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Friday, September 17, 2010

Morning Glory Seeds


       In the summer of 1966. Barry Melton (guitar player with Country Joe and The Fish)  and I decided to hitch hike to New York City and talk to Albert Grossman about managing us and making us famous. He was the manager of Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary and had made them famous so we figured we had lots in common with those people and he was the man to do it for us. We told the band that we were leaving putting the whole band thing on hold. Ed Denson, our manager, was actually there in New York being the roadie for the band The Blues Project. I had never hitchhiked across the country or been to New York. After the Navy I had driven all the way to Alaska and hitched part of the way back and rode a fishing boat part of the way but never across the country and never to New York City. So I was ready.

     We took guitars and a few bucks and small bags of change of clothes and set off. We had pretty typical adventures. I remember sleeping beside the road and waking up in the morning bitten by bugs. The going got pretty slow in the midwest, we were going Route 66 I think. We got no rides and walked into a tiny town. We saw a General Feed Store and Barry said, "Joe, you know we can get high if we eat Heavenly Blue morning glory seeds. They are cheap and I bet they have them in here." So we went in and sure enough had them and it was only a few cents for a pack of them. It must have seemed a bit strange to the workers that two hippies come in and buy one pack of Heavenly Blue morning glory seeds. But we got em and left.

       Then Barry explains that we need to wash off the pesticide and we went into the rest room of a gas station and used that gravelly Borax soap to wash the seeds. We left and walked out to the edge of town to a diner out there that had like a dirt road leading up to it from the highway. We ate the seeds and sat down to wait for a ride. There was like no traffic at all and we had to wait for someone who would pull off the road. We got very stoned. A weird kind of drunk psychedelic high. Hard to explain. Sloppy and stupid with bright colors. So hours passed and then a car with some hippies pulls up.
"Hey it’s Country Joe and The Fish," they yell out. "Do you guys want a ride?"

         I mean what are the odds of some Berkeley hippies pulling up and recognizing us and asking us if we want a ride. It was a miracle! But we were in the troughs of Heavenly Blue morning glory seed stupidness and we just stared at them for a while and then shook our heads and said, "No thanks." They said, "Are you sure?" We nodded our heads yes. They said, "OK, goodbye," and our ride drove off!
Then it hit us how stupid we had been. It was hours before we finally got a ride from a guy in a small sports car and it was dark. Barry went to sleep in the back and I remember being there cramped in the front seat while the colors in my head just kept flashing on and on and on. We finally reached New York City. We then realized that we had no idea how to contact Albert Grossman. We looked in the phone book and of course did not find his name. I can’t remember where we stayed but we stayed somewhere and we were broke. I remember panhandling in Greenwich Village. It was the only time in my life I ever panhandled but I remember being very grateful when someone gave me some money. I try now to always give out money to people panhandling on the streets if I can.

       New York City can be overwhelming to someone who has not really lived in a big city. When I was in the Navy I was stationed in small towns. I went on liberty to Yokohama a few times but never to Tokyo. When I was a kid my mom took us to downtown Los Angeles but it is very spread out not like New York of other big American cities. I remember going to the section of New York called the Bowery where all the homeless, alcoholics live on the streets. I started out on the first block giving out some quarters and thinking that there were a lot of bums. On the second block I thought that this was more homeless bums than I had seen. On the third block I thought, "Wow there is a real problem here." On the fourth block I could only think that, "there sure is a lot of fucking bums all over." In the fifth block I called for a cab and got the hell out of there. There was just more than I could deal with. New York was that way for me ... more than I could deal with.

       Barry and I finally gave up on the idea of finding Albert Grossman. We had made contact with Ed Denson and he was driving the Blues Project’s amps back to the west coast in a Volkswagen bus and for some reason the Berkeley based Tacoma recording artist and 12 string guitar composer Robbie Basho was to travel also in the bus. We all piled in and took off. What I remember about the trip is that we went really really slow in that Volkswagen. Especially because it was chock full of band equipment and weighted down. It went about thirty five miles an hour on an upgrade.

      There was not much room in the van so three people could be up front but one person had to lie in the back on top of the amps. I remember thinking as the wind in the midwest whipped the van back and forth that it would flip over and I would be crushed to death by a Standell Amplifier.

     As we neared the Rocky Mountains and started to climb over Robbie Basho began to get all kinds of physical symptoms or illness. He was you might say a hypochondriac. We stopped in a few emergency rooms but they never could find anything wrong. At the top of the mountains Barry, ED and I got out to look around the forest and commune with nature. I remember Robbie just kept honking the horn because he thought he was dying and wanted to go to another hospital. We eventually made it back without being made famous and got on with our modest careers that at least got us food money and paid the rent on the apartment, playing music as a rock and roll band.


  1. You know, Joe - I always thought you were a good story teller - I really enjoyed that.

    My experience was with wood rose seeds and Tijuana cross-tops - I got so damned stoned, it took me two days to find my way home.

    G. Glasser

  2. Maybe it was 1969. I bought 5 packs of heavenly blues, and chewed them up. I barfed substantially, then was really psychedelicized. I went to the Dallas (TX) art museum, to hear Frank Zappa. He was performing solo. Among other numbers, he played claSSICAL PIANO VERY VERY WELL. sO TRIPPY.