By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
"I didn't know what I was doing," he says. "I had all the parts in the right key, but the stresses were all wrong. They couldn't make heads or tails of it." But the orchestra played it every way it could, none of which worked, and Geordie was left with a body of tape recordings that was less than the sum total of snippets. Serendipitously, producers of the popular television show Playhouse 90 heard of the tapes and, to avoid dealing with the musician's union, bought passages to use as cue music on the air. Before long Geordie was providing background music for shows ranging from Leave It to Beaver to My Little Margie and Lassie.
After his father's death, Geordie bought the family mansion in Austin, Minnesota, and turned it into a hotel that catered to management seminars. He lost that when all his assets were frozen in the divorce proceedings that ended his second marriage. He went, penniless, to Portland, Oregon, to start over, scored a movie, did radio spots, one of which put the call letters of a local station to the tune and rhythm of "shave and a haircut." It was taken off the air, because every time it played, drivers in cars all over town would use their horns to sound the answer, "two bits." And he started performing as a lounge singer in a Portland nightclub in exchange for a percentage of the evening's take. In the early 1960s, Geordie took his act to New York, where he spent a year singing show tunes and standards at a club called the Most. He landed a recording contract with RCA, but bought it back after he heard Della Reese perform two of the songs he intended to play in a benefit concert they appeared in together. "Her interpretations were so incredible that I decided I just wasn't good enough."
He went back to Los Angeles, tried film distribution, helped put together the band Brasil 66, featuring Sergio Mendes. He thought of building himself a recording studio, but no bank would lend him the money for a private studio, so in 1968, he took out a commercial loan with the intention of calling it a business. That was the beginning of the Village Recorder. Though he had planned it intricately, Geordie never got a chance to use it himself; the first studio was always booked, so he built a second room. Fleetwood Mac asked if it could book a year's worth of time, so he built another. He pioneered such technology as 24-track recording and Dolby Sound, and found himself working 16-hour days, hosting clients that included Big Brother and the Holding Company (best known for its lead singer, Janis Joplin), Sly Stone, Joni Mitchell, the Allman Brothers, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, the Pointer Sisters, Supertramp, Robbie Robertson and Steely Dan.
He bought an oversize log cabin in Pacific Palisades, just north of Santa Monica. Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys had lived there before Geordie, and for a time, Wilson had allowed Charles Manson and his followers to live in a tree house on the grounds. After Manson was imprisoned, Geordie received a "strange and personal" letter from Manson asking if the tree house was still there and if peacocks still lived in the yard. Because Geordie had been friends with Jay Sebring, one of Manson's victims, it sent a double chill up his back, and although he tried several times to write a response, he never sent one.
Today, he estimates his net worth at $20 million, a figure his accountant corroborates. "That may be optimistic," Geordie says. The Village Recorder earns about $2 million per year. He gets $4 million from the trust fund. When their mother died in 1991, the brothers discovered that she was worth $40 million, and Geordie bought the McCune and Wrigley mansions out of his share, which was more than $13 million. He owns real estate here and in California and Minnesota.
He postulates on what it would take to wipe him out. "If the Hormel Company were to fold--which is hard to imagine--and my notes were called," he offers as an opener. "If interest rates went up to 25 percent. . . . If we got into a real depression and real estate went down to nothing." He thinks a moment and sighs. "Life would be much less complicated."
@body:If Geordie's finances have been a roller-coaster ride, the ride has been less frightening than the tunnel of love. He has had tumultuous affairs with Rita Moreno, 60s sitcom actress Annie Farge and a best-selling poet who dedicated her books to him (and illustrated them with nude photographs of herself). He has been married four times, though 20 years passed between his third and fourth marriages. "I put myself at considerable risk in marrying this time," he confides, "because after my last divorce, I asked several people to kill me if I ever married again."
As he had with Leslie Caron, he married his second wife, Mary Lou, John and Gina's mother, on a second date in Las Vegas. Geordie had forgotten to buy a ring, so Sammy Davis Jr., who was serving as a witness to the marriage, slipped one off his finger for them to use. That marriage, like his first, lasted less than five years.