The day I met Nicolette Larson

Nicolette Larson circa 1978/public domain

Most readers won’t recognize that name. Nicoltte hit her stride in the music world in the 70’s. She had a big hit with a song called ‘Lotta Love’.

The music industry has always had a challenge putting ‘labels’ on music genre’s. Soul, R&B, Country, those are all fairly straightforward. However in the 70’s there was a blending of music categories that seemed to shake the foundation of straight forward naming conventions.

It started with bands like the Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Crosby , Stills, Nash & Young. They were classified as bands playing: Folk Rock, Folk Pop, Jangle Pop, Raga Rock to name a few. What does that mean? It was a sound that was eminating from Southern California and was being influenced by people like Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Linda Rondstadt, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young.

It was Neil Young whose in focus here. A Canadian singer song writer who had tremendous talent and began to make some waves on the California coast.

In those times of the 70’s it seemed there was a lot of ‘jamming’ going on. What a time it was and the stories I’ve read paints a picture of people living on the ocean in beautiful beach homes, gathered around the driftwood fires, enjoing the scents of the misting ocean air as musicians pulled out their guitars and began to strum sounds that would create tidal waves of change in music from coast to coast.

It was at one of these events that Neil Young met Nicolette Larson. She was a young lady from the big sky country of Montana who manged to make her way to one of those camp fire events where she met Neil. He invited her to sing backing vocals on several of his emerging albums.

The year was 1978 and the song was called ‘Comes A Time’ It features the lovely voice of Nicolette blending harmoniously with that of Neil and the result is a sound that lifts and carries that song to what eventually became a full album of similar sounds and an album of the same name.

This was the sound of my youth. I was captured by the lyrics, the soft strumming and the magical sounds that emanated from the heart and soul of that time. It was CSN&Y but mostly Y.

I had some albums. I had a job, with money to spend and spent it on music. I bought an album called Harvest by Neil Young. It was released in 1972, the year I graduated HS. I had just graduated and my summer job was working at Disney World in Orlando and it turned into a full-time post High School opportunity. I was living in Lakeland, Florida at the time and had a motorcycle. It was a Suzuki X6 Hustler. A beauty of a street bike with beautiful low swept chrome exhaust pipes that flowed from front to back. It was a beauty and she was fast. With a six speed fast change gear box it would accelerate so fast it would raise the front wheel on take off.

This was my transportation. That first summer out of HS, I rode that Interstate 4 highway 40 miles each way every day and twice a day. It beat me up but I had a job, I was making money and I was determined. I had a HS buddy named Stu. Stuart Hancock, we went to LHS together and he got a job at Disney as well and he had a car. It was one of the very first Honda’s. It was so small it looked like a toy. I told him it was like a coat, so small you put it on rather get in it. I remember the first time I got in it and the manual shift handle extended from the dash rather than the floor board like most conventional cars. It was better than riding that motorcycle. I remember my friend Gary had a joke. During the summer in central Florida there were bugs that would be drawn to the interstate emissions like a magnet. Sometimes they would be so thick it would appear as a cloud over the highway. The joke was how do you recogninze a happy bike rider in Orlando? He’s the one with bugs in his teeth.

It didn’t take too long until I had saved enough to make a down payment on my first car. A 1972 Datsun 1200 Coupe. That was the name of the Japanese auto before it was changed to Nissan.

I started picking up more shifts, working overtime and double shifts. I was first assigned to what was called Bordens Plaza Restaurant. I made ice cream sundaes and dipped cones. Then I began to work in Tomorrowland busing tables at the big restaurants. Not only did I make an hourly wage but I got tips too. Sometimes I would leave with my pockers so full of quarters they were bulging out and I would jingle jangle as I walked.

The stories of money to be made were told far and wide. Come work for Mickey Mouse and get paid! My buddy Gary had an older brother named Steve. I believe Steve was maybe a year ahead of us and he decided he was going to work at Disney as well so he got a job there.

We decided to be roomates in a rental house in Orlando. Steve played the guitar and he was good. He had a few albums as well and he would strum those golden sounds of that Cali Country Rock. I managed to save enough to buy a portable record player .

I played that vinyl till it grew thin. I knew every word to every song on the Harvest album. Heart of Gold, Old Man and of course Alabama. Famously known as the song where Lynard Skynard had to say to Neil ‘A Southern man dont need him a round anyhow.’ I developed an appreciation for the CSN as well as the backing vocals of James Taylor and was amazed at how the sounds of the London Philharmonic Orchestra mixed with the Southern Rock sound.

It was day like any other day in Kansas City. I was on the gate to board my first flight to Los Angeles, flight 225 as I recall. Usually there were two of us assigned to the gate. We would check people into the flight by reviewing their ticket in the computer and then assigning their seats. It was always fun when you had a family who wanted to get seats together. Someone was sitting in non-smoking and they had to have a smoking seat or just the opposite. Sometimes I would run a ‘name list’ on the computer to see who was on the flight. This was in the 80’s before the electronic ticket scan. Passengers would receive a hard ‘boarding card’ that reflected their name and their seat number. As you would board the plan, you hand the agent your boarding pass, they would tear half off and the give th other to you so you would know where you were sitting.

We always liked it when people would be at the gate early to check-in. It seems there were always issues with duplicate seats and boarding cards. We learned that computers were glitchy and were great when they worked and a pain when they didn’t. You didnt want to delay the boarding of the flight that meant a possible departutre delay and the gate agent was responsible for a flight delay, that was a prblem and too many of those and you were off to staff that lost luggage desk.

The check in desk for the flight was in the center of a massively large room with cushioned seats scatterd about. There were tables strewn with magazines, ash trays, water fountains, pay phones, soda vending machines and this boarding lounge area was the largest because the flight to LA was always full.

As passengers would enter security from the terminal, they would go through the routine of putting everything through the security x-ray machine. It was always the filter that would slow the progress of passengers getting checked in. This is where you would always meet that group of people called the procrastinators. That percentage of people who would wait until the last minute to do anything. Impacted by the uncontrolled traffic on the highway, car trouble, delayed bus, missed ride, overslept, flat tire, ran out of gas, sick family member, wreck on the road, broken alarm clock, flooded highway, tornado, flash flood, dog ate my ticket…every excuse known to man.

From the central check-in desk in the gate you could see passengers as they cleared security and gathered their belongings and made their way to check-in. On this day, I noticed this slightly built lady with long flowing brown hair struggling to put on her leather hat with the Indian feathers. I noticed she had on beautifully stitched jeans and shiny cowboy boots. Leather carry on bags and a leather purse. She wore a necklace with silver and turquoise and rings to match. She was not a Kansas farmer.

She smiled at me as she gatherd herself and made her way to the check-in desk. Holding the gaze as she gracefully handed me her ticket with a countenance and smile that glowed. We exchanged pleasentries as we talked about the beautful weather and a great day for a flight. I unfolded the paper sleeve cover that held the ticket and there revealed the name Nicolette Larson. I smiled, she smiled back. I confirmed her seat, printed her boarding card and returned it to her. She smiled and said ‘thank you’ to which I responded ‘enjoy your stay in LA’ . She glanced up and with a smile I’ll never forget said ‘oh, I will’ with a tone of assured enthusiasm.

I often imagine she was headed to that Neil Young’s recording studio to make some more of that magic southern california sound and etch her name in the history books in the days of Classic California Rock.

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Jon D. Lastra

Jon D. Lastra

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