We walk into the control room and only record label exec David Geffen and a couple or engineers are there. The playback of “Marrakesh Express” fills the room. It is ten o’clock at night around late 1968 and the studio seems empty, but David says that Crosby, Stills and Nash are in the building. The engineers play back the song over and over, with stops and tweaks here and there.
Wally Heider Studios is in Hollywood proper and the building is nothing much to look at, maybe two stories high, a concrete structure with a parking lot and an entrance in back. Inside it is much nicer; the halls are lined with Gold albums and the control room is large enough to hold approximately 10 to 15 people. There is a big comfy couch and plush chairs along the back wall, and a long, slightly curved control panel with a glass window/wall facing into the dark studios.
Big speakers are over the big window and point downward toward the mixing board and into the control room. On the top of the slanted 12-foot-wide mixing board are some smaller high-end speakers angled toward the engineer and producer’s chairs. The interior of the control room, in fact the whole building, is upscale and purposeful; this is not somebody’s basement studio. We (my sister Ellen the famous rock writer) listen to the tinkering to the recording and after an hour or so we still haven’t seen the rest of the band, so we tell David we are leaving. “No problem,” David said, “I am glad you could come.”
Looking back on that night, it seems like that was a meet, greet and a peek situation. Giving industry insiders access to what musicians are working on in the studio encourages support and creates a sense of involvement. A subtle but important public relations task.
Later in the week Led Zeppelin was headlining the Forum near Los Angeles, and Jethro Tull was the opening act. We were guests of Jethro Tull. The show was awesome. Leader Ian Anderson had a compelling stage presence and musically they were interesting and hypnotic, yet without any stage or lighting effects or costumes. The show was good, different but accessible. Ian’s audience banter was engaging and humorous. They deserved the success that was heading their way (this was before Aqualung was released).
When their set was over, we went to their dressing room to meet them and hang out. Their dressing room was a quiet affair with only a few visitors. That and the lack of drugs and booze kept the excitement level down. I think it was quiet because everyone else was out front watching Led Zeppelin; we hardly watched them and stayed in Ian Anderson’s dressing room for most of Zeppelin’s set. It gave me the chance to talk to Ian and the band, who were quite accessible. I asked if they drank spirits or smoked or had other vices. Ian told me no, nope, and that he and the band was uninterested in such things. They were a humble group and dressed in a ragamuffin hippie style that was decidedly European. I do not think that they even changed clothes before or after going on stage. Stateside – excluding San Francisco hippies – at the time, most people I met had a fashion edge to them. Indian jewelry, bellbottoms, boots, and big collared shirts.
After an hour or so of hanging out with Tull in the dressing room we left. It was just as Led Zeppelin were starting their encores. We stopped to listen and watched what was left of the show from stage left. They were driving the audience crazy; they could have played all night. Jethro Tull’s guitarist Martin Barre was with us and we went out for a bite to eat. He was just like the rest of his bandmates, humble and polite. I would have never guessed that he was destined to be one of rock’s premier guitarists. After we ate, we dropped him off at his hotel.
A few days later Ellen picked me up at my apartment on San Vicente in her rental car and we drove west on Sunset Blvd to Benedict Canyon. A couple of miles in we came to David Crosby’s house. It was just slightly back and up from the road and had parking for three or four cars. The house [I am thinking it was a rental] was a modern light brown two-level wooden affair, with an apartment on the lower floor and open steps to the second floor entrance. David was not home but we were welcomed in and offered tea. I assumed the people there were staff and such.
Maybe three-quarters of an hour later I heard David yelling from outside, saying, “Ellen Sander, you parked your car in my spot!” We both looked out the window and I saw David walking towards the house. He looked like a lion as he walked away from his car, a Pontiac Grand Prix. I thought he was angry, but Ellen just laughed. I also thought his choice of cars was unusual for a rock star, but then I thought his rock star car was probably in the shop and this was a rental.
