Dangerous Minds pal, Chris Campion’s fascinating liner notes for More Of Cake Please
Three teenage girls are discovered singing along to records in a New York night club by two hotshot managers. They are rushed into a recording studio, signed up to a major label deal and whisked off to Hollywood in a matter of weeks where they are treated like stars and consort with rock royalty. It sounds like a story spun from myth. But all this did happen and more. The story of The Cake is one of the last great untold stories of the 60s; a real life ‘Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls’.
The Cake were the daughters of Sgt Pepper, a girl group baroque who wrote psychedelic madrigals and sang blue-eyed soul with rock ‘n’ roll attitude. This trio of brash and beautiful teenage New York City girls ’ Jeanette Jacobs, Barbara Morillo and Eleanor Barooshian ‘jumped onto the rollercoaster of the 60s music scene just as it hit its peak and spiraled into a downward curve. The Cake were formed in ‘66 and baked by ‘68, releasing 2 albums that have been cherished ever since by music enthusiasts as curios of the time. But their importance goes far beyond that.
Creatively, stylistically, and in terms of sheer attitude, The Cake were way ahead of their time. They were the first girl group to write original material as a group, and the first to have it released on a major label. This was not just a novelty at the time it was completely unheard of. They were also the first to break free of the stylistic yoke imposed by producers, songwriters and managers. In doing so, they bridged the gap between the pliable male fantasy of 60s girl groups and the advent of 70s girl bands who were doing it for themselves. The Cake are the missing link between The Ronettes and The Runaways, the Shangri-Las and the Go-Gos.
Accepted as equals by their peers in the rock world, The Cake palled around and were partnered with Jimi Hendrix, Skip Spence and members of The Animals. They also sang with Dr. John and The Soft Machine. Songs were not only written by them, but about them! The group had its origins somewhere far more mundane.
The Cake were formed in a New York bathroom; two bathrooms, in fact, located several months apart in the heady summer of 1966. The first is somewhere in Manhattan, where 16-year-old Jeanette Jacobs and 18-year-old Barbara Morillo find themselves sharing a mirror in an apartment that both of them are strangers to.
‘Being teenagers, both of us had stayed over at someone’s house,’ Barbara recalls. ‘Me, after hanging out at a disco. I don’t know where Jeanette had been and we weren’t even sure whose house it was. We just both woke up and were kind of in the bathroom at the same time. We hit it off really well; there was a chemistry immediately.’
Barbara moved in with Jeanette, who lived at her father’s apartment in Astoria, Queens. They began writing songs together straight away, trading lines back and forth and then laying them down on a reel-to-reel with layered vocal harmonies. ‘I thought it would be better if we had three parts, like in a choir,’ says Barbara, who had sung alto as a child in a Lutheran church choir. ‘It would make it more complete and we could do more things. So we decided we’d like to find somebody else. Fortune brought us Eleanor’.
One night they ended up at The Scene, a midtown Manhattan venue that had become one of the hippest after hours clubs in the city. The Scene was a regular haunt for 16-year old Eleanor Barooshian, a slight, cute-as-a-button blonde with a big voice and a ballsy attitude. She had befriended the club’s flamboyant impresario Steve Paul and could often be found performing there, running through a riotous little routine with house act Tiny Tim. They sang a role-reversed version of the Sonny & Cher duet, I Got You Babe. The sight of a young girl singing baritone to a ghastly-looking fellow with a shrieking falsetto brought the house down every time.
‘We just did it as a lark,’ says Eleanor, now known as Chelsea Lee. ‘Everybody liked it so much it became a thing. People would ask, ‘Are you and Tiny singing tonight?’ The same routine was later immortalized in Peter Yarrow and Barry Feinstein’s impressionistic 1967 documentary, You Are What You Eat.
‘The whole idea of a relationship between Tiny Tim and a young teenybopper was inconceivable,’ says Yarrow. ‘It was like a Dadaistic expression. A teacup lined with fur. [That performance] was about the absurdity of that conjunction on one level and yet, at the same time, it was highly sympathetic.’
After seeing Eleanor perform, Barbara and Jeanette approached her in the bathroom and asked her to join their group. ‘I realized she had a very quick ear,’ says Barbara. ‘She could do the harmony right away. It had a really nice blend and a nice energy.’
In short order, Eleanor also moved in with Jeanette and came up with a name, The Cake. ‘It just sounded feminine,’ she says. Being the 60s, the first thing they did together was drop acid. ‘We did that to become really one as a group,’ says Chelsea. ‘The three of us went to Central Park South together, but Jeanette got very ill and Barbara and I had to keep telling her how beautiful she was. We went to a friends place in the village and Jeanette was throwing-up! But it did make us tight ’ we’d only just met!
They made their first public appearances performing at The Scene between Tiny Tim and the Chambers Brothers. But the girls were filled with an energy that was so irrepressible, they ran around New York City singing their songs to anyone who would listen and acquiring new friends in the process. ‘Every day was a show for us,’ says Chelsea. ‘We sang for everyone. In the middle of the street, in the clubs, everywhere.’
