Bleu Forest – The story behind one of Ventura County’s best local bands

November 16, 2016

Bleu Forest – The story behind one of Ventura County’s best local bands

The story behind one of Ventura County’s best local bands told by Michael Cullen and Jack Caviness.

​The US produced such a vast variety of garage bands that were highly influenced by major known bands of the time like The Jefferson Airplane, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Grateful Dead. Every little town in the US had 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 1960s fading into the 1970s were Ventura County’ Bleu Forest. So far only a handful of people heard of them today. Here is their story finally being told.

How old were you when you began playing music and what was the first instrument you played? 
Michael: The first instrument I learned to play was a recorder called the flutophone. I still have it but I haven’t played it much since 2nd grade. I was around music a lot as a kid, my folks sang and my sister Carolyn was very musical vocally she excelled in the school choir and always got an A grade. When I started school the music instructor remembered my sister and took a special interest in me. I loved music class and would have been happy to have done nothing else.

Jack: As I previously spoke of my first a‚tempt playing an instrument was the trumpet. A failure at that, I tried electric guitar. Self teaching chords was too difficult so I turned to the drums which proved to be my calling. My first set was a Kent brand. As I learned I graduated to Ludwig. I played a Super Hollywood kit with an additional floor tom in sky blue pearl.

 Ed Steele, Michael Cullen, Jack Caviness and Gary Heuer. The original lineup.

What inspired you to start playing music? Do you recall the first song you ever learned to play?

