THE REDLEG BOOGIE BLUES     © 1997 Jeff Costello 

First published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA), Boonville CA)


        After eight years in rock and roll bands on the east coast, living in motels and doing everything from playing frat parties and low-life bars to backing popular singers and working as a session player in New York recording studios, I went west.  Sick and tired of the road, and disillusioned with the music business, I caught a flight to San Francisco, a place which seemed to hold some kind of promise... I was invited to visit someone who lived on a houseboat in Sausalito.  It was an unusual and colorful sight,  but there was more to the waterfront than met the eye.
“Those people on the Oakland [an old boat resembling a ferry], are definitely on their own trip,” I was told.  “There’s a guy there named Captain Garbage who eats seagulls.  Shoots them right off the pilings.” In a short time I was carried by fate into the Oakland scene, the mysterious inner circle inhabited by a group of people who called themselves “Redlegs.”

“Drafted” into the Redlegs’ band (they needed a guitar player),  I gradually became part of the larger waterfront scene, learning sailing and seamanship as well other everyday survival skills.  Life on the road playing music had taught me nothing like this. 
There was no law on the waterfront, and while this was frightening at first, I learned that in a community with real trust, authority in the normal sense was unnecessary, and that the System feared and hated us for it. 
Meaning only to be free and have fun, we often took things to extremes, including drugs.  This abuse ultimately made us vulnerable to our enemy (authority in the form of police, city and county bureaucracies, and real estate developers), and contributed to the destruction of the band and the dream. 

The Redlegs were not about money, or success in the traditional sense.  We had a built-in failure factor that kicked in every time we encountered record companies or the “Big Time” in any form.  But according to one observer, we were “one of the few real rock and roll bands that ever existed.”
Although the bureaucracy and developers eventually prevailed in Sausalito, the spirit of fun and freedom lived on and stayed with waterfront people--the ones who remained, and the ones who migrated to different places. 
In the early ‘70’s, the “magic” and wonder of the 60’s were still at work and the “counter-culture” wasn’t yet out of the honeymoon period.  The Redlegs band, part of a larger, controversial social phenomenon, became in one sense wildly successful, and in another were a monumental failure.  The Redlegs had brushes with fame and fortune; there were offers from big record companies, gigs at major "showcase" rooms like Winterland and Keystone Korner, a feature film.  Something went wrong every time; we always seemed to walk smack into a psychic brick wall, something phony and weird that was intolerable.  The bigger the opportunity, the creepier the feeling, the worse our attitudes, and the more offensive our behavior.


December 197O

        None of the actual band members came to take me away.  Jesse (revoltin’ Bolton) Crocodile was there, and Danny Joe Crumb (the Public Offender), and some loudmouthed Texans I’d never even seen before.
“Come on, we're going to a party,” said Jesse, through his pointy yellow teeth.
“Yeah, motherfucker, let’s go.  You're the new guitar player,” said Danny Joe, lurching around with a bottle of Green Death in his hand.
“What party?  Nobody told me about any party.  If you think I’m going back to Sausalito with you, forget it,” I said.  The Texans laughed.
“Is this your amp?” one of them asked, picking up my Twin Reverb and heading out the door.   Jesse grabbed my guitar case, shook it to make sure the instrument was inside, and grinned his Crocodile grin.
My objections were futile.  A bunch of sleazy-looking, intimidating waterfront outlaws had my equipment, and I was going to a party.


        The Summer of Love was over, and the Cole St. house where I had a room was full of glassy-eyed followers of Stephen Gaskin, the last of the Haight-Ashbury gurus. I had come to San Francisco with my friend Joey the drummer to find a bass player and singer to help record some tunes we had written.  Things hadn't worked out for us in New York or L.A.  We found a good vocalist, brought in a bass player from L.A., booked some time at Funky Jack’s recording studio, and sold three songs to Dave Diamond, the “drifting through seafoams of yesterday’s flashbacks” DJ, for 5OO dollars.

Joey had moved out to Sausalito and was living with his girlfriend Maria in a rusty 22-ft. lifeboat in the parking lot at Gate Six.  People lived there on floating objects of every conceivable type, from crude boxes built on styrofoam to war surplus lifeboats and landing craft, from salvaged Chinese junks to opulent palaces on concrete barges.  He was playing drums with a bunch of rowdy freaks who hung out on the four huge drydocks scuttled in the middle of Richardson’s Bay.  They were called the Redlegs, and had red stripes painted down the legs of their jeans.  Tales of the goings-on at the drydocks were enough to keep even the cops scared away.

I visited Joey at Gate Six.  He introduced me to Joe Tate, the leader of the Redlegs.  His gaze was so penetrating, I looked down to see if I was really there.  I told myself he must be crazy, but I sensed immediately that he knew something beyond my reach, that he was comfortable, even intimate with things and ideas that I feared.   He started talking about music and I snapped out of it.  Joey had told Tate about selling our songs, and he wanted to try it.   We decided to record some of Tate’s songs in my half-assed recording studio, a stereo reel-to-reel machine, two microphones, and some discarded mattresses for insulation in the dingy cellar of the Cole St. house.
They arrived the next night with Kim, the bass player, who never said a word and looked bored.  We recorded two songs, “Bottle of Wine Blues” and “Saturday Night.” Despite my apprehension about Tate, we played together well, and I liked his music.  But the DJ didn’t.  He had no use for rhythm and blues.
Joey told me the Redlegs band was going to audition in a few days at a private club near Gate Three, south of Gate Six near the Big “G” supermarket.  I went to check them out.  It was still daylight, and when I walked into the club I couldn’t see a thing.
When my eyes were used to the dark, I could see that no women were in there except Maggie, the singer in the band, and that most of the men wore shiny leather and silver chains. It was a private club all right, for homosexuals only.  When questioned, I quickly explained that I was a friend of the musicians.
The Redlegs band was on stage -- Tate on guitar, Maggie Catfish singing, Kim the bass player, Joey on drums, and another guitar player named Eric.  I liked their sound, especially Maggie’s voice.
Only Eric seemed out of place.  He was clearly not in synch, like a misfiring cylinder in an otherwise perfect engine.  I remembered playing with them in the city, and knew that if I were playing in Eric’s place, the band would sound right.  The manager of the “Fairy Factory,” as Tate called it, did not hire the Redlegs.  No one was surprised or disappointed.
After the band packed up their equipment, I went back to Gate Six with them.  Eric invited Joey and me to his houseboat and offered us some heroin.  That explained at least partly why Eric was out of the band’s groove.  We left him with his dope and agreed to have another session in my cellar studio.

I went back to the city.  The Cole St. house was depressing, but the Sausalito waterfront was something else.  Although its atmosphere was more vital and intense than anything I had experienced, it was frightening to a city-boy musician.  And to top it off, the whole Redlegs thing, from the scene at the drydocks to the painted pant-legs, smacked of a cult.

It was two or three weeks before the Redlegs came to the Cole St. house again.  This time Maggie was with them.  She had just returned from a near-disastrous sailing trip to Bodega Bay in her 19-ft. folkboat, the Yipes Stripes.  She was exhausted, filthy, and starving.  I thought she was beautiful.  I fed her some scrambled eggs and potatoes and made a hot bath for her, and for this she thought I was the kindest person in the world.  She fell asleep after a song or two.  Kim was also nodding off, so we quit early.

Tate invited me to go sailing.  He lived on a Chinese junk he had rebuilt from a wreck.  It was called the Hwang Ho and looked like something out of National Geographic.  I had never been on a sailboat and I wasn’t crazy about going back to Sausalito, but since Maggie was going along, I talked myself into it. We were going out to the drydocks to pick up a wood burning stove called “Old Fogmouth.”  It was a warm day with a pleasant breeze.  The short trip was pleasant and I enjoyed trying to figure out the rigging of the junk sails.
Arriving at the drydocks was like landing on another planet.  Each of the four medieval-looking structures was nearly large as a football field and had 6O ft. high walls on two sides.   We tied up the Hwang Ho and climbed a chain ladder to reach the deck.  No one else was there. 
I was awed by the sheer immensity of the drydocks, and there was a magical desolation about them.  It was an alien world, but I felt strangely comfortable there.

Old Fogmouth was a large rusty cylindrical steel tank converted to a stove.  It was very heavy, and it took all my strength to carry my end just a few feet.  When we finally got it to the edge of the deck, I was ready to collapse.  Tate secured a line to each end of it and we began to lower it to the deck of the Hwang Ho.  I had no experience with rigging of any kind, and I was lowering too fast.  The line ran away from me and pinned my hand to the wooden deck.  I tried desperately to hold on while the skin scraped off my fingers, right down to the bone.  The stove made it to the Hwang Ho’s deck, and I collapsed, in shock and sick to my stomach.  It was my left hand, my guitar playing fingers.
We found some toilet paper to wrap my hand, and Tate landed me at Gate Three, the nearest convenient shore access.  I said a quick goodbye and hitched back to the city, intending never to see them again.

I rode across the Golden Gate Bridge in a van full of drunken  degenerates, all raving and carrying on about much fun it all was.   My hand had taken six weeks to heal, and now I was on my way, against my will, back to Sausalito where I had almost lost three fingers.  I sulked and cursed my fate while my companions laughed and swilled their beer.

It was nearly dark when we arrived at the Texas Star, a big houseboat moored near the road at the north end of Gate Six.  The drunks carried my equipment while I followed reluctantly.  Inside, people greeted me as if I were already part of the band, and therefore one of the gang.  There was no point in protesting my abduction -- I would find no sympathy -- but when Joey walked in with his drums, I felt more at ease.
Right away, drugs were offered.  I didn’t drink much and didn’t like drunks, but I liked an occasional hit of speed or psychedelics...
Joey and I took snorts out of a sandwich bag full of brown powder that was going around.  It was Nestle’s Quik mixed with synthetic mescaline.   Joey set up his drums while I plugged in the electric guitar and tuned it.  At the sound of the first twang, people started yelling, “ROCK AND ROLL!  GET IT ON!”  Where was the rest of the band?  I ignored the shouts while Joey tuned his drums, setting off more stomping and howling.  Maggie staggered in with a burly man dressed in blue denim and motorcycle boots.  As they fell down laughing, I felt a pang of jealousy and wished I was anywhere else.  Joe and Kim finally showed up as the scene reached fever pitch.  With Joey already pounding a strong beat, Tate started the riff to “Bottle of Wine Blues” and the place erupted.

My musical automatic pilot took over, and as the crowd danced and screamed I realized, above and beyond my fear and resentment, that this was what rock & roll was all about, and the Redlegs were the best rock & roll band I had ever played with.
By the time we took a break, the drugs had taken hold, and the room was suffused with a metallic white glow.  Some people seemed to be floating around the room, while others were crawling about like reptiles or scurrying like rodents.  A blonde rodent named Wieners ran around dishing out cocaine and mescaline.  Danny Joe Crumb, the Public Offender, had turned into a lizard.  A girl named Tracy, one of the Texans, was lying flat on the floor, face up, as Crumb hovered over her on his knees, trying to guide his penis into her mouth.  He gave up when she nearly bit it off.
As fascinating as this all was, I still felt uncomfortable when the band wasn't playing.  At sunrise, when we finally quit playing, I wanted to leave, but I had no offer of a ride.

A small group of bearded, greasy-looking men were huddled in a corner, talking in a low murmur and making menacing gestures that seemed to be directed at me. They had names like Dredge, Peacock, Lizard, Toothless Tom and Captain Garbage, and called themselves the Truly Rank Motherfuckers. When their little conference was over, Dredge left the room and the rest of them walked slowly over and surrounded me.  Maybe they were going to beat the shit out of me, maybe they weren’t.  They started patting me on the back, but their drunken grins and bloodshot eyes told me nothing.  Trying to escape was out of the question, so I just stood there and waited, trying to be cool.
Dredge reappeared, carrying a gallon can of paint and a brush.  The others opened the circle while Dredge knelt on the floor and opened the  can, exposing the bright red paint inside.  So that was it.  I was being Redlegged.  There was no point in resisting; this was an honor not bestowed freely, and from the looks of these guys, I figured I was lucky to be smeared with paint instead of blood.
The ritual over, the Truly Rank Motherfuckers dispersed, and I was left alone in the wreckage of the party. 
I went outside and was shocked to see that the world was functioning as usual.  Highway 1O1 was jammed with commuters on their way to work. 
I walked across Bridgeway and stood hitchhiking at the Marin City freeway entrance, hoping the drivers wouldn't see the Z-Spar Signal Red marine paint dripping down the sides of my pant-legs onto my shoes.

