Rick Elias – A Remembrance By Marc Intravaia
I knew Rick Elias for 49 years. We were brothers, bandmates, friends, lifelong adolescents who loved stupid jokes and pranks. We honed our skills listening to and copying Neil Young, CSN, George Clinton, Sly Stone, Jimi, Eric, and even Alvin Lee.
We always had music threading through our lives which was at times a very stormy relationship. Yet we couldn’t stay out of each other’s lives.
Linda Elias, you are amazing. A strong beautiful woman. An absolute rock. You handled these last few years with strength and patience, humor and grace. What a gift you were to Rick.
Rick didn’t suffer fools lightly and never played music with what he called hacks. I’m eternally grateful that he always chose great musicians.
Our band members were Carey Fox, Rod Howard, Bob Sale, Bob Monroe, John Khula, Scott Rogness, Jay Shellen, Danny O’Hanlon, Elaine Summers, Linda Elias. All are the best of the best.
RICK AND I MET IN 1970 IN CAREY FOX’S GARAGE IN KEARNY MESA - OUR 1ST BAND HEAD COUNTY
In 1970 I was 13 and playing in a garage band in San Diego with my friends Carey Fox and Rod Howard, when 15-year-old Rick Hilton joined our band as the bass player. We named our band Head County which we thought was very clever, because if you’re from that era you know what a ‘head’ is.
We switched drummers (Kenny Austin replaced Rod) and got our first paying gig thanks to Rick’s mom. It was the summer of 1970 and the venue was a double decker boat catering to tourists called The Bahia Belle. It went around Mission Bay picking up and dropping off people at different hotels. We played the summer season and made $65 a week which in today’s money is $433.
Rick and I would see the Bahia Belle together one last time on March 12, 2019.
A&M RECORDS AND OUR BIG BREAK
While on a break one evening on the Bahia Belle, Rick was befriended by a guy who told him he was from A&M Records. He said we were really good and should come to LA for an audition. Rick was given his calling card. On the weekend we drove up to LA in our singer Carey’s panel van (he was 16 and had his driver’s license) with all of our gear crammed in the back. We had to lay down on the amps so that we could all fit. When we arrived at A&M Records, we drove to the gate and the guard told us that he was very sorry, but nobody by that name worked there. Welcome to the music business. So what do teens without parental supervision do in LA? Drive south to Disneyland of course. We were still very innocent. Rick later told me that on the drive up he was in the back of the van questioning whether he was ready for fame at his young age.
1970 - FIRST TV PERFORMANCE
We performed on a local TV show called Mr. Benjamin Presents. Later that day, I asked my grandma if she had watched and she said yes but she couldn’t tell who was who, because the front line of me, Rick, and Carey all had identical long brown hair covering our faces with just our noses sticking through. We were 3 Cousin Its from the Addams Family.
1972 – HARVEST
Rick and I had a strong rapport as guitarists, so with Neil Young, CSN, and America as our inspiration we were a duo and started playing at coffee houses playing covers, writing our own songs, and singing 2-part harmony.
Later that year we formed a band called Harvest with Nick Perpich on bass, Barbara Peters on vocals to sing the magical 3-part harmony, and Kenny Austin on drums. We considered ourselves folk rockers, but Rick was listening to a lot of soul music too. We always loved Motown and Stax records, but Rick introduced me to Funkadelic and Parliament and the genius of George Clinton. I bet there weren’t many Caucasian Clairemont teens who were into those bands. Rick had soul.
Rick and I didn’t play together much during these years, but we hung out a lot as we drifted into different progressive rock bands. He joined Harlequin and I joined Listen. Both bands did very well in the local music scene and though we were competitors we remained good friends and would show each other a new chord or turn the other onto a new band. I briefly met Rick’s close friend Luis Alberto Urrea around this time and was astounded at Luis’s ability to sing just like Bon Scott of AC/DC. I heard his impersonation before I actually heard the band. Luis is now a professor and a Pulitzer Prize nominated author with over one million books sold, but I bet he can still belt out AC/DC.
1979-1980 – THE RICK ELIAS BAND
I joined Rick’s new band Rick Elias and the Monroes in 1979 which he soon renamed The Rick Elias Band. He was no longer the mellow folk rocker or the cosmic prog rocker. Now he was an angry new wave singer/songwriter and he was very driven. We were a kick ass band; sort of The Clash meets The Knack.
The first iteration of the band was me, Bob Sale on drums and Bob Davis on bass. The Monroes name was soon dropped and Bob Davis left. He took the name with him, changed his name to Bob Monroe and went on to score an iconic 80s hit with the Monroes titled What Do All The People Know.
