Biographies & Memoirs


The new year and new decade blew in colder than expected. In Times Square, the thousands waiting to greet 1970 warded off flurries and temperatures that tumbled unapologetically below twenty degrees. Detroit and Chicago were equally frigid, and even the normally balmy Los Angeles felt the chill, the city’s thermometer nose-diving to ten degrees above freezing. The cold snap then migrated across the ocean. Clouds and sleet blanketed London, and by Saturday, January 3, the cold rain and snow showers had arrived and the sun refused to materialize all day.

That morning, a cheery thirty-year-old emerged from the St. John’s Wood train station and began making his way down the tree-lined Grove End Road. Sporting his usual white shirt and tie, Richard Langham strolled briskly for five minutes, finally arriving at 3 Abbey Road, a twostory building with elegant, architrave window and door frames and a small parking lot out front. As always, Langham was greeted by a security guard who flipped open a sign-in book for Langham to initial. Langham then checked the schedule and saw that today’s clients, starting at 2 P.M., would be the Beatles.

Like many of his colleagues at EMI Studios, Langham wasn’t necessarily thrilled at the news. A staff engineer at the studio, Langham had worked his first Beatle session in 1962, when, as a novice learning his trade, he’d helped them unload their equipment into the studio. Langham had trouble telling them apart, with their suits, ties, and nearly identical, just-over-the-ears haircuts, but was struck by their camaraderie and solidarity; he was also charmed when the drummer, Ringo Starr, kept bumming cigarettes off him. Within a few short years, though, Beatle sessions had become torturous ordeals for the studio’s staff. The Beatles seemed to take forever to put new songs on tape; even when they did, they might easily return the following day and start again. They would frequently bicker, and they didn’t seem to care whether they kept the studio staff long past regular hours. From the standpoint of EMI employees like Langham, working with the Beatles felt like a frustrating waste of time, and those assigned to them felt they were being punished for one infraction or another.

To Langham’s relief, today’s session promised a return to the band’s early, bash-them-out days. From the start, they seemed like the same old Beatles, if older and more hirsute. Paul McCartney, twenty-seven, sported a bushy black beard and gave Langham his standard hug—never simply a handshake—while Starr, twenty-nine, with shaggy locks that flopped around his head, was affable as always. Few twenty-six-year-olds looked as severe as George Harrison did with his long brown hair and beard, but he too appeared in generally good spirits. The three congregated at Studio Two, the expansive room where the Beatles had recorded so much of their most indelible, groundbreaking music—“In My Life,” “Yesterday,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” good chunks of the White Album. In another sign that they were back to business as normal, George Martin, their longtime, straight-British-arrow producer, took a seat behind the console.

As the EMI staff learned, John Lennon wouldn’t be participating today; he and Yoko Ono were supposedly somewhere in Denmark. He and McCartney hadn’t spoken in several months, so no one knew for sure. Lennon’s absence was duly noted: At one point, Martin pulled out a notepad and drew a rough map of Scandinavia to give everyone a general idea of where the missing Beatle was. That same morning, an interview with Lennon appeared in the latest edition of Record Mirror, the weekly music tabloid. “I suppose it is a lot more difficult for us to get together now because everyone is involved in different things,” he commented on the state of the band. He nixed the idea of Beatle live performances in the near future; after all, he said, “For the Beatles to come back now, people would expect Jesus and Buddha.” He seemed far more interested in plugging his new concert album Live Peace in Toronto or talking about pornography in Denmark or the avant-garde nature of his albums with Yoko Ono, Wedding Album and Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions.