David came in and he was very nice, and we all hung out for a bit. He must run an errand, but he told us to stay, he’ll be right back, so we made ourselves at home. It got dark and someone started a fire. We were hanging in the living room when Peter Tork (of the Monkees) came up and joined us. Peter was living in the apartment below because he was going through a divorce and his soon to be ex-wife had the house. He and David were good friends from way back.
We were hanging out and the director (or maybe the manager) of the Firesign Theater, a heavyset guy with a full beard, came by to see David, saying that David was expecting him. We invited him in and told him David wasn’t there but would be right back, so this guy sat down and pulled out some party favors and the four of us sat around the table and had a good time. This went on for a few hours and he kept asking when David would be back. It started getting late and he was growing impatient, asking, “where is David?” with increasing frequency. Around midnight he finally left and a few minutes later Peter went downstairs to his place. Ellen and I dozed on the couch and we left just before sunrise. David never did come home that night.
We drove out to the Pacific Coast Highway and headed north, enjoying the sun coming up over the Pacific. We passed this beautiful white sand dune that seemed to go up about 800 feet with a very steep incline. I said, “let’s climb up as far as we can and jump and roll down.” We took off our shoes and socks got about a quarter of the way up and we were huffing and puffing trying to catch our breath. Then we started running downhill and jumping. Because of the incline we made tremendous jumps (about 15 feet) and when we landed our feet would sink into the sand up to our calves, or we’d roll downhill.
We got back into the car and continued till we saw a diner. We were starved and decided to have breakfast. We went in and everyone turned and looked at me. It was still early, before 7 am, and the diner was packed with middle-aged working people and long-haul trucker. Oh man, did I look different and out of place in my big-collared shirt and bell bottoms and big hair. This was one of the rare times in my life when I felt self-conscious. Then again, it might have been the sobering glare of the harsh early morning sun. After giving us the once-over, the diners returned to their food.
After breakfast we drove back towards Los Angeles. Ellen dropped me off at my apartment on San Vicente and I went straight to bed. Exhausted, I slept till early the next morning, when I was awakened by my friend, (the late) Barry Byrens, banging on my door. He needed a favor. He asked me to drive him to the LA Free Clinic and drop him off. He did not want to park his fancy Lincoln in their parking lot. His reasoning is that he would appear to be too financially well-off to avail himself of their services. “What is wrong?” I asked. He said, “I have a burning sensation down…you know where.” I got dressed and drive him to the clinic, they gave him a shot and sent a sample smear to the lab.
Three days later I was up at Barry’s house on St. Ives and the phone rang. It was the Free Clinic. They had gotten the results of his test back from the lab. Barry put the call on speaker. “You have an infection,” the male nurse said, and Barry answered, “I knew I should have not gone to the bathroom at the Rainbow Bar and Grill. The men’s room was dirty.” The nurse replied, “you can’t get it that way,” and Barry said, “sure you can, that’s what happened.” The nurse then said it was important for him to notify anyone he’d had contact with. Barry answered, “there is no one to notify unless you want me to call the Rainbow and tell ’em.” This went back and forth for about 10 minutes and the nurse was beside himself in frustration, in part because Barry was so serious and adamant about his theory.
About seven years later I was back in Los Angeles for a few weeks on business and was staying at Barry’s house. He had sold one of the first cellphones to Guy Williams, the actor who played Zorro in the original TV series. The problem was, he could not get a signal to make a call. Barry put him on speaker. Zorro was upset. I made the slashing “Z” sign and sound; Barry hushed me up. Maybe there were 40 cell phones in Beverly Hills at the time. Beverly Hills is like a bunch of high school kids with money. They must have everything first. However, unbeknownst to these early adopters, there was only one cell tower in all of Beverly Hills.
Barry was very interested in consumer electronics and he attended the very first CES. He was into home alarm systems and then in the ’70s was an early retailer for cell phones. Barry is responsible for my involvement in this exciting industry.
The next time I saw David Crosby was decades later at a Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where David did a lunchtime concert with his son in the main hall.
Header image of David Crosby courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/David Gans.