Among the people they charmed with their singing was Jimi Hendrix. At the time, he was just another face in the village and still undiscovered, playing R&B covers as a sideman to Curtis Knight & The Squires. ‘Jimi always used to say our songs soothed him,’ says Chelsea. ‘He and Jeanette had a thing,’ adds Barbara, ‘so we ended up staying with Jimi a bunch instead of going home. He’d say, “I’ll get a room and we can all stay together.’‘
Barbara managed to inadvertently bag herself a rock star boyfriend too: ‘I met Hilton Valentine from The Animals one night at Ondine’s. He just came in with these crystal rose glasses on. He looked like so much fun and, you know, he asked me to go for a walk with him. He was my first boyfriend.’
Located in a basement, right underneath the on ramp for the 59th Street bridge, Ondine Discotheque ’ known to all and sundry as Ondine’s ’ was the crucible of New York’s early club scene. All the hottest bands played there ’ between 1965-67, the Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Animals and Buffalo Springfield all came through in a blur, either to perform or just to party there ’ and all the hippest kids came to see them. The club was so small there was no division between the two.
The girls were regulars there too. ‘We were all under age and didn’t even drink,’ says Chelsea, ‘but they let us in free because three pretty girls would attract business!’
One night early in 1967, the girls went out to Ondine’s to see a hotly-tipped band from Portland, Washington called The Daily Flash, who had their managers in tow. At the time, Charles Greene and Brian Stone were the hottest management team around. The ballsiest pair of hucksters and the greatest hype men ever to grace the music business, they had an astounding amount of commercial success in the music industry from the mid-to-late ‘60s. In 1967, Greene and Stone were still coasting off the pop success of Sonny & Cher, who they had guided to worldwide fame two years earlier. They had also landed Buffalo Springfield a deal with Atlantic Records and would soon pick up a heavy rock band called Iron Butterfly.
‘Nobody really operated on a ‘two of us’ type of basis the way that Greene and Stone did,’ says Sandy Dvore, the graphic artist who designed trade ads and sleeves for the pair’s acts. ‘They were known for that. Greene & Stone were high visibility and personality-plus. They were definitely rock ‘n’ roll. And they were out to gouge themselves a chunk of the music industry.’
‘Greene and Stone saw us dancing and singing along to the music at Ondine’s,’ continues Chelsea. ‘Charlie Greene invited me to his table. Not for that though ’ he fancied me! I told him I had a girl group and we went outside to sing for them. Charlie flipped.’
‘Immediately they were like, “Oh! We’ve got to get you guys in the studio?’’ Barbara adds. ‘“We’ve got a deal for you.’‘
The next day, the girls were hustled into the studio to record a demo over an existing backing track; a medley of R&B cuts ’ including Walking The Dog, Something’s Got A Hold On Me, Big Boy Pete ’ far removed from their own a cappella songs.
Before Greene and Stone left for LA, Eleanor hooked up with Charlie. ‘Lost my virginity to him,’ she reveals. ‘He was married. I was smitten and could see no wrong in whatever he did. I had to call him collect every day from a phone booth to find out when they were coming back to NYC.’ When they did, two months later, Greene and Stone already had a deal in place for The Cake with Decca.
Prior to that, a New York character called Ronnie Lyons had expressed interest in managing them. ‘He was going to try and get us together with all these females who were hanging around the groups all the time and call it The Groupie Choir,’ says Barbara. ‘I said, “I don’t even know if these girls can sing, Ronnie?’ I had something a little more intimate in mind.’ Through Peter Yarrow, Lyons hooked the girls up with The Band, who were to work with them on music to accompany their songs. They had also provided the backing for Eleanor and Tiny Tim’s performance in You Are What You Eat.
After meeting Greene and Stone, all that changed. ‘Here’s the thing,’ says Barbara. ‘They said ‘Hollywood’. And we were California dreamin’ New York kids who grew up in cold winters. We told Peter Yarrow to tell The Band, we think we’re going to head west and sign this other deal.’ And that’s what they did.
In Hollywood, Greene and Stone first set them up with a place to live. First, an apartment behind Grauman’s Chinese Theatre ’ Ray Manzarek and his wife lived in the same building ’ then a house in the Hollywood Hills that was fit for a movie star. It even belonged to one ’ TV actor Vince Edwards, the rugged star and titular hero of 60s medical drama, Ben Casey. The house sat at the end of a small private road, a short but steep climb up into the hills from Sunset Strip, and offered a spectacular view of the city.
‘It was a round house,’ says DJ and perennial LA scenester, Rodney Bingenheimer, ‘you know, like the Cake!’ Bingenheimer ’ who was known to the girls as ‘What’s-happening-Rodney’ ’ was a frequent visitor to the house, along with his buddy 15-year old ‘kid photographer’ Ed Caraeff (AKA ‘Photos-by-Ed’).
‘I remember that they had an air about them,’ says Caraeff, who took one of the most iconic photographs in rock history ’ Hendrix burning his guitar at Monterey. ‘They had a pop star elite air,’ he continues. ‘They always seemed to be ‘on’. Very cute. Very fashionable.’
