CLEAR LIGHT-A STORY OF WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN?
Clear Light-A Story Of What Might Have Been?
Elektra records had come a long way by the sixties, and was home to everyone from folk singers Judy Collins and Josh White to Phil Ochs and Tim Buckley, right through to psychedelic pioneers Love and The Doors, to Detroit based rockers like MC5 and The Stooges and Bread who would become one of the label’s most successful bands in the seventies. By then, Elektra had come a long way since it was founded in a college dorm in 1950.
That was where the Elektra Records story began in 1950, when Jac Holman and Paul Rickol were students at the prestigious and exclusive St. John’s College, in Santa Fe. They decided to form a record label, and agreed to invest $300 each into their new business venture. A year later Elektra Records was ready to release its album.
This was New Songs, a classical album featuring Georgianna Bannister and John Gruen, which was released as a limited edition in March 1951. However, when the album sold only a few copies this was an inauspicious start to the Elektra Records story.
Despite this setback, Elektra Records would thrive during the fifties and early sixties, and was at the forefront of the folk revival. They signed Ed McCurdy, Oscar Brand, Judy Collins, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. These artists brought commercial success and critical acclaim the way of Elektra Records. However, by 1964, Elektra Records was ready to diversify.
By then, Jac Holman had been analysing the classical music market and spotted a gap that was waiting to be filled. None of the major labels had realised that there was room for a new classical budget label, and before long Jac Holman launched Nonesuch Records. It was a huge success, and before long, other labels launched similar ventures. However, Nonesuch Records was by far the market leader. Buoyed by this success, Elektra Records decided to enter the pop music market.
Elektra Records entered into a joint venture with Survey Music, and founded a new label Bounty Records. However, it wasn’t a particularly successful venture, and ultimately floundered and folded. The only thing Elektra Records gained from Bounty Records was The Paul Butterfield Band, which they fell heir to. This would play an important part in Elektra Records future.
With the psychedelic era unfolding before their eyes, Elektra Records decided to sign some of the genre’s most promising up-and-coming acts. Soon, The Doors a San Francisco based band had signed to Elektra Records. They were soon joined by another new band from Los Angeles, Love. However, they weren’t the only band from L.A. who would soon call Elektra Records home.
By 1967, so would Clear Light, another group from the City Of Angels. They were a relatively new group and had only been together since early 1966.
That was when Los Angeles’ based Michael Ney advertised for a guitarist for a pickup band he was organising. One of the first people to answer the advert was Clyde Edgar “Robbie” Robinson, who was already a stalwart of the local music scene.
In the early sixties, Robbie began performing as Robbie The Werewolf. He even released an album Live At The Whaleback in 1964. Then Robbie and his wife formed a duet, and sung on the local folk circuit. That was until Barbara Robison was asked to join the folk rock group The Ashes, who in 1966 became The Peanut Butter Conspiracy. With his wife now a member of a band, Robbie was looking for a new group.
As he set off for the audition, Robbie wondered if Michael Ney’s new group was where his future lay? When he arrived at the audition, and introduced himself to Michael Ney, and straight away, the two men got on. Everything it seemed was going well. That was until Robbie failed the audition. At least Robbie came away having made a new friend, Michael Ney.
Just like Robbie, Michael Ney wasn’t a newcomer to music. For a while, he had been Tito Puente’s percussionist, and then had played in a series of bands in Hollywood. However, recently he had been looking at forming a new band whilst living alone in L.A.
When Robbie and Barbara Robison heard that Michael was living alone, they insisted that he move into their small, apartment on Manhattan Beach. There wasn’t much room for three adults and the Robison’s young child. However, everyone got on well, and soon, Robbie and Michael Ney were making plans to form a new band.
This time, there were no adverts placed looking for musicians. Instead, Robbie and Michael Ney went in search of the best musicians. The place to find them was the Hollywood and Sunset Strip clubs, and night after night, the two friends went in search of musicians for their new band. That was where Robbie and Michael Ney would eventually meet two musicians from Phoenix, Arizona.
