Sky Saxon's Seeds were responsible for one of the great psych-punk hits, 1965's immortal 'Pushin' Too Hard'. Many years later, Mick Middles encountered the man in Malibu — only to be drawn into the bizarre web of his British manager "Lord" Tim Hudson. For more weirdness, read on… Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
Stick-thin, clad in purple and black. Leather trousers, knee-length boots. Boney, bug-eyed, skank hair, dead face, white cheeks. This strange man was telling me to worship dogs. It was his belief — not mine — that Dog is God. That they inhabit the earth to scrutinise our every mood, to report back to the profound. (I believe cats do that, but let that pass).
The man looked an inch from death and yet, there we were, on Malibu beach. He was giving me a lesson in health and fitness. I was looking at his eyes. Looking beyond him, to the cool blue Pacific and Catalina Island, grey in the distance. The man was Sky Saxon. To some — indie kids from three decades — he remains a legend. As leader of LA's Seeds, he produced driving stark slabs of garage punk and ironically invented "flower power" at the same time.
The Seeds first entered my life, and many people's lives, by their existence on the classic West Coast psychedelic punk garage collection, Nuggets. Complete with Lenny Kaye sleevenotes, it was pretty much a blueprint for what became punk rock... In later years, I recall swapping Seeds info with one of their most powerful fans, Mark E. Smith. Through a haze of blue smoke, Mark told me just how the multi-ironies of this lost Californian band stacked up. The band was stalwart hippies who nurtured proto-punk. Underground artists who were, in effect, teen-scream popsters in LA. A band huge in influence yet small in scale.
And Sky Saxon? At this point in time living with his pack of dogs and several wives, over in Hawaii.
Sky Saxon talked... and made so little sense.
"I wrote a song, last night called 'Just Imagine'. I had the spirit of John Lennon in me at the time. My new band, the Dragon Slayers, will perform it in Europe. We will be bigger than the Rolling Stones, who I always regarded as my warm-up band."
I squinted directly at him. I was continuing my "Malibu crunches". A yuppie exercise from the late '80s.
Behind me was the stunning and Bohemian surf house that, for four extraordinary months in 1989, I called home. It was the best address of my lifetime. If you wrote me a letter, back then, you would mail it to 22420 Pacific Coast Highway. That's where I lived. Next door-but-one to John McEnroe. On New Year's Day, I wandered the beach and Guns N' Roses invited me poolside. It was truly surreal. The pleasant woman who walked her dog past my window every morning was Ali McGraw. She owned a restaurant in the Malibu precinct. Adobe, it was called. We ate Chilli Relanos there, on Tuesday nights, after which we watched the sun crashing into the Pacific like a huge exploding egg. We drank Margueritas. This is just the tip of an iceberg that will saw me unwittingly in touch with a huge swathe of people from west coast rock'n'roll....and, bizarrely enough, cricket.
ALL ADVENTURES begin somewhere. In 1989, mine began beneath the leaden skies of Cheshire on an unpromising October lunchtime. To be more precise, I was standing at the door of a Queen Anne Mansion in Birtles, located between Alderley Edge and Macclesfield.
The owner of this vast abode, which came complete with converted stables, lake, woods, acres of rolling land, cricket pitch and pavilion, was a human "hurricane" called Tim Hudson. Alongside his wife Maxi, he had cut a gaping gash into the belly of the English cricket establishment, by taking control over the career of its most cherished soul, Ian Botham.
Hudson's infamous management of Botham was already firmly cemented in cricket folklore. He draped the cricketer in his own flamboyant colours... red, green, black and gold striped blazers, fedoras, scarves, tracksuits and even watches. It was an arrogant branding that seeped to all Hudson's friends... soon I would be similarly attired. And then my friends....and then their friends. It was an infectious flamboyance that found few friends within the cricketing establishment — a stumbling ancient beast at the best of times — but nevertheless added a shot of fun and colour, if only for a short while, to the ailing county game. Most famously, Hudson took Botham to Hollywood, introduced him to Hollywood filmmakers while touting him as the new James Bond.
This dizzying period would be covered soberly in Botham's huge-selling autobiography. The Hudson/Botham affair ended spectacularly on the front page of the Daily Star. When Hudson, sitting in The King's Head in Santa Monica, had been asked "Does Ian Botham smoke dope?" Hudson had replied, "Doesn't everybody?" He was immediately sacked and never spoke to the all-rounder again.
I now admit that I allowed myself to be swept downstream by Hudson's ceaseless rhetoric. He needed my help too — help in writing a book about his days as a famous DJ (Lord Tim) on Hollywood's KFWB station in the '60s. How he dated Nancy Sinatra, became engaged to Dean Martin's daughter, Claudia. How he managed the Seeds and instigated "flower power" and even became the voice of one of the vultures in The Jungle Book. All these stories are true, although my task would be to prize the nuggets of truth from a thickening fog of semi-memory, a strange place where the fantastical often took full control.
