How I met Firesign Theatre
Around the mid 1970s I moved from the Escondido area to Brentwood, where I bunked with my childhood friend Eric Miller and his wife of that time, Shay. I’d been trying to make it as a rock guitarist around Escondido (Poway, San Marcos, etc.) for a few years, playing with Los Niños Muertos, Criminy Sakes, and Daddy Longlegs. I’d met some great people, including Danney Alkana who went on to fame and fortune as a guitarist before injuring his back, Stan Cotey who went on to work at Fender, Paul Rivera of the eponymous amplifier company, Dave Flores who later worked for Carvin, etc. The whole Escondido scene seemed so provincial, though, that I was certain I needed to go to the Big City to make my mark.
When I got to Los Angeles, the glam-rock thing was in full swing. I was not a glam rocker and had no interest in becoming one. My biggest audition was for the Holly Penfield Band, but that was a disaster, as were all my efforts at trying to find other musicians to put together a band.
One day, feeling at loose ends, I started going through the phone book, and lo-and-behold there was a listing for Peter Bergman, of Firesign Theatre. I’d admired their work for years, so I called him.
He answered and I started babbling right away. I must have sounded like the biggest geek fan on the planet. Peter was very gracious, though, and we had a nice conversation. He asked if I did any writing, and I lied and said yes. I mean, I had a typewriter, but I had been so busy trying to make it in the music business that I hadn’t written anything meaningful since high school. He said he’d love to meet me and read some of my work. He invited me up to a party he was giving at place on Woodrow Wilson Drive, off of Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills. There, I met Peter and Phil Proctor (of the Firesign Theatre) and most of the doo-wop band Sha Na Na, among other persons. Alice couldn’t have been more surprised when she went down the rabbit hole.
After that, I broke out my typewriter and started writing up ideas to send to Peter. He was always very encouraging, and invited me to join the him for the Radio Free Oz broadcasts at KPFK on the weekends. He even read a couple of my bits on the air (including this one), cold-reading them so well I couldn’t believe I’d written them.
Eventually, Peter introduced me to Frazer Smith, but that’s a different story.
Around this same time, I helped my buddy Eric with his Project One film for UCLA film school, providing the script for the Firesign-Theatre-inspired “Danger by the Dozen.” So much for becoming a rock star.
Many years later, Peter and Phil Austin (also of Firesign Theatre) and I got together again to try to put together a TV show about cars, working title “Wheels.”* The show was to be produced by Micky Dolenz (The Monkeys), and the idea was to take a Siskel and Ebert approach and apply it to a car show. We seemed to be making good progress, but … as with so many projects in Hollywood … it eventually slowed to a crawl and then withered away.
* Prior to this, Phil was kind enough to write a piece for Autotech magazine at my request. He came up with a fictitious interview with automotive industry leader C. William (Bob) Heeblehauser, dealing with his latest creation, the Beavertail SCX170, a car that ran on the smog produced by other cars.