Remembering “Mondo Hollywood”‘s Bobby Jameson

By on May 20, 2015

If you fast-forward about thirty-minutes into in the experimental 1967 documentary, Mondo Hollywood, directed by Robert Carl Cohen, you can see a young man walking on the beach with his then-girlfriend Gail Sloatman (later Gail Zappa), playing a sad refrain on a harmonica and talking about how his life and career didn’t turn out like he thought it would. We don’t need to introduce you to this young man — Bobby Jameson — because he does that himself:

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“Been kicked out of every school I ever been to. Didn’t mind. Ran away from home, came back. Ran away from home again, came back. Then I ran away one more time, and I didn’t come back. I said I want to find out if I’m wrong, or if everybody’s wrong. I found out just about everybody’s wrong, but a lot of people think they’re right.

My name is Bobby Jameson. I was born in Illinois. I guess I’m a singer. I guess I’m a writer. I sing about what I feel, and I write about what I feel, and personally it’s the only thing I care about.

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So at 17, I came to Hollywood and I starved my ass off. And I mean starved, going days without eating, walking around, staying up days because you had no place to sleep.  After I’d been in Hollywood for a couple of years, all of the sudden, people were telling me I was going to be a star, I couldn’t face it. They treat you different and you didn’t know why, really, ’cause you’re still just a person. A star is a label. I watched this happen to my life for a few months until it almost drove me crazy. I was afraid of my own shadow. I couldn’t write anymore. I couldn’t sing anymore. I couldn’t do anything anymore because I just didn’t know who I was. It was like ‘I wanna see who Jameson is! I wanna see you, Bobby Jameson, because you’re hidden, you’re a phony. I said you don’t exist. I said you’re nothing!’

This society is a propagandized machine. It controls you. If you believe in it, you are a robot. You have been hyped, hypnotized, and made to believe that you are free. I am not free. No one is free.”

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Bobby Jameson was not a household name. He made many attempts during his life to achieve some sort of fame beyond the notoriety of some of the things he did. He had some rough breaks, and made some bad deals and some bad decisions. Some people made those bad decisions for him, and took advantage of him, but some reached out a hand and tried to help him, but Bobby had been burned one too many times, and he’d swat their hand away.

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Bobby Jameson was born in Geneva, Illinois , but was raised in Tucson, Arizona, where he spent a little time in a juvenile detention center called Mother Higgins, which Bobby called a “despicable place.” He later ended up living in Glendale, California, and he made his first recording way back in 1963 (as “Bobby James”), a little surf rocker called “Let’s Surf.”

A year later he was sharing a house with three members of Neil Young’s future band (Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina), and writing songs, and it wasn’t long before he caught the attention of Tony Alamo, who became his manager, promising to make 19-year old Bobby a star. He paid for all kinds of adverts in Billboard and Cashbox touting Bobby as “the Star of the Century,” and “The World’s Next Phenomenon.” The ads ran for weeks.

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Bobby recorded a single for Alamo’s Talamo label, and he ended up on TV’s “American Bandstand” and opened up for the Beach Boys and Chubby Checker. In 1965, he took his first LSD trip, with Danny Hutton, who had come into prominence with a single record “Roses And Rainbows” but is probably still best known as one of the three lead vocalists in the band Three Dog Night. That same year, his mother informed him that he’d received a letter with his draft notice. He found out he was 1A and he figured he was on his way to Vietnam. He wrote and recorded a song about it, “Vietnam,” with Don Conka of the band LOVE on drums, and some of the guys from the Leaves (who had recorded his song “Girl From The East”) backing him up.

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He later found out that the reason he wasn’t getting much airplay in his hometown of L.A. was that deejays like Reb Foster thought he was using anti-war demonstrations (like those happening on the Sunset Strip regularly) to further his career. He was told he was too “political,” and he learned that a lot of industry people resented those ads that Tony Alamo had taken out in the trades, promising that he was going to be a big star, when he ended up doing nothing of much merit. People in L.A. just didn’t like Alamo much, as this Rolling Stone article from 1972 reveals.

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Then, Bobby Jameson went to London and it happened all over again. He was told he was going to be a star, and he got a lot of UK press making a big point of the American in their midst. He recorded a song written by the Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who wanted to sign him to his Immediate label. Bobby recorded one of Oldham’s songs, co-written with Keith Richards, and appeared on the “Ready Steady Go!” program. He also covered a Jagger-Richards composition, “All I Want Is My Baby,” that the Rolling Stones never released, and he stayed in London for awhile. But he didn’t become a star, and so he came back to L.A.

