|From a Midwestern farmhouse during the early ’70s to the preeminent concert venues of the world, Grammy-winning SHADOWFAX enraptured audiences with their hard-to-categorize but easy-to-love brand of music. Here, for the first time ever, is their story as told by JOY H. GREENBERG, wife of SHADOWFAX founding member and foremost wind instrumentalist CHUCK GREENBERG. Complete with dozens of photographs, this story depicts universal themes of love, adversity and death—as timeless as their music.
It is a wonderful tribute to Chuck. —GE STINSON
I couldn’t put it down. —ALEX DE GRASSI
Use contact form below to order an inscribed copy directly from the author for $25.99 (includes shipping) and for a limited time only receive a free CD of FROM A BLUE PLANET.
|Read the following Excerpt:
The next morning, Chuck invited me to go garage saling with him. Over a breakfast of my huevos rancheros, he checked the morning L.A. Times and circled all the yard sale announcements within a few miles of Venice Beach. He also checked the used musical instruments section of the classifieds, which turned up one particular horn of interest: a 1941 Conn Ten-M Tenor Saxophone for two hundred bucks.
“Wow!” he said. “If this thing’s in good condition, it’s a real find!”
“Why?” I said.
“Because Conn stopped making it during the war when the government commissioned them to make war stuff instead. They needed bronze so badly that Conn melted down all the molds. Then, when they returned to making saxes after the war, they had to create new molds. Their postwar horns just aren’t as good as their prewar ones.”
“You know a lot about this stuff, huh?” I said. I hadn’t heard him play yet, but I was learning to respect Chuck’s business savvy.
“Well, I should,” he said. “It’s how I’ve earned my living for the past ten years. Let’s go.” I learned he’d been supporting himself by repairing horns for several local music stores as well as buying them used, fixing them up, and reselling them.
Next I knew, we were out the door, into the still-shuddering Santa Ana wind, and face-to-grill with “Ruby,” as Chuck had dubbed his cherry red ’65 Bel Air.
Ah, Ruby: the latest in a long line of vintage vehicles to be operated by Chuck. The bumper sticker read, “Another shitty day in paradise.”
“I bought her literally from a little old lady from Pasadena,” he said, more than a hint of pride in his voice. “She was in mint condition.”
“She got hit by another car on the passenger side last week, so the door won’t open. You’ll have to get in on the driver’s side and slide across. Or you can do what Tiffany does: Climb in and out through the open passenger window, legs first. Gives the guys a thrill, especially when she’s not wearing underwear,” he said, grinning.
Mulling over this image, I said, “Maybe we should take my car.”
“No, really, Ruby’s fine. All she needs is a spare tire.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve been driving around without a spare tire!” I gasped in disbelief.
“It’s okay, I’ll get one tomorrow.” Chuck seemed astonishingly nonchalant about this, to me disturbing, fact. I’d been raised by an aerospace engineer father who was such a safety nut he’d made me take the train from L.A. to New York when I first went to college. He didn’t trust airplanes because he claimed they were badly maintained. Before he allowed me to get my driver’s license, I had not only to be able to change a tire but also to take a written test of safety and maintenance questions created by him. One of his cardinal rules was never to drive without a spare tire. But, well, rules were made to be, well, broken, and Chuck inspired a faith I couldn’t explain.
I checked to make sure I had my Auto Club card with me, decided we could always get towed somewhere if we got a flat, then slid inside and across Ruby’s front seat, thankful that it was a bench, not buckets.
The roads required careful negotiation as we headed to Culver City, site of the Conn Ten-M. The Santa Ana had left its typical flotsam: garbage cans rolling sideways on Pico Boulevard, palm fronds and eucalyptus branches littering driveways. Chuck provided a running commentary about his musical background as he navigated the Venice back streets, telling me about how he’d shifted his creative interest toward music after leaving high school, where he’d focused more on photography.
His initial independent foray began with a rental place on Stuenkel Road in Monee, Illinois, during the early ’70s. With bands such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears gaining popularity, Chuck heard alternatives to the blues he’d grown up with. Music that featured hot horn sections had galvanized him, inspiring his own creative horn and wind concepts. He began trekking into the city, getting together with Jerry Smith, a bassist who had been gigging with The Flock.
Before long, Chuck had joined forces with some other musicians to form a band they called K.O. Bossy. They started out playing cover songs of the hits, particularly the Kinks. They would also do “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and other weird stuff. The guys in the band were big partiers and influenced Chuck to join in their laid back, hang-out lifestyle that was required for a happening rock band. They would play at a coffee house type of club called The Twelfth of Never in Richmond Park.
