Norton Buffalo Benefit @ Oakland’s Fox Theater, January 22nd & 23rd


January 20, 2010

One of the nicest musicians and gracious people I’ve ever known, Norton Buffalo, was a friend to many of the musicians in our community. Back in the mid ’70s when we had our annual award ceremony, The Bay Area Music awards or Bammies (Named after the magazine of the same name), the two of us were presenters. There was no script, so we made up a little banter to do on stage, right before we went up. The show had no catering back then, and the venue no food. We joked that we were paired as Lobster and Buffalo. Norton then said “Yeah, Surf and Turf” to which I said to the audience “Hey, this is the only meal you’re gonna get tonight.” His legendary work with The Steve Miller Band, The Doobie Brothers, Huey Lewis, Bonnie Raitt and many others will be his legacy. All these musicians and more will perform at a benefit will be held to help his wife Lisa pay the medical costs of his chemotherapy, etc., which ran up very quickly. During the Noon Hour on the Sunday, January 24th Lobster’s Sunday Brunch, we’ll feature a Local Catch set with Bonnie Raitt’s hit version of the Del Shannon rock classic “Runaway.” Norton’s multi-key harmonica solo on the song to me was the very thing that gave the version musical gravitas to match Bonnie’s vocal. Heaven now has one hell of a harp player.

 

Filed under: Lobster Tales — admin @ 2:09 pm

WOODSTOCK – 40 YEARS AND COUNTING


August 30, 2009

WoodstockTicket

My ticket was left in the mud.  No one was at any gate to collect it when we arrived at Yasgar’s Farm, and we didn’t know we were making rock history at the time.  Like my Marvel Comic collection that included the very first issues of Spiderman, etc., it is worth much more than face value now.

In an article in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal, WOODSTOCK: BUT HOW WAS THE MUSIC by Jim Fussili, the writer takes an angle that focuses on the musical flaws of the festival. The story mentioned that actors had been added in the studio to crank up the “Higher” cheer and other revisionist ideas, like Michael Shrieve’s drum solo in “Soul Sacrifice” was added from another show and what a substandard concert it was because of the bad technical sound production problems and the drug sodden performances.   The article can be read by clicking on ”link” on this page at the bottom right.

This prompted a comment from your friendly local Crustacean/DJ that was printed in the Wall Street Journal Online.
Fascinating reading. At least Country Joe’s “Gimme an F” cheer was real…yet please allow me to slightly debunk the debunking of the “live” recording and the enhancements for the movie and soundtrack.

From a position next to the first light tower in front of stage left, my fellow teenagers from NYC and I camped out from before dawn on Saturday till slightly after Ten Years After. One thing I had brought with me, in addition to food items like cans of Dinty Moore beef stew and bottles of Sangria, was a portable Sony TC100 cassette recorder.

Sony TC100

Being a college radio type from WCCR at the City University of New York in upper Manhattan, I made six hours of tape. I’ve used them to create radio features, and they ran on CBS Radio Networks as “Wavy Gravy’s Woodstock Flashbacks” nationwide during the 25th Anniversary.

When Alvin Lee was doing “Coming Home,” we were carrying out two mud-filled sleeping bag wrapped around an umbrella to my Dad’s ’65 Buick Skylark, which I had managed to park right across the road next to the field. Coming back to our spot to pick up some other items, I stuck the then bent and broken umbrella in the ground…where it was photographed in the aftermath of the festival for Life Magazine.

As much as I admire Jim Fusilli’s writing, not all his revisionist points are fact. Yes, the technical problems were many and several of the bands did far from their best in the water soaked and chemically sodden conditions they played in. Yet, in many instances, artists are critical of their shows even when the crowd experienced a transformational performance. Such was Woodstock.

With the evidence of my recording from the crowd perspective, “I Want to Take You Higher” reverberated louder and more enthusiastically during the crowd’s call and response with Sly on “Higher” than any attempt to augment it in a Hollywood studio. Another point made about Michael Shrieve’s drum solo, the cassette of their entire set I made needed no overdubbing. It was there.

The “three days of fun and music” as Max Yasgur said, is also on my tapes, as well as the stage announcement Wavy Gravy said early Saturday morning before the famous “breakfast in bed for 400,000” mess call. It was a welcome to the crowd that expressed the need for us to pull together in the “mud puddle.”

