Bukowski, drug busts and blues: Inside Lester Butler’s ‘lost year’ (1995)

This post was first published on March 23, 2014, and was updated April 24, 2021. — No Fightin’

In the wake of the Classic Rock article, there seems to be more talk and memories about The Red Devils than there has been in years. Much of it is happening on Facebook, and nofightin.com has seen a surge in visitors.

One story that has come back around is by Rob Neighbors, called “My Time with Blues Legend, Lester Butler,” first posted on Neighbors’ site, Hollywood or Die, in October 2011.

The account fills in the day-to-day about what could be thought of as Butler’s “lost year,” 1995 (or ’96) — lost at least in terms of national prominence. It was clearly after the heyday of The Red Devils, and before the formation of 13 and his renaissance in Europe. Time when he was playing pickup gigs and local shows.

Neighbors, a writer-director, among other skills, says he lived with Butler and “the family” of artists in a sort of bohemian flophouse on Chandler Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.

“I was 32 years old at the time but hopelessly lost after the departure of my family and was looking for something to hang on to,” Neighbors wrote. “This new home that I had moved into seemed to be it. We partied hard almost every night. We would read Yeats, Bukowski, and Carlos Castaneda aloud, anything that validated what we were doing. We would do humiliating acting exercises like the primal scream, etc., and have crazy jam sessions.

“Lester would play the harmonica, and I heard rumors that he was some kind of blues legend, but he didn’t act it. He never seemed to have an ego, in fact it was the reverse – Lester often seemed melancholy and shy, but at times was very funny and charming. He was highly intelligent and well read.”

Offering a flipside tale of Butler the man than was portrayed in Classic Rock, Neighbors describes him as “super-cool” and “somebody big.” And though Butler seemed shy at home, Neighbors found another side when he went to his first 13 gig, at Jack’s Sugar Shack.

“Lester came up with his band, 13, which included guitarists Kid Ramos and Alex Schultz, Andy Kaulkin on keyboard, and John Morgan on drums. (Note: See update at bottom of post.) Lester fronted the band and played Harmonica. I was blown away! Lester’s stage presence was intense to say the least. He was definitely channeling something. He had a whole different persona on stage and I could see him as the star that he was. Like I said, I was lost and looking for something to follow, and Lester became it. I started to dress differently, talk and walk differently, because I wanted to be as super-cool as Lester.”

Neighbors tracks Butler’s sobriety as well, during those early days of 13.

lester_moulin_promo

“At one point, Lester got arrested for possession of cocaine in Orange County and he went through a period of sobriety,” Neighbors wrote. “He got serious for awhile and was running every day and body surfing at the barrel in Newport Beach and spending time with his sister and niece. He was gone from the apartment most of the time ….”

Read it on hollywoodordie.com (where Neighbors also has a good Q&A with Big Pete).

UPDATE MAY 2, 2021: In a response to this post on Facebook, John Morgan says he never played at Jack’s Sugar Shack with Lester Butler. “The first time I performed with Lester was at the House of Blues with Kid (Ramos) on guitar and (James) Intveld on bass.”

“The 13 moniker came about when Lester and Warren Coyle added up the number of musicians that recorded on the LP,” Morgan wrote. “My cuts were only supposed to be demos. There are about 5 or 6 cuts more I have copies of from that session hopefully will come to light some day from the master tapes, whoever owns them now.”

MORE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS:

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