Rocklike / Pompatus of Love

In 1967, I enrolled for college following a "gap year". I applied for a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (BEOG) and picked up a check for $1700 to cover my books and tuition (plus food and housing). I did my business at the Bank of Elk River. When the Vice President handed me my check, he asked me if I wanted to open a checking account. But I had other ideas. I signed the check and they handed me $1700 in cash and I never set foot in the bank again.

I had been talking to my friend Sean who had moved to San Francico a year earlier and he shared an "investment opportunity" wherein I could double my money. I sent him $1500 via Western Union. It took almost four months for things to happen. Meanwhile, I started school and got a deferred tuition voucher.

When Sean finally contacted me, I flew out on a Friday afternoon. It was $89 rountrip to SFO from MSP plus all the champagne you could drink - even though I was only 19. I stayed at his apartment off Lombard and Powell in North Beach while he ran over to Berkeley to pick up the 10 kilo investment. It was something called Panama Red.

As a celebration, we went to the Fillmore to see Chuck Berry. He was backed by the Steve Miller Blues Band - the classic lineup (Lonnie Turner, Tim Davis and Jim Peterman) plus James Cooke and minus Boz Skaggs. It was a good show. But then, what do you need when you're getting rock, blues, and Doo Wop with a psychedelic. On my next trip two month's later, I saw Miller again - this time at Marty Balin's Matrix and with Boz Skaggs in the lineup. I remember them doing Stepping Stone and Mercury Blues and Skaggs' Baby's Calling Me Home", but I was particularly impressed with a suite they played which was called Song For Our Ancestors an atmospheric and heavily psychedelic tune - different from everything else they played. Boz added a new depth, too.

Steve Miller was born to play guitar. His mother was a singer and his father, who was a doctor, was a huge jazz fan and amateur recording enginner. Les Paul was his godfather. Growing up, Miller worked with T-Bone Walker, Paul Butterfield, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy. He had a teen band in Dallas at St. Mark's School known as "the Makrsmen". He taught his brother how to play bass and taught Boz Scaggs his first guitar chords. Scaggs would move into and out of three configurations with Miller.

"Steve and I first met up when we were both about 12 years old and attending the same Prep school. We were both already crazy about music, and when Steve started a band I got him to show me some basic stuff on the guitar so that I could play rhythm. Even at that time we were both really into rhythm and blues and the majority of the material we played were songs by people like Jimmy Reed, T Bone Walker, The Clovers, Hank Ballad and the Midnighters. Like a lot of other people I first began to realise that maybe there was some future in the music business when I heard the English bands like the Rolling Stones; they were covering the same kind of songs that we'd already been out there playing for a few years." - Boz Scaggs in Guitarist Magazine.

Steve Miller Band "Jet Airliner" from Singing Fools Video on Vimeo.

Their songs were mostly penned by lead vocalist/guitarist Arthur Lee (with major contributions by Bryan Maclean). Arthur Porter Taylor had moved to LA in the early 60s and formed bands such as the VIPS and the LAGs. He had played with Jimi Hendrix and Shuggie Otis and came out of a southern R&B environment. Love was originally called The Grass Roots but Lee changed the name to Love when the "other" Grass Roots charted a single in 1966. The original lineup included Maclean, and ex-Byrds roadie - on vocals/guitar, ex-Surfari Ken Forssi on bass and Snoopy Pfister on drums.

"I am blessed enough to know who I am."

While they had a strong following in LA clubs, and were one of the earliest purveyors of psychedelic rock & roll, they had a sort of anti-social stance and didn’t even tour outside of California. They signed with Elektra in 1966, and released their eponymous debut album of mostly original material. They even had a small hit with their ramped up version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s "My Little Red Book".

They changed personnel regularly, expanding to seven pieces for their second - and much improved album, Da Capo in 1967. By adding Michael Stuart and Tjay Cantrelli, the band became much more adventurous musically, to the point of reckless – with Side Two being essentially wasted (despite some excellent harp and guitar work) on a 17 minute opus called “The Castle”. Da Capo contained their only Top 40 hit and the tempo charging "7 and 7 Is” set the stage for much of the psychedelic music that would soon follow. Da Capo featured jazz structures, Spanish guitar interludes, and a flute-dominated sound - thanks to Cantrelli - that would influence British acts such as Jethro Tull and Traffic.

By 1967, my first band had met a tragic end and after a few weeks a friend called from Michigan and asked me if I'd join his band. A week later I was in Ann Arbor playing with a power trio. He had gigs and we played and travelled to New York, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Fear and all the way down to “Sloppy Joe’s” Bar in Key West, where the band blew up. I got a ride to California – where I was able to finally see Love play at Winterland and went back to Ann Arbor. We had a band called Distorted Projection. We played bars and clubs as a power trio. I was arrested for felony mayhem following our performance at the Upper Pennisula Battle of the Bands when, high on acid, I pushed my Vox Super Beatle off the stage and broke poor Katy Caroline's leg.