Whenever they were in town, Eric Burdon and Jimi Hendrix would often drop by to hang out and drop acid. ‘We had so much acid it used to fall off the top shelf of our closet!’ says Chelsea. ‘Our place was a refuge from all the parties and the assholes that threw them, like the Monkees. Jimi and Eric would sneak out of all the parties with us. We were sort of their excuses to leave. They virtually lived at the house with us.’
When it came to planning the first move for The Cake, Greene and Stone picked out a song by Jack Nitzsche and Jackie DeShannon. Baby, That’s Me had previously been cut as an album track by Lesley Gore and as a single by early 60s doo wop girl group, The Fashions (also known as The Clickettes). By comparison, The Cake’s version sounds positively psychedelic, with a Wall Of Sound-style production so overblown it sounds like Greene and Stone were trying to ‘out-Spector’ Spector.
A Nitzsche-DeShannon song, Greene and Stone well knew, signified songwriting class. But the sentiments behind Baby, That’s Me proved too goody-goody innocent for Barbara: ‘It’s a beautifully-written song. I just couldn’t get behind the words a hundred percent. I thought it was a little bit young for us. We were New York rebel girls.’
True enough, the lyrics ’ about a high school wallflower obsessively idealizing her love for an unobtainable boy ’ ply territory that seems like a throwback to the 50s.
‘I started challenging the direction from the first rehearsal,’ Barbara admits. ‘I wasn’t even sure that we were going to do our songs, so I just wound up fighting’ a lot. At that age, I was just in the mode of rebelling. I really didn’t like somebody pushing something on me that I felt didn’t fit in a sincere way.’
‘Greene and Stone were trying to make us into white Ronettes,’ explains Chelsea Lee. The irony being that The Cake were anything but vanilla. Jeanette’s parents were Greek and African-American, Eleanor was an Armenian Jew, and Barbara had Puerto-Rican and German blood. That and their individual sense of style gave them a look that was in sharp contrast to the girl groups before them who, more often than not, were made up of blood relatives and styled as a homogeneous unit.
Greene and Stone made sure the first session at Gold Star was a splashy occasion. Cher was brought in to sing backing vocals. Hendrix, Eric Burdon and Hilton Valentine all dropped by to watch and show support. And a first class team of musicians was assembled under the stewardship of Sonny & Cher arranger, Harold Battiste.
Battiste was a hip cat from New Orleans and a brilliant musician. With his bald head and large two-tone beard, he looked like a jazz age sage. He often employed a pack of ex-pat players from ‘The Big Easy’, including Mac Rebennack (AKA juju man Dr. John), his sometime songwriting partner Jessie ‘Poo’ Hill, drummer John Boudreaux and saxophonist Plas Johnson. Other musicians were drawn from the pool of veteran LA session players. They included viola player Darrel Terwilliger (who had played on Love’s Forever Changes), ‘first lady of bass’ Carol Kaye, percussionist Gene Estes, keys man Michel Rubini, Leland Postil (AKA Mike Post) and guitarist Donald Peake.
With it’s spacey production and glacial reserve, Baby, That’s Me traded on Phil Spector’s trademark sound. But, with Battiste onboard, Greene and Stone were able to achieve something that was beyond even Spector: augmenting the classic girl group sound with black R&B rhythms. They ended up with a signature ‘wall of sound’ production driven by an swampy New Orleans swing. Similarly, the other two tracks cut during that session ’ World Of Dreams, a Mac Rebennack composition previously-cut by Tami Lynn for Battiste’s AFO Records, and Bill Cook’s You Can Have Him (as recorded by Charlie Rich and Dionne Warwick among others) ’ were also underpinned by intoxicating rhythms and swimming in echo. The next three cuts to be recorded for the album set a very different tone.
An orchestra tunes up. The conductor taps his baton. A voice cuts in over the studio intercom: ‘OK, maestro, when you’re ready’ This is Medieval Love, take one.’
This little interlude introduced the suite of self-written compositions at the heart of The Cake’s debut album ’ Medieval Love, Fire Fly and Rainbow Wood. Together these three songs established the ethereal, otherworldly mood of The Cake and seemed to belong to another time and place. They were quite unlike anything else being recorded at the time; extraordinary songs by any standards, but especially so considering that Jeanette, Barbara and Eleanor wrote them as teenagers.
The girls didn’t write songs in any conventional sense. They made them up on the fly as they sang, intuitively working out the vocal harmonies and then committing them to tape as soon as possible. ‘We never sat down and said, OK, let’s write a song,’ Chelsea explains. ‘We could be anywhere and just start singing. How the hell we remembered them, I will never know! Especially our melody and harmonies.’
The Beatles had Norwegian Wood. The Cake had Rainbow Wood, a song with lyrics even more oblique than anything the Fab Four were to muster. The title though is easily explained. ‘Jeanette was the original “dream girl’,’ says Chelsea. ‘She lived in a city housing project called Ravenswood and just renamed it. It was her dream of making the housing project something beautiful in her mind.’
