The Adventures Of A Street Musician
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by Mickie Zekley © 1995
"A RIOT BY ANY OTHER NAME"
Bob, Cathy, Cait and I were hired to play street music at Cal Expo, the California state fair. Bob and I played Scottish bagpipes, Cathy the fiddle and Cait the tenor field drum. We were allowed to play music and pass the hat anywhere we wanted for 20 days. This was a first for this event.
We setup camp in the parking lot of the Rodeo. Cait and I staying in the "Ruptured Duck" a funky camper and Bob and Cathy residing in the "Tortoise"a refugee from a milk company. The cowboys were friendly enough to their curious new neighbors.
We found a good spot to play by the exhibit halls. Most of the day was spent standing in this spot playing and passing the hat. At the end of each day we would walk away with a shopping bag full of money.
The third day of the fair we noticed a small black kid about 9 years old watching us intently. Over the next few days we noticed the kid in our audience but he wasn't watching us anymore, he was watching our hat. We realized that if we didn't take some action he would eventually grab the hat and run.
The next day our little friend showed up again. I told the rest of the band to keep playing while I took a walk. I went around the back of the crowd till I got behind our little friend. I got right next to him and whispered in his ear: "Do you see that guy with the bagpipe?" He said "Yeah!". I said, "See that leather pouch on his belt. He has a gun in it (he really didn't) and would shoot anybody that grabbed our hat." Our little friend commented "OOOOH!".
We didn't see him the next day but was back the following day still trying to figure out how to get our money. I walked up to him during our break and gave him a harmonica that I had found in the camper. He took the harmonica and ran off. About five days later we saw him at a corner of the fair playing a simple tune on the harmonica with a hat full of money in front of him. Bless free enterprise!
This is the fair when I invented "The Contest". We would lay a tightly tensioned drum on the ground than draw a line about 40 feet back from it and start loudly announcing that there was going to be a contest with a prize. The winner would win a tune named after them.
It always amazed me at how excited people would get at the idea winning something. They would start throwing hands full of money at the drum only to have it bounce off the tensioned skin. Eventually someone would "win". We would than play some obscure tune, naming it with their name. The winner was always delighted.
Everyday at 4:30 we would go to the race track at the fair and get ready play for the crowd on their way home after the last race. You could always tell the losers from the winners. The winners were always smiling and would usually put $1 00 to $5 00 in the hat for "good luck". The losers would usually look down at their feet and just walk by. One fellow must have had a particularly good day, he put $50 in the old hat.
One day we were playing at our normal spot and a riot broke out. 500 bored teenagers from the area came to the fair and went on a rampage. It was a combination of a hot summer and not enough to do. Some exhibits were ruined and fighting was the order of the day but the band played on. I felt like Nero watching Rome burn. The hooligans left us alone, the police arrived and the summer sun burned on.
"ATLANTIS AND OTHER PLACES"
Just before our flight to London, Bob Thomas gave us a copy of an amazing book called "View Over Atlantis". This book showed how the ancient Celtic monuments such as Stonehenge, Avebury, Carnac and others were part of an ancient power grid linked by "ley lines". The book made interesting reading on the long plane flight. It had been very cloudy with no view from the window. Just as I was reading an interesting part of the book about Stonehenge the cloud cover opened for an instant to reveal Stonehenge in all its ancient splendor. This "coincidence" led us on an adventure exploring the mysteries of ancient Celtic places of power and magic.
Carnac is an ancient stone and earthwork like Stonehenge in Brittany the Celtic part of France. There are long lines of standing stones believed by some to be related directly to Stonehenge and other ancient works. Near Carnac is a "hill" called St. Michels Mount (not Le Mont San Michel). It looks like a giant green pimple on the otherwise flat landscape. There are caves inside and a large church on top. This mound is manmade and is much older than the church on top of it, and is made up of different layers of materials, seemingly consciously chosen and arranged. Evidently this "hill" is identical to an Orgone chamber as proposed by Wilhelm Reich. We found a locked iron gate blocking the way into the mount. It was a long hike up to the top and the church. No one was there to let us in the catacombs. We looked down the hill and there was an ancient, gnarled man waving to us and calling "Americains, Americains!". I found it strange that he knew we were Americans. He could not have heard us talking, we were dressed European and we had a Dutch car.
