The Brat Wagon


this story appears in my 2013 book, California’s Fruits, Flakes and Nuts -True Tales of California Crazies, Crackpots and Creeps

Like millions before and since, Margaret Rowney moved to California to start a new life.  The twenty-seven-year-old widow brought her four children to Encino in 1948 after her railroad worker husband was killed on the job.  The Pennsylvania Railroad supplied her with a generous pension.  The Baltimore native probably thought that the sunlight of Southern California would wash away the grit that stained her heart.

She had a stable relationship with Raymond Bennett, a thirty-six-year-old foundry worker who cherished his instant family.  Margaret called their wood-paneled station wagon “The Brat Wagon,” and she had the children’s names painted on both sides of the car.  Painted on the driver’s side door was “Ray,” and “Margie” was written on the passenger side.

In the early morning hours of December 14, 1950, while Ray was on the graveyard shift, Margie braided her long hair around her head and put on her blue jeans and a leather jacket.  She roused her children—seven-year old Peggy, five-year old George, four-year old Guy, and three-year old Thomas—from their beds and got the pajama-clad kids into the backseat of the Brat Wagon.  She drove up Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains and found a secluded spot under a giant oak tree in Topanga Canyon.  Carefully, so as not to wake her sleeping children, Margie took a vacuum cleaner hose and attached it to the exhaust pipe of the Brat Wagon, putting the other end into the passenger compartment.

Police on routine patrol found the car.  The engine was out of gas, but still warm.  The children in the backseat were tumbled across each other just like sleeping children do.  Margie was sprawled on the front seat.  There was no note.

The murder-suicide perplexed everyone who knew Margie.  Her sister, friends, neighbors, and boyfriend Ray had no idea why Margie would do such a thing.  On December 19th, Margie’s sister Violet flew to Baltimore with five coffins to be interred in her hometown.

Later that day, the heartbroken Bennett took the family dog Inky with him into the garage at the home that was once filled with joyful noise.  He ended his life in the Brat Wagon exactly like Margie did.  An empty bottle of whiskey and a note was found inside the home at 4973 Noeline Avenue.  The note made no more sense than Margie’s actions:  “We would have started where we lost them, but we didn’t want to be stopped.  We will find the reason.”

Police photo of the Brat Wagon after Raymond Bennett used it to end his life

Police photo of the Brat Wagon after Raymond Bennett used it to end his life


The Rodney Dangerfield’s of Rock



The book of Rock and Roll is littered with heroes who have fallen from grace.  Most of them for good reason, but there are some musicians and bands that have fallen through the cracks of recognition, even though they have contributed greatly to rock music pioneering the use of samples, synthesizers, guitar techniques and even entire genres.  Like the late comic great Rodney Dangerfield routine, they get no respect.


Grand Funk Railroad

In 1969, Mark Farner, Mel Schacher and Don Brewer formed a band that rewrote rock music.  Guitarist Farner, and drummer Brewer were backing Terry Knight and the Pack and Schacher was playing bass in ? and the Mysterians plowing through the mid-Michigan club scene.  Knight, knowing that his time as a singer was over, decided to manage these young men from Flint, christened Grand Funk Railroad.

They were an American Band

They were an American Band

Knight used his extensive music connections and experience to get Grand Funk on the bill of the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, where they went over so well on the first day of the festival that they were put on the bill on the next two days.  By the last day of the festival, the band signed with Capitol Records.  The band came out of the starting blocks blazing and their first LP, On Time went gold. Their second LP, Grand Funk produced the hit song, “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home).”  In 1970, Grand Funk Railroad sold more records than any other American band, and with minimum radio airplay.  In 1971, they sold out Shea Stadium quicker than the Beatles did five years earlier.

A billboard in Times Square?  Who gets that?

A billboard in Times Square? Who gets that?

 Grand Funk Railroad put on raucous, hard rocking performances that pleased the post-hippy teenagers who were the bulk of their audience.  They toured all over America, and were huge in Japan. They were one of the first rock bands to play stadiums instead of arenas, but the band refused to play in their home state of Michigan because of the bad press and ill-feelings from the Detroit music scene who felt that Grand Funk had not pay their dues. 

Around this time, Mark, Don and Mel thought that Knight was no longer needed and they fired him just months before their contract with him ran out.  Knight reacted by repossessing the band’s equipment during the band’s sound-check at Madison Square Gardens.  The band still thought that it was worth it.grand funk liveOnce the contract problems were worked out, Grand Funk added keyboardist Craig Frost and the band took a different direction with a more pop music oriented sound that only produced more gold records for the band.  The Todd Rundgren produced LP, We’re an American Band was certified gold a month after its 1973 release.  Finding success with Rundgren, who at the time was one of the most sought after producers in the industry, they hired him for their next LP, Shinin’ On, which went gold and produced the single, a cover of the Little Eva song “The Locomotion.”

Their next LP was the horribly titled All of the Girls in the World Beware, that had the great rock pop song, “Bad Time” and a cover, “Some King of Wonderful,” which both charted in America.  Despite the tacky cover that showed the boy’s heads superimposed on the bodies of weightlifters, the LP went gold and the band went on a lucrative world tour. 

Grand Funk Railroad -Closer to Home (I’m your Captain)

The following LP’s, 1976’s Born to Die didn’t chart as well as their previous LP’s, and their next LP, Good Singin’, Good Playin’ flopped despite being produced by Frank Zappa.  The band called it quits after that, although they have reunited in one form or another since then. 

the dumbest record cover of all time

the dumbest record cover of all time

 Grand Funk Railroad rose to great heights right out of the starting blocks due to Terry Knight’s management, but the band had talent, drive and a no bullshit factory town attitude that worked in their favor.  They toured relentlessly, and did not care what music critics or their jealous Michigan contemporaries had to say about them, as the sold out stadiums was all the proof that they needed to justify their success.  Grand Funk Railroad Live in LA 1974 -

From 1969 to 1975, Grand Funk Railroad were one of the biggest selling rock acts in the world, recorded 11 studio records and sold millions of records.  Not bad for three guys from Flint, Michigan. 

The Official Grand Funk Railroad website


REO Speedwagon

Even at their peak in the early 80’s, when their ballad heavy LP “High Infidelity” produced four top ten hits and sold over 10 million copies, REO Speedwagon were poopooed by everyone but secretaries and dental assistants.  But what music snobs forget is that REO was a hard rock band from Champaign, Illinois who had spent over a dozen years on the road, playing every town on the upper register of the Interstate Highway System.   There was not a town that was too small for the REO to play in, and they never did a bad show.  They were kind to fans and local musicians.  REO also was a band that evolved naturally, with singers and musicians coming and going. 

