In the early 1970s, Eddie Money, mostly broke and trying to make it in the music business, was dating a woman who was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. But the woman’s mother didn’t like her daughter hanging out with the young musician.
“She was in a sorority and her mother didn’t want her to be involved with a rock star, so to speak,” said Money.
So Money wrote a song about the experience.
“It was about being broke and going with a rich girl at the time, which was good for me because she moved out of the sorority house and her mother didn’t know it,” he said. “She was living with me in North Oakland and paying my rent. And she was also bringing steaks home for the icebox, which was fantastic. So it all worked out great.”
Oh, and the song worked out great, too. Money wrote the words and Jimmy Lyon wrote the music. They titled it “Baby Hold On” and it was the lead single off Money’s self-titled debut album “Eddie Money,” released in late 1977.
After performing in various clubs around the Bay Area, Money had finally attracted the attention of rock impresario Bill Graham, who agreed to be Money’s manager. Graham, a Holocaust survivor who was born Wulf Wolodia Grajonca in Berlin, Germany, had emigrated to the United States from Russia before the rise of Nazism. He eventually became known as a concert promoter in the psychedelic music scene of the late 1960s at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. The Fillmore turned out to be one of the proving ground venues for bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company, which at the time featured Janis Joplin as its lead singer.
By the mid-1970s, Graham had become a promoter of large outdoor benefit concerts and a manager for some artists. And he liked Eddie Money.
“Bill Graham was a fantastic guy. He actually walked out of Russia with 500 kids and 250 of them died of starvation on the way to Paris,” said Money. “He was really into the Grateful Dead and was friends with Janis Joplin. Jerry Garcia would always be on the couch sleeping in Bill’s office. Bill was a big Dead freak.”
According to Money, Graham liked living vicariously through Money and his life as a rock star, but wanted Money to tone it down a bit in the beginning.
“He wanted me to sit on a stool and sing cocktail songs, some bullshit like that. He didn’t like my spins. But he liked me and knew I was a good writer and an entertainer,” said Money.
When it came time to record the “Eddie Money” album in 1977, it would basically be a studio version of Money’s live show at the time, which had been honed by the band’s club performances in the Bay Area.
The album would be recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles. Bruce Botnick would produce and Andy Johns would be the engineer. Botnick had produced the “L.A. Woman” album for The Doors in 1970, the band’s last album with Jim Morrison as lead singer. Johns had engineered several Rolling Stones albums, including “Sticky Fingers” in 1971, “Exile on Main Street” in 1972 and “Goats Head Soup” in 1973; and a series of Led Zeppelin albums including “Led Zeppelin II” in 1969, “Led Zeppelin III in 1970, “Led Zeppelin IV in 1971, “Houses of the Holy” in 1973 and “Physical Graffiti” in 1975.
In addition to Money and Lyon, the band for “Eddie Money” would include saxophone player Tom Scott, who had played with George Harrison, Paul McCartney, the Beach Boys, Rod Stewart, the Grateful Dead and Steppenwolf, among others; and former Steve Miller Band members, bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Gary Mallaber.
“It was a wonderful record to make at the Record Plant in L.A.,” said Money. “When I was in the studio, Aretha Franklin was in there and Rod Stewart was in there, some really big people. Every time I turned around, Aretha Franklin was trying to get me to eat. ‘C’mon honey, have some more of this cornbread.’ It was a good time to be alive and the record was a lot of fun to make.”
Not only was the single “Baby Hold On” featured on the album, but the record would also include another of what would become a classic rock single from the era, the Money-penned “Two Tickets to Paradise.”
“I thought the first single off the album should have been ‘Two Tickets to Paradise.’ I wrote that song on Manilla Avenue, which was in North Oakland. I wrote it on a piano and it’s a great song. I just sat down and wrote it. I knew that ‘paradise’ rhymed with ‘tonight.’ Who wouldn’t want two tickets to paradise?” said Money. “It wasn’t about anybody in particular, not really. It was about getting away. Two tickets to paradise can be taking a plane to Hawaii or a Greyhound bus up to the Redwoods. I didn’t take a girl to Hawaii but I did take one up to the Redwoods back in 1976. A girl I’m very happy I didn’t end up with, by the way.”
Despite “Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise” being the big hits off the album, neither one of them was the first song to be recorded when the sessions started at the Record Plant.
Money thought it was a good idea, and Graham and Botnick agreed, that the album should have a song that was recognizable to audiences. So the band recorded its version of “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” written by Smokey Robinson, which became a Top 10 hit for the Miracles in 1962. The Beatles also covered it on their second album, “With the Beatles” in 1963.
“I wanted to do something that was more of a cover tune than to dig right in to my material. I wanted to throw something to the wolves,” said Money. “So we did ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me’ and I took out the ‘hold me, squeeze me, please me’ lines. I did it different than the Beatles and I did it different than Smokey Robinson. I ran into Smokey four years later and he said he liked my version better than the Beatles. And I said, ‘I like my version better than your version.’”