Jeanette Jacobs lived with her father Buster, a retired black ex-serviceman, in the Ravenswood Housing Project in the predominantly Greek-American neighbourhood of Astoria, Queens. Buster’s tiny apartment provided a home away from home for Jeanette’s girlfriends.
‘We used to come back at 4.30 in the morning after being out at clubs all night,’ recalls Michele Overman, another friend of Jeanette’s from that period who also crashed at the apartment on occasion. ‘By the time we’d wake up, at one o’ clock, all our clothes had been dry-cleaned and there would be this huge meal on the table: fried chicken, mashed potatoes and big glasses of soda with ice. He would stick money in our pockets too. He was a very sweet man.’
‘Buster slept in the living room on the couch,’ adds Chelsea. ‘We all slept in the bedroom on one bed. We wrote a lot of the songs in the small kitchen there during the night or after coming back from a club.’
‘They were just little stories we made up,’ Barbara says of their songs ’ mysterious little elegies to romantic melancholy, driven by the kind of yearning that feasts upon fertile teenage minds. Made up of bundles of memories and feelings wrapped in allusive poetry, the songs were fragrant and fey but far from fanciful, being rooted in the real-life experiences of the girls as they raced around New York. The songs were bundles of memories and feelings wrapped in allusive poetry.
‘We wrote everything in code,’ says Chelsea. ‘But did it just to be funny and witty. I remember writing the line [in Fire Fly] about ‘green goblets’ because we were at Jeanette’s father’s place and he had these green goblets that we drank our soda from!’
The allusions to people and places they encountered could often be quite specific, as evidenced by the following lines from Fire Fly:
The big grey cat climbs up
to find out what we chat about’
The big grey cat stumbles and falls,
she finds out that she’s not so tall
‘The big grey cat’ was their name for New York super groupie Devon Wilson, reputedly the inspiration for Hendrix’s song Dolly Dagger. ‘Devon used to want to poke into everyone’s business,’ Chelsea explains. ‘She was the head-mistress of the groupies!! But she could not fuck with us and this annoyed her. She would try to listen in on our conversations at The Scene, so we wrote that lyric ’ meaning she found out nothing. A groupie is a groupie, not someone to be admired.’
By the time they came to record the songs, the New York groupies could do them no harm, but their antics were kept in state of suspended animation within the songs. The musical score that Harold Battiste came up with to accompany them also seemed to be pulsating with life. His staggering neo-classical arrangements ’ woven from a rich tapestry of harpsichord, woodwind and strings ’ were at once pretty and ornate but also tensile and edgy.
‘The range of their stuff is just amazing,’ Battiste told reporter Gene Hurley at the time. ‘They go from hard rock to Gregorian chant, and it’s not easy for an arranger to retain the native sensitivity of the girl’s songs.’
‘Harold Battiste didn’t know what the hell to do with our songs,’ says Chelsea Lee. ‘He said that we sent him back to school with our harmonies!’
‘I can see I might have said something like that,’ says Battiste, whose specific memories of working with The Cake are now limited. ‘It was interesting music, I remember that, very interesting. They were different. They sounded like they wanted to be in the baroque period. I remember I had to write what was almost like chamber music for them. Semi-classical sounding European music.’
Battiste would take the reel-to-reel tapes containing the girls’ a cappella vocals, transcribe them into sheet music and then set about constructing elaborate musical arrangements around them. But come the day of the session ’ June 19, 1967 ’ the girls were not in the freshest state to sing their songs.
‘We’d been up for three days on acid in Monterey with Hendrix and Burdon,’ says Chelsea, ‘We get to the studio and we’re looking a bit bedraggled. Charlie and Brian had this thing that The Cake only be seen in full make-up, dress and hair. They sent us home because we were being filmed. We had to wash, get dressed and come back; then we did it all in one take. That’s how tight we were. Nothing could stop us ’ nothing!’
A final session at Gold Star was scheduled for the end of the following week. Greene and Stone had already picked out material for the group ’ a grab-bag of R&B covers, some better known than others ’ but, wary that their choices would be met with resistance, they played their cards close to their chest.
‘They told me I was going to do some recording just to get used to being in the studio,’ says Barbara. ‘They were not even up front about it.’ When she got there she found herself recording vocals for six songs. The entire second side of the album was all cut live that night, in one extraordinarily long session.
‘I had to learn all those songs in a couple hours, then record them from six at night till six in the morning,’ Barbara continues. ‘I knew most of them already because I’d heard them on the radio. But Dr. John had to teach me how to sing them; he’d say, “I want you to sing it like this’ and I’d try to get the right phrasing.’
There was one song Barbara wasn’t familiar with, Ooh Poo Pah Doo ’ a huge hit in 1960 for Jessie Hill, who also wrote it. Luckily for Barbara, Hill was on hand during the session to assist her.
‘Jessie Hill was singing the song in my ear as I was recording it! You can actually hear his voice occasionally coming through!’ And it’s true, Hill’s voice is clearly audible at points on the recording feeding Barbara lines.
