"I enjoy being involved in all aspects—surfing music, go-go music, protest music, folk-rock, whatever label they want to put on it. I don't want a time lapse where someone says, 'Well, that was the period of so-and-so music...' and I can't say, 'Yeah, well I had...' or 'Yeah, I was a part of it.'"
This is Lou Adler, a record producer, A&R man, record company executive, music publisher, budding movie producer and sometime personal manager who feels compelled to become involved with every musical "trend." For 10 years this has proved to be an extremely rewarding compulsion.
He has worked for half a dozen record, companies and formed two of his own (selling one of them for $3,000,000 last year). He has become one of the most successful music publishers in the business at least twice. He co-produced the Monterey Pop Festival. In 1967, Bill Gavin named him Pop Music A&R Man of the Year. He has produced nearly 100 albums and singles, all but one of them going on the charts. (In 1966 he produced only 12 of them, but all 12 went Top 14 and four went to No. One.)
The story of Adler is at the top of the charts, the seven times he has been there—with "Surf City" by Jan & Dean, "Memphis" and "Poor Side of Town" by Johnny Rivers, "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire, "California Dreamin'" and "Monday Monday" by the Mamas and the Papas, and "San Francisco" by Scott McKenzie. The story covers a lot of rock history and represents probably more precisely than any other the story of California creativity—slick and/or commercial and/or good.
[A College Drop-In]
The chronicle began in 1957 when Adler was studying journalism at Los Angeles City College—enrolled without having graduated from a local high school, faking papers to get in—and one of his classmates was Herb Alpert, a young trumpet player who wanted to sing.
"At the time," Adler says, "I was dating Herb's wife, except they weren't married then, and it was through Sharon, I think, that Herb and I met. Herb asked me if I'd like to write some songs with him."
Adler said yes, the songs were written, and Alpert cut a demo, which they took to Keane Records, Sam Cooke's label. Nothing happened to the demo, but Adler and Alpert were offered jobs in the company's A&R department, working under Bumps Blackwell.
Without Blackwell's constant supervision, Adler seems to have been left to his own devices—to write songs for and with Cooke, to go on the road with him, even to live with him. He never actually produced any of Cooke's records, but Cooke, he says today, "served as my instructor." With Cooke, Adler was for the first time exposed to men who had little or no musical education and played only what they felt. "I learned the language," Adler says. For Adler, this was Step One.
Step Two began when, while at Keane, he met Jan Barry, then half of the Jan & Arnie team. As a favor he helped them with their material and so later when Barry found a new partner, Dean Torrance, Barry returned for more advice; Jan & Dean had recorded a demo in their garage and wanted to know what Adler thought of it. He liked the sound, he said, but didn't much care for the material, so helped them find their first hit, "Baby Talk." This record was produced as a demo by Adler and Alpert and quickly refused by Keane. Deciding they wanted to be independent of a label, anyway, they left Keane. This was in 1958.
They took the demo to Dore Records, a subsidiary of Era. (Era had Gogi Grant; Dore had the Teddy Bears, one of them the young Phil Spector.) Dore bought the master and although Jan & Dean were signed to the label, Adler and Alpert remained independent producers.
"It's interesting how 'Baby Talk' was produced," Adler says now. "That first tape we heard of Jan & Dean's was done on an old Ampex tape recorder with a false echo, recorded in that garage. When we recorded 'Baby Talk,' we used the same garage and then took the tape into a studio and added musicians. This is just the opposite of what I usually do now, preferring to lay down the musical tracks and then bring the artist in."
At the same time, Adler and Alpert decided to get into management, joining rather peripherally a management firm operating out of an auto supply shop with acts like Eddie Can and Rene Touzet. They were given an office at Dore—which had been founded by men in the aircraft industry—but seldom were there. (This was, obviously, a time when everyone—from aircraft manufacturers to auto supply salesmen—was climbing onto the pop music bandwagon.) Nor were they spending much of their time in the "office" of the management firm. The emphasis was on producing Jan & Dean.
"I remember hearing the Beach Boys' record of 'Surfin,' which was the first surf song," Adler says. "Mike Love had the same white bass voice Jan had and I said: These guys are stealing our sound! Later, of course, we all got together and Brian (Wilson) even wrote 'Surf City' with Jan."