We walked down to the locked opening in the mound and met gate keeper to the underworld. It was likely that he had been there since the beginning of time. His eyes had the white rims of sanpaku and his voice made you shiver. He took a large rusted key and unlocked the iron gate and we entered a chamber under the mountain that had every inch of wall, ceiling and floor covered with a coating of wax from the hundreds of centuries that people had been coming there. In the book I was reading "View Over Atlantis" there was a map of the inside of the subterranean maze with all its side passages and dead ends. We lit tallow candles and followed our guide into the mount. He stopped many times at different side passages and chanted in a language we had never heard (not French, Breton or Latin). When we were deep in these powerful feeling chambers he turned before us and stood straight and tall, coming toward us screaming "Christus Malad, Christus Malad!". He blocked the way we came in. Luckily I remembered the layout of the system and we ran out of the cave, got into our van and fled.
Cait and I were busking in London on Portobello Road, playing a few tunes at one of the market corners on a fine Saturday morning. It was time for some pub food and some lager & lime so we headed to one of our favorite pubs.
An old blind Irish accordion player always played at this pub on market days. We were blessed by beautiful weather and the accordion player was playing outside the pub in the warm sun. We were a short distance from the pub and could see and hear the old gentleman playing. Two kids dashed out of the pub and poured a pitcher of beer over his head. He just laughed and kept playing the Humours Of Bandon. Every time I hear that tune I relive that moment.
We were filmed by a Yugoslavian television crew doing a documentary on busking in London. We were happy to take the 20 pounds they paid us. A multi cultural event, two American's playing Irish music on a London street corner being filmed for Yugoslavian television.
Enrolled in the school of life, living in London, on the street, in the dead of winter, in a Volkswagen van, making our way by playing our tunes, relying on the kindness of people to fill our hat so that we could buy food for another day.
Before my first trip to the British Isles I obtained an interesting antique musical instrument catalog from my friend Julius Gido guitar maker extraordinaire. The catalog was from a shop called: Tony Bingham Purveyor of Rare and Unusual Musical Instruments at The Sign Of The Serpent. Shortly after arriving in London I called Mr. Bingham and asked if Cait and I could come by his premises and inspect what he had to offer. We made an appointment for the next day. I pictured Mr. Bingham as an English gentleman in his 60s, thin of build, puckered in cheeks, wearing a black, formal 3 piece suit, a perfect character from the silver screen. We took the underground to Hampstead and walked down the hill to Willoughby Road and found the proper address to a flat in much need of paint and patching. A fellow a few years older than myself with hair like a bush answered the door and invited us in. We meant to only take a few minutes of Mr. Bingham's time but instead we became instant long term friends and stayed on at Willoughby road for almost a year with the amazing Tony Bingham.
The room we stayed in was amazing! Where else could you get a room with 27 antique bassoons under the bed, a wall full of hurdy gurdys, a glass harmonica as a night stand and a priceless porcelain serpent on the table that you were always afraid of knocking off and shattering. Willoughby Road was a wonderful place to have sallied forth on many adventures from.
Willoughby Road was next to the Hampstead Heath a large park like common in the middle of this interesting part of London. Tony was expecting a number of guests from out of the country so we decided to go stay on the Heath in our Volkswagen bus (try camping in central London in a VW bus in the snow in the middle of winter sometime). In the middle of the night we heard many horses galloping, men shouting and horns blowing. The next day we asked around the area and no one was aware of this happening. We were told that the last hunt on Hampstead Heath happened over 100 years ago.
Dr. Russell V Lee was the kind patron of the Golden Toad. A remarkable man in both his personality and his actions. The Doctor had a white beard and hair and usually wore a white suit. If you met him for the first time you were sure that you had just been introduced to Colonel Saunders. A true Southern gentleman. I once asked him what medical properties garlic had. He replied; "Garlic is the most wonderful herb. It brings you solitude."
He would invite us to his Portola Valley estate for dinner and ask us if we would be willing to play a few tunes for the enjoyment of himself and his friends. When we were leaving he would hand one of us an envelope and ask us to open it later. It always contained $600-$1000 (in those days this was a fortune).
