Wednesday, December 30, 2020

In search of a television memory

Who in the hell is Atlee Yeager, and why did I ever like him?

Damned if I know but come with me as I try to figure it out.

I was hanging out with some friends at my parents’ house on a cold January night in 1974, just weeks before my 19th birthday, when Atlee Yeager rocked out on the family room television set

For some reason, lost to me across the great gulf of time, Yeager captured my attention that night. Enough so that years later when I came across his 1973 album, Plant Me Now, Dig Me Later, I flashed back to his television performance. This guy was pretty good, I recalled. This is going home with me. (If I recall correctly, the disc was either in the bargain bin or in the used section. Should have been a clue).

I took my prize home, put it on the turntable and lowered the tonearm in anticipation. What the hell? This is what I so fondly remembered from years past?

Plant Me Now, Dig Me Later is not a horrible album but it’s nothing special. It’s just standard boogie rock. Not a lot of sophistication and not much in the way of variety amongst the cuts. I gave it one listen, put it in my collection and never pulled it out again. Every so often, flipping through my records, I stumbled across the album, each time wondering why the great disconnect between what captured my attention on the family room TV and this album. I like to think it is because I became so much more sophisticated, sauve and erudite. (Come back to Earth, now, Bob).

In anticipation of launching this blog I went through my album collection on the hunt for memories and inspiration. I spotted Atlee Yeager’s disc. An idea struck me. What if I tried to find out who Atlee Yeager is, what were his accomplishments and did I miss something he created that would affirm my first impression of his music.

In a time when seemingly every bit of knowledge known to mankind has been digitized and placed online (from funny cat videos to Aristotle) there is surprisingly little available about Atlee Yeager. But there are a couple interesting factoids which I will get to shortly.

My exposure to Yeager came during a Jan. 5, 1974, episode of Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert (more about him in a future post). The episode included Slade, The Isley Brothers and The Stories. Yeager performed two songs, “Shake, Rattle And Roll” and “Electric Rock And Roll,” apparently well enough to excite my 18-year-old libido. Yeager also had a one-song appearance on The Midnight Special on Oct. 26, 1973. Other musical guests included Sly And The Family Stone, Mark Almond, Melissa Manchester and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.

As far as I can tell, Yeager’s documented musical history begins as a player in the Los Angeles club scene in the 1960s and early 1970s, including gigs at the famed Whiskey A Go Go, the club that hired The Doors as a house band and gave them the space to develop their songs and stage presence.

Damon Del Conte, who in 1969 released the private pressing of a psychedelic album, Song of A Gypsy, recounts soliciting Yeager to play bass on the album. “When I was offered a free recording session at Western Recorders in Hollywood … I didn’t have a regular band so I had no drummer or bass player … (A friend) got Atlee Yeager to play … he had his own trio playing at the Whiskey A Go Go at the time. I couldn’t stand the guy. He had an enormous ego and he was a real jerk. But I have to admit he could really play the bass ... He played great.” 

Yeager (2nd from left) and J.J. Cale (far right) circa 1969.

Yeager was also included in the floating membership of a California-based group called The Tulsa Review that backed up Junior Markham, an Oklahoma harmonica player and singer who headed to California in the early 1960s at the urging of his friend, Leon Russell. The idea was to fill every band position several times so the whole thing stayed flexible at gigs. Joining Russell in the melange was J.J. Cale, who went on to be a noted songwriter and compatriot of Eric Clapton.

Yeager then became the leader of a California quartet named Atlee (no ego here). The group recorded a 1970 album titled Flying A Head, released on the ABC/Dunhill label. Yeager penned each of the disc’s nine songs and was bassist and lead vocalist. The group was a one-album wonder. Atlee broke up and two of its members, guitarist Michael Stevens and drummer Don Francisco, went on to form the hard rock power trio Highway Robbery, which also recorded only one album, For Love Or Money, before disbanding. I’m sensing a pattern here.

Yeager next surfaces as a solo act, releasing 1973’s Plant Me Now, Dig Me Later. He penned seven of the album’s 10 songs. After this album, Yeager seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. There are some references to concert tours but after his two albums he seems to have faded into obscurity. I did find a reference to him contributing bass guitar to a Junior Markham song on a 1995 compilation album titled "Good Whiskey Blues," described as "a collection of contemporary blues songs from the state of Tennessee."

Yeager's album music is good, not great. There is no magic spark, nothing really original or definitive. Yeager aimed for the brass ring but couldn’t quite grasp it.

Now for the interesting things I learned. Yeager’s solo album was released on Chelsea Records, a Los Angeles label that existed from 1972-75. It was founded by the late Wes Farrell, a prolific songwriter who penned some 300 songs, including “Hang On Sloopy” and “Come A Little Bit Closer.” He was also a producer who worked with The Partridge Family and Lulu.

Seven guitarists are credited as contributing to Yeager’s solo album, including Bill Cowsill and Waddy Wachtel. Cowsill was a member of The Cowsills, the squeaky clean family band that was the inspiration for The Partridge Family. Wachtel is a famed guitarist who has worked as a session musician for a veritable who’s who of famed rock artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones, Jon Bon Jovi, James Taylor, Iggy Pop, Warren Zevon, Bryan Ferry, Michael Sweet, Jackson Browne and Andrew Gold, both in the studio and live on tour. Researching this piece I learned that Wachtel was arrested in 1998 on suspicion of possession of child pornography after images were found on a computer he had at home. Wachtel pleaded no contest and was placed on probation for three years. Shades of Pete Townshend.

So, after several days of internet trawling can I say why I at one time thought Atlee Yeager was so cool? Not really. I can only surmise that he must have had a stage presence that never came across on his vinyl output. His live TV appearances must have made an impression on my young, fragile eggshell mind that didn’t stand up to the passage of time. (I searched extensively but found no references to any internet video of Yeager, just some copyrighted still photos from the Midnight Special appearance.)

All I can say is, if you’re still out there somewhere Atlee, keep on rockin’ brother.


  1. This was a pretty cool story, Geezer Bob.

  2. Bob, I too was looking for what happened to Atlee as my meeting with him in the mid to late 70's in northern Nevada was memorable.
    Give me a call if you want to hear my Atlee satory: Tim Lord (415) 342-9144

  3. I remember him coming to the King street house in the Valley after I left Fanny who had signed with Warners.. he auditioned for our band .. he and I hit it off great.. kept telling me I had good hands.. very spiritual kind of guy.. of course prob just wanted to hold my hand.. lol. but I liked him.. he was kind, calm and a great bass player.


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