- Tommy Thompson
5th Movement: "Louie the Lip"
Updated: Jan 25
“Welcome to St. Elizabeth’s High School, the happenin’ place to be on a Friday night. Yeah!
Everybody who escaped from Alameda, we welcome you.
And those from Hayward, as well.
Anybody here from Hayward? Yeah? OK. Cool.
Anybody from Sioux Falls, Iowa...you're especially welcome.
People in Sioux Falls, Iowa are zealous."
Can you dig it?"
-- "Louie the Lip" Sarrica
By this time Paul and I had officially met (*you can read more about this meeting later on in the 6th Movement: Pt. 3 Interlude - "Tommy Meets Paul"). Paul used to bring his reel-to-reel tape recorder to some of our 3-piece gigs and record us "live." Which was very cool cuz his recorder was a top-of-the-line Sony and he really knew how to use the darn thing.
However, at this point in my career I could just never seem to keep my guitar in-tune for more than one song at a time. Unfortunately for me there were no guitar tuner machines back then. Hence, this being-out-of-tune problem of mine created a multitude of very long and painful in-between-songs spaces. Which are commonly referred to in Show Biz as “dead air.”
So, it became Lou’s job to fill up these spaces while I struggled with my hardware.
And Lou always had something to say in that hip, off-handed way of his. Man, there are some classic Lou monologue recordings that Paul captured during that time period in ‘69.
But, here, dear reader, is the one “Louie the Lip” moment that,
more than any of his other rants, I remember best.
"There is no there, there.”
-- Gertrude Stein in re Oakland
We somehow scored a Friday night gig that was to be held in a “concert hall,” - and I’m being very generous here in my description - located on East 14th St.in West Oakland, pert near ‘bout 15th Ave. So what? Well, yeah. Guess if y’all didn’t grow up ‘round here back in those days, then that address wouldn’t equal Jack Squat to ya. I mean, these days it’s East Oakland which is the War Zone. West Oakland has been renovated rather nicely for at least the last 3 or 4 decades.
But, back in ’69? Uh-uh. Different time era n' a Different ball game there, Slick.
Nonetheless, by that time us white boys had pretty much managed to overcome our fear of being in the same room with black folks n’ other non-white races. We weren’t afraid of being over in Oakland at nighttime. And - speaking for myself at this point in my life - I had actually almost even overcome my fear of redheads.
So, all of us guys in the band were really n’ truly jazzed over playing at a venue which was NOT a high school gig, NOT a grammar school gig (Ughh!). And NOT any other kind of chaperoned event.
Dig? This was gonna be real rock n’ roll!
Once again, I’ll try to keep this one short. The set-up was this. Audience members paid a set amount at the door. Let’s say prob’ly $2. Hey, during this same time period it only cost $2.50 to get into The Fillmore. Or Winterland. Or The Family Dog. And be able to see not one, but 3 bands. And great bands at that. So $2 was a bit pricey for them days.
However, here was the kicker. To go along with their admission fee, all audience members had additionally been promised as much free beer as they could drink. "All night long.”
Remember that last part, k?
“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone,
but they’ve always worked for me.”
-- Hunter S. Thompson
First set went killer. Man, what a difference it made playing for older people who could and would get drunk and messed-up on all kinds of known controlled substances. Not to mention unknown “uncontrolled substances." And without fear of being expelled or suspended from anything.
And, no chaperones? Are ya kiddin’ me? Woo Hoo!
Place was rockin’, my brothers n’ sisters! We were rockin.’ And, "saints be praised,” gettin’ over like big dawgs.
Gig was s’posed to be a 3 set affair. We had just gotten back onstage for our second set and had just finished ‘bout only the third song…when it happened. Guy that ran the show came up to my side of the stage with a really not-so-good look on his face. Dude gestured for me to come over to where he was standing. I complied. He then proceeded to tell me the following li’l bit of news:
“We’re all out of beer.”
"Oh, man. Please, God…make this be a joke, k? "
Nope. No jokes tonight. At least, not yet.
I replied something to the effect of: “What in the hell are you talkin’ ‘bout… no more beer?”
Guy: “That’s right, no more beer!”
Me: “That sucks!”
Guy: “Can’t be helped.”
Me: “What ya want me to do ‘bout it?...that's your problem.”
Guy: “No. It’s pretty much damn soon a’gonna be all our problem. So, I want you to get on that mic and tell the crowd the news.”
Me: “No, no, Barnum n’ Bailey. It's your gig, so it's your job to get up here and tell ‘em.”
....he just walked away from me and went out the side door into the alleyway.
And shut the door behind him.
Leavin’ me, your humble narrator, holdin’ the ol’ proverbial bag. I kid you not.
Hmm. This was not good. Not good at all.
Let’s take a quick diversion…
“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”
-- Mark Twain
As I have previously mentioned, I played with Bing Sue’s “Highway Taxes” band back in ’67 n’ ’68 during my earlier career in music. And we performed almost exclusively at the Bay Area’s many military bases. Treasure Island Naval Base was one of our regular gigs. Every Sunday night at the enlisted men’s club.
