Sparky

(1970-72)

We met Scott Davey through the Music Switchboard. Eventually, he brought a friend and his friend over to jam, Larry the bass player, and David Solari, a piano player. From the first day we played together, we knew we had a cool thing going. Scott had a bunch of songs; I had songs; and both Larry and Dave had a few songs. We started playing together regularly. Charlie helped out with the sound. That group of guys would soon become “Sparky”. One day after we had been playing for a while and had played a number of gigs, we looked at each other and said “What’s wrong with this picture?” We didn’t have a drummer and we were playing rock music! We started auditions. We had all kinds of losers show up and guys calling asking us if we had any drums. One day, this guy comes over, a friend of a friend. He not only had his own drums, but an impressive set and CASES! He looked cool, too, with long curly hair and a mustache that made him look like a French nobleman. He had actually played on an album with Mother’s Of Invention’s Don Preston. He sat in and it was like a dream. We almost couldn’t believe him when he said he’d join the band. Sandyjack Reiner was the new drummer and things were cooking musically.

      One day at rehearsal time, we heard Larry yelling from the bottom of the stairs. ”I can’t move my legs, help!” We thought he was joking around, but it was no joke. His paralysis got worse and within a week, he was totally paralyzed. His uncle was a doctor and discovered the problem; a rare reaction to having just had the flu. The paralysis would be temporary and within a year, he would be back close to normal. He moved back east with his family (and we never heard from him again). We needed a bass player. We had a lot of gigs coming up.

      Dave Solari had a friend named Bud who was a bass player. Bud was a big, good-looking darkish skinned guy with long black hair. He was real quiet and seemed to fit right in, but he was really more into hard rock and was kind of a reluctant addition. Still, he played the gigs and some TV shows and despite his preferences, he fit like a glove musically.

     We did some fun stuff. We put on a TV show at the local cable station called “Sparky Goes To Pluto”. The show was a futuristic interplanetary rock concert. Sparky would be the first earth band to play Pluto. We had a videotape of a friend made up like a Plutonian who appeared on a screen to give us landing instructions. The cameras shook as we landed. The next scene was the concert. We had made some futuristic cardboard “amps” that we also did a little commercial for. “For stereo, you just tear them in half! We went on to play several songs with pre-recorded Plutonian audience uproar (made by playing a tape backwards and fast) and put on a great show that ended with a hand-held rocket heading back to a round paper earth. It was fun. We also did a couple of regular shows on cable TV with the band.

      After a while, Sandyjack brought in a bass player who we called Phil The Bottom. He was a good no-frills player that complimented the group. He was a couple of years older than us but he was mired down in his marriage. He’d have to ask his wife if he could play every gig or go to a rehearsal. At rehearsal, he’d complain about his situation at home, his wife’s demands, etc. 

     Despite the setbacks and problems with the bass players, we played a lot of gigs; everything from the opening of a furniture store on Haight St. to our numerous gigs at Delancy Street, gigs with former members of the Cockettes, Pristine Condition and Paula Pucker and the Pioneer Sisters. We also played some good gigs in Golden Gate Park at the bandshell and opened for some good groups including Sopwith Camel and a group from Toronto called Providence. We played concerts in just about every local park in the city. Susie was helping book the band and was trying to get us hooked up with the rock band manager Michael Oster. We played at The New Orleans House in Berkeley ( a good venue at the time) and Viet Nam protest concerts.

      The band was getting good and playing regularly. Charlie was buying equipment and had some good ideas for the band’s sound. He also taped everything we did; rehearsals and gigs. His wife Linda also videotaped

nearly every gig. Little by little, though, Charlie, like his namesake Manson, was trying to take over the band. We had tried his idea of putting the band directly through a mixer rather than through separate amps, wearing hair-covered headphones. We gave it a good shot for a long period of time  but Charlie’s whole set-up was becoming tedious and never worked without a lot of glitches. Charlie was becoming overbearing, and was getting on the band member’s nerves. We all discussed going back to a conventional set-up.

     One night, Charlie took me aside. He explained his frustrations trying to convince the other band members to keep going with his system. “They’re just a bunch of assholes” Charlie explained. They didn’t have any vision. They liked me. They’d listen to me. And Charlie, of course, would just tell me what to do behind the scenes. If they didn’t play along, we’d simply get rid of them and replace them with new players. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I told the band members about the conversation the next day and we decided unanimously to fire Charlie.

     Charlie was predictably furious and felt I had betrayed him, but he was so out there that he left me no choice. He left with his equipment and all of our tapes. He tried to act like he was okay with everything, but a few months later, in a fit of rage aimed at his wife Linda, Charlie burned all of the audio tapes along with all of Linda'’ videos; the entire record of Sparky lost because of Charlie’s vindictiveness.

     Dave Solari was also booted out just weeks before Charlie. At a gig at the Demon Rum, a local club, Dave was chugging valium while playing. He was also drinking heavily, and was so messed up that he dropped the valium bottle on the keyboard. Some pills stuck in between the keys, sounding out a constant wrong note, but Dave was oblivious. Charlie turned off the keyboard and Dave got pissed off and cussed us all out over the mic and left. We got a new keyboard player from the Good Earth Commune named Zave. A real character, Zave was a good B3 player and made quite a change from the piano oriented sound Dave had.

