Archive for July, 2012

17—SANDY GETZ—DOES SHE EVER!

The list of famous acts with which I like to sprinkle my resume mostly came from the next three years working with Sandy Getz. She didn’t fool around. I had no idea how lucky I was.

 Before she could do much, though, she needed a better tape than the garbled one I’d sent Ed Pearl. And I just can’t describe how difficult things like tapes and photos were to come by in those days if you didn’t have any money. In this case, since I didn’t know anyone with a tape recorder, I looked in the Bay Area yellow pages and finally found a small studio over in Oakland that would be willing to record six songs for $25, and I’d end up with two copies of the tape. This was hard, but possible.

 So we paid the toll and crossed the bridge and found the house—yes, it was a house, with clapboard siding, a teeny lawn yard full of un-mowed grass, and a rusty doorknocker. The person who answered was kind of a surprise to people who’d been living in Montana: tall, lean, hairy-bodied, wearing a flowered dress with nylons and British walking shoes, thick glasses, gray hair in a hair net, that kind of thing. He went about his business efficiently, so efficiently I couldn’t believe the songs were done being recorded and that was that; I guess I’d hoped to work with them a bit. But I ended up with two actual tapes in green Shamrock boxes, and they were my future. Perhaps later down the line I might get lucky and find someone who could make another copy while that was still possible.

 I say that because already when Gavin was 2, we’d left him sitting in the bus with the tape recorder, and when we came back he had it up and running, but he didn’t know about take-up reels, so the tape was in a giant pool around him, this being obviously the third tape he was auditioning, and this not only was a defining event in Gavin’s life, as he’s been doing essentially that ever since, but it also warned of the possible fates that might befall a tape.

 So what’s this list, let’s see how many I can remember. ELVIN BISHOP. ERIC BURDON. JOHN PRINE. JOHN FAHEY. MARC-ALMOND BAND. JOHN LEE HOOKER. JOHNNY SHINES. DOC WATSON, DOC AND MERLE. LOGGINS & MESSINA. BROWNIE & SONNY. RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOT. SPIRIT. THE DILLARDS. MOSE ALLISON. MIKE JANUSZ. ALBERT COLLINS. HELLO PEOPLE. CHEECH & CHONG. JIM KWESKIN. . . . Well, I’m really starting to be annoyed by my memory loss, since I would love to dazzle you with my name-dropping. Let’s say it included just about anyone who was medium well-known on the west coast in the early ‘70s.

 And my job, of course, was Opening Act. Sometimes I barely spoke to the main act; sometimes I played on stage with them. Some noticed me, some didn’t. Here are some typical scenes of being an opening act:

 THE GOLDEN BEAR in Huntington Beach. Elvin Bishop was the headliner. The Golden Bear was right across the street from the pier; you could go hang out and watch the night surfers straggling onto the beach with their boards, peeling off their wet suits under the streetlights. If you were me, you could accost them, invite them over to hear your show—and often they would show up. Afterward one of them might venture backstage and say, “Hi, remember me? I’m that one guy?” and I’d say, “Oh! Of course! Thanks for coming!” and away he would go, looking like that wasn’t exactly how he’d imagined this scenario would play out.

 Elvin and his chaps would always be back in a corner, doing what bands do in corners before going on, and I’d sit in another corner doggedly warming up, wishing I didn’t have to do this in the presence of these rather dominant musicians. But Elvin was a man of considerable sharpness—kindness as well, I’d say. He sat with his back to me, so as not to be listening, and then he came and told me I had a really great right hand. I am so naturally cranky that of course my first reaction was to think, so my left hand is not so good? It’s always been true, though, that my rhythm hand is much stronger than my note-selection hand. Elvin said, “Will you be playing in Chicago? If you are in Chicago, there are some people I want to introduce you to.” I thanked him and told him there was almost no chance I would ever go to Chicago, since I had a husband and two small children. He shrugged and said, “Well. If you do. I’d give you some lessons, be glad to.” So why did I not follow through on that? You tell me.

 With JOHN PRINE, at TULAGI’S in Boulder. John’s style was to play in the almost dark. He was intensely laid back, and so was his band. From the audience you’d just see these ghostly forms, a bit of sleeve moving slowly up and down across the strings, a momentary glimpse of someone’s profile. I don’t remember but am willing to bet they dressed in black. “Magnoliaaaaa,” he sang, like a night bird in a magnolia tree.

 I, on the other hand, wore a strappy aqua dress covered with brilliant red blossoms, red shoes to match, and my style was as up-front as John’s was laid-back. “I didn’t know God made honky-tonk angels,” I sang, twanging and grinning through one of the two songs we did together in a spontaneous moment. (I’d made sure to choose songs we all could play, at least I knew that much.) The contrast must have been electrifying. The first two rows of the audience began climbing up on the stage—I can still see their faces, with frankly open mouths, and their outstretched arms.

 EBBETS FIELD in Denver. The dressing room was upstairs, an elevator ride, and it was a large, modern, well-equipped place indeed, with armchairs and wall-to-wall carpeting. I did not mingle with the MARC-ALMOND BAND, or maybe they did not mingle with me. I remember underdressing and underplaying, considering what a very posh club it was. The band was so sharp, so talented—what on earth was I doing there? Horns, keyboards, brilliant solos, wow. John Marc, though, underdressed as well, in a plain, faded black jersey, open at the throat to reveal city-white skin.

