Saturday, November 29, 2008

Randy California

In 1976 I went to a KSHE Birthday party at Kiel Auditorium. KSHE was our local FM rock station and hadn’t been totally corrupted yet by corporate interests and musical tunnel vision.

The bands were Quicksilver Messenger Service, Iron Butterfly and the real reason I was there – Spirit. I know what year it was because they had just reunited and were touring a new album, “Spirit of ‘76”.

I was there with my brother Patrick. Between sets he and I walked to the front of the stage. I couldn’t believe it but Randy California was sitting on the edge. He was flattered that I knew and owned all the Spirit records. I even had his first solo record “Kapt. Kopter and the Fabulous Twirly Birds.”

Randy California was given his name by Jimi Hendrix in 1966 when they played together in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. There was someone else in the band named Randy and California was from L.A.

He asked Patrick if he had any of the records. My brother said he didn’t have any of them. California asked him why and my brother told him he couldn’t afford any. He took us back stage and gave my brother 3 of their records.

The band's drummer and Randy’s step father Ed Cassidy was being interviewed by a friend of mine named Patti Dewing.

Patti was a freelance rock critic who gave my band several flattering reviews. She was practically homeless and barely eked out a living sending articles to the New Musical Express in England.

She shared a home for a while with a good friend of mine named Randy Satterfield. Randy is the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met when it comes to art. I’ll do a story about them both later. But I digress-----

When we were back stage Ed Cassidy threw the sweetest smile my way and I always wondered if he was gay.

In 1997 Randy California and his son were visiting his mother in Hawaii. His son got caught in a current. Randy saved him but drowned in the process. It’s unfortunate that bands biggest hits are usually their worst songs. I hate it that they’ll be remembered for “Nature’s Way” when their other material was so ahead of its time. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sharon Sent Johnny's Obit

I remember seeing this when it was published. I think people sent it to me then. Click on it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Johnny Rio

Besides my dad, the other great St. Louis faux Indian was Johnny Rio.  They called him the Sheriff of Soulard. He wore a vest and a cowboy hat.

I did some of my growing up in Soulard but never really knew any of the adults until I worked at the Broadway Oyster Bar.

Johnny made a point of introducing himself to me. He was a poker buddy of my dad. I really began to appreciate my dad’s cultural diversity through his poker buddies. They would range from military generals to drag queens.

My dad gave me a U.N. flag from the U.N. building he had stolen with a military buddy. I gave it to Patti Thomas’ daughter for her 16th birthday. She still has it.

Johnny was famous for roasting a whole pig in a hole they dug in the dirt of the Downstreet Cafe’s beer garden. This went on for years even after the bar closed. I saw Trader Bob give Bob Burkhardt a tattoo there.

Johnny used to throw poker parties at his house. I would play at the safe table. It had a .50 limit. Johnny was always at the $5.00 table. This table was serious business and noone looked like they were having a good time.

One day I was tending bar in the beer garden at the Oyster Bar. Someone had given me a brownie that I didn’t know was laced with dope. Johnny came in with his girlfriend Nondis. We fell in love with each other.

Johnny made his living scavenging. When Steve and I were living on Oregon he showed up unexpectedly one day. He found a pedal steel guitar and gave it to us as a gift.

After the Downstreet closed Johnny still lived there. One night after partying with him all night my girlfriend Lisa and I walked out into the winter cold. I saw a glow coming from the top floor of the 1860s Saloon. The restaurant addition was still years off. I could tell it was a fire. I yelled at Lisa to call the fire department and went to investigate.

Later Richard, the owner would extend free drinks to her for saving the building but would never even acknowledge my existence.

Johnny was always somewhere between local character and cultural icon in my heart and mind. I hope I get a lot of comments about him because I really don’t know enough about him.

The photo is from the inside of a Soulard Blues Band CD. It was shot at the Grizzly Bear before the rehab.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tony's 50

Tony turned 50 last week. Valerie will next week. We went to his party in Maplewood. Luminaries like Jorge Martinez, Tony Carr, and Mort Hill were there. Fojammi, Mark Gray, Augustino Patti and others jammed with Tony while his film “Surf’s Up” lit up the room.

Someone said at our age when we see everyone together like this it’s usually a funeral. A few years ago when our friend Tracy turned 50 he talked us all into going to hot springs in the Rockies. When we got back Fojammi confessed that although he couldn’t afford it, he was afraid it might be our last road trip. I think we all felt that way.

Tony and I went to competing alternative high schools. I didn’t realize it at the time but I think his, Metro, was for gifted kids. Mine, Logos, was for druggies with authority issues.

We were intellectual teenagers and we experimented with everything. It was inevitable that we would live together.

When we moved away from each other Tony decided to live under Eads Bridge. To hear him tell it he was homeless and living in a violent world of drifters. I don’t think he was there long and he was always welcome in any of our homes but he made it sound like he was destitute.

Years later he married an Italian girl and moved to Italy. We joked that the marriage would end as soon as they understood each other’s language. Apparently she didn’t tell her folks she was married and Tony had a hard time over there. He tried desperately to stay but when their marriage ended he had to leave the country. (Tony if this isn’t too painful please let me know where I’m wrong.)

