References: Jimi Hendrix, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Clint Eastwood, The Turtles and More
by Lisa Morgan
This valley is full of human gems disguised as ordinary people. When I sat at my table at the Hogs Breath restaurant in Old Town, La Quinta, I looked at the man with his back to me as he skillfully played a beautiful old upright piano. There were no music pages in front of him as he played song after song after song. I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute – I know that one! That’s the Beatles’, “A Day in the Life”. Isn’t that Dusty Springfield’s “Wishing and Hoping” he’s playing now? (Next song) Oh man, I know this one too….it’s on the tip of my tongue….got it! “Last Date!” Floyd Cramer!’ The man tested my inner musical encyclopedia. His repertoire ran deep, reminding me of songs and the memories attached to them that would have otherwise been lost to me. As I refocused my attention on my company and my meal, the music played on: songs from The Kinks, The Turtles, Animals, Dionne Warwick, Elvis, Fats Domino, Righteous Brothers, Traffic… I never saw his face or learned his name, but his music stayed in my head long afterward. I vowed to go back but before I could, the Hogs Breath restaurant had closed its doors in La Quinta forever.
The piano man was Andy Cahan, a musician whose incredible musical past was tucked underneath his humble and endearing nature. Two years later, on assignment from my publisher, he was on the other end of my phone.
CVW: How did you get started playing piano? Did your parents make you take lessons?
Cahan: I was making monster movies with my friends. It was the first time Kodak came out with a sound projector. My sister told me I should watch the Ed Sullivan show because they were going to have this really cool band on. That’s when I saw the Beatles for the first time. I thought, ‘Wow! I’m sure not going to get any screaming girls making monster movies. So I decided to become a musician. The Beatles influenced me so strongly in their songwriting, and their use of chord progressions, their use of flatted fifths and minor thirds. I started writing songs like a maniac. I started on drums at the age of 10, then piano, then guitar and bass.
I moved to LA from New York in 1968. My mom was friends with the son of Pulsar Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records. I had my Baldwin harpsichord going through a Leslie speaker, and I was doing a lot of jamming. Graham Bond (who had worked with Ginger Baker before Cream) asked me to come down to DTG Studios in Hollywood and said, ‘Bring your harpsichord’. So I did. I walked in and Jack Cassidy from Jefferson Airplane was there. Lowell George from Little Feat was on the flute, and Graham was on the Hammond B3. All of a sudden, Jimi Hendrix walks in with these two girls, one holding his guitar and one holding his hand. He set up right next to me. We jammed for about 3 hours – the blues in the key of A. It was hilarious, it was amazing, and I had such a wonderful time. I was 20 at the time. I remember we were standing in the corner of the room after we finished, Jimi, me and a roadie – I can’t remember his name. We were singing musical instruments with our mouths. I was the drummer, the roadie was the bass, and Jimi was the guitar. We jammed like that as we passed a joint around. It was so cool. Jimi was the nicest guy ever – zero ego and real down to earth. That was my first week in LA.
My second week in California, I was invited to fill in for one of Buddy Miles’ drummers who was sick. I hooked up with Dr. John, The Night Tripper through Pulsar. I ended up doing concerts with Dr. John throughout the country. He took me to a guy named Skoobie at the musicians union, and pinned a note to the lapel of my shirt that read, ‘Help this guy! He’s a good musician!’ That got me working with Seals and Crofts. I worked with them in a top 40 project called the Dawn Breakers. In between sets, they’d do an acoustic guitar, mandolin set. They were strong believers in Baha’i and were trying to come up with names for the duo that reflected that. I finally suggested, ‘Why don’t you just call yourselves, Seals and Crofts?’ They went with it.
The connections continued and ultimately I ended up playing keys for Little Richard. I became the music director for both Little Richard and Chuck Berry for the Grammy’s in ’73. But it was in a recording studio in Box Canyon called Cherokee Studio (writer’s note: Beatles producer, George Martin dubbed the independent studio as the “best studio in America”) where I met Flo and Eddie from the Turtles. I’ve been with The Turtles since ’73. Through that, I met everybody in the business I could ever want to meet: Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, and so many others. They’d come to the recording studio I had in the 90’s called the Demo Dr. It was on CNN and a TV show called The Site. I had a thing called ‘Cyber Demos’ where people could send me their tracks and I’d put a broadcast ready demo together for them. I recorded 30 songs with Harry Nilsson, 20 songs with Eric Carmen. I recorded with Jimmy Webb for a dozen years, and others.
My mom passed away about 10 years ago and I moved out here to the desert to her double wide mobile home. I was looking for some sort of job. I was at Hogs Breath for lunch one day, and I saw the piano and asked if they needed a piano player. I auditioned and got the job. I played piano there for 9 years. Now I’m looking for a gig, strangely enough, after such a giant career of wonderment, I’m back to square one again.
CVW: (stunned silence)
There is no bitterness when Cahan speaks of starting over, only longing to get back to the craft he loves – the craft perfected by experiences like Little Richard showing him how to do the signature rock and roll triplets and the skills good enough that he would tradeoff piano parts with Dr. John, The Night Tripper, where he says he really got his chops. After playing and recording with a long list of greats: Bobby Hatfield, Clarence Clemmons, Eddie Money, Eric Burdon, Frank Zappa, Grace Slick, Jackson Browne, Jeff Beck, John Bonham, John Belushi, Lou Reed, Stephen Stills, Taj Mahal and more, he’d graciously, happily and ever so skillfully play for you. His following from the Hogs Breath filled the Tack Room last week with almost 50 loyal fans. I’m no Dr. John, but I hereby pin this note to the lapel of Andy Cahan’s shirt: ‘Hire this guy! He’s AMAZING!’
More about Andy Cahan at these links:
For booking call (818) 489-4490