On that first lunchtime, I ate a vegetarian meal with Maxi, Tim, Lancashire cricket legend David Hughes and a hapless promotions manager from Red Rose Radio. Tim's absurd pitch — to prise an outrageous £75,000 in sponsorship from Red Rose Radio to aid Lancashire's forthcoming season — crashed horribly at first base. Nevertheless, Hudson's banter increased in volume and velocity. Within two months I was enjoying Champagne and fresh orange breakfasts on Malibu beach.
Four months were spent spinning wildly through LA's curious backwaters, hurtling into intense discussions with fading stars of flower power, all the while beneath the swirling eye of a camera — for a filmmaker called Juliana was, like myself, on hand to record the events.
The hinge moment of this four-month sojourn would be a psychedelic Summer of Love re-union concert held at Hollywood's Universal Amphitheatre. Supporting the Seeds — themselves back together for the first time in 20 years would be Arthur Lee and Love, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Strawberry Alarm Clock. This might not mean too much to someone whose musical history has evolved through the boy band and X-Factor era but, to a Stockport boy whose teenage bedroom reverberated messily to the garage fringe of pyschedelia, it was truly bathed in the surreal.
Consider this (and please, allow the namedrop to melt to lurid mush): spending an evening bouncing through the bars of Sunset with the great Arthur Lee, spinning into a ceaseless parade of aftershow bashes, arm-in-arm with famed scenester Rodney Bingenheimer ("the Mayor of Sunset Strip' no less)". Perhaps most bizarre of all, taking a couple of cricketing chums — including the profoundly English Michael Blumberg, editor of Cricket World, to a hair metal bash at the infamous Cathouse club, an evening that would stretch the boundaries of belief.
However, the most extraordinarily daft moments belonged to Sky Saxon. He may have had genuine legendary status with proto punks and pyschedelicos across the globe but frankly, he was lost in the zones of chaos.
Sky Saxon. "I've never made a penny from my music. It has all been stolen, I don't mind. I never copywrite anything. I am actually going to start printing my own money. That's my big game plan. People can have my money for free. They can go to the Government and say, 'We don't need your money...we will use Sky's'. I will bring America to its knees. I am that powerful. I can write a song worth a million dollars, right here, right now. Here's one. It's called 'Sexy Dancer'. The big hit film, last year, was 'Dirty Dancing', so why not 'Sexy Dancer'? I will sell that to you now for $50,000, What a bargain you have got. Do you want to buy the name, The Seeds. It's yours for $50,000. Just give me cash and I will walk away. Peace and love, maan."
I didn't buy Sky's song, or band name. I did, however, sit in on the Seeds first rehearsal for 20 years. Well, it was almost the Seeds. The added member and musical co-ordinator, was a lovely chap in Chino's, named Mars Bonfire. In true LA style, he was bearded and politely vegetarian. I spend four hours with him before I realised that he was from the legendary '60s pyscho biker band, Steppenwolf'. Indeed, within his lyrics for 'Born to be Wild', he had even invented the phrase "heavy metal". Awestruck, I attempted to buy him a Marguerita.
"Nah, maan, I will just have a strawberry-flavoured mineral water," said the man who so influenced my teenage hedonism. It was crushingly deflating.
As to the gig, itself... well, one can only report that, with Sky Saxon and Arthur Lee being merciful exceptions, the entire psychedelic furry fringe lunatics of the acid spiked LA '60s had morphed into the kind of people who drive 4 x 4's, enjoy evenings down the sushi bar and wear orange jogging suits in Venice Beach.
The gig was hosted by Rodney Bingenhiemer and Tim. I stood by the stage side, swaying to Love's still-glorious 'Alone Again Or'...though generally cringing at the sheer force of bland cabaret sheen. It was the death of a dream. During the tedious and drifting Seeds' set, the band even allowed their toothy, gleeful off-springs to take their place onstage. This, I might explain, is the band that many people claim were the true inventors of punk rock.
"You're pushin' too hard...You're pushin' on me," sang Sky Saxon, to little effect. The two most famous liggers of the evening, Debbie Harry and Ian Astbury, shrugged helplessly and sneaked away through the backstage shadows. I felt sad for Sky. He looked hopelessly for them, after the set. He blinked and seemed to accept the truth. Debbie and Ian couldn't face him.
Once, Sky Saxon was a true giant, a visionary. An inspiration. In the end, he seemed like the only person in LA holding on to that greying dream.
© Mick Middles, 2012
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