Chapter 2

California Here I Come!

In November, 1979, I followed my sister Evelyn and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She had come out in June of 1979. There was nothing to keep me in Jersey, so I went ahead and loaded up my 1961 Ford Sunliner convertible and headed out west! This opened up a whole new world of musical experiences.

 

Getting Started

Back in New Jersey, I used to play in a rehearsal big band. There was an older sax player names Danny Patiris there who had some connections in San Francisco. He gave me the number of a trombonist/band leader named Jimmy Price and suggested that I contact him when I got there.

Jimmy took me under his wing and gave me some tunes to learn so I could do Dixieland gigs which were popular at the time. He also gave me a spot in his big band and I can remember playing a show at Bimbo's 365 Club, which still exists today. He also played with the Jimmy Diamond Dixieland band which performed nightly at the New Orleans Room of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. I was allowed to sit in with the band on several occasions. Unfortunately, no recordings exist from this time.

Not sure of the exact timeline, but I joined the musician's union and had the opportunity to play with the San Francisco 49'ers band at Candlestick Park. This was a band that was like a traditional big band, but was three times the size. So, instead of 4 trombones there were 12, etc.

I also got the opportunity to perform with the San Francisco Giants dixieland band, also at Candlestick Park. We would play for the tailgaters in the parking lot, then in the stadium, we would roam around during the game and when the teams were changing innings, we would run down and jump on the dugouts and play to the crowd.

I also was hired to provide a Dixieland band for the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team for one season, Joe Bone's Dixieland Band.

 

 

1979-1981

Bay Bones

In 1980, while getting my jazz repertoire worked out I joined a group called the Bay Bones. The ensemble was based out of Skyline College in San Mateo, Ca. The group was made up of only trombones and we played more classical style pieces. We played a concert at St Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco with a total of 40 trombones! The previous year they had close to 90.The instrumentation was made up of soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and contra bass trombones. Because the design of the church resembled that of a washing machine agitator, it was sometimes jokingly called "Our Lady of Amana!" One of the most awesome shows we did was at the Reno Jazz Festival at the Pioneer Theatre. We had 20 trombones and did 3 pieces, One was a classical piece and the others were basically big band arrangements using only trombones covering all the parts. Check that one out for sure!

 

Bay Bones at St Mary's Cathedral >>>>

Bay Bones
 

Bay Bones at Reno Jazz Festival >>>>

Bay Bones Reno
 

 

Just Friends Big Band

Back in the 80's there was a music store in South San Francisco called Bronstein Music. One of the owners, Rich Welker was a trumpet player who organized a rehearsal band called Just Friends. I became a member of the group as the lead trombone player. We would rehearse in the music store after hours. The group was made up of some great players. I have a trombone solo in the song "Tuning Up" below. The other trombone solos were by Matt Finders who was an amazing player. At one point we got a Sunday gig for 12 weeks at a place called the B Street Restaurant on B Street in San Mateo. It was a great gig!

 

Tuning Up
 
A Foggy Day
 
Every Little Bit Helps
 
There's a Boat Leaving Soon for New York
 

Stream all tunes here >>>>

Just Friends at B Street
 

 

Pier 23 Cafe

In late 1979, Jimmy Price passed a gig on to me that he couldn't do. There was this funky old place called the Pier 23 Cafe down by the San Francisco Embarcadero. There was a live house band there called Jack Jive Shafer and the Rhythm Rascals. Jack Shafer was 72 years old at the time and had performed in vaudville shows as well as playing lead trumpet with the Harry James Orchestra. The trombone player, Richard Elmore, worked on the side as a one man band, "Professor Gizmo", one of those street musicians that had all kinds of instruments and drums hanging on his body. He needed to take a month off to go to New Orleans Mardi Gras to do his one man show.

I had been driving a van for a delivery company in San Jose during the day. I subbed for Rick for the month, and when he came back, he told me I could keep the Pier 23 gig as he wanted to do other things. This was a big break for me, a steady gig, 4 nights a week! Shortly after, I quit my day job and stayed on at the Pier for a couple of years. I learned a lot from Jack Shafer. The place was packed every night with tourists and people from every walk of life. The music was high energy and LOUD! In the middle of every set, Jack's daughter, Melody Anne, would come up on stage and do 3 little show tunes. This is where I met my first wife Betty Anne. The Pier 23 Cafe still exists today, but is more trendy.

During my time there we recorded the album below, "Quiet Whiskey". The live tracks below are from my last night at the Pier.

