An Interview with Steven Jae Johnson, the Author of Walk, Don’t Run
You began your musical career in high school with two other friends, who became famous in their own right. Who were they?
They were my brothers in music and in life: Edward James Olmos and Joey Zagarino. Both of them were friends all through school and beyond. They give proof to the idea that life isn’t about anything other than the people in your life. It’s what matter first and foremost and always. You’ll see that in Walk, Don’t Run: Above, beyond, over, and under the music, the hijinks, the stars, and the rich and famous, it’s about friends.
How did Edward James Olmos begin singing in rock bands?
Eddie and I were in high school together in the early 1960s. Our girlfriends were best friends and we double-dated a lot. When my first band broke up with Joey Zagarino, Eddie offered me a singing position with his band, The Left Hand. We were like the Righteous Brothers and moved from Montebello to Hollywood (Gazzarri’s) to get a recording contract.
How did Edward JAMES Olmos get his middle name “James”?
Eddie’s idol at the time was James Brown and he fashioned a lot of his dancing and singing after Brown. The rest came naturally. Everyone began calling him “Eddie James” and it just kind of stuck.
How did you and Eddie go about forming The Pacific Ocean?
As we migrated to the clubs in Hollywood, we understood that we needed to be strong show guys and picked the best musicians we knew from Montebello and Monterey park and Alhambra to go along with us on our driving obsession. It clicked and worked. I don’t really recall who came up with the band’s name or why. It’s just something someone threw out there and it worked.
What was the music scene like as you played around Hollywood at such a young age?
That was the days of a flower in your hair and the whole “free love” movement going on in Hollywood. It was very wild, but in a fun way. People were changing just like the music. It was very easy for musicians to hook up with all the girls who loved the freedom of the day and of course since we were only twenty-years-old and embracing our new found popularity, we took advantage of it like any twenty-year-old would do. Even though drugs were around, we shied away from that a bit and took our kicks with chicks. Playing with The Wolfman Jack Show really was a big thing at that time and we felt like stars, which we were in that scene.
Did it scare you just to go into music and acting and leave the real world behind? What were some of the costs?
At nineteen- and twenty-years-old and being caught up in the whole music scene in Hollywood and getting paid for it every night … It honestly didn’t scare us at all. We loved it! At that age, we were thinking, “Hey! I found my way.” Losing our high school girlfriends wasn’t fun, but we had to keep the dream alive. We were having so much fun performing seven nights a week, that we knew this was was our chance to break out of the norm.
I’ve always believed we come into this world to experiences things and be of service — and those things are what I naturally do best. Now don’t get me wrong. We had to make choices, sometimes tough choices, especially about relationships. When a woman you love puts it on the line … “It’s the band or me” … There isn’t a rule book for that. But it didn’t scare me, though. The scares didn’t come until later!
What happened when you got your first record deal?
Lee Hazelwood (of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” fame) offered us a contract because of a song named “Holly” that I sang. Since we were a balls-to-the-wall, kick-ass, R & B band ripping our guts out on stage, the lightness of this song did not compute with the rest of the band. So we decided to go with Vance Music to do our first album. (You can hear some tunes on the book’s website — WalkDontRunTheBook.com — and you get the complete album when you get the book.) The album lead to lots of touring and radio play, particularly on the Wolfman Jack radio show and on his tour.
You were a “house band” at Gazarri’s on the Strip for a very long time. What was that like? Who were some of the people you met?
It felt wonderful to be at the center of the whole music scene then. Jim Morrisson came in several time for he had played there. We had a great meeting with Sonny Bono about shopping deals. Some of the Monkees were in. Johnny Rivers had been there for a long time before he broke and was very grateful to Bill Gazzarri. Between all the clubs from Laural Canyon Boulevard to the beginning of Beverly Hills, it was a hot bed of people and major acts coming and going as we all sharpened our performing skills.
The Pacific Ocean was also the “house band” at The Factory, the famous — or should we say “infamous”? — secret and private night club for Hollywood’s elite. What are some stories from there?
The first story that pops in my mind is that one night while I crooned the softer music for the dinner set, before we ripped into the body-pounding show, Judy Garland called me over to her table on our break. She told me how lovely she though I sang. here I am, this twenty-one-year-old from a working class neighborhood and the lady that sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is complimenting me. Wild stuff!
As you wrote in Walk, Don’t Run, it seemed like you got so close to the golden ring. For example, with the Lee Hazelwood deal or when Joey got successful and was going to produce you as a singer. Are you angry your ship didn’t come in on a large scale because of those incidents?
No. I mean, there is an element of disappointment that all of us feel when the golden ring doesn’t work out the way we want it to. What did our boy John Lennon say? “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.” I agree with John. We chart our own paths, and then make it up as we go along. The reward for me is never giving up on living my life as an artist. My greatest reward is my finding my twin-flame in this life, the lovely Lana, and continuing our relationship through the veil until I naturally get there. The other rewards are the deep friendships with the men I just mentioned.
The opening chapters of Walk, Don’t Run describe a time in Southern California that appear to be so beautiful: beach, cars, girls, and a seemingly carefree existence. You describe it like it was so much fun and happiness seemed to abound everywhere.
Boy, you can say that again. By luck my parents settled in Monterey Park and as the fifties came to a close, (I was born in 1947) and Elvis hit, and then the Beatles and The Beach Boys and the surfing culture took off, the rest of the world looked at Southern California like it was Disneyland. Oh, wait, it is Disneyland. I was right in the middle of it and the boomers had it so much better than our parents did. We were and are still so lucky. The Doo Wop music, all of it, with the advent of television and such, we had the world at our finger tips. The freedom we felt then to live our own lives the way we wanted had everything to do with it. I was and still am a culture junkie and love the music, films, clothing, food, radio, anything and everything that happened to us in those days and these also. Walk, Don’t Run is one man’s tribute to the world of being lucky enough to be born into that incredible time in this challenging world of dreams and and relationships. I honor all the souls I’ve been involved with my entire sixty eight years on this blue planet with.
Is friendship what you base your life on?
Yes, friendship to me is infinite family. My brothers in life have been Joey Zagarino, Edward James Olmos Darrell Fetty, Mike Foley, and Terry Copley. In each case of these loyal friendships, all these men are artists and we share the same beliefs. I read this somewhere and have been spouting it off like crazy: “Bringing music (all art) to others, in the top form of angelic usefulness.” Wow, do I love that line! It’s been my whole life now that I think about it. And since my twin-flame wife, Lana, crossed over in July of 2013, I seem to be getting messages from her like this one that just falls out of the sky. I’m amazed and blessed for sure. Lana and I have an artistic connection that isn’t broken merely because she’s in the Afterlife.
When is the book to be released and where can everyone get a copy?
The book’s out now. It was released on ebook first. Now the traditional book is also shipping. And it’s available everywhere! Apple’s iBookstore. Amazon. Barnes & Noble. And through my publisher, of course: KallistiPublishing.com.
I’ll also be doing some appearances and giving some talks in book stores and music stores. And lots of interviews. Here’s a cool interview I did with the wonderful January Jones: http://walkdontrunthebook.com/january-jones-interview.
Remember when you get the book, you’ll get the soundtrack, too! Go to http://walkdontrunthebook.com/soundtrack/. You’ll get the album that The Pacific Ocean recorded, “Purgatory.” Lots of great tunes. I’m proud to say that it still stands to this day. I’m sure you’ll want to play it really loud. It’ll make you dance!
(To download and read a PDF of this interview, just click the following link here! Rock on!)