Promoting Our New Single (MGM Records) and Woodsy the Owl
In the middle 1970s my partner and I went on a promo tour for MGM Records to get radio stations around the country to play our record and make it a hit. The song we wrote (called “Daydream – Since I Don’t Have You”) was recorded at MGM studios, in Hollywood, at the Osmond Brothers private studio. We had the famous “Wrecking Crew” play on our record. They were some of he best players in Hollywood.
Mike Curb was the president of MGM Records. At that time he was the youngest person to ever become president of a major record label. Mike liked us but he didn’t like to part with money, easily. He gave us each $7500 to sign a recording contract with MGM Records. But he didn’t want to give us $5,000 to go on our promo tour. We were going to drive around the United States and visit radio stations, in each state, to get them to play our record.
We absolutely couldn’t get an appointment with Curb – he seemed to be purposely avoiding us and we had to leave on our tour soon. We had made friends with Mike Curb’s chauffeur, Francis. He was a short little black man who had been with Curb for years. We told Francis about our problem getting a meeting with Mike Curb.
Francis said, “Listen boys. I’m going to do you a big favor. Mike’s leaving to the airport at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning but we have to stop by here, at his office, at 6:45 a.m.and we’ll be coming right down the street at the back of the studios. I’ll stop right at the gates to his parking spot at exactly 6:45 a.m. I’ll unlock both of the back doors to the limo. You boys just be hiding in the bushes there and, when I stop, hop in the backseat on either side of Mike and have your meeting.”
The next morning we were ready to go at 6:30. And at 6:45 we saw the big black Cadillac limousine come down the street. Just like Francis said, he stopped right at the gate. Bob and I opened the back doors and we both jumped in on either side of him. He appeared to be scared shitless. He was flummoxed and said “Hey! What’s going on here?” Then he recognized us. He said, “Kimber and Pelli! What are you guys doing here?” I said, “Hey Mike, it is just us.” I continued, ” You love our new record, but we need some money to go promote it so you can make a lot of money. We’re not thinking of ourselves, we’re thinking of you …” He laughed and said, “Okay boys. Go see Phyllis, my secretary, and tell her I said to write you guys a check for $5,000. And good luck. By the way, that’s the first time this has ever happened to me. I am going to have to have a talk with Francis.”
We loaded up our car with our records, our guitars, our maps and several radio station addresses from across the country. The main record promoter for MGM Records was a French guy named Jacques and he was based in L.A. We would call him and he would tell us which stations to go to and who to see in each city. The music director of each station had the power to nominate, or choose, which records his station would play. This was during the time of “payola”, when record companies would pay music directors at radio stations to play that label’s songs. Payola was actually quite a scandal in the music industry back in those days, and, was actually eventually deemed to be illegal. But that was the game back then, and, naturally we couldn’t afford to pay anybody a large sum of money to play our songs. Once, as a joke, we wrapped up a 6 pack of beer and gave it to a DJ who already liked our record. He laughed. That’s as close as we ever came to paying off a music director or deejay.
“Daydream” (Since I Don’t Have You)
We headed up the coast of California and made a slight detour to Bakersfield to see Buck Owens. He liked our first record, which was country, and he’d invited us to be in a charity concert he’d organized. We went through San Francisco and headed east through Idaho and Montana. Actually, we were going on two tours at the same time. One was to promote our record “Daydream” and the other was for the Woodsy the Owl commercial. It had just been released with a cartoon spot and was playing on all the television stations across America. It would continue to be on TV for many years as a public service spot.
We were asked by the Forest Service to appear at many national parks with Woodsy to sing our song. Hanna Barbera had made a beautiful Woodsy costume and we would always have a child wear the costume, and, dance around while we sang our song. All the kids loved seeing the little Woodsy character. But when we were in Missoula, Montana, we got to the ranger station and we couldn’t find a kid to wear the Woodsy costume. So instead we had Doug, the forest ranger, wear the costume. Well, Doug was about 6-feet 4-inches tall with very long legs. Things didn’t go so well with the tall, lanky Doug dressed up in the Woodsy costume. When he came out, with his long legs sticking out of the costume, he scared the hell out of all of the kids.
