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Modern Lovers
Modern Lovers

History of Boston Rock
     History of Boston Rock & Roll - Chapter 5 - The Payola Trial


A rainy day in the spring of 1970: "Today I got so horny just thinking of Andy Pandy that I fucked myself three times in a row with my (hair) brushes." A summer day in 1971: "Well, chalk last night up as a score - the lovely, blond little cutie pie, Andy Pandy. He looks like a blonde Bily Dagger and sings sort of this teeny bopper rock 'n' roll ... they've been playing upstairs at Max's all week... soon he's gonna be an A-1, super- duper, record-selling, groupie-lovin' rock star." Diary of a Poptart - Warhol supergroupie Cherry Vanilla Penthouse (c) 1975

The Sidewinders The Sidewinders

In the backwoods of Biddeford, ME, Catfish Black took first form. The band members were all Harvard University students, hippie style. Upon return to the Crimson Castle, in the fall of 1970, the band began testing the local waters in a handful of college appearances. Itching for big- ger and better things, they sought management. Bassist Ernie Brooks' classmate suggested his girlfriend, Museum School attendee, Wellesley, MA native, Suzie Adams. Lead singer Jimmy Mahoney departed. Drummer Andy Paley reaped vocal responsibilities. At the First Earth Day, held next to Harvard Stadium, backing a group based out of Tennessee's Hog Farm commune, Adams saw Catfish Black magic and agreed to fill the management void. A multitude of college mixers, and endless nights of lead guitarist Eric Rosenfeld, (Paley's childhood friend and songwriting partner) screaming chord changes to not-so-well rehearsed Brooks (A! C! Bb!) followed. What also followed were Marblehead brothers, Neil and Loy Grossman.

Time Out, Take One

The Grossman's game plan was this: Take the band into an MIT Union Hall, record them on a TEAC 2-Track, and shop the tapes. The tape shopping caught Janus Records' eye, but other interesting occurrences happened meanwhile. Ernie Brooks' lackadaisical approach to remembering songs got the band thinking in the direction of possible replacements. The outstanding prospect was local bassist Leigh Razowski. The problem with Leigh was that he was in another band and was quite loyal to his situation. After much persuasion, a paid trip from New York to come to one rehearsal, Leigh agreed to join. Ernie in the meantime persuaded Catfish keyboardist Jerry Harrison to come with. At this time, the band looked like this: Andy was fronting the band. Eric was handling lead guitar. Leigh was on bass. Mike Reed, of Hawaii, an original member (I didn't bring him up yet 'cause he was busy reading) played rhythm guitar. Henry Stern was playing drums in Andy's place. Somehow, Adams got all of them to cut their hair. Next came Richard Robinson.

Go ahead, bite the Big Apple

A New York friend of Paley's, Richard Robinson (husband of the rock columnist Lisa Robinson) visited Boston in the summer of 1971. Robinson was riding high being responsible for the Jaggerz' one hit wonder The Rapper and he booked Catfish Black into some New York City Max's Kansas City dates, the home away from home for Warhol's Factory workers.

Record corporation RCA had recently cleared house and Dennis Katz, manager of Blood, Sweat and Tears, and brother of band member Steve Katz was brought in for A &R. When Katz and RCA president Rocco Laginestra signed an inordinate number of new acts, trying to quell the company's previous buffoonery, Catfish Black (now the Sidewinders) were included. (Note: When the band hit New York, they learned of a band with a too-similar moniker and changed their name to the Sidewinders after a line in Roger McGuinn's Chestnut Mare.) Now the Sidewinders were slated to hit the studio under Robinson's production direction for RCA Records. Still following me?


A week prior to the studio, Richard Robinson rang and informed the band that he was off to London to produce ol' Lou Reed's first solo LP. He also informed the band that his dear friend, Lenny Kaye, later of Patti Smith fortune, was to fill his shoes. The band was too naive to question the situation. The session got off on a positive note. The new direction of RCA and its enthusiasm helped. Fellow label mate, David Bowie, was among the many who slipped through to check out how things were going. Katz was happy. Andy spent the session saying everything was going to be ok. Keep positive. Eric didn't necessarily trust Lenny. Mike was doing a lot of reading. Henry was trying to adjust to a newly found wealth. Leigh was unavailable for comment. One of those cultural phenomena followed. After an infamous Cambridge Boathouse bash, the album was released to mixed radio feelings and excellent press. Billboard Pick of the Week, and those wonderful reviews in Circus, Creem, Variety and Rolling Stone. The record sold well, ironically, in Texas and some scatterings around the country. The record, however, flopped in general.

