Excerpt from the musical memoir, Make You Want Crazy by Jack Za 2022
Additional memories by Lyle Lambur
Chapter Seven – Let’s hear from the bass player 1976
I’m guessing it was 1976. I had split with Brenda and was renting this upstairs apartment above Jack and Pat in St Charles. My day job was working in mental health (Theirs not mine) as a Psych Tech at St. Vincents Hospital.
Jack and I were able to book small gigs as an acoustic duo and we called ourselves Souvenir. Jack had already written so many songs that we were able to fill three 45 minute sets with all original music-something unheard of in those days.
Before we had even met or started to play together Jack had been working on a 45rpm record. He had been unhappy with it’s progress, so far.
One morning we were going over some of his freshly written songs and I played for him the beginnings of a song that had been rattling around in my head for months. He took what I had; added some lyrics, some verses, and a chorus and in short order did his creative alchemy and turned it into a song: Lonely Moves.
Jack had just written a song called: Unusual Persuasion. We were getting a great response to both songs in our live gigs. They seemed to balance out one another. One was a dark and brooding piece about the entrapment of a love affair where no one knows what they want, whereas the other was this crazy outlook of a guy who has realized that his love got off the train a few stations back, but he’s still confident that he will find love again(and again, and again…).
Northwest Plaza was the first outdoor shopping mall built in the St Louis area in the late 60’s. One of my favorite shops there was the music store. There was always some thing new to be tried: metallic blue tuck and rolled vinyl covered Kustom amplifiers with three 15” speakers, Ampeg fretless bass guitars, etc.
One afternoon after leaving that musician’s wonderland, I dropped into the Orange Julius shop for a large Julius. Actually, to be honest, I was there not so much for the drink, rather, I went in to flirt with the beautiful counter girl, Beth.
She had long, straight hair the color of a new penny. Almost translucent white skin with a constellation of freckles splashed across her face, neck and arms.
Even though she had a serious boyfriend, we had developed this ongoing script in which I would try different tactics in order to get Beth to reveal the secret powder that gave the Orange Julius drink it’s creamy, special flavor.
To create an Orange Julius drink, Beth would toss a large scoopful of ice in a blender, pour orange juice over that, and then add 2 small scoops of an off-white powder from a container marked ‘Secret Ingredients’, and blend it into a thick creamy shake.
Once, after pressing her pretty hard by threatening to kill her pet goldfish-Larry, she warned that if she ever revealed the contents of the ‘Secret Ingredients’…Beth confided that neither of our lives would be safe.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, I walked into the OJ and saw Beth ringing up some customers. As they turned and left, she spied me and said, “Hey! The FBI was here looking for you, I told them where you live…”
“Stop!” I cut her off mid-sentence. Coming through the shop’s PA speakers was the progressive rock radio station, KSHE, and the song they were playing was the A side of our 45 single, ‘Unusual Persuasion’.
I pointed to the speaker high up in the corner of the shop.
A look of confusion amplified by her freckles overtook her face, “What? I don’t under…”
“That’s me. Us. Our record. I just gave it to Joy(one of the DJ’s at KSHE) a week ago!”
I was truly flabbergasted. My scalp tingled. This was the marker you always heard recording artists talk about: the first time they heard themselves on the radio.
And I was hearing our record as I stood there in the Orange Julius shop in Northwest Plaza in St Louis County.
The song ended and the DJ said, “That was Unusual Persuasion by Jack Spellazza and Souvenir, a local band.” As I was coming down to earth, Beth handed me a large Julius,
“On the house.” Beth said as she went to the sink to wash out the blender, “I didn’t know you were in a band.” And as she ran the water, “I really liked the voice.”
“It’s an acoustic duo, actually, but, yeah.” I thanked her for the shake and turned to go when Beth said, “Wait! Aren’t you going to ask about this?” she held the secret ingredient bin aloft.
I was going to tell her I had to get back to my music partner and tell him the good news when she said, “Coffeemate. Coffeemate and powdered sugar. That’s all it is.”
I smiled and held my cup up as I made for the door.
As I drove my 1968 VW Bug back to St Charles, back to the house on Jefferson Street, I knew that our lives were about to change. The phone would ring and it would be a record company, or a person in the music business. Or perhaps the FBI?
Lyle Lambur 2021
Footnote: Unusual Persuasion and Lonely Moves were on KSHE’s Program Director’s Playlist for 13 weeks. We thank you.
The Trip to L.A. as best remembered, or, Never let The Truth get in the Way of a Good Story!
So- set the Way Back Machine to 1976. We had 1,000 45 records in a box, and that record had been added to the KSHE-95 Playlist and was getting a little attention, but what to do next? When I called Joy at the radio station to thank her for putting it on the air, she asked me what we were going to do next to sell and distribute it. I had nothing. She told me of a business friend who worked in Promotion at J.L.Marsh, the largest record distributor East of the Rockies. We actually got an interview with Bear Racoff at J.L. Marsh. He listened to our record and promised that If we were to record and master an album’s worth of songs, then J.L. Marsh would market, distribute it, and promote it!