Although it was a disaster in many ways, Woodstock in 1969 will always remain for me as a fond memory of a once-in-a-lifetime event. Music aside, in a “city” of a half-million people, which was the third largest city in New York State for three peaceful days, we touched the sky.

Paul Wells
Flow Communications
aka “The Lobster” host of Lobster’s Sunday Brunch

 

Filed under: Lobster Tales — admin @ 9:49 am

The Last Trip to Tulsa


July 5, 2009

Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of the bands we discovered early on in the Bay Area. When their first album was released, your friendly neighborhood Crustacean-DJ was Music Director of KZSU Stanford and a weekend /fill-in DJ for KSJO in San Jose.

Since we were in the “South Bay,” we had an affinity for Southern rockers. At the time, playing “Freebird” at a college radio station was cutting edge, and not edits of any songs. We would play Michael Oldfield’s Tubular Bells one album side at a time, and could mix Led Zeppelin with Chuck Mangione, Joni Mitchell and James Brown. “Progressive Rock” on the FM was winning in the radio ratings. We were the social media. Interactive with the listeners. “Freebird” was popular with our audience, and the request lines were a source of our programming, and that and local album sales was how we decided that the music we were playing was working. The KISS principle…Keep It Simple, Stupid!

So, when Bill Graham’s Day of the Greens on July 4th Weekend in 1977 had Lynyrd Skynrd second billed to Peter Frampton, they played on July 2nd and July 4th. Since they had a 727 sent by Promoter Barry Fey to pick them up after the show in Oakland on July 2nd and bring them back in time for the July 4th D.O.G., they agreed to play Willie Nelson’s Picnic in Tulsa Oklahoma on July 3rd.

The plane had a lot of room, so they invited some of their Bay Area radio friends to fly with them on this tour date. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so even though I was using the KSJO Van to move to a house in Campbell, I left all my stuff in it, parked on the driveway and met up with Skynyrd at the Claremont Hotel to catch the flight that night.

Instead of flying directly to Tulsa, our plane was also supposed to pick up Waylon Jennings in LA as well. Since it was a chartered flight, we landed in Burbank and they dropped the back door down to the tarmac out of the tail section and waited. I was standing outside of the plane with Steve Gaines sharing a smoke when we heard a rumbling growl approaching the airplane. Up drove a troop of Hells Angels on their Harleys, with their girlfriends and a case of beer. Seems old Waylon decided to catch another flight to the gig, and had told some biker friends they could fly with us.

The H.A.s parked their Hogs by the hanger and boarded. Dean Kilpatrick, the road manager of the band, passed the word that all of us in the Lynyrd Skynyrd posse would move to the front of the plane and cede the back to the bikers with their babes and beer. Kind of pulling out wagons in a circle, I wound up in the aisle seat across from Ronnie Van Zandt. The band had just released the Street Survivors album, and would tour the rest of the year in support of it. It was nearly 3am when we flew on to Tulsa, and I decided that a couple of airplane bottles of Johnny Walker Red would help me take a nap. At the time, Ronnie had stopped drinking, and over indulging. The song “That Smell” was about getting away from excess, and he watched me down the whiskey. He was having none.

I finished the second and said to him, “I gotta get some sleep. It’s gonna take us all night to get to Tulsa. Ronnie smiled and said “Man, that’s nothin. In our plane it would take us twice as long and we’d be lucky if we made it.” That DC-3 their management leased for them was the plane that crashed in October, taking the lives of Ronnie, Dean, Steve and his sister Cassie Gaines.

Their set at Willie Nelson’s Picnic smoked, and their super-human crew managed to pack up their gear in Oakland, pack it on to the plane, get it all set up on the stage in Tulsa in time for their set at noon, break it all down again, load out, onto the plane and then set it up at Oakland when returned to Oakland that night. My hat was off to them and the band for playing three of the strongest sets I’ve ever heard from any rock band anytime, and sleeplessly flying half-way across America and back in the process.

