Tom Webb teaches me how to play “Blackberry Blossom”

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I mentioned a band “Shagbark Hickory” in “How to Train a Sound Tech.” Here’s another “Shagbark” story…

When I sat in with them they played a bluegrass standard “Blackberry Blossom.” Onstage communication was the best I’d ever worked with.

However, when “Blackberry Blossom” would come up I would opt out because I hadn’t worked out a solo for it yet. It’s a complex sounding song but is based on a simple descending scale.

Their pedal steel player, Tom Webb and I, liked to needle each other a bit and one night, as Florie started the song Tom leaned back and said, “You gonna play it tonight?”
“Naw, I don’t think so.” I said.
Tom leaned back again and with a twinkle and a grin said, “Jerry DOUGLAS can play it!”

That did it!

So when Florie made eye contact asking if I wanted in, I dove into the tune and, if I say so myself, pulled it off quite handily. I still play pretty much the same break when called on to do that song and think of those guys every time I play it…

To this day I still haven’t had the opportunity to hear the Jerry Douglas version.

The Frisbee Follies

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1975 brought us:

President: Gerald R. Ford
Cost of first-class stamp: $.10
Quart of milk: $.46; loaf of bread: $.33

Mood Rings, Rubik’s Cubes, Pet Rocks are fads.

Movies:
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Jaws,” “Nashville.” “Dog Day Afternoon.”

“Saturday Night Live” premieres on NBC; George Carlin hosts the first show.

Home videotape systems (VCRs) are developed in Japan by Sony (Betamax) and Matsushita (VHS).

Computer hobbyists Stephen Wozniak and Steven Jobs begin working on computer designs. Together they develop the Apple 1 prototype.

Microsoft is born.

Vietnam War ends.

…And California laws are enacted stating that being in possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is no longer a Felony. It is now a Misdemeanor. Guilty parties can expect to be fined, similar to traffic violators instead of imprisoned.

Methodolgy

Back then the recreational pot smoker did not have access to the managed dispensaries we see today. Also the potency of the product was nowhere near the potency of the refined cannabis now being sold.

Marijuana was usually sold in “lids,” street slang for your plastic sandwich baggie containing one ounce of pot, which often included seeds and stems.

Since I, as author, cannot tell a lie, I will reveal that the crew at Gelb Music was known to sample marijuana from time to time. Yes, dear ones, it is so. However, they did not degenerate into “reefer madness” as depicted in scare movies. They kept a good humor and conducted their affairs with no serious impairment.

The better grade of pot was from the unblossomed buds of the female cannabis sativa plant. These buds tended to have quite a few seeds in them. A common method of separating the smokable pot from the seeds was to use an inverted Frisbee as a dish. The dried plant material was crumbled in the fingers into the Frisbee which was then held at about a thirty degree angle. The cardboard edge of cigarette paper packaging would be passed through the stuff in a gentle, upward sweeping motion and the seeds, round and a little bigger than BB’s, would roll to the bottom edge of the disk for easy removal. A learned skill. From this operation one got the material used to roll into a “joint,” sometimes called a “doobie.”

Now just tuck that information away for a moment while I tell you a story…

Thar I wuz…

Gelb Music, in those days, had a simpler burglar alarm system. It involved lead foil tape applied to the windows and door glass. This material was getting worn to the point that sometimes the smallest glitch could set it off and, one day in midsummer of 1975 it indeed went off.

The routine was that since I lived closest, less than two blocks from the store, I was the guy who met the cops at the door. I would open the door and shut off the alarm. That was usually it. Any police department will tell you most merchant burglar alarms are false alarms so in most cases they let me look around to see if any merchandise had been disturbed. Since I never saw any evidence of forced entry they would just go on their way and we put off (again) having the alarm system thoroughly tested and upgraded or repaired.

Except this one particular day.

The alarm went off. It was around sunrise, way before we were scheduled to open. I went down to the store and the cops on duty were not the guys I usually knew, but they were friendly enough. I used my key to kill the alarm and we went inside. I started to go to give a quick look around when one of the officers said, “Please stand there, sir, and let us check the premises to be sure it’s clear.”

