2 Step Program Chapter One
At last, some recognition for Bob Jansen. Too bad he’s dead.
Never heard of Bob Jansen? He wrote 12 Step Program; that you must have heard.
Every band of the 60s used to do it. That and Louie Louie and Gloria.
Every band. It didn’t matter if the band was playing a frat dance, at a high school, a night club or a private party, toward the end of the night, the band would do 12 Step Program.
Girl, I’ve got it bad’
You’re the best thing I never had.
All your love is all I ever crave
But I know it’s the one thing I’ll never have.
Remember that? And the first chorus goes…
“”First step: i need your love
Second step: i say a little prayer
Third step: i’m gonna stop
Fourth step: find someone who cares.”
The crowd raises its fist and sings along. The dancers throw themselves into it.
My band, The Weiss Guys, named after two Weiss brothers, used to do it. I loved 12 Step Program. As drummer, I’d start the song with a pattern that established the tempo and set the mood of tension for bass and that guitar riff, somewhere between The Kinks’ You Really Got Me and Thirteenth Floor Elevators’ You’re Gonna Miss Me. The audience would roar familiarity and approval, Richard Weiss would sing the first verse alone, joined by Bill Weiss on the chorus and then the crowd would take over.
“First step!” they’d yell.
“I need your love,” the crowd would yell back.
“Second step,” they’d yell again.
“I say a little prayer,” the crowd would yell back again.
And so on. Richard would resume control of the second verse.
“I’d give everything,
“She knows I would.
“But it doesn’t matter,
“It does me no good.”
Guitar solo at this point, long enough to establish drama. We’d bring it down, repeating the riff until we’d hypnotized the crowd. Richard and Bill would sing the third chorus but quietly in a hushed tone.
The audience would respond in kind.
Everybody would join in on the chorus
“Fifth step: everybody knows
Sixth step: somebody help
Seventh step: say another prayer
Eighth step: gonna make a list.“
“Ninth step: gonna make amends
“Tenth step: clean up my act
“Eleventh step: keep on praying
“Twelfth step: tell everyone I’m free.”
I’d crack on the snare drum, hitting the kit as hard as I could as dynamically as possible. The Weisses would lead everybody on all three chorusses and end on a wailed exit line, “This is my 12 step program.”
You won’t find much on Bob Jansen on Google apart from a brief Wikipedia sketch.
It says he was born January 8, same day as Elvis Presley, 1943. It doesn’t even mention his death. Maybe Wikipedia doesn’t know. He grew up in Seattle but moved to Los Angeles where he recorded his best known song, 12 Step Program. There’s a discography and a list of his bands, but that’s more or less it.
In Seattle, he formed his first band. No woodshedding with friends from high school, no apprenticeships. Bob Jansen knew that he wanted to be a singer and threw himself into becoming one. No fooling around; he just accepted there would be dues to pay at some point or points. Fine but don’t waste his time.
In his mind he was the next Elvis Presley at the most; the next Ricky Nelson at the least but no less.
Bob Jansen liked Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley. All the original black rockers.
He liked the white guys, too: Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran.
As long as they rocked with authority.
The band, The Hi-Steppers, were five plus Bob. Luke Mitchell played guitar and did some back up singing; Terry Dumbrowski was on drums; the bassist was Greg Atwood; keyboards and back up singing by Peter Lear with Michael Rosetti rounding out the band on sax, tambourine and back up singing. Jansen poached Mitchell and Rosetti from two other bands making the rounds of Seattle. The others were friends Mitchell and Rosetti knew or had played with. They might have had disparate backgrounds but they were united in wanting to be as big as The Wailers.
That was the immediate goal but it was eclipsed by the coming of The Beatles. Like 74 million others, Bob saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Like so many others, the next day, a Monday, Bob combed his hair differently, letting his pompadour drop, going without the grease. He didn’t know if he liked The Beatles, but his parents, who watched the Sullivan show with him, didn’t and that was good enough for him. Anything to distance himself from the old man and assert his identity.
His father didn’t talk much, either about his job or anything else, and didn’t like rock and roll.
Bob didn’t talk about school or his stabs at various sports. Baseball, almost made the team; football, wasn’t tough enough; basketball, too short and slow; wrestling, didn’t last more than one try out at school. He did like rock and roll, though. In fact he loved it.
Consequently, there was silence between them.
His mother chattered on, maybe trying to fill a void. His old man seemed to tolerate it; Bob didn’t pay attention.
He didn’t know if he liked The Beatles’ music either but The Hi-Steppers did a lot of the same songs songs – Twist And Shout, Money, Roll Over Beethoven – so what was the big deal?
They had charm, personality, were self-contained and represented, with energy, a fresh perspective. So, if he wasn’t 100% sold on The Beatles, he recognized change and with that, opportunity.
Bob wasn’t a visionary. He just knew what he liked and moved in its direction. He wasn’t a rebel either but went with what seemed right.
So when rock and roll became popular, he had his favourite singers and records. When his parents dumped on rock and roll, he knew those records were speaking to him and ignored Mom and Dad.
The music gave him strength and direction.
Not only was it liberating, girls liked it, too. Or rather, they liked him more when he sang and looked like one of The Beatles.
So, he sang and learned a little guitar, enough to accompany himself, grew his hair, affected a British accent.
Bob wasn’t a virtuoso. Never would be.
In high school, he had a girlfriend. Not much is known about her, but she didn’t like other girls paying him attention when he sang. He didn’t trust girls or women anyhow as he always questioned his worth and consequently always doubted their motivation. In general, Bob had a low opinion of his fellow humans. He was a loner. Nobody really got close to him.
Maybe that’s why he disappeared so easily and completely in the 80s. Maybe that’s why he is presumed dead.
Bob’s first Hi-Steppers played a set that was typical in the Pacific Northwest for its day – Shout, I’ll Go Crazy, Money, Long Green, Linda Lu, High Blood Pressure, and, of course, Louie Louie. Because it was his band and he was the singer, Bob put together a live repertoire that featured few instrumentals. An exception was Tall Cool One, a big hit for Tacoma’s The Wailers. Bob always liked The Wailers anyway, they were the reigning band in the area and Tall Cool One was a hit. So, it either started the set, which gave the band a chance to get comfortable while the sound was being adjusted, or in the middle when Bob needed a break and the Hi-Steppers got a chance to stretch out. As an added measure, he added The Wailers’ Dirty Robber, which gave him a chance to become Little Richard.
While The Hi-Steppers were conquering the Pacific Northwest, Bob Jansen was developing a strategy. That might sound too lofty. It more was a simple plan. The band needed to make a record, which in 1964 meant getting a record deal.
The Hi-Steppers needed attention, it needed exposure. it needed to be promoted, it needed to be singled out. It needed to rise to another level.
This wasn’t going to happen in Seattle. One day, maybe, but not in 64.
The Hi-Steppers had played all the clubs from the Black N Tan, to the Caballero, to Camelot, to the Club A Go Go to the mighty Spanish Castle. They’d done them all and, frankly, Bob was bored with the idea of doing them all again endlessly.
He weighed his options. The Hi-Steppers could cash in on its local popularity and make a record for the independent, Jerden. The Wailers, the top Pacific Northwest band , recorded for its own Etiquette but it wasn’t going anywhere. The Hi-Steppers could do like The Kingsmen and license its record to a bigger label like Wand, based in New York. Its version of Louie Louie, cut cheaply and crudely recorded, created a formula The Kingsmen was locked into it and was too conservative to change. At least The Kingsmen, was astute enough to jump on Louie Louie , a Pacific Northwest staple, and had a hit. The Hi-Steppers didn’t have that. Not even close.
Or, it could follow the example of Portland’s Paul Revere And The Raiders and move to Los Angeles. There, they befriended powerful, up and coming DJ and TV personality Dick Clark. Clark had started his teen show, American Bandstand, in Philadelphia in 1957, and watched its popularity rise. It became a national sensation, big enough to skip to L.A. and take advantage of its more sophisticated television production and to launch Clark’s package tours, the Caravan Of Stars, multi-act concerts that hit the country via bus. Featuring stars of the day, they were gruelling marathons in which Dion or Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers or The Crystals would do 15 minute sets that included the latest hits two or three times a day. Tough as they were, the packages were mutually complimentary, making Clark’s name and offering nationwide, valuable exposure.
The Raiders became regulars on American Bandstand and in June 1965 were elevated to star in a daily, after school program, Where The Action Is.
Jansen was realistic enough to see that this kind of opportunity wasn’t going to happen twice, but he also saw the burgeoning of Los Angeles-based independent labels and a power shift from New York.
Phil Spector was there now, having transferred his Philles label from New York, taking advantage of the Gold Star studio and a burgeoning bunch of hip new session musicians that eventually called itself the Wrecking Crew.
Shirley And Lee’s Let The Good Times Roll, Thurston Harris’s Little Bitty Pretty One on Syd Nathan’s Aladdin. Then there were GNP, Tower, Coral and Brunswick, Flip, Liberty or Specialty.
Jansen believed L.A. was full of promise, but first he had to get a gig. Once The Hi-Steppers developed a following large enough to create a buzz, the indies would come around to see the band for themselves.
Getting the band to leave the Pacific Northwest wouldn’t be easy. The band was well-established there, work was steady, the money was good.
Jansen was asking the band to give up its security for an unknown future.
He was convinced that without a record The Hi-Steppers wasn’t stepping anywhere. Not quite true. In the Pacific Northwest the band was at its top, which meant it could only go down, a step he didn’t want to take.
It took a few weeks, but he managed to talk them into moving. Two – Luke and Michael – were with him right away. Two – Terry and Peter – didn’t want give up the Pacific Northwest and took some convincing. Greg rode the fence, saying he would bow to the majority.
So it was that The Hi-Steppers left from Seattle for L.A., at first settling into a rundown motel on the strip, which Bob had heard about but didn’t know. They took two rooms, Bob sharing one with Luke.
The day after they arrived, Bob was on the phone trying to get a gig.
He really didn’t have a plan, but was inspired by Johnny Rivers. Rivers had been hired as a sub at a club called Gazzari’s. After a few weeks, there were queues of clubbers trying to get in to see him. He was lured to to appear at the Whisky A Go Go for better pay in a bigger room. Rivers was able to parlay this popularity into a series of “live” at the Whisky albums and became a recording star.
Just beginning to make a name for itself was a band calling itself The Byrds. It had developed a following and was filling a place called Ciro’s.
Buoyed by these two examples, Bob was indefatigable and thus not discouraged by the first few clubs that turned him down. He was confident that The Hi-Steppers’ s break would come.
It did, remarkably quickly. This was a coffeehouse called Layer Of The Onion that, five days a week, served beatniks and regularly had poetry nights and an open mic night for folkies. The proprietor, Tonio Valdez, had wanted, however, to put his toe into the teen market and thus Layer Of The Onion became What’s New on Fridays and Saturdays. What’s New served soft drinks and french fries and teens could dance to the latest rock and roll. Valdez had registered the impact of The Kingsmen and Paul Revere And The Raiders and hoped The Hi-Steppers, also from the Pacific Northwest, could duplicate the success at What’s New.
A few days after Valdez reached his agreement with Jansen, Layer Of The Onion put away its coffee urns, plugged in the deep fryer, welcomed the perky waitresses and watched the Hi-Steppers set up.
The first weekend was not a success. The band was too loud, overpowering its own sound system and unable to balance its instruments. Worse, the turn out was dismal. A few teenagers danced self-consciously.
Valdez liked the Hi-Steppers though, its repertoire of dance hits, the band’s enthusiasm and Jansen’s attitude.
Jansen sheepishly apologized for the poor turn out, but the band was new in town, unknown and unable to promote itself in the few days it had.
Valdez wasn’t worried. He’d been through this with the Onion. It was dead the first week but gradually it built a loyal clientele and a reputation.
12 Step Program, chapter 3
Sure enough, the following weekend The Hi-Steppers got its sound under control and there were a few more teenagers.
The third weekend was even better.
Not long after, Abe Stern was in his tiny office of Barb Records when his young postman came in with a few letters. Stern liked talking to him if only to find out what was happening on the street.
Today, the postie was high on a new club, What’s New, and the band there, The Hi-Steppers.
Stern filed this information in his memory and then, on his daily walk to a nearby diner, he overheard two girls sitting on a park bench all giddy about going to this What’s New club and dancing to the band they’d heard about called The Hi-Steppers.
Stern made up his mind to check out this place and this band, The Hi-Steppers.
As he was confident it would, Jansen saw the band building a reputation and a following just as it had in the Pacific Northwest.
He wasn’t batting away a swarm of talent scouts, but a few came around in the ensuing months.
Most showed Jansen that he didn’t know much about the music business, but he knew enough to see through most of these guys. All of them promised to make The Hi-Steppers stars with hit records, tours with big names, TV appearances and other exposure.
Jansen didn’t like them. He thought of them as “plastic.” In fact, he didn’t trust them. Partly this was in defence of his ignorance of the business.
There was one guy, though, who was a little different. This Abe Stern admitted that his Barb Records was small with no track record to boast of. He promised, though, that The Hi-Steppers’ growth was Barb Records’ growth. Conversely, as Barb grew so would The Hi-Steppers.
“And we’ll see to it that this happens,” he promised. “Barb will do what it can to promote the band.”
This appealed to Bob Jansen. Perhaps naively, he believed that what was good for the band was good for the label. Therefore, Barb would be on The Hi-Steppers’ side and work hard for it.
Bob had an idea. He’d never written a song before as he was happy singing old rock and roll, a little rhythm and blues, maybe some country and western. Leave the song writing to others who evidently had a talent for it and let him sing what they created. Bob didn’t think he had the talent and a song was like this huge mysterious obstacle that intimidated him.
However, this one idea wouldn’t go away and nagged at him. Bob had heard about this method of curing drinking or smoking called the 12 Step Program. It started with the alcoholic or smoker admitting they had a problem and giving oneself to God. What if, he thought, a person was hopelessly in love, knew it, the love was unrequited and was driving him crazy. It was in their best interest to give it up, but how? They needed a 12 step program. The religious stuff he could get around.
As well, The Beatles showed everybody they could write their own songs and continue to be self-contained. There was freedom in that, particularly if you demonstrated a talent for it.
Bob got down to work. He wrote 12 Step Program in a matter of focused minutes. He was satisfied with it and pleased to find out writing a song wasn’t that hard after all. It was creative and he liked that feeling.
The same evening, he convened The Hi-Steppers before the kids came and taught the band the song., shouting out the changes. The Hi-Steppers liked it, got it right away.
The band did it in the second set and saw the audience liked it as well. Twelve Step had room to be developed and had the potential to involve an audience. Bob and The Hi-Steppers felt good.
It did it the next week and got an enthusiastic, even better response. The song moved to a more prominent spot in the set, and the band became identified with it – Twelve Step equals Hi-Step.
Nineteen sixty five was moving fast, but not fast enough for Bob Jansen.
Where was that record deal?
The Hi-Steppers was getting comfortable in its new home, drawing increasingly bigger crowds that was putting What’s New on the Sunset Strip map.
A few record labels had come to check out the band, but none of them had bitten. To Bob they all were insincere anyway.
The Byrds had a number one, Mr. Tambourine Man, Paul Revere And The Raiders were becoming TV stars, Johnny Rivers a star, period, and there was a bunch of new bands – Love, The Turtles, Leaves , The Standells- to give The Hi-Steppers competition.
Where was that record deal?
As Bob’s impatience grew, Abe Stern showed up again one night. Stern had watched the band from a distance as it developed a following and created a stir with the teenagers, Barb’s market. Many of the same things – Byrds, Rivers, Raiders, the new bands – were spurring him on. He saw the Sunset Strip activity as something to be exploited. He wouldn’t use that word publicly, but there was opportunity feet away and to Barb’s advantage.
Stern saw What’s New fill up and, uncharacteristically, he stayed for two sets. Toward the end of the second set, just as Abe was about to leave, The Hi-Steppers did 12 Step Program. The crowd knew its cues and sang along. It knew the words. That impressed him. Something was happening. He decided to stay and talk a little more to Bob Jansen.
Jansen was eager to meet Stern again. He’d reappeared at just the right time, but knowing he didn’t know much about the music business, Jansen took care not to be too eager, but instead was defensive.
It made for an awkward conversation. Stern could see that Jansen was nervous, but he wanted 12 Step Program. Based on the crowd reaction, he suspected it could be a hit. He danced around the idea of signing The Hi-Steppers to Barb, not wanting to be too eager himself. He advised Jansen to think about it, he’d be in contact soon, and left.
As Stern headed out the door, Jansen quelled an urge to run after him. What was there to think about?
He wanted to make a record and Barb was the first and only real offer The Hi-Steppers had had.
He figured Stern was right, though. He needed a little time to think, or at least fill in the band. Jansen was grateful to Stern for that.
The next afternoon, Abe called his friend, Al Berk. Berk was Barb’s lawyer and although he didn’t know much about the music business, he knew more than Jansen and just enough to represent Barb with some prompting by Stern.
Stern told him he wanted to sign a band called The Hi-Steppers but the leader, Bob Jansen, was a novice and couldn’t really talk about the business. Jansen and The Hi-Steppers needed a manager to speak for them. Would Al do it?
Al knew this could be seen as a conflict of interest and he still didn’t know much about the business but managing The Hi-Steppers could make him a lot of money so he said he’d be the band’s manager if it would have him.
Bob was relieved when Stern called the motel and roused him from bed. He and the band barely were getting by on two night’s work, but now they had a reputation that could be parlayed into headlining school dances and other clubs.
This underlined the need for a manager, someone to act as a go between between The Hi-Steppers and prospective gigs, between the band and labels. Bob knew it and evidently Abe knew it, so when Abe said he’d like Bob to meet someone, maybe that night, Bob was all for it and was hopeful.
Berk was the answer to those hopes. He and Stern took a seat in the motel coffee shop, did all the cordials and then listened as Jansen briefly told them that he wanted to make a record and would tour, do anything required. Berk paid attention, naturally recommending Barb to Abe’s grateful aw-shucks thank yous and suggesting a few possible appearances that could help the band.
Before the night was over, The Hi-Steppers had a manager and had all but signed to Barb.
Stern could see that Jansen was being cautious but was keen to sign. The trouble was that Barb was small, which meant it couldn’t guarantee anything. Abe knew it, Bob knew it but both had faith.
A hit record would make Barb and get The Hi-Steppers good press, a higher profile and tours.
On the weekend a few days later at What’s New, Jansen convened The Hi-Steppers, introduced them to Stern and Berk and signed a contract. The Hi-Steppers now were Barb “artists.”
Invigorated, the band did the first set. Berk liked The Hi-Steppers, although it was unusual to become a manager sight unseen. He trusted Stern’s judgement and, fortunately, The Hi-Steppers was good. There was one song, the only original, that went down really well. This was 12 Step Program. Berk hoped there would be more where this came from.
He was learning fast. The music business had been a huge mystery, but Abe Stern cleared up so much of it that he no longer was afraid. He was doing alright with real estate claims and handling divorces but Barb needed special treatment in recouping royalties Stern felt was due Barb. So, Stern came to Berk citing a good reputation for being conscientious and getting the job done. It didn’t matter that Berk was a novice; Stern just expected him to exhibit the same determination. As a reward, or a taster, Stern gave him a Barb act, Nora Washington, and this became his real introduction to the business.
He made mistakes. There were thankless package tours, poor paying personal appearances and onerous bad contracts. He and Nora were not making the money that they saw going to promoters, producers or songwriters, but Berk saw a successful act could make him rich, once he found a way and found the act.
In the meantime, Nora Washington was growing disillusioned.
She’d come from a church in Virginia, singing in a gospel group. Friends urged her to enter talent contests, one of which was attended by Abe Stern. There, in hometown L .A., as a judge, Stern was impressed by Nora and signed her to Barb. The label hedged its bets, however, by getting her to cover Irma Thomas’s Time Is On My Side, produced in a little studio by Stern’s nephew. Berk was giving her advice, which he, in turn, was getting from Stern. Berk suggested she write her own song, Moonlight On The Beach.
As before, though, the song was produced in the same small studio by the same nephew and met the same fate.
She knew she could sing but knew her future wasn’t with Barb or the empty promises given by Berk. Nora liked the attention of the teen magazines but didn’t like the superficiality.
Interviewers would ask her meaningless questions about dating to which she’d tell them that she was too busy with her singing career. They’d ask her what was her idea of a dream date. Walking hand in hand along the sand, just like my song says, she’d snap.
Nobody asked her about the healing power of God or what can be done to ease race relations. They didn’t want her opinion, only to fill space.
Nora went back to the church, leaving behind Berk and Stern to become as invisible as possible
His dealing with Nora Washington at least gave Stern the idea to launch a subsidiary of Barb, Wire, that specialized in gospel records.
So, while he was busy setting up Wire, Stern passed along to Berk a band that Barb had hoped would be its first rock and roll smash. The Eeries was a mistake from the start, a mess. Although it was doing fine in the hometown of Denver, it had problems Berk had never encountered before. Ostensibly, The Eeries signed to cut two singles with the promise of making an album. Right off, the band fought over what to record, rejected Stern’s offer to put it into his studio, wanted to produce itself and demanded that Barb cover all expenses. It was apparent, too, that there was a battle in the band over leadership between the singer and lead guitarist. The rhythm guitarist, bassist and drummer stepped back and didn’t want to get involved, but, with the rhythm section sitting on the fence, nothing got done. Stern had wanted The Eeries to record a song by Randy Newman, Living Without You, but this was too early for Newman. The Eeries had never heard of him. It wanted to do one of its own songs. Stern thought the band was great live but had no confidence in its songwriting. Before The Eeries stepped into a studio – any studio – it broke up. Barb had yet to spend much money on The Eeries so was spared that but the singer wanted to make a solo album. Stern turned him down and he stormed off. Looking at it charitably, The Eeries’ wanting artistic control was ahead of its time.
Berk didn’t learn a lot about the music business in his attempt to manage what turned out to be unmanageable, but he did learn a little more about human nature.
12 Step Program, chapter 4
When Abe Stern called him about The Hi-Steppers he thought Stern might be handing him a consolation prize, but this band was more together, Bob Jansen more focused. He liked them, thought there was something there.
No one in The Hi-Steppers, knew the record business, not even Jansen, though he was its leader.
Berk saw a chance to sculpt the band anyway he saw fit, and he knew implicitly there was opportunity in this. He could cash in on its naivete while building his and their career.
So he started harvesting ideas, confident they’d pay off.
Berk talked to Jansen nearly every day, getting to know him, suggesting gigs apart from What’s New, soon learning that Jansen had big plans. He wanted to be the next Johnny Rivers, or Byrds or Paul Revere And The Raiders, or Love, bigger than The Standells.
To do that, first The Hi-Steppers had to make a record.
This was an easy move to make.
Stern had the studio and the producer and the band had the material.
Beck got on the phone to book time with A-Side Studios with Marty Leven, Stern’s nephew, designated producer and owner of A-Side.
A-side wasn’t more than a garage; Calling it “studios” in the plural was fanciful, but Levin had his dreams.Updating was inevitable; expansion would come with success.
He was like Uncle Abe in that respect. He needed a hit.
A-Side was getting by producing jingles – bug spray, breath freshener, used car dealerships.
They taught Marty about engineering and production. Stern also would be counted upon to send him new Barb signings.
He thought records by Nora Washington were great and thought The Grantchesters’ Discotheque A Go Go was a hit. The record, timely though it might have been, fizzled. Washington went back to Virginia and her church..
Stern and Leven learned that the public ultimately would decide All they could do was make good records.
This took some imagination as A-Side was two track, meaning it had two channels. Most of the music was recorded on one with the vocals, maybe additional percussion and solo on two. The players had to be sure of the arrangements. Most novices weren’t. To speed up recording to save time and money many studios and producers had built up a circle of what came to be called session musicians.
Leven couldn’t afford the Wrecking Crew but he had a backing band if he needed it.
Leven didn’t think he’d need it for The Hi-Steppers.
From what he learned from Berk, the band was self-contained, competent, and its leader motivated and focused.
Your main thing will be to record them, Berk warned sternly. Don’t mess around; don’t be trendy.
Berk had seen that the kids liked the band as it was, and didn’t want to confuse them.
It was an understandable fear but it also underestimated “the kids.”
The kids were united, but Tonio Valdez was worried.
The atmosphere at What’s New grew tense during the summer months of 1966.
Although Jansen was apolitical, he couldn’t ignore what was happening at the club, particularly as this might affect him and his band
The police were coming into the club more frequently, ostensibly to check on ID, possibly to search for drugs. They’d shine a flashlight on the kid, blinding him or her while asking questions. The kid and, en masse, the kids were getting uptight, even aggressive as their anger grew.
One day in early August, Valdez came to Jansen, looking sorrowful. As Valdez usually was upbeat and radiated positivism, and adapted a low-keyed club management style, Jansen immediately knew something was troubling the club owner.
The merchants’ association were putting pressure on him, Valdez told him. It’s worried that all the new shops, the cafes and the clubs catered to a young market. The kids were clogging the streets, blocking the traffic and this lowers the tone of the strip and possibly the real estate values.
So, the Strip is a success, Jansen concluded, what’s the problem?
The problem is that the merchants feel they’ve lost control and they want it back. The police agree with them. The police don’t understand the long hair, the clothes, the drugs, the movement it represents.
There’s something happening here and you don’t know what it is. Jansen couldn’t resist dropping Bob Dylan’s song lyric into it.
Right, said Valdez. Hence the 10 o clock curfew for anyone under 21. No one below 21 is allowed on the street after 10 pm.
But What’s New goes to 2am.
Right again. I’m under a lot of pressure to clear the house at 10pm. We might survive as What’s New has grown popular enough to draw the adults, thanks to The Hi-Steppers I should say. But then, I might have to shut down What’s New. Hell, I might have to shut down Layers Of The Onion as well. To quote Dylan again, the times they are a-changing. With that last note Valdez walked away, leaving Jansen to wonder what to tell the band and consider their future.
He didn’t have to think too long.
Berk called him later in the afternoon to tell him that The Hi-Steppers was booked into A-Side, Monday, for three days. He gave him a number to call Leven to break the ice and possibly to devise a plan in order to avoid surprises.
Jansen hadn’t really thought too much about it. The Hi-Steppers simply would record what went down well in the club.
Leven advised him to narrow the list to 12 to 15 songs, tighten the arrangements and strive for balance. The familiar offset by lesser known songs, the new versus the old, a good original if Jansen had any.
The next day, the usual Friday at What’s New, Jansen told the band what Berk and Leven had told him.
At the unmusicianly 9am, Monday, the band packed its gear into the station wagon and was at A-Side just before The Hi-Steppers was due at 10am. Being in a garage, A-Side was an easy load in. Leven was there to greet it, and was shorter than Jansen had envisioned. For some reason, he seemed taller to Jansen on the phone. No matter; they clicked immediately. Jansen was his usual reserved self, not knowing what to expect. Leven was enthusiastic, which gave Jansen confidence.
The five Hi-Steppers did whatever they were told, found their places, got as comfortable as they could despite being on edge.
Leven, evidently a one man operation, quickly got sound levels, and when satisfied, advised the band to take a break and follow him to the house, where coffee and a few cookies were waiting.
Recording went quickly after the band reconvened. Jansen led, The Hi-Steppers obeyed and Leven was happy. This was a well-drilled outfit and competent. Leven could sense Jansen’s initial nervousness disappearing as he got the support he needed from the band and encouragement from Leven. The studio gave Jansen some ideas but, being a two track, Leven warned him there was a limit to what could be done.
Play the songs, Leven told Jansen, and, heeding Berk’s advice, Leven didn’t try anything fancy.
12 Step Program, chapter 5
Bob Jansen was exhilarated by the day’s recording.
He was making a record. It’s all he ever wanted to do.
A rock ’n’ roll record.
He loved singing and performing for people, but he had been exposed to rock’n’roll through radio and radio played records.
All his heroes were on records. That’s how he’d come to know them,
So, to make a record was to be with his heroes. It was a seal of legitimacy, and a sign that you are serious. Jansen was serious and he wanted to be like “them,” his heroes.
His recording was a first step toward legitimacy.
In the studio, he finally got to hear himself singing. You couldn’t tell onstage. Too much to overcome: the volume of the band, the needs and demands of the audience, the additional showmanship. Singing became a small part of the whole and there were so many distractions.
In the studio there was clarity, albeit sometimes sobering. Bob quickly had to learn about what worked and what didn’t, his phrasing, what to emphasize, when to lay back. How to focus.
Also, he was curious to know whom he sounded like: not as instinctively right as John Lennon or Paul McCartney, nor as gruff as Gerry Roslie of The Sonics or Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere And The Raiders. Elvis? No. Gene Vincent? No. Little Richard? No. Gene Pitney?
Bob didn’t know. Maybe his voice was unique. He liked that possibiilty.
Maybe the recording would tell him.
He hoped he would stand out from the many L.A. bands coming up, Love, The Leaves, Standells, Seeds, The Merry Go Round and others. So many others.
The first day he and The Hi-Steppers did four songs, tweaking only a few of them and only a little at that.
It couldn’t continue to go as smoothly as the first day.
It didn’t. Among the songs was Living Without You, the Randy Newman song Abe Stern so believed could be a hit. The Eeries wouldn’t do it so The Hi-Steppers did it as a show of good will. Besides, thought Bob, Abe might be right.
The band couldn’t get the sound right and had trouble getting the right feel. A shuffle didn’t work. Neither did rhythm and blues, nor jazz. Jansen suggested using Heartbreak Hotel as a blueprint and that came close. At least it provided something with which to work.
