Welcome to my blog I hope that you enjoy your time here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fete de la Humanite/Woodstock/Barry/Lundberg's


It came to pass during the All Star Band years that as part of a European tour we were hired by the Communist Party of France to perform at its huge outdoor concert in Paris called Fête de la Humanité. The Communist Party is no big deal in France, nothing like America where it is hated and feared. It is part of the mainstream fabric of French life and has been for years. Also playing on the show were the English rock band The Who.
            A few weeks before the concert while driving in our tour van to Marseilles, France, guitarist Phil Marsh (Cleanliness and Goodliness Skiffle Band, Energy Crisis) said he felt ill. In Marseilles he remained in his room unable to even get out of bed. I went to visit him and see how he serious it was. I remembered that somewhere I had heard if you were lying on your back and could not sit up without extreme pain, it was appendicitis. So I asked Phil to sit up. He tried and fell back in tears and terrible pain. I concluded yes, it was appendicitis and called the hospital.They said they would send an ambulance. I told Phil and went downstairs to the lobby to wait for them to arrive.
            I had been going in and out of his room checking on him for sometime. The door to his room was left open. I left the key downstairs with the front desk. I had asked the front desk to call for the ambulance. But the person at the front desk did not know that. It was another person. I decided to go back upstairs and keep Phil company. When I walked past the front desk the concierge asked me, “Where are you going?”
            I told him the room number. He looked down to where the keys were kept and told me, “There is no one in that room.” I said, “Of course there is.” He said, “No, there is not. You see the key is here.” He held up the key to show me, then said, “When the key is at the front desk the person is gone. When the key is gone the person is in their room.”
            I said, “I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. My friend is up there with an appendicitis attack and the hospital is coming to get him any minute now.” He said, “There is a French way and an American way and I tell you there is no one up in the room because the key is here.”
All Star Band

            I just walked past him and went up to the room. He followed me up and when he saw that Phil was really in the room he stuck the key in the door so that now things were in their proper order.
            Soon afterwards they took Phil away to a French hospital. I will never forget his sad face, streaming with tears, as they put him on the stretcher into the ambulance. He spoke almost no French and they spoke almost no English. But I had no choice, the tour had to go on, and Phil had to stay and get operated on.
But here is Paris a week later Phil was playing with us in a wheelchair, happy to be back with his friends and playing music in the band.
            We did our sound check and it sounded very good. But at show time the sound was small and tinny and, well, terrible. I could not understand it. Afterwards Roger Daltry of the Who band stopped by the dressing room and asked, “Why didn’t you use our sound system?” Well, I had no idea that there were two sound systems and I realized that for whatever reasons we had been screwed. It was usual for managers and band crews, who are very competitive, to not give a break of any kind to the other acts on the show. I just assumed that the promoters, the French Communist Party in this case, had one sound system, which they probably did. But it seemed that The Who had brought their own super sound system in addition to the one provided and hooked it all up alongside the other one. I had always marveled at the huge sound they got onstage. We sure sounded small compared to them that day and that seemed to be by plan.
            During The Who’s set, a guy came into our little dressing room and asked me if I wanted to smoke some grass. I said sure. I was the only person there as the band had all gone off other places. It was pretty strong stuff and we got very stoned. As we were just sitting around being stoned there was a knock on the door and I opened it up to find a wild-eyed woman fan asking, “Is Country Joe here?” I did not want to talk with her, so as evil as it sounds I pointed behind me and said, “Sure he’s right back there,” and then left and went outside.
            She quickly ran inside and five or ten minutes passed as I was enjoying the fresh air and being ignored. I could not help wondering what was going on in the dressing room. Suddenly the door flew open and the guy ran out yelling, “I am not him” to the woman who followed him out into and through the crowd. It was great fun! I figured she must really be a nut case if she did not even know what Country Joe looked like and she wanted to see him so bad. Through the rest of the day I saw her chasing him around the place.
            The Fête de la Humanité was a regular event, as I mentioned. Our event was uneventful except for the sound system and the groupie bit. But next year during Jerry Lee Lewis’s set, some Maoists in the audience caused a riot. I saw a video of the event. Jerry Lee was forced to flee the stage. Maoists in the back threw bottles toward the front which hit people in the head and they got mad and threw bottles which started landing on the stage and in the end flew through the drum kit and stopped the show.


I had a similar experience at the Woodstock Music Festival during a lull on Sunday when the Country Joe and The Fish band were to play. The audience was hot and thirsty. Backstage we got cases of beer and some bottles of champagne. I was on stage with Barry Melton when I decided to get some drinks and pass them out to the audience. The show was stopped for some reason; sound problems or something. So I brought some beer onstage and passed a few bottles of the champagne into the press pit in front of the stage. It was about five feet to the fence that separated the press pit from the audience. That same press pit Abby Hoffman had jumped into the day before to get away from Pete Townshend. So I was kinda passing out cans and gently tossing them over the press pit.
            People in the back caught on and were holding up their hands asking for some cans of drinks. So Barry got a stupid idea and started throwing them cans. Well, the cans were of course hitting people in the head but he did not stop and kept on throwing them. I mentioned that it was not a good idea but he kept on going. Soon the cans were coming back in our direction. It was obvious that people were throwing them at us and we had to get the hell offstage or get hit. So we did.
            When I first met Barry Melton on the steps of the University of California Berkeley Associated Student Union Building at the Berkeley Folk Festival in 1965, I had no experience with recreational drugs. Barry was quite experienced in this way. He was only seventeen years old, which was to cause us some amusing problems later as a band, but had grown up in the Los Angeles area and sold, so the story goes, marijuana in high school. Bruce Barthol, who was also only seventeen years old and was soon to become the bass player with The Fish band, had used pot with Barry, or Barry sold it to Bruce.
            This was a bit odd because I had just gotten out of the US Navy and had spent two years in Japan with the Navy but I had never used pot or any other drugs. The reason that the song “Bass Strings” was called “Bass Strings” is that that was a code word Barry and Bruce used to refer to pot back when they were in high school together. So it seemed a perfect title for that song which was about LSD and pot.
            In 1965-66 I hung out and worked part-time learning instrument repair and helping at the front desk of Lundberg’s Guitar Shop in Berkeley. I will say more about the shop later. Jon and Deirdre were very special people to the folk and folk-rock music scene in Berkeley and nationally.
            I was sitting in their shop watching the counter and playing the guitar when the fingering for the blues that turned into “Bass Strings” happened and I wrote the song in a matter of minutes. Since it is all about feelings and taking drugs, considered by some to be one of the greatest 60s drug songs ever written, I guess that the band was just about to go electric and Dylan might have just gone electric.
Miss Cheryl's apartment