No problem, really, because I pretty much knew there were no Bad Guys lurking.

In those days there were two teaching booths in the front of the store. Each one had room for two chairs, a small guitar amp, music stand etc.

One of the cops went into the front booth and was in there a little longer than I liked.
Sure enough, he comes out holding a bright yellow Frisbee, and in the Frisbee is a plastic sandwich bag about half full of marijuana, and a package of Zig Zag rolling paper.

“What’s this?” he asked me.
“Offhand I would say that it is marijuana,” I replied.
“Is it yours?”
“Nosir.”
“Do you own the store?” he asked.
“No sir I do not.”
“Please call the owner and have him come down here.”

At the time I think Kevin lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains and would be hard pressed to make the trip. Henry lived in Redwood City at the time so it was Henry I called.

His wife, Carol, answered the phone. I had clearly awakened her. I said “I need to talk to Henry.”
“Okay,” she said, and hung up. (Oboy!)
I redialed. She answered again. “I need to talk to Henry Now.”

That worked and Henry got on the phone and I told him the police were here and had questions about things found in the teaching booth.
“I’ll be right down,” he said. And he was.

I told the cops Henry was on his way. While we were waiting they read me my Miranda rights and I opted for the ‘remain silent’ clause and picked up a nearby acoustic guitar. I can’t say for sure what I played but I seem to remember it might have been “Goin’ Down This Road Feelin’ Bad.”

Henry arrived, identified himself as one of the owners and once again, the offending Frisbee was held up for inspection. “What’s this?” the officer asked.
“Offhand, I’d say it’s marijuana,” said Henry
“Whose is it?” asked the officer.
“That’s mine,” Henry said, using the same tone of voice as if he was acknowledging ownership of a pack of cards, a pen or other inconsequential item.

By this time, two more cops had come in and they were all looking around. One was behind the counter and I noticed he had a small box in his hand and was writing on the box.
One of the new cops asked, “What do we have here?”
The one doing most of the talking said, “Pot possession.”
And the cop behind the counter added “And hash.”
Henry and I both swung our heads around and said in one voice “Hash? What hash?”
The cop held up a small cardboard box that contained…. incense. It was a particular brand we liked that gave off a woodsy aroma. The cop had been writing the day’s date on the box preparatory to putting it into an “evidence bag” because hashish was not a misdemeanor. Possession of hashish was definitely a felony.

Everybody, cops and culprits alike, had a good chuckle at the diligent cop’s expense. Still, they had to process the bust and they were a little unsure exactly what to do since the new law cited earlier in this write-up had only been in effect for about two weeks. So they loaded Henry into a squad car (no handcuffs) and took him downtown.

Henry was returned in a reasonably short time. Kevin had arrived by then and we were waiting for The Story.

Turns out, the police were really in a quandary. They didn’t have a scale on premises to weigh contraband drugs. So they hemmed and hawed and eventually found a way to write him up and fine him.

As they were taking him back to the car to return him to the store one of the cops remarked, “Y’know, you’re the first person we’ve processed under that new law.”

And Henry dryly made a nice play on words…

“That was a doobie-ous honor.”

It went right over their heads…

How To Train a Sound Tech

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This is one of my favorite “war stories” from my days of playing in public.

I wasn’t working at Barney Steel’s yet. I still worked for Gelb Music at the time but I was a steady habitué of the place.

There was a pretty hot modern country/folk group called “Shagbark Hickory” that I became sort of kissing cousin to. This was because their waist-length-haired fiddler, Florie, was in desperate need of a string replacement mid-gig one night and I saved her bacon by making a nocturnal sale at Gelb Music being as how I had keys to the place. Because of this they liked me a lot and often they would let me sit in with them on Dobro for two or more sets.

Once they got a booking at this really nice, brand new, state-of-the-art venue. Great ambiance, good seating, really nice stage, good monitors, great sound system, individual mics
…and a clueless sound guy.

Every time it came for my solo, even with Florie, the fiddler frantically pointing at me, the guy wouldn’t bring me up in the sound system until I was a measure and a half into my solo.

