Grass Roots Story 3


We knew Dunhill would soon have us do an album and we wanted new material.  Willy wasn’t a big fan of PF’s stuff and we were not writing new tunes so we went looking for tunes.  Gene Clark had just quit The Byrds and he had a number of tunes we felt would work well with our musical image, whatever it was at the time.  We also had just spent a week at the Whiskey a-go-go with our heroes the Beau Brummels.  Ron Elliott said he had a couple of tunes he felt might work so we drove up into the Hollywood hills where the Brummels were staying and worked on his tunes.  I think I still have some of the hand written lyrics from those afternoon sessions with Ron.  


Later we went to Lou and asked if we could go into the studio to do the Gene Clark tunes but he refused.  Remember publishing?  Denny and I were disappointed but Willy was defiant.  Willy called Bones Howe, Lou’s engineer, booked time at Western Studio B and got everyone lined up to cut Gene’s tunes. Gene and Bones would produce the tunes and Willy, Denny Joel and I would cut the basic tracks.


The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was in town at The Trip.  Elvin Bishop and Mark Naftlain were friends of Genes.  When we arrived at Studio B Elvin and Mark were there to help out. Great! We cut the basics with overdubs and were ready to put on the vocals when time ran out on the session.  I have a copy of what we did but unfortunately we never got to do the vocals.  When Lou found out we had gone around him I thought he would come unglued.  You just didn’t defy the record company in those days. That really help shut the gate on the Willy era of the Grass Roots.  Lou had had it!  It wasn’t going to take much more for him to push us out the door.  


Willy, Denny and I all felt our time in LA was coming to an end.  The Brotherhood wanted to move back to the Bay Area and be a part of the San Francisco scene.  Performing in LA was great but we didn’t want to live there any longer.  We were hoping Dunhill would book us some gigs on the road but they were dragging their feet.  We spilt LA and moved back to the Bay Area, we got a house in an industrial area of San Bruno so we could practice at all hours of the day or night.  We were home. Close to friends and family. Times were tough but we felt confident we'd be happier in the Bay Area. The brotherhood had thier clubhouse.


Joel refused to leave LA so when we returned to the bay area we got our original drummer, Bill Shoppe, to rejoin the group.  We performed regularly in San Francisco as the Grass Roots.  As far as we were concerned everything was “okie dokie”.  The original Bedouins were together, we sounded good, we were hangin’ with the San Francisco bands and hippie folk and for the most part we were doing a good job of integrating ourselves in the SF scene as well as promoting the single Where Were You When I Needed You. We did a one day filming of ‘Where The Action Is’ in Big Sur south of Monterey and would have been happy to do other promo work if Dunhill would have lined it up.


Lou called and wanted us to return to LA to cut an album.  He said these are the tunes you will learn/record and this is the date we will start.  Willie was trying to dicker with Lou about the content of the album. Not that Lou was going to give in to OUR requests. By this time he had had enough of Willy's Grass Roots. WE really didn’t want an album filled with songs by other artists and a couple of PF 'toons'.  We would liked  to have had the chance to finished the Gene Clark tunes and recorded the Ron Elliot songs for the album.  Hell the two Gene Clark tunes were already in the can and we had a ton of music we did in our act that would have been good album material.  Lou refused to budge and WE were not about to cave in.  


Soon the legal team, lead by Jay Lasker, sent us a letter demanding we not use the Grass Roots name.  Now the worst decision, in my opinion, of the entire mess is about to be made.  The management team that represented The McCoy’s offered to take Dunhill to court using the fact that Dunhill had not sent us quarterly financial statements as a way for us to break our commitment to Dunhill. They also believed we were the images of the Grass Roots as seen on TV and in Teen Magazines.  They felt there were legal precedents that would grant the Grass Roots name to Willy, Denny and I?


We'll never know the outcome, it was never tested.  If it had worked out we would have signed a management contract with them and would have recorded on Columbia Records.  We got the contract and Willy read it but didn’t like it.  Not enough percentage of record sales to the band or ??????  Hat size again?  Their offer was refused.  WHOOPS, the ship was sinking.  Joel was down in LA sitting in on the sessions for the Grass Roots album.  All they needed was one Grass Root to defect.  With Joel selling us out, Willy’s ego in the way, no money coming in, no name and no sign of recovery Denny and I finally left.  IT WAS REALLY HARD.  Willy was our brother, the third Musketeer.  Leaving the Grass Roots and LA was one thing but the brotherhood had crashed and that was sad.  I’m sure there is resentment and sadness about it to this day.


