Benny Barth, musician and local treasure

image of Benny Barth/ width=Benny Barth, musician and local treasure, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1929, becoming a song-and-dance man by the age of four.  He took up the trumpet but soon left it behind when he noticed that the girls liked him better as a drummer.  Benny received a music scholarship to Butler University where he played the best black jazz clubs in the city. To this day, he is the only white member of the Bebop Society of Indianapolis.  When the group met at Benny’s house, they would gather in a circle with their arms around each other, each scatting two choruses of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Hooly Koo”.  In this segregated city, neighbors would prance by, shielding children from the sinful sight.

He became part of the Mastersounds that were signed by World Pacific Records in the late fifties. They were hot, playing at the Blue Note in Chicago as well as the original Birdland in New York.  These boys had hit the national scene. (more…)

W.W.II in San Francisco, Ch.4

images of Japanese minisub, Red Cross equestrian unit and Sally RandW.W.II in San Francisco took on many different descriptions and tales.  This is a continuation of one of those stories.  Chapter 4:

In 1942 my mother, Anne Klausen, in an effort to please her father, Elmer Klausen, quit the S.F. Ballet and Opera Company and joined the equestrian unit of the Red Cross, riding Spencer Tracy’s polo pony.  Her days were filled with routine excursions out in the Sunset and Richmond dunes, reminding the hobo “towns” to not start any fires at night.  One day she discovered an abandoned minisub on Ocean Beach.  It was later identified as belonging to the I-25, a Japanese submarine aircraft carrier.  But where did its operators go?  Records did not list them as being captured.  Did they hook up with San Francisco’s Japantown?  Or was it with the Black Dragon Society of espionage insurgents? (more…)

The Grateful Dead Connection to the North Bay

Image of Grateful DeadThe Grateful Dead have long had a connection with the North Bay.  The group was formed in 1965 in Palo Alto amid the rise of the counterculture movement.  Jerry Garcia spent part of his early years in the tough outer Mission District of San Francisco before moving up to Sonoma County.  He attended Analy High School in Sebastopol where he won his first battle of the bands.  He helped write “Dark Star” in Rio Nido while performing there in September, 1967.  The lyrics were symbolic of how “far out” the universe could get, and Captain Trips wanted to stick around as long as possible to see how weird it all might become.  Unfortunately, however, he retreated to Marin where his demons caught up with him, dying of a heart attack in 1995.


The City/River Rock ‘n’ Roll Hookup

image of sixties rock bandsThe sixties and seventies epitomized a City/River Rock ‘n’ Roll hookup.  Several bands lived within a six-block radius of each other in the Haight Ashbury District of San Francisco during the Summer of Love (1967).  In fact, there were over 500 musical groups in the City at the time, many of them playing at the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore Auditorium, Winterland, and the Straight Theater.  That same year, the Monterey Pop Festival helped to  catapulted at least four northern California ensembles  to stardom. The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service all vaulted to the top of the psychedelic acid heap, soon venturing north to the Russian River to showcase their infusion of Indian, jazz, folk and blues.

The Rio Nido Dance Hall and the River Theater in Guerneville were but a few of the venues where these musicians strutted their stuff in Sonoma County. (more…)

Jerry Garcia at the Russian River

Image of Grateful Dead at Rio Nido Image of Grateful DeadJerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead played at Rio Nido along the Russian River on September 3, 1967.  At the time that was not a long commute for the boys as they owned an eighteen acre commune in Forestville’s Pocket Canyon off of Giovanetti Road.  The only glitch was that one of their trailers hit the old road sign upon entering the hamlet and knocked it down, but it has been resurrected for all to admire once again. (more…)

Dick Crest at the Russian River

Image of Dick CrestDick Crest was the pied piper along the banks of the Russian River for 10 summers.  Not only did he conduct the Bohemian Club’s Jinx Band, but he also was the resident musician at Rio Nido.  During the school year, he taught at James Lick High School in San Jose and later at the College of San Mateo.  In addition, he hosted two teen TV shows–“Pepsi Party” on KNTV in San Jose followed by “Rock ‘n’ Rally” on KPIX in San Francisco.

He will best be remembered by all you River Rats for those sweet, pure sounds of yesteryear.  I know that the “Sheik of Araby” was covered by the Beatles in 1962, but the tune for many belongs in the dance hall at Rio Nido.  You could make the same case for “Show Me the Way to Go Home” and other songs that trumpeted a care-free attitude long gone.

Some River Rats are still in possession of their membership cards with Rivasimacale printed at the top.  Of course, you were required not only to carry this I.D. with you twenty-four-seven, but you had to show your large green toenail as well. (more…)

Big Bands at the River

Image of Ozzie Nelson Image of Rio Nido-winking moonThere were Big Bands galore up at the Russian River back in the day.  The first was Art Hickman of the Ziegfeld Follies who played at the Palomar Dance Hall on Fitch Mountain in Healdsburg in 1913.  But you had other venue choices including the beach ballroom at Mirabel (where Burke’s Canoes is presently), Rio Nido, the Grove in Guerneville, Guernewood Park and Monte Rio.  You could listen to the sweet sounds of Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Phil Harris, Buddy Rogers, Ted FioRito, Kay Kayser or perhaps Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians. The last musical group of this era to play in Rio Nido was Tex Benecke’s Glenn Miller Band in summer of ’53.  One of the more popular Big Bands was the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra. (more…)

Jefferson Airplane

Image of Jefferson AirplaneImage of Jefferson Airplane posterImage of Jefferson Airplane album coverBack in the late sixties, I lived a block from the Jefferson Airplane.  They resided at 2400 Fulton Street near St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco.  How close these rock ‘n’ rollers aligned themselves with God is unknown.  The fact that their three-story Colonial Revival was painted black might be an indication.  While doing research for upcoming crime novel, Don’t Stop the Music, I unearthed the fact that the address on Fulton would later become the title for their 1987 album, which included such hits as “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”. (more…)

Jerry Garcia & the Summer of Love

Jerry Garcia & the Summer of Love


Image of Garcia guitarImage of Jerry GarciaJerry Garcia was a San Francisco kid through and through.  He was raised in the tough Outer Mission by his grandmother who was a no-nonsense organizer for a local union.  Jerry would hang out at his mother’s bar in the Embarcadero with hard-drinking longshoremen.  In fact, his Irish legacy in the City goes back to the Gold Rush days.  So you can see that perhaps he was more than a little miffed when Chief Cahill and Mayor Shelley and others referred to him as an “outsider”, but that was the way he and the Grateful Dead were treated during the Summer of Love in 1967. (more…)

Bill Graham

Image of Bill GrahamImage of San Francisco Fillmore AuditoriumBill Graham was a music promoter and a tough cookie.  During my research for my next novel, Don’t Stop The Music, I realized that Graham’s thick skin was forged at an early age as a Jew in Germany during World War II.  His mother and a sister were gassed by Nazis.  At the tender age of nine he trekked across Europe alone and eventually found his way to Portugal, then Casablanca to Dakar and finally landing in New York where he ended up in an orphanage. 

After serving in Korea, he worked as a New York cab driver before coming to San Francisco.  It is here where I found some rather interesting facts that would take center stage for my historical fiction crime story. (more…)