7th Movement: "Musician's Union & Wally Heider's"
Updated: Nov 27
Pat, Tommy, Paul, Vince, Lou & Steve
“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
-- Lao Tzu
Once Larry had secured his new cache of dough from Mrs. Fowler’s pot of gold, he didn’t exactly wait for any moss to start growin’ under his feet. Uhn-uh. Not his style. So, within a few days of acquiring – and cashing – Mrs. Fowler’s $10K check, Larry got in touch with an engineer he’d used before with “The Brotherhood.”
The cats name was John Vierra. And besides working alongside Larry with Jerry’s band, Vierra had done a bunch of other sessions with a lot of the heavy hitters in the local music scene. Vierra said he was “in” for working with us and Larry. Cool.
But, now Larry needed a pro-level studio as well. And again, it apparently didn’t take him too long to find one and start lining up a session for us. He called up Kathy and told her that he was working on booking a date for a Cookin' Mama recording session at Wally’s Heider’s Studios in San Francisco.
Just so you know: Wally Heider’s was, at the time, a local studio that even young and aspiring musical acolytes like us knew to be by reputation an absolutely top-notch recording facility. Tons of SF’s local “hero bands” had recorded there. And, continued to do so. Pretty much non-stop.
Hence, due to Heider’s rather crammed up schedule of sessions which had already been booked, we would have to wait a little while before there was an opening for us. Nonetheless, the good news was that Larry finally was able to squeeze us into Heider’s schedule.
He had us booked for a one-day session on Monday, Aug. 17th.
And so we were all set to go.
Pro studio. Pro engineer. Pro Producer. And. Pro Producer Dope.
The next step in reaching our dream of getting a first-rate recording of our music
seemed to finally be within reach.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
-- Lao Tzu
I guess you’re all figuring about now, dear reader, that us having to wait another 6 - 7 weeks before going in to record our demo was a real downer for us. I mean, you’re perhaps thinking that because we were all still teenagers, that just sorta automatically meant that we were also an impatient bunch of Young Guns. Or. Huns. Hmm?
Well, yes and no.
I mean, of course we were all chompin’ at the bit to get into Heider’s ASAP. But, we also realized that now we could use those extra weeks in order to look thru our list of original songs in order to find our best tunes.
We’d be taking basically the same approach as we did for the Jerry gig @ “Mandrakes.” But the “Drakes” affair was just a one-time fire drill rehearsal type of deal. Now, for this new experience, we’d have oodles of time to scour thru our entire repertoire and rehearse whichever the hell tunes we’d all decide to end up preferring to use.
And get them all to up to a level of proficiency where we could literally rip ‘em off in our sleep. All before actually rollin’ into the studio for our August 17th session.
As an extra plus, Larry also invited the entire band to come over to his pad in order to discuss with us getting some more new gigs lined up. But mostly, to talk back n’ forth about the upcoming session. Including going over our list of tunes and deciding on the actual songs we’d be recording. A day and time was set for this latest meeting of the minds. And we said we’d be there.
However, unbeknownst to us, Larry had recently moved to a different location. OK. So, where are we going to meet you this time, my man? He informed us that he had moved from Tiburon. Good idea, Larry. Why? Cuz we all assumed that due to his recent rather reduced financial status, he would’ve sorta downsized a bit in order to save money. Right?
Larry had actually gone in the other direction. He’d upgraded his digs and moved up the food chain to a house in Belvedere. Which, as stated earlier, was yet even one more step up that ol’ financial ladder from Tiburon-For-Fat-Cats. As such, a home address located in Belvedere was the absolutely most glistening cherry on the very top of the Marin County $$-residence ice cream cone
Hmm. Wonder how in the hell he pulled that one off?
This was a’gonna be a very interesting meeting with our lad, don’tcha know.
Lots to talk about on many fronts.
And even though at the time we didn’t yet know this.
It would also end up being our first real introduction
to a whole other side of who Larry Sharp was.
“Nice guys finish last.”
-- Leo Durocher
The day for our meeting arrived and we drove over to Belvedere in a combo-plate caravan of my ride, “The Green Brick,” and Paul’s mighty VW rag-top bug, “The White Rhino” (*see pictures of these jalopies in “The Hang” section of our “Flashback Gallery” page).
After driving thru the luxurious downtown area of Belvedere, and then winding our way up and down and all around the gorgeous hills in the surrounding areas, we finally arrived at our destination. Parked the cars, rang the bell, entered into the foyer, and were then led by Larry into his new inner sanctuary living room.
Holy Manischewitz & Gefilte Fish-on-a-Bagel, Batman! Larry’s new pad kinda made his Tiburon palace look more like a flop house. This doggone place was absolutely crazy-insane over-the-top spectacular.
Completely new, hip and very exquisite furniture. Gorgeous Oriental rugs. Which were huge and placed at intervals on top of brilliantly shined-up hardwood floors. Floors that were outfitted in a variety of different upscale-level hard woods. Hell, one area looked like it might have actually been laid down using teak – which for the times was completely off the hook.
Slap me a tree axe high-five on that one, Paul Bunyan.
There was totally tricked-out lighting all throughout the house. A ceiling that had to be at least another 5 – 10 feet higher than the one in his old Tiburon crib. And which allowed for an even bigger and better view of the north-east SF Bay. Expensive oil paintings had been strategically placed on the walls of his new cathedral. And Larry now had a brand new, absolute state-of-the-art. and even slicker sounding stereo system than the one he’d been using in Tiburon.
With a “Wall of Sound” speaker system that looked and sounded like it
prob’ly could’ve pert near done the job as the PA at The Fillmore.
A top-shelf selection of beers, wines, hard hootch, mixers, deli trays and – of course – huge bowls of macadamia nuts - were brought out to us by Larry’s ever faithful valet and multi-purpose gofer, “Rosebury.” Who had somehow managed to remain on the in-house payroll.
