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Deane Hagen

ON MAY 6 I learned my lifelong pal, Deane Hagen, had died from a massive stroke. Deane was a complete musician. He not only was a superb drummer but also could compose, arrange, and orchestrate. He was the most creative and insanely funny person I’ve ever known. He was much more than a close friend.

If you were to use four (or is it six?) words to describe Deane’s life they would be “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll” but those words would never tell you about Deane himself. For instance they omit the childlike innocence he never lost, his emotional vulnerability, his inability ever to be mean to anyone, his inherent sense of loyalty. Deane was an uncomplicated human being whose essence always remained about 16 years old. He spoke baby talk to children; talked like a duck to ducks; was like a puppy around dogs. Few were less organized and reliable or more good hearted. Deane brimmed with passion and it virtually exploded from him when he played drums, something he did as well as anyone in the world.

For most of my life we were almost like brothers.

Deane’s father, Earle Hagen, was a famous and very successful television composer. (Earle composed the 1939 hit, Harlem Nocturne, as a trombone exercise for himself when he was with Tommy Dorsey’s big band but Ray Noble ultimately released the first recording. Decades later, in the 1970s, it became the theme for the Mike Hammer television series. From the 1950s through the 1980s Earle Hagen composed music for dozens of major network shows.)

Deane began playing drums at about the age of four. In kindergarten my sister used to come home with stories about a funny kid in her class. His name was Deane. Some girls called him Deanie the Weenie. You can imagine how terribly impressive that was to me, a mature second grader. Over the next couple of years she talked about various of Deane’s classroom antics.

When Deane and my sister finished the fourth grade she told me how he had brought his drums on the last day of school and astounded the entire class, including the teacher (Clarence Barrows), with his talent.

Once or twice, when we were in junior high school, Deane stopped by our house to visit my sister. I knew who he was but he was seventeen months younger than I. In junior high school seventeen months was like seventeen years.

By the time I was in high school Deane had moved to a sprawling house around the corner. The famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, had designed it. In the late 1960s Deane’s parents sold the house to the Jackson family whose most famous children were Michael and Janet.

Deane and I became friendly in high school and, by the time I graduated, we had become good friends. For decades he was one of my three closest friends, in some ways the most influential and always the most entertaining.

Deane always knew he would play drums professionally and dealt with school almost as an annoying distraction. I wanted to be a clarinetist but thought I should become a doctor. (I ultimately became a musician and publisher.) Because of our mutual interest in music, Deane invited me in the summer of 1965 to go with his father and him to the Glen Glenn soundstage at Desilu Studios to hear some of America’s best musicians record Earle’s compositions. The three of us crammed into Earle’s Ferrari and drove to Hollywood for an Andy Griffith Show session. Deane introduced me to a few players including Gene Estes (drums) and Lyle Ritz (bass). Much later, Lyle and Gene were part of a jazz quintet I led and both became friends.

In the late ’60s I went with Deane and Earle to an I Spy session and met Gene and Lyle again along with Ross Tompkins (piano) and Pete and Conte Candoli (trumpets). Earle drove us in a gold Rolls Royce. It rattled.

Deane and I spent a lot of time together over the summer of 1965, after I graduated from high school, and every summer thereafter. One afternoon in late July 1965 I walked over to his house and heard him playing jazz drums. I called out. No answer. So I went into the house and found Deane at the drums, wearing only swimming trunks and a pair of headphones. He was accompanying a Count Basie record; I saw the jacket on the floor.

Sometimes at night, before I fell asleep, I would lie in bed and listen to an imaginary jazz band. I would start with a trumpet playing the melody, then add a clarinet, then a trombone, then a piano, bass, and drum until, in my mind, I could hear the whole band playing. One day I told Deane about it. He looked at me for a moment and laughed. “I always knew it, Man,” he said, “You’re a musician!”

I’d never thought of myself as a musician but Deane and his father did. That might be one reason why, after they moved to Calabasas, Earle would invite us downstairs to his big music room and play cues from shows he was working on. Deane and Earle always commented on how well various musicians in the band played their parts. They had tremendous respect for good musicians.

