On the road with Sonny Charles, learning to dance, and much more

When I was in The Los Angeles cast of “HAIR”, I was in a terrible car accident on my way to Las Vegas to surprise my mom for her birthday.I was leaving Baker, California, and the wind was really kicking up badly. My boyfriend Tony Good was getting tired and I said I would take the wheel.

Tony was the manager of North Beach Leather on Sunset Blvd., and we were together for about a year.  We had a very small English car, right hand drive, and the wind really blew it around.

I vaguely remember losing control of the steering wheel, and waking Tony with my screaming. We were off the highway, on the sand, spinning around and skidding at a very high speed. That is the last thing I remember  before waking up four days later at UMC Hospital in Las Vegas. I had been in a coma.

My leg was broken in three places, my ribs and lungs collapsed. I had a neck brace on and a lot of cactus in my limbs. Tony had shoulder and arm injuries, but wasn’t as injured as me. A passing truck driver had spotted our upside down car off a reveene with the headlights still on, he pulled over and started looking for people. He called 911 and we were transported to Vegas.

Tony was on a different floor, and they wheel-chaired him to see me. He told me that at that same night our best friend Frank had died of an overdose. He was devastated. Frankie owned Head East Jeans on Sunset and La Cienega, Tony had manged that until North Beach Leather grabbed him away.

Many of my Hair buddies came to Vegas,to see us.Teddy Neeley, being one, he was so sweet  to do that. Tony’s other  friend Cliff who lived with Frankie, moved in with us when we returned to Los Angeles. We had a beautiful little house in the Hollywood Bowl hills and it had about a hundred stairs, so we had to find a new house.

Tony went home while I recouped at mom and dad’s in Vegas. He found a great house in Nichols Canyon in a cul de sac with a stream running through it. he did all the moving and I never saw the Hollywood Bowl house again.

I had a lot of recouperating to do. HAIR was closing, they let me do the last show on crutches and sing “Frank MIlls”. Everyone either went on to “Jesus Christ Superstar” or the Mercury Tour of HAIR. I lived in that house on the mountain, on disability.

In time, everything was spiraling, and Cliff died of an overdose. Then his girfiriend killed herself over his death. It was a time when I started acting classes. I was with Justin Smith right there on Santa Monica and La Cienega. I loved classes. In my class was Michelle Phillips, and Helen Reddy.

It started to distance me from Tony though. We hung in there for another year. We became close to former “Berger” In HAIRRed Shepard, and his girlfriend Karalee Phillips. They had a rented mansion with an elevator and huge kitchen where we would throw a lot a parties. Keith Carradine, and a lot of actors of that generation were at the parties. Red had started Revolution Records with Michael Butlers help. I sang on a lot of the sessions.Keeping up with the likes of Clydie King and others was a challenge.

On a trip to Vegas to see my family, I stopped into Gus Gallo’s, a local club with live music. I sang with the band, and Sonny Charles of the Checkmates asked for my number. Sweet Louie, Sonny’s bandmate, was in prison at the time. Sonny was traveling alone with a band.

Shortly after that, Sonny called from Fort Wayne, Indiana, could I come right away and be a back up singer with his niece Regina Warfield. Tony and I were done by then, and off I flew to a wonderful adventure.

When I got there, I found out the drummer, Billy ,was a student of daddy’s.  Every night after a show, Regina and I were off to Sonny’s room for dance class. How fun was that?

Also, the golf courses were a big part of Sonny’s road life.I would caddy for him a lot, and learned the game. The shows were fun, exciting, and always brilliant.  One night Sonny asked me to his room and we talked and spent a lot of hours together. we got very close and I have always cherished my one night with him. After a few months on the road, I got close to the bass player, Jim Strauss.

Jim was a tall, skinny, Jesus look-a-like! He was from Los Angeles. and his girlfriend at home was on a big billboard all over the city as the bikini’d babe on the Coppertone ad. Then she appeared in a clothing pictorial for men’s clothes in Playboy magazine. I had a huge crush on him but knew I wasn’t in his league. Well, he returned my crush and we began a relationship.

Despite his girfriend Peggy! Shame on me,, I was young and that was not right. Peggy was so nice, she let us stay at her house when we got to Los Angeles. AWKWARD! when she was out of the house, the anwswering machine for her was ringing with calls from Warren Beatty! She was going to be fine!

Jim and I got our own place in Hollywood, near Sunset and starting keeping house. Sonny stopped touring, and I found a job with a band called “The Sunshine Company” I was now on the road and Jim stayed in Los Angeles.

Let me teach you something that took me a long time to figure out. When a guy cheats on his girlfriend with you, he will also do it to you. He did and I learned the hard way, life lessons.

My one night with Sonny was always a bright spot on my heart and I have never talked about it. It was just a moment and something that seemed right and that is all it was. I remember his mama’s cornbread, sweet potato pie, and those lovely visits to Fort Wayne. I remember the whole band seeing “Play Misty For Me” together one afternoon.  I remember when Sonny played the Hammond B3 and sang “Your Song” and gave me chills every night.

Now he is with the Steve Miller band. and what a thrill for people to still see and hear this great performer. Try not to miss them if you get a chance. This was one of my greatest memories of the business and my youth. I am one lucky girl!

Jessica Marciel
Las Vegas Vocal Training

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