When Robbie and Michael Ney began their search for band members, Bob Seal and Dallas Taylor were still playing in Phoenix. However, Dallas had played in L.A. before, but it had been a messy experience, literally.
Having answered an advert, drummer Dallas Taylor had travelled to L.A. for an audition. He landed the gig, and his new band were scheduled to open for The Mothers Of Invention. By then, Dallas Taylor had just had an appendectomy, and rather than tell his new band mates this, decided to play at the Shrine Auditorium. He played with such energy and enthusiasm, that his stitches burst. Dallas Taylor ended the gig with blood seeping through his burst stitches. Given the pain he was having to endure, Dallas Taylor wasn’t at his best, and was replaced as drummer. That was how he ended up back home n Phoenix. However, Dallas Taylor convinced Bob Seal to head to L.A.
Bob Seal and Dallas Taylor arrived in Los Angeles around September 1966, and straight away, began looking for fellow musical travellers. It was at a Peanut Butter Conspiracy concert, that Bob Seal and Dallas Taylor began talking to the band’s bassist Alan Brackett. Eventually, Bob Seal and Dallas Taylor asked Alan if he knew any musicians looking to form a band? Fortunately, Alan Brackett did, and introduced them to Robbie.
When the three men began talking, Robbie explained that he and Michael Ney were writing songs together, and explained what they were trying to achieve. It looked like Robbie and Michael Ney had found the musicians they were looking for. There was a problem though.
Both Bob Seal and Dallas Taylor were homeless and had no idea where they were going to spend the night after they finished talking to Robbie. He invited them to stay at the small Manhattan Beach apartment.
By then, the hippie era was in full swing, and communal living was becoming the norm. It certainly was at the Robison’s house, and they had been joined by Michael Ley, Bob Seal and Dallas Taylor. This allowed the nascent band to write, practise and jam.
As the musicians jammed over a couple of days, Michael Ney and Dallas Taylor quickly realised that two drummers were better than one. It gave the band a unique sound where power and fluidity reigned. Along with Bob Seal’s guitar, the as yet unnamed band’s sound was being honed. However, they still needed more musicians, and a name.
One thing the band need was a vocalist, and Barbara Robison was everyone’s first choice. She declined, so Wanda Watkins a friend of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy was recruited. All that the group now needed was a name.
This came about when one of the group passed road sign saying Garnerfield Sanitarium. At last, the group had a name. However, still the lineup wasn’t complete.
Despite this, Garnerfield Sanitarium were playing weekend live at various clubs in Manhattan Beach. It was at one of these shows, that a young, aspiring songwriter approached them. He was Wolfgang Dios, who already was already signed to a publishing company. Wolfgang Dios was so impressed with Garnerfield Sanitarium, that he hooked them up with his publishing company.
The publishing company was owned by a former professional boxer and aspiring songwriter, Bud Mathias. He was formerly the Arizona Lightweight Champion between 1951 and 1954. Now he was a musical entrepreneur, who was involved in songwriting, recording and publishing. There was, it seemed, no end to Bud Mathias’ talents.
After his boxing career was over, Bud Mathias was looking four a new career. He decided to get involved in music. That was despite having no experience in the music industry. However, Bud Mathias had written Runnin’ Wild which was recorded by Brenton Wood. Bud Mathias had also formed the publishing company Little Giant Music which published and administered Wolfgang Dios’ songs. When Bud Mathias met Garnerfield Sanitarium, he thought the band had potential.
There was a but though, Garnerfield Sanitarium still needed a decent bassist. As luck should have it, the musical entrepreneur just happened to know a bassist, Doug Lubahn, a former ski instructor.
When Mamma Cass first met Doug Lubahn in Aspen, Colorado, he was a ski instructor during the day, and played in a nightclub band at night. Mamma Cass thought Doug had potential, so encouraged him to move to L.A.
