Arthur Mommi was a legend in the Nevada County music scene of the nineteen sixties and seventies. I first met him when we were seated next to each other in the baritone section of the high school band. He was a sickly kind of kid, always had a runny nose, and wore ill-fitting hand-me-down clothes. He told me he played guitar as well as the baritone, so I suggested to my band mates in The Children Of Stone that we audition him. The other guys were reluctant at first; there was more to being in a band than musicianship. You had to look the part, and Art was the antithesis of cool.
Even so, all the cool guitarists in Grass Valley were playing with other bands, so we gave him a shot. It didn’t take long for us to see that Arthur was a natural. He could make sounds on that shitty $25 guitar that we could not imagine. Once the other bands heard him, there was stiff competition for his talents. The Children of Stone eventually morphed into Merging Traffic, and I gave up trying to be a musician. I could look the part, but I couldn’t even tune a guitar, much less make it sing.
Somewhere along the line, Arthur went on a camping trip with the boy scouts. He took a drink of water from an NID ditch and was later diagnosed with Hepatitis. There were the good days, when his skin had a yellow hue to it, and the bad days, when he actually looked green. It limited his ability to endure long practice sessions and gigs, but he kept at it as much as his health would allow.
I couldn’t stay out of the music scene either, and turned my attention toward writing lyrics. Arthur and my former mates from The Children Of Stone became Absalom. (Absalom, being a biblical character who was strangled by his long hair.) Eventually, there was a split in Absalom; Guitarist Jon Schwartz, keyboard player San French and drummer-vocalist Myc James went in one direction while guitarist-vocalist Charlie Williams and I went on to found the Carrie Nation band with Doc Halstead. Arthur would end up playing with both bands at different times.
Carrie Nation left Nevada City for Atlanta in 1972. We talked Arthur and San, along with bass player Bill Smart, into joining us in our new endeavor. We did some recording sessions at American Studios, but then Art got frisky one day and jumped into a fountain. He caught a bad cold and was forced to return to California.
Arthur recovered somewhat, rejoined Absalom as their bass player. The band became Nevada County’s “super group” gathering the talents of all the finest local musicians in the area. They recorded some demo tapes, but like Carrie Nation, never made it onto vinyl. Those sessions, along with a few live recordings, were finally collected onto a CD. (And no, I don’t know where you can find one.)
Carrie Nation returned to Nevada City in the waning days of 1975. One of the first things on my agenda was to set up a concert featuring both bands. I booked the Nevada Theatre and set about trying to navigate the egos of the musicians involved. Both bands laid claim to Arthur’s songs, which led to some bad blood between some band members. Eventually, I talked the Nation into setting aside their differences. I literally ran to Jon Schwartz’s house to give them the good news.
But when I arrived, I found the band in a state of shock. Arthur had passed away earlier in the day, from kidney failure. The concert would never happen.
Years later, after both bands were long gone, Doc Halstead gathered up all the Carrie Nation tapes we could find and collected them onto a CD. (Not available anymore.) Two of Art’s songs, “It Ain’t Easy” and “Lacy” were included on the recording. Another song written by Doc and Arthur, “One Good Man, One Good Woman”, was recorded by Doc before he passed away.
I listen to those songs today and wonder what might have been, had Arthur not taken that fateful drink all those years ago. The songs unwritten, the life unfulfilled. I am thankful that some small vestige of his life and legacy remains, and that I had some small part in keeping his memory alive. I will never forget him.
Thanks, Bob. I didn’t arrive in Nevada County until 1980 so I missed out on the era of which you write. Still, I have heard many of the names and met some of the people so it’s groovy to learn more of the history.
Got the Nation tape, and Lacy is probably my favorite song on it.
And ah yes, the NU band days; spent seven years playing trumpet/cornet. Gave me a great appreciation for those who continued to pursue music outside of the classroom, which is why we eventually ran in the same circle later.
And thanks for a glimpse into what was happening around me, Bob. I think it’s important that these events and people are always remembered and somehow recorded. They all live on their music, of course, but it’s equally interesting to know the personal interactions of those who left their mark on our lives, such as Art and Doc. Think I’ll give the CD another spin this morning.
Also gotta’ say that Doc’s singing of the refrain, “And I believe” on the Lacy song is to me his signature vocal. I can’t imagine anyone else signing it, and it’s one of those instances where the artist who writes it and the artist who sings it are the perfect match.
Gives me goosebumps to this day.
Art was a great guy; same for Dean Lein (bass) and Galen Rodgers (drums). R.I.P. all.
