It Coulda Happened This Way — A Couple Hitmen & Blueberry Hill
After his success with LiveR Dub was eager to try his hand with the mike again. Led Zeppelin was playing the Forum. He asked did I want to go, but I’d heard their first record and didn’t like it. This was a band that wasn’t going anywhere. That’s what I thought anyway, but Dub was convinced they were going to be as big as the Stones, maybe bigger. Everybody else I talked to about it seemed to agree with him. In fact, as the show got closer I was beginning to rethink my opinion, but the last thing I wanted to do was admit I was wrong, so I didn’t go.
Dub got a phenomenal tape, so too did a guy named Scott Johnson, who would be busy mastering his Rubber Dubber version even as Dub was mastering ours, but more about him later.
Dub designed a great cover and we had it printed up at a place in Glendale. No rubber stamp for this one. Dub wanted it to be different, and it was and I was into the record now, convinced we had another LiveR on our hands. And it was a double record. Twice the profit. I liked that.
[First edition on Blimp with the supreme sharpness and clarity of the cover image. The centerpiece of the two nude ladies bathing is the painting Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs, by an unknown artist circa 1594, is of Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of King Henry IV of France, sitting up nude in a bath, holding what is presumed to be Henry’s coronation ring, whilst her sister sits nude beside her and pinches her right nipple. The painting now hangs at the Louvre in Paris.]
But I didn’t like it for long. Dub and I shared the money for his re-master of Stealin’ and for Birch and we kind of liked dividing the money by two, it went so much farther. However we were running into problems with this record. Pete wouldn’t be able to do the quantity. So, like with LiveR, we were going to have to go to Waddell. And like with LiveR, we didn’t want to go in there, so we were going to have to find a partner, because Chris was officially retired.
Dub had this friend named John who was into the music, wasn’t afraid and I had this friend from school named Malcolm, who wasn’t afraid of anything either. Somehow, I don’t remember how, they wound up being our front men. They’d get the records, they’d take ’em to the stores, Dub and I would split half the money.
Seemed like a good idea.
John was a comic book collector and had them neatly wrapped and organized in cellophane in his apartment, which wasn’t too far from Dub’s. It was a joy just going through his stuff and seeing what he had.
Back when I was in high school I used to collect DC Comics and baseball cards. I had World’s Finest one through I dunno, a hundred and something. I had the first Green Lantern, Flash, Supergirl and loads of issues after those first editions, plus, gobs of Superman, Batman, and Action and Detective Comics galore. I pretty much had two copies of each, one I’d read and reread and one I wrapped in wax paper for a distant future.
However, when most of my high school class was getting ready for the prom, I was on a bus to San Diego. Boot camp was where I was going. And while the drill instructors were telling us to line up alphabetically according to height (something that isn’t possible), my mother back home in Lakewood was busy gathering up all my comics and baseball cards and taking them to the Saint Cyprian’s white elephant sale.
Yep, God got my comics and cards, so like I said, it was a joy seeing John’s. Kind of a gut ripper too, when he told me what they were worth. My mother gave away a pretty penny. Ah, well, they only cost a dime each, so what if they woulda been worth thousands had I still had them. Can’t look back. Besides, we had a Led Zeppelin record coming out soon. I was gonna make way more than I ever woulda got off those comics.
Plus, there was no risk in this for me.
Life was good.
I loaded my new Firebird up with fifty copies of Blueberry Hill and jumped on the 605 Freeway and headed south toward the water.
Seal Beach was a great community, the first place I’d done acid. What a night that was, Walt Disney’s Dragon and I went out on the beach one morning and watched Columbus discover America. We were having a great conversation, the dragon and I, when a cop car come tooling up onto the sand.
“What are you up to?” one of Seal Beach’s finest said.
“Not much, just watching the ships come in.”
“You on something?” the cop wanted to know.
“The dragon and I, we took a little acid.” I couldn’t lie under the stuff, but I also new acid was legal (they didn’t outlaw it in California till late 1969).
“Beach is closed,” the cop said.
The dragon wanted to know what time it opened and since the cops couldn’t see him, I asked for him.
“Six,” one of the men in uniform answered.
“You’ll wait in jail if you don’t vamoose,” the other one said.
“We should go,” the dragon said and so we beat it on out of there with those cops following us till we were off the sand.
That early morning in Seal Beach was about the closest I’d ever come to going to jail. Everybody in that town was cool, even the cops, though I’m pretty sure I’d tried their patience.
Now I was headed back to that cool little beach town where I almost whet to jail, because there was this combination head shop record store there I thought would just love to carry our new Zeppelin record. Plus, I had yet to make my appearance in a record store. I didn’t want Dub thinking I was chicken. Besides, this was a brand new store. These folks had gotten into the record business after I’d left, so they wouldn’t know me.
I parked the blue Firebird down the street, grabbed five copies of the record and started toward the store. It was bright and sunny out, a good day to go to the beach.
They had thick strings off beads covering the door and once inside you were assaulted by the pungent smell of incense. The place was lit by blacklight and there were blacklight posters on the walls.
