Philip Sloan deserved status as a music icon for most of his life; yet, for so long, he was denied that status until one good friend, Stephen Feinberg, convinced him it was time to tell his story and finally set the record straight, for perpetuity. Philip Gary Schlein, known early as Phil, best known as P.F. Sloan, died on the evening of Nov. 15, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. As a press release from publicist Sangeeta Haindl noted today, “The world has lost one of its great talents.”
In June 2014, Sloan and Feinberg published “What’s Exactly the Matter With Me: Memoirs of a Life in Music” (Jawbone Press). As soon as it was released, people who thought they knew P.F. Sloan very well by his music found instead that they had known nothing at all about the man or the indignities he’d suffered for years, how he paid the genuine price for his success when those who were jealous and more powerful wreaked their havoc onto his career. The memoirs, resplendent with perfect recall and genuine grace as they’re related, include his affiliations and influences on surfer music, such as Bruce & Terry (Johnston and Melcher, respectively), Terry Black, The Fantastic Baggys, and Jan & Dean, and across two generations of classic rock.
Music textbooks are filled with Phil’s songwriting and producing success for artists like Barry McGuire, The Grass Roots, The Turtles, Herman’s Hermits, Johnny Rivers, The Fifth Dimension, but the true stories of how the events actually occurred are mind-bending.
It’s beyond poignant that P.F. Sloan’s best-known composition, “Eve of Destruction,” which defined Barry McGuire as a musical artist, came back to life in the titles of newspaper and magazine articles published in the earliest hours after the tragic attack on Paris last weekend, by the radical attackers who seek to inspire fear with their actions.
Yet, the song’s words first resonated with a generation that was transforming its impression of war as a brave act to preserve freedom into a gathering of protest groups springing up across America as young minds were led to question authority as well as military service with the war in Vietnam.
A breakout song for those who would not follow the paths of their fathers, “Eve of Destruction” became the anthem of what society called “radicals” back then. Bob Dylan said of the song,” “There are no more escapes. If you want to find out anything that’s happening now, you have to listen to the music; I don’t mean the words. Though, ‘Eve Of Destruction’ will tell you something about it.”
All too poignantly, today the title of the song and its lyrics are the centerpiece of commentary from the opposite end of the political spectrum, as the lyrics and message of the song hit home for an entirely different mindset. Music is the message the sender emits into the universe and the receiver absorbs the message and embraces it at such point where it resonates and hits home with the one hearing it.
For many years, Sloan’s frequent coauthor was Steve Barri and the Sloan-Barri hit factory was subsumed by Dunhill Records. Both yesterday and today, it seems that Lou Adler gets all of the credit for The Mamas and The Papas, when in fact the heavy lifting was essentially Phil Sloan’s— from songs to early guitar playing on the records, and creating their trademark sound in the Dunhill studios.
Mostly these days, Adler gets credit for the resurgence of the music of Carole King, and the multi-Grammys of “Tapestry,” and for his easy-to-spot beret atop his head while sitting next to Jack Nicholson at Los Angeles Laker games. Back in his earliest years, it is now clear that Lou was a suit with a primary penchant for spotting talent, hooking it to his line, reeling it in, and getting the very best part of the unsuspecting fish out, before casting the remains into the ocean deep, never (he thought) to be heard from again. Egos, power, and poor judgment perhaps explain Adler’s treatment of Sloan. But, worse yet was John Phillips’ (The Mamas and Papas) treatment of Phil, the classic dog biting the hand that fed him relationship. Of course John Phillips’ errors in judgment throughout his life as are long as the Apple iPhone Terms and Conditions agreement.
One story from the book: Phil was invited, together with Jimmy Webb, to the earliest planning meetings of the Monterey Pop Festival, and walking into a room he found cluster of egos and ended up being booted from playing guitar (with The Mamas and The Papas) and, further, threatened with a knife to his face by John Phillips from showing up at ‘his’ Monterey Pop Festival. From his memoirs, John Phillips said, “Do you think I called you here to my home to get your opinion on our festival?…I called you here to give you fair warning that I’ll have you killed if you show up in Monterey. Are we clear?”