He owned a 1400 acre ranch near Cloverdale. This ranch was built in the 1870's by Major Preston a retired Civil War officer. The ranch was a religious community called the Free Pilgrim's Church headed by the matriarch Madame Preston the Major's wife. She fancied herself a healer but did much damage to her patients with her cures. One time going through a barn we found a jar of one of her remedies. We gave it to Doctor Lee who gave some to a friend who was feeling out of sorts. The friend said later it made him feel great. The Doctor later had it analyzed. It consisted of alcohol with tinctures of Opium and Cannabis.
The Madam ruled her community with an iron hand. She owned all the land and let the church members build their homes on the property. If they did not follow her rules, out they went. The nearest town at that time was Geyserville about 17 miles away. When the railroad came through she would only grant them a right of way if they put the station just bellow her mansion rather than in Geyserville. This meant that all the towns folks had to take a 17 mile trip to get to catch a train.
Dr. Lee Loved our music and our lifestyle and gave us the ranch as our home for as long as he lived. It was a very creative little community. I lived in the school house. Joe and Marsha in the Sunday School next to the church which we used for music and dance practice. The Infirmary and Mansion housed many of us. The barn was the domain of Torchy the magician and fire eater. Bob Thomas and Cathie inhabited a small house near the church and Ernest and Deborah lived in the river house. Elliot and Leslie resided up the hill from Cait and I and Solomon and Wendy lived in the Chocolate Whale (a vehicle that any Gypsy would have lusted after).
It was the late 60s and the town's folks called us the "hippies on the hill". On a shopping trip to town a local shopkeeper told us that he overheard some young redneck punks saying that they were going to burn out the hippies on the hill that night. We went home very upset and called the police (who weren't very interested in our problem). At that point we took matters into our own hands. We gathered together all the old rifles & shotguns, swords, knives, fire hoses, rakes, fire tools, walkie talkies and more that we could find plus some other surprises for our expected guests. At about 10:00pm they pulled up our road in 3 pickup trucks only to be greeted by us standing in the middle of the road with our guns and Bill Gilkerson's cannon (which took a 3" ball") all pointing directly at them. You never saw human (barely) beings move as fast as they did going back to town. We had no further trouble and became the town heros and they became the town joke.
Doctor Lee would come by the ranch every few months on the way home from his retreat at Dos Rios. He always stopped by my home and would ask if I would show his passengers my instrument collection. These were delightful visits, which I always looked forward to.
The Doctor was an incredible friend. When George Dawson (the great but always impoverished fiddler) severed the tendons in his left hand after having a losing fight with a telephone booth, the Medi-Cal system was going to basically throw this brilliant man in the trash and not help him because he did not have any financial resources. I called Doctor Lee and told him of George's plight. Within a few hours we were contacted by Doctor Chase the worlds foremost expert in micro-surgery and told to bring George to Stanford right away. George is making beautiful music again today thanks to our patrons efforts. May the system and those that run it be damned eternally.
"NAKED ART STUDENTS"
Bob Thomas received a letter from the director of the art department at Sacramento State College inquiring about hiring the Golden Toad for an event of great magnitude. We replied with our demands and shortly received a telephone call informing us that this event was so important that negotiations needed to be made in person.
A few days later I was standing in the doorway of my home which a hundred years prior was the school house on the Madam Preston ranch. I noticed a gray car, obviously an official state vehicle winding its way through the oak trees up the twisty & dusty road to my house. At first I thought that this must be a tax collector or some minion of the law but instead it was the art professor and his prized young student.
Bob, Cathy, Cait, myself and our purveyors of education from the Delta country sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee that Cait so aptly described as "there is no such thing as strong coffee just weak people" and begin to discuss the requirements for our upcoming performance.
The purpose of the event was to impress a noted art text book writer by the name of Janson who had written the art history book used by every college art student from coast to coast and to also unveil the masterwork of this brilliant young student who accompanied our good professor on his journey over mountains to Preston.
The young artist was described as a modern day Michlangelo and his work to be unveiled was a diorama of the Earth as seen by beings from outer space. We were assured that this painting was one of today's most important works. This outstanding artpiece was to be revealed in a candle light ceremony for which we were to play Tibetan ritualistic lamasery music with 8 foot horns made of copper and bronze incised with magical symbols, oboes with silver rings inlaid with precious stones, short horns of brass and copper made to the likeness of a dragon and with bells and drums to invoke spirits of the other world. This holiest and most mystical of musics was the only thing that would be worthy of this young mans fine art work.
