THE RISE AND FALL OF THE ORIGINAL MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM
There was a time, let's say in 1965, in which Don Conca, member of an up-and-coming multi-racial folk-rock group called Love, was unanimously recognized as the best drummer in La La Land both by his peers and fans. "Mutual fans told me his solos were unparalleled," recalls Michael Stuart-Ware, who played drums for the Sons Of Adam at that time. "He was an incredibly gifted solo drummer. His solos were legendary… but that's not all he could do, he was a great all round drummer, as well." There was also a time, let's say in 1966, where the same peers and fans thought Conca had already dropped dead somewhere after he simply disappeared from the scene from one day to another. How the hell did this happen so quickly? It's simple, "he had, without a second thought, chosen drugs over music," points out Michael Stuart-Ware. That sort of one-year stand with rock 'n' roll as a member of Love, as well as his existence before and after it, has barely been documented beyond a few mentions in publications related to the band where, incidentally and just to add more confusion to his already full of urban myths life, Conca's surname is always wrongly spelled Conka, with a k, a letter that do not even exist in the Italian orthography. Yes, Italy. That's where this uniquely Hollywood story actually begins…
Giuseppe Conca was just another one of the millions Italians looking for a steady source of work, any work, when he decided to emigrate to the US. Landed along with him to the so-called promised land, there was his wife Maria Pingitore, and their only child, Gaetano (b. October 5, 1915). The Conca family settled in Los Angeles, California, where Gaetano, or 'Guy' as he was affectionately known to his family and friends, worked as an assembler at a local car factory as a young adult. It was also in the City of Angels that, in the early to mid Forties, Guy married a second-generation Italian girl called Edith Mass. The youngest of 14 siblings (12 girls and 2 boys), Edith was born on July 24, 1924, in Wilpen, Pennsylvania, to Italian immigrants Luigi Massasso (surname legally shortened to Mass after emigrating to the US) and Maria DiMartini. Although unable to finish school due to her large family, Edith had a knack for fashion and was very successful in that business at that time. The newlyweds lived in Laurel Canyon, a mountainous neighborhood-canyon located in the Hollywood Hills region of the Santa Monica Mountains, when their only child, Donald Michael Conca, was born on Tuesday, December 24, 1946. Undoubtedly the best Christmas gift ever! Not long after, however, Don's parents divorced after Guy abandoned Edith and either refused, or neglected, to provide for her. Sometime later, Guy remarried another woman and subsequently lost contact with his son [Footnote: Guy passed away on May 25, 1996, in Las Vegas]. At that point, Edith and Don moved into a small, but nice, one bedroom apartment in Hollywood Boulevard, near the old Chinese Theatre [Footnote: in later years Edith remarried twice and was widowed both times, before she passed away too on August 5, 2007, in Los Angeles].
In 1961, Don enrolled at the Hollywood High School, a four-year public secondary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It was there that he became part of their football bee team (jersey No. 15, and only for one year 1961-62) and also started playing drums with a rock band called the Gents, which included a bass player named John William Fleckenstein. Don and 'Fleck', as everyone called him, were partner in crime since they were kid as they attended elementary and junior high school together.
