrote "Another Day, Another Heartache" for them. He produced it on that session. After "Go Where You Wanna Go" stiffed came "Up Up and Away." Then, boom, it was one thing after another. Glen Campbell and hit after hit after hit. Like I had said, all of these were #1 records. Jimmy had gotten to be a major mega-star, but he always wanted to be P.F. Sloan. In other words, for some reason or other, in his mind he associated me with the singer/songwriter that doesn't get listened to. He considered himself a singer/songwriter, but no one was listening to him sing.
Kim: He's a terrific singer too. I love his stuff.
Phil: He kept saying, "If P.F. Sloan can do it, I can do it." In '67 I left Dunhill and that was the end of a big part of the universe. Jimmy's star was rising and mine was falling. I had come back from New York feeling broken spirited, working in the Village doing shows there.
Kim: Was that the pink loft?
Phil: Yeah, pink piano, pink loft and a beautiful blues singer girl. I came back to L.A. and had to recover and he invited me up to his house. He owns this huge house and I have no money. All of my money had been taken away by Dunhill under threat of death and suit. I'm living at home and Jimmy's living in a mansion with the most beautiful woman in the world and he's got an entourage of beautiful people. I open the door and they're all sitting on the floor. Some guy jumps up and says, "Who are you?" I said, "I'm P.F. Sloan and Jimmy wanted to see me." "You can't just walk in. Get out of here. Who do you think you are? Hey Jimmy some guy just walked in." Jimmy comes walking in like Marlene Dietrich, down the banister and he's like, "Holy shit! Don't you people know who this is?" and they're like, "No, we don't give a damn who this guy is. You're the king." Jimmy starts to cry and takes me over to a corner and says, "Jeez, what am I doing? I've got all these people and they don't even recognize you. I thought these people loved me. If they love me then they love you." They basically didn't care. They just wanted to be around the money and Jimmy. This is a great movie story. I'm walking on Hollywood Boulevard, I don't have two quarters to rub together, I just love it. I'm at this little hot dog stand at Vine and I'm having a cup of coffee for 25Â¢ and the Association are singing, "Looking For P.F. Sloan." I don't have the money for the cup of coffee and I'm wondering if I should tell this guy I don't have the money for the coffee but I'm the guy in the song. No, it wouldn't change anything. It's like that and a quarter will get you on the bus. I thought, jeez, my day had come back. So I go and see Jimmy at the Troubadour to ask if he could help me, because I was going nowhere. Jimmy says, "Sure, just follow me and my car back to my place and we'll talk about reestablishing your career." Then I get lost. It's like twelve o'clock at night and I never showed up and Jimmy was like, "Jeez, whatever happened to P.F. Sloan? He was supposed to be here." And that's where the song came from!
The All-Time Top 10 ‘Next Dylans’: Monkee, Punkers, Bubblegum King: They Wished That For Just One Time They Could Stand Inside His Shoes by Gene Sculatti
A funny thing about revolutions: Once they're won, it's hard to find anyone who opposed them. Paris, 1789: "Mais oui! My servants will tell you: for me, it was always liberté, egalité, fraternité!" Seattle, 1991: "I always dug flannel. That spandex belongs to my sister.” Few cultural traditions are more time-honored than bandwagon-jumping, as P. Edwin Letcher's piece on faux Beatles (Scram 12) proved. Thirty-five summers ago, perhaps the most cataclysmic "arrival" in pop—Bob Dylan's, as reshaper of American song, world's unlikeliest rock ‘n' roll star and irresistible force—set off a wondrous flood of fakery and imitation. Over the years, few musicians have remained untouched by his influence: Lennon, Prince, Jagger-Richards, Motown, Springsteen, V.U. Lou, Sheryl Crow imitating Stealer's Wheel imitating Dylan, etc. But the real fun was the gate-storming party-crash that occurred when they first opened up that new stretch of Highway 61. Once he roared past, it seemed like everybody wanted to be Bob Dylan, especially the 10 heroic aspirants revved up here on Simulation Row.