Whether the other Beatles saw the interview or not was unclear, but Harrison, who had a subtly scathing sense of humor when he chose to flash it, turned Lennon’s absence into a joke. “You all would have read that, uh, Dave Dee’s no longer with us,” he drolly remarked, referring to Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, a British pop band that made a handful of appearances on the charts earlier that decade. “But Mickey and Tich and I decided to carry on the good word that’s always gone down in Number Two.”1

Carry on they did, with a diligence and efficiency few had witnessed at Beatle sessions in years. The three settled in behind their instruments—Harrison on acoustic guitar, McCartney on electric bass, and Starr on drums—and went to work on “I Me Mine,” a song Harrison had written about the struggles he was having with his inflated, fame-fueled ego. With Martin, Langham, and another engineer staring down at them from the control room above the studio space, the Beatles quickly laid down several basic takes of the song. To flesh it out, McCartney and Harrison added another layer of acoustic guitars; Harrison overdubbed a tense electric lead in the intro and riffy chords in the chorus. McCartney dubbed in a fu-nereal organ and a jaunty electric piano. In another moment that harked back to their formative years, the trio playfully jammed on a Buddy Holly song, “Peggy Sue Got Married.” Thanks to their industriousness and the brevity of the song (which was all of one minute and thirty-four seconds long), “I Me Mine” was wrapped up shortly after midnight—an accelerated heartbeat by recent Beatle standards of working.

With its completion, another Beatle project was also nearing the finish line. Almost exactly a year before, the band had been filmed rehearsing and recording new material at Twickenham Film Studios in the London suburb of Twickenham (and later at the studio of their company, Apple Corps Ltd., on Savile Row). Between the damp, impersonal space and the forced camaraderie the band tried to exhibit as cameramen continually circled them, the experience at Twickenham was notably unpleasant, and the unedited canisters of the film had been relegated to storage ever since. But in the fall of 1969, Allen Klein, the pugnacious, proudly coarse New Jersey-born accountant who’d taken over the band’s business affairs the previous spring, had done the seemingly impossible. Striking a deal with United Artists, he’d actually revived the movie everyone would rather have forgotten, and Get Back, as it was initially being called, was set for a spring theatrical release.

A movie meant a soundtrack album, which in turn meant today’s visit to EMI Studios. During the filming at Twickenham, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr had banged out a rough take of “I Me Mine” as Lennon and his ever-present wife-to-be, Yoko Ono, waltzed hand-inhand. The footage was considered so charming that everyone agreed it needed to be in the film. (Additional footage of Ono would also mollify Lennon, who was worried that director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was focusing too much on McCartney.) Since that rendition of “I Me Mine” was fairly raw, even by the standards of the back-to-basics Get Back project, the band needed a more polished version to include on the soundtrack album now being assembled.

Consisting of only two verses—and a chorus that was only played once—“I Me Mine” barely amounted to a full song. Yet even in its final, manicured version, it exposed small cracks and divisions like sunlight pouring into a white-painted room. The verses, sung by Harrison, were lugubrious and mournful, laden with a sense of weary burden that had increasingly crept into his songs. Those parts felt less like a “heavy waltz,” as Harrison had described the song to his bandmates at Twickenham, and more like a dirge. On the chorus, Harrison’s voice and the doleful tempo were overtaken by McCartney’s frenetic, half-shouted exhortations and a faster, pushier tempo. (McCartney’s piano overdubs were particularly frenzied, and his voice tapped into the manic Little Richard homages of the band’s early Cavern Club days.) “I Me Mine” didn’t merely feel like two songs welded together. It sounded like the mesh of two different people and personalities—one resigned to a finale, another desperate to avoid it.

The following day, January 4, the three Beatles, joined by McCartney’s wife, Linda, returned to Studio Two to polish up a near-completed song, a hymn-like McCartney ballad called “Let It Be,” taped a year earlier. McCartney added a new bass part; Harrison replaced his original, squishy guitar solo with a more forceful one. A brass section was tacked on, as were backing singers, including Linda. The work was businesslike and somewhat tedious; at one point, George Martin scribbled “Lettuce Be” on a pad and drew a picture of a bunny to amuse himself. When it was over, the EMI staff, including Langham, punched out and checked the schedule to see who’d be working in the studio in the days ahead. The Beatles returned to their separate homes, in some cases over an hour outside London.

