John Fahey is—was—a triple water sign. I was one of those sign-askers, and he told me. I said, “Whoa! Triple water! That’s a lot of—of—of—” “Yeah,” he said, eyeing me sideways with dark, watery eyes. “It is.”
John was busy tuning at the time, the guitar across his knees. He changed his strings before every show, possibly before every set. He was dressed in old jeans, a black T shirt and ordinary sneakers. He wore his hair neither overly combed nor overly long; he was not about his hair. He had a lot of forehead and a round, cleft chin that he tended to tuck inward. At his feet was a carton of bottles, destined to go on stage with him. “People like to think it’s beer, or booze,” he said. “It’s not. But they enjoy thinking it is.”
So maybe it was water. His playing was like water. It was like the headwaters of a little creek that went winding its way down a mountain, forking off here or there to become something else, sometimes almost galloping where the terrain was rocky, sometimes spreading out in warm shallows. It didn’t exactly ‘get anywhere;’ it didn’t have a plot. It was water.
Maybe this was why he was struck—submerged?—by my song, ’Golden Apples,’ which I played the first time I opened for him. While that song is very structured and does sort of get somewhere, it is very long, mellifluous, hypnotic and watery. [See, I have these two kinds of fans: the ones who like the rollicking, clever songs (these folks are the God Bless the Hippies) and the ones who like the beautiful, artistic, slightly melancholy songs (these are the Golden Apples). John was a Golden Apple for sure.]
In short, he wanted to put me on his record label, right away. His label was called Takoma—after his home town in Maryland—and if you check its discography now, you will see why it would have been a fantastic thing.
I accepted; we signed a contract; I became rather his protégée. This happy state didn’t last long, but it is really fun to be a protégée. I remember once being in the dressing room of a large Berkeley venue, waiting to go on stage; the room was full of people—industry people of various sorts—and John was in a temper. [He did have a temper; it was all that water, and his overflow valve was set low.] So he roared around the room dragging guys up by their sleeves, yelling, “Out! Out! Everybody get out of here, now! All of you!” Then, “Not you,” he paused, patting me briefly on the head. “You’re good.” *
. I was good until I wasn’t. This basically happened when I went off to his studio to start recording my album, and he wasn’t there, and maybe people were there who shouldn’t have been. At any rate, for some reason he’d thought all my songs were going to be like ‘Golden Apples,’ and they weren’t. (By that time we’d played maybe five shows together, and it seems as though he’d have become somewhat familiar with my material…………) “You don’t have any more ‘Golden Apples’?” he asked, his disappointment dripping down the long-distance wire.
And needless to say, this isn’t the whole story. The whole story is in a piece of fiction called ‘Deep Diver,’ and pretty soon I will put it on this blog, with a whole pile of caveats: that fiction, while it may and should contain the essential heart of a matter, can play fast and loose with details, characters, etc.
With that contract scrapped, I went cheerfully on with my career, which apparently was going to be providing opening act for other people forever. This took me to THE ICE HOUSE, a really nice club BOB STANE ran in Pasadena. (Now he has a coffee house.) And at the Ice House I met the next person I was to sign a contract with. This was LES BROWN, JR., son of LES BROWN AND HIS BAND OF REKNOWN.
Les was a tall, lank, rather graceful man with a flop of brown hair, a pixie-ish smile and the air of someone who has grown up in the entertainment world and has little intention of knowing any other. He wasted hardly two minutes in letting me know he had a production company and wanted to sign me. I didn’t (and still don’t) know exactly what a production company was. For this reason I was hesitant to sign anything; I wanted to see something clearly spelled out, like, “We will make a record of YOU singing YOUR SONGS and then we will give you some MONEY.” But Les seemed nice, honest, and famous, so with these three considerations in mind I agreed.
The signing ritual took place on the thousandth floor of some downtown Hollywood building like Capitol Records or something, in an office containing five guys I’d never seen, and of course Les, who I guess did remember what I was doing there, maybe. My own entourage included my husband, my 4-year-old son who was having some kind of furious fit, and my baby who was hungry and howling. I was forced to stick the baby under my blouse and nurse him while signing with my free hand. This was obviously not a Professional Scene, and the chaps felt obliged to look away.
Worse yet, I was in one of my really cranky moods, and the conversation turned into a rave about Leon Russell and how completely unstudied and spontaneous he was and how he didn’t care the tiniest speck what anyone thought of him, and they just kept on in this vein until I squawked, “Are you kidding? He’s fully conscious of every move he makes, every wrinkle in his clothing, even whether his beer label is turned toward the audience! He’s a professional, for God’s sake!” Which, considering I didn’t know Leon Russell at all, was a great deal to assume. I see now my nose was out of joint because at that moment I should have been the star, the subject of excitement, so why were we talking about Leon Russell? I should have just shut up, because it was none of my business what they thought. But was I not signing a production contract with them? In which case, I certainly hoped they were not as gullible as they seemed, because I was putting a whole lot in their capable hands.
No worries, though! I went off (with my entourage) to Montana for a few weeks; when I came back, the production company had dissolved, and presumably with it my contract.
So, kids, what did we learn from today’s lesson?
1) Don’t bring your family along when signing contracts.
2) Have money! So you can hire baby sitters and such.
3) Don’t go bellowing your opinions as if they were of great or even small importance; they are not.
4) Probably not a good idea to impugn Leon Russell’s naïveté, unless you know Leon real well, and even then!
5) Being a pleasant and cooperative person with nothing but good things to say about others is probably a better idea.
There will be a quiz, later, so study these points diligently.
* Later on, LEO KOTTKE became John’s protégé, and that worked out well.