It’s a Long, Long Road, Son

Remembering Damdave Gillett

By Julie Horner with Tiffany Gillett, Jessica Gullo, Jennifer Thompson, Elicia Burton, and Eric Burman

The phone rang the morning of November 27, the day before Thanksgiving. The voice on the other end of the line was gravelly, fondly familiar, but the words were uncharacteristically hesitant and choked with emotion. It was Damdave. Children’s laughter could be heard in the background; family and friends from near and far were gathering in Hilo for the holiday. In a watery voice, Damdave said that he wasn’t going to make it. They couldn’t kill the tumor on his lung after all. Months of treatment and pain, hope, humor, and boundless heart, but nothing more could be done. He said, “They say it could be a day, or it could be a year.” His voice trailed off. The musical timbre of grandkids running amok filled the silence. I told him, “I love you so much.”

There had been quite a bit of optimism in August. Dave had been living in Hilo, Hawaii with his daughter Tiphany while undergoing treatment. Dave worked diligently over the summer to regain his health, enough so that doctors would allow him to fly home to Boulder Creek to visit his friends and to attend the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival, of which he had been a part for many years. It was a rich time spent playing music and sharing memories and laughter. The memories linger still, warm and sweet like the summer sun.

David Gillett, Boulder Creek singer-songwriter, local legend, dad, grandpa, and dearest friend, passed away surrounded by his loved ones on Wednesday, December 4th, 2019.

Daughters Tiphany Gillett, Jessica Gullo, and Jennifer Thompson and their families were by his side to read aloud well wishes sent from beloved friends. Bandmate “Mando” Mike Reynolds joined the family to bid his compadre farewell.

 

Just a couple of years ago, heads close together in comfortable familiarity in the late afternoon light, Dave Gillett and I sipped our “usual” and went to town reminiscing about spirited times in old haunts around the San Lorenzo Valley. Known affectionately as “Damdave,” he was the front-man singer-songwriter and guitar player for the Boulder Creek-based Americana group, Damdave and the Left-Hand Band.

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I asked how he got the name “Damdave.” He explained how he had moved to Brookdale and started a folk jam at the Brookdale Lodge. “I didn’t drink at the time,” he said, but he wound up “earning his PhD” hanging out in the bar. At one point someone asked his name. When he said, “David,” someone at the far end of the bar shouted, “Not another damn Dave!”

Tuesday nights at the Brookdale Lodge were the slowest. “You had a couple of guys from the bar and we formed Damdave’s Odd-Ass Instrument Jam on Tuesday nights from ‘98-ish to 2008 or so,” Dave said. The popular Tuesday night jam became the forerunner of the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival. Eric Burman remembers coming to Dave’s jams and they decided after a time, “’Hey this would be a great place for a festival’…and it took off.” Burman recalled, “We’d all get together and come up with crazy things…like the underwater banjo contest. One of the girls asked if it was important to have a costume…when we said no, she jumped in the pool, and the only thing she had on was a tattoo. People forgot that she actually had a banjo. Damdave was definitely one of the judges that day.”

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Burman also remembers one of the most fun things that the two of them would do together was take common songs and rewrite all of the words. “They were all awful,” he joked. He notes that “the biggest thing that Dave did was have that jam at the Brookdale Lodge on Tuesday nights. That’s where we formed our bands, that’s where we wrote our songs, that’s where we jammed with all the musicians from all over. Because we were working so closely with the Brookdale, that was because of Dave. He was instrumental in forming the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival and ran the ‘tweener stage at the Good Old Fashioned.”

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Dave later became a Boulder Creek townie. “It’s a nice little town. I’ve written five songs about this town, I Love These Mountains, Bear Creek Road…there are more.” He’s also written three Brookdale songs, among them, Brookdale’s Burning and Highway 9, a takeoff on the old song Highway 55 co-written with Eric Burman. “She always walks alone, neither flesh and neither bone, ooooo!! There’s some really good lyrics. Eric always made it a 20-minute long instrumental thing with audience participation.”

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For a while he was Damdave and the Hot Damn Band. The name change reflects the distinction that Dave plays left-handed. Along with Graham MacFarlane (standup bass), “Mando” Mike Reynolds (vocals, mandolin), and occasionally “Joebro” Adams (any of whom may or may not also play left-handed), the guys could entertain you with “a mix of dysfunctional bluegrass, country, blues, soul, and a healthy dose of Damdave originals.”