1958 and 1959 was a time of surfboards and horizontally striped shirts, of hotrods and fast guitars. Frankie Avalon and all of plastic Philadelphia had reached their peak and were slipping, to be followed by the surfing sound. Jan and Dean were ahead of the wave, with Adler riding the crest.
[The Watch-Like Works Of Alden]
By now Alpert had gone his own way and Adler had joined Alden Music, a songwriting machine that included in its watch-like works Jerry Goffin & Carol King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Howie Greenfield, and Neil Sedaka. This was Adler's first real exposure to professional songwriters and publishing. This was Step Three, and would prepare him for when he would form several publishing firms of his own.
"Jan & Dean went to Alden with me," Adler says. "It was an incredible place. In three years time, Alden produced 36 Top-10 songs. This was rock and roll tin pan alley—writing follow-ups and customizing songs for singers and groups. It was also the time when we were spending $50,000-60,000 a year on demos.
"All this was new. Demos were being produced with not just a guy singing to his piano player or a guitarist, but produced as masters, ready for release. And many of those demos we produced were actually released ... and they became hits. It changed the whole thing around. We started doing things new ways."
Adler was responsible in large part for putting pop music on the beach, but as surfing music began to lose its momentum, he began to look around. There was another trend around the corner and Adler, with his incredible instinct and timing, was about to "discover" it. It was coming ... and in the interim, Adler worked with the Everly Brothers.
"I was sort of an informal producer," he says. "I'm close to Phil, a good friend of Don's, and I helped them with their tune selection and recorded with them."
Adler will not take credit for the results of the sessions, but two of the tunes recorded then, "Crying in the Rain" and "That's Old Fashioned," went Top-10 in Nashville.
In 1963—still associated with Jan & Dean and Alden—Adler found himself on LaCienega Boulevard, standing in line to get into a club to see a black comic, when he saw another club nearby.
"There was no line at that club and I thought we'd go there and wait," Adler says. "It was Gazzari's and inside was Johnny Rivers, in a suit, with a drummer. There was this strange feeling in there: Something was happening. It was like an adult Dick Clark show. Nobody had been dancing in California. I'd seen a little of it back East with the twist, but nothing here. At Gazzari's they were dancing.
"Johnny came up to me after the set and introduced himself. He said he was thinking it might be a good idea to cut a record live at the club and he wanted to know if I'd be interested. I said I'd cut it if Alden had first refusal, and we'd have to cut it on spec. He said sure, and I took a remote truck to Gazzari's.
"The strange thing was when we finished it, we found most of the noise I'd heard on the dance floor I'd really seen. People waving their arms, dancing, moving around ... take that away and the noise level seems to go 'way down. Next time you're in what you think is a noisy club, close your eyes and see if you don't hear the audience level drop. You don't hear the audience at all. And this is what we wanted to hear in Johnny's album."
[Hustling Scene in the Studio]
Adler had taken Step Four, had learned another lesson: Sometimes "reality" needs overdubbing to make it seem real. In this instance, he tried to recreate the atmosphere of Gazzari's inside a studio, packing it with tables and chairs and 150 people. The 150 were to clap and drink and cheer on cue and make the Rivers tape acceptable as a "live" album.
"What a scene!" Adler says. "I was going 'Take Two' and these people out there thought they were at Gazzari's and they were hustling chicks. At one point, one guy spotted Judy (Adler's secretary) in the booth and came in and started hustling her. At first it seemed to be fun for them, but after Take Two it was a drag, for everyone."
The album was finished, despite this, and taken to Don Kirshner, Adler's boss. (Alden's parent company was Colpix.) "Kirshner said he didn't dig the feel," Adler says, his voice seeming to say: Kirshner sacks. (Kirshner has, since turning away Johnny Rivers, created the Monkees and the Archies and sponsored Boyce & Hart.) Adler told Kirshner he was something less than astute.
Adler's disagreement with Kirshner represented what was going on in his life. Adler was, he says now (revealing little of the emotion felt then), "experiencing problems with corporate infighting." "One day I walked into my office and two guys were behind my desk, guys who later turned out to be Koppelman and Rubin. I rummaged around and found a letter of dismissal. So I packed up my stuff and I left."