Michael: When rock and roll hit in the mid-fifties my sister was just coming into her teens and she and her girlfriends would play records in our basement and dance, and teach me to dance. My sister was five and a half years my senior. I was a boy around a bunch of teenage girls all into 1950’s rock music. Ironically I was more into classical music, but I liked rock around the clock and would sometimes go to sleep at night listening to it play over and over. Some of my favorite rockers were and still are Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and The Coasters, but not that much into Elvis. Note: I saw Elvis in 1970. He only played two venues outside of Vegas that year; Phoenix and one back East somewhere. These were very large concert venues, unlike the smaller Vegas shows. This was the first time Elvis had played to such a large audience in years. I still wasn’t that much into Elvis, but it was a chance to see him live and try to tap into some of his on-stage charisma. Strangely I didn’t see any others at the concert with long hair but me. Wow! After noticing this I started to look for other long hairs and I still didn’t see any, that’s not to say there weren’t any but, I saw none in the entrance areas or the arena. I had binoculars and I looked. This seemed very odd. The audience was told a movie was being made that night and lights played on the crowd as they filmed the show. I was off the floor about 75 feet from the stage on the right about halfway up. I could see him perfectly through my binoculars. Elvis was very lean and fit looking, his father Vernon was off to the left watching from the side. Elvis only played guitar on a few songs and finished the rest of the concert with a microphone and some karate moves. The concert was superb. Women made up the majority of the crowd and their enthusiasm was intense. Not as intense as The Beatles crowd. But they seemed to love him a lot. After all it was over 15 years since his debut. The movie was called Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, I think; but I’m not really positive about the title. Jimmie Haskell’s old guitar player, James Burton, from Ricky Nelson’s band, was on stage with Elvis playing lead guitar. He was with Elvis to the end. Post Script: One day in the 1970’s, I asked Jimmie Haskell if he had written James Burton’s guitar parts when he worked with Rick Nelson on the Ozzie and Harriet Show. Jimmy said he didn’t, and added that he spoke with The Rolling Stones on one occasion, and they said they had stolen all of James Burton’s guitar parts. What an amazing admission. I started to teach myself guitar in 1964. I heard the group’s coming out of England and thought if I could learn guitar I might be able to write songs that would be good enough to record. A lot of the early British bands were writing very repetitious lyrics, which to me were overly redundant. I didn’t realize this was an adverting technique. I was 15 and pretty green about those things. I picked up a guitar book and began teaching myself guitar chords. It was tough at first because you have to develop calluses on your fingertips and it takes awhile to be able to form the chords without the strings muting or buzzing on the frets. I have never had a guitar lesson; just a chord book showing diagrams of finger placement. After teaching myself four chords, I decided to write a song with them. My first song was called, “Traveling Man”. It was about a man born in a house of clay- the human body-the sky was his roof, the stars were his guide, and he was free to roam without care. However roaming without care can lead to perpetual poverty so there’s a warning in the song. It is, this pursuit may result in economic distress and your life might not be worth a dime. I personally believe if you want to do something do it while you can. Don’t wait till you’re too old or incapacitated to enjoy it. After all most of us never know when our time may come. What one plans to happen in ten years may never come to fruition. If you can do it now don’t wait for tomorrow. This may not apply to all circumstances, but it is a pretty good rule of thumb. I practised “Traveling Man” 25 times to imprint and remember it, this is my usual process.
After I wrote the first song, I began writing a new song for every chord or two I learned. I performed my songs for friends, family and anyone else that wanted to listen. I have recorded “Traveling Man”, but it is not one of my best. About the fourth or fifth song I decided to write about the John F. Kennedy assassination. There was only one other song, I was aware of, written about this sad time. The other song was called “In the Summer of His Years”. It aired on a TV show called, “That Was the Week That Was”. Circa December 1963. I wrote my song in the late spring 1964, The Byrds, “He Was a Friend of Mine”, and “Abraham, Martin and John”, came considerably later. I was living in Colorado at the time building up a portfolio of songs. 7 for the year, 1964. As late summer approached, I learned The Beatles were coming to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, near Denver. I wasn’t really into The Beatles, because of the constant repetitive lyrics; but there was a fascination building as the time came to for their appearance. It was obvious there was something in the air and it wasn’t just the music. The night The Beatles appeared I made a fateful decision. Family had come from the east and they were vising for a while. I spoke with my cousins Ron and Dick about possibly going to Red Rocks, and listening from outside the amphitheatre entrance and seeing what the excitement was about.
We spoke to the parents about taking a drive to Red Rocks, but found no interest, but we kept talking and finally they relented. We got to the parking lot and proceeded to the entrance. At this point I got the idea if we climbed a nearby Hill and hiked down a ravine on the upper South End of the theater we might be able to see the show for free. We had no cash for a ticket. So Dick and Ron and I began to attempt it. It was still light when we started and by the time we got to the South Wall it was nearly dark. We ran into others who were also at the wall trying the same thing. One person would go over the wall, and the guard would send them back. I went over the wall, and the guard said, “Go back over the wall”. Well it was dark by now and the idea of going back the way I came, would be precarious. So I said “I just wanted to see them”. He said, “Do you have a ticket? “I said, no”. He said, “Get back over the wall”. “Then I said where can I get a ticket?”. He said, “Go to the entrance”.
