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The Redleg Boogie Blues (Part 5)


The band seemed to thrive on what we came to call “combat conditions.” When other groups fussed about inadequate or faulty sound systems, made sure their hair was right, demanded top billing and polished their instruments, the Redlegs took the path of least resistance, said “Fuckabunchabullshit” and plowed through whatever obstacles there were to get the job done. This, along with a certain characteristic sound, was why we were called the Heavy Duty Crunch Band.

We were hired to play an outdoor event in Mendocino County and things started going wrong even before we left the Gate Six parking lot. Gibbons was carrying most of the equipment in his pickup truck. The stuff was nearly loaded, and so were most of the people running around getting ready to go. I was putting guitars in the truck when someone called me to check on something else. Leaning Kim’s Danelectro bass guitar against the tailgate, I walked away for just a second. During that second, Gibbons backed the truck out and ran over the instrument, breaking its neck in two. We managed to dig up another bass and hit the road.

The concert site at Albion Ridge was a field on somebody’s farm at the end of a long, dusty dirt road. There was a huge stage piled with speaker cabinets, and a small building erected about twenty yards in front, housing the sound system control board and its operators. Technicians milled about, fiddling with wires and connections.

There was an odd feeling in the air. Four or five hundred hippies were wandering around, some of them carrying mason jars of dark liquid, offering drinks to any takers. The stuff turned out to be blackberry juice spiked with LSD, and everyone on the ridge was drinking it. A jar came around to us. I didn’t want to get high on acid, but I didn’t want to be the only one who wasn’t, either. So I took the jar, which seemed to be vibrating on its own, and drank a little. Joey turned it down, but when the jar was gone someone handed him a sheet of acid dots on paper, and without hesitation he licked up the entire thing.

Meanwhile, a band had started playing. They were called Climate, and whether it was them, or the acid coming on, or both, something was seriously wrong. Their sound was a cacophony of confused noise.

“Sounds like a heap of garbage cans collapsing in an alley,” remarked Joey. As far as I could tell, they were all playing out of tune and out of tempo in different keys and rhythms, and totally unaware of it.

With the acid coming on stronger, the disjointed sound became more exaggerated and unpleasant. The lack of communication between the musicians spread through the crowd, creating an atmosphere of tense alienation all over the ridge. No one danced. People moved farther and farther from the stage area, trying to escape the weirdness, but the sound system was too good. Climate was having some bad weather, and the storm of sonic horror was inescapable.

When their set was finally over, psychic wreckage was everywhere. Even the sky had gone gray. As the area buzzed with paranoia and desperation, a bearded man dressed in combat fatigues walked on stage and grabbed a microphone.

“I have an announcement. Listen, everyone, I have something very important to say.” When he finally had the crowd’s attention, his voice raised in pitch and became more nasal as he made his declaration:

“There is an extremely high fire danger here today... and there is NO WATER.” As the already paranoid crowd digested this information, we were informed that it was time for the Redlegs to play.

As we got ready, Joey was having a hard time remembering how to set up his drums and I wasn’t having much luck getting my guitar in tune. Joe wasn’t either, but I knew he wasn’t going to let that bother him. I knew that he knew the important thing was get the ball rolling, overcome the oppressive weirdness, and that he would do anything to accomplish that. Beneath his dispassionate exterior, Joe always had his finger on the psychic and emotional pulse of the moment, the vibrations, and he knew that under these conditions, to hesitate is definitely to be lost. Joey got his drums working and we started playing the intro to “Tonight Is A Love Song.” The situation definitely required some sort of optimism. Joe sang one note into the microphone and the entire sound system blew out.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, a positive aspect of the ever-present Built-in Failure Factor. Without missing a beat, Joe plugged the mike into the second channel of his guitar amp, a Fender Concert. With a substantial reduction in sound quality, but no longer at the mercy of the drug-befuddled sound crew, we continued.

Little by little, we pulled the instruments into tune. The people who had approached the bandstand hoping for relief began to get it and started dancing. By the end of the first song, most of the paranoia had dissipated and the clouds were breaking. The next number was also a “love song,” but a hard-rocking shuffle, and now the whole band locked into the groove. We had defeated the weirdness. The clouds were gone from the sky, and the sun was now going down at our backs, its previous harsh glare giving way to a genuine golden glow. The dancers were taking off their clothes and swaying hypnotically with their hands in the air, facing the sun and the band as if involved in some ancient mystic ritual. Eventually the sound system came back on and we finished the set with proper sound balance, although it was clear the real work had been done without it.

