Friday, April 10, 2009

(Part 44) Mondo Hollywood, Frank Zappa, And Penthouse Records


Like I said, I just liked writing songs and making records so I kept at it for a long time. It was just what I did. If I wrote a song and liked it it seemed only natural to record it so I could share it with people, "Hey listen to this." That was what it was all about for me, the music. The music business was just a way to accomplish that, not the other way around. When I looked at what I had done and realized I hadn't made a dime I would tell myself, "just keep writing and recording Bobby, sooner or later you'll get a hit and everything will work out fine." I really believed that, so I just kept doing it.

It was early 1966 and a lot of things happened that year. When "Vietnam" was recorded with The Leaves, Bob Cohen filmed it for a movie he was making called "Mondo Hollywood". I never thought much about it at the time, it was just something I did, because somebody asked if I wanted to be in a movie, and I said, "yeah OK!" It was just about that simple. I signed a release form, not a contract, but a release form saying it was OK to show me in the movie and use my songs. "Wham Bam Thank You Mam" kind of stuff. You would have to get Bob Cohen to show you the piece of paper and I do mean piece (1) of paper. They put out a soundtrack album and I got nothing and they're still selling the movie and I get nothing. So who knows what that little piece of paper says?

I'd moved out of Lois Johnston's house again and was going out with a girl I'd met at "The Trip" on Sunset Blvd. It was a new rock n roll club on Sunset Blvd. and she was a cocktail waitress there, her name was Gail Sloatman. If you've ever watched "Mondo Hollywood," an depending on which version you watch, there is a scene at the beach where I am with a girl, that's Gail, I drive away with that girl in a Corvette. The Corvette was Pam Burn's car. It was leased by Randy Wood for Pam, because she worked for him. Pam used to let me drive it so I could look like a successful recording artist. Everything I showed up with was either loaned or borrowed. I owned my clothes and that was about it.

The interesting part about Gail is she became Mrs. Frank Zappa about a year later. But before I write about that there are a number of things that happened that are relevant to the whole story and it's factual context. I started living with Jeff and Stu Eisen up on Woodrow Wilson Dr. above LaurelCanyon. Stuie and Jeffie, as they were called, used to sell a lot of LSD and for the most part it was legal at the time. I moved into their house along with a lot of other people so I could be close to the source of acid. The trouble was that I was too close so I spent a lot of time loaded on it. It was during that time when my use of downers increased as a way to compensate for getting fried on acid a lot. It was in that house that I came in to direct contact with Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols from Love.

I used to sit on the living room floor of that house, there wasn't any furniture, and make up songs and play them. That is as close as Arthur Lee and I ever got musically. Me loaded on LSD and singing songs in that house. Another regular occurrence were the "love ins" that happened mostly at Griffith Park this was where I got to know Frank Zappa, because he'd show up just about everywhere and play. That is how he became known in the beginning. Try to imagine a time before Frank Zappa was famous that's what I'm talking about. Before the "Mothers Of Invention". Frank would show up at the Whiskey A Go Go if he could or a parking lot gig, which he did a lot. He'd just show up and play and that's how he got noticed.

I would pretty much go to all the same places so we just got used to seeing each other and started talking. I liked Frank and he liked me and we decided that we ought to make a record together, in fact we made more than one. I have to jump around here a lot, because a lot of different things all happened at the same time so I will try to be as clear as I can. After "Vietnam" Randy Wood got involved with the distribution of a new label called Penthouse Records that was started by Ken Handler and Norm Ratner. Ken Handler was the son of the people who started Mattel Toys and Norm Ratner was the son of the people who owned Troy upholstery, a well known business in LA in the 60's.

They were rich guys who wanted to be in the record business so they were. I was introduced to them through Randy Wood and Mira Records as an artist for their new Label. I guessed that Randy thought it was a way to keep me close, but have someone else pay for it and who better than a couple of eager rich kids who Randy made a deal with to distribute whatever they released. I made 2 records for Penthouse. The first was "Reconsider Baby" which I had written after hearing Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Women". This is when I went to Zappa and asked him to work on the record with me he agreed without a hitch, because amongst other things Frank was a musician and an arranger.

He was a Union member and he did dates so I got Penthouse to hire Frank to work on "Reconsider Baby". Frank did everything. I played him the song and told him about the Percy Sledge record and he understood completely. He put together the band, got the girl backup singers, The Dixie Cups (I could be wrong on the name) and he wrote all the charts. He basically arranged and produced it, but received no label credit at all from Penthouse who printed on the label that the record was produced by Handler and Ratner which is bunk, they did shit.

Frank and I made the record along with the players and other singers. The record came and went like all the others, but to my surprise Penthouse didn't quit. Ken Handler said he figured he'd have to learn some things about the music business and that he wasn't going to quit just because his first record wasn't a hit. He told me he intended to be successful and that he wanted me to make another record for Penthouse and I agreed.


  1. great story about reconsider baby, thanks ... did zappa play on it ¿

  2. Frank arranged and produced Reconsider Baby, but didn't get label credit for either. That was given to Ken Handler and Norm Ratner who did nothing except pay for the session and own Penthouse Records. Frank did not play on this record, but did play on Roogalator.