Serpent Power

I suppose I should tell my tail of the Serpent Power. Theres really not much to it. Another story of the rise and fall of a folk n roll band.

The Grass Roots had a house in the industrial area of San Bruno where we could practice and live our hand to mouth existence. With our record company, Dunhill, on our butts and Denny and I at odds with lead singer Willy Fulton the group disbanded. Denny and I had a friend, Chris Brooks, who lived near the Fishermans Warf area in San Francisco. She had room in her basement where members of the Quick Silver Messenger Service had once crashed. Chris was a welfare mother with two children and groupie to the whole SF music scene. She new all the groups and promoters and was one of the people who introduced the Grass Roots to the likes of Chet Helms, Bill Graham, Quicksilver, The Dead, Big Brother etc. Any way Denny and I chose to live there so we could be closer to the scene in hopes of finding a new gig. It was a great place to live, close to the Warf, North Beach and China Town. Seems like every week we went to dances at the Avalon Ballroom where the family Dog held their events. Although Im sure we went across town to the Fillmore too because Chris had a part time job for Bill Graham doing promo. Of course we met lots of bands. I remember one night Chris had Led Zeppelin over and another Rodger Daltrey from the Who stopped by. I had become friends with Family Dogs Chet Helms and would drop by his place to pick up posters for the next weeks concert. Sometimes Id take one down to San Bruno and put it in the local record shop window. It was an easy life but we didnt have much money.

One day Chris came home and told us about a couple whose children went to the same daycare/preschool as her children. David and Tina Meltzer. Chris said they wanted to start a group and would like to meet Denny and I as possible members. David and Tine lived not far from Chris so we went over with our instruments and gave it a shot. Davids material was fun to play and Tina had a wonderful singing voice. Although David and Tina were 10 years older than Denny and I, and at that time who wasnt hell we were only 19-20, we seemed to get along great. David was a poet/writer and they lived what I thought was a fascinating bohemian lifestyle, they were cool, their kids were cool and their place was as comfortable as a down comforter on a cold winters night.

After agreeing to get started we began practicing in David and Tinas living room, It was great. We drank wine from a gallon jug. Cheap stuff. Mondovi, I think. It turned our tongues black. Im surprised David didnt write a song about it. The pot was cheap too but the times were high and the four of us were excited playing all songs David had written, trying to form our own sound. I couldnt have asked for more from the quartet we had formed. Denny and I were from a rock and pop background David and Tina from folk but some how we both found a common path to plod down and soon the music sounded good, then better.  I must say I was fairly happy with the quartet. Oh yea my favorite groups of the time were the Who, The Dead, Quicksilver, Big Brother, Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape but what we were doing had merit and the tunes were honestly good and fun to play.

David and Tina became mentors, to me anyway, as well as good friends. Their relationship as a couple and their wonderful children, the music David introduced us to, the food, the books, the poetry, well just the whole vibe was very influential.  Without any money and the album not cut yet Denny and I ended up moving home. What a tragedy that was. My dad was a drunk, Dennys too. Our moms saved our asses by being there for us. I started seeing my high school girlfriend again. Melania, damn she was cutie and fresh. I started dreaming about having a little place like David and Tina and wouldnt that be great, bla, bla, bla? What a dreamer.

After seeing us play at a benefit for the Telegraph Neighborhood Center Ed Denton, the manager for Country Joe and the Fish, recommended us to Country Joes label, Vanguard. Vanguard and producer Sam Charters felt the band needed more of a 60s style so asked if we could ad drums and organ. The band began rehearsing in a Masonic temple in Oakland with new members drummer/poet Clark Coolidge and organist John Payne. Talk about strange. We would get there and set up our gear in the main meeting room pull out our cheap wine and smoke some crappy pot and off wed go. I never did like the full band as much as those intimae nights in the living room at David and Tinas but soon we new enough tunes to start recording the album. Sam Charters produced the album at Fantasy Recording in Berkley where just 3 years earlier the Bedouins/Grassroots had recorded their demo. We recorded all the instruments live as I remember just adding vocals later. JP, Jean-Paul, Pickens came in to do the banjo work on Endless Tunnel and before you could blink and eye we had a finished recording.

The band struggled to find any work and the album was coolly received without much sales. I wasnt fond of the new musicians and was a broke as a dog. My girlfriend got pregnant so we got married, found a little house and started a family. That was all good but I always felt cheated not being able to play the Serpent Power card out to its fullest extent.

I find it hard to believe that Rolling Stone magazine has placed the Serpent power work in the top 40 essential albums of 1967 but who am I to say. David was, in my mind, a fine songwriter and a truly unique artist that should be given praise and adulation for his work. Im proud to have had the chance to know him and play his music but top 40 of 67? Who'd ah thunk it.

I have the fondest of memories looking back at the times at David and Tinas home. Playing in the living room with the kids running around and Tina making some cheese and crackers to go with the Black Tongue.  Maybe there isnt anything better than sharing cheap wine and crappy pot with good friends and playing music. Duh. Ya Think?