July 1, 2006

California Dreamin' - Celebrating Fond Memories of Los Angeles & the San Francisco Bay Area

Donald B. Hawthorne

Business travel last week took me to Los Angeles for the first time in years.

My flight landed past midnight and I immediately turned on KLOS 95.5 FM (more here) after getting into the rental car - only to hear Jim Ladd was the disc jockey:

[Ladd]...is the last remaining freeform rock DJ in United States commercial radio.

Unlike his contemporaries, Ladd personally selects every song he plays. He combines music with atmospheric sound samples and social commentary, often inviting listeners to participate on the air. Most of his music sets center around a theme or storyline, such as Wild West outlaws, beautiful women or fast cars. He often adds appropriate listener requests to his themed sets; sometimes a request will inspire an entire set. His repertoire combines classic rock standards...

Oh, did that bring back a flood of memories from my junior high school (1967-1969), high school (1969-1973), college (1973-1977), and early work years (1981-1983) there during the grand days of underground free-form style of rock music radio. In those years, the Might Met (94.7 KMET) (more here) was THE radio station and Jim Ladd was THE disc jockey:

...To its fans throughout the 1970s and mid-1980s, KMET's progressive rock radio format was what you listened to in Los Angeles if you were to be considered "hip." Evenings were given over to Jim Ladd, whose laid-back philosophical ruminations usually led into a song - often Pink Floyd, The Doors or Led Zeppelin - that underscored his point.

KMET has stood alone in pioneering the free-form style of rock radio. Everything from folk to acid rock to rockabilly to modern jazz to pop to R&B might be heard in one well blended set...

B. Mitchell Reed was another key disc jockey I remember working at the station. So, over the years, were Jeff Gonzer, Cynthia Fox, Mary Turner, and Bob Coburn.

KMET also carried the wacky Dr. Demento show on Sunday nights! How can anyone forget songs like the National Lampoon's Deteriorata or Napoleon XIV's They are coming to take me away, ha, haa!, the latter of which called for opening your dorm room and banging a hammer on the metal door jam as the song played. (Okay, you had to be there!)

Those were truly special days in the world of FM radio music.

Even though some of us were too young to enjoy it at the time, the live music scene was also significant in those years, with LA clubs like the Troubadour making musical history.

During our pre-college years, I have fond memories of spending time at the house of my best friend, Mark, where we used to take special pleasure listening to the music by artists such as James Taylor (Sweet Baby James), Jethro Tull (Aqualung), The Who (Who's Next), the Guess Who (Best of the Guess Who), Black Sabbath (Paranoid), Led Zeppelin (the 4th album), Deep Purple (Machine Head), and numerous other bands. My high school senior prom featured "Stairway to Heaven" and "Smoke on the Water" - when they first came out, not when they were being played for the nth straight year.

Several years later, all of us began attending concerts - with a Led Zeppelin show at the LA Forum being one of the more spectacular ones.

The music scene was not the only hot doings in Los Angeles during those years. The performances of the many sports teams in Los Angeles were world-class, too.

Besides seeing family, I also had the chance to drive by my alma mater, Harvey Mudd College (more here) - which provided me with a collegiate experience for which I will always be grateful.

The week before my Los Angeles trip took me out to the San Francisco Bay Area for a 4-day, 25th reunion of my MBA Class of 1981 at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

What a great time we all had seeing old friends on the beautiful Stanford University campus. With approximately one-half of the class returning to the campus, it was a chance to visit with some very special friends.

As was true even back in our classroom years, though, everyone is defining success to be what they want personally and that creates both traditional successes and unconventional successes. One of the more interesting current stories was shared with us by classmate Mike Murray, who is now involved in a global micro-finance effort to help the world's poor through his latest company, Unitus. What an inspiring idea.

The music scene was also great fun in the Bay Area over my later years in California. I had the pleasure of enjoying shows at classic San Francisco venues like Winterland and the Fillmore West as well as at blues bars all over the Bay Area, with seeing both Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker (with Carlos Santana joining him) as two of the highlights. For several years, we attended the Dixieland Jazz Jubilee in Sacramento. In the later years, we enjoyed many shows at the Shoreline Ampitheather and at the old Paul Masson winery up in the Santa Cruz mountains. Bonnie Raitt's first large-venue concert after hitting it big, Van Morrison joining the Chieftains on stage, Robert Cray opening for Ray Charles, BB King in several venues, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, CSN, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, the Allman Brothers, etc.

Football was also good in those Bay Area days. John Elway was quarterback at Stanford during my years on The Farm. Bill Walsh and then George Seifert subsequently coached the San Francisco 49ers to five Super Bowl victories, first with Joe Montana and then with Steve Young at quarterback. Who could forget special players like Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott?

And then there was the wine country in Napa and Sonoma counties, a roughly 1-hour drive north of San Francisco. From the first visits in the late 1970's when it was still much more rural until our move back East 20 years later, there were many trips where outstanding food and glorious wines were the norm.

The list could go on. Family vacations driving up the the coast line, stopping in San Simeon and Carmel or driving up the coast north of San Francisco to the giant redwoods. Remembering when Highway 101 was just a 2-lane highway - with stop lights in Santa Barbara and south San Jose - and you simply slowed down in the middle of the state when farm equipment pulled onto the road (there was no Highway 5 back then). Driving up to see my grandparents in the Bay Area. Learning to drive in my parents' 1969 Chevy Malibu with its 350 horsepower V8 - which they still have. Tubing down a river with my buddy, Mark. In later years, living and working in Silicon Valley for 17 years. Trips to Yosemite to celebrate Stanford friends' weddings or anniversaries. Learning to ski at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe - as an adult. Then watching my kids begin to ski at the same place - and now be better than me!

Politics was fun over the years, too. I had the pleasure of talking one-on-one in 1982 with Howard Jarvis, the author of Proposition 13, while sitting in Attorney General Evelle Younger's suite at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. I was also an officer in the (Bay Area) Peninsula chapter of the California Republican Assembly (CRA), a group that served as foot soldiers for conservative politics across the state.

California Dreamin'....a very special place to have grown up and gone to school. Like many places, it is different now from what it was in those prior years. Regardless of those changes, there are many fond memories of wonderful times, memories that were stirred by two delightful trips in June.