Soon after telling John Phillips off, Phil checked around for Jimmy Webb, couldn’t find him, and gave up and drove down to Santa Monica. “It turns out that Jimmy Webb was looking for me, while I was looking for him. When he couldn’t find me, he etched the scene in his mind, and a couple of years later came the key lyrics to Phil’s namesake song, “I have been seeking P.F. Sloan but no one knows where he has gone…”
Incidentally, it wasn’t like good people didn’t try to warn him about the Dunhill gang. After a meeting Bob Dylan said to Sloan privately, “I’ve been wanting to tell you something, Phil. Those guys at Dunhill are going to tear you up. You’re not safe there.’ Sloan replied, “I’ll watch myself.” “You better,” said Bob. Robert Zimmerman was right.
How Jay Lasker, Bobby Roberts and Lou Adler treated P.F. Sloan, as you read his words, is a story filled with greed, hatred, and rejection that is sickening to realize, particularly as the hit records of the Grass Roots on the radio were essentially created by Sloan, with the obligatory “together with Steve Barri” whistling in the wind. Despite being ripped off in more ways than one, royalties the biggest asset purloined, without care or regard for the genius to whom they belonged, Phil still created hits. He had that much talent.
Even before that, life at the peak of success was unsettling for Sloan, as he felt truly the outsider in the world of musicians he was helping to make famous. P.F. Sloan began life as simply as any unknown, but nevertheless was an inspired young man from Brooklyn who many considered a prodigy. In a scene at the St. James Club, “McGuire and I were seated at a booth with Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. I thought to myself that I must be here by some Divine plan, but was this really what success looked and felt like?”
(Barry) McGuire was having the time of his life. Everyone seemed dizzy with happiness. But what was the matter with me? I wasn’t getting it. I was trying to have a good time. I really was. I knew I was alive. I just didn’t feel like I knew how to survive in this reckless life style. All these people were older than me, and they were, after all, my role models. If this was what they did to celebrate life then I would need to learn to get with the program.”
Chaos, self-destructive behavior, and valiant efforts to fit in led to despair, poor health, and a propensity for bad luck in Sloan’s life for many years. The lowest point of all was when Dunhill’s Jay Lasker made him sign away all of his royalties, plus threatened his life. As Phil describes his final interaction with Lasker, the conversation was (from his memoir):
I just had a nice chat with Steve” (Barri), he said. ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to leave Los Angeles and never come back. You’re going to do this within twenty-four hours, or your parents or your sister or anyone else you care about may come to regret knowing a boy named P.F. Sloan.’ ‘I want to talk to Lou,’ I said. ’This has nothing to do with Lou, Sloan. This is about you and me….mostly you. I’ve had the papers drawn up. Before you leave the office, you’re going to sign it’….’We own your contracts for the next ten years so you can’t record anywhere else. We’re not firing you. We’re just telling you that you can’t work here or anywhere’….’All of the money that will come into Dunhill Records from P.F. Sloan will be split between the three partners. Oh…one more point, I’m pretty sure that I own the name P.F. Sloan and that we can have any writer we want to be P.F. Sloan.”
That was not to be even the worst time in Sloan’s life; there was even more still to come. That is, however, why Phil vanished from the music scene, to protect his own life and those of his loved ones, out of sheer fear and terror. Lasker retired in 1987 and died of cancer at age 65, in 1989. His obituary in the New York Times is, appropriately, one of the shortest ever published.
Despite this despicable treatment, things truly turned around for P.F. Sloan. His memoirs reflect the final years of Phil’s life as one of religious experiences of grace, of complete and total forgiveness for all who sought his forgiveness and even for those who didn’t appreciate the fact that he had only love and compassion in his heart, down to even John Phillips and John Sebastian, both of whom asked him for forgiveness and he gave it to them.
