ARTIST Biography Information and Discography:
Let THE ODYSSEY BEGIN: The Early Years
ALAN LEATHERWOOD has been performing and recording professionally since 1963 under various stage names. For his first record release in 1963 on the MAHALO Label, he was known as "LANE CASSARO" He used his real name for two releases on the INTEGRITY label (1963-1965), and one national release on the OLD TOWN label out of New York City (1966), although OLD TOWN misspelled his name on the record (as "Alan Cassero") "
Lon Leatherwood" became Al’s performing name in late 1965,a stage name created by Alan's best friend and co-producer during the Sixties, Bob Scherl. Upon forming the folk-rock duo, Alan dropped the "Lon" moniker and just went by his last name, "LEATHERWOOD". In 2008, after 40 years using the "Leatherwood" stage name, Al decided that it was time to issue a few albums under his real name again, just to re-establish the continuity to his very first records, recorded nearly 48 years earlier.
Alan was born as Alan Cassaro in Cleveland, Ohio in 1944, and was raised as the son of a career army officer. He lived through out most of the United States and Europe during the late Forties and early Fifties. Alan first became interested in singing when he was pretty young. He was living in Lawton Oklahoma in 1954 and attending WOODROW WILSON elementary school. Alan's music teacher was so impressed with his singing that she invited him to sing a solo during a farewell tribute concert to country singer Hank Williams, who had recently died. Alan received high praises for his heart felt performance of "Kawliga", one of Hank's current hits at the time of his death. Alan was eight years old. As Alan tells it, "My teacher said that I had the loudest voice in the class, and we didn't use any microphones for the concert. I think that's why she picked me to sing a solo it was more a matter of volume rather than talent".
But Al always returned to Cleveland with his mother and sister for a year or two to live at his grandparent's house whenever his father was given a "hardship" tour to places where the family couldn't follow. Alan started taking an interest in the early rhythm and blues that Alan Freed had dubbed "Rock and Roll”, which he was playing on his nightly radio show in Cleveland. Alan liked the music, but he didn't really become a die-hard music fan until he first heard "MYSTERY TRAIN", by Elvis Presley, one night in the mid Fifties on an all night radio show. After hearing Elvis, Al begged his mom for a musical instrument, and he soon got his first guitar. Often, he made home recordings of his singing to send to his father, who was stationed in Korea at the time.
In late 1957, Al's father moved the family up to Massachusetts, where Alan first started playing in bands and with his friends outside out of school. "I lived in Westford, then Littleton, for about three years, and those were among some of the best years of my life, there were many great friends, and the music was wonderful. That's when Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis were all started to hit it big. Elvis and Buddy were my two big influences, along with Johnny Cash, and I'd come home everyday and sing for an hour or two to their records. The music was great, and we were all jamming'. When Buddy Holly died in February of 1959 in that plane crash, I didn't bother going to school that week. My friends and I just sat around listening to his two albums that had come out. Buddy was the first person in or out of my life who had ever died, so it made an impression that time hasn't erased".
All of this moving around meant that Al was always the new kid in a school, and every two years or so, it would start all over. Alan found early on that the only "friends" that didn't disappear, were the ones he had in his record collection. The family would move, and the old friends would be gone, but not the ones in his record collection. So, over the years, his record collection, and music became the one true reality he could always count on. "I began singing and writing songs back in high school. It was one way to create my own solid reality that took me away from the sometimes difficult kind of culture shock that I had to experience every couple years because of the constant moving our family had to experience".:
"Hawaiian Rock and Roll" 1959-1963 Al's launching pad
In late 1959, Alan moved on to Hawaii with his family. Alan did his last two years of high school at Leilehua, while his father was stationed at Schofield Barracks. Alan and his family lived in Wahiwa, which was the town right by Schofield Barracks. Alan lived on Valley Avenue, and he used to jam with a lot of the other kids that lived on the street. They'd get together with guitars and bongos, and just play for hours, either at Al's house, or on the beach, or at parties. The teen islanders loved to boogie and get down, so a good time was usually had by all
The first record that was released locally and nationally by Alan in 1962 on the MAHALO was issued under the performing name of "LANE CASSARO". It was a Buddy Holly styled rocker titled "HICKORY DICKORY DOCK" b/w "LOVE ENDED LONG AGO". "The man who ran MAHALO records, Lewis Amiel, dreamed up that performing name, it wasn't my idea. They wanted something like "Tab" or "Fabian", something catchy, and they came up with "Lane". But, I thought it was kind of dumb. I hated Fabian. I still do. On my deathbed, I will still hate Fabian"
It was during Alan's senior year in high school that he recorded this record. This was all made possible and brought about with the help of a family friend, Aurea Walsh. Aurea, who lived next door to Alan in Wahiawa, had become very good friends with Alan's mother, Marion, during this time. Aurea also happened to be good friends with a popular island entertainer, Rene Paulo. Just as a simple favor to Al's mother, Aurea mentioned Alan to Rene Paulo, and asked Rene if he would give Alan's music a listen. Well, Rene was a jazz pianist, and he was not a real big fan of rock and roll. But, strictly as a favor to Aurea, he asked someone whose opinion he respected to give Alan an audition. The person who did this for Rene was another popular local performer, "MASAKO" (aka Darlene Yoshimoto); she was the featured singer who sang at the popular nightclub, the Hawaiian Village "Shell Bar", on a nightly basis. (Connie Stevens, the actress, had popularized the club by playing the role as "Cricket", a singer in the Shell Bar on the TV show, HAWAIIAN EYE, but Masako was the REAL "Cricket", the ACTUAL singer in the club during the entire period that the TV show was a hit). MASAKO listened to Alan and liked what she heard and saw." You look and sound like Ricky Nelson", so she took him to Rene Paulo, and pleaded with Rene to help get Alan a record deal with their respective record company, MAHALO records. Taking Masako at her word, he presented a tape demo Alan had made to the people who ran Mahalo Records. Mahalo soon set up a recording session, with Dick Jensen and Tom Moffat co-producing the session. Dick Jensen stayed in the studio and directed the band, while Tom Moffatt was in the control room engineering and recording the session. The record was recorded at the KPOI radio station. The band for the session was a high school pickup band who Alan had never worked with before, so it was a long session that went late into the night. During that session, Masako also recorded a couple of tunes, "LONELY WINE" and Tom Moffat himself did a song called "SURFING IN HAWAII". All three of these songs featured the same band, and they would eventually be released as 45 singles on MAHALO records. After Alan's record was released, it got a lot of local airplay, and Alan appeared on several TV shows, "The Jack McCoy Show", as well as on Tom Moffat's weekly dance program, which was Hawaii's version of Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" But, the biggest fun was always grabbing a few guitars and a couple of six packs of beer and heading out for an all night jam session on the beach.
By the time the record was actually released, Alan had graduated from high school, and had started attending his first year at the University of Hawaii, where he had joined the school's theater group, at which time he had snagged a small role in the play," DAD OH DAD, MOM'S HUNG YOU IN THE CLOSET AND I'M FEELING SO SAD". (Note: Beau Bridges, son of the actor Lloyd Bridges, was also in the same theater group at this time.)
The record made the local radio charts and was a respectable hit in the Hawaiian Islands. The flipside, "Love Ended Long Ago", was a slow doo-wop ballad, of which Alan says, "It's got to be one the worst performance ever recorded, and I've always been ashamed of how it came out. I was exhausted when we did it. I'd blown my voice out on "Hickory Dickory Dock", and the group couldn't play the song right. It took us forever, it seems, to get it on tape, and it was all live, no overdubs. Plus the guy's were singing harmonies too while they were playing. What a mess. By the time it was over, I could barely talk. I always thought I sounded like I was being strangled. When I got my copies of the record, I took a bottle opener and gouged out the record, so no one would ever be able to play it. Unfortunately, there are still copies out there, and I saw someone selling it on Ebay for thirty dollars. Ugh".