The other new song was Bob’s 12 Step Program. This had ballooned into a crowd pleaser that could go as long as 20 minutes. The Hi-Steppers cut out the lengthy guitar solo and the tension building quiet that came after, hinting at it only slightly.
The Hi-Steppers got an arrangement that was about an acceptable three minutes long.
Similarly, the organ solo on 96 Tears was cut back and there were other similar such changes. At the end of the session, Levin, Jansen and The Hi-Steppers were satisfied. The final day would be for overdubs, if necessary, and mixing.
Jansen had learned Barb wasn’t playing by the book.
Normally, a label might release a single or two and then maybe want an album.
He had to conclude that Barb was confident, didn’t want to be caught by surprise, and therefore be ready without a delay that might kill any momentum.
Maybe that’s why Barb wanted a stockpile that could be an album. It, too, seemed aware of all the rising bands and wanted to get ahead of them.
The album would be called Hi-Time For The Hi-Steppers, the front cover showing each member of the band lifting one foot high as if taking a giant step. The image was corny, Bob sensed, but lots of bands were doing something similar like leaping in air or hanging out of cars.
Apart from Living Without You and 12 Step program, the rest of the album was contemporary hits, most well-known. 96 Tears, Lonely Weekend, Money, Treat Her Right, Long Tall Texan, High Heel Sneakers, Barefootin’, Farmer John, Bo Diddley’s Road Runner,, Richard Berry’s other well known song, Have Love Will Travel. Some of the songs were about travel or related to movement in some way, more or less adhering to a high stepping theme, but not slavishly.
That was incidental. The songs were picked because they went down great in the club and the band played them well.
As soon as The Hi-Steppers was finished, Leven got the record mastered and gave each of them an acetate so it could listen, ideally approve or, if not, make suggestions. Jansen used the night club’s turntable but really didn’t know what he was listening for. None of them did.
Leven, however, thought the record was too bass heavy and could be brighter.
The record was recut and a pleased producer gave the thumbs up.
When he got it, Bob just stared at the acetate. He saw something magical in the flat and round disc and didn’t want to break the spell by playing it.
Barb moved quickly, releasing Living Without You as the first single. It disappeared even quicker, not even getting airplay in L.A..
Oddly, Jansen wasn’t too disturbed by its failure.
Living Without You wasn’t representative of the band and possibly too sophisticated, or adult, for The Hi-Steppers’ largely teenaged audience.
The b-side, a respectable but workmanlike Long Tall Texan, was one of the album’s throwaways, little more than filler.
At least it introduced the band to radio.
Berk liked what he’d heard. Leven had heeded his warning by not trying anything trendy, not laying on extraneous stuff, nothing misleading. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that, as accurate as it was, there should be something more. It seemed to lack ambition, which was partly true. Jansen and the band just wanted to make a record and, for now anyway, that was enough.
Stern liked it even more but Barb didn’t do anything to promote the band more than it usually did. It hipped radio, promoted to the teen mags, tried to get the band on TV. Barb just didn’t have enough money and lacked the necessary clout that comes with a track record. Stern hoped that Living Without You would be the hit he thought it could be and would change all that.
When it didn’t Stern had to think again. Barb’s future might depend on it.
Bob placed more weight on the next single.
But first came the riot.
In retrospect, everything was building to this night in November.
The big businessmen wanted to retain the high tone of such areas as Rodeo Drive.
It didn’t want the strip clogged by long-haired kids called hippies, wearing clothes they got from trendy but, in their mind low brow, boutiques that dotted the strip, flaunting drugs, jamming coffee shops and restaurants.
Because they, too, were confused, the police were only too happy to clean up what they thought of as a mess. A curfew was imposed, ID was checked.
The kids protested. They saw the curfew and the random ID checks as a violation of their rights.
The Pandora’s Box was on their side. A coffeehouse, The Fifth Estate, printed flyers decrying “police mistreatment of youth”. Those youth would meet at the juncture of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights, where Pandora’s Box was situated, November 12.
Jansen saw one of the flyers, but didn’t think much about it. Nonetheless, he showed up at the club. There were at least 1,000 demonstrators, many carrying signs, protesting recent police activity, even war in Vietnam, but all seemed peaceful. Jansen figured he might as well go home, but then 100 or so police showed up.
He was horrified when the police dived in wielding truncheons and roughing up the protestors.
At least one celebrity, Peter Fonda, was rooted from a pack that included Jack Nicholson and Bob Denver, shackled in handcuffs and carted off to jail.
Jansen saw a policeman about to hit a girl and stopped him. The police man reacted with surprise and raised his baton to beat on Bob. Just then the girl ran off and the police man took off after her.
Shaken and shaking, Bob lit off, too, heading for his hotel room as quickly as he could.
The demonstration had turned into a riot, illustrating for him what was meant by “generation gap.”
From what little I know about Abe Stern, he was born in some little town in Hungary in 1924. His father, Mauri, was a successful baker, not because he was a great baker but a smart businessman capable of reading the winds of change.
Thus, he sensed an air of anti-semitism that was growing stronger with the growing power of the Nazi Party. He feared for the well-being of his family, sold his bakery at a decent profit that enabled him to book a passage on a freighter that landed him and his wife and two children at Ellis Island, New York, in 1938.
From there, he was able to make a hop to Chicago, where he and his family could stay for a few weeks at the apartment of his sister, who had left Hungary two years before Mauri.
He followed the lead of his sister, Rose, and shortened the family name to Stern from Sternokowski.
Mauri reasoned that they were starting fresh in a new land, but he remained sensitive to anti-semitism. Stern was easier to pronounce and would be a temporary mask of the Jewish blood. There would be no further alterations and, in fact, Abe was made more aware of his lineage.
In Chicago, Mauri was able to found a bakery, and it was here that Abe was exposed to blues produced mainly by Chess Records. Chess was an outgrowth of Aristocrat bought by Leonard and his brother, Phil and releasing records by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter, written primarily by Willie Dixon.
Part of the reason he was drawn to blues was his Jewish ancestry. He understood racism; he understood the hardships that were the undercurrent of many songs. As a Jew, he’d encountered them himself.
His other reason for following blues was Chess itself. Abe had it in the back of his mind to start his own business and was inspired by the Chess brothers, immigrants like him.
Mauri was finding the bakery business in Chicago difficult. Bagels just didn’t sell.
He got a romantic vision of the West Coast as some kind of wild frontier , once again sold the bakery and moved the Sterns to Los Angeles. There, Abe met Barbara Rabin(owitz), dated the waitress for a short time, married her and, with Mauri’s encouragement , a small investment and considerable business acumen, founded his record label. Named after wife Barbara, Barb benefitted from that wild frontier attitude, as Abe learned about publishing, distribution and promotion. Abe tried to be fair and honest but stretched the rules if he had to. He didn’t see anything wrong with payola if greasing the palm of an influential disc jockey meant getting a record played on the radio. Stern wasn’t the first or last person to note that 50% of something was better than 100% of nothing.You just did what you had to do in order to survive and Barb was on a shoe string. The label had no hits and therefore no money.
It was needing money that Abe was able to justify taking so much ownership of songs for his publishing company. Aspiring “artists” came to him in the hope that Barb would have a hit with one of their songs.
It was needing hits that Abe would take part ownership of a song or songs, Barb would make a record and if it was a hit – always a possibility in the early 60s- both sides would profit.
He didn’t see that as exploitation and, at his most self-righteous, thought of this as saving the would-be artist from themselves.
Most of them didn’t know anything about the music business and therefore could easily be taken advantage of. Of course, Barb was taking advantage of this ignorance, too, but Abe insisted he was trying to provide some guidance and was taking care of his investment.
Barb’s first signing was a guy called Phil Donnelly. He belatedly patterned himself after Conway Twitty; his initial single sounding uncannily like It’s Only Make Believe. It got a little radio play around L.A. but bombed otherwise. Donnelly tried again, this time sounding like Neil Sedaka. Barb went along for a third single, which aped Buddy Knox. The feedback was that Donnelly could sing but lacked his own identity. When The Beatles led what became the British Invasion in 1964, Donnelly refused to change and was cast out.
When Abe met Jansen in 1965, he was 41, an old man by rock and roll standards, but still young enough to empathize with Jansen.
He saw someone as naive as most “artists” but, despite the mask of reserve, had drive. He wanted success and would work for it. That alone, gave Abe confidence.
Thus, Stern duly signed The Hi-Steppers, made a record, released a first single. When Living Without You bombed, he recoiled at first but not much. All of Barb’s releases so far had bombed, more or less, so Stern wasn’t surprised and instead readied another Hi-Steppers single.
This was Lonely Weekend although Jansen was pushing for 12 Step Program.
Stung by the failure of Living Without You, Stern hedged his bet and made 12 Step Program the b-side. That might make Jansen happy.
Almost. The song had had a charmed life so far. It had become the band’s most popular live number and seemed a favourite with Berk, at least, and Leven.
The only glitch Jansen had encountered was that Luke had trouble getting the sound Jansen wanted.
Try as he might, Luke couldn’t get the dirty overdriven whack of The Kinks’s You Really Got Me riff. Whatever he did with his amp and guitar, the best Luke could do was match The 13th Floor Elevators’s You’re Gonna Miss Me. That was ok, Jansen could live with that but he felt You Really Got Me was groundbreaking and therefore seminal. The song would have impact 20 years from now, maybe forever.
Years later, Bob and Luke learned that The Kinks’s Dave Davies had achieved the sound of You Really Got Me by shredding the cone on a little green practice amp and took that into the recording.
For this alone, Dave Davies became immortal.
Jansen wanted that but 12 Step Program was the only song he’d written. It was an inspiration. He learned he could write a song and that the act of creativity wasn’t the end result of some mysterious process. He had ideas for a few more but they could wait for the next album, providing there was one.
12 Step Program, chapter 7
Tonio Valdez came into the club late one Friday afternoon as Bob was leading the band in a rehearsal of a new song, Pandora’s Box , looking glum.
Uh oh, thought Bob, bad news.
Depends, said Valdez. I think we, the kids and their supporters, might have won the battle but lost the war.
Huh? Jansen wondered. What does that mean?
The LAPD covered itself in shame, the way it handled a peaceful protest. Beating the kids with truncheons made sure this would be seen as a riot. It was elevated to that by police, so it looks bad on them.
Look at the street, though, pretty well deserted by 10pm in the last few days. Clubs will be closing, and teens now have no place to hang out. The businessmen will get what they want; keep real estate rates high, maintain the tone of Sunset Boulevard.
The kids might have been right and were arguing with their ideals. Ideals mean nothing against money. Money talks.
And bullshit walks, Bob completed the saying. In this case, the cops supplied the bullshit.
I don’r think the police knew what it was doing, Valdez seemed to be excusing them, but couldn’t accept it nonetheless. The police were pawns, but objected to the long hair, drugs, what it thought of as rebellion, which included resistance to Vietnam.
What about Layer Of The Onion, Bob asked?
I think we’ll be alright for now. The coffeehouse has a good reputation and a loyal clientele.
And What’s New?
This is what I came to tell you. I’m applying for a liquor license. If we get it, What’s New will be serving adults who won’t be hassled by police demanding ID. There’s money – and security – in bar sales.
But it started as a teen club.
Yeah, I know, said Valdez, and I’d still like it to be; it’s been filled for weeks and kids are having a good time. They know we are where it’s at. But it has to be filled in order to make a profit and the curfew and riot have made sure we’re not filling up these past few weekends. Let me tell you, What’s New doesn’t make a lot on soft drinks and fries. An adult bar doesn’t need as many people to break even, thanks to booze mark ups.
What’ll I tell the band?
Nothing at the moment. What’s New might survive as a teen club in which case a liquor license will be unnecessary. Then again, we might have to apply. And then again, we might get turned down and might have to close anyway. Until I have to decide, The Hi-Steppers can continue as the house band.
I’d have a Plan B, though. You might need to fall back on it.
Having dropped his bomb, Valdez was off.
As he watched him go, Jansen turned his attention back to Pandora’s Box. The band reconvened, saw Jansen’s pensive look and wondered if there was a problem. Only briefly. Whatever was bothering Bob, he put it behind him and concentrated on the new song.
Who knows why The Hi-Steppers weren’t nailing Pandora’s Box, as it had 12 Step Program? This new one was as simple but it’s stops and starts were a little tricky. The band was failing to come in together and seemed unsure of itself.
It could be, too, that The Hi-Steppers was now a recording act and that made it self-conscious. Each player was aware of that and wanted to make a conspicuous contribution. All five guys would play at once as though in competition with one another. Rivalry where once there was unity. Jansen had no immediate solution to this. Pandora’s Box lacked the natural dynamism of 12 Track Program. He and the band would have to work harder to arrive at the appropriate, desired arrangement.
Jansen thought he had a good one. It was based on the boulevard riot which started at Pandora’s Box.The club was the rallying point for the demonstrators and consequently the target of the merchants.
Bob’s opening line set the scene: “If you tamper with Pandora’s Box, you’re looking for trouble.”
He wished a finished version could be added to the album, but the song needed work, the album was all set to be pressed and the second single already was out.
That single was coming to life in an unexpected way.
The a-side was Lonely Weekend that, despite being promoted nationally by Barb, was getting only sporadic radio play.
At a radio station in Akron, Ohio, a dee jay accidentally played the flip, 12 Step Program. Immediately after playing it, the switchboard came alive. All the callers asked the name of the song and who did it. The dee jay played it again with the same result. Without intending to, he had stumbled upon a hit.
Other stations flipped the record and started playing 12 Step Program.
It charted and began a climb, eventually getting to #34, where it stalled.
As it rose, teen magazines, notably Teen Life and Great!, took note and came around. Bob did his first interviews while the band sat, stood or leaped for photo sessions.
Bob and The Hi-Steppers were stars.
It didn’t feel like it though.
There was no money and no gigs beyond What’s New.
If fame was supposed to take them away from this, it was taking it’s time in coming.
Bob saw irony in this, possibly a song. Wouldn’t that be great?
Until then, his life seemed to be getting more complicated, not less.
Abe Stern knew he’d have to change distributors.
The one Barb had at the moment, Jukemaster, was great at getting records in jukeboxes, as its name suggests, but possibly wasn’t as effective at getting his singles in record stores or the record section of department stores.You could hear 12 Step Program in any restaurant or bar or hotel lobby that had a jukebox, but would-be customers often couldn’t buy the single at their local store. Probably, they bought something else instead.Possibly, this was why Barb’s previous releases bombed despite the light airplay. What if the buyer liked what he’d heard of Nora Washington but couldn’t find her record? Possibly, that’s why 12 Step Program couldn’t get any higher than 34. Stern didn’t know, but felt a change was needed.
It bothered him that he had so little control once a Barb record was released.
He relied on radio play for a hit, but that wasn’t determined by radio alone. Certain record stores reported its weekly sales to radio, which combined the sales with requests. If the record wasn’t in stock, which often was the case with Jukemaster, radio play dwindled until the record had seemed to tank.
Then, too, there was no law stating a distributer had to pay right away. It could hold out as long as it needed to or was satisfied there was no further money coming in. Eventually, Barb got its money on the basis of records sold. To a company such as Barb, the ramification was that it only could press what it could afford. Here, he had to give Jukemaster benefit of doubt. It could distribute only what Barb gave it.
Stern needed to get more control. Until then, Barb had to do its best with Jukemaster.
12 Step Program, chapter eight
You don’t remember me, do you, said the girl?
That stopped Bob Jansen as he prepared to take the stage at What’s New. He’d grown accustomed to girls accosting him and knew how to deal with them, fob them off. His customary reserve would come to his rescue. Not that he was immune to a pretty face and shapely figure. He was a male, after all, and only human, but Bob was careful.. You didn’t mix business with pleasure and The Hi-Steppers was his business.
She was prettier than most girls, though, and had a good body, but he couldn’t place her. Finally, he admitted that he couldn’t remember her.
Thought so, she said, I met you a few weeks ago at the rally outside Pandora’s Box.
At the riot?
Yep, I was about to be arrested by a cop, or beaten. You stopped him and while he was trying to deal with you, I beat it. The cop ran after me but I escaped. Thank you.
I’m Amanda Flynn.
Hello, Amanda. I wondered what had happened to you. You found me. How?
I came here last week with a friend. I’m a little old for a teen club. I’m 19. But we’d heard good things about What’s New and the band here. So we checked it out. That’s when I saw you onstage and realized who you were. You’re good.
Well, thank you, too.
Are you staying?
I paid admission. The least I can do is see the first set. Why?
Maybe we can talk. For now, though, you’ll have to excuse me.
Amanda found a table where she could be alone and watch The Hi-Steppers. Bob thought only of her during the first set. The band noticed his self-consciousness, the distracted air. Greg saw Bob looking at Amanda and immediately understood. By the end of the first set, Greg had told the others.
Each of them had had their own encounters at the club and each had handled it in their own way. So the band watched to see how it’s leader would handle this.
He didn’t. Instead, he went over to her table, now filled by others, and talked to her. At the end of the second set, too, and afterward.
Al Berk’s role was changing and he felt a greater responsibility as The Hi-Steppers’ manager. At first, he looked for gigs, knowing the house dates at What’s New might end. Then, as 12 Step Program began its climb, fielded offers from other clubs and promoters.
He’d assured The Hi-Steppers of a tour. Berk’s first thought was that the band could go out on the road as opening act for Love.
Love had had a minor hit with it’s version of My Little Red Book and seemed to be doing well with the remarkable 7 And 7 Is. In a way, Love was in a similar position as The Hi-Steppers although its label, Elektra, was better known than Barb, but as a folk company. Despite being Elektra’s first rock signing, Love wasn’t known outside its native L.A., which it ruled at this time.
That was the problem. Leader Arthur Lee couldn’t see much to be gained by going on tour. In L.A, the money and the work were plentiful. As an integrated group, Lee knew he’d face racism, taunts for the band’s clothes and long hair. Plus, Lee didn’t trust the music business.
So, despite all the urging, Love wasn’t going anywhere soon.
Frustrated, thwarted, Berk looked at other possibilities and saw only The Grantchesters.
Berk figured he could do better but he was getting desperate to deliver. The Grantchesters were doing modestly well with latest single, Psychedelia. The band was really good at writing singles for current trends, band wagon hopping as it were. The next one, Berk knew, would be The Power Of Flowers.
Berk knew because The Grantchesters was on Barb and Stern had told him.
He suspected that Psychedelia was surviving because now the business was more aware of Barb thanks to 12 Step Program. It might have gotten no higher than 34 but it stubbornly was keeping in the hit parade. If the public couldn’t buy the record, which seemed to be the case, the alternative was to make a request to radio. Those regular requests were keeping 12 Step Program alive.
Despite having more records to its credit, The Grantchesters needed The Hi-Steppers.
The Hi-Steppers was a better band, too, so the object, Berk told Jansen, was to steal the show.
It would go out with The Grantchesters, who added a third band also signed to Barb, The Joss, which was on the charts with Help Me, again thanks to the awareness created by12 Step Program.
Bob Jansen liked Amanda Flynn a lot.
He didn’t know yet if he loved her but she’d started to come to the club regularly and each time made him laugh. Other girls couldn’t do that, but Amanda could penetrate his renowned reserve, bring him out, get closer.
The Hi-Steppers hadn’t made up its mind whether or not it liked Amanda Flynn. The band was used to a Bob Jansen who was driven, was focused and had a work ethic. That was reassuring, The Hi-Steppers trusted that whatever he did was in its best interest. This new Bob Jansen seemed distracted. As Luke noted, a distracted Bob Jansen was a more relaxed Bob Jansen. This Bob was less likely to fuss over details and more prone to letting things happen. This entailed cutting slack for band members and letting them be more creative. That had to be good. We’ll see, was the collective decision.
Amanda worked in the women’s clothing section of a department store, therefore she knew about fashion.
In their short time together, she steered Bob away from making clothing mistakes.
By the time The Hi-Steppers left the Pacific Northwest, it had ditched its shiny green suits, opting for a Rolling Stones look – sports jackets, slacks and boots with a Cuban heel.
Amanda approved but fashions kept changing. She clucked her tongue when Bob said he was drawn to Nehru jackets and those scarves that were secured by a toggle ring. Ascots.
You mean you want to look like The Association, Amanda asked? A glee club.
Well no, admitted Bob.
Or The Grantchesters?
In a few months nobody will be wearing Nehru jackets, but if you’re photographed in them that will be your image for years after.
OK, point taken.
He suggested going for a military look. Amanda liked that and said she’d look around at the used clothing stores that were beginning to appear.
As band leader, Bob knew he could make decisions for The Hi-Steppers, but he didn’t know if he could tell the band how to dress. So far, it was happy to go along with him. He had only two dress code rules. No facial hair; no running shoes.
That could be a challenge. More and more bands were appearing with moustaches and beards, and were dressed casually in blue jeans. Even Paul McCarney and John Lennon were sporting
moustaches and whiskers. The rest of the world wouldn’t be far behind.
12 Step Program saved What’s New.
As the single got to be heard on the radio and began to chart, the club, which had been suffering in the weeks after the riot, filled up with people wanting to see The Hi-Steppers, risking the curfew, or proudly declaring they were of drinking age.
Tonio looked happier than he’d been in weeks while Bob happily engaged the crowds.
That didn’t help the album, though.
Released after Christmas, at the beginning of 1967, Hi-Time For The Hi-Steppers seemed old fashioned compared to new albums by fellow Angelinos The Byrds and Love and there was more coming, from The Doors and Buffalo Springfield, for instance, and the San Fransisco bands Bob had heard about such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
As well, there was a deluge of records by L.A.’s The Standells, Leaves, The Merry Go Round, Music Machine,The Association, Turtles, Seeds, The Grantchesters and many others. The Hi-Steppers was competing against all of them and radio had no hi-time or room for Hi-Time For The Hi-Steppers.
The album was doomed. Bob Jansen could only grit his teeth, sing 12 Step Program, and hope he could make another record soon.
Oh, he’d be making a record, alright, even sooner than he expected or possibly would have liked.
The Hi-Steppers’ contract with Barb required it to provide at least two albums and three singles a year.
This second album would be better. It would have more of his own songs while the covers would show off the band’s skill at playing and arranging, departing from the staples of the live set that filled the first album.
Jansen would work closer with Leven, provide some direction, try to use whatever he’d learned from the first album.
As the money trickled in, Abe Stern started to feel better, perhaps for the first time since founding Barb a few years before.
The music industry seemed to treat Barb more seriously. Both the singles by The Grantchesters and The Joss was getting more airplay, or was getting more attention. Abe knew he owed it to 12 Step Program. It wasn’t a big hit yet, and realistically, he figured it had gone as high as it could go.
But it was Barb’s first hit, that was the important thing. That got Abe wondering where Barb could take The Hi-Steppers, which was when he took another look at its contract.
Abe noticed Bob hadn’t registered the song with either ASCAP or BMI so there was no one to collect the money due him. No one to represent him or The Hi-Steppers because he hadn’t set up its own publishing company. It was only one song, so far, but there’d be more. Until then, there was a vacant space that radio, for one, was in no rush to fill with no organization harass it to pay up or report to.
Stern knew he would have to correct that.
In looking at the contract, he also realized The Hi-Steppers was due to make another album in the next few weeks.
Stern made a note to alert Berk, to book time with Leven and to have a little discussion with Jansen.
Whether he realized it or not, the modest success of 12 Step Program had swayed him.
The Grantchesters and The Joss were getting more airplay, Barb had achieved an unprecedented security and The Hi-Steppers was becoming a hit band.
So, Abe Stern demanded another song like 12 Step Program. Soon.
Bob Jansen did his best to comply.
When Stern wanted a song exactly like 12 Step, he responded with 10 Commandments Of Love.
Is there a map leading to love?/
Is there a guide I can follow?/
Follow me somebody said/
I’ll show you the way/
First rule: Find her/
Second rule: Tell Her
Third rule: Please her/
Fourth rule: Be at her side…
The guitar sound was identical while the music was similar to 12 Step Program.
At first Luke protested but, in the end, he delivered.
Yeah, Bob reasoned, it’s a blatant copy but if it keeps Abe happy and Barb interested and helps the band, he was willing to make that concession.
Jansen added it to what the band would next record.
First, though, was the tour with The Grantchesters
That flirted with disaster.
Jansen liked The Joss. In the wake of The Byrds’s hitting number one with Mr. Tambourine Man,The Joss emulated a lot of L.A. bands in that it became folk-rock overnight. This was at odds with what The Joss really was, a white soul band if its version of The Young Rascals’ Come On Up was evidence.It tried to balance the two sounds in its set and that got Jansen’s attention . He became curious to see in what direction it would lead.
The Grantchesters surprised him by playing and singing competently. Jansen always had thought the band was a studio concoction. Not unusual. Music by session musicians; singing by the band’s voices.
The band seemed real but lacked credibility. The shows drew well enough with people there to hear the hits, Discotheque A Go Go and Psychedelia. Once they were played, the other songs were inconsequential. What seemed substantial on record was superficial live. If these were about lifestyle, The Grantchesters didn’t live it. This became apparent when The Grantchesters did its new single, The Power Of Flowers. Some in the audience knew it was being manipulated, a few actually snickered. It wanted more, something in which to believe. Maybe a year ago, it would have been satisfied, but now the audience was asking questions, demanding something The Grantchesters never could be. New rules were being written.
The Hi-Steppers didn’t have that problem. Most crowds had no idea who it was. It did the songs from the first album and received a polite hand, but when The Hi-Steppers launched into 12 Step Program, there was recognition and excitement. Every night, it was the highlight of the show. The Grantchesters couldn’t top it . After a few nights of having its show stolen from it, The Grantchesters stopped trying, but, Jansen noticed, it played harder, investing its show with more soul, and even stretching out. Jansen took note.
After a few weeks, the band was back at What’s New.
Tonio was glad to see it.
The club had developed a good rep and become a scene, so the crowds were good but the demand for The Hi-Steppers was constant. Besides, What’s New was the band’s home. Tonio missed it, and treated the band’s first weekend back at What’s New as a triumphant homecoming.
12 Step Program, chapter 10
I need $2,000.00, said Bob Jansen.
Abe Stern couldn’t help it. He gulped. Then he asked, what for?
Amanda is moving in with me, and she’s found a decent apartment for us.
An apartment isn’t going to cost $2000.00 a month.
I know but we have to buy other stuff – a bed, bed sheets, kitchen utensils, those kinds of things. I figure $2,000.00 will get us started.
No money has come in from 12 Step, Bob noted.
Yeah, I need to talk to you about that.
So you’ll give me $2,000.00?
Stern did a quick calculation and knew what he had to do.
Barb can cover it, just. The label isn’t rich, but maybe we can make a deal.
Deal? asked Bob.
Yeah, we need to avoid a shipwreck. Sign over 12 Step Program to Barb and the label will get back its money, eventually. The label will recoup the investment until the loan is paid.
At that moment, Jansen realized two things. One was that he just was getting by and all but broke. Two was that he needed the money.
Against his better judgement he said ok.
With that, Abe pulled out a cheque book from his office desk and wrote a cheque that he handed to Bob.
Then, he pulled out an ASCAP form that he gave to Jansen to sign.
The exchange took only a few seconds but with a few strokes of the pen Jansen effectively signed away his life.
When Bob left his office, Abe felt guilty. Barb owned 12 Step Program, rightly or wrongly. His rationale was that he was trying to protect Barb and keep it afloat. He’d have to lean harder on Jukemaster.
The distributor owed him. As well, the song now would be registered with ASCAP, though all the collected money would go to Barb.
Abe winced. He never meant to be sleazy and somehow he would assist Jansen. In a way, Abe reasoned, he was protecting Bob, too. How though?
Maybe 12 Step Program would sell enough singles that Jansen would make good money in mechanical royalties. Abe was hopeful.
Also, 12 Step Program was the first and, so far, the only song Bob Jansen had written. That it was a hit could be a fluke. Barb was a record company, damn it, and had to make a profit.
Jansen showed the cheque to Amanda, went to his bank and cashed it.
The landlord took his money for the first month and a damage deposit. This left enough to set up house.
This is gonna be an adventure, exclaimed Amanda. Bob just grunted.
!2 Step Program created a demand for the Hi-Steppers. Al Berk found the band plenty of local gigs, always trying to keep the weekends for What’s New. He also was able to raise the band’s price.
The tour with The Grantchesters paid off with the band being asked back to do shows in Nevada, Arizona and in towns north of L.A..
There would be more tours and possibly an appearance on the Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars. No reason the Hi-Steppers couldn’t be as big as Paul Revere And The Raiders was getting.
First, Berk had something he wanted to run by the band.
He chose to do it at What’s New between the first and second set.
OK, you want to put more of your own songs on the next album and want a more polished, produced record, he said to Jansen. Bob nodded.
It’s time, then, to shorten the name.
Huh, Bob wondered, to what?
To The Steppers. It’s less frat band, less 50s, more modern. Calling yourself The Steppers would show you’ve moved forward.
Bob seemed to be considering it, so Al pressed on.
Besides, nobody bought the album so nobody will miss The Hi-Steppers.
Yeah, countered Bob, but this will be like starting over.
In a way, you are starting over.
What about 12 Step Program?
What about it.? You have a sound and have built a following that will stay with you. It’s not that big a change from The Hi-Steppers to The Steppers. I mean, the Young Rascals are now The Rascals. We’ll also announce the change.
The announcement came sooner than expected.
From now on, we’re The Steppers Bob told the crowd from the stage by way of starting the second set.
The other Hi-Steppers looked at each other in surprise, completely unprepared, but if this is what Bob wants than this what Bob gets. It trusted him. It would follow him.
