Jews in Irish Music ~ Mickie Zekley

MickieFluteMickie has graciously allowed me to use material from his websites for this chapter.  Please visit & enjoy :

Adventures of a Street Musician

Or listen to the PODCAST

Or watch his video CHANNEL 

All quotes below remain Mickie’s intellectual property.

Today is, to me, St Mickie’s Day, and the perfect one to begin this chapter on a delightful and important Jew in the world of Irish Music. Right now, hundreds of cars are lined up on a very dusty road in the redwoods, 7 miles east of the picture-perfect Northern California coastal village of Mendocino, to attend Mickie’s week-long music party, Lark in the Morning. Many different kinds of music, musicians, and teaching methodologies meld in a free-form experience that has no analogy, anywhere. I can think of many young, touring, professional Celtic musicians who got their first introductions to the music by attending Lark.

Mickie says he didn’t “start” Lark, he moved it.
“When I first moved to Mendocino my friend Arrigo D’Albert, Swiss goldsmith, hurdy-gurdy player and general character had “Sunday Music” at his house every Sunday. After completing building my home, my contribution to North Coast wood butchers art, I started having music parties. There would be Irish music in the living room, old time songs in the kitchen and middle eastern music on the porch. Have you ever had 7 Highland bagpipers in your kitchen? One weekend the Tannahill Weavers stopped for a few days at the same time as Paddy O’Brien, the great Irish accordion player and Clairseach, (Chuch & Ann Heymann). The music never stopped. Did you ever see a highland piper flat on his back drunk playing the pipes? There is nothing like a good party but there is sometimes that there is too much of a good thing. When the attendance at one of my music parties broke the hundred person barrier I decided that it was time to relocate these events to the Mendocino Woodlands, which has grown into Lark In The Morning’s Summer Music Celebration.”

“In 1961 when I was 15 years old I was visiting my friend Harry. He recently got a guitar but could not figure out how to play it. I picked it up and plucked a few of the strings and it made music! I was very excited and thought I could learn to make music on the guitar. We had a Sears & Roebucks catalog. There was a Silvertone Special guitar in the catalog. It had a sunburst finish, steel strings and the catalog said that it had a great sound. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I convinced my mom into taking me to Sears Roebucks to buy my first guitar, the Silvertone Special for $14.99. My parents were not musicians and didn’t listen to music. This was a great departure from my previous experiences. I grew up in a small town in southern California called Tujunga (my hometown). There was only one music store with one teacher, Mr Myron. I was very excited about learning guitar and signed up for guitar lessons. I got to the lesson and I was very disappointment to find out that Mr. Myron the teacher couldn’t play guitar. He expected me to learn to play the guitar by propping a beginning Mel Bay guitar book on a music stand in front of me and telling me to follow the instructions then banging chords out on the piano for me to follow along with. After 2 lessons I quit and started studying on my own by listening to records and trying to imitate the guitar parts that I heard on the recording that I liked. 

When I was 16 I started teaching guitar. Mr Myron wasn’t very happy because I ended up with all his guitar students, because unlike him I could play the guitar. By the time I turned 18 I had 48 students a week, some were in classes and some individual lessons and I was making great money for a teenager still in high school. I spent many nights every week, andy chance that I would get at the folk clubs in the Los Angeles area, the Ashgrove, the Garrett, the Ice House and The Fifth Estate were all wonderful places that you could listen or jam with many great musicians. I was very lucky to have had the experience of studying with David Cohen, Frank Hamilton & Bernie Pearl. In the front room of the Ashgrove there was as session space and I got to play with people like Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, David Lindley and more. Any chance I got I would go to the concerts there and got to experience many great musicians including, Elizabeth Cotton, Mississippi John Hurt, Frank Hamilton, Lightening Hopkins, Sonny & Terry, Bernie Pearl, Doc Watson, Mance Lipscomb, David Lindley, S‘amus Ennis, Jack Elliott, Canned Heat and many others. Some nights I would go 7 nights in a row to experience as much music as I could soak in, to quite the detriment of my high school work. 

