The Studio at Puck's Farm
A Happy Valley Education
Frazier Mohawk, born Barry Friedman in Los Angeles, California in 1941, attended Happy Valley boarding school run by Krishna Murti and Aldous Huxley. In retrospect, he feels this period had much to do with the direction the rest of his life took. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree, so to speak.
From Chucko to Coltrane
Mohawk's godfather and godmother had been ringmaster and publicist, respectively, for Ringling Brothers Circus. When Mohawk was looking for an after-school job, his godmother Shirley was instrumental in securing him the position of assistant to the producer of Chucko the Clown (TV show, 1956) which was being produced at the ABC Studios around the corner from his school. He eventually worked on a show called Stars Of Jazz which made a real musical impression on the young Mohawk.
The Mother Goose Menagerie
He worked for the DeWayne Brothers Circus for a short period but when he was 18 (1959) he bought a show called The Mother Goose Menagerie - 35 live baby animals in storybook settings - which he toured around California and the southwestern states to county fairs and shopping centres.
An American in Paris
In the early 60s, Mohawk headed for Europe and ended up living in Nice, France for about a year. When the money ran short, he spent time in Paris where, among other things, he photographed the Moscow Circus and sold the pictures through an agency in New York. Along the way he also worked as a photographer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
Doin' the Cinnamon Cinder
Returning home to Los Angeles circa 1962, Mohawk began working as publicist for Bob Eubanks, a disc jockey on radio station KRLA in Los Angeles and owner of a chain of clubs called Cinnamon Cinder. When Eubanks got his own TV show named after the clubs, Mohawk became the producer "ostensibly because I had been a photographer." On a weekly basis, Mohawk booked the acts and the kids that danced on the show. He insisted that all of the artists play live on The Cinnamon Cinder Show and in the end he found himself downstairs doing the sound mix.
"After a while, the band's started saying, 'Hey we sounded pretty good on that show, we're going into the studio, would you mind going with us?'" One of those groups was The Pastel Six, led by the janitor at the Cinnamon Cinder club in North Hollywood where the band headlined, who had a hit in 1962 with The Cinnamon Cinder (It's A Very Nice Dance), written by Russ Regan. Regan later became a top executives in the record industry.
Beatlemania at the Hollywood Bowl
When Eubanks promoted The Beatles' Hollywood Bowl concert on Aug. 23, 1964, Mohawk became the publicist for the event, handling all the press conferences for the group including a particularly memorable madhouse gathering at the Cinnamon Cinder club. Derek Taylor, The Beatles' publicist, would later recommend Mohawk to Brian Epstein as U.S. west coast publicist for some of his other acts including Cilla Black.
"I closed the deal with Brian Epstein one afternoon at the Beverly Hills Hotel," recalls Mohawk, who would open his own publicity company Hoopla, which among other things promoted the film Black Like Me. He also worked as publicist for Ike Turner for about 18 months. "I was at his house almost every day with Tina making me breakfast and listening to a whole lot of good music by people like Etta James and Sam Cooke who would drop by the house."
Touting the Troubadour
A subsequent publicity assignment with Doug Weston's Troubadour club in Los Angeles, put Mohawk in touch with some of folk music's top performers. He would handle the photography for Hoyt Axton's first album for Horizon Records which he shot in Tijuana, Mexico.
Buffalo Springfield Forms
At the time, Mohawk was living down the street from Dickie Davis who handled the lighting at The Troubadour and was sharing a garden apartment with a young folk singer by the name of Stephen Stills. "I guess it was getting a little crowded at Dickie's so Stephen ended up at my place which was right in the middle of Hollywood on Fountain Ave. The house was about 30-feet square with huge high ceilings and stained-glass windows. It was originally built by Thelma White of Thelma White and Her Hollywood All-Girls Orchestra. There was a bathtub in this place that was all hand-tiled and held about six people. It was sunken into the floor and had the story of Don Quixote around it. There was a fireplace that took up a whole wall with steps that went up the side of it to a bedroom loft.
