My life...So far
I was born, (not hatched) October 5, 1948 in San Francisco to my parents Jack King Sr. of San Francisco and Ruth Smith of Oakland. After WWII, my father became a well know Jazz trumpet player in the San Francisco Bay Area working venues such as Bimbo’s 365 club, the El Patio and the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel with Ernie Heckshires Orchestra to name a few. My mother was a dancer across town at the Bal. They met, sparks flew and love and marriage ensued. We lived on Lawton Street a couple of blocks from ocean beach. My earliest remembrances are of salt spray, sunshine, wind, fog, sand, and Play land at the beach, Louis Armstrong and two Irish setters. But most of all, I remember being loved and well cared for. While still living by the beach, my sister Linda was born. Soon after that we moved to Oakland where my brother Gary was born. My father now had a wife and three small children to provide for on a musicians wages. Tough going, yet somehow my parents made it work. Eventually we moved to the country, Pleasant Hill, Ca. This is where we settled and planted roots.
In the mid 1950’s, Contra Costa County was still lightly populated but on the verge of rapid growth and development. My earliest desire was to play trumpet like my father. Right direction, wrong instrument! Around the age of 10 or 11, my father would take me along with him to jam sessions and rehearsals. I was intrigued by the drums, they were physical, aggressive and sexy, the perfect match for my young ambition. I began drum lessons at age 12 at Forrest Music on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley with the late Jack Taylor as my instructor. He was a great Jazz drummer and a great teacher and I was an eager, enthusiastic student. As I progressed, I obtained a small drum set (piece by piece) until I had a full set up. My early influences on drums were Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. I loved the big band music from the 30’s and 40’s and would play along with records of people like Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Woody Hermans Thundering Herd.
By the time I began middle school, the fifties Rock & Roll and Contemporary Jazz had my focused attention. Artists like, The Everly Brothers, The Coasters, Miles Davis, Ray Charles and of course Elvis. At this time my interest in the guitar began and my friend David Glen taught me some basic chords and finger picking on his guitar. Clearly I needed my own guitar, I worked odd jobs, saved and scraped together enough money to purchase my first guitar, a nylon string Westbrook acoustic. Man was I jazzed, and off and running. As I practiced and learned more, I began experimenting, writing my own songs. I’ve never been much of a cover guy, I simply always wanted to write, play and perform my own music. In 1962 I began High School and what a revelation! I was suddenly thrust into a world of older kids and new opportunities, I adapted very quickly. I joined the school band and by my sophomore year was the featured drummer in Bob Soder’s renowned Jazz band. It was as if I had been preparing for this all my young life. The eagle had landed! But, very soon another thing happened to change my life forever and a day. “The Beatles”! The first time I heard “I want to hold your hand” on the radio, it was like an electric bolt went through my body. I became a full-fledged Beatle maniac, (less the screaming). There is so much to say, but they changed the world and people like me, dramatically for the better, as I grew up idolizing and patterning myself after them.
Through all this, I was practicing and improving my abilities on the drums and guitar. By my junior year, age 16, I met a crazy guy at a dance at another local high school. He asked if I could help him meet and pick up girls. This guy was the late Barry Woolf. We hung out, chased skirts and talked about a lot of stuff including music and his musician friends, Steve Turre and George Tickner. A week or so later, he called me to see if I was interested in playing some music with them. I said “why not”. This was the birth of Shades Blue Ltd. As we got rolling we added a guitar instructor from Concord, Bruce Abono to compliment George Tickner on guitar and Steve Turre on bass and vocals. The line up was set. This combination worked great. Woolf played saxophone and some drums which allowed me to come up front to sing and shake my butt. Man, this was it! Girls and Glory! Shades Blue did very well in the area and recorded two of my early compositions, “Here I Stand” and “December Morn”. “Here I Stand” generated a lot of local attention. Woolf, Turre and I became fast friends and got into a lot of teenage hi jinx. By summer of 1966 after we had all finished high school, we got the opportunity to play an audition at Bill Grahams Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. The two bands featured that night were the Jefferson Airplane (before Grace Slick) and the Grateful Dead. The Dead were O.K., with more hair than I’d ever seen. But the Airplane were a revelation.