That night, she also recorded lead vocals on an update of Barbara George’s I Know (which had been the first big hit for Harold Battiste’s AFO Records in 1961), Charlie & Inez Foxx’s Mockingbird and Ben E King’s Stand By Me. If the selection of songs was a little uninspired, the jazzy New Orleans accompaniment Battiste score to accompany them certainly buoyed up the final result.
No sooner had the album sessions wrapped than Greene and Stone started placing advance notice of their teenage wunderkinds in the press. The line was that The Cake were going to do for girl groups what the Beatles had done for boy bands. Decca heralded the release of Baby That’s Me, The Cake’s debut single, by taking out a full-color ad designed by Sandy Dvore on the back of Billboard. (Dvore also designed The Cake’s album sleeves).
A legend across the top of the ad read:
You are looking at’
‘the group that will be to music 1968 what the
Beatles were to music 1964.
At the bottom, in large ornate woodblock lettering: THE CAKE. And sandwiched between it, a heavily-stylized color picture of the girls decked out in boyish 60s couture.
‘They were not the feminine girl group that you were used to seeing at the time,’ says Teri Brown, the A&R assigned to the group at Decca. ‘They were styled differently ’ very androgynous, very bohemian. I know that, as someone working at the record company, I did not like their image. I felt they were too hard. At that point, you never saw women in pants with lots of make-up and short hair. That was not indicative of women singers of the day.’
The group’s press shots were taken outside Pandora’s Box, a tiny nightclub painted in day-glo purple and gold that sat on a triangular island in the middle of the busy intersection between Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights. The club had been forcibly closed by the authorities the previous summer, inspiring protests by throngs of teenagers that turned into the famous ‘riots on Sunset Strip’ in 1966.
By the time The Cake arrived in town, the club was in a state of disrepair and the paint was peeling off the walls. Photographer Ed Caraeff shot pictures of the girls climbing all over the white picket fence that surrounded the building. On a symbolic level, it was a striking image; a new breed of teenager dancing over the ruins of the old.
As a group, The Cake had the kind of strong, easily-identifiable personas that seemed destined to grab the attention of the teen mags. ‘Barbara was the serious one,’ notes Rodney Bingenheimer. ‘Eleanor was like a little Edie Sedgwick, kind of bouncy. Jeanette was the hippy, wearing long coats with furry collars and smelling of patchouli.’
‘I remember Rodney used to fling The Cake at me like rice at a wedding,’ recalls Kim Fowley. ‘He would say, “Come worship The Cake! The Cake are God. The Cake are goddesses. The Cake are going to be gigantic. The Cake are going to be huge. Cake, cake, cake, cake, cake.’ Rodney talked about this group for ten or fifteen years.’
The press were equally enthusiastic. Dick Clark’s Hotline column in Teen Screen magazine devoted a special two page feature to them. Clark cited no less than George Harrison as stating that ‘The Cake would be the biggest female act ever!!’. Teen magazine reporter Sue Cameron rhapsodised that The Cake are ‘Jet-Propelled and on their way to becoming the rich man’s Ronettes or the female Rolling Stones.’
Baby, That’s Me picked up airplay around the country but wasn’t anywhere near the hit that had been expected. But they got noticed by the right people. ‘The first DJ to play the Cake’s music was Wolfman Jack,’ says Chelsea. ‘He sounded so black ’ he used to call us ‘them cakes’. He played our music a lot. Sans payola!! At that time, it was an honor!
On their debut album, which was released in December 1967, classic girl group harmonies slammed up against ballsy R&B covers and the ornate madrigal-like arrangements of The Cake’s self-written material. As per Greene and Stone’s idea, the album was meant to highlight the girls’ versatility. The record seemed to go out of its way to draw attention to itself, presenting an almost schizophrenic blend of styles that dismantled the perception of what a girl group should sound like.
Their debut performance on national TV was also nothing if not attention-grabbing. They had been booked to perform on an October 1967 taping of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, an irreverent and oft-times scathing weekly sketch show on CBS that drew a tuned-in young audience.
Dressed in tailored velvet trouser suits trimmed with lace, the girls emerged to the opening strains of You Can Have Him from within a giant Dali-esque revolving birthday cake, formed from melted struts and decorated with flaming green candles. While Barbara and Eleanor skated, dipped and weaved to the rhythm, Jeanette stood stock still to their left, looking detached and aloof, holding her microphone down by her waist. When she did finally raise it to her mouth, she purposefully lip-synched the words rather than sing them.
Everyone assumed it was just part of their shtick. ‘Yeah, that was her gimmick,’ agrees Rodney Bingenheimer. Barbara recalls Greene and Stone also saying, ‘Yeah, it’s different. Keep it!’
But Chelsea thinks there was another reason. ‘Everybody said, “Why does she just stand there?’ Most of the time Greene and Stone would have her mic turned off because she couldn’t sing R&B. She felt left out. I didn’t notice that was happening because I was overpowered by Charlie Greene.’
