Segarini: The Martha Reeves Incident

Cameron Carpenter, our Toronto Music Maven, is out of commission for this week and possibly next, or rather his laptop is, sooo, unable to find a fill in writer for today, I am once again going to spin a tale from the archives of columns I have written over the years.

This one takes us back to the mid ‘60s and Sunset Strip, a time and place I wish you could all  experience. So, pull on your bell-bottoms, iron your hair, and join me on a warm summer night in the City of Dreams, Music, and Magic….

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Around the same time we were ransacking Disneyland every chance we got, the Family Tree were playing the Whisky on Sunset regularly. In a single block of Sunset, with the Hamburger Hamlet at one end and the Whiskey at the other, you could catch Iron Butterfly at the Galaxy, the Doors at the London Fog, and damn near everyone else at the Whisky, scarf a late night meal at the Hamlet, and never leave the block. Almost every block on that stretch of Sunset was cool. From Pandora’s Box all the way down to Gazzarri’s and everywhere in between, there was action 7 nights a week. The Strip circa 1964

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After spending a certain amount of time roaming the bars and restaurants of any neighborhood, you start to make friends with the people you see there all the time. One of the first friends I made on Sunset was a wonderful young black woman named Flo.

Flo worked during the day at a supermarket when she wasn’t on the road as part of the support team for a very well known act. We became friends because Flo was outgoing and funny as hell, and our shared sense of humor was the basis of our initial conversation. She reminded me of my best gal-pal in high school, a girl named Bonnie Fovinci, a beautiful Italian princess with the sharpest tongue I’ve ever encountered in a woman…and she was drop…dead…gorgeous, a high school Sophia Loren.

We were pulling out of the Foster Freeze drive-in in Stockton one night, and this guy in the car next to mine took one look at her and yelled, “Hey! Wanna fuck?”

She didn’t miss a beat…

Bonnie looked at him with ice forming on her long dark eyelashes, and replied, “No, but my brother does…bring your mother over sometime.”

BURN!

=0=

Flo was the Hollywood equivalent of Bonnie. She was cute as hell, ridiculously intelligent, and was Bonnie’s equal at keeping the goofs at bay. We just hit it off. After hanging out together a few times, we started to get to know one another, and when I asked Flo what she did, she told me about the market, but never mentioned the other thing until one night at Ben Franks.

I asked her if she was going to be around on the weekend and she said no, that she was going to be out of town for the next 2 months.

“Where?, I asked.

“All over”, she responded.

“Vacation?”

“Nope…working.”

“Delivering groceries?”

“Asshole…no.”

“What then?”

“Washing, styling, and taking care of wigs.”

Well, that was the first time I’d ever heard that one. She could have cleaned up on What’s My Line.

“Seriously”, I said, “what are you going to be doing?”

She punched me in the arm.

“OW!”

She laughed. “Sorry…really…I take care of wigs for the girls.”

“What girls?”

“Martha Reeves and the Vandellas”.

Oh shit.

I’d had a crush on Martha Reeves since ‘Come and Get these Memories.’

=0=

Flo snapped her fingers right under my nose.

“Where did you just go?”, she asked.

“Martha Reeves”, a drop of drool landed on my shirt, “Just thinking about Martha Reeves”.

“Want to meet her? She’d like you.”

My ears popped.

“What?”

“Stupid question…”, Flo looked at me with that look you reserve for a kitten that gets it’s head stuck in a plastic bag, or a wet puppy…or a guy that shows up in school in his underwear.

“You sad, sad, little man”, she scoffed, I asked if you’d like to meet Martha, and I can see that you would…very much”, she offered, dabbing at the drool on my shirt with her napkin.

“Tell you what”, she continued, “When we get back to Los Angeles, we’re playing the Whisky. I’ll make sure to talk you up to her on the road, and introduce her to you when we get back.”

OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGod…

“Okay. That sounds neat.” I can hear my heart beating in my ears.

