Peter Shelton

Making the Wave

Posted in More Sport, Personal History, Watch columns by pshelton on September 27, 2012

There was a mistake in the program for last weekend’s concert at the Wright Opera House in Ouray. It said the folk/rock trio Gabriel Gladstar got together in Laguna Beach in the “late 1970s.” That would make them old enough, but actually they started a decade earlier, in 1969, and recognizing them on stage Friday night, during their first-ever reunion tour, was not an easy task.

Mike Gwinn was not a problem. He was the big man in Keds and a flowing Hawaiian shirt. I’ve known Michael for decades. We met in Telluride. Our kids were born at almost exactly the same time. I hired him circa 1977 to run the children’s program for the ski school up there and listened many a night as he sang and played guitar with the Ophir Band and the husband-and-wife duo, Michael & Megan. Mike talked fondly about his seminal Gladstar days, but even though we grew up six miles apart in Southern California, we didn’t know each other then, and I had never heard of the band.

I did, however, have a faint connection to one of his band mates. Jimmy Zeiger didn’t know about it. I hoped to approach him after the show to talk about 1963, in the water, on a surfboard.

Friday afternoon Ellen and I got out our vintage LP, A Garden Song, recorded in 1973 on Flying Guitar records. (Gwinn gave it to us years after it was issued.) It’s the only album Gladstar made. The picture on the back shows three scruffy, longhaired guys in plaid shirts standing in the middle of somebody’s tomato and chard plants. They recorded the tracks in Seattle during a meandering, communal school-bus trip up the Pacific coast.

On the album cover Gwinn’s dark hair is parted down the middle and curls onto his shoulders. Philip Morgan’s broad-cheeked grin squints from beneath a sailor’s cap. And Zeiger looks much as I remembered him, tall and skinny with stringy blond hair down to his armpits.

But now, I couldn’t tell who was who. That must be Morgan, I thought, singing lead on some of the songs. But his face was now gaunt, too narrow for all those teeth, and his hair was wispy and white. The guy who should have been skinny and blond, the guy playing flute and saxophone, had a solid look and short dark hair. Could that really be the Jimmy Zeiger I remembered? The one riding with teenage casualness the little left break at Corona del Mar Main Beach?

Morgan and Gwinn bantered between songs. Gwinn joked about Gladstar contributing to a genre called “folk/psych.” Meaning psychedelic, of course. But what he said was: “We’re just folks. And we’re psyched to be here.”

Someone in the audience yelled out that they sounded like the Incredible String Band. “Yes. And Pentangle. And CSN [Crosby, Stills and Nash, with their high, three-part harmonies],” Morgan responded, without irony. Then he told the story of their fateful decision not to sign with Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records.

“He had the Stones, Ray Charles, the Coasters. He wanted us to sign. But we wanted to do our own thing, record under our own label. It was about this time that the Stones and Beatles went out on their own, created their own record labels. It was a while before we realized that the Stones and the Beatles were already famous when they made the decision to split.”

They may have been old, and they might have blown their chance at a big-time career, but in Ouray the music flowed out of them. If anything the musicianship was better than on the record. The solos had a clarity they didn’t have before. The words and chords (lots of beautiful open tunings) retained a sweet idealism, appropriate somehow again.

I wondered about their lives in the intervening decades. I know Gwinn has dealt with drug and alcohol demons. I wondered if something like that had hollowed out Morgan’s features. Zeiger wore a bemused half-smile inside his goatee and planted himself on stage behind his horn as if, yes, as if he were standing on a longboard.

Between sets, I approached and introduced myself. “I remember you,” I said to Jimmy Zeiger, a man I hadn’t beheld in nearly 50 years. “When I was 14 and just starting to surf,” I began, “I watched you do things on a surfboard that I didn’t understand and wanted desperately to do myself.” I told him about Corona del Mar Main Beach, and he remembered the place, the clean little left that “glanced off the jetty some days.”

He was a year older than I was. He didn’t remember me, but of course he wouldn’t have. I was one of the kids taking off and going straight, standing up and riding the soup. Jimmy Zeiger took off earlier and angled his board (I remembered it as pure white; he couldn’t recall) across the green face of the wave, ahead of the breaking foam. He would take a step or two toward the nose, adjusting trim, then step back finally to kick out smartly over the wave’s diminishing shoulder. It’s called making the wave.

Zeiger was genuinely taken aback. “Nobody has said anything like that to me before,” he stammered. During the second set, Gwinn and Morgan really took flight jamming on their old acoustic guitars. Zeiger stood with his feet apart, blowing his horn, perfectly balanced, making the wave.

One Response

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  1. Kayla said, on October 11, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Fun. We just saw them a couple weekends ago at the Paonia Harvest Festival.

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