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.
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’.