Hollywood is Not all Glitter and Sawdust

One day in September of 1983, I drove to Hollywood to pay a visit to Tower Records, on Sunset Boulevard, undoubtedly the best record store in the world for many years. I was on a kind of vision quest. I had gotten some money for my birthday and I planned to get as many Lps (yes, vinyl) as it could buy. I'd decided to buy cold, too, meaning, I was going to look through the vast bins and pick albums of artists I'd never heard of, all in the folk category...

My pop career had just nosedived into a steaming pile of heartache and bitterness and over 100 of my songs had been stolen from me via a crooked contract. My shyster managers had swindled me out of 60 cents on every dollar I'd make, so I did the unthinkable. I broke my contract. I waited for the hammer to come down on me, but it never did, except for the fact that my material wouldn't belong to me for a full seven years. I needed something new, so I decided to change directions and go into folk and Celtic folk music, fueled by the budding California Celtic scene that had just begun on the west coast. My managers couldn't touch any new songs I might pen. Take it all, I thought. Sod you. I'll write new stuff. I knew very few names in these genres, so I went to Hollywood ready to reach blindly into the grab bag. I came out with several Lps, which I chose using three bits of criteria:
  • Cover Design
  • Instrumentation
  • My instincts
Out of the several albums I brought home, there was only one that was crap, but I'm not mentioning names. That's not playing nice. The three best I played until they wore out. I've only just recently been able to download them online, and it's great to be reunited with these artists who virtually saved me my sanity in a dark and desperate hour.

The first, and most inspiring was John Renbourn, who used to be with Pentangle back in the late 60s and early 70s. I'd heard some of their stuff back in the day, but I guess I wasn't ready for it or something. Although I didn't even recognize his name that day in Hollywood, I bought his album, Sir John Alot Of. Here's a video of John playing English Dance, a cut off of that album.

The second album caught my attention for two reasons. First, the women on the cover were beautiful, dressed in pagan attire, adorned with flower garlands and bearing bouquets of flowers and herbs. Secondly, the artists were local. It was titled, Music of the Rolling WorldRuth Barrett and Cyntia Smith, the liner notes told me, played dulcimer, an instrument that I'd loved since I'd heard Joni Mitchell's Blue album. Here are Barrett and Smith in a funny little promo video; I couldn't find another video of them. I want to add that later that year I saw them in concert at some little pub in L.A. or there abouts, and they were awesome.

Lastly, I came to Legend, an album by Clannad. I admit the album didn't at first do much for me. It was over-produced, and lush with synthesizers; not at all what I was looking for. Some of the songs grew on me though, and led me to look up some of their earlier recordings. Here they are in 1977, performing Teir Abhaile Riú. Yeah, that's more like it.

I have these three groups to thank for leading me to other great artists like the aforementioned Pentangle, Silly Wizard, The Incredible String Band, Bert JanschGolden Bough, and so many others. And now that I'm back to being a musician--after a 20-year hiatus--these musicians are speaking to me more than ever before.

So we've reached the end of this entry. How about a little Pentangle for good measure? (That's John Renbourn playing sitar on the left and the late Bert Jansch on banjo, on the right.) Have a great week!


  1. Pentangle fan from long ago. Willy of Winsbury's one if their best too. Picturew if you can, some dope smoking guys working day labor, portable Shakespeare in their back pocket, Pentangle on at night. Been there. Thanks.


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