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Berkeley music lovers learn ‘Whatever happened to P. F. Sloan?’

Phil Sloan plays one of his many classic rock songs, beloved by people who never even knew he wrote them.
Phil Sloan plays one of his many classic rock songs, beloved by people who never even knew he wrote them.
Joaquin Montalvan, used with permission

Suppose you threw a party and everyone you invited actually came? That’s what happened at Harold Adler’s Art House Gallery & Cultural Center. It’s because Mike Somavilla, concert promoter and record producer, in his role as the walking Wikipedia of anyone and everyone who is important in music, has many, many friends. One of those friends, Phil, had just completed a new book and had not been making many public appearances in the United States in a long time.

Phil Sloan at the Art House Gallery & Cultural Center, Berkeley, CA, Jul. 19, 2014.
Joaquin Montalvan, used with permission

That is, until Mike called Phil and said, “Just read your book; you have to come to Berkeley and meet a few people. And please bring your guitar.” And, that was all it took for Mike Somavilla to get Phil Sloan and his co-author Steve Feinberg to come see Mike, and a sold-out crowd at Berkeley’s favorite in-spot for music you can enjoy, in a peaceful atmosphere free from distractions.

The occasion was the revelation of the stories behind the music of Phil Sloan, most of the time credited on records as “P. F. Sloan,” and his new book with S.E. Feinberg, “What’s Exactly the Matter With Me?”

It was such a popular evening that Adler ran out of chairs and quickly found cushions for people to sit on the floor. They were just happy to be there to learn some of the most poignant stories in the long career of Phil Sloan. Phil was treated like anything but music royalty by some who are, because they have great press agents, revered as “geniuses” in the business. The masks were stripped away by the truth, but understand—not with anger were the revelations offered, but with grace. That’s the best part of the story.

It’s so easy to mistake the happy, up tempo songs that are his works, and which are surely part of the oft-used “soundtrack of your life” as being written by someone who rows a boat on “Lake Happy,” and while there is “introspective and insightful” sufficiently to the point where he can also compose deep tracks of message and meaning.

That’s not how it happened, not by a long shot, and in fact, the young prodigy was on a gifted path, boosted by thoughtful kindness of stars along the way, only to run into the wall of jealousy by industry movers and shakers, who can only be described as “below basic” humans.

Those who mangled the truth said that Sloan co-wrote songs that he wrote outright, something that happened all the time to everyone back in the day. But, he was treated like garbage by some “stars,” who were protected by, and say, profited from, decisions, actions, and inactions of industry leaders, some in turtlenecks and berets. Others in shiny suits and plastic smiles. And, it would take 45 years before others who would beat him down would be shown for their true characters in tell-all books written by their own relatives. One such example is John Phillips, whose reputation went from genius to jerk in 23 seconds, but not by Sloan’s doing.

Phil Sloan had his life threatened, he was been beaten up, robbed, cursed, lied to, manipulated, and humiliated and yet, in what can only be described as “through the grace of God and a handful of angels along the way," Phil Sloan has chosen his friends and colleagues today wisely, and selectively. And, he’s being reunited around the country with people who have loved him all his life, many of whom he’s known for decades and has not seen in as long.

Others never knew him personally beyond his name on record singles and albums in collections held by others like “gold” for years because of the meaning of the songs to their own worlds. Upon the occasion of the Art House Gallery evening, “Sloan was greeted by longtime friends Buzzy Linhart, Keith Dion and Peter Kraemer, and it was a great reunion,” said Mike Somavilla. “The music was fantastic, and Phil was very engaging and thoroughly entertained the audience with his stories and music.”

Steve Feinberg, Sloan’s coauthor of the biography, was pleased to see the response, saying “The hip beat and Berkeley cool of Harold Adler’s Art House Gallery and Cultural Center was perfect for P.F. Sloan, who was there amongst friends.” He shared:

Buzzy Linhart was there--a friend of Phil's from Greenwich Village and Cafe au Go Go--the great session vibraphonist for Hendrix and Richie Havens and Carly Simon, among others. Buzzy knew all about Phil being left for dead one night in his apartment--all of his guitars stolen by a guy who jumped off the roof of a building a week later. The whole Village thought Phil was dead. He wasn't.

Feinberg also said,

Phil Sloan shows are rare. And what is interesting to me is that people hang out after the show. They don't leave the venue. They talk about their own lives to each other--share memories about music and life and how things were and how things are and sometimes, how things ought to be. P. F. Sloan draws people out that way.

Indeed he does. But he’s not crossing the country making a lot of personal appearances. He’s visiting friends and taking his guitar and a few books when he chooses to appear.

The only other chance to see Sloan for the next few weeks will be Sun., Jul. 27, 3 p.m., at Diesel Bookstore in Malibu. Phil’s friend and former Grass Roots recording artist and band member, Creed Bratton, will join him for some music and memories. Three words: “Get there early!”

Diesel, A Bookstore, 3 p.m., Jul. 27
23410 Civic Center Way
Malibu, CA
(310) 456-9961

Next up at the Art House Gallery & Cultural Center will be the great Sopwith Camel.

Art House Gallery & Cultural Center, 7:30 p.m., Aug. 2
2905 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 472-3170

It’s the summer of great music, California-style. Don’t miss a minute of it, and get your copy of “What’s Exactly the Matter with Me?” for a story with revelations that will truly open your eyes to what you only thought you knew about the music industry. Check out the slide show of Joaquin Montalvan’s exquisite photos from “An Evening with P. F. Sloan,” which he generously shared with examiner.com readers.

If you’ve ever heard Jimmy Webb’s song, “P. F. Sloan,” perhaps you, too, had been seeking Sloan. In the pictures, see for yourself that P. F. Sloan is alive, well, playing his music and he and Steve Feinberg have shared a beautiful story of how to find good interspersed in people caught up in the web of the bad ol’ days of rock and roll. The gracious gentle man, and his music, play on.