It was nearly dark when we got off. Two pickup trucks full of beer arrived, one of them possibly for putting out potential fires... It seemed our timing was perfect.

The next band was the Mendocino All-Stars, who were supposedly musicians from different well-known groups who lived in the area, like Cat Mother And The All Night Newsboys, the Sir Douglas Quintet, and who knows who else. But in those days I had no idea who was famous, and who was supposed to be fabulous or important. Looking back, I see that this was the healthiest possible way to be. As a young guitar player back east, I was always terribly intimidated by the presence of any “big shots” in the audience and often choked because of their presence. In the Redlegs I learned to not give a shit about such things. I eventually came to see that the less in touch with mass media culture you are, the easier it was to just relax and live, and “do your thing.”

The beer, along with bottles of whiskey and tequila, and joints, brought everyone down to earth. The All-Stars were a good dance band and a good ol’ rock & roll party was in full swing. Our equipment packed up and safe, we were ready to take in the real show. These gigs never failed to bring the freaks out of the woodwork, and this one was no exception.

The combination of LSD and alcohol brought very interesting behavior out of people. I found Old George, self-proclaimed king of the San Francisco street population, ministering to a small group of budding derelicts. George and I had something in common: he had a dog named Bad Boy and I had a dog named Bad Dog. As we discussed our canine companions, he would occasionally take a second to advise one of his followers, “DON’T FUCK UP.” His guttural, raspy voice gave this statement an air of undeniable authority, and Old George maintained his street-regal air until the “thaxophone” guy arrived.

“Thaxophone” was a short, nerdy-looking man with a whiny voice and a lisp, and seemed to be capable of saying only, “I wanna play a thaxophone. Does anybody have a thaxophone?”

“DON’T FUCK UP!” said George.

Thaxophone walked up to me and said, “I wanna play a thaxophone. Does anybody have a thaxophone?” I said nothing.

“DON’T FUCK UP!” repeated Old George.

“I wanna play a thaxophone. Does anybody have a thaxophone?”

“You’re FUCKING UP!” said Old George. He was becoming irritated.

“I wanna play a thaxophone. Does anybody have a Thaxophone?”

“Listen, boy, you’re getting on my nerves. Can’t you see there ain’t no saxophone around here? Now take a walk, and DON’T FUCK UP!”

“I wanna play a thaxophone. Does anybody have a thaxophone?”

Old George, unable to take it any more, yelled in Thaxophone’s face. “YOU WANT A SAXOPHONE? Here, I’ll give you a saxophone. Try THIS motherfuckin’ saxophone!” He pulled out his dick and proceeded to urinate on Thaxophone’s shoes. Incredibly, the little man said, “I wanna to play a thaxophone. Does anybody have a thaxophone?”

Old George kept pissing and moving forward, aiming higher and higher until he had Thaxophone backing away, his pants dripping with George’s urine. Finally the would-be reed man turned and walked slowly away, muttering, “I wanna play a thaxophone. Does anybody have a thaxophone?”

The inevitable conga drumming rumbled in different corners of the field as I wandered around and ran into Joe, and then Maggie. We were discussing the idea of leaving when we heard loud cursing and the sound of breaking glass. At a nearby trash barrel a tall gray-haired man, who looked like he might have been a lawyer or accountant, was rocketing beer bottles into the barrel with all his considerable drunken might. Each time he broke a bottle, he let loose a spate of imprecations.

“God DAMN fuckin’ SHIT! Dirty rotten BASTARDS! Stinking cunt-shit PISS! AARRGGHH!”

When he had apparently broken enough bottles, he jumped into the barrel and started violently jumping up and down on the glass, never breaking the streak of curses.

“...KILL motherfuck-shit-whore-bastard! UUGGGHHHHH! Cocksuck-motherfuckin TURD!”

The “Mendocino Glass Crusher” moved from barrel to barrel repeating the cycle and showed no sign of slowing down. We laughed until it hurt, but as marvelous as this entertainment was, we had a long drive back to Sausalito. Our forces gathered, we hit the highway south.


