Hammer & Clifford
Circa 1968 Steve Hammer and Chris Clifford meet through friends, Paul Gruen and Steve’s brother, Loren. Paul and Loren and another friend, John Howard play together in a couple of different bluegrass, old-timey and traditionally influenced bands, The Chaos Mountain Boys & Mountain Standard Time.
Chris has been playing guitar and piano in a Beatles copy band called the “The Wags” (taken from the initials of all the last names of the founding members of the band), which featured Paul Gruen on guitar, his brother Eric (Rick) on drums, Bill Wolf on bass and occasionally, next door neighbor brothers, Mike & Steve Ashbrook on drums and/or guitar.
As Steve and Chris begin co-writing their earliest songs, they bounce back and forth between Chris’ childhood home in the west of Woodland Hills, and Steve’s parents’ house on the east side.
During this period they are also making musical explorations and experimenting with female vocalist, Mari Day. Mari has a relationship with another singer/songwriter, pianist and guitarist, Howard Wall. Mari is also an acquaintance of Loren Hammer. Gathered around the piano at Chris’ parent’s house, the songs written in this period include; “Peter”, “Touch” and “Armchair Loneliness”.
In 1969 Steve & Chris make their first public appearance at the Norco Banjo & Fiddle Contest, in Norco, California, where for the first time as “Hammer & Clifford” they perform another one of their first original pieces, “Down Home”. Steve’s father, Wynn, a professional studio photographer, captures this performance in still photographs.
Throughout 1969 and 1970 they continue to write their early catalog. Steve’s cousin, Richard Greenstone photographs early shots of the duo in settings reflecting their folk/country/old-timey influences.
1970/’71 finds Steve & Chris splitting their writing and practice time between Steve’s house, Chris’ house and the back room at Sid Kaye’s Music Scene music store in Reseda, California.
In early 1971 Hammer & Clifford make their first and only live radio performance on local radio station KPFK’s long-running Folk Scene program, hosted by Howard & Roz Larman. They perform their song, “Silver Rails”.
Summer of 1971 found Hammer & Clifford in their second live performance at a book signing and luncheon in Norco, California, honoring writer, Morris Kominsky, author of “The Hoaxers: Plain Liars, Fancy Liars and Damned Liars”, a political diatribe based on his perception of trends in American policy that he sees as leaning toward fascism – an internal threat to American ideals.
In the spring of 1972, Hammer & Clifford, in their third live outing, make the first of two appearances at the famous Bla-Bla Café, on Ventura Blvd. at Vineland Ave., in North Hollywood, California – the first time, on the same bill as the as yet undiscovered jazz great, Al Jarreau. They perform their songs, “Sweet Melissa” and “Don’t Say No”.
In December of 1972, Steve & Chris make their fourth live appearance as part of the Christmas show at Motion Picture Hospital, where they both work. They perform “Don’t Say No” again.
In mid-1973 they meet bass player and singer, Gary Daniels through his girlfriend, Caroline. Caroline works with Chris’ then girlfriend, Vicki Davis at an electronics firm in Chatsworth, California. Soon Steve, Chris and Gary are putting together more intricate instrumental and vocal arrangements to their new collaborative efforts. About this time, John LaCombe, another friend who also works at Motion Picture Hospital invites Steve, Chris and Gary to his new home in Sylmar, California to perform some songs for him and his wife, Linda.
Linda is a formerly single mom, hard-working hairdresser and smart entrepreneur. She has a shop in the famous Crossroads Of The World, which is coincidentally right next door to Musician’s Contact Service, where the boys will later list ads looking for band members. Chris has known John since late 1970/early 1971 when both started working at the hospital. For a brief period in 1971, Chris lives with John & Linda in their first home in nearby San Fernando, California.
Taken with the boys’ unique original material and their young, smooth, three-part harmonies, Linda is convinced to take on the management, promotion and marketing of their musical development. They are initially billed as “The Hammer, Clifford, Daniels Band”, or “Hammer, Clifford & Daniels”.
Initially both Linda and John agree to co-manage the trio, but it is soon mutually decided that the band should now expand to include a drummer. As yet, this new “band” has no name.
John Mercurio, another acquaintance who also works at Motion Picture Hospital, is a drummer and turns out to be the first drummer that Chris & Steve have ever worked with. Up until this time, the trio has been rehearsing and writing out of the home that Steve now shares with Chris & Vicki.
With the addition of a drummer, new rehearsal space is required, and it is decided it would be a good idea to operate under the watchful eyes and ears of band management.
Rehearsals begin in earnest on band versions of Steve and Chris’ songs in the garage of John & Linda’s home. Wynn Hammer shoots still photographs of the new band in and around the facility at Motion Picture Hospital.
This ensemble doesn’t last long – “issues” develop in the “rhythm section” (John & Gary) and John Mercurio soon exits and not long after, Gary departs as well. Before the end of 1973, Steve and Chris find themselves auditioning new players. They strike gold when they find a new bass player in Mike Carr, who they find through Mari Day and Howard Wall, and perhaps a listing ad in a service called Musician’s Contact Service (MCS).
