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My Brush With History

My Brush With History



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Published by billcoppedge

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Published by: billcoppedge on Jul 26, 2009
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My Brush with History 
When I attended Cal from 1967-70, Ihad this ridiculously great job of put-ting on concerts, movies, speakers, orwhatever else I thought would beentertaining and interesting for myfellow students. Even more ridiculouslygreat was that I actually got paid forthis.Along the way, I met a whole lot ofpeople who were vaguely famous atthe time. And over the years, I’ve hada lot of people say I should write a book about them.First, I have no interest in writing a book. An article, perhaps, but certainlynot a book. It makes me tired justthinking about it.Second, I can’t imagine anyone buyingsuch a book. As I said, these peoplewere only moderately famous at thetime. Now, almost no one knowsabout them.
Chuck Berry:
I not only produced a Zellerbach Hallconcert with him, but I also had himgive a speech earlier that day. Backthen, everyone knew his music, but itseemed like it would be interesting tofind out what he was really like whenhe wasn’t on stage.Before his speech, he told me hewouldn’t speak or perform with-out being paid in advance. His checkwouldn’t be ready till later that day,and I tried to convince him that theUniversity of California wasn’t in the business of cheating people. Still, herefused to give his talk. The room wasfilled with 300-400 people who wantedto hear him speak, and he just sat thererefusing to go on. This is a photo ofthe two of us arguing, and boy, was Iunhappy.Once he got the check and went out tospeak, he couldn’t have been funnieror more charming. He seemed like thekind of person you’d absolutely wantto hang out with. But off-stage andwhen not in front of an audience, as Ilearned, he was cold and distant.After his evening concert at Zellerbach,I suggested we go to Larry Blake’s for ahamburger. He agreed, and I thoughtmaybe his true, charming personalitywould come out. Instead, he sat andread a magazine the whole time andcompletely ignored me.
 John Fahey:
Fahey played themost interest-ing guitar musicI’ve ever heard.He made his oneguitar sound like2-3 guitars. Inany case, he wasa very quiet, shyperson. I hadhim put on a gui-tar-playing workshop in a little roomupstairs in the Student Union, andmaybe 20 people showed up withtheir guitars.Shortly before it started, his wife cameup to me. “Look, John might try tosneak in some booze, but he’s got bleeding ulcers, and I’m going tohold you personally responsible if hedrinks.”She looked like she meant it. But assoon as she left the room, John openedup a secret compartment in his guitarcase and pulled out a bottle of JackDaniels. He drank the whole thingduring the hour, and just before theworkshop was over, with him out-of-his-mind drunk, I thought I’d betterget out of there before his wifereturned. So I gave him his check andsplit.I think his wife would have killed me.
Big Joe Williams:
 Joe didn’t want to stay in a hotel, so Ilet him stay with me for a few days.Unfortunately, those few days turnedinto weeks. Joe was a pretty fun-lovingguy. Every night, he’d cook dinner forthe two of us. Really great southernstyle food.Initially, my friends in the apartment building would come down at nightand he’d play his guitar while we allsat in rapt awe. When my neighborsstarted smoking pot, he’d always grabthe joint when it was being passedaround. For some reason, that reallycracked us up.He’d also grab at the girls, all of whomwere at least 50 years younger.The novelty wore off, and eventu-ally he just seemed like an unpleasantroommate. Only decades later did I
find out that he didn’t have a home.He just traveled around the country,playing at nightclubs. And I guess hedidn’t have any dates lined up, so hefigured he’d just stay at my place tillhe got some.
Captain Kangaroo:
What can I say.It was one of mygoofier produc-tions, and whenI reserved PauleyBallroom, I wasworried that noone would come.It was on a Satur-day afternoon andmy theory was that a lot of marriedstudents would bring their little kids.When the Captain and I walked up thestairs to Pauley, there were hundredsof students, none of them lookingmarried nor even remotely like mothersor fathers. It seemed like half of themwere smoking pot, mostly out on the balcony, and I guess they just thoughtit would be cool to see their childhoodTV hero while high.I had no idea what he thought of allthis – long haired students smokingpot – but he found it hilarious. He toldstories, led everyone in songs, andreally put on a good performance.