Things hadn’t gone well for Doug Lubahn, and for a while he was homeless, and had no option but to sleep on L.A.’s streets. However, by the time he joined Garnerfield Sanitarium, Doug Lubahn’s luck was changing.
After meeting the band, Doug Lubahn moved into the Robison’s Manhattan Beach apartment. By then, space was at a premium. This was the end for Barbara Robison. For some time the Robison’s marriage has been on shaky ground. She and her baby Scotty Robison, moved into Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s house in Silver Lake. Meanwhile, Manhattan Beach apartment became Garnerfield Sanitarium’s headquarters.
By then, the new lineup of Garnerfield Sanitarium had realised that the band’s name wasn’t right. After some debate, it was thought the name was “too long” and “not cool enough.” It was then that Alan Brackett suggested Brain Drain. This however, wasn’t the only change.
After a band meeting, it was announced that Wanda Watkins was no longer Brian Drain’s vocalist. However, before long, Wanda Watkins was back with a new band. Bud Mathias had recruited Wanda Watkins into Joint Effort. By then, Brain Drain had gone up in the world.
Brian Drain was now playing clubs around Hollywood, and were taking to the stage at Pandora’s Box, The Witch and The Hullabaloo. At these clubs, Brain Drain were a proving a popular draw. Given their newfound success, Brian Drain decided to record a couple of tracks.
For Brain Drain’s first ever recording session, they decided to record just two songs. This included the Wolfgang Dios composition Black Roses, which was joined Me which was
penned by new bassist Doug Lubahn and Brain Drain’s manager Bud Mathias. Once the two songs were recorded, Bud Mathias decided to swing by Elektra Records’ West Coast office with an acetate of Brain Drain’s new recording.
Bud Mathias had timed his run perfectly, as the receptionist at Elektra Records was out having lunch, and had left the door unlocked. As Bud Mathias walked in, A&R man Billy Jones was about to head out for lunch. However, Bud Mathias managed to get Billy Jones to listen to the Brian Drain acetate. He liked the recording and agreed to send it to Jac Holman at Elektra Records’ headquarters.
Over the next couple of days, the members of Brian Drain waited for news from Elektra Records. When it came, it was good news. Jac Holman liked the recording, and wanted Brain Drain to sign to Elektra Records.
In early January 1967, Brain Drain were about to sign to one of the major labels. It was then that Bud Mathias inexperience caught up with. He had never got Brian Drain to sign a management contract with him. Bud Mathias was a worried man.
He had every right to be. At Elektra Records, staff producer Paul Rothchild was talking with Brain Drain. He had just produced The Doors’ recently released eponymous debut album, and had previously, had worked with Love. This gave Paul kudos in the eyes of Brain Drain. Paul Rothchild had a propositions for Brain Drain.
This was that Paul Rothchild become Brain Drain’s new manager. Paul Rothchild pointed out that they needed someone with music industry experience managing Brain Drain. Given his track record with The Doors, and especially Love, Brain Drain soon agreed. Bud Mathias was history, and left ruing his inexperience. He had lost a band that had just signed to a major label by forgetting to get a management agreement signed.
With Paul Rothchild managing Brain Drain, Elektra Records records rented an apartment for the band to live in. Their new home was situated in Franklin Avenue, and was once home to comedian W.C. Fields. Soon, it became known as the Light House.
The name came about, because in March 1967, Brain Drain had changed their name to Clear Light. The newly named band were also well on their way to transforming the faded grandeur of the Light into a rehearsal cum living space. Soon, Clear Light would be joined by The Doors, and the two Elektra Records’ bands would jam into the early hours, as they prepared to record new albums.
In The Doors’ case, they were preparing to record their sophomore album Strange Days. Their eponymous debut album had been released on January the ‘4th’ 1967, and reached number two on the US Billboard 200. The Doors was well on its way to selling four million copies. Would lightning strike twice when Clear Light released their debut album?