REO Speedwagon during their Hayday

REO Speedwagon during their Hayday

 REO Speedwagon sold millions of records in the 80’s, and their music is the soundtrack of that era… can you forget “Keep On Loving You” and “Take It On the Run?”  Those two songs are the template for all of the power ballads that came after it.  Lead guitarist Gary Richrath’s razor sharp leads and perfect tone are the pinnacle of hard rock lead guitar playing.  He is definitely one of the most underrated guitarists in rock.

REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon

Listen to their 1977 platinum selling live LP, Live: You Get What You Play For to understand what a solid rock band they were.  The years of playing at high school gyms in Midwest and rodeo arena’s in the west came to fruit.  Forgotten rockers like “Keep Pushin,’” “(I Believe) Our Time is going to Come,” “Golden Country,” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” are played to perfection.  Although they had their peak in the 1980’s, REO Speedwagon is still a working band, and probably playing in a town near you.

The Official Website of REO Speedwagon


Doug Yule

People talk about the Velvet Underground as if they were created by God.  Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Mo Tucker, John Cale and Nico are all fawned upon by fans, but nobody ever speaks of Doug Yule.  Stepping in at the tender age of 21 to fill out the band on bass guitar after Reed fired John Cale.  Yule was in the band from 1968 to 1973, and put up with more crap than a Chuck Berry groupie.

How everyone remembers the Velvet Underground

How everyone remembers the Velvet Underground

Yule, a multi-instrumentalist contributed on lead vocals on a number of songs, and filled in for Lou’s vocals when Reed had problems with his voice on the road. Yule’s mistake was continuing the VU after Reed quit the band.  Reed went on to insult and berate Yule in interviews, and even John Cale butted in, siding with Reed when the VU was preparing for a reunion tour in 1993 to not to allow Yule on the bill. 

How most people saw the Velvet Underground

How most people saw the Velvet Underground – with Doug Yule

 After VU, Yule joined country band American Flyer with Steve Katz, and later moved to Seattle where he is a master violin luthier.  Despite that he was in the band longer than anyone other than Lou Reed, Yule was denied entrance to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the VU was indicted in 1996.  

Doug Yule Violin Maker


Bill Nelson

Mention the name Bill Nelson to any audiophile and they’ll answer, “Oh yeah, Be Bop Deluxe,” or they’ll say, “I used to dance to Red Noise when I was first allowed in clubs.”  Yes, Nelson did front the great mid-70’s art/glam/prog rock band Be Bop Deluxe.  And yes after Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson did create electronic dance music in the early 1980’s, but he has done so much more than that during the last 30 odd years, releasing over 100 LP’s since 1980. 

Be Bop Deluxe - at your service

Be Bop Deluxe – at your service

Nelson, whose guitar playing can only be described as dazzling, busted out towards the end of the glam era with his band Be Bop Deluxe.  After their first LP, 1974’s Axe Victim was released Nelson fired the entire band, and brought in new musicians.  The band did well, and released five studio LP’s between 1974 and 1978, but the attraction of the band was Nelson’s fluid and melodic lead guitar playing.  

the coolest album cover of all time

the coolest album cover of all time

After Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson went into electronic dance music with a project called Red Noise.  Do You Dream in Colour?” was a hit in the dance clubs.  Nelson, never one to sit on his laurels, started leaning towards ambient music, inspired by his muse, pioneer multi-media artist Jean Cocteau. Capital Records, as well as the other majors did not want to risk any money on the prolific and ever changing styles of this man from Yorkshire.   With his manager Nelson created Cocteau Records to release his more esoteric and ambient LP’s.   Records came out, with elaborate covers and CD booklets.  A pioneer in the use of samplings, Nelson had sampled Gregorian monks chanting to beats years before the monks cashed in on that fad.  On his 1983 EP, Savage Gestures for Charm’s Sake, Nelson out Fripp’s Robert Fripp and out Eno’s Brian Eno.  Nelson bounced around on record labels big and small throughout the 80’s, releasing 25 albums that decade.

The early 1990’s found Bill Nelson bankrupted and divorced.  When he went to his record label from the Be Bop Deluxe days, he found out that all of the royalties from all of the Be Bop Deluxe LP’s went to the band members who only played on Axe Victim.  Not a penny was assigned to Nelson.  With no money to sue with, Nelson retreated back to his first love, the guitar.  It helped that he had over 40 guitars of every different type. Nelson got back on his feet, remarried, got the rights back to his music, and dived back in, procuring record labels to rerelease his catalog, while producing ecstatically positive guitar oriented LP’s.

Bill Nelson will quit playing music when they pry his cold dead hands from his guitar neck

Bill Nelson will quit playing music when they pry his cold dead hands from his guitar neck

Bill Nelson performs occasionally, and has a hardcore group of fans who gather at the annual Nelsonica convention in which Nelson is the star.   Besides writing and recording music for television and films, Nelson still releases an average of four LP’s a year.  Unarguably, the most prolific songwriter in rock history, a forerunner of dance and ambient music, a pioneer of digital sampling and a true guitar God, Bill Nelson’s name is rarely mentioned these days. 

Red Noise – Sound On Sound – entire LP

Be Bop Deluxe – Modern Music full LP

Bill Nelson & the Gentlemen Rocketeers – The October Man live 2011

Welcome to Dreamsville – the Official Bill Nelson website


The Walkabouts

Founded in 1984 by brothers Chris, Curt and Grant Eckman, and Chris’s longtime girlfriend Carla Torgerson, the Walkabouts played their share of art gallery basements, dive bars and rented halls in the formative pre-grunge era in their hometown of Seattle.  More musically talented, arty and folky than most bands of that era, their sets were welcome relief from feedback filled gloom and doom and noisy punk that the Walkabouts shared bills with.  Not that the Walkabouts did not rock, but they played better than most bands of that era.  Years later their sound was termed Americana.  

Early Walkabouts

Early Walkabouts

The Walkabouts released their first record, the EP 22 Disasters in 1985, and went on an American tour without bassist Curt Eckman.  Michael Wells replaced him and has been in the Walkabouts more or less ever since.  Their first LP, Weights and Rivers, was going to be released by Wrestler Records but the company went bankrupt before it could hit the shelves.  It was years before the band got the masters back. 

See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens...

See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens…

Their second LP, See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens was put out by Seattle’s eclectic PopLlama Records in 1988.  They released five LP’s on SubPop and SubPop Europe/Glitterhouse, between 1989 and 1994, toured the states on the same bill as other stalwarts of the 90’s like the Chills, Throwing Muses, Uncle Tupelo, Glass Eye, the Jazz Butcher, Thin White Rope, and FireHose, but their real draw was in Europe where their poetic lyrics and desolate tunes struck a chord with the youth of the day.  Their LP’s scored high on not only the alternative charts, but on the mainstream radio networks in Greece, Norway and Eastern Europe. 

walkabouts-2012-01-15-wienSigning to Virgin Records in Germany in 1995, the Walks looked forward to having major label backing and released Devil’s Road and Nighttown, their two bestselling releases, but selling 90,000 units was nothing to Virgin and they were dropped by the label, despite their videos being on heavy rotation on MTV Europe.  Glitterhouse immediately signed the band to their label and released their LP’s for thereafter. 

