Author Harvey Kubernik Q&A: ‘Docs That Rock, Music That Matters’

kubernik docs that rock

Music journalist, pop culture historian, and author Harvey Kubernik, a veteran of the Los Angeles rock ‘n’ roll scene since the early 1970s, has gathered some of his best feature stories about rock documentaries and filmmakers in “Docs That Rock, Music That Matters.”

Kubernik’s 19th book, published by L.A.-based Otherworld Cottage Industries in summer 2020, and illustrated with more than 200 photos, documents, and rare artifacts, is a 508-page travelog through the intersection of music and film from the mid-20th-century to the present, with many voices and viewpoints pulled from his extensive archive of in-depth interviews conducted from the mid-1970s right up to publication.

“I’m a big fan of the multi-voice narrative,” he told this reporter in early December 2020, in the interview that follows later in this post.

And rather than being sandwiched all together in the middle of the book, the photos – including contributions from well-known photographers like Heather Harris, Henry Diltz, and Roger Steffens, plus historic rarities – are scattered through the pages, comingled with and illustrating the text.

kubernik docs that rockKubernik surveys classic and contemporary music documentaries spotlighting The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Doors, Otis Redding, Bob Marley, the music of Motown, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Brian Wilson, James Brown, The Bee Gees, John Lennon, The Supremes, Ike & Tina Turner, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Band, Paul Butterfield, and the sounds of Laurel Canyon, including The Mamas and Papas, The Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the famed L.A. studio recording musicians in AFM Local 47 who came to be known as “the Wrecking Crew.”

Dedicated to Hollywood’s legendary “Gower Gulch,” where the 69-year-old Kubernik grew up and came of age amid the L.A. film, TV and music scenes of the 1960s and ’70s, the book features exclusive conversations with Academy Award-winners D.A. Pennebaker, Murray Lerner, Albert Maysles, Morgan Neville, John Ridley, and Curtis Hanson, along with Emmy-, Grammy- and other award-winning figures such as Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Allan Arkush, Steve Binder, and Dick Clark, as well as commentary about Colin Hanks, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese.

Not just skimming the surface, Kubernik in each chapter takes a deep dive behind the scenes, guided through the productions by the people who created them.

Kubernik tunes readers into the impact and ongoing influence of seminal music TV shows like “American Bandstand,” “Shindig!,” “Shebang!,” “Upbeat,” and “Ready Steady Go!,” and of Ed Sullivan’s role in presenting pop culture phenomena from Elvis to The Beatles to The Doors to audiences of millions at a time.

“Docs That Rock, Music That Matters” has chapters covering rock doc classics from the 1960s like “The T.A.M.I. Show” and “The Big T.N.T Show,” “Don’t Look Back” and “Monterey Pop,” Elvis’s ’68 Comeback and the Stones’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus” and “Gimme Shelter.”

A standout chapter spotlights “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” with filmmakers Allan Slutsky and Paul Justman, also featuring the Funk Brothers studio band, Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Ed Sullivan, and Andrew Solt.

The book also spotlights lesser-known filmmakers, screenwriters, and producers Kubernik would like the reader to know better, among them David Leaf (“The Night James Brown Saved Boston,” 2008; “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” 2006; “Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of ‘SMiLE’,” 2004; and “Bee Gees: This Is Where I Came In,” 2001), Leslie Ann Coles (“In the Refrigerator,” 2000; “Melody Makers, should’ve been there,” 2016), and Brett Berns and Bob Sarles (“Bang! The Bert Berns Story,” 2017).

Brett Berns and Bob Sarles, producers of “Bang! The Bert Berns Story.” Photo: Courtesy of HCTN.

Kubernik also covers the often-overlooked rock ‘n’ roll contributions of Native Americans, Link Wray among them. And there’s a chapter devoted to the sacred music George Harrison and Ravi Shankar presented in their “Concert for Bangladesh” charity event, the 50th anniversary of which is coming up on December 20, 2021.

Celebrated rock photographer Heather Harris contributed a piece listing “20 Genuine Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies That Matter,” and the final chapter is an extensive overview of the life and works of Travis Edward Pike, Chairman Emeritus of the New Playwrights Foundation, winner of a 2018 LUXLife Global Entertainment Award, and a longtime mentor to promising writers, musicians, and filmmakers. Pike is also an author and publisher, as principal of Otherworld Cottage Industries.

“Docs That Rock, Music That Matters” has earned critical kudos and Kubernik has sat down for numerous in-depth interviews about his latest book and other stories he’s working on. He and I spoke at length in early December for the interview that follows.

