Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Five



Ralph Humphrey ~ virtuoso drummer

While not a familiar name among the general public, drummer Ralph Humphrey is famous among musicians. He’s known for playing with a long list of musical luminaries and just about every kind of gig and recording session imaginable. But when I played a few casuals with Ralph in 1975 and 1976, for me, his crowning glory was that he’d played with Frank Zappa, most notably as the only drummer on the 1973 Zappa album “Over-nite Sensation.”



Ralph’s playing on “Over-nite Sensation” introduced a different kind of rhythmic sophistication to Zappa’s rock and jazz hybrid tunes, creating a sound of raw power precisely executed. Every musician I knew was listening to that breakthrough album.

The first gig I played with Ralph was at The Bistro in Beverly Hills, famous for its celebrity patrons. We played for a City Of Hope dinner for luminaries honored by the medical center’s foundation. I quickly realized I was in rarified air when I saw the parking lot. It was wall-to-wall Rolls Royce automobiles.



On our first break, I peppered Ralph with questions about Zappa. I especially wanted to know if Zappa was sincere when he so often publicly stated he did not use drugs. His appearance and his wild musical mind, not to mention his bizarre lyrics, often gave people the impression that he must be high on something. But Ralph confirmed that Zappa did not use drugs. He was, in fact, an anti-drug advocate, although he did smoke cigarettes.


“I think if Frank ever really got high and took a good look at himself it would really freak him out,” Ralph said.

{The above quote is approximate, from my imperfect memory.}

I was a competent guitar player, but far from the A-list level that Humphrey belonged to. I asked Ralph how he rose to such a high level of musical proficiency. If there was some secret bit of wisdom, some path to greatness I’d overlooked, he would know about it. But Ralph said his musicianship was simply a result of a lot of study, practice and dedication. I suppose he was too modest to mention talent.

That evening led to another encounter with a famous celebrity--Johnny Carson. Someone said the lounge at The Bistro was a favorite spot for Johnny and Jack Lemmon who would meet there on occasion. A few hours after our gig began, we heard that Johnny was in the bar.

To get to the restroom, bar patrons had to cut across a corner of the banquet room where we were playing. In the middle of a tune, we spotted Johnny making his way to the restroom. Without dropping a beat, the piano player broke into the theme song from “The Tonight Show.” Johnny looked over, pointed at us and laughed, quickly disappearing from the room.

~ to be continued



~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Ralph Humphrey bio
© All Rights Reserved





Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Four



Gary Owens ~ celebrity voice


Radio and television personality Gary Owens was indeed famous, mostly for his funny announcer role on the popular sixties television show, “Laugh In.” But I first encountered his zany and witty humor when he was a disc jockey at KFWB in Los Angeles.

In the summer of 1961, when I was 11 years old, I won a contest two days in a row by being the first caller to his show with the correct answer. I can’t remember what the question or the contest was, but I do remember winning a Gary Owens coloring book and KFWB bumper sticker. The real prize was talking briefly with my idol. He congratulated me for winning two days in a row. Here was a man who made his living playing records and being funny. That’s what I wanted to do.

   Many years later while working as a reporter at the Daily Pilot newspaper in Newport Beach, I read afternoon news reports live from the newsroom, broadcast on a local FM radio station. At last, I was following in the footsteps of my hero, Gary Owens. I tried to make the news briefs funny, but alas, I was no Gary Owens and wisely stuck with print journalism.




O.C. Smith ~ singer


When I was a young guitar player and singer, on the road in April 1973 with a group called Changes, I met singer O.C. Smith, famous for his Grammy-winning recording of “Little Green Apples” four years earlier. We were playing six nights a week at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, Alaska.

On a concert tour of Alaska, O.C. Smith and his band arrived in Juneau to play two weekends at the hotel. On those weekends, we played alternate sets. There wasn’t much to do during the daytime, and I spent time with his sidemen, all gifted jazz musicians, trying to learn whatever secrets they possessed. They quietly complained that Smith only used them for his rigorous road gigs. They had not played on any of his records. That taught me something about the limits of talent in the subjective world of show business.

O.C. Smith was a personable, charismatic man who was very popular with the audiences, whether he was singing or just talking. On one weekend night when all the black people in Alaska must have traveled to Juneau to hear him sing, he told the audience a joke about how black people love Cadillacs. “We get ‘em first,” he said. “We don’t keep ‘em long, but we get ‘em first!”

Despite his fame and many years of performing, including being a vocalist for the legendary Count Basie, he still got nervous before going on. I saw him grasping a young lady’s hand to steady his nerves as his band played the intro music just before he came on. But once he was on stage, he had the infectious confidence of the seasoned professional.

