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Joe Renzetti's Stories

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

Me doing a "walk on" in the Buddy Holly Story. I'm the tall violinist.

In Chicago, in the 60s, there was a club called Mother Blues. It featured cutting-edge musical groups and comedians. Spanky and Our Gang and George Carlin performed there often.

At the same time, back in New York, arranger Joe Renzetti was working with record producer

Jerry Ross. They had just come off a hit record by Bobby Hebb called “Sunny.“

Jerry got the assignment to produce the group, Spanky and Our Gang. Jerry produced their hit record; “Sunday Will Never Be The Same.”

Mercury Records wanted Jerry Ross to now produce an album on Spanky and Our Gang.

It was decided the album should be recorded in Los Angeles. Jerry chose me to do the arranging, so we were off to LA.

So now here I was in LA with this hippie group, smoking dope and recording. Not bad.

Spanky and Our Gang was a bunch of wonderful talented wild artists, and deeply imbedded in the folk rock movement.

One day, on a break from our recording session, Spanky announced that the gang was expecting their “connection” to show up with some really great weed. I was up for that.

I asked about this “connection,” and Spanky told me he was a friend from Chicago. She said,

“you might know him. He’s a comedian; George Carlin.”

“WHAT!” I had been a fan of George Carlin from day one. This news from Spanky was a mind blower. After ranting, raving and gushing about how much I loved this guy, she confirmed to me how cool he was, a great dude. ( yes we in LA were using the dude word way back then - millennial snap)

Spanky and Our Gang was a favorite of Carlin's and he was a big fan of Spanky and Our Gang from working at the Mother Blues club in Chicago.

Around late afternoon George Carlin walked into the studio carrying a cardboard box.

He was still in his hippie-dippie-weatherman persona, tie, dark suit, short hair.

After we made introductions he got down to business. Now when I say Business, I am not implying that George was a drug dealer. He was simply a friend who was well-connected, and as a favor gifted Spanky and Our Gang a couple of ounces now and then.

This was George Carlin and he just didn’t open up a baggie. What he did was open his cardboard box. Carlin proceeded to give me a personal tour of the box’s contents.

Inside was a stack of approximately five or six metal film cans. About 6 inches in diameter. They were sealed with gaffers tape. A label on the top of each can read; from Technicolor, Camera Master do not expose. In the film world this means the rolls of film are directly out of the camera. They are the masters - the one and only copy.

I asked George why he was carrying around camera masters of film? He looked at me with a grin, “that’s where I store the pot, man“

He pulled off the seal to a can and there it was; green and aromatic.

He explained, “you know when a film crew is out shooting on a location, after they expose a roll of film in the camera, they want to get it to the lab as soon as possible. They do this because don’t want to leave such valuable items around on a location where it could get lost, stolen or destroyed. So they have a runner available whose job it is to physically take the film cans and drive it to the lab in Hollywood.

He continued, “yeah, so if a cop were to stop me and searched me for drugs, he’s has to make a decision. Does he pull the tape off the cans of film and expose them and ruining the film. That makes him liable for possibly thousands of dollars in damages.

Or the cop could just say “move on buddy“

George had a good cover going on.

I never heard of him getting busted.

Not only was Hal Blaine a killer drummer playing on one-hundred and fifty number one records, in La in the 60's, he was also a contractor for the infamous “Wrecking Crew.” He booked the musicians to perform on recording sessions. All the top singers, arrangers, record producers, recording artists called on Hal, including myself.

Dave Chackler & United Artists Records, backed an idea I had.

My idea; take a collection of old Big-Band hits and put them to a disco beat. I re-arranged ten standard Big-Band hits, added some sections of my own creation, all with a "disco" rhythm under-pining with big band jazz being featured.

The plan was to lay down the rhythm tracks first, at Silvery Moon Studios, then the next day overdub the horn and sax sections. Then on a third day bring in some singers, male and female to sing the "Modernairs" type vocal parts on three of the ten cuts.

On the morning of the first session, the rhythm session, the studio engineer and his two assistants, were setting mikes, gobos, etc. Warming up for the session was Lee Sklar on bass, Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton on guitars, and David Foster on piano.

Hal walked in the studio. He was with a skinny guy with long hair. Hal introduced his friend to me as George. We shook hands, and I continued my important talk to Hal. "Hal, for Wednesday, I'm gonna need five singers like the Modernairs. They have to read (music), be able to cover four part jazz-voicings.

Then this guy George butts in. Opening the leather bag slung over his shoulder, pointing into the bag, (English accent),”Oh! I have them right in here." I smiled at the quirky attempt at humor and continued talking to Hal.

I noticed the assistants whispering to each other as if there was a problem, an emergency. I paid no attention.

It was time to start recording. I went into the control room ready to run down the first song when the assistant came to me and asked “do you know who that is with Hal?" I said, “no I don't , some English dude named George.” He screams, “that's George Harrison."

“Interesting,” I said having more pressing things to do. The players were in position ready to go,

I pressed the talk-back mike and said, "OK you guys, let's go. Let’s start with 'American Patrol,' I'll count it off.”

The session went well, beyond my wildest imaginings

As the band was packing up, I looked around the studio, George must have left, I didn't see him.

It was a custom of some players, particularly drummers, to bring a visitor to a session, just to get an idea of what it’s like. Hal apparently brought his pal George Harrison to mine. It was a good album and arranging and producing it a wonderful experience for me. In the sax section was Plas Johnston, Bob Cooper, the whole band was made up of America's musical-treasures.

Hal Blaine

Lee Skilar

David Foster

Larry Carlton

Lee Ritenour

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