Black Sands Beach in the Marin Headlands

It’s true – the Golden Gate Bridge gets a lot of tourists, and there seem to be more and more all the time. Sometimes there are so many that it’s physically difficult to walk (and certainly bike) parts of the pedestrian/bike path on the bridge’s eastern span, especially near the San Francisco side. But there are a few spectacular sights within just a few miles of the bridge that residents, let alone tourists, seldom visit, or don’t even know about.

Black Sands Beach, viewed from Upper Fisherman's Trail.

Black Sands Beach, viewed from Upper Fisherman’s Trail.

I covered one such area, the Pacific Overlook and the Batteries to Bluff Trail, in a post last year. It took me until this past summer, however, to make my first visit to another magnificent area near the bridge. True, this one is a good two or three miles away, not a few hundred yards away, and takes a lot more effort to visit. Still, I’ve biked by the trailhead down to Black Sands Beach at least a half dozen times without realizing what lay beneath.

Dogs like Black Sands Beach even more than people do.

Dogs like Black Sands Beach even more than people do.

Black Sands Beach is only between a mile or two west of the bridge, but it’s not all that straightforward a journey to reach. The easiest, if least environmentally sound, way is driving up the steep, twisting Conzelman Road until you reach the peak of Hawk Hill. Then the street becomes one-way, and there’s a real steep, somewhat twisting downhill drop. It’s not recommended if you’re queasy about driving steep downhills with little separating you from the road and a drop to the bay, and certainly not recommended if your brakes are in need of a checkup.

You can do the same route by bicycle, as I do, though even if you’re in reasonable shape, it’s a lot of huffing and puffing to reach Hawk Hill. And again, if you’re at all nervous about heights in general, it’s a white-knuckle ride down the one-way section of the road. After a third of a mile or so the grade does start getting less severe, though you still might be going so fast you should keep an eye out for the small parking lot (holding a dozen cars or so) on the left. That’s where Upper Fisherman’s Trail leads down to the beach (there are racks for a couple bikes just as the trail leaves the parking lot, to the left).

The trail down to Black Sands Beach.

The trail down to Black Sands Beach.

Another option is to walk from the Marin side of Golden Gate Bridge – not as straightforward as it seems, as the hilly and winding hiking paths actually mostly take you away from the water and inland for three miles until a branch heads toward Upper Fisherman’s Trail. (More details about that hike in this post.) Once you reach the trail, however you get there, the journey’s not over – it’s a half-mile or so down to the beach, and the steps on some sections are steep enough that they might be hard to navigate if you have knee problems (or hard to climb up on the way back if you’re not in shape in general).

The bottom of the trail is one of the steepest parts.

The bottom of the trail is one of the steepest parts.

But your rewards are views—isolated from the noise that follows you around almost everywhere in the Bay Area, and largely devoid of people, even on weekend mornings like the one I visited—that match up to the best of San Francisco Bay:

Point Bonita lighthouse, to the west of the beach.

Point Bonita lighthouse, to the west of the beach.

Pleasure boat goes by the beach.

Pleasure boat goes by the beach.

You can see the Land's End trail of San Francisco from the beach, overlooked by the V.A. Hospital.

You can see the Land’s End trail of San Francisco from the beach, overlooked by the V.A. Hospital.

Admittedly there isn’t that much to do once you get down to the actual black sands. But taking in the views for twenty to thirty minutes is reward enough:

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Then you face a pretty steep uphill walk back to the bike racks/parking lot, though you can pause for some more looks on the way:

The trail back to the parking lot.

The trail back to the parking lot.

A look back from the trail.

A look back from the trail.

Hiking from Golden Gate Bridge to Rodeo Beach

Plenty of people visit the Golden Gate Bridge. Lots of them walk around near the parking lots of the San Francisco end and (only somewhat less) the northern Marin County end. And some walk and bike the length of the bridge. Not too many people, however, hike the lengthy paths that begin from the parking lot of the Marin County side. I’m one of them; I’ve biked the bridge dozens if not hundreds of times, but didn’t take a lengthy hike on one of those paths until late August.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Slacker Ridge, on the trail from the bridge to Rodeo Beach.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Slacker Ridge, on the trail from the bridge to Rodeo Beach.

There are lots of options of paths to take once you head up the trail that starts at the southeastern end of the parking lot. You could keep walking all day, or more than one day, if you’re so inclined. I didn’t want to do the equivalent of a marathon, so I chose a route that went to Rodeo Beach and back. That’s about ten and a half miles roundtrip, over pretty hilly and sometimes rocky trails, though anyone in reasonable shape should be able to complete it without a problem. The starting point at the parking lot’s easy to get to from the north and south; if you want to be greener and get a bit more exercise, you can ride your bike there and lock it up at the rack just a few yards north of the point where cyclists enter and leave the west side of the bridge.

Tunnel just north of the bridge on Highway 101, as viewed from the trail just before you turn inland and the roar of the traffic disappears.

Tunnel just north of the bridge on Highway 101, as viewed from the trail just before you turn inland and the roar of the traffic disappears.

Although much of this route is technically part of the “Coastal Trail,” it might come as a disappointment to some hikers to find that there’s little coast, or San Francisco Bay, to see in any part of this jaunt. There’s plenty of nice rolling semi-mountainous terrain, and as perhaps an even bigger bonus for city residents, near-quiet once you get about a mile in and turn inland, the roar of Highway 101 suddenly disappearing after a few bends.

Typically semi-mountainous terrain on the inland part of the trail to Rodeo Beach.

Typically semi-mountainous terrain on the inland part of the trail to Rodeo Beach.

Unhappy-looking horse in stables that you pass on the trail.

Unhappy-looking horse in stables that you pass on the trail.

There aren't many buildings in this part of the Marin Headlands, but a few boast interesting architecture.

There aren’t many buildings in this part of the Marin Headlands, but a few boast interesting architecture.

The payoff, after a little more than five miles, is Rodeo Beach, highlighted by these large offshore rocks to the south:

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There’s a good chance you’ll see some surfers in the northern end of the small beach:

North end of Rodeo Beach.

North end of Rodeo Beach.

Rodeo Beach surfers.

Rodeo Beach surfers.

A little more than a mile from the starting point (or the finish line) is Slacker Ridge (sic), a good fifth of a mile of mostly steep uphill that branches off from a steep uphill section of the main trail. Many no doubt skip it for those reasons, but while the ascent isn’t fun, the views at the top are worth it, especially for the different perspectives it gives you on the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline:

Hazy San Francisco skyline, as viewed from Slacker Ridge.

Hazy San Francisco skyline, as viewed from Slacker Ridge.

Unusual view of the ramp to the Golden Gate Bridge from the northern end, near the beginning of the trail.

Unusual view of the ramp to the Golden Gate Bridge from the northern end, near the beginning of the trail.

If you have a lot of time, when the trail intersects with Conzelman Road nearer to Rodeo Beach, another option is to take the half-mile Upper Fisherman’s Trail down to Black Sands Beach. More details in my Black Sands Beach post:

Black Sands Beach, viewed from Upper Fisherman's Trail.

Black Sands Beach, viewed from Upper Fisherman’s Trail.

While there are some markers and basic maps along the way, the trail to Rodeo Beach and back really isn’t marked in as fool-proof a way as you might hope. Neither are the online maps, but if you want to get some idea of what you’re in for before you go, you can look over the National Park Service map here. Even then, the best way to get there if you don’t bring a map is just to keep bearing in the direction of the water, which will lead you to the beach eventually.

Small bridge near beginning of trail.

Small bridge near beginning of trail.

Trailhead in the parking lot at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Trailhead in the parking lot at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Biking on Bay Farm Island

Ask most Bay Area tourists—even Bay Area residents—about Bay Farm Island, and they’ll look at you blankly. Alcatraz, Treasure Island, Yerba Buena Island, even Angel Island—all are fairly well known, if in diminishing order. Longtime Bay Area residents are even apt to have set foot on most or all of these at least once or twice. Most of them, however, are unaware of Bay Farm Island, which is just as accessible to San Francisco or Oakland as the others, and right next to Oakland.

Biking the bayside trail on Bay Farm Island.

Biking the bayside trail on Bay Farm Island.

In part that’s because Bay Farm Island isn’t really an island, or a town of its own. It’s technically part of Alameda, though it’s separated from most of Alameda by an estuary. It used to be an island, but landfill has now connected it to Oakland, just north of the Oakland airport. Even less than Alameda, it’s seldom visited if you don’t live there or work nearby, even by Oakland inhabitants.

Bay Farm Island, with the San Francisco skyline in the background.

Bay Farm Island, with the San Francisco skyline in the background.

View from the ferry as you dock at Bay Farm Island.

View from the ferry as you dock at Bay Farm Island.

A trail around part of the “island”’s perimeter is nice for biking and walking, though it’s not too long. Part of the attraction for making an effort to take your bike there is using the ferry from downtown San Francisco, whose 25-minute ride goes to the southern tip of the path (only on weekdays and only in mornings and late afternoons, unfortunately). I’d biked to Bay Farm Island from Oakland a couple of times almost ten years ago, but took the ferry there for the first time when I brought my bike over in August.

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Views of the San Francisco skyline as you leave the city on the ferry to Bay Farm Island.

Views of the San Francisco skyline as you leave the city on the ferry to Bay Farm Island.

Part of the trail’s appeal is its low pedestrian/bike traffic – certainly on weekday mornings, at any rate (though the near-silence is often broken up the sound of planes taking off from the Oakland airport). The trail does peter out into bland industrial-type offices at the southern end, only about half a mile from the ferry:

Bike/pedestrian path just south of the ferry.

Bike/pedestrian path just south of the ferry.

Desolate patch around where the path peters out.

Desolate patch around where the path peters out.

Bay Ferry’s modern housing developments, not far from the trail, make for quite a change from San Francisco or even Oakland. At some points you’ll feel more like you’re in San Diego:

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The best section of the trail runs north of the ferry for a mile or two, along the bay and so close to backyards of homes near the water that you can hear some conversations:

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It’s not long before you get to the bridge connecting Bay Farm Island to the “main” part of Alameda. Keep on going, though, and a much narrower trail continues for about half a mile on the other side of the island:

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It’s not too much to look at, I admit, but it’s nice to feel like you’re biking a semi-deserted path anywhere in the Bay Area, even if it only lasts for five minutes or so. And you get a view of the Oakland Coliseum that few people have seen, though it still doesn’t make it look all that scenic:

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This part of the trail rather abruptly terminates in what’s called a “playing field,” though one jarringly incongruous structure in particular makes this space (nearly empty on the three occasions I’ve visited) unappealing:

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Make sure to take the bike/pedestrian path from Bay Farm Island to Alameda proper, not the main bridge that’s busy with car traffic:

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Once there, bear west until you get to Shoreline Drive, which runs for a mile or so along Alameda Island’s narrow but fairly extensive beach—again, a feature little known to most Bay Area residents:

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You can see the San Francisco skyline from the beach, though there’s a reminder that the same environmental problems plaguing similar spots in the Bay Area are here as well:

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Unfortunately, as there’s no ferry service between mid-morning and late afternoon, you’ll have to get to a BART station to get back to San Francisco. There are a few options, all of which run through heavily trafficked, drably industrial streets once you leave Alameda Island. The best, relatively speaking, might be taking the wide and fairly bike-friendly Broadway north from the beach, crossing back to Oakland over the Park Street Bridge, and going west on a frontage road until you reach the Jack London Square area in downtown Oakland.

