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RIP Mr. Simon Stokes 

Sadness today, at news of the passing of veteran troublemaker Simon Stokes. Google him if you're not familiar with the name. I'm including a video I completed recently of a track we recorded together some years ago. Working with Simon allowed me, REQUIRED me to stretch way beyond my usual limits. This song is a fine example of what Simon brought to the table.We met through our mutual friend, guitarist Richard Bennett, but I had actually heard Simon's Black Whip Thrill Band at the Artists and Models Ball in 1970 or so, shortly after we arrived in LA. We later inexplicably became golfing buddies, and the first time we went to dinner at Simon and Maria's Hollywood home, I was astonished to find a copy of my Masters of Deceit album in his record collection. We recorded a lot of rather naughty songs together, which must have broadened my base. We did a tribute to Simon a couple of years ago, and it was the only time my name ever appeared on a poster next to that of Jello Biafra—and a bunch of other wild folks, too. My condolences to his family, especially his wife Maria, ever sweet and patient.

A Couble Order of You —words and music by Simon Stokes and Tom Hensley © 1990 Your Name Here Music (BMI) and Scoundrel Music (ASCAP)

Saxophone, Don Markese


Cher and Cher Alike 

The picture shows an imagined visit of Kurt Vonnegut and Andy Warhol to the Hollywood Bowl, for no reason. This story is about an altogether different night, one when our band was hanging around backstage before a show at  the Bowl in 2015, when in walked Cher. No last name 

We didn't often have pre-show visitors, preferring to do meet-and-greets after the show; so her arrival did not go unnoticed. She walked through the common area briskly and disappeared into Neil's dressing room for a few minutes of visiting. Those of us who were there at that moment began discussing our history with, naturally, Cher.

We reallized that every band member present had played on one or another of her hits over the span of her career. My memory was an early one, since I played piano on "Half Breed" in the early 1970s. Alan Lindgren recorded tunes during her disco era, while Reinie Press and Ron Tutt had done others along the way. Cher, of course, didn't meet or greet any of us on her way in and out through the room, but that wasn't really expected or required. We were just amused that we all had our own individual pieces of Cher's history.

I had an extra-special memory of her, from a moment she probably would not have preferred to recall. I was in A&M studio A the night Phil Spector brought her into the room during a session for John Lennon's Roch and Roll album, announcing "John, this is Cher. She's going to sing along on the next song."

John's reply was "The f*** she is!" 

There's more to that story, but I've dined on it for years, and there may be a few meals left in it yet, so I'll save it for when I'm hungry.


Yes, I’ll confess. I was one of those who piled insults on Nashville upon arriving here for the first time in 2001. As the plane was landing, various Touroids cupped their hands over their mouths to simulate an airport speaker system and intoned messages such as: 

•Welcome to Nashville. Set your watches back thirty years. 

•Welcome to Nashville. If a chord has more than one letter and one number, it is wrong. 

•Welcome to Nashville. Forget half of what you know. 

•Welcome to Nashville. Bassists will please confine themselves to one and three. 

•Welcome to Nashville. All raised ninths must be lowered before entering the city. 

•Welcome to Nashville. Use a capo or go to jail. 

I could go on and on. Actually, I already have. 

I used to say that everyone I knew in the studios in the 1970s had either died or moved to Nashville, and I at least knew that the ones who’d died had gone on to a better place. I think you’re getting the picture. 

My first impression of the city, arriving from the airport that night in 2001, did little to alter my preconceived notions. A rainy, chilly night. A meal consisting mainly of meat. Walking through a beaten-up downtown, listening to some mediocre blues bands, including one player who rushed so badly that by the time he reached the end of his set, he had time for an extra tune. 

But then something odd happened. The sun came up the next morning! 

And it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t cold and I went for a walk and found myself sitting in a Baja Fresh restaurant, just as if I was at Coldwater and Ventura Boulevards (two locations which by the way, are now gone), eating quesadilla and ensalada just as God intended it. 

And then something else odd happened. A line formed at the counter and the customers in it had the unmistakable appearance of a recording session lunch break: a group of men of indeterminate age, all with distinctive hairstyles. One slightly older dude, who was obviously a producer. One slightly younger dude, who was obviously the artist. 

And then something else odd happened. One of the distinctive hairstyles turned out to be residing atop the head of our backup drummer emeritus (summa cum sic Tutt) Paul Leim. 

It turned out that Mr. Leim was the drummer and W4mëister for an album-in-progress by a newcomer named Brian Bennett (no relation to Richard). I also met the other Muzoids—I’m embarrassed to say that I couldn’t etch all the names into battery-backed memory, although I’m sure they were all well-known, at least in the bidness. 

