Barry Rose, the music director at the local rock ‘n’ roll radio station KBOP, happened to live in Joey’s building. Every so often he and his wife came out to the pool and Joey’d smoke a joint with them in the Jacuzzi. Joey got to know him a bit, so after we had the record finished and had an acetate, we decided to give Barry a preview.
Joey set it up for the next night at 7pm, in Joey’s apartment. We’d all be there, the writer’s, Joey, Chris, and me. Supplies were ready, all the Gold, Ludes, Courvosier, Heinikens, and whatever else Joey figured Barry might need to get in the mood to listen.
Barry came to the door a half hour late. He had long, straight black hair, and wore mirrored aviator shades and a leather jacket and pants. He was all in black, and slurring his words already. After offering a little of this and a sniff or two of that, we positioned him in a chair at the center of the room between the stereo speakers. He was leaning back in the chair with one booted foot up on the table. When everything was ready, we set the volume of the record player to “Hollywood Bowl” and dropped the needle on the disc. Barry started nodding his head in time to the music and rocking the chair a bit. As the record hit the chorus he smiled and shouted something no one could hear. We all just shouted and nodded back.
He was really getting into it. I was too, kind of excited to be listening through his ears. The record sounded great, and kept building and building. Barry was rocking harder now, sweating a bit and rolling his head strangely from side to side. At the start of the guitar solo he looked like an electric shock hit him, and he started sort of writhing in the rocked-back chair, pushing farther and farther back, just diggin’ the whole thing like crazy.
The solo was climbing, the whole thing was cranking, we were all rocking, Joey was playing air guitar, and so was Barry, who looked like he was levitating in his chair. As the solo hits its last and highest screaming peak, Barry seemed to have some sort of a conniption, and the chair tipped back and went completely over, dumping him on his back on the floor. We didn’t know what to do. He was just laying there. We hoped he wasn’t hurt, but didn’t want to stop the record and ruin the effect. So we left him on the floor, and he stayed down for the rest of the song, but you could sorta tell, he was still rocking.
When it was over we shouted “Barry are you okay?” and he just looked up and said “Wow.”
He liked the record, and said the station would go on it immediately. Then, a few minutes later, he got me in the corner and in a rambling way, told me that of course we’d need to hire him on as a consultant, that would really help. I told him we didn’t have any money, but, yeah, man, we’d sure look into it.
I needed some dough bad, so I told our manager Danny Hollyway I was ready to do a publishing deal. He set a meeting up with the wigs over at A&M Publishing. I wasn’t too keen on going, but Danny told me I better if I wanted to do the business, so I said okay.
It was a morning meeting, and I wasn’t in the greatest shape. I was psychedelically hungover. I had an urge to cancel the meeting, but instead, I tried to pull myself together. I got up and put my shades on, and went outside to wait for Danny to show up. We always rode to these things in his car, and I was in no condition to drive.
In the meeting I shook hands with a couple guys. One, a serious man in an elegant suit, youngish looking, but with well-cut grey hair, seemed to be in charge. As we were introduced, I felt nervous and started to have an almost out-of-body anxiety experience, a real existential crisis that I was trying to keep a lid on. The old short term memory was out of order or something, so the names were gone from my mind the moment were introduced, as if they’d been written on the air in disappearing ink. I could hardly sit still to follow the conversation. This was how it was at most of the band’s business meetings during this time: I had difficulty getting my head around it.
I don’t know why but somehow the conversation got on to Chuck Berry. This got my attention and I jumped in: “Chuck Berry got ripped off man. What the fuck was ALAN FREED doin’ with his name on “Maybelline”? That’s bullshit, man! Payola! Rockola! Freed ripped Berry’s royalties in exchange for radio play. That’s a federal offence, but does anybody give a shit?!” I just raved on and on: I loved Chuck Berry, saw him as a great lyrical genius, and this thing galled me. “Freed ain’t no songwriter. I don’t buy that whole thing about him. ‘Father Of Rock n Roll.’ He didn’t invent that term. He was a dj that put his name on people’s tunes; he shoulda been ashamed. Alan Freed was a parasite!” I finally ran out of gas and went silent. I was a little out of breath, riled up. The other men all sat there motionless. I could hear traffic out on the street. The man with the brush-cut grey hair looked up at me and spoke. “Alan Freed was my father.”
Maybe I wasn’t hearing right. I looked down at the name plate on his desk. It said “Lance Freed.”
I can’t remember what was said next, it’s like someone turned the volume off, and we were all just looking at each other. But me and Hollyway got out of there quick, and to this day I’ve never made a publishing deal. It just never works out, so I’ve kept my publishing. Not that I couldn’t have used the dough!
We recorded “Hanging On The Telephone,” “When You Find Out,” and two other songs at a studio in San Francisco’s Chinatown, then put it out on a 45 rpm record on our own label, and it was a little record with a big hole. We sold about five copies in the first month. The great radio station KSAN played “Hangin’,” “When You Find Out,” and “Working Too Hard” on New Year’s Eve. Then we moved to Los Angeles, driving that cold night down Highway 101, and arriving in L.A. on the morning of the first day of the new year, 1977.