I discovered Irish music when I went to see Rambling Jack Elliott at the Ash Grove. The first act was someone I had never heard of S‘amus Ennis and he was the opening act for Ramblin’ Jack. S‘amus was supposed to play the Irish Uilleann bagpipes but had a bit to much to drink and could only manage to play a few tunes on the tinwhistle and sing a wonderful songs. I thought that was amusing but the Irish music didn’t truly win my heart till I heard Joe Cooley and Kevin Keegan many years later in the early 1970s.

MickieHarpGuitarWhen I was 18 years of age my friend Charley Chapman and I took to haunting the pawn shops of Old Town Pasadena trying to find old musical instruments. On one of our old banjo safaris I found a new shop. The sign read “The Catacombs” with an arrow pointing down a flight of stairs going to a basement. We walked down only to be greeted by the walls moving in undulating colors. My friend wanted to leave but I wanted to see what this weirdness was all about. He went to the car and waited. 

I found Dr. Henry Hill who had just invented the light show that morning at this unusual shop. I met the proprietor Robert Donovan Thomas who was to be my mentor for many years to come. 

I had been playing folk music on the guitar for a few years but my knowledge of music was very limited. In Bob’s office at the Catacombs were all manner of antique flutes, strange stringed instruments, bagpipes, unusual ethnic drums and much more. Bob had taken on the project of researching and restoring all of these and even more amazing learning to play them all in their traditional style. 

I had recently found an interest in making stained glass windows and smaller stained glass items. I took my art work into the Catacombs and Bob would sell them for me. I would find any excuse to go to the Catacombs and visit Bob. 

Bob would take some of his antique instruments to the newly formed Renaissance Faire which was a benefit for the non-profit radio station KPFK. Bob would take an ancient set of bagpipes or a lute out to the Faire, dress up in Elizabethan costume and charm everyone.

GoldToad1I started taking my guitar to the Faire and playing for a few coins in the hat or a plate of fried chicken from a food booth. Bob and I started getting together and playing music and I started to learn some of his wonderful music. A young couple, Ernest & Deborah Fischbach were making music at the Faire also with their friend Charles Ewing. They called themselves the A Cid Symphony.

To become a musician one of course has to go to music school. I rented a shack in the beautiful Valley Of The Moon and prepared for the start of classes at Sonoma State University. I was delighted to find Ethnomusicology classes on Asian music being offered. As it turned out the instructor was not that familiar with Asian music. I ended up giving many of the lectures and helped him prepare most of the curriculum for the course. I became bored quickly and wanted a new experience. It became quite clear that being a music student had nothing to do with playing music. I made a deal to be a full time street musician for a semesters worth of credit if I would write a paper about my experiences. My new career was launched.

Busking was a common practice in older times of entertaining in a public place with the hope of donations from the impromptu and hopefully generous audience. Joe Moir went on his first busking expedition with the Golden Toad. We decided to haunt the street corners of North Beach with our bagpipes, drums and a belly dancer for a little color. After many hard hours of busking for large crowds of tourists and convincing them that it would give them “Good Karma” if only they would fill our hat with money, we ended up at the Cafe Trieste, a safe harbor of culture, espresso and pastries.

Grace Cathedral is a noble structure residing high atop Nob Hill.  Somehow, Bill Gilkerson convinced the Bishop to allow our raggle-taggle band of street Gypsies to do a performance using the Cathedral as our forum. This was my first performance with the Golden Toad. The show was a costumed extravaganza of music, dance, story and magic from many exotic places. Our mottoes were “We perform the music of your ancestors no matter where they were from.” and “Style not quality”. 

The only limits that were given by the church in the use of the facility were that no one was allowed to pee on the alter. As a publicity stunt Bill put up his hot air balloon in the parking lot of the church and unsuccessfully tried to get the Bishop to go up in it.

GoldToadThe show was magnificent!