Following the local success of "Hickory Dickory Dock", Mahalo Records had planned to record a follow-up record to the record, but Alan's dad had reached retirement age, and the entire family soon returned to the States. "I was really disappointed. I had written more than 20 songs that might be used as a follow up to my record, and the people at MAHALO liked one of them a lot, a song called "CHANCE". But, we never got to record it." (Note: Many years later, Alan did eventually record the song, for his Ohio Moon vinyl album, "BLUE SUEDE HEART", issued as "Alan Leatherwood" during the 1980s.) A CD was issued in 2009, " LANE CASSARO/ HAWAIIAN ROCK AND ROLL (1959-1963) that contains his recordings from that period including the Mahalo single.
Integrity Records 1963 to 1965 Cleveland, OHIO
But, Hawaii had started the musical fire, and there was no stopping now. Having returned to Cleveland by 1964, Al and Bob Scherl formed INTEGRITY RECORDS, one of the earliest independent labels operating out of Cleveland, Ohio. Although it became quite fashionable in the 70s and 80s for artists to form their own indie labels, Al and Bob were way ahead of the pack at this early date, breaking new ground for many who would later follow. Bob had been Alan's best friend in elementary school, and they had stayed in touch while Alan was in Hawaii. As "ALAN CASSARO", two singles were issued on the INTEGRITY label, "BLUE LIGHTS" b/w "WHY DON'T YOU EVER THINK OF ME". And the follow up, "GOTTA GET TO MOBILE" b/w "SONG OF A FOOL", with influences such as Del Shannon, The Ventures, Tommy Allsup, Eddie Cochran and Rick Nelson all blended in to the mix. The backup band on a lot of the tracks was the current lineup for Tom King's group, "Tom King and The Starfires", which featured Jimmy Fox on drums at the time (note: Jimmy later formed the successful group "The James Gang"). A CD has been issued that covers all of the studio and demo sessions from this period.
PREPUNK 1965 to 1969 CLEVELAND INTEGRITY PRODUCTIONS
Al and Bob produced and worked with other Cleveland acts during the Sixties, including THE MISSING LYNX, MONA LOWE and SHERRY STARLYN. "Bob Scherl produced a session with MONA LOWE at Cleveland Recording, with the BASKERVILLE HOUNDS (TULU BABIES) as the backup group, as well as a local gospel group, "The CRESCENTS", doing chorus work. Unfortunately, the track had some major pitch problems at the start of each song, in as much as the organ was way out of tune on one song, as was a harmonica on the other song. I hadn't gone to the session with Bob. Bob brought me the tracks and said, 'I don't what I'm going to do, both sides start off so bad. I wasn't listening closely enough in the studio; I was just too excited, I guess'.
But, I listened and realized that if Bob TRIMMED off the introduction at the beginning of each track, there really isn't much of a problem, once the full band starts playing. I suggested that to Bob. We took it back to the studio and did the edit, and suddenly Bob decided that he would give me a co-production credit for helping him save his track". It didn't really matter, because within weeks of finishing up the session, the army drafted Bob. That brought everything to a screeching halt".
The label was deactivated when Bob Scherl was drafted in 1965. Luckily, and by hook and crook, Bob Scherl somehow managed to get stationed right in town, and the two were able to continue working together on new projects.
The MISSING LYNX had been discovered by Billy Bass. Oscar Fields, Billy's partner, was a friend of Al and Bob's, and , they asked them if they would develop 4 original songs in the studio and produce them as well. The MISSING LYNX had one 45 issued on Bob Crewe's DYNO VOICE record label, although it wasn't any of the songs that Al and Bob had written and produced. But their record, "BEHIND LOCKED DOORS", has become a bit of a Sixties cult classic to record collectors. This also helped launch Billy Bass's career, who soon quit his day job at the record store to become involved in the music business full time. Later on, Billy Bass would become a very popular radio personality in Cleveland, and then later on, as a promoter on a national level. SHERRY STARLYN did a cover version of Alan's song, "BLUE LIGHTS", and it was produced and released on SUNBURST Records, another small Cleveland Indie label, by CARL MADURI, who later went on to produce numerous hits such as MAUREEN McGOVERN's "THE MORNING AFTER, and WILD CHERRY'S "PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC WHITE BOY".
Another Ohio group, THE HUMAN BEINZ, included one of Al's original songs, "THIS LONELY TOWN" on their top selling hit album during the 60s on Capitol, "NOBODY BUT ME". The song was also re-recorded for a live performance on their "The HUMAN BEINZ: LIVE IN JAPAN" album, which was recorded in the 80s. And it was included on a compilation album in Japan, where they were a quite popular for a number of years beyond their American success. This song was written by Alan, but he split the tune Fifty-Fifty with Bob, who had actually managed to get it to The Human Beinz' record producer in the first place.
A CD has just been issued to cover all the work Al and Bob did with other artists, titled "PRE-PUNK 1965-1968. All of that period is represented on the 2009 release, including the demos, Al's solo Old Town tracks (discussed below), and a lot of pre-production demos. These years were very productive years for Alan on every level, as an artist, writer, producer, performer, and indie label operator.
During this period, Al did a lot of concerts and shows and shared billing with other popular performers of the period, such as Jack Scott, Tommy Roe, The Ventures, Ray Stevens, Lou Christie, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, etc.
NEW YORK CITY: OLD TOWN RECORDS
In early 1965, Alan made a quick trip to New York City to see if he could pick up a contract with a major label based on some of the masters he and Bob had produced before Bob got drafted. Alan also wanted to record at the famous Bell Sound Studios, as well as to pitch some of his original songs to Gene Pitney and his manager, Aaron Schroeder, most notably a song titled "YESTERDAY'S CHILD". Unable to get an appointment with Pitney, Al decided to remix a few of his own songs whose raw tracks were done at Cleveland Recording, but not finalized to Al's satisfaction. While remixing one of the songs, "PRETTY GIRL YOU'RE LYING" at Bell Studios, Hy Weiss, of OLD TOWN RECORDS came into the studio and introduced himself. After listening for a while, the cigar chomping Hy Weiss said, "I like that song. It sounds like a hit. Maybe I could make it hit for you." After talking for a while, Al and Hy negotiated a deal. It was to Alan's advantage. Hy would issue the record, and if it didn't sell a hundred thousand copies, all rights to the song and master tape would automatically revert back to Alan. That seemed like a very fair arrangement to Alan.
OLD TOWN Records released "PRETTY GIRL YOU'RE LYING" b/w "MAKE BELIEVE" Surprisingly, "MAKE BELIEVE" , another Buddy Holly styled rocker, received rave reviews, a "Pick Hit" rating in BILLBOARD Magazine, as well as the SPOTLIGHT pick of the week in CASHBOX Magazine, which was their highest recommendation for only one 45 per issue. (Note: The Beatles had an early single out that received a lukewarm rating at the bottom of the same page in CASHBOX.)
Unfortunately for Alan, the BRITISH INVASION, led by the Beatles, and the flood of new releases from England was blowing most American performers off of American radio, and that prevented Al's record from gaining much radio exposure. It was during this time that many long time top selling American artists disappeared from the charts altogether, never to be heard from again. The long held stranglehold on the radio charts by DICK CLARK's squeaky-clean-sweater-boy styled "TEEN IDOL" era had abruptly come to an end, almost overnight.
THE Great FOLK SCARE OF THE SIXTIES
After hearing most of the new English groups, Alan decided that he'd "already done that". Yes, it was rock and roll again- but it had been more fun the first time around, so Alan turned towards the new direction he was already in the process of discovering- acoustic folk. Alan had always liked the folk styling of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, but Al's own song writing had been evolving in a similar fashion to that of many new writers, such as Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, Eric Andersen, Tim Hardin, Fred Neil, Hamilton Camp, and a host of others. This was the less traveled road, and for Al it was a much more interesting challenge versus trying to compete with the British Rock. Of course, later on, Alan got to love the Beatles, but when they first hit the scene, it all seemed like it was just such superficial "Mop-Top" bubblegum.
In 1965, Alan went to a "HOOTENANNY" one night (now referred to as "Open Mike" nights) where he did some Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, and Gordon Lightfoot songs on the acoustic guitar. The audience went crazy, and that started a new creative phase that would last for the next 12 years.
