This story happened in 1967. I was working at Talentmasters, on 42nd Street, just one block from Times Square. I had been recording the Vagrants, who had just been signed by Atlantic. They were really a great group: Loud and aggressive. The titles that we recorded during those sessions included “I Love, Love You (Yes I Do)”, “A Sunny Summer Rain”, “Beside The Sea” and “And When It’s Over”. But this story has nothing to do with recording them. Here’s what happened:
I was in the middle of a James Brown session, one afternoon, when Leslie West bounded into the Control Room and said “Chris, I need to borrow a guitar!” Being the nice guy that I am, I told him to take his pick and added that he’d find the case for whichever guitar he chose in the little storage room, which was behind the Control Room. He took my prized Burns ‘Black Bison’ down off the wall saying “This will do.” As he was high-tailing it out of the studio he shouted that I should come and see the group at the gig that night at Ungano’s, a club on 71st Street, in Manhattan.
After the session finished I went home, showered and went out to eat and, feeling tired, considered passing on hanging out in a smoke-filled club. But, feeling a little guilty, having said that I would be there, I ended up taking the subway uptown to see the group play.
I arrived just as they starting their second-to-last song of the set. I quickly found “Fat Frankie” Scilano, their manager, who was standing at the back of the club. Standing beside him I watched as they finished the song and started their last number. Leslie was playing a white Telecaster and my Burns ‘Bison’ was sitting behind him on a guitar stand. As the song progressed lights started flashing and the smoke machine started doing its thing. As the organist was taking a solo, Leslie took off his telecaster and picked up my Burns. With lights flashing and smoke…smoking…he took a ripping solo. But it was the last verse, the end of the song, that things got a little out-of-hand. With me standing in the audience, Leslie took off MY guitar and proceeded to smash it to bits over his guitar amp! This was not a case of a few token love-taps. No, he beat the living hell out of my guitar. Totally demolished it!
To say that I was angry would be a gross understatement – I was incensed. Seeing me about to storm the stage, “Fat Frankie” put a big, beefy arm around my neck, putting me in a virtual headlock and, shouting above the noise coming off the stage, said that I should be cool as Leslie would replace the guitar. I don’t remember Leslie’s exact words as he explained away his impulsive destruction of my guitar. Needless to say, I he never did give me a guitar to replace the Burns ‘Bison’.
In the mid seventies, I happened to bump into Leslie one day, on Sunset Strip. Unfortunately, he was ‘out of it’ and when I mentioned that it was about time that he made good on his promise to replace the guitar, he said that I should come back to his hotel with him and he would give me one. He said that he was on his way back to the hotel, the Hyatt House, at the time. The trouble was that, in his blitzed out condition, he was walking in the opposite direction, away from the Hyatt House, towards Beverly Hills. Seeing the futility of everything – dealing with someone so sadly and pathetically stoned – I left him standing in the street and haven’t seen him since. Maybe one day he’ll find the grace to make good on that promise given over 30 years ago and replace a guitar that was, at the time, my favorite.
© 2004 Christopher Huston