INTERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY JEFF HIGGINBOTHAM
Trim, look good, pull out… Natural born ‘imagineering’… Live life, with the gusto of POW… Deal with what is dealt, cross step through life with determination… Make good with your vision, and see it through… Allow it to be yours… Let the talents given, flourish violently… In the end, the rest will see…Take a look, and let it be, Yours….This is JimmyZ.
I am just going to ask random questions.
Ask the questions. How’s that cigarette taste?
Yum. [Laughs.] Where were you born?
I was born in Blue Island, Illinois. It’s on the edge of the Palisades. It’s like the Palisades here in California, except that it’s in the Midwest and it’s Lake Michigan. It goes way the hell out into this area and then there’s a palisade that drops off to the railroad tracks. My great, great, great grandfather was a German engineer for the railroad. His children had a market on the wrong side of the tracks because it was closer for him to go to work. He could have gone to the high side, but he would have had to walk up that hill and that wasn’t sounding right. They had a market there and that area became Little Italy, and the Germans had a market next to the Catholic Church, which was kind of unusual. My dad ended up working for the Pullman Company, which was in Chicago. Train travel was really romantic in the ‘50s when my dad was working there. We’d go to Florida every year on the train and Tampa Red would be dusting us off and playing harmonica. It was fantastic.
In Chicago, what did you do as a kid?
I was from the suburbs, so it wasn’t a city environment. They had these things called forest preserves, so I could ride my bike in almost any direction and be out in the country. I could take my fishing pole and catch bluegill, catfish and bullhead. I had your basic dream childhood growing up in that area.
Did you ever go hang out in Chicago?
Well, both of my parents worked, so my grandmother had a lot to do with me growing up. One of her favorite things was to take me to downtown Chicago to the Field Museum and all the museums. She would spend endless hours talking to me about things. I think seeing that environment had a lot to do with me being interested in art. Since we lived in Chicago, when the set of Lincoln Logs came out, I got the set that was the Frank Lloyd Wright version. It had more of a prairie school look. I thought that was fascinating, because it didn’t even dawn on me that I was only able to build things that had a mathematic arrangement. I could only see that I loved it. I played with other Lincoln Logs that were regular log cabins and they just weren’t as interesting as the Frank Lloyd Wright log cabins.
It was not the norm.
You have to remember that Chicago was a big industrial place. It was a second city to New York where a lot of design things were happening. Chicago had a lot of money and high society. Wright and Sullivan and some of the other top guys were building beautiful buildings around that part of the world. To be part of that was important. The obvious thing was the train, for me, and the whole industrial thing.
How did you get into the art scene?
I was a media kid. I remember Life Magazine and Time Magazine and I used to go to the hobby shop. Mad Magazine and Hot Rod Magazine started to happen and I suddenly became aware of this cultural thing with art and cars. I was doing drawings from Mad Magazine and being hysterical over that.
You were into trains and cars?
I was born in 1945 and, by 1950, my identification with cars was pretty cool. We had a ‘46 Buick with the little opera seats in the back. By 1953, my dad got this bitchin’ green Buick with the big portals in the side. In ‘58, he got an all-white ‘58 Pontiac convertible with thin whitewalls on it. That’s the year we moved to California. The color of the interior was cocoa, pink and gray and the speaker was in the inset of the back seat. It was great. In the ‘50s, I got my first Brownie camera, so I’d take pictures of the cars going down the street during Fourth of July parades, or I’d take pictures of myself with the timer on. Then baseball and sports became very important to me.
Cubs or the White Sox?
Being from the South Side of Chicago, The White Sox were my team. My father was for the Cubs, because he worked at night and liked to watch the day games. My favorite player was Nelson Fox. He was a scrappy little dude. He used the thickest bat handle you’ve ever seen in your life. He did that so he wouldn’t hurt his hands. He would just jab the ball all over the place. He had a lot of different swings.
“Whatever you have a passion for in life is what makes life happen.”
He had good placement.
He would just get hits. He played a solid second base. He was a great clutch player. My favorite experience during that time was when I won a ride around downtown Chicago in the back of Minnie Minoso’s white Cadillac convertible with the red leather seats. Minnie is the guy that said, “Baseball has been very, very good to me.”
[Laughs.] How did you win the ride?
The fix was in. The company that my mother worked for, which was an oil company, put the contest on, so I got to win the award. They were probably just having fun with me. For $100, Minnie would give you a ride around downtown. For $100, he’d give anybody a ride. He had a photo of himself on the Continental kit on the back. At the time, there were all these tracks across the streets for the trains, and there were electric cars that would be sparking along. The ‘50s were a far different time. Things were really beginning to change. As far as baseball, I started playing when I was five, because you could. Little League had just started, so they would let people play. I didn’t get to play much the first year, but I got a lot of hits. I won a little belt at the end of the year. I was Rookie of the Year and Rogers Hornsby was the guy that presented it to me.
Wow. What position did you play?
I started out playing second base, but I moved better to my left. When I was seven years old, I broke my leg playing football with the high school guys, so I was immobilized for a while. During that time, I had nothing to do but lay in the hospital bed with weights on my leg. I broke it right at the hipbone. Consequently, one of my legs is now longer than the other. I limp a tiny bit. It never really affected me though.
I just thought you were walking cool.
