Monday, May 29, 2017

Surf’s Up: Terry Melcher’s Nightmare Is Over

I came across this article the other day about Terry Melcher. The first half is about his career, which is interesting in and of itself. In the second half he discusses his connection to Manson.

October 23, 1970

Surf’s Up! Terry Melcher’s Nightmare Is Over

Tom Nolan, Rolling Stone, 9 May 1974

LOS ANGELES – Terry Melcher, a consistent professional, has participated in scores of hits with artists as diverse as Frankie Laine and the Byrds. Seven Melcher-produced gold albums including Turn, Turn, Turn and The Byrds’ Greatest Hits as well as singles by the Byrds and Paul Revere and the Raiders attest to his talent.

However, it’s not Melcher’s production talent that people think of, but a rumor that isn’t even true: that it was Terry Melcher whom Charles Manson’s accomplices were really looking for the night they killed Sharon Tate and three others in the Bel Air house Melcher had rented to Roman Polanski.

Perhaps the rumor has never been corrected in a public enough manner, but even if it had, it probably would still have survived. Doris Day’s son is too irresistible a magnet for malice. Rich, California-handsome, 31, Melcher often escorted women like Candice Bergen, Tuesday Weld and Michele Phillips before his marriage to Melissa Whittaker three months ago. He seems to generate a bilious jealousy, that he couldn’t have gotten where he is on his own merit.

Melcher has recently completed an album of his own (on which he writes, sings and plays the piano), entitled Terry Melcher. Three years in the making, it was co-produced by ex-Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. In conjunction with the record’s release, he is tentatively beginning to grant interviews. At the home of a friend he spoke of his past work and associations, his current projects, and of things that have been with him privately for years.

At the outset Terry proved to be affable, gregarious, even humorous. He recreated his years as a novice producer and artist with glee, repeating punch lines and doing hilarious impressions of Pat Boone and Wayne Newton. “There were just a few people,” he said, “doing that car and surfing thing: Brian Wilson, Jan and Dean, Gary Usher, Bruce Johnston and myself. We were all working on Sunset Boulevard, all within a block of each other. And our records were...unusually similar!”
While Brian Wilson sang lead or harmony parts on some Jan and Dean discs, Terry and Bruce Johnston did most of the vocal work for Melcher-produced groups like the Rip Chords; the two also had a short string of nonpseudonymous hits as “Bruce and Terry.”

After entering the second phase of his producing career, marked by his reunion with the Byrds on The Ballad of Easy Rider in November 1969, Terry contributed occasional vocal and piano work (usually uncredited) to various projects (including ‘I Trust’ on Byrdmaniax) and also co-wrote songs, especially for the Raiders. “I cut all the Raiders’ tracks with studio musicians when the group itself was out of town. That was fine with Paul Revere. That way he never had to take those guys off the road. He could he out there all year, leaping around in his...tights.”

A similar arrangement for the Byrds’ first album, Mr. Tambourine Man, created bitterness evident to this day. “I had a hard time getting friendly with any of the original Byrds besides Roger [McGiuinn] because none of them had played on that record. It was Roger’s and their manager’s idea. They said from the start, ‘The group isn’t ready.’ Somehow I got the blame.”

Of that period Melcher said, “I worked with the Byrds and got fired because I didn’t get high. Then I worked with the Raiders and got fired because I did. And then I didn’t work! Then I went to court for five years.” (He referred to his lengthy lawsuit to straighten out his late stepfather’s financial affairs, a probate action involving the estate, which Terry managed, and the income from The Doris Day Show.)

It was during this stage in his career that Melcher became peripherally involved in the events that would become maddeningly involved with his name. It started a year before the Tate murders in Bel Air.

“I met Manson in the early fall of 1968 at Dennis Wilson’s house,” he said softly. He sounded like a man relating a grotesque, incomprehensible nightmare. “Dennis thought he was some sort of guru then. Six months later Gregg Jacobsen asked me to come and listen to them play. He said there were three guitars, 30 voices, all raised in peaceful hymns. I went. I listened. I met Manson one other time. That was that.

“My contact with the police began three or four months after all the...murders. I was in the shower and the doorbell rang. I went to the door and there were these two plainclothes cops. I could just tell that’s what they were. ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘you can come in.’ And they asked me, ‘Do you know anybody who would like to kill you?’”

The police told him they had captured the people responsible for the murders in Bel Air, that he should keep it to himself until the news was released and, “’Oh, yeah,’ they said, ‘you might think about getting some guards and guns up here.’

“The cops were coming to my house every single day for about three months. Each time they’d have five or ten new pictures to show me. ‘You ever seen this guy?’ They seemed to be rounding up hundreds of people, anybody with long hair and a beard, it looked like.

“They kept telling me I don’t even know if it was true – ‘Several of the girls are pregnant, and they all say you’re the father.’ One day I got so pissed about that I got out some pictures of girls I’d gone with and I said, ‘Now look, you guys. Why would I want to make it with those...if I’m doing OK over here.’ That made sense to them. They backed off.”

The pressure was unrelenting. Melcher received a letter from an Inyo County court about a couple of rapes and murders in that area, “because it sounded so much like all these other hippie murders down here, and a stranger answering my description had been seen in the area. I don’t even know where Inyo County is. Not even the L.A. D.A. could get them off my back. If I hadn’t had a stamped passport showing I’d been in Europe, I would have had to stand trial.”

Not until nearly a year later did Melcher learn that what he was led to believe was not true; no one had been “looking for him” the night four people died.

“Manson had been trying to get in touch with me to play me some more music. He found out where I lived in Malibu. So he went to my house but I wasn’t home. He took a telescope off the sun deck to show it to my friend Jacobsen so Gregg would give him my number. Manson knew where I lived. He knew I didn’t live in Bel Air.

“Gregg didn’t bother to tell me that until almost a year later. The police didn’t bother to tell me that. For nine months they had me thinking those people got killed because I couldn’t be found. My guilt was monumental. I felt, ‘Why couldn’t it have been me? How much easier it would have been.’
“I guess they wanted to make it into a big New Hollywood/drug/hippie shakedown. It really turned a lot of people against each other. I noticed that a few people became afraid of me. I know I became afraid of everyone else.

