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Laytonville Memories

Hello Mr. Anderson & Mr. Livermore,

That was some article about Indiana Slim’s Red Hots band and the legendary Piano Jimmy. A pair of fascinating and completely opposite memories from those days. Whoever wrote that story was obviously there. So was I. I was the bass player in the Red Hots (and still play bass today with Indiana Slim, going on 35 years). I also booked some of the Red Hots gigs, including the now-famous gig at the Grapevine Station when Piano Jimmy pulled the plug on the Lookouts. 

The Grapevine Station was a tiny highway grocery, feed store, and gas station halfway between Spy Rock Road and Bell Springs Road (now known as Area 101). It was very popular with both the Bell Springs and the Spy Rock communities, almost a social center where locals could find out what was happening, leave messages, gas up and grab a six-pack before heading up the hill. 

The lady who owned the store was my Bell Springs neighbor and a close friend. Every summer she put on an annual customer appreciation party and, every year, she booked the Red Hots. She always came out of the store in the middle of our sets and tossed out dozens of little boxes of Red Hots candies. 

Lawrence Livermore’s memories are very different than mine. The only time the Lookouts played that party was one year when Indiana Slim, without telling anyone, invited Lawrence’s band to play during one of our breaks. The Lookouts were loud and wild, the crowd was not exactly appreciative. Nor was the store owner. She came running over to me, furious, and said that her customers were leaving, that we either shut down the Lookouts, immediately, or she was ending the party. I walked over to Jimmy and told him we somehow needed to pull the plug, and, well, he did. He didn’t say a word, just yanked the power cord right out of the outlet. 

That was the first, and last, time the Red Hots ever played with the Lookouts. Slim still loved the Lookouts (in fact he loved the entire chaotic scene when Jimmy pulled the plug), but he never invited them back. If Slim invited the Lookouts to play at the Laytonville gig when Jimmy slugged Lawrence, neither Jimmy nor I nor anyone else in the band knew anything about it. We had no idea why Lawrence was coming up to the bandstand that evening, which seemed curious considering the previous plug-pulling encounter. 

I guess none of it really matters so many years later. But one thing that does matter: The sweet little girl, who we were playing a benefit for, didn’t drown in that terrible storm. The amazing and fearless Laytonville Fire Chief at the time, Lance Whitely, tied a rope around his waste, walked into a raging creek with rain pouring down, freed the girl from a broken footbridge, and carried her to safety. I was there. I have never seen anything like it before or since. I have to agree with the anonymous writer: Laytonville may have been poor and redneck and unsophisticated, but it was a much better neighbor-helping-neighbor town before pot money reared its greedy head. 

BB Kamoroff, Laytonville


Memory can indeed play tricks on the soul, and I am no more immune to its persiflage than the next guy.

However, as the author of two memoirs and editor of several others, I have developed some techniques to minimize its damage, one of which is fact-checking everything and everyone, including (especially) myself. This has often exasperated those waiting on me for copy.

“How much can it matter,” they’ll demand, whether it was March or April when so-and-so said such-and-such to somebody whose name I can’t recall but who died at least 30 years ago”?

And I, plowing through the internet, old magazines and photos, and making phone calls to anyone who might have known Mr. or Ms. So-and-so, will reply, “It might not matter much at all, or it might matter a great deal, because even seemingly trivial details can alter the color or character of an event, not to mention offending or deeply wounding one or more of the parties involved.”

Unfortunately, this sort of fact-checking is rendered difficult, almost to the point of impossibility, when you’re dealing with the mostly oral tradition of the Mendocino and Humboldt hill people. Documentation is spotty at best, and attempts to accurately record events can meet with hostility or worse, as when a posse of angry marijuana growers threatened to burn my house down if I didn’t stop writing about events on “their” mountain. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, when, during a visit to Spy Rock, I was snapping some pictures of old, familiar landscapes. Someone quickly advised me to put my camera away lest I inadvertently capture an image of someone’s marijuana farm, which, unless you’re pointing straight up at the sky or straight down at the ground, is pretty difficult not to do.

So, when trying to get to the facts of a matter, whether it happened yesterday or a few decades ago, we mostly have to rely on fallible human memory, and, thankfully, old copies of Lookout magazine. Courtesy of the latter, I am forced to admit that Bear (I assume this is Bear, unless he has a hitherto unknown brother called BB) is correct and I was wrong about one of the vital details.

The Piano Jimmy plug-pulling incident was in fact at a Red Hots gig where Slim had asked us to do a guest set. Apparently I confused it with a previous show we’d done at Grapewine (not Grapevine) Station in the summer of 1985, which I did set up myself, and which featured the Lookouts and another Laytonville-area band called The Front. The Red Hots did not play that show, though I believe it may have been where I was first introduced to Slim by our mutual friend Michael Ferretta.

As for the Harwood Hall show (April 3, 1987), it’s quite possible that Slim didn’t bother telling the other members of his band that he’d asked us to play (he could be a bit of a prankster that way), so Jimmy may have been acting out of genuine umbrage. I’m also quite surprised to hear that the girl we were meant to be playing a benefit for had not actually died, but I won’t attribute that to a loss of memory: my understanding at the time (no doubt thanks to the colorful but seldom reliable bush telegraph on Spy Rock and Iron Peak) was that she had died; in fact I recall writing about it at the time. It’s good news to hear she survived. I also remember Lance Whitely, not that I knew him personally, but he was a well-respected and highly-thought-of member of the community. 

It’s not completely true, as Bear says, that we never played with the Red Hots on any other occasion. There was that time Slim snuck us in the back door of the Crossroads, the somewhat more hippie-oriented tavern that briefly flourished across Highway 101 from longtime mainstay Boomer’s, to play a couple songs in the middle of a Red Hots set. The reason for the sneaking and the hit-and-run nature of our appearance was that our (future) Grammy award-winning drummer was still only 14 or 15 at the time. We seemed to get a much better reception that night, though it might only have been because people were drunk and/or we were gone before they realized what had happened.

I could quibble with a few other details, such as Bear’s assertion that Grapewine Station was “halfway” between Spy Rock and Bell Springs (it was twice as far to Bell Springs as to Spy Rock), but in the course of looking that up, I discovered that I too had misremembered the distances, placing Bell Springs a full four miles up the road from Spy Rock when it’s not even quite three. I remember Carol (then Bath, now Sylla), who ran the store for many years, and who I still see on Facebook (she’s up in Oregon now), and though we were not best buddies by a long shot, we had many a fine chat when I would stop in to pick up provisions. 

I’ve had a few decent chats with Bear Kamoroff as well over the years, and he always struck me as one of the hippies (I hope he doesn’t bristle at that description) with integrity who originally made that region so fascinating and appealing to me. Though he can be argumentative and picayune at times, I could never claim to be any less so. I thank him for setting (some of) the record straight, for jogging my memory, and for prompting me to look more deeply into the “facts” I was sure I remembered so precisely.

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