[Laughs.] It’s my pimp gait. At any rate, while I was stuck there in the hospital, I really got into art and drawing. I was stuck in that harness and only had this bar in front of me that I could lift myself up on. For three months, the weight was just pulling on me. It was miserable. They didn’t have TV in the rooms, so I got into drawing and painting and making models. When I got model cars, of course, I had to customize them.
Why were you so passionate about sports?
It was something that I could do well. Your passion is what makes you tick. With baseball, I had a coach that got to me early. I did everything he ever told me and I did it well. I practiced a lot. In the back of my house, there was a brick wall with asphalt and a concrete walkway with a three-inch curb and then grass. You could throw the ball as hard as you wanted and it would bounce off the asphalt so you could field it. It was acrobatic training.
You loved the movement.
We’d draw a little triangle on the wall and pitch to the wall. The guy got me into doing things like, when you throw the ball harder, move forward. Keep moving forward on the ball and getting aggressive. When you get a throw from the outfield, the hardest thing to do is to know the spin. Every outfielder has a different spin on the ball. He told me, “Since you can see the spin in mid-air, you can estimate where it’s going to land. You can actually beat the ball to the spot where it’s hitting. When you see it before it hits, you’re able to really catch the ball. You pre-look at the spin.” It was a far-out concept for me to realize. A lot of people never get that. They never look at the spot before the ball hits it. Getting to that point in sports, where you can beat someone to the punch, is a good feeling. Then there’s the strategy in games like football, baseball and basketball, which was always really fascinating. All this plays into a way of thinking about a cosmos. It’s a world that’s perfect, that you can order, and that’s what art is. It’s the aesthetic. It’s like having your own cosmos. You have your own molecular structure, your own atomic structure. You have your own little bubble that could burst at any minute.
So you split from Chicago in ‘58?
Yeah. We came to California. We drove Route 66 the whole way. In Tulsa, OK, I had a terrible stomachache. It was to the point where they had the doctor come and look at me. Then we got back in the car and I lay down in the backseat. Finally, I said, “Dad, you better take me to the hospital.” I had appendicitis. If we had gone further, it would have burst, so they took my appendix out. A week later, we carried on to California. I was all bandaged up and had lost 20 pounds. On top of that, I was coming from Chicago and we were into such different things. I had shoes with Italian horseshoe heel taps on the heels. I used to carry a brush in my back pocket. I had to keep my mop organized. I was at the height of vanity in the ‘50s. I wore my white belt off to the side. It was all style.
[Laughs.] Wait. Before we leave Chicago, you have Chess Records pumping out hits.
Well, my father was an opera singer and there are not many positions for opera singers in this world, so he sang in this Christian Science church. I thought that was interesting because I grew up Lutheran, but they had soloists that gave an uplifting performance every week. I was the guy that would ditch church and take the money that was supposed to go into the collection plate and do something else with it. I was always thinking that nobody noticed. My grandmother was always giving me that look and saying, “How was church?” I’d say, “It was good.” I had myself convinced they’d never find out. In ‘55, my dad, who had gone to the Chicago Conservatory of Music, bought the thing that Eames made with the cabinet and two sliding doors with four little legs. He got one of Eames chairs, too. Eames was actually studying in Chicago at the time and then he became a great designer. So my dad made a hi-fi where we could get FM and AM radio. When I was alone, I was listening to the finest blues music ever heard. It was all the Chicago blues and the Delta blues of that era. I remember hearing black songs that would then become covers by white groups later on. I became aware of the whole music business. In 1955, Elvis started. Seeing Ted Mack & the Original Amateur Hour and Carl Perkins on TV one week and Elvis Presley the next week was really the beginning of rock n’ roll. Then you had Jerry Lee Lewis and his affair with his 13-year-old niece. My mother and father were going, “Oh, heaven forbid. It’s rock n’ roll! How do you listen to it? It’s devil’s music!” I knew more lyrics to operas than anything. It’s funny. Those were my influences. I tried to take piano lessons, but I thought music was some spiritual thing. I was mostly listening to the radio, just singing along and playing along with a little harmonica that I bought at the joke store along with chewing tobacco and a little 8-pager. The joke store had everything a young man could want. I took piano lessons, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying about the music. I understood rhythm and I had a lot of rhythm. I loved to dance, sing and play harmonica. You love to dance. I was wild about it. It’s something that’s primal in people in every culture somehow. That’s one of the things I really dig. I knew about music. I knew about arrangements and horns. I took Music Appreciation class and got a very good score, but my identification with music has always been from a standpoint of being a fan. For all those years, I thought music was some magical thing. What do you mean magical? I thought it was something intuitive. It was either something you could do or you couldn’t do. Music is structured on mathematics as well. I’ve never been very good at math, unfortunately. I got four down, but twelve was a little more difficult. 