“I finally went to a psychiatrist. He said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you. You’re going to be crazy for a while. Try to get through it.”’

After all the fear and gossip Melcher was asked only a few gentle questions the day he took the stand in the Manson case, questions establishing when and where be had first seen the defendants.
“Manson sat there smiling at me through the whole thing. The three girls too. One of them had her skirt up, doing a little leg thing under the table. When I was finished, their lawyer, Kanarek, said something like, ‘We want Mr. Melcher to know that the defendants have never borne him any ill will.’

“And of course...I’ve felt wonderful ever since.

“I’ve seen Dennis a couple of times since then, but he’s never made any comment to me about any of that. The most he’s ever said has been something like: ‘Phew! Weird.’”

The day Melcher testified in the Manson case he went home and wrote ‘Halls Of Justice’, an angry account of his day with echoes of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Positively 4th Street’. He booked time at Wally Heider’s sound studio and cut the tune that night, with Roger McGuinn on lead guitar. “You’ve got a lot of nerve,” he sang bitterly, “to say you are my friends.”

“Everyone seemed to like it a lot, and RCA wanted to buy it. Very badly, in fact. But Roger McGuinn told me I would be capitalizing on a tragedy, and...I let myself be convinced.”
Melcher eventually changed his mind and negotiated an album deal with Warners. In April 1972, a motorcycle accident sent him to the hospital for eight months with two broken legs.

Now the record is finished, and its prospects seem excellent. It boasts a wonderfully voiced Melcher, strong songs and production, a stellar line-up of L.A. sessionmen and Doris Day as a backup vocalist. Since the release of his album and his marriage in February, friends say he has never been more confident, content and full of future plans.
Here’s a picture of the Doris Day beachhouse as it sits today. David Geffen purchased the property and four adjoining parcels to build this compound- everything in the image. Doris’ house is long gone, remodeled into the larger structure to the left.

If you want this piece of Manson memorabilia it was up for sale in May for 100 million.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Black and white biker gangs battle for turf in Laurence Merrick’s “Black Angels”

By Bryan Thomas on November 25, 2016 -

Laurence Merrick's Black Angels -- about a white motorcycle gang versus a black motorcycle gang in a film simply jam-packed with absurdities, semi-authenticities, and some ass-kickin' action! — is now streaming as part of our Something Weird collection on Night Flight Plus!

Laurence Merrick didn't direct too many movies, and he's actually probably best known for co-directing the legendary 1972 documentary Manson with Robert Hendrickson, which featured interviews with the Manson Family before and after the shocking murders that rocked the nation in 1969. It ended up garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Feature-Length Documentary.

Merrick was also well-known in Hollywood for his acting school, the Merrick Studio Academy of Dramatic Acting, and for the fact that one of his students, Sharon Tate, would later be killed by members of Manson's Family, during August of 1969, the same year he spent fourteen days directing Black Angels.

In fact — in yet another example of the parallels that existed between Southern California's biker and hippie countercultures -- members of Manson's Family would occasionally drop by Paramount Ranch, located at 2813 Cornell Road, in Agoura, California, and visit the set while Merrick and his cast and crew were filming scenes.

(The same thing also happened during the filming of The Girls from Thunder Strip at Spahn Ranch, which is now part of Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, where members of the Family would drop in at lunchtime and beg for food from the production crew and cast... we told you about that here).

In 1960, Merrick — who served in the Army of Defense for Israel — was sent to the U.S. to speak in support of Zionism, and while he was fundraising in New York City, he met his future wife, a dark-haired aspiring Broadway showgirl and wannabe actress named Joan Huntington.

Together they came out to the west coast, and set up the Merrick Studio, located at 870 N. Vine St. in Hollywood, California, and for a time it was an inexpensive place for actors (like the great Geoffrey Lewis!) to learn lessons about their craft.

The Merricks were subsidized by the government too, which enabled them to make a lot of money running the school. They bought a nice house in Beverly Hills and then decided to put their studio profits towards making their own movies, which they could then cast with students from the school, a win-win situation for everybody.

Merrick's wife — who continued with her acting career, and was nearly chosen to play Morticia on TV's The Addam's Family -- came to see the movies they were making as training exercises, while her more business-minded husband thought more about the potential financial windfall for their production company, Merrick International Films, selling the films to distributors for even more big bucks.

He also liked the fact that since he had no one bossing him around, he could be as experimental as he wanted, since he didn't have a movie company or studio head interfering with his creative process, and so he applied his experimental ideas, mainly to the camerawork, on each of the films he shot.

The Merrick's first project, made in late '68, was what Merrick would later refer to as a nudie cutie, a relatively plotless short film that featured three buxom housewives on the prowl for men. It wasn't very good, and Merrick didn't even bother to give it a title or a credit sequence.

Their next effort, an odd little vampire movie called Guess What Happened to Count Dracula?, fared better than their short nudie cutie, although Merrick was so inexperienced that he didn't realize he was supposed to say Action! at the beginning of every scene and was surprised to find his cinematographer, Robert Caramico, waiting on him to do so in order to begin operating the camera.

The movie featured several of Merrick's students in key parts, and chiefly concerned what happened to Dracula's son, Count Adrian (Des Roberts, who plays the vampire while sporting a wicked John Carradine-style goatee). Roberts and his musical partner, Andy Wilder, also provided the film's musical score.

The film was shot at the Magic Castle in the Hollywood Hills, a mansion built in the 1920s which had been renovated for performances by magicians.

One of Merrick's students owned the place, and had invited Merrick and his wife over for dinner, which left a lasting impression, and when the couple began thinking of locations where they could shoot their Dracula movie, they both remembered the Magic Castle, which was just about to undergo a renovation.

As you might expect, quite a lot of the movie is devoted to magic tricks performed by members of the Magic Academy, the castle's troupe in residence.