“Neat?”, she says, “Neat? Who are you Archie Andrews?”

I don’t hear her…I’m a million miles away. Martha stands before me in high heels and a short white dress, her long, beautiful legs slightly parted. She smiles at me, her arms open wide, motioning me to step closer, her beautiful full, red, moist, lips slowly parting, her eyes beginning to close as we embrace. I lean in and…

“BOB!”

“WHAT?” I jump in my seat, banging my knee on the underside of our table.

“OW! FUCK! What???”

“You’re not Archie Andrews. More like Jughead.”

Well, Jughead’s knee hurt like hell.

Now, my knee throbbing like a hammer struck thumb, I pay the bill at Ben Frank’s, and Flo and I part ways. She heads home to get ready for the Martha Reeves tour, and me, well I was headed home to start counting the days until the tour rolled into the Whisky.

=0=

Hey Glenn…where’s my 15 bucks?

L.A in the mid ‘60’s is difficult to explain to people who weren’t there. It was, (and I suppose, remains to this day), full of famous people…most of whom were not famous yet.

On any given night, for example, you could find locals playing acoustic guitars and singing in the parking lot at Ben Frank’s. Just guys you knew from around Sunset, usually familiar because you saw them at little clubs like The Brave New World, or any of the Cinnamon Cinders that were scattered throughout Southern California. Years later, of course, guys you knew as Jim, Mark, and Phil would turn out to be Jim, (now Roger), McGuinn, Mark Volman of The Turtles, and singer/songwriter P.F. Sloan. Who knew?

A guy who worked in a bank would become Harry Nilsson, the Detroit transplant I used to hang out with at the Troubadour and other bars turned out to be Glenn Frey, the cute little chick that used to sit across from me and wiggle her bare toes between my legs on my chair? Linda Ronstadt. The brooding kid who tore a swath through the resident groupies in Hollywood but wrote some amazing songs? Stephen Stills.

So yeah, you always knew a bunch of famous people, but they usually weren’t famous until long after you met them. That is really difficult to explain to friends years later, who think you’re dropping names, but in your reality, just telling a story about some guy you used to know that still owes you 15 bucks for a case of beer who happened to end up as an Eagle.

Oddly enough, the opposite also applied. A little guy with a bad limp and clearly not in good health, and as unassuming and normal as a donut shop on a street corner used to engage me in small talk every time I ran into him. One day, he gave me an autographed picture of himself, (which is around here somewhere…curse all these moves), and ‘Gene’, turned out to be Gene Vincent. He had never said a word about who he was.

…and one day, after paying my bar tab at Thee Experience, (to bartender Joe Lala, who was in Blues Image and played on Ride Captain Ride), I wandered into the antique shop across the street and fell under the spell of a very beautiful girl who turned out to be the daughter of actor McDonald Carey, and the lead singer of Mama Lion, Lynn Carey. I’ll tell that story another time…or maybe never. Note to Nikki Minaj…this is what sexy and talented looks like.

I guess what I’m getting at, is that there was always something to do, places to go, people to see, and adventures to be had in Hollywood. Even so, the days dragged by like the wait in a lineup at the liquor store.

=0=

Flo called once, from somewhere in Europe.

”Martha’s really looking forward to meeting you”, she said, while the connection crackled over the telephone.

“Me too”, I answer, lamely.

“Seriously, Bob”, she continued, “I painted a glowing picture of you, so don’t fuck this up. Don’t act like an idiot. She hates idiots, and if you embarrass me, I’ll nail your nuts to a billboard on Sunset and set it on fire.”

Suddenly, I have a mental image of this threat burned into my brain which would last for the remainder of my wait.

“Not to worry, Flo, I’ll be my regular, suave, self.”

“You’d better be” I could see her wagging her finger at me over the phone, “or else nuts…billboard…fire”.

