The Psychedelic Propeller
|The Psychedelic Propeller Rock n' Roll band.|
Those longhaired lads in this 1967 era photo are The Psychedelic Propeller Rock n' Roll band. They are sitting on the railroad tracks behind the house where I grew up-in Dundalk, Maryland. In the photo are: at the far left, wearing maroon Mod pants and fringed moccasins, is Dale Patten, lead singer; there in the middle of the tracks is my next door neighbor Austin "Aussie" O'Baker, drummer; faux-fearfully pointing at an invisible, speeding freight train coming our way, is Denny Romans, lead guitar; the bespectacled lad in the sandals and yellow checkered Mod slacks, is Chris (?), bass player.
I do believe that this shot hints at some early, natural photographic talent of mine. No wonder I chose Ft. Monmouth's Photo Lab Tech School, when I joined the U.S. Army in 1969.
The Psychedelic Propeller band members and I were some of the small number of Baltimore area teens who wore Mod clothing. We identified ourselves as Mods. In 1966,'67,'68 Baltimore, no one in or around Baltimore was calling themselves, or being called, Hippies. Back then, those four guys were some of the very few longhaired males around Baltimore. And just wearing those maroon pants and fringed moccasins, that Dale had on, was enough to make some other guy want to start a fight with him, at any Maryland high school dance, and a lot of other places, in those days. It was one thing for those guys to be having long hair and dressed in full Mod clothing while up front and playing in the band at some of those dances, but if Dale had dressed like that to go see some other band play at a school dance, he would have been hassled by other teens at that dance--for certain.
Aussie isn't wearing any Mod clothing at all in this photo. He couldn't safely wear it everyday. He was the first male to wear bell-bottom pants in Dundalk. The first day he wore bell bottoms to school, he caused one hell of a stir. We were walking down the school hallway and kids were running thirty feet ahead of us telling other kids what was coming. They were all pointing and laughing at Aussie. He just ignored them. And that happened between every class that day. It would have been the same in any Maryland high school, so don't think it was only Dundalk who was behind in those new fashions.
Denny and his mother lived in a high rent apartment building in a wealthy section of Cold Spring Lane, over across town--Baltimore City. Chris and Dale were from up in the Harford County country type Town of Bel Air, Maryland. Austin O'Baker lived next door to me, in the 7600 block of Dunmanway, from 1955 to 1967 or '68. And they had all four quit school already; you can tell by their long hair. Up until 1969 or '70, local public schools did not allow longhaired boys to attend classes. I wanted to grow my hair longer too, but I wanted a high school diploma more. The band members would all have been in the same grade as I was in, if they hadn't quit. Denny was the only one of the four band members who truly was a rich kid, and was being fully supported in all he did by his wealthy, five times divorced and alimonied, mother; but the other guy's parents had bought them some of their band equipment and also supported them in most other ways.
Aussie, Dale, Denny, Chris and I all had the same basic records in our album collections, wore the same style clothes, and possessed the same brands of humor. We had some great times together.
The band practiced next door to my house in the O'Baker's clubroom. I hung out with them at practice a lot and traveled around with them their old Cadillac hearse, especially when they played shows. I was their "equipment manager". Which basically meant that I helped them to carry their musical gear in and out of shows. But what it also meant was that high school dance committees, bar and club owners or managers where the band played had to allow me in for free. When the band played where alcohol was sold, I had to either stay right near the band while they played, or, in the case of the old, infamous Baltimore bar named Judge's, which was on Greenmount Ave. just up above 33rd Street, I had to hang out up in the back balcony with the light show guy.
Riding to and from those shows in the back of that old hearse was a right comfortable ride. I thoroughly enjoyed the rides, along with the company of the band members. My favorite way to ride back there was laying stretched out and relaxed on the hard, black side of a big Vox Super Beatle Amp, with a guitar case for a head rest. When on those rides, and during Psychedelic Propeller shows in bars, clubs, or high school auditoriums, my four good friends and I were absolutely lovin' life as we knew it.
The Propeller was a pretty good teenage band. Rock n' Roll with Blues roots and straight up, Rocked out Blues numbers. Denny could do a fairly accurate Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton run on his guitar. In '67, they were the youngest musicians playing in any club in Washington DC's internationally famous Georgetown. I experienced some superfluous times on the streets of Georgetown when I was down there with the band. The people there were mostly pretty hip and mellow. There was one place, some late night eatery, and the sidewalk out in front of it, where we knew some psychedelic drugs were often available, but none of us cared about that. And when the band was Rockin', I was often right there out in front of them on the dance floor with some Rockin' little honey.
