Chapter 5 - Into the Redwoods
Mill Valley is a beautiful area in the south of Marin County. When I arrived my friend introduced me to musicians that lived there. One of them, Rob Moitoza offered me a place to stay for a while and because I had no idea where I wanted to be, I accepted. This was a pattern that would repeat itself. In my vagabond life when I was going through a transition I would usually move into a room in someone’s house until I knew what was next. I liked the company as I was reflecting.
Rob was an excellent bass player and an eccentric songwriter. He had some credits with some of the well known San Francisco bands like “Tower of Power.” We started jamming informally. It was just the thing I needed to stabilize. The Marin music scene, included many notables from the biz living in the woods. Our jamming sessions would eventually lead to the Sweet Pain II album, but that was a ways off.
In the meantime I walked. Behind Rob’s house there were these old roads that went back into the remaining redwood stands.
These old cracked asphalt byways were mysterious places that didn’t see much sun because of the tree density. They suited my mood. When the fog rolled in (nothing like SF fog anywhere in the world) it would bathe the cabins along these trails in this yellow light. Sort of like ghost ships in the twilight. These roads less traveled were where I pondered my future.
When I got bored out of my mind, I realized I had to get out and meet people. Lois Blackhaller, an old high school girlfriend, invited me to a party. One of the purposes was to meet her new love, who she thought I would like. I went to the party and met Peter Richardson. Sometimes you meet larger than life characters and Peter fit the bill. We hit it off to the point that Lois got angry with us because we were off by ourselves talking for most of the party.
Peter had been an ex-pro football player for the Denver Broncos, an experimental theater actor, an assistant to Boston politicians and at the moment was running the Mission Model Cities program, a federally funded program trying to help the poor in the Mission district of San Francisco. As I said, bigger than life and a real grown up. In the music business you live out a sort of Pan existence. Peters world was much more adult. He offered to give me a ride back into town and promised to be in touch. I had told him I was awash in trying to figure out what to do next. He was impressed with my music career and that led to a call from him.
He invited me to come “shadow” him for a day as he went about his job. I didn’t even know what that meant, but I showed up. He introduced me to Susan Castro a pioneer in childcare movement. She was running the centers for Peter’s program. She was smart, academic, and committed. Not like many women I had been around before. On her invitation, I visited her childcare centers which were mostly in church gyms. Peter had thought maybe I could teach music to the kids while I was trying to find myself, but I noticed something more in my visits.
The musical instruments had all been broken and the teachers were having trouble getting the kids to settle down for quiet activities in these big spaces. I got it. A gymnasium was a place to run around. Having been around architecture students at Cal Poly I knew something about the influence of physical space on humans. I reasoned the kids might quiet down in a smaller space more their size.
I took over the stage at one of the centers and proceeded to build an environment entirely out of paper streamers hung from the lighting racks. Just about as fragile as you could get.
The staff predicted the kids would destroy it in minutes but I proceeded anyway. I filled the stage with the colored streamers except for a small space I left open in the middle. To get to it you had to crawl through the streamers without pulling them down. Once inside the open space it felt like the equivalent of throwing a blanket over a table as a kid and making a fort.
An interesting thing happened. The kids started slowing down and asking what I was doing. I said I was building a hideout for them. I told them they could either tear it all down in minutes or crawl very carefully into the small space at the center of the stage.
To my surprise they were curious enough not to destroy the paper streamer environment right off. Over a week, we successfully got them to crawl though the streamers into the makeshift fort hidden in the middle. Inside that space they quieted right down. Susan was impressed, but commented that not all the centers had stages. I simply said, we need to make a portable environment that can be moved from center to center. She said great.. do that. She was like that. Only thing was I had no idea HOW to DO that.
While I was noodling on that, Halloween arrived and someone had the idea to build a haunted house at one of the centers. For some reason I jumped in. I designed a big crawl through environment... a hospital of the dammed. We even had staff members dress up like the dead and jump out at the kids. Halloween arrived and as the kids started crawling through the installation it became apparent I had gone too far. They were scared to the point of tears, so we shut it down as a failed experiment.
Jessica B. Announces Her Arrival
Soon after, I was getting the stage ready at the other center when a very attractive woman approached. She was obviously not happy about something. She asked if I was the one that created the haunted hospital. I said yes. She reamed me thoroughly for scaring the kids about their medical visits. She said it was hard enough to get them comfortable about going to the doctor. I felt foolish, but recovered enough to ask her to tea to discuss it further. To my surprise she accepted and that began a lifetime relationship with Jessica Britt.
Jessica was a counselor with a masters degree in psychology and had also been a nurse. Obviously very bright, I was fascinated with the way her mind worked. There was no question what she thought about things, but she also had a very playful side. A strong bond formed and we started seeing each other socially. We were still just kids emotionally, but besides the time when Anita and I got together in college, I had not felt this heart of mine jump like that.
Before I go on I want to jump out into a culture event that took place. This was something that enabled the era of "free love" we were wanting to experience. Becoming sexually active was one thing, but the potential consequences were something else. Through high school we had it drummed into our heads not to have intercourse because the woman could get pregnant. As much as we tried to be cool about it, that fear lurked in the back of our minds. However, in the heat of the moment all reason went out the window so science came to our rescue.
Birth control pills had been available to married couples since 1965, but it wasn't until a Supreme Court ruling in 1972 (Eisenstadt v. Baird) that they were made available to single women. This was a huge sea change. Though the early birth control pills had lots of side effects, we were free to pursue our passions.
Roe V Wade
The next year in 1973 the other sexual revolution shoe dropped. Part of the fear of your girl friend getting pregnant, was that abortions were illegal. Stories abounded about back alley clinics where doctors would preform these proceducers for a price. Too often these ended in tragedy.