Did Denny and I want to leave the Grass Roots?  What was our choice?  We weren't getting along with Willy and Dunhill was worse. If we did choose to return to LA, no doubt the Grass Roots may have been Joel, Denny, me, and PF Sloan, at least in the studio. That sounded worse than a bad acid trip.  PF was a flop as a performer. He practically killed the Grass Roots by putting out a couple of Grass Root flops after we left and before Rob Grill’s group took the reigns. Joel was never part of the brotherhood and always treated me like the shithead he was. Live in LA again?  No Way!!  Plus listen to the first Grass Roots album.  Is it any good?  No…it’s a mish mash of tunes without direction.  It’s a collection other artist’s songs, demos, covers we recorded for TV shows such as Shindig and PF doing well….. PF.  Did it go anywhere?  No.  Willy, Denny, and I with either Joel or Bill Schoppe could have put together a cohesive recording with Lou or Steve’s production and PF’s contribution.  


A question might be posed here.  Would we have been as popular as Rob Grill and his crew?  Probably not.  Willy wasn’t as pop friendly as Rob and the Original Grass Roots really weren’t interested in playing pop music.  Well, except maybe Joel, he would have played anything.  We would have been happy to have a sound that was a little more like the two songs on our first 45 single.  Rock/roots/pop with a hint of grit.  


I would like to congratulate all the Grass Roots members for picking up the torch and carrying it so far and so high.  You are all awesome!!


After leaving the band Denny and I moved from the San Bruno house to San Francisco and started playing with beat poet, David Meltzer, in a group he named the Serpent Power.  We loved it!!  David was a fine song writer/singer and his wife, Tina, sang like an angel.  It was the best music we had ever played.  David and Denny on guitar Tina and David had strong vocals with Denny singing backup and I played bass. At practice we drank cheap wine we nicknamed black tongue because it turned our tongues black, smoked crappy pot and soon had enough material for an album. I can truly say it was one of the best times of my life. Only one problem….we made no money.  Soon Denny and I ran out of cash.  I moved back to my parents place. That was ugly. I left home for a reason. Going back home was horrible.  


David soon signed a recording deal with Vanguard records. Sam Charters, who had success with Country Joe and the Fish on Vanguard, wanted David to get a drummer and an organ, like the Fish, to beef up the sound.  We added the additional musicians, practiced at a Masonic Lodge in Oakland and cut the album at Sierra Sound Studio in Berkley, where just two years earlier the Bedouins had cut their demo.  There was however, no commercial potential for the record and we had no gigs in sight so making money to support myself in the Serpent Power was not in the cards.  I left the band and closed the door on music, for the time being, in sometime in 1967.


Side Story #5: In 1968 Denny and I had met John Weider and Berry Jenkins, form Eric Burton’s band the Animals. John played guitar and violin and Berry was a drummer. They wanted to do something different and we thought our collaboration might work into something. We got together but nothing ever came of it. They were smitten with Led Zeppelin and our last project was the Serpent Power’s folk rock. Timing? Who knows? I joined a short lived junkie R&B horn band from the peninsula, The Back Yard Mama’s, around 69 or70. Then moved North.


Any musical regrets?  Regrets and a couple of bucks will get you a crappy cup of coffee at any 7/11.  The only Grass Roots regret I have is that we never got the chance to do what we felt we could on that first Dunhill album.  It was always the music for me, and it still is. If it would have flopped I could have lived with it knowing we did our best for the music. Dunhill never gave us a chance and their effort sucked and failed.


Personal regrets? I wish 45 years later we were still friends. That the brotherhood was still intact to some degree. It would be quite something to be sitting together with the same caring and respect we had for eachother way back when.  Maybe strum a tune or two. Willy, Denny and I live in Oregon but never see one another. All I get from Joel is emails of right wing political crap and nude photos of women in there 20's. Same Joel.


In 1970 I moved to the Northwest. I have had a great musical career here in Portland.  I have played with some amazing musicians. Still do. I have everything a man could want, a great wife with an extended family whom I love, wonderful friends, three daughters who constantly amaze me and a bunch of the best looking grandchildren on the face of the earth. Oh. my mom's still alive. 95 years old.  Lives around the corner from Sara and I. Been out to see me play a few times. How can you beat that? Still watching her little Davey play some R&R.


One last side story: Before starting work with the Serpent Power, Denny and I went down to LA for a visit and to see if there was anything we might slip into.  We drove down on my Yamaha 250 motorcycle.  Ouch, my butt hurts just thinking about it. After stopping in San Louis Obispo to visit some girls we knew we arrived in LA.  Joel, of course treated us like shit.  We went to Malibu where our acid taking friends were now living, dropped some acid and hung out on the beach for a day. I said goodbye to LA for the last time then returned to SF to start on the Serpent Power project.  


I have never been back to Los Angeles.  Except to change flights at the airport I’ve never set foot on LA soil and I don’t plan to.