Me and My Partner At the Rose Parade With the Woodsy Float
Playing at The White House
Eventually, we made it all the way to Washington, D.C. and we sang in the Rose Garden for a bunch of little kids. Later they sent us fan mail written in Crayola. That same day we went to the office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, and sang the Woodsy song. When we were done, he had our pictures taken with Mr. Butts. It was really pretty odd for us to be in his office. Let me explain.
We were escorted into Secretary Butz’ office with our two guitars. His desk was filled with what I could only assume was very important paperwork as he was working to run the country. After all, he was in President Nixon’s cabinet. After we were introduced to the secretary we sang him our Woodsy theme song. As we were singing I was looking at Secretary Butz. looking at us, and wondering what he must be thinking. Probably, something like, “Here I am, up to my ears in important paperwork and I have to listen to a song about a fucking owl sung by two long-haired hippies!”
Left to Right: My Partner, Mayor Washington, Earl Butz, Dave Kimber
Again, this was during the Nixon presidency. The Watergate trial and the impeachment proceedings would come just a little later. By the way, this was during summer and Washington, D.C. was absolutely the muggiest place I’d ever been. We’ll come back to Washington, D.C. but, first, a little more about our crazy life on the road as we promoted our record.
Fighting the Boredom of Touring
Our promo tour was a lot of fun, most of the time. As we drove to the various cities we used to play little games to amuse each other. We were always searching for a particular radio station and this was long before GPS or portable phones. We had to rely on gas station attendants and city maps – which we didn’t usually have. It was pretty easy to identify the radio station if we got near it because it was the only little building that had a one-hundred-foot tower in the front yard. We would tune into the station in our car and listen to the disc jockey we were going to see. We’d try to guess what the guy would look like by the sound of his radio voice. We were usually off by about 95% each time we tried to imagine the face connected to the voice. We’d hear this low resonant tone coming from the radio and envision some big, husky guy. Then we’d meet him and he would be 5-foot 1-inches tall, with pimples. As Groucho used to say, “He was well over 4 feet.” We very rarely met a female disc jockey.
My partner and I were together 24 and 7, on this tour, and as a consequence we eventually got pretty bored with – and tired of – one another. We found ourselves trying to come up with things that would either shock the other person, or, make them laugh.
One night we were in our hotel watching the Ed Sullivan show and, somewhere between the “Iowa Glee Club for the Insane” and “Topo Gigio” (the puppet mouse), they had a fire eater/breather. He’d light a torch and blow on it and fire would go about twenty-five feet out of his mouth. It was very dramatic and looked very dangerous – but I thought it looked “do-able”. I devised a plan right then and there. The next day we stopped at a liquor store to buy some smokes and, unbeknownst to my partner, I bought a small can of lighter fluid.
My brother and I used to use it to set our plastic cars on fire when we were younger. The first time I ever saw lighter fluid light things on fire was when my older brother, John, once said, “Let’s play Army guys.” We both had a good supply of those little green plastic soldiers in different fighting positions and we would both be behind dirt mounds in our backyard. We would throw dirt clods like hand grenades at each other’s army men. My brother suddenly yelled out “Secret Weapon” and he stood up and I didn’t know what he was doing. He walked over to me and my men and yelled,”Flame Thrower!” and he lit a match and squirted lighter fluid on the match. Whoosh! A great flame came out and set all my army men on fire and I was astonished, pissed off and angry. I was only about six years old and suddenly I had no toy soldiers just little puddles of melting green liquid which hardened very quickly.
Well, I never forgot the power of lighter fluid around a flame. I had never blown the fluid out of my mouth before. I figured it seemed easy enough. The guy on TV had done it with no problem. My partner was driving and when we pulled into the radio station in Baltimore it was dusk, and, getting dark fast. He got out of the driver’s side and walked over to my side. I already had a mouth full of lighter fluid and, when he asked me a question, instead of an answer I lit a match and spit the lighter fluid at the match. Well, it worked too well. A giant flame did shoot out of my mouth, alright, but then the flame immediately came right back and set my whole head on fire! My long, “hippie” hair and my mustache got the most damage. Luckily for me it didn’t last long and it didn’t burn my skin. But it did singe my eyebrows and gave me a new haircut, kind of like Jay Sebring’s….the Hollywood hair stylist.
She’s Doing It Right – Still Not Recommended!