The movie also contains a subplot straight out of the then recent box office smash Rosemary's Baby, when one character -- an actor named Guy (just as John Cassavetes's character was in Roman Polanski's film), played by John Landon -- is all too willing to sell his soul in return for being given a successful acting career.

It's also interesting to note that Merrick's film features a surprise ending that was clearly inspired by Polanski's previous film, 1967's The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck, when Polanski's future wife Sharon Tate sprouts fangs in the film.

Merrick's Dracula movie was later released in Europe in an adults only version which featured more nudity and sex, courtesy of performances by Olga Copa and someone named Horror-Charlie.

The additional nude scenes were shot by Mario d'Alcala, who was given the sole credit as director for the European-distributed version of the film on the poster. The film was in distributed in Germany as Lüsterne Vampire, and in France as Dracula Vampire Sexuel.

For his next film, Laurence Merrick realized that outlaw biker flicks were all the rage, and so he began developing the film which we present to you here on Night Flight Plus.

Wanting to also cash in on the fairly new phenomenon of Blaxploitation, Merrick's script focuses on two biker gangs at each other's throats, a white motorcycle gang called Satan's Serpents — led by Chainer (once again played by Merrick's favorite leading man, Des Roberts) — and a black motorcycle gang, called the Choppers (their leader was played by Bobby Johnston, whose biggest role previous to this one was as a prison guard in In Cold Blood).

The film's title, Black Angels is actually the name attributed to the highway patrolmen who observe the two rival biker gangs from a distance, waiting for the race-motivated war for turf to explode.

Merrick recruited a real black biker gang to play the Choppers in order to provide authenticity.

The main plot concerns one Black Angel in particular -- a lieutenant for the highway patrol named Harper (Clancy Syrko, who also edited the film) -- who wants to see all of the biker gangs wiped off the the face of the earth, and he plots to pit the two gangs against each other so they will end up in a race war leading to both of them being destroyed.

A renegade racist Southern biker named Johnny Reb (John King III) is just the man to help Harper have his wish fulfilled, and he becomes a member of the Serpents after Chainer kills a black biker, which, of course, sets the two gangs on a mission to kill each other as fast as possible.

Reb starts spouting off racist slurs when the Serpents stop off to have a beer and are served by a black waitress, but that's when Chainer tells him their conflict with the Choppers is over turf, not skin color.

Chainer then gets to deliver the movie's best line: This country is getting so you can't have a decent fight with a black man without somebody making it out to be about race.

When the Choppers nearly kill the Serpents' leader during an ambush, Reb ends up saving Chainer's life, and this calls for a party, only they find out too late that the bag of pills that Johnny Reb has handed out at the party aren't uppers, they're downers, sending the Serpents on a bummer of a trip.

Reb almost gets away with the sabotage it until a biker named Frenchy (John Donovan) reveals to Reb that he knows what's going on, but Frenchy pays the ultimate price for telling Reb what he knows, which then stars a white-on-black biker race-driven battle for turf while Lieutenant Harper looks on from atop a hill in the distance.

It's interesting to note that this film's concept of pitting white against black in a race war, in the year 1969, is very similar in some respects to Manson's concept which he called Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war arising from racial tensions between blacks and white, which he believed was foretold in Chapter 9 of the book of Revelations in the bible (as well as hidden messages he believed he heard in the Beatles' Revolution #9).

Makes you wonder what kinds of conversations they were having at Paramount Ranch between members of the cast and crew and some of Manson's followers.

There were also many interesting cameo appearances, including a real member of Charles Manson's gang,  Mark Ross (he plays Singer), who later claimed to write a theme song for the film that was never used (the original rock music soundtrack contains several decent instrumentals and songs in assorted styles, some performed by Smokey Roberds, previously of soft rock band The Parade).

There's also an appearance by Merrick's oldest acting student, Sumner Spector, who also appeared in the 1971 Warren Oates film Chandler.

An interesting sidenote is the fact that one of the bikers happened to have a cougar as a pet, and the Merricks thought it would be fun to put the big cat in a scene or two (their previous film, Count Dracula?, had also featured a similar appearance by a big cat). Merrick's wife was a little concerned about the presence of a cougar on set, as she'd brought their nine year old son Adam to the Paramount Ranch location, and sure enough, the cougar did jump at their son.

Merrick — who shot the film in and around Paramount Ranch, and some surface streets in L.A., in just fourteen days -- experimented even more on Black Angels than he had on Count Dracula?, adding subjective shots from a biker's P.O.V. which give the viewer the feeling they too were hurtling along on the highway on a motorcycle.

He also sped up a chase scene at the beginning of the film which makes the entire world look like it's comically spinning in fast motion.

The film features all kinds of pissed off biker-on-biker punchouts and Evel Knievel-ish action scenes, lots of horizontal topless biker babes (slightly NSFW) and just about anything else you'd expect from a low-budget 70s biker film shot on a shoestring budget.

The film's tagline God forgives, the Black Angels don't!, incidentally, was borrowed from the hugely successful 1967 Italian spaghetti western, God Forgives… I Don't.

Another tagline — and perhaps another reference to Manson? -- was A portrait of the family.

Speaking of Manson and his family, again, it was during the film's production that Merrick was invited to head over to Spahn Ranch, with a 16mm camera, in order to film the Manson family on their own turf.

Merrick also shot footage of them at Devil's Canyon, their Barker Ranch hideout in Death Valley, and then later — during the Manson trial — at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles, in addition to other locations.

Much of this footage would end up being included in the 1973 documentary Manson, which is why Merrick initially shared the director credit with Robert Hendrickson (who these days doesn't mention Merrick on the film's official website, but this original poster lists Merrick as the film's sole director).

Years later, Manson was banned from being screened in the U.S. by order of Judge Thomas McBride, the District Court judge presiding in the case of Lynette "Squeaky Fromme" -- who had attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford -- in order to preserve Fromme's constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. Hendrickson became and still is the only U.S. citizen to have had his U.S. Constitutional right to “free speech” set aside.

