Gary James' Interview With Tommy McLoughlin Of
These guys played every famous bar in Hollywood in the 1960s; The Palladium, The Stratford, Sea Witch, The Hullabaloo, Bito Lidos, The Galaxy and The Whiskey. And they shared the stage with some of Rock's biggest names. We're talking The Doors, Iron Butterfly, The Electric Prunes, The Animals. You want to hear stories about what it was like to be in a band in Los Angeles in the 1960s? Talk to The Sloths and singer Tommy McLoughlin.
Q - How is it that a bunch of fifteen, sixteen year old kids could play all these Sunset Strip clubs in Hollywood? Did you lie about your age? Did a parent attend the shows with you? As the time the drinking age had to be at least eighteen. Maybe it was twenty-one, I don't know.
A - Well, interesting, Gary. The places we were playing there was no alcohol served. Most of those places, Pandora's Box, The Hollywood Palladium, even Gazzarri's at the time, in the beginning were like coffee shop, beatnik bars. The Folk scene had kind of gone through there. Then we were sort of in a transitional stage where it was The Byrds playing at The Trip which again was sort of that Folk / Rock thing. The group Love was there. The early version of The Doors. Then there was all of the guys that were really influenced by the British bands, The Beatles of course. It turned all of our heads and we said, "This is a great way to meet chicks." (laughs) Grow our hair out, pick up an instrument and figure it out. So, there was an awful lot of that going on. We were literally fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old and if by having one of those bands in there or two or three at some of the places, they would draw an audience; girls and young guys looking to pick up girls. Nobody ever questioned our ages at all.
Q - You were fortunate then.
A - Yeah. We used to open for all these great acts. We were just young punks who managed to just keep coming back and they'd go, "Okay, you guys are nice guys. Alright." They kept giving us jobs.
Q - Did you realize you were living in a very special time in the mid-1960s?
A - Didn't realize it in that way and sort of look back and go, oh, my... 'cause there'd been nothing like it before. We were experiencing it. This is happening and we're part of it. I mean personally for me, getting kicked out of seven high schools over the fact that my hair touched my ears was pretty much telling us that what we were doing was not being accepted, which made it all the more of a rebellion. Being up there when the riots on Sunset Strip happened was sort of like, why is this wrong? I don't get it. Of course we didn't see the whole effect it was having on the business because there'd be so many of us up there that people couldn't drive down the street. The business people were upset 'cause all these kids were blocking the sidewalks. So, in came the police and it didn't take long for some of the drunk Valley dudes to start swinging. We all kind of got thrown into this whole world where if you wanted to look this way and be part of that, you had to be prepared that you were going to be rejected, which just made you all the stronger. I knew having gone up to The Monterey Pop Festival and sitting there and seeing Hendrix with everybody for the first time, Janis (Joplin), Otis (Redding), that was just unbelievably life changing. You went, okay, this is something really special and you just want to be a part of it. Today, when I say we opened for The Doors a number of times, "Did you hang out with Jim Morrison?" Yeah, but that was like no big deal. He was so out of it.
Q - I was going to ask about that. Don't get ahead of my questions Tom.
A - Sorry.
Q - That's alright. Back East, we really didn't hear much, if anything, about that riot on Sunset Boulevard.
A - It was kind of a blip on the map. There was one weekend we were actually playing at Pandora's Box. There was two weekends the riot happened. The first weekend there wasn't as many people. But the police came in and we had to stop playing. The cleared everybody out in the club. They just wandered the street. They wanted everybody out at ten o'clock. By the next weekend word had spread that "the pigs" were trying to like shut us down. So, that suddenly brought in hundreds and hundreds more. Obviously we came up to see what all the brouhaha was gonna be and managed to get out without getting ourselves clubbed or tear gassed or whatever. It was a big deal here. It was like the youth rebelling. They put a whole very dark spin on it, but I don't think it really spread beyond the Los Angeles newspapers. Only in retrospect when they look back and they go, "That was sort of the beginning of let's stand up for our music. Let's stand up for our look." A lot of groups came right after that. We were kind of part of that whole thing. There was a revolution going on and we wanted to be there to be in the forefront.
Q - I've never heard of some of these clubs you performed in. Did you have a celebrity crowd come into the club and watch The Sloths? I know The Whiskey survived, but I don't believe the others did, or did they?
