- Tommy Thompson
7th Interlude: "Tommy Meets Paul"
Updated: Feb 27
"Pretty young man. You's so pretty, ya gots to jump back n' kiss yo'self."
-- Paul Hahn
Paul Hahn was one year ahead of me at Alameda High. He graduated in ’68. Me in ’69. And although I didn’t know him personally until his senior year, I couldn’t help but notice him around the school campus. Paul was simply a multi-talented dude. He played football on the AHS varsity team (yep, that same one that won the Northern California State Championship during his senior year in ’68).
He was known to be a very good student. He played the sax in the school band. He he had cute chick girlfriends, a ton of guy buddies. And he was already a hugely buffed man-boy at 18 years old. He was the quintessential “BMOC” (Big Man On Campus”).
So…Football: Some of the other high school football teams in the SF East Bay Area came onto the field all “rah-rah.” With the band playing. And the fans applauding. And with some of the players heading onto the field with their helmets off so that they could wink at the cheerleaders, etc. Alameda High had a slightly different approach to their entrance onto the field of battle. And they got it from their head coach: Forrest Klein.
Just like the ancient legions of Rome, AHS came slowly and deliberately marching out in a square phalanx of bodies all packed in tight. Every helmet already in place on every players head. And pert near helmet-to-helmet n’ shoulder-to-shoulder. Plus, they just sorta all looked down at the ground, gruntin’ and growlin’ n’ just a’huffin’ n’ a’puffin’.
They didn’t look at any of the players on the other sideline, nor anyone in the stands. None of the players ever even looked over at AHS cheerleaders. Who, by the way, were a particularly gorgeous gaggle o’ gals at the time. This type of planned "Phalanx of Fear" entrance already had the other team startin’ to re-think their choice of high school sports.
Cuz as Paul once told me, the other teams’ coaches were known to tell their players while AHS was comin’ out of the tunnel: “Don’t look at them….don’t look at them.”
Yeahhhh, that kinda thing.
Paul was one of the two Co-Captains on the team and, as such, it was his job to go out to the middle of the field just before kickoff to meet the opposing teams’ captains, do the coin toss, and then shake hands. Klein had instructed his team captains to show nothing at all resembling a smile at any time during the first part of this li’l pre-game ritual.
But, Klein’s main directive was that when it came time to shake hands? You grabbed the opposing player’s hand and squeezed it as hard as you could. And that’s when you looked up and lasered right into the other guys’ eyes with that ol’ jail yard stare, which all but said: “You are in for one long stinkin' nightmare game, pal.” Klein wanted the other team’s cap’ns to go back to their sideline already crappin’ their pants, even before the opening kickoff.
Paul, at the time, was near ‘bout 6’–2”, 190 lbs., and muscled-up. And he, like most of the other great players on our school’s football team, played both sides of the line. Meaning that he played on both offense and on defense. No breaks. His position was offensive tackle and defensive end, right in the middle of and all around the fray.
Where most games are either won or lost.
And, along with his runnin’ buddy Leonard Lindsay, these two cats just dominated opposing players on any play “right up the gut,” as they say in football-speak. Not to mention being beasts on the pass rush. As well as smashing gaping holes thru the opposing team's defensive linemen so that our star running back, Eric Cross, could go wild. Ditto that on pass protection for our quarterback, Paul McBride.
I went to the games cuz…well, I had played in the Alameda park league’s versions of tag or flag football. Also referred to as “sissy ball.” But I never played in organized leagues for kids where it was full-on tackle football. Nope. Not me. Not this kid. I, dear reader, chose to stay on the swim team, floating’ along in a pool of nice n’ soft relaxin’ water. Where nobody got smacked around.
Even so, I still enjoyed watching other guys smack each other around. Heck, who doesn’t want to see their school’s team kick the livin’ daylights out of every other opposing school’s teams on a 100%, all-the-time, guaranteed basis…hmm? In any case, the games were a hoot to watch. But, ya gotta remember, I still hadn’t officially met Paul yet, k? So, how’d that first meeting with Paul go, Twick?
Patience….Patience….The plot thickens.
As I mentioned, Paul also played the saxophone in the school band. He loved R&B and Soul music. And he used to take a few of the braver white kids over to the old Oakland Auditorium (now the Henry J. Kaiser Center) to see the “Godfather of Soul,” himself: James Brown. So, at one point he got a hankerin’ for puttin’ together his own Soul n’ R&B Revue.