My partner was flabbergasted and he said, “Hey, Kimber, that was GREAT! Do it again.” When we stopped laughing and were done putting me out, we went inside to see the DJ at the radio station. This was a big 50,000 Watt station that was already playing our record so they knew who we were. The deejay said with a surprised tone in his voice, “You guys smell like you have been fighting a forest fire.” “Yeah,” I said, “It is one of the jobs we had to do for Woodsy, the Owl.” The burnt smell stayed with me for a while.
A Family Tragedy Cuts Our Tour Short
Our tour was cut short …a tragedy of the greatest degree occurred when we were in Philadelphia. My younger brother in California somehow got my phone number at the hotel we were staying at. He asked me a question that I had never been asked before. “David are you sitting down? “My sister, Merrilee, was in car accident in Michigan and was killed.
My Sister, Merrilee
I grew up in a family with five boys and one girl and Merrilee, my only sister, was the youngest. She was the rose among the thorns, people used to say.She was going to a private school in Michigan. I immediately got a plane ticket to Michigan that night and met my parents there. As soon as I landed and saw my parents there, the flood gates opened up. Everything was so sad. I saw my Dad’s black hair with a few gray strands change to bright white in the two days we were there. We spent a long time in the mortuary preparing to take Merrilee back home to Forest Lawn for the funeral in California. I had never seen my mother so distraught. She was a very spiritual lady but this tragedy was testing her spiritual limits. That next week back home in California, I really learned the meaning of friendship and love from all of the Kimber friends and relatives. Reading cards and letters from all of those people close to our family really lightened our load for a while. We also had very close family friends staying at the family house and dropping by. As usual, we had our very large dinners with our life long friends who helped us remember all of the wonderful times we all shared together with Merrilee. With their help we were able to laugh as if Merrilee was still here. She would have laughed the hardest.
My father never got over it. He was a lawyer and as the months passed by I would stop in his office in L.A to see how he was doing. He would say, “Well Davey, I will be having a pretty good day and then all of a sudden I would be consumed with Merrilee’s passing and the whole event. It is like a cloud would enter the room and would not leave.” Then he would weep. The whole thing was so sad. Merrilee was such a bright light with such an enormous talent in music and art and like my mother she had a huge amount of empathy and a big ear for listening to other people’s problems. During this time I decided to go back to Michigan and hang out with Merrilee’s friends and find out who she was. I had been pretty self consumed with my musical life and touring and I wanted to get to know my sister a little bit better if not too late. So I flew to Traverse City, Michigan and began my journey
I was asked to stay at the Smith’s family home. Debbie Smith was Merrilee’s best friend and she shared many stories with me. Also Merrilee was very spiritual and very much into the religion, Christian Science. Another great friend of Merrilee’s was Adana who was a Christian Science practitioner which is like a counselor. She told me that the last week before Merrilee died that she seemed to know her passing was coming soon. And she was constantly searching for spiritual answers to her life. Everyone who knew Merrilee filled me with happy, funny, loving stories about my sister and what a Joy she was to be around. I also met the man who held Merrilee in his arms the day she died in the car accident. Merrilee was thrown from her car on this man’s farm and he held Merrilee and comforted her until she died. Her last words were I love my family.
Soupy Sales: Not So Friendly, nor, Funny
My MGM record was still making its way up the charts in the USA. There were a lot of cities that were playing our song. Ironically, having just lost my sister, our record was called “Daydream” (Since I Don’t Have You). It was playing in the local radio station in Traverse City when I arrived. The town was having its annual Cherry Festival with a big parade to end the festivities. I was asked to be in the parade and ride on a float. I wore a white suit and smiled and waved to the crowds on both sides of the streets. It was more embarrassing than it was fun as no one knew who I was and I could see people saying,” Who the hell is that guy?”
That night I went to my hotel after the parade and I saw a very pretty girl sitting at the bar. She came over to the table and said she saw me in the parade and who was I. As I was explaining my story, a famous t.v. star, Soupy Sales, came out of the restroom and saw his date sitting at my table. He was not happy. Soupy was the Grand Marshal of the parade. He came over to my table and stood there looking at us. I said, “Oh, I am sorry Tracy. I didn’t know you had a date.” She looked at Soupy and said, “I don’t.” Now I really felt awkward and Soupy was really angry and rather arrogant. I had never seen him angry on T.V. Soupy said to the girl, “Tracy are you coming back to my table?” and she said,” I guess so.” And I said, “Nice meeting you, Tracy, and nice not meeting you, Soupy.” and they left. I always thought he was a funny guy on television I resisted not imitating his dog, White Fang, on his show and not saying “A-ri-a-ri-a”, as he was walking away.
