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Traveling for the Holidaze

To quote an oft-used phrase in my novel, “been a while.”

Speaking of the novel, I’ve been working on it. Reshaping the plot, trying to make my characters more 3-D. I hope to post some excerpts sometime soon.

Between thangs, I’ve been writing more memoir pieces. The recent ones have been a kind of hippie travelogue. Here’s the first. I hope you enjoy it.

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A Tale of Two Cities

The House on Hampstead Heath

It was 1976, I was 24 and between bands. I quit my day job, gathered up my guitars, left my Brooklyn commune and flew to London to visit my old mate Jeremy. He met me in the car park at Heathrow Airport. He had a friend with him. Turns out he didn’t live in London anymore, having just moved up north to Bradford. “Howard will take care of you.”

I crashed at Howard’s flat in Finchley for about a week. Then he found me a room in a 4-story Victorian on a circular road called South Hill Park Gardens, a block from Hampstead Heath. Quite the fashionable neighborhood.

Bill Oddie’s place. Howard had gone to secondary school with Bill’s then estranged wife. Estranged in an odd sort of way. Bill bought his wife the house next door after she said she wanted to move out. Bill hosted a children’s show on the BBC. Hung out with George Harrison and the Monty Python guys. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cities”

The Astoria Blues Society

In the introduction to The Mansion on the Hill (1997), baby boomer author Fred Goodman relates a story from his youth about how you sized up a new friend musically, back in the 60s. First you checked them out on the popular radio bands (Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, etc.), then the more esoteric album-oriented artists (e.g., Dylan, the San Francisco bands). The last yardstick he offers up is that “anyone who was into the blues pre-John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers was an intellectual.”

By Goodman’s standards, the Astoria scene I grew up in was a goddamn graduate school. Continue reading “The Astoria Blues Society”

Gil Schwartz

I started playing guitar in late November 1965, at the age of thirteen. Johnny Richardson, a middle-aged Black man from Jamaica, Queens came to our apartment in Astoria and gave me four lessons. I had a funky pawnshop nylon string at the time. In the first lesson, he showed me how to play Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side.” I practiced four hours a day for the next week and got it down. By the time the December holidays came, I had learned a number of simple chords, a few songs (all by Dylan) and one rudimentary folk strum.

I spent the next year and a half flailing around, teaching myself a bunch of other Dylan songs (often with the wrong chords), attempting rock rhythm patterns (I particularly liked Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones)…and dreaming of playing like Michael Bloomfield. Even though I was listening to a lot of top shelf urban blues guitar (Buddy Guy, BB King, Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin) and the hottest guys in rock (Danny Kalb, Harvey Mandel and, of course, Bloomfield), I had no idea how to get there.

Until I met Gil Schwartz. Continue reading “Gil Schwartz”