Friday, May 25, 2012

Set the Wayback Machine to 1992 - Me and The Mother Hips in Cotati, CA

I have an old friend Greg Brown, who was the booking manager of the Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati, to thank for turning me on to the Mother Hips. I knew Greg from Sonoma State University, where I was going to school and seeing as many Grateful Dead shows as I could in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Greg had been up to Chico and had come back with tales of wild street parties on Halloween and St. Patty’s day with thousands of people partying in the streets and getting crazy enough to drag couches into the streets and set them on fire and stuff like that. “Man,” he’d say “you GOTTA get up there, its CRAZY! People are coming from ALL OVER CALIFORNIA to party up there and there are some GREAT BANDS like this one called The Mother Hips, you GOTTA see THE MOTHER HIPS, man!” (Greg talked that way, he had lots of manic nervous energy for almost every topic he talked about). I’d tell Greg “Yeah, that sounds good, we should do that sometime” and then say to myself “Whatever, it’s a long way up to Chico for a band I’ve never heard of and who probably aren’t that good”. That was 1992 and I never made it up to Chico until 7 years later and I have kicked myself many many times for not heeding Greg’s good advice and getting myself up to Chico back then. Who knows how my life would’ve changed if I’d checked it out back in the early 90s? The first time I visited in 1999, I fell in love with that town and moved there shortly after for a few years.

Greg was really big into local and regional bands and he was a pretty good talent scout. He booked Train into the Inn when they were unheard of. Now I’m not a Train fan by any means, but he was sure they were gonna be big and he wanted to get them into his small rural club while he still could and he was right. I didn’t have a lot of patience or tolerance for amateurish local bands, they just didn’t sound that good to me compared to the bands I saw live a lot, like The Dead and The Allman Brothers Band and Bob Dylan and Neil Young and Tom Petty and U2. But Greg was relentless that I check out The Hips. They were another band that he was sure was gonna be huge. So after lots of cajoling from Greg, I finally decided to check out The Mother Hips because they were coming to where I lived. That was in September 1994 at Magnolia’s in nearby Santa Rosa. They had played Magnolia’s earlier in the year, their first time in Sonoma County, but I didn’t go to that show. And for some reason, Greg didn’t go the night I first saw the Hips. He had met them in Chico and was working on getting them to play at the Inn Of The Beginning, but he wasn’t there that night, so I went solo and I didn’t know any of their music at all and certainly not what they looked like. The first thing I remember was seeing this really eccentric looking dude in the bar before the show. He had a Charlie Brown t-shirt on, long black hair and a kinda pear-shaped body, really androgynous-looking. He really stood out, even for Sonoma County hippie country. When he took the stage and sat behind the drums I thought to myself “Well, that makes sense, eccentric androgynous dude is in the band” That dude turned out to be Paul Hoaglin filling in on drums for Mike Wofchuck who I later found out had broken his arm. And then when this really tall and skinny blonde dude along with a short, dark-haired guy came on, they really made a strong visual impression. They seemed like a bunch of freaks and I was used to the hippie scene at Dead shows. The only normal looking guy in the band was Isaac.

And then they started to play. I didn’t know any of their songs at all and it didn’t really matter at the time. It only took one or two songs before I realized “This is NOT your typical local band, these guys play like seasoned vets, HOLY SHIT, these guys are GOOD!” They sounded different from any other band I’d ever heard, but they did sound like a weird and shocking combination of a bunch of bands I loved, a little bit of Black Sabbath and Crazy Horse in their heavy jams that would strangely intensify when they slowed down instead of the typical getting more intense the faster they played. They clearly had listened to some Beatles and other 60s pop based on their vocal style and catchy melodic song structures. The time signature changes sounded like a prog rock band or The Grateful Dead from 1968, very musically complicated and highly psychedelic with trippy stream-of-consciousness, spaced out lyrics. But then they would ride a simple roots rock groove like Creedence Clearwater Revival. There were not really long guitar solos, it was far more about the rhythmic interplay between guitars. The music was best when the bass and drums locked in with the guitars and created something together that was far better than what would happened when a lesser band would just wail a long solo while the others vamped behind him. This was a ROCK BAND as good as the best that the 60s and 70s had produced. They were tight, they were heavy, they had songs, they could jam in the most positive ensemble rock meaning of the word and they could sing and harmonize like the best harmony duos of all time! What the hell is going on here? How did a band this good come out of Chico? And how long have these guys been playing together to get so good? They had me captivated from the start and I was really just going to be able to tell Greg I went so I wouldn’t have to listen to him rave about the Hips to me any more. I mean I was predisposed to NOT like them and they freakin’ blew me out of the water.

Soon after this show they started playing Sonoma County pretty regularly, almost always on their way to or from San Francisco and Marin and Sacramento. They never played Magnolias’s again (no big loss, that was not a great venue) but they did many many spectacular shows at the fantastically quirky and homespun Inn Of The Beginning and a bunch of good ones at The Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, too. In fact, for years I only went to see them when they came to town which seemed to be three or four times a year. They came so often, I didn’t even feel the need to buy their records, I could hear them A LOT just by going to see them live in the County every time they came. I met Zane and Acid Mike one night when they came to Cotati, and I met Erin The Bead Queen and Daisy from Alaska and Sean Swickard from Santa Barbara there, too. I can’t remember where I first met Cosmonaut. Isaac’s hot girlfriend Courtney was often there and I think a whole bunch of the original Chico girls like Molly and Sabin showed up there a few times, although I didn’t know them then. There were also a whole bunch of regular fans I never met but who were always there every time they played, but who have disappeared from the scene. I had so many great nights at the Inn Of The Beginning and so many great memories like the time Greg Brown forced me backstage before the show one night and all I could do was sit nervously while mesmerized by Tim and Greg warming up with Glenn Campbell and Dillard and Clark songs. I was in heaven listening to their spell-binding harmonies and blown away by their knowledge of great songs. Or the time Greg Brown handed Tim a written list of requests right in the middle of the show and Tim pretended it was Greg’s grocery list and read it out loud to the crowd… “Milk, bread, eggs, CONDOMS? I think you gave me the wrong list, Greg”

So thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU to Greg Brown for forcing me to check out the Mother Hips 18 years ago and to The Mother Hips for giving me so much joy and happy times for years and years along with some good friends and a new community of music lovers to join just as the Grateful Dead were ending. You came into my life at the perfect time.

Download The Mother Hips' first album Back To The Grotto for FREE!