Tribute by Peter Stampfel, Part 2
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Antonia- Rounders' songwriter
Michelangelo Antonioni- director
Barry Friedman- Rounders' producer
O-Lan Jones- Sam's first wife
Nancy- member of Group Image, Sam's girlfriend from mid-60's to about 1969
Bernard Stollman- ESP Records label head
Richard Tyler- Rounders' keyboard player
Steve Weber- Rounders' guitarist/singer/co-founder
Fate had kindly brought the Holy Modal Rounders to Los Angeles to record, while Antonioni brought Sam to Los Angeles to write the script for Zabriskie Point. As I had told Stollman, Weber wouldn't rehearse for the album. I told Friedman the only way it would happen was if someone kept a gun pointed at Weber. But when it was time to start rehearsing, Friedman said he talked to Weber, and everything would be just fine. "Go rehearse, guys," he said. "I'm going to have some coffee." Again, Weber wouldn't start working on the songs until we went into the studio.
The whole process was pretty messy. I had a bunch of stickers in my fiddle case from a university laboratory that said, ‘specimens under glass.' Friedman stuck one on to the window between where he was and where we were. Good one, I thought.
Again, Weber, Antonia, and I did lots of speed. I had acquired an ounce of it, which was a bag as big as a large, clenched fist. One of the high points was when I was singing "The Werewolf," and Sam said my face turned into a wolf's face. And he wasn't even high. Another was when he used his drumsticks to play slide guitar on "Mobile Line Gonna Take Me Away From The Curse Of The Bullfrog Blues."
After the recording, Sam and Nancy drove to Death Valley for a few days. The rest of us stayed and took more speed. When Sam got back, various members of the band told him not to listen to various other band members, because they were crazy. Sam thought that was funny. It was, actually.
The big day came to take publicity pictures for the band. One of the locations was Venice Beach, where we came across one of those great big slides where you would sit on a burlap sack and slide down. We took a bunch of slides, and bought slides for some little kids who were hanging around. Then Sam said, "wait, I have an idea!" and he ran off, coming back with a great big American flag. His idea was to use it as a cape when we slid down the slide. "Make a great picture," he said. So we did a bunch of slides with all of us holding the flag as we came down, which worked better than trying to use it as a cape. Then the guy who was running the slide stomped off, muttering something about citizen's arrest. "What the hell?" I thought. Then he came back with a bunch of cops. He had told them a bunch of hippies were desecrating the flag. We explained that we were not trying to be mean to Old Glory, but the cops weren't having any.
"I'll bet you guys don't even know to fold a flag up properly," one of them said.
"I know how!" said Weber. "When you're done it's a triangle with just the stars showing!"
"See," said the cop, "at least one of you knows how." The idea of the cops describing Weber as the band's good guy gave us all the giggles.
"Let me do it!" said Weber. He proceeded to go through all the steps, describing them as he worked. The cops kept nodding with approval-"yes, yes, that's right"... until the end, when despite the cops approving every step, it wound up with the stripes showing. "How did that happen?" said Weber. Instead of arresting us, we were let off with a warning: if we were ever seen in Venice again, we were all going straight to jail! I never saw any of the photos until years later. They didn't come out that great. But maybe I can track them down.
The record company got us on Laugh-In, but they didn't even let us finish the song. We got to play for about a minute and ten seconds. You can see the clip on Youtube. I think it's the only film ever of Sam playing drums. Years later when I talked to him about it, he said he didn't remember us being on Laugh-In. "What kind of drugs were we on?" he asked.
Although one of the tracks was used on the Easy Rider soundtrack, Elektra didn't let us do a follow-up album. There was just one attempted recording session, and Friedman (who after recording the Rounders had changed his name to Frazier Mohawk, as if recording us somehow elevated him to the realm of the truly Hip) thought it was a good idea for Weber, Tyler, and him to shoot up some heroin first. Halfway through the session, Frazier disappeared. We finally found him cowering in a closet, looking like he was hiding from the Nazis. He later blamed us for the bad session, telling some phony story to David Anderle, who was head of Elektra West. I told David what really happened, and he said he found my version much more likely. But in any case, Frazier was taken off as our producer and was replaced by a man who said the only circumstances in which he would allow us to record was if Sam were to write a musical play for the band. I should have said okay, the results would have been interesting, but I said we just wanted to record a twelve-song album with grooves between the songs. Strangely, both this album and the preceding one had no grooves between tracks. I guess both producers thought it would make the album cooler somehow. I stupidly had not come to either mixing session because I felt I had no studio expertise, and consequently was not worthy. Dumb, dumb.