Having been made the group’s de facto lead singer, Barbara also felt a little put out: ‘I felt like, what about Jeanette?! She was really out of the picture, but she was the one who I have to thank for all this beautiful music. Now I was singing stuff from the radio that she’s not even part of! Emotionally, it was a little bit strange. But she did not communicate what she was feeling. And I would say we were all poor about communicating that amongst ourselves. I did have many fights with my managers about it though. I said to them, “This is a group that is all equal. There is no lead singer.’’
Caught up in the rush of promotion, they didn’t have much time to consider what was going on. Herb Nanas, The Cake’s agent at William Morris, secured them a prestigious slot as the sole musical guests on the 1967 Miss Teenage America Pageant, a beauty contest staged in Dallas and televised to a national television audience of 30 million. The Cake were to perform Rainbow Wood.
When the girls arrived in Dallas for rehearsals a few days before the show, Greene and Stone picked them up by limo and whisked them off to go shopping and pick out clothes for their performance. ‘It was raining,’ says Chelsea. ‘We got wet and then went straight to rehearsals. The mothers of the girls saw we were not wearing bras and started an argument.’
The complaint was taken so seriously by the organizers that The Cake were immediately bounced off the bill. Greene and Stone were not about to take this sitting down. They set about stage-managing a scandal to milk the situation for all the press they could get.
First, they retaliated by rounding up a bunch teenagers and organizing a picket outside the venue in support of The Cake. Then, the girls sang one of their songs a cappella at a press conference, flanked by their managers who announced their intention to sue CBS for damages. Officially, the network maintained that The Cake were ‘cut for time’. But a CBS executive was also reported to have said, ‘the three girls in the group are not representative of teenage America’; thereby according them the kind of rebel credentials money couldn’t buy.
Not three weeks later, during the taping of another TV performance, The Cake walked into another scandal. They were set to perform two numbers on the Woody Woodbury Show (a talk show hosted by a popular comedian) at a December 20th taping for broadcast the following February. Eleanor wore a pair of red satin trousers and a t-shirt emblazoned front and back with the American flag. It had been given to her by a new friend, Skip Spence of Moby Grape.
Predictably, the producers of show balke at the idea of her wearing it on TV. ‘At the time it was a no-no to do that,’ says Chelsea. ‘I guess I was the first because now you can wear an American flag as a nappy ’ and that’s about all it’s good for!’
While Greene and Stone argued with the producers, the girls snuck into the prop room with photographer Ed Caraeff and posed among the disarray. In one shot, they even unfurled a giant American flag. Eleanor saluted and Barbara posed with hand on heart, like good patriots.
After failing to reach any compromise, the managers suggested Eleanor wear something else. She refused: ‘That’s when I started rebelling against Charlie. It was the first t-shirt I owned, and Skip Spence was the second guy I had a snog with! That’s when I found out there was life beyond Charlie Greene!
The Cake did perform but coverage was limited to shots of Jeanette and Barbara. As the transmission date for the show crept nearer, Greene and Stone lept into action. ‘Since when is it a crime to display the American flag?’ Charlie Greene railed to the press, hyping the shirt’s provenance by claiming it had been a gift from no less a figure than Eric Burdon of The Animals.
This time, Greene and Stone were the ones demanding that The Cake be cut from the show, They instructed their lawyers to serve formal notice of their demands to the network, charging that the producers had set out to cause irreparable damage to their clients’ career. The upshot of all the huff and bluster was that The Cake’s name became mired in controversy. The music became overshadowed by the hype and Rainbow Wood failed to reach the audience it deserved.
While Greene and Stone fought the network, work ploughed ahead on The Cake’s second album, A Slice Of The Cake. Five songs had already been tracked at Gold Star by the middle of January 1968. Barbara’s continued insistence that they record more of their own material seemed to have paid off. All five were Cake originals ’ including one a cappella, Under The Tree Of Love And Laughter, that provides the only example of what The Cake originally-sounded like, sans instrumentation.
‘I also told them, I don’t want to sing that much lead on the second album because I don’t think it’s fair,’ says Barbara. Eleanor sung lead on two songs co-written with Barbara ’ Extroverted Introvert, PT280 ’ and one written by Barbara ’ Annabelle Clark. The album closer, Island Of Plenty, was written by Eleanor and Charlie Greene, while tripping on acid in Central Park.
Harold Battiste’s arrangements for the songs seemed even more psychedelic than those for the debut album. The setting for Extroverted Introverted was particularly ballsy; Caribbean rhythms met European baroque as steel drums and congas clashed with woodwind and strings. The utopian feel of Island Of Plenty was underscored by a gently-strummed ukulele.
Eleanor really came to the fore as a songwriter on the second album. She had been sucking in everything around her and it all came out in songs that were sharp as a pin, self-aware, and cut through with a sly humor. While the songs on their debut documented their lives in Greenwich Village, the cuts on the second album detailed their adventures in Hollywood. A case in point is the story behind the curiously-titled PT280.
The week before The Cake appeared on Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Who had been the show’s musical guests. They were also signed to Decca in the US and so the two groups were introduced at party on the Universal Studios lot.
