Digital Tavern: Rock and Roll Saved My Soul and That’s Why I’m Here Today

As a youngster I remember playing the lively tunes from The Lonely Bull on the piano.  I also played a nice version of Lady Madonna.  But it was America’s favorite band, Creedence Clearwater Revival that really made we want to be a rocknroller.  Three girls in the fifth grade did a seductive dance to Born on the Bayou in the school talent show that awakened me to a new world of possibilities.  Before I was into Hendrix, Dylan, Yes, ELP, Mick and Keith, my sister and I collected CCR albums.  My favorite was Green River but I loved them all.  I listened to the radio quite a bit.  I’ll never forget listening to Don’t You Love Her Madly on the big Fisher console stereo.


So most of the kids at school knew that I played the piano well.  By the time I was eleven or twelve I had a couple of originals that sounded pretty good including a mambo that I am still proud of to this day.  So I made a friend in class.  He said that he was learning to play the bass.  He encouraged me to get some type of keyboard.  He had bright red long hair the color of carrot juice.  His dad was a professor just like my dad.  I had $200 in my savings account saved up from odd jobs.  Mom drove Paul and myself down to the epic Apex Music on Broadway in downtown San Diego in the spring of 1972.  The clerk escorted the three of us down to the basement where they kept the used gear that was for sale.  I remember seeing a two-piece guitar amp that looked a little bit like a Fender.  It was a Gibson 50-watt amp probably built in the late 1950s.  (I actually played with a guitarist in Clairemont a few years later that had a Gibson Rhythm King amp.  His buddy played a wicked harp.  I learned how to play the blues harp myself after I heard a guy walking down a street in Birdrock one day waiting for my mom to pick me up after a piano lesson.)  Next to that Gibson amp was a Farfisa Mini-Compact electric organ, 49 keys, manufactured in Italy some time in the early 1960s.  I think it was a Farfisa on Ninety-Six Tears and maybe Runaway.  The Kingsmen had a guy that played one.  Elvis Costello brought back the Farfisa sound.  At that time, Farfisa was the industry leader shortly before the Arp synthesizers changed the entire landscape.  My little axe was considered a campy throwback to an earlier day.  I bought it for $200 US.  At first my friend loaned me a Fender Champ amplifier.  Then one day a guy sold me a 100 watt tube amplifier with four 6L6 vacuum tubes.  These were the workhorses of the Fender amps and the Marantz and Harman-Kardon high-end tube amplifiers of the 1950s and 1960s.  My grandfather surprised me in 1977 by repairing my amp with a big, fat capacitor.  But my sound was quite flat coming out of a guitar amp.


Still, I had a decent technique.  I had started learning to play the pipe organ the previous year, so my touch on the organ was good.  Some of the older musicians took the two of us in to cut our teeth and fill out their sound.  The guitarists were amazing.  My friend played a Gibson ES-335.  He could make it jangle like the Byrds or sing like the Allman Brothers.  We did a badass version of One Way Out.  The other guy played a strat through a big tall Vox Super Beatle Amp.  He was the Jimmy Page sound.  I learned a lot that first year.  We did Danny’s Song and even a nice version of Can’t Find my Way Home.  When we played Zeppelin it probably sounded more like Steppenwolf with all of that rhythm on the organ.  My friend wanted me to try to play the famous synthesizer solo on From the Beginning by ELP.  I said I didn’t have the sound.  But he had an idea.  He let me borrow his crybaby and we used the filter with the Farfisa multi-tone booster to come fairly close to the basic oscillator sound.  This led me to buy a crybaby to dress up my sound a little bit.


My big break came when I bought a Leslie Combo 12 from a studio guitarist.  That thing had the sound I had been dreaming of.  My pals and I used to get so stoned, I remember one guy who would just sit in front of the cabinet listening to the sound baffle go round and round.  It had the fast tremolo speed as well to build up to a climax.  MXR phase shifters were the choice pedal in 1974.  I got a phase shifter and my sound was complete.  Suddenly, I was a bankable commodity.