The music room’s left-hand wall had an old upright piano with chipped light brown paint. It may have looked a little the worse for wear but it sounded good. An Ampex studio tape deck sat just to the right of the piano. Around 1972 we found a new keyboard instrument against the right-hand wall. Deane played a few notes on it, flipped a few switches, and played them again. The sounds were almost bizarre.

“Is this thing cool or what?” asked Deane. “It’s a Moog synthesizer.”

About that time Earle walked in, sat down, and took a draw on his pipe. He said, “Boys, that instrument is the future of music. In a few years everything will be electronic.” As usual he was right.

In the mid 1970s Deane had earned enough money as a drummer to move from his parents’ house in Calabasas to a standalone rental home in Tarzana, on a small lot abutting the Ventura Freeway, about half a mile east of Reseda Boulevard. It was rather insubstantial and, uh, rustic—a board shack with palm fronds sheltering the front porch. The driveway was dirt. Weeds and a few oaks and pepper trees surrounded it. Deane called the place Casa de Bebop and lived there with Max, the emotionally challenged Irish Setter who might bite, should the mood strike. Now and then Max drank beer.

Max shared the bed with Deane and any number of wild twenty year old women although Laura ultimately spent much more time there than the rest. Laura was Deane’s first long term girlfriend and you could always tell when she had visited; the place was relatively neat and clean. The rest of the time it looked as though the stove and clothes dryer had exploded simultaneously. I always assumed Deane was responsible for the beer cans and sheet music littering the floor and, of course, the drums and cases and random chrome plated hardware.

The main room was a combination living room and kitchen with an ugly, stained, burnt orange shag carpet. The front door was adjacent to the left wall and, ten feet to the right, in the corner, was Deane’s upright piano. A four track Teac tape deck sat to its left and a combination dinner table and desk was in the middle of the room. Posters and photos covered the laminated wood walls and many were publicity shots of Deane with various of his rock bands.

Deane never made it as a band leader but, throughout the ’70s, he toured with many big name acts, worked on several movies including A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and played drums on a number of his father’s TV recording sessions. Earle also assigned him some arranging and orchestration jobs. Deane always waited until the last minute to start them, then worked all night and morning before the session, and slept for the next 24 hours with the telephone off the hook.

One reason for his lack of discipline was alcohol and drugs. Deane had started drinking beer and doing other drugs in high school. I had seen the occasional beer but knew nothing about the drugs. My sister told me about them but I thought she must be wrong. She said he deliberately hid them from me.

By the late ’70s I realized Deane drank a lot of beer and sometimes hard liquor but still knew nothing about the cocaine and pills. On the eve of a breakup one of his girlfriends told me he took drugs but I thought she was exaggerating out of spite.

In the early ’80s Deane rented a house in Canoga Park and, a few years later, another in Chatsworth. That is when I noticed some changes in his behavior. His humor and overall demeanor were more crude and he was less reliable than ever. Empty beer cans and bottles were everywhere and a couple of times I saw him take a “snort” of cocaine. But he still toured with big name entertainers and played drums or wrote music for his father’s television shows. I had no idea of the extent of his addictions even though I visited him almost every week.

In the late 1980s his parents sold the house in Calabasas and moved to Palm Springs. Deane’s brother, Jim, went with them. A year or so later Deane moved there, too. His studio work had ended with his father’s retirement and the touring gigs had slowed to near nothing.

In the summer of 1989 Deane phoned to ask whether I could work a Fourth of July jazz gig at a park in Palm Springs. He would be playing drums. And did I know a good piano player? Of course I did: Dick Cary. So on July 4, 1989 Dick and a girlfriend and I made the long drive to Palm Springs and arrived at Deane’s fancy new house.

The downbeat was at 5 o’clock and we had arrived around 2:30. A couple of other musicians wandered in and we all waited around, munching on chips and drinking beer and soda. Deane consumed a lot of beer and disappeared into the kitchen a few times. His humor and behavior became increasingly coarse and I realized he must be drinking something more potent than beer in the kitchen. His live-in girlfriend and a former nurse, Gail, kept both Deane and the situation under control. For the first time I realized Deane was in trouble and felt a lot of emotions I still am unable to describe.

