Sunday, July 20, 2008

Big Mama Thornton and the Wee Teens

Today a couple of carloads of Canary family and friends, some from Rio Nada and some from the land of the Amish drove down to Newport Beach. We used to hang out at Newport when we were teeny kiddies and wee teens. I haven't been there much in the last thirty years or so, but much of it looks pretty much the same. We went looking for a parking place near the Newport Pier so as to gobble up some chili at that chili place were an ex-teen girlfriend worked for awhile many years ago.

A parking place by the chili place on a Sunday afternoon in July? HaHaHaHa!

We ended up in a parking lot gigante just North of the Wedge by the Balboa Pier. We drove around that lot like drooling feral dogs looking for a chihuahua.
We got lucky and found a space after about an hour and a half.


Forty or so years ago, near the land end of the pier, there was a coffee house called The Prison of Socrates, a small place that served tea and cider. It was one of a coastal chain of places that served up live jazz, blues and folk music (The Golden Bear and another place in Seal Beach, I forget the name, were part of that group).

When I was 13 or so years old some wee teen friends and myself were wandering around Newport during Spring Break smoking Terryton Cigarettes with cinnamon toothpicks stuck in them and drinking bubble gum root beers and just generally trying to look cool, when we found the Prison. So in we went, ordered some ciders and sat down near the stage. We were giggling because the stage was littered with Silvertone amps, guitars and even a Silvertone drum set. Silvertone equipment was very gauche in my teen days.

The lights went down and out walked four nattily dressed thin black gentlemen and a wall of a woman in a bowling shirt.

For two hours we sat digging Willy Mae "Big Mama" Thornton and her band. We had never heard of her and certainly never forgot her. She just plain ripped the place to tiny pieces.

Afterwards, we three wee teens stood out at the side of the brick Prison talking with Big Mama for about twenty minutes. What a class lady.

Hard to believe she could be sitting across the table from Johnny Ace when he lost at Russian Roullette.

So today I thought I'd walk down to where the Prison was to see if the building was still there. It was easy to spot. It's a Pizza Place now, nice looking and crowded. I spoke to the manager/owner who was very aware of the history of his place and was interested to hear my story.

I looked over to where the stage was andto about where we were seated, then walked outside to check out the spot where we talked with Miss Thornton.

My son Liam was with me. I don't think he could fully understand how cool it was to sorta relive that moment from 40 years ago. But I know he'll be doing the same things with his kids when he's older.

I can still hear the twang, shake and shudder that night: "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog..."


Blogger bullthorn said...

Who were the other teens...oh, that's right, you aren't using real names.......well, I've got a name for you....Wayne Gross. I'll never forget watching him go over the falls, as the surfers say, at the Wedge on a monsterous day back then. He was backing into 15 foot wave, just trying to let it go past him, but it picked him up. He disappeared for a second and then a fleshy object wearing a bathing suit just like his came pounding down into the beach at about 40 miles per hour. Then there was that moment of perfect sizzling silence that happens for just a breath after that kind of wave breaks.

Wish I'd seen Big Mama with you

6:55 PM  
Blogger Billy Canary said...

I thought that one of them was Albie Schneer, but I called him when I was there and he said he didn't know who was talking about. So it was either you, Jordan and/or Murray. But I do not remember, I guess. I still think it was Albie but maybe he is mildly brain dead.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Billy Canary said...

I'll bet Wayne bounced pretty good.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous exteen girlfriend said...

Oh, Billy, how I love a little mention every now and then.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prolly Jolliffe

3:33 PM  

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