Then, it launched into Treat Her Right. As The Steppers.
Not only did Jansen and the band have a new name but Barb had a new distributor, Re-Action.
Re-Action promised to pay quicker than Jukemaster and to be more thorough in getting the records into the stores. Promptly. Very promising, now all Barb had to do was deliver the hits.
Jansen felt the pressure.
The next single would be The 10 Commandments Of Love. He sang it at What’s New and the initial reaction was good, if maybe more muted than that of 12 Step. Give it a chance, Bob told himself, and give the audience a chance.
Stung by having the first album dismissed as old fashioned, Berk let Jansen take more control. There would be a few more of his own songs. Maybe not an entire album as Jansen only started writing and so it was too early to tell if he had the goods. Also, 12 Step Program induced other publishers to send Berk songs. He hipped Jansen to Goffin and King’s I Happen To Love You, Ed Cobb’s Tainted Love and Dino Valenti’s Get Together. It wouldn’t hurt to do a Dylan song either, maybe Highway 61 Revisited.The rest of the album would draw from the club set with songs more fully and uniquely arranged.
As before, Berk called Leven to book the studio. This time, however, he encouraged Leven to work more closely with Jansen and he would be open to anything Leven might want to contribute.
Leven was extraordinarily upbeat. In the few months since The Hi-Steppers’ first album, A-Side had moved up from two to four track. Leven could hardly wait to make a record in true stereo. He eagerly welcomed the flexibility and room for experimentation Mono might still be the standard but stereo was comin
The newly christened Steppers threw its gear into the station wagon and drove to A-Side, said its hellos to Leven and Berk and with little fanfare set up, waited until Leven had the levels and sound he wanted and began recording.
It was very businesslike. Maybe too businesslike, worried Bob. Where’s the informality, the brotherliness? There was no doubt, however, that this was a more seasoned band and knew better than before what it wanted. It also liked the expansiveness of four track, the fuller sound.
The first order of business was getting down The 10 Commandments Of Love. Neither Jansen nor the band really liked the song but they wanted another hit.
Everybody knew 10 Commandments was an imitation of 12 Step. Luke threw in an extra note to an otherwise simple riff and made certain to do a different solo. Similarly, the other guys put a slightly different emphasis on the body of the song and Jansen altered the phrasing. The effort meant this was the most time-consuming recording of the entire session.
At least, Barb had booked two extra days, meaning The Steppers had a slightly bigger budget. That suited Jansen as it meant he could experiment a little bit. He could work on more elaborate vocal arrangements, for instance.
By comparison, the other 11 tracks came easily, even Pandora’s Box.
A tape of 10 Commandments Of Love was rushed over to Barb as soon as it was ready.
Hoping, thinking, it had another 12 Step Program, Barb readied The Ten Commandments Of Love for a single.
c 12 Step Program, chapter eleven
One day in March 67, Uncle Sam came calling,
Drafted? Bob Jansen wondered aloud as he re-read the letter, delivered to him through the mail.
It was inevitable, Jansen knew. The U.S. was increasing its presence in Vietnam.
As required by law, he and the other Steppers had registered with the Selective Service Board back in Seattle. They had done their patriotic duty, never thinking that Lyndon Johnson seriously would increase the number of military personnel in Vietnam.
Jansen and the others in the band were in their early 20s and prime for the armed services, but they were in the middle of recording and didn’t need the distraction.
One by one, they went to their L.A. draft board to get tested.
One by one, they dealt with the tests their own way.
Luke declared himself a conscientious objector. Although he had no religious affiliation that Bob knew of, Luke suddenly was a Jehovah’s Witness, quoting from the bible.
Peter, who always had struck Bob as a little effeminate, told the board he was homosexual.
Michael was convincingly psychotic as he rambled on abstractly about colours in keyboard solos.
Greg exaggerated a limp he’d incurred while playing football for his high school.
For his part, Bob announced his sudden decision to marry Amanda but as an extra measure, stopped eating and took up smoking. He showed up having lost weight, developed an ashen palour, and looking frail.
Only Terry took his chances by appearing normal.
One by one, all but Terry was dismissed and sent home,
There was a lot of paperwork involved, some doctors approached for a medical opinion, maybe verification. One by one, all but Terry was being deemed unsuitable.
Terry would have to report to a Marine training camp in a few weeks and then would be shipped to Vietnam.
Until then, he could finish the second album, play a few final dates.
Amanda didn’t know if she wanted to get married when Bob told her the news.
It was one thing to live together, another to marry, and particularly in so short a time.
Amanda and Bob had only shared the apartment a few days. Was Amanda ready? She didn’t know.
What she did know was that a sudden marriage would keep Bob out of the Marines and probably Vietnam. In which case she’d go along with it..
No maybe there.
With the band’s and Leven’s approval, 10 Commandments Of Love was delivered to Barb.
The song was made to order, making Abe Stern happy.
He ordered it pressed and sent the first run to Re-Action, also to radio and whatever else was on Barb’s promotions list.
On the second day of recording, The. Steppers tackled Pandora’s Box, Get Together, Highway 61 Revisited, The Animals I’m Crying and another popular club number, Steppin’ Out, not straying far from The Paul Revere And The Raiders’ version.
On the third day, the band finished with another original, Big Bang Theory, the theory, as Bob explained, was how the earth was formed. Too heavy for us, was The Steppers’ consensus but the song seemed simple enough being based on I’m A Man. Then there was I Happen To Love You, Tainted Love, Hey Joe, Stagger Lee and the ballad, Time Is My Side.
Time Is On My Side was another concession to Abe. It fizzled with Nora but clicked with The Rolling Stones. It might again with a band so patterned after The Stones.
Marty Leven surprised Bob. Bob had absent-mindedly thought aloud that Stagger Lee should have horns. The next day, which was set aside for overdubs, Leven brought in a brass section he’d hired for Stagger Lee. What the hell, he had four tracks. Delighted, Bob told the three men what he wanted , humming the parts, but after a minute they stopped him. Having heard the track they instantly knew what to do and, three takes later, they had done it.
Added together, Bob happily figured the album showed growth. There were three originals, a few hand-picked outsiders, and more attention and other production details. given to arrangement, Stagger Lee being a prime example. It had more of a blues or old rhythm and blues feel, taking into account Big Bang Theory, Stagger Lee, Time Is On My Side, Tainted Love, Highway 61 Revisited and I’m Crying. At a stretch, Steppin’ Out. The album title alone hinted at the band’s growth, Steppin’ Out With The Steppers.
The front cover graphic showed the band cruising in a car along some darkened street. Once again, not Bob’s ideal image but, as before, he went along with it.
Besides, he had to figure out who would replace Terry.
Admittedly, Terry wasn’t a great drummer, but he’d been with the band from the beginning. He didn’t need to be told the unspoken philosophy of The Steppers. He knew it. He knew the repertoire, how to get along with the others and often getting along with Bob’s wishes. He was as much a cornerstone as anyone else.
No, replacing Terry likely would mean some compromises would be required.
With a second album due soon and a tour already planned there was no time to arrange auditions. Jansen explained this to Berk, who recommended Eric Matthews from The Eeries. When The Eeries broke up, Matthews stayed in Los Angeles to see what work was available and looked for a band.
So Berk’s recommendation was a Godsend to both Jansen and Matthews.
Jansen held an afternoon rehearsal at What’s New, for which Eric Matthews brought his drum kit and Terry Dumbrowski graciously stepped aside.
The Steppers ran through numbers from both the albums and a few from the club sets. Eric wasn’t the hitter that Terry was but Eric had more finesse The jazz-trained flexibility made up for the crude muscularity. Eric was busy and favoured his cymbals too much. Terry was simple. There was no doubt that Eric opened the band to other possibilities. Jansen liked that but somehow preferred Terry. He’d give Eric a chance and see how he fit in with the others.
12 Step Program, chapter twelve
Al Berk was still a lawyer but soon he was going to have to add “personal manager” to his business card.
Although the 10 Commandments Of Love had just been released, it was getting respectable radio play on the back of 12 Step Program. The Hi-Steppers/Steppers might only have been a modest success but, in the eyes of an aspiring band The Steppers was a success nonetheless and the man behind it was Al Berk, Consequently, bands were coming to him, hoping he could be their manager and make them the next Steppers.
There were many but Berk took on only two: Tobacco Rogues and The Jabberwock.
Berk could have, but didn’t, take them to Barb.
There were two reasons for this. The Steppers were a Barb priority and Berk wanted it to remain as such.
Also, Berk wanted to create distance between himself and Abe Stern. This might have hurt Stern, but Berk worried about a perceived conflict of interest and felt it was time to leave the nest and fly on his own.
He looked elsewhere for a record deal for these two acts but would put either or both on tour with The Steppers.
If Bob was bothered by this potential distraction, he typically didn’t talk about it much.
There were other things to preoccupy him – the album, tour, Eric, and, not least, marrying Amanda.
Like Amanda, he wasn’t sure he wanted to take such a step so soon, but, like Amanda, he knew he didn’t want to go to Vietnam and possibly die there.
Eric didn’t need to be told what to do, he had his own direction so Bob didn’t dwell long on this.
The tour was a mix of clubs and teen fairs, headlining most of the dates, and the band’s big first step on its own.
That left the album, and it was too soon to forecast how it would be received.
The early indication was positive. Bob was happy that the abbreviated name didn’t seem to be a problem, if the change was noticed at all.
It generally was seen as a mark of progress, with a fuller sound thanks to four track and more attention given to arrangements, and here Stagger Lee always was mentioned. Song selection indicated a thinking band and Jansen’s own songs were seen as promising.
If there was a problem, Barb was too damn small and poor to promote the album properly. Still, Bob had faith in Abe and Barb had faith in The Steppers.
A second problem came later. The Steppers’ album was overshadowed by that of Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Cream and this guy called Jimi Hendrix. They all seemed to be taking rock and roll in a forward direction, often referred to as mature. Compared to these, Steppin’ Out, despite signs of growth, made The Steppers seem conservative . Only a few months ago, The Steppers were part of a vanguard; now, they could be buried.
Bob didn’t like the position in which The Steppers found itself, but couldn’t do anything about it except to work and perform to the best of his ability. He knew The Steppers could play; he could hope that people will buy the record.
He was helped and hindered by The 10 Commandments Of Love. It was getting radio play, especially when the single was released, but it didn’t have the impact of 12 Step Program. It sounded too much like 12 Step. That quickly was realized and 10 Commandments not only could climb no further up the chart than 41 but radio requests were fewer. The record disappeared from both radio and the chart in a matter of a few weeks whereas 12 Step hung on for months.
The teen mags came around regardless. Bob wanted to be seen as a profound thinker but the mags weren’t having it. They wanted to know how the band was handling fame and what it was doing with its perceived riches. The band’s love life. Future plans. The Steppers was stereotyped, that much was evident.
Amanda and Bob got married in a civil ceremony at Layer Of The Onion. Tonio was there, of course, a few of Amanda’s friends and parents, the Steppers. A reception was held at The Onion with champagne substituted for coffee. Regulars were kept out until later in the afternoon, when Amanda and Bob went off to their apartment. No honeymoon was planned as The Steppers was booked to work for two weeks and then would tour.
Welcome to the rock and roll life, Bob told Amanda, pouring himself a glass of champagne from a bottle he took from Tonio’s
As 10 Commandments began to falter, Barb and The Steppers prepared another single.
Pandora’s Box was chosen and, like 10 Commandments, did well at the start. Radio resisted, though.
It’s about the riot on Sunset, isn’t it, radio had guessed.
Well, yes, Bob admitted, so what’s the problem?
You’re too late. Radio played Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth to death immediately and that came out soon after the riot and that film, Riot On Sunset Strip, exploited that not long after. So, it’s been covered. Maybe, if Pandora’s Box had come out sooner….
Bob found himself in the strange position of having a song written to be topical not be interpreted accurately, if at all. Perhaps the riot meant nothing to the rest of the country and Pandora’s Box could be accepted as a good record.
A hit or not, Pandora’s Box was in the show. The Steppers would start with 10 Commandments, follow that either with I Happen To Love You or Tainted Love and finish or encore with 12 Step Program. In between were songs from the two albums. As modest a success as it was, 12 Step served the band well and even The 10 Commandments Of Love kind of reinforced The Steppers’ stardom.
Both Abe Stern and Al Berk sensed Steppin’ Out With The Steppers was fizzling. Al was on Abe to spend more on promotion; Abe told Al that Barb was stretched.
Both hoped the teen mags would prop up The Steppers’ limited stardom and looked for TV opportunities, such as Lloyd Thaxton’s show or Where The Action Is. Al was trying to fit the band on the bus for the next Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars. Another reason Al wanted The Steppers to hold steady was well attended concerts would be good for Tobacco Rogues and The Jabberwock.
Bob liked Tobacco Rogues, wasn’t sure about The Jabberwock.
Tobacco Rogues was a four piece with the two guitarists sharing vocals and trading off leads. The band reminded him of The Standells, a little of Paul Revere And The Raiders, too. Bob liked the snarky attitude as well.
The Jabberwock was more arty. It certainly moved around, a little jazz here, classical references there, some vocals that practically were operatic. All offset by humour. Jansen appreciated that.
Bob suspiciously thought it might be the future.
12 Step Program, chapter thirteen
Bob Jansen had a drug problem.
Not his, he wasn’t addicted, but drugs – marijuana, LSD and now cocaine – were everywhere and naturally they had become part of The Steppers’ life.
As leader of the band, Bob wondered what he should do. If he should have a policy. Frank Zappa, leader of the rising Mothers Of Invention, strictly enforced a no drugs rule. By contrast, Love was in turmoil because of heroin with several members said to be immobilized by junk.
As ever, Luke eschewed drugs completely. Not only was he straight but Luke didn’t drink alcohol, or not that Bob had seen.
Eric was too new to the band for Bob to know him, never mind what drugs he might prefer. He was proving to be private anyway.
Greg and Michael were potheads.
Peter was a regular experimenter with acid (LSD). He endorsed it heartily as something that would add, if not change, your perception of life. Under its influence, his keyboard solos were getting more adventurous, throwing in jazz feels or the recognizable strain of a classical composition. They were interesting, Bob thought, but not necessarily better. Give him straight ahead rock and roll piano or a soulful Hammond.
Bob smoked a joint occasionally, enough to know he didn’t like the effect on him.
The first time was with Terry Dombrowski. He and Terry smoked and giggled incessantly. He loved it, but the second time wasn’t as liberating. Still, he took his turn when a joint was being passed around.
He couldn’t recapture that silly feeling until he ate some hash cookies and was reduced to a pool of jello. That, too, never happened again.
The control freak in him balked at trying acid, heroin he saw to be bad news, and the few times he tried cocaine left him unimpressed. All he got out of it was a runny nose.
Marijuana was making him paranoid. He’d go off to a corner and be silent, even frightened. Bob felt alienated by this; thinking he was much more sociable.
By elimination, his drug of choice was alcohol. Beer mostly, some wine, vodka with grapefruit occasionally.
Bob would have a glass or two of wine with dinner, switch to beer before a show, have a beer with him onstage, a beer or two backstage. If the band was playing a club demanding two or more sets the routine would be doubled, and at a teen club, he’d be discreet.
He never appeared drunk, though his intake was changing him.
He was gaining weight and getting uncharacteristically sloppy.
This began to alarm both Amanda and the band, but, as it wasn’t a big interference, nothing was said or done.
Bob’s drug policy was to have no policy.
Ray Bedouin, singer and main writer for The Grantchesters, knew his band was in trouble. Although its records had been minor hits, the latest was a total bomb.
It had tried to cash in on a movement to incorporate classical music or classical vignettes or settings, of which there were a few examples, starting most obviously with The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby. It had Paul McCartney backed by a string quartet, and seemed like it was barrier breaking. Then, there was The Byrds bit of Bach’s Joy Of Man’s Desiring in She Don’t Care About Time, the baroque stateliness of The Left Bank.s Walk Away Renee, and The Toys’ Lover’s Concerto, that was based on another Bach melody. Still to come was Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade Of Pale.
Bedouin hadn’t heard the Procol single yet, which was founded on yet more Sebastian Bach, but he went ahead and wrote, and The Grantchesters recorded, Bachbeat.
That classical-rock movement didn’t go anywhere, was obscure to most people, and ultimately didn’t happen. People also realized the band was insincere and by the time of The Power Of Flowers could see through The Grantchesters.
The song was forced. It was based on Sonny And Cher’s The Beat Goes On with room for a kind of greatest hits of classical music – Pachelbel’s Canon, The Hall Of The Mountain King, The 1812 Overture.
Radio didn’t play Bachbeat and Barb thus was making ominous noise about dropping the band.
An album The Grantchesters might never make, for Barb anyway, wasn’t ready, and an immediate band-aid single hadn’t been written never mind recorded. Ray knew he had to do something. Some kind of change, some kind of shake-up.
He got on the phone to Al Berk, to ask him to manage The Grantchesters. The band’s current manager had no ideas, no solution, and so, as far as Ray was concerned, no vision.
Berk seemed to be doing a good job with The Steppers and might know a way out of the band’s dilemma.
Berk didn’t know if he wanted The Grantchesters. He had three bands as it is and The Grantchesters had a growing lack of credibility. It wrote about the Discotheque A Go Go but Ray had yet to set foot in a discotheque, he didn’t touch drugs so whatever experience was implied by Psychedia was groundless, and he wasn’t a hippie who embraced flower power, which meant The Power Of Flowers seemed cynical. People were finding out about The Grantchesters.
Bachbeat fizzled immediately.
These things Al Berk knew about Ray Bedouin, but he relished the challenge the band represented. The first thing he would do was encourage Ray to write from the heart rather head.
If Al could get The Grantchesters on the charts significantly, he’d be one up on Abe Stern while showing the world his managerial skill.
So, he took on The Grantchesters, making the band a priority. Bob Jansen would just have to understand.
When Bob heard that Al was managing The Grantchesters he smiled at first, thinking he had his work cut out for him. Then, he realized The Grantchesters might take up time that should be devoted to The Steppers, at which he accepted that this was another punch, albeit a light one, for which he had to roll.
Abe Stern was relieved. He was at the point of cutting The Grantchesters but he’d give them another chance with Al now on board what was a sinking ship. To him, Al was being loyal after all, making his decision not to place the Tobacco Rogues and The Jabberwock with Barb more understandable , possibly strategic. He liked Al.
Another reason he felt good was that he had wooed back Nora Washington by creating Wire. She already had planned her first Wire single, Jesus Train. She’d record it live at her church in Virginia with a choir and the church’s congregation. No band, no producer.
Abe liked that, too.
The package tour was dying; its days numbered.
Which meant no more Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars, and also explained why this package tour should have been called The Al Berk Show instead of the Barb Wire Revue.
Aware that Steppin’ Out With The Steppers was failing, Berk quickly secured a bus and organized a tour with The Steppers as headliners. He then filled it with the three other acts he managed, The Grantchesters, Tobacco Rogues and The Jabberwock, Barb’s The Joss and Wire’s Nora Washington and Chula Vistas.
You play five 15 minute shows a night, he told Bob Jansen. Play what you want but find room somewhere for 12 Step Program.
The Chula Vistas, usually called just The Vistas, was a black quartet and a new name for Berk. It accompanied itselfon guitar, crossing at least two lines – do wop and contemporary R&B, secular pop and the sacred. The Vistas would do its set then back Nora Washington on her Jesus Train and a selection of psalms.
They all crammed themselves on the bus, a trailer towing the music gear.
Berk had it travelling all the way to New York, down the East Coast and through the American South.
The shows at the bigger cities of the north – Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston – went smoothly but were not sell outs. Partially this was because the package shows had fallen out of favour, but more likely, Bob suspected, was that these acts weren’t stars. The best known might have been The Grantchesters, but it didn’t have a good reputation as a live act. The Steppers did but had only one modest hit single and its current album seemed to be a secret.
In New York, Jansen did a prudent thing by having Washington be the headliner. They had been booked into the Apollo, a bastion of black music with tough audiences which could give a rough ride to black acts, never mind white ones.
Sure enough, Nora Washington and her slim repertoire of gospel plus the early single Moonlight On The Beach excited the crowd. The Vistas, both backing her and alone went over well, too. By comparison, The Steppers was glad to have survived and earned some approval.
Washington and the Chula Vistas also did well in her home state of Virginia, the crowds welcoming her like she was a homecoming queen.
The trouble began in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the musicians endured the predictable jibes from rednecks about not telling the boys from the girls, and looks of hostility at the black musicians.
That was mild. Outside a Charlottesville diner, in Virginia no less, Janson read a sign telling him the washroom for whites was here, the washroom for coloureds was around back. The white washroom was filthy; the one for blacks worse.
When it was discovered that the bus had “coloureds” on it, nobody would get served if the blacks entered the restaurant, illegal as that was. So, amid the taunts about the length of their hair, the whites sat down and ate. Food was brought out to the bus for the Vistas and Washington, who agreed to remain on board.
Near Selma, “coloureds” were barred from the motel where the caravan had been booked. Jansen smuggled Washington into his room and let her have his bed, while he discreetly shared the other with Luke.
The next morning, the bands were greeted by angry boys in ducktails who had found out about Jansen’s attempted ruse. There were enough of them to outnumber the bands, a virtual mob.
Just as the musicians were about to get a beating, state troopers arrived.
Thank God, Jansen exclaimed to the police officers, who prevented a brawl but who turned out to be on the side of the rednecks.
Get out of this county now, they told the entourage. In fact, we’ll escort you out. Don’t want any trouble. Can’t have any trouble between these boys and you nigger lovers.
Nora was great, Bob thought. Might even be ahead of her time as not only did she produce Jesus Train at a time when few acts, much less a woman, produced themselves. I know what Gospel should sound like, she said. She managed herself, too. I don’t need a manager, she said. I’ve got God to guide me.
The Grantchesters seemed to be trying harder and were more believable.
Also more believable, or truer to itself, was The Joss. It seemed more comfortable doing something like Get Out Of My Life Woman as opposed to the ersatz folk-rock of earlier.
He was still split on the other two bands. The Tobacco Rogues were gritty, The Jabberwock merely clever.
When he got home two months later, Bob kissed and hugged Amanda, feeling glad to be alive.
The city had changed in his two months away and Bob didn’t know where The Steppers fit.
The Los Angeles Free Press more and more was becoming the voice of the counter culture. It had started as a reporter of the performing arts and a critic of government. The Freep became an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam and was devoting more space to rock, the vanguard of it all and a prime source of advertising. If it mentioned The Steppers at all, the tone was dismissive.
The coming of free form radio on this new-to-rock medium known as FM was welcome. KMET, the first FM rock station in L.A. never played The Steppers.
The DJs sneeringly characterized The Steppers as commercial, plastic or, most bothersome to Jansen, as “bubblegum.”
Bubblegum, thought Jansen, what’s that mean? Just because we play regularly at a teen club?
If you’re trying to have hits, what’s wrong with being commercial?
We’re not plastic; do we not bleed?
We’re not The Monkees.
Secretly, Jansen liked The Monkees, their records anyway. Publicly, musicians were supposed to be outraged by their TV manufactured success. He could see that The Monkees were made up of actors. He thought the TV show was funny. He didn’t have any trouble making a distinction. So what if it didn’t play on its own records? Lots of bands didn’t.
The Steppers, however, was real; this was his life.
Jansen didn’t like the labels. None of them applied.
But they determined The Steppers’ fate.
He would have liked to play the Monterey Pops Festival in a few months, but nobody asked him.
Jansen heard there was a conflict between the Frisco bands that had been invited and the L.A. bands. In the San Francisco view, the L.A bands were “plastic,” too career conscious, not natural. The L.A. view was that the San Francisco bands were sloppy, unprofessional and not good musicians. The Mothers Of Invention, an L.A. band, refused to play for that reason, yet the Frisco bands had a point; maybe the L.A. bands were too consumed by commercial status.
L.A. represented career; San Francisco, lifestyle.
On the bill was The Association, very commercial. So was Johnny Rivers, but he was a major investor and on the board of directors. So maybe he deserved to be there.
Jansen wished he could be there. Despite the ideological battle between L.A. and Frisco, the bill was diverse, imaginative and possibly challenging.
So maybe The Steppers couldn’t be fit in. Jansen wondered again where it did fit in.
With one modest hit, it couldn’t be considered commercial; yet it wasn’t underground, which was the hip cachet. Jansen didn’t know what it would take to be underground. He didn’t even know if he wanted the Steppers to be underground.
It was a tricky sea to navigate. Maybe Al Berk would have some ideas.
Al was preoccupied with saving The Granchesters.
When Bachbeat bombed he convinced Ray Bedouin it was in his best interest to write more personally. Berk had learned that the same thing that had sunk Phil Donnelly, besides an unwillingness to change, was that The Grantchesters didn’t have its own, identifiable sound. Ray was willing to take that radical step and responded with a new song, Who Am I, that was different enough to interest the media, most importantly radio.
Al knew he should be looking after the needs of The Steppers, The Tobacco Rogues and The Jabberwock but The Grantchesters presented a challenge he couldn’t resist.
He also sensed that if he saved its career, his reputation would be made.
Then Jansen came to him with his question, and Berk put him off, telling him he would need time to think about it.
This was true. He didn’t have a clue, at least at this moment.
12 STEP PROGRAM, CHAPTER FIFTEEN
Bob Jansen had to face it. The Steppers was just another band from L.A..
If it wanted national or international prominence, The Steppers didn’t have it.
It was more like The Standells or Merry-Go-Round.
Not successful like The Byrds, admired like Buffalo Springfield, freaky like The Mothers Of Invention.
Not as clownish as The Seeds, not as kitschy as Electric Prunes, not as posed as Music Machine.
So many bands, so many.
One day, he’d have ask to Mark Volman or Howard Kaylan if their sense of humour and cynicism insulated The Turtles from the factors that were bothering Jansen now.
How did Arthur Lee feel about his Love being overshadowed by The Doors?
How was it that all the things that worked for Paul Revere And The Raiders in the beginning worked against them now?
The Steppers was neither commercial nor underground.
Neither hip, whatever that was, nor trendy, which The Steppers never were.
So, when Al Berk phoned a few days later and told him that he didn’t have any idea – yet – how to change The Steppers’ image, Bob Jansen understood.
I could plant a few stories in these new underground papers, said Al. How do you feel about the war in Vietnam?
Against it, of course, but I don’t have much to say. I’m not political. Nobody in the Steppers is.
What if I paint you as a cultural spokesman?
I don’t want to be a cultural spokesman. That’s a trap. Bob Dylan knows that, which is why he’s going his own way. I agree with Bob.
Then give me a few more days and I’ll get back to you.
A few days passed.
I can get you some TV spots.
OK. What do we have to do?
Change your image.
To what? It’s not like The Steppers think a lot about this stuff.
Dress down, look a little more scruffy…um…funky.
For TV? Funky?
I’ll run that past the guys, but we’re a rock and roll band.
What’s that mean?
You get what we are.
While I’ve got you, are you ready to record the next album?
Already? It seems like only a few months ago we made our second one.
It was only a few months ago. The terms of your contract with Barb says….
Yeah I know. I’ve been writing wherever and wherever I can. This might be our first album to contain solely my own stuff.
Yeah, but I haven’t counted up all the songs – the good ones – and if a few more songs are required, I’ve got a few candidates lined up to cover.
You’re ready then.
Think so. Contact Marty.
Already have. Talked to him this morning. He’s excited. Got an eight track. Still experimenting and discovering. By the time you see him, he should be familiar.
If you say so and I’ll keep eight track in mind as we get down the arrangements.
Good, thought Bob after Al hung up. Recording might be what we need.
Although Abe Stern was happy with Re-Action, he wasn’t so sure about how the distributor would handle a new Steppers album. The Barb label was new to Re-Action’s established accounts and so was eyed with suspicion, even resistance. When the album tanked, the suspicion seemed justified and the resistance would be worse. The element of surprise – that Steppin’ Out might be a hit – was gone. Orders for a new album would be cautious, probably fewer.
Stern was glad to hear that Jansen was writing more and more. There might be another 12 Step Program in him.
Stern hoped so. Barb and Stern had put faith in Jansen.
Most of it spent on promotion, some on studio costs. Wherever it went, Barb didn’t have a lot and, by now, The Steppers was in debt to the label.
Marty Leven felt bad about charging Uncle Abe. After all, he’d funnelled lots of acts his way that allowed him to learn about producing and engineering. He even was getting a good reputation.
But somebody had to pay for the equipment and a studio doesn’t operate on good will. He cut costs to Uncle Abe wherever he could and tried hard to create an atmosphere that was relaxed, where a ticking clock couldn’t be heard, and was conducive to creativity.
With these concerns pushed to the back of his mind, Marty looked forward to producing The Steppers. Between the first and second album it had shown growth, so the third could be magical.
As well, Jansen was developing as a songwriter. The arrangements were getting more sophisticated – more mature – and he could explore the eight track with the group.
So, as before, he greeted The Steppers outside his garage/studio, helped the band load in, set up, found levels, then stopped momentarily for coffee. Marty noticed, though, that two of the guys disappeared for a “smoke break.”
Another difference, no Al. Apparently, he was busy, but Jansen knew what to do anyway.
And, as before, the first thing to tape was the designated first single, The Seven Stages Of Man.
“All the world’s a stage…” Jansen sang.
Marty knew it, sort of.
“and the men and women in it merely players…”
The lyric was set on a groove that reminded him of James Brown and The Steppers could handle this “soul” convincingly.
When the day ended, two more songs had been attempted and Jansen seemed pleased.