The day's events were to start with a Bacchanalian feast. We were to play the music from the homelands of Caesar and Nero while the horde reveled and feasted.
When this orgy of food and distillation of the grape ended Bob was to lead our host, his wife, the art staff of the college and our special guest Janson down gentle paths through sylvan glades too quaint sailing vessels awaiting patiently their cargo of merry makers. Bob was to play the bagpipes of ancient Rome and lead this worthy group much as the Pied Piper led the rats from Hamlin to drown in the river.
On the banks of the lake all were to board these sturdy ships for a leisurely cruise to the far shore where we were to meet them with music ready. On landing we were to spring from the bushes playing Bulgarian bagpipes and lead this procession to a country gravesite to illustrate that all good times must end someday and indeed there was death even in mythical Arcadia.
After these events everyone was to return to the professor's mountain chalet on the banks of the lake to feast and party and await the coming of darkness for the unveiling of the aforementioned masterpiece.
At this point we were overwhelmed with the importance of the event. Our good professor pulled out a photo album to show us photos of past events of his sponsorship. We set the book on the table and opened it only to show stark naked, embarrassed art students in various outdoor settings performing various red faced activities. We were than informed that we were expected to render our services at this event without clothing. Bob Thomas pushed his chair back from the table and rose to his thin but 6 foot visage saying "Does this mean that I have to take the cover off my bagpipe too, I'm never naked, I shower with my clothes on".
After a few hours of our potential employer trying to convince us of artistic merits of nude pipers and fiddlers he agreed that we could performed clothed (Bob offered to take the cover off his pipes).
The night before the event we caravaned to ground zero Cait & I, Bob & Cathy, Joe & Marcia. The ruptured duck (a derelict camper), a Divco milk truck, and a refugee from the US Postal service fleet served as our covered wagon train. After many dirt roads and wrong turns we found our benefactors estate. We were greeted by a dozen screaming peacocks and Joe was almost eaten by the resident St Bernard. We entered the house to find a motley crew of art students making signs for the next day's event. Bob took one look at the shambles they were making out of block lettering of these signs and took over the sign making project. Bob's artistic background had run the gamut from restoring icons in Mexican cathedrals to designing the logo for the Grateful Dead. He was aghast at art students who couldn't draw or calligraphic. We decided that we should settle financial matters that night as per our agreement with. We stated clearly that we were to be paid in cash but alas he handed us a check from the educational institution of his employ. Bob being a firm believer in coin of the realm suggested that if cash was not delivered tomorrow we would load our vehicles with antique furnishings from the house in lieu of proper payment.
Morning finally came. A rooster may wake you gently at dawn but trying to sleep with a dozen peacock around is like trying to sleep at the end of a jet runway at rush hour. We dressed in our costumes left over from the Renaissance Faire and followed the path to the "Bacchanalian" feast to tune our instruments for the mid day's entertainments. We found the feasting table which turned out to be a number of card tables set on a downward sloping hillside. The tables were covered with paper table cloths with paper plates and plastic utensils. The feast consisted of one large bowl of potato salad, one large bowl of cole slaw, a number of loaves of white bread and a fine selection of the best one gallon jugs of Red Mountain wine.
Our host forgot to provide us with chairs to sit on so we had to play sitting on the ground. Cathy playing the cello, Cait the fiddle, Bob the Viehuella (Portuguese guitar) and myself the small harp. Cathy is quite tall and made a great picture sitting on the ground with the cello. At last Mr Janson the good professor with wife in tow and the complete art department of the college arrived and were seated. Immediately one of the jugs of Red Mountain was knocked over at the up hill end of the "banquet" table and a river of wine flowed from one end to the other.
The sun was nearing it's zenith and the temperature was at least 100 degrees as the last of the "feast" was consumed. It was time for the guests to be led to their surprise cruise. Bob bravely inflated his lovely olive wood Roman bagpipes as started to lead this group down what was described as a gentle path. The gentle path would have been a challenge for a mountain goat and difficult for a human but almost impossible for a marching bagpiper with entourage. Luck was with them and no one fell or was injured. The journey ended at the lake shore. 3 boats were awaiting. The quaint boats described turned out to be plastic dinghies with sails. With the 100 degree weather, no wind and no shade these boats were like floating frying pans with humans the main course. The ten minute trip took 1 1/2 hours with the lack of wind. The refreshments for the voyage consisted of Red Mountain and more Red Mountain.
