Cream Puff War No. 2, February 1993, page 87-96:
San Francisco rock in 1965-66 was a scene chock-full of movers and shakers, scam artists and sinceros, pros and novices, characters and 'personages'. Bard Dupont belonged to this scene, and was one of the more colourful members. Plucking the bass for the Great Society alone gives him legendary status, but Dupont's subsequent (and prior) activities make for a fascinating story. Not least of which is his involvement with the notorious Outfit, an aggregation of mythic proportions, at least to aficionados of the delightfully obscure (like us). As promised in the last issue, here's the full scam on Bard's experiences; alongside with it the Outfit's story, courtesy of their drummer, the agreeable Mr. Steve Bonuccelli.
Bard's father was a Marine, so the early part of his childhood was spent roaming the country - "I was always the new kid." When Bard was eight his parents divorced and he ended up in Marin County with his mother, eventually to get expelled from high school. "(I had) pressure on me to become an engineer; I was resistant to this and so I became disruptive and snotty, correcting teachers etc." Dupont's resistance to 1950s conformity was fuelled by the discovery, in his teens, of Kerouac; and also his growing interest in blues and folk music, unwittingly inspired by his father. "My dad had this LP called 'Leadbelly Sings Sinful Songs'. He bought it to play at parties, to laugh at - 'dumb negroes!' I loved that record and I thought that (Leadbelly) was an isolated phenomenon at first." It didn't take long for Bard to want to escape the suffocating conformity of Marin ("I was a poor boy in a rich place"), and in 1957 he journeyed to New York. Initially he lived a quiet life working as a clerk in a mail order house, while secretly admiring Kerouac, Ginsberg and Corso. "The beatnik thing I got into was hiding behind a suit-and-tie job, waiting for someone to find out I was underground!" After eight months in New York, Bard briefly returned to the Bay Area, got married, and then moved back with his wife Suzy, moving into a place on the Lower East Side, just as the folk scene in Greenwich Village was beginning to take shape.
"I got heavily involved with folk, although I was just a fan. I loved the atmosphere of the Village, Washington Square, Bleecker and MacDougal etc. I also loved the social thing too, people running around hitting on each others girls, fistfights, gossip. The audience was made up of mostly young bohemians, plus some of the old radicals who'd supported folk music for years. Everybody had to pose as a hobo, ala Ramblin' Jack Elliot, who was really from the Bronx but who'd turned himself into a cowboy! Drugs were around, but they were hard to cop, as we were all poor." With every major name in the folk scene playing in the area, Bard had a bird's eye viewpoint of the proceedings. "I was considered kind of stable because I had a wife, baby and three rooms. As a result all sorts of people would stay with us, because we got our rent paid." Tom Paxton and Mark Spoelstra (whom Bard took guitar lessons from) were just two of the luminaries who roomed with the Duponts; but the most notorious was none other than Robert Zimmerman, fresh in from Hibbing, Minnesota and taking the circuit by storm. "I remember Dylan had a real drink problem. He'd ruin parties and gigs, and for a while none would hire him. Everyone knew he would be a star, but they thought he'd die of drink before making it. I first saw him playing blues harp behind Victoria Spivey and Brother John Sellers, and we got on because of our mutual interest in folk blues." Bard knew Dylan on and off during his tenure in New York, but they did run into each other a few years later, in the Great! Society period. " I saw him at the City Lights Bookstore. He invited us to his show in Berkeley and it was great, he'd really grown up musically."
Bard eventually left New York in 1962, after his on again-off again marriage finally floundered. "I came back to the Bay Area and worked here and there, while writing. I'd type up short stories and send them off to magazines, and then collect the rejection slips" But I still had (the folk thing) in my head." Consequently, he slipped into the North Beach folk scene, which was probably somewhat of an anti-climax after the dizzy heights of Greenwich Village in its heyday. "New York had been a lot more vital and interactive. There was a lot of supperclub folk in North Beach, like the Limeliters and Gateway Singers, which didn't interest me. Janis was around though, and I saw David Freiberg in his duo David and Michaela."
However, it was while hanging out in North Beach that Bard met a major protagonist in this tale, the enigmatic Michele Sevryn, whom he had started living with by 1963. A native of Southern California, Michele had always lived a bohemian life. Like Bard, she had been expelled from high school, for surfing ("It was considered politically suspect for a girl to surf!"), and had taken to hanging out at the Icehouse in Pasadena, where she ended up dating the lighting guy, Russ Giguere (later of the Association). Michele's mother had remarried at least four times, so she used the fact to frequently swap last names - O'Brien, Church, Moore. When Bard ran into her, Michele was singing in North Beach bars, such as the Coffe And Confusion on upper Grant, and was working with a local dance troupe. " It was a modern dance company, led by Jay Marks. They did pretentious pieces based on things like Garcia Lorca poems." Pretty soon the couple were a firm fixture of the folk circuit, and although Bard was not harbouring any desires to perform he felt a kinship with the folkniks. " None of us really thought about the future. We were just concerned with having a reputation then. You didn't feel honourable going at it any other way. My wife had been kind enough not to divorce me, and so I had a 3-A draft rating as long as I had a wife and child." Working by now at the phone company, Bard hooked up with guitarist David Miner. Miner liked his idea of a playing rock'n'roll numbers in a jugband fashion ("I thought if I was in a fugband nobody would accuse me of trying to be a musician!") and the pair got together with another guitarist under the tentative nom de plume The Great Society, suggested by David Freiberg.