The song written about him, “P.F. Sloan” was first recorded by author Jimmy Webb and later covered by The Association, Jennifer Warnes, and British Band Unicorn, as Wikipedia notes, as well as the British singer, Rumer. Poignantly, it was Rumer with whom Phil performed in concert in London in his first public appearances upon the publication of his biography.
Last time I saw P.F. Sloan
He was summer burned and winter blown
He turned the corner all alone
But he continued singing
Yeah now, listen to him singing…”
Lyrics from “P.F. Sloan,” by Jimmy Webb, Canopy Music”
Also in 2014, Sloan released an album “My Beethoven” (Foothill Records) that contained nine new original songs that Phil shared are “beautiful and will stir your heart and soul.” In May 2014 the team of Sloan and Feinberg completed a musical play, “Louis! Louis! The Real Life and Times of Beethoven)”. More information on the play is found on the same website.
In classic rock, many talented people have attained accolades, awards, and acknowledgment befitting their status as relevant, important, or groundbreaking for their work. The spotlight has shined on many but has missed hitting many more, who are equally as deserving. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a perfect example of one man’s preference prevailing over those of millions of fans who actually embrace and live in the beauty of the music that defined the 1960s and 1970s. In 2015, P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri were 2015 nominees for induction to the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
If you’re not “in with the in-crowd,” you essentially exist in obscurity. That is, unless you have a friend like Steve Feinberg, whom you trust to lead you out of the darkness and back into the light. P.F. Sloan had to wait 45 years to find all those who’d been looking to find him, if only to say “Thank you for your music.”
After the success of his memoir, Sloan enjoyed a limited but incredibly popular personal appearance tour in venues he chose to be. People had a chance to thank him, and he was as gracious and loving and appreciative as a man who survived trekking over a vast desert greets a glass of cool water.
Phil’s collaborator and co-author, Stephen Feinberg, anchored him as together they told the public whatever had happened to Sloan. When the book was published in 2014, among the very first to reach out was Mike Somavilla, a rock music historian and San Francisco Bay area music promoter, who immediately called his good friend, Harold Adler, with the concept of creating Sloan’s first major U.S. public appearance with a concert and book signing at Adler’s Art House Gallery & Cultural Center in Berkeley.
Mike contacted Phil and said, “Just read your book; you have to come to Berkeley and meet a few people. And please bring your guitar.” And, that was all it took for Mike Somavilla to get Phil Sloan and his co-author Steve Feinberg to come see Mike, and a sold-out crowd at Berkeley’s favorite in-spot for music you can enjoy, in a peaceful atmosphere free from distractions.”
Poignantly one man named Adler provided the perfect spot for Somavilla to make sure that the “wrongs were righted” and who passionately wanted Phil to tell his story, thus righting the wrongs done by another man named Adler. Feinberg’s first-call photographer and good friend, Joaquin Montalvan, took the historic photos shared here. It was sit-on-the-floor night at the Art House as all the chairs were taken in the blink of an eye in July, 2014, the month after the book was published.
From that point, Feinberg accompanied Phil to several memorable book signings, one of which was also groundbreaking. In October, 2014, in the Community Room of the South Pasadena Library, two previously unannounced musicians joined Phil for an evening of music and memories. Among the crowd were John York of the Byrds, Donna Loren, Steve Kalinich, and Jared Cargman, an original Fantastic Baggys band member.
They made more Grass Roots history that night, when Warren Entner and Creed Bratton joined Phil in singing songs that Phil had either co-written or produced for the Grass Roots. A band in name only at first, created after Sloan/Barri crafted, recorded and produced hits under this assumed name, with no real band, just incredibly gifted studio musicians on the songs.
Before the great Diesel bookstore closed in Malibu, one of their final public events was a book signing featuring Phil and Creed Bratton that drew another standing-room-only event. In that audience were more colleagues from the same music era, including Steve Kalinich, Danny Rutherford and his wife Marilyn Wilson Rutherford (The Honeys, and mother to Carnie and Wendy Wilson by father, Brian).