Kris Kristofferson:
About two days before one of the FolkFestivals started, I got a call from KrisKristofferson’s manager. I hadn’theard of Kristofferson, and no one Iknew had heard of him. He told mehow great his guy was, that he’d playfor free, and that he’d be big someday.I told him there was no room on theprogram but that I’d squeeze him infor one song at the Greek Theater andthen put him on a panel at a workshopon song writing.After the workshop, he and I wentto Kips for a hamburger, and then hewent back to the hotel I’d booked forhim. It was this really disgusting flea- bag hotel on Telegraph Avenue, but hedidn’t seem to mind.The next day I met him for breakfast,and he was all excited and eager totell me who he’d met the night before.He’d met Janis Joplin and apparentlyspent the night with her, if you knowwhat I mean. I guess she was juststarting to become well known.I don’t think he understood why I wassort of grossed out. One of my friendshad gone out with her for awhile, andshe was a sloppy drunk, and not ter-ribly attractive. She had barfed allover the living room at some party Iwent to, and all of us thought she waskind of disgusting. Kristofferson musthave seen her on her best behavior.
Mance Lipscomb:
Mance was anold farmer fromTexas, more song-ster than bluessinger. You couldnot have founda sweeter man.When he per-formed, he didn’treally talk much to the audience. He just sat down and played and sang.He asked me how long he should playfor, and figuring most of his songswere about 2-3 minutes long, I toldhim that ten songs would be aboutright. He then asked if I had ten pen-nies. I gathered them up and gavethem to him, and he put all of themin one of the pockets in his sweater.And I noticed that when he finishedeach song he’d take a penny from thatpocket and move it to another pocket.When there were no pennies left in thefirst pocket, he simply thanked theaudience, bowed, and walked off stage.Many years later, I read that his name,Mance, was an abbreviation for hisreal name, Emancipation.
Lightnin’ Hopkins:
I don’t think I evergot a real sense ofhis personality. ButI remember thathe once showedme the scars onhis ankles fromhaving been on achain gang.
 John Lee Hooker:
Every so often you’ll hear someonedescribed as “the hardest working per-son in show business.” Well, John Leewas just the opposite. We turned theBear’s Lair into a nightclub, and I puthim in there once. He kind of sleep-walked through his show. A nice fel-low, but he sure didn’t put much intohis performances.
Governor Pat Brown:
Gov. Pat Brownhad been thor-oughly beaten inhis 1966 re-elec-tion bid by RonaldReagan. In fact,Reagan had bill- boards through-out the statedeclaring that hewould “clean up the mess at Berkeley.”I thought that was pretty funny.It was probably the only time inhistory that someone got elected bydeclaring war on a University.In any case, I invited Brown to speak oncampus, and he got a very good recep-tion. Afterwards, we got some lunchat that outdoor cafe just North of theStudent Union. He waved at every-one walking by, but no one seemedto recognize him. My good friendHoward Shapiro stopped by the tableand was amused at the ex-Governorsitting there so anonymously eating ahamburger in Sproul Plaza.
Herb Caen:
He was a verypopular columnistfor the San Fran-cisco Chronicle,clever, irreverent,and funny. All Iremember abouthim is that heseemed mostly in-terested in check-ing out the co-eds. I don’t rememberanything about his speech.
Bill Graham:
Graham was the hotshot concertpromoter back then, and I mentioned
to him, just before he gave his speech,that I thought my grandparents camefrom the same part of Poland thathe had emigrated from. I told himthat they had changed the name to anAmerican sounding one, and he toldme “Yeah, when I got here, I did thesame thing. My name was WolfgangGrjonski, and I stupidly gave up thiswonderfully colorful name for a noth-ing name like Bill Graham.”
Mimi Farina:
Mimi had a fewpretty good al- bums, but her realclaim to fame wassimply being JoanBaez’s youngersister. I went outto dinner with herafter a show, andshe wrote on thepaper table cloth,
You can’t decide howto die. You can only decide how to live.
 I carried that in my wallet for yearsand years, till it finally fell apart.She once did a few songs at a Festivalat the Greek Theater, and her mom(“Big Joan”) and her sister came to seeher perform. I took a picture of Mimi,her sister, Joan Baez and their motherall sitting on the floor back stage, ina kind of circle, talking among them-selves. Someday I’ll have to see if Istill have it somewhere.
Ian and Silvia:
On stage at Zellerbach, they seemedlike the perfect couple, but back stage,they were really hostile to each other.Not too long after their performancethey got divorced, and that was theend of Ian and Silvia.
Tim Hardin:
He stood me up.More accurately,he stood up a fewthousand peopleat Zellerbach Hall.I kept gettingphone calls thathe was at his hotelgetting dressedand would be over in few minutes.So I went ahead and started the showwith the warm-up act. When he didn’tshow, I started getting worried. With agrowingly impatient audience, I finallyannounced that the show was can-celled and people could get refundsthe following day. Just after doing so, his wife came outof nowhere and started screaming atme, telling me that he was over at theStudent Union and ready to performand why did I cancel the show. I wentover there, and she showed me which bathroom he was in, and there he was,his shirt off, splashing water on hisface, and scratching his chest wildly.He was just another junkie strung outon heroin. A few years later, he died ofan overdose.
Charles Seeger:
He was known as the father of PeteSeeger, but he was famous as a musi-cologist in his own right. As I recall,he was a professor at UCLA. His otherson, Mike Seeger, and his daughter,Peggy McEwen, were both professionalmusicians like their more famous brother Pete. I once asked Prof. Seegerhow that came to be. His answer was “Inever allowed a radio or a phonographin the house when they were growingup. I told them that if they wantedto hear music, they’d have to maketheir own.”
 Joni Mitchell:
She had writtensome songs buthadn’t yet putout an album. Norhad she ever per-formed at any-thing bigger thana coffee house. As a result, she wasterrified of going on stage. She askedif we could have a piano on stage soshe could play her first song sittingdown.When she finally stood up and sangwith her guitar, I could see her shaking.The show was at Zellerbach, and evenhalf full, it must have looked cavern-ous and intimidating to her.We went out for something to eat afterher show, and she was just incrediblyrelieved that the performance was over.She couldn’t stop talking about it.
Sonny & Brownie:
When they wereon stage, these twowould laugh, jokewith each other,and look like theywere best friends.Off stage, Browniewas always puttingSonny down, mak-ing fun of him, andcriticizing him. Sonny would prettymuch ignore the insults, but occasion-ally he’d mutter under his breath whata jerk Brownie was.Actually, he didn’t use the word jerk.
Robert Pete Williams:
Pete had just been released from An-gola Prison Farm, I think for murder,and he stayed at my apartment for sev-eral days. One afternoon, I was show-ing him around campus, and, becauseI had some class to go to, I suggestedhe head back to my place.When I got there, he was standing outfront, having obviously wet his pants.“Pete, there are about a million restau-rants and hotels between campus andmy place. Why didn’t you stop in oneof them and use the bathroom?” Hisanswer still saddens me. “Golly, Mr. Joe. I couldn’t go into no white man’srestaurant to use a bathroom.” Thiswas 1968 or 1969, and the Civil Rightslaws had only been passed a few yearsearlier.They obviously were not being com-plied with back in Louisiana where hewas from.
Big Mama Thornton:
Willie Mae Thorn-ton sang a songwith the lyrics“They call meBig Mama, ‘causeI weigh 300pounds.” She real-ly did weigh thatmuch. She carriedit on a 6 - 4 frame. 

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