A SHIP OF FOOLS
The Fool celebrated New Year’s Eve of ‘68 being served dinner in our painted Bentley parked in front of Mr. Chow’s popular Chinese restaurant, because it was too crowded inside. Soon thereafter, we were approached by John Heyman of “World Film Services” (the agent for Liz Taylor & Richard Burton), to do the production designs for a film entitled “Seventeen”, based on a script by Wolf Mancowitz. However, a visit from Lou Reisner, the representative for Mercury Record’s European division offered us an alternative project; we had the opportunity to record our own eponymous album on “Mercury Records”.
Consequently the next visitor to our star spangled blue door was the A & R representative of “Mercury Records” for New York, Irving Green, an imposing figure in a hand tailored three piece suit, a kind and jovial older American. We used to jam on our eclectic acoustic instruments with visiting friends like Graham Nash, Pete Townsend, Eric Burdon, Mick & Marianne or Donovan and after Irving heard us playing some of our own songs he offered us a recording contract on the spot. He invited us to come to New York, including our friends Graham Nash as our producer and Graham Bond as our musical director! It was a great opportunity for everyone involved and also at crossroads, like us.
Not being professional musicians at all, we were completely taken by surprise of course, but also pleased, especially Simon & Barry. All in all it was an offer we could not refuse. I had wanted to visit America for a long time. Both Grahams had always encouraged us musically and were excited to go as well. Contracts were signed and The Fool, Graham Bond and his girlfriend Diane Steward set sail from Southampton for New York on the “SS Rotterdam” in May 1968. Graham Nash had some business to settle in London and would arrive later by plane.
Each couple had their own cabin and we were treated like rock stars with a separate dining room and specially prepared vegetarian dishes. The gargantuan ship was as large as two football fields and the Dutch Captain proudly showed us the astounding engine room, the shiny brass pistons, as big as trees, dripping with oil, pounding away. One evening he invited us to dine at his table and listened attentively to our stories. Of course, the three of us who could do so spoke Dutch with him.
The voyage did not go totally smooth…scheduled to last seven days it took twice as long to cross the Atlantic. Halfway through the ocean a tempestuous howling rainstorm broke out of dreadfully thunderous clouds and whipped the giant ship around like a cork. Fantastical lightning strikes displayed Poseidon’s displeasure while immense 60 foot high waves crashed over the railings and some people broke their limbs or were otherwise injured. The worst storm in 30 years the Captain said. I was seasick all the time, lying in my bunk holding on to my little dachshund Amiga and could not eat the fabulous food specially prepared for us while Simon, Yosha and Barry wolfed it all down like nothing was happening.
Graham Bond was very sick also but for another reason, he was withdrawing from heroin and had horrible infected boils on his arm. Diane frantically pleaded with us to help clean the mess and procure some anti-biotics from the ship’s doctor without revealing the real reason, otherwise he would be refused entrance to the USA. Luckily he recovered well enough in time to pass the test. Finally we saw the outlines of land and skyscrapers and were soon accompanied by two tugboats into NY harbor and were emotionally affected by Frederic Bartholdi’s “Statue of Liberty” as our ship sedately passed her island with hooting horns and ringing bells. It was marvelous!
Once moored and cleared by customs, Irving Green was there waiting for us with a big black limousine for Bond and Diane while we followed in our Bentley, which we had brought on the ship, to the heart of Manhattan where the Fool was installed in a very nice three story red brick town house in the Washington Mews, owned by a professor of anthropology at New York University who was on leave. It was adjacent to Greenwich Village and just off 5th Avenue, one of the best places to live in New York.
The professor owned an outstanding collection of African statues and masks, displayed throughout the house. To my surprise my friends expressed their distress and insisted on hiding them all in the basement, thinking they were an evil influence. Superstition ain’t the way…Picasso would have thought them as fabulous as I did. To celebrate our arrival in the U.S. Irving and his elegant wife Irma took all of us to dinner at the Rainbow Room of the RCA building where we met Irwin Garr, Mercury’s representative for Los Angeles, our eventual destination. The posh place had an enthralling panoramic view of the whole of Manhattan, including the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings!
I could not believe the height of the skyscrapers nor the frantic mass of humanity and the noise on the streets, there was so much going on. Everything was bigger than in Europe, even the oranges, it was all very enchanting. Graham Bond and Diane had been installed in an apartment of their own near the studio, we were scheduled to record our album at the “Record Plant”. Gary Kellgren was the founder of the new studio on 44th Street near 8th. Avenue and it had been arranged that the engineer would be the cool Eddie Kramer. Graham Nash had already arrived in New York and was dating the lovely and talented Rita Coolidge, my good friend from then on.
