Harvey Kubernik is a lifetime music writer and biz insider, born in L.A. in the late 1950s, and hence privvy to some of the most monumental musical happenings of the end of the 20th century. His latest book, Turn Up The Radio! – Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972 is a massive, and massively cool collection of L.A. rock ephemera and recollections from classic acts of the 50s-70s, with an emphasis on the importance of local radio in the development of the groundbreaking music of that era. It’s one of those books where, right when you think every rare photo and nutty story has been unearthed, you open it and are blown away. Especially noteworthy are the loads of backstage and studio images. The book itself is doorstop big and heart-stop packed. And we’re giving one away! But be quick—the contest ends TODAY! Just fill out the form below, we’ll pick a random winner at 5p.m. ET.
For more info on Harvey Kubernik and the book, check out the Q&A below.
Q&A with Author Harvey Kubernik
How did Turn Up The Radio! come about?
I had written a book with my brother Kenneth, A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival in 2012 for Jeff Goldman at Santa Monica Press. He was also a fan of my book Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon that I did in 2009. Jeff loves the musical heritage of Los Angeles and was born in L.A. He was also a UCLA graduate, and 30 years ago he interviewed me for the school newspaper, The Daily Bruin.
There are so many amazing rare backstage/studio photos and ephemera in the book. Is it mostly from your own collection?
Maybe 20% of it is from my own collection. Tickets, posters and some photos. Music pals, strangers and select photographers would sometimes read text excerpts I would send out and immediately lend pictures that were appropriate. There must be over a 100 visuals that have never been published before.
Any good stories about stumbling across some images for the book, like a box of pictures in a closet somewhere, etc.?
At West Los Angeles College I worked in the library for 18 months. $1.75 an hour. I wanted to be a librarian. I was a Library Science major but was talked out of going further into that academic arena by a guidance counselor…I have always been a great archivist. If I don’t have it, I know where to find it. For many decades I made contacts with friends and rights holders just knowing one day I might be allowed to write a book. Even without a literary agent and against all odds it’s happened. If I ran a photo from the Doors around their Morrison Hotel album I made sure it was an outtake. A few times photographer Henry Diltz located a box of photos and his archivist and librarian, Gary Strobl, would then call me after midnight and we would review in person or via email. It became a mission of education and correction. In this journey I feel we’ve re-defined the pop and rock musical and recording history of Los Angeles, as well as new insights about the city.
You have a lot of oral history recollections in the book from some famous friends. Was there anyone who said “no” to giving you an interview?
Just about everyone I approached wanted to participate in the book. Musicians and readers of my work for decades constantly applaud my stellar research, fact finding and combination of oral history and narrative. The publicist for David Crosby and Jackson Browne could not arrange interviews with me. Health and logistics were cited. I’m glad it didn’t happen [as it left] space and room for other voices that were supposed to be documented.
I’m particularly interested in the more obscure L.A. “garage” bands from the ’60s. Can you give me a good Seeds story?
In 1967 I saw the Seeds twice. A magical experience. Once at the Hollywood Bowl in front of 18,000 people, and then as headliners at the Valley Music Center. Ask DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, now on KROQ-FM, or Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys who were there. Bruce recently stated, “The Seeds owned rock ‘n’ roll that night.” For a six month period in 1967, the Seeds were a top band in Hollywood. There was a lot more to this group than their pulsating hit, Pushin’ Too Hard. Vocalist Sky Saxon could sing and dance. The keyboardist Daryl Hooper played a lot of minor key chords that hurled their sound at our ears. I never worked with them in the sixties, I was a young record geek. Still am in a way. But in the late seventies I wrote the liner notes to a GNP Crescendo Records label compilation called Hollywood Confidential that had a track or two by the Seeds.
Any other stories about a fun party with one of those “forgotten” garage bands?
In 1977, I spent one evening in a van with ? Mark, Kim Fowley and Doug Sahm. That was an education. I saw everyone at TV tapings. I danced for a short season in 1966 on American Bandstand, and Dick Clark’s TV tapings were near our high school. I was around the Electric Prunes. A good friend of mine, Bob Sherman, was (bassist) Marc Tulin’s cousin. Marc later played with Billy Corgan. We would hear advance tapes of some of the bands back then. I went to one party where members of Paul Revere and the Raiders were there with bluesmen Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. I always liked going to parties and gatherings where the R&B stars were around, like Bobby Womack or Barry White. Hotter girls in mini dresses, sexier music blaring, better wine and beer selection. Everyone smoked menthol cigarettes.
Do you have a good Ike and Tina Turner story?
Why do you think I made sure I had a photo of Ike with Tina Turner on the back cover of my book? Ike was very instrumental in inventing rock ‘n’ roll, a damn good and legendary record producer/arranger and talent scout, and a fantastic bandleader. I saw Ike and Tina Turner at a couple of live gigs in the ‘60s. One was an afternoon slot at the Newport ’69 pop music festival. Ike ran the act like a general in the military. Ike knew a girl that lived right across the street from me in high school. I’d see his big fancy car pull up. Maybe he was pimping her. Ike had straight hair, probably a wig. As a teenager I never walked across the pavement to talk to him. Forget his prison time and the always negative media portrayal of Ike Turner. For once just listen to his musical contributions and recorded catalog if you possibly can. I interviewed Tina in 1975. A portion of our chat is in Turn Up The Radio!