And, avoid being cut from the roster of “Team Larry.”
Sheesh! This was all completely nutso.
Brother Sharp - “Le Doge de Belvedere” - had set himself up like a doggone Prince.
Ain’t dat the truth, Machiavelli?
But. Via. Using what money?
Ya wanna know? Read on, dear reader.
Before getting to an explanation – or a “spin,” if you will – about where Larry’s new influx of cash came from, lemme just describe the minutes of the meeting for y’all. And the basic order in which things went down that day.
After a short amount of time spent on some small talk amongst us all - during which we complemented him on his new pad - Larry decided it was high time to dig in. Using his normal and by now very recognizable take-control-of-the-meeting manner, he began rattling off a number of old and new venues at which we would soon be performing.
One of the new night clubs just added to our giggin' list was “The New Orleans House” in Berkeley. And Larry continued on by informing us about some encore appearances at a few of the joints where we’d already played. “The Matrix” in SF, and in Berkeley at “The Longbranch” and "Babylon."
He told us we’d also continue to perform on a sorta regular basis at “Keystone Korner” in SF. And at “The Lion’s Share” in San Anselmo. For a whole boatload of shows at both clubs.
This latest onslaught of new and very exciting info – as well as his PD (i.e. "Producer Dope”) – had once again gotten us all to a point on the happy-go-lucky stoned scale of close to around level 8. Level 10 being the highest (no pun intended) level one could attain before you entered into the foothills of “acid land.”
Gotta hand it to him.
Larry really knew how to soften up a situation in order to belay any potential resistance to his presentations from the masses.
So, now that he had us all floating on clouds of pot, booze & chow - including the omnipresent macadamia nuts - he moved on to the real meat of the meeting.
For the Aug. 17th session at Wally Heider’s, Larry wanted to us to record a 4 song demo. Alrighty, then. We’d come prepared for this conversation. So he cranked on his brand-new "Producer Level" Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder. Popped on the ¼ inch tape that we’d brought with us. And we sat back and listened to about 6 or 7 of our favorite original tunes. Ones which we’d just recorded “live” about a week earlier at one of our rehearsals.
Using Pat’s Wollensak Mono tape recorder.
The quality of the recording produced by the Mighty Wollensak, of course, completely sucked ass. However, Larry was an astute enough listener to be able to shuffle thru our selections and come up with his 4 faves. Funny thing. These were the same 4 tunes that we’d already been leaning towards using for the Heider’s session.
Musical telepathy, I suppose. Or some kind of other mental hogwash that some musicians seem to always claim to have with everyone and everything else in the entire universe.
Just like “Ducks on a Pond.”
Wow. I actually just wrote that and haven’t had a hit of pot in years. Hmm.
Perhaps I am still able to book the occasional one-day E-Ticket ride up to "Flashback City."
Golly, gee. Hope I can find my return ticket.
“If it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth,
then someone, somewhere is making a penny.”
-- Steven Wright
After this latest meeting with Larry we all sorta began putting two and two together, in order to try and see how he’d gotten set up in such a grand way. But, with every possible conceivable version of math we used…we kept coming up with five. Or six. Or every other number that was not four. Hmm. Why was that, Pythagoras?
C’mon now! Think, fellas.
We already knew that “The Brotherhood” album had pretty much tanked. And it’s not as if we’d been alerted to any kind of verifiable fact stating that any of Larry’s other bands had recently scored a record deal since the “Brotherhood’s” rather Gettysburg-like event.
Which, in itself, was prob’ly due to that ol’ tried n’ true show biz Rule of Thumb which basically states: that once a record company gives you “bank” on your advance money to record an album on their label – cuz they’re bettin’ on you hittin’ a home run – and then your record ends up in the bargain bin at Woolworth’s (kind of a much smaller and early ‘60’s version of today’s Walmart).
Then, you are pretty much shit out of luck when it comes to knocking on their door again. Or on the door of any of that record company’s other record company buddies. These Fat Cats all keep in touch with each other’s successes. As well as, each other’s failures.
Legitimate tax write-off or not, you usually only get one shot with these folks.
Was Larry secretly invoking the powers of a King Midas type of magician?
Turning basic metals and stones into gold?
At the time, none of us had any idea in the world how much a 4-song demo tape containing the aforementioned parameters would, could, or should cost in total. But, $10K? Really? Nah. Not even close. Much less than that, No Cigar Boyz. So the correct answer finally worked its way out from the tendrils of our minds and into our mouths. And we then started in on probably one of the longest and most “lively” conversations we’d ever had together as a band up to this point.
By the end of our discussion we had the answer:
Larry was using some – or most – of the Mrs. Fowler dough on himself.
However, this was not the time to speak out as to what we now realized was starting to sound to us like some kind of a con-man job. Cuz it would more than likely derail our li’l recording train right off the damn tracks. Nope. Our job was to take care of the music side of this whole caper. Larry would have to deal with Mrs. Fowler and her very generous “loan” on his own. We, on the other hand, would have to bear down even more on the songs that Larry and we had chosen for this project.
Those four tunes were: “Feel Good.” “Out the Door.” “Beautiful Wine.”
And. “The Word Speaks.”
The “Word” being by far the one tune in our musical corral
which was most heavily laden with Christian lyrics.
At least, for now.
But recording 4 complete songs: Basic instrumental tracks. All the horn parts. The numerous and assorted solos within these tunes. Vocals. And getting a final mix done. All in one session. Was like biting off a huge chunk of meat, chewing it up, digesting it,
and then poopin‘ it out in a manner of minutes. Not hours. Particularly for a group of young musicians who had never ever even been inside a real first-class recording studio. Much less, ever actually recorded in one.
This was a’gonaa be quite a jump up the ladder from using the one condenser mic approach we’d been employing with Ye Olde Wollensak Mono Tape Recorder.