Desperately wanting to get things going, our drummer Paul went out every day, going around Hollywood, trying to hustle up some business, and after a few days, he told us a manager wanted us to meet. The guy’s name was Raymond Albert.
Albert had a tiny little office in a decrepit old fire trap of a building off of Hollywood Boulevard, near the Cahuenga Newstand. There was barely enough floor space in there for all four of us to crowd in. He sat behind his desk, a fortyish man with short brown hair and a chin-strap beard, wearing a khaki safari jacket over his large upper frame. He spoke in a deep voice, seemed very strong, and gave off the impression of a subdued or capped energy.
We talked for about 10 minutes in his office. He loved the record, just loved it, really thought something could happen, if we were willing to take his advice. We asked about the dozens of boxes stuffed with Gorilla toys, lined up and stacked along the walls, and he enthusiastically told us about his latest project. He had put a record out, on his own little label, a novelty single: “Oh! Kong” or something like that, capitalizing on the year’s big re-make of the King Kong movie. It was going to be huge.
He asked if we were hungry, and then, at his suggestion, the meeting adjourned down the stairs and through the alley to the Two Guys From Italy restaurant next-door.
We got a booth in the dark back room at Two Guys, and the meeting continued. Albert ordered a couple pizzas and pitchers of beer. He wanted to know: “Are any of you guys married?” We ate and drank, talked nonsense about the music world. Albert had some theories and talked big. He ordered a lot more beer, and we drank all he ordered.
Ninety minutes or so later we were all drunk, and the restaurant was starting to empty out. Albert picked up the tab, then pulled his briefcase out from under the table. Funny, I hadn’t noticed he had that with him before. He opened it up, and pulled out some paper and set it in front of me. “It’s a very simple contract, you’ll need to sign it now so I can get on with things for you,”
I tried to focus on the typewritten page in front of me. We weren’t expecting this. It made me very uneasy.
” Go ahead, take some time and read it,” he said, “or if you want, I’ll explain it. This is a standard management contract, the same contract that everyone in the business uses.”
“Raymond, It says here the term is for 10 years. That seems like a really long time,” I said.
“That’s the industry standard.” Raymond assured me. “And once the record’s a hit, time will be flying by.”
I looked around the table at my partners. Paul and Jack were looking down at their copies, reading. Everybody looked wasted, rumpled, bemused.
“Raymond, I don’t think we can sign this, it gives you fifty percent of the songwriting royalties for ten years.”
“It’s commonplace procedure, you guys. The usual rate. I need to be protected too. I’m gonna make you guys into big stars. I need to get something, a piece of the pie. And remember, one hundred percent of nothing is nothing. You gotta give something up if you want to make it to the top.”
Paul caved in. “He’s right. I think we should sign.”
“I can’t sign this,” I said, though I felt like I might be blowing my big chance.
The table went silent. Raymond was getting angry now. “You mean to tell me you guys get me out here, I buy you pizzas and beer, and now you’re not gonna sign the contract! You’ve gotta be kidding me! Sign that contract!” He was really getting worked up.
“I might be drunk but I’m not gonna sign this crap,” I said.
Paul was dismayed, but we hung together, and finally, over Raymond Albert’s ever more intense objections, we split. And that’s how the Nerves handled their first big opportunity in the music business.
The Breakways broke up, and I painted houses for a year, working for our old road manager, Ron, and making about 5 bucks an hour. The whole time I kept writing, playing and trying to meet musicians I could start a band with. It took a while. The Plimsouls started January 1, 1979, three of us backing up a blind singer and guitarist named “Doc” Holliday at a joint in El Monte California called The Place. It was three nights a week, five sets a night, and we did it for a few months, ’til the boss came in sober one night, I got fired, and the rest of the band quit.
At that point we moved into the Hollywood club scene, immediately got a fanatic following, and cut a record, “Zero Hour,” for an independent label from Long Beach, Beat Records. Radio picked that one up, and we started breaking attendance records at the local clubs.
I was relaxing one afternoon in my rundown fourth floor Hollywood hotbox apartment. The Plimsouls had formed on the first day of the year, and were already becoming a popular club draw in town.
The phone rings: a woman’s voice: “May I speak to Peter Case of the Plimsouls?”
“You got him.”
“Can you meet with Abe Somers in his office in Century City, tomorrow at 11am?”
“I’ll be there,” I said and hung up.
Abe Somers was the most powerful music business lawyer in LA. I knew that because I’d just seen his name in the LA Times: “The Ten Most Powerful Men In The Music Business.” Abe’s name was at the top of the list.
I felt a combination of nerves, exhilaration, and anger. It’s great that a guy like this is calling; he must want something. That could mean good news for me and the band. But the fucking nerve of these guys just having a secretary call up like that and deliver the request like it’s Cinderella or something. “Oh well maybe we’ll get to make a decent sounding record,” was how I put it to myself.
I told a couple people about the meeting, but went alone, feeling suspicious. I wanted to have freedom of movement, and didn’t want to get stuck in there if it got stinky.
