THE BLEU FOREST- A thousand trees deep (USA 1968)
USA produced such a vast variety of garage bands, that were highly influenced by major known bands of the time like Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix & The Experience and The Grateful Dead. Every little town in the US has been over-flooded with teenagers full of enthusiasm and ideas reflecting the electrifying times, when everything suddenly seemed to be possible. One of the better local bands, that came and went with the '60s fading into plastic '70s were Ventura County’ Bleu Forest. So far only a handful of people heard these 1968 unreleased recordings, which were hidden in Caviness (only surviving member) basement and let me say this: What we have here is a lost psych-garage classic. A crossover between groovy melodies of Moby Grape mixed with Steppenwolf heaviness. Limited to 500 copies on vinyl in gatefold cover including a detailed story by only surviving member.
- Klemen Breznikar
The story behind one of Ventura County’s best local bands of the mid 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Back in about 1962 when I was 12 years old I lived in the small town of Moorpark, California in an area known as Home Acres which was on the outskirts of town. A real nice country setting at the time. I remember my first contact with playing music was influenced by my father who played guitar and sang on the radio at that time. My parents suggested that I join the school band and the music teacher, Mr. Weeks, showed up at our home with a trumpet. I really tried but could only make a sound similar to a barking dog come out of that thing so Mr. Weeks suggested that a different instrument might be appropriate in my case. That soon became the electric guitar. My father went to Sears and bought me one of those Silver-tone guitars that had the amp inside the guitar case. Wish I had that back, no telling what it’s worth now! I tried for a couple of months but guitar is very difficult with only an old “Mel Bay” book to learn from. It was decided that perhaps the drums were the answer and off we went to Adler Music in Simi Valley. That’s where I met the owner, Herb Wall. Herb was a huge influence on me and sold us a brand new set of Ludwig "Super Hollywood" drums and actually gave me a job in the store to work off the cost of the drums. I worked there part time for quite a while and met a lot of the local musicians through the store. That’s where I first met Ed Steele, the eventual bass player in the Bleu Forest. I also met, and became friends with Rick Coonse, the drummer in a band called The Grassroots who were beginning to play in LA at the time. I recall that Rick had a pretty good relationship with Herb and Herb would let Rick borrow amps and PA equipment for the Grassroots to use at gigs before they started building their name up locally. That kind of thing would be out of the question today. But Herb did it and just look where Rick and the guys went. Rick was the drum teacher at Adler Music and when he played out with his band I would take over his lessons while he was gone. That was actually a pretty lucrative gig as each lesson paid about $10.00. In those days that was a lot considering gasoline only cost about .20 a gallon. I played with some guys in Moorpark for a while, Jimmy Hunnicutt, Art Almaguer, Monk Almaguer and we placed 3rd at the battle of the bands at the old Pacific Ocean Park. I think that was the summer of 1964. I ran into Ed Steele again as his band finished in 2nd place behind the winner, Three Kings and a Queen. Believe it or not, they still have some songs on UTUBE. When school started again the band just kind of folded up. Everyone was more into sports back then.
One day I was riding my Honda 160 back home from school and was followed home by two guys in a 1962 Ford Falcon who were several classes older than me. They both had fairly long hair which was odd at that time around Moorpark. These two, Mike Cullen and Gary Heuer, had heard that I played drums and wanted to start a band. We decided to start playing together that day and got together that night for our first practice. We set up in one of the back rooms at my house and that night changed everything I knew about music. Now, to clarify my house; we lived in a house in Home Acres that was more of a ranch than a house really. We had a couple of acres with horses, cows and ducks. Don’t ask why ducks, I have no idea. Anyway, the original house was very long and narrow and divided up into about ten separate areas. On the front of the property my father, being a builder, had added on about 2500 square feet including a three car garage. This garage was eventually converted into the permanent rehearsal studio for the band and many, many hours of rehearsal took place in that garage. My thoughts in the very beginning were that this certainly wasn’t surf music like I had been playing. We sequestered ourselves in that room at the back of the old part of the house learning to sing harmony to early Beatles songs for a couple of months before Mike brought out his original songs. That’s when we really got started. Shortly, Ed Steele came into Adler Music looking for a new band because his band was breaking up because their singer, Danny Leonardo had been drafted into the Army and I ask him to our next practice and we were off and running so to speak.
I remember the first song was “I Need Sunshine”, one of Mike’s best and it ended up eventually on our first album with Mike. We worked on the original material for several months until we felt comfortable that we were ready to play for people and my father set us up to play at the Troubadour in LA. We played there on a Wednesday night “open mic” night and it just happened that Jimmy Haskell was in the crowd that night. We didn’t know Jimmy Haskell from Eddie Haskell at the time but he invited us to his home studio to record a demo the next weekend. We had about a week to prepare for recording but we were still a bit nervous and Mike Cullen contacted a local club owner/promoter by the name of Jim Salzer who owned a coffee house in Santa Barbara. As it turned out Jim Salzer enjoyed helping local talent and gave us an opportunity to play at his club the following Friday night. We were so excited and the next Friday we loaded up our equipment and took off north to Santa Barbara. We arrived at Jims club about 6 PM and were told that there would be acoustic music until later and we were welcome to watch until we went on. So we sat and watched. Until 3 o’clock the next morning when Mr. Salzer finally got there after closing his other club, The Starlight Ballroom in Oxnard. Well, we finally took the stage to an audience of Jim Salzer, the bar manager and maybe 20 drunk customers who couldn’t stand up or drive home. We played for about an hour before we were ready to collapse and actually got a positive response from everyone there. As it ended up Jim Salzer helped us a little, later on.
