Jay “Hamilton” Himmelsbach had a long radio career in the Pacific Northwest, including on-air at stations in Moses Lake (KSEM), Bellingham (KPUG & KBFW), Seattle (KOL in the rockin’ sixties & Country Music Giant KMPS-FM in the 70s and ’80s). He also worked in Eugene & Portland OR, Ventura CA, Austin TX, and Missoula & Great Falls MT, among other markets. As Jay followed the music, he spent several years in Hollywood. This, Part 2 of Jay’s story, was written by Jay and it tells of his trials and tribulations in “La La Land.” CLICK HERE if you missed Part 1 of Jay’s biographical stories……Steven L. Smith, editor (September 2020)
I had no sense that I was driving into the middle of what turned out to be the very turbulent, transformative, culture shifting mid-to-late 1960s … and into Los Angeles, for crying out loud, one of the era’s super meccas for strange adventures. Among those 1960s transformations were some interesting and innovative directions in radio programming. FM Radio would finally acquire an audience after years of AM’s dominance. Among the new FM formats, that eventually morphed into Album Rock, but in its infancy had its LA origins with a shamelessly late-60s label was … “Underground Radio.” One of its paramount proponents was the legendary B. Mitchell Reed at KMET-FM. I had listened to a number of Top 40/Rock stations during my time in LA and had enjoyed the fabulous Gary Owens on KMPC, but after “Sargent Peppers” I definitely preferred “Underground Radio.”The magic of music continued to have its strong hold on me and, although radio had kept me in the music mix, it hadn’t given me much opportunity to personally create music … beyond my extraordinary “goal altering” experience with The Unusuals and “I’m Walking Babe.” As a teen I was a member of two different rock ‘n roll bands and a modern jazz quintet. Without a doubt I’d enjoyed the creativity radio afforded me, but I still longed for that unique artistry found in the actual creation of music.
GOT THE MUSIC IN ME
One of my better memories, during this period, involved taking the train to Spokane to attend this really spectacular concert featuring Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Lavern Baker, Bill Doggett and more. Attending this show was truly a pivotal moment. It helped solidify the idea that I wanted a career in the music industry. At the time I had no idea what that career might entail or where it might take me. All I knew is I just wanted to go there … wherever “there” might be!
Back in Yakima (1960-61), I formed a band with high school friend, drummer John Simpson. We played our first gig (following a high school basketball game) before we’d decided on a band name. The school was anxious to promote the dance and asked for our group’s name. On the spur of the moment, a band member told them The Emanons (simply “no name” spell backwards) figuring it would be a one-time thing, but to my personal chagrin the name stuck! Our repertoire consisted of some original tunes, but we mainly played covers of the Top-40 hits of the day. Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” and the Rockin’ Robin Roberts arrangement of “Louie Louie” were always requested and a must at every dance. We played around Yakima and the Yakima Valley, including a new Yakima teen dance venue, The Enchanted Gardens, which KIMA deejay “The Real” Don Steele was somehow involved with.
Steele (nee: Donald S. Revert) came to a number of our dances to introduce The Emanons and then disappeared for the rest of the night. There was a legendary Steele story that made the rounds at the time. Told to our band by a friend of The Emanons who frequently helped carry in our equipment at gigs. He was also a “radio groupie,” hanging out at KIMA during Don’s airshift. In the 50s, teens with customized cars would “drag the Ave.” (Yakima Ave.) from the Dairy Queen on the east side, to the Frosty Freeze on the west … blaring music from KIMA on their radios…reminiscent of scenes from “American Graffiti.” One evening after Don’s shift, this “radio groupie” friend accompanied Steele, in his Cadillac, to “drag the Ave.” Don was cruising along a little too quickly and was pulled over by the police. The cop was approaching Don’s driver side window…but before he could say a word, Steele indignantly declared: “Do you know who I am?! Do you know WHO I am?! I’M “The Real” DON STEELE!!!” With each line delivered, Don’s voice rose with indignation and annoyance. According to our friend, the officer wasn’t impressed and, alas, Steele was ticketed. Based on our personal interaction with “The Real” we found the story to be totally credible. I figured Don had simply neglected to leave his “on-air persona” at the station! There are those who say Steele never used “The Real” moniker at KIMA-Yakima. All I can say, in response, is it’s an absolutely clear memory of mine…and that’s for real!