1-2-3-4. I like one the best. [Laughs] So you make it to California in ‘58. Yeah. The first place we stopped was the Pacific Palisades. We drove right down Sunset Blvd. We moved to Hollywood, and then we moved to the Palisades and got an apartment there. I met Robbie Dick and we went to the Bel-Air Bay Club. We bodysurfed that first summer. That fall, I went surfing for the first time at Sunset on a balsa board. This guy Ron Darby had a balsa board and he said, “Have you ever tried it?” I tried it and thought it was really cool. Then there was a guy named Denny Aaberg that I grew up with in the Palisades. He had older brothers that surfed. It was great to go over to his house, because his parents were divorced and his mom was a writer. She was always working on something at the end of the hall and the boys’ rooms were at the other end of the house. The one brother had his room in the garage. He had nothing but 45’s and egg cartons all over with tuck n’ roll seats from hotrods. He had a little bar with beer signs glowing, and there was a stereo playing great music. They used to have great parties. The older brother, Steve Aaberg, had a motorcycle with giant handlebars and his car was a gold and white ‘58 Chrysler Desoto. The motorcycle was painted gold and white too. He was in a club, so they were all wearing club jackets. He was in the Deacons. The jackets were white with black outline and black lettering and the black cuff around the neck. It was like Raiders’ colors in reverse. The Deacons were bad. Then it was the Dukes. Coming here in ‘58, it was the hotrod craze. There were millions of hotrods and ratrods. Big Daddy Roth would make t-shirts at the Santa Monica pier and work out of this body shop called Lee’s Muffler Shop on Hill Street in Santa Monica. That whole complex was where you could find Big Daddy Roth and Von Dutch. It was a whole scene in ‘59. What was the art scene at that time? The Modernism movement was in full swing. The Schindlers, the Neutras and Frank Lloyd Wright made Modernist buildings here during that period and the Modernism tradition continued. Rock n’ roll was coming on hard too. Rock n’ roll was happening. Everything was great. Then we started surfing. The older Aaberg brother, Kemp, was also a surfer. He’d been surfing with guys from down south and had been in a couple of movies. He was the first guy on the cover of Surfer Magazine doing this beautiful arch turn that Severson caught a photo of. We’d go and grill him and guys that were coming around like Mike Doyle and all the surf stars. They were all hanging out when we were kids. The Aabergs lived right at the edge of the park, so you could go over the fence to the park. They used to have roller-skating on Friday nights. You’d rent your wheels there, which were full skate shoes with clay wheels. We used to cut them off with a hacksaw and nail them to planks and ride these 2x4s like we were sidewalk surfing. And who lived next door to the Aabergs? Did you ever hear of George Trafton? Yeah, I know George. George’s dad was big George Trafton of the Chicago Bears. He played at Notre Dame with the Four Horsemen. I knew exactly who Mr. Trafton was, but none of the other kids knew who he was. He was just the big old drunk giant that was so scary they couldn’t believe it. Little George was one of the first kids that saw us building those skateboards. Within three weeks, he and his buddies were doing it better than we were. They ended up becoming the Makaha Skate Team.
“It was fun. We’d do things that were street. We’d do things that were surf. We’d do things that were skate. We’d do things that were international and involved lifestyle and excitement.”
They were all from that area. We were more interested in surfing than skateboarding, but we used to do it. In the Palisades, all the schoolyards had paved inclines and banks, so they were all smooth and perfect for skating. The beginning of skateboarding was at those schools. At that time, big business was so aware of youth culture that when they saw some kid take a shitty bicycle and put those big handlebars on them, they were suddenly in the business of making them and selling them. Youth culture was important.
Big business was looking for the next big thing.
Exactly. Then we met a guy named Larry Stevenson through Bill Cleary. Larry started a skateboard company that was making skateboards for Makaha. Anyhow, Severson wouldn’t let him advertise in the magazine.
Severson felt like he owned everything about surfing, and skateboarding wasn’t surfing. It was something else. Since he had control, he exercised control. When Larry couldn’t get his ads in the magazine, he started his own magazine, Surf Guide Magazine, so he could advertise and make advertorials about his product. Severson actually thought if it was surfing, he owned it, but there was always more than one car magazine and one health magazine, so he lost his position and other people got involved with surfing magazines. That’s all part of the beginning of the industry in the ‘60s. From the ‘50s on, surfing and skateboarding became more and more popular. There were a lot of movies happening. I think Gidget was a big thing in surfing and that culture, and the real Gigdet came from the Palisades. When we went to see the movie the night that it opened at the Bay Theatre, Gidget was the girl at the booth that sold me the ticket.
[Laughs.] No kidding.
It was the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner. She was taking in the money. Her dad wrote the movie and you know how Hollywood is. It meant nothing to them that she was the real person behind it. She sold the tickets. They didn’t care anything more about it. After that, a lot more people got interested in surfing.
Was the beach crowded with surfers in the line-up?
It was different in those days. Malibu was sort of far out of the way and it was not that populated with people. There were enclaves. There were old timers who surfed that came down to the beach like Peter Lawford. Pete Peterson lived in Santa Monica Canyon. Otis Chandler that owned the L.A. Times and Lord Blears and all these characters would come from all over the place. Dewey Weber would come up from South Bay. People would make the pilgrimage when the south swells hit Malibu because it was the best shape and the best wave. When there was no swell, there were hardly any people there. The locals were Johnny Fain and Tommy Zahn. The guys that lived in the colony were the most local, like Jim Rappin. At times, there were groups of surfers that were pretty good. Some of the guys were athletes at school. Gary Markus was a great athlete, and he was also a really great surfer. John Price and guys like Mysto George were there. Mysto was real interesting. He used to come down with Ray Kunze. Ray played baseball professionally, so he was this big strapping dude. He was funny as hell. He always had a good story. He was called “The Enforcer.” If anyone came from out of town and wanted to mix it up and started pushing the kids off, he was right there next to them, paddling up beside them. He’d scare the hell out of them.