The Walkabouts – The light Will Stay On

Walkabouts – “Feel like going home”

Their success in Europe did not transfer to North America, and when Americana got popular in the mid-90’s the Walkabouts were that band in Europe who only had reviews in languages other than English.  No matter that the Walkabouts basically created the template for hundreds of bands using the mandolin, cello, harmonica, and acoustic guitars; they get no respect in their home country.  The only American shows that that Walkabouts do is in Seattle, during the holidays, if Chris comes home to see his family.  The Walkabouts filled concert halls in all the major European cities, but are reduced to playing one show in a neighborhood bar in Seattle when they play America.

The Walkabouts – Bordertown

The Walkabouts – Jack Candy live

The Walkabouts – Man From Reno

The Walkabouts – Got No Chains – SubPop 200 1989

Just remember, every ancient punk rocker playing a contemporary version of Woody Guthrie to packed houses and admiration… Every pretty bearded boy band playing acoustic music and selling millions of records…  Every washed up musician who adds a string section to make their music more listenable… have the Walkabouts to thank for setting the woods on fire.

The Semi-Official website of the Walkabouts


The Tubes

If there was anything revolutionary about American rock and roll in the 1970’s it was The Tubes.  The San Francisco based band put on freak show unlike any other up to that point.  Led by singer Fee Waybill, who changed outfits and characters about every three songs, the Tubes were a mixture of theater, shock and prog rock.   The duel guitars of Rodger Steen and Bill Spooner held down the rock, while pianist Vince Welneck added class, Michael Cotton flew on the APR 2600 synthesizer, and drummer Prairie Prince and bassist Rick Anderson laid down a solid rhythm, all the while semi-naked dancing girls romped around the stage, there was nothing like the Tubes, anywhere.   

03 1977 - Fee Waybill - The TubesTheir first LP, the Tubes was released in 1975 and included what became their signature song, “White Punks on Dope.”  During the performance of the song, Waybill, as rock star Quay Lude, wore a fright wig and a jock strap with his penis hanging out of it, while romping around the stage in 18 inch tall platform shoes.  The rest of the LP, along with their second, Young and Rich, was well guided and clever Prog Rock, with a subtle touch of social commentary. 

The Tubes - 1974

The Tubes – 1974

Their third LP, the Tubes Now, was even more theatrical with Welnick’s beautiful piano work dominating the record, but it was their fourth LP, the concept record, Remote Control that should have sent the Tubes record sales soaring.  Produced by Todd Rundgren, Remote Control is the quintessential early 80’s record.  Too bad it was in 1979, and about five years ahead of its time.  A & M Records never knew what to do with the Tubes.  Their singles were radio friendly, but their stage act was R Rated and whenever they had someone on the label supporting them, that person would end up getting fired.  A & M did nothing to promote radio play for the band and dumped them after rejecting their next LP.  The label then released a live LP to fill out their contract.

Mondo Bondage – the Tubes

“Turn Me On” from the Tubes Remote Control LP

Signed to Capitol Records, the band rolled up their sleeves to become more radio friendly.  Their 1981 LP, the Completion Backwards Principle found the band tossing out their props and wild outfits, and opting for business suits.  The rocker Talk to You Later was perfect for radio and the newly launched MTV and the Tubes finally found some success.  Their next LP, 1983’s release, Outside Inside produced the Tubes only American hit song, “She’s a Beauty,” which was number one on the radio rock charts.  Returning to Rundgren for their next LP, Love Bomb did nothing to help the Tubes.  Capitol dropped them, and kept an entire LP, known as the Black Album, from ever getting released.  It is still sitting in a vault somewhere in Southern California.  

This was in 1974!!!

This was in 1974!!!

Although the Tubes did not sell a lot of records, their live shows were always popular; unfortunately, they were an expensive band to take on the road.  Their elaborate sets needed carpenters and electricians, their outrageous costumes needed seamstresses and helpers, along with dancers and roadies, a second tour bus was needed to get the crew from show to show, and all of them needed to be fed and housed while the band toured.  Their tour for Love Bomb put the band a half million dollars in debt.

The Tubes Live 1982

Waybill left the band, and Welnick joined the Grateful Dead as their touring pianist, a notorious roll for the band, as all the former pianists died.  While with the Dead, Welnick became fast friends with Jerry Garcia, something the rest of the band resented and when Garcia died from a heart attack while detoxing from longtime heroin use, the surviving members of the Dead shunned Welnick, and did not include him on any further projects.  Welnick took the rejection hard and eventually committed suicide in 2006.

No Titties in the Twin Cities

No Titties in the Twin Cities

In 1993, The Tubes reformed with Waybill on vocals, but without powerhouse guitarist and musical director Bill Spooner.  Welnick and Cotton also declined to rejoin the band.   Prairie Prince went on to being one of the most recorded drummers in history and still plays with the Tubes, when he isn’t busy with sessions and touring obligations.

Video_amplification_The_Tubes_sThe Tubes were too wild and crazy for their era.  They wrote intelligent and humorous songs that musically bridged the 70’s to the 80’s, all the while putting on the best live shows of their era.  The Tubes were too clever for their own good, and were musically a few years ahead of everything else out there.  Innovators are rarely rewarded and the Tubes, who still perform, are living proof.

The Tubes Official Website


Harvey Mandel

Detroit boy, Harvey Mandel cut his teeth in the blues clubs on the south side of Chicago in the late 1960’s, playing on the groundbreaking 1966 LP, Stand Back!  Here Comes Charlie Musslewhite’s Southside Band.  Moving to the burgeoning scene in San Francisco the next year, Mandel released a solo LP and jammed with the likes of Jerry Garcia, Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, before being drafted by Canned Heat as their guitarist.  His third show with the band was at Woodstock.

Young Harvey Mandel

Young Harvey Mandel

After playing with Canned Heat for two years, Mandel joined British blues legend John Mayall’s band.  When the Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor left the band, Mandel was picked up by the Stones and contributed the incredible lead guitar to the hit song “Hot Stuff” and fan favorite “Memory Motel.”  Fellow Brit Ronnie Wood was eventually hired as the Stone’s permanent second guitarist.  Mandel stayed busy over the years releasing over 19 solo LP’s to date, and later rejoining Canned Heat for live performances.

Harvey "The Snake" Mandel

Harvey “The Snake” Mandel

As if his career was not impressive enough, Mandel is credited with being the first electric guitarist to use the technique called fretboard tapping.  Tapping or hammering is when the musician taps the strings of the guitar with their fingertips, in a hammering motion, instead of using a pick.  The technique is especially impressive through an amplifier and effects, and Mandel is the master of two-handed tapping.  Eddie Van Halen made a fortune from that method of guitar playing. 