Clear Light entered the studio with producer Paul Rothchild for the first time in the spring of 1967. The band recorded several songs, which they hoped would find their way onto their debut album. However, when producer Paul Rothchild listened to the recordings, he wasn’t happy with the results.
The problem Paul Rothchild felt, was that the band needed a vocalist who could make his presence felt. All the successful bands had a distinctive vocalist. That was what producer Paul Rothchild felt Clear Light were lacking. Despite this, the members of Clear Light were about to become movie stars.
Meanwhile, Clear Light were asked to feature in Theodore J. Flicker’s film The President’s Analyst, where the band would play themselves in a nightclub scene. However, when it came time for Clear Light to play She’s Ready To Be Free, vocalist Robbie was unwell, and was replaced by Barry McGuire. While his delivery was perfectly acceptable, it was no match for Robbie’s recent recording.
After the filming of The President’s Analyst, Paul Rothchild began the search a replacement vocalist. Eventually, Paul Rothchild found the vocalist he was looking for…Cliff De Young.
At first, Cliff De Young seemed to be in the wrong movie. While the rest of Clear Light looked like, and adopted the hippie lifestyle, Cliff De Young was preppy looking by comparison. It was an unlikely match, when the aspiring actor, singer and songwriter joined Clear Light as. However, Cliff De Young possessed the distinctive vocal that Clear Light. Paul Rothchild realised this, and so did Robbie Robinson.
He didn’t make things difficult for the rest of Clear Light. Robbie resigned from Clear Light, and Cliff De Young replaced him. Now all Clear Light needed was a new guitarist.
Several guitarists were auditioned, including Doug Hastings of The Daily Flash. He had previously stood in for Neil Young in Buffalo Springfield, but despite his pedigree, Doug Hastings didn’t get the gig. Instead, Ralph Schuckett, who had played in various bands on Hollywood Strip and Topanga Canyon won the day. Soon, the new lineup of Clear Light were heading on a seventeen day residency in New York.
At their first gig in New York, new recruit Ralph Schuckett earned his Clear Light stripes. He wasn’t impressed by the crowd’s response and lack of enthusiasm and started chiding the audience, becoming more and more angry. By then, the venue manager was racing across the stage, and sacked Clear Light on the spot. His parting words were “you’ll never work in this town again.” How wrong he was.
The next day, Steve Paul phoned Clear Light and booked them to play at Scene East, which was a much more prestigious venue. By the time Clear Light took to the stage word of Ralph’s rant had spread like wildfire. Suddenly, everyone wanted to hear Clear Light, and this resulted in Clear Light enjoying a longer stay in the Big Apple. This also allowed Clear Light to hone their sound and songs, and by the time they returned to L.A. they were ready to finish recording their debut album.
For their eponymous debut album, the members of Clear Light had written nine new songs. They would later augment these songs with two cover versions. Clear Light penned Black Roses with Wolfgang Dios; and A Child’s Smile with Michael Ney. Doug Lubahn wrote Sand, Think Again and Night Sounds Loud. Bob Seal penned With All In Mind, They Who Have Nothing and How Many Days Have Passed. Clear Light’s new vocalist Cliff De Young cowrote The Ballad Of Freddie and Larry with keyboardist Ralph Schuckett. These nine songs would be recorded at one of the Hollywood’s top studios.
Before recording of Clear Light began at Sunset Sound Recorders, the newly named band had made their L.A. live debut. This took place at L.A.’s first love-in on Easter Sunday. Clear Light quickly won over what was an appreciative audience. Buoyed by the success of their live debut, Clear Light were ready to record their eponymous debut album.
When Clear Light arrived at Sunset Sound Recorders, they were met by their manager and producer Paul Rothchild. He was now one of the hottest producers in America, having just finished producing The Doors’ Strange Days. Joining Paul Rothchild in the studio was Elektra Records cofounder Jac Holman. He was the recording and production supervisor. As Paul Rothchild and Jac Holman watched on, Clear Light prepared to record their eponymous debut album.