After that gig Deane remained out of touch for at least a year. Then, one weekend afternoon, he and Gail surprised me by showing up at my house and they stayed for about half an hour. Something was different. He was still Deane and still funny but somehow he seemed a little distant and slightly manic. And he never mentioned music. That was really out of character. It was the second to the last time I saw him. I phoned a few times. Once he told me he had just returned from a road trip with Marvin Gaye; a few weeks later the Los Angeles Times reported Marvin Gaye was dead.

Another time Deane was about to go on tour with Smokey Robinson. Deane said at the audition Smokey stopped the band and told his manager, “Hire that man right now. I never want to work with any other drummer and don’t book me anywhere unless that guy is on the gig!” Somehow Deane lost that gig and never did another tour. A mutual longtime friend, John Turner, told me the reason was that Deane had been drunk and slept through a morning rehearsal.

Then he withdrew. I phoned but Deane always said he was “busy” and told me he was “managing his dad’s business affairs and helping his brother with a pool cleaning business”. Deane had as much business sense as a chicken; the only thing he could do for his father was lose money.

I phoned again in 1992 and at least a couple of other times. He never called back.

Seventeen years passed.

In the early spring of 2009 I received a message on MySpace. A woman named Sylvia asked me to contact her about Deane. As it turned out she was Deane’s final girlfriend and the mother of a daughter I never knew they had. She explained Deane wanted to talk to me and sent me his phone number. Odd, but what else should I expect from Deane? I called.

My old friend answered the phone. He was enthusiastic and had much to tell me. It was wonderful to hear his voice again. The humor was still there but with a serious undertone. The conversation lasted about 30 minutes.

Deane said he lived in a duplex in Palm Desert and attended half a dozen Alcoholic Anonymous meetings each day. Over the past fifteen years he had been to the Betty Ford Clinic three times to try to control his drinking, with no success.

He told me a frightening story about being drunk in Nashville one night, wandering from his hotel to a woman’s home where he became dangerously drunk, getting lost after leaving, eventually managing to find his hotel, and barely pulling himself together enough by late morning to get through a recording session for one of his father’s TV shows (probably Dukes of Hazzard).

The worst story was about the turning point in his life in 2008. Sometime along the line he had added crack cocaine to his addictions. One morning he met a dealer in Palm Springs to buy drugs but the police had them under surveillance. The dealer turned to leave and the police ran toward them to make the bust. Deane tried to swallow a bag of crack but a cop grabbed him, reached into Deane’s mouth for the evidence, and knocked out a lot of loose teeth. Crack cocaine destroys teeth.

They arrested Deane on drug charges and, within a day or two, he suffered a heart attack and stroke almost simultaneously. Recovery took months. He realized he had better clean up his life, reestablish contact with his daughter and her mother (whose lawyer had issued a restraining order preventing Deane from approaching them), and reconnect with his old friends.

He wanted me to visit him in Palm Desert. I made the 120 mile trip the following weekend.

Deane’s duplex was in a neat middle class neighborhood. I arrived around 3 p.m. and rang the doorbell. No answer. I walked around the back and knocked. No response. I was afraid he might have forgotten my visit and had gone somewhere so I called his cell phone. No answer. I tried again five minutes later and a groggy voice answered. A couple of minutes later the door opened and Deane squinted at me. He wore only underwear and a rumpled T-shirt.

“Sorry, Man,” he said. “I was asleep.” Then he grinned and gave me a big hug. “Russ! I can’t believe you’re here! This is great. Man, this is just great!” Deane was missing more than half of his upper and lower front teeth. His hair was thinning and much of what remained was white. He was lean, as always, but a little stooped. Then he lit a cigarette. Deane occasionally had smoked a pipe but never cigarettes. He looked about 75 years old.

I asked about the cigarettes. He said he started smoking them when he took crack. He knew they are unhealthy but he’d given up drinking and drugs and he was damned if he was going to quit smoking, too. He also told me the stroke had affected his drumming speed but it was coming back and he rehearsed a couple of days a week and performed with a band from AA. He expected some false teeth in a few days.