Volleyball court on Alameda Beach.

Volleyball court on Alameda Beach.

Rare Rock Books I *Have* Owned and Known

I have a lot of books about music, mostly rock. They fill up a lot of shelf space, but I don’t really have a lot of books that were expensive, or would command much money if I sold them, even if they’re relatively rare. Not that this bothers me; I’m more concerned with the content than the resale value. (The same holds true for my records.)

The "extended edition" of Mark Lewisohn's Tune In is the longest, and one of the most expensive, books I own.

The “extended special edition” of Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In is the longest, and one of the most expensive, books I own.

I do have a few volumes, though, that are real hefty, costly, and not apt to be purchased by the casual consumer. As a kind of follow-up to my previous post about some of the most expensive/unavailable rock books I’d like to read, here’s a list of a dozen or so I do have, and which might be worth checking out if they’re up your particular alleys.

1. The Beatles: Tune In: Extended Special Edition, by Mark Lewisohn (Little, Brown, 2013). The Beatles are as omnipresent in the rare rock book world as they are in the world of best-sellers. One of the best Beatles books, and a high-selling one if not a best-seller, was Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In, the first installment (stopping at the end of 1962) of his projected three-part biography. The “standard” edition, measuring a “mere” 900 pages or so, was itself too intimidatingly large for many readers. So the “extended special edition”—running almost twice the length at around 1700 pages—was not for the faint-hearted, or the paycheck-to-paycheck. It’s gone down in price a bit since its publication in late 2013, but it’s still a little more than $100 on Amazon.

But, to condense my review of the extended edition in a previous blogpost, I feel like this monumental biography still hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It’s easily the most comprehensively researched volume on this much-written-about group; the writing is very good; and it extensively draws on the musical and social context of the times in interesting, useful ways. It’s really worth the costly investment if you’re a serious Beatles fan. It has considerably more information than the standard mass-market edition, from important additional context to fascinating trivia.

The "regular" edition of Tune In still runs almost 1000 pages.

The “regular” edition of Tune In still runs almost 1000 pages.

2. The Inevitable World of the Velvet Underground, by Alfredo Garcia (self-published, 2011). From the biggest band in the world to the biggest cult band in the world, from a big-selling title to a small limited edition—that’s the leap we’re making with this next listing. Self-published in a numbered, limited edition of 500, this 504-page book compiles and reprints almost every known press clipping, advertisement, record review, chart listing, press release, etc. related to the Velvet Underground through the mid-1970s. There’s no accompanying text, but on their own these are incredibly valuable archival/historical materials, printed clearly on good-quality paper, chronologically sequenced in the order in which they originally appeared. It also includes a bound-in bonus CD of VU radio ads and interviews. Somewhat to my surprise, copies are still available for $100 or 90 Euros (shipping and handling included in both cases) through https://inevitablevucatalogue.wordpress.com.

The Inevitable World of the Velvet Underground

3. Barrett, by Russell Beecher & Will Shutes (Essential Works, 2011). Not a biography of the great Syd Barrett, but an art book with photos of both Syd and early Pink Floyd; reproductions of paintings and illustrations by Barrett that have rarely or never been published; and repros of letters Syd wrote to various girlfriends before his brief period of fame. It’s pricey (£100 to the US, shipping included; lower in the UK and EU, higher rest of the world), and the appeal might be limited by its relatively narrow focus. But the packaging and quality of the reproductions are exceptional. I wrote a much lengthier review, and interviewed the authors, in issue #1 (spring 2012) of Flashback, which is itself hard to find now in its physical form, though it can be downloaded here.

barrett

4. Recording the Beatles: The Studio Equipment and Techniques Used to Create Their Classic Albums, by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew (Curvebender, 2006). Huge and heavy doorstop volume that goes into exactly what the title says it does, in a ton of detail. I’d have to say this is of most interest to “gearheads,” or at least music fans who are also musicians and/or recording studio professionals, owing to the sheer weight of highly technical descriptions of microphones, mixers, and other equipment. Some sections, however, are more accessible to the average Beatles fan, filling in some interesting gaps about their recordings and instruments that were not covered in other excellent books, such as Andy Babiuk’s Beatles Gear (coming out in a few months in a substantially revised/updated edition, by the way) and Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions. This retails for about $100 through curvebender.com, and though it’s not for everyone, those I know with more than a passing interest in the subject have been very satisfied with their purchase.

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5. Shakin’ All Over: The Birth of British R&B: The Life and Times of Johnny Kidd, by Keith Hunt (The Magnum Imprint, 1996). Here for a change is a book that’s not deluxe in scale (though it’s 200 substantial pages), and not even particularly expensive. It finds a place here because it’s just not very well known, even though its subject—Johnny Kidd, the best pre-Beatles British rock musician—is very worth knowing about. Although author Keith Hunt might have been more of a devoted fan/researcher than a writer, there’s lots of first-hand interview material with those that knew Kidd (most famous for his 1960 UK hit “Shakin’ All Over”), as well as a wealth of photos and illustrations. Used copies aren’t hard to find online in the $40-50 range—not too much more than the 17 pounds I paid for it in a London bookshop in 1996, shortly after its publication. Don’t get confused by the unnecessarily long and unwieldy title, by the way; this is a comprehensive book about Kidd, not a book about the early British R&B scene.

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6. P.F.—Travelling Barefoot on a Rocky Road: The Musical Biography of P.F. Sloan, by Stephen J. McParland (CMusic, 2000). I noted this title in passing when I discussed CMusic in my post about rare/expensive books I haven’t read. I do have this one, however, which is a very comprehensive biography of Sloan, the cult figure who wrote and performed numerous classic pop-folk-rock songs in the mid-1960s. It’s plainly designed, and the level of record-nerd detail isn’t for everyone. But the depth of research is enormous, with 40 pages of intensely extensive discographical information. CMusic titles (most about ‘60s California pop-rock) are expensive when they first come out (this cost me 26 pounds in a London bookshop shortly after its publication), and seldom spotted in stores—in fact, the only time I physically saw this was when I bought it. Unlike all of the other titles in this post, I don’t see this for sale used anywhere online—something true of most CMusic titles, unfortunately. They must have pretty limited print runs.

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7. The Beatles from Cavern to Star-Club, by Hans Olof Gottfridsson (Premium Publishing, 1997). It’s back to the Beatles for this 460-page Swedish production, with text exclusively in English. Subtitled “The Illustrated Chronicle, Discography & Price Guide 1957-1962,” it very meticulously documents their pre-1963 recordings. Some of the tables of discographic information (particularly of the sessions they did with Tony Sheridan in Germany) are dry and purely of referential use. But there are also interviews with people who knew and worked with them in their pre-fame days, like some of the Quarrymen, pianist Roy Young, and recording engineer Karl Hinze. There are many rare and interesting photos and illustrations, and possibly more reproductions of releases of the sessions they did with Sheridan than you want to know about.

It must also be said that the organization and sequencing of the material is sometimes haphazard. Having written my own book about the unreleased Beatles’ material, I might not be the most objective judge, but I’m also incredulous that the coverage of the 15 songs they cut at their January 1, 1962 Decca Records—the most significant recordings they made during these years, besides their first pair of singles for Parlophone—is so perfunctory. In other respects, however, the volume has amazing material for the (very, admittedly) serious Beatles fanatic, as well as a bound-in bonus EP with a nice picture sleeve, though the four tracks (all backing Tony Sheridan) are easily available elsewhere.

The book is still available from premuimpublishing.com for the reasonable price of $48. Author Hans Olof Gottfridsson, incidentally, uncovered a lot more interesting, previously unknown information about the Beatles’ December 1962 recordings at Hamburg’s Star-Club for a two-part article in the June and July 2015 issues of the UK magazine Record Collector.

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8. The Action: In the Lap of the Mods, by Ian Hebditch and Jane Shepherd with Mike Evans and Roger Powell (self-published, 2012). Most expensive limited-edition rock history books are about superstars. Or, even if they’re not about superstars, about acts with huge cult followings (as is the case with The Inevitable World of the Velvet Underground), or acts with links to superstars (like Ronnie Wood’s new How Can It Be? A Rock and Roll Diary, based around the 1965 diary he kept when he was a member of the first band with whom he made records, the Birds). One recent exception to this general rule is this lavishly illustrated, 400-copy hardback devoted to the mid-‘60s British mod band the Action, who didn’t have any hits, but have sustained a sizable cult following.

I’m not as big a fan of this book as some other enthusiasts; the Action’s history, though interesting, is a little stretched to fill out even a book of this length, and some of the sections on mod fashion and culture, eyewitness accounts of the band, and venues aren’t as interesting as the ones on the actual short-lived group. Still, it’s packed with cool period illustrations and first-hand quotes from the Action members, and even has brief appreciations by George Martin (who produced them) and Phil Collins. It’s still available through the website theactionbook.com for £75 plus shipping (beware, the shipping adds on about 50% to your total purchase if you’re ordering from North America). There’s a £35 edition that just includes the 176-page core book, but doesn’t include the notable bonuses you get with the 400-copy limited edition: a 96-page scrapbook of sorts of vintage clippings and gig listings (plus detailed discography) and a seven-inch single of a previously unreleased track from their May 1965 Decca audition.

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9. “What’d I Say”: The Atlantic Story: 50 Years of Music, by Ahmet Ertegun (Welcome Rain, 2001). This back-straining 565-page, approximately 14.5” X 10” job is the kind of thing that usually gets issued as a limited edition. Refreshingly, it was produced for the mass market, if at a pretty expensive price of $75; I was pretty lucky to find a used copy at half price. Ertegun was head of Atlantic Records, and like many books written by such executives, it’s more a celebration/glorification of the label’s successes than an objective look at the company’s accomplishments and failures. For more depth, there’s Charlie Gillett’s 1974 volume Making Tracks: The Story of Atlantic Records, and Robert Greenfield’s Ertegun biography The Last Sultan. But this coffee table book does have lots of good photos and Ertegun quotes, as well as some essays about aspects of the label by prominent music critics, though it unfortunately says little or nothing about some of their more interesting acts (like the Velvet Underground). It looks like new copies are now available online for half the list price at which it originally sold.

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10. Some Fun Tonight!: The Backstage Story of How the Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966, by Chuck Gunderson (Gunderson Media, 2014). Mammoth, expensive ($175) two-volume, 600-page hardback set documenting the Beatles’ mid-‘60s North American tours in exhaustive detail. This is more for the Beatlemaniac than the general reader, owing to the price but also the coverage of material that will be of most interest for reference purposes. It’s certainly in-depth in its research into how the concerts were set up and took place, however, and is lavishly illustrated with photos, posters, and documents, some quite rare.

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11. These Are the Voyages: TOS [The Original Series]: Star Trek Season One/Two/Three, by Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn (Jacobs/Brown, 2013/2014/2015). Some readers will think this is an outrageous inclusion, and they have a point, since this is about Star Trek, not about rock music. Still, there seems to be enough of a crossover between rock fans (especially of ‘60s rock) and Star Trek to make this three-volume set worthy of attention in a post like this, especially since they’re the kind of specialist books that haven’t gotten a lot of press outside of the Trekkie community. This is an astonishingly detailed episode-by-episode survey of all 79 programs from the original series, drawing on lots of first-hand interviews, photos, and production notes. In that sense, it’s kind of an equivalent to a rock book like Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions, giving even experts their first real play-by-play look at what happened behind the scenes.