There was a surprise waiting for me at the house on Cole St.  The landlady had made a sudden decision to turn the place over to her son, a San Francisco police officer.  None of the tenants was making a peep about not receiving notice.  I met the cop, a big burly Irish redhead.  He was barely succeeding in his struggle to be civil with the seedy-looking hippies milling around the house packing their things.
When I walked into the living room, I saw something that made the waterfront seem suddenly benign by comparison.  On the mantelpiece sat a human skull wearing a nazi helmet, flanked by two gleaming black enameled metal swastikas.  Being evicted was bad enough, but in my worn-out, drug-addled condition, this sudden glimpse into the psyche of a police officer was too much to bear.
I grabbed my bag of clothes and hitched back over the bridge to Sausalito.  I tried to convince myself that I was only going to retrieve my amplifier, but then what? Hit the road?  Back to Los Angeles?  New York or Boston?  Not only did I have no car or money,  but I had left those places because things weren’t right there.  A dim bulb was beginning to glow in a small room in the back of my brain, and the walls were covered with pictures of the Sausalito waterfront.  There was a radio playing in there too, and it sounded like the Redlegs.

     “Hey, it’s the new guitar player!” yelled Danny Joe Crumb to no one in particular, as I slogged through the Gate Six parking lot mud carrying my electric guitar and bag of clothes.  I didn't even bother to wonder why he was standing around in the cold rain drinking Green Death by himself, I was just glad to see anyone who wasn't a dogmatized guru zombie or a gestapo-worshipping cop.
“You know where Joe Tate is?”

“Sure,” he said.  “Come on, motherfucker, we were wondering when you’d show up.”
He led me across a wooden walkway leading to the Oakland,  an old potato barge with a number of smaller boats tied alongside.  I recognized the Hwang Ho, Tate’s Chinese junk.  There was a fairly large workshop in the main cargo space of the barge, and Danny Joe left me there.
An ancient-looking bandsaw stood in the center of the room, surrounded by scraps of wood and piles of sawdust.  The walls were lined with shelves and work benches covered with tools and mysterious-looking junk.  There was a filthy shower stall in one corner next to a revolting sink, empty beer cans everywhere, and a bum sleeping on the floor.

Joe walked in presently carrying an armload of wood.  He looked at me and turned on the bandsaw.  After cutting the wood into six-inch pieces he walked out with it, saying he’d be back in a few minutes. When he returned, he went to a dark corner of the shop and lifted on old moldy sail, revealing the band equipment. “Well, shit.  Let's play some tunes.”

The equipment had been ferried to the Oakland by Dredge on his tiny black tugboat, the Loafer,  along with his regular crew -- Toothless Tom, Peacock, Captain Garbage, and Jesse Crocodile.  The tug was tied up next to the Oakland,  and through the shop window I could see that the Loafer was flying a Jolly Roger.  I was relieved to see my amp still intact.
As we set up the equipment, I kept looking at the bum sleeping on the floor.  
“That’s my brother Hank,” said Joe.  “He just got in from Rantoul, Illinois, straight through on a motorcycle.”
“Maybe we should let him sleep,” I suggested.
“He doesn't give a rat’s ass.”  I guess he didn’t.  We played through half the night and he never complained.

I found out very quickly there was no such thing as a “rehearsal” with the Redlegs.  On the waterfront, music meant a party.  It wasn’t long before the shop filled up with the hardcore who weren’t burned out from the night before.  Maggie had arrived to sing, but Joey and Kim weren’t around.
Around two in the morning I began to be concerned with a place to sleep.  A guy from Gate Five named “Stark” Raven said I could stay on the Binnie, an old cabin cruiser, for one night.  He wasn’t using the cruiser because had just acquired a navy surplus amphibious duck, a tank-like contraption that could travel on land or water. “I’ll show you how to get there,” said Maggie.  We were walking in the rain through a maze of rickety walkways, muddy parking lots, and slimy planks, talking about music, when she asked if I minded if she stayed with me.
“I would have been too shy to mention it,” I said.
“I know,” she replied.

        The next morning, I started looking for a place to live. I went to Joe Tate.  He introduced me to “Green” Gene Lee,  so called because of his perpetual consumption of Rainier Ale, or Green Death.  Lee was the proprietor of Bailey’s Barge,  an industrial hulk with a small habitable structure at each end.  He had “inherited” the barge from a crane operator whose lust for young girls had made him a long-term guest of the State of California.  Gene told me I could crash on the barge, but I’d have to get a skiff, since it was accessible only by water.
“I know a rowboat you can use,” said Tate, “My old lady has one she never uses.  It leaks like a sieve, but it's not far to the barge and I'll give you a bucket to bail it with.” I waited on the pier while Joe went to get the oars.  In a minute he came running out of the Hwang Ho, and I heard his old lady, Pam, shrieking, “NOBODY uses my skiff!  Tell that asshole he can find his own goddamned boat!”  (Pam and I later became good friends.)

He had another idea.  There was a tiny barge with a plywood box on it sunk next to the Oakland.  It belonged to Jack Harshberger, one of the partners in the workshop.  Tate did some quick detective work and found him on a yacht in one of the downtown marinas.  We walked into town and boarded the boat.  Harshberger was involved in a long-winded discussion with the Jefferson Airplane’s drummer.  I managed to penetrate a long discourse on the origin of the wah-wah pedal long enough to buy the sunken wreck for twenty dollars.
At low tide the next morning I surveyed my new home.  I knew nothing about carpentry, boats, or how to fix anything, and I was the proud new owner of a tiny, rotting plywood houseboat sitting sadly in the mud at Gate Six.  I was staring at it without a single notion of what to do when Tate appeared and said, “Hey, this piece of shit looks like it could be the hot set-up.  We’ll drag it up on the beach at high tide and give it some float’em.   There’s two main things about boats: float’em  and sink’em, and they gotta have more float’em.  When the tide starts coming in you’ll see how fast it’s leaking.  Then you’ve got to keep it floating until there's enough water to get to the beach.”  He gave me a five-gallon plastic bucket and I was on my own. The mud at Gate Six was slimy and deep, had the consistency of petroleum jelly, and stank like a sewer.  My “hot set-up” was sitting twenty feet away in the ooze, and I had no rubber boots.   I found some plywood scraps and threw them in front of me at three-foot intervals until I had a walkway.

By the time the barge was bailed I had moved two or three tons of water, and my back was screaming that death would be a pleasant alternative to this kind of work.  But when the tide came in, the barge floated, Joe showed up with a skiff, and the Hot Set-Up was towed to the beach.
The little vessel was only eight feet wide and sixteen feet long. It had been sunk for some time, and the inside was coated with gray-green stinking slime but it was mine, a home, something I’d never even thought about before. And since fate had landed me here with an undeniable finality, I managed to find in myself a glimmer of determination to get on with it and try to make the thing float. The trouble was, I hadn’t the slightest idea of how to do it. When the tide receded and the boat was high and dry, I stood on the beach and looked at the hull, walking around it, trying to find the holes where the water leaked in. What if the leaks were on the flat bottom? Would I have to find a way to turn it over on its side to expose them?
As I agonized over these questions Tate showed up with Captain Dredge and Jesse Crocodile.  They had jacks, scrap plywood, hammers, saws, nails and black roofing tar, or wet-patch.  In a few minutes the little barge was sitting on wood blocks two feet above the beach, and Jesse and Dredge, the “Truly Rank Motherfuckers” who had frightened me so much, were crawling around in the mud looking for holes to fix in my new houseboat.  They found plenty of leaks.  Under Tate’s instruction, I cut six-inch squares of plywood for patches.  He showed me how to smear wet-patch on the plywood pieces and nail them over the holes in the barge.  This was no high craftsmanship but it worked.  When the tide came up again, the Hot Set-up floated, and I had a home -- a floating version of a slum chicken coop, but a home.

The next Redlegs gig was at a bar in South San Francisco called the Balkans, owned by an uncle of Kim’s, on New Year’s Eve.  It was my first real professional job with them.  “Stark” Raven was driving us to the gig in his amphibious duck.  We loaded the equipment, including the Redlegs’ P.A. system, a cheap microphone from a Sears tape recorder and a wrought-iron lamp for a mike stand.
The tank-like vehicle was crammed with people.  The Truly Rank Motherfuckers with some truly rank-looking girlfriends, Danny Joe, Gene Lee and others, all swilling Green Death and cheap whiskey.  They were priming up for a party and my heart sank as I tried to imagine this crowd in a civilized nightclub, at MY gig.    

Kim's uncle greeted us at the door and didn't seem to mind our crowd.  They were customers.  The few regulars at the bar hardly noticed, and our crowd turned out to be the only crowd.  We set up, started playing and another waterfront party was on.  After the second set we were visited by the local representative of the Musician’s Union.   He was short and nervous-looking, and couldn’t look anyone in the eye.  “Who’s the leader of this group?” he asked me. 
I indicated Joe, who was standing at the bar.  He introduced himself to Joe and asked, “Do you know that you played for a full hour that last set?”    
“So what?” replied Joe.
“Union rules are forty minutes on and twenty off.  You should know that.  Do you have your union cards?”
“Well, let’s see,” said Joe.  He fumbled around in his wallet and found his card.  It had expired in 1966.
“This card is no good,” said the rep.  “How about you?”
I showed him my 1967 card.        
“Does anyone in this band have a current Union card?” 
Joey offered his 1965 model.
“These cards are no good.  You'll have to leave this club.  Take your band and get out of here, or I’ll have the place closed.” The Union man’s eyes darted around the room as if he were following the flight of a bat.
Jesse had wandered over to listen and heard the rep’s last remark.  He said, “Who the fuck are you, you little weasel?  What are you trying to do, ruin the party?”
“I represent the American Federation of Musicians.  This band is in violation of Union regulations.  I can close this place down.”
“I don't think you represent these musicians,”  said Jesse. 
“The Union never got me a job,” said Joe.
“Come to think of it,” I joined in, “All the Union ever did for me was take money and interrogate me about being a Communist.”
A circle of Truly Rank Motherfuckers had formed around our little group,  all grumbling about the lack of music.  The Union man looked very uncomfortable.
“Why don’t you just go home and forget about it,” said Joe to the Rep.
“Yeah,” said Jesse,  “Fuck a buncha bullshit.  We wanna hear some music.  We wanna dance.”
“Well, you guys won't be working in any union clubs, I'll make sure of it.”
“Who gives a rat’s ass?" said Joe, and the union man walked off in a huff.
My “professional” musician self was squirming at all this.  What if the guy really tried to blackball us?  But another part of me was laughing.


        The “landlord” of the Oakland was Buck Knight, who rented the vessel from Don Arques and sublet the two apartments and shop.  Buck lived in the main pilothouse and rented the small wheelhouse to Maggie, who stored her art supplies there.  Jack the Fluke and his family lived in the middle apartment, adjacent to the shop, and the stern was occupied by Buck’s hometown buddy Jeremy.
There were five partners in the Oakland shop:  Tate; Jack Harshberger and Greg Baker, who had given themselves the genteel-sounding name “Sausalito Shipwrights;” Jim Gibbons, a Milwaukee poet who was rigging out a clumsy but colorful little lifeboat conversion called the Cowpie;  and a socially inept (even by waterfront standards) psychotic named Bob.

