Center for an Informed America

 


Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation
Part III
May 13, 2008


 

“I mean, fuck, he auditioned for Neil [Young] for fuck’s sake.”

Graham Nash, explaining to author Michael Walker how close Charlie Manson was to the Laurel Canyon scene.

 

 

During the ten-year period during which Bruce, Novarro, Mineo, Linkletter, Stevens, Tate, Sebring, Frykowski and Folger all turned up dead, a whole lot of other people connected to Laurel Canyon did as well, often under very questionable circumstances. The list includes, but is certainly not limited to, all of the following names:

 There are a few other curious deaths we could add here as well, though they were only indirectly related to the Laurel Canyon scene. Nevertheless, they deserve an honorable mention, especially the Bobby Fuller and Phil Ochs entries; the former because it is a rather extraordinary example of the exemplary work done by the LAPD, and the latter because it just may contain a key to understanding the Laurel Canyon phenomenon:

 And with that, I think we can move on now from the Laurel Canyon Death List. The list is not yet complete, mind you, since we have only covered the years 1966-1976. Rest assured then that we will continue to add names as we follow the various threads of this story. Some of those names will be quite familiar, while others will be significantly less so. One of the names from that era that has been all but forgotten is Judee Lynn Sill, who was once favorably compared to such other Laurel Canyon singer/songwriters as Joni Mitchell, Judi Collins and Carole King. By the time of her death on November 23, 1979, however, she had been all but forgotten, and not a single obituary was published to note her passing.

 

Judee was born in Studio City, California, not far from the northern entrance to Laurel Canyon, on October 7, 1944. Her father, Milford “Bud” Sill, was reportedly a cameraman for Paramount Studios with numerous Hollywood connections. When Judee was quite young, however, Bud moved the family to Oakland and opened a bar known as “Bud’s Bar.” He also operated a side business as an importer of rare animals, which required him to spend a considerable amount of time traveling in Central and South America. Such a business, it should be noted, would provide an ideal cover for covert intelligence work. In any event, Bud Sill was dead by 1952, when Judee was just seven or eight years old. Depending on who is telling the story, Bud died either from pneumonia or a heart attack.

 

Following Bud’s death, the family relocated back to Southern California and Judee’s older brother Dennis, still in his teens, took over the family importing business. That didn’t last long though as Dennis soon turned up dead down in Central America, either from a liver infection or a car accident. The animal importing business, I guess, is a rather dangerous one.

 

Judee’s mother, Oneta, met and married Ken Muse, an Academy Award winning animator for Hanna-Barbera who was described by Judee as an abusive, violent alcoholic. At fifteen, Judee fled her violent home life and lived with an older man with whom she pulled off a series of armed robberies in the San Fernando Valley. Those activities landed her in reform school, which did little to curb her appetite for drugs, crime and alcohol. She spent the next few years with a serious heroin addiction, which she financed by dealing drugs and turning tricks in some of LA’s seedier neighborhoods.

 

By 1963, Judee had cleaned herself up enough to enroll in junior college. In the early winter of 1965, however, Judee’s mom, her last surviving family member, died either of cancer or of complications arising from her chronic alcoholism (take your pick; the details of this story will likely remain forever elusive). Barely an adult, Judee was left all alone in the world, and thus began another downward spiral into drugs and crime, which culminated in her being arrested and possibly serving time on forgery and drug charges.

 

In the late 1960s, with her addictions apparently temporarily curbed, Sill joined the Laurel Canyon scene, where she attempted to forge a career as a singer/songwriter. Her first big break came when she sold the song “Lady O” to The Turtles (yet another Laurel Canyon band to hit it big in the mid-1960s; best known for the hit single “Happy Together,” The Turtles were led by lead vocalist/songwriter Howard Kaylan, who happened to be, small world that it is, a cousin of Frank Zappa’s manager and business partner, Herb Cohen). The band released the song, which featured Judee’s guitar work, in 1969. The next year, Sill became the first artist signed to David Geffen’s fledgling Asylum record label. The year after that, her self-titled debut album became Asylum’s first official release. The first single from the album, “Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” was produced by Graham Nash, whom she opened for on tour following the album’s release.

 

Though critically well-received, the album’s sales were disappointing, in part because the record was overshadowed by the debut albums of Jackson Browne and The Eagles, both released by Asylum shortly after the release of Judee’s album. Sill’s second album, 1973’s “Heart Food,” was even more of a commercial disappointment. Nevertheless, in 1974 she began work on a third album in Monkee Mike Nesmith’s recording studio. Prior to completion, however, she abandoned the project and promptly disappeared without a trace. What became of her between that time and her death some five years later remains largely a mystery. It is assumed that she once again descended into a life of drugs and prostitution, but no one seems to know for sure.

 

It is alleged that she was seriously injured when her car was rear-ended by actor Danny Kaye, causing her to suffer from chronic back pain thereafter, thus contributing to her drug addictions. According to a friend of hers, she lived in a home that featured an enormous photo of Bela Lugosi above the fireplace, a large ebony cross above her bed, and racks of candles. She is said to have read extensively from Rosicrucian manuscripts and from the writings of Aleister Crowley, to have possessed a complete collection of the work of Helena Blavatsky, and to have been a gifted tarot card reader.

 

What is known for sure is that, on the day after Thanksgiving, 1979, Judee Sill, the last surviving member of her family, was found dead in a North Hollywood apartment. The cause of death was listed as “acute cocaine and codeine intoxication.” It was claimed that a suicide note was found, but friends insisted that the supposed note was either a portion of a diary entry or an unfinished song. One of her friends would later note that, at some point in her life, Judee began to realize that “there was a part of her that wasn’t under her conscious control.” I’m guessing that Phil Ochs, and quite a few other characters in this story, could relate to that.

 

To Be Continued …

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

It has occurred to me, as I have been working on these first posts of this new series, that a lot of this information will probably make more sense to those of you out there in Readerland who have successfully waded through my last book, Programmed to Kill. Those of you who haven’t done so may find yourselves pondering the significance of some of the references contained herein. Much of this material is tied in, to varying degrees, with material that is covered in the book, which last time I checked could be had in the E-version from www.IUniverse.com for the low, low price of just $6. And what else are you going to do with $6 – buy a gallon of gas?


 

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