Grass Roots Story 2


After Mr. Jones was out for a few weeks Dylan did cover it.  If that makes sense, how could he cover his own tune?  It of course cut our sales short but we had made our mark.


Side story #1: Some (probably PF) have said Steve Berri and PF Sloan were the original Grass Roots. It is reported they put out Where Were You When I Needed You before there was a Grass Roots band. If you follow the release dates on the singles you can see Willy, Denny, Joel and I released the first Grass Roots recording (Mr. Jones) and there was a Grass Roots band when Where Were You was released. Remember we signed with Dunhill in September of 1965. Where Were You was released in January of 1966, some 4 months after the release of Mr. Jones.


Dunhill had us move to LA and start playing in the clubs so we could build a following in the LA/Hollywood music scene.  Elmer Valentine, the owner of the Whiskey a-go-go, was close to opening his new club, The Trip and we were to be the house band.  The club was finished in a couple of weeks when the club opened the Byrds were headlining.  That in itself was way cool for us.  We loved the Byrds and their folk rock sound.  We had seen them earlier in the year at the San Francisco Civic with the Stones and now we were gigging with them.  


The Grass Roots played for three months at the Trip with very few breaks. Each week or two we would work with a different group.  We worked with the Lovin Spoonful, Love, the Leaves, Marvin Gaye, etc.  The Trip was the new hotspot so we met a lot of folks who came in to see various groups perform.  It was great!!  We went out on the road a couple of times but LA was home for the time being and The Trip was our gig.


Side Story #2: The name, The Grass Roots, was being used by Arthur Lee (LOVE) in 1965.  He and his band performed regularly in the LA area under the Grass Roots name until Mr. Jones came out in Sept. of 1965. Lou ripped it from under Arthur’s ass. Dunhill liked the GR name, Arthur didn’t have it protected, so Dunhill gave it to us. Simple as that. When we started playing around town using the Grass Roots name, Arthur was livid, as he should have been.  He was pissed at us because he thought we had personally stolen it.  Once we were able to sit down with him and explain the truth, we were from SF and had no idea there was a Grass Roots, he was cool with us. He had no choice but to rename his group LOVE.  Didn’t hurt either group in the long run.  But now you know the rest of the story… There is an interview with Arthur on Dutch TV in which he talks about the Grass Roots name and having to change his bands name to Love.

Oh yea, another reason PF and Steve were not the first Grass Roots.


The Grass Roots were living in an apartment on Santa Monica Boulevard, just South of the Sunset Strip and The Trip.  It was a typical band crash bad.  No real food, clothes in every corner and generally not enough room to keep us out of each others hair.  It was so close to the Trip that people would stop by regularly, Frank Zappa, Henry Vastine, Fang and Smitty, Jim Ponce, Gene Clark, Mike Clarke, Bill Rinehart etc., it was a kick.  However living in these close quarters is where the band’s unity started to splinter and the differences in our personalities became more apparent.  


We had never had to live with one another.  We saw a lot of each other but could always go to our homes to recoup and chill away from the unit. After a month or so of constantly performing and living together we began to grind on one another.  Willy was always full of himself. With the success of Mr. Jones and our working on the Strip along side of all these great bands….lets just say his hat size began to grow.  Joel was always in some girls pants.  He rated himself and others around him by the amount of women they bagged. It must have been a drummer thing because Michael Clarke, Dewey Martin and Joel shagged more than a few for sure. Denny and I seemed to be a little less keyed up than Joel and Willy. Anyway, it got on my nerves.  Willy, I could handle.  He was part of the brotherhood.  Joel was another story.  I got tied of him quickly.


Side story #3:  When The Trip was being built, Willy, Denny and I met a bohemian artist who was making one of the light displays next to the stage.  He and his buddies lived out in Venice.  They were experimenting with LSD.  I had never heard of LSD.  I had never taken a drug, didn’t drink beer but occasionally.  He invited us to Venice to go on an LSD trip.  We did.  It was fantastic.  It changed my life in a few hours.  I’ll never forget that night, never want to.  It brought me a great deal of joy and love for all around me and an understanding of life that would have taken me many years to obtain.  The bonding Willy, Denny and I had on our LSD trips helped the brotherhood but it also threw new a wrench into the Grass Roots gear chain.


Not only was there some tension between band members but soon the same tension worked its way into the office of Lou and Dunhill.  Willy was always verbally sparing the Lou.  As if the kid was gonna “out do” the much older and street wise Lou.  Remember that hat size?  I think Lou liked to egg him on.  