For two days, the Beatles had once more been a working band, one with a hit album on the charts (Abbey Road, their latest LP, was still the best-selling album in America). But at one point, Geoff Emerick, an engineer who’d also spent innumerable hours in the studio with the band, stopped by to say a quick hello. He found McCartney strangely quiet and low-key. (Starr’s mustache drooped around his mouth like a permanent upside-down smile.) What Emerick and others didn’t know was that on December 30, 1969, EMI had informed Apple of its plans to release the soundtrack album to Get Back. The Beatles had reassembled at EMI a mere four days later, as if they couldn’t wait to put the whole mess of a movie and record—and other, more pressing matters—behind them.


On the night of January 6, McCartney settled into his seat at the Royal Albert Hall. Along with five thousand others in the elegantly domed theater with boxed seats, he was about to witness the London debut of the band everyone was calling the “American Beatles.” (One of them was actually English, but a catchy press moniker couldn’t be denied.) Thirteen months earlier, George Harrison had passed on signing them to Apple, but now they were stars on a headlining tour of Europe. In one sign of their stature, their massive sound system, complete with a lighting rig specially designed for them, had arrived in London from the States by boat. They were put up in the city’s five-star Dorchester Hotel—where the grand reception party for the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night had taken place in now far-off 1964—and the Rolling Stones lent their managers an office in town. Whatever David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young wanted, they received.

They were a little nervous, with ample reason. All the major newspaper critics and a host of celebrities—not merely McCartney but Donovan and Ahmet Ertegun, the worldly, Turkish-born head of their label, Atlantic—had assembled to scrutinize them in person. Nash, who’d grown up in Manchester, knew some of his fellow countrymen were skeptical because he’d left the beloved Hollies and his native country to join this new band in Los Angeles. Before they began the show, they calmed their nerves by indulging in one of their pre-show rituals, a shared joint. By the time Crosby, Stills & Nash took the stage—with Young to follow later—Crosby was either so high, nervous, or energized (or some combination of the three) that he didn’t notice a stagehand slapping an “L” sign—the British learners permit for driving lessons—on the back of his brown fringe jacket as he walked out.

The audience guffawed as one; everyone knew Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were hardly newcomers. The public had first become aware of them eight months earlier with the release of Crosby, Stills & Nash, made before Young joined up with them. The bands they’d once been members of—the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Hollies—had made some of the most dynamic, sparkling music of the ’60s. Yet the public embraced the new configuration in ways it had only occasionally taken the other bands to its bosom. The California-sun-drenched embrace of their labored-over, multitracked harmonies, the three distinctive-looking men reclining on an outdoor couch on the album cover, the variety of music from the dramatic, postapocalyptic soar of “Wooden Ships” to the turbulent churn of “Long Time Gone”: Whatever it was, Crosby, Stills & Nash quickly went gold, selling a half-million copies. As 1970 began, it remained firmly lodged in the top 10 in the States.

Starting with their name, which read more like a law firm than a rock band, they wanted everyone to know they were a paradigm for a new, more liberating era in rock and roll. The group format, they insisted, had become too restrictive, too limited, too Establishment. (To hammer that point home and tweak his former life, Crosby would sometimes play a few seconds of the chimey twelve-string lick of the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” onstage, which always drew a laugh: The Byrds? A pop group? How quaint!) As the Royal Albert Hall crowd witnessed, they didn’t even resemble a traditionally cohesive band. Crosby, at twenty-eight the veteran, had the bushy hair, serpentine walrus mustache, and stonerbliss smile of the hippie commune leader next door. Nash, who’d be turning twenty-eight the following month, had a head engulfed in sculpted brown hair and a wardrobe of vests and floral-print shirts that embodied modish counterculture. Stills was younger than both—he’d turned twenty-five three days earlier—yet more conservative in attire (white-button shirts, dark suit jackets) and hairstyle (sideburns and prematurely thinning dark-blond hair framing chiseled cheekbones). Young, the relative baby at twenty-four, opted for patched denim and whitelace shirts. His furrowed brow and shoulder-length locks set him apart from the others as did the way he’d lurk behind them, near the guitar amps, during their shows.