On the way over to the HOOTENANNY in the car, Bob had suggested to Alan, "Italian Folk singers ain't happening Al, you need a new name, something more 'folkie' sounding. How about, 'Blind Lemon Al', or maybe 'Big Tiny Little? No, no, that's already taken" Al and Bob were cracking up, coming up with one "folk ethnic" name after another. Bob finally talked Al into calling himself, "LON LEATHERWOOD". Bob had seen the name "Leatherwood" on a soldier's nametag during his own basic training in the army, and he remembered thinking that it "looked real cool in print". The "Lon" name was also chosen because Bob liked "Lon Chaney", the silent movie actor. And the play of the double "L"s in each word was based on the characters out of SUPERMAN COMICS (Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Lori Lemur, etc.). It was all a gag, just a name change for a one-night gig in a coffee House. However, that night's performance turned into a three-year steady job, because Alan was invited by the owners of the club to become the regular house act. The club was FARAGHER’S BACK ROOM, and many national folk artists played there during the Sixties. So, although it started out as a joke, Alan decided that the name "Leatherwood" had brought him good luck, and that's when it became his "official" new stage name. The "Lon" name was dropped a little bit later when Alan formed a duo with a young lady (15 years old), who Bob Scherl dubbed "Leatherwood and Lisa"(1965-1975). "She was a wonderful singer, and she had great potential to develop into a fine artist with experience. At that point, she pretty much was into the Phil Spector girl groups, such as the Ronettes. Bob had first brought her over to my house to sing for me, and I thought she was terrific. She initially sang some harmony on some of my rock tracks before I went to New York City. In fact, she sang harmony on the original master of "PRETTY GIRL YOU'RE LYING", which would eventually be released on OLD TOWN, but with her chorus parts removed. Her chorus part was great, but it was a little too loud in the mix, and my lyrics were overshadowed in the last part of the song. I tried to remix it up at Bell Studios, only to find that her voice had originally been blended with mine during the mix down, and it would be impossible to turn her down in the mix. This was a 3 track tape, which was state-of-the-art at the time. I was in the process of going back to an earlier 3 Track master we had done, before it had been bounced over to the second three track recorder, with the chorus part mixed in at that point. . It was during this mix down that Hy Weiss had come into the studio. He heard it without the chorus, and he said he liked it well enough to put it out that way. And she did develop into a world class artist" Bob Scherl dubbed her "Lisa", so the duo's name would still follow along the double "L" theme from SUPERMAN comic's characters.
Thus began a relationship that would last for ten years. Alan, as a solo, and with the duo, traveled and performed throughout the States and Canada at Colleges, Coffeehouses, and clubs. The duo's music drew from a mix of contemporary folk, blues, rockabilly, the songs of Gordon Lightfoot, Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jackie Dee Shannon, Donovan, The Buffalo Springfield, Aretha Franklin, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Elvis- as well as many original songs written by Alan. "Our goal was to achieve a tight knit harmony, with the hopes of approaching the wonderful qualities of the Everly Brothers who we both admired very much." The duo shared billing with a variety of popular Sixties and Seventies artists. Some of them included Tim Hardin, The Youngbloods, Blood Sweat and Tears, Hamilton Camp, Bob Gibson, NRBQ, The Blues Project, Flatt and Scruggs, Marty Robbins, Charlie Louvin, Willie Dixon, The James Cotton Blues Band, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Tim Buckley, Jim and Jean, Emmy Lou Harris and Gram Parsons, Bobby Bland, Bill Kirchen,etc. Reviews always complimented them for their "eclectic" and diverse musical viewpoint.
HOLLYWOOD or bust: NIK VENET Capitol Records.
When the FARAGHER’S gig finally came to an end in late 1967, Alan decided that the duo should move out to Hollywood to try to get a record deal. Within a few weeks of living in LA, Kim Fowley, producer and writer, arranged an audition with Nik Venet at Capitol Records. Nik was working with FRED NEIL, The STONE PONIES, and HEDGE and DONNA, all folk artists. But, Nik had been around for years, and he himself had started out by producing a number of the original rockers.
As Alan tells it, "I really liked folksinger, Fred Neil's records on Capital, and I specifically went to Hollywood hoping that I would be able to coax the man who had produced those records, Nik Venet, to produce us. I still think that the Fred Neil records had just about the best audio mixes I've ever heard, very natural and full. It was just excellent on every level. The musicians were so great. I still listen to Fred's records on a regular basis. Fred started out as a rockabilly singer back in the Fifties, long before he thought about joining the booming "folk scare" of the Sixties. He even wrote a song for Buddy Holly ("Come Back Baby"), as well as "Candy Man" for Roy Orbison. He even played lead electric guitar on Bobby Darin's "Dream Lover". But even now, hardly anybody even knows who he is"
During this time, Alan and his singing partner got married. Unfortunately, the deal with Nik Venet fell through after a year of development. It seems that Capitol wasn't satisfied with the sales of the Folk records Nik was producing, and they told Nik to curtail any projects that weren't marketable on Top 40 Radio. Fred Neil never made another record, although those Capital releases are considered to be among the best acoustic albums ever recorded. Nik took Linda Ronstadt out of the STONE PONIES and produced a pop hit with her, "DIFFERENT DRUM". HEDGE AND DONNA was dropped from the label. Nik was originally intending to record an album with the duo, but after a year of development, and one session in the studio, all of it came to an abrupt end. Disappointed, the duo returned to Cleveland.
Al's duo soon wound up touring on the "NATIONAL COLLEGE COFFEE HOUSE CIRCUIT" after auditioning for Fredana Management out of NYC, who had sent talent scouts to Cleveland in search of acts they could put on the road. The duo gave their audition at LA CAVE, where they often played; it was one of the popular clubs in Cleveland, and it was well known through out the United States as a popular folk venue for the top artists in the field, as well as blues and rock artists as well. (During the audition, Jimmy Fox, drummer, came in to the club with Glen Swartz, later of the band "Pacific, Gas and Electric", and told Al that he was starting a new group. 'Hey, Al, you want to sing in my new group?"' Al asked him, 'What are you going to call the group?' Jimmy said, 'The James Gang'. Al responded, "Well, no, I'm in to this folk thing right now, but good luck with finding a singer.'
It has been rumored that Bob Gibson, folk singer, was a part owner in the club. It can be argued that the folk boom of the Sixties was launched primarily as a result of the recordings made popular by PETER, PAUL and MARY, which was greatly inspired by Gibson's solo work, as well as the work he did with Hamilton Camp, GIBSON/CAMP. In fact, the entire folk movement was largely orchestrated because of a connection between a club called the GATE OF HORN, in Chicago, and the partial ownership by Albert Grossman, artist manager of such acts as Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Gibson/Camp, Ian and Sylvia, etc. Albert used Peter, Paul and Mary to bring exposure to the new songs of his other acts, such as their recording of Bob Dylan's "BLOWING IN THE WIND", and then Gordon Lightfoot's "FOR LOVING ME", etc. It was a winning formula, and it helped enlarge the folk movement in a hurry, as each new artist became known. (Later. Grossman would also manage Jimi Hendrix, Blood Sweat and Tears, Janis Joplin, Crosby Stills and Nash, and many others.)
NASHVILLE: another rung up the greasy "ladder of fame"
During the college circuit period that lasted for several years, Al's duo made an appearance at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Gary Scruggs, son of Earl Scruggs, was a student in the audience, and after the show, he took the pair around town, which included a backstage visit to the Grand Ole Opry. Alan decided to visit a few of the publishers during the week that they were booked at Vanderbilt, and so he began making the rounds of a few song publishers in town. After playing some tape demos for one of the publishers, Norris Wilson at Gallico Music told him, 'you guys sound really good. You ought to consider coming to Nashville, I think you'd do well here''. As Al discovered that afternoon, Norris not only ran several publishing companies, but Norris had also been the backup harmony singer on many of John D. LOUDERMILK’s recordings for RCA. This impressed Al a lot, because John D. has always been one of Al's favorite artists. Al and Norris sat there on the floor with two guitars singing and swapping all the old songs they knew, and it went on for a couple of hours.
