It’s the fall of 1967. The ‘Summer of Love’ has come and gone. Jimmy, Casey and Danny of the Peppermint Trolley Co. set out to recruit a new guitarist. A carefree act of celebration plops Danny and a buddy into hot water. Strong bonds of friendship and a sense of humor helps to get the boys through the ordeal.
Another Fine Mess
The mattress was thin. I could feel the cold cement floor beneath. I’d unrolled it a few minutes before, just prior to the lights going out. Now, in the dark I could hear the low muffled breathing and shuffling of forty other men – men I would be spending the night with behind bars. It was quiet, but it was not the silence of serenity, for everyone’s brain was probably humming like a high tension wire. No, we were mum because one of the guard’s had yelled “Lights out! And I don’t want to hear a fucking sound!”
I told myself, Hey, this is just an adventure into the unknown. Disassociate yourself from what’s happening, and you’ll be fine. You might even learn something. I tried looping a comforting melody in my mind. It was no use. I kept hearing the metal door being slid shut behind me, and the keys jangling as they turned the lock. I felt like a caged puppy. I longed to be in my girlfriend’s arms, and to feel her hand gently stroking my head. As I lay there in agitation, my mind flew back over the chain of events of the last thirty hours. It had begun one hundred twenty-five miles north in Los Angeles.
In front of Buster. Redlands boys L.A. bound
Fade to Black
Jimmy, Casey and I sat watching the little rabbit-eared black and white television. Joe Pyne, a locally syndicated talk show host had brought one of San Francisco’s Diggers on his program as a guest. Angry, narrow minded, and right wing, Pyne was years ahead of his time. As usual, the host was acting the boorish bully, hurling epithets at his guest as the peanut gallery laughed and applauded each familiar insult. “Why don’t you take a bath, dirt head?!” Pyne asked. “Ah go gargle with razor blades!”
“How much would you pay to watch Joe Pyne and Al Capp run a three legged race together?” Jimmy deadpanned.
Capp, the cartoonist, once a liberal, had made a hard right turn, and was now a rabid conservative. He, like Pyne wore a wooden leg.
Casey and I cracked up. It was one of those off color, slightly shocking jokes my brother liked to throw out. One could not help but laugh, but always with a twinge of guilt at being complicit in its inappropriateness. Jimmy’s dark and caustic sense of humor was in sharp contrast to the idealism, and romanticism of his song lyrics.
We were a band. Jimmy played bass and sang lead, I handled keyboards, harmony and second lead, while Casey played drums. My brother and I had been in bands together for four years, and the three of us had been a unit for about eight months. Just recently, we’d added our buddy, Patrick, on guitar. We may have been green, but we possessed what few young groups ever acquired – We had us a record deal.
We’d moved from sleepy Redlands, California, just a few short weeks before to try our luck in the big city. The Silver Lake rental house we lived in may have been a rat infested dump, but it was our rat infested dump, and we were excited about our new direction. Life, though, always seems to throw you a curve when you least expect it. Pat had come bearing bad news. Our spirits sank with the late afternoon sun, as he informed us that his girlfriend was pregnant, and that he was leaving the band to get married.
After he left, the three of us had sat there in the retreating light, feeling numb. Many minutes passed before one of us flipped on the lights to break the gloomy spell. We began to brainstorm, going through a list of possible replacements. No one available from back home was up to the standard required, and none of the musician’s we’d met in the Hollywood recording scene seemed to fit. I dreaded the thought of auditioning strangers. Feeling exhausted, and needing diversion, we’d turned on the idiot box.
Without saying a word, Casey suddenly got up and turned off the TV. Joe Pyne’s angry face disappeared into a tiny white dot which soon faded to black. Knowing he had our attention, he wiggled an index finger vertically and declared “I have the solution. We’ll recruit Greg.”
Greg was our dear friend from Redlands. He and Casey had played together in a Stones cover band in high school. A folkie, he was great at finger picking, and could sing harmony. Yes, I told myself. Greg just might work out. True, he hadn’t played much lead guitar, but, hell, he could pick it up. The problem was – he’d just started the semester at San Diego State. He was living in the dorms for which his dad had probably had to shell out for.
Jimmy was quick to respond. “Hey, man, Greg’s in school. Why would he want to chuck everything and join us.!”
House warming party for the Silver Lake band house. August, ’67
Jimmy mugging in front. Patrick standing 2nd from right. Greg, 4th from right. Emily in straw hat.
“Hold on!” Casey replied with a calming downward motion of the palms. “I think we have an excellent shot, especially in light of what’s happened in his love life recently. You know Greg. He’s capable of making sudden sharp turns.”
He was referring to the fact that Emily, the love of Greg’s life, had thrown him over for another guy just the week before. The word was he was heartbroken. After all… Emily, who was a student at UCSD in La Jolla, had been the reason Greg moved to San Diego. Casey was always analyzing, always strategizing, and always several steps ahead.
“Well, I guess it’s worth a try.” Jimmy said. “Okay, let’s give him a call.”
“Absolutely not!” Casey shot back. “We’ve got to drive down there tomorrow and talk to him in person”
“I agree.” I added. “On the phone he could just say no, or tell us he’ll think about it, which would amount to the same thing.”
