Digital Tavern: Rock and Roll Saved My Soul and That’s Why I’m Here Today

As a youngster I remember playing the lively tunes from The Lonely Bull on the piano.  I also played a nice version of Lady Madonna.  But it was America’s favorite band, Creedence Clearwater Revival that really made we want to be a rocknroller.  Three girls in the fifth grade did a seductive dance to Born on the Bayou in the school talent show that awakened me to a new world of possibilities.  Before I was into Hendrix, Dylan, Yes, ELP, Mick and Keith, my sister and I collected CCR albums.  My favorite was Green River but I loved them all.  I listened to the radio quite a bit.  I’ll never forget listening to Don’t You Love Her Madly on the big Fisher console stereo.


So most of the kids at school knew that I played the piano well.  By the time I was eleven or twelve I had a couple of originals that sounded pretty good including a mambo that I am still proud of to this day.  So I made a friend in class.  He said that he was learning to play the bass.  He encouraged me to get some type of keyboard.  He had bright red long hair the color of carrot juice.  His dad was a professor just like my dad.  I had $200 in my savings account saved up from odd jobs.  Mom drove Paul and myself down to the epic Apex Music on Broadway in downtown San Diego in the spring of 1972.  The clerk escorted the three of us down to the basement where they kept the used gear that was for sale.  I remember seeing a two-piece guitar amp that looked a little bit like a Fender.  It was a Gibson 50-watt amp probably built in the late 1950s.  (I actually played with a guitarist in Clairemont a few years later that had a Gibson Rhythm King amp.  His buddy played a wicked harp.  I learned how to play the blues harp myself after I heard a guy walking down a street in Birdrock one day waiting for my mom to pick me up after a piano lesson.)  Next to that Gibson amp was a Farfisa Mini-Compact electric organ, 49 keys, manufactured in Italy some time in the early 1960s.  I think it was a Farfisa on Ninety-Six Tears and maybe Runaway.  The Kingsmen had a guy that played one.  Elvis Costello brought back the Farfisa sound.  At that time, Farfisa was the industry leader shortly before the Arp synthesizers changed the entire landscape.  My little axe was considered a campy throwback to an earlier day.  I bought it for $200 US.  At first my friend loaned me a Fender Champ amplifier.  Then one day a guy sold me a 100 watt tube amplifier with four 6L6 vacuum tubes.  These were the workhorses of the Fender amps and the Marantz and Harman-Kardon high-end tube amplifiers of the 1950s and 1960s.  My grandfather surprised me in 1977 by repairing my amp with a big, fat capacitor.  But my sound was quite flat coming out of a guitar amp.


Still, I had a decent technique.  I had started learning to play the pipe organ the previous year, so my touch on the organ was good.  Some of the older musicians took the two of us in to cut our teeth and fill out their sound.  The guitarists were amazing.  My friend played a Gibson ES-335.  He could make it jangle like the Byrds or sing like the Allman Brothers.  We did a badass version of One Way Out.  The other guy played a strat through a big tall Vox Super Beatle Amp.  He was the Jimmy Page sound.  I learned a lot that first year.  We did Danny’s Song and even a nice version of Can’t Find my Way Home.  When we played Zeppelin it probably sounded more like Steppenwolf with all of that rhythm on the organ.  My friend wanted me to try to play the famous synthesizer solo on From the Beginning by ELP.  I said I didn’t have the sound.  But he had an idea.  He let me borrow his crybaby and we used the filter with the Farfisa multi-tone booster to come fairly close to the basic oscillator sound.  This led me to buy a crybaby to dress up my sound a little bit.


My big break came when I bought a Leslie Combo 12 from a studio guitarist.  That thing had the sound I had been dreaming of.  My pals and I used to get so stoned, I remember one guy who would just sit in front of the cabinet listening to the sound baffle go round and round.  It had the fast tremolo speed as well to build up to a climax.  MXR phase shifters were the choice pedal in 1974.  I got a phase shifter and my sound was complete.  Suddenly, I was a bankable commodity.


