In early summer 1969 I was living in Laurel Canyon when the sublet on the cabin I was renting ran out. I had been out of the Army for two years and was putting it behind me. The Army had trained me to be a medic but when I got to the DMZ the Army decided in its infinite wisdom to assign me to a reconnaissance platoon as a rifleman. Eight months later I was promoted to sergeant and became a squad leader, at the ripe old age of nineteen. This was an otherworldly experience for a boy from New York City, but as my hair grew longer those memories were mercifully receding in my rearview mirror.
Things were up in the air for me. I wanted to stay in Los Angeles. I was having fun, but now I had to move. A friend of mine, Paul, and his wife offered to let me stay with them. They had a big one-bedroom apartment on Argyle Avenue in the heart of Hollywood with a living room closet that was so big it was like a small bedroom.
Paul had a custom leather store on North Sierra Bonita, but no car or license. He was a draft dodger and living off the grid. If he tried to get a driver’s license, he would be flagged by the system and tracked down. And in those days driving in Hollywood without a license was out of the question for a long-haired fella. I personally got pulled over at least once every three weeks because of my long hair.
However, Paul needed transportation to and from the store and for various errands. Taxi service in LA was unreliable and expensive. I had a 1966 blue Chevy Corvair convertible (the car Ralph Nader called “unsafe at any speed”). The engine was in the rear and the trunk in front. If you hit anything head-on the front of the car crumpled like aluminum foil. Even so, the fact that I had a car cemented the deal. As it turned out the living arrangement was nice – with some cool perks.
The shop’s entrance was on Sierra Bonita, but it was part of a bigger building that housed a rock and roll club with its entrance on 7551 Sunset Blvd. We went to the shop in the early to mid-afternoons and stayed late. Because the club was open during those hours, that helped with foot traffic.
The club was called Thee Experience and it was owned by Marshall Brevetz, formerly a club owner and a concert promoter from Hollywood, Florida, later Miami. In early 1969 he was convinced by more than a few rock stars who had played at his Miami club that he should move to Los Angeles and open one there.
Marshall was a charming man. He looked around 50 years old but was supposedly only 29. He was a big-bellied short man who looked like he could have been one of the Marx brothers, or Bozo the Clown, with steel wool-like hair to match.
Marshall’s people would send musicians to Paul’s store and they would walk in and say, “hey, do you guys want to smoke?” “Sure,” Paul would say and into the back room everyone would go. I do not know quite how this arrangement was made or if it just evolved. In return, we were welcomed to the club any time we wanted and could just walk in. Marshall was smart and he did not want the smell of it in the club, a sure way to get shut down by the LAPD or the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
The rock stars came by the store on some late afternoons after sound check, and almost every evening. Some of them became customers because Paul’s leathercraft was outstanding. Paul and the rockers would work out designs for fringe jackets, shoulder bags, leather pants and vests. These were truly remarkable items, one-of-a-kind, beautiful, very hip, and perfect for rock stars or well-off Hollywood freaks.
A unique thing about Thee Experience was that Jimi Hendrix’s face was painted across the whole front entrance to the club, so you would have to walk through Jimi’s open mouth to get in. One afternoon, one of the club’s employees wandered by and mentioned that Jimi was hanging out at the club, so I walked over. Marshall introduced me to Jimi, and I sat down with both of them, and rockers Lee Michaels (“Do You Know What I Mean”), and two guys from the Flying Burrito Brothers. We all were just sitting there chatting. Well for me, mostly listening.
Occasionally, a beautiful girl would walk up to Jimi and say hello. He was very gracious and soft spoken. He was dressed in velvet pants with a matching short velvet jacket and a ruffled white shirt, very dapper in a rock star way. Many of these girls became tongue tied, and after saying “Hi Jimi,” could not think of what else to say. One girl got so flustered that she just lifted her blouse up to her neck for a moment, then giggled, turned, and ran away.
This was the first time I met Jimi and it was like he was holding court. He was in no rush to leave; he was comfortable and as time progressed more musicians came in and joined us and Jimi seemed to loosen up even more. By 6:00 we had a table with 16 people sitting there, all known musicians except for Marshall and me.
I was having mucho fun during this time, making hardly any money, but all my needs were covered. I was free-floating with no particular ambition, just unwinding and coming to terms with my stint in the Army. Late night at Thee Experience was almost always interesting. Whatever acts were playing in town would come by the club after their shows and jam with other (famous) musicians who were there just hanging out. No pay, but free drinks and maybe something else.
