Warren Zevon — “The First Sessions” with liner notes by Dawn Eden @DawnofMercy

Liner notes are a genre refinement that is now outrageously neglected in the age of digital downloads. Despite the planet-ranging power of Google’s trivia collection, there is still nothing like a really good set of well-written liner notes that are specially commissioned for an album release and then packaged with it.

Here’s a perfect example of what you miss out on if you can only buy the digital download.

Rock historian Dawn Eden supplied these first-class liner notes to “The First Sessions,” a CD reissue of Warren Zevon’s early work with Lyme & Cybelle that also contains some solo studio recordings and unreleased demos:

Warren Zevon The First Sessions

In this reissue-saturated age, it is rare indeed to discover an album that can truly be called a lost chapter in rock history. Yet that is what this collection is: the first career phase—most of it never-before heard—of Warren Zevon, one of the most original voices to emerge from the golden era of West Coast singer-songwriters. Moreover, many of these songs display a vulnerable, even delicate side of Zevon that is a revelation for those who only know his trademark cynicism.

We take you back to early 1965, when the teenage Warren Zevon, after being shunted from one school to another as his family moved around California, finally found himself finishing his senior year at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. It was on the lawn at that school one day, during a break, that, as he sat with his guitar, he was spotted by fellow senior Violet Santangelo.

Like Zevon, Santangelo was also a recent Los Angeles transplant, having moved from Chicago. And, like him, she felt out of place among the school’s very L.A. student body. (Instead of cigarette breaks, students took “nutrition periods,” where they snacked on apples.) The shy girl noticed the boy with the guitar, and somehow picked up the courage to push her long red ringlets out of her eyes and approach him.

The guitar was a new instrument for Zevon; he’d only just left off playing classical piano. But he wasn’t about to let on to his new friend, as she discovered when he took her for a ride in his expensive yellow Stingray (his father was fairly well off). The former Violet Santangelo—today known as Laura Kenyon—recalls, “I remember I turned the radio on and it was romantic classical music. And he said, ‘Turn that off! I can’t stand that shit!’”

The two outsiders developed a close platonic friendship. Zevon would often visit Santangelo’s home, where they would go into her room and sing Beatles songs. They quickly discovered that they had a natural vocal chemistry. “We had a sound,” Kenyon says.

The previously-unreleased demo of the duo’s version of The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” which Kenyon says was recorded in her bedroom on a borrowed two-track deck, captures the purity and innocence of their vocal blend. Kenyon says that their eventual producer, Bones Howe, described their voices as sounding like “clean white snow that had just fallen.”

Soon, the duo was singing for Santangelo’s parents and friends, including the former child actor Michael Burns (“Wagon Train”), whose mother worked for Lee Lasseff, one of the owners of the White Whale label. One thing led to another and the duo were offered a contract with the Los Angeles indie, whose most successful act was The Turtles.

At about the same time as White Whale expressed interest in Zevon and Santangelo, the pair wrote the song that would be their lone chartmaker—“Follow Me”—and came up with a group name: Lyme & Cybelle. (Zevon originally envisioned the name to be written e.e. cummings-style, with no capitals, a convention which White Whale observed in its label copy, but which has not lasted into this era of spellcheck.)

Zevon thought of the Lyme half of the name; Bones Howe recalls that it was inspired by a green-hued cologne of the time called Old Lyme. Cybelle was taken from one of Santangelo’s favorite films, the French movie Sundays with Cybele.

Lyme & Cybelle’s greatest song began one day in late 1965 in Santangelo’s bedroom, with Santangelo sitting on her antique brass bed, which was covered with red and green velvet, and Zevon sitting with his guitar on a chaise lounge.

“I remember Warren had this riff,” Kenyon says. “He called it ‘raga-rock,’ but it was before raga-rock [existed].

“He said, ‘Go ahead,’ with a little bit of an edge. ‘Go ahead. Sing something.’

“I started singing, ‘Stars are hidden ‘neath my lids…’ and so we dove into it.”

The White Whale owners assigned Bones Howe to produce the group. Howe—who would later earn acclaim for his work with The Association, The Fifth Dimension, Tom Waits, and others—was then a proven hitmaker for the label, having helmed The Turtles’ smashes.

Although Kenyon recalls that Zevon played guitar with her when they practiced, Howe recalls Zevon first played him “Follow Me” on the piano. Perhaps Zevon felt more confident playing before a member of the industry on the instrument he knew best. At any rate, Howe was taken with the song from its initial riff. (“I was always an intro freak,” he admits.)

Howe introduced Zevon to arranger Bob Thompson, and Zevon described to Thompson the sound he wanted for “Follow Me.” Thompson then wrote the musical charts for the players, all L.A. session greats.