During mid-December Kubernik was the guest for a two-hour interview on the “Coast to Coast AM” radio show hosted by Ian Punnett heard by 2.5 million listeners on more than 500 AM radio stations. The book is also the subject of a recorded 90-minute podcast interview with Goldmine magazine Editor Pat Prince that’s still available to listeners, as is the Mike Stax review in the November/December issue of Ugly Things magazine.

“Docs That Rock, Music That Matters” is available via Amazon.

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Kubernik graduated from Fairfax High School in 1969, earned an A.A. from West Los Angeles College in 1971, and earned a B.A. Special Major (Health, Sociology, and Literature) from San Diego State University in 1973.

Kubernik and this writer met in 1975, my first year as a pro music journo. Harvey was also a rock journalist but far more deeply embedded in the L.A. music scene. He tipped me off to countless events for the monthly “L.A. Getaway” music column I was writing for a magazine called Rock Around the World, an offshoot of the syndicated radio series of the same name. 

Soon after I joined Capitol Records’ Press & Artist Relations crew in October 1977, Kubernik landed a gig as West Coast Director of A&R for MCA Records. During his tenure there, 1978-1979, he teamed engineer/producer Jimmy Iovine with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for their breakthrough “Damn the Torpedoes” album, my personal TP&HB favorite to this day (I’d interviewed Petty in 1977 between the first and second albums for Rock Around the World).

A few years later, Kubernik also initiated Del Shannon’s “Drop Down and Get Me” album, which Petty produced in 1982 for Al Coury’s Network Records, distributed by Elektra/Asylum. By that time, I was on E/A’s Media Relations staff and helped with PR, which included conducting an extensive interview with Shannon about the project.

Kubernik’s first two books, “This Is Rebel Music,” and “Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music in Film and on Your Screen,” were published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

Other noted titles include “Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon” (Sterling/Barnes and Noble, 2009, and 2012 in paperback); “A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival” (with Kenneth Kubernik, Santa Monica Press, 2011); “It Was Fifty Years Ago Today: THE BEATLES Invade America and Hollywood” (Otherworld Cottage Industries, 2014); “Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972” (Santa Monica Press, 2014); “Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows” (Palazzo Editions, 2014); “Neil Young, Heart of Gold” (Palazzo Editions, 2015); “A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love” (Sterling/Barnes & Noble, 2017); “The Story of The Band From Big Pink to The Last Waltz” (Sterling/Barnes & Noble, 2017); and “The Doors: Summer’s Gone” (2018).

Read Kubernik’s complete bio here, and loiter without fear of arrest on Kubernik’s Korner here.


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Peeples: “Docs That Rock, Music That Matters” is your 19th book…why this one and why now?

Kubernik: Well, the answer to the second question first: It was something I was developing for [2021], since I did a book on film music in documentaries and movies and TV shows in 2006. This is not a sequel [but] there’s a little bit of blend and carryover. Since 2006, I’ve always been interviewing pop culture and music documentarians for Record Collector News Magazine, Goldmine, Mojo, Shindig!, various online sites, occasionally a newspaper. And I’ve had this [book] in development, in incubation.

To be really honest, I had just finished with my brother Kenneth a book on Jimi Hendrix that was originally slated to come out in September of 2020. We had finished all the writing, all the pictures had been turned in – it’s 85, 90% done. And it was such an enthralling, potent exercise for me and my brother, but really especially for me, ‘cause I had to find the photos and do some of the business work and the licensing and the sequence stuff.

Then we got word that our publisher, Sterling/Barnes & Noble – there were furloughs at the company; the offices were closed, they were based in New York; and that our book and many other books were pushed back until, like, summer and fall of 2021. I was so ready to discuss this Hendrix book in a couple of months later upon publication, and really revved up for a Jimi last-quarter-2020 mission, and it all got put on hold.

And the pandemic said to me, “You know, we’re gonna be quarantined for maybe a month or two.” I do have a college degree in Health, Sociology, and Literature, and know that sometimes these quarantine things, we don’t really have too much of that going on in the United States, and we take that for granted. And I realized, “It’s not gonna be a month or two. It’s going to be this whole year.”

My friend, the poet and actor Harry E. Northup, who’s been in 29 movies and films and had 10 books of poetry published – people might know him from “Taxi Driver,” “Mean Streets,” or “Silence of the Lambs” – when I got word that the Hendrix book was going to be pushed back 10 months, he said, “Look at it as a blessing and start writing and take a look at the things in front of you and focus on them.”

He told me a story that in 1966 when he was first starting out in New York as an actor, he was set to do two off-Broadway plays and two independent movies. In one week, all four of the projects fell through. And all of a sudden, he decided, “I’m just gonna start writing,” and that’s when he really started doing poetry.

