Elyse Weinberg was there and gone. While the 1960's were closing its doors, Weinberg graduated from Toronto folk clubs to crashing on Neil Young's Laurel Canyon couch to the Billboard charts within one prolific year. She played The Tonight Show and was featured in Newsweek. One of her songs was recorded as a title track for a cinematic Cher vehicle. It appeared, even beyond the Hollywood Hills, that Weinberg was poised to launch. But within a year, the bright lights began to dim and she quietly walked away. Informed by her astrological study and an awakened spiritual urge, Weinberg left the phony grin she sang about in Greasepaint Smite behind her and, with that, the music business.
Weinberg got her first guitar at age 12. As she learned lo play, the young musician gravitated toward folk tunes, eventually mastering the Carter Family's "Wildwood Flower." By the mid-1960s in Montreal, teenage Elyse was already down the rabbit hole, reading Broadside magazine and taping records by Greenwich Village folkies—Eric Andersen, Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk—onto her reel-to-reel so she could slow down the tapes to learn the guitar parts. When Reverend Gary Davis came to town, she looked after him, kept him in whiskey, and studied his fingers on the guitar neck.
Three years into McGill University in Montreal, Weinberg dropped out and moved to Toronto where the folk scene included heavies like Ian Sc Sylvia and Joni Mitchell, as well as headies like David Wiffen and Bob Carpenter. Renting a spot in a communal house on Bishop Street, she lived in a space where music and traveling artists shared real estate with a dog, pregnant feral cats, an iguana, and iwo monkeys. She formed a band called O.D. Bodkin and Company (she was O.D.) and played Toronto's Yorkshire coffeehouse district in haunts like the Bohemian Embassy, the Gate of Cleve, and the Mousetrap. These were days of counterculture consumption, documented specifically in the song "Ironworks" on her first record. But in the 1960s, Weinberg was there for more than just the party. She was tuning in to the cognitive and creative aspects of her Scorpio identity.
On the surface, she describes her behavior as being "a bundle of reactions," but the songs she was writing went somewhere deeper. Travels took her to Israel and throughout Europe, briefly to New York City, and then back to Toronto. Weinberg was flamboyant and serious, often wearing a purple crushed velvet cape beneath her long dark hair. She described the urgency in her voice at the time as an "old gravel pit." Despite the creative buzz and creative community of Toronto, Weinberg wanted to make records and knew that meant leaving town. Neil Young, an old friend who often camped out at the Bishop Street house in a sleeping bag, urged her to head west.
In the spring of 1968, she moved to Eos Angeles to crash on Young's couch in Topanga Canyon during Buffalo Springfield's final bow. She then became roommates with Cass Elliot, another musician connected to the Canadian folk clubs. When Elliot heard Weinberg's song "Darlin' Please Believe Me," she set up a meeting with Silver, who managed Elliot's old group before she joined The Mamas & the Papas, The Big 3. Weinberg only had enough money to travel one way in a cab to Silver's office across town. By afternoon's end, Silver had signed her to a management and recording contract. Not only did he give her cab fare home, he got her an apartment in Laurel Canyon and bought her a green Pontiac Le Mans, her first car.
Elyse was released on Tetragrammaton Records in May of 1969, when she was 23 years old. The label ran ads for the album with the tagline: "Because Cass Elliott called and asked us to listen." Coowned with Bill Cosby, Tetragrammaton played home to a roster that included Pat Boone, Deep Purple, and Biff Rose and released the John Lennon and Yoko Ono album Two Virgins when Capitol Records deemed it too controversial. Silver was a mover and shaker, an insider whose reach went beyond the music business. He managed Joan Rivers and Bob Dylan in their early days and orchestrated the televised, ratings-winning wedding between Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show. Silver worked all industry angles in Hollywood, eventually opening a Chinese restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in John Barrymore's old house where he hosted late night parties while selling Sichuan noodles and pork fried rice, just to keep his finger on the pulse. Silver could make things happen, and Weinberg was his focus.
Elyse peaked at #31 on the Billboard chart as Weinberg toured the folk circuit. Newsweek, in a July 1969 feature on visionary female troubadours with the demeaning title "The Girls Letting Go," included Weinberg alongside Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, and Melanie. The writer described Weinberg's songs as death-obsessed, comparing them to "medieval ballads," and her vocal delivery to Bob Dylan's on John Wesley Harding. But to Weinberg, the songs involved more struggle. "Everyone has just one song they sing," she said to the reporter, "and these songs are about people who hold onto everything and anything that's holding them back or getting them down or getting them high—people who just don't know how to let go."
Silver's pull got Weinberg booked twice on The Tonight Show with Johnny Canon, but the show bumped her each time. The third time was the charm, and she performed Bert Jansch's "Oh, Deed I Do," the album's single, but that's where the good luck ended. Her guitar was mixed too low and her performance faltered. Adding insult to injury, when the night's guest-host, Flip Wilson, held up a copy of her record with the cellophane still on, the studio lights blinded the album cover. "It was a very unsatisfying experience, all in all," she remembers. Silver ever the play-maker, also convinced Cher to record the album's opening cut, "Band of Thieves," for her acting debut in the 1969 film Chastity. The film and soundtrack flopped. Worse for Weinberg, her song was retitled "Chastity's Theme," and the closing credits erroneously listed Sonny Bono as the composer.
