An Afternoon with Enigmatic and Brilliant Underground Legend Jerry Solomon
Few people fascinate us here at Weirdo Music Forever the way Mr. Jerry Solomon does. Though about as far from a household name as you can get, Mr. Solomon is familiar to record collectors the world over, who covet this underground figure's ultra-rare releases from the 1960s and 70s (a quick online search confirms this, with prices ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars for vinyl Solomon release). And the hype is warranted: Jerry Solomon's groundbreaking work was "Outsider" long before the genre was ever conceived, and his work has been recognized and supported by such luminaries as Ariel Pink and Andy Kaufman.
Mr. Solomon was gracious enough to sit down with us at one of his favorite Hollywood meeting spots, and share fascinating insights into a compelling and mysterious body of work that encompasses beautifully strange audio recordings, writing, standup, public access TV, and more. We discussed his ongoing problem with the paparazzi ("I can't seem to get them to take my picture"), past work, and future projects.
Bobby Weirdo: I saw you perform at an event Ariel Pink put on about a year ago, called Ariel Pink presents Cuckoo’s Nest.
Jerry Solomon: Oh really?
BW: Your performance was great that night.
JS: Oh, thank you very much. Is Basic Flowers still there?
BW: It is indeed still there.
JS: Oh, OK. I got a printout of Ariel Pink on the Internet. He’s got quite a résumé. It was several pages, you know.
BW: He does have quite an impressive résumé! That was a really fun night.
JS: Yeah, that was quite a night. I was honored to perform there. Luckily I got a ride from my nephew [laughs].
BW: I know a lot of people were really excited to see you perform that night. Did you know about Ariel Pink before that?
JS: Actually, no. I was not that familiar with him. Charlotte - you know her?
BW: I do.
JS: She got it together so I could perform there. I met Ariel there. I was very honored.
BW: Going back a bit further now, you did three albums right?
JS: Yeah, I did some singles in the 1960s, and then I made about three albums... I believe. It’s been a long time.
BW: When you recorded them, did you record them at home, or in a recording studio?
JS: I recorded the albums and those singles in a recording studio, Ted Brinson Recording Studio. [It was] a famous recording studio west of Downtown L.A. on 5th Avenue. I think a lot of famous groups recorded there. This was in the 1960s.
BW: How long did it take you to record? Was it the kind of thing where you would do several takes of one song?
JS: Yeah, it might be two or three takes, as I recall. But the other recording is of me at the Show Biz Club in North Hollywood. That was a recording of me with a cassette machine.
BW: Is that where you recorded “Through the Woods”?
JS: No, I recorded “Through the Woods” with my cassette machine at my apartment.
BW: So that explains the other vocals [on that track].
JS: Yes, and a few people helped me record that. “Through the Woods” is a long story [laughs]. It was recorded at my apartment. Songs like “I Just Don’t Fit This Modern Age” on the Denied album (aka Past the 20th Century), to the best of my knowledge, were recorded in a home studio at this guy’s house. I forgot his name. Famous artists recorded there, too.
BW: I’m assuming you were doing overdubs on those, right?
JS: Yes, I did a little overdubbing. This was ‘69/’70 for that particular album.
BW: Did you do any improvising, or did you stick pretty closely to your original idea of those songs?
JS: I stuck pretty close to my [original] lyrics, with a little improvising. “Frisco Girl” was recorded in Ted Brison’s studio. That was a single.
BW: Right. I think that was a 45 with "Jet Set ‘67" as the B-side.
JS: Yeah. I think the Penguins recorded at Ted Brison's studio.
JS: Yeah – I know that’s before your time, but if you’ve heard these oldies but goodies…the first time I heard “Earth Angel” was at a party in 1954, at twelve years old. Awesome! I wrote a bit about it in my autobiography.
BW: Is that A Drug Free Life and a Glass of PCP?
JS: Yeah. I think Ariel Pink has a copy – I gave him a copy. And then my new autobiography should be coming out in about a month. I’m finishing the editing.
BW: What’s the title of that going to be?
JS: A Drug Free Life and a Glass of PCP Part 2, because there’s a lot of new information. [It’s] a little derivative but has a lot of new information.
BW: There’s always a blurb that goes around in regards to you and Andy Kaufman. What’s the connection?
JS: Oh yeah – right. I knew Andy Kaufman. I was so in shock when he passed on. Ironically, I was an extra in the movie about him.
BW: How did you meet him in the first place?
JS: Oh my! I did a show at The Improv in 1976. I did it with a record player where I played “Mr. Sandman”, one of my old time favorites by The Chordettes. He liked it and he came up to me, asked if I had an agent, and got my number. He called me some time later, because they had a fire benefit at The Improv. He called me and about six or seven [other] people to be on the show. He did the wrestling and the whole thing.
BW: When you talk with people, and you’re describing what you do to someone not familiar with your work, do you say you’re a musician, comedian, or performance artist?
