takin- a walk Bonus Friday episode-Director John Scheinfeld discusses his new documentary What The Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat And Tears.mp3
Buzz Knight [00:00:01] I’m Buzz Knight, the host of Take It a Walk Music History on Foot. And today, our guest is an award winning director, John Scheinfeld His great body of work includes the US versus John Lennon. Herb Alpert is. It’s also a great documentary about Harry Nilsson, and he even dips his toe into the happy days of Garry Marshall. John is really a pop culture historian with this work, and his newest project required quite a bit of detective work. It’s part music doc, part political thriller. It’s called What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears that we talked to director John Scheinfeld Next, taking a walk. Well, John, so welcome to Taking a Walk and congratulations on what the hell happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears.
John Scheinfeld [00:00:54] Oh, thank you both. I’m pleased to be here. Thanks for having me.
Buzz Knight [00:00:58] So what is your criteria that you use when you consider a project such as What the hell happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears
John Scheinfeld [00:01:09] With any film? It’s it’s two things, really. The first one is what’s the story? Is the story compelling enough? Does it have enough layers to it that would be worthy of putting it up on the big screen as opposed to a television documentary? And in this case, absolutely, This story has everything. It has blackmail, it has international intrigue. It has Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the White House. It has so many great layers, and it was just irresistible from that standpoint. But the second thing, Buzz, is we we need to know that there’s enough audio visual assets out there with which to tell the story. What I mean by that is, is there film, is there video, Are there enough photographs, all the visual things that we we must have to make a story come alive for a film. And that was a little dicier on this one. What we did know is that the blood, sweat and tears took along a documentary film crew when they went behind the Iron Curtain to do this tour. They shot 65 hours of film footage and then came back to Los Angeles to edit it into what was supposed to be a two hour documentary for theaters because Blood, Sweat and Tears was as big as you can be back then. And this footage just totally vanished. We looked everywhere. The problem was the production company that paid for it went bankrupt in late 1970, the post-production house, where we know the editing had been happening and all the film actually was stored there. They went bankrupt in 1971. And so here it is, is 50 some years later, we’re trying to follow the trail of where this material went. I hope they don’t put it, boxed it up and put it into storage and we find it somewhere. But we went through every storage vault in every in L.A. and New York, Washington, Virginia, four government places, Nothing, nothing, nothing. And then one day, I got a call from a woman that ran a vault here in L.A. and she didn’t have anything in her computer database, but it was during COVID and she was home and had nothing to do one day. So she was going to loose leaf notebooks. You and your listeners may remember those, and she found some vague reference to blood, sweat and tears. And so the next time she went into the vault, she went to a far corner and in a pile of material marked for destruction, she found a pristine print of what was supposed to be a shorter version of this documentary. So we had in nearly an hour of footage to work with, and that became the foundation for our film Long Way of answering your question. You got to have those two things. And here we had a great story. Once we found the film, we knew that we could proceed and get going into production.
Buzz Knight [00:04:05] Well, but as a pop culture historian. Detective work would seem for you to be something that is also part of your criteria for projects. Is that true?
John Scheinfeld [00:04:17] Very much so. And it’s one of the aspects of the job that I really love, just sort of rolling up your sleeves and getting into people’s closets, under their beds, in their attics, going to archives here and there. I just love doing all that. And I have a great team that we’re all very respectful and very nice people, but we’re extremely persistent and we keep at it. I’ll give you another example, because we we knew that the band had taken a portable eight track tape machine with them, not the kind that used to be in people’s cars, but a portable studio machine. And they recorded all of their concerts on this Iron Curtain tour. And the tapes we assumed were in the same place that that 65 hours of film was. And we were we were not convinced we were going to be able to find it. But Kathleen Armitage, who’s one of my great researchers, tracked down the family of the associate producer of that documentary crew. And he had died, unfortunately, in 2018. But he had a storage unit and the family took everything in the storage unit and donated it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences here in Los Angeles. But for three years, it just sat there. No one did an inventory. Nobody looked bothered to look to see what was there. And Kathleen kept very nicely pushing, pushing in this wonderful archivist, Warren finally went down into the basement and looked at it. And lo and behold, there were five of these eight track tapes there. And there it was three, four, seven, eight and 18 numbered. So we knew there were 18 tapes at one point why he kept these five. We don’t know what happened to the other ones. We don’t know. But thank goodness he held on to these across those five tapes were ten of the 12 songs that they performed on the tour. So we were able to really put those into our film and create a soundtrack that just blares out at you when you listen.
