This blog is not about our tour, it's about everything else that I care to share with you, which can cover a lot of miscellaneous ground.

Tom Sez...

The Celebrated Hensleys 

Today, September 29 happens to be my birthday. The way I remember that is that the same date is also our wedding anniversary. Let me tell you about that.

58 years ago today, I married, I got hitched to, I plighted my troth with, entered into a lifetime contract with, joined up with, made myself one with, betrothed, became a marital partner with, and espoused, and hooked up in holy matrimony with a beautiful woman with red hair whom I was lucky to discover in the wilds of Indiana. 

She was busy. In college, she had appeared in operas at the Indiana University Opera Theater (including, notably. as a pregnant flower maiden in Wagner’s Parsifal). Then, the summer before our marriage, she appeared in musical theatre around the eastern US, appearing in Rosalinda with Kathryn Grayson, Steve Lawrence in Pal Joey, and Giselle MacKenzie in Gypsy. After we married, she recorded vocals on radio jingles for me. 

Then we moved to California, and she quickly found work singing with the Los Angeles Camerata, including doing a notable direct-to-disk recording of the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. She sang with a chorus of New York session singers, joining us in our performance for Liberty Weekend, marking the grand reopening of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. 

She also found time to give birth to our two children and was the most important component of our wacky life together in Hollywood. 

We made a big fuss in 2012, when we celebrated our 50th aniversary, with a backyard full of friends being serenaded by a mariachi band, and have continued to celebrate in the eight years since then. 

In 1982, when we were still getting acquainted, and had only been married twenty years, a good friend named Joshua Freilich persuaded his good friend, Phil Hartman, to help us celebrate by putting together the attached video, which tells the story of our marriage more entertainingly, if less accurately, than we could tell it ourselves. It has not been seen in years, until now, so I’m sharing it with you to honor Phil Hartman. who really should be with us today, but is not. RIP, Phil.

No gifts are required. We've got too much stuff already.

I Am Not Woman, but let me tell ya... 

The photo at left was taken at someone's office somewhere in Amsterdam, sometime back in the last century. But what I do know is that it's Helen Reddy,, Sarah and myself. looking out the window at something.

There’s an app on my iPhone called Citizen. I’m not sure how it got there, but I must have signed up for it in a moment of delirium. Every so often it makes an ominous sound, announcing something it thinks I should be aware of—shots fired somewhere nearby, someone spotted with a weapon, an auto accident with injuries, usually on Magnolia Boulevard, or some other potential intrusion on our calm Valley life. For a while, we had a run of people wielding machetes. The other day, there was a woman brandishing a knife in someone’s pool. 

One Saturday morning, there was someone at Popeye’s who was “menacing people with a guitar.” (“I’ve got a raised 9th chord here, and I’m ready to use it!”). 

Recently, Citizen has developed a strange new habit: it’s been reporting suspicious activity that occurs near Jeff Wald: “iPhone stolen ½ mile from Jeff Wald’s house, shots fired 1 mile from Jeff Wald’s house,” etc. 

Full disclosure: I used to work for Jeff Wald 40-some years ago, but we haven’t really communicated, aside from than an occasional phone call, in a very long time. As the Wald incidents continued to pile up on my Citizen app, so did my curiosity. A few days ago, after another report of suspicious activity near Jeff Wald’s house, I picked up the phone and called Jeff Wald, who answered by saying, “What is with all this Citizen stuff?” Apparently he’d been getting those alerts too, except they were described by their proximity to our house. Jeff was just as baffled by them as I was. 

Perhaps Citizen was just trying to get Jeff and I to touch base, because that’s what happened. We certainly had a topic to discuss: the Helen Reddy biopic was just hitting the streaming services. and we were two people who knew more about the subject than most. 

In the very early 1970s I was newly arrived in LA and was happy to be offered a job as pianist with Helen, who was also new in town and seeking to break her first single, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” 

I went to Helen and Jeff’s house, a medium-sized bungalow on Woodrow Wilson Drive, just off of Mulholland, and ran through some of her material. After a while, Helen made me a peanut butter sandwich. The material was good, the sandwich was great. 

Side note: a couple of years ago I was asked to contribute a paragraph for a plaque honoring Helen at the London Palladium, where I recorded a live album with her in 1998. I wrote that I would always be grateful to Helen for introducing me to the joys of Laura Scudder crunchy peanut butter, which has been served here at Hensley Farms ever since that first rehearsal. 

So I took the gig, which usually consisted of hopping a plane from LAX to in North Carolina or Utah or somewhere similar, where the three of us would rent a car and drive to the gig. After some months of this, I put together a band, and persuaded some of my friends to go out with us: drummer Mike Berkowitz, bassist Jack Conrad, and guitarist Mike Warren at first. Sometimes we had a sax player. First it was Ronnie Starr, later I remember the late Richie Kamuka on the gig. Larry Brown took over on drums when Mike had other work. In New York, we used Bill Takas, whom I remembered from Indiana, on bass. We weren’t exactly a band, but a pretty good collection of players. 