As the three volumes add up to a total of 2000 (!) pages, it’s not for the casual reader, or even the casual Trekkie. But if you’re reading a post like this to begin with, you’re probably not a casual reader of books on your favorite subjects. And if you’re someone who does opt for tomes like this, it’s time to stop being embarrassed about spending lots of time and money reading something so specialized that people look at you funny when you even mention it. And, while undeniably long, this three-volume series isn’t all that expensive, especially if you get all three at once—which you can do for $67.95 plus shipping through the thesearethevoyagesbooks.com website.

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12. YES: Yoko Ono, by Alexandra Munroe and James Hendricks (Harry N. Abrams, 2000). As I wrote earlier this year in another context, Yoko Ono is one of the most polarizing figures in popular culture. It will thus gain me points with many fans, and lose points with many others, to say that I’m not a fan of her music. I like much of her art, though, and that was the focus of this $60 coffee table volume. Issued to coincide with a major traveling exhibition of her work in the early twenty-first century (including a stop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where I saw it), it does include some coverage of her music. Most of the illustrations and essays, however, are about her visual artwork, events/performances, and films. Not for everybody—nothing related to Yoko Ono is for everybody, or almost everybody—but a cool thing to have, almost functioning as a book-length (350-page) catalog for the exhibit. Especially if you’re lucky enough to find it for $25 used, as I did, since it still sells for about $60 online (a mere $20 in the paperback version, though).

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Note: I haven’t listed some discographies and reference volumes that are also pretty expensive and/or out-of-print/hard to find. Several of the ones I’m fortunate to own, however, are highly worthwhile if you’re a devoted collector, including:

Endless Trip, a nearly 800-page book of reviews of North American rock albums from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, edited (and often written) by my friend and Flashback editor/publisher Richard Morton Jack. Issued in 2011, this is already going for $200-$500 online.

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Galactic Ramble, a similar 500-plus-page compendium of reviews of UK rock albums from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, also edited/published/often written by Richard Morton Jack. Published in 2009, this is already going for $600-$700. Yikes!

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Vernon Joynson has several huge discographies of rock from 1963-76, including volumes for acts from the UK (The Tapestry of Delights); Canada/Australasia/Latin America (Dreams Fantasies and Nightmares from Faraway Lands); and the US (Fuzz Acid and Flowers). I have just the first two of these. The only one still in print is The Tapestry of Delights, now a two-volume expanded edition selling for £68 through borderlineproductionsbooks.co.uk (though bear in mind it totals more than 2000 pages).

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Mike Markesich’s TeenBeat Mayhem! is a 400-page small-print discography listing and rating nearly 10,000 US ‘60s garage rock singles, with a few essays and many illustrations. The official list price was $99.95, but you can get it for half that through the web store of Ugly Things magazine.

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Acid Archives, edited and often written by the late Patrick Lundborg, has almost 400 pages of detailed reviews of really obscure North American rock records from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s (with a few exceptions). Some rare/underground major label releases are included, but the emphasis is on albums that few people outside of the dedicated collector community have heard of, often released in limited runs or private/vanity pressings. The second and most recent edition (from 2010) sells for $83.25 on Amazon, but you get a much better deal from Forced Exposure, currently listing it for $52.

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Rare Rock Books I Have Not Known

When I determined to get a complete Beatles collection at the age of eleven in 1973, it was hard to even find non-LP B-sides by the Beatles. So to those of us who came of record-collecting age in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s a shock to be able to hear virtually anything these days at little or minimal expense, whether on physical reissues or online. We can debate whether listening to MP3s or through computer speakers devalues the experience (or whether some of the online means of delivery are even legal). But the fact is that there’s not much music I want to hear that I can’t immediately hear, whether in my (admittedly large) collection or by another means.

How much would you pay for this book? For the astonishing answer, read on...

How much would you pay for this book? For the astonishing answer, read on…

The same isn’t yet true for books about rock history, however. Yes, you can get the overwhelming majority of the ones you want at affordable, reasonable, or no cost through the library, bookstores, and online, whether they’re in print or out of print. There are a few books, however, I want to read and haven’t, and quite possibly never will. That’s because they’re ridiculously expensive limited-edition copies, and/or literally quite hard to find even if you’re willing to pay three or four figures, in part because few copies were printed.

Maybe within a few years or even a few months of this posting, technology will have changed so that the pages of these rarities will be easily accessible via online or electronic means, legally or otherwise. But at the time I write this in August 2015, the books are either way beyond my (and most rock fans’) budget, or not immediately obtainable at all. So in a novel best-of list of sorts, here are reviews of books I haven’t read, but would most like to read if they became reasonably affordable or available.

The volume that started me even mulling this whole issue over a few weeks ago is simply called Stu, a limited-edition book about the “sixth Stone,” auxiliary Rolling Stones keyboardist/road manager Ian Stewart. Some of these kinds of productions (a few of which will be listed in this post) are much more photos than text, something that doesn’t excite me too much. This, however, looks quite substantial: 432 pages, 85,000 words, lots of rare photos/illustrations, and written tributes by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood, among others.

A not-so-revealing glimpse at the packing for "Stu," a book about Ian Stewart, longtime keyboardist/road manager for (and original member of) the Rolling Stones.

A not-so-revealing glimpse at the packing for “Stu,” a book about Ian Stewart, longtime keyboardist/road manager for (and original member of) the Rolling Stones.

You can look at a few pages, and even read some of the text if your screen is large and you squint really hard, at http://www.out-take.com/stu-book/. Can you buy it? It doesn’t look like it; it was limited to a run of just 950 copies and only available direct from the publisher, Out-Take Limited, according to its website. That slow-loading site doesn’t list a price anywhere, though when it came out in 2004, it was according to one report selling for about $1000 apiece. And 2004 is how long ago it came out. It’s a testimony to its exclusivity that I, a big Stones fan who has taught courses about them, was not even aware of its existence until it was cited in a footnote in Taschen’s recent coffee table book of Stones photos (itself a hefty production, bearing a $150 list price).

Another book I wasn’t even aware of until this year was Bobby Fuller Four: Rock’n’Roll Mustangs. I’m a big Fuller fan—I wrote a chapter on him in my book Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators & Eccentric Visionaries of ‘60s Rock. And his life was interesting, not least because of his mysterious July 1966 death (ruled a suicide, though most fans believe he was murdered). It came out in 2009, but it’s sold out, according to the website of the publisher, CMusic Books.

rocknrollmustangs

CMusic is essentially an outlet for limited-edition books by Australia-based rock historian Stephen J. McParland, who’s issued numerous books on Californian rock of the 1960s, most but not all of them surf music-related. I have one, the 2000 volume P.F.—Travelling Barefoot on a Rocky Road: The Musical Biography of P.F. Sloan. And it’s very good, with 275 pages of fine detail about the enigmatic singer-songwriter’s career that has a lot of the same hard-to-believe stories as Sloan’s recent memoir, but are here used within a biography (if often via Sloan interview quotes), not told as a first-person account. It was quite expensive (26 pounds in a London bookshop, the only time I saw it), and is also long out of print.

sloan

So are most of McParland’s books, though they continue to be listed on the CMusic website. It’s no doubt hard to self-publish such niche volumes, but he might want to consider printing them in larger quantities. Or reprinting some of the more popular ones, so hard are they to locate once they’re unavailable from the site.

The sheer quantity of Beatles books ensures there are a few coveted limited editions by Beatles insiders. Perhaps the most famous of these is Derek Taylor’s Fifty Years Adrift, in which their frequent publicist recounts experiences both with the group and with Californian acts during his stint as a PR guy in Hollywood in the mid-‘60s. In his memoir Taylor, wrote Richard Morton Jack in the spring 2013 issue of Flashback, “is a shrewd and even-handed critic of [the Beatles] without once losing sight of his admiration for their achievements. He’s also an intelligent, perceptive and witty writer, making his prose a joy to read. Added to the myriad of facts and anecdotes on offer is a wealth of memorabilia, reproduced in full color, some of it in glued-in-facsimile.”

Can you get it? Doubtful. Published in a limited edition in 1983 by Genesis Publications (much more of whom in a bit), it’s now listing for $4,999 (!) on ebay. As Jack concludes in his review, “If ever a rock memoir was crying out for a mass-market reprinting, this is it.”

Take note: Derek Taylor's inexpensive, easily available book It Was Twenty Years Ago Today is *not* the same book as his limited-edition memoir Twenty Years Adrift.

Take note: Derek Taylor’s inexpensive, easily available book It Was Twenty Years Ago Today is *not* the same book as his limited-edition memoir Fifty Years Adrift.

Genesis, which specializes in expensive limited editions, has also done a few other Beatles titles, three of which interest me in particular. Now that he’s just passed his 75th birthday, Photograph might be the closest we come to a Ringo Starr memoir. It has more than 250 photos, and text – albeit, in line with a lot of these limited-edition books, more like captions than full-length book prose — by Ringo himself. This is the only Genesis book I’ve actually been able to read a good portion of, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library & Archives in Cleveland has copies of some Genesis volumes that the public can read on the premises (but not borrow, of course).

The run of 2150 copies (with a hefty price of about $600 each) is sold out, but good news reached me just after I put up the first version of this post. Genesis, which infrequently puts out “regular” or “trade” editions of its limited-edition books, will be putting one out for Photograph with a much more affordable list price of $50 in September.

Ring-Book-Cover

Also on Genesis is George Martin’s 2003 memoir Playback, which at 50,000 words is more like a conventional reading experience, though its 328 pages also feature lots of images. That too is out of print and selling for high sums—almost $5000 on ebay, though for more like $1000 (if possibly not in as good condition) through Amazon.

The cover for George Martin's Playback—proof that expensive books don't necessarily look all that appetizing.

The cover for George Martin’s Playback—proof that expensive books don’t necessarily look all that appetizing.

There are plenty of other Beatles-related titles on Genesis (including ones by early Hamburg associates Astrid Kirschherr and Klaus Voormann), but the one that interests me the most is BIG: Beatles in Germany, which has a chapter by Tony Sheridan. There’s a guy who should have written a memoir, though I don’t know how big the chapter is (and it can’t be book-length, the volume only being 138 pages). The listing on the Genesis website does says “he talks frankly – and for the first time – at length of The Beatles and the early days of their career.”

A more obscure, and more affordable, Tony Sheridan book that few people, or even few Beatles fans, have read.

A more obscure, and more affordable, Tony Sheridan book that few people, or even few Beatles fans, have read.

Genesis naturally has some Rolling Stones titles too. The one I’d be most eager to read is the 2001 production Exile, featuring Dominque Tarlé’s photos of the Stones while they were recording Exile on Main Street in the south of France in summer 1971. More crucially, the 248-page book has 90,000 words, making it more of a “real book” for those of us who want books to read and not just to look at. My guess is it’s better than the non-limited-edition, non-photo-oriented books on Exile on Main Street (of which there are at least three). That’s just a guess, since this 1740-copy limited edition sold out long ago, and it’s going for about $2000 if you can hunt down a copy for sale. Which means I won’t be reading it, unless that fat government research grant comes through soon.