The lights went out and twelve robed and hooded monks carrying large racks of elk horns materialized to the throbbing boom of Deborah’s bass drum and the ancient sound of the Abbot Bromley’s Horn Dance being played by Cathie Whitesides on the fiddle with light provided by eight hooded torch bearers.

Torchy our fire eater and magician after putting flaming torches in his mouth would fill his mouth with white gas and blow it out across a lighted torch. This would send a fireball out into space. He managed to mildly set the first 4 rows of audience on fire when blowing this giant fire ball. 

The whole troop of 42 Toads gathered together to close the evening with our Tibetan ritual orchestra. Joe and Bob Playing the 6′ long Tibetan Horn (Dong) and Bob changing to the eerie Tibetan shawm to the accompaniment of drums, bells, Kangling horns .

At my first Dickensian Christmas, Cait and I signed on for the brand new “Charles Dickens Christmas Faire” to exhibit (and hopefully sell) the stained glass trinkets that we made. We were also hired to play music with the Golden Toad now in the form of “The New Bristol Ceili Band”. Bob Thomas saw a picture in an old book c1880 of the original “Bristol Ceili Band” so we outfitted ourselves with costumes and instruments to match. Top hats and tails were the order of the day. Bagpipes, clarinets, fiddles, fife and of course drummers made for a raucous sound. 

Our first objective was to find lodging in San Francisco for one month. The logical place for a cheap room in those days was Haight Ashbury. We walked South up Clayton street from Panhandle Park and found a sign, “Room for rent. No dog, No crow, No Horn”. We figured that the bagpipes weren’t a horn and rented it. We didn’t realize that the room came with built in roommates until we turned the kitchen light on the middle of the night to see the new cockroach wallpaper disappear back into the wall.


The Irish Band at the Dickens Faire. Left to Right Cathie Whitesides, Robin Petrie, Suzy Thompson, Mickie, Jeremy Kammerer, Danny Carnahan, Michael Hubbert and Eric Thompson

The Dickens Faire provided more great adventures than business. It was as if there was a quarantine sign on the front door of the event because no one came. We all had a great time selling to the other craftsman and playing music for ourselves. 

Cait’s clothes had reached the stage of being rags. She desperately needed some new warm clothes. About a year earlier we found a Turkish import store and had purchased many Turkish drums (dumbeks) at a very good price. When people from our audiences would ask “where did you get those beautiful drums” we would say “I would be glad to sell you this one”. They were a good seller and we made a good profit. It was time for another drum so off to the import store we went. The shop owner was unpacking a new shipment direct from Turkey including some beautiful white sherling sheepskin coats. Cait instantly fell in love with the coats. I asked Myra how much she would sell a coat to one of her “very good customers”. She said that business had been slow and that she would be delighted to sell us a coat for $40. What a great deal! 

Next stop North Beach to buy Cait a warm blouse. While she was looking at clothes I noticed the store keeper admiring her new coat. I struck up a conversation and asked him if he wanted to buy a coat. I quoted him $80 and he said that he wanted to buy three. One quick trip across town for some more coats and we made $120 (a blessing because we were broke). We went back to the import store and bought more coats with our profits and made even more money selling them to our friends at the Faire. It was just before Christmas and we started selling coats on the street in the morning before the Faire opened. Then disaster struck, our importer friend ran out of coats. We were very disappointed because we were making (in our minds) a fortune. She showed us some beautiful hand-loomed, hand-embroidered clothes that she also had brought back from Turkey. So we took some around to the stores that bought our coats and to the Faire and back to the good old street. The clothing turned out to be more popular than the coats. Through this chance event we finally had plenty of money and a new career to boot.

A few months prior to the Faire we had Elliott (the Golden Toad’s drummer who Will Spires once said in frustration to “Is a barnacle a ship? Is a drummer a musician?” and his dancer wife Leslie over for dinner. Cait had baked a beautiful chocolate cake for a party the next day. Elliott sat next to the cake and kept running his finger through the frosting and licking his fingers. I asked him to stop many times because he was ruining the cake. Eventually my patience ran out and I picked up the cake and smashed it into Elliott’s face. Elliott said, “Zekley, I’ll get you someday when you least expect it”. 