Christian Science Camp and meeting John Erlichman
One of the things that I learned from Merrilee’s friends was that there was a summer camp in the Colorado mountains called Adventure Unlimited that Merrilee always wanted to go to. It was a beautiful huge log cabin surrounded by little log cabins and people hiked in the beautiful mountains and rode horses on the trails. It was a Christian Science camp. They had a summer session and a winter session for skiing. I was raised in the Christian Science religion but we weren’t very good Christian Scientists. We took aspirin or other medicine if my uncle, the doctor, prescribed them. I drove my car filled with musical instruments to the camp and everything was beautiful.
It was a very nervous time in America, we were in the middle of Watergate. I knew two people on the board of directors that knew my mother and they asked me if I would get up and sing some songs for the kids and, of course, I sang Woodsy. While I was on the stage entertaining at the lodge, I noticed someone in the crowd in the back walking through the lodge. He looked very familiar in fact I had just seen his face on the nightly news ,but, I couldn’t place him. I got done singing and walked outside. Colorado is indeed beautiful. As I turned the corner, I saw the stranger just standing there enjoying the view and it hit me. It was John Ehrlichman from the Nixon White House and the Watergate trial. I walked over to him and said, “Aren’t you John Ehrlichman?” and he said “Yes, I am.” I said, “I just saw you on t.v. a couple of days ago. What are you doing up here?”, I asked. He said, ” I am hiding out from the press.” I said, “yes, It looks like they are giving you a hard time. How did you pick this place?” He said that he was also raised in the Christian Science religion and he asked, “what are you doing here?” I told him about my sister’s wish to be here and that I took her place. I also told him about the Woodsy Owl song and he said that he knew about it already and had talked to the Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butts about it. I said I am sure he didn’t like us barging into his office singing our song. He said,” He’ll get over it.”
John and I had dinner together that night and pretty much stayed away from the Watergate subject. He told me that I was the first long=haired musician that he had ever had dinner with. I told him about my conservative lawyer father who definitely didn’t like long-haired hippies but because I was one he welcomed my friends to our house with joy and humor. John Ehrlichman was really smart and conversationally very engaging. Every once in a while during dinner, I would catch him literally looking down his nose at me as if I was an insect. I told him that and we both laughed. Him more then me. When I left the summer camp I kept tabs on John and sent him a couple of letters to the penitentiary in Arizona that he went too but never saw him again.
Me With the Famous/Infamous John Erlichman
When I was getting ready to leave the camp, the head of the ranch asked me if I would like to come to the winter ski camp at at the same place in December. I was a big enthusiast of snow skiing and Colorado had some of the nicest skiing in the country. They said I could come to the camp for free if I would do two things. One, entertain a couple of nights at the camp and two, be the camp counselor for my cabin of younger boys. That meant reading some of the Christian Science book, Science and Health, and discussing some of the spiritual concepts. Merrilee would have loved this part of the day. I felt a little inept. Well I signed the contract in September for the camp in December.
I went back to touring for Woodsy the Owl and writing new music. I bumped into an old friend, John Sebastian. He was the main singer and songwriter of the “Lovin’ Spoonfuls.” He is one of the nicest guys in the business. He introduced tie-dye to the world when he came on stage during Woodstock wearing a tie-dye T-shirt. He had several hit records and we were laughing because we both had a record out called,”Daydream.” He also had a big hit called,”Welcome Back,” from the TV show, Welcome Back Kotter. That song is now used for an ad for Applebees Restaurants. I think that’s John singing it too.
Hanging Out With an Old Friend, John Sebastian
Skydiving Proves To Be a Really Bad Idea
As time passed, my ski camp was looming. I was looking forward to skiing in Colorado. My partner didn’t ski so I was going to drive there by myself in my VW Station Wagon. The camp was 1,000 miles from my home. Washington, D.C. was heating up with Watergate in full bloom and Nixon’s people were going to court and some were going to jail.