Buzz Knight [00:06:24] Well, I do have a theory later on in the interview that I want to spring on you. That’s an adjacent theory on the blackmailing tour that blood, sweat and tear had to go on. So I’ll say that, and you could tell me I’m full of baloney about it later, but I’ll.
John Scheinfeld [00:06:42] Look forward to that if I can. But it’s just one other sort of detective thing that we did on this one. And this is true for really any of the films I’ve made. There’s always this kind of you got to track down stuff and you find it in very strange places. Well, I’ll just give you another quick story. So I did this film a few years ago called Chasing Trane about John Coltrane, the jazz icon, and there was no footage of him in the studio whatsoever. Some photos, but no footage. So my producer, Dave Harding, and I are in New York at a home of this photographer, and we’re going to negatives and contact sheets looking for unique shots of Coltrane. And we come across this one photograph of a guy and Coltrane in the recording studio, and I must have said something like, Oh shit. And and Dave says to me, What? And I said, Look at this photo. And he says, It’s Coltrane and some guy in the studio. So what? And I said, Look what the guy is holding in his hand. And the guy is holding a Super eight movie camera. What am I thinking? Of course, that he shot something in the studio that day. So the photographer, it was Chuck Stewart, remembered that this guy was Art Davis, who was a world class bass player, jazz bass player. We tracked down his son, who’s an insurance broker here in Van Nuys, California, and we called him up and he said, Yeah, I got all the home movies in the garage. And we went out and and after about three weekends of going through his home movies, most of which were mom and dad and grandma and grandpa in the in the backyard on the swings, we found a seven and a half minute color reel of Coltrane in the studio. So that’s the kind of detective work we have to do, because I don’t want to just have the same film and video and photos that every other documentary has. I’d like to find really unique stuff, and we did that very much here on what the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears. There’s a lot of material that no one has seen before.
Buzz Knight [00:08:43] By the way, I love chasing Trane, so just have to have to say that as well.
John Scheinfeld [00:08:48] Thank you. Appreciate it.
Buzz Knight [00:08:50] So what sort of a fan of Blood, Sweat and Tears were you on a 1 to 1010 being fanatical?
John Scheinfeld [00:09:00] I would say an eight. I love the band. You know, it’s interesting. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, if you talk to Blood, Sweat and Tears fans, but there are some that fall into We love the first album with Al Kooper and we don’t like the rest. It’s not hip enough for us, or we love the David Clayton-thomas years and we pooh pooh the Al Kooper because he couldn’t sing, and I’m somewhere between the two of them. I love both of them. I thought that first album was just sensational. And I loved the David Clayton-thomas years. This is such a unique, such a great singer that really brings that material up another level. So I was a big fan. I’d sort of come across them in high school and played them on my college radio show at Oberlin College. And but then, you know, all the years go by and nothing happens. And then when Bobby Colombie called me one day and we’d only met once before, I didn’t really know him. He called one day and said, I would take you to lunch and tell you a story. And we went to lunch. And I’m telling him what I just said to you about I love these albums. And I literally said to them, What the hell happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears? Here you were in 1970, one of the biggest bands going, and then you weren’t. What happened? He said, Well, that’s the story I’m going to tell you. And that’s the story in our film.
Buzz Knight [00:10:25] Did you ever get any sense where Al Cooper’s head was on all of this at all?
John Scheinfeld [00:10:33] No, I love Al. I love his solo work. And I have a lot of those albums. And I actually interviewed him for my Who is Harry Nilsson and Why is everybody talking about him, Phil? I like long titles, but I don’t know why that is. So I love Al, but Al really wasn’t part of the story because we weren’t doing a history of blood, sweat and tears. We’re really focused on a moment in time that summer of 1970 and what happened.
Buzz Knight [00:11:01] Did you have any preconceived notions of the band that you needed to sort of monitor in this process that you went through in creating this?
John Scheinfeld [00:11:13] Um, not really. Again, because it wasn’t a history of the band. It didn’t really. Matter what my opinions were about the music or about the individual members of the band. What I didn’t really know is Bobby had given me the rough outline of what happened, and that’s really all he knew. What we had to do was to be able to find documentation that told us what really was happening behind the scenes and what was happening on the ground in those three communist countries Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland. And again, back to our detective theme. Most of those documents were not in the State Department files or not at the National Archives. What happens is a lot of these government departments deposit everything at the National Archives. But then after ten, 15 years, there’s some evaluation that goes on. Is this important? And if it isn’t, they would just toss it not for nefarious reasons, but just because the storage space and somehow William Fulbright, who’s a congressman from Arkansas, decided he loves this part of the State Department’s activities, the cultural exchange program. So send all those files to the University of Arkansas. And that’s where we found them. And it was a treasure trove of material for us that really helped us to piece together what we thought was happening behind the scenes. And we can talk about that later when you when you share your theory.