Bob “the Glob” was rigid all the way through, and had a steely glare in his eyes that called to mind the term “hatchet murderer.” As Gibbons put it, “It was quite clear that Bob had serious brain damage (and he didn’t even drink!)” He hated the music and parties, and it wasn’t long before he took action.   One day I found the shop door locked, and a note taped to it:  “This is my shop.  I want Joe Tate and his equipment out of here within twenty-four hours.  If necessary I will take legal action.”   The little turf war ended with a tense confrontation between Joe and Bob.   People were drifting in to support Joe and the band, and “Bob the Glob” left the shop in defeat. 
Baker and Harshberger eventually moved on, and the shop became the full time practice and party room for the band, and social center for the neighborhood.  Gibbons remained.  He was having a good time, and writing poetry about the band and the waterfront scene.
The shower in the Oakland shop was used by most of the residents of Gate Six; to have one of your own was an impossible luxury for most small-boat dwellers.  As more and more wayward souls drifted into the scene, the shower traffic reached the saturation point.  There was always someone in the stall, and usually someone waiting. Newcomers were not encouraged to use the shower.  They often endured insults and cruel pranks like shutting off the cold water from the outside, sending them screaming into the middle of the room naked, dripping, soapy and scalded.  Even this proved futile; I’d never seen such unflappable characters. Dirty Dick, who responded to this abuse by refusing to bathe for months and walking around with dirty underpants on his head, was eventually invited to take a shower.  He celebrated by taking Jeremy’s visiting sister with him and screwing her standing up in the shower while twenty people cheered them on with every moan and groan.  Dirty Dick emerged victorious waving a clean white towel and shouting,

Another new arrival was Michael the Hippie, complete with long hair, beads, astrology, tarot cards, radical politics, and his wife, a pregnant  English rock & roll groupie named Penny.  When he walked into the shop with his towel for the first time, he was greeted by a group of surly, drunken Truly Rank Motherfuckers.  Frank “the Lizard” Stewart asked him,
“What the fuck d’ya think you're doing, hippie?”
Without batting an eyelash the hippie replied, “This is  the community shower, isn’t it?”
“What do you think this is, a commune?”   I snapped.
“Far out, brother,” said Jesse, sneering.
“Hairy Christian, Hairy Christian,” chanted Dredge, “Ommmm...Power to the Peephole!”
“I don’t know what you think this is, asshole, but it ain’t Woodstock,” said Frank.  “Got the picture, brother?  This ain't Woodstock.”
Michael the hippie was not intimidated.  He undressed, took his shower, and went back to his boat, the Magic Mushroom,  with a new name: Michael Woodstock.

With Bob the Glob gone, the Oakland shop parties took on a life of their own.  After a while strangers were coming in off the street, out of the woodwork, maybe from other planets.
We knew it was getting out of hand the night Michael Woodstock ran into the shop yelling,  “The pigs are coming, the pigs are coming!”  That was all we needed, the cops coming to shut down the party, and some idiot running around calling them “pigs.”
The cops told us there a been a complaint about the loud music.  They were clearly uncomfortable here, but were surprisingly reasonable and polite.  We assured them we would turn it down, and they left satisfied.  Michael Woodstock had been taken away quietly and given a lecture on the disadvantages of trying to start a riot.


        Right next to the Oakland and extending forty feet past its bow was the Subchaser.  This whole area of the waterfront, from Gate Six south to Gate Three, had been known as Arques Shipyards in World War Two.  The property owner, a cattle rancher named Don Arques, had overseen the construction of Liberty Ships, Subchasers and other military craft for the Navy during the war, and many of these vessels were still around.  Some, like LCVP Landing Craft and Balloon Barges, had been converted to houseboats. A few Subchasers had been scuttled and used as makeshift docks, like the one at Gate Six.

The Hot Set-up had originally sunk in the area just off the bow of the Oakland, right next to the port side of the Subchaser. When my newly repaired houseboat was floated off the beach, we moved it back to its old home.  With a recently discarded but still floating wooden dock (gleaned from the Army Corps of Engineers) tied to the Subchaser, Maggie and I settled in and were the first to take up residence in the new spot.  Kim and his girlfriend Heather tied their boat, the Susie, to the other side of the new dock.  Jeremy, originally there for a visit, had decided to stay and bought a small houseboat called the Camel Shack from Adam Fourman, a loner who played piano and was the part-time sixth member of the Redlegs band.  Dredge towed the Camel Shack in and Jeremy moored it to the Subchaser.  Gate Six now had a new sub-neighborhood. 
It didn’t take long to get a name for the new dock.  Jeremy and I had been trading friendly east coast insults and one of our favorites was “Bite The Bag, Whitey” as in, “Hit The Road, Jack.”  So we called the new place “Whitey’s Marina.”  I listed Whitey’s for the home address on my new California driver’s license.  

The drydocks era was coming to a close.  The band had moved to the Oakland,  and the Truly Rank Motherfuckers to Gate Five, but going to the drydocks was still an adventure, and could be profitable.  There was a good supply of scrap metal (steel; the copper and bronze were long gone), and giant planks. The last remaining forest of red fir, it was rumored, had been used to build these monstrous devices during World War II.
On the northwestern wall of the drydocks, facing Bridgeway, there was a tremendous daisy, with the inscription “LOVE IS.”  It had been done with plywood, near the top of the wall, the flower and letters painted yellow and white. 

Joe and Maggie and I were sailing the Hwang Ho one day, hatching up new ideas for the band -- parties, happenings, maybe a publicity stunt.  We were just passing the drydocks when Tate nearly had a seizure.  He started jumping up and down, yelling, “That’s it! I’ve got it.”  Maggie and I shot each other a puzzled glance.  Joe brought the boat around and headed home, telling us the Great Plan.

We landed at Piledriver Island, a collection of barges and sunken hulks offshore near Gate Five.  Kim had a barge there, an old pile-driving rig called the Port of Oakland.  There was an underwater power cable out there, and piles of plywood, and electric tools.  Joe went to work on the plywood with a sabre-saw, Maggie drew outlines, and I went to scrounge all the red paint I could find.
The preliminary work was done, and Dredge joined the operation.  It was past nine o'clock at night when we set out in a stiff westerly.  The materials were stacked on the Hwang Ho’s bow, tangling the foresheets and making it difficult to negotiate the deck.
We sailed into the channel between the docks and tied up.  It wasn't hard getting the 8-foot plywood pieces up to the lower deck.  It wasn’t even that bad hauling them up the ladders to the top of the 60-ft tower, because we were still on the lee side of the wall, but when we reached the summit and were slapped in the face with a 30 mph wind, things got a little hairy.  The wind turned the huge plywood cutouts into very effective sails, and any of us could have been blown down to the deck with one wrong move.  I quickly learned the proper way to carry plywood in a high wind.  Dredge rigged a boatswain’s chair while Joe and I went up and down, carrying the goods.  Carrying hammer and nails, Dredge lowered himself into position.  The wind blew him around like a feather but he managed to get stabilized.  With block and tackle, we lowered the first piece.
It seemed a long time, but finally we were done.  We sat in the cabin of the Hwang Ho drinking hot chocolate and brandy, exhausted but satisfied.
We sailed back to Gate Six and got some sleep, but not much.  First thing in the morning we drove to the Napa St. Pier and admired our handiwork, a sight that thousands of people would see every day: 

LOVE IS Redlegs

The  Redlegs were a group that people loved or hated; no one who had experienced one of our events left without an impression, good or bad.  We had enemies.  The Redlegs were a real terror for anyone who was afraid something might happen,  because something always did.
Our publicity prank at the drydocks was viewed without much humor by the business community and bureaucrats of Sausalito.  The waterfront scene (outside of the wealthy marinas) had been an embarrassment to the City for two decades, and away from the waterfront, the Redlegs were perceived not as a rock & roll band, but a vicious gang of communists.  The criminal thing about the sign was that we had created a promotional gimmick of epic proportions with no money. The LOVE IS Redlegs sign disappeared from the drydocks in two or three weeks.  Taking it down had to be as risky as putting it up, or very expensive.  Someone was very upset.

Joe told me about a dream he had:  In the bowels of the Bank of America there was a little black box code-named “Mind-Dog.” It controlled all TV programming, and thereby the mind of the American Public.  We discussed this at length and concluded that something must be done.  It had to be symbolic, to keep us out of jail, and fun.  The answer was Television Liberation Day.

We used Kim’s Port of Oakland barge for the event.  The public was invited, free of charge, to bring any and all TV sets and publicly smash them to bits.   Sledge hammers and wrecking bars were provided.   We set up the band just after noon.  After smashing a few TV sets ourselves we played for five or six hours as TVs came in a steady stream and people danced, not with each other, but with crowbars, sledge hammers, and boob tubes.  At the end of the day the pile was huge: shards of glass, bits of plastic and twisted sheet metal.
The tradition was carried on by various groups, notably the Ant Farm, a mysterious collection of weird artists who showed up in strange places and did strange things.  We met them at a party where they served raw carrots and showed slides of dead, squashed animals on highways.  A few years later, they took TV Liberation to new heights when they drove a Cadillac through a 30 ft. mountain of television sets.
The “Mind Dog” nightmare eventually became reality at Gate Six.  As big money and bureaucracy made their inroads and the spirit of the place faded, television sets appeared in one houseboat after another until the whole neighborhood took on the lonely blue glow of suburban America.


I couldn’t have been more wrong when I first arrived and thought the waterfront/Redlegs scene was a cult.  It was not a cult, a commune, a “tribe,” it wasn’t even a deliberately organized or planned neighborhood, although it contained elements of all these things.
Members of real cults and organizations were sometimes confused or threatened by the waterfront because it had a perceptible solidarity with no dogma, rules or required form of behavior.  The occasional Christian preacher looking for converts never got anywhere.  Converts were made by ferreting out and playing on dissatisfaction and emptiness in peoples’ lives, and it frustrated the hell out of missionaries and crusaders when they were just ignored.

There was no stated unifying principle at work.  The Redlegging ritual, while seeming to strangers like a precursor to some terrible initiation rite, was nothing more than you saw: getting a red stripe painted on your pant-legs.

It was John Stephens who named the Redlegs.  Actually, he recognized the Redlegs.  Stephens was an itinerant jazz musician and writer, an intellectual with a keen perception of society’s absurdities and a stinging wit.  He was often referred to as the “Godfather of the Redlegs.”  When someone referred to the drydocks gang as “a bunch of rednecks,” John replied, “They’re not rednecks, they’re Redlegs.”  The name stuck, and the red stripes appeared.  What John Stephens knew, and the Redlegs themselves did not, was that Redlegs were a historical phenomenon.
Pete Retondo originally came to Sausalito as journalist on assignment for San Francisco magazine, looking for “hippie vegetarian pirates” on the waterfront, called “Redlegs.”  Retondo had done some research, and discovered references to “16th century Celtic mountain men with sunburned legs, known as Redshanks.”

The name was appropriate, given in allusion to the colour of the bare legs by exposure...   
...The Yrische Lords of Scotland, commonly [called] Redshanks...
...The other part of Irland is called the wilde Irysh; and the Redshankes be among them...
...I will rather wed a most perfidious Redshanke...
...By thir actions we might rather judge them to be a generation of High-Land theevs and Redshanks.
...That Red-shank sullen, Once challenged for stealing beef...    ...The mountaineers of Wales, and the Redshanks of Ireland...       ...There might be knives again, these Redshanks are...grudgeful...
(Oxford English Dictionary, various sources)

        There was a secret military society organized in Kansas in 1862 called Redlegs because of their red leggings, who numbered fifty to one hundred; their predatory activities rivaled depredations committed by Missouri guerrillas, and they served as federal scouts in border conflicts.
( L.W. Spring, “Kansas, The Prelude to the War for the Union.”)

        And, a certain advance guard of the Bengal Lancers in India were called Redlegs.
But for the real Redlegs story we have to go back to the Celtic mountain men and Highland thieves.  We can deduce from the Oxford quotes that the original Redshanks didn’t enjoy the best of reputations, so it’s not surprising how some of them wound up in the New World.
While European speculators and businessmen were setting up their enterprises in the Americas, their agents, hired thugs, were kidnapping boatloads of black Africans and taking them west across the Atlantic to be sold as slaves to work on the new plantations.  Although it’s less generally known, the same thing was going on in the streets of Scotland and Ireland.  Drunks, vagrants, criminals and other social undesirables were waking up with hangovers or large bumps on the head to find themselves chained in the bilge of a westbound ship.  And many of these were Redshanks, or Redlegs. The only difference between them and the Africans was that the white slaves had been coerced by threat of death to sign an agreement, or indenture, binding them legally to their abduction.  These “indentured servants” didn’t take kindly to their condition, and often became troublemakers, joining forces with their black brothers-in-chains in open rebellion and escape.  To this day, in the Caribbean Islands, there are still people known as Redlegs--black, white and all shades in between--social outcasts on both sides of the color fence, living in their own ghettoes.