He christened his creation: “Soul, Inc.”
Paul put together the entire band. Every instrument. Wrote all the horn section parts and arrangements. Figured out the song set lists, as well. Found 2 of the hottest chicks at AHS to be his "Go-Go" Dancers...and worked with them on their choreography moves. And, believe you me, he had these 2 li'l foxes shakin' their tail feathers, don'tcha know. As well as the timing in the show as to when and how they would make their entrance on to the stage.
He booked the gigs and took care of paying all the players in the band. Found and then provided the PA systems required for such a large group of musicians. And anything and everything else that might need to be done to make his band's shows come off "live' in the exact way he'd always pictured it in his mind.
The band itself simply smoked. He had the island’s best-known bass player, Forrest Bell, along with one of the best local drummers, Jack Walker, in the rhythm section. Solid, these cats were, lemme jus’ tell ya. Mike Hubbard was on rhythm guitar and Jim Hart on keyboards. And then, the “Horn Section From Hell Itself”: Paul n’ Steve Strick on tenors, Jack Olson on baritone sax, Bob Inouye on trumpet and, perhaps maybe even a ‘bone player.
Big Freakin’ Horn Sound, indeed.
But, of course, he still needed someone to be James Brown. Yeah, like that’s an easy role to fill, particularly in a mostly all-Caucasian high school, on a mostly all-Caucasian island. Let me put it to y’all this way: Alameda used to be known by folks who lived off the island as “The Isle of White.” Nope. Not like that limey hunk o’ rock off the coast of West England where they used to throw the once-a-year rock concerts in the ‘70’s n’ ‘80’s: “The Isle of Whyte.” No sirree. We’re talkin’ Alameda in the late-‘60’s here, folks.
Pure 100% white milquetoast “Wonder Bread.” Got it?
So, what’s a white band leader s’posed to do given these local parameters? Give up?
Quit? Join the glee club? Not Paul’s style. So, he convinced his buddy and fellow football player, Frank George, to try-out for the band, and try his hand at taking on the role of “JB.” And he told Frank that he'd help coach him on all the lead vocal stuff.
Might sound corny, and you’re probably figurin’ ‘bout now that I’m just bein’ nice here cuz Paul’s been my buddy for all these years n’ all that stuff, but I’ll be damned if Frank didn’t do one hell of a good job doin’ James. Well, for a white boy. No kiddin.’ Frank: 6’ tall, all muscled up like Paul, etc, fit the role just fine, considering the circumstances.
In my mind’s eye - right this very minute - I can still picture big ol’ Frank the first time he made his entrance onto the AHS stage. This was for the band’s virgin performance, at yet another of this tales’ many memorable weekly student body meetings in the “Big” auditorium.
The boys in de band had just done a cool-groove n’ funky instrumental intro segment, and then Claude Durham came out onto the stage. Claude was the one black kid in the entire school (brilliant call on Paul’s part, by the way).
So Claude came out as the MC, got the crowd warmed up with some kind o’ combo plate jump-jive rap (mostly stolen by Paul from "Wolfman Jack"), and then he introduced Frank. I had never heard Frank sing. Hmm. So just before Frank actually came onstage, I honestly thought to myself that he would more than likely be greeted with a rather - how can I be kind here - “mixed” response, if you’re feelin’ me proper n’ all that.
I mean, come on now: white-boy-does-James? Really?
But….Frank, and I ain’t kiddin’ ya on this one, was such a damn good natural athlete that he actaully sideways-dance-skated “a la JB” all the way from the offstage side wings right smack dab into the center stage spotlight, grabbed the mic, and started singing. BOOM! Total bedlam. Whole place e-freakin’-rupted. And so now, from out of the gate the entire crowd was already eatin’ right out of Frank’s hand. My, oh my.
Big Frank also did a decent job with the lyrics, melodies and, believe it or don’t, those patented JB screams. You know what I’m talkin’ about. The ones that ya hear on pert near every song that the Godfather of Soul ever….well, “fathered,” I guess you outta call it.
OK, you say. Nice li’l interlude section there, Twick. But, so when and how did you finally meet the aforementioned Mr. Hahn?
Fasten your seat belts.
I’ll try to get this done quickly. Here are the simple facts of the matter. It was 1968 - late in the school year. There was an upcoming AHS school dance. A “Prom.” A “Senior All-Night” party. A “Sock Hop.” Or some such other desirable type of rather high-paying gig.
I can’t really recall the specifics. But, it was a Big One.