And that’s kind of how “Docs That Rock, Music That Matters” came to fruition. It was in development, it was not done, but [the pandemic] also gave me the liberty and luxury in February, March, April, May to do and conduct a bunch of new interviews that I might not have done until next year.

It isn’t like I had this thing sitting in a cupboard or something, and all I had was a bunch of interviews. About a third of them had maybe been out in truncated or edited fashion over the years; some of the interviews stretch back to 1974 and ’75 with people like David Ruffin, Bobby Rogers of The Miracles – David Ruffin was in The Temptations – Johnny Cash, Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers.

I first interviewed Robbie Robertson in 1976 for Crawdaddy Magazine as “The Last Waltz” was being formulated. And then I interviewed him 20 years ago when there was an anniversary edition of “The Last Waltz” soundtrack. Then I interviewed him three years ago for a cover story for Record Collector News Magazine, and then all of a sudden this year, he put out his own documentary.

So, I just kind of put all the pieces together and just did four months, 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, ‘cause it had to come out – with my publisher Travis Pike at Otherworld Cottage Industries. We were kind of aiming for the last quarter of [2020] to tie in with the school year so I could do some lectures and appearances at film schools. Then those discussed bookings got put on hold when the whole world went Zoom or students weren’t going to the classroom. So, that’s sort of the backstory of the glory.

Peeples: Well, there you go. And throughout your career, you’ve talked to mainly people in the music industry, but this book is not only rock stars, but also filmmakers, and I wanted to get your take on the kind of different worlds that they live in and where there’s a crossing, a congruence between filmmakers of rock documentaries and musicians who are making the music.

Kubernik: The short-form answer is filmmakers largely live on the phone or on the computer, looking for money or funding for their projects initially, and then spend the bulk of their time after shooting the project in the editing room. Musicians and rock stars and performers make their money going on the road these days [pre-pandemic]. But they do cross paths constantly, and we’re seeing this situation has happened where music video directors become directors of documentaries.

My first encounter with the documentary world: As early as 1972, I had a correspondence with the filmmaker, Oscar-winner Murray Lerner. I think he’s the pioneer of outdoor music cinema, like doing the festival documentary and things like that. And I remember screening the movie “Festival” in college at San Diego State University in a class that I was working on about rock literature. In 1973, I brought Danny Sugerman and Iggy Pop down to San Diego State to talk to the class and show the movie “Feast of Friends,” the Doors movie. I remember driving to Calabasas, California from San Diego with Danny Sugerman, picking up the master reel of “Feast of Friends,” the only copy to show it on a reel-to-reel, where we had to thread the machine and all that. This is 48 years ago!

Many years earlier, I had gone to the premiere of “Don’t Look Back,” the Dylan/D.A. Pennebaker documentary, at the Los Feliz Theater in Los Angeles. And some of the people who saw that movie that week are people I still know and have quoted in the chapter on D.A. Pennebaker.

Sadly, these filmmakers – and this includes Albert Maysles – but in the case of D.A. Pennebaker and Murray Lerner, they left us at age 90 and 94, so I always had access to them for previous books I did; like the Leonard Cohen book, they both had something to do with Leonard Cohen, or Neil Young, or shot them or took footage of them at concerts over the years.

So I’ve been always working with the offices of these acclaimed filmmakers, which sadly are now becoming…let’s just say I’m now working with their estates.

kubernik docs that rock
Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker. Photo: Courtesy Pennebaker/Hegedus Films.

But I’m a child of Hollywood. I’m born in Hollywood – I’m actually born in a room overlooking the Hollywood 101 Freeway, sort of East Hollywood and Echo Park, Queen of Angels Hospital, which I think is called the Dream Factory now.

So, this whole book is a statement and a collection of images and text which, on the front cover, I could have put, “It came from Hollywood.”

Peeples: As a 1969 Fairfax High School graduate, you were right in the thick of it when it was happening, when you were in high school. And I wanted to get your take on what it was like to go dancing at some of the rock shows and the TV tapings in the mid-‘60s.

Kubernik: You know, it’s the question I’m asked a lot around this book – I’m delighted. I’ve never hid, not my history. It only dawned on me 10 or 20 years ago that Andrew Loog Oldham told me there are no accidents and Graham Nash told me, actually, at Henry Diltz’s studio a couple of years ago – he gifted me with a signed copy of his anthology, and he said to myself and Gary Strobl [Diltz’s archivist], “Just remember, we’ve all been put on our own path.” And I said, “Okay.” And he said, “Use everything.”

When I did interviews after the publication of my first book in 2004, I would always make it a point to embrace my Southern California bioregional history. I kept some journals and ticket stubs and photos. I knew it was important. The publishing world until recently has been largely based in New York, and most of the people who come to this town to make it or work in the industry or work at magazines or at record labels – I’d say 90% of them were not born and raised here. So they bring a lot of New York damage and baggage with them.

