Saturday, September 5, 2009

Harry Dean Stanton Rocks

One of my favorite actors is Harry Dean Stanton. He didn't really hit my radar screen until his role in Repo Man in 1984, although I had seen him in many movies and TV shows going back to Gunsmoke in the 60's. Later in 1984, his roles in Red Dawn and Paris, Texas piqued my interest. For I remembered this actor in iconic parts going back in my youth. Kelly's Heroes. Two Lane Blacktop. The Black Marble. Escape from New York. Alien and so many, many other movies.

About the time in my early twenties when I realized that I had been a fan of this iconic character actor since my youth, I began visiting Los Angeles on a semi-regular basis. Lots of high school and college friends had relocated to El Lay from Houston, for various reasons. Many were musicians, some were actors and surfers, and still some moved west for the weather or for business opportunities. There was a time when my friends stretched from the beaches of sunny Southern California to the mountains and hills surrounding the greater Los Angeles area.
Being a musician, of course, I spent much of my time on these trips with my musician friends. Many of those friends lived in cheaper areas around Hollywood like Silver Lake, North Hollywood, Studio City and Echo Park. Those who tended to be stuck in day job hell often lived in various parts of the Valley. Some of my friends went west to attend the noted studio musician school called Musician's Institute, which at the time was on seedy Hollywood Boulevard itself.
Myself, I went out there for an audition in 1984 and was accepted, being auditioned by none other than Joe Porcaro, famed studio musician and father of the late Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro. A reassessment of what I would do for a living led to my deciding not to go out to LA, and in the long run, it's good that I didn't. But at the time, it's something I really wanted to do.
No matter. I ended up chickening out on moving to LA in my early twenties and became content with visiting as often as I could. As I mentioned, my friend group out there ranged from club musicians to studio musicians to folks who worked regular jobs like as an accountant at Target stores. Several friends worked as junior A&R people for the record labels, as they cruised Hollywood and West Hollywood live music bars at night looking for new talent.
One of my friends from high school, a drummer named Eric, had family connections in LA and had moved out there the day he graduated. He got a job working in the mail room of a large record label, playing drums everywhere he could at night. Soon, he got promoted to an A&R scout, whose job it was to scout LA clubs for talented acts the label might be interested in. It was on a jaunt with Eric that I first saw the Harry Dean Stanton Band.
The first time I saw Harry's band was at a place called Jack's Sugar Shack, which then in the early to mid 80's was located west of WeHo (West Hollywood). Jack's had a tiki bar motif and booked the kind of bands I like listening to, then and now. The Blasters. The Thunderbirds. Lots of So Cal and Texas blues and blues rock acts that were famous, but not yet ready for arena sized crowds.
Eric took me to see lots of good bands in Hollywood in those years. One of his better finds in 1986 was a then relatively unknown band called Jane's Addiction. He took me to the rundown O.N. Club to see them. If you saw the movie Valley Girl, you might remember the club Nick Cage hangs at, the one that has no seats or chairs, just a bar and a stage. That's was the O.N. Club.
One night, Eric drug me into Jack's and I recognized the guy at the bar getting water. It was Harry Dean. He was friendly and cordial and I even got to speak with him for a few moments. His music, a cross between country and rock and folk with a mexican tinge to it, was excellent. He can be heard singing on the soundtrack to Paris, Texas.
Jack's later moved to deepest darkest Hollywood, taking up residence on a gritty sidestreet of Hollywood Boulevard. Still a rendition of a tiki bar, this locale featured a mural of Lovey and Thurston Howell from Gilligan's Island. I saw Harry Dean's band several times there as well.
The last time I saw Harry Dean's band playing was in the early nineties at the infamous Hollywood gin joint The Mint. Although at that time he was well into his sixties, he was still cranking out wonderful music, singing and playing guitar and fronting his band like he was in his twenties or thirties.
It was not unusual then to see Harry at other music shows. I remember in 1986 or so that I was at a packed show of then super popular R&B musician Billy Vera. Vera and his orchestra often held court at a bar called The Country Club, and on several occasions I saw Harry Dean enjoying Vera's music at that spot.
I wish I could have the opportunity to have dinner or a few drinks with Harry Dean. Ah, the stories he could tell. I know that after he got out of the Navy and college in Kentucky, when he first came to LA, he was roommates with Jack Nicholson. Don't you know there were some stories and parties at that house worth a retelling of.
Harry Dean is relatively easy to find and if I wanted to, I guess I could stalk him at Dan Tana's restaurant in WeHo, where he is not only known to frequently dine but to also hang on the sidewalk in front and smoke. Stalking's not my style, but maybe he'll come across this blog and invite me for a jam session.
Harry has lived a relatively low profile life for a movie star. One of my favorite stories involves the filming of the movie Easy Rider. Stanton was not in this movie, but visited the set long enough to scrawl his name in large letters on the wall of the jail cell occupied by Nicholson in the movie.
More than having dinner or drinks with Harry Dean, I'd like to play some music with him. I'd be happy to back him on drums, or acoustic guitar or even bass. Just the chance to feel a little of that on-stage magic with Harry Dean.
Here's a youtube of Harry Dean playing "Love Potion Number Nine" at The Mint.
When I first began seeing Harry Dean playing music, he was in his fifties. Occasionally, you'd see a young woman on his arms back in those days, half his age. More power to him. It's hard to believe that he had as much energy in his fifties as I did in my twenties.
Harry Dean. You rock.


  1. Hi - Interesting post. One small quibble: the club in "Valley Girl" was actually The Central, not the ON Klub.

  2. You're probably right. My mental state might have been impaired in my days of LA clubbing to hear bands in the mid-80's. That, in conjunction with relying on 25 year old memories.

    Thanks for stopping by!