In 1962, as well as playing with his high school band the Gents, Don started to play with another band called the Cherokees (possibly spelt the Cherokee’s: hard to say as they never wrote the name down), after Cherokee Avenue, a street in Hollywood where their lead guitar player lived and where they started messing around. "I met Don somewhere around 1962 when he showed up at a party at my house. We hooked with some friends of his and formed a band called the Cherokee's," recalls their rhythm guitar player Norman J. Hauge. According to Norman, the band only played private parties around town because at the time he was the only one old enough (i.e. over 21) to go into bars or nightclubs. The band disbanded a year later in 1963. Also that year, the Gents eventually disbanded too, after Don dropped out from Hollywood High at the end of his sophomore year in June (he should've graduated with the Class of Winter '65). So, at that point, Don's career as an up-and-coming rock drummer went on "hiatus" until the following year. However, he continued to showed his improving drumming skills in the school's parking lot over the summer, and it was during one of this impromptu sessions that he met a lead guitar player named Johnny Echols, who attended summer school at the Hollywood High at that time. "One Friday morning," recalls Echols, "I noticed a huge crowd of people heading for the parking lot (obviously the wrong direction, school hadn't even started yet.) Being a rather curious young man, I joined them. My eyes soon found the object of all that attention! A short skinny dude, with a mop of black hair, in the back of a ‘Woody’ that had been turned into a pickup truck. He'd just finished setting up his drums, and had started to play. I stood there, and proceeded to have my mind blown. His name was Don Conca, he was not a finesse drummer, or someone who would sit back, and establish a groove. He was from the Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich school of drumming. The type of drummer who would have his kit in front of the bandstand, not in the back. Conca enthralled the crowd for at least an hour, non-stop. One couldn't help notice the effect he was having on the girls in attendance. Either they stood watching him with adoring eyes, or they were dancing; either way they were all tuned in… to him. This skinny little dude with all the hair, was a star!" "When he had finished playing, and while he was drying the sweat off with a towel," continues Echols, "I walked over and introduced myself. I informed him that I was a guitar player, and that I was working down the street at The Sea Witch [as member of the Chuck Daniels Band]. His eyes lit up, 'Oh you're playing with Fleck?' Surprised, I said 'Yeah!' Then Don informed me that he had known John Fleck since grade school. 'We'll be there tonight,' I replied… He said 'Cool, I might fall by.' That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship." In the meantime, Don's former bandmate Norman J. Hauge had started another band called the Interns with Rick Rupp on tenor sax, Karl Sevareid on bass, Tom Trujillo on lead guitar, and Jim Voight on drums. Then, in January 1964, Voight left the band (he later formed the Peanut Butter Conspiracy) and "at that point I asked Don to join our group," recalls Norman. "Don was a far superior drummer. The best I have ever seen. His meter was excellent and his arms were so strong that he never got tired. He played a set of red Ludwig's with dual tom tom's." Advertising as 'The Swinging Sounds Of The Interns' on both their business card and concert posters, the band played mainly at private parties, high school dances (at Lincoln High School for example) and rec centers (at Highland Park Recreation Center for example), but once, on April 4, they also played at the old Boulevard Theatre in East L.A.
In May 1964, however, the Interns disbanded after Norman had to report for boot camp when conscripted for active duty with the Army National Guard. When he returned to Los Angeles in September, Don and the other guys in the band had all gone their separate ways. "Don was living with his mother in Hollywood and he sometimes stayed at my place in Highland Park. We were good friends and I am sorry that we lost touch with each other," regrets Norman. "His mother and I were friends also and had dinner together a number of times years later." Norman did not see Don again after the Interns, but he recalls that the drummer was already into some sort of drugs when they played together. "When I first met Don he did not do drugs but did have an addictive personality," he recalls. "He was literally hooked on Coca-Cola and Hostess Twinkies. He started smoking pot when we were with the Interns. We had to play the first set without a drummer a couple of times because he 'had to get drugs'. He obviously went on from smoking grass." After the Interns disbanded, seems like everyone who knew Don at the time lost track of him. Well, everyone but one actually. That one was his old partner in crime, John Fleck, who, keeping in mind how good his friend was as drummer, asked him to join a multi-racial Beatles-esque rock 'n' roll band called the American Four in early 1965. Duly inspired by the Beatles’ US television debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, the band was co-founded soon after by lead singer Arthur Lee and lead guitar player Johnny Echols, along with Fleck on bass and John Jacobson on drums, the latter a classmate of Fleck at Hollywood High. After a year, several gigs, and even one single released for Selma label, John Jacobson quit the band to go back to college, so Fleck brought in Conca as a replacement. In February 1965, right after Conca became their new drummer, the American Four were hired to play for a month as house band at the California Club in South L.A. "The California was a grown up club. We were still too young to even walk by such a place, playing there was simply out of the question," Johnny Echols explains. "However with a little bluff (we wore hats and little penciled-in moustaches) and swagger, we were able to pull off the subterfuge and nobody caught on. Max, the guy from the Musicians’ Union Local 47, he also managed the club. He knew we were kids, but he was fine with us and would allow us to play as long as we didn't touch the alcohol, stayed away from the bar. We ended up opening up for all kinds of blues and rhythm 'n' blues acts." Conca, in the meantime, "had to get drugs" more and more, so he missed some gigs there, and the band had few other drummers that they used when he wasn't available, such as John Jacobson, Roland Davis, and Carl Byrd. In April 1965, now duly inspired by the new folk-rock sound of the Byrds, the so-called "America's answer to The Beatles", the American Four changed their name to the Grass Roots, a name taken by Arthur Lee from the Malcolm X quote: "Grass Roots being people in the streets doing something for themselves." At that point they became the house band of a private gay bar called Brave New World on Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood. "Some guys who lived across the street from me had a cousin who ran a gay bar on Melrose by Fairfax called Brave New World," Johnny Echols explains. "The owner, Alan Collins, had told me, 'Hey, listen, we’re gonna turn it into a straight club so don’t worry about it. When you guys get here it’ll be straight.' The first night I got there, it was nothing but guys. I said, 'Oh man, I’m not gonna play at this place.' So, we played a couple of nights, and we were about to split but, sure enough, Alan kept his word and got some girls to show up. He put the word out that we were playing, because we had developed a pretty good following as the American Four. After a while it became sort of 50-50, and pretty soon the straight people would outnumber the gays. When the Fire Marshall started coming in and closing the place down, because we were drawing so many people by then, Alan had this brainstorm: he would put canvas on the gates, and on the fence outside. There was a parking lot right next to the store, so he put this canvas around it, and put these two big huge Voice Of The Theater speakers out there and charged admission so the gay folks went outside and danced, and the straight people stayed inside. We now had room for three times as many people."
