One of the experiences in jazz that I wouldn’t trade for anything was the brief time I spent playing with Ev Farey’s Golden State Jazz Band.
The opportunity came when Ev called me to ask whether I would consider relocating to the Bay Area to play full-time with the Golden State band. At the time I was stuck in a dead-end day job in Portland, with occasional music gigs. The prospect of playing music for a living was too good to pass up!
The Golden State Jazz Band was originally put together by trombonist Bill Allred, while he was living and working in Sacramento. By the time Ev contacted me, Bill had moved back to Florida and drummer Dennis Rasmussen had also left the group. Bill Allred was replaced by Bob Mielke and I took Dennis’ place. In addition to Ev, most of the original band members were still in the group: clarinetist Franz “Dutch” Deutsch, pianist “Droops” Earnhart, and bassist Hank Bartels.
The band was working regularly at the Senator Hotel in downtown Sacramento. As fate would have it, the gig ended just as the moving van was loading up in Portland. But I decided to take my chances with full-time music and it turned out to be a good decision.
The Golden State was invited to play the 1978 Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee. As an officer in the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, “Dutch” was able to schedule quite a few of the Jubilee’s all-stars to play with Ev’s group. During the festival we got to play with Johnny Mince, Johnny Guarnieri, Red Norvo, Vic Dickenson and Peanuts Hucko! There was also a very traditional-sounding set where Dick Shooshan replaced “Droops” on piano and Carl Lunsford sat in on banjo.
Not long after the Sacramento weekend, several changes took place: Bill Napier came in on clarinet, Carl Lunsford joined permanently on banjo and Mike Duffy replaced Hank Bartels. The group would remain piano-less for some time, as did the Sunset Music Company—which Ev had played with in just prior to the formation of Golden State.
Despite losing the Senator job, Ev Farey tirelessly pursued gigs. During my time in the band we played just about every kind of gig you can imagine: jazz clubs, concerts, festivals, restaurants, bars, grand openings of department stores, company picnics…
There were some regular gigs, too—including Vic’s Place (on Belden Alley in the San Francisco Financial District).
Ev always had a first-class band on the stand and a sheaf of beautifully written arrangements to call in addition to the “standards.”
The Golden State Jazz Band had ups and downs—musical and personal—but when the band was firing on all cylinders, it was really something to hear (and play in)!
When we were at Vic’s place, Bob Mielke was still working for the State of California and was leading the “Swingin’ A’s” strolling jazz quintet at the Oakland A’s home games. Clarinetist Bob Helm had played with the quintet for some time, but had rejoined Turk Murphy. That meant that Bill Napier was sometimes absent from Vic’s, playing the A’s games with Bob and the quintet. Whenever Bill did play at Vic’s, we had a great time hanging out. I enjoyed talking with him about his influences, which included Jimmy Dorsey, Barney Bigard, and Albert Nicholas. (Strangely, he didn’t say anything about Omer Simeon. There is more similarity between his playing and Bill’s than anyone else!) Another time, I discovered that he had played with one of my favorite New Orleans-style drummers. When I asked Bill how it went, he replied “Well…I like drummers who swing!”
Bill and I managed to avoid the relatively high prices of drinks at Vic’s bar after discovering a cut-rate liquor store just a block from the club. We would go half-and-half on a small bottle of Pernod and then drank it out of a paper bag in the alley before the next set. That became a regular occurrence whenever Bill was on clarinet at Vic’s. Some time later, we played a concert for the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California at Bimbo’s 365 Club. It was professionally recorded and one of the tracks was later released on the Stomp Off label. “Give Me Your Telephone Number” moved along very well and I got a drum solo on the last bridge. On the record you can very clearly hear Bill Napier shouting, “Yeah! Pernod Kid!”
Though I didn’t get to have a lot of intense conversations with Bob Mielke, I remember one time we talked about an occasion when he played with another one of my favorite New Orleans drummers. Bob thought that individual “ruined” the rhythm section. But in the same conversation, he raved about Sid Catlett and Bill Dart—so we had some common ground!
