Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bon Tempe 101: Warm Ups

"Hey, shut up and play the intro!"

BonTempe was, is, and always will be the quintet-essential unknown Ross Valley cult band, and many believe there's a good reason it should stay that way. More accurately, Bon Tempe was the Redwood High School seventies cult band. You could say Bon Tempe is a testimony to the old credo “don’t spread yourself too thin”. Bon Tempe generally didn’t do any spreading at all, save for perhaps one gig at a military base in the valley (no, not the San Geronimo Valley). BT never made it over the GG Bridge save for one Halloween quartet event, and never made it north of Novato. Nonetheless if you asked some hippies in Mendocino if they ever heard of Bon Tempe chances are they have. I don’t know how that works.

If you asked 8 or so musicians that have been in Bon Tempe in some shape or form you would get 8 different stories. There was also a period from 1973-78 when I was in college and I missed all those gigs each of which has a story of its own. So this is far from any kind of authorized biography of the band rather it’s just me and my porous memory telling portions of the story bit by bit from my perspective, thinking that it could give some of the March 3, 19 Broadway gig-goers a little hysterical perspective (which I apologize to this point has been remarkably unhysterical!).

I guess another attribute that plops the band and it’s music into the heart of the Ross Valley and the surrounding watershed is that we named ourselves after one of the 5 reservoirs in the MMWD. One interesting fact about the name: the reservoir was named after the brothers that ran cattle in the valley and around the creek that was eventually dammed up to form Lagunitas, Bon Tempe, Alpine and Kent Lake. The brothers Buontemps (I know this isn’t the correct spelling but I can’t find my source materials right now) sold the land to the water district who named the reservoir after them. So while the name may mean “good time” or “good weather” or “good tempo” (my definition!) it’s really just a bastardization of this Swiss-Italian immigrant’s name.

I’ll save some of the window dressing around the whole Bon Tempe reservoir experience during our high school days. Suffice to say it was prime real estate for recreational activities of all kinds, and when I think back I’m amazed at how many of those recreational activities took place at night! You gotta love the woods at night. Still there was no special meaning behind the band name, other than it was a great place for high schoolers to hang and do the things that high schoolers in the early seventies did. If I got into any kind of detailed description of those activities I’m positive some band members would take issue, since it’s pretty easy for our kids (and yours too!) to stumble upon this little story and, though I would argue that what a bunch of southern and central Marin teenagers generally did in the early seventies is common knowledge, that doesn’t mean we have to broadcast it. Or so some of our extended Bon Tempe family might say.

I’m pretty sure Bill Nelson and I started the band, though Albritton and perhaps the Corn Nibbler (Ken Corsiglia) might disagree. Nelson might remember exactly how it was that we got together with Nibs (not the crunchy roasted kind, I’m afraid) and Albritton. I’m not 100% sure since events around that time are, for me, extremely clouded for some reason (WTF?). But I’ll hazard a guess anyway and say it was the result of  jam sessions we were having at Peter Horton’s house on West Shore Rd. I was already playing in a band with Nelson, Harry Likas and Graham Shieks that was called Goodywuffo, and then Hot Goodies. I don’t know that we ever played any gigs though we did audition for a dance at Kent School. Unfortunately Graham had the flu that day, and when we went to pick him up for the audition he was puking his brains out and could barely walk. We loaded him and his drums in the car, set them up at Kent School, walked him in there, and tried to play Hendrix’s “Fire” and Graham was on another planet. I do have VERY vivid memories of that experience, and Graham’s basement where we rehearsed, plus a song that we played over and over and over: “Lookin’ In” by Savoy Brown. Nelson will remember all the other songs.

Anyway Horton was dating my sister. I don’t remember how I knew that Kenny played drums, but we gathered in Horton’s family room and played “The Ghetto” with Horton on piano and Nelson on guitar. Horton’s sister Annie was a singer/songwriter and we put together a little band to play Annie’s songs and shit like “Popsicle Toes”. I think we were introduced to Albritton via Mike Jackson (or Pete, perhaps), an older guy with an old Ferrari that we would race around Belvedere Island. I don’t know if the first time Ken, Nelson and I first played with Albritton was at Horton’s house. Somehow Anne Dransfield, a flutist, got added to the mix – we might have played a lunch time gig at the CEA - but she wasn’t around for long before Albritton brought in Bob Akers and the first iteration of Bon Tempe was formed. Imagine how Bon Tempe might have been if we had stuck with the chick flute player! No references to female genitalia in songs about vegetables, that’s for sure!

That’s my take on the pre-Bon Tempe gyrations that eventually led to version 1. I’m gonna leave it up to Nelson to fill in the blanks with comments. If you follow the blog you’ll be alerted when Nelson’s comments and you’ll get the facts straight vs. my fuzzy recollections. Hopefully we will get some guest bloggers to help round out the picture. Should be en-chinalya!

Next up: The first set lists, the first parties, the first original songs, the “album”…and “What’s The Sons Got To Do With It?”

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