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The Old Guitar Player Memories – Chapter 2 – How I got my first really good guitar.

March 3, 2017


Chapter 2 – How I got my first really good guitar.

In 1968, 2 days before Christmas, something made me pack up my stuff & move to San Francisco from Chicago.  On the way there, I saw my first real UFO, but this isn’t about that.  When I got out there, I stayed with some friends in Tiburon, where my first earthquake experience (& the only one, fortunately) woke me by tossing me on the floor looking out an open door, down a steep cliff, into the San Fransisco Bay. It had stopped shaking by the time I realized where I was, definitely NOT in Chicago, anymore. I got back into bed, but I don’t recall if I went back to sleep right away or not… But, this isn’t about that, either.

After wandering around a bit (2 weeks?), I ended up staying at vocalist Tracy Nelson’s house (she was on the road for her 1st album “Mother Earth” tour) in Berkeley with a mutual friend (& a LOT of dogs), another guitarist who was also just trying to do something musical for money, while watching “I Spy” reruns for the 150th time.  He eventually (maybe in a month) got a gig as Musical Director for singer/guitarist Lynn Kellogg, fresh from her staring appearance in the Broadway hit “Hair.” So, he left for LA & finally had a couple nickels to rub together.

In short order, and through some other friends, I found myself auditioning for the old Greenwich Village-borne “Blues Project” remnants, which had just become “Sea Train.”  That audition was at the heliport in Sausalito, where airplane hangers & offices were rented out to various bands as rehearsal space.  There were a lot of musicians hanging out, all walking distance from where I’d spent my first literally shaky night on the West Coast (and no where near Berkeley).  Okay, the area is too hilly to walk it much, but…

This was a short time after Steve Katz & Al Kooper had left to form “Blood Sweat & Tears.”  I had no idea who the company I was keeping were, or what all they were involved in.  I barely had heard of the Blues Project at that time.  Remember (*I* certainly remembered), I’d grown up 60 miles from nowhere on a Colorado dry land wheat farm, already had served a short, but back-breaking stint in the US Navy, a wife & son, a divorce, had played initially as a solo “Folk Artist” in ’63-4, played lead guitar in a C&W band (or 3 – hello benzedrine), jammed a ton of Blues with various people (some of whom you all know), all that in Chicago between 1963 & 1968 (USN was ’61-2).

This setting in early 1969 was just great, the band owned all the equipment, so I left my cheesy-ugly J-Pan Funkmaster Brand X guitar (puke yellow with a melted checkerboard pickguard, but it played well) in the case, and *I* played Steve Katz’s brand-new Antique Cherry Red Gibson ES-335.  WOW, I LOVED that AX!!!  I quickly decided that whatever happens next, I NEED me one of THOSE!!!  (A few years prior, I’d played my buddy’s ES-345 Stereo, and I told him I’d probably really like one IF it had a Bigsby tremolo.  The 335 is nearly identical to the 345, but not stereo [where each PU goes to a different channel or amp] & the 345 also has a Varitone, a tonal variation switch & not something I needed.  But, Katz’s 335 didn’t have the Bigsby tremolo, either.)

Longer story shortened (a lot of other stuff happened in SF), I didn’t get the gig, a couple of the guys loved my Blues playing, but I couldn’t make sense of Andy Kulberg’s guitar chart (he was a flutist, primarily – also played bass, but that chart was more like made for 6 flutes, the @#$%^&* wise-ass), and I defy ANY guitarist I know to have done so (looked like a large gaggle of flies took giant craps on the staff paper). So, it happened that someone else was standing just outside the door, heard my stuff, and invited me to come jam with his band, which turned out to be one-hit-wonder Gale Garnet’s back-up band. (“We’ll Sing In The Sunshine”) That guy I befriended (Larry Ramos?) eventually became a new member of “The Association,” (I think it was him, anyway) while Jules “Gary” Alexander was “on hiatus.”  I know those guys too, but that’s also another story.  We jammed for hours, then I went back to Berkeley, and I don’t think I ever saw any of those people again (I may have seen Larry Ramos backstage in Atlantic City during a short “let’s go get stoned” visit with “The Association” in 1986, but – I was stoned).  Turns out “Sea Train” used a number of great guitarists in years hence, including Elliot Randall, the guy who played that awesome solo lead stuff on “Steely Dan’s – Reelin’ In The Years,” i.e.  Wow, I wonder if HE ever saw that freaking chart..?

About a month later (end of March?), & thanks to a plane ticket from my newly-rich friend the Musical Director, I was back in Chicago, and unbeknownst to me at the time, about to become a major composing-playing part of a 10 piece, all-original rock band called “Sun.” The first band in history to ever be offered $100,000.00 by a major label to create their first album – that never got done – never even really got started on, and yours truly almost got killed… Well wait, some other important stuff also happened, first.

Just before the first jam with those “Sun” folks (on Flag Day – June 14th – 2 months before Woodstock), in early May I think, I met up with some old friends who told me the guy who had taken my bed in Berkeley had ODed on heroin & died, and his sister wanted to see me.  Turns out her brother had left one of THOSE Antique Cherry Red Gibson ES-335 guitars behind.  I played a “from the heart” thing for her on it I do not remember at all, and she left in tears, then the friend at whose house this occurred came into the room & told me THAT ax was mine, all I had to do was get a case for it. NO problem, man! Thanks!!!  I had a case the next day, I also believe it might even have been the original case, because the wear marks inside were from a Bigsby tremolo, not something seen on very many of these axes at all, and yeah, THIS ax had one.  Anyway, turns out that God had just given me this dynamite ax, made exactly as I’d desired, and it was the one I was to earn a pretty good living with for the next 20+ years…

Moving on… The Flag Day 10 pc jam went really well, to say the insignificant least, and it was decided an outstanding new band was just born.  (There were a few more than 10 jammers there, but that’s another story, too.) In the coming weeks & months, that band made some really great all-original music, we looked great, it was a ton of fun, but I really can’t go into ALL that happened with it in less than a year, here. Just when we were about score the big move into stardom; fame, wealth, all that goes with it, this awesome band broke up when the male lead singer freaked out & strangled me until I passed out. I was DEAD!!!  Then, I wasn’t.  I forgave him immediately, but he’s never really forgiven himself.  I last spoke with him about 15 years ago, and he gave up music.  Too bad, he was really talented.  I don’t think anyone ever has figured out exactly why he went nuts, but he did.  I think I know why, but it’s not really important to anyone but him & his dead mother…

Some of the people in that 1969 10 piece band “Sun” are still friends today; Richie Morales, Rocco Jans, & friends of those friends, Jeff Parsons, Nick Talantis, Norman Reim, and many more who simply aren’t on Facebook.  I wore out that Antique Cherry Red Gibson ES-335 guitar WITH a Bigsby tremolo, at least twice, and ended up trading the poor ol’ worn out gal for some recording equipment in 1994.  I probably should have kept it (my youngest son said, “You did WHAT?  You’re gonna die, dad!!), but I have many other guitars now, even some with Bigsby tremolos.  😎

Life DOES go on after what you might think were your highlights, all that crazy stuff was 48 years ago – and shit still happens, continually… 🤓

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