Lunch Is For Suckers

(Photo of Jerry Garcia at Woolsey Hall  by Joe Sia)

Between 1972 and 1975, I worked at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. We used to get an hour for lunch, which was pretty nice, but I’ve never been a big lunch eater. Most days I would wander down the street to Rhymes or Cutler’s Record Shop and sort through the import record section for any LP’s with cool vintage guitars on the cover. Another favorite pastime was to go over to Woolsey Hall with a cup of coffee and play my guitar.

The Beinecke Rare Book Library is one side of a plaza at Yale created with Woolsey Hall and a dining hall. Woolsey Hall is one of Yale’s premier performance spaces. Its main lobby was on a well-worn path between colleges and generally unlocked to allow students to cut through and save time. The actual Performance Hall was always locked. Most of the time I would just go up the hallway from the lobby to a balcony for some privacy.

This one time, I was sitting there with a cup of coffee and I could hear guitar playing. It was 1:00 in the afternoon (not a time for performances), so I was curious. I tried the main Hall doors and found them unlocked. I quietly entered and sat in the very last row. To my amazement, on the stage was Jerry Garcia and one or two other people. Jerry was plugged in and playing some crazy good stuff. It’s too bad the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet.

I was there for about 20 minutes before one of the people on the stage noticed me. He came back and told me to leave. I explained that wasn’t really an option and that I promised to sit and be quiet. We finally agreed that I could stay as long as I didn’t move from my seat and made no effort to interact or disturb Jerry.

I asked where the rest of the band was and why was he sound checking by himself. He explained that Jerry liked to check out performance venues and play by himself as a way of connecting with the space before every show: “to get to know the room.”

Sitting there I could not help but think of how insane it was. I was the only one in the audience with Jerry standing alone on the stage of Woolsey Hall for about two hours lost playing the sounds inside his head. If I was the kind of person who liked to eat lunch, I would have missed it. When he was finished playing, he looked back at me and waved. True to my word I smiled and left, getting back to work from lunch quite late. The date was 10/22/1975 and I’m pretty sure Jerry was playing his white Travis Bean guitar.

Seeing Jimi Hendrix Live

I saw Jimi Hendrix play Woolsey Hall on the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut, on November 17th, 1968. It was an early show.

I was there with a blonde girl whose name has been lost to time. It was cold and she wore an itchy wool sweater. Our seats were close to the stage, maybe the third row. We wondered if Jimi would smash or burn his guitar (he did neither).

There were two support bands, Cat Mother & The All Night Newsboys and Terry Reid. I became a true believer in Terry Reid from the first note. I left the show thinking more about Terry than Jimi. To this day I’m not sure who had a bigger influence on me as a musician.

It was a very long time before Jimi came out. The story was he didn’t know there was an early show. I kept wishing they would let Terry do another set. Jimi eventually took the stage and claimed he would make it up to us. He promised to play “Foxy Lady” like never before. He played the first few notes and the hall suddenly fell into complete darkness. It wasn’t for dramatic effect: the band had actually blown the main fuse. They needed a bit more time to run a power line from another building to continue the show. Jimi engaged the audience to help pass the time (as best he could) by telling jokes. The only one I remember was something like: “What’s green and hangs from the trees in Africa? Elephant snot.”

He said he was going to play the next song really loud. He turned it up and played an insane version of “Red House.” It was so loud I thought my ears would bleed.

Looking back, It was a great honor to see many of the guitarists who have influenced both my playing and my worldview. I learned from Jimi that you can never underestimate the power in your left hand, Fuzz and Wah can create magic in the right combination, and most of all, nothing in music is as important as a beautiful melody.

“I’m the one that’s going to have to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to, sing on brother, play on drummer….”