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He’d said at the time, “I’m not bluegrass, I don’t want a bluegrass band.” His sound was Americana tending toward the bluesy. “I’ve always been a blues kind of guy.” He was raised in Ann Arbor, between Detroit and Chicago. “My voice is kind of gravelly, I grew up with Bob Seger. I like Gregg Allman…I like all kinds of music. I was thinking about this not too long ago. When I listen to people singing, when I listen to blues or Motown, the way they sing a song, the emphasis is on the words and music together. I want to develop my voice and my songs to be able to express the parts of the music I want to express…with an honesty in my voice.”

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“Dave was the kind of guy who could ramble, talk, talk talk, and talk, without any particular point or reason, no punchlines, just thinking out loud,” said fellow musician, Elicia Burton. “I remember playing with Damdave at Don Quixote’s where we featured him and his music. I loved playing the tune Tennessee Whiskey on my fiddle, backing him up. He was always a standard and was great help at the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival signing folks up for the ‘tweener stage. I also loved his song “Blue Day,” his gruff vocals on that, his backward guitar playing – as you know he was a lefty. And the song about growing up in Kalamazoo was a really great, real American song. I am missing him now.”

“He had a huge sweet side to him, he totally loved his family, his girls were always the apple of his eye.” – Elicia Burton

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“Daddy, Dampa, DamDave. The community lost a one-of-a-kind man. Your silly light-hearted disposition will be missed. I thank you for your artistic, musical nature that you shared with your children, grandchildren, and friends. While I myself have no musical talent inherited, I will forever sing your original song you wrote about our special town, “I Love These Mountains. Jam on Dam dad” – Jenny

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“Dear Naddy (Daddy). I’m so relieved you are no longer in pain and are free to jam, jam, jam until the end of time. You fought hard, stayed positive, continued to play music, and kept a sense of humor to the very end, even when you were in unimaginable pain – qualities that will never fail to amaze me. I am honored to have gone through this journey with you and grateful we were all together during your final days. I envision you surrounded by love, light, music, and hopefully the finest of tequilas! Somehow, It feels appropriate to complete the circle and send you off onto your new journey with the words you wrote on my birth announcement, ‘peaceloveandkeeponkeepin’free.’ I love you forever.” – Ninny (Tiphany)

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“Rest in peace damn dad. I know you’re up there jamming, free of pain. You are loved and  missed more than I have words for. I am so grateful you were surrounded by family and your BFF. I am so grateful for our time together. I’m so grateful I was able to fly out to spend these last few days with you. I will cherish the memories. Thank you for teaching me to not take life so seriously. Your humor through your suffering was admirable. Aloha, Daddy” – Jessica Gullo

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“Love and hugs to our man, Damdave, The Tom Waits of Boulder Creek Bluegrass. Your wonderful family and great songs will carry your name into the future…I’m teaching them to everybody. Enjoy the ride Brother, wink and smile with that twinkle in your eyes as you make that left hand turn.”
– Joe Adams

A memorial for island locals was held on Sunday, November 8 at his favorite spot, the Makuu Cliffs. A memorial for mainlanders will be held after the holidays. With the help of Barry Tanner and Bruce Bellochio, a commemorative collection of Damdave’s music will be made available soon. For more information, send email to Barry: bcmusicworks@gmail.com

Online: www.facebook.com/damdave.gillett

(c) December 2019 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post.

Visit Santa Cruz Mountains Local: https://santacruzmountainslocal.com/2017/02/02/tending-toward-the-bluesy-damdave-and-the-left-hand-band/

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The Brookdale Lodge Gets its Dean

Iconic James Dean mural at the Brookdale Lodge nears completion this Valentine’s Day, 2018. San Lorenzo Valley eagerly anticipates the art installation and the imminent reopening of the historic Brookdale Lodge.
By Mari A. Porter
WOW! The new mural is in progress! According to Monterey County based artist, John Cerney, the 20-foot tall, hand painted James Dean mural cut-out will be completed in a couple of days!
John emailed to say that the final panel for James Dean is nearly finished! I can’t wait to see it all together on the wall! How exciting for those who live in the SLV area – not to mention the rest of the Lodge fans!
Lodge owner, Pravin Patel, had a very daunting task finding the right artist to create the new James Dean for the Brookdale Lodge. I mean honestly, we had many interested and very, very talented artists apply to take on this large task, which would evoke much scrutiny if not done well or if it was lacking in any way.
When I inquired how he was chosen John said, “I was right here all along! Pravin found me by driving by a couple of James Dean murals I had done on Highway 46, at Blackwell’s Corner…the last place Dean stopped before the car crash that killed him.”
John Cerney’s giant cut-out mural installations can be seen alongside the highways of California and the Midwest. John’s work has also been featured in numerous magazines, books, and newspapers over the years, including National Geographic, Sunset Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and the New York Times.
And what’s great about this cut-out is no worries about it being painted over because it is an attachment to the building as opposed to literally being painted on the building. He really put a lot of thought and care into this. We are all so thrilled!
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John Cerney’s James Dean by Maryanne Porter Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters / Haunted Tours