Other factors had been encouraging this musican streak, principally the sounds from across the Atlantic. "I became interested in the Beatles after reading their quotes - hearing their music was a shock. Similarly, I knew of the Rolling Stones' attitude before I knew what they sounded like. Boy, when I heard that first Stones album; I mean, I'd heard John Hammond before, but this was a release. They were playing what I wanted to play; r&b with an attitude. By now I considered folk purism elitist. It wasn't necessarily because of the Beatles that I started growing my hair long; at first it was with British art students in mind. I just thought, 'Gee what an easy tool for disenfranchisement!' By the time my hair got to any decent length, it was totally associated with music anyway. I did become, like everyone else, Anglophilic; I dug bands like the Pretty Things, Animals and Kinks."
The lack of any cohesive rock scene in pre-Family Dog San Francisco meant Bard was largely in the dark about the growing hordes of similar rock-hungry bohemians like himself. "I wasn't hanging around with the Charlatans or any other clique. Dino Valenti was around, but he was still in your typical macho folksinger mode; shirt unbuttoned, tight Levi's and big boots. The Beau Brummels still had stage suits and Dean Martin haircuts. By the time I started rehearsing with the Slicks I had not seen any other bands with long hair except the Byrds. Michele had known McGuinn and the others, so we went to see them at the Peppermint Tree. I felt my generation had finally kicked in."
As recounted in the Great! Society article in the last CPW, it was Bard's own flowing locks that got him into a bona fide rock band, after being approached at the Post Office by Darby Slick's wife Leslie. Despite not taking himself seriously as a rocker at first, the exciting prospect of the Great! Society galvanised Bard's desire to a part of things. Socially, the combo was not a cohesive unit - it is Bard's assertion that Grace was initially resistant to being a part of the group - but being in a rock band was such an unknown factor, for the participants, that everyone involved themselves in the creative process. Bard was selected to play bass, of which he had only a rudimentary knowledge or skill, but he was eager enough to learn. He also contributed songs and played harmonica on some numbers. Bard's originals, such as 'Right To Me', were by and large blues-based, with pointed, satirical lyrics. They would however tend to get passed over in favour of David Miner's or Grace's material. Still, having the Great! Society as your first band would be a feather in anybody's cap; and even during Bard's short stay he saw the group become very much part of the burgeoning alternative rock scene. His tenure with the Society was roughly from August 1965 until March 1966, at which point he left the band under less than amicable circumstances. Bard's theory was that he embarrassed the Slicks: "I think I was fired for gaucheness, I'd embarrass them. I turned up to the recording session (for 'Someone To Love') wearing a black vinyl vest and a red polka dot shirt!"
The loss of status was somewhat of a blow, but both Bard and Michele maintained a high profile as scenemakers, due largely to their colourful, vivacious approach. "Michele loved the scene, and loved being the centre of attention. She liked to perform, to be creative, to get her picture in the paper. But she wasn't very disciplined; I was amazed she lasted as long as she did dancing." A glamourous-sounding figure, Michele was also a talented seamstress who designed and made all her own outfits, including such mind-boggling creations as the 'Wild Thing' dress (made of vinyl, with pockets to insert 45 recors in!). Although Michele felt betrayed that Bard had not got her into the Society, the pair maintained a high profile - "we did our best to be outrageous" - Michele in her wild get-ups and Bard sporting suit and tie Carnaby gear. After failing an audition with the Sopwith Camel, Bard turned his mind to management: "I'd thought about managing bands (in the Society), as I believed I could do better than John Carpenter or Carl Scott, 'this is no problem, it's all handshakes', and I vaguely knew people like Bill Graham. Eventually I began asking around, (to see) if there were any groups looking for management." Bard soon heard of one band looking for some guidance: the Outfit.
The drummer of the Outfit was Steve Bonuccelli. Born and raised in the Sunset district of San Francisco, Steve had been inspired to play by his uncle Jimmy Fernandez, an LA jazz cat who had coached Sal Mineo in The Gene Krupa Story. "My idol was Krupa, and also Louis Bellson, whom I met. But I always considered myself a rock'n'roller. It was the Ventures that got me into rock. When I was sixteen my cousin Ed and his friend Bobby Vantassel jammed with me in my father's basement. It was two guitars, no bass, and we called ourselves the Spectres. Our first gig was at Westmore High, around 1962. For a while we had a singer, but noone was into it." Steve went to SF State for a while, to study creative writing, but eventually dropped out and went to work for his father's construction company, while playing occasionally. In late 1963 he was drafted: "I was in the army for a year of so. I remember being stationed at Fort Devons, and sitting in the mess, watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and thinking 'That's what I want to do'. I was totally impressed."
