Chapter 5 - Into the Redwoods

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Mill Valley is a beautiful area in the south of Marin County. When I arrived my friend introduced me to musicians in the area. 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 and the opportunity to experience new things.

 

Rob was an excellent bass player and an eccentric songwriter. He had some credits with some of the San Francisco bands like “Tower of Power.” We started playing informally and it was just the thing I needed to stabilize. He introduced me to the Marin music scene, which included notables from the biz living in the woods. Behind Rob’s house there were these tiny roads that went back into the remaining redwood stands.

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These 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 in this yellow light. I took long walks by myself pondering the future in those ancient groves.

 

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 Peter Pan existence. Peter offered to give me a ride back into town and promised to be in touch. I had told him I was awash trying to figure out what to do next. He was impressed with my music career and that led to a call from him.

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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 very sharp woman who was a pioneer in childcare. She was running the centers for Peter’s program. She was smart, academic, committed, not like anyone I had been around. On her invitation, I visited her centers which were mostly in church gyms and other big facilities. 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. Having been around architecture students at Cal Poly I was educated about space. I reasoned that they needed a small space that was kid size to get quiet.

 

I took over the stage at one of the centers and proceeded to build an environment of paper craft streamers hung from the lighting racks. It was very fragile.

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The staff predicted that the kids would destroy it in minutes. The stage quickly filled up except for a small space I left open in the middle. To get to it you had to crawl through the craft paper without tearing it down. Once inside it was 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 place for them. I told them they could either tear it all down in minutes or crawl very carefully into the small space inside where we would do some fun, quiet things. To my surprise they were curious enough not to destroy the environment and we successfully got them into quiet activities. 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. I had no idea how to do that.

 

Before I figured that out, it was Halloween and someone had the idea to build a haunted house at one of the centers. I loved the idea and built a big crawl through environment with all kinds of scary things in it. I used a hospital setting of the dammed as the theme. We built bloody operating tables, waiting rooms from hell etc. We even had staff members dress up like the dead and jump out at the kids. Halloween arrived and as the kids started to go through it, 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 working back at the stage environment when a very attractive woman approached. She was obviously not happy about something. She asked if I was the one that created the haunted house and I said yes. She reamed me thoroughly for scaring the kids about medical things. She said it was hard enough to get to them comfortable going to the doctor. I felt foolish, but recovered enough to ask her to tea to discuss. To my surprise she accepted and that began a lifetime relationship with Jessica Britt.

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Jessica was a counselor. She had a degree in psychology and had been a nurse. Obviously very bright, I was fascinated with the way her mind worked. There was no question what she thought about things. It also helped that she was playful. Somehow a strong bond formed and we started seeing each other socially. We were still just kids emotionally, but besides Anita I had not felt this heart of mine jump like that. We set off to do the world together and that would eventually include time at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur where she introduced me to the whole world of trans-psychology. More on that later.

 

Rogue Project

Jessica and I moved into together in a beautiful house in Marin paid for by the Sweet Pain Two record deal.

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Then eventually we moved into the city to live in this amazing penthouse she found just above the Castro District.

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During this time new ideas were coming to me that went beyond making records. For some reason, I was drawn to this idea of combining music, space, and lights into environments. I made up this company called “The Rogue Project” and set about exploring this territory.

 

At the time I also read a book that introduced me to Native American teachings. It influenced me greatly. It was called “Seven Arrows” by Hyemeyohast Storm. One of the teachings was the 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 into alignment for a project or life development. This initial work would lead to my interest much later in my life in tracking the evolution of intelligence through other maps of reality, principally, the Integral Theory Map of Ken Wilber.

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The circle of the Medicine Wheel represented the four directional energies of the East, South, West, North. You entered the wheel from the East. The energy of the East was illumination. You next traveled to the South, the good red road (Earth) then West to the dream lodge (Reflection) and North to the Cosmos. (Eternity)

 

It was believed by Native Americans that any action you took needed the council and wisdom of these four energies.  I would walk the Medicine Wheel many times in my life. I chose a crude Medicine Wheel image for the Rogue Project card. It would also become the name of one of my favorite song compositions and the title of my Capital Records album that was still a 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 on 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.

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The Rogue Project inquiry took me into more adult networks outside music and 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 ran a very successful architecture firm and was interested in the “relaxation” spaces that I was sketching out.

 

Not that this went much of anywhere, but being drawn into this very adult world taught me that there was more than just music. Perro and I eventually designed and built a “relaxation” chamber for one of his architecture conventions.

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A lot of people came through it. It was crude, but a building block to what I would eventually do with the Inflatable Learning Environments.

