Friday, June 01, 2007

The Beat Q & A: Lou Adler (Part I)

"The Beat" takes a slight detour from our regularly scheduled urban/pop culture coverage to share an exclusive interview with a music legend.

Most folks in this myspace generation may not recognize the name Lou Adler, but in Hollywood, he is that dude.

He's that dude sitting next to Jack Nicholson at all the Laker games.

He's that dude who directed Cheech & Chong's first movie, "Up in Smoke."

He's that dude who guided the career of The Mamas and The Papas and Sam Cooke.

Oh, and he's that dude who helped create and organize the Monterey Interenational Pop Festival.

Like I said, he's that dude.

Adler took some time to talk to "The Beat" on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Monterey Pop. That was the iconic event that launched the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Otis Redding, among others. Inside the pantheon of rock promoters and pioneers, Adler's table seat is somewhere near the head. Peep game (This is Part I in a two-part series) .

Q: Where did the idea (for the pop festival) come from?
A: ..(A concert promoter) had the idea to do a one day, one night show. Not a festival show, but in a festival setting in Monterey. They came to John Phillips, the Mommas and Poppas and myself, and they wanted to buy the Mommas and Poppas to close the show.
Weeks or so before that, John and I and I think (Paul) McCartney and a couple of other people were at Cass Elliot's house, and we were talking about how Rock and Roll wasn't considered an art form in the same way that jazz was, and how they still thought we were a trend that would be over by the summer. And (we thought) it would be great if we could validate (the music) in some way.
So knowing that the fairgrounds up in Monterey also had the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Monterey Folk Festival, we thought this might be the time and the place to do this. And we bught the dates from the promoter and we expanded it to three days and we started calling acts.

Q: You sort of answered the question, but i'll ask it anyway: Why the small town of monterey?
A: Well, (laugh), because that's where they already had the dates. We werent' looking to do a fetival, we sort of fell int it, and the dates were already in Monterey. But the appeal to us was the fact that the Jazz Festival was held there, so that if you do a rock festival in the same venue, you sort of validated what we were doing.

Q: For the first ever Rock and Roll Festival, you would think you would have chosen San Francisco or Los Angeles as the site.
A: Actually, what we wanted to do was be right in the middle, so we could get the LA bands and San Francisco bands together without favoring one or the other. Monterey and Carmel was right in the middle, a little toward San Francisco, but not in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Q: Was there any dissension from the city officials or local authoritites about the festival?
A: Yeah, we had to win them over. The police chief, his name was Marinella, and he was a captain of the Monterey Police (Department). He was retiring about six months from that date. He wanted no problems, no bumps. He just wanted to ease out, and to him the hippie and the Hells Angel was the same thing. Everybody was a Hells Angel that didn't look like the people of Monterey.
The idea of what he thought might be 30,000 people coming, which eventually turned out to be 200,000... We had to win him over, the mayor over. We went to a lot of city council meetings. John Phillips was very charming and quite a good lier, actually, so we were able to promise him anything...
What I really mean was, to understand what we were up against. The city officials were asking a lot of questions that we didn't have answers for. It wasn't really lying, but it was making up answers. He's not really a liar.

Q: Was there ever an effort to have a second festival?
A: We recieved a lot of requests from not only Monterey and California, but from all over the world, to do a secone one there. We actually went up to Monterey and talked to them a little bit, but the situation had changed so much. They were very naive — all were going in. But once they saw the numbers and what it meant, all the prices went up: cost of insurance, cost of police. And it's just that the atmosphere was a lot differnt than the first one. We just thought, ‘We've done it. Why do it again?’

Q: Going into the event, it was pretty revolutionary, just the idea of a rock festival, but did you have the any inclination the impact it would have?
A: Up until that time in the U.S., there wasn't much media coverage — other than the trade magazines, like Cash Fox and Billboard — on rock and roll. The difference, for example, in England, if Mick Jagger got a ticket, it would be on the front page of all the tabloids. In America, there wasn't that type of coverage. Not until November 1967 did Rolling Stone have their first issue. So there wasn't too much coverage.
We had no idea what we were going to get until the Friday morning (of the fesitval), when we showed up that morning at the fairgrounds before the first show. There were approximately 1500 different media outlets that had showed up to cover the festival. Crews from all over the world. At that point, we knew something was happening in Monterey. I didn't think 40 years from now, I would be talking to you about it, but that's the first inclination we had that something big was about to happen.

Q: Talk to me a little more about what it was like working with John Phillips.
A: Phillips, he went to West Point. He obviolsly didn't finish and didn't go into the army. But he was from the south, very well educated, very charming. He and I, we were like two guys that went to different schools together. We were about the same age, grew up liking the same music — Four Freshman, High-Lows. We were aware of a lot of the musical events that had shaped jazz and had shaped pop music. We both liked playing basketball, we both had played in school, so we were close very quickly. He was a brilliant song writer, and the unfortunate thing was that he died relatively young and wasn't able to continue, because he could have written in any genre. He was like a throwback to the Tin Pan Alley type song writers, as well as a pop and a folk songwriter. I guess, with Brian Wilson, he may have been the best vocal arranger to come along in 50 years. He was quite a guy.
Destructive, very self-destructive and along with whoever might be close around him. And unfortunately, whatever he got into just accelerated that and we lost him.

Q: Going back to the festival, when you were organizing the lineup, there's the legend that McCartney insisted that Jimi Hendrix be there, stuff like that. Can you walk me through what it was like figuring out who was going to play and when.
A: What we did, we formed a board of directors, and I tried to include (everyone)in it, for a couple of reasons. One to get a lot of input on who would be good to have at the festival and the other was, once again, to validate what we were doing. It was difficult to call and say we're doing a pop rock festival, because it hadn't been done before. So, we knew that the first two acts to come on, because we were going to do it without the acts getting paid in order to form a foundation that would give a way money through the years. In the same spirit that we were doing rock and roll. In other words, to give back for everything we had made from rock and roll, to give back in that spirit.
The first two acts were The Mommas and Poppas and Simon and Garfunkel. So we had our headliners and we had some one where the other acts would see that these guys were acts that were getting paid the most money in rock and roll, it was okay to come aboard. If they were doing it for nothing, then they could come aboard and do it for nothing. So we had our first two headliners for two of the nights. The festival was three nights and two days, and so we had Simon and Garfunkel for Friday night and The Mommas and Poppas for Sunday night. We had The Beach Boys for Saturday, but at the last nimute they pulled out. The second act was Otis Redding, so that moved him into the closing spot on Saturday night.
Then we had one day where we used Bloomfield and The Electric Flag, those bluse-oriented groups. We knew we had Ravi Shankar for a whole Sunday afternoon show. And then, McCartney suggested Hendrix and The Who, and we knew about Eric Burdon through Ann Jolden. He was a producer for the Rolling Stones and he was on our board of directors.
So we started to fill in trying to get representation of each genre of pop music throughout the performances. That's pretty much what we were trying to accomplish. And the reason it worked so great was because the music coming out of San Francisco, which was brand new, and Hendrix and The Who, who had success in England but hadn't had exposure in America yet. We couldn't have put those acts on and drawn the amount of people that we drew. But with The Mommas and Poppas and Simon and Garfunkel, we got that crowd and introduced the other acts to the audience, through having the power of draw of those successful acts.

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