A - No, not as that. I was actually in the space that was Bito Lidos, actually seeing a singer about a year ago or so. It was kind of reconfigured. It was right off of Cahuenga and Hollywood Boulevard, but that was like one of the birthplaces of Love. The Doors replaced them. They were the regulars in there. When The Doors left it was The Seeds. So, I mean all three of these legendary bands all kind of came out of that tiny, little club. It's not as known as obviously The Whiskey, which has survived all these years.
Q - Was there a Pay-To-Play policy in effect back then? Did bands have to pay the club owners to get on stage?
A - Oh, no, no, no. You were just sort of glad that they were asking you to play. It was a great ego boost to be able to get up on that stage. What's now the Nickelodean Theatre back then is now The Hullabaloo. There was a disc jockey who was the one who kind of hosted it. It had a huge runway and a huge stage that actually rotated. So you had one band play and then it rotated and the next band and the next band. The place would be just packed. But none of us ever got paid. Maybe the bigger acts that came in. we opened for Gary Puckett And The Union Gap. "Young Girl" was the big song, so I'm sure with a record company they got paid something. All of us below the line people, there was never any money, but it was also unheard of that you Pay-To-Play. That kind of came in the later '80s and they realized there wasn't enough people coming, so they basically said to the band, you need to sell fifty or sixty tickets. If you don't, you're responsible for that money. We've never done that. We just refused to do that. Just everything about it is wrong.
Q - Did any celebrities come through the door watching your band or don't you know?
A - I remember seeing Dennis Hopper one night and Peter Fonda one night. Peter was actually there during the riot of Sunset Strip. There's pictures of him in that whole situation. You'd get the occasional movie star person. Somebody said Cary Grant was there. He was a regular in a lot of the places. Sonny and Cher were not big yet, but they were very much a visible part of that scene. In terms of Rock stars, I don't recall. The closest I could say was a big deal was Brian Jones at Monterey Pop Festival. You were able to walk up to Brian Jones who was just walking around and say, "Hey man. How you doing? God, I love the band." He was just very chill about it. It was no big deal about him walking around them. Nobody was bothering him.
Q - Are you saying you were able to go up to Brian Jones and talk to him?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - You didn't have a chance to have a conversation with him?
A - No, sixteen years old. I was just in awe. I was also very fortunate that the very first band I had when I was fourteen was with a kid in my school, in my class, Chris Mancini, whose father was Henry Mancini. Henry was the one who gave Chris and I the two tickets to Monterey Pop, front row, thank-you very much, which was incredible but at the same time he was recording at RCA. He had an office kitty corner on Sunset and Vine. He came in and he goes, "You guys like that group The Rolling Stones, don't you?" We go, "Yeah." He goes, "They're actually across the street at RCA if want to meet them." Boy, we were out the door, down the street and he introduced us to all The Stones. It was like one of those moments of Oh, my God! Of course all I remember is how sort of like limp and non-caring their hand shakes were. We were just another couple of lads that liked the band. So it was no big deal, but at the same time it's they're the fucking Rolling Stones. That was pretty amazing.
Q - When The Sloths formed, were you a student or had you dropped out of school at that point?
A - We were all students. Most of the guys in The Sloths were all out of Beverly Hills High School. I wasn't in the district. I was bouncing from school to school due to my hair. When I finally ended up at this one school, Hamilton High, there I met the drummer of the group that kind of became the off-shoot of The Sloths, The Maywines. The group started to kind of fall apart. Some of the guys reformed and we were doing the exact same music, but we just changed the name to The Maywines and eventually there was no more Sloths. Two of the guys unfortunately passed away over the years, so when we put the group back together it was kind of a hybrid of both groups. The Sloths were the ones that had the "Makin' Love" song that ended up on the compilation back in the '80s. We sort of focused on that being the name and that has got to be the first group. We were doing the same songs, The Stones covers, the Yardbird covers, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry songs. Some of the guys dropped off and I kept the band going. We became TNT, The Fury, and then about '69 that's when I took off for Paris to learn mime because I wanted to do something that other guys weren't doing. It was sort of the end of my Rock 'n' Roll days until three years ago (2012).
Q - And David Bowie beat you to mime. Isn't that terrible?
A - Yeah, well we opened a couple of times at The Cheetah for a group called The Nazz which was actually Alice Cooper. He was Vincent. We'd go over to Frank Zappa's log cabin in Laurel Canyon. There was this dude Vincent and his group The Nazz. You look back years later and go "That's him? God, that's Alice Cooper!" And then I ended up hiring him. He wrote a song for my Friday The Thirteenth: Jason Lives. So, it's interesting coming back to that, somebody that you sort of knew back in the day who was doing all the stuff that I ultimately wanted to be doing, very theatrical stuff.