Bassist Mike Duffy was a wonderful mentor, introducing me to some of the byways of jazz I would not have discovered on my own. He shared many rare recordings of Jim Goodwin, Ray Skjelbred, Burt Bales, and Richard Hadlock too. Mike was never shy about voicing his opinions regarding the music we played and neither was Carl Lunsford. On one occasion, an exchange between Carl and Mike went like this: “You’re dragging!” “Well, you’re rushing!” “You’re dragging because you’re rushing!” “You’re rushing because you’re dragging!” Luckily, that conversation ended with belly laughs instead of hurt feelings.
Fortunately, when Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin were away, there were some incredible substitutes available. Turk Murphy was between clubs while the Embarcadero building that would house the last version of Earthquake McGoon’s was undergoing a major renovation. That meant that both Turk and Bob Helm were available as subs for Mielke and Napier! We spent many an enjoyable afternoon hearing those two great musicians play the type of music that was seldom performed by Turk’s own band. Bob Helm did not talk much when he was at Vic’s; possibly due to his long and complicated relationship with Turk and being in a playing situation where Turk was not the leader. But Turk himself was a delight to talk with, and I am grateful that he was willing to give up precious intermissions to recall his interactions with Bunk Johnson, Benny Strickler, and other heroes.
One time when Turk was filling in, Mike Duffy, Carl Lunsford (who only recently had left Turk’s band) and I consciously played the kind of 2/4 rhythm that Turk preferred. Ev immediately spun around and barked, “You’re playing for me—not for him!” Turk turned to us with an understanding smile of appreciation. Ev had been let go from Turk’s band in 1955 and clearly that was still a sensitive subject with him.
Even though Ev’s relationship with Turk could be a little bumpy, Turk treated Ev and his family kindly. He employed Ev’s wife Peg as a hostess at Earthquake McGoon’s when the 630 Clay Street venue was operating. She continued as hostess when the Embarcadero McGoon’s opened in 1979. One night Turk asked Peg to call Ev while we were still playing at Vic’s. The message: There was a LOT of catered food left over from a private party at McGoon’s. It had been moved to some tables at the back of the room when the partiers left and the club opened to the public. We were invited to partake. As soon as the instruments were packed up at Vic’s, we made a beeline to the Embarcadero. When we entered the club, just for fun we picked up name tags that were left over from the party. (Ev wrote “I’m Hungry!”) on his. The Golden State band members lined up behind the tables with the food just as Turk was singing the verse to “Sweet Substitute.” He watched as we loaded our plates, then altered the lyrics: “I just had to look around; won’t you see just what I found … FOOD!”
Turk was always concerned about musical quality when hiring a band to fill in at McGoon’s when the Murphy band went on the road. We were flattered that the Golden State Jazz Band was in the rotation as a substitute. On one occasion, Monte Ballou was the intermission entertainer. Monte also played at least one song with the band as he finished the intermission and the band came back on. Monte kept us on our toes with some unusual key signatures and obscure verses and for years afterward, his risqué lyrics on “Indian Love Call” unfailingly caused the Golden State musicians to crack up every time someone mentioned it.
Besides Turk, trombonist Brian Richardson (Euphoria Jazz Band, Rose & Thistle Jazz Band) also played with the Golden State band at Vic’s. Other slidemen who filled in with the band were Jim Leigh (just prior to his overseas move); John Farkas (excellent musician who frequently played with Earl Scheelar’s groups); Bill Carroll (also one of the greatest Traditional Jazz tubists), Bill Bardin and Dan Barrett. At that time, Dan was considering a move to the Bay Area, but decided against it. However, we were lucky to work with him several times. Bill Bardin’s sense of rhythm was amazing. When I complimented him on it, he responded, “I’m used to being the drummer in most of the bands I play with” (most of his gigs were with drumless bands led by Dick Oxtot). Jim Leigh seemed to be preoccupied. Perhaps he was already thinking about what life in Holland might be like. Bill Carroll played Kid Ory-style tailgate and during the afternoon he would share salty anecdotes concerning Pops Foster, George Lewis, and other legendary musicians. What I wouldn’t have given to have a ZOOM recorder back then!
