MILESAGO - Features

KEITH GLASS: A Life In Music

Part 4: "Hair", 1969-71

I still don’t know what ever possessed me to roll up and audition for "Hair: the tribal love-rock musical." Doing so was certainly flavour of the moment in 1969, it seems like someone from every band working around Melbourne and Sydney did. We were all caught up in the feeling there was some sort of revolution going on. So, laughable as it seems we saw this event not as a corporate rip-off but a genuine youth proclamation on the state of the world. Might seem deluded from this distance but with the conflict over involvement in Vietnam, the hysteria over drugs, etc just wearing your hair long was still an act of defiance almost guaranteed to get you clobbered in the wrong place or situation.

This was a generational thing as much as a factional but the latter, youth sub-groups at each others throats, was hardly new. Just in my time we’d had the rockers beating shit out of the jazzers (a specifically Melbourne experience) then the skinheads/sharpie’s running riot for a while without media detection because these neatly dressed, short haired cretins didn’t attract the attention the freaks they regularly beat up did. In the mid to late 1960’s it was dangerous just to walk up Swanston Street as the sun went down for fear of sharpie attack - the media finally got the message and they were banned from a lot of venues and vilified in the newspapers - not unjustly.

In Cam-Pact we’d often put our lives in danger in country towns by just going to the local pub. I well remember the shouts of derision as the long haired poofta’s entered the bar. Amazingly I never had a punch thrown at me, but came very, very close.

In any event I must have been ready for a change so I showed up to the open call at (I think) the Melbourne Town Hall and sang a song or two. Guess I looked sort of the part, in the latter stages of Cam-Pact my hair was pretty long and bushy. So I was asked back the next day when I read a few lines from the script, jumped around a bit and was offered a place ? simple as that. Nothing as drawn out as the "Popstars" auditions I can tell you. Director Jim Sharman told me he had the part of "Berger" in mind for me and would I mind perming my hair into an afro?

That was small potatoes in relation to telling my parents I was "deferring" the RMIT course I’d been trying to fit in around working 4 nights a week in the band and of course, I had to tell the group members I was leaving too. I was signing on for a 18 month contract, thought that would be enough to see out the show around Australia and maybe New Zealand too? How wrong I was!

As I was going to be paid far more than scale for this leading role I weirdly enough had to fend for myself in a/getting to Sydney, b) finding accommodation and c) negotiating the actual salary. If I had a theatrical agent thing may have been easier but coming from the rock/pop side of things I knew virtually nothing about that as various members of the
regular cast, some of whom made a big deal of mentioning their years of study at NIDA were quick to point out! Anyway I sorted out a suitable figure to ask for and it sounded like a fortune; after a bit of to and fro with Harry Miller’s money man it was agreed and I had to draw on my forthcoming salary. As a lead I wasn’t being paid for the four week
rehearsal period!

The show was being put together in a small pavilion at the Sydney Showgrounds (now Fox Studios) right by Centennial Park. First day the media turned up and took shots of all the new cast members throwing their arms up in the air and generally doing an ‘Age of Aquarius’ type hippie celebratory dance on the spot -- we hadn’t even met each other

I had one friend who’d made the cut -- Graham "Fluffy" Matters, who had been in a band called Carnival, their demise meant Cam-Pact had a new recruit, bass player Chris Lofven, boy genius film maker who later directed the movie, the ‘Aussie Rock’ version of "Oz". I met Wayne Matthews who was to play the other male lead "Claude" -- I was sort of
Satan to his Jesus. There on that day also was John Waters, who would later share the role of Claude with Wayne and the four of us became pretty tight as the first few weeks rolled on, ultimately all moving into a house together when Hair settled in for the long haul at the Metro Theatre in Kings Cross.