The legal matter was taken by the ACLU to the Supreme Court. In 2001, Manson was the subject of the Federal Court’s “first impression” decision regarding the legal interpretation of liability under provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the DMCA).

After Manson lost the Academy Award to the fundamentalist exposé Marjoe (about televangelist turned b-movie actor Marjoe Gortner, another Night Flight fave), Laurence Merrick became the first president of Independent Screen Producers, Inc., a film market intended to promote independent filmmakers.

It later grew into the largest film market in the world, and today is called the Independent Film and Television Alliance.

Then, in 1977, Merrick's life would intersect fatally with a potential acting student named Dennis Mignano, who — much like Manson himself — had really wanted to have a music career, but when that didn't pan out, the struggling rock singer decided to take acting lessons.

That decision had led him straight to Merrick Studio -- which by now was teaching classes in acting, directing and cinematography -- where he applied to be a student.

He believed that Merrick — due to his association with Manson, bikers, and magic — was the perfect person to help him launch a successful acting career (Mignano had reportedly been obsessed with magic as a child).

Mignano filled out an application to be a student, and then was told he was eligible for government assistance to pay for his tuition, but he had to wait for three weeks for the application to be processed.

Mignano grew irritated and felt like the delay was yet another setback and a disappointment, but he waited, and while he did so he watched episodes of a 1976 TV mini-series called "Helter Skelter", which just happened to be re-airing on TV.

The TV series may have played a small part in reminding him that his life was now intertwined with Merrick's and he then became obsessed with the idea that Merrick had actually placed a curse on him.

On January 26th, 1977, he went to the school and waited in ambush for Merrick to appear in the parking lot for a few hours and then pulled out a pistol and shot 50-year old Laurence Merrick in the back.

Mignano then fled the scene, and much like the opening scene of Richard Rush's 1980 action film The Stunt Man -- which, and get this, starred actor Steve Railsback, who had played Charles Manson in the "Helter Skelter" mini-series — he, by pure chance, happened upon a movie being shot mere blocks away,  on Willoughby Ave., and the killer blended in with the crew (just as Railsback's character did), pretending to be part of the film production team.

Merrick, meanwhile, staggered into his office at the studio, telling his student's "Some son of a bitch shot me and I don't even know why"! Some of the students thought they were witnessing an impromptu acting exercise, but quickly realized that their teacher was dying in front of them.

Merrick was rushed to Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, but he was pronounced dead within an hour. Students at the Merrick Studio Academy of Dramatic Arts said that Mignano had been hanging around the building all morning, asking them questions about Merrick and his Manson documentary.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Manson Sessions

We know that Manson had more than one recording session between his release from prison in March, 1967 and the murders in early August, 1969. One of these occurred at Brian Wilson’s home studio. Manson’s frustrated recording career, which he allegedly blamed on Terry Melcher, was touted by Bugliosi at the trial as one of the ‘motives’ for the murders. The latest ABC two-hour documentary “Truth and Lies: The Manson Family” spent a significant amount of time on this


Specifically, Bugliosi says:

"We knew there was at least one secondary motive for the Tate murders. As Susan Atkins put it in the Caballero tape, “The reason Charlie picked that house was to instill fear into Terry Melcher because Terry had given us his word on a few things and never came through with them.” But this was obviously not the primary motive, since, according to Gregg Jakobson, Manson knew that Melcher was no longer living at 10050 Cielo Drive."

Bugliosi, Vincent; Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (p. 269). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

"Manson was counting on Terry Melcher to produce this album. According to numerous Family members (both Melcher and Jakobson denied this), Terry had promised to come and listen to the songs one evening. The girls cleaned the house, baked cookies, rolled joints. Melcher didn’t show. Manson, according to Poston and Watkins, never forgave Terry for this. Melcher’s word was no good, he said angrily on a number of occasions."

Bugliosi, Vincent; Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (p. 298). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

The evidence, in my opinion, establishes that this simply does not make sense. Far from having a ‘dead end’ career caused by Melcher, by August 1, 1969 it appears Manson’s career was progressing better than it ever had to that point.

Very little is available regarding the non-Beach Boys sessions. But here is what I have been able to find out.


UNI Records  

8255 Sunset Blvd.


Manson met Phil Kaufman at Terminal Island shortly before his release. Kaufman was impressed enough with Manson’s music that he suggested Manson contact his friend, Gary Stromberg, after he was released.

Stromberg, in turn, was impressed enough by Manson that he arranged a three-hour studio session for him at Universal City Records (UNI). Stromberg apparently also consulted with Manson regarding a potential film project. 
Stromberg: "So Phil told him I was in fits and sent him to see me. He's a charming guy, he really had charisma. 

He used to come over two or three times a week in a bus which he painted white. And he had painted Hollywood Film Company across the side so nobody would bother him. And inside it was really trippy. He had an icebox and a stereo system and a floating coffee table suspended from the ceiling. The only food they had was cream puffs. Someone had given them a case of cream puffs and every day that's what they existed on. We would sit in the bus and listen to records or he would play. And we'd eat cream puffs. 

The thing that really attracted me to Charlie was that I was working on a story at Universal for a film that took the premise that if Jesus came back today, in this country and this climate and current situation, that he most likely would or very well could have been a black man. We were going to construct a story about Christ returning as a black man in the South today. Naturally the white Christians would have been the Romans. 

Charlie is very Christ-like and has a Christ-like philosophy. And he was technical advisor on what Christ's positions would have been relative to certain things. He got very into it because he liked the idea of being an authority on Christ. He has a very sophisticated knowledge of Biblical things. He doesn't read but he seemed well read. And we would bounce things off Charlie in developing the story.

The movie was never made. Universal hated it, despised it."

Quoted in:

The Music Corporation of America (MCA) got into the record business in 1962 when they purchased the US Decca label. In 1966 they added Universal City Records. The logo abbreviated the name to UNI and the company was commonly called UNI Records. The label's focus was 'psychedelic' bands.