The producer, though, I had met before. His name was Bob Johnston, and he had been making great records for a long time (pedigree upon Google search). I recalled that in the early 1970s I was called to do a session for him. I arrived at Western Recorders, ready to impress the big-name producer and thus open the door for much future work. 

But what I was asked to do was to hold down one note on a Hammond B-3 while he tried miking the resulting sound from various Places in the room. It was a four-hour session on a Saturday afternoon (i.e. big buck$), but I experienced the depressing realization that my part could have been handled just as well by a toddler holding a Popsicle stick. 

When I spoke to Bob Johnston, I related that story to him and Bob immediately said “Well come on over, you can play on the tune we’re cutting this afternoon.” Sure, great! I was ready to rumble until I remembered the small matter of a 4:35 pm bus call, followed by a sound check, followed by a show for actual paying customers, and knew I had no choice but to respectfully decline. 

But I have to admit it was thrilling to have my first chance in years to turn down a record date. 

I did, however, accept the invitation to come down to the studio and hang out and hear a take. The players were, as you might expect, great. But for me, following along on the Nashville-style numbered chord sheets was an adventure. In Nashville, even a simple chart looks kind of like a London phone number. But more complex tunes, including this one, a song called “That’s What Love Can Do,” were not at all simple. Besides, every time I saw a “1,” meaning a tonic chord, it looked to me like a bar line. I found myself happy to be a neutral observer and not a participant. 

I noticed a sheet of paper posted on the wall of the control room containing a quote from Bob Johnston which I shared with our band, and which I’ll share with you now: “Critics are an eternal mediocrity, living at the expense of genius, either to belittle it or destroy it; a race of insects happily eating away at the foliage of art.” The quote was from Bob Johnston, and the attribution is a story in itself. 

Mr. Leim, knowing that I had to be back at the hotel, told me to take his car—his wife was picking him up for tonight’s concert and he could reclaim his car at the hotel. 

“Treat it as if it was your own,” Paul told me. So I went downtown and sold it. 

No, I didn’t sell it. But before I left, Bob Johnston asked for my phone number and I obliged. It had been a long time since I’d given my phone number to a record producer, so I almost slipped up and told him “I’m with Arlyn’s.” 

Bob Johnston passed away in 2015, joining the list of producers who will never call me again. 

So there you have it. I arrived in Nashville slinging insults and opprobrium, and the damn town gets even by nice-ing me into submission.

Portrait of a Vocalist 

I’ve taken a little hiatus from posting at a time when humor is too close to physical labor, but today I decided it’s time for me to revisit the Diamondville Chronicles archives and share some with you. It's okay, I won't breathe on you.

Over the last few days, I spent some of my free time acquiring some new Facebook friends, and I note that many of them turned out to be artists. Not recording artists, silly, I mean physical, graphic visual artists, the kind with implement above and surface below. That’s not really what I do myself, although I certainly enjoy seeing it; and our son Tim actually operates in that world, albeit subtly. His books, Wally Gropius and Sir Alfred, and Ticket Stub are available from various sources, including some earlier work from Fantagraphics, in case you didn't know. But I digress.

One of the fine artists I now call a friend is a gent named David Cowles, whose style is right in my wheelhouse, so imagine my surprise when I found a portrait he had done of our vocalist. 

I dropped him a note, pointing out that I’ve seen drawings, sketches, and other kinds of artwork depicting our frontman over the 40 years I toured in Diamondville, but had never seen this one, or even one like it, and I find it very cool.

I asked if I could post it here, because I doubt many of you have seen this either, and I think it’s kind of special. So enjoy it here. He’s done lots of portraits of famous people, and if you visit his web site , you’ll find lots to amuse and/or impress you.

I noted that Mr. Cowles lives in Rochester, New York, a town we played on our final tour three years ago. We had some painfully amusing adventures with our hotel there, which I shared with him, and I will share here on a future dip into the Chronicles.

Many Rivers to Cross 

I'm spending a lot of time right now (and time is what we have plenty of, right?) constructing the tale of my time spent with the people at Mattel. The toy people. That's for my other blog, Tom Sez, the tales that don't belong in the Diamondville Chronicles. It's a pretty good one, but it's complicated. So is the stuff from the tour, but here's one that's short and, well, a tiny bit sweet.

