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Joan and Alex's sisterhood of song; With the rerelease of their forgotten '60s album, will these DelrayBeach performers get one more chance at the...

October 20, 2013

YellowBrix

Joan and Alex's sisterhood of song; With the rerelease of their forgotten '60s album, will these DelrayBeach performers get one more chance at the spotlight? ; OUR PERSONAL JOURNEYS team

The Sliwin sisters are sitting at a coffee table, just introducingthemselves, when they pop the question:

Do you want to hear us sing?

Joan looks at Alex. Alex nods. And, suddenly, a Delray Beach livingroom is transformed into a cathedral of soaring harmony, as theirperfectly pitched voices join on a childhood favorite, the McGuireSisters classic: "Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugarat suppertime. ..."

They sound joyful and sweet. Like honey.

Or Honey Ltd, as they were known for a brief time in the late1960s, when the Detroit-bred sisters were part of a girl groupquartet being groomed for stardom by cult producer Lee Hazlewood.Moving to Los Angeles, they cut records with the town's hottestmusicians, appeared on TV's top variety shows and traveled fromVegas to Vietnam, singing and shimmying in their leggy, Bob Mackieminiskirts.

But Honey Ltd. turned out to be a prophetic name. Within two years,the group disbanded after one single failed to dent the Top 40, andtheir album disappeared from sight. End of story, right?

Except that here we are 45 years later, and Honey Ltd. is back forone more buzz around the beehive.

Its long-forgotten album -- a swinging collection of psychedelicpost-Summer of Love pop, with amazingly inventive vocalarrangements and harmonies -- recently was released in the UnitedStates by an indie label specializing in Hazlewood's music.

One reviewer likened the group to a Laurel Canyon Crystals, or theMamas without the Papas. Another described Honey Ltd.'s sound as"stirring, sock-it-to-me soul." Its producer hails it as a lost'60s masterpiece.

And it's led reporters from Detroit to London to the Delray Beachhomes of Joan Sliwin Glasser and Alexandra Sliwin Collins, who viewtheir latest turn in the spotlight with a humble, but gratefulappreciation.

It's been fun talking about old times, they say, but what theyreally love to do is sing.

Track 1: Detroit rockin'

Joan and Alex were always singing, from pop ditties in their familybasement to hymns in the Catholic church choir. The properdaughters of a surgeon and interior decorator, they grew up inDetroit two blocks from Motown's "Hitsville U.S.A." headquartersand three doors down from the Franklin family.

Yes, Aretha Franklin, though Joan and Alex's mom, speaking like asurgeon's wife, would often mangle the name of the Rev. C.L.Franklin's famous singing daughter: "She'd say, 'Guess who I sawtoday? Urethra,' " said Alex with a laugh.

From the beginning, the Sliwins had a sisterly bond that extendedto singing and playing piano. One day while attending Wayne StateUniversity, the sisters were gabbing with two friends, LauraPolkinghorne and Marsha Jo Temmer, in the school cafeteria. Theyknew that each could sing. But together? The cafeteria went crazyas their voices pealed across the room.

"We just immediately had an uncanny ability to move all over theplace with our harmonies, a very strange cohesive energy,"explained Temmer in the liner notes of the new Honey Ltd. disc.

They quickly connected with music manager Punch Andrews, who namedthem the Mama Cats and put them to work singing cover songs inDetroit clubs. Backing the group was The Mushrooms, led by along- haired guitarist named Glenn Frey. Often on the bill was apopular regional singer named Bob Seger.

The sisters had no idea they were becoming part of rock 'n' rollhistory. It was so matter-of-fact that to this day they canremember little about singing background vocals on Seger's earlyclassics, "Rambin' Gamblin' Man" and "Heavy Music." They alsorecorded two singles on Andrews' Hideout label written for them bySeger: "My Boy" and "Miss You."

Joan recalled that Seger had "a presence" and was destined forsomething.

But the women weren't as sure about their path. Detroit was toofamiliar. If they were going to make it big, all signs pointed westto Southern California.