The band was formed and managed by an older guy named Stu, who had set up the very first head shop in Baltimore. The head shop's name was The Psychedelic Propeller. The band was partially conceived as advertisement for the shop. Stu's shop was a neat little place to hang out, for short spurts of time. It was on the north side of W. Read Street, and a little ways east of Tyson Street. Read and Tyson were neat little side streets, in a very hip neighborhood, with Read Street having various little commercial establishments, and Tyson Street being somewhat famous for it's colorful, pastel fronted, tiny row homes.
The Bluesette Teen Nightclub
The absolute very coolest under 18 teenage place that the Psychedelic Propeller Band ever played was in our absolute most favorite place to be in Baltimore on a Friday or Saturday night--The Bluesette teen nightclub at 2439 N. Charles Street.
It was owned and operated by a man named Art Peyton. Not only was Art a financially and successfully miniature version of the greatest Rock n' Roll impresario of all time, Bill Graham, I thought that Art actually looked a little like Bill. I have no knowledge of Art's life before the Bluesette, or what he got into after the Bluesette closed. I don't even remember when or why it closed. And nothing pops up on the Internet about either the man or his club.
The club was in a section of row houses that were being used as places of business. You entered the Bluesette through a basement door that was at the front of the converted row house, near the sidewalk. Just inside the door, you showed your Bluesette club card to a smiling and sincerely friendly young person and paid them a small entry fee.
Then, as you walked towards the staircase to the first floor, there was a tiny room off to the right. Band equipment was often waiting there to be carried upstairs to the stage. In the back wall of that very tiny room was the door to the club's only restroom.
When you were walking upstairs, all of the walls from there on up and around were all painted flat black.
At the top of the stairs, on the first floor of the building, was a very small bar, with five or six stools in front of it. They may have served near-beer there, I know I had heard that they did, when I was first told about the place. I am sure I asked for some, as soon as I got up to the bar my first time in the club. But I only remember buying sodas. And nobody was into sneaking any booze in.
The bar was where the kitchen had been. Then the inner walls that had separated the kitchen from the tiny dining room from the little living room from the small front first floor entrance hallway were all stripped down to the 2 x 4 studs. That way it was nice and open and you could watch the band playing from anywhere inside that first floor. The studs were also great for leaning against while talking to other kids who were sitting in typical old wooden nightclub style chairs, at typical small round nightclub tables.
There was a stage at the front of the living room. It was built up about a foot and a half. The drummer set up his drum kit so that his drum throne was sat at the edge of the windowsill for a large, bowed out bay window. That way, the drummer's back was nearly up against the plywood sheeting covered, large square windowpanes. He could sit on his throne and play with plenty of elbowroom, while swinging his body sideways back and forth, while kickin' and poundin' out some driving rhythms.
The main band that played on the Bluesette's stage was The Urch Perch. Art Peyton was their financial backer; he bought them some of their band equipment and also paid for an Urch Perch trip to New York City, where the band cut a demo, 45 RPM record. But I was not very impressed by them. I didn't care much for their playing or their personalities. I felt, and still feel, that The Psychedelic Propeller were a better band, with at least a little more musical talent then the guys in Urch Perch possessed. I based that on watching the bands play and very carefully watching for musical mistakes--lost or loused up lyrics, lead guitar riffs, bass runs, drum rhythms etc.. I, intimately, knew a lot of the music that they all played; from often listening to the original songs, which were in my ever expanding record album collection.
There was a small dance floor in front of the Bluesette's stage. From an audience member's point of view, who was sitting at a table in the rear of the club--where the back wall of former dining room was: the dance floor was delineated on the front side by the stage; the left side by the wall between the club and whatever business was in the former row house next door; the rear of the dance floor ended in front of the tables and chairs that sat in the former dining room and up into the back edge of the former living room; the right side of the dance floor was determined by the flat black painted 2x4 studs where the front entrance hall wall had stood and also by a few tables and chairs that were sort of stuffed into where the living room entrance from the front hallway had been.
The Bluesette had the very first strobe light I ever knew about. And it worked real well with those flat black walls and ceilings. You could get to dancin' or jumpin' and runnin' around when that flashing strobe light was on and you truly appeared, and darn near felt like, you were moving in slow motion.
