Thursday, June 08, 2023

Cruising Sunset with Davy Jones in his Classic Cadillac

by Daniel Cano                                                                                    

A truly nice person

     It was 1969. I had my army discharge, and I was free at last. Some friends and I started a band, why not, a good way to meet girls, make a little money, and who knows, maybe hit it big. This was Los Angeles, garage bands were big, playing house parties, school dances, writing a few songs, getting booked up on Sunset Strip, and boom, a contract with Capitol Records, or so we thought.

     Some kids in the neighborhood had started that way, like Jan and Arnie in the early 60’s. Arnie lived a few blocks away, near Stoner Park, and attended the local West L.A. high school, University. The two met at Emerson Jr. High, got themselves an early hit record, "Gas Money". Arnie tired of the music scene, so Jan hooked up with Dean. You may have heard of them Jan and Dean. David Crosby also attended University High. He did some folk singing, joined The Byrds, and blew up the folk-rock scene before he teamed up with Stills and Nash.

     My friend Marco Sanchez, played guitar, and since he wasn’t a bit nervous about singing in front of people, he became the lead singer. Marco’s older brother Manuel, and Manuel’s two friends, Vic Diaz and Tony Minicello, found minor success as the Sinners. They were the house band at Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip, which got them a regular gig on the television show Hollywood a-Go-Go. My friend Arthur Enriguez, with his electric guitar, accompanied Kathy Young in a talent show at Daniel Webster Jr. High. She later recorded "A Thousand Stars." That gave us some motivation.

     I played bass and sang. Phil Aguilar, another local boy, who moved west from Hollywood, where he was raised, played drums, and Al Carranza, a smooth blues guitarist, whose dad, Fred, played on the radio in a Mexican trio, was on lead guitar. We weren’t bad and started playing parties and bars around town. Still, no way could we give up our day jobs. I worked for my cousin, in his gardening, landscape business. One of his early clients, Big Al, my cousin called him, owned P.J.’s disco, where Trini Lopez, Johnny Rivers, and other artists performed.

     I’m not exactly sure how my cousin started landing the big celebrity clients, but his business was a gold mine. Maybe it was through Jan, since my cousin and Jan both attended Unihi and played football. Maybe it was Lou Adler, music and film mogul, who produced records by Jan and Dean, Carole King, Johnny Rivers, Cheech and Chong, the Mamas and Papas, and a gang of others. My cousin did some work for Adler, who probably got him work with artists like Peter Fonda, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, baseball great Leo Durocher, and a few directors and producers.

     It was the late “Sixties”. The younger rock ‘n rollers went from working-class garage band status to international stardom. The money poured in. They couldn’t drink or snort it all up, so they hired managers who invested in property; that is, if the managers didn’t run off with the earnings. When you’re “high,” you don’t pay attention to details.

     The rockers, actors, and artists found themselves living in these enormous homes, some mansions, in the hills, Bel-Air, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Laurel Canyon. It’s one thing to own a monstrous home, it’s another thing to maintain it, especially the "grounds".

     Notice I didn’t say “yards.” Man, they didn’t have yards. They had grounds, acres, sometimes mountainsides. That’s where my cousin and other relatives came in. The estates took upkeep, sometimes two or three guys working three-days a week, and since you were inside the compound, the rockers needed people they could trust. My cousin could walk into the kitchen, and the cook would make him a sandwich and give him a soda. They offered him other stuff, which he didn't take.

     They all called him Buzz, his high school moniker. He was in his thirties, youngish, a high school football and baseball star. He didn’t do any of the hard work. He talked to the clients to keep them happy. Sometimes he'd be in their homes playing pool, and taking their money. This was before Mexican migrants took over the gardening business in L.A. The older Japanese Americans who started the business were retiring, their kids wanting nothing to do with power mowers, rakes, or hoses, so the Chicanos met the demand.

     I quickly noticed the blue-collar pecking order. Electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and pool cleaners were mostly white, the maids, chauffeurs, and housemen African American, and the gardeners Chicano, or Japanese. In L.A., there’s a long history to this, which anyone who has taken an ethnic studies class understands. Otherwise, a little common sense helps.

       I worked for my cousin, played in the band and attended J.C., not sure how far I’d go. Like a lot of Vietnam veterans, I was part of a new “lost generation,” on the road, evading a stable lifestyle, and trying to figure it out day by day. I sure as hell knew I didn’t want to pull weeds, prune plants, and water gardens for the rest of my life, even if, ironically, at the time, it offered me the peace and flexibility I needed. My other cousin, Buzz's younger brother, Johnny, told me, except for the work, “It’s like hanging out every day in someone’s Babylon,” part Garden of Eden, part Sodom and Gomorrah. Lordy, the things we saw, or what were invited to do.

     Davy Jones’ house was the last house on the route. I’d work there Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. When he wasn’t touring, Davy would come out, a joint in hand, and walk through his garden. I was twenty-one. He was twenty-three, friendly, and curious, like wanting to know why I would be working as a gardener. I told him it was just a part-time gig.

     We’d talk. He was a working-class kid from Manchester who had struck it big as a child actor, then as a member of the Monkees. When I told him I’d just gotten out of the army and had been to Vietnam, he freaked. He wanted to know everything about the war, so I’d tell him my experiences. It was kind of cool. I didn’t know him that well, so I could be honest with him, and I think he told me some stuff he might only tell a close friend, or a stranger.

     At the time, the war was still raging. He was eligible for the draft. Being a rock star didn’t protect him. He wasn’t enrolled in college, and he didn’t have the kind of job that warranted a deferment. Once, he lifted up his shirt to show me his bare chest, bone, nothing but bone, neckbone, collar bone, rib cage, all pushing against his thin, white skin, hardly no muscle at all. He said, “I’m down to 110. For my height,” he was about five-three, “they can’t take me if I stay this thin.”

