Peter Case

As Far As You Can Get Without A Passport

Chapter 8 The Frozen Chosen

 

JUNKYARD LIVING IS EASY TO DO

Danny and I started playing together as a duo, with Bert often adding a third voice and guitar. It was a loose, almost jokey band arrangement. We had no serious intent to make records, play gigs, have hits, or go on tour. We were strictly street: happy to play on corners indefinitely.

We needed a name for the outfit. Bert was voting for The Babies, but that didn’t seem to fit. I thought Beri Beri and The Incredible Symptoms had a nice sound, in a show business kind of way. But Danny came up with three: the Stumble Bums, the Gutter Dogs, and the Frozen Chosen, all fine names, I thought, but maybe the first two, though they fit, might sound kind of negative. So, the Frozen Chosen it was, for the rest of the year.

Danny had natural harmonization ability; he could jump in and sing on anything I was doing: We started singing Everly Brothers, Rolling Stones, everything with a harmony. He’d play lead solos; I held the rhythm down with loud open string/first position shuffles, chord patterns, etc. We’d started attracting a lot more attention out there, getting a few more quarters tossed our way and having a few laughs too.

I’d still wander off for days, doing whatever I felt like, exploring the city, leaving those guys to go on without me. I’d play solo, meet someone, just take things as they’d come, and get to a point where I just didn’t give a shit about anything. Fuck it.

I moved into the junkyard. It was right on the bay in Sausalito, a muddy patch of land jutting out into the water, a quarter mile past the last houseboat pier, way behind the Heliport.

The junkyard was lorded over by a long-black-haired outlaw that everyone knew as “Fish Trap John.” There were a dozen or more abandoned trucks out there, some up on blocks. Danny was sleeping all the way down by the water, in a broken VW microbus. It was obscured from sight by brush and a paltry tree on its last days. I moved into an abandoned yellow school bus, back up the strand. I got my bag from the Edward, stashed it there, and no one messed with it.

Up by the road was a free soup kitchen called “The Open Door.” It was in a tiny, weathered, white shack. The soup they served was watery, thin gruel, with no taste. A hippie in robes named Running Water was always there, maybe he ran the joint, I don’t know. There was an outdoor shower in back of the Open Door, cold water only, no towels, but it served in a jam to get clean, wash the hair, improve the image, before the hitch hike back down the 101 for a big day of street music in town.

Some days I’d start drinking before noon. I could do anything I wanted. Danny too. I remember crawling on our hands and knees down Beach Street in the middle of the day, draggin’ our guitars and drinking out of big bottles of whiskey and rum. It might’ve been somebody’s birthday or something. Though, maybe not. Tourists were walking around us, parting like the Red Sea as we came through, down on the ground, blind drunk, and caught in a laughing fit. I was laughing so hard that time, I died, I really did.

That night a bunch of us ended up crashing around Richie the trumpet player’s pad, in the Larkin Apartments. I woke up on the floor with a hangover the next morning and took a big pull on the bottle of 151 rum that I’d been cradling in my sleep. Rise and shine!

More »

Chapter 7

 

 

WOODSHEDDING 

I ended up sleeping in the back seat of Bert’s old blue Oldsmobile, parked in front of his pad in Bernal Heights. His car was becoming my new home. First thing each morning, Bert came out and drove, with me still in back, a few blocks, to the free breakfast at the St. Vincent De Paul’s, where the Christian communist workers waited on the tables of the indigent, bringing plates of eggs, sausage, toast and fruit, along with steaming cups of coffee.

I was playing on the streets every day, from about 11 a.m. until midnight, 2 a.m. or later on weekends. I’d lose my voice, get sunburned, play ’til my fingers bled, and I never made much more than a few dollars change, but I just kept singing and playing and learning new songs.

Sometimes on a break, I’d go stand in the book shop and read the display copy of Bob Dylan’s Writings and Drawings, with its pink cover, which had just come out. I loved the inscription in the front: “Dedicated to the rough riders, ghost poets, low down rounders, sweet lovers, desperate characters, sad eyed drifters and rainbow angels—those high on life from all ends of the wild blue yonder….” I’d started writing down lyrics to the songs in the book that hit me, ones I didn’t already know, like the blues called “California.” I put that one straight into my set. Another I learned right away was the epic “Long Time Comin,” a minor key ballad about a young kid ramblin’ the country alone.

When no one was on the street to listen, I’d keep playing for hours, anyway, trying to figure out favorite songs from memory, just guessing at the chords. Or with nothing close at hand to imitate, I’d make up licks or improvise a song of my own. Sometimes I’d just hate the way I sounded and the things I could play. My voice was thin, and I’d get self-conscious, feeling like the reedy little teenaged punk I knew I was deep inside. I had something I wanted to do, but now I just couldn’t get my head, or my fingers, around it. I’d figure everybody could see through me, could tell I wasn’t that tough, knew I was faking, could read that I lived in fear most of the time, scared of who would be coming down the street, afraid of my past coming to get me, and terrified of my own mind.

I ‘d lay the guitar down in disgust, put it away, walk across Maritime Park to the Bay, sit in the concrete bleachers and stare out over the water. I’d watch freighters passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading across the sea for the Orient. Maybe the Merchant Marine would be a better life for me.

More »

Chapter 5

 

 

YOGANANDA STREETFIGHTS

A few days later, after nearly burning through all my dough, I checked out of the Hotel Edward and hit the streets of the city for real. The Indian man at the Edward said I could leave my duffel in a closet for a few days—he was very fine with that—so I just took my guitar and split. I had no real idea where I could stay, just a couple of vague notions, but I wasn’t too worried about it. Something would turn up.

I traipsed across town under the overcast, checking out all the usual haunts, and no one I knew was in any of them. Nothing was to be seen of Wilhelm or Eric, or my other new street singin’ friends, Danny Ray and Bert.

I’d met Danny Ray and Bert down on the wharf a couple days earlier, and we’d jammed a little. We’d all become friends, though they hadn’t been friends with each other before. I’d met them separately.

Bert, at age 22, was already a great singer and guitar player. He knew a lot of music, had a car, a place to live, and even had a life: he was studying film on a scholarship at The SF Art Institute. But he was lonesome, troubled, and had recently had someone vow to kill him over some personal situation. This kind of shook him up, it seemed, but he didn’t talk about it much.

Crazy Horse Danny was 25, a skinny, long-haired hippie dropout from Dallas, Texas, who, I soon found out, loved rock and roll as much as me. He was crazy about Little Richard, Brian Jones, Roky Erikson, Chuck Berry and Hendrix. These were his heroes. Also Eric Dolphy, Yogananda and Sitting Bull. He thought the Beatles were choirboys, but he dug Ringo and kind of reminded me of him, too. But Danny loved to fight. It didn’t take long to find that out. He really seemed to enjoy street fights with belligerent strangers. That was his specialty. He’d also taken a lot of LSD by this point.