I went up to the girl behind the counter, showed her my records. She said she just worked there and wanted to know could I come back later. Confident this was the perfect place to sell boots, I told her I’d leave the records and come back in a few days. If they sold them, the owner could pay, if not I could take the records back if he didn’t want them. She said that was fine and I left.
Two days later I was back, Vesta with me this time. Again I parked down the road. Again I grabbed some records.
“Don’t you think you should see if they want them first?” Vesta said.
“They’re gonna want them.”
“Cops across the street,” Vesta said as we got close to the store. Sure enough, two uniforms sitting in a black and white.
We coulda turned around, but one thing I’d learned in the service is that you don’t turn your back on your enemy. Besides, they didn’t know who we were or what we were about.
“Pretend you don’t see them,” I said and we went in the store, pushing our way through the beads.
There was a short bald-headed guy in a suit and tie talking to the hippy girl behind the counter. He was out of place in the store. He heard us come in, turned to look.
The girl recognized me, showed me her palm, shook it back and forth. I got the message real quick.
“You wanna buy some used records,” I said.
“Put the box on the counter, the owner will look at it when he gets back from lunch.”
So I set the box down right in front of Mr. Suit and Tie, started to go.
“I’m going to have to take those records with me.” Suit and Tie was pointing to a couple of the Blueberry Hills I brought I the other day. They were in a wire record rack behind the counter.
“I’m sorry,” the girl said. “But that piece of paper you have doesn’t say you can take anything, so you’re not going to.”
“Think you can stop me?” he said.
“Excuse me,” I said, “why don’t you just get outta here.”
“Why don’t you mind you’re own business.” He just didn’t look like a cop.
“You don’t get now, those cops out there are gonna to take me to jail for breaking your head open.” I didn’t raise my voice, but I could feel Vesta tense up.
“fuck you,” the guy said.
“That’s it,” I started toward him.
He backed up through those beads faster than a jack rabbit can jack. I went after him. He turned and ran. I swear, his legs were moving so fast, he looked like Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck when they were on the run from Elmer Fudd’s shotgun.
I gave the cops across the street a look. One of them waved, they were both smiling. Turned out Baldy was a process server and apparently his ilk wasn’t so popular with the Seal Beach cops. They were good guys when the dragon and I were watching those ships come in and they were still good guys.
Back in the store I found out that they had just been served. The subpoena listed several unknown stores and unknown persons. It seems that Atlantic Records knew their hot new band was going to be bootlegged and they were ready with a bunch of these John Doe subpoenas.
I took this information back to the partners and somehow it didn’t faze them very much at all. However our next record would faze them plenty.
After a visit to my father at Saturn I came up with this great idea. If we could sell rock and roll we could clean up with R & B. I grew up in the record business, more specifically the black record business. Most of the independent black stores in LA got their start with a line of credit from my father. Saturn was the place they came first to buy their records. And, you know, when times got hard for my dad, every one of these stores came through for him. None of them beat him out of any money. I wish I could say the same for some of the hippie type rock stores, some of them burned him big time. One, owned by a famous DJ, stuck him for eight grand. Another chain of rock stores stuck him for more, then opened their own one stop.
With my knowledge of these black stores, I came up with this really stupid idea. We could take the number one and two R & B songs, put them back to back on a single, then take them around to the stores. We’d clean up.
Dub thought this was about the dumbest thing he’d ever heard. John was neutral on the idea, Malcolm loved it, more money for the partners. Money, money, money, that’s what it was all about.
So we took Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “The Onion Song” and the Moments’ “Love on a Two Way Street” and put them back to back. Two hot selling R & B A sides. We were gonna be millionaires. Dub mastered them, against his better judgment, and Malcolm and John took them to the R & B stores. Again, I couldn’t go into any of these places, because they all knew me.
Our Blueberry Hill partners left with a trunk full of records, were gone about three hours, came back dejected and depressed. They’d hit all the stores on my list and only managed to sell twenty records. Seems those black store owners didn’t want anything to do with our rip off forty-fives. In fact, unknown to us, Barry Gordy (who owned Marvin and Tammi) and the powers at Stang (who owned the Moments) had already heard of us.
The next day a couple rather large black guys visited all the pressing plants in LA. Pete’s was on the list and there they found pressing rejects. They pushed Pete around a little and I guess he gave me up. That night they barged in on my father at home while he was having dinner with the black promo guy at the Electra Distributorship on Pico Boulevard.
Fred, the promo guy, was a big man and he got up to show them the door. One of the goons swung an axe handle, got Fred in the gut, put him on the floor. My dad got up, he was always armed back then, slept with a gun under his pillow, but that didn’t make any difference. They backed off, because as mad as they were at me for ripping them off, they knew better than to mess with Jack, because there wasn’t a black record store in LA that hadn’t been in his debt on more occasion than one. Not a black store owner my dad had ever turned away when they were in trouble and this was 1970, black businessmen, even in LA, got in trouble a lot
If they’d have hurt Jack their lives wouldn’t have been worth very much. However, the same could not be said of me and my Blueberry pals. These guys told Jack they wanted all the money I’d made, plus the stampers and all the records I had left. If I turned these things over to them tomorrow at Saturn at noon, they’d go away and pretend like none of this ever happened.
