Monday, May 27, 2013

Ray Floyd's All-Girl Topless Rock Band

Raymond Floyd is the honoree at The Memorial this week. He's a Hall of Famer. He's one of the greats, the winner of three different majors with four major titles total.

In the latter half of his playing days, and up to the current day, Floyd's reputation is for steely-eyed dedication and concentration, a fierce front-runner, an intimidator, a clutch performer on the course, a straight-shooter on the straight-and-narrow off the course.

But in the first half of his career? He was a wild party animal whose nickname was "Pretty Boy," a hard drinker, a hard gambler, the co-owner of a go-go club in San Francisco.

And, according to many sources, the "manager" of an all-girl rock band that performed topless, called the Ladybirds. I bet Jack Nicklaus won't be bringing that up when he honors Floyd at The Memorial!

It was his wife, Maria, who finally tamed Floyd's wild ways and helped him turn his wasted 1960s into a great career in the 1970s and 1980s. Maria passed away about a year ago, and in December the Golf Channel's Randall Mell wrote a nice piece about their relationship that included this:

It was a remarkable whirlwind romance that staggered Ray's friends on Tour because Ray had built such a reputation as a playboy. Floyd owned a piece of a bar in San Francisco called Coke's. He sometimes played guitar on stage and was an investor in the Ladybirds, a topless band. He was probably more like Walter Hagen than Hagen actually was, but Floyd’s affinity for the nightlife didn’t serve his game well.

"I was in awe of being in the limelight in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago," Floyd said. “I had a heck of a time as a young bachelor, but I went through periods where I didn't apply myself.”

But knowledge of Floyd's part-ownership of Coke's club in 'Frisco and his role with the topless Ladybirds goes back much farther. It was well-known when he was on tour in the '60s, although the general golfing public might not have been aware. In a 1980 book, Peter Alliss wrote about Floyd's early days:

Golf came a poor second to nightlife. In the 1960s Floyd was quoted as saying that the color of his eyes was 'usually pretty red' and 'if there's anything better than women I don't know what it is.' Three or four in the morning was his bedtime ... Ray also had an unusual business on the side: he managed 'The Ladybirds,' who claimed to be the first topless band.

In 1998, Sports Illustrated ran an article about golfers carousing in San Francisco that included a stripper's recollection of Floyd:

Ask Floyd if it's hard to have a good time in San Francisco. Back in the late '60s and early '70s, when he was single, Floyd was a regular along the Broadway strip. He was part owner of a bar, Coke's, an investor in a topless girls band and one of Carol Doda's many admirers.

Doda, who is memorialized in Tom Wolfe's book The Pump House Gang because she was one of the first topless dancers to enlarge her breasts with silicone, remembers the scene well. 'I just knew him as Raymond Floyd,' she says. 'What did I know about golf? I never went out with him, if that's the next question. He was a bachelor having a great time.'

Doda runs a lingerie boutique on Union Street these days and sings in her band, Carol Doda and her Lucky Stiffs. From 1968 to '87, though, when she had a show at the Condor Club (it's a sports bar now), she was the top act on Broadway. To start the show, a piano, with Doda aboard dancing topless, would be slowly lowered from the ceiling. 'I did eight or nine shows a night,' Doda says. 'I felt like an elevator operator, I was going up and down so much. Raymond and the guys [she recalls Miller Barber and Bob Rosburg, among others] would come in, watch the show and then hang out and talk to me at the bar. That could go on for hours.'

After hours, there was golf. Doda says that her former manager Voss Boreta and the Tour pros would step out of the Condor Club and onto the toughest dogleg in San Francisco. 'They'd get up in the middle of Broadway at three or four in the morning and hit balls to Columbus Avenue,' she says.

The SI piece calls Floyd an "investor" in the topless girls band, not the manager of the Ladybirds, and I think that's the better description. It's highly doubtful Floyd was involved in the day-to-day management of the band, more likely that he simply put up some cash to help get them on the road and get them publicity. (He also booked them into his own Coke's club.)

Once the Ladybirds hit the road, however, generating publicity wasn't difficult. In the 1960s, women performing topless (regardless of what it was they were performing) was sure to generate controversy.

A newspaper article from Feb. 24, 1968, in the Windsor Star related the Ladybirds' visit to Toronto.

TORONTO - "It's fun," said Barbara Branch as the Ladybirds, billed as the world's first all-girl topless band, concluded a precedent-setting, two-week engagement in a Toronto nightclub.

"It's makes you feel so ... free," says Marcelle Mitchell.

It was a "a great, daredevil idea," says Robin Sherwood.

And Debbie Dayan, a girl in love, said: "When you're in love the whole world is topless."

That's how four bare-breasted musicians summed up their experiences.

When you're in love the whole world is topless. Ahhh, the '60s ...

Robin (the guitarist) explained the Ladybirds members were working as showgirls in San Francisco when their manager (no name given) came up with the topless gimmick. Marcelle (who played bass) told the newspaper she used to work for a foundation garment firm "before I found out how fantastic it is to play guitar bare-chested."

Another article in the Windsor paper explained that the band did a special preview for an inspector with the Toronto police in an attempt to quell any trouble with the morality squad. The inspector needed a special preview? I bet he did, I bet he did.

Things went fine in Toronto in 1968, but not everywhere. Booked at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas in 1967, the Ladybirds were thrown offstage by the head of the Las Vegas Musicians Union. The union boss declared the topless rockers indecent, an affront to the reputations of musicians, and declared the name of the band an insult to the President of the United States and the First Lady, Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson.

A 1968 article in the Los Angeles Times says the Ladybirds were ordered offstage in Mexico City and might sue in an attempt to get the wages they were promised.

One of the later dates at which the Ladybirds show up in newspaper archives is June 22, 1970. An ad that day in the Toledo Blade advertises a show by the Ladybirds. "They're entertainment plus they're terrific" the ad declares.

Perhaps it's just coincidence that Ray Floyd met his future wife Maria (whom he married in 1973) in the early '70s, which appears to be around the same time the Ladybirds disappeared.

The Ladybirds did cut a few records in their time together, and they appeared in a B-movie (or maybe it was a C-movie) in the late '60s. And yes, if you really want to see a photo of them topless, you can find a handful of publicity pics if you do a web search. Too bad they can't reunite and perform at Floyd's ceremony at The Memorial. Although I seriously doubt anyone would want the Ladybirds to go topless these days ...

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