Track 2: California dreamin'

Dropping out of college, the women hit L.A. for a short time in1967 and for good in 1968. Bunking at Temmer's grandmother's house,they tanned and shopped by day, leaving plenty of time to prowl theSunset Strip at night. It was a great time to be in Los Angeles.They saw all the bands -- the Doors, Love, the Leaves -- at oneclub after another.

"You know the song 'California Dreamin'?" asked Alex. "Well, wewere."

But they didn't have the money to hang forever. So, one day theyhitchhiked to the Strip for their first audition at a companycalled LHI -- Lee Hazlewood Industries. After producing and writingNancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin" and other hitsfor Duane Eddy and Dean Martin, Lee Hazlewood had earned his ownrecord label.

Despite being a little stoned, the women were ready for theirmoment, having worked hard to develop original songs written byPolkinghorne and craft distinct harmonies to accompany them.

"By the time we walked into Lee Hazlewood's office, we were tight,"said Alex. "They signed us on the spot."

They also got managers to spread the word about the town's newsensations. Hazlewood, with his twangy voice, called them his "L'ilDarlings" but officially renamed them Honey Ltd. ("He wanted it tosound British," said Alex.)

For a while they were everywhere: Two-page spreads in musicmagazines, appearances on prime-time shows hosted by Andy Williams,Joey Bishop and Jerry Lewis. They filmed a Japanese candy barcommercial and offered back-to-school beauty tips to teen magazines("We didn't even write those!" said Joan.) They attendedpromotional parties at Hazlewood's house with the Monkees and theBee Gees ("very proper, very brotherly," recalled Alex.)

In the studio, everything was top-notch. Working with Hazlewood wasa dream, they said. "He was so laid-back, no nervousness," saidJoan.

The musicians were Phil Spector's legendary Wrecking Crew, whoplayed on all the California studio hits of the '60s. Polkinghorneand Temmer's songs, plus some covers, were expanded into swirling,psychedelic pop and soul orchestrations. Adding to that were thepowerful vocal arrangements, which were always done by the group.

"We'd sing it over and over again until it was right," said Joan."We didn't know how to do anything but our own sound."

The first single "Come Down" only reached about No. 62 on thecharts, recalled Alex. But there was little time fordisappointment. Their TV appearances had caught the eye of BobHope, who had an idea that would revolutionize their lives.

Track 3: Vietnam to Vegas

First, Hope invited Honey Ltd. to appear at a USO benefit inSouthern California. When he stepped on stage with them, heannounced: "These girls don't know it yet, but they are going withus to Vietnam." Hope might not have known they'd recorded ananti- war song, Polkinghorne's "The Warrior," but he included themon his '68 Christmas tour of Korea, Japan and Vietnam withAnn-Margret and Dean Martin's Golddiggers.

"The Honey Ltd.," as Hope called them, would perform for troopsnumbering 25,000 or more. Go on YouTube and watch the rapturousreception that four beautiful women in Mackie miniskirts can getfrom a bunch of lonely, homesick soldiers.

"You felt like you were The Beatles," said Alex.

They came home more anti-war, but supportive of troops, especiallythe wounded ones they visited in hospitals. And to this day, thosesoldiers haven't forgotten. Two years ago, the Vietnam Veterans ofAmerica gave Honey Ltd. a medal for its contributions to troopmorale.

"We bump into people who were there and they say how much it meantto them," said Joan, her eyes welling with tears. "I get choked up.It was an honor to go, but it meant more to them than we could haveimagined."

They still recall the surreal feeling of choppering around a warzone with Hope, who treated them like a kindly uncle, but perhapsthe strangest encounter was on a battleship off the coast. A topofficer -- "a guy with all these ribbons," remembered Joan -- walked up to them and said "Maybe you know my son."

"It was Jim Morrison's dad," said Joan.

Returning home, they kept recording and an album was planned. ButHazlewood wasn't having any success as a label chief. When itbecame clear that revenue was needed, their managers booked HoneyLtd. into Caesar's Palace. Soon, they were opening for Eddie Fisherand performing corny medleys with top hats and collapsible canes.

