Excerpted from May Pang’s book “Loving John”
The next few days passed very quietly, and John was very gentle and sweet to me. Then he had a brainstorm.
“There should be an asylum somewhere for aged rock ‘n’ rollers. Let’s open an asylum. We should all rent a house and live together. Then we can watch Harry (Nilsson), save money and make sure all the musicians get to the studio on time when we begin to work on Harry’s (Pussycats) album.”
John told Harry, who loved the idea. Before I knew it, John and Harry had invited Ringo, Keith Moon, Hilary Gerard and Klaus Voorman with his girlfriend Cynthia Webb to live with us.
John loved the ocean and wanted to be near it. Within a day or two we found a large house on Santa Monica beach with five bedrooms, a pool behind it and direct access to the beach. As we moved in John put his arm around me and said “Don’t worry, I’m not going to go crazy this time. What I’m gonna do is make fuckin’ sure that Harry’s album gets done.”
No matter what John had told me beforehand, I was convinced I was moving into an insane asylum. But, my life on the beach was music easier than I had expected it to be.
John may have been insecure about his own singing and playing and disappointed about the fact that he had not yet produced a number-one solo album of his own, but he was still at his happiest and best in the studio. The Nilsson sessions were no exception. John made sure that every musician understood what he was aiming for and exactly what was expected. During those sessions, although the material was uneven at best, John was in total command.
Because everyone loved John and was delighted to be living with him, a good feeling also prevailed in our house. When John and I moved in we took the master bedroom, Keith took the tiny cubicle next to the master bedroom, and Klaus Voorman and Cynthia Webb moved into the equally tiny bedroom next to Keith’s, while Harry and Hilary moved into the two small bedrooms at the other end of the floor. Ringo, however, wanted a bedroom with a bath attached, so we converted the den across the hall from us into a bedroom for him.
On a typical day Klaus and Cynthia were up first. They were vegetarians so they made their own food. I was up next, usually around ten, followed by John an hour later. Ringo and Harry would be next. Finally when Keith joined them our asylum resembled a rock ‘n’ roll rest home.
Keith Moon’s entrance was always the most flamboyant. Wearing nothing underneath, he would throw on a long brown leather coat spilt up to the backside, so that when he turned around his naked rear was always in view. Then he would put on ankle-high boots and a flowing white scarf.
As soon as John spotted him, John would rise and say “The baron’s up. How are you today Baron Von Moon?”
“Splendid Mr. Lennon, absolutely splendid.” After getting dressed he’s be talking a mile a minute.
“Mr. Lennon, did I ever tell you about the day I decided my hotel room would look better with the furniture nailed to the ceiling?” Baron Von moon asked.
“Tell us,” John demanded.
“It was a major undertaking, Mr. Lennon. I got the roadies, and we started with the bed. We got some ladders. First we tied the mattress to the bed. Then glued down the pillows, sheets and blankets. We turned the bed upside down, hoisted it up on our shoulders, and drove some big spikes through it into the ceiling. It was a true joy to behold. We did the bureau next- of course, we took the drawers out first. We glued the lampshade to the lamp before we glued that to the bureau We also had to glue the chairs. They proved the most difficult and slippery. But we did not stop until the job was done. It was such an improvement.”
John just shook his head in amazement.
Our first session was scheduled for the day after we moved in and it went beautifully- so beautifully that it only took four hours to lay down the basic rhythm track and vocal to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. When the tracks were finished, the musicians did not want to go home, so they hung out, jamming with each other or practicing their own licks. At midnight, however Keith and Ringo left. It was time for them to hit the town.
The jam continued for another half hour, then visitors arrived. The visitors were Paul and Linda McCartney.
Paul headed straight for John. “Hello John,” he said eagerly.
John however was a study in casualness.
“How are you Paul?” he replied softly.
“Fine, how about you?”
“Hi duckie,” Linda said to John, kissing him on the cheek.
John and Paul made small talk as if they had been speaking on the phone two or three times a day and had spoken a few hours earlier. It was one of the most casual conversations I had ever heard. They couldn’t be the two men who not only had been trading vicious attacks with each other in public but also had squadrons of lawyers poised in battle against each other while they carved up their multimillion-dollar empire. They looked like any old pair of friends having a pleasant low-key reunion.
The small talk continued; then Paul, like a man possessed, suddenly bounced up and headed straight for Ringo’s drum kit and began to bash the drums.
“Let’s play!” he exclaimed.
Linda immediately headed for the organ.
“Let’s play.” She echoed. They couldn’t be stopped.
John strapped on his guitar and began to play “Midnight Special,” one of the numbers the Beatles used to jam on when they first began to record together. So did Jesse Ed Davis and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, while Harry sang along.
Then we had another visitor, Stevie Wonder, who was also recording at the Record Plant.
“Stevie, Paul is here, and we’re going to jam,” John called out.
“Okay,” said Stevie. He went to the electric piano.
“Let’s record it,” said John.
“Yeah,” Paul agreed.
John suddenly became very enthusiastic.
“We need a bass player,” he told the startled producer in the control booth of the studio next to ours. “Paul and I are jammin’ together.”
“I play bass!” the producer exclaimed. He dashed from his session to join ours.
“Fung Yee, I want you to play,” John told me. “Grab a tambourine.”
I got up and joined the musicians
“Let it rip,” said John
That was the first time John and Paul had played together since Abbey Road in 1969, and it sounded wonderful. The team of Lennon and McCartney had been reunited with amazing ease. After they’d run down the song, John turned to Paul and said
“Could you please tell your organist to turn down the volume? I can’t hear Mr. Wonder”
John and Paul played it again, and it sounded even better. They made joyous music together that night. That was the only time John and Paul backed by Stevie Wonder and Harry Nilsson played together after the break- up.
Note: there is a bootleg recording of this session called “A Toot and Snore in 74” that has been available for many years. It’s worth a listen.
Special thanks to May Pang for her book “Loving John” which this story is lovingly paraphrased from. This book is must read for any Beatles fan. It has now been long out of print but can be found on amazon.com and Ebay. I will say that May has an incredibly relaxed style of writing that allows the reader to feel like they are in the room with her if not inside her head. Her writing is warm, very funny and filled with a deep appreciation for what she is witnessing. I never got the feeling that May felt she was the story, just an up-close eye witness to 18 months in the life of one of the most famous men in the world. Having spoken with May numerous times recently I can tell you that she is still that warm, funny, considerate woman and I have become quite fond of her. The pictures of May’s time with John and Julian have recently been published in her book “Instamatic Karma” and she now sells copies of the photos at her website www.maypang.com