The entrance was about 200 feet away on the other side of a concession building. And the roof of the building cast a long shadow. I had no money except about $0.40 change. So I said ,“Okay”, and walked towards the entrance, and into the shadow. There were a lot of people there walking from the concession, with refreshments. I simply stood in the shadows while the others walked out. After about a minute the guard went back to guarding the wall. I was in, but not in the seating area. I saw a police officer walking towards the concession, and I approached him, and asked where I might get a program. Then he and I walked into the theater seating area. He pointed out a vendor, I thanked him, he left, and I walked in and sat down. I couldn’t afford a program anyway. Amazingly enough my cousins we’re able to talk the guard into looking the other way, and they arrived about 10 minutes later. We were caught up in the moment! Now the obvious conclusion is that this was an awful lot to go through to see a band I wasn’t really into! This was about to change. We were nearly at the top of the theater, but you could still see the stage really well. The opening acts were, The Exciters, Jackie De Shannon, The Bill Black Combo and The Righteous Brothers, who were somewhat unknown at the time. During these performances, one of The Beatles would occasionally a run across the back of the stage area and the crowd would go nuts! When The Beatles came on, the theater went beyond a fever pitch. This screaming and constant roar of the crowd and the thousands of flash bulbs didn’t stop until they left the stage. Hard to believe but I could still hear or the music really well over the crowd because of Red Rocks very special natural acoustics. I guess I was sitting in the right spot. All this gave me a very warm feeling inside and I walked away as The Beatles fan. The next morning we talked the folks into going back to Red Rocks, and I walked onto the stage. There were X marks where each Beatle was to stand and an X in the back where Ringo was seated above the rest of the group. I found several guitar picks laying on the stage, by the X’s. Were they The Beatles picks or did they belong to some of the groups that performed first? I really don’t know, but I did get a lot of use out of them. I didn’t set aside any for keepsakes, because there was no way to know for sure. Also one other note: the stage towards the back had a flat roof. There were two people lying on their stomachs watching The Beatles from above the stage. I found out later it was Brian Epstein and George Martin. Strangely ironic, The Beatles performance was, August 26th 1964, and the Bleu Forest was discovered by Barbara Haskell and John McNeese at our first paid performance, August 26th 1967 at the ‘Hey You Coffee House’. Exactly three years later to the day.
Two months later we moved to Phoenix Arizona. I got into an acapella choir group at Paradise Valley High School. It was fall 1964 and I was now 16. I found out we were going to be in a statewide competition in the spring and we were also going to be making a record album. The music director took us to Northern Arizona University for a couple of days to study with one of his professor friends from his college days. It was great being 16 and on campus as a student, even though it was only for a couple of days. The professor got us to sing much better than we had before. I was hitting notes previously unattainable. I am a tenor. Our rehearsals went on through the spring of 1965, until competition time came. It was to happen at Arizona State University, in Tempe Arizona. Before we competed the music director once again had us study with another professor. This time it was at ASU and it was only for an hour or so. Then came the time for us to perform for the academics of the state. The director decided we would perform only one song. It was called “Would I Wish Thee A Fond Good Night”. Other groups performed two or three songs. However we won all states that year with just one song. This song centered on high tenor voices. The next thing we did was record a record album. It was done in a church in Paradise Valley Arizona, and processes by Century records, a out of Saugus, California. The album was pretty much made for the director. The students involved, other classmates, and parents. Not for radio or public with release. I still have it. Then we went on the road with the group. Playing the little towns from Phoenix to Tucson and down to Bisbee on the Mexican border. We even performed in Tombstone Arizona. After about a week we came back and the 1964-65 school year ended. My folks moved to Moorpark California. This was a great learning experience for what was to become The Blue Forest. I named the group after the beautiful blue spruce forests of Colorado. I lived there from 1962 to early fall 1964.During the mid-sixties a lot of rock bands were calling themselves strange and unusual names. I chose the name Bleu Forest, switching the last two letters of blue for a French spelling. Though a blue forest may seem a fantasy, strange and unusual to some. Blue forests exist in many places on earth but are not common. A fantasy that is real. But not to be for another year-and-a-half. It’s now July 1965. I just moved to California turned,17,and I need a job. I found work at an egg ranch, cleaning chicken cages. The second day of work, I noticed a fellow about my age driving a tractor. During lunch break I chanced to speak with him and he said he had a rock band called The Maltese. I told him I played guitar, sang, and wrote music so he invited me to his house. his name was Tim Trussell. He played lead guitar, and was the leader of the band. The Maltese had been around at least a year and I found out they got most of the jobs playing in the area. Tim liked my playing and vocals and he asked me to join his group, and I accepted. After we did about 3 gigs the lead singer quit. He decided he wanted to do something else. His name was Jerry Brown and his brother had a band called the Beethoven’s. The drummer for the group was Rick Coonse who later became the drummer for The Grassroots! After Jerry quit it was left for me to carry the lead vocal load. Since I love singing, that was not a problem. I didn’t make a lot of money with the band about; $1.25 an hour but I loved doing it, and I would have done it for free. It was now September 1965. I joined the football team, but I wasn’t very good at it at all. However the exercise was good and I got in really great shape. After nearly every one of the football games I would go down to the locker room change into my band clothes, grab a sandwich, which was always there for the team then head up to the gymnasium where we would entertain the school with a rock concert. I felt great. I’m in another new environment, and things are working out better than I could have planned. We did mostly top 40 hits and a couple of original songs. I’d basically ad lib every time we did them. The songs were something we just did as filler materials. There were no lead sheets and no set lyric. The Maltese disbanded at the end of the school year 1965/66. Tim wanted to concentrate more on his future. He was a junior in high school. We had a great time, and raised a lot of money for the school. We even got our pictures in the newspaper twice. I still have the clippings. In December 1965 while studying, and playing music and sports I got to know a girl named Beverly. Beverly’s boyfriend was named Kent Lewis and he was in a duo with a friend named Jim “Pete” Arthur. They were both about 19. Kent Lewis went on to play with John Denver. John Denver recorded one of Kent’s songs “Song of Wyoming”.
