It was 1967. I was in between bands and working in a record store on 15th street when the phone rang. On the other end was Paul Hornsby. Paul had been playing with the Hour Glass who had just changed their name from The Allman Joys and went out to Hollywood and got a record deal. I met Paul Hornsby for the first time in Poogie Pool's basement. I was rehearsing with Poogie, Tippy and I can't remember who else. Paul came in with a Fender Jaguar and plugged it and started playing with us. Paul was a mutual friends with a lot of the Tuscaloosa musicians I knew. Paul was pretty good back in those days. He had been playing with my friends Eddie Hinton, Bill Connell and Fred Styles in a group called The "5 Men-its". Eddie was the lead singer and really one of my early inspirations as a songwriter. Anyway, Paul had just come back from the West Coast to tie up some affairs and return to L.A.. He wanted me to share the driving with him on his return trip. I declined the offer but after Paul left, I got to thinking I should have gone. Someone had made the comment that the only things we regret are the things we don't do, so I got busy making plans to go West.

The Hour Glass was comprised of a couple of some guys I had met during our beach club days, Gregg and Duane Allman along with Johnny Sandlin , Paul and a bass player named Bob Keller. Later our friend Pete Carr joined the group. The Hour glass had made some really good records of other people's songs. I remember Greg singing the crap out of Carol King's "No Easy Way Down", but it was 180 from what Duane wanted to do so they busted up in the spring of '68, around the time I got to California. It could go without saying but I will say it anyway. Those guys in the Hour Glass became the core of Southern Rock. Duane's idea. Duane's Band but Greg's songs and Greg's voice. Hornsby and Sandlin produced many of those acts like The Marshall Tucker Band, Cowboy and others. L.A. works for some, not for others. When I got to L.A. I knew I had found my tribe. But it's a tribe really of not so much people from here. It's people from all over. All over America and all over the world. I sincerely enjoy the breadth of that horizon to this day.

The Rubber Band

The Allman Joys

The Rockin' Gibraltars

I had saved a few thousand bucks to make the California trip and was able to stretch that out for about 4 months. I had been staying with a friend up in Laurel Canyon and contemplating my next move when the phone rings once more in a timely fashion, and it's my old friends from Montgomery, Ed Sanford, another compadre I had met during the aforementioned beach music days. The band was The Rockin' Gibraltars. (I always loved that name.) They had come upon an opportunity through some Hollywood movie producer and wanted to come to L.A. to record but their singer, Sonny Grier, had a family and wasn't up for the financial risk involved. So, they were calling me to see if I wanted to come back to Alabama, work myself into the band, do a few gigs for some money and head back to California. It sounded like a logical and agreeable thing to do, so I said yes. They flew me back to Montgomery where we followed the prescribed plan of gigging and amassing some traveling capital, "The Rocking Gibraltars" morphed into me "Heart" (This band, of course, predated the group Heart from the 70s and 80s) and hit the road for California.

