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'Don't believe your own press'

September 26, 2012

Mike Reilly, 70, out front of Talk N’ Coffee in Colville.

It’s easy to get lulled into the idea that one knows everything about their neighbors in a rural community. There’s the person you see almost every day at the grocery store, on your way to the coffee shop, or strolling through the park and because you exchange pleasantries, there’s a sense of the familiar.
In most cases, though, there is usually more than meets the eye, and such is the case with Onion Creek resident Mike Reilly. Usually spotted outside of Talk n’ Coffee in Colville, drinking his morning brew, chatting and people watching,
Reilly is like a local fixture; not standing out, but proverbial and unassuming. But beneath the Air Force baseball cap and bearded grin is a musical talent and creativity that landed Reilly in the middle of the Hollywood show business scene in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Getting his start with future renowned songwriter Jimmy Webb (who wrote platinum-selling classics, including "Up, Up and Away", "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "The Worst That Could Happen", and "MacArthur Park") Reilly went on to work with Johnny Rivers ("Poor Side of Town", "Summer Rain", and "Secret Agent Man") and eventually, Tom and Dick Smothers of The Smothers Brothers.

An accidental
guitar find

“They were good people,” recalls Reilly of the Smothers Brothers, who had their own television show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS from 1967 to 1969. “They were honest, upfront and treated their employees kindly. You can’t really say that about many people in the entertainment industry, at least not then.”
Reilly grew up in a small town in Northern California where the main avenues of making a living were logging and gold mining. He first fell in love with playing music at the tender age of four, when he was digging through the back of his parent’s closet and uncovered a guitar case. Opening the case, he saw a dusty, four-string acoustic guitar. He reached out, strummed the instrument, and something was instantly sparked.
“It was like, ‘Ooooo, this is cool,’” Reilly recalls.
From there, Reilly grew up learning how to play guitar, drums and the ukulele. At Nevada Union High School, he was the model teenager, succeeding in track and field and becoming senior class president.
“You know, all the stuff that you think matters at the time, but really doesn’t,” chuckles Reilly.

From a tiny apartment to a mansion

After graduating high school, Reilly joined the United States Air Force and worked in communications. He traveled to Texas, Mississippi, and Japan where he was stationed on Iwo Jima. He was honorably discharged in 1964 in Southern California and went to San Bernardino Valley State College where he received an Associate of Arts Degree in Psychology, as well as being a member of glee club and tak¬ing choir classes. It was there that he met Jimmy Webb.
“After college, I got it in my head that I was going to be an actor,” Reilly says, smiling and rolling his eyes. “I moved to some sub-section of LA and promptly became a starving artist. Then Jimmy (Webb) called me one day and asked if I wanted to work with him and Johnny Rivers. I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes.”
Reilly joined the folk music group The Strawberry Chil¬dren and the band cut their first single, “Love Years Com¬ing” on Rivers’ Soul City La¬bel. From there, Reilly worked with Webb in establishing Webb’s own production com¬pany, Canopy Productions.
“I don’t think the song (“Love Years Coming”) placed in the top 40,” Reilly says. “We were having a blast, though.”
Going from sleeping on the floor of a tiny apartment to living in a 22 room mansion, Reilly became acquainted with a variety of Hollywood stars and entertainers, rubbing el¬bows with the likes of Richard Harris (who acted in the 1967 version of Camelot, portrayed Professor Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies, and had a top ten hit in the UK and the US with his 1968 recording of Webb's song "MacArthur Park"), Frank Sinatra, John Lennon and Ringo Starr, to name a few.
“Thank God I drank at the time,” Reilly laughs. “Harris was an Irishman through and through, and he knew how to drink.”

‘I had enough of
the silliness…’

After a while, though, the glitz began to wear off the lavish lifestyle. Reilly and Webb had a falling out, with Reilly moving out of the mansion and on to the street.
“I had enough of the silliness,” Reilly says. “Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jimmy and I still wish him the best of luck, but it had gotten to the point where it was more about the girls and the drugs and the money than I wanted in my life. I was just devastated from the biz and needed to get away from that particular scene.”
After several months of couch surfing and being homeless, Reilly heard that Smothers Incorporated, the Smothers Brother’s entertainment company, was looking for writers to join their team. Reilly walked into the office with six cents in his pocket and a four-string tenor guitar and performed an original song he wrote titled “Will the Girl Remember?” Tom Smothers hired him that day.
In a press release from Smothers Incorporated, dated Nov. 1970, it is written, “the combination of creative freedom at Smothers and Reilly’s fresh view of the world around him has resulted in the creation of songs that speak eloquently of love as well as social change. His original 1927 Kansas City…is his first to be released under a long-term contract between Reilly and Paramount Records.”
“1927 Kansas City” went on to be recorded by American country music singer Judy Lynn, David Soul of Starsky and Hutch fame, and folk singer Glenn Yarbrough (Yarbrough also went on to record Reilly’s song “So Glad I Got a Dog”). Reilly also collaborated with the Smothers Brothers on their television show The Smothers Brother’s Comedy Hour, writing the songs “Business Head” and “Big Time Crime. “Business Head” resulted in Reilly’s first and only run-in with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The song, which chronicles the blasé attitude of a young man who becomes a CEO for no other reason than his fa¬ther willed him the company, raised the hackles of FFC officials because of its reference to drug use and zigzag papers. The song never ran on the show because Tom and Dick Smothers supported Reilly’s decision not to change the lyrics.

‘I’m very lucky
to be here…’

“They were really great to work for,” says Reilly. “I’m thankful that I got to be a part of that company in some small way.”
So how did Reilly end up in Colville?
After the show’s cancellation and the Smothers Brothers lawsuit with the CBS Network (“It got canceled in a really cowardly, cut-throat way,” says Reilly) Reilly spent his time hitchhiking back and forth between Canada and Los Angeles.
“One day, I just figured I wanted something more permanent,” says Reilly. “I had actually gone through Colville before on my way up north and I thought it was just beautiful and quiet enough to suit me.”
Nowadays, Reilly is still writing music and is putting out a new CD called Hairy Area, which covers everything from the recession, space aliens, cloning, legalizing marijuana, love and then some.
When asked what advice he would give to his young self, if he could do it again, Reilly says, “Don’t believe your own press. I’m not as stupid as I was back then and if you’re just doing something so people will sit up and look at you without any real passion or purpose behind what you’re doing, that’s not what it’s about.
“I’m very fortunate to have some tremendous memories and I’m very lucky to be here.”

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