It’s not that crowded in the line-up yet, so when did all of that blow up?
It was the end of that summer. By that time, with the combination of surfing, skateboarding and the media, it was exposed. It wasn’t mainstream, but it was suddenly something they could hang their hat on. Whether it was Catalina Swimwear suddenly being able to make clothes that had a brand, or Kanvas by Katin, anybody could have a brand whether they were big or small. The Huntington Contest was the big surf contest and there were smaller club contests, few and far between. There was so much happening from ‘60-’65. In ‘65, short boarding really just started. By 1970, it was mostly short boards.
Between ‘60 and ‘65, though…
Here’s the contrasting part. In ‘58 or ‘59, if you were a surfer, you were a beatnik and a rebel. The rest of the surfers were clean-cut lifeguards. Then there was the dichotomy within the two of them. There was the ho-dad that liked hotrods. What surfer-hodad-hotrod-clean-lifeguard doesn’t own the world and get away with being all of those different characters? It’s like Dale Velzy. He always had a hotrod and he was making boards. He knew about technology. Fiberglass was amazing. Nobody knew what plastics were. “Plastics will be the future, son!” Whoever said that was right. If you could figure out how to make things out of plastic, it was on. Just think, the Eames chair was made here in Southern California out of formed fiberglass. It came from the aerospace and surf industry.
Did you have any jobs as a kid?
Growing up in the Palisades, I was delivering liquor from the liquor store to people. I delivered liquor to this one blonde lady over on St. Helena. She looked like Marilyn Monroe, but she was kind of shabby looking. She looked disheveled. No wonder she needed that bottle of scotch. I was delivering liquor to the Eames house, which is right in the Palisades overlooking Santa Monica Canyon. It was their case study house. I knew it reminded me of Chicago, but I didn’t know what it was about the place that was talking to me. When I walked in, I said, “Oh, yeah. We have one of those chairs.” I still didn’t know he was the designer. I was that naive kid, and he said something nice, and waved. Years later I put it together, “That was Charles Eames. Oh, my God.” The guy that lived next door was Seranin, another famous architect. Santa Monica Canyon also had people that were car designers. Then there were guys like Pat Darrin who was a famous photographer that took a great deal of photos of Miki Dora. There was another photographer named Peter Gowan who took pictures of women. This was all happening in Santa Monica Canyon, which is the edge of the Palisades and State Beach. State Beach is also the birthplace of volleyball. In the ‘60s, the epicenter of the world could have been State Beach. That’s where Hollywood would go to the beach. That’s where they had volleyball tournaments. It was just a great period in time. As far as music, the Green Onions would be playing. Early in the morning, we’d be heading down the Coast Highway going by the Deauville Club and hear it. I can still hear it. We used to go to dances there. Then the Isley Brothers came there to play one night, and there was a left-handed kid that played the guitar. Steve Aaberg and I were sitting there going, “Listen to that cat play!” It was Jimi Hendrix.
Wow. What happened next?
From there, high school was over. My major was art and architecture and I had worked on the yearbook. Then I went surfing to Topanga and talked to Bill Cleary and he said, “We’re going to put together this surfing magazine. Do you want to come and work on it with us?” I said, “It’s just like doing the yearbook. Yeah. Okay. I can do that.” I was one of the better surfers of all the kids at that point, so we used to take off and go on surf trips down south. I was on the Hansen Surf Team, which was from down by Encinitas. We used to sell a lot of boards for Hansen up in Malibu. Then I got on the Jacobs Surf Team. I was just starting to work at this surfing magazine, so I walked into the art director’s office. His name was Don Dowd and he was a great photographer. He took most of the pictures for Down Beat Magazine. He taught us how to put the magazine together. Then Severson hired John Van Hamersveld who had worked at Surfer Magazine as a graphic designer. He brought a really slick thing to it and the magazine started to take off. During that period, I got to sit and listen to music with Don Dowd. He had a big jazz collection and he introduced me to KNOB, which had a bumper sticker at the time that said, “Keep your natural up tight.” It was Zidler & Zidler doing the advertising. That’s where you got your suits. I’d go and buy myself a Continental suit that looked badass. I have pictures of myself taken with the Makaha Skateboard Team in that suit. I was the art assistant at the magazine and the manager of the Makaha Skateboard Team.
How did you become the manager of the Makaha Skate Team?
I was the guy that worked there. I was 18, so I drove them around in the 1949 Ford Woodie. My dad said, “You can’t drive those kids around in that Woodie.” I said, “Well, can I get a ‘56 Chevy Nomad?” So I started with the 1949 Woodie, which later became the logo for Jimmy’Z. There were photographs of it in Surf Guide Magazine. Then I’m driving the Nomad with the Makaha Skateboard Team.
Who was on the Makaha Skateboard Team?
It started with George Trafton, Danny Bearer, Torger Johnson, John Fries, Squeek Blank, Davey and Stevie Hilton, Woody Woodward and a few other guys I don’t remember.
That was the first skateboard team. What about Bruce Logan?
