Saturday, August 17, 2019

Roadie Report 82 - Roger McGuinn's Celebration of Peter Fonda - as told to Camilla McGuinn


        Roger was tuning his 12-string guitar backstage at the Flamingo when Bobby Darin came up to him.
        “Jim, I think you might want to stay around after your segment to meet Henry Fonda’s son, Peter. Sandy and Peter just finished making one of those “Tammy” movies and Peter was the doctor. They will be coming backstage after the show.”

        Bobby Darin pulled Jim McGuinn out of the world of folk music to the world of Vegas and the fast lane of the “rat pack” when he saw Roger perform as a backup musician for The Chad Mitchell Trio at Hollywood’s Crescendo Club, opening up for Lenny Bruce. Before Lenny took the stage, Bobby went backstage and offered Jim twice the money The Trio was paying him if he would join Bobby on stage for a folk segment in his Vegas show. From that moment on Bobby Darin became a mentor to Jim McGuinn.

        The backstage was filled with people after Bobby’s show. Jim was standing against the wall watching everyone, when Peter Fonda walked toward him with his hand outstretched and a big smile on his face. “You were great up there man!”
        Jim recognized the Fonda look and immediately was drawn in by his smile. Peter jumped into a conversation like they were old friends. The normal questions: “Where are you from? No one is from Las Vegas.”
        “I’m from Chicago.”
        “Chicago! My best friend is from there. Where did you go to school?”
        “The Latin School.”
        “Wow…Stormy McDonald!”
        “Yeah! ... he was MY best friend in high school”
And their friendship began on the love of a mutual friend.


        The BYRDS were formed and performing every night at Ciros’ night club on Sunset Strip, creating music and a new Hollywood scene. The buzz was on and the audience was filled with entertainment’s elite. Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and new hopeful groups including Sonny and Cher. Backstage was always buzzing. Jim introduced Peter to the band and their friendship picked up where it left off a few years before.
        “Mr. Tambourine Man” became a world wide hit and Peter wanted the BYRDS to play at his sister Jane’s birthday party in Malibu at Henry Fonda’s house. What Peter didn’t count on was that the BYRDS’ followers who were referred to as “freaks”, followed them everywhere and crashed the party. It didn’t bother Peter, but Henry was a bit astonished.  The “freaks” were being freaks, smelling of patchouli and dancing up to Henry Fonda in the strangest of ways. Henry asked Peter to try to get the Byrds to turn down but Peter just told them “Play as loud as you like.”

        The BEATLES came to town and sent a limousine to pick up Jim and David Crosby. Jim had the driver stop to pick up Peter. After slowly maneuvering through the hundreds of fans that camped at the Beatles’ rented house, they made it through the front door. David was always the man with the best drugs; LSD was handed out. Everyone except Paul took the acid. John, George, Jim, David and Peter went into the huge master bedroom shower to escape the prying eyes of the security and the fans. As they passed a guitar around, the stories abounded. It was in this shower where John was inspired by Peter to write, “She Said, She Said.”

        Peter and Jim lived close to each other; when they weren’t working, they were playing like school friends. In 1958 the Class B CB radio became available to the general public. Jim and Peter were fascinated. The radio was the size of a shoe box with tubes. To put it in a car, you would first have to make an antenna to attach to the outside shell of the car. Jim went to Peter’s house and the two of them proceeded to make the antennas. Peter taught Jim how to solder. After burning his finger several times, he became proficient with the tool; it is a tool Roger uses to this day very efficiently. Once the CBs were ready, they would get into their separate cars and drive around the Hollywood hills talking to each other with dialogue mimicking two pilots flying around Los Angeles air space. They even mastered the International Phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo. There was no limit to their imaginations. Peter became Roger's gadget mentor. When Roger finally got some extra money, he would call Peter and ask what was the best brand of the gadget he was looking to buy. From recorders, musical equipment and laser beams, Peter always had the answers.

        Air travel was a passion for Jim. On one Lear Jet ride to Pensacola, FL for a BYRDS concert, Jim invited Peter to join the group.  John Lear, Bill Lear’s son, was the pilot. Roger was sitting on the jump seat at the front of the plane when John told Roger to tell the guys in the back to buckle up. “We’re about to have a thrill.”
John commenced with a “split-s” and Jim’s coffee cup didn’t even spill a drop when the plane twisted upside down. Peter wrote about that wild ride on the liner notes of the Byrds’ “Easy Rider” album.
After the wild Lear Jet ride, Jim wrote a song called, “2-4-2 Fox Trot (Lear Jet Song.)” He even used the sound of John’s Lear Jet engines on the recording with the control tower talking in the background.
John Lear loved the song and gave Jim 25 hours of free Lear Jet time. A quick phone call to Peter, a fast drive to Van Nuys airport and they were flying to wherever John was ferrying folks. One trip to Vegas was to pick up of a very serious stocky man wearing gold. He sat down, looked at Peter, pointed at him and said, “I know your father.”


Peter wanted to make a difference. With friend Dennis Hopper, they decided to beat the Hollywood game and make a film like no other on a shoe-string budget. They would be the main characters with a young Jack Nicholson. After the film was in the can, Peter gave Dennis his entire record collection to put on the sound track as a place holder. He and Dennis loved the effect. Contemporary sounds on a contemporary movie.
 Peter wanted one song that was written expressly for the movie, so he carried the film cans to New York and screened it for Bob Dylan.Bob watched the movie. Bob didn’t like the ending; he scratched some words on a paper napkin. Handing the napkin to Peter, he said, “Give this to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it.” Peter, took the film cans, got back on a plane, flew to Los Angeles and drove to Roger’s house (by now Jim had changed his name to Roger). Peter reverently gave him the paper napkin, “Bob wants you to have this man. I think this is a little pastoral. Maybe you can put an edge on it.”
Roger got out his guitar, made up a tune and finished the words. The line “All they wanted was to be free” cinched the song for Peter. Dennis asked Roger about that line. “Hey man, what does it mean?” Roger said, “Think about it” After a few moments, Dennis exclaimed in a whispered voice, “Wow ... that’s heavy man.” Peter also asked Roger to record Dylan’s song, “It’s Alright Ma” for the movie.
       After Roger saw the movie he said to Peter, "Wish I could have been in it. " Peter smiled, " You were man." 


Years passed. In August 2015 while performing at the Historical Iao Theater in Wailuku, Maui, Roger was surprised backstage with a visit from his old friend Peter. Parky, Peter’s wife, and I stood watching two old friends flashing back to the days when they shared adventures. We were smiling and commenting on how they looked like two school boys laughing at their memories. 


        Roger received a phone call from Peter. Peter was excited about celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the movie “Easy Rider” and wanted Roger to be part of it. The idea was to show the movie with the sound track being performed live by the artists. Roger would do anything for his old friend and the thought of seeing Peter again was definitely worth it even though there were logistical problems.


        “OH NO!”
I didn’t think Roger would be that upset over the increase in the Spectrum Cable bill. When I turned my head, I saw the anguish on his face. He had just read that Peter had died. Peter wasn’t with us anymore.
Roger immediately said he didn’t want to go to NYC because he was just doing it for Peter. I pointed out to him that Peter had called and asked him to do it. Roger had to go perform “The Ballad of Easy Rider” and "It's Alright, Ma" for Peter at the celebration of Peter's movie “Easy Rider.”

Roger will be singing for the celebration of  “Easy Rider”                           but more importantly; Roger will be singing
 for the  celebration of a dear friend’s life;
                                       Peter Fonda

Peter and Roger backstage in Maui!