We were dosed with LSD fairly often. It was in the punch, the wine, the beer, maybe even the food. Usually the dose was a mild one, well diluted and not of much consequence. Also, back then I didn’t drink much, and one or two glasses of beer or wine normally didn’t contain enough acid to bring about any great change. Things and people would just seem silly or absurd for a while.

The Marin County Heliport was about half a mile from Gate Six. At the time (1971) most of the upstairs space in the main building was rented out to musical groups for rehearsal space. Despite the presence of all these musicians, there were never parties or happenings at the heliport. The Redlegs decided to do something about that.

One Sunday afternoon, we took a 100 ft. extension cord and some scrap plywood and set up a makeshift stage in the empty field just north of the main building. With fifty or so waterfront regulars in attendance, we just started playing, right there next to highway 101. In a few hours the crowd grew to three hundred or so and we played until dark with wine and liquor flowing as if from an inexhaustible source. No acid that first day, or the next few Sundays.

For a while, every Sunday would be Heliport Day. Word got around. Free rock and roll parties at the heliport. Sometimes three or four hundred people would show up, and amazingly, the police never came to shut us down, probably because the heliport was on unincorporated land between Sausalito and Mill Valley.

The last time we played at the heliport was the Night of the Big Acid Dose. We began around two in the afternoon. It was a good day, the music was good and the crowd big and happy. More than the usual Red Mountain found its way to the stage and we all drank liberally. As the sun was going down, I started to feel the first hints of electric acid hum. Still in the very early stages, I looked at Joey, the drummer.

“You feel it?”

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m startin’ to feel a little crazed.”

We were used to this sort of thing, and kept on playing. When the sun had gone down, I got the first hint that this was going to be no ordinary mild-dose acid trip. Knowing perfectly well that the sun was down, I had the distinct sensation of it rising behind my back, to the south. I could feel the warmth of sunshine and see the rays of light. I was still “in control,” still had a “self,” and was able to perceive the phenomenon with some detachment. As the sunlight effect grew, I began to play guitar with a tropical feeling, and soon had a realistic visual sensation of being in a saloon somewhere in the Pacific, with swinging doors, and palm trees and the ocean outside. (I hadn't yet been to Hawaii, and when I did get to Maui eight years later, I found that the saloon in my vision was the bar at the Pioneer Inn in Lahaina.)

My detachment was fading, but I do remember thinking, I know it's dark out now and getting cold, yet the sun is there in the wrong part of the sky and I can feel the heat.

The drug was coming on stronger now, the effect accelerating and building. The sun and saloon disappeared and I was back at the heliport at night. Music was still playing, but I looked around and saw that Joey had vanished and a black kid we knew named Tommy was playing the drums. It seemed he was playing ridiculously fast, very frantic. In fact, I was the only band member still on stage. What had happened to them during my tropical interlude? The acid’s acceleration was making me dizzy, disoriented. My guitar felt like a cardboard toy. What the fuck am I doing with this? Dropping the instrument on the stage, I wandered into the field. I had to lay down, and did, right in a puddle. It was raining now, but none of that mattered. There was no room to think about anything. My brain was surging, so busy filling up with acid that no clear thought or perception, not even a decent hallucination had a chance to form.

Eventually I recognized a familiar voice. It was Saul Rouda, who apparently had not been dosed too badly, saying, “All the heavy brain damage cases come with me.” He herded me, along with four or five others, into his red Volkswagen bug. On the way back to Gate Six, he said, “Don’t worry, the band equipment is taken care of.” This made me dimly aware that there were other band members in the car, but I can’t remember who. All this time the drug effect was still building rapidly, and I began to grasp the enormity of the dose I had received. This was far more LSD than I had ever taken, or would have taken voluntarily. There was time for only a fleeting moment of fear. The surge took hold again.

Somehow, with Saul’s assistance, I wound up in the workshop on the OAKLAND, our practice and storage room as well as workshop. I lay down in a pile of sawdust, glad to be in a safe place. Anyone I encountered here would be sympathetic, no one would try and mess with my mind. Once I was prone on the floor, I couldn’t move and hadn’t the slightest desire to do so.

The drug was still coming on but starting to smooth out when I became aware of voices. Joe and Kim were in the corner discussing fine points of engineering . This time they weren’t talking about stepping a mast or jacking up a hull. They were seriously discussing how to best go about moving Mt. Tamalpais. I was able to turn my head in their direction once, and saw Joe showing Kim a drawing of his idea for moving the mountain. After that I couldn't roll my head from side to side or close my eyes. The drug was now taking full effect, and there was no choice but to go with it. Any resistance at this point would have been futile and dangerous. Fighting it was how they went crazy.