I’m not putting out a negative vibe, but they don’t want to really embrace the community and the native voice, either due to space limitations in their articles or they don’t know our history. The way people in New York, as you well know, constantly chronicle, parade, and tout everything and anything to do with New York. So, it’s only with this kind of book, and recently off some of the high-profile radio shows I’ve done, people are asking me about what’s it like growing up in Hollywood – or it’s now called West Hollywood, where I was lucky to go to high school from 1966 to ’69. So, access was key to all of us.

We took our driver’s education class in Laurel Canyon. Does that say it all? Learning how to parallel park, listening to The Doors as FM radio was first starting. And I had a paper route on Beverly and La Cienega, I sold papers and worked the Sunset Strip, and my library was down the street on San Vincente Boulevard from the Whisky-A-Go-Go. So if I’m still underage or occasionally I was allowed to go into the Whisky with a wristband to sit upstairs; I wasn’t allowed to dance on the dance floor.

Harvey Kubernik was a consultant on the “Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time” doc that debuted on Epix in 2020. The graphic is a photo of Bernie Leadon taken at the top of the canyon overlooking Hollywood by Henry Diltz.

But I will say, I actually did go to school and I had an after-school job for my 11th and 12th grade, so I’m not one of those guys who went out every night to see everything. I went out every weekend and maybe once during the week. But I saw plenty.

The Ash Grove Music Folk Club was 300 yards down the street from Fairfax High School, and our teachers – you’d do field trips and you’d go see Albert King or Muddy Waters! I mean, I look back on that now in our politically correct society and all this identity politics and inclusion riders and diversity – I’m a walking billboard for diversity because I come out of schools, public schools, that were constantly diverse stuff.

So, the television tapings were always my favorite because I wasn’t in the business. I was a little bit involved ‘cause my mother worked for Raybert Productions at Columbia Pictures for 11 years, ’62 to maybe ’73, as a secretary and a stenographer on the lot for movies, but actually for a couple of years for “The Monkees” TV series and a TV series called “Banyon” that Robert Forster was in. So, we would go as families to the preview house to see pilot episodes and help grade them.

Or, if somebody was playing “Shindig!”, you could either hitchhike or a take a bus to Prospect Avenue, kind of in the Silverlake area, and go see “Shindig!” and then you’d be on 9th Street West or you’d go to Gazzarri’s for various stuff.

And then Dick Clark was an omnipresent figure to all of us, because in 1966, I believe he moved “American Bandstand” from Philadelphia to Vine and Fountain and I danced for a short season on “American Bandstand.” It was the last year it was in black and white.

docs that rock
Music on TV legend Dick Clark, head of Dick Clark Productions. Photo: Courtesy Otherworld Cottage Industries.

Then you’d end up going next year to the Hollywood Palace and see the “[Happening] ’68 tapings. We’d go with groups! I also had to go to Dodger Stadium to see Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitch. I kind of spread myself over sports and music. All of these experiences, and then starting as a journalist in 1972 – I think all this work has sort of collided. It’s almost like a neurogenetic solution or task that sort of all ends up in the books I do. Plus, I am cinematic; I can’t help bringing Party Vision into the projects.

I’m a big fan of the multi-voice narrative. I like bringing in two, five, 10, or 20 people into my long-form stories. They’ve become like a John Cassavetes/Alfred Hitchcock kind of stock group. And I really do direct some of these episodes, except the people who participate with me when I quote them. They do their own writing or they send over their own quotes, and I give them a suggestion and I tell them what I’m looking for. So I direct them, they write their own script for a paragraph or two, whatever it is, and I place it in the group journey. Not on every chapter, but film is a collaborative medium, and my books, I think, are examples of that as well.

Peeples: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely spot on with the multi-voice narrative because you get all the different perspectives of the same story, which are far more valuable to the reader than just a single perspective from one person.

Kubernik: I’m quite capable of writing and not talking to anybody. It’s either all in my head or I have 60 years of experience, and I’ve only tapped a little bit of it.

But, there’s sort of a karmic thing that I’ve discussed with the likes of Henry Diltz and Dr. James Cushing and Daniel Weisman and people I’ve known for five, 10, and 50 years, Dr. David B. Wolfe. There’s something about when you give form or platform to people, and some of my friends have never really had books out or some have only had maybe one or two books out, or some of them haven’t been published in, shall we say, traditional print format. The exposures with me have helped get them work, have helped get them exposure, have helped build their resumés, but also it’s just part of music. It’s a shared experience, and [I’m] just sort of feeling that things are really clicking here

And with this book, I’ve also walked into a world – and this is since this century, let’s say the last 20 years, but especially the last 10 years, even before the advent and the increase in Netflix subscriptions and Amazon and all the other new streaming places – where documentaries are more popular than ever.