"Stephen and I started talking about putting a band together. I told him to wish up a band and we started contacting the people and bringing them into town. Richie Furay came out and Stephen kept talking about this guy Neil Young he had met up in Canada. We had originally flown Kenny Koblun down from Canada but he freaked out and flew back."
"One day we were driving along Sunset Boulevard in my Bentley. I was in the left hand lane driving down the street and I looked over to the right and there was this hearse pulling up next to us. I had never met Neil Young but I'd heard about the hearse and I turned to Stephen and said, 'This is your friend here, Neil Young!' and it was. It was really telepathic and quite bizarre. Actually it was Neil and Bruce Palmer."
"As far as the eventual name for the group, Buffalo Springfield, we pulled up in front of the house one day when they were repaving Fountain. There was a steam roller there and on the back it said Buffalo Springfield. I said, 'Hey, that's the name!' I pried the sign off, took it into the house and nailed it on the wall." Buffalo Springfield, one of the most influential groups of the 60s, was born.
Neil Young Remembers
Neil Young recalls that period in the book "Neil and Me" written by his father Scott Young. "Barry Friedman put us in a house on Fountain Street and told us to start working. The whole thing was great, a tremendous relief. We had a place to sleep and could take a shower. We had a house and weren't on the street. Barry gave us a dollar a day each for food. All we had to do was keep practising. Barry did it all, you know. He basically put it together and kept it together."
Scott Young continues: "Barry Friedman, their hard-bitten angel, had talked to his friend, the road manager for The Byrds. The Byrds had a concert tour scheduled at sites within driving distance, the first at Pasadena, and were looking for a group to be the opening act. Buffalo Springfield couldn't have started under better auspices. The Byrds were the hottest group in the United States right then. Their 1965 recording of Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man had made them nationally famous. The crowds that came to hear them went away talking also about Buffalo Springfield. The Byrds themselves started showing up early to listen." Mohawk aka Barry Friedman would later tour with The Byrds through the U.S. and Canada and did the sound mix for the group during their Monterey Pop Festival appearance in 1967.
Monkee Business With Mike Nesmith
By the mid-60s, having moved up into Laurel Canyon, Mohawk went to work running the production and publishing companies owned by Randy Sparks who handled the groups The New Christy Minstrels and The Back Porch Majority. One day Mohawk read in Variety that there was a casting call for four guys to play a rock group in a TV series. One of the artists signed to Sparks' company was Michael Nesmith and he was one of four musicians who Mohawk bundled off to the audition. History shows that Nesmith ended up with one of the spots open for the TV show soon to be called The Monkees.
Learning the Blues With Butterfield
Mike Nesmith actually became the catalyst for Mohawk's move into record production. Nesmith had written a song titled Mary Mary which Mohawk had taken over to Elektra Records. At the time, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was recording their sophomore album East West (Elektra 1965) and Mohawk (under his given name Barry Friedman) ended up producing the tracks Mary Mary and Two Trains A Running on that record. He subsequently left Randy Sparks' company and became an independent producer. "I produced these very strange blues records because, honestly, I didn't know what blues was. I didn't in fact know that Butterfield was a blues band. I thought they were just a bunch of psychedelic people with a drummer with silver pointy shoes. So I brought in these kind of Yma Sumac singers and did these very strange things and they ended up having this crossover record [Mary Mary]." Another of the groups he produced during this period was Kaleidoscope (Epic 1968) which featured guitarist David Lindley.
The Creation of a "Super Group"
Mohawk had become friends with Paul Rothschild who had become executive producer at Elektra. That same label, to which he had originally tried to sign Buffalo Springfield, eventually hired him as in-house producer on the west coast. With Rothschild, Mohawk put together the group Rhinoceros which included Jon Finley, Mike Fonfara and Peter Hodgson of the Canadian group Jon-Lee and the Checkmates, Billy Mundi (Frank Zappa), Danny Weis (Iron Butterfly), Doug Hastings (Buffalo Springfield) and Alan Gerber. The concept of a "Super Group" was to put together people who had come from other established groups but were all lead performers in their own right. In the subsequent advertising campaign for the group's debut album for Elektra, Mohawk arguably coined this phrase Super Group for the first time.