That's why an additional Supreme Court ruling (Roe v. Wade) made such a difference. By a vote of 7 to 2, it was ruled by the court justices that the government did not have the power to prevent abortions. In other words, the court case legalized abortion in the United States.
This ruling came following Norma McCorvey’s challenging of the criminal abortion laws in Texas, which prohibited abortion by deeming it unconstitutional, except in instances where the mother’s life might be in danger. McCorvey was under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” and was 25 years old at the time of the case. The judgement of the court of all men came from the decision that the right to terminate a pregnancy falls under the freedom of personal choice in family matters, which is protected by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
The right to an abortion certainly couldn't be considered a form of birth control. Ask any woman who has been through one and they will tell its a major deal. However, Roe v. Wade made it safe for women to have an abortion if they needed one and began the process of recognizing women's rights in a mans world.
Sweet Pain II
As I was mucking about with the beginnings of the learning environment idea, and making home made demos of new songs with Rob and Diane, the record biz came calling again.
One of my band mates from Sweet Pain, JC Philips, called me out of the blue. He asked me what I was doing. I tried to explain the transition I was going through, including writing a few new songs. He was now producing records and had talked to the new head of 20th Century Fox Records about doing a second Sweet Pain album.
I told him the music I was doing with Rob and Diane was not Sweet Pain rock and roll, but something a lot more pop and eclectic. Remember, I had come out of Hollywood with a broken heart and at this point didn't have the confidence to be that larger than life rock and roll guy. The impromptu sessions with Rob and Diane really helped me find myself again creatively but in a quieter place. The three of us played all the instruments and sang all the vocals in an old church which had been converted to a recording studio. Two of the demos are below. Sort of bookends to my relationship in LA with Linda.
Music Demos - David, Rob and Diane
Round and Round Hole in the World
Very crude, but I sent them to John anyway and the next thing I knew I had a new recording contract. JC would produce in San Francisco.
Here is one interesting cut off the album. I was experimenting with big orchestral passages interleaved with me and my guitar. I literally sang the orchestral lines to my very talented arranger and this was the result. This recording was a kind of per-cursor to the Wilderness America album I would do two years later.
Rob and I always thought we could blend our two style of songwriting together but that turned out not to be true. Even though we recorded the album with some really good session musicians, everyone was confused about what sound we wanted for the album. It didn't help that JC was a demanding producer. We finally put my songs on the A side of the album and Rob's on the B side. As a result, the album was still born. I got to experiment with some of the sound environment ideas I was playing with like in Awakening (above) but the final straw came when JC demanded we split the publishing rights to our songs. We called the record company and begged them to let us out of the contract. JC was furious and sued me in court, effectively stopping me from recording anything else for 2 years.
Even though I was recording again, other new ideas kept coming to me. I was drawn to this idea of combining music, physical space, and lights into experience environments. I made up this company called “The Rogue Project” and set about exploring that territory.
I also read a book at that time that introduced me to Native American teachings. It influenced me greatly. It was titled “Seven Arrows” by Hyemeyohast Storm. One of the teachings it laid out was the Native American Medicine Wheel. It was one of the first "maps" of reality that I discovered that assigned qualities of energy to elements of the material world. Once understood, these energies could be brought to bear to benefit a project or life development. This initial "reality map" concept would lead to my interest later in tracking the evolution of expanding intelligence through other types of maps of reality, principally, the Integral Theory Map of Ken Wilber.
The never ending circle of the Medicine Wheel represented the four directional energies of the East, South, West, North. You entered the wheel from the East where the energy was illumination. You next traveled to the South, the good red road (Earth) then West to the dream lodge (Reflection) and then to the North. (Kosmos)
It was believed by Native Americans that any action you took in this world as an individual or as apart of a group needed the council and wisdom of all four of these energies. I would "walk" the Medicine Wheel many times in my life for lots of different projects and relationships. I chose a crude Medicine Wheel image for the Rogue Project card. Medicine Wheel would also become the name of one of my favorite song compositions and the title of my Capital Records album that was still a long ways off. And in a sign of how newly expansive I was feeling, my sister Jane created a "rainbow man" shaman's rope that we used for the cover of the Capital album. I look at this image now and marvel at how much my twenty six year old had in front of him.
The Rogue Project inquiry took me into more adult networks outside of the ones I knew through music. One was fronted by a very well-known SF architect named Perro Patri. Like Peter Richardson, Perro was a larger than life character that I was fascinated by. He was a champion of restoring the older architecture of San Francisco that I loved. Even though he ran a very successful architecture firm he found time to get interested in the “relaxation” spaces that I was sketching out.
Not that our collaboration went much of anywhere, but being drawn into his arty adult world showed me there was more to my creative life than just music. Perro and I did eventually design and build a type of prototype of the “relaxation” chamber I was envisioning for one of his architecture conventions.
A lot of people came in out of the noise of the show and "relaxed" in the ambient music tracks and visuals I had put together. Though it was very crude, it became a building block for what would eventually emerge as the Inflatable Learning Environments.
Just to show you how out of the box these new ideas were for me, I wrote letters to some of the giants in the music business that were showing interest in the "new technologies" I was beginning to play with. I didn't think there wasn't a prayer anyone would respond. However one did... Jac Holtzman. Jac was a legend in the music business as an artist manager and founder of record companies like Electra.
He worked with many of the record artists of the time I admired like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, and the Doors. I think I saw some mention in Variety that he was looking into new technologies so I wrote him a blind letter telling him about these music relaxation environments. To my surprise he wrote back and said he was interested in taking a look. Of course, he never came, and I was about to venture further into the land of inflatables.
Inflatable Learning Environment 1 (ILE)
The experience at the Mission Model Cities childcare center led to me creating a small, portable Inflatable Learning Environment that would be used by kids in schools.
