Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Pueblo – Mötley Crüe Connection

Freeway Flyer 
Phil Head  (far left) John Withers (top center) 
Joe Ellis (bottom center) Bob Deal (far right) 

I truly believe Phil Head is one of the most interesting people I have ever interviewed. Seriously. I’ve been talking to him, about his incredible music career (The Cobras, The Trolls, The Frantics, Waco), but I had never chatted with him about his time in the LA-based band, Freeway Flyer.

“So I was in the band Waco, with Joe Ellis, after his brother Ron (both formerly of White Lightnin') left the group, to go to college. We were playing lots of gigs in Pueblo, including opening for Canned Heat,” he said. “Joe and I were living out in Black Forrest, and one day we just decided we should go to Los Angeles, and try our luck out there.”

A near-death accident nearly ended the plans.

“Joe went out to L.A. before I did, and he got into a really bad car accident. An oil tanker hit the van, and flipped it. Thankfully he, and all our equipment, survived.”

Safe on the West Coast, the band hooked up with a former bandmate of Phil’s, who suggested they change the name of the group.

“Max Byfuglin, who I knew in the Frantics (former lead singer), was our manager. He liked the name Freeway Flyer, so we just went with it.”

But not all of Max’s ideas were universally accepted by the band. “Max had this idea that we dress like all disco. I liked to wear a cowboy hat, but I think it made the group look too much like a country band.”

Phil recruited another Pueblo musician, John Withers, to come out and play keyboards. With a drummer (Phil) and bassist (Joe) in the band, the group needed a guitar player.

"We were friends with the guys in Whitehorse. They played around Denver, and they would always come out and see me, when I lived in Wetmore. We knew about Bob Deal, who was a helluva guitar player,” he said. “Bob told us that he wasn’t happy in Whitehorse, and so I recruited him to join us, in Freeway Flyer. I remember he wanted us to always call him “Zorky,” I’m guessing because he didn’t want his real name associated with the group. Who knows.”

Shortly thereafter, Joe’s cousin, Jerry Albo, joined he band, as the band’s second guitarist.  

With the lineup complete, Phil, Joe, John, Bob and Jerry soon hit the road, playing military bases, with a diverse set list… when the entire band managed to show up, on time.

“We had this gig, in Point Mugu, and Bob and Jerry were going to come up, in a separate car,” Phil said. “So just before we go on, we get a call from Bob, who tells us they took the wrong exit, and were in Bakersfield, which is like two hours away!” So me, John and Joe had to carry the first set off, just the three of us. Bob and Jerry finally showed, for the second set.

Of course, you can’t have a band story, with at least one member getting homesick.

“Jerry and I were driving somewhere, and he tells me that he wants to leave the band, go back to Colorado, and learn how to fly airplanes. I wasn’t upset, I mean you have to follow your dreams. Sadly, several years later, Jerry would be killed in an airplane crash, trying to fly out of Aspen.”

Phil told me that shortly before Jerry left the band, he and the group went into a studio and recorded an original Jerry Albo composition,” 389,” which was never released. “It was a really good song. I’m sure I have a copy of it, somewhere.”

While, for the most part, Freeway Flyer was a pretty laidback band, Bob Deal insisted that the group rehearse.

“John had access to this club in Burbank, called the Stone Crow, so we would go there and rehearse, from 3-6:00 a.m.. Then Bob found a place to rehearse on Sundays, in exchange for playing at the club, in the afternoons.”

Chaos continued when Bob Deal’s wife kicked him out of the house (allegedly for keeping company with several of their female fans). “He had no money, no place to live, so he slept at my house, for a while. He later moved in with Joe. He got kicked out there, too. It was discovered that the couch Bob was sleeping on gave someone crabs, who sat on it.”

While Bob was wearing out his welcome with most of the band members, he and Phil would often collaborate on ideas for the group.

“He told me that I really should have a drum riser, but I didn’t have any money to buy one,” Phil said. “Bob told me that we could make one with milk crates and plywood. So one day this truck pulls up, with a big sheet of plywood, and Bob showed me how to make a riser.”