After opening with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the seven-minute Stills homage to former girlfriend Judy Collins that had become one of their signature songs, their utter self-confidence kicked in. As McCartney looked on, they sang one of his own songs, “Blackbird,” from the White Album. They’d tackled it before, including at Woodstock the previous summer, but tonight it was a declaration of their eminence: It practically declared that they were picking up where the Beatles had left off. (To their credit, they sang it lovingly, with Stills holding a long, raspy note in the “dark black night” line that made the song their own.) The rest of the show broke with tradition in numerous ways. For the first, acoustic half, the four sang some songs as a quartet, others separately, others with a combination of the four. Like their garb, the songs mirrored their diverse personalities and lifestyles. Crosby’s “Triad” openly coaxed a girl into having a ménage à trois; Nash introduced “Our House,” about the cozy, music-and-lovemaking existence he had back home in Laurel Canyon with his girlfriend Joni Mitchell. (He also told the crowd it was from a new album they’d just completed, to be called Déjà vu.) Young’s “The Loner” seemed to be as much about himself—the way he worked on his own schedule, at his own pace, on his terms—as about the song’s borderline-stalker character.

Halfway through the set, a curtain behind them parted, revealing a bowl-haired drummer, Dallas Taylor, and a very young-looking black bass player, Greg Reeves. Thus began the electric second half of the show, which shed additional light on their personalities. Stills was particularly competitive and driven, no more so than during Young’s tightly wound shuffle, “Down by the River,” during which the two men jabbed at each other with their lead guitars over the course of fifteen minutes. Like the group itself, the performance was both rehearsed and ragged, teetering on the brink of chaos. Just as the tangle of guitars and rhythm section was on the verge of collapse, Nash, ensconced behind an organ and waiting patiently for his moment, shouted, “All together now!” signaling a return to the song’s chorus—and, at last, an end to the show.

Throughout the night, they remained anxious, and it showed: They exchanged in-jokes with each other and indulged in lengthy tune-ups between songs. Yet few seemed to mind. The Royal Albert Hall crowd laughed adoringly at their jokes and applauded every lapse, from the notalways-precise harmonies to the sight of the four professionals trying to decide what song to do next. (Set lists! So rigid!) They could seemingly do no wrong. Atlantic had already taken in $2 million in preorders for Déjà vu. At a company sales conference in Palm Springs, California, in January, label executives touted the album as one of its biggest potential earners of the year. CSNY would embody both the decade past and the decade to come: no rules, no restrictions, just as “free and easy” as “Wooden Ships” declared.

Back at the Dorchester, Ron Stone, a bearded native New Yorker who worked for CSNY band managers Elliot Roberts and David Geffen, noticed something odd. Reeves had sprinkled something outside the door of his room. When asked, he said it was witchcraft powder to ward off evil spirits. Hmmmm, Stone thought. What was that about? Reeves’ behavior had begun to raise eyebrows, yet no one could tell if it had to do with this heretofore-unknown aspect of his personality or the quantity of drugs everyone was now consuming.

For the time being, no one gave Reeves’ eccentricities much more thought. Introducing the bass player to the Royal Albert Hall audience a few hours before, Crosby had blissfully declared, “God smiled and sent us Greg Reeves.” Amidst the intoxicating applause, plaudits from their industry, and backstage temptations, it was hard to believe God would stop beaming their way anytime soon.


The signup sheets posted on each floor of New York University’s School of the Arts building—a big, blocky stucture on East 7th Street in the East Village surrounded by Polish diners, used record stores, and head shops—were almost too crude to be believed. Typed and mimeographed, each resembled a homework assignment more than a department memo. The first line, from the office of David Oppenheim, the School of the Arts’ imposing, culturally connected dean, read like an April Fool’s gag: “Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel has offered to teach a course in how to write and record a popular song.” According to the flier, the course would carry no credit and meet on Tuesday evenings from February through May. “Only those who are already writing and have music or lyrics to show Mr. Simon should apply,” Oppenheim’s instructions added.