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He recorded a song “Gotta Find My Roogalator” that was arranged by Frank Zappa and recorded with L.A. session virtuosos including Carol Kaye on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano. It was released on Pat Boone’s Penthouse label. He then was signed to Verve, where the Our Productions team of Curt Boettcher, Jim Bell and Steve Clark produced his 1967 album Color Him In.

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He found that he was again being referred to as a new artist, now known simply as Jameson, and none of his previous work was known to be his — as you can see from this article we’re featuring here below — and he was treated as if he had no track record at all, no discography, even though he had already been recording since 1963 and had worked on two continents with a lot of different people of note.

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In 1967, he’d been busted for disturbing the peace at Ben Franks coffee shop on Sunset Blvd, for spilling a milkshake in his own lap, and Bob Cohen filmed some of the trial and it ended up in his movie Mondo Hollyood, where Bobby is shown walking along with his friend Georgiana (Steele-Waller), through the hallways of the court house in Beverly Hills, and he’s also seen in the courtroom… but again, he was largely unknown in his home town at the time, and still waiting for the proverbial big break that everyone assured him was right around the corner. Cohen decided to film this enigmatic young man walking on the beach, talking about how life, and people, had let him down.

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With the album Working, recorded in 1968, he used the name Bobby Jameson, instead of Jameson, but once again he found that people were not making any connection to his past work. He couldn’t seem to convey to anyone who he was, or what he had done, and to others he was seen as a flash in the pan, or an artist who had reached for the brass ring, and missed. The dismal reception to his 1969 album Working haunted him. He’d climbed too high but never reached the heights that he was told he was going to reach one day, and eventually he began to think that maybe he should just throw himself off the ladder rather than keep climbing.

So, in 1985, he left Hollywood, and L.A., in a broken heap, surmising as he went, that it was not only the last straw that broke Bobby Jameson, but all the last straws, over time, that had caused him to retreat into obscurity, and that’s where he remained until he was found by Steve Stanley.

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Bobby Jameson and Steve Stanley, 2003 (courtesy of Steve Stanley)

We asked our good friend Steve to share a few thought on the recent passing of Bobby Jameson — he died on May 12, 2015, in the San Luis Obispo area, age 70. His brother Quentin provided the following information about his brother’s death, to allay fears that Bobby had taken his own life: “He had an aneurysm in his descending aorta. He was clear headed to the end. He made (I think) a good choice not to opt for a risky surgery, which would, at best, have left him disabled in a nursing home for a few more years. He died true to his own rules of sobriety, honesty, and independence; a warrior’s death.”

First, a few new final thoughts from Steve:

Farewell, singer-songwriter, street philosopher, and badass, fire-spitting poet Bobby Jameson. In all likelihood, you’ve never heard of him or his music. You never noticed his brief cameo in Leonard Bernstein’s classic 1967 TV special, “Inside Pop,” or saw Bobby’s 1964 long-lost appearance on “American Bandstand.” I could write a book about my long and strange journey with him. For years I was Bobby’s soundboard, fielding countless hours of mostly heartbreaking but fascinating memories. When I first contacted him, he was totally unaware of any outside interest in his music, having lived in self-imposed exile for over 20 years. He later went on to embrace social media, and posted an in-depth blog of his trials and travails in and out of the record industry.

Even though he occasionally berated me for “robbing him of his anonymity,” I know he thoroughly enjoyed meeting people who appreciated his stories and music. I think it may have even given him a renewed purpose, even if he was ultimately unable to shake the resentment of his many struggles, not to mention the physical pain he’s endured; the result of decades of hard manual labor. Miraculously, he lived just long enough to see his mother and disabled brother pass on. Bobby, wherever you are, I know the new dawn you behold on your Harley in the next dimension is pain-free and peaceful. Here is my original 2003 MOJO article where Bobby set the record straight on his chameleonic and chaotic life, once and for all.

Steve Stanley
May 20, 2015

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Steve is also allowing us to share his article about Bobby, “The Return of an LA Legend,” published in MOJO Magazine back in 2003.

The Return Of An LA Legend:

“I never got paid for any song I ever wrote, and I never got paid for any record I ever made.”

Bobby Jameson is pissed off, and understandably so. In the 1960s, he was a chameleonic singer-songwriter better known for his larger-than-life exploits, including drug busts and suicide attempts, than for his soulful, confessional music.

Now, the weathered 58-year-old Jameson lives in a central California trailer park with his 80-year-old mother, picking weeds and doing odd jobs, having severed all contact with the Sunset Strip lifestyle he once knew. Nearly everyone he knew back then assumes he’s dead. It took a private investigator to track him down for this article.

Now, he points to a picture of himself in a striped suit at age 19, looking like a cross between Keith Moon and Paul McCartney, and says, “That kid was filled with so much hope.”