‘Cuz the studio board at Heider’s was a 16-track machine.
Whoa, there horsey. How does that work?
Didn’t matter if we knew how it worked or not. Figuring out how we were going to do all this in one day - in a 16-track studio - t’weren’t really our problem. Larry was the producer. The producer is the one who not only arranges the budget for the project. And from which rock the river of cash needed to flow in order to get the session booked and paid for. But, it is also his job to make sure that by the end of the session the band has a finished product. One that could actually have a legitimate shot at generating a record deal.
It’s your turn, Larry. Take it away, bro’.
However, by this point in our relationship with Larry – and knowing what we now knew about him in re his recent financial high jinx - we had finally come up with a nickname for him.
Larry Sharp was now known to all of us in Cookin’ Mama as:
“There's no substitute for live work to keep a band together.”
- Keith Richards
While getting’ our band up to speed on the 4 tunes for Heider’s, we had at least one ace up our collective sleeve: we we’re giggin’. A whole lot o’ giggin’. At both old and new venues now corralled within our bookings stable.
Just as an aside, folks: Performing in front of a live audience really helps to make a band’s tunes even better than just rehearsin’ ‘em in your rehearsal digs. The audience response just does something to musicians which brings out an entirely new and different way of doing your material.
You get a variety of different kinds of energy from the audience. You see the dancin’ and cavortin’. You get to hear the applause, the yellin’ and the screamin’. And. Yes, of course. Sometimes, the booin’ too. But, it all works together to let you see what’s really getting over with the crowd 100% of the time. What still needs some work.
And what needs to go bye-bye.
But even with all of this extra live performing, we – as always - were still hungry for more and different types of gigs. Particularly, shows at larger venues. Places that were bigger than night clubs. And, as if by magic, our hunger and persistence finally paid off for us.
Larry called up Kathy and told her that he had us booked as the opening act on a Tuesday night, Nov. 17th, at “The Fillmore West – Carousel Ballroom.”
Are ya kiddin’ me? “The Fillmore”? Whewie! Be still, my beating heart.
Except there was one little road block
we’d have to negotiate our way thru in order to do the Fillmore show.
The Fillmore, as it turned out, was a Union house.
You had to be in The Musicians Union in order to play there.
Alright. So how do we get that done?
“The Musician’s Union”
“Remember: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. “
-- Eleanor Roosevelt
Actually, we didn’t really have a hell of a lot of time to worry about any of this Musicians Union stuff. Cuz Kathy looked into it for us. Found out how a band went about applying for Union membership. And booked us for an audition at The Musicians Union Local #6 in SF. An audition? Really? Yep. Ya had to go into the Union hall. Set up your gear. Play a few tunes for the Union Big Wigs.
And then see if the powers that be gave you the thumbs up.
Or the thumbs down.
OK. Cool. No biggie. At least we’d have some time to prepare, right? Nope. Kathy had booked our audition for Aug. 3rd. A mere week away. Uh-Ohh. Looks like it’s a’gonna be yet another combo-plate “Anniversary Game”-"Mandrakes" type of challenge, boys.
A total last-minute, “all hands on deck” for Fire Drill City sorta thing.
Aug. 3, 1970
As it turned out this was not any kind of a big deal audition. Truly. So, to once again save time - I’ll give ya the short version. On Audition Day, we found the SF Musicians Union Local #6 building. Went in and set up. And then the judges came in from their chambers. Sat their rather substantial asses down. And said: “Play.” OK. So we counted off our first tune and went for it. We were barely thru the first half of the arrangement when one of the men waved his hands for us to stop.
Uh-Ohh. Looks like they didn’t like what they were hearing.
Shoot. No Fillmore gig. Or any other big venues.
Man, we are so screwed.
Uhn-uh. Nope. Just the opposite. After only just one-half of only one song….we were “in.” Huh? That’s it? That was the “audition?” 3 minutes of one lousy song?
That’s all it took in 1970 to become a member of SF Musician’s Union Local #6.
Well, that…and paying them the membership dues n’ such.
The audition had been a very unexpectedly easy cake-walk "waltz thru the tulips" for us.
True dat, Tiny Tim.
“A small man in search of a balcony”
― Jimmy Breslin
We had just begun to pack up our gear, when the Union Illuminati said that they wanted to talk to us a bit more in detail about why this day was such a "grand" occasion for us. And for our musical careers going forward. Billy Catalano, Sr. – the President of Musician’s Union Local #6 – sat us down and explained the advantages of Union membership.
And it was to be one damn big mouthful of verbal pasta, lemme just tell ya, dear reader.
As an Overture to explaining all the various ins-and-outs of our newly-formed li’l contractual business symphony, Mr. Catalano began with a short history of why the Musician’s Union was formed in the first place. And why certain rules were put into place.
This is what I recall him saying about all of this.
Sometime around the 1920’s into the 1940’s, club owners would hire a 3-pc band, all the time knowing damn well that this trio of players probably had a bunch of friends who would show up to jam with them. For free. Or for just a couple of draft beers (*see “Freddy Herrera” stories earlier in this tale). Cuz real musicians love playing music for music’s sake alone. Even if there isn’t anything remotely resembling a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow each night after they’re finished.
Oftentimes, musicians would even stick around after closing time and play into the wee hours of the morning. Again. All for free. Just cuz that’s what they did. Cuz that’s what they loved. Capisce?
While the club owner was making bank via selling booze at inflated prices.
And possibly raking in the dough with a door charge, as well.
So, in order to protect musicians from being taken advantage of by club owners – as well, I suppose, as from themselves, so to speak – the Musicians Union stepped in and basically said: “If you show up to play, then you deserve to get paid.” And get paid a fair wage for your performance. The emotional high from the music and the free draft beer was just your “tip jar” take for the night. The salary money was your payment.
Cool. Sounds really helpful. Right?
Well. Once again.