So you were a teen running around L.A. in the late ’60s. Was it easy to sneak into clubs and drink?
Even at age 17 I looked like I was 12. I also promised my mother when I entered Fairfax High School I would not get a fake ID. Subsequently, I missed some mid-60s and late-60s night club shows at PJ’s and the Whisky a Go Go, but stood on the street 100 times outside those rooms and heard a lot of mind-blow sounds. In 1969 I turned 18, and it was easier to get into all the clubs. Concerts were affordable and parking was not a hassle. We hitchhiked everywhere. Who had a car in high school? The bus was a quarter. And, L.A. and Hollywood always had all-ages venues. Like the Troubadour, the Ash Grove, the Hullabaloo and The Kaleidoscope. So I made sure I saw a lot of blues and jazz musicians along with pop and rock bands.
In 1968, the Whisky a Go Go briefly instigated an all-ages policy for a few months. I was 17. We had to sit upstairs and wear wrist bands. No liquor near us. I was not a drinker. Some of my friends had a few pops before we went into the club. And we were not allowed to go on the dance floor. There were restrictions on their dance permits. I saw two sets by John Mayall right after he released his Blues From Laurel Canyon LP. Mick Taylor was in his band. Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Jim Roup were right up against the stage. Savoy Brown, another blues band, was incredible in 1969.
In 1972 I saw four sets by the Mahavishnu Orchestra over two nights. Whew. In 1968 I was at the Ash Grove when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards came in to check out Taj Mahal. In April 1967, my bother Kenneth and I went to the Hollywood Bowl for a radio station KHJ-sponsored concert. The price was 93 cents. Tremendous! The Seeds, Buffalo Springfield, Johnny Rivers, Brenda Holloway, the 5th Dimension and the Supremes with a full Orchestra. I write about these events in the book.
Maybe an odd question, but I love that Russ Meyer movie, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Is that representative of the L.A. scene of that time?
Not totally representative, but the lifestyle portrayed—the pill heads and lust and hustling depicted on the screen—was definitely going on in some social circles. As a teenager in Hollywood and as a college student, Russ Meyer’s movies were always booked in town and constantly on the midnight movie circuit. He went to USC on the G.I. Bill. I once interviewed the Cramps, and Lux and Ivy had Meyer movie posters on their apartment walls. The desperation and competition of the actors in that Dolls flick was educational and refreshing to view at the time. If a girl in my high school or junior college saw this movie twice, I wanted to go out with her! You were at least guaranteed a rad make out session.
I liked the soundtrack songs by Andre and Dory Previn. Dionne Warwick sang the title tune. I never knew this movie would ascend to a cult classic. Before the world of long form documentaries the last few decades, and reality TV programing, we got very few glimpses into the various social engagements and scenarios that engulfed many entertainers, let alone people who wanted so badly to break into show business. The crazed competition and back stabbing for a role in a movie in that film was very revealing to me when I saw it the first time. In some ways it prepared me a bit for the human politics that inform the record and music business.
When did you start music writing, and for who?
1972. I went to see the Rolling Stones, Ike & Tina Turner and B.B. King play a couple of concerts one very long night in 1969 at the Forum in Inglewood. We drove a fellow teenager, Justin Pierce, to the show. Around 1970 or ’71, Justin became music editor at The Hollywood Press. He gave me an assignment to write some reviews in very late ’72 or early ’73. I got to keep the promotional albums! In 1974, thankfully, a wonderful man at RCA Records, Grelun Landon, who was the head publicist for the label in Hollywood, heard about a rock ‘n’ roll music class I helped teach at college. He thought I could do an interview with Brian Auger, who was newly signed to the label in the early seventies. I submitted an article to the music editor at the L.A. Free Press and it ran. $35!
Who was the first famous or favorite musician you interviewed?
Keith Richards, 1997. Around a Rolling Stones date in San Diego, and during two weeks attending many of the Bridges To Babylon recording sessions in Hollywood. It appears in my book, This Is Rebel Music. Just dug having dinner in the lounge a couple of times with Keith and drummer Charlie Watts, it was fabulous. Charlie initially invited me to a session. He did a small liner note endorsement to an album I produced.
Keith walked into the lounge room carrying a bottle of cherry juice and went into the refrigerator ice box and pulled out a bottle of vodka. Poured a drink for himself and stared at me as I was chatting with the drummer, Jim Keltner. We were actually talking about Eddie Cochran. Keith was silent for five minutes and then piped in and asked, “Who played drums on Eddie’s records?” Keltner volunteered it was his pal Earl Palmer. I blurted out that I always thought Eddie played drums on most of his Liberty label recordings, sometimes on a suit case. Keith slapped my palm, put down an empty glass on table and replied, “Sit down, mate. Have a drink.” Popped the cork on the frozen vodka bottle. “What do you need? Hang as long as you want.”