As was typical in the mid 1970s Los Angeles club scene, Freeway Flyer would often share a venue stage with other up and coming bands, trying to make a name for themselves. “One night, we were playing in the bar, at the Orange County Airport. The setlist included ‘You Really Got Me,’ by the Kinks. After the show, this guy comes up to me and says, ‘The band on before you played it better.’ I got kinda pissed of the nerve of this guy. So we go back into the dressing room, and the bands who play there sign their names on the wall. I noticed that group who played before us was this band called Van Halen. I never heard of them.”

But Bob Deal had.

“Bob would go on and on about Eddie Van Halen. I obviously wasn’t paying attention,” Phil said. “He was friends with the band.” (NOTE: "You Really Got Me" would end up on Van Halen's debut LP, in 1980, which would go on to sell 10 million copies).

It was around that time that Bob was getting restless.

“He really didn’t like the other guys in the band. He wanted to play originals. He was a loud player, and the club management always complained,” Phil said. “One day he came up to me and said, ‘Let’s start our own band, playing originals.’ I told him I had a family, and mouths to feed, and we had lots of gigs playing covers, but it wasn’t enough for him.”

Freeway Flyer would only last about a year.

“John and Joe got tired of being poor. Bob was sick of doing covers, and I got a job driving a truck.”

A few years later Bob Deal auditioned for a metal band, looking for a loud guitarist. The up-and-coming band needed a name, and Bob remembered an incident that occurred when he was playing with Whitehorse, when one of the other band members called the group "a motley looking crew.” The group stylized the idea, to Mötley Crüe.  Bob’s time with Whitehorse also influenced his decision to change his own name.

“Whitehorse had a female singer named Micki Marz, so he changed his name to Mick Mars,” Phil said.

Phil and Bob didn’t stay in touch, after Freeway Flyer disbanded, however Phil’s son Jody had a brief encounter with the now-platinum selling album guitarist.

“Jody was riding his bike, over by a 7-11 convenience store, and a big black limo pulled up. It was Mötley Crüe, headed to a gig somewhere. My son went up to Bob, who instantly recognized him. He said ‘I remember you, you are Jody.’ Jody told him ‘My dad still plays, but he didn’t make it.’ Bob replied, ‘So what.’”

Phil said he didn’t hold any grudges, until he heard about an interview Bob/Mick did, talking about his early band days.

“He said that he was playing in a bunch of ‘schmuck bands’ back then. I was pissed. We fed him, and gave him a roof over his head, when he had nothing. That’s the story of my life. Who knows what would have happened if I had taken him up on his offer to form an all-originals band.”

“Maybe I would have been in Mötley Crüe,” Phil laughed.

NOTE:  According to a Mötley Crüe fan site Whitehorse bassist Harry Clay comes up with the name Motley Croo,  late in 1972, but management prefers Whitehorse, named after the bottle of Scotch whiskey. The name Motley Croo is utilized whenever the band shops their original tunes for a recording contract, but to this day, there is a disagreement amongst original Whitehorse members as to whether the band actually ever played any live gigs under the name Motley Croo or not. Whitehorse member (and former member of the Frantics, David Day), teaches Bob the Whitehorse songs while David’s previous band-mate, Kim Sherman (also formerly with the Frantics), fills in as the second lead guitarist for the group during a ten-week tour of Colorado in the Fall of 1973. Bob officially joins the group on stage as lead guitarist in January 1974 at Mr. Lucky’s in Denver Colorado, during another ten-week Colorado tour, when Kim finally leaves to return to Los Angeles where he plays session guitar for Flash Cadillac.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

John Denver Exhibit at the History Colorado Museum


Hey all! Yeah, I know, John Denver is hardly considered normal criteria for a blog on esoteric Colorado music history, but I had to post about this fantastic visual tribute to Colorado's favorite musical icon, at the History Colorado museum.