In July 1965, while they continued to play at the Brave New World six nights a weeks for fifteen bucks a night, the Grass Roots added to their lineup one of their most enthusiastic fan, a six-string rhythm guitar player named Bobby BeauSoleil. A larger than life character with a mixed reputation, BeauSoleil, who later became infamous after his association with Charles Manson's Family (but that's another story), was replaced in August, after only three weeks, by Bryan MacLean, a former roadie of the Byrds. Also, since September, a local actor, singer and harmonica player named Vince Flaherty began to regularly sit-in as guest with the band at the Brave New World. "In September, after a few weeks of playing together with our new lineup we were beginning to attract more and more attention from the record companies," Echols explains. "One night in particular stands out. I'll refer to it as a night to remember. Bryan and I were on break, standing outside of the club, when we were approached by a (clearly) smashed record company executive, Lou Adler. He had a completely over the top young lady with him, who was as beautiful as (he) was 'snockered.' Lou, as he insisted we call him, was profuse in his compliments, embarrassingly so. He was going to turn the Grass Roots into this huge 'super group,' bigger than the Stones and Beatles combined. He was going to make us wealthier than Howard Hughes ever dreamed of being. Under his guidance we would become the most successful rock group (ever). We politely listened to him, after all, he was the head of a very successful label [Dunhill Records at that time], even though it had been totally obvious from the moment he walked over, that this whole thing was more about impressing the young lady with how powerful he was than about signing us to a record deal. Then one of us committed an unpardonable sin, I'm not sure if I did it or if it was Bryan, but one of us, or both of us, interrupted him and explained that our break was almost over, and suggested that he speak with our manager concerning his offer. All of a sudden the man's face turned absolutely crimson, the brightest red I had ever seen on anyone, then he exploded and the expletives flew. How dare we brush him off like that, did we know who (he) was, who did we think (we) were, (he) was a 'star' maker, (we) were nothing, nobodies. On and on it went, one drunken barrage after another, this guy had a vocabulary of swear-words that was truly impressive and he used this opportunity to express each and every one of them! Then he crossed the line and went too far, he said the 'magic words,' I knew he was going to, but I couldn't believe he actually did. 'You’ll never work in this town again!' That did it, Bryan and I started laughing, and laughing… we could not stop. The more we laughed, the madder he got, until he finally turned and stormed off, leaving a bewildered young lady behind!" In September 1965, Don, alongside his bandmate Bryan MacLean, tried unsuccessfully to audition for a part in the upcoming NBC-TV show The Monkees. Bryan was immediately rejected, while Don at least passed all of the auditions and was one of the last call backs. However, the Monkees gig never materialized so, set aside the dream of become a television star, Conca continued to play with the Grass Roots and, around September or October, he did his first recording session with them. The session was at the Original Sound Recorders, on Sunset Boulevard, and the band recorded a demo tape supervised by Jerry Hopkins (later to become a famous music author and journalist) who had aspirations to become the band’s manager, along with an associate named Doug Lyon. Two of the tracks recorded were the Lee/Echols composition 'Mushroom Clouds,' and Lee’s 'You I’ll Be Following,'. The 3rd verse of the latter song's lyrics even contained a mention of Don: 'I went to Johnny / I went to Conka / One of the them told me / That he was holding, but now.' You see? It's Arthur Lee's fault if Conca's surname was always wrongly spelled since 1965! Anyway, the demo tape was apparently rejected by several major labels and, as a result, Hopkins and Lyon didn't become the band’s managers. [Footnote: 'You I'll Be Following' was posthumously released in 2006 by Norton Records on a colored vinyl 45, coupled with the American Four's 'Stay Away' on the A side].
