Showing posts with label The Milky Way. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Milky Way. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Milky Way, The Corral Night Club in Topanga Canyon, and Ernie Knapp

Not much has been said about the little band Charles Manson started in late 1967. I only recall Charlie, Bobby Beausoleil, and possibly Paul Watkins, mentioning the little band they formed called "The Milky Way".  

I suppose the reason they never discussed it much, is because the group only played one night together. That one gig was played at the Topanga Corral (now long gone, it burned down)... but it had been a happening place in the 1960's.

It's said that Canned Heat, Neil Young, and Taj Mahal played there. It's also rumored that  Road House Blues by the immortal Jim Morrison was written about Topanga Corral.  Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were regulars there. It's too bad it burned down in the 1970's. I missed out!

Ernie Knapp: "I played in a band with Charles Manson".
Charles Manson and Ernie Knapp (1969)
The following interview was submitted by a friend of the blog, named Viktor.
Thank You so much Viktor! This is so cool!

A guy by the name of Ernie Knapp (a session musician that played bass with the Beach Boys in concert during 1981-82) was interviewed (last year) by Sonny Vincent (a musician in his own right). 

During the interview, Ernie talks about being the bass player in a band with Charles Manson called "The Milky Way", which played one show at the Topanga Corral.

Side note: 

"The Snake Pit" was a seedy area in lower Topanga, built in a debris/flood basin during the 1920's.  In Ed Sanders book "The Family", he talks about the "Spiral Staircase"... a house that had slid off its foundation during a flood. According to Sanders, the DeGrimstons of the "The Process Church" owned or rented this place. Lots of bikers, homeless, druggies, hippies, and the Manson Family called this place home for a while in the late 60's.

Here is part of the interview by Sonny Vincent and Ernie Knapp:

ERNIE: Well, that was in the fall of 1967. I had been going to college down in San Diego for two years before that and I had just got kicked out for smoking pot. So I was back in LA at my parents’ house trying to figure out what to do next. My friend there, Bay Johnson, owned a couple of little houses and little shacks down in a place in Topanga Canyon called ‘The Snake Pit’. It was a real hippie area of little cabins and shacks and a few old houses across the coast highway from the beach, kind of in the river bed. That place is all gone now. It all got wiped out in a flood.