We were still performing at “Dickensian Madness” and I was in my usual attire of top hat and tails. We had just finished a tune when someone in the band asked if they could see my fife when the world went chocolate creme. There I was dressed in my best, on stage and covered with (quite good) chocolate creme pie. 

Years after the first “Dick” we were having a Golden Toad concert at the beautiful Presbyterian church in Mendocino. We were all encamped at Bill Gilkerson and Kerstin’s “Swedish Paradise” an idyllic hideaway in the primeval northwestern redwood rainforest. Lory Stark (Gilkerson’s delightful ex-wife) our combination Belly Dancer and Opera Singer got up very early the morning of the show and set to work giggling and making the 2 most beautiful pies ever created. Both Bill and John Patterson (our ballet dancer) had been a bit hard to deal with miserable company for a few days, we all felt like burying them in an anthill. 

It was getting near showtime and we were next-door to the church getting ready when Lory let Bill and John each have a pie in the face. The rest of us got secondary fallout when they threw the pie scraps at us. 

Joe Moir a rather (we thought) straight woodwind and brass repairman from Santa Rosa had been recruited to play clarinet with the band. Joe lived in a 1930’s bungalow with his wife and 2 children and assorted broken antique cars and tubas. Joe had halfway run off with the “Gypsies” (us) and was devoting more energy to learning the Bulgarian Gaida (bagpipe) and playing with the Golden Toad than his normal existence of playing oboe and clarinet with the Santa Rosa Symphony and fixing instruments. Joe got a beautiful Gaida but the goatskin bag had worn out and was leaky. He decided to make his own new bag in the traditional manner. He cured a goat hide in rock salt in his garage. This Gaida had a beautiful carving of a goat’s head on the chanter stock. Joe tied the bag on with the hair on the outside. He didn’t do a good job of curing the hide and when he played it, it really looked and stank like a rancid billy goat under his arm. We all called it Hairy Gaida made by “The Park Your Carcass Bagpipe Works”.


Every year Joe would go with his wife and kids to Christmas dinner at his in-laws. Inevitably his father in-law would ask him to play some Christmas music. Joe would take out his beautiful 18th century boxwood clarinet and play some Mozart or some old Christmas favorites. The whole family was seated around the table for dinner and the patriarch asked Joe for the traditional music but this year Joe took out the love of his life, Hairy Gaida, blew it up and held forth. Joe’s sister in-law smelled the stench of the dead goat and realized that Joe was blowing into it complete with its carved head and bleating sound and promptly threw up all over the Christmas turkey. When I heard this story I thought that Joe’s domestic life might be on shaky ground.

Marcia was staying with us in Cockroach Heaven for a few days when out of the blue she said that she wanted to call Joe (who she just met) and ask if she could be his apprentice instrument repair person and if she could use our telephone to call him. She told him that she really wanted to learn his trade and would cook for him in exchange. After the phone call Marcia said that Joe sounded interested. She said jokingly that she they would have to get bunk beds.To everyone’s surprise (including Marcia’s) Joe arrived in 2 hours with suitcase in hand and talked Marcia into running off with him. Joe never went back to his family. 

Many years later Cait, I, Bob Thomas, Jody Levy and the Notorious Joe and Marcia took a trip to Jody’s father’s vacation trailer at Lake Havasu. We stopped for breakfast at Sambo’s. Bob asked if he could have his eggs poached but to make sure that they were not over or under done. Joe turned to us complaining how picky we were. Then he ordered telling the waitress that he wanted his pancakes teddy bear brown. 

On arriving at Jody’s dad’s sheet metal chalet we found 3 bedrooms 2 with double beds one with bunkbeds. Remembering Marcia’s statement years prior we made Joe and Marcia take the bunkbeds.