Harvey Mandel’s Offical Web Site






The Ten Most Drugged Out LP’s in Rock History


A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a blog about the 12 most drugged out LP’s of all time.  I did not agree with the majority of entrees, so being a pop culture historian, I decided to write my own list. 


Meddle – Pink Floyd (1971)

pink floyd meddle

Listening to Pink Floyd’s sixth LP is like taking an acid trip. From the opening song “One of These Days” to “Echoes,” which takes up the entire second side of the LP, this is one tripped out album.  Although the members of Pink Floyd now say that they were never under the influence of drugs while writing and recording their music, the photos of the band from this period tell a different story.  The eyes don’t lie.

They don't look stoned at all.

They don’t look stoned at all.

L.A.M.F. – Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (1977)

heartbreakers-lamf-bigGuitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan left the pioneering band the New York Dolls to start the Heartbreakers along with bassist Billy Rath and second guitarist Walter Lure.  Thunders and Nolan were known as unreliable junkies and their reputation soured any American record labels from touching them.  Invited to tour in the UK by Malcolm McLaren, to open for the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy Tour, the band was left stranded in England when the tour fell apart.  British indie label Track Records took a chance and signed the Heartbreaker to record an LP.  L.A.M.F. is junkie street slang for “Like a Mother Fucker,” and the boys were slamming heroin like a motherfucker throughout the recording.  Gloriously sloppy and rockin, L.A.M.F is one of the seminal rock albums of all time. 

Why, they look like nice boys.

Why, they look like nice boys.

Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1971)

cover-csny-deja_vu1You can almost smell the marijuana coming out of your speakers.  It increases my paranoia, like lookin’ in the mirror and seeing a pole-lease car.

good try, but you guys all look stoned

good try, but you guys all look stoned

So Alone – Johnny Thunders (1978)

Johnny+Thunders+-+So+Alone+-+CD+ALBUM-339475Fresh off the breakup of The Heartbreakers, Thunders corralled former Heartbreakers Billy Rath and Walter Lure, as well as such rock and roll bad boys as Paul Gray (The Damned, Eddie and the Hot Rods), Peter Perrett (The Only Ones), Steve Jones and Paul Cook (the Sex Pistols), and Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) to help him record his solo album.  According to Perrett, Thunders was so loaded on heroin during the recording, that he was basically useless and spent most of the sessions passed out in a corner.  Perrett and Jones played most of the guitar parts in the style of Thunders, and roused Thunders to do vocals.  Heavy on cover songs, So Alone is still a mind blowingly great rock record.

But his mother loved him

But his mother loved him

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominos (1970)


Guitarist Eric Clapton was at a loss with his career.  Set adrift after the breakup of Cream and the supergroup Blind Faith, Clapton just wanted to be in a band again, without the hoopla of superstardom.  Teaming up with session musicians Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman, Clapton set up house in Miami to record.  Clapton was suffering from mental fatigue and an infatuation with his good friend George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd.  Clayton self-medicated himself with heroin, as well as cocaine and other substances.  The result was one of the greatest collaborations in the history of rock music.

Pick out the guy who is not stoned out of his mind?

Pick out the guy who is not stoned out of his mind?

Raw Power – Iggy and the Stooges (1973)

IggyTheStooges_RawPower_300One look at the photos on the LP, will tell you almost everything.  One listen to this record, will tell you everything else.


He's got a rocket in his pocket and a monkey on his back

He’s got a rocket in his pocket and a monkey on his back

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967)

beatles 5The Beatles 8th studio album needs little introduction as it is regarded as the most influential albums of all time.  Written and recorded under the influence of marijuana, hashish, and LSD, and full of drug references, Sgt. Pepper’s closed the book on the moptop lads from Liverpool, and led the way to an entirely new sound that incorporated studio tricks, nontraditional arrangements and odd musical instruments that was fun to listen to when high. Thousands of rock bands threw out their set list, bought used band uniforms, grew mustaches and started taking acid.  Hey, if the clean-cut Beatles were smoking weed and dropping LSD, there must be nothing wrong with it.

The Beatles decide whether or not to keep the fake Paul in the band

The Beatles decide whether or not to keep the fake Paul in the band

A Wizard, A True Star – Todd Rundgren (1973)

wtsTodd Rundgren himself admitted that he had not smoked marijuana until the time that he wrote and recorded 1972’s Something/Anything, a wonderful album of pop songs and ballads.  Record executives were drooling for the next “I Saw the Light,” and “Hello, It’s Me” to hit the pop charts.  What they didn’t know is that the 24 year-old Rundgren was dropping LSD, and experimenting with synthesizers and multi-tracking.  With unlimited studio time, Rundgren recorded most of the album by himself, packing in twelve songs on side A, and seven on side B, creating a masterpiece of hallucinogenic, prog pop that didn’t take itself too seriously. 

Todd is seeing double

Todd is seeing double

Exile on Main Street – the Rolling Stones (1972)

exileWhen the Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main Street, they could not have been more famous, rich and decadent.  Recorded in a villa that Keith Richards had rented in the south of France, the band was enjoying their earnings and their freedom from their former management.  The mansion was party central, and great quantities of heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and cannabis were abundant throughout the sessions, resulting in one of the greatest double albums of all time.

Mick and Keef livin' the dream

Mick and Keef livin’ the dream

Junkyard – The Birthday Party (1982)

junkyardFrustrated with the music business, and barely hanging together as a group, the Birthday Party went into the studio reeking of anger.  The band had been reduced to fighting their audience and each other onstage, bassist Tracy Pew got arrested for drunk driving and was thrown in jail for two months, and singer Nick Cave was shooting heroin.  All the violence, anger and abuse rose to a head like a zit on a teenager’s face.   

Play nice boys, play nice

Play nice boys, play nice

Helpful Tips for Visiting California


Driving in California

Unless it is posted otherwise, U-turns are legal in California


It is legal to pass on the right in California, so always check before changing lanes.

Drive with the traffic.  Hence the saying, “When driving on I-80, drive 80.”

When you are near your off ramp, take action to get into the exit lane immediately.

Expect bumper-to-bumper traffic when driving in the Napa Valley on a weekend.

If you are driving on a mountainous road and a speed limit sign says “Curve 40 M.P.H.,” believe it.

If you are driving on a two lane rural highway, and there someone tailgating you, pull over and let them by.  It is either a local who is late for work, or a tweaker, who is also late for work.  It’s hard to tell. tweeker

You will notice some amazing motor vehicles while you are in California.  On any sunny day, you’ll see antiques, low-riders, customs, and rare foreign sports cars.  A car nut buddy of mine came to visit and he would stick his head out the car window like a dog to ogle a car, which would usually result in the driver asking him, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”  It is okay to look and admire, be sure to make eye contact with the driver and nod.