Both the memo and the class were so modest that the sheets took a while to fill up. Only thirteen students in the graduate film and television program jotted down their names; no one from the dance department bothered. By the deadline, January 16, sixty-nine had signed up, and the following week they began showing up at the building, around the corner from the Fillmore East, New York’s leading rock theater. Cradling guitars and sheet music, they began congregating in a drab hallway in the East 7th Street building, waiting to be summoned for their auditions.

Although he’d never taught a class before, Simon, at twenty-eight, had indisputable credentials. The duo he’d formed with his schoolyard friend Art Garfunkel had had a fitful start: a hit single thirteen years earlier in 1957, followed by a series of flops, a breakup, a reunion, another flop, and finally, at last, a hit with “The Sound of Silence,” a melding of English-lit-class surrealism and sullen folk chords that Simon had written in the bathroom of his parents’ house in Queens, New York. This time, success stuck. Since December 1965, they’d logged eight top 20 hits, from “The Sound of Silence” through “The Boxer” the previous summer.

Physically, they resembled a high rise jutting up next to a brownstone. Almost nine inches taller than his partner, Garfunkel, who was also twenty-eight, towered over Simon. Garfunkel was blue-eyed and gaminlike, Simon brown-eyed and comparatively gnomish. Garfunkel’s blond Afro contrasted sharply with Simon’s prematurely receding hairline, which Simon attempted to disguise by growing his hair longer on the side. But their voices, if not their looks, blended together, and their dotingly crafted, meticulously harmonized songs connected with a generation trying to remain calm during a chaotic period in America’s history. A 1967 Columbia Records press release touted them as possessing “a unique understanding of the soul of the young city-dweller” who sings of “the alienation, excitement and loneliness that are peculiar to and so much a part of life in the Big Town.” While flowery, the label’s hype wasn’t far from the truth: Simon and Garfunkel even looked like a couple of grad-school enrollees.

As soon as he saw the flier for Simon’s class, Ron Maxwell, a twenty-one-year-old NYU graduate film student, called one of his high-school friends from nearby Clifton, New Jersey, a fledgling composer and pianist named Joe Turrin. The previous year, the two had written Barricade, a rock opera inspired by Maxwell’s time in Paris during the 1968 student uprising. At the appointed audition time, Maxwell arrived at the building—the same one where he’d hung a handmade “US Out of Vietnam” banner out a window as one of his teachers looked on with headshaking disdain.

Maxwell and Turrin were called in, and there was Simon, alone in a classroom with only an upright piano. At all of five feet one, Simon was more diminutive in person than on his album covers. The three shook hands and made some introductory small talk. Simon seemed impressed that Maxwell and Turn had written an entire show. Propping up the 150-page libretto of Barricade, Turrin settled in behind the piano and began playing, Maxwell singing the lyrics and acting out the plot. In the middle of one song, Turrin noticed Simon standing behind him, staring at the score. Turrin, who’d studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, was instantly rattled: Paul Simon, of all people, was scrutinizing his work.

At the end of the performance, Simon looked at Turrin apologetically. “I didn’t mean to bother you,” he said. “I can’t believe you notated all of that.” To the surprise of both would-be students, Simon told them he couldn’t read music. To Turrin, the admission was shocking: One of the leading songwriters of his generation, the man who managed to slip a phrase like “superficial sighs” into the chorus of a pop single, couldn’t decipher sheet music?