The Oscar award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville, who’s in my book, who won the Oscar for “20 Feet from Stardom,” and I had worked with him in 2009 as consulting producer on his documentary “Troubadours” which sort of examined Carole King and James Taylor – he gave me a funny, interesting quote in an interview for this book, that for many years, documentaries were considered the spinach of the film world. (Laughs)

And that’s all changed radically. Years ago, there might be one documentary every two months that somebody would tip me off, or a music documentary you’d see at a midnight movie. I mean, my deal goes back before DVDs. Betamax was not even happening; you had to see movies at a theater or on TV. You got one time to see it and you never saw it again; this before video rental stores and all that. But they made impressions on me, and so I decided I’m gonna go into a world with this book – and there are hints of it in the other books I’ve done and articles – I’m gonna create my own genre.

I’m going to be Harvey Kubernik because I’m just not interviewing filmmakers and TV people. You can get plenty of that largely by books published by academics, or people doing a thesis, or writing about music and documentaries and the new video stuff. But none of them ever – they could write about Dick Clark and “American Bandstand” – they didn’t interview Dick or dance on the show. They didn’t dance on “Shebang” and know Casey Kasem. When Casey Kasem died, The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard asked me to write a tribute to him. I don’t know if it’s an advantage. Sure, it’s an advantage, but I don’t know if it’s leverage, but I do know it colors my trek, because I’m actually writing about people where I’ve met the principals largely in person.

Now, because of COVID, some of the interviews became email or phone interviews; there was a time, and you know this very well going back to Zoo World and stuff, the interviews – we took this stuff very seriously, we couldn’t wait to go to meet these people or interview them in a recording studio, and that’s another advantage I think I have over lots of people who do music books.

docs that rock
Harvey Kubernik in the studio with Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Photo: Courtesy Otherworld Cottage Industries.

I’m not comparing or contrasting myself with them, but I always made it a point to talk to the engineers whenever I could. I didn’t have LSD, which is called “Lead Singer Disease.” I always wanted to speak to the engineers, the arrangers, the keyboardists – they have the best memories and they give you a different slant than just about everybody else gets. And I think you actually see the participation of the sonic element of music. I’m talking about the audio, when I have quotes from people like engineers, like Bones Howe or Stan Ross, who co-owned Gold Star Recording Studio[s]. I’m very proud of that because it differentiates me from many people.

Peeples: You mentioned recording studios and talking to not just the producer or the artist or the lead singer or whatever. That’s really how you get the backstory, and that’s a perfect segue: One of the documentaries I wanted to ask you about was the Wrecking Crew documentary.

Kubernik: Whoa! Well, you came to the right place, I have to say, because talk about a sweet spot. Here we have a situation – I’m only gonna put myself in the third person comically to set the scene. When it comes to the Wrecking Crew documentary, if you could draft the perfect person to be the quarterback on your football team to put the ball in the end zone regarding the Wrecking Crew, it’s probably me, simply because I actually did some work at Gold Star Studios. I actually did recordings at Gold Star Studios. I actually met the Wrecking Crew as early as 1973, and they never really were called the Wrecking Crew at the time; they were people from the Musicians Union 47 on Vine Street. The history, we keep seeing this were “Wrecking Crew, Wrecking Crew.” They weren’t in the late ‘50s, ‘60s, and super early in the ‘70s known as the Wrecking Crew. That moniker came a little later.

Kubernik: But because I made it a point to, again, I wrote the tribute to Hal Blaine, the drummer. I made records, I was on Phil Spector’s sessions, I interviewed Jack Nitzsche extensively and Don Randi. And Larry Levine, the engineer at Gold Star who later worked at A&M. My first interviews with Phil Spector were in 1975 in Melody Maker. Jack Nitzsche, first published interview: 1988 in Goldmine. Long before there was a Wrecking Crew documentary, I must have had 300,000 words on all these people individually. Glen Campbell, I interviewed for my 2009 book “Canyon of Dreams” on Laurel Canyon. And I knew Danny Tedesco because I’d been around his father Tommy Tedesco, the guitarist, and I did a lot of work with David Kessel whose father was Barney Kessel, the legendary jazz guitarist and producer.

So, I had all this information, and it would leak out a little bit online or in a few articles here and there. So when the Wrecking Crew movie was being done and screened around town and finally theatrically released and put out on DVD, I did do an edited 5,000-word cover story on it for Record Collector News Magazine, but I had 90,000 words sitting in a computer. So when it came time to do this book, I just expanded it greatly.