Of particular interest to us (and the public) were the imports in the cast. The six Afro-Americans gathered mainly from New York, and what a strange set of personalities they were. The coolest was the beautiful Denni Piggot, whom Marcia Hines (not yet a cast member) named her daughter after. Denni (who dropped her last name for the show) I think, is pretty cool to this day and pops up on a TV drama every so often. Then there was Teddy Williams, almost Gary Coleman
size, gay and proud, latter day "friend" of Bernard King. One time years later I remember turning on the television to be greeted with Teddy’s beatific face beaming out in a scene from the Diana Ross movie vehicle, another "Oz" remake "The Wiz" -- where is he now? Sharon Redd was a pocket size singing sensation who went on to become a solo disco star back in the States in the 70’s and then a member of Bette Midler’s "Harlettes."

Michael Angelo Springfield III ? what an enigma! A Walter Mitty type character the expression ‘jive ass’ was tailor made for. He ended up as "the man from Brash's" (in ads flogged to death on Victorian TV) and was so full of shit you had to admire him. According to him he knew everyone and had done everything ? eg couldabeen an Olympic track & field star but did a tendon at the trials, Daryl Zanuck was sending him scripts from Hollywood to check out, etc, etc. First day at rehearsals he collapsed claiming he had ‘sickle cell’ disease, which does affect blacks but naturally we had no knowledge of -- he didn’t, it was just an attention grabber.

The final two black members of the cast didn’t last too long and I can’t remember much about the male but the female was absolutely unforgettable for her schizophrenic behaviour. Charlene was her name, she stood about six feet tall and belted out a song with gospel intensity and fervour that matched most other elements of her life. She claimed to have recorded backup for The Stones but unlike Venetta Fields for example I have never seen a credit or evidence of
this. She was a glorious mess. Very hard to take for more than a few minutes but riveting all the same. Possessing a complete lack of discipline, she was likely to do almost anything, be in tears or rapture. I don’t think I hallucinated this -- at one stage after a very brief encounter with Dick Diamonde, bass player for The Easybeats and a good foot shorter than Charlene, they married. I think she (and maybe he) disappeared for good a few weeks later. Other imports came and went including the lovely, very middle class and normal Karolynn Hill. She brought her mother out and she cooked us the greatest ‘soul food’ meal you could ever have. At one stage Karolynn went back to the US for a holiday and asked if there was anything I wanted. I said "can you get me a mojo?" She looked puzzled. When she returned she said she couldn’t find one but would a Hershey Bar (with almonds) do? Marcia Hines turned up as a chubby 16 year-old who could really sing. We’d found out why she was chubby 6 months later and she was working the show right up to the
birth of daughter Denni, then came straight on back! She’s always been a very positive person, a hard worker and a great addition to the Australian population.

The final bro’ who stays in my mind was Tomay (Jim) Fields, originally (well he said) from Memphis, Tennessee. He became Tomay once he’d settled in here and was the original, milk the audience, draw attention to yourself, ham. Long and lanky he’d roll his big eyes around and do a ‘Steppin’ Fetchit’ routine, overstaying his part of the show by minutes,
stretching it out, till we’d actually forgotten where we were in it (the drugs aiding and abetting that). Likeable enough though he was there was only one love in Tomay’s life -- himself. He was one strange cat and when the show finally made it to New Zealand about three years later, Fields decided in the best LSD induced tradition he could fly, and tried
it off a cliff jumping to his death. He was a unique individual and an audience favourite.

So drugs were part and parcel of the HAIR experience with management turning a blind eye to most activity, unless the law became involved. In the first months I must have been handed dope by some-one most nights of the show at the stage door and there were no shortage of girls wanting to participate in the "Tribal Love-Rock" experience either, although my
girl friend, later wife, had moved up from Melbourne pretty quick-smart. So it mainly came down to drugs and to be honest I rarely did the show straight in the early days. I did it tripping a few times and that was ridiculous, trying to clear away on-coming hallucinations to get back in sync with the script! I’m sorry if anyone had to endure that!

