On November 19, the leader of the Manson family died. Two days later, the leader of the Partridge Family died. Just a coincidence?
As an excommunicated former member of a certain Austin-based conspiracy cult, that was the first question that came to mind. So in an attempt to connect these two unconnected things, I decided to investigate, beginning with my record collection.
The first record I ever bought was a Partridge Family album. It was probably 1972, when I was in second grade.
I had already been gifted the Hanna-Barbera recording of Pinocchio a few years earlier, along with a portable General Electric record player to play it on. After listening to Pinocchio for a few years, I figured it was time to get another record.
I was in K-Mart one day with my mother, and when I asked if she would buy me a record, she said OK. I chose the Partridge Family album Sound Magazine. I don’t know why I picked that one. I wasn’t really a fan of the TV show, but I had certainly seen it. It was probably the only thing in the record bin that I recognized.
I still have that record, and when David Cassidy died the other day, I dug it out for the first time in about 45 years.
As a kid, I didn’t know The Partridge Family was a fake band — that frequently overlooked subcategory of fake news. Actually, the band was only partially fake, because David Cassidy (Keith Partridge) sang on the record, as did his real-life stepmother and Academy Award-winning Hollywood musical diva, Shirley Jones (Shirley Partridge).
I also didn’t know The Partridge Family was modeled on The Cowsills, which was a real family and a real band, as told in the grim, must-see documentary Family Band: The Cowsills Story.
As a kid, yet another thing I didn’t know was that The Partridge Family was part of a musical genre known as “Bubblegum,” which was dominated by fake bands who were strategically marketed to be apolitical and trivial at a time of great political and social upheaval.
Examining the liner notes to Sound Magazine with adult eyes, I see that the The Partridge Family band actually consisted of some of the best musicians money can buy.
The drummer was Hal Blaine, who has drummed on probably more records than anybody.
The bass player was Max Bennett, a name I know because he totally kicked ass on Frank Zappa’s pioneering jazz-rock album Hot Rats.
There are two guitar players listed, both of them heavyweights. One is Dennis Budimir, whose name I know from another Zappa album, Lumpy Gravy, but who is best-known for playing with almost every jazz legend you can think of.
The other guitarist, Louie Shelton, has also played on countless records, and is particularly famous for his immortal riff on “Last Train To Clarksville” by The Monkees, the greatest fake band of all.
In the crucial section of liner notes called “My Favorite Things,” it says Cassidy’s favorite song was “The Thrill is Gone,” which was first time I ever heard the name B.B. King, and I never forgot it.
Another detail from the liner notes is not so interesting, however. There’s a song called “Echo Valley 2-6809,” which is a fake telephone number from back when telephone numbers contained words. I didn’t know then, and still don’t know, where “Echo Valley” is. But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t refer to a big-bosomed gal named Echo Valley, whose picture came up when I Googled the words “Echo Valley.”
As for Echo Valley the song, I now see it was co-written by Rupert Holmes — the guy responsible for the ghastly “Pina Colada Song,” which Americans loved so much that it became the last #1 hit of the 1970s.
By that time, The Partridge Family had been off the charts for years, ever since David Cassidy attempted to murder Keith Partridge by posing nude for Annie Leibovitz in a 1972 issue of Rolling Stone.
The famous photographer recalled: “He did this thing he really shouldn’t have done and got into deep trouble for it. In retrospect, I feel sad. But since the shoot, I’ve seen him on a couple of occasions, and he thanked me because he said it moved him on. He desperately wanted to get off the show and he sort of committed professional suicide to get out of his contract. That ended one period of his career.”
As Kim “Bette Davis Eyes” Carnes told Rolling Stone, he used to say: “The problem is my name is David Cassidy, and nobody takes what I do seriously.”
But even after shedding his Partridge alter-ego, he still was never taken seriously as a musician. He ended up on The Apprentice, where Donald Trump fired him for being “weak.”
You know who would’ve made a great Apprentice? Charlie Manson. A ruthless con artist with a killer instinct. He, too, was a musician who nobody took seriously.