Time Out, Take Two

Henry Stern and Mike Reed quickly departed after the album's release. After 1,000 auditions, blues keysman Larry Luddeke (Far Cry) and drummer Bryan Chase joined. Xmas 1972, the band returned to live performing but after a couple of gigs it was clear that Luddeke wasn't gelling with the band and Susie was called upon to drop the axe again. As a four piece, Rose, Paley, Razowski and Chase played a couple of shows which are best described as disasters. The band needed another guitar. How about Billy Squier?

Stroke Me

The audition worked fairly well in terms of sound but the band was dubious of the man. The Sidewinders were informed that Squier was their newest member not long after. Adams was growing weary and decided it was best to pass the band, taking a secondary position, to a big agency. Really big. She figured about a five-month preparation for a Max's industry showcase for New York management would be appropriate to make the transition. With a Billboard Cross Reference (the Who's Who of What's Who), she began the Sidewinder drive. Jerry Weintraub, Nat Weiss, Sid Bernstein, Chrysalis and Katz, who by now had become Zeppelin's American management rep. All showed up at a Sidewinders' gig and all were very impressed. In a sad turn of events, Squier tried to remold the band. Rose felt his creativity was being squashed and Katz (who knew all the words to the Sidewinders' songs), the band's prospective management, ironically thought Squier had to go. Susie thought it would be best to ease Billy out of the situation, slowly. But Squier's alleged innate ability to dismantle had already crippled the band. The Sidewinders slowly unwound.


"It would have changed everything that happened in the seventies. It's tragic that it waited so long to be released."
- Byron Coley, N. Y. Rocker

Raw Power

Undoubtedly, the Velvet Underground, coupled with the Warhol underground, set the tone of what was to become of rock n' roll in the mid 70's - only they were too early for their own good in terms of potential mass popularity. In the midst of the Aquarian Age, Woodstock, flower power, et al, the MC5 and Iggy Pop reared their ugly heads. In 1970, lggy and the Stooges came to the Tea Party as the opening act for Ten Years After. One witness was Woburn, MA. teen drummer, David Robinson.

"The public was so far behind. It was Iggy's first years and the Stooges were totally misunderstood. Four people clapped (one was David)... "It was the heaviest concert I'd ever seen 'til then. The music had the power to effect things. It was terrifying to see its potential. It was young and it was hip."

Come the fall of 1970, Robinson was becoming dismayed with the musical round robin of North Shore musicians and decided it was time to search out a situation that was singularly unique." He had caught Jonathan's performances and considered tracking the man down. Fate brought the two of them to New England Record City in Kenmore Square, where Jonathan was hanging a poster announcing that he was now looking to start a full band.

John Felice, Jonathan's fourteen-year-old next-door neighbor in Natick was brought in as a second guitar and Robinson's best friend's cousin Rolfe Anderson, being the only bassist around, rounded out the Modern Lover Mark I. They only made it through a handful of gigs before Felice and Anderson departed. Their first gig, however at the Cambridge YMCA, proved to be the barometer of what was to come, the highly mixed emotions of those who came to see them. The band was both threatened with death by unrulies and praised by women with tears in their eyes, saying it was the most beautiful thing they'd ever heard.

They're gonna put me in the movies

Catfish Black refugees Ernie Brooks and Jerry Harrison were recruited, beginning the great Sidewinder/Modern Lover rivalry.

Jerry Harrison, majoring in film, met Jonathan earlier when Jon became the subject of a Harrison project. Along with a woman who dressed her dogs in clothes, Jonathan co-starred in a documentary about people with obsessions. Jonathan gave Jerry an in-depth tour of Boston (past the Stop and Shop to the Museum?). Jerry's Harvard roommate, incidently, was W.R. Hearst III! Anyhow, Jerry and Ernie became Modern Lovers in the spring of 1971 and gigs were scarce. You see, once the Lovers would play a club or a frat or a college mixer, they were never asked back. Seems people had a hard time digesting where Jonathan was coming from and wrote him off as stoned or retarded. The truth was neither, nor.

