Something Happening Here

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(Pictured: Mike Connors as Mannix.)

In 2014, I wrote about some of the musical acts that appeared on early episodes of the detective series Mannix. Here’s a bit of that.

The fourth episode, “The Many Deaths of St. Christopher,” aired on October 7, 1967. Joe Mannix meets a girl in a club called the Bad Scene, where a young singer with a guitar is performing—Neil Diamond, appearing as himself. In one sequence, Diamond performs “The Boat That I Row” and a song called “Raisin’ Cain,” which he has never formally recorded in all the years since. After a fight breaks out in the club and Mannix is knocked to the floor, Diamond walks over and says to him, “Hey man, you mind if I finish the set by myself?” In a second, shorter sequence, Diamond sings “Solitary Man.” On October 28, 1967, in “Warning: Live Blueberries,” an even-more-surprising act appears: in yet another club, the Buffalo Springfield play “Bluebird” through a better-than-five-minute scene, and come back later with a bit of “For What It’s Worth.” . . . Neither does a lip-synch; Diamond appears to be playing live, while the Springfield sing “Bluebird” live over a recorded backing track and do “For What It’s Worth” unplugged. . . .

Stephen Stills has been critical of the production of the Buffalo Springfield’s studio albums. He was referring to Mannix when he said, “The best sound we ever got was when we did this stupid TV show where we played just a little bit of a song and we were like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s the sound we’ve been looking for.'”

Mannix would occasionally deal with musicians throughout the remainder of the series’ run. (His secretary, Peggy, is a jazz fan, and at least a couple of episodes revolve around musicians she knows.) The opening episode of the eighth season (September 22, 1974) is called “Portrait in Blues,” and it has Mannix investigating repeated death threats against a rock musician played by Kim Milford. He and his partner in an acoustic duo are boosted by a famous local DJ. He’s got a girlfriend, and it is revealed partway through the episode that his partner has leukemia.

The episode is pretty terrible. Milford’s stringy, underfed-hippie vibes like the out-of-town boyfriend of the trashiest girl in your high-school class. His mildly baked performance isn’t the worst one in the episode, however, or even the second-worst. Larry Storch (!) is 20 years too old to be the DJ, and his “hip” patter, on mike and off, is painful. Future soap star Robin Millan plays Milford’s girlfriend with her own mildly baked affect. It looks like she was hired not because she could act, but because the part called for somebody who could look good in a towel and later, a skimpy evening dress. And you may see the ending coming before Mannix does.

The episode contains four songs written by Milford and the actor playing his singing partner, Bruce Scott. (Although Scott piled up a number of movie and TV credits from the 60s to the 80s, he’s pretty obscure; if he did any more music anywhere, I don’t know about it.) You can hear bits of all four here, including “Give a Little More Sunshine,” which is performed at least four times in the course of the episode. You can watch all of “Portrait in Blues,” here, at least until CBS gets it taken down—but beware; it’s the single worst episode of Mannix I can remember.

Kim Milford’s most famous credit, according to his IMDB bio, is the Mystery Science Theater 3000 favorite Laserblast!, although he was also in Corvette Summer with Mark Hamill. He was lead singer with Beck, Bogert and Appice for two months in 1972, hired to help the band fulfill its touring obligations before it could break up. He was fired after about a half-dozen shows, reportedly because his preening stage presence didn’t fit. He later fronted his own band, and had starring roles in touring company productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show. He also acted in and wrote music for some made-for-TV horror movies that incorporated rock music, produced by Don Kirshner. Milford died of complications after open heart surgery in 1988. He was 37.

(Note to Patrons: the traffic on my latest podcast episode, an interview with a guy who attended both of Wisconsin’s major 1970 rock festivals, Sound Storm and Iola, has been distinctly underwhelming. If you haven’t listened to it yet, please do. If you know somebody who might be interested in it, please tell them about it.)

5 thoughts on “Something Happening Here

  1. mikehagerty

    Prime time TV in the 60s and early 70s was a great way to monitor the generation gap. Almost nobody writing a show had any idea how anyone under 30 talked, dressed or thought. The Mod Squad may or may not have been an exception—I was 13 and too busy crushing on Peggy Lipton to notice the dialogue.

    Mike Post bridged the gap when he signed on as the musical director for The Andy Williams Show (1969-71), booking hip-for-the-times acts and having Andy treat them with respect and perform duets with them.

  2. mackdaddyg

    That Neil Diamond clip was pretty cool. Preparing his acting chops for “The Jazz Singer” I assume.

    I wonder if “Raisin’ Cain” exists as a demo. I’ve been hoping for a release of Neil Diamond demos like the one that Carole King released a few years ago. That would be interesting to hear, especially his version of “A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You.”

  3. rdfranciswriter

    A great article about the “rock ‘n’ roll” episodes of Mannix!

    Mannix was always hit and miss, for me, as was the like-minded Cannon and Barnaby Jones. The “generation gap” episodes were always the worst of each, respective series. And they only get worse when you pick them up, years later in your adult years, via a Cozi or Antenna rerun. As Mike pointed out: writers on these show just didn’t “get it,” at all.

    But the Milford-starring Mannix episode is, in fact, the most cringe worthy of them all. The music is okay and Bruce Scott’s voice is amazing, sure . . . but after the third run through of “Sunshine,” you’re ready to run screaming from the room . . . and there’s still two more renditions to go! Clearly, “Scott and Milford” were a Loggins and Messina, maybe a Seals and Crofts styled duo, and being on a hit show was a way to push the act (?) — with “Sunshine” as their big single, it seems.

    What really makes the Milford episode so awful — beyond Larry Storch — just out of nowhere: “I have leukemia.” What? It was as if a couple scripts fell to the floor and they picked ’em up and mixed up the pages. Weirdest teleplay, ever.

    Scott, by the way, was the husband of Sandy Duncan at the time. From what I’ve read, he was pretty miffed by Sandy’s stardom . . . and his lack of fame. Thus, she divorced him. There’s quite a few 45 rpm uploads and TV appearances of his works on You Tube.

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