At these concert/book signings, Feinberg said, “During the show I noticed several people in the audience weeping, as was the clerk at the bookstore, both on Sunset Strip as well as at the Art House & Cultural Gallery. The trigger of nostalgia can be very, very strong, though the clerk was too young to remember the songs.” The list of songs that do not define, but do comprise the music of P.F. Sloan is lengthy, those being the hits he wrote and produced for others.
In 2009 journalist Mike Ryan interviewed Phil, asking him, “In the last 40 years, how has music changed, say, for yourself? Sloan replied, “I wish there was something positive to say in that regard. I am generally an upbeat, positive soul. I mean that what we’re witnessing is basically the implosion and destruction of the music business as it was known, not that it was a positive entity, but it was an entity that we were used to. Just for people that aren’t that involved in the business aspect of it, there was distribution of how to get the music into your store and you’d buy it and you’d listen to it. That doesn’t exist anymore, at least in most places; there aren’t any stores anymore.”
I think the main point, which I’d like to give Bob Lefsetz credit for, is that there is no culture of music anymore. There was a time, and I’m paraphrasing what he said, and I really agree with it. There was a time when we were involved in a culture of music. It was important to hear this new album by Pink Floyd. It was important to hear certain bands. They became your North Star. That doesn’t exist anymore.”
Sloan continued, “You can’t go on a major television show and try and create a culture…Going on television shows and promoting your music is not selling music. Basically, I’ve witnessed the loss of the culture, the excitement, of someone who speaks from their heart, and soul and consciousness and raises yours. People would understand Elvis Presley or The Beatles or The Stones or Procol Harum or the Beach Boys….not just the 60s…there were 70s and 80s groups, Foreigner, etc., but the culture is gone, that’s all. It doesn’t exist.” It’s true enough, and those who were fortunate enough to be there at the time, or even today to learn from those times are the benefactors and guardians of the memories of those times, and curator of the culture for generations to come.
Sloan created songs that forever are remembered as performed by literally some of the most talented musicians of our time. Whether he is properly remembered as having the role in crafting the message to all who hear the music is unknown. One thing is for sure. The true talents among his colleagues in music never forgot him. Today on Twitter, songwriter and friend Jimmy Webb posted “prayers for the family of PF Sloan and for those who loved his music. A great loss.”
Sloan’s memoirs collectively shaped by Steve Feinberg describe one night in music memory:
The first group onstage was The Grass Roots, who began their set with ‘Mr. Jones’ and followed it with ‘Where Were You When I Needed You?’ and ‘Live for Today.’ Next came Herman’s Hermits, who did, among others ‘A Must to Avoid,’ ‘Hold On,’ and ‘All The Things That I Do for You, Baby.’ The Kingsmen did ‘Louie, Louie’ followed by ‘That’s Cool, That’s Trash.’ Paul Revere & The Raiders did a set, as did The Buckinghams. And then The Turtles took the stage. They started with ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ and went through ‘Let Me Be,’ ‘You Baby,’ ‘Can I Get To Know You Better,’ and all their other great hits. When they got to ‘Is It Any Wonder,’ Howard Kaylan paused. He spoke quietly, taking the audience into his confidence, as if speaking to old friends. ‘I wonder where Phil Sloan is tonight.’”
This night, we wonder no more where Phil is. We know. His final words in his book should be the final ones here.
I had climbed the mountain, by His grace, after falling off it more times than I can count, and I got to watch the show from that unique and marvelous vantage point. May God bless us all with an unselfish heart and mind so that we may make each day better than the one before for each and every one of us. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings in the world know peace and happiness. P.F. Sloan”
Amen, and amen, Philip. May love and light be yours on your journey forward. You and your work lives still on the minds and in the hearts of those you know, and even more you never met, but who love you all the same.