Got it, Flo…

=0=

Robert Plant’s brother…

Three days before Martha’s show at the Whisky, I decide to splurge and go to Fred Segal to buy a suit. Fred Segal was the place to buy clothes in Hollywood, and if it’s still there, probably still is. Usually, I was the only un-famous person in the place.

I bought a white, Italian silk shirt, a Perretti tie, a beautiful dark burgundy velvet suit, and a pair of San Remo Italian half-boots with a Cuban heel. I was Shatner-Awesome. I picked the tailored suit up the day of the show.

Everything was perfect.

Shower, shave, half a gallon of Hai Karate or Pierre Cardin cologne, I forget which…this was way too important to use my regular Old Spice or Bay Rum.

I checked myself out in the full length mirror in my bedroom.

I headed for the Whisky. Cue, Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, the night belongs to me.

=0=

Mario is at the door of the already packed Whisky. He waves me through the lineup and into the club. My eyes adjust to the dim light, and I see my crew sitting at the middle banquette at the rear of the bar. A few people reward me with wolf whistles. This is my big night, and I have told everyone I know about my incredible luck.

Flo appears from out of the crowd and makes a beeline to our table.

“Okay”, she leans over and whispers in my ear, “Just before the first set, I’m going to bring Martha out of the dressing room and when you see us enter the room, just walk up like you’re going to the bathroom and I’ll stop you and say ‘This is the guy I was telling you about’ to Martha, and then introduce you. Do this right, and you’re coming to the party. Fuck it up or embarrass me, and…”

“I know”, I said, finishing her sentence, “nuts…billboard…fire”.

“Good boy”, she says, ruffling my hair, “see you in about 10 minutes.

My palms start to sweat. I’m 12…

The minutes tick by like molasses, I comb my hair, I straighten my tie, I wipe my hands on the tablecloth. Repeat.

Finally, it’s time. I stand up and step away from the booth. I have about a 15 or 20 foot walk to the edge of the dance floor, at the end of the wide corridor that leads to the dressing room, and the bathrooms. It’s a straight shot from where I’m standing to the end of the tables, where the carpet ends and, after a small 4 or 5 inch step down, the dance floor begins.

I realize I’m wearing my glasses and whip them off and into a pocket, just as Flo and Martha come into my view.

This is it.

I slowly exhale, assume an air of nonchalance, and begin my journey to what I’m sure will be the beginning of a long, and loving relationship. Everything is perfect…

…until I forget the little step at the end of the tables. I remember it as I step off into space. In that split second, I question the wisdom of taking off my glasses.

Then, like R2D2 when the Jawa’s take him down as he roams Tatooine, I fall, in slow motion, until the dance floor and my face stop me from falling any further. If there was an Olympic Face Plant event, I would have won it, hands down. Had I landed on my back, I would have been looking up Martha’s dress.

I look up just in time to hear Martha say, “Stupid drunk white boy”, and see a look from Flo that I can only compare to the look you give your kid when he dumps a quart of milk on the kitchen floor and then sits in it. She turns to Martha and says, “Time to hit the stage, Baby”, takes her arm and leads her away through the crowd. Somebody helps me to my feet, and I watch my dream go up in smoke like a badly rolled joint, and start to wonder just how much pain is involved in having my nuts nailed to a burning billboard above Sunset Blvd.

I brush off my suit, straighten my tie, and try to push my hair out of my eyes.

There’s a piece of chewing gum stuck to my forehead.

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Segarini’s regular column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

3 Responses to “Segarini: The Martha Reeves Incident”

  1. Martin Melhuish Says:

    Re: Mama Lion Lynn Carey. After all these years, are you revealing that you were actually Mr. Invitation?! “You don’t want a lover, no; you just want relief… I’ll give it to ya!”

  2. Jim Chisholm in Campbell River Says:

    Hey Bob, this is as funny as the first time I read it. Great writing!

  3. HAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA. that was golden Bob. and Fred Segal IS still open.

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