Terry Melcher Page 2

Melcher was now pretty much the hottest producer in America, the inventor of that sunshine-y sound that the world gladly embraced. Soaring, light, crisp, clear, tremulous, shimmering like the heat off a Mojave desert highway, it was a sound that exuded liberty and opportunity, fresh and new, not hung-up on anything except, maybe, the draft or a bust.

This was the sound of music growing its hair, wearing tassels and beads, bell bottoms and capes. Beatles-y brushed through with cinnamon and spices, speaking a language only the young could truly understand.


As Roger McGuinn later recalled: 'He brought that creamy California sound that he superimposed on the rough-edged folk rock sound that we were doing and... it gave a lustre that it wouldn't have had'.

Melcher went on to produce The Byrds' first two albums, overseeing such hits as 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' and 'All I Really Want To Do' before the band, disgruntled at his lack of faith in their musical abilities and wishing to spread their wings, dispensed with his services. Although the band, now featuring just McGuinn from the original lineup, later reconciled with Melcher for their Ballad Of Easy Rider, Untitled and Byrdmaniax LPs, the latter known as 'Melcher's folly' after he overdubbed a ton of orchestration and suchlike onto the lacklustre tracks without the group's knowledge or consent.

Into The Dark
He did some other stuff – sang backing vocals on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, co-wrote 'Kokomo' with them, helped organise the Monterey Pop Festival and released a couple of country rockfish solo LPs, Terry Melcher and Royal Flush, but when he died in 2004 of malignant melanoma, rather than the fulsome praise he richly deserved for creating those wonderful Byrds anthems, his obituaries tended to concentrate on a production job he declined. And the resulting repercussions.


The story goes like this. His pal Dennis Wilson had quit the family home and was driving to his new gaff on Sunset Boulevard when he stopped to pick up a couple of cute-looking hitch-hikers. He left them at his pad and went to a Beach Boys recording session. On his return at about 3am, the house was packed with people, there was a party going on and he was met by this weird-looking dude in his driveway who fell to his knees and kissed his feet. The creepy-crawly was Charles Manson.

Under The Spell
For the next three months, orgies ensued, Manson's Family moved in and Wilson became one of the 'guru''s disciples. Wilson started taking Manson to high-falutin' Hollywood parties and soon Gregg Jakobson also fell under the spell, insisting that Melcher might want to audition Manson for a recording contract. Wilson actually started to write with him and convinced his fellow Beach Boys to record a composition eventually called 'Never Learn Not To Love'. Melcher was currently living in a house at 10050 in Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills with his actress girlfriend Candice Bergman and Wilson brought Manson to visit.


Melcher promised to give Manson a hearing and accompanied Jakobson to the Spahn Ranch, a pretty much deserted old Western movie-set out in the boonies where Manson housed most of his followers. Manson sat on a rock, played guitar and sang, his followers crooning along like his songs were hymns. Melcher wasn't greatly impressed. Still, he visited a second time, proposing to maybe make a film of Manson and his brood.

Big Promises
Then a rumour spread that Manson'd shot a drug dealer and both Melcher and Wilson backed off. Manson took the rejection badly. Very badly. Wilson moved out of his mansion, leaving the landlord to evict Manson's crew while in the meantime, Melcher had moved from Cielo Drive to one of his mother's pads in Malibu, a fact that Manson knew. Then Manson got it into his head and his cult's that The Beatles' new LP, The White Album, was a signal for him to start a race war and bring havoc upon the world. Manson also wanted Melcher scared.

One of his tribe recollected, 'Terry, Charlie told us, had made him some big promises and then never came through. Terry, Charlie said, didn't care about anything but money. Gradually, it seemed clearer and clearer, at least to us, that Terry Melcher was the one who had failed Charlie, who had led him along and then betrayed him, who had kept his music from the world.' Another reckoned: 'The reason Charlie picked the house was to instil fear into Terry Melcher because Terry had given his word on a few things and never came through with them'.

And so it was that the new tenants of 10050 Cielo Drive, the actress Sharon Tate and some drug buddies, were slaughtered by Manson's gang in one of the most documented murders in history, Manson achieving what he set out to do, scaring the Be-Jesus out of Melcher while keeping him alive in the hope that he'd repent and give him a contract.

Fear And Loathing
When the Family were rounded up, Melcher was called to testify. He was almost catatonic with fear. 'Manson sat there smiling at me through the whole thing. The three girls too.

'I finally went to a psychiatrist. He said, "I don't know what to tell you. You're going to be crazy for a while. Try to get through it".'

So the guy who played a big part in starting the hippie movement on the West Coast inadvertently had a hand in destroying it.

Years later, when he'd gathered the nerve to talk about it, Melcher revealed: 'I've seen Dennis (Wilson) a couple of times since, but he's never made any comment about any of that. The most he's said has been something like: "Phew! Weird"'.