Bob~ This is wonderful. I think of Art more than often and, too, hold a very special place for him in my heart. We were living together just before he passed (on Park Ave. in GV). He moved back to his aunts house up on W. Main and I remember hearing the sirens the morning of his passing and wondering if they were coming for him. He connected with people in the most genuine way I have ever felt from anyone. Nobody didn’t love Art Mommi.
A bit of an update on the Absalom thing: we did a concert at the Nevada Theater in ’74 and someone recorded it on a Teac real-to-real and that tape eventually became a CD. Then, George Parsons connected to some retro rock folks in Paris, France and they wanted to make the CD into an LP (yes, vinyl!). George did the art work for the cover and 250 copies were pressed. So, Absalom finally did make it to vinyl! I’ve got a copy if you’d be interested to see & hear it.
Thanks, Bob for your wonderful histor(ter)ical mind and sensibilities. I love ya man…no really man:-)
I moved into GV back around 75- following my pal Charlie Buda from the bay area. I met and hung out with some real characters- everybody spoke of Art Mommi, who was recently passed- I think many of these guys are dead- Rick Cox, Steve Wheeler, Monte and Vernon and Jon Geist, Jon Schwartz (I worked a few days for his aunt Abbey)…then, still a follower, I left town with a strange guy , Sid Thompson, who called himself Ophidian…GV was an intereting moment for me- I still play guitar- Cosmic Charlie got me started. I lived in the Kidder Mansion up by the cemetery- I think its been torn down. I was a mostly unemployed longhaired teenager, plyin darts and drinkin mugs at the Hard Rock n do or did you know some of these guys?
Monty Geist is no longer with us. I think most everyone else on your list is still above ground.
Hi Bob, am on a visit to Calif. and every time I come through here I think of Art and remember those times we had. So good of you to keep his name alive and remind people of the joy of his music and friendship. It was a great time.
Hello Ed. Good to know you’re still alive and kickin’. I do what I can to keep the memory of our time in Nevada County alive.
Wow, so strange to find this website with a little bit of history about Arthur Mommi. I met him in the late 60s when a college friend was dating his younger sister Carolyn. I loved visiting Grass Valley. I remember going to their house and Mrs. Mommi would prepare these huge feasts. She was a great cook.
I remember Arthur’s music, but don’t think I ever got to see him play with any of the bands. I always heard about them, but it seemed like every time they had a gig or record deal lined up the band members would have some kind of issue and then break up.
One time Arthur came down to visit us in Santa Barbara. We were going to school at UCSB and he came down to visit for a few days. Of course he brought his guitar and loved to play. He didn’t have an amp so I borrowed one from a friend at school.
One night Arthur was on the balcony of the apartment jamming by himself. There was a party at the frat house across the street with a loud not-so-good band playing. When Arthur started playing the band stopped playing and all of the frat party started listening to Arthur play his guitar. That was a great time and one of my best memories of him.
I really have missed him and his music. He was such a good and gentle soul.
Thanks, Bill. Arthur left us way too soon, but his memory is ingrained in our lives.
Thanks, Bob, for keeping my brother’s memory alive. For some reason today, I put in Art’s name and found this. It was nice to read the comments. especially the ones I know, like San, Wild Bill, and Ed
Art was always an old soul and he lived to play music. They say only the good die young, but he was gone too soon. I’ve talked to people who were just learning to play guitar and they said Art was always kind and encouraging to them.
Did you know that George Parsons had the CD of Absalom’s Nevada Theater gig? It was incomplete cause the tape ran out before it was over. I have a copy. If you don’t have one let me know and I will try to copy it for you.
Thanks, Carolyn. I have a copy of the Absalom CD.
I’m Myc James’ daughter. My Dad recently passed and I am in the process of organizing his work, both written and recorded. I have some things that may be of interest to you. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi Carolyn – It was great to read your post. I hope that you are doing well. I wish you all the best. Bill
Bob, thank you for this blog. Thank you for keeping our memories before us. I am grateful to say I have an Absalom album and a Carrie Nation cd and thanks to you a tee or two. My husband Ken and I listen to the CN videos and I am glad to say Ken loves it. We listened twice this week…How I miss you all. I have the best memories of us at High Street in Nevada City. Remembering when we would throw a bed sheet down and break bread toghether Indian style on the floor at High Street and safe to say I did a lot of that cooking! Just sayin…I remember you and your early art and how it made me blush…way over my head! I miss Art, San, Myc, Doc and Rogers. Remembering when the cops would knock at our door and tell us to keep it down because they could hear the live music in town! Remembering my birthday at HS that got out of hand and someone told all the people at the river it was a party! Wow that was scary waking up and finding strangers on our lawn! Remembering all the beautiful harmonies and the songs you and Charlie and Doc put together and Lacy from Art. You are forever in my heart and forever my friends. Love you!
Thank you, Troy.