We mainly stuck to getting completely out of it at home in Gipps Street, Paddington and there was a party more nights than not. Strange people would turn up, Gerry Humphries' ex-wife Claire was a constant. Broderick Smith used to spend weekend leave with us when he could (he’d been conscripted) so it was from one freak show to another for him. Richard
Shara used to come and do weird make-up on people. Adrian Rawlins would try to clear out the fridge. He once turned into a giggling little forked tongue lizard on my shoulder. One night Graham Matters ran down the stairs yelling "There’s a sailor on the roof" we went up to the attic and sure enough there was a guy out there, three floors up in a sailor suit. We dragged him in, all too out of it to actually find out who he was or how he got there but I’m pretty sure it actually happened.

Another time John Waters and I were in Centennial Park tripping and a mounted policeman rode up to us and asked: "Seen anyone acting suspiciously?" Apart from us we hadn’t, but he looked over our shoulder and said "Oh, there he is!" and rode off to arrest a guy laying on his back in a flower bed, throwing flowers in the air. It was a bit of a charmed life taking this stuff which thankfully was pretty pure Sandoz, sometimes I just totally discorporated, I was bodiless, floating around on another plane. Music came down to a big drone note and I managed to audio tape a group acid experience one night, it was an unsettling experience as what I’d sensed as communication while under the influence came out as a series of grunts and strange noises.

Meanwhile back at the show, I was cutting notches on the bench of the dressing room and counting down the days 'til I could leave. The tedium was worse for me because in bands I’d been used to moving around and also doing my own thing. The money was good but it became a nightly ritual with little passion. Andy Anderson (nee James) ex Missing
Links/Running Jumping Standing Still had joined the cast. He wanted my role. He didn’t get it but old Reggie Livermore did, at first a few times a week then we split it 4 shows each. In an effort to motivate the cast roles were being changed around, I did a few others and even played bass in the band for a few nights as a 'dep', just for something different. I was missing music, Graham and I had plans to form a part time band but between the show, parties and drugs there wasn’t enough time.

Tully, the HAIR band, were heavier on drug intake than us, if that was possible. The band was augmented by a couple of jazz cats, Johnny Sangster on vibes and all sorts of miscellaneous instruments and Keith Stirling on trumpet. On guitar was Michael Barnes of The Nutwood Rug Band, a genuine ex-pat San Fran psychedelic outfit who had made their way out here a year or so before. He could play all that freakout stuff like a maniac but apparently didn’t know any chords. Terry Wilson, singer for Tully was officially part of "The Tribe" and sang "Aquarius" which opened proceedings once we’d slithered our way to the stage through the audience. Then basically I came out and shook ‘em all up jumping around and down into the seats, wearing nothin’ but a lap lap and being obnoxious -- wasn’t much of a stretch. One night I dislocated
my toe on a seat, the toe was sticking out at a weird angle and I was stoned which made it worse. I also knocked my front tooth out with a mic, someone stood on the lead as I was running forward with it on the giant peace symbol stage. It is not easy to sing with a tooth out and I had to retire that night.

A lot of celebs came to the show. Opening night was ridiculous -- everybody who was anybody was there. At the end, when the audience jumps on stage they all fell over each other to get in front for a picture. Graham Kennedy managed to hog the centre, me holding Gra-Gra’s hand was on the front page of the paper next day. Graham Matters and I had the biggest afro’s and had our photo taken with a bunch of people. Dame Zara Bates (Holt) was particularly venomous about us and the show as the media took snaps -- wish I had one of those.

Sir Robert Helpmann wore the most expensive flashy fringed jacket I’ve ever seen, must have cost a packet. It was Hair mania -- we were invited everywhere. Fame by association. Mobbed by thousands at Roselands Shopping Centre -- a bizarre experience. We also went to Brisbane to do an ‘arena’ style performance of the music from Hair at Brisbane’s Festival Hall, seeing talk was the show would be banned in the deep north.