After driving my trusty ride across town, a baby blue ’64 Ford Galaxy, that I’d bought for four hundred dollars from Louie, our drummer’s dad, Manny Ramirez, who had a shoe repair place out in Paramount, I found the address of my destination in Century City. It was a twenty five floor tower, so I parked my car in the garage and took the elevator up to the top floor, to the offices of Somers, Etcetera & Etcetera: Attorneys At Law. !
A fashionable and pretty young receptionist immediately led me back into Abe’s office. Abe was standing behind his desk, smiling at me. We shook hands. The gal brought me a glass of water that I’d asked for, and left the room. Before she left, Abe said: “Rachel, please hold all of my calls.”
Abe was still smiling at me. I was in a chair in front of his desk. Behind him, and all around us, were huge plate glass windows, offering a view of the entire Los Angeles area, from the ocean to the Santa Monica Mountains, and beyond. For a second I was afraid I was gonna jump through the window and try to fly away, but the feeling passed.
“I understand you are really quite the songwriter and performer,” he said, or some nonsense like that. “Some people I work with are very interested in your future.”
Just then the phone rang, and Abe looked irritated, hesitated, then picked it up.
“Rachel, I thought I told you to hold my calls…Oh…Okay. But just for a second…Yes, put him on…Hello, Prince Rupert! How are you doing? Look, I’ve got the million for Mick. Tell him it’s all taken care of, will you? Great… you’ll have to excuse me now, I’m in a very important meeting, I can’t chat… Okay…best to you and Mick, great, we’ll talk soon.”
He put down the phone and smiled graciously. “Excuse me, Peter. I’m sorry for that interruption. Now, please, tell me about yourself.”
That was my least favorite conversational opener back in those days. They all seemed to go at it like that, these big wigs, trying to put you on the spot. I’d been on the run, lived on the street, been involved with a lot of this, that and the other thing, and opening up with older, high-toned strangers made me nervous. I was struggling to pull some words together, something inane about ”Me and the band are just waiting for the right opportunity, “ some jive like that. I was sweating, uptight, and felt at a complete disadvantage.
The phone rang again, and Abe jerked around angrily, picked up the phone and shouted “Rachel! What the devil is it? I thought I told you to hold my calls! I’m in a very important meeting! Who? Well for God’s sake, can’t he call back later? What? He did? Well, okay, tell him just for a second, though. Yes, put him through. . .Hello? Mayor Bradley? I’m going to have to kick your ass on this stadium deal! I’m in a very important meeting and I can’t talk right now, but I’m not happy with the way this thing is going. Okay? We’ll have to work this out later. I’ve got to go.I’m in the middle of something. I’ll have to speak with you later.”
He hung up and returned his gaze to me. “Sorry, Peter. Where were we?”
The upshot of the meeting with Abe was that he was representing a Columbia staff producer named Joe Wissert. Joe wanted to sign the Plimsouls to the label and produce the record. Could I bring the whole band back tomorrow, and meet with them there at the office? Joe would come by, and we’d get things rolling.
Okay. I brought the band, which was me, Louie, and Davido, back the next day. Abe had Rachel hold his calls, and I wondered to myself who it was gonna be this time: Maybe Jimmy Carter was gonna call from the White House for some advice about the Hostage Situation or something, but no, things took another quick turn.
The band shook hands with Abe, exchanged pleasantries, shifted uneasily in the silence, as Abe smiled at us.
“So Lou, Louie Ramirez. What does your father do for a living, Lou?”
“He owns a shoe repair shop in Paramount,” Lou answered.
“Well, how would you like to buy him a whole chain of shoe repair shops?”
Louie said he thought that would be great. Abe said, well work with me and you’ll be able to do that in no time. Dave was quiet. Lou was impressed. I was ready to leave.
We meet with Joe, who it turned out had never even seen the band play. He’d heard us on the radio and read about us in the LA Times. I wasn’t so knocked out by his studio resume, even though he’d produced Boz Scaggs’ trillion selling album Silk Degrees. There was nothing so rock ’n roll about that.
I’m thinking, Joe seems like a nice guy, but his lawyer is bringing us into the deal. That seems like a conflict of interest right there. Abe says he’ll represent us, but that would be like having no representation at all, if anything goes wrong with Joe or the company.”
Abe was going to prepare the deal. We were supposed to leave and go home and think it about it. It just smelled like a big corporate rip off to me, where the bands gets chewed up and spit out, the records tank, and the careers are ruined. I had my eyes out for this stuff. I wasn’t buying.
Lou’s dad was sure gonna be glad to open that chain, if anybody ever heard from us again after we signed this deal. I can’t remember what he used to entice the rest of us. I wasn’t listening anymore. Sorry, Louie. It wasn’t gonna be that easy. On our way out of the office past Rachel, I borrowed her pen and a piece of paper and scrawled: “Thanks But No Thanks: The Plimsouls.” I handed the paper to her and said, “Please pass this note into Abe for me.”
And that’s how I handled the opportunity that came with The Big Phonecall.