I just read parts of ‘Forever Changes’ that says my friend, Bryan McLean lived at Vito Paulekas’ warehouse and practiced with the band that was once called ‘The Grass Roots’. Vito was a sculpture who surrounded himself with wild chicks and nude dancers, some who became the GTOs. In Forever Changes, Arthur Lee talk about the first time they saw Bryan and the Whiskey a Go-Go. He was surrounded by beautiful young women, his followers. It is alleged Arthur invited Bryan to join his band because these girls were Groupies of the Bryds, whom Bryan was a roadie for. But, Bryan was a Chick magnet in High School. He would take me on his rounds, usually on Friday night. He made dates with three girls. When we came thru the door, it was as if he was celebrity. The mothers swooned, and did all they could to get my Bryan to stay. They took note that I was handsome, but, was not chatty.
Bryan believes he was put-down for his gift of gab, and puts himself down. This is because most musicians are screwed up and hide behind their instruments. Bryan was beyond being healthy. And he had a magnificent whit that he loved to show off! For exhibiting this gift, he was called “arrogant”. Bryan was in a league of his own. You can see this in the photo above. Bryan is making full eye contact with the lens. Bryan isn’t hiding a thing. Sure he was too honest, said things that proved he had a brain and was a great observer of life. He had to put the breaks on, wear a handicap, lest he make people jealous.
LA was a vast flat wasteland with beautiful maidens stuck in their parents little boxes in the middle of nowhere. Bryan understood they were suffering from an identity crisis. Bryan was a Pied Piper come to take their boredom away. He was a polished exhibitionist. Every male wanted what Bryan had, relief from our shyness with women, our awkwardness. Arthur wanted Bryan’s women, his groupies.
Bryan had dated Lisa Minelli in Junior High, and had just started singing folk songs at the New Balladeer located on West Sawtelle Blvd. where I had several paintings hanging on the wall.
Bryan’s mother says that before he took up guitar, Bryan aspired to be an artist. This is what we had in common. On Monday night we would go up to Lacienaga Boulevard where there was open night at about twenty galleries. There was a large crowd going from gallery to gallery. You saw movie stars here on occasion.
While Bryan is at Vito’s warehouse, Andy Walhol is doing a similar scene in New York. I would like to hear from folks who partipated in this art-rock scene, the Bohemian period before it became full rock and roll stars scene, and ‘The Masses’ took it over with the $5 Buck Power, the price of a rock album for many year. They could care less about the visual artist.
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Vitautus Alphonsus “Vito” Paulekas (20 May 1913 – 25 October 1992) was an American artist and bohemian, who was most notable for his leading role in the Southern California “freak scene” of the 1960s, and his influence on musicians including The Byrds, Love and Frank Zappa.
Paulekas was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of Lithuanian immigrants. After some time spent in a reformatory as a teenager, he learned wood carving and won competitions as a marathon dancer in the 1930s. He was convicted of armed robbery in 1938, but was released in 1942 and joined the US Merchant Marine. Around 1946, he moved to Los Angeles where, by the early 1960s, he had set up home on Beverly Boulevard. There he established an art studio where he “made a living of sorts by giving clay modeling lessons to Beverly Hills matrons who found the atmosphere in his studio exciting,” and also ran dance classes. His wife, Szou (b. Sueanne Shaffer, 1943) established a clothing boutique which was credited with being one of the first to introduce “hippie” fashions.
By about 1963, Vito, Szou, and their friend Carl Franzoni (b. 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio), also known at the time as “Captain Fuck”, had begun going to clubs with a growing group of self-styled “freaks”, who reputedly “lived a semi-communal life and engaged in sex orgies and free-form dancing whenever they could”. According to writer Johnny Rogan, Paulekas’ “free thinking lifestyle and artistic passion inspired beatniks, aspiring existentialists and Valley girls in need of rebellion.” In 1964, Paulekas offered rehearsal space to the Byrds, and the following year the troupe of free-form dancers, with Paulekas and Franzoni, accompanied the group on their nationwide tour. Later, Arthur Lee and Love also used his premises for rehearsals.
In some clubs, Paulekas and the dancers became as big an attraction as the onstage entertainment. The troupe – including several of the young women later to become known as The GTOs, and members of the Fraternity of Man – occupied the Log Cabin in Laurel Canyon formerly occupied by Tom Mix and later by Frank Zappa. Credited as “Vito and the Hands”, Paulekas recorded a single, “Where It’s At,” which featured some of the Mothers of Invention, with producer Kim Fowley in 1966. He has been credited with first using the terms “freak” and “freak-out” to describe the scene, and with Franzoni and other members of the troupe contributed to the first album by Zappa and the Mothers, Freak Out!. He appeared in several documentaries of the period, including Mondo Hollywood (1967) and You Are What You Eat (1968).