The Gazzari's tape was never released (Adler says Bill Gazzari sued) and the first "live" night club recording of the time came not from Johnny Rivers but Trini Lopez, and was recorded at another Los Angeles club, PJ's. The second, also recorded at PJ's, was produced by Adler and featured the sing-along sound of Jerry Wright. The record appeared on the charts and then bombed, but Adler's next was to represent the next of the trends.
One of the owners of PJ's then was an ex-Chicago cop named Elmer Valentine. He had just sold his interest in PJ's and gone to Europe for a vacation. Among the cities he visited was Paris, where he saw a night club he thought should be imported to America. It was something called a "discotheque" and it was called the Whiskey a Go Go.
"I ran into Elmer one week before the Whiskey was to open," Adler says. "He needed an act and I suggested Johnny Rivers. So a week later, I took another truck out, to the Whiskey, to try the album a second time."
[Necktie People Watching the Freaks]
With the release of Rivers' "Whiskey a Go Go" album, recorded that night, and a single from that album that went to No. One, "Memphis," the trend was set; Adler recalls the period first, and then the means by which he translated that period, and sound, onto tape and acetate. (Representing Step Four and a Half.)
"It was one of the most exciting periods for the Los Angeles night club scene since the days of the Mocambo," he says. "Clubs were dying. People weren't dancing in clubs. Now they were dancing again.
"This was also the time when people in neckties started coming to see the 'freaks,' who were the dancers, who turned out to be called go-go girls. Elmer'd let in about 20 chicks and they'd dance. And he had that glass cage up there, with go-go girls.
"Johnny's record was a part of it. We had a system set with something we thought would be a single, like 'Memphis.' You can't do more than two takes in a club, so if you think the song's a good one, you include it in every set and that way, over two or three days, you can get it down six or eight times."
Even so, "Memphis" was re-recorded in a studio and the entire album was sweetened by bringing in overdub specialists. This time, Adler used only eight to ten people to provide the handclapping—girls he knew—and to give the album the sing-along feel experienced in the club, he hired the Blossoms. For background noise, he used a tape loop of glasses clinking and people talking, actually made at the club but looped to repeat every 30 seconds or so. "I mean, if you really study this album," he says of Whiskey a Go Go, "you can hear the same drunk in every cut at least once."
Just as Adler makes no apologies for Jan & Dean, he offers only praise of Johnny Rivers. "I think Rivers is very under-rated as regards taste and feel," he says. "He sang 'Suzie Q' the way Creedence Clearwater does and sang 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix' long before Glen Campbell ever heard of it. He also introduced me to the blues: John Lee Hooker, Jimmie Reed, B. B. King."
Adler remained with Rivers until about a year ago, when Rivers, like Jan Barry before him, began to produce his own records. He had, by then, produced two more "live" albums with Rivers (all at the Whiskey) and four studio albums.
[Dylan's Conquest & Bags of Gold]
It was after Rivers was established that Adler formed Dunhill Productions. His partners were Bobby Roberts, who was managing, among others, Ann-Margret, and Pierre Cossette, who had the money. The company was formed specifically to produce Rivers' shows.
"Bobby had the TV and agency experience," Adler says, "and I'd been exposed to one-nighters and the pop field. It was a nice combination."
In time, Adler and his partners began to talk of starting a record company, but his experience with independents had taught him it was nearly impossible for an "indie" to collect from distributors, who usually waited to see if the record company could deliver a second hit before paying for the records they had sold. (Keane went of business with $400,000 in accounts receivable. Adler says.) They decided they wouldn't go into record production unless they could set a distribution deal with a major company, thus leaving the collection chores to someone else. Such an arrangement was made with ABC and Adler had taken Step Five.
Jay Lasker, Roberts' brother-in-law, now joined Dunhill (named for the Dunhills, a tap-dancing team that once had included Bobby Roberts) after working as sales manager of Vee Jay Records. Sally Fabares, then appearing in beach-blanket-bingo-a-go-go films and managed by Roberts, was the first artist that Adler produced. The record was only moderately successful, but the second – by someone else – was to be a smash. Adler's instinct and timing were marching into view again.
"Barry McGuire had left the New Christy Minstrels and had gone to Mexico for some sort of rebirth," Adler says. "When he got back, Terry Melcher called me and asked if I'd ever considered him. I said I'd only heard him on bits and pieces of 'Saturday Night.' And then I went to the opening of Ciro's on the Strip. The Byrds were there and so was Barry, dancing. I felt something. It was freer. It was freakier, and McGuire was a leader."