Exile

A real interesting-looking Stones book that will be coming out on Genesis soon (and it might already be out—it’s hard to tell from the website) is Ronnie Wood’s How Can It Be? A Rock & Roll Diary. In a way, it’s not even a Stones book, since it’s based around the diary he kept in 1965, when he was lead guitarist in the Birds, the first band with which he released records. There aren’t many such this-is-what-actually-happened documents, and as such it could be a quite valuable relic not only of Wood’s past, but of the London mid-‘60s rock scene of which he was very much part. (Or, if his diary entries were as perfunctory as the ones that have surfaced from the late ‘60s by George Harrison, it could be nearly useless.) Only 1965 (get it?) copies will be printed, though relative to the other items we’ve discussed here, at a “mere” 295 pounds (about $450-500 US), it’ll be a steal—as long as copies last.

This Birds EP has their recording of "How Can It Be," the song after which Ronnie Wood's new book is named.

This Birds EP has their recording of “How Can It Be,” the 1965 B-side  after which Ronnie Wood’s new book is named.

Genesis has a lot of other rock titles that look like they could be neat, like Maximum Who: The Who in the Sixties, or the 95,000-word California Dreaming, based around photos of the ‘60s/’70s L.A. rock scene by Henry Diltz. But before this turns into an unpaid ad for Genesis, it should be emphasized that there are some other book rarities that aren’t so much geared toward the 1% as almost unknown, in part because they’re about near-unknowns. Like Herb Bermann, for instance. Who? Well, he co-wrote eight of the songs on Captain Beefheart’s 1967 debut album Safe As Milk, though not much is known about him. Until the June 2015 publication of the first edition of his book The Mystery Man from the Magic Band, printed in a run of a mere 100 copies. It’s already sold out, though fortunately the two-part interview with him that seems to form the main part of the text is online here.

Mystery-Man-from-the-Magic-Band

That’s a peril of even finding out of the existence of some of these books—by the time you know they’re out there, they’re gone. Take A Is for Apple, a 686-page job covering Apple Records in just the years 1966-1968, with nearly 3500 (!) images. It’s reviewed (and the authors interviewed) in the new Flashback, but has already sold out, though the price was a fairly steep $117 postpaid to the US (according to one online forum). The authors are thinking of making this series even larger than the planned four volumes, but have not announced any plans to reprint volume one, though the interview hints they might make it available digitally.

apple

Also gone, or at least not easily findable at a below-three-figure price, is Ken Sharp’s 400-page Elvis Presley: Writing for the King: The Stories of the Songwriters, with interviews with more than 140 people who wrote songs for Elvis (or had their songs covered by him). That’s interesting in and of itself, but as the crown on this King, it came with two CDs of rare material. One features previously unreleased RCA recordings of Presley in concert in Las Vegas from 1969 to 1972; the other, more intriguing one has the demos of songs that he learned, going all the way back to “Heartbreak Hotel” (sung by Glenn Reeves), and sometimes performed by songwriters like Otis Blackwell and Mort Shuman. This didn’t come out all that long ago (2006), but it’s already long out of print and scarce, selling for about $200 if you can find a copy online. Although at least a few scattered copies are out there, and not selling for nearly as much as those Genesis titles by George Martin, Derek Taylor, and others.

1393595179_elvis_writking

Will some of these books be made available at an affordable price (or even available again at all, if they’re out of print)? From the selfish perspective of well over 90% of the people who might be interested in reading them, it seems like it would be a great service to do this, whether in reprints, ebooks, or (especially in the case of the Genesis titles) regular “trade” editions on less fancy paper. This happens once in a while; Genesis’s 512-page Jimmy Page By Jimmy Page, for instance, is in “regular” bookstores, and even some libraries, selling for around $45 on a few online outlets. Let It Bleed, photographer Ethan Russell’s valuable coffee table tome about the Rolling Stones’ activities in 1969 (especially their US tour and concert at Altamont), sells in elaborate editions for $650 or $990, but also as a quite reasonable trade edition hardback for $55 (and also as a Kindle ebook for $11.99, if you’re a real cheapskate).

Let-it-bleed

The high prices and/or limited runs of books by Genesis, Out-Take Limited, and CMusic might be necessary to make these volumes viable for them to produce in the first place. Genesis and Out-Take Limited invest a lot in elaborately packaging and illustrations, as well as the cooperation and participation of superstars; CMusic puts out titles for very niche audiences. A couple other books discussed in this post are self-published jobs that might similarly take quite a bit of money and time, especially for small operations. It’s quite likely felt that reprinting expensive titles whose very rarity (as limited edition runs) were a selling point would diminish their value to the original purchasers. Nonetheless, doing more affordable and available editions (as Genesis will for Ringo Starr’s Photograph in September) seems like a strategy whose time has come, given the certainty of readers who want the content. In the meantime, should any readers of this blog want to offer more details about some of the titles I’ve described in this post, please submit comments.

Biking in Point Pinole and Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline Parks

Although it’s just a few miles north of Berkeley, Richmond doesn’t get much notice or respect, let alone many visitors. If it makes the news or conversation, it’s usually about its crime or environmentally poisonous oil refineries. It’s not likely to make most visitors (or even Bay Area residents’) must-see lists soon. But there are some scenic areas just outside its city limits that relatively few people know about unless they live in the immediate vicinity.

One is Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, a few miles northwest of central Richmond. Especially on a weekday, this is real quiet, even for a large park, with few visitors and several miles of paths for biking and walking. These are especially user-friendly for wheelchair users, as they’re pretty level and little-traveled.

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Pier and paths in Pinole.

Pier and paths in Pinole Point Regional Shoreline.

Even in such a nice setting, however, there are reminders of the industrial powers that did their part to put Richmond on the map, and these days are responsible for much of its notoriety. At one view of the bay near the main entrance, for instance, you can easily spot nearby working refineries:

Refinery

Railroad tracks also run right through the park near the main entrance:

Train

A few miles down the bayside is Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline, just south of Point Richmond, a small affluent enclave in what is one of the East Bay’s poorer and more industrial regions. The better recreational paths are in the park’s northern and central areas, but the most interesting cultural relics are at Ferry Point at the southern tip:

Ferry

This Richmond Ferry Terminal, now disused, was actually used to transport passengers to Fisherman’s Wharf and the San Francisco Giants ballpark until the late 2000s. There’s a bit of a ghostly feel to the Ford Point area where the terminal sits, in part because of surrounding eerie old industrial buildings:

Abandoned1

Abandoned2

Bike just a bit south of the ferry, and you reach a shipyard, part of which has a similarly past-its-prime aura:

Dock1

Dock2

Although biking within these parks is fun and easy, biking to these parts, unfortunately, is anything but. Even starting from the relatively close Richmond BART station, you’ll have to navigate miles of highways and truck-filled industrial roads to get where you’re going, for which you’ll need a pretty good regional map. Even some of the neighborhood streets are long overdue for maintenance, and one connector bike path almost petered out in a dried-out mud slide near its finish.

Odd labyrinth on bike path near Point Richmond docks.

Odd labyrinth on bike path near Point Richmond docks.

What of Richmond itself? I can’t pretend to have seen too much of it, either on my bike trip a few days ago or in my thirty years as a Bay Area resident. It was heartening, however, to see a colorful mural-filled park in this inner-city neighborhood near the BART station. Even the website of this space, Pogo Park, acknowledges that it’s “in one of the Bay Area’s toughest inner-city neighborhoods, Richmond’s Iron Triangle”:

Pogo2

Pogo1

Pogo4

Local color: murals and more in Richmond's Pogo Park.

Local color: murals and more in Richmond’s Pogo Park.

Travis Ishikawa and Other One-Hit Wonders

Travis Ishikawa, who won the last round of the National League playoffs for the San Francisco Giants last year with a game-ending home run, was designated for assignment by the club a few weeks ago. You can never count this guy out considering how often he’s been up and down (and not just with the Giants) for the last ten years, but he’s probably finished in San Francisco, especially since it’s the second time he’s been DFA’d this year. (He has subsequently hooked on with the Pittsburgh Pirates.)

Ishikawa

I happened to be at the game in late June marking his first time at bat in the big leagues since last year’s postseason, and typical of how this year’s gone for him, he struck out. He’s never gotten much playing time since his first call-up in 2006, and there’s no place for a subpar outfielder on a club with two guys ahead of him at his real position, first base. Sure, he helped the team win the World Series last year, especially with his mighty playoff blow. But as the chairman said in that Monty Python sketch where an accountant is fired for embezzling a penny, “There’s no room for sentiment in big business.”

Ishikawa’s demotion did get me thinking about how many players in major league history with otherwise undistinguished careers are known just for one hit, or one game, or even one play. No doubt there are interesting instances absent from the list below, especially from baseball’s early years. Here, however, are a few of them, some by players who compiled much more impressive career records than Ishikawa, and some who were yet more marginal.

Howard Ehmke: It’s a pretty well known story in World Series lore: how a veteran pitcher, on the verge of getting released, got the first start of the 1929 World Series and excels, setting a record (since broken, but which stood for many years) by striking out 13 batters. His team, the Philadelphia A’s, went on to win that series, in part because of a miraculous comeback from an 8-0 deficit with a ten-run inning in one game.

ehmke

Some colorful retellings have it that Ehmke convinced manager Connie Mack to start him, telling him he had one good game left in his arm, Mack sending him to scout the Chicago Cubs hitters in advance. Actually, however, Ehmke had pitched very well (if seldom) during the regular season, going 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA in a hitters’ era. He won a couple games in September, too, making it doubtful he was on the verge of getting let go. This article at seamheads.com has a lot of interesting detail exploding the myths around Mack’s decision to start Ehmke, which was likely a shrewd, if risky, hunch that his delivery would be tough on the Cubs’ hitters.

When this tale is told, the impression is sometimes given that it was Ehmke’s last game. That would make for a great story, but again, it wasn’t the case. He also started the last game of the series, and didn’t do nearly as well, getting removed in the fourth inning (perhaps the Cubs were on to his delivery by then), though the A’s won the game. He also pitched in three regular season games for the A’s in 1930, getting bombed to the tune of an 11.70 ERA before leaving the bigs for good.

Ehmke was actually a pretty good pitcher, with a career record of 166-166, sometimes for pretty bad teams. His other big claim to fame, though not nearly as celebrated as his 13 strikeouts, is nearly pitching two no-hitters in a row in 1923. In the no-hitter, a batter hit what seemed to be a double, but was called out for missing first base; in the one-hitter that followed, an apparent error was called a hit by the official scorer.

Floyd Giebell: When a close three-way race for the American League 1940 pennant came down to the final three games, the Detroit Tigers needed to win just one of the three they were playing against the Cleveland Indians (also in the race) to clinch. Pitching for the Indians in the first game was Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and perhaps the best pitcher in the game at that particular time.

giebell

It was assumed the Tigers would pitch one of their front-line guys, like Bobo Newsom, Tommy Bridges, or Schoolboy Rowe, all among the better pitchers of the era. Instead they selected Floyd Giebell, a 30-year-old rookie whose major league experience consisted of 24 innings. As Tigers outfielder Barney McCosky remembers in Cobb Would Have Caught It (a fine oral history book of vintage Tigers stories), “We didn’t want to throw one of our best pitchers against Bob in the first game. So we had a meeting. We had Newhouser, Hutchinson, and a young guy called Floyd Giebell. We took a vote and we picked Giebell.” In Baseball When the Grass Was Real, Feller speculates the Tigers wanted to have all of their best pitchers available for the last two games, and were willing to concede the first, figuring it was unlikely to best Bob.