 

Just to show you how out of the box this was for me, I wrote letters to giants in the music business that were showing any interest in new technology. I thought there was not 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.

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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 in the middle of recording the Sweet Pain 2 album, but it foreshadowed my interest in media technology which would take many forms later.    

 

Inflatable Learning Environment 1 (ILE)

In addition to more music, the experience at the Mission Model Cities childcare center pointed me towards figuring out how to create a small, portable Inflatable Learning Environment that would work in schools.

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At Cal Poly we staged some “happenings” which had taken place inside big inflatable structures made of thin clear plastic inflated by a fan. I always liked the living, breathing quality of those spaces, so when I began thinking about a portable learning environment it was natural for me to think… inflatables.

 

What I didn’t know at the time was that 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 and when I asked him how we could figure it out, he said we could do it as an art piece. We literally taped together the small sized structure out of white kitchen plastic, cut a slit for a door and attached a household fan. It inflated all right, but unlike the big ones that had enough air volume so they did not collapse when the door 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 tent while fully inflated and started punching holes in the edges of the floor until it settled flat on the floor. The holes let just the right amount air out to get the bubble to settle flat on the floor. 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 floor that had the same area specs and it would act like a vent. It also helped us with the door that we created as a slit secured by Velcro. You could move through the slit fast enough to keep enough air in the bubble so it did not collapse.

 

We stood back from this art creation and said… maybe. I showed it to friends and everyone loved this living, breathing space. This first prototype was really crude, but it was good enough to show us what needed to be refined to build a real one.

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So, if I built one these “blow ups” as we called them, I could test one in Susan’s centers, but who was going to pay for that? Someone told me about non-profit foundations, something I knew nothing about. As the story went, you could write up a proposal and send it to the appropriate foundations 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 were 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 group of foundations that I picked off some association mailing list. Not exactly detailed research. I asked for just enough funds to get through stage one.

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To my surprise, I got a call from a representative at the San Francisco Foundation. At the time it was a small regional foundation. He said the board really didn’t have much idea about what this was, but were intrigued enough to fund this first experiment in schools. I remember thinking, wow… now I have to do this. As I was contemplating building inflatables as the next move in my career other changes were taking place in my core family unit that would color how we all would relate to each other going forward.

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Image Exchange

As my network of artists expanded beyond musicians I met a lot of folks that would influence me. One of those groups was the “Image Exchange.” It was an ad hoc group organized by David Sibbet. David was a pioneer in group memory facilitation and as an artist, “visually” recorded meetings on giant pieces of butcher paper. David had seen the inflatable somewhere. He offered me a chance to show it to this mixed group of men and women artists. We had a great time and I never left. This group would meet irregularly for about 4 years, sometimes going on retreat with each other to places like Wilber Hot Springs.

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This group influenced what happened to the ILE, and certain Image Exchange members also created the Headlands Center for the Arts with me and David. We would share many adventures together. I had read stories about artists colonies where folks working with different media would gather professionally and socially. They would influence each other. Image Exchange was that group for me.

 

Enough was Enough

When my mother and father reconciled and moved to Southern California, my mother had given him one more chance to see if they could figure out a way to share a life. I had visited them many times in a variety of their SoCal homes for the holidays. For the most part in seemed to be working. Jane has some different stories, living as she did through their relationship towards the end, with both her brothers gone. Not that I was surprised by some of her descriptions of our Father. I had engaged with his shortcomings growing up, although he and I had found some common ground around my music.

 

Apparently, my 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 untenable and begin looking for alternatives. This 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.

 

By this time, Bruce and Jane were out in the world, so it was really just her re-inventing herself. She bought a car, sold the SoCal house and drove to the Bay Area not knowing where she would live or where she would work. After a few false starts, something popped up in Berkeley just around the corner from our original house on Prince Street. It was the upstairs floor of a duplex, within walking distance from the Elmwood district and the University. We were all thrilled for her and us. It re-established a Riordan/Pinger base in Berkeley.

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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 place. 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, she had help from 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 trail in the high country above Yosemite. The pic below really illuminates the joy she felt in re-discovering herself. That experience would lay some ground work for our family joining others in this time honored tradition.

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What lay ahead for her was becoming a teacher and meeting her soulmate Patrick Doyle. But for now the wheel had turned to Berkeley and that would set the stage for many an adventure in the Bay Area we loved.     

 

So, as I was evolving to my next steps so were Bruce and Jane. It has 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 was a gift. Many of these adventures for the three of us involved making a contribution to the world being a better place. That was a plus.

 

Jane’ artistic eye first manifested 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, her food creation, her eye for what was beautiful always was impressive to me.