 On the last night, I wore a long, slinky red gown. Then suddenly I was mingling like mad. All the band members became friendly as could be, and John Marc said, “My, you’re looking awfully dishy tonight.” “Oh,” I said, “well, hm. Yes. Sorry. It’s Saturday night.” He said, “Sorry? What do you mean, sorry? Why shouldn’t you look like this? You’re an entertainer, aren’t you?” I said, “I don’t know, am I?” He assured me I was, and then he allowed that he hadn’t liked me much at first, I seemed too snobby and distant, but now he could see that I was warm and dishy and he liked me just fine. I took advantage of our cozy new relationship to point out that one of his theme phrases—‘the good green earth beneath my feet’—was not good imagery, was city imagery, should be the brown earth, earth being brown and not green, and he said he liked his phrase very much, thank you, and was certainly not going to change it. “Well, it’s wrong,” I said.

 Even after this snippy little exchange, he asked me if I would like to attend an after-hours party with him, since I was certainly dressed for it. I said I had a husband and two children back at the motel. He said, “So what? Come anyway!” I said it would be nice but probably not. He said, “Please. I want you to. At least think about it, eh?” I said I would think about it. Later, having gone back to the motel as was proper, I did think about it, for hours. I thought, see? See? It’s always this way. No wonder I will never get anywhere, since I can’t hang out. You have to be able to hang out. Linda Ronstadt would have gone. Boo hoo.

 Now we’re at JOE’S BAR & GRILL in Boulder, a poorly-attended venue featuring ALBERT COLLINS as well as the SAN FRANCISCO MIME TROUPE. Albert has, evidently, one mode of performance, no matter what the crowd. He’ll strut across the stage with arched back, right knee and then left knee raised toward the ceiling, head thrown back in a fearsome grimace involving stretched lips, squinted eyes and clenched teeth, his guitar alternately cradled against his breast or thrust away as if it were a hot potato. I can see this working well before five hundred people. When it’s five people, huddled at their tables in a cavernous barn of a room, the effect is absolutely startling.

 One of those five people was a man called ‘The Silver Fox.’ I remind my readers that Silver Fox is an extremely popular name for gents whose hair has turned white before they feel ready to cash in their youth chips, and that I’m not referring to the singer of ‘Behind Closed Doors. I met the Silver Fox when the club manager came to me after my set and told me The Silver Fox was waiting in the office to meet with me. When I went in, the manager introduced us, “Kajsa Ohman—the Silver Fox.” Consequently I never knew what to call him and so didn’t call him anything. And what did he want with me? To be my manager! He’d fallen in love with my song, ‘Come All My Old Boyfriends,’ a number I’d considered a throwaway and have since forgotten.

 “You need to come to Chicago,” the Silver Fox said.  What’s this with Chicago all of asudden? I told him I really couldn’t operate out of Chicago since I had a husband and two small children. “You don’t have to move there,” he insisted. “Just come out for a brief business visit. I’ll pay your airfare.” It did cross my mind that while in Chicago I could go take a guitar lesson from Elvin Bishop—and by the time I was back home in Santa Barbara, Gene and I had decided if the guy was for real it could actually be arranged to send me to Chicago.

 The question was finessed, however, when the Silver Fox phoned to say he was now in Ventura, a half hour away, and I should meet him at the Wagon Wheel where we could discuss my future. So I drove down and sat with him in a booth and drank, well, really a lot. It seemed like we were talking a bunch of bullshit. I remember thinking I’d better let him know something about me. Maybe everything about me, from childhood on up. Except I had to go to the ladies’ room, where I threw water into my face and tried unsuccessfully to force a quick vomit. I’ve never been easy with this sort of interview. At any rate, I collected my wits and went back and sat across from him and continued my story.

 After a few minutes, he said, “Ma’am, this is interesting stuff, but I think you were with the gent in the next booth.” I stared. Two Silver Foxes in one lounge? And I couldn’t tell the difference? So I lurched over to my own Silver Fox and suddenly realized I was not going to Chicago, or anywhere else except back home to our little trailer to subsist on mortification for the rest of my life. [Yes, a patrolman did stop me on the drive home. He made me get out and recite the alphabet. This is something I can do at lightning speed any time of the day or night in any condition, and I think the officer was stunned. Anyway, he let me go, which he should not have done. Things were different back then.]

 And this is quite enough for today. It is exhausting to relive, even superficially, the events of one’s life. Try it some time. See you soon, with more of the same, or maybe it will be different. At least we know there’s a common element to all the stories, which is the fact of my being an idiot. Thanks for listening.

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GOD BLESS THE HIPPIE

16—GOD BLESS THE HIPPIE

 

While waiting for the Boardinghouse to open—living in my mother’s apartment, on a pile of blankets on the floor, with husband, boy and baby—I wrote a few new songs, including ‘God Bless the Hippie.’ This was/is a hectically fast flat-picking song in typical C chord progression, and as it has been so omnipresent in my life ever since, I’ll just lay it out right now.