Overall, Californians are fine drivers.   Road rage has virtually disappeared in California since 2012.  Not that it doesn’t happen; – there are jerks everywhere, but keep in mind that in a state with over 30 million residents, we have more rednecks than most states have people. In case you are faced with road rage, here is a tip: Admit that are a jerk, idiot, or asshole.   This pretty much works 100% of the time.  They can’t argue if you don’t.  Sometimes I’ll mouth the word “sorry.”  That usually works too.

Driving in L.A.

Do not be afraid of Los Angeles.  It is truly one of the great cities of the world.  It is a friendly city too.  And the street traffic is not that bad at all

There is a stereotype about Los Angeles traffic.  Considering the size of LA, it really isn’t bad.  In China they have traffic jams that last a week.  You’ll see some bad driving, but keep in mind, that driver may just be visiting like you are.

a Chinese traffic jam in 2013

a Chinese traffic jam in 2013

Driving in San Francisco

There are only four kinds of drivers in San Francisco:

1        Working people in pickup trucks,

2        Clueless tourists driving rented cars

3        Cab drivers

4        Super-rich people driving expensive cars  with the look of disgust on their faces.

Driving in the San Francisco Bay Area is a harrowing experience.  Everyone is rude on the freeways, and they drive as if it were a competition.   When driving in the city of San Francisco just expect that you will be in a fender bender, and you will have a relatively stress-free driving experience.

San Francisco aka the City

San Francisco aka the City

If you are driving a manual transmission car in San Francisco, good luck with that.   I have heard many stories about burning out a clutch on the upside of one of the many beautiful, car-lined streets that SF is made of.

Parking in San Francisco is very limited.  To avoid great frustration, it is often better to arrange your itinerary based on the first empty parking space that you find.  Write down where you parked and jump a tram, bus, cab or cable car.  Taxies are fairly cheap in SF, and the cabbies get you to where you are going very quickly

Helpful Tips about California

San Francisco is a city and a county.

The proper term is Asians, not Orientals.

Stockton resembles a Third-World County.

There are many Slavic immigrants in California._Fearless_Leader__thumb

Fresno is the dividing line between Northern and Southern California.

We have Sikh police officers, especially in the northern Sacramento Valley.

Los Angelinos really do go into great detail on the best way to get to somewhere.

There are a lot of Catholics in California.  Most of our cities are named after saints.

San Francisco is called, “The City” by most Northern Californians.  It is never, ever called “Frisco.”

It can be 40 degrees at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, and 70 degrees in North Beach on the other side of town at the same time.

The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento has recently tripled its size and it is currently the newest art museum in America.

Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is not a crime in California.  As long as you are not smoking while driving, which is treated as a DUI, the worst thing that can happen to you is that you will get a citation.

When out in the forest or wilderness, especially in Northern California, do not be nosey.  Mind your own business.  There are some places, like in the Trinity Alps area, that are ruled by illegal marijuana growers or meth manufacturers.

Never, under any circumstances make any derogatory remarks about Hispanics.



Even if you think that you are in a room full of Caucasians, African-Americans, or Asians, because almost every native Californian has Hispanic blood in them, usually their grandmother, and of course, she was a saint.

The San Joaquin Valley, (which is approximately south of Stockton and north of Bakersfield) is a primarily Spanish-speaking area, governed under a feudal system.  Rich corporate farmers and poor Spanish speaking workers are the inhabitants of the “Breadbasket of the World.”  If you want to see poverty in America, you have come to the right place.

You will notice that there is a usually a layer of smog in the San Joaquin Valley.  That’s because everything is powered by diesel fuel.  Tractors, semi-trucks, farm machinery, and generators belch choking exhaust in what should be should be fresh clean air, and even though the farmers could easily make bio-diesel from their own land, few do.

smell that fresh country air

smell that fresh country air

They blame the smog on the San Francisco Bay Area traffic.  Check out the great Spanish language radio stations that play everything from Ranchero to Cumbia to Mexican gangsta rap.

Remember, there is no place else on Earth where so many people, from so many different cultures, races and religions live together in relative harmony.  We also have the best food and drink in the world.

California Fruits, Flakes, and Nuts – True Tales of California Crazies, Crackpots and Creeps preorders available now


ffn coverA freewheeling catalog of misfits, eccentrics, creeps, criminals, and failed dreamers, this compendium profiles 45 bizarre personalities who exemplify the Golden State’s well-deserved reputation for nonconformity. In the pages, Gold Rush pioneers are revealed as murderous madmen; Hollywood celebrities are shown to be drug-addled sex maniacs; early hippies are just 1950s weirdos; and even seemingly ordinary Californians have a talent for freakish, crazy, and criminal behavior. From frontier lunatic Grizzly Adams, whose head was one massive wound after multiple bear attacks, to I Love Lucy star William Frawley, a racist, misogynist, foul-mouthed drunk, and legendarily awful film director Ed Wood, California Fruits, Flakes, and Nuts is a side-splitting look at the people who made California the strangest place on earth.

The Assassination of Bugsy Siegel


Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel grew up a poor Jew in the slums of Brooklyn. Everywhere he looked there was disease, poverty and crime.  The tough streets honed his body into a catlike creature, alert and responsive.  Before he was a teenager, young Ben ran extortion rackets in his neighborhood, demanding protection payments from street cart venders.  If the merchant didn’t pay up, their cart would mysteriously, or not so mysteriously, catch fire.

Siegel smiles for his mug shot in the 1920s

Siegel smiles for his mug shot in the 1920s

A handsome man who only wore the best and latest fashions, Siegel rose up the criminal underworld’s ladder.  Teaming up with the soon-to-be infamous mobster Meyer Lansky, the Bugs-Meyer mob stole cars for Lucky Luciano’s men to drive during crimes and ran gambling and bootlegging rackets in the Tri-State area. Lansky and Siegel also did their share of raiding warehouses and hijacking trucks.

No one ever called Siegel, “Bugsy” to his face.  His friends called him Ben.  Siegel was a hothead, always ready to solve disagreements with beating. He also had no qualms about murder.  Siegel was a professional— he always made sure to puncture his victim’s stomachs with a long knife, so that when the victim started decomposing, the gas would escape through the wounds and the body wouldn’t float to the surface.  Siegel was known to have murdered mobsters Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Tony Fabrizzo, Waxey Gordon, Charles “Chink” Sherman, Bo Weinberg, Joey Amberg, Louis Amberg, Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg and Whitey Krakower.  Only Siegel knew how many people that he actually murdered.

Bugsy Siegel getting some water during a break in one of his many trials

Bugsy Siegel getting some water during a break in one of his many trials

Siegel was part of the hit team that whacked the old-school New York mafia Dons Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano in 1931.  Getting rid of the two men effectively ended the rule of the Mustache Petes’ and brought the Mafia into the modern era. Known as “The Syndicate,” the East coast crime families agreed to cooperate with each other and expand their territories to Florida and the western states.  Along with Lansky, Siegel co-founded Murder Inc, which supplied mob families with made-to-order hit men, ready to travel anywhere to quietly kill enemies of the Syndicate. This was the greatest era of expansion for organized crime, and it would be thirty years before the U.S. Justice Department cracked down on the mob during the Kennedy administration.

