Tuesday, November 16, 2021

John Garlak - A Memoir - 1971

As a journalist, I’ve always been on the fringe. No one knew my name, though most of the in-crowd walked on eggshells when they saw me up front with my steno pad. Speaking with John Garlak of RJFox this past week has reminded me of the false front I’ve put on over the years – a deadpan demeanor to hide how starstruck I always was. That said, here’s Part 2 of my talk with John in the form of a memoir:

I was 21 years old. Not much younger than anyone else in the room. David Crosby was 30, but seemed worldly, like a rock sage, but h
e could have been my older brother. You know what? Despite his reputation, he was like that with everyone.

So, when DC and Stephen Barncard (who was 24) were mixing "Cowboy Movie," they couldn't decide on the fade-out. They looked our way, me and Joel [Siegel], and Stephen raised his eyebrows. Joel says, cause he was that way, and I was like his point man, “Use the one where it...”

“Where it breaks down,” I added. “Where it, you know…”

“You know, were it stops abruptly, right, with those jumbled voices with the echo.”

“Don’t fade it out. Just, bam, done.” Stephen looked at David and again raised his eyebrows. And that’s it; that’s the way it ends on the record. 

I mean, we were comfortable with them by then. Funny, later we learned that while we were waiting for Crosby that day a few weeks before when we’d just stormed into Wally Heider’s and asked for David, I guess he was watching us, trying to figure out who we were. There was like a one-way mirror on the door into the inner studio and DC wanted to make sure that we weren't, I don’t know,  the cops or something. So, to be safe,  he checked us out until Barncard came into the lobby and it must have seemed like Stephen, cause he’s friendly and all like that, knew us, and that’s when Crosby ventured out.

Remember, I mean, here are these two unknowns who had the guts to fly up to Frisco and just, you know, show up at the If Only I Could Remember My Name session, uninvited. Kind of funny. Twenty minutes later, DC takes us into Studio A. Studio A, oh my God, where they recorded Blue Cheer and Déjà vu. I mean, the list: American F’in Beauty! Abraxas, Cosmos Factory, Crazy Horse, Bill Withers’ debut, Neil’s debut, Stills’ debut…

Michael Shreves [Santana drummer – incredible Woodstock performance], and members of NRPS were listening to some playback. We hung and talked and smoked some weed. It’s 50 years ago and I still don’t believe I was there. 

And the next day, we were listening in, you know, kind of unobtrusively, to some editing sessions for the LPs lead, “Music is Love.” It was a dreamy blur, really, of harmony overdubs and cleaning up the loose ends. It was me and Joel, Stephen, and David, and we were just, I don’t know, expected to chime in. I still wasn’t over the fact that it was a ruse that we were even there, let alone make suggestions. I mean, little did we know that 50 years later people look back on If I Could Only Remember My Name as a masterpiece of ambient folk, you know?

Two weeks later, RJFox, the whole band, went to the studio and we’re rehearsing the bridge of a song and I’m working out this arpeggio and suddenly we look over and DC’s on the control room phone looking real solemn and sad. We could hear him through the glass, one of those one-sided conversations with someone on the other end dominating the convo, right? After DC hung up, he punched the wall by the phone in the control room, not like hard, mind you, but dejected. I don’t know how to describe it. Later we learned it was Christine Hinton’s father. He still called David all the time. It was hard on David. Such a tragedy, but maybe worse was her father’s sorrow. It was Christine who was the subject of Crosby’s “Guinevere.” The song just kept repeating in my head: “Like yours, m’lady, like yours.”

It was at Heider’s that I met Graham Nash. We’d been out of the studio the day prior. I could kick myself. Joni’d been there that day. I swear you could sense she’d been there. But Nash was there for some backup vocal overdubs. He was kind and soft-spoken. And he was there with Dallas Taylor who shook my hand and said he’d be glad to sit in with RJFox. It was before we got Spencer and Billy. His hand was rough, like a bricklayer’s.

Neil Young was there that same day. Neil just sat in the back of the control room reading the newspaper. I thought DC and Neil would be talking to each other and kidding around like buddies/friends, nope, it was pretty much silent and kind of solemn! I don’t know. They say not to meet your heroes, you know. Like The Beatles, we want them in real life to be just like they were in Help!, living in the same flat, horsin’ around. 

But Neil brought an odd flavor to the studio. Maybe everyone just in awe of him. He’s big, you know and assuming. And later, even weirder, Young got himself an ice cream cone from the Good Humor Man, I guess, and he asked me if I wanted a bite. Neil Young wanted to share his ice cream cone. See, I’m telling you, it’s like something out of a dream. 

I said, "Aw no, I'm ok...thanx though.” Then he came a bit closer and said to me, “Nice riffs." It was a little dinky comment/compliment, but I was thrilled to death, I mean, over the f’in’ moon. Took my breath away. 

Towards the end of that evening, when people were leaving and it was just Neil, Stephen Barncard, Joel, and me, Neil gets on the piano and starts playing some "new tunes." I mean, I don’t know if anyone even heard these songs before. I don’t even remember the songs, maybe “Love in Mind,” but I'm standing by the high end of the keyboard and I’m watching NEIL YOUNG play and sing unrecorded/unreleased music, man, I'm three feet away from his head, for God’s sake. Magic.”


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