What I want to do first is to get each of you to just
give us a little bit about what your background was coming to your
collaboration before you met. For one thing, your involvement in theater,
you mentioned something about that. Mike, you study in classical
I just want to warn you that we both had influences
prior to that. I had drum lessons at Fred Walker's, you know, music store
Why don't you tell him that.
I will. But I don't want -- if he's prepared,
because he's prepping us for what he thinks is going to happen more or
No, I'm asking a question and you're going.
I just want you to be prepared for earlier
They can always edit it.
This ain't mono? You have to say the question
I want to hear a little bit about your musical background
before you met.
Well, I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. And um, my
mother had a little grocery store on the perimeter of the black ghetto. So I
was very much involved with what was going on down there. And um, I took
drum lessons, uh, for about a year. And I took piano lessons for about six
months. Um, my uncle came home from his business one day, uh, I used to
practice at his house. They had a piano, my mother couldn't afford a piano.
And I used to practice piano there. And I picked up some boogie-woogie licks
and he heard them. And he threw me out of the house. And he said, you know,
if ever I hear that again, you know, you're not going to practice piano
here. And I stopped piano lessons and I stopped practicing there obviously.
And um, I guess my earliest influence in terms of, uh, music, was the, um,
the folk, sort of Polish folk music that they played at these dances that my
mother used to take us to. And uh, and boogie-woogie. And I think it was
really boogie-woogie that did it. The first record I bought was Derek
Sampson's "Boogie Express," part one and part two. And I played that record
until it was white.
Uh, well, I guess the first music that I remember
hearing and playing, I guess I was about three years old and I used to play
Richard Strauss's "Salome's Dance" on a 12 inch RCA red label records. Um,
my mom had WQXR playing all the time, that was the New York classical music
station. So um, I recognized many classical works that I couldn't tell you
what they were, but I could sing them, along with to, even to this day. Um,
I started taking piano lessons when I was five. And it lasted a few weeks. I
was studying with my aunt, who was a, uh, a brilliant concert pianist,
although she was a recluse at that time. And um, I didn't curve my fingers
properly and she hit my hands and that was the end of that. I was in tears.
So it took a while before I started again with the local door-to-door piano
teacher in my neighborhood. But when I was seven I went away to summer camp,
uh, to an interracial summer camp in New Jersey. And uh, and that's when I
first heard boogie-woogie. And it was from an older camper, a, a black
fellow, and uh, in the old barn on an upright piano, and I would hang out
and just watch him. And then when he left I'd try to imitate what I heard
him do and how his fingers moved. And that, that was my first love, my real
love, was boogie-woogie. Um, oh -- later, I um, through a neighbor, who
heard me playing, I guess I was about eight or nine, he hooked me up with
James P. Johnson, and I took about five lessons from James P. Johnson, who
of course is a brilliant stride pianist and composer, but I only wanted to
know boogie-woogie, which, hah, and so I did pick up a few licks and learned
a few things about structure from him.
When you got to getting up to the point where you met in
LA, what were you both doing? You were working in a record store, you were
I was in, uh, I was going to high school, Mike was,
uh, a year ahead of me, he was in junior college already. And uh, I was
working at Nordy's, a record shop on Fairfax from like 3:30 to 6. Ahem, and
um, I started writing songs in my, uh, or lyrics, let's say, lyrics in my
junior year uh, in my notebook. And I'd hooked up with a kid in school who
was a drummer, a real good drummer. And we were writing songs together, and
we got to a point where he missed a few sessions and I finally caught him in
the hall one afternoon, and I put it to him, you know, I said, look, you're
going to be a songwriter or -- and he said, you know, I, I really have to
work in the evenings, you know, because I have to contribute to the income
to my family. And I really can't afford to keep writing these songs because
you can't make any money, you know, like doing this. I got to play some gigs
or something like that. He said, but, I know a guy, I think who might be
interested in writing songs. And um, he gave me, he said, I played, I
played, um, a dance last week with him and he's real good. And we played
like, uh, in like downtown, close to East LA. And um, he gave me Mike
Stoller's telephone number and said I should give him a call. And um, I
called him up and tell him what happened.
Well, um, I, uh, I had a friend in, in Los Angeles
City College, who uh, played piano. And he had a gig that paid three
dollars. And he got offered a major gig that paid five bucks. So he turned
over the three-dollar job to me, which was in East LA, and, uh, on a Sunday
afternoon. And that's where I met this drummer whose name somehow --
But his last name, somehow has been forgotten
through the years.
A name like Horowitz or Greenberg.
I guess one of the earliest influences, or the
earliest influence on me, musically, was boogie-woogie. I, the first record
I ever bought was a record by Derek Sampson called "Boogie Express, Part 1
and Part 2." And um, I played the record until it was, um, white. No pun
I went to summer camp when I was seven years old.
I started going there, and, uh, it was an interracial summer camp and that's
where I first heard play boogie-woogie on an old upright piano in the barn.
And uh, I tried to imitate what they were doing, and tried to make my
fingers move that way. And uh, you know, that was my first love,
Do you want to just say that boogie-woogie brought you
I'd say in a way that it did, boogie-woogie and the
book -- yeah, yeah. I had a book full of lyrics that Mike looked at, and
they were all blues. That's really I think the basic sort of, um, uh,
understanding or appreciation we had.
Jerry told me, uh, on the phone, he said, he was a
songwriter and wanted to collaborate with me writing songs, and that was the
last thing I thought I would want to do, especially because I imagined these
songs were something they weren't. And when I looked in his notebook and saw
a line and then ditto marks and a rhyming line, I realized they were 12 bar
blues and I said, hey, I like the blues. Let's do it.
Did you have other friends your age that were white kids
that were big blues fans, big R and B fans?
I didn't know anybody that was even mildly or
remotely interested in school, in high school. I used to come out of school
and listen to, uh, Hunter Hancock, and none of the other kids were
interested in that kind of music. But then again, they didn't grow up where
I grew up. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and I moved to California when
I was 12. And I went to junior high school. And everybody out, out in
California was listening to the sort of what was on the pop charts. And I
was still, you know, digging for the blues grooves on the radio. And they of
course had a blues jockey out here as well. And I was well into that
Mike, what were your musical, sort of musical activities
at this time, about this time that you met Jerry. Were you studying? Maybe
say something about playing those gigs for the Latino scene.
Well, um, what I was doing at that time, this was
1949, 1950. Uh, I had just moved from New York and I attended a high school
here, Belmont High School which was largely, uh, Chicano, and I was playing
with um, a Mexican band.