Jansen had heard the third album was the charm. The theory was by the third album, the touring and promotion had built a following, the band was comfortable in the studio and knew what it could do, the studio also knew the band, the songwriting was more focused and the record label was poised to bring it all back home.
Bob hoped so.
The album would feature all but two of his songs. One by Luke, which was ok and taught Luke something about his musicianship. He could be an adept guitarist, versatile and with lots of ideas, but he couldn’t write a three minute song. He had riffs and some movement and plenty of chords, but the result was tuneless. Jansen came in to rescue him. Simplified everything, gave the song more dynamism and focus.
The other was an instrumental by Pete and reflected Lear’s presumably acid-inspired flights of fancy with a classical influence. When Pete talked about how the high hat should sound like the tide coming in, Eric just sighed and played what he was going to play anyway. It all worked out and, Jansen figured, added another dimension to the band and album.
The album was different in other ways. It was the first time The Steppers had recorded more songs than were needed. Three of them were covers that Bob believed should have been bigger hits.
Richard And The Young Lions’s Open Up Your Door was a regional hit but simple enough to be universal, The Beau Brummels’ Don’t Talk To Strangers was instantly dated as folk-rock and therefore already passe, while The Bobby Fuller Four’s Let Her Dance seemed to aggravate a raw nerve so soon after Fuller’s mysterious death in L.A..
A fourth song was What Is Love, Bob’s attempt to write a love song that he thought would be too personal. Ultimately, it was felt they had enough material, the covers deemed as regressive, and, if Bob didn’t want to include What Is Love, well, he was calling the shots so presumably he knew better.
Actually, Bob didn’t know better.
He had cold feet. This songwriting venture was new to him, in which he was left lacking the confidence to bare his soul.
Jansen had never written a love song. Arguably, 12 Step Program was a love song, 10 Commandments Of Love had love right in its title, but these songs were about love as a subject, an intellectual conceit, not about love as an emotion, told from the point of view of someone who actually is in love, or trying to explain love.
It was written for Amanda, but she was no help.
One night in their apartment, he pulled out his guitar and sang it to her.
In the verses, Bob tries to define love but in the chorus he has to admit that he can’t. The subject is too big for him.
Amanda looked at him, not comprehending that What Is Love is about them.
He’d failed. That made rejecting the song easy.
As The Grantchesters went up the charts, Al Berk let his hair down.
It’s latest single was turning out to be a hit. Everybody was happy – Al, Abe Stern, Ray Bedouin and on down.
Upon taking over the management, Al’s first move was to convince Ray that he had to write something personal and closer to the band. Ray’s inclination was to keep the personal at a great distance while being a social pundit came easy to him.
Al showed him that the public interpreted this as insincerity, though it might like the music. Ray reluctantly responded by writing the ballad Who Am I, a question about identity to which the public identified.
The result was The Grantchesters’s biggest hit.
Now recognized as an insightful personal manager, Al tried to look the part of a music industry mover. He let his hair grow past his ears. Tried wire spectacles a la John Lennon, but these didn’t work for him, so he went back to black horn-rims Buddy Holly style.
He grew a moustache, he started wearing flared slacks, wore a Nehru jacket with an ascot. Bob could frown, but it was Al not Bob on the rise.
He’d even been seen smoking dope and adapting a vocabulary that included
“groovy” and “far out.”
He hadn’t changed too much since Bob Jansen last saw Al a few weeks ago, but Bob did a double take, nonetheless.
Jansen and the band were doing their usual weekend at What’s New, the club being packed as had been the routine almost since the band started there.
You wanted to be taken seriously, Al said, dispensing with any small talk or even a greeting.
Got any ideas?
One anyway, but you might not go for it.
Which is, Bob asked sceptically?
Another name change. It worked once.
Simply, to Bob Jansen.
You want me to go solo?
In name only. The album features mainly your songs.
You want me to go solo? Bob repeated.
Al looked uncomfortable.
All the focus will be on you. All the questions, all the issues. Anything you want, you can shape. And you don’t have to answer to anybody.
You want me to go solo? Bob shook his head.
The Steppers have been loyal to me; I’m loyal to them.
We’re a partnership, in which I have say in our direction, look, sound. If I have had any success, I owe it to them and their cooperation. What you’re suggesting might be pushing them too far.
Bob shook his head.
Al didn’t expect Jansen to be so stubborn. He wanted to be treated with more respect, to be taken more seriously. Al was showing Bob a way that he might do that. He didn’t count on Bob’s closeness to The Steppers.
Jansen finished his beer without the teens noticing, left Al to go onstage, pulled out another beer he hid behind Luke’s amp and prepared to sing.
12 Step Program, chapter sixteen
Bob suspected Al might be right. It might be time to be upfront about his role in the band.
He also suspected that, loyal as The Steppers had shown itself to be, he might be pushing things too far by planting his name on the front of the album.
He was right and now had a minor rebellion to deal with.
First, Michael Rosetti came to him after he ran by the idea of calling the album Bob Jansen.
I’m leaving, Michael said. Thinking about it for a while.
You’re leaving? But why.
The sound of the band is changing. More and heavier guitar. When we started in Seattle The Steppers was more 50s, more R&B. Now, especially with the new songs, the sax is being squeezed out. Less and less room for my sax. In this climate, I’m feeling obsolete.
But what’ll you do?
I’ve thought a lot about playing jazz. Maybe I can find a jazz band that needs saxophone. Maybe form my own. Maybe fall in with a rhythm and blues show band, take a place as a member of the brass section.
But you’re going.
I’ll help where I can with the third album but I won’t go on tour. No point.
OK, Bob sighed. If you’ve made up your mind.
I’ve made up my mind
We’ve been through a lot.
Yeah, and I’m grateful. I’ll be watching you.
When the other Steppers showed resistance, Bob backed down. The album simply would be called The Steppers.
Feeling their strength, a couple of Steppers aired a new beef.
Why am I on a weekly allowance while Al Berk seems to be getting rich, they wondered?
The implication was obvious; Berk was cheating the band.
The Steppers weren’t so big that it could command more money. Plus, it even was in debt to Barb. Studio costs? Breakage? Returns? The Steppers had to pay for all of that.
Al was getting his 15% no matter what.
As well, his other acts were thriving. The Grantchesters had a hit while both the Tobacco Rogues and The Jabberwock had record deals and were recording. Al got the advances and set up the tours.
Bob thought of explaining that to The Steppers, but, feeling futile, he just shook his head.
Cracks were beginning to show.
So much for loyalty, thought Bob.
He also thought he was going around in circles.
Tour, record, tour, record, tour, record.
He was riding a horse. It was a beautiful horse, solid wood and bright colours, but it was a horse on a merry-go-round. It wasn’t going anywhere except around.
The Steppers seemed to be playing the same places for the same people.
He was getting used to being rejected by radio. It hurt him. He thought the records were as good as The Steppers could fo at the time. He was proud of them.
The initial reaction to The Seven Stages Of Man was almost complete resistance.
We don’t play Shakespeare, said radio.
But Shakespeare also wrote Romeo And Juliet, a great teenage tragedy.
This isn’t Romeo And Juliet. This is the kind of intellectual crap we avoid.
But the music…
The music is fine but you’re asking our demographic to think. They’ve got a lot to think about already.
Give it a chance.
A few radio stations gave in and did give it a chance, but The Seven Stages Of Man was a regional hit at best.
It got radio play here and there, but not enough to be an across the board smash.
Bob sucked up his dissatisfaction, watched Barb promote, made the round of photo sessions, did the interviews, had Al set up a tour that hit the cities and towns where Seven Stages was doing well and maybe a few places that could be swayed.
The tour was tougher than in the past as Michael wasn’t there. Pete didn’t mind as there was more room for him and Luke came forward, filling in with guitar what were Michael’s parts.
Bob couldn’t shake the feeling, though, that he was repeating himself.
Even the scenes after the show were getting familiar.
Girls always hung around The Steppers so that was nothing new. Many musicians, including several Steppers, picked up an instrument in the first place because playing an instrument or singing or both was like a magnet to girls. Bob did it and instantly became popular at high school.
Now, though, the girls were more aggressive and there was a word for them, groupies. They even seemed to have a pecking order or at least a competition to see who could fuck whom, how often.
The Steppers took advantage, helped itself, behaved badly.
Two, Luke and Grant, had girlfriends at home, but didn’t resist…much.
Eric and Peter were hounds, seemingly humping everything in sight.
Even Bob, the only one in the group who was married, gave in occasionally, reasoning that he was only acting out of loneliness.
At these times his aloofness saved him. They were girls, not women. They wanted to be close to a musician, within the circle. A couple wanted more, they would mother him, making certain he was eating properly and dressing well for the occasion.
As these girls found out, he was hard to know. He long had harboured suspicion about what they wanted – security, opportunity, bragging rights – and balanced that with his own feeling of inadequacy.
It meant that ending a one night stand was easy for him. A couple of girls were disappointed but the others were happy to move to the next available musician.,
He learned a couple of things, one being that people would do anything – anything, offering all kinds of drugs, all kinds of sex – to say you are their friend. After a while you lose all respect for people.
The other was that if you sell sex, and on some level that’s exactly what The Steppers do, you are a sex object. Two way street.
Bob couldn’t make moral judgements. He’d be a hypocrite.
So he didn’t. The scenes continued
That’s the way it is, he shrugged, aware that he was copping out, but unable to change anything.
Michael was right, though. The sound of the band had changed.
Luke was playing a heavier, more overdriven guitar while Peter was getting freer on keyboards. Bob had picked up guitar again, initially to show the others how to play his new songs, but with Michael gone, his rhythm guitar seemed more necessary. It allowed Luke to contribute fills without the bottom falling out.
Although Seven Stages was tanking, the album was released anyway. Simply titled The Steppers, the band looked serious and was not depicted in a hokey pose. It’s one concession to a change within the band is that it stated in small print that it featured Bob Jansen.
As the band was faceless and hadn’t been successful, nobody really cared. The liner notes, ghost written for an L.A. disc jockey, on the back made a case for “Bob Jansen, the songwriter,” but it appeared as “groovy,” thus ineffectual, pseudo hipspeak.
Tonio was patient and perceptive.
He knew there would be trouble on Sunset strip, could see it coming and, after the riot, also knew it wouldn’t be the same ever after. Sure enough, Pandora’s Box shut down the following year and subsequently was flattened by the wrecking ball. The vacancy it left was to make room for a wider street and roundabout.
Yet the kids now knew they had power. They didn’t have to be subservient. They had the numbers.
Tonio worried that, for its survival, What’s New would have to get a liquor license and began touting his teen club as a place for young adults.
Fortunately, his faith in The Hi-Steppers was rewarded when they developed an ardent following.
It might have taken a few weeks but Tonio could see it was the right band at the right place at the right time.
Now, What’s New was popular enough to be full every weekend regardless of The Steppers not appearing there.
He didn’t object to the band touring because its absence exposed him to other bands that might have potential and lived up to the club’s name: What’s New. Tonio also saw that each time back was treated as a special occasion by the band as well as the regulars. The place would sell out early.
But What’s New had to keep evolving, even if slightly, which explained the pizza.
As he watched pizza become more popular, the businessman in Tonio wondered how he could profit. I’m gonna sell pizza by the slice, he told Bob.
The pizzeria a few doors down will sell me pizzas at cost. I’ve found a warming cabinet where I can display the pizzas and keep them hot. Could be good for business.
Bob didn’t know what this meant to the band, if anything, but it told him that he had to keep changing or stagnate. Maybe losing Michael wasn’t such a bad thing.
Al had set up a club tour that criss-crossed the country and ventured into Canada. The band drew well at the clubs, audiences still clamouring for 12 Step Program. Nobody missed Michael Rosetti and the band adapted to his absence easily. The third album even began to sell better. Not great, but better.
After a few months, the band returned home only to be told it would be going out again as the opening act for The Electric Prunes and The Seeds. Shopping malls, teen fairs. The Prunes was supposed to be an example of psychedelia while The Seeds seemed to be a proponent of Flower Power. At first, Bob didn’t see where The Steppers fit.
It didn’t matter. Somehow, the band’s Stonesy rock and R&B was compatible.
Jansen was surprised by how good the Prunes were, easily transcending the gimmicky I Had Too Much To Dream. The Seeds were more simplistic but they had a character in leader Sky Saxon.
Everyone in L.A. was talking about The Beatles’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Released in late May, it seemed to be everywhere, people savouring the innovation and depth of variety. Members of The Steppers played it a lot and Jansen was swayed by the concept of an alter-ego band as well as its shape and charm. Compared to Pepper’s, The Steppers’ third was just another album, a random collection of songs.
Jansen sensed that rock and pop albums would never be the same.
A few weeks later, in mid-June, came another sign of change., the Monterey Pops Festival.
Nobody had harnessed or presented rock in such a way, somehow including Ravi Shankar and Hugh Masekela while embracing folk, blues, and soul.
Monterey confirmed Jefferson Airplane’s position as Frisco’s top band but made a star of Janis Joplin and her band, Frisco’s Big Brother And The Holding Company. It also made stars of Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and The Who.
Jansen didn’t know how The Steppers would fare in such company but it never had the chance.
Removed to the sidelines, all he could do was feel which way the wind was blowing.
Jansen knew he and The Steppers would have to adapt but he didn’t know how. Maybe that would become obvious.
As he watched the third Steppers album die, Abe Stern made a hard decision.
There wouldn’t be fourth album, not yet anyway, but a couple of singles. If either was a hit, the album would follow.
Abe felt bad about that. He’d always respected Bob Jansen’s talent as a singer and bandleader, his determination and work ethic. Then, Jansen started to write and Stern got excited by that, too.
Jansen’s first song, 12 Step Program, was a modest hit and should have been bigger. That it wasn’t was more the shortcomings of the Barb label and its former distributor.
It gave Barb some needed credibility, brought in some also needed money, and opened doors for other Barb acts.
The Grantchesters were higher in the charts than they’d ever been with current single, Who Am I, while The Joss also were climbing with a blue-eyed soul number, On The Road To Your Heart. As well, Barb was able to launch its gospel label, Wire, which wooed back Nora Washington. She’d made her mark in gospel with he first single, Jesus Train ,and established herself with a cover of Sister Rosetta Tharp’s Up Above My Head.
So, Stern felt he owed Jansen and didn’t he promise that as Barb went, so would The Steppers?
He liked all subsequent Steppers records and saw the growth, but, for one reason or another, radio didn’t play them and the albums got buried, victims of a rapidly changing and developing culture.
Now, The Steppers owed Barb money and his label couldn’t afford further financial backing. A hit could change that.
When Al Berk told him the bad news, Bob Jansen gulped hard a couple of times and then busied himself with writing a set for the next tour.
He seemed shaken but not surprised.
He wasn’t. Abe had to do something. The three albums hadn’t sold, the singles got scattered airplay, the band was stuck in limbo. Something had to be done.
Barb had been the first label to take a chance on The Steppers. Bob appreciated that but it was becoming apparent that Barb lacked the resources to promote the band properly and, good as Re-Action seemed to be, he often couldn’t find the latest record in stores.
So Jansen resolved that he would cling to the Barb deal and continue to write, maybe producing that elusive hit.
As far as he was concerned, it was just the latest blow to be absorbed.
He would try to put a positive spin on this.
It wouldn’t be easy and, worse yet, there would be more blows to come.
I’m leaving, Amanda told Bob.
Boring? How? Why?
You keep asking questions. I want something more. Something that develops. I’m not getting that from you.
What do you want?
More than this. You don’t want to go anywhere, do anything. No plays, no art exhibits. Once in a while a movie, maybe a restaurant. No curiosity. And you’re drinking too much.
Bob didn’t like to hear this. He had to think about it.
Amanda seized his silence to press home the point.
I don’t know what to do about it. Not many have seen you drunk, but I have. Fortunately, you’re a happy drunk. Not violent or nasty…belligerent.
I don’t drink that much, Bob protested.
You’re getting sloppy, you’re putting on weight. I know you’ve had too much to drink when you start hugging everybody and tell them how much you love them. You once called Tonio Valdez the finest person on earth.
Bob wanted to change the subject
But boring? I sing, I tour, I constantly meet all these different people. And I write songs.
Yeah, that’s all you do. While I stay at home and when you’re at home I’m not supposed to bother you while you’re writing, which is most of the time. I might as well be alone.
You have your friends
That I only see once in a while. What am I supposed to do at other times?
And when I’m gone you do cocaine
How do you know that?
You left your credit card at your bedside table and it was caked in white powder.
That doesn’t happen very often.
Often enough. Our bank account isn’t growing.
OK. I bought some coke and shared it with two friends at a club. Once.
More than once.
My friends can’t afford it. I can’t afford it. We can’t afford it.
So you say. I’m not going to press you on this. I never have.
That’s one of the reasons I still love you, Bob, but I have to leave.
Is there nothing I can say…?
So it went. Bob couldn’t sway her, make her change her mind. Amanda had called a friend whose boyfriend had a pick up truck. They loaded it with a few things from the apartment she wanted to keep and was gone, leaving Bob in a near empty apartment to wonder what to do now that he was alone.
So he wrote a song, What Am I To Do Now That I’m Alone?
For the first time in his short writing career, Bob Jansen tried to craft a hit record.
He’d never done it before. All his songs just were ideas that became lyrics, a feel that became a riff. If he liked the result and other people liked it, that was the important thing.
The one possible exception was 10 Commandments Of Love, but that was written when Jansen was green, a newcomer who bowed to the insistent wishes of the record company. That was written under protest and, anyway, had backfired, possibly doing more harm than good.
Here he was again, trying to make the record company happy, with the added urgency of holding on to a record deal.
He’d keep an open mind and trust he’d know a hit when he heard it. Bob, though, had no idea and admitted to himself as much. The song he wrote, and The Steppers learned, was Fun Lovin’, a change of direction as it was more upbeat than previous singles and more frivolous.
Marty produced, of course, but noticed the desperation in Bob’s approach to recording. A happy song never seemed so glum.
Then, too, Bob would introduce the song halfheartedly. It duly bombed. Radio didn’t play it, Barb sent out a few promo copies, Re-Action perfunctorily stocked it. The teen magazines stopped coming around.
So Bob tried again, this time offering What Am I To Do Now That I’m Alone?
This one almost hit, what is called a turntable hit.
Radio liked it but Re-Action’s accounts had lost faith in The Steppers. Orders were few and some stores didn’t order at all. Unable to find it, fans would request it, but unlike 12 Step Program, it was even harder to find. After a few weeks, the record disappeared. It had got off to a promising start, but the promise had come to nothing
Fun Lovin’ was unlike you, radio told Bob. What Am I To Do Now That I’m Alone sounds real. Not fake jollity.
It is real, Bob muttered. I put a lot of soul into that record.
He knew he’d reached the end of the road. A new path had to be found.
Al knew it, too, but protested anyway.
Look for a new label! But Abe….
Yeah, I know.
He’s stuck by you, signed you.
I know, I know.
He got me started in the biz. Gave me guidance; gave me you, .”
I know, I know, I know. But Barb has gone as far as it can and we’ve gone as far as we can with Barb. We need a fresh start.
You’re sure you want to do this?
We have to do this.
Abe had come to the same conclusion as Bob. Barb had done what it could, and Abe saw no point in spending more money on the band.
So when Al wanted Barb to release the band, Abe was relieved. He didn’t tell Al, though, but gave him a rough time intended to make him feel guilty.
Al nonetheless left Abe with a release from the label, and no debt.
That was simple, thought Al, but the harder work was convincing another label to sign The Steppers.
From his conversations in the past year, Al Berk had come to know Bob Jansen and learned how decisive he could be. Al imagined that when Bob decided to be a singer, he acted immediately. Hand picked a band, chose the repertoire, got some gigs, at first playing parties.
After conquering the Pacific Northwest, Bob knew he had to leave Seattle for Los Angeles, made all the arrangements, took care of the details.
He looked for a record deal and knew Barb was the right label for The Hi-Steppers.
He was wrong about that one, ultimately, but almost made it.
So when Bob told Al he had to leave Barb, Al knew Bob wasn’t fooling.
He didn’t look forward to confronting Abe Stern. Abe liked Bob and had helped Al immeasurably.
Yet Abe took the news with disturbing calm. Their friendship was ruptured but survived. Al realized that Abe saw this as business, not personal. Al was acting as a manager, Abe as the owner of a record label.
Those labels that professed to be keen dug up the sales figures on Steppers albums and status – almost invisible – and went no further.
Al got Jansen and the band a deal with Majestic Wax, which had a respectable history of hit singles. In fact, Majestic Wax was better established and bigger than Barb.
It had two drawbacks. One was that its acts seldom got paid for their sales. Over the years, this amounted to millions of dollars the acts would never see and that was because of the second thing. Majestic Wax was connected to the mob.
The mob would skim the money and leave the label a little money but never enough. However, the label’s records were distributed well because nobody wanted to mess with the mob. No wonder the label had had hit records. The records were well-stocked, easily found and bought.
Gangsters, cried a horrified Al Berk after he’d done some digging into the company’s background. Too late to back out now. The Steppers would just have to play out its contract and persevere. He tried to keep this a secret from Bob Jansen.
Bob found out anyway.
One night at What’s New, The Steppers were visited by a couple of men and their “dates” who clearly didn’t belong. They were such a cliche, bulging out of their suits and looking thuggish.
Mafia, thought Bob immediately. Why are they here?
They were checking out their investment and seemed satisfied by what they saw and heard, then scowled when told they couldn’t order an alcoholic drink. The two – Jansen had never met them and so didn’t know their name – left immediately, lumbering out the door.
Tonio saw it all and looked relieved when the two left.
What have you done, he demanded of Bob?
I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out.
The Steppers’ relationship with Majestic Wax lasted a year.
Unlike what it had with Barb, the band wasn’t close to the label and barely knew it or talked with anyone.
For one thing, Majestic Wax was based in New York .
For another, Majestic Wax’s mob connection shook Bob Jansen.
His first contact with owner Louis Legato was to say hello, get to know him and the label.
Although Bob tried to keep his distance, Louis seemed friendly enough, which confused Bob. How anyone that was devoted to his wife and boasted about his two children could be an alleged gangster, puzzled him.
Bob soon sorted that out. Business was another matter. It was then that Louis could be hard-nosed and shifty.
Louis sent his West Coast rep to meet him.
Bob immediately thought of The Rolling Stones song, The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man.
Seymour Silverberg didn’t fit The Stones’ description exactly but was close enough that Bob chuckled behind Seymour’s back upon meeting him.
For your first single, maybe you should do a song that everyone already knows.
A cover? said Bob glomming on to a new term. OK, I’ve got one in mind.
Bob booked the band into Sunset Sound with the idea that he could produce. He and the band had made three albums and released several singles, so he figured he knew the band’s sound and way of working. The trick would be capturing that.
The song they did pleased everybody but the label and radio.
In The Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody, Bob heard a soul singer trying to get out. Accordingly, Bob slipped into Otis Redding mode, stripped away the orchestration and instructed Peter to play piano “honky-tonk style.”
He called the result country-soul and initially was satisfied.
Radio didn’t play it.
It was a hit not too long ago.
Yeah, but we do it differently.
As country. We’re a rock station.
As soul. We’re a rock station.
The excuse that really threw Bob was…
We’re FM; that’s AM.
Majestic Wax wasn’t happy because the song wasn’t its own.
Legato had a few publishing companies, and Silverberg pitched Bob and The Steppers to record one their songs. He’d urged Bob to change his mind.
When he didn’t, Majestic Wax did nothing to promote the record.
If this was a lesson, Bob deliberately didn’t learn. The next song would be one of his own, published by Barb.
Majestic Wax mistakenly had assumed that the wholesale change also meant signing with the New York publishing company but Barb had treated The Steppers fairly. Bob had no complaints there and didn’t want to get more deeply entangled in the label.
For its second single, The Steppers recorded Empire Builder. It was assumed this portrait of a corrupt business magnate was an attack on Richard Nixon.
I wish it was, said Bob, but he’s fictional…more or less.
It didn’t matter. Radio didn’t play it and Majestic Wax didn’t promote it.
Another lesson, thought Bob. I’ll never assign my publishing to Majestic Wax.
As expected, The Steppers never got paid.
Al figured some money was owing, anyway.
Yes, neither single was a hit, he admitted to Seymour, but they must have generated some revenue.
Costs, countered Seymour.
Wait a minute, Majestic Wax actually promoted the records?
You promoted The Steppers? I didn’t see a single ad in the trades. No evidence in the stores the singles ever existed. What’ll you do when we record an album?
There won’t be an album.
No album. You won’t play ball with us, we can’t afford to play ball with you.
So, you’re dropping us, is that it?
Looks that way.
Al Berk had a fire he had to put out first before he could find another label for Bob Jansen.
The Grantchesters were blowing it and Al once again was in the position of trying to save The Grantchesters from itself.
More specifically, Ray Bedouin from being Ray Bedouin.
Who Am I had been the band’s biggest hit and gave it previously unheard of credibility.
It’s search for an identity registered with a culture trying to find and define itself. It related to the song immediately and looked to The Grantchesters for wisdom or guidance.
If that worked, Ray thought callously, give ‘em more.
The result was Still Searchin’. Remembering what happened to 10 Commandments Of Love, both Al and Abe were against it.
Ray, who never really understood the song’s power, went ahead anyway. Still Searchin’ was almost as big a hit as Who Am I, it’s success surprising Al and Abe. Maybe they’d misunderstood The Grantchesters.
Not really. Lyrically, it continued Ray’s struggle to affirm his own individuality and from that angle was the same as Who Am I. Musically though, it was a completely different song and fared well on that basis.
So, believing he was on a roll, Ray came up with I’m Me.
It was too pat, the search begun with Who Am I was over. That public felt betrayed, left out, closed off.
Alarmed, Al watched it bomb and pleaded with Ray to look into his soul once more.
Ray simply interpreted that as going back to the drawing board.
Somehow, The Grantchesters had become The Steppers’ rival, possibly its evil twin.
While Bob Jansen still had aspirations to be as big as Elvis Presley or The Beatles, he saw The Grantchesters as everything he didn’t want to be.
That had a way of holding him back. Always comparing The Grantchesters to The Steppers, Jansen wasn’t necessarily stating the case for his individuality but making himself feel superior.
Bob had to admit, Ray sang convincingly and wrote a good tune.
I’ll give him that, said Bob, but Ray was too calculating.
Peter confirmed that.
He played at a few Grantchesters appearances, where his keyboards were welcomed not just to flesh out the sound but to make the live dates sound more like the records. Ray told him exactly what to play. The experimentation and self-expression he enjoyed with The Steppers were not allowed in The Grantchesters. The prime example was Bachbeat. Peter had ideas that he could do more than state a familiar melody from various well-known classical pieces. Enhance them, improvise, stretch out.
Nope. The middle section of Bachbeat was so long, no more no less. Everything was timed precisely. As competent as it was, The Grantchesters depended on that; Ray Bedouin expected it.
Not impressed, Peter appreciated the freedom of The Steppers.
Which was good as far as Bob Jansen was concerned.
Nineteen sixty eight had not been a good year.
The assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
The violence of the Democratic convention in Chicago.
The escalation of the war in Vietnam.
Revolution in Europe.
All left Bob Jansen helpless and if he wasn’t paranoid before, he was paranoid now.
No, 1968 wasn’t a good year.
He looked for good news but it wasn’t forthcoming.
The Steppers was falling apart.
All that unity Bob touted didn’t mean anything to a band growing up and looking at its future.
Girlfriends who didn’t approve of the constant touring, possible marriage and kids, developing personal interests, sidelines.
The need to make money.
All this was pulling at the band.
It didn’t have a record deal, nothing on the radio, no good tours either to headline or serve as an opening act. The band was working, though. Maybe too much according to the girlfriends.
A few of the clubs were familiar to Bob as The Steppers had played them – more than once. Others seemed smaller, seedier. Attendance was respectable as The Steppers had a reputation for delivering a good live show.
On the east coast The Steppers counted for nothing and generally was ignored. The south was hit and miss but the midwest audiences still clamoured for 12 Step Program. The west coast was loyal because The Steppers had established itself.
Not surprising as he had less emotional or historical investment in The Steppers, Eric planned to quit.
He had let it be known that he was for hire and had sat in with other bands when The Steppers wasn’t on the road. He also had done a few sessions. They had paid well and he was getting more.
If I go on tour, the phone will stop ringing, Eric told Bob. I have to be home. Out of sight, out of mind, you know?.
I want to be like Hal Blaine. Several sessions a day. He has a cartage company hauling his drums from studio to studio. A roadie. All he has to do is sit behind his kit and play.
Tight-lipped as ever, Luke swore his fealty to Bob. As usual, Greg didn’t know what to do, but Bob got the feeling that Greg would jump at the right offer.
That left Peter, who still was enjoying his freedom in The Steppers. With no pressure from a girlfriend and no immediate plans, Peter was content to stay where he was for the moment.
There were cracks Bob hadn’t seen before. He felt powerless to patch them. A new record company, a hit record? He wasn’t sure either could reverse anything. The Steppers was stepping into adulthood.
Terry Dumbrowski was being sent home.
More than a year – almost two – since he’d reported to the Selective Service Board, Terry was returning from Vietnam.
Good timing, Bob chuckled, Terry always had good timing. With Eric about to quit, The Steppers soon would need a drummer. Terry was the original Hi-Stepper. Not as advanced as Eric but a straight ahead hitter.
So Bob cleared a path that would make way for the prodigal drummer.
It soon was apparent that Terry wasn’t Terry.
He’d forget his parts, get lost, sometimes turn the beat around.
The Steppers reasoned that he’d remember soon enough. All he had to do was reorientate himself and get comfortable. They broke him in at What’s New.
