My Paintings…an Array…

A friend, Troy Weidenheimer, and I had an email exchange and he, being a talented man, told me about his work primarily in oil paintings. He posted a link to his site and I saw and liked what I saw.
Which put me in mind of photo friends I knew who had created “albums” accessible to the public to share their wares so I looked around and found a trove of my watercolors I made during my Barney Steels days.

There was a Certain Painting I saw and was forced to look at due to its placement that so offended me I said “I can do better than that.” and commenced working on my dormant drawing skills.

To shorten the saga I will say I disliked the idea of oil painting because of its inherent odor and messiness and went for watercolor. It helped that this was Alberto Vargas’ medium too. I also focused strictly on women, using photographs in lieu of live models although I did pay one lass who had a perfect figure a modelling fee to come and stand naked in front of me while I looked closely at the Female Body Assembly which is a subtly elusive thing to catch on paper.

Time was spent going from doodling on napkins to various types of paper and paints. I discovered the Windsor Newton Series Seven number two brush by reading a book written by Bill Mauldin and Vargas inspired me to take up the airbrush…
I also learned calligraphy and spent a couple of months designing a signature “Paper Dolls by Vann”

I’m not all that good an artist. The extremities are generally too small…hands and feet… but after they trend they become a trademark almost. But still, a trained art major can make me look like a finger-painting first grader. I sold a few but not enough to even make a chicken scratch in the money I spent on materials but, be it music, writing or art, I get driven and consumed by whatever stokes the creative furnance.

I had photographed many of my efforts but analog film takes a toll on color that digital does not so the colors are not true here, unfortunately. But, they are all I have. Some of my most iconic are gone…probably in landfill. Some I made I did not photograph and are forever beyond my reach.  Sadly, in August of 2016 I was forced to move and my new digs did not have room for my remaining paintings, easily over a hundred items.  I had to abandon them except for a few rescued head paintings and by now are gone forever.

Still, I wanted to be able to share some of my stuff, some that I dug up here and there. It was a fascinating period of creativity in my life… I love women and I like to think some of that shows in this slide show.

It might be worth checking back from time to time to see if I found any more photos…
n

Paper Dolls by Vann

The Recording

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After I retired from the workforce I became ill with COPD, a creeping, degenerative condition, that has a direct effect on one’s breathing process.

It is not curable but one can learn to live with it and maintain optimism.

I decided I wanted to put some of my musical “bon mots” on YouTube so after I board the “Freedom Train” people can perhaps share them and say, “Oh yeah…I remember him. He could play some and he sounded like this…”

So I put up a bunch of tunes.
I used a free recording program called Audacity that was easy to use and edit and commenced recording.

Polished CD quality they are not. They are more like what they used to call “demos”… one time through runs of a given song. But they served their purpose in that they show I was able to play guitar and Dobro as Chet Atkins would say, “slightly above below average.”

Elsewhere on this Blog is a write-up called “Poppa Played The Dobro” which is my history on playing the Dobro and, woven through it, is reference to a certain song actually called, “Poppa Played The Dobro

This song kinda became my trademark back in the day when I played in public a lot. I gave it my own spin and it consistently delighted people.

When I finally decided to record this song I had an immediate problem.
I no longer had the capacity of just singing the song. I ran out of air too quickly. Too many years of Pall Malls had done in my ability to sing any song all the way through.

But how could I not include Poppa Played The Dobro in my collection?

I sent an email to a friend asking him if he would do the vocal for me but he wasn’t that familiar with the song and may never had heard me sing it. That, and he was a blues singer.

He was encouraging, though, and promised that I would find a way. I thought it interesting that he could make such a promise since it was my vocal shortcoming I was dealing with but he knew me better than I knew myself.

I took up my acoustic guitar for foundation and sang the whole song recording it as I went along.

One line at a time.

Thanks to the multi-track ability of my recording program I was able to cobble a melody line that worked and blended all the single lines into a continuous sequence that has little trace of my affliction.

I added my Uncle Josh style Dobro licks and even managed to insert a particularly tricky lick in the song and ended up with one of my more victorious musical efforts.

Could it have been done better? Perhaps…probably… but the process I just described was intense and tedious and doing it all again really didn’t seem necessary.
I wasn’t out to sell it.

I just wanted people like you to hear it and perhaps have a smile for a while afterwards…

Some of you will remember hearing it.
Here’s the link if you haven’t heard it…

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I’m In The Book

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There are several biographies and books of the Grateful Dead on the market. Maybe too many since there are easily over twenty as of 2015.
The latest is
“So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead”
(released Apr 28, 2015)
by David Browne

My name appears in some of the older books as being in some of Jerry’s Palo Alto era bands but in this one I got a bona fide contributor’s mention.

Mr. Browne had seen my “Reflections On The Garcia” and based on that, contacted me by email a few months ago and asked for a phone interview. We arranged a time and if I remember correctly, we talked for about an hour.

I saw that it had come out and ordered a copy and, Voila!, there I am, my memories referenced accurately and my last name was even spelled right. (In the book he used a lower case “v” on the Van Maastricht but he is forgiven. That error was my fault.)

I’m quoted in roughly four pages. Not much in a book 443 pages long but my contribution represented impressions in such a brief period of the Garcia history.

Still, it is a mildly surreal feeling to see oneself quoted in a hardcover book even unto being listed in the index.

It’s funny… everyone wants to be remembered after they’re gone and in this way I, in a very miniscule way, am now in American music’s memory.

Mr. Browne wrote for, among other things, Rolling Stone magazine so his prose is an easy read. I don’t know if it will be a best seller. I doubt it but I do know those people who are fixated on Garcia and the Grateful Dead will have this in their collections and archives and, for a long time, those who take this book up will read my name and commentary long after I am just a dust bunny.

It’s hard to define what Jerry was to me. To me, he was a real friend, a guy I jammed with a lot, played in little pickup groups that were never paid but always thoroughly enjoyed. He helped me lose some of my fifties Midwestern uptightness. This was not an easy task because it was deeply ingrained. He was instrumental in opening me to areas and ideas in music I hadn’t seen before. Reading the chapter featuring my quotes brought back a flood of memories of people and places and remind me of how really far I have come as a person largely due to Jerry and the people I met during that period.

After he became “famous” we would meet from time to time and would mutually and wordlessly crinkle with a look that said “I can’t hardly believe it either.”

I was immensely proud for him that he became famous and made a living on his music. Every musician has this dream whether they admit it or not. However, such fame comes with a price and for some the price is terrible indeed.
I knew him when he was dirt poor but determined to make music his life. I relished his fame and fortune but was deeply saddened by his entanglements with the demons that eventually killed him

I miss him terribly…

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…