From Phoenix to Hollywood
Just finished Bobby Hart’s “Psychedelic Bubblegum” (SelectBooks – by Bobby Hart with Glenn Ballantyne – 2015)
For me, this was a fun read. I have always had a soft spot for the bouncy hits that emerged in the later 1960’s primarily created out of California where everyone was no doubt infected by all the sunshine, palm trees and freeways.
But this book starts off a bit earlier when Robert Harshman boldly departs his home town of Phoenix in 1958 and sets down unaccompanied smack dab in the heart of Hollywood counting fifty bucks to his name. Don’t know how many aspiring musicians have attempted the same feat, before or since, and can only imagine how many failed.
But Bobby was definitely determined. His initial sojourn was humble but admirable; taking on a job in a Hollywood print shop specializing in printing record labels for the then-many independent companies that were flourishing with the explosion of the exciting new sounds emerging from every direction imaginable.
Bobby would soon meet up with a small time Hollywood music industry operative, Jesse Hodges. Bobby auditioned and impressed Hodges enough to warrant a recording session which in reality was a vanity session where both the artist and backing musicians would kick in a few hundred bucks each in hopes of getting recognized.
Bobby couldn’t quite come up with the money and so Hodges found a way to cover the balance. Bobby would seem to find his way into friendships and acquaintances of note and his first recording session in 1958 was not an exception. When he walked into the tiny recording studio much to his amazement Hodges had lined up a formidable backing group of musicians that included drummer Earl Palmer, and three guitarists: Neil Le Vang from Lawrence Welk’s orchestra, and brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette! The fifth musician on the session was Danny Flores – performing name ‘Chuck Rio’ – an original member of The Champs. Flores was the voice that repeated “Tequila” on the hit recording.
In short order Bobby’s named was changed (by others) to “Hart”. He would form a lasting friendship with Donnie Brooks (“Mission Bell” and “Doll House”) as well as Curtis Lee (“Pretty Little Angel Eyes”) and the Burnette brothers.
Before long he would come into contact with eventual writing and performing partner Tommy Boyce, and would follow him in the early 1960’s to New York City where they would do a stint on Broadway’s “Tin Pan Alley/Brill Building”, at the 1650 Broadway location which wasn’t the actual “Brill Building”, but was the working quarters for most of the great pop writing teams of rock and roll.
During that period of time Hart would circulate through East Coast contemporaries that included Del Shannon, Brian Hyland, Teddy Randazzo and composer Wes Farrell. Boyce, Hart and Farrell teamed up initially to co-write a song for Chubby Checker in the Spring of 1964 , “Lazy Elsie Molly” which they adopted from an early 18th century English verse.
The song would peak at number 40 on the Billboard charts. This was an ecstatic moment for Boyce and Hart but a disappoint for their publishers in New York who expected something bigger. That something “bigger” would come in the Summer of 1964 when the three teamed up to write Jay and the American’s biggest hit record “Come a Little Bit Closer” – a song inspired by Marty Robbins’ monster hit “El Paso”.
“Come a Little Bit Closer” peaked at number 3. The next stop for Hart (without Boyce) was working with Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein. Hart had joined up with Randazzo as a backing member of his touring group, “The Dazzlers”. As a “Dazzler” Hart was supposed to both dance and sing behind Teddy. Not that strong a dancer, initially Bobby was instructed to hold a guitar and just perform background vocals until he could improve his steps a bit.
Weinstein was also a member of “The Dazzlers”. The three co-penned a number 10 hit, “Hurt So Bad” which was recorded by Little Anthony. The song reached number 10 in the nation in 1965 and through the years would provide Hart a continuous flow of income being recorded by so many others including The Lettermen (#12 in 1969) and Linda Ronstadt (#8 in 1980).
First Tommy Boyce would migrate back to California and would again be followed by Bobby Hart where they would go on to much bigger things both as composers and producers for the Monkees. The pair composed the Monkee television theme song as well as “Last Train to Clarksville” (#1), “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (#20), “Words” (#11), and “Valleri” (#3). My favorite non-charting Boyce and Hart tune for the Monkees is “I Wanna Be Free” (The song was covered by Loretta Lynn and dented the charts at number 94).
In the summer of 1967 Tommy and Bobby set out as a duo scoring four singles in the Hot 100. After the Monkee and Boyce/Hart stars faded, Tommy and Bobby joined up in 1975 with Monkees Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones to form “Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart”. They didn’t experience any significant chart success, but were a tremendous touring success featuring hit songs both from the Monkees and Boyce and Hart catalogs.
The thing about Bobby’s story that sets his apart (for me) is that he managed to avoid the major pitfall of drugs and substance abuse – and – although he had his “windows of fame” beyond the glory days, he managed to keep plugging away working in many capacities as composer, singer, producer, in the movies and on television, and with some stumbling managed to emerge at the other end standing tall.
Hart’s book evolves from a pop musician narrative into his experience and dedication to the life-practice of meditation and spirituality and that is a whole other story – although an important one for in the long run that journey kept him grounded and more importantly content.
Bobby continues on today with his long-time spouse, singer Mary Ann Hart who had a good run of European recording and performing success in the early 1980’s.
The title of the book ,”Psychedelic Bubble Gum” is a bit strange for me but I believe reflects Hart’s notion of moving beyond Monkees’ type sugar flavored pop. But that really doesn’t seem very important. Bobby and Tommy moved amicably away from one another losing contact for a long period of time when Boyce moved to the U.K. Tommy died in November of 1994 of a self-inflicted gunshot. His long-time partner and closest friend, Bobby Hart spoke emotionally at a small memorial in California on a beach site.
That’s as far as I will journey with this “review” which really isn’t a review at all. I enjoyed the book. There is much more to the story with details and tidbits of all the encounters, experiences, and recording personalities – all making “Psychedelic Bubble Gum” well worth the purchase.
Boyce & Hart Discography
(Includes performances by the duo, solos by each and involvement with others)