The Brookdale Lodge is slated to re-open in 2018, maybe as early as this spring – they’re definitely hustling to get it done.
Thank you, Mr. Patel for being so diligent in your choice of artist. What a beautiful rendition of James Dean soon to be added to the wall of the Brookdale Lodge – a start of a new history for all to enjoy for generations to come!
See John Cerney’s murals: http://www.johncerneymurals.com/
Maryanne Porter curates Brookdale Lodge Mysteries Explored and owns Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters/Haunted Tours:
www.facebook.com/groups/14003595335…
Photos by Maryanne Porter Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters / Haunted Tours
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John Cerney’s James Dean by Maryanne Porter Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters / Haunted Tours

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John Cerney’s James Dean by Maryanne Porter Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters / Haunted Tours

Copyright 2018 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

See also:

The Brookdale Inn on the Road to Resurrection

The Brookdale Inn on the Road to Resurrection

The storied landmark is poised for history in the remaking

By Julie Horner

Peering through a jagged window, the bare bulbs of workmen’s shop lights illuminate what seem like bones and sinew – open studs and joists – which frame little now but bareness and dust. The fireplace where the lounge used to be stands alone without walls. While stairs and banisters remain as anchors, the remainder is mere hull with views into the next room or up to the rafters. Fresh lumber is stacked next to salvaged architectural elements. Outside, gable decorations sport gaps like broken teeth. Bottle shards, antique tools, and rusted children’s toys, once clever décor along the building’s foundation, are tortured remnants in crumbling concrete collage. The eye is drawn to a missing panel of stained glass; it was never replaced after the night one of the more colorful patrons started a fight over not having mustard for the bar pretzels. She was summarily escorted out but delivered a parting blow by throwing a rock through the fine old window.

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The ghosts of those who have breathed life into this place have fled to the Brook Room where filtered light still flirts among the faded underpinnings. The Brookdale remains breathtakingly beautiful behind her dirt-streaked glass and cobwebs. Like a dark bride in ripped lace she bides, her house empty, awaiting new love and purpose.

New owner, Pravin Patel, says, “It had been declining for a long time. There is about 60 years of deferred maintenance.” And everything is taking longer than anticipated. “Please don’t lose your patience. It’s not as easy as it seems.” The permitting and county processes, deciding what can be salvaged and what must be replaced. And everything must be rebuilt for safety. “We’ll get it open,” Patel promises.

He can hardly wait to open the first phase, which will include the renovated 46-room hotel separate from the Lodge, a full service local market “where families can come and do shopping,” and a coffee shop to rival the old Pancake House and Grill. “Pablo was leasing it years ago until it was shut down. The community tells me Pablo had the best pancakes.” Fresh paint and new windows are finishing touches and the building could be open as soon as the end of this summer.

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Next on the list is the hotel lobby and a new sports bar. After that, the Brook Room and Fireside Lounge. “Things are coming along…the good days outweigh the bad days.”

Also on the list, the return of the cherished mural. “The original James Dean was up there for years and years, but one of the messes Sanjiv Kakkar, the former owner, made was painting over James Dean…out of his wild imagination. It was low quality, a joke. The community was in an uproar over it.” Patel made it clear in a town hall meeting: “We are going to replace the mural in high quality.”

The canvas has been prepared. Patel joined forces with Maryanne Porter of Brookdale Lodge Mysteries Explored and owner of Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters/Haunted Tours to find the perfect muralist. An ad was placed on Craigslist. “The mural is a huge deal not only to the community but also to the history of the Brookdale Lodge,” Porter says. “I mean, this is not something that we are taking lightly – this will be a fixated iconic portrait which represents the Lodge and San Lorenzo Valley for generations to come. Mr. Patel is not only creating new history but he is also trying to preserve the old.”

The process to find a muralist has been a lengthy one for its applicants. The individuals sought for serious consideration were requested to submit a sketch of James Dean to determine their artistic ability and to see how the artist’s vision meshed with the community’s vision. “Each artist has a different style, so it was important to find someone who shared a similar vision.” The right artist should also have a relationship to the Lodge. “We wanted a muralist who had some memory or connection, not just someone who looked at it as a job.” And they wanted someone local. “It was important to Mr. Patel to find a local artist. Keeping our history in our community. I can’t wait for the project to be completed and the Lodge’s new history to begin!”