Besides Bob Helm, our clarinet subs included another Yerba Buena Jazz Band alumnus: Ellis Horne. His clarinet playing was as softspoken as his voice, but it was a beautiful sound. Bunky Colman, mainstay of Mielke’s Bearcats, also played with the Golden Staters on many occasions. He idolized Eddie Miller and Matty Matlock and brought a very different sound to the front line. I think Bill Carter may have also played clarinet with the band and seem to recall soprano saxophonists Richard Hadlock and John Smith were with us a couple of times as well. When the band played at the Pismo Beach Jubilee by the Sea in 1978, the great New Orleans clarinetist Joe Darensbourg was our guest on one set. He enjoyed playing alongside Bill Napier so much that at the end of the set he exclaimed, “I want to play with THIS band!” And one time when we were filling in for Turk’s band at Earthquake McGoon’s, Mike Baird came up from Southern California to play his incredibly soulful, Dodds-infuesed style with the ensemble.
Carl Lunsford seldom missed an afternoon at Vic’s, or any other Golden State gigs. In fact, I can only recall a couple of times he was absent. His sub on the first occasion was the outstanding banjoist/bandleader Dick Oxtot and the other time it was swing guitarist Tom Keats. However, Carl was happy to welcome other banjoists to the stand for a sit-in, including the Salty Dogs’ Jack Kuncl and Don Franz (who was also the world-class tubist with the St. Louis Ragtimers). Similarly, Mike Duffy was almost always available—though when he did need to take off, he sent excellent substitutes, such as Jim Cumming.
As mentioned in a previous article, the great pianist Burt Bales frequently dropped by Vic’s—to sing. (He once told me, “You don’t need a piano in that band!”). Burt would find a spot in Belden Alley to refresh himself with some non-tobacco smoking material, then came into the club where he was invariably invited to sing “You Brought a New Kind of Love To Me.” (His “smoke break” was accidentally caught on camera when the band had a publicity photo taken in the alley at the front entrance to Vic’s!
By the time Ev led the Golden State Jazz Band, he was much more interested in playing New Orleans jazz and early swing than the two-cornet San Francisco style of his previous outfit, the Bay City Jazz Band. Still, the Golden State ensemble was augmented on occasion by another cornet or trumpet. One time at Vic’s, Bob Neighbor (who had played alongside Ev in the Bay City Jazz Band) joined us for a two-trumpet set. Leon Oakley, who had recently left the Turk Murphy band, was in the audience. Soon, Chris Tyle entered Vic’s, carrying his cornet case and enroute to his gig with Turk at McGoon’s. Right away, Ev spotted Chris walking in. With a quick glance toward Bob, then Leon, Ev grabbed the microphone and in his deadpan voice asked, “Does anyone need a cornetist?”
Towards the end of 1979, Ev landed a Sunday brunch gig for the band at the Steamer Gold Landing—a converted ferryboat in Petaluma. The location was much closer to Bob Helm (Sausalito) than Bill Napier (Pacifica), so Bob played the majority of the time at the Steamer. There were some memorable moments from this gig, too. One happened when Ev called “Singin’ The Blues” and Bob Helm played Frank Trumbauer’s solo note-for-note on alto sax! The virtuoso washboardist Bob Raggio took the place of a drummer a few times when I was away. One time he was visiting Carl Lunsford and came to the Steamer for the Sunday brunch. He sat in and we had a ball as I played quiet time underneath Bob’s rhythmic wizardry. And I will never forget the time when one of my idols—drummer Fred Higuera—showed up at the brunch and sat down directly in front of me! That is a story for another time, but it was one of the highlights of my musical career.
Except for two occasions, there was no pianist while I was in the band. (Ev was taking Burt Bales’ pronouncement seriously). However, the great stride pianist Mike Lipskin sat in at one of our rehearsals and Bob Hirsch—recently relocated from the Midwest—sat in with the band at a monthly meeting of the Sacramento New Orleans Hot Jazz Club. As Eddie Condon would have said, “They didn’t bother anybody.”
In 1980 I left the Golden State Jazz Band, relocating to Cincinnati to work with Waldo’s Gutbucket Syncopators and some local groups. With benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I would probably have stayed in the Bay Area and continued to play with Ev and the band. There’s no going back, but I am forever grateful to Ev Farey for giving me the opportunity to play with such a world-class band and am thankful for the fantastic music, education and friendship that came with being the drummer for the Golden State Jazz Band.