A source I don’t trust claims the original ‘Lie’ album sleeve notes say ‘Look At Your Game Girl’ and ‘Eyes of a Dreamer’ were recorded during these sessions. If you have the album you can verify this. I have not been able to corroborate it. By the release of that album the same source says the tapes had disappeared and Kaufman took the songs from a 45 rpm record credited to ‘Silverhawk’. I found no reference to 'Silverhawk' as a label or a recording studio. 

Manson did record 'Sick City' at this session and the songs recorded here form the basis of the 'Unplugged' and 'Summer of Hate '67' and 'All the Way Live' CDs. Manson is clearly nervous but the music has a few good moments. Manson doesn't play complete songs on several occasions during the recordings, which may explain why this didn't go anywhere. 

The 'Unplugged' CD completely refutes one part of the 'Cease to Exist' documentary. In the documentary around 18:00 there is an exchange between Manson and the booth where Manson describes the microphones as 'phallic symbols'. The documentary claims this is the Beach Boys recordings and that the voice from the booth is Dennis Wilson. The exact same exchange occurs at about 17:57 of the 'Unplugged' recordings. It is also interesting that at 27:27 (about) of 'Unplugged' Manson discusses his 'you can't get out of the room through the door' philosophy, which Kaufman claims Manson spoke to  prison guard in his presence on Terminal Island.


Gold Star Studios

6252 Santa Monica Boulevard


Most sources say most of the 'Lie' album was recorded at Gold Star Studios on August 8, 1968, one year prior to the murders at Cielo Drive. In his interview with Aaron Stovitz on January 27, 1970 (one of the worst witness interviews I have ever heard) Kaufman explains that ‘the girls’ approached him regarding the album and brought him some tapes. It is probable these are the tapes.

Some sources claim that Gary Stromberg arranged this session. To me that doesn’t make sense. First it means Manson waited over a year after his early release from prison before he contacted Kaufman’s friend. Second, that would leave the 1967 UNI session unaccounted for. More likely this session was arranged by Dennis Wilson and may be the origin for the claim that the Beach Boys recorded Manson in the summer of 1968.

Gold Star was founded by David S. Gold and Stan Ross in 1950. The name came from David's name, (David) GOLD and Stan's name, STA(n) R(oss). Ross hand made the original recording equipment. However, the studio's claim to fame was its echo chambers.

Gold Star was the recording venue for Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ recordings. However, the Manson-link is the Beach Boys. ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Good Vibrations’ were both recorded at Gold Star in 1966. ‘Home On the Range’, ‘Heroes and Villains’ and other tracks that were to be part of the Smile project were recorded here in 1966 and 1967. Additional songs were recorded at Gold Star by the Beach Boys in March 1969. You can find this at the link, below. 

This site and other sources (in fact, most other sources) claim the Beach Boys ‘Manson’ sessions at Brian’s home occurred sometime during the summer of 1968. They didn't. 


1969 is the most interesting year in Manson’s recording career if for no other reason than supposedly it was his encounters with Terry Melcher in May 1969 that lead directly to the ‘Secondary’ or ‘Revenge’ motive.

It appears the Melcher listened to  Manson on three occasions. The first of these occurred at Dennis Wilson's house and this ended with Wilson giving Melcher a ride back to Cielo Drive with Manson in the back seat. If this event happened it likely happened in 1968 as Melcher moved from Cielo the first week of January, 1969. 

In May 1969 Gregg Jakobson convinced Melcher to come to Spahn Ranch and listen to Manson ‘in his element’. On the second occasion Jakobson arranged to have Michael Deasy and his ‘mobile recording trailer’ present to record the event. I was unable to verify whether Deasy actually recorded Manson on this occasion or if he did what happened to these tapes.

Sound City Studios 

15452 Cabritto Road 

Van Nuys, California

Manson recorded here sometime after April 1969 in Studio B. Sound City’s Facebook page acknowledges that Manson recorded there and says that Dennis Wilson arranged the Sound City sessions for Manson.

“Dennis [Wilson] was the person with the acquaintance with the Manson family-- in a way responsible for Charlie's demos being done at Sound City, sometime in 1968.”

The problem with that timing (1968) is that, according to their own website and the California Corporate Division, Sound City didn't exist until April 1969.



Here is how Studio B is described on one website (probably long after Manson was there): 

Studio Dimensions
Studio : 26' X 18'     Ceilings Height : 14'     Drum Booth : 18' X 9' X 14'
Neve 8038, (34) Inputs, (16) Busses and (24)
Tape Machines
(1) Studer 800MKII 24 Track     (16 Track head stack available)
(2) Studer A80 two tracks     (1/2" & 1/4" heads available )
(1) Panasonic 3700 DAT recorder

Monitoring Systems
George Augsberger Design with JBL Components, Tuned by Steve Brandon
NS - 10M's

Outboard Gear For Studio B
(1)   Yamaha SPX900
(1)   Yamaha SPX990
(2)   Urei 1176 Limiters
(1)   Lang PEQ-2 Equalizer
(1)   Lexicon PCM 42
(1)   EQP-1A
(2)   DBX - 165a compressor / limiters
(2)   DBX - 160xt compressor / limiters
(1)   Eventide H-3500 SE harmonizer
(1)   Eventide H - 949 harmonizer
(1)   Eventide H - 910 harmonizer
(1)   Eventide FL-201 efx processor
(1)   GML 8200 stereo parametric equalizer
(1)   Tube Tech LCA-2B
(1)   Drawmer DS-404 (4 gates )

Some of the greatest albums of all time were recorded at Sound City including After the Gold Rush (Neil Young), Terrapin Station (The Grateful Dead), Rumors (Fleetwood Mac), Damn the Torpedoes (Tom Petty), Nevermind (Nirvana) and Spirit’s The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.

Tom Skeeter and Joe Gottried founded Sound City in 1969. Over 100 gold albums were recorded there between 1969 and 2011. At the heart of the studio's success it is said was its fabled Neve 8028 analogue recording console (pictured above), which Skeeter and Gottfried added to the studio shortly after opening.

David Grohl, formerly of Nirvana, made a documentary about Sound City that won accolades at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. He thought about putting Manson in the film but decided against it.