A band that had a keyboard player could do a lot more of the music that was wildly popular in 1974-1975.  Guitarists began to teach me their favorite songs.  My next band did a stompin’ version of Whippin’ Post as well as a truly beautiful version of In Memory of Elizabeth Reid.  Les Brers in A-minor was a work of art.  Santana was just about the hottest thing going as we covered Evil Ways, Oye Como Va and Black Magic Woman.  This was the year that I bought my Fender Rhodes 73 and ran it through a simple JBL 15” Musical Instrument Speaker in a homemade cabinet.  I switched speakers with the Leslie footswitch.  Honky-Tonk Women.  Songs from Jeff Beck Wired.  I was having a ball.  I must have played hundreds of private parties anywhere from the beach to the top of Mt. Soledad or even once in a mansion near Black’s Beach.  We never made a fucking cent. But we had really great times.  I ended up playing with Carlos the most.  He loved everything the Stones ever did and we did some beautiful Santana.  Samba pa Ti.  Lots of musicians came and went, but you remember some of the best ones.  There was a bass player named Eddie who loved to work out originals with me and my buddy, the drummer.


Fast forward four or five years, I was playing with some of the old-school San Diego musicians that knew San Diego’s famous son of blues rock, the venerable Paul Cowie of the King Buiscuit Flower Hour.  We got a gig in Clairemont for a house party.  We set up on the patio.  I always love playing outdoors the best.  There I met a wonderfully sophisticated older woman.  The band was fairly good.  We had an eclectic song list including Maybelleine, Cheap Sunglasses and Shakin’ All Over.  I always wanted to know what Chuck Berry was saying.  My Grandpa had that record.  That woman turned out to be one of my best friends.  I used to buy a quart of beer after church and head over to her house to play chess, barbecue or just hang out.  We stayed in touch over the years.


I continued playing the next five years with other bands from all over San Diego. 


Fifteen years after I had met her, I made that older woman fall in love with me.  We got married in a church.  I wrote the wedding song myself.  Twenty-two years of wedded bliss.  Incredibly the next year, I pulled my old equipment out much to my delight discovered that it still all worked very nearly perfectly.  I went to down to Ocean Beach with one of my old drummers to play songs by a singer-songwriter and hang out with the deadheads at garden parties.  It was much more fun than I had enjoyed in many years.  When the band finally broke up, I figured that my career as a rocknroller had come to a natural close.


But rocknroll gave me one last gift.  Back in 2000 I bought an Alesis 7.1 so I could join a band with some of my old friends and a dewd who was into Allman Brothers and country rock.  We had a great name, “The Slaves of Rhythm.”  But nobody was really happy.  I was trying to make my synth sound like an acoustic guitar.  It was worse than Worship Team in church.  But lo and behold, our one paying gig in a little dive on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach, I ran into a guy who remembered me from the early 1970s.  He was four years younger than me which was a big difference when I was only fifteen.  Woody was playing drums in a band that I found incredibly exciting.  It was a Latin Soul Sextet.  Timbales, Congas, Drums, Singer, Bass and Guitar.  The guitarists was incredible.  He played these really bitchen counter-melodies on a guitar, singing a little bit like Carlos, but original.  Every song was original too.  Woody told the founder of the small orchestra that I used to always sound pretty good back in the day.  I talked to Patrick after the gig and they decided to give me a try.  I got a practice tape with about ten songs on it.  I studied that tape like a college course.  I listened to it over and over.  I wrote down all of the melodies and keys and song structures.  By the time I auditioned, I nailed it!  It was love at first sight.  We were a septet now.  I played with those guys for five years.  We practiced twice a week in a warehouse.  We played Cinco do Mayo at the Del Mar Fair or the Old Town Mexican Café.  We did Street Festivals.  We played in parks.  We recorded once for KPBS, but we got canned for being caught smoking pot.  If you have ever been a musician playing the clubs in San Diego you can understand why I was so happy to be doing outdoor gigs.  One night we even played in the beer garden at the Coors Amphitheater the night the Carlos Santana was headlining.  To remember it all I have a ten-song CD with me playing piano, organ or synth on every track.  I remember the look on the face of my friend Carlos when I played the CD for him and he realized that it was me and I had betrayed him that night in Pacific Beach!