Jeff was as portrayed in the film: volatile would be a good word. But he was remarkably transparent about the business side of what he was doing, which was trying to make Helen a big recording artist. I remember my favorite Jeff quote: “I can get a record played on every radio station, I can get her picture in every magazine, I can get the best reviews—but sooner or later someone, somewhere, has to actually buy a copy.” 

We were doing “I Am Woman” from the very beginning. I produced a couple of recorded versions of it, as well as another song which I thought had more commercial potential, “Don’t You Mess With a Woman.” Shows how much I know about picking a hit. We recorded a lot of tracks in Dallas, because Jeff wanted Helen to do a gig at the Fairmont Hotel there, and he couldn’t afford to pay the band, so he covered it via Capitol’s recording budget. I think he blamed me for the record being so expensive, but it didn’t bother me, since I didn’t really consider myself a producer. Producers, the ugly secret is, have to deal with record companies, and no one wants to do that

Jeff, I’ll be the first to say, was a great manager for Helen—except for the night he took a gig as a replacement for a band that had to cancel due to weather, and we ended up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, as the opening act for Ike and Tina Turner. When we walked on stage and I gazed at the faces of the audience, it was a lot like the “Springtime for Hitler” scene in “The Producers.” 

I still have someplace my printed invitation to the after-party for Ike and the Family Jewels. I couldn’t attend, because we got the hell out of town at intermission. I wish I had been there to suggest that Helen and Tina do a duet of “No Way to Treat a Lady,” but this was before Helen had recorded that one, and it would have surely provoked Ike to kick someone's ass. 

When I talked to Jeff the other night, I reminded him of my earlier description of the moment when I knew Helen would be successful was when he was able to persuade her to shave under her arms, so she could close the deal for her NBC TV show. He told me, “I’m going to use that in my book,” so when you see Jeff’s memoir, remember you read it here first. 

One day, I remember being called to a meeting at Helen and Jeff’s new house, a much larger one on Outpost Drive, and Helen sent me upstairs to speak to Jeff in the bedroom. I walked in to see Jeff Wald sitting in the middle of a king-size bed, totally naked and screaming into a telephone. When he saw me walk in, he put his hand over the receiver, changed his face momentarily, and said: “It’s HELL running Capitol Records from your bed.” 

And he was doing that. The entire promotion department lived in fear of Jeff, because he could get anyone fired if he felt they weren’t doing enough to sell Helen. He often told me of his battles with the then-president of Capitol, a fellow named Al Coury. 

Many years later, Al Coury married a friend of ours, and we often saw them socially. The reward for me was getting to hear the same stories Jeff had told me, except from Al’s perspective. And they worked equally well each way. 

When Helen became the star of the early version of the TV series “Midnight Special,” I was the bandleader, and when Wolfman Jack became the host, I stayed on for a while. 

Eventually, Jeff and I had had one of those “You can’t fire me, I quit!” moments, and I moved on. My studio musician career had picked up speed by then, and “I Am Woman” had become an anthem by then, so everybody ended up reasonably happy. 

When Jeff and I had our lengthy memoir chat after viewing the screening of “I Am Woman,” we spoke of  their divorce and Helen’s more recent health problems, he said something to me that qualified as an ultimate mixture of funny and sad: “The great thing is that she doesn’t remember that she hated me.”

Laborious Day 

Since today is Labor Day, I note that some here have shared stories about their first job. So this is the story of my first job in Los Angeles. 

I had been doing what I could to meet musicians, sitting in at jam sessions at parties, subbing for double-booked piano players, and making phone calls to every artist who’d ever appeared at the Embers in Indianapolis. (The only such artist who responded was the late Stanley Myron Handelman, who invited us over and hired me to play at the recording session for his album “Spiro Agnew is a Riot.”  But I, as usual, digress.)

But then I met Mary Keye, a legendary singer-guitarist. She was working at a small club in Sherman Oaks called the Ruddy Duck, and she needed an organist to play Hammond B-3 with her and her drummer named Joanie, to be the latest edition of the Mary Kaye Trio, an act which was huge in the earliest days of Las Vegas. 

“Can you play the bass part on the foot pedals?” Mary asked. “Sure,” I lied. So I was hired. But there was one problem: Local 47, the Musicians Union in LA, did not allow new members to take steady gigs until they had been in town for six months (I invite correction on the correct data here), and so I couldn’t take the gig. 

“That’s no problem,” said Mary Kaye (whose father was legendary Hawaiian star known as Johnny Ukelele), “Come on, let’s go down to the union.” 

So I went with Mary to Local 47 ib Vine Street, where she introduced me to the powerful union secretary Max Herman, who was obviously her old friend. 

