Archive for November, 2015

P. F. Sloan 1945–2015

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

PF1Blog

A dear friend and one of pop music’s greatest songwriters has passed.

P. F. Sloan was born Phillip Gary Schlein. Phil’s father changed their surname to Sloan to avoid anti-Semitism. Phil’s sister called him Flip (the “F” in “P. F.”)

I first met Phil through one of my models, Helena Rowe. She was Phillip’s girlfriend at the time and, like Phil, a devotee of Indian mystic Sai Baba. During my figure drawing workshops I play tapes and CDs I’ve made. One of them was a cassette I had made of P.F. Sloan songs. Upon hearing my tape, Helena asked me if I would like to meet Phillip. I enthusiastically responded in the affirmative.

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P.F. Sloan at home in L. A.

If you’re unfamiliar with P. F. Sloan, you can’t be blamed. Phil was more of a behind-the-scenes kinda guy. Here are some of the hits he wrote:
“You Baby” and “Let Me Be” (The Turtles)
“A Must to Avoid” and “Hold On” (Herman’s Hermits)
“Take Me For What I’m Worth” (The Searchers)
“Secret Agent Man” (Johnny Rivers)
“Where Were You When I Needed You” (The Grass Roots; The Bangles)
“Summer Means Fun” (Jan & Dean; The Fantastic Baggies)
“(Here They Come) From All Over the World” (Jan & Dean)
“Tell ‘Em I’m Surfin’” (The Fantastic Baggies)

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The Fantastic Baggies. Phil is second from the left.

He’s most famous (or infamous) for writing “Eve of Destruction”. That song got him into a lot of trouble. His record company hated it, calling it un-American commie trash. They tried to bury the song, but couldn’t.

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A reluctant Barry McGuire had the hit with Phil’s protest classic.

Bob Dylan heard the song and asked to meet Phil. The record company (Dunhill) refused. They last thing they wanted was for Phil or “Eve of Destruction” getting any more attention. Phil found out that Dylan wanted to meet him and was crushed when the record company refused to cooperate.

The next day, Dylan arrived at Dunhill, accompanied by a very straight looking gentleman wearing an expensive suit. Dylan asked to see the president of Dunhill.

“How much for your record company?”

“WHAT??!!”

“I said how much for your record company. This is my accountant; tell him the amount and he’ll write you a check. If buying your company is what it will take for me to meet P. F. Sloan, then I’ll buy your company. I want to meet P. F. Sloan.”

Dylan called Dunhill’s bluff. Bob got to meet Phil. They got together at Dylan’s hotel room. Dylan said, “I think you might find this interesting.”

Bob placed a record on the turntable. It was an advance copy of Highway 61 Revisited.

Phil listened intently to the amazing new Dylan songs.

“Bob watched my face. He could see that I clearly ‘got it’. I got the humor, I understood all the metaphors, the subtleties and nuances of what he had written.”

After it was over, Dylan told Phil, “I’m going to give you a gift. Pick any song on the LP . You can be the first to record a cover version of that song.”

Phil picked “Ballad of a Thin Man”. He promptly recorded it as The Grass Roots (basically, Phil and the Wrecking Crew, Phil Spector’s stable of great session musicians) and released it as “Mr. Jones (Ballad of a Thin Man)”.

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It was a big hit here in Los Angeles but only made it to 121 on the national charts. It’s a great version of the song.

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Dunhill was furious that Sloan was recording and releasing his own songs. They wanted to keep him confined to solely being a Dunhill songwriter. They forced him to find another band and call them The Grass Roots, which he did (Dunhill was reputedly Mafia-owned. They told Phil he could continue to have his solo career — but only if he’d let them take one of his testicles, right then and there at the meeting).

Phil played with lots of groups. One group, The Mamas & The Papas, were fellow Dunhill stablemates. They played him “California Dreamin’” at their first Dunhill session. They didn’t really have an arrangement yet. Phil listened to the song.

“Great song, but you need an intro. How about this?”

Phil (who founded the surf band The Fantastic Baggies) took the introductory descending chords of The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run” and slowed them down. Voila! A pop classic was born.

Phil was a gentle, sensitive — and some might say tortured — soul. He claimed the lyrics to “Eve of Destruction” were mysteriously dictated to him. A voice told him to grab a pen and write as the voice spoke the lyrics. During the process, he had questions.

“Think of all the hate there is in Red China…”

China?” asked Phil. “Not Russia?”

“Trust me”, the voice said. “It’s China. Keep writing.”

Because many of Phil’s personal stories seemed so fantastic he had lots of doubters.
“There’s reality,” one music biz insider told me, “and then there’s P. F. Sloan’s reality.”

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My heart always went out to him whenever we’d meet. The pain inflicted upon him by the record business was all over his face. Whether his many bizarre tales were true or not, there’s no denying P. F. Sloan’s talent as a songwriter, arranger and producer. And from personal experience, I can tell you that he was also a kind and generous friend.

Phillip, my dear amigo, you will be missed.

      PFSloan2

All the leaves are brown… 

Allen Toussaint 1937–2015

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

ATGreenSparkleBlog

It is with very heavy heart that I report the passing on November 10 of Allen Toussaint, a legendary figure in New Orleans music.

I have been a fan of his music for many decades but I only just met Allen two and a half weeks ago on the 25th Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. We chatted several times during the 8-day cruise. Allen had an encyclopedic knowledge of New Orleans music (as he worked with just about every musician who came out of New Orleans) and rhythm & blues and pop music in general.

