Backstage in South Florida: Tales of Departed Legends Marc Bolan, Rory Gallagher, Gene Clark, Anthony Newley, Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Hound Dog Taylor
Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: Memories of meetings with the dearly departed.
Back while I attended the University of Miami, a friend of mine, Jim Fischel, organized a blues festival. It was part of the 1972 campus entertainment series, which featured two distinguished performers in particular -- Robert Jr. Lockwood, stepson of the legendary Robert Johnson, composer of "Crossroads," and a seminal figure in the development of the blues, and Hound Dog Taylor, a brilliant slide guitarist who also held the distinction of possessing six fingers on his left hand.
We held a reception for the musicians and their bands at our house, which was located off campus, and having the opportunity to meet them into the early hours, we were all impressed with their humility, despite storied careers that stretched back the early part of the 20th century.
For their part, they also seemed grateful, not only for the admiration they received from this college crowd, but also to for the "party favors" my pals had prepared in their honor. Hound Dog died only a couple of years later, in 1974 at age 60. Robert Jr. lived until the ripe old age of 91; he passed away in 2006.
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It was a wild party that night, but even so, I can honestly say I've never met two more amiable individuals.
The same could be said for Rory Gallagher, Irish guitarist
extraordinaire and a player who, along with Beck, Page and Clapton,
remains one of the greatest electric bluesmen to emerge from the
British isles in the late '60s and early '70s. Gallagher first made his
name with Taste, a power trio that once rivaled Cream and the Jimi
Hendrix Experience in terms of their searing stage performances. Even
so, he retained a reputation as a man who was genuinely humble and
unpretentious. When I interviewed him in the reception room on the
second floor of the student center prior to a gig at the UM, he was
dressed in his trademark checkered flannel shirt, and, with his wavy
black hair extending over his shoulders, he looked like a forebear of
the Seattle grunge contingent that would come along a decade or so
later. Politely soft spoken, his demeanor belied the frenzied energy he
exuded onstage later that evening. Sadly Gallagher succumbed to
complications after an unsuccessful liver transplant in June 1995.
Marc Bolan was a different kind of character -- a cartoonish and almost
waif-like individual whose band T. Rex not only scored several chart
successes (his song "Bang A Gong" remains a perennial favorite on
classic rock radio), but also helped usher in the era of glam rock and
power pop. I was sent to interview him by the long-defunct South
Florida music rag, Zoo World, and I arranged to meet him poolside at
the Fontainebleau, where he was staying while in town for a gig at the
Hollywood Sportatorium. Boasting tousled, multi-colored locks and
dressed in a bright satin suit, he and his girlfriend, singer Gloria
Jones, seemed more intent on enjoying their surroundings and each
other's company than speaking to a nervous young reporter.
Consequently, I didn't glean a lot of essential information from our
chat. Nevertheless, the visual image of Bolan lolling by the pool in
full rock star regalia remains an indelible image. Tragically, Bolan
was killed a little more than a year later -- on September 16, 1977,
two weeks before his 30th birthday -- when the car in which he and
Jones were riding went out of control and struck a tree less than a
mile from his London home.
As extroverted and eccentric as Bolan seemed, Gene Clark was the
diametric opposite -- a quiet, withdrawn and often deeply troubled
individual whose tenure with the Byrds forever ensured his immortality.
He left the band relatively early on, plagued by a fear of flying and a
recurrent struggle with alcohol abuse. Nevertheless, he subsequently
went on to produce several memorable albums, first with the Gosdin
Brothers, later as a member of the bluegrass aggregate Dillard and
Clark, and ultimately on his own. However, it was during his reunion
with two of his former Byrds bandmates, Roger McGuinn and Chris
Hillman, that I had the chance to meet him during the recording of the
trio's reunion album at Miami's legendary Criteria Studio. It was 1978
and I was working for Capitol Records. Being a big Byrds fan, it
was an incredible thrill to be given the go-ahead to visit to visit
them at their mansion on Miami Beach. Clark offered to preview the
album demos, but Hillman demurred, insisting that the tracks weren't
well tuned enough to provide a sneak peek, especially for the label
honchos. The trio later played a gig at downtown Miami's Gusman Hall in
support of Leon Russell, but backstage prior to their performance, it
was apparently Clark's turn to be twitchy. I requested a song -- my
favorite selection from his first solo album, White Light -- an aching
ballad entitled "Spanish Guitar." "I don't think so," Clark frowned,
swiftly dismissing my suggestion. Perhaps that was just an indication
of his tightly wired personality. After years of physical and mental
decline, he died of a heart attack on May 24, 1991, at the age of 46.
Anthony Newley was also a rare artist, a show biz giant whose Broadway
triumphs -- among them, the musicals The Roar of the Greasepaint, The
Smell of the Crowd and Stop the World, I Want to Get Off (which
yielded his signature song, "What Kind of Fool Am I?") -- made him an
international icon. Newley also had some rock 'n' roll roots - his
autobiographical '60s film Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy
Humppe and Find True Happiness? was not only a cult classic but also
surprisingly psychedelic, and his stage affectations became an obvious
influence on the likes of Ray Davies and David Bowie. I had the
pleasure of working with Newley while I was employed as the public
relations rep at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, which staged his comeback
of sorts, Once Upon a Song, in 1990. The show wasn't all that
memorable, but a day spent with Newley at his rented Star Island manse
proved both entertaining and enlightening. When asked about his effect
on Davies and Bowie, Newley expressed admiration for the two rockers,
but modestly disavowed any influence he might have had on their
careers. He preferred instead to reminisce about his marriage to
starlet Joan Collins, with whom he sired two children. Dapper, dashing
and the quintessential Cockney, he spent his final years in Jensen
Beach, where he passed away in June 1999 at the age of '67. As far as
I'm concerned, he'll always be remembered as one class act.
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