 

Bruce on the other hand had earned his first chops as a radio disc-jockey in Sacramento, then as a child care expert, then transportation expert 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 into our family, they overcame some of their own negative parenting experiences and raised two boys in a very healthy way. Overcoming some of the negative programming we got from our parents in one generation was impressive.

 

Sweet Pain Two

It was now 1973, and as much as I was busy building and testing inflatable learning environments, music came back into my life. Through this period I had done some demos with Rob Moitoza and Diane Butler in a small recording studio built in an old church. Very Marin county, but the perfect place to fool around with songs Rob and I had written without any pressure of making records.

 

We played all the instruments and sang all the parts and the results were interesting in a sort of homemade way. Since coming north I had sometimes run into old Sweet Pain band members. J.C Phillips, post Sweet Pain, had started producing records and unknown to me had talked to the head of a new label, 20th Century Fox Records about a follow up album to the original Sweet Pain. For some reason the guy was open to it, so JC called and told me about it.

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First thing I told him was  what I was doing with Rob was not Sweet Pain rock and roll, but something a bit more pop and eclectic. I sent him some of our handmade demos and the next thing I know we had a new recording contract. JC would produce in San Francisco. Rob and I would write and preform the songs with an all-star group of musicians from the Bay Area. These guys had played with everybody and were top flight. We even got Rick Jaeger, the old drummer from Sugarloaf, to play on some cuts. The keyboard player was also a good arranger, and he and I played with adding some big orchestral pieces to our little songs. First time I experimented with sound environments that would inform later concept albums.

 

Rob and I had always thought we could merge the style of songs I wrote with his. As time went on however, we realized they were two different things. It became confusing for everyone what the exact sound we were after was. We recorded a lot of different versions of the songs looking for a common ground, but ended up putting all of Rob songs on one side of the album and mine on the other. In a sense, the project was stillborn.

 

JC also was demanding that he own our publishing rights. Rob and I eventually asked the record company to let us out of contract, so we could pursue other things. JC was not happy and immediately filed a law suit that would keep from me from recording for over a year and a half. Sweet Pain Two was not a good experience and besides I had made the decision not to go on the road to promote it unless we had a hit, so its demise came quickly. For some reason I was more enamored with other things I was doing at the time including the Inflatable Learning Environments, so that’s the way the adventure headed.

 

Life with Jessica

Throughout this time Jessica and I were a couple. We had a lot of fun playing together. Sort of like two puppies.

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Her world was interesting to me, but foreign at the same time. She had this mind that operated on many more levels than mine at that point. She loved my music and the inflatables, but was definitely not the type to follow along as others had.

 

Looking back on it we were emotionally and psychologically young. 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, so distance opened up. We made one more try after the album failed by moving into this amazing penthouse in San Francisco, but slowly we slipped apart. Nothing dramatic, but apart none the same. Later in the eighties we would circle back as friends and Jessica opened the whole world of Esalan Institute and personal development to me.

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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.

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However none of that intelligence was available to help us at that time save our relationship.

 

Back to ILE 1

My sculptor friend who had helped me design and build the first ILE (Inflatable Learning Environment) was not available 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 Ripstop material I chose to replace the cold plastic. I also wanted the “blowups” blue in color to create a calming effect.

 

I learned about fans from some guy at an industrial hardware store and found one I could buy off the shelf. Then we had to make the case that the blowup would be moved around in. Since we were only making one I ended up in another artist’s studio that 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 and was ready to be tested. I arranged for different types of school settings from open classrooms to more traditional designs to test it for two weeks each. I also tested it with a variety of ages from 3rd to 6th grade. I would show the kids how to get it out 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 a research report (another first) at the end of it.

 

The results were better than I expected. The kids really made it their own.

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The SF Foundation also saw it 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. All these challenges were exciting 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.

 

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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.

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Tom Spaulding – Cliff Branch – circa 1975

It turned out Cliff, his partner Tom and I had met when they sold the Super Hero’s wacky record at their head shop in San Luis 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 music had fueled a change in the way that people listened. The big clunky record/radio consoles of our parents gave way to individual components like amps, speakers and turn tables. The manufacturers were just jumping on this trend, but there were no retail stores outside of California 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 attached itself to the freedom and the love of music of our generation in the seventies. Their pitch was that Cliff, Tom and their staff of friends were the same age as the folks buying the components. They loved and understood the new music. Their catalogue promoted that story and claimed that they had listened to all the components 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 and sales started slowly. They didn’t have much money so they were funding the company on the 90 day float between when 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 pioneered 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 going 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 from 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 the wave until it eventually broke on the shore. I had lots of good times 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?