10. MICHAEL BLESSING (NESMITH)
As the early-‘60s headquarters of TV-pop (Shelley Fabares, Paul Petersen, James Darren), it's perhaps not surprising that Colpix Records was the future Monkee's first label-stop. The surprise is his 1965 single, "What Seems To Be The Trouble, Officer," an outright sendup of Dylan's version of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down.” It's all there: thick-strummed 12-string, rudimentary harmonica and MN talk-singing his way through a series of non sequitirs in a voice somewhere between early Dyl and very late Walter Brennan. The song climaxes with the hippie equivalent of a standup's rim-shot: "First hard time I ever had was a po-liceman stopped me," drawls Nesmith. "He asked me if he could see some papers. I said, ‘What you want, man, Bambu or Zigzag?'"
9. JOEY VINE (LEVINE)
On the single "The Out Of Towner," the lead singer of the Ohio Express/Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus wraps his eternally adenoidal cords around an early-Dylan-style "protest" number. A jagged guitar riff plays tag with the vocal as J.V. inveighs against a hypocritical suburbanite who seeks sinful pleasures in the big city; "skyscrapers" and "tranquilizers" figure prominently in this gem of an outlaw blues from ‘65. (4 Seasons arranger Charlie Calello produced; hear that group's superb Dyl-crib, "Everybody Knows My Name," on their Working My Way Back To You album.)
8. TIE: THE TRASHMEN and THE LOVE SOCIETY
Thank heaven the Surfin' Birdmen never bowed to sacred cows. Otherwise, they might not have given us "(Why Do You Give Me) The Same Lines," a ‘66 rocker that mocks their famous fellow Minnesotan to a "D.” Talk about colliding visions of youth culture! The T-men cop the vocal kinks of the Poet Of The ‘60s to tell what's basically a ‘50s teen tale: the singer's upset with a girl who won't hang with him at the malt shop. Only advanced voice-print technology could prove that the singer of the Love Society's "You Know How I Feel" isn't his Bobness; an amazing resemblance, courtesy of this Wisconsin band's one-off RCA single from ‘68.
7. BUTCH HANCOCK
The gifted Austin songwriter and founder (with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely) of early alt-folkers the Flatlanders went delirious from the Dyl heat in ‘77, offering the fevered solo set The Wind's Dominion. The sprawling double-album resembles a hot-wired “Blood on the Tracks”: endless verses breathlessly sung, vacuum-packed with shadow figures (Cockroach Man, the Shrimpboat Captain, "the queen's daughter's lover," etc.). A solid hoot, even, it seems, for its creator.
6. MOUSE & THE TRAPS
From the same Nugget-y ranks as the Trashmen, Ronnie "Mouse" Weiss and his East Texas Traps are easily the hardest-rockin' exponents of faux Dylanism. The near-hit "A Public Execution" and the scorching "Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice" burn Highway 61 rubber, while "Nobody Cares" brandishes Blonde roots.
5. SONNY BONO
Newsweek anointed Donovan "Dylan's work-shirted, cloth-capped English counterpart,” but the early period's most profound pretender was the Son-king. Adapting the Tambourine Man's vocal mannerisms to his own restricted range, he begat a pop-protest style of great power and stupidity in 1965's "(I'm Not) The Revolution Kind.” Its predecessor, "Laugh At Me," poignantly dramatized the plight of an oppressed minority (the bellbottomed, bobcat-vested ex-promotion man—Sonny—who'd been hooted out of an industry watering-hole by promo men in suits); it also set in motion the bizarre double-helix that found Ian Hunter borrowing Sonny's Dylan adaptation to forge Mott the Hoople's even more Dylanesque style five years later.
4. P.F. SLOAN and BARRY McGUIRE
"‘Eve Of Destruction' author P.F. Sloan, 19, allows that his inspiration comes from being ‘bugged most of the time,'" Time reported in 1965. Something made the composer of Jan & Dean's "Theme From The T.A.M.I Show" and "One-Piece Topless Bathing Suit" swap his baggies for a Hans Brinker cap and life as a sim-Zim. Not so much a sound-alike as a write-alike, P.F. aped every Dylan song-style, from apocalyptic anthems ("Upon A Painted Ocean" = "When The Ship Comes In") and declarations of independence (“Let Me Be” = “It Ain’t Me, Babe”) to Burroughsian cut-and-paste ("Patterns, Seg. 4" = "Subterranean Homesick Blues"). His second LP, 12 More Times, contains the great "Halloween Mary," whose witchy, wig-hatted protagonist is "riding on a sports-broom, actin' like nothin' is real.” Sloan penned much of Barry McGuire’s Eve Of Destruction and This Precious Time LPs—most notably the Dylan dreamscape “Mr. Man On The Street– Act One” and the probing “Don’t You Ever Wonder Where It’s At.”