Danny was on the run from the law down in Texas. He went by the name Crazy Horse, was incredibly cautious and frightened of police, and, for reasons he explained to me soon after we met, never wanted to be too much the center of attention.

He’d been starting a career as a hairdresser down in Dallas, working in his Cuban pal Armando’s hair salon, and things were going well. He was a young, good looking guy, with a flair for style and hair, and had a way about him that most all his female customers liked. On the side, he was playing music, making money and everything was going fine. I guess he was about 21 years old at the time. He had long hair for Dallas in ‘69-’70, though, and that was starting to cause problems down there.

One Sunday, he’d placed all his clothes in a washer at a friend’s house and borrowed a pair of jeans and a long sleeved work shirt, put them on, with the shirt tails hanging out, and went to a local shopping center. A security guard at a store started following him around, and when Danny went into the men’s room, the cop followed him in and caught a glimpse of an American flag patch on the seat of Danny’s pants.

The Dallas Police were summoned, and Johnny was arrested and charged with felony flag desecration. The Dallas District Attorney was up for re-election and decided to make an example out of Danny, so they prosecuted him to the full extent of the law. A guilty verdict held a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the DA announced to the press that he would be going for the full penalty. A Marine Color Guard from Fort Hood was assigned to daily courtroom duty, and arrived each day in Full Dress Blues. They were just sitting there in the courtroom, the whole time of the trial, for the jury to see. Here are the good boys; there’s the bad boy. Here are the patriots…there is the traitor who deserves whatever punishment he gets. Nevertheless, Danny never told anyone that the pants were borrowed. His big brother was an East Side San Antonio gangster, and Danny hadn’t been brought up to be a snitch. He never even considered it.

Danny was out on bail for the duration of the trial, but right before the verdict came in, he freaked out and went on the lam. For the next two decades he lived as an outlaw, in terror of being apprehended and brought back to prison in Texas. That’s why he was singing on the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk, why Sewer Seven, Tube Eleven was his only address. He was ready to rock his life away, as long as he never got too big for the corner bar. He was afraid of the spotlight.  So anyhow, Danny was living in a junk yard on the Bay in Sausalito, and he’d invited me to check it out sometime, it was supposed to be a swell place to crash in a pinch. You could just pick out an old truck, get a blanket or two from somewhere and climb in. Sounded great, except Danny was not to be found anywhere. Neither was Bert, nor Wilhelm, not to mention Eric the Cabdriver.

I walked a hundred blocks, mesmerized by the city, and the nighttime caught me by surprise. I went into a Foster’s restaurant, sat at a table drinking coffee and writing—just playing with words. Hours went by. I was thinking ‘bout the trouble I’d left behind, wondering if

it would ever catch up…thinking ‘bout the people I’d never see no more: Jerry, Banana, Veronica, and Duffett. I’m thinking ‘bout what Bray told me: “You don’t have what it takes. You don’t have the depth of feeling.” I was thinking about how he said that I sold out the revolution, but I didn’t know what he meant. I hadn’t seen no revolution back there, only Bray taking unfair advantage over a bunch of street kids. What had begun with high hopes and great motives, had turned into its opposite, and now the picture wasn’t coming clear. I got confused like this when I was alone, and lately I was most always alone.

I went across the street to the Richelieu Theater, spent my last couple bucks on a triple feature: Performance, Charlie Is My Darling and The T.A.M.I. Show. When I got out, it was late, the bars were closing, the fog was rolling in. I had nowhere to go, so I just started walking.

More »

Chapter 4

NICKELS AND DIMES 

“Fixin’ To Die.” “Bury My Body.” “Yer Blues.” “Roberta.” “Heart-break Hotel.” “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” “The Teenage Death Blues.” This was my repertoire and my specialty. I was out on the wharf, singing at the top of my voice, fading away into it. I heard a jangle or two and opened my eyes. Someone had tossed a quarter in my open guitar case, as they walked past, without slowing down. Tourists in white shoes and flowered shirts passed, staring at me as if I were standing out there in my underwear. A couple of teenage girls stopped, listened, took my picture. I started putting on a little more of a show, making eye contact, bobbin’ and weavin’ to the music. Then their parents caught up, and they split, off together for a quaint family bowl of chowder in one of the dockside cafes.

I was about a minute into “Highway 51 Blues” when I noticed a strange figure standing off to the side, a Caucasian male, 30 some years old, sideburns, with mirrored shades, dressed head to toe in black leather, wearing high boots, and a big leather hat. He looked like a combination of Bo Diddley and Lee Marvin. He had a big, beat up hardshell guitar case that he was sort of leanin’ ‘gainst as he listensed. After a song or two, when no one else was around and I was taking a break, he stepped forward, shook my hand, and spoke with a very gruff voice.

“Hey man, sounds good. I like what you’re doing. You could be the singer in my band.”

This guy seemed like a complete outlaw. I got a little nervous. “What’s your band?”

“We’re called Loose Gravel. It’s rock and roll, and blues. We play a lot of biker parties and stuff. The way you sing, you’d fit right in. I’ve got a lot of gigs but my singer split. C’mon, pack your stuff, man, I’ll buy you a drink and tell you all about it.”

I packed up, and we set off down the wharf. A block or so down on the right there was a big sorta funky bar, and we went in. He ordered a pint of dark beer, and I ordered the same, but the bartender demanded to see my ID. I handed him my New York State driver’s license, and he shook his head: “Sorry pal, you gotta be 21 here.” First I ever heard about it. It was 18 in New York. “You’re in California now.”

The guy finished his beer while I sat there. He said “Sorry man, the places I play, you gotta be 21. I thought you were older.”

What a drag. I only gave a shit for a minute or two. I wasn’t expecting anything. He gave me a little of his story: his name was Mike Wilhelm. He’d started the Charlatans. I knew about them, a legendary group, the first SF psychedelic band. They were famous.

The bartender shouted over at us: “Hey bub, you can stay and drink, but the kid’s gotta go. It’s the law. Bye bye, sonny.” We cleared out, started walking towards North Beach, about a 20 minute jaunt. We trundled past the park, hung a left, continued up to Grant Ave. and turned right. Wilhelm kept yakkin’ the whole time in his hoarse rasp… “haw haw haw”… the inside story of rock and roll.

