Q.M.I. Presents
The Blackboard Newspaper
Mystical Journey
 
 

Tommy Smothers Meets Phil Ochs

by Dr. Derek Lamar

 
The fate of Open City and "the underground newspaper" was at risk with the arrest of John Bryan and "artistic freedom" seemed to be sliding into the hands of local politicians who already didn't like "underground newspapers". First was the Leon Russell ad with the naked lady and then they actually busted Bryan for something he published of Charles Bukowski's*. Words. Now they finally got in the door and into the arena they were really angry about: the words themselves.

As always, it seemed, the answer was money. Open City would need to have a fundraiser. A song out around that time summed it up pretty well. Phil Ochs was second only to Bob Dylan when it came to protest songs and they often took a variety of forms. "Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends" said it all:

"Oh there's a dirty paper using sex to make a sale
The Supreme Court was so upset, they sent him off to jail. Maybe we should help the fiend and take away his fine. But we're busy reading Playboy and the Sunday New York Times
and I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends."
~ Phil Ochs
 
(Photo above: Phil Ochs)

So there we were at The Ice House in Pasadena. We were all ready for the fund raiser to begin. Gene Clark was there to sing some songs. The Dillard and Clark Expedition hadn't formed yet but Gene, former lead singer of The Byrds put him just a microphone stand away from the great Bob Dylan in prestige. Tim Rose stood by.
 
(Photos above: L to R: Gene Clark, Hedge & Donna, Bob Lind, Biff Rose)
 
Bob Lind was there and everyone knew there was no reason to "be concerned". Hedge and Donna sang a few and a new fellow named Biff Rose was there to sing some songs. His song: "Fill Your Heart" had been done originally by Tiny Tim as the B-Side to Tiptoe Through The Tulips and later to be recorded by David Bowie on his rather metaphysical Hunky Dory album:
 
"Things that happened in the past only happened in your mind, only in your mind -- forget your mind and you'll be free." ~ Biff Rose / Paul Williams**

Everyone had a good time but it wasn't exactly Woodstock. The politics never made much impact in the entertainment. People were there just to have a good time. Many of them probably didn't even know what this fundraiser was for. And it wouldn't interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.
 
(Photos: above, Asylum Choir lp's with Leon Russell & Marc Benno)

Some of those friends would show up not long after this at Tommy Smothers' house for a bash put on by Columbia Records. Michael Ochs was the host of this event but it was anything but political, except for the politics of PR. Up in the Hollywood hills high above Sunset Boulevard the cars rolled up and the latest and the greatest appeared in all their finery for a great party to make the local media happy. Limousines had taken the place of the Magic Bus but no one seemed to notice.

The Tiger shrimp were set up in what looked like a multi-layered wedding cake. Quite tasty too. The liquor flowed without a pause. And the music played on without applause while everyone was moving and shaking. Ricky Nelson wasn't at this "Garden Party" but a splendid time was guaranteed for all... nonetheless.
 
(Photos: left & right: The Smothers Brothers Tommy & Dick)

I think the first person I ran into was Donovan. I was just about to walk downstairs to the lower level where the pool was and Donovan was on his way up. Frozen in my tracks I stood there and stared as he
smiled and handed me the carnation he was holding. I regained my composure and took my flower with me downstairs. There was Mama Cass. I said hello and she looked at me like she was in a foreign country and couldn't understand a word I said. I didn't know to ask her about when she and Tim Rose worked together in The Big Three. That was ancient history I hadn't learned yet. But hey, I knew who Fred Neil was and The Fuggs. Just then Tommy Smothers walked by and I told him what a great house he had. He couldn't speak either - lost in thought. Probably unconsciously contemplating what was yet to come. I held more tightly to my carnation. My one contact with humanity.

Steve Stills was there, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell all of
whom had moved on to the media room to watch some music program on TV and a performance by Crosby, Stills & Nash. I found myself sitting on a sofa while some guy insisted that he was Johnny Mathis' twin brother. You figure that one out. I left and went back out to the pool.
 
(Photo: left, Donovan)
(Photos above: Tim Rose, The Big Three with Tim Rose, Cass Elliot and James Hendricks, Mama Cass)
Michael Ochs was speaking to the crowd from the diving board over the pool. They gave us a ticket when we had arrived and said that there would be a door prize. Murray Roman came up and made some jokes and did a little banter while a ticket was pulled out at random and the number was read. Suddenly appearing amidst all of us was the winning number. It was Phil Ochs. Things really began turning surreal at that point. You couldn't tell yet but Phil had been drinking; like the rest of us. He was handed the door prize which was one of those gift baskets of wine, cheese, caviar, fruit, etc. A really big one with a handle and everything.
 

From the end of the diving board he started haranguing the crowd of "beautiful
people" about how disgusting it was that we were all there partying while our soldiers were dying over there in Viet Nam for nothing. He went on and on and the crowd was stunned. Then as a final gesture he took his basket of bourgeois goodies and flung it out to the center of the pool in disgust. Some of the contents sank and some just floated about much like the rest of us as we watched. We were silent in mock reverence though some wanted to yell "Right on, brother!" while others were visibly annoyed that he would use this venue to vent his politics.
 
(Photos above: Steve Stills, Joni Mitchell & Graham Nash, Phil Ochs)

Jim Martin, editor of Coast Magazine leaned over and said, "Let's get out of here." I said "What? You gotta be kidding. I don't want to leave." He said, "You can stay if you want but I'm leaving, Phil was right, I just can't stay here now." I thought "Crap! Damn good party too! First Phil tried to ruin it and now you." But I left. I didn't have a car. I tossed my carnation on the table on the way out. So much for my contact with humanity.

What were the odds? Michael Ochs hosted this event at Tommy Smothers' house. He was with Columbia Records and this was one of his first big events. And who wins the door prize but his own brother: Phil. And then this. I spoke with Michael recently and he said: "Yes, that Donovan party was unreal. It was my first major press party since I was hired at Columbia and I thought that after Phil's demonstration it would be my last -- however, Phil made sure that we got tons of press with his move -- and they did spell Donovan's name right -- so there."
 
Before Phil's death in 1976 he wrote a song called "Basket In The Pool"...lyrics like: "We were there, go right on dancing, who was the fool throw the basket in the pool? It was the worst of manners and it was the worst of taste..." In a parallel universe I am sure Phil did an album called "I Ain't Dancing Anymore."

Next issue the saga continues with Chris Bunch, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Rodney Bingenheimer, all still waiting for the "Magic Bus". (Quotes from Phil Ochs courtesy of Barricade Music - ASCAP, Biff Rose/Paul Williams courtesy of Irving Music, Inc.- BMI) Email at Derek Lamar Next Installment:
Chris Bunch Meets Hakim Jamal
© Copyright Derek Lamar 2004
 
Additional trivia...


 
Artist: Phil Ochs
Song Title: Basket in The Pool

Went to a party the other night, everybody was there
Thought that I would have some fun as I started up the stairs.
Somebody tried to ruin it, when he won a raffle prize,
Tried to shake and shock us, right before our eyes.
While we danced, while we were dancing
Who was the fool throw the basket in the pool?
It was filled with the finest cheeses, filled with imported wine,
Wish that I had won it, and I wish that it were mine
Why, I know some wino lives outside of the town
He would gladly cut your throat if he could drink it down
While we danced, while we were dancing
Who was the fool throw the basket in the pool?
If I'd a found out who he was, if I'd a found his name,
Next time we have a party gonna find out his game.

I've been outdoors swimming now, birds have led the way,
It wasn't worth the matter and it wasn't worth the pay.
Why can't we be left alone? Think that it was a crime
If everyone was groovy we could all have a real good time.
We could then, go right on dancing
Who was the fool throw the basket in the pool?
How can I go swimming now my world is laid to waste?
It was the worst of manners and it was the worst of taste
Why can't we be left alone? Think that it was a crime
If everyone was groovy, we could all have a real good time
We could dance, go right on dancing
Who was the fool throw the basket in the pool? (repeat three times) ~ Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs sister Sonny has a website with Phil Ochs info: Check it out, she's into dowsing and other things. Very nice lady.
 
Just a little addendum here: I have over 2000 record albums in my music collection. In researching and writing this particular piece I went into my collection to look up the Phil Och's record: Pleasures of the Harbor, which has Outside Of A Small Circle of Friends on it. Now without going into detail I haven't lived at my house where this album was kept for over two years since I have been taking care of my elderly father. However when I pulled this record out of the record cabinet, it had a Post-It on the cover with the names Francis Bukowski and Marina Bukowski on it. That is Charles Bukowski's widow and his daughter. I have no idea why I wrote that post nor would there ever have been any reason for me to place it on that album. Weird... just weird... that's all I'm saying. The last time I saw Francis and her daughter Marina was when Francis was working as a waitress in a restaurant on the Santa Monica pier way back in about 1976. My wife and I had fried clams. Marina must have been about 13 years old then. Marina Bukowski Stone is now 47. Her mother, Francis Dean Smith, a resident poet in Santa Monica for quite a few years, (her pseudonym being: FrancEye) passed away June 2, 2009 at 90 years of age. God speed.

(Left: Derek Lamar gets on the Magic Bus only to find out it's out of gas.)

*Charles Bukowski died on March 9, 1994 in his adopted hometown of San Pedro, California.
** Paul Williams was at A & M Records along with Biff Rose as a writing team during this time and was a singer/songwriter who exploded on the scene shortly after his song "We've Only Just Begun" became such a hit on the television ad with Sandy Duncan on the Crocker Bank commercial. At its instant popularity Paul saw to it that The Carpenters, at A & M at that time, recorded and released it to an enormous success and it became part of rock history. Paul Williams had earlier recorded an album with his brother Mentor Williams called The Holy Mackerel on Reprise. Paul was at A & M during this period when Phil Ochs was recording there. Others who were happening at A & M during this time were Lee Michaels, The Carpenters, Chris Montez, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Dillard & Clark Expedition, and Procul Harum to name a few. Bob Garcia, who had been Associate Editor of Open City, was working as head Public Relations man and continued here for 24 years. He was a great asset to A & M and a very good writer. Bob is "old school" and very professional.
 
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