John & Harry at the Troubadour: The Smothers Brothers’ perspective

by Bill DeYoung

Everyone knows about the night in spring 1974 when John Lennon and Harry Nilsson, fueled by Brandy Alexanders and the ennui of lazy life in Los Angeles, got tossed out of the Troubadour nightclub for heckling the Smothers Brothers. During a phone interview, I asked Dick Smothers what he remembered about that infamous evening.

"It was our return to the Troubadour after being fired from television. It was just packed." To get the foundation, Tommy did a single (act) at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. — we hadn’t worked for a while, and he wanted to get his chops and he’d never done a single. He had all the political guys, and Harry Nilsson happened to see it. Tom thought he had two one-hour shows, but what he had was two 20-minute shows, and so he was laughing. People were talking to him, and he would relate back and forth.

So Harry thought Tommy liked to be heckled, and wanted audience participation. Harry and John weren’t working on anything at the time. At the Troubadour, they’re ripped, and Harry has told John that Tommy likes to be yelled at up there, it’ll really help the show. They were warming up on our opening act - it was a girl folksinger - and John was saying four-letter words, drunken, rude stuff. And the crowd was really getting pissed off with him.

"They started doing this during our show. And finally, our audience picked them up and threw ‘em out. Knocked his glasses off. And he had an altercation in the parking lot - he didn’t know it was a woman because he couldn’t see anything."

And Tommy never was mad at them. He said ‘'I understand creative people. They’re not doing stuff, they’re kind of at loose ends.’' Then he found out Harry was aiding and abetting him, trying to help Tom, in some misguided way. But that’s basically it.

"It was unfolding as it happened. I knew they were there. All I know is that we wanted so much to be a hit, and that really took the whole wind out of the show. But they didn’t do it mean-spirited."

"That’s why I don’t drink or do drugs. I used to! But now I don’t heckle anybody."

More on the way: Dick and Tom Smothers will discuss the incident in “WHO IS HARRY NILSSON (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?),” writer/director John Scheinfeld’s upcoming documentary film.

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