Segarini: The Fat City Chronicles 2 – Short Stories about Long Ago
I am in awe of how much there is to do in Toronto if you are looking for a reason to get out of the house or forget the work-a-day woes we all carry around with us like humps on the backs of our spirits. If you are honest with yourself you know that the whole ‘adulthood’ period we’re all supposed to embrace is a pack of lies and purposely inflicted on us by people who got older and don’t want us to keep having a good time when we’re able because they were taught the good times have to stop when you get married, or have kids, or get a mortgage or become burdened by responsibility and obligation.
That’s exactly when you should give in to your inner child and let your hair down once in a while, even if you don’t have much hair left.
Fortunately for me, my parents knew when enough was enough and took it upon themselves to kick out the jams every now and then because the things they loved when they were younger still meant something to them.
When I was growing up in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, they were up to their necks in business and work and all the other things you find yourself dealing with after you set out on your own and build a life, but I remember them always finding time to treat themselves to the little things in life that make it bearable. When they adopted me, my mother was in her 20’s and my dad was in his mid 40’s. I didn’t slow them down at all.
For one thing, they had a lot of dinner parties. My mother loved to cook and have people over. My dad enjoyed the dinners and being surrounded by family and friends when my mother needed an excuse to ply her skills in the kitchen, and those dinners were always a great time. The stories get told, the wonderful meals consumed, the pony glasses filled afterward with crème de cocoa and fresh cream poured over the back of a demitasse spoon, my mother beaming at the compliments on her culinary skills, and my dad smoking an after dinner cigar with his friends and nursing a snifter of fine Christian Brothers brandy or a Four Roses and water. From the time I was 5 until I was 12, I provided the after dinner entertainment, playing the accordion for my dad and being precocious. I’m here for two weeks…try the veal.
My mother also liked to do the ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ thing a few times a week with her friends, and my dad managed to have lunch almost every day in one of the restaurants we delivered produce to and play Liar’s Dice with friends and the owners of the establishments he frequented. He was so good at Liar’s Dice I don’t think he ever had to pay for a drink at lunch. When my dad passed away, friends and family put at least 3 dice cups in his coffin to take with him, all loaded with 5 aces…the highest hand you can roll in the game.
They belonged to the Moose Lodge and the Elks Lodge, went there regularly for dining and dancing, and enjoyed nights out at their favourite restaurants like the 276 Club on Pacific Avenue, (a great steak the size of a small child and a baked potato and salad for 6 bucks), Risso’s, the Auten family’s Pump Room, Bruno and Lena’s, Trevino’s, all downtown, and Minnie’s on Harding Way for an unequaled before or since mash-up of Cantonese and Polynesian fare. When they were jonesing for chicken fried steak or other down home victuals, it was off to Ye Olde Hoosier Inn, a restaurant that served cuisine from my grandmother’s era and had an interior that looked like a turn of the century whorehouse.
My dad loved to hunt, which he did every time it was one season or another, my mom liked to visit with friends and work in the yard, and loved baseball and kids so much, she took a busload of us kids to Seals Stadium in San Francisco a couple of times a year to see the newly relocated Giants. This is a picture of Seals Stadium taken from a plane on opening day, April 16th, 1958 when 22,000 fans watched the Giants beat the also newly moved L.A Dodgers. We were there thanks to my mom, who had just as much fun if not more than us kids.
They worked their asses off, my parents, but they lived their asses off too…which is why I find it so disturbing that I have friends, many younger than myself, who would rather bitch about having nothing to do, or nowhere to go, or utter the weird but familiar, “Oh, I’m too old for that stuff now” when I ask them if they want to go see a 3D movie or hear a new band.
Toronto is full of amazing things to do, but these days, I’d venture to say that just about anywhere you live there are choices to be made every day of the week. I’m not suggesting you kill yourself trying to relax every day, but do yourself a favour. Explore your town or city, meet your friends for drinks or burgers, see a movie, make out with the Mrs., and turn your kids on to anything you think they might take an interest in. Your childhood and adulthood have to co-exist, otherwise, you’re doing all that hard work for nothing. And get a Facebook account, you’ll be back in touch with friends you haven’t seen or talked to in 20 years. You can always delete them if they’re a pain in the ass….
