So began my last stop on the “Great 2010 Endless Summer Poster Treasure Hunt“. It was a gray Friday morning in San Francisco, and John Blakeley, lead guitarist for The Sandals, was on the other end of the line. I had called John at the appointed time, figuring he’d have a lot on his plate, and that I would be scurrying to fit myself into his busy schedule that day. Which was OK, I had come to San Francisco to meet John for the sole purpose of obtaining my final autograph on my Endless Summer movie poster, and I wasn’t going to push it.
“So, John, what’s your schedule for today? We can do lunch, or just meet for a cup of coffee somewhere.”
“Nah, I don’t do that stuff. Why don’t you come by my home studio on Duncan Street around noon or so.”
Whoa. I had just been hooked like some yellowfin tuna on a Fisherman’s Wharf deepwater party boat. Not only would I have the chance to meet John Blakeley, but I’d have a chance to see his studio. I mean, as Rachel Ray was wont to say, how good is that?
On John’s recommendation I forewent the taxi idea and took public transportation – a $2 ticket got me on the F trolley to Embarcadero station, followed by a 30-minute subway ride on the MUNI out to his neighborhood in South San Francisco. It was a nice ride, and I enjoyed seeing all the neighborhoods the train went through after it got above ground on Church Street. I got there a little early and enjoyed a small mocha at this quaint little coffee shop right around the corner from his house, which was situated in an unassuming row of small houses very typical for San Francisco once you get out of the city proper.
The hour was soon upon me, so I strode up to the door, and three raps later I was face-to face with John Blakeley. The final stop on my treasure hunt had begun. It shouldn’t have surprised me, for the same was true when Tracey and I met his Sandals band mates Walter and Gaston Georis, but John Blakeley was the nicest, most down-to-earth guy you could ever meet. We sat down at his little kitchen table and just started talking about music as if we had known each other for years. Comparing music and bands we liked and didn’t, talking about The Sandals and surf music in general, and hearing him tell stories about the bands, personalities, and various equipment he had worked with over the years.
After a little while, he invited me into his studio to listen to some of the new music he was creating with another musician named Jeff Larson. John’s house was really small – it was more like a basement apartment on the bottom floor of a two-story house. A small kitchen in the front big enough for appliances and a small table, his living quarters in the back, and in between, two rooms – one a little larger than the other – which served as his studio. You could have knocked me over with a feather – I mean, what a cool place! A rack of electronics, two huge monitors for editing music (Apple’s Pro Logic 8 his present software of choice), and a couple of guitars laying around – one a beautiful honey-colored Fender Stratocaster that he just had to put in my hands so I could feel the weight of it.
Next on the agenda was to play me some of the newer music he had worked on with Sal Valentino, formerly of the Beau Brummels and Stoneground (the band John joined sometime after The Sandals originally called it quits), and Jeff Larson. We listened to a few tracks while John pointed out to me some of the guitar sounds and techniques he used on them. One of the songs featured John on mandolin, and soon he went into his bedroom and came out with the most beautiful mandolin I’ve ever seen, manufactured by a company called Collings. The woodwork was positively gorgeous, and I told him our friend Jana would be totally disappointed if I didn’t get a picture of him playing something on it, which he gladly obliged…
…this is also a better angle so you can see all the studio equipment in the rack behind him. Me, I was kind of disappointed to not see some big mother 64-track mixing board that you’d feed your guitar directly into – but that’s what having the Apple software can do when you don’t have the space.
It was getting towards mid-afternoon – I had been there for the better part of two hours – and I didn’t want to take up any more of his time than I already had, but John didn’t seem to mind two music geeks listening to and talking about music. He has a great sense of humor and clearly enjoyed telling some pretty funny stories of his experiences with The Sandals and other bands with someone who would “get” the humor of the music industry version of inside baseball. It’s kind of a good thing Tracey wasn’t there – she would have been bored stiff.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, so we headed back out into the kitchen for the moment of truth: signing the Endless Summer poster.
He was pretty impressed seeing Mike Hynson’s, Bruce Brown’s, Robert August’s and Walter and Gaston Georis’ signatures all on there, and a minute later, the deed was done. Somehow, we then got on the topic of science fiction, and when he mentioned he was an avid reader of the genre, I told him Tracey was as well, so he disappeared out back and shortly returned with a copy of Philip K. Dick‘s “Clans Of The Alphane Moon” (one of John’s favorites), which he autographed for Tracey as a gift.
It was time to go. We exchanged contact information and promised each other we’d stay in touch, and I headed back out into the gray cool afternoon with my poster and some parting souveniers to catch my train. As the train crept back towards the reality of my hotel room by Fisherman’s Wharf, my head was swimming in a sea of Blakeley, amazed that, of all the treasure hunt experiences I could have imagined since first conjuring up this crazy idea back in July, this was the most unexpected and crazy wildest of any possible dream I might have had.