An overlooked, yet pivotal, period of Randy Meisner’s career took place between 1966 and 1968 when he was a member of the short-lived Denver garage rock band, The Poor. Here, I hope to provide a comprehensive look at the band’s origins and brief existence on the L.A. music scene during the Summer Of Love (1967). Struggling with poor management and just being poor themselves, they were really just a talented group of guys who couldn’t get a break.
“I think maybe we tried to be too original and we ended up the same way we arrived, with nothing.”
-Randy Meisner on The Poor, 2000
Meet The Poor:
Randy Meisner (bass), Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Allen Kemp (guitar), Aurora, Colorado
Pat Shanahan (drums), Denver, Colorado
Gene Chalk (guitar), Denver, Colorado
John Day (keyboards), Denver, Colorado
Randy Naylor (guitar, keyboards), Denver, Colorado
Veeder Van Dorn (guitar, harmonica, banjo), Denver, CO
Originally called The Esquires,1 &1a the Soul Survivors began in Denver, Colorado in 1964 and featured Allen Kemp & Gene Chalk on guitar, Pat Shanahan on drums,2 Bob Raymond on bass, and John Day on keyboards. They became a popular band in Denver and eventually went to California in early 1966 to record a single with Dot Records called “Can’t Stand To Be In Love With You,” which became a hit on Denver’s local top 40 station, KIMN.
Sometime in the summer of 1966, the Drivin’ Dynamics, the Scottsbluff, Nebraska band started by Randy and three of his high school friends in 1961, participated in a Battle of the Bands in Denver, CO. The exact date of this band battle is unknown, however, according to former Dynamics keyboardist, Steve Cassells, the battle would have occurred after his departure from the Dynamics in the late Spring of 1966. Also participating in the Battle of the Bands were the Soul Survivors, who were looking for a new bass player.
Enter Randy Meisner
When their song, “Can’t Stand To Be In Love With You” became a hit in Denver, the Soul Survivors decided to return to California. However, they hit a snag when their bass player didn’t want to make the trip.
“We thought we were big shots. But, our bass player, Bob Raymond, didn’t want to go. We figured we had to get a bass player if we were going to go to California, so we went to what was called a battle of the bands, which was kind of a big deal where bands from around the region got together and played. Gene Chalk and I went specifically to find a bass player because all the bass players in the region would be there. We came up to this group with the singer who was playing bass and he had a great voice. It was Randy Meisner. I said to Gene, This is what we need. This guy’s got a great voice and he can play the bass.” (Desperados: The Roots Of Country Rock by John Einarson, 2000)
The story goes that Gene Chalk borrowed his mother’s car and drove to Scottsbluff, NE to convince Randy to join the group. 3
Here’s how Randy remembers it:
“We played a talent contest over in Colorado, in Denver. We got maybe third or fourth place in the contest, but we didn’t win. So we went back home…back to Nebraska. A couple three days later, there was this guy in a really nice car, like a GTO or something, pulls up out in the front and said ‘Do you want to go to California with us?’ and I said, ‘Wow! Yes!'” (Interview with Randy Meisner on Joe Walsh’s Old-Fashioned Rock N’ Roll” radio show, November 28th, 2020)
Move to California/Name Change
After playing a few gigs around Denver to make money for their move, the band departed for Los Angeles sometime in the summer of 1966.4
Shortly thereafter, the band decided to change their name. It is assumed, and wrongly so, that the name change was made so the band would not be confused with the Philadelphia group, Soul Survivors, who had the 1967 hit, “Expressway To Your Heart.” That song had not yet been released in 1966 when the band changed their name (it was released almost a year later in the Fall of 1967). Randy recalled that the reason for the change was a fresh start:
“We kind of thought, new name, new start, you know? … And The Poor sounded cooler and more psychedelic than The Soul Survivors….as well as being far more appropriate, as we were very darn poor indeed! But we knew we were a darn good band!”
Another change occurred shortly after their arrival in L.A.. Gene Chalk, an original guitarist for the Soul Survivors, decided to return to Colorado. He was replaced by another Denver native, Randy Naylor, who had moved to L.A. earlier in the year with his friend, Jim Bell, and started a band called The Loading Zone. Through Bell, Naylor was introduced to producer Curt Boettcher, who recorded some of their songs.