After getting out of the army, Steve returned to working construction in San Francisco, and soon got involved with music again, this time with the What Four, who comprised Doug Smith and Chuck Daly on guitars, and Kenny Newell on bass. The What Four were a typical '64-era Bay Area combo with stage suits and short hair, but they got a lot of work in the city and on the peninsula. Their biggest break was appearing at the Cow Palace in early 1965, on a bill with the Beau Brummels and the Mojo Men (Bard caught the What Four at this show, recalling them as "a band with a guy runnning around the stage, bashing his head with a tambourine!"). By the middle of the year the group had run its course, and Steve was back to working construction. But before long he'd another set of musicians to play with, far removed from his previous associates: "I had a friend, Freddie Neubert, who told me 'I know these guys who are looking for a drummer'. Freddie knew one of them, Bob Harwayne, because they shared the same dope dealer. So I hooked up with Harwayne (lead), Cousin Robert Resner (rhythm) and Johnny Ciambotti (bass), all ex-folkies. Ciambotti was from L.A. and had worked with the Valley Boys and Steve Gillette, while Harwayne and Cousin Robert had both been solo performers up here."
No doubt Steve's professionalism and experience stood him in good stead when he went over to Bob Harwayne's place in North Beach, in late 1965. The bohemian rock scene was just starting to take off with the Family Dog dances (which Steve was aware of), but it was a whole other world to the previously clean cut drummer. "These guys were already professional hippies. It was like, 'here comes the straight kid', but things worked out. When we got together, they told me 'hey, we wanna play folk rock, but we need a rock and roll drummer', which was what I was. We were doing original material right from the start, although never more than half the set ended up like that." By early 1966 the band was ready to play, and had christened themselves the Four Letter Outfit (as in love), although everyone thought they meant Four Letter Outfit (as in dope). While agonising over whether to keep the name ("even 'The Outfit' was connotation enough", the group let it be known they needed a manager. And who should be looking for a band to manage but Bard.
Bard discovered the Outfit through British-born ascetic Brain Carr, an acolyte of the Great Society. Bard: "Brian was into spiritual disciplines; he had only two sets of clothing, which he'd wear all the time, but on the other hand, he owned a Rolls Royce, which he'd loan out to groups to pose with! Brian also had a little tape deck, and was always offering to make free demos, but it took him forever to set it up. "Carr know of the group through Cousin Robert Resner, a social butterfly whose parents worked for the mayor's office. Bard's first meeting with the band was noteworthy, as Steve explains: "Bard and Michele came over to Harwayne's place; we were gonna rehearse and 'audition' for them. Ciambotti had taken a bunch of Demerol that afternoon, and was passing out. Bard gave him some bennies and got him out it - saved his life! We played terribly, but they liked us." Bard was indeed impressed, and can reall the others apologising for Steve's 'straightness': "They said 'he's just a guy, Steve himself revealed his roots by announcing 'I have seven sets of stage suits'!"
To help finance the combo, Cousin Robert had roped in the impressionable John Beggruen. A student at SF State, whose grandmother was heir to part of the Zellerbach fortune, Beggruen was eager to get involved with the rock scene, now that it had been legitimised by the Beatles and their ilk. Steve: "It meant he was 'allowed to join in'. John 's money kept us going for a long time." A deal was struck, wherby Bard and John would manage the Outfit, with the latter's fiscal backing. With Michele in tow, the management team were known as Empathy Inc., a grandiose title for what was in fact a small potatoes operation. Steve again: "Michele had input on our style, and helped to dress us. We used to rehearse at her and Bard's place, at 10th and Lawton, where she made her clothes. She was always saying that mod dresses ripped her desings off. Michele and Bard seemed to complement each other real well. They were very nice people, but I was very naive then; I trusted everybody." Bard admits, "I was the world's worst manager. With my help John made every possible bad mistake. Sure, I knew how to arrange material, and place mics to get a balance. It was enough to make them think I knew what I was doing! The contract was verbal, and it really amounted to nothing. It was as much a social thing as anything else."
The Outfit's debut was in April, at the Matrix, opening for Lightnin' Hopkins, and it provided an omen of the group's career. Steve: "Ciambotti was busted on the way to the first gig - Beggruen had to bail him out!" Drug problems were to plague the band, and the first casualty was Bob Harwayne. Steve again: "Harwayne was the kind of guy who'd get up in the morning and go, 'anyone got any speed, man?' We had to cut him, because he was too into it. But at the time we were all pretty blitzed. We were living in the Haight-Ashbury by then, at Ciambotti's on Oak, and the scene was friendly and close. Everyone would hang out. I came from a conservative middle class Italian background, and almost immediatley I'd been placed in this other world. We hung out at the Orb on Washington Street, an early crash pad, and one of the first places that really brought me into the culture."
Harwayne's departure in May was a temporary set back in the progress of the Outfit. Over the course of the next month the combo auditioned several guitarists, none of whom lasted longer than a show or two. Steve: "The first person we got was a tall blonde woman named Judy, who was a real fokie, so she could only play rhythm, and Cousin Robert had to play lead. He wasn't any good, so that didn't work out, but she was totally wrong anyway. We did play a gig at the Firehouse on Sacramento Street with her though; the Sopwith Camel were living there at the time. I remember we talked them into recording 'Hello Hello'. Judy recommended this kid Scratch to us. He was the Cousin of John Petersen from the Beau Brummels. Scratch played a party with us, but he couldn't take it. He freaked in front of the audience." In the interim the Outfit had begun to rehearse at the soon to-be-legendary Straight Theatre. Formerly a cinema, the Haight Street venue was in the process of being converted into a dancehall, by a partnership that included Resner's cousin Hillel and Bill (hence the guitarist's moniker). Bard: "Hillel would change his name every six months - he'd announced it to everyone. When we first knew him he was 'Chauncey' - I think his real name was George or something."