Anyway we were all glad to see him come home.

Man, I feel like I have to get all of this down while I still remember.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Macarthur Bridge

When my brother and I were still living at home in Soulard the drinking age in Illinois was 18. Naturally we drove over there when we were 16 to buy booze. We used to go across the Macarthur Bridge to get to the East Side.

Right across the bridge was a place called Leon’s Astro Lounge. You’d knock on the door and someone would slide open a little window to check you out. There was a famous incident in the East St. Louis stock yards where a bar sized up their clients this way. When they slid the window open a gun came through that showered everyone with bullets. My brother and I have both had guns pulled on us over there.

The bridge was built pre WWII. They were supposed to charge a toll until it was paid off. Just as it was becoming solvent the war happened and they decided they still needed the revenue. Needless to say the war ended but the toll didn’t.

My brother always made going to the East Side more of an adventure than it needed to be. He once scaled all three of the bridge arches.

On another occasion he and Danny were coming back when they got the bright idea Danny should surf the roof of the car. They had both of my brother’s dogs in the car too.

I guess they were already drunk because my brother lost control of the car. It flipped and came to rest sticking out over the Mississippi. It landed on top of Danny. I don’t know how close to death he was but when he got back from the hospital he had the most grizzly scars that he has to this day.

The dogs were Cello and Topaz. Topaz was never found. We spent the next few days canvassing East St. Louis. He had been seen everywhere. He was seen under porches, along the railroad tracks, in people’s imaginations and God knows where else.

Tony and I used to say Topaz knew where all the money was hidden. We decided he was helping people less fortunate than us and finally abandoned the search.

Besides the Macarthur the other photo is Mark and Ali with the dogs in front of our Soulard apartment. Topaz is the yellow one. Ali is the older sister of the twins I wrote about earlier. She was a very close friend I miss a lot. I’ll be writing about her soon.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Day After Halloween

Anyone who knows me intimately knows my favorite holiday is Groundhog Day. I plan to make the pilgrimage to Punxsutawney some day. That being said Halloween comes in a close second.

I had a friend in 4th grade that was an only child. He was a loner and a little on the nerdy side. His parents overindulged him. He owned everything I wanted. Not the least of which was his 8mm projector and an 8mm print of every Castle and Hammer Films monster movie ever made.

He had all the Frankenstein, Mummy, Dracula, Wolf man, and Creature From The Black Lagoon films. Or as Whoopi Goldberg said, “The Creature From The African American Lagoon.”

I had a subscription to Famous Monsters of Filmland. I remember subscribing to Eerie and being disappointed that it was just a comic book in a mag format. I did get turned on to a lot of the great comic artists through it though. Here’s a link to give you an idea --

Halloween of 1999 was the last day I shot a deposition for Mudge Legal Video. I was in the process of getting my Microsoft computer cert and needed to focus on classes. Kim would be supporting us until I got a job. That actually happened pretty quickly.

I spent that week taping monster movies to watch with my kids. Dylan would have been almost 6 and Chloe would have been almost 4. I was still new to the suburbs but already got into the  Halloween tradition of dads pulling a wagon of beer, hanging at a corner while the kids canvassed the neighborhood for candy.

Dylan had said he wasn’t feeling well at the beginning of the night. By the end we were pulling him in the wagon.

In retrospect it was pure dumb luck I wasn’t working at the time. That next day Dylan was worse. He was disoriented and couldn’t walk.

At first I thought he was just trying to stay home with me. After relentless complaints I got scared enough to take him to the doctor. The doctor had him walk down a hall and Dylan couldn’t make it all the way. He became very concerned and sent us to a neurologist.

Before I knew what was going on we were in an emergency room and Dylan was getting a spinal tap. From there we were rushed by ambulance to Children’s hospital in the city. He was put in a quarantined room on the cancer ward floor. The room was designed to suck atmosphere in so nothing could get out.

Dylan had both meningitis and encephalitis. His immune system was attacking the white matter of his brain. There was a team of doctors that couldn’t determine whether it was viral or bacterial. They gave him antibiotics just in case.

Kim and I took turns sleeping in the window for a week and a half. When Dylan was conscious he was screaming. It was the worst experience of my life. I was falling apart and taking it out on the doctors.

When he finally got out they gave him steroids to bring the brain swelling down. He was so pumped he looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I remember watching Gore lose the presidential race and all the monster movies in Dylan’s room.

Dylan’s soccer coach visited and brought a ball signed by all the kids on his team. His coach was a huge, macho man but left almost immediately in tears. He couldn’t bear to see Dylan in so much pain.

They put Dylan in huge scanning machines. They were worried he’d panic with claustrophobia but he was great.

It would be years before he could even get into a car comfortably. The only thing he seems to remember from his stay are the monster movies.

The staff at Children’s Hospital really are incredible. They live with constant heart break and just keep going.

I thought the whole experience had created a bond between Kim and me that could never die. I guess all things pass.

Photos are from that Holloween. Chloe is Snow White