(Pictured: Vince Taylor at work.)
“Goin’ Down Geneva” is one of my favorite Van Morrison songs. It opens his 1999 album Back on Top, and the groove is a killer. The words have been chosen more for sound than for sense (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but as far as it’s about something, that something seems to be a bluesman’s lament about life on the road and a fear of being forgotten. At one point, Van sings, “Vince Taylor used to live here / Nobody’s even heard of him / Just who he was / Just where he fits in.”
Van’s right. It’s likely you don’t know who Vince Taylor was, or just where he fits in. He never had a hit in America; his best-known song, “Brand New Cadillac,” is famous for being covered by the Clash. Should you know one thing about him, it’s this: he is said to have been the inspiration for Ziggy Stardust. “I met him a few times in the mid-Sixties,” David Bowie told a reporter in 1996, “and I went to a few parties with him. He was out of his gourd. Totally flipped. The guy was not playing with a full deck at all.” But that was after Taylor has developed a famous taste for booze and acid.
Taylor was born Brian Holden in England in 1939, but his family emigrated to New Jersey and eventually to California, where he attended Hollywood High School. Like others in the late 50s, he was seduced by rock ‘n’ roll, adopting a performing style patterned after Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, and played a few gigs in the Los Angeles area. On a trip to London, he met a couple of other musicians at a concert, and they impulsively decided to form the Playboys. It was at that point Holden ditched his birth name and became Vince Taylor, a leather-clad hip-shaker. This was a time when British “rockers” tended to be clean-cut boys a young girl could take home to Mother—your Tommy Steeles and Billy Furys—but Vince Taylor was a lot more kinetic, a lot more dangerous, a lot more everything.
It was never a smooth ride for Taylor and the Playboys—Taylor was famous for missing shows, leaving his bandmates to perform without their charismatic front man. (The original Playboys included Tony Sheridan, who would be backed by the Beatles within a few years, and Tony Meehan, later of the Shadows.) After the group split, Taylor went to Paris, where one memorable 1961 gig turned him into a star. He got a record deal from a French label and laid audiences dead in the aisles during the first half of the 60s. That he was called “the French Presley” should surprise nobody. He sang original songs, but his setlists were peppered with covers, including “Memphis Tennessee,” “Peppermint Twist,” and “Tutti Frutti.”
In 1965, Taylor and his band opened for the Rolling Stones at a show in Paris, but his career was about to crash. He had discovered LSD earlier that year, and it wasn’t long before his drug habit was consuming most of his bankroll. A month after the Stones show, he went onstage claiming that he was a Biblical prophet, or the son of Jesus, or somebody, and nothing was ever the same after that. Although Taylor would continue to perform from the late 60s into the 80s, he was a classic acid casualty, often put on stage by unscrupulous promoters, and occasionally rumored to have died. He spent the last few years of his life as an airplane mechanic in Switzerland, and died of lung cancer in 1991 at age 52.
Honesty compels me to report that it’s a little hard to hear why Taylor drove the kids so nutty, at least from “Brand New Cadillac,” which has a rockabilly clatter that sounds pretty generic nearly 60 years later. (It was originally released as a B-side, so even Taylor and his label likely considered it a throwaway.) His appeal is easier to grasp when you can see him, as on this Scopitone performance of “Twenty Flight Rock” and a TV performance of “Shakin’ All Over.”
But even those clips fail to get at why Dangeous Minds described Taylor as “the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. He was Iggy before Iggy Pop.” For that you apparently had to be there. For those who were, as Morrison’s 1999 invocation of him indicates, Vince Taylor left an impression that lingered for years.
The compilation I named “Drive All Night” was born more than 20 years ago, I bet. It began as a C-90 cassette but had to be cut in the CD era to 79 minutes. It’s made up of songs with lyrics that speak to me in some way, and/or songs that conjure up a contemplative and/or autumnal vibe.
Not long ago, I discovered a forgotten version of “Drive All Night.” In 2014, I expanded it to four CDs, 56 songs in all, everything from the original and other songs that fit with them. It’s possible I may never have listened to it—that I burned it, put it in a box, and forgot about it. But it’s been riding in the car with me these last few days, and I noticed something about it that I find quite interesting.
But before I can tell you that, I have to tell you this: I am a fortunate guy, really. I have been married for almost 34 years to a woman who had yet to murder me in my sleep as I so richly deserve. She has put up with the peregrinations of my career, up and down the radio dial when we were young, and more recently in the up-and-down world of the gig economy, all the while going to work at her own job every day to bring in a steady paycheck and carry the health insurance. We have a roof over our heads and money in the bank. We have friends we cherish, and while we have no children of our own, we have lots of nieces and nephews and honorary grandchildren, and it’s a lovely thing to watch them grow up.