On break I looked the guy up. I stand 6’2″ and look like my avatar…black hat, beard and long hair and back then I was around 200 pounds. I told the guy “If you cut the front off one more of my solos I promise you I will put my guitar down and will FIND you!!”

End of problem. We played (and sounded) like a well mastered CD the rest of the night.

La Grange

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Rumor spreadin’ a-’round in that Texas town
’bout that shack outside La Grange
(and you know what I’m talkin’ about.)

Just let me know if you wanna go
to that home out on the range.
They gotta lotta nice girls.
Have mercy.
A haw, haw, haw, haw, a haw.
A haw, haw, haw.

What in the world does a song by ZZ Top about a bawdy house in a little town in Texas have to do with one of the best known music stores in the country?

Well it goes like this…

Gelb Music was started by one Sidney Gelb back in 1939. He actually called it Gelb Music Studios because in his day the Hawaiian guitar had the country in thrall and his store made its foundational income on students harvested by door to door salesmen sent forth by the “United Institute of Music” in San Mateo. Sid had a working deal with those folks and did a nice, steady business teaching youngsters first Hawaiian, then later, Spanish guitar in a classroom setting as well as individual lessons at his store/studio. Along the way he would sell or rent the required instruments as the kids needed them.

His business prospered then went into a slight decline. Sidney was feeling his age and wanted to retire. He had no heirs and might have just closed the place or sold it to strangers had it not been for two of his ace guitar teachers, Kevin Jarvis and Henry White.

It was Kevin’s idea to buy the place and bring it up to date. Henry caught on to the idea and set aside his career plan to teach history and, starting in 1972, the two men made history in their own way.

Gone were the group lessons. They still had guitar lessons there but single lessons only. The two young men overhauled the inventory broadening its scope. Soon their new attitude about music and guitaring started to gain notice. There was a Fender franchise that came with the store and along with a ne’er do well of a certain charm, Norm Van Maastricht. Kevin and Henry had their own high levels of musical skill on guitar and Norm was a country/finger style specialist which meant the store was conversant in rock, jazz, country, even banjo and Dobro.

So what did that have to do with ZZ Top and La Grange? Be patient… it’s coming.

Kevin adopted a puppy, a marvelously intelligent Shepherd /Lab named Jessica (named after an Allman Brothers song). The three men shared training of her to be a perfect Store Dog. She became a legend in her own time and there are some who have a hard time talking about her without choking up, so loved was she.

Three young men, knowledgeable about guitaring and a Wonder Dog in the making. We have close to perfection here.

In the foggy mists of memory not much is remembered about what they may have used for background music in the place but that changed one auspicious day.

A guy came into the store looking for a new Martin D-28. One of the more expensive models Martin makes. A state of the art dreadnought size acoustic guitar that was and is world famous.

The store had the guitar but the guy had no money. What he did have was a Very Good Stereo System with a superb turntable. The turntable was a bit of a prima donna, very sensitive to being jarred. The least little bump would send the needle hopping rudely so staff and customers had to be sure to avoid offending it in any way.

But its sound and power was awesome. The swap was made, everybody was delighted with the barter.

Over the years that turntable played just about every recorded guitarist available on 33rpm vinyl. From Django Rheinhardt to Segovia and Bream. Herb Ellis, Lenny Breau, Chet, all the rockers of The Day and everyone in between. They all took a turn on that machine.

One fateful morning soon after acquiring the new stereo setup Kevin put on La Grange.
And cranked it.
The raw power and humor of ZZ Top playing that tune just hit a chord (pun intended) with the store crew.

It became the opening song, the ritual paean that was further nuanced by careful manipulation of the volume knob because in the studio the engineers faded Billy Gibbons exiting solo. Kevin and Henry liked to keep it as loud as the main body of the song as long as they could.

The block was never the same as we three opened the doors and La Grange let the world know Gelb Music was ready for business.