“That’s right! We need to do some friendly persuading. We’ve got to sell him on the idea.” Casey said.
Jimmy laughed – “Yea, anyone thinking clearly would have to say no.”
We all agreed on the plan.
A Breeze Down the Coast
In the morning I awoke to the delicious aroma of pancakes. I threw on some clothes and ran down the stairs. Stepping into the kitchen, I saw Casey pouring batter, and flipping cakes on the electric griddle. Jimmy was brewing a pot of cowboy coffee.
“Eat ‘em while they’re hot and hardy, boys, we’re taking a little drive” Casey declared.
The three of us descended the steep stairs, which were so typical of the Silver Lake neighborhood in which we lived, and jumped into Casey’s silver ’66 Chevy van, which we called ‘Buster’. Giving names to inanimate objects, be it a car or a coffeepot, served as a reminder that life should be an adventure. Jimmy had called shotgun, so I sat on the engine cover between the two bucket seats. It was always a butt warming experience, but as it was late October, and the air was cool, it would be just fine. At the bottom of the hill we made a left on Sunset Boulevard, skirted around downtown and caught Interstate 5. Within minutes we were slicing southeast through Orange County, ground zero of the country’s conservative movement. We’d started with a full tank of gas, so there would be no need to leave the safety and anonymity of the freeway, and risk our being hassled by overzealous cops.
“We should have an old ‘Reagan for Governor’ sticker we could put on and take off.” I said.
Suddenly, Jimmy cranked down the window, extended his right arm toward the windshield, and turning his face to the right with raised chin, began yelling… “Heil Reagan!”… “Heil Reagan!”
Casey and I joined in with gusto. “Heil Reagan!”… “Heil Reagan!”
South of Dana Point the highway drew closer to the ocean, hugging the coastline. I looked to the right. Beyond marshy wetlands, the blue Pacific came into view. A brown pelican was scanning the sea. The sight took my breath away.
“There she is… Ah… Mother Ocean.” I said with a sigh.
“Yes, and Father Sky!” Jimmy joined in with a quasi reverent tone.
“Oh. Brother Mountain, Where art thou?” – Casey chanted.
“Shut up!” I shouted with a laugh.
Jimmy reached into his pocket, pulled out a joint, and lit up. He took a hit, and passed it to me. I partook and passed it on to Casey.
Releasing my breath, I said – “I hope Greg will be open to it.”
Jimmy and Casey both nodded in agreement.
It was unspoken, but I knew all three of us felt a bit manipulative. After all, we were carrying out an ambush, albeit a friendly one. Using the element of surprise and a spirit of camaraderie we intended to get him on our bandwagon. A cynical observer might look at the situation and say to Greg “They just want to get you down in the same hole that they’re in.” to quote Bob Dylan. Indeed, Greg would surely lose his student deferment from the draft like the three of us had. But look at the opportunity we were offering. It was chance to make records, to be creative, to live the life of an artist, outside the system. Hey, the four of us were all on the same wavelength! We knew it, and soon he would, too.
Casey took a drag and turned his head our way. His face was framed by wiry black hair, and sunlight danced in his light blue eyes. “I just hope he doesn’t fall in love with someone else. Have you ever known Greg not to have a girlfriend?”
We pondered for a few moments until Jimmy broke the silence,
“Hey! Don’t Bogart that joint!”
“Whadya mean…‘Don’t Bogart that joint’?” Casey asked.
“Well, what do you mean…’Whadya mean… Don’t Bogart that joint!’?”
“Well, what do you mean…’Whadya mean, Whadya mean…Don’t Bogart that joint!’?”
They carried this out several more times, getting broader with each extended line. It was definitely pot humor, but I couldn’t stop laughing.
Jimmy and Casey
Selling the Idea
We pulled into the Cal State San Diego campus, around 2:00 p.m , and soon located his dorm room. We knocked on the door. No answer. A student in the hall said he thought Greg was in class, and would probably be back soon. We walked around, killing time until shortly after 3:00, when we spotted a dark haired figure coming down the walkway. It was Greg! We hid behind some shrubs, and just before he reached the steps, Casey, donning crazy google-eyed glasses, popped out from behind, and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Pardon me, but could you kindly direct me to the R.O.T.C. headquarters?”
Greg turned. Caught by surprise, he shouted “Casey?! Casey! What the hell are you doing here?”
I approached from the other side. “Have you heard the good news about the kingdom Christ has in store for you?” I asked with the creepiest smile I could muster.
His brown eyes got bigger. “Danny!”
Jimmy appeared from behind a tree, showing an open wallet. “F.B.I.! We’d like to have a few words with you, if we might.”
“Oh my God! Jimmy? You guys. I can’t believe you’re here.”
After he’d calmed down, we began to talk seriously. We gave him our spiel. Patrick had left the band. We needed someone to fill the slot, and he was the perfect fit. We were scheduled to begin recording in about ten days. The record company was excited and totally behind us. We had a great producer. We’d met a community of creative people – singers, songwriters and musicians. It was an opportunity to make music and be free. The only caveat was that we needed to know right away.