K.O. Bossy became a fixture at The Twelfth of Never and literally ran the place. They served the coffee, did everything—all the owners wanted was a cut of the “door.” At one point the band decided to add a violin player, but they were still doing all cover stuff—no one wrote for the band, so they weren’t doing anything really original—but they were like one big family. Although they recorded an album, it didn’t propel the band to the stardom they had anticipated. According to Chuck’s sister Suzin, the first pressings were off-center and produced a wah wah wah sound when they were played, although this has been disputed by a fellow K.O. Bossy band member. Needless to say, this didn’t do much for record sales.
“Where did the band’s name come from?” I wanted to know.
“K.O. Bossy was the name on the back of Curly Howard’s bathrobe in a Three Stooges short,” Chuck said. “I think it was called ‘A-Milking We Will Go,’ when the stooges put Curly in a milking contest. He enters the ring and has K.O. Bossy on his back.”
One of those hanging out with Chuck in those days was Warren Flaschen, who, although two years ahead of him at Rich East High School, had not actually met Chuck there. One night Warren ordered pizza from Romano’s, and the guy who delivered it to him turned out to be Chuck. They got to talking as Chuck handed the pizza to Warren and took his money. By the end of the evening Chuck was eating Warren’s pizza with him.
Later, Chuck played with the McIan Forrest Stage Band, who went on to tour with the Bee Gees as their backup band, and when he returned from the Bee Gees tour he went back to delivering pizzas. This was when he wrote his first memorable—according to a longtime friend—song, “It’s a Long Way from the Kitchen to Philharmonic Hall.”
I wanted to know what it was like playing with the Bee Gees, my fascination with celebrities getting the better of me.
“Terrible. They were fucked up most of the time, and they only had me playing flute, when I really wanted to play sax.”
After his stint with the Bee Gees, Chuck began showing up at the Situation Lounge in Steger. The Yazoo Shuffle Band played there, and that’s how he met future ’Faxers Phil Maggini and G.E. Stinson, who were both in the band. Phil hailed from a neighboring town, Homewood, and had been playing in a group called Friends at the Valley View Young Adults Club in Frankfort. Friends got booked with a band called Mama’s Bootleg Blues Band, which featured G.E. on guitar. It was Phil’s first introduction to G.E. Friends had come on first and done a Paul Butterfield tune, then G.E. came on and said, “We’re gonna open with a song the first band did but we’re gonna play it the right way.”
Eventually, Phil hooked up with G.E. in Yazoo Shuffle Band, and Chuck started coming around and jamming with them. Even though Chuck played a jazzy rather than bluesy sax—limiting the number of tunes he might do with Yazoo—they all liked each other, and a strong bond began to develop.
Like many bands, Yazoo’s demise came about mainly through lack of funds to support the band members, but it didn’t help that G.E. would often become visibly disgusted with the audience. One night in Bloomington someone in the crowd just stood up and screamed—really went wild—following one of G.E.’s guitar solos, although he didn’t consider it one of his best. Contemptuous that the hapless fan didn’t know the difference, G.E. walked to the front of the stage and spit on the audience, thereafter earning the nickname “Spit.”
Once Phil, G.E. and Chuck began jamming together, the need for a keyboardist and drummer arose. The problem was solved when Warren began taking recording engineer classes in Chicago. He befriended the teacher of the class, told him about the band’s project and how they were looking for a drummer and a keyboard player who could play Mellotron. It so happened that Doug Maluchnik, a keyboardist who lived in New Jersey, had inquired about this course. Warren called him up, he came out and auditioned for the band, they decided it would work, and he joined up. At first he commuted between Illinois and New Jersey, where his family lived, but eventually they all moved to Illinois.
While Doug had never met drummer Stu Nevitt, he had heard of him. At that point Stu lived in Miami, played with a jazz group and took lessons from the same person who taught Bruce Springsteen’s drummer, “Mighty” Max Weinberg. Doug contacted Stu who soon joined the rest of the band in Chicago. With the addition of Doug and Stu to the fledgling group, the as-yet-unnamed Shadowfax was complete.
The First Shadowfax, 1974: Phil, Doug Maluchnik, Stu Nevitt, Chuck and G.E. [l-r]
Chuck finished his back story about the band as he deftly maneuvered Ruby around a downed power line that had partially blocked the road. He had proven himself to be a cautious driver, belying Ruby’s impairments. However, I was beginning to wonder if maybe we should have taken Blue Bomber after all. I glanced around Ruby’s interior and noticed it was actually in pretty good shape, except for the headliner, which was hanging in shreds from the ceiling like seaweed.
“What happened to the headliner?” I asked.
“Oh, that. I took Phil for a ride after he had a fight with Tiffany. He took out his aggression on the headliner…with his fists. I guess he was a little pissed off.”
“A little?” Before I could further question Chuck about the bass player, we arrived at our destination.