I found him later. It’s like all the skate stories. Greed will always take over. As soon as Stevenson started making money and created a scene, the competition was on. The guys in Orange County and Dana Point, like Severson, had a lock on a lot of the action. The idea was that they would start their own skateboard team and get it backed by the Hilton Brothers who were also on the skate team. Then the Hilton brothers’ dad came along and saw what was going on and said, “They’re making money off my boys. We can make a lot more money on our own.” It was something to that effect. He was smarter than the average bear. He had Vita-Pakt, which was one of their subsidiary companies. It was an orange juice company. They probably started it so they could get orange juice for all the hotels. It was Business 101, how things began to operate, but it was all just mumblings and rumblings at first. You’d hear them arguing in the front room going, “What’s our next move? How are we going to pull this off?” Everything was on a shoestring. Then the skateboards went from clay wheels to some other composition wheels. They were slippery as hell. None of them were soft and rubbery. It was scary. The trucks were wobbly and very narrow.
“I like making stories out of things and as soon as you see how the Dadas lived and created this lifestyle with chicks and fun, the excess nudity and psychedelics, that was all just a beginning of another realm of intellectualism, escapism, truth and all the good stuff.”
But they turned good.
[Laughs.] Yeah, they turned on half a dime. They were like little surfboards. They had stringers and shit. Guys made skateboards before that with wider trucks with bigger pivots. They had the Sidewalk Surfers that were take-offs from scooters and flexi-flyers. When we made the ones in the Palisades, there was a place in the park called the Gym Pit. I don’t know if you guys were into gymnastics, but the Aabergs could do giants on the high bar and while swinging rings. They could do flips and doubles. Here I come from Chicago, and these guys are doing circus tricks.
That probably caused some culture shock.
I was like, “What kind of sports are these?” It was funny. Steve Aaberg was such an instigator. He’d hear you say something and he’d say, “Well, I think I’ll call him up right now.” He’d be on the phone in a flash. He’d just squelch you and do stuff like that.
What sort of things did you have to do as the Makaha team manager?
Well, there was this show called Shindig! and I was on that show with Makaha Skateboards. On the same show, it was Sonny and Cher and another group called the Barbarians and they all wore these great big weird vests. Cher was really cute. She hadn’t gotten her nose fixed yet. We were all on that same show, and they made me skate! I rounded one circle and I didn’t know what the hell to do. They were interviewing me because I was the manager of the Makaha Skateboard team.
[Laughs.] As the team manager for Makaha, did you do advertising as well for Stevenson?
Well, Stevenson came up with his own concept for advertising, but he’d ask me a lot of questions. He’d ask who the hottest surfers were at the time, who did I look up to and why. I thought that Mike Doyle was really great, so he used Mike Doyle for a lot of pictures. I thought Mike Hynson was a very cool surfer, so those were the guys he used in the pictures. I was there when they took the pictures at 26th and Colorado. We had that building on the corner. Across the street in those days was TRW. They had the mainframe brain over there. The security was always something special. In the other corner was the Lindy Pen Company, which made ballpoint pens. There was a big vacant lot next door. My chair looked out over the vacant lot and the sound of the music is clear in my head. The 20 rose bushes on the other side were fragrant as hell. I used to love to go and work there from about 6-11pm. It was my after school session. I was going to Santa Monica City College at the time.
You may have been one of the first team managers in skateboarding, which has become a real job now for people.
Oh, yeah. Dave Rochlen and Mike Doyle were managers too, but it was beneath them to do some of the stuff. I was more the same age as the team, so I could keep the skaters in line and wrestle them down if I had to. That was how I kept order. I know that wasn’t very good to do, but I didn’t know any other way.
Well, there are guys that make $100,000 a year being skate team managers now.
Well, you’ll dig this story. There we were in the bronze and white ‘56 Chevy Nomad with all these fuckers piled into the car and we go out to Riverside to this contest.
What year was this?
This was in ‘64. Being on the Makaha Skateboard Team meant that wherever they sold Makaha Skateboards, we’d go and do an exhibition in the parking lot; that meant the Broadways and Bullock’s and any place that sold the skateboards. There weren’t that many of the exhibitions that we went to, but we did do this one contest that’s very vivid in my mind. This was when Dave Rochlen took Vita-Pakt and made the Hobie Skateboard team, which took Danny Bearer, George Trafton, the Hilton brothers and Fries. Squeek Blank and Woody Woodward were there too. Woody was awesome. He was a Topanga kid. Anyone that learned to skate at that time in the area, learned at his parents’ tennis court in Topanga. Then they would go over to Sunset Mesa and skate.
What did you guys do at the demonstrations?
The quality of skating was carving and stuff. What they had down in those days, out of necessity, was a mini ollie that was a click-clack onto the curb. It was like hitting coping. The first guys doing that were impressive. That trick had been basically forgotten until I brought it up to Skip Engblom years later, and he hit Natas with it. Natas always did do it well, and then he took it to an extreme. It was a forgotten trick. At the time, skateboarding was all about sliding. This was more about stationary skating around something in one area. I thought I saw guys get higher than people were doing it. That was enough for Skipper to say something. That plants the seed. Once again you see the ball before it bounces and you know what you’re going to do. Then the wheels were hitting and the trucks were grinding.
How did you deal with your team getting ripped off from you?
I was just coming back from South Bay where I was a salesman at Jacobs Surfboards. That was a great experience. To me, Jacobs was the highest level of manufacturing and style. Everybody that I really looked up to was on the Jacobs Surf Team.
Who was on the team?