     Eventually, Phil quit and Bud had his own band going and wasn’t available. We never got another bass player and Sparky was history. We originally got the name Sparky from a dog that we knew. The dog’s original owner gave Sparky to a friend when he thought he was moving away to Europe and never coming back. He came back, though, and found his dog Sparky was attached to his friend. The issue was solved when he moved a few blocks way from the friend and Sparky was free to go see whoever he wanted to. Sparky visited each owner for a few days and would then go back to the other. We thought the dog was so cool we named the band after it. In a few months, we’d get a dog and name her after the defunct band.

     We had a number of memorable gigs. Some memorable ones were for Delancy Street, a dark and mysterious organization that has a program that provides an alternative to jail. Everyone in the program had a shaved head, and this was way before it was fashionable. All inmates got up at 6 am every day and worked all day. If you messed up, you went to jail, so they pretty much had a captive group of unpaid laborers and an organization that got tons of donations which they spent on fancy real estate. Their stated idea was to take the screw-ups out of the ghetto and into a good neighborhood, but the leaders lived like kings in mansions. We were usually paid in Del Monte Pudding Cups, cases and cases of them, at first, and free dinners. These gigs were really strange. Sparky was so psychedelic and the audience members

were all in drug counseling. We showed up tripping! They always asked us back, though, why I don’t know. We worked out a deal with them for a trade-out for a few gigs. They had just opened an auto repair shop. They agreed to rebuild Charlie’s VW bus engine in exchange for the gigs. Weeks after we played the gigs, the work still wasn’t done. Charlie and I went to the shop and discovered his engine in pieces and some guy telling us they didn’t have a mechanic to do the work. Charlie was pissed and we drove right to Delancy Street’s mansion and barged into the head guy, Bill Maher’s office. Charlie was hot and started yelling at the guy. Calmly, Maher told Charlie to chill out and he’d see what he could do. Charlie would have none of it. He refused to quiet down. Maher clicked his fingers and three big shave-head goons rushed into the office, picked up Charlie, and tossed him on the lawn outside. We ended up towing the van back home and Charlie did the work himself.

     We played a strange gig at the Palace Of Fine Arts, with Pearl. Pearl was a guy who had been a friend of the late Janis Joplin. Now he was imitating her,

doing all her songs. He was an idiot. At sound check, the sound guys told him they were not ready. “Let’s go anyway” Pearl told his band, and they started playing. Pearl tried to sing, but the mic wasn’t live, of course. He threw the mic to the floor, yelling at the sound guys “When you get it fucking together, let us know”, and stormed off the stage. I had to be held back from punching the little shit out. Later, this big important gig for Viet Nam vets was a disaster. Pearl didn’t draw very well and hardly anyone showed up. We played well and had some fun.

     One gig in a park deserves note; We were playing on a low stage in a park in the Mission, in the middle of a song, when some drunk guy tried to come up and take over my mic. I was about to deck him with the butt end of my guitar when he was tackled to the ground by our roadie Kenny. It was videotaped and we all had a hoot watching the scene replay over and over, the look on my face, the guitar going back, the look on the guy’s face, and Kenny coming out of stage left and tackling the guy to the ground.

     We played regularly at a club called The Demon Rum in the Tenderloin. There was a popular cinema located in an alley behind the club, and cinema goers would pay the 50 cents cover charge to walk through the club rather than walk the two blocks around the corner. We made a couple of hundred every night, even thought the club only held about 75 people. One night, a drunk guy tried to get in without paying. When our door guy Steve told him he couldn’t go in without paying the cover charge, the guy took a swing. Steve ducked and punched the guy about 20 times in the stomach. The guy fell to the ground and was carried outside. He came in again. This time, the club bouncer punched him around and threatened him “I’ve got long hair, man, but I DIG BLOOD, DIG?” he told the drunk “If I see you around here again, I’ll fucking kill you, you understand?” He threatened again. The guy came back in 15 minutes, too drunk to remember previous events. We just let him in.

     We played a gig south of San Jose in a place called the Chateau Liberte. It was a biker hangout, which we didn’t know before we got there. We had these big speaker boxes that it took three of us to carry around. There was a really big guy there when we started to unload. He grabbed a speaker all by himself and easily carried it in. He was very nice and did the lion’s share of the unloading. We played the gig. While we were playing, the big guy was sitting with Susie, and invited us all to his house after the gig for a party. At one point, he asked Susie to drive with him to get some liquor for afterwards. At the end of the gig, we were too tired, and someone in the band had to be back the next morning. The big guy helped us load everything up and we said goodbye and thanked him. A few days later, Sandyjack came running in to rehearsal with a newspaper. On the front page was the big guy, Edward Kemplar, the so-called Santa Cruz killer, who lured people to a party and then killed them all. He had just killed his mother and was caught. We were lucky.

