I really loved Marin [county in California] and that scene, but I had to go back to continue recording with Jeff Beck’s vocalist, Rod Stewart. I never toured with him, but I had already helped record Gasoline Alley—I played piano on “Country Comforts” and bass on “Cut Across Shorty”— and then we did Every Picture Tells a Story, Never a Dull Moment, and Smiler. It was basically the Jeff Beck band—Ron Wood [on rhythm guitar], Micky Waller [on drums], myself on piano, Ian McLagan on B-3, along with classical jazz guitarist Martin Quittenton, who wrote a lot of the music and played those beautiful interludes. Then I came back for Picture, and on “Maggie May” I played the Celeste, which is the chime sounds you hear on the verse that starts “I suppose I could collect my books…”, and piano on the rest of the album—including “Reason to Believe”—except for “Losing You,” which was the only track that featured the “Faces” as a band.
John Baldry sang on Picture; I later played bass behind his first U.S. tour. Around then Jerry [Garcia] called and invited me to play on his first solo album but, sad to say, I couldn’t do it. So he ended up covering the bass himself—quite well, I’d say. Earlier, I’d met Joey Covington (also through John Cipollina), and he took me down to play bass on “The Janitor Drives a Cadillac,” a song by Joey on Papa John Creach’s solo album, Papa John Creach. Grace Slick sang, so this was my first introduction to Grunt Records. Then back to England [to play with] Rod [Stewart].
I came back to Marin and formed Copperhead with John Cipollina, and after a little while I realized it was home. The scene was strong, and it was so beautiful, and Mill Valley wasn’t gentrified yet….so I decided to stay. And after a lot of this and that, including working with Nicky Hopkins and forming a band with Greg Errico and Neal Schon, I was working with Kathy McDonald at Heider’s, and Grace [Slick] and Paul [Kantner] were upstairs recording Manhole. They asked me to join a band they were forming called Jefferson Starship—this is 1973. While I was in England recording Smiler with Rod, they called me a few times. So when we came back to San Francisco, they sent a limo to bring us to their house—that beautiful place they used to rehearse in, outside the Golden Gate Bridge, looking out over the Golden Gate channel and at Marin County, Land’s End. We hit it off well, so I joined Jefferson Starship, which was the next 14 years. That first day I started playing the piano and Grace ran up and got some lyrics and we wrote “Hyperdrive,” which ended up on the first album, Dragonfly. I would switch between bass and piano with David Freiberg. I played bass and piano on the hit “Miracles” on Red Octopus. The wonderful Papa John was with us in the early years, and there’s a live album of a show we played in Central Park in 1976 in front of a hundred thousand people. I also remember Jefferson Starship playing a Vietnam Veterans Benefit with the Dead in San Francisco. I grabbed Phil [Lesh]’s bass and played their encore with them while Phil went up front and joined in singing “Lovelight” and “Johnny B. Goode,” and that was fun. After another ten years, we eventually lost momentum, and I left in 1987.
After Starship, I healed myself with the blues, and played a lot of piano with Nick Gravenites. My wife Jeannette and I were also doing a lot of human rights work—some sanctuary work, some Seva Benefits. I put together the band, including Jerry, Micky, Paul, Grace, Greg Anton, and Steve Kimock—that was at the Soviet American Peace Walk in Golden Gate Park in 1988. At one of those Seva shows, 1992 I think, I was playing some blues piano backstage in the dining hall when I get a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and it’s Jack [Casady], Jorma [Kaukonen] and Michael Falzarano, and they tell me they’re recording a Hot Tuna album the next night at the (old) Sweetwater in Mill Valley, and would I like to come down? So I sat in on keys, and ended up staying with them for about ten years. It was just the healing situation I needed after what the Starship had become. I love the blues. Jorma was a warm and generous band leader, and we had some good times, with both Tuna and the Jorma Kaukonen Trio. I also played keys with Zero off and on during this period.
And after 1988, lots of things happened. Thanks to Jerry, my solo album Watchfire (which he played on), an environmental and human rights album featuring lyrics by Jeannette Sears, came out on Grateful Dead Records. After ten years with Tuna, I had my own band, the Dawn Patrol, which was put together to promote my second solo album, The Long Haul, with guest John Lee Hooker. I played with Leftover Salmon for a little while. Did some touring with SKB [Steve Kimock Band]. I did a weird avant-garde solo piano album, Millennium, which came out in Japan. There was some documentary soundtrack work, including The Storm That Swept Mexico, during which I worked with Los Lobos, who I met on the first Furthur Festival tour. I Worked a lot with Harvey Mandel. I Did an east-coast tour on keys with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (with Neal Casal, Tony Leon, and Jeff Hill), and now I’m playing all kinds of honky-tonk songs with Chris Robinson and the Green Leaf Rustlers. I Played bass for Dr. John and piano with Los Cenzontles, over in the East Bay, as well as California Kind, which is Katie Skene plus Barry Sless and John Molo and Rob Barraco or Mookie Siegel on keys. [There was the] New Orleans Love Act with Phil Collumbato and Jimmy Vivino, and I played bass on an upcoming east coast Zero tour, which includes Melvin Seals on keys—it becomes wonderfully experimental at times. David Hidalgo and I did a benefit where we did “Killing Floor” and it was so much fun. We’re trying to conjure up a Cream-type band some day.
Eventually, I met Roger McNamee through Jorma and transitioned into the Flying Other Brothers and Moonalice, and then I did a few gigs with the David Nelson Band on piano, subbing when Mookie couldn’t make it. Their bass player, Bill Laymon, became very ill, so I took over the position. Fortunately, he’s OK now and has his own band. There are a lot of similarities between Tuna and DNB material. It’s a different kind of jamming, a bit more freeform than Tuna. We’re really bouncing off each other in DNB, me and Barry in particular—it’s almost like 1967 London and Sam Gopal Dream again. John Molo and I really connect, and the songs David wrote with Robert Hunter are classic.
[Skull & Roses at] Ventura is something I’m really looking forward to. I played there with Moonalice and it’s a great environment. And now we’ve added the T Sisters and Lester and Dylan Chambers, who really give the Dead songs a unique take. And their own material is strong. So I’m in two bands there this year. Twice the fun!