Buzz Knight [00:12:51] I love also how you went back for that whole cultural Presentations program. That Dizzy Gillespie piece was unbelievable with. I think that was with Adam Clayton Powell. Right.
John Scheinfeld [00:13:05] And then Bela was a congressman from Harlem. And oh, let me bring on my my good friend, Dizzy Gillespie. We we were delighted to find that piece of film. And again, that’s one that hasn’t been seen very often. And we just love that. And I love the fact that we’re talking here about weapons to use against the Russians in the Cold War. And and Dizzy Gillespie has his cool weapon, which we thought was really great.
Buzz Knight [00:13:32] But it’s really amazing. So talk about the eerie arrival on the scene of this guy named Larry Goldblatt.
John Scheinfeld [00:13:44] Larry was the became the manager for for Blood, Sweat and Tears. In September of 1969. The band had gone through a couple of managers before that, and they were looking for somebody with some fresh ideas who saw it outside the box. And their lawyer brought to Bobby Colombie, this guy Larry Goldblatt, and, you know, fresh thinker outside the box, does great things. I think he’d be terrific for you. And Bobby says, Well, that’s great. There’s only one problem. Well, what’s that? He’s been in prison. It’s like, okay. Anyway, it turns out he’d been to prison for writing some bad checks, and he was in Chino Prison here in California. But they hired him. And and he really for for a time, really did some great things for the band. And it was Larry who, when he took over, knew that there was this immigration problem involving David Clayton-thomas and rightly so, decided he needed to be proactive to solve this problem. And we talk about what he did in our film.
Buzz Knight [00:14:56] Is Larry deceased at this point?
John Scheinfeld [00:14:59] Yes, Larry died in 1986, I believe, from cancer. I don’t remember exactly. But yes, he died in 1986. He he was with the band till about 1972. And then they let him go and he kind of knocked around for a while. Not quite sure what he did, but then, yes, passed away in the mid-eighties, so we weren’t able to talk to him. But we have a woman in our film, Tina Cunningham, who was his assistant and who also was his wife. They got married in Yugoslavia when the band was there on tour. The U.S. Embassy there arranged for a church for them to get married. The ambassador to Yugoslavia gave her away at the ceremony because her own father couldn’t couldn’t come all that distance to Yugoslavia. And David Clayton-thomas was the best man. And I get asked sometimes, did you have any sequences that that didn’t make the film? And that was actually one of them. The film crew shot the wedding and some some activity before and after on the street outside, and they gave Tina a 15 minute roll of film and she found that in her attic and gave it to us. And we did a new transfer and everything. And it was in the film for a while. It’s very sweet and very touching, and it was a little sort of a different tone for the film, but ultimately it was kind of off story and we decided it was really appropriate to have it in there. But anyway, Tina had great insights into Larry for those reasons, and it was as if we had access to him, but not quite.
Buzz Knight [00:16:41] I think it’s probably great that Larry remained this eerie kind of creepy character rather than this sweet guy who got married.
John Scheinfeld [00:16:52] Well, you. You said it and you know, you’ve been around the music business long enough. You know, there’s a lot of shady characters. And so this was not unusual, but it did provide a little bit of drama for our narrative.
Buzz Knight [00:17:05] So the classified information that you had to get, you mentioned earlier a little bit about that, but that must have been incredibly difficult to really gain that access. Was it?