Ironically, Siegel was a charming man who moved easily in high society.   He was as comfortable with politicians and celebrities as he was with hookers and drug pushers. Siegel was the Syndicate’s ambassador.  He was the go-to guy to grease the gears of city halls and zoning boards around the eastern seaborne.

Siegel was quite the sharp dresser

Siegel was quite the sharp dresser

Siegel was a hands-on kind of mob boss.  He loved working over a deadbeat or shooting a double-crosser.  Eventually, though, he made too many enemies among the various rival gangsters. In 1937, the Syndicate decided that it would be wise to send Bugsy to California to keep him out of harm’s way and to shore up the rackets headed by L.A. crime boss Jack Dragna.

In California, Siegel set up a national wire service to connect Dragna’s gambling dens and bookie parlors to the rest of the country.  It made enormous profits for the Syndicate.  He also muscled in on Dragna’s drug, extortion and numbers rackets in Los Angeles. Because Siegel had the blessing of the Syndicate, Dragna had only two choices: comply or die. Dragna wisely complied.

Siegel rented a thirty-five-room mansion in Beverley Hills and looked up his childhood buddy, now movie star, George Raft.  Raft introduced him to Hollywood royalty.  Siegel’s charm and fashion sense fit right in with the Hollywood crowd and he was soon hobnobbing with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper and dozens of others show business fixtures.  Siegel threw extravagant parties and spent as much as $10,000 a day at the Santa Anita Rack Track.  He puzzlingly almost always won.  He dated a string of starlets, even though he had moved his wife and children to Los Angeles.

Countess Dorothy Dendice Taylor diFrasso fell madly in love with Siegel and introduced him to movie moguls Jack Warner, Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer.  Siegel later extorted money from those producers and their studios.  Later, on a trip to Italy, the countess allegedly introduced Siegel to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and Hitler henchmen Herman Goering and Dr. Joseph Goebbles.  Siegel was so disgusted by the Nazis that he allegedly had to be talked out of murdering them by the Countess.

Through Virginia Hill, an aspiring starlet and mob money launderer, Siegel made Mexican connections and set up a heroin and opium smuggling operation that distributed dope throughout the United States.  This action marked the beginning of the drug trade on the West Coast. Hill was the love of Siegel’s sordid life. Although he was married and had constant affairs, he always went back to Hill’s bed.

Gun Moll Virginia Hill, Siegel's mistress

Gun Moll Virginia Hill, Siegel’s mistress

The laid-back West Coast atmosphere didn’t change Siegel.  He was still a hands-on mobster.  He would go to a Hollywood premiere or out nightclubbing with the stars, only to excuse himself to torture or kill an underworld figure who had fallen out of the graces of the Syndicate.   Siegel made the most of his knowledge of the vices of the rich and famous, blackmailing them to keep their dirty laundry hidden.

Siegel financed a posh gambling ship, The Rex, which anchored twelve-miles off the coast, just beyond the United States boundary.  It was because of this investment that Siegel got the idea of starting a casino in a small, dusty desert hamlet – known by most people in Nevada as a lonely railroad tank town -Las Vegas.

Taking advantage of Nevada’s lax gambling and prostitution laws and using three million dollars of the Syndicate’s money, Siegel built The Flamingo Hotel in the little town and, in essence, put Las Vegas on the map.

The first few months were rough for The Flamingo.  Hordes of gamblers didn’t head out to the luxurious hotel right away, and the place was losing money.  Siegel needed more money to promote his venture.  He hired the biggest entertainers of the day, many who were repaying favors to Siegel, to perform at The Flamingo.  His Hollywood pals followed suit, traveling to Las Vegas for nights of wild partying, making the once sleepy tank town a fashionable place to be and be seen.

But the money wasn’t coming in fast enough for the Syndicate and the boys back east felt like they had financed Siegel’s personal playroom.  Mob boss Lucky Luciano called Siegel to Havana, Cuba, where Luciano was secretly living after being deported from the United States, to ask for his investment back.  Siegel getting too big for his own good and, believing that he was an equal to the powerful Luciano, told his old pal to “go to hell.” In true Godfather fashion, Luciano didn’t say a word and Siegel went back to the west coast and what he thought was his personal criminal fiefdom.

Luciano called Siegel’s mentor and old business partner Meyer Lansky, telling him that it was time for Bugsy to go and there would be no discussion of the matter.  Allegedly, Lansky called his old friend and begged him to pay Luciano and apologize for his disrespect.  Siegel ignored his old partner.

On June 20, 1947, Siegel was reading a newspaper in Virginia Hill’s extravagant Beverly Hills home when someone fired three shots from a 30.30 rifle through a window, killing the mobster immediately.

Benjamin Siegel laying in a bloody heap in Virginia Hill's living room.

Benjamin Siegel laying in a bloody heap in Virginia Hill’s living room.

Hill was “vacationing” in Europe at the time and Bugsy’s bodyguard just happened to leave the room when he was shot.

Only Siegel’s immediate family showed up for his funeral.  His Hollywood friends, including George Raft, stayed away. The man who founded America’s adult playground was put in his crypt with a mere five people in attendance.

Assassination in Germantown – May 5, 1878 – Germantown / Artois, Colusa County


We don’t know much about Christian Mutschler, but what we do know is that he wasn’t a very intelligent man. The Germantown blacksmith also made poor choices in his friends.

On May 5, 1878, Mutschler (also spelled Mutchler), along with two of his buddies, John Kelley and Henry Holmes, had words with a saloonkeeper named Hageman. Mutschler, who was mentally the slowest member of the group and had been known to light fires, was persuaded by Kelley and Holmes—along with W. Hagaman, F. Todt, Charles Hansen and Carl Regensberger—to collect a sack of wood shavings to light on fire in Hageman’s saloon. They figured they’d all get a good laugh by stinking up the place.

Artois is now basically an abandoned town

Artois is now basically an abandoned town

Inside the saloon, Mutschler’s buddies gave him the signal to torch the shavings. As he lit the bag, a couple of no-nonsense cowboys pulled out their pistols and shot Mutschler in the leg.

Brought before Germantown’s Justice of the Peace, named in the press only as Boardman, Mutschler was charged with arson. No charges were brought against the cowboys, it being perfectly legal in California to shoot someone committing a prank in a drinking establishment. But since no one would testify against Mutschler, Boardman released him.

Mutschler may have been stupid, but he was smart enough to know that it was a good time to leave Germantown. The blacksmith started limping in the hot spring sun toward Orland. He had to walk because all of the stage drivers leaving Germantown were told not to give him a ride. Mutschler was being set up.