In 1969, they appeared on Ed Sullivan's popular Sunday night TVshow. The group had just recorded an inventive cover of the LauraNyro song, "Eli's Coming." They wanted to introduce it to America.Instead, their managers pressured them to do their Vegas shtick.

"It wasn't our thing," Joan remembered. "We wanted to do the newmusic, the scene that was happening."

Soon after, Three Dog Night released its hit version of "Eli'sComing." To this day, Joan and Alex wonder if some backroom dealwasn't cut to keep their song from breaking out.

Alex didn't even appear on the Sullivan show (she was replaced by ablonde Golddigger.) She had met a promising young musician namedJohn David Souther in Los Angeles, and decided to get married andquit the group. The rest saw little future in it, too.

After all the buildup, Hazlewood and Co. easily let them out oftheir contract and Honey Ltd. was no more. Or so it seemed.

Track 4: Country rockin'

Joan, Polkinghorne and Temmer quickly refashioned themselves asEve, and made another album for Hazlewood's label in 1970, "Take Itand Smile." Despite a pleasing, rootsy sound, the album didn'tyield any hits, either. One of the songs did make it onto thesoundtrack of the cult car chase film, "Vanishing Point." ("I stillget a $2 check for that," said Joan with a laugh.)

During this time, the sisters also played a small role in theformation of music's next big thing -- the Eagles. Frey was Joan'sboyfriend ("I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one," Joan says oftheir fluid relationship), and had followed her from Detroit toL.A., staying at her apartment and hoping to break into the WestCoast recording scene.

Naturally, Joan's boyfriend was introduced to Alex's husband, andSouther and Frey formed a band called Longbranch Pennywhistle. Theyreleased one album, with Joan's inside cover drawings and adedication to both sisters as their inspiration.

After that album didn't take off, Frey soon created the Eagles withDon Henley, and Souther would be like an ex-facto member of thegroup, co-writing several of their hits, from "Best of My Love" to"New Kid In Town." Would it have happened without the Sliwinsisters? Probably, but their part has been overlooked in historiesof the band.

The '70s and '80s saw the sisters going where the work was, andperforming everywhere from L.A. to Nashville. Alex can rememberbumping into George Harrison at recording studios. Joan worked withLoretta Lynn and made it to the Top 10 in 1982, when she sang onSeger's hit single "Shame on the Moon."

Alex got divorced from Souther, dabbled in songwriting and musicaltheater, married again and had a daughter, Molly, who is grown now.Joan wed -- ironically enough -- a former Hazlewood label musician,Michael Glasser.

The sisters never stopped singing and keeping in close touch withother members of Honey Ltd. Polkinghorne (now known as LauraCreamer) has been performing with Seger for years, while Temmersang and danced with Tina Turner on tour.

In 2004, after several years out of the business and living in NewYork, Joan and her husband decided to move to Delray Beach aftervisiting relatives here. Alex followed a couple of years later on apromise from Joan: "If you move here, we can sing!"

Today, they still live doors down from each other in the sameRainberry Bay community. Joan -- dark-haired and more talkative - -is retired, and helping her husband work on a film about dangerouschemicals on military bases. Alex -- lighter-haired, and a bitquieter -- still works part-time for the administration of a BocaRaton restaurant.

They keep in shape swimming daily in the community pool, and loveshopping and dining excursions on Atlantic Avenue. Unlike othersisters, they rarely argue.

"We've always gotten along well," said Alex. "We were kind ofreared as twins ... one grade apart."

Track 5: Like Honey

Maybe they don't need to be doing this at their age, which theycharmingly decline to provide ("Everybody can do the math," saidAlex), but performing is what they know. It's what they've alwaysdone.

So about two nights a week, Alex and Joan slip into their stylish,matching dresses and sing to backing tracks of the '50s and '60s.And they're still like honey. Like Honey, in fact, is the name oftheir musical duo, and they perform all over South Florida fromrestaurants to private parties to condo auditoriums. Theyespecially love performing for veterans, even just singing theNational Anthem at a community event.

