Last month I posted a quick blog announcing the rediscovery—by David de la Vega—of the flexi-disk of “Divine Melody,” an uber-rare single he produced with Eden Ahbez in 1982. The song, however, was recorded over a decade prior, as well as several other tunes written and performed by Ahbez (also produced by De la Vega).
I recently caught up with David for a chat about his friendship and working relationship with “Ahbe” (as calls him). As usual, my favorite part is when he goes anecdotal. Ahbez was nothing if not a character. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Brian Chidester, 01/24/2017
Brian Chidester: You recently found a small stash of Eden Ahbez’s “Divine Melody” single. What can you tell me about that?
David de la Vega: When I produced and pressed the original, in November 1971, it received a little local L.A. airplay, but was difficult as George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” had taken over the airways.
BC: So you think the one’s failure had something to do with the other’s success?
DDLV: Well, that was one factor. Mostly, we failed to get distribution. At that time major distribution was an absolute necessity.
BC: Did you try to distribute it yourself?
DDLV: No, the 45 single was not distributed. I shopped it around for a distribution contract, but all the majors wanted an entire album, not just a single. So “Divine Melody” fell off the scene.
BC: Did you and Eden ever talk about doing a full album?
DDLV: Not that I recall. I don’t think that, at the time, he had enough material for an album.
BC: But then “Divine Melody” was reissued again after 1971, right?
DDLV: In 1982, in San Francisco, I created the “Divine Melody” songcard, with a 33RPM flexi-disk on the inside. The odd product did not seem right for record stores, but did find shelf space in greeting card stores. They were only sold in San Francisco, as I did the distribution myself.
BC: Okay, so let’s back up a minute: how did you first meet Eden?
DDLV: After having built the studio [ed. Artists Recording Studio, est. 1966], I continued working there as an engineer. This was on Cherokee, just off Hollywood Blvd. One day Ahbe walked in the door and said he wanted to record. He paid for studio time for a while, then ran out of cash. Using my position at the studio we continued recording during off hours. This was when I let him stay with me at my home in Studio City.
BC: What do you remember about the B-side, which I believe is titled “Richard Milhous.” It’s on the 1971 version of “Divine Melody.”
DDLV: The lyrics were from Ahbe and directed at the president [ed. Richard Milhous Nixon]. Musically it wasn’t much, but was his attempt to create a “B” side. Most people found it hard to relate to, as it was a personal conversation between Ahbe and the president, and didn’t really involve the rest of us.
BC: There’s another name on the production credits of “Richard Milhous.” It’s listed as “Durkee, Greek, De La Vega, Abba.” I’m assuming Abba is Ahbez himself? Do you remember who Durkee is or was?
DDLV: The drummer. He only came into the studio a few times and I don’t recall his first name. I do seem to remember that he was a friend of John Greek, however.
BC: Could it have been Roy Durkee? He played the drums on a late ’60s psychedelic exploitation album with John Greek called The Happening. The group name was Fire & Ice, Ltd.
DDLV: I’m not 100% positive, but yes, it’s possible.
BC: What about that name: Elefunt Records?
DDLV: I reasoned that an elephant is a symbol of memory, and a record was a memory of a song, so “Elephant” would be a good name for a record company. I just changed the spelling to be different. I discussed it with Ahbe over the kitchen table and he liked the idea. At the time all we had was the billowy letters. The drawing/logo came later.
BC: Any specific memories of the session itself?
DDLV: On the record Ahbe plays a nazard. This was a stop [instrument choice] on a small electric piano we had in the studio; it was not a Moog, as reported in the Wikipedia article. Ahbe played all the instruments except the bass, which was played by John Greek [ed. of the fifties band the Wailers, who’d had a rock-instrumental hit with “Tall Cool One”]. The gong in the middle of the song was Ahbe’s and had been featured in the movie Cleopatra.
BC: Wait, you mean that exact gong?
DDLV: Oh yes, he was very proud of it.
BC: Wow! Crazy! Sorry, okay, continue with the “Divine Melody” session.
DDLV: In the record mastering process [ed. physical master for pressing], the gong vibration created a challenge for the mastering engineers. On a good turntable and audio system the gong is really powerful. Although the flexi-disk is thin, it is actually a very high quality vinyl recording, manufactured by Evatone, who are out of business now.
BC: Any other cool memories of that time?
DDLV: During the time we recorded the song, Ahbe lived with us at my home in Studio City, CA. He set up his handmade drums in our living room and every morning we would wake up at dawn to Ahbe playing this multi-drum set and gong. As has been written, he did prefer to sleep in his van in the parking area, even though we had an extra bedroom.
BC: So this is still 1971 we’re talking about, correct?
DDLV: Yes. I didn’t move to the Bay Area until 1979.
BC: And was there anything else recorded between you two then?
DDLV: “The Clam Man” was recorded in 1972 [ed. this song was reissued on the compilation album Wild Boy: The Lost Songs of Eden Ahbez in 2016]. We might have played around with other songs, but I don’t think anything else was completed, and I can’t find anything in my tape collection.
BC: You and I had talked about a year or so ago about Eden and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. What do you recall of that now?
DDLV: I really don’t remember it clearly, but most likely Ahbe introduced me to Brian, as Ahbe knew everybody in Hollywood. I was not close with Brian, but I was good friends with Jan Berry of Jan & Dean. I did meet a lot of people when I worked the Tannoy Speakers booth at the AES [Audio Engineering Society] conventions. Tannoy speakers were the gold standard for studios and mastering labs. Also my uncle was James B. Lansing [JBL] and my next-door neighbor was Gene Cerwinski [Cerwin-Vega Speakers], so I knew people at virtually every recording studio in the L.A. area.
BC: Any other memories of Eden, or things he might’ve told you?
DDLV: I remember Ahbe recalling the painful story of when his son Zoma asked if he could try a hamburger. Ahbe and his wife Anna had raised Zoma as a vegetarian, but Zoma really wanted to taste a burger. So Ahbe finally agreed to take him to a big restaurant in Hollywood. As was usually the case, as soon as they walked in the door, the whole place fell silent. Everybody knew who he was and was interested; but Ahbe kept his word and Zoma got his burger. He really liked it! Ahbe was crestfallen!