            Barry and Bruce were living in Miss Cheryl’s apartment house behind the Jabberwocky Coffeehouse in Berkeley. It was at this time that Barry introduced me to LSD and on my first acid trip around the apartment I watched a maple tree and marveled at the color of the fall leaves – something I had not seen in my hometown in LA County. I put that into my song “Porpoise Mouth,” which is all about myself and that first LSD trip.
Barry Melton

            I remember sitting on the back porch of our apartment and looking at a big tree. It turned into a big skeleton of a fish and had hundreds of naked people climbing all over it. I was thinking, “Wow, this is pretty weird. Must be a hallucination because it sure can’t be what is really there.” I thought of telling the guys to come and look but that was crazy as they could not see what I saw. So I just got up and went inside because it was a bit much.
Bruce Barthol

            We were on the top floor and Miss Cheryl lived on the bottom floor. She was a very nice and tolerant landlady. One day Barry came home with a houseguest named California Cal. California Cal dressed like an Indian guide kind of person with a brown leather outfit and a bowie knife. I didn’t want to mess with him. We had a record player up there in our apartment, the old-fashioned kind in a wooden case. One day I came home and California Cal was very proud because he had taken the record player apart and made a mobile from the parts. It was hanging in the kitchen. I thought, “Gee, this guy is as nutty as a fruitcake but he has a big knife.” So I told Barry. It wasn’t like I needed to tell him because he could see for himself. Thank God California Cal left and was never seen again.

            There was this famous blind black folksinger named Reverend Gary Davis who came to play at the Jabberwocky. Remember the club was right behind us. Or we were right behind it. So the Rev wound up staying at our place. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor like the rest of us. On night Barry came home and the Rev pulled a gun on him. Wow, blind man with a gun. He started yelling, “Who’s there?!” It took Barry a few minutes to calm him down and convince him that it was him and not somebody out to rip him off.

            After my marriage to Kathe Werum tanked, I needed a place to stay and was invited to share the apartment with Barry and Bruce. I shared a room with Bruce. He was very, how shall I say it, messy? There was nothing really but two mattresses on the floor. We each had a bit of clothes and guitars but that was it. I had just gotten out of the Navy, remember, where you are living in a very clean and tidy environment. I drew a line in the middle of the floor and told Bruce, “This is your side and this is my side.” I remember my side being clean and his side being really dirty. He did not mind. He was seventeen.

1 comment:

  1. What are you doing? What's wrong with you? Where did you get this garbage about me being a pot dealer in high school? The only job I had in high school was working at the Men's Department at Orbach's Department Store in Panorama City, California, for the "teenage minimum wage" -- 90 cents per hour! I also worked, on a volunteer basis, doing Freedom Rider Support at the C.O.R.E. headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

    Bruce Barthol and I were high school friends, in the San Fernando Valley, growing up. We both would meet and play music together at his parents' house. I assure you we did not use drugs (i.e., smoke pot) in the Barthol's living room --not that you would know, you weren't there. We were both good students and shared a plan to graduate from high school a year early -- Bruce did and was admitted to UC Berkeley in Fall 1964.

    I ended up in a motorcycle accident in the Summer of 1963 that precluded me from gaining ground for early graduation in Fall -- but I did graduate 1/2 year early (in January 1965.) I was admitted as a freshman to San Francisco State in February 1965.

    Sure, I smoked a little pot when I was in high school -- It was early 60's, and I was a teenager. I also played baritone horn and valve trombone in the school band, I was in the chess club and I was in the folk song club, too.

    You and I first met on the steps of the ASUC Building (across from Sproul Hall), in 1964, playing with Malvina Reynolds. I spent the summer of 1964 on the road, beginning with a stay of several weeks in Berkeley, when we first met. By the time of the 1965 Berkeley Folk Festival, we had already recorded together. Our only interaction on the steps in 1964, when we first met, was musical -- it wasn't until the following year that we recorded together and began to get acquainted (and yes, I was still 17 years old when we began getting acquainted.)

    I can't say I've never heard of an adult accusing a teenager of leading him astray (as you allege I did to you when I was 17 years old.) Any criminal defense attorney that's carried a significant caseload has heard that line before. Think about it -- it really doesn't work.

    If your desire is to write a factually accurate account of the period, you're welcome to give me a telephone call and verify some of this data -- I'll do the best I can to help with the details (but, of course, it's been a long time and I won't remember everything.) On the other hand, if you're aim is sensationalism, you're probably 40 years too late; but I strongly suggest that a little dose of honesty and self-awareness will serve your karma better than what you're doing now.