It is a song about the feelings and emotions you get sometimes out on the prairie. John Denver put the song on his country and western singer of the Year album. It sold millions. Many people have recorded Kent’s song since. It’s easy to find on YouTube. Kent’s band was signed to a recording contract, as John Denver‘s Windsong label’s, first artists. The band was called Liberty. John recorded another of the Liberty band songs called “Thank God I’m A Country Boy”.
Anyway, Beverly got me together with Kent and Pete. She thought we would make a good trio. On the day we got together, the three of them, were going to see a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar so we piled into Kent’s old woody and headed for the San Fernando Valley. Specifically Ernie Ball’s guitar store in Tarzana. Pete was very anxious to make a down payment on this instrument. When we got to the store I saw a beautiful blonde Rickenbacker on the wall. Behind the counter there were two pictures, next to the guitar. The pictures were of Chad and Jeremy. Famous British Rock Invaders from the year before, 1964! The Rickenbacker guitar was Chad Stuart’s. Pete made a down payment and later purchased this guitar. It’s pictured on the back of one of their 1965 albums. I bought the Rickenbacker from Pete, in December 1966, and used it on my songs in the Bleu Forest. I still have it. I started rehearsing with Kent and Pete. Our harmonies were great. We did a lot of The Byrds, Dylan, some Beatles, Yardbirds, and others. We began building good sets. This was going on through spring 1966, but didn’t interfere with The Maltese band. The school year ended and I was now 18. I came up with the name, What’s Left. We thought it had a comical twist and might be catchy. We later changed the name to The Sands of Thyme, I just changed the word time to thyme. I incorporated the title into one of The Bleu Forest ballads, on the first album. Our main problem was finding a drummer. Although the music sounded great even without one. A drummer would stay for a gig than split. It became very frustrating. My folks moved to Ventura California about 25 miles west of Moorpark on the ocean in July. The Sands of Thyme continued to practice. In Ventura, I came in contact with two twin brothers named Neilsen. They had a coffee house-rock club/ballet studio/ballroom studio, and karate studio, all in one building. The Nielsen’s taught ballroom dancing and other instructors handled the ballet and karate classes. Friday and Saturday nights the studio became the ‘Hey You Coffee House’ rock club. I signed an agreement for the group to play and the Nielsen’s let us practice in the studio. There were mirrors on two sides of the room opposite each other. So when you stood on stage, you could see yourself reflecting off the wall, as well as the audience in front. It was a great place to practice music, as well as stage presence. We found a drummer, but just before the gig he quit. Kent and Pete refused to go on without a drummer. Although, I felt it would be okay. We had a very strong sound and we were tight. This last frustration was too much for them, and they decided to end the group. It was sad to see it end, but we were friends now and occasionally we would get together and play music like we had but not for an audience. I was 18 and I felt obliged to fulfill my written agreement, to play even though I wasn’t old enough to sign the agreement. I was able to find a guitar player and drummer, just for this gig. We practiced, two days, went on, sounded hardly adequate but the agreement was fulfilled. It was now summer 1966, I continued writing. What I really wanted to do was original music, get a recording contract and do concerts. About 2 or 3 weeks after playing the ‘Hey You Coffee House’, one of the Nielsen’ brothers, came to my home. He told me he liked the fact I had played at their Club, even though I was short-handed and lived up to my word. He said I could use their Club anytime I wanted, and that I was always welcome. I used ‘Hey You Coffee House’, a year later, August 1967, to showcase The Bleu Forest, when Barbara Haskell and John McNeese came to see us. I started spending time at the club on the weekends. Some famous and soon to be famous artists passed through the doors of the ‘Hey You’. One night Willie Mae “Big Mama Thornton played. She released “Hound Dog” in 1953, and sold 2 million copies, before Elvis Presley’s 1956 version! She was incredible on stage. She was a good six feet tall. She would put small harmonicas in her mouth and sing at the same time. Her voice was the inspiration for many male and female R&B vocalists and bands. She was also very pleasant and cordial with the audience, and cracked an occasional joke. She wasn’t Elvis or The Beatles, but she could have easily stood with any of them. She was that good! She was that good before Elvis! What an incredible talent, and here she was at the ‘Hey You’! Another band that came through that summer was a new group called, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. They were a jug band, they used a washtub bass; which is a broom handle attached to a washtub with a piece of rope. You pluck the rope like a bass guitar, as you go up and down the broom handle. They also incorporated a washboard, as well. Jackson Browne started out with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. And I’m not sure if he was with them that summer night. None of them were known, to the public at that time. At the end of the evening during the last set another band member appeared. He was different from the others and he started acting very funny on stage. It wasn’t so much just the joking around on stage; He had a concentrated zaniness that was hard to resist. He was so funny he had me in tears. He was a young unknown Steve Martin. Steve and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were very good friends and he would open for them before he became famous. They all ended up in Aspen Colorado. And Bill McKuen, the banjo player for the band, was instrumental in starting the Aspen Film Society; Which did some of Steve Martin’s movies. I wasn’t at the club for all the different acts that came through, but a very young Taj Mahal played one night. He went on to become a very famous blues artist.