Remembering their disappointments in Hollywood, Alan wasn't sure that he wanted to make the move to Nashville quite yet. However, while he was still in town, he walked over to the offices of Waylon Jennings, where he met Tommy Jennings, Harlan Howard, and Don Davis. Waylon was still an up and coming star at that point, not nearly as big as he would become a few years later. Alan played a few of his songs for Tommy, who said, "Waylon is looking for some good songs, although RCA isn't letting him choose his own material yet. But that one song you wrote is right up Waylon's alley". And with that simple meeting, Tommy signed up "MY KIND OF FREE" with Baron Music, Waylon's publishing company. Tommy said, "Now listen Al, I'll hang on to this for a year, and if Waylon isn't able to do it, I'll give it back to you. The only thing anyone has in this town is their songs and their name, so I won't tie it up just to pad our cataloge". And Tommy kept his word.
Al felt like his day out on Music Row had produced some very encouraging results, and at the end of the week when their gig at Vanderbilt was over, they headed back to Cleveland, where Alan went on a song writing binge for the next year.
MARTY ROBBINS: "Drop everything.You folks have got real talent!"
At one point, country artist, MARTY ROBBINS, invited the duo to come down from Cleveland to record four songs. "I had sent Marty a bunch of original songs in the mail that Paul Penfield and I had written. "Lisa" added her wonderful voice on most of the demos, although we did a few duets too. At this point, the idea was to get Marty, or any name artist to record our songs. We were sending out tapes all over the place at that time, just trying to get some songs recorded. Tree music signed up a couple of songs that Paul and I wrote, "Leaving Harlan", and "Come To California". We got demos to Glen Campbell, and some songs to Richard Harris. I wasn't looking for a record deal at that point, I wanted to cultivate the song writing. I knew that establishing myself as a writer first would be the best way to go, so that I would have more control over our careers. At any rate, we had been waiting on one prospective production deal with Dan Penn, the Memphis producer, who had told us he would like to record a session with my partner as soon as he found the right material for her to sing. Of course, Dan is one of the great record producers and writers, ("Do Right Woman", "The Letter", "Cry Like A Baby", I'm Your Puppet", "Dark End of the Street." etc.). But it had been a year since we had heard from him, and I was starting to think that he had lost interest. At any rate, Bill Johnson at Marty Robbins' office had listened to our songs and he played the demos for Marty. Marty called us up and offered to produce a session with us. I said, "Well, that's great, but we were actually hoping that you'd do the songs yourself." Marty said, "They are very good songs, but I feel they should be recorded by a younger artist. Your wife has a wonderful voice, and I like the duet piece that you sent too." This offer came as a complete surprise, but it was an opportunity, so we agreed to do a session for Marty's company with Bill Johnson producing the actual session, and Marty as executive producer. The main reason I agreed to it is because I requested that Grady Martin play guitar on the session, and Marty promised me that he would. That's what convinced me to do it. And wouldn't you know it, just one day after Marty called us, Dan Penn called and said, "Hey, I've finally found the right song for Lisa." I said, "Where have you been? We've been waiting all year to hear from you." I told Dan about Marty's offer and Dan said, 'Well, I've got the greatest respect for Marty, he's a great singer, but can he actually produce a record?' "But we decided to go with the Marty Robbin's offer, only because Dan's call came one day after Marty called us. Flipping a coin would have worked just as well."
"We drove down to Nashville, with our friend and guitarist, Paul Penfield, who had written three of the songs, and played on the demos as well. My Volkswagen engine blew up in Covington, Kentucky, and after a lot of hassles, we finally got to Nashville the evening before our session." Bill Johnson, under the authority of Marty Robbins, produced four songs, "Girls Were Born to Cry", "My Kind Of Free", "Cherokee Woman", and "We're Just Friends". These songs featured Marty's own session band, Grady Martin, Buddy Harmon, Bill Purcell, Henry Strzelecki, and Spider Wilson, with Paul Penfield sitting in and leading the pieces. Paul Penfield was the featured guitarist on three of the songs, and Grady Martin played gut string lines in response to Paul's lead. Upon hearing the playback of the tape demo from the control room, so the band could learn the chords, Grady said, "Whoever is playing guitar on that track is really good, I hope he's playing on this session tonight. " Paul Penfield was in the control room, so he didn't hear Grady say that, but everyone else in the room did. This was an impressive compliment coming from Grady, one of the finest guitarists in the world. Not known by the general public by name, he is a legend in the industry, having played on such classic performances as Marty Robbins' "El Paso", Johnny Burnette's "The Train Kept- A-Rolling", Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man", Buddy Holly's "Rock Around With Ollie Vee", Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman", and literally thousands of other great records. Paul had brought a bottle of homemade wine that he grew from his vineyard on his farm, and all of the session players were enjoying it quite a bit. One of them said, 'You better hide the bottle before Marty gets here, Marty doesn't approve much of drinking.' Marty showed up towards the end of the session to say hello, and the bottle disappeared pretty quickly."
Marty Robbins also included the duo singing Al's song, "My Kind Of Free" in a film that he starred in and produced called "COUNTRY MUSIC STORY". He invited them to give a guest performance at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the original "GRAND OLE OPRY." That performance is included in the film, which was released in 1972 by Universal Pictures. It is their only filmed performance that exists today, and it occasionally shows up on various TV stations around the country. Al has never seen the movie. "They show it out west and in Canada, but it's never shown up here in Cleveland".
Marty Robbins decided not to renew his own contract with Columbia Records, after having recorded for the label for many years. During an after hours jam session at Marty's office, Marty had confided to Alan that he was disappointed in Columbia for not having promoted his version of "Lord You Gave Me A Mountain" as a pop record. Instead, they had promoted it as a country record, and as a result, Frankie Laine had the more successful pop hit version. Marty had had a lot of big hits in the pop field during the Fifties, and he felt that his version of this song should have been on the pop charts instead of Laine's. Alan told him, "Marty, your version is great, and so is Frankie Laine's. But you wrote it, and it's been a hit on both charts. That sounds like a real success story to me". But Marty didn't see it that way. So, Marty quit the label."
"After we did the session, we returned to Cleveland, having been assured by Bill Johnson and Marty himself that his company would be presenting the tapes to various labels around town in order to try to get a recording contract. And wouldn't you know it, I blew another engine in my car on the way home. We had to rent another car, and tow our VW back to Cleveland. In other words, we had to spend all the money that Marty had paid us to do the session and the movie. But I was confident that Marty's company would be calling us soon with some good news concerning our session tapes, which had turned out really great sounding."
"They took the session tapes and added strings with Bill Mc Elhiney conducting. The songs sounded great when they sent the finished mixes to us by mail. But month after month went by, without any news. My partner had had a real taste of working with some of the finest musicians in the world. Originally after Paul had played me some of his songs, it was my own idea to have Lisa record them, after which I submitted them to Marty's company as songwriter demos. She was such a gifted singer that she never had to work very hard at the craft. She didn't play an instrument, and she didn't write songs. She didn't even drive a car. She relied on others to do that for her, which everyone was happy to do, just to hear how she would bring life to the lyrics and melodies. I was always trying to come up with new original songs for her, either by my own hand, or by my other songwriter associations".
"We were making a very good living playing in the supper clubs in the Cleveland area. We lived in a nice house, we had a new VW Camper, albeit one whose engine occasionally blew up. But after our session for Marty Robbins, she was no longer happy just being in Cleveland. "Why isn't Marty getting me a record deal? When is Marty going to call us. I'm so tired of playing these local bars and restaurants, I want to go to Nashville."