It was Kemp Aaberg, Lance Carson, Mike Doyle, Ricky Irons, Henry Ford and a whole host of guys from the South Bay like John Baker. Takayama and Robert August were there shaping boards. While I was working there, Robert says, “Hey, you’ve got to cover me on sales because I’m going around the world on this trip.” He was gone for a long time, but when he came back, I got to hear firsthand stories about The Endless Summer. He told me stories about Tahiti that were off the Richter. They spent New Year’s in Tahiti and it was free love in the ‘60s with the Tahitian chicks. I never knew if it was true or not, but Robert is such a playboy it had to be true.
[Laughs.] Free love. Love it.
So I was coming back from South Bay and I see this kid doing a nose wheelie straight down one of those hills in Manhattan Beach. I was like, “What the fuck?” I did a U-turn and stopped and it was Bruce Logan and his brother. Not long after that there was a kid named Gregg Carroll who was a really good skateboarder. He’s the guy who was the Skaterdater. He was the goofy foot guy that looked like Shawn Stussy. He sent me a story he wrote that reminded me that I used to get pissed off when they started going wild in the car. They were like raging, wild monkeys, so I would get pissed off and stomp on the gas. Half of them realized that I’d stomped it through an intersection or red light, and I’m still stepping on it and yelling at the guys in the back seat. I suddenly realize that the bridge is not there. I was only a few feet from the edge. Then they kept their mouths shut. There was total silence in the car.
[Laughs.] You got their attention.
I was the maniac trying to control everybody. All I wanted was a little peace and quiet, so I could concentrate. They were just yelling and screaming and driving me crazy. It was insane. At one point, we were going to San Francisco to do something and we were all dressed in suits. I had on an olive drab Continental number with very slick shoes. That’s the way you dressed when you went traveling. That’s the way they did it in The Endless Summer, so we wore our suits. It was also a way not to get hassled. After we did all those trips and exhibitions, Larry Stevenson said, “I’m going to send you guys to Waikiki for two weeks, all expenses paid.” I’m 18 and they’re all 15. We get off the plane and the aroma was overwhelming, with the smell of Hawaii and the trade winds blowing. We went to the beach and the waves were flat, so we were a little disappointed. Then they got their skateboards and found a good place to skate. By that afternoon, I discovered that you only had to be 18 to drink in Hawaii, so I rolled into the Royal Hawaiian and started belting down Mai Tai’s. I was at a Don Ho Show, but I was able to stagger from there to where we were staying. The kids woke me up in the morning to go surfing, and they had to get me a towel to get the crust out of my eyes. I drank so much sugar that it was coming out of my eyes.
[Laughs.] Mai Tai’s…
[Laughs.] So we go out surfing, but it was small in front of the Royal Hawaiian, so we went out a little bit further and discovered that it was breaking better over to the right. We ended up at Kaisers just as it started to break. That morning was a perfect time to be in the water, feeling it going up and down, in that laconic slow motion with the smells off the water. By the middle of the day, we were getting little tubes across the little bowls, and the kids were flipping out. They couldn’t believe how much fun they were having. It was a cosmos day. You have it all within your reach. You’re doing it all and having a ball. It’s like finding a bowl or a corner or a curb to skate. You find whatever that cosmos is that you can get creative with. So it’s getting bigger and then we’re surfing full stand up barrels, and it’s getting a little sketchy. It was getting really hard to get back in, and we had longboards, so we all paddled in. We were a bunch of fried monkeys. We ate, passed out, got up the next day and paddled out again and Number Three’s was going off. It was a thrill to ride, and who’s out there but Paul Strauch and Joey Cabell. I was surfing with my heroes. I’ll never forget that day. I was just out of high school. It was 1963, the year before I had to go to the draft. Vietnam plays a part in this too.
But you missed Vietnam.
Well, I missed it only because I joined the Navy. When Vietnam happened, I was one of the first 90 guys that got drafted. Luckily, my dad knew an admiral that was able to get me into the Navy Reserve. On a technicality, I was able to slip into the Navy Reserve, which was a two-year inactive duty, while I went to art school at Chouinard. Chavez Ravine was where I did my inactive duty. I went to boot camp down in San Diego. They were training us to do recon with the smaller PT type boats that would come from the big carrier ships and move up the Mekong Delta. Before we got drafted, you had to go to the draft board. Did you ever see the movie Big Wednesday?
“I took pictures a lot, but I didn’t want to be known as a photographer. I wanted to be an artist.”
The draft board scene was my and many other’s draft board experience. Johnny Fain was there and he was wearing a dress in real life. In Big Wednesday, he was wearing a dress and it was real. I took a bunch of bennies, because I heard if your heart rate gets too high, they thought you were weird. It was just to enhance the experience. Then I tried to fake the hearing test, and none of it worked. I came out 1A in the first 90 and I was a born leader. I was good at doing the boat, but imagine how scary that would have been. In Apocalypse Now, they show that scene, and that’s what we would have been doing. We had a friend at that time named J. Ray Donahue, and his dad was called The Colonel. The Colonel was an Ace in WWII and one of the test pilots out at Douglas with Colonel Yeager. They were playboy freaks. They had parties with all the hot chicks. Can you imagine all those bimbos dressed up in the ‘50s going over to their pad? They’d have all the shades drawn. They were just powering these floozies. We’d pick up J. Ray and go hang out. J. Ray was really funny because he was always the first guy to jump off whatever it was into the pool. The guy was a daredevil. He ended up being a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He volunteered and went in. I’m sure his dad helped us get in the Navy. It was the Colonel or one of his buddies. I really appreciated that because I never wanted to go over there and fight. The next guy that went over there to Vietnam was this friend from the Valley that was a surfer. When they told me he got shot, I was freaked out. I would have been right there next to him. It was like a death sentence to be one of the first guys over there. That’s heavy. So you went to art school after you did your two years in the Navy? I was doing it concurrently. I went to Chouinard, which was a really cool art school. That’s when I got my first camera, a Pentax, that I used for years. I have some really great photos from that period. I took pictures a lot, but I didn’t want to be known as a photographer. I wanted to be an artist.
