Farewell Daniel Hortter
Los Angeles loses a critical psych-rock pioneer
Yellow Payges founder-vocalist Daniel Hortter, 74, passed away Feb. 2 following a short battle with brain cancer.
Launched in 1966, the Yellow Payges were a very hard-rocking outfit who quickly gained significant traction among the Riot-on-Sunset Strip set.
Far more than just another shaggy Hollywood sensation, theirs was an intense, idiosyncratic brand of hot roasted lysergic bubblegum, an elevated approach that saluted Arthur Lee and gave a friendly nod to contemporaries Seeds and Standells but the Yellow Payges always strove for a more sophisticated brand of boom-boom.
Cameo-Parkway subsidiary Showplace issued their debut disk “Never See the Good in Me” in 1967. Moving next to Uni, the career kicked into high gear. There, significantly, they were the first rock band ever to record a Jimmy Webb song, the penetrating Vietnam-era classic “Our Time is Running Out,” which Webb (riding high with “Up, Up and Away”) personally brought to manager Gary Bookasta and perfectly showcased Hortter’s trademark mixture of gale force lungpower and profound emotional involvement.
“We were playing hardcore rock ‘n’ roll, that’s all you can call it,” Hortter told me in 2014. “That’s the way we played and that’s why we were so well received, because it was the early stages of garage rock and hard rock, which then became acid rock and heavy metal. It was hard-driving music, we were very aggressive in the way we played.”
For the next 3 years, the band steadily built momentum; first as house band at high profile Hollywood showroom the Hullabaloo, onto appearances on “American Bandstand,” multiple local big beat broadcasts and, memorably, an episode of network TV drama series Name of the Game (dig Frank Gorshin’s crazy wig!). They also worked the road relentlessly, stopping off to record a few more uniformly high-quality singles along the way.
“Dick Clark sent us out on a national tour —as headliners, with one opening act,” Hortter said. “He called it ‘Happening ’67,’ it was 45 cities in 45 days. That year we played on a huge bill at Birmingham High School in the Valley, with Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, Buffalo Springfield, every major band was there it seemed along with 10,000 people in the audience, out on the football field.
“But I’d say that August 16, 1968, playing at the Hollywood Bowl, was the pinnacle of our career,” he said. “We’d gone to see the Beatles there, and I told the guys ‘We are going to play on this stage.’ They just laughed at me, said I was crazy. But three years almost to the day, there we were along with Eric Burdon & the Animals and Tommy James & the Shondells. The Animals liked us so much they invited us to tour with them, which we did for the next year — it was awesome.”
Hortter surfed rock & roll’s tides, from spot-lit glory to a bitterly ignominious wipeout and when the final crash came, it was, inevitably, thanks to management. Hollywood’s poisonous culture of greed and exploitation (see Arts Rupe & Laboe, Bob Keane, Jerry Capehart et al) vouchsafed the Yellow Payges a particularly crushing defeat after Bookasta made a deal with one of most despised beasts in the Establishment’s demonological order.
Jonny Whiteside is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
“In 1969, our manager made a financial decision,” Hortter said. “AT&T wanted to buy the [Yellow Payges] name and make up a band, kind of like the Monkees, to prove to America’s youth that the phone company wasn’t an evil entity. So our manager said ‘Why? This band is well-established, they have had some regional hits across the country, and they’re polished, professional.’ And so we agreed — it was a sizable contract.”
“The next thing we know, they dressed us up in these black velvet pants and yellow satin ruffled shirts and we were playing in AT&T’s offices, conference rooms and cafeterias all across the country. We started thinking, ‘What the hell is this?’ and then in 1970 we did these TV commercials and it just completely undermined the band and destroyed our reputation. We became the enemy.”
Irrevocably canceled, it would be decades before the band members communicated with one another. By the turn of the century, a reunion was under consideration but it wasn’t until 2011 that it came to be. When it did, with Hortter, original drummer Danny Gorman and the group’s 67-68 bassist Michael Rummans, the results were reliably sensational and every performance fully delivered the band’s complex, exhilarating brand of high psych power pop.
A formidable presence whose craggy features belied his chronic warmth and enthusiasm, the reinvigorated Hortter never let the band’s historically precipitous downfall darken a perpetually sunny attitude. “We don’t know what exactly is going to happen for the Yellow Payges, except that we just want to keep playing.” Hortter said. “I really enjoy it.”
So did everyone within earshot. Rest in Peace.