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Tales From a Rocky Roadie : Pop music: Phil Kaufman, the Gram Parsons cremator and Charles Manson-album producer, signs his raucous memoirs in Anaheim today.

February 19, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

He learned it was simply a mobile version of what he'd already been doing for the Rolling Stones while they were in Los Angeles finishing up their "Beggar's Banquet" album. Kaufman, fresh out of prison and a self-proclaimed "jazz bigot," had never heard of the Stones when a friend lined him up for a job as their "executive nanny," as Mick Jagger came to call him.

When he came home from his first day on the job with a handful of cash and the keys to a Cadillac, his girlfriend of the time hit the roof, thinking he'd stolen them. "No, it's this thing called rock 'n' roll. They give you money and cars." He got to like the life--and the music.

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He attributes the confidence he brings to his job to his prison experience, which resulted from a botched marijuana-smuggling attempt in the early '60s.

"It's not something I want to do again; I don't recommend it as a panacea for people with inferiority complexes, but prison gave me a real insight into life. It really woke me up. I came out a better person, not because of the penal system, but because I decided I wasn't going to let it be a negative experience. I actually had some good times in prison."

And, while there, he made contacts with influential people.

"Yes, some of the finest murderers I know are in prison," he said. When he met Charles Manson at Terminal Island in the mid '60s, Manson was a skinny would-be musician who Kaufman said sang like Frankie Laine and hung around his "family." He wasn't impressed by Manson's rap, but he did like the family's free way with sex. Later, when the family was arrested, "I realized I'd had sex with every one of those murderesses," he recounts in the book.

He had already fallen out with Manson before the murders and indeed says he may have been one of the intended targets of the La Bianca murders. Until all the evidence against Manson came out in the trial, Kaufman hadn't thought the "take acid, make love" Mansonites could be capable of such crimes.

With that belief, and seeing money to be made, in 1971 he released the "Lie" album, made from sessions he had previously produced of Manson's music. Though quite a collector's item now (and with a song off it recently covered by Guns 'N Roses), it didn't zoom up the hit parade then.

"Still, prior to the convictions, I went up to Telegraph Road in Berkeley, the most radical place in the world in the '60s, but not one shop would touch that record. Granted, it was a real piece of trash. But it's a great interest generator, isn't it?"

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Kaufman claims Manson had signed the rights to the songs over to him, and he's having a lawyer look into collecting royalties on Axl Rose's version of "Look at Your Game Girl." He doesn't feel any guilt in trying to profit from the Manson connection, figuring it's due recompense for having his life threatened by family members. And that Rose-covered tune was the song Manson used to entice females into the family.

"He meant 'Look at your game, girl,' like 'See the the head game you're playing, when you could be free and be with me.' I'd listen to him sing it to these new girls, and it worked."

Kaufman's most noted participation in rock history came in 1973 when he and a friend used a borrowed hearse to steal his friend Parson's body from LAX and drive it out to Joshua Tree to cremate it. Parsons had been estranged from his wealthy Southern family, and he had a pact with Kaufman that if he died, the body would go to his beloved Joshua Tree, not the family plot.

Kaufman's recounting of that tale is moving, hilariously irreverent and too involved to detail here, making it a good thing it's all in his book. The outcome is that Parsons' charred molecules are now part of the desert scenery, and Kaufman was tried and compelled to reimburse a mortuary for the cost of the casket.

While burning corpses can give one a bit of a reputation, Kaufman says it hasn't given him a stigma to live down.

"A lot of people in this business were fans of Gram's. So when they talk to me, it isn't 'I heard you stole somebody's body.' They know the story."

His greatest credibility comes, he says, from working for Harris.

"Emmylou gives me credibility. When somebody as respectable as Emmylou continually asks for me to work for her, it means I must be doing something right. I feel very honored to work for her."

He's not over-enamored of the changes that have taken place in the music business since he's been in it, even if its business-like manner makes his job easier.

"In the old days, you'd have situations like, (he assumed a mellow hippie voice) 'My old lady will make the meals man, and we've got a van; we'll pick you up in and take you to your tents .' That's gone now. Years ago small entrepreneurs were the promoters. Now it's big promoters. They have gotten more callous, too, more corporate, more business. In older days they were fun people.

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