A band that had a keyboard player could do a lot more of the music that was wildly popular in 1974-1975.  Guitarists began to teach me their favorite songs.  My next band did a stompin’ version of Whippin’ Post as well as a truly beautiful version of In Memory of Elizabeth Reid.  Les Brers in A-minor was a work of art.  Santana was just about the hottest thing going as we covered Evil Ways, Oye Como Va and Black Magic Woman.  This was the year that I bought my Fender Rhodes 73 and ran it through a simple JBL 15” Musical Instrument Speaker in a homemade cabinet.  I switched speakers with the Leslie footswitch.  Honky-Tonk Women.  Songs from Jeff Beck Wired.  I was having a ball.  I must have played hundreds of private parties anywhere from the beach to the top of Mt. Soledad or even once in a mansion near Black’s Beach.  We never made a fucking cent. But we had really great times.  I ended up playing with Carlos the most.  He loved everything the Stones ever did and we did some beautiful Santana.  Samba pa Ti.  Lots of musicians came and went, but you remember some of the best ones.  There was a bass player named Eddie who loved to work out originals with me and my buddy, the drummer.


Fast forward four or five years, I was playing with some of the old-school San Diego musicians that knew San Diego’s famous son of blues rock, the venerable Paul Cowie of the King Buiscuit Flower Hour.  We got a gig in Clairemont for a house party.  We set up on the patio.  I always love playing outdoors the best.  There I met a wonderfully sophisticated older woman.  The band was fairly good.  We had an eclectic song list including Maybelleine, Cheap Sunglasses and Shakin’ All Over.  I always wanted to know what Chuck Berry was saying.  My Grandpa had that record.  That woman turned out to be one of my best friends.  I used to buy a quart of beer after church and head over to her house to play chess, barbecue or just hang out.  We stayed in touch over the years.


I continued playing the next five years with other bands from all over San Diego. 


Fifteen years after I had met her, I made that older woman fall in love with me.  We got married in a church.  I wrote the wedding song myself.  Twenty-two years of wedded bliss.  Incredibly the next year, I pulled my old equipment out much to my delight discovered that it still all worked very nearly perfectly.  I went to down to Ocean Beach with one of my old drummers to play songs by a singer-songwriter and hang out with the deadheads at garden parties.  It was much more fun than I had enjoyed in many years.  When the band finally broke up, I figured that my career as a rocknroller had come to a natural close.


But rocknroll gave me one last gift.  Back in 2000 I bought an Alesis 7.1 so I could join a band with some of my old friends and a dewd who was into Allman Brothers and country rock.  We had a great name, “The Slaves of Rhythm.”  But nobody was really happy.  I was trying to make my synth sound like an acoustic guitar.  It was worse than Worship Team in church.  But lo and behold, our one paying gig in a little dive on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach, I ran into a guy who remembered me from the early 1970s.  He was four years younger than me which was a big difference when I was only fifteen.  Woody was playing drums in a band that I found incredibly exciting.  It was a Latin Soul Sextet.  Timbales, Congas, Drums, Singer, Bass and Guitar.  The guitarists was incredible.  He played these really bitchen counter-melodies on a guitar, singing a little bit like Carlos, but original.  Every song was original too.  Woody told the founder of the small orchestra that I used to always sound pretty good back in the day.  I talked to Patrick after the gig and they decided to give me a try.  I got a practice tape with about ten songs on it.  I studied that tape like a college course.  I listened to it over and over.  I wrote down all of the melodies and keys and song structures.  By the time I auditioned, I nailed it!  It was love at first sight.  We were a septet now.  I played with those guys for five years.  We practiced twice a week in a warehouse.  We played Cinco do Mayo at the Del Mar Fair or the Old Town Mexican Café.  We did Street Festivals.  We played in parks.  We recorded once for KPBS, but we got canned for being caught smoking pot.  If you have ever been a musician playing the clubs in San Diego you can understand why I was so happy to be doing outdoor gigs.  One night we even played in the beer garden at the Coors Amphitheater the night the Carlos Santana was headlining.  To remember it all I have a ten-song CD with me playing piano, organ or synth on every track.  I remember the look on the face of my friend Carlos when I played the CD for him and he realized that it was me and I had betrayed him that night in Pacific Beach!


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