Jack: I remember the ‘Hey You’. A very cool place to play. My influences were a bit different. Buddy Rich was huge. In my teen years I was a fan of Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Dave Clark Five, and pretty much everyone who appeared on the TV show ‘Where The Action Is’. The Leaves were a favorite as well. Later The Beatles.

Who were the members of the band?

Michael: I became focused on wanting to start an original band. I had the material. I needed the players. I ran into Gary Heuer towards the end of summer 1966. I hadn’t seen him in a while. We had become friends during my year at Moorpark High School. He hadn’t played much in front of an audience. He played the guitar, but he wanted to play lead. I asked Tim, if it would be okay, if Gary played with us, in The Maltese for our last two gigs as a band, and Tim agreed. We didn’t need another guitar player, but it was the end of the school year, and the end of the band. So it worked out fine. I lost touch with Gary, after the school year ended. We rekindled our friendship, and I told him I wanted to start a band, and do my original music. He was receptive, and I chose him to play lead guitar. He had a lot of enthusiasm and I thought he would work well. Just before the winter holidays Gary and I decided to drive to San Francisco and check out the music. I particularly wanted to see The Jefferson Airplane. I liked their first album. It was kind of obscure, because it didn’t get much airplay outside the bay area. I found out about them from a $0.25 weekly publication, call the KRLA Beat, which was similar to Rolling Stone magazine. Lots of pictures, articles, and stories, about the Southern California Rock scene and also sometimes Northern California, and international rock/pop scene. KRLA was the main rock channel in Los Angeles. If they played your record millions of people would hear them. KRLA had a partner station, Kya in San Francisco and a Northern California version of the KRLA Beat. It focused on Northern California, the Bay Area, and vicinity and sometimes items about Southern California, and International artists. The KRLA Beat pre-dates, Rolling Stone Magazine by years. If you’re really want some insight into California’s music in the 1960s, simply type in KRLA Beat on Google, and the issues will come up. All the pictures, stories, and articles. It’s great and insightful reading all the old memories. Anyway when we got to San Francisco, we found a room to rent, for a few days. It was a nice elderly English lady that rented it to us. Community accommodations, and only one bed. So we had to take turns sleeping on the floor. It was all we could find on short notice, for the price. It was Christmas Eve 1966. I found out that The Jefferson Airplane was not going to be playing any local venues. So we decided to go to a rock club called the ‘Avalon Ballroom’. Three groups, were going to play that night. A band called The Grateful Dead (they had just finished their first album and were relatively unknown)! The second band was a newly-formed group called Moby Grape (with no album) and a young fellow no one had ever heard of named, Steve Miller. His group was called The Steve Miller Blues Band. Shortly before the theater opened Gary and I walked around the building. We found a group of fellows outside the stage door. We started talking to them. They were auditioning that night for Chet Helms, the promoter for the ‘Avalon Ballroom’. We wished them luck, then went back to the front entrance. The name of the group was Quicksilver Messenger Service. When we got into the theater, there were opaque projectors flashing globules of colored lights all over the walls as the bands played. The light show was rhythmic and pulsed to the music. The crowd loved it. To my knowledge, there was nothing like it in Southern California. Sometime during the evening I started talking to some people who kept, talking about hippies. I asked what are hippies? They said, “They’re the people, that live in Haight/Ashbury”. I didn’t know what they were talking about. My hair was long but I had never heard of hippies. So the next day we found out where Haight/Ashbury was, and we went there. It was odd and colorful, but walking down the street there were lots of people asking for money, or trying to sell things we weren’t interested in. When we got back to the room the nice English lady saw us and asked if we wouldn’t have Christmas dinner with her. We accepted, it was delicious, and a great way to end the day. We stayed one more day and wished her and San Francisco well, and left for Southern California, determined to put a group together. After I got back I heard a schoolmate, Jack Caviness played drums. Gary and I were driving through Moorpark one day, and saw Jack cruising by on his motorcycle. We stopped him and I spoke with him about playing drums, in an original band I was starting. We decided to get together. Jack was barely 16. He had a nice set of Ludwig’s and a lot interest in doing original music. Now all I needed was a good bass player. That’s when Ed Steele appeared. I think Jack knew him, and told him I was looking. So Ed came to our rehearsal. He was 17, very good, and worked out fine. My desire in a bass player was to have the bass part played like a lead guitar in places which he did very well. Simply put, this is how The Bleu Forest was formed. I wrote all the music on the first album. Now I had to teach them the songs, and how to sing them. None of them had much vocal experience. Needless to say, it took a lot of rehearsal time. There were certain parts as well as vocals that had to be done in a particular way to make the music and lyrics gel into the arrangement. Other than that, I gave free license to play as they wished, with me fine tuning the parts to my vision of the songs. Our main discipline was rehearsal, rehearsal and more rehearsal!

Jack: We rehearsed at my parent’s house in Home Acres which was located just outside of Moorpark in a rural area. I still remember that bright red carpet in the living room. Where in the world did my dad find that???? When Michael says we rehearsed a lot that is understated. At least 4-5 times per week. Week after week. When we finally decided we were ready to perform for a live audience we knew the material and could have played it in our sleep. Gary, Ed and myself used the time to let our hair grow long so the image would work.