On musical performance...
First, make your audience uncomfortable; then, relieve them of their discomfort.
Anybody can hold a crowd, it takes a genius to clear the room.

On publishing...
I will have no patience with rich assholes any more, and as a publisher I will fight to maintain my right to insult, deflate, ridicule and generally bug people who inflate petty selfish interest and gossip into issues that get in my face.

On the rich...
They are concerned with themselves for no reason other than to perpetuate the great idea at the root of their behavior:  It is a terrible burden to have money.
Naturally you should never mention money around these people.  Why? Because you might see how they could give you a bunch and not be in danger of running short.  But it’s so awkward.  I mean, the rule is that the poor just don’t understand these things.
When meeting a rich person at a party:
Ask if they’ve heard that the ink used in hundred dollar bills causes cancer.
Ask how much they pay for their friends.  (Example:  “How about your buddy Bob over there?  A tight partner like that must be worth several grand just to keep his mouth shut, right?”)
Tell them the story of your friend who has decided to “break the toys” of the rich.  His plan is to put plastic explosives in the cups on all the greens of the Augusta National Golf Club and blow up all eighteen holes at once during the Masters’ Golf Tournament.
Tell them about hunger, about dumping products to Third World people who die from their use, about unsafe cars, about slavery as practiced in the name of “having a job,” about unsafe drugs, about oppression of others because of sexual politics and preference, just about anything except poverty.  They think Poverty is a fat Italian opera singer.
Three hundred years of selfish behavior dies hard, and may be forever with us.

On Humanity...

When your people treat me bad
It hurts me
When my people treat me bad
It hurts me worse
When people are treated badly
They have a way of finding out who their brothers are
Look for the man who has been treated badly


His name was Jere Peacock, and he looked like a truly desperate man. One of the Truly Rank Motherfuckers, he scared the shit out of me at first, and was the “burly man” who had stumbled into the Texas party with Maggie.  He sported a thick mane of salt-and-pepper hair, set off by black eyebrows and a thick black moustache. He always wore bluejeans, pants and jacket, and  usually had a bottle of something potent.  He seemed to me gruff, coarse, and potentially violent.  The first time I talked with him was at the bum fire in the Gate Six parking lot.  He told me of his dream, to ride across the American West on a horse, carrying a brace of six-shooters on his hips. He handed me his bottle of Jose Cuervo and insisted I drink with him. I didn't drink much then, but it wasn’t hard to see there was no way out of this one. The tequila loosened me up, and my fears began to dissolve. He said he admired the fact that I could play the guitar.  He had always wanted to learn, and asked me how I had mustered the discipline to become a reasonably good player.  Obsession, I replied, and the perhaps neurotic need for recognition.  I told him I always hid behind the guitar for fear of facing the world without it.  Well, that did it.   He bolted up and embraced me like a long-lost brother and shouted, “My Paranoid Partner!  Somebody who understands...”

Peacock and I became great friends, and I laughed at myself for fearing him.   He was nothing more than a gentle bear, a tortured soul searching for something to sink his teeth into,  a romantic on a quest for answers and adventure.  I learned he had published a novel in the 50’s, a Korean war story called “Valhalla.”  The book was to be the first in a trilogy meant to end all war on earth forever, but the enormity of the project overwhelmed him and drove him to drink, drugs and dreams of disappearing into the wilderness.
He was still receiving royalty checks from his publisher once in a while and when he did it meant Party Time.  Whatever you wanted you got. He preferred small gatherings and chose his guests carefully.  His favorite song was “Hey Joe,"” the one about the guy who shoots his “old lady” in a fit of jealous passion. One night he showed up with a brand new pair of Colt 45’s, two bottles of port wine and a jar of Nembutals. We sang “Hey Joe” for an hour or two, an then went outside and spent another hour emptying the guns at the moon.
Peacock began to go away more and more frequently. Nobody knew where he went, or when or if he would return.  He seemed unhappy, despondent.  He would send typed letters to waterfront from locations far and wide.  The last one was called “The Wretched Mess” and was a depressing account of his continuing, degenerating sadness and disappointment with humanity in general.  Shortly thereafter we got word that Peacock shot himself in the head with one of the 45’s, in his mother’s Seattle apartment.


Real name, Greg Myers from Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Tried once to get a job at the Gibson guitar company and was turned down because he had no high school diploma, but he could repair a typewriter blindfolded, or carve a gracefully curved boat plank with ease.  The name “Dredge” came from his living on an abandoned harbor dredge, a barge equipped with a “clamshell” scoop device for digging boat channels in shallow water.
Dredge had an almost eerily atavistic sense of his identity as a Redleg.  When Pete Retondo asked him about life at the drydocks, he said, “It’s pretty loose out on the water, something like the old frontier times,” as if he knew from personal experience.
Like Peacock, Dredge’s outwardly gruff and intimidating appearance was a thin disguise used to protect a vulnerable and world-weary soul.  Heroin got the best of him in Sausalito.  He went north to Oregon to clean up, succeeded, married a woman named Joy and moved to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  Not long after the birth of his daughter, named Maggie after Maggie Catfish, Dredge died of a wound from his own gun.  The details and exact circumstances are still unknown.                                                        

Poetry by Dredge
This here story in fact is true
Happened like this - may happen to you

We was high as the sky
Last Fourth a July
Getten real tore on ol’ Redeye
On our Island in Frisco Bay
Just havin’ a ball for Independence Day
Sure fire strate shootin sons a liberty
Goddamn glad just to be free
Twas just my waterrat pals, my dog an me
When a unfriendly boat came inta site
Twas that little punk cop who’s naturally uptite
Looken so hard ta give us the frite
Now he flashed his gun an spoke with a sneer
Said “I’m the law an yer finished here”
Tough and bad behind that badge a tin
Startin shoven an’ came right in
What a fool shoulda seen’m freak
Lost his balls to a yella streak
For when he saw our guns his knees went weak
Sat right down had no color in his cheek
He couldn’t stand an he couldn’t speak
We sure let him know, made him see
Way out here we live to be free
An he just ain’t GOT authority
If only he could he woulda run
Lookin’ down the barrel of a free man’s gun
Weren’t his idea of havin’ fun
This is our islan’ yella belly man
Get it together, find where ya stand cuz
Grudge fightin’s done here man to man
He went all limp an lost his fite an just stayed like that
Till he drifted clean outa site


Tonite the sea is calm as I sail silently
Tward the open sea
A seagull cries a mighty boast
An tells the nite he’s feelen life
A flickeren splash
Fish feeds fish
Blue nite an black water swallow up the sounds
A lite fog becomes a misty shade to make
The moon a soft blue glow

Now again the whirling living dream
Roaming the earth on this living sea
Sailing where I please

I am the ancient seaman an know the
Boatmans skill an’ grace of a thousand years
On the sea the wind is up to fill
The sails, the swells roll high
And once again my restless soul is free


The waterfront was new and frightening, but I began to learn nautical skills and get my sea-legs.  Joe and Maggie taught me sailing on the Hwang Ho and Yipes Stripes.  I learned to tie a bowline by untying the knot step by step and seeing how it worked.  This process was a revelation to me.  Playing the guitar and cooking were the only practical things I’d ever really paid attention to, and until now I hadn’t much considered learning anything else. 

One aspect of waterfront life familiar to me was the Desperate Scuffle -- living from moment to moment, hustling for daily survival.  Nobody had any money, or if they did, kept it a secret.  After a while, Joey liked to bitch about the “closet rich people” at Gate Six, getting their kicks from slumming it on the waterfront.

The easiest way to get a good meal together was to have a party.  Somehow, money for food, beer and wine always appeared if music was happening.  Jesse “Crocodile” Bolton was a great chef and hustler.  Once the decision was made to have a party, it only took him a few hours to put together a feast for a hundred or more people. 

The next big party happened for no particular reason, except that Jesse  had managed to hustle enough money and food stamps to feed a huge crowd, and everyone was ready to cut loose.  We set the band up on the Access Barge, a sunken hulk whose deck was still above the high water line.  Jesse produced a typical feast of chicken teriyaki, barbecued ribs, various salads, plenty of beer and wine.
To this day I can’t figure how the word got out so quickly, or where all the people came from.  Everyone on the waterfront was there.  The only holdout was Greg Baker, who stayed on the Oakland, working on his mast, muttering curses and casting murderous glances at the partygoers.
My resistance to being there had faded, and the music was coming alive.   My first impression at the Fairy Factory had been right.  I was the catalyst in an already volatile situation, and the scene was beginning to explode.  The notes rang out from the guitars like an electric Anvil Chorus.  People danced and swayed as if in a religious trance.  All my years as a musician had been spent getting ready for this.
“Bells,” commented Ray Speck later, “It sounds like giant bells.”

A new term entered the band’s vocabulary: Stage Creep.
Either we were making it look easy or we sounded too sloppy to be a real band, because every jerk with a harmonica, flute, or anything else capable of making noise felt compelled to jump on the stage with us and start “jamming.”
Our first outstanding stage creep was the Sun King, an acid casualty from New York who had heard the Beatles song of the same name and decided he was not only Sun King, but the second coming of Christ.  Rumor was he had drunk a chocolate milkshake with eighty hits of LSD in it, and “never came back.”  Modesty prevented him from insisting on being called Jesus,  but he had a large sign in the window of his Heliport studio that said, “THE CHRIST.”  He had also published a book of pseudo-cosmic gibberish in the vanity press called, “One Way to the Light.”
He had a houseboat at Gate Six, and on sunny days he paraded around naked on his roof, raising his arms in the air, his face frozen in a brittle, metallic grin and shouting, “I’m HAPPY!  I’m The SUN KING and I’m HAPPY!  OH GOD, I’M HAPPY.”
Sun King sang in a terribly slow and irritating vibrato that sounded like Johnny Mathis’ worst nightmare.  He was so incommunicably insane and insistent, we let him sing a song: 

Come` on baby, stick out your can,
I’m workin’ Sunday, Part-time Garbage Man.

Two other classic stage creeps made their debuts that day: Angel and The Worm.  Angel was a homeless Indian who had recently returned from a futile attempt to retake Alcatraz.  He lived on barbiturates and cheap red wine, and his face was horribly disfigured with chronic acne.  He played the drums terribly, but we were on a break and no one had the heart to stop him, at least for a while.  While Angel beat on the drums,  a small swarthy man had picked up the bass, and was writhing around so that Maggie doubled over with laughter and shouted, “A worm, he looks just like a worm!”  When it was time for us to play again, we asked them to get off the stage.  Angel was polite, almost apologetic, but the Worm didn’t want to stop.
“Take a walk, Worm,” I said, picking up my guitar.
“Hey, don’t call me that,” he replied in all sincerity. “My name’s Rabbit.”


We were playing in the Ark one afternoon when an earnest-looking hippie came with an electric Indian sitar, an amplifier and his girlfriend.  As our band played, this guy started setting up his equipment as if he were a member of the group arriving late.  Joe talked to him politely, telling him to remove the stuff.  The hippie walked offstage and talked to his girlfriend, who was directing him back to the stage.  She seemed to be saying, “You’re not going to let them push you around, are you?”  Indignantly he strode back to the stage, picked up his instrument and tuned it as if the band weren’t playing at all. “I don’t know what you think is going on here,” Joe said to him over the noise, “But this isn’t a jam session.  If we want you to play, we’ll invite you.”  Oblivious, the hippie continued tuning, louder now.  Joe’s politeness faded.  He unplugged the hippie’s amplifier.  The girlfriend ran up to Joe and screamed at him.  To settle the issue, Joe picked the amp, smashed it repeatedly to the floor, and threw the pieces out the window.  The audience applauded and yelled their approval. Without saying a word, the hippie packed up his sitar while his girlfriend screeched at Joe, and then him.  The band played on, with no more trouble from stage creeps that day.


Some people who came to live on the houseboats took to the water, and some didn’t.  For many, the waterfront meant “low-income” housing, a colorful atmosphere or refuge from the law.  For others, it was a gateway to real nautical adventure or livelihood.  Joey the drummer didn’t take to the water; he was there strictly for the music and the permissive atmosphere.  Maggie and Kim already had their own sailboats, and Joe lived on his Chinese junk.  The ability to hoist your sails and move your home anywhere there was water was an intoxicating freedom which made even the wild life of the houseboat scene seem mundane.

