Rant ‘N’ Roll: Return Of The Secret Agent Man Mike Greenblatt December 2, 2015 Columns EASTON, PA—It was a wealth of riches at the State Theatre Friday and Saturday November 13 and 14. Johnny Rivers performed an organic set of electric originals fit for the garage when his earthy and bare-bones band turned it up to barely touch his decades-long catalog of hits. The Louisiana troubadour was in fine voice at 74 and even elicited some swoons from the old ladies when he crooned “Poor Side Of Town” and some of his other #1s. The following night, Northampton Street was turned into a cobbled road in Mumbai courtesy of Rahis Bharti, The Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers of India. By the time the two 50-minute sets were over, the delighted audience was transported to Rajasthan. I will not soon forget the traditional dance performed while the dancer balanced brass pots on his head and walked on needles. Nor will I forget the snake charmer dance where one stunning female literally bent over backwards to pick up two small objects on the floor of the stage with her eyes. Musically, I missed the sound of a sitar but the five percussionists, four hornsmen, three singers, five dancers and one dude who played a funny little box which sounded like an accordion totally made up for my misconception of Indian music. Songs were trance-like and jammy. It was a delightful evening. But that’s not what I came here to tell you about. Johnny Rivers’ biggest hit, “Secret Agent Man,” was co-written by PF Sloan. He died the same weekend as the show from cancer at age 70. At 19, he wrote “Eve Of Destruction” for Barry McGuire, perhaps the most fatalistic protest song of all. David Crosby hated it. Bob Dylan loved it. He loved it so much that Sloan, in an interview with this reporter, told me that Dylan came over his house to play him selections from Highway 61 Revisited. “They’re trying to kick me off the label,” whined Dylan. “Listen to this and tell me if I’ve gone too far.” So, according to the story, Sloan and Dylan get high and listen to all the tracks. Sloan tells Dylan, “This is great. You shouldn’t care what anyone says.” Dylan is so thrilled that he tells Sloan to take any song he wants from the album and record it as a single. Then Crosby shows up and picks a fight with Dylan for hanging out with Sloan. Sloan picks the closing cut, “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” records it with his songwriting partner Steve Barri, and renames it “Mr. Jones.” But Lou Adler, the president of his label, refuses Sloan to put it out under his own name so Sloan makes up a name, The Grass Roots, and puts it on Where Were You When I Needed You in 1966. Of course, no one knew that The Grass Roots didn’t yet exist so when the album makes some noise, Sloan recruits some guys to tour under that name. Different touring personnel altered the band’s chemistry but as hit after hit happened, Sloan was edged out of the picture. According to Sloan, Stephen Stills first uttered, “There’s something happening here” upon witnessing “a man with a gun over there.” Rather than be hit over the head by a cop’s nightstick, Stills went home and wrote “For What It’s Worth.” Also according to Sloan, The Byrds developed their signature sound only after Sloan and Terry Melcher locked themselves into a studio and played with the final mix. He had to leave Los Angeles when Papa John Phillips threatened to kill him and the brass at Dunhill Records threatened to kill his family. In New York, he got mixed up with a junkie girl and developed a bad habit. He had post-death visitations from James Dean and Elvis Presley. Dr. Eugene Landy of Brian Wilson infamy stole his identity. Then he vanished causing Jimmy Webb to write a song called “PF Sloan” that was covered by The Association in 1971 and goes, “I have been seeking PF Sloan but no one knows where he has gone.” He was in a mental institution. Then he cowered in fright in his original bedroom at his mother’s house for years. He goes to India and stays for more years. He stays silent in the face of death threats, threats that continued right up to the day he spoke to me on the phone (although he didn’t want me to mention it). His mental state evaporates but he writes a 2014 book about it all called What’s Exactly The Matter With Me (A Memoir Of A Life In Music). That same year, his decades-long fascination with composer Ludwig Van Beethoven [1770-1827] results in the eerie, odd, flawed-but-brilliant My Beethoven, influenced as much by Van Dyke Parks as by the classical and romantic eras of Western art music. I think it’s safe to say there will never be another PF Sloan. I think it’s also safe to say there will not soon be another weekend like the esoteric combo of Johnny Rivers/The Bollywood Masala Orchestra. Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.