The date Manson recorded here is unknown. I believe it was in the spring of 1969 as part of Jakobson's efforts to record him during that window. 

Wilder Brothers Studio 

10323 Santa Monica Blvd 

Los Angeles

According to his trial testimony Gregg Jakobson began recording Manson fairly extensively in the Spring of 1969.
Q (Fitzgerald): Did you ever actually record any of the music?
A. Yes.
Q: In a studio?   
A Yes.
Q: On more than one occasion.?
A Yes.


Q. When?
A. This would have been in the Spring of 1969.

Q. (Kanarak) What do you mean, you could have been recording?
A. Well, I mean, I could have gone there to discuss recording. It could have been the time period in which Charlie Manson and I were going to a recording studio a lot and recording.
Q. I see.
Q (Kanarek): And directing your attention, then,- were you recording -- now that you remember it so clearly for us, would you tell us, were you recording on that day?
A. I couldn't tell you.
Q. Well, you --
A. I said before, it could have been the time period, and by "time period," I mean, it was several weeks, or a month that we were going into the studio and recording.

Later, writing under the rather ineffective alias, Lance Fairweather, Jakobson had this to say.

"Sometime later I started recording Charlie at a little studio here called Wilder Studio. And the owner George Wilder, was leery of Charlie because he knew Charlie was an ex-con, and because Charlie to a straight person is sort of a wild looking guy-his eyes, his hair, his movements and everything. So he was a little leery of Charlie and he kept bugging me saying, 'Listen, this guy is an ex-com. I don't know what he's going to do. He might flip out or beat me up or something. And what about my money.'

So Charlie turned to him and said, 'Aw, don't worry about your money. You can have all these guitars.' And Wilder, dumbfounded, said, 'Wait a minute. What does he mean I can have all these guitars?' It really blew his mind. Charlie just walked out, saying, 'You can have 'em man.' He was bugged. He left him two or three amplifiers, two electric guitars, and acoustic guitar and some other instruments."

Quoted in:

Wilder Brothers Studio was founded, not surprisingly, by the Wilder Brothers. The brothers were Warner, Walter and George Weidler. Their mother, a former Wagnerian opera singer in both Germany and the US, encouraged the lads to explore music. They appeared in several films as children and later performed with Les Brown's orchestra and Stan Kenton's orchestra. George also played saxophone.  Doris Day was Les Brown's lead singer (that's Doris to the right). She was married to George from 1946-1949. 

Their early 'solo' work as a vocal group was under the name Weidler Brothers and consisted mostly of polka music. In the mid-fifties they changed their name and released several novelty songs and a few doo-wop singles. That's the brothers to the left (George is on the right). For anyone interested they can be heard here:

The tapes from Sound City and Wilder Brothers have never surfaced but must be fairly extensive based upon Jakobson's comments.

Brian's Home Studio 

10452 Bellagio Road

Los Angeles 

The official narrative says the recording sessions which took place at Brian Wilson's home happened during he summer of 1968. They actually happened a few weeks before the murders during the summer of 1969.

Stephen Desper is a recoding engineer who worked extensively with the Beach Boys. During the summer of 1969 Desper received a call from Beach Boys management telling him that Dennis Wilson wanted him to record Manson. Desper set up a series of nighttime sessions with Manson (and a few of the girls). The mythology that has grown up around these sessions claims that Manson pulled a knife on Desper and threatened him but Desper actually terminated the sessions for a different reason.

Desper left the tapes on a shelf in the studio and later after the murders became the 'Manson murders' was ordered to move them to 'the vault'. To the best of his knowledge no one has ever listened to the tapes and they sit there to this day. 

Here is what Desper has had to say about the sessions.

A day or two before Charlie came to Brian's house studio, I received a call from management (i.e. [Nick] Grillo) that a friend of Dennis' would be coming to the studio such-and-such a night for a recording session that Dennis wanted arranged for Charlie. It was to be a demo session of singing and guitar playing by this guy Charlie Manson. Dennis would not be there. Brian was out and Carl had no interest. It was Charles, myself and several tag-along girls. Actually there were several late-nite sessions until I finally refused to record him further. I can handle almost any artist's idiosyncrasies, of which Charlie had many, but it was the smell of this un-kept and un-washed human that I had to sit next to at the console that I could not or rather did not wish to endure any longer. Why the hell any girl would want to have sex with a person with BO is beyond me, but still there were three or four young ones waiting every night out in the studio to just get the chance; his so-called "family." Charles Manson was Dennis' Brother Records project. No other Beach Boy was interested. At the very least they agreed to give Dennis the studio for a couple of demo sessions -- and then the plan was to listen to what got recorded and see if Dennis' friend was worth a chance on the BRI label. I have often wondered how much my canceling of the demo sessions played in the subsequent unfoldment of events in the follow weeks, as Charles has said his motive for revenge was primed from his belief that his talents were not appreciated by the label -- although he was not that talented and certainly not ready for the recording scene ... as I reported back to management. But then, one can play the "what if" game about any event, and it proves nothing.

To my knowledge they are still in the vault where I was told to place them the day the story broke of the Manson murders. However things in the vault seem to come and go.”


“Please keep in mind as you read all this, that it happened a couple of weeks BEFORE the "event."  So to me he was this creapy guy I was to record playing his Guitar and singing some original songs. I treated Charlie with the same respect as anyone recording in the studio, but he started out a little pushy, or maybe that's how it impressed me. In hind sight I'd say he just had a problem with authority.  At first it was, "I'm going to do this and you record me," whereas after the first playback it became more like, "what do I do now so you can make a better recording." That is, he realized that I was running the session, not him -- that he was out of his league in the studio environment and had best trust an expert if he wanted the end product to reflect his best side. Once that was established he did farily [sic] well as an artist and things moved along. 