San Francisco’s Christmas shopping season was in full swing and I was trying to make a living by playing the bagpipes on the street. The Charles Dickens Xmas Faire was being held at the Cannery and I got a hired as a piper. The gig consisted of playing bagpipe duets with George Dawson, accompanied by Cait Reed on the field drum, while standing on an old horse drawn dray wagon in front of the Faire to attract a crowd (the pipe music could be heard for at least 2 city blocks even with lots of traffic noise) and then to try to get the audience to come into the Faire.

We approached our performances a little differently than our employers intended. It was a fantastic opportunity for busking. Having our very own stage on Fisherman’s wharf and being paid to panhandle the crowd was a miracle. 

About the third day of the Faire the Proprietor, Ron Patterson came out front to see how his musical shills were doing, at the same moment that I was trying to convince the crowd to fill our hat with money. I glanced over to my right and saw Ron in his burgundy, Dickensian velvet suit and top hat rushing towards us. I instantly realized that “the jig was up”. 

The only thing I could think of was to quickly hand Ron the hat before he could say anything to stop us and loudly announce to the crowd of about 100 people that our friend was going to come around to collect donations. He looked at me in horror then looked at the crowd watching him, shrugged his shoulders and walked around passing our hat. It was obvious that he was very frustrated because we were emptying the crowds pockets before he got a chance to and worst of all that he was helping us.

A few days later George showed up late for a performance with yet another one of his incredible “you wouldn’t believe what happened to me” tales. This time he supposedly was busking in full Highland regalia near the cable car turnaround at Powell & Market when his pipes stopped working. His only choice was to head to the local Scottish import store to get some new reeds. Before he could get through the front door of the shop a fellow in a fancy dress suit grabbed him by the arm and demanded that George play the pipes for him. George said that he couldn’t play right now because his reed was broken. The fellow reached into his pocket and came out with a $100 bill, tore it in two, gave half to George, told him to blow up his pipes in the lobby of the Fairmont hotel at 10:00am the next morning and play the “Cock Of The North”. The fellow then turned around and walked away before George could say a word.

mzpipeGeorge arrived at the Fairmont promptly at 10:00am and looking for the man that accosted him yesterday but he was no where in sight. Quite afraid of what might happen to him, George pulled out his pipes and blew them up. Within 10 seconds he was descended on by numerous bell captains and desk clerks trying to stop him from playing. Before they could silence the piper the mysterious gentleman arrived, and waved off the hotel staff who disappeared instantly. George played for an hour then was treated to 2 orders of Eggs Benedict and handed the other half of the $100 bill. Shortly thereafter George showed up late at the Faire with this (yet another) unbelievable story. 

By the next day I forgot about George’s story, which I felt was yet another figment of Georges fertile and amazing imagination. We were once again standing on the wagon trying to persuade the crowd to pay the piper then maybe come into the Faire when a chauffeured limousine pulled up in front of us. Out stepped George’s mythical character with a package wrapped in beautiful Highland tartan material. He walked directly up to the wagon and handed it to George. Wrapped in the material was a beautiful “Brian Boru” keyed bagpipe chanter. Evidently George’s benefactor went to the Scottish shop and asked what the piper wanted for Christmas. The man got back in his limousine and drove off, leaving Cait and I staring at each other in disbelief and George smirking.

Bob, Cathy, Cait and I were hired to play street music at Cal Expo, the California state fair. Bob and I played Scottish bagpipes, Cathy the fiddle and Cait the tenor field drum. We were allowed to play music and pass the hat anywhere we wanted for 20 days. This was a first for this event.

We setup camp in the parking lot of the Rodeo. Cait and I staying in the “Ruptured Duck” a funky camper and Bob and Cathy residing in the “Tortoise”a refugee from a milk company. The cowboys were friendly enough to their curious new neighbors. We found a good spot to play by the exhibit halls. Most of the day was spent standing in this spot playing and passing the hat. At the end of each day we would walk away with a shopping bag full of money. The third day of the fair we noticed a small black kid about 9 years old watching us intently. Over the next few days we noticed the kid in our audience but he wasn’t watching us anymore, he was watching our hat. We realized that if we didn’t take some action he would eventually grab the hat and run.