Hangin' Round With The Rounders
Mohawk worked for Elektra out of New York for a couple of months and during that time met up with the group The Holy Modal Rounders of which he had been a fan from his school day in California. Mohawk linked up with the group when they came to the west coast and produced their album, The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders (Elektra 1968). One of the songs on the album, If You Want To Be A Bird, can be heard on the soundtrack for the film Easy Rider. During the same period, Mohawk produced Nico's album Marble Index (Elektra 1968).
Running, Jumping, Standing Still
For a while, Mohawk shared a house with Elektra's Paul Rothschild, which was also the second home for members of The Doors and a young guitarist by the name of Jackson Browne. But soon the stresses and strains of living in the city had Mohawk and some of his associates talking about getting away from it all to the country. With Elektra executive Jac Holzman's blessing, Mohawk headed for northern California where he built a studio at Paxton Lodge, a Sacramento Mountain retreat on the Feather River near Keddie, California.
It was decided that this would be the ideal escape from the hurly-burly of city life and just the location to revive the career of Spider John Koerner who had been a member of the Minneapolis-based blues trio Koerner, Ray & Glover a few years earlier and who Elektra was still very high on as an artist. Back in Minneapolis, Koerner had teamed up with bassist/pianist Willie Murphy- he would later produce Bonnie Raitt's first album- and they both came to Paxton to work with Mohawk on an album project titled Running, Jumping, Standing Still, a recording generally recognized as one of the most important recordings of folk/rock's golden era.
A review in Rolling Stone on the occasion of the recording's debut on CD last year (Red House 1994) agrees: "Koerner's inspired guitar playing and distinctive singing made this one of the most acclaimed releases of 1969; the album blended folk, blues and jug-band music into a giddy electronic hoedown. This was good-timey music with a psychedelic bent, and its spirit is even more welcome in these decidedly more sober times."
"Uncle Meat" Becomes Mrs. Mohawk
Among the projects Mohawk produced at Paxton was the unreleased Baby Browning album by Jackson Browne. But the isolation of their country location was starting to have its effect. "We were in fact a little too far from the city and everybody went quite nuts in the end. I fled by chartered jet to LA. I just had to get away; it was life or death."
Back in Los Angeles, Mohawk met and married Philadelphia-native Sandra Hurvitz who had been Laura Nyro's mentor, had sung with Frank Zappa's band under the name Uncle Meat and had an album, Sandy's Album Is Here At Last, on Zappa's label. She would change her name to Essra Mohawk and record an album titled Primordial Lovers (Reprise 1974) produced by her husband. It's a project of which Mohawk is justly proud. "I have reviews from magazines like Rolling Stone which called it one of the Top 25 albums ever made. It was reviewed in Downbeat alongside Ella Fitzgerald's latest and they both got five stars."
Bumpin' and Grindin' in Canada
After the time spent at Paxton Lodge Mohawk drifted northward to Canada. "All the people I had met who had come from Canada at that point- folks like Neil [Young], songwriter Rolf Kemp and producer Dennis Murphy- were people I was impressed with. I liked them and I wanted to go someplace that was safe and had nice people that weren't crazy. I thought I was escaping to a saner world." Mohawk spent time in Toronto initially with Rolf Kemp- he had written Hello Hooray for Alice Cooper- and, in his words, slept for three months. When he did emerge, he met the members of Toronto rock & blues band McKenna Mendelson Mainline, and ended up producing their album recorded as part of the infamous Mainline Bump and Grind Revue held at Toronto's Victory Theatre in the early 70s.
Mohawk's Montreal Memories
During this period, Mohawk went into Montreal to produce a record with a band that featured Bob Yeomans, later with Jackson Hawke, and Tim Ryan at André Perry's church studio. In the end, he decided to stay. "I really had nowhere to go at that point and André Perry and his wife Yael Brandeis actually gave me the chance to produce in a studio where I wasn't always watching the clock. André and Yael became dear friends and their attitude to life really had a profound effect on me. When I had to go into hospital during my stay there, they were always there in support. " The stories that flowed about the recording environment at Paxton Lodge in California surely became part of the inspiration for Perry's internationally renowned Le Studio in Morin Heights just north of Montreal in the Laurentians. There were some good times for Mohawk in the predominantly French city and some notable creative accomplishments including the production of Lewis Furey's critically-acclaimed Lewis Is Crazy album with Jon Lissauer, but there were some hard times as well.