On the corner of Grant Avenue and Green Street, a large crowd was gathered. There was a big game of coin toss goin’ on, against the outside wall of a liquor store. The crowd on the corner was rowdy and spilled over into the street. The contestants were hipsters, winos, and street people, plenty of full time professional alcoholics, and from the looks of it, they’d really been getting the job done. There was a row of quarters that had been tossed up along where the sidewalk met the wall. A lot of the coins were within a few inches. One guy was the self-made  “master of ceremonies,” officiating and trying to get some passerby into the game, which would raise the stakes. There was really a high level of excitement going on, and some people seemed to have a lot riding on it. One beat-up looking dude, in flip-flops and jeans with his shirt hanging out stepped up, and with his toss leaned his quarter up against the wall, taking the pot. Must be all of five bucks. The crowd erupted in cheers and loud arguments, as the winner headed into the store for his prize.

We kept going, arrived at the Coffee Gallery and went inside. Wilhelm was going to be playing there in an hour or so. I got a beer. Nobody was asking for any ID in this joint. The juke box was blaring an Allman Brothers track. I checked out the room. The bar was crowded, even though it was mid-afternoon, full of people talking loud and drinking pints.

I looked at Mike Wilhelm and nodded towards a man at the corner of the bar, wrapped in a Mexican poncho, his afro hair leaning down, with little bits of things in it. He was intently writing, on a napkin, with shaky hands. “Oh, that’s Bob Kaufman, the poet, man” said Wilhelm, lowering his voice for once. “He’s a great writer, man, but he never talks.”

Mike got up and played an hour or so later, with a bass player and drummer, for some kind of afternoon session that they had scheduled there. He pulled a Gretsch electric out of the case, plugged into an amp on stage and starts rockin’ a song called “Styrofoam”: “LA Lady lives in a home, made entirely of Styrofoam!” He wore a pick on his right hand, playing bass, rhythm, and lead at the same time, using the thumb and fingers, playing loud and hard, and the audience ate it up, yelling drunkenly. Somebody threw a glass ashtray which shattered on the stage, but you couldn’t see where it came from in the darkened room.

That’s when I had a feeling, it was almost like a vision, that somehow, if I really practiced hard and played right, if everything fell together, I, too, might be able to play the Coffee Gallery in North Beach, someday, just like Wilhelm.

I knew I wasn’t ready yet.

More »

Chapter 3

THE EDWARD DAILY/WEEKLY RESIDENCE HOTEL 

I couldn’t stay at Steve’s pad long, they had a full house. I was only there a couple nights, then I split for my big sister’s place, north of the city. Sue was the first rocker I ever knew, a world traveler, and she had even turned me on to folk music, way back in ‘64. But Sis was living with her boyfriend now, a “hip” businessman named Hank, and I didn’t get on with him, so it was back to the city in a couple of days.

I could hardly believe I was in California. At the instigation of my sister, I tried working at a couple places. Neither job worked out.

The first was up in the Haight, where I was cast as the office boy for a small counterculture sex newspaper. It was in a fascinating location, right across from the trolley tunnel on Carl Street, at Cole, where the train tracks emerged from the mountain. My mission was to take the big dumpsters of unsold papers and roll them down the street to a building on Cole, where they were destroyed somehow, out in back. I excelled at this part of the gig. My next assigned task was to build a wall in the office, creating a new back room. I did it, sawing wood, hammering nails, setting two-by-fours, taping sheet rock, even hanging a door and a window, but I had no idea what I was doing and worked very slowly,  especially while listening to the ripe conversations at the editorial desk in the next room. It was all very interesting, but the paper was going down, and my mind wasn’t on the work anyway, so I got quietly fired after the inspection of the wall was completed.

The next job was helping to complete the remodeling of the unoccupied second apartment of a frenetic Chinese businessman named Hugh Lee. I was supposed to sleep in the apartment at night and paint it by day. The pad was on the second floor. There was a water bed and a big Andy Warhol painting on the wall, but the air was polluted with kerosene fumes, plaster dust, and the smell of oil-based paint. Ladders were set up, tools and drop cloths covered everything, and every night I felt like I was going to sleep on the job.

A guy named Michael came in every day to work. He was a nice enough fella, but turned out to be a massive stoner, on and off the job. As a result, Hugh Lee’s apartment was being destroyed at nearly the same rate it was being remodeled. I watched a completely whacked Michael throw a ladder over his shoulder and set off down the hall, then turn, taking out the crystal chandelier over-head, then standing there bewildered in the shower of glass. Wow.

I worked days splashing around in the white paint. By night, I sloshed around on the water bed trying to read, or I’d get up and go wander the city streets, with my guitar, meeting people, just looking around. One night I brought some of my new street friends back to the pad for a little party. Bossman Hugh showed up the next morning unannounced, found big wine bottles on the floor, strange people crashed out all around the room, me sleeping with my shoes on, underneath his Warhol, and that was that.

Fired again.

All I really wanted to do was play guitar. I decided to go downtown and try playing music on the street. I was falling in love with San Francisco. The streets of the city were wide awake, completely alive. I was happy to wander any neighborhood, with no idea where I was going. People everywhere, travelers, hipsters, crazy down-and-outs, beautiful women dressed like gypsies, barefoot hippies, workers, hustlers and dealers by the score, guys who looked like they were just out of prison, full dress Marines and cops, bicycle messengers by the hundreds pushing their clunky two wheelers up and down Market St., street artists doing portraits, blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, all kinds of people, speaking every language in the world. Anybody would be likely to come around the next corner, and did, all day, every day. Vietnam veterans, Black Panthers, gold prospectors. The Watergate scandal was blasting out of radios and TVs, and the president was stinking it up, nonstop. Out in the golden sun, against the breeze off the bay, the cool fog rolled down Twin Peaks and over the city. I wandered looking for action, friendly faces, music, any interesting scene.

In Union Square there were gatherings of people at lunch hour every day with street performers playing for huge crowds. I went down and sat on the grass in the park, playing my guitar, watching as office girls sat and chatted, and the pigeons took off and wheeled around the monument at the center of the square

Me, I wasn’t trying to attract much attention; I was too nervous to say anything or play too loud.

A black man of about 40 years or so, stocky, dressed in jeans, a longish denim jacket and a black beaver fedora hat, sat down across from me, listening to me play. He was wearing shades, and slightly smiling. We started talkin’ about blues. He listened for a spell as I tried to play a Lightnin’ Hopkins shuffle. “Well that’s pretty good,” he said, “but, the old style, you gotta play it with some slip and slide.” Anyhow, I think that’s what he was sayin’, I was havin’ difficulty gettin’ it all. “Let me see the guitar, I’ll show you.”

