I don’t remember how it came to pass that Rick took me to the Lovin’ Spoonful concert at Earl Warren Showgrounds in the summer of 1966. I don’t even remember him being there. All I remember is that he was wearing a Nehru jacket. Why did we go? I don't think we had tickets. Was I planning to buy one at the gate? Did I talk him into making the hour-long drive over the San Marcos Pass? Did he just drop me off? Something in me thinks that we dropped in on Ernie at his house and he invited me to go to the concert, but if so, what happened to Rick?
No, I must have had plans to go to the concert, because my mom would never have allowed me to go to Santa Barbara at night for no good reason. Especially with my brother, who drove like a maniac because he spent more time drumming on the steering wheel and dashboard than he did paying attention to the road.
Ernie remembers that we met at the arena, but how did that happen? Had we made plans to do so? Was it a coincidence? These are things I just don’t remember. I do remember that I wore a brand new royal blue and purple paisley pantsuit, with white go-go boots. I also had that Pattie Boyd flip, as I recall, except that my hair was the color of Jane Asher's, and I thought I looked pretty sharp.
In the Sixties, the E.W. Showgrounds hosted some now historic concerts that included the Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Yardbirds, the Grateful Dead, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jethro Tull, Moby Grape, Led Zeppelin, and just about anyone else you can think of. At the time, the Emperors were the house band, so I suppose they were at every concert they could manage to attend, when they didn't have a gig someplace else. They were a hardworking band themselves, and they performed constantly.
These concerts were produced by Jim Salzer, who briefly managed the Doors, and who owned the best record store in the Tri-Counties area. He had a reputation of being a playboy, dressed like he just stepped out of a Carnaby Street boutique, and he drove an Excalibur. I went to a party at his house once in 1969, but I don’t remember anything about that either. It was the Sixties, remember?
Kramer Arena, an oval, open-air facility that was built for dressage events, horse shows, and rodeos. People sat in the covered area, but most were on the dirt floor, where chairs had been set up. There was a definite bovine/equine aroma in the arena, but who cared? The music was always great and the vibes were groovy. Santa Barbara was hippie mecca, thanks to UCSB.
Having reserved a page in my yearbook for the Emperors, I clutched it to my side as I watched all the hub-bub going on around me. I’d been backstage before, but never for a concert of this caliber, and it was really exciting. I was shy in those days, so Ernie made sure I was okay, then the Emperors' photographer, Richard Savage, took him and Cory to have their pictures taken with some of the luminaries that were there. I think the boys had as many fans there as the Spoonful. I felt very “I'm with the band”, although I didn’t know that phrase yet. It felt great!
Suddenly, like a tornado, an energetic presence bounced up to me, a huge, infectious smile on his face, and grabbed my yearbook. It was Zal Yanovsky. He opened the book to the Emperors’ page and signed his autograph across it in a script that took up the entire page. I was stunned, and I said softly,
“That was the Emperors’ page.”
Zally looked down at where I had written Reserved for Ernie & the Emperors, and his face kind of dropped.
“I'm sorry. Is there another blank page?” Then he smiled again, his dark eyes looking into mine. “Probably not, cute as you are. Bet every boy in school signed it.”
I was embarrassed, and I’m sure I blushed. I had a bad habit of that back then.
“Oh, it’s okay,” I said. “It’s just a stupid yearbook.”
I laughed and he was all smiles again. He hugged me, told me to enjoy the show, and he was gone just as quickly as he’d appeared.
Ernie returned then and asked me to follow him, and we went around the corner and back into the corridor where Cory was. More pictures were taken. Ernie remembers that just as they were posing with John Sebastian, the camera jammed. John took it in his stride and explained that he had to go get ready for the show anyway, and he left. Unfortunately, there also was no picture taken with Spoonful drummer Joe Butler.
|Ernie and Cory with Steve Boone|
|Cory and Ernie with Zal Yanovsky|
|Ernie sitting on a bench outside the|
dressing room with Steve Boone
|John Sebastian, Cory, Zally, and Ernie|
I don’t remember leaving or going home, but I’ll never forget how kind and truly lovable Zally was, and if I could, I’d thank him. Unfortunately, he passed on December 13, 2002 of a heart attack. Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s making people laugh.
Because I wasn’t really a Lovin’ Spoonful fan, I’ve never counted this experience as one of my high points--not like meeting Hendrix or McCartney. Don't get me wrong. I liked their music and had a couple of their LPs, but more than their Top 40 hits, I prefered Night Owl Blues and Lovin' You (a song I added to my repertoire when I began my own music career). That stuff. The night of their concert, I was more excited about being there with Ernie and Cory. That meant everything to me, and that evening was the first time he called me, “Little Sis”, a name he calls me to this day.
Jim Salzer photo by Larry Fisher, Ventura County Star
Backstage photos by Richard Savage