Terry’s old stomping ground, thought Bob. Should be easy.
Terry started the first set too fast and continued that way. In the second set , he played the songs too slowly. The third set was a combination of the two – one song would start too fast and then would slow down, or he’d start too slowly and speed up.
Disturbing to Bob was that Terry sometimes would stare off into space as though he wasn’t there.
He’s still in ’Nam, Bob told the other Steppers, who were distressed.
I’m sorry, pleaded Terry.
I am, too, Bob replied. Terry had to go. He had to fire Terry Dumbrowski. He’d never had to fire anyone in the band. He had to be an asshole. In the past, he’d had to crack the whip and be a taskmaster, but never an asshole.
You’re out of the band. At least until you’re better.
Who knows how long that will be? Bob thought to himself.
Terry was haunted by what he’d seen and experienced in Vietnam. He couldn’t handle crowds, couldn’t mingle. He saw “gooks” being thrown to their death from airborne helicopters.
Terry wanted to be left alone.
Bob put in an emergency call to a reluctant Eric.
The new drummer was Ralph Burnside.
Not much is known about him. He seems to have come out of nowhere. Presumably he’d played in other bands previously and there is no indication The Steppers held an audition. He did nothing of note after The Steppers.
Bob liked him, though. Ralph was a hitter like Terry, more outgoing than Eric, and was conscientious.
When Greg demanded he listen more to what he was doing on bass, Ralph worked harder to lock in.
It actually was Greg Bob was worried about.
His girlfriend, Jane, worked in the film industry, usually assisting a film director to maintain continuity – it’s amazing how often a character will have a beard in one scene yet be clean shaven in the same scene. It was her job to prevent such glaring errors. Yet, because she was in the entertainment business, Jane understood the demands of touring, recording or the alien hours.
She was patient and accepting, but she also knew Greg’s income depended on the success of his work. He didn’t have a regular pay cheque. He had to be flexible, too, The beckoning of the road.
Accordingly, Jane got him a job as a film set carpenter. It paid well when Greg was home, but allowed him to tour.
Greg liked both the security and such a thing as building and painting a facade that would replicate a 30s era downtown street.
Bob kept his ear open for possible bassists.
It had been more than a year since The Steppers last released a record, a long time in late 60s rock, but everything was set up in a way that a band needed a record deal.
Al finally got one with another small independent, Liquid.
Liquid looked good. An offshoot of a film company, General, it hoped to develop recording acts and thought The Steppers still had potential. Mainly, the head of the company, Robert Pepper, liked and respected Bob Jansen, not only as a singer and determined band leader, but, most importantly, as a writer.
Albeit, General specialized in low budget quickies and exploitation films but had had some success with a cheap teen-oriented sci-fi/monster flick, Googoo Muck, and branched out. Liquid was the first try at expanding and The Steppers was Liquid’s first signing. That’s got to be good, noted Al
Bob and The Steppers went into Sunset and came out again with Lingering Kiss, a simple ballad with a rave-up ending. It was coupled with Hospital Food, a sort of novelty, insightful and witty. Or so Bob hoped.
Maybe The Steppers should have led off, and reintroduced itself ,with an album. Singles didn’t count as much as before but now albums did. That’s how much listening and buying habits had changed.
Liquid tried, but it was new to the business and didn’t really know what it was doing. Still it tried, its first step hiring people who’d had some experience in the industry. Second step was to promote the single in the trades and in the burgeoning rock press. Jukebox, a name from the past, got the 7 inch into the stores.
As history shows, radio didn’t play it.
Like Jukebox, The Steppers was a name from the past.
What’s the excuse this time? Bob asked.
No excuse, he was told.
Well, he wondered.
You’re 1966, this is 1969.
What’s that mean?
The parade went through town years ago. You weren’t in it.
No Amanda, no guilt. Bob Jansen didn’t feel so bad, when, each morning, he’d wake up with a stranger in his bed.
He’d also developed a way of defusing an affair before it started. Sometimes it meant the asshole he now knew was within him surfaced. Sometimes there was no choice.
He had no trouble with aggressive women. They just wanted to fuck, to make you another link in their chain.
The shy ones were the problem. They tended to be romantic and hoped maybe a relationship would blossom. Ha!, snorted Bob. Backstage, after a show? Never going to happen.
Nonetheless, he liked a few of the girls, and that made it hurt a little when he had to kick them out and get in the van. Adios.
Girls were an alternative to drugs. He would return to his hotel room still pumped and restless from the gig. Usually, the bar was closed, there was no room service. There were, instead, hangers-on who would give him any drug, including heroin, to be friends. The girls calmed him. They therefore were a better use of whatever energy was left.
As long as they didn’t have crabs or some venereal disease.
None of this raised his low opinion of humankind.
After a few months, it was time to try again.
Bob thought he had it all covered.
The song was called Just Like Chuck, a tribute to Chuck Berry. It cross-referenced several Berry songs such as Johnny B. Goode, Oh Carol, Roll Over Beethoven. Again, Bob hoped it was witty. He was jealous of Berry’s mastery of language. Luke was set loose and had a ball doing the solo.
After about two years of dense rock that not only was labelled psychedelic but liked heaviness and improvisation, sometimes whimsical, sometimes irrelevant ,there was a back to the basics movement signalled by such albums as Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding and The Band’s Music From Big Pink. Suddenly, bands were paring down, cutting back, rediscovering or going back to the roots.
Chuck Berry was leading a rock and roll revival, generally packaged and promoted by Richard Nader. Everyone alive from Bill Haley to Dion to Bo Diddley benefitted from being back in the spotlight and being appreciated again. Maybe it was a nostalgic looking back but it also was a healthy reappraisal. Anyhow, Bob Jansen approved. Radio, however, apparently didn’t agree.
Sounds too much like Chuck Berry.
It is supposed to.
His last hit was in 1964.
But you’re playing The Beatles’ Lady Madonna, which sounds like Fats Domino.
That’s The Beatles. The Steppers is not The Beatles.
Liquid sprang a leak. Created a little more than a year ago, it had learned a hard lesson. It’s one thing to have a background in the music business but another to run a record company.
The head of the company, Don Wosk, might have been a successful personal manager but he knew nothing of record promotion. That’s just one example. Similar shortcomings ran throughout Liquid.
It had started with enthusiasm and a lot of encouragement from General, but, in the end, enthusiasm was no match for know-how, and General quickly grew impatient.
Liquid didn’t know what to do with The Steppers.
Its attempts at promotion were no more than lip service and therefore easily ignored. It hadn’t occurred to Liquid that Just Like Chuck was timed to coincide with the rock and roll revival. Here was rock and roll when rock and roll needed it.
Liquid was spending money but General was losing it. Biker and horror films – at least the quickies made by General – seemed to have lost their teen appeal. Recoiling from a series of flops, General hoped Liquid would be an instant profit maker. When it wasn’t, Pepper had to rethink his label plans. Liquid couldn’t afford such a thing as career development. That might take years and would cost a lot of money.
Before Robert Pepper pulled the plug on Liquid, it signed Peter Lear to make his own record. Largely instrumental, Whoops, skirted classical music and jazz without getting too deep in either. He also surprised everyone by singing on two tracks. Peter had a thin, reedy voice but still it was a revelation to Bob.
He cleared a space in Steppers sets that allowed Peter to plug his album. It also added another dimension to The Steppers’ show. To no avail. The record came and went quickly.
The album didn’t have a single and Liquid wrongly assumed that, if the album was good, people would hear about it and buy it.
Making his album, discovering both freedom and responsibility, told Peter that, if he wanted to develop as a composer and have a career, he’d have to leave the band.
Bob was heartbroken when Peter delivered the news, but not surprised. He’d thought about what he would do if he were in Peter’s place.
Bob resolved not to replace Peter Lear. The Steppers became a much more guitar-oriented band with Luke playing heavier and harder…and more.
Bob figured The Steppers could be more like Jimi Hendrix or The Cream or The Who, a power trio with a singer.
The bottom would fall out during one of Luke’s solos and there would be an emptiness. Although Ralph and Greg tried to fill the holes. Bob resumed playing guitar. Rhythm guitar immediately fattened the sound and replaced what was missing without keyboards. Bob surprised himself by being able to play competently while singing.
The horse now was chipped, its wood worn.
It was still going around in circles, still going no place, but Bob needed to ride it while he looked for a way off the carousel.
Al suggested another change of name, so the band became The Steps.
Jansen hoped the alteration would reflect an awareness of changing times. The Young Rascals had become The Rascals; Paul Revere And The Raiders now were just The Raiders. Their latest records reflected their maturity. Certainly they were more serious.
Al was okay. He’d taken on two more bands, Running On Empty and Project Z.
Offered them to Abe, out of courtesy, who took Running On Empty.
I’ve heard about this country-rock thing, said Abe. The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco. Maybe one will sell records. Maybe Running On Empty.
We can only hope, Al read Abe’s thoughts. The timing seems right.
Abe passed on Project Z simply because he didn’t like it. Although Al had not offered The Jabberwock, Abe passed on The Jabberwock anyway, for similar reasons.
Plus, is it Zed or Zee? If I’m confused….
At least Abe was able to give Running On Empty an advance that would get it started properly.
Less ok were The Grantchesters and The Steps. I’m Me had flopped and forced Ray Bedouin to reconsider. The Steps were flailing, uncertain of its direction with Bob Jansen trying to second guess the “market.”
Not a good idea, thought Al. Can’t please anybody if you’re trying to please everybody.
Nonetheless, he got The Steps a record contract.
Al and Bob should have been tipped off by the label’s name, Speed Bump, but they had found a cheap eight track studio, even cheaper than A-Side, optimistically called Zoom. So, they went ahead anyway, even if the signs didn’t seem good. Once again Bob produced one of his own songs, Santa Clones.
Santa Clones was a novelty, uncharacteristically light for a band trying to get heavy.
But it’s for Christmas, Bob reasoned. A new record should be uplifting at this time of year.
It also asks a good question: How can Santa Claus be everywhere at once? Kids saw him at every mall, on the corner of every street raising money for charity, in all the Christmas parades.
Then, on Christmas eve, a single night, he gives every kid all around the world, the toys they asked him for. How does Santa do it, the song asked? Clones it concluded. A brigade of them, all chips off the block.
True to its name, Speed Bump slowed down as Christmas approached. Rather than acting immediately upon getting the single, Speed Bump was late releasing it. In the early 70s, there weren’t many Christmas singles, They, indeed, were regarded as novelty, plus the opportunity for getting a Christmas record out was brief. By being slow, Speed Bump was almost too late. Santa Clones was seldom heard and is now the least known of Bob’s records.
Undeterred, The Steps immediately went back to Zoom and emerged with a cover of Nora Washington’s Jesus Train.
Maybe this time, hoped Bob. Spirituality – God or whatever – had become a hot topic. Bob wasn’t oblivious to it, though he wasn’t particularly religious.
Once again, Speed Bump was slow, but it did release the record and promote it, not that anything could help Bob Jansen.
He did get a nice letter from Nora Washington. In it she thanked him for covering her song, wished success for it and him, and speculated it would help spread the word. She couldn’t resist chiding Bob on making Jesus Train too smooth, taking the edge off it to make it more digestible as a pop song. She wrote that she was going to go the opposite direction by covering Lawrence Reynold’s Jesus Is A Soul Man, taking it out of its country-pop milieu and into the church.
Once again, radio didn’t play it. Radio didn’t believe..
Once again, once again, once again. This was getting too familiar.
Once again, Bob concluded he needed to change.
He couldn’t see making an album for Speed Bump, but at the same time, he was eager to unveil the newer, heavier, more guitar-based Steps.
When someone from Speed Bump, probably the A&R guy, suggested remaking an old Hi-Steppers or Steppers song, Bob compromised. Why not, he asked? Nothing else had worked.
The Steps made 12 Step Program 73.
This emphasized the riff but was less slinky. Once again – radio didn’t play it.
Greg Atwood dropped out just before 12 Step Program 73, and was replaced by the bass player from The Grantchesters whose name Bob never could get straight – Bud, Brad?
It was another measure of how the unity, the family, had gone out of the band.
Bud or Brad was alright, though. Competent like all The Grantchesters, dependable. The Grantchesters was on a hiatus while Ray Bedouin considered the band’s direction. Bob knew from the onset he could lose Bud or Brad anytime Ray was ready to reconvene the band.
Al kept The Steps on the road. There still was money that could be made. Maybe less of it.
The record labels kept getting smaller.
Radio play was nonexistent.
Country-rock, God-rock, the rock and roll revival, Christmas.
Bob realized he was trying to cash in on trends. He was no better than The Grantchesters.
He kept singing, constantly renewed by the audience.
He kept writing songs.
Almost a decade passed. No albums, not even a single.
Speed Bump was long gone. The label wanted all the glamour of being in the record business but wasn’t prepared to do the work.
Although it must have been a thankless task, Al arranged tours, working with a booking agent.
There still was value in 12 Step Program.
With a reconstituted Steps, Luke and Bob put out 12 Step Program 73 on Balloon. It was heavier than the original, not as sinewy but harder. Released on the almost invisible Balloon, it might as well have been shipped with its own tombstone. Balloon was dead, too, soon after.
As punk rock came in after 1976, more new bands started to do 12 Step.
Hoping to exploit the moment, Majestic Wax released The Steppers Live.
Where did it get that, Bob wondered?
What Majestic Wax had done was take the A and B sides of the band’s two singles, doctor them to sound “live” and filled out the rest with “live” sounding tracks that included a 15 minute 12 Step Program. These were too well-recorded to be a one-night hit or miss taping. The five other numbers were from a Steppers club set. Bob came to one conclusion.
That was never supposed to happen, Tonio Valdez cried.
What did happen, Bob demanded.?
Some goons from Majestic Wax threatened to break my legs with a baseball bat if I didn’t hand over the tape.
How’d they know you had a tape?.
Marty, I guess. I told him I wanted to make a tape so he came to the club and set up. I didn’t tell anybody, even though I had recorded other bands. Majestic had only the two singles and needed more tracks for an album. The only other place you’d recorded was at A-Side.
Marty didn’t have anything left over that was useable.
The goons probably made the same threats, so Marty probably told them about the live tape.
I didn’t want them to break my legs. They also threatened to torch the club, if I still resisted.
But why’d you want to make a tape in the first place?
Just personal reasons. I wanted something to remember you by.
Yeah. The kids had started to refer to What’s New as What’s Old. The Steps had been the regular band for at least six years by 1972. That’s a long time in the club business. Teen clubs were outmoded by then. Attendance was way down as the teens became adults. They had jobs, some were married, some even had kids of their own. New responsibilities, no extra income. Not enough newer kids to replace the older kids and those who might have come in the 60s had different values. And then there was thing called disco. What’s New was heading for something else.
So you didn’t fire us, We thought you were giving us the heave ho because we’d been such failures.
No. You’ve become my friend and The Hi-Steppers showed me that What’s New could work. And it did. Still does, even though it’s different. Believe me. I’d never intended to share the tape with anyone.
On the way to Seattle, Bob Jenson figured it was time to take stock. Again.
He still liked to sing. He still liked to be in front of an audience. There was that. It was sustaining him but he realized he didn’t need it as long as he felt he was doing the right thing, what was necessary. What was productive.
He was having fun, fired by purpose and the people he’d meet. He had to admit he wasn’t outgoing, an extrovert, but he was receptive. That seemed to be good enough.
Apart from Luke, The other Steps were two strangers to him. He hardly knew Ralph and didn’t know Brad – or Bud – at all. Hell, he couldn’t even get the name of the bassist straight.
It was pointless to extol unity or loyalty to them. As far as Bob could see, Ralph, Brad (or Bud) were just in the band until something better came along.
After a couple of years, Ralph left to study law.
Brad or Bud preferred to stay in L.A and not go on tour.
They were followed by a procession of drummers and bass players. They seemed to come and go before Bob even got to know their names. Each time one guy left to be replaced by another, something got lost.
No loyalty, no unity, but there was professionalism. Bob had learned that many years ago. It was part of his character. The bands, then, were on time and well-rehearsed. Bob and Luke would teach them the songs they were doing in concert or during club sets. They had to do them; the audience expected it. That made it hard to progress. Bob couldn’t look forward if he always was looking backward.
He was still writing songs and now had a pile of them. They were good, he thought, but not the hit he wanted. He had one, Salad Or Fries, about choices, and a possible label, Ozone Layer, but it folded before it even got started. Ozone Layer was just too small.
So, inspired by the stillborn Salad Or Fries, he thought he’d try something else, a wacky idea, maybe, but a possible diversion.
He’d write a cookbook.
Rock musicians were taking better care of themselves and increasingly embracing nutrition and eschewing road food. Many were vegetarian.
The book he was proposing might be timely. There might be value in it coming from a musician. Credibility.
His idea was simple. Put together a bunch of recipes under the title 12 Step Meals. Each dish could be made in 12 steps or less or 12 ingredients or less.
Bob wasn’t a chef by any means and so the dishes were variations on those that everyone knew. That is, add corn kernels to minestrone soup but remove the green beans. 12 Step Stew was Irish stew without the carrots.
The book would be brief rather than comprehensive but would cover the bases: Soup, salad, appetizers, meat, seafood, vegetarian, dessert.
At first, publishers were intrigued. This looked promising. When they found out 12 Step Meals was based on a minor hit in 1966 by The Hi-Steppers, one by one they became silent
The main flaw, one publisher told him before clamming up like the others, is that these are recipes for when the musician can make them at home, not looking at the choices offered by a menu while they’re on the road.
Jansen was willing to compromise and started to collect menus from various diners or hotels while on tour. From that he was able to compile alternatives to hamburgers, fish and chips, lasagna or grilled cheese sandwiches. Healthier soups, salads, entrees. It became obvious, though, that his cookbook was dead.
Bob had learned about rejection in the music business and was dealing with it.
This was a different field to him but he wasn’t practicing what he preached.
He was living on beer and pizza.
Always had a beer in his hand. Beer for breakfast, beer for lunch, beer in the late afternoon, beer before the show, beer during the show, beer backstage, beer back at the hotel.
Bob examined his open beer.
I’m not an alcoholic, he protested to no one. It’s only beer.
Nonetheless, he looked haggard. Bob vowed to drink less on this tour.
So far, he was keeping his promise, although he was tempted to get drunk in Eugene.
It wasn’t a good gig. The club looked half empty, something he wasn’t used to, though it was becoming more common. As well, the band was blowing cues. Even Luke was unhappy.
Al and The Steps’ agent had booked a tour up the West Coast, finishing in Seattle.
In the age of disco, Bob was relieved that there still was a few old fashioned rock clubs.
Snarling head to head against disco were these so-called punk bands. Some of them were doing 12 Step Program. Barb was getting the money but, in a slap and tickle way, The Hi-Steppers was getting the recognition, albeit as a one hit wonder and summarily dismissed.
Three albums, numerous singles. Bob put sets together to emphasize the band had built a respectable repertoire. He had to face the fact, though, that the only song that even came close to being a hit was 12 Step Program.
Maybe on this trip, he’d visit his mother. Maybe not. Probably not..
At the Showbox, The Steps opened with 10 Commandments Of Love and followed that with Pandora’s Box. Both were recognized by the few fans in the room and prompted a warm reception. Then, they pulled out Lonely Weekend from the first album.
For Seattle, they worked up versions of The Sonics’ The Witch and a brief tribute to The Wailers that included It’s You Alone, Out Of Our Tree and a revived Tall Cool One.
Tall Cool One led to a personal reminiscence of the Pacific Northwest of the mid sixties that in turn led to Richard Berry’s Have Love Will Travel merged with Louie Louie. Luke this time was happy. Grinned all night.
Then it was back to The Steps’s songbook. Seven Ages Of Man, What Is Love, What Am I To Do Now That I’m Alone.
The band finished with a long version of 12 Step Program.
“Girl, I’ve got it bad” Bob sang.
You’re the best thing I never had.
All your love is all I ever crave
But I know it’s the one thing I’ll never have.
“”First step: i need your love
Second step: i say a little prayer
Third step: i’m gonna stop
Fourth step: find someone who cares.
“I’d give everything,
She knows I would.
But it doesn’t matter,
It does me no good.
“Fifth step: everybody knows
Sixth step: somebody help
Seventh step: say another prayer
Eighth step: gonna make a list
“Ninth step: gonna make amends
Tenth step: clean up my act
Eleventh step: keep on praying
Twelfth step: tell everyone I’m free.
“This is my 12 step program.”
With that closing line, Bob went backstage, never to be seen again. Bob had left the building. He’d vanished.
Part two, chapter 23
Whatever happened to: The Punk
I should introduce myself.
My name is Matt Brady.
What I’ve been able to tell you so far is all I’ve learned about Bob Jansen. This hasn’t been easy.
Personal accounts tend to be brief as no one seems to have known him well, either as a son, lover, friend or collaborator.
If he’s mentioned at all in rock encyclopedias, it’s as a member of The Hi-Steppers, and they will tell you it had a small hit with 12 Step Program. Often, The Hi-Steppers get lumped in with a plethora of Los Angeles bands of the 60s, most of them forgotten. The Hi-Steppers is a footnote.
As I said at the outset, you won’t get much from the internet either. There is a Wikipedia entry but it’s sketchy and short.
So, who is Bob Jansen?
I don’t know, but I had to find out.
There began my effort to solve the mystery of whatever happened to Bob Jansen.
Maybe you’ll understand this obsession if I tell you a little about myself.
I grew up in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Born 1961.
Both my parents worked. I had a younger sister and brother.
We always were in debt. My father might have made some bad investments or he had to borrow money as he frequently went from job to job, leaving my mother to pay the bills, prepare the food, keep us clothed. My father did his share but I never knew what he earned or if he made any money betting on the horses. Anyway, we were poor, lower class by North Van standards. That definitely affected me as I couldn’t afford to participate in activities that my friends naturally did and thus I felt like an outsider. Like Bob’s, my dad didn’t talk . Like Bob’s, my mother supported me even in things she didn’t comprehend. She’d natter on and on and my dad seemed to tolerate the incessant talk.
Like Bob, I found salvation in music.
In the 1960s, North Van was known as the bedroom of Vancouver because most North Vancouverites crossed the bridge to Vancouver to attend work and came back after quitting time in time for dinner and to sleep.
It is hemmed by Burrard Inlet – which flows to the Pacific Ocean – and by a mountain range – most often mistakenly assumed to be the Rockies. It’s the Coastal Range. It rains a lot but you can ski in winter. Middle and working class mostly and, in the 60s, white.
Because it wasn’t yet multi ethnic or culturally divided but comparatively small and tight knit there was a sense of community.
The trouble for a kid like me is that there was nothing to do.
Once school was out there was bugger all. Skate in the winter, swim in the summer at the North Van Recreation Centre. If you did neither, chances are you’d walk up and down Lonsdale, pining for a girlfriend, hoping to crash a party, looking for a diversion. Any diversion.
After I graduated, I attended the University Of British Columbia, where I tended to slack off while pretending to become an English teacher. Against my parents’ wishes, I dropped out after two unremarkable years.
My parents didn’t ask for rent while I didn’t have a job. I discovered that what I really wanted to do was play music and so pieced together a cheap drum kit from the garage sales I frequently attended. At home, I practiced, eventually got a legitimate set and likely bugged my parents. They daily would tell me to can it.
Then, I got a job at the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool that paid enough I could afford to move into a studio apartment. There, the drums took up most of the room. I still practiced, if quietly and with towels on the drums.
The kit wasn’t set up long.
A guy , Jim, that I barely knew, who had a van, wanted to form a band and learned that I played drums well enough to join him. I’d played a few parties with some high school friends and got through them. Another friend of his volunteered to play bass and another to sing.
We loaded the drums into the van and rehearsed in his garage in a house he, and later me, rented with another guy.
The attraction was punk rock. That was our entry to rock and roll. My ticket out of North Vancouver.
By the mid 70s, rock and roll seemed regulated. There was one way to make records – piecemeal starting with bass and drums with a multitude of overdubs often enhanced by predictable, boring professional session musicians. Expensive. Beyond the reach of most Vancouver musicians. These musicians had to play top of the line equipment and were rated by their technique and technical ability. If you were a guitarist, you strived to be as good as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton. As a drummer, I wanted to be Charlie Watts. When I remembered, I told everyone that I admired Al Jackson Jr. from Booker T And The MGs.
FM radio had become strictly formatted, researched and conservative. The ‘live” scene was owned by booking agencies, who told you what to play and where. The top bands had their own sound man, p.a. system, even lights. This ensured they were in debt and couldn’t afford not to play cover versions of hits in bars. When they did get a chance to sneak self-written songs into the club set, the songs tended to be derivative of contemporary hits. It was not a creative cycle. This was a form of slavery. Maybe you got a chance to play and maybe the experience and exposure were good for you and heightened your awareness of professionalism, but , it wasn’t inspiring.
Around 1976, punk rock threatened to upset all that. Although they probably didn’t plan to be, The Ramones became the focal point of a movement. They were followed in England by The Sex Pistols. A match had been struck.
It placed ideas above ability; attitude above well-groomed image.
Punk swore that anybody could form a band, anybody could play rock and roll.
It was grass roots that stressed a do-it-yourself initiative.
This appealed to Jim, who wanted to play but didn’t think he was good enough. He wanted to be in a band but felt no band would have him as he was. Jim was discouraged.
Punk changed all that. He felt motivated to form his own band and learn as he went.
Just like the early days of rock, there were no rules.
He drafted a bunch of similarly challenged aspiring musicians and off we went.
We called ourselves Fast And Bulbous.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter 24
Whatever Happened To: Me
I wasn’t really a punk
Wasn’t desperate enough, didn’t have a belligerent attitude.
At the time of The Ramones’s first album, I was listening to David Bowie. Through him, I was learning about Mott The Hoople, Velvet Underground and The Stooges. So I knew about the progenitors of punk. I could see that Lou Reed of the Velvets, and Iggy Pop of The Stooges, were rock and roll mavericks that were on the outskirts of the rock mainstream they upset and which banished them. Mott, meanwhile seemed wild and reckless.
I was attracted to that lawlessness and relished the chance to play that punk offered.
The Fast And Bulbous set – we barely had one, – was comprised of Rolling Stones and Yardbirds songs, some old rock such as Eddie Cochran’s Something Else, Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley. A lot of 60s hits, largely forgotten, such as Nobody But Me or My Little Red Book or 12 Step Program, plus one or two originals, mostly written by the lead guitarist, Doug, we had to acquire after we realized Jim was not up to it. Didn’t want the role, anyway.
We played everything fast, even shaving seconds off The Jam’s version of The Midnight Hour.
Fast in a punk style that stampeded over any subtelty that might have existed in the original and which masked our ineptitude.
Bands would ask us to share the bill and we would ask them to do the same for us. No one else was going to help. DIY, do it yourself.
We made the posters and handbills, advertised a show any way we could, shared both information and equipment.
We attended the gigs because they always could be the last.
The bands weren’t the problem, the wanna-bes were.
A band or bands would rent a hall – punk bands generally couldn’t get gigs in the clubs – and learn later that the “fans” would kick in the windows, rip up the washrooms, destroy the tables and chairs. Without understanding anarchy, they did this in the name of anarchy, just like real punks.
This wasn’t punk; it was stupid. Self-destruction that intrinsically was self-defeating.
Horrified, the hall managers would ban rock shows in general and punk shows specifically.
There became fewer and fewer places to play but there were one or two clubs that would take a chance on punk. One such, practically the only club, was the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret. By default, it became the mecca of punk rock with plenty of bands clamouring to appear there.
At one time, the Buddha was one of many rhythm and blues venues, Jimi Hendrix was hired and fired the same night there, and also billed strippers and transvestites. Situated on Hastings, pretty well at the end of the live club circuit, it was derelict when punk came along. Punk revived it.
Fast And Bulbous appeared there once with DOA. Who didn’t appear with DOA? Wish I could say it was a good gig but it was apparent DOA was hardcore and had loyal fans. We were too nice, probably too middle class. Anyway, the punk fans tolerated us.
Inevitably Fast And Bulbous got better and, with the punk groups starting to put out their own records, made a demo tape that did nothing. We had no plan and no money, but a musician with some recording experience was given a few hours in a recording studio. He quickly concluded this wasn’t enough time for what he wanted. Instead, he knew some of the guys of Fast And Bulbous and produced us. This was an unexpected chance to hear what we could sound like and take the measure of our few originals. Somewhere is a surviving cassette. Four songs recorded and mixed in 10 hours.
As the band grew more confident, songs started to slow down and assume their true character. One of those was 12 Step Program. We couldn’t help notice that a crowd would light up as it slowly recognized the song.
At first, I was the same. I sort of knew the song, vaguely remembering it from listening to radio on my transistor.
It became a cornerstone of our repertoire.
Some brilliantly talented bands started doing Louie Louie as a satire, as if to say “We know this is a dumb song; we’re above it.” It was their statement.
Punk bands often would do Louie Louie, too. with a smirk as if to say “This is a dumb song and we’re above it.” What they really were saying was that “this is so simple even we can play it.”
Twelve Step Program was as simple but it wasn’t dumb. It had character, could be insidious, celebratory or communal.
In Fast And Bulbous we had a sense of humour but we didn’t satirize 12 Step Program. We seriously wanted to explore it, get inside it, wring what we could of it. It became a cause.
After a while I got tired of answering the question, which one is Fast, which one is Bulbous?
It was apparent that playing punk would never pay, not that I expected it to. It wouldn’t quench a thirst to play.
Punk was running out of steam, anyway. The energy was gone and there was the presence of a new distraction, heroin.