I handed over the Gibson, and he took it, cradled it, hovered over it with a cigarette hanging out his lips, pickin’ with his thumb, holding bass notes and chords in his left as he started a rolling blues rhythm with the brush of his right, kinda eyeing me through the smoke, and it was just the most rockin’, swinginest thing I’ve ever heard. A whole band sound coming out of one guitar, a very slippery groovin’ blues band.

 

He handed the guitar to me so I could give it a try, and I took a shot, but I couldn’t quite get my head or fingers around it, so he took it back and showed me several times, and I kinda maybe sorta got it. We just hung out and took turns playing for a while. He said his name was Steve, when I asked him. I told him I was gonna start playin’ on the street, and he said, “You need a louder guitar. That’s an electric, but you need one with a big sound box.” I went with him up to the pawnshops on Sixth Street off Market and traded the Gibson electric across the counter for a fabulous Yamaki Deluxe. It was an imitation of a classic D28 Martin, except it was the cheap line of Yamaha, if you know what I mean. I had to put in some cash too. It sorta seemed like a rip, but I needed that guitar.

With my new axe in hand we left the pawnshop, and Steve said, “I’m gonna take you over to the wharf, that’s the place you need to be playin’,’’ so we caught a cable car loaded with people and rode over the hill, riding for free. We got there, and yeah, he was right, this was the great spot to be playin’, very wide open, tourists throwing money right and left, no supervision, just a right loose scene. I jumped right in and Steve hung around for a while, givin’ me a few pointers about the street music business, then he split, and I never saw him again. I guess you could say Steve gave me my start in the professional music field.

That night I moved into a cheap residency hotel on Scott Street called the Edward. The Indian family who ran it was friendly and didn’t seem to care what I did. The hallways were dark, the air was thick with the aroma of an exotic spice mix. It was quiet and cheap enough that I could afford a week or so on the dough I had left.

I moved into my tiny room, fell asleep, and woke up in the middle of the night, sick as a dog, with the psychedelic flu. The walls were moving. I was delirious. I was down for three days and three nights, and I stayed locked in, going completely crazy.

At about midnight on the third day, I was feeling a little better, carrying a bottle of ginger ale, and my guitar, walking East on Lombard Street. A yellow cab pulled up with its service light off. The driver was a tall, thin, pale-skinned, dark-haired hipster dude with a strange look in his eyes. “Hey man get in. I’ll give you a ride.”

This was Eric, 25 years old, from Brooklyn, New York. He’d just been released from a mental institution in Morocco, and he was trying to save up some dough while he waited to ship out as a merchant seaman. He drove me over to North Beach, to the Coffee Gallery, not a coffee house at all, but a knock down drag’em out dive bar that featured folk singers. Within a few days Eric became my first manager. Things were really movin’.

More »

Chapter 2

WEST  MARCH, 1973

It was my first time in Chicago and my first trip West. “Well shot with a beer back!” That’s what I heard a guy in the bar ordering, so I did the same, an’ I threw the drinks down, pretty quick, workin’ my way through that little pocketful of folding money they’d given me as we said goodbye, at the Buffalo Greyhound Bus depot, less than 24 hours before. I was 18 years old: legal rock and roll cannon fodder, across the street from the Amtrak station, workin’ up my nerve.

The bus had to push through a blizzard, all night, heading west, and it seemed like I was the only passenger. Sun rose on the brownlands of Ohio like chocolate mixed with death, and I was alone for hours with the darkness and drone, my chest on fire and so fucking hopeful, finally running for my life. A big whiff of freedom wafted in through closed windows, perfectly mixed with the smell of my own fear, my stomach felt like i was on a rollercoaster., and only my eyes were hungry. “I’m going all the way,” I promised myself. “I’m bound for California, I won’t stop ‘til I get there.”

So the first thing I did was stop, in Chicago, and get drunk under the El. But even then, with the alcohol in me, I was all nervous and shaky as I boarded the train, looking up and down the platform, afraid I was being pursued. I had my army green duffel bag and the Gibson in its brown fake alligator cardboard case. My winter coat—white early ‘70s fake fur zippered snazz—well, I wouldn’t be needing that in sunny California.   A copy of the  Bible.  The Complete Works of Shakespeare I’d copped at the campus store at Buff State, when I was still crashing there and eating for free in the cafeteria, before I’d made up my mind to go. A sweater and an extra pair of pants. A piece of paper with Steve’s phone number in San Francisco.  A worn paperback copy of Conrad’s Lord Jim. And finally, a  Hohner harmonica, a notebook, and a pen.

My last night in Buffalo, I wandered across the campus as the snow fluttered down, happening on a coffee house. Behind a plate glass window sat a roomful of students listening to folk singers. I walked in, but was too shy to talk to anyone; then I borrowed a guitar and sang John Lee Hooker’s “Stranger in Your Town.” I’d never sung it before, but I knew it; it came out on its own, welled up in me, and caught me, and everyone else in the room, by surprise. The other day when Donnie had rescued me out in the farmland of the Boston hills—answering my call for help, picking me up in his beat ‘65 Mustang, spinnin’ his big brother’s blues tape as we drove around all night, trying to figure out where I could go, what I could do, and how I was going to escape—I’d rewound it and listened again and again. Finally he’d dropped me off at that school, where I didn’t know a soul, but where I felt like I could hide out and survive until something made sense. I knew after I sang Hooker that night, I’d to have my guitar when I left town. I’d been mixed up for a few months: but now I knew I needed it, and I’d never put it down again. I’d never give up on it, no matter how good it felt, no matter how much it hurt.

Now, a little dazed in the Chicago station, somehow I found my track, and my train: it was called “The Super Chief.” Famous. I’d seen it in the Golden Book of Trains when I was six, and here I was, getting on board. I was carrying my duffel, the Gibson, and a paper sack that held a bottle of wine. As I came in the door of the car, I looked up, and entering at the very next door, was a long-haired guy in denim, wire rim glasses, with a guitar over his shoulder, a duffel, and a bottle of wine in a sack. He looked to be a few years older than me.

We settled in across from each other, and the train started rolling. He said his name was Richard, he was from Syracuse. I asked him if he knew the blues band Bad Medicine out there, and he said he did. That seemed like a big coincidence to me, ‘cause that was my friend Donnie’s brother’s group, but I didn’t say much; it was weird, that’s all. I told Richard I was going to California, and he said yeah he was too. “Is it your first time?” I said yeah, and he proceeded

to give me the word on San Francisco, L.A., and the rest, like he was my big brother.“You’ll love it out there, man, it’s the greatest place on earth. There’s something for everybody. Whatever you’re into, you can find it. It’s wild, and it’s all kids. You can go surfing in the morning, then ride a motorcycle up into the mountains, and be skiing the same day. There’s bike gangs, radicals, everybody’s on drugs, chicks are loose, everybody’s partying, people like to boogie. You gotta watch out though, man, there’s a lot of trouble you can get into, sidewalk commandos and things like that.”I found out later that sidewalk commandoes were motorcycle gangs that couldn’t afford motorcycles.