Deane said he had millions of dollars between the late ’90s and about 2003; at one point he claimed to have owned three homes, two in the San Fernando Valley and one in Palm Springs. One in the valley supposedly was an estate. He said he lost all three and the rest of his fortune because he squandered everything on drugs.

But back to that final visit:

Between about 1969 and 1984 we used to write and record outlandish scripts for our own amusement. I had saved every handwritten page and we spent the entire afternoon reading them out loud. Deane still remembered about half of the punch lines. Among the “shows” were This Is Your Life: Irving the Dwarf (actually about a young man whose size varied depending on the joke), The Adventures of Wimpy Doodle, and The Wild World of Sports (covering the final day of a World Series where both pitchers threw a perfect game; a chess match; and the World Freestyle Skiing Championships where a mostly disabled Jean-Claude Wazoo performed death defying moves down the Matterhorn with his eyes, lips, and nostrils).

Around five o’clock somebody knocked on the door. It was Deane’s AA sponsor, Rick. He lived in the adjoining unit and watched over Deane like a hawk. His reward for coming over was to suffer through the last couple of script readings. The first was an inane medical game show, Suture Self, and the second, from a couple of years later, the misadventures of Izzy Friedman, Frontier Accountant. Well, maybe Rick’s suffering was minimal because the three of us laughed ourselves hoarse.

Then Deane finally put on some clothes and we went to dinner at a Denny’s restaurant a few blocks away. Afterwards it was time for my long drive home. Deane hugged me again and thanked me again for visiting. I watched him in the rear view mirror as I drove away. He simply stood there until we no longer could see each other. I almost wept.

Deane phoned on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2010. The calls were very short. He evaded all of my questions except one: He still had no replacement teeth. After that all my attempts to contact him failed.

But none of that really tells you enough about one of the world’s most unique, talented, and entertaining human beings. Maybe the following stories, from our wild and misspent youth, will help:

Late one night we went to dinner at Milano’s Italian restaurant in Reseda, a few blocks from Casa de Bebop. A two or three year old boy and his parents were two tables away, in the middle of the room, sitting ducks for Deane. He caught the boy’s eye and made a face. The kid smiled. Deane did it again and the kid laughed. The parents had no idea what was going on; Deane was behind them. Deane became increasingly animated and so did the kid’s reactions. The parents were annoyed and ordered their son to behave. Finally Deane delivered the coup de grace (some kind of bizarre face and gesture) and the kid screamed with delight. His parents smacked him and his mother dragged her crying son out the door while his humiliated father paid the bill. Deane laughed himself silly.

One afternoon we performed for a wedding party at the Odyssey restaurant high above Granada Hills. The bride and groom had asked for a trio so I hired a pretty good pianist and Deane. Deane was half drunk. That day Deane tended to rush a little (he increased the tempo as the tune progressed) but the point of the anecdote has nothing to do with music.

It has to do with how Deane found both the bride and one of her bridesmaids attractive. During the first break he hit on the bride. She was flattered but unreceptive. So, on the second break, Deane went after the bridesmaid. As I recall she may have given him her phone number, just as had hundreds of others over the years. Now you know why his kindergarten nickname, Deanie the Weenie, was so prophetic.

Another time, a little after 11:30 on a weeknight in the middle of summer, I heard the crazy sound of the Bridge On The River Kwai horn on Deane’s car, Gmxmp. (Yes, that was what he named it. You pronounce it “Guh-MOX-uh-mip”.) Then the doorbell rang. My parents had been asleep but my father woke up, trudged down the hall, looked out the front window, opened the door, walked back down the hall, opened my bedroom door, and said, “It’s Deane. Tell him not to come over so late anymore.”

Anyway, Deane was hungry and suggested we drive around the corner to Saul’s Deli. An older couple sat near the far wall of the room. They soon left. A young couple with a four year old son sat in the middle of the row of booths closest to the entrance, on the interior side of a frosted glass partition. Unfortunately for them the hostess sat us on the opposite side of that partition and Deane was in a very good mood.

