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.