“From my perspective, here was a single artist playing a single instrument, and I had eight tracks to capture whatever I wanted. So of course, record the guitar in stereo and the vocal with two mics. That's four tracks. I could have the artist add a bass or overdub. That never happended [sic].  But anyway... Charlie's envision of recording was him in front of a mic. When confronted with four microphones and baffles, he was overwhelmed. He had to sit, or try to stay somewhat in the center between the two mics. His vocal screen had two mics behind it, each with their own track. This would give me two different microphone signatures to blend for a final sound. I was in and out of the studio making adjustments and complaining to him to sit still. He was constantly standing up and being fidgety. I would just get it all adjusted and he would move out of his seat. Finally I told him that if he wanted a successful demo recording he was going to need to settle down and listen to me. I was on his side. Just follow my instructions and play real good. The rest, I'll take care of and make him sound great. Give me your best, and I'll give you mine. So after a while he settled into the whole recording scene and we did get some good tracks.

I recorded Charles Manson playing several songs during the course of a few days. Those tapes were placed on the tape shelf located under the monitors. During the next few weeks and to my knowledge no one ever requested to hear them. They ask me what I thought of him as a potential talent for the label, but then time ran out. That is to say, before the tapes were ever reviewed by anyone, the murders happened and the tapes were locked away. Even Dennis never ask about the tapes only to inquire if he showed up for the sessions. Dennis wanted to be certain that his friend had been able to make the demo recordings, which was what he told Charlie he would arrange for him. 

You see, Manson was very unaware of how these things work. He thought that he would record the demo, then the next day everyone would listen and a contract would be pushed under his nose. In practice, these things may take months to pan out. Undoubtedly Dennis and Charlie talked, but their understandings mean nothing in the music business. They were both lawyers & contracts away from anything meaningful.” 

“If Manson would have exhibited more patience with the situation, eventually someone would hear the demo and make a judgement. Maybe they would buy a song or two. Who knows.”

His impressions of Manson.
“I will be glad to answer any other questions you may have. I'm not afraid to speak on this matter. I got along with Charlie from the start. I found his compelling nature an interesting study in human nature. People who exibit [sic] "animal magnetism" to such a high degree are a rare find. I was fascinated [sic] by this aspect of Manson. This along with his coercing use of half-truths, cleverly constructed to make his point seem logical was, to this engineer and scientist, a curiosity that made him an intriguing character.  I could see how his personality and speech might easily endure him to an uneducated young person. I think Brian, Carl and Mike saw right through Charlie's shroud of self-proclaimed truism, but also realized he was just a means by which Dennis could find easy sex with many young girls, and so indulged Dennis' use of the studio as a way of staying on his pimp's good side.”

About ‘Never Learn Not to Love’

“Manson only had a song with basic chords on the guitar and a melody lead line. It was the 'Boys who took that basic concept and turned it into a real commercial tune. All the added vocal arrangement throughout the entire song was created by Brian and Carl. Manson was only in the studio one evening, by himself and his silent girls. He never conferred or worked in any way with the group.”

“After all the stuff of value that Manson ripped off from Dennis, it [Never Learn Not To Love] was a fair trade for the outline of a song that Manson recorded at the Beach Boy's expense, in their studio. The Beach Boys spoke little about ownership of the song. Dennis took Manson's original concept and made something of it ... something Manson could never have done. If Manson had been a decent person, the Beach Boy organization would have given him credit and treasure, as they did with other writers. But Manson was a thief and did not play by civil rules. By those rules, he was compensated as far as they were concerned.”

 About Manson pulling a knife on Desper during the recording sessions.

“He liked to clean under his fingernails with the blade. It was a switchblade knife. Things like that don't bother me. I made it plain from the on-set that I was in charge of the recording session. When he pulled out his knife, I let him clean himself a few times and then ask Manson if I could see his knife and would he show me how it works -- which he did. Then I ask him again if I could hold the knife to see how the weight was. He did give me the knife and I balanced it on my finger to check the balance. We talked a little about balance and how it affected the toss of the knife. After that he put it in his pocked and got down to the business of recording. This knife nail cleaning habit is not unusual among some would-be tough guys. I saw it practiced while in High School as a student. If it was intended to impress or threaten me; it did not -- and Manson knew it by my at-ease with this practice. In fact, Manson displayed respect for me and told me so when he did not have a light for his cigarette. I went off leaving him along in the control room, to search in Brian's house for a match. When I returned with a book of matches, Charlie thought that was really something -- that I would make such an effort on his behalf. (Actually I just did not want him wondering around Brian and Marylin's house looking for a light.) At any event it did tend to make a positive impression in him.”

About the myth that Manson had Dennis Wilson’s home ‘creepy-crawled’.
“I am NOT an expert on the Dennis/Manson matter. All I know is what happened in the studio at those few evening demo sessions with Charlie. I do recall being told that Dennis was laying low for a while, but that's about it.  Never heard any talk around the studio of "creepy-crawlers" in Dennis' bedroom. But if such a thing would have taken place, I would think that everyone would be placed under police protection at that point. Dennis could easily have gone to a cabin, or flown to NYC or Canada if he really wanted to lay low. I doubt if Manson had a passport or the means to fly anywhere. Besides he would need to take a three-hour bath just to get onto an airplane.”

These quotes were taken from Stephen Desper’s comments on this website.,1203.0.html

You have to search through the thread to find the Manson comments. If you go to the site and then to page 75 of the thread and scroll down you will see that ‘Dreath’ makes an appearance. I had hoped given his comment (above) that Mr. Desper might have been willing to let me interview him. As you can see, he declined. However, he was kind enough to confirm the general date of the sessions: 'several weeks before the murders'. That would mean sometime in June or July, 1969.

What about Bugliosi's ‘secondary’ motive?

IMO: It's crap (and I don't care what Manson has said). 

In order for the revenge motive to make any sense two things are essential. First, Manson’s recording career must be at a dead end by July 1969 or at least he had to perceive it that way. Second, Terry Melcher has to be the culprit. Neither of these are supported by the evidence.

In July 1969 Manson’s musical career, far from being at a dead end, had just received a big shot of adrenaline. He was recorded over several nights by Stephen Desper at Brian Wilson’s home studio and the tapes were sitting there waiting for review by Dennis and the Boys. The Boys are going to give them a listen and decide if he was something Brother Records wanted to pick up. Only a few weeks passed after the sessions until the murders occurred, per Desper. There isn't time for a melt down. 

