Frank Zappa almost turned theoretical nuclear physicist Tim Dawe into a rock star
  • Frank Zappa almost turned theoretical nuclear physicist Tim Dawe into a rock star
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Timothy Thorne Dawe was a theoretical nuclear physicist who in his youth dabbled in experimental rock music. His 1969 album Penrod featured a psychedelic-inclined, jazz-steeped, semi-orchestral freak folk band, also named Penrod, that included Arnie Goodman (brother of Mahavishnu Orchestra's Jerry Goodman), Chris Kebeck, Don Parrish, and Claude Mathis. Dawe at the time was mainly playing solo folk clubs around LA and northern San Diego circa 1968-1969, but the full Penrod band appears to mainly be a studio creation, although they did play live at least occasionally with local bands like Framework.

Named after a 1914 book by Booth Tarkington (with cover artwork from that book by Gordon Grant), the Penrod album was released by the Straight label, run (along with Bizarre Records) by one-time San Diegan Frank Zappa and Zappa's then-manager Herb Cohen, who added Penrod to his client list. The harpsichord-heavy LP was produced by former Lovin' Spoonful guitarist Jerry Yester, who'd produced Cohen's client Tim Buckley for the label and would also produce the first album by former San Diegan Tom Waits (Yester's own album on Straight, Farewell Aldebaran, paired him with Judy Henske, another Cohen client). Zappa executive-produced the album. The band was signed under the name Penrod to Herb Cohen's management company, and they were among the first bands signed to Straight/Bizarre, apparently preceded only by Wild Man Fischer (another occasional San Diegan) and Buckley.

Video:

Time Dawe & Penrod "Junkie John"

Original version of "Junkie John" from the <em>Penrod</em> album

Original version of "Junkie John" from the Penrod album

One track from the Penrod album, the seven-plus minute "Junkie John," received occasional underground radio play and was notable for incorporating early synth electronics, but its length and subject matter kept it from widespread exposure, especially after the FCC essentially banned radio stations from playing music that overtly referenced illegal drugs. Though eventually a rare and coveted cult item, the album's initial release was mostly lost amidst the label's more prominent releases from Captain Beefheart, Tim Buckley, etc. The Penrod band never released another album.

"We could have gone farther, had it not been for the 'business' aspect of the industry," says drummer Claude Mathis, who was later one of the operators at Earth in Pacific Beach. The album was pressed twice by Straight, in 1969 (Straight STS-1058) and 1970 (Straight/W.B. WS 1841), plus an 8-track version reportedly exists. It was later re-released in the UK by Radioactive Records.

Dawe also wrote songs for Rod Taylor and It's A Beautiful Day. The latter band's former bassist, Mitchell Holman, produced a second Dawe album in 1976, Timothy and Ms. Pickens with Natural Act (Half Moon Bay Records HMB 01), as well as playing bass on it alongside former It's A Beautiful Day guitarist Hal Wagenet. Recorded at Tioga Studios in Coos Bay, Oregon, the album also featured the titular singer Ms. Patricia Pickens (Dawe's girlfriend) and percussionist Ralph Benkus (also an occasional member of It's a Beautiful Day), while keyboardist Arnie Goodman from Penrod returned to play piano and engineer.

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Timothy And Ms.Pickens With Natural Act, "Hotel Nerdowell"

1976 renamed remake of "Junkie John"

1976 renamed remake of "Junkie John"

Timothy and Ms. Pickens with Natural Act included a remake of Penrod's "Bitter Wine," and a new version of "Junkie John," renamed "Hotel Nerdowell" and featuring a stripped down acoustic blues arrangement that retained Dawe's spoken word passages, with new vocals courtesy of the soulful Ms. Pickens.

The Natural Act band that sometimes performed live included Tim Dawe (guitar, vocals), Hal Wagenet (lead guitar), Mitchell Holman (bass), and Ralph Benkus (drums), essentially a near-complete It's a Beautiful Day lineup with Dawe at the helm.

In the late 70s/early 80s, Dawe was hosting a weekly open mic event at the Ghirardelli Wine Cellar, where he produced the 1978 live album, A Night at the Wine Cellar (Cabernet GWC 101), featuring three new Dawe songs performed with Billy Roberts (who wrote "Hey Joe") and others, including singer Patricia Pickens again (from Timothy and Ms. Pickens with Natural Act). The new songs included "No More Honey," "Sad Angels," and "144 Boogies," and the album featured several other northern CA acts as well. Radioactive re-released A Night at the Wine Cellar in 2006.

A Night at the Wine Cellar

"I've written about 250 songs and I've had 23 songs recorded on various albums, but I've never had a hit," said Dawe in 1978 when he performed solo on a local San Francisco TV show called GirlGEO. "I'm sending off songs to publishers, that's what I do these days. I sit in my basement and make tapes, and send songs to publishers, hoping that someone will recognize a hit."

Convinced that prominently featuring the word "boogie" in a tune was the secret to having a hit song, and then discovering he was wrong (at least according to the lyrics of one of his latterday tunes), Dawe eventually gave up his quest for the top of the charts to instead become a physics professor at San Francisco State University.

As of 2010, he was teaching physics at City College of San Francisco. "He's an old hippie and will play guitar if you ask," wrote one of his CCSF students on the RateMyProfessor.com website, "and he has found that each planet lies along the same intervals as nodes on a guitar soundwave."

Video:

Natural Act live in San Francisco

Occasional members of It's a Beautiful Day backing former Penrod frontman Tim Dawe

Occasional members of It's a Beautiful Day backing former Penrod frontman Tim Dawe

Dawe still occasionally performed with Natural Act well into the 21st century (footage from a 2010 Halloween performance can be found online). He was reportedly working on an book called An Unauthorized Autobiography of an Unknown Superstar when he passed away November 13, 2016.

Fleetwood Mac at USD Gym on New Year's Eve 1968-1969, with Penrod opening

(Thanks to Action Andy Rasmussen for confirming that the Penrod band did indeed perform live at least once under that name, as immortalized on a flyer for Fleetwood Mac at USD Gym on New Year's Eve 1968-1969, with opening bands like San Francisco's Anthrax and locals Framework -- note that Framework featured onetime Orfuns guitarist Jerry McCann, who would join Anthrax three years later when he moved to SF in 1971 and the band changed its name to Show of Hands to record an album for Elektra)

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