The Outfit became essentially the house band at the Straight, "although we never kicked in and didn't get the gigs we should have gotten" (Bard). This was largely due to the fact that the already slow process of renovation (which involved the removal of the first thirty rows of seats) was hampered by the bureaucracy of the City's building inspector, and the venue did not officially open until the late fall of 1966. But thanks to Cousin Robert's 'in' with the management, the band was allowed to rehearse in the building almost from the start, and they had played a benefit for the Straight (with Harwayne) at the Avalon on May 19th. The Greatful Dead and the Wildflower also appeared, and in time the former group shared the space. Steve: " We knew the Dead, because we'd practice before or after them." Bard had been a fan of the group in their earlier incarnation: "The Warlocks were my favourite band, really funny and entertaining. I liked Pigpen, he turned me onto a lot of blues people. And I got along with Phil Lesh; Michele and I were friendly with him and his girlfriend, until Michele dropped acid at a party, at the Dead's place one time. That was a big mistake, Michele always had a bad reaction on acid. She grabbed onto Phil's girlfriend's hair, and the poor girl had to have some of it cut off because Michele wouldn't let go!"
The next musician to audition for lead guitar was Bard's former bandmate David Miner, who had recently quit the Great Society. "I have a feeling he clashed with my replacement, Peter Van Gelder. I encouraged David to try out. Unfortunately, he was moody and insecure - I think he enjoyed feeling that way" (Bard). Miner lasted for three rehearsals, before packing up his guitar and disappearing into the ether, current whereabouts unknown. However, it didn't take long for another guitarist to materialise, in the person of the notorious Bobby Beausoleil, who was to make headlines a couple of years later as Charlie Manson's chief executioner. In actual fact, the nascent Haight-Ashbury scene had already started to attract the freaks, weirdos and fruitcakes, one of whom was Manson, whom Steve can remember hanging out at the Straight in this time period. Of a diffuse character, Beausoleil and his under fed dog Snowfox were Haight Street regulars. He was originally from southern California, and had reportedly cut a single with a band from down there. By 1966 Beausoleil was in the Bay Area, and hanging out with film maker Kenneth Anger. Bard: "Bobby bragged about the Anger connection, and how Frank Zappa had been his mentor; 'just ask Frank about me' (Zappa was actually better known in San Francisco in the pre-Freak Out! days). But he was very charming and a fairly good guitar player." According to Steve, "Bobby was real popular with the girls. He had this way with them; he'd blink his eyes and do all this little boy stuff, and they just ate it up. He just appeared out of the blue one day, although I seem to recall someone knew of (and recommended) him."
The Outfit took Beausoleil on, and began a daily routine of reharsals, which Bobby would attend as was his wont. Johnny Ciambotti was handling nearly all the vocals, and it was ascertained that another singer would ease the pressure. Another round of auditions ensued, with yet another Bay Area personage briefly passing through the career of the Outfit: "We were looking for a singer, so we tried out Jann Wenner at the Straight. He was terrible!" (Steve). Luckily, the void was filled with the arrival of Win Hardy, a Kentucky folkie who played Farfisa organ and wrote songs. It was now July and the group continued to rehearse hard. Steve: "Win took a lot of the pressure vocally off Johnny. We delveloped a set of about twenty tunes, half of which were covers, English stuff like 'Tired Of Waiting' and 'You're A Better Man Than I'." Bard: "I recall they also did 'Say Man', because the only album Cousin Robert owned was Go Bo Diddley, so they had to do something from it!" The combo also played traditional folk items like 'San Francisco Bay Blues', where Johnny would play autoharp and Steve would pull out a kazoo and washboard: "We'd do a segment set, play a few folkie things. The musical slant of the band depended a lot on the lead guitarist; for instance, we were a lot heavier with Bobby than we were with Jim Brown later." The originals the group had begun with were solidly in the folk rock vein, like Ciambotti's drug revalation tune 'Love#1', or 'Trip To Paris', written by Cousin Robert.
With what seemed like a stable line-up, Bard set about trying to get shows for the group. There was an opportunity of a job at the Fillmore, which sadly did not materialise: "Bill Graham was real mean to me - he promised me something and then it didn't come through. We'd bought new equiptment, advertised the gig, and everything. That was when I realised that it was a business, and not some hippy thing. But I'd been chasing gigs that wouldn't have been worth it even if the'd done them." The Outfit did end up playing the Fillmore, but it was at 8 a.m., one morning when the venue was hosting poet Michel McClure's play The Beard. Ironically, the combo were one of several approached by Graham in this time period with a management proposal, but they politely declined, thank you very much. With Beggruen's cash temporarily alleviating any financial problems, various group members took advantage of the situation. An account opened for the group at a local mod boutique didn't last long, with Cousin Robert helping himself to several expensive suits; thankfully Steve "didn't wear flashy clothes". Win Hardy seemed to be the most partisan, as Bard remembers: "Win was just eager to take all of John's money. He went to John and explained to him that the band was not really financially viable, unless he (Hardy) got a new motorcycle!" In the meantime, the group played a few more minor jobs, including a residency at the Piano Bar on Geary Street, during which they almost lost their equipment in a burglary.