Desper states that he told ‘management’ that he did not think Manson was ready but also acknowledges they recorded some good songs. This was Dennis Wilson’s Brother Records project. According to Desper the band had to listen to the tapes and then make a decision.

Dennis Wilson corroborates Stephen Desper in the interview that appeared in Rave magazine in May 1969: 

"Fear is nothing but awareness. I was frightened as a child because I did not understand fear- the dark, being lost, what was under the bed! It came from within. Sometimes the Wizard frightens me- Charlie Manson, who is another friend of mine who says he is God and the devil! He sings, sings, plays and writes poetry and may be another artist for Brother Records."

Wilson is still talking about Manson a month or so later in another interview that appeared in the July 5, 1969 issue of the Record Mirror. 

So it appears there was interest on Wilson's part a few weeks before the murders. If Desper is correct the issue boiled down to getting the Beach Boys to sit down and listen to the tapes and make a decision. That never happened. Given their schedule from May through September 1969 it is really not surprising.

It also doesn't appear that Melcher's primary 'role' focused on Manson's music. By May, Gregg Jakobson had been pushing Manson on Melcher not to record him (initially) but to make a documentary about Manson and the Family. That's why he took Melcher to Spahn. If the Melcher/Jakobson connection was primarily music why not just give Melcher the Wilder tapes and ask him to take a listen? Jakobson believed that a film about Manson would be the avenue to introduce his music? He then thought Melcher would also record Manson. It was, as he has said, a package.

Q (Bugliosi). Did you ever want to make a documentary film, on him?
A. Yes.
Q. Did you discuss your interest in Manson with Terry Melchior [sic]?'
A. Yes.
Q. Did, you want Melchior to somehow be involved in this project?
A. I did.
Q. In what fashion?
A. As a producer, financier.

Lance Fairweather (Jakobson)

"I wanted Terry Melcher to meet Charlie and make this film of him. If we could sell the man, his music would emerge, so I wanted some backing for the film.”

I find it interesting that shortly after these events Robert Hendrickson obtained access to make his documentary, 'Manson'. Perhaps Manson's discussions with Jakobson paved the way for that.

Now, could it be that after the Beach Boys sessions Wilson may have gotten wind of the Bernard Crowe shooting (which leads to Mick Love's fable about an M16)? Yes, it might have happened that way and if it did Wilson and Jakobson may have both quickly distanced themselves from Manson by mid-July.

Lance Fairweather seems to hint that something like that did happen.
“Also, he supposedly shot a spade in the stomach in Topanga. A friend called me up and said, "You know that crazy guy Charlie? He shot some spade in the stomach, then took his jacket, bent over, kissed his feet and said, 'I love you, brother.'" And I said, "That sounds like Charlie, all right.”

And Jakobson also suggests this may have happened during his interview by Bugliosi February 20, 1970. Jakobson says he heard about the Crowe shooting from 'Bryan Lukas and Dennis [Wilson]' and didn't believe it until they mentioned Charlie kissing 'the guys feet'. Then he believed it was Manson. But again, no timeframe is given. Audio Archives: Gregg Jakobson Interviewed by Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi 2/20/70, Part 4 at 6:18. 

Could Wilson and Jakobson suddenly severing ties with Manson  actually be the catalyst for Bugliosi's 'revenge' motive? Maybe. 

The problem is: it's the wrong guy.

Bugliosi says the 'target' of the 'revenge' was Melcher. 

If Wilson suddenly in mid-July pulled the plug on his relationship with Manson and killed Manson's career why would Manson blame Melcher who simply didn't make an offer back in May? He wouldn't if revenge was his motive. If revenge for a failed musical career was a motive at all the target should have been Wilson or the Beach Boys and Manson knew where Brian Wilson and Dennis Wilson lived. And that might have been a bigger 'Helter Skelter' hit then Cielo.

Alternatively, why not take it out on Jakobson? He recorded Manson extensively in the spring of '69 and arranged the Melcher visits to Spahn and that had gone nowhere. Somehow that particular 'broken promise' didn't seem to bother Manson-at least Dennis got a bullet.

In my opinion the revenge motive never existed. But that is my opinion.

Postscript: A lot of musicians had contact with Manson 1967-9. One of my favorite bands is Lowell George and Little Feat. And while doing research for this post I found this:

"You can't look at Little Feat, or any artistic entity, for that matter, without looking at the time and place in which the phenomenon occurred. The individuals who would come together to form Little Feat couldn’t help but be affected by such harrowing events as the recent murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the worsening Vietnam situation, and of course the Manson horrors, which literally struck close to home.

"The LaBianca murders happened just a half-mile up from Lowell’s house on Ben Lomond," Payne recalls with a shudder. "I was sleeping in Lowell’s VW van outside his house at the time, and although it was like 100 degrees in there, I didn’t dare open the windows, I was so freaked out. Then, a few months later, up in Isla Vista, some maniac was hacking people up with an ax, right on the beach where I’d been sleeping. That was a weird year, 1969."

Van Dyke Parks tells a related story: "I attempted to write some songs with Lowell, one called ‘Are the Stars Out Tonight?’ We went to a trailer out in Topanga, a teardrop-shaped thing, ovoid, like an Airstream. There was a note on the wall: ‘I'll be right back. – Charlie.’ I said, "Who is that?" He said, ‘Charles Manson.’ And I said, ‘What are we doing here?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, that was several months ago.’"

Little Feat/2000/Bud Scoppa/Rhino Records/The Little Feat Saga

Postscript #2: In the course of researching this post I tried to run down the gold records Manson 'acquired' from Dennis Wilson. Bugliosi says Wilson gave Manson nine or ten. According to Bugliosi Mrs. Arlene Barker received one of the records. And I found one. What happened to it after any sale, I don't know.

(The Oregonian, February 11, 1986) 

Cheryl Spahn died in a terrible car accident in 1991. 

Pax Vobiscum