[Laughs.] Who was in the group of cats that you were hanging out with then? You were transitioning into the art world, right?
Yes. I went from working at the surfing magazine, where I realized that I didn’t know much about art, but I wanted to learn more about it, to art school. My dad suggested that I go to Art Center. I knew a guy from State Beach who was a product designer of cars at Art Center and he said he could get me into this school for product design. I was a C student in high school that had this little portfolio of architectural drawings and cartoons that were like Mad Magazine, but I got into the Art Center and didn’t really like the environment of what they were doing. At the same time, I went over to Chouinard and liked that better. It was a real trip. Laddie Dill was going to school there and I knew him from surfing. He’s from Malibu. Laddie was the guy that lived out on old Malibu Road and drove a ‘48 Ford Woodie. I had the ‘49 Ford Woodie in the Palisades, so we’d give each other the bad eye. In five years, we saw each other at art school and bonded.
The connection came from the Woodies.
It was from the Woodies, mutual experiences and friends. Laddie was one of the first guys I met in art school. Van Hamersveld had gone to several art schools. He’d gone to Chouinard, Otis and Art Center. I met Chuck Arnoldi there, and Pat Darrin went to Chouinard the same year I started. I got a great photo of him in a drawing class that I took. It was just a great awakening. This was in ‘66 and ‘67. I managed to rent a place in Malibu at the bottom of Las Flores canyon, so I was living in a house right there in the bend in the road where the park is. I had a house that was just bitchin’. It had a river stone fireplace and a little kitchen. It had a big sunroom and a teeny bathroom. It was an antique. The bedroom had a second tiny little bedroom and I loved to sleep in there because it was all dark blue with white stars all over the ceiling. Rent was like $100 a month. It was fantastic. I was living there and driving a Volkswagen every day to Chouinard downtown at 7th and Alvarado. Then I got a motorcycle to go back and forth. It was a lot of fun.
What was going on in art at the time?
That was when the Ferus Gallery was happening. Barney’s Beanery was still happening, but I was a little too naive to fit into that group. I was into the whole aesthetic of the beatnik and alternative culture. It was the beginning of the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love. A few years later, a lot of the people that were going to Chouinard, like Rick Griffin and some of those cats had moved to San Francisco and were part of the whole revolution of music. In L.A., I was going to art school downtown and ran into Sepp Donahower. Van Hamersveld was doing the rock concert posters for Pinnacle Productions. I ended up living in a guesthouse over the garage of Van Hamersveld’s five-bedroom place over on 5th and Kingsley. It was a beautiful place. The owner was a guy named Jules Langsner who was an art critic in the ‘50s and ‘60s in L.A. Van Hamersveld got a hold of this place and upstairs they did the posters for the rock concerts. They’re really famous now. They’d bring down Moscoso, Mouse and Kelly. When Griffin came down, that was a trip. Those were some really wild psychedelic days and nights.
It was an experimental time.
[Laughs.] He liked to sit there with a candle and draw. The candle was there so he didn’t have to keep lighting matches to light the joint. I thought, “That’s a trip. He’s lighting his way. He’s got a headlight.” Here’s another story about candles. You know that van Gogh painting, Starry, Starry Night with those swirls in it and the stars are swirls?
Well, apparently van Gogh put candles on his hat so he could paint at night. When he had the canvas there in front of him, it was all shiny, so the swirls came right off the light that he was seeing from the reflection on the shiny surface at night. The psychedelic of it becomes more understandable. You can see the ball just before it hits.
[Laughs.] It’s just anticipating the spin.
[Laughs.] We’re not going to let it go until it’s beaten to death. We’re onto something.
The New York scene was going on too.
That was a little later in my experience. The art school seemed to take a lot longer than it was. Being around those rock concerts and that whole scene, every Friday night there was a show at the Shrine Auditorium. We had the Single Wing Turquoise Bird, which was a light show from these guys from S.C. It was the whole film school, Sam Francis and all these people. They were working with these big opaque projectors with water and films. The light show was unbelievable. You should have seen the people at these shows. It was unbelievable, and I had the carte blanche pass. What a great trip. I have some photos of that era of Steve Winwood. The weirdest was when they played as Traffic and people didn’t know who Traffic was. Everything cost the same, but no one showed up at the show. It was devastating for the business. They were playing it so close to the vest. I wasn’t involved in the business end of it, but I was there and privy to what was going on. It was a great time though.
You got to see amazing music being created.