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For some reason at one point, Tom decided to do a second catalogue that sold equipment to musicians.

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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.

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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. One of the home tape recorders that emerged in that process was the Teac 3340 4 track recorder.

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We’d always had access to this many 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 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 for me to record a new album that they would use for promotional purposes. Not being a commercial release, JC’s law suit could not stop me from doing that. What a gift that was.

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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 doing this. I was back in the studio and he was living the dream of being a producer. The record was completed and then shipped with each 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 in back of the warehouse.

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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. songs for the Capital release. Like that I had a solo album and was back in the music business.

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Recording the Capital album was such a rush for me. After Sweet Pain Two, I 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. 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 Two. I wanted the sound to be intimate. I chose mostly jazz musicians to help me do this, including the outstanding session drummer, Harvey Mason.

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Harvey had played on everyone’s records and was excited to experiment with me. He put the studio band together from 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.

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One of the 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. There Pat experimented with the first music synthesizers. These were odd looking things that looked like old phone consoles and produced their own strange sound. Pat had been exploring this concept 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 combining the synthesizer tracks with a real string section. You can hear it particularly on Medicine Wheel. Pat and I would later collaborate on the Christmas in San Francisco album.

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Another coincidence was reuniting with John Carter. 

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John had been one of the original songwriters of 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 bringing Tina Turner back after she left Ike. Literally, reinvented her as an artist 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 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 the album in terms of me getting to the heart of it. 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 ground out 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 successful musician and songwriter like others were.

 

It was also 1974 and the music business was changing into something much more corporate. Radio too was evolving to national play lists. Its funny when I think about it now. This choice majorly affected the chances that this new Medicine Wheel music would be successful. Perhaps I was beginning to enjoy the many other aspects of my life in addition to music. 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 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 aspects 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.

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They wanted an album of San Francisco Christmas music that they could give away in their stores. Cliff also told them I could write a pop song that would get them on the radio. This was a big undertaking and way more producing than I had ever done, but I got to play with a sound environment that evoked the feelings of Christmas.

 

I brought in Patrick Gleason to help. He and I plotted how we would pull this off.

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What he proposed was that he 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 vocal choirs recorded live in places like Grace Cathedral. Grace had always been one of my favorite prayer places in San Francisco and the amazing interior design of the sanctuary had a 7.5 second delay. Grace also had this gigantic church organ with pipes that went up multiple floors. It was the home of some of the most innovative choirs of the day including the Gay Mans 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 powered it up late at night. The power of it could literally knock you off your feet.

 

This music would shape half the album and the rest I would do in small ensemble groups representing different ethnic neighborhoods in San Francisco. I did write a pop song 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 with much of the San Francisco gay community by the AIDS epidemic in the mid-80’s. Such a loss of those beautiful men.

 

Wilderness America

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.

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This project had been organized by Emily Polk a friend of Cliffs in SLO. We pitched and the foundation accepted that I would create an album of original pop music extolling the virtues of the natural world. Again, between the songs I could play with environments of sound that included animal calls and the natural sounds of the planet.

 

I jumped at the chance to do a concept album with me writing music about the natural world I loved. From the beginning I knew I wanted other singers on the album, not just me. That included 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 road trip by myself.  I literally wrote lyrics sitting on the top of a mountain or in the deep canyons of the 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.

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I called in a lot of favors to get this album done and ended up having a few other writers contribute pieces. The song I wrote for Walter Hawkins “Metropolis” was one of my favorites and has been featured on recent retro collections celebrating that time.

 

I don’t know if I was aware of it at the time, but the Wilderness America album would be the last one I would record. I wouldn’t go on the road without 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 the interactive entertainment work, but I was done as a musical artist at the age of 26. It had been a wild ride as 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. I wanted to expand the effort so I asked the SF Foundation what kind of proposal they wanted from me for a bigger effort. Their director, who had become somewhat of a mentor to me, simply said make a list of what you need, what it costs and then bring your Blowup to the Foundation board meeting and just show it to them. He was banking that they would see it as interesting as he had, and he was right. I got a new grant to build 6 Blowups, some with projection screens and tested over six months instead of three.

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About that same time, some folks encouraged me to a Federal grant for a national testing program. One of the people that agreed to be on the board of the non-profit was a high level professor in the education department at Cal Berkeley. 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, I did spend some weeks looking into setting up a committee, what it would take to get my masters and then the PhD. I don’t know what I was thinking, but being back in the halls of higher education gave me the hives. What did come out it was that we wrote the Federal grant and sent it off convinced they would fund it to the tune of $150,000. They didn’t, but it bought up something else that would happen next.