At Cal Poly we had staged some “happenings” which had taken place inside big inflatable structures made of thin clear plastic inflated by a big industrial fan. I always liked the living, breathing quality of those spaces, so when I began thinking about a portable learning environment for kids, it was natural for me to think… inflatables.
What I didn’t know at the time was this. There were good reasons no one had developed small, tent size inflatables. Had I known this I might never have proceeded, but sometimes in life ignorance is bliss. I had a number of artist friends in San Francisco with studios in the warehouse district on the south side of San Francisco. One of them, Mike Simon, got interested in the inflatable idea. When I asked him how he thought we should proceed, he said we should do the "bubble" as an art piece. We literally taped together a small dome structure out of white kitchen plastic, cut a slit for a door and attached a household fan to it. It inflated all right, but unlike the big ones that contained enough air volume to keep from collapsing when the door was opened, this small one deflated in seconds. Not such a great idea with young students in it.
The other issue was that if we left the door closed, the “bubble” overinflated into a ball. Not a great thing either. After pondering many possible solutions, Mike came up with the transforming idea. He got inside the bubble while fully inflated as a ball and started punching holes in the edges of the floor until the bottom settled flat on the floor. The holes let just the right amount air out to form the dome shape. As a sculptor, this was natural for him.
All we had to do was measure the area of those holes and create a mesh strip at the edge of the dome floor that had the same area specs. Done properly it would act like a vent. We also created a slit door secured by Velcro. You could move through the Velcroed slit fast enough so that the bubble would go down a bit but not collapse. It was like the bubble was breathing as you interacted with it. A magic the kids were drawn to.
We stood back from this strange art creation and said… maybe. I showed it to friends and they loved it. This first prototype was really crude, but it was good enough to show us what was needed to refine it into the next iteration.
I thought if I built one of these “blow ups” as we started calling them, I could test it in one of Susan’s centers. The question was... who was going to pay for that? About that time someone told me about non-profit foundations. I knew nothing about them. As the story was told to me, you could write up a proposal, send it to the appropriate foundation and they would fund it. Seemed simple enough. Little did I know this was a highly competitive process and the odds of someone funding this strange little inflatable learning environment I was proposing seemed small. Again, sometimes ignorance is bliss. Undaunted I took some pictures of the prototype, created some drawings of the next version and wrote up a description for testing one unit in a variety of education settings.
I sent the proposal off to a bunch of foundations that I got off of some non-profit association mailing list. Not exactly detailed research. I asked for just enough funds to get through stage one.
To my surprise, I got a call from Lou White at the San Francisco Foundation. At the time they were a small regional foundation. He said the funding committee didn't fully understand what the ILE was, but were intrigued enough to fund a first experiment in schools. Later on I found out it was really Lou that wanted to do it. He became a valuable mentor to me for the years I was building the "blowups." At the time I remember thinking, wow… now I have to DO this.
Enough was Enough
My parents separation that had been announced to me by my father on the way to college at Cal Poly, had not lasted long. Unbeknownst to me, while I was at Poly for summer courses, they began hanging out together again. By Christmas of my freshman year the family, minus me, were living in a little town called Thousand Oaks north of LA.
My mother had always said that when she and father reconciled and moved the family home to Southern California in 1966, she did it to see if she and my father could figure out a way to share a life. I visited them in a variety of their SoCal homes, mostly during holidays and for the most part it seemed to be working. However, Jane has some different stories, living as she did through their relationship finally ending. Not that I was that surprised by some of her negative descriptions of our Father in that period. I certainly had felt the downside of his shortcomings growing up.
So, in 1973 Father had become restless again and pulled away. As much as I hated to admit it, I had some of these traits in my intimate relationships. I would judge the situation as somehow untenable and begin looking for alternatives. This latest Barney pull back finally resulted in my Mother calling it quits. Later she would tell me it was hard to feel rejected, but this time she knew she had given it all she had. With all the adjustments this brought, she made the decision to move back to the Bay Area.
She found an upstairs flat in the Claremont district not far from where we grew up. Eton Ave. Beautiful street.
We all took our turns rotating through that flat at times and eventually Bruce and Virginia would rent and then buy it from her. I have lots of good memories of that home. Although small, it provided some grounding in our tribal birthplace and still does under the Riordan/Miller ownership. My mother showed tremendous courage in this period. It wasn’t easy re-building a life, but as she always said, when she needed it most she found strength in nature. She, like me, when looking for quiet, reflective moments would find them at the ocean, in the mountains, or out in the desert. She soon hiked the entire high country trail above Yosemite. The pic below from that hike really illuminates to me the joy she felt in re-discovering herself. That experience would also lay some ground work for our family joining others in this high country tradition during a chapter of my life that was still up ahead.
What lay ahead for her was becoming a teacher and meeting her soulmate Patrick Doyle. But for now the wheel had turned to Berkeley.
So, as I was evolving to my next steps so were Bruce and Jane. It had always been my opinion that of all the things our parents gave us and didn’t give us, the fact that each of us was encouraged to do something that we loved and get paid for it was a gift. Many of these undertakings also involved making a contribution to the world being a better place.
Jane’ artistic eye first manifested for me in her opening her own store called “Cottonwoods” in the Elmwood district. I remember feeling wow… running a store. That’s not something I thought I was capable of. Cottonwoods specialized in organic cloth and clothes that Jane designed. Although it had its run and then was done, it was the first sign to me how Jane moved in the world that would later manifest in a wine and gourmet food establishment on Solano Avenue and then the very successful winery she founded with her husband Bill. Jane’s clothes designs, food creation, and her eye for what was beautiful always was impressive to me. Still is.
