FMQB Retro-Active: Ken Sharp Talks to Longtime Music Scribe Harvey Kubernik About His Latest Musical Tome
January 19, 2015
IT'S ALL HAPPENING... The vibrant and historic music scene of Los Angeles comes alive on the pages in Harvey Kubernik's terrific new tome, Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972 (Santa Monica Press/$45). Veteran journalist, author, and chronicler of L.A. musical happenings for over four decades, Kubernik's lavish 336-page book offers a fact-filled portrait of one of the '60s and '70s most vital and significant musical adventures on and off the stage. Teeming with scores of previously unseen photos, Kubernik's book weaves its tale via an oral history template, tallying comments from Phil Spector, The Byrds' Roger McGuinn, The Who's Pete Townshend, Michelle Philips of the Mamas and the Papas, Bobby Womack, and producer Andrew Loog Oldham, as well as producers, engineers, session players, rock scribes and scensters. From Spector's Wall of Sound to Elvis' '68 Comeback show filmed at NBC Studios in Burbank, Kubernik leaves no stone unturned in this riveting and indispensable undertaking. Retro-Active'sKen Sharp sat down with the celebrated author to discuss his latest essential rock tome.
Give us the back story behind your new book, Turn up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972.
Over the last decade or so I was often asked by fans, musicians, movie people and some book publishers about my previous books and the occasional quotes that I would attribute to AM and FM deejays that informed my text, prose and oral histories. For years I would submit an outline and position some deejays along with record producers, sound engineers, Wrecking Crew members, although I called them session men of the late '50s and '60s era when I was a child and then teenager. A fertile and very little documented literary terrain. Santa Monica Press who published "A Perfect Haze," a Kubernik title on the landmark 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, stepped to the plate and seriously wanted to do this book. The first interview was done in 1976 with Tina Turner.
With its generous array of amazing images and engrossing text, the book unfolds like a movie. Was that your intention?
Yes. It was constructed to translate to movie and TV screen. Because the music/audio gifts of this era I traveled are cinematic in nature. I'm also a child of Hollywood. Pretty much everyone else moved here to be in the record, music, radio and show business. It's my native birth right. I was encouraged by the publisher, Jeff Goldman, to really go far beyond just black and white and color photos from my own archives and friends. He increased the acquisition budget when he saw the first draft and I was able to prepare licensing for unseen images and rarely viewed pictures that enhanced the narrative.
Discuss how the nexus of power shifted from NYC to the L.A. music scene in the '60s through the early '70s. Make a case for L.A. as ground zero for the music scene.
Actually, besides New York, the nexus of power also moved from Chicago and other regions, including Tennessee. Gold Star Studio helped pave the way along with other local studios, where Elvis Presley recorded with Bones Howe, venues on Fairfax Avenue that Leiber and Stoller utilized. And, then, in the very early '60s, recording facilities like United were built, along with Sunset Sound. Musicians didn't have to take the subway to dates in Hollywood or deal with "snow days." The sunshine that hit you on your way to the studio informed the music created that we still bask in.
What were among the most significant rock and roll shows that took place in L.A. in the '60s and '70s?
James Brown at the Hollywood Palladium. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass at Fairfax High School, Buffalo Springfield at the Hollywood Bowl, Ike & Tina Turner at Guys and Dolls, a club deep in downtown L.A., The Temptations at The 9th Street West TV show taping, Johnny Rivers, Savoy Brown, John Mayall & the Blues Breakers, and Mott The Hoople and Stevie Wonder at the Whisky a Go Go, The Impressions at the Greek Theater. CSN&Y debut at the Greek, the Rolling Stones, B.B. King and Ike and Tina Turner at the Forum, David Bowie, the Guess Who and Laura Nyro at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the Byrds at the Ash Grove in 1970, Taj Mahal in 1969 at the same place, the Rolling Stones in 1972 at the Hollywood Palladium, George Clinton and his group at Maverick's Flat. Canned Heat at the Kaleidoscope, Mose Allison at The Light House, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Bob Marley & The Wailers at the Roxy Theater, and Bobby Womack talking and describing girls and his SAR label recordings at a supermarket on Santa Monica Boulevard. He was always a great and real deal live show, even when he talked.
Who were the L.A. DJs most vital to the radio scene in the '60s and '70s?
Hunter Hancock, Art Laboe, Bob "Emperor" Hudson, Gene Weed, The Magnificent Montague, BMR, Dave Diamond, The Real Don Steele, Les Carter, Johnny Hayes, Joe Adams, and later, Rodney Bingenheimer.
Undertaking such a time intensive project, what were some of the major surprises and nuggets you uncovered along the way?