We took the bull by the horns and right away started the recording sessions. All the material was written and played by the Fool members on ethnic acoustic instruments. I keenly felt our lack of musicianship but we were honest folk music performers and we put everything we had into the sessions. “Keep on Pushing”, was the only tune played by Graham Bond on the Hammond organ with Simon on his new bass clarinet. I was very insecure about the whole thing and longed to be painting but it was remarkable how well the whole album came together thanks uppermost to the two Grahams, both such outstanding musicians, as well as the infinite patience of engineer Eddie Kramer.
It also was a lot of fun, we laughed a lot especially one day when they were recording Simon droning “The White Watch” dire on his bagpipes. The producers just couldn’t get the sense of approaching and diminishing sound right so Nash asked Simon to go all the way to the back of the room where there was a door to the hallway and then slowly walk in and up to the microphone but every time he banged one of the multiple pipes on the door frame and it did not take long before we were all rolling on floor with laughter. In the end they managed to get a great take though…
When the recording was completed three months later, I was very happy to get back to the paintbrushes and create the artwork for the album cover for the printing process. Subsequently we were scheduled to go on a promotional radio tour across America in our cosmic Bentley, our final destination to be Los Angeles. Because of contractual obligations elsewhere, Graham Bond was credited on the album as “The Magi”, after the second card in the Tarot’s Major Arcanum; “The Magician”.
Once “The Fool” album was completed, Bond and Diane were flown to Los Angeles and he was offered and signed on to a recording contract with “Pulsar”, a subdivision of “Mercury Records”. Graham Nash would soon follow us to Los Angeles and was already writing songs for his new solo album “Songs for Beginners” on the “Atlantic” label. We started our promo-tour by enjoying a visit with the winsome and talented John Sebastian of “The Loving Spoonful” on his estate in New Haven, a lovely place with a large pond for kayaking and fishing, after which we followed the sun…
While driving we really got to see the immense and gorgeous American countryside and met many interesting people while being interviewed by cool DJ’s at the radio stations. We crossed the prairies and we climbed the new 630 feet high “Gateway Arch” in St. Louis, looking down on a replica of Columbus’ flagship “La Santa Maria” in the Mississippi river. We traversed the massive Rockies and blasted through deserts, visiting the Pueblo indigenous people at Taos in New Mexico, where we admired their adobe architecture and artifacts. Everyone liked the paint job on the Bentley, truckers honking their horns and children waving at us from their back seats.
We finally drove into Hollywood on Route 66 the night of October 31st, Halloween, which we were not familiar with, nor aware of. We stopped at the crowded “Ben Frank’s” coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard to eat and couldn’t believe the far out costumes people were wearing. Everyone thought we had donned fancy Halloween costumes but we thought everyone dressed like that all the time in Hollywood! We located the nearby “Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel” that had rooms reserved for us and felt elated to be in this warm California wonderland. “Mercury Records” had hired our old friend from “Mayfair Publications”, Benjamin Stagg, to be our personal manager and he was waiting for us when we arrived.
Until we could find suitable housing to rent, we soon moved into an even more charming place, the notorious “Chateau Marmont” on Sunset Boulevard, This was a place where one could find Leon Russell at the piano in the lobby. While there we made many new friends, Lee Kiefer (erstwhile lover of Cass Elliot) and his lovely girlfriend Elle Ferro-Elliott (Jennifer Jones’ and later Kevin Costner’s hair stylist) and their pals actor Pepe Serna and his girlfriend Diane, among others. Jeff Beck was in town and showed up for a visit to say hello and we met with Cass Elliot again when she treated us to our first ever Thanksgiving dinner. We also enjoyed hanging out at Peter Tork’s place and his cute girlfriend Reine to jam a bit.
In due course the Chateau Marmon’s manager Helmut, found a modern bungalow for rent in Studio City for Yosha and Barry and Ben found a great 2 bedroom house with a studio in Hollywood for Simon and myself. It had a guesthouse for Ben and a pool on Shoreham Drive, behind the “Whiskey a Go Go” on the Sunset Strip. Simon’s darling daughter Roselie, then 7, came to live with us and we all had a great time together. We found a progressive Rudolph Steiner school for her and read the “Hiawatha” primer and swam in the pool. Our neighbor splashing around in the pool next door was Pierre Cousteau (son of Jacques, the famed marine conservation pioneer). We also used to see the aged Igor Stravinsky, who lived a few houses up the street, taking his daily stroll with his little white dog.
“Mercury Records” released the album just before Christmas 1968 and even though they spent a considerable amount of money on the record in the end there was no big promotional push by Irwin Garr, the A.R. guy for Los Angeles, not even a billboard that would at least have made an impressive visual flash and it was not the commercial success everyone had hoped for. Local D.J.’s didn’t appreciate the uniqueness of our efforts and didn’t pay it much attention either. However, once in a while I run into people who like the album for what it is and it is still currently available on the internet as a CD and a new vinyl version. The Fool continued to stay in Los Angeles to create more artwork, fashion and music, striking up new friendships along the way…
To be continued…