Marty Balin was spellbinding. He commanded the stage with his presence, great voice and great songs. We got the gig to play at the Fillmore, slated for September 1966. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. After we saw the Beatles at Candlestick Park, Steve Turre suddenly split and went off to college, and that was that. It wasn’t until years later, that I realized what a great opportunity had slipped through my hands, (the first of a pattern that plagued me the rest of my life). Woolf and I enrolled at Diablo Valley College beginning in autumn of 1966. As fate would have it, also attending that fall were three guys from rival high school bands. David Denny and Jim Fasio from “The Breakers” at Acalanes, and Brian Hough, from “The Sixpence” in San Ramon. We all met, talked and threw our lot in together and along with Barry Woolf and myself formed “The All Night Flight”. Again, with my original songs we drew a lot of attention. As the band evolved, Fasio left to enlist in the Air Force and was replaced by my band mate from Shades Blue, George Tickner. We eventually changed the name of the band to Frumious Bandersnatch (I guess you had to be there, you know San Francisco, late 60’s) and began playing the Bay Area circuit of clubs, Ballrooms & Events. Later David Denney left and was replaced by the searing Brett Wilmot of Oakland. We also added vocalist Kaja Doria to the roster.
Things were progressing well, Tickner and I began collaborating on songs and we were generating a lot of interest. We rented a large two-story warehouse on 5th Avenue at the Oakland Estuary. This was very cool until one night the warehouse was robbed. With all our equipment gone and no means of replacing it, the band folded. Autumn ’67, back to college. Circumstances as they were, Brian Hough split to tramp around Western Europe and Barry Woolf to take stock and clean up his act. I began looking around for the best available talent and constructed the new and eventually more notorious Frumious Bandersnatch. The new lineup was, Ross Valory bass and Jimmy Warner guitar from the Goodtimers. Bobby Winkelman guitar and vocals from the soul band, The Epics, and my old band mate, David Denny also on guitar. This band was very strong. Good players, good singers and most importantly, good original material. We practiced and performed, and in February 1968, recorded and released the now infamous Frumious Bandersnatch self produced purple E.P. This and the efforts of manager Jim Nixon, allowed us to race up the ladder of new original San Francisco bands, others included; Santana Blues Band, It’s a beautiful day. The Sons of Champlin and Cold Blood to name a few.
We began opening shows at the Fillmore West located on Van Ness Avenue in the city, which coincidentally had been the El Patio Ballroom in my father’s era. We played on bills with the likes of, The Byrds, The Kinks, The Moody Blues, Chicago, Santana, The Everly Brothers, The Youngbloods, The Airplane and the Dead, The Steve Miller Band, (of which I later became a member). Early autumn ’68, after performing at the Sky River Rock Festival near Seattle, Ross Valory left the band to play with Tickner and Jim Trumbo in Casadero, Valley of the Moon. This left a big hole but was soon filled by the very capable Jack Notestein from Sarasota, Florida. On we went, recording, writing and playing the Fillmore and many other West Coast venues. Eventually, Jimmy Warner left the band and we went on as a quartet. We were evolving and improving as singers, writers and players. We were set to sign a multi year, multi record deal with MGM Records, when a personal issue between one of our troop and MGM’s A & R rep, blew up and killed the deal. We were devastated! We had scraped and clawed so hard to land this deal, when it blew up we just couldn’t go any further. Bobbie, David and I tried our hand at playing current cover songs in local bars to earn enough money to get by but our hearts were just not in it. At that point, Frumious Bandersnatch was done. The most promising San Francisco original band to NOT get its chance to record & tour!
Yeah well…..Life is full of disappointments. In the fall of 1969, I got a job teaching drums at a music store in Walnut Creek. It was a great experience and I had to really bone up on my sight-reading to stay ahead of my better students. Around this time I was contacted by Ross Valory to see if I was interested in playing with he and George Tickner, and I agreed to check it out. Ross had also invited my erstwhile compadre’, Barry Woolf to play saxophone and thus, Wizard was born. The winter, spring and summer of 1970 was filled with Ganja, Good Acid, Girls and lots & lots of music. Tickner was on fire and the band really cooked. Towards the end of summer, George had one of his notorious meltdowns and I said, “Later, I’m gone”. I got a gig playing drums with a funk band called “The Reality Sandwich”. The band had 3 horns and steady work at the “On Broadway” near Jack London Square in Oakland. A couple members of the band along with David Garribaldi (who would often sit in) formed the Tower of Power. What a scene! I was 21 and nightlife in Oakland was an eye opening experience. I leaned a lot. I worked with the Reality Sandwich for several months. By the first part of September, I received a phone call from my friend and Frumious band mate: Bobby Winkelman. Bobbie had been playing bass with Steve Miller for about a year. Steve’s original drummer, Tim Davis had left the band and Steve asked me to join in his place. I said, “Sounds great, let’s go”. Shortly thereafter, Ross also joined moving Bobbie from bass to rhythm guitar. Several months later, David Denny also joined the Miller Band, and Frumious Bandersnatch was now backing up Steve.