Q - Did The Sloths have a record deal?
A - No. I mean there were two guys, Impression Records. There was actually paper that was signed. Everybody was under age so it really didn't mean anything. Parents didn't get in there. Nobody covered it. They basically allowed these two guys to record the songs and after The Sloths broke up, then I guess these same two producers had a couple of other bands record the songs. I don't know if those were ever released or not. I think they were actually. There were a bunch of bands that covered that song ("Makin' Love").
Q - So you guys didn't have an agent or manager?
A - No. We always had managers. There was always somebody there that was more than willing to attempt to get us money when they could. Our money would come from playing these teenage fairs where they would actually pay a hundred bucks, a hundred and fifty is where things kind of topped out at. We played fraternity parties. We played backyard parties. Everybody grabbed any kind of job you could get. Once we were all over eighteen we were playing strip bars and gay bars and transexual bars, any place where they would say you can play and will actually pay you. So there was always somebody there that would sort of negotiate that and take their percentage and basically were our managers. Nothing was ever a contract deal.
Q - How long did The Sloths last? What year did you break up?
A - '66.
Q - The group was put together what year?
A - '64.
Q - The music was changing in 1966. That psychedelic feel was starting to surface.
A - Yeah. It was just beginning to kick in. It had a lot to do with why I personally started to move away from the scene. We went in and were doing these Rhythm & Blues songs which were pretty simple, three chords. John Lee Hooker stuff is one chord. Eventually you learned how to play that. Once the psychedelic feedback scene happened, anybody that could get ahold of an amp and a guitar could make noise. So much of that sort of became the given, to have a band in a club and people were going to be on acid or some psychedelic. The more noise, the more light show shit that could be going on, that was far more important than just the music. It really was a whole different thing which none of us who came out of really caring about musical composition and to hear where The Beatles were going; The Moody Blues were full orchestra. When it became noise, this wasn't right. Interestingly enough, a lot of that is coming back now with the modern garage bands.
Q - I hate categories when it comes to putting a label on a band's music, but were The Sloths a garage band?
A - Yes. As I tell people all the time, a garage band now is sort of a term that is undefined. I hear so many bands asked, "What's your music?" "Oh, we're a garage band." But it could be any number of types of music, a mish-mash of things. We were a garage band which was kind of an insulting thing. How did you get here? I rode the bus. You ride the bus? Same thing with garage bands. We were in a garage because our parents kicked us out of the house. Wouldn't let us play that noise in the house. So we had no choice except to go into some parent's garage, close the door and turn up the amps and play literally until the police would bang on the garage door and say, "Boys, we can hear you a block away. Can you turn it down?" "Oh, yes sir. Yes sir." When people ask where do you rehearse, we actually rehearse in the garage. You rehearse in a garage? I mean, it was a put down because we couldn't afford rehearsal rooms. That's sort of where you developed all of this imitation of groups that you loved, in that garage. Over the years it's kind of developed into it's own genre.
Q - Nobody ever thought to say how nice it was to have guys doing something creative, rehearsing in a garage as opposed to getting into trouble.
A - Yeah. It really was a way of expressing. If I look at it purely from a by that age it was a chick magnet. That was far more important. I took the abuse of a parent. I took being pulled into the vice-principal's office. In parochial school I took the whacks. In those days you could spank and hit kids. You took all that because the girls screamed. You were special. Girls would form fan clubs around the band and get all these signatures. You felt lie you were somebody. You were important. So, the music kind of led to that thing of getting some sense of self worth too, which was obviously very important at that awkward, geeky age. You were trying to cover up your pimples with your mother's make-up and try not to look like the freak you were.
Q - Were there groupies around then or were there just fans?
A - I think the term came around at that time, the girls that followed groups around. There were packs of girls just going to a club to see a group and picking out which guy you want to be with. They'd come back afterwards. It was literally so in your face that you were almost an idiot not to take advantage of it. But this was way before the sexually transmitted diseases that became so prevalent and everything started to get more frightening. Of course when AIDS hit, that all changed. But nobody thought twice about that. Pregnancy was the only thing you were afraid of. Most of of us were too stupid to know what to do and wearing a condom was not cool. You had to trust a girl that she was on the pill, which was just coming in at that time or telling you it's actually not her time of the month so she's safe and you'd buy it. We were all horney. (laughs) Anything to be with a girl, you know.