Another abandoned business in Artois.

Another abandoned business in Artois.

Justice in California functioned in baffling ways back in 1878. For some reason, Mutschler’s friend, John Kelley swore out a warrant on Mutschler for threatening his life. A deputy was sent up the road toward Orland to apprehend the wounded and hapless Mutschler. He was placed under arrest until he could make his thousand-dollar bond, which was quite impossible for a humble blacksmith.

Mutschler was put in the protective custody of Constable William McLane, who also owned a Germantown saloon. Since Germantown had no jail, McLane housed the blacksmith in his bar for the night. It proved a bad idea because sometime during the night, a group of twelve to fourteen masked men broke down the door to McLane’s saloon. They grabbed Mutschler, took him some 250 to 300 yards out of town and shot him to death.

Mutschler’s friends, Holmes, Kelley, Hansen, Regensberger, and R. Radcliff were all arrested in the investigation. Constable McLane apparently wasn’t suspected of dereliction of duty or wrongdoing. Hageman, Todt, and Oscar Scholtz were taken to Willows for examination and held on $10,000 bail, which they immediately paid.

According to the testimony of Constable McLane, the masked men broke down the door to his saloon and pointed their pistols at the officer. They took Mutschler away and ten minutes later, McLane heard the fatal shots.

John Kelley testified that he was asleep when the “jailbreak” occurred. Under oath, Kelley stated that although there was never any difficulty between him and the victim, Mutschler had on one occasion made direct threats against Kelley’s life if he revealed certain secrets that they shared.

Radcliffe, Regensberger, Holmes, Kelley, and Hauser were brought before Judge A. Caraloff at Willows and after four days of examination, were charged with murder. The men hired the attorneys A.L. Hart of Colusa and General Lewis of Tehama and pled not guilty. The men were released to the custody of the Sheriff of Colusa County but were later released by Judge Keyser on an $8,000 bail.

Mutschler’s brother Ludwig hired R.B. Hall, a private detective from San Francisco, to investigate the murder and found evidence that the men had threatened Mutschler’s life and had been overheard saying so. The men also tried to get several other Germantown men to join their lynching party.

On August 31, 1878, the Colusa Sun reported, “These cases are going to cost the county an immense amount of money at best, and when we see it needlessly squandered, we feel that it is time to put in a protest.” Legal charges made by detective Hall would have the Sun add that “if smart San Francisco detectives must do anything, let them hunt up evidence, and not undertake to put the county to so much expense for nothing.”

California Governor William Irwin offered a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of any of the assassins, but no one was ever awarded the money.

The trial of “People vs. John Kelley, H.P. Holmes, Carl Regensberger, R. Radcliff, and C. Hansen” was initially set for September 18th but later postponed to December 14, 1878. On December 7th, the District Court dropped the charges against all parties indicted for the killing of Mutschler “for the reason that important witnesses for the people cannot be found.”

Artois was known as Germantown, until the US got involved in WWI.  Allegedly, a trainload of soldiers rode to Germantown and beat up the locals.  The town's name was changed to Artois shortly after that

Artois was known as Germantown, until the US got involved in WWI. Allegedly, a trainload of soldiers rode to Germantown and beat up the locals. The town’s name was changed to Artois shortly after that

Whether because of his mental handicap or penchant for starting fires, Mutschler obviously wasn’t a very popular person in Germantown. Perhaps he was murdered because he knew something that he wasn’t suppose to know, but we’ll never know. Being a blacksmith, Mutschler may have been hired to make incriminating paraphernalia for outlaws, like burglary tools and irons to change brands. The townspeople may have just been tired of him lighting fires in the dry Sacramento Valley where an entire town could turn into ashes in minutes.

During World War I, there were very strong anti-German feelings throughout many parts of the country and many German named towns across America were renamed. The U.S. Post Office discontinued the local Germantown name and adopted Artois on May 21, 1918.

Shootout at the Supper Club – February 15th, 1962


On the night of February 15th, 1962, Aaron Charles Mitchell walked unnoticed through the kitchen door of the Stadium Club in Sacramento’s south side.  Wearing rubber gloves and a homemade ski mask, Mitchell wasn’t at the restaurant to make a delivery.

Bursting into the bar and dining room, Mitchell fired a round into the ceiling from the sawed-off shotgun that he had tied around his neck.  He got everyone’s attention.  He held 30 patrons and employees at gunpoint and mumbled about the safe.  He settled on two hundred dollars from co-owner Jack Licciardo’s wallet.

Unknown to Mitchell, Jack’s brother and co-owner Edward had slipped into another room and phoned police.  Officers John Bibica, Robert Reese, Arnold Gamble and Ronald Shaw arrived in minutes.  Biblica covered the front door, while Reese, Gamble and Shaw entered through the backdoor.

Mitchell looked around at the angry patrons of the supper club and realized that he was in over his head.  That there was no way that he could pull off the heist alone.  He backed towards the front entrance to leave.

Seeing Officer Bibica covering the entrance, Mitchell turned and ran through the kitchen just as Officer Shaw was entering.  Mitchell stuck his shotgun into Officer Shaw’s face and took his gun.  He grabbed Shaw and shoved him through the door, using Officer Shaw as a shield.  A torrent of bullets burst forth.  Mitchell fired Shaw’s pistol four times, hitting Officer Gamble in the chest and killing him, but not before the brave policeman fired his high-powered revolver four times.

The brave Sacramento police officer Arnold Gamble

The brave Sacramento police officer Arnold Gamble

Officer Shaw was hit in the left thigh.  Officer Reese was forced to hold his fire because Officers Gamble and Shaw were in his line of fire.

Hearing the shots, Officer Bibica ran around to the back of the restaurant and saw Mitchell running through the parking lot, across the street, and into a field of tall grass.  Bibica fired five shots at Mitchell, saving his last shot.  Officer Reese was hot on Mitchell’s trail, firing off several rounds at the fleeing murderer.  They followed Mitchell’s bloody path, which led to a guesthouse a few of blocks away from the Stadium Club.

Reloaded and joined by Officer Jerry Finney, the policemen kicked in the door, finding Mitchell lying unconscious on his back, his shotgun still tied around his neck and lying across his chest.  He was still wearing his rubber gloves and mask. He had been shot five times.  Mitchell’s getaway car was nearby.

Officer Gamble would have been 43 the day after he died. His wife of twenty-four years, two children and a grandchild survived him.

Aaron Charles Mitchell had been out on bond in connection with a robbery of the Norge Laundry and Dry Cleaning Village on December 29th, 1961.  He had been arrested in five different states for robbery and grand larceny and had twice served time in prison.  He may have also been responsible for several other Sacramento robberies.  After a six-week trial, Mitchell was sentenced to death.