One of the finest relatively obscure baseball books is this oral history of the Detroit Tigers from 1920-1950.

One of the finest relatively obscure baseball books is this oral history of the Detroit Tigers from 1920-1950.

And guess what? Giebell pitched a shutout, and the Tigers won, 2-0, clinching the pennant. Giebell had pitched a complete-game victory nine days before (when the team had to play doubleheaders on two consecutive days), in his only other appearance that year. But he’d joined the club too late to be ineligible to pitch in the World Series (which the Tigers lost), and after 34 innings with a 6.03 ERA and an 0-0 record the following year, he never played in another major league game. “We stopped down in Virginia once to see if he was still there,” said McCosky in Cobb Would Have Caught It. “We looked in the phone book, but no luck.”

As another odd footnote, during this memorable game, as Richard Bak wrote in Cobb Would Have Caught It, “Indian fans peppered their guests with obscenities and trash. [Catcher] Birdie Tebbetts, minding his own business in the bullpen, was knocked out when someone in the upper deck dropped a basket of empty beer bottles and garbage on him.”

Bill Bevens: It’s a surprise to me that the fourth game of the 1947 World Series doesn’t show up more often on lists of the greatest baseball games ever played. The ending, at least, couldn’t have been more dramatic. For Yankees pitcher Bill Bevens was just one out away from a no-hitter, only to lose it – and the game – on the very last pitch, when Cookie Lavagetto doubled in two runs to win it for the Brooklyn Dodgers, 3-2.

Bevens

The game’s often been written about, but here are a couple things sometimes forgotten about:

Bevens, who’d had a couple pretty good years for the Yankees in the mid-1940s, never pitched in the majors after 1947, when he wasn’t so great (with a 7-13 record). However, this loss wasn’t the last game he ever pitched in the big leagues. He redeemed himself with two and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief in game seven of the world series, which the Yankees won, though Bevens wasn’t the winning pitcher.

Lavagetto might not have ever gotten to the plate if it wasn’t for yet another hero-for-a-minute, reserve outfielder Al Gionfriddo, stealing second as a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth. Gionfriddo is mostly known for robbing Joe DiMaggio with a big catch later in the series, but his steal set up the Yankees’ controversial intentional walk of a hobbling, injured Pete Reiser. That put the winning run on base, another pinch runner (Eddie Miksis) scoring that on Lavagetto’s double.

Great graphic showing the motion and positioning of players on the field when Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Bevens's no-hitter with a game-winning double.

Great graphic showing the motion and positioning of players on the field when Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Bevens’s no-hitter with a game-winning double.

Part of the reason he was struggling to win a no-hitter in the first place was that he’d walked ten batters. Had Bevens finished the no-hitter, it would still be the record for most walks in a no-hitter in any major league game (or at least tied for the record, Jim Maloney walking ten batters in a 1965 no-hitter during the regular season).

I can’t find the source for this quote, but I remember watching a special on the 1947 World Series on public television as a young teenager back in the mid-1970s. If I remember correctly, as the story was told on the program, one of the announcers of the game apologized to Bevens the next day for jinxing the no-hitter by letting listeners know it was happening as it was in progress. Bevens told the announcer that the announcer hadn’t lost the game; the bases on balls had lost the game.

Al Gionfriddo: The 1947 World Series was quite the series for unlikely heroes (and goats). Gionfriddo is solely remembered for robbing Joe DiMaggio of an extra-base hit with a catch near the fence in the sixth game. The memory was ensured by a shot of DiMaggio, at a time when games such as these were just starting to be filmed and broadcast, kicking the dirt in anger in a rare display of public emotion. This was indeed Gionfriddo’s final major league game; he didn’t play in game seven, though as noted above he had a crucial role in winning game four.

Gionfriddo

Cookie Lavagetto: The guy who hit the double that broke up Bevens’s no-hitter actually had a fair major league career, with several seasons as the Dodgers’ regular third baseman (including 1941, when they also lost to the Yankees in the World Series). He was an infrequently used reserve in 1947, however. Like Bevens and Gionfriddo, he didn’t play in the majors after 1947. But although his double was his last big-league hit, it wasn’t his last big-league appearance, Lavagetto going hitless in four at-bats later in the series.

lavagetto

Nippy Jones: Skipping ahead ten years, in 1957 Nippy Jones was a seldom-used pinch-hitter/backup first basemen for the Milwaukee Braves. He’d seen some regular playing time for the Cardinals in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and batted .300 one year, but didn’t have enough power to stick with the big club. He didn’t even play in the majors from 1953 to 1956.

Game four of the 1957 World Series was an incredibly tense one that would be much better remembered if it was a game seven. Leading 4-1 against the Yankees with two out in the ninth, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn gave up a three-run homer to Elston Howard. The Yankees went ahead 5-4 in the top of the tenth, and Jones pinch-hit for Spahn to lead off the bottom half.

nippy

Tommy Byrne’s first pitch went by Yogi Berra, and Jones argued that it had hit him in the foot. He wouldn’t have won that argument if he hadn’t shown umpire Augie Donatelli a mark that his shoe polish had made on the ball. He took first base and left the game for a pinch runner—and he’d never appear in another major league game.

Which wouldn’t mean much, except the pinch runner scored, setting up a game-winning home run by Johnny Logan. Here’s something I didn’t know until reading the chapter on Tommy Byrne in the recent book Bridging Two Dynasties: The 1947 New York Yankees: “Byrne said that if Berra had thrown the ball back to him instead of holding onto it for Donatelli, Byrne would have marked it up so that nobody could spot the shoe polish.”

Incredibly enough, in the final game of the 1969 World Series, a very similar scenario played out with another player named Jones. The New York Mets’ Cleon Jones claimed a ball had hit him on the foot; manager Gil Hodges showed the shoe-polish mark on the ball to the umpire; Jones took first base; and a home run followed, starting their comeback from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Orioles. The game-tying home run the next inning was by light-hitting utility infielder Al Weis, who might also qualify for this list, although he had a pretty lengthy career and some other moments of note in that series (in which he hit .455).

Dick Nen: Nen only had one hit as a Dodger, but it was a big one: a pinch-hit home run that helped win a crucial game in the 1963 pennant race. It was also his first hit in the major leagues.

Dick Nen got a 1964 rookie card after hitting a key home run for the Dodgers in 1963, but never played another game for the Dodgers in 1964 or any other year.

Dick Nen got a 1964 rookie card after hitting a key home run for the Dodgers in 1963, but never played another game for the Dodgers in 1964 or any other year.

I’d wondered whether the importance of this hit had been blown up over the years, since the Dodgers did win the pennant by six games that year. At the time, however, it did seem that way. They went into a three-game series in St. Louis in mid-September leading by just a game. If Nen’s home run hadn’t tied the game in the ninth (the Dodgers went on to win 6-5 in 13 innings), they would have left St. Louis just two games ahead with nine to go.

Although Nen had some decent years in the minors, he never did play that regularly or well in the majors, where he spent a few years with the Washington Senators (and one with the Cubs). Ken Harrelson’s memoir Hawk tells of how Nen was embarrassed to be getting the opening day start in 1967 ahead of Hawk, who wasn’t getting along well with Senators manager Gil Hodges. To Giants fans, Dick Nen’s most known for being the father of Robb Nen, their relief ace from 1998-2002.

Moe Drabowsky: After faring rather poorly as a starter for his first few years, Drabowsky had a pretty good career as a reliever for the final half or so of his time in the big leagues, though he was never an ace. His best years were for the Orioles in the late 1960s, and though he was lost to the Royals in the expansion draft, he came back to Baltimore during the 1970 season to contribute to their world championship that year.

moe

His contribution to their 1966 World Series win, however, was far greater and more memorable. In the first game of the series, he relieved a struggling Dave McNally and struck out 11 batters (including six straight at one point) in 6 2/3 innings, giving up just one hit. That would be an excellent start, and as a relief appearance, it’s easily the most impressive in World Series history. All 11 strikeout victims went down swinging.

Other than for this game, Drabowsky is most notable as one of baseball’s most notorious practical jokers. Some of these (like giving the hotfoot or scaring teammates with snakes) aren’t all that interesting to read about. But his best one—impersonating (while he was with the visiting Orioles) Kansas City A’s’ manager Alvin Dark on calls to the A’s bullpen, getting A’s pitcher Lew Krausse to needlessly warm up—is classic.

Billy Rohr and Gary Waslewski: The Boston Red Sox’ “impossible dream” pennant victory of 1967 has lots of interesting stories, two of which belong to some of their least successful players. On April 13, rookie Billy Rohr almost got a no-hitter in his very first major league game, the Yankees’ Elston Howard breaking it up with a single with two out in the bottom of the ninth. One pitcher in the modern (post-1900) era has thrown a no-hitter in his first big-league start (Bobo Holloman in 1953), but to this day, no one has done so in his first game. But that was his main contribution to the team that season. He began the year as the Red Sox’ third starter, but pitched poorly after that sensational debut, getting sent down to the minors a couple months later after just one more victory, and winning only three games total in his major league career.

Although Bill Rohr got a 1968 Red Sox rookie card (still being a few innings short of losing his rookie status), he didn't pitch for the Red Sox in 1968 or any year after that, though he appeared in some games for the Indians in 1968.

Although Bill Rohr got a 1968 Red Sox rookie card (still being a few innings short of losing his rookie status), he didn’t pitch for the Red Sox in 1968 or any year after that, though he appeared in some games for the Indians in 1968.

Rohr didn’t pitch for the Red Sox in the World Series, but a barely more experienced hurler ending up starting a crucial game. Gary Waslewski was a seldom-used rookie on the team that year, compiling a 2-2 record in twelve games, eight stars, and 42 innings. He was only eligible for the series because another pitcher, Darrell Brandon, had to be replaced due to an injury. He hadn’t started since July 29. But on October 11, with the Sox facing elimination down three games to two against the Cardinals, Waslewski, who’d pitched well in relief in a loss in game three, got the ball to start. He didn’t do great, but he did well enough, getting into the sixth and keeping the Red Sox in the game, which they won 8-4 (though Gary didn’t get the victory, and the Sox lost the series in game seven).

Waslewski

Waslewski bounced between a few teams over the next five years, never pitching more than 130 innings in a year, and ending his career with a 12-26 record. Is that the least impressive career won-loss record for any World Series starter?

Jim Qualls: On July 9, 1969, in the midst of the Miracle Mets’ run toward the World Series, ace Tom Seaver brought a perfect game into the ninth inning against the team they were chasing for the Eastern Division lead, the Cubs. With one out, a little-known rookie reserve outfielder named Jim Qualls stroked a clean single to left field. It remains his only claim to modest fame, Qualls finishing the year with a fairly poor .608 OPS in just 124 plate appearances. He did play a bit for the Expos and White Sox in 1970 and 1972, but with even less distinction, going 1-19 post-1969, and ending his career without a home run.

QuallsJim

“When I got to first base, I was never booed so bad in my life,” said Qualls in this article on him for the SABR Baseball Biography Project. “We got back to Chicago and I got all this hate mail. You could tell by the handwriting it was just kids, little Mets fans: ‘You bum, don’t show up in New York.’ I don’t get any letters like that anymore.” The only subsequent meeting between Qualls and Seaver came less than a week later when they crossed paths while running in the outfield, Seaver telling Qualls, “You little (bum), you cost me a million dollars!”

