Sunday, January 29, 2023


I received a beautifully crafted email Friday from my dear friend the photographer and writer Daryl Black. Her compelling essay was prompted by the death of David Crosby at 81. What followed was her heartfelt commentary on the importance of music in her life and that of her husband Fred a master weaver and true renaissance man. Music enhances their lives. It fills her office and accompanies the rhythm of Fred’s work at the loom. It’s odd that as a former singer and musician of nominal skill music does not surround me. I prefer quiet. I work without music. I drive without the radio or CDs playing. I can’t explain it since I love music. I even pick up the guitar once a year. At number 45 on my weekly 50 todos list is Learn Blues Guitar. That’s just below learn video editing. Both require more tenacity than I can muster.

Daryl recounts that Fred's musical claim to fame is when he was walking through the San Diego airport in his Navy blues and on his way to Southeast Asia. "He walked past a gentleman seated in the lounge, and realized it was David Crosby. He nodded and Fred nodded back. A passing, knowing glance" Oh, and Fred was carrying a banjo. Yet another Fred Black talent emerges. That encounter is the seed from which the following post grew.

I wrote Daryl a response to her thought-provoking examination of music enriching life. She made me wistful.

“Apparently, David Crosby’s passing struck a chord with you and Fred. Me too. Your touching essay may have prompted my blog subject today. When I look back to my folk singing years, nominally 1958 through 1964, I observe that my zigzag path brought me close to a bevy of folk luminaries. As a lesser light in the folk music world I hovered on the periphery, just close enough to glimpse some of the stars of the time. Those encounters were more numerous than I would have remembered unprompted. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

This email may become the skeleton of my post. Hell, it may be the post. I wish I had photographs to memorialize the period.”

It went something like this. In 1960 I dropped out of college to reach for the gold ring in LA. My brief brush with the big time began in earnest. That spring my singing partner John and I recorded our single Once Upon a Time at Audio Recorders in Phoenix. It was the studio where Duane Eddy and his twangy guitar recorded hits like Rebel Rouser and the theme for Peter Gun. Eddy sold 12 million records by 1963 and is still making music at 84.

When John and I pitched Capitol Records in the summer of 1960 we spent the night at their iconic studio in Hollywood thinking we’d be auditioning. Thanks to college friend Pat Kanan whose father was a bigtime player we were signed by Jess Rand a personal manager whose stable included Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, the Lettermen and Bobby Gentry. It all came to naught since John and I had signed a recording contract with Audio Recorders and Capitol bailed when Audio Recorders asked for $5,000. That night in Hollywood we shared hellos with the Smothers Brothers in the hall between Studio B and Studio C. I recall that we sang in the chorus during a Ray Anthony session. But we didn’t get to sing for Nick Venet who would have been our A&R man. He told us, “I don’t care if you can sing. I can teach you how to sing.” Nick was the man behind the Beach Boys. He was 26.

John moved back to Tempe to be with Becky, his new love. I joined the Army Reserve and took gap year of sorts. When I finished active duty. I moved to LA and made a halfhearted effort to forge a path as a solo artist. Jess Rand referred me to Monk Cohen, a well-known booking agent who got me a few gigs and two tickets to see a young Joan Baez at the Santa Monica Civic Center. My friend Jerry Roman and I sat in the first row. I had gone to the men’s room and was returning to my seat as Baez walked across the stage to the microphone. She looked at me and said, “I’d appreciate it if no one else leaves their seat while I’m performing.”

When I returned to school in the fall, I was on double secret probation. I applied myself for the first time and became an A student. John and I split, and I began performing solo. About that time, I auditioned to become the photo double of Bob Shane, the Kingston Trio’s whiskey voiced lead singer, when they were filming a pilot for a TV series Young Men in a Hurry. I got the gig, Shane gave me career advice that came too late, and the series didn’t get picked up. 