Bruce on the other hand had earned his first chops as a radio disc-jockey in Sacramento, then as a child care expert, then as a transportation executive and finally his pivotal work on climate change. At each step I would marvel how we shared this love of putting something new together and bringing it into the world.
And when Bruce and Virginia brought the first children of the next generation into our family, they overcame some of their own negative parenting experiences and raised two boys in a very healthy way.
With all the changes, some other things were ending as well including my relationship with Jessica. Looking back on it we were young emotionally. Me with my abandonment issues and she sexually abused by her step father with her dominate mother turning a blind eye to her trauma. We talked about this period much later as friends and concluded we just didn’t have the intelligence to manage what was coming up for us, so distance opened up. We made one more try after the Sweet Pain II album failed by moving into this amazing penthouse in San Francisco, but slowly we continued to slip apart. Nothing dramatic, but apart none the same. Later in the eighties we would circle back as friends. Jessica opened the whole world of Esalan Institute and personal development to me. In that time I would begin to deal with the trauma with my father in my first gestalt sessions with one of the founders of Esalan, Dick Price.
As I look back on all my intimate relationships now I can see how each one added something important to my life story, although at the time there was no predicting what that would end up looking like.
Back to ILE 1
My sculptor friend who had helped me design and build the first ILE (Inflatable Learning Environment) was not available to continue to pursue it, so I was left to figure out how to build the funded prototype myself. I did the only thing I knew how to do. Treat it like putting a band together. Instead of musicians, I would employ contractors and manufacturers that would each play their part in completing the test model. This included outdoor tent companies that sewed the blue Ripstop material that I chose to replace the cold white plastic. I wanted the “blowups” to be blue in color to create a calming effect inside.
I learned about blowers and fans from some guy at an industrial hardware store and found one that worked that I could buy off the shelf. Then we had to create the carrying case for the blowup to move it around. Preferably something the kids could handle. Since we were only making one at that point I ended up in another artist’s studio who specialized in fiberglass creations. We created a mold for the box and then fit the electronics and the fan into it.
In the end, it was the size of small suit case. I arranged for different types of school settings in which to test the prototype for two weeks each. These included open classrooms and more traditional settings. I also tested it with a variety of ages from 3rd to 6th grade. At each school I would quickly show the kids how to get it out, use it and put it away. At that point I left it up to the teacher and the kids to figure out what they did in it. They were required to keep notes so that I could write up a research report at the end of it. (another first for me)
The results were better than I expected. The kids really made the "blow up" their own.
The SF Foundation also saw the first testing period as a success and asked me to submit a much larger grant to build multiple units and expand the testing. I also wanted to try using the Blowup as a small theater where the kids could watch educational filmstrips. That meant figuring out how to create a projection surface that was flexible enough to be folded up. When ended using projection surface paint which we airbrushed on. All these challenges were stimulating to me. I would often think about how much fun my Grandfather would have had with this invention process. In some ways, I was indeed... his grandson.
Warehouse Sound Company
As I was doing all that I was also still trapped by the law suit filed by JC Phillips that prevented me from recording for anyone else. To this day, Cliff Branch and I can’t remember how it really happened, but I became aware of his company in San Luis Obispo called Warehouse Sound Company.
Tom Spaulding – Cliff Branch – circa 1975
It turned out I had met Cliff and his partner Tom when they sold the Super Hero’s wacky record at their San Luis Obispo head shop during my senior year at Poly. Something else emerged later. Cliff had tried out to be the drummer of the Yankee Dollar. I had no memory of this until he told me. He had a real expensive drum set, but by his own admission was not naturally talented. He was so embarrassed by his audition that he walked away from the drum set never to be seen again.
This time he was into something big. The explosion of rock and roll music had fueled a change in the way people my age listened. The big clunky record/radio consoles of our parents gave way to individual, portable components like amps, speakers and turn tables. The manufacturers were just jumping on this trend, but there were no retail stores in California yet that sold these components to college kids.
Cliff and Tom pioneered the selling of stereo components by mail order. But what they really invented was a lifestyle company that aligned itself with the love of music our generation felt in the seventies. Their pitch was simple. Cliff, Tom and their staff were the same age as the folks buying the components. They loved and understood the new music their potential customers were being called to. Their catalogue promoted that story and claimed that they had listened to all the components available and could recommend the best mix for a particular price. This wasn’t entirely true, but close enough. Their systems did sound good. All the images in their catalogue and print ads showed young people having fun selling components and listening to music in this old warehouse in San Luis Obispo.
At first, people thought they were crazy. Sales did start slowly. They didn’t have much money so they were funding the company on the 90 day float between the time they received the components from manufactures and when they had to pay for them. Extremely risky, but it kept them going. They got lucky at some point (as you need to) and got a nice mention in the bible of the new age movement “The Whole Earth Catalogue.” This catalogue developed by Stuart Brand sat in many a commune and college dorm room in America. They recommended companies and products they thought were part of the cultural revolution they were reporting on.
Following this mention, their sales took off and they never looked back. They were later featured in Rolling Stone Magazine and many other high powered business publications at the time. They mostly had the market to themselves for a while, and even opened up retail stores in the Western United States. They rode this wave until it eventually broke on the shoals of the market they created catching up to them. I had lots of fun with those guys as they lived a type of rock and roll lifestyle. Fast cars, expensive homes and lots of young women. Who could complain?
For some reason at one point, Tom decided to do a second catalogue that sold equipment to musicians.
He was impressed by my recording background and the other musicians I could bring to the project. They hired me to help them get this launched. We were to evaluate all the new band equipment and give our recommendations.
This was the closest I was going to get to music at the time considering I was still banned from recording by J.C's lawsuit. But one of the home tape recorders that emerged in that process, the TEAC 3340 4 track recorder opened up my eyes about what was possible at home.