The Hot Set-up hadn’t been the only sunken wreck at Whitey’s.  Just under the Oakland’s bow, its tilted mast almost touching the barge’s deck, was a sailboat.  It was a little sloop, eighteen feet long, lying over on its keel and filling up with water twice a day with the tides.  Painted on the stern were the words “Frank Fong Boat.”  I learned that it belonged, not surprisingly, to a man named Frank Fong, a Chinatown chef who came to Sausalito once every two or three months, stared at the little craft for a few minutes, and went back to San Francisco.  For two months I too stared at the boat, every day, and thought about salvaging it.  In a strange way it began to seem as if the boat were mine and just waiting for me to get off my ass and fix it up.  And then one day it wasn’t there.

By this time, mobility on the water was becoming an obsession.  With the little sailboat gone, I set out to get a good rowboat.  Gibbons had sold me a dinghy, but it was a boxy, awkward thing, hell to row against the wind.  I found a cheap, leaky plywood dory, patched it up with heavy duty marine epoxy and painted it green with white rubrails.  It was sleek, light and fast, and its amidships rowing seat, or thwart, was set very low to compensate for its light construction.  I named the dory Deep Thwart.

The Deep Thwart became my chief means of transportation.  I could visit anyone on the waterfront, tie up at Gate Three and shop for groceries at the Big G, fill the propane tanks at the fuel dock, all with this little skiff.  Sometimes I would row for the fun of it, just to be out on the water.  It was on one of these aimless trips that I saw the Frank Fong Boat again. There it was, under sail, rounding the Clipper breakwater into the Gate Five anchorage.  Sitting at the tiller was David Buttry, who lived anchored out in a small houseboat full of odd musical instruments and tiny electrical gadgets.  Buttry was one of the first to run an underwater power line from an anchored-out boat to shore. Frank Fong had given up on the boat and turned it over to Buttry, who had bailed it out at low tide and jury-rigged a sail.  It didn’t even leak. I brought the Deep Thwart alongside the Frank Fong boat and jumped aboard.  With the skiff trailing behind, we talked about boats and sailing.  As it turned out, Buttry had salvaged the boat not out of a love for sailing, but curiosity about how things work in general.  He didn’t really want to take on the Frank Fong boat as a project.  When I told him about my interest in it, he agreed to turn it over to me “temporarily,” under the condition that he would still have the option to use it.  I accepted this condition readily and Buttry delivered the boat to me the next day.  He seemed glad to get rid of it.

I went to work right away, studying the sail rig and scrounging blocks and fittings to fix it up with.  Following the instructions in Hervey Garrett Smith’s “Marlinspike Seamanship,” I made a boatswain’s chair and hauled myself to the top of the mast to inspect and improve the rigging. Once the sail rig was tuned up, I took my first solo sailing trip to Schoonmaker Beach to scrape and paint the bottom. Landing a boat on the beach for a bottom job is easy.  You just run it aground and wait for the tide to go out.  After the bottom was painted and the tide came back in, it was time for the real test.  I would now have to return to Gate Six, which meant tacking against the prevailing westerly wind into a narrow channel and landing the boat without any assistance.  Things went fine until it was time to land at the Whitey’s Marina dock.  Not surprisingly, a number of people were lined up on the Oakland deck to observe my first try at negotiating the channel.  Nearing Whitey’s and seeing the onlookers, I had an attack of self-consciousness but determined to make a good showing.  With Captain Dredge’s advice that “no fast landing is a good landing” in mind,  I loosened the mainsheet and brought the bow into the wind, hoping to coast easily up to the dock so I could step smoothly off the boat and secure the bow line.  At the last second a gust of wind caught the jib, blowing the bow away from the target and I stepped smoothly, bow line in hand, into the water.  The crowd on the Oakland let out a cheer of approval. Having unwittingly engineered my own sailor’s initiation rite, I was baptized.


The unique insanity of the waterfront accompanied its residents wherever they went.  The Big “G” supermarket near Gate Three was a common meeting place.  It wasn't unusual to see strange-looking people with red stripes painted down their legs loitering outside the store with bottles of Green Death in their hands, discussing things totally alien or terrifying to the average shopper.  Their behavior was often somewhat unorthodox as well.

There was a good deal of shoplifting at the “G.”  For many it became a game, a challenge, and a form of entertainment.  Peacock’s regular meal consisted of two barbecued chickens and a quart of Cuervo Gold tequila.  He would steal the items, then drink and dine in the vacant lot right next to the store, which came to be known as Peacock Park. Jack the Fluke developed a routine that served him well.  He would buy a bottle of white port, drink most of it right outside the store, then smash the bottle on the sidewalk and run back into the market, complaining that he had dropped it, as if the store personnel were somehow to blame.  They went for it every time.  He always got a new bottle.
Inflation was measured on the “Lungs and Livers” scale.  The Big “G” price  of Camels and a quart of Green Death was the minimum survival money for the Truly Rank Motherfuckers and other hard core types.  Eddie Crash was the first to report that it had gone over a dollar sometime in 1973.

My favorite thing about the Big “G” was the sign in the beer section.  It was there to discourage customers from breaking up six-packs:


Some local wit had altered it to say:



The Big “G” was where I first encountered dumpster diving.  While some of the bolder waterfront people were walking out of the store with steaks stuffed into their pants, many more were raiding the dumpster in back, and on a regular basis.  It was shocking how much perfectly good food was thrown out daily, and how well one could eat by “shopping” selectively at the rear of the store, especially if you had no image to protect.  People may have been starving in India, but they were also starving in America while supermarkets discarded untold tons of edible food daily. Marin was one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, and full of individuals and businesses with images to protect.  Consequently, the quality of food in the dumpsters was unusually high.  You couldn’t find a ripe tomato in the store--they were all out in the dumpster.  The Goodwill box in the Big “G” parking lot was a rich source of clothing, shoes, and even things like radios or typewriters.  Ironically, many waterfront people couldn’t even afford to buy second-hand clothing, so they bypassed the middleman and took the discards of the rich directly from the source.  Sometimes the box was overflowing and surrounded by bags and boxes of last year’s fashions and goods of all sorts.  Because of the “thievery” going on, Goodwill replaced the box with a guarded container and eventually abandoned the operation at the Big “G” altogether.

The bounty of the supermarket dumpster got me thinking.  What else was being thrown away in “upscale” Marin county?  What did I need, besides food?  Marine supplies.  I discovered the Sausalito Yacht Harbor dumpsters, and couldn’t believe what was there. The time to look was Monday morning, after the weekend yachtsmen had gone back to wherever they carried on their “real” lives.  Apparently these people thought that an empty boat was a good boat, because every Monday morning the garbage full of what seemed like a veritable inventory of supplies.  It wasn’t at all unusual to find six-packs of beer and soda with one can missing, full bottles of champagne, or untouched canned or other packaged foods, but the real bonus was the stuff like paint and hardware.  Sixty-dollar cans of super-expensive deck and copper bottom paint with one inch gone, turpentine, epoxy, unused tubes of caulking compounds, brand-new paint brushes, screwdrivers, scrapers and other tools, cleats, running blocks, all chucked out for the sake of a tidy-looking yacht. For years I kept up to four wooden boats painted and maintained with materials from the Sausalito Yacht Harbor dumpsters.

The Gate Six Parking Lot

If we at the waterfront were considered fringe-dwellers by “normal” society, how would the straight world have perceived the Gate Six parking lot?  This was our fringe, populated by the truly down-and-out, the genuinely insane, the flat-out weird. There were a lot of drugs around in those days.  If you knew who to see, you could get pot, hash, acid, speed, heroin, PCP, cocaine, opium, MDA, mescaline, psilocybin, depending on the season.  Failing these, there was always booze or Nyquil.  But for pure creativity when it came to getting high, it was hard to beat the Bee Junkie. He looked like a medieval phantom, with his hooded coat (the hood always up), scraggly beard and inch-long fingernails.  His home was a tiny cargo trailer by the Ark, maybe 4 x 5 x 3, just big enough to crawl into and sleep in a fetal position. This apparition never spoke to anyone, except to ask for cigarettes.  “Can you spare a smoke?” “Do you have an extra cigarette?”  This seemed to be his only way to communicate with his fellow humans. But communicating with other people was not a priority with this guy.  His intimacy was with bees, and his main activity was catching them and injecting the venom from the stingers.  He was able to grab a bee, and with perfect timing jab the stinging mechanism into his vein just as if it were a hypodermic syringe.  Why this didn’t kill him or cause severe discomfort, no one ever knew, but everyone assumed it was related to his odd behavior... [Now, twenty-five years later, I’m watching TV news in Seattle and on comes a bit about people using bee-stings to cure arthritis or something.  Some people are just way ahead of their time.

        Eddie “Spam” was a bum who, like so many other drifters, vagrants, vagabonds and other oddballs and characters,  just showed up in the Gate Six parking lot.  This guy looked like a Hollywood caricature of a tramp with his dirty, rumpled fedora, long overcoat, and shoes with the soles flopping around like huge tongues.  His long white hair and scraggly beard suggested a sourdough forty-niner or a burnt-out Santa Claus, but his rheumy, bloodshot eyes said only, drunk. It was Spider who gave Eddie the name “Spam.”  Spider, a part-time Grateful Dead groupie, had rather strange and limited taste in food.  Whenever he’d come through the parking with a grocery bag, it contained Sara Lee cheesecake, and bacon or Spam.  It became a ritual.  “What’s in the bag, Spider?” “Cheesecake and Spam,” or, “Bacon and cheesecake.”  That’s what he ate.
Eddie the tramp, naturally, was broke.  He was always bumming money for a drink.  He usually ate out of dumpsters, but booze was more important.  Once in a while someone would get a bottle of whiskey or a six-pack and drink it with Eddie.  Thus it came out that he had been an accountant, had held a good job for a long time.  “I used to have money but I drink’d it all up,” he would say.
One night at the bum fire, Eddie was in good spirits, as a few people had given him drinks.  Spider was there, and I asked if he really ate nothing but bacon, cheesecake and Spam.  Sensing an opportunity to create an aura of mystery around himself, he said, “Well, I like those things.” He wasn’t going to commit himself,
“I mean, do you eat them by themselves, or do you combine them?  Bacon or Spam and then cheesecake for dessert, or bacon and Spam, and cheesecake later?”
“Actually,” he replied, “Bacon and cheesecake go quite well together.”
“What about Spam and cheesecake?”
At this point, Eddie the tramp couldn’t contain himself any longer.  He limped up to the fire next to Spider and repeated, “Spam and cheesecake!”
“Well, what about bacon and cheesecake?” retorted Spider.
“You could have a sandwich,” I offered, “A slice of Spam between two pieces of cheesecake.” 
Eddie countered, “Or cheesecake between slices of bacon.”
Spider: “Cheesecake with Spam and bacon.”
Eddie: “Spam with cheesecake and bacon.”
Spider: “Bacon with cheesecake and Spam.”
Eddie: “Cheesecake and bacon, bacon and Spam, Spam and cheesecake. Bacon and cheesecake with Spam, Spam and bacon with cheesecake.  How ‘bout some Spam and cheesecake with bacon and Spam, and cheesecake!”
“Sounds good to me,” said Spider.
From that night on, Eddie the tramp was called Eddie Spam.


Rotten Richie was a mean old prick, and even he probably would have told you so.  What could anyone expect from a retired San Quentin prison guard?  He ran the  bait shop, Sausalito Boat and Tackle, by the intersection of Bridgeway and Highway 101, just across the Gate 6 parking lot from the Charles Van Damme.  The largest and most prominent wall display in the place was a poster, a bright green, nasty, hairy cartoon ogre with a spiked club, and the caption read,

        “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of    death I shall fear no evil.  Because I am the meanest son-    of-a-bitch in the Valley.”

Richie had a scowl for everybody.  He wasn’t prejudiced, he hated everyone equally. 
You could buy live or frozen fish bait, rods and reels and tackle of all kinds, boat and marine supplies: chains, anchors, etc., and guns.  Rifles, shotguns and at the back counter, handguns.  Lots of them.
Oh yes, did I mention the bar?  That’s right, you could sit down and drink a beer at the Bait Shop.  Or two, or five, or ten, and then get a six-pack to go.  As one waterfront old-timer observed, Rotten Richie’s bait shop was the only place he knew of where you could sit and get stinking drunk, and then buy a gun.