3. THE CHANGIN' TIMES
Despite a limited output (four Philips singles), former Brill Bldg. scribes Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld ("Deadman's Curve," tunes for the Turtles and Lesley Gore) snag the "show" spot by virtue of the sheer crassness of their work. The duo's late-'65 "Pied Piper" (Crispian St. Peters’ cover version went top five) is deliriously Dyl-derivative: an overcooked stew of deliberately flat vocals, clattering drums and reedy harp intrusions. True "babe magnets," Steve and Artie repeat Dylan's stock gal-phrase some 18 times over the course of "Piper" and its flip, "Thank You, Babe.” Self-plagiaristic follow-ups like "Aladdin" and the fuzzed-out, prom-queen putdown "How Is The Air Up There" almost best the team’s debut. "It didn't come from the Dylan song," the boys assured Song Hits magazine. "We chose ‘Changin' Times' because it seemed to signify the present atmosphere of society.” Whew!
2. DAVID BLUE
The heavyweights start here. One of Dylan’s early Greenwich Village cronies, Blue was among the first to express his devotion on a full-length album. Looking on the cover of David Blue (Elektra, 1966) like Mickey Rourke playing some Dickensian scalawag in an off-Broadway Oliver!, on disc he slurs his way across a littered imagistic landscape, taffy-pulling syllables to the accompaniment of Dylan sidemen. “If Your Monkey Can’t Get It” is “From A Buick 6” sideways, with sawing Velvets guitars, eagles in the hallway and Superman at the window. “Arcade Love Machine” tilts vertiginously, loaded as it is with dreaming streetlights, bleeding automats and the “hot-dog underground.” On the fade, Blue gives one of those trademark Dylan cries of anguish: “Whoooahhh!!” Catch the late DB in the opening scenes of BD’s marathon movie Renaldo & Clara, nattering nervously as he plays (what else) a pinball machine.
1. DICK CAMPBELL
More bugged than Sloan, with better diction than Blue, this intense Chicagoan produced the sole masterpiece of the fake-Dylan field, Dick Campbell Sings Where It’s At (Mercury, 1966). Modest talent and immodest ambitions provide the fuel for Dick to build a fire on Main Street and shoot it full of holes; Dylan readymades (word choice, chord changes) form the DNA of the entire album, which, Dick’s liner notes explain, is heavily informed by his volatile relationship with his girlfriend, Sandi. Cases in point: the cringe-worthy “Blues Peddlers” (“I won’t be capitulating/ You’re going to lose a few points in your ratings”) and the “Rolling Stone”-washed “Approximately Four Minutes Of Feeling Sorry For D.C.” (world-class line cramming, plus appearances by Judas, blind men and the farmer’s daughter). The whole LP, from “Despair’s Cafeteria" to “Girls Named Misery,” glints like cubic zirconium.* But the high point—the veritable Apex of Appropriation to which all below Dick aspire in vain—is “The People Planners (proudly waving their propaganda banners).” Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield and support staff kick up an electrical storm as DC spits fire at the enemies of us all:
Hey there, don’t you scream
‘Cause I didn’t eat up all my ice cream
Or turn off the light when I came downstairs
Forgot to burn the rubbish or comb my hair
Just shut up!
Out of print? Yes. Hard to find? Natch. Likely to be reissued on CD? Never. But Sings Where It’s At is worth any effort it takes to find. Never has thievery sounded so sweet.
* It might also, thanks to the crisp vocals and unrelenting tunefulness, invite comparisons to Harvey Sid Fisher’s work.
* * * * *
Available on CD:
Joey Vine: Immediate Records: The Singles Collection (Sequel box set)
Trashmen: Bird Call: The Twin City Stomp Of The Trashmen (Sundazed)
Butch Hancock: The Wind’s Dominion (Rainlight)
Mouse & The Traps: The Fraternity Years (Big Beat)
Sonny Bono: The Beat Goes On: The Best Of Sonny & Cher (Atlantic Remasters)
P.F. Sloan: Anthology (One Way) (out of print)
Barry McGuire: Anthology (One Way) (out of print)
Special thanks to Ken Barnes, Chris Morris and Alec Palao