Meanwhile we were instructed to drive around the lake and prepare ourselves to lead the procession of "Death in Arcadia".
Bob disappeared piping down the steep trail with his entourage in tow, while Joe, Cait, Cathy and I piled in my van and drove to the other side of the lake to get ready for the arrival of the sailors.
The boats were supposed to arrive 15 minutes after they set sail, but due to lack of wind they arrived over an hour late. It was over 100 degrees and we had to wait on the beach without the benefit of shade. Shortly after our arrival many people started to show up and walk into the brush on the hill behind us.
The moment the quaint boats arrived with their cargo of half baked art teachers, over 200 naked embarrassed art students rushed out of bushs startling everyone including themselves.
We blew up the Bulgarian bagpipes and started beating the drums and led this motley procession to an old country grave where our naked host and his wife waited. The organizer of this event held an old tree branch that vaguely looked like a scythe and gestured at the grave to show that there was death even among all this beauty. The guest of honor took one look at this scene, shook his head, took a long draw on the jug of Red Mountain wine that he was still carrying and burped.
It was obvious that the guest of honor was looking for the "exit sign". I was the only one with a vehicle (everyone else either arrived on the boats or walked 1 1/2 miles around the lake) and offered to rush this man back to the house. This invitation was accepted gratefully.
As soon as we arrived at the house the guest of honor thanked me for the lift, rushed to his car and drove off at once delighted that he had escaped.
Eventually our hosts, the other art teachers and the now clothed art students arrived but were disappointed that their guest of honor had disappeared. The rest of the afternoon was spent eating coleslaw & potato salad leftover from the Bacchanalian feast and listening to bad rock and roll mixed with the sound of a generator down the hill.
Dusk was coming and it would soon be time to play Tibetan ritual music for the candlelight unveiling of the "Diorama Of The Earth From Outer Space". We got directions to the site of the event and started down the hill.
Bob nearly tripped over what appeared to be a paint splattered drop cloth laying on the ground. Indeed this unframed reject from a house painter's work kit was what was purported to be the art work of the decade. Bob (truly a great painter) looked carefully at the situation and realized that the Gods of the ancient Tibetan Lamas would curse us if we played their music for this event. Bob said that the only sensible thing to do was to make a run for our vehicles and leave. Joe brought up the unpleasant fact that we hadn't been paid yet and couldn't, leave if we wanted to get our money.
In a true stroke of genius Joe suggested that he play his odd looking Welsh bagpipe and the rest of play marching band cymbals and chant nonsense in hopes that our employer wouldn't notice the difference.
Darkness finally came and the candlelight ceremony was to begin. A group of 70 candle holding art students made a circle around the masterpiece. It was windy and no one could keep their candles lit, so the ceremony became a one Coleman lantern light ceremony. It was time for us to play "Tibetan ritual" music.
Joe blew up his bagpipe which smelled like a dead goat (which it partly was)and started playing the Mickey Mouse theme song while we banged on our cymbals and chanted "Oh money give me some". Our cultured audience didn't know the difference. Eventually the farce was over and we were paid and drove off into the night.
"ALL IS FAIRE IN
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire was my true institutition of higher education. I learned that really doing something was more valuable then studying to do something. We often referred to the Faire as an earn while you learn lifestyle.
LOVE AND MORE"
The Faire allowed many lucky folks to explore their wildest creative fantasies. This annual gathering has left me with many life long friends, a great selection of tunes, endless stories, aand a musical career. This was more than a carnival to many of us. It was an extended family that was supportive and forgiving. My Faire family encouraged my projects and my dreams when the rest of the world would only laugh.
"TORCHY AT THE FAIRE"
Torchy was the Golden Toad's fire eater and magician. One year at the Peacock Gap, Renaissance Faire Carpenter Bob built a very fancy and complex stage for our shows with all Torchy's magical devices built in. Torchy was performing his levitation act. Beautiful Diane (Yogala) laid flat on the stage while Torchy chanted magical words. She floated 5 feet into the air and Torchy slid a hoop over her to show that there was nothing holding her up. At this moment a young fellow from the audience rushed onto the stage, threw all his money on the ground and started kissing Torchy's feet, screaming that he would follow him to the ends of the earth and do anything if only Torchy would teach him.