The next day our little friend showed up again. I told the rest of the band to keep playing while I took a walk. I went around the back of the crowd till I got behind our little friend. I got right next to him and whispered in his ear: “Do you see that guy with the bagpipe?” He said “Yeah!”. I said, “See that leather pouch on his belt. He has a gun in it (he really didn’t) and would shoot anybody that grabbed our hat.” Our little friend commented “OOOOH!”.

We didn’t see him the next day but was back the following day still trying to figure out how to get our money. I walked up to him during our break and gave him a harmonica that I had found in the camper. He took the harmonica and ran off. About five days later we saw him at a corner of the fair playing a simple tune on the harmonica with a hat full of money in front of him. Bless free enterprise!

This is the fair when I invented “The Contest”. We would lay a tightly tensioned drum on the ground than draw a line about 40 feet back from it and start loudly announcing that there was going to be a contest with a prize. The winner would win a tune named after them.

It always amazed me at how excited people would get at the idea winning something. They would start throwing hands full of money at the drum only to have it bounce off the tensioned skin. Eventually someone would “win”. We would than play some obscure tune, naming it with their name. The winner was always delighted.

Everyday at 4:30 we would go to the race track at the fair and get ready play for the crowd on their way home after the last race. You could always tell the losers from the winners. The winners were always smiling and would usually put $1 to $5 in the hat for “good luck”. The losers would usually look down at their feet and just walk by. One fellow must have had a particularly good day, he put $50 in the old hat.

One day we were playing at our normal spot and a riot broke out. 500 bored teenagers from the area came to the fair and went on a rampage. It was a combination of a hot summer and not enough to do. Some exhibits were ruined and fighting was the order of the day but the band played on. I felt like Nero watching Rome burn. The hooligans left us alone, the police arrived and the summer sun burned on.

Cait and I were busking in London on Portobello Road, playing a few tunes at one of the market corners on a fine Saturday morning. It was time for some pub food and some lager & lime so we headed to one of our favorite pubs.

An old blind Irish accordion player always played at this pub on market days. We were blessed by beautiful weather and the accordion player was playing outside the pub in the warm sun. We were a short distance from the pub and could see and hear the old gentleman playing. Two kids dashed out of the pub and poured a pitcher of beer over his head. He just laughed and kept playing the Humours Of Bandon. Every time I hear that tune I relive that moment.

We were filmed by a Yugoslavian television crew doing a documentary on busking in London. We were happy to take the 20 pounds they paid us. A multi cultural event, two American’s playing Irish music on a London street corner being filmed for Yugoslavian television.

Enrolled in the school of life, living in London, on the street, in the dead of winter, in a Volkswagen van, making our way by playing our tunes, relying on the kindness of people to fill our hat so that we could buy food for another day.

Dr. Russell V Lee was the kind patron of the Golden Toad. A remarkable man in both his personality and his actions. The Doctor had a white beard and hair and usually wore a white suit. If you met him for the first time you were sure that you had just been introduced to Colonel Saunders. A true Southern gentleman. I once asked him what medical properties garlic had. He replied; “Garlic is the most wonderful herb. It brings you solitude.”

He would invite us to his Portola Valley estate for dinner and ask us if we would be willing to play a few tunes for the enjoyment of himself and his friends. When we were leaving he would hand one of us an envelope and ask us to open it later. It always contained $600-$1000 (in those days this was a fortune). He owned a 1400 acre ranch near Cloverdale. This ranch was built in the 1870’s by Major Preston a retired Civil War officer. The ranch was a religious community called the Free Pilgrim’s Church headed by the matriarch Madame Preston the Major’s wife. She fancied herself a healer but did much damage to her patients with her cures. One time going through a barn we found a jar of one of her remedies. We gave it to Doctor Lee who gave some to a friend who was feeling out of sorts. The friend said later it made him feel great. The Doctor later had it analyzed. It consisted of alcohol with tinctures of Opium and Cannabis.