That’s right, once again it was Deane versus a very young child and his parents. The incident began with Deane manically telling me funny stories, making a variety of bizarre noises, and playing with the mustard. He and I chortled, laughed, and guffawed until the little boy started to giggle. Deane quickly peeked over the partition. The kid picked up on it and smiled but his parents were oblivious. So, when the parents looked away, Deane popped up again, made a ridiculous face, and dropped out of sight. The kid squealed and his parents scolded him.

Deane then pushed his face into a contorted version of a Picasso portrait from the cubism period and bounced above the partition again. The kid shrieked and the parents urgently shushed him. They still had no idea why he was “misbehaving”.

The next flurry would be the pièce de resistance.

The waitress brought some dill pickle halves and Deane jammed one in front of his teeth, furrowed his brow, crossed his eyes, and “smiled” at me. It looked as though he had putrid green, warty gums. I laughed so hard I fell off my chair and chipped a tooth. At the same time Deane raised his head above the partition to share our intellectual sophistication with the kid but made the crucial error of putting his hands on the glass. Until that moment neither of us had known the partition would collapse into a slot in the table if you put pressure on it.

BANG! Down went the glass and there was Deane with the crossed eyes and green, warty grin.

The kid screamed in a combination of surprise and glee and the parents stared at us, aghast. They had just paid the waitress so they hissed at the kid to shut up, then snatched him from the booth and stormed out of the deli. I think the mother actually said, “Well, I never!” but it was hard to hear her because Deane and I were laughing hysterically.

And then there was the spontaneous camping trip. At about two o’clock one Saturday afternoon the phone in my apartment rang. Deane wasted no time with trivialities: “Hey, Man, wanna go camping? Me and Rick are going to Mount Wilson.” I’d never been camping but Deane said he had an extra sleeping bag and they would be “right over”.

Two and a half hours later Deane showed up in his aging metallic green Datsun hatchback. Deane and Max (the wacky Irish Setter) were in the front and Deane’s good friend and very patient roommate, Rick Johnston, was in the back. Rick is a very talented musician himself. He plays keyboard and was a pioneer in using computers to create and record music. Although Rick’s sense of humor always has been about a fiddle-and-a-half short of a full string section he was the epitome of solemnity in comparison with Deane.

We quickly stopped at a liquor store to fortify the provisions in the car with some kind of 80 proof adult beverage and a five pack of cigars. Then we proceeded southeast to Mount Wilson and arrived about an hour before dark. Every level spot in the campground was occupied. The only open space was on a thirty-five degree slope adjacent to a stone barbeque. We tossed down our gear, called Max, went for a short hike, returned in the dark, barbequed a pretty decent dinner, and bundled up. It was becoming very cold very quickly. By then everyone else in the area was asleep but we were musicians and eleven o’clock at night was early. Max was no dope; he cuddled up next to Deane and went to sleep.

Deane told racy stories about some of the hundreds of girls he had slept with and broke out the adult beverage. Then he recalled a couple of previous girlfriends he regretted losing and broke out the cigars. I had never smoked anything but took a cigar in case it might help to dissipate the headache I was developing as a result of alcohol and altitude. Instead it made me feel worse. Deane and Rick traded stories about various wild escapades until about two-thirty or three in the morning.

I think I can state with assurance that neither Rick nor Deane nor I would advocate sleeping on a rocky hillside in a summer weight sleeping bag, after being less prudent than somewhat with respect to alcohol, when the temperature is below twenty degrees, if you want to wake up feeling energetic and refreshed. Deane and Rick may have slept more than four hours but I certainly didn’t, especially after the damned sun came up. Max, by contrast, probably had slept soundly for about eight hours. Anyway, we built another fire and scrambled up a few dozen eggs and cooked some bacon and drank some milk or beer or whatever and had one heck of a breakfast.

We noticed some idiot had poured laundry detergent into the river to wash clothes; it was full of foam and bubbles. In its honor Deane and Rick lit the two remaining cigars and we packed our things. By eight o’clock the three of us and Max were in the car and driving down the Angeles Crest Highway toward home. I think I was back in my apartment by about 10:30 and probably slept half the day.

