Duane Allman’s mouth dropped open. I could see it all the way from up on the stage. His long blonde muttonchops dipped down, almost dusting his paisley pointed shirt collar. He could not believe what he was seeing. He had come down from Macon and dropped by the Bethlehem Asylum’s coming out party at a deconsecrated church in South Miami to give us some moral support.
“It was the scariest thang I ever saw. Me and Red Dog, we got outathere!” He said later.
BAM! Out go the lights…
1971. It was a packed church of record company executives from every label; Capitol, London, EMI, Mercury, Polygram, Warner, RCA, Columbia and over a dozen other companies, all dancing frenetically in the middle of the trashed cathedral. The folding chairs had been discarded as had most of the clothing on most of the record executives. It was a sweltering hot Miami night. The air conditioning kept blowing fuses because the camera lights were draining too much power, and also, there was enough LSD in the drinks to blow everyone’s mind. Electric Larry was a clown type of figure in the Grove; riding a mini bicycle, sporting bright red frizzy hair, wearing circus type clothing. He was Bozo the clown. Harmless. But tonight he took over the bar from Rick and dosed everyone with LSD. Bethlehem Asylum had no idea this was happening. They were backstage drinking Sprite.
Howard was presenting the band to the world in style. He was semi-retired after running the Cafe Au Go-Go in Greenwitch Village for many years. He also handled business affairs for the legendary recluse singer/songwriter Fred Neil. Fred had written “Everybody’s Talking”, the theme for the Midnight Cowboy movie. No, it was NOT written by Nilson. If you want to hear the way it should be sung, listen to Fred’s baritone twelve string version. Fred had also written “Candyman” for Roy Orbison and many other great songs. He was keeping a very low profile in Coconut Grove with occasional trips up to Woodstock. If he ever decided to play music again, Howard was ready; state-of-the-art Ampex four track portable recording machine; larger than a Maytag on wheels. Tonight the four track was ready to capture the Bethlehem Asylum’s historic debut. Plus Ron’s 16mm film crew with lots of lights to capture the magic of the Asylum’s live show. The venue was unique to say the least. The church stained glass windows had been bricked up, the pews replaced by folding chairs and there was a portable wet bar. A large stage with lights and sound system was built up from the alter….
The first couple of songs went well, the crowd was a little stiff. But then record executives were notorious for being unresponsive to even the greatest group’s heated performances. It was a sign of being too hip or something. “Bam!” The circuit breakers blew. The film lights were too draining on the old circuitry in the church. The air conditioning also stopped. We retired to the backstage dressing room and the audience went to the bar. When we returned to the stage after the breaker switches had cooled down, everyone was willing to give it another try. We started playing and the audience started to loosen up. They were drinking heavily from the bar. It was a hot and humid night in Miami.
“Bam!” The circuit breakers blew again. The lights were sucking up electricity and sending out heat. We again retired to the backstage dressing room and waited for the circuits to cool down. By the next set, if we hadn’t been so self absorbed, we would have noticed something odd happening. The audience was REALLY getting down. They were taking their ties off, their shoes, their socks, their dresses, pants. “Bam!” We left the stage and the crowd groaned in coitus interruptus. They had been dancing and swaying to the beat; most un-executive like. We came out again, the scene was now Hieronymous Bosch; Garden of Earthly Delights. People were getting very casual, removing most of their clothing. It was very humid and hot in the cathedral. We played some more and they got going. It was a great night. But a very weird audience. I caught a glimpse of an unsettled Duane Allman at the back of the cathedral, by the vestibule with Mike our long time friend and original manager. Then the place went dark again with another circuit outage. We went backstage and waited one more time. The final time on the stage, we looked out at chaos. The chairs were thrown to the sides, clothing and people were strewn about as if a hurricane had passed through. People were wandering around with the thousand yard stare.
We ended as best we could. The music industry executives still present looked totally wasted. We were sweating and hungry so we collected Mike, our manager and headed for Steak and Eggs in the middle of the night down on Dixie Hiway. After we all sat down, I noticed Mike sitting very quietly with his Cheshire grin slightly lopsided. His pupils were pin pricks. “Are you tripping?” I asked him.
“Everyone was.” He said pulling hand fulls of cash from his pockets and dumping the booty on the table along side the pancakes. “We all got dosed by Electric Larry.”
“What’s all this money?” I asked.
“People just gave me money as they were leaving. All I could do was stuff it in my pockets.”