I couldn’t move my head, and my eyes were open, locked on one of the rough-hewn planks in the ceiling. The grain and knots in the wood began to swirl and undulate, slowly at first. People talk about seeing “colors” and “patterns,” things that “aren’t there,” on acid. The appearance of things and people changed when I was on LSD, but I never had the sensation of seeing things that weren’t there. This wood was doing something. It was as if I had attained a different time-frame, was vibrating at some other-worldly rate, like a movie camera running at three or four times normal speed, making the film seem to run super-slow. Only for me, the wood was moving unusually fast. It had always been moving this way, I was just seeing it for the first time. At first it swirled and moved side to side, seemingly at random. Then, patterns and figures formed. Cave paintings, runes, hieroglyphics, mystic symbols moved left to right across the wood, slowly at first, then faster and faster, as if I were seeing all of ancient history in few minutes.

Growing cold, aging, and dying. This is it, I’m dead. Although I couldn’t move my head, I had a field of vision somehow. It didn't seem as if I were out of my body, yet I could clearly see that it was now a skeleton gathering dust and cobwebs. There was no feeling of fear about being dead. After all, when you’re dead, you’re dead.

There was a new pulse of energy. From my vaguely out-of-body yet not out-of-body perspective, I could see something happening. Muscles and sinews, ligaments and tendons were forming on the bones. Then skin, and fur. The fur faded and the skin remained. It was a living body again. Slowly, I got to my feet, unfamiliar with physical being. I felt very old and slow and creaky. My back wouldn’t straighten up and my hands wouldn’t move like they should have. They felt painful, arthritic. I looked at them; they were black. The palms were pink, the nails were long and brittle. All this was no surprise. I was an old black man, and that’s just who I was. At this point there was little if any awareness of drugs or altered states. It was what it was. I spoke out loud, to no one. My voice was deep and resonant, like an old man’s. Of course. I WAS an old man.

At some point Buck Knight came in carrying a sheet of plywood and turned on a bright electric light. He was looking at me very strangely.

“Shee-it,” I said in that deep, old black voice.

“Uh, how ya doin’, man?” asked Buck.

“Shee-it. I don’t know. You gonna cut that wood? Hey man, you’re white.”

“I know that. I’ve always been white. I was born white.”

(I was seeing a white man as a white man for the first time. He looked washed-out, bleached, anemic. I almost felt sorry for him.)

I wandered outside, onto the large deck where my little houseboat was tied up next to the barge. Even though I knew this was Sausalito, it seemed like the Mississippi Delta, in the same way the sun had seemed to be out back at the heliport. Maggie was in the houseboat. Her appearance was no surprise; she had light skin but her features were definitely African, and she seemed to have gained around fifty pounds. I was an old black man and she was my old fat black wife. Whether she was “going along with the gag” or having the same trip as I was didn't matter. That's just how it was.

I picked up a guitar and played a blues figure. It sounded like “Down, down, down by the river,” so I sang, “Down, down, down by the river.” The words kept coming, from where I don’t know, but they all fit, and all made sense, from the basic river-mud reality of standing down by the river to the infinite cycle of death and rebirth. I been down, down, down by the river...a thousand times or more....and every time I see it again...I know I been there before....

This went on for some fifty to a hundred verses, and of course the paper I wrote it on was lost immediately. The old black man wrote it, but while he was writing, I came seeping back into the body as it changed back to a young white one, and lost the paper.

The transition back to my “normal” self was pretty rocky. Lots of short circuits in the brain; little bolts of lightning, paranoia and headache. Around this time (it was still dark out) Joey the drummer came aboard looking like a big rodent and said, “Do you have any cheese? I gotta have some cheese.” I gave him a slab of Monterey Jack which he munched furiously, apologizing for his manners by saying, “God, I just can’t help myself." I knew what he meant.

Penny Woodstock was the wife of Michael Woodstock, the hippie-mystic. She's British, and could be outrageous when drunk, but when she and Michael took acid together, they became supernatural beings, at least as far as they and anyone within their immediate sphere of influence were concerned. They were always surrounded by young, impressionable runaways and other hapless waifs, who worshipped them. They weren’t charlatans; sometimes they really were supernatural beings, just as anyone who takes enough drugs becomes a supernatural being at least once.