Neil Lock Added Sep 14, 2018 - 7:34pm
Flying Junior: I wrote the wedding song myself.
Another composer! Well met, my friend (but you already knew that). You beat me in terms of coverage. But, of course, articles at the Digital Tavern are not entirely trustworthy...
Mustafa Kemal Added Sep 14, 2018 - 8:09pm
Flying Junior, what a fun romp through your musical career. It indeed sounds kind of dreamy,  with those type A and AB tube amps, Santana and CCR and Chuck Berry and all. Congratulations!
Somehow I can hear a fine Soul Sacrifice in your past.
Did you ever run into Dick Dale out there? I heard some of his beach concerts were a blast.
Flying Junior Added Sep 14, 2018 - 8:54pm
It was probably the only actual song that I ever wrote.  It was pretty nice.  I wrote it for guitar and male and female voices.  I had been playing weddings myself for several years as an organist.  I had really only found one or two songs that I could even stand to listen to with a straight face.
Flying Junior Added Sep 14, 2018 - 9:06pm
Soul Sacrifice would have been insane.  I still play that epic version from Woodstock on my JBLs from time to time.  I wish I had played that one with some of the guys over the years. 
It was actually a surfer friend of mine that finally got around to playing a couple of the old Dick Dale records for me.  It was 1979-1981.  Several hippy UCSD students were sharing a big house right in La Jolla Shores with some surfers.  We were all acidheads.  Most of the time my buddies and I were listening to Zappa and Beefheart.  But Dick Dale was the King of Surf Music.  I wouldn't mind hearing some of that again.  There was a famous beach party at Windansea the summer of 1977 that was pretty fun.  The cops were having a blast.  They had no desire whatsoever to make any arrests.  Local heroes Metropolis were set up on one of the pump stations.  There were kegs.  One of the movie versions showed me in a Mexican wedding shirt carrying a beer in each hand.  But I got edited out of the most recent version!  Robb Crosby and Warren DeMartini went on to form the band Ratt which enjoyed fifteen minutes of fame with Uncle Miltie on MTV.
Ric Wells Added Sep 14, 2018 - 9:42pm
To say I'm envious would be an understatement. Although a lover of music all my life I didn't pick up my first guitar until I turned 55. Love to play but after 35 years of construction I have a problem with arthritis in my left hand. 
Jeff Michka Added Sep 14, 2018 - 9:48pm much for my tale, at least the musical one.  Seems music "saved" a lot of us, and we've had so many similar experiences.  Good one, FJr. A true shame you moment on film wound up on he cutting room floor.  Editors! Bah! LOL
Flying Junior Added Sep 14, 2018 - 9:56pm
Thanks for dropping in to the tavern bros.  How about a nice Sculpin IPA or a brain-numbing Bear Republic Racer 99?
Benjamin Goldstein Added Sep 15, 2018 - 5:02am
Stone-Eater Added Sep 15, 2018 - 7:34am
Ah....gotta put in one of our songs soon...
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 15, 2018 - 11:44am
Great story FJ!
I'll have three Irish Car Bombs. One for me and two for my imaginary friends
Stone-Eater Added Sep 15, 2018 - 12:23pm
Friedli-Gabrielli Band - Shopville
In 1991 we had this band, I was 33 and actually wasn't halfway as good on guitar than today. Compared to some of you guys here my successes in music are more than modest, but for sure music carried me through life quite smoothly until today :-)
Leroy Added Sep 15, 2018 - 1:43pm
Nice story, FJ.  Seems most everyone here is musical. I admire that. The only time I am musical is when I am in the bathtub.
Morgoth Added Sep 15, 2018 - 6:35pm
Can’t play a lick myself, I always admire those who can.
FJ, didn’t pick up on this, did you ever do session work?
(If you mentioned this before sorry.  Same for if it’s in the article, getting over a sinus infection so concentration isn’t very good... ;)
Jeff Michka Added Sep 15, 2018 - 6:56pm
Wow. I was wondering if Leroy had been hung up on a clothes line, clothespinned by his beard, left hanging to dry.  Seems he may be dry and has power.
James Travil Added Sep 15, 2018 - 8:52pm