A highlight of the Tulsa trip for me was the ride back to the hotel their after the performance. One of the roadies put me in a limo. Sitting in the back between two beautiful woman and behind a cloud of really good marijuana was Willie Nelson himself. We chatted, and years later we met again backstage at Neil and Pegi Young’s Annual Bridge School benefit at Shoreline in Mountain View. He remember our little meeting in Tulsa. So much for short term memory loss…

When we got back to Oakland in was after Midnight, and the band had a room for me the Claremont. After checking in, I went over to a room with a bunch of the members of the band and crew, and brought a live performance cassette of the band that I managed when 20 years old in New York City. It had a song called “I’m On The Road Again,” which I thought would be perfect for Skynyrd. The band, Garfield Place (named after the street in Brooklyn where the band had a flat they live and rehearsed in) did what we referred to as Country Rock Fusion. Upon hearing the tape, the Skynyrd guys asked when it was recorded, and were blown away to learn it was in 1970, long before Al Kooper discovered them. Garfield Place had a lot of influences, including the Allman Brothers, but it sounded so much like a Southern rock band, the guys were wondering if we we copying Lynyrd Skynyrd.

After their set at the July 4th Day on the Green, blowing away headliner Peter Frampton for the second time in three days, I said goodbye backstage to Ronnie Van Zandt, and handed him the cassette with an “x” on the side with “I’m On The Road Again.” He put it in his shirt pocket, and that was the last time I saw him or heard the song. I still remember most of it. Maybe I’ll sing it to Johnny and Gary sometime. That was also my last trip to Tulsa. Ironically enough, in 1991 at the Concord Pavilion, I saw Bill Graham backstage at a Lynyrd Skynyrd show, and that was the last time I saw him as well. Miss all the friends who have exited along life’s highway. and in another blog…or in the book version, I’ll include how Bill Graham prevented a stabbing in front of the stage during Peter Frampton’s set on July 4th, 1977…and of course you’ve never heard about it. More Lobster Tales to come. Thanks for reading…and for listening.

Musically yours, The Lobster121754

 

How Paul Wells became The Lobster on the radio


March 9, 2009

It was an accident. Not planned, but with a lot of twists and ties to people, music and culture that reinforces the idea that nothing is really an accident. If someone asks when time is short, I’ll just say, “Gamma Rays like The Incredible Hulk.” If that works for you, then stop ready this blog entry now…

I went to college at the City University of New York branch, CCNY, in the middle of Harlem in Manhattan. I was a freshman sitting in the student lounge when the DJ on the Student radio station, WCCR, read a PSA about joining the club. There was no communications or broadcasting department at CCNY at the time.

It cost me $2 to join, and I started doing my own shows, progressing from a Jazz and Blues DJ to a Rock DJ as the music of the late sixties became more vibrant and experimental.

As a college radio reporter, I bought myself a portable Sony TC 100 Cassette Recorder and a microphone. There’s a bootleg tape made of Procol Harum on August 1, 1969 in Central Park. I never sold a copy of it, but it got circulated and treasured by collectors. In the late ’70s at a friend’s house in Redwood City, CA, he started to tell me about this really great Procol Harum concert he had a copy of. I asked him if the mix was a little loud on the guitar. He said yes, and I told him that was because I was sitting in front of Robin Trower about 20 rows back. Now we get to the Lobster part…

The winter after Woodstock, my friend Mac had just quit the house band at Grossinger’s Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. He didn’t have a car, but had some stereo speakers up there he wanted to retrieve and sell.

Mac asked me for a ride. Since three friends and I were going for a ride on Friday night, and we needed a destination, if Mac wanted to hang with us and do what we were going to do, we’d go where he needed to go.

Along the way, we listened to the AM radio (My Dad’s ’65 Buick Skylark didn’t have FM) and that tape of Procol Harum. While the instrumental “Repent Walpurgis” (based on a classical music theme) was playing as we drove, it sounded like a lobster to my friend David, who was riding shotgun.

When we got to the house where Mac’s speakers were, Dave sat down at a typewriter and started to write a poem called “The Mighty Lobster” It was about going out on missions like the Lafayette Escadrille fighter pilots in World War I.  He wrote about a vision of a lobster turning dials and pushing buttons, while music was playing.

We drove back, first stopping as a pilgrimage to Yasgur’s Farm, the sight of Woodstock. It was late at night, and what had been a muddy hillside was covered by crystal icy snow shimmering in the moonlight. It truly felt as if something magical happened there.