Seldom remembered, incidentally, is that the batter before Qualls, Randy Hundley, had tried to bunt for a base hit, though the Cubs were down 4-0. Bunting for a base hit to break up a no-hitter is still considered violating an unwritten law, and would have probably sparked enormous controversy had Hundley beaten it out. The Mets got their revenge in early September when one of their runners was called safe at the plate in a key close game against the Cubs, despite Hundley’s furious protests.

The darkness to Qualls’s light, perhaps, was supplied the previous day by another Cubs rookie outfielder, Don Young. Young remains known almost solely for misplaying a couple flyballs in the ninth inning of a game against the Mets on July 8, helping lead to a come-from-behind 4-3 victory for New York. The misplays also stirred up controversy in the Cubs clubhouse after the game when All-Star third baseman Ron Santo and manager Leo Durocher harshly criticized Young to the press (Santo subsequently apologized to Young in prive and public), though the Cubs’ true collapse didn’t start until about a month and a half later.

Dave Augustine: In one of the weirdest key pennant-race games of all time, Pirates rookie reserve outfielder Dave Augustine appeared to have put Pittsburgh ahead of the New York Mets on September 20, 1973 with a home run in the top of the thirteenth. The ball landed at the very top of the fence, but took a freak bounce back to outfielder Cleon Jones, and via a relay from third baseman Wayne Garrett, Pirates runner Richie Zisk was thrown out at the plate. The Mets went on to win in the bottom of the inning, and win, narrowly, the Eastern Division, going on to win the pennant before losing the World Series in seven to the A’s. This was a big game, bigger than the one Dick Nen won in 1963; had they lost, the Mets (who won the division by a game and a half) would have been two and a half games out of first with eight to go, instead of just a half game back.

In the cruelest footnote, not only was Augustine denied his Dick Nen moment. Having come as close as possible to a home run (in one of only seven at-bats he had in 1973) without getting it, he never did hit a home run in his big-league career, which lasted just 29 games and 29 at-bats.

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After his 1973 near-homer, Dave Augustine got rookie cards in both 1974 and 1975, but didn't come close to getting enough at-bats to lose his rookie status.

After his 1973 near-homer, Dave Augustine got rookie cards in both 1974 and 1975, but didn’t come close to getting enough at-bats to lose his rookie status.

Bucky Dent: Probably the most famous instance of a player-known-for-just-one-thing—even more so than Bill Bevens—is light-hitting Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent, whose three-run homer keyed their dramatic 5-4 one-game playoff win over the Red Sox to win the 1978 Eastern Division. Dent actually had a respectable twelve-year career, though he was known more for his defense than his offense, hitting .247 lifetime with just 40 home runs (and only five in 1978). Volumes have been written about that game, and season, some participants and observers (especially Red Sox fans) viewing it as a cheap homer over Fenway Park’s notoriously short-distance left-field wall. But hey—the Red Sox also had chances to hit homers there that game.

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It’s sometimes forgotten that Dent had an excellent World Series that year, hitting .417, driving in seven runs, and winning the series MVP award. The even unlikelier hero of that series, however, was…

Brian Doyle: Rookie Brian Doyle had an undistinguished year for the Yankees in 1978, hitting .192 in 52 at-bats with no extra-base hits or walks. Regular Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph got injured before the post-season, however, and Doyle got most of the playing time at the position in the World Series. And he delivered, going 7-for-16 with, most dramatically, four hits in the series-winning victory in game six, including a double—his first extra-base hit in the majors.

Brian_Doyle

Doyle did play for three more years in the majors, but not well, ending up with a .161 average in 199 at bats, and just four extra-base hits (though one of them was a home run). He is, incidentally, the younger brother of Denny Doyle—who, though he had a better and much lengthier career as a second baseman, is also most famous for a World Series game, though in a negative way. Denny Doyle’s error on a potential inning-ending double-play ball in the seventh game of the 1975 World Series set up a two-run homer by Tony Perez, in a game the Red Sox lost by one run.

Mark Brouhard: One of the least familiar names on this round-up, reserve outfielder/DH Brouhard is perhaps the greatest one-game wonder in postseason history. In game four of the 1982 American League playoffs, he hit two doubles and a home run, leading the Brewers to victory over the Angels in a five-game series they won after being down 2-0. Playing in place of injured outfielder Ben Oglivie, Brouhard somehow never got in another game either that series or in the World Series, which the Brewers lost in seven games.

BrouhardMark3

Brouhard did have a six-year career as a part-timer, and not such a great one, with a .705 OPS and 25 home runs. “It was frustrating at the time,” Brouhard told the Los Angeles Times in 1991 of his failure to appear in the World Series. “I felt that I deserved a chance to play some in the World Series. I felt like I had earned it.

But (manager Harvey Kuenn) felt that this might be the veterans’ one shot to play in the World Series and he went with them…As it turned out, we lost anyway.”

Tom Lawless: For a player with such an unremarkable career as a multi-position reserve, Lawless has had some remarkable highlights. One, if you can call it a highlight, was being traded for Pete Rose late in the 1984 season, near the end of Rose’s time as a player. Another was hitting a home run in the 1985 World Series, after a season in which he’d gone 2-25 for an .080 batting average. It was his only hit in ten at-bats that series, which his Cardinals lost in seven games to the Twins. He wasn’t much better over the course of his playing days, chalking up a measly .521 OPS and two homers in eight years, during which he accumulated just 590 plate appearances.

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On the brighter side, he was 53-66 lifetime as a base stealer; in fact, between 1986 and 1989, he was a rather splendid 28-30. He also managed the Houston Astros for 24 games last September, though it was just an interim position for the luckless Lawless.

Billy Bates: Bates had the least distinguished career of any player on this list. He appeared in 25 games as a pinch-runner and second-baseman, hitting .125 with one extra-base hit (a double) in 48 at-bats. But the Reds picked him up for some roster depth at the end of 1990, which made him eligible for the World Series that year. In game two he delivered his only hit in a Cincinnati Reds uniform (he’d gone 0-5 for them in the regular season) by beating out an infield single as a pinch-hitter, scoring the game-winning run in a series the Reds swept from the A’s.

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A la Nippy Jones, Bates never played in a major-league game after scoring this run (though he at least got to stay in the game after reaching base). Another strange footnote: it was his only hit against a right-handed pitcher in his career, coming against Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, no less.

Gene Larkin: The seven-game 1991 World Series between the Braves and the Twins is pretty well-remembered. So is Gene Larkin, though even some fans who watched the series forget that he’s the guy who delivered the single that won the game for the Twins in the bottom of the tenth inning of the seventh game.

larkin

Larkin had a pretty nondescript career as a multi-positional player for the Twins from 1987-1993. He never quite established himself as a regular, had a .723 OPS, and only made twelve plate appearances in the 1987 and 1991 postseasons. His game-winning hit, over a drawn-in outfield, would in most situations have been an average flyball (if deep enough to score runners from third). But, more than almost any player in baseball history, he was in the right place at the right time.

“I was a role player,” he acknowledged to Baseball Digest in 2002. “An average player at best. If I didn’t get this hit, I’d be just another player who had a so-so career.” But as the article reported, “It doesn’t matter here he goes or what he’s doing…shopping, eating, playing golf, or just going for a walk. People are always shaking his hand or patting him on the back. ‘Every time I play golf, it happens. Just a few days ago, a gentleman I didn’t know said, “Thanks a lot for ’91.” People want to thank me, congratulate me or tell me how happy that hit makes them feel.’”

Francisco Cabrera: A reserve catcher and first baseman for the Atlanta Braves in the early 1990s, Cabrera had just 374 at-bats over the course of a five-year career. He wasn’t that bad, hitting 17 home runs in that span, and posting an okay .747 OPS. He was never good enough, however, to get regular playing time, and had just ten at-bats in the Braves’ 1992 pennant-winning season.

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He still got on their playoff roster, and was the pinch-hitter chosen when the Braves were one out from elimination against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With his team down 2-1 and two out in the bottom of the ninth, he hit a two-run single that won the pennant for Atlanta and sent the Pirates home.

There’s some speculation, incidentally, that had a superstar on the other team been playing the game more astutely, the outcome could have been very different. Wrote Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows, when Cabrera came to the plate, “Andy Van Slyke, the Pirates’ centerfielder, whistled to Bonds, then signalled with his glove for him to move in and to his left. Bonds looked at Van Slyke, but didn’t move. Instead, he stayed just where he was, deep, guarding the left-field line. Until he won his first MVP in 1990, Bonds had been paid less than Van Slyke, and he still resented it. Bonds called him ‘the Great White Hope.’

“Cabrera slapped a base hit to left field, about where Van Slyke had tried to get Bonds to play. The runner on third, David Justice, trotted home with the tying run. On second for the Braves was the slow-footed Sid Bream, a former Pirate who once said that everybody in the Pittsburgh clubhouse had wanted to punch Barry out at one time or another. As Bonds played the ball, Bream rounded third and lumbered home. Bonds’s throw was strong, but it was up the first base line. Bream scored, and the Braves were in the World Series.”

Chad Curtis: An unhappier ending was in store for Chad Curtis, an outfielder with a ten-year career that was better than Larkin’s, but not much. He did manage to clear 100 homers and 1000 hits, with a .745 OPS. And though his 1999 season wasn’t that special (five homers and a .767 OPS in 245 plate appearances), in game three of the World Series he hit two home runs for the Yankees, the second winning the game in walk-off fashion.

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Right after the game, Curtis was interviewed on national TV by sportscaster Jim Gray. Well, not quite interviewed: Curtis told Gray, on-camera, that he wouldn’t speak to him because of a critical interview Gray had done with Pete Rose before game two. At that moment, it was hard to decide who was more unlikable, Curtis or the characteristically irritating Gray.

While his refusal to be interviewed had no negative consequences on his reputation as far as I can tell, an off-field incident many years later did. On October 3, 2013, Curtis was sentenced to seven to fifteen years in prison for six counts of criminal sexual misconduct, stemming from accusations of sexual harassment from several female students at the high school where he was coaching.

Geoff Blum: The 2005 World Series is disdained by those who want higher-profile matchups than the Astros vs. the White Sox, or seven-game series, not four-game sweeps. Actually, however, this series was about as exciting as four-game sweeps got, with close games and quite a bit of drama and strategy. The crucial blow in the most exciting game was a two-out homer in the top of the 14th inning by Geoff Blum, an infielder (for the most part) for 14 years, and several teams, without ever quite gaining a regular job. He had a lifetime .694 OPS and 99 home runs – 100, however, if you add that World Series shot.

blum

Blum only had 99 plate appearances for the White Sox that year (and just one home run in the regular season for the team), and would never play for the Sox again. What’s even more notable about his home run than its timing, however, is that it was his only World Series appearance, for the White Sox or anyone else. He is, incidentally, not the only player to hit a homer in his only World Series at-bat, the other being the yet more obscure infielder Jim Mason, who hit his for the Yankees in the third game of the 1976 World Series. The Yankees were swept in that series, and Mason was one of the worst players in this roundup, with a lifetime OPS of .534 and 12 home runs in nine years of mostly part-time service.