But as I listen to “Drive All Night,” I notice that many of the songs, express a powerful sense of loss: Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn” (and the Moody Blues’ “December Snow,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” and “Your Wildest Dreams”), “I Was Only Joking” by Rod Stewart,” “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart” by Gerry Rafferty, “The Last Resort” by the Eagles, and “The Pretender” by Jackson Browne, to name a few. There’s a desire to stop time or turn it back (“Time Passages” by Al Stewart, “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder, and “The Sad Cafe” by the Eagles), expressions of road-weariness and/or the urge to go home (“Philosopher’s Stone” by Van Morrison, “Memory Motel” by the Stones, “Run for Home” by Lindisfarne, and “Carey” by Joni Mitchell), and the ever-popular pining for love lost (“Lost Her in the Sun” by John Stewart, Crystal Gayle’s “I’ll Get Over You,” and Maria Muldaur’s “Oh Papa”).
So despite all of my good fortune, I like an awful lot of songs that wish what is lost would be found, or that what is past could return.
That’s not the whole thing, though. Gerry Rafferty’s “Days Gone Down” is about loving someone with whom you have traveled countless miles; in “I Believe in You,” Don Williams promises that when you can’t depend on anything else, you can depend on each other. Susan Tedeschi’s “Sweet Forgiveness” is about love that sees the worst in us and doesn’t give up on us, and Marc Cohn’s “True Companion” is about love that will not be dimmed by age, or even by death. Fleetwood Mac’s “Warm Ways” feels the way you do after you make love to someone you love, a languid vibe also evoked by Elton John’s “Blue Eyes” and “We’re All Alone” by Rita Coolidge. There are happy times, as on “All Day Music” by War and Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” and deeply romantic interludes, as on “When the Leaves Come Falling Down” by Van Morrison. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Late for Your Life” and “This Is Love” are hopeful songs about making the best hand you can out of whatever cards you’re dealt.
And there are other songs different enough from all of these to make it possible that my characterization of this compilation is totally wrong.
But first impressions mean something, so my first impression of “Drive All Night” must have some truth to it. My writing has always been about the difference between here and there, and between now and then. It is also about trying to recapture “there” and “then.” And what’s that, if not a wish for that which is lost—times, places, people, experiences?
I’m busted. You caught me.
(Pictured: Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, on stage.)
Forty-three years ago this week, “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra hit #1 on the Hot 100.
“Love’s Theme” first shows up at ARSA in mid-November 1973. A survey from WXUS in Lafayette, Indiana, dated November 24 shows that it was #1 in Lafayette the previous week. It hit #1 at the R&B formatted WLIB in New York City on November 30. It starts taking off nationwide in mid-December, debuting on WLS in Chicago on December 15, the same week it vaults into the Top 10 at WFIL in Philadelphia. On Christmas Eve, WABC in New York has it at #11. It’s mid-January before it starts racking up Top 10s everywhere. “Love’s Theme” is especially humongous at WQAM in Miami, where it blasts from #28 to #14 to #1 and stays there during the whole month of February. The station charts it until the end of May, and ranks it #2 for the entire year of 1974.
The eighth-grade boy of 13-going-on-14 who ran out to his local record store and bought “Love’s Theme” on a 45 sometime in January could not have articulated his reasons very well. The geezer he grew up to be can do a better job. The mere sound of the thing is remarkable: even out of the little speaker on the portable record player I used at the time, the one with the handle and the lid that snapped on, “Love’s Theme” sounded enormous. On big speakers, as on the console stereo in the family room, “Love’s Theme” is deep enough to swim in.
So let’s live-blog it, using the 45 version. Certain critical aspects of the extended metaphor that follows have been time-compressed in the name of creative license. (I hope for your sake they’re time-compressed.)
(Pictured: B. B. King plays at the Chino Institute for Men, a California prison, in 1972. Given that incarcerated Los Angeles DJ Humble Harve Miller was running the prison radio station at the time, it’s likely that he was involved with the show somehow.)
Earlier this week, friend of the blog Bean Baxter from KROQ in Los Angeles put me in touch with an old acquaintance of Humble Harve Miller, the guy I wrote about here on Monday. According to this person, the story commenter Tim mentioned on Monday is essentially accurate: that after Harve’s wife taunted him about her infidelities while he was on the air at night, he recorded a show, went home, found her in bed with a guy, and shot them both. (However: newspaper stories I found about the incident don’t say it was a double murder, or even a double shooting. They mention only Mrs. Miller.) Harve didn’t hide out in Phil Spector’s mansion, nor was he on the run for two weeks. He turned himself in after about 24 hours. Prison changed him a great deal, his acquaintance says; he apparently got religion and came out a far different man than when he went in. The parole board considered what he’d done a crime of passion that did not make him a danger to the general public, and given that prison seemed to have rehabilitated him, he was set free.