Soon after, that fall of '65, Conca was back in the studio, but this time not with the Grass Roots. He was hired to backed up singer-songwriter and harmonica player Bobby Jameson, a cult figure of the LA music scene, on the recording of his latest single, 'Viet Nam / Metropolitan Man'. Other than Conca on drums, the band who backed Bobby up also featured three members from The Leaves - John Beck on maracas, Jim Pons on bass, and Bill Rinehart on guitar - plus an unidentified black guy on piano and tambourine. The session took place at the Sunset Gower Studios, West Hollywood, with Freddy Smith as producer. The single was later released probably only as a promo and in very limited numbers, on the Mira Records label in late '65 (according to the catalog number), or at least in early '66 (according to Jameson himself). It vanished without a trace and is now virtually impossible to find at any price, infact several noted record collectors have never even seen a copy! By the way, American film director Robert Carl Cohen, had filmed Bobby, Don and the other guys during the recording of 'Viet Nam' that day in the studio, and that historic footage (the first and only official video appearance of Conca) was later included on Mondo Hollywood, Cohen's famous underground motion picture documentary about the Sunset Strip scene that was released in July 1967. 'Viet Nam' also appeared on the movie soundtrack album released in October of that same year on Tower Records.
In the meatime, in early October 1965, the Grass Roots leave Brave New World and became the new house band of a nightclub called Bido Lito's, on Cosmo Street, downtown Hollywood. The band played there six nights a week for 25 (and later 50) bucks a night: four one-hour sets a night between 8:00pm and 2:00am. "The group accepted a job at Bido Lito’s," Johnny Echols recalls, "which was an acronym for Bill, Dorothy, Linda and Tommy. Tommy Thompson, the son and ‘brains trust’ of the family that owned the club, had made the Grass Roots an offer we couldn't refuse. Since we would be the first group to play there, we would have the opportunity to design the stage and sound system as a showcase for us. When we moved to Bido Lito’s the audience followed us there and we had the same problems with the crowds and overflow. But because Cosmo’s Alley was a semi-private street they were able to block part of it off. They set up these huge speakers on the street. Even though people couldn’t see the group they would pay to sit and listen to us outside." Apparently, there are a bunch of still unreleased live recordings of the band at the Bido Lito's according to Echols. "There was a local legend, named Jeffie Eisen, who was a friend of ours. Many times, while we were playing at Bido Lito's, he would bring his Roberts tape recorder and set up next to my amp. I know he made several tapes which he played for Arthur and me." It was around this time that a situation emerged concerning another band in L.A. that were also using the name the Grass Roots, and who had just released their debut single, 'Mr. Jones (The Ballad Of A Thin Man) / You’re A Lonely Girl,' for Lou Adler’s Dunhill Records. They pretty much captured the band name by being the first to record using it. So there was a minor war going on with people taking sides over who the real Grass Roots were. "One night ‘Beatle Bob,’ one of the regulars at the club, stopped by while we were setting up our instruments with the astonishing news that he had heard our new record on the radio," Echols recollects. "‘What record?’ someone asked. Bob, surprised by the response, said ‘The Dylan song, you know, Mr. Jones.’ A local disc jockey has been playing it all day and, each time he played it, he would announce, 'Here's the new one from our very own the Grass Roots!' We just sat there, stunned, ‘How could this happen?’ was all anyone could say. How it happened was soon apparent. Not very long after our run-in at the club, Lou Adler had put together a group of studio musicians in San Francisco, and called them the Grass Roots; knowing full-well that the name had already been registered by us. This was not just payback time, there was a sound, [well] thought-out business reason behind his actions. He was very much aware of the ambiguities in the trademark/copyright laws. So even if we had filled a lawsuit and won, time was [still] on his side. The man knew his way around the business, and took full advantage of its weakness. In the sixties, long before all the record stores were wired; as part of a computer network, they would use test markets as a method of judging how well a particular record was selling. The record department of Music City in Hollywood was a key part of that test market. So when the crowd from Brave New World heard that their Grass Roots had a record out, they went right over to Music City and purchased it by the hundreds, thereby causing a skewing of the numbers which caused it to appear as though ‘Mr. Jones’ by the Grass Roots was garnering [huge] sales everywhere, thus giving it a strong push up the charts; this caused more sales, which caused more movement up the charts, and so on, and so on, and so on. We discussed the situation, weighed our options, and came to the conclusion that we would choose a new name: Welcome to the Music Business!" In order to take control of the situation, it was decided that Arthur Lee’s Grass Roots were going to have to change their name, and so, two weeks into their stint at the Bido Lito’s around mid/late October, they became Love, as Echols explains: "One day Bryan, Arthur and I were driving along Beverly Boulevard, when we noticed a huge billboard for ‘Luv Brassieres.’ I mentioned to Bryan that Arthur had once worked there. After he had finished laughing and kidding Arthur about it, Bryan said that The Luv would be a great name for our group. Arthur replied that he was thinking the same thing only spelled L.O.V.E. I joined in (in complete agreement) but added it should be Love with no ‘The’ in front. We were all elated at how everything had fallen into place, out of the blue and just like that, the decision was made, now and forever we would be known as Love, and that's exactly how the Grass Roots got their new name. After playing at Bido Lito's for a couple of weeks, we decided to allow the crowd to participate in the selection (even though the decision was already etched in stone). Arthur gave them the names we were considering and without hesitation ‘Love’ was the overwhelming favorite. The choices were ‘Summer’s Children’ (suggested by Bryan), ‘The Asylum Choir,’ ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ ‘Poetic Justice,’ ‘The Domino Effect,’ ‘The Coalition,’ ‘December’s Children,’ and ‘Love’. We let the audience decide, and Love was picked overwhelmingly. We were all in complete agreement that Love was the one. The next time we played Bido Lito’s was on a Saturday night, when the group was introduced for the first time (anywhere) as Love. The response was fantastic, the place was packed. Both The LA Times and LA Free Press had sent reporters to find out what all the commotion was about. They found out and, in turn, told the rest of Los Angeles that in a place known as Cosmo's Alley (where the club was located) a group called Love had arrived. Night after night, we played and the crowd responded; it was an experience that is almost impossible to describe, unless you were there and a part of it!" In November 1965, the recently rechristened Love says goodbye to their beloved longtime bass player John Fleck after the latter quit the music business and got into the Hollywood motion picture business as a camera assistant. He was replaced by Kenny Forssi, formerly of The Surfaris ('Wipe Out', remember right?). The new lineup continued to play six nights a week at the Bido Lito's although, on some of those nights, their fans getting pissed off after they find out that their favorite drummer was AWOL due to his increased drug addiction. On these occasions, Forssi's friend Alban Marc Pfisterer, or 'Snoopy' as everyone called him since he was a kid, filled in for Conca. "Snoopy was kind of off and on," Johnny Echols explains. "Snoopy was roommate with Kenny Forssi and he played the drums intermittently when Conca was unavailable or too high to play, or whatever. I thought Snoopy was a fine drummer actually, but he just looked totally different. He was not quite as ‘hip’ as the rest of the group. So he was kind of an outsider as such, he made no effort to fit in, or be a real part of the group." "They never planned for me to be the drummer," Snoopy confirms. "I had no experience before Love. I would just sit in when Don couldn’t make it. Then, when Don would say that he was straightening out and going to be responsible, they’d fire me. A few weeks later they’d need me again and ask me to sit in. They never rehearsed with me before I joined. I would just get a call to come down and that was that. Musically, I was so inexperienced and the band was sort of down on me. Nobody really wanted me to be in the group." Anyway, Conca maybe missed "some" gigs, but at least he was always present when someone asked him to going into the studio. This time he was hired - along with Echols, MacLean and Forssi, i.e. Love minus Arthur Lee - to backed up their longtime friend Vince Flaherty on some of the new songs he composed under his newly acquired recording contract for Verve-Folkways Records. Vince and the band recorded four tracks - 'Yes It's True', 'She', 'Moth Child' and 'Dead From You' - over two or more sessions at the Gold Star Studios, on Santa Monica Boulevard, downtown Hollywood, between November and December 1965 ('Dead From You' was the last song recorded on December 7). It was the intention of his manager, Nick Venet, that the band would back up Vince on the road if any of the songs made the charts. However, somewhat unexpectedly, Vince’s theatrical agent in Italy, the late Fernando Ghia, signed him up to star in an Italian Western movie (originally titled Lanky Fellow but later released under the name Per il Gusto di Uccidere), so Vince put the tapes away, left LA for Rome, and never turned back!