This combination was very effective. We four Frumious band mates knew each other well and it showed in the music, very tight and intuitive. We played acoustic vocal material as well as Steve’s rockin R & B. We toured around America for six months having a ball. But by early summer 1971, Steve decided to pursue another direction musically and cut loose Bobbie & David. We were now a trio with lots of space to cut loose, and boy did we. Steve, Ross and I played some great venues that summer, to many to remember but an example would be; we headlined at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The opening acts on the show were the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin and the Cannonball Adderly Quintet. It was surreal, Miles Davis was backstage each night and a lot of Jazz heavy weights came to see Cannonball and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The promoters of the show were purveyors of Peruvian marching powder, so it was quite a weekend. By autumn Ross had enough. He left the band, and Steve and I began auditioning musicians to start anew. We agreed on keyboardist Dickie Thompson, and the one and only Gerald Johnson from D.C. on bass. Gerald had been playing bass with the Sweet Inspirations backing Elvis. Gerald was the funkiest player I’d ever encountered and we were immediately in the pocket. This combination along with Nashville drummer Roger Allen Clark (2nd drummer so I could come up front and play guitar with Steve), toured out the rest of 1971. Steve, Ross and I had recorded an album that summer entitled “Rock Love”.
It was not one of Steve’s most inspired efforts but for personal reasons it was a transitional period for him and that’s it. Great jams and some not so great songs! I played an extended drum solo on the album and was beginning to receive a lot of notoriety in the industry. In December 71, while recording at the Capital Tower in Hollywood, Charlie Watts came to the session looking for me to express his admiration for my drumming. Boy, was I flattered! In early 72 we toured the East Coast and then on to Europe. It was my first time and it was fabulous. London, Liverpool, Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Bremen and Berlin. What a time! By the end of the tour Steve was very ill and needed month’s to recuperate.
I went back to San Francisco and began hosting sessions with a lot of musicians. By late spring I was getting frustrated by Steve’s prolonged absence and began playing regularly with my old mates, David Denny, Brian Hough and my younger brother, Gary King on lead guitar. Hence, the band Joker was formed within weeks of my decision to leave Steve’s band for Joker, my brother Gary decided Joker was not for him. I have to admit, in retrospect, a big reason for leaving the Miller band was because of Gary’s involvement in Joker. Oh well…. David and Brian and I went on as a trio and rented a house together. We played, practiced, recorded and partied; we were all 24 years old. Let the good times roll!
Then on Thanksgiving Day, 1972, a lady I loved very much and had been living with since college was killed in an auto accident. I won’t divulge the details, but I was devastated. At that point of my life I had not yet lost anyone and I had no frame of reference to cope. Joker continued even though I was numb and felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest. Somehow, I got through it. Time really can heal. Joker added keyboardist Byron Allred in early 73 and moved on. Eventually we added a couple of different drummers so I could front the band with David and Brian, sing, play percussion and guitar. Coincidentally the summer of 73, Joker opened a show for Steve Miller and his band at the New Orleans house in Berkeley. These were the same guys I’d been working and touring with the previous year so it was great to hang out again. But my point is, soon after this show, Steve released his big hit, “The Joker”. Quite a coincidence, but no hard feelings. Steve is a very savvy, determined and resourceful guy and lets face it, all’s fair in love, war and the music industry. Besides which, we all listen to and learn from each other. By the end of summer ’73, my heart was no longer with the band. I was still grieving and didn’t realize it at the time but I was cynical and angry most of the time.
So, I left Joker and began hiring myself out on drums as a fast gun. I worked with a plethora of good musicians on a purely casual basis including my friend and talented guitarist, Jack Eskridge. In autumn of ’73, I was contacted again by Ross Valory to see if I was interested in playing with he, George Tichner, Greg Rolie and Neal Schon. I played with them and there was immediate chemistry. I knew Ross and George like brothers and Greg from hanging out at the Fillmore in the early Santana, Frumious Bandersnatch days. Things clicked and I was accepted as their drummer. There were two issues from the outset. The band played so loud that even with hearing protection my ears were ringing all the time. The other issue was money. I had no benefactors and my sole source of self-support was to work. Greg and Neal were both comfortable from their Santana success. Ross and George both lived at their parent’s homes. And it was made clear; no one would sponsor the band. I was in a tough financial squeeze. The band wanted to rehearse almost daily and I simply did not have the resources to “hang out”.