DeWayne Wise: Most of the players on this list performed their heroics or near-heroics in the post-season or the heat of the pennant race. Here’s an instance, however, of a spurt of brilliance that happened in a regular season game, and not a particularly meaningful one. On July 23, 2009, Mark Buehrle’s perfect game was saved in the ninth inning by reserve outfield DeWayne Wise, who was in as a defensive replacement and robbed the Tampa Bay Rays’ Gabe Kapler of a home run. To quote Wikipedia, “To thank Wise for his play Mark Buehrle gave him a bottle of Crown Royal XR in a cloth bag embroidered with his name and the date of the perfect game.”

wise

On the strength of his defense and base-running, Wise scratched out an eleven-year career despite a subpar .645 OPS. Another perfect-game saving play was made a few years ago by Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco, who made a spectacular diving catch in the seventh inning to preserve Matt Cain’s June 13, 2012 gem. That’s probably what Blanco will be most remembered for, though he’s building a career as a modestly useful Giants reserve outfielder.

Yusmeiro Petit: As long as we’re talking Giants, the last name on this list is a teammate of Blanco’s and, for that matter, Travis Ishikawa (or at least he was a teammate of Ishikawa before this month). Yusmeiro Petit, on the Giants’ staff as I write this, has had a journeyman career, with a lifetime ERA of 4.72 and a win-loss record of 20-27. He’s had his moments with the Giants, however, losing a perfect game on September 6, 2013 with a 3-2 count and two out in the ninth inning.  The following year, he set a major league record by retiring 46 batters in a row (over the course of eight appearances). More memorably, he pitched six scoreless innings out of the bullpen to get the win in an 18-inning playoff game against the Nationals in 2014, with seven strikeouts and just one hit allowed—not as impressive a performance as Moe Drabowsky’s, but still an amazing one, given the circumstances.

petit

In this post, I haven’t cited the numerous players who are known primarily for an on-field failure. And there are many: Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike in the 1941 World Series, Fred Merkle’s failure to touch second base on a (nearly) game-ending single in a key game in the 1908 pennant race, Donnie Moore giving up Dave Henderson’s home run to erase what seemed a certain victory in the 1986 playoffs, etc. Maybe those will be a subject for a future post. Because the infinite possibilities of how baseball games play out will certainly leave room for more remembered-only-for-this feats in the future, good and bad.

Records I Have Not Known (Or At Least Right Away)

We all know—or at least most of the readers of a blog like this know—that scene in High Fidelity where the record store clerks don’t sell a copy of Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk to a customer, just because they don’t like him. (That scene’s not in the book on which the film’s based, by the way.) No doubt that scenario has played out somewhere in the real world, but it hasn’t happened to me, though I’ve been to many, many record stores. At least a few of those clerks must not have liked me, or thought me hip, but no one’s refused to take cash just because of that.

Record-Store-Days-hi-res-cover

Reading the book Record Store Days—a book that generally focuses on the kindler, gentler, most positive side of record retailing—recently brought back some of my weird record shopping experiences. There have been three instances where I was actually unable to buy a record displayed in a store, or at least some resistance was mounted to my purchase. Each of them involved rare LPs, and while not many people in the general public would care about those circumstances, they’ll probably be familiar to at least a few people reading this sort of blogpost. Right?

The first of these instances was both the only one in which I succeeded in buying the LP, and the only one where some sort of resistance was given against my completion of the purchase. This took place about 30 years ago in a San Francisco record store where the owner and staff made a big deal out of constantly telling the customers, “Anyone need any help? If you want to hear something, let us know and we’ll play it.” One of them made a big show of chatting me up about the three-volume Chocolate Soup for Diabetics series of rare UK ‘60s psych on display, though I didn’t have the money to buy them (I eventually did, though not at this store).

Not being the kind of guy who enjoys gratuitous banter with salespeople in any retail establishment, I’d patronized the shop for a year or two without taking advantage of their incessant offers to play LPs if you wanted to hear them. Until one day I spotted a rarity for $3. This was Buffalo Springfield’s self-titled debut album—but not the edition I already had. This was the first pressing, with one song, “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” that was replaced by “For What It’s Worth” (after that song became a hit) on most editions of the record—and never subsequently issued on a vinyl release.

The back cover of the first pressing of Buffalo Springfield's debut LP, listing a song, "Baby Don't Scold Me," that was removed from subsequent editions. The rest of the track listing was slightly different than the more common subsequent editions as well.

The back cover of the first pressing of Buffalo Springfield’s debut LP, listing a song, “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” that was removed from subsequent editions. The rest of the track listing was slightly different than the more common subsequent editions as well.

I wanted to be sure that the fairly beat-up copy played okay, and also—since the order of the songs, as listed on the back cover, was scrambled from the version I was used to—that “Baby Don’t Scold Me” actually did play when you put the needle on the record, and not “For What It’s Worth” or some other track I already had. So I went to the counter, which happened to be staffed by the owner on a weekday morning on which no other customer had yet entered the store. I asked him if I could hear just one track, “Baby Don’t Scold Me.” He acted as if I’d interrupted his lunch to ask him if I could eat the rest of his sandwich.

“I’m making a tape,” he grumbled.

I explained that I did really need to hear the song, as it was the only one I was buying the LP for, and I had to be sure it was on the record and played without a skip. I also explained that this was the edition of Buffalo Springfield’s debut that had a song that was not on any subsequent pressings, which is why I need to hear that track in particular.

“I always thought that was a lousy song,” chipped in someone else on the staff. “I’m actually glad they replaced it with ‘For What It’s Worth.’”

What customer service! What salesmanship!

They did reluctantly play the one song, and I did buy the LP. And I never went out of my way to recommend the store again. It, like most stores of that sort, went out of business quite a few years ago, though it looks like the owner might be doing some sort of mail-order, according to a website that hasn’t been updated since 2000.

“Baby Don’t Scold Me,” incidentally, has been readily available—though only in its mono version—since 2001 on the four-CD Buffalo Springfield box set. It had also been bootlegged since at least the mid-1980s, as well. And it’s not a lousy song, though it’s not as good as “For What It’s Worth.”

Buffalo Springfield's "Stampede" bootleg includes "Baby Don't Scold Me."

Buffalo Springfield’s “Stampede” bootleg includes “Baby Don’t Scold Me.”

So does the official Buffalo Springfield box set, which won't win any awards for imaginative cover design.

So does the official Buffalo Springfield box set, which won’t win any awards for imaginative cover design.

Across the bay, and also in 1983 or 1984, I had my only record store visit where I could not buy a disc I asked to purchase that was physically in the shop. This was in Rasputin’s on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley (a few blocks north of its current location), which at that time was indisputably the best store in the Bay Area (a position it no longer holds). While browsing, I heard a record by the Move playing over the sound system—but it wasn’t any Move record I’d ever heard before. It was a live recording, and in pretty good fidelity.

I went up to the counter to take a look at the record, which was a Move bootleg I’d never seen before, and have never seen since. In fact, I’ve rarely seen any Move bootlegs, and certainly hadn’t seen one before hearing this LP. It’s so rare, in fact, that I can’t find an image of it on the Internet.

The poster for the Move's 1969 shows at the Fillmore did not boast especially memorable artwork.

The poster for the Move’s 1969 shows at the Fillmore did not boast especially memorable artwork.

I think it had a price tag of $10, which was a lot of money for me then. Still, I asked if I could buy it. The guy behind the counter told me it was not for sale. My guess is it had just come in with a batch of used LPs, and he was keeping it for himself. At least he was polite about it.

There was a happy ending, sort of, to this failure—though I had to wait almost 30 years for it to play out. For in 2012, material from the Move in concert at the Fillmore in 1969—some tracks of which I’d heard, just once, on that bootleg—finally came out legitimately on Live at the Fillmore in 1969. This official release likely had better fidelity than the bootleg, and, as a double CD, had more music than the bootleg LP offered. And I got a review copy, though only as a CDR with a PDF of liner notes. My request for a finished copy when the album came out was ignored—until, a full two years later, it arrived in the mail. That’s the only time that’s happened to me either.

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As an aside, it probably isn’t that rare for owners or staff of stores that sell used records to keep prizes from used buys for themselves, though it’s not common for them to actually play such finds in the store. The only time I can recall a staffer actually telling a customer he was keeping a record he’d bought—not from this specific customer, but a customer earlier in the day—was in 1982 at a store in Northeast Philadelphia. The record the owner was keeping for himself? The Blasters’ 1980 debut LP, American Music, on the small independent Rollin’ Rock label—which was indeed already rare even by 1982 (having been pressed in a run of just a couple thousand copies), though it finally got issued on CD (with bonus tracks of course) in 1997.

Blasters

The Move aren’t a well known band (at least in the US), but the third and final time I had a hard time actually buying an album that was in the bins, the item in question was far more obscure than even a Move bootleg. If I remember correctly, this took place around 1990 in New York’s Soho district in Rocks In Your Head—yet another store, beloved in its day, that’s been gone for years, closing in 2006. I wasn’t expecting to find anything I particularly needed, but there was the first LP by Kahondo Style, 1985’s My Heart’s in Motion.

Kahondo Style’s second album, 1987’s Green Tea & Crocodiles (which I did already and still own), was a quite idiosyncratic and unclassifiable fusion of rock, pop, jazz, new music, art songs, Cole Porter, middle eastern-like chanted background vocals, and more. I knew they’d put out an LP before that, but I’d never seen it. Even a personal visit to its (now also long-gone) US distributor, New Music Distribution Service (within walking distance of Rocks In Your Head), had failed to land a copy.

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So I brought the sleeve to the counter, quest fulfilled at last. And guess what? They had the sleeve, but not the actual LP. It was one of those stores that, probably to eliminate shoplifting and other such crimes, only put the covers on display, keeping the discs behind the counter. And they couldn’t find the disc.

So I left the store empty-handed. I haven’t seen My Heart’s in Motion since. I haven’t even heard it—not even once. As limited as the market must be, is anyone going to reissue this?

This is the Kahondo Style LP that I *do* have.

This is the Kahondo Style LP that I *do* have.

San Francisco Financial District Public Open Spaces

Like most San Franciscans, I seldom take official guided tours of my own city. There are the usual excuses – I’ve lived here for many years, I see lots of what’s special about the city on an everyday basis, I don’t want to be mistaken for some out-of-town rube taking in the superficial highlights, there are lots of things to do outside of the city itself in the Bay Area, etc. But as with any great city, even the densest, most overcrowded parts of San Francisco have corners that you’d be very unlikely to detect if you didn’t have someone point them out to you.

The rooftop garden at 343 Sansome Street in downtown San Francisco.

The rooftop garden at 343 Sansome Street in downtown San Francisco.

That’s even the case with the city’s downtown Financial District, as I found out when I recently took the San Francisco City Guides “City Scapes and Public Places” tour. The Financial District is more a place to rush through than linger, with more suits-per-capita than any other neighborhood in the city, sidewalks overpopulated with professionals hastening to and fro, and a skyline dominated by skyscrapers. But there are some areas designated as “public places” that provide some calm and even some offbeat quirkiness, though you’ll sometimes have to look hard for the official plaques that mark them.

I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more such rooftop spaces on the tour – only a couple, in fact. The first of these, on top of the Crocker Galleria, is easy to access through just a few flights of stairs, even if the ones marked “Rooftop Garden” aren’t exactly prominently signposted. Climb that flight, however, and you reach a relatively quiet space, with this unexpected landmark of sorts:

The sundial on top of the Crocker Galleria.

