In college, I had a friend, Brooke. A summer roommate of another friend, Brooke ran the U.C. Santa Barbara concert program – famous for bringing big-name rock bands to the small university on cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. Yeah, it was horrible.
One day in September 1976, I dropped by Brooke’s office at the student center. The week before, I phoned to ask a favor: Could she get me tickets – any tickets – to the Springsteen show at the Santa Barbara County Bowl on October 5? A year after Springsteen released Born To Run, disco and other horrible music dominated the southern California music scene – especially in Santa Barbara, which often went by the nickname “Santa Boredom”. How bad? Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina bad.
Even with rave reviews and almost simultaneous cover stories by Time and Newsweek, Springsteen hadn’t cracked the California market in a big way. Friends questioned my musical taste and sanity. (They deny this today. But, they did.)
Brooke handed me two tickets. Not just any two tickets – crazy-good tickets. Third-row, orchestra pit. Better than I anything I imagined. Seats so close that, when Springsteen jumped into the audience – an original crowd-surfer – during the show, he was less than 10 feet away.
My finances? Broke student, pretty much. “How much do I owe you?” Brooke waved her hand, looked down at her desk and said “Nothing. They’re comps.” [Brooke later got me backstage passes to Fleetwood Mac at UCSB and gave a friend and I four tickets to see Waylon Jennings in 1977 at Studio City in LA - a remarkable show not close to being sold-out - the night before I flew out of LAX for my first solo trip to Europe. Brooke was a good friend.]
The fall concert was part of the “Lawsuit Tour”, officially known as the U.S. Tour. Springsteen and the band toured a lot, partly because of various financial and legal problems.
That night, more than 4,500 fans packed the County Bowl – official capacity at the time: 4,562. Not a bad seat anywhere, really. Still a few years away from Springsteen’s stadium and sports-arena shows. In the orchestra pit, you look up at the stage. Spitting-distance. And an epic show.
Almost nine months later, another friend, Barbara, handed me a framed photo. “I know you loved that concert,” she said. “A guy I know was taking pictures that night for the newspaper. He let me pick one. Happy birthday.”
Bruce Springsteen, age 27, with his signature Fender Esquire and (I’m thinking) Miami Steve Van Zandt (side, hat) live at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, 1976.
Happy 65th to The Boss.
Born In The U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
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I shot this photo of the Battersea Power Station in early 1978 – shortly after it appeared on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals album.
Now, the landmark/iconic/historic (add your own adjective) Battersea Power Station along the Thames is going condo. Or so I read. And I cannot improve on Newsweek’s recent report. The highlights:
“Nothing will be spared from gentrification, it seems. Battersea Power Station, the iconic building on the River Thames featured on Pink Floyd’s 1977Animals album cover, will be reconstructed later this year and transformed into luxury villas with a roof garden. Malaysian developers are selling retail and office space at the former power plant at roughly $3,300 per square foot.”
“The building’s classic smokestack chimneys, now structurally damaged and decayed by decades of coal fumes, will be torn down and “painstakingly reconstructed” down to the original paint hue by Wilkinson Eyre, the architecture firm that will be reconstructing Battersea.”
“Battersea is a public landmark, but critics say the space will transform the former power station into its own microcosm of posh up there with the luxurious apartments one might find in London’s most opulent neighborhoods, such as Chelsea or Kensington. This is ironic since Battersea became symbolic of Pink Floyd’s battle against the socioeconomic problems that plagued Britain in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.”
One Saturday my friend Andy (the over-dressed) and I took two German friends to see a junk yard. This is what they wanted. You can see the Pacific Ocean in the background – being Southern California and all. Rainer, the blonde, is now an executive at a major German tire manufacturer. Mateus, his friend – not sure what became of him.
[Click any photo to see enlargement in a new window.]
This is a two- or three-part story. But, still, relatively simple.
It includes a favorite rock ‘n roll song, the iconic “I Fought The Law”, made famous by Texas musician Bobby Fuller and The Bobby Fuller Four in 1966. Recovered by dozens since, including The Clash, Hank Williams Jr. The Dead Kennedys, Bruce Springsteen, Waylon Jennings, The Ramones, The Grateful Dead, etc.
Finally (maybe), there’s The Crickets, the Texas band made famous in part by Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash February 3, 1959 in Iowa with Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
And here’s how it goes:
A month or so ago, I found a bunch of CDs by The Bobby Fuller Four – a “best of”, a live cd, one of those “Never To Be Forgotten” cds, etc. I bought the “I Fought The Law” 45, on the Mustang label, at 12. Wish I had it, still. Anyway, I decided to look up the song’s history and discovered, on Wikipedia, that Sonny Curtis wrote the song in 1958 and The Crickets – sans Holly – recorded it in 1959.