Another day Torchy and Trent were not getting along. Trent's job was to operate the equipment for the levitations. During the middle of the show Trent started jerking the controls so that Diane floated in starts and stops, she almost fell off the machine. At this point we were sure that Torchy wanted to make Trent disappear permanently.
The finale to Torchy's fire eating act was the fireball. He would take a big swig of white gas and spit it out across a lit torch. What followed was a giant ball of fire. The negative effect of doing fire eating is that your taste buds stop functioning for a few weeks. One day someone (Deborah swears that she didn't do this) replaced the white gas with water. When Torchy tried to do the fire ball act he blew out the torch instead. He was stunned but managed to take a bow any way He quickly turned around and tripped over my Koto (I was his musical accompanist), fell through the side stage curtain on top of Joe Moir knocking him over and breaking his clarinet.
"CAN YOU SPARE 25¢
Standing in Jackson Square in Seattle I was accosted by a panhandler. "Hey buddy can you spare a quarter for an old wino" he said. I was in a whimsical mood and replied, "I won't give you a quarter but I will flip coins with you and you may be able to win it from me." Within in a few minutes I won $1.50 and left the panhandler scratching his head, $1.50 poorer but quite amused.
FOR AN OLD WINO?"
"YOU CAN'T GET THERE"
I was lost in the Irish countryside and decided that the best thing to do was to ask directions from one of the locals. I came to a farm where an old gaffer was tilling his field with an old style horse drawn wooden mold board plough. I called to him and he leisurely walked over to the fence obviously grateful for an excuse to stop his labors.
I thanked him for coming over to help me than I asked, "How can I get to Ennis from here". He scratched his head, cogitated for a while, finally turned towards me and said, "Lad if I was going there I surely wouldn't start from here".
"WHY ARE YOU LOOKING
Most of the music that has captured my fancy has not been written down or even recorded. Learning various styles and tunes has taken me many a mile. I had a growing fascination with old wooden flutes and Irish music. While traveling around county Galway in Ireland I heard there was a great traditional flute player in Loughrea. I found myself standing outside Tom Moylans pub and found the place empty aside from the publican behind the bar washing glasses. I ordered a pint and asked my host if he knew where I could find Paddy Carty. My host (Tom Moylan himself) shrugged his shoulders and didn't respond. Tom went into the back to fetch something and I dropped the subject. 15 minutes later a country gentleman in a tattered tweed jacket came in, bellied up to the bar, and ordered a shot of "Paddys". Eventually he turned to me and said, "Are you looking for Paddy Carty?". I was taken by surprise but said "Yes". He said, "And why would you be looking for Paddy Carty?". I informed the man that I was interested in his music. With a look of great relief he wiped his forehead and said, "Well I'm Paddy Carty". He proceeded to open his jacket and pulled pieces of his flute from various pockets inside. Over the next few days many great tunes were had with this amazing musician.
FOR PADDY CARTY?"
I was visiting the great Clare fiddler Gus Tierney and having a few old tunes. He offered my first taste of Poteen, the real Irish moonshine, The Pure Drop sometimes called the Creature. Poteen is distilled from potatoes in a copper coil still. While sitting and drinking this potent brew and discussing its virtues there was a loud, vigorous knock at the door. In came a very excited man saying, "Gus, Gus I'm famous!". He finally calmed down enough to tell us he was was famous because the Gardia (Irish police) came and broke up his still infront of live national television.
"HEY DIDDLE, DIDDLE
Some people spend their lives searching for the holy grail. Some people spend their life looking for the perfect fiddle and complaining about the one they have. Cait was on such a quest. This one has a wolf note, this one has a weak bass, can you hear the buzz, I can't keep it in tune, it doesn't respond, ad infinitm. One day she was elaborating about the lack of virtue of fiddle #45 when George said let me see it. He took the glass of wine he was drinking and poured it in the f hole before she could say a word. It was amazing it must have worked because she didn't complain about her fiddles for a long time.
THE WINE IN THE FIDDLE"
I was told that a nameless but infamous harper was performing at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. She was having trouble tuning her harp and her fellow band member and piper husband told her to hurry up and she ripped the strings out of the harp and through it off the front of the stage.