Yes and No.
This kind of “if ya play, ya get paid” rule was great for musicians such as, Symphony players, Recording studio session-players, and bands that had Recording deals with a record company. And that’s largely because in those music biz scenarios there was almost always enough money floating around management n’ such to be able to pay “Union scale” wages to Union musicians. Or, in some cases, be able to even pay “above scale” wages.
But, for Nightclub gigs in the early-‘70’s - which were back then as they still are now - oftentimes the bread n’ butter of a musicians yearly earnings? Not so much.
Along with your yearly Union Membership Dues (which at the time were at about $40 a year) you also had other “dues” to pay. Boy, Howdy – did’ya. So, for each gig you played within the boundaries of your own local - Local #6 in this example – you paid your Local the amount of 5% in “Work Dues.” And this came “off the top” (i.e., your gross pay).
However, if you played outside of your Local – in another Locals area? Then it was 5% to your Local, and an extra 2% to the other Local. That extra 2% was called: “Traveling Dues.”
Though we had many other more colorful names for it.
And. That t’weren’t all. The band leader was supposed to get another small chunk added in for him or her (10% more). And. If the band carried a Hammond Organ (like I did).
Another 10% on top of that.
All that would’ve been wonderful.
That is, if that was the way it actually ever turned out.
But, here’s what almost always ended up happening – at least to me in my
early career as a member of the Musician’s Union.
“Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains,
no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
-- Sherlock Holmes via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
For example, let’s say my 4-pc band is gigging at a club inside the boundaries of our own Local. Union scale per member depends on how long you play. It was a per-hour kinda deal. With built-in automatic times for breaks between sets. Usually one 15-minute break after every 45-minute set.
So, in this example, my little 4-pc is playing a 4 hour show. Union scale is perhaps back then, $6 an hour. 4 sets @ $6 per hour for 4 members equals $96 for the entire band. And then you add on the extra 10% for the band leader. Me. That’s another $9.60. Now we’re up to $105.60. And, since I was playing my Hammond on the gig in this example, another 10% ( $9.60).
Final Union scale for that night would be about $115.20.
(Remember: gas was still less than $.50 cents per gallon at this time)
Wow! Up tight, outta sight, right? No, not outta sight, Li’l Stevie.
Because in the early-‘70’s NO club owners could or would afford to pay the band in this example that kind of dough. It would be more like $80 a night. Total. So, what you had to do was crazy. You’d have to fill in the Union contract for the requisite amount of $115.20. You’d then pay your Local 5% off the top of that $115.20 = $5.76. Now you’re supposed to have $109.44 left over to divide amongst the 4-pc band.
Or $26,36 per band member.
(That is, assuming that the band leader & the Hammond player took that extra 10% that each of them were supposed to make and decided to just put it back into the "band communal pot").
But, if in reality, the club has only paid you $80 – which would’ve been about absolute top-dollar at that time. Then it was $80 minus that $5.76 in Work Dues (the Work Dues still being based on the amount - $115.20 - stated in the Union contract). And when it was all said n’ done, the band would get what’s left. In this example, $80 minus $5.76 = $74.24.
Split 4-ways. = $18.56 per band member.
Which was almost $8 less per night, per band member, from what the Union contract said you were supposed to get paid. Over a 5-night a week gig? You're down almost $40.
And over an entire month? You're down almost $160.
Which is just about what rent on a one-bedroom apartment cost per month back then.
And that $160 rent fee also included your water, electricity & garbage costs, as well.
Add in the 15% Booking Agent fees that came into the equation shortly after my time with Cookin’ Mama, and I think you’re probably beginning to get the idea.
Really? You really had to do that, Twick?
Yep. Back then it was a real “tough titty said the kitty” kinda scenario for us
Lucky Union Jacks.
However, on the day of this – our first Union briefing - "Don" Billy, Sr. never once touched upon this subject. Much less, the likelihood of it every happening.
But, many years later I had to figure that even way back in 1970 he must've already known
all about his kind of contractual BS.
Hell. How could he not have known? Hmm?
So, as if all the aforementioned was not enough for one day for all of us fairly naïve,
non-street smart teen-aged boys. Here’s the real topper to this big ol’ shit sandwich.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations,
knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance.”
- Romans 5:3
We had just recently discovered that most of the nightclubs we were currently playing at were NOT Union joints. OK. So how did that work into the equation? Well, that was the problem. It didn’t. If you played a non-Union venue? And if the Union found out? Then, you got fined by the Union.
And I’m a’talkin’ “Big Time” fines, folks.
So, how did the Union find out about non-Union venues and collect those fines. Hmm? Union Business Agents. The core of which were usually made up of ex-wanna-be musicians who had figured out they had more talent at snitching out other “fellow” Union member musicians, than they did playing their instruments.
The Union’s version of “The Gestapo.”
These dudes (I never once saw a female Biz Agent) went around at night from club to club to see who was playing where. If one showed up where you were giggin’? Then they’d wait ‘til you were on a break. Gather up the entire band, and ask everyone in the band to present their Union card. If you were playing at a non-Union venue - or if you had even just one member in the band that night who was not in the Union – then they took down all of your names & Union member numbers and turned ‘em in to the Local office.
I, myself, never got fined by the Union. Not once. Hell, I just figured it wasn't worth it to not play by their rules. And risk having to deal with both the fines and all the added paperwork headaches n' such.
Actually - truth be told - perhaps I should say that I never ever once got caught.
"Tricky Twicky," and all that kinda jazz, don'tcha know.
But, other musician buddies of mine did.
And here's what they told me would happen if you did get caught:
Your fine would arrive at in the mail at your home address containing a tersely written form letter which more closely resembled something from the Salem Witch Hunts, than a courtesy spanking. Compared to these li'l Union missives, my buddies told me that the few letters they'd received over the years from the IRS had sounded like Hallmark Greeting Cards.