I found out some items about the Elvis '68 Comeback Special that were wonderful. Read the chapter and enjoy the findings with me. Kim Fowley detailing the Wrecking Crew in a sidebar was sort of revealing, just in the way he capsulized the musicians. Personally, researching the regional lives and music-making of Barry White and Bobby Womack. The impact of these soul and pop music giants were the reason I ended the book with my examination of their legacies.
Speak about the importance of Gold Star Studios and Phil Spector's production work.
In the '50s it was a primarily built room for songwriters, tunesmiths who composed songs for movies and other vocalists. Jimmy Van Heusen, Sonny Burke, Sammy Fain, Don Robertson, Johnny Mercer, Jimmy McHugh, Frank Loesser and Dimitri Tiomkin. Then the jazz cats, Oscar Moore, Barney Kessel, Gerry Mulligan, Mundell Lowe, Chet Baker, Louis Bellson’s big swing band, and The Hi-Los. Gold Star also developed phasing, double-tracking and flanging techniques. Dave Gold, Stan Ross and engineer Larry Levine integrated the concept of phase-shifting or “phasing” a sweeping effect that incorporated electronic music on their hit record “The Big Hurt” by vocalist Miss Toni Fisher. Then the rock people entered this scared temple of sound: Eddie Cochran, Richie Valens, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Jack Nitzsche, Sonny & Cher, Buffalo Springfield, Brian Wilson with The Beach Boys, The Cascades, Iron Butterfly, Cher, the Cake, The Chipmunks, Bob Dylan, Clydie King, Art Garfunkel, BJ Baker, Dick Dale, Bobby Darin, Johnny Burnette, Thee Midniters, Donna Loren, Mark and the Escorts, The Murmaids, Jackie De Shannon, Kim Fowley, Marlon Brando, The Band, Go-Gos, Ramones, The Seeds, The Monkees, MFQ and the Turtles. Try adding the monumental and seminal productions of Phil Spector, his output just alone in the 1962-1966 time period. The influence of Gold Star, coupled with the vision of Spector, and other producers and session musicians from that facility changed the world. People are still trying to copy his action.
You have been a part of the L.A. music scene since you were a kid. What are your special highlights of being "in crowd" with some of the musical happenings of the time?
Listen, the only "In crowd," the wording you suggest, that truly matters, is if you were listed in Dobie Gray's record "The In Crowd." All other highlights are as a spectator or witness to the power of the music. Forensically speaking, as a teenager attending the first press conference launching the Monkees TV series was really potent. My mother worked for Raybert, the production company who did the show. I was at the opening of The Roxy Theater. That was cool. Neil Young headlined but I dug Nils Lofgren. Read my 8 books. The impact of the venues, the sounds, the radio and the music reside in everything I do.
Speak about the importance of clubs -- The Whisky, the Troubadour and the Starwood to name a few -- in helping to launch many of music's major acts?
Clubs are always important. They introduce the acts before everyone jumps on the bandwagon. I will always be grateful that the Whisky a Go Go in the late '60s somehow got a permit to allow kids like myself under age 21 to attend shows. We had to sit upstairs, could not dance or drink alcohol, wear a wrist band, but I was able to see so many acts from 1967-1972 in that womb room. I liked the Starwood when it was PJ's. It was an over age 21 room but you could occasionally come in with a parent or a family member and take a look. Eddie Cano and Don Randi played there. Doug Weston who started the Troubadour really helped shape the musical and cultural climate of Hollywood as a promoter presenting Lenny Bruce to Carole King.
Motown famously moved from Detroit to L.A. in the late '60s. Did this move West change the Motown sound and how did this move factor into the eventual success of the Jackson 5 among others?
I think Berry Gordy moving the label to L.A. and Hollywood put Motown and their publishing division, Jobete Music, further into an environment where the records and songs could be licensed for television and movies. Many TV specials with Motown artists were developed and broadcast nationally and globally. Soundtrack albums followed. I know it seriously diluted the gigs of the Detroit-based Funk Brothers but Berry Gordy told me he also got tired of washing the snow off his car and wanted to venture into the movie business. The change in locations also impacted the sound of Motown, on a sonic level. Some new arrangers and label-inked Motown people joined the family after 1970 and we still hear them today. Teena Marie, from VeniceHigh School, for example.
You were fortunate to have witnessed many major events in L.A. music history over the past decades, pick 1-2 musical moments that you wish you had a chance to witness.
I would have liked to have seen Sam Cooke perform live. I was a couple of miles from The TAMI Show but did not attend. I would have liked to have been with Chris Darrow in late 1958 and caught Ritchie Valens.