One of the people Adler had signed to Dunhill Productions, and then Dunhill Records, was a songwriter named P. F. Sloane, who wrote a song that would be the first McGuire would record for Dunhill, "Eve of Destruction." In four weeks, the single was certified a million-seller, was No. One, and Adler found himself hip-deep in the protest bag. Dylan had come and had conquered and Adler was claiming his share of the gold.
Adler's functions at Dunhill included talent-scouting (and signing) and the production of records, and it was while producing McGuire's second album that he scouted, signed and began producing his biggest act, the Mamas and the Papas.
"Barry told me some friends of his were in town and that they could sing," Adler says. "I told him to have them come to a session. This was in October (1966) and we were at Western Recorders. John Phillips did the talking for the group."
Sitting in Adler's living room, Phillips picks up the story. "We hung around and hung around, waiting to sing," he says. "Lou was slumped over the board—big hat, three-day's growth of beard. He kept saying. 'I'll get to you, I'll get to you.'" When Adler finally did listen, the Mamas and the Papas sang five songs–"Monday Monday," "I've Got a Feeling," "Once Was a Time," "Go Where You Wanna Go" and "California Dreamin'."
[After Acid – After Beatles]
"How did I react?" Adler says. "I couldn't talk." He did regain enough verbal control to make an immediate deal, however, and the Mamas and the Papas signed with Adler and Dunhill for $1,500 for the following day—accepting Adler over Randy Sparks' offer of $5,000 because, as Phillips says, "we just felt Lou was right for us." The contract called for Adler to serve as their producer and, along with Roberts, as their personal manager.
Three months would pass before "California Dreamin' " appeared on the charts. (Actually, it was the second Mamas and Papas single; the first, "Go Where You Wanna Go," backed with "Somebody Groovy," was withdrawn after three days. Adler had used "California Dreamin' " on McGuire's album and after hearing the back-up voicing of the Mamas and Papas, decided the tune shouldn't be buried on somebody else's album.) Then the Mamas and Papas' first album was released and Adler, who had become, really, the fifth member of the group (the third Papa) found himself riding a Super Group. (A phrase that that had no meaning in the days of Jan & Dean; Super Groups were those who came after the Beatles.)
Then total madness beset it; it was as if the moon was full every night. The Mamas and Papas went on tour, but couldn't even get themselves together for their first date at the Hollywood Bowl. For some of the members of the group it seemed like round-the-clock auditioning for membership in Alcoholics Anonymous; for others it was the discovery of dope. "You have to understand," John Phillips says, "that this was the period A.A.—After Acid."
Adler was taking Step Six, representing for the first time a total involvement with one of his acts. Recording sessions seldom lasted less than 12 or 16 hours. The Mamas and Papas were earning $30,000 a night and losing money every time they went on the road. There were also rumors (based in fact) that they were breaking up. Through it all, Adler coaxed and nurtured the beast, never knowing when (or if) it would end.
As all this was happening, ABC approached Adler and his partners to buy their complete operation, holdings that by now included Dunhill Records and Productions, but also two music publishing companies Adler owned, Trousdale (BMI) and Boyle Heights (ASCAP). The Mamas and the Papas hadn't truly made it when the first overtures were made and Adler claims ABC's real interest was in Trousdale, whose writers included Steve Barri and Phil (P. F.) Sloane. The price tag on the package was about $3,000,000 which ABC paid (then realizing the value of the Mamas and the Papas, and John Phillips as a songwriter), also getting Adler's agreement to produce exclusively for Dunhill for five years. Nine months later Adler renegotiated part of the deal and was re-signed to produce only the Mamas and the Papas, leaving him free for his next project, which he says was launched "about two hours after all the papers with ABC were signed."
[The Materialization Of A Mixed Bag]
This was Ode Records. Adler, as usual, the one-man band – serving as founder, president, talent scout, music publisher and record producer. Arranging a distribution deal with Columbia and becoming the first independent label CBS agreed to handle, Adler went into a studio with Scott McKenzie to record a song John Phillips had written, "San Francisco." Thus, Adler repeated the Dunhill success story and one of the first singles recorded and released on one of his labels became a No. One hit (selling 5,000,000 copies worldwide).