Big Brother and the Holding Co. was one of the first shows. Prior to that it was Country Joe & the Fish, and the Jefferson Airplane. It was all of these San Francisco bands along with some great blues. One of the most memorable was Dr. John with his whole tribe of Gris-Gris people. There were chicks with no underwear dancing and I was in the front row screaming! They were all wearing nets over them like they were fish underwater. They were beating on the drums and singing, “We walk on gilded splinters…” Tina and Ike Turner were amazing. Before that, we saw shows at the Deauville too. That was about the time that Dick Dale started playing at Newport. He played at the Rendezvous Ballroom. Then they played in Newport on the Island at a couple of places. The Surfer Stomp and the Beach Blanket Bingo movies were all around that time. Imagine Haight-Ashbury on that shit.
Were you involved with any of the movies?
No. I went to interviews, but didn’t get it. Guys like Mike Nader, Duane King, Johnny Fain and Miki Dora got those parts. Plus, at night, I was parking cars for the best Hollywood parties. When I was 16-18, we’d do the parties after the Oscars for the movie starlets. Miki Dora was always the guy saying, “Where are the parties tonight?” He’d show up in a Beatles’ wig and a white tuxedo. We’d be like, “Miki! Jesus!” He’d say, “Ticket!” And we’d have to drive his car away. He’d go in and rifle through purses. Let’s just say he’d eat for free and gorge himself. That was the attitude of the ‘60s, the rat fuck era. Miki was a guy that influenced all the beach people on that caperous mentality of “What can I get away with? Heeheehee!” So many people have wild stories about him, whether they’re true or not.
“That was a very interesting period. It was about surfing and skating and all the things that I’d done in my life just coming together.”
He led them to make a story.
The inspiration was there. That was his mentality. It permeated that group of people and became this legend. People like Stecyk are creating the legend and perpetuating the legends. It’s fascinating. Dora was an interesting subject. He was a pretty good skateboarder. He liked to skateboard and Grant Rohloff has photos and movies of him skateboarding. I think he had some footage in the Dogtown movie. Grant Rohloff had a lot of great stuff of Miki, so Chris Rohloff now has it. Miki was toying at doing something with skateboarding. He was like, “Oh, I can make money from this too.”
He was an angler.
He was an unbelievable angler. Surf Guide Magazine did a story about Miki that Bill Cleary wrote. Bill just put the tape recorder on and was able to get the inflection that Miki was saying when he’d go, “Wella, booga,” He’d get the snicker in there and talk about how his hands were in a certain position. He made you hear Miki’s voice right through the page. That was the first time anyone had ever done that with Miki and it made him an instant superstar. Everyone had been mocking him for being a Hollywood guy, but he had to create a persona. That was very important for him. Now back to brand identity. [Laughs]
[Laughs.] He was branding.
He saw the ball just before it hit. How did he do it? How could it be?
[Laughs.] So you’re parking cars.
Those were bitchin’ jobs, and then I got a job working at The Egg and The Eye.
What’s The Egg and The Eye?
The Egg and The Eye was a restaurant across the street from the L.A. County Museum that was owned by a wealthy lady named Edith Wyle. It was called The Egg and The Eye because it only served eggs. I got the job because, when I was parking cars, the woman who was the cook at the catered events, Rodessa, loved that I had some charm and manners. I became the maitre de at The Egg and The Eye, so I would take the reservations and seat people. I would show them the museum downstairs while people ate upstairs. I was living in Malibu and driving down there. It just so happened that the building next door was the Actor’s Studio. I was always smoking cigarettes with those dudes out back. It was me and the dishwasher, a guy by the name of James Witherspoon.
Who did you meet?
I met Tony Franciosa and those cats. There was a group of those people that I didn’t know, but I’d see later in movies. During art school, I remember they had a pop art show with these huge prints. One was a Warhol. One was a Jasper Johns. All these prints were in the first group of prints in the pop art show. They were like $150 and now some of them are worth $1,000,000. It’s hard to believe. It’s not that I couldn’t see that they had tremendous value, but to see them become something like that was unreal. Some people have tremendous collections, like Betty Asher, whose place is wild. There was one group that I called the “Necklace Gang.” It was Marguerite Stoudy and Beatrice Wood. She was Duchamp’s lover.
I met all these interesting people. While I was at Chouinard, the best time that I had was at the library. You could go in there and look at one book and then find another book, find something interesting and just keep going. I like making stories out of things and as soon as you see how the Dadas lived and created this lifestyle with the chicks, the fun, the excess nudity and psychedelics, that was the beginning of another realm of intellectualism, escapism, truth and all the good stuff. It’s exciting. Of course, in pop art, you find that emerging. It wasn’t long after that you had the Minimalists and Earthworks. Earthworks is very closely associated to surfing. There’s an association that seems to be part of that feeling, like carving across walls. Using nature and the force of nature is interesting. Skateboarding is also interesting. The forms associated with skating are getting outrageous. The park I saw on the X Games was a weighty thing. It’s all computer-generated, right?
They sketch them all out.
I loved that cradle where they can go upside down. How wicked.
Hackett did the loop.
I was just going to say, Hackett did the loop. I saw Danny Way do that thing he did in the X Games a few years ago. The way he came off that coping and landed on his back. Splat. You could see how hard he hit. It was the agony of defeat. That was like the guy going off the side in the Wide World of Sports. The agony of defeat now is Danny Way hitting that thing. The edge did him in. To get back up and do it again was a truly courageous moment, and he did it inverted where he could possibly do a head plant if he choked right in the middle. I saw him going into it and I was like, “He’s going too slow!” And he did it just perfect and pulled it off. Seeing the ball before it hits is so important.