" Finally, almost a year had passed. I had waited patiently and I hadn't called them or done anything to upset the "process", or whatever it is they do in Nashville to get a new artist a record deal. Then I heard Marty's new record on the radio, 'Walking Piece of Heaven', and I decided that I would call him. Marty got on the phone. I made some small talk, and then I asked him if anything was happening with our session, and Marty told me, 'Well I've been very busy, I'm with MCA now'. I told him that I'd just heard his new record on the radio. Then I asked him if he had played the tapes for anyone in town and Marty said, "Well, I was thinking about playing it for Chet Atkins, but, you know, Grady Martin's playing lead guitar on it, and Chet's a guitarist too. Chet might not like it, because they're all kind of competitive with each other.' That didn't make much sense to me. Chet worked with Grady on a lot of sessions "Well, have you played the tapes for anyone?" Marty didn't mention any names. "I was getting frustrated, and I told him that if he had lost interest in the project he really should have let us known, just as a simple courtesy. I reminded him that we hadn't approached his company looking for a recording deal in the first place, and that he had approached us. I told him that my partner was becoming a bit difficult to live with because she was waiting for what she thought was going to be her big break, only because Marty Robbins himself had told her that she had a great voice. Marty was hemming and hawing, and it was obvious that the conversation was going nowhere. As a parting gesture, Marty told me that he would sign the master session rights over to me and that I could do whatever I wanted to do with the tapes, and he wished me. "Good Luck." I hung up the phone, and that was the end of that. I was really dumbstruck, almost in shock. And although Marty's company sent me a paper that assigned the master rights to me, I was never actually able to obtain the tapes from Columbia, where they were stored. At one point I called Marty's company and asked if we could have the publishing rights back to the songs that Paul and I had written. Jimmy Farmer, one of Marty's people, told me that we could have the publishing rights back, but only if we reimbursed them for the money they had spent on the session, five thousand dollars. Of course, I couldn't afford to do that. To the best of my knowledge, in all these years, no further efforts have ever been made by Marty's company to present the songs to any other artists for consideration. I'll never understand why Marty never followed through on our project, particularly after giving us such a big build up. "
After my conversation with Marty Robbins, my partner insisted that I get her back to Nashville as soon as possible. I told her I would. But this had been a random incident, like being struck by lightning. Still, Marty Robbins had opened up Pandora's box with his promises and flattery, and there was no going back to the old routine. My singing partner was becoming and acting like a true diva, and although it meant leaving a nice comfortable life-style playing the Ohio clubs and colleges, a year later we packed up all our possessions and made the permanent move to Nashville."
While living in Nashville, the duo played the clubs around town, and out of town as well. One night, during a break at "Ireland's", a popular Nashville club, the waitress came over and told Alan that a customer wanted to buy him a drink. Al said, "Okay, I'll go get Lisa". The waitress said, "No, just you. She wants to buy you a drink. Go on over stupid, it's Audrey Williams, Hank Williams' widow. She comes in here all the time, but she never asks to talk to the entertainers. Go see what she wants." Al went over to the table and there she was, the former wife of Hank Williams. Al sat down, and Audrey said, "Hi, I'm Audrey Williams. I like your songs, and I like your singing". Alan was awe struck, but he managed to mutter, "Thanks. It's a pleasure to meet the inspiration for all those wonderful songs." Audrey smiled. The waitress brought them both drinks. She had a friendly smile, and was still quite attractive. Her blonde hair framed her face and she wore a silver tiara shaped headband that rose from the middle of her forehead. It was surreal, as a small beam of light shone down from an overhead ball in the room, directly on to her face. She looked as though she had a halo around her as the light reflected off her golden hair and tiara. Everything else in the bar was completely dark, and the only thing Al could see was Audrey William's face. They both sat there quietly, just looking at each other without saying a single word. The mood was finally broken when the waitress reminded Alan that it was time to go back onstage. Audrey gave Alan a parting smile and said, "It was a pleasure to meet you." When Alan got back to the stage, his singing partner asked, "What was that all about?" And Alan said, "I don't know, but I think I just met an angel."
The BUDDY HOLLY CONNECTION
"Even after we moved to Nashville, we still did occasional work for the Coffee House Circuit. It was always a welcome relief for me personally to get out of Nashville and get back to singing for the college audiences again. The students were hip and they always appreciated and enjoyed what we were doing. I knew that we were doing something right, in spite of the struggles we were experiencing in the Nashville music community. The difference was like night and day, reality versus complete fantasy. When I was playing concerts, doing the kind of music I loved to do, I felt like a real person again. In Nashville, I was always being directed to 'try to write a hit song, son'. And everyone I came to know was always talking about a deal in the works, or spec sessions that they were about to do. In those 4 years, about thirty percent of those people ever actually got deals, and only two percent of them ever had hits. Personally, I didn't know anyone who ever had an actual hit other than two songwriters who both saw some chart success when their songs hit the charts. That's how difficult it is"
During one such college tour while performing at a school in Lubbock Texas, Alan had the good fortune to meet Buddy Holly's parents and brother, Larry Holley. " On a whim, I had looked up the Holley's phone number in the Lubbock phone book and asked Mr. Holley if I could stop by a for a visit. Mr. Holley told me that Buddy's fans occasionally stopped by the house, and that he might be able to visit with me for about half an hour." But as it turned out, Alan wound up spending the entire afternoon at Buddy's parents home. Alan had brought his guitar along with him to the house. Just for the fun of it, Alan sang a few songs of Buddy's for his parents. This brought tears to Buddy's mother’s eyes. She told Alan, "I hated the movie they did on Buddy. They made it look like we didn't support Buddy's music. That's not true. I was so disappointed. In fact, I helped Buddy write 'LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO LOVE'. I came up with the lines, "Drunk man, streetcar, foot slipped, there you are".
After Alan had been there for about an hour, Buddy's older brother, Larry, went to the closet and pulled out a guitar and said, "Waylon Jennings was in town a few weeks ago and restrung Buddy's old acoustic guitar. It hadn't been played since Buddy died, and Waylon was the first to play it in all these years. Waylon told us, 'A great guitar like this should have strings on it'.
"Would you like to play it, Al? You'll be the second person to play it since Buddy died."
As Alan remembers, "My hands were trembling as I picked up Buddy’s guitar and I held it, looking at it, feeling the fret board, looking at the lightly tanned leather covering wrapped around the body of the guitar, and the name that Buddy had hand carved into the leather covering, back in high school shop class, according to what Larry was telling me. I knew this was very special moment, something that would only happen once in my lifetime, and never again. It was like touching a holy relic. Larry told me to play something, and I started to sing again, but no sound came out. I was really nervous, just holding the guitar. I cleared my throat, and began to sing another song of Buddy's, my voice trembling and quivering from the sheer adrenalin that was rushing through me. My fingers felt numb as I pressed down on the chords - I felt dizzy and light headed. Gradually, I regained control and my voice got steadier as I sang. And then I heard a tiny voice in my head telling me, 'Hey, this is what it's all about dummy, get a grip on yourself", and I suddenly stopped, and started all over by hitting an "E" chord, and I launched into a pretty aggressive version of "Not Fade Away". And it got better and stronger as the song went on. The new strings on the guitar were jangling, and it sounded great. I was stamping my foot on the living room floor, and everybody in the room was smiling. And all the time that I was playing and singing, I was thinking,
"It doesn't get any better than this."
"It doesn't get any better than this."
After Al finished, Larry was grinning and he said, "You know Al, when I listen to you sing, I can actually hear my brother singing, Buddy's in you." This flustered Alan, and he told Larry, "Larry, I really appreciate that, but I wasn't even doing my Buddy impression, I do a pretty good imitation, would you like to hear it?" Larry said, "No, no. What I mean is I can hear Buddy in your singing. He's in you. I've never heard that from anyone else, none of them. Lot's of people get the hiccups and the style, but they don't get the feeling. You're just about the best I've ever heard for capturing Buddy's essence, Buddy was real head strong, stubborn, and even a bit of a pain in the butt sometimes. I suspect that you're the same way".
Buddy's father said in a very quiet voice, "Al, you've got something that Buddy's fans would really like. I've been looking for a project to take to Norman for a few years now, and if you're interested, I would like to take you down to meet Norman Petty in Clovis and see what Norman thinks. Perhaps you could record an album of Buddy's songs that you've been singing here today."
Mr. Holley continued, "We've had our problems with Norman over the years, but all in all, he was a good producer and engineer, and he really did help Buddy become successful. Would you be interested?" Al was quite surprised by Mr. Holley's reaction and offer, and he only thought for a few seconds before making a snap decision. "Mr. Holley, I would love nothing more than to do a tribute album to Buddy someday, but right now I'm working on a deal in Nashville with Monument Records to do my own songs. In fact, Tommy Allsup (Buddy's former lead guitarist) played on our demos for Monument. But I really want to make it on my own first. I've been working on developing my own sound and style, and as much as I've always loved Buddy, I wouldn't feel right if I did it on Buddy's coat tails".
