True-Life Rock Tales

Peace Parade, the Protest, and J.C. Superstar

In Issue 117 Ken talked about his involvement with the LA and Broadway productions of Hair and how it led to the spinoff Peace Parade musical show…and romance. The story continues here in the years 1972 and 1973.

Rehearsals for Peace Parade are on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons the week of a show. I am the co-producer (with Bruce Sachs) and director. Tuesdays have the band and individual performers coming in to rehearse their solo songs. It takes about an hour for a performer and the band to rehearse each song. On Thursdays, we would have everyone in and run through the whole show, stopping whenever we had a musical adjustment or cue to add. We only rehearsed on the weeks we had a show and we did not have a show every week. It was fun and there was never any drama.

At the moment we have Cornell University and Amherst College on the docket. That covers the coming month as we can only do shows on Sundays. My thinking is that each cast member does the song that they do in Hair and we do some of the full-cast (known as the “Tribe”) songs and I add and assign some hits of the day. This was a gentle process with everyone agreeing on the material. Peace Parade was high-energy and loaded with talented performers like Susan Morse, Paul Jabara, Roy Bittan (who later joined Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) and many others. The band was excellent. The money was good, and it was worth everyone’s while.

Thursday evening, we finish up with the performers. I instruct everyone to meet up at 9:30 Sunday morning at the bus stop on 8th Avenue and 48th street. After rehearsal, the Hair folks head across the street to the Biltmore Theatre (now the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre) for that night’s show. The band stays with musical director Gil Slavin to go over how to handle the space between the songs. The idea is that whole show flows and there is continuity. Some of the musicians have played together before so the band is tight in no time at all.

We all meet Sunday morning and get on the bus. Paul Jabara is trying to flirt with me while I am sitting with Susan. He tells me he was voted the most well-endowed performer (like that matters to me) in Hair. Susan and I laugh, it is a good time and people are joking around and having fun.

We arrive at Amherst College. The chairman of the homecoming committee meets the bus and directs us to the field house where the concert will be held. It is getting near showtime. The place is packed with around 5,000 college students. This is both a concert and a protest. Every male student in the house knows that within weeks of graduating or leaving college they would most likely be drafted and sent to Vietnam.

The band starts up and we all go on stage. The audience greets us with a huge roar and we break into “Aquarius.” We be rocking. In the moments between songs, Paul Jabara jokes with the audience. He is spontaneous and hysterical. When solo songs are sung, the rest of us do backup vocals, making the songs sounding rich and full and almost like the recordings.

At the end of the show during the last song, “Let the Sunshine In” we go out into the audience and bring some of them up on stage to join in. The audience response is fantastic, and the show is great. It was quite a rush for me and good fun for all. There are more college dates sprinkled though out the year.

The audience at a Peace Parade show. Photo by Jon Lane.

One night the whole Broadway cast was sent to Madison Square Garden to participate in a fundraiser for George McGovern, the Democratic nominee for president. It was a long night made even longer by Jimi Hendrix being on the bill. (I have hung out with Jimi. He was very cool. I’ll tell the story in an upcoming issue.) At the beginning of Jimi’s performance, he stumbled backward into his amplifier. His band stopped the show and helped Jimi off the stage and back to his dressing room. I was standing right on the side of the stage and it was apparent to me that Jimi was really stoned. (This was the last time I ever saw Jimi; he died a few months later.)

The thing was that Hair was due next and we had to wait because Jimi’s people said he wanted to come back and finish his set. We waited for what seemed like an hour and a half before they retook the stage. By then it was after midnight and most of the audience had left. The cast members were pissed off because it was late and more importantly, because they had a performance the next day. When Jimi finished his set the Tribe took the stage and a couple of them grabbed my wrists and dragged me up with them – my last time ever on stage as a so-called performer – for “Let the Sunshine In,” the one song they had time to do. We sang to a sparsely-occupied Madison Square Garden.

As the year moved forward Hair became less popular, Vietnam wound down and the Peace Parade bookings fell off.