On one of Joe’s whims we took a sailing trip to the San Joaquin River delta.  A little fleet was outfitted with crews and supplies--the Hwang Ho as pilot boat with Joe, Joey and Kim aboard; the Loafer, the Redlegs’ tugboat with Captain Dredge, Jesse Crocodile and Toothless Tom; and Yanko Varda’s Cythera, with Maggie, Cici, Saul Rouda with his movie camera, and me.  The captain of the Cythera was Roger Cowan, who had been Varda’s skipper and sort of inherited the boat when the artist died.  Roger had the look of the storybook pirate, right down the patch he sometimes wore over his glass eye.

It was early spring.  The westerlies were roaring, and all the way to Sacramento it was straight downwind.  Dredge rigged the Loafer with a Navy Surplus lifeboat lugsail.  We sailed out of Richardson’s Bay on a broad reach and caught the incoming tide through Raccoon Strait.
The Cythera sailed like a juggernaut.  She was a steel lifeboat ballasted with tons of cement, had a deep keel welded on.  The boat was also a kinetic Varda art piece.  The hull was light blue-green with multi-colored patterns, and she carried a lateen (Arabic triangular) foresail,  a Chinese junk-type mainsail with a sun-god face painted on it, and a bright red gaff mizzen.  Before long we were into San Pablo Bay, leaving the mountains of Marin County behind for the flatter, oiltank-studded shores of Contra Costa. 

Our first anchorage was in Carquinez Strait, near the town of Martinez, where we climbed the yacht club fence and helped ourselves to showers.
We entered Suisun Bay and cruised by the Mothball Fleet, hundreds of World War II vessels of every imaginable type rafted together in neat military rows.  Despite the temptation, we stuck with the previous night's decision not to try at least a token “salvage” job, due to the height of the warships’ decks and the possible consequences of getting caught ripping off the U.S. Navy.

The San Joaquin River meets Suisun Bay at the dreary, lifeless town of Pittsburgh.  The water here turns brackish, and a Mississippi-ish coffee-brown.  In the sheltered water of the delta, we encountered the local boat population.  They were mostly sportfishermen and weekend cruisers, and had never seen boats like ours.  At Waldo Point, it was easy to forget that the boating world was mostly white plastic factory-made vessels piloted by “weekend warriors,” and to these people it must have looked like the circus was coming to town. In a sense, the circus was coming to town.  As we sailed further up the river we began to see more boats,  all decorated, with crews all smiling and waving.  The vessels were festooned with flowers, banners, crepe paper, balloons, and anything else colorful or unusual the owners could find.  One boat carried a 10-foot Mickey Mouse balloon.  We had sailed smack into the yacht season Opening Day parade, and our unorthodox boats and gypsy appearance were taken as fanciful get-ups for the event.

Our destination was Bethel Island, which turned out to be the rallying spot for the parade boats.  The social center of the area was the Sugar Barge,  a retired molasses scow from the California & Hawaiian refinery in Crockett.  It had been built up to look like a classic paddle wheeler and turned into a nightclub. People lined the shore, cheering and waving as we neared the Sugar Barge.  We tied up to the guest dock outside the restaurant.  For the rest of the day we entertained curious locals and boat people from all over the delta, showing them around the boats and talking about life at Waldo Point.

The first sour note was a visit from the local boat cop.  He boarded the Hwang Ho and demanded to see a registration certificate.
“I’m in the process of getting this boat documented,” said Tate.  Federal documentation is for life, and it’s free.  The catch is that the government can commandeer your boat in wartime.  “You can't document a boat unless it displaces five tons,” said the cop, “And you know this boat doesn’t come close.”
“Like I said,” replied Joe, “I’m in the process of getting documentation.  The exact displacement tonnage hasn’t been correctly determined.”  The cop relented.

By nighttime the novelty of our colorful boats and characters had begun to wear off at the Sugar Barge, but we hadn’t broken out the guitars yet.  Like any unusual strangers in mainstream culture, we were welcome as long as we kept them entertained but not threatened.  This was a fine line, and in the end the Redlegs always managed to not merely step over it, but trample it brutally and gleefully in the process.
It went well at first.  We used acoustic guitars so there could be no noise complaint.  The favorite song in the Sugar Barge was “Proud Mary,” with its reference to riverboat life.  This, repeated to death, and other familiar songs kept the drinks and cash tips flowing from the happy locals.  It seemed we had conquered the place.  Jesse Crocodile sensed this and went into action.

While the house cook sat at the bar drinking, Jesse took over the kitchen and began cooking for the whole crowd.  When he emerged with the first plates of steak and french fries the owner, who was tending bar, went crazy.
“What the hell do you think you're DOING!” he yelled.
“Just making some dinner,” replied Jesse,  “We haven’t eaten all day.  Here. How about a nice steak?”
“Who the hell do you think you ARE!  What do you think this IS?”
“I thought it was a restaurant,” deadpanned Jesse.
“OUT! All of you.  Get out of my bar.  And I want your boats gone in the morning, or I’ll call the police.”
That was that. 

We sailed around the sloughs for a few days, but the good part of the trip was over.  Food and money were running out and the voyage back to Sausalito would be against the weather all the way.  When some Sausalito people showed up by car with news from home, Maggie and I jumped ship and took the easy way back, not because of the upcoming band gig at San Francisco State College, but because the Hot Set-Up had sunk.  

Back at Gate 6 I saw the Hot Set-Up’s roof sticking out of the water next to the subchaser.  After the tide went out I salvaged a few things but most of the stuff was ruined. The place reeked of low tide and garlic powder.  I looked for the ten-dollar bill I’d stashed on a shelf before the river trip, but of course it was gone.  I was standing in the sunken, pathetic Hot Set-up when Janice Speck appeared on the subchaser and asked if I’d left ten dollars.  She’d seen it floating near the boat.

Joey had recently bought a 36 ft. lifeboat hull, and he offered it as a temporary place to stay.  The Cruncher had no structure on it except a floor, but it floated and that was half the battle won.  We borrowed a tent, set it up on the floor and moved in.
We tied the Cruncher’s bow to a cleat on the foredeck of the Oakland, and the stern to the subchaser.  On most tides, access was easy from the Oakland.  I became adept at walking the narrow, slippery gunwale of the steel lifeboat and was getting to be pretty proud of myself for really getting my sea legs.  It got so I could almost do it without looking. Almost.  One morning, stepping off the Oakland onto the Cruncher thinking how agile and cool I was,  I slipped and fell face first onto the plywood floor, a drop of about ten feet including my height.  There was a loud and painful crunch.  There before my eyes were the bottom halves of my two big, white, distinctive buck teeth.  My two front teeth.  One vanity had killed another.


Our next home was another small plywood barge, an upgraded version of the Hot Set-up.  We called the new place the Hot Molecule.  The phrase was one of Joe Tate’s leftovers from his college days, when he had amused himself by building a cyclotron, or atom smasher, in his spare time. This new domicile cost thirty-five dollars, and like its predecessor needed major repair.  But it was already hauled out and sitting on blocks in a small boatyard on Gate Five Rd.  The hull of the new houseboat was sound, unlike the sodden, decayed Hot Set-up, and layered with fiberglass.  It was the fiberglass that needed repair, and the local experts told me the boat wouldn’t leak if the tricky material were fixed correctly.  One thing they all assured me of was that working with fiberglass was one of the most miserable jobs in the boating world.

“You’ll need throwaway clothes,” said Ray Speck, “And a heavy-duty body grinder.  The most important thing to remember is to take a cold shower at the end of the day.  The cold water opens your pores and lets the tiny slivers wash out.” The tiny slivers were a new and disturbing concept for me, and I had no idea what a body grinder was, heavy-duty or otherwise, but I didn’t like the sound of it much. 
I borrowed the big and heavy grinder from Don Bradley, a rugged individualist who did everything in a big and heavy way. When I picked it up the first time I almost cried. The job involved lying on the ground and holding the grinder up against the boat’s bottom as the spinning abrasive disk ate away at the old fiberglass, throwing millions of those tiny slivers into the air, in the exact vicinity of my face.  However, there was no backing out.  This was the world in which I now existed, and the job had to be done.

It took two days of grinding to prepare the hull for new fiberglass.  The throwaway clothes and cold showers, along with safety goggles and respirators, kept me from becoming a pin cushion for tiny needles of plastic.  Applying the new material was easy.  I now had a houseboat that theoretically floated.  The next problem was getting it to the water, a quarter of a mile away.  As I fretted over the seeming impossibility of this, Don Bradley and Ray Speck showed up.  They laughed at my dilemma and said, “That’s easy.  We were just waiting for you to get done with the hard part.”

The next day Bradley showed up in his big, heavy duty truck, hauling a trailer he’d made from an automobile chassis and steel I-beams.  Speck came along shortly and without any help from me, they set to work with jacks.  The barge was sitting on the trailer and out the narrow boatyard gate in a couple of hours.  I followed along on foot as Don towed it to the beach by the ferry Vallejo.  He backed around and parked so the houseboat and trailer sat on top of small knoll.  After I had secured a line to the barge, Don  unhitched the trailer and gave it a shove, sending it down the beach and into the water.  The trailer disappeared beneath the surface, leaving the Hot Molecule floating on the calm water.
“What about the trailer?” I asked.
Don laughed and said, “I’ll pick it up at low tide.”
“What the hell can I do to pay you guys for this?”
Their answer was, “Just keep playing music.”


Mr. Larsen was an innocuous little man with a beer belly, who looked like someone’s kindly grandfather.  As Marin County’s building inspector, it was “just his job” to tack abatement notices on the houseboats at Gates Five and Six.  The papers said, “Notice to remove or destroy.”  I watched one day as Larsen approached the Hwang Ho with one of these papers.  Joe was aboard and saw him coming.  Without a word, Tate untied his mooring lines and let the boat drift from the pier as he raised his sails.  The  Hwang Ho sailed silently away, leaving the building inspector standing helplessly at the water’s edge.  Larsen’s ignorance of the difference between sailboats and  houseboats aside, if he’d ever had chance to actually inspect that Chinese junk, he’d have found a quality of construction he or the other County “experts” couldn’t have imagined.  But that wasn’t the point, and never was.  There were forces gathering against the waterfront, and Larsen was nothing more than a stooge.
No one really paid Mr. Larsen much attention, or took the abatement notices seriously until the day when the County Sheriffs came to tow away Joe’s Camel, the first houseboat Tate had built and later sold.

When Joe “married” Maggie and me at the drydocks, it was a pretty ho-hum affair.  Even the LSD we took only served to amplify the nervous discomfort that accompanies that sort of ritual, even on our tongue-and-cheek level.  Nonetheless, any excuse for a party was good enough and we all wound up spending the night out there.

The next morning was clear and calm.  When I woke up and went to take a leak, I could see a Coast Guard boat in the distance.  It was heading north by the Clipper Yacht Harbor breakwater, accompanied by another, smaller boat.  Sensing something ominous, I boarded the Hwang Ho, woke Joe and Pam and grabbed their binoculars.  Sure enough, gold-helmeted Marin County sheriffs were aboard with the Coast Guard, and they were headed into the Gate Five anchorage.

Hardly anyone had outboard motors in those days.  The Loafer was one of the few power boats and Dredge was out of town. As fast as they could, everyone at the drydocks cast off and set sail for Gate Five.  The Yipes Stripes was the fastest sailboat in the Redlegs’ fleet.  Maggie and I got to Gate Five first, where the Sheriffs now had a tow line attached to Joe’s Camel and were preparing to take it away.  The houseboat’s occupant wasn’t home, and the cops must have seen it as a sitting duck.

Saul Rouda had been shooting 16mm film footage of the waterfront for three or four years.  He had movies of parties, sailing, boatbuilding, character profiles, even a mock wedding in the mud at low tide.  Many of us took Saul less than seriously.  We called him “Media Man” and sometimes wondered if he felt inadequate without that camera on his shoulder.  It could be very annoying to be going about your business, or just trying to have a good time, with an Arriflex in your face.  Saul may have had trouble living in the moment, but he was onto something nobody else had thought of.  This place was too good to be true, and couldn’t last.   He would have it on film.

