Friday, October 03, 2008

The Jeffersons Meet The Gong Show

Sherman Helmsley a Gong Fan? Who Knew?

In the late '70s, I was a fan of all things Gong - be it Chuck Barris' The Gong Show or Daevid Allen's trippy-hippy-dippy musical troupe called Gong - during my "progressive" phase. Gong was an Anglo-French space-rock ensemble that dabbled in Far Eastern mysticism while creating a stoner mythology on vinyl about Zero the Hero and his pothead pixie pals zooming around the cosmos in their flying teapots (aka, The Radio Gnome Trilogy: Flying Teapot, Angel Egg and You). Back in 1978, a bunch of us drove up to New York to see Daevid Allen at the avant-rock-experimental Zu Manifestival, and in 1979 I saw Gong perform at Johns Hopkins University, a gig at which my old bandmate Adolf Kowalski promoted our group by canvasing the campus with Thee Katatonix graffitti - promptly getting us banned from JHU! After the show, my ex-wife and I even got our photo taken with Allen (a founding member of UK prog-rockers Soft Machine) and his missus, Gilli Smith (aka Shakti Yoni). Anyway...Gong came up because a friend forwarded me this bizarre story about the group that I initially thought was some urban legend. But it looks to be true. This tale proves that you can't judge a book by its cover.

By Mitch Myers (June 10, 2008)

I once interviewed musician Daevid Allen at a recording studio in San Francisco. Back in the 1960s, he was (briefly) a member of the wonderfully creative British band Soft Machine, but Daevid ended up forming his own strange psychedelic group called Gong.

During his life, Daevid Allen has hung out with everybody from William Burroughs and Jimi Hendrix to Bud Powell, Paul McCartney, Syd Barrett, Keith Richards, Richard Branson and a whole bunch of other famous people that he can’t remember.

One famous person Daevid does recall spending time with is Sherman Hemsley AKA George Jefferson of the 70s sitcom “The Jeffersons.” Sherman had been a jazz keyboardist long before portraying George Jefferson on television, and his progressive sensibilities led him to appreciate the offbeat sounds of Daevid Allen and Planet Gong. Apparently, cosmic Gong compositions like “Flying Teapot” and “Pot Head Pixies” really resonated with the TV star’s psyche.

Years after David’s brief encounter with Sherman Hemsley, the actor would go on collaborate with Jon Anderson, lead singer of the prog-rock group Yes. Their joint musical production was entitled “Festival of Dreams” and supposedly described the spiritual qualities of the number 7.

Anyway, here is Daevid Allen’s verbatim account of his sole meeting with certified Gong fanatic, Sherman Hemsley:

“It was 1978 or 1979 and Sherman Hemsley kept ringing me up, I didn’t know him from a bar of soap because we didn’t have television in Spain. He called me from Hollywood saying, ‘I’m one of your biggest fans and I’m going to fly you here and put flying teapots all up and down the Sunset Strip.’ I thought, ‘This guy is a lunatic.’ He kept it up so I said, ‘Listen, can you get us tickets to LA via Jamaica? I want to go there to make a reggae track and have a honeymoon with my new girlfriend.’ He said, ‘Sure! I’ll get you two tickets.’

I thought, ‘Well, even if he’s a nut case at least he’s coming up with the goodies.’ The tickets arrived and we had this great honeymoon in Jamaica. Then we caught the plane across to LA. We had heard Sherman was a big star, but we didn’t know the details. Coming down the corridor from the plane, I see this black guy with a whole bunch of people running after him trying to get autographs. Anyway, we get into this stretch limousine with Sherman and immediately there’s a big joint being passed around. I say, ‘Sorry man, I don’t smoke.’ Sherman says, ‘You don’t smoke and you’re from Gong?’

Inside the front door of Sherman’s house was a sign saying, ‘Don’t answer the door because it might be the man.’ There were two Puerto Ricans that had a LSD laboratory in his basement, so they were really paranoid. They also had little crack/freebase depots on every floor. Then Sherman says, ‘C’mon upstairs and I’ll show you the Flying Teapot room.’ Sherman was very sweet, but was surrounded by these really crazy people.

We went up to the top floor and there was this big room with darkened windows and “Flying Teapot” is playing on a tape loop over and over again. There were also three really dumb looking, very voluptuous Southern gals stoned and wobbling around naked. They were obviously there for the guys to play around with.

[My girlfriend] Maggie and I were really tired and went to our room to go to bed. The room had one mattress with an electric blanket and that was it. No bed covering, no pillow, nothing. The next day we came down and Sherman showed us a couple of [The Jeffersons] episodes.

One of our fans came and rescued us, but not before Sherman took us to see these Hollywood PR people. They said, ‘Well, Mr. Hemsley wants us to get the information we need in order to do these Flying Teapot billboards on Sunset Strip.’ I looked at them and thought they were the cheesiest, most nasty people that I had ever seen in my life and I gave them the runaround. I just wanted out of there.”

I liked Sherman a lot,’ He was a very personable, charming guy. I just had a lot of trouble with the people around him.”

After completing this essay, I ran the text through a computerized spell check. Upon encountering Daevid Allen’s first name, the “(Word Services) Apple Events Spellswell7” instructed me to replace "Daevid" with the word "teapot." Somewhere in Silicone Valley, a very clever Gong fan is laughing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just telling that Katatonix graffiti story the other day! Tom left out the nice mural HE DREW in the mens room...
go to www.katatonix .com and
watch for 3 new Katatonix cds coming soon !

8:58 AM  

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