Skip Haynes, author of the song “Lake Shore Drive” and the Haynes in the early-70s group Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah, looks pretty much the same now as he did the last time I saw him, in 1984. He was standing next to the pinball machine in the Gare St. Lazare on Armitage when I approached him. “Hey Skip, you probably don’t remember me, but you might remember my aunt. You used to go out with her.” “Yeah?” he said, backing away. “In New York, about 1969, ’70. My aunt’s named Sue?” His eyes clouded for a moment, then he let out a short breath. “Oh yeah, Susan. Thigh-high lavender suede boots, right?” It sounded right. “How is she?”
He explained that his initial coolness was based on a fear that I was some revenge-bent relative. Then he told me that he was only visiting Chicago, that he’d moved away earlier in the year. Then he bolted a double espresso and took off.
Skip and Aunt Sue lived with me and my mother for a couple of months when I was 12. Skip and Aunt Sue took my room while I slept on the couch in the living room. Every night I’d hear them come in late, filled with pills and booze, laughing, stumbling, kissing, falling into furniture. They were the role models of my adolescence.
So when I saw him again this summer at the Halsted street fair it was like a flashback. He sang “Lake Shore Drive” and autographed copies of the new CD of the same name, just rereleased by the Los Angeles-based Quicksilver Records. “Lake Shore Drive” is one among very few songs about Chicago that get radio play. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” maybe, “Lake Shore Drive,” and that’s about it. “Lake Shore Drive” is the one that many people think is also about LSD, but it isn’t. Skip always hated acid. The song is strictly about the drive. But on the recording Mitchell Aliotta couldn’t resist using “LSD” in the chorus. “Snow Queen” was the B side of the single and it is about drugs.
Skip didn’t write songs only about drugs or Chicago. He wrote advertising jingles. One for Job cigarette papers went: “Get a Job today / Makes you feel OK / ‘Cause a Job gets rid of the blues.” “Straights thought it was about employment,” he said. He lived the rock-and-roll life-style; writing and singing about getting high, he usually was high when he wrote and sang about getting high.
But Skip lives in Los Angeles now, drinks juice instead of booze, and doesn’t snort or smoke anymore. In 1984, after he quit getting high he wrote a book about it. It’s a how-to book for people who want to stop using drugs on their own, without a program, support group, or substitute drug. Skip tested all the methods personally, and he says he wrote it so someone who’s too stoned to walk can read it lying down. “There isn’t a sentence longer than ten words in there,” he says. Except of course on the cover. The book’s called The Undo-It-Yourself How to Straighten Up Your Act in One Week and Keep the Money in the Country Handbook, or How to Get Out From Behind the Eight-Ball. The book is 81 pages long.
Skip recently began playing music again, and he wound up playing at the Halsted street fair as a result of a chance meeting with Hank Zemola a couple of months back. It had been ten years since they’d seen each other, Zemola says, but when he spotted Skip sitting at the bar in John Barleycorn, it was like no time had passed at all. Zemola used to own Tuts (on Belmont where the Avalon is now), among other clubs, and Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah were always a good draw. According to Skip the band was popular with dopers and cops; they’d crowd opposite ends of the clubs for their shows, calling a truce for the duration. The last time they played anywhere was in 1978. Now Zemola works in the city’s Office of Special Events, and when Skip told him that the band had been talking recently about regrouping, he invited them to make a comeback in their hometown. Mitchell Aliotta was laid up, so Haynes and Jeremiah asked his brother Ted to play at the fair. They had a different Aliotta, but they played the same songs.
That day started as one of the few hot Saturdays this August, but by the time the band reached the stage it had cooled down again. Several hundred people stood listening in the 7-Eleven parking lot at Halsted and Roscoe. Some danced, arms swaying and hair flying; it looked a lot like 1972. It looked slightly ridiculous but Skip was happy to see anyone dancing to his songs. It had been a while.
The band had already been playing clubs in Chicago for a couple of years when Skip wrote “Lake Shore Drive.” It was after a 4 AM ride with Arthur Belkind, the group’s manager. Skip wrote down their conversation, set it to music, and played it for Belkind over the phone the following day. Skip liked it all right, but Belkind was ecstatic. He heard Hit. He borrowed some money to pay for studio time at 2120 S. Michigan. A record label in New York called Bang Records released it as a single, and it went nowhere.
It was 1972. The band had already done two albums for Ampex that hadn’t done much either. They were popular in clubs, but they were still scraping by when they met Chuck Rose (of the Rose Records family) at a girlfriend’s house. Rose, Haynes recalls, said something like “I own a chain of record stores, you got anything I can sell in them?” They played everything. Rose liked what they’d done. He said he’d put out their third album. “That’s the only time I ever did that,” Rose says now, “and we sold more of that record than any other record at the time.”
Looking for a different sound, the band borrowed some money and went into a different studio. They borrowed enough money to hire some Chicago Symphony Orchestra strings for a session and they recorded a new version of “Lake Shore Drive.” The orchestra hadn’t played much rock, and the band was intimidated. “These guys were real musicians,” Skip said. But they all got along just fine. The band brought a bottle of Cuervo and shared it with some members of the orchestra. They finished it there.