Concurrent with this activity, Adler took Step Seven, serving as co-producer (with Phillips) of the Monterey Pop Festival.
"The whole thing was put together in six weeks," he says. "If we'd known how big it was going to be, we might not have jumped in." Then, giving the Monterey power structure a gentler slap than it deserves (in view of Monterey's killing a second festival this year), Adler says, "If Monterey had known how big it was going to be, it might not have happened anyway."
There was much accomplished in that period and if Adler had never proved himself as an administrator before, he did then. It began when he contributed $10,000 toward buying out the original festival promoters. (He was matched by Phillips, Simon and Garfunkel, and Terry Melcher, these sums later to be repaid from the $400,000 provided by ABC-TV for the film rights.) And ended after Adler and Phillips had handled the artists' invitations; supervised rebuilding the stage on the festival grounds; arranged for special flights into Monterey and food and lodging for everyone; secured a near-perfect sound system; made provisions for audience, press and police; and tended to the thousand details to make the artists, all of whom were donating their talents, agree after it was all over that the Monterey Pop Festival was the best gig they ever would play.
Regarding the fight for, and subsequent cancellation of, a second Pop Festival, Adler says: "It was a joint decision to throw in the towel. "But it was more my decision than John's. I just thought it was futile. We might have been able to pull it off, but it might also have been another Chicago. I think they could have done that to us."
Adler went back to Ode and one of the first groups he recorded was Spirit. True to form, Adler explains: "I got into Spirit because I wanted to be a part of the underground."
What he does not say is that the variant projects he initiated almost simultaneously with Spirit also reflected a trend – eclecticism. The sound of pop had become diversified and critics and musical voyeurs on all sides were predicting a dozen different trends, from country to electronic to a rebirth of early rock. What materialized, of course, was a mixed bag. Thus, Adler's activities, and sound, were mixed, and Adler took Step Seven in his career.
In the summer of 1968 Adler says he produced more records than ever he'd produced in such a period. One was an album of songs sung by Peggy Lipton, a slender blonde model turned actress-singer now starring in ABC-TV's "Mod-Squad." Another was an album by a group called Africa, described by Adler as "10-year-old rock and roll recorded in a garage in the Watts-Baldwin Hills section, with congas, pots and pans, and guitars"; 10 years earlier Africa had recorded as the Valiants. A third project involved Carol King's (of Goffin-King) return to recording, her first in five years, "12 separate songs, no album concept." He also began work on Spirit's second album; a Spirit soundtrack for a film produced and directed by Jacques Demy, Model Shop; and made plans for releasing an album by the Comfortable Chair, produced by members of the Doors.
["How to Live with A Neurotic"]
So much for Adler's history.
To get to his spacious home, you turn north from Sunset Boulevard, into the Santa Monica Mountains of Bel Air. Across from the exclusive Bel Air Hotel is the house, a structure that is typical of the neighborhood – which is to say, nearly characterless; you've seen one, you've seen them all—but touched here and there with the paraphernalia of affluent pop: Guy Webster photographs against white washed brick and stucco walls, antique Tiffany-styled lamps, a postcard reproduction of a Humphrey Bogart poster, an old movie camera (circa 1915), a steel-sculptured mandolin with an assortment of hats hung on the outsized tuning knobs, a "nothing box" that blinks silently and relentessly from the hearth. Lining a wall behind the sofa are some of Adler's books: collections of Beardsley drawings; books on astrology, India and the Beatles; Griffith's The Movies; a number of best-sellers, including The Magus and The Group; 13 volumes of The Yellow Book (published in England); and How to Live With a Neurotic. The furnishings, scattered under a ceiling that is beamed, are somewhere between Spanish and modern.
On the second floor of the house is Adler's office, where his pretty brunette secretary Judy works (between answering calls in the living room and making coffee in the kitchen for guests). "I have an office of bookkeepers and accountants in town," Adler says, "but I never go there. I stopped going to an office when I was so involved with Rivers and the Mamas and Papas. I wasn't looking for any other acts. I didn't have time for anything else. I never relied much on street traffic anyway." Besides, he says, it is more comfortable to operate from home.