     We played a few gigs with a band called Tumbling Thunder. They were hard rock, with bass, drums, two lead guitarists and a lead singer with a hook for a hand. Most of their songs were about his hand and how he lost it, or how he dealt with the experience. We called them Fumbling Bummer even though they were actually pretty good. Those gigs were put on by our friend Steve Strange and featured free hot soup in the park (the gigs weren’t in the summer).

     We were the unlikely opening band for a number of concerts involving the ex-Cock-ettes Pristine Condition and Paula Pucker and The Pioneer Sisters. They were all either gay, lesbian or  transsexuals and did campy music like Marlena Deitrich songs. It was quite a contrast to our trippy stuff, but the concerts went well and we all got along good together. We also recorded some great stuff with Pristine, but those tapes were also destroyed by Charlie. 

      Playing in the hair-covered headphones presented as many problems as it solved: It was cool to have a stereo mix going to the audience, and it was nice to record all the gigs, and nice to have a stereo mix in your head as you play, but when we had problems, they were pretty big ones. For example, as happened a couple of times, the main speakers stopped working, and we still heard ourselves in the phones, and kept right on playing, wondering why the audience was giving us such a weird look. Also, if one set of phones went out, they all went out. Under normal circumstances, band members talk to each other between songs. With the headphones on, we’d just naturally gravitate to the mic to communicate with each other, without realizing our conversations were going out over the system. “Let’s play ‘Woody” “Nah, it sounded like shit at rehearsal” “How ‘bout ‘Hangin’ Langly?” “Fuck it, let’s play ‘Woody” The audience probably thought it was some sort of skit, I don’t know, but it was very weird.

     Our equipment was all installed into a big metal rack and weighed about a hundred-fifty pounds. We installed coffin handles and we’d all help carry it. It looked like a coffin. We’d chant like monks as we carried it down the stairs. We named it XOX. Standing 6 feet high with a base that sort of resembled feet, XOX took on a persona and got more complex as new components were added

to it. In the end, XOX was comprised of our Roberts 420X stereo tape deck, two Sony MX12 mic mixers, a Bogen and a Shure mixer, a Condor effects unit made for sax but used for  my guitar, a Dynaco pre-amp and power amp and lots of wires. There was so much setup and testing that one time, after playing an afternoon concert in the park, a guy came up to me and said “You guys were really good for a bunch of roadies; what happened to the band that was supposed to show up?” He saw us all involved in the complex setup and assumed it was too elaborate a setup for the act that followed. He was right.

Eventually, XOX was taken apart and Charlie’s and our equipment parted ways.

     When I went to try and archive these tapes, they were pretty well ruined, but you can hear some of the music through the noise. The tapes broke in several places, but I did my best to piece them together. Dave Solari died of starvation resulting from prescription drug abuse, Scott Davey recently got

Married in May 2002, Sandyjack recently became “Jack”  and a putz, Bud moved to the East Coast, and I never heard from Zave, Phil, Larry and the last I heard about Charlie was that he was in prison (where he probably belongs) for threatening someone with a gun. 

     Note that all of the recordings were made on a Stereo machine and that there’s no keyboard player at the last gig.

Story: Fleishackers Gig

    It was pre-Sparky I think, and Susie was working at Music Switchboard. One day we got a request for musicians to perform for a large audience of retarded people at Fleishackers pool, a San Francisco landmark long gone. 

     They told us there would be a wide range of ages, but all were little kids in their minds. We set about putting something really unique together. We assembled a group. Some were musicians, others didn’t play at all. We wanted to do something that the kids could probably do themselves; we wanted our music to connect with them.

     The day of the gig, we arrived early and set up. In addition to our instruments that went in direct, we put mics across the front of the stage. We all agreed on which instrument we’d play, with no one on their own instrument. We dropped acid. 

      The crowd came in, about 200 little children, ages 6 to 90 years old. Almost all of them were little as well. We had everything going through an echo machine. “Hello”” (Hello Hello Hello)”. We banged on our instruments and the music was ethereal at the least. The “kids” loved it and crowded forward, making sounds into the mics and hearing themselves back in echo. One tiny woman, real age in her 40s, made kitty cat sounds. Another “kid” made sounds like primitive man “Uuuuuhhhhh, Uuuuuaaahhhhh” (echo). The room was churning with energy as we melded with the retarded kids in a cacophony of echoes. 

     After the music stopped, we got nothing but praise from the staff, and we had some “kids” hanging around, interested in everything. One kid, real age about 12, was thought to be autistic and out-of-reach. He came up to me and started verbally putting together our set-up, asking me each time if he was right. He was; figured out our whole set-up. An instructor came over, not believing what she was seeing and told us the boy had been totally unresponsive and they hadn’t known he could talk! 

     I wonder what the staff would have thought if they knew we were on acid, but the event was a real trip. We recorded it and I thought I had rescued it from Charlie’s tape pile, only to discover years later that the tape box I had was mismarked and the tape inside was not the right one. The tape was amazing and I’m very sad to have lost that one. Scott Davey did also film it in 8mm but when we looked at it later, the camera only caught 2 minutes of peoples legs and no footage of the amazing event.   

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©2019 by Jimmy Foot