Wednesday, December 14, 2011

That's A Song, You Know

Along with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane are regarded as the most successful San Francisco band of the late 60s.

Three Word Wednesday: Immobile, Proximity, Retribution
For this week's gathering *click here*

That's A Song, You Know

I was once full of
slithers and wiggles, gathered
in loose red bundles.

Now I'm immobile,
anchored to you, an oak tree
in proximity
to your granite face.

It's retribution, I know.
You've found ways to root
me and now I've got
the sit down, can't cry, Oh Lord
I'm gonna die blues.

Most who know of the Airplane remember Grace Slick, but Signe Anderson was first, and the Jefferson Airplane had no girl singer at the very start. I saw both Jorma Kaukonen (finger picking country and blues, of course) and Paul Kantner (classical guitar) as solo acts before they came out as the Airplane. They performed in a pizza parlor turned folk music coffee house south of the San Jose State campus run by Paul Zeigler. I also saw Skip Spence perform there solo. As a wannabe folkie myself, I modeled my singing and playing on Paul Zeigler. He had previously had a long run at a coffee house called The Brass Knocker, located in Saratoga, California. I was there in the audience learning Paul's style as often as I could get there. I even went one weekend AWOL from Fort Ord, and when the owner found out I was AWOL, he threw me out. Zeigler did High Flying Bird too. That's where I smoked my first dope.


  1. Loved this ... but I need to know, is that really a Jefferson Airplane song?

  2. Margaret, they did the song but it is not original to the Airplane. It's a Billy Edd Wheeler song. I first heard it from Paul Zeigler, whom I mentioned, before the Airplane existed.

    Wiki says: Billy Edward "Edd" Wheeler (born December 9, 1932, Boone County, West Virginia) is an American songwriter, performer, writer and visual artist. He has written songs performed by over 90 different artists including Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane, Bobby Darin, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Kenny Rogers, Hazel Dickens, and Elvis Presley.

  3. The last stanza of that poem is really something. The story accompanying it is really something, too. When are you going to publish your memoirs?

  4. I'm going to assume you did inhale
    (unlike your ex president Bill Clinton:)
    Interesting flash back.

  5. I so much enjoyed all of this. Nice to have the connection with this history as you do. Good memories.

  6. What a great flash back for all of us that grew up in the 60's

  7. If the truth is found to be lies
    and all the joy within you dies
    don't you want somebody to love....

  8. great poem and a wonderful story.
    thank you!!

  9. I remember toking with Paul Ziegler when he was in Weird Harold.

  10. I don't think my other comment was published. Disregard this if I am wrong. I have great memories of the Brass Knocker from the mid-60's. Bill Munday played there a lot. I have been trying to locate him to hear his fabulous rendition of "Delia's Gone" which I still remember him playing after all these years. I also remember Bethlehem Exit and The Ravens with Dan and Tron Toft playing at that pizza parlor near SJ State.

  11. Wow. Welcome. It isn't easy to find all this. What's really weird, there's another much more well known Paul Zeigler, musician who gets in the way. The Paul we are talking about shows up on the net under histories of Hot Tuna, which he briefly played with. Nowhere else as far as I can see.

    I really don't remember much else about the Brass Knocker though I could drive to Saratoga and claim the store must have been right there no matter what is there now. I don't even remember the owner's name, Maury or Morrie or something like that? But I sure remember his face and grumpy attitude to young guys like me.

    Your comments went to spam because you posted to an old post.

  12. His name was Murray and his last name is on the tip of my tongue. What is remarkable about this connection between Tim and me, the Brass Knocker was really SMALL! A tiny room beneath a smallish coffee store with an even tinier kitchen, down the outdoor stairs to the side of the building. You'd be lucky to get fifteen people in there at once. But the music was real as we both agree.

  13. Thanks for going to all this trouble. I graduated from Los Gatos High in 68, so I was a little bit too young to do ev3erything, but I did a lot, since I was/am a guitarist. Anyway, the first time I saw Jefferson Airplane was at Losers South and Signe Anderson was still the singer. Come up the Years was getting some traction. I also saw Janis Joplin and Big Brother there... maybe it was the same bill, but I was so irritated by Janice Joplin's voice... I thought she was horrible. I saw them a few weeks later at the Continental and she came on like gangbusters and blew the roof off the joint as well as making me a hard-core fan. When she was on, she was totally great. But then there were those times when I saw her falling down on stage...Also saw The Sons of Champlin a few times at Losers South. I loved them! Sing Me a Rainbow was sort of a hit. There first album was a double album which had great stuff...

  14. Me too. I modeled after Zeigler, knew most of his stuff to sing along if he would have let me and self taught myself to play some of it later. I did that by weekend after weekend at the store sitting in the audience and getting him to hate me pretty much.

    I left the country in 1967 and was gone for two years. Gone to Asia, East Pakistan as it was called then. I was just 21. When I came back in 69 all that stuff was over but the war protests weren't and that's what happened next.

    I kind of graduated from Zeigler to Kaukonen after a fashion and I still have some of the chops for a kind of two finger picking jazz blues that blends Z and K. But mostly I noodle at the keyboard in Eb these days. That stuff is more like classical sounding improv.

    That is, I sit there when I'm not doing this writing shtick. This stuff takes most of my creative time anymore.

  15. The building the Brass Knocker was in, still stands today. However, it recently was sold and I am told the new owner plans to tear it down. Unfortunately, this building is your typical pioneer house and therefore is not a designated historical building.

    If everybody could post all the their memories of the Brass Knocker such as who played there, etc. I also heard a rumor that Janis Joplin might have performed there. Anything and everything is fine.