The Madam ruled her community with an iron hand. She owned all the land and let the church members build their homes on the property. If they did not follow her rules, out they went. The nearest town at that time was Geyserville about 17 miles away. When the railroad came through she would only grant them a right of way if they put the station just bellow her mansion rather than in Geyserville. This meant that all the towns folks had to take a 17 mile trip to get to catch a train.

Dr. Lee Loved our music and our lifestyle and gave us the ranch as our home for as long as he lived. It was a very creative little community. I lived in the school house. Joe and Marsha in the Sunday School next to the church which we used for music and dance practice. The Infirmary and Mansion housed many of us. The barn was the domain of Torchy the magician and fire eater. Bob Thomas and Cathie inhabited a small house near the church and Ernest and Deborah lived in the river house. Elliot and Leslie resided up the hill from Cait and I and Solomon and Wendy lived in the Chocolate Whale (a vehicle that any Gypsy would have lusted after). It was the late 60s and the town’s folks called us the “hippies on the hill”. On a shopping trip to town a local shopkeeper told us that he overheard some young redneck punks saying that they were going to burn out the hippies on the hill that night. We went home very upset and called the police (who weren’t very interested in our problem). At that point we took matters into our own hands. We gathered together all the old rifles & shotguns, swords, knives, fire hoses, rakes, fire tools, walkie talkies and more that we could find plus some other surprises for our expected guests. At about 10:00pm they pulled up our road in 3 pickup trucks only to be greeted by us standing in the middle of the road with our guns and Bill Gilkerson’s cannon (which took a 3″ ball”) all pointing directly at them. You never saw human (barely) beings move as fast as they did going back to town. We had no further trouble and became the town heros and they became the town joke.

Doctor Lee would come by the ranch every few months on the way home from his retreat at Dos Rios. He always stopped by my home and would ask if I would show his passengers my instrument collection. These were delightful visits, which I always looked forward to. The Doctor was an incredible friend. When George Dawson (the great but always impoverished fiddler) severed the tendons in his left hand after having a losing fight with a telephone booth, the Medi-Cal system was going to basically throw this brilliant man in the trash and not help him because he did not have any financial resources. I called Doctor Lee and told him of George’s plight. Within a few hours we were contacted by Doctor Chase the worlds foremost expert in micro-surgery and told to bring George to Stanford right away. George is making beautiful music again today thanks to our patrons efforts. May the system and those that run it be damned eternally.

The Renaissance Pleasure Faire was my true institution of higher education. I learned that really doing something was more valuable then studying to do something. We often referred to the Faire as an earn while you learn lifestyle. The Faire allowed many lucky folks to explore their wildest creative fantasies. This annual gathering has left me with many life long friends, a great selection of tunes, endless stories, aand a musical career. This was more than a carnival to many of us. It was an extended family that was supportive and forgiving. My Faire family encouraged my projects and my dreams when the rest of the world would only laugh. Torchy was the Golden Toad’s fire eater and magician. One year at the Peacock Gap, Renaissance Faire Carpenter Bob built a very fancy and complex stage for our shows with all Torchy’s magical devices built in. Torchy was performing his levitation act. Beautiful Diane (Yogala) laid flat on the stage while Torchy chanted magical words. She floated 5 feet into the air and Torchy slid a hoop over her to show that there was nothing holding her up. At this moment a young fellow from the audience rushed onto the stage, threw all his money on the ground and started kissing Torchy’s feet, screaming that he would follow him to the ends of the earth and do anything if only Torchy would teach him.