What can you tell us about the recorded material?

Michael: The music from the first Blue Forest album was not recently discovered, it was recorded from the original tape. Where the original went is unknown. I’ve had the recordings for decades. The first album was a live recording. All songs were one take performed before two microphones. Recorded by Jimmie Haskell. He wanted to capture our live sound. So the songs were performed exactly the way they were done a few hours before, at the club where we were discovered by Barbara Haskell and John Mcneese. The club was called the ‘Hey You Coffee House’, in Ventura California. It was our first paid show, and Barbara Haskell made a special trip from Hollywood that night, just to see us! She wasn’t disappointed. When the show ended, we got a standing ovation! After the show Barbara told me she wanted the band to come to Hollywood to record tomorrow. Well it was after midnight so it was already tomorrow. I agreed and told the band and we packed up. We didn’t get much sleep that night and I think we got to the Haskell’s at about 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning. The recordings were not done in the studio. They were done in an upstairs room in Jimmie and Barbara’s Home. Again a recording machine, two microphones, and the band. Due to the heat and some adjustments he needed make to his equipment we had to stop after a few songs and cool off, then went back and continue. There were no headphones or any other studio amenities and no retakes! It was a hot August day and the air conditioning was off. The recordings of course are not completely flawless, understandably, but the essence and direction of the material is intact. Again only single takes!! It’s powerful when played at high volume as intended. And some of the songs were recorded so well they should have been released as is. Some of the songs are unique and would stand up next to any of the music of time 1966/67. Jimmie liked what he heard and wanted us to do a studio album! But before we could record the album with Jimmie Haskell at Freddy Piro’s Victory Studios, we were told we had to have a contract. After some contract negotiations and rewriting, I came up with the final draft. It was a 3 year contract and anything done with the Blue Forest name was subject to this agreement. Copyright songwriting royalties would be retained exclusively by the author. No band member could be replaced without unanimous consent of the eight parents involved. You see, we were all minors. Only adults could sign a legally-binding contract, although the four of us signed with our respective parents. The Bleu Forest now became a business. This was October 1967. In November 1967, I decided to try out a keyboard player, he was okay, but was never put under contract. We went into Freddie Piro’s studio and record the first song. It was called, “My Friends”. In December 1967 I got my draft notice. It was almost too much to take. After all this work and contractual agreements; It was possibly going to fall apart. The future looked like it was melting away. We didn’t have any more recording sessions coming till January 1968. I had little time to sort this thing out. I told Jack, Ed, and Garry, they might have to use a substitute singer in my place. I even thought about going to Canada. I actually headed north and ended up in the San Francisco Bay area for about a week and a half. The recording sessions were still two or three weeks off. I made the determination to come back and get a temporary deferment, do the recording sessions, then a substitute singer could perform them in my stead. When I got back they had found another singer. I think the keyboard player knew him. And they had four new songs already arranged, with the substitute singer in my place. Later I found out the singer had a tape of another group he had been with. And The Bleu Forest copied the other band’s arrangement. He said he wrote the songs but I know he didn’t write one of them and no one knows for sure, who wrote the other three. I was glad they found a substitute singer; but I was told I was not going to be singing on my own songs in the recording session. I am the author of The Bleu Forest, and needless to say there were many words. This had nothing to do with Jimmie Haskell, and had he known, he might have stepped away from the project. It was a small coup lead by Garry to try and take over the group! It didn’t make any sense. Garry didn’t write, he wasn’t a lead singer. Yet he was going to try to keep me from singing my own songs! The new singer didn’t care one way or the other. The keyboard player, I was trying out, decided he didn’t think I should be a part of The Bleu Forest. The keyboard player and the singer were never contracted members of The Blue Forest. Essentially they were sidemen! They were going to keep “The Bleu Forest” name, which by now, was already popular. So I thought since they’re going to keep my contracted name, “The Bleu Forest”. I would eventually get my 25% of album sales and my copyright royalties, at the other end. If the album sold!! Only four songs I wrote, were used on the second album. The substitute singer brought in four songs, arranged by a previous band. Jack wrote one song, which by the way is one of my favorite Bleu Forest songs. It’s called “Words In My Mind” and it’s a classic heavy metal tune. Before it was called Heavy Metal! I’ve always thought heavy metal and hard rock are synonymous. Different groups do it differently. But it all adds up to very loud and wonderful, driving rock music. And a song called “In The Bleu Forest”, changed to, “A Thousand Trees Deep”, was written by Dorothy Shanks and a friend. I think her name was Shirley, last name unknown. All in all, the album turned out to be a great representation of the time, but a little more Hollywood than I would have liked. I personally like, the raw power of the first album. Sometime in late 1968 or early 1969 the singer started showing up intoxicated on stage, and singing songs other than the ones being performed. This led to conflict and he left the band! The Bleu Forest was a straight band. We didn’t use drugs or alcohol. Not to mention the fact that we were minors! Shortly after this, the keyboard player quit. Fortunately, the singer and keyboard player, were never on the contract. This opportunity was handed to them on a silver platter, and when all was said and done, they threw it to the wind. It was like, oh well, easy come easy go. Now there were only three. I had moved back to Phoenix, entered college, and got a deferment. No one called, to let me know what happened, and the band begin to dissolve. Ed and Jack quit. Gary got another drummer and continued to use the name Bleu Forest. He met up with a superb guitar player named, Larry Nass, who knew Gary from his time with The Bleu Forest. He told Larry about Jimmie Haskell, and they began to form a group. Larry Nass built a make-shift studio in an extra building his parents had and he started writing and recording. At this point the band name was changed to avoid contract dispute. The music was really good, the lyrics were good to very good. Amazingly recorded on a two track tape deck. But the music never got to Jimmie Haskell or he lost interest at that point. I don’t know which. I have a copy of the album and have often thought it would be great to release all three albums as a trilogy. Kind of a “Bleu Forest Saga”! These three albums cover a lot of musical territory. Ironically I ended up playing music with Larry Nass in the 1970s, and my last performance in California was with Larry in Ojai, 1979. Larry became very well known. He worked with Kenny Loggins. At one point he played Carnegie Hall. He passed in the year 2000, a great loss!