After Richard Nixon’s election as US President in 1968, he moved to Haiti and later Jamaica, before returning to settle in Cotati, California. There, he and Franzoni established the Freestore street theatre and performance group, and built a bandstand for the town as well as contributing sculptures.
He and Szou divorced in the mid-1970s. They had four children, at least one of whom, Godo, died as a child. Paulekas died in Cotati in 1992, aged 79.
So, when they brought that kind of music in to Minnesota, Iowa, places like that, those kids were just, ‘Wow, where did you come from?’ They could have started their own church with that kind of music they were playing. That 12 string guitar really worked good.”
What other songs were favorites to dance to?
“‘Hey Joe.’ We would just yell and scream when David was doing that. He would raise the temperature on that dance floor with that one.”
“They asked me to pick a good amount of people to go with them [on tour] and we became the Byrds’ dancers. The tour was really something! The first place we went was Denver. We went into Minnesota, Youngstown, Ohio, Dayton, Ohio, stuff like that, I mean it was something to see, the way we danced! The kids were dancing in those lines at the time, line dancing, and we came in there and we broke up all that stuff … I got punched a couple times because they didn’t like our style of dance! But after that the whole United States went into that style. We were trained dancers. Vito had studied with some really fine dance teachers in Hollywood. We had a formal place we went to, and the people who were right after us were Toni Basil and David Winters. They were the shit, big time dancers, and they would sit and watch us, and take what we were doing, and add it into their stuff.”
What was the atmosphere like on the bus as you toured around the country?
“Well, I brought some women, some good looking women that they could relate to. But they didn’t really have to worry about that, girls were knocking on their doors as soon as they got in the hotel rooms! But it was pleasant for them to have a couple of the dancers there — they could talk to them and stuff like that. For the most part the women were really good dancers. I had to pick the best I could find. There was a guy who came with us — they didn’t want any men — they really didn’t want any guys. But I convinced them that this guy Bob Roberts should come. Bob Roberts became a saxophonist with Frank Zappa and Reuben and the Jets, and then he became a big-time tattooist in Hollywood. I was the freak, because I had my own kind of uniform: tights and boots and crazy looking shirts.”
It’s a pretty unique situation where a band would take a whole bunch of dancers on the road with them like that.
“Yeah! That was the only one that ever did it for me! I went with Frank Zappa, but I went solo. He couldn’t afford it. They [The Byrds] were ready to take us to England to show the English how to dance. We had a small nucleus of dancers and could have taken them to London and then those fucking Beatles wouldn’t have been so uppity. I decided not to go. Derek [Taylor, Byrds publicist] wanted us to come to this high school gym and he was having people come and take photos and I just walked out of it. That’s why they fired me.
“I still dance. I still can do an hour. I’m 68, I can still do it. Once you’re a dancer you can still do it. My friend Vito, a week before he died, he was 79, he was out on that dance floor.”
The teenagers in Hollywood latched onto these guys and called the teenagers in the Valley, their friends, and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ was trying to get started and on the radio, and those kids just wouldn’t let up. There were high school kids from Fairfax High School and the Catholic school in Hollywood. They wouldn’t get up off of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ they just called and called and called. Because it was the first white rock and roll group with that kind of music and dance that they could relate to, you know.”
“I went to [The Byrds’] house when they were on the bum. They had a little pad, a cold-water pad, and they didn’t have any hot water in the place, and they were miserable.”
“My favorite Byrd was Chris [Hillman]. You know, when you’re on the dance floor and you look up and you make contact with whoever it is, I always made contact with the bass player. I could talk to Chris about what was happening. David [Crosby] was cantankerous, but you knew that there was a fine artist there. There was another guy who was not mentioned: Bryan MacLean. Bryan MacLean was their roadie, and I helped him roadie. Him and I roomed together on the road. He would have been the next Byrd, but Love liked him … Arthur Lee liked him. He beat [later Manson Family member] Bobby BeauSoleil out for their rhythm guitar player spot, because we came and lobbied for him. They were auditioning him and BeauSoleil and it was a tossup. Why I’m telling you this is we had gone off the Byrds … the Byrds were way past us then, they were traveling the world, going to England. We weren’t their people anymore, we had gone to other bands. Jim [now Roger] McGuinn, one time in one of those rock and roll places, he passed me and said, ‘You know, Carl, I’m sorry.’ [laughs] ‘I apologize.’ and that was the last time I saw Jim.”
In the early 1960s he went to New York’s Greenwich Village where he busked on the street and played in coffeehouses. It was there that he composed the song “Hey, Joe,” which he copyrighted in 1962. Early the same year,
The Leaves was an American garage band formed in California in 1964. They are best known for their version of the song “Hey Joe”, which was a hit in 1966. Theirs is the earliest release of this song, which became a rock standard.
The band was founded by bass player Jim Pons and guitarist Robert Lee Reiner, who were inspired by hearing The Beatles while students at Cal State Northridge in Los Angeles. Originally called The Rockwells, they were fraternity brothers who formed a group and then taught themselves how to play