On a recent Saturday evening, they are working a classic car showin Abacoa, belting out familiar Motown and girl group hits. Atfirst, customers are paying more attention to Frank Sinatra's limo,and the vintage Thunderbirds and Packards.

But these women are pros. Their voices project. And as Alex sings asultry, soulful version of ex-neighbor Aretha's "You Make Feel LikeA Natural Woman," people slowly drift over to the amphitheater.They sit and listen. Maybe there is only an audience of 25, butthey've made some new fans.

Jean Lopane, president of PBC Classic Promotions, which puts on carshows every month, has hired the sisters for six years. "I justlove their energy, their professionalism and I don't know anybodywho doesn't like the way they sing," she said.

During a break, Joan and Alex talk about getting an agent and doingmore condo theaters. They realize that business isn't theirstrength. They don't sell Honey Ltd. albums at gigs or sing songsfrom it because they don't have the proper musical tracks. Joansaid audiences want to hear familiar oldies, anyway.

But it might be the right time to promote their past.

Track 6: A song of sisterhood

For a group with a short shelf life, Honey Ltd. has long been onthe cult radar of music enthusiasts. Somebody purchased one of theoriginal Honey Ltd. albums, which even the sisters don't own, oneBay a few years ago for $1,975.

And in July 2012, Joan and Alex heard that a respected, boutiquelabel in Seattle, Light In The Attic records, was planning to bringthem back into the spotlight after 45 years.

Hunter Lea co-produced this summer's reissue of "Honey Ltd.: TheComplete LHI Recordings" as part of the label's ongoing release ofHazlewood productions. He extensively searched Hazlewood's archivesto find all 13 tracks (two without vocals) and wished he could havefound more.

"When you look at lost recordings, they aren't always as good asyou hoped. They're lost for a reason," said Lea. But not this time."You take amazing songs and unique vocal talents and give them anunlimited budget and a great producer and this is the result. Theymade a magic record."

Nonetheless, the questions linger: Why didn't it sell? Why didn'tthey make it big?

Lea blamed short-sighted management for pushing them into Vegasshtick instead of nurturing their songwriting. And he saidHazlewood was overextended as a producer, singer and record labelmanager, which doomed the group to not getting the attention itdeserved.

"I'm just glad they made the album. It captures a moment in time."

Joan and Alex are thrilled to have their music back in circulation.(And there may be more: Honey Ltd. songs are part of a Hazlewoodbox set coming out near the holidays. And Lea thinks the Eve albumwill be reissued by Light In The Attic, as well.)

"It feels great and so surprising," said Alex.

Added Joan: "It's heartwarming to think somebody still relishessomething we did so long ago, during a wonderful time in ourlives."

More important than the music is the friendship between the groupmembers. Not a week goes by when they don't talk to each other.They have reunions all over the country to catch up.

"We're all sisters in the spiritual sense," said Alex.

You might think that going from performing for large audiences andrecording with music superstars, to working for a handful of peopleat a car show might be a disappointment. But Joan and Alex don'tact regretful.

Friendship. Music. Sisterhood. Together, it's formed a full life.

"If you love doing something and you keep doing it life revealsitself to you and perfects itself," said Joan in a philosophicalmoment. "The joy is in the doing."

Especially if you're doing it with your sister.

"When I'm not singing with Joan," said Alex, "I feel as though I'mmissing an appendage."

laydlette@pbpost.com Twitter: @LarryAydlette

Larry Aydlette has been a reporter and editor at the Palm BeachPost since 1985. He began covering county, city and stategovernment, became an assistant news editor, then EntertainmentEditor, Senior Editor for Features and Entertainment and is nowCulture Editor. He has been a music and art critic for The Post,and his arts reporting has won state and national feature- writingawards.

HAVE A JOURNEY TO SHARE?

E-mail us at: personaljourneys@pbpost.com

Gary Coronado is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist in photography.In 1996, he took his first photography course at a communitycollege. Later, he began freelancing for the Orange County Registerin California and relocated to South Florida in 2001. He has beenon the photography staff of the Palm Beach Post since August 2003.

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