Art also had the first psychedelic light show most of us kids there had ever seen. It was just an old 35MM movie projector. But he had somehow gotten some psychedelic colors-in-crazy-motion kinda' films from out in Frisco; he projected them onto the front of the band and the top torsos and heads of the dancers. He also used old black and white movies to some very good effect in his light shows.
There was never one bit of trouble at the Bluesette. No fights, no kids coming in too drunk; they may have come in a little drunk, but it never showed much. There wasn't much pot or hash in Baltimore yet, so there was never more than a few nickels of weed or hash in the place at anytime. As far as I know, very few pills to get high on and no hard drugs were ever around in the Bluesette. You never saw anyone whacked out, just a talkative kid now and then who was speeding off one of their mama's diet pills. A joint or small bowl of weed was known to have been shared down in the bathroom a couple of times. You could tell by their sly little grins when they came strolling back upstairs.
Hanging Out With The Mods In Downtown Baltimore
On some afternoons, a core group of us teens who went to the Bluesette were Mod kids who hung out together in downtown Baltimore. Some of those Mods had quit school, so they hung out in downtown Baltimore during the weekdays. But for me, during high school times, hanging out downtown only happened on Saturday afternoons and school vacation days. Nothing much happened down there on Sundays back then. But on Saturdays and some summer weekdays downtown Baltimore was a neat place to be.
The main place where we walked around and sometimes shopped was on Howard Street and in the several city blocks in any direction from Howard St. that was known as the Howard St. corridor. On Howard St., there were several of those old style, five or six story tall, name brand department stores, like the Hecht Company, but I can't remember any other names right now. They all had those elevator operators who announced every sales department on every floor.
It was the crowded sidewalks of Howard Street that made it such an attractive, lively, and safe place for us Mods to be.
Like I said earlier on this page, in 1966-68 Baltimore, Hippie hadn't arrived yet. No one I knew in those days ever called themselves Hippies. Anyone, which was almost everyone, in the Greater Baltimore Metropolitan Area who didn't like long hairs or our clothing styles didn't ever call any of us any kind of a dirty Hippie bum. Baltimore was two years behind the West Coast in all that stuff back then. In and around Baltimore, any males wearing bell bottoms, hip huggers, flowered shirts, love beads, etc., or long hair, were subject to threatening hassles at any time. Longhaired, or just Mod clothes wearing, males were called weirdoes, odd balls, and "What're you's queers?".
Any longhaired and/or Mod clothes wearing man who was old enough to drink in a bar, tavern, or club would have never lasted long in almost any 1968 era Baltimore booze joint, before he was punched out. The Psychedelic Propeller Band played in Judge's Bar, but none of the band members would have ever been so naive as to go there when they were not being paid to and were being protected by the bar owner and employees.
In those long gone days, job opportunities for fully capable longhaired males were nearly zilch. No department store or any other shop in the Howard St. corridor would hire a longhaired male back then. Nor would most other local places of business or industry.
The thick, busily flowing crowds on the sidewalks of the very popular Howard St. corridor offered us Mods natural protection from being singled out and hassled. Just like a small group of one kind of fish moving around in the ocean while snugly mixed in with a school of a different kind of fish. So that predator fish, like sharks or shitheads, can't easily dart in through all those other fish to attack the small, different looking group in amongst the steadily moving crowd.
General Music Store
Down around the corner from Howard St., on Baltimore St., across from the Civic Center, the 1st Mariner Arena now, was the most fantastic recorded music store I have ever known of--General Music. Though the name sounds generic, that store was anything but, generic. The name General was equal to the store's rank amongst all recorded music stores there ever was. That place was so jam packed full of entire walls of record albums, floor to ceiling, and crowded racks of records covering most of the floor space, all of it neatly catalogued and displayed, that it's a wonder the place didn't sink into the ground from all that weight.
The salesmen in there were mostly Jazz, Folk or Classical Music aficionados. Those ready, willing and able salesmen there could find any rare record they had in stock in a jiffy.
Not only did they stock Baltimore's best selection of Jazz, Classical and American Folk Music, the store must have had about the most diverse world music, folk and popular albums from around the world, that there ever was. I heard customers make some very weird requests in there. And by-yimminy a salesmen would roll a shelf stocker's ladder over to a wall rack, climb up and retrieve that "Popular Folk Songs Of Lower Slobavovia Played By Left Handed Angry Gypsies" album, or whatever the request was for.