Bruce and I didn’t even realize there was a remarkably successful number one album out named Jesus Christ Superstar, by British songwriters Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The double album featured Murray Head and Yvonne Elliman. It was released in the states on Decca Records and ultimately went on to sell over eight million copies worldwide. The album is loosely based on a musical dramatization of the last week of the life of Jesus Christ. At the time it was considered by some religious groups to be outrageous.

Unidentified protester and Ken.

The album had been out for a while when booking agent Mike Martineau called Bruce. “I got a guy from St. Louis, a high school teacher named Bob Ede who wants to do a show based on the album.” He needs performers, talent…can you help him, Bruce?”

Bruce calls me and says, “we are back in business Kenny!” With the help of Susan, I rounded up all the Peace Parade folks and we added a few more (including actor Billy Barnes and Denny Belline of Denny Belline and the Rich Kids (and Perry Como’s nephew) and I book our rehearsal space because Bob wants auditions. All good; after just one day everyone from Hair and Peace Parade including the band gets an offer. Bruce and I become the artist representatives – it was Bob Ede’s show, but soon afterward he went back to St. Louis to teach. The road was not for him.

It was decided that there would be a Black Jesus and a white Judas. (The later Broadway show did the opposite with a white Jesus and a Black Judas, my dear friend the late singer/actor Carl Anderson). No one ever had a problem with our choice except one promoter in Myrtle Beach who had an issue with the fact that the Black and white cast members stayed in the same house. We did not get pushed around by that and Bruce and I never told the cast about it.

Mike Martineau booked a ton of shows, mostly college dates. The money was rather good; not quite Peace Parade money, but this was a full-time bus and truck tour and for the most part stayed on the road doing five or six shows a week. The weekly totals combined were much better than for Peace Parade.

For us to present this show certain changes had to be made. We changed the name from Jesus Christ Superstar to Superstar, The Original American Touring Company (OATC). We took the position that this was not a show but an oratorio. That meant no props or costumes, just the music, and of course we had a lighting designer, Ken Anderson, who created a fixed and followspot lighting script that dramatically enhanced the stage performance.

On the road again. We are in Lubbock, Texas (home of Mac Davis and Buddy Holly) and Ken Anderson must go home for five days on family business. He gives me a script marked up with lighting cues and draws a picture showing where the fixed lighting should hang and where they had to be focused. I am calling the lights – and there are 167 timing cues that must be called correctly. I have three high-intensity carbon arc light follow spots, forty-eight hanging Fresnels and other fixed and adjustable-focusing lighting. (Focusing on fixed lights is done with flaps called barn doors.) In the afternoon, the crew hangs and focuses the lights on certain spots on the stage while I direct them.

Ken and Billy Barnes.

A half-hour before the show the spotlight operators and I don the headsets and do audio and lighting checks. Ready, steady, the show starts, and I am calling the cues. Shoot, boy, this is fun! I get caught up in the timing and the drama of the show. There is an involvement and participation I’ve never felt before. I get through the show with only one minor miscue. Hot dang, that was a cool experience! Five days and three shows later Kenny comes back and takes over the lights. No way I could really replace him though; at best I was a somewhat satisfactory but temporary replacement.

We toured for about a year and a half and then the Robert Stigwood Organization finally opened Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway and in roadshows. Our bookings slowed down and as we sputtered to a stop, we all appreciated the wonderful experiences we had. Bruce and I went on to other successes in the music business as did most of the performers. A few of them, like Joe Morton, had really big success in movies and television. It was bound to be with a group that talented.

Susan and I stayed together for another year or so. She was in the Broadway show Godspell, and then she sang on Ron Dante’s single “Sugar Sugar” by the fictional Archies. By then I was on the road with Labelle (as told in Issue 113)and we drifted apart. She and Ron Dante got involved and later moved to Los Angeles. We stayed friendly, occasionally seeing each other, talking on the phone, and communicating on Facebook. She later married Woody James, a well-known Jazz musician and college professor.

Everyone who knew her was shocked when she passed away a couple of years ago. Susan kept her cancer a secret to the end.

This is how it is in show business; you’re brothers and sisters for a time and then go your own way.

Susan Morse.