“Take all the time you need.” I said. “Take five minutes!”
His mind in high gear, Greg suggested that we go for a drive, get away from the campus, and let the information sink in.
“I was planning on going over to Emily’s in La Jolla to hang out. Why don’t we go there?”
“Emily’s?” I said. I thought you two were…”
“Split up? Yea, we are, but we’re still close. She’s the only real friend I have here. Man, you don’t know how lonely it gets in that dorm room.”
I realized I’d been harboring a slight resentment toward Emily. My instinct was to circle the wagons around a buddy. The split, however, seemed to be mutually accepted. If Greg was cool with it, then I’d sure better be.
We all hopped into Buster. Greg, receiving the V.I.P. treatment, rode shotgun. I retained my spot on the engine, while Jimmy lay down in the back. We were off to La Jolla.
Emily lived on the UC San Diego campus, sharing a dorm room with Betsy, another high school friend from Redlands. Some curious co-eds eyeballed the four of us as we walked down the dormitory hall. We crowded into the room, feeling slightly awkward at bringing our male scruffiness into the clean and tidy feminine space. We greeted and hugged the girls.
Emily sat in front of her desk. With her short strawberry blond curls, blue eyes, and porcelain skin, she was as pretty as an old fashioned doll, but she could hold her intellectual ground with anyone. Betsy was kicking back on the bed. Her honey colored hair was cut in bangs that nearly reached her big brown eyes. She had a wicked sense of humor, and those eyes lit up as she joked about a horny professor.
“He’s definitely a ‘hands on’ kind of teacher.” She said, using air quotes. “He really ‘reaches out’ to his students, especially those wearing skirts.”
We cracked up.
After some chit chat, Emily turned to Greg and asked, “Are you up for going for a swim at Black’s Beach?”
She explained that it was a great beach. The location also happened to be a notorious nude bathing spot. One had to descend a high bluff to access it, so it tended to be more private than most. It was nearby, and lots of students went there to skinny dip, especially after dark. It was a thrill just walking down the trail to get to it.
Greg turned to us and said, “You guys want a little adventure?”
“Sure!” we said. “You only live twice.” Casey added.
We followed the girls’ VW Bug the short distance to the sea, and parked on a bluff. Standing near the edge, I could see the waves rippling frothy white to the shore, and hear the water hissing as it retreated back to the sea.
Emily called out, “The trail ‘s over here. Watch your step!”
By now it was dark. It was a moonless night and the pathway was steep. I imagined that we were Eighteenth Century smugglers trying to evade and outwit the Red Coats. The trail twisted and turned, inevitably winding its way down to the beach.
I saw the figure of a man running into the surf.
Who was game?
The girls passed on taking a dip. I think they were put off by the fact that we were not alone. Casey, who, surprisingly, had a strong streak of modesty in him, declined, as well. Jimmy, who was always fighting a cough or cold, thought it best to take a rain check. That left just two of us.
Greg turned to me, “I’m going in!” he said.
“So am I!” I replied. I was genuinely eager, but I also thought that the act might serve as a symbolic ritual to seal the deal.
In the dark, Greg and I shed our clothes, stashed them behind the railroad ties at the foot of the bluff, and made a dash for the surf. The water was cold, and my breath quickened at the shock, but to my naked twenty-year-old body it felt all the more invigorating. There was always something restorative about jumping into the Pacific, something that brought clarity of thought, and moments of epiphany. The dark, moonless sky delivered an extra thrill to the game. I dug my toes into the sandy bottom. God, I felt free!
We dived beneath a wave, emerging to a surface that foamed, and shimmered in the starlight. We found ourselves next to the man we’d seen running into the water. He was extending his arms for balance, and keeping his head above the waves. Older, perhaps thirty-five, he was wearing wire rimmed glasses, and a cigarette dangled at the far corner of his mouth. His few words of greeting told us he was British. His name was Paul. We made small talk as we caught our breaths.
Suddenly, we saw two flashlights making their way along the beach to the right. We gasped. Oh God! It was the cops, and they were approaching our friends. The three of us got low in the water. Perhaps they’d ask a few questions and move on.
The minutes went by. Had they found our clothes? I began to shiver. I hugged myself to get warm. Greg and I looked at each other. More time passed. Had they seen us? At one point the flashlights turned seaward, making a sweep over the waves. We ducked lower into the water. What the hell was happening? Had they found Jimmy’s stash? Were our friends being arrested? My instinct was to stay put, to wait it out, but my teeth were beginning to chatter. I turned to Greg. In his eyes I could see the same deep fear that I was feeling. His lips were turning blue. All three of us were freezing. We were trapped, naked in the water with our backs to the sea, and nowhere to run.
Paul suggested that he go speak with them, adult to adult. Perhaps it would smooth the way for us to get out, and possibly get off with just a reprimand. Not knowing what else to do, and thinking that the cops had spotted us, and were just biding their time, Greg and I gave our nod to the idea. Paul began wading to the shore.
Greg turned to me and whispered, “Danny, whatever happens, I’ve decided I’m coming with you guys. I’m going to join the band.”
The story continues on Part 2
Graphic Design by: Bryan Faragher