Had Turrin and Maxwell known more about Simon, they would have been equally surprised. At that moment, he and Garfunkel were on the verge of a new and potentially colossal era. The week before the scheduled start of the course, Columbia Records would be unveiling Bridge Over Troubled Water, the duo’s first new album in over a year. The label’s radio department was hustling hard to promote the title song, which Billboard had already declared a “national breakout single.” A tour of Europe and another headlining date at New York’s Forest Hills Tennis Stadium were being planned. Yet here was Simon, committing himself to nearly three months in a classroom at NYU. Everyone assumed it was a lark—that when it ended, Simon would resume the career that had finally paid off for him after years of dues-paying. It was inconceivable to picture Simon without Garfunkel, without further luminous melodies, and without the syllable-for-syllable harmonies that made him and his partner seem less like entertainers and more like brothers.


In the ramshackle offices of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee in Washington, D.C., co-organizers Sam Brown and David Hawk knew they needed a second act for the new decade. But what, precisely? The Moratorium had begun in the spring of 1969 as a call for students to strike in opposition to the Vietnam War. Gradually, the plan mushroomed into a nationwide antiwar rally. Held October 15, it defied even Hawk and Brown’s most optimistic expectations. Around the country, a million people congregated to express their disapproval. In what Time dubbed “a calm, measured and heavily middle-class statement of weariness with the war,” one hundred thousand gathered in Boston Common, bells in small towns tolled somberly, and World War II veterans in Detroit suburbs congregated to show their solidarity. Students burned draft cards, but no one anticipated the housewives in Texas who blocked a bridge leading to a defense plant.

The new decade was already sending mixed signals. On one hand, aspects of the one before appeared to be intact. The Beatles were completing a new album and film. In the wake of Woodstock the previous August, which had lured a half-million generally peaceful music fans to New York farmland, a slew of similar multiday and multi-act festivals were being planned throughout 1970. In July and then November 1969, America had finally succeeded in dropping men onto the moon; a third mission was set for April.

Yet other events of the previous six months had been hard to comprehend. No one yet knew what to make of a series of ritualistic murders in Hollywood the previous August, supposedly led by an elfin, wild-eyed hippie named Charles Manson who looked like someone who could’ve been in those Woodstock throngs. In December, a free concert by the Rolling Stones at the Altamont Speedway in northern California had ended with the knifepoint murder of a young black man at the hands of a Hell’s Angel. (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had played at that very show, hours before the murder.) The fact that the decade had begun with John Kennedy and ended with Richard Nixon, who’d been inaugurated in January 1969, didn’t bode well. Even Mad sensed a change in the winds. In its January 1970 issue, cartoonist Sergio Aragones rolled out another of his gleeful skewerings, “Protest Demonstrations.” A group of whites holding “White Supremacy” signs head toward an intersection; a band of African-Americans, holding their own “Black Power” signs, are on a collision course with them from another direction. Between them, a street preacher carries his own sign: “Prepare to Meet Thy Doom.”

The future of the Moratorium was as undecided as the newly born’70s. Brown and Hawk’s original plan called for a series of similar mass protests: one in October, two in November, three in December, four in January 1970, and so on, building into a continuous, nonstop display of public disgust. Yet they knew they couldn’t possibly top the first October 15 event. A second gathering, this time organized by New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, wasn’t at all their planned sequel. In a letter to the New York Times published November 11, a Mobilization co-organizer declared plans for “legal and peaceful, totally non-violent demonstrations in Washington, San Francisco, and points in between.” Unfortunately, they didn’t all turn out that way. When one speaker in Washington encouraged the crowd to storm the Justice Department, Hawk, who like Brown wasn’t involved in the Mobe’s planning, winced. As if on schedule, marchers from the more radical fringe began running through the Washington streets and police were lobbing tear gas.

Instead of holding further Moratoriums and Mobilization events, Hawk, Brown, and their colleagues decided on the most sensible option: raising money for pro-peace candidates running in the upcoming midterm elections. Assuming they won, those officials could begin cutting off funding for the war. The plan was pragmatic and sensible—and, Hawk knew, would have zero appeal to the rising number of far-left groups. He wasn’t even sure what to call one of the leading groups, since their name kept changing: Was it the Weathermen or the Days of Rage people? Whatever their moniker, Hawk knew they favored open combat in the streets over subvert-from-within tactics. The Weathermen made the Moratorium organizers promise not to denounce them publicly. Privately, though, Hawk was worried how far they were going to take their tactics and what impact they could have. Was the public intelligent enough, he wondered, to distinguish antiwar demonstrations from violent hooliganism?