Bones Howe came up with the unusual idea of adding a jawbone, a little-used percussion instrument that heightened the song’s exotic feel. “I remember Warren being so excited [about that],” says Kenyon. “He thought that was the hippest thing.”

During the same four-week period of sessions that resulted in “Follow Me,” Lyme & Cybelle also recorded the Jimmy Reed classic “Peeping and Hiding” (chosen by Zevon, who was heavily into the blues), and two gorgeous ballads that they wrote together, “Like the Seasons” (later covered by The Turtles as the B-side of “Happy Together”) and “I’ll Go On,” which would be the B-side of their next two singles.

The resulting recording was unusual, compelling, and yet undeniably commercial. Howe notes that “Follow Me” is “almost a psychedelic record.” Certainly, in March 1966, it was ahead of its time. It is telling that the record did best in California, where it hit the Top 10 in many markets and was almost certainly an influence on the San Francisco scene (which had yet to break out into the mainstream).

Although “Follow Me” showed that Lyme & Cybelle had commercial promise, White Whale did not immediately grant the duo license to begin recording an album. Instead, the label took the same pragmatic approach that it had used with The Turtles, insisting that the duo first record a second single. That single was “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” a Bob Dylan song that had been a hit the previous year in England for Manfred Mann.

Laura Kenyon has an interesting story about “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” which is similar to the experiences of other artists of the era who released songs that were thought to have sexual, drug-related, or politically unacceptable content.

“As soon as they released [the single], it was really moving,” she says. Then, she alleges, the powerful radio industry figure Bill Gavin put out the word that “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” was unacceptable due to sexual content. “Our song got taken off right away. And that just scotched that, totally.”

With the failure of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” the close working relationship of Zevon and Santangelo began to falter. Zevon, who was signed to White Whale’s publishing company, began to focus on developing his individual songwriting and performing talents, recording demos with Bones Howe. One of those demos was the buoyant “You Used to Ride So High,” on which Zevon and Howe (an experienced session percussionist who had played drums on The Grass Roots’ early recordings) played all the instruments. Zevon hoped that the recording would be released, and even came up with a name for the “group”: The Motorcycle Abeline.

Another song Howe produced for Zevon, “Outside Chance,” became a single for The Turtles, who closely copied the demo’s arrangement. Howe recalls, “The thing that everybody liked about ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ was the kind of stomping thing that happened in the chorus, the pounding quarter-notes, and I think that was one of the things that everybody liked about ‘Outside Chance,’ that it had that feel all the way through it.”

Other Zevon demos from the period, such as “If I Had You,” had a plaintive, even crystalline feel. If Zevon’s later work was Lennonesque, these ballads were much more like McCartney. “He did have that quiet, sweet quality when he sang softly,” Howe says. “It just all began to change, I think, when he finally found his voice. I think the Wanted Dead or Alive record that he made for Imperial [Zevon’s first album, released in 1969] was the beginning of his really wanting to rip into songs. That sweet quality in his voice kind of went away after the Lyme & Cybelle period.”

Despite Zevon’s undeniable promise as a songwriter, his relationship with White Whale faltered, as his uncompromising attitude clashed with the label owners’ single-minded pursuit of hit records. It was, after all, only 1966; The Turtles were still doing Sloan-Barri compositions, and White Whale, like most labels, had yet to discern that there was money to be made from the underground. The failure of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” was enough to prompt the label to drop Zevon, although it retained Violet Santangelo and the Lyme & Cybelle name.

While Zevon continued to record demos with Bones Howe—the producer taking on the role of publisher as well—White Whale paired Santangelo with a new “Lyme”: guitarist and songwriter Wayne Erwin, who had sung backup on The Monkees’ early recordings. Although the songs on what would be the last Lyme & Cybelle single, “Song #7″ b/w “Write if You Get Work,” were credited to one “Joe Glenn,” Kenyon recalls that they were in fact Erwin compositions.

The “Song #7″ 45 was produced by Curt Boettcher, hot off his production of The Association’s first album, who placed his unmistakable stamp on it. It was recorded at the site of The Association recordings, Gary Paxton’s studio, the control room of which was in a bus parked in Paxton’s driveway (quite a comedown from the Bones Howe sessions, Kenyon recalls). The musicians on it are almost certainly the same as on The Association’s album.

The Erwin Lyme & Cybelle stayed together until 1967, when Erwin, who had expanded the duo to a full band, fired Santangelo from her own group. She then left the music business for the world of musical theater, earning a talent scholarship to the University of Southern California. As Laura Kenyon, she remains a successful singer and actress, appearing on Broadway in Nine and other shows, as well as in the touring versions of Broadway musicals.

The latest recording on this collection is the demo “A Bullet for Ramona,” which Zevon recut for Wanted Dead or Alive. “It’s the beginning of that dark side to his songwriting that showed up much later, in ‘Lawyers, Guns, and Money’ and all those other things,” Howe observes.