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A lucky fan gets to meet Allen Toussaint.

If you don’t recognize his name, you know his songs. Here are just some of the hits that he either wrote, produced, performed and/or arranged:
“Fortune Teller” (Benny Spellman; The Rolling Stones; The Who; Robert Plant & Alison Krauss); “A Certain Girl” (Ernie K-Doe; The Yardbirds; Warren Zevon); “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)” (Benny Spellman; Ringo Starr); “Mother-in-Law” (Ernie K-Doe); “Ya-Ya” (Lee Dorsey; Lee Michaels); “Get Out of My Life Woman” (Paul Butterfield Blues Band; Iron Butterfly; The Leaves; Spirit); “Ride Your Pony” (The Meters); “Working in the Coal Mine” (Lee Dorsey; Devo); “Ruler of My Heart” (Irma Thomas); “It’s Raining” (Irma Thomas); “Ooh Ooh Pah Doo” (Ike & Tina Turner; Paul Revere & The Raiders); “Over You” (Aaron Neville; Small Faces); “I Like It Like That” (Chris Kenner; Dave Clark 5); “Java” (Al Hirt); “Whipped Cream” (Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass; this became The Dating Game theme); “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky” (Lee Dorsey; Don Covay); “Occapella” (Lee Dorsey; Van Dyke Parks; Ringo Starr); “Riverboat” (Van Dyke Parks; Robert Palmer); “Right Place, Wrong Time” (Dr. John); “Holy Cow” (Lee Dorsey; The Band); “On Your Way Down” (Little Feat); “Yes We Can Can” (Lee Dorsey; The Pointer Sisters); “Lady Marmalade” (LaBelle); “What Do You Want the Girl to Do” (Lowell George; Boz Scaggs; Bonnie Raitt); “Freedom for the Stallion” (Boz Scaggs; Three Dog Night); “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” (Robert Palmer); “Sophisticated Cissy” (The Meters); “Hercules” (Boz Scaggs; Paul Weller); “Southern Nights” (Glen Campbell). Allen also was heavily involved in Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello projects.

And that’s just the tip of the Allen Toussaint iceberg.

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I caught his first and subsequent sets aboard ship. A true gentleman, Mr. Toussaint radiated warmth, class and refinement. That first evening his snow white hair was matched by his glittery white evening jacket. His band, not surprisingly, were all musicians of the highest order. They performed the finest arrangement I have ever heard of the New Orleans blues classic “St. James Infirmary”. Their instrumental version reminded me of the musical journey I take every time I listen to Jimi Hendrix’s “1983…(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”.

I gave Mr. Toussaint a copy of my book Legends of the Blues. He began to slowly go through each page. “I worked with him; he was very talented. Oh, she was a wonderful singer to work with; I produced several albums for this fine man. Chuck Berry…now he chose a different path, didn’t he?” and so on, all through the book.

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The Good Reverend Billy C. Wirtz

On board ship I became friends with one of the performers, the Reverend Billy C. Wirtz. Billy has an amazing show. He plays all kinds of boogie and barrelhouse piano with a strong Jerry Lee Lewis influence. His songs are funny (“What I Used to Do All Night Long Now Take Me All Night Long to Do”) and his performance is peppered with rapid-fire humor. I saw him effortlessly breeze through a two and a half hour show with only one five minute break.

Billy also has an encyclopedic knowledge of gospel, R & B, blues and wrestling (he used to manage professional wrestlers).

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After one of his shows we were walking towards the dining room with a late dinner in mind when we ran into Allen Toussaint. I introduced Billy to Allen and then just stood back for the lively history lesson. Mr. Toussaint was delighted with Billy’s vast musical knowledge. Billy would mention an obscure player and Allen would light up.

“I thought I was the only person who still remembered him!”

I wasn’t able to stand in line for Mr. Toussaint’s autographs during the cruise’s autograph sessions as I was signing myself. I gave my wife the CDs and booklets I wanted to have Allen sign, then she patiently took her place in Mr. Toussaint’s line. When she presented him with the CDs and booklets, she apologized.

“I’m sorry; I know that there’s a three item limit but my husband gave me four things for you to sign.”

Mr. Toussaint gave her a big smile and replied, “I’ll be happy to sign anything you put in front of me.”

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Each signature, by the way, was elegant and elaborate (For a great overview of Allen Toussaint’s career, I highly recommend the above collection).

ATIrmaBlog

The elegant Mr. Toussaint and her majesty, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas

On one morning of the cruise there was a Q & A with Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas. The many tales and remembrances of these two musical giants had me riveted.

When asked about Hurricane Katrina, Allen surprised everyone when he said in some ways Katrina was a blessing.

“All of the musicians were forced to evacuate the city. They spread north. Suddenly, they got all the work they could handle, as promoters no longer had to figure in travel expenses for the musicians; they were already living in town. I’ve never seen so much work for New Orleans musicians in my life.”

I was surprised to learn that Mr. Toussaint was uneasy in the spotlight of being a headliner. He felt much more at ease and at home working behind the scenes in the studio. One of the final questions asked was “Is there any unfulfilled dream or project that you would like to do?”

His answer?

“I’d love to produce another album by Irma Thomas.”

Irma was completely taken by surprise.

Sadly, we’ll never get to hear that final collaboration. The 77 years of Allen Toussaint’s life, however, has left us with a vast musical treasury that can be loved and appreciated forever.

Rest In Peace, kind sir. Thank you for gracing and enhancing our lives with your presence, your spirit and your music.

ATSmileBlog