General Music did get in some new Rock n' Roll albums before any other music store around did, and their Rock n' Roll shelves were very nicely stocked. But it was rare old Blues albums that my musician friends were mostly looking for in there. I had close friends in two of the best teen Rock bands in the Baltimore music scene. They wanted old Blues songs to listen to, learn from and maybe turn into newer sounding Rock songs.
I have been a Blues fan since I was about 14. It started out with the "British Invasion" white guy's versions of the Blues. Then I bought the Best of Muddy Waters album, when I was 16, at the advice of a published interview with Mick Jagger. A lot of the early Rolling Stones' recordings are Rocked out Blues tunes. I've always liked some original Blues music. I first began to seriously buy and listen to a few original Blues albums when I was in the Army. But it wasn't till about 20 years ago that I began to seriously collect and listen to a whole lotta' old and new Blues albums. Nowadays I listen to newer, digitally recorded, and older, digitally remastered, Blues by the bushel full.
Ted's Music Shop
During the '60s, Baltimore had one of the most fantastic musical instrument shops there ever was, Ted's Music Shop. It is still in business, but I just found this:
Blogger1947 posted this on Sunday, 19 March 2006:
I had occasion to stroll the blocks south of Mount Vernon place recently, and it's not Don Swann's old neighborhood any more. Ted's Music Shop is but a shell of its former glory. You can actually see through the show window to the back of the shop."
Blogger1947 obviously also remembers Ted's from a few decades ago. Because back then, Ted's was absolutely packed with musical instruments and many were from all around the world.
The shop is in the same neighborhood as the world famous Peabody Institute. If you do not know about the Peabody, here is a quote from their web site:
"The Peabody Institute has a preeminent faculty, a nurturing, collaborative learning environment, and the academic resources of one of the nation's leading universities, Johns Hopkins."
Only the most talented and well financed students of classical and Jazz music attend the Peabody. Ted's was well stocked to serve that prestigious community of students, instructors, and visiting professional musicians. Not only was Ted's well stocked with the finest of instruments that are normally played by classical or Jazz musicians, but the shop was very well stocked with quite rare and beautiful musical instruments that most of the average students, instructors, or visiting pros at Peabody had never even seen any photographs, drawings or paintings of before they walked into Ted's and saw the real thing for the very first time.
But my friends and I went to Ted's for the Rock n' Roll gear that he also stocked to similar grand proportions. The only thing I ever bought at Ted's was a harmonica. My visits there were with band members from the Psychedelic Propeller and also 1966-68 Dundalk's best Rock n' Roll Rolling Stones music based band, the Rysing Suns. I knew all the guys in that band from long before they formed the band. The lead singer, Dave Collins, had lived down the street from me since he was 13, and was one of my best friends. So between the two bands, I got to go into Ted's and watch his wonderful salesmanship in action a bunch of times.
My take on Ted was that when one of my buddies asked Ted for the price of an instrument or amp, Ted would always give the lowest price he could afford to. You know how it is when you are comfortably standing off to the side of two people doing business, and you can easily hear all they say, while watching the facial expressions and body language of both parties in the deal? It always appeared to me that Ted would stop speaking to my friend for a moment, while Ted gently rubbed or halfway squeezed the skin of his own chin. Ted always appeared to take a quick glance down at the floor in front of him while doing a clandestine scan of how my friend's pants and shoes looked. Then based on the fact that we teens were all dressed casual, not tatty or dirty, but not expensively, Ted would offer the guy a truly fair price for what they both might be able to afford to handle dealing with. I may have been, and may still be, wrong about this, but I have always believed that Ted gave certain, special discounts to young, struggling musicians. It always appeared to me that Ted was going to do what he could to help a struggling young musician do well in their, hopeful, music career.
All any of the musicians in Ted's had to do was to mention something they were interested in, and Ted went looking for it. I can remember a young musician or two simply admiring and then complimenting Ted on some very strange, beautifully constructed wooden stringed instrument. A rare collector's piece that had originally come from somewhere like a mountain village in the Himalayas. The next thing you know, Ted is reaching for it to allow the guy handle it and strum its extremely difficult to replace strings. The young musician would simply be flabbergasted by Ted's kindness and respect for the kid.
We all respected and admired that man.