Part of the reason the new producer wanted Sam to write the new album was because he had improvised a really funny sketch at the end of the last song on the album. Sam was supposed to recite the Pledge Of Allegiance, which he forgot in the middle. He then went into this great improvisation: "...can't remember the words. I can't remember the words! I can't remember the words! Mom! Dad! I'm gonna flunk!"
However, Sam was writing Operation Sidewinder at the time, and thought many of the songs we were rehearsing fit the play perfectly. We ended up playing them for the play's run at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York.
The way "The Bird Song" (actual title: "If You Want To Be A Bird," Frazier had decided to re-name several of our songs) ended up on the Easy Rider soundtrack was that Peter Fonda heard it on the radio and thought it was a perfect fit. Fortunately, it was the first track on side one, or it would never have been played. Only the first tracks on both sides were radio-friendly, because: no grooves.
We did a number of gigs on the West Coast, once opening for Ike and Tina Turner in L.A., and Pink Floyd in San Francisco.
One day Sam, who had just got together with the Stones, who were in town, brought an unreleased copy of "Jumping Jack Flash." Look what I've got! He said, running up to the house we were all renting (except Sam). He held the 45 over his head with the sun directly behind him, which gave the record a brilliant halo. We played it about five times. A little later, Sam introduced me to Mick Jagger at the Chateau Marmot where the Stones were staying. I reached out to shake hands with him, but Jagger pulled his hand behind his back as if I had cooties or something. He seemed to be a lot shorter than I thought, but when I looked up his height it said 5'10". Weird.
But Sam finished the movie, and we all moved back to New York City. Our first gig there was opening for the Velvet Underground in Boston. We had traveled back East separately, with John Annis, our bass man who had driven with all our equipment in his panel truck, arriving just in time for the show, so we didn't have time for a full band rehearsal. We were pretty awful. The Velvets were great, though. I heard "Rock And Roll" for the first time, and amazingly for a live show, I caught every word. Unfortunately the poster for the show was perhaps the most boring of the era.
Soon after we got back to New York, Sam said he had a quandary. The Stones had asked him to write a movie for them, which was going to be called Maxagasm. Keith was into the movie, which was a kind of weird Western, but Mick was much less so. Adding to the film's eventual derailment was the death of Brian Jones, but that came later. Sam said he didn't think it would be right to leave the Rounders. No one back then used the phrase no-brainer yet, but I said "unquestionably, go do the movie!"
Sam and O-lan were married in 1969 at St-Mark's-Church-On-The Bowery. The Rounders played at the wedding, and I read years later that we also passed "purple acid" around to everybody. I don't remember that, but maybe we did. I don't remember much about the wedding, except meeting Richard Brautigan. Like I said, maybe we did. Sam and O-Lan got a ground floor apartment on MacDougal Street, about a block and a half below the Village. When Antonia and I were visiting in early 1970, he showed us a song he had written. I didn't know he played guitar. "How long have you been playing," I asked. "A couple weeks," he said.
"Take A Message To Omie" by Sam Shepard (1969)
Take a message to Omie, tell her that I'm here
Take a message to Omie, tell her I want to see'r
When the sun comes up and the moon don't shine
That's the day I'm gonna make her mine, O O wo
Take a message to Omie, tell her that I'm here
Tell her if she gets lonely, take a walk by the sea
Tell her that I'm the only man of her dreams
Then I'll meet her tomorrow at a quarter past eight
The sooner the better, but I'll wait if she's late, O O wo
Take a message to Omie, tell her that I'm here
Creep up to her window, rap upon the glass
Tell her that the wind blows, nothing ever lasts
But my love for her is gonna grow and grow
If I could tell her she would surely know, O O wo
Take a message to Omie, tell her that I'm here,
(repeat first verse)
Sam got the name ‘Omie' from a song on the Harry Smith anthology, "Omie Wise." I believer it was the first American murder ballad about a real American murder. The victim's actual name was Naomi Wise. In 1808, she was murdered by John Lewis in North Carolina.
(ED NOTE: Stampfel would later record this for this 2009 album Dook of the Beatniks)
Also see part 1 of the Sam Shepard tribute by Peter Stampfel. Coming soon... Part 3, the final chapter.
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