Come August, the Outfit still had not progressed very far, despite the formation of a fan club, mentions in the Chronicle and the hip Mojo Navigator; and an impressive spread in Doyle Phillips' ID Band Book, upon whose cover Bard and Michele appeared. The group had added a few more originals to the set, like 'Bending End' and 'No Name Man', which were largely the work of Cousin Robert. They'd played the Coffee Gallery and the Matrix, the latter with the Wildflower, which sticks in Steve's mind: "We were good friends with the Wildflower. (At that gig) these short-haired soldier guys from the Presidio (army station near the Matrix) came into the club. Four or five of them, and they were all drunk. They caused some trouble and were asked to leave, but they stayed outside and started harassing people as they left the club. Between sets Teddy (Schneider) and Mike (Brown) from the Wildflower went outside to sort things out, and I got up and went with them. This soldier wanted to fight, and he was crying; "We went over there (to Vietnam) to fight for you schmucks!" Nothing happened, but the following night they waited for the Wildflower, while the band were loading up their equipment, and then jumped them. Teddy wound up having to play his bongos with a cast at the next show!" Eventuallly Bard and John Beggruen decided to 'debut' the group, in a society fashion, upon the advice of two of Beggruen's friends, John Luce and Patrick Murphy. The team decided to tie the event to the start of another residency, this time at North Beach teen hangout the Dragon A Go-Go. Bard: "The thing I remember about that place was the dance tune Win wrote there, 'Do The Pig' - 'make a big boss line ... alright now, everybody grove'!" The residency was scheduled, with much fanfare, for the beginning of September - the band followed the last ever appearance of the Bobby Fuller Four at the club.
However, true to the Outfit's luck, there were further personnel changes. Steve explains: "Cousin Robert decided to fire Bobby. I felt bad, but we had to lose him; he'd never show up, and was really more interested in getting laid and getting stoned. Bobby was real popular with the girls, but he had no direction, and could never assert himself. He was just totally spaced; he couldn't focus on anything for more than ten seconds. Cousin Robert was ruthless though; I didn't know it was coming." Adds Bard, "Bobby was a great showman, and he got us the Dragon A Go-Go gig. We were dying up there (on the stage), but Bob was bopping around with his top hat, and (owner) Lou Chin loved it - 'quite entertaining!' Chin was mad when he found out Bobby was gone! (Beausoleil) slept with almost everyone in the band's partner, and practically broke up Johnny Ciambotti's marriage! He once said to me 'I never say no to an offer'." Having been ousted from the band, Beausoleil fell in with the Orkustra, an unusual attempt at wedding rock to chamber music (they reportedly appeared on stage with chairs and music stands, playing 'Louie Louie'). A little later he formed the Crowley-influenced Magick Powerhous Of Oz, before teaming up with Manson and heading south to ultimately gain notoriety of a different kind. "Bobby was a group person" says Steve, "and I guess he found his group!"
Concurrent with the Dragon A Go-Go job, Empathy were contacted by local entertainment impresario Walt Tolleson, seeking the services of a 'longhair' rock'n'roll band. "He needed a group specifically for this party, because the host had asked for one. We auditioned over the 'phone from the Dragon A Go-Go!" (Steve). "Walt Tolleson was esentially this business" notes Bard, "he got in touch with us, (and afterwards) I didn't pursue it. "The gig was a 'coming out' party in Atherton, and was by all accounts a wild affair. Steve: "Tolleson was inside the house playing dixieland, and we were outside by the pool. There were drugs everywhere. We drove the truck into a ditch afterwards - we were wired out of our nuts!" "The father would just turn off the power, if he wanted to talk to someone!" (Bard). Beausoleil's replacement was quickly found in Win Hardy's songwriting partner Jim Brown, another folkie, originally from Indiana. "Jim had never played lead guitar before, at last not rock'n'roll guitar. He knew Woody Guthrie's entire repertoire, and brought a lot of this own songs with him." (Steve). "Win had originally presented himself to me as part of a songwriting team with Jim Brown" says Bard, "so he had kept pushing for him to be in the band. Jim was realy nervous about playing lead at first. At a show at the California Hall he got so frustrated thatt he dropped the guitar, after he couldn't get it to work properly!"