Back to Health, Back to the Circus
In Toronto, Mohawk had met Gary Howsam with whom he put together the group Blackstone Rangers, a virtual reincarnation of Rhinoceros, which ended up being spirited away to Los Angeles by producer Paul Rothschild who produced their album On The Line (GRT 1972). In Montrčal, Howsam had opened Greenlight Rehearsal Studios with partner Dave Donald. It was here, while living at Howsam's Montrčal home, that Mohawk became extremely ill and was admitted to hospital for a lengthy stay. Though his memories of the period of vague, Mohawk does recall that a couple of musicians he had met in Montrčal "kidnapped" him and carted him off to a campground in Oshawa where they fed him milk shakes and peanut butter sandwiches.
He ultimately ended up back in Toronto where he rented a place on Madison Ave. It was here that he met Mark Parr with whom he started the company Rent A Fool. That enterprise evolved to Puck's Canadian Travelling Circus with 35 employees, nine semi trucks on the road and a Big Top tent. "We did that for four years and ended up parked behind a movie studio on Lakeshore Blvd. in Toronto called Studio Centre. That's where I met Anthony D'Atri, my former partner. He was the maintenance guy at the studio. That's how we got into the animal rental business for commercials with our company Cinecritters. Actually, one of our cats wandered on to a Kellogg's commercial. He jumped through the window, they kept it in the shot and they ended up paying us for that. We then did a Kellogg's Raisin BranTM commercial for which they rented our whole circus for the day. It was about that time that the city of Etobicoke told us to move on because they don't allow farm animals there. We moved to Harbourfront for a while, right there on the lake next to the ferry docks that go to the Island Airport, before we moved up to Kleinburg, just north of Toronto."
By that time, Anthony had trained a team of horses and a dog, and the circus expanded but this time it was parked in one place. Mohawk was the ringmaster, Mark Parr was the clown and Anthony D'Atri was the person who worked the act with these various animals. They were in that location for six years and during that time, they began attracting classes of school kids. A pony ride was added and then a cow, which suddenly drew the partners into a whole new business. "As it turns out, to keep a cow milking, they have to have calves. At one point we had six cows and had gotten quota to ship cream from the Cream Marketing Board. So in the end, from what had just been a permanent circus and petting farm, we were shipping cream, selling a load of pumpkins and sweet corn, doing thousands of dollars a year in pony rides, scooping 18 tubs of ice cream a weekend and barbecuing up a storm. People's cars were lined up and down Highway 27."
Puck's Farm is Born
At one point, Mohawk and his associates were handling the Kleinburg operation as well as the farm which came to be known as Puck's Farm in Schomberg about 45 minutes north of Toronto. It was here that they moved the dairy herd which was in the top third in the country for small herds and they were winning awards for the highest quality milk in their region. Mohawk attributes that success to Anthony who, even as a former city slicker, learned how to be a dairy farmer. Soon they moved their whole operation to Puck's Farm and here the circus was modified to a petting farm where families could bring their children for a day out in the country. There was entertainment as well as Anthony became more proficient as a musician and singer and found he could keep the attention of 300 restless kids.
Music, Critters and a Room with a Vu
Mohawk had been away from the music business for quite a while and about a year into arriving at their current location, he built a little four-track studio above the main barn. Eventually, it was upgraded to 24-track, the cows were moved out, and it took over the main barn on the farm to make music. "This is a fine music room and it's here mostly so my friends and I can play. Usually what you find in studios is a whole bunch of outboard gear to make poor instruments or a poor room sound good. What we did was approach it in a more traditional way. We built a room that sounded good and put in equipment that reproduces that sound. We built a room in which people would want to play music, a room in which we could sit and play music."
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