 

Blowup  Business

At this point the ILE’s were getting great reviews and Peter Richardson and I began thinking about starting a business to build and sell them to schools. I had gotten some decent press in the SF Chronicle about my transition from music to inflatables.

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Part of the second testing program included figuring out a way to put a projection screen on the inside of the ILE that was flexible enough to bend when folded. It turned out we used reflective paint. I called up all the big companies that made educational filmstrips and told them what we were doing. They all sent an embarrassing amount of free media that we used in the tests and a couple of them expressed some interest in the ILE itself. Maybe investing in our little company?

 

Around the same time, I showed the ILP to Cliff Branch and 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, but I reasoned (I don’t know from where) we could build an inflatable structure 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 imagined as  a story about. 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 the salesman at the final boat company introduced me to Ivan Swakart who was a designer who worked for them in the back room. Ivan had a background in building 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 the skeptics watched. We inflated the tubes with an air gun and it stood up perfectly.

 

I reasoned I could create the panels out of the ripstop material we used for the ILE’s. I took this concept to the Indian seamstress that had made the ILE tents for me. The day we Velcroed the panels to the tubes we had a theater space that would hold 30 people. The true test came when we hung off the tubes mid-span. Just as Ivan had predicted, you could hang a lot of weight off the tube and it wouldn’t sag.

 

We built two of these structures. One for Vetter and the other for the UC Berkeley Hall of Science.

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The Science Center was a place that I had hung out at as a kid. 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 begun thinking about clients.

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Walden Woods, one of the educational media companies I had used in the second ILE testing program, got really interested or so it seemed. They were a big company 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 saying to me…”what are you going to do kid, you got no other options”. Well, we could say no and did. We hightailed it out there disappointed, but 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.

 

First, a big company Gymboree,  that had childcare centers across the country came to me sometime later interested in pursuing a deal. 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 loved them, they could not swing paying the high cost of manufacturing them. I still have one of those inflatables. This told me I had made the right choice not to pursue inflatables as a business.

 

The other thing that happened was as I finished the second ILE grant program for the San Francisco Foundation, they insisted I patent the design. 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.

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To my great surprise the patent was granted. No, there is not more to this story that it 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.

 

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! And I learned something about my desire to create things, but not sell them. I also learned to trust my gut when something felt off. All of this was part of my maturing process that would benefit me as the bigger adventures that were up ahead came to the fore.

 

The Castro District

While all of this was going on, Jessica and I separated and I lived by myself in a Victorian flat in the Castro District for a while. Even though Jessica would go on to become an excellent therapist, we did not go seek help. I am not sure it occurred to us.

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It was the middle seventies and the Castro district was fully engaged as the gay community. It was the early days of gays coming out, and the Castro district had all these openly gay clubs and bathhouses. As a hetro man, I still found the gay clubs lots of fun. Lots of wild energy. 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 the backrooms I cringe, 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. I got a little dose of what women feel like when unwanted advances come their way. All this would change in the mid-eighties and the tragic emergence of the "gay" disease AIDS. This world was never the same again.

 

One other thing about the Castro District place. I got into hamsters. Yes… hamsters. This had started in the penthouse that Jessica and I shared. There were these new Habitrail cages at the time that featured big rooms connected by transparent plastic tubes.

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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 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 them over rats. So, I got lots of babies from this original pair.

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For whatever reason I really got into it and started breeding different colors and selling them back to the pet stores. My favorite color was a rare blue grey. The other thing that came with the cages was a clear plastic ball that you could put a hamster into. They could make the ball move in any direction they wanted. This was hysterical. My favorite stunt was getting it out unannounced at parties. Nothing like being stoned and suddenly see a rodent wheel by.

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The other thing I learned is when hamsters get too cold they will go into hibernation. I had some cages on my enclosed back porch and on a cold day 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 and put him in the garbage to take out the next morning. When I woke up I heard this rustling in the bag. When I opened it up here 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 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 living things that kept me company living alone.

 

The Jane Bay

I was dating some, but not enjoying it other than the occasional physical benefits. I was also producing some educational media at this 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 engagement 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.

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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 also very worldly 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 me staying the night, but I remember not wanting to spoil the connection. I said goodbye handing her a copy of the Wilderness America album I had in my car and said something clumsy like… I created this.

 

I walked out the door, got in my car and it wasn’t until I turned on to route 5 that I became aware that it was 2 in the morning. I had a meeting first thing in San Francisco, but I was in a daze. 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 in a few weeks. 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 one of them and right around the corner.

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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.