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In the past I’ve written posts on the early, pre-fame songwriting of Cat Stevens and Elton John. Today’s post continues that theme, this time examining the initial work of Warren Zevon.
In the mid-60s Zevon teamed up with Violet Santangelo to write, record, and perform as the folk/rock duo lyme & cybelle (sic). The group recorded for the White Whale label and had moderate success with their single “Follow Me” – produced by Bones Howe who is most well-known for his work with The Association (“Windy”) and the 5th Dimension (“Up, Up and Away”) and later with Tom Waits.
“Follow Me” (co-written with Santangelo) is sometimes cited as one of the earliest psychedelic rock records, an elevated status that allowed it to be included in the Nuggets boxed set.
The connection to White Whale and Howe led to the opportunity for Zevon to present some songs for consideration to label mates The Turtles. “Outside Chance” (also co-written with Santangelo) was released in 1966 but didn’t dent the charts despite the opening guitar riff that borrowed from the Beatles’ “Taxman.”
Another Zevon song, “Like the Seasons”, was the b-side to the Turtles biggest hit, “Happy Together”, that booted the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” out of the #1 chart position in the spring of 1967.
Zevon’s “She Quit Me” was included on the soundtrack to the 1969 Academy Award winning film Midnight Cowboy. It was given a gender switch since it was sung by Leslie (sometimes spelled Lesley) Miller.
Miller was married to MGM record producer Alan Lorber who was partially responsible for the promotion of the “Bosstown Sound” that featured Orpheus and the Ultimate Spinach (yes, that was a real band’s name!) and released several singles on that label.
Zevon put out a full album of his own material in 1969 — Wanted Dead or Alive — that was produced by impresario Kim Fowley. The album went nowhere so Zevon did a career pivot and spent the next 5 years writing songs while working as the band leader for the Everly Brothers touring band and, when he tired of that, moved to Spain and entertained at a bar called The Dubliner.
By the end of ’75 he was back in LA, making friends with the singer/songwriters in David Geffen’s Asylum stable (Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Eagles) and the rest is history.
Enjoy… until next week.