While Jack and I felt good about the music business man’s response, we were still lacking management: we needed a Brian Epstein.
So Jack placed several ads in the local papers, looking for a manager, or a “Talking Smoothie” as he liked to call them. After a week, we had only received one response, so we went to see the fellow at his office near the airport. Our first surprise was that this talent agent and manager’s office was located in a mobile home park. Nevertheless, we drove in, located the house number and parked. When we knocked and the door opened, we encountered surprise number two: a hunchbacked dwarf in a wheelchair. Could this get any weirder? We sat on some folding chairs across the desk from him while he described his client list ( several magicians, some balloon-bending clowns & some celebrity lookalikes ). Then he listened to the record as he read through the lyrics, which he didn’t understand and labeled as ‘personally obscure’…
Jack and I decided that the only way we were ever going to get a recording contract would be to make a pilgrimage to L.A. where record deals grew on bushes. We began making plans to drive out to the West Coast in my 1968 V.W.. We put together ten sets of packages containing the
record with it’s printed jacket, lyric sheets for the A & B sides, an 8 x 10 B&W band photo,and a copy of the promise to distribute from J.L. Marsh. Jack wanted a woodblock print of a Nautilus shell. He wanted to convey a sense of dignity and taste with this package, never realizing that taste and dignity had absolutely no place in the record industry…
, Our next hurtle was how to fund the trip? I was working a full time job as a Psych Tech at St. Vincent’s hospital and had managed to save up several hundred dollars towards the trip. Jack had spent his savings on recording and pressing the single, so he was tapped out . Then my VW threw a valve and I found myself spending my savings on A Complete Idiot’s Guide to VW Repair, and the necessary parts for the task. I still can’t believe that Jack & I pulled the engine, rebuilt it in two weeks time on his back porch and successfully reinstalled it! So now that we had the package to take to L.A. and a way to get there- all we needed was cash…
A couple of months earlier. My stepmom has passed away suddenly from an aneurism. She had an amazing voice and as a teenager often sang with local big bands, Like the Russ David Orchestra. She loved Jack’s music and felt that we should go to LA and pursue the music just to see where it would take us. My dad took $1500.00 from my step mom’s life insurance policy and handed us a book of traveler’s checks, and just like that: we were good to go.
The glamour that is Hollywood.
It was early May. We finished putting together 10 packages to drop off at the record companies, packed up our guitars and and we were off! We mostly took the the old route 66 west, staying the first night in Oklahoma.
On our second day, we stopped somewhere in New Mexico, to stretch our legs. Huge mesas and plateaus stretched as far as the eye could see. We parked near a dry wash and began a hike up the arroyo towards a small bluff. The sky above us was cloudless and intensely cerulean blue.
About 5 miles to the north; however, in the direction we were hiking, the skies were dark indigo and lightning strobed. We had been walking for about 10 minutes, engaged in talk of our strategies we would incorporate when we arrived in L.A. when we both stopped. There was a growling sound coming from up ahead. we looked at each other in a WTF moment and looked back up river and saw, about a mile away, something huge churning down the river bed towards us: it was a flash flood pushing debris, boulders and mud! Shit! We immediately started to the side wall of the arroyo but we found that the banks had risen as we walked up river, so now scaling the embankment before the flood hit us was an impossible task. We took a different evasive action: we fled back downstream as fast as our feet could run. We could now feel the rumble beneath our feet and smell the approaching wall of mud…we finally reached a shallow dip in the wall and scrambled up it. As we reached the top of the wash we threw ourselves down and watched the debris crash past us and then subside as the arroyo opened up into a wide flood plain and dissipate. By the time we reached the VW, it was over. We took our narrow escape as a positive sign and started back up on our route.
As we motored west, the dark storm to the north overtook us and we drove through a high desert monsoon. Huge raindrops pelted us from every direction for the next two hours. The late afternoon sky was as dark as if it were evening, when suddenly the storm curtains before us began to rise up off the horizons of red rock and an intense golden light pushed out of that breech. As this flash flood of photons rushed towards us, it lit the clouds and created a gigantic double rainbow. And we were driving through them in the middle of the desert. And do you know what? It sure felt like another good sign.
By mid-afternoon the next day we finally reached the L.A. County line and hit westbound afternoon commuter traffic. “WE’RE HERE!” we cried, we had reached Oz at last. Now if we could just get the Wizard to pull a recording contract out of his carpetbag…
Three hours later, we were still east of Downtown L.A., and the sun was sinking into a hazy soup of hydrocarbons. We decided that we had had enough, and so with our trusty AAA map, we ditched the freeway and headed up into HOLLYWOOD. It was getting dark, and we realized we were tired to the bone- too tired to scout around for our base of operations. As we drove down Sunset Blvd., we stopped at the first neon-lit Motel displaying a VACANCY sign. We dropped our stuff on the beds that resembled two twin-sized sponges. We walked across Sunset to a liquor store and picked up a six pack of Coors, a bag of ice and a Hollywood Reporter. We got Chinese takeout from the place next door, went back to our room, iced the beer down in the bathroom sink and settled in. We rolled a joint, smoked it and then drank a beer as we ate.