So, to reiterate. As much as the Union was good for Recording artists and Symphony cats.
It was not, however, very SF hippie-era, non-record deal, Rock Band-friendly.
If y’all catch my drift.
Alright, already. So, what are ya really tryin' to say, Twick?
OK. Let me just spill the the whole can of beans & try n' spell it all out for ya this way.
Unlike other Unions, the Musician's Union only helped certain types of members find work (i.e., the aforementioned Symphony, Recording session and Record deal artists). But, Union members who played in Top 40 bands or even in just good ol' fashioned Rock, Blues, Soul, R&B, Jazz, Country Western and/or Original Music bands, got no help at all from the Union in finding work for their band. (That is, unless you were all cozied-up with some Union Big Wig on the inside).
For all the rest of us Average Joe's, there was no booking assistance for: Nightclubs. Weddings. Corporate gigs. Concerts. Street Fairs. Outdoor music festivals. Casinos. Motorcycle club runs. Military Bases. Private parties. Bar Mitzvahs. Divorces. Nor for anything else that might possibly appear from time to time on the potential gig menu.
Nothing at all. Not one gig ever. Nada. Zip.
You were completely on your own when it came to that.
Or you'd be forced to employ the strategy in which you hired a Booking Agent to find you work. Which entailed paying out that 15% "off the top" booking fee which I just alluded to a few paragraphs ago.
Hey there, folks: a Union which doesn't help you find work just because you're not already flush in the Big Time? Cuz you're only some kind of a Union low-level grunt night club player? Or you're just starting out in the music business? Really? You pay these Union guys just so that you can play? And only at certain venues? The ones at which they tell you you're allowed to play? And then they fine you if you don't go by all the rules, all the time?
Man, talk about gettin' hustled on the Long Con.
Take a deep breath, Twick.
OK. I'm calm again.
So, I suppose right about now, dear reader, you’re all wondering what, if anything at all,
was totally & truly “grand” about our newfound membership in Local #6.
Here’s what we heard that day.
We were told that the main “Good News” about Union membership was this: once a Musician Union member or band of Union members had a signed Union contract for any “live” performance or recording session, then it was the Union’s job to make sure that you got paid. And got paid according to the Wage Scale that they used for these various types of Union-Contracted gigs.
But, if there was a problem getting your money from someone who hired you?
Then, the Union step would step in and start flexing its collective muscles.
For example - as explained by "Don" Catalano - if a nightclub doesn’t pay up in full? Then the Musician’s Union will demand that they do. And if that doesn’t sway the nightclub that’s supposed to pay ya? Then, the Musician’s Union calls up the Teamster’s Union and tells them to stop delivering booze to the club. And if that don’t do the trick? A Union lawyer will step in to make sure you get your dough. And the Union gets their “fair” share. One way or another, the Union will take care of everything.
And the requisite money owed is sho’ ‘nuff a’gonna get paid out.
Yo’! Fo'git about it.
However – to be fair - I don’t remember Billy Boy saying anything at all about Union thugs wielding axe handles or claw hammers n’ such to get the job done.
(As in the “Union vs. Scabs Wars” in the U.S.A. from 1886 thru the 1920’s n’ ‘30’s)
Oh. And by the way.
Here’s another tasty li’l peach for y’all to chew on.
Unless you made a certain high-level of income playing music (*see Symphony Musicians, Recording Session Players, and Artists with Record Deals), which resulted in a high-level of various types of dues being paid to the Union - then there were no Medical Benefits available to members via the Union.
With the sad exception of the terrible policies they occasionally trotted out in their monthly magazine (that you got in the mail “for free”), and which they tried to foist upon any and all unsuspecting lower-income musicians as “real” medical insurance.
Hey. But, when you died? And. If over the course of your life you’d paid in
a certain large set-amount of coin to the Union?
Then, there was a “Death Benefit” for whoever you named as your beneficiary.
Hence, for us it was all just some sort of additional necessary evil that we'd have to endure in order to do the Fillmore show…and…if we got signed to a record deal.
But, this whole Musician’s Union "we've always got your back" thing will come up
in a big mess of a way in just a li’l bit from now…so, stay tuned
“How you play the game is for college ball.
When you’re playing for money, winning is the only thing that matters.”
--- Leo Durocher
Once our Aug.3rd Musician’s Union Audition had been successfully completed and relegated to our band’s rear-view mirror, we then had 14 days left to finish preparing for our Aug. 17th recording session at Wally’s Heider’s Studio in SF. And takin’ a page from Larry’s playbook, we didn’t let any moss grow under our feet. Our 4 songs for the session had already been adequately rehearsed: ad infinitum.
And so we now turned our attention to live gigging in order to get us
properly pumped up for recording.
A couple of gigs at “The Lion’ Share.” A show down in Modesto opening up for Elvin Bishop. And one performance at our alma mater - Alameda High School - opening up for “AB Skhy,” got the ball rolling. And to finish off our pre-session warm-ups, we did a Fri./Sat. back-to-back weekend show @ Keystone Korner. Opening up for “The Rhythm Dukes.”
Which featured our hero, Bill Champlin from “The Sons”,
and Jerry Miller from “Moby Grape.”
Very cool way for us to end our preparations.
And so after the Sat. nite show @ the Korner, we had finally arrived at the
“One Day Countdown” for Wally Heider’s and –
we all assumed - assured fame & glory.
Aug. 17th, 1970
“The only thing that stands between you and your dream is the will to try
and the belief that it is actually possible.”
- Billy Martin
Control room at Wally Heider's Studio, SF in 1970
The session was set to begin at 12 noon. No prob’. We’d already done other early-afternoon outdoor shows before without any hitches. (Hey. We were teenagers. Who needs sleep at that age?) Nonetheless, we made sure that we arrived early. This was gonna be a one-day affair. We only had one shot at it. And we didn’t want to get bogged down in any unexpected Monday morning rush-hour traffic while heading over the Bay Bridge from Oakland into “The City.”