One night Deane invited me to a party in Van Nuys at the home of bass guitarist Brad Palmer. I knocked on the door and a stunning, lissome blonde opened it. She looked surprised and asked, “Russ?” I was unable to remember being friends with any girl as pretty as she was and just stared back. She said, “It’s me, Princess.”

From the time I started school until about the time I left for college, Princess and her sister, Sally Field, lived next door. Yes, the same Sally Field who won two Oscars. Both were nice, down to earth, friendly girls but Sally was older than I and Princess was a few years younger. I hadn’t seen her since she was a pint size, skinny tomboy with streaked light blonde hair. Apparently Princess had grown up.

She whisked me inside, around the corner to the right, and onto the couch. Then she talked to me for an hour while a bunch of people I’d never seen before stood around munching chips and drinking beer. Princess said she was Brad Palmer’s girlfriend and knew few of the guests. She told me about the past twelve or fifteen years of her life and a little about her sister until Brad asked her to bring out more refreshments. Deane finally appeared from the bowels of the house, said, “Hey, Man”, and disappeared again.

I found Princess again, thanked her, and wandered off into the darkness.

That brief encounter was a very bright spot in my life, one of many I never could have enjoyed without Deane.

A year or two later I bought a house in Sherman Oaks. One weeknight at about nine o’clock I had just finished practicing the clarinet when the phone rang. It was Deane. “Hey, Man, Turner got a gig as a disk jockey in Canyon Country and needs us to come out and punch up his show. This is big; this is important!”

“Turner” was John Turner, a mutual friend of questionable sanity who once had taken drum lessons from Deane. He and Rick and I seemed to be Deane’s best friends and I think we held that honor throughout his life.

Immediately I grasped the gravity of the situation and agreed to accompany Deane to somewhere near Canyon Country or, if not there, then somewhere else, even though I had to wake up the next morning for work. Oh, well; it was an obnoxious job.

For the first time in about seven years Deane was on time and we headed north up the 405 Freeway in the dark, turned east on the 14 Freeway toward Canyon Country, and promptly got lost. We may have wandered for about 45 minutes before Deane’s unerring sense of direction led us to a gas station at the foot of an off ramp where we were able to consult a map. A mere half hour later we arrived at the trailer serving as John’s studio, walked up the ramp to the front door, knocked and, when nobody answered, walked in anyway. We heard Turner blabbing away in another room and, when he finally shut up, announced ourselves. By then it was midnight.

At that point I learned John’s “radio station”, KSCV-FM, broadcast via closed circuit cable to (Lord have mercy) a small community of senior citizens. Only a few years previously I had worked at KFWB all news radio in Hollywood and my experience there led me to conclude Mr. Turner’s studio was somewhat less sophisticated. But I had no time for reflection. John had a break in thirty minutes and our job was to come up with a commercial. The timer started and John went back on the air.

Deane and I were under relentless pressure but years of experience had prepared us. We determined to create a commercial for the fictitious Velvel’s Ice Cream Village and our job was to attract listeners to some of Velvel’s 732 unique and exciting flavors such as dog nose, sushi, creamy Italian, sparkling turnip, bismuth, difflesnap, and spodeblütner.

We managed to read down the script without laughing until John went to a recorded commercial; then we had another half hour to come up with something else. After serious dialogue we resolved to create a feature about Mendel, Your Poultry Pal, and his exciting new uses for chicken skin. Our delivery was flawless.

By then it was after one in the morning. Deane looked at me; I looked at Deane; John looked bewildered. I said, “Deane, our job here is done.” He answered, “Let’s went, Kimosabe.” We disappeared into the night with young Turner reeling in stunned disbelief. As I recall, I slept almost three hours before the alarm rang.

And then there was the Thursday night Deane sent over a sexy blonde who had hitchhiked to Los Angeles from Michigan. She told me Deane and her girlfriend had kicked her out and she had nowhere to sleep….

On May 9, 2012 the Palm Springs Desert Sun published the following obituary: “Deane Hagen, 62, of Palm Desert, CA, passed away on May 3, 2012 in Rancho Mirage, CA. He was born on December 10, 1949 in Burbank, CA. He is survived by his daughter, Deana Hagen, and his brother, James Earle Hagen….”

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