"MAMA DON'T ALLOW
English buskers are civilized buskers. They busk in the tube, they busk queues, they busk where ever they can get away with it and even where they can't. They share the busking places so everyone gets a chance. Respect and a live let live attitude pervails. The Bobbys (English cops) are generally kind to buskers letting them do their art whenever possible and making their presence felt so the busker will stop of his own accord rather than directy confronting the performer if they must get the busker to refrain from this ancient activity.
NO MUSIC AROUND HERE"
Smoke Dawson was arrested for piping on the streets of Sausalito. He was jailed for a few days than told to get out of town.
One evening George Dawson, Cait and I met up at a favorite North Beach Spaghetti joint and swapped stories about our latest street adventures. George told us of a recent foray with bagpipes into a restaurant. A fellow eating at a table heard the pipes, started to scream, shook his fist than punched a hole in the wall. Immediately the pipers exited stage left. We waited a long time to get service. We were like wraiths to the waitress. Finally George chewed up the menu and we left.
Hurdy: Olde English for the human posterior.
Gurdy: A crank.
Hurdy Gurdy or in French Vielle a Roue: The traditional european wheel fiddle, played by turning a crank attached to a wheel that acts as a continiues bow and keys are pressed to fret the strings. Literally Butt Crank.
Brian Tolley the great Hurdy Gurdy player and maker was busking in Westwood when he was arrested and his instrument confiscated for playing the Hurdy Gurdy on the street. He called me and asked me if I could help him in any way to not go to jail, not pay a fine and to get his instrument back. I found out that there is an old "blue law" on the books making it illegal to play the hurdy gurdy on the street in Los Angeles. I researched the situation and found out that the law was really refering to the barrel organ that organ grinders used along with monkeys for begging rather than the noble Vielle a Roue. I sent a telegram to the judge which arrived during Brian's trial, brought straight to the bench. Brian said that the judge was ready to "throw the book at him" but when he got my telegram telling him that he was trying the wrong instrument that he put his head down in his hands and postponed the case to the next week. Brian was let off with a warning not to do it again. We must have law and order. No cranks allowed!!!
In another instance of Hurdy Gurdy abuse a friends wife took his Hurdy Gurdy and put it out in the middle of a busy Oakland street and let the traffic run over it for an hour.
The wonderful, giggling and eclectic bagpiper Shawn Folsom was holding forth at the Santa Rosa Highland Games. Arranged around him we're 20 sets of bagpipes from all over the world. He would pick one up and play a traditional tune from its country of origin than give an amusing and scholorly discourse about the instrument and the music. To my horror I watched an official of the event make him stop this wonderful perfomance for the hundereds of people watching because he didn't "have permission". It amazes me when there is a great treasure admist the common and is ignored and crushed. Rules are rules. Mediocrity rules.
Joe Moir had to commute between Los Angeles and San Francisco by air sometimes. He would play his Hungarian bagpipes on the plane and pass the hat and would usually make enough money to pay for his plane trips.
A local Mendocino musician shunned me for no apparent reason. I met him on a hike on the woods and confronted him on the horrible treatment that I had been receiving from him for the past year. I was informed that he was terribly upset with me because I had the gall and audasity to play the harp on the street in the same town that he played the harp on the street. I tried to tell him of all my adventures on the street and of the cooperation and camraderie between buskers to no avail. It is a shame that some people refuse fellowship and openess and mire themselves in pettiness and greed.
I have learned a great amount of my repertoire and written many tunes going down the freeway at 60 miles an hour, pennywhistle in hand. Why else do you have elbows if not to steer? I advise you not to try this with the concertina (first hand knowledge).
My dear wife Elizabeth decided to learn the concertina. In her second week of incarnation as a concertina player we drove to Seattle; that is to say I drove and she practiced the concertina. 18 hours of concertina torture.
"DEAD MEN DANCE NO REELS"
The good fathers Griffin and Hanratty came to our weekly Irish music session. We had been having a great crack when I noticed that Father Hanratty (a fiddler who had spent 20 years serving in Tasmania) was standing by the door looking very anxious. About an hour later he turned to Father Griffin and said "John we have to go the man will be dead by now!" Father Griffin responded "If the mans dead there is nothing for us to do so let's have another tune."
