"I was just afraid. I got a van and I drove all over Europe, just fearing for my life," Stromberg says in a recent episode of iHeart's the 'Stones Touring Party' podcast
Gary Stromberg, a producer and PR firm co-founder who oversaw phenomenons like Elton John, Crosby Stills & Nash, Ray Charles, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, is recalling the time he found out he was on Charles Manson's hit list.
In an episode of the Stones Touring Party podcast, hosted by former PEOPLE editor Jordan Runtagh, Stromberg said he met Manson when visiting his good friend Phil Kaufman — who was Manson's cellmate — in prison.
"I would go see Phil in prison and write to him, and he asked if I could get him some acid, so I would drop acid onto stationary droplets and write letters to them," he said in an archived interview by journalist Robert Greenfield, who toured with the Rolling Stones in the summer of 1972 and conducted interview with the band and their entourage.
He adds, "So, they'd cut it up into segments and he would pass it around. Charlie [Manson] got his acid from me!"
When Manson was released from prison he had dreams of joining the music business, so Kaufman put him in contact with Stromberg, who was working for Universal at the time. One day, Manson showed up for a meeting.
"I call this guy Russ Reagan, who was the head of Uni Records — they had just started the label. I said, 'There’s a guy here, I think you should listen to him.' He said, 'Sure, bring him up,'" he recalls. "So I went up to his office. Charlie sits on his desk and starts playing music. Russ is like, 'What is this?' Out of embarrassment, says, 'I'll give you money to do a demo.' So we set up a demo."
They went on to record five songs with Stromberg serving as a producer and he said the "music was terrible." (The songs were later released in 1970's Lie: The Love and Terror. Manson also wrote the Beach Boys song "Never Learn Not to Love" with drummer Dennis Wilson.)
"I took it up to Russ the next day. We listened to it and Russ said, 'Just get rid of this, this is terrible.' And I did. Charlie got really upset with me because I wasn't able to help him," he said of Manson, who went on to live with Wilson for some time. "He tried to get me to try other labels and I said, 'I’m sorry, this isn’t me. This isn’t what I do.' And Charlie, we just split up on bad terms."
After things didn't workout with Stromberg, Manson found music producer Terry Melcher who also ended up turning him down after a recording session. Coincidentally, on Aug. 9, 1969, Manson instructed his followers to visit 10050 Cielo Drive and kill everyone inside. Melcher had lived there during the time they worked together.
"When all of that s--- went down with [Sharon] Tate and all, he got arrested. Then the FBI came to me to inform me that when they had arrested Charlie, they had found a list of people that he intended to murder — and that I was on that list," he says. "So I high-tailed it out of town! I went to Europe and just hung up for a month or two and moved around. I was just afraid. I got a van and I drove all over Europe, just fearing for my life."
He continues, "I knew there were other guys that were still on the street. They were still part of the Manson movement. I mean, I knew Charlie over the course of a few months, so I knew a little bit about him, and [knew that] him getting arrested did not remove the threat. So I just kept moving around in Europe for a while until I felt it was safe to come back."
The full episode, which also explores The Stones' return to Los Angeles for a gig at the Palladium, where "an unhinged Satanist appears at the stage door, claiming to be the band's dead guitarist Brian Jones," is available to listen here.
During a two-day spree in August 1969, Manson and his followers were responsible for the murders of seven people, including 26-year-old actress Sharon Tate.
The killings were part of a plot by Manson to start a race war, which he named “Helter Skelter” after the Beatles song. They were particularly gruesome in nature: A pregnant Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, was found stabbed 16 times, with an “X” carved into her stomach inside her secluded Los Angeles home in the canyons above Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Also murdered were coffee heiress Abigail Folger, writer Voytek Frykowski, hairstylist Jay Sebring, and 18-year-old delivery boy Steven Parent. Their bodies were discovered the following day.
Manson died of natural causes at age 83 in November 2017.