The sundial on top of the Crocker Galleria.

Some wags might remark that it’s a waste of space to have a sundial in a city that’s fogged in at least as often as it’s sunny. Fortunately it was a brilliant sunny morning when I took the tour, though that’s a forecast you can’t count on.

The same sundial in close-up.

The same sundial in close-up.

The other rooftop on the tour is more impressive, and in such a relatively anonymous building that it’s doubtful anyone would come across it by chance. Take the elevator to the 15th floor of the building at 343 Sansome, and you find this rooftop garden, a popular lunch spot for downtown workers:

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Look to the northwest, sort of, and you’ll see a building with three odd figures perched on a nearby roof, not visible from street level:

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If your camera has a zoom lens of sufficient strength, zero in to find these three angel-of-death-type figures:

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The City Scapes and Public Places tour also goes through quite a number of ornate bank lobbies/entrances. Bank lobbies generally aren’t such exciting places to hang out, but a couple of them boast surprisingly arty and humane touches. Take this public open space at the Citigroup Center at 1 Sansome Street:

Palm trees in the court/entrance to the Citigroup building.

Palm trees in the court/entrance to the Citigroup Center.

Odd statue in the Citigroup Center court.

Odd statue in the Citigroup Center court.

Weirder is the lobby near the elevators on the ground floor of the Merchants Exchange Building at 465 California Street. Sculptures of heads of some of San Francisco’s founding financial fathers line the walls, though some of them succeed in making them seem more shifty than trustworthy:

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Would you trust these guys with your money?

Would you trust these guys with your money?

The tour ends up near the Transamerica Building, itself one of downtown San Francisco’s most famous landmarks. No, there’s no public open space on the roof; you can’t even pay to go on the roof. Many visitors and residents, however, remain unaware of the nice, if tiny, Redwood Park just a few yards away, with frogs in the fountain:

Fountain in Redwood Park.

Fountain in Redwood Park.

Frogs in the fountain.

Frogs in the fountain.

The Puddle Jumpers sculpture in Redwood Park.

The Puddle Jumpers sculpture in Redwood Park.

The City Scapes and Public Places tour is given at 10am and 1:30pm every Friday, meeting at the Native Sons Monument at Montgomery & Market Streets in downtown San Francisco. Tours are free, though donations are appreciated. More information at http://www.sfcityguides.org/desc.html?tour=11. (It looks like they might be adding 1:30pm Wednesday tours on a regular basis; check the website’s calendar.) San Francisco City Guides also offers tours of many other areas in San Francisco.

I’m No Country Fool: The True Origins of the Who’s First Single

I wrote a book called Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. I could also write a book called Urban Legends of Rock’n’Roll, meaning those myths about rock history that get perpetuated so often that they’re often repeated as fact. Some of these are major—that rock’n’roll died between Buddy Holly’s death and the arrival of the Beatles in the US, for instance, or that the Beatles failed their Decca Records audition because they were forced to play popular standards (though those comprised only four of the fifteen songs on their audition tape). Maybe the myth addressed by this post will be considered minor in comparison. But the matter of what one side of the Who’s first single was based on is usually misreported, and has become an unusually persistent error.

Advertising for the Who's first single, though they were billed as the High Numbers when "I'm the Face" and "Zoot Suit" were paired on a July 1964 single.

Advertising for the Who’s first single, though they were billed as the High Numbers when “I’m the Face” and “Zoot Suit” were paired on a July 1964 single.

Here’s the basic genesis of the story: in mid-1964 the Who, who had briefly changed their name to the High Numbers, recorded their debut single. Released on July 3, 1964, it featured two songs bearing the songwriting credit of Pete Meaden, a mod then involved in the group’s management. These were, however, in fact blatant rewrites of American blues and soul songs, putting rather contrived—borderline exploitative, even—lyrics celebrating the mod lifestyle to note-for-note copies of US records.

Pete Meaden.

Pete Meaden.

The more famous of the two sides is “I’m the Face,” owing to its wider availability (as it was first reissued as part of the Who’s 1974 Odds & Sods compilation) and having sometimes been reported as being the A-side. (In another mini-myth, as the inner label of the original 45 makes clear, it was the B-side, not the A-side.) The source of the tune is obvious: it’s based on the great Louisiana bluesman Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It,” using a very similar melody and shuffling, irregular rhythm. Though not exactly famous, the song would have been well known to London R&B aficionados by mid-1964—the Yardbirds, with Eric Clapton, had already recorded it for their first LP (though it wouldn’t come out until December), and the Kinks put a cool raveup version on their first LP (released in October).

"I'm the Face" was based on Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It."

“I’m the Face” was based on Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It.”

The-Yardbirds-Five-Live-Yardbir-51155

Both the Yardbirds and the Kinks covered "Got Love If You Want It" on their first LPs.

Both the Yardbirds and the Kinks covered “Got Love If You Want It” on their first LPs.

The other side of the 45—officially, the A-side, though it’s often reported as the flip—was “Zoot Suit,” which had a much more unusual, winding minor melody. Many sources, such as the first big Who biography (Dave Marsh’s Before I Get Old, from 1983), report that this is a cover of “Country Fool,” the B-side of the Showmen’s small 1961 US hit “It Will Stand.” (Note, too, that although “It Will Stand” would soon become revered as one of the greatest odes to rock’n’roll, it was a small hit at the time of its release, not a big one, peaking at #61 in the national charts.) This is also stated in the most recent notable Who book, the excellent Pretend You’re in a War: The Who & the Sixties (2014), in which author Mark Blake writes that “the B-side, ‘Zoot Suit,’ was another Meaden-composed mod anthem, based on the song ‘Country Fool’ by the New Orleans doo wop group the Showmen.”

Although this ad for the Showmen, oddly, doesn't name either of the songs on their "It Will Stand"/"Country Fool" single, it prominently quotes a lyric from "It Will Stand"—"some folks don't understand it" (meaning those adults who slagged rock'n'roll in its early days).

Although this ad for the Showmen, oddly, doesn’t name either of the songs on their “It Will Stand”/”Country Fool” single, it prominently quotes a lyric from “It Will Stand”—”some folks don’t understand it” (meaning those adults who slagged rock’n’roll in its early days).

Since it was the B-side of a hit record that proved unusually durable on oldies radio for many years despite its modest initial chart placing, “Country Fool” has never been hard to find. And in 2015, it’s really easy to find—online, if you must, though it’s come out on several CDs, including the superb four-CD compilation Crescent City Soul: The Sound of New Orleans 1947-1974 (which also includes “It Will Stand”). Even these liner notes add to the chorus of confirmations that “Country Fool” was turned into “Zoot Suit” by the Who/High Numbers, Alan Warner writing that “the rambunctious ‘Country Fool’ was sabotaged in 1964 as ‘Zoot Suit’ by a British group called the High Numbers, who would later find fame as the Who.”

"Country Fool" was issued in the UK, as shown on this single on the London American label.

“Country Fool” was issued in the UK, as shown on this single on the London American label.

But guess what? “Country Fool” doesn’t sound like “Zoot Suit.” Play the two songs back-to-back if you don’t believe me.

And guess double what? Play the Dynamics’ “Misery,” which almost made the US Top 40 (peaking at #44, and reaching the Top Ten in their native Detroit) in late 1963. Except for the lyrics, it sounds exactly like the Who’s “Zoot Suit.”

(It’s on at least a couple CD compilations if you want a hard copy, incidentally, including The Big Top Records Story: Classic New York [sic] Pop 1958-1964. “Misery” is also correctly cited as the source for “Zoot Suit”‘s tune in the revised 2005 edition of Andy Neill and Matt Kent’s excellent Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who 1958-1978.)

"Misery" was also issued in the UK, and also on the London American label.

“Misery” was also issued in the UK, and also on the London American label.

How could such an obvious mistake have been made—and how can it continue to be made—about who the Who were essentially “covering” on “Zoot Suit” for more than 30 years now? The source turns out to be the “writer” of “Zoot Suit” himself.

For on November 17, 1979, the New Musical Express ran an interview with Pete Meaden (conducted by Steve Turner) in which he was asked about “Zoot Suit.” (Meaden died in July 1978, but the two interviews combined in the NME piece were done shortly before his death.) His response was quite thorough, if in part inaccurate:

“‘Zoot Suit’ was the fashion record of all time—it pinched the backing track of ‘Country Fool’ by the Showmen, which was the B- side of ‘It Will Stand.’ The Showmen are now known as Chairmen Of The Board and ‘It Will Stand’ is the rock’n’roll tribute anthem of all time. I heard the melody, and the night before the session I dreamt up the lyrics, and I wrote them all down—I wrote them down on speed. The actual words were ‘I’m the hippest number in town, And I’ll tell you why’ and it goes on to ‘I wear a Zoot Suit jacket with side-vents five inches long’ and it’s a great song, man…”

Meaden—who, as even that quote confirms, was a heavy amphetamine user, and a patient in a mental hospital when Turner tracked him down in 1975—must have been misremembering the single he’d “pinched.” Obscure US soul singles were almost as prized as pills on the London mod scene, and Meaden must have owned or had access to the 45 of the Dynamics’ “Misery.”

And who were the Dynamics? There’s an amazing amount of detail about the original record, and the Detroit soul group that cut it, on this page on the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends site. This article poses this challenging question: “If Meaden simply rewrote the words, shouldn’t one or both of these songwriters be getting credit for the melody?”

Interestingly, the songwriting credit on the Dynamics’ “Misery” goes to their manager (George “Ernie” Stratton) and voice coach (Anthony Wilson). Yet this article also states that original Dynamics member Fred “Sonny” Baker “said that somehow the credits were listed incorrectly on the record labels resulting in their manager and vocal coach being given undeserved songwriting credits on both sides of the single. Baker vows that he and Warren Tippett wrote ‘Misery.’”

Were the Who aware of any of this when they recorded “Zoot Suit” back in June 1964? Probably not. And the Dynamics almost certainly weren’t either, since “Zoot Suit”/“I’m the Face” was a flop, Accounts of exactly how many copies it sold vary, but total certainly failed to even reach four figures. Only a thousand copies were pressed, and Meaden told Steve Turner that “I bought 250 records off the record company, off Fontana, to get it into the charts.”

An ad for the High Numbers single offers more confirmation that "Zoot Suit" was the A-side, as it's the only song plugged, and "I'm the Face" isn't mentioned.

An ad for the High Numbers single offers more confirmation that “Zoot Suit” was the A-side, as it’s the only song plugged, and “I’m the Face” isn’t mentioned.

So next time you see “Zoot Suit” described as a rewrite of “Country Fool”—and there probably will be a next time, given how many times it’s been reported as such—be aware that the true source was something quite different. And quite cool—“Misery” is a pretty nifty 45, in large part due to that odd winding minor melody. And even if the rewrite wasn’t all that kosher, “Zoot Suit”’s a pretty cool record too—if nowhere near as distinctive and original as the record that would launch the Who into the British charts in early 1965, the Pete Townshend-penned “I Can’t Explain.”

But could they explain where "Zoot Suit" came from?

But could they explain where “Zoot Suit” came from?

Author Richie Unterberger's views on vintage rock music; San Francisco Bay Area biking and hiking; socially responsible living; and baseball.