One night I saw The Butterfield Blues Band spontaneously jam with Janis Joplin. Thee Experience was a scene and these late-night happenings were below the public radar. That meant there no tourists or Valley people (suburbanites). I just was able to watch the musicians play, close up; the big table was right next to the stage and musicians like Gram Parsons would sit and take a break and have a drink and/or wait for a spot to open up. For the most part I don’t think these guys planned to be there, but as their evenings wore on someone would say, “Hey! Let’s go see Marshall!”
Jimi Hendrix stopped by a few times and once was joined by Buddy Miles. Jimi would just jam and play guitar, no theatrics, but he’d be smiling and laughing and chatty with the other musicians on stage. Usually, he would have to borrow someone’s guitar, which he played upside down because he was left-handed. Most musicians did not always walk around with a guitar and these jams were spontaneous. Jerry Garcia loved Marshall, and the Grateful Dead played at Thee Experience earlier in the year (1969) for almost nothing, probably to help put the club on the map. Jerry stopped by quite a few times when he was in LA. What impressed me was how good of a guitar player Garcia was. Can you imagine seeing Jerry Garcia playing with Steve Miller? How about with Pete Townshend? Yeah it was that kinda scene.
To name some of the bands that played Thee Experience: The Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, Joe Cocker, The New Yardbirds aka Led Zeppelin, Pogo who later became Poco, Black Pearl, Blues Image, Roxy Music, Lonnie Mack, Buddy Miles, the Youngbloods, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Spencer Davis Group, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Grand Folk, er, Funk Railroad and this is just a partial list.
Then the unthinkable happened. Up in the Hills, four members of the Manson Family invaded a rented home at 10050 Cielo Drive. On August 8 and 9, 1969, Sharon Tate, 8-1/2 months pregnant, Jay Sebring, Roman Polanski’s good friend Wojciech Frykowski and his girlfriend Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger’s coffee fortune) were in the house. Everyone there was brutally murdered. Tate’s husband Roman Polanski was not home; he was in Europe working on a film project. Steve McQueen and his girlfriend had also been invited that night but had changed their minds and opted for a quiet night at home. Quincy Jones was also invited but didn’t show.
Before the violence Charles Manson had represented himself as a singer/songwriter. He had tried to get a recording contract with various record companies to no avail. He thought he had a record deal with producer Terry Melcher, the previous renter of that house on Cielo who had lived there with Candice Bergen, Terry’s girlfriend at the time, and musician and housemate Mark Lindsay. Melcher had decided not to work with Manson, leaving Manson disappointed and vengeful.
The entire world was taken aback and it hit me and everyone extremely hard. Without knowing who was responsible at the time, the feeling I had was that it had been done by someone from the freaky Hollywood scene. This rocked Hollywood to its core. Sure, the area wasn’t free from crime but nothing as savage as this had ever happened. Everyone was in shock and then a few days later there were more murders.
The next night my sexy neighbor Sandy from Laurel Canyon came in and asked if I could drive her and Band of Gypsys member Buddy Miles to a club in West Hollywood. We got into my little Corvair and Buddy was so big that the car listed to the passenger side. It would have been amusing under other circumstances but we were subdued, still in shock.
Just like that, a snap of the fingers, and everything had changed. For me, Los Angeles was no longer a beautiful, warm place. At that point in time nobody knew who, why or anything else about the crime so the whole city was freaked out. I decided it was time to go back home to New York City.
I started making arrangements to leave and spoke to my sister Ellen. She volunteered to sublet her apartment on Third Avenue and 35th Street in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan. My sister Ellen was a high-profile writer in the music business and traveled a lot. She also was in a relationship and stayed at his place when she was in Manhattan. It was a nice studio apartment with a red brick wall and working fireplace, and the rent was reasonable enough.
Within three days, I had my stuff together and flew back to the city. A few days later I called Susan, a gal who I dated in LA who was in Hair at the Aquarius Theatre on Sunset Boulevard but had been brought back to NY by the producers and now was in the Broadway show. Those of you who read my stories in Copper about Hair and the Peace Parade know how that went.
I was only back a few weeks and started running into people I knew from LA, bumping into Michael Foster, a neighbor from Laurel Canyon, in the subway and Trudy (Sandy’s roommate from Laurel Canyon) on the street. Seems like other folks had the same idea about leaving Hollywood as I did.
One way or the other life moves you along, and even if you make plans you never know what is going to happen.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay/Peter Thomas.