When we arrived at Jimmy Haskell’s house in the Hollywood Hills above Sunset Blvd. it was the biggest house we had ever seen in our lives. The entire 2nd floor was converted into a recording studio with 2” Ampex recorders, mixers the size of a coffee table and outboard equipment we didn’t even know existed. We got set up and began recording the demo tapes. We spent at least 7 or 8 hours there with Jimmy until he was satisfied that we had made the best possible demo we could make with his “old and outdated” equipment. Jimmy then began shopping the demo around to the record companies there in LA. I must say that even though we didn’t really know who Jimmy was at the time we were excited. By the way, we learned that Jimmy Haskell was a well known music producer around Hollywood at that time and would go on to win Grammy’s, etc. A real musical genius and a valuable asset to the band.
It took a little while but before too long he had interest from several major record labels including Capitol and Universal among others. Universal seemed, at the time, to be the logical choice because they released more hard rock than the others. And we were definitely hard rock. I guess a good description of our music would be THE WHO meets STEPPENWOLF meets MOBY GRAPE! Loud music was our game. I remember we got a gig up in the Hollywood Hills from somewhere playing a private party. Now the band Steppenwolf had just released their first album and completely unknown to us this party was thrown by some friends of their manager to celebrate the album release. We set up by this beautiful swimming pool deck which overlooked Hollywood and did our stuff. When break time came we all kind of mingled around until this guy came outside onto the deck and asked us who the hell we were. We told him who we were and he just walked back into the house shaking his head. Later we found out that he was indeed the manager of Steppenwolf and we sounded so similar to them he actually thought they were there at the party and not out on tour as they were supposed to be. I always considered that to be the highest compliment he could have paid us.
Jimmy then set out to set up the recording of a master album and recruited the services of Freddie Piro as engineer in Freddie’s studio which was located at the corner of Lankersheim Blvd. and Roscoe Blvd. in North Hollywood. Freddie, ironically, had been involved in producing the early Grassroots albums and went on to discover and produce albums for Ambrosia as well as many others. Freddie was a real professional at what he did. The only disagreement we had with either Jimmy or Freddie was their lack of understanding of our normal playing volume which generated most of our tone live. The album tracks were recorded at very low volume and fuzz tones were used to create the natural distortion we were accustomed to creating ourselves live.
During the time that Jimmy was shopping the demo we underwent changes in the band. Mike Cullen left the band because he was drafted and took off to Canada. He blessed us with his songs but had to go. We then added Ron Barkley on lead guitar and vocals and soon thereafter Larry Weisman on keyboards. This would become the Bleu Forest. We rehearsed for about two months together before entering Valley Recording Studio to record what would become “A Thousand Trees Deep” with financing provided by Jimmy Haskel and Freddie Piro.
During the recording period which lasted about six months we headlined shows all over Ventura County playing with bands such as The Tim Buley Blues Band, California Grassfield, Children of the Mushroom and many others I can’t remember. We opened a lot of shows with Lee Michaels who had quite a few hits at that time.
Not to change the subject but during the recording sessions Freddie brought to the studio an unrelated tape and shared it with us. As it turned out he was working in some capacity on another project with another band and we were played the pre-master recording of Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys. Everyone knows where that went and we heard it before anyone did. I clearly remember Freddie asking us who was on the tape and we named everyone except The Beach Boys before he revealed it to us. A remarkable recording and far ahead of the curve. That was really an unexpected surprise and a gift from Freddie I still cherish today.
After close to a year we finally heard the master recordings for the album and even though the finished sound was not necessarily to our liking, (I think they were trying to turn us from a hard rock/kick ass band into the Monkeys) we blessed the master to be submitted to the record companies anyway. After about a month, I got a call from Freddie Piro telling me they loved the music but wanted the snare drum re recorded with a “snappier” sounding snare. I acquired a Rodgers “Dynasonic” snare drum from Adler music which was the best snare drum that money could buy at the time and went back into the studio to record. That took about four 12 hour sessions to finish and was nearly impossible to do but with a lot of encouragement from both Freddie and Jimmy we managed to make it happen. These sessions involving the drum tracks alone were one of the greatest accomplishments of my entire life because not even the rest of the band thought it could be done. Once the remix was done I guess those tapes went out to the record companies never to be seen, or heard again.
Shortly thereafter the band just fell apart. I remember a lot of arguments between the members about the direction of the band and that kind of thing going on. Not by everyone, but a lot of drug use took place which hastened the outcome. After we split up I got married and had a beautiful daughter with my wife, Sheila, got out of music for a while, but kept in touch with Ed, Larry and Mike. Larry, who was a very talented keyboardist, eventually got a Hammond B-3 and Joined up with Children of the Mushroom (I played with them briefly) and later Lady in Thousand Oaks. He now lives in Florida. Ron Barkley just disappeared and I have not heard anything from him in years. The last I heard Larry Heuer was running a music store in Santa Barbara but that’s been years ago. Ed Steele and myself played in several bands later after we both separated from our wives. Larry Weisman joined us several times as well. Even though the talent in some of these bands far exceeded the talent in the original band we were just never able to duplicate the vibe of the original BLEU FOREST.
Sadly, Ed passed away this past February along with my old friend from Adler Music, Rick Coonse of the Grassroots. Honestly, Rick was one of the great drummers of all time! I kept in touch with both until the end. Mike Cullen was last seen in Ojai, Ca. about 1975. As for me, I went on from playing music to racing very specialized speedway motorcycles professionally and became a General Contractor/Builder for 40 years. I am now retired.
In order to live up to promises we made back then to all the followers of the band I very proudly offer the original A Thousand Trees Deep album for the release we promised so many and were unable to deliver until now thanks to Antonio at Golden Pavilion Records it is possible to fulfill the promises we made so many years ago. Many thanks for waiting.
By: Jack Caviness Drummer