“I’ll give you one piece of advice, man.”

“What’s that, man?”

He leaned towards me, and lowered his voice to a hush: “Whatever you do, always stay alone.”

Right. That seemed pretty serious, but it made sense. I wasn’t sayin’ nothin’.

We started rockin’ on our guitars and drinking the wine. We ended up in the club car a few hours later, playin’ for the crowd up there: boys and girls our age, who were enjoying a few drinks, and who seemed like they were ready for some kicks too. We were all stuck together on this journey, and me and Richard were becoming the entertainment. I knew maybe a handful of songs, and played ‘em all night. The train rocked on forever, across the plains, through the Rockies. At one point I saw a sign that read “Cheyenne” and I knew we were getting somewhere. We took a collection in the club car at a stop in Denver. It was early in the dark hours of morning. The bar on the train was closed, but our gang there needed booze. Somebody said there was a liquor store open all night, right near the train depot in Denver, if anybody had the nerve to go, so I got off at the stop, and ran into the town, searching frantically for the store, finally found it, this beat up little neon shop, scored as much alcohol as possible and then dashed like mad for the train, just making it as they started to pull out. The whole gang was in the door there, cheering me, reaching arms to help me on with the bag.

We finally came down the mountain side into California, and as far as I could tell, we were landing on the moon. The sun was rising in a huge blue sky, the air was clear, and the hills were covered with space vegetation: plants I’d never seen before. In the next thirty years. Eventually I came to know them as jade, eucalyptus, century plant, cactus. This earth wasn’t dirt; it looked all sand and stones, not the black dirt and clay world I knew. I’d landed on another planet.

Downtown San Francisco outside of the bus station on Mission, looking at the high rise, guitar and duffel on the pavement, just spinnin’ and lookin’, at the J Church trolley, the N Judah line, crowds and crawling traffic, checker cabs and car horns and rumbles sounding deep in the earth. I’d been up for days, reelin’. Steve came down in a VW microbus, I hopped in, and he carried me up to the Haight. I crashed that night at his pad up on Buena Vista. Up late, alone, looking through the records, I’d found one of Jimmy Reed singing “Help Yourself.” I played it softly, over and over and over again, until I’d carved it into my heart.

More »

As Far As You Can Get Without A Passport (in serial form) Chapter 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFTER THE FIRST GREAT PSYCHEDELIC ERA  JANUARY, 1970 

“There are no stars because there is no sky.”

It was bleak, the wintertime in Buffalo, and all the world looked flat, as if it was.projected on a movie screen. Nothing looked real, and I was the first kid on my block to notice.

I’d walked out of Hamburg High School a few hours before, and I swore I wasn’t going back. The fear had come over me while our elderly and bespectacled little teacher, Mrs. Myers, was up at the front of the room, reading out loud to the 10th English class, all of whom listened, hypnotized with boredom. Jeanine and Robin, the girls who sat on either side of my desk in the back of the room, were stretching their legs, yawning, looking over at each other and me, smiling, fidgeting, ready to do something, to be entertained. The sweetly oblivious Mrs. Meyers, continued to read from her book, in a raspy sing-song ghost of  a voice:

“Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow…

Between the desire

And the spasm

Between the potency

And the existence…

Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom”

I started to sweat and shake, the projector was slipping, time whooshing past on all sides of the clock. Reality jumped the track. A wave of dread crashed over me, the immense and terrifying feeling of being stranded in Eternity.

I couldn’t make it. I had to leave.

“Mr. Case, please sit down! Where are you going? Get back in your seat this instant!”

“I quit.”

I ran down the dark halls of the school, crashed through the exit doors, and stumbled out into the snow. The cold air slapped me across the face. .After a brief walk through the empty streets of the town, I was hanging in the parlor of Banana’s garage apartment with some other kids I knew, watching the strange outline of shadows around their bodies. Everything I saw appeared to be in two dimensions and nothing seemed real. Sound was out of sync, and I was beginning to feel like I’d broken my senses.

The strangeness came over me again, and now I needed to escape Banana’s quickly. I left without saying goodbye, got out to the sidewalk and turned left. Looking way down Pleasant Avenue, I saw three people coming, rounding the corner together, puffing along in the cold,

and before I could read their faces across the distance, before I could even identify who it was, I could tell: they weere three dimensional and sure enough, when they got closer, I could see it was my best friends Jerry, Veronica, and Bray, and they stood out in relief against the flat screen behind them. They appeared real, full bodied, and alive.  Everyone, and everything else, was flat.

Something was happening to me, and I couldn’t stop it. You can bet I wasn’t pouring this out to my parents, teachers or the cops, but it’d been coming on for a little while, and people were starting to notice. I played piano and sang in a band called Pig Nation. At the rehearsal the day before, down in the basement, Gary, the organ player, got mad at me and said to Banana: “Tell him I’m real!”  My Mother was overheard, the previous weekend, at a party cross town, telling an acquaintance, “Having Peter for a son is like having a brain tumor!” Okay, that sounds about right. My tongue was hanging out, black with death. There was a constant knifing pain in my chest and fire in my limbs. On top of all this, the hallucinations continued, the walls moving and such. I tried not to say too much about it, but it was enough to drive me mad. I’m lucky that I didn’t wind up strapped down, committed to Gowanda, the local State Mental Institution.

I’d seen a man get shot in the head one night, live on the TV news. A captured Viet Cong. They just put a pistol up to his head and blew his brains out, with the camera watching. I said fuck it man, that’s it for me, I don’t give a fuck about this world anymore. I quit. They can all go fuck themselves, the parents, the cops, all the teachers at that fucked up crazy school. Bray gave me the William Blake book, the songs with the pictures, and that came close. Descartes was supposed to help a bit but he just made things worse. The first fucking thing in there, in his “geometric proof of God,” is, “you can’t trust the senses.” No kidding! There’s no verification possible of the senses, no way of ever knowing. The most basic problem there is, right? Am I alone? Does anything or anyone else exist? How come nobody else has any trouble with this?

“It’s the crisis all religious men and visionaries go through,” says Bray, “where your soul gets torn open and the whole universe comes rushing through, and you see the world in an entirely new way. Then, on the other hand,” he says, “maybe you just need to get laid.”

