A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 24, 2005
“The musician in Santa Fe will get his comeuppance. You'll be happy to play for tips while a bunch of rich Texans eat.”
Rolf Cahn, 1982
Rolf, who came to Santa Fe after establishing himself as one of the elder statesmen of the 1960s folk music revival, told me that in an interview I did with him all those years ago. He died 11 years ago, but his truth goes marching on.
Whenever I hear some story about the weird bummers, various humiliations and embarrassments stemming from trying to make music in Santa Fe, I think of Rolf’s comeuppance theorem. And sometimes I can’t help but think that these chronicles of shame and degradation, of hucksterism and heroics might be used as arguments that the comeuppance is partly self-inflicted.
Here’s a few of those Santa Fe music tales:
Roger in the Rain: I was excited to learn in the late ‘70s that one of my childhood musical heroes, Roger Miller was living in Santa Fe. And I was nearly ecstatic that night in the summer of 1980 when, backstage at a Michael Martin Murphey concert at Paolo Soleri, I spotted the King of the Road standing in the wings. Miller was about to make his local public debut. Murphey would call his surprise guest out on stage to do a short set of tunes. Miller strolled out with his guitar, saying “I live up the road a bit,” and the place exploded in applause.
But that wasn’t the only explosion. Overhead thunder roared. And right after Miller struck his first chord the rain came down. It went on for at least 30 minutes with no end in sight, drenching what was left of the unprotected crowd. Murphey cancelled the show. Because the promoter at the time had a policy of no refunds for rain-outs, Murphey himself offered to refund any tickets sent to his address in Taos.
Big River Production’s no-refund policy at Paolo Soleri for years was a source of controversy for the summer concert series. A few years after the aborted Murphey/Miller show, Joan Baez did a rainy night show there. Stagehands with umbrellas tried to keep the show going and a frustrated Baez told the audience that she’d never been so tempted to forsake her philosophy of non-violence.
As for Miller, he only did one other local appearance before his death in 1992. In the early ‘80s he opened for Barbara Mandrell at the Downs at Santa Fe. It rained liked crazy that night too, though at least this time the stage was covered.
Gerald’s Wild Years: I’m going to change the name of this musician. I haven’t seen “Gerald” in 25 years and don’t know whatever happened to him. Hopefully he changed his life and is doing better.
But every time I heard the Tom Waits song “Frank’s Wild Years” from the album Swordfishtrombones, I can’t help but think of Gerald. And I can’t help but think that Gerald’s sad tale inspired Waits’ song.
Gerald was a piano player who used to play at local bars like The Green Onion, The Forge and the TAC Club. He was an extremely nice guy. He used to loan me his P.A. equipment when I started playing at the Forge -- even though I had taken over his Sunday night slot there.
He was so nice and low-key, most people who knew him were shocked Christmas week 1980 when The Santa Fe Reporter ran a cover story with the grim headline “When a Gentle Man Turns Violent” (or something to that effect.)
It was about Gerald. It seems that the piano man had gone into some deep psychotic funk. One night in a gruesome rage he beat his girlfriend’s dog to death — with a pool cue, I believe — then set the east-side house on fire. “Torched it,” as Tom Waits growls in his song.
A few months later I was at the old Candyman on Water Street. One of the clerks and I were cracking grim jokes about Gerald's meltdown. But at one point, the clerk gasped. “I thought I saw him!” he said. He was mistaken. It wasn’t Gerald.
I left the Candyman and went home. Right after I reached my place, I got a call from a friend. The Candyman was burning down.
The Week of Wonder: In early 1982, Stevie Wonder came to town to shoot a commercial for a recording tape company for Japanese television. He was staying at La Fonda with his mobile recording unit in the parking lot there.
One night Stevie played an impromptu set at The Palace. I wasn’t there. Lots of people I know were there — though if everyone who claims they were there that night really were, The Palace would have to be bigger than Lobo Stadium.
For the rest of the week, Stevie Wonder rumors were flying everywhere. “Stevie’s supposed to be here tonight. Stevie’s going to be there this afternoon …” One of the most compelling was that Wonder would be sitting in with his “old friend” John Lee Hooker, who was playing at the Line Camp in Pojoaque that weekend.
I don’t think I’d ever seen the Line Camp so packed. Judging by the buzz, most of the crowd was there to see Stevie -- who didn’t show. But Hooker seemed to draw energy from the capacity crowd and the venerated bluesman gave one of the most dynamic concerts I’ve ever seen here.
I later learned that the Stevie-at-the-Line-Camp rumor was pure hucksterism on the part of bar’s owner John Harvey. I always admired him for that.
Rage Against the Radio: The consolidation of radio has been exasperated in recent years, but it’s been brewing for well over a decade. Even before the Clear Channel monolith owned KBAC, that station, in its first incarnation suffered as a result of ownership changes.
In March 1994, the station -- which then specialized in “alternative” music -- was purchased by some outside company that decided to radically change formats without bothering to tell anyone on the air.
A DJ named Dave Cali was doing his show one afternoon when he started getting calls saying there were two signals playing on KBAC’s wave length. Cali started asking questions of the brass and learned in fact that the new owners were going to replace live DJs with a satellite feed playing a toned-down version of alternative rock.
Cali knew his prospects for employment there was cooked anyway, so he went down like a warrior. First he played a version the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” by Henry Rollins and The Bad Brains. He followed that with followed by Rage Against the Machine's “Killing in the Name Of,” which ends with the cheerful refrain, “Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me …” repeated a dozen times or so.”
Cali was fired immediately and the satellite beings completed their hostile takeover. That operation folded after a few weeks and KBAC went dark for a couple of years.
Bruno Bares All: More than 20 years before the infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco, there was an infamous wardrobe malfunction on a Santa Fe stage.
And this was my brother’s fault.
It was a rock ‘n’ roll show at the Armory for the Arts, headlined by my brother Jack Clift’s band -- whatever his band was called at the moment.
The show was emceed by some strange individual who called himself “Bruno Esoterico,” billed as a radio personality from the island of Guam. Some folks said he looked a lot like me. Poor bastard.
Esoterico, dressed in a straw hat, cheap Hawaiian shirt and flowery swimming trunks, took the stage to introduce Jack’s band. But as he began with his trademark catch phrase “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” Jack sneaked up from behind and pulled down Bruno’s trunks giving the audience a full-frontal view of Guam.
Some folks said he looked a lot like me.
After the show Jack was overheard telling the angry Guamanian, “I thought you were wearing underwear!”
Bruno didn’t buy it. Still doesn’t.
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