"I Hate the Hollywood Bag"
An Interview with John Daniels
By Mike White
I was gushing like a little schoolgirl as I talked to John Daniels. It felt as if the last decade had been building up to this moment. Back when I first put finger to keyboard for my first paltry issue of Cashiers du Cinemart, I had dreamed of interviewing the star of my favorite film, BLACK SHAMPOO. It was in honor of John Daniels that I initially chose the nom de plume of “Mike Barnett” after his character in GETTING OVER.
Going back and listening to the interview with Daniels, I find myself slightly embarrassed by how astonishingly giddy I sound. Here’s hoping that the printed version might find my effervescent enthusiasm a bit muted.
Cashiers du Cinemart: It’s a great pleasure to finally talk to you.
John Daniels: I’m flattered that anybody is interested in [talking to me] at this time because I had refocused my life away from film. What I really do and where my passion has always been is producing shows. Maverick’s Flat is where I do most of the work. I’m there for rehearsals and production business but I don’t spend any time in the club when it’s open. I haven’t been there at night in eons. But I am there, running my rehearsals.
Producing shows is a multifaceted situation because I also write and produce music. That goes along with the shows, they’re all musical shows. As a producer, I’ve put on shows in 80 countries.
CdC: You must be doing something right.
JD: I’ve played all of the major venues in the world: the London Palladium, the Budokan in Tokyo; you name it.
CdC: What acts are you working with in your shows?
JD: My wife (Gwen Brisco) is an entertainer. She’s a dynamite person on stage and used to carry a big live review with her. Just to give you an idea of what she’s like; we were in Australia when Tina Turner was touring Australia and the paper said to go see Gwen.
I’ve always produced her shows. And I’ve written and produced her music for CDs. We haven’t had a mega-hit in this country but we’ve had them in other parts of the world. She’s had about ten CDs so far and she’s getting ready to release another one.
CdC: How long have you been doing that?
JD: Interestingly enough, that’s what I came to California for. I was basically a songwriter and singer. I ended up getting signed to a record company and when I went to a celebratory so-called party in the executive’s house in the Sunset Hills and he had some other ideas that I just didn’t agree with (see Badazz Mofo #7 for details); I threw the brother though a plate glass window and that was the end of my career.
I could have reasserted myself in many ways but I found out that even though I enjoyed entertaining and being on stage, I was much more comfortable working with other people and creating the music for them. I found my passion and my real calling. So, I deprived the world of my entertainment skills and came off the stage to work behind the scenes.
CdC: How did you get into acting?
JD: I had been successful acting in high school. They had a nationwide talent search for a picture called TAKE A GIANT STEP. The producer and director came to my high school in Gary, Indiana. The director thought I was pretty damn good but he ended up taking Johnny Nash for the part. Nash had appeared on Arthur Godfrey’s show and had national attention at that time. It was before Nash did “I Can See Clearly Now.”
When I came to California, I already had the experience and the acting bug, but I was really into music. I left college to pursue the music and the acting thing just happened to present itself. I didn’t go anywhere looking for a part and did absolutely nothing to seek out involvement in films. It just happened. It just fell in my lap. It was amusing but I always did it on the run—when I could—and catch the next plane. My shows were really hot at that time. I opened up an office in Paris and we were importing bands to the tune of three and four a month. It was a heady time. The movies lost in a dead heat to other things.
CdC: It’s ironic that while you weren’t looking for film roles that you managed to get some plum ones. Certainly, you did films like HITMAN or TENDER LOVING CARE where you had some scenes here and then—bam—you’re in starring roles in CANDY TANGERINE MAN, BLACK SHAMPOO, and GETTING OVER.
JD: I think that it was just fate. The notoriety of Maverick’s Flat at that time was so hot, and the social life of Los Angeles was focused in that place. It was kind of like a mini Studio 54. It was the only place that stayed open until four in the morning and was frequented by high echelon people, both black and white. We had a dress and conduct codes and never had bouncers. The biggest difficulties we had were people getting a little tipsy but they got that way on their own because we didn’t sell any liquor at Maverick’s. We put it in at the beginning because it was expected but when we found out that a liquor license was $25,000 we decided to just sell ice cold Coca-Cola. We got known all over the United States for only selling Coca-Cola. That was in the first six months that we were open. Now, at thirty-six years old, we’ve never changed. I think we’re the only club that has been able to survive with Coca-Cola.
Those days we had everybody that was doing anything in television and film down there. So, you were kind of in an environment where you’d see people—“The Addam’s Family” is on TV and you’re seeing Carolyn Jones in the club that night. After so much of that environment, my friend started telling me that I should go into the movies. I told him that he was crazy and that I was too busy to even think of anything like that. But he was a talent coordinator for the “The Dating Game” and he got me on there. I was on there twice and they brought me back for a third time for the nighttime game which was in color. I won all three times and after that it felt like I was, I don’t know, in demand.
