Hi-jinx in flight to Southern California. The saga of Lynn Kellogg and Val Williams. Sam Taylor. Touring the heartland. Another brush with death. Winding up in the woods of Oregon. 1969-1970
After a few of months back on the street, I reconnected with artist manager Val Williams, and singer Lynn Kellogg. My previous manager Bob Richards had introduced me to Val and Lynn just before I was sent upstate. They had taken me with them to Los Angeles for my first trip west, a month before my sentencing.
We stayed in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles for two weeks, and it was a real eye opener. I had taken in the scene at Sunset Strip, met and made love to a flower child in Topanga Canyon, and was turned on to the music of the west coast group Buffalo Springfield. I loved the palm trees, un-crowded highways, and the moist sea air of Southern California, and couldn’t wait to come back. This was late’67.
On that first flight to L.A. Val shared a little secret. He said if I was cool, I could take a quick toke in the airplane lavatory. What he didn’t tell me was to make sure I had some Ozium air freshener, to rid the lavatory of the reeking telltale smell. I took his advice, went to the restroom and lit up, taking a couple of hits. Thinking how clever I was I went back to my seat with a good little buzz, nobody the wiser. Wrong!
One of the stewardesses came right up to me and asked me if I had just smoked in the toilet. I lied through my teeth straight to her face and said “No”. That really ticked her off, and rightfully so, but I wasn’t about to admit it to her for anything. She threatened me with the warning that it was against federal law to smoke “Maryjuana” on an aircraft, and told me that she would see to it that federal agents were waiting for me when we landed at LAX. Then in a righteous huff she walked away. I lost my high real quick. Fabulous, just what I needed. From cockpit to tail, the whole plane was reeking of cigarette smoke, and somehow she has to bust me for taking a couple of hits of grass in the lavatory.
I was paranoid the whole trip of course, but miraculously I wasn’t arrested when I got off the plane. Val saw the whole confrontation with her and told me it would have been wiser if I had admitted to her that yes, I had smoked, then she wouldn’t have taken it so personally. But I wasn’t convinced. That upper-altitude high jinx was one of the dumbest moves I ever made, and to make it even worse, I was out on bail when I did it. Makes me wonder.
Now it was spring of ’69. Val, Lynn and I had stayed in touch when I was at Camp P. Val even driving up for a visit at the camp, to the amazement of the black brothers. Lynn’s career was doing well, and they were living in a nice apartment building in Manhattan, on east 76th street by the East river, right down the block from where I was born. They were soon moving to L.A. and arranged with my parole officer for me to join them. I was ecstatic.
Val Williams offered to become my manager, and I gladly accepted. He’d led a diverse life. At one point he had been a football player with the Rams. He had also been married to and managed the career of R&B singer Maxine Brown. Val was an urbane black man, about 5’10, built thick and solid.
He was a sharp-eyed, handsome, svengali-type, in his mid-thirties. A snazzy dresser with impeccable manners, he had a penchant for things white: cocaine and beautiful white women.
Val also loved to smoke reefer, and after I finally relaxed my paranoia to a degree about being sent back to jail, I smoked many a joint with him. He could be a real charmer when he set his mind to it, and this helped him to open doors for some of the artists in his stable. A six-inch scar flamed across his neck from a knife fight, and he was rumored to have had ties with the New York underworld, for which he had taken a rap and done some time.
The man loved music though, and knew music deep in his soul. He didn’t play an instrument, but he could tell you what notes to play on yours, or how to phrase your singing so it was believable. He was a great advocate of Ray Charles, whom I learned to listen to very closely. Being managed by Val Williams was like being in school, and he was a great teacher. And I had a lot to learn, being twenty-one, and still wet behind the ears.
He also managed Lynn Kellogg, and Sam Taylor as well. Lynn was a tall attractive blonde blue-eyed folksinger who had been in the New Christy Minstrels – a wholesome all-American folk ensemble. But she became famous for her roll as the female lead in the original Broadway production of the rock musical ‘Hair’. Lynn was related to the Kellogg cereal family, and was from Appleton, Wisconsin.
Sam Taylor was a fantastic soulful black singer-songwriter-guitarist, who always had a big smiling grin on his cherubic round face. Short and stocky, in his youth he’d been a prizefighter. His father was the famous sax player Sam ‘the Man’ Taylor. Sam was full of stories about his life as a blues and R&B recording artist and touring performer. He was also full of tales about his affairs and betrayals with the women that came and went in his topsy-turvy love life. He left us recently and will be sorely missed my his many ardent fans and family. I will miss the man and his giant spirit forever.
Sam turned me on to the shuffle groove of which he was an absolute master, and taught me to sing and play songs like ‘So Fine’ originally by the Fiestas. His spirit was unsinkable and he had a way of drawing you in and making you his confidant and best friend. I loved this cat, and we had some real fun times in the years that followed. Sam had written songs for Elvis, Sam and Dave, and The Beach Boys, and he played guitar with Otis Redding and the Drifters. He began singing at church when he was five years old.
Val and Lynn were lovers, and he managed to get Lynn TV gigs on the Johnny Carson show, and other TV shows of a similar ilk. He also found her work touring the US playing nightclubs. Val had rhythm section and horn charts made of the arrangements of Lynn’s songs, and put together a real fast paced show. Some of the artists Lynn covered were Peter, Paul, and Mary, Elvis, and the Supremes – real diverse. I was her rhythm guitarist for a time.
We played some really classy gigs at the Copacabana in Manhattan, the Phister hotel in Milwaukee, and countless other up-scale nightclubs across the country, including clubs in Houston Texas, Madison Wisconsin, and Dayton Ohio.
