The Big Phone Call
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.