Whatever it was, I couldn’t take it, man. I was too weak and too lonesome. Sometimes I’d out on the street, and be overcome by terror, like the day I refused to leave Malkas’ apartment on Main Street. Panic.

“Yer Blues,” now there’s a great song. Lennon sounded like he knew. I was hurtin’ man, I didn’t see how I was gonna make it. And band practice was comin’ up in a couple hours.

More »

Tell The Boss I’m Sick

In New York City, the club was the Bottom Line, over near Washington Square Park.

At The Bottom Line, dressing rooms were small, but the mirrors were ringed by bulbous white lights, like you would imagine seeing in a Broadway backstage. The Bottom Line equals “making it in the big town.”

The Village Voice gave my show a pick, New York magazine raved about the new album, the writers were out front, even the reviewer from the New York Times. All the DJs were there from Fordham University, and KNBC.

Paul from The Nerves showed up, with a Rolling Stone photographer in tow, and we had our picture taken together.  The members of R.E.M., in town to make a record, were seated at a front table.

A representative from the New York Musicians Union showed up and came backstage with his date for the night, so she could meet me. I could hear the murmur of the crowd building in the house.

I needed to go out there, connect, and blow the place away. Or rather, my career needed it. Maybe I’d finally be recognized, The endless scuffling would come to an end, I’d get respect from my peers, and be able to meet my bills. I could stop putting myself through psychological torture. I’d experience a new freedom, a new happiness and no longer wish to shut the door on the past, and LOVE would be running like freshwater in a clear mountain brook. I’d be working with my heroes, travelling at ease, the songs would keep flowing, and I’d attain fingertip control of my own brilliance. The big questions would be answered. I’d ‘make it.’

There was a nearly full house when I walked the plank, out onto the stage, and put on a terrible show, one of the worst of my career. The guitar sounded thin, my voice hurt, the audience was smiling, but remote. I made foolish mistakes, and was self-conscious in a new, terrible way, flat footed, awkward between songs, grabbing the wrong harmonicas, misplacing my capo, and tuning up endlessly. I sang my songs but the jokes fell flat. Somewhere towards the end of the hour on stage my heart sank, and I crashed. Struggling to turn it around, somehow I got an encore, but I knew I’d stepped on it. I fought gravity and lost.

That was it. The audience split. Backstage a pal of mine came along, making fun of one of my songs in an exaggerated baby voice, in front of a crowd of “well-wisher’s.” It was a joke, I guess.  I saw my weakness in a stark light. I felt ashamed. But it was funny, too.  I had to laugh. So I had a bad show, so what? You have to go on.

Later that night, Josh and I wandered the empty streets of midtown Manhattan, telling stories, looking in store windows at stuff we couldn’t afford,  and watching the steam rising from the grates of the street,. We stopped at the all night bodegas , drank cokes and smelled the smells, the flowers, the fish, the garbage, the smoke from cigarettes, dug the great atmosphere in New York, as the newspaper trucks made their rounds, and we talked, trying to deal with the distance between us, the years I’d left him, and our closeness now, It was like talking to a mirror sometimes, the way he looked just like me, only younger, more wounded, maybe, but smarter, too, less absurdly ambitious. And we had the same mannerisms, used the identical tones of voice, suffered the same anxiety.

There were big differences too. I had the drive to sing in these joints for a thousand years, no matter what the weather. He had other ideas, in areas I knew nearly nothing about. But he had to deal with the gigs too, when he was with me, and I know it wasn’t easy for a kid that age.

I was always one step from going down. I still am. It’s a habit. But every time I’d lose, no matter how bad, I’d come out to someplace like this, where I’m alone again, and free to face the glory of the world, as the memory of the shame fades, and is slowly replaced by that wild sense of hope that I can’t seem to shake. I’m gonna write the song, that magic melody that’ll set everything right, that’ll redeem all the years of jive, the wasted years of days of hours of minutes of eternity. The song where I’ll learn what it’s about and what it’s for, the song I’ll sing that’ll melt my own heart, let everyone feel what it’s like to be loved.

We went back to our cramped hotel room, with the two beds along opposite walls, and we lay in the dark talking until we woke up.

*                              *                                            *                                            *

I went to go pick up the “hot rod,” a blue rented Dodge Charger, from a nearby parking garage, and I asked Josh to keep an eye on the clothes, which were all hanging on a luggage cart out on the sidewalk by the front door, and wait there until I got back. A few minutes later, I got back with the car, pulling up behind some taxis, to the spot where Josh stood on the sidewalk. He opened the back door and threw his tape bag and the guitar back there.

“What ‘ dya say we go get a slice before we blow town?”

“Josh, where are the clothes?”

He spun around a couple of times, looked up, looked back down, walked inside and around the lobby, came back out shaking his head. We both looked up and down the busy street. He’d turned his back on the clothes for a moment and they were gone, vanished up the boulevard without a trace, probably in another state already. Another lesson in New York City.

“Let’s get out of here.”

We navigated our way through traffic, heading crosstown. The next gig was somewhere in New Jersey, and I’d be playing in last night’s sweaty rangly-tanglys, which for some reason, I still had on. We’d lost everything we’d brought for the tour.

Through the tunnel, over a bridge, down the turnpike, then turning off towards the beach towns. We’d passed that stretch of New Jersey, by the Newark Airport that always makes me think of Jimmy Hoffa, and guys wearing concrete boots.  It’s the edge of the city, the urban wilds, the toxic swamp-zone, with Manhattan in the distance, further away than it looks. On our right, jets were taking off and climbing at intense angles, and on our left, vacant bad lands of post industrial waste, covered with poisonous water and reeds.

We drove out to a town called Longbranch, New Jersey. Longbranch is a hard hit, bombed out beach town, one stop north of Asbury Park. We passed a lot of knocked down buildings and many vacant lots. The club was a super-funky rock box called Marz American Style, and was right across from the beach, looking out on the Atlantic Ocean. We got there about 5 o’clock, and knocked, and the sound guy came and unlocked the door for us, letting us into the dark and empty club for our mic check.

It didn’t take long to get the guitar sounding right, so, with sound check finished, we walked across the road to the little tourist beach shop, looking for some shirts to replace the dirty ones we had on. Alas, all they had left were two identical black tee’s, with a picture of a pink starfish on each one, but I bought them and we put ’em on right there, and walked back over to the club.

We crossed the street and entered the club, and saw a guy leaning back against the bar in the dark. That was the moment, in our matching father-and-son pink seashell t-shirts, that we met Bruce Springsteen.

