The December 1965 marriage certificate of 23-year-old housepainter Chester Leo Helms Jr. and 19-year-old student Lorraine Rae Hayman. One of the signing witnesses was printer and poster artist Robert W. Wilson, a.k.a. Wes Wilson. The wedding was the San Francisco social event of the season…well, for some folks.
The interesting thing about this letter is the date: June 7, 1966. The previous day, Janis Joplin wrote to her parents, informing them that she had returned to San Francisco and was scheduled to audtion for a band called Big Brother and The Holding Company that afternoon.
Although Mr. Mouse was present at the audition, which was held in his Henry Street studio, he makes no mention of it.
In a recent post about the ’60s band, The Freudian Slips, I referenced The Purple Onion which is located at 140 Columbus Ave. in San Francisco, a block from City Lights Bookstore. An hour or so ago, I accidentally stumbled across this photo, which appears to be from around the time Teda Bracci walked under that canopy with our dreams of vast fame and fortune. That was over 45 years ago, folks. How can that be possible?
If not the first, The Freudian Slips were certainly one of the first all-girl rock bands, having been founded in 1965 by a group of former Woodside High School students. (Woodside is a small, bucolic village nestled at the foot of the Santa Cruz mountains, a few miles northwest of Palo Alto, CA. Joan Baez is a longtime resident; Larry Ellison of Oracle is a more recent one.)
The band members were: Wendy Haas, Gayle Hayden, Mimi Bluford, Lynda Walnum and an untrained drummer named Teda Bracci, who was one of the first people I met when I fled my large, chaotic family in Denver for the tranquility of the Bay Area at the age of 17 in August 1964. Teda and I bonded instantly. She was skinny as the proverbial rail and she talked way faster than the proverbial mile-a-minute. I understood about a third of what she said. She loved The Supremes and called everyone “Honey.” She almost always wore faded jeans, a big floppy hat and oversize sunglasses. (See above photo.) She went barefoot a lot and had rings on most of her toes, a fashion statement I’d never seen before.
Shortly after we became friends, Teda and I decided to team up and become fabulously famous, she as a comedienne and I as her writer. We began getting together regularly in the evenings to work on a comedy routine in which she would play a character who was the total opposite of herself: a debutante, complete with formal gown. As I recall, we laughed a lot. After a while, we declared ourselves ready and arranged to audition at The Purple Onion in San Francisco, a nightclub in which Phyllis Diller launched her career and whose semi-regular performers included The Smothers Brothers. We neglected to mention the fact that Teda was, like myself, only 17.
One bright, sunny morning in October 1964, Teda picked me up her gigantic sedan, a late ’50s Oldsmobile, and we cruised up to The City. There were four or five people in the club – employees, not patrons – when we arrived and they greeted us graciously. Their collective laughter began when Teda struggled to put her debutante gown on over her ‘civilian’ garb and it increased as she clumsily climbed onto the small stage. I don’t remember a single line of the material I wrote, but I definitely remember that Teda was hysterically funny. 45 years later, she described her performance at the audition this way: “I was trying to be Loretta Young with the doors flying open.”
Naturally, the first question the Onion’s talent booker asked after the audition was how old Teda was. Upon hearing the answer, he suggested that she hone her natural skills by joining a local actors’ group. He then to me to destroy my typewriter. When I said I didn’t own a typewriter, he told me to break my pencil in half. (I ended up being a personal writer for Phyllis Diller for a few years in the laye ’60s.)
The Freudian Slips never played The Fillmore or The Avalon Ballroom during San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” era, but they played several dozen concerts at other venues in ’66 and ’67, most frequently at The Ark in Sausalito. Posters from back in the day confirm that The Slips played several shows with The Wildflower, amongst others.
After The Slips disbanded, Teda joined the L.A. production of “Hair” that ran for two years at the appropriately named Aquarious Theater and appeared with the cast on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” (Notable cast members from that run, which was co-produced by Tommy Smothers, include Ben Vereen, Jennifer Warnes, Meat Loaf, and Ted Neeley.) The last time I would see Teda for nearly 40 years was after a performance at The Aquarious. That night she introduced my wife and I to the “Hair” lyricists, Jerome Ragni and James Rado, who were members of the L.A. ‘tribe.’ Then, about a year ago, I impulsively called Teda and, after playing an extensive game of phone tag, we had the first of several great talks. We are still in touch.
Despite her deep love of Motown, Teda turned down the label’s offer to sign her in 1968 and decided to pursue a film career. In 1970, she landed a small role in Stanley Kramer’s “R.P.M,” which featured Anthony Quinn, Ann-Mararet and Paul Winfield. That same year she snagged a bigger role in “C.C and Company,” with Ann-Margaret and Joe Namath. She played a character named Teda in “The Trial of Billy Jack,” Whore #3 in Gene Wilder’s “The World’s Greatest Lover,” and a mental patient named Teda Bracci in “Frances” with Jessica Lange. In 2007, Teda released a CD entitled “Teda Bracci.”
As for the other Slips, Wendy Haas-Mull played keyboards and sang on Santana’s “Welcome” and “Caravanserai” albums and made two albums with Azteca, with whom she sang live for a while. She also contributed to albums recorded by Lee Oskar and Melissa Manchester.
Gayle Hayden joined the New York cast of “Hair” and in December 1969, posed for a Playboy pictorial called “The Girls of Hair.” (Ironically, that issue is notable for being the first time a Playboy centerfold displayed a bit of pubic hair. Even more ironically, the centerfold’s name was Gloria Root.) Gayle currently performs with a Portland-area band called Big Mama Gayle and Her Sugar Daddies.
Although both Teda and Wendy have said that The Freudian Slips was not the world’s tightest, band, the novelty of the all-girl lineup landed their photograph in Life magazine in 1966.
Julius Karpen was a hard-boiled, Chicago newspaperman before he headed west and became a Merry Prankster. He went on the lam with Ken Kesey to Mexico and shortly after his return, he became the manager of Big Brother and The Holding Comany, post-Chet Helms and pre-Albert Grossman.
This is Julius’s business card from his Prankster days.