Also, don’t rightly remember exactly how many bands were in the runnin’ for it at the start of the whole selection process. All I do know is that in the end it got down to just two bands: Paul’s “Soul, Inc.” and, yep….you got it. By some miracle from heaven. Me n’ my boyz in “Cookin’ Mama.”
Now I’m a’gonna give y’all a quick li’l word to the wise going forward in this story. “Dance” is the operative word here, k? Not “Concert.” Not “Alameda-tries-to-do-Winterland.” Nor any other kind of the drug-overdose-induced-twitch-dancing done by some young purveyors of smoothly-smoke-able-herbs and/or other pseudo-psychedelic-potions taken orally, intravenously or otherwise. Nope.
The target audience for this gig, was the “Dick Clark Show”-meets-“Where the Action Is” bunch. And, as such, not exactly Cookin’ Mama’s strongest musical suit. Ya followin’ me, here?
The Finals were held in what was known as the school’s Little Theater. Which for you morons out there - as the name implies - was smaller and thus “littler” than the Big Auditorium of previous mention in this tale. Paul’s band, “Soul, Inc.,” was up first. And, albeit with him having to squeeze so many band members all crammed-in rather tightly together on such a small stage...they absolutely killed it. Yeah.
At this point, I already knew who was going to win the prize on this li’l competition. But, we had our gear there, and we had played around town longer than Paul’s band. So I kinda figured what the hell? Let’s do it n’ see what happens. Well, what happened was that the committee decided on “Soul, Inc.” No big surprise there for me.
However, as I mentioned a bit earlier in this tale, I had a temper back then. Hence, I was prone to rather ill-timed, to say the least, verbal outbursts at people. And I mean, at the drop of a hat.
This is all I remember. Like I said, the decision had already been made at this point. The audition was over and Paul’s band had won. The “Soul, Inc.” boys had already packed up most of their big gear before we even took the stage. We were just ending the process of packing up our own gear. I was muttering around onstage, slamming equipment back into cases and such. Cursing all non-hippie types under my breath and all that kinda snarky BS….when it happened. Paul came onstage to retrieve his sax. Can’t remember how it got started, maybe he was just there to sort of offer his condolences to me. I don’t know.
What I do know is this.
At some point early on before too many verbal exchanges had occurred, I reared back and lashed out with some verbal racist comment about Jews. Why? Paul Hahn. Hahn, I thought at the time, was a Jewish surname. I was mistaken. It is not. It’s German. So, no real problem here, right?
Wrong. Cuz as it turned out, Paul’s grandmother was Jewish: she was a Russian Jew. And since she was married to a German, she had been sent to one of the concentrarion camps during WWII. Uh-Oh. I didn’t know this.
And even though what I said was all a bunch of BS anyway - I have never hated Jews or Germans - what the real deal was is that I was really disappointed that we didn't get the gig. Even so, I had also not known in any way, shape or form what could be likely to follow upon the heels of such a hateful comment.
Man, oh man. It was like I had opened up the dormant volcano on ol’ Mt. Vesuvius.
Paul was right square-up in my grill in damn near under a nano-second. And man he looked ‘bout 10-foot tall of pure pissed-off, lemme just tell ya. I’m damn lucky he didn’t hit me that day. Though, at the time, I was ready for it.
And hell, come on now, man. I deserved to be righteously smacked, bitch-slapped, knuckled-up, whatever you wanna call it. Sheesh, Twick! How could you say that kinda hateful crap to him? Get a grip, Mr. Sour Grapes.
Fortunately for me, Paul wasn't the type to punch-out guys smaller than himself (well, maybe on the football field, but this wasn't football - it was music). In any case, needless to say, during and after his verbal rebuff of me I was shakin’ like a leaf. I just stood there lookin’ down at the stage and took every word he said to me in complete n’ complacent utter silence. Don’t even remember how he finished off. All I know is that somehow I was still in one piece, and feelin’ ‘bout as small as I ever had in my whole lousy young life.
That’s it. That’s all I remember.
Except that at some point after that, maybe a few days, a week, a month or something like that, Paul must’ve allowed me to make up and apologize to him. Cuz after that I’ll be damned if we didn’t actually become friends. And eventually best friends for life. Even to this day. Go figure. Hmm?
I mean, dear reader, the Lord sure do know how to work in mysterious ways, don’t He now? Even for young fools like me.
So that, boys n' girls, is how I first met Paul Hahn.