After dinner, Jack made his nightly call home to Pat, and as usual, I stepped outside to give him some privacy. While leaning against the door to our room, I noticed a lot of activity on the street: lots of guys in cars slowing down-some of them stopping to talk to scantily clad women, some very young, some ancient. My suspicions were proven correct as many of those girls brought their new boyfriends to their rooms adjacent to ours and made a lot of banging and groaning noises throughout the night.
The following morning we continued on to West Hollywood where we found an I-Hop and pulled in for breakfast. Attached to the restaurant was the Holloway Motel: cleaner & nicer in every way. We signed in and set up shop.
Using several different music trade publications and magazines, Jack would hand me a list of phone numbers for Record Labels with offices in the area that were signing artists who played in the same genre as ours (Original, Folk-Rock?). I would then cold call and ask for the A&R person- usually I would not make it past the receptionist with my midwestern salesmanship. That being the case, I would ask If I could drop off THE PACKAGE for their review at their convenience? Mostly we got a “Sorry, but (Insert Record Label) is NOT accepting any new material at this time” We did however find several that offered to pass along OUR PACKAGE if we wanted to drop one off… and even fewer still that would allow us a short meeting with their A &R Guy. And what were those meetings like, you might ask? The few we had were basically identical, and they went something like this:
A&R GUY: SO- what brings you to L.A.?
Lyle: This PACKAGE (handing the Nautilus shell folio to the Guy, who opens it and begins to pull out the contents. He holds up the 45 record…)
A&R Guy: And this is?
Jack: This is our record we made earlier this year (A&R Guy swivels his chair to a turntable behind him and drops the needle on the ‘A’ side, listens to about 30 seconds as he glances at the lyric sheets. He flips it over & listens to about 20 seconds before he pulls the record, puts it back in the sleeve, puts that back into the folio.
Lyle: So what do you think?
A&R Guy: It’s great! Good stuff. So what?
Jack: So- how about a recording contract?
A&R Guy: Listen- the Industry has changed. Used to be we’d sign anybody with any kind of talent…These days, the talent has to bring us the money.
Lyle: The Money?
A&R Guy: A management company able to put up half the cost of a 16 week national tour.
A mastered album’s worth of original songs and the backing of a national distributor. You walk into my office with those things and I will sign you today.
Lyle: But if we had all of that-
Jack: -Why would we need you?
A&R Guy: Point well taken. Thanks for dropping by, and good luck. ( he starts to hand
the Package back to Lyle) Hey, would you mind if I keep this?
Lyle: No. That would be fine-
A&R Guy: Cool-thanks!. (He takes everything out of the Nautilus folio and hands that back
to Lyle) My kid needed a cover for his book report…
As my kids would say, “So-yeah” That was our trip to Oz: The Tin Man didn’t get a heart, the Scarecrow didn’t get a brain, and they were running out of cash. On our last day on the coast, we drove down to Huntington Beach to visit with Jack’s old friend, Mike. While we were visiting in his suburban Orange County backyard, drinking a beer and rolling some joints for the road, a decent sized earthquake rolled through the ‘hood and the neighbors went crazy: popping beers, clanging bottles together and shouting “WHOO-HOO!” It was very unsettling and we took it as a sign to call it quits and head back home.
And so we counted our money and calculated that we only had enough cash to pay for gas, three meager meals apiece, several thermoses of strong coffee and a bottle of whiskey. No money for motels- we would have to drive it straight through- about 36 hours nonstop. We began with this rotation: The first person would drink coffee, have a couple of tokes and would drive for 6 hours. Then we’d pull over and switch: the next driver would drink the coffee and have a few puffs and the retiring driver would have a shot or two of whiskey and finish up the joint. That made it easier to sleep or stay awake as was appropriate to their task of driving or sleeping. The six hour shifts were too long, so we went to four hour posts which got us home. The only strange thing that happened was around hour 28. It was the middle of the night driving through a bright moonlit night across the Texas Panhandle. Jack had been asleep for about an hour, and I was settled into a Neal Cassidy kind of driving zen when I spotted something in the middle of the road as I got closer and I began to slow down, I could see that something rather large was moving up ahead on the asphalt. Slowing down even more, I realized that it was a Great Horned Owl and it was trying to get airborne with a road-kill jackrabbit in it’s talons. It was flapping it’s huge wings as it tried to get clear of our VW, but at the last second, dropped it right in the middle of my windshield with a large THUMP! Jack bolted awake and stared at the gore smeared across the glass and cried, “What the Fuck!?! “Rabbit, I think.” I said, hitting the windshield wipers, which only made visibility worse. Jack took the wheel and I leaned out of the window and pulled most of the bloody carcass off the windshield. Then Jack leaned out of his side, pulled what bloody bits he could reach and then poured the remainder of our precious coffee and created enough visibility to get us to a truck stop and hose it down properly.
The last remaining miles are a blur. We made the trip, but we came back with nothing. No-that’s not right. We came back with the feeling that we weren’t through with L.A.. So-Yeah! Lyle Lambur June 2022
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