Regarding the National Album Countdown: Harve pitched Casey Kasem’s company, Watermark, about syndicating a countdown of each week’s top albums. When Watermark declined, Harve decided to do it himself. He researched, wrote, and produced it and even sold it to individual stations before making a distribution deal with Westwood One. When the show finally ended in the 80s, it was due in part to the proliferation of countdown shows on the air by then. In more recent times, Harve did satellite radio and a syndicated doo-wop show that aired on a few stations, although it was mostly a hobby. As I mentioned on Monday, Harve is past 80 now, a time when even old radio guys sometimes want to hang up their headphones.
Our friend kblumenau noted that Harve could have changed his name, moved to Buffalo or some other city, and continued his radio career there, rather than going back to Los Angeles under the same name that had been tagged with so much notoriety just a few years before. I am not sure it would have been easier for Harve to do that, though. As I wrote on Monday, he had plenty of friends in California, people who knew him well and who believed in his rehabilitation, as his old acquaintance says above. The radio world is a very small one (although I suppose there’s no profession that doesn’t say the same thing about itself), and that clearly helped him restart his career and life. To a program director in Buffalo, Birmingham, or Boston, the fact that he murdered his wife would have loomed far larger than it did to people who knew him well before and after.
I’d be interested to know whether KKDJ, the station to which Humble Harve returned in 1974, got any pushback from its audience for hiring him. If it did, the pushback didn’t have an effect, nor did it matter to Casey Kasem, or KIIS, or Westwood One. Today, given the power of social media, pushback would be easier to organize and more likely to snowball; back in the day it would have required many, many phone calls and letters.
I am probably failing to remember one that’s big and obvious, but I can’t recall another case in which a radio guy left a job under a cloud of highly publicized scandal only to return. I have an inkling that there was a prominent guy in the Quad Cities who got into some kind of trouble in the 80s, spouse abuse or something, only to get back on the air there at some point in the 90s, but I can’t say for sure.
Maybe the old radio guys amongst the readership know stories they can tell.
Many thanks to Humble Harve’s old acquaintance for the additional information, and to Bean for the connection.
(Pictured: Los Angeles DJ Humble Harve Miller, at right with the beard, photographed in 1968, backstage with a member of Iron Butterfly and an unidentified woman. I don’t know if that’s his wife.)
If you google the phrase “national album countdown,” the second hit out of 625,000 is a link to this low-rent blog of mine, which should give you some idea of how little information there is on the Interwebs about the National Album Countdown. Each week, veteran Los Angeles DJ Humble Harve Miller counted down the top 30 albums as compiled by Record World, the little sister of Billboard and Cash Box. A 1977 ad in Billboard celebrating the show’s first anniversary says it’s on 85 stations around the country, although a 1980 Billboard article about syndicator Westwood One says only that it airs on the Armed Forces Network. Scattered mentions of the show from around the web indicate that it lasted until 1985. During 1976, I was a dedicated listener to the show, and I frequently kept track of the top 30 as Harve counted them down.
Humble Harve Miller was one of the Boss Radio jocks at KHJ starting in 1967, but his tenure there ended in 1971, when he was 36 years old. On May 7 of that year, he shot and killed his wife. The story goes that she had been unfaithful to him, and she taunted him by saying that if he didn’t like it, he should get a gun and shoot her. Which he did. After two weeks in hiding (at Phil Spector’s mansion, according to one account), he was caught. Miller pleaded guilty, got five-to-life for second-degree murder, and went to prison in August. In December, Billboard reported that Miller was going to program a new radio station set up at the Chino Institute for Men, where he was incarcerated. Radio stations and record labels would donate equipment and records. (Miller was supposedly furloughed from prison to make a trip to San Diego, driving his own car, to pick up donated records from radio station KGB.) The Columbia School of Broadcasting of Los Angeles planned to offer classes for inmates, although Billboard snarked that “Harve doesn’t need any lessons, of course.” In January 1972, a one-line item in Billboard reported, “Chino Men’s Prison has been hearing some good rock since disk jockey Humble Harve began serving his term.”