When Wagon Rolls/Cherry
 
Abaleen Blues
 
Glory Halelujah
 
St James Infirmary
 
Hey Bartender
 
I Got What It takes
 
Charlie My Boy
 
Bourbon Street Parade
 
Dixieland Medley
 
Blues Keep Buzzin'
 
Good Times Roll
 
Blues Medley
 

Stream all tunes here >>>>

Pier 23 Stream
 

 

Medicine Ball Jazz Band

Back in the 80's, San Francisco was known for having a lot of street musicians/performers. I joined a little street Dixieland quartet called The Medicine Ball Jazz Band. Guitarist David Sturdevant was the leader. We had David on electric guitar (with a battery powered amp), John Meyers on trumpet, Bert Carelli on sax and clarinet, and myself on trombone. We would set up at different locations in San Francisco, put out a guitar case for tips and start playing. Lots of times we did this downtown at Montgomery Plaza at lunchtime and all the business employees would come and sit and listen. We would pass a hat and made pretty good tips for a couple of hours worth of playing. The pics and audio below are from when we set up at Liberty House in Union Square which is now Macy's. There's also a banjo player on these tracks.

The recordings sound like an old 78 record because they were done on a small portable cassette recorder behind the band.

Undecided
 
Honeysuckle Rose
 
Avalon
 
I Found a New Baby
 
Muskrat Ramble
 
St Louis Blues
 

Stream all tunes here >>>>

Medicine Ball Stream
 

 

1981-1986

When I married my first wife in 1981, I wrote a musical arrangement of the Bridal Chorus and the Wedding March for 6 trombones. When my sister got married in late 1982, I used the same arrangement for her wedding with me and 5 other trombones playing the music.
Bridal Chorus
 
Wedding March
 

Basin Street West

It was late 1981 when I left the Pier 23 gig to go out on my own. It was time for me to become a band leader. I soon found out that once you are a leader, none of the other band leaders call you for gigs as you are the competition now! I landed a house gig at a new club/restaurant called Basin St. West, on Broadway in San Francisco. The gig didn't last very long because of owner mismanagement, but while it was happening, I had a great band! Jon Davis on piano, Richard Saunders on bass, John Waller on drums and the amazing Hal Stein on alto sax along with me on trombone and vocals. Yes, while at the Pier 23 Cafe, I found my voice, and started regularly being a vocalist in my group.

Joe and his group at Basin Street West in San Francisco

Chatanooga Choo Choo
 
Tin Roof Blues
 
Doctor Jazz
 
Morning
 
Birth of the Blues
 
Sweet Georgia Brown
 
Basin Street West stream>>>>>
 

Joe and Jon at the Grosvenor

Basin Street West was now closed. I had an opportunity to do a duo gig at the Grosvenor Airport Inn by the S.F. airport. My piano player, Jon Davis was very adept at playing left hand bass on the piano. I bought a used drum set and figured out a way to rig a foot controlled drumstick to hit the ride cymbal. This way when i was playing trombone over the drums, I could keep the ride cymbal going along with the high hat. When i wasn't playing trombone I would pick up some brushes or sticks and play drums while Jon soloed or I was doing vocals. The gig lasted for a month. The audio below is a sample of our gig. Three songs, Rosetta, Pennies from Heaven, and Undecided. That was pretty much the beginning and the end of my being a drummer, but it was fun!
Joe and John at the Grosvenor
 

From Joe Escobar Quartet to the Music of Joe and Terri

 

I didn't have a house gig anymore so I did my best to find work for myself and the band. I did a short stint with a group called David Kelsey and Pure Trash. He was a gay performer who played piano and organ using bass pedals for bass and the rest of us formed what was a Dixieland style group. We played at a club called The New Bell Saloon on Polk Street in San Francisco. The place was jumpin' every night!

I have a recording of a gig at a place called The Griffin which was a restaurant/bar in Berkeley, Ca. At this gig was a female vocalist sitting in with us named Terri Williams. Going back a little in time before this, I had joined with a wedding band called Common Stock. We were hired to do a wedding and they requested a female singer be in the band. Terri Williams was that singer. We met at a rehearsal for that gig. I had recently divorced my first wife...and you can see where this is going! Long story short, Terri and I ended up in a relationship and I started working on some music arrangements for us that were inspired by the vocal group, Manhattan Transfer . Terri was new at this, and would sit in on my quartet gigs as a guest vocalist. The recording at the Griffin is one of those instances. At one point The Music of Joe and Terri became my main focus. We did a few gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area but work was not easy to find. A new development was on the horizon though. We performed at a restaurant in Oakland, Ca. called Gallaghers. It was a huge place with a big dance floor that had various live bands. We met a couple there that performed as a duo called Peter and the Wolfe (based on his first name and her last name). He was a keyboard player and had this electronic gear that helped them sound like a full band. There were several places that were hiring small duos and I decided that I had to figure out a way for us to get some of this work!

 

On the tracks below, the band members were: Si Perkoff on piano, Richard Saunders on bass, John Waller on drums.

 

Joe with David Kelsey and Pure Trash at The New Bell Saloon

Joe and Terri at the Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in san Francisco.

Don't Get Around Much Anymore
 
Meditation (Duet with Terri Williams)
 
Polkadots and Moonbeams
 
There Will Never Be Another You
 
Stream all 4 tunes >>>>>
 

The Transition to a Duo

Another long thread, sorry!