Ted had instruments displayed and stored all throughout his building and hung all over the insides of it. You didn't have to be a musician to be attracted to the internationally known appeal of that shop. It was so visually exciting to see so many old and new instruments in very good to mint condition. Ted surrounded himself with rooms packed full of some of the finest quality musical instruments, parts, accessories, and necessary gear on earth. It was simply a stunning place to be. And Ted never seemed to loose track of where anything was displayed or stored.
Ted was an all-round fine and humble human being. I never witnessed or heard of anyone not being satisfied with a purchase at Ted's.
One thing I never thought of back then was: what world famous musicians had shopped in Ted's, or had just hung out there, while enjoying Ted's company and maybe trying out some of his rare, imported instruments? I know he had some autographed photos of famous musicians around. He must have had a solid world wide reputation amongst all card carrying Musician's Union members as the man to visit in Baltimore, when you're in town to play a concert, visiting, vacationing, or just passing through.
From Ted's front door you can see all of Baltimore's Washington Monument and some of the four, small beautiful parks surrounding it. I am a man who has always been into photography, to some degree, and I now realize that Ted's was the perfect bait for drawing famous musicians into where I could casually, quite possibly convince them to stroll on over into the parks for some informal portraiture. Between the parks, the monument and the magnificent architecture of the old buildings in that whole neighborhood, there is a fantastic choice of backgrounds for informal portraits.
And I have known all the little side streets and alleys and how to get from Ted's to, let's say, some very nice little eatery, ever since I was a Mod kid spending numerous afternoons walking around up there for hours and exploring it all. I'd not only be the musician's, and any of their traveling companions', portrait photographer for a little while, I'd be their city guide.
It's that old saying in its most appropriate usage, "If only I had known then, what I know now."
Sherman's Book Store
At the corner of Park Avenue and Mulberry Street, about a ten minute, easy, stroll from Ted's, was Sherman's Book Store. That was a true Baltimorean's place to shop.
Abe Sherman owned and ran that bookstore, and, when I first went into his store, Mr. Sherman was well over 60 years old. In fact, he was the oldest man in Baltimore to be accepted into the U.S. Army during World War Two. I think Abe was in his early 40s in 1942. He may be Abe to me now, but I wouldn't have dared address him as anything but Mr. Sherman back then.
Abe was the first in Baltimore to sell posters of Rock n' Roll bands. I bought Rock n' Roll record albums once or twice a month, during every month that I was in high school. I knew when all of the latest stuff came out in local record stores and in the record departments of large department stores. That includes General Music on Baltimore St., Modern Music in Eastpoint Mall, and a very nice and slightly 'ahead of the pack' record store in one of the wealthiest sections of Baltimore, on Cold Spring Lane. Sherman's had the very first Rock n' Roll posters sold in Baltimore. I bought my first poster there. It was a black and white photo of the Rolling Stones, which sold for a-buck-fifty. And that was the first time I was ever in Sherman's. For years after that, I shopped there just about anytime I was in that part of town.
As I was paying for that first poster, I looked over Abe's shoulder, and there behind him were the very first buttons I had ever seen that had Hippie style sayings on them: "Make Love Not War"; "Draft Beer Not Students"; and the famous peace sign. I was standing there in Sherman's with two friends. We gleefully read the sayings on all those buttons, then I purchased several buttons along with that huge photo of the Rolling Stones. It all, absolutely, blew our young minds. We were awe-struck and mighty thrilled by that experience. Baltimore was becoming a brave new world to us.
I searched on the web for Abe Sherman, and I found this, from a guy who had moved to Baltimore and begun working for Abe Sherman in 1979. Tom Chalkley wrote:
"The strangest thing about Sherman's was its collection of faded black-light posters and other leftovers from the psychedelic era. It seems the neighborhood was full of head shops once, but Abe had no use for hippies until his son pointed out that the freaks were pumping millions of dollars into the economy. So Abe--a crusty, cynical septuagenarian--began to stock incense, New Age literature, and huge images of Jimi Hendrix and the Who."
But that's just his guess on how it began. The text says, "It seems the neighborhood was full of head shops once, but Abe had no use for hippies until his son..." But Abe actually started it all in his neighborhood. Before any other head shops or any Hippies were around there. He was into it before the Psychedelic Propeller Head Shop opened. I was in the Propeller the first week it opened. That fresh, new kind of a shop was big news to my friends and I. Also, when Abe started selling posters, the Jimi Hendrix Experience did not even exist yet. I was there and heavily into it when it all began in and around Baltimore. And "you can take that to the bank", as they say.