Larry Holley smiled and said, "I told you that you remind me of Buddy. He would have probably said the same thing". Of course, in hindsight, Alan regrets not taking Mr. Holley up on his offer. "I was pretty dumb not to accept the offer. Heck, it would have been fun to audition for Norman Petty, even if nothing came of it" Mr. Holley invited me to go to dinner with the family, but I felt that it was time to leave. They walked me out and we were talking in the yard. Mr. Holley said, "You know, we had some tapes that Buddy was working on before he died, but someone took them from the house. I don't know who it was, if it was a fan, or somebody that we knew. We used to have it on a tape recorder, and we would occasionally play it for the fans. But, then one day it was gone. It was a number of songs that Buddy had never recorded, such as the Ray Charles song, "Drown in My Own Tears". I'm mentioning this to you, just in case you ever hear anything about it when you get back to Nashville."
As I was leaving the house, all three of the Holleys were standing in the yard, smiling and watching me leave. The last thing Mr. Holley said to me as I was leaving, "And do me a favor, Alan. Try to stay away from those drugs. So many young musicians are taking up with drugs these days. " I said to Mr. Holly, "I never take anything stronger than pop. But of course, Pop will take just about anything." He looked at me kind of funny, and with that, we were gone.
A few months after I got back to Nashville, Bob Beckham at Combine Music and I had a parting of the ways because I hadn't been too happy with how Chip Young had produced our session over at Monument, and I told him so. Chip had put a distorted lead guitar part on a song I wrote, and although I asked him to turn the distortion off, he wouldn't. After all, he was the leader of the session. Bob Beckham said, "Well, that's a shame, son. Chip will be marrying my daughter in a few weeks, so I'm sorry you don't like what he does. I guess you'll have to try finding someone else to work with." His son-in-law? Oh, I had put my foot in my mouth. Nashville is all about politics, and even more-so, nepotism. Still, a few days later, Bob Beckham told me that Tommy Allsup was showing an interest in one of the songs we had recorded with him, and might be able to get a deal for us over at Metromedia Records. Tommy was running the office over there. We went over to talk with Tommy. Interestingly, while we were waiting to see him, Jimmy Gilmer of the Fireballs stopped by, and I saw these two men shake hands and meet each other for the first time. They talked about how great it was to finally meet each after having been associated with Norman Petty and so many other people for so many years. So, I witnessed a historical meeting, and it seemed a bit ironic.
At any rate, we went in to Tommy Allsup's office. Tommy had pitched the song he had played on, "FELL OFF THE TRAIN" to the higher-ups at Metromedia, but the news wasn't good. The label wasn't interested". Still, I'm grateful that Tommy went to bat for us, and even more so that he played on one of my songs. Unfortunately, when I went to tell Bob that Tommy wasn't able to get a deal for us, Bob said, "Well, son, I guess that's the end of the line then. Maybe something will happen when you go down to see Dan Penn in Memphis. But, I guess we won't be doing anything with this song." And he took the tape of "FELL OFF THE TRAIN", and he threw it in the trash can by his desk. " I couldn't believe it. I said, "Bob, I didn't get a copy of that song. I have copies of the other two, but this was the best song on the session." He said, "I'm sorry, son. But you're not happy with Chip's production style, so I wouldn't want you showing this to any other publishers. After all, we paid for the session." My heart sunk.
Roland Pike also worked at Combine, as a writer and general idea man. Roland had written a few hits "LAST KISS" for J. Frank Wilson and "LITTLE LONELY SUMMER GIRL" for David box. We did some demos for Combine that Roland wrote. Anyhow, I was recounting the story of my visit to the Holley's home during our gig in Lubbock. Roland was also a Texan, and a former friend of Buddy's as well. I told him about what Mr. Holley had told me about the missing tape of Buddy's demos that someone had taken from the house. Roland said, "Hell, I know who took the tapes." I asked him who it was. Roland said, "I can't tell you that, they're good friends of mine. We used to all hang out together in Texas, and we still do" I asked him again. I promised that I would never tell anyone, and that I just wanted to know. He made me swear an oath that I wouldn't say a word and expose him, because it might have negative consequences for him. And then he told me. I couldn't believe it. It was a person who had been very close to Buddy. Roland had asked that person why he took the tape. And that person said, "Well, I figure that it 's about time to put an end to legend of Buddy Holly. No more tapes, no more legend." Of course, he had taken the tapes before the movie starring Gary Busey had been issued. The legend will never end, missing tapes or not.
And I honored my promise to Roland, I never said a word to anyone about it. But Roland Pike died in a fire during the late 70s, and I no longer felt honor bound to keep his secret. I immediately wrote everything that he told me in a letter, and I sent it off to Larry Holley. Larry didn't write back, but I'm sure he was pleased to get the information. It was either a revelation to him, or more than likely it just confirmed some of his own private suspicions.
Charlie Rich: The Silver Fox becomes my boss! .
Returning to Nashville, the duo was eventually signed to a long-term contract with the Charlie Rich Organization, as writers, and as artists in development for recording projects. Henry Strzelecki, who had played electric bass on the session that the duo had recorded for Marty Robbins a couple of years earlier, had become the new head of "Talent Development" for the Rich Organization. He played SY ROSENBERG, Charlie's manager and co-owner of the Rich Company, the old Marty Robbins' produced session. Henry was a real advocate in our behalf, and eventually Sy told him to "Sign them up." In fact, the Charlie Rich Organization sent Charlie's private plane to Nashville to fly the duo down to Memphis for the signing. "So, in the end, it seems that the Marty Robin’s session did do some good for us, but that was only because of Henry Strzelecki. He had remembered how well that session sounded. Without Henry's belief in us, nothing would have happened. you don't get anywhere in the music business until someone believes in you."
But a few months after the first recording session, an event happened that would end their relationship with the Rich organization, and ultimately, their marriage as well. This was the final "crash and burn" episode for the pair, which could not have been anticipated by anyone concerned.
It's true that Charlie Rich had a buzz on at the Country Awards Show, where as "COUNTRY ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR", he was supposed to present the award for the next year's winner. Jokingly, he lit the envelope on fire, which announced John Denver as the next year's "COUNTRY ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR." Charlie laughed and put out the fire, and read John's name. "The award goes to my good friend, John Denver", and he gave a great smile.
While the show was playing a videotaped acceptance speech pre-recorded by John Denver, the people who produced the show tried to forcibly drag Charlie off the stage. During the scuffle, it is said that he stabbed someone in the hand with a pencil, which horrified the audience, which was comprised almost entirely of Nashville executives and performers. The national television audience saw none of this, because they cut to a commercial after Denver's acceptance speech for the award. Charlie went into an alcohol detox center that night.
Just a few months earlier Sy Rosenberg had turned down an offer for several hundred thousand dollars for Charlie to sing on a national automobile ad campaign. But now, in light of the bad publicity from the awards show, all of Charlie Rich's bookings had been canceled. His career ground to a sudden halt. Charlie recovered just fine, but for all practical purposes, that event marked the decline of his successful career. Changing labels, Charlie had a few more small hits, but his glory days were behind him.
As Alan tells it, "I always loved Charlie Rich's music, including all that early Sun and Smash stuff he did. But Billy Sherrill at Epic had him grinding out music that Charlie didn't enjoy doing. I think that Charlie drank because of the pressure of "fame"; he was introverted, quiet by nature, and shy. I don't think he ever cared about being famous. He just loved playing music, blues and jazz mostly, and he was happiest playing it in a small dark lounge somewhere. Nashville had turned Charlie into a hit machine, and Charlie couldn't adjust to all the attention. Charlie also loved be bop and gospel music. Charlie once told me that a song he had written and recorded for RCA years earlier, "ROSANNA", was originally intended to be recorded as "HOSANNA", which was written as a gospel song. Instead of "Rosanna, back in the arms of my love", Charlie's original lyrics were, "Hosanna, back in the arms of my Lord." RCA asked him to change those few words, in order to make the song more commercial, and acceptable to a broader audience. I told him it would have been great to hear it in its original form, and that he should seriously think about doing a remake."