Amphetamine sometimes took me into extreme psychotic hyper-sensitivity; paranoia isn’t quite the right word. One morning at the Dredge, without sleep for three or four nights, I happened across Penny Woodstock and she was in a rotten mood. When I said something or other she didn’t like, she snapped, “You better not mess with me, Jeffrey. Leave me alone or you’ll be sorry.” The vibes were pretty bad all around, and I believed her. To reach my boat, I had to cross the Kupreanov, a huge open tugboat hull, with only deck beams to walk on. Normally this was a snap, part of the normal environment. This time I slipped and fell into the hull, nearly breaking my leg. As I climbed back out, there was Penny, pointing her bony finger and saying, “There’s a warning for you, Jeffrey. Don’t forget I’m a witch, and I could hurt you any time I wanted.” I didn’t doubt her a bit.


This account of a Redlegs gig was written by Penny Woodstock in the June 21, 1975 issue of the Garlic Press (waterfront newspaper):

“The most insane night I can remember (there were others I don’t remember) was the night the Redlegs played at the Old Mill in Mill Valley, about two years ago. The manager of the bar couldn’t believe it when nearly two hundred scruffy, waterlogged drunks showed up for the night. His waitresses fought through the crowd to get to the tables, only to find when they got there that all the drinks had been taken. This happened over and over again. He couldn’t stop the people from dancing on the tables, and outside on the pavement people were lying on the sidewalk snogging and drinking themselves into an outrageous stupor. As the band played, [Toothless] Tom Woods played the bongo drums on top of the tallest amplifier about two feet from the ceiling. As the night came to a head most of the tables and chairs got crushed and I vaguely remember some squad cars arriving. I think everyone had a good time that night. Nobody could possibly remember it as well as that bar manager. I went around there the next morning and heard him telling his regulars that it was the biggest drawing for a group he ever had. But he would never be able to hire the Redlegs again.”

What Penny did not hear the bar manager say was (he may not have known yet himself) that as a direct result of the Redlegs’ appearance, the Old Mill bar, venerable Mill Valley landmark, would shut down forever, be sold and turned into a proto-yuppie fern bar.

What I can remember is the huge crowd for such a small place, wild dancing and destruction, and the “guest” appearances of two local “rock stars,” David Clayton-Thomas of Blood Sweat and Tears, and John Cippolina of Quicksilver Messenger Service. All I can recall about Clayton-Thomas is that at some point he was there in front of me with a microphone singing some song, I have no idea what.

Cippolina had played in a band with Adam Fourman when they were in high school, and now he was a famous guitar “hero” with a big group. He came into the bar and stood in front of the stage carefully surveying our equipment. He left and came back with a guitar, and an amplifier which he knew would overpower everything we had. After setting up this rig and without exchanging a friendly greeting with anyone in the band, he began playing not with but against the band, and at a greater decibel level. The resulting tension may or may not have contributed to the destruction of the bar.


I may never know how we got some of these gigs. In the Garden of Earthly Delights, we looked ordinary. The place was full of big fat Hell’s Angels, pimply-faced greaseballs, spaced-out hippies, black and white drag queens, and one thalidomide dwarf named Shorty.

The floor was covered with sawdust, and I noted the rugged construction of the tables and chairs. No one here was going to police the dance floor, or tell the band to turn the volume down.

I went to the bar and ordered Jim Beam. Next to me was Shorty, the thalidomide dwarf. He was three feet tall. In place of arms he had flippers at the shoulders, each with two or three rudimentary fingers. He wore a white T-shirt and loose fitting black shorts, and was barefooted. He drank Budweiser in long neck bottles by getting a firm grip on the bottle neck with his teeth and throwing his head back.

Shorty loved music. His biggest complaint about his condition was that he wished he could play the saxophone, but listening and dancing would have to do. He had long thick black hair and a full beard. Nowhere in the movies or anywhere else had I seen a dwarf or midget who was a hippie, or freak. Jeremy, halfway to the Green Slime stage, joined us at the bar. He struck up a conversation with Shorty, and I went to help set up band equipment.

After the first set I ran into Jeremy again. He looked shaky.

“I went in to take a leak,” he said, “And Shorty was right in front of me. He turned and looked up at me and I thought, Jesus, he’s gonna ask me to HOLD it for him.”