Wow these digital taverns have really taken off, well done FJ and everyone! When I was 17 I was reading the five biographies and reciting the Bible, er, NO. LOL! But it was pretty tame by comparison. I was attending a Baptist high school and corrupting the classmates by getting them to question their religious indoctrination. Dating my future wife and longtime love of my life and planning our honeymoon. The senior class I was a part of were planning a trip to St. Petersburg Florida, which was pretty laid back and uneventful. That's about it. Me and my best friend Ronnie dressed like Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice (it was the late 80's after all). But no one was in a band. My musical tastes are as a listener and appreciater in classic rock, 80's-modern pop, and Satanic metal. That's it! My life didn't get seriously interesting until I was about 31 or so and went on a life discovery trip with a young girl I met up with. I'll save that one for another time. Cheers! I'll have a digital shot of digital tequila! 
Mustafa Kemal Added Sep 15, 2018 - 10:02pm
James, Im not going to believe you dont  have a tale to tell, maybe after Baptist high school?
Speaking of Christian influence on our souls, Joseph Stalin attended  the Tiflis Seminary in preparation for the priesthood. Evidently, it is famous for producing athiests.
Flying Junior Added Sep 16, 2018 - 12:15am
Thanks for dropping in everybody.  I'm not claiming to be a great musician.  I very rarely learned the organ solos note for note.  My handlers just made sure that I knew when to come in, the big hooks and when to break.  They would just trust me to sort of go off.  I was good at song structure and my rhythm was tight.  I guess I channelled the available energy well.  It was an explosive and exciting time to play music.  We were just kids.  You could get started with less than $1,000.  It was the golden age of garage bands.  And believe me, in the early days most of our rehearsals were at somebody's parents home or a garage.
I was just lucky enough to step into the breach.  I had a lot of friends.  Being a musician was my ticket.  But I do take some satisfaction for a long and storied musical career as a local hero.  Some of the best times I ever had were playing Gershwin and Boogie-Woogie for old folks.  My singalongs were legend.  To this day I still play in public.  That's forty-five years and still going on.
Flying Junior Added Sep 16, 2018 - 12:20am
Jeffrey Kelly,
I think I was in the studio maybe two or three times in total.  But I did have a reputation for a solid track on the first recording.  I never wasted studio time by making mistakes.  On the album, I did about five songs where I dropped in a part to an existing recording.  The other five songs I recorded live in the studio with my mates.  There is one famous mistake that they just decided to leave in when I missed a change.  Oh yeah, and another one when I played a E-9 instead of E-minor.  That was an interesting texture.
Studio time can be exhausting.  The magic seems to start after midnight.  You have to be ready to hang out all night to finish a project.
Flying Junior Added Sep 16, 2018 - 12:21am
James T.
Tell us about the wicked stuff!  Kidding.
Flying Junior Added Sep 16, 2018 - 12:40am
I'll take a fine cognac, please.
FacePalm Added Sep 16, 2018 - 12:38pm
It appears that you and i were in SD at the same time, albeit on quite different tracks.  In '74, i was in Navy boot camp, Aug-Oct, then in Basic Electronics/Electricity Prep(BEEP) school from Nov through to the next year, when i went to a different school at Mare Island(opposite side of the SF Bay, near Vallejo).  Of all the places i visited there, i think it was Pfeiffer(sp) State Park in Big Sur that was my favorite, although Yosemite came close.  Do they still use the sandstone blocks at the SD beach to make bowls for doing up a hit or three?
Interesting to learn that you know the keyboard part to "From the Beginning;" i can play the guitar part pretty well now, and i had an idea that perhaps i could mimic the Moog sound with an octaver and a phase-shifter with the speed turned up, or come close, anyway - but the pedals didn't come together for me somehow.  i can play the run, anyway, and i do a tolerable job on the keyboard into to "Light My Fire," as well, though my version is a mash-up of the Doors and Feliciano's cover.  It like "Hey, Tambourine Man" - i'll sing the whole song w/Dylan's words but in the style of The Byrds, who got quite a hit from a truncated version with the cool hook.
i spoke to a guy at Action Music, who has the absolute largest collection of stomp boxes i've ever seen, all for sale, and he said there was no way to get that ELP sound w/o a synthesizer.