When I arrived in Hollywood for the second time, it just reinforced my desire to be there. We had come all the way to L.A. in a GMC van pulling a trailer with our equipment and our suitcases. I got behind the wheel and drove them down Sunset Boulevard to show them why we were there. On practically every corner was a club or concert venue with bands playing music. There was so much happening on the music scene at that time and we couldn't get enough. On the same night you could see Traffic at the Whisky, Electric Flag and Muddy Waters at the old Moulin Rouge with 8 other great bands, Sons of Champlin at the Experience and Laura Nyro at the Troubadour, and I was out every night. And true to form, for those days, we got a record deal in no time at all with Reprise Records, a division of Warner Brothers. We had several single releases with some regional success and I guess the highlight of that band was touring as an opening act for Jimi Hendrix. We got to do that tour with Jimi because a Reprise promotion man named Russ Shaw, who had taken a liking to us, took me and Sanford to a house up in Benedict Canyon one day to meet Jimi. As we pulled into the place, Russ pointed out an adobe wall adjacent to the driveway that had the autographs of all the Beatles and a dozen or so notable rockers who had all stayed at this residence during their time in L.A. Jimi was the nicest cat you would ever want to meet. He was sitting in the living room with his shirt was off and playing and old beat up gut string guitar and coming out of it was some of the most outrageously hot blues I had ever heard, and by all appearances, here was a man that had been born a guitar and grew onto it. Jimi had just finished an American tour and was killing time until his next tour of the Pacific Rim. He didn't like sitting around and had enlisted the help of our friend the Promotion Man who connected us with an agent to book a half dozen gigs in secondary markets on the West Coast, Fresno, Bakersfield, San Bernadino and a few others. That meeting was arranged for us to meet Jimi and hook up with him as his opening act for this tour. We were ecstatic to be going out with the premier rock 'n roll musician of our time. I'll never forget that tour and Jimi was a class guy with never the slightest attitude about his stardom. He did get a little hot under the collar the night we played in Bakersfield. The little Civic Auditorium we played had some sort of curfew and when 11:00 PM rolled around the hack that was running the arena cut the power right in the middle of one of Jimi's solo extravaganzas. Jimi threw his guitar down and walked over to stage right and asked some people, "who cut the power?" They all pointed to the building manager who got soundly punched in the nose by Jimi. Nobody seemed to be worried about the guy on the floor, they were all worried about Jimi's hand, with the Pacific Rim Tour coming up in a few days. As a side note, Jimi had one roady that did everything. He was a little Cockney fellow named Eric. He worked hand in hand with our guy, Kim Payne, from Wetumpka, Alabama. I marveled the whole tour how two people who supposedly spoke the same language, but couldn't understand a word of what the other was saying. After a couple of rounds, Kim finally figured out "torch" meant "flashlight" and they kinda worked it out from there. I found it extraordinary that we never had any technical problems. Somehow, together, they got it all working every night, given the language barrier.

We also played a series of concerts at the Shrine Auditorium in those days. Every month we were on the bill with groups like Poco, Canned Heat, Albert Collins, Iron Butterfly and dozens and dozens of other groups and got to play for tens of thousands of people. But, after several months of sparsely occurring gigs and some more lean times, several of the Heart band members succumbed to homesickness and returned to Alabama. Can't really blame folks when things don't seem to be going well. But once again, L.A. ain't for everybody. I found I could survive here just as well as back home and there was a whole lot more of what I wanted to do on the left coast, so I struck upon the idea to bring out some old friends to L.A. and see if we could make a go of it. I had a management connection and they trusted me enough to fly my guys out from Alabama. So, I picked up Tippy, Joe Rudd and Lou Millinex from LAX. We piled their luggage and instruments into a van and I remember being very excited that my old friends from Tuscaloosa were here. I knew a few places where we could play and the manager had a house out in the Valley he owned and we practically lived in for free. We had an opportunity to do something but I've never been good a lighting fires under people that just didn't get it, so that was short lived. But as fortune would have it, just as the band Heart and the new venture were slowly fading into history, I ran into some guys that were later to become successful as part of the back up band for Loggins and Messina.

