Rock Stories: Tom Brown’s “Mercifully Brief Encounters With Wild Man Fischer”

By and on May 4, 2015

We’re asking some of our friends out there to tell us about some of their wild and crazy adventures in the music biz: we’re tagging these “Rock Stories,” and this one is kind of a tale from the “lunatic fringe,” but not all of the Rock Stories will be about lunatics or have anything to do with fringe.

We hope to have a variety of these stories to share with you soon, but it’s fitting that we’re starting off with Tom Brown’s “mercifully brief encounters” with Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, since Tom once upon a time worked at Rhino’s record label, and the very first recording made for Rhino was Wild Man Fischer’s “Go To Rhino Records.”

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Tom has published two terrific books, Summer Of Love, My Ass!: A Memoir June 12, 1967 – April 28, 1969, and Confessions Of A ZAPPA Fanatic, both credited to H.T. Brown (but please call him Tom). They’re both available from Amazon and other places where you can buy books. This exclusive excerpt below, with Tom’s kind permission, comes from the Zappa book, and tells the story of meeting Fischer and then encountering him a few more times before Fischer’s death (this was published before Larry died of heart failure on June 16, 2011, age 66). Larry was quite a character, as you’ll see — we knew him too — and so is Tom, and we hope to have more writings from him again soon. Take it away, Tom:

My first actual real-time experience with Larry Fischer occurred in 1970, when a fellow band-mate and I drove into Hollywood to see Colossus: The Forbin Project (go to IMDB for details re: this film).

As I was standing at the ticket booth purchasing my entrance pass, I heard my friend speaking with someone who was in line behind us. After acquiring my ticket I turned around to note that he had been attempting to communicate with a strange and somewhat scraggly looking individual wearing a jersey boasting the words “Wild Man Fischer Baseball Team” on the front. And there he was, looking every bit as deranged as he had on his album cover (sans the knife and the image of his mother of course). And being the raging Zappa fan that I was (and still am), I immediately flashed back to the time when I, and several friends spent an evening in a drug addled state listening to his album (An Evening with Wild Man Fischer), trying to figure out if this guy was for real, and wondering what might have inspired Frank to produce such an novel oddity.

“You’re Wild Man Fischer” I offered lamely, as he was paying the woman in the ticket booth, simply because I was so shocked to see him standing in front of me. In true Wild Man fashion he responded without missing a beat, “Yeah, I’m world famous. I’m as big as the Beatles,” which immediately revealed to me that this guy was obviously as delusional as he had came across on his album. Not a good sign.

He proceeded to follow us into the theatre, continuing to ramble on about his celebrity in a desperate attempt to convince us that it was absolutely true. As I stood at the snack bar to obtain a serving of popcorn, he was right beside me still exhibiting his inclination and fixation for borderline insanity. At this point I was still amused about unexpectedly running into this notoriously strange man, having no idea how starved he might be for attention, which hopefully explains why I opened my mouth and told him, “I bought your album when it came out,” which seemed to please him a great deal. He had a strange twisted smile on his face. “I’d buy anything that had Frank Zappa’s name on it,” I added for good measure.

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The smile immediately disappeared. Frank is ripping me off,” I was told, “He owes me $10,000.00. I went over to his house thinking that he was going to give me some money, and all he gave me was this shirt,” he exclaimed, running his hand down the front of it. “I know my album has sold more copies than he told me. He’s a liar,” he declared angrily, as if it was common knowledge to everyone.

After collecting my popcorn and a soft drink and thinking to myself that it was time for our discourse to come to its end, my friend and I headed toward the open doors of the theatre to locate our seats. Larry obviously had a different idea and proceeded to follow along, still rambling non-stop how he was being cheated and lied to. Taking our seats I began to be a little more concerned when Larry sidled in front of both of us and took a seat to my left. He wasn’t through yet.

“Would you perform at the White House if you were invited?” he asked out of left field. “I’m not sure I would” he continued, “I don’t trust the government at all.” He didn’t stop talking in the same disjointed manner, going from one unrelated subject to another without waiting for a response, until the movie started, when I had to intervene and very politely informed him that we were here to watch the movie. Not to talk. Amazingly he got the message, and sat silently for a few minutes before getting up with out a word and left.

When the film ended and we were sauntering up the walkway to exit the theatre, we found Larry sitting in the very last row by the aisle. He looked up and smiled and said, “That was a pretty good movie.” I’m not sure if we even bothered to respond, other than with an involuntary look in his direction that might have conveyed a plea to not follow us out. Fortunately for us he remained seated, and out of my life for a little more than a decade.

My second encounter with Wild Man occurred twelve years later, when he showed up unannounced at the Rhino Records offices, angrily demanding to see Harold Bronson, the vice president of the company. Ironically, the first two releases issued by Rhino had the name of Wild Man Fischer attached to them. The first was a 7” single (Go To Rhino Records – 1975), that was recorded on small tape recorder in a tiny office at the back of the infamous Rhino Records store, for the purpose of giving them out to their recurring customers. Their function was to serve as a promotional device for the store.

Larry would show up at the store from time to time, for no real reason other than he probably didn’t have anywhere else to go, and as long as he would behave himself, he was tolerated. I’m not sure whose idea it actually was, but they were obviously cognizant enough to realize that all they had to do is offer the wild guy some free records to enact the deal. No problem at all, and shortly after that Larry was in the office making history of a sorts, bellowing into a cheap microphone in his own unconventional and eccentric manner.

