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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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

Out of the Blue – Chas “The Shotgun Suitor”

By Julie Horner

Alabama 1989, maybe the early 90s – all he remembers is that the first Batman movie had just come out, the one with Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Robert Johnson, John Brown, and Johnny Winter were chilling on the tour bus parked out back, taking a break from recording in his mom’s home studio. These legends of electric blues had just let the then 12-year old guitarist jam with the big boys and now they were all shooting the bull on the bus waiting for the stripper to show up.

Until his mom found out and hauled him off the bus by his ear.

Fast forward a few years, this southern gentleman has taken Santa Cruz by storm, materializing out-of-the -blue with a prolific schedule hosting open mics and collaborative jams, maintaining a thriving online forum that brings local musicians together to tout their performances in a non-competitive atmosphere, and basically becoming the go-to for hooking musicians up with each other and with killer venues all over the county.

“The Shotgun Suitor” is the operative extension of this all-inclusive mindset. As of March 2015, Chas says he has played more than 230 shows in 365 days since coming to California. Sometimes solo, sometimes with one or more seasoned local musicians, you’ll hear everything from swamp rock and Delta blues to music that’s “southern-ish with a California vibe.” Sometimes, as guitarist Scott Polland puts it, “…it’s just straight-on right down the middle rock.

Shotgun Suitor is at its most soulful, gritty, earthy, country raw, and danceable as a quartet featuring four-part harmony with Chas Crowder (rhythm guitar, harmonica), Scott Polland (‘lectric guitar), David Clark (drums), and Diana Wells (standup and electric bass) singing unapologetic originals and covers with a twist.

The stars were lined up the day I walked over to Barry Tanner’s Boulder Creek studio to meet the band in person: It was Chas’ one-year anniversary in California. And yes, he had a show scheduled that evening at Joe’s Bar down the street to celebrate. The full band had converged at the studio to do some recording, and I was in the right place at the right time to have a quick sit-down with these busy players.

Chas started playing harmonica and then drums as a kid growing up in Alabama and began rubbing elbows with blues legends who influenced his playing and his persona early on. He joined his mom’s band in Memphis, Tennessee and, according to his online bio, went on to play over two thousand gigs with various bands in thirty-three states at over a thousand venues across the south, southeast and west coast.

He told me he met California bassist, Diana Wells on Craigslist and decided to cut bait and head west. He said after a pickup gig in Seligman, AZ, “I crossed the state line and never looked back.” That first night in Santa Cruz he played at Blue Lounge.

Chas has fallen into good company here in the Golden State. Diana is a member of the Sweet Adelines barbershop harmony organization and substitute bassist for The Killer Queens, an all-girl Queen Tribute band. She shares Chas’ tenacity and propensity to jump into challenges, “What can I do now that will scare the heck out of me!” She says they do a lot of things off the cuff on stage – with just a wink or a gesture she knows where to go; she watches Chas’ hands.

Scott “The Shredder” Polland slings the six-string for a number of local outfits including Squeeze Daddy and Funkranomicon while David Clarke is the mad dog on drums, balancing passion for family, surfing, and music while wielding an understated gift for turning a wicked phrase. Playing in the band, he says, is “so much fun it’s ridiculous!”

A couple of weeks ago Chas thanked his family and friends on Facebook for helping make his first year in California so rich. One friend wrote, “There could not be a person who has worked harder and stuck to their guns more, brother…your peers will be in awe of your tenacity where e’r you go…”

Chas’ mom added, “Here Here!!! People are always asking about u here and I tell ’em to check Facebook and I give the latest news…It has been a BIG year for you, indeed, with many more wonderful ones ahead….!!!”

Drummer Dave summed it up: “Chas, you’re an animal. Thank you for promoting all the local bands, music and events in S.C. County. You’ve done more for the local music scene than anyone else I can think of in recent memory. Now go get some sleep!”

Catch the Shotgun Suitor at the Felton Remembers Parade and Covered Bridge Festival on Saturday, May 23 2015 and all over SLV and Santa Cruz.

On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ChasShotgunSuitor

(c) Julie Horner 2015 for the SLV Post
slvpost.com

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

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