Hence, at 9:30am we left our Rockwell abode with ourselves, our gear, our crew, and Kathy. Fired up our “Wagons, Ho” wagon train consisting of the “Bing Sue Van,” Kathy’s “Arrest Me Red” VW beetle, and Paul’s VW bug: “The White Rhino.”
And began our trek towards our destination, and – we hoped – our future destiny.
Found the studio that was located in SF on Hyde St. Double-parked and moved our gear inside. Parked our wagons in various locations near and around the studio. But actually - like in the “Old West” - we prob’ly should’ve deployed pickets to survey the surrounding parking areas. And sentries to patrol around our vehicles.
Due to the type of low-life neighborhood in which we found ourselves.
If the Keystone was located in a North Beach area that resembled “Sodom & Gomorrah,” then this little enclave was more like “Panic in Needle Park.”
Junkies, street thugs & pimps n’ hookers galore. We saw very few cop cars. Hmm.
Well, it was what it was, and we t’weren’t a’gonna let this new development cancel or affect our encounter with the Heider’s 16-track beast.
Larry was right there to greet us as we walked thru the front door. Upbeat, joking around and full of positive words, as usual. Which, truth be told, always really did help to relax us. Larry had a gift for that kinda stuff. He then took us into the control room and introduced us to our engineer: John Vierra. What a cool and nice dude he was. John then directed our crew – Terry Fowler n’ Pres – on where to set up our gear inside the studio. Which was really great n’ all that.
Except for this:
Engineer Vierra was accustomed to bands recording tracks in a certain way and in a pre-ordained order. Rhythm section first. Which would mean drums, bass, and both guitars. Then, he’d add in the horns doing something called “overdubs” (more on that later). Then, overdub the guitar and horn solos. And, finally – the vocals.
Though we were young and inexperienced,
we still knew how this whole thing would work best for us.
So we manned-up and told John that this was a major “Uhn-uh” for us. And we told him why. We were used to playing together, all the parts of the song, all at the same time. After a certain amount of back-n’-forth dialogue, he agreed to let us try it our way. But, he said: “However we end up doing this, one thing is certain: the vocals will be done last.” Via overdubs. We acquiesced to his professional advice on that one…and so here’s how it went.
Just like at “Rockwell,” we set up in a sort of circle. Vince and his drums at the far end of the studio. Lou and his bass amp to Vince’s left. Pat and my amps to Lou’s left, and directly across from Vince. And then Paul and Steve and their horns were to Pat’s and my left.
Vierra had originally set up a 10’ sound barrier around Paul n’ Steve. We said that would be a problem. He said that if he didn’t do that, then the horns would “leak” into the mics recording the other instruments. We didn’t care. So, realizing who it was he was dealing with – inexperienced teen-aged boy musicians – he cut a compromise a put up a shorter 5’ tall baffle “wall” around our horn section.
Why did any of this matter to us?
Well, we were used to being able to see each other so that I could signal changes and such. And so we could good-vibe each other while playing. This was just how we did things. Both at Rockwell, and on-stage at “live” shows.
Larry, amazingly so, kept quiet during all of the above discussions. But, after that was all done, he then took John aside for a few private words with him. We were then asked one by one to go into the studio and play our instruments so Vierra could get volume levels & tones on the various microphones used on the different instruments.
Vince’s drums were up first. Then, Lou. Then Vince and Lou together. Then, Pat. Then, me. Then, the four of us played a short bit all together. And then Paul n’ Steve had their turn with their horns. And finally, the whole band blew thru a short section of one tune.
Whew! None of us had any idea that this would all take so long. I mean, we were used to just turnin’ on the Mightly Wollensak, punchin’ “record,” and then just countin’ off the damn tune.
Finally, John told us that he had some great “levels” on all of our mics. It sounded really good. And then he said: “Would you like to try one?” Would we like to try one? Hell yes, we would! Let’s get this train a’rollin’, bro’.
We had already previously decided that we’d go “all in” on the first song.
So “Feel Good” it was to be.
All 9 minutes of it.
However, John told us that before we started, we had to all put on headphones and he’d help each of us get a proper band mix. This went on for awhile - but we hated it. Why? Again. It was not what we were used to. More back-n’-forth discussions yielded Larry walking into the studio and announcing to us and John:
“Just let them do this the way that’s most comfortable for them.”
Bingo. Thank you, “Sharky.”
Bye-Bye headphones. At least, for now.
Larry retreated to the control room. John said over some “hidden” speaker inside the studio, that he was ready. And we told him to let ‘er rip.
To this very day, the next words I heard on that day - for the first time ever -
will always resonate within my memory banks in a very special way.
John simply said: “Recording." “Feel Good.” "Take One.”
I counted off the tune, and off we went. And because our Rockwell rehearsal room was relatively well-insulated with our collection of old egg cartons, rugs, wall hangings, and stinky sleeping bags on the walls, ceiling and flooring - we were pretty used to things sounding kinda muffled. Which is what you get in a real studio. That is, as long as you’re not wearing your headphones. Cool. No problemo, Dumbo.
Also - and more to the point - we were all actually so excited to be finally playing & recording our music, that we forgot that this first “Take One” was supposed to be just a “sample” run through. John had figured that we’d stop at some point. Come in and listen to what things sounded like. Make some adjustments. And then go back in and do a “real” take.
But that ain’t how it went down that day @ Heider’s.
We 6 Mamas just kept plowing on and on and on. Thru all the time signature changes, the solos, the tempo slow-downs and speed-ups. The loud parts & the quiet parts. The whole enchilada. Finally, we got to the end of our 9 minute Opus. Smiled at each other. And then turned around to the control room window to see the reaction.