‘I don’t remember having much of a connection with The Who,’ Barbara recalls, ‘or even much of a conversation! Except that, I remember they heard the first album and when somebody played the second side they said, “Oh, that’s old hat!’‘
Even so, a more intimate get-together was arranged at the Beverly Hills Hotel. ‘The Who invited us over to sing for them,’ says Chelsea. ‘And we were so innocent, we just went over to their hotel. We usually had a limo to take us everywhere. This time we took a taxi but we didn’t have any money to pay for it. And [The Who] didn’t answer the door! We had to call up Greene and Stone to send our limo, and then our limo driver Joseph paid for the taxi. It cost two dollars and eighty cents plus tip.’
The girls got their own back, in song. PT280 took its title from the cab fare and had a barb lodged in its refrain: Who knows who to blame. Just who are playing better games?
Strangely, PT280 also foreshadowed The Who’s own Who Are You, another song about a band meeting a band. The latter song, Pete Townshend would explain, told of a drunken night with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and, just like PT280, concerned the ‘demands of new friendship’. Of the two groups, The Cake are altogether more playful and arch. It also signifies that they had no qualms about taking the boy bands on at their own game; even if at that point they were in no shape to do so. The tight bond of unity between the girls was starting to fracture.
‘Things were starting to unravel in a strange way,’ says Barbara.
‘Jeanette would sometimes disappear for a few days at time and started missing rehearsals. There were all the problems with the managers.’
‘I didn’t notice what was happening until Skip Spence gave me the American flag shirt flag,’ admits Chelsea. ‘I thought, wait a minute, we have a group. And they’ve changed us. This isn’t us. We’re not Walking The Dog, we’re Rainbow Wood. What the hell happened here? But it was too late by then.’
After talking things through, Barbara and Eleanor decided to split and head back to New York, thinking they might be able to get something else going through Jimi Hendrix (who had promised to take them to London). Jeanette stayed in Los Angeles. In New York, The Soft Machine (then touring with Hendrix) asked them to provide the female chorus on Why Are We Sleeping?, the closing cut on their debut album.
At that point, with The Cake’s second album only half-recorded, Greene and Stone sicced the same high-powered Hollywood lawyers they had used to threaten the television networks on their own act, in an attempt to bring Eleanor and Barbara back in line.
‘We both got these letters telling us we were in breach of contract and that we would be sued if we were not in Gold Star studios [on 27 March, 1968],’ Barbara recalls. ‘Mine went to my mother’s house. I didn’t know what to do. I called Peter Yarrow. “Peter, I’m going to be sued! I need to get a ticket.’ We had a Youth Fare Card [for half price tickets] but my parents really didn’t have a lot of money to be flying me back and forth.’
Peter Yarrow duly stumped up the remainder of the ticket money to send the girls back to Los Angeles. They arrived at Gold Star in the middle of the session.
‘Greene and Stone freaked out,’ Barbara continues. ‘They were planning on us not turning up. When we walked in they happened to be recording Sadie. Even though Jeanette and I shared the credit, that was a song I mostly wrote by myself. I didn’t mind Jeanette singing the lead on it ’ she sounded beautiful ’ but they had these other girls singing the harmony!’
Barbara maintains that these girls were to be their replacements in The Cake. Who exactly they were has been difficult to ascertain. Their names are neither listed on the album sleeve or appear on the studio contracts for the session.
The same singers evidently provided back-up on the two other cuts recorded during that date, both of which featured Jeanette singing lead. Have You Heard the News Bout Miss Molly is a story song (written by Teddy Bears singer Carol Connors) whose lyrics detail small town gossip about a girl who has become pregnant out of wedlock. The other, Tides Of Time, is credited to Jeanette Jacobs and Diana DeRose, singer with The Rose Garden ’ a group produced by Greene and Stone who had just split up. Today, DeRose claims to have little recollection of writing the song and none of singing it, but it is highly likely she could have been parachuted temporarily into The Cake.
What is certain is that neither Barbara or Eleanor performed on any of those three songs. ‘That’s not The Cake,’ Chelsea says, bluntly. ‘That’s just Jeanette. She went behind our backs and did that to get back at us for doing the R&B, even though that was all Greene and Stone’s idea.’
The difference is clear to hear. Instead of The Cake’s distinctive three part harmonies, a syrupy backing vocal follows the lead. But when Barbara heard the music that accompanied Sadie ’ a song that was particularly close to her heart ’ she felt compelled to say her piece.
‘I wrote it right after Monterrey Pop,’ she says. ‘I was waiting for Eleanor and Jeanette to come back from somewhere. I was looking at a picture of this Modigliani painting of a women with her hair tied back and had just talked to Hilton on the phone, who was telling me about this bisexual woman in London called Sadie. Even though I didn’t know her, I had the name in my head. Looking at the painting brought the song out.’
Sung in the first person, the song is a portrait of a woman cast through a series of fleeting dream-like images. Her identity remains frustratingly indistinct to the narrator until right at the end, when she catches sight of the woman’s name, etched on a band: Sadie Boy. The song inadvertently seemed to capture the spirit of sexual ambiguity bubbling up at the time.