It’s unclear to me just how long Miller was in prison. One blogger mentions that he “received a 14-month sentence.” If that’s how long he served, he would have been out in October 1972. A May 1974 edition of Billboard noted Miller’s return to the Los Angeles airwaves on KKDJ. In July 1974, he sat in for Casey Kasem on American Top 40. When KKDJ was purchased by the owners of KIIS in 1975, he was installed on an evening shift, the same daypart he worked on KHJ in the 60s. His voice was featured in the 1975 movie Aloha Bobby and Rose, as the title characters listen to their car radio. And in 1976, he became the host of the National Album Countdown.
What happened to Harve in recent years I have not been able to determine. He was doing satellite radio in the early 00s, and he’d be past 80 years old now. Reading between the lines of the news reports and retracing the arc of his career, it’s pretty clear that he had lots of friends in the radio industry. They did not abandon him when he went to jail, or afterward. All these years later, in a less-forgiving media era, I wonder if a similarly prominent person convicted of such a crime would ever get his local gig back, let along gigs of national prominence.
(Normally I would post a vintage pic of an artist I mention in one of these posts. This is a 2016 shot of Emmylou Harris, who will turn 70 this spring and is absolutely stunning.)
Random radio surveys, random observations:
WOSH/Oshkosh, January 31, 1977: A few weekends ago, I posted an old WISM radio survey on Magic 98’s Facebook page and asked which song on the list people wanted to hear. “Living Next Door to Alice” by Smokie (#12 this week on WOSH) got the most requests. I have always had a soft spot for that song, partly because I have a soft spot for everything from the winter of 1977, but also because the main hook is a monster (“Oh, I don’t know why she’s leavin’ / Or where she’s gonna go”), and songs about unrequited love are eternally in my wheelhouse.
Some radio stations sent their surveys to the printer every week for an ultra-professional look. (See KAKC below.) Others simply had somebody type up the list of songs on a form and run off a few hundred on the office copier. The hand-typed ones occasionally yield extra entertainment, as on this WOSH survey, which lists the new Bee Gees hit “Boobie Child.”
Hey, Beavis, he said “boobie.”
(Late edit: commenter Tim, who was at WOSH in 1977, offers additional info on the survey printing and “Living Next Door to Alice” here.)
WAMS, Wilmington, DE, January 24, 1970: Here’s something you didn’t see much back in the day: a single debuting at #1. “How Can I Tell My Mom and Dad” is by the Lovelites, a trio of young women from a Chicago housing project. It’s about teen pregnancy, and not in an oblique way, including the line “he made me a mother-to-be,” which undoubtedly kept some stations away from it. The song made #60 on the Hot 100 in a 10-week run and did big business on the soul chart. In addition to its success in Wilmington, it was a Top-10 hit down I-95 in Baltimore and up I-95 in Philadelphia. I have not been able to determine why this song was such a rager in a relatively small geographical area.
WNTN, Newton, MA, January 22, 1984: Although WNTN identified as an R&B station, its survey includes “Talking in Your Sleep” by the Romantics and “99 Red Balloons” by Nena. The survey is topped by “Where Is My Man” by Eartha Kitt, famed for “Santa Baby” in the 50s and as one of the actresses who played Catwoman on Batman. It made the Top 10 of Billboard‘s dance chart.
WPIX, New York, January 22, 1976: Emmylou Harris released two albums in 1975, Pieces of the Sky and Elite Hotel, each of which produced a pop-chart single. The great “If I Could Only Win Your Love” went to #58 in the early fall of 1975. Her cover of the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere,” which will be the most beautiful thing you hear today, was on WPIX as an album cut, although it would eventually make #65 on the Hot 100. Emmylou Harris wouldn’t hit the pop charts again until 1980, although she was a fixture on the country charts from 1975 through 1984 or so.
KAKC, Tulsa, January 21, 1967: This is a really good-looking survey, nicely co-branded with Pepsi and listing at least 75 songs. While it was common to show both sides of a two-sided hit with the same chart number, as KAKC does with the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,” KAKC does something I’ve never seen before. It lists two different versions of the same song with the same number: “There Goes My Everything” by both Don Cherry and Jack Greene at #25, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” by Jane Morgan and Lainie Kazan at #38, and “The Dis-Advantages of You” by the Brass Ring and the Answer as a Hitbound.
“The Dis-Advantages of You” is a song we’ve written about previously. It was originally used in an ad for Benson and Hedges cigarettes, a TV spot you are likely to remember seeing if you’re old enough. You’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Brass Ring and Answer versions, although it was the one by the Brass Ring that made it to #36 on the Hot 100 50 years ago this spring.
(Programming note: please to be remembering that One Day in Your Life is now its own separate blog. You can keep track of the latest posts in the left-hand column of this blog.)