But it was really neat for me to read Tom's article and finally find out how Abe got the idea to sell that stuff. Because ever since that first purchase in Sherman's Book Store, I have often wondered about that and have commented to other people about it. That part of the Tom's story would be true. It's just that Ted's son had to have been talking about what was happening, mostly, out on the West Coast and in New York City, but Ted's son had to known that trends like that spread across America. I'm going to try and contact Tom. He seems like a nice person, he just didn't actually live the history he was surmising about.
Abe Sherman was a tough and scary man, until he got to know ya'. But he always watched every move every customer made, in his store. He would stand right behind you, while you looked at magazines or books, with his arms folded over his chest and a thoroughly unfriendly look on his face. He admonished any customer who did not put a book or magazine back exactly where they had picked it up from. And you had to perfectly and evenly straighten up any pile of magazines or books that you took one from.
But when he got to know that you were serious about buying any of his avant-garde, or other, types of publications, posters, or Hippie pins, he was one neat old dude. He found out what you liked and showed you where there was more of the same kind, or something similar. Sometimes, he would guide me over across the store to show me a section of publications I had never read anything like before. I believe he honestly thought I might like them. I rarely purchased any of his suggested books or magazines, but he never became gruff or cross about it. And he turned me onto one or two items that I was very excited to learn about.
Still though, like I said, Abe was a tough and scary old guy; a Jewish man who had joined the U.S. Army at about age 40, to go try to kill that screamin' German demon, Adol'f Gitler (SHikl'gruber).
Here's something from D. Borsella on Baltimore Timeline:
"Abe Sherman was a known Baltimore character who ran the bookstore at the SW corner of Mulberry and Park Avenue. You went to Sherman's if you fancied being insulted. After 3 seconds: "Are you buying or reading! If you wanna read, go over to the library.""
Susan Fradkin of City Paper Online wrote:
"Abe Sherman terrified generations of book buyers at his newsstand (he yelled at me once for standing too close to the magazines)."
Long time Baltimore newspaper columnist Michael Olesker wrote:
"You know you're a Baltimorean if you ever lasted 15 minutes without Abe Sherman throwing you out of his bookstore."
One time, my two friends and I, who had gone into Sherman's together for the first time, were in the store looking at new posters, when Mr. Sherman said, "You like that poster? You guys wanna see some better ones? C'mere."
So Mr. Sherman leads us over to an open basement doorway, and he walks down the basement steps. We had walked, about eight feet behind him, over towards the basement doorway, but had stopped and were patiently waiting a little ways back from the open doorway; we were expecting Mr. Sherman to bring the posters up to us. Now, we had never worked in any stores; we had never been down in any retail storage areas like a basement--where customers are traditionaly forbiden to enter. Had it been any other store, we may have reacted the same way and would have stood there not daring to enter the basement. We were always fairly reserved, when shopping in Sherman's, and completely respectful to Mr. Sherman, so we did not dare at all to enter his basement storage area. But Mr. Sherman takes a few steps back up towards us, smiles warmly, motions with his hand for us to walk towards him, and says," C'mon down here."
We replied, more or less stammering in unison, "Wawawhat? UhUs? You mumumean we can go down there? You'll let us go down there!"
We then proudly crossed a boundary line that we never thought anyone but Mr. Sherman could cross and live to tell about. It really made us feel good about ourselves. Mr. Sherman had recognized us as being true citizens of the brave, new, young world we liked living in.
Abe Sherman sold the latest, hippest, premium Rock n' Roll magazines and other solid quality items that go with a Rock n' Roll album music collector's lifestyle. And a goodly number of my friends and I purchased as much of it as we could possibly afford.
Here's something else from D. Borsella on Baltimore Timeline. He or she talks about Sherman's Book Store, but first he or she says something about the block where the Psychedelic Propeller Head Shop had been located:
"Remeber beatniks? In the 1960's they had not quite made the transition to hippies. Baltimore's beat street was Tyson Street, Read and Tyson..."
He goes onto tell other info about Baltimore Beatniks I never knew. But it was the Beatniks and Mod types who became Baltimore's first Hippies. I saw Beatniks a couple of times.