Boats of all sorts were headed out to the Camel, and tension was mounting in the air.  Maggie dropped me on shore and I phoned Saul.  “You better get up here with a camera, Saul.  The cops and Coast Guard are trying to tow away the Camel.”  He was on the way in minutes, and got it all.
The cops were way out of their element.  With all the metal they carried, they must have been terrified of falling into the water.  Another problem for them was the nature of Joe’s Camel. A “camel” was a huge block of solid wood, made from smaller blocks and held together with steel bolts.  They would never sink. Camels originally functioned as fenders, preventing close-moored military ships from damaging each other.  The average dimension was 12 ft. long by 8 ft. wide by 6 ft. deep.  They were like tiny icebergs, floating with only a few inches out of the water, and totally waterlogged.  Even without the weight and windage of a house built on it, a camel was an awkward nightmare to tow, even for an experienced boatman.

The Coast Guard was helpless.  With hardware-laden cops to protect and chained to an object that was nearly impossible to move, seventy or eighty small boats went around them in circles, full of people shouting at them to mind their own business and go home.  The smaller police boat was a Boston Whaler, very maneuverable but helplessly outnumbered.  One fat bald sheriff on the Whaler stroked his nightstick with gloved hands, a terrible angry scowl on his face.

One of the basic rules of boating is that sail has the right of way over motor.  With this in mind, Joe, Maggie and others in sailboats deliberately passed in front of the police boats over and over again, allowing them no progress in any direction.  A few overzealous types poked at police with oars, resulting in little tugs-of-war.  This landed some people in the water, and enabled the cops to pull a few out and arrest them.  The prisoners were handcuffed and left on the Coast Guard boat with no life jackets.  To protest this, Joe rammed the Coast Guard with his “bow crusher,” a piece of T-shaped diamond-plate steel affixed as a figurehead on the Hwang Ho.
It was getting near the stage of really dangerous violence when Randy Farwell appeared in his Boston Whaler, one with a motor twice as powerful as the cops’, and led the police Whaler with the angry gloved sheriff on a futile high-speed chase.  They didn’t get Joe’s Camel.  We won the first battle but the war was only beginning. 


Things are gettin’ rough for the poor folks in this country
We can’t afford to travel very far
The price of gasoline is always raisin’ slightly
and few of us can still afford a car

I could take a train to somewhere
but I ain’t really got the means
or I could take a plane to elsewhere
but I’d get there broke and never be able to leave

Yes and don’t you know there’s many a poor man
Who’d like to live a rich man’s dream
And find him a ship to take out on the ocean
And set him sailin’ on the sea

Our last free ride is waitin’ on the water
Our last free ride is waitin’ on the wind
That’s only free way gonna take us anywhere
I guess we’re all gonna have to go sailin’

Lyrics & music  © 1974  by Cici Wilcoxon

Joe Tate was the first one to see that this was the beginning of the end, that politics and big money would prevail.  Waterfront property in the nation’s second richest county was too valuable to be occupied by what amounted to a bunch of squatters who thumbed their noses at the law.  Real trouble was brewing in the Marin County Civic Center, where the Board of Supervisors and businessmen whose interests they represented were planning the conversion of the waterfront into a floating condo development.

Sausalito was going the way of all charming seaside “bohemian” communities, inundated by tourists and filling up with businesses that catered to them.  As in all such places, the very people that made it interesting would be driven out by the elements they attracted.
Gates Five and Six were attracting their own tourists.  The grounded Charles Van Damme ferry, the Ark, was visible from Highway 101 and curious travelers would take the Marin City exit to check it out.  When they found an entire community of unusual, colorful characters behind it they were delighted.  We were sometimes treated as if we were costumed employees of a theme park, there to answer questions and entertain the visitors.  Groups of ten or fifteen people with cameras would walk down the docks, looking into windows and doorways, snapping away.  Some would be discouraged if anyone asked for money to pose for them, others were indignant.  Most of these would have called the police if a stranger even walked down the street in their neighborhood back home.  Sometimes we got little old ladies’ art classes, who set up their easels and lawn chairs in the parking lot. In some cases the curious stayed, or were absorbed.  Pete Retondo arrived on the waterfront as a journalist on assignment for San Francisco magazine, searching for “hippie vegetarian pirates.”  He was right about the “pirates” part.  By the time the article was published, Pete was fixing up his own houseboat.

By 1973, the Truly Rank Motherfuckers had faded into legend.  Captain Garbage went north to fish for salmon.  Peacock disappeared and showed up only once in while.  Strung out on heroin, Dredge sold the Loafer and moved to Vancouver, Washington and eventually to Quilcene, on the Olympic Peninsula, to try and clean up.  Jesse Crocodile went home to Oregon.  Little by little, better docks were built, people had babies, and the place began to seem safer.  No longer were all but the most adventurous kept away by some intangible aura of danger.  Stories went around about National Geographic coming to do a pictorial.

“The waterfront is over,” said Joe one day after navigating his way past a dozen Japanese tourists.  “We need a big boat, so we can take the band and sail anywhere.” It sounded like a great idea, a seagoing rock and roll band.  We could play the ports of the world and not be bothered with bureaucrats, building codes, or tourists.  It would be Fuckabunchabullshit in its purest possible form. 

While the developers and the county moved in and turned the screws tighter and tighter, waterfront political types went into action and began organizing meetings.  Up until then, parties had been the common meeting ground, and as I sat at the first meeting, listening to my friends and neighbors argue, I knew Tate was right: the waterfront, as I knew and loved it, was over.

Meanwhile, Saul Rouda got serious about making a movie.  He’d studied political science at Berkeley, and the Houseboat War had fired him up.  Here was just the angle he needed to make a real film out of his miles of waterfront home movies, an antagonist in the form of heartless developers and corrupt bureaucrats: a bad guy.  He brought in another, commercial filmmaker named Roy Nolan and they set about concocting a script.  The movie would be titled “The Last Free Ride,” after the song by Cici Wilcoxon.

We’d sit around at night talking about taking the band to sea, financing our travels by setting up gigs in waterfront dance halls and bars all over the world.  But even with all I’d seen here, the fruition and realization of possibilities and dreams, the big boat seemed like too much.  Could it really happen?

The band went on playing.  We traveled north to Humboldt County and played on the Avenue of The Giants.  We played Bimbo’s (the old Mafia showroom in North Beach),  Bill Graham’s Winterland, Keystone Korner, the Old Mill in Mill Valley.  The Built-In Failure Factor followed us to all these places.  It seemed the further from the water, the worse the failure.  I began to think of this as the Shangri-La Effect.  In James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon,” the protagonist tries to take a beautiful young woman out of the fabled valley.  When they cross the border, the girl becomes an aged hag and dies.  Once we traveled two hundred miles north for a big party and found a dingy, dirty cellar with fifteen drunk hippies and no electricity.  I raided the medicine cabinet, found Seconals and Nembutals, and passed them out to everyone in our entourage. We slept in the Znarghmobile, on top of each other and the equipment, and drove home in the morning without touching an instrument.  But our parties on the Sausalito waterfront, especially the Ark dances, were great successes and became legendary.
Without any fanfare, Joe had put the word out that he looking for a big boat. 


Piro Caro was one of the elders of the waterfront.  He lived on the City of San Rafael ferry in Gate Five, and had been one of the original North Beach “hipster” artist-intellectuals in the forties and fifties.  This statement was made in 1973 to the Marin County Board of Supervisors at the first public hearing on the new houseboat building code ordinance designed to eliminate the nonconformist Gate 5 and 6 community:

“...I’ve lived on the waterfront for more than twenty years...  For more than those twenty years on that mud flat, a very important, a very healthy community has come into existence.  This community is composed largely of your sons and your daughters, the children of the middle class.   They come in usually very incompetent, often psychotic, often with cops at their backs...not knowing how to saw a board,  but they come in and nobody says yes or no to them.  They find a place, and they spend the next year, and sometimes two or three, building and rebuilding this, their houseboat.  which turns out to be an interestingly vernacular architecture.  Very interesting, and very important.
Also, they come to do another very important thing.  They come to find a world in which they can operate and they can move.   The reason that they come is because the world, your world, cannot accommodate their needs.  They either have to much energy, or too much talent, or too much rebellion.  In any case, they’re the young, and accommodations have to be made for them...
Well, you can build more hospitals, you can build more jails, you can hire more police.  You can have more social workers, probation officers...  That’s what would have happened if these people had not come onto this waterfront. 
As it is, for twenty years I’ve watched these people come in.  And now they’re all my old friends.  A young man comes in and makes himself a home, finds a chick, and has kids; the kids are now grown up and in high school and college.  It’s a very healthy and excellent community, where people live freely and well...  I sincerely hope you do not pass this ordinance.”  
The ordinance was passed.


The first Redlegs dance on the Charles Van Damme, commonly known as the Ark, was a direct reaction to the battle over Joe’s Camel.  Legal money was needed for the people who had been arrested and charged with “illegal assembly.”  Joe went to Don Arques and got permission to use the old ferry for a benefit, and the waterfront went to work.  The cleanup job inside the ferry was enormous, and done willingly by a crew of  enthusiastic volunteers.  This was the best excuse for a party yet.

Joe came up with a gimmick: free beer.  This meant no I.D. at the door, no liquor license problems.  Andy Goodman, who called herself the band’s Number One Groupie but also functioned as a sort of den mother and road trip organizer, fronted money for the seven kegs and two legally required rent-a-cops.  Maggie went to work on a poster design, and the Oakland shop became a silkscreen factory.
The party was only two days in the making.  The poster contained information about the benefit and location but the big print, the gist of it was this:

Joe and I left with a pile of fresh posters at nine in the morning and by four o’clock had stapled or taped them to nearly every corner telephone pole, bulletin board and store window in Marin County.  When we got back, Don Bradley, Gene Lee and Jeremy were rolling kegs into the Ark.
Besides the Redlegs, a good variety of entertainment had been lined up. Our own Mary Winn set up a puppet theater and did a childrens’ show.  Cici Dawn, along with Gate Three resident and former Los Angeles nightclub character Robbie “The Werewolf” Robison, and semi-legendary convict-folksinger Doc Stanley, put together a high-energy folk group called Free People.  The group was named after Robison’s song “Free People,” hastily but spiritedly composed after the Houseboat Battle. The song opened with the lyrics, “It’s gettin to be the time when they’re puttin’ on the screws to the free people...” To insure a long night of strong, danceable rock & roll and add drawing power, Joe hired the raucous local band Flying Circus.  This began a long and colorful partnership.  For the next few years Flying Circus would be a regular fixture at Redlegs dances and road gigs like The Garden of Earthly Delights.

By the time Flying Circus had done their set, the energy level was nearly over the top and all the local-hero Redlegs had to do was walk on stage and the place went crazy. The event was a huge success.  The Ark was jammed with over eight hundred people and there was only one fight. 
We had one stage creep that night.  A guy came in with a guitar and claimed to be part of a band called the Flamin’ Groovies. He was fairly polite about asking to play, so we had a little conference on our break and decided to let him go for it.  Joe sat out and left it to me to deal with him.  I had eaten a capsule of mescaline and the drug was coming on strong as Joey, Kim and I took the stage with our “guest.”  He started playing in a biting, staccato style that I found immensely annoying.  The mescaline had made me highly sensitized and I knew right away that something unpleasant would happen if this guy was allowed to cut loose.  But it was too late to just get rid of him.  He would have to be dealt with musically.
“Flamin’ Groovy” kept up his aggravating barrage of stiletto-blade notes and the mood in the Ark began to darken.  Joey and Kim found a groove and the crowd danced, but the tension stayed.  As the mescaline took a firm hold, the stranger developed a dark aura and I began to perceive this ordinary-seeming jam session as nothing less than a battle between Good and Evil.   I was utterly convinced that it was my responsibility to neutralize the malevolent forces being unleashed by the alien presence across the stage from me. As I struggled to find the right musical focus, the bad vibes spread into the crowd and the fight broke out. Gene Lee was in the middle of it, being attacked by six or seven short-haired rednecks.  As the crisis grew, the answer struck me:  it wouldn’t help to outplay my opponent, that would only add to the problem by building the pitch of battle.  No, the trick was to underplay him.  I established eye contact with Joey the drummer to let him know something was about to happen.  As Flamin’ Groovy hacked away in a “G” blues mode, I hit a long, slow Eb major seventh chord, and Joey and Kim shifted into a new, smoother rhythm.  From that point on I played no more tonic, fourth or fifth chords, and worked soft-sounding chords around the key of G without touching it, putting his blues notes out of context and making them seem soft, as if a pillow of air was forced under them. 
The fistfight fizzled out and everyone was back to dancing by the time the song was over.  Flamin’ Groovy walked over, shook my hand and said, “Nice jam. Thanks.”