    I will forward this information to our City Councilwoman Jill Hunter and the Saratoga Historical Society. They well make an argument against demolishing the building.


  16. I am happy to have this be part of the political process in Saratoga. My sister and her husband actually lived on Big Basin Way for a short while a couple years later.

    I don't know of very many people who played there besides Zeigler. Tim said Bill Munday. I know there were several in a kind of rotation. Zeigler was steady and so were most others but there were plenty of open slots I am sure and who filled them, I don't know. The time frame of the Brass Knocker spanned at least a few years around 1964. The San Jose place run by Zeigler was open in Spring of 1965. That has to be true because the buttons of the coming of the Airplane showed up that summer. Their first gig was in August.

    It has never been easy to have a coffee house make much money. It is always a labor of love. I know I sure didn't have any money to spend in those years.

  17. Dave, I looked at that set of pictures and I am certain you are right. Murray locked up the upper floor of the shop and used the outer stairs for access rather than have people go through his goods. There must be a bathroom downstairs. He built a counter partway back or used one already there. Behind that counter toward the front of the store's basement was storage. Immediately behind the counter was his coffee drink kitchen.

    People sat under those inside stairs and so did the performer because the other side was the access to the kitchen.

  18. I was also thinking of banjo player Pete Grant...

  19. I published some of the pictures and wrote a little more here:

  20. I believe I was given some wrong information I just wanted to give an update on the building that the Brass Knocker was in. At this time it will not be torn down, it will be a restaurant of some type. I was told the owner is researching it's history, I would like to find photos of its past to hang on the walls.

  21. For those of you who are still interested: The owner was Murray Brookman. The name of the coffee shop downtown - south of San Jose State College - was run by Paul Ziegler and it was called The Shelter; Jorma and Paul were close friends and Jorma played there. Yes, the Paul Ziegler who played at the Brass Knocker is the same person who played in both Weird Herald and Hot Tuna. I know of at least four (4) persons who played the Brass Knocker: Paul Ziegler, obviously, and Kathy... (his girlfriend at the time who had a public falling out one night in front of everybody) would sing harmony with Paul. Chris Ramey was another regular (and a good friend of mine) and finally, another dear friend of mine, Pat Simmons, who is a founding member of the Doobie Brothers. If you would like to read an interview w/ Pat Re: the Brass Knocker - please use this link:
    For those of you who are interested in the ambiance of the place - the walls were lined with vertical wooden grey planks about 8" wide and the lights attached to the walls either had a metal Caldron over them or a cheese grater, casting an unforgettable light. (Burlap may have been involved too but I can't remember if it was on the walls or not.) We sat on stools and if you were lucky there was a little table against the wall on both sides of the room with a seat on either side. I always had the hot apple cider and the little board of sliced apples. Paul was the first person I ever heard sing, 'Banks of the Ohio' and 'Silver Dagger'. Paul was tall, with a bit of an over-bite with willowy blond hair. He played a Martin at the time. He was a womanizer, no two ways about it. He married another Kathy (had a thing for women named Kathy, I guess). He had a guitar store in Los Gatos (early ‘70’s) for a while, where he 'taught' lessons; among other things. He and Saf were good friends and of course, Billy Dee who was in Weird Herald and Pachuco. (See: Kris Kristofferson - Silver Tongue Devil to hear the song KK wrote about Billy Dee.) The stories go on and on but that's where I met Paul; he was the star of the show @ the Brass Knocker and he influenced many people when it came to folk music.

  22. What a great thread. Thank you. I didn't know about the Doobie Brothers connection, though it's an obvious one once you think about the fact they were local. This goes full circle for me because when I lived for a couple years on South 12th Street south and east of San Jose State in 1970-1971 I was all the time listening to a very loud rock group rehearsing in another house about a block north on S. 12th. That was of course the Doobie Brothers.

    The Shelter. Of course that was its name. It didn't last that long but I remember four solo acts I saw there. Jorma did his style of country blues, the one he returned to after he tired of the rock gig, slowly phasing it out. Paul Kantner did his classical guitar thing on stage at the shelter at least once. I remember thinking at the time how very cool it was that at least two musicians in the Airplane were hugely accomplished musicians in their own styles. Then of course Skip Spence did his audience rousing version of rock. If he hadn't destroyed himself with his own head and the help of drugs he might have developed into one of the best all time front men of rock and roll. There was another fellow who did bluegrass guitar solos that people called "the human metronome" because his beat was so precise. That's really all I remember about the Shelter and I couldn't go that often because I had no money.

    Anyway, thanks for filling in. This is mostly for me and my memory, I guess. I am happy to know that people are still around who remember the place at this level.

    When I got my Martin to play my version of his music, it was because Paul not only played a Martin but declared it the best acoustical guitar. I took that Martin overseas and worked hard with it to master the music, which I did in that narrow range which was my version of Paul's style. He had a finger flick for beat emphasis that I haven't seen other people do that much. That's one of the things he taught me as I sat there. That and the kind of bluesy syncopation he used.

  23. Weird Herald was a San Franciscan acoustic quartet, who mostly played in clubs such as the Matrix from 1968 to 1969. The two most prominent members were Billy Dean Andrus and Paul Ziegler, the two lead guitarists. Andrus was good friends with Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and (later) Hot Tuna, as well as Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers (after Andrus died of a drug overdose, the song "Black Water" was dedicated to his memory). Ziegler's whereabouts are unknown, but drummer Patrick McIntire and bassist Cecil Bollinger both survive and have provided information about the band.

    From this site:

  24. Weird Herald including Paul Zeigler and Billy Dean Andrus as lead guitars

  25. The flip side:

  26. And here's some more history:


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