One day we stopped by the office for no particular reason and Lou invited Willy into his office to listen to listen to the new Stones single.  Willy’s critique was none too complimentary.  The tune was too much of this and there wasn’t enough of that and la, la, la.  Lou then asked Willy into his inner office where Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones producer, was sitting.  Willy, I want you to meet …………”  I think Lou knew Willy would pan the tune so he set him up.


 However, I think the worst of the worst was one day in Studio B at Western.  We went in to do some tunes for TV.  I think they were Ain’t That Lovin’ you Baby, Out of Sight and Tell Me.  During a break Willy put a gaffer’s tape swastika on the window between the studio and the control room.  Lou gave Willy a long lecture, and Willy was truly sorry but the damage was done.  Willy wasn’t anti-Semitic, he could have cared less that Lou and others on the Dunhill staff were Jewish.  As a matter of fact I never heard Willy say a derogatory word toward any ethnic group.  I don’t know what got into him, but that lack of respect, that one brief mind fart, wasn’t good for the long life of Willy’s Grass Roots.


One of our jobs at Dunhill was to back Barry McGuire.  Once the Mama’s and Papa’s were signed we did a gig or two backing them as well, but our gig with Barry was pretty steady.  We'd gone to New York to do the Ed Sullivan Show with Barry and sometime in January of 1966 we were to return to New York with Berry to do a club job.  


Before we left Dunhill wanted to get another single on the line.  PF had done a demo of Where Were You When I Needed You and all they wanted was to have Willy cut the lead vocal and it would be ready for release. (The first version of Where Were You released by Dunhill had Willy’s vocal on it. On later releases PF or Dunhill replaced Willy’s vocal with PF’s)  While Willy was doing the vocal Denny, Joel and I went down to Studio A and hung out with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys who was listening to cuts from recordings he had just finished.  He was a kick!  Like a little kid with a new toy.  He’d say “listen to this” while the tape was rolling referring to some little piece of orchestration he had put in.  Wow, what a treat.  We were disappointed not to have cut the entire Where Were You track but everyone had Hal Blaine, Joe Osborne and the wrecking crew on their records.  Including the music we had just been listening to with Brian Wilson in Studio A.


Side Story #4: It’s been said the original Grass Roots left Dunhill because of studio musicians. Not true. Studio musicians were on our first single. Bad Times was in the can. Would have preferred to do our own work? Yes. Did we leave because of it? No


Our trip to New York was great fun. We arrived to a dirt bag hotel none of us wanted to stay at so we called Berry and he got us a room at the Warwick. Steve Miller and his band were wrapping up a two week stay when we arrived. Working at a NY club was hard work compared to our phat gig at The Trip in LA. In LA we worked with another band all the time. Sometimes we’d headline, sometimes we were the second band. The way we worked in LA was 45 min on then 45 min off while the other band did their 45 min.


In NY we worked from 8PM till 4AM. No breaks to speak of. 45 min Grass Root set then a 45 min Barry McGuire set. A piss and a drink is all you had time for between sets. Berry wanted a night off. He negotiated a Monday off. That Monday the Velvet Underground played. Funny now that I think of it. After the first week we had a bar bill and a hotel bill that ate all or money. Berry had to loan us money to break even the first week.


The second week we scrimped. One funny storey from NY is: The PA at the club sucked and Berry wanted a better one. Willy and I had built speaker cabinets for the band before we became the Grass Roots. I’m sure the bass cabinet I used was a home made job. Anyway we built speaker cabinets in the dressing room, loaded them with JBL speakers and powered them with a Macintosh 2/75 and an Altec mixer. Wow, was it loud. I heard Berry used it for his stereo once he was back in LA.


After NY we headed to SF to play the Hungry i. It was an old folk music haunt south of Broadway. Kingston Trio like music. We blasted the joint. We were really too loud. We didn’t go over too well. The best thing to come of it was our meeting People in SF who introduced us to Chet Helms of the Family Dog and Bill Graham both of Fillmore Auditorium fame. On February 26th 1966 the Grass Roots played the second Family Dog dance at the Fillmore. The King Kong Memorial Dance. We were second on the bill over Big Brother and the Holding Company (before Janice joined)  and The Quick Silver Messenger Service. The Great Society with Grace Slick was the headliner. What a fantastic time we had. Back in our town playing in the up and coming San Francisco scene. Willy, Denny and I Loved it. Joel was anxious to get back to LA. He loved LA.


Continued in Grass Roots Story 3