Going through the process of auditioning drummers, the three band mates discover Phil Roberts. Rehearsals begin again and continue into the new year.
In spring of 1974 Linda books this “proto-band” to perform at Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour Live Show at Busch Gardens in Van Nuys, California.
Linda also arranges for Steve and Chris’ songs to be heard and evaluated by Al DeLory, string arranger and conductor for Glen Campbell.
Between Steve and Chris and the newly formed management team of Lacombe Artists Management, it is decided that the band line-up also needs a strong front man/lead singer.
Steve, Chris and Mike, along with management, begin auditioning lead singers and the process continues until they find Mark Stern. With this new line-up rehearsals begin for what would be the first incarnation of the now newly named band, “Woodwork”.
Steve masterfully produces recordings of the first few songs this ensemble would perform. All these tracks feature Mark on lead vocals, with one outstanding exception; Steve’s clever period piece, “Good Old Fashioned Way” – which features shared lead vocals by Steve and Carla Parness. Parness does not remain a fixture in the band.
Singer, Mark Stern soon opts out of the line-up and Steve, Chris, Mike and Phil begin auditions of lead singers again. Before long they discover Don Jamieson. Rehearsals begin again for what would soon become a series of showcases for this version of Woodwork in their first few live performances as a band throughout the Los Angeles area.
One of these shows is at The Spot, in Hollywood in mid 1974.
Later versions of Woodwork would return to this venue a few more times.
Pat Baker, a friend of Chris and Vicki’s documents these shows in still photographs.
This new line-up features a fairly solid core section – at least, so far, and with renewed energy, Steve and Chris write new material that will prove to be some of their best.
In time however, it becomes increasingly apparent that Don Jamieson is not quite fitting the image and representing Hammer & Clifford material in the best way. Combined with discord between band management and representatives for Jamieson, the relationship is discontinued.
During this period, drummer Phil quits the band.
Still in mid-1974 Steve, Chris and Mike renew the search for a drummer and a lead singer. They first strike gold in drummer, John Christopher Penny.
Now a much more solid core unit, they find another goldmine in singer, Ray Buckwich - a rock oriented singer in the style of Robert Plant, but with great folk/country-rock capabilities as well.
Steve and Chris are again re-energized and continue to write more new material for this incarnation of the band.
Rehearsals begin again to round out the sound with Buckwich. The best and final sound of Woodwork is born in this new line-up. Crowds of local neighborhood people line both sides of the street in front of the house and shout requests – most popular song, “Country Mama”. Showcases are booked and the band begins a new series of live performances. One of the venues they play more than once or twice is the historic Sundance Saloon in Calabasas, California, where previous acts have featured a host of notable talent of the time that includes John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Asleep At The Wheel, Steve Stills, etc. Pat Baker once again covers these live shows and documents with still photographs.
Woodwork also performs at the prestigious Palomino Club in North Hollywood, California, the venue known for showcasing some of the biggest acts in country, swing, rock-a-billy and country rock in the country, including Linda Ronstadt.
Nobody plays The Palomino without first encountering the enormous “Tiny”, the front door security man.
At some point, Linda arranges for the band to record basic tracks for demos at Larrabee Studios with renowned artist and record producer, Jackie Mills. Some of these tracks and other earlier demos are presented to Bo Goldsen of Criterion Music, publishing home of Jackson Browne.
During this period Linda also takes several meetings with major record label executives and their A&R department heads, where she lobbies for million dollar record deals for the band. She is in a class of her own as one of the first, (and possibly only), and probably last, strong, female independent band managers with the “balls” to go head-to-head with major music industry power. Efforts to land a deal however, are not successful.
Following the Sundance Saloon shows, Woodwork showcases at Filthy McNasty’s FM Station – a well-known venue in North Hollywood, California. Also on the marquee, although not booked that same night; none other than Leon Russell and Johnny Winter.
Woodwork performs all of their original songs and also sprinkle in a mix of some of their favorite covers, among them Leon Russell’s “Tightrope”, Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, Dave Loggins’ “Please Come To Boston”, along with a select few others.
The final configuration of Woodwork continues to showcase well at many other venues throughout the Los Angeles area – a partial list of which includes:
The Morgue – August 1974
The Silver Fox – September 1974
Spastic Children’s Home – September 1974
(Simi Valley, Ca)
The Palomino – October 1974
(North Hollywood, Ca)
The Etcetera Club – November 9, 1974
The Sundance Saloon – November 17, 1974
The Playtime – November 18, 1974
(North Hollywood, Ca)
The Spot – December 9, 1974
The Icehouse – December 22, 1974
The Spot – December 23, 1974
Huntley House Hotel Bar – New Year’s Eve (‘74/’75)
(Santa Monica, Ca)