I ended up leaving the band and took a gig playing drums and touring with Lydia Pense and Cold Blood. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was one of those major life-altering decisions that direct your fate one way or another. I spent all of 1974 touring and partying across America with Cold Blood. Lots of fun! I was 25 and on the hunt. At the end of ’74, I left Cold Blood and began doing studio work and taking gigs as a well know Bay Area drummer. My reputation had grown to a level where I got a lot of calls and was never out of work. However, through all this I still held the dead on certainty that I had the goods to realize my ambition and dream. In the late 70’s, with my brother Gary and the multi talented Jim Hilbun we played original music as “King of Hearts”. The songs, vocals and playing were outstanding and cutting edge. But this was the “disco era” and we weren’t polyester guys. We held out and persevered, after all we were bohemians in an era with a lot of schlock. In the autumn of 1978, George Tickner (who had also left Journey) contacted me to see if I’d be interested in making another run at it. I checked it out and said yes. Hence the band “1000 Lights” was born. Now, this was a great opportunity for me. My long time friend and mentor, Herbie Herbert (Journey’s manager) sponsored us and Ross Valory played bass on our demo. The majority of the music was either my songs or songs I co-wrote with George. The atmosphere was electric and with Herbies involvement, we knew we were getting a legitimate shot. The band members besides George and myself included Kiki Shussel, Steve Keys Roseman and Danny Newsome. As we recorded and progressed it soon became evident, George wanted to be a Studio Band only, while the rest of us wanted to perform and play live venues as well. Herbie booked Journey (who by this time had Steve Perry and Johanthan Cain) into Fantasy Records Studios in Berkeley to record an album. As a sidebar, he arranged for 1000 Lights to record there as well. Neal Schon and Ross Valory lent their considerable talents to our effort.
Once in the studio serious conflicts began to emerge with egos getting challenged and hurt and before the recording was completed, the band imploded. Herbie Herbert was pissed and very disappointed. Eventually Kiki and I were the only two left and to facilitate a viable unit we compiled a back up band which included most notably, guitarist Kirk Casey and keyboardist Steven Berk. We rehearsed, recorded and played dates in preparation of hooking back up with Herbie. He was unimpressed. He liked Kiki and I individually but not the unit. I was at the end of the rope. Herbie arranged for me to play drums with Eric Martin and his band, 415. But, in fairness to them, they were happy with who they had and felt like I was being crammed down their throats. It didn’t work out, back to the real world.
In late 1979 I got married to an American Princess (or so she thought) from Lafayette. It was a spectacle. But over time I came to realize that other than leaving Steve Miller and passing on Journey this marriage was the single biggest mistake of my life. We stayed together off and on for many years, produced a child and ended up ship wrecked on the rocks of the California Family Court system. By 1983 it was pretty obvious I needed to find something other than scuffling to make ends meet playing music. I took a job as a salesman for a National Company, did well and moved up fast. It was a nice change from trying to scrape enough money together just to get by to realizing financial success. Every now and then however, I’d take a look at myself, and wonder “how did I manage to get myself into this mess and what the fuck am I doing about it”, I still held the fire, passion and dream. Through this period, I continued writing, playing and co-writing with Stevie Keys Roseman, the “Merchant of Oakland”.
By 1990 I opened my own business, which also has done very well. Over time it has allowed me the opportunity to play what I want and with whom I want without being trapped into making a living playing cover music I really don’t give a damn about. By 1997 my marriage was over. It had been over for many years but with our daughter we tried to create an illusionary front. Finally, even that didn’t work, we split up for good. Coinciding with this I founded and formed a very talented original band, “Way Fatt”, we played and recorded my songs exclusively and the members included, Steve Sage guitar, Michael Hurwitz drums, and producer of Way Fatts recordings, Paradise Lost. Rich life and the socially charged Dr. Jack. Steve Swan played bass and co-sang lead vocals, Stevie Keys Roseman and keyboards and Steven Berk on keyboards and vocals. Way Fatt recorded and played a variety of events and venues over the next several years. I was preparing to finance and produce my solo project at the Millennium but became financially compromised by the cost and subsequent cost of divorce. Fortunately in 2001, I married again to my wife Roberta (from New York), she was and is a breath of fresh air and we are together still. Nostrovia Baby! As Way Fatt began to loose steam, I recruited David Denny and Brian Hough to perform with me at a Way Fatt show in 2004; we were and always have been great together. After this venue and the response we received, we began rehearsing and performing around the Bay Area as “The All Night Flight”.
Great music and pure joy! We play and perform together still, and each time is very special. Also around 2004 and 2005 Frumious Bandersnatch reunited to record a commemorative CD (The Flight of the Frumious Bandersnatch) it was great to see and create music with everyone one more time. In 2007, The All Night Flight performed at the Summer of Love 40 year reunion in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Over 100,000 people showed up for the event. We played just after the Jefferson Airplane and just before Moby Grape. It all just seemed to make sense somehow. Recently I have produced a solo CD entitled “Promissory Notes”, with the assistance of my friend and engineer, Thomas Martin. The contributing musicians include; Stevie Keys Roseman, Kiki Stack, Brian Hough, Kelly Pine, percussionist David Eagle, saxophonist Armen Boyd and last but not least my brother, Gary King. It has been a long and bumpy road to realize this, but as a lyric from one of my recent compositions reflects, “You’re never to old to be young”. Amen. The fire burns and the dream lives on.