When we got back safely to The Bronx, it was about dawn. Dave read the poem to us, and knowing I was buying a Ford Econoline 200 Supervan with windows all around, he suggested I name it “The Mighty Lobster.” Since I ordered a blue one, I said we’ll call it “The Mighty Blue Lobster,”  which became the name of my radio show.

Back to my senior year in college. I was an English Major with Journalism by then, having dropped the plan to become a Veterinarian. My brother at this point was a graduate student at Stanford. I visited him and my sister-in-law in late October. Riding around Menlo Park on a bicycle wearing a t-shirt in the warm California sun convinced me to move out West. A second visit in February was the clincher. By that time, there were five FM Rock Stations in the Bay Area. Two in San Jose, KSJO and KOME…three in S.F., KMPX, KSAN and KSFX.

I resigned from all my courses at CCNY and finished my Senior year at WCCR. By this time, I had sold the lobster van to my Uncle, who was a contractor on Long Island. Working in the wholesale used car business, I was given a check to pick up a Volvo 164 at a Ford dealership in Monticello NY, close to where Woodstock had been held. I took a bus up there, pretty toasted from being out late the night before. While I road north, I was trying to remember the Hog Farm name for former Beat Poet “Tongue Dancer” Hugh Romney. He had made the famous “Breakfast In Bed for 400,000,” but I couldn’t remember…finally thinking I had the “heebee geebees” I realized that was close. Heebee geebee, oobie doobie…wavy GRAVY!!! It was like magic words. Once I was able to say his nickname (given to him by B.B. King after Woodstock, I felt better. I got off the bus at the dealership on Hwy 17B, and picked up the car. It only had 1800 miles on it. It seems a guy bought it but couldn’t handle a clutch, so he traded it for a Mustang with an automatic transmission. This Volvo was battleship gray with red leather seats. The sticker was still in the window, and plastic still covered the seats, doors and rug.

It was a Saturday, and my boss like to close early. After taking the Subway from the Bronx to the bus terminal in Manhattan,  the ride north and the drive back, he had gone by the time I got back. The car was mine for the weekend. I went home and washed up, heading out for a Saturday night in Manhattan.  My first stop was to pull up at a Flower Stand on the corner of 2nd Avenue and St. Mark’s Place, a few blocks up from Bill Graham’s Fillmore East.  My friend Billy who was working there looked at the car and asked me if it was mine.  I said “No, it’s one from where I work.”  When I turned back and looked at the car, knowing we had bought it for over 2 grand less than the sticker in the window, I said to myself “Well, it COULD be mine.”

Now, at this point, one would wonder, what does this have to do with the nickname? I bought the Volvo and moved West in it. The car came with it’s own tool kit. There was a crescent wrench it it that had a brand on it: “New Lobster.” Here I was, 21 years old, driving across America to start a new life.

Fortunately, for me and my dog Starr, we found a place to live in the Redwoods up in Woodside near Skyline. The five radio stations all were cordially to me, and listened to my tape. Only one Program Director, Doug Droese of KSJO, gave me any encouragement. He said “You have good pipes, hang in there.” I got a job cooking in a nightclub at University and High in Palo Alto, and a midnight Thursday night shift at KZSU, Stanford.

Now, in college radio, everyone had names for their shows…and I knew I wanted to bring back the name lobster somehow. Hadn’t figured it out until I turned the microphone on in KZSU’s tiny 4 x 4 Studio B booth and said “KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM, my name is Paul Wells and the name of the show is The Lobster …Box.” There was a restaurant on City Island called lobster box. You can see in the background in the movie A Bronx Tale. Robert DiNiro plays a bus driver, and the end of the line was right there on the far end of the Island off the Long Island Sound.  A fairly recent picture of me visiting it, holding up a Bass Guitar, is at my Lobster (public figure) Facebook Page.

After starting at KZSU, I began saying Paul “The Lobster” Wells on-the-air. The students and my fellow DJ started calling me lobster because we had a problem with someone stealing records out of the KZSU library. No one knew me very well, and I posted a note in the library titled “Dear Record Rip-off Shithead” and on a whim, signed it “Lobster.”