i wouldn't join you for a beer, though; gave it up Jan 17th, '94, and i ain't goin' back.  This coming Jan., i'll've been free of that particular slavery for a quarter-century.  i can play "Never Goin' Back Again,"(Fleetwood Mac) as a tip o' the hat to sobriety...which is one of those mighty tough songs to do; that damn Lindsay Buckingham has huge hands, so it's not as much a problem for him, i imagine.  i've been working on that song off and on for over 6 years now, and i've just about got it.  Similar story with Dave Matthew's "Crash," though i'm unfamiliar with Soul Sacrifice, unless that was on Abraxas.  "Black Magic Woman" is still on my list(of songs to learn); right now, i'm working on an old fave of mine, "The Fool and Me," off of the Bridge of Sighs album.  The lyrics seem to be syncopated from the beat a little, but i'll get it; i've only been working on that one for 3 days, now.
Stone-Eater Added Sep 16, 2018 - 3:13pm
Until now I haven't been able to play Gary Moores " still got the blues " without occasional flaps. Especially the fast solo parts ;)
Flying Junior Added Sep 16, 2018 - 3:46pm
I can play I Got the Blues from Sticky Fingers, but no where close to the way Billy Preston played it!
Flying Junior Added Sep 16, 2018 - 3:53pm
Pfeiffer Big Sur is heavenly.  I love wading out in the shallows under the canopy of leaves, shadow and sun. Soloing a big fat doobie took nothing away from the experience.
I had a couple of friends in the Coast Guard that became sonar technicians.  But my friends in the Navy were a tad undisciplined.
I guess it was the unique multi-tone booster, (some kind of harmonics booster circuit,) on the Farfisa that created the basic waveform that approximated the Moog sound at a certain point along the wah-wah pedal with uncanny accuracy.  Of course, I couldn't do portamento or any of the little sounds in the background.  The Farfisa had a flute like tone called the Dolce, a sound with some added harmonics called the Principal and the full tone boost was called Strings.  All three sounds were available at 16', 8' and 4' pitches.  All three sounds could be blended.  Somebody showed me those guitar chords many years ago.  Very creative approach to the guitar.  Chords like that sound better on a guitar than just about any other instrument.
Is that what happened to Indian Joe at Windansea?  Beats me.  I made a clay pipe out of blue La Jolla clay once.  It looked like a Pre-Colombian artifact.  It gave the hitters earthy flavors.  But it did cool the smoke!
opher goodwin Added Sep 17, 2018 - 5:42am
I can't imagine living without music! I would loved to have had a talent and get into that experience. I've written some songs and had a couple recorded by a local band. Quite a thrill.
Great story. Thanks for sharing!
Jeff Michka Added Sep 18, 2018 - 7:29pm
One group I was with had an extremely talented keyboardist and flautist.  Arrangement of "From the Beginning" with flute and some synth at the end.  Made it to the group's audition tape.  That guy Faced talk to was right, you do need that synth to get that type of ELP sound, no real replication with peddle effects that I could conceive of.
Flying Junior Added Sep 18, 2018 - 10:47pm
Of course you are right.  But it was fun.   Funny thing about that band is that we never had one gig!
opher goodwin Added Sep 19, 2018 - 4:07am
FJ - I have such great memories of Pfeifer State Beach. We were dropped off hitching from SF to LA and walked down the long winding dirt track down from the highway (now tarmacked). It was about two miles and we had heavy rucksacks. We arrived as the sun was setting and found a line of freaks sitting on the sand watching the sun go down out to sea turning the sea crimson and purple and the breaking surf strangely blue with a backdrop of an orange sky. The waves were crashing over the big rock in the middle of the bay and spraying through the hole in the centre. It was magical. We dropped our rucksacks and joined them as jays were passed along.
When it had disappeared we all unrolled our sleeping bags among the trees. We got a campfire going and shared some food. Someone got a guitar out and it was so cool.
Then the police came down and bust us all, shipped us back up to the highway and dumped us at the side of the highway.
We lay in our sleeping bags and looked up at the sky. Our friend Jack knew all the constellations. The stars were out in such numbers, like salt spread over black velvet, and the Milky Way was like a band of smoke, mountain lions roared around us. We laughed and talked all night, talking about Henry Miller and Kerouac and what a special place Big Sur was.
Such a magical night.
Flying Junior Added Sep 19, 2018 - 4:12am
I recently saw a painting of a sunset at Big Sur with rolling breakers.  I like your story.
opher goodwin Added Sep 19, 2018 - 5:21am
Cheers FJ - good to share. Made me all nostalgic.
wsucram15 Added Sep 21, 2018 - 3:13pm
FJ..this was great!  Fun wasnt it? What a great adventure.