MALIBU (Chumash word for rough road)
The Booker Taliafero Jones ranch on Malibu’s Winding Way was a family affair. The main house was a typical California ranch house with four bedrooms, a huge living room with a fireplace and a cozy country kitchen. Booker had a special music room that he had outfitted with the latest electronic and recording equipment which he was keen to start using to produce and record our tunes for the “Mediterranean Blues” album on his “Homegrown” label for A & M.
Booker’s parents lived on the property in a separate house in a grove of Eucalyptus trees. Priscilla’s father Dick Coolidge had built a new Swiss-style wooden house for her mother and grandmother on the hill overlooking the ranch while Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson resided in the next canyon over. Booker’s young son T. lived with his mom but he came often to stay and play, while Priscilla’s children Paul and Laura Satterfield lived with them. During our stay Booker’s mama taught me how to make cornbread with collard greens and navy beans and I made a painting of Paul and Laura looking into a wishing well.
For the following months we were busy practicing and recording the “Mediterranean Blues” album. We were jazzed when Booker hired Johnny Barbata on drums, “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow on slide guitar and Chris Ethridge on bass for the backline/back-up. The same musicians had played on our last album “Son of America”, they were a groovy bunch of guys and fantastic players. Booker wrote all the arrangements, played the piano, synthesized orchestral parts on the title song and handled the production with infinite patience and care. He gave us musical beginners much positive feedback when we felt incompetent at times.
In our free time Paul allowed me to ride his feisty golden Halflinger pony “Firefox” that enjoyed racing down the canyon to the waterfall to come to a sliding stop, which was a blast. Priscilla owned a chestnut thoroughbred mare called “Missy” who had recently thrown her and she was still recovering from a broken ankle. There also was a calm big bay gelding for Booker but I never saw him ride. Then there was Laura’s Snowball, a bombproof white gelding. The stable was complete with a rusty red roly-poly pony for T. The pony turned out to be pregnant when I discovered her giving birth to a filly foal that the family named after me…
Simon’s ultimate confounding action was to drive to New Mexico over a long weekend with a friend and bringing back a horse, without Booker’s approval and while we were, by necessity, the guests of Booker and Priscilla and did not have much money. This resulted in the tragic story of Star, a sweet black & white Tobiano Paint mare. After being quarantined a few days, as soon as Star was put in the same pasture where the family’s equines hung out overnight, she was kicked hard by another horse, breaking both front legs and had to be euthanized…
Simon wrote a song about this ordeal which was recorded on the album at his insistence.
I felt so sad and embarrassed, I don’t think Booker thought much of Simon afterwards but Booker, Priscilla and myself always remained close friends. Once the album was completed, soon after Christmas and the 1974 New Year celebrations, we thanked our benefactors profusely and Simon and I temporarily moved into the Driftwood Motel at Zuma Beach to give the Jones family their space. In the end A & M judged the “Mediterranean Blues” album not commercial enough and they only released three singles.
Booker and Priscilla had bought a large property in Mendocino and Dick Coolidge, a Baptist minister, was building a house and a church there for the whole family. They were planning to move north and sell the Winding Way ranch as soon as the construction was finished. In the mean-time, they adopted a newborn Pacific Island baby girl called Lonnie and I gladly became her Godmother. However, there always are thorns on the Rose of Life and in 1979 Booker and Priscilla decided to get divorced, sharing custody of Lonnie.
Our manager Ben Stagg, living in the Camrose Bungalow Village, next to the Hollywood Bowl, had befriended his neighbor, entrepreneur Jim Paris (who managed musician Buddy Miles and the Roadrunners for a period) and he and his lovely wife Kathy invited us to stay with them for a while to be closer to the action in town. Jim and Ben made a deal to sell lithographs and serigraphs of my artwork through “Open Gallery” and also got us several well-paid painting commissions.
Consequently, a triptych painted for a wealthy client enabled us to rent a rustic genuine Log Cabin in Malibu’s mysterious Escondido Canyon for only $500 per month, which I had discovered in Malibu on a walk-about. The area was still sparsely populated and a phenomenal natural wonder with wildly beautiful trails which ended at a steep cliff with a long waterfall splashing down. There I saw the endangered condors soaring through the expansive space, it was their perfect habitat!