Session Work/Our Productions
In order to make ends meet after they arrived in Los Angles, the band got work doing demo sessions with Our Productions, a production company run by Jim Bell and Curt Boettcher, who were friends of Randy Naylor. It was via Our Productions that the band became connected with promoter/producer Barry Friedman, who was able to get them booked at the Troubadour and the Whisky-A-Go-Go. It was also through Friedman that the band acquired their managers, Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, who also managed Buffalo Springfield and Sonny and Cher.
Randy’s memories of Greene and Stone:
“We ended up with managers Charlie Green and Brian Stone, who had Buffalo Springfield and more importantly, Joseph, their limousine driver. Stephen Stills would come into the management office on Sunset. Neil Young, too, but he was kind of on his own–very private. I thought Greene and Stone were the funniest guys. Managers are bad in a good way. We hadn’t even had a record and we were in a limo. Those guys had some class.”
Some Notable Gigs
The Poor “played all the clubs on the Strip,” recalled guitarist Randy Naylor, “Ciro’s, P.J.’s, the Whisky…all of these clubs that came and went on the Sunset Strip. Some of the places we played were just dives, but the Sunset Strip was so roaringly alive back then.”
November 21-27, 1966, Whisky A Go-Go: One of The Poor’s first major gigs in Los Angeles was opening for Buffalo Springfield at the Whisky A Go-Go for a week’s run.
April 30th, 1967, Freedom Of Expression Concert, Hullabaloo, Los Angeles, CA: Held to defend the publication of Lenore Kandel’s The Love Book.
May 17-18, 1967, The Exodus Club, Denver, CO: The Poor returned to the legendary Exodus Club in Denver. A correspondent from the underground folk magazine, Broadside, was in the audience during one of the shows and was “overwhelmed” by the “five groovy young men”:
“They’re great. It is hard to find superlatives when you’re overwhelmed and their sound will overwhelm you. Their vocal blend is intricate, funky, and lots of fun.” (The Broadside, Vol. 6, No. 8, 1967)
October-November, 1967, Magic Mushroom. Studio City, CA. In the Fall of 1967, The Poor played several shows at a new club in Studio City called The Magic Mushroom. The club was owned by Chesley Millikin, a former writer for the underground L.A. newspaper, The Oracle, who boasted that the club only served organic juices, no liquor. He told the Los Angeles Times (Sept. 23, 1967): “We are honest and upbeat and clean and our audience includes a variety of people: people in evening dress, college kids and long hairs.”
November 26th, 1967, L.A. Ecstasy Parade: The first L.A. Ecstasy Parade was scheduled to take place on Thanksgiving weekend along Wilshire Blvd. It was sponsored by the Oracle newspaper, CAFF (Community Action for Fact and Freedom), and underground L.A. DJs Elliot Mintz and John Carpenter. Mintz described the parade as an extension of the love-ins and other groovy outdoor happenings of the day (this was the November following the “Summer Of Love,” after all.) Several local bands were scheduled to perform atop the floats, including The Poor, who were to play atop the Magic Mushroom float. Sadly, the parade never took place. It was postponed due to difficulties in arranging a permit and was never rescheduled.
August 3-7, 1967, The Salvation, New York City: The Poor opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, who were on their first tour, at a new Greenwich Village nightclub called The Salvation. Randy tells the story best:
“We finally opened the club. Jimi Hendrix was the opener. Charlie and Brian got us some nice clothes, some bell-bottoms and we get ready to go on and Jimi Hendrix comes in. We were excited to meet him. So he goes up and he does the fire thing and he burns the guitar and destroys the whole P.A. system. The guy comes back, ‘You lucked out, you don’t even have to play.’ We played two weeks there as the house band and that was our introduction to New York.” (Interview with Ken Sharp, 2006)
According to Randy Naylor, keyboardist John Day was sacked from the group either while they were still in New York or shortly thereafter.