While the display is pretty sparse, on the exhibits front, it is nonetheless a nice show of affection to the individual who probably, single-handedly, caused a large population surge, in Colorado, in the 1970s (In 1978, I remember my dad coming home and telling us we were moving to Colorado, for his job transfer. All I then knew about Colorado was the Denver Broncos...and John Denver).

The exhibit runs now, until August 16.

Take a look at a few of the items on display:

 Get your picture taken with John Denver!

Family picture 
(Full disclosure: John's uncle, Abe Deutschendorf, was my 
junior high school principal, in Lawton Oklahoma)

 The exhibit shows a few dozen of the 50+ albums he recorded, including his first appearance on an LP, the 1965 Mitchell Trio That's the Way it's Gonna Be.

Not a lot of people knew that John Denver was an avid nature photographer. 
The exhibit shows a handful of his photos. 

 Embroidered denim jacket and pants/
Greven 12-string guitar
Leather "peace" guitar strap (used during his 1995 Wildlife Concert)

Probably some of the most iconic glasses worn on a musician, since Buddy Holly.
Handwritten lyrics to "Druthers," which appears on the 1977 LP I Want to Live.

Interesting trivia on the history of his most-famous songs, including "Rocky Mountain High."
Denver wrote this song after witnessing the Perseid meteor shower over Williams Lake, in Aspen, during a camping trip, in 1972.

 In the Zoom In: The Centennial State in 100 Objects, also located at the museum, check out John Denver's 1986 Yamaha guitar, used during the John Denver's Rocky Mountain Reunion TV special (1979).

Of course, one has to stop by the gift shop!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Incredible Story of When the Trolls Played the Troubadour

The Trolls (1965)
Lower left - Richard "Speedy" Gonzales
Standing: "Reload" (briefly the band's bass player), Phil Head and Fred Brescher

I watched the Laurel Canyon music documentary last night (which is fantastic), and it got me thinking about a story Phil Head recently told me, about how his band was (very) briefly part of the early Los Angeles rock scene. Phil just happens to be a dear friend, and the former drummer of the 1960s Pueblo band, the Trolls.

Get ready - this is an amazing story.

So early in the band's history, after one particular Pueblo show, a man comes up to the group and says, "I want to manage you, and take you to Hollywood."

"This was early 1965, before Tony Spicola became our manager," Phil told me. "Even before Monty Baker and Doug Rymerson joined the band."

Without a second thought, and with high hopes of making it big in California, the band loaded up two cars - keyboardist Fred Brescher's 1955 Chevy, and a station wagon owned by band guitarist Richard "Speedy" Gonzales.

Picture taken the day before the band's trip to California
In front of the Quick Draw club, Pueblo (March 1965).
Back row: Wayne Sloan (owner of the Quick Draw), Fred Brescher, and "Reload"
Front row: Phil Head, Dick Trontel, Tom Fillmore, and Speedy Gonzales.
The trip didn't start off, as planned.

"We were somewhere between Taos and Santa Fe, and all of sudden we started hearing this knocking noise, under Speedy's car," said Phil. "It was a bad U-joint and it caught the undercoating on fire. I remember all of us jumping out, because there was a fire under the car. Speedy got a big chunk of snow, went under the car, and put the fire out."

Speedy was able to drive the car to a small service station, where a mechanic said he could fix it - but he had to drive to Albuquerque to pick up a part. So the band spent the night in their cars.

Back on the road, the group took a detour to Las Vegas, an unplanned route, which resulted in another automobile issue.

"We drove right into a dust storm, and it was so bad Speedy's car choked out and died," Phil said. "I remember being freaked out, because I had never seen a sand storm, and I thought the car wasn't the only thing going to die."

The storm passed, and the car was back on the road, finally making it to Los Angeles.

"So we get to California, and the guy who brought us there gets us a room in this apartment, right below the famous Hollywood sign. The place was a dump. Across the hall there were prostitutes," Phil remembers.

But just as the band unloaded their belongings, and were ready to conquer the L.A. music scene, they were hit with another problem.

"The guy who brought us there says, 'I have to go back to Pueblo,' and he leaves us," Phil said. "We didn't know a soul there. We had no money to pay the rent."

