L.A. Underground Legend Jerry Solomon on His Early Recordings, the Gong Show, and More
Toward the end of 2016, we were delighted to spend another L.A. afternoon chatting with Jerry Solomon. We've spoken with Jerry before about his interactions with Andy Kaufman, Ariel Pink, and others, and were thrilled that we were able to follow up with him. We still had so many questions about his curious and compelling career as a recording artist, performance artist, and all-around personality, and were hoping for further info from Mr. Solomon. On an uncharacteristically blustery L.A. afternoon, the L.A. underground legend was gracious enough to share further insight into his coveted rare early recordings, a 1990 campaign for California governor, classic TV appearances, and more.
Bobby Weirdo: Hi again, Jerry! How are you?
Jerry Solomon: Hi there - I'm OK. What button are you wearing there?
BW: It's an El Vez button from his El Vez for Prez campaign. Do you know who he is?
JS: Oh, I think I've heard of him!
BW: And you really did run for Governor of California around 1990, didn't you?
JS: Yes, I was certified. They required 60 signatures to be certified. I got 73 signatures. I actually have a copy of the official vote tally sheet I can get you. There were 9 candidates, and I got the least votes of all the candidates - 12 votes.
BW: I’ve been enjoying reading your autobiography, A Drug Free Life and a Glass of PCP and getting some more insight into things we’ve talked about.
JS: Oh, good.
BW: You made two Gong Show appearances, right?
JS: Well, I made several. One was a different type of a Gong Show. It shows me singing “All You Need is Bo Derek’s Brain” to the tune of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”. It’s a satirical song.
BW: It looks like the first time you went on was March 20, 1977 and it aired on April 21, 1977.
JS: Right! My first Gong Show was with the weights. Artie Johnson was one of the panelists, and he gonged me. It was so different back then with the audition process. Now you go online, but back then there was phone number, you spoke with a live person, and got an audition.
BW: So that’s how you would get these appearances – by auditioning?
JS: Yeah. Some of the auditions I didn’t make, some I did.
BW: How did that show work? Did you know ahead of time if you would get gonged?
JS: No, you didn’t know. It wasn’t pre-planned, so you might get gonged, and you might not.
BW: You also did the piece for Gloria on The Gong Show, right?
JS: That was on the new Gong Show on CBS. I did it with a blow-up picture of Gloria in ’88, and got gonged by John Matuszak, the football player. Jane [Wiedlin] of the Go-Go's was also one of the panelists, and Don Blue was the host.. The old Gong Show was taped at NBC in Burbank, and the new one was at CBS at Fairfax and Beverly. Twenty-five years ago – I can’t believe it. I was on that later version of The Gong Show about seven times.
BW: You knew Murray Langston before The Gong Show, right?
JS: Oh yeah. Murray Langston was the co-owner of the Show Biz Club in North Hollywood, along with Freeman King. I have an audio recording of him making wisecracks as I’m doing this dialogue in my knight’s helmet, saying “Ten years in the dungeon”. He’s playing the drums, saying “Come back in another ten!”
BW: I’d love to hear that.
JS: Yeah, I’ve can get it to you sometime. I didn’t know he was The Unknown Comic until after a while. I have some pictures of us onstage.
BW: I wanted to go way back and ask about some of those early recordings.
BW: What do you think about how sought after your early Fountain Records releases are? I've seen that people pay hundreds - and sometimes thousands - of dollars for them.
JS: Oh, gee - I'm honored!
BW: Was Fountain Records your own label?
JS: Oh yeah [laughs]. I signed myself up! I was the sole artist. I just put out 100 or 200 copies of my songs, and the recordings were at Ted Brinson’s studios. These days - for better or for worse - times have changed for writers and musicians. There are more alternatives now and ways to produce your own work.
BW: Is it true that you used to walk around town with those records in a bag or something?
JS: Back in the 1880s? Back then, I drove a little Honda 50 motorcycle, and I would carry a couple in my big pocket. That was the 1960s.
BW: Why did you call the label Fountain Records?
JS: No particular reason -- I thought it sounded nice.
Suzy Weirdo: It does sound nice!
BW: And when you had a band backing you on those tracks, was it Cliff Holland’s group?
JS: I did “Senorita” and “Come to the Ball” in the 60s. We tracked the band first, and then I sang over the band.
BW: You sang in a choir with Cliff, right? Which choir was that?
JS: The Metropolitan Chorale. That choir started around 1963, when I was twenty-one. That was quite an experience, using the Delta rhythm blues, Scatman Cruthers, etc. I had a solo in their called “Blueberry Hill”. We performed in various clubs and rehearsed on Pico Blvd. near La Brea. I eventually lived in that room for about eight months. Oh, it’s a long story.
BW: You mention in your book that many people especially like “Look at All the Flowers”.
BW: What do you think it is about that song that people like so much?
JS: It was a dialogue to piano accompaniment. It was recorded at La Brea and Wilshire, which became an MTA center eventually.
BW: Do you remember the inspiration to that dialogue?
JS: The Flower Generation. [Speaking theatrically] “Look at the flowers!” It was recorded in part because of the Flower Children back then in ’66. You remember! I’m doing my standup now. You know from your history, though.
BW: Right. I also wanted to ask about your classic “We’re Going to Talk about the Weather”, which you resurrected in 2005 on a Jimmy Kimmel Live! spot.
JS: Yeah. That was from the same session from the combo, and that – believe it or not – was aired on Jimmy Kimmel Live! They heard about me through somebody else, and I submitted tapes to them. They used footage my friend Mikul got of me singing it in the street.
BW: I know you've done some extra work in the past, like appearing in Man On the Moon and in the doughnut shop scene in Wayne's World. Do you still do that?
JS: I try to get a little work sometimes as an extra. I say it in my standup: "What?! Does Robert De Niro do extra work?" Meanwhile, when they do a cattle call, I'm the first in line!
BW: You were kind enough to give me a picture of you when you were very young, playing tennis. Where did you used to play?
JS: Oh, all over. Often, at a racquet club that is a Beverly Hills country club now, but back then it had a different name. I have home movies there from "Star Day" -- Ricky Nelson and Gypsy Boots played there. One time, I had been playing in the center court, and it was someone else's turn to play. I had to relinquish the court to a gentleman and his two sons. It was Lloyd Bridges and his sons Jeff and Beau! Lloyd Bridges told me I was so kind! But yeah - I was OK at tennis. I played for Belmont High School and Hamilton High School.
BW: Well, thanks again for sharing more of your time and helping us document some of your work like this.
JS: Yeah, this is ongoing. Have a good day!