Jack: WOW! This brings up memories! Honestly, I had forgotten, maybe on purpose I guess. After Michael left the group it just seemed different. As I recall, the vote was 3 to 2 and the majority ruled. I remember arguing with group members about incorporating a drum solo into our set and being met with opposition by certain members. Well, one night at a performance at a venue in Ventura I did it. Ed knew it was coming but no one else did. We played “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix and at the end I just kept going. I’ll never forget the look on Garry’s face. 15 minutes later after the band rejoined and ended the song by improvising I realized, after a standing ovation, that I was the driving force behind what Bleu Forest had become. It remained the same after that until we dissolved. Ed and I played in many bands together after The Bleu Forest and kept in touch until his passing.

Michael: Before I left for Phoenix, in 1968, John McNeese empathized and told me to put another band together and, bring them back to LA and, we could work out another record deal. After I got to Phoenix and entered college I met two musicians in a chorus class.
They were taking chorus to improve their singing skills. Their names were Mickey McGee and David Burkett. Mickey played drums and Dave played bass. I asked if they were in a band? They told me they were in a hard rock trio, and they did all original material. The group was called, Oat Willie and The Dream Band, and Bill Spooner, was the lead guitarist. They evolved into The Tubes, with Mickey and Dave leaving and, joining Linda Ronstadt
Of course that was a few years off. But right now it was 1968 and, I was trying to find some new players! Mickey and Dave told me they knew a guitar player, that was, looking to join a new group. His name was John Tatum. John Tatum and Vincent Furnier were founding members of a group of musicians that eventually became known as, The Alice Cooper Group; but when I met John Tatum there was no Alice Cooper Group. They had called themselves The Earwigs, The Spiders, and then The Nazz. They couldn’t keep the name, ‘The Nazz’, because Todd Rundgren had a band by, the same name! I wrote a song called “The Procession For Alice Roe”, that spring 1968. It was a song about a woman from another century who, passed away, and the emotions and, visual contrasts. A pretty Sunday morning, a man who lost his loved one, walking behind a dark procession, and his personal reflections about this, as he walks. I played this song as well as other original material at various places around Phoenix. A few months later The Nazz changed their name to Alice Cooper. Now I’m not saying… I’m just sayin’. By the way; none of these bands were under contract. Basically they were popular local bands that were trying to break out, they were doing nothing visual. 
Anyway as luck would have it, while Mickey and Dave were talking about musicians, a girl in the next row down turned and said, my boyfriend plays bass and sings. So I got his number and set up an audition. His name was Dennis Johnson. Dennis eventually ended up with a band called Chase. All the members of Chase were killed when their plane crashed; except Dennis and the drummer. Another group was formed afterwards; It was called Survivor
But again this is 1968. Dennis stopped by, he was good, I showed him some of my songs and, we started working on harmonies. I had contacted John Tatum and he came by and, we started to get acquainted musically. It seemed like this lineup might work out. Mickey and Dave also got me in touch with a drummer, Reid Furhman. These fellows were really helpful and we became good friends. John wanted to bring in the drummer he had worked with for years in The Earwigs, Spiders, etc. but I wanted to keep the drummer I had. 
We rehearsed my songs for about a month and it was going along well, but then John stopped coming to practices and, it was getting frustrating. This led to the group ending. Interestingly a few weeks later I found the three of them, in a nightclub in Tempe Arizona, playing my original material! They weren’t planning on recording, any of my material, so I didn’t mind. What do they say? Imitation is the greatest form of flattery! I never told anyone in Phoenix that I was, under contract and was involved with Jimmy Haskell, The Bleu Forest and the album that was produced, or the one in production. I didn’t want to work with musicians who were with me simply because of who I knew or what kind of quick opportunity they might clean from our association. I wanted to work with musicians