This song was written in a two room cabin with no electricity in the Georgia wilderness. It was where Charlie Williams, Doc Halstead and I first resided when we moved to the State of Peaches in 1972. It was a grand adventure, but I was terribly homesick for Nevada City and the Yuba River. When I pine for “the beach on a warm California night,” I was thinking of the Yuba.
Several years later, the reformed Carrie Nation recorded it on their first demo tape. We shopped it around to record companies and gave the tapes to some local FM stations in the hope they might play some of the tunes.
One day we were driving down the freeway when “Letter” came on the radio. For a songwriter, hearing your music on the airwaves for the first time is almost as good as sex. Almost.
Charlie and I spent a lot of time sitting in the receptionist’s office of the local clubs with those tapes trying to get an audition. In particular, we wanted to play Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom, the Fillmore of the South. We could never get in to see Alex, but we got to know the receptionist, Janet Marshall, quite well after a few weeks. When she realized that we were the guys who did that pretty ballad about California on the radio, she went directly to Cooley and got us in the door. (We later found out that Janet was actually a partner in the business.) After that, we played the Ballroom on a regular basis, opening for bands like Manfred Mann, Jo Jo Gunne, James Cotton and many others.
“Letter to California” opened many doors for us, but never got us the main objective: the coveted record contract. A few years later it did get recorded on the Mistress album. Now, in age where no one writes letters, it is an anachronism. It’s still (in my opinion) a good song, and the Carrie Nation version is still the best.