When I first moved to Mendocino my friend Arrigo D'Albert, Swiss goldsmith, hurdy gurdy player and general character had "Sunday Music" at his house of course every Sunday. After completing building my home, my contribution to North Coast wood butchers art I started having music parties. There would be Irish music in the living room, old time songs in the kitchen and middle eastern music on the pourch. Have you ever had 7 Highland bagpipers in your kitchen? One weekend the Tannahill Weavers stopped for a few days at the same time as Paddy O'Brien the great Irish accordion player and Clairseach (Chuch & Ann Heymann). The music never stopped. Did you ever see a highland piper flat on his back drunk playing the pipes? There is nothing like a good party but there is sometimes that there is too much of a good thing. When the attendence at one of my music parties broke the hundred person barrier I decided that it was time to relocate these events To the Mendocino Woodlands. Which has grown into Lark In The Morning's Summer Music Celebration.
SUCH SWEET SARROW"
"ROBERT DONOVAN THOMAS"
Bob was an amazing fellow a true renaissance man, not in the new sense but in the time of 400 years past. He was famous for the logos that he designed for the Grateful Dead and the album cover art that he produced for them. He was a world class painter and a multi-talented musician playing bagpipes from every country, lute, guitar, all manner of fiddles, saz, folk oboes and flutes and many more. He was one of the worlds great scholars and storytellers. He found no difference between the natural and supernatural. He spent his life trying to unravel the mysteries of the ages and maybe making more mysteries himself. No one who met him walked away untouched, whether by an incredible insight that he allowed you to see or the worst insult of your life you would walk away changed. He was loved and respected by more people than anyone that I ever met. He restored icons in Mexican cathedrals in his youth. Once when Bob went into his bank and asked the bankteller to withdraw his funds from his savings account he was told that he would have to wait 2 weeks. He grabbed the tellers tie, pulled the knot up tight around his neck till his face turned red than he dunked the end of the tie in an ink well. He got his money at once, never to bank again. He expected people to keep their word to him and sometimes would take drastic action if they didn't.
Bob was playing a gig at Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley. The band was promised a gourmet meal half way through the gig as part of the deal. The restaurant owner kept putting the band off till it was closing time and the band was starved after 8 hours of hard work. Bob exploded when he was told that they were out of food and he broke up the restaurant office. He restored antique instruments and made bagpipes at Tony Bingham's workshop in London. Joe Moir and Bob toured the world with an English repertoire company as musicians, playing such places as the Sphinx, the Temple Of Bacchus and other places of wonder. He was a many faceted man but most important, he was my best friend.
Early morning, December 17, 1993 I awoke into a bad dream. The telephone call from Deborah Fischbach sent me out of bed and into my car driving the 400 miles to the house that used to be Bob Thomas's home. I called Mary, Bob's long time partner and lover so that she would tell me that this was a bad rumor, a falsehood, a lie. "He passed away in his sleep in the early morning." I went to comfort Mary. I went because maybe I would knock on the door and Bob would answer and cheerily greet Beth and I in. What's it like to lose your best friend? Where there was a solidity and a richness there was now memories and emptiness. Mary answered the door, Bob's recent paintings spoke to me at once of the tranquillity he had found in the small central California town of San Miguel. I knew Bob was dead but a part of me kept waiting for him to walk in the door and this would be another one of his pranks. The lute on the wall no longer sang his tunes. The pipes he played so well no longer made the feet dance. I could fix Mary a meal, I could tell Bob's daughter Deidre stories about her father, I could hold hands and comfort but Bob had moved away, no forwarding address. It was like him to just go off and leave in this fallow time of the year just before the winter solstice a time of the year that he held magical. Is his soul playing music between the legs of the Sphinx again or is he serenading Zeus? Has he gone back to concertize in the ruins of the an ancient temple or has he finally taken Isis as a lover? Has he gone back to restore more icons in the cathedrals of old Mexico or is he now amongst those saints and angels with his pipe and tabor or was he now truly playing with the Grateful Dead.
NO FORWARDING ADDRESS"
We returned home with a visit left unvisited, with a hello and a good-by left unsaid. Gone away. No Forwarding Address.
"Return To Adventures Of A Street Musician Part 1"
"More History About Bob Thomas And The Grateful Dead"
Lark Camp A Celebration Of World Music And Dance
Mickie & Elizabeth Performance Webpage
Zekley Family Band Performance Webpage
Mendocino English Country Dance Webpage
© 1995 Mickie Zekley