‘They played us what they had done,’ Barbara recalls, ‘and I said, can I just say one thing? Why is the violin doubling the harmony? Is it really necessary since the voices are going to do that already? Can’t it play a counterpart or something?’
Charlie Greene flipped and started screaming at her. ‘He launched a whole mess of curse words at me,’ recalls Barbara. ‘He pulled out this cane-sword ’ which we had actually bought for him ’ and starts running after me with it. He put the blade up to my neck and screamed, “Out! CUNT!’‘
‘I became really upset for the first time. Up until that point, I’d argue with him but kept my cool. I said, but this is my song! They were just like, “Get out! Get out!’ I don’t know if Eleanor stayed, but I left.’
Barbara walked out of the studio, tears streaming from her eyes, and started wandering blindly through the neighbourhood. ‘I had no money and no place to go. I was just walking and walking down Hollywood streets.’ At this point, The Cake were effectively no more. ‘You couldn’t get the three of us together after that,’ confirms Chelsea.
Soon after, Jeanette left for New York. Eleanor followed. They started hanging out with Jimi Hendrix again and mixing with the crowd at The Scene. Jeanette hooked up with Traffic saxophonist Chris Wood, whom she would later marry. In the summer of 68, Mac Rebennack tapped Eleanor and Jeanette to join the touring band for his new show as Dr John, the Night Tripper.
‘It was all falling apart right in front of Green and Stone,’ says Teri Brown, ‘who were projecting this air of confidence and, don’t forget, keeping the label at arms length. We didn’t participate in going to sessions. We got delivered product. There was a lot more hype and a lot more money spent on that group than anything else we did at Decca. And nothing of substance came of it so they needed to figure out a way of getting it to recoup. They had to put another record out right away.’
With only eight cuts in the bag (barely 20 minutes of music), Greene and Stone were forced to scrabble around to make up an album length selection of songs. A Slice Of The Cake was completed by the addition of one R&B cut leftover from the sessions for their debut album ’ Mac Rebennack’s Who Will Wear The Crown ’ and the demo The Cake had cut in New York. Now they had an album, but no group to promote it. Twin sides were released to radio on promo in 1968 ’ PT280 b/w Have You Heard The News ‘Bout Miss Molly ’ but the project was effectively dead.
‘We were supposed to go to England and Japan,’ says Barbara, who stayed in LA, living on her own in the big, round ‘Cake’ house.
‘I was spending a lot of time alone,’ she says. ‘I was wearing this black velvet cape that belonged to Hilton Valentine, writing a fairy tale and writing songs. Every now and then I’d go down to Greene and Stone’s office [at 7715 Sunset Boulevard]. “What are you doing up there?’ they’d ask. Oh! I talk to trees’ and birds’ and flowers.
Between the velvet cape, the medieval clothes, the velvet piece in the shape of a bird that I wore on my face, and the strange way I was talking, I guess they didn’t know what they felt about me anymore. They started calling me ‘psycho’. I’d say, there’s no food, may I have some money? They’d go, here’s a dollar.
I was still signed to them though. They’d say, “we got a deal for you to sing commercials’ or “somebody wants to buy your contract’. I’d tell them, listen guys, just let me go. I don’t really want to deal through you anymore. But they wouldn’t.’
Then she got an eviction notice. Greene and Stone had stopped paying the rent on the house without telling her. ‘Charlie did that to get back at me for leaving him,’ Chelsea reasons now. At the time, she and Jeanette were oblivious to what was going on back in LA. They had already put The Cake behind them and would soon end up in London, hanging out with a whole different crowd of musicians. The lives they led there are a whole other story.
In 1981, Jeanette Jacobs died at a tragically young age (she was 32). Eleanor had lost touch with her several years prior to that and, in fact, had left the music business entirely ’ ‘I don’t know what happened,’ she says, ‘maybe too many of my friends were dying. She took a civil service job in the UK for the best part of a decade before returning to the States. Barbara continued pursuing a music career, singing with several touring jazz and world fusion bands.
In time, both changed their names: Eleanor married a Lee and changed her first name to Chelsea, Barbara became Ilana Iguana. As a result, they had no contact with each other from 1968 until April 2006, when film-maker David Kramer tracked them both down to film interviews for his long-running documentary film project on Jimi Hendrix. They subsequently performed as The Cake for the first time in 38 years at a Jimi Hendrix birthday tribute (organised by Kramer at the BB King Blues Club in New York), dedicating their set to Jeanette.
In the short arc of their career, The Cake experienced all the highs and lows the music industry had to offer. As a group, they left the world a slim but beguiling body of work that has been all-but-buried for 40 years and is only starting to be recognized and appreciated. Every girl group since rightfully owes them a debt of gratitude for pushing back the boundaries and fighting for their individuality and self-expression.
Through the tides of time, of friendships lost and found, new lives and ageless memories, the words of the Mac Rebennack song they performed on their second album seem to have acquired added resonance: When the battle is over, who will wear the crown? There is only one answer, of course: The Cake. Girl group pioneers. Now, would anyone like another slice?