The Green Slime grimace stretched across his face as his eyes rolled slowly toward the ceiling and back.

“But then he just got himself over the toilet with his knee up, and let go out the bottom of his shorts. He did pretty good, really. Hardly got any on him.”

The room was thick with marijuana smoke and the reek of spilled beer. People came and went in small groups, going here for line of coke and there for a balloon of heroin. Jack the Fluke, returning from one of these forays, told me excitedly how he had gone upstairs to get high, and met a girl who gave him a blow job in her Volkswagen. He was particularly eager to explain about the “spermatozoa getting all over the seat,” as if to clarify that fat men had some too. The climax of the evening came when a blond hippie girl began screaming obscenities and making threatening gestures at the band. She picked up a heavy glass beer mug and hurled it at the stage, narrowly missing Maggie’s head. In seconds a riot erupted, a classic barroom brawl with fists and furniture flying. As the waterfront heavies like Sam Anderson and Dean Puchalski dealt with the fracas, we made our escape before the police came.


The worst drug of all was PCP, or Angel Dust. It caused the heaviest brain damage, and made more people into basket cases than the rest of them put together. PCP was believed to be the dope they put in those darts to stun elephants. A few c.c.'s of this stuff could drop a charging bull rhinoceros in his tracks, and there were human beings taking it for kicks. I had taken PCP before and hated it. My brain had felt like melting plastic. It was the one drug I would never have taken again voluntarily.

Twelve-string Pete from Down the Street, a waterfront regular and PCP brain damage case, drowned in a swimming pool in San Rafael. No one doubted that Pete believed he could breathe under water.

There was never a lack of bizarre characters on the waterfront. When Chris Roberts declared himself a “magnet for degenerates,” he was taking more than his share of credit, but they were there all right, and usually tolerated. It was almost impossible to be ostracized from Gate 6. Almost.

When Jim Shocker moved onto Dino Valenti’s houseboat nobody paid much attention. He looked like a musician--always carrying a guitar case, long hair, stylish clothes, and platform shoes. He tried very hard to sound hip. If anyone said hello, he’d respond with, “What it is,” or “Heavy times, bro’.” Nobody paid much attention.

He knew I played guitar with the Redlegs, and started inviting me over to look at his instruments. There was always at least one really fine guitar at his place. He didn’t play very well, but as a guitar owner he was great. I saw him on the dock one afternoon, carrying another guitar case. “Hey bro’, what it is. You gotta check out this guitar, man. It's a Gibson J-200. Natural wood. Really bad axe. Heavy times, man.”

It was a nice guitar all right. I played it a little and gave it back. He was pleased that I liked it, and poured me a glass of brandy.

“You gotta hear this record, man, listen to the words. It’s really heavy.” He put on an Elton John song called “Levon.” It was something about a guy who called his child “Jesus.” That must have been the heavy part, but I didn’t care for the song much, and got up to leave.

“That's not really my cup of tea, Jim,” I said, “But I like the guitar. Thanks for the drink. I'll see you later.”

“Wait a minute, bro’, you wanna get high? I’ve got some pure coke here. How ‘bout a couple of lines?”

“Why not?” He laid out two huge lines on the table and handed me a straw. I should have known something was wrong when he didn’t take some first for himself. Cocaine people always took some first, and usually the bigger line.

I snorted up the powder, finished the drink, and woke up six hours later in a puddle in the parking lot. It was raining. Someone was leaning over me, shaking my arms.

"Jesus Christ, I thought you were dead. What happened?”

“Who’s that?” I asked. My voice was an octave higher than usual, as if I had inhaled helium, and I couldn't see anything.


“Jack? Jack the Fluke?”

“Jesus Christ, yes. Jack the Fluke. What the fuck happened to you?”

“Where are we, Jack? What happened to Jim?” I squeaked.

My mouth tasted like rubber, the air smelled like rubber, and I sounded like Donald Duck.

“The parking lot. Jim who?” said Jack. He was dragging me by the armpits, and I felt the gravel turn to wood under me.

“Rubber Duck,” I said. “Rubber Duck, rubby duck, Rub-ber Duck.” I felt like oily jello being squeezed through subterranean rubber tubes.

“Jim who? Who the fuck is Jim? What’s this rubber duck shit?”

“I thought he was dead,” Jack was saying to somebody. “I think he's gone blind.”