By then, Clear Light’s lineup included a rhythm section of bassist Doug Lubahn, guitarist Bob Seal and drummers Dallas Taylor and Michael Ney who added percussion. They were joined by Ralph Schuckett, who switched between organ, piano and celesta. Cliff De Young add vocals on nine tracks, while Bob Seal takes charge of vocals on Black Roses and his composition All In Mind. With Paul Rothchild producing Clear Light, surely the album would soon be recorded?
With the addition of keyboardist Ralph Schuckett and new vocalist Cliff De Young, Clear Light could concentrate on completing their debut album. However, producer Paul Rothchild decided that songs recorded before Ralph Schuckett and Cliff De Young joined Clear Light, should be rerecorded. This meant the sessions would take longer. There was no other option though. Paul Rothchild saw the early versions as just work in progress. They just weren’t good enough to make the album. This was disappointing for Clear Light. However, the extra work was worthwhile.
When the songs were rerecorded, and keyboards and new vocals added, some of the songs took on new life and meaning. It was a total transformation, and much more representative of the new Clear Light. Gradually, Paul Rothchild was moulding Clear Light, and began to steer them in a new direction.
With nine songs recorded, Paul Rothchild decided that to complete the album, Clear Light should record two songs by members of Elektra Records’ family. The songs he had chosen were Greg Copeland and Steve Noonan’s Street Singer and Tom Paxton’s Mr. Blue. These two songs Paul Rothchild felt, would be ideal for Cliff De Young’s “Hamlet on acid delivery.” This would prove true. However, by then, Clear Light were beginning to resent Paul Rothchild.
Members of Clear Light felt that their manager and producer was becoming too controlling. He was also a perfectionist, which was no bad thing. However, the band tired of Paul Rothchild’s constant changing things. It was as if he was on a search for sonic perfection. Given the success Paul Rothchild had enjoyed with Love, The Doors and The Paul Butterfield Band, most bands would’ve been willing to listen and learn. Not Clear Light who decided to rebel.
Eventually, something snapped in Clear Light and they began to rebel. They felt Paul Rothchild was too controlling of the band. This may have worked with other bands, including Love, The Doors and The Paul Butterfield Band. However, the members of Clear Light had a rebellious streak, and didn’t take kindly to being constantly told what to do. This wasn’t the only thing the drove a wedge between Clear Light and Paul Rothchild.
By then, guitarist Bob Seals the oldest member of Clear Light was questioning the wisdom of having their producer as a manager. When he spoke out, Bob Seals claims he was singled out for criticism by Paul Rothchild. He remembers doing a guitar overdub on a song he had written. Meanwhile, Neil Young and some big name musicians were watching in the control room. By then, Bob Seals was wound up like a spring. When he stumbled over the guitar part, he claims Paul Rothchild said through the intercom: “you know, there are ten thousand guitar players in this town that can do this track if you can’t.” For Bob Seals this was a crushing blow. It was just as well that the album was almost completed.
When Clear Light was completed, the relationship between Clear Light and Paul Rothchild had sunk to a new low. Elektra Records had scheduled the release of Clear Light for October 1967. However, there was another problem.
Elektra Records had hired William S. Harvey to shoot the album cover. By then, Robbie Robinson was still a member of Clear Light. However, Elektra Records got round this by describing the former founder member as the band’s “guru” Robbie wasn’t on the photos in the inner sleeve. They feature the new lineup of Clear Spot, and does the instructions “in order to appreciate the spectacular double drumming of Clear Light, play at high volume.”
Whether critics followed these instruction isn’t known. What’s known, is that the reviews of Clear Light were positive on an album of carefully crafted music that veered between folk rock to heavy psychedelia. Producer Paul Rothchild brought the best out of Clear Light on their eponymous debut album, which later became a psychedelic classic.