Fat City Fables
A Musical Turning Point 1957
By 1957 I had been listening to KSTN and other stations I could pull in late at night, for a couple of years. My parents would buy me a Zenith transistor radio for my birthday the following year, and I would spend most of my time listening to it in my room under the covers after my folks went to bed. I am convinced that my father invented the phrase, “Turn that shit down!”, while my mother remained her usual, tolerant, self. So many great records, so many great singers and musicians, there just wasn’t enough time in a day to listen to it all. I had graduated from the accordion, to a ukulele, and would make the leap to guitar at Christmas, when my uncle Elbert would give me a Student Prince acoustic guitar, which I would take two strings off of so I could play the chords I had learned on the ukulele and start thinking about writing a song myself. I would write that song, “I’m a Juvenile”, in a classroom at school, in 1958.
But right now it was September, 1957, and today was the first day of the 7th grade and I was walking to school like I always did, except when I could talk my mom into giving me a ride, or an older kid in the neighborhood, Joe Bava, (or was it Bova) who was already in high school but would occasionally drop me off in his cherry ’55 Chevy. Being lazy, a condition that has served me well over the years, and the fact that it was already in the mid 80’s at 8:30 in the morning, I went a half a block out of my way to see if Joe would give me a lift. Walking up the driveway I heard an unfamiliar song wafting out of the open window in the Bava (or was it Bova) family’s breakfast nook.
Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the golden rule
American history and practical math
You studyin’ hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone
Ring, ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunch room’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom, open your books
Keep up the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat
Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint, you go in
Drop the coin right into the slot
You’re gotta hear somethin’ that’s really hot
With the one you love, you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been wantin’ to dance,
Feeling the music from head to toe
Round and round and round we go
Writer: Charles E. Berry ©Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music Inc.
I stood motionless on the driveway, my mouth hanging open like that kid in my gym class that was ‘special’. I have drool on my shirt.
Joe’s voice: “Hey, Segarini! What’s wrong with you?”
“What was that?” I asked in wonder.
“Guy named Chuck Berry. He put a whole bunch of songs on one record. That’s just the first one!”
“It’s called an album”, I replied, “a long playing record”, knowledge I had picked up years ago thanks to Glenn Miller, and then Elvis. Up until this very moment, I had never seen Joe show any interest in music. Chuck must have gotten to him.
“Can I get a ride?”, I asked.
“Sure”, Joe answered, “want to hear the rest of these songs first?”
And that’s how I was late for school on the first day of the 7th grade.
Within a week I had saved up the $2.99 an LP cost back then and headed off to buy Chuck Berry’s first album. Normally, I bought my rock and roll records at Freitas, but lately, because of the increasing popularity of the music, the record store that was closer to my home just might have it. They also had something else that I really liked.
Before I spent the money, I wanted to hear the other songs again, and there was only one place I could do that without buying the record.
Sandy Sanderov’s Miracle Music on the Miracle Mile, a half a dozen blocks from my house. On my bike, about a 3 minute trip if I was in a hurry…and I was definitely in a hurry.
Miracle Music had listening booths.
I had been buying most of my records from Freitas, the little record store downtown and about a 30 minute pedal on the old Schwinn no-speed, mainly because his selection was unbeatable when it came to R&B, which was still my favourite kind of music, especially the singing groups. I had learned a lot shopping there. For example, there were labels, like some radio stations and artists that you trusted so much, you bought the releases unheard. I knew if I bought a record on Gee, or Roulette, or Federal, or King, it would be good. Other labels, not so much. Now that more and more artists were making albums, you needed to hear the ones you weren’t familiar with, and, except for “School Days”, Chuck Berry was a mystery to me, even though Joe had said he’d been around for a while.