Brown's original material was impressive enough for the Outfit to record four of his and Hardy's collaborations, when they trooped into Golden State Studios to make a demo later that same month. Of the six songs, 'Hurt Me More' and 'When You Change Your Mind' are promising if restrained folk rock performances, whilst the most notable cut is Cousin Robert's Animal-esque punker 'I Chose Me', with a lyric that neatly sums the guitarist's preoccupations: 'Went down the line and I looked it all over/When it was done baby I chose me'. Together with Jim Brown, Steve moved into 2125a Bush in the Haight around this time. "Jim had a friend, 'Texas' Jim Stalarow, whose dad had a lot of dough so he spread it around. Stalarow would show up with bags of groceries, and these coffee cans filled with marijuana, with orange and apple slices on top. He paid our rent for at least one month I can remember" (Steve). Stalarow had been an early 'manager' of the 13th Floor Elevators back in Texas, and it was fortuitous that he arrived on the scene, for the Outfit were about to lose their bankroll. "The band was a money sink, and it was embarrassing Beggruen's friends; 'they're trying to cheat you, John'. He was torn between two worlds. The whole experience must have been a bit of a disappointment" (Bard).
When John Beggruen dedided to withdraw his backing, the opportunistic Win Hardy also left, to the relief of the band. Steve: "We fired Win. He was shady and dishonest, and a troublemaker. He went back to Kentucky and became a mortician." The group did not try and replace him, and so became a four-piece. There was a report in Mojo Navigator that the Outfit were to work with the 'harpsichord player' from the Daily Flash; Steve doesn't recall this occurring, although he notes that Johnny was friends with the Flash's Steve Lalor. What he does remember is being asked to join a slightly better known local combo: "Marty, Signe and Casady came into the Straight, right after they had got rid of Skip Spence, and asked me if I wanted to audition for the Airplane. I said 'No, I already got a band'!" Beggruen's departure was a major blow the frustrated group's morale. Their way of dealing with it was to unfortunately dispense with the rest of the Empathy team. Bard: "The band quit me, reluctantly. They were unhappy. I was a really bad manager, but I was one of many bad managers. I didn't do a thing for them. The only good that happened to the Outfit was the connection with the Straight Theatre, which wasn't my doing." "(Bard and Michele) did the best they could; their hearts were in the right place" says Steve.
Bard rarely saw the Outfit socially after parting ways with them; however, he'd already started managing another band. "The very fact that I'd gotten this other band made them realise they didn't need me!" Bard and Michele had run into the Demon Lover, also known as the Daemon or Demonlover, one of many groups on the periphery of the scene in late 1966. They had originally featured a female vocalist, Mary Gannon; when she left, to later play bass for the Ace Of Cups, Michele took over as the lead singer. "The Demon Lover's material was into levels of sound. They were best at Dylan-type stuff, 'Highway 61'. Beggruen helped me for a little while, but was afraid to take the plunge with the band; he didn't have much faith in my abilities! I never talked on the phone to people. Instead, I let it be known that we had a great band, and we were willing to do this and do that, because 'we all love music'. Our role models were people like Quicksilver, who didn't promote themselves but were courted by labels all the same. The trick was to beat the system." Bard and Michele lived with the rest of the band, in a big house with a speakeasy basement on Steiner, bordering Alamo Square.
Unfortunately, the Demon Lovers were to work less than the Outfit had. Apart from playing the Fillmore in November, the group barely paid their way. "The only gig I was really responsible for was a residency at this place the Copy Cat, where we were paid in sandwiches. We played there forever; I remember the Dead showed up once and asked 'How can you guys be working?' I said, 'Well, they don't pay us!' We had difficulties with the musician's union there. If you were a member of the union and you found a non-union band (like us) working, you got the job of picketing, at scale. So we had this quy picketing us, who was making more than the band was!" Not long after Bard had become their manager, the Demon Lover's bass player quit, and Bard stepped into that role. "Bill Sievers from the Sopwith Camel had been tutoring me on bass, showing me how to use picks etc. Michele was a crowd pleaser, and was a good salesperson for the group - she had a lof of good ideas - but she was not the greatest band member in the world. She was not one for a challenge, and got bored easily; and frankly (her voice) was not very good." Less than a year after Bard and Michele's involvement with the group, the Demon Lover splintered, when Pete Sessions left the band. Bard admits that the combo were not one to go down in the annals of San Fransicso rock as a great lost group.
There followed an idle period of a few months, where Bard was "hanging out and getting in trouble! Michele and I had moved to a cheap place on Fell. She was working at the Roaring Twenties, dealing topless blackjack." To a certain extent, the mod couple were becoming disillusioned with the scene in the city: "That's what Michele thought, she would say 'You know it's over, everybody's hair is dirty'! I was the same, I tried not to admit it, but I always gave a shit. I thought of myself as dressing as a Rolling Stone." Upon leaving the Demon Lover in the late spring of 1967, Pete Sessions had joined the Venus Flytrap, based in Redwood City on the Peninsula. When original bassist Ken Czapkay was drafted, the guitarist recommended his former bandmate Bard as a replacement. Just prior to Bard's arrival in July, the group had issued a single, 'The Note'/'Have You Ever', on Barry Wineroth's Jaguar label. Both sides are classy Airplane styled folk rock, and the single got heavy airplay around California, particularly on KIST in Santa Barbara. "The single had gone to #1 on the local charts, despite the fact that there were no records (in the stores) down there." As a result, the Flytrap worked there a few times, opening for the Music Machine and Count Five on one occasion. They were also fairly active in the South Bay, and in the Sacramento area. While rhythm guitarist Dan Sanchez was ostensibly the leader and principal songwriter for the group, "Pete and I forced songs we already knew on them. We worked communally on arrangements; we liked taking (Top 40) songs apart and reconstructing them. They were real good about not wanting to sound like other people."