And were the most recent musicians you’ve interviewed? How did that go?
Nils Lofgren for Record Collector News. Terrific. He had a ten-CD box set to promote. We talked about his work with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. I’ve recently done a series of website interviews with Greg Franco, the Rough Church bandleader, an indie band with an interesting sound. Poet and recording artist, Steve Kalinich, who has penned songs for the Beach Boys; the Thunder Pigs who hail from South Carolina; and a flute player/teacher named Libby Snyder, who just released an album of Beatles covers.
You then worked at MCA after you started writing, right?
In 1978, I was asked to be West Coast Director of A&R for MCA Records. My music journalism work, coupled with my ability to spot talent, impressed some folks at the label. I tried to sign the Knack and was rebuffed. I attended the My Sharona recording session after they inked to Capitol. I was asked in my MCA A&R capacity to find Tom Petty a new record producer after the ABC/Shelter label was “absorbed” into MCA. I suggested Jimmy Iovine, whom I knew from 1975 when I interviewed him for Melody Maker. Initially everyone around Tom balked at my championing Jimmy for the assignment, all telling me, “He’s just an engineer.” Needless to say, Jimmy ended up producing Damn The Torpedoes for an MCA subsidiary, and went on to an extremely successful career. I also played a very small part in John Hiatt’s joining MCA when he did his label debut. I met the Who, Elton John and Jimmy Bowen during that time.
The book ends in 1972—why that year? And do you plan on another book?
I wanted to chronicle my life from age 5 to age 21. During 1972 I turned 21 and became an adult, on some levels. I also wanted to write about a specific time period before I actually got published in a newspaper. I never really thought about being a writer, let alone getting a book published. I also noticed the music and pop culture really changed after 1972. I’m already researching post-1972 music, from disco to glam rock. I lived through it and constantly reported on it when I wrote for Melody Maker.
You obviously grew up with radio, it was incredibly important to your development, and the development of rock ‘n ‘roll and pop music in general. Can you remember a moment where you noticed big changes were happening with radio, and it was losing that local flavor that you loved growing up?
I sort of noticed, after the physical death of Jim Morrison of the Doors in summer of 1971, that the regional and subsequent audio climate of the radio dial around me changed radically. Syndicated FM outlets were in motion and programming consultants were in operation. Disco music came into the marketplace, and then the nascent singer/songwriter genre, which was already active, was truly garnering rotation on key AM and FM radio stations. Local bands and hard rock and psychedelic recording artists were quickly replaced primarily by transplants to the west coast who had absolutely no relationship whatsoever to growing up or even being nurtured in Southern California.
It’s quite easy to get cynical about the “future of radio,” but where do you think radio stands today? And do you check into internet radio stations often?
At times I am cynical about the state of radio. Talk radio stations replacing music stations. However, I still hold belief for the radio, especially at the college level. Individuals on parade, not syndication afraid! The colorful program titles and chance-taking blend of current music with album favorites that young DJs employ is a groovy discovery when I check out some of the internet stations. I’m always pleased when kids age 18-24 spin deep album tracks along with demos and current alt-rock bands. I like to hear the passion of the college radio kids and veterans I monitor on KXLU-FM.
I groove once in a while on Pat Baker’s “Twisted Roots” Sunday afternoon program on KCSN-FM from the campus at Cal State University Northridge in Southern California. The role of the internet and podcast DJs is becoming increasingly more important and essential. The links of my conversations on internet radio reach a lot of music fans and media members who use the chats in their research before I talk to them. And as a listener, I relish the total freedom the web world provides for the host. I did a recent three-hour interview with John B. Wells on his “Caravan To Midnight” podcast. I could rarely get three hours on an FM radio interview or satellite radio format. I respect the inherent time limitations most DJs have to deal with.
What projects are you working on now? And tell me about your work with GNP Crescendo?
This summer I am proudly talking about Turn Up The Radio! I’m peddling it all over the world. I’m having meetings with some people about optioning the book for a documentary and a feature length film. I’ve gained five pounds this last month! I guess the deals come with the meals. The book was written as a cinematic trek, so it could translate to various celluloid adaptations. The records of the 1956-1972 world are so colorful and potent.
In September, a large format book I did on Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows, will be published by Palazzo Editions Limited. It rocks. I’m doing some consultancy work for the legendary Hollywood independent label, GNP Crescendo Records, around their reissued Seeds catalog and the label’s 60th anniversary. I was also filmed for GNP owner/director Neil Norman’s documentary on the Seeds that will premiere in August in Hollywood. It features Iggy Pop, Kim Fowley, Bruce Johnston, Johnny Echols of Love and the Bangles. I’m involved with the early August Hollywood movie festival that will debut the Seeds documentary as well as other rock music docs.