        The first Ark dance led to another, and then more.  The next few were “benefits” for the houseboat cause, but we dropped the word “benefit” after a while.  The Redlegs now had drawing power and filled the Ark to capacity every time.  The word “concert” was never used for a Redlegs event.  It went along with the big-business gentrification and pretense that had been corrupting rock and roll since the mid-sixties.  I could never get over the idea that there was something wrong with an awe-struck audience sitting in reverence before a group of superstar guitar gods strutting around the stage in carefully contrived poses, the stage lined with armed security guards. Rock and Roll was about having a good time, wasn’t it?
Every Redlegs dance had a different theme, which Maggie incorporated into the posters.


The poster for this one depicted a cartoon character resembling the Incredible Hulk lifting a crowded dance floor above its head like a tray, as if about to the throw it into space.  If life ever imitated art, it was on this night when Don Bradley, stone drunk on Green Death, got the urge to express himself and joined the top echelon of stage creeps.

Don rarely wore shoes, and had the kind of rugged-looking feet that brought to mind the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, the legendary man-ape creature of the Pacific Northwest.  But when he ascended the stage in a drunken blackout, without shoes or shirt, Bradley, a powerfully built man, was the perfect image of the Incredible Hulk as depicted on the poster.  He grabbed a microphone, and for fifteen full minutes grunted, howled, and moaned unintelligibly but passionately into it as the bewildered crowd stopped dancing and stared, or cleared the dance floor entirely.  We had no real choice but to let him run his course, and he eventually  retreated to a corner and passed out.


Why not? They were coming to San Francisco, and we needed a theme for the next dance.  Besides, I was sick of hearing about them being referred to as the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and the reverential tones in which they were discussed.
“Let’s challenge the Rolling Stones to a battle of the bands,” I said to Joe.  Even Tate had more respect for Jagger and Co. than I did, but after giving a me funny look his eyes brightened up and said “Great, let’s do it.”

Maggie went to work on the poster, drawing two broken and bandaged electric guitars and using day-glo orange ink for the lettering.  After plastering Marin County with the flyers, Joe and I went to The City and covered the area around Winterland, including the front and stage entrances, where the Stones would be performing that weekend.  Although it was unlikely, we now had to consider the real possibility of them responding, and we hoped they would.

The dance was on Saturday, the second night of the Rolling Stones’ engagement at Winterland, and we scheduled it to go to 3:00 A.M. to give them plenty of time to show up.  Michael Woodstock went to Winterland with a handful of posters, spreading them around the lobby and managing to toss one at the feet of Bill Wyman, the Stones’ bass player. According to Woodstock, Wyman picked it up and read it.
The Rolling Stones never showed up at the Ark, but a capacity crowd did, and at 3:00 A.M. we closed down after announcing that we had won the Battle of the Bands by default.


We learned to get pretty loose with the word “benefit,” and decided since the band needed money, we would have a benefit for ourselves.  This one would be called the “Down and Out Musicians’ Ball,” and feature a contest with a real houseboat for a prize.  The boat in question was a sunken derelict, a mud-filled twenty-foot surplus lifeboat with a crude plywood superstructure, but it was a houseboat and could be floated and fixed up.  As a second prize, Joe came up with an odd-looking leather strap and buckle device, and called it a “Tijuana donkey-fuck harness.”
To win these fabulous items, contestants were obliged to deface the photograph of the Redlegs on the “Down and Out Musicians’ Ball” poster.  Entries poured in by mail and by hand, right up to the night of of the dance.

Bob Seal’s contribution was the most creative, or at least the most extreme. He had smeared the photo with his own feces, swirling it around in a nice spiral design.  And he had the good taste to let it dry completely, too.  For this he won the Tijuana donkey-fuck harness, and as Joe made the presentation, he wished Bob the best of luck with it. The Grand Prize winner was our old buddy the Sun King, although I cannot vouch for the objectivity or fairness of the final decision.  The prize houseboat, the sunken wreck in the mud, was visited a few times by its new owner but never repaired.


The waterfront went all out for Halloween.  It definitely wasn’t just for kids, and after trick-or-treat was over, the real hobgoblins came out.  At the Ark Halloween parties, the dark, cavernous interior of the ferry with its huge open beams, unusual shapes and smokestack running up through the middle of the room was the perfect place to get weird.  Psychedelic drugs also helped.

I never dressed up in really elaborate costumes, using the excuse that as a guitar player in the band I needed freedom of movement.  I didn’t even like jewelry or heavy boots.  But I always did something, like spray my hair with glitter and go as a “rock star,” or smear my face with charcoal, put on a straw hat and go as a sharecropper.

It was the time I went in blackface that someone gave me a dose of LSD in a drink.  As the acid came on I wandered around the Ark trying to get some sort of orientation, but the costumes and bizarre behavior made that impossible.  One man was trudging around balefully, and stinking of low tide, wrapped in what looked like two hundred pounds of kelp.  He had to have gone over the mountain to the coast to get it from the surf.  It was Pete Retondo, the journalist-turned-houseboater demonstrating, I presumed, his dedication to the aquatic life.  A huge, floppy Raggedy Ann doll with gigantic breasts danced by and nearly bowled me over as I tried to communicate with the Retondo kelp-creature.  Later I learned that the floppy doll was Annie Hallatt, the Gate Three mask artist, when she won the costume contest.  But with the LSD just hitting its pace in my brain, it all seemed disturbingly real, as if what I was seeing was not costumes at all, but what everybody really was.

A common trait of people on LSD is that they tend to think everyone else is also high, whether the others are under the effect of the drug or not, and the tendency can be to surmise that human behavior is generally much stranger than we would like to think. I had to sit down and ponder this.  I found myself at the end of a long, medieval-looking table.  It seemed like a meeting was taking place, but no one was talking.  It was as if the costumes and masks were making the statements, and that was enough.  Slowly, I looked at each of the characters before me: a prostitute, a nineteenth century fop, a vampire, Satan, a bozo-type clown.  Each of them made eye contact, and there was a vague but deep understanding of something in all their faces and I felt not quite part of it until I noticed the figure at the opposite end of the table, facing me.  At that moment, time stopped and I understood.  Staring back at me was a white face, greasepaint done in mime fashion on a body dressed up a black tuxedo and white gloves.  Between the sleeves and the gloves I could see the natural skin, and it was black.  Only then did I remember my own blackface persona.  The white-face black man and the black-face white man at opposite ends of the table just stared at each other and understood.


Jeremy was a nice ex-college boy from Connecticut, an old pal of Buck  Knight.  One summer, while Buck was on vacation, Jeremy came to
Sausalito to stay in Buck's quarters in the stern apartment on the Oakland.  He was well-mannered and reserved in the New England Yankee style.  Well-educated and articulate, he came from New London, where the Navy builds and launches nuclear submarines.  The area has a rich nautical tradition, and Jeremy felt comfortable in the waterfront environment.

The Redlegs band was ensconced in the shop at the bow of the Oakland, and eventually Jeremy came around to see what was going on. Not surprisingly, he liked rock & roll music, and after a few discussions, I found out he had gone to the University of Connecticut, where I had played frat parties and student union dances. We told Connecticut stories and had a few beers.  Jeremy discovered Rainier ale, or “green death.”
It wasn't too long before Jeremy was part of the scene, helping the band with the equipment and dancing merrily at parties with his bottle
of green death in hand. He also joined boating forays and got with the pirate spirit easily.

Redlegs drummer Joey “Crunch” had a 36-foot Navy surplus lifeboat, which had been equipped with an engine, a deck, and a crude tiller for steering. This job had been done for the purpose of ferrying people back and forth from the drydocks when the Redlegs finally opened that scene to the publicand staged a play-for-pay party.  The Cruncher was also a perfect salvage boat and often came back to Gate Six loaded down with booty.         Coming back from one salvage raid, the crew had misjudged the tide, and the boat ran aground near WOF Island, at the end of the Gate Five main pier. To make matters worse, they threw out a stern anchor in an attempt to kedge out backwards, and in the process wrapped the anchor chain around the propeller.  Jeremy, clad only in bluejean cutoffs and pickled with green death, volunteered to jump overboard and free the chain.  The tide had receded further, making it easier for Jeremy to free the chain, but making it impossible for the boat to go anywhere.
In the spring there occurs in Richardson’s Bay an algae growth
that turns the water green and thick.  It was that time of year and when Jeremy emerged from his attempts at freeing the chain, he was covered and dripping with green slime.  This, combined with his well-known habit of drinking green death, gave him the name Green Slime.
The Green Slime character began to evolve, with no help from Jeremy.  Green Slime was everything that Jeremy was not.  Rude, belligerent, crazy, sometimes Neanderthal, totally fearless, and often hilarious.  Jeremy had been brought up in a strict Catholic family, and like many of his ilk was still struggling to rid himself of the horrors of such an upbringing.  Not so Green Slime.  Green Slime was liberated. There was a comic book circulating at that time called “Binky Brown meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” about a young Catholic boy who has sexual fantasies about “God’s Mom.” Jeremy liked the comic but Green Slime became obsessed with it.

Green Slime was becoming a fixture at Redlegs shows, sometimes getting into fights, and encouraging mayhem in general.  The second time we had a dance at Whitey Litchfield’s Bermuda Palms, we hired Marin County bands Flying Circus and Clover, and Ricky the Mad Cuban Harpist.  Ricky always called himself God, unashamedly and in no uncertain terms, and could be heard on the waterfront at any hour of the day or night proclaiming loudly, “I AM GOD, SOY DIO!” He played flamenco-style music on the harp, with real Latin passion.  He showed up at the gig dressed as Fidel Castro. The audience thought he was nuts. After Ricky’s (God’s) set, Green Slime took the stage dressed in priest's robes and with his face painted day-glow green, delivering a carefully prepared monologue, or sermon, consisting of three words: “FUCK... GOD'S... MOM!”  He uttered this again and again, in every conceivable tone and inflection, until we had to gently lead him off the stage before the angry crowd attacked him.

Green Slime had become notorious in the Truly Rank Motherfucker sense.  I once encountered him on the subchaser, whereupon he mumbled incoherently and pulled out a knife and was about to stab me in the gut.  Strangely, I felt no great fear and just walked away.  Maggie once beaned him on the temple in the Oakland shop with a green death bottle because he had ripped the pay phone off the wall and smashed it to bits in search of beer money.

His greatest moment happened on Market Street in San Francisco, at a used car lot.  A scene was to be filmed for “The Last Free Ride” with the band playing on a stage built at the base of a huge billboard overlooking Market St. just above a used car lot. The billboard was a Lark cigarette ad, showing a racing yacht sailing along with beautiful suntanned people aboard.  At the very top of the sign, some 40 or 50 feet above the pavement, were the words, “PUT SOME PLEASURE IN YOUR LIFE.”

As the winos and other street characters danced, a few of them started pointing upwards and yelling about something.  I turned around to see Green Slime, dressed in nothing but cut-off jeans, climbing up the side of the billboard.  Jeremy had once been an ironworker and wasn’t afraid of heights.  Green Slime knew this.  He had something hanging from his belt, and ascended steadily despite the pleas from the crowd.  Reaching the top, he straddled the sign and reached for the thing on his belt, a can of red paint.  Unfortunately he had no brush, so with his hand, he smeared paint on the billboard.  He inched along, dipping and smearing, dipping and smearing.  That day, Green Slime managed to pull off a grand stunt, upstaging the band and nearly getting all of us arrested. A cheer went up from the street when he was finished.  Over the word “pleasure,” he had smeared “Redlegs,” leaving the message:

 “Put Some Redlegs In Your Life.”