Things got a little hairy for us in Houston, as the management of the club didn’t appreciate a black man not only managing this beautiful white girl, but sleeping with her as well. We split as soon as the gig was finished as things started to turn ugly. There were some not-so-veiled threats, and though Val wasn’t one to back down from a tiff, he didn’t want to go back to jail either.
Working with Sam, Lynn, and Val, was a great experience for me; touring the country, playing rhythm guitar, and meeting cool musicians and great people. Sometimes Lynn and I would practice the upcoming show for twelve hours a day. Lynn treated me like a younger brother, whereas Val treated me like a son. He tried getting us record deals, but somehow nothing ever panned out.
Years later I learned the record executives didn’t like dealing with Val because he could be pushy, and they didn’t dig it. That charm of his would only go so far, till it became ingratiating and awkward.
I worked with Val and Lynn for about two years, during which time they had lived in Manhattan, Coldwater Canyon in L.A. and then way out in the San Fernando Valley in Mission Hills.
They always made sure I had a bed to sleep in, clothes on my back, and food in my belly. I didn’t see too much money, but since they took care of everything, I didn’t need much, besides it was like going to a college of music, the Val Williams College.
Hard to believe it now, but for a while Val made sure I was tucked in nightly by his accommodating red-haired secretary, Collette, who came to my bed each night and topped me off. Talk about fringe benefits! You could say I was a tad spoiled.
While living with Val and Lynn in Coldwater Canyon, I got a phone call from a musician friend who asked if I wouldn’t mind filling in for him on a recording session date in Hollywood. I told him I’d be delighted to. The session called for an acoustic rhythm guitarist on some R&B tunes a guy named Barry was producing. Sounded right up my alley.
Arriving at the session I was greeted by a large black man, hair done in a conk, with a real deep voice. It was Barry, he slapped me five and began playing the tracks for me so I could learn the chord changes. Very patiently he coached me as to what he was looking for as far as the guitar arrangement went. The tracks were already recorded, so it was just he, the engineer and I in the studio.
Barry was real friendly and cordial; a sweet man, and we worked well together. We finished recording the tunes in about four hours, and then he thanked me, paid me in cash, and that was the last I heard from him.
About five years later as I was watching TV I see Barry with an orchestra, singing a huge hit of the time: ‘Never, Never Gonna Give You Up’. I realized to my amazement that the producer I had been recording with was Barry White! The orchestra was The Love Unlimited Orchestra.
One afternoon after rehearsing for hours with Lynn, I said something nasty to her inadvertently making her cry. We’d had some kind of spat like sister and brother’s do, and I made some disparaging remark. I don’t remember what I said, but I hurt her feelings, and I didn’t realize how much. I knew it would get back to Val, and I wasn’t looking forward to his reaction. Lately, Val had been telling me how fucked up I was, how unaware and insensitive. One night in Houston he really lit into me, and I could feel him approaching the boiling point. He made oblique threats, and it seemed like the writing was on the wall. I could never have guessed how angry he would be when he found out that I had made his woman cry.
Lynn and I had a gig that night at the Troubadour, opening for Tiny Tim, the whacked out longhaired ukulele-playing singer. His repertoire consisted of old songs from the thirties and forties, songs like ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’. He had been a regular guest on the Johnny Carson show.
I went to the Troubadour in the late afternoon for the sound check, and found my way upstairs to the dressing room to put my guitar case away. Just then Val stormed into the room, an angry lover hell-bent on revenge. Yelling and cursing, he called me an ungrateful motherfucker, and then kicked me in the throat hard. I went down. He jumped on top of my chest and pinned my arms down, and pulled out his knife. The madman put the knife to my throat, screaming that he was going to fucking kill me. At that very moment the soundman burst into the room, and wanted to know what the ruckus was about. Here we go again, saved by a hair’s breath.
Val quickly hid the knife, got up and stormed out of the room. If you really want to hurt a singer, where on the body do you try to aim for? The throat. He kicked me in the throat, and then he was going to cut my throat. I believe if the soundman hadn’t come in there at that moment, I wouldn’t be here writing this book all these years later. I thank God for the guardians keeping an eye out for me. Bad luck, good luck.
Val had a mean temper, and was enraged. I had gone beyond the beyond realm of what he considered right in his world by disrespecting his woman. In his eyes I deserved to die.
I was shaken, in shock and pain, but the show literally had to go on. I didn’t want to leave Lynn without a guitarist, as we were doing the gig as a duo. I don’t remember much of that gig, as I was on autopilot, but I made it through it somehow by sheer force of will.
After the show I called my buddy John Danduran, (a singer-songwriter-dulcimer player) who picked me up in his Citroen and drove me out to his pad in Santa Monica. He counseled me about leaving Val and Lynn, gave me some strong pot and a couple of pain pills, and I crashed heavily.
The next morning, abandoning all my possessions in Mission Hills, I left Los Angeles without looking back, and just kept hitch hiking north till I wound up in southern Oregon. There was a group of hippies living in the forest near a tiny town called Takilma, and there I settled down for a while and healed my throat and bruised ego. I camped out under the stars, and cooked my food on an open fire. I was through with touring, and cities, and mostly Val Williams.
I never saw Lynn Kellogg again, but I did write Val years later and apologized. Ten years later I ran into him at a club in Venice California where Sam Taylor was playing. He bore me no ill will, and I was glad of that. He gave me his phone number, and told me to give him a buzz, but I never called, as I was through with school, didn’t need a teacher anymore, and wanted to leave well enough alone.