By Richie Unterberger

In the late 1960s, Elektra Records was rapidly expanding from its folk base into folk-rock, psychedelia, pop, and combinations thereof all at once. As exciting a time as it was for the label, almost inevitably, some artists in its cluster of new signings got somewhat lost in the shuffle. Few of its albums from the time are as obscure as the sole LP by Diane Hildebrand, Early Morning Blues and Greens. A low-key cross between folk-rock, pop, and the emerging singer-songwriter movement, it made little impact upon its release. Hildebrand remains most known not for this album, but for the material she wrote in the same era for the Monkees, who covered the title song of the LP.

    Prior to recording the album, Hildebrand had been working as a staff writer at Screen Gems Music Publishing. Screen Gems supplied much of the material covered by the Monkees, generating songs from composing teams like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Another Brill Building veteran at Screen Gems was Jack Keller, co-writer (with Howard Greenfield) of  Connie Francis's huge 1960 hits "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own," Jimmy Clanton's "Venus in Blue Jeans," and the themes for the television series Bewitched, Gidget, and Hazel. Keller was involved with the Monkees virtually from the group's inception, co-producing several songs on their debut album.

    For their follow-up LP More of the Monkees, Keller teamed up with Hildebrand to write "Your Auntie Grizelda," and the pair also penned "Early Morning Blues and Greens" for the third Monkees LP, 1967's Headquarters. Outside of the Monkees' orbit, Hildebrand and Keller were responsible for the theme to The Flying Nun; working independently of Keller, Diane contributed lyrics to the Monkees' collective group composition "Goin' Down," which originated as a studio jam and (as the B-side of their chart-topping "Daydream Believer") would become one of their hardest-rocking and best recordings. Though she was just one of numerous names on Monkees songwriting credits, such was the group's fame in 1967 and 1968 that she didn't escape attention from the band's more devoted fans. "Diane was always getting calls from Monkees fans who wanted to know all about Peter [Tork] or Micky [Dolenz]," says Colin Cameron, Hildebrand's boyfriend of the time. "I really learned the value of an unlisted phone number!"

    On bass, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar (as well as the co-writer of one track), Cameron was also an important contributor to the Early Blues and Greens album, which showed a fuller and more serious side of Hildebrand than the Monkees' interpretations of her compositions had. Cameron had met Hildebrand while working as a session musician on Screen Gems demos, and the two were soon living together in the heavily musician-artist-populated Beechwood Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. Early Blues and Greens came about when Diane got a one-album deal for an LP of her own on Elektra, to be co-produced by David Anderle (who was producing fellow notable Elektra singer-songwriters Judy Collins and David Ackles in the same era) and Russ Miller. Cameron's friendship with Anderle, in fact, led to work for the musician as a bassist on Collins's "Chelsea Morning" single and Scott McKenzie's Stained Glass Morning album.

    "The choice of musicians for the sessions was Diane's," remembers Cameron. "I was doing demo sessions for Screen Gems writers, Diane among them, as well as other recording projects; my reputation as a session musician was on the rise; and Diane and I were a couple at the time, so it seemed logical" for him to play on the LP as well. Colin was already well acquainted with one of the other musicians, Tony McCashen (who contributed electric guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo, bass, and harmonica), as they'd been friends in San Diego before relocating to Los Angeles. In fact McCashen and another San Diego buddy, Don Dunn, were also Screen Gems staff writers.

    As for the other musicians, adds Cameron, "Tony, me, Russ [Russell White, piano and harpsichord], Mac [Malcolm Eisensohn, drums], and a young gangly lead guitarist who later became quite famous had an eclectic little band known as Mobius which played various venues in Southern California. The guitarist was Kenny Loggins. We weren't able to use Kenny on the sessions (I'm not sure why), but Diane invited the rest of us to take part in the recordings.  We were all very good friends at the time. Later on when Tony and Don got their own contract to record for Capitol Records, I offered to back them up just as a sideman so that I could continue to pursue my session man ambitions. The band, Dunn & McCashen, put out two albums, some of which I played on, and we were the opening act for Sly & the Family Stone and the Rascals at various major concerts."

