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Mary's Story

 

I was 23 when the band first got together. I lived in the Haight on 1480 Waller St. with a college roomate from Monterey, Val Risely. I worked as a Kelly Girl and then at First Savings and Loan as a receptionist/secretary. I was attending night school at UC Berkeley and also San Francisco State. I would take buses everywhere. Val and I lived in the Haight, a neighborhood which included a Russian piroski shop, the Jewish liquor and cigarette store, the $.25 hamburgers, a Goodwill and a St. Vincent de Paul, 2 Chinese Restaurants and of course Tracey's Doughnut shop. It was a cheap, breezy and pretty clean neighborhood. The year was 1965.
Things started to happen - very low key. The first thing I remember that was "out of the the ordinary" was a hastily written notice on the window of the liquor store inviting all to a "rent party" - bring a little money and music and yourself. At this rent party, I remember entering a dark room, young men sitting tailor style and a bottle of wine and a joint being passed around. No furniture. I remember the poetry which they were calling out was dumb and funny. Rent Parties were intended to help pay the rent for a group of "hip folks" probably come up from San Leandro or some place outside the city. "Communes" were cropping up like mushrooms. Acid started being passed around among groups of people living together.
I left my job at the bank around this time and was dancing for a while at a "Go-Go" place on Powell street in the financial district. That was hard work. I got into a band called Daemon Lover, because I thought the guitar player was cute. I sang one song - A Richard and Mimi Farina song about "He's the kind of guy, puts on a motorcycle jacket and he weighs about a hundred and five" -"Hard Loving Loser." Anyway we had a gig or two as I recall. in that Somewhere in the mix of fresh communes and off beat music, I hooked up with Marla Hunt. She lived at a commune on Cole near Oak I think. That was a wild place. In that loosely arranged living situation, Marla's little spot was a walk in closet upstairs. In this once upon a time beautiful large home, there was about 5 or 6 bedrooms or make shift bedrooms. Lots of pot and acid. Food was secondary. Hardly anything or anyone related to the kitchen. I met Nora, Kenny and Jake there - real hippie sorts and very very young! 15 to 18 in age. Marla had a piano there right as you walked in the door. She could play! She knew that I had a piano, and we started to spend some time playing together. Well - she played, I listened, but somewhere in that space of time, we started to sing our own words over her melodies and chord structures. We set out to create a play about what we saw going down in the Haight Asbury. One of our first ideas was "Spare a DIme?" "Hey buddy spare me a dime, or a nickle will do, anything you can do, we leave it all up to you/......" I guess panhandlers were starting to hit the street. Tourists had not arrived yet - so young folks were asking other young folks for spare change - and it seemed okay - it was all part of the "rent party" deal; "What's mine is yours if you need it today buddy....tomorrow it will be my turn to ask."
We had a few lovely writing sessions where we wrote Val (roomate) into the script. (Songs about the cukoo bird) I loved Marla's music. It truly was something new for me to love someone whose playing was so passionate and beautiful. Lots of characters were showing up in the Haight among them a friend named Todd Bison, who named himself "Ama." He did some Cistine chapels in the Haight on the old circular ceilings. He was a true artist. He had a show at Ferlingetti's in North Beach. He later jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived! (true I know) A bunch of originals were flocking to the neighborhood. It was "happening."
One night I was skimming through a commune in upper Haight, and I came upon a furnitureless room (except of the zig-zag paper decor) which was dark except for the fire of a beautiful female drummer sitting at a complete drum set and playing away. What an oddity! A full trap set in a dark room, a pretty girl kicking out the beats with no other music playing. I had never seen anything like that before! I made contact with her, and asked her to meet up with Marla and me. A guy was hanging around (many did) and lent me a bass and said I could learn it. I knew about 3 notes. That same guy knew a girl named Mary Ellen who played guitar. She was down the road apiece hanging with a Blue Cheer band member named Dickie and he brought her over one day. . She was a real musician. (She could play and she owned an instrument.) When we first met her, she was enrolled in City college. She withdrew mid-semester, causing her a bit of stress as I remember, (and I'm sure her folks as well.)
We didn't have a "concept" at that time - a thought of what we were going for, but that was soon gonna change when the fireball with the cowboy boots and a full set of harmonicas showed up. She was Denise - I don't know what she got to 1480 Waller or what she thought of us, but something clicked in her I know, She opened up everything for us. Her friendship with a holy man named Ambrose Hollingworth, her friendship with Wavy Gravy and members of the Grateful Dead, with whom she had hung around on "The Bus," her connections with Leslie Scardelli through Ambrose and through herself, and also her friends at Fantasy Records to say the least; - all these people she shared with us, and at that point we became something more than just a bunch of straggling artists/musicians. She was connected to the scene - and she had a vision of what we could be. At that time, we were blind - but still moving, she gave us a destination. Denise also had a friendship with Ralph Gleason and his family, and that would bounce us up to a lot of good reviews in the SFCronicle (We earned them -Ralph was an honest reviewer).
I don't remember starting to rehearse formally, but I think we must have done some loose jams at Waller Street. One of our first group songs, "Waller Street Blues," was written and jammed in the front room of the Waller St. Commune.. IN that same room with the Bay window, I remember hearing some of Denise's songs as she would sit on the floor with a guitar and share a "moment" her heart and mind with us. Songs such as "Yellow Petaled Flower," Song jewels and we loved her music and lyrics.
At the Waller Street House, Val and I were still eeking out a living, I was working at Tracey's doughnuts (what an upgrade!) but something tremondous was happening. I was listening to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and the Beatles. We started to write down lyrics of our experiences. (Rocky's Sunday Afternoon Walk, a tragic tale of Loretta, a roomate who was sold out to jail by a black doughnut shop worker.) Marla knew some songs such as "Born by the RIver" by Sam Cook, Mary Ellen had written a song "Dressed in Black" from her Dickie phase, and I think we managed to put together 6 or 7 songs. For what reason, it was not apparent yet. We went down to a small club on Haight near FIllmore It was a dump, but we played a couple of songs because they had an amp there - this was pre-denise I think.
All of a sudden things began to happen. A session at Fantasy records. This is about late '65 - wearly '66. Leslie Scardelli agreed to lend us the money for all new equipment. Wow! That was super Our first gig in Etna, California, - a flop - but a start. Remember whenever we traveled with Ambrose, he was in a wheelchair, and not much was accessible then. Merlyn Wenner helped along the way at every turn, she was there. She loved our band, and loved Ambrose. She was a complete giver. Now we're in overdrive. Ron Polte takes over for AMbrose as our "manager." A real manager! Rehearsal space at the Helioport and we move to Marin County! (I was so lonely for the city that I used to drive back at mmidnight over the GG bridge just for a city visit.)
This is the early Ace history how I remember it. I think that other details can come from the other Aces of what went on later.
What we did and what we experienced was a wonderful whirl of culture shocked activity. Many things turned out to be destructive and we can carry those torches to the next generation or two. However, with my own family and in my educational career, I find myself defending over and over again the concepts which we were claiming as "A Braver New World." A really brave new world where people do share, and you do love your brother, and things equal out and truth should be shouted from the rooftops.

 

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