The telephones ring constantly and Adler ignores them. When he goes out, it is to visit John and Michelle Phillips, who live in the old Jeanette McDonald place nearby or, if absolutely necessary, to someone's office in Beverly Hills or Hollywood, or to enter a recording studio.
"After 10 years, it's a drag to go to a studio," he says. "When you first start out producing, for the first four or five years anyway, you can go in every night and the group doesn't have to excite you musically or artistically. So long as you're working, it's exciting. After 10 years, there has to be more. After 10 years of saying 'More bass," it's a drag. You get the feeling the console is going to eat you sometimes. There have been times the past two years whn I've felt, well, after doing the Mamas and Papas, what it there?"
Adler remains close to the Mamas and the Papas and it is because he is so close—especially to John Phillips – that he said no to Cass Elliot's invitation to produce her solo album, "It was my feeling that I didn't want to do anything that would further the breakup of the group," "It would have been difficult to say to John, 'I can't see you tonight because I'm producing Cass's album.' I'm too close to John."
[A Total Package Develops]
Adler and Phillips recently bought half interest in Brewster McCloud and His Sexy Flying Machine, a film property owned by Phil Feldman, a producer at Warner Bros. – Seven Arts. Michael J. Pollard will star in the film and Adler and Phillips will produce. This provides one more piece of evidence that Adler is involved in today's "scene"; as anyone who spends any time in rock and roll knows, nearly everyone in rock is a frustrated filmmaker.
So now Adler is getting into film. But still what he is, is a producer, and it is as a producer that he should be judged. One of the simplest means of making judgment—though sometimes misleading—is to ask: Does he have a sound that is his? A number in the business say no. "Not unless the sound is that of cash registers ringing," says one of his contemporaries; while others contend Adler has just been luckier than most. "Anybody in the business who failed to recognize the commercial value of people Adler has produced is either a dummy or accident prone," says one.
Some of this response to Adler's success may be written off to envy, because ther are many in Adler's scene who rank him among the best. His ear is good, they say, and he knows the business; he is subtly dynamic in meetings and quietly forceful in all business deals, using lawyers and accountants to speak for him. He also has that uncanny sense of "what's happening."
"There are a lot of producers who have a 'sound'," Adler says. "I don't know if my sound is distinctive, because the sound I put on records is usually that of the artist. If I take five different artists. I have five different sounding records. Spector has his sound and he fits the artists to it; I do the reverse, and fit my sound to them.
"Some of the fills, some of the fool, would come from my using the same musicians. For years now I've used Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborn on bass, Larry Knechtel on piano. But I don't know if anyone can say, 'That's a Lou Adler track or sound.' I hear similarities between, say, 'Eve of Destruction' and the Mamas and Papas tracks. But I believe you shouldn't be able to tell who's producing.
"The most important thing is the beginning. I don't take artists who are established—except in that one instance, the Everlys—and who are looking for a new producer. They're set in their ways and it's not as interesting. The original concept is the most important thing to me—what musicians you use, the feeling they get together. Eventually a concept develops, a package ... a total package. The producer isn't important once the package is formed. You get the right musicians, the right studio, the right engineer, the right act, and it should develop so it works without you after the first album."
With some acts, such as the Mamas and the Papas, much of the sound Adler has produced has been dependent upon the act itself. "With that group," he Says, "everything was hooked on John's rhythm feel, because he plays rhythm guitar. He also can do more with four voices than anyone ever has been able to do. So I had all this harmony and rhythm ready-set. With Barry McGuire I had everything down on tape, all the music, all the tracks ... and all he had to do was come in and sing. It depends on the act."
Adler is at the pinnacle. One of his closest friends is Andrew Loog Oldham, a young man Adler met when the Stones were making their first American tour. (The Stones were guests of honor on the TAMI electronovision show, and Jan & Dean were the hosts.) Adler says he and Oldham have never had any business dealings.
"We've just helped each other occasionally," he says. "He was here and I played 'California Dreamin'' and a week later he took out a front page ad in the New Musical Express—months before it was a hit. He did the same thing when I played him Scott McKenzie's song. And I gave him some titles for some Rolling Stones albums and some advertising ideas, things I'd used here I thought he could use in England."
"I used to have a lot of relationships like that," Adler says. "That was when I had an office on Sunset. Songwriters used to drop by and play their songs. But now I'm away from that; now I'm up here."