Our new bass player was John Khula whom we had known from the neighborhood. He was the best-looking guy in the band, and we were all a little jealous. Sometime during this era we all started greeting each other with, “Oh, c’mon now bee-yab.” I don’t know who started it, but it stuck.
THE SAN DIEGO SPORTS ARENA/BOB MARLEY
Our 2nd gig was at the Sports Arena in November 1979 as the opening act for Bob Marley. I learned just a few months ago from Rick’s son Taylor that Rick had tried to get into Bob Marley’s dressing room to meet him but was turned away. I remember our dressing room being overrun by Bob Marley’s kids, probably Ziggy and Damian Marley. Bob and the band played a 4-hour soundcheck (yes really) and the stage was shrouded in a cloud of ganja smoke. Contact high!
THE ROXY/ WE ALMOST GOT BEAT UP BY FONO
One show that sticks out in my mind was at the Roxy in Pacific Beach. During an interview a few months earlier, Rick had challenged a punk gang called FONO (Friends Of No One) who had been trashing venues. Rick said if they showed up to a gig he was going to kick their asses.
We opened for a band called the Undertones at the Roxy and got word that FONO was there and that they were going to get us. We told the lighting guy to keep the lights up between songs but as we learned very quickly, he was in cahoots with them. The first song ended, the lights came down, and we were pummeled with anything and everything. Beer bottles, cigarettes, you name it. Our drummer Bob was hit with a McDonald’s hamburger.
The 4th song into our set, our roadie Pat decided enough was enough and jumped into the fray with a giant security guard flashlight that he wielded like a sword. I loved Pat for coming to our defense. He later became a well- respected soundman for Tom Petty and Bob Dylan.
1980 - GEFFEN RECORDS DEMOS
We recorded demos that year with Nico Bolas and Craig Krampf and almost landed a deal with Geffen Records. It came down to us and a Portland band called Seafood Mama. They got the deal and changed their name to Quarterflash.
1983-84 – NEW LANGUAGE AND RICK MEETS LINDA
We met up again in LA and formed the group New Language with keyboardist/singer songwriter Scott Rogness, bassist John Khula, and drummer Jay Shellen. Scott would play an important part of Rick’s life in the 90s.
THE HOLY TRINITY WALKS INTO THE CAT AND FIDDLE PUB
We lived in Laurel Canyon and one night after a rehearsal me, Rick and John drove to the Cat and Fiddle pub, located below the legendary Laurel Canyon Country Store. We grabbed some beers and settled into a booth when in walked the 3 most important guitarists in the world (in our opinion): Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. WTF! Our heroes were all together and sat right behind us. We almost peed ourselves. To our credit we left them alone.
In Oct. 1983, Rick was hired to produce a demo at a home studio in a house in Pacific Palisades. I played guitar and John played bass. It was also the night I met Eve Selis. Half way through the session the studio door popped open and the actress Cloris Leachman stuck her head in asking how things were going. Huh?? We asked the engineer/studio owner what that was about, and he sheepishly answered that it was his mom.
RICK THE PRANKSTER
Rick was in his practical joker phase and had a stash of firecrackers.
The house we all lived in was old and had a 1/2-inch gap under the doors separating the bathrooms from the hallway. One night, I settled in to use the bathroom and with pants at my ankles and the deed begun, I spied a lit firecracker that rolled under the door about 2 feet away from me. I couldn’t jump up, so I closed my eyes and jammed my fingers in my ears, then BOOM! I wonder if that’s why I have tinnitus.
THE 1984 WORLD SERIES
We had a night off during a run of shows in Lake Tahoe in Oct. 1984, so we went to a casino to root for the San Diego Padres in the World Series when they played the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers had already won three games to the Padres one win, but we were faithful Padres fans. We were the only Padres fans in the club. When you bought your ticket into the venue you were also given a raffle ticket. The Padres were soon disposed of, losing the series four games to one and the place went wild. Then they announced the winning ticket for the raffle. Rick won.
The prize was a choice of either a Padres or Tigers satin baseball jacket.
Rick picked the Padres as the crowd started booing loudly. He quickly gave it back and took the Tigers jacket and the crowd erupted in cheers. He held it high over his head really milking the moment, and then threw it down and started stomping up and down on it yelling Tigers suck! Tigers suck!!! A chorus of boos ensued, but because Rick was tall and intimidating looking, no one stopped him. I was at the back of the club waiting for him. When he arrived I asked him where the jacket was. He had sold it to someone for 50 bucks.