Meanwhile Back In LA
Don’s office was located on Argyle near Hollywood Boulevard. I soon discovered that was how the Hollywood Argyles, of the hit record “Alley-Oop” (#1-1960), got their name. Kim Fowley, independent producer of “Oop” (with Gary S. Paxton) was a frequent visitor at TAP. Kim struck me as an odd bird but a great source of LA indie producer methods and history. Perhaps better known for his connection years later with Joan Jett & The Runaways, Kim had also been producer of Skip & Flip – “Cherry Pie” (1960), B. Bumble & The Stingers – “Nut Rocker” (1962) and “Bumble Boogie” (’61) … among others. He’d enjoyed a successful career during the early hayday of indie producers. He was exactly the type of guy I’d hoped to meet and mine for data.
Toy Story 0.5
While at Mattel I was continually amazed at the quality of talent who auditioned for “only the possibility” of becoming the voice of a Mattel talking toy. For example, one of my projects involved writing dialogue and securing voice talent for a talking fat little piggy bank. This piggy bank would make a comment each time money was dropped into its coin slot. Because of extensive production costs, the toy was never actually produced. However, that particular project offered me the opportunity to spend an entire afternoon with some of the best voice talent in Hollywood … each hoping to become the voice of a Mattel talking piggy bank! Auditioners included the great and funny KMPC Radio deejay, Rodger Ramjet’s cartoon voice and TV’s “Laugh-In” star Gary Owens. Plus, two of the best comic impressionists of that or any era … Rich Little and John Byner, who both frequented the “Johnny Carson” and “Ed Sullivan” television shows. June Foray, one of Hollywood’s most prolific voice talents, who was the voice of Rocky Squirrel, Natasha and a ton of other Hanna Barbera characters, was also at the day’s tryouts. She’d been the voice of Mattel’s very first talking toy, Chatty Cathy.
For years I had a hilarious tape of outtakes from this remarkable afternoon, but regrettably it was lost somewhere along the way. I do, however, recall my favorite Gary Owens bit Included on that tape. It began with Gary saying, in his trademark absolutely official sounding radio announcer delivery, “We now take you to Earl C. Festoon in the fish tank aquarium in our beautiful KMPC lobby for today’s address.” He then placed his index finger lengthwise between his upper and lower lips and rapidly moved it up and down, mimicking the sound of someone speaking from underwater. (You can try this is at home if you like. The bit is funnier if you do). Then in this gurgling voice he said, “Thank you very much. Now, here is today’s address … which is 5858 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California! (pause) Now we return you to our regularly scheduled programming!” It was absolutely pristine Gary Owens shtick! Both of the comics ran through impressions of everyone from Ed Sullivan to Jimmy Stewart to Porky Pig.
From 1968 to 1971 “Julia” was a popular and groundbreaking NBC sitcom. It starred Diahann Carroll, the first Black person to star in their own TV series. Her character, Julia, was a nurse and Mattel was already producing a Julia doll similar to the Barbie. I was lucky enough to supervise Diahann Carroll’s recording session for this new talking version of Julia. What an extraordinarily charming and strikingly beautiful woman she was! It was such a pleasure and really lucky opportunity for me to work with her on this project.
