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"Is that Waddy Wachtel standing over there? My God . . . this guy has worked for everyone who's ever been in the music business, hasn't he?" (CBS: "Late Night With David Letterman," May 3, 2001)
"My father actually didn't want that . . . for years. I made the decision when my Mom was alive, and then from that age, from age five, until age nine, all's I did was bust his chops about it. And he didn't want it. He said, "No, no, no . . . don't worry about it . . . forget about the guitar. Learn about something else . . . get into some school. I want you to get into some school. Have the guitar to fall back on." And I was like, "I don't know what you are talking about . . . have it to 'fall back on.'" I'm not going to be some doctor who plays the guitar on the weekends. You know, this is IT."
Actually, I know a doctor that does that.
Yes, sure, there's lots of them. But I was committed. So I just bitched and bitched. And he fought me. It took me till . . .. you know, if I had my way, I would have started playing when I was about seven or so. But it took him until I was about nine to finally give in, and find me a teacher.
And you had guitar lessons with a guy named Gene Dell.
Oh, yes, that's right! Yes, Gene Dell, that's right. Nine years old, I started. And he came along . . . I wanted to play left-handed. I'm left handed.
What did you do, string your guitar the opposite way?
No, no, no . . . I didn't know . . . I was nine years old . . . I didn't know fuckin' anything! I just sat there playing the guitar backwards, 'till the guy came over. And he went . . . he grabbed it out of my hands and turned it around, and went, "Hey, no, no, no!" "Hey, I'm left handed." And he went, "No, not any more you're not. You're going to play right handed." And I went, "But, but." But he said, "No, you're going to play this way." So at age nine, I was stripped of my left-handedness, and shown the way to play right handed.
(laughing) Yeah, really. I had other things on the mind. And then when I was about 16, I think, I wanted to study again. Meanwhile, I was playing in a band. And I met this guitar player, who was like "hot stuff" and he mentioned he was studying with a man named Sal Salvador who was a great jazz guitarist, and was giving lessons. So I went and signed up with Sal. And I studied with him for about a year. And that was great because he was really very in tune to jazz, and improvisation and reading at the same time . . . and I was all of the sudden studying out of nine or ten books each week. I had lessons out of nine or ten books that I had to show up with and know. It was pretty extensive. And he dug my sensibilities about music, so he would have me come over and go over and work with arrangements with him. I mean play the things he was writing with him and stuff. The next thing I knew, I was spending like three or four nights a week with him, instead of my one night of lessons. I'd go there for a couple of nights a week and just play these arrangements with him, so he could get his shit together, and we'd go eat Italian food downstairs . . .
I lived guitar. I lived jazz and guitar. I was always a rock and roller, but a lot of the music I learned . . . well, my brother had an extensive jazz record collection. So I would just cut school and stay home and learn everything. There was a book, when I was a kid, by a guy named Mickey Baker, about how to play jazz guitar. When it got to the page about improvising it said, "well, nobody can really teach you how to improvise." And I went, "Oh great." And it said, "you gotta do that on your own you gotta develop your own soul." And he said, "I recommend the way to do that is to learn everything you love, every solo that you hear that you like learn it." So that's what I would do. I would sit there and play whatever record was on . . . a saxophone, Gerry Mulligan, or Lou Donaldson, or anybody. Any solos that would go by that I liked I would learn them. And I would just develop my "ear" like that. And that's how I started learning all the rock and roll songs same way. When I was a kid the first thing I learned was "Tequila!" And I went crazy when I realized that I moved that chord and it made that sound, and I went, "Oh my God." And then I started learning stuff by "ear." Gene Dell (his first teacher) would say, "Bobby . . . you're not reading! You are not reading! You're playing it by ear." And I'd say, "Well, I can't help it . . . I learned it already. My ear beat me to it."
They did. Even though he knew my "ear" was beating my "eye" to the page, in other words. So I'm not a great reader . . . I'm a decent reader, but not like some of my friends who can read anything.