Another song included on the album, also co-written by Money and Lyon, was called “Jealousys” and was about Money’s early struggles when he first moved to California.
“I was in a group called the Rockets. All these guys lived at home and they drove their parents’ cars. They all lived at home like I did when I was living on Long Island with my parents,” said Money. “I was living in North Oakland, borrowing everyone else’s car and living on canned ravioli and fuckin’ powdered milk. I had nothing. That song was all about how tough it was coming up.”
When it came time to shoot the photo for the album cover, Money decided to wear a suit that he had purchased at a thrift store because it was a “dead guy” suit from the 1940s and he liked the way it looked.
But it was a long photo shoot and Money eventually ran out of patience.
“They took a million pictures. But I got so tired of taking pictures,” said Money. “I finally said, ‘Here’s your fuckin’ album cover. I lit up a cigarette and bang, sure enough, that was the album cover they picked. If you look at all my early album covers, I’ve got a cigarette in my hand.”
“Eddie Money” was released in December 1977. Three singles were released from the album: “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” got good airplay, but failed to crack the Top 20 singles chart; “Two Tickets to Paradise” reached No. 22 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles and No. 14 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles; and “Baby Hold On” ended up doing the best, reaching No. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles, No. 5 on the U.S. Cashbox Top 100 singles, No. 4 on the Canadian RPM singles and No. 41 on the Single Top 100 in the Netherlands. The album itself peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and No. 24 on the Canadian RPM albums chart.
Part of the success of the “Eddie Money” album — and for some subsequent Money albums — was because Money was admittedly “the poster child for promotion” of his own records.
“There was nothing that I wouldn’t do to get on the radio,” said Money. “In fact, there was a female DJ out of Pittsburgh and she was thinking about adding ‘Baby Hold On’ to the playlist in that market. I went there and she was good looking, so we got a little thing going. That’s how I got on the radio there. She was cute, I was young and handsome. She liked the record, I liked her and the next thing you know — bang, it was No. 17 in that market.”
While the fans appeared to like his music, the critics, however, weren’t crazy about it, according to Money. Part of it, he believes, was that he was living the rock and roll lifestyle and burning a lot of bridges while doing it.
“I never did shows drunk. I wish I could have because I was such an alcoholic in those days. But Bill Graham put the fear of God into me. I did one show drunk with the Marshall Tucker Band and Bill just reamed me out. So I never drank before work, but after work, I’d be drinking like crazy,” said Money. “Then I’d be getting up in the morning with a really bad hangover, calling them [the critics] up and saying, ‘I’m going to blow up your car, I’m going to fuck your wife.’”
Another reason, Money believes, he had difficulties finding a solid niche in the late 1970s was because he was trying to serve two different audiences.
On weekdays, he’d be in San Jose or Fremont, California, playing disco bars and then on the weekends, he’d play his original compositions in venues that were more rock and roll-oriented. He believes the weekday gigs might have affected his rock and roll fans by the time he recorded his second album, “Life for the Taking” in 1979, featuring the single “Maybe I’m a Fool,” which reached No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles early that year.
“That song ‘Maybe I’m a Fool,’ it alienated a lot of my rock fans. ‘Eddie is going disco.’ But I knew it was going to be a hit. I was chasing the radio,” said Money. “It had a disco beat and it had disco strings and a lot of my fans were going, ‘What the fuck happened to Eddie Money? He’s got ‘Life for the Taking,’ which is a great song, and then he’s got ‘Maybe I’m a Fool.’ But you know what, it was the same thing. Back in the 1970s, on the weekdays, Sundays through Thursdays, I’d be playing disco bars and then I’d be playing rock gigs on the weekends.
“So when I put the second record out, it had a couple of disco songs on it. Am I suppose to apologize for that? No. I was chasing FM radio with ‘Life for the Taking’ and I was chasing AM radio with ‘Maybe I’m a Fool,’” he said. “I remember when I was No. 1 in airplay on both AM and FM. I did good.”
Eddie Money died this week, on Sept. 13, 2019, of complications from a recent heart valve replacement surgery. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer and was battling that at the time.
Those folks I know who have interviewed Money over the years — I spoke to him on Oct. 20, 2015, for a chapter in “The Vinyl Dialogues Volume III: Stacks of Wax,” as detailed above — all agree that he was gracious with his time and honest with his storytelling. My experience with him was the same.
I asked him if he had any regrets in his career, and he was as honest with that question as he was with all the others.
“I’ve been to jail, I’ve been to college and I’ve been to rehab. What the fuck haven’t I done?” he said. “It was an amazing time. I was a rock star. I had a fuckin’ blast.”