My father played bass for a short time with the Spade Cooley Band. He learned to play Western Swing as a youth growing up in Texas and New Mexico. My father taught me how to play guitar when I was a senior in HS because a ‘Hootenanny’ was scheduled and I wanted to participate. I guess I thought it was going to be EASY! Ha!
He had a steel string guitar with some very poor action, a terrible finger board and loose tuning keys. He taught me how to form the cords D, C and G and handed me a flat pick. I practiced every available moment of the day leading up to the ‘Hootenanny’ trying to form and transition the chords until my fingers were bloody!
One had to ‘audition’ to be selected for the ‘Hootenanny’! When the day came to audition I could barely press the strings down without grimacing. So my only recourse was just strumming the guitar while it sat on my lap and I sang the first song I wrote, “MY LOVE HAS LEFT ME” …woeful thing about a long-time crush I’d had on the boy next door since 1st grade…shall I name him? Steve…and how he’d gone and fallen in love with some other girl!
Anyway, one of the Baldwin Park HS teachers at the audition, Mr. Wolfe, took pity on me and said he would play guitar for me at the ‘Hootenanny’ Thank God! I sang two songs, MICHAEL ROW THE BOAT ASHORE and the one I’d written. Amazingly, I have a copy of the recording the school made of that ‘Hootenanny’ with a little snippet of me singing.
Around the same time, my cousin, David, took up playing the guitar too. He and I spent a lot of time together playing music. One day he called and said he’d found a great deal on a 1958 Martin D-18 for $125.00…did I want it? Did I want it? YES!!! And that’s how I came to own ‘Melissa’–yes I named my guitars and cars– ‘Melissa’ was a good instrument although her fingerboard was not perfect, the action was an entire WORLD improved which facilitated my progress immensely over the guitar I’d been playing. But, until I played well enough to really accompany myself, Dave accompanied me when I began performing at clubs, and in particular the Four Muses in San Clemente.
I got more proficient on guitar because I practiced as much as time allowed and FINALLY calluses formed on my fingers…now that’s a GOOD thing, but I couldn’t tune it to save my life…and that’s a BAD thing! Did you know that one must tune a guitar nearly after EVERY song?? (McCaslin was fond of saying, “Guitars are probably only in tune for about an hour between the hours of 4-5 in the morning!”) Can you imagine? I had people tuning my guitar for me all the time, but I could NEVER tune it between songs…bless my audience’s hearts and luckily for them, and me, I sang a lot of tunes a’ capella!
Eventually, Dave and I disagreed about some song to add to the repertoire or something and when he pointed out how much I needed him since I didn’t know HOW to tune my own guitar, that was when I decided I just HAD to learn so I bought a tuning fork! Finally! FREEDOM from asking others to tune for me, but OMGosh, now I actually noticed when the guitar was out of tune and would forever be the victim of ‘chain tuning’!
By 1966 I was already a ‘fixture’ at the Four Muses, The Paradox, the Golden Bear, Troubadour, Ledbetter’s, college coffee houses, at which I was a paid performer and a ‘hoot’ night performer.
One of the lost opportunities I had was when I was singing at a little bar in Westwood. I was about 19 and had to sit in the kitchen between sets because I was under age to sit in the bar…I guess they didn’t serve food? Anyway, one night a gentleman gave me his card telling me he was from the San Francisco Light Opera Company. He said I should audition but I never went because I could not read music.
I recall Maury Manseau and I often met to play music when he was in town from touring with the Sunshine Company. Later Bruce Buell joined us. We worked up tunes written by other folks including a dynamite rendition of the 2:10 TRAIN by Steve Gillette. I have a copy on tape, but not an MP3. If I figure out HOW to get an MP3 made of it, I’ll add it.
After signing the record contract with Polydor in early 1969, I moved to Glendale and into a little house found by Barb and fondly known as ‘The Mouse House’, which I think was a name chosen by my friend Claudia. Shortly after moving to Glendale, the renowned artist, John Solie , (I met John and his wonderful wife, Shirley by someone I’d met at The Whole who’d invited to John and Shirley’s after a night of performing) called me to say he was totally bored and asked if I could come over and sing to him while he painted me. Of course it took the entire day and here’s the product.