John Scheinfeld [00:17:18] There are two sort of parts to that, but one is a number of the files over the years have been declassified and those are the ones that showed up at the University of Arkansas. And that would have been internal memos, correspondence, telegrams and telex from Europe. All of that had been classified at one time and over the years got declassified. So that was fairly easy for us to to use. We did need some things again here, detective work. I came across in one of the Arkansas documents, a reference to a Kissinger memo to Nixon about this tour that blood, sweat and tears made. And I’m like, Wait a minute, This made it up to Kissinger and Nixon. How is that? What’s that all about? So we had to send some one of our researchers off to the Nixon Library. And ultimately we tracked down this memo. We talk about it in the film. And Kissinger writes Nixon a memo and then Nixon writes a Kissinger some notes in the bottom of the memo. And we have that, which was great. I think what we weren’t able to get was where the two things I felt that if the State Department was going to send these these nine young men in their crew over behind the Iron Curtain to these communist countries, the FBI would have had to have vetted them just to make sure that there wasn’t anything in their past that was going to be embarrassing to the government. And through Freedom of Information Act, we we did a request and nothing came back, meaning there wasn’t anything. But then I got put in touch with the official historian for the FBI, great guy, and he did some checking on his own just to make sure that he said, yeah, there wasn’t anything here. And again, I don’t think that’s nefarious particularly. I think it’s just they probably vetted them. Everything was fine. And, you know, somewhere along the way they did need to keep that report anymore. But the other thing was a little more intriguing to me. I would have thought that maybe there was a CIA presence on this tour somewhere just to sort of keep an eye on things. And we think we know who that might have been, but we’re not sure. And again, the Freedom of Information Act did not reveal any of the internal memos or reports or anything from people like that, nor did my talk with the official CIA historian. And again, I have to think probably not nefarious. I think that everything worked the way they wanted it or something, and nobody bothered to save that report. So I would say pretty easy for us to find what we needed. There was so much of it that we really had to go through it and be very careful. You know, unlike certain news organizations in America, I like to tell the truth. And we had to really be careful that we wouldn’t have anything in our film unless we corroborated two or three times with other sources. And these files enabled us to do that.
Buzz Knight [00:20:20] And I think it’s okay that there’s some unanswered questions along the way that you can’t possibly track down. So I think that adds to the intrigue of the storyline, don’t you?
John Scheinfeld [00:20:32] Very much, sir. They absolutely do, because you can’t always find everything. It’s like there is so much information out there on the Internet about so many things. But yes, there just always will be some unanswered questions and that’s okay as long as we we don’t. And we will make we will make some educated guesses on things based on the evidence that we do have. So, for example, we make an educated guess as to what happened to those 65 hours of footage. We don’t have the actual documentation, the paper trail that shows us precisely. But but based on the evidence and eyewitness reports, we do take an educated guess as to what happened.
Buzz Knight [00:21:12] How did you possibly track down these concert goers that were at these shows over there in the Soviet bloc?
John Scheinfeld [00:21:20] Great question. You know, it’s one thing if the band members talk about how great the audiences were and what what they seemed to feel the audiences were feeling. But it’s a whole other thing when we actually had the people who were there talking about it. So we hired researchers in the former Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland and thank heaven for social media over there. They were able to put out the word and said, If you were at these concerts, please contact us. And there were a handful of of people that did in Romania and Poland. And it just really buzz elevated the whole film to be able to not only hear what they say, but to see them and see their faces. And you just can tell how significant, how important these concerts were to them, what they meant to them at a time where free speech was not a part of their daily life. You know, there are people in our country today that like to praise Putin. And I think what they forget is what it’s like to live under these dictators and the authoritarian regimes. And what these individuals did was to talk about the lives that they had and that these concerts represent a breath of fresh air, freedom to them at a time where they didn’t have much. And I think that was an important part of our film, that we could have these people talk for themselves as to what blood, sweat and tears concerts meant to them.
Buzz Knight [00:22:52] And you do believe that considering The World today, comparing it to the summer of 1970, that there are parallels in your movie?
John Scheinfeld [00:23:02] Absolutely right. I mean, you look at it, some of the specifics are different. But America 1970 was very much polarized as we are today. There were conflicts between the right and the left, the red and the blue states, the east and the West, meaning Russia and America. And blood, sweat and tears really became an early victim of cancel culture before we really knew what that was or knew what that term meant. And then there were things was like when we were editing a sequence about when our historian Tim Naftali, who’s fantastic in the film, when he starts to talk about some of the historical context of what was going on in those communist countries in Eastern Europe, he talked a bit about the Czech rebellion in 1968, where Czechoslovakia tried to become more free and democratic and the Russians invaded it with tanks and troops. And we’re looking at some footage with which to illustrate that point. And we couldn’t help but think of Russian tanks rolling into the Ukraine today. So many, many different parallels. And I think that’s what makes our film, from my standpoint so unique, is that it’s not really a music documentary. It’s more of a political thriller kind of film. And I think people who don’t know blood, sweat and tears may not know the music will still find this a fascinating story in and of itself.
Buzz Knight [00:24:33] Then there’s the Abbie Hoffman piece. If he were alive, he would make some interesting questioning about his role in that infamous Madison Square Garden concert.