Arthur Belkind wanted the group and the record to pay a call to the offices of WBBM FM at McClurg Court. He said he knew the music director, Alan Burns, really well. The band didn’t like the song much and didn’t have a lot of faith in it. They didn’t want to go. He reassured them, “Don’t worry, it’ll be great.” They worried.
The group was lined up behind Belkind as they approached the receptionist. She sat behind a semicircular desk almost as large as the room. Arthur did the talking. “Tell Alan Burns that Arthur Belkind is here to see him.” The receptionist whispered into her mouthpiece for a moment. The intercom box was small, but they clearly heard a loud “Arthur who?” It was a little like The Wizard of Oz before Toto tears away the curtain. Their manager said to the receptionist, “Tell him that Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah are here.” The voice came back, “Tell them to come right up.” It turned out Burns had a soft spot for local artists.
Twenty years later, Skip still can’t believe it. “It was fantasyland, you know? We walked into his office and he said, ‘What have you got for me?’ What have we got for him! Do you know what that means to a band when a music director at a large radio station says that? Arthur gave him the single and he walked out of the room. There were these little speakers in there playing the music they were playing on the station. Two minutes later he walked back in and our song came out of those speakers. It was on the radio! Man, that was the beginning and the end of my career right there. Because I thought it was always going to be that easy.”
The band had only played the song twice, and had never bothered to rehearse it. They had a gig the next night, and the club owner called Skip. “You’re going to play that ‘LSD’ song, right?” “Sure,” Skip assured him.
Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah went to Rose Records to get a copy of the record to play along with. They didn’t know the kid behind the counter and he didn’t know them. They had to pay retail for their own album so they could learn their own song.
The album and the song remained mostly a regional hit. Chuck Rose, who sold his shares of Rose Records two years ago and now lives in LA, felt that if more local radio stations had gotten behind it, it could have gone national. Alan Burns, who is now a radio consultant operating out of Virginia, says that the record was hurt by not being on a major label. “I think the band felt they’d been burned by Ampex and they wanted to do it themselves.” He explained, “I worked at WLS after I left WBBM and I used to sneak it on the air every now and then. But we weren’t allowed to add a record to the playlist until it reached either 14 or 21 on the national charts, I can’t remember which. And ‘Lake Shore Drive’ never got that high nationally.” He said that the station policy was motivated by fears of payola charges. He always believed in playing music by local artists. “Especially when the song is about the city. They were right at the tail end of a time when Chicago bands were getting big nationally. It’s too bad.”
The band played on until the late 70s, but by the time I ran into Skip in 1984, he was just about done with drink, drugs, and rock and roll. Coke had everybody he knew swinging guns and moods, drawing lines in the sand with a finger curled to the trigger. It wasn’t much fun anymore. When coke wasn’t leading to fights, arguments, and general bad times, it was actually leading to death. Too many deaths led Skip to produce the book. He was sitting in a room with a friend who suddenly shot himself in the head. Skip’s ears rang for a week. “If I could have knocked his arm away I would have,” he says. That’s what the book is intended to do–to disarm. Skip was dissatisfied with 12-step programs, and places like the Betty Ford Clinic and Parkside. “I think that people can do it themselves. I’m just showing them a way.”
Since 1984 Skip has promoted do-it-yourself rehab on radio shows in LA. Now he’s working on his own radio show. Producing it for syndication, he’s calling it You Can’t Sell Bananas With a Monkey on Your Back. He’s taping it in a studio in a neighbor’s house. “It’s sort of like a do-it-yourself radio show, but my neighbor does have a $150,000 studio.”
The book is also available as a tape, or “talking book.” “I decided to make it real Hollywood, real glitzy. That’s what convinces people these days.” He admits that when he first wrote the book his motives weren’t entirely altruistic. “I wanted to get some of the money back that I spent on drugs.” But after a couple of years he started giving the book away. People asked for copies and he found that he couldn’t ask for money. “I made enough money on the book anyway. Hell, I wrote it in two weeks.” He revises it every year. The book is in its seventh printing.
He promised to send a couple of copies to Aunt Sue, who’s a drug counselor in New York now. That didn’t surprise Skip, nor did he think it was a coincidence that they’d both stopped doing drugs the same year–1984. “That’s happened to a lot of people our age. Either they died, or they burned out, or they got straight and cleaned up.” And though he wrote the book mostly for cocaine users, he thinks the methods in it can be used to beat any addiction. Or almost any. At the end of the book Skip wrote, “I’ve smoked enough cigarettes writing this book to gag a maggot, so I made a deal with myself. The minute I finish, I quit smoking.” Skip wrote that sentence in 1984. He quit smoking cigarettes two months ago.
“Once I decided to really do it, it was easy. It’s taken two months for my voice to start coming back, but for the first time in years I feel like I can sing again. I’m going to write another book, just about quitting smoking. I figure I’ll write it on the flight back to LA.” He smiles. “It’s going to be real short.”