The Log Cabin was a wonderful enchanting old place, long neglected but previously a sometime retreat for Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty, with an Olympic size swimming pool and several outbuildings, showers and corrals. The log cabin’s ground floor was a huge room, like a medieval Great Hall (an ideal studio) with a massive river rock fireplace on a dais at its end and a big kitchen that was visited at night by multi-colored rats, as large as guinea pigs. I didn’t mind them at all, they were clean and pretty but I kept close track of the food supplies. The stairs behind the fireplace led up to a spacious master bedroom adjoining a roomy dressing room and shower. The smaller second bedroom was across the hallway next to a full pink bathroom, embellished with fancy antique Art Nouveau tiles.
Fred Jensen, who ran a franchise of the “London Britches” stores in Hollywood considered having me design a new clothing line but I had lost interest in fashion design at that point. When he moved from Malibu back to Hollywood he gifted us his well-trained buckskin Quarter Horse gelding called Buck and its companion, a Shetland pony I called Jupiter, including their tack. My stepdaughter Roselie came to stay for her summer vacation and she lit up my life as usual with her sunny temperament. We had a good time with the animals, nature walks, visiting friends and splashing in the pool.
We became fast friends with Bobby Walker, an actor and enlightened person, the son of actors Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones. Bobby and his girlfriend Daria moved into our treehouse with the use of our other facilities and they practiced Tai-Chi by the pool. One time Bobby kayaked to the island of Catalina all by himself, an 18 hour trip through the night without stopping! He invited us to parties at his mother’s beach house where we met his friends Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and many other actors such as Gary Grant, Candice Bergen, Maureen O’Sullivan and, to me most impressive of all, the wonderful Gregory Peck who paid me special attention by inquiring about my artwork and life!
The following months turned out to be tumultuous…during the past year Simon, a former teetotaler, had started drinking Southern Comfort excessively and sleeping with whomever he wanted, always promising it wouldn’t happen again, but the worst part was that he became physically violent when drunk. He hit me in the face for no reason whatsoever and his heavy silver bracelet cut a deep gash across my nose, which resulted in a big permanent scar in the center of my face.
In another delirious state he attacked me and broke several fingers on my right hand. The philandering also continued and he brought home venereal disease. He clearly was no longer a happy camper. I felt used and abused but made the best of my situation by working harder than ever… I painted many gouaches, canvases and large paravents (room dividers) in oil on wood that I eventually sold. That summer Ben Stagg got married to pretty wild child Patricia Higgins. I created outfits for the couple and we threw a wedding feast at the ranch for well over a hundred guests. The Fortune band played rock and country tunes and I cooked huge pots of vegetable stew, curry and ratatouille. Sadly, Tricia passed away within a few years of a heroin overdose while Ben was out of town.
Attorney Bruce Margolis and his girlfriend Dusty Robicheaux were our nearest neighbors. Bruce had built a new house, higher up on the mountain and commissioned us to paint his swimming pool. After its completion he gave a rousing Labor Day party that turned into a raucous, obnoxious drunken revelry. I wanted to get away from it all and as I turned around to walk down the hill, to my disgust, some alcoholic wanker spat at me. It was an omen…at that party Simon met Brooke Morton which signified the end of our 12- year relationship. It was a devastating upheaval but in retrospect it was the best thing that could have happened to me, a new episode of my life was beckoning…Noli Temere…
Simon gave Buck to someone unknown to me and the pony Jupiter to our friend actor Jon Ritter’s small daughter and by Thanksgiving he took off with Blue, our German Shepherd, our ’69 Firebird and his belongings and moved into his girlfriend’s Hollywood apartment. The ranch was too big to manage by myself so I could not stay where I was but because Ben Stagg wanted to move to Venice to be at the beach, he offered me his nice small cottage in Camrose Bungalow Village, where with some anxiety I started the single life again as the new year of 1976 approached, my two precious Dachshunds Amiga and Bambina in tow.
I kept in close touch with Booker & Priscilla during the following years.
To my delight Booker gave a fabulous performance at the opening of my 2012 solo retrospective exhibition at Sonos Gallery in Hollywood, enthusiastically received by the audience.
Then tragically, to my great sorrow, and that of the whole family, in 2014, living in the Thousand Oaks area, our precious Priscilla fell victim to her then husband Michael Seibert’s murder-suicide.
To be continued…