Here’s some of the memorabilia from those thrilling days of yesteryear. Top Left: This is at the cabin we lived in. No electricity, no phone. Surrounded by kudzu. Top Right: Doc, Billy, and Steve Lane. We were on top of Stone Mountain. Bottom Left: Doc, Billy and me at the duplex in Fairburn. Bottom Right: The first thing we had to do at the cabin was dig a latrine for the outhouse. One day Charlie dropped his wallet, which contained the last five dollars we had to our name. It was quite a job, but we eventually retrieved it.
This is the poster for our first gig in Nevada City after returning in 1976. It was supposed to showcase the Nation and another local band, Absalom, but their bass guitarist, Art Mommi, died before the show happened. Art had been a member of Carrie Nation, and he and Doc wrote several songs together.
This is Doc at our 16 room haunted boarding house in Union City, Georgia. The rent for the entire building was $75 a month.
This photo of Doc was taken earlier this year at the Mt. St. Mary’s class reunion, held at the National Hotel.
He was a homegrown Nevada City boy, raised in his father’s drug store on Broad St. and schooled at Mount St. Mary’s in Grass Valley. He served with the marines as a medic in Vietnam, hence the nickname “Doc”. We met sometime in 1969, although I don’t recall the exact date or circumstances. He was an aspiring folk singer, and along with fellow musicians Charlie Williams, Bob Carson and Bodie Bogeman started a band called The Dogbar Sickle Company. They made a few demo tapes of original songs and played at what few gigs were available in Nevada County in those early days, but the band broke up in 1970.
After that, he teamed up with the ensemble that would become the first incarnation of the Carrie Nation band, shown here with (L toR) Charlie Williams, Troy Woodman, Debbie Reese and Arthur Mommi. This photo was taken the day before Doc, Charlie and I left for Atlanta, Georgia to expand our musical horizons.
Atlanta was the happening place for music in 1972, thanks to The Allman Brothers Band. We lived with Charlie’s uncle Greg, a trappist monk who was running a rehab center on Peachtree Street (the Haight St. of Atlanta). After a few weeks, Greg found us a two-room cabin outside of town where we could live rent-free until we got our bearings in the new environment. We performed a few times as a trio in Underground Atlanta, and found employment at an onion packing plant for two bucks an hour. We convinced fellow Nevada City musicians San French (keyboards), Bill Smart (bass), and Arthur Mommi (guitar) to come back east to start a new band. San and Arthur didn’t stay long, but the rest of us were determined to find our fortune in Dixie.
We moved into a roach-infested duplex after that, where Doc and I wrote “Empire Mine”, an ode to the early goldseekers of Nevada County. I eventually moved out and got a job as a forklift driver at Owens Corning Fiberglass in Fairburn, but we always stayed in contact.
In 1973 I was in a near-fatal car accident. Doc and Charlie were my only family there, and helped me through the worst of it. After I was released from the hospital, I moved in with Doc in the Ben Hill neighborhood. While I had been convalescing in traction, the boys had finally put together the band we had been searching for. Carrie Nation went on to become a popular act in Atlanta, opening for big names like Humble Pie, James Cotton, and Jojo Gunne. The band toured all over the South during 1974 and ’75.
As luck would have it, we met up with one of Doc’s old classmates, Dave Furano, who was running much of Bill Graham’s touring operation. Dave convinced us to return to California, and arranged for us to appear at Winterland as the opening act for Elvin Bishop and Kingfish. We played clubs and concerts all over Northern California, but success eluded us. Acting on bad advice, Doc was kicked out of the band, and things just went downhill from there until Carrie Nation broke up in 1977.
But Doc never held it against us, and we remained friends. He went on to tend bar at Duffy’s, and managed the equestrian center in Penn Valley. We became roommates again when I was working at the Northwoods Clubhouse at Tahoe Donner and he was once again in the horse business.
After that, he went on the road with Winterland Productions, selling overpriced t-shirts and other band paraphernalia. He lived in Nashville for a time, but returned to Nevada County where he sold real estate and helped to revive the Penn Valley Rodeo.
In recent years, Doc was always a guest at our Thanksgiving dinner. This year, it was just the three of us. We reminisced about those “good ol’ days”, and he and Mary Ann swapped stories about their heart surgeries. Anymore, I always treat these occasions like they could be our last. It’s no secret that we led hard lives, and as we grow older the bills are coming due. But As Doc said that night, “If I had it to do over again I wouldn’t change a thing.” Damn straight. We lived through some extraordinary times, and a better friend I’ll never have. I wouldn’t trade that for all the gold in Fort Knox.
Farewell, old friend. You will be missed.
Update: 12/3 Services will be held Friday, Dec. 6, 10:30am, at the Hooper Weaver Mortuary, 459 Hollow Way, NC. Phone no. (530) 265-2429.
The National Guard Armory in Nevada City went up for sale last week. The old tin shed has gone through many changes over the years, having housed the Imaginarium and NCTV, and now the state has declared it as surplus property. They plan to sell it for whatever the current market will bear.