“I love the community input,” Patel says. “This mural thing is exactly what I mean. Let’s get a local artist in here. A homegrown Santa Cruz artist to put his name on it…it becomes a legacy.”

The top three finalists have been chosen. “The next step we will be meeting up with the county and then moving forward to determine who will be selected as the next muralist for the Brookdale Lodge,” Porter says.

“You’ve got to remember, this is history in the remaking. The Lodge has been robbed and raped over the years…vandals and the former owners took all this stuff. I want to be known 100 years from now as the gentleman who gave it CPR…I revitalized it! I’m trying to do something good here.”

Copyright 2017 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

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Tending Toward the Bluesy – Damdave and the Left-Hand Band

By Julie Horner

Looking out from the “fishbowl” at the Boulder Creek Brewery Outpost, heads close together in comfortable familiarity in the late afternoon light, Dave Gillett and I sipped our “usual” and went to town reminiscing about spirited times in old haunts around the San Lorenzo Valley. Known affectionately as “Damdave,” he is front-man singer-songwriter and guitar player for the Boulder Creek-based Americana group, Damdave and the Left-Hand Band.

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Asked how he got the name “Damdave,” he explained how he had arrived in Brookdale – some 20 or more years ago – and started a folk jam at the Brookdale Lodge. He was just up from Santa Monica. “I was working for a health club in LA – had short hair and looked straight – one of my supervisors said, ‘You know, Dave, you seem like someone who might enjoy the Santa Cruz area.’” So he moved up and found a 1906 cabin in the mountains within walking distance of the Lodge.

One night he put his kids in bed and went over to check it out. “I didn’t drink at the time,” but he wound up earning his PhD hanging out in the bar. He remembers one of the bartenders, “Jenny Gilbert – Penthouse pretty – the owner’s daughter.” At one point someone asked his name. When he said, “David,” someone else at the bar shouted, “Not another damn Dave!”

Tuesday nights at the Brookdale Lodge were the slowest. “You had a couple of guys from the bar and we formed Damdave’s Odd-Ass Instrument Jam on Tuesday nights from ‘98-ish to 2008 or so,” Dave said. The Tuesday night jam was the forerunner of the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival. Eric Burman came to Dave’s jams and they decided after a time, “’Hey this would be a great place for a festival’…and it took off.” March 2000 was first year of the festival, he recalls, and featured a precursor to a band called the Waybacks, Faux Renwah, and the late yodeling lady, Lolita. “She was a great yodeler – played at the Lodge in its heyday – give her a couple of drinks and “Oh, goddam!”

Now Dave’s a Boulder Creek townie. “It’s a nice little town. I’ve written five songs about this town, I Love These Mountains, Bear Creek Road…there are more.” He’s also written three Brookdale songs, among them, Brookdale’s Burning and Highway 9, a takeoff on the old song Highway 55 co-written with Eric Burman. “She always walks alone, neither flesh and neither bone, ooooo!! There’s some really good lyrics. Eric always made it a 20-minute long instrumental thing with audience participation.”

For a while he was Damdave and the Hot Damn Band. The name change reflects the distinction that Dave plays left-handed. Along with Graham MacFarlane (standup bass), “Mando” Mike Reynolds (vocals, mandolin), and occasionally “Joebro” Adams (any of whom may or may not also play left-handed), the guys will entertain you with “a mix of dysfunctional bluegrass, country, blues, soul, and a healthy dose of Damdave originals.”

“I’m not bluegrass, I don’t want a bluegrass band,” he says. His sound is Americana tending toward the bluesy. “I’ve always been a blues kind of guy.” He was raised in Ann Arbor, between Detroit and Chicago. “My voice is kind of gravelly, I grew up with Bob Seger. I like Gregg Allman…I like all kinds of music. I was thinking about this not too long ago. When I listen to people singing, when I listen to blues or Motown, the way they sing a song, the emphasis is on the words and music together. I want to develop my voice and my songs to be able to express the parts of the music I want to express…with an honesty in my voice.”

Damdave and the Left-Hand Band play every Tuesday at the Boulder Creek Brewery Outpost and every few weeks at Casa Nostra in Ben Lomond. Watch for a GoFundMe campaign for Dave’s upcoming CD. Online: damdave.brookdalebluegrass.com | www.facebook.com/damdave.gillett

Copyright 2017 Julie Horner