Various cast members would do cameo TV spots as the instant celebrities we were. A breed still popular on the tube to this day. I did a late night show which turned pretty ugly with stand in host Maggie Britton deciding to tear strips off the show and me. Even in my hippie trippy state I shot a few back and managed to get Miller’s clients ‘banned’ from appearing for six months. Despite this Sharon Redd and I got to do Bandstand to promote the soundtrack album that came out a few months after the show started. We shared the single, one side each which people still unearth a copy of from time to time. Bandstand was on its last legs and we simply did our spots and left, with Brian Henderson coming
in later to intro us. I guess that footage is out there somewhere. As is the one and only gold record presented from the album, actually that’s in the foyer at Festival Records in Pyrmont and I keep threatening to rip it off!

After a while things settled down and the crowd turned more suburban, still the visiting celebs would come backstage and say "hello" and "you were wonderful." Eddie Albert and his son, both Oscar winners trotted that line out, more "flash in the pan" identities such as Poncy Pounce (from "Hawaiian Eye") and Lobo ("You And Me And A Dog Named Boo") paid a
visit but I was most excited when Darlene Love and The Crystals came plus Billy Preston sort of embraced the Hair cast as his crowd during a season at Chequers night club and he turned it on at his shows especially for us. Mick Jagger also turned up while making the movie "Ned Kelly" -- one of the cast members and a some-time resident at our house, Geoff Gilmour had a part in the movie as Steve Hart of the Kelly Gang. The great celebrity Hair hanger-on was Frank Thring who really loved being around the tribe and would always be there at the end saying in his unique way: "Where are we going tonight?"

Most of the time I wasn’t going anywhere but home. The second year was a drag. We had a new band, "Luke’s Walnut" a much straighter outfit than Tully but with a few rough edges, namely Reno Tehei ex-Compulsion (an uncannily accurate Jimi Hendrix tribute band) on ‘borrowed’ bass (from me actually) and the great Bobby Gebert on piano. There was a huge pile of Bex powder wrappers by Bobby’s piano stool every night after the show while Reno (who briefly joined The La De Da’s) disappeared a little later after reputedly attempting to rob a bank while on acid.

We’d all moved on from the communal Paddington address. We were in fact packing up to go when the police came calling one day and found only myself and girlfriend Helena at home. It was a beautiful sunny day, we were painting in the backyard, they were looking for drugs. It was a veritable task force and they moved through the premises with a fine-tooth comb. Terry O’Brien from the Hair cast arrived as the hunt was on and cheerfully sat in the front room soaking it all in the middle of a trip! Ironically, Terry had just played the straight guy in the award winning short movie "No Roses For Michael" but was one of the most voracious consumers of illegal substances I’ve ever seen. Wayne Matthews’ suitcase was the subject of intense scrutinisation by an officer as he extracted a lock of hair from it tied with a blue bow. "What’s this?" he asked me. I answered (truthfully): "That’s a lock of Joan Sutherland’s hair." He looked at me quizzically -- Wayne was an opera freak, there were photos and other momentos to support my answer, but somehow it just didn’t compute with our image!

On the way out, someone checked a leather jacket slung over a chair and "found" a block of hash. I was immediately bundled out to the police car and taken downtown. It wasn’t my jacket and it certainly wasn’t my hash. Over the next two hours I was subjected to the good cop, bad cop routine. I’d seen enough movies to find it laughable if it wasn’t my freedom in the balance. The bad cop came rushing in and said "You’d better tell us all about it, you’re high now and you need a fix don’t you?" He threw open a drawer and grabbed an ancient rusty metal hypodermic with dried blood on the tip of the needle and made jabbing motions at my arm. Good cop came in an said "Give him a break", he then told me I’d better come clean, they had been reading my girl friend’s diary which detailed various times I’d taken acid. Helena had never even touched a cigarette herself and I was unaware of the existence of this document. Deny, deny, deny and eventually they let me go. There were other occasions and other people not so lucky.

Catty in fighting was also replacing any peace-love feeling among the cast. The night my contract was up I had all our possessions packed into a Transit van and we headed out back to Melbourne. I had the vague notion that I wanted to play country music.