Bard and Pete commuted to Redwood City to rehearse, and when the lead singer Nancy Morgan quit in early 1968, Bard agian got his girlfriend the job. "Nacy Morgan's boyfriend had been the original bass player (Czapkay). He'd been drafted, but had just walked straight out of Fort Ord. He'd gone home and hadn't left his bedroom for hree months, for fear the army would get him. So she felt she couldn't in all conscience go on tour! But Nancy was really young, and couldn't always make gigs." Thus Michele became vocalist for the venus Flytrap. Unfortunately, by this stage Bard's releationship with her was severely strained, partly because of infidelities spurred by the then prevalent philosophy of 'free love'. When the group decided to expand their sound by adding a second bass player, the end was in sight for the duo. "We'd always been on and off, but Michele kind of drove a wedge between me and those people. It was awkward, and then she outraged all the mothers by having an affair with this young kid who had come into the group on bass. I was mad." Consequently, at the start of 1968, Bard quit Flytrap.
After their split with Empathy, the Outfit played the Straight Theatre and considered their lowly lot. There didn't seem much hope for the group, until the appearance of Mark Slotkin and Loren Markin, as Steve remembers: "Slotkin and Markin were rich kids from LA who liked to get stoned and wanted to be part of the scene. They'd come up to the Haight Ashbury to look for a band, and bought us lunch at this place across from the Straight. The two of them said, 'Come down to LA, we'll pay all your expenses. You can live at Mark's house, rehearse there, and we'll get you a record contract." The group jumped at the opportunity, and in October traveled down to Los Angeles, moving into Slotkin's palatial abode in the Hollywood Hills, although they only got the couch. Initially, the group worked hard, rehearsing during the day and working the Strip by night. "We played most of the clubs; the Galaxie, the Whisky A Go Go, Pandora's Box, Gazarri's - we oppened for the Seeds there, because Slotkin's girlfriend was a professional escort, who knew Sky Saxon. We also did allniters at the Hollywood Palladium."
The Outfit were in Hollywood at the zenith of that city's swinging teen explosion, and they reveled in the action, making friends and rubbing shoulders with the luminaries of the scene: "There were a lot of parties, and a lot of bands. I remeber meeting Arthur Lee at one party, and being impressed because he had everything together. We hung out with the Buffalo Springfield, especially Richie (Furay) and Bruce (Palmer). We played with them twice; the second time they were flying off the next day to appear on American Bandstand. And we were good friends with the Factory, Lowell George and Ritchie Hayward. We played at parties together, and attended each other's recording sessions. Elliot (Ingber) from te Mothers was always around. There were a lot of girls, and a lot of drugs!" The group were in town for the infamous Sunset Strip riots of December 1966, although they avoided them. "It was a real police state in LA back then. We'd seen the riots in the Fillmore, so we didn't go out of the house when we heard there was trouble."
The band had made some home demos while rehearsing at Slotkin's, and the would-be manager shopped them around. After a feeler from Capitol, the group got an offer from Jack Lurek. A partner of Phil Spector's, Lurek had come up to the house to check out another of Slotkin's 'accounts', a San Diego garage band called the Iron Butterfly (who were told, 'Don't call us, we'll call you'). He was somehow tied in with Columbia, and through that connection the Outfit ventured to that label's studio A on Sunset, to record some slightly more polished tracks. They laid down several cuts, including a much improved attempt at 'Love#1', which featured Lowell George on flute; and uptempo 'Something Like This', a fine song that very much bears the LA '66-'67 hallmark of groups like the Springfield, Factory and Merry-Go-Round. "When Columbia heard 'Love#1', they wanted to sign us. But in the contract, they stipulated artistic controll, (specifically) they wanted to change the subject of the song to 'real' love instead of LSD." The group were divided over the terms of the contract, and eventually Lurek and Columbia lost interest.
At the same time, the combo were rapidly becoming disenchanted with their new management team. "Mark Slotkin was the son of the owners of Abbey Rents, and Loren Markin's father was a dentist - we got all our teeth fixed for nothin. But they were both so artificial, they couldn't look you in the eye as they spoke to you. Slotkin had money; that was his power of communication. But they did save our ass one time. One of Slokin's friends was the former district attorney for Los Angeles, and he still had a connection. We got a call at the Hollywood A Go Go, where we were playing with the Springfield, informing us of a big drugs bust that was gonna happen all over LA - they were gonna hit all the bands. So we sent our equipment manager Peter Greensfelder back out to the house, to clean out any evidence. We'd openly smoke grass on Hollywood Boulevard; unlike Springfield, who were so paranoid they'd lock all the motel doors and windows, crowd into the bathroom, lock the door, turn on the fan and all stand around puffing on this one little joint!" Unfortunately, the group did not completely escape the police: "Jim and Peter were pulled in Orange County after that, searched and busted for possessing joints. Jim was in jail for a couple of nights, and it was a real hassle, because Slotkin didn't want to post bail."