Sharon the secretary for our division at Mattel was married to a young aspiring photographer named Bobby Stevens. Bobby and I had a lot in common, including our sense of humor, and became good friends. He was the owner of an orange/rust colored dog named Peaches and a great cat named Merkin (look that one up in your dictionary)! As an apprentice/intern for a successful LA photographer he was allowed to use those studios after hours to practice his art and put together a portfolio of his own work. Bobby asked if I’d consent to him taking photos of me for that portfolio and I agreed. He really was a natural and had a great eye for photography. He went on to become a very successful photographer in Hollywood and had a studio of his own on Santa Monica Boulevard, directly across from the famed live music venue, The Troubador. I remember, even quite early in his career, one of his clients flew him round trip to Germany just to photograph a house! I’m proud to say my friend “Bob Stevens • Photographer • Director” continues to be one of the more successful visual and print advertising photographers and directors in Hollywood. If you’d like to take a peek at his work, here’s a link to his website: http://www.bobstevens.com/
Carla (everyone called her Chuckie) another favorite co-worker at Mattel, was married to a talent agent at the William Morris Agency. Because I already had some successful voice work at Mattel he signed me to a contract representing me as a voice talent. We put together an audition tape of my voice work for him to use. Regrettably, I wasn’t able to devote much time and effort in this area because of multiple pans in multiple fires. Simply, I was spread too thin. He showed a real interest in helping me succeed in the lucrative voice talent field in Hollywood, but I simply didn’t devote the time necessary to validate his confidence in me. I did remain signed to William Morris, but as you might expect his enthusiasm eventually shifted to concentrating his efforts on his more involved clients, which seemed completely reasonable to me.
Among my other talented Mattel co-workers was Alex Valdez, lead singer of the pop group The Yellow Balloon who had the 1967 hit “Yellow Balloon” on Canterbury Records. [Sidebar: Canterbury Records was owned by Ken Handler. Ken was the son of the owners of Mattel and the namesake of the Ken doll.]
One of my more unexpected encounters with Hollywood talent happened directly across the courtyard at my apartment complex. My neighbor Connie Cezon owned a pet supply store directly across the alley and fronting on Melrose Avenue. We became good friends because we were both cat owners. I had a great cat I’d acquired while at KPUG in Bellingham. A listener called the station asking if I’d announce she had a cat to give away. She was moving and was unable to take the cat with her. That cat ended up with me. Connie had more cats than I could count. However, her real claim to fame was her long career as a television and movie actress. Her credits included the role of Gertie, Perry’s office receptionist, on the “Perry Mason” TV series. There were also many appearances on both the old “Abbott & Costello” and “The Three Stooges” TV shows. She was a wonderful comic foil. She had tons of minor roles in motion pictures and was the screen double for famed actress Bette Davis. Episodes of those old TV shows, featuring Connie, often show up on cable television. She shared with me many wonderful stories about her career and the people she worked with. We became good friends/neighbors during my time in LA and she also bestowed many free gifts, from her pet store, on my cat.
What’s It All About Alfie?
The first act signed to Jay Hamilton Productions was an all-female rock band which had just been released from their Capitol Records contract. They had a 2-record deal with Capitol, but never cared for the musical direction the label had taken them. They’d performed under a number of different monikers, including The Moon Maids, The Four Queens and The Girls. Based on the musical direction they were aiming for, we recorded them under the name The Paisley Flower. The band was comprised of sisters Diane, Margaret (Margie), Rosemary, and Sylvia. I was apprehensive about the feasibility of getting a major record label interested in an all-girl rock band, but I wanted to give these talented females our best shot. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts didn’t have their 1st hit, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” until 1982, The Bangles had their first #1, “Walk Like An Egyptian,” in 1987 and even Heart’s “Magic Man” didn’t happen until 1976 … nearly 10 yrs after we signed our all-female band…and technically speaking Heart isn’t an “all-girl” band. While shopping our first Paisley Flower master and receiving a “sorry they’re not quite what we’re looking for” turn down from Terry Melcher (the son of singer/actor Doris Day) at Columbia Records, I left his office and headed for the elevator. Before the elevator actually arrived, Terry appeared and joined me for the ride down. It was the standard elevator ride with no talking and eyes forward. However, all the way down Melcher, apparently unaware, kept humming the melody to The Paisley Flower song he’d just turned down! A little bizarre maybe, but funnily enough this was typical! When I went to Elektra Records they seemed more interested in playing for me their most recent acquisition … rather than giving my acetate an honest listen. The song they played, by a new group they’d just signed, was “Light My Fire” by The Doors! There was a similar incident at Atlantic/Atco Records. After listening to our Paisley Flower single, they were anxious to play me a tune titled “New York Mining Disaster 1941” by their recent signees The Bee Gees. Both labels kept copies of my acetate, saying they’d get back to me, and eventually turning it down with similar explanations of “no new signings right now.” I did get feedback from a few labels with the belief an all girl rock band couldn’t be commercially successful, although they’d personally liked the recording. My feeling was the public was probably ready, but record labels didn’t want to put forth the time and effort to see it happen.