I was on the couch in the Oakland shop. The lights were on and I could see, but everything was black and white and two-dimensional, like TV.

“Rubber Duck,” I said in my helium duck-voice. “Not coke. PCP. Rubber Duck. Dosed with Rubber Duck. Jim Shocker.”

“Hey, Blind Jeff Dead Boy. What happened?” It was Joey.

“Jim Shocker,” I said. “Elephant tranquilizer. Said it was coke. Are you all right? Is Maggie all right?” Somehow I thought everyone else had been dosed too. My squeaky voice sounded like it was coming from somewhere else.

“Elephant Tranquilizer? That creep.”

Eventually I was able to relate that I had taken the drug in Shocker’s place and been found by Jack the Fluke in the parking lot. I had no memory beyond sniffing the powder and getting dizzy in the houseboat.

The squeaky voice faded in a few hours but the rubber sensations and disorientation stayed for two or three days, and I was able to walk around in four. Jim Shocker was gone, moved out with no forwarding address. Nobody ever mentioned what happened to him and I never asked.

“Rubber Duck” caught on as a nickname for PCP, but it’s a deceptively benign-sounding term. I wouldn’t recommend it to a rhinoceros.


Tom Anderson had been something of a big-shot on the Sausalito waterfront in the late 60’s. He ran a boat yard and marine railway. Fishermen and tugboat captains hauled out their boats at Anderson’s. It was Real Man stuff, and Tom Anderson did it all proudly, in a Real Man way. Before leaving for parts unknown, he made a movie. It was called “The E-Wreck-Ta-Cator,” about a man who builds a machine whose sole purpose is to self-destruct. Written and produced by Tom Anderson, the film starred Tom Anderson as the crazed builder of the machine. In my pre-waterfront days, I had met Anderson briefly in San Francisco when I happened into a gig playing guitar on his movie soundtrack, but hadn’t really paid much attention to him.

In 1973 word came around that Tom Anderson was coming back. Everyone was talking about it. The amount of hubbub surrounding this rumor puzzled me. What was the big deal? I found out when he roared into Gate Six is his overpowered tugboat, throwing up a wake that nearly capsized half the houseboats. Tom Anderson was an egomaniac, so full of himself that his face was red and shiny, the skin drawn tight like an overinflated balloon. I hadn’t seen this at the recording session because he was out of his element there.

Joe Tate, the unofficial “boss” of Gate Six, felt it necessary to go out in his boat to “greet” Anderson. The encounter was tense and blustery, like two dogs snarling and snapping at each other. What everyone besides me knew was that Anderson would try and seat himself as top dog no matter what it took.

The first move Anderson made was to buy the Oakland. He evicted everyone, built a fence around the deck, and played ponderous Wagnerian opera records at peak volume while standing on his deck like a Laird of the Manor. He wondered why nobody liked him.

Steve Webber, a new arrival who was acting as the band’s equipment manager and sound engineer, made a heroic attempt to deal with Anderson. First, he tried to goad him into a fistfight by tearing down part of the fence. Anderson responded very calmly by calling the police, who arrested Webber and took him downtown. While Steve was in jail, graffiti appeared around Gate 6: “Free Steve Webber.” This, combined with his sharp eye for a bargain earned him the name “Free Steve.”

When Free Steve was released, he wasn’t through with Tom. Anderson had made the mistake of publicly admitting that he had a “thing” about fecal matter; he couldn’t even tolerate changing his own child’s diaper. Armed with this information, Free Steve took it upon himself to pack Anderson’s sewer outlet pipe with concrete. When his toilet backed up, Anderson said nothing, held his breath and managed to fix the pipe.

“What’s the matter with you people?” he asked me one day. What he meant, but didn’t say, was Why aren’t you all bowing and scraping at my feet? Don’t you realize you’re in the presence of royalty?

I tried to explain that we were a cooperative community, interdependent, and had achieved a certain symbiosis, a harmony of existence. There was no room for a king.

“What it comes down to Tom, in street language, is this: Everything is everything, everything is one. But you think you are everything, and everyone else around here knows you are not.”

He said, “I can’t accept that.”

Less than a week later, Tom Anderson killed himself with a .32 caliber pistol.

continued →

One Comment

  1. Jon Tallman May 15, 2014

    Hay Jeff wouldn’t mind getting the lespaul back as you never fully paid me!! Jon

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