Howe, who helped Zevon obtain his deal with Imperial for Wanted Dead or Alive and also worked with him on a second, unreleased Imperial album, continued to publish Zevon until the early 1970s, when his old friend David Geffen expressed interest in the songwriter.

“I said, ‘You know, David, I really can’t get him off the ground, so, if you want to sign him, I’ll be happy to turn the contract over to you,’” Howe recalls. “Because I knew that David would take good care of him.”

Although Lyme & Cybelle provided Warren Zevon with the springboard he needed to enter the music business, Howe is confident that “no matter what area of music he got into, he would have been successful. So it was really his choice to make.

“He always had vision. He was a guy who had extremely good vision, even when he was young, he could see what was coming, he could see forward.”

Dawn Eden

May 4th, 2003

Here’s the track listing and musician information:

1 Follow Me • Lyme & Cybelle
(Warren Zevon-Violet Santangelo)
White Whale single 228; Pop #65, 1966
Recorded December 17, 1965-January 14, 1966
Produced by Bones Howe
Conducted by Bob Thompson

2 Like The Seasons • Lyme & Cybelle
(Warren Zevon-Violet Santangelo)
White Whale single 228(B); 1966
Recorded December 17, 1965-January 14, 1966
Produced by Bones Howe
Conducted by Bob Thompson

3 I’ve Just Seen A Face • Lyme & Cybelle
(John Lennon-Paul McCartney)
Previously unreleased demo recording

4 Peeping And Hiding • Lyme & Cybelle
(Jimmy Reed)
Previously unreleased demo recording
Recorded December 17, 1965-January 14, 1966
Produced by Bones Howe
Conducted by Bob Thompson

5 If You Gotta Go, Go Now • Lyme & Cybelle
(Bob Dylan)
White Whale single 232; 1966
Recorded April 24-May 3, 1966
Produced by Bones Howe
Conducted by Bob Thompson

6 I’ll Go On • Lyme & Cybelle
(Warren Zevon-Violet Santangelo)
White Whale single 232(B); 1966
Recorded December 17, 1965-January 14, 1966
Produced by Bones Howe
Conducted by Bob Thompson

7 Follow Me • Lyme & Cybelle
(Warren Zevon-Violet Santangelo)
Previously unreleased demo recording

8 (You Used To) Ride So High • The Motorcycle Abeline
(Warren Zevon)
Previously unreleased demo, recorded July 22-24, 1966
Produced by Bones Howe for Mr. Bones Productions

9 Ourside Chance • Warren Zevon
(Glenn Crocker-Warren Zevon)
Previously unreleased demo recording

10 I See The Lights • Warren Zevon
(Warren Zevon)
Previously unreleased demo recording

11 And If I Had You • Warren Zevon
(Warren Zevon)
Previously unreleased demo recording

12 A Bullet For Ramona • Warren Zevon
(Warren Zevon)
Previously unreleased demo recording
Produced by Warren Zevon for Mr. Bones Productions

Bonus Lyme & Cybelle Tracks (Male vocal Wayne Erwin):

13 Song 7
(Joe Glenn)
White Whale single 245; 1966
Produced by Curt Boettcher

14 Write If You Get Work
(Joe Glenn)
White Whale single 245(B); 1966
Produced by Curt Boettcher

Musicians:

“Follow Me”
“Peeping And Hiding”
“I’ll Go On”
Guitars: Tommy Tedesco, Dennis Budimir
Piano & Organ: Larry Knechtel
Fender Bass: Lyle Ritz
Drums: Hal Blaine
Percussion: Bones Howe

“Like The Seasons”
Guitars: Tommy Tedesco, Dennis Budimir
Piano & Organ: Larry Knechtel
Fender Bass: Lyle Ritz
Drums: Hal Blaine
Percussion: Bones Howe
Violin: Lenny Malarsky
Vila: Joe DiFiore
Celli: Joe Saxon, Jessie Erlich

“(You Used To) Ride So High”
Guitar & Bass Guitar: Warren Zevon
Drums & Percussion: Bones Howe

“If You Gotta Go, Go Now”
Guitars: Tommy Tedesco, Dennis Budimir
Piano & Organ: Larry Knechtel
Fender Bass: Joe Osborn
Drums: Hal Blaine
Trumpets: Ollie Mitchell, Jules Chaiken
Trombones: Dick Leith, Lou Blackburn

Personnel info for Song #7 and Write If You Get Work is believed to be Mike Deasy and Ben Benay on guitar, Jerry Scheff on bass, and Jim Troxell or Toxie French on drums. The backing vocalists most likely included Curt Boettcher, Lee Mallory, Michele O’Malley, Sandy Salisbury, and Jim Bell.

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