DAVID BYRNE AND GARY GOETZMAN
We played a show in LA at Club Lingerie and after our set a fellow named Gary Goetzman invited us to Mike Post’s studio to discuss business. We entered the studio and were very quiet as Gary and a gentleman (we could only see the back of his head) worked on editing a scene from a movie. The band on screen were the Talking Heads and it was the Big Suit sequence. When they finished the edit, the anonymous guy turned around and quietly said hello. It was David Byrne. When the session ended we invited him to dine with us at Denny’s, but he declined.
It was a fortuitous meeting for Rick and Scott. Gary later hired them to write songs for the Tom Hanks movie That Thing You Do.
We were on the road throughout 1984 and played in San Diego frequently. During our many visits, I became aware of a beautiful long-haired keyboard player named Linda that Rick had started seeing. Rick was a private guy so he didn’t talk much about his relationship with her, but she was quite a presence and I would get to know her better when Rick and I reunited in 1987.
1987-1990 RICK ELIAS AND THE CONFESSIONS
In 1987 we were both living in LA. Rick had been rehearsing with a new band. In the group were Danny O’Hanlon on bass, Bob Sale on drums, Linda (now his wife) on keys, Elaine Summers, a former 1983 bandmate of mine on vocals, and me. Rick had written some of the best music of his career and we fell into a routine of rehearse, gig, rehearse, gig.
When Rick signed a deal with Frontline records it was time to go to work. We were tight but Rick was afraid he had over-rehearsed the band. When it came time to record we were charged up and the songs had great energy. I credit this to Rick. He was a great producer and band leader (when he wasn’t chucking his guitars on stage) (he had a temper) (that’s no news to anyone who is close to him). When the CD came out in 1990, Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times listed it in the top 100 albums of 1990. I played my last gig with the Confessions at Cornerstone 1990.
THAT THING YOU DO, 1996
We met up again in Nashville in the mid-90s after That Thing You Do had been filmed. Rick told me a story about Tom Hanks asking him and Scott Rogness to play extras as onlookers in a scene with 2 of the main characters. They were directed to sit at opposite ends of a table with the other 2 actors in between them and were told to casually glance at each guy as they conversed. Instead, Rick said he and Scott looked as if they were watching a tennis tournament, heads turning quickly from one side to the other to watch the actors speak. After a few takes, Tom pulled them from the scene and put them in the bandstand scene where they could hold instruments and mime to the music and look like they knew what they were doing.
2015- 2019 – REUNITED/FULL CIRCLE
Rick and I lost touch for almost 20 years and then one day out of the blue he sent me a Facebook message. It said simply “I miss you.”
We talked the next day on the phone and caught up with each other’s lives, though most of the conversation found Rick apologizing over and over about being a jerk. To paraphrase Don Henley, I told him, “Yes, but you were our jerk.” I also reassured him that jerkdom goes both ways and that I was guilty of misbehavior, just less overt about it.
We stayed in touch and got together at the Elias home in Nashville in January 2016 sharing old stories, apologies, forgiveness and grace, laughter and love.
I received a phone call last summer from Rick telling me he had terminal brain cancer. What?? It was heartbreaking. Unreal. His biggest concern was for Linda and the kids and how they were going to manage without him. With Linda and Luis’s help, we started a GoFundMe campaign and to this date we have raised almost $75,000. The family will need continued support, so please consider a donation. https://www.gofundme.com/rick-elias-medical-expenses
In February 2019, Rick and Linda invited me and Eve Selis to play a benefit/tribute concert in Nashville. Luis Urrea was there to emcee, and I met his wife Cindy. Scott Rogness flew in. Bob Sale’s sister Robin Clarke attended as did Elaine Summer’s brother Steve. All were there to support the Elias family and to say goodbye. It was a challenging week and when it ended I truly believed I wouldn’t see him again.
In late February 2019, I received a call from Rick with his familiar greeting “Oh, c’mon now bee-yab.” He was coming back to San Diego for a visit. I couldn’t believe it and was overjoyed.
On March 12, 2019, me, my wife Paula, and our son Sam met up with Rick, Linda, and Zach at an Airbnb in Mission Bay. Eve was there with her husband Tom and son Henry. It was a great night. Rick, Tom and I sat out on the patio facing the bay talking and swapping old stories. Rick’s mind was so clear that night. What a gift to have him back home. Tom’s son Henry spotted a double decker boat rolling by us about 100 yards off shore. It was the Bahia Belle, the boat where we played our first gig together in 1970.
That night Rick and I said goodbye and we knew this would be it. As we hugged he whispered in my ear, “I have always loved you.”
This is from our friend and former bandmate Scott Rogness –
He was such a commanding presence that you were either all in with him or all out with him. And when you were all in...it was a wild ride, lots of laughter, lots of great music and lots of surprises. That's intoxicating, you want to be around that.
Thank you Rick for the wild ride. I’ve always loved you. Love, Marc