Vietnam war is goin’ on. Young men are bein’ drafted into performing military duty. And dangerous duty at that. Civil Rights are still nowhere to be seen anywhere in the country. And, as such, tensions ran high at these enlisted men’s clubs. So, it was on a particular Sunday night at the base when our band got involved right smack dab in the middle of the bar fight of all bar fights.
I mean, I had seen this kind of stuff before at these military gigs. Guys get drunk. Guys all oogle over the same few available women who dare to enter these types of lairs. Guys get into fights with each other over the women. Simple as that.
But, sometimes it’s a whole boatload of dudes fighting at the same time. MP’s then come in and bust heads with truncheons n’ such. Blood is spilled. Guess they were just preparin’ the troops for what’s to come over in “commie-land.” Or some such drivel like that.
But, these fights were always ugly.
So, this one night, it was the start of what is still pretty much to this day unknown in the history books as: “The Treasure Island Race Riots.” Try to look it up, DeKlerk.
Brutal it was that night, dear reader. Every “swabbie” in the joint got in on it. Blacks on Whites. Whites on Blacks. Whites on Asians. Asians on Latinos. Dogs on Cats n’ Mice on Squirrels. And every other conceivable racial combo-plate confederacy you can think of. Man, we were lucky to have been able to get our band gear out of the club. Loaded up into Bing's van. And skedaddle our asses away from the club and off-base before the real fireworks began.
All that being said, the one thing that I had learned about this kind of bar brawling. And how to just maybe be able to keep the lid on shit really hitting the fan. Was that if you kept playing music during the actual brawl? Then, sometimes. And I do mean only sometimes.
It calmed stuff down.
All that “music to soothe the savage beast."
Or however the hell that quote goes, right Chaucer?
Or whoever you are - or were - who came up with that in the first place.
Back to West Oakland…
So, I got up on the mic and let the crowd know the score ‘bout the beer. Ohhhh, boy. Not exactly a bunch of happy campers after that announcement. Nope. Not ‘t’all. Yellin’ n’ screamin’ and chairs bein’ thrown ‘round the hall n’ stuff.
I mean, ‘bout half the dudes in there were packin’ some kind of weapons: Knives. Guns. Shivs. Brass knuckles. Sawed-off shotguns. Rabid rats. Grenades. Hell, I don’t know, maybe a bazooka or two. But these ol’ boys were definitely loaded for bear.
And all the more so cuz there t’we’ren’t no mo’ damn beer for which to be loaded!
I counted off the next tune, hoping that my Bing Sue “bar-brawl lessons” would pay off n’ settle things down. Song ended…and…son of a bitch. I’ll be damned if ‘bout half the crowd hadn’t actually calmed down considerably.
I mean, all night long guys had already been sneakin’ half-pints of Beam n’ Cuervo n’ other potions into the gig inside their boots n’ coats anyway. Not to mention all the pot, speed n’ acid floatin’ ‘round the floor. So, I figured we’re gonna be cool here after all….right?
I was just gettin’ ready to count off the next tune...
...when Lou took it into his head to get on the mic and address the masses.
Lou, you should know, never drank a drop of booze. He never smoked cigarettes. He never swore. He never smoked pot. He never dropped acid or took any other kind of drug into his system. But, Lou - for being “straight-as-an-arrow” booze-wise n’ drug-wise - could actually keep up with the rest of us boozers n’ druggies just fine, thank you very much. He could get goofy with us, silly, whatever. And all on the natch. Amazing.
And, as I’ve stated already, he had a great gift of gab. Except this night. This li’l speech. This particular “gab.”
The short version is that Louie stepped right up. Boldly approached his vocal mic. And with no apparent thought of beginning slowly and letting it built up in momentum, - nope, not our Lou. He went right for the throat. And screamed over - what at the time was by far the largest and loudest PA system we had ever had the pleasure of using at any gig before this night’s festivities - the following words: (and I’m paraphrasing here)
“Hey man!….Heyyyyyyy, MAN!…..GIVE THE BEER TO THE PEOPLE!….
THAT’S RIGHT!….THAT’S RIGHT, MAN!…GIVE THE BEER TO THE PEOPLE!…. YEAH!….YEAH!....GIVE ‘EM THEIR BEER, MAN!….”
And it went on for a bit longer than that, k? Got the picture?
So much for calming shit down. Can’t remember much more that happened beyond Louie’s speech. But, I do know that just like at the aforementioned “St. Barney’s Massacre” this gig shut down right quick. We were done for the night. And like at “Barney’s”…Payment? Hah! Well, we did get paid some of what we had been promised. But, not all of it.
Mostly cuz ‘bout half-of-the-guys who were packin’ pieces confronted the main promoter dude - who had actually found enough balls to finally leave his sanctuary in the alleyway and return to the “venue." And these totally pissed-off-pistol-packin’-provocateurs had ol’ Junior stacked up right-tight against the halls’ wall. Makin’ him refund them their $2 door charge.
The good news, though, was that Paul came and recorded the gig for us. And, as such, he had and still has this particular “Louie the Lip” speech in its entirety on tape. Hallelujah!
And, so it was via Paul’s listening back to this particular night’s tape - as well as all of the other “live show” in-between-song banters of Lou’s that he’d recorded at other gigs - that inspired Paul to come up with the idea of christening Lou with the nickname:
“Louie the Lip.”… Ta Da!