who has a strong desire to do something original, get a record deal, and do concerts. I ran into a lot of musicians who dreamed of getting a chance, to go into a recording studio but it was more about fantasy than a real goal. In Phoenix,groups would form, then break-up and, reform then break-up,etc. They weren’t getting anywhere, and usually the players would just give up all together. To make it, you really needed to be near the recording industry, or have someone really special working for you, on the inside. Of course this was, pre Internet! After many failed attempts, I decided to go solo. I’d occasionally do venues where you could play original music and sometimes free concerts. These setbacks didn’t stop my writing. It continued on, unabetted. 
A lot of things happened, in the following years, but I won’t go into the boring details. The mid 1970s found me, living in Santa Barbara California. In 1979, I came back to Phoenix. Then, in 1980, I met the Judas Priest band. I had a friend, named John Baxter, who really loved their music!! I may have heard some of their music at the past, but I didn’t know who they were. I would visit John and he would crank up the stereo so loud, you could barely carry on a conversation. John was about 13 years my junior, and we worked, in an advertising dept; selling products to businesses nationwide. John was the manager. On June 12th 1980, Judas Priest was coming to town and, we were going to see them. 
I dropped by that morning,we were thinking about going to a water park, but hadn’t decided yet. The concert was several hours off. John mentioned that, Judas Priest was going to be at Tower Records signing albums. So I suggested we take all of John’s albums over, meet the band and get them signed. He was a little hesitant at first but,soon we were on our way to the signing. I brought along a movie camera to record the event,but the lightning was too low, to get good pictures. Well, John got all his albums signed, he even had them sign his arms and, somehow, was able to get a backstage pass. We went to the concert that night,and afterwards, John went back stage. Then next day John related how he had spent a couple of hours speaking with, and critiquing the band. John had a full knowledge of all of Judas Priest’s material, music and, lyric. He was like a super fan! Well the band liked what John had to say, and he started communicating with them, by phone.
Then he went to Miami to meet with the band. And they offered him a job, working as an advance man for the band! Eventually he became Rob Halford’s manager. Towards mid-summer 1980, Rob came to Phoenix for a couple days, and Rob, John and I went to listen to some local bands playing. A few months later the whole band came to Phoenix and, we began to become good friends- We have been good friends ever since! In August 1984, at Rob’s birthday party, I found a video camera and, started recording the event. It was like reality television 1984. The next day we watched the tape and, it didn’t turn out too bad,considering the lighting and,the fact that it was spontaneously done.
After I made this recording I was given the opportunity to tape, Judas Priest, when they played in Phoenix mid 1980s and through the 1990s. I did it for free, as a friend and, I do have copies of my work. I did 6 or 7 shows over the years; also when Judas Priest played, ‘Live Aid’ in July 1985, I suggested to John, we take a video camera and, do some recording. We made a video of ‘Live Aid’, that has never been seen publicly. And as I understand it, some of the Priest videos I made in Phoenix were, the only ones made during certain concert tour years. It was a pleasure and a privilege to make these recordings!! What an incredible couple of decades!!
These days, I’m still writing and recording, and I don’t feel any different than when I was 18. It was an amazing year; what with putting The Bleu Forest together, the war going, and the drama. I’m older chronological, been through a lot of learning experiences, and grow according to my capacity; like most everyone else living under the Sun. But I still have the optimism of my youth. I guess I’ll always be a teenager!! The efforts of Jack Caviness and his tenacity have been heroic, in bringing the second Bleu Forest album to fruition. It’s like a stroke of genius that he was able to accomplish this. It wasn’t easy and he spent more than 2 years on this project. 100 percent of the credit goes to Jack Wesley Caviness Jr.

All photos from Michael Cullen’s collection.

– Klemen Breznikar
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