My Grass Roots Story

Well, here is my Grass Roots story. I’m sure all the members remember the old days of the band a little differently. All I can do is tell it as I believe it happened. Ask me to write it again and it may come out with a little different twist. All the basics are here and it's the way it was from this mans point of view.

There's a ton of stories untold. Bying new shirts instead of doing wash, the acid trip in Yosemite, listening to Rubber Soul on Denny's little KLH stereo and blowing our minds, the Unquenchable Thirst mess. Those are for sitting around the campfire. Well maybe the Thirst should be explained. Someone else can do it.

It all began in a small town south of San Francisco, Millbrae. It was 1964 and I was a junior at Capuchino high school. I had been playing guitar and bass for a couple of years. The bands in our area played a mixture of rock n’ roll, R&B and blue eyed soul. You know, Righteous Brothers to Richie Valens, Junior Walker to Rickie Nelson. There were a few of us not in a steady band. When someone got a gig he would call around to find musicians who could do the gig. The line up might stay steady for a few jobs or may fall apart after one. We all knew most of the tunes but if you didn’t know a called tune you just learned it on the spot. Good for learning how to fake it.

My best friend Jon was in a steady band called Roy and the Starliners. He was going on vacation to a summer cabin down in Santa Cruz and asked if I could fill in on a gig. Roy’s band was made up of mostly seniors and they were the most experienced musicians in our school. I said “sure, I’ll do it” and attended a practice to learn the tunes I didn’t know and to get a feel for their “show” as it was. They had a manager/booking agent overseeing the practice and I could tell he was pleased that I fit in quickly and was competent on my instrument.

After I did the gig the manager/booking agent called me and asked if I could put together a band he could book. I told him I could without knowing if I could or not. The first person I called was drummer Bill Schoppe. He was in my class and very good, a real technician. Then I called Billy (Willy) Fulton because I had seen him play at a sock hop at our school, a few weeks earlier and he sang Donna by Richie Valens. It sounded great echoing through the girl’s gym. With three of us on line we needed a rhythm guitarist. So I contacted the guitarist in the Starliners because I knew he taught at a local music store. He told me he had a student, Denny Ellis, who could fill out our lineup. Thus the Bedouins were born, Willy on lead guitar and lead vocals, Denny on second guitar and vocals, Bill on drums and me on bass and vocals.

The Bedouins got together in the practice room where Roy’s band practiced with the manager and Denny’s guitar teacher. They would put us through the paces. Steps, playing behind our heads, the whole bit. Instead of playing the same tunes as the other bands around town we chose to lean toward surf music. It seemed proper enough, Willy and I surfed so…….. we wore madras shirts and sear sucker pants with blue deck shoes. This was a step outside the box in our town at the time. There were no surf bands in our area . Most bands were still a little on the “greasy side”.

During the summer of 1964 the Bedouins became one of the more popular bands in our area. We played school dances, dances at recreation centers, private parties and the best gig of all, Redmond’s Roller Rink in Fairfield. In the fall of 1964 the Bedouins entered school as the senior band on campus replacing the Starliners. It was good to be king.

That fall the British invasion became such a force in the music of the USA we too became interested in playing music by the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Searchers etc. We would go to concerts together and for fun we would speak with British accents to all the girls we met. Once Willy and I met a couple of girls from Fremont at a concert in Oakland, they invited us to dinner at one of their parent’s house. I’m sure the parents knew we were not from England but it was all in good fun.

Anyway surf music was on the back burner and so the Bedouins began exploring different musical directions. We changed our band wear from madras shirts and deck shoes to black pants, Beatle boots, yellow shirts and black vests. We also moved our practice location to Willy’s dad’s stationary store in downtown San Bruno so we could concentrate on our own musical direction without the interference of a manager. After practice we would store or load our gear and then Denny, Willy and I would sit in the store’s break room and work on original material, dream about making it big in the music biz and tell stories about our drunken fathers, dysfunctional home life, girls and school. We became very close, a brotherhood of sorts. It was an, us against the world, kinda thing. A bond between young men we will never forget. This bond becomes important as you’ll see later in the story.