Sometimes you do . . . you never know. All of the sudden . . . like, well, you're working on a movie date, and they have specific things written out or . . . or a lot of record dates. Back in the old days you would walk in and there'd be charted stuff. And sometimes I literally had to go, "Hey, come here . . . sing this to me."
I was . . . well, I was a little messed up, since my Mom died. I was pretty much a science project for a couple of years. I really didn't know what the hell was going on. I couldn't get a grasp on too much for a while there. But, anyhow, we lived in Jackson Heights, Queens (New York). And I went to public school: PS 149. I remember that. And the Junior High was called 145, Joseph Pulitzer Junior High School, 145.
Yeah! And then I went to this high school . . . it was called Newtown High School, which was known to be the like the toughest school in the fuckin' whole city. It was just full of just frightful hoodlums and . . . it was really, like, terrifying. And so I got privy to cutting school at a young age. It was safer. I was kind of scared to be at that high school.
So I learned then, well . . . you don't really have to go to school, I guess. But I managed to graduate high school.
Well, let me just say when I finished high school, I finished at a place called "Quintano's School For Young Professionals." Because I was cutting school so much that it was pointless . . .and someone said, "There's this high school in the city for like actors, and kids that don't have time for regular school." And I went, "You know, that's for me." And for this guy that I worked with in this band. We just said, "We gotta go there." So we signed up for Quintano's, and went for an hour and a half a day. And then started even blowing that off, because after a while it didn't matter. And I was working. At that point we were already working in Newport, Rhode Island in this band. So we would drive to Newport, on the weekend . . . do our shit, come home and pretend I had the energy to go to school. After a while we'd just kind of stay in Newport. And I came back down and the head of the school he just looked at me and said, "You'll never pass this test, because you gotta take your final. You'll never pass this." And then he said, well, just answer what you can, and I'll mark you on what you get right." So I graduated.
But then the draft was beckoning!
This was like 1967 or so. And the draft was really biting at my ankles. That's a whole long story, too . . . we don't need that though. That's pretty hilarious though.
I escaped. We went up to a college, called New Haven College. At this point I had a band called "The Orphans." That's the band I was working with. Avoiding the draft I went to New Haven College. And we stayed there till the band broke up.
Connecticut, yeah. And these guys left me, and I was stuck. And after years of road already, at like age 17, 18 . . . I went, "Oh no, I've gotta go home? This is no good!" So I went back home to Harry and Jimmy and then the draft was nipping at my heels again.
And then I studied music at that point. I wanted to learn more about music. And I tried to get into a couple of music colleges, but I just couldn't pass those tests. "The dictation," as they call it. They play you a piece, and you have to write it out, as it's goin' by, and I just wasn't ready for that.
Oh, and what else is funny, when all this happened you know, the band broke up and everything I came back home and my hair looked then like it basically does now! My father wasn't going for it. You know, I was like 17 years old. He said, "Go get it trimmed." So I went to a barber, and instead of trimming me, this barber fuckin' destroyed me.
He shaved my head basically! I was like I was livid! And I was so embarrassed, but I went to Mr. Schramm and I said and I hadn't seen him since I was a baby. And I said, "I need to learn music, and to tell you the truth, and also, I need your help because I've already accepted a job in Vermont four months from now, and I need you to help convince my father that I should take it. Because I want to go." And he said, "I'll help you Bobby, I'll help you."
That's right! So that was great . . . a lot of my musical knowledge I credit to Mr. Schramm. He was wonderful.