He evidently managed to somehow stay on their good side and two years later (Jan. 1977), Rhino unveiled their very first album titled Wildmania (RNLP 001), on the unsuspecting public, which was recorded on an inexpensive cassette machine at Dodger Stadium. Don’t blame me. I can take no responsibility for any of this, as I didn’t start working for Rhino until 1981. This will take us to 1982 when it was discovered that Larry Fischer was still hovering about my life force, although I had not one exchange with him on the day in question. In a court of law the entire story would be construed as hearsay, but you can take my word for it that it actually did happen exactly as described.

We had just moved into the first reasonably large, and official Rhino offices at 1201 Olympic Blvd in Santa Monica. Before this we had shared a small building on Pico Blvd (Where Record Surplus now resides, if they’re still there), with Sounds Good, an import record distributor. Our new and improved Rhino world existed in a two story building and naturally the bulk of those at the top of the food-chain in the world of record companies, i.e. the executive faction inhabited the top floor, while the remainder of the underlings (including myself), took our places downstairs in the combined offices/warehouse area. Which is where I was the day Larry unexpectedly appeared in all his gloriously maniacal reality.

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I was in my own demented universe, standing by the postage machine having a conversation with several of my co-workers, when we observed our lovely redheaded receptionist (Adele), slowly descending the staircase stifling sobs. Adele was sweet, bright and thoughtful without a mean bone in her body, so we all immediately responded by asking her if she was okay. “Larry Fischer is upstairs completely crazy and I can’t handle it,” she told us “he threatened to kill Gary Stewart, (our lone A&R guy at the time, and probably the nicest guy on the planet), if he didn’t get Harold (the VP), out here right now to talk to him about his royalties.”

Harold had heard the ranting from his office, and immediately came out to alleviate Larry’s distress by gently putting his arm around him and leading him into his office. That’s when Adele left her station to come downstairs. “The guy is fucking nuts!” she exclaimed, “Why’s he even allowed to be here?” she wondered aloud. Rather than trying to handle that subject, we did our part in calming her down, so she could make it through the rest of the afternoon.

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Tom Brown at Rhino

When I saw Gary later that day I asked him about the incident. He smiled, shrugging his shoulders and dismissed it with “Wadda gonna do? It’s Larry Fischer.” He obviously had a perfect understanding that Larry being Larry was going to show up from time to time to perform his hyper-batshit sonata routine. It was the price one pays, and being Rhino Records, it was just an average day in the workplace. Just so we don’t leave you on a down note, Gary was neither killed nor ever threatened again by Larry Fischer. He’s alive and well and remains a tremendously pleasant person.

Larry, on the other hand, is much more trouble than he’s worth, proving it numerous times by showing up (always unannounced), and creating total havoc. Amazingly, only once was he so unruly that the police were called to escort him out of the building. Just a few more typical days at Rhino, and counting.

Which leads us to the very last time I attempted to communicate with Larry…We were now being housed in an even larger building on Colorado Blvd, still in Santa Monica and the company was enjoying major success. It was probably 1995 or thereabouts. It was about lunchtime when I wandered into the warehouse to exchange taunts and insults with the guys in the stockroom. It was a daily ritual between us that had to be adhered to. Standing directly in front of me, going through the large wooden racks containing LPs like he was on fire, was Larry. The stench emanating from his person was staggering.

I remember I was going to say something along the lines of “Clean up these dead rats’, guys,” before I realized that the foul odor was coming from Larry. I was no closer than ten feet from him watching him zealously pulling albums out of their holders and stuffing them into a 25-count box. He looked worse than I had ever seen him. His hair was disheveled, his clothing was ill fitting, and appeared as if they had never been washed or ironed. Why I didn’t turn around and disappear we’ll never know, as I continued to stare at him in disbelief. Suddenly he turned and saw me watching him. He grasped the record box with both hands and held it close to his body. His eyes were wide and conveyed the idea that he was truly disturbed.

“Richard said I could take some records, and I’m takin’ em,” he blurted angrily, barely looking at me. “I’m takin’ em” he reminded me with a ten on the scale of petulant in his voice. “Hey, it’s okay with me” I calmly assured him, “Let me know if you need any help” not meaning a word of it as I just wanted to get away immediately. Before I could fulfill my wish for the moment Larry had more to say, “No! I don’t need your help. I don’t need anyone’s help. I can do this!”

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I was away post haste while he was still talking and didn’t see Larry Fischer again until 2007 when a fellow Zappa associate of mine sent me a copy of the documentary, Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Larry ‘Wild Man’ Fischer, which has to stand as the definitive look at Larry Fischer. I recommend it simply because you don’t have to be in the same room as him should you decide to watch it. It includes a close-up look at a number of people who made an actual effort to interact with him, whose stories are far more dramatic than any of my encounters could ever hope to be. Merry-go, merry-go… I found the most interesting thing about the documentary was the fact that most of the people who were involved with, or worked with him were implying that Larry actually had some ability and talent. I will have to beg to differ.

He’s truly a unique kind of individual and the circumstances surrounding his notoriety are unusual, but give me a break. I don’t mean to be unkind, but the guy is an absolute freak show. He’s a crazy man. But what shocked me the most about the documentary was the fact that Richard Foos and Harold Bronson (the president and vice president of Rhino respectfully), failed to offer any stories of his psychotic behavior when he used to visit the Rhino offices. I guess that’s where I come in after the fact. In spite of my steadfast beliefs I enjoyed watching the disaster unfold.

Poor, sad Larry. I offer this advice should you ever find yourself in the immediate presence of Wild Man Fischer. Don’t make eye contact, and whatever you do refrain from mentioning Frank Zappa or An Evening with Wild Man Fischer. All the stories you may have heard about him are absolutely true. The term, lunatic fringe doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

(Thanks Tom!, and Colossus: The Forbin Project looks pretty good, we’re going to have to check that out! R.I.P. Larry. And buy Tom’s book!! It’s chock full of great Rock Stories!)

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, 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.