Gene’s split from the group eventually evolved into a slow disintegration. Musicians, like the rest of us, have bills to pay. Larry and Craig had significant others who’d been the main breadwinners, while the boys pursued their careers in music, but their patience was drawing thin. Bobby Metke’s drumming talents were being courted by a number of Los Angeles rock bands. So, the Foxglove project got put on hold. Larry, in the meantime, was working on a concept album idea; “TOA • These Are One.” We booked studio time and recorded most of the instrumental tracks, but hadn’t added vocals, when I contacted Gil Bateman at Elektra Records, in hopes of getting label interest in the project. I’d known Gil from our days when we both were involved with Jerry Dennon at Jerden/Panorama Records, in Seattle. After listening to what we had, Gil was positive and offered to play the tape for others at Elektra and get back to me. Of course, it wouldn’t be the only project on Elektra’s table, so it could be awhile before I would hear anything … if at all.
Gwen Florea, my supervisor at Mattel and the voice of the talking Barbie Doll, was getting married. The wedding itself was a small private affair, but the reception was hosted by Jack Ryan. Jack was the multi-millionaire inventor of the Mattel “voice unit” for their talking toys. Among other achievements, he’d eventually become (I believe) the 6th husband of actress and Hollywood socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor! I was no longer at Mattel but Gwen and I were good friends, so she sent me a special invitation to this soiree. My photographer friend Bobby Stevens and his wife Sharon joined us and as we arriving at the gate to Ryan’s mansion in the hills above Beverly Hills, I was required to present my special invitation to valet parking who then parked my car. We all walked up a winding drive to Jack’s house. What followed was truly a stunning experience. It was as if we’d found ourselves in the midst of a huge international party in a James Bond flick. Some of the partygoers were friends of Gwen’s, but most were friends of Jack’s. There were folks of every persuasion and nationality. From second-tier movie personalities, to long-haired hippies, to ladies draped in jewelry, to ladies draped in hardly anything. There was a combo playing dance music and people dancing. A constant supply of hors d’oeuvres came our way. People were smooching, laughing, a wee bit tipsy and some were smoking weed in the courtyard. We collected a plate of food and headed for a stairway leading to a remarkable tree house in an enormous tree where we’d spend most of the evening people watching. From that perch I eventually saw Gwen, congratulated her on her day and thanked her for the invitation and the opportunity to see Jack’s remarkable home. She said Jack had insisted on throwing the shindig (as it wasn’t her idea) but it was difficult turning down his invitation without seeming ungrateful. She invited me to her “real wedding reception party” at her small apartment in Manhattan Beach the following week. In 2001 Gwen wrote a book titled “Barbie Talks” about her life and career as supervisor of the talking toy division at Mattel.. The closest thing to a mention I received in her book was at the bottom of page 396 where she writes: “Gwen had added several more employees to her department. She almost had an equal number of men and women working for her.” Well, I’m here to tell you, I was one of the men!