 

               GOD BLESS THE HIPPIE  @KAJSA OHMAN 1970

 

    In a ’57 Chevy 6 that Richard loaned to me,

    With a burned-out generator, out on Highway 93

    I was all alone and stranded as the shades of night drew nigh—

    With the snowflakes whirling ’round me, lord, I knew I’d surely die.

    I stepped into the highway to extend my freezing thumb

    And I could have stood that way, my friends, till the day of Kingdom Come.

    Many cars went roaring past me in a cloud of mud and snow

    Till an old Dodge panel truck pulled up, and a hippie said “Hello!”

 

             God bless the hippie, wherever he may be—

             He’ll be a friend to you—oooooo, he’s been a friend to me.

 

    His hair hung down like feathers upon his velvet coat,

    He jingled when he walked and smelled of incense when he spoke.

    He was covered with medallions, to protect him from the cold,

And he handed me, in a friendly way, a joint just freshly rolled.

He looked into my engine, and he told me in a flash,

“I’ve an extra generator this dude traded me for hash!

I’d be glad to lay it on you, if you’d be so inclined,

’Cause these ’57 Chevy sixes really blow my mind.”

 

          God bless the hippie………..

 

I asked, “What do I owe you?” and he said, “The pleasure’s mine.”

As he stood there smiling down on me, the sun began to shine,

And many happy hours we spent in Richard’s Chevrolet

Till the breaking dawn reminded us we must be on our way.

He wrapped me in his jacket and he held me by my hand

And he promised me we’d meet again up in God’s golden land.

He gave me half a dollar and he gave me half a lid,

Climbed aboard his panel truck and shouted, “So long, kid!”

 

          God bless the hippie………………..

 

 

Okay, keep this song in mind, because the spirit of it gives the flavor of the next few years. The spirit, that is, of Hippie-dom, which despite sensational exceptions that were featured in the news was always based on Love. Love the one you’re with. Love the trees and flowers and the open highways, the home-baked bread, the home-written songs, and the home-grown leaf—though you didn’t necessarily have to love club owners, rival musicians, or people in Cadillacs who would not stop to help you when you broke down, which you would, because we really did drive a bunch of sorry wrecks back then.

 

While waiting for the Boardinghouse to open, an event that was put off again and again while days turned to weeks, I was delighted to run into John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers. John said they were playing right across the bay at THE LION’S DEN, and I should come over and see the show. He’d leave my name at the door. In fact, I should bring my guitar and do a song.

 

The next day, accordingly, was a busy one for me. First, I needed to finish ‘Hippie,’ memorize the lyrics and learn to play it. I also needed to sew a dress, and for some reason it had to be a complex one. [For those interested in such things, I already had three yards of Kelly green silk splashed with roses, and I made it up into a form-fitted gown, ankle length with a scoop neck and scalloped hem, scallops also along the edges of the short, ruffled sleeves. With a side zipper. So I had to learn, or devise, how the make a scalloped hem, and this is a thing I’ll doubtless never attempt again.]

 

After I got whatever sorry wreck we were driving then across the Golden Gate Bridge and managed to find the club, the rest was gravy. The Ramblers were doing a terrific show, and the audience was in fine fettle. In the break, I came out in my rosy green dress and played and sang ‘God Bless the Hippie’ as if I’d been doing it all my life. The crowd cheered and hooted for a long time, banging their fists on the tables, which as I recall were wooden barrels on end. The Ramblers hugged and kissed me and shook my hand. For that night I was golden.

 

They thought I should stay and meet the owner later and see if I could set something up. But I couldn’t stick around. Good though it would be to stay on this superhighway to success, I was pretty worried about driving back home by myself. Not only that, I’d been too long away from my baby, and milk was starting to seep out and soak the bosom of my new silk dress. Enough was enough—but thank you.

 

Now, about this superhighway to success: Can it possibly be that it exists in many forms? It occurs to me that moments like that one are the success. So it doesn’t happen again the next night, so what? Even the best superhighways in the land are occasionally broken by roadwork, or some other problem of discontinuity. You find yourself lost on a detour, or maybe you like this place you’ve driven through so much you decide to live here for a while. You take a scenic route, your generator goes out, and suddenly there’s the Hippie, who you never would have met had you kept on succeeding in whatever you thought you wanted.

 

At any rate, after playing the Boardinghouse, which I suppose was some kind of success (a review of opening night by Phil Elwood of the Chronicle said I got off to a shaky start but redeemed myself eventually), we drove down to Santa Barbara where we would live in a very small trailer in a friend’s canyon for a long time.  There was more mileage to be gotten out of the Scragg Family; Peter and his wife were now running THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ, a railroad-car-shaped room with beer and wine and a stage. As long as there’s a stage, I’m in. Except right away I managed to get the flu and hang on to it for three weeks, losing some weight and hair and confidence. Photos taken at the Ash Grove by PHIL MELNICK after that showed me looking fragile, dyspeptic and pale, la bohème wrapped in a fur coat and smiling wanly. Hardly the heroine of ‘God Bless the Hippie.’