As I was still just 17, the police called my parents, and my father drove all the way to Michigan to haul me and my meager belongings back home. The police dropped the charges with the caveat that I did not return to Ann Arbor. But the area is still vivid in my memory for the friends I made, the girls I met, and the music I played - but even more so for the abject poverty I lived in most of the time. My guitarist was an identical twin - Rick of Rick and Rob - and his twin worked at Mickey D's. So, Rich and I would go there posing as Rob and get free burgers. If Rob was there, I would steal ketchup packets and mix them with hot water to make "tomato" soup. We had just gotten an agent before the fracas in the Upper Peninsula, but he dropped us like a hot rock after the Mayhem charge. I can still remember Katy Caroline waving goodbye as I drove away with my father.

Back on the farm in Minnesota, I started new band called the Fifth Column with the legendary Grub Thomas. I wasn’t playing bass any more. I just sang, played harp and beat the odd tambourine. I loved it. It got better as I got more comfortable singing without an instrument. The Fifth Column band was more dexterous and diverse than my previous bands but we played several Love songs in our sets. We did a lot of what are known nowadays as "deep cuts". We did "7 & 7 Is" - and Grub had an old Fender tank reverb unit which he would swat to get the thundering sound that connects the main song to the blues vamp that trailed the song out.

The Steve Miller Band at ACL: Behind the Scenes from Jonathan Jackson on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, the band Love was strung-out and still refusing to tour, afraid they would not be able to score dope on the road. Elektra planned to record their third album with session men backing Lee and Maclean, who were not communicating, individually on their own compositions. Fortunately, Love was able to reorganize and play the material themselves. "Forever Changes" was supposed to be produced by Neil Young, but Lee wound up producing. The resulting album is widely hailed as the best of their work and many consider it to be among the master works of the rock canon. Rolling Stone rates it as number 40 of the “Top 100 Albums”.

Tragically, instead of becoming a major force in music, Love was dissolved at Arthur Lee's behest. Maclean was addicted and left to seek treatment - emerging later as a Christian Contemporary artist. Lee refused to tour and declined an invitation to appear at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, a show that could have made them international stars, as it did for Hendrix and other bands. Lee continued on with his anti-social stance and fell deeper into drug and alcohol abuse. I heard very little about him for several years. I caught a "Four Sail" lineup concert at the Fillmore in 1970, but then Arthur Lee and Love fell off my radar and I did not see him play until the "reunion" show with Bryan Maclean at the Whiskey in 1978, shortly after I moved to LA.

Lee released records and toured sporadically as Love as necessary to cover his legal costs from two separate drug busts. I saw him with the "Black Beauty" band at the Coach House in 1983, as part of a "Summer of Love" revival concert. I talked to him for a while as he waited to take the stage. He seemed loose and ready to perform. We had a couple drinks and I wished him well. I think my sister still has his autograph. It was one of the few I ever sought. But Lee was busted again and I did not hear about him again until the early 90s when he toured with indie band Baby Lemonade and again seemed on the cusp of success. But then, he was busted a third time on gun charges in 1996. As a three time loser, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He served six of those years.

"I feel like I've seen just about a, million sunsets"

Lee finished on a high note, with the Forever Changes world tour in 2002, culminating with excellent performances at Glastonbury and UCLA's Royce Hall. The band, comprised mainly of Baby Lemonade - with John Echols appearing at a few shows - performed the entire Forever Changes album with a full string and horn section. A live CD and DVD of this material was released in 2003. I saw him at the Street Scene in San Diego, the Palms in Anaheim, and at the Coach House in Dana Point - where I had seen him exactly 20 years earlier.

It was obvious at the Coach House show that something was wrong. He couldn’t sing, so Baby Lemonade guitarist Rusty Squeezebox covered the vocals. At one point, Lee came to the mic and said: “I am not embarrassed for you to see me like this.” Some people assumed he had fallen off the wagon. But the reality was he had leukemia. Lee moved back to Tennessee where, despite chemo and stem cell procedures, he died peacefully on August 3, 2006. Requiescat in pace. As for me, I wandered away from my band too, and spent two semesters at college before I had to play music again.

A benefit was held June 23, 2006, at New York's Beacon Theater. The benefit featured Robert Plant, Ian Hunter, Ryan Adams, Nils Lofgren, Yo La Tengo, Garland Jeffreys, Johnny Echols and Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Robert Plant, backed by Ian Hunter's band performed twelve songs, including five Zeppelin songs plus Love's "Seven And Seven Is", "A House Is Not A Motel", "Bummer In The Summer", "Old Man" and "Hey Joe".