We’d always had access to 4 tracks and more in commercial studios, but this was the first time you could get that kind of capability in a home unit. Of course I had to test it out and I found I could do reasonable demos of the songs I was writing. This was at least keeping me in the game.
As the second catalogue launched there was less for me to do, so Cliff took me to lunch one day and asked me if I was happy with what I was doing for them. I said it was alright, but I really wanted to record again. He listened to the story about the law suit and then suggested a type of solution. Warehouse Sound Company would pay me to record a new album that they would use for promotional purposes. Because it was not a commercial release, JC’s law suit could not stop me from doing that. What a gift that was.
I organized a group of my music friends in LA and we recorded an entire album of my new songs. Cliff and I had lots of fun making this happen. I was back in the studio and he was living the dream of being a producer. When the record was completed it was shipped with each Warehouse Sound order. The album was not bad considering I had been away from writing and producing for a while. It had two or three songs on it that were commercial. We also did some crazy things to promote it like throwing a concert behind the warehouse.
Capital Records – Medicine Wheel
Cliff decided he wanted to sell the album to a real record company. By that time, JC had tired of his lawsuit and Cliff and I settled with him for a small sum. Cliff shopped the album to a couple of companies and Capital Records was the one that bit. We were headed into the iconic Capital Record 45's stack building. I would completely redo the Warehouse Sound Co. album for the Capital release. Like that I had a solo album and was back in the music business thanks to Cliff.
Recording the Capital album was such a rush for me. Even with the disappointment of the still birth of Sweet Pain II, I still had quite a network of very talented musicians that I could ask to be involved. What influenced the sound of this album were the original crude tapes I had done in the Warehouse Sound studio on the Teac 3340. They were really simple, with me supplying most of the vocal parts. I didn’t want a big production like we had attempted on Sweet Pain II. I wanted the sound to be intimate. I mostly chose jazz musicians to help me do this, including the outstanding session drummer, Harvey Mason who helped me organize the sessions in LA.
Harvey had played on everyone’s records and for some reason was excited to experiment with me. We put the studio band together from some really seasoned LA players. One day in the middle of the sessions, Harvey asked me if he could bring a young guitarist into the sessions. He was very young, but talented, he said. I trusted Harvey’s opinion so I said sure. Who showed up as a very young man was Lee Reitenour. He was like a young puppy, aiming to please and very skilled. He joined us for the rest of the sessions and went on to have a fabulous career as a solo jazz artist.
One of the other people that made a real contribution to the way the album sounded was Patrick Gleason. Pat co-owned Different Fur, a very eclectic recording studio in San Francisco. Pat had built the Different Fur studio to experiment with the first music synthesizers. These first units were odd looking things, sort of like old operator phone consoles full of patch cords. Pat had been exploring the concept of using synthesizers with jazz musician great, Herbie Hancock. I didn't want a big lush orchestral sound, but Pat was able to fashion a really interesting sound envelope combining the synthesizer tracks with a real string section. You can hear Pat's excellent contribution to my Capitol album, particularly on the Medicine Wheel track. Pat and I would later collaborate on the Christmas in San Francisco album.
Another coincidence of doing the album at Capitol Records was reuniting with John Carter.
John had been one of the original songwriters on the Yankee Dollar's early records. He had since become an AR guy for Capitol and was assigned to our project. John was credited with Tina Turners re-birth as solo artist after she left Ike. Literally, he helped her reinvent herself to much success. As we were finishing up the album he came by and listened to everything. I had a quiet song entitled “Medicine Wheel” that I wasn’t sure about including. Of all the songs on the album it was the most striped back to just me, my guitar and Pat's string arrangements.
He not only liked that song, but insisted it be featured. We ended up calling the album “Medicine Wheel” and that song as I listen to it now is by far the best thing on that album in terms of me getting to the heart of what I was after. You can listen to Medicine Wheel and the other two singles from that album in my body of work section.
There was only one issue. I really didn’t want to go on the road again without a hit single. My experience was without a hit record you slogged though play dates in small clubs and venues. I had done enough of that. This was the first time I had the thought that perhaps I was not called to be a musician and songwriter like others were.
It was also 1974 and the music business was changing into something much more corporate. Regional radio was evolving to national play lists. Its funny when I think about it now. This choice majorly impacted the chances that this new music would be successful. I was also moving away from writing pop songs to experimenting with concept albums built around a theme. Those you didn’t have to go on the road to promote. The Capitol album “Medicine Wheel” got some good reviews and some airplay but then faded. I was already on to the next thing for better or worse.
Cliff and I didn’t miss a beat. We were now good friends and he wanted to create more projects with me. When I played him some of the long form music concept stuff I was working with, he immediately went out and got two contracts to do just that. It was amazing having someone with Cliff’s energy and business talent interested in what I wanted to do. He was a real influence on me about how you strategize the business plan in collaboration with the creative aspects. This would be the beginning of many projects we would do together at different points in our lives.
Christmas in San Francisco
The first project was a Christmas album funded by the Embarcadero Center Arts Foundation in San Francisco.
What Pat proposed was that he would create the tracks of some classical “churched” Christmas music like the "Magnificat Gloria” by Bach and greatest hits like “Silent Night” on his synth and then we would add real vocal choirs recorded live in places like Grace Cathedral. Grace had always been one of my favorite sacred places in San Francisco. The amazing interior design of the sanctuary featured a 7.5 second delay. Grace also had this gigantic church organ with pipes that went up multiple floors. It was also the home of some of the most innovative choirs of the day, the Gay Mens Chorus. Pat enlisted the choir master to join us. I wish I had some recordings of the sound that his organ could produce when he turned it up late at night. The shock wave radiating off the big pipes could literally knock you off your feet.
