In the spring of 1964, a week or so past my sixteenth birthday, I found myself taking a motorcycle ride on Sir Francis Drake Blvd., heading west through Marin County towns like Greenbrea,Kentfield, Ross, San Anselmo, and Fairfax. I have a significant history of adventures in some of these towns but they are not my destination. I’m headed for a house in the San Geronimo Valley town of Lagunitas, owned by a man named Ken Howard. Ken Howard was a local writer, activist for liberal causes and father to two lovely girls. I am on my way to meet Sarah Howard, the older of his two daughters, but it his younger daughter, Debbie, who first caught my attention.
Debbie was a dark haired beauty with deep-set, brown eyes and a smooth, tan complexion. Sarah, older by a year or so, had light brown hair with a persistent wave bordering on frizzy, paleskin with some freckles and intense blue-grey eyes. They hardly looked like sisters but as I rode, I did not dwell on this but rather on my mission.
Strapped to the back of my red Honda 150, held in place with bungee cords, was my first guitar, which my parents had given me as a birthday present about a week earlier. The guitar was a Montgomery Ward special (“Monkey Wards” my parents used to call it) worth all of thirty bucks with the strings sitting about a half an inch above the fingerboard. By any standard it was a real piece of shit, but it was what I had and I was determined to learn to play it. After the money they had spent getting me an accordion and lessons starting back in the fourth grade, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when they didn’t fork over the big bucks for a Gibson or a Martin. Sarah, my best friend Gary Steadman assured me, that they knew the words and chords to Guantanamera, a folk song made popular by Pete Seegar, and my mission was to have her teach me to play the song.
I also had it on reliable authority that Sarah Howard was known to make out when the stars were aligned, and the wind was just right.
So with the promise of an auspicious launching of my new musical career, and the prospects of a handful of boob throbbing in my loins, I crested the hill leaving Fairfax and dropped down into the San Geronimo Valley, the sun was getting ready to set over the hills in West Marin, and I soon arrived at their house in Lagunitas. I went inside and said my hellos to everybody, and her family asked me if I wanted to stay for dinner.
“Yes, I’d love to.” I replied and off to the living room we went. Debbie said she had to babysit and someone was coming to pick her up. I went out to the driveway to fetch the guitar from hell, and only then learned that it was woefully and criminally out of tune. The Howards had an old upright piano in their livingroom and Sarah and I worked for a while trying to get that guitar in tune and presently the guy Debbie was supposed to babysit for showed up to take her tohis house. He introduced himself as “Nick” and he looked vaguely familiar. He saw that we were having trouble getting the guitar tuned, and offered to help.
“He plays in the ” Kingston Trio ”, Sarah whispered.
“Huh?” I stammered. Well no wonder he looked so familiar. I had four of their records at home and played them all the time. My dad had worked in radio and TV all my life, and one of the perks of such a job was that the station where he worked,KJBS in San Francisco gave away hundreds of records that didn’t meet the criteria of the program director’s play list. Thankfully, The Kingston Trio, arguably one of thehottest acts in the country in the late fifties and early sixties, fell into this category, along with about a ton of other records including jazz, blues,and priceless old comedy records. KJBS played a sickeningly sweet format of“middle-of-the-road”, post-war standards. Patty Page, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como with a lot of lame string arrangements…elevator music for the fifties –that’s the crap Dad’s radio station played, and their “dump bin” became my playground.
So here’sthis well-dressed, and young looking guy with a kind of soup-bowl haircut, who is standing at the very epicenter of the music scene as I understood it back then, and he’s teaching me to tune my first guitar.
“Start withthe E string…that’s the fat string at the top of your strum. Hold down that string at the fifth fret and turn the tuning peg on the next string down –that’s the A string, until the sound matches – like this…” and then he showed me! I was almost in a state of rapture, forgetting for a short while all about boobs, and the sweet smell of Sarah Howard’s hair. Nick Reynolds drew a little chart for me to use and wrote down the changes to Tom Dooley and MTA on a piece of Sarah’s notebook paper. He was very nice to me, and I’ll never forget that day. I never could have anticipated that five years down the road, I would beworking for Kingston Trio Inc. and I surely didn’t know that nearly fifty yearslater, I would be recounting this story to his widow, Linda Reynolds, one ofthe first friends I made when I started working at the Trident. Years later,when Frank Werber sort of introduced us again, I told him about that day and what it had meant to me.
“Oh yeah,”he said. “I remember…how’s the guitar coming?”
“Pretty good”, I said, “But you were right…it does take a lot of practice.”
He laughed and asked me how Sarah was doing. I told him Ihadn’t seen her in awhile, but I still saw Debbie from time to time. “She’sliving in Mill Valley.”
Even Frank got a kick out the story when I explained how Nick and I had met.
Anyway, I eventually taught myself the song and along the way figured out that songbooks and chord diagrams were easier to understand than notes scribbled on scraps of note paper and soggy cocktail napkins and thus began a life-long, love – hate relationship with the guitar. I never really hated my guitars…just the fact that I wasn’t able to play them better.
Not long after meeting Nick Reynolds, I got this part-time job working the door at this little night–spot in Sausalito that featured live music called TheLion’s Share. It was owned by a guy named Mike Considine and he was able toconsistently book some of the top acoustic acts around at the time. Rambling Jack Elliot, Sandy Bull, Eric Anderson ( whom we jokingly used to call “Blind Eric Flatpick”), Dave Van Ronk and a host of others played there often. Even Stevie Winwoodsat in one night. Some of the guys that went on to form Jefferson Airplaneplayed there regularly.
One night, KJAZ disc jockey Richard Conti, came in with Mose Allison, who even played a set. The place served pub-food; chili, beefstew and hotdogs and in my relatively impoverished state, I was glad to have some place other than my parents house to eat. The club burned down in about 1967, and Mike moved to San Anselmo and reopened it with the same name – but Idon’t think it was ever as successful as the Sausalito incarnation, but a lot of local Marin County bands got their , start there.
The point is, music was ever a recurring theme in my life andcontinues to be to this day, but I thought it proper that after all these years, I write this small tribute to the guy who kind of got me started…so, thanks,Nick, wherever you are.
Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio
By Patrick Pendleton email Pat at: Gizmo754@aol.com
Nick and Josh Reynolds