I got the name "Waddy" from a guy named I had a band when I was about 16. I was working with these guys. We had like a little 'surfin' band. And when The Beatles and Stones came out, then we had a 'surfin' band/Beatles and Stones Band. You know, we'd would do Beach Boys songs, Beatles, and so on. And this one guitar player the guy that I wrote with, the other guy's name was Carl Wilkenfeld. It was him, a guy named Bob Munz, my bass player that came from Queens with me, and this other guy was a friend of Carl Wilkenfeld's named Jerry Birnbach. And this (Jerry) guy was one of those goofy kind of guys that would always be making mistakes, always be screwing up . . . and I was always yelling at him. And I was always, like, up his ass about stuff. And all the sudden one day, I was firing on him and he goes/he just turned around (and I was always "Bob" up until then) and this one day he just turned around and went to shut me up, he went (in a whiny voice): "I'm sorry Waddy." And I turned around and went, "Whoa! What the fuck is that?" And he goes, "I'm sorry Waddy." "Don't call me that." And then after a while, I went, "well . . . Waddy. That sounds better than Bob."
So it's from this crazy guy.
Yeah, someone was just trying to shut me up, which he did.
Yeah . . . I mean we were all right. It was just my father and brother and I.
Shirley came along later. Harry got married again when I was about 16. He had tried a second marriage, but it totally failed. And then he met Shirley, right after I moved to California, and got married. And they were married like FOREVER. They were married from 1969 till, like 3 or 4 years ago. Shirley has been like a Mom even though there were like 3000 miles between us.
Yes, because I came out here and I didn't have anything. You know a Jewish boy's dream is to be able to support his father, you know. So finally when I started working my Dad, he had this friend named Harry Waxman. He was a big builder in New York. And they were life long friends, and he was supposed to take care of my father and he wasn't. And it was really pissing me off. And so one day I pulled him aside . . . and it was really funny, because I remember I was at Forrest Hill Stadium, with Linda Ronstadt. And I had started doing eye makeup then too. And we had just finished this show, and I had all this black eye makeup running down my face and everything. And I took my father aside and I said, "I just want you to know something. I want you to call your friend Harry Waxman, and tell him to go fuck himself. Tell him your son Bobby is taking care of you now." The two of us were crying. It was this wonderful moment: my father and I. You know I was always cutting school, I was always lying. My brother was a good boy. I was a fucking rat. I was the troubled kid.
You were just six when you lost your Mom.
Yeah. And then I just developed lying . . .
Yeah, it was really confusing.
Yeah, and she was sick for a long time, so it was pretty funky.
Yeah, it was bad. I didn't know what the hell was going on. I couldn't figure it out.
Yeah, that's what I was talking about, in Newport, Rhode Island.
No, no. Keith Olsen I met here meaning California.
No . . . that's a little out of context. Keith was in a band in 1966 called Music Machine. But I didn't meet Keith Olsen until I had moved to California. I moved here in '68, with a band called, "Twice Nicely." And it's funny, we were playing up in Newport, Rhode Island. And all the sudden people would say to me, have you heard the Cowsills? I went "what?" What kind of word is that? I never heard a word like that in my life! Cowsills? And they said, "Oh, man, that's these four boys, and they are amazing." And I was like, "You gotta be kidding." And they said, "They're babies . . . they're kids." So I went and saw them. And at that time the Cowsills were, like, literally just the four kids: Bobby, Billy, Barry and John. And they were amazing! They did Beatles songs, and they sang beautifully. But their father (William "Bud" Cowsill) was a complete alcoholic monster, who would come to the club we played in and get so drunk. I used to have him thrown out of the club a few times a week. "Get that fucking bum out of here." Then he started telling me, "I want to manage you." And I was like, "Get the fuck away from me." And all the sudden, The Cowsills got a deal. And it was amazing! Now at this point, some time had gone by. When I first met him, and I was still with that band, The Orphans. Then things went down, the band quit, the college thing fell through, and I put together this band called "Twice Nicely." And we were back working in Newport, Rhode Island. Anyhow, Bud would come to this club called "Dorian's," where The Ophans would play, and try to tell me he wanted to manage me, and I told him, "You are out of your mind. Look, when you get a million dollars, then come talk to me." And he was shit-faced drunk and I didn't think it mattered.