This Grace music would shape half the album and the rest I would do in small ensemble groups representing different ethnic neighborhoods in San Francisco. I also contributed a pop song I wrote called “Sing a Song of Christmas” that got a bit of airplay locally that Christmas. I loved that we created this music in Grace. It was a whole different level of project for me with one sad note. The Gay Men’s Choir we featured would be decimated in the mid-80's by the AIDS epidemic. Such a loss of those beautiful and talented men.
The other project was funded by the Bank of America Foundation to raise money for seven different environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.
This project had been organized by Emily Polk a friend of Cliffs in SLO. We pitched the foundation director that I would create an album of original music extolling the virtues of the natural world. Between the songs I would also include environments of sound I would record in the natural world that included wolf calls, and humpback whale songs.
I jumped at this chance to do a concept album like this with me writing music about the natural world. From the beginning I knew I wanted other singers on the album, not just me. They ended up including the amazing gospel singer Walter Hawkins and an up and coming country group from Santa Cruz, The Road Home. Once the project was set, I went on a solo road trip to write the songs. I literally wrote lyrics sitting on the top of a mountain or in the deep canyons of the Southwest desert. It seemed to flow out of me with ease.
We recorded the whole thing at Francis Ford Coppola’s recording studio that he had in the basement of his film production building. Here are three of my favorites from that album.
Coopola's Zoetrope Building
I called in a lot of favors to get this album done and ended up having a few other writers contribute pieces. The song entitled "Metropolis" that I wrote for Walter Hawkins was one of my favorites and has been featured on recent retro collections celebrating that time. The entire Wilderness America album was also re-released on custom vinyl and CD in 2021 by a record company in Europe.
I don’t know if I was aware of it at the time, but the Wilderness America album would be the last I would record. As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t go on the road without having a hit record first. We had tried that twice and it didn’t work very well. I was also starting to feel that my writing was getting stale. I would write and record more music later as a part of my interactive entertainment work. Here are two examples. The theme song from "Zombie Dinos from Planet Zeltoid", a kids time machine adventure game and "Girls Club," a pre-teen dating game.
But for now though I was done as a record artist and song writer at the age of 26. It had been a wild ride since I was seventeen. My dream to write and record albums (and have a major hit) came true. In my opinion it was the greatest time to be in the music business as it birthed itself as the soundtrack of the new culture.
ILE 2 – Fed Grant
In the midst of all this music I was still playing around with the Inflatable Learning Environments. Some of my sponsors at the University of California, Berkeley encouraged me to apply for a big Federal grant.
One of the department heads at Cal Berkeley that agreed to be on the board of this project was a high level professor in the education department. He looked at what I had created and said it was the equivalent of a PhD degree.
Given my academic history, this was hysterical to me. With his help though, I did spend some weeks looking into setting up a PhD committee, and what it would take to get my masters and then the PhD. I don’t know what I was thinking. When I ventured back into the halls of higher education it gave me the hives. What did come out it was that I wrote a Federal grant and sent it off convinced they would fund it to the tune of $150,000. They didn’t, but it caused me to get some press coverage.
Part of the second San Francisco Foundation testing program included getting some educational programs to project on the inside of the BlowUp during larger test. I called up all the big educational media companies that made filmstrips and told them what we were doing. They all sent an embarrassing amount of free programing that we used in the tests. A couple of them also expressed some interest in the ILE itself. Maybe investing in our little company?
Around the same time, I showed the ILP to my partner in crime, Cliff Branch. He asked if we could build one that was large enough to be a theater for a client he had. On the side Cliff and Doug Johnson were running their own ad agency and they had a client “Vetter Motorcycles” that wanted something unusual to help them standout at trade shows.
The only problem was that the ILE’s could not be scaled up to that size. However, I reasoned (I don’t know from where) we could build an inflatable structure that big out of tubes filled with air. It was like building an inflatable boat vertically. Cliff got the client to buy in and I set out once again to build something I had just imagined. The natural thing was to approach inflatable boat companies in the Bay Area and see what they thought. Mostly I just got laughter. They said tubes that long would sag and cause all kinds of problems.
I tried one last time, and a salesman at the final boat company introduced me to Ivan Swakart who was a boat designer who worked for them in the back room. Ivan had a background in designing and building inflatable emergency slides for airplanes. He looked at my drawing and said… “I think we can make this work.”
Ivan was much older than I was. He took me under his wing and explained all the ins and outs about designing inflatable tubes. Here I was again in a spot that I could have not predicted even six months earlier. I remember the day we put the first frame up as all our skeptics watched. We inflated the tubes with an air gun and it stood up perfectly. It held 250 pounds mid-tube without sagging. More than enough to put people in.
I reasoned I could create the panels for the inflatable theater out of the same blue rip-stop material we used for the ILE’s.
I took this concept to the Indian seamstress that had made the ILE tents for me and he got to work. The day we velcroed the panels to the tubes we knew we had a really interesting theater space that would hold 30 people.
We built two of these structures. One for Vetter Motorcycles and the other for the UC Berkeley Hall of Science.
The Science Center was a place that I had hung out at as a kid. I loved working with them. Both structures toured for a year. As a result of this we had another type of Inflatable to add to our little start up. Cliff and Doug created a beautiful brochure for a company we called Search and Design. We issued stock and began thinking about clients.
Walden Woods, one of the big educational media companies that made filmstrips I had used in the second ILE testing program got really interested in taking on the ILE as a product they would sell or so it seemed. They were back East. They brought us back and wined and dined us like we were rock stars. I thought, this is going to be easy. However, when the contract showed up it stated they were buying all the rights for not much money. I remember the CEO who had promoted us doing this saying to me…”what are you going to do kid, you got no other options”. Well, we could say NO and we did. We hightailed it out there disappointed, but were saved from having the ILE stolen from us. Lesson learned. It’s not funded until the investors check clears.