“John Day was a good front man, MC, show biz type which, I think, may have ultimately been his demise. I think he got on the nerves of everybody in the group by the time that we opened for Jimi Hendrix in New York City, on his first tour. We sacked John after a week or so in New York. We thought he wasn’t musicially doing a lot. It’s possible that we didn’t appreciate how he was in many ways a good front man. The tune that he wrote, that we recorded at one point (“Knowing You, Loving You”) was a real sweet tune with like a Bread-type of vocal.”
February 1-3, 1968, Little Al’s, Los Angeles (near the campus of UCLA): “The Poor – Rock Recording/Stars”
August 7-11, 1968, Decca Records Promotional Seminar, Universal Studios, Los Angeles, CA: Perhaps one of the last performances by The Poor occurred at the first annual Decca Records Promotional Seminar held at Universal Studios. The Poor were among several bands on Decca label who performed as entertainment for the seminar.
“Once Again” b/w “How Many Tears”
With Friedman as their producer, the band cut their first single called “Once Again,” released on the small label, Loma Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. The song was written by Michael Clough and Michael Crowley of the folk group, Back Porch Majority. The single was heavily promoted on Denver’s KIMN, even becoming a “Five Star Pick Of The Week.” It was also mentioned in Billboard and Cash Box.
“She’s Got the Time” b/w “Love Is Real”
Their next single, “She’s Got The Time (She’s Got The Changes),” sung by Randy and released on York Records, was all set to become their first big hit. The song was written by Tom Shipley (of Brewer and Shipley), who thought his time had finally come:
“The lead singer was Randy Meisner who ended up being the bass player with The Eagles. They were real good friends of Michael [Brewer] and I. We hung out with The Poor all the time. There was a big ad in Billboard for the song and it goes shooting up the charts and I’m thinking, ‘Okay, now it’s my turn, I’ve made it’ and about that time just when it looked like it was going to peak, the DJs go on strike.** It just went right down. Right there I learnt everything I ever needed to know about Hollywood and show business.”* (Interview with Tom Shipley by Nick Warburton, 2009)
Colorado native, Veeder Van Dorn, joined the band for the recording sessions in 1967. It’s unclear whether he was a full-fledged member or was just involved in the recordings. He was gone by 1968 since he does not appear in the television footage nor the Decca Promotional Seminar, where they are a four-piece band.
“My Mind Goes High” b/w “Knowing You, Loving You”
The Poor’s third single (and second for York) was another Clough & Crowley tune called “My Mind Goes High.”Again, the single went nowhere. When the BBC’s John Tobler asked Randy about the York singles in 1977, Randy responded dryly: “You know what happened with them, right? Nothing.”5
“Feelin’ Down” b/w “Come Back Baby”
Their last single, “Feeling Down” b/w “Come Back Baby” (the latter written by Randy) was released on Decca & produced by Jim Bell. The song was written by Michael Brewer. Randy Naylor claims that Greene and Stone kept moving the band to different labels so they could pocket the advance money. The single was given little or no promotion by their management. As Randy remembered it in 1976, the band just wasn’t a priority for Greene and Stone: “We were like the ones at the bottom… We never really got anywhere.”6
Hell’s Angels On Wheels
The Poor recorded a song for the soundtrack to the biker film Hells Angels On Wheels, starring Jack Nicholson. The song, “Study In Motion #1” was written by the film’s composer Stu Phillips. Hells Angels On Wheels was released in June 1967.
It’s worth noting that sometime in early-mid 1968, Randy was asked to join a new lineup of the psych band, The Electric Prunes, but declined the invitation. 7
In the mid-sixties, if you were an LA-based band and hot in the clubs, it’s likely that you could get booked on a TV show. “We appeared on Name Of The Game and Ironside,” Randy Naylor recalled, “We had a couple of pretty cool tunes that were recorded just for these shows. We were featured in party scenes!” By the time these episodes aired on television in November and December 1968, however, the Poor had disbanded and Randy (Meisner) was already a member of the group that would become Poco. I have the episodes listed here chronologically. For the corresponding clips, I pieced together the best parts of the band’s appearances in the show.
The Name Of the Game (S1,E7): “Shine On, Shine On Jesse Gil” (Original air date: November 1, 1968). The band appeared on two episodes from season one of The Name Of the Game, a drama series starring Tony Franciosa, Gene Barry, and Robert Stack that ran from 1968 to 1971 on NBC. In this first episode, just as Randy Naylor remembered, the guys are featured in a party scene. Randy Meisner is in the middle in a vest.
