Before the beginning
I was nearing my mid 30’s when the do-it-yourself revolution occurred. I was married with 3 children and working in the produce department of a grocery store. I had been playing and recording my own music for about 15 years . My friends and I had a group, The Roots Of Madness, which produced an LP in 1971. I also had my own radio show since 1971 at KTAO, a station in Los Gatos California owned and run by Lorenzo W. Milam, one of the founding fathers of community radio in the USA. The Roots disbanded in 1976 and KTAO folded up in 1974.
In 1974, Geoff Alexander and myself started a record store in Los Gatos called Dogmouth Records. We sold a variety of obscure and marvelous music in addition to the hits. Among our notable clientele were the composer Lou Harrison, musicologist Chris Strachwitz, and Tiran Porter, bass player for The Doobie Bros.
The Roots Of Madness, “The Girl In The Chair” LP from 1971. Geoff Alexander, Joe Morrow, Dave Leskovsky, Jim Kulczynski, Don, Chris and Gary Campau. Reissued in 2005 by DeStijl label.
The store only lasted for a little less than 3 years but it was fun and we got great record collections because of it.
In 1976 my friend, Greg Gray bought a 4 track reel to reel recorder, a Dokorder. Greg , myself and Joe Menichetti recorded songs as a punk rock trio, The Desmonds. We never played live although we came close once when we auditioned for a spot at Mabuhay Gardens, the legendary club run by Dirk Dirksen in San Francisco. We missed the audition when I was on vacation from my job with my family. Dirk, by the way, told me I should shave the moustache I had at the time because it wasn’t cool anymore, not punk enough. Greg also let me borrow the Dokorder to record some early solo material in 1976.
In the late 1980s I visited Dino DiMuro’s parents house for the only time. We sat in his room on Gower St. in Los Angeles and talked, laughed and played some music. You can see Dino’s workhorse TEAC tape deck that he used for all his early tapes.
In 1981, I bought my own 4 track open reel machine, a beautiful TEAC A3440. It became my workhorse for almost 20 years. It still works beautifully today although the heads had to be replaced in 1987 after I did a experimental tape loop piece called , “Meteors And Pickles”.
My radio exploits had continued when KTAO had gone off the air in 1974 at a Santa Cruz station, KUSP, another non commercial station started by proteges of Lorenzo. I only had my program for a short while however and was fired for being too esoteric. They let me go after I had done a full show of flamenco music. Evidently, they wanted a more “palatable” program or more soft rock or something. It was unclear but I was let go unceremoniously.
Then, in 1978, someone told me about a small station called KKUP in Cupertino, not far from San Jose where I lived. I had heard that it was basically a “folk” music station and I had little interest in that but I checked it out anyway. At the time, the program director, Lloyd Ewing was open to my ideas about a different kind of format, a freeform avant garde mix. He immediately gave me a show. A couple of years later Lloyd wanted a break from the PD duties so he asked me to fill in for awhile. I did but being used to the way things were run at KTAO under Lorenzo had spoiled me for getting things done efficiently and quickly.
Out in 1985 this was my second trade tape and featured more instrumental pieces and less songs. Designed by Doug Cruickshank who I had known for years from back in the KTAO days.
I had made a decision to cut a programmer who was playing very lame religious soft gospel back to 2 hours from 4. I was going to put a two hour jazz program ( featuring my pal Greg Gray) on in place of two of his hours. Well, the guy I wanted to curtail happened to be African American and claimed I was pulling rascist moves and we almost got into fisticuffs over it. In the end, he left the station but I also had to dismiss myself for a while to cool out. This was about 1981 or 1982. I was bummed but couldn’t deal with the thankless crap that went along with involvement with station hierarchy.
In 1984, my good friend and mentor, John Hayden, graciously offered to give up two of his Sunday afternoon shows so I could go back on. John was also the guy who introduced me (and Geoff Alexander, and my friend Joe Morrow) to “free jazz” blowouts at his house earlier in 1969 or so. John’s open mind nature, his good humor, creativity and his honesty have been central roles in my own life and I will always be thankful to him for many things. So, I grabbed the two Sunday shows and kicked my radio career back into action in 1984.
Inner cover for tape one of Pinata Party. Art work by the late, great Peter Blind and graphics by Doug Cruickshank. This tape came in a plastic strawberry container with stickers, candy, confetti and whatever else I had laying around. It was sent in the mail in a lunch bag.
Sometime in 1984 or possibly early 1985 I was on vacation in Seattle and picked up a copy of OP magazine, a journal of independent and underground music. This magazine intrigued me with its reviews of unknown artists and experimental music. Then, sometime later I also found the newly published Option Magazine out of Los Angeles which picked up where OP had left off. Option had reviews of strange music including music on cassettes by home recording artists. In addition, they gave the addresses for direct contact at the end of the reviews offering to trade tapes.
I had plenty of tapes to trade but they were not well organized with proper covers. So, I put together a best-of collection and threw in a few newer songs to complete the tape. I wanted to showcase the two sides of what I did: rock/pop songs and experimental music. I made a gigantic C90 with side one being the rock side and side two being experimental. I called it “New Monterey Road Sounds” because at the time I lived near this old road in San Jose where the train ran parallel. The train sounded a lot like the autochord sound on Greg’s Yamaha keyboard. There was magic in this simplicity and the fact that anything seemed possible.
So, I traded this C90 with Tom Furgas (of Ohio) and received his tape, “The Mayor Of Rain” in return. The feeling was very special like I had tapped into a precious vein and secret community. Tom’s comments were enlightening. He said my tape was too long at 90 minutes. That was a comment I took to heart and I then started to cut most of my releases to no more than 60 minutes. Immediately I rummaged through Option for more trade possibilities. Then I also heard about Sound Choice ( and later Factsheet 5) which also had similar reviews and contact info. The ball really got rolling and my excitement was palpable. Furiously I wrote dozens of letters with requests for trades. I even started submitting my own tapes for review. Occasionally, I would get a review in one of the mags and that felt good.
Then it hit me. I already had a radio show: why not play these things on the show and make that my format? At first I didn’t have quite enough material to make a continuing series of shows but later in 1985, I finally had a constant flow of new tapes and the “No Pigeonholes” program was born. The name of the show was actually stolen from one of my own tapes from some years earlier. Once people found out about the program it was even easier to get tapes, sometimes without even wanting a trade in return. However, I almost always sent people my latest tape and we would comment to each other about our latest work.
The reviews and feature articles kept coming in this way for some years and the radio show really took off. I never played the same song twice and I always had a fresh set of new artists to feature.
Little did I know how this set of circumstances would affect my life and future for many years to come.