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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Felton Public Library – A Design from the Heart

Architect Teall Messer invests his heart in a project long on the drawing board

By Julie Horner

Willows, oaks, and a few cottonwoods jostle and whisper along the banks of Bull Creek as it flows – controlled now by a culvert to mitigate flooding – under city streets to the San Lorenzo River in downtown Felton. On its way, the creek slices through a narrow slip of native land next to the Felton Post Office – soon to be home for the new Felton Public Library and Outdoor Discovery Park.

Soquel-based architect, Teall Messer, is the artist behind the building design, which reflects community vision while holding to exacting legal and environmental parameters. His work is highly sought after in Santa Cruz County – he has six to eight active design projects going at a time – but he says his heart is invested in the library. Long a member of Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Library, he has been called upon over the years to design other library projects, including converting an old restaurant in Live Oak into an interim library, and upgrading the historic Garfield Library in Santa Cruz. The Felton Library project is a longtime dream. “This has been on my drafting board for 10 years.”

“Pat and Mike Verutti wanted to donate the Felton parcel adjacent to the post office 16 years ago, but the library system didn’t want to take ownership of the land until they had the money to build,” Messer said. Measure S, which passed last June, gave them the funding. “Bruce McPherson made sure the funding was on top of the list.” And Felton Library Friends have been advocating all along. “They helped support the project and pushed to get the initial plans drawn. If it wasn’t for them it wouldn’t have happened.”

In 16 years, the trees have gotten bigger, which forced the building plan into riparian habitat. Messer also had to plan around the 100-year floodplain that just misses the building site. A town plan drawn up in the 1980s helped guide the exterior design. “I had to try to come up with a building that will fit into Felton. It had to have a rural feeling, almost a barn-like,” he said. “At 9600 square feet, it’s not giant but I think it will be big enough…we took all the space we could.”

Working closely with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Army Corps of Engineers, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the project required obtaining permits from each agency. “We’re still in the process of submitting them.” The projected deadline to get site and landscape plans into the county is February-May, 2018. “It will take a year to build it,” so he anticipates opening in spring, 2019.

The San Lorenzo Valley Water District Felton Treatment Facility is adjacent to the library property. “SLVWD has very generously allowed access from Kirby Street, which will enable us to do the proposed Nature Explorer children’s outdoor area.” Felton Library Friends are working on obtaining a grant to help develop this outdoor space. Part of the easement agreement includes restoring native plants to the area. “When you take away riparian habitat, you must replace it at a two-to-one ratio,” Messer said.

Along with the interior spaces still in the planning stages and open to community input, there will be a glass covered walkway in the front and a courtyard in back which might include beverage service, a coffee cart, for instance. A trail will go through the property, directly accessible from Gushee Street. “Santa Cruz Parks will be involved with maintaining some of these public outdoor areas.” Asked whether the building will use solar, he says possibly, if there is funding. With the structure’s long southern face, he estimates up to 33 kilowatts of power could be generated from solar panels. Even without solar, “It will be very energy efficient with clerestory windows that will allow a good amount of ambient light, so they probably won’t be using electricity for lights all that much.”

An effort long dreamed about, Teall Messer’s community driven design beautifully transcends the potential drawbacks of a difficult site to create a thriving hub for all ages to enjoy.

Architect Teall Messer: http://teallmesserarchitect.com/

Felton Library Friends: www.feltonlibraryfriends.org

Copyright 2017 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

https://www.facebook.com/SanLorenzoValleyPostNews/

Bringing on the Night – Wred Horse & The NightDrivers

By Julie Horner

I remember my first night in the new house. A posse of friends had formed a convoy of pickups, vans, and passenger cars packed to the headliners with worldly possessions, and we hogged Highway 9 from Ben Lomond to Boulder Creek at half speed for the better part of that Saturday in June several years ago.

At the end of the day, we cracked some cold Sierras and collapsed into the patio furniture, askew as we had unloaded it and pointing roughly eastward among drifts of stuff, enjoying with exhausted sighs alpenglow in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The evening stars were just coming on.

The night suddenly came alive with the seemingly far-off wail of an electric guitar, the sound charging the then unfamiliar neighborhood with a current of electricity. Only a few blocks from downtown, the forest suddenly had an unmistakable pulse, throbbing and very welcome. I thought we were hearing the band at the local bar. It took a couple of evenings spent outside enjoying the awakening summer in the new environs to realize it was our neighbor practicing in his studio a couple of doors down.

Steve “Mac” McCampbell owns the guitar. I told him I love how his practicing electrifies my evenings. He said, “I don’t consider that I practice, I just play. Musicians get better when they play…it’s some kind of discipline…”

“I have guitars that I play at gigs that get me a certain tone I like. Fender and Gibson have the tones, the essence of it.” For a change, he takes the Gretsch out once in a while. “You hear that sound and you know it’s going to be a good night!”

Steve and his band, Wred Horse, are local fixtures, playing familiar venues throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. “Joe’s seems like our stable,” he said. Steve and Woody Bell (rhythm guitar, vocals) formed the band in 2007 and they got the name from Woody’s Harley with its red gas tank. “A wise old Indian gave Woody that handle, so there’s pedigree.”

Together with Marvin Labri on bass and Sam Sotelo on drums, “We keep together because we can and it’s fun.” Steve gets to play tunes he really likes, covers that people are familiar with. “If the delivery is good it will pull people in” Rockabilly is very popular, he says, “It’s hard to stay still when you hear it.”

The NightDrivers are a brand new blues rock effort that started last spring and features top notch musicians who have all played in many Bay Area bands. Steve said he gets to play more improvisational instrumentals, “which are really fun to do.” Picture Robin Ford (“he’s my hero”) and Paul Butterfield’s “Screamin.” The NightDrivers are Steve Mac (guitar, vocals), Boulder Creek’s Mike Pupo (vocals, drums), Mark Howe (rhythm and lead guitar), and Tom Fidele (bass).

Steve spent his childhood in Palo Alto but has been in Boulder Creek since about 1987. “It’s like another country over there…great place to grow up, it’s different, you can’t recreate it…it was a time and a place and things change.”

He remembers the last phone booth on Bear Creek Road. “You get that far out there and you have to become self-sufficient,” he said.

With two indoor cats and a mini apple orchard in the front yard and an off-road bicycle that he rides all over the valley to burn off the occasional pilsner indulgence, he says, “I like BC as much now as ever, it hasn’t changed all that much. I think most people live here by choice. It’s a place where the adults stay and the kids leave.”

Steve has no plans to leave. “It’s open ended but Boulder Creek…it’s a good place to be. It’s kind of easy to get lost in the calamity of a small town.”

Catch The NightDrivers at Joe’s on Saturday, September 26 and at Henfling’s on November 28 and December 19.

On the Web: http://www.reverbnation.com/thenightdrivers

On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheNightDriversBand

(c) Julie Horner September 2015

Originally written for and published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin.

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: leap2three@gmail.com

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