“IT WAS 20 YEARS AGO (x2) TODAY!” – The Beatles from Sgt. Pepper


October 8, 2011

With a great deal of GRATITUDE, I’m celebrating the 40! Anniversary my first radio show in California October 8th, 1971 at KZSU, Stanford, after moving from NYC to the SF Bay Area.  It’s been a bumpy ride, and there’s still much I’d like to accomplish before I head to that destination that Steve Jobs pointed out we all share.  This past week, we were all shocked by his passing.  Age 56 is altogether too young, especially from the perspective we “baby boomers” now have on aging.  I thank him for his passion for music that inspired what Apple did with iPod and iTunes.  And, I thank you, the listener.  The ones that tune in every week… Although tomorrow the Oakland Raiders game on 97.7 FM The River will preempt the broadcast.  FYI, you can still listen to a special internet only version.  Just click the roll-over on The River’s logo next to the cartoon crustacean’s left claw above.

Also, check out the San Francisco Chronicle article that was published on April 28th, 2011 and please add any Anniversary comments there, share it on facebook, twitter, +1, etc.   Thank God (or whatever you see as a higher power in the Universe) that we have souls that love music.  Cheers!

 

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA


October 31, 2010

Steve Miller Elvin Bishop & Sammy Hagar Jamming

From the ’49ers of the Gold Rush days thru The Bohemians, The Beatniks, The Haight Ashbury scene of the late ’60s, The Castro in the ’70s, the growth of Wineries to the North Bay and on, the San Francisco Bay Area has always welcomed the cultural cutting edge.

The world has many capitals, and we live in one of them.  This is where North meets South, East meets West, and all cultures and cultural diversity collide.  We are the end point where all directions end and many things begin.  One of my favorites of all these movements is the music that has come out of and musicians that have come to San Francisco over the years.
On Tuesday night, October 26th, Joel Selvin had a book release party at Slim’s Nightclub in San Francisco.  Smart Ass is a collection of his SF Chronicle music columns, and a collection of musical friends showed up on stage as well as in the audience.  On stage was The Steve Miller Blues Band with Audie Delone and John Allair on Keyboards, Hutch Hutchinson on Bass and Ricky Fataar on drums.  Playing with them, the great Elvin Bishop, who like Steve, moved out here after migrating to Chicago to become young apprentices in Chi-town’s famous Blues scene. In the first set, Saxophonist John Handy jammed with Steve and his band.  In the second set, Sammy Hagar joined in on guitar and vocals.
After the 24th Bridge School benefit, the 24th Annual B.R. Cohn Charity Fall Music Festival, I’m reminded once again why we are all blessed to be here, and ocassionally witness wonderful Great Live Moments.

 

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.”

 

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.

 

A Taste Of The Himalayas


February 8, 2009

A Taste of the HimalayasWhen you go to San Francisco, your Restaurant choices are many, and the convenience of one on Lombard Street right before the turn onto Doyle Drive is a good stop for North Bay residents when on a night out in The City. A bonus, is one with great, unusual food at reasonable prices and one that gives back to their community.  Such is the case of the Nepalese cuisine.

 

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North Bay’s Classic Rock97.7 The River
97.7 The River is the show’s flagship radio station. It’s home base to the program every Sunday, 10 am – 3 pm, hosted by legendary radio personality Paul “The Lobster” Wells.