"Personally, I was almost happy for Charlie when he walked away from the whole circus he was in, although it also meant the end of our deal with the company. Charlie Rich wasn't just my boss, but he was also one of my musical mentors. Charlie let Sy Rosenberg run the business, and he himself was just a brilliant artist that I looked up to and admired for the musical contributions that he had already made, long before he ever became a success as a country artist. No greater musician, writer, or singer has ever walked the planet. I still feel that way, and I wish he were still around making music. He was just getting back into doing the kind of music that he really loved when he suddenly died a few years ago. "
Nashville: "So Long,good luck and Goodbye"
"Did you ever bet on a horse that couldn't quite make it across the finish line? I did. I bet on us, "Leatherwood and Lisa". But my partner was the first to call it quits. We'd spent ten years working towards our musical dreams. All of our efforts, the phone calls, the demos, seemed to finally be letting us make some progress. We couldn't have done it without Henry".
"But it was a short-lived sense of victory. Within a couple of weeks after signing the contracts with the Rich company, my partner told me she wanted to break up. Now that the contracts had been signed, and now that the session was in the can, my partner decided that it was time for a big change. This was very difficult for me to grasp at the time, but I packed up my car, and I headed out to Los Angeles to check out some new business opportunities that my friend Bob Scherl was trying to cook up for me. I was confident that things would smooth out, and that I would be returning to Nashville within a few weeks or months. But they didn't.
While I was in Los Angeles, I watched the CMA Awards show on TV and saw Charlie Rich light the envelope announcing John Denver's name on fire. I thought it was really funny, and it was obvious that Charlie was only kidding. I called Nashville the next day and the office told me about what happened off camera. It was terrible to hear. And I was also informed around that same week that our trial separation was being upgraded by my partner to a full fledged divorce. This was it, our ten year personal and professional relationship had reached the end of the road and fizzled out.
I stayed and worked in Los Angeles for a year, and then I returned to Cleveland. And what would follow in the near future would prevent me from ever wanting to return to Nashville, except once in 1977, to record some songs for my album, "ROCKABILLY MUSIC AND BRAKE JOBS".
We had each signed seven year contracts with the Charlie Rich Organization. There were three separate contracts for each of us. Songwriting, management, and recording. However, within a few months of Charlie Rich's incident on the Awards show, the company announced that they were ceasing all projects with their artists in development, as they scrambled to salvage Charlie's career. All of his artists were given their official releases and their walking papers. That included us. The recording session that Henry Strzelecki had produced was put on the shelf, never to see the light of day again, just part of a big train wreck for everyone concerned.
"After the deal with Charlie Rich's company went sour my partner eventually went back and worked with Bob Beckham over at Combine, where we had recorded some demos a couple of years earlier. His team, led by Chip Young, Bob's son-law (see above) issued a few records by her, but to my great shock and surprise, she had taken on my performing name of 'LEATHERWOOD'. This was done without my consent or knowledge. I had always been "Leatherwood", and she had always been "Lisa". My artistic identity was being ripped away from me. I tried to discuss it with her by phone. I suggested, "when a band breaks up, you don't go out and start a new career with your ex-partner's name. You could have showed some imagination." She told me she had been advised by her new "people" that "LEATHERWOOD" would be a better name for her, and that legally speaking, anyone could use it because it wasn't trademarked. I couldn't believe my ears. "Anyone? That's my name". I reminded her that I never could afford to trademark it. She was so disturbed that I would even question her on this subject. The phone call came to an end with her saying, 'I thought you'd be happy for me, Please don't ever call me again'".
"And I never did. But that kind of betrayal does not ever go away. Some people might say, "So what, it's just a stage name". In the music business, the only thing a person has is their talent, name, and personal integrity. If you don't have that, or if you let them steal it from you- you end up with nothing."
"And wouldn't you know it, a few years after that, another group came along who called themselves 'THE LEATHERWOODS'. There's a joke in here somewhere, I think. It's ironic."
"That was nearly forty years ago. She made a few records for a couple of labels but not much happened. After two major label tries, no other labels were interested. "She had her turn on the merry-go-round. She had the best songs, the best musicians, and the hottest producer - and now it's someone else's turn". There was no longer a support team to fall back on. She used to have one, but not now. This was business, and she was just a casualty. She eventually fell off the radar and that was it. It was rumored she found religion after a car accident in which she was disfigured, and as a result she quit drinking and joined a Pentecostal church that regularly practiced speaking in tongues. It's also said that she eventually married a pig farmer from Canada, a widower with eight kids No one really knows for sure.
Here is an excerpt from a short story written by Alan. The working title of the story is
"The Catacombs of Music City".
"The music industry in Nashville takes artists with great talent, grinds them up- and spits out little musical sausages, most of whom are never heard of again. For some, that's their true calling. Without a plan and a lack of access to good songs, many performers become actual musical sausages....if they stick around long enough. Most of the smart ones went home years ago. But some people just stay...and wait. Music City is full of these ghosts - hangers on, people with their best years behind them. They gather in their clubs, bars and/or churches - still talking about new projects they're working on, the new songs they're writing. The hype never ends. It's the same hustle they've been running on other people for 40 years, but now they're just running it on themselves and their immediate peer group. They get a Facebook page and claim that Nashville is the town they were born in, even though it was Detroit, or Cleveland. Once or twice a year they might even get to sing a song or two at a recording session for someone else's speculation Project. These are the catacombs of 'MUSIC CITY', forty years on, still waiting for the dream to come true. It's like chasing vapor'.
" The realty is this, once an artist is considered to be 'yesterday's news', the companies don't bring you the good songs anymore. You're "history", even though you don't know it. But the street knows who you are, and they've written you off. You already had your shot. To even admit it, your ego would have to collapse. Once your phone stops ringing, you start wondering, 'Did someone wish this on me? Did I take something from someone, and forget to give it back?' But, you push those thoughts out of your mind pretty fast. 'Tomorrow's another day. Tomorrow things will be better'. You know in your heart of hearts that you only did what you had to do to; It was for the greater good; It was for your career. You know that you've always been special. Your car won't start, but you see it as a sign. 'I guess I'll stay home today, that's the plan.' And that's how it is. You're still God's favorite, aren't you? Of course you are. And a self assured smile crosses your lips and it drives the insecurity away, and you think, '' I'm hungry. Maybe I should eat. I'll meditate on that for a moment and wait to see if the spirit moves me to eat some food. And later, I might even try to write a song, if God wants me to I'll just. let go and let God. It was nice to see that old friend today. But there are no coincidences, everything is part of God's plan, even running into an old friend by accident.'. You think of these moments as divine guidance. Others look at you and realize that you're completely nuts, or perhaps you're suffering from megalomania. But that's okay. 'Aren't all artists all a little crazy? Doesn't God look out for the fools and poets?'
And the years roll on, and the people and friends and family you knew somewhere else get old and sick and die, and they fade away forever. But you are still here in the catacombs of Music City, answering telephones for minimum wage for a company selling light bulbs or bug spray- it's where time stands still - still waiting for the record deal, the deal that ended 40 years ago".
I did go back once in January of 1978 to record an album of songs for my "Rockabilly Music and Brake jobs" album." I recorded the album at Jerry Shook's studio. It's funny, because after the session, Jerry offered me a publishing deal for the rights to all the songs I had written, which would have also meant that I wouldn't have had to pay him for the studio time I used over three days. Maybe I should have taken him up on his offer, but I didn't. I paid him for the time, and I released the album on my own label. And I kept the publishing.
Back Home in Cleveland
After returning to Cleveland from Los Angeles in 1976, Alan resumed performing again as a solo, and as an occasional member of the group, "The Northfork Express". "After a year back in Cleveland, I had re-established myself on the club circuit in Cleveland, and I was most comfortable when I was playing music."