While those debates ensued, a far more immediate problem needed to be addressed: paying for the expenses involved in mounting the October and November Moratoriums and replenishing the Moratorium fund. With the help of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, one of pop music’s most passionate antiwar advocates, a benefit—the Winter Concert for Peace—had been planned for Madison Square Garden in January.

The day of the show, January 28, Hawk, a studious-looking, bespectacled community organizer and former Cornell student, flew to New York, went to the Garden, and addressed the twenty thousand in the venue. In the minds of Hawk and Moratorium workers like Jane Barlow, the show achieved the perfect balance of political rally and quasi-Woodstock music experience. Thanks to his connections in the music business, Yarrow had assembled a wide-ranging assortment of acts: folksingers Richie Havens and Judy Collins, the Long Island blue-eyed soul band the Rascals, the big-band pop group Blood, Sweat & Tears, the cast of Hair, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers (who’d taken gospel to the pop charts the previous year with “Oh Happy Day”). With memories of the first Moratorium still on everyone’s mind, the crowd was noticeably charged.

That is, until the arrival of the headliner, Jimi Hendrix. Two and a half years earlier, Hendrix had ignited the audience and his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival. But the man who took the New York stage now was a far cry from the carnal rock and roll gypsy of Monterey. He looked and sounded prematurely careworn. Taking the stage very late with his new band, Band of Gypsys, he made it through only one song before he began muttering incoherently. “That’s what happened when Earth fucks with Space,” he told the crowd before sitting down. “Never forget that.” Both the audience and the musicians were baffled, if not uneasy, and Hendrix soon left the stage.

No one ever quite knew what drug Hendrix was on or who gave it to him. His intake had become so notorious that few at the Fillmore East had been surprised when he consumed a large amount of cocaine backstage at a New Year’s Eve show just a few weeks earlier. But as he left the stage and the Winter Concert for Peace crumbled to a close, Hawk grimaced in his seat. This wasn’t the Hendrix of Monterey, Woodstock, or “All Along the Watchtower.” This Hendrix, he thought, was too far gone. The concert organizers were disturbed but tried hard not to dwell on the evening’s unfortunate anticlimax. They had another, similar concert to plan for the summer.


Sitting at his desk at the Warner Brothers Records office on Burbank Boulevard in Burbank, California, Stan Cornyn glanced over the list of the label’s upcoming releases. As vice president of creative services, Cornyn was responsible for the company’s clever, postmodern ad copy. (A print advertisement for a new album by the Fugs, the ragged East Village folk-rock anarchists, said, “You will find the usual Fugs quota of atonal masochism . . . In spite of this, there are redeeming qualities in this album.”) Physically, Cornyn embodied the new breed of music business executive.With his horn-rim glasses, Cornyn looked bookish, but he’d stopped wearing the blue suit jackets favored by Warner executives in the early ’60s and had begun growing out his hair. The makeover helped him forge a bond with the younger acts on Warner and its sister label Reprise: One day, Joni Mitchell dropped by his office with a notebook of lyrics she asked Cornyn to type out for liner notes.

Of a typical batch of new albums released by Warner in any given week, two or three would be the label’s big guns—Peter, Paul and Mary, Bill Cosby. As for the rest, they were nobodies—“the weirdos,” Cornyn would call them. As he prepared to bang out copy for ads that would run in the music trades the first week of February, Cornyn noticed one of those oddballs on the list: James Taylor.