My dad called me at home, told me what happened. I told Vesta.
“This is not good,” she said.
“No, it’s not.”
I called Malcolm, told him I’d need some backup tomorrow. He said he had a test to take. He was going to Cerritos Junior College. “Any other time.” He said.
John too, had somewhere else to be. However, unlike Malcolm, he hadn’t made a point of telling everybody who would listen how tough he was, how he wasn’t afraid of anything.
I called my brothers. They both said they’d be there.
Saturn was a big old building stuffed full of records. Record bins on the floor, record racks hung on pegboard on the walls. When my dad took over the building, he framed up a wall, nailed pegboard to it, so he’d have a back room where he could have his office and a shipping area away from the customer’s prying eyes. He also had a shrink wrap machine back there, so he could make used records new again, after he had them cleaned up, of course.
That wall went across the with of the store, so if you were in the back room, you could look through the holes in the pegboard that weren’t blocked by records on the other side and see what was going on in the front of the store.
By the time Dub and I got there, my brothers had already drilled holes through the pegboard just large enough for our gun barrels to fit through. My brother John had a WW II M1 carbine with the seer filed and a thirty round banana clip, with it’s twin brother taped to the bottom, so when he ran out of ammo, all he had to do was eject the clip, reverse it and he was good to go for another thirty rounds of illegal automatic fire. My brother Tom had a thirty-eight and me, I had a forty-five auto, not very accurate at distance, but you hit something and it went down and pretty much stayed down.
Dub was a little uncomfortable with all this fire power, but then he was fairly knew to this crook business. You wanna be a crook, you gotta be prepared. Wait, I think that’s the Boy Scout motto, well, it works for crooks too.
After I was good and convinced we could handle these tough guys from back east, I went out to the car and brought in the records and the stampers, much to the amusement of about fifteen or twenty black record store owners, who all seemed to think high noon on this day was a good time to be buying their records.
King Cotton was there from Cotton’s Record Shop. He was sixty-something, going on a hundred and something and he looked like every blues song ever written. Andy from Ideal Records was there. He was a big man with a heart of gold and hands that could crush coal. Compton Bob was there. He was a little guy with a record store in Compton. He wasn’t afraid of anything, get in his face and your were in trouble. Jeff of Jeff’s Records was there. He was an old guy who had been fighting for civil rights his whole life. There were others too and It didn’t take an IQ much higher than three for me to figure out my adventures had made the rounds of the R & B record stores in LA. These guys were here for the show.
I set the records down by the counter, gave my dad an envelope with about twelve hundred dollars in it. It’s true our Blueberry partners only sold twenty records, but I didn’t want to insult these hoods from back east. I was hoping they’d take the stuff and the cash, be true to their word and go, but we were ready, just in case they didn’t.
Quarter to twelve and a couple more store owners came in. At first I was a bit ticked off, thinking they’d come in just for the show, but then I figured it out. That wasn’t it at all, these were the guys I’d been delivering records to for the last couple years when they couldn’t get their cars working, or they had a sick kid who they couldn’t leave alone, or they couldn’t scrap together gas money. These guys lived day to day and they needed their records everyday and I was always there when they needed ‘em, now they were here for me.
What this crowd of store owners didn’t know was that my brothers and I had it covered, had them covered too. We had the fire power. We were young and dumb and very afraid and we had guns.
Noon came and these two big guys came in right on schedule. My dad was behind the counter, several record store owners were behind him. The goons nodded to my dad, he pointed to the records and they took them out to their car. They came back in, my dad handed over the envelope and one of the goons put it in his pocket without counting it.
“We’d like a word with your son now,” he said.
“That’s not part of the deal,” Jack said.
“It is now,” the goon said.
“Hey, nigger, the man said it’s not part of the deal,” King Cotton said.
The goon looked up, surprise written all over his face.
“You should mind your business, old man.”
“And you should respect your elders, boy,” King Cotton said.
“And maybe you should look around some.” Compton Bob pointed to the back of the store.
The goons eyed the back wall. I almost felt like they could see right through it. However, the only thing they saw was those three gun barrels, and I know they saw them, because their eyes got real big.
“Might be time for you boys to go,” my dad said.
“He makes any more, we’ll be back,” one of the goons said.
“Best bring a lot of friends,” King Cotton said.
“Or what?” the goon said.
“Or you’ll be dead.” My dad opened his coat so they could see the shoulder holster.
A couple of the store owners did the same. Apparently my brothers and I didn’t need any guns, after all.
The goons left, couldn’t get outta there fast enough and I never heard from them again. Of course, I never messed with that kind of music again either. Isn’t it funny, process servers, cops and the FBI were all after us at one time or another and all it really took to track us down was a couple thugs from the east coast with an axe handle.
“What about John and Malcolm?” Dub asked after it was all over.
“They’ve retired,” I said.
“Well at least they made some money,” Dub said.
“Yeah, Malcolm made enough to buy my Firebird.
“You sold your car?”
“Vesta want’s a Jaguar?”
“So we’re not quitting?”
“I don’t wanna quit, you?”
“Shit no, we’re just getting started.”