WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE GUITAR?


February 6, 2011

It’s not just a question for guitarists.

My “claws” are too thick to press down six strings…Must be why, as a teenager, after I had traded my accordion (started playing that torturous sideways piano at age 10) for an acoustic guitar, in complete frustration, I got myself a Bass. It was a cherrywood Gibson EB3, that looked like an Gibson SG. But, that wasn’t my favorite guitar. It was the one I couldn’t play, but admired in the hands of others who could. A Les Paul Custom, black with cream trim. When I was 19, still living in NYC, I managed a band called Garfield Place with a guitarist who played one. Ellery MacDonald Bowne. Mac is a gifted player who reminded me of George Harrison in his ability. Mac is part of the story of how I got the name “Lobster,” he was in the car with me and three other friends, listening to Robin Trower’s guitar playing on a live tape of a Procol Harum show that sounded like a lobster to my friend David riding shotgun.

Mac Bowne went on to be a studio engineer, but he did play lead guitar for Elephants Memory. They fired him right before I left New York…they wanted a rhythm player, and didn’t know that they were about to get one of the greatest rhythm guitarists in the world and become his back-up band. You see, this was just before John and Yoko Ono Lennon moved to NYC and Elephants Memory became John Lennon’s back-up band. Before I headed west in my Volvo (which came with a tool kit that had a wrench that said “New Lobster” as it’s brand…another clue…) I went to Greenwich Village to see Shawn Phillips play at the Gaslight at the Au Go-Go, two tiny basement nightclubs that dated back to the beatnik days that had merged into the same small space.

There was this big guy, hunched over a Les Paul just like Mac’s. His fingers were flying, and he was missing a tip on one, like Jerry Garcia. Being a college radio kid and seeing how he was playing my favorite guitar, I went backstage after the show and introduced myself. He and the other musicians were all getting together after the show, so I gave him a ride to the Hotel and hung out with them till nearly dawn. It was the day, going home to our Bronx apartment shortly before the sun came up, I announced to my parents (who were waiting up for me) that I was going to move to California. Oh, the Guitarist? Charlie Daniels. Been friends ever since.

We saw each other next at a nightclub in Palo Alto, California called “In Your Ear.” This was before his hit “Uneasy Rider” and he had a band with Jerry Corbett of the Youngbloods, a band he had produced. Yes, Charlie D has an SF Bay Radio connection, too. The band was going back to NYC after the gig, so I gave them my maps…yeah, maps, to follow the yellow line on Interstate 80 which I had marked with gas stations and restaurants a tankful away from each other. Because of that show, I got a job at that nightclub running it’s restaurant as “The Eggplant Hero.” More on that nickname and era later. I’ll save it for the book and movie.

 

DAVID BOWIE’S ZIGGY STARDUST ALBUM


August 19, 2010

This is dedicated to Mark, the bartender at Bloom’s Bar, “downtown” Potrero Hill on 18th Street in San Francisco when I dropped by there after work last Monday night.

They’ve always had a great jukebox at Bloomies, and a song from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust came on. I asked who selected “Starman,” and it turned out to be Mark! The beautiful thing is, he wasn’t even born when the album was released in 1972.  It reminded me about my early days as a teenage DJ. (Cue flashback sfx here and warp the video…see young man with long hair and beard driving a new gray Volvo 164 cross country to San Francisco, then in Los Angeles a year later.)

At the FM Rock Stations in the Bay Area, we used to champion bands and sometimes try to beat each other to play a new artist or album first and exclusively. When I moved here from NYC, there were five progressive rock stations; KSAN, KSFX and KMPX in San Francisco, plus KSJO and KOME in San Jose.  After four years of college radio, I applied at all of them, and was given encouragement by one Program Director (who did hire me a year later), but no gig.  My brother Stuart was a grad student at Stanford at the time, so I volunteered at 90.1, KZSU.  Within six months, I became the station’s Music Director.

On a trip to LA that May, to get familiar with the hub of the music biz and visit the record company offices, I was listening to the Blaupunkt radio in my Volvo, driving down Sunset Blvd., when one of the DJs played a track from the new David Bowie album.  Bowie was still rather unknown, but the cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars showed him standing on the street under a sign that said K-WEST…which was something the Los Angeles FM Rock station of the same name was proud of and instantly gave it a spin.  I was blocks from the RCA Records office, so I drove right over and went up to their floor.  At the front desk when I identified myself, a woman told me that the record reps were out to lunch.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the open door to a record closet off the reception area, with about 50 copies of the new David Bowie album sitting on the floor.  I wheeled around, picked up two of them, and as the stunned woman tried to sputter a “Wa..wa..wa..wait!,” I jumped back into on of the elevators, pushed the button to the lobby, and as the doors closed said; “When they come back, please tell them I was here, and I took two of them.”

That night, I drove back up Interstate 5 to Palo Alto, and played the whole album on my show on KZSU Stanford when I got back…before it had even been shipped to anyone else.  In October of that year, David Bowie played Bill Graham’s Winterland.  Maybe 500 people were in the crowd, and most of them to see Sylvester, a San Francisco Drag Queen singing with his band.  I enjoyed watching the jaws of their fans drop when David Bowie came out on stage in his glam-rock inspiring Ziggy persona, with Mick Ronson and the bass and drums shaking the old hall.  That band ROCKED!!

Thank you, Mark for proving what my radio mentor John Bybee has long said; “With music, like cars, it’s not when it was, it’s what it is that makes it a classic.”

 

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