Q - Now, let's talk about Jim Morrison. You shared the bill with The Doors. That was at what club?
A - Hullabaloo and The Cheetah.
Q - The Cheetah used to be a ballroom for Big Bands to perform in. That was a nice place.
A - Oh, it was gorgeous. It was massive. All those walls were filled with Psychedelic lighting. They put oils and colors in there. The whole place looked like you're inside The Trip. It was pretty amazing. They had some amazing acts that came through there. Just recently I remembered, oh shit! We opened for Jackie Wilson! I remember seeing him, but I completely forgot that we came on, there was another band and then I was sitting there watching him, going, ""Wow! He is great." It was just part of the whole scene. You would play and the band that was going to be the headliner was somebody you'd want to see, like Eric Burdon was at The Hullabaloo. We opened for The Animals in the same way. You'd run around to see them but then a lot of the bands you didn't care that much about and sort of forgotten about. People will remind me. You were on the same bill with The Electric Prunes and CTA, which was the Chicago Tranisit Authority, which eventually became Chicago. I went, "Oh shit! That's right. Fuck!" I forgot about that because it's like another lifetime it seems. It was forty something, fifty years.
Q - Did The Doors have a record deal when you opened for them?
A - I think they had recorded the first album for Elektra. I remember being in a Battle Of The Bands that they were in and they won. They were certainly the hot band coming up. It was just a short time after that, that the album came out and they just became The Doors. Everybody was going, "My God!" This was like a whole new sound. Morrison just had the charisma and he didn't have to dance around like Jagger. He just had this magnetism that you watched him. I saw him backstage and he could barely put two words together some nights. It was sad. There's one story I always tell when we were playing with them at the Cheetah. It was a huge ballroom as I said and in the middle of the ballroom was this stage that was probably, oh I don't know, maybe a story high or so, maybe not quite that high. You know, it was up there, that was all kind of wrapped in this nylon paper. So, when the lights hit it, it glowed. It was quite, quite nice with the whole light show thing, but as a band you had to bring all your equipment up the back stairs of this thing. Bring everything up to the top of this platform, set up everything, play and then take everything down the stairs and the next band brought all their stuff up. We played, did our set and then The Doors came up right after us. By this point they were already known, so there was a good crowd and of course we really wanted to see these guys now that they were as big as they were becoming. The band starts playing "Break On Through" and no Jim. So, everybody is kind of looking around and the band is kind of waiting for him and the crowd of course is getting restless. Finally, from way in the back of this barn of a place, you hear this "Whoaaaaa!" and here comes Jim through the curtains and he comes weaving across the floor, goes up the steps, gets onto the stage, grabs the microphone, crosses his legs in a kind of classic Morrison stance and then just as it looks like he's about to start singing, for some reason he backs away from the microphone and decides he's going to do a cartwheel. He attempts this cartwheel. His legs didn't go anywhere but out and he goes right off the platform. As I said, this is fairly high and straight down, flat on his back. This is like a solid concrete floor. Whack! And there was just this, "Oh my God!" You just figured a fall like that you don't know if he cracked his head. There's like two beats and he pops back up again, kind of looks around, sees where the stage is, gets on his feet, goes back around climbs up the stairs, grabs the mic, crosses his feet and goes right into the full set.
Q - Did you have the impression that that was rehearsed or was it an accident?
A - Just an accident. If you look at those various tapes, he never did the same thing twice. He really got tired very quickly of being a Pop star. Initially he wanted to be a film maker and wanted his lyrics to create images in your head. The whole popularity, he just was never very comfortable with that. I think on one hand he loved it because who doesn't like to be worshipped? But on the other hand I think there was still a lot of sense of he didn't do what he wanted to do or it wasn't going where he kind of hoped it was going to go. When they did the movie of The Doors they had a lot of insight that the family I guess told the producers that they couldn't have in the script. I don't know if it was embarrassing to people or what. I saw the movie and I was quite disappointed. I thought I'd get some insight that I didn't know.
Q - I too was disappointed with that film. I thought Oliver Stone would tell us exactly how Jim Morrison died. But that didn't happen. At the end of the film, it reads Jim Morrison allegedly died in a bath tub in a Paris apartment. Allegedly?! There are people who say Morrison faked his death.
A - We want to believe all those theories 'cause it's so much more exciting and legendary. Eddie And The Cruisers were kind of based on that whole idea that a famous star disappeared and you think he's dead and he re-emerges. It's like, "Whoaa?" I don't know. Is Walt Disney frozen? Is the Kennedy Administration responsible for Marilyn Monroe's death? Who shot Kennedy? There's so many of these things. Morrison's death just didn't make sense to a lot of people at that age.