"Looking back on all of it now, I realize that I wasn't good at dealing with the business side of the music business. I was always more into the writing, singing. recording and performing. "
"But I was lucky. There was a group of talented new people in Cleveland that I could work with, and there was a good club scene developing in Cleveland. Along with Danny Dickerson, I got to work with CIndy MacKay, Bob Kommersmith, and Ken Metz, Bobbie Antes, and many other artists. They were all gifted singers, musicians, and writers. It was completely different than working with someone who expected everything to be handed to her. It raised the bar for me, and as a result, my own songwriting improved, and I started writing material that I'm still quite proud of. I entered some of the songs in Billboard's Annual Songwriting competitions, and I managed to achieve five awards of special merit, as well as making the finals one year for "Best Pop song of the year", for a ballad titled, "Words of Love (Crumble and Fall)". (That song is included on Alan's "Rock, Bop, Folk, and Pop" album, recorded in 2004. )
In 1977 on August 16, Elvis Presley died. This was a pivotal event that convinced Alan that it was time to sit down, take stock of where he had been, and maybe start thinking about setting some new goals. "What a shock. Elvis was the original reason I started playing music. Around this same time punk music was getting popular. A little later, I saw the BLASTERS on New Wave Theater on Cable TV playing traditional rockabilly music. And then the STRAY CATS came along. The media was calling this 'alternative music'. The stuff was so old it was new again. It was time for me to get back to some basic roots".
Alan finally launched MOON RECORDS in 1979, with the idea of going back to playing "Roots" music. "I became an indie again, just like I had been in the early days, when I was having a lot of fun." Alan later amended the label name to "OHIO MOON", in order to avoid confusion with Cordell Jackson's reactivated Memphis based MOON label, a label that she had started in 1956. Although her label was out of business at the time that Al started MOON, Miss Jackson had gotten a career boost from several appearances on the Dave Letterman show, and she had also done a series of Miller Beer commercials with the Stray Cats. (Yes, she's the elderly lady who takes a guitar solo of her own, and "shuts down" Brian Setzer; a very funny commercial) There's also another MOON label out there associated with Regaee music. "Technically, the label is now called "OHIO MOON", but we still refer to ourselves as "MOON". I made the change to accommodate Cordell, we had a long talk on the phone after she contacted me, and she was a very nice lady - a very cool person, a real pioneer. I haven't seen her on TV in the last few years, and I only found out recently that she died"
Alan still occasionally performs in the clubs around Cleveland, but more of his time these days is spent in the studio working on a variety of projects, not only for himself, but with others as well, mostly the musicians who have played on most of his recordings. "I've always felt compelled to make music, it's something I have to do in order to feel complete. It's great being with friends I've known all my life, such as Paul Penfield, a great writer and guitarist, as well as so many other new people, such as David Loy, another fine showman and guitarist. Cleveland is the town where all my dreams began. Everybody I work with is a creative universe unto themselves. Some of them have had interesting careers in music, and have traveled around the world making their music. There's a wide assortment of personalities, and I like that. It keeps everybody interested. There are some younger people too, so the faces stay fresh and enthusiastic.
Life is a learning process, and it takes all kinds of people to make a world. And from past experience, I'm much more careful of who I team up with these days.
"When all is said and done, I'm still singing, and I consider myself to be very lucky. "
2008! GHOST TRAIN
A new CD, and an old name
In March of 2008, Ohio Moon issued Alan's new "GHOST TRAIN" album. But this one is by "Alan Cassaro", the name that he hasn’t used professionally since 1965. "When I issued my first CD a few years ago, "Rock, Bop, Folk, and Pop" some of the older fans and collectors came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I remember your old "OLD TOWN" record that you did, and that’s who you really are. What’s with this "Leatherwood" routine?' Since I included some snippets of early recordings on the album, I thought it would be appropriate to use my real name again. Also, I issued two CDs of my actual releases from the early Sixties, both as "Lane Cassaro" and "Alan Cassaro".
"I'll probably eventually go back to my "Leatherwood" moniker, because it has been my stage name since 1965, and that's how many still people remember me, mostly from the college tours and the old Cleveland clubs".
"There are projects that Bob Scherl and I were putting together when he died back in 1999. Luckily he had sent me a lot of our old multi track masters prior to becoming ill. Even as he was recovering, we were making plans, and he was sending me liner notes he was working on".
"Looking up some of the links to people who helped me out in the beginning of my career, I was surprised to see that so many of them are dead now. I guess, they’re riding the "Ghost Train" too. I'm happy and grateful to still be singing and working with old friends and new musicians, and I'm still writing and singing songs. My friends are all very creative people, all unique, and very independent. They wouldn't know how to grind out a perfect little musical sausage if their lives depended on it. So, we try to have fun and do the best we can with what we have. I've got a small studio in my house, and I enjoy the recording process a lot. So, It's pretty much back to the beach with guitars, bongos and beer. A good time is still being had by all.
LIFE GOES ON: Still rockin' round the Ant Farm!
Alan got remarried years ago to a wonderful girl who is a not in the entertainment field, but someone who is, "very normal, steady and sane- I love and respect her more than I'd ever be able to express, except maybe in a song- just for her strength and steadfastness. And I've got three grandkids now, and a couple of them are starting to play music, so "look out" world."
2010 Rockabilly Noir
Preview the album here
by ALAN LEATHERWOOD
"The La Cave Reunion June 2010"
It was great to be invited to be one of the returning acts for the 40 year "La Cave Reunion" at Wilbert's in Cleveland on June 25, 26, and 27, 2010. It was wonderful seeing all the old faces and fans who used to watch me sing at the old club. It was a legendary room that launched the careers of many great artists, Gordon Lightfoot, Phil Ochs, Jim and Jean, and many others. This was a great reunion, spread out over three days. Jim Glover flew in from Florida. Shipley and Brewer, Gusti, Carolyn Hester, Josh White Jr, and plenty of other terrific people came in from in other states to play and sing during this three day festival. Jim Glover and I did a duet of the classic Shel Silverstein song, "SING FOR THE SONG". Danny Dickerson drove up from Nashville and got here in time to play guitar and sing with me for my Sunday set. It was an exhausting three days, but it completely revitalized my vitals!!
Jim Glover and Alan Leatherwood
at the LA CAVE REUNION June, 2010
2014 The new TEX MEX BREAKAWAY. 50th Anniversary since Al's first record.
We're rocking. In the final run, we are still rockin.
other credits/non musical
The following was written by John Goldman, educator
"In the spring of 1973, I was asked to take over a course titled "The History of American Popular Music since World War II" at Case Western Reserve University. It had been taught by the well-known disc jockey Bill Randle as an anecdotal reminiscence of his days as a powerhouse in the radio business. He left behind no curriculum, no tapes, nothing in the way of teaching tools. So my task was to create a serious course from scratch. I had to formulate readings and a course outline and be prepared for the fall semester. I had limited resources, but fortunately I had a friend of long-standing who knew a lot about rock and roll and had an extensive record collection.
Most importantly he was the kind of authority who had thought a lot about the era besides living it as a professional musician and recording artist. He and another friend, Bob Scherl, had produced their own recordings and those of others in the 1960s and since. Alan's initial interest in the genre was Elvis Presley, the key figure of the beginning of the era, and his knowledge and understanding of rockabilly and rock, and country and folk music was amazing.
Alan agreed to meet with me in his home studio for a series of lectures in which we talked about and listened to key musical examples and he presented me with an overview of the various kinds of music that had contributed to making the rock, folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, and soul movements of the 1950s and 1960s the main force in American popular music. Using his extensive knowledge and the personal point of view that he had developed after years of both following the experiences of major and minor figures in the business and living some of it himself, he enabled me to create a really significant course that would allow my mostly non-musician students to gain a full understanding of how the music that they loved had evolved. He generously loaned me recordings that I combined with some of the resources I had available from the college radio station (with the help of another non-academic scholar Bill Anderson who created the tapes made available for listening by the students).
With his broad knowledge and especially his keen insight into what were the chief components of rock and all the other genres, I was able to create quickly an unusual course for that time. I don't think very many academics were attempting anything like then outside of jazz and classical music studies--at the University level. I managed to stay a few steps ahead of my students, some of whom had a serious interest themselves and wrote really interesting term papers about particular musicians or groups. I recall Alan being impressed with some of the better ones that I showed him because they demonstrated that his contributions had made a real difference.
Since then Alan has continued to be a force in both critical thinking and creative performance in the music and deserves both accolades for his musical creations and appreciation for the thoughtful contributions he has made to our understanding of America's important popular music of the last half of the 20th century and today."
(Original Biographical notes for this website by Bob Scherl, periodically updated by Ohio Moon Records)