The first time it was when I spotted a guy and gal Beatnik sitting in a booth in a downtown Baltimore sandwich shop. They were having a wicked bad argument. My two Sherman's Book Store shopping friends and I were on a bus heading towards Howard St.. As the bus waited at a red light, I saw the two Beats in the sandwich shop, and I excitedly pointed them out to my two buddies. But then, I was totally shocked to see two Beatniks screaming at each other like a pair of Tasmanian Devils. I thought they were all into peace and staying cool, man, cool.
The second time, the last time I ever spotted any Beatniks, was one Saturday night after the Psychedelic Propeller Band had played a show at the Bluesette teen nightclub. The club closed by 11 PM, and it took us till almost midnight to load the band's equipment into their old hearse.
At midnight, the Bluesette turned into the Blues Back Alley (Backdoor?) after hours Jazz club. We teen clubbers were well aware that Beatnik types frequented that after hours club. We were also well aware that the older, Jazz style hipsters did not want to mix in with us younger, Rock n' Roll style hipsters. Because to the older crew, we weren't so very damned hip at all. So, if we had still been in the club when they came in, we would have been a little shy about talking to them. We knew they didn't want to talk to us. They were like the big league pros, and we were young beginners at being hip and cool. Due to the probable possibilities of what would happen if any Beatniks met any Mod kids face to face, wherein the Beats get mighty well miffed at being spoken to by mere, non-Beatnik, teenagers, the club's owner, Art Peyton, always wanted us kids out before the Beats began arriving at around midnight.
That night when I saw Beatniks for the second and final time, Aussie the drummer had driven his mother's Cordova Brown, '64, Chevy Impala up to the Blusette. And I was riding "shotgun", in the Chevy. We met Dale, Denny, and Chris at the club, then helped them to unloaded the band's equipment from the hearse and take it into the club, through the backdoor.
On that Beatnik spotting Saturday night, after the Psychedelic Propeller finished playing for the teen crowd at the Bluesette, we packed the band's equipment back into the hearse. Dale and Denny drove home in the hearse, to their new bachelor apartment--I mean bachelor pad, they drove the hearse to their cool pad.
By that time, it was just about midnight. The time when the teen nightclub turned into a very hip Jazz club.
That was right when Aussie, Chris the bass player, and I had gotten into the Chevy Impala. It was parked with its front end up close to the rear wall of a building that was just a few doors down and across the alley from the backdoor of the Bluesette. Aussie eased his mother's Chevy backwards out of the parking place. It took some tight, tense, very careful maneuvering, between other parked cars and some old, rusted, metal backyard fences on both sides of the skinny little alley back there behind the club. Aussie got 'er out of there without scratching any of the pretty, Cordova Brown paint on the Impala. Then he put the car into drive, and we went forwards, motoring, very slowly, up that skinny little alley.
All of a sudden, we spotted two, outright, hardcore, mustached and goateed male Beatniks walking up the club's back steps. Steps that, ten minutes earlier, we had been using ourselves while hauling out heavy amps and all.
Aussie, Chris, and I had been paying very close attention to the young, barely experienced, teenage driver's difficult task of getting the Chevy out of that tight parking spot. Aussie had needed Chris' and my extra two pairs of eyes to see how close his mother's car was to everything that was all tightly in around the car back there. Consequently, none of us had noticed the two Beatnik Jazz musicians who had walked up the alley and were now walking up the back steps of the Bluesette/Blues After Hours Jazz Club, and onto the back porch.
One Beatnik was carrying a big fat, stand-up bass in its case, and the other Beat carried a guitar in its case. Chris spotted them first, from the back seat, and he thought that Beatniks were really cool; we all three did. So Chris rolls down his window real quick, dives about halfway out the rear side window, he's got his left arm extended all they way out and his finger pointing at the Beats. He practically screams, "LOOK AT THAT!"
I'm up front in the passenger seat, the club is on Aussie's side, and I tell Aussie, in a loud voice," "Whoa man! Stop! Look at that!"
When I was in elementary school, kids dressed up as Beatniks for Halloween, and one time I had too, daddy-o. I used my mother's eyebrow pencil to make a mustache and goatee on my face.
Beatniks were unseen legends to us. Nobody saw Beatniks in any Baltimore suburbs.
Aussie stopped the car and rolled his window down. We were going to say something benignly friendly to them, like, "Hey, what's up? We just left the club. Our band played there tonight. You guys are Jazz musicians, right? That's cool. All right man. Far out. Catch ya later."