On the flight home from our 2011 tour of Europe and South Africa—on the last lap, from London to Los Angeles, one of our fellow passengers turned out to be the late Joan Rivers, I'm going to assume you've heard of her. I certainly knew of her. I had actually even met her many years earlier, at a time when she was a member of a group called Jim, Jake and Joan (pictured). They had played the Embers in Indianapolis when I had the house band there. We didn't play for their show, and when I wasn't needed in the showroom, I was assigned to do whatever I could do in the lounge. I mostly played cocktail piano, but sometimes did an occasional Mose Allison tune, just to make the customers drink up. It was a vain attempt to be entertaining.

When I met Joan, along with Jim and Jake, she struck me as actually, forgive me for saying this, quite a cute young thing—in a 1960s kind of way. We chatted, she was funny, I liked her, end of story. Until that day in 2011.

None of us actually knew she was on our flight, not until we arrived. How is that possible? Well, we were in business class, so I have to assume she must have been in funny-business class, in a funnier section of the plane.

When we landed at LAX, we all dutifully reported to immigration. While I was distracted by being required to go through my formalities, I happened to glance over at an adjoining interview table, where an immigration agent was busy interviewing Joan. At that exact moment, he was, in fact, holding up her documents in one hand, while appearing to compare her then-current face with the picture in her passport. My mind raced as I began inventing punch lines and captions for a potential photo of that scene. I probably thought of a good twenty minutes of material for her act while I sat there.

But I never finished creating my dozens of face lift jokes. After all, we were home. No need for further material.

How could I know that, nine years later, the memory would provide a few paragraphs of material for me today? Thank you very much, Ms. Rivers, we'll take it from here. Thank you for your service.


There is Nothing Like Two Dames 

I love it when news events give me a reason to write a blog post, especially when those news events aren’t something related to death and/or destruction. So today is a good day, since the news item for today reveals to us that Dame Judi Dench is going to be the oldest person ever to grace the cover of British Vogue Magazine. She is 85, which is older even than any of our band members, and, as it turns out, she’s probably spritelier too. Here’s the story about that: 

Back in 2008, we did a TV show for ITV in London called “An Audience With…” The show has a featured performer and playing to an audience made up of celebrities, most of them British and less familiar to Americans. Some of them took a while for me to realize, “Oh yeah, that’s Johnny Vegas,” or “Wow—Germaine Greer,” or “Sir Tim Rice?” 

The audience member that I recognized immediately was Dame Judi Dench. She’s pretty easy to spot, and was seated up front, so it wasn’t difficult.” 

She was clearly enjoying the show, which went along nicely, until we did “Cherry Cherry,” always an audience pleaser. As soon as we began playing it, the audience was on their feet dancing, especially Dame Judi Dench, who was displaying some impressive moves and snappy steps that made everyone watch her admiringly. 

But at the same time, there was some kind of technical problem with the electrical wiring of some stage lighting, which didn’t look right on the screen. 

Here’s a little-known fact about the medium: people who make television don’t give a damn how things sound, only about how things look. You can do an entire tune with one guitar a half-step away from the rest of the band, or even turned off, due to a faulty capo setting or failed batter or something, and no television producer/director will ever stop and say, “We should do that again and make sure it’s right.” No, BUT but if there happens to be something wrong with the lighting or anything else in the picture, they will work on it repeatedly until it’s just as it's intended to be, even if it takes all day and costs every penny in the budget.. 

As a result of the lighting issue, we had to do “Cherry Cherry” again…and again, and again and again. I lost count of how many times we did that wonderful song, but I’ll estimate that we did the song seven times, and while the band was growing weary, Dame Judi was out of her chair and going full-speed on every take with no sign of letup. The band agreed that we had never seen such crazed audience choreography. We probably should have offered to take her on tour with us. 

Interestingly (to me), the “An Audience With…” show first launched back in 1980, and its first host was Dame Edna Everage, with whom I have a bit of history myself. My episode with her took place on stage at the Ahmanson Theatre in the Los Angeles Music Center. Dame Edna was doing one of her multiple farewell tours, and that show included a bit where she performed a movie scene with cast members selected from her audience, on that night including me. I played Dame Edna’s husband. Further, deponent sayeth naught. But I digress, so back to the other Dame. 

Dame Judi appears on the cover of British Vogue’s June issue, and editor-in-chief Edward Enninful hailed her as "one of the nation's most beloved citizens" in an Instagram post Monday. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to see Dame Judi Dench, the unassailable queen of stage and screen, starring on her first Vogue cover at the age of 85," he wrote. 

Although she’s best known for her dancing performance with our band, Dench is an iconic actor who is best known for her roles in "Shakespeare In Love" and the James Bond movie "Skyfall."