Stranded in an unknown city, the band looked to the apartment landlord for help.

"It just so happened the landlord of this apartment had connections at the famed Troubadour, and could get us on the bill, for open mic night," Phil said.

Things were starting to look up. Just two days after they arrived, the Trolls found themselves on stage at one of the most well-known venues in L.A.

"It was a great show," Phil said. "We had a great audience, and lots of applause. I don't remember the set list. We might have played some originals, but I remember getting off that stage feeling very positive about our chances to make it big here."

A chance encounter with an up-and-coming group further added to the feelings that success was just around the corner.

"So we are loading our equipment, in the alley, and these blonde, barefoot surfer-looking dudes come out of this VW van. They came up to me and one of them said, 'You guys sounded really good, we just caught your show."

The fan then asked, "When did you guys become the Trolls? We were going to call ourselves that.'"

"So I'm immediately thinking these blonde barefoot surfer dudes are in their own band, and they are trying to take away our name, and I get kinda upset, then one says, 'Yeah our record company didn't like the name we picked, because it sounded too much like this new British group, the Yardbirds, so we were thinking about several other names, including The Trolls.'"

So Phil asks him, "So what did you end up calling yourselves?"

The stranger said, "The Byrds."

He had been talking to Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke.

The Byrds

According to the history of (what would become) the Byrds, the group  (known then as the Jet Set) signed a recording contract with Columbia Records on November 10, 1964. Two weeks later, the Jet Set decided to rename themselves as The Byrds, which according to Wikipedia: "a moniker that retained the theme of flight and also echoed the deliberate misspelling of the Beatles".

Just two months after Phil talked to Hillman and Clarke, the Byrds would make their television debut, singing "Mr. Tambourine Man."

High on their success at the Troubadour, the Trolls headed back to their rented room. Speedy wanted to make dinner, and headed out to a nearby supermarket to buy groceries.

"But he didn't come back."

Apparently Speedy had an old warrant for his arrest, for jaywalking, and while walking to the store, the police arrested him, and threw him in jail.

Back at the apartment, the band had a problem -  Speedy was in jail, they had no money, no contacts, and no way of getting back to Pueblo. Then, it got worse.

"The landlord of the apartment, who knew we were down on our luck, had an idea to help us make money - he said we could do gay pornos," Phil said. "I didn't even know there was such a thing. It was dawning on us that the Pueblo guy who brought us out to Los Angeles, was in cahoots with this landlord to bring out young men to do these films. When we told him we wouldn't do it, he kicked us out."

It just so happened that living across the hall from the band was Tommy Youngblood, the R&B singer who had recorded a few singles, and felt bad for the guys.

Tommy Youngblood

"He had a studio, off of Vine street, and asked if I could play drums for him, and do some sweeping. So we just jammed in the studio, just the two of us. He then told me that he had a place for us to stay, so we loaded everything up, and went to this place in Watts. It was a dump, but by that time Speedy was out of jail, and we were able to figure out what our next plan would be."

The band managed to contact their Pueblo friends Dick Trontel and Tom Fillmore (pictured in the first photo), who drove to Los Angeles, and rescued them. Back in Pueblo, they immediately headed to the home of the guy who bailed on them.

"We were so pissed. We broke into his house, dragged him out of bed, and into his kitchen. We wanted to rough him up, but we didn't do anything to him, but probably put the fear of God into him. He left town shortly after that, and we never saw him again."

The disastrous, but memorable, trip wasn't without its benefits, back home in Pueblo, as they were then billed as "Direct From the Troubadour in Hollywood."

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Friendship Baptist Church - Voices of Salvation

Quick trip to Colorado Springs, today. Hit the big Colorado thrift chain, but walked out empty handed at the first three locations. Really debated whether or not to go to the last one, on the north side, as I hit the road back to Denver. My car was running on fumes, and wouldn't you know it, a filling station was right by the last store!

Divine intervention appeared to be in my corner, as I found this fantastic Colorado Springs gospel record, at the last thrift stop!