Ironside (S2,E8) “Price Tag Death” (Original air date , November 7, 1968). The group appears in a nightclub scene in this episode of Ironside starring Raymond Burr.
The Name Of The Game (S1,E14): “Pineapple Rose” (Original air date: December 20, 1968). This time the guys are playing the backup band for fictional teen idol, Lincoln Bridges (played by Don Stroud), who figures in the episode’s plot line.
As a side note, in the last two television appearances, Randy is wearing striped pants and a red turtleneck, a groovy outfit that he must have liked, or perhaps it was his only one, since he can be seen in it a couple more times in 1968, including the Decca Promotional Seminar in August and later, in December, with Pogo (Poco).
In addition to these TV appearances, the band also appeared on a morning show in North Dakota, according to Randy Naylor, and also made a music video:
“We did record a music video on a big old eighty foot long sailboat that was docked out at Marina Del Rey! I would love to see it.”
The End Of The Poor
In the late summer of 1968,8 The Poor’s former roadie, Miles Thomas, who had joined Buffalo Springfield shortly after their arrival in Los Angeles, told Randy about a new band that was being formed by his former Buffalo Springfield bandmates Richie Furay and Jim Messina. Randy landed an audition and got the job. This band would eventually become known as Poco. Eight years later, as a member of the Eagles, Randy was asked about leaving The Poor:
“Rusty (Young) and George (Grantham) came out to join. And then [Miles] thought of me and broke up our group, which had been together for three years and knew absolutely nothing. I mean, we practiced, had original songs and everything but at the time they just weren’t what people wanted to hear. They were good songs, meaningful songs. You know, like a lot of the songs that we (Eagles) do.”
After the band split up, the remaining members moved on to other careers. Allen Kemp and Pat Shanahan joined Randy in 1969 as members of Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band. In the late ’70s & early ’80s, Kemp and Shanahan went on to New Riders Of the Purple Sage. Shanahan taking the place of longtime drummer Spencer Dryden (formerly of Jefferson Airplane) in 1977 and Allen Kemp in 1981. Randy Naylor and L.A. singer/songwriter Constantine Gusiaus formed the duo, Twin Engine, in 1971, and cut a series of songs for United Artists, under the production of Joey Stec and Ralph Scala. They were backed by a country rock “Wrecking Crew” of Chris Hillman, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Byron Berline, Clarence White and Randy Fuller. Sadly, the album was scrapped until 2010 when Joey Stec released the album on his Sonic Past label.
Allen Kemp: July 31, 1946 – June 25, 2009
Gene Chalk: March 3, 1946 – September 2, 2009
1Some online biographies of Randy Meisner claim that was part of The Esquires. He was never part of the band when they were known as The Esquires.
1aA word about the Randy Meisner Concert Chronology, which is a great resource except when it’s wrong and contributes to the spread of misinformation. Two February 1966 dates listed in the Chronology occurred before Randy joined the group: Battle of the Bands and the Arvada High School appearance. Randy Meisner was not at either of these performances.
2An interesting tidbit: Pat Shanahan and future Poco founding member, Rusty Young, both attended Lincoln High School in Denver, Colorado (class of 1964).
3Colorado music historian, Michael Stelk, via an interview with Gene Chalk. Public Facebook comment, June 1, 2013.
4Since the band’s first single on Loma was released in October, the band would have been in California at least by August or September of 1966 for the recording.
6The Music Gig, October 1976
8The formation of Poco would have had to have occurred sometime in late August-September 1968. We know that Randy was still a member of The Poor in early August (via the Decca seminar) and Poco (as RFD and Pogo) was already performing by November 1968, although some sources say October.
Quotes from Randy Meisner, not cited above:
The Poor (Rev-Ola, 2003) liner notes.
The Music Gig, October 1976
Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic & Music Of Laurel Canyon by Harvey Kubernik, 2012
All quotes from Randy Naylor via The Poor (Rev-Ola, 2003) liner notes.
In His Own Words: Randy On His Early Days (section on The Poor)
Pop Rock Bop, an excellent resource for information on the ’60s Colorado music scene.