As former girlfriend Gail Zappa recalls, “I think that Bobby was somebody who was desperately seeking to be famous or die.” Jameson was featured in a 1964 trade ad campaign hyping him as “The World’s Next Phenomenon,” opened for the Beach Boys, appeared on American Bandstand, and traveled to London to record with the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Page and pal around with the Beatles, only to return to L.A. penniless in 1965.

Perhaps Jameson’s best-known work (Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest, available on CD from Rev-Ola) was recorded under the pseudonym Chris Lucey. Mira Records had printed up thousands of jackets with that title for an artist named Chris Ducey. When the deal fell through, rather than discard the jackets, Mira hired Jameson to write ten new songs bearing the pre-printed titles, simply changing the “Ducey” to “Lucey.”

Jameson explains, “I keep hearing all this shit about how Love influenced the Chris Lucey album and it’s totally untrue,” he explains. “Love wasn’t even Love yet when the Chris Lucey album came out.”

Any chance to parlay the Chris Lucey experience into any real success with Mira ended when, as Jameson recalls, label president Randy Wood threw him against his office wall because Jameson was unwilling to sign a contract he considered suspicious. Jameson was already becoming disillusioned with the record industry.

Around this time, Jameson and girlfriend Gail had a harrowing brush with the law. He says, “I had just dropped acid and I was just starting to come on to my trip. Then the door came down and this cop put a shotgun in my face. They handcuffed us and took us downtown. It kept me out of Vietnam, so it might have saved my life in a roundabout way.”

Jameson became obsessed with taking his own life. He twice threatened to jump off the Continental Hyatt House. “I was out there on the ledge for hours, crying. 10,000 people were out there in the street waiting for me to do something.”

Jameson succeeded in jumping, not from the Hyatt House, but from the Pacific Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, breaking multiple bones.

At Jameson’s lowest ebb, he recalls going to sleep after a night of bingeing and waking up next to a corpse, a catalyst in his decision to get sober, a condition he’s maintained for the last 27 years.

During the seventies, Jameson released one single, “Stay With Me,” which he sent to radio stations himself: “I promoted the record from my apartment because RCA was doing squat. I ran full-page ads in Billboard at 1800 bucks a whack. I sent that goddamn thing to every station out there. The DJs had to take it off of their playlists because RCA couldn’t get it in the stores.”

In 1985, an exhausted Jameson called to ask his mother if he could “come up and visit for a few days.” Except for one incognito visit, Bobby hasn’t been back to L.A. since.

He relates, “I traded in my suicidal tendencies in for homicidal tendencies. That’s one of the things that kept me alive. If I was down in L.A., I’m afraid I might go out and kill a whole bunch of people.”

Today, Bobby Jameson has a lot of fiery opinions about the music business. “I hail the kids that are downloading mp3s, because every time they do it, they fuck the industry and make it suffer. They take away money that wouldn’t go to the artists anyway.”

Jameson’s weariness with the business isn’t directed solely at its executives. Says Jameson, “Britney Spears is a fuckin’ Mousketeer!”

The man who once recorded with Randy Newman, Crazy Horse, Curt Boettcher, and Frank Zappa now performs for an audience of one: his mother. The only guitar in the house rests on a stand next to the TV; it’s his mother’s. Jameson plays an electric keyboard and still writes music. “I could go down to L.A. tomorrow and get the ball rolling all over again. I want to form a rockabilly band and cut some of that early rock ’n’ roll stuff. I have that shit ingrained in my soul.”

The time and space that have passed since the mid-sixties haven’t alleviated the pain and anger Jameson still feels. “I’m not living a happy life here in this place. I’m living on the outside. Always on the edge.”

Still, Jameson picks up the photo of him as a young man in London and says, “There’s still a little bit of him inside me. Just a little bit.”

Steve Stanley is the founder of the Now Sounds reissue record label. Artists released on Now Sounds include The Association, The Cowsills, Dion, Del Shannon, Paul Revere & The Raiders, among others. In addition to having penned Bobby’s debut, Songs Of Protest And Anti-Protest, released under the pseudonym “Chris Lucey,” Steve is also a graphic designer who has art directed and/or designed numerous box sets, including packages by Bee Gees, Monkees, Nilsson, and the Grammy nominated Where The Action Is: Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968. He lives in Los Angeles, and every Monday hosts a weekly radio show, “The Now Sounds,” on LuxuriaMusic.com.

You can also see Steve here, appearing in our Night Flight Is Back welcome clip!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Slap_shott

    Bobby Jameson (April 20, 1945 – May 12, 2015)
    RIP