Schwartz Stories #4: Stephen Michael Schwartz and the Great Hollywood Rock Star BBQ of 1975
Rock cognoscenti meat the material grill at Sunset as the neat elite meet to eat'n'greet. It's condiments be damned as stars mustered at the storied studio to relish each other's catch-up!
(I Wish They All Could Be) California Grills
Stephen Michael Schwartz had just released his debut album for RCA in late summer 1974. Auditioning a touring band in early 1975 led to a Washington state gig opening for Paul Williams. Next up? Meeting with prospective producers for RCA Album #2.
One meeting led to a once-in-a-lifetime studio cook-out the likes of which would strain credulity imagining it could happen anywhere else…or, even at all!
Call it late spring 1975, as Stephen brings us up-to-date: “I can’t remember who suggested that Chris Huston and I meet with the prospects of Chris producing my next album.
“Chris was, at this time, primarily known as a top-notch engineer [dating all the way back to 1966] with a string of successful albums under his belt for The Who, Led Zeppelin, Todd Rundgren’s late ‘60s Nazz, Patti Labelle, and Eric Burdon.
“I didn’t know this at the time, but Chris and John Lennon [three years older than Huston] were childhood buddies, having grown up in Liverpool.
“I should have known, upon our first meeting, from that unique English accent right out of the Hard Day’s Night film!”
“John Lennon wasn’t the only rock royalty friend Chris had, as I later would find out when he invited me to a little dinner at Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood.
“That night, Chris picked me up at my Hollywood apartment, and we drove down to 6650 Sunset Boulevard, home of the legendary Sunset Sound Studios.”
“Entering the studio doors and walking down the hall was like viewing a mini-exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The walls were filled with photos of famous clients who graced this Mecca of the recording industry.
“I could have stayed in that hall for hours, but Chris ushered me into the main studio. Holding the heavy door open, I walked in and was absolutely amazed to see several picnic tables lined up for a barbecue, with a large grill fired up with hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling away!
Clothes Encounters of the Thread Kind
“It was strange enough to have a ‘cook-out’ where the likes of The Stones, Paul McCartney, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Zeppelin, and The Wrecking Crew once all set up their gear, but stranger still were the guests sitting at the table eating and talking away!
“It was a small gathering, maybe fifteen people in all. Sitting at the table were Carole King in denim blue overalls (no shirt or bra), Carly Simon and James Taylor, Stevie Wonder (and his girlfriend), Linda Ronstadt [who had just finished recording her 6th solo album, and second for Asylum, Prisoner in Disguise, released the following September], Peter Asher (her producer at the time), the owner of the studio and one or two of his guests, Chris Huston and me.”
Runnin’ With the Heard
“I was seated across from James and Stevie, and heard them discuss getting together and doing a song for James’ next album. In retrospect, I believe it was, ‘Don’t Be Sad ‘Cause Your Sun Is Down,’ a song James and Stevie co-wrote, which is on In the Pocket” [Taylor’s seventh and last album for Warner Bros. Records, released in June 1976, before signing with Columbia the following year].
The Taylor/Wonder co-write, “Don’t Be Sad ‘Cause Your Sun Is Down,” with Stevie Wonder on harmonica, was the B-side in some countries (Brazil, for one) of the “Shower the People” single. This is the 2019 Remaster:
“Sitting there, I had two distinct feelings in my body: One, I felt that I was right where I belonged amongst the stars, and two, completely aware that I was in the presence of musical giants; and yes, I felt small.
“Not invisible, just little. It helped a bit to see Carole King with a dab of mustard on the side of her mouth! We’re all human.
“It was a night I will never forget. Thank you, Chris.”