The turntable was so touchy it was enthroned on a cabinet with a carpeted top. People kept bumping into it anyway!. Norm came up with the idea of getting hold of a decal that said Danger, High Voltage and putting it on the top face of the cabinet tucking a wire under that carpet top with about two inches of it stripped and bare. It didn’t stop the bumping altogether but the natural human fear of electrical shock went a long way to reducing the clumsy collisions…

Gelb Music thrived for many years. Over time, Henry and Norm went their separate ways, Henry eventually succumbing to cancer in 2014.

Kevin kept the store and made it into the well known entity it is today. The turntable got moved to safer quarters and the La Grange ritual ceased being a daily thing.

All things, even good things, must come to an end and Kevin decided to retire after the long tour at the end of 2014. He sold the store to a kindred soul, the man who owns Haight Ashbury Music. He decided to keep the name on the business so the name Gelb Music is will continue to assist musicians of the area as it has for so very long.

Today Kevin sent this writer an email which said, in part:

La Grange, became, in the last decades, the annual Saturday before Christmas opening anthem, 42 years and running. The legacy of you, Henry, Trini, Dick, continued on. Every year without fail La Grange played on, and the song still sounds awesome which is totally amazing in and of itself.

Yesterday, (12/20/14) the staff totally aware, all gathered for the final playing at 10:20. Adam even came down for its final performance. Thinking of Henry now gone, those Saturdays in the beginnings all the way to this moment…….our friendship, and all the years gone by in my tour of duty as “Mr. Gelb”, very reflective moment…….what a song, what memories.
It ain’t over until Billy Gibbon’s growls, they got lotta nice girls out there!

_____________

This blog has other Gelb Music stories. Do a search for Tiger Tiger or The Lunch Break or Once Upon A Time or Jessica Dog

THE SAGA OF WALNUT CREEK. ~ The Trek

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First, a little background…

I’m not a confident driver. As a lad I didn’t clamor for The Car. I didn’t get my driver license until I was nearing fifty and really hated freeway driving. There are certain skills one learns by getting a license at a young age, one of the primary ones being the understanding of how freeways work.
…but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

After Barney Steel’s closed I was extremely fortunate to get picked up by a civil engineering company as a computer tech trainee. The pay wasn’t much for starters but it was a job. A job often taken by younger folk but a job that blessedly had fallen my way. It eventually blossomed into the best job I ever had but that’s another story.

I was pretty plain about my aversion to driving during my job interview but the guy who ended up being my boss had taken a liking to me and turned a blind eye to that.

But of course, as must happen, it eventually fell for me to go to one of the other offices to make a delivery/pickup. The actual errand was a simple two way delivery from one office to the other. We headquartered in Redwood City; the office in question was in Walnut Creek. A distance of about thirty miles “as the crow flies” or fifty miles by ground transport.

I had never been to Walnut Creek in my life.

Derrick, my boss, knew that day would come when I would have to make this run so he had me ride along while he made the trip one day. I sat in the passenger seat with pen and clipboard, making notes as to which exit signs to look for next, with special notations if they were Left Access exits (two were) and there were a couple spots that merged left rather suddenly so I made note of that too. There was even one near hairpin turn to switch from one freeway to another. I had to contend with the San Mateo Bridge while I was at it which required its own little clues and cues.
Great Fun!

All these things I put in my computer and printed them out as a personal set of directions, making the type really legible. What I ended up with was a very nice double sided piece of paper which had Boldface lists of the crucial entry/exit signs in sequence to guide this intrepid traveler on his future missions, guaranteeing a safe return.

Both Derrick and I had some misgivings knowing my trepidation about the eventual moment of truth yet, on the other hand, how hard can it be? People go from Redwood City to Walnut Creek every day and never end up in the mental trauma wards.

And we all know I haven’t driven the freeway in maybe three years…but, hey, it’s like riding a bike, right?

Welllll… Lo, it had come to pass that a Walnut Creek delivery and pickup of equipment was needed. It was my turn. There was no one else free to do it.

Show Time!

