Sad to hear this morning that Eleanor Barooshian, one time member of innovative 60s girl-group The Cake died at the too-young age of 66 on August 30th. On Monday, an obituary ran in the Guardian. To note her passing, here’s Chris Campion’s fascinating liner notes for More of The Cake Please
Three teenage girls are discovered singing along to records in a New York nightclub 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 baroque girl group 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 two 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.
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