Our collective eyes were greeted with smiles from everyone inside Mission Control. And John signaled for all of us to come on in. By the time we’d extricated ourselves from our instruments, done the ‘60’s hippie-era version of “high fivin” each other, and brought our butts into the control room – John had the tape rewound and all ready to go for playback. Which is what ya call listening back to what the hell it was that you’d just recorded.
We used to just call it "listening."
So, yet another new term to enter into our ever-growing CM Lexicon of Musical Expressions.
Engineer Vierra hit “play.” And what emanated out from the speakers up above the sound board and facing towards us absolutely blew our minds. Good grief, but it sounded amazing to us. Crystal clear, tight, and with an absolutely huge sound to our band.
Quite a change from the tiny n’ tinny sounds produced by Ye Olde Wollensak.
John waited until we’d listened to the entire 9 minutes of “Feel Good” and then said: “Well, we can do another one if you want. But, for me, that sounds like a keeper.” And. Since we’d forgotten all about doing the guitar and horn solos as “overdubs” – and cuz this tune was mostly an instrumental and all the parts were already on the tape...we just said we were ready to just move on to the next tune.
(Later on after the entire session was over, Larry and Kathy told us that Vierra was completely blown away by the “Feel Good” recording. He was amazed that any band - much less a band as young as we were and with no previous studio experience – could go in and cut an entire 9 minute track, all the instruments at once, including all the solos, and get thru it all on “Take One”…without making even one mistake).
Don’t mean to really brag here or nothin’ like that, dear reader,
but I must say that by this point in time:
Cookin’ Mama was one hell of a well-rehearsed band, don’tcha know.
So, to once again save time here, I won’t go thru any kinda blow-by-blow description of the next 3 tunes we recorded. Which were (in no particular order that I can remember): “The Word Speaks.” “Out the Door.” And. “Beautiful Wine” - which was our one slow tune ballad for that day’s recording high-jinx. Actually, now that I think about it, we didn’t really have many ballads in our band’s repertoire at this point in time. Those all came later on.
So, the only other thing worth noting now is that John was AOK with us doing all the solos along with what would traditionally be only the basic rhythm tracks, as described earlier in this section. He had seen n’ heard that this method of recording was what was a’gonna work best for us. And, by association, end up working best for him, Larry, our time constraints, and our budget, as well.
The instrumental tracks for those 3 tunes were all done and finished up rather quickly. Pretty much like “Feel Good.” Can’t remember if we were mistake-free on all the “Take Ones.” But, I do remember that things just kept rollin’ along relatively unhindered by any bonehead musical clams from any of us Mamas.
So, now it was finally time for our band’s only “Achilles Heel”:
And all of us were very shortly going to learn all about the concept of “Overdubbing.”
And just how alien a concept it was going to be for those of us who sung.
As well as, for those Mamas who would have to suffer thru
this final section of this day’s recording session.
On Aug. 17, 1970, Pat and I were the only lead vocalists in Cookin’ Mama. On “Out the Door,” Pat sung lead on the verses, and then we both sung harmony on the choruses. And we also sung together on the choruses of "Feel Good." But, it was me – and me alone – who sung the lead vocals throughout the entire tune on both “The Word Speaks,” and “Beautiful Wine.”
And, speaking for myself, I have always looked back on the methods I employed for overdubbing my vocals on that day with more than just a few regrets.
My comfort zone had always been singing while I was playing my guitar. And other than practicing on my own, I had never once sat down while singing and playing. Not while onstage. Nor during any rehearsal. But, for some reason unknown to me even now, I decided that I would sit in a chair to sing my overdubbed vocals.
OK. OK. It’s finally time to go on a quick detour in order to explain what the term “overdubbing” means. And for you professional recording engineers n’ such:
I ask for your indulgence while I try to use Neanderthal layman’s terms in explaining this, while staying the hell away from any forms of geek “techno-talk” or “engineer-speak.
So, here goes nuttin’….
As I mentioned earlier, Heider’s had what was called a 16-track recording board. Which sorta meant that instead of one or more microphones being able to be recorded into only a single track or “space” (if you will) on the tape, you now had 16 different tracks or areas of the tape to use. (Think of it this way: Each track kinda lived in its own world).
And. Each of these individual16 tracks (also called “channels” on the recording console) had it’s own EQ for treble, bass and mid frequencies. Left-to-right "panning" (another term I'll address later). As well volume input and output levels. And each track also had its own separate area on the mixing console into which you could add effects. Such as Reverb or Echo or anything else for that matter.
Hmm. I just re-read that and even I'm confused.
Let's just move on, ok?
So, for our band – it went something like this:
One mic each (and, hence, one track or channel each) for Pat’s guitar amp, my guitar amp & Lou’s bass amp. Now you’ve got 13 tracks left. One for Paul’s horn. And one for Steve’s horn. Now we’re down to 11 tracks left. When singing solo or together, Pat and I would sing using one vocal mic. 10 tracks left.
And, as always, the drums took up most of the remaining tracks. One mic for each of Vince’s two bass drums. 8 tracks left. One more for his 2 smaller tom-tom drums. 7 tracks left. Another for his 2 floor tom-tom drums. 6 tracks left. A snare drum mic. 5 tracks left. A high-hat cymbal mic. 4 tracks left. And 2 mics on tall microphone "boom" stands that would be placed as over-head mics (that is to say, about 2 – 3 feet above Vinnie's collection of other cymbals).
Now there were 2 tracks left available to use, if necessary.
John said he always liked to try n' keep at least one or two tracks open for the possibility of a late-show arrival from that pesky n’ perennially tardy boy:
So, for us, it was pretty much only going to be the vocals that would still be needed to be added near the end of the session – just after all the instruments had been finished up all nice n’ tidy. Hence, the singer or singers would go into the studio. Put on a pair of headphones. Yech! And then John would play the band’s instruments back thru the headphones so that the singer(s) could then know when to come in on the various vocal parts.