I also said to myself, “I’m really happy the Wrecking Crew are getting attention,” but in 2002, -4, and -8, I did a series of interviews with The Funk Brothers, when [the] “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” movie came out. I like the musicians, I can talk to musicians. I do have a musicality in my speech and my writing process, but when I did the Wrecking Crew piece for this book – and some of it was a little bit in maybe the Record Collector News edited version, I said to Don Randi, “We have to do something a little different that nobody else could ever discuss or talk about. I need something really Hollywood. I’m gonna think of a real Hollywood story, an angle, something than the usual thing,” as this movie was getting acclaim and beautiful interviews constantly.

And I said, “I figured it out. I want you to tell me – ‘cause I used to run into you and Hal Blaine at, like, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Pink’s Hot Dogs very late at night after you guys had done three sessions and I had been at some concert or at The Hullabaloo on Sunset Boulevard,” or I’d run into Don at the late, great Hollywood Ranch Market where Rodney Bingenheimer and I would eat, like, [loaves] of bread and Jan Henderson used to eat these chicken gizzards there. And I said, “Why don’t we talk about food?”, because the Wrecking Crew had a camaraderie way beyond playing sessions together. Jack Nitzsche told me, or the producer Denny Bruce told me, at one time, there was a bowling league called “Needles & Pins.” These people socialized together.

And so I have a couple of pages in this book that people brought up to me, or those are the pages that people want me to sign, where Don Randi and I discuss the late, great food restaurants and taco and hot dog and hamburger stands everybody would go to in the ‘60s and ‘70s and well into the ‘80s. And you get to know people over food and it’s good to hear the kind of noshing all these Wrecking Crew people would do either in the morning, late at night – it was before people had catered sessions. Sinatra had a catered session by Chasen’s often. So, I think I brought something really Hollywood and L.A. into this book that, if it hits me, then I know it can hit other people.

Peeples: That’s great. The book covers a lot of the usual suspects, I suppose, but I wanted to ask about the unsung heroes. Who would you think would be the film documentarian you would point to that you really would like to turn people onto, that has been underappreciated and undersung and needs to have more attention now? Who would you say that might be?

Kubernik: Let’s see. See, when you got a half a dozen Oscar winners and multiple Emmy winners and some Grammy winners in the book, I think they politely disqualify themselves as being undersung because look at the achievement, if you’re looking at awards as any kind of plateau. That being said, there’s a few people in this book who greatly appreciate the coverage. I’m thrilled they have gotten additional work or will be getting additional work.

There’s a guy named Bob Sarles who did the “Bang! Bert Berns Story” [“Bang! The Bert Berns Story”] documentary of Bang Records’ Bert Berns. He’s done a lot of stuff for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and he did a Michael Bloomfield documentary that came out years ago, deeply steeped in Chicago blues – I think Bob Sarles’ work is terrific.

There is a guy, he actually owns a film company, David Peck of Reelin’ in the Years Productions; he owns a lot of library footage that populate a lot of documentaries. His products are kind of showcased in the chapter I have on Otis Redding. His company put together promo products of the Stax Revue in Europe. You oughta check out what he’s doing at Reelin’ in the Years.

Alison Ellwood, who I interviewed for the next issue of Record Collector News Magazine – she just did the Go-Go’s documentary – she did the two-part “Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time” documentary…I was a consultant on that movie that debuted this year (2020) on Epix Television. And David Leaf who I’m sure you know…

Peeples: Yes.

Kubernik: I mean, I gotta tell you: You oughta really take a deep look, not just of his Brian Wilson work, but that “U.S. vs. John Lennon” documentary he did, and his documentary on James Brown, and he did an earlier documentary on the Bee Gees, and they’re wonderful movies and I have to say the team behind “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World,” that movie built around a Link Wray song, “Rumble.” I don’t know if you’ve seen it, it’s just striking.

And the late, lamented Curtis Hanson: I have a chapter on him on his “Wonder Boys” movie. He gave us “L.A. Confidential,” he’s an Oscar award-winning guy; he directed some Dylan videos. He was such a huge fan of music. He had started out at Cal State Los Angeles in the late ‘60s, writing a music column for the school newspaper, and I’d see him around town long before he did the feature-length movie on Eminem, “8 Mile.”

I’ve seen some of these people over the decades, over the last half-century, on the Monkees set, and maybe I was only there 10 or 20 times, maybe. Again, I had to go to school, I had an after-day job, so I wasn’t able to hang out all the time to see everything because I had to go to junior college to get out of Vietnam and get a student deferment. I’m not gonna say I’m some dysfunctional, wild crazy guy that didn’t get along with his parents and rock ‘n’ roll saved my life; it was quite the opposite, so I probably could have made greater inroads in the music and film and television industry if I would have been networking between age 14 and 40. I was too busy in my own survival or trying to make a dollar to sit there to do all these things. But there were occasions where I would meet a Dennis Hopper in the commissary at Columbia.