The Voices of Salvation were members of the Friendship Baptist Church, located on East Dale Street, less than a mile east of the Colorado College campus.

Friendship Baptist Church

The group, organized in 1970, included six female parishioners, who (according to the liner notes) "appeared many times at different local churches, and on television." Members included Arletha Bragg, Jackie Perkins, Robie Hardaway, Katheryn McKinnie, Josie Prater, and Ivory Mitchell.

Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
April 8, 1972
(click to enlarge)

I was pretty excited to find this 1972 John Law Enterprises album, as several years ago I unearthed the outstanding Evangelist Elma and the Children of Truth LP (also on the John Law label). The Voices of Salvation contains a total of 11 soulful gospel offerings. Sadly, as is usually the case with local recordings, the production is non-existent. 

Listen to "I'll Wait Right Here"
Soloist - Jackie Perkins
(YouTube link)

The Rev. El Ray Johnson served as the church pastor, during its recording - a position he held for 27 years, before his retirement in 1992. The liner notes also credit Joe Phillips on piano, and organist G. Everett Williams.

Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
May 3, 1977
(click to enlarge)

Friday, June 5, 2020

Robert W. Fling

So I'm digging in Boulder, when I spot a beat up 45 sleeve, of what appears to be a Christmas recording. I run into more than my share of religious (and Christmas) offerings, on vinyl, so as I was about to put the sleeve back, one of the two records fell out. I noticed the 45s were from Cascade, Colorado, and it was an artist I never heard of - Robert W. Fling.

Since this is the first Colorado record I have ever found, from the tiny town of Cascade, I was eager to learn more. So I get home and hit the Internet, only to find some amazing history, on Mr. Fling.

The earliest mention of Robert W. Fling was found in a 1926 Colorado College yearbook. where he was an English major, and participated in football, and the glee club.

His history picks up again, shortly after graduating from CC, where I found his name in a Phoenix Arizona newspaper, as a staff writer. By 1932, I found his byline at the Boston Globe. Sometime, shortly thereafter, he left the printed word, and moved on to radio, in Chicago, where I found his name in several WGN radio stories, as a producer, writer, and announcer.

It was around this time he produced a faith-based radio show. I found a newspaper reference, in 1935, announcing that he was writing and producing a 'living bible" radio series, based out of Chicago. A few other stories indicated that the series would be syndicated, and broadcast across the country.

Another newspaper story, in 1938, noted that he worked for the Standard Radio Company, and later Press Radio Features.

The "Living Bible" series continued for several years, as I found another reference, as late as 1939, that the future episodes would be available to radio stations.

Chicago Tribune
September 4, 1939
(click to enlarge)

By 1941, he was back in Colorado, where I noted his address was in Green Mountain Falls, located just north of Pikes Peak.

As I mentioned, the records show Cascade, Colorado on the labels, which confirms his location, as the town is just four miles south of Green Mountain Falls. This potentially dates these records around the 1940s time frame.

The records I found were Christmas-related ("Town of Bethlehem" and "Three Wise Men"). If I were to guess, I'm sure there are several other records floating around out there, as part of the series.

The story above indicated that the cast of the show included Harry Elders, Willard Waterman, Jack O'Dell, and Kay Campbell.

Harry Elders, famous for his usher/announcer role on "The First Nighter" show, was later a resident of Palmer Lake. He died in 1993, and is buried in Colorado Springs.

Willard Waterman's television career included a variety of film and TV supporting roles on The Lawman, My Favorite Martian, The Eve Arden Show (four episodes from 1957-1958 as Carl Foster), 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Guestward Ho!, F Troop, and Dennis the Menace, in which he played the lovable grocer, Mr. Quigley.

Kay Campbell would later play Helene Benedict on The Guiding Light from 1957 until 1964. She went on to play Rose Pollock on The Edge of Night. She had retired following her role on The Edge of Night but she was coaxed out of retirement by soap opera writer and producer Agnes Nixon, who had created the role of "Kate" especially for Campbell, on the soap opera All My Children. She portrayed Kate Martin from mid-1970 to her death in 1985.