The Crickets’ line-up for the song was:
Henry Earl Sinks – Vocal/Rhythm Guitar Sonny Curtis – Lead Guitar Joe Mauldin – Bass Jerry Allison – Drums
(The original Crickets: Holly, Mauldin, Allison and Nikki Sullivan on rhythm guitar. Sullivan quit the band in 1958 but performed on most of the songs Holly recorded before his death.)
Interesting. A post-Buddy-Holly Crickets connection. The song never hit the charts the way it did for Bobby Fuller. Still, here’s the version by The Crickets with Henry Earl Sinks as lead singer:
[A note for lyrics freaks: The song as recorded by The Crickets has these lines:
A-robbin' people with the zip gun I fought the law and the law won
Bobby Fuller (and many others) replaced "zip gun" (a crude, homemade weapon) with "six gun" - in line (at the time) with outlaws, the old west and, certainly, Texas legends.]
Curtis, alive and kicking at 77, and Holly were teenage friends in Lubbock, Texas. Prior to The Crickets, they played and recorded with other musicians. Curtis also wrote the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, titled “Love is All Around”; “Walk Right Back” (a 1960 hit for the Everly Brothers) and other songs.
Anyway, the name Earl Sinks kept bugging me. And I finally realized it’s because I know Mike Sinks. Two Texas musicians named Sinks. What are the chances?
In a recent email, I asked Mike if he’s related to Earl. This is what Mike said (it’s part of a longer email, part of which will not make sense):
“And another yes, Earl Sinks is my cousin, though I’ve only met him once. Now he has Alzheimers and I can’t even talk to him on the phone. I wanted to ask him to come do a show for us but I was too late. He has a son who is a terrific singer,too.
About the festival, many folks with little or no money show up and busk on the sidewalks, and play at the open mic at the Rocky Road Tavern. Some only show up for the campground picking. You can go on a budget if your expectations aren’t too high! Most of the artists play the festival for room and board. [Mike refers to the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, OK.]
Lastly, we still jam every Friday night. Let me know when if you decide to come. See ya later and thanks again!”
There you have it. Texas: A big state with a rich music history. And this is just one footnote.
Next trip to Pampa, Mike is singing “I Fought The Law.” You can bet.
I leave you with this video I shot last year of Mike singing “Silver Wings”, a Merle Haggard tune. Haggard, a California country singer and part of the “outlaw” country music scene in the 1980s, is perhaps best known for his hit, “Okie From Muskogee.”
Recorded at The Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center in Pampa, March, 2013. (Jerry Lister on electric guitar.)
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[The Beatles picked their name partly as a tribute to The Crickets - who briefly considered calling themselves The Beetles.]
Tonight in Austin, Texas is a benefit to raise money in part for Strummerville, an organization set up to help musicians. Part of Joe Strummer’s legacy – the man who led The Clash to rock ‘n roll stardom and then oblivion.
Born August 21, 1952 in Ankara. He would have been 62 on Thursday.
A hero and heroic – guitar and otherwise – this is the story of my brief encounter with a legend.
I met Joe Strummer in the summer of 1982 – summer by the Australian clock. Working as a waiter at The Royal – an old (1888) hotel-turned-pub-and-restaurant in Sydney (Five Ways, Paddington) – The Clash had performed that night. Philip Ashton, The Royal’s owner and a music promoter of sorts, hired out the place for the after-hours.
After sending dinner guests home early, the other waiters and I set up the cramped main dining room – a euphemism if ever there was a euphemism. Could not have been bigger than 25 feet x 45 feet. The old hotel’s lobby. We set up for at least 50 guests with one table running crosswise at the head of the room near the fireplace which, trust me, wasn’t needed.
Soon after the concert, dazzling lovelies and their escorts from the local music scene filed in. Beautiful young men and women, nicely dressed, nice hair, perfect teeth, tanned. Like a modeling agency. Really. I stood in the one doorway to the dining room – did I mention The Royal was very old? – at the top of the stairs that led up from the street. You must understand – there was no extra room, anywhere. The stairway ended in a small platform – and I use that word only because I do not know what else to call it. The dining room doorway opened immediately to the right; the kitchen three steps ahead; shelves of plates, napkins and other restaurant paraphernalia lined the short wall between the two. To the left: A hallway that led to a back dining room and other old hotel rooms that held a large refrigerator . . . and more restaurant paraphernalia.
At some point – and I don’t remember at all how long it was later – the band appeared. Four London street punks in black leather, chains, black motorcycle boots, greased black hair. Smoking. Seated at the head table: Guitar-playing wonder, song-writer and vocalist Mick Jones (later of Big Audio Dynamite and elsewhere). Bassist Paul Simonon (he of the famed London Calling album cover, smashing his guitar in one of the greatest rock ‘n roll photos ever). Drummer Topper Headon. And, to the far left, nearest the balcony at the end of the table, John Mellor, known to the world as Joe Strummer – rhythm guitar and lead singer, heart and soul, of The Clash.
