I went to a huge Christmas party a couple of weeks ago at the University Heights home of Liz Abbott and Kent Johnson. They publish the San Diego Troubadour — a local paper that covers country, roots, jazz, and bluegrass music.
I was told that in previous years hundreds of people showed up and the party became costly. This year, they asked folks to bring a dish to share.
I invited my friend Bonnie, who I knew was friends with some of the folks who would be there. Because she had been a tad rude to me at the last few parties I had brought her to, I put her in charge of picking up a dish for us to bring. She came through with two great bottles of wine and a delicious mango dessert.
I saw longtime record-store owner and Troubadour columnist Lou Curtiss sitting near where we set down the dessert.
I looked around for local musician Sven-Erik Seaholm. I would’ve liked to talk music with him, although I got my fill with Bart Mendoza. He was in a section of the house that wasn’t connected to the rest. A few of the people were smoking pot (though Mendoza wasn’t), so I figured it was okay to whip out my cigar. My girlfriend and Bonnie said that Liz was upset about that, and they spent the next 15 minutes telling me how rude I was.
I had seen Mendoza’s band the Shambles play a few times with one of my favorite L.A. bands, the Negro Problem. I told him about their singer Stew saying hello when I went to see him in New York. Mendoza talked about the few times the band slept on his living room floor and how they would’ve been huge if it wasn’t for their name and businesses refusing to put posters of their shows in store windows. Mendoza told me Nation of Islam representatives showed up at one venue and caused a stink. When they saw a Mexican band on the bill, they thought they were the ones with the Negro Problem name. Stew, who is a huge African-American, walked in and said, “What’s the problem? I am the Negro Problem!”
Some of Mendoza’s best stories involved his time working for Capitol Records. They had a rule about not asking people for autographs, and he almost got fired for asking David Cassidy to sign something. He said, “That’s only because my dad was their driver for a brief time.”
Another time, Mendoza went somewhere with his boss, who told him, “When we stop at this guy’s house, don’t talk to him or even look him in the eye.” That guy was Bruce Springsteen, who invited him in, gave him a beer and cigarette, and initiated a great conversation. Mendoza said, “My boss wondered why I was smoking since I wasn’t a smoker. I said, ‘If Springsteen offers you a cigarette, you take it.’”
There was a guy next to me who told a great story about being a roadie for a few shows and meeting a young kid who wanted Brian May’s autograph. He hooked the kid up, even though security told him that was against the rules. May had a daughter who was this boy’s age and they met. The roadie guy ended up getting the boy’s mother’s phone number.
I grabbed some sparkling Italian wine and went to check out the desserts. I saw musician Gregory Page with a Ding Dong on a plate, eating it with a fork. I asked, “Who puts a Ding Dong on a plate?” He replied, “An angel, that’s who.”
I overheard Page telling Bonnie, “I ate five Ding Dongs. I love them. I took a sixth, even though I didn’t really want it. It was just the last one, and I didn’t want anyone else getting it. I put it in my back pocket and now it’s crushed.”
Another dessert disaster happened with the fudge. Someone had placed it under a lamp on the table and it had melted. That didn’t stop me from grabbing a piece and trying my best to suck it off my fingers.
When I arrived at the party, I had seen singers on the side of the house. In the backyard was a group that included instruments such as an accordion, lap steel guitar, and stand-up bass. I’ve never heard such cool versions of Christmas songs.
The small living room was packed with people and a band. As wacky columnist/musician Jose Sinatra was setting up, I heard a person in the crowd say, “There’s bad acid going around.” Another said, “Yeah. Stay away from the brown acid.”
Sinatra and I started talking, and at times, I felt as if I should be on speed or acid to keep up. He’s an encyclopedia of movie and music trivia, and he talks fast. He threw some Beatles trivia questions at me that were wrong in Trivial Pursuit. (I got the one right about them playing in Hamburg, Germany.)
Sinatra introduced me to the guy with the funky Salvador Dalí mustache. It was Skid Roper. I told him how much I enjoyed his songs as a teenager. He smiled and said, “Yeah, I used to be somebody.” When he was informed that I was writing about the party, I said, “It would be a thrill to quote you saying something.” He said, “I’m not quotable. And you can quote me on that.” Later, when he heard Bart and me talking about the band Sweet playing in town, and I got to the show and found out Sweet didn’t have most of their original members, Roper piped in with “So, what you really saw was ‘semi-sweet.’”
I noticed a lot of people dressed up in interesting ways: lots of scarves and sport coats, a few tweed blazers, and a variety of hats. It was like characters at a Dickens Christmas party.
One of these guys looked like Ray Davies (of the Kinks) and was even talking about Davies at one point. I stopped listening when he said, “There’s never been a better pop song than ‘Moon River.’”