Slotkin's reticence to continue bankrolling the Outfit resulted in an inevitable parting of ways. "Once we'd got down there, he'd found that it wasn't that easy (to make the group a success), that it was a lot more money than he'd expected. We weren't fond of Slotkin anyway. Loren Markin was strange - he'd pay girls with drugs to swim topless in his pool, and had a housekeeper who cleaned the place with nothing but panties. Every time Ciambotti would come up to the house, he and the housekeeper would disappear into a bedroom for a couple of hours!" By the end of the year the group decided to return to the Bay Area, and "left LA under less than friendly circumstances."
Cousin Robert temporarily assumed leadership of the group, the other members of which decided to move from San Francisco to Muir Beach in Marin. "Peter Greensfelder's mother was the managing partner of the (then private) beach. There was a lodge there you could hire, with a bar, where they held shows. Peter had his own little cabin, and we stayed there." It wasn't long befor the Outfit were a regular fixture at Muir Beach shenanigans, playing alongside local faves the Tiny Hearing Aid Company, the Flying Circus, theFreedom Highway, the Mystic Knights of the Sea and the Transatlantic Railroad. They also appeared at local haunts like the Ark in Sausalito, and in late January 1967 got a job opening for Tim Leary at the Berkeley Community Theatre. Big Brother also appeared, and Steve was recruited to play congas for Leary's pseudocosmic lecture ("he still hasn't paid me!"). But before long the combo were enticed back down to Southern California, naively trusting the promises of lawyer David Shine, the guy who'd warned them of the bust earlier. "Shine was a friend of Slotkin's who came up to the house, and another heir, this time to Arrow Shirts. He came up from LA, and approached us; 'C'om back down, this will not be a Slotkin deal'. We had to stay with Ciambotti's parents down in Griffith Park, which was nice of them but strained. Of course, this guy never came through; he didn't want to put up the dough."
Somewhat chastened, the group returned a few weeks later to Muir Beach, and continued to perform there as almost the 'house band', partying long and hard. "It was wild, loose and free; there were no grown ups around, I don't know how else to put it. That was a wonderful period. We had no conception of time, duty or authority. The only thing to worry about was catching crabs!" While Johnny, Jim and Steve were living it up on Muir Beach, Cousin Robert was back over in San Francisco, ostensibly acting as the band's manager but becoming increasingly involved with the Straight Theatre. By now the group were only really working the beach gigs. "We made an agreement, whereby we would just work as a band to get money. Then Ciambotti anounced he was leaving, and we couldn't do anything. He was the talent, he was the glue that kept the band together." Ciambotti had received an offer from folk rockers the Tiny Hearing Aid Company to join, as they had just lost their bass player. The Outfit thus disintegrated in July of 1967, but it didn't seem to matter much to Steve or Jim, who spent the summer partying. Brown returned to doing solo gigs, while the Tiny Hearing Aid Company settled on a country-flavoured sound, changing their name to Clover in 1968. Towards the end of the year, fellow Muir Beach regulars the Flying Circus fired drummer Don Baducci because of excessive drug use, and Steve was the natural choice as a replacement. We'll detail the story of the Circus in the next issue of Cream Puff War.
Bard and Steve worked briefly together one last time in the one-shot group Howl, put together for an West Coast show of the New York boutique, Paraphernalia, in November of 1967. Michele was involved, but not long afterwards the couple split, under less than amicable circumstances. Ms. Sevryn's whereabouts are currently unknown, but if you're out there Michele, we'd love to hear your side of the story. Bard would eventually find another soulmate in his second wife Monica, a rabid blues fan who was also a singer/guitarist. The pair soon put together a duo specialising in original blues, featuring Bard on six string bass and dubbed, quite naturally, Mr and Mrs Dupont. This act was a popular feature in East Bay clubs for many years, and a relatively peaceful and orderly pursuit after the whirlwind of Bard's mid-sixties career. Today, both Bard and Steve recall that period with great affection; and while neither have personally achived the success of some of their former colleagues, both men have memories worth their weight in gold.
Alec Palao (CPW)
The article above has been written in 1993 and it deals with things that happened quite a few days ago. Subsequently there are always a lot of things to add and correct. Hillel Resner - whos name is mentioned above and who has also been the harmonica player in a band that preceded the Outfit (featuring Bob Harwayne and Cousin Robert on guitars) - gives us some more insight:
... No matter what Steve B. says, I did NOT change my name every 6 months! My original name was Thomas Resner, but for a number of years in the '60s I had the nickname "Chauncey." This came from an informal sailing club that a bunch of us had called The Brindle Brothers -- in which everyone took a British -- or "Brindle" -- name. Cousin Robert had one too but I forget what it was. In 1966 I changed my name to Hillel, and it has since become my legal name.
Something else: ... I bailed out because I realized early on that the guys who manage and produce musicians usually make more money than the musicians do. I subsequently managed Billy Roberts, the composer of "Hey, Joe" and a number of other artists.
Thanks goes to Hillel Resner for his additions to Alec Palao's article. If you look for Hillel Resner on the internet you will find that he was the former Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of MIX, the recording industry trade magazine, and currently is the president of the Mix Foundation for Excellence in Audio, which presents the TEC Awards each year for the pro audio industry.
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