     Davy lived in the Hollywood hills, right above Sunset boulevard. His house was a traditional colonial and set on a bluff, probably some 100 to 200 feet above the canyon below, nothing but steep chaparrel on either side. There were walkways along the hillside, where I had to hump up and down taking care of the landscape.

     On this one afternoon, he came out. I was standing on the driveway, getting ready to leave. We talked a little. He could tell something wasn’t right with me. He asked. I told him the bad news. He shook his head and said he was going through something like that, also. My truck was parked up near the long entrance, just inside the tall security gate.

     He asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I said sure. We hopped into his classic convertible Cadillac. He called out to his girlfriend to tell her we’d be back in a little while. The big gate opened automatically, and we drove down King’s Drive onto Sunset boulevard. He loved to talk and tell stories, telling me about his concerts and how when the guys arrived at the hotel there would be gobs of weed and cocaine waiting for them. He didn’t say it like he was bragging, more like it was just part of the business, and not all of it good. He liked the fans and the attention, but it could get difficult, and lonely on the road.

     As we drove west on Sunset, we stopped at a traffic light right across from the Whiskey. “Want to see something,” he asked, mischievously? He didn’t wait for me to answer. There were like, maybe, ten hippie girls at the bus stop. “Watch,” he said, pulling closer to the bus stop. “Hey, girls,” he called.

     They looked at us, like we were bothering them. It took a few seconds. He gave them that big Davy smile, and they went nuts, shrieking and hollering, begging for a ride. A few just stood there, disbelieving, like they were made of stone. Just then the light turned green and off we went. “It’s like that all the time,” he said.

     We drove to his friend’s house up on Mulholland Drive. It was one of those early modernist homes, squarish and a lot of glass. A guy greeted him warmly at the door. Inside there were three or four others, all guys. In the middle of the table was a stack of weed. I didn’t feel out of place by the way I was dressed. Everybody looked like workers. It was the style, and, luckily, I was clean.

     Davy introduced me as a friend who had just come back from Vietnam. Tan skin was cool. Everbody was into Indians. I noticed a large stereo system built into a wall, speakers throughout the large living room, music blasting. We walked outside onto the patio, a mountaintop retreat overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The bottom of the pool was painted a deep blue. We hung out, talking and listening to music until the sun went down.

     The next stop was a cottage, something out of Hansel and Gretel. It was down the mountain, across Sunset in Beverly Hills. It was like a party was in full swing. Davy walked in and people greeted him, not like a celebrity but like a friend. He included me in his conversations and was interested in what I had to say on a topic. Except, by this time, everything had gotten pretty silly, and we were laughing a lot. Still, it was a strange world, his world. I sensed a mixture in the crowd, some people the kids of privilege and others working-class kids who had struck gold, either in music or acting. Truthfully, though, nobody seemed to care. They were just chilling.

     About 9:00 PM or so, we headed back to Davy’s. The Strip was packed with teenagers. We zipped into Davy’s driveway. He probably had an engagement because he was rushing. I thanked him. We shook hands, and he was off to his next adventure.

     Truthfully, I don’t remember much after that day, whether I saw him again or not. I’m sure I did, both of us back to our societal roles. The adventure, and that’s what it was, definitely, is etched in my brain permanently. 

     I never told Buzz about it. He could care less. He dealt with these people all the time, but I did tell my cousin, Johnny, a hardcore cholo-turned hippie, about it. Johnny loved the story, and over the years, he’d always ask, “Hey, primo, remember the day Davy Jones took you cruising?” He’d want me to tell the story over again, and we’d laugh about it.

     I didn’t really follow Davy’s career since I wasn’t a Monkees’ fan. I did always think about him and wondered what happened after the Monkees broke up. It was in 2012, just another day, and I heard on the news, Davy had died, suddenly, of a heart attack. It took me by surprise. He was still fairly young. My heart sank a little, like losing a friend, reminding me of friends I'd lost in the war. 

     Strange how life works. I can’t call him a friend, not really; yet, somehow, back in ’69, as famous as he was, his face known all over the world, something told him, on that one particular day, I needed a friend, if only for one evening, so he asked, "Want to go for a ride?"        


Thelma T. Reyna said...

Wow, Daniel. Your storytelling chops are on full display here. Thank you for this slice-of-life peek into overlapping cultures and social strata of the 60s, with big and little differences, but, ultimately, with commonalities. Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Great adventure thanks Danny

sandraramosobriant said...

Great look back!

Anonymous said...

Ive heard part of that story before, the part you wrote that my dad would ask u to tell him about (the two of you pulli g up to fans) but never heard the part before an where an what the two of did, very interesting thank you for sharing

charley trujillo said...

Good stuff, carnal

Anonymous said...

Great slice of history! I remember "Bog Al" ... played with you, Marco, his brother Manuel and Al Carranza my brother.
Thank you for sharing that great story.
I also worked PJs and have some funny stories about that place. Rock on Danny!

Anonymous said...

Bob Conti

Barbara Nimmo said...

Great blog post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventures with Davy Jones. The vivid descriptions of the underwater world and the thrill of cruising really drew me in.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. It’s interesting to hear how you connect with the story

Jennifer Walsh said...

I absolutely loved reading about Davy Jones' sunset cruise in his classic Cadillac! It's a nostalgic journey into the past. Plus, for those looking to explore more vintage car experiences, keeping an eye out for doubledownpromocodes might lead to discounts on similar adventures. Thanks for sharing this delightful story!