I saw guys shivering in the sun, scratching uneasily, heard about kids waking their dealer in the middle of the night, needing to score.
My car was bust into twice.
The first time, a thief made off with a cassette deck. Drug addict, police assured me, and didn’t seem to investigate any further.
The second, a would be thief found an empty car. I’d learned my lesson.
Vandals got nothing, but I got a broken window.
Heroin? Not for me, thanks.
We entered that tape into a battle of the bands that got us as far as showcasing at the Town Pump. Didn’t win. Might have been fourth as judges told us the battle was close. But they all say that.
Fast And Bulbous watched as the top band acted like rock stars. It thought it had made it. When nothing happened, it realized two things: That the sponsors were just paying lip service and would do no more. It had met its commitments and now the winning band was on its own. As this dawned on the band, the second realization blinded it, the real work had begun. Recording, promotion, marketing, touring, all of that.
Fast And Bulbous sobered. Did we want to do that, were we prepared? No. We broke up.
I had a girlfriend, Ruth, who was urging us to marry.
I became a drummer for hire and went through a procession of bar bands.
Regular gigs with a regular wage. That seemed to satisfy Ruth…at least for the time being.
This was 1982. Nothing was happening in Vancouver. It was then that Bob Jansen disappeared.
Now is as good a time as any, I said somewhat cynically.
In just about every band that hired me, I suggested we do 12 Step Program. Just about every band did it. The first one didn’t; they opted for The Troggs’ Wild Thing instead. If it’s good enough for Jimi Hendrix, they reasoned.
The best version of 12 Step was by the Weiss Guys. Having the two brothers sing it added extra dimension and drama, sort of like The Righteous Brothers doing You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. They were good showmen, too. Crowds loved it and would sing along enthusiastically.
When Jansen disappeared I realized I didn’t know anything about 12 Step Program.
Out of curiosity, I found out what little I could about it.
It was written by Bob Jansen and became a modest hit for the Barb label in 1966.
Jansen had The Hi-Steppers, which became The Steppers, which became The Steps. He continued to perform and record through the 70s. Then, in 1982, he vanished.
There were rumours – suicide, imprisonment, death in prison.
Eventually, I reduced the drumming to a part time pursuit, married Ruth, took a job as a delivery man driving a courier truck. Bought a house while they still were relatively cheap in Vancouver though Renfrew near the Pacific National Exhibition wasn’t the best choice for bringing up a family. Too much traffic. The fair, always mad in the summer, the race track spring to fall, the football stadium, fall to. winter, hockey, fall to spring, the daily attraction of Playland.
It was an ordered life. Get a truck in the morning, drop off parcels until 5 p.m. go home to Ruth and the two kids, Lennon and McCartney.
McCartney didn’t like her name and wasn’t comfortable with it. Then, she discovered Hole, led by the future Mrs. Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love. McCartney shortened her name to Courtney and was a lot happier.
I never liked Hole myself, but McCartney’s happiness counted so much more.
Still, as the years passed and she grew up, I was haunted by 12 Step Program.
What did happen to Bob Jansen?
I had to find out.
2 Step Program, part two, chapter twenty-five
Whatever Happened To: The Search
Before embarking on a two week road trip to Seattle and Los Angeles, I wanted to quell a few rumours.
The first was suicide and easy to dispel. Not only was there no suicide note, which almost is de rigeur for suicides, there was no body. No body, no Bob Jansen.
Even if Bob were a Houdini in reverse, he’d leave a corpse…somewhere.
The second rumour was imprisonment.
He’d have to be locked away for doing something bad, bad enough to earn a lengthy sentence. To be swallowed by the legal system and hidden away.
No outburst of any kind, no protest, no plaint of indignation, no claim to innocence, no cry of futility.
Still. Assuming possible imprisonment to be true, I wrote to wardens of penitentiaries up and down the west coast. I could have written to others in the midwest and east but Bob rarely ventured outside Los Angeles unless there were bookings that took him all over the country and Canada This seemed unlikely, more so as the letters came back essentially saying there was no Bob Jansen at their facility.
I pressed a little harder, asking if a Bob Jansen had died while imprisoned. Maybe he fell ill. I’d seen only movies but through them learned that prison life was dangerous and could be short- there were gangs and you were either in one of them or out, prisoners had their own system of justice – there might be little or no paperwork of his ever being there.
Nope. Once again, the prisons had no record of Bob Jansen.
The more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed that Bob would be a convict.
Even with the harsh laws of the 70s and 80s prohibiting drug use, he had little to do with drugs. Beer, maybe, but that’s another argument.
He smoked pot once in a while, but never tried acid. He was leery of cocaine and frightened by heroin.
It was unlikely he’d be nailed for possession because Bob never bought drugs for his own use.
So, it was even more unlikely that he’d be dealing the stuff. That would be really out of character.
The same character that eschewed violence.
Once in a while he’d sing “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” a song he got from a Kinks album.
It was true, though.
He seldom raised his voice in anger, never mind a fist.
I wrote to some influential music publications such as Rolling Stone and Spin, even to Billboard and Variety, to let them know about my search for Bob Jansen. Passed on my phone number and mailing address, asking people for tips, any information. Got one call, from a farmer in Kansas, who said he was Bob Jansen. It clearly wasn’t that Bob Jansen. There were two letters, both writers knew of a Bob Jansen. One was by a deluded crank, which I discovered soon after talking to him. The other had seen a Bob Jansen years ago when he fronted a band called The Steps. That much was in the details I’d given to the media, so I knew she didn’t know anything but wanted attention. I’d hoped the magazines would interview me so I could provide more detail, but none of them did. I was disappointed but at least there were tiny mentions of it.
He wasn’t a thief, a reckless driver, a murderer.
No prison record.
With that knowledge, I went to Seattle.
This was how I was going to spend my two week vacation with the blessing and support of my wife and kids. They knew that finding Bob Jansen had become important to me.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter twenty-six
Whatever happened to: The parents
The first place I looked for a trace of Bob Jansen was his hometown. Specifically, I hoped his parents knew where he might have gone.
They both were dead.
I found out through the mother’s sister, June. She’d had all Hannah’s letters directed to her, mine included.
June was able to tell me that Henry Jansen had died of a heart attack in 1979.
Bob had never talked about this to anyone, so nobody knew.
He seldom, if ever, mentioned his dad. They’d been estranged since about 1965.
I discovered later that Henry actually was proud of Bob and quietly would brag about him to friends and coworkers.
Bob never knew that. Henry never said much anyway and outwardly disapproved of Bob’s chosen path.
Henry – Hank to those friends and coworkers – alienated Bob by saying all rock and rollers that he would see on TV were “light in the loafers” or “sat down to pee.”
It had been that way since The Beatles had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.
As far as Hank was concerned, Bob should do something respectable, not follow The Beatles.
Something like the job he had.
He and Hannah were raised in Seattle. They met in 1939 in the lobby of a cinema while waiting to see Gone With The Wind. War seemed inevitable but it would be two years before the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour ended any American isolationism. Henry got a job delivering milk, courted and then married Hannah. Bob was born soon after. When America became embroiled in world war, Henry enlisted and went overseas to fight the Japanese.
It was Hannah who made the Boeing connection. She worked there as did many other women conscientiously involved in the war effort. When Henry returned in 1945, he was unemployed, but Hannah still was at Boeing
Henry got back his old job but delivering milk didn’t earn them enough money. On Hannah’s suggestion, Henry was urged to seek employment with Boeing. Boeing meant security.
Hannah couldn’t help noticing a change in Henry after he left the army.
He didn’t talk much though he appeared thoughtful. The trouble was, Hannah couldn’t read those thoughts and Henry wasn’t going to tell her. What he’d seen infiltrated those thoughts. He couldn’t explain it so he kept them to himself.
He’d worked at the Boeing plant since 1949, on the assembly line that produced post World War Two bombers and then airliners. By all accounts he was a good, reliable worker, sometimes taking the initiative, but generally just following what was on the manifest.
He was a few years from retirement when he keeled over and died.
Hank was helping to construct one of the airliner’s huge landing wheel carriages. It was too much for him.
By the time of his death, he’d signed over everything to Hannah. Hank’s estate was small, therefore, the paperwork simple. Hannah did it all. Not a big stretch for her as she’d been paying the bills and taxes for years.
Consequently her transition to widowhood looked painless enough that those close to the Jansens speculated that she was more independent than they had presumed.
When he was alive, Hannah’s life revolved around Henry. She agreed with him on everything, went along with his decisions. She easily was ignored by Hank’s friends. She virtually was nonexistent. Afterward, Hannah seemed to come out of the shell in which she’d been hiding. She formed strong friendships with members of her church, started attending its afternoon teas, took up bridge and became formidable.
Bob never attended the funeral. He sent flowers and a card to his mother. As far as he was concerned they didn’t get along when Hank was alive and didn’t speak. Deep inside, he loved his old man but somehow he’d feel like a hypocrite at the funeral.
What could he say?
Gruff old bugger.
It was a different story when Hannah died 10 years later, of a heart attack, like Henry, but complicated by a stroke.
She’d always encouraged him in whatever he tried. Perhaps she’d always had a secret desire to sing or be active in some arm of what she called show business. That would be before Henry entered her life.
Whenever he and his band were in Seattle, Hannah attended the shows and would offer the band a meal at her house.
Never did understand Bob’s decision to be a singer, though. Work on the Boeing assembly line like Henry, maybe teach, practice medicine? That she could grasp.
A light shone briefly when Bob sent his parents The Hi-Steppers album with his name on it and she heard 12 Step Program on the radio. For her, that legitimized what he was doing. Relieved, Hannah would tell friends that her boy was a professional singer.
She had more trouble accepting him as an artist.
During his visits to Seattle, Bob would refer to himself as an artist.
To her an artist was something different, a painter or maybe a designer who changed lives or perception of life through their art.
To her, Bob was writing songs of no great consequence for teenagers. Sha la la, and that was it. That’s not art.
Maybe there is an art to it, she conceded, maybe it’s a commercial art..
She didn’t think of him as an artist but as an entertainer.
Once a year, a cheque from some guy named Al Berk arrived in the mail. He would gather Bob’s royalty statements and, as instructed, forward a cheque to the Jansen estate, which is how June eventually got it.
Not knowing where to send the cheque, June added it to the estate when Hannah died, awaiting the day Bob Jansen would show up.
He never did. Hannah was cremated. Her friends paid their last respects at the funeral home. Some recall that an unknown figure appeared at the back of the home and then was gone. He was dressed in funeral black, had a hat with a brim that hid his face in shadow and had a beard. Might have been Bob, but no one could say for sure.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter twenty-seven
Whatever happened to: The girlfriend
Like me, Amanda Flynn can’t believe that Bob Jansen is dead, only she can’t prove that he wasn’t murdered or died serving time in prison.
“I don’t know,” she says. “His disappearance happened so long ago it’s a wonder there is any trace of him.”
Amanda walked out on Bob still married but reverted to her maiden name soon after serving the divorce papers, which he signed without any objections. If she’s determined to do this, who am I to stand in the way, he asked?
Amanda already had a plan. She parlayed her experience working in women’s wear at the L.A. department store into promoting the spring line of a local designer. Now, she was a woman for all seasons, travelling all over America, unveiling his latest dresses, sweaters, scarfs, handbags or undergarments. She even went to prestigious fashion shows in London and Paris. These were known as haute couture, but Amanda wasn’t there to compete. She was there to pick up tips – seasonal colours, fabrics, snug, loose, short, long.
The designer would cannibalize these ideas to make them affordable and attractive to the average American woman.
Amanda was less expert on the designs for men, but had an eye for what would last and what would look silly in a few months time. The designer found these opinions invaluable and, soon enough, relied on them.
After the split, Amanda saw Bob twice, both times in Chicago.
“The first time wasn’t that long after 12 Step Program, but long enough that radio wasn’t playing his latest singles,” she recalls. “The place was filled and The Steppers, four of them, looked happy and played well.
“the second was less happy,” Amanda continues. “The club was smaller and was more seedy. Although I recognized Luke, I didn’t know the other two guys. Bob was still in control and had the band delivering. He looked like hell, though. Possibly, he was drunk. Some of his between song intros were nonsense, he’d put on weight, seemed tired.
I hung out in the back and never let on I was there. I wanted to keep my distance.
“Why was I there? Bob Jansen was my first serious relationship. Hell, I even married the guy.
“I still liked him – at one time loved him – and wanted him to have the success he always craved. So, I watched his progress, or should I say his struggles, from a distance.
It wasn’t played often or for very long but I heard What Am I To Do Now That I’m Alone on the radio. I knew what that was about. It hurt a bit, but I think he understood why I left. It obviously hurt him, too; that whole break up.
A little while ago a band called, I think, Astral Freaks, did What Is Love at the end of a TV show. I hadn’t heard that since Bob sang the song and played acoustic guitar in our apartment. But I remembered it. I didn’t understand it then, but I sure got it years later. I cried. Bob was struggling to understand something that he could express only in a song. I wanted to see him then, reassure him, but it was too late.
“When he disappeared. I never knew how to follow him. Eventually, I stopped.
“Bob probably planned his Houdini act. He always was calculating and sometimes dramatically so.
“I’m caught between Bobby Fuller and Jim Morrison,” citing two controversial rock and roll deaths.
“Nobody really knows why Fuller was murdered, and his killers never were caught. Maybe Bob was murdered and his killer still is out there.”
Morrison fled the circus, went to Paris with his wife and died there. She died not long after. Nobody identified his body but he was buried anyway. That’s why some Doors fans think he’s still alive. Living as anonymously as possible.
“How do do that if you’re Jim Bleeding Morrison?” Amanda demands.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter twenty-eight
Where Are They Now: The Hi-Steppers.
Luke Mitchell was the first to notice something was wrong.
At first, it was assumed that Bob Jansen had made his own way back to the hotel, but nobody had seen him the next morning either. This isn’t like Bob, thought Luke.
Luke knew Bob best of all the band. Until recently, he’d roomed with him. No, something definitely was wrong.
He leads by example, so he makes a point of checking out early, settling up, then being ahead of everyone and being in the van first. He’s never been late.
“Maybe he went home with a girl last night, “suggested Ralph.
“Don’t think so,” Luke countered, remembering the last minutes at the Showbox.
They soon discovered Bob’s hotel room bed hadn’t been slept in, although the complimentary shampoo was gone.
Luke had the van wait, thinking Bob might have skipped off to a grocery store or had remembered he had to do some last minute shopping. He also phoned his mother, who hadn’t known of the gig and so was annoyed with Bob. She didn’t know where he might be.
Looking antsy, the soundman, the appointed first driver, wanted to go. Reluctantly, Luke and the two other Steps boarded the van, which left Seattle heading back for L.A.. Luke hoped Bob would meet them in Los Angeles, but didn’t know how he would do it.
Bob never did show. The band broke up after cancelling any other future engagements.
Luke Mitchell formed a new group, even played a few Hi-Steppers numbers, but grew disillusioned and went back to Seattle. There, he formed a small blues band, but worked mostly as a single at restaurants. He also taught guitar during the day. Somehow, the money came in, and he and his wife – a woman he’d met in Seattle after leaving L.A. – were contented.
Never saw nor heard from Bob Jansen again but never gave up hope he might show up. Maybe at his door with a gig or a song.
Michael Rosetti wasn’t trying to fool Selective Service; he really was homosexual.
The other Hi-Steppers should have known. Bob should have guessed. Michael never said anything, but occasionally his hand gestures or his walk or way of talking seemed effeminate and could have given him away. He never hooked up with any of the girls who came backstage. He’d excuse himself, retreat and he’d be found back at the hotel with a book rather than a woman. Now, he’d announce that he was gay, possibly flaunt his behaviour, but in the sixties he had to keep his sexuality secret.
Michael tried not to be a stereotype. Back in Seattle, he did lead a jazz band but it was at a restaurant date he met his future partner. Alan was a flight attendant and regularly out of town. That suited Michael, gave him space to adjust to a new and different environment. They would have lived happily ever after like in a fairy tale – ha ha – but on one trip, Alan came back with the news that he had AIDS. Michael was celibate from that point. After Alan got too sick to fly and died, he went on playing sax, practiced safe sex with his few one night stands.
Michael had lost track of Bob Jansen long before he disappeared. They’d become such different people.
Bob was aware of Terry Dombrowski but never tried to contact Terry. Similarly, Terry was too caught up in his problems to contact Bob.
The erstwhile drummer went back to Seattle, where his disturbed parents committed him to a veteran’s hospital, which transferred him to the Camarillo State Mental Hospital.
There, he’d wake up screaming, haunted by what he’d experienced in Vietnam.
Terry was put on a program of drugs, but the medication only steadied him. He didn’t always take it.
One afternoon, he slipped out of his room, found his way up to the roof, and threw himself over the edge of the building.
As he flew, Terry yelled,“I’m a gook! I’m a gook!”
Greg Atwood could have rejoined The Steppers, but he didn’t want to.
He liked the carpentry demanded of him on the film set, the painting, the crews. The routines meant a lack of tension, or the rude surprises of being in a travelling band. Club owners that could be tightfisted bullies. Riding in a van could take its toll on his patience or relations with the other guys.
He didn’t envy Bob and didn’t seem surprised at Bob’s sudden, unexplained disappearance. Too much responsibility, too much to juggle.
Occasionally, he’d strap on his bass and sit in with a band. Occasionally he’d participate in an afternoon jam. That was a reminder of how much music still meant to him, but it also reinforced the idea that he was free of the commitments required of him in a band.
Peter Lear overdosed in 1980.
His sudden death caught Jansen off guard. He knew Peter liked his drugs and, if he saw him, would warn Peter of the danger of taking too many to excess.
Peter would counter, pointing to Bob’s ever-present beer, You’re a fine one to talk.
That stung. That was too close to home for Bob, who let Peter drift further out of his life.
Peter wanted to concentrate on developing a solo career. He’d a taste of going solo with the release of his first album. He was an instrumentalist first, a singer when necessary, a composer third. There were strains of soft jazz and light classical in his pieces but that made him difficult to classify. In retrospect, he was new age, akin to Andreas Vollenweider, Yanni or John Tesh, but, in the 70s, hard to market.
Peter would compose on the side, record when he could.
He was no stranger to pot, acid or coke, liked the feeling of being high.
But he was no addict. He was a dabbler, who kept his works tucked away. It didn’t come out from under the bed very often.
The night he died, the band that hired him did the unheard of and paid him a bonus. It was New Year’s Eve. All bands who work New Year’s get paid more. With the extra money Peter bought a small bag of junk from a smarmy backstage hanger-on. He felt the need to get away for a while.
What the smarmy hanger-on didn’t tell Peter was that this junk was strong, nearly pure.
He was used to buying junk from dealers who had stomped on the drug, cutting it considerably.
At home, the stuff he cooked up and injected overpowered him. His body couldn’t take it.
The secretive Eric Matthews might have gone back to Colorado or he might have investigated Silicon Valley. Nobody knew for certain. Like Bob, he just disappeared. At first, Eric seemed to thrive as a drummer for hire who occasionally did sessions. He was smart and versatile, so maybe he was too talented to be a drummer only. It might be telling that when Eric did disappear, nobody seemed to care. Bob kept expecting Eric to show up as a multimillionare who’d made a fortune designing computer games.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter twenty-nine
whatever happened to Abe Stern?
Abe was killed in a car crash in 1984.
He was driving his own car, a Ford Galaxy, when he was hit by a car that had crossed the line and was coming directly at him. The other car was attempting a pass and didn’t have time to get back into the proper lane. Abe was unable to swerve out of the way and took the subsequent impact full on, dying instantly. His seatbelt undone, he went through the windshield.
The other driver suffered minor injuries, but bad enough he had to be hospitalized for two weeks. He was tested as drunk and charged with manslaughter.
At the time of his death, Abe Stern was characterized as rudderless. Barbara, his wife, had died of cancer in 1982, the same year Bob Jansen disappeared.
Although Barbara stayed in the background and let Abe make the business decisions, he’d still named his label after her and she was his anchor. Without her, Abe drifted.
Maybe he wanted to die, the cold hearted speculated. The crash was his way of fulfilling a death wish.
He was thought to be seeking Bob Jansen in order to sign half the rights to 12 Step Program back to him. Abe always had felt guilty about taking 100% of the publishing, though he rationalized his behaviour at the time. Barb simply needed the money and 12 Step was providing it.
After that, the song proved too good an earner to give back, but had cooled considerably by 1984.
In his will, Abe stipulated that his sons, Abe Jr. and the tellingly named Bob, who would inherit his estate, were not to change Barb. No new signings, no unnecessary investments. Barb would be strictly a caretaker label.
That was fine by Abe Jr. and Bob. Neither knew music or the music business and didn’t care to know. Ask them to run a paint store or a one-stop pharmacy, they could do that. A record label? No.
Barb became dormant, although before he died, his label started to use the slogan, “Barb has hooks,” sometimes “If it has hooks, it’s on Barb.”
As Barb shut down, the acts moved on. The Steppers went to another label, The Grantchesters seeemed to have dissolved, The Joss came to the same conclusion as The Steppers and Running On Empty concluded that Barb wasn’t for it. The band was more country than rock and thought it would be better off with a Nashville based label. Ultimately it was wrong as Nashville no more took to Running On Empty as it had The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers or Poco.
There were a few releases nonetheless such as a Best of The Steppers, a Best of The Grantchesters, a Best of The Joss but, just as Abe wanted, nothing new got signed or developed.
Barb made money when the catalogue was converted to compact disc. As downloads. Then streaming. Then vinyl again.
Wire, though, remained active, thanks to Nora Washington. She’d consistently had hits in the gospel market, easily enough for another Barb Best Of.
The surprise, though, was that she’d taken the producer’s chair and instantly had a hit with her production of The Chula Vistas’ Jesus Christ. It was a song by Big Star that was shimmering pop-rock. She and the Vistas played with it, making it a cappella doo wop.
It’s a Christmas song, figured Nora. You know “Jesus Christ was born this day, Jesus Christ was born.” That’s good enough for me.
Good enough for the Chula Vistas too. It went top 10.
Then, Nora produced her own The Promised Land Never Looked So Good.
Always knew she had major talent crowed a vindicated Abe Stern before he died. After this hit, he let her do whatever she wanted. Wire was Nora Washington and she chose to use Barb as a resource. It still had distribution and she made use of its promotions list. She rejected the demands and responsibility of starting her own label and had a deeply ingrained distrust of the music industry that extended to Christian labels.
Otherwise Abe Jr. and Bob just fielded offers.
One was from a label that specialized in reissues. It wanted to put out a compilation of the best of Barb. OK, said the brothers.
They didn’t have to do anything but keep Barb alive and approachable.
Which they did until a major label offered to buy Barb. The label mainly was after Barb’s publishing division and assured Abe Jr. and Bob nothing would change once they stepped own. The label would make any necessary corporate decisions but they still would be able to determine Barb’s direction.
The offer was too tempting. OK, said the brothers again.
12 Steep Program, part two, chapter thirty
Whatever happened to: 12 Step Program.
Although it wasn’t a big hit, 12 Step Program became part of the rock lexicon and has stayed there.
It’s so simple anyone can play it, insidious enough to be hypnotic, has enough tension and release to be dramatic. Plus, you can sing along in the chorus, in other words release your own tension. And people do.
The song seems to exist all by itself. It’s always been there since 1966. Few people know that it was written by a guy called Bob Jansen. Those who do lost track of him long ago after he disappeared and don’t care. They don’t think about it; they just sing.
There were a few wilderness years when The Hi-Steppers became passe. It had none of the gravitas of progressive-rock, none of the tinsel of glam.
The revival began with a reappraisal. It became an example of garage-rock, a 60s artifact,
As such it had measurable credibility as 60s punk-rock. The 70s punk bands, such as Fast And Bulbous, started to do it
Occasionally, this new radio format called classic rock would air 12 Step Program.
Bar bands would include 60s hits such as Wild Thing, 96 Tears and especially Gloria and 12 Step in their sets. A few even covered it on record.12 Step became a standard. A surefire crowd pleaser.
It was used once as a closing song in a televised medical series.
It was featured in two films – one as a nostalgic interlude, another backdropping a chase scene. Neither was appropriate lyrically but the former evoked the 60s, which was the idea, while the latter’s tense car chase was made more tense by the sinewy, repetitive guitar riff.
Barb got paid.
Twelve Step Program was sampled and found its way into various remixes. A favourite segment for sampling was the guitar and organ riff after the solo. Another was the tag, “This is my 12 step program,” Tossed off originally as a way to resolve the song, it became a signature when repeated prominently in a dance remix.
Barb got paid.
Perhaps it’s shining moment as far as establishing its universal popularity came when it was picked up for an anti-smoking commercial. The advertising agency, and the manufacturer, were canny enough to realize that a song ostensibly about quitting a bad habit was fit commentary on their product, Stop Now!, Stop Now! could help those who wanted to break the smoking habit.
Barb got paid.
Twelve Step Program had turned into a regular moneymaker.
It was reissued on CD. Then as a download. Then for streaming. Then, back to vinyl. But you know that.
Barb continued to get paid.
So when offers started to come in to buy the rights to the song, Abe Jr. and Bob had no problem turning them down. 12 Step Program made money and, besides, they were obeying their father’s wish. They were good at doing nothing.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter thirty-one,
Whatever happened to Al Berk?
He was an apostle when he started; a guru by the time he retired.
Al Berk was a lawyer when one of his clients, Abe Stern, owner of the Barb label, more or less pushed him into personal management.
But I know nothing about the music business, Al protested.
That’s alright, said Abe, I’ll teach you.
With Abe as a patient guide, Al found his way.
Abe needed representation for a new signing, Nora Washington, and gave her to him.
He made mistakes. He quickly learned that the music business was greedy but, like any greed driven industry, it responded to success. Nora’s career duly suffered while Al struggled to make her famous. He had two things working against him: His lack of credibility and Barb’s lack of money.
Nora quit the world of pop in disgust. She disliked the superficiality she encountered on all fronts.
Al watched her go. That young woman has conviction as well as talent, he thought with admiration tainted by disappointment.
Abe wouldn’t let him give up. He could see that Al was a quick learner and, in his way, also greedy.
Abe matched Al to somebody else who had ambition, Bob Jansen.
From then on, personal management became easier. For one thing, Bob had determination; for another, Bob’s 12 Step Program appeared to be a hit. Once closed doors opened. For Jansen’s Hi-Steppers there were lucrative tours, TV appearances, a busy schedule of interviews and photo shoots. And money.
Even more for Al Berk. Al now was the guide, taking on several acts that needed a manager and were willing to give him 15% for his advice and direction. He was getting rich and for that Al swore loyalty to Bob Jansen.
He stood by Bob even as The Hi-Steppers faltered while his own star rose.
If Bob hadn’t fallen off the edge of the world, Al still would be his manager. Just as a search for Bob died down, a letter with no return address was sent to Al, instructing him to forward Bob Jansen’s royalties to his mother, still alive, who managed Henry’s estate. Excitedly he offered the letter to the police as proof that Bob might still be alive. The police didn’t seem interested. As far as they were concerned, Bob was dead. Al dutifully sent a cheque each year to the Jansen estate.He felt he owed Bob .
The Hi-Steppers became the blueprint of his management style. Mainly, he earned a reputation for being a fierce negotiator who cared about his acts..
Al was an enabler. Bob needed a label; Al found a label. The Hi-Steppers needed to tour; Al worked with an agent to set up a tour. He was the go-between band and label. Bob’s spokesman.
Occasionally, there would be insight. The Granchesters lacked credibility. Al urged Ray Bedouin to write a song that was more personal. The result was Who Am I, Ray and the band’s biggest hit.
Al was just as confused as everybody else when Bob vanished. He had grown used to Bob’s dramatic, sweeping changes. He’ll get back in touch when he’s ready, Al assured himself. He never did.
There was no contact. Nothing. Al never stopped wondering what happened, but his other acts demanded his time and, as ever, the business kept changing.
He had learned to adapt. Career development a thing of the past? Al made his acts become more self-reliant.
Decisions determining a band’s fate were made at the corporate level, money meaning more than music. Instant remuneration. Al worked closer with the labels to get what he wanted.
When technology turned the record industry topsy turvy and the public’s taste altered radically, Al encouraged his acts to tour often. To release singles or EPs every few months, rather than spend a year or two making an album that the public wasn’t buying anyway. Make videos, post blogs. Always be present in the public eye or be instantly forgotten.
Many of his acts were able to survive until retirement beckoned. Al shifted his focus to Korean, Chinese and Japanese pop. He thrived until he decided it was time for him to retire, too.
He often was recruited to be a keynote speaker at music trade fairs or to be a panelist at seminars. He’d be asked about management, marketing or promotion.
Occasionally, Al provided a little personal history to illustrate the vast difference between then and now.
With no family to look after or look after him, Al Berk remained sharp and alert from the sidelines
It always bugged him, though, that he didn’t know what became of Bob Jansen.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter thirty-two.
Whatever happened to Ray Bedouin and Tonio Valdez.
Although they never crossed paths, Ray Bedouin was aware of Bob Jansen.
He always felt Bob was watching him, judging him, using his Grantchesters as a gauge.
When Bob suddenly went missing, Ray inexplicably felt relieved of some unknown pressure. He didn’t worry anyway; Bob Jansen had no right. So he was forgotten easily although Ray still kept an eye and ear on his possible fate.
Ray’s own fate was better than Bob’s.
He never did break up The Grantchesters. There possibly might be a few more singles and an album, but Ray felt the need to step back, assess the band’s future before making another record.
It had hit a wall with I’m Me, forcing him to think about its next step.