This book is dedicated to Gower Gulch, near Sunset and Vine.

Peeples: I wanted to ask you about that; since you hit on it, go ahead.

Kubernik: Well, Gower Gulch is where Columbia Studios was sort of located, on Gower and Sunset.

Peeples: Right.

Kubernik: There’s a Denny’s on the corner now. It probably goes back to the late ‘20s in the film world when it was even a different studio’s name. So that’s where you either take the bus or you hitchhike, hitchhiking wasn’t illegal, and Gower Gulch became this nerve center: a) It’s where I could see my mother and we’d go home for dinner after, and my dad was working early in the morning, not in the industry.

When I say “industry,” she was a secretary/stenographer, but again, we were all treated as equals; you’d see Jack Nicholson, long before “Easy Rider,” around town: “Hi, kid,” “Hey, Jack.” This is before everybody was really working in high-profile pictures.

I would say four blocks away from Gower Gulch was Wallichs Music City on Sunset and Vine. The Hollywood Palladium is two blocks away on Sunset Boulevard. So, that became, after school, there weren’t 55 million record stores or mail-order or online outlets. You had to go to stores like the Frigate on 3rd and La Jolla, or Wallichs Music City, which was a pre-Tower Records sort of destination stop that after school, you had to go buy your 45 of the week, or your album maybe every two weeks, and in my case, the studio where the Monkees were shot and the movie “Ship of Fools” and all these Stanley Kramer directors.

I didn’t really know the names of the people when you’re 14, 15, 16 and 17, but I met enough actors and actresses on their way up who had just gotten SAG [Screen Actor’s Guild] cards and met directors, and I also saw the blending of music because I remember Bert Schneider, who was a co-producer of the Monkees saying to me, “The Monkees made ‘Easy Rider’ happen,” because some of the profits of the money from the Monkees series bankrolled ‘Easy Rider’ and BBS Films and all their wonderful catalog of pictures.

So, Gower Gulch, it’s sort of an insider name, but I hope I’ve answered the question why it had to be dedicated there. It was where the bus stopped or where you could meet up with people because you’d see the kids from Hollywood High School, or there was even a place called Hollywood Professional School – it’s where all the kids that were on TV shows went to school if they didn’t have on-set tutoring. So when you are in this little cluster of Hollywood High/Fairfax High/Hollywood Professional School – and these are all public schools; there’s no private schools, there’s no uniforms, we could have long hair, girls could wear mini-dresses, by the time they went to high school, the dress codes were abolished.

The impact of those three years, and I think it spread until maybe the late ‘70s – I don’t recognize my town anymore since maybe 1980. I did a book earlier in 2014, “Turn Up the Radio!: Pop, Rock, and Roll in Los Angeles 1966-1972” [the title is “Rock, Pop, and…]; Tom Petty wrote a lengthy introduction for the book. I have recall that goes back to 1956 at four or five, six years old seeing Elvis on television; my mother was a big Harry Belafonte fan, we saw him when he hosted Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” I guess maybe in ’68.

I saw “Cal’s Corral,” I saw “Town Hall Party,” I saw all of the country television shows in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. “Cal’s Corral,” this would be on TV all the time; Los Angeles had three R&B radio stations in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. There were country music stations, long before FM radio happened.

So all this energy and a new world is in front of me and I think it’s paying dividends in the books that I have done.

I know it shows up in the articles, but now I can do these books all without a literary agent/producer/manager/lawyer. I make my own decisions, I make very instinctive, impulsive choices; there’s no committees involved, and I’m very hands-on because I just don’t write it and assemble it, I find the pictures, the images, I do the heat-seeking missile work, and I think my fans, if I’m gonna use that term, or my followers or the people who buy my products, and people like you: You realize that this is the work of a single-minded individual that also has a groupthink and a very commercial aspect to what he’s doing.

Peeples: That’s absolutely true. You mentioned rubbing elbows with Hollywood types as they were coming up. There’s a great story about how you and Quentin Tarantino met. Can you recount that?

Kubernik: Yeah! Well, I would say it’s as early as 1984. I went out one night with a woman named Janeen who lives in Manhattan Beach, and it was in the early days where video stores were happening or you’d rent videos like with a card. She brought me to a video store and Quentin Tarantino was there, he was the buyer for the store – I think it was called Video Journeys, I’m pretty sure. And I only had two or three encounters with him.