John Scheinfeld [00:24:45] Yes. Well, you know, Abbie was great at political theater and gestures in that regard. And we have a it gave us a great humorous sequence in our film by us to be able to show what Abbie Hoffman tried to do to blood, sweat and tears at Madison Square Garden when they came back from the tour. And it just gave us a chance to get some real laughs in the film, but also, I think to to point out blood, sweat and tears found themselves sitting in a unique position when they came back that usually these days, if you’re criticized politically, it’s from one side or the other, from the left or from the right. Blood, sweat and tears got it from both the left and the right. And that really was a devastating situation for them.
Buzz Knight [00:25:30] Well, they got affected also by this whole cool factor because they took this crazy leap right, with the Vegas show. And now look at how commonplace it is for AX to play in Vegas, right?
John Scheinfeld [00:25:47] Yeah. I mean, you know, you were you asked you were asking before about Larry Goldblatt. That was his idea. Let’s let’s open up Vegas to rock and roll. Now everybody does it. And so in a sense, blood, sweat and tears was on the cutting edge. They were doing it before anybody else did it. It did kind of hurt him at the time. But I think what what what I’ve learned making the film is that they had a. When they were a hit act from 69 to 71. They had a very broad demographic. They reached young people, rock and roll fans, but they also reached their parents who were jazz fans or pop fans. And that, in a way, also I think contributed to a lack of a cool factor that the fact that adults would listen to this music, you know, they weren’t quite so, so hip and so cool. But I think what they were able to do with that music was it transcended those those demographic barriers that that it was so good, that music, that it really did appeal to a broad range. And I think that music still lasts today. People who hear it on on Sirius XM or any of the other outlets there. This music holds up and I think it’s because it was just beautifully arranged and beautifully played.
Buzz Knight [00:27:05] Well, they must have been cool enough for Miles Davis to play at the Madison Square Garden show. So if it was cool for Miles, must have been cool enough.
John Scheinfeld [00:27:16] Don’t you think? They had a lot of you know, they had a lot of cool fans, Herbie Hancock, a lot of those kind of hip jazz guys loved him and a lot of rock and rollers loved him. But over time, things change. You know, and I think part of the answer to the question of what the hell happened to blood, sweat and tears is they really weren’t hip anymore. They really weren’t cool to anybody after a while. And I think ultimately that had a significant impact on their career.
Buzz Knight [00:27:44] All right. So here’s my my lame question slash theory out loud. Is it possible that Steve Katz is relationship with a rabble rousers such as Ramblin Jack Elliott may be put he and the band in bad favor also with the government?
John Scheinfeld [00:28:08] It’s an interesting question because I would have to say we didn’t come across any evidence that would suggest that it was anything other than David’s immigration problems that caused issues for the band. Steve was clearly outspoken politically. Clearly had friends in in more progressive and or radical organizations. But, you know, having done a film like the US versus John Lennon, where we really got into the underground and the Abbie Hoffman’s and the Jerry Rubin’s and the Weathermen and all those kinds of people that Lennon really did interact with and that brought him to the attention of the FBI. We did not see that here. What we didn’t have time to tell in the film. So I’ll I’ll share with you now is the first inkling that something was going on with the band actually came earlier, almost a year earlier than the tour in late June of 1969. There was a little break in the blood, sweat and tears schedule, and David Clayton-thomas went back to Canada to see family and friends and maybe take care of some business. And he was supposed to come back to the States because they were going to headline at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 4th, 1969. And when he got to the airport, the Canadian authorities wouldn’t let him out because the American authorities wouldn’t let him in. And it was because of this green card issue. And that was the first notion that, wait a minute, we may have an issue here. The head of the Newport Jazz Festival, George Wein, apparently, according to his book, he reached out to a friend of his who was in the Nixon administration, and they worked it out. And David was allowed back in. And they did, in fact, play the Newport Jazz Festival. But it appeared to to linger as an ongoing problem. And that’s why when Larry Goldblatt came on in the fall, he said, we got to solve this. This is really going to be a problem. Now, that’s not to say that maybe there wasn’t an FBI file on Steve that we didn’t find, but we just didn’t come across that.
Buzz Knight [00:30:25] Well, thanks for the insight on the making of it and the storyline and for the great work of your documentary, your political thriller, What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears? I appreciate you, John, for being on.
John Scheinfeld [00:30:42] Thanks for having me, because I really enjoyed the questions. Very smart. Good questions.
Buzz Knight [00:30:46] Appreciate it. Taking a walk is produced by Bob Malatesta. It’s hosted by me, Buzz Knight, and I hope you’ll follow us on Apple, Spotify, TuneIn, Castbox, or wherever you get your podcasts, leave us a review and kindly spread the word about taking a walk.