In the meantime, in December 1965, during one of their sold out performances at the Bido Lito's, and during another one of those nights where Conca was "missing in action" and Snoopy need to filled in for him in a hurry, Jac Holzman, the founder of the independent Elektra Records label, came to check them out on the recommendation of the band manager Herbie Cohen. Love’s interpretation of the classic 'Hey Joe' was the very first song that Holzman heard the band perform live. He was so impressed that he hoped to sign the band on the spot and that same night approached them with the offer of a contract. "Herbie Cohen was this ex-military guy that we didn’t really take to,” Johnny Echols reveals, “he came to the club and told us he had this friend from New York, a record company executive, and would we mind talking to him. That’s how we met Jac Holzman. We went to Canter’s deli after the show, and Jac presented his case to us." Apparently the meeting between the band and Holzman went well, because at the dawn of the new year, on January 4, 1966, Love became the first rock band to sign with Elektra. Before signing, however, the band told Holzman that they wanted to have the publishing rights to their songs and that they be given their own publishing company, named Grass Roots Music, to administer their songs. Elektra agreed and the contract was signed. The label offered the group a one-year contract that included two additional annual options for 14 sides each (January 1967 and January 1968) at the company's discretion. The clause that granted Arthur Lee control of both advances and royalties didn't exactly please his band mates. Jac Holzman gave them $5,000 in cash as an advance and the money was split between four of them: Arthur, Johnny, Kenny and Bryan. Don Conca was also included on the contract as a member of the band but he did not sign the contract that day because, as always, he was nowhere to be found. Snoopy was there when the band signed the contract but he was still a "temporary" member, so he was excluded from the contract and he didn't have a full share. On January 24, 1966, Love entered the Sunset Sound Recorders, on Sunset Boulevard, for their first official Elektra recording session. The band was there to start recording their eponymously titled debut album. Until then, Conca never missed a session, but this time he was again AWOL. Anyway, the session can not be canceled because Elektra had already paid for the studio time, so Arthur Lee occupied the drum stool that day! At the end of it, however, the band had a meeting where it was sadly decided that Conca would be fired because it became clear to everyone that, as Michael Stuart-Ware once says: "With Love perched on the verge of success, ready to record their first album and being touted as the next big L.A. rock group, [he] had simply stopped showing up for performances. He had, without a second thought, chosen drugs over music." Someone once said: "the show must go on", so the band hired Snoopy as their new permanent drummer and with him they completed the recording of their debut album, which was released two months later, in March 1966. Although he was out from the band by then, Don Conca's tortured spirit was hovering over the album, not only because a new version of 'You I'll Be Following' was included on it, but most of all because he was, obviously, the "D.C." mentioned in another song of the album, 'Signed D.C.', one of Arthur Lee's most impressive compositions. The song, inspired by the lifestyle of their former drummer, takes the form of a letter, capturing all of the anguish of drug addiction to great effect.
Meanwhile somewhere in Hollywood, Conca keeped himself posted about any news related to his former band, as evidenced by the fact that he showed up from time to time at the infamous 'The Castle', that big old creepy and secluded mansion located in the Rancho Los Feliz neighborhood of L.A., south of Griffith Park, where Love lived together over the spring and summer of '66. Maybe in the hope that he would clean from drugs and return to the band soon, Love even listed Conca as their drummer when they signed a new union contract for live engagements on May 2. Nedless to say, it never happened. Sometime later, in late August, in one of life's ironic little moments, Conca even met by chance the band's newest drummer Michael Stuart-Ware (he replaced Snoopy who switched to electric harpsichord, keyboards, organ, and tambourine for a while before they fired him too) at a local grocery store. This could have been a slightly embarrassing moment as Don had found out that Michael had got the Love gig, but he clearly bore no ill will to the new drummer or the rest of the band. In fact, he said how pleased he was that things had turned out this way as he felt that Michael was the only drummer on the scene who could handle the job. Being a drummer himself, and having seen Michael play in the Sons Of Adam, this was a great compliment and a touching moment. However, apparently this was the last time someone from his former band, or anyone else at all, saw him around. In fact it was at that point that stories about Don's premature death for overdose began to circulate among fans, friends, and peers. The reality, fortunately, was a little bit different. Yes, he was still a junkie and on Methadone, but at least he was alive and (more or less) well, and to pay the bills he went to work as an air conditioner repair man for some time, before going to California Men's Colony state prison in San Luis Obispo, California, for around ten years over the 70s, during which time he definitely lost contact with all his friends.