The only microphones that would be put into “record” mode would be that one vocal mic. You’d sing your parts. Listen back to them. And when they were finally sounding close enough to nifty? You were done.
Easy peasy, right? Hah! Not exactly, Pavarotti.
I choose “Beautiful Wine” – the ballad – as my first tune to sing. Mistake Numero Uno. We should’ve started with “Out the Door.” Why? Cuz that way I’d at least have Pat in there with me for emotional support. And so that we could both navigate these new headphone overdub waters together as a team.
But, dat ain’t the way it happened.
I'm in there by myself. Not standing by the microphone. Nope. I'm sitting in a chair. Waiting. Playback started. I sung a li’l bit so John could get me and my chair positioned in the right spot and in the correct proximity to the mic. He got the correct recording volume level on my mic. Brought the band into the equation. And off we went.
However, even with onstage vocal monitors – like at “The Lion’s Share” –
I had never, ever heard my voice that loud above the band. It completely freaked me out.
But, instead of speaking up and asking John to lower my vocal volume in my headphones, and to bring the band’s volume level up…I just plowed on thru the whole tune.
Came back into the control room to quite a different group of facial expressions from what I’d seen after our instrumental stuff. John hit playback and I immediately knew why there were so many long faces. I sounded like a 12-year old trying to sing like Tony Bennett. Bill Champlin this was not. Arghh! Went back in and tried it a couple of more times until my lead vocal didn’t completely suck eggs.
And then we moved on to Pat and I singing “Out the Door.” After that, the two of us would sing the short vocal sections on "Feel Good." And then finally, I'd sing “The Word Speaks.”
Pat and I had already learned more than just a wee bit from my first attempts at this new vocal recording w/ headphones conundrum, and so our singing on "Out the Door" and "Feel Good" - and for me on "The Word Speaks" - went by much more quickly n’ smoothly than it had previously gone for me on "Wino's Lament."
Sometime soon after that session, Pat and I came up with a new expression for what it was like being inside the studio singing while the rest of the band, Kathy, Terry, Pres, Larry & John were all inside the control room. Behind the large glass window which separated the control room from the studio itself. It was like being a fish inside a fishbowl.
But - more to the point - it was like looking into the eyes and faces of:
"The Panel of Judges."
FYI: Years later in the late-‘90’s while I was recording with Gregg Allman at Fantasy Studios – along with Tom Dowd producing – I discovered something that made me feel a lot better about my earlier plight back in ’70 @ Heider’s. As it turned out, Gregory always did all of his vocal tracks for The Allman Brothers Band records – as well as, for his solo albums – with only him, Tom Dowd (or some other producer), and the engineer inside the control room.
And with no one else inside the recording studio with him either.
He, too, didn’t want to have an audience around him when he was recording vocals. And this, coming from a world-class vocalist whom I had admired since the late-‘60’s, and continued to admire during all the years that I played and recorded with him.
Back to Heider's.
So now that the vocal tracks were done, all of us were finally able to just kick back, have a beverage or two, pass around a couple of joints, and listen to John Vierra’s mix of our session.
And the ever-developing sounds that Engineer Vierra pulled out of the tracks we’d just laid down was magical to us.
He’d add in a li’l Reverb on a vocal. Or on a guitar or horn solo. Put a wee bit onto Vinnie’s drums – all except the bass drums which he left alone pretty much. He adjusted treble, mid, and bass tones on all the individual instruments. "Panned" different instruments either towards the left speaker or the right speaker (such as, having Pat's guitar on the left, and mine on the right).
Placed the 2 bass drums and the snare drum pretty much dead nuts center. And spread out from left to right, Vinnie's 4 different tom-tom drums and his various cymbals. Did the same "panning" thing with both Paul and Steve's horns. Put all the guitar and horn solos near the center, as well. Or he'd split 'em slightly left or right. Tried different individual track volume settings.
And finally he brought up the volume on the 2 overhead mics above the drums
in order to get some overall ambiance into the sound.
"Ambiance". Huh. Another new word for our CM Lexicon of Musical Terms.
But, then he did some other really trick stuff.
On one later-in-the-song section of “Feel Good” – right after a super loud n’ heavy part which during the recording we had already begun to make softer n’ softer, while at the same time slowing down the tempo bit by bit – we would then go into a really mellow part and hit one of our favorite chords: Major 7ths aka “The Pretty Chord.”
Then, even though during the recording phase we had already begun to swell the volume up n’ down between these sweet-sounding chords in this newest section, John brought the overall volume of the entire band up n’ down as well during the mixdown. To make the parts further "swell" between the chordal changes. Whewie! It sounded like pure bliss to our musical ears n’ hearts.
Even better than "Duck on a Pond."
If heaven was a’gonna be anything like this? "Then take me now, Lord."
John finished up mixing all 4 songs that day. The finished product all sounded out of this world to us. He gave both Larry and us one copy each of the final mix on individual 1/4 inch reel-to-reel tapes. We thanked him and Larry for everything. And we were then off and on our way back to Rockwell…for a major all-night listenin’ n’ smokin’ session.
The herb supplied via Larry’s rather still-substantial stash of...what else?
Now, dear reader, I really don’t mean to end this particular section of our story on a low-note, or on any sort of a downer or nothin’ like that…that is, especially considering all of the mainly good stuff that had just happened to us Mamas at this point in our tale...
However, it is important for you all to know at this point in the story –
as well as before we go forward – the following li'l bit of info:
Which is that we had never once - neither before nor after this session –
applied pen to paper and actually signed any kind
of a binding contractual agreement with Larry.
Larry and Mrs. Fowler, on the other hand? Well. Who knows?
I sure didn’t. Hell. None of us did.
In the side yard of Larry Sharp's mansion in Belvedere.
Demonstrating the body language, facial expressions,
and overall emotional effects brought on by "The Shark's:"