For years my focus was primarily on jazz. In order to get more gigs we would need to cross over and start adding some pop tunes. I had to hire new players that were capable of playing pop tunes as well as jazz.The new rhythm section was : Alan Steger on keys, Alex Baum on bass, and Eric Almen on drums.

In one of the previous paragraphs, I mentioned that we met a duo at Gallaghers called Peter and the Wolfe who were using electronic gear to create the sound of a full band. There was more work for smaller duos and trios. I had to find a way for us to work as a duo. Not being a piano player was going to make that challenging for sure, but I found a solution! We would use background tapes (much like Karaoke is used today).

First I had to record some basic tracks of my band with a 4 track reel to reel tape recorder. I then converted them to cassette tapes. At that time, there were cassette dubbing decks that were basically 2 cassette decks in one unit. The units I bought had a search feature where if you left a 5 second gap between songs, you could fast forward to the next song on the tape with the push of a button. It worked! I created a library of tapes and we started getting gigs as a duo using the background tracks, but the musician in me found it hard just standing there singing and playing my horn to an invisible band. I invested in an affordable synthesizer keyboard and the plan was to get my keyboard chops to a point where I could remove the keyboard parts from the tapes and actually play them myself on stage. I also bought and learned to program a drum machine, which by today's standards, had some lousy drum sounds. Using my live drum set, the drum machine and my cheap keyboard, I added more songs to the library while at the same time improving my keyboard skills.

My friend and sax player, Bert Carelli, from the Medicine Ball Jazz Band had taken a job as the entertainment director for Hornblower Cruises, which were daily cruises around the San Francisco Bay. He gave us lots of duo work on the various ships. Occasionally, we would add my friend Lisa Pollard on tenor sax to make a trio. We used to sail out of the Berkeley Marina. After he left the job, the work basically stopped for us as the new entertainment director had his own bands that he used on the ships.

Below is a demo recording of the band which was also used to sell the new duo as we used the very same tracks.

This is a medley of short segments of the following tunes:

Crazy For You, Careless Whisper, Hey Bartender, Mr. Magic, Heatwave, On Broadway, More Today than Yesterday, NY, NY, Up Where We Belong, Tuxedo Junction, Boy from NYC, Just the Two Of Us, Johnny Be Goode, I Just Called to Say I Love You

Demo May 3,1985
 

Then Came MIDI!

In 1984 Yamaha came out with the DX7 keyboard synthesizer, RX series drum machines and sequencers that revolutionized the music scene. At the same time, a new system called MIDI came into view. Basically, MIDI enabled digital keyboards, drum machines and all kinds of digital instruments to communicate with each other. You could actually write arrangements and record them into a Digital Sequence Recorder or "Sequencer" and play them back in real time. This was not like recording audio on tape, it was all data recording. When you played back a sequence, the connected instrument(s) would decode the data and play it back. MIDI is still in use today and is even used in some of the film scores you hear in movies.

There were also MIDI controllable digital samplers coming on the market, further expanding what you could do with live performances.

I initially invested in a Yamaha QX1 sequencer, a DX7 keyboard, an RX15 drum machine, a Yamaha TX81Z sound module, and a Sequential Circuits, Prophet 2001 sampler. I now had several sound sources for our performances. I honed my MIDI programming skills, developed some keyboard chops, and eventually eliminated the tapes. From then on our show would be with live sequencing only.

Below is a sample of a song using the recorded tracks of the live band and later, the same song after I started MIDI sequencing.

Save The Last Dance with live band tracks
 
Save The Last Dance with MIDI tracks
 

Of course, this transformation all took place over a certain time period. There were not enough gigs even for a duo in the San Francisco area anymore. We did a gig at the Vagabond Inn in South Lake Tahoe in October of 1985. While we were there, we checked out the entertainment in the various casinos on the Nevada side. We met another duo who said that there was a ton of work in Reno/Tahoe and gave me the number of an agent that booked bands in the area. His name was Kenny Armstrong. I contacted him when we returned home and he offered us a gig way out in Jackpot, Nevada. Jackpot is in the northeast corner of Nevada, close to Twin Falls Idaho. We packed up my new '85 Ford Escort wagon and a little trailer and headed to Jackpot. We played 2 weeks at a little casino/bar called The Horseshoe Club. The club gave the agent a good review and he booked us at Karl's Silver Club in Sparks, Nevada for another 2 weeks. They loved us there as well and gave a good report to the agent. Upon hearing that, Kenny Armstrong offered us a good paying steady gig at Harrah's Virginia Street Casino in downtown Reno. We jumped at the chance to play at one of Reno's most famous casinos! It was time to leave California and head to Nevada!

Find out what happens next in Chapter 3, The Move to Nevada!

 

 

Chapter 3 The Move to Nevada

Back to Chapter 1

 

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