When Al Berk took over The Grantchesters’ management, he begged Ray to write from personal experience. The subsequent single, Who Am I, was the band’s biggest hit and gave it the credibility that went missing by Bachbeat, the single before.
That worked, he thought. I’ll give them more.
Against advice, he wrote Still Searching, which didn’t go as high in the charts but got more radio play.
OK, Ray mistakenly assumed, I’m on a roll.
I’m Me was too pat. If the prior singles were a search for identity, I’m Me closed the door, any search was over. Basically, Ray had used the theme once too often and the public was tired of it.
Al kept on him to draw from experience but Ray couldn’t do it. Self-analysis wasn’t in his character; observing cultural trends was more comfortable, even if he didn’t live the life about which he sang. Before long, the public saw the calculation and rejected it.
Feeling exposed, Ray didn’t know what to do next.
The answer came when he was asked to sing on a commercial jingle. He liked it and it paid well. He did more and let The Grantchesters slip. Ray then wrote a jingle for a car dealership and liked that even more. He discovered that he was good at it, was well suited to it. He had an ear for a catchy melody. Paired with a straightforward message, the commercial was wrapped up in 30 seconds or less.
For Ray that was perfect.
He subsequently started his own ad agency and thrived.
He sang the praise of anti hay fever pills.
The virtue of a floor cleaner; the allure of low-cal beer, the sex appeal of a car.
Need a song about crisp, crunchy pickles? Ray was the man to write it.
But don’t ask me to write a three minute song about God, Ray declared. Leave that to Nora Washington.
He knew about Nora. Al kept him informed about all of Barb’s acts, which is how he knew that Bob Jansen was gone.
While with Barb, The Grantchesters toured with The Hi-Steppers/Steppers.
Bob and Ray never talked, never even met though the opportunities were plentiful. Nonetheless, Ray had the feeling that Bob was judging him. In Bob’s view, a band such as The Who was intelligent but emotional and therefore authentic. The Grantchesters were Ray’s puppets, contrived and plastic. Therefore phoney.
Ray told himself he didn’t care, but he couldn’t help wondering.
Somewhere there is a coffee cup with Tonio Valdez’s name on it.
He grew up in Boyle Heights, one of the largest neighbourhoods of East L.A, where his father ran a small coffeeshop. It wasn’t much more than a greasy spoon but it specialized in three things: Breakfasts, pie and especially fresh coffee.
As a 14 year old, Tonio learned to make a fresh pot. He enjoyed meeting the customers, particularly those who asked for him and “one of his special brews.” There was nothing special about it but he was flattered.
Upon graduating from high school, he could have enrolled in university or taken over the family restaurant. Tonio did neither. Instead, he borrowed money from family and friends and opened a coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard, not far from Pandora’s Box.
It wasn’t an immediate success. Just a hole in a 20 mile wall.
The shop represented a challenge to which he rose when he learned that as soon as you think you know how to run a business, there is more to know. Like peeling off a layer of the onion. There is another layer. And another. That, he realized, is what I’ll call my coffeeshop.
The name appealed to a growing beat culture, which could order a coffee and recite poetry to similarly inclined friends. Tonio wasn’t fanatical about poetry but did like the beats. He summarily created an open mic night for aspiring or established poets. They sometimes traded off with folk singers. Both would pass the hat and would divvy the money in the hat at the end of the night.
In 1964, Tonio sensed a teenage uprising, inspired by rock and roll, especially the influence of The Beatles. He saw in the kids the rebellion he’d experienced initially with the beatniks and folkies. He wanted to be part of it.
That’s when Layer Of The Onion became What’s New on weekends and he hired The Hi-Steppers. Both thrived for a few years. They had their ups and downs, What’s New surviving a riot, The Hi-Steppers indifferent radio play. The bogus “live” album didn’t hurt either the club or band. All Berk had it pulled soon after it was released, making it another collector’s item.
What did hurt was that Tonio’s “kids” grew up. They now had jobs, family, responsibilities.
They had turned into young adults and had neither time or the money for a soda pop and a slice of pizza. They could vote; they could drink.
Tonio got a license to serve liquor and seemed to have bounced back.
Tonio wasn’t happy, though. He’d had too many scuffles with unruly drunks, some of whom he knew when they were teenagers.
Besides, he said of his “kids”, they keep me young.
An earnest attempt to return What’s New to being a teen club didn’t work. Teen clubs were passe in the 70s environment. Belated hippies didn’t come, new born glam-rockers had their own hang outs. A band such as The Hi-Steppers seemed to be of another era, even if it wasn’t long ago. Layer Of The Onion became a cafe open seven days a week.
Tonio still liked to stand in as a barista, as he liked to call himself, but he’d had enough of the responsibility of running a club.
Eventually, he closed What’s New/ Layer Of The Onion and reopened his defunct site as the latest branch of a coffee franchise. Nothing to it, Tonio chuckled to himself, as sandwiches and desserts arrived daily along with a multitude of blends of coffee and teas. Right up to his retirement, he could be seen pouring coffee for customers in need of a jolt.
Now, if only I could find that damned coffee cup, he thought. Find that and probably I’d find Bob Jansen.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter thirty-three
Whatever happened toWhat Is Love
Obeying their dad’s wish, Abe Stern Jr. and Bob Stern did next to nothing.
They were good at it.
As long as Barb recycled its catalogue, it was alive and ran itself. All the brothers had to do was say yay or nay and the major label that now owned Barb acted accordingly. It might have made the decisions ultimately but Abe Jr. and Bob had veto power seldom used.
The label’s suggestions made sense: convert to CD, make the records available for streaming.
Compile a series of Best Ofs.
Sell songs to advertisers, put them on to soundtracks. Arguably, Barb was more profitable now than when Abe was running it as an active independent label. No expenditures such as signing advances or career development or promotion. Everything had been paid. Apart from manufacturing an occasional Best Of, it was all gravy.
The new label took over the national distribution of Barb and severed the ties with Re-Action. Barb records won’t sell as many as it had when Barb was active, the brothers were told, but at least they’d be in all the stores.
They said, OK.
The Joss contract was up and the band came to Abe Jr. and Bob wanting an advance to make another record and to tour.
This was shortly after Abe had died and the sons were especially sensitive.
The Joss, as in joss sticks, had developed from blue-eyed soul into funk with jazz overtones. They’d skirted jazz-fusion but had flirted with disco. They’d adapted a slick kind of west coast pop and was respected. The band hadn’t sold a lot of records, though, and now wanted a new deal in which it’d produce itself.
“You do know you still owe us money,” Abe told the band. “We’ve shut down the promotion department, and been told not to invest any further in any band including yours.”
“Sorry,” said Bob apologetically.
“Then let us go,” said an exasperated, disappointed Joss.
They said, go. Simple as that.
There were two things they didn’t foresee.
The first was Nora Washington. Because of her, Barb’s gospel subsidiary, Wire, was thriving. She wrote and produced most of her own hits and produced Chula Vistas’s Jesus Christ and its follow up, Give Me Strength. She took advantage of Barb’s distribution through Re-Action to get her records not only in the Christian stores but secular record departments and, though Barb didn’t have a promotions department, Washington assembled a few friends around a photocopier to send out promo copies from the list provided by Barb. When the new owner took over as national distributor, Nora was quick to reap the benefits of proper distribution and to go through the label’s promo department. Thus, her version of Prince’s When Doves Cry crossed over from gospel.
The second was What Is Love.
This was one of the four songs The Steppers left off the third album.
Not only had producer Marty Leven forgotten about these but so had Bob Jansen.
When the gorillas from Majestic Wax came looking for Steppers recordings Leven didn’t see the tape and gave them the “live” recording instead. Leven had buried the four songs deep in the A-Side vault and didn’t see it.
The new owner had, although by accident.
The Astral Freaks had been asked to contribute a track to a compilation of new bands doing old songs. The band made the rounds of small indie labels, of which Barb was one. The major and the band found nothing, but somebody from the label remembered A-Side. Marty was contacted, found the reel, played it for the label and a delighted Astral Freaks and sent it to Barb.
Astral Freaks wasn’t trying to be obscure. It had heard of The Steppers but didn’t know much about it. It liked this song, though, though unaware that it never had been released. Astral Freaks softened it and added on thick harmony.
It was a highlight of an album called That Was Then, This Is Now, perhaps because of Astral Freaks’s treatment and maybe because What Is Love might as well have been a new song. . The others on the album – Pushing Too Hard, She’s About A Mover, Eighteen, Gimme Some Lovin’, Backdoor Man – were a late sixties, early 70s smorgasbord that otherwise offered no surprises.
What Is Love even got a little radio play and closed a TV show about a courtroom battle.
Although it raised Jansen’s profile a tiny bit, he’d been MIA eight years. He was dead.
The major scoured the A-Side vault, looking for more, but all there was was What Is Love and three covers.
We’ll release a 12 inch EP and a CD single, It was paid for long ago. The big label felt justified. This was why it wanted Barb’s publishing company.
All Abe Jr. and Bob had to do was say OK, which they did.
The EP couldn’t be called a period piece because even by the time The Steppers recorded the covers they were antiques.
Richard And The Young Lions’s Open Your Door was a hit, here and there that started out with promise and then went off the charts quickly. Those who remember it or those who think of it fondly, would call it garage-rock. It’s simple and snotty.
Bobby Fuller Four’s Let Her Dance is melodic pop-rock that added depth to Fuller’s reputation for writing and performing that grew following the massive I Fought The Law. Cut short by Fuller’s puzzlong murder.
Don’t Talk To Strangers should have anointed Ron Elliot’s status as a writer and his Beau Brummels as an automatic hitmaker, but the band experienced diminishing returns with decreasing radio play and success. It mirrored the experience of Jansen and The Steppers. The Brummels’ label at the time, Autumn, was on shaky financial ground with interest in the band waning. Stern always supported The Steppers but Barb was struggling to put money in the bank and achieve credibility.
Jansen deliberately chose those songs as examples of influences on him and The Steppers: garage-rock, pop-rock, folk-rock.
That’s not why Astral Freaks chose What Is Love.
Here was a love song that wasn’t really about love. It was about trying to define love and ultimately failing.
As a band often accused of being cold and distant, Astral Freaks deemed What Is Love a good compromise. It could add its own sound to the arrangement, make it fresh.
When it was released as part of That Was Then, Astral Freaks was surprised by the cut’s impact.
It didn’t help Bob Jansen, but it did add to the mystery of what happened to him.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter thirty-four
Whatever happened to Marty Leven and Majestic Wax
Marty Leven kept A-Side up to date. Eight track led to 16 to 24 and computer mixing. He hired a chief engineer, Doug Presley, that all the musicians invariably, predictably called Elvis. The day is coming when everything will be on computer, Marty knew. Portable, too. Records will be made anywhere cheaply. Marty didn’t want to think about that. It could mean A-Side, his effort and learning could be bankrupt overnight. Abe continued to send him Barb’s acts but he’d never had a big hit with them. The Hi-Steppers and Grantchesters came close and he thought The Joss might have one with its version of Expressway To Your Heart, but The Soul Survivors got there first. Its Expressway wasn’t huge but it handily eclipsed The Joss’s. After Abe died, The Joss moved on; Marty never really knew why but assumed the decision was prompted by Abe Jr.’s and Bob’s steadfast obedience of their dad’s will.. Marty also was given Running On Empty but he preferred not to remember this episode. His pop and rock leanings jarred with Running On Empty’s desire to be more country. Abe told him it was country rock but the band was more country than rock. Marty wanted to bring the bass and drums to the fore, and make guitar more prominent, more aggressive, more electric. Running On Empty recoiled. It wanted the rhythm section to be more a suggestion, wanted weepy harmony and preferred to swamp the tracks in pedal steel guitar. Marty and the band clashed frequently. It was no surprise to Marty when it also left the label. His studio kept busy. Ray Bedouin frequently recorded his jingles there., for instance. Over the years he had heard all the musician jokes. How do you know there’s a drummer at your door? The knock slows down. Background singers at your door? They never know when to come in. What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? Homeless. How does a guitarist turn away a girl? With his personality. What do you throw a drowning guitarist? His amplifier. How many drummers to screw in a lightbulb? They’ve got machines that can do that. How many producers to screw in a lightbulb? I don’t know, what do you think? And so on. Marty grinned. He’d been around long enough to know there was truth there. He wasn’t prepared, though, for the return of Majestic Wax. This was no joke. Majestic Wax’s days as a functioning label were numbered. It was slow to capitalize on the albums market and just as slow to exploit the compact disc. It had made it’s name and fortune on hit singles, but the hits were no more. The place to be was FM not AM. The artists and repertoire men – A&R – seemed to be floundering. All they knew for certain was that radio wasn’t playing their records. The fake Hi-Steppers album was a sign of Majestic Wax’s desperation. The inclusion of What Is Love and the three other tracks would have been more honest, which is saying something for Majestic Wax. It wouldn’t have to doctor the studio tracks. The thugs asked Marty why didn’t you give us the tape of What Is Love? I’d forgotten all about it, Marty answered as truthfully as possible. He didn’t want either his legs broken or the studio burned to the ground.I didn’t even see it in the A-Side vault. That was true, too. The tape was in an unmarked box. All it said in felt pen was that it was recorded by The Steppers. Curious, the rep from the big label pulled it off the shelf and had Marty play it. Ah, Marty exclaimed. Now I remember. The label was happy and Astral Freaks were jumping around as if it had discovered gold. You should’ve given it to us, one of the heavyweights said. But I didn’t know, Marty wailed. I’d forgotten. To his relief, they turned and left. There was nothing they could do. Break his legs? Too late for that. Too late to save Majestic Wax. Louis Legato had made a lot of money for the mob and was wealthy himself.
As a kid growing up in New York, he’d made friends with a couple of guys whose fathers were in the mob. As he got older, Louis saw them bend and break the rules. They were part of a gang and he wanted in. So, he bent and broke a few rules himself. He was accepted, got a little hard and learned their devious ways . To lie, to cheat. When he let it be known that he wanted to own and run a record label, his friends helped him to get set up. He owed them, and the mob knew it. It would come in, take what it wanted and left the newly formed Majestic Wax enough to pay its acts and continue to operate. For his own well-being, Louis learned plagiarism, the art of payola, lying to his acts, but, most importantly, how to hide his money. His wealth aroused the curiosity of the federal government, which did an audit on Majestic Wax. Nothing. The label was adept at accounting in such a way that it could verify all the checks and balances. It cooked the books, in other words, as much for its acts that felt it were owed more money than they had received from Majestic Wax. It was prepared, therefore, when the internal revenue agents came sniffing. Unable to pin anything dishonest on Majestic Wax, they turned their attention to Legato. The mob, ever shy of the bad publicity that would arise as a result of being accused of an association with Majestic, backed away. Legato was on his own. The IRS got him as a tax fraud and sent him to prison, where, unlike Bob, he died. This, too, was kept quiet. The prison didn’t want anyone to know that someone had died on their watch. Even if it was from natural causes. That was the end of Majestic Wax.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter thirty-five.
Whatever happened to Bob Jansen
As the years mounted, my search for Bob Jansen intensified rather than faded.
The bigger the mystery grew, the bigger the question.
I used any kind of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – to gather information. I added what I’d learn to the Jansen lore. What did happen to Bob Jansen?
Once again, I wrote Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Spin but, without any evidence to offer, none of them was interested. The same with CNN.
One of the local news papers did a story but it was more about me than about Bob, and seemed to miss the point. I was just an ex-musician turned deluded fan.
I told myself I wasn’t. Deluded, anyway. It was weird when friends and family started to take pity on me.
I suppose I looked foolish, if not pathetic. I mean, my fixation wasn’t the fixation it became. It started off as a small realization that Fast And Bulbous, and every band after, was playing 12 Step Program but I knew so little about it. I discovered that it was written by Bob Jansen, who disappeared in 1982. Why? I had to know.
Most people don’t know Richard Berry wrote Louie Louie or the story about it and him. They probably don’t care either. Still, it’s better known and celebrated than 12 Step Program. I would like Bob Jansen to get some kind of recognition. He deserves some kind of nod. That’s what I’m fighting, that absence of curiosity. In a way, that keeps me going, the sense I’m on a mission.
There are people who read the songwriting credit on 45s or on the back of albums and remember that Bob Jansen wrote 12 Step. But who is he? A member of The Hi-Steppers, and whatever happened to them?
I just gathered what I could – like a Simpsons episode in which Homer does a wiggly dance while there is a snippet of 12 Step Program playing in the background before Moe, the bar owner , turns on the TV. Homer grunts something like, ’They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,’ and orders a Duff. To me, that was one more sign that Jansen had made an impact on the culture. Maybe, if I gathered enough material, I’d make a breakthrough.
Nobody knew anything. As before, a few people contacted me but it soon became obvious they weren’t Bob Jansen, nor could they lead me to him.
A few had theories – suicide, prison – that I’d already investigated and discounted. The one that had Bob recruited by the CIA to go undercover and investigate the international drug trade I liked even if it ignored Bob’s disinterest in drugs and was more fanciful than realistic.
Somebody thought it was Bob singing jingles that Ray Bedouin produced. He thought I should ask Ray what he knew. But I knew Bob and Ray had never met and Ray usually sang on his own productions. Good singer, too, but, nope, it wasn’t Bob’s voice.
Even better was how he’d resurfaced anonymously as a writer of Christian pop songs. One call to Nora Washington blew apart that theory. There were no publishing companies pitching unknowns. The sacred music industry is like the secular one in that it chases names and Bob Jansen, how ever he presented himself, wasn’t a name. Larry Norman he was not.
A couple of callers were convincing and tried to pass off themselves as Bob.
The usual back breaker I used on them was a “skill-testing” question that nobody could answer correctly. Name The Steppers’ least known single.
One morning, my phone rang, which was unusual as these days most people send email.
”Is Matt Brady there?”
“You got him. Who are you?”
“Bob Jansen. You’ve been looking for me.”
Another Bob Jansen crank. I decided to stop the conversation before he got too far or before I got too rude.
“Ok, if you’re really Bob Jansen, what is your least known single?”
“You must be talking about Santa Clones, This “Bob” replied. “The label released it too late for the Christmas season and didn’t know how to promote it . Radio didn’t play it and Santa Clones died right there. It was about how Santa Clause seems to be everywhere at once. Clones! We lost faith in Speed Bump immediately. If it had hung on long enough, The Steppers had another song ready, Fifth Down, which asks who is the winner, the football star that wears a championship ring but is broke, or his friend, who did all the things expected of him, got a job, married, had kids, was a success and paid for the dinner? One risked everything; the other nothing.
“But you don’t want to hear about that.” said this Bob. “ Speed Bump folded shortly after and left Al and me to find another record label. You needed a label. That was how it was done in those days.”
“OK!,” I said, elated. “But how’d you find out it was me who was looking for you?”
“I read about you in my local newspaper.”
“But that story was basically only seen in Vancouver. Does this mean…?”
“Right, I live in Vancouver.”
“Since 1982? Right under my nose? How come I couldn’t find you? Where were you? What were you doing?”
“Easy sport. So many questions. One day I’ll tell you. First of all, though, maybe you were looking in the wrong places. You weren’t going to find me in Seattle and I definitely wasn’t back in L.A.. L.A. was one of the reasons I had to escape. The business, the lifestyle. They were killing me.”
“Then, why’d you come out of hiding?”
“Another question. Basically, you. I read about your effort to find me and was impressed. It forced me to reassess my past. Enough years had passed. I long ago made a new life and I was older. I figured revealing myself after so many years wasn’t going to change me.”
“A new life not as Bob Jansen.”
“Of course. A simple change to Bob Johnson was all it took. A new passport, a new credit card. I was set.”
12 Step Program, part two, chapter thirty-six
Whatever happened to: Bob Jansen
I met Bob at, where else, a Starbucks.
It was on Kingsway, near Boundary. Not too far from where he was living on Smith and a short drive for me. We agreed to meet in the early evening after work. I intentionally arrived early, partly to pick a table but mostly so I could see the traffic coming in the door. For me, this was a momentous occasion, but I didn’t know what to expect. Faded rock star gone to seed? Crotchety old guy with a slow walk and quick temper? Defensive, offensive, a talker or a man of few words?
He wasn’t any of those things, but, if you can imagine, somewhere in the middle.
When he came in, I recognized him immediately, less because he looked like an older version of Bob Jansen, as much as here was somebody who obviously was out of place, on a quest to find who or what.
Bob was average height, maybe 5’10’, kept himself in shape in that there wasn’t much fat on him for someone who must be in his late 60s or early 70s. His hair was grey and thinning but he still needed a brush. Even across the room, Bob’s eyes were clear and piercing.
I stood up at the table, beckoned him over and saw the relief. I think he knew he’d turned another corner in his life and now there was no going back. This was a big commitment.
We stared at each other for a few awkward seconds. I guess he was taking the measure of me, as I was of him. We exchanged the necessary pleasantries and shook hands. We didn’t embrace; that was not Bob’s way.
Before he even sat down, he said, “No.”
“No,” I wondered. “No to what?”
“Sooner or later, you’ll want me to do a performance,” he replied as if he’d been rehearsing this moment. “Can’t do it. Won’t do it.”
This was a blow. I hoped my expression of disappointment wasn’t too obvious.
“I’ve got to admit that was on my mind. I can’t force you. My first aim, though, was to find you and….”
“And I appreciate that. Not only am I. pleasantly surprised that you and a few others remember me but flattered that someone would devote so many years and go to so much trouble to look for me.”
“I just wanted to right what I saw as a wrong.”
“Yeah, but no one said rock and roll was fair. That’s one reason I had to leave.”
“You sound pretty accepting of that idea”
“I’ve had a lot of time. I’ve been Bob Johnson almost longer than I was Bob Jansen.”
“What would’ve changed your mind, what would’ve kept you going?”
“Can’t say for sure. A few more hit songs, maybe. This being written off as a one hit wonder felt at the time like my fate was sealed. I couldn’t stand it. Now, I can.”
.“You aren’t a one hit wonder to me,” I told him. “I’ve got all your records.”
“Well, thank you,” he said, sounding truly flattered. “You and my mother.”
“I like ‘em. They’re about things. They make me think.”
“Really? I wish radio had felt the same way. If it had, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“No, and you might still be singing and recording.”
“Possibly. In an ideal world the band never would have crumbled, Barb would have grown, my manager wouldn’t have had to work so hard to keep my career afloat, maybe I’d be more rebellious, more controversial and out front.…but this isn’t an ideal world. You have to change with it, and I grew tired of that. Now, I’m too old to change even a light bulb.”
“C’mon. You’re never too old….
“To rock and roll? Yeah, I’ve heard that. It applies to The Rolling Stones but not to me.”
“So you won’t tour?”
“No. It would mean going back and I don’t want to go back. Right now, the bad memories outweigh the good.”
i was only 41 when i took my walk. I guess i could have continued long after and still had a career. Look at the guys who are in their 70s and still performing. AT the time I couldn’t go on. I was so disillusioned. I figured i was too old for rock and roll. Maybe if I’d had more hits, established myself as a personality if not a star, a well known figure. Frank Allen was right: So many years have passed I’m a legend.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter thirty-seven
Whatever happened to Bob Jansen
Getting lost was easier than I expected.
Before leaving L.A., I paid off my credit card and then cancelled it. Made sure there was no outstanding rent. Just left the apartment as is. I didn’t have much furniture anyway and the fridge nearly was empty. Didn’t even ask about the damage deposit. I’m sure I left the landlord puzzled but happy.
At the hotel in Seattle, I just threw a few necessities into my over the shoulder bag and travelled with the guys to the Showbox.
After the gig, I slipped on my bag and stepped out the back door. Nobody noticed. The band was having too much fun, there was a party atmosphere, lots of noise and distractions Girls and booze and drugs in other words..
Outside, I flagged a taxi, told the driver to take me to a Greyhound bus terminal.
It was about 2:30 am. The ticket office was closed but would open at 4am. For the next 90 minutes, I sat on a bench, reading yesterday’s Post Intelligencer, clinging to my bag, warding off drunks or bums and trying not to fall asleep.
I didn’t know where I would go. That part I hadn’t planned. I just knew I couldn’t go back to L.A.. The first bus through was going in the opposite direction, to Vancouver. That sounded good to me, so, when the ticket outlet opened for business, I paid the fare.
At the border, customs officers boarded the bus. I had brought all my ID with me, including my passport. I duly was asked why I was entering Canada and told them I was joining a band up there as a singer.
Oh yeah, exclaimed one officer, sounding interested. What band?
I had to make up one on the spot and, like Fast And Bulbous, turned to the Captain Beefheart songbook.
Never heard of ‘em, said the officer, instantly disinterested.
I offered to sing for them and got as far as the first line of Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs.
“You’d think the world had had enough of silly love songs…”
The two grimaced, stopped me, and moved to the next aisle.
Everyone’s a critic, I harrumphed to myself but at least I was in. That was a relief.
I didn’t really choose to live in Vancouver; in a way, Vancouver chose me. It was the first arrival at the Greyhound station in Seattle. To me, it was the bus of destiny.
Like I said, I didn’t know where I was going after leaving the Showbox, as long as it wasn’t south.
The Hi-Steppers had played Vancouver a few times, before it left for Los Angeles. Do the Pink Pussycat, the Daisy, New Delhi Cabaret, or Grooveyard sound familiar? I know we played at Oil Can Harry’s in 1966. This was not long after the club opened. It was good. I don’t know what he was like later but this was the early days for the club so, owner, Danny Baceda, treated us well and the crowd was lively if a little too nice.
When I got off the bus in Vancouver I was ready for ’nice.’
Nineteen eighty-two was a crossroads.
I looked down one of those roads and didn’t like what I saw. It led to a place I didn’t want to go.
Twelve Step Program would be introduced as a “blast from the past”, which I suppose it was. Commercial radio wasn’t playing my latest records, the labels to which I’d signed were getting smaller and more short-lived, there were fewer people who remembered either Bob Jansen or The Hi-Steppers. The attendance was shrinking, anyway. Less money, dodgier clubs.
The package shows presented by Richard Nader beckoned but I didn’t want that. They were more about 50s names like Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. There were package shows featuring 60s acts; I think The Turtles headlined a few. They probably could have put the spotlight back on me for a little but this didn’t seem creative. I still wanted to create.
Maybe if I’d hung on longer things would be different but in 1982 I was pretty well forgotten. Too old for MTV, definitely not grunge, modern radio was out of the question, classic rock radio was no solution. I was done.
So, I took the other road and that led me to Vancouver.
The morning I arrived, I checked into the Ivanhoe. Know it? Central to a lot of things that are kinda like landmarks, but what interested me was that it was across the street and short jag from the Railway Club. I’d heard about it in L.A. but I wasn’t expecting it to be so small.
Anyway, I spent a few nights there downing beer, saw a few bands that were emerging from the ashes of punk rock.
I needed a place to live. I found an apartment after a few days on Smith in Burnaby. From the outside it looked like it was built in the 50s but well kept. Trim garden, regular paint jobs. Promising things like that. The interior was very neat and lived up to that promise. A little more expensive, maybe, but it was obvious the owners cared. I put the money down and moved in. Been there ever since.
Being frugal – cheap some might say -I had saved some money that would last for a few months while I decided what to do first.
Which was to enrol in social work at Langara
I also took jobs I never thought I’d do. Swamping on a soda pop truck, cashiering at a convenience store, and, like you Matt, working as a paper picker but at the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Filthy, dangerous job. The pay was adequate, though.
It was good in another way. I’d be so damned tired, all I wanted at the end of a shift was to shower and go to bed.
Not only did this save me money but I stopped drinking beer and ate regularly at civil hours. I’d all but stopped going out nights. The groceries I put away reflected the change I was hoping to make. There were burgers and fries and pizza still but more salads and seafood, water and milk. I was getting healthy.
My American passport served me well while I was settling, but I didn’t have to use it much.
Around the world, Canadians are known to be polite; in Vancouver they go further by leaving you alone. There were no questions about my past, no meddling of any kind. I needed that calm. I needed to be invisible for a few weeks while I fashioned my next life. Vancouver swallowed me whole.
In rapid succession I made four applications: Change of name; Canadian citizenship, acquisition of a credit card, and how to be certified as a social worker.
Becoming Canadian just required that I be a permanent resident in four of a six year period, I could speak English and I had no criminal record.
Those promises made, I moved to get a credit card. The world turns around having a credit card.
With a credit card, I could apply and pay for a change of name
And that allowed me to pay my tuition at Langara.
I found work as a salesman at a hardware store that, seemingly, excelled at providing paint supplies. I soon proved useless as a handyman. Couldn’t tell a brad from a doornail.
A month later, the change of name was approved, which allowed me to get the credit card, which I needed to pay for fingerprinting on top of a fee for the application form if I wanted to be a social worker and a Canadian.
I could have gone into real estate or started a business, but it seemed to me I was qualified to be a social worker.
As a performer, I knew I could communicate and, temperamentally, I wasn’t going to get involved with my cases. I could be friendly and helpful but from an emotional distance.
I thought it would be as easy as that but I was wrong.
After nine months, I had my certificate and, as a first stop, I went as a counsellor to the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre. Indians! I declared, are screwed up; they just need to straighten out. I figured I could be the one to do that. None of my clients trusted me. I was white, middle class, so what did I know about the Indian.
First off, don’t call them Indian. Aborigine, ok, but, more properly, First Nations. I had to earn their confidence. To do that, I befriended an elder, Whispering Smoke, who spoke for me. If they were alcoholic, I helped them stop drinking. Drugs? Same thing. Sexual abuse? That was more delicate, but these three issues were rooted in racism, economy, opportunity. They touched on spirituality, lore, culture, ecology, history. I think the First Nation people helped me more than I helped them.