The Armory holds a lot of memories for me. Back in 1970, I aspired to be a concert promoter, mainly because no one else was doing it. During my high school years, there was a fellow (whose name has unfortunately been deleted from my organic data banks) who filled that role. He brought many of the up and coming NorCal bands to the Nevada City Elks Hall, then located above what is now Friar Tuck’s. There was Group “B”, whose bass player, Dickie Peterson, went on to found the heavy metal band Blue Cheer. Then there was the New Breed, who later became Redwing without bassist Tim Schmitt, who joined the band Poco and later The Eagles. There were many other bands who never amounted to much, but we were hungry for anything new during the explosive musical years of the mid-sixties.
The promoter used to let me in free for distributing posters for his dances. He finally quit the music biz after a few years of great shows, and so I decided to pick up the slack myself. This was during the period when many of my friends were starting their own bands, but there were few venues available. Sometimes there were dances at the Seaman’s Lodge in Pioneer Park, but Seaman’s was too small for the kind of psychedelic spectacles we wanted to see.
At first, I rented the Armory directly from the National Guard, but after the guard left, the building was left under the jurisdiction of Nevada City. I rented the building from City Manager Beryl Robinson for $100, and was required to hire an off-duty police officer for $25. I didn’t mind, because the building was big enough to hold two to three hundred bodies and we could accommodate more than one act.
There were some great Northern California bands performing during that period. Trakstod was a heavy metal band originally from Redding, but they had taken up residence in the larger Sacramento market. Sundance was what we called a “horn band” because of their sax section. They were from Chico. Another band was called Brotherhood Rush, featuring a midget keyboard player named Bruce Lee. They were all popular draws in NC, and all of them eventually moved here for a short time.
Trakstod’s wild and crazy singer/guitarist Jimmy Berick eventually recorded an album with Masters Of The Airwaves, and Sundance made one album. Neither band was very successful and both have faded into obscure rock history.
But during that short period of 1970-71, we had some good times and great shows. I partnered with an anti-drug organization called Mother for several shows, titled “Mother’s First Ball”, “Mother’s Second Affair”, and “Mother Goes Into Labor (Day)”.
Eventually, the friends I started bands with years earlier formed new groups like Absalom and Carrie Nation. Their first shows were at the Armory, and later I would travel to Georgia with the Nation on a four year rock’n'roll odyssey.
I gave up promoting shows by 1972. The stress of worrying whether I would make enough money to cover expenses was too much for me, since I didn’t have many resources (or even a job) by that time. Most of the music had moved into the bar scene by then anyway. (I did return to concert promoting briefly in 1980. One show at the Nevada Theatre with Charlie Williams’ band, Mistress, and Thomas Jefferson Kaye.)
I’ll always remember those shows. I doubt that anyone will ever put up a plaque to commemorate those historic dance/concerts, but those of us who were there will never forget.
It’s a little after noon on Thanksgiving Day. The turkey’s in the oven, the hors d’oeuvres have have been prepared and tested for quality, and the leaves have been swept off the front entrance to Crabb Hollow. Finally, it’s time to reflect on those things we have to be thankful for.
The list is long, but this year I’d like to thank all those who made this occasion possible. I am speaking of the survivors; the people who made us, quite literally. Our ancestors.
When you think about it, it’s quite amazing. There are a few humans walking the earth today who can trace their forebearers back to their countries of origin through centuries, but most of us didn’t arrive here on the Mayflower, or have the good fortune to be born into a royal family with written archives.
No, most of us are the mongrels who, if you’re lucky, have family histories that go back about a hundred years. Even then, the information is sketchy and has probably been heavily edited by the children to avoid embarrassment.
But if you look back at human history, it seems likely that we come from every circumstance. We were probably kings and queens in one life and slaves in others. We survived wild animals, wars, revolutions, the black death, religious persecution, raping, pillaging, drought, ice ages, and in the best of times only lived into our thirties. We came here from all corners of the planet. We braved angry oceans in wooden ships, or made the long trek over the landbridge at the top of the world. We are the hardiest of the hardy.
So be thankful. I am. No matter how we’ve screwed up in this life, there is always redemption, if you are so inclined. We fight and complain, but usually it is because we believe that things can be better.
And they can be. It’s something we owe to those who will come after us, and to those who fought and scratched their way through life to make ours possible. It’s no small thing.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
A few weeks ago, Mary Ann and I attended her family’s reunion in Sacramento. There were dozens of cousins, the majority of whom I had never met before, so I resigned myself to being the odd man out as they recalled stories of their distant youth.
Until one of them mentioned the old Pelton wheel at the North Star powerhouse. Mary Ann and I grew up in the same neighborhood (where we still reside today) and all those cousins had fond memories of playing among the (then) ruins of the glory days of mining in Nevada County when they visited the Niehaus clan in Grass Valley.
So I spent most of the afternoon recounting those thrilling days of yesteryear while munching on barbecued oysters. (One of the cousins has an oyster farm in the north state. Cool!) They had some good tales of their own.
Back when I was doing the short-lived daily version of It Takes A Village Idiot in The Union, I did a series of strips about those times. Today’s entry is the first of five. The others will follow as the week progresses. Enjoy.