Jack Nitzsche at Spectropop presents
Prod. Terry Melcher
Arr. & Cond. Jack Nitzsche
|A Californian Retrospective|
by Harvey Kubernik
It wasn't until 1978 that I actually met Terry Melcher, one day in Malibu at Dennis Dragon's home studio. It was a short chat - I complimented him on his stellar production work with Paul Revere & The Raiders and the first couple of Byrds' LPs. I was also there a year before when Dennis engineered the demo for Van Halen's "Pretty Woman". I was fully aware even then that it was Melcher who had the business clout to bring the Byrds to the Columbia label from the World Pacific or the Pacific Records studio under Jim Dickson's mentoring and guidance.
So, in the room that day were seminal beach music vets and sound pioneers like Terry and Dennis, then in the Surf Punks with Drew Steele, but once a member of the Dragons. The Dragons had a single on Capitol Records in 1964 - "Elephant Stomp", an instrumental released in limited distribution - but were around Capitol as early as 1960, before the Beach Boys came to the famed label. Musicians like Ed Carter were on the track, who in years afterwards was in the Beach Boy's touring group. The Dragons in 1960 or '61 actually did some gigs and recording with Natalie Cole at that time. Both Carmen Dragon and Nat King Cole were then Capitol Records mainstays. I seem to remember they actually had a band title for their collective kids: The Malibu Music Men Plus One. Yes, a photo exists. It should be of no surprise that Dennis Dragon was the last drummer of a touring Roger McGuinn Byrds' unit, around 1973, right around the time John Guerin left. It might have been for one U.S. tour. Somehow the conversation veered into a mid-'70s period where Terry was working with Billy James and Bruce Johnston at RCA Records with a label/production house called Equinox. They managed to do some things or studio activities with Brian Wilson.
When Terry left, Dennis went back behind the board, and offered an observation. His father, Carmen Dragon, had been the conductor of both the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Glendale Symphony Orchestra, cut countless albums and, at the time, was a globally recognized music-maker. In addition, Carmen Dragon did the music for the movie "The Invasion of The Body Snatchers". Terry's mother was Doris Day. "Be happy you're not 'A son of,' and most of the time always introduced to people or potential money as 'The son of...'" That was an important piece of wisdom.
I talked to Jack Nitzsche once or twice about Terry, strictly in the context of record production; I think those Raiders' recordings he produced are pop, potent and penetrating. And, as only Jack could do, he said, "Man, ask me about Little Richard you little white motherfucker!"
I always knew and understood the real to reel Southern California connected, seminal and influential musical bond underscored by Melcher, Johnston, and the Dragons - Daryl, Dennis and Doug - on tape and stage. I recall that one evening decades ago in the living room of the Dragon Family home in Malibu, Nelson Riddle lived next door on Pacific Coast Highway, Dennis hung with Skip Riddle, Dragon mentioned that Bruce Johnston on their piano the night before had played "I Write The Songs", and an excited Dennis proclaimed to me "smash hit and smash copyright!" Captain & Tenille covered Bruce's "I Write The Songs" way before Barry Manilow. I later wrote the "Melody Maker" initial feature story on Captain & Tenille in 1975 when the duo hit the scene. Bruce Johnston had been touting them for a while and could never get record label executives interested to step up to the plate. Dennis was the drummer on Bruce's tune "Disney Girls" on the Beach Boys' "Surf's Up" album, and also played percussion, Earl Palmer the drums, on the Beach Boys' "It's About Time" on their "Sunflower" LP. Dennis also played the drum solo on the Beach Boys' "Susie Cincinnati".
Needless to say, if you body-surfed with Dennis Dragon you also got a musical and historical education around the waves. I swear to God, circa 1971, out on the ocean in Zuma Beach, I literally bumped into Dennis Wilson in the water one afternoon.
In the last week I've received some emails from friends and music fans citing Terry's work with "The Gentle Soul" and urging me not to overlook his production on the Byrds' "Ballad Of Easy Rider" album. Last year I was over at Chris Darrow's house, and he was recording with John York, a former Byrd, who was on that album.
More recently, Little Steven invited me and some friends, like Kim Fowley, to his after party at a Beverly Hills restaurant following the Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band concert in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. The eatery was right next door to the former building that served as the home of the Doris Day and Marty Melcher business office that housed their own music and publishing interests. Fowley at 5:10 a.m. went on for 20 minutes in the middle of the deserted street rambling and reflecting about those days when he, Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston, who Kim signed to a publishing deal around 1960 when he worked for Marty and Doris, yielding big results years later with Johnston's "I Write The Songs". It was then very obvious to me that surf music and folk-rock owed a little something to that Beverly Hills building Fowley was treating like some sort of religious shrine. This is the place where Fowley's career truly began. Regarding Kim and Terry, it is important to note that later on in the Byrds' Columbia Records recording career they worked again with Melcher at the helm, their "Untitled" album featured some Fowley co-written songs.
The influence and studio contributions of Terry Melcher were not lost on Little Steven, either. In the last couple of years on his weekly syndicated radio program, "Little Steven's Underground Garage", now heard on 197 radio stations in the U.S., Steven always acknowledges Melcher's name as the producer whenever he spins a Byrds or early Paul Revere & The Raiders selection on his set list. I do some consultancy and research work on Steven's program, and one time he mentioned that if he could ever pick a rock 'n' roll era he could be around for, he would select the Hollywood/Los Angeles Byrds' nightclub/small venue scene of 1965/1966.
In early 2004 I thanked Terry Melcher in the credits of my debut book "This Is Rebel Music".Harvey Kubernik © 2004.
Harvey has been chronicling the social, cultural and, in particular, musical happenings in California for over three decades, in magazine articles, radio broadcasts, LPs and now books. The University of New Mexico Press has recently published his "This Is Rebel Music - The Harvey Kubernik InnerViews". He credits Terry for 'inspiration' in the book's preface. Thanks to Harvey for writing for the site. The piece coolly confirms Terry's place in the West Coast scene.
|(Part 6)||Carol Kaye||Discography, links and thank yous||(Part 8)|