Time To Get Out Of Dodge
Eventually it became obvious that I may have delayed heading to Los Angeles and trying my hand at independent record production a few years too long. By the late 60s it was becoming more difficult to acquire new talent to record. Major record labels began the practice of offering fifty to sixty thousand dollars front-money packages to rock artists. The competition was fierce among major labels to sign the next big thing. Acts were holding out for their perceived big payday. Mustachio Music was able to offer studio time, plus our special rider to artists contracts allowing their contractual release if we hadn’t acquired a major record label deal for them within six to eight months. As the record business entered this new phase many major labels no longer accepted outside (indie) production. The interest some majors had previously shown in Mustachio products, began to dry up as label after label shifted to an “all in-house” policy and many of my personal label contacts had moved to other pastures. Indeed there was always the possibility I wasn’t skilled enough at my chosen endeavor, thus the lack of outrageous success, but, of course, I thoroughly reject that scenario!
To be clear, it wasn’t just the music business experiencing big changes. This was the stimulating and turbulent mid-to-late 60s. The Beatles’ music had gone from the sweet innocence of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to the psychedelia of “Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds.” This was a time of anti-war protest, “Love-it Or Leave-it” bumper stickers and Timothy Leary with “Turn on • Tune in • Drop out.” It was the beginning of the Women’s Liberation Movement and shoulder-length hair on men. There were Love-ins and Be-ins and John & Yoko’s “Bed-In” and “Give Peace a Chance” and the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. Specifically, in LA, I personally witnessed the “1967 Century City Anti-War Protest March” from the roof of the KABC News Van with my friend John Carver (employed at KABC). The march appeared to be moving along peacefully when suddenly out of nowhere we observed police, seemingly unprovoked, running down war protesters, including little old ladies, with their nightsticks and beating them to the ground! It shook both of us to the core! John and I felt extremely fortunate to be safely atop the ABC News Van or we, no doubt, would have been beaten and bruised victims of the melee.
I was watching TV when, shortly after midnight on June 5th 1968, I witnessed Robert Kennedy’s assassination at LA’s Ambassador Hotel. Then, a little over a year later, Sharon Tate and others were victims of the Manson Family. For this small town kid from the Pacific Northwest, big city living was becoming measureably less attractive. On top of that the LA Basin smog problem was still basically unchecked and worsening by the day. I had also decided to quit smoking cigarettes cold turkey which turned out to be more of a challenge than I had expected … although I eventually won that battle over nicotine addiction. My little diversion to LA had not produced the results I had hoped for, but it had delivered some memorable adventures (good and bad) that were well worth this brief sabbatical into La-La Land.
Driving out of LA there were a few things I knew. I wanted to see some of the country, do a little camping and leave any residual disappointment behind. However, beyond that I had no clue! Instinctually, I headed north, camping in Sequoia National Park, the Redwoods near Crescent City, then the Oregon Caves National Monument and eventually up the Oregon coast. Some stops were for a day or two, some up to a week or slightly more. When I reached Washington I detoured to the Yakima Valley to spend some time with my folks and then immediately headed back to the coast. While making a stop at Mount Rainier I ran into Keith Stottlemyer (Yankee pitcher Mel’s younger brother who also played Major League Baseball for a few years as a catcher). I was surprised he’d recognized and then approached me as we hadn’t seen each other since my sophomore year at Mabton High School. I drove on to Aberdeen and then north, camping along the coast. I continued north up the Olympic Peninsula before heading east to Port Townsend. I stayed for awhile in PT before taking a ferry to Whidbey Island, then another ferry to Orcas Island where I set up camp again. During one of my explorations of the island I took the stairs to the top of the CCC Lookout Tower (the highest point on Orcas or for that matter any island in the San Juans). From that vantage point I looked east towards Mt Baker and my favorite northwest city … Bellingham. I decided to head over to Larrabee State Park on Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham, pitch my tent and then take a look around to see what changes occurred since I was last in B’ham.