After a year, and a stint as KZSU’s Music Director, the PD of KSJO gave me a job. I decided to just use “Lobster” on-the-air.  Simple.  It got stuck in my craw.  Fittingly, there’s a chapter in Lewis B. Carrol’s Alice In Wonderland called The Lobster Quadrille. “Tis the voice of the Lobster I heard him declare, and he said woud you, won’t you dance with me.”  It was many years later till I realized that Lobster being a DJ fulfilled David’s vision.

 

Tawn Mastrey given postumous LA Music Award


November 21, 2008

Tonight in Hollywood, Tawn Mastrey was given an award presented to her sister Cara by Kenny Ryback.  Had a  few words to add to it, and appreciated Kenny calling to read me what he had written.  What I said to him was that Tawn had a voice like honey being poured in you ear.  Tawn was my radio buddy at KSJO San Jose in the late ’70s and KNAC in LA in 1986.  More than cohorts, we shared the same spirit, love of music and many adventures.  This very talented, bright, loving, warm and beautiful woman lost her life in October 2007 due to liver failure brought on by Hepatitis C, a disease that has no cure and is more widespread than most people know.  The Bob Dylan song “Simple Twist of Fate” comes to mind and the lyric “I do believe she was my twin…and I was born too late, blame it on a simple twist of fate.”  There are Lobster Tales to be written with Tawn Mastrey playing a part, and I’ll share one with you in her memory on this occasion.  I was working at KQAK in San Francisco in 1982.  Tawn had been fired from KSJO the year before, for the third time, but that’s another story.

In search of work, Tawn had taken a flight from SFO to LA and was late, so she parked it in the short term garage…for several days.  When she drove to the gate upon returning, she told them she had lost the ticket.  Apparently, they had marked her back bumper each day with paint you can only see with an ultra-violet light and when they checked it,  they wouldn’t let her take her car out without paying nearly two hundred dollars for the time, which she didn’t have.  I picked her up at the airport that afternoon and had a plan.  We hung out at my house until after midnight, and then returned to the airport.  It would be well after a crew shift, and they wouldn’t know about the confrontation earlier in the day.  The car, by the way, was a big early 60’s pink and white Plymouth Tawn had named “Christine” after the haunted one in the horror movie of the same name.  It was a bit recognizable.

When we returned to the airport in my car, I pulled up to the automatic ticket gate at the entrance to the garage at the airport and pulled out the ticket, which triggers the gate to go up.   I turned to Tawn and said “On second thought, let’s not park in the garage.”…and backed away.  Tawn smiled as she realized what I was up to as we circled the terminal, returned to the entrance where I pulled a second ticket, this time going in.  We parked my car near hers and went and had a drink at an airport bar.   When we walked back to our cars, I handed her one of the tickets with less than an hour on it, and followed her and Christine to the exit gate in my car.  When she handed the attendant the ticket, he looked back but I was right behind her, blocking his mirrored view of her bumper, scowling at him with my best “Hey buddy, hurry up and take her money, I’m in a rush to get outta here” look.  He didn’t bother to ask me to back up so he could see her bumper.  She paid, I recall, $1.50 and was out.  We pulled over after we were clear of the garage and got our of our cars laughing like partners in crime after a heist.  Tawn thanked me, we hugged, kissed each other goodnight and both drove off, having bailed Christine out for pennies on the dollar.

 

Lobster Tales: Fun With Words


October 3, 2008

The humor of George Carlin, and his ability to use our mother tongue to twist around a satirical thought like a pretzel made him one of my favorite comedians and an inspiration. (“What is pre-boarding? You’re either getting on the plane, or your not!) I dedicate this stringing together of clichés into a motivational speech In his memory.

When the dust settles, in a perfect world… at the end of the day, put first things first. In any event, if push comes to shove, all things being equal, worst-case scenario: Keep your nose to the grindstone, your shoulder to the wheel and you ear to the ground. All good things come to those who wait. Rome wasn’t built in a day. After all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Then, when you get the lay of the land in broad strokes, all roads lead to Rome. So, do the right thing and take the high road. I may be preaching to the choir, who always fall for the new paradigm hook, line and sinker. Or, what I’m saying here could be falling on deaf ears. When it’s all said and done, empower yourself to grow beyond all expectations. And, remember you can’t take it with you.

 

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