I’m not surprised that O.C. Smith, a singer with a warm, baritone voice and electric personality, became a preacher years later. He founded the City of Angels Church of Religious Science in 1985.

~ to be continued


~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met — Part Three



Stan Wall ~ Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher


I’d never met a professional athlete before I met Los Angeles Dodgers rookie pitcher Stan Wall, a recent regular at the hotel lounge where I sang and played guitar with a small combo near the Los Angeles airport.

   I’d also never met a Playboy model, but to meet Stan was to meet the amazing young woman who was often at his side, sitting around the semi-circular bar that fronted the elevated stage on which I performed.


   It was 1975, his first year in the majors, called up from a seven-year stint in the Dodgers' minor league system to take his shot. Stan was in the big leagues at last and was having a lot of fun on and off the field.

   He was 24, I was 25 and we were both intrigued by each other’s professions.

   We struck up a friendship, which led to:

THE COMPETITION !

   There was a freestanding video game in the lobby of the International Hotel which I often played with the bass player on breaks between sets.

   So I was experienced.

   One night after the band finished the last set, a rare night when Stan was alone, we ended up playing the video game together. These were the early days of video game technology. I cannot remember what the game was, only that it gave one the choice of playing against the computer or against another player. It was graphically crude, like the earliest Atari video games. Stan was ferociously competitive and doing pretty well for never having played this particular game. But my experience gave me an edge, and I began to dominate the competition.

   “I can’t believe you’re this good!” he said in exasperation, shortly before I defeated him. It was about 3 a.m. and we were both exhausted.

   We parted as friends, but it was a bittersweet experience. I felt a degree of pride for having beaten an accomplished athlete, and a little guilty for having shattered his confidence in a competition that was not evenly matched, given my many hours already spent mastering the intricacies of the game.

   Days later I was watching the Dodgers on television, knowing there was a chance that Stan would be called in for relief pitching. I can’t remember what team they were playing against, but I do remember that Stan took the mound during the last few innings of the game with the bases loaded. I still shudder when I think of that pitch, the solid crack of the bat hitting the ball, that grand slam home run. I also remember Vin Scully commenting to co-announcer Jerry Doggett about how great the distance was between the minors and the majors, illustrated by Stan’s disastrous outing.

   I blamed Dodger manager Walter Alston who put the young man into an incredibly difficult situation, difficult even for the most seasoned relief pitcher. But I could not help but wonder if my video game victory over Stan had somehow shaken his confidence. The night life we shared certainly didn’t help either. I felt a wave of guilt. Had I, in some small way, contributed toward his difficulties on the mound that day?

   Yet Stan continued to play for the Dodgers, pitching ten games that year with a blistering 1.69 earned run average. He pitched a total sixty-six games with 55 strikeouts during his two years with the Dodgers before injury and happenstance sent him back to the minors in 1977. That was pretty much the end of his baseball career, but he went farther in those two years than I did during a dozen years as a working musician.

   Unlike Stan, I never made it to the big leagues.



~ to be continued


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met — Part Two



Rafael Méndez ~ trumpet virtuoso

I ’ve met a fair number of famous and accomplished people, which is remarkable considering how shy and introverted I was as a child, a condition born of abandonment, exacerbated by abuse, and finally mitigated by a career as a newspaper reporter.

I was put up for adoption by my single mother at the fragile age of 13 months, and subsequently adopted by people who stubbornly defied the verdict of biology – that they were not intended to have children.

My first encounter with a famous person came at age ten. I was a blustery student of the trumpet, taking lessons from Mr. Collins, owner of the Covina Music Store. I think his first name was Jack, but I only knew him as Mr. Collins. Playing the melancholy “Du, Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen,” I used to hit notes by accident that took years for Miles Davis to perfect.

   Mr. Collins just happened to know virtuoso trumpeter Rafael Méndez, who was coming to our little city to perform with the local college orchestra. To quote Wikipedia:
Rafael Méndez was legendary for his tone, range, technique and unparalleled double tonguing. Méndez's playing was characterized by a brilliant tone, wide vibrato and clean, rapid articulation. His repertoire was a mixture of classical, popular, Mexican folk music and jazz. Méndez contributed many arrangements and original compositions to the trumpet repertoire. His Scherzo in D Minor is often heard in recitals. He was considered to many people the best trumpet/cornet player in the world.

Rafe, as Mr. Collins called him, was a kind man, treating me as if I were a young prodigy, which Mr. Collins generously hinted I might be. Fortunately, Rafe could not stay long enough to actually listen to me play. Otherwise, he might have wanted his autograph back.


~ to be continued




~ By Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved