I Was a Teenage Street Musician in New York- JAN 31, 2017
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Those three or four of you who’ve been reading this column over the years may possibly remember the occasional story about the Sackweed Band which was a hippy-dippy country rock band/tribe that I was part of in my early years. A recent conversation with a visiting New York session player brought back some memories………. Plus a much needed idea for this month’s column.
Let’s go back to 1971, when there was still black and white TV and cars were gigantic. Sackweed had migrated from our winter home base in Key West, Florida to Boston, Massachusetts to practice the street music trade. We encountered intense competition in the streets from large numbers of Hari Krishnas (remember them?), fifty or so all armed with tambourines and fortified with non-stop bliss. However we persevered and usually made enough money to survive to the next night.
On one of those nights we ran into this guy from New York City who convinced us to head to the Big Apple where he would make us stars.
It sounded good to us and half the band stuffed into my 1966 Ford Falcon while the others hitchhiked to a prearranged brownstone apartment in Manhattan. On paper this sounds pretty fancy. Richard Nixon, who had been recently unemployed, had moved into a luxury apartment build right around the corner from us, while our street looked like something out of the 1930’s, or maybe a Godfather movie set. Somewhere in the “middle-lower to lower-middle” income range.
We contacted Mister Big, the erstwhile manager, and true to his word we spent the next few weeks being wined and dined, (beer and pizza), speaking with a slew of would-be agents and music types and generally being made a fuss of.
We even tried out our street music scene which involved a couple of acoustic guitars, a clarinet and lots of voices in harmony singing about “THE ROAD”, and “BEING HERE NOW”, and “LIVING FREE IN THE COUNTRY”, along with a steady diet of the Grateful Dead. The best gigs were playing for the various lines waiting to see the various Broadway shows.
We would show up accompanied by a slew of agents, promoters and well-wishers who gave the impression that we were “Somebody”!
Sackweed eventually ended up recording some songs at ELECTRIC LADYLAND STUDIO, which my aforementioned visiting studio player assured me was still one of the “A” list studios in the city. It was and I assume still is the estate of James Marshall Hendrix who, sadly at the time, had only recently passed into the big gig in the sky.
It was two state-of-the-art recording studios that were separated by a long winding tunnel-like corridor. The walls had been painted 3D-style as the inside of an interstellar spaceship complete with an “R” rated crew of attractive astronauts and viewing ports for the cosmos.
I remember the five or so of us leaving the studio one night and cramming into a taxi to head back to our Brownstone when the cabbie was stopped by a cop and given a ticket for an unsafe number of passengers. The archetypal taxi driver then delivered an impressive demonstration of foul language that was either aimed at us or the cop. It was hard to tell.
“Mr. Big” also got us some gigs in real live New York Clubs, including the now defunct but at that time very hip “Max’s Kansas City”, where I seem to recall we really stank, managing to break three strings on two guitars in the course of thirty minutes.
Sackweed also played at “The Other End”, little sister to the better know “Bitter End” in the Village. The only memory I can dredge about this gig were the several years’ worth of peanut shells that covered the floors.
At last came the moment of truth, and a contract was handed to us to sign.
Which we didn’t sign, after realizing we’d have to stay in New York and do everything we were told to do, which went completely against the then in-vogue Hippy Philosophy.
Next time we hit the Broadway queues without the publicists we were completely ignored, and in addition we were approached by a violinist who informed us were playing on his turf and threatened a “street war” if we persisted.
After seeing a trio of classical flautists doing a brisk side business selling pistols to street urchins, Sackweed decided it was time to change locales, which eventually led to Austin, Texas, after which yours truly ended up here in Costa Rica many years later.