I had first met Larry Sims and Merel Bregante at an apartment building named The Mikado in Hollywood. It was the first place I stayed in L.A. at Paul Hornsby's apartment. Also, living in the complex were Merel and Larry who were playing with The Sunshine Company at that point, Dewey Martin of the Buffalo Springfield, Richie Furay of the Springfield and several other members of popular L.A. bands. Gregg and Duane were staying around the corner in an apartment on Lash Lane. I was once again in awe of my surroundings and some of the people in it. I had found my Tribe. It wouldn't be for a couple of years yet, but I did eventually hook up with Merel and Larry to do some performing and recording. Larry wanted to bring in some guys who were old friends of his who played in a group called "Cash" on Dot Records. That was Mike Collings and Roger White. The very first time we all got together in Larry's living room in an apartment in the Valley, we hit it off and within about 30 minutes we had written the song "Friends". We got in the studio a couple of nights later with our engineer friend J.R. Shanklin and recorded it. We immediately got some interest in the recording because J.R. had started shopping the song to record labels without our knowing. J.R. sold our demo to White Whale Records for five thousand bucks and the minuted he got back to his office with the check, Atlantic called and offered him ten thousand. Then the shit started to hit the fan. Columbia Records also wanted the group and offered us twice what Atlantic had offered. J.R. kept all the money and that started a rift in the band that wouldn't heal and Larry and Merel back away and continued playing with the Sunshine Company. Me, Roger and Mike were what was left over and we went out and found ourselves a bass player, Stever Woodard, and a drummer, Dan Greer. We wrote some more songs and made some demos and went out to do a club gig for a couple of weeks in nearby San Bernadino. It was one of those clubs that had an apartment with bunks upstairs where the band lived while working there. It was a toilet but we were able to get locked with each other and do some un-original songs as well. We did our own stuff but mixed in songs by The Band and other popular groups of the time. On the last night of our club gig we decided to drive back to L.A. that night and we couldn't wait to get out of San Bernadino. As we were driving back into L.A. that night, I remember Dan Greer was driving and we were all falling asleep in the back. Dan said, I need to turn on the radio so the music will help keep me awake. He turned on the radio to KHJ, which was the #1 Top 40 station in the Western United States and after the first commercial break, we damn nearly ran off the freeway when we heard our song "Friends" coming out of the speakers. Out of nowhere, we were a hit.

Bobby Dupree, JT, Ed Sanford
Rusty Crumpton & Keith Brewer

You mean that shy
little Johnny Townsend?

Mitch, Jimi and Noel
That band was called Feather. We were originally on White Whale Records but jumped ship when CBS Records offered us a lot more money. The top 20 hit we had was called Friends. Feather had a nice run and made us a little money but I never was completely happy with the overall musical style of the band. I did learn a lot about vocal harmonies from those guys but I always thought we were a bit "light" musically. So, after some parting pleasantries, I was once again bandless in Los Angeles.

I spent about a year doing odd jobs and whatever and just when I'm thinking I'd run my course, I ran into my old friend from Montgomery, Ed Sanford who I played with in the group Heart. We spent about a year writing songs whenever we could and after a while decided it was time to hit the streets and see if we could land us a songwriter deal somewhere but we needed to make some demos of our new songs. In timely, cosmic fashion our friend and drummer Merel Bregante who I had played with in the group Feather was now with Loggins and Messina and making a big splash with their music. Merel hooked me and Sanford up with this great recording engineer named Alex Kazanegras. Alex had a mobile recording truck with which he had recorded all the Loggins and Messina records. He took a liking to us and let us do demos for free in his studio. When I say "studio", it was more than that. It was also a Mobile Truck where he recorded Flo & Eddie, Loggins and Messina and a host of other high profile acts around the country. Alex is one of the best recording engineers I've ever worked with.

Feather was Roger white, JT, Steve
Woodard Mike Collings & Dan Greer

Listen to:

Chappel Music signing - 1974
Front Row - JT, Harry Auerhan, Ed Sanford
Back Row - Errol Sober, Dave Ellingson, Kim Carnes & Eddie Reeves
These demos eventually landed us a songwriter deal with Chappel Music and from there we were able to saturate all the record companies with our songs until somebody started to pay attention. Those somebodys were Warner Brothers Records and Jerry Wexler.

Sanford and I went to Muscle Shoals with our band and Jerry Wexler as our producer. Working with Jerry was a rare privilege that I will always remember as great learning experience. Jerry brought Barry Beckett on board as a combination 7th band member and musical director. All the guys in the band had a great respect for Barry and I consider him to be a close friend for many years. Anyway, what came out of those sessions was the record that was the most successful of any that I've been involved with to date. Smoke From A Distant Fire is still earning for us over 35 years later. The Sanford/Townsend Band toured successfully for about 8 years. We went all over the world and shared the stage with a lot of premier acts of that time.

One of my favorite photos is this one of Feather, looking like a bunch of wild west
train robbers, camping out at Mt. Ranier during a Pacific Northwest survival tour.
- Left to Right -
Seated: Johnny T. and Mike Collings
Standing: Steve Woodard, Roger White, Dan Greer, Thom Walls and Ed Sanford

These were some great times !!





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