The company provided the vehicle and a gas card. I was assigned a nice little Buick. I took my time to set my mirrors and seats familiarizing myself with the dash, wipers, etc.like a pilot doing pre-flight preps. After a short Bunny Hop comedy getting used to the brakes, I went off to the gas station to get gas. Not being familiar as to which side of the car the gas tank cap was on I provided some impromptu entertainment to the station attendant as I circled the pumps looking for the best way to gas the buggy. To add to that bit of comedy, the company credit card refused to work. But I got it together without breaking down in tears and, Guide Sheet in hand, off I went!

As I approached the San Mateo Bridge I realized that the HEATER is on! Whoever had borrowed the car before me had apparently felt a chill so they had cranked up the heater. I dasn’t fumble with it at highway speeds so I put up with it. Radio booming! Heater on! Every window open, I’m off to Walnut Creek.

Things are actually going along pretty well if warmly so. There was a little excitement when I almost get squeezed into a sidewall by a semi. Still, outside of having some hostile fellow drivers not being fans of my Granny way of driving, it went pretty smoothly.

Until I get to the next to the last exit to Walnut Creek.

Called the Sacramento-San Jose Exit.

I flinched. I had a fleeting doubt in my carefully crafted Guide Sheet, (This lack of faith was an error) Long story short, I missed my exit.

Thar I wuz.
Not only did I miss my exit, I now had absolutely no clue where I was or how to get back on course!

It seemed like I went about three miles up the road before I got to where I could find an exit ramp to get off the freeway. I found myself in a large, apparently uninhabited urban development-in-progress. It had an eerie Twilight Zone feel about it. Like a movie set or a film where all the inhabitants were Taken by some evil. I had to drive awhile to find some place that had actually had people in it so I might seek guidance but find them I did. The people were quite normal, no Rod Serling narrating in the background. They were eager to help and gave me directions to Walnut Creek that of course put me on a slightly different angle and a different freeway altogether which means my prized Guide Sheet is now worthless!

At least I got to turn off that damn heater once I actually stopped and parked the car.

Getting back on the freeway I was confronted with a “Walnut Creek North/Walnut Creek South” option that the helpful guides “forgot” to mention in their directions. I gambled on the northbound option and went what seemed like forever, wondering if I’m going too far in the wrong direction.

No! There’s Walnut Creek!

The heavens opened! The angels sang! Walnut Creek is a real place after all, Toto!

Now to find the Office. I had no address. I didn’t need it because if my little Guide Sheet had been adhered to I would have been deposited right at the door.

But I’m resourceful; I find a pay phone and call them. Get directions. Follow said directions. Ended up in a residential cul-de-sac.

Back to civilization to find another pay phone

Call ‘em. Get directions again. Throughout all this of course, is the factor that if I leave the car to seek directions or use the phone, the car instantly camouflages itself, hiding in plain sight, so it’ll take me another ten minutes trying to figure out where I parked it …

I finally get back on Main Street in Walnut Creek. I knew the office is on a short road abutting Main Street. I stop off to ask directions again. I asked the Walnut Creek guy if there was a landmark that indicated where I had to make my final turn. There was! I asked a local resident where this landmark to my final turn is. “Get back on 680…”

Argh!

I need Main Street, not 680 for to get reoriented. “Isn’t this Main Street?’” (It was. You could see the green white street sign)
“No” he said.
I thanked him and edged away from that dude and tried another local guide.

All quests must end; this one did, too. I finally got to my destination, picked up and completed my errand which, in itself, only took about twenty minutes and trekked home, this time slavishly obeying my Guide Sheet. The home route fell into place perfectly. The best thing about it was that on that day traffic flowed smoothly. Absolutely no lags or slowdowns.

But I think the guide sheet was forevermore cursed. Karmic punishment for having doubted it meant I never had a totally easy run to Walnut Creek ever after. There would always be some irritant in following the directions. Once I even ended up in Oakland! How that happened I’ll never know but I am eternally grateful to one of the residents there taking pity on me telling me to follow him and he would get me back on the freeway. A true Samaritan, he gave me accurate directions of how to get back on the San Mateo Bridge route and home.

The subsequent runs were never quite as long as that first one.

What took one of the regular guys to make the run and do a short errand while there and come back usually took a little over two hours.

Moi?

Four, nearly five hours. No halfway measures for me!