Out of the blue my older brother Johnny called and asked if I wanted to go to Lake Elsinore California. It was in the desert and they had a sky diving school there. Our father was a bombardier in World War II and he always told me and my brothers that if his B-24 bomber got shot down that he would go down with the plane rather than parachute out. That completely scared him to death. Well, my brother said, “Let’s go do what Dad couldn’t do”. And I said okay and we spent all day Saturday at Lake Elsinore Parachuting School in the California desert. It was all very non-frightening most of the day because we were on the ground going to classes. We practiced getting into the small, little airplane and climbing out on its wing. Actually it wasn’t a real plane, it was some monkey bars with little handles that were identical to the handles on the wing of a plane. When the instructor said go we would let go of the little handles and push back away from the wing and land on the ground …about a 4 foot drop.The whole experience had no relation to the actual jump. Instead of falling four foot and landing on the lawn, we were 10,000 feet above the ground and going very fast. I thought the wind was going to blow me off the wing. Our little group had ground classes that day.
Mainly I remember two things about the classes. The instructor was talking about malfunctions of the parachute and how to fix it when you jump. The only malfunction I really remember was if the strap got stuck on the middle of the chute which caused the parachute to look like a giant brassiere with two giant cups. For obvious reasons, they called it The Mae West. I remember when it was my turn to step out on the wing and jump back to earth, all I could think about was one thought. What is the 15th malfunction? I remembered the 14 malfunctions just not the 15th. (Too many things to remember on your first jump) This is why two people jump together on their first jump nowadays. My brother and I were taking our classes on a Saturday and then we would do our jump at the end of the day. Unfortunately, it got too windy and the jump was canceled for Saturday. We could come back on Sunday and do our jump then. My brother had a commitment on Sunday so I drove back to Lake Elsinore myself to do the jump. I was very scared to do this jump. The whole time you are on the ground, you see all the professionals jumping from planes and landing on the ground, perfectly, on both legs. They stand right up without falling over. I saw it so often that when my turn came, I separated my legs and landed like a pro with my legs separated. But there was a problem. The flight instructor told me to face the lake but he was drunk. Truly. He told me to face the wrong way so that the wind was blowing on my left side. So, when I landed, all of my weight was on my right foot.
When I jumped out of the plane my life was totally out of my control. When the static line pulled my chute open, I felt like God lifted me in his Godlike hands and saved my life. The closer you get to the ground the faster it comes up. I wasn’t very good at skydiving. When my right leg hit the ground, I heard two snaps and my ankle broke in 2 places. I had another problem. It was windy when I landed and it was in the desert. My giant chute opened up and the wind dragged me across the desert floor crashing me into cactus plants and I couldn’t stand up because my ankle was broken.
My instructor finally helped me out and they took me to the local hospital which was located in Palm Springs. The surgeon had to be called and he was on the golf course. And it turned out that he was shooting a very good game. He made a real point of letting me know how great a game he’d been having. It was obvious that getting interrupted in the middle of his game had annoyed him, greatly (sorry I broke my ankle). His name was Dr. Worm.
Standing there in his golf shoes Dr. Worm barked, “What the hell is wrong with you people? I mean jumping out of an airplane. You’re crazy.” I finally got sick of apologizing to the doctor because I broke my ankle. I said, “Hey doctor, do you want to hear a joke.” This joke just came to me. “Do you know how to tell the difference between a worm’s head and his ass?” “Ya’ roll him around in flour and wait for him to fart.” They eventually put a cast on my ankle. Luckily, they didn’t put it on backwards – just to teach me a lesson about jumping out of airplanes, and, as punishment for screwing up the doctor’s golf game. The doctor told me I would have to leave the cast on for eight weeks.
I suddenly realized that in a week-and-a-half I had to drive my stick shift VW station wagon to Colorado and be a camp counselor at the Christian Science ski camp. If you didn’t know, Christian Scientists don’t use doctors or casts. I am going to make a great camp counselor. Help me Merrilee. When I got to camp everybody kept trying to get me to cut my cast off. I left the camp early and on my way home I noticed that there were Woodsy Owl posters and pictures everywhere. I saw my t.v. cartoon ad for Woodsy on all the TV stations because it was now a Public Service Spot. There were so many pictures and literature everywhere that the whole country was getting littered with Woodsy the Owl stuff.