SV: What was it called? The Snake what?
ERNIE: The Snake Pit.
SV: The Snake Pit. OK, sorry I have a problem with this microphone. OK, got it…
ERNIE: Yeah, Bay had bought these little houses ‘cause he had a bunch of hash that his brother had smuggled into the country and anyway that’s another story. And he was renting them to these two musicians, Desi Nod and Johnny Riggins, who were guys that were like 5 years older than me, who were like my idols, you know? They were in the big bands around west LA at that time and even going back into the early 60s. And so I had played with them. I was just kind of starting to play the guitar. I had got to play with them a couple of times and was excited about that and, anyway, when I got into LA in 1967 they took me down there to visit them. And this guy Charlie had just came down from San Francisco in this big yellow school bus and he had like 5 or 6 girls with him in his bus and Bay was all… getting with the girls…real cute girls…and Charlie moved into this biggest house down there in The Snake Pit. And then it turned out that Charlie met these guys, these musicians, and they decided to start a band. So they introduced me to him and told me they were looking for a guitar player and would I like to audition. So I went down there the next day.
SV: So he was actually auditioning people?
ERNIE: Yeah.
SV: (laughs) OK.
ERNIE: So I went down there the next day and walked into Charlie’s living room. It was Charlie and his whole clan. He also had a couple of real gnarly kind of biker dudes with him who were not very nice at all. In fact, when and while I was setting up, one guy pulled a knife on somebody else and Charlie had to stop a big fight. So it was a little tense. And I was nervous. I was set up in that living room with people in a big circle all around me, getting ready to check me out. I had learned the night before… you know that song, that was brand new back then… that Cream song that goes tatataratata ta?
SV: Oh, yeah, ‘Sunshine Of Your Love?
ERNIE: Probably the most cliché lick in all history of music now, you know? Now people play it as a joke. So, anyway, I played that and they liked it. They said, “OK, yeah, you can be in the band.” We had one rehearsal and the rehearsal was really intimidating too ‘cause they brought in some other keyboard player from Malibu who I didn’t know and who was not very nice. The two older guys I knew, Johnny and Desi. They were pretty nice to me. And Charlie was OK. But I was really intimidated, you know, so I wasn’t playing very assertively. The biker dudes started hassling me at the rehearsal. I remember Charlie stood up for me. I was twenty years old and the guys in the room were probably thirty back then. Charlie said, “Hey, the kid is nervous but give him a chance and he’ll be fine.” So I relaxed and then it was good. We learned, uh, like 8 songs and about half of them were Charlie’s and his songs, you know, were weird. They were kind of old fashioned jazz chords and real meandering progressions that didn’t go really anywhere. Knowing more about him now, I could kind of imagine how he would have all day to sit around in his cell playing the guitar, you know? [*Sonny’s note: I have listened to many recordings of Manson’s music and I like it.]
SV: Sure, man.
ERNIE: You know, everybody were good sports and figured out parts of the songs and we could play them. Then we learned a few standards rock and blues songs that everybody knew. We wind up a couple of days later and auditioned at The Corral which is a club high up in Topanga Canyon. At that time, it was a full-on redneck bar.
SV: So you guys …cool….this is getting way more detailed than I hoped. I thought you merely kind of jammed a couple of times but you auditioned and then you were accepted as a member of Charlie Manson’s band? Now you guys are together and going for an audition at a club. Jesus, Ernie!!
ERNIE: (laughs) Yeah.
SV: Wow, OK.
ERNIE: We went up there in the afternoon and Charlie was gonna call the band ‘The Solar System’. But anyway…
SV: Hey, Ernie, were you guys like all mega stoned and everything at this jam sessions and rehearsals and all?
ERNIE: There were people smoking pot and stuff but it was pretty business-like as far as getting some songs together and going up and playing.
SV: So you seriously were putting a band together. That’s an amazing part of your history, Ernie!
ERNIE: So we went up and set up in the bar in the afternoon and played for the owner and, you know, some other kind of barfly guys hanging around. It didn’t go over at all with them. This was a country western bar.
SV: Hey, Ernie, can I stop for a minute just to crosscheck the tape. I wanna make sure we are rolling good…so we are rolling. So this redneck country bar…
ERNIE: Yeah. And our band was not received well and they kind of told us to get the hell out of there. So we all left. And literally a couple of days later I moved up to Mammoth. My cousin had just gone up there and gotten a job.
SV: Where is that? Mammoth?
ERNIE: Yeah, Mammoth Mountain. A ski resort up in the Sierras.
SV: Ah, OK.
ERNIE: And my cousin had gotten a job as a bus boy in this big fancy restaurant right at the ski lift and said there was an opening. So I went up there and I had a great time. I became a ski bum for like two months.
SV: So you guys did the audition at the country bar and then you split town?
ERNIE: Yeah.
ERNIE: And then I moved straight from Mammoth to Santa Barbara to get back into college ‘cause I had gotten my 1A draft notice. So I had to hustle. I got back into UCSB for the spring quarter which got the draft off my back. Then I was just living in Santa Barbara and, actually in my recollection, that’s where later, it was around 1969 I think, when everything blew up with Charlie. Where I was…I think I was walking into the Student Union at UCSB and saw, you know, the LA Times in a news rack with his face, you know, covering the whole sheet, the whole page. I just went, “Holy shit!! Uhh…Charlie!!” My feelings about it, even at that time, it was…it was creepy in the way the people were with Charlie and the way he was with them. It was very manipulative and it was real uncomfortable for me.
SV: Ah, so I got the part right about the newspaper but the location was different. OK. So, you noticed something, even in the early times when you first met Charlie, it was not like what you will encounter with people who are more in harmony with each other. You clearly saw something that was somehow out of balance, eh?
ERNIE: Definitely, and plus he had these evil guys with him too, you know? They really were menacing. I mean, they were thugs. The whole deal in that era…there were a lot of little communes and little hippie groups trying to set up their little places, you know, all over the place…up in the mountains and everywhere you went. And a lot of them…well, Charlie really plugged into people. Everybody was really trying to be more hip than each other, and it was like “I can be freer than you, I can be more free of all this square bullshit than you”, you know?
SV: Uh huh.
ERNIE: He kind of got people, I think. It’s just my own little theory , you know, that was part of how he keep pushing everybody with him to be wilder and I guess ultimately do what he wanted.
SV: Ernie, that’s all amazing.
ERNIE: I didn’t go back to LA much and I never did see him again, but I did hear stuff later through my playing with The Beach Boys. He had a lot of interaction with The Beach Boys and, in particular, Dennis Wilson. Yeah, one day a couple of Charlie’s girls were hitchhiking and Dennis picked them up. That’s how Charlie first met Dennis. They all moved into Dennis’s house and later The Beach Boys actually, you know, recorded a song that Charlie wrote!
SV: Yes, I know that. That’s pretty crazy. And it’s also weird that you wind up playing with The Beach Boys. This is like some kind of weird crossing the universe, you know what I mean? [*Sonny’s note: That’s weird, way fuckin’ weird.]
ERNIE: Yeah! But, you know, but….the theory that I kind of believe in is that Bruce Johnston’s good friend Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, was a big music producer in those days. And somehow The Beach Boys got Charlie hooked up with Terry Melcher to produce Charlie and then the whole deal fell through. Charlie was real disappointed and Terry Melcher used to live in the house that Charlie attacked.
SV: Yeah, the Polanski house. Yes, I know the story really well. That’s why it’s so intriguing to me.
ERNIE: Yeah and it’s just…God, how horrible, you know?
SV: Yeah, how weird. Hey, Ernie, let’s get away from Charlie for a moment before we start entering people’s houses and what not, you know?
ERNIE: (laughs)
Ernie with Carl Wilson
To read and LISTEN to the entire interview, go here:


Excerpted from Ed Sanders' book, page 29

Bobby Beausoleil - Oui Magazibe Interview - November 1981

ALB: Were you living at Gary Hinman's at the time?

BB: No, I wasn't living with Gary. I had stayed with him previous to that. I joined a band, The Milky Way, that Charlie was in. That's how I met him. He was a very talented songwriter good musician, lyrically, just excellent. 
He was somebody with an incredibly intense, vivid, expanded imagination because of all the time he's done.