    Another sideman of note on Early Morning Blues and Greens was autoharpist David Dawson from the early country-rock group Hearts & Flowers, several of whose members Cameron jammed with around this period. Organist Fred Myrow also handled the horn arrangements (and arranged and conducted the second album by David Ackles, Subway to the Country, around the same time). Myrow had been a composer-in-residence under Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic, but by the late 1960s was scoring an experimental movie for former UCLA film student-turned-rock-star Jim Morrison, Highway. Myrow would go on to discuss a creating a musical with Morrison, with Myrow doing the music and Morrison the text and lyrics, although those plans were scrapped after the Doors' singer's death in 1971. Fred subsequently scored several movies, most famously Phantasm, before dying in 1999.

    While Hildebrand wrote about half of the material on Early Morning Blues and Greens on her own, she also continued to work with songwriting partners. The title track was a reprise of the song she'd composed with Jack Keller for the Monkees, of course, and Keller was also the co-writer on another of the LP's tracks, "Come Looking for Me." Jim Horn, who'd played saxophone on some Monkees records, co-penned "Thumbin'," and Don Lottermoser got the co-credit for "And It Was Good." The album closer, "Given Time," was the only songwriting collaboration between Hildebrand and Cameron.

    "We were a couple and I think Diane wanted to involve me as much as possible in her life and work," reflects Colin. "It was the only song I ever completed with her. I've written only a handful of published songs since then, and don't regard myself as a songwriter. Truthfully, when Diane asked me if I'd like to write with her she chose a song that was probably 50% complete, and my contribution was just a few words and notes here and there. We played our two guitars in the living room of our cottage home in Beechwood Canyon one afternoon and finished the song pretty much that day. She was very generous to offer me co-writer credit. I will say this about her— she wrote from the heart and with a clarity that I don't see in many other writers to this day." Plus, Cameron adds, "Just like she did with the musicians, Diane chose the songs that she liked for the recordings. As far as I know, she had free rein in artistic choices like this when it came to the album."

    Surveying the LP as a whole, Colin muses, "I don't believe that Diane ever made a conscious attempt to be a part of any songwriter or musical movement. She was a thoroughly liberated and independent person who could write songs on assignment for projects given her, or write just for her own pleasure. I think the album was more of the personal pleasure sort. I know she admired other singer/writers like Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell, but I never saw her attempt to emulate their style or sound. The greatest possible weakness might be that the recordings were not geared to be 'commercial' or fit a particular radio format, and radio programmers probably had a difficult time deciding where it fit in (if at all). The great strength was, as I mentioned, the honesty and purity of her songs, and also of her voice and the band's performance."

    Early Morning Blues and Greens, however, did not find a wide audience, perhaps because it was neither too "underground" nor too pop. It wasn't heavily promoted by either the label or the artist, either. "Our collaboration with several friends resulted in a pleasant 'folkie' record that was probably bought mostly by family, friends, and Monkees fans," summarizes Cameron. "I don't believe much was done to promote her album. Actually, Elektra had a pretty big roster at the time—many of their artists were commercial successes and probably got the big push from the company, but there were other lesser-knowns whose records were mostly relegated to low visibility catalog and word-of-mouth promotion. Diane didn't seem to have aspirations to do concerts or clubs, at least not in the time I knew her. As time has proven, maintaining a high visibility with the public through live performances can sustain and build a music career."

    Cameron went on to tour and record with dozens of notable artists, his lengthy career including work with Burt Bacharach, Joan Baez, Cher, Jackie DeShannon, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Charlie Rich, the Righteous Brothers, Tina Turner, and many others (for more information on his past and present activities, see his website, Hildebrand did not record another LP for Elektra or anyone else, though she did have a big success with another Hildebrand-Keller composition, "Easy Come, Easy Go," which was a Top Ten hit for Bobby Sherman in 1970. "I can't honestly say for sure why there were no other albums forthcoming," observes Cameron. "Whatever she's doing now, I would expect her to be involved with the same warmth, kindness, and concern for others that I saw in the time I knew her." -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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