The best way to describe Sandy Sanderov (Miracle Music’s owner and hand’s on manager) is to tell you he looks exactly like Hank Hill, except he sports a crew cut. Like old man Freitas and Jack Hanna, of Jack Hanna Music, (who at over 100 years of age, still plays once in a while), he loved music and he loved the kids that came into his shop. I knew Sandy because I’d been coming into his store for ages, first to pick out sheet music for the accordion and to buy kid records like “Hopalong Cassidy and the Square Dance Holdup”, “Bozo the Clown”, and “Howdy Doody and the Air O Doodle”, and then, when I was a little older,Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme records, and later that first year in Stockton Jr. High, a cornet which I played until my music teacher, Mr. Rod Swearinger, almost took off my right ear with a mouthpiece he whipped at me for playing flat.
I was in luck. With School Days being all over the radio in Stockton, Sandy had Chuck Berry’s album in stock. He handed it to me and pointed me in the direction of an empty booth, one of six lining the wall along the side of the building that ran down Castle Street. I went in, put on the headphones and dropped the needle on the record. 30 minutes later I owned After School Session and was heading back into the booth with a stack of new singles.
Brilliant concept, don’t you think? Let people hear records and sample new releases, and chances are good they’ll buy more records. The same thing radio had been doing since the 30’s, and sheet music sellers armed with a singer and piano player had done since before that and through the ‘40’s, record stores, (and the labels), realized that the more people who heard their wares, the better the odds that they would buy what they liked and continue to look for more music that appealed to them. Sandy knew how to sell records…let the kids listen to them first.
The Family Tree 1967
This was supposed to be The Family Tree’s first single. The original plan was to release this, backed with ‘Keepin’ A Secret’ which did end up as the ‘B’ side of the song they released instead, ‘Do You Have The Time’.
I thought we had a winner here, and everyone who heard it agreed. Then there was a phone call.
“Uhhh, Bob, it’s about the background vocals in the last verse”. Some guy in the RCA promo department is on the phone..
“What about them?”, I asked, innocently.
“What, exactly are you guys singing there?”
“Bup”, I answered.
“Yes, just like the other verses”.
“Well, Bob, it kind of sounds like ‘fuck’ to me…and a few other people here in the office”.
“Fuck? Really?”, I said, my halo glowing above my head.
“Yes. It sounds very much like ‘fuck’”
“Well, It’s not. Gotta go. Bye”.
They asked me to redo the background vocals. I said no.
Do You Have the Time became the A side of the single and ‘Sideliner’ was never released.
I guess we shouldn’t have sung ‘fuck’ instead of ‘Bup’ in the doubling of the last verse, or the other verses for that matter….
Try and watch this fullscreen if you can. There’s even a shot taken at Stagg High School’s 1967 Prom. Sideliner
Roxy: Cold Red 1969
This potato field and tree stood as the front yard for a little house in Stockton California off of highway 99 called Cold Red. There was an old, rusting potato harvester under the tree that squeaked, shrieked, creaked, and moaned every time there was a wind, and the shell of a 1949 Ford pickup that served as a nesting place for various birds, rodents, and the occasional wasted roadie. This is where Roxy lived, slept, rehearsed, and took copious amounts of good Strawberry Double Dome Owsley Acid. Best. Acid. Ever.
140 mics of pure LSD, with 99.9% of all traces of strychnine and other impurities removed for your tripping and trancing pleasure.
Cold Red had a lot going for it. First of all, the rent was only US$35 a month. The only other expense was a telephone, which was a whopping US$6 a month. Five of us lived in Cold Red, sleeping on a pair of bunk beds and a cot in the small bedroom, (it was very similar to living in a World War II submarine), cooking and eating in the small kitchen, and rehearsing in the living room, which was crammed to the ceiling with all of our gear. Five guys, and US$41 worth of bills.
We never had the money.
