Mort Weiss: A first-take life, with everything from hard times to hard rock

Mort Weiss: This was a special day

When I first started doing these articles I gave no thought as to the chronological order in which they occurred. Because of all the response regarding these little tidbits of the various happenings in my life as a jazzman (hey, there’s no other name for it is there?) I will endeavor to fill in the blanks as we go forward on this journey of my life in jazz and and other minor obsessions.

Who knows? Some of these memories might be the focal points of that book that any one who really knows me keeps telling me that I should write.

The year 1965 finds me financially, physically and mentally broken. I had a five-year-old daughter who would kill her self 27 brutal years later. She was an aspiring blues singer, and she knew the blues only too well. Also, a three-year-old son who would become a U.S army paratrooper, a highly decorated LAPD police officer and, from there, go on to higher achievements. At this time, he’s still taking care of business. Their mother (we were not married; she was still married to her first husband — yes, the two kids were mine!) was doing quite well as a highly paid prostitute in Hollywood. In fact, that’s how I met Vince Edwards. I walked in on them. Hey, how about Mort Weiss meets Dr. Ben Casey!? Yeah.

So, we’ve covered me as a 15-year-old, doing TV shows, then drafted into the U.S. Army in 1954-56. From December of 1956 through 1963, I worked with R&B and rock and roll bands in and about LA, Las Vegas and Reno, forming my own band in 1957 — all playing the tenor sax, and practicing clarinet when I was able.

Fast forward to late 1962, and things started spiraling downward for me very fast. I really can’t find the right words, as I write this, to talk about the two to three years that I went adrift. This has turned out to be a more difficult thing to write than I had bargained for. As I think back on where I was, who I was and what I was about. I can tell you this: You don’t learn how to play a ballad from a book, unless you wrote it.

I did forget to mention this (and I don’t mean to be cavalier about it) but my mother killed herself on the same night and the same way as did Marilyn Monroe, on August 5, 1962. As I was accompanying my mother’s remains in a body bag to the waiting LA county coroner’s vehicle, an attendent who was helping — not knowing who I was — said to me, indicating another body on a gurney: “Hey, ya know who this is?” I said no. He said: “It’s Marilyn Monroe, wanna take a look?” I said no. Yeah, it could have been Mort Weiss meets … The song hadn’t been written yet but, when it was, Gilbert O’Sullivan said it so perfectly: Naturally!

I’m not going to leave you at this point, and I will write my next one very soon. In fact, that’s what this one was to be about but, as you know, sometimes stream of consciousness becomes a river. And the next one will be how I worked with and sold gear to many of the top rock bands like Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and Iron Butterfly. The Brits were coming in 1965, with all of their gear — Vox Marshall Stacks, wah wah pedals. I sold all of this stuff to all the major players at the store I worked, Wallich’s Music City at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, California. I’ll throw some names out that I knew: Ernie Ball (Super Slinkys) and his son Sterling. I hung with Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, and recorded with them on an early album. Hey, rockers: Dig!: Fender super twin reverb amps with two 12-inch JBLs in ‘em. Humbucking double-coil Gibson pick ups. Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, with the Flying V Gibson 3. We sold them to him. Same record, Noel Redding on a Hagstrom electric six-string bass. I helped him with that. Vox Super Beatles with four 10-inch Celestion speakers, the ones that used to overheat and the transformer would catch on fire during a demo. Oh, yeah, dude, I was there.

And there is a lot more coming your way. How about some of these stories I’m going to share with you?: My driving a yellow cab in Hollywood at night for a year, and practicing my clarinet at cab stands — in a 1958 Plymouth, no heat or air conditioning. Or getting a call to go to Universal Studios (this was before they turned it in to an amusement park) and, when I get there, they put a very drunk Lee Marvin in the back seat. They gave me $25 and his address in Pacific Palisades, about 30 miles from where we were, with the admonition: “See that he gets home alright!” Uh huh.

There was also driving a good humor ice cream truck with all the fucking bells in the winter (yes, it can get cold in LA) in the heart of the Watts projects, where the Bloods and Crips got their start. Living in board-and-care homes, after headlining in Vegas, with all the broken-down old (very old) drunken winos and derelicts from the street. I had no family or anyone who really cared for or about me, at the time. Part of that was my own fault: I could get pretty wild when I was fucked up! Hence my times spent in many different jails. Those were a ton of laughs! Mort Weiss meets … you fill in the blanks.

All of this from a jazzman? Yep, I’ve worn many a hat! As I look back at some of these articles I’ve done, I realize that I have lived anything but a scripted life. It’s been like all of my records: All first takes! No overdubbing.

Hey, life’s a first take. Isn’t it?

MORT WEISS

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From the All About Jazz review of Mort Weiss’s ‘Raising the Bar,’ September 20, 2010:

The words ‘Raising the Bar’ are bound to strike some as a sort of throwing down of the gauntlet, a challenge more appropriate to a fight or an athletic event than to the art of making music. Yet, when taken in the context of Weiss’ career and life experiences, the title makes perfect sense. After waking up strung-out in a padded cell, nothing to his name (not even a clarinet for the next 40 years), Weiss had nowhere to go but up — if he went anywhere at all. Perhaps the wonder is that he didn’t give up — not just on the music but on life — right then and there.

Mort Weiss

Mort Weiss is a bebop-oriented clarinet player with 11 albums as a leader. During his teens, Weiss studied with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra's Antonio Remondi, and later soloed on several TV programs with the Freddie Martin Orchestra, aka “The Band of Tomorrow.” Since a return to music in 2001, he has worked with Joey DeFrancesco, Dave Carpenter, Roy McCurdy, Luther Hughes, Bill Cunliffe and the late Sam Most. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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