Something else was happening for me. I really started to wonder if I wanted to do the inflatables as a business. Peter was all in, and Cliff was supportive. What was coming up for me is that I loved inventing this stuff, but I really didn’t want do it as a business. I didn’t know what was coming, but I always saw myself as an entertainment artist. Search and Design Inflatables was still born. Peter was very disappointed, but I just had to follow my gut. Before I close out this story there were two additional events regarding this inflatable environment work.
First, many years later a big company called Gymboree that had childcare centers across the country came to me interested in pursuing a deal to sell the BlowUPS. At this point I wasn’t attached to it, so I agreed to build two more ILE’s to their commercial specifications. They tested them in their centers and although the kids really loved them, they could not swing the $500 manufacturing cost and make an profit. I still have one of those inflatables. This additional go around told me I had made the right choice not to pursue inflatables as a business.
The other thing that happened was this. As I finished the second ILE grant program for the San Francisco Foundation, they insisted I patent the design of the ILE. It didn’t occur to me that what we were doing was that unique. They even offered to pay for the process. I got with a patent lawyer and they prepared the application with all the sited inflatable prior art it required, while making the argument that an ILE that came out of its own carrying case was unique.
To my great surprise the patent was granted. No, there is not more to this story where the patent was worth millions. Just because you get a patent doesn’t mean anyone beats a path to your door and makes you rich. I framed the beautiful patent document and hung it on my wall. My grandfather would have been proud. Some of his considerable inventing skills had rubbed off on me apparently.
Whenever anyone comes into my media studio now and sees the ILE patent in the middle of all the media work they ask a lot of questions. The patent was granted for 25 years so by now it has run out. But when I look at the framed document I smile. That was a lot of unexpected fun! I had also learned something about my desire to create things, but not sell them. All of this was part of my maturing process as an artist that would benefit me as the bigger adventures that were up ahead came to the fore.
The Peanut Farmer
Nixon had resigned the presidency in 1974 when I was in Hollywood recording my album Medicine Wheel. I remember sitting on the bed of the house I was renting and watching him resign in real time. It was surreal. He had been elected in a landslide in 1972 only to fall from grace because of the Watergate break ins and coverup. His vice president Gerald Ford became president and immediately pardoned Nixon. Ford was a decent guy but America never forgave him for the pardon. So, when the 1976 election loomed, American was looking for someone who was not a part of the Washington DC regulars.
Enter Jimmy Carter who had been the Governor of Georgia. He owed a peanut farm and had a brother named Billy. His down home delivery as an Washington outsider was just what the voters were looking for. He was elected over Ford in a very close election.
Carter adopted an informal style of dress and speech in public appearances, held frequent press conferences, and reduced the pomp of the presidency. Early on in his administration, Carter introduced a dizzying array of ambitious programs for social, administrative, and economic reform. Most of those programs, however, were met with opposition in Congress despite the Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
On one hand, Congress, in the post-Watergate environment, was more willing to challenge the executive branch; on the other, Carter the populist was quick to criticize Congress and to take his agenda to the American people. In either case, Carter’s difficulties with Congress undermined the success of his administration, and by 1978 his initial popularity had dissipated in the face of his inability to convert his ideas into legislative realities.
Carter had a habit of telling the American people the truth, but when he raised an alarm about the economy and asked American's to tighten their belts, voters didn't like the negative news.
His death knell however was in 1979 when an anti-American Iranian mob stormed the US embassy in Tehran. and took everyone hostage. Thus began 400 days where the hostages were the subject of broadcast news every night. At one point Carter authorized a rescue mission, but it had ended in failure in the Iranian desert forcing the American special forces had to withdraw. There was a story floated at the time (never proved) that someone in the military had scuttled the mission intentionally to make Carter look bad.
Certainly, there was back channel deal making between Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign staff and the Iranians that resulted in the hostages NOT being released to Carter. Instead they were released the day that Reagan took his oath of office.
Carter was a challenged president for a number of reasons, but he would go on to have much greater impact on the world by building housing for the poor amoug other things. Sometimes you just don't know what good can come from failure.
One of the most shocking events of the 1970s was the death of the King of Rock n’ Roll, August 16, 1977. It propelled the world into mourning. At the young age of 42, Elvis Presley had fans all over the world who couldn’t believe they were saying goodbye to their idol so suddenly. His unexpected death made front-page headline news all around the world, especially since he had recently been performing before his death and showed no signs of major health problems. I remember I was driving down California street in San Francisco when I heard the news on the radio. It was a moment.
At the time of his death, Elvis Presley was resting between shows at his mansion in Graceland. He was found lying face down on his bathroom floor. After being pronounced dead a doctor performed an autopsy to try the determine the cause of death. Elvis has been addicted to drugs for a long time. Its what gave him the incredible energy to perform... for a while. In addition, his manager Tom Parker kept him performing pumped on drugs to pay Parker's gambling debts. A terribly sad story. They discovered Elvis was very ill with diabetes, but he had no signs of having suffered from a stroke, lung disease or heart disease. The actual cause of death still remains a mystery, with some people having a hard time believing Elvis had really died. Some people thought he was still alive in hiding,.
The death of Elvis ended his era of rock n’ roll, but his legacy is unparalleled. Elvis influenced so many up and coming musicians, including the Beatles, and had a great impact in pushing rock music to a prominent position within American culture.
By the time of his death he had been relegated to Vegas shows, but there was no denying his place in the rock and roll hall of fame. Although the Beatles were more my thing, the 1968 TV show he gave after he got out of the army was an amazing performance that showcased his many different styles of singing. Hillbilly, blues, gospel, and rock and roll.