Some of the hospitals had more cases than they could handle. Lion’s Gate Hospital, for instance, sent me a few. I soon figured out I could freelance. So I set up a clinic and went into business for myself.
As I watched my clients getting older, I found a rewarding sideline going to care homes and leading singalongs. Once a week, one hour at a time, I’d show up in a cafeteria or hospitality room with a stack of lyrics and my guitar, though usually there was a piano in house.
Some of the patients had their own ukulele and were proficient, so I switched on those occasions to uke. I really enjoyed those sessions and I was able to sing.
Never married, had no kids. I could have. While still on the road as Bob Jansen, I met a few girls I liked and were nice. Nothing developed but we became friends and they’d always show up at our gigs whenever The Steppers was in town.
But I think Amanda was right. At that time, I was completely focused on my career – singing, writing, recording, performing. Was for years and I didn’t want any new relationship to go through that.
I wasn’t a monk. But most of the women were clients and were screwed up in some way. Ethically, it wouldn’t have been right to date a patient anyway.
There was a nurse at one of my care homes. We were together for a few years, but she grew more and more possessive while I grew more and more resistant. I didn’t mind being alone. In fact, I liked it.
I was Bob Johnson and I was doing all right.
That’s when I read about Bob Jansen in the newspaper.
As I got to know Bob Jansen – I can’t say we were close friends; he always was aloof – he would tell me a few stories, mainly about the road.
“I remember something said by Frank Allen of The Searchers. By that time that band’s members were in their 60s and I was long into hiding. He noted that after a certain point, you are written about as has-beens but if you live past that point, you are a legend. He was enjoying being a legend.
“From my distant view, well off on the sidelines, I knew what he was talking about. I mean The Hi-Steppers or Steppers or Steps were passe, a forgotten band. for most of the 70s. We were has-beens. Then we were reassessed. We became legendary, an influential garage-rock band.
“I guess I could have capitalized on that, but I didn’t want to. I’d been too long out of it, to want to go back. “Relive those experiences? No. Couldn’t do it.
“Like, on our first tour, a club tour, I was the designated driver for most of it, and we couldn’t afford a road crew. At a motel in Detroit the owner warned us to be careful how we parked but I didn’t listen to him and just left the van in an open space in the lot.
“Sure enough, the next day the van was gone with all our gear in it. I was apologetic to the band, and notified the police.
“Luckily, RCMP mounties found the van across the river in Windsor. All our stuff was recovered. I guess the thieves needed time to unload it. That was lucky.
“Never left the van exposed ever again, and removed our valuables at night. That was early in our career and an indelible lesson.
“That van, a 1965 Ford Econoline, served us a good 10 years and we drove it pretty hard. Went in debt to get it, but we were in demand and the money was good. It paid for itself over and over again. Five musicians and a newly hired roadie crammed themselves in the front two seats and our gear was stacked in the back. We loaded and unloaded our gear ourselves.While we set up, the roadie arranged the p.a. and lights.
“When Al put together his caravan package tour that seemed like heaven at first. Somebody to do the driving over long hauls, a crew to look after sound and lights. All we had to do was show up and play our latest record.
“It didn’t work out that way. The bus was crowded, the seats were uncomfortable and sleep was impossible. Cold in winter, overbearingly hot in the summer.
“ In 1970 we got a trailer, hitched it to the back of the van, hired a second roadie to share in the driving and the work of the first roadie.
“Had our share of breakdowns and flat tires. Like, outside Duluth, the Econoline conked out – I can’t remember why; it just stopped – A passing trucker slowed to let me go with him to a gas station, where I managed to rouse the owner who drove us back to the van and then towed us to his garage. We paid for his time, which was extra after hours, but he got the van running and we were able to hightail it to our gig the next night and only a little late. Those tours were insane .
“Sobering too. Coming back from Las Vegas one night, we were passed by a rocketing motorcycle. A few miles later, the cycle was a pile of rubbish on the side of the road. The speeder had lost control , skidded off the highway and impaled himself on the handle bar. I’ll never forget that.,
“I remember knocking over amplifiers onstage because my mic cord was stuck. I would yank and yank, but the cord was jammed under or around one of the amps. The amp would follow me around as I pulled and eventually it fell over. Thank God, the band thought that was funny.
“They probably don’t recall but we opened once for The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson had been replaced on tour by Glen Campbell. He was pretty good. Brian? I don’t know. I guess all the warning signs of what was to come were there, but nobody talked about it then.
“Talking to Howard Kaylan of The Turtles about their troubles with the label, White Whale. Made me appreciate Barb.
“Got drunk a few times with Jim Morrison of The Doors. He had a favourite haunt, a lounge in a seedy Sunset Strip hotel not far from where the band rehearsed. He could put that beer away! Eclipsed me, and I always had a beer at hand.
“Yeah, I could never get the bass player’s name straight after Greg left. At this club somewhere – it might have been Akron – I called out to him about something but only got as far as ‘Hey!’ Was it Bud or Brad, I couldn’t remember? After that, I made up a nickname for him, Ginger, because he had red hair. That was easier.
“We played bowling alleys, pizza joints, parking lots, anywhere that wanted us…and could pay. We even played in a church basement in Indianapolis.Don’t know what the minister thought of us, but I guess it was part of a series designed to get more kids going to church.
Near Coeur d’Alene there was a rock festival scheduled. This would be around 1976. Our name was on the poster, so the band arranged to be at the speedway where it was to be held. We’d play Saturday afternoon which meant we couldn’t use our lights but neither would everything be backed up yet, as so often happens at these events.
“Al reached me at the motel where we’d arranged to spend the night prior to the festival. He told me that he’d never been paid. The arrangement was for us to get half our fee upfront, the other half later. So we pulled; other bands did, too, as word got out. The festival had sold so poorly in advance that nobody received anything because the producer hadn’t made enough to cover his expenses. He decided to cut his losses and made his escape.
“Years later, I met a guy who was hired to be part of the security staff. He told me, the promoter had lit out with no explanation, leaving behind a crew to deal with both dismantling the sound system and a few thousand angry festival goers. Frustrated and unpaid, security watched as the site became host to a riot. Idaho state troopers were called to restore some order. Helicopters hovered above, accomplishing what, who knows? Meanwhile beer and cigarettes and hot dogs were ‘liberated,’ fires were lit and what wasn’t on fire , like cranes and trucks, were turned over.
“Sex? Sure. When I started by singing it was to attract girls. It was girls then. I don’t know why, even to this day, but they came flocking. Probably the same story for all The Hi-Steppers. For all bands. Something happened. Lost innocence? Maybe. Is that too simplistic?. The girls became groupies, The Hi-Steppers started to expect them. The band took advantage, not that it required much. Girls were synonymous with fucking. The band took advantage and the groupies were only too happy to be taken advantage of. They made it their business. It sort of got to be a business with some of them at least. Sometimes a sad business.
“There was one girl who came backstage and offered to blow everyone in the band. And not only the band but the crew as well. She was zonked. Fucked up beyond all reality, FUBAR.
“Fortunately, Michael stopped her before she got started. He watched her stagger and then put her arm around his shoulder and practically carried her out to the parking lot where two friends – friends – were waiting. It would be Michael. The other guys looked disappointed and maybe Michael had his reasons, but he was showing compassion. Good for him, I thought.
“Fucking in the washrooms, under the tables, anywhere.
“I don’t ever want to see another run down dressing room with a felt pen drawing of a dripping penis on the wall.”
12 Step Program, part two, chapter thirty-nine
Whatever happened to Bob Jansen
“OK, I’ll do it.”
It was Bob Jansen on the phone.
“You mean you’ll tour.”
“No, I mean I’ll do a concert. Just one.”
“One! I guess that’s something. What changed your mind?”
“You, me, email and I wouldn’t rule out ego.”
Me! How did I change your mind?”
“Look, you spent years trying to find me, talked to everybody like you were a fuckin’ detective. That told me I still had a few friends that remember me. I guessed I owed you and them.”
“You owe me nothing….”
“Oh…well then, why don’t I just hang up?”
No! No, don’t do that. Seeing you perform is something I’ve wanted for years.”
“That’s another thing,” he continued. “A lot of years have passed.I’m a completely different person now. This has made me curious. Can I still do it? Gotta admit , I sort of need to know. At the time, sing and make records was all Bob Jansen wanted to do. Maybe I was just foolin’ myself.”
“Thanks to you, or no thanks to you, people know how to reach me. I’m getting a lot of email. Most of the letters just say they’re glad I’m alive, a few recall The Hi-Steppers, some saw us at What’s New. Still others remember singing 12 Step Program. Just about all of them read my story in the newspaper.”
“Yeah, After all that time, I still missed that special feeling when you control the situation
,control the audience, affect their lives, communicate. For a few minutes, you are treated like royalty, everybody deferring to you. As a musician, you must know the feeling.”
“Nah. I was just the drummer. Low man on the totem pole,”
“Is that what you think? That’s another debate for another time. Until then, I’ll put together a playlist, assemble a band. Wanna play? This will be…what’s it called…?”
“Do you mean closure?”
“Closure. That’s it. For me and for you. In?”
“I’ll think about it. What about Luke? He knows the songs and once said he’d provide his band.”
“Luke! Think he’ll do it? It’s been a long time.”
“But he’s never stopped playing.”
“Yeah, he’ll do it. You’d have to pry the guitar from his dead hands.”
“And Seattle’s not far.”
“We’ll need a place to rehearse.”
“I’ll find one. When do you want the concert?”
“A month from now.”
Two months. I’ll need time to get the word out, find a rehearsal space for you, figure out what to do about Luke, if he can do it; put together a band, if he cant or won’t. Where?
“The Commodore. The Steppers rarely played anything larger as a headliner. It’s a decent size for me.
The next few days were busy ones.
Before I rented the Commodore,I had to talk to Luke Talbot.
He was suspicious at first, even though he remembered me, but why would somebody from Canada want him?
When I broke the news to him that Bob had been found, or that he had found me, Luke was elated. He was full of questions that took two hours to answer. In the end, yes, he and his band would back Bob. No other Hi-Steppers would be involved, I told him. He’d occasionally throw a Steppers song into his set. So he still knew the songs, but if I sent him a setlist, he’d rehearse the others with his band. That was a problem. He was booked most nights, meaning Bob would have to rehearse on his own.
“Lock down the Commodore,” he assured me, “And I’ll clear a night or two to rehearse with Bob. He’ll be alright.”
So I called the Commodore. Sure enough it was booked well in advance but there were some open dates two months from now. Live Nation, which ran the Commodore, smelled blood. It would hold open other dates, if necessary. Sound and lights were taken care of. It also would sell merchandise – t-shirts, hats, stuff like that – if we had any. Reluctantly, I took a Wednesday. Not the best day for a show of any kind, but Luke was available that night and chances were good he and his band weren’t working Monday or Tuesday.
Bob, who was making a setlist, wasn’t thrilled by the news, but knew Luke would be ready, which meant he had to be ready as well.
“By the way,” I asked. “What’s the ticket price?”
“I don’t know. Never even thought about it. I’m not doing this for the money. Everybody involved should be paid properly, though. What do you think?”
“I don’t know either. It’s been years since I attended a concert. I’ll ask Live Nation.”
The next day, I called the media. Mild interest. A daily newspaper arranged for an interview and photo shoot immediately, so that was something I might be able to build upon. Bob’ evidently had a vision for the show, which to me, wasn’t a show but an event.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter forty
Whatever Happened to Bob Jansen
“One concert?” I asked.
“One,” Bob replied. “I thought I’d made that clear from the start.”
“You could tour, make a lot of money, maybe a new album.”
“Yeah, I know, but that would be anti-climatic, repetitive, trying to replicate that high would be phoney. It would be too much like kickstarting my career. I’m too old for starting over.”
“So why start at all?”
Personal reasons. I can’t really explain it. For years I’d had this dream where I was on a horse, galloping closer toward success. Then, I’d realize it was a wooden horse, a beautifully carved wooden horse, mounted on a merry-go-round. In the middle of the carousel was a brass ring. Grab it and you could have everything you wished for. “
“I’ve heard about the brass ring. I’ve never met anyone who grabbed it. What did you want?”
‘For me that was the fame and wealth that came from being a successful singer and recording artist. That might fave been shallow, as I learned once I’d left music behind, but, God, the temptation was seductive. The horse would get so close, but I’d always miss that ring and the horse would complete its circle.
“I’d pay a few more coins and try again, with the same result. It took me a long time to realize I could get off the horse and walk away. I didn’t need it.
“’That merry-go-round still exists, it still taunts.
“I’m going back for old time’s sake. This time I’ll know that I’ve already got the brass ring in a way. I won’t be tempted. But I do wonder.”
While waiting for Luke, I took a few days off and flew with Bob down to L.A. to meet Barb.
That meant sitting down with Abe Jr. and Bob Stern. The objective was to get the brothers to turn at least 50% of 12 Step Program back to Bob. It didn’t go well.
“We swore that we wouldn’t screw with the company. Abe was clear about that,” said Abe Jr.
“But you sold Barb to a major,” I protested.
“On the promise it wouldn’t do anything without our say so. It’s made good on that while making us a profit.”
“OK, you don’t have to change anything; you just have to sign over half of 12 Step Program to Bob here.”
I looked over at Bob. He was looking like a little schoolboy caught cheating on a test. He was silent.
“But that will change us. 12 Step has made a good deal of money over the years and probably will continue to make Barb more. We’ll be screwing with dad.”
At that moment Bob finally spoke.
“I needed some money. Abe knew I was desperate and Barb also needed money. I was young and green. Didn’t know anything about the music business. So, I signed. I got my money and he got a song that, by earning 100% , paid back the label quickly. I think Abe felt guilty about that.”
“He probably did,” said Bob Stern. “Barb has conducted itself with integrity, even if it hasn’t been hugely successful. The song is the only deal Abe made that is like that – with a white guy at least -, but that’s how he left it, and that’s how it will stay.”
“So, you’re not going to give back 50%,” I asked?
“No. Can’t do it. Good luck with your show.
I left the brothers crestfallen; Bob looked like he got what he deserved.
How, though, did the two know about the concert?
They knew about it because of that one story in the local newspaper.
It was channeled to Canadian Press, a national wire service. Any newspaper could pick it off and edit to fit. The article was seen across the country and was online where it could be read by the whole world. It was a straightforward retelling of my effort to find Bob, his discovery and emergence. The reference to 12 Step Program was brief but crucial. The piece ended with a plug for the show at the Commodore.
Presumably, that’s how the Stern brothers knew of it.
Bob’s unexpected return had created a ball that was rolling, getting bigger and faster. It wouldn’t stop in L.A.
As the date of the concert neared, my world expanded and got crazier.
I was manager, promoter, organizer and spokesman.
“One show?” I asked again.
“One.” Bob assured me. “Anything else would be anticlimatic.”
“Whatever,” he said testily. “I can’t see myself climbing into a van or bus and doing this night after night. Maybe when I was younger, had more desire, and a promising future was before me.”
“You can still have that. There is still a future.”
“Oh yeah? A short one. Nah, this seems too much like starting over.”
“You could make a record of those songs you claim to have stockpiled.”
“And who would buy it? How? This ain’t the 60s.”
“A live album, then, and possibly a DVD.”
“History. Let people know this happened. Let them relive it.”
“Then you’d better get the ok from Luke. He’ll know if we’re ready to be recorded. Who would do the recording?”
“Marty Leven. He knows you; he’s recorded you. He also probably knows a DVD director.”
“And if I said yes, who would market it?”
“Barb. The label already owns 12 Step and probably the big brother would step in to promote it.It could have the publishing. Abe Jr. and Bob wouldn’t have to do anything but open the door.”
“This sounds like we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. A lot would be riding on one gig.”
“That’s one of the reasons I want you to tour.”
“One of the reasons?”
“Yeah, another is that I’m getting called all the time by promoters, not just in America, but all over the world. Most would set up a tour and guarantee you some ridiculous money.””
“And after that?” asked Bob. “Right now I’m news. Next year I might as well be Bob Johnson.”
“But one concert? The Commodore sold out instantly. Live Nation is holding the Ballroom for us. It figures we easily could do one added show and even more.”
“At 40 bucks a ticket,” Bob whistled. “That’s more like 20 times what we charged for a ticket in 1966.”
“See, I told you you could make a lot of money.”
“And I thought I told you I’m not doing this for the money. Pay yourself, pay Luke and his band, pay who ever needs to be paid and give the rest to…um…. there must be a First Nations scholarship fund.”.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter forty-one
Whatever happened to B ob Jansen?
Toward the end, people would ask me, you’ve sung 12 Step Program a thousand times; don’t you ever get sick of it?
I’d pause for a minute as if thinking about it but I already knew the answer.
No. It’s different every time. The band might play it slowly on one occasion, maybe too fast on another. I might stress one line, slide over another, hold a note, clip another, repeat a phrase.
Some lines are more meaningful to me at different times. Sometimes there is clarity; I actually know why I had to write the song. Each time I sing it, I think I understand it better. It might have started out as just an idea, but experience sometimes imitates art. Suddenly it all becomes real.
There are times that I understand myself better, sometimes I do things onstage when singing the song I’d never do in regular life. I know I’m not outgoing, but I become a different person onstage. More extroverted
Besides, I owe it to what fans I have to sing 12 Step Program. The fans made it a hit, It’s why they came to the show; it allowed me to do what I do. Did. They expect it and I don’t want to let them down. There’s a kind of communication that happens between me and them. I get off on it. That, to me, is special.
I also like that idea that some people know exactly what I’m singing about. They might be living through it. They relate to a 12 step program. By extension, they relate to me, just as I seem to relate to them. I enjoy watching the crowd dance, hearing them sing along. I’ve never failed to be impressed by the sing along response. It’s not as if there is one word, tequila or Gloria, but 12 lines in the choruses. Twelve! And the singers know them all.
Then, too, the venue is different every night, large stage, small stage; it affects what you do, how you do it. Might be a small place that’s overcrowded but the communication is stronger. Might be a large space in which you have to project, sing to the back row far away.
When I started my new life, I stopped singing 12 Step Program for a few years. I had to. This was part of fashioning a new identity. It was kind of like cleaning the palette.
I invented a past that didn’t mention singing or songwriting. I sang privately, in the shower or while listening in my car to the radio. Lately, I’ve been leading singalongs at care homes. I still wrote songs occasionally, but never developed them or went in a studio. Didn’t see the point as that was no longer who I was. You can’t turn off creativity, though, so over time I had an album’s worth of songs. Nobody was interested.
As far as the public that knew of me was concerned, I was Bob Jansen, the one hit wonder who wrote 12 Step Program and who hasn’t been seen since 1982. Assumed to be dead.
At first I was offended. The Hi-Steppers or Steppers released three studio albums, a phoney live album and a 12 inch single, occasionally described as an EP. We released many singles that maybe weren’t as big as 12 Step Program, but we weren’t a one hit wonder.
It bothered me that 12 Step was the first song I ever wrote. It was simple musically but relevant lyrically. I guess it had a naivete and a boisterousness we couldn’t capture in the subsequent records. Maybe the other records were too smart, too calculating. I guess you need an element of stupidity, stupidity might be an essential aspect of pop and rock.
When punk came along in 76, The Hi-Steppers had a short rebirth as a progenitor of 60s garage-rock, often lumped in with The Standells and Shadows Of Knight. That’s when the “one it wonder” epithet really set in. I didn’t mind as more and more bands started doing 12 Step Program and it kind of became a minor cause. Barb was getting all the money – maybe a million bucks by now – but the band was getting the credibility it never had.
We weren’t alone. In L.A. in 1967, there might have been a stream of hits by The Byrds, Turtles and Paul Revere And The Raiders. Even Buffalo Springfield had a few after For What It’s Worth. Then, there is The Leaves’ Hey Joe, Electric Prunes’ I Had Too Much To Dream, The Seeds’ Pushing Too Hard, Standells’ Dirty Water, Music Machine’s Talk Talk. All made several albums and singles but are known for one primary, memorable record. If that makes them one hit wonders, The Hi-Steppers is in good company.
I came to terms with being written off as a one hit wonder when I realized many bands or songwriters would have been happy to have written one song that had as much impact as12 Step Program.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter forty-two
Whatever happened to Bob Jansen?
As the show date got closer, I started carrying a mortar board. Short of wearing a whistle around my neck, I could have been a recreation counsellor or tour guide.
I’d make notes to myself, check off what had to be done, jot down what still needed to be done.
Book Commodore Ballroom. Check.
Confirm Luke Michell, who will rehearse his band in Seattle. Check.
Get a setlist from Bob, send to Luke. Check.
Reserve a rehearsal room for Luke and Bob, a Monday and Tuesday. Check.
Have shirts and hats made for merchandise. Check.
Call Marty. Check.
Trust Marty to get a DVD crew. Check.
I wrote a press release and sent it by hand or email to media.
As Bob wanted, I kept it short and simple.
“Although he’s been living as Bob Johnson in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, since 1982, Bob Jansen has come out of hiding to give one last concert. His claim to fleeting fame is 12 Step Program that has become a barroom staple and cultural landmark.”
That’s it. The release mentions the Commodore and the date. Doesn’t say why he went into “hiding” or why he came out. Presumably, you can ask him.
The local media would be there, Rolling Stone figured to be at the Commodore. The CCN network might send someone. The CBC would cover it and slot it into one of its shows, likely Q. It wanted music, so I instructed the CBC rep to call Marty.
Marty was incredulous when I told him Bob was found and would give a concert, assuming Marty would record it.
“Sure I will, but how, where, why?”
“Long story. Tell you when you get up here to Vancouver.”
“On my way….”
“One more question. We’re going to make a DVD as well. Know of a director and camera crew?”
“Not directly. I’ll ask people around here. They’re bound to know someone. Vancouver does so much TV and film production. Finding camera men and a director shouldn’t be a problem.”
The t-shirts and hats were as sketchy as Bob’s press release. The front of the shirt, black, simply said, I Took The 12 Step Program. On the back was Bob’s name and the date of the Commodore show. All the hats, black, said was 12 Step Program.
The Commodore had its own sound system, lights, and in house sound man. I was also happy to tell Bob that not only did the ballroom have showers but the shower floor was heated.
Most of the few rehearsal halls were full. The one I did land smelled of stale beer, sweat and probably piss. I can’t say for sure, but it was musty.
Indifferent as the staff was, everything we needed as there and worked. And oddly, the closeness and musty oder was an incentive. Do what you came to do and get out. Consequently, Luke and Bob kept their reunion short and got down to business.
On the Wednesday, they moved everything to the Commodore for a last rehearsal and sound check. This made Marty happy as he could set levels for recording. The DVD crew could take notes, figure out camera angles.
Barb unexpectedly was cool to be getting a live album and a DVD.
“Don’t worry,” I told Abe Jr. and Bob, “All you have to do is stamp Barb on it. The new owner will distribute and promote it.”
The guest list necessarily was flexible but shorter than expected. I thought it would be a nightmare to assemble and too long. The local media were down, of course, and confirmed international media also were on the list. Luke wanted his wife to come up from Seattle. Al Berk said he would be there, Amanda Flynn couldn’t be reached, Tonio Valdez hemmed and hawed, saying he wanted to be there but he couldn’t be sure, so put his name down, Abe Jr. and Bob Stern took a pass, most of the other Hi-Steppers were dead.
The one surprise was that Eric Matthews wanted to attend. He’d relocated to Victoria where he wrote and designed video games.
Bob’s post 1982 friends knew him as Bob Johnson and had little or no interest in Bob Jansen. Sad, I thought, but it says a lot about how Bob has conducted his life.
I figured we were ready.
12 Step Program, part two, chapter forty-three
Whatever Happened to Bob Jansen?
The lights went down and the sense of anticipation in the Commodore was palpable, was real.
The concert had started, for Matt Brady the search since 1982 finally was over, for many in the ballroom a question was about to be answered. Who was this Bob Jansen guy?
If Jansen was nervous, he didn’t show it. Well he wouldn’t thought Matt, but deep down, I bet he is.
Luke and his band knew the material and, in preparation, Bob went into the care homes singing louder and more aggressively than he usually did. When he threw in some rock and roll, he lost the seniors immediately. They couldn’t sing with him and for those rock oldies he hadn’t prepared lyric sheets. It was back to Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter and the Berlins. He got his version of Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again from The Byrds’ first album. If desperate, he always could lead them in How Much Is That Doggie In The Window. It never got to that.
Nervous or not, he hopped up and down while the P.A. played a prerecorded Tall Cool One by The Wailers.
This was the cue for Luke and his young band to troop onto stage, set up, get ready. As Tall Cool One ended, Luke immediately led the band into what sounded like Sonny And Cher’s The Beat Goes On. It wasn’t. Luke had adapted The Beat Goes On to fit the lyrics of Living Without You, the Randy Newman song that was The Hi-Steppers’ first single. Luke hoped somewhere Abe Stern was smiling.
After a protracted vamp on the riff, Bob appeared to loud applause.
“The milkman brings the sun up.”
He sounds great, thought Matt, a little shaky perhaps but in control.
Then came Lonely Weekend followed by Pandora’s Box. The audience was with him and his confidence grew with each number.
Conspicuous by its absence was 10 Commandments Of Love, Instead, Bob had inserted The Steppers’ arrangement of What Is Love. At first, the audience was puzzled but, as it slowly recognized the song, it joined in on the chorus.
“That’s how The Steppers did it; we also did this….”
Tainted Love, Luke bearing down on the chugging riff, making it more of a rock song than the electro-pop hit for Soft Cell that came much later.
This version of 96 Tears allowed the keyboard player to stretch and gave Bob a little time to catch his breath.
Big Bang Theory, The Seven Ages Of Man, for which Bob struck a Jesus pose, Empire Builder, for which he crossed his arms in front of is chest and looked stern.
,“Time to pay respect.”
Highway 61 Revisited, played as a sizzling, lean blues shuffle but not far off the Bob Dylan original.
“Here’s one that most people don’t know. Might be the wrong time of year but what the hell.”
Santa Clones. Luke and his band played for laughs while Bob seemed to waltz with himself.
Catching the full house’s celebratory mood they essayed Just Like Chuck and, just like that, they were back in rock and roll mode. When they were done, Eric Matthews appeared to a little recognition, marched over to the drum kit and gratefully received the sticks from a reluctant but gracious drummer.
Eric gave Luke a sign that he was ready and the guitarist banged a mighty three chords.
That sounds like The Flirtations’ Nothing But A Heartache, thought Matt, trying hard to remember.
It was. Luke liked the bigness, the drama, of it, and how it might morph into 12 Step Program. The guitarist had rehearsed it with the band and instructed Bob to lay out, which he did, eventually recognizing the right second
to launch into first verse.
Hands were in the air, fists seemingly punched the ceiling. The crowd might not know Bob Jansen but it knew 12 Step Program. Bob looked taken aback by the adoration. I wrote this, Matt read Bob’s thinking. It means something to these people.
He sang the first verse straight.
Girl, I’ve got it bad’
You’re the best thing I never had.
All your love is all I ever crave
But I know it’s the one thing I’ll never have.”
Even as he got to the chorus there were people already shouting along. Bob quieted them.
”First step,” he sings practically in a whisper.
“i need your love,” the crowd intones
“Second step,” Bob continues a little louder.
“i say a little prayer,” it sings, also louder.
“ i’m gonna stop.”
“Find someone who cares.”
He does a slight jump that turns him to face his guitarist.
“Waddaya say, Luke?”
As Luke trips into his solo, Matt felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to find Ruth.
“Ruth!” exclaimed Matt. “I thought you were running the merchandise table.”
“I was, but I wanted to be beside you. Share your big moment. Somebody from the Commodore is looking after the shirts for us. And hats. I thought you said he was dead. Remember our conversation just before you smoked him out?
“You told me about the rebirth of !2 Step Program. I sorta knew it, but I didn’t know Bob Jansen wrote it.
This is him, huh, he’s good but I thought he was dead.”
“The Bob Jansen we knew is dead. This Bob Jansen, “Matt smiled as he looked at the beaming singer, “ is alive.”
When Luke ended his solo, he slipped into repetition of the riff. That was my favourite part, Matt remembered. Stay in the groove, lock into the bass line, create tension. Not much to it but the part is so fraught with drama.
Bob Jansen milked that moment, instructing the band to play quietly, before he told the crowd.
“I was born January 8, the same day as Elvis Presley, years apart. I took this as a message from God or Whomever. It said it was my destiny to sing rock and roll. So I put a band together, a good band, and we had some ups and plenty of downs. Too many downs.
So I quit singing rock and roll for a few years, But, you know what, I’d been infected, this was destiny, and I couldn’t shake it.
That’s why I’m back; that’s why I’m here tonight. To meet destiny; to find a cure, to sing one last time.
“Are you with me?”
The crowd roars a collective yeah.
“I said, are you with me/“
Bob lights into the chorus softly.
”First step,” he sings.
“i need your love,” the crowd intones
“Second step,” Bob continues a little louder.
“i say a little prayer,” it sings, also louder.
“ i’m gonna stop.”
“Find someone who cares.”
The crowd roars. Bob positions himself front and centre.
“Fifth step,” he’s louder now.
“Sixth step,” gaining power.
“ Say another prayer.”
“Gonna make a list.”
“Ninth step,” Bob roars.
“Gonna make amends,” the crowd roars back.
“Tenth step,” he shouts.
“Clean up my act,” it shouts back
“Keep on praying!”
“Tell everyone I’m free.”
“I’m cured!“ Bob Jansen testifies. “This was my 12 Step Program!!”