CdC: Here’s hoping you can finally settle something for me. I’ve seen so many ad mats and other materials with varying dates that I was hoping you could finally tell me when CANDY TANGERINE MAN and BLACK SHAMPOO were out. JD: CANDY TANGERINE MAN came out in 1974 and BLACK SHAMPOO in 1975. In fact, they were both in Variety’s top fifty at the same time which was flattering. To me, there wasn’t any ego involved. I was just having a good time and moving on to the next thing. My wife and I were in London and I took her to Leicester Square and, while we had been together for over a year, I had never told her that I had been in movies. I didn’t want it to get in the way of her knowing me as a person. So we’re walking, hand in hand, and here’s a thirty foot picture of me with BLACK SHAMPOO. She looked at it, looked at me, and said, “Is that you?” The manager comes out of the theater and says, “I can’t believe it!” The manager pulls me into the theater and stopped the movie to announce that they had the star of the movie there. She looked at me and said, “What are you involved in?” The cat was out of the bag.
CdC: Tell me more about the book you’re working on. Is there a projected release date?
JD: As a magazine editor, I used to do a lot of writing for my magazine like you do.
CdC: Right, but it sounds like you had your act together a bit more than I do. I know you’ll be talking a lot about your music career but I just hope you don’t give short shrift to the films.
JD: I don’t intend to be short changing but the thing is that it’s been a long time. GETTING OVER was 1980.
Let me tell you about GETTING OVER. With that, I was trying to make a feel-good film. I had had enough of the “kick ass” films. I was qualified for “kick ass” but only half of me was really in love with that. The other half was in love with romance and good taste; things that were beautiful. When I finally had a chance to make my own movie, I wanted to make something that was uplifting. It was made at a strange time. It came at the end of the blaxploitation era and before movies like it were accepted by the distribution establishment. Most of the distributors wanted me to reprise the roles that had made them money like CANDY TANGERINE MAN. When they saw GETTING OVER and it didn’t have any shooting or fighting or anything like that, at that time they just hadn’t got that out of their system. The deals I got still took it along those tracks but it wasn’t that product. So, I just kept it and didn’t allow it to be released in that capacity. I took it around the world and it did well in select locations but I wouldn’t submit it to that “Black track distribution” because there was a lot of trash during that time and they wanted to put it in with the rest of the trash.
CdC: Any chance of it coming out on DVD anytime soon?
JD: I don’t know. I haven’t had contact with the company that I sold it to in years. It’d be their decision, I suppose. I think I had a clause in the contract that allowed it to revert to me after so long but I haven’t really looked into it. With the glut of movies in the market, I don’t think it’d kick up a storm. If they happen to do it, fine. Or if the world suddenly decides that it needs GETTING OVER.
CdC: Was that your last movie or was that MEAN DOG BLUES?
JD: GETTING OVER was my final film. I got paid well for MEAN DOG BLUES but I got cut out of most of that. I didn’t see it until years later, not knowing that I had rescinded my fame to the cutting room floor.
CdC: Do you keep in touch with any of the folks from the movies you’ve been in?
JD: No. But I was going to the L.A. County museum and the young lady who played my interest in BLACK SHAMPOO—
CdC: Tanya Boyd.
JD: I’m going to tell you how Tanya Boyd got into BLACK SHAMPOO. Greydon Clark told me that I could choose anyone to star opposite me. A whole lot of young ladies auditioned that were more beautiful than her and willing to do anything on God’s Green Earth but I just never registered with that thing. I went with Tanya Boyd because I felt that she was the most serious actress. So, we did the film and later Tanya’s on television on a soap opera (“Days of Our Lives”) where she has a recurring role.
So, we’re in line at the L.A. County Museum and Tanya Boyd is in line, too. She did not know me. I think it was intentional. I don’t think she was comfortable being associated with BLACK SHAMPOO. She was standing there, looking through me, and I recognized what was happening. She had moved up to the networks. It was a funny thing, and I had a similar thing happen with Cheech & Chong.
Tommy Chong was playing guitar in the band that backed up Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers. They had a big hit out at that time, “Does Your Momma Know about Me?” [Co-written by Chong and Tom Baird – ED]. We booked them into the club and after the show Tommy came upstairs and said, “Hey, man, I’ve got a partner and we do comedy and would you give us a chance?” I was known for taking a chance on something new. They came in and stayed at the club for a long time. And, boom, Lou Adler signs them eventually and the rest is history. So, I’m standing in a theater line and who should be standing at the front of the line but Tommy Chong. I went up to him and said, “Hey, do you know me?” He said, “Do I know you? I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for you. I know you very well!” I never take it for granted if people know you because a lot of them can make it heartbreaking.