The Image Exchange
I met David Sibbet in the late 1970s when we were developing the Ft Mason urban park. David was an extraordinary artist that had pioneered the field of graphic recording. He really liked the inflatable and offered to gather a group of other artists to play with it. That informal gathering would later be called The Image Exchange. For four years we would get together to corroborate on some art project.
This group certainly influenced what the ILE and the Airspan structures would become. Some of them also helped create the Headlands Center for the Arts with David and me. I had read historical stories about artists colonies where artists would gather professionally and socially. The Image Exchange was that group for me.
The Castro District
It was the middle seventies and the Castro district was the premier gay community and all that entailed. It was the early days of gays coming out and the Castro district had all these wild, openly gay clubs and bathhouses.
As a hetro man, I still found the gay clubs lots of fun to go to. My girlfriends and I would dance up a storm in those clubs in the midst of lots of male couples. And the bathhouses. When I think now about what was going on in those backrooms I shake my head, but at the time it all seemed like a natural evolution of things. Sex was sex in this new world of freedom and love was always love. Who was I to say that it was reserved from men and women only? I also had my first experiences with men trying to pick me up on Castro street. I got a little dose of what women must feel like when unwanted advances come their way. All this would change in the mid-eighties with the tragic emergence of the "gay" disease AIDS. This world was never the same again after that.
One other thing about my Castro District place. I got into hamsters. Yes… hamsters. This had started in the penthouse that Jessica and I had shared. There were these new Habitrail cages at the time that featured big rooms connected by transparent plastic tubes. Again, I was attracted to the great design.
It was like having a train set. I put together all these configurations and got a couple of hamsters. I loved watching them shoot through the tubes and land with a thud in the bigger rooms. What I didn’t know about hamsters at first was they were very fast breeders. The females come into heat every five days. All hamsters in captivity had come from one wild pair originally found in Spain. The research labs loved to use them for research over rats. So, I got lots of babies from this original pair.
For whatever reason I really got into the breeding. The pet shops would buy the offspring. That paid for this strange addiction. My favorite color I produced was a rare silver blue. (Above right) The other thing that came with the Habitrails was a clear plastic ball that you could put a hamster into so they could travel around. They could make the ball move in any direction they wanted by shifting their feet to different parts of the ball. This was hysterical. My favorite stunt was getting it out unannounced at parties. Nothing like being stoned and suddenly see a rodent wheel by.
The other thing I learned about hamsters is when they get too cold they go into hibernation. I had some cages on my enclosed back porch and on a cold night one of the big males rolled up into a ball and went stiff. I thought he was dead. I put him in a plastic sandwich bag to take out to the garbage the next morning. When I woke up however I heard this rustling in the bag. When I opened it up there was this bright and cheery face back from the dead. I hate to say this, but when it would happen and I had house guests, I would bring the hamster out to the kitchen counter appearing dead. The guests would look at him sadly while I got out a hair dryer and slowly waved the warm air over him. Suddenly he would come back to life much to the amusement of everyone. The hamsters were the living things that kept me company for awhile while I lived alone.
The Jane Bay
I was dating some, but not enjoying it other than the occasional physical pleasures. I was also producing some educational media at the time working with a woman I really didn’t care for. She kept talking about this woman in LA I had to meet. She persisted, so the next time I was in LA I called her and we set up a time to meet at her house. It turns out that neither one of us liked this woman, but she had been promoting Jane about me as well.
We both set this first meeting up so that we could leave when we wanted, given the uncertainty of blind hookups. I was driving back to San Francisco that night. I figured I would stay for an hour and then take off. Jane, it turns out, did the same thing, having some excuse to leave if it became awkward.
I arrived in the pouring rain at her house in the Hollywood Hills. At the time she was an executive at Motown Films. I rang the doorbell and this beautiful woman answered. It was not just her looks that struck me, but the energy she radiated from her sparkling eyes. These were my first moments with the Jane Bay, another larger than life presence.
She asked me in, but was in the middle of a telephone call. It turned out her father had a stroke and she was talking to her family in Florida. I am standing there thinking, I should go and when she got off I said so. She paused for a moment then said she would welcome company.
We sat in front of her roaring fire. As we talked it just seemed effortless. She was a true media professional having worked in high placed jobs in the movie business. A few minutes turned into hours. I finally looked at the clock and it was midnight. Later we would both admit there was a moment that we both thought about spending the night together, but I remember not wanting to spoil the connection. I said goodbye as I handed her a copy of the Wilderness America album I had in my car and said something clumsy like… I created this.
I got in my car and started driving. It wasn’t until I turned on to Route 5 that had just opened running up the central valley that I became aware that it was 2 in the morning. I had a meeting first thing in San Francisco that I had to get to. I tried to pull over on the empty highway at a few points to get some sleep, but it seemed every time I did some highway patrol car would show up out of nowhere and ask me to move along.
I somehow made it home and drifted through the meeting wondering if something important had just happened.
I got a call from Jane the next day saying she loved the album and our conversation. Apparently I wasn’t imagining things. We made a date for her to come up to San Francisco a few weeks later. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, this was close. I had no idea at the time, but this was the beginning of a very important chapter in my life in which Jane and I would share many adventures. “May the force be with you” was just one of them.
It turned out it was a month before she flew up to San Francisco. At that point, I was trying really hard to remember what she looked like. Remember, no Facebook at the time. It had been such a daze. I waited at the gate watching the passengers get off the plane when suddenly a woman with very tight curled hair walked up to me. I had remembered Jane as having long flowing hair so when she said my name, I was dumb struck. For whatever reason, she’d had her hair done and looked like a different person. We survived that moment and had a great time for 2 days. Little did I know, my life was about to change again.