JS: Well, half joking, I tell people I have a hundred titles. But I’m also serious. [I’m a] consumer advocate. Anything you want to know about consumer things, ask me. I’m also a singer, dancer, comedian, and actor. What else…
BW: You had a TV show, right?
JS: Yeah. You can see parts of it on YouTube. It was a 30-minute public access show, with two or three guests. I would ask provocative questions.
BW: Besides the Penguins, who influenced you musically?
JS: The Platters. I like “The Magic Touch” and “Heaven on Earth”. Elvis was a big influence. I met Priscilla at her book signing and wrote about it. I have a posed shot with her when I got her book. They said “no posed shots”, but she voluntarily did a posed shot with me, so it was a great honor.
BW: Do you have a favorite Jerry Solomon song?
JS: Well, “Denied” is one of my favorites. It’s going to be on a Paul Major compilation coming out in a month or two. I just signed a contract, and it’s going to be out on vinyl in about a month or two.
BW: What is it that’s special about that song to you?
JS: Well, it’s a little different I think, um…[starts singing] Denied of all human...[laughs].
BW: Did you write that ahead of time, before going into the studio to record it?
JS: Yeah, pretty much. I don’t read or write music, so I'd get a melody in my head, and then I’d synchronize the lyrics to the melody. Oh, “Sketches of Gloria” is also one of my favorite recordings. I wrote it about a girl I used to know, and I sang to her picture in The Gong Show in ‘88.
BW: So Gloria really exists?
JS: Oh yeah – I wrote it specifically about her. The lyrics are in an anthology I did with my writing group.
JS: Just out of curiosity, is that a phone or recorder?
Suzy Weirdo: Both. It’s a phone with a recorder.
JS: Oh wow! My, that is amazing! I’m not against [technology]. I like what I like. What I like to be old – what I like to be new. I have call waiting. I like that. But I have no computer, no cell phone…what else is modern?
BW: You have a TV at home, right?
JS: Oh, of course! I can’t live with that. I’ve got oldies shows, new shows, whatever I want.
JS: They used to have a Farmers Market karaoke, and I was a semi-regular there.
SW: Yeah, I heard your song “I Love My Face”.
JS: My lady friend Yolanda said I was a little on the conceited side [with that]. Well, they closed that down years ago, but I also used also do a parody of “Poor Born”. [Singing]:
They call me poor born
Don’t have no computer
Don’t have no cellphone...
SW: What led to your early recordings?
JS: I was a little upset that Elvis was getting more attention than me [laughs].
SW: How old were you then?
JS: I was about fourteen. I didn’t think so much about fame, but in ’59 at age seventeen, I thought, “Gee why don’t I record something?” I saw an ad and recorded something on Sunset Boulevard for a few dollars.
SW: So they would record it for you?
JS: Yeah. It was just a demo. I’d synchronize lyrics to the melody, and someone would play piano. It wasn’t that professional. This was ’59, ’60, and I was going to Belmont High School. I brought my record “Crying Over You” to one of my high school dances, and I danced to my own music. I was kicked out of a dance at the Belmont High Record Hop in 1960 because they said I needed a partner, and couldn’t dance with myself. I said “No problem. Would you like to dance?” [But everyone I asked said] “No thank you.” So I went back to dancing by myself... but I wasn’t just dancing – I was all over the floor.
SW: Wow - you were ahead of your time!
JS: They gave me a couple more warnings, and then they threw me out with a police escort. Kicked out of a dance for dancing!
BW: You mentioned it earlier, and I wanted to ask about your appearances on The Gong Show.
JS: It was amazing. March 20, 1977 I made my first appearance on The Gong Show, lifting weights with my head in the knight helmet. It was nice for a lot of people. I knew Murray Langston, “The Unknown Comic” from the Gong Show. I knew him before he became unknown. He was co-owner of the Show Biz Club in North Hollywood, around 1975, ’76. I would perform there, and I have a bit of in on tape.
BW: What projects lie ahead for you?
JS: I want to tape two-minute segments of my standup.
BW: When you did your standup at Ariel Pink presents Cuckoo's Nest, you incorporated a yearbook into the act, and were singing to a girl in it. Was that a real yearbook, and real girl?
JS: Oh yeah! I had a crush on her – Donna Hawley. I pointed to the square picture, and sang to her. I almost had a date with Donna in 1956. I’ve gone around for fifty years, saying and singing that I almost had a date with Donna.
BW: And you also had thoughts on drive-through dining, if I remember correctly.
JS: Oh yeah. I’m a consumer advocate. Anything you want to know – ask me. If you order to go…you can’t get refills! I order to go on occasion, but most of the time I order to stay.
BW: What’s your favorite place to eat in L.A.?
JS: Well, I’m very picky. Starting at age eighteen in 1960, I went to the original Tommy’s Burgers on Beverly Boulevard. It’s out of the way for me now, but I go there if I’m in the area.