I Was a Lady of the Canyon

In other entries made in this category I've told you about when I lived in a famous house in Laurel Canyon, in L.A. Here's a recap for my newer readers:
I spent the last half of 1971 in an exclusive commune in the Hollywood Hills in a mansion that was owned by Peter Tork of the Monkees. This is a famous house in rock & roll history. It had been rented by Stephen Stills during the making of Crosby, Stills & Nash's greatest album, Déjà-Vu. In fact, there were two rooms off of the pool that had been their rehearsal studios and it was easy to imagine the likes of Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and the entire Laurel Canyon rock & roll enclave hanging out there. The house had been originally built for 1940s band director Carmen Lombardo and was later bought by actor Wally Cox. Peter Tork bought it next, at the height of his Monkees fame. During my stint there, I met some of rock's greatest legends. Okay, that's out of the way...

The then current renter was sci-fi screenwriter and LA Free Press journalist, Rick Strauss, and his wife Simone, who was a fashion designer with Patty Woodard, California. Neither were really famous, but they made enough to pay $1600 in rent in the day when my apartment in Santa Barbara, an exclusive resort beach town known for high rents, cost me $125. It's about like paying $16,000 today.

I became aware of this house/commune while visiting Jessie, a musician friend who lived in an apartment complex in Reseda. I don't remember how I met him; I think I picked him up when he was hitching through Santa Barbara. Or maybe it was at the Agoura Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where I worked as a Tarot reader. I just don't remember. That was a lot of joints years ago.

The apartment complex was a sort of commune, too, as many were in those days. The units were rented by like-minded "Hollywood Hippies" who met for meals in one apartment that served as the designated mess hall. The entire complex was owned by the aforementioned Rick Strauss.

One evening after dinner, we all congregated in the living room of one of the apartments to drink wine, jam on guitars and rap (that was the term for talking, not a pop music style). Jeff Levin, who would later become my manager, happened to be there that evening and he kept talking about "the house on the hill", but I didn't know what he was referring to, I just continued to pass the dutchie to the left-hand side between songs. After hearing me sing, however, he mentioned that I should make my way up there sometime. Thinking it was a come-on, I let it go.

A month or so later, when I was staying at my brother and sister-in-law's place in the Santa Ynez Valley and warding off the Chumash dudes at the bar where my brother's biker blues band played every night, I received a phone call from Jessie (remember Jessie?), who said that he'd been "moved up to the house on the hill" and that I should come down immediately; there were big breaks for me there. Being all bout my musical career, I went. Standing in a phone booth at the foot of the the Laurel Canyon freeway exit in Studio City, I told Jesse where I was and he said that they'd be down to get me in a few minutes.

He and Jeff arrived in a red '68 Ford Mustang convertible and I, my backpack and 12-string guitar climbed in. Driving up the canyon and even higher up on the curvy 1/4 mile driveway to the house, I felt like I was about to see all my dreams of fame come true. When I actually saw the house I about flipped. It was a bona fide Hollywood mansion, with a glorious view of the Valley below.

Jessie took me around to meet everyone; there must have been 9 or 10 people living there, not including Rick and Simone. There was Jeff (who was Rick's right-hand man and who took care of the business of managing a millionaire commune) Jessie, Diane Christy (a leggy brunette dancer and singer, and protégée of actress Stella Stevens, and who seemed oh, so glamorous to me), Bill Kaminski (a good-looking blonde who was a chef at the Olde Worlde Restaurant in Hollywood) and Cathy Williams and her boyfriend whose name I can't remember. There were a couple of other people whom I remember only faintly. I only mention names in case any of these people Google themselves.

I finally met Rick and Simone at dinner, which we ate seated on the living room floor around a large round coffeetable with a jug of Almaden (I remember that, not liking wine, I asked for a glass of milk... what a baby. Hey, I was only 19!). Afterward, Jessie asked me to sing for everyone and I happily obliged. Later that evening, Jeff came to where I sat with Jesse in one of the music rooms and said that Rick wanted to see me.

He led me through the large, curved living room into the foyer and up the circular stairway to a den on the second floor. I knocked on the door and he told me to come in. He sat behind an antique desk with a deck of Tarot cards before him and invited me to sit down. As he shuffled and dealt the cards he casually asked me, "What do you want?" I misunderstood, thinking that Jesse hadn't been cleared to invite me up to "the house on the hill".

"Well, Jessie invited me to spend the weekend--" I said, the shy creature I was in those days.

"No," he interrupted. "What do you want?"

"Nothing. I just came here--"

"No," he laughed. "WHAT - DO - YOU - WANT?"

"I want to be a star," I said, at last understanding. "I want to be huge."

Looking at the cards he'd laid out, he nodded in thought and said, "I can do that. See this card? This is the Fool. That's you. You're the star I've been looking for. All these other people are just court jesters, but you're the real thing."

He went on to tell me that he wanted to make me the new generation's Mary Pickford, but I had no idea what he meant by that. He asked if I could stay and be groomed for my stardom. What else did I have to do? I said yes and the work began. He gave me a hippie stage name, which I hated, and instructed me to come to him with every new song I wrote. His wife began designing a "look" for me, sort of a white-face mime look without the makeup. Soon, I was performing at the Venice Beach and Griffith Park Love-In concerts, on TV and radio, at showcases, and warming up for acts like Leon Russell and the Doobie Brothers (here's my entry about that). And whenever I had an engagement he made sure that a limo came up the hill to get me. I was considered for the female host on The New Zoo Review (link goes to a YouTube clip), but Emily Penden, one of the show's creators and wife of the male host, got it. It happens. Between you and me, I'm glad that gig's not on my resume.

Unfortunately, the Strauss's went bankrupt very quickly and when they moved to a smaller house in Studio City that was also owned by Peter Tork, they took only Jeff and me with them. Everyone else had to move on. Disillusioned within the month, I left too, although I still took gigs that Jeff got me for a while. You can read about my last gig and the fight I had with him here.

So that's my tale of my time in Laurel Canyon, laying by the pool calling "my people". I wrote a lot of good songs in that fabulous house -- the musical vibes there were incredible! Oddly, if money were no object, I'd probably buy that house, not for the memories but because it was so full of musical energy.

Have a great Saturday!