By the summer of 1969, her debut was still fresh and her follow-up was already recorded. Produced by Neil Young's engineer, David Briggs, Greasepaint Smile features J.D. Souther on drums, an 18-year-old Nils Lofgren on guitar ("Greasepaint Smile, "Collection Bureau"), and Kenny Edwards on bass, among others. Neil Young welcomed the invitation from his old friend to play guitar on one song, "Houses," where his infamous 1953 Gibson Les Paul, "Old Black," makes its first appearance on record without assistance from an amp.
These were fuzzy times, but Weinberg recalls this part of the session well: "I remember us sitting in the control room, and Neil was plugged directly into the soundboard. I had my arm around him and he just began ripping out these beautiful guitar lines. It was very sweet and intimate." It's a song that skips between time signatures while metaphorically acknowledging the difficulty of sharing the world with others. Or, as Weinberg more succinctly states when asked about the song: "We all have our stuff." David Briggs, in an article in Record World in August of 1969, distinguishes Greasepaint Smile from its predecessor: "All the people are playing to the vocal rather than vice versa." That's accurate.
On Greasepaint Smile you hear a band with more of Weinberg, her voice and picking out front, as Biblical allusions blur with images of Laurel Camon nights and mornings-after. She is the sole writer on all these songs, minus her return to the Carter Family catalog for the song "Gospel Ship." Though pleased with the album, she didn't have creative control. "I didn't know I could have an opinion. I just turned up. I was just the chick singer!" Arid as she listens hack now, she says, "I hear a young woman wanting to be loved. I hear a spiritual yearning for a higher love. I know it now, but 1 didn't know it then." It's this raw wisdom that makes this record so compelling. But despite Tetragrammaton reserving a catalog number and completing die photo shoot for the album cover, the label was in financial trouble. During the release of Deep Purple's third album, their most profitable artist, they went bankrupt and closed shop.
By 1970, Weinberg was spending her nights at the Troubadour club. She played the Monday open mics along with performers like Warren Zevon, Cheech & Chong, and Jackson Browne, who Silver also managed early on, J.D. Souther and Glenn Frey were among the regulars, pre-Eagles, performing as Longbranch Pennywhistle and occasionally doubling as Weinberg's backing hand. But during daylight, little was happening, so she left for another adventure as Greasepaint Smile got Comfy in the attic of lost albums. Weinberg landed in London after touring with the Great Medicine Ball Caravan, the hippie troupe designed and documented in the 1971 film of the same name. The troupe's mission: spread counter-culture love and wisdom— Aquarian missionaries to the straights on the Warner Brothers' dime, a corporate package made up to mimic Woodstock's aesthetic and profits. The troupe included musical acts like B.B. King, Doug Kershaw, Alice Cooper, The Youngbloods, and, in the final overseas festival, Pink Floyd. Weinberg joined after hearing there was room on tour from her friend, the tour's official tie-dyer.
When the Great Medicine Ball Caravan wrapped, Weinberg met with former label-mate and Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover in London to discuss him producing her next album. But even before recording began, Roy Silver called and urged her to return home to make a third album, this time for a new label owned by his friend and future mogul, David Geffen. Weinberg signed to Asylum in August of 1971, becoming one of the label's first artists alongside Browne, Souther, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Judee Sill. But after the album wrapped, Weinberg had a falling out with Silver, her longtime champion, and the deal disappeared.
For the second time in a few years, Weinberg completed an album that no one would hear. The Asylum album remains unreleased. The only known copy is a faded cassette. The story of Weinberg's time in the L.A. scene can be heard in her song, "City of the Angels." It's a tune she describes as "reflecting on the milieu that you're moving in and not liking it," but her exit isn't as clearly documented.
Weinberg stayed in L.A. for the next decade or so, distancing herself from the music business that was always at odds with her muse. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then rural Oregon, where she lives today. Weinberg changed not only her residence, but also her name. Based on her beliefs in numerology, where numbers represent letters and each number represents an energy value, she reinvented herself as Cori Bishop.
Bishop kept making music quietly through the 1990's, and in 2001 approved a reissue of her debut, Elyse, on Orange Twin Records. The reboot included two songs from Greasepaint Smile, "Houses" arid "What You Call It." Here, those songs are presented in their original context for
the first time. Bishop self-released her fourth album in 2009, under her professional name Elyse Weinberg, titled In My Own Sweet Time, When asked about current plans, Bishop says she is continuing on her spiritual path and studying metaphysics, as she becomes "closer to dropping the body." Listening to the album now, Bishop says of the title track, "It's about the facades of who we are and how we keep trying to shed those facades." Exactly what you'd expect when hearing her sing the song's final, pleading line: "Bring me down the road another mile." For Bishop, the journey is about transcending the destination.
by Jerry David DeCicca, January 2015
1. What You Call It - 2:58
2. City Of The Angels - 3:28
3. Houses - 3:36
4. It's All Right To Linger - 2:47
5. Collection Bureau - 4:46
6. Gospel Ship (Traditional) - 2:28
7. Nicodemus - 4:06
8. My, My, My - 5:02
9. Your Place Or Mine - 2:47
10.Greasepaint Smile - 3:37
All compositions by Elyse Weinberg except track #6
*Elyse - Vocals
*J.D. Souther - Drums
*Nils Lofgren - Guitar
*Kenny Edwards - Drums
*Neil Young - Guitar
1968 Elyse - Elyse (2000 reissue)
the Free Text