I started my freshman year at UCLA in early September 1970, and during the first week I responded to an ad in the UCLA Daily Bruin looking for writers for the entertainment section of the paper. I’d already been published in Rolling Stone, Fusion and lots of other places while still in high school, so I figured I’d be pretty hot shit to them. The first person I met there was Jim Bickhart, who had graduated but still hung around as editor. He’d been writing for some of the same publications, had more impressive credentials than me, and grilled me on my tastes in music. I made the cut, but felt taken down a peg.
I met some of the other Daily Bruin music writers, past and present, including Richard Cromelin, Melissa Mills and Harold Bronson, all of whom were at least as obsessive about music as I was, but could express themselves better. Harold had already recorded with his ad-hoc band Mogen David & His Winos (which at one time included Bickhart and Jonathan Kellerman, who after college became a psychologist and then one of the best-selling novelists in the world). They’d rehearse after hours in the Daily Bruin offices, and it wasn’t long before I got pulled into their orbit. Harold had already issued a Winos single, which he’d sold at the UCLA record store and any independent record stores that would take them on consignment. (He tells me Ron Mael was a clerk at the UCLA store at the time, gestating his own group Halfnelson – later to become Sparks.)
I started writing songs with Harold, who aspired to sing like a combination of Ray Davies, Mick Jagger and Roger Daltrey (and who didn’t?). My rudimentary rhythm guitar skills complemented his “mod” approach, and sounded suitably grungy beside the lead guitar of Paul Rappaport, who was then the campus rep for Columbia Records and went on to a long career with them after graduation. I acquired the nickname “Punk” based on my interest in groups like The Standells, The Troggs and The MC5, an enthusiasm Harold shared.
Listening to those early Leviton-Bronson songs now, I don’t think they are very good, but they did attract some interest from professional musicians. Cub Koda of Brownsville Station once considered recording our tune “Party Games,” one of a series of songs about how we thought girls were shallow and should sleep with guys like us more often. Rockcrit “Metal” Mike Saunders’ band The Angry Samoans used to perform the same song live and released a low-fi version on Live at Rhino Records which chronicled their mid-1979 in-store performance.
In 1973 Harold cobbled together an album’s worth of material Savage Young Winos (Kosher Records KOSR-001), including early recordings like the Winos version of “Nose Job” (the Mad Magazine novelty song) and some recent live material he’d recorded at one of our few real Winos gigs (at a private party). I was away at college in Birmingham, England when the album was being planned, so Harold invited me to record something and send it over to him to overdub. I wrote what I thought was a funny song about the Daily Bruin called “The Berkowitz Blues” (Stan Berkowitz was one of my editors) and recorded the basic tracks at the home of Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention, who I used to hang out with a bit. In L.A., Harold had Stan record an accompaniment on typewriter, which sounded great, and made it the last track on the album. The back cover had a photo of me (titled “Punk Abroad”) surrounded by adoring girls recruited from my dorm. Harold included lots of Live At Leeds-style memorabilia in the gatefold jacket (including a failed music theory test) and pressed about a thousand copies. I think he managed to sell most of them over the next few decades, while he was working at Richard Foos’ new Rhino Records store on Westwood Blvd., co-founding the record label of the same name, and becoming a media mogul.
Harold and I continued writing together when I moved to the college town of Claremont, on the outskirts of the L.A. area, in 1974. Having acquired no real marketable skills at UCLA, at the suggestion of my fiancé Linda I convinced Foos to open a second Rhino Records store and let me run it. Our songwriting improved a lot. Under the name The Low Numbers (The Who’s original moniker was The High Numbers), with a whole new group of musical confederates, we released a punky single “Shok Treetments” b/w “Try It” in 1976. The original song on the A-side had spelling inspired by Slade, and the B-side was an old Standells tune. My wife took the b&w pic-sleeve photo in which we tried to look hard and mostly failed. By 1978 Harold had enough accumulated recordings to issue Twist Again With The Low Numbers as Rhino Records LP #4, and it contained seven of our songs (including “1977 Sunset Strip,” “Elementary Doctor Watson,” “Little Miss Quote” and “The Prom Bombed”) and versions of recent punk/new wave songs we admired (The Kursaal Flyers’ “Original Model,” Graham Parker’s “Hotel Chambermaid” and The Jam’s “In the City” among them). Harold also threw on a previous Winos single, “All The Wrong Girls Like Me” b/w “The Savage Surf” so the album would be long enough. As with Savage Young Winos I wasn’t in the front cover photo, so over the years I’ve been spared the adoring crowds fighting for my autograph, thank goodness.
Many years later Harold arranged for a Winos reunion and recording session, and filmed the whole thing. It was great fun. We recorded a song by an obscure Toronto band The Pursuit of Happiness he’d picked out called “I’m An Adult Now.” Reunited with Paul and the other guys, we sounded just like we did in ’73, for better or worse. It was included as the last cut on Tales From The Rhino, a 1995 double-CD compilation of tracks across the entire history of the Rhino label.
I haven’t recorded anything since, and while I still have ideas for songs, in the past 15 years I’ve never finished one. My son Michael’s the musician in the family now, and he’s a lot better than I ever was.