He asked me the particulars of my career, and how long I’d been in LA, which was a month or two. “Well, that’s long enough,” said Max Herman. and I was issued a full-member status, and the following Monday began playing organ (with the bass notes coming from my left hand) at the Ruddy Duck at Fulton and Ventura, just walking distance from our first house, and our current one, too. That was fortunate back then, since we only had one car and my wife had Wednesday rehearsals with a choral group with which she had already picked up work.

In a 2003 interview for Vintage Guitar magazine, Mary Kaye (whose actual name was Malia Ka'aihue) claimed to be descended from Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani, through her father Johnny Kaʻaihue (Johnny Ukulele) whom she claimed was "pure Hawaiian" and stated, "he was the son of Prince Kuhio, Queen Liliuokalani's cousin."  I don't know all the details, but I believed her.

The Mary Kaye Trio is credited with founding the Las Vegas "lounge" phenomenon at the Last Frontier in 1953, an all-night party atmosphere where stars and common folk rubbed elbows in a freewheeling environment. Mary’s career had calmed down by 1970. The Ruddy Duck was less freewheeling and not all-night, but there was still some occasional elbow-rubbing. 

Mary was a good guitarist—in fact, Fender produced a Mary Kaye model Stratocaster for her—and had a lot of friends in the business. Performers came to the club, and sometimes would sit in for a tune of two. I remember singer Herb Jeffries doing Flamingo with us, and guitarist Mundell Lowe sat in now and then. 

Mary Kaye died in 2007. Her son Jay Kaye was also a musician. In 1968, at the age of 15, he put out his first LP, Suddenly One Summer, which later became a cult psychedelic album. Wish I’d had a chance to meet him. 

Thanks, Mary, and thanks Max Herman. I’ve been a union guy since I joined Local 3 in Indianapolis as a teen-ager, and I was happy to be one then, and I still am. A union member, not a teen-ager.

Wake Up Post 

Thanks to Facebook, it was pointed out to me, very early this morning, that today is the birthday of singer Maureen McGovern. This news actually woke me up, because it made me remember a day 40 years ago, and the more I remembered about it, the more I needed to write it down. So I got up early to tell you this.  

My wife and I were invited to a wedding in 1980. The groom was someone I worked with frequently in the studios, and I felt that we should attend, although it might be strange. 

The wedding was at the groom’s home in Beverly Hills, a fancy joint with lots of square footage, and enough turf for a big party outside. Many attractive, well-dressed people folks attended, none of whom I knew, aside from the groom, who was understandably busy.  

Okay, there was one person I sort of knew: the then-lieutenant governor of California, a not-especially-popular music business person named Mike Curb. I knew his name because it was on a list of people I had been cautioned to avoid when I arrived in California. Still, he seemed harmless enough in this setting, aside from his security contingent, a bevy of young, stern-looking young men with discernible anxiety. And no financial dealings would be involved, so it looked safe. 

By 1980, I knew quite a few people in the Hollywood scene, but none seemed to be in evidence on this particular afternoon. My wife, who was more accustomed to attending events where she knew no one, just enjoyed the scene. I, meanwhile, walked around seeking a familiar face. 

And finally, I found one.  

Maureen McGovern was a singer whose big hit, “The Morning After,” came out in 1972. I had done a album with her a few years later, and it produced a minor hit called “Can You Read My Mind,” which was featured in one of the Superman Movies. We had a good rapport in the studio, and I was happy to see her. 

She remembered me, in the way most singers remember piano players, so we re-bonded that day, in the way one does when one doesn’t really know anyone else in the room. We spent most of the afternoon chatting, talking about mutual friends who weren’t there, and sampling the ample foodstuffs provided. We probably had the deepest conversation of anyone in attendance, except for the security guys, who were speaking intently into their cufflinks.  

The afternoon ramped down until we exchanged goodbyes and headed for home. That was the last time Maureen and I spoke, and I’m sorry to admit I hadn’t really thought of her much until  this morning, when I learned it was her birthday.  

I checked online and determined that her career had continued quite nicely: and I’ve managed to keep myself fairly busy as well. That’s how this town works, after all. Oh, and the marriage we were attending (many had suspected the groom might be gay) produced four children, so he was a successful producer in more ways than one.  

I admit it's a skimpy story, so let me jist conclude by saying, here and now, happy birthday, Maureen. We must get together sometime. Anybody we don’t know planning a wedding anytime soon?

Ringo's and Wendell's Birthdays 

Today is the day that our cousin Wendell turns 10 and Ringo Starr turns 80. We figured Ringo already has plenty of drums, so we thought of buying a drum set for Wendell, but we didn't know what size to get her.  And her parents would never forgive us.

Oh, and thank you, Ringo, for being a few months older than me. I remember walking into Sunset Sound for a recording session back in 1973, not knowing who the artist was to be; and seeing a trap kit with plain old stenciled letters on it that clearly read: 

RINGO STARR 

THE BEATLES 

…and thinking, Ohh, that’s kind of a big deal.