Cornyn knew the basics: Taylor was a twenty-one-year-old singer-songwriter, guitarist, and apparent nomad (his homes had included Martha’s Vineyard, Manhattan, North Carolina, London, and currently the couch in his producer’s house in town). He’d recorded an album for the Beatles’ Apple label, and Joe Smith, the president of Warner, had snatched him away and was releasing Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James. Cornyn also knew the Apple album had received good reviews but hadn’t sold, and that Smith’s enthusiasm alone didn’t guarantee anything. His knowledge of Taylor pretty much ended there. Cornyn was accustomed to seeing musicians pop in and out, like Neil Young storming out of Reprise head Mo Ostin’s office. But Cornyn had yet to meet Taylor or even glimpse him around the building.

Taylor had actually visited Smith’s office a few weeks earlier, but Cornyn, along with most of the Warners staff, simply wasn’t told. The scrappy, avuncular Smith had first caught sight of Taylor at the Newport Folk Festival the summer before. Taking in the sights during an after-show party at one of the plush estates near the festival grounds, Smith saw a tall, lanky kid taking long strides across the lawn. At times he seemed to be staggering, as if he were on one substance or another.

When they met, Smith instantly recognized Taylor’s name from the Apple release. Taylor, who was performing at the festival, began complaining about the Beatles’ shaky organization and indicated he was looking for a new record deal. Smith introduced Taylor to the Everly Brothers, who’d integrated Appalachian harmonies into rock and roll in the late ’50s and were now struggling to look and sound contemporary. Right there on the lawn, the three began harmonizing together on one of Taylor’s songs, “Carolina in My Mind.” Smith took note: If two of rock’s greatest singers could easily adapt to one of Taylor’s songs, maybe plenty of other people could appreciate Taylor too. Smith wound up signing Taylor.

On a midwinter January day, Taylor and his manager, Peter Asher, visited Smith’s office to play him what they had of Sweet Baby James. The two were quite the pair. Taylor was all arms and legs; his shoulder-length hair, parted in the middle, slouched down either side of his face. He had a penetrating gaze and a high forehead. Asher, though older than Taylor by four years, looked younger: With his dark-rimmed spectacles and red mop top, he could have easily passed for a polite British schoolboy.

Normally, Smith invited other label executives to sit in during listening sessions to meet the artist and get an early feel for the music they’d be marketing. But he sensed Taylor was different—that he’d be easily spooked by the presence of strangers—so Smith decided the meeting would be restricted to himself, artist, and manager.

Asher and Taylor arrived and handed Smith a tape. Smith popped it in as the two men sat on the other side of his desk. From the opening line about a young cowboy on a range, Smith was hooked. He reveled in the easygoing lull of the songs and Taylor’s upright but soothing delivery. The music was gentle, melodic, and direct. It wasn’t rock and roll, nor was it imbued with even a millisecond of political consciousness. But Smith related to it in ways he didn’t always with other acts he’d signed, like the Grateful Dead. Smith kept hoping and praying the Dead would record something approaching a single (when they finally did a few months later, with “Uncle John’s Band,” he literally whooped with joy).

Throughout the playback, Smith made appreciative comments about the songs. After a while, Smith realized Asher did all the talking; Taylor said little, if anything. He mostly nodded and, once in a while, flashed a bemused expression. Smith had amicable relationships with many artists on his label, but he sensed he wasn’t going to get to know Taylor very well. Later, when Smith heard about the heroin bouts, the wards with locked doors, and Taylor’s stay in a psychiatric hospital only months before, Taylor’s mood that day made sense. But at the moment, Taylor simply seemed shy and fragile.

Long after Taylor left the Warner compound, Stan Cornyn sat behind his typewriter and banged out copy for the ad touting the label’s forthcoming releases. “Last year, James Taylor’s first album, on friendly competitor Apple, was dearly loved and glowingly reviewed,” he wrote. “This year the same will happen to James Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James. Only much more so.” Like all commercials, it was noticeably optimistic. Since the album cover wasn’t finished, Cornyn opted for an in-joke: a photo of an Apple with a bite chomped out of it. Even if the record tanked, like those by so many other unknowns, he hoped everyone would at least remember the ad.

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