He wanted to talk. “I really dug your first album” he said. “I even phoned Van Dyke Parks, ’cause I was thinking about working with him. I liked what he did on ‘Small Town Spree.’ We didn’t end up working together, but we became friends.”

“Are you getting the Plimsouls back together?” he asked me.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” I told him. “We played a benefit a few months back, and it was like we’d never stopped, the sound and feeling were back immediately. It really surprised me.” He told me he was gonna get the E Street band together again. I decided to kid him a little.

“I’m from Buffalo, man, been on the road, and seen just about everywhere in America, but this little stretch of beach towns in New Jersey is about the strangest, most foreign place I’ve been in the whole country, and about as far from New York City as you can get. It’s hard to believe it’s only fifty miles away.”

He laughed and said, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell people for years!”

We chatted for a while, as the club lights were turned on, and soon it started getting to be time for the show. Some of Bruce’s friends showed up in a small group, including his wife, and they went down and started drinking beers at the bar on the other side of the room. More people came in and I got ready to go on.

I played my set for the seventy five or so people in the joint. Towards the end, as I was going into “Walk In The Woods,” the club owner came up on the back of the stage, hit a button, and a wispy jet of smoke-like thick mist began squirting from a hose. He had a manual attachment for it, and he was walking around the front of the stage, spraying more fog here and there.

At first it formed a low cloud cover at the base of the stage, kind of like an early morning out by the riverbank, but the fog kept coming, and deepening, rising up my legs and the microphone stand, while I stood in the blue light, wailing like a train whistle on my harmonica, chugging the rhythm, keeping the song going as the whole world began to disappear and the fog swallowed everything. The lights were dim, like the moon behind clouds, and I was alone, lost in a fog-bank.The song finally ended, and I heard applause, light and distant, from somewhere far off in the night. I staggered from the stage and stowed my guitar, then headed out to the bar, as the air began to clear. The Boss was buying a beer for my underage son, and he offered me one as

well.

Bruce was laughing. “Hey Peter, those were some great effects you had going there, man. Really dug the production of your show!”

More »

The Nerves Live At The The Cow Palace

The Nerves played the Daryl Starbird Hot Rod Show at the Cow Palace in early 1976.

The place was huge, it was one of our first gigs, and we were anxious, even though nobody was paying any attention to us—they were all there for the cars. But Daryl Starbird himself gave the introduction to the crowd, in a loud, clear voice, over the PA, heard throughout the hall, “Ladies and Gentlemen, now, on our main stage, I’m proud to present, for your listening pleasure, THE NERDS!”

I just about fainted. The other guys were looking at me like they were going to kick my ass. “C’mon man!” hissed Jack, “didn’t you spell it for him?”

We always had to spell it. Maybe I forgot. Oh well. We went out and played a set, and no one listened. We put everything we had into it.

When we were done, Jack and Paul cornered me, and said: “You gotta go straighten him out on the name before we play the next set. Get goin’! And make sure you spell it for him!”

So I headed out, across the main floor, past all his beautiful award-winning custom hot rods, his famous bubble-topped” Predicta” “the Futurista,” and the “Cosmic Ray,” through the Cow Palace, to the lobby, up an elevator, through security, talking my way past officials from the show, finally—about—15 minutes later—arriving in a room at the top of the Cow Palace, a very private, exclusive, quiet, office type room, where two men  were engaged in a deep conversation. One of them was Daryl Starbird, the famous custom car cult hero. I just stood there, a few feet away from them, until finally they stopped talking and Starbird  turned to me” “What can I do for you?” he asked. He seemed kind of pissed that I’d interrupted him.

“Mr Starbird, when you introduced us on the main stage, you said we were ‘The Nerds.’ That’s not the name of the band. It’s The Nerves. N-E-R-V-E-S. Nerves. The Nerves.” I finished and just stood there looking at him. He looked at me. “N-E-R-V-E-S,” I repeated.

“Okay, Okay, I got it.” And he waved me out of the room.

I went back out and made the trek, 15 minutes, down the stairs and elevator, through the lobby, past the hot rods in the main hall, through the security to the backstage.

“Did’ja tell him?” asked Paul.

Yeah, man. So the Nerves hung out for an hour or more, whatever it was until our next show. It seemed like a long wait. We were cracking jokes, bitchin’ about how stupid everything was, making fun of it, smoking, and just generally doin’ our thing and killing time. After a while we tuned up, me and Jack arguing about the pitch for a spell, and then it was time for us to go on, finally. We were nervous, again, and there were a lot more people in the hall. It looked like might we actually have a good-sized audience for this one.

We stood by the side of the stage, waiting, and finally we hear Daryl Starbird’s voice very concise and clear over loudspeaker, introducing us to everyone in the arena: “Ladies and Gentlemen: I’m proud to present, for your rock ’n’roll listening pleasure, from San Francisco, three great guys, THE WORMS!”

 

More »

Don’t Leave Me Hanging On The Telephone

 

‘Don’t leave me hangin’ on the telephone…’

I was living in San Francisco’s North Beach, and on my spot in front of the Swiss American Hotel one night in 1973, playing the 13th Floor Elevators song ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me, ‘ when I noticed this skinny white guy, about my age, leaning against the no parking sign, smoking a cigarette, watching me. He had short curly hair, wore old blue jeans, white deck sneakers, and a blue/green wooly sweater. At first look, he didn’t really fit in with the scruffy Broadway outlaw scene. I watched as he walked off, and I saw when he came back later, with a big German Shepherd on a short leash, and stopped to listen again.

The next evening he passed by, walking, with a pretty, long haired woman, up a few doors to the Condor Club. She was wearing the full length type of overcoat that all the Condor dancers favored wearing to and from work, and after she pushed through the curtains and disappeared into the club, the guy came back, and listened to me play some more. He was definitely checking me out.

I took a break, bummed a smoke, and started talking to him. He loved Roky Erikson’s wild harp on the end of ‘Miss Me.’ I was surprised he knew Roky’s name. Me & Johnny had been the worlds prime interpreters of the Elevator’s music, we played their songs every night, and talked about them endlessly. Anyhow, the guy said his name was Jack, that he was a songwriter, came from Alaska, and dug the music I was doing. He was putting a band together. I went back and picked up my guitar and played ‘Friday On My Mind,’ ‘Secret Weapon’ and ‘Sunnyland Moan,” and made a couple bucks.

He asked me ‘How much, on the average, do you make out here a night?’ and I lied and said ‘ fifty bucks.’ He lied and said ‘I’ll pay you double that if you join my band,’ and that was the beginning of it.

He invited me up the street with him, to share a joint.