Unfortunately, for all of us, we never got past loudly saying, "Look at that!" Because we Mod kids were happily flippin' out and almost yelling, in a friendly, laughing way, at those two Beats, and that friggin-aye-freaked them two Beatniks right out.
The Beatnik holding that big heavy bass hears us and turns around real fast and fearfully glares at us--with a look of sheer terror on his face and all in his body language. Then he grabs the other Beatnik by his shoulder and yanks him part way around backwards, whilst fearfully and frantically pointing at us. The guitar carrying Beat in front quickly moved up to the backdoor and began trying to stick a key to the backdoor into the backdoor's lock. He's bent slightly forward under the rear porch light trying to keep his shadow off the keyhole, so he can see where the key goes in. At that point in time, the bottom of his guitar case was resting on the floor of the porch.
Those old Baltimore City row homes have very tiny backyards, so we were very close to them and could see them very clearly from the alley at the end of that tiny, short backyard behind the club.
They must have thought we were some inner city toughs who were gonna' get out and go beat their asses good. They were terrified, and I mean truly terrified. Those cats obviously rarely ever went out into the sunshine very often. Their pale faces showed shear, white faced fear, under the bright, bare light bulb that hung down from a battered, sloppily hanging back porch light socket.
The Beat in front starts frantically yanking and shoving on that back door, while furiously fumbling with the key in the keyhole. Finally, the door pops wide open, and the Beat in the back, with the bass, starts shoving his guitar carrying buddy through the door, really hard; while the Beat in front's trying to grab a good hold onto his guitar case, but was tripping over it; then the Beat in the rear scrambles--his feet were quickly moving up and down like has was running through the alley, to get away from us kids in the Chevy, instead of standing there on the porch feeling trapped by us--he scrambles forward, while jamming that big, heavy, awkward, stand-up bass case right in up against his buddy's back; he pushed the bass case hard up against his buddy's back and was pushing his buddy in to 'safety'. They practically fell forward into the club, then slammed the backdoor closed tight and locked it loudly, behind them.
The scene looked like when a war weary soldier was protecting his longtime, combat buddy from a hand grenade that had just been tossed over onto the porch behind them.
We felt kind of bad and a little bit embarrassed by what we had accidentally done. We did not intend to shake them up like that.
Beatniks lived in a culture we had some things in common with. Beat literature and poetry was read by many teens in the 1950s and '60s. Not by me, but some of the Psychedelic Propeller members had probably gotten into reading some Beat writings. Beatniks' music was considered to be very advanced and exploratory Jazz. It is very difficult to play. We were no Jazz fans, but we knew how hard it was to play well and how important Jazz was as an intelligent influence on Rock n' Roll. Beatniks were against the War in Vietnam. And we three young men in that Chevy knew that any one of us might some day be drafted into the Army and sent to Nam.
Here is Dan Akroyd on how he came up with the Blues Brother's world famous stage and movie wardrobe:
"I showed him (John Belushi) this album cover, John Lee Hooker, and there was John Lee Hooker and he had the hat and the shades on. And I said this is the look. I said if we ever put this together (the Blues Brothers), this 'id be the look. The suits and the ties came from the Beatnik era. In the '50s and '60s Beatniks, and Beat poets, and musicians, Bop, Be Bop and Jazz musicians would wear straight apparel so that they could go out into straight society and not be hassled..."
Those two Beatniks, that Chris, Aussie and I scared the be-bop-be-jeezums out of, were wearing a style of cheap, dark overcoats and hats that a 1960s low wage earner would wear to church on a rainy Sunday--very non-descript and fashionably forgettable. But the way they had shaped their hats, we all shape our hats to fit our own individual personalities, the musical instruments they were carrying, but mostly the fact that they were wearing '60s hipster style goatees just screamed, "WE'RE BEATNIKS!"
Even if we hadn't known to expect seeing Beatniks going into the Blues Back Alley Jazz Club, we three teenagers still would have known they were Beatniks.
Hardly any other men in or around Baltimore but a Beatnik would have had their facial hair grown out and artistically trimmed like the two Beatniks that we saw had theirs grown and trimmed. Not at the end of the age of the clean cut American Male. Unless you were Amish, you'd almost never see a man with any shape of a beard in the congregation of any American church, when I saw two of the last of Baltimore's Beatniks.
David Robert Crews Copyright 2008