I think I asked him, “Are you into Roger Corman?” ‘cause I realized I could actually talk to a movie geek where nobody would say, “Well, who’s Roger Corman?” The guy knew his whole goddamn library top to bottom and asked me what did I think of Corman starting New World Pictures in the late ‘70s or mid-‘70s or whenever he started New World.

I said to myself, “This guy’s got it going on.” I didn’t know it would turn into “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” and all this kind of stuff, but I will tell you 20 years ago, I went to a Roger Corman tribute at the museum, and sitting next to me was Quentin Tarantino and Mira Sorvino. So that was a very good little rekindling.

I did see him in 1988 or ’89; I did some work with the comedian Rudy Ray Moore, and he played Club Lingerie – I know you used to go there. Quentin was at one of Rudy’s shows along with a taper named Dean Dean the Taping Machine. Again, this is long before “Jackie Brown” and all this stuff. And so, I put some of that in my chapter on Quentin Tarantino, and then I saw him speak at least a year ago at the Grammy Museum when there was a special event for reporters and media and select people.

They had kind of a tribute to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” where Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & The Raiders appeared on the stage with Quentin on a Q&A, and I was able to use some of that Q&A.

My notes were kind of screwed up because this is something I did wrong: I went there and I took handwritten notes ‘cause the sign said “No taping or photography,” but I noticed everybody else was taping. (Laughs) So I used some of those quotes in the Quentin Tarantino profile of this book, but that chapter also has an extensive interview with Andrew Loog Oldham, the former manager and producer of the Rolling Stones, talking about one of the songs that he produced that’s in the soundtrack of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” So this is a quote that I’ve used a couple of times and I don’t like to repeat myself, but for your listeners and viewers – and I think you understand that because you’re in the Over-40 Club, meaning you’ve done this for over 40 years. Am I correct?

Peeples: That’s correct, yes. [Since 1975.]

Kubernik: If you’re in the Over-30 and -40 Club, then you get one of these Elvis TCB buttons. I’m pushing the 50 Club and therefore I’ve become the emeritus guy, right?

Peeples: Yeah. [Chuckles]

Kubernik: But Dr. James Cushing, who’s unlike any professor I ever met in literature and English, newly retired from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and been a disc jockey for 30 years, there was a time about 10 years ago when I was getting really deep into these books. A few had come out. You never know sometimes where your next gig comes from, although things are changing now as many people are asking me to do things. He said to me – he read a few things and he said, “You’re really bringing a lot of stuff I didn’t know.” And I said, “Well, you know, that’s a really good compliment…because I don’t wanna repeat myself, but if I’m gonna travel in music from the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s and then get into film and TV and programs and soundtracks this century, I really gotta have some action going on.”

And he said to me – and he put this on the slate of his classroom once – and he said to me, “It’s not nostalgia if you’re delivering new information.”

That was a very liberating mantra to me. I didn’t need a kick in the ass, I didn’t need a pat on the back, but I realized, and I know this is true and I’m sure you’ll validate this, when you read my work – and it’s really in this book, and a lot of people think, “Oh, I’ve seen these movies five times, I’ve seen this documentary. I know everything about D.A. Pennebaker, I know everything about Curtis Hanson, I know everything about The Doors, I know everything about Jim Hendrix.” I know there’s new things, and new information they’ve never found, and it’s not from other sources. That’s part of the joy of this because I truly know I’m delivering things you kinda had to live the life to put on the page.

Peeples: That’s a great way to end it: You gotta live the life to put it on the page.

Kubernik: Well, I think, yeah. I totally appreciate today’s chat; we’re all groovy. Thank you for this platform; it’s always nice talking to you and get back to me if you need anything, and I’m looking forward to this. I know we go back a long time, and I’ve seen you wear various caps in this cockamamie music business, or radio business, as I recall.

Peeples: Both.

Kubernik: Both, right. We are multi-hyphenates, in the Thriving and Surviving Club, so thank you for today.

Peeples: Thank you, I’m totally with you. Talk to you soon.

Special thanks to Rory Aronsky for the transcript. 

Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. His Grammy nomination was for co-producing the “Monterey International Pop Festival” box set with Geoff Gans and exec producer Lou Adler (Rhino/MIPF, 1992). • Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990, and writer/producer of hundreds of WW1 programs in the preceding five years. • His first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He went on to be a Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983) and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). • Moving online, he was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). • Based in the Santa Clarita Valley just north of L.A., Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music TV show from 2010-2015 (archived online and still airing in reruns). • The Santa Clarita journalist most recently was a News Editor at SCVTV’s and SVP/New Media for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. He retired from his 46-year media career in 2021. • For more info and original stories, visit exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to Peeples’ YouTube channel.

Article: Author Harvey Kubernik Q&A: ‘Docs That Rock, Music That Matters’
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