Sure. I packed up my Yamaki and we headed up Broadway past the strip clubs, to Stockton Street. We took a right and walked another half block, up to where a white Ford Country Squire wagon was parked on the curb. He unlocked it, we got in, he lit up and we smoked.

I got real high. Maybe ’cause I hadn’t eaten all day, but as we were sitting there watching the traffic on the street, I felt like an alien, the SF street so foreign, the light, the sky, the pigeons, all seemed so chaotic. Life is so strange.

‘How you gonna make it?’ he asked me.

A deep question. I felt like I was in the bottom of a hole the size of  the Grand Canyon, and Jack had leaned over and yelled it down to me from a great height.

‘Huh? What do you mean, make it? I am making it’ I answered.

‘No, how are you going to make it in music? You know, make records, get famous and rich… play concerts around the world? You know what I mean. How are you going to make it?’

I’d never thought of that before, it had never even occurred to me as a serious subject. I was playing music for a living already, wasn’t I? I mean, vaguely, as something that could happen in the distant future, a big career in rock and roll? Maybe. Derek and I had talked about it, but had never got anywhere. Johnny was running from the law, so he wasn’t interested. I had kinda figured I wanted to be like my heroes, a nomadic blues singer, or some kind of wandering minstrel.

I had nothing to say for myself.

Jack asked if he could borrow the guitar so I got it out and passed it to him, and he started to sing, sitting right there, all cramped behind the steering wheel, turned my way. It was a loud fast one, that he’d written himself, and his face turned crimson as he sang. ‘Don’t leave me hangin’ on the telephone! Don’t leave me hangin’ on the telephone!.’

Impressive. But I wasn’t really moved. So he played another one, and turned an even brighter shade of red. This one was ‘I’m a new man living in wide world! I’m a new man, living in a wide world.’ It had a driving beat and a great melody. I got caught on the hook. This one got me. A wide world, that was my dream. Starting a new life, a million miles away from my past. Yes.

I told him I’d think about it.

He split, and I walked the streets of North Beach. Man, I had better get busy.

By the next time we ran into each other on Broadway, Jack had worked up a secret plan to make it to the top. His ideas and enthusiasm were charismatic. At least I thought so. Soon I began to see a lot people weren’t so taken with him. He talked fast, with a sort of Northwestern twang, and it was obvious to me, he was going to make a dent in the wall of the worlds indifference. He was a couple years older than me, and though he seemed to have come up on the outside of life like I did, he was ahead of me in a lot of ways. He was his own Lennon, McCartney, and Brian Epstein all boiled into one dreaming loudmouth!

‘We’ll make it right off the street! San Francisco is our Liverpool. This street music scene will be our cavern club. We’ll use amps, man, battrey operated. Pat’s got one, a Mike Matthews Freedom Amp! We can take the whole band out to where the people are. Play outside on the Wharf during lunch hours. School kids  and secretaries will come out, it’ll be a sensation, we’ll cause riots. Herb Caen will have to cover it. But the whole thing has to be undeniable! The songs, the guitars, the clothes, it all has to be right, powerful.’

There was a big street music thing going on in San Francisco. And if the songs were great, when you really thought about it, with a little imagination, it did seem possible.

He wanted the band to wear short hair, long hair was hippie, old style. He said the electric guitar should sound like a saxophone, he was tired of all the guitar noodling that was in vogue in 70’s ‘progressive’ rock. He hated hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive, and he mocked it all.

‘Music’s been dead since the 60’s, but it comes back again every ten years,’ he said.

I wasn’t so sure. He challenged me.

“What’s any good. then?”

“The Stone’s Exile” I answered. “The Band, Bob Dylan, blues.”

‘The Stones were great when they had Brian Jones, man, and when Jagger and Richards were still writing great songs. They’re past it! That blues stuff is tired, man, it’s been done.”

He wouldn’t discuss those other guys, still, there was something about what he was saying. I was intrigued, this was the invitation to an adventure. And he was by far the most talented songwriter I’d met in California so far. There was some real magic in those tunes, something I knew was hard to come by.

The first Nerves rehearsal was a gas, more like a party. It was in someone’s  apartment on Sutter Street. Pat Speed, the rush freak, was there to blow harp,  and Sitka Pat, the street musician that frequently played out in front of the Swiss, played lead guitar. It turned out he had grown up with Jack in Alaska. An old black blues singer named Koko made the scene. He always played a harmonica taped to the broomhandle  neck of a washtub bass that he thumped in crazy rockin’ jump time. Koko was a big drinker, had lost all his teeth, and sounded like Sonny Boy Williamson. I think Rush invited him, Guitar Pat invited Rush. Jack invited me, though it wasn’t clear what my role was supposed to be. i didn’t have an electric guitar or amp, just my Yamaki. Jack wanted me there, so I went, ’cause I was curious, drawn… this band thing was fascinating in it’s possibilities. I pulled it out and rocked along in another dimension.

Jack and Sitka Pat got their arrangement of Hanging On The Telephone down, while Pat Speed vibrated, twitched, commented through his high velocity mustache, and generally irritated Jack, every so often even blowing a little harp. Koko rocked, drank wine, and his speech got more and more unintelligible, his patois was so thick in the first place, and after awhile no one could understand a word he said but Pat Speed, who held great lively  conversations with him.

The next session was across the bay, in a black residential neighborhood on the  Oakland/ Berkeley line. WE met in the garage  behind the house of the drummer Bobby Freeman’s Condor Club band. he was a great drummer, but he’d never played anything like ‘Hangin’ On the Telephone.’  This was the first day of  the new dispensation, the first blast of the new music that would be coming from everywhere in a few years. Something new was being born that day in that garage.

We were all smoked up to the moon. Jack was on bass, Sitka Pat played loud electric lead through the Matthews amp. Pat Speed was nowhere to be seen, guess he hadn’t made the cut. I banged on the acoustic, and played percussion, and as the day went on, the session got more intense.

Jack sat in a chair facing the drummer and shouting at him, trying to get this guy who was used to 50’s R&B and strip house  show band rock grooves, to play a fast and driving straight  eighth note groove, without fills, or anything fancy. Everytime the guy tried to tart it up, Jack yelled over the electric blare. It was ‘yeah… yeah…. YEAH! … NO!  on and on. Jack turned red and the whole thing kept going.

It was the assault of the new: loud, driving, a catchy song, but intense and screaming. Nothing had ever sounded like this.

I knew it was great, that I was the witness at a birth, and I  was bored at the same time. I saw it was Jack’s scene, he didn’t care what anyone else did or thought. I got restless and went outside, looking around the area for something to do, while I waited for a ride back to the city with Pat and Jack. I played my guitar. I was still looking for it.

More »