Q - Did The Doors play "Light My Fire" the night you were on the bill with them or don't you remember?
A - I don't remember, but I'm sure they did.
Q - When you were in the Battle Of The Bands with The Doors, were they doing covers or originals?
A - You know, I can't tell you on that one. I know they were on the bill and I know they won, but to be honest I don't even know if I watched them at that point 'cause there were so many bands. Again, you weren't paying that much attention 'cause they weren't anybody. You were just hoping that you were going to win. We won another Battle Of The Bands in Venice (California) one time and they actually took the award away because one of the judges said, "Oh, these guys are professionals." Professionals? We're friggin' sixteen years old. When did we ever become professionals? But everybody else was so clearly amateurish. We had been playing The Strip so we kind of had our stuff down. Everybody voted in the audience for us and they ended up taking it away. Same way I'm sure The Doors were far more polished than everybody else was.
Q - The Sloths also shared the bill with Pink Floyd?
A - A lot of our credits all sort of overlap with the band members as they got in different bands. The Sloths as such didn't play with Pink Floyd. Two of the members, but I can't remember the band that was that, did that. It was at the Hollywood Palladium across the street. It's the same way that I was in TNT and we opened for The Electric Prunes. As the group kind of morphed into part Sloths members, part Maywine members, new members, sort of when we started to put together all the groups that we as elements of the group performed with, because this is all after '66.
Q - Now that The Sloths have re-united, what is it that you are hoping will happen?
A - I can only talk for myself. I know everybody wants this to happen. What happens means we don't have a clue. The fact we've gotten this far is a friggin' miracle. You're not supposed to do this. It's not like were one hit wonders and now it's "Get the band back together and see if we can milk some more juice out of the old lemon here." There was nothing to fall back on. So, we kind of went into this going, "Okay, We're a new band. It just so happens we're all in our 60s." It just so happens we're going to try to do this with all the younger bands who call themselves garage bands. but we actually were a garage band played with all these guys and we wanted to pick up literally where we left off with the kind of music we were doing. So this album has basically the same feeling as the songs we were doing back then, because that's what we still know. It was us. It was us emulating The Stones, The Yardbirds and The Animals. The Beatles, who were emulating Chuck Berry, B.B. King, all the Soul artists. It's like now there's yet another generation that has taken these influences with The Ramones and all those other groups that came through that were sort of in that same rebellious spirit. So we just thought we're going to go in and say, "Whatever happens, happens." We really don't know. We didn't expect to be invited to the Purple Weekend in Spain and be part of that. We realized, boy, a lot of people there know who The Sloths were from the compilation. So the reception was just terrific. Most places we play it's like "Makin' Love" means nothing to them. It's like, okay, so you're on a compilation back in the '80s. It wasn't a hit song or anything. So we're all going, "Let's see where all this will take us." They song kind of opened the door to get us back together again. Then the rest of it is we have to compete with everybody else basically being decades older than everybody. Our clock is going t be a lot more limited, how long we can keep doing this, but we're doing it probably with more passion and energy than we did even when we were teenagers because we've wanted this for so long. We're not burned out. If we want to play cover songs from that period we play it full out. A lot of people who've only heard Love songs or early Stones songs on record, to see it actually performed with that kind of Rock 'n' Roll energy and I try to put as much visual punch into what I'm doing, they're really taken aback. We get a lot of like, "Wow! I never saw an act like that." It's like that's all we saw back in the day. This is what we did. You had to be visually interesting. You couldn't just be staring at your shoes and just play music. We're trying to take it to that next level. So now that we have the album out, we wait and see, not every worrying if it's going to be a hit album. That's the least of our concerns. The main thing is to have that as a calling card and hopefully get to do more 'live' shows, festivals. The mantra, and I really do kind of push this idea more than anything else and I say it once in the show, if you have a dream, whatever it is, don't give it up because for us it took fifty years to get to this point. No one ever, ever, ever expected this was going to happen. I was a successful writer, director in horror films and TV movies and mini-series. Another guy was a lawyer. The guys that did stay in bands did well and kind of moved into other things. So, to suddenly bring back a group that we were first kind of involved with and first early dreams of, yeah. I want to be in a Rock 'n' Roll band, now that that's happening and we're all in our 60s, it's just really surreal.