Another day Torchy and Trent were not getting along. Trent’s job was to operate the equipment for the levitations. During the middle of the show Trent started jerking the controls so that Diane floated in starts and stops, she almost fell off the machine. At this point we were sure that Torchy wanted to make Trent disappear permanently. The finale to Torchy’s fire eating act was the fireball. He would take a big swig of white gas and spit it out across a lit torch. What followed was a giant ball of fire. The negative effect of doing fire eating is that your taste buds stop functioning for a few weeks. One day someone (Deborah swears that she didn’t do this) replaced the white gas with water. When Torchy tried to do the fire ball act he blew out the torch instead. He was stunned but managed to take a bow any way He quickly turned around and tripped over my Koto (I was his musical accompanist), fell through the side stage curtain on top of Joe Moir knocking him over and breaking his clarinet.

I was lost in the Irish countryside and decided that the best thing to do was to ask directions from one of the locals. I came to a farm where an old gaffer was tilling his field with an old style horse drawn wooden mold board plough. I called to him and he leisurely walked over to the fence obviously grateful for an excuse to stop his labors.

I thanked him for coming over to help me than I asked, “How can I get to Ennis from here”. He scratched his head, cogitated for a while, finally turned towards me and said, “Lad if I was going there I surely wouldn’t start from here”.

Mickie PaddyKeenanMost of the music that has captured my fancy has not been written down or even recorded. Learning various styles and tunes has taken me many a mile. I had a growing fascination with old wooden flutes and Irish music. While traveling around county Galway in Ireland I heard there was a great traditional flute player in Loughrea. I found myself standing outside Tom Moylans pub and found the place empty aside from the publican behind the bar washing glasses. I ordered a pint and asked my host if he knew where I could find Paddy Carty. My host (Tom Moylan himself) shrugged his shoulders and didn’t respond. Tom went into the back to fetch something and I dropped the subject. 15 minutes later a country gentleman in a tattered tweed jacket came in, bellied up to the bar, and ordered a shot of “Paddy’s”. Eventually he turned to me and said, “Are you looking for Paddy Carty?”. I was taken by surprise but said “Yes”. He said, “And why would you be looking for Paddy Carty?”. I informed the man that I was interested in his music. With a look of great relief he wiped his forehead and said, “Well I’m Paddy Carty”. He proceeded to open his jacket and pulled pieces of his flute from various pockets inside. Over the next few days many great tunes were had with this amazing musician.

I was visiting the great Clare fiddler Gus Tierney and having a few old tunes. He offered my first taste of Poteen, the real Irish moonshine, The Pure Drop sometimes called the Creature. Poteen is distilled from potatoes in a copper coil still. While sitting and drinking this potent brew and discussing its virtues there was a loud, vigorous knock at the door. In came a very excited man saying, “Gus, Gus I’m famous!”. He finally calmed down enough to tell us he was famous because the Gardia (Irish police) came and broke up his still in front of live national television.

MooncoincoverI had a band with Terry Corcoran the great Irish singer who has a great album now with Joe Burke, Melinda Miller (who is Groucho Marx’s daughter!) and a good fiddle and mandolin player and one other. There became some interpersonal tension in the band and it fell apart. I had us booked at a local bar the Seagull and all of a sudden there was no band. I had been to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire the weekend before and had played some tunes with Michael Hubbert who I had not seen in a long time. I asked if he would play this gig with me and he said yes. We didn’t have any time to practice so we showed up and did the gig and had great fun.

At the end of the evening a fellow came up to us and asked if we had a card and that he may be interested in hiring us. I gave him my phone number on a bar napkin. 2 weeks later I get a call from a woman saying that she was the assistant to the Vice Chancellor of UC Irvine and wanted us to come play for St Patricks day in a 1000 seat hall. She said she was choosing between us and the Boys Of The Lough. She offered us more money that Michael and I made playing music for 2 years each and more. Of course I said yes.

We had some months before the show so we practiced. We enrolled in a Mendocino recording engineer program and produced the Mooncoin album which was sold to Kicking Mule Records. It sold really well and was played on the radio a lot. The LPs were ready by the Irving gig and we sold about 100 copies. The show was very successful, so successful that they managed to get us booked in every UC campus. Michael and I did hundreds of shows together until he cut off the ends of 2 fingers while making musical instruments.”

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