Most of my college years of which there were eight I worked full time and picked up the odd singing gig. I was was a singing waiter at the Lumbermill in Scottsdale. I opened for John Denver before he became a thing. I’d do a short set, grab a tray, and serve cocktails and brews to an audience that often included Waylon Jennings and his entourage. Jennings was a loud-mouthed prick who didn’t tip. Denver, on the other hand was a genuinely nice guy who treated me like a peer. He had star written all over him. Soon he became the lead singer of the Michell Trio whose founder Chad Mitchell had been busted for possession. Denver’s arc is well chronicled. The last I knew Mitchell was manning a piano bar on a Mississippi Riverboat. 

At Something Else, a coffee house in Phoenix John and I did an opening gig with Travis Edmonson, who had become a solo act after breaking up with his partner Bud Dashiell. Bud and Travis were the number two folk act in the country from 1958 to 1962. Their tune On a Cloudy Summer afternoon made number four on the Billboard top 100 in 1960. Edmonson told us our tight harmonies tilted toward jazz. Sadly, Travis became to a local act and left the heights he’d touched with Dashiell behind. Bud opened a guitar store in LA. 

In the spring of 1964, I left school again. My buddy Eric Drake and I hit the road for Cambridge, Massachusetts where his brother Peter was attending Harvard. Our first stop was in Salt Lake City where I wangled a one-nighter at a folk club opening for Hoyt Axton who was riding high on the success of Greenback Dollar which he wrote. I played my fingers bloody and was met by deafening silence and calls of “Hoyt. We want Hoyt.” 

Our next stop was Aspen, Colorado after a treacherous climb over Independence Pass in a blizzard. I thought we’d die. I not sure why we stopped in Aspen except that it was more or less on the way east. Eric and I saw that Buffy St. Marie was headlining at The Abby. That afternoon I knocked on the door of the club and was met by the owner Tom Fleck. I asked if I could play for him and see if he would have interest in booking me. I played. He listened politely and told me, “That’s a nice set but we’re booked for the next nine years.” 

Only Duane Eddy, Buffy St. Marie and the Smothers Brothers remain from this roster of greats.

For the first time since 2006 my blog did not post on Monday morning though one called Errata did. I'm flummoxed. Errata dealt with errors of omission since corrected. In that light I'm reposting a heavily edited version of the post you should have gotten yesterday morning. If it's any solace on my end, this one's better.


Blacks Crossing said...

Today's blog post is eminently printable, and I will do that to keep it in perpetuity in my "Steve Immel Quotes and Writing" file. A beautiful start to a January Monday. Your historical writings are the best - whether they involve life in the food or restaurant industry or music - they are biographical master works. So happy to be able to fill in the background of your music career! Thanks, Esteban!

Steve Immel said...

Thanks, Daryl. You set this in motion. I was very touched by your commentary on music in your lives. I know you're richer for it and need to examine the ingredients in mine, maybe savor more.

Oddly, I didn't get this post hence my threat to resend for tomorrow. I'll see if others got it.



John Ellsworth said...

Wow, it's amazing but I, like you, never listen either, at least not to music of that amazing time 58-64. But I will say this: those were some of my favorite years and without you and your panache I never would have experienced any of it. It was only after law I learned to knock on doors by myself. Whether they opened or not is immaterial at this point s what is is what was. Now I write everyday nad I never listen to music to accompany that though many of my colleagues do. My music today, when I do listen, is all on YouTube. Joe Satriani is a fave as well as Chloe Kohanski. And many more. But when I drive I never listen to music, which I'm thinking is more a function of my old age, for which I need all concentration possible on driving and avoiding doing in an automobile the stupid, age-riven stuff I do on my own. All of which is to say I dearly love you, brother. Wthout you I would have misse out on a wonderful and exciting journey in those years. Since, my life has been dull compared to all the schemes you concocted. So let me just take this time to say thank you of the most heartfelt kind. Thank you, partner. John Ellsworth

Steve Immel said...

Boy, do we need to see each other. I probably screwed up the chronology but the arc rings true. My best to you and Deb. Fondly, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Music... I listen sometimes when I paint ..... sometimes when I'm driving ..... sometimes just to listen. But like you and John I'm finding that I listen less frequently as the years pile up. Thanks for writing this chronology... a wonderful touching glimpse into the 60's and all those crazy times. Peg