Clear Light was an album that showcased the two talented vocalists. Bob Seal who provided the folk rock compositions was Clear Light’s secret weapon when he added the lead vocals on Black Roses and With All In Mind. Maybe if Clear Light had looked closer to home, then Bob Seal would’ve solved their vocalist problem? However, Cliff De Young vocal on Street Singer was dramatic and lysergic and was perfectly described as“Hamlet on acid delivery.” Then on Mr. Blue Cliff Young’s vocal was, dramatic, theatrical and menacing, before becoming manic and unhinged on The Ballad Of Freddie and Larry is manic and unhinged. Cliff Young it seems is taking a trip, as Clear Light waltz their way through the song. Doug Lubahn three contributions see Clear Light disappear further down the psychedelic rabbit hole. Sand, Think Again and Night Sounds Loud are prime cuts of heavy psychedelia and are lysergic and trippy. These tracks on Clear Light are a reminder of the golden age of psychedelia.
Following the release of Clear Light, the band embarked on a second tour of the East Coast in December 1967. Clear Light had just released Black Roses as a single, with She’s Ready To Be Free on the flip side.
When Clear Light arrived in New York, they started auditioning new guitarists. Little did Bob Seal realise that he was about to be replaced. His bandmates had stabbed him in the back. They wanted someone less outspoken, someone who would tow the party line. Eventually, Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar won the day.A heartbroken Bob Seal left, and headed to Sausalito, where he began a new life as a bassist. However, Bob Seal had the last laugh.
The new guitarist needed time to learn the band’s songs, and this meant that Clear Light were unable to play live or record. Some of the members of Clear Light picked up some session work to tide them over. However, by the end of February 1968, the latest lineup of Clear Light opened for Jefferson Airplane. Meanwhile, Night Sounds Loud became Clear Light’s third single in Britain. Things seemed to be going well for Clear Light.
They even got as far as beginning work on their sophomore album. However, the loss of Bob Seal had hit Clear Light hard, and they were no longer the same band. Cliff De Young realised this, and left the band in June 1969. This was perfect timing, as the rest of Clear Light had been looking for a new vocalist.
Dave Palmer who went on to join Steely Dan was first choice. When this didn’t work out, Duane Allman was approached, and talks took place. However, nothing came of it, and by September 1968, Clear Light split-up.
Looking back, the Clear Light story is one of what might have been. If Clear Light had continued to work with Paul Rothchild, what heights might they have reached? Would Clear Light have followed in the footsteps of their label mates and jamming partners The Doors? After all Paul Rothchild,had an enviable track record.
Paul Rothchild produced everyone from Tim Buckley to Love, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Fred Neil and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Part of his recipe for success was he was a perfectionist, who was constantly looking to improve the slightest detail. This worked and got results with many bands. However, Clear Light felt stifled, and rebelled.
This was a great shame. Clear Light were a talented band, who could’ve should’ve reached greater heights. However, by the end of the recording of Clear Light, their partnership with Paul Rothchild was all but over. Over the next eleven months, Clear Light seemed to implode. Guitarist Bob Seal, who had played an important part in the sound and success of Clear Light was betrayed, when his band mates started auditioning for a new guitarist. This backfired, and Clear Light were never the same tight unit. Their answer was to replace vocalist Cliff De Young. However, he beat them to it, and left Clear Spot. By then, the game was up for Clear Spot, and by September 1968 this talented and versatile band called time on their career.
Sadly, just over two years after Michael Ney first met Robbie Robinson, the adventure was over for Clear Light. A lot had happened since then. The lineup and name had changed several times, managers had come and gone, and Clear Light had recorded a stonewall psychedelic classic. Sadly, nearly fifty years after Clear Light called time on their career, they’re still one of music’s best kept secrets. However, Clear Light’s music is appreciated by discerning few musical connoisseurs who have discovered this psychedelic classic, which was recording by a group who should’ve gone on to reach heights. Sadly, for Clear Light, theirs is A Story Of What Might Have Been?
Clear Light-A Story Of What Might Have Been?