(laughing) And I said, "Yup, get me the fuck outta here!" So he said, "Alright, we're going back to New York. We're living in New York now, so why don't you guys pack it in up here and come on down there and start rehearsing." So we moved back down to New York, and at that point is when I finally heard from the FBI this time . . . in relation to the draft, because I am STILL shining the draft! Like five physicals have gone down now, and I have not gone for any of them. The sixth letter I got was from the FBI saying, don't even BOTHER bringing anything with you, because you're going to Vietnam. You are going directly from your physical to the front lines.
So I went, "No this ain't gonna work. This ain't gonna work." So I told Bud about it, I said, "Look I got a problem here. I got a real problem." And he said, "I know someone you can talk to." There was a gentleman named Herbie Cohen. I don't know if you ever heard of his name.
Well, no . . . Herb Cohen used to manage Frank Zappa. [And Linda Ronstadt, among others] He managed "The Mothers Of Invention," who I was in love with. And he said this guy Herb is coming to town. "Why don't you talk to him about it. He's got a real good sense about these things." I had a meeting with Herb, and I said, "Look man, I don't know what to do." And he said, "Look Waddy, look at yourself. You are NOT Army material." (laughing) He goes, "that's all you got to know. And you just have to go and convince them of that. They don't want YOU, believe me! You are exactly what they DON'T want."
"You like to think for yourself, you don't like to take orders from people. You are NOT the guy they are looking for. They think you are now, but once they get to know you, they'll know you're not. You just have to go to that physical. And I suggest to you . . ."
"No, don't cut your hair! Don't talk to anybody, don't answer any of the questions. When it comes time for you to take the physical part, after you do the written test, tell them, you're afraid: you don't want to take your clothes off. You're afraid to take your clothes off. You seem like a nervous guy, so just get real nervous."
Yeah. And about two weeks later, we moved to LA, with the Cowsills.
I know, I know. It was very funny because there were two people that I always wanted to meet. If I ever got to California, I wanted to meet Brian Wilson, who is still my idol. And at that time David Crosby was saying a lot of good things in the late sixties. So I thought David Crosby seems very hip. I want to meet him. Two days after we got there, we went to dinner at some place David Crosby is sitting three tables away.
And then I met Brian, through this guy Arnie Geller who is the man that introduced me to Brian Wilson. Arnie knew Keith Olsen. And a guy named Curt Boettcher, who is now deceased . . . but they had a band, known as the "Millennium" in the late sixties. And Curt Boettcher produced "Along Comes Mary" with The Association. And Curt and Keith were in this band, Millenium. And they were also making records, producing them. Arnie introduced us. Curt and Keith liked our band a lot, and we started working together. They were producing our demos. Then Curt and Keith had some kind of falling out, and then I fired the whole band. I had had it. I said to them, "I want you all to know, I'm not quitting. You're all fired!" There's a difference. (laughing)
(laughing) You're the sole "Orphan" now!
That's right. And they're fuckin' screwed. (laughing)
I had a single. I did a "Waddy" single, called "You're The One." Keith produced it, and it was my song, and I sang it. And I was going to do an album. It was for a label named, "Anthem," which was a subsidiary of Polygram. And Stevie and Lindsey got signed to Polygram, and they got an album deal. And I was going to do an album deal, but these people who signed me, screwed me. So I never did any more than the single.
Well, ahhh, yeah. Like I was saying, Stevie and Lindsey came down, and we met. (1972)
No, Keith . . . he had met them, and he brought them down to make a record. And so we were working at a studio called "Sound City." And that's where I was doing my stuff and that's where we did the Buckingham Nicks record. And we became very tight friends, you know. Stevie was very innocent at that point. And Lindsey and I were addicted to the music. And Lindsey . . . he had like a four track tape machine Ampex tape machine. And they made some great demos, and so we went in the studio and we recorded their album. And from then on, the three of us were always together basically. I was always at their house. We were sitting around on the floor, smoking hash.