At the dawn of the 80s, Don was released from prison and, although still a heroin addict, he tried to keep his life together, so first of all he found a new job as a fire extinguisher salesman, and then, in 1981, he reconnected with his former high school sweetheart Prudence Ann McIntyre (b. July 12, 1945, Los Angeles), the daughter of the famous orchestra leader, singer, arranger and author Mack McIntyre. 'Pru', as everyone called her, and her older sister Patience were performing and recording as a child singing duo under the name of Patience and Prudence in the mid to late 1950s. Although they never legally married, Don and Pru became a couple and stayed together "until death do us part", or should be more correct to say "until drugs do them apart", considering that Pru was also a junkie and a severe alcoholic! On December 28, 1982, their only child, a daughter named Paige Ann, was born in Toluca Lake, a L.A.'s neighborhood located in the San Fernando Valley. "My father was my best friend and one of the kindest people I ever met. He was such a funny, personable, man," says Paige, who, just like her folks, became both a musician (she played different styles of music on banjo, bass, guitar, and drums) and a heroin addict after she left school at 16. "I should have known better given that my parents were screwed up," she recalls. "Perhaps subconsciously I wanted to understand what was so great that they chose this over their kid. I got to the point where I needed $50 a day for drugs. I didn’t want to steal and the thing I could live easiest with was prostitution. But I ended up serving a prison sentence for it and possession of heroin." [Footnote: after she was released from prison, Paige tried to put her life together, she find a boyfriend, Bill, and moved with him to Seattle, but sadly she continued to getting high so one day her boyfriend told her to leave and since then (2014) she became an homeless]
It was probably after seeing his daughter fall into the spiral of drugs addiction too, that ultimately pushed Don to clean from drugs at the dawn of the new millenium. In fact, he was one hundred percent clean when he reappeared into his former band's life. In fact, Arthur Lee continued to play under the Love moniker on-and-off throughout the last three decades after the original band disbanded back in 1968. So, out of the blue, Don appeared backstage at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles, after a Love show there on May 1, 2002. From then on, nedless to say, Don and Arthur started hanging out together again as in the good ol' days and, a year later, on August 19, 2003, Lee even invited Conca to sit-in with Love during a gig at the House Of Blues, West Hollywood, for the final number of the show, their jam from the old days, 'Smokestack Lightning'. So, here we are, the man who in his heyday was the best rock drummer in town behind the drum stool again after almost 40 years! The night was a one of a kind, and even the band's former co-founder Johnny Echols showed up to play with them. It was maybe 1965 again? Well, for a moment, you can bet your bottom dollar on it! However, although they were quite well received, Don got nervous due to not performing for so many years and as a result resurrected his old drug habit soon after. So, he disappeared again and that was really the beginning of the end for him.
A year later, probably for something related to his drug abuse, Don was sentenced to prison again and, on Friday, September 24, 2004, the night before he was due to go back to jail, he fired up a big speedball in the bathbub of his North Hollywood house, and subsequently drowned due to his drug inebriation. Some people think that Don actually committed suicide because he simply couldn't face going back to jail and, as a lifelong heavy drug user, he would certainly have known better than to get high in a bathtub. However, his daughter Paige believes that her dad accidentally drowned because he had been awake for two months due to drugs, so she thinks that the water in the bathtub relaxed his body, and his body was like a car running on empty. "If not for his addiction, he would doubtless still have been Love's drummer," honestly reflects Michael Stuart-Ware. "No Snoopy, no me. Whether or not he realized it, he was the original 'Man With The Golden Arm'."
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