KEY FIGURE: Happy Birthday to Lou Adler

Press photo courtesy of Lou Adler

“I Don’t Know Much About History” but I know Lou Adler has been making it for a long time. He is perhaps one of the most enigmatic and influential figures in popular culture. Born in Chicago on December 13, 1933 and raised in East Los Angeles, Adler is tough and shrewd like many of the pioneers of the early recording business. But unlike some of his more ostentatious contemporaries and others that have followed them, Adler’s presence (both in and out of the recording studio) is subdued – preferring to allow the artists and musicians he brings together in the space to explore their creativity. I should know; I spent several years in close contact with him collaborating on my first album Chasing Demons.

In 2004, I was living in Dublin, Ireland scraping a meager living as a street performer, or busker as they say. Lou was visiting Dublin that summer and while strolling with his lovely wife Page down Grafton Street the couple stopped and bought a demo CD from me. Before I knew it, I was in a top-of-the-line recording studio creating new demos for what would later become my first album. During that time, Lou treated me like part of his family. He invited me into his home, introduced me to his children and shared with me stories and insights into the world of music as a business man but mostly as a true music lover. It was an overwhelming experience for me to go from a penniless street performer hoping to scrounge enough money for a sandwich and bus fare to living in a beach house in Malibu and receiving the VIP treatment. Admittedly, I was unprepared but I was fortunate to have a patient navigator as a producer.

As a record producer, Lou has been instrumental in shaping America’s sound. His work has contributed to the creation of some of the greatest and most influential music in a century from soul singer Sam Cooke, to well-known “hippie” acts like the Mamas & the Papas. He was also a key producer of the historic Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 which assembled one of the most awe-inspiring lineups in rock ‘n’ roll and provided Jimi Hendrix and The Experience an opportunity to showcase the band’s live performance in such a way as to become the stuff of legend. As owner of the Roxy Theatre, a staple of the Sunset Strip, Lou rooted West Hollywood in rock ‘n’ roll.

In 2013, in recognition of his contributions, Adler was finally inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Beyond the music scene, Lou has made excursions into other aspects of pop culture as producer of two films that would become cult classics, the “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) and “Up in Smoke” (1978) starring Cheech and Chong.

All of these accomplishments are, of course, the public Lou Adler. The private man is much more difficult to apprehend. A Google search on him doesn’t provide many more details than might fill a one page biography. His modest web presence, however, speaks volumes. His influence is far greater than his resume reveals. Without firsthand knowledge of the man, one might never fully grasp his deep love of music and of all things creative. Music aside, I know him to be a warm-hearted family man and philanthropist whose generosity is humbling. Unfortunately, charitable work doesn’t grab headlines in the same way as winning Grammy awards.

While no man of such accomplishment is free of critics or controversies, Adler has masterfully managed his professional career and private life with a grace reminiscent of a different time when Hollywood was more elegant. As both a songwriter with first-hand experience of the man, and as a journalist and student of American culture, I’m proud to know Lou and wish him a very happy birthday.

by J.D. Thompson