The Ten-M turned out to be the property of an old lady whose husband had died recently. She had discovered the sax in her attic, and Chuck noted it was still in its original case. The old lady said her husband had only played it a few times before going into the service, and when he returned from the war, he was a changed man, no longer interested in music.
Chuck considered this information and said, “Does it still play?”
“I don’t know, but you can try it out if you’d like,” she said.
Chuck wrested the gleaming horn from its case and began examining it with what looked to me like real tenderness, the way a mother might hold her newborn. He depressed each key, then reached for the mouthpiece.
“The keys seem to work and the mouthpiece still has a reed in it, but the cork’s pretty shot,” he said, twisting the mouthpiece onto the horn.
Then, lifting the sax to his mouth, he blew out some notes. They were only scales, but I could tell he knew how to play it. His tone was rich and confident. This guy really is a musician, I thought. But can he play anything besides scales?
Chuck put the sax back in its case, schmoozed the old lady for a few minutes, then offered her one-fifty.
“My son told me not to accept less than one seventy-five,” she said.
“Okay,” Chuck said, pulling out his wallet. “I’ll take it.” He counted out the money and handed it to her.
Grabbing the sax with one hand and my hand with the other, he thanked the old lady, and we exited into the wind.
When we had climbed back into Ruby, I said, “You really are a musician, aren’t you.”
“What did you think?” he said, glancing up and down the street. Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Let’s go to my place,” pulling Ruby onto Pico Boulevard and heading to Santa Monica. “I’m supposed to meet Robit there in a few minutes.”
“A Jewish South African ex-pat musician friend. We’ve been working up some of his tunes.”
“How did you meet him?”
“Phil and I were standing in line at a movie theater in Venice and Robit was right behind us. We hit it off right away.”
“What kind of music does he play?”
“Robit is actually more of a poet/lyricist than musician. Kinda like Bob Dylan on a bad day. Phil calls him a master of the ‘abused folk song.’ But we need someone to play with, and he needs backup musicians. We’re going to go over some tunes today to get ready for a showcase next week. There’s a guy from Virgin Records interested in doing an album with him. Maybe we can get him interested in signing Shadowfax too. Or Eko-Eko.”
“What’s ‘Eko-Eko’?” I said.
As we headed to Santa Monica, Chuck described Eko-Eko, the band he and Phil were forming. Chuck had written a couple of rock tunes which he had recorded with Phil and some other musicians. “Sensory Overload” was composed in his Santa Monica apartment one night while listening to the urban cacophony emanating from outside his window, a stark contrast to the quiet and peacefulness of the rural Illinois he had left:
“Elevator Racing” evolved from a dream:
Chuck warbled the lyrics to me as we pulled into the carport of his apartment on Eighth Street in Santa Monica. The first thing to catch my eye upon entering Chuck’s place was a baby grand piano that occupied the dining room along with a table upon which the artifacts of his horn repair business—instrument parts, saws, soldering irons and electrical wires—lay strewn. Globs of what appeared to be congealed glue covered the table. As soon as I stepped inside, I was immediately attacked by a small, truculent, parrot—a blue conure to be precise.
“Blue! Cut it out!” said Chuck. “Don’t worry. He won’t bite, but he might go for your earrings. He likes bright objects like that.”
“Don’t you keep this thing in a cage?” I said, feeling for my earrings and cringing as Blue took a few dives at my head.
“Yeah, but he prefers to have a run of the house and to sit on my shoulder while I work.”
I glanced around at the disarray, wondering how much of it was Blue’s responsibility and how much was Chuck’s, not to mention his absent roommate Tiffany, who had not struck me as a neatnik. I could see that the curtains framing the kitchen and living room windows had been shredded at their edges. In some places, the curtain hooks had been pulled out from the rod. Blue had resumed his perch on the curtain rod in the upper corner of the kitchen window and chewed on one of the hooks, which he grasped in one clawed foot. This was obviously a favored spot for him—globs of what appeared to be his poop dripped down the wall and curtains.
Despite my trepidation at spending time in such an unsanitary environment, I was curious about Chuck’s music.
“Play something for me,” I said to him as he scurried around trying to make the apartment a little more presentable. “I want to hear what the lyricon sounds like. How about Watercourse Way?”
“Nah, I’ve never been happy with the way it turned out. But I do have a demo of something classical I did with an Oberheim synth player named Linda Nardini.” With that, Chuck walked over to a reel-to-reel tape player in the living room and turned it on. What followed was the most indescribably ethereal and unique music I’d ever heard, despite the roughness of the recording. It had an amazing range, from notes high like a flute down to a low tone like a bass clarinet. Chills corresponding to the sound frequency ranged through my body outside my control, from the highs that tingled in my skull to the lows that rumbled in my belly. What kind of magic was this? Even with my untrained ears, I understood immediately that Chuck’s was a talent destined for fame, if not fortune.
It was love at first sound.
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