What we did have were about 25 acres of potatoes around us, which we ate fried, fried with cheese, fried with onions, fried with cheese and onions, baked, French fried, mashed, shredded, sliced, and diced. The all starch diet…and nobody weighed over 130 pounds. We also ate a lot of plain, (not peanut), M&M’s.
We also had a large paper bag, you know, the kind your mom used to bring groceries home in, containing handfuls of Owsley acid.
I had come into possession of the acid by way of an acquaintance we had met through The Grateful Dead, whom I had gotten to know during the Family Tree days at the Fillmore and Avalon. Owsley, (Augustus Owsley Stanley, who occasionally went by the name ‘Robert Owsley’ for some strange reason), was not only a fine chemist, but one of the most advanced sound technicians of the day. He spent time both before and after serving time for drugs, as an investor in the Dead, as well as their soundman. At one point, when Roxy was living in L.A, and the Dead were in a rented house there while they were recording, we all went to their place for Chinese food, and found the entire house full of sound equipment and a shitload of big Voice of Theater speakers. Very cool…you either had to sit on the floor and eat, or stand at one of the speaker cabinets and eat. It was so…exotic!
Back to Cold Red.
It was called Cold Red because the little house was painted a deep, dark, barn-like red, and, it was colder than hell during the winter months we were there. The wee house only had 2 fuses, in a box on the porch. One fuse took care of the lights, the other fuse handled the electrical outlets. If we plugged the musical equipment and the 2 space heaters in at the same time, the fuses blew. So…we had to plug in the heaters to warm the house, (also utilizing the propane stove top and oven), and when it was damn near hot in there, unplug the heaters and plug in the amps, B3, etc. We could then play until it got cold again, and our fingers would seize up or cramp. We’d stop playing, plug in the space heaters, and so on, and so forth.
The other weapon we had against the cold was the bag of acid. Take a hit of acid, smoke a joint, and it was no longer cold.
It was groovy.
Some short Cold Red Stories
One day we accidentally blew the fuses, and Jim Morris, our keyboard player went out to the porch to change them. He went out on the damp porch in his socks, forgot to throw the off switch, and was knocked flat on his back about 4 feet down the porch when he tried to screw in a new fuse. Our guitar player (another Jim) held a string in front of his mouth to see if he was still breathing, and when we ascertained he was, but being too lazy to carry him back into the house, we threw a blanket over him and drank beer until he woke up.
There were a few girls that hung out at Cold Red and tried to take care of us like little mother hens. They would clean up while we continued to make a mess, brought real food to the house and cooked for us, but we were usually too stoned to eat, and in what must have been the strangest gesture ever, covered all the windows in the bedroom with aluminum foil and then painted the room black, including the aluminum foil, and then drew sort of a cartoon version of what you would have seen through the windows at night if they were open with Day-Glo paint, hung some blacklight posters, and put blacklight lightbulbs in all the lamp sockets. It always looked like it was 2 am in that room…This led to some very confusing mornings.
We got into the habit of getting stoned and painting the bathroom every once in a while. Not just the walls, we painted the floor, the ceiling, the bathtub, the toilet, everything. After painting it sort of a light blue one night, we discovered that all we had to do was put different color light bulbs in the ceiling light socket, and that would change the color of the room. We no longer had to paint the bathroom, which thrilled the duck that we had ‘liberated’ from the pond at the Haggin Museum in Victory Park, who lived in the tub for about 4 months, but left anyway, saying, “The acid was just too much, man…quack.”
I loved that duck…
One night, everyone except our roadie/road manager, David Hanley, took a drive to KFC to get a bucket of chicken. When he was cold, David was in the habit of turning on the oven, pulling a folding chair up to the stove, getting into a sleeping bag, sitting down, and putting his feet up on the open oven door to stay toasty warm.
When we came home from picking up the chicken, there was an eerie glow coming from the kitchen.
David was asleep in the chair…
…and the sleeping bag was on fire.
Fortunately, the laughter woke him up before the fire burned through to his feet.
Segarini’s regular column appears here every Monday
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Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.