After posting my last story on folk legend Doug Dillard, I was reminded by a friend just how big a role Doug had unwittingly played in launching me as a professional singer. I was thrilled to be reminded. I hope you agree. Here's the story.
When I first traveled the 45 miles from my small home town to Hollywood, my main role in the folk music scene had been as a college student working in suburban folk clubs in any capacity I could, except performing. I had tended bars, run ticket booths, booked acts, helped structure a few acts and run some hootenannys (open mic nights). But, being a more jazz-pop-horn player-vocalist, I had never considered ever being a folk singer myself. I loved singing along with all those stirring and dramatic songs for sure, but I thought you needed to be able to play some kind of self-accompanying stringed instrument to do so. Unless, of course, you were a female singer in a group. They seemed immune to the guitar/banjo playing requirements of guy singers.
To my surprise though, after moving from the burbs into the "The Show Business Capital of The World" scene, I found so many new sounds being made on so many new instruments by people from so many different parts of the world that most fears of my limitations were laid to rest.
So there I was in the spring of '64 at one of folk music's hottest events -- the Monday Night Troubadour Hootenanny -- standing in the balcony with Doug Dillard and my future Association partner, Jules Alexander, watching the beginning of that evening's line up of open mic acts and listening to Doug state his disdain for the Troub's "hoot" having become a slick, agency-fueled showcase rather than the come-one-come-all fun event for amateurs and pros alike we all enjoyed in the beginning of the folk craze. But, alas, such was the perceived importance of the Troubadour. It seemed like literally every major folk act that wasn't from Greenwich Village had been officially deemed "discovered" on the Troubadour stage. And even those who had already made it someplace else seemed required to make their West Coast debut at the Troub' if they were to be taken seriously in Tinsel Town. Among countless non-L.A.-based big names over the years who did just that were Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, James Taylor, Judy Collins and Buffy St. Marie.
Though there were at least a dozen other clubs in the area thriving at the same time -- the famous Ash Grove and The Ice House among the best -- Doug Weston's Troubadour was definitely the place you had to be seen to really be in the scene.
So, that Monday night, after about half the honed and hyped lineup of acts had performed, Dillard turned to Jules and me and said something akin to "You know what, guys? [Screw] all this hype. Why don't we put some fun back in this damned thing and fill that stage with some honest-to-God folk music pickin' and singin'?"
Nodding in eager agreement Jules and I were sent forth to spread the word for any and everyone who was up for a full-out folk jam to get tuned up and ready because Doug was going to get them on the evening's lineup -- something he, of course, being the already world-famous TV star banjo player Doug Dillard could do. Certainly not I, who had yet to ever sing a single paid-for folk song anywhere on earth.
Somewhere in the next several minutes, with the hoot's M.C. demanding a name for our "free-for-all act," we came to be called the Innertubes, a name I immediately liked. It was the very basis of an inner circle: The In Crowd. One that I was actually going to be a part of.
Jules and I, asking everyone we asked to then spread the word to others, had no idea what to expect when our newly recruited act was called up on stage, which, fortunately, was a really big stage. So many people wanted to be an Innertube that night that it took about a third of our allotted time just to get everybody set up, tuned up (with each other), and settled on which song to sing first.
Those I can remember being up there that night, besides two of the Dillards, were Spanky (...and Our Gang) McFarlane, Cass (Momma's and Poppas) Elliot, David Crosby and then Jules Alexander, Ted Bluechel, Russ Giguere and Brian Cole (all to later become my band mates in The Association), as well as at least a dozen other locally known folk performers of that day.
As best I can remember, our first song was "Banks of the Ohio," plus the required anthems "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" and "This Land Is Your Land." Everyone on stage was joined by about a hundred folks in the audience, all glad to be in on the communal joy of what folk music was really supposed to be about: giving it up, en masse, loud and proud to the rafters. It was 20-plus minutes of the best musical fun anyone had experienced in some time. All in all quite a blur for me, however, because it was the first time I'd ever sung on any such stage, let alone with such talented people.
Little would I have dared dream, though, just how important that night and that stage were going to be for me in the magical months to come. Little did any of us know that in our fun we were actually becoming history in the making.
To read part two of this story, click here.