The summer of 1965 came with Denny, Bill Schoppe and I graduating from high school. Willy had graduated a year earlier. Bill Schoppe become discontented with the group and left the band. He was a fine drummer and it would be hard to find a drummer with his technical talent. I have no recollection of the turn of events that preceded our getting Joel Larson in the band. Funny, I was not taking drugs at the time. It really doesn’t matter and I’m sure someone will remind me after reading this. Any whooo. Joel was a less technical drummer but had great feel for music and his energy added another level of professionalism to the band. We really started to cook as a band.

The long hours Willy, Denny and I had put in and the addition of Joel was starting to pay off. We got new management too. ARA Enterprises. Three guys headed by Lou Alexander who sponsored and booked gigs for us. We were booked nearly every weekend and practicing during the week. Our gigs, being teen dances, finished early. Sometimes we would go down to a club in San Mateo called the Moracco Room. The Beau Brummels were the house band. We’d hang out, watch the band through the side door and during the breaks they’d come out to have a smoke and visit with us. They were where we wanted to be.

Once the Beau Brummels released their first single, Laugh Laugh, on Autumn Records, the band became too popular to stay at the Moracco Room and soon they were playing on Broadway in San Francisco at the Whiskey-a-go-go. On one of our visits up to S.F. Ron Elliott introduced us to one of his friends from San Francisco State College. Tom Gericke new to the biz promoter/manager/agent. He was representing a few bands and wanted us to make a four song demo so when he went to Los Angeles he could present our bands demo along with others to various labels.

The Bedouins booked recording time at Sierra Sound in Berkley and cut our four song demo in just a few hours. I still have a copy. Not bad. Tom took our band demo along with the others he was representing to Los Angeles. We really wanted to follow our friends the Beau Brummels and record for San Francisco’s Autumn Records but Bobby Mitchell and Tom Donahue had little interest.

Lou Adler owner of Dunhill Records however was convinced to come up to SF and see the bands in person. An audition was set up with the Bedouins and two other bands at the Whiskey in SF. Lou Adler, Steve Berri, PF Sloan and Elmer Valentine, the owner of the Whiskey, were the judging panel. I don’t remember much of the audition as I was sick as a dog. However it is my belief that Lou was not as interested in us as Steve and PF were. Elmer saw us as a house band he could use at his new LA club, The Trip.

Dunhill didn’t have many artists in their quiver, just Berry McGuire, PF and Shelly Fabares who was Lou’s wife. Steve and PF were a young writing/producing team and they needed someone other than Berry McGuire to put out their material, hoping for another hit like Eve of Destruction. As a staff writer for Dunhill’s publishing company PF had recorded a number of demo tunes but had no band to perform them with. Dunhill had released a number of PF’s tunes and a couple of albums with very little success. I think Lou agreed to throw them a bone and we were invited to join the Dunhill staff. In a word: Publishing. More money is made in the publishing world than in record sales. I think Lou felt Steve and PF could produce us and if we had a moderate amount of success Steve, PF and more importantly the Dunhill’s publishing company would benefit from the relationship.

We were flown down to LA in September of 1965. Lou and Dunhill’s attorney Jay Lasker informed us our new name was to be the Grass Roots. Hell, they could have called us Dog Turd for all we cared. We signed the contract, changed our name and became Dunhill’s latest recording artists in a blink of an eye.

Somewhere between our audition and our first trip to the studio Lou must have thought better about us being Steve and PF’s project. When we headed into the studio to cut our first single, Mr. Jones, (Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man) Lou was calling the shots and producing the tune. As I remember it, Lou asked someone in Dylan’s camp if Bob was going to put Ballad Of A Thin Man out as a single. He was assured Dylan wasn’t. So Lou, Steve, PF and engineer Bones Howe along with Willy, Denny, Joel and I went to the studio to see if the Grass Roots could cut a convincing rendition of the tune. Lou was forming an image for us, he knew what he wanted and I think on that first single we gave it to him.

The Grass Roots were going to have a little edge to them, which we liked, Mr. Jones backed by Bad Times was a good first single toward cementing that image. Cutie but a little bad. In the studio it took us a fair amount of time to put together the basic tracks. Lou wanted keys so a call and a half hour later a keyboard player came in to do the organ, Willy did his lead vocal, we put on the background stuff and wham bam we had a single. The B side, (These are) Bad Times, was already in the can so we just did vocals and were done with our first record. Seemed like just a few hours later it came out on the radio. Pay-O-La baby. The DJ’s liked it, we got good reviews and Dunhill was very happy. So were we.

Continued in Grass Roots Story 2

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