Very very very possible, yes. (laughing)
(laughing) That's right. That's right!
Oh yeah. She did for sure! And then we . . . had another friend. George, or Jorge, Calderon and he played bass with us. So we started playing gigs around town. The four of us. You know when I met Stevie, and I heard her sing I was already very much into Dolly Parton at that point which was wild, because I never heard a note of country music when I lived in New York. But when I moved here, I was like, "Wow, what's this stuff? Country music? Wild." And so I gave her [Stevie] a Dolly Parton album. And I said, "you've got to learn this girl's work. You've gotta get a load of this chic!" And she couldn't believe it. And so we started gigging around town, doing Dolly Parton tunes, and other country songs, and couple of originals, and Lindsey and I would play guitar great together. So we just knocked around like that.
I think by the time the album came out, I wanted to do my own thing or I might have been working with the Everly's then. I can't quite remember the sequence of events then. I was actually kind of working when we all (Buckingham Nicks) met. I was an actual session's musician. And so from time to time I was very busy, or kind of busy, or not so busy. My stuff was kind of picking up around then.
Well, he was just a very nice guy. I was playing slide, and he just went, "Waddy Wachtel." It fit the rhythm, I think. That was that. But the funniest thing was, then I was working with Linda-Ronstadt. And I came home one day from a tour, and the phone rings and it's Lindsey. And I go, "So what's up man." And he goes, "Man, I gotta run something by you. I got a strange situation here." And I go, "What?" And he goes, "Well, this guy named Mick Fleetwood came to Sound City, looking for production with Keith Olsen. And, uh, Keith played him our stuff. And he [Mick Fleetwood] wants us to join Fleetwood Mac." And I went "Yah . . . what's the problem?" And he goes, "I don't know if we want to do it. You know, we got Buckingham Nicks." And I said, "Lindsey, the only mistake you are making right now is you're on the wrong phone call. I want you to hang up, and call Mick Fleetwood, and tell him 'Yes.'" And I said the only thing wrong with the equation is that they didn't want me also.
No. They wanted them. They just wanted the two of them. I wound up . . . I mean we were all tight friends and I played on a little bit of the record. But I made some very valid suggestions that reflect on the music that are still there today. Some of the things I said were, "Why don't you do this, and stuff. Try this." So I said, "Call him, now. Call him now, and say YES."
Yes. Well, I just knew that was an in for them. I knew that Buckingham Nicks was going to be an uphill fight, but Fleetwood Mac already had a name. So let them be your back up band, man. So that's what he did.
No, uh-uh. Not really.
Yeah, I got Lindsey that job. When I left that job, Lindsey came on and took the job over for me.
Well, no, that's a whole other story. That's where I met Warren Zevon. He was the band-leader for The Everly Brothers. Don and I had a little falling out, over something.
Yeah, well, I don't mind really. It's pretty funny. But anyway . . .
"Waddy Wachtel, now known for his work as a producer and with Linda Ronstadt and Zevon, joined the band as lead guitarist. 'We rehearsed for a fortnight without Don and Phil. They were all finishing their album. At that time Don and Phil didn't get on at all and Bob Knigge (the established bass player) said "Don't try to get them together", but that was my dream: to sit with them and sing and play with them. Finally, one night in England we all got together in my room. Prior to that night you'd have Phil hanging out with you or Don hanging out with you. You'd never have both of them. Then one night they both came in and sang and it was the most beautiful thing you ever heard. Just those pure gorgeous voices and from then on it just developed musically to a point a month later where all we did on the road was all get into a room, Don, Phil, Warren, Knigge and me and sing at each other and it became this beautiful relationship. They were really friendly towards each other. I was with them about a year and then had a bad fall-out with Don and had to leave. We resolved it a year later and became friends again.'"