The music industry guests. The band. My eyes shifted – to the other and back, again and again. Watching what looked like two sides ready for a brawl – rich spoiled kids faced off against four punks – five, if you count the overweight, slovenly manager. If I was going to talk to Strummer, I had to do it. Now.
Under some waiter-person pretense – perfect because I was, if nothing else, pretending to be a waiter, little experience, lied to get the job, etc. – I walked up to Strummer’s end of the table. Strummer’s black-leather-jacket back was toward me. Chatting with a woman seated next to him.
“Excuse me, but, I was just wondering,” I said. Looking back, if I didn’t have an American accent, he might never have turned around. But he did. Barging ahead, “I was just wondering who sang the lead vocal on Hitsville U.K.?”
Hitsville U.K., The Clash, Sandinista
It’s all I could think of.
Stupid. Any real Clash fan would already know. Plus, it’s the “poppiest” Clash song, ever. I might as well have asked Strummer if he knew who sang lead on Sugar, Sugar by The Archies. This is it, I thought. He’s going to tell me to fuck myself.
Instead, Strummer looked at me and smiled. Dabbed the corner of his mouth with a napkin (yes, a napkin, not the tablecloth), winked (yes, winked) and said, “It was Ellen, Mick’s girlfriend.” Ellen being Ellen Foley, then girlfriend to he of the famed London Calling album cover shot.
“I’m an idiot” thoughts rode through my head like carnival clowns.
But Strummer only smiled, again. “You’re American.” “Yes, from California.” Another smile. Strummer, yes, he actually then smiled again and told me about the time he and “the boys” rented a big, American Cadillac convertible and drove down Highway 5 to Los Angeles at, I concluded, a rather high speed.
(It’s actually Interstate 5, but, like, I was going to say something about that, right? Anyway it’s a north-south highway that runs through some of the bleakest, driest parts of Central California until you hit “The Grapevine” and then LA. I once got the family wagon up to 110 mph on this road – so I could only imagine.)
Feeling incredibly lucky and incredibly stupid I thanked him and said I’d better go do something – else.
Later, Strummer ranted to the musical multitudes. About politics. About the need to not just work for money. About justice. About how working for the music industry did not mean you had to give up on life. Yelling, he was. A red face, white T shirt, jeans and boots stomping aisles crowded with Sydney’s young-and-pretentious. Baffled by this crazy, manifesto-spitting yobbo.
Frank, the head waiter, later said something mean about Strummer. About how he was living in the past. About how his rant was something “straight out of the 60s.” I held my tongue. For more than thirty years. But now I can say it. “Fuck you, Frank.”
I met The Clash in the spring of 1977 as a student in southern California. A pretty young female graduate student had an office, you see. Desperate to make conversation, I asked about the poster on her wall. It said: “The Clash”. That’s all I remember. “Oh, it’s an English punk band.” Assured of my uncoolness, I dared not ask, “so . . . what the hell is that?”
Then came my first solo trip to Europe that fall when, still at the peak of uncool, I passed up chances to see punk bands in London pubs (quite possibly The Clash and The Sex Pistols, sorry to say). Instead, I went to the Royal Albert. Yeah, I was a lot of fun. Eventually I caught on, especially after people kept talking about this song, God Save The Queen, that you could not hear on London radio.
I stumbled into London Calling (1979) – one of the greatest rock albums ever. The Sandinista! (1980) cover caught my attention at a Tower Records (remember those?) because of the name and because it was 3 vinyl discs for $9.99. The band negotiated a deal to accept less money if the record company kept the price below $10. Imagine. Anyway, the band’s anti-establishment fuck-you-very-much Margaret Thatcher stuff is well-documented.
The Clash fell apart during or soon after that summer’s Combat Rock tour. The weakest – and most-popular – Clash album. It figures, right? Commercial success equals death. The band had peaked after, for awhile, being “the only band that matters.”
Strummer went on to play with The Mescaleros, a fine group, if you’re not familiar; The Pogues, and other bands. Some good music. He acted and wrote music for films.
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten is a good 2007 documentary about this guy, who helped change my life – if only for a few moments. He also hosted a popular BBC radio show, London Calling. Good title.
John Graham Mellor died December 22, 2002. He was 50.
So why am I sad? Because the world needs Joe Strummers.
“Somewhere in my soul
There’s always Rock ‘n’ Roll.
From “Long Shadow”, written by Joe Strummer and Smokey Hormel as a tribute to Johnny Cash.
Performed by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros on Streetcore
Despite strident lyrics and posing, Strummer’s influence lives on in environmental causes and help for struggling musicians. Strummer, a vegetarian much of his adult life, promoted tree-planting to mitigate damage caused by industry, including pressing music CDs and vinyl LPs.
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