You Bad, I'm Bad

On a Capitol Record promotional tour of the U.S., singer, songwriter, producer, scenester Kim Fowley blew into town with his new LP I'm Bad. Forever in search of the next big thing, Kim hunted down the Modern Lovers on a tip from the Sidewinders who were tearing up N.Y.C.'s Max's. He quickly parked his arse at David Robinson's parents' house where he remained for the next couple of weeks. Together with the Lovers, he plotted a game plan to get the band rolling. (Mrs. Robinson, in good spirit, took lightly Fowley's morning breakfast requests).

Dinky (Stuart) Dawson, soundman extraordinaire, a contemporary of Fowley's who had settled in the area, was approached to help record the Lovers. They retreated to Dawson's garage, which housed a new litter of puppies, and among the puppy shit, a 4-track demo was borne. (Greg Shaw's Bomp Records released the tapes in 1981, The Original Modern Lovers.) The experience is remembered as "not pleasant" considering the conditions. Fowley took the tapes and approached about every major label in the country. His enthusiasm fell on deaf ears. Jack Nietzsche, behind the scenes jack-of-all-trades, understood the potential of the tapes, but it wasn't any help. This did not stop the Lovers, though.

I've become comfortably numb

People began getting wind of Jonathan and his band of misfits. They began dissecting lyrics, hailed as poetry, getting a bit introspective, wrote philosophy about the songs. Jonathan's bravery, of faring the elements (the man was forever cold) and his never ending search for a girl, caught their fancy. Allan Mason, a personal friend of 'BCN's Maxanne Satori, and an A&R man from A&M Records, took a chance and flew the band to L.A.'s Gold Star Recording. He wined, dined and recorded the band, but it didn't click. "We started getting really fussy," remembers Robinson. "We didn't think anyone understood us. We found fault in everyone. 'This one's too much business, this one's not morally there... etc.' We just went in circles." Enter John Cale.

Shelve It

The John Cale/Fowley tapes were shelved at Warner Bros. until 1976 when entrepreneur Matthew King Kaufman bought the tapes for Beserkley Records who subsequently released the Modern Lovers LP. Jerry Harrison went on to join the Talking Heads, Robinson to L.A.'s The Pop, then to DMZ and finally to the Cars. Brooks went to NY's the Necessities and Jonathan is still Jonathan.

Like a true nature's child

In 1973, under the management of Danny Lipman, of Boston Music Promotions, the band was signed to Warner Bros. They loaded up a van and headed out to the west coast to work with the Velvet Underground's John Cale, who now had become a staff producer.

The sessions got off on the right foot but poor Jonathan began worrying. He was intimidated being in L.A. and felt too much pressure about being commercial. Finally, he decided he couldn't work with John Cale. Warner Bros. Project Overseer David Berson brought Kim Fowley in to try to save the sinking project. Fowley crony Mars Bonfire (he wrote Born to Be Wild) also came in to try to help out with arrangements. Everything in Jonathan's eyes was too loud, too big. He also felt that first takes were just fine I cause 'that's the way they were.'


The Lovers did some West Coast gigs while they were out there. Their appointed road manager was Phil Kaufman, who was also Gram Parsons' road manager. The band spent one of Gram's last days miniature golfing with him. Then, the following happened:

September 19, 1973 (Rolling Stone Encyclopedia):

"Gram Parsons, once of the Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers" (his first band, The International Submarine Band, started in 1964 in Cambridge when Gram was at Harvard) "dies under mysterious circumstances in Joshua Tree, California. The twenty-six-year-old singer/songwriter's death is attributed to heart failure due to natural causes, but later will be officially announced as due to a drug overdose. Parson's coffin is stolen by two of his associates and is taken to Joshua Tree, where it is set afire. Police later arrest Parsons' road manager, Phil Kaufman and Michael Martin, a former Byrds roadie." (They got into a car accident with the body in the car on the Nay to Joshua Tree.)

November 6, 1973 (Rolling Stone Encyclopedia):

"Phil Kaufman and Michael Martin, charged with the theft of a coffin containing Gram Parsons, are fined $300.00 each after they plead to a misdemeanor charge. West Los Angeles municipal judge Leo Freund also orders them to pay $708 to the Yucca Valley funeral home for the cost of the destroyed coffin. Deputy District attorney Anthony White says police had found evidence that the two men merely were carrying out Parsons' wishes to be cremated in the Desert.

This article originally appeared in The Beat in 1985
(c) Charles William White III

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