The Long and the Short of Yosemite National Park


On October 15, 1968, James T. Madsen of Seattle was climbing the Dihedral Wall on El Capitan

El Capitan is a favorite with mountain climbers...

El Capitan is a favorite with mountain climbers…

in Yosemite National Park.  While going to the aid of a stalled climbing party, the 20 year old Madsen rappelled of the end of his rope and fell 3,000 feet to his death.   Four years later, on July 25, 1972, Roger Stetson Parke was climbing Teck-Salathé on Sentinel Rock in Yosemite, when he lost his holds, and fell 14 feet.  This was the shortest fatal fall in Yosemite National Park

Etienne Brule – America’s Forgotten Explorer


Etienne Brule is one of the most overlooked and forgotten European explorer of early North American history.  As a teenager, the illiterate Brule went to Quebec with Samuel de Champlain, he lived with the native Americans, explored the Great Lakes, the Susquehanna River, Chesapeake Bay and it is believed that he was the first European to visit the Central Plains, yet he is largely ignored in the history books because he was wrongfully accused of corroborating with the English leading to the British takeover of Quebec and because he wisely took up the lifestyle and dress of the Native Americans, which greatly offended the French Catholic Monks that edited Champlain’s diary.   Even today there is very little written about Brule.

Etienne Brule was born in Champigny, France in what is generally agreed as the year 1595.  At age 13, Brule (pronounced Bruley) left the safety and comfort of his family home and sailed off to North America as Samuel de Champlain’s servant and was present at the founding of Quebec.[1]  Champlain made a deal with the Wyandotte (who later became Huron) Indians to bring him furs to trade for European goods.  Champlain and the Huron tribe had a good relationship and they trusted one another.[2]

Samuel-de-Champlain was quite the dapper fellow.

After two years of servitude, Champlain allowed Brule to live with a tribe of Wyandotte Indians, who resided on the Georgian Bay in what is now Canada.  Four years later, Brule came back to Quebec with his adopted tribal members in canoes laden with furs.   He was now a man, dressed as a native and speaking their language fluently.  Brule told Champlain about the freshwater sea that he had traveled on and Champlain immediately believed that the sea was the route to China.  To get to the fresh water sea, one had to paddle up the St. Lawrence River, into Lake Ontario, up the Ottawa River (near what is now Montreal), across Lake Nipissing and down the French River into what is now known as the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron.[3]  Brule stayed in Quebec only for short periods and acted as Champlain’s translator.  It is believed that all entries of “the translator” in Champlain’s logbooks pertained to Brule.[4]

In 1615, when Brule was twenty-one, he was asked to join a handpicked group of Huron warriors to assist a Huron ally, the Andaste in their war with the Iroquois.  The Andaste homeland was south of Iroquois territory on the north branch of the Susquehanna River in the Appalachian Mountains near what is now Waverly, New York.  Arriving at their destination, the warriors found out that they missed the battle by several weeks.  Brule, feeling the wanderlust that came natural to him, spent the winter exploring the Susquehanna River all the way to Chesapeake Bay.  He is believed to be the first European to explore that area of the country.[5]

On their way back to Quebec, Brule got separated during a skirmish with a band of Iroquois.  After wandering in the wilderness for days and nearly starving he met some Indians who took him to their village.  Brule knew that they were Iroquois, and it took only a few moments with the tribal elders for them to realize that he was a Frenchman.  They tied him to a tree and as the women and children tore chunks of his beard and hair out, the men piled firewood at his feet.  They tore out his toenails with their teeth and burned him with red-hot cinders.[6]  As they were on the verge of skinning him alive, a brave went to tear off Brule’s scapula.  Brule, noticed an approaching storm and knowing the superstitions of the Native Americans told them that, “If you take it and put me to death, you shall see that immediately afterwards you and all your house shall die suddenly.”[7]  At that moment a thunderclap rang out loudly and the frightened Indians released Brule, dressed his wounds and once he recovered from his injuries, was carried on the backs of braves to where he would be safe from other Iroquois.[8]

Brule preferred the native life and was known among his fellow tribal members as a ladies man.[9]  This upset Champlain and the other conservative Catholics in Quebec. 

France in the meantime was in social upheaval with the Huguenots, a protestant faction that received support from England.  Brule, along with another Frenchman and some natives had the bad luck of being captured by squad of British ships (who carried with them a task force of Huguenots ready to claim control of Quebec) in the St. Lawrence River and was forced to guide their ships to the settlement.   The British found Quebec in shambles, their supplies low and the men dispirited.  After a peaceful surrender, the British placed Quebec in Huguenot control.  Brule, knowing how he made his livelihood, negotiated a deal with the Huguenots for furs.  This infuriated Champlain and he and his Jesuit editors never forgave Brule.[10]  Champlain accused Brule and the other Frenchman of cooperating with the British and Huguenots, an act of treason.[11]

Brule proved to be faithful to Champlain after Quebec was reinstated back to Catholic control following reforms in France.  He was so important to French interest as a translator, explorer and go-between that Champlain did not punish him for his alleged treason.[12]

Sadly, the Monks that edited Champlain’s notes were not so tolerant and he is all but forgotten in history[13] even though he was the first European to discover the five Great Lakes, the St. Mary’s River and the Sault Ste. Marie area, the Detroit area and it is believed that Brule traveled into the Great Plains and Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba.[14]

Informing Champlain about his finds, Brule paved the way for scores of French fur traders and missionaries to exploit and settle the Great Lakes, greatly changing the Native Americans way of life and exposing them to alcohol, diseases and a decimation of their culture by way of European religion and assimilation.[15]

For a reason long lost in time, Brule was clubbed to death in 1632 by his own tribe, his body boil and eaten.[16]  The other Great Lake tribes ostracized his band, as Brule was well liked and appreciated for his diplomacy, regard of their culture and assimilation to their way of life.[17]

Lake Huron is so vast, that the French thought that it was a fresh water ocean.

In conclusion, this illiterate young Frenchman paddled a birch bark canoe in the rough and unpredictable waters of the Great Lakes with his native fur traders throughout an extensive area of unexplored wilderness, making friends with the Native Americans as he traveled.  This, in contrast to Hernado de Soto’s murderous and disastrous expedition in the southern United States, Brule was a humanitarian pioneer and maybe because of this, he is importance in history has been largely ignored.[18]


[1] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – Louis H. Burbey, published by the author  – 1987 – page 2

[2] The Dawn of Time – Robert J. Foley – The Haunted Press – Niagara Falls, Ontario – 1997 – page 63


[3] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – pages 2-4

[4] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 3

[5] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 14

[6] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 15, 16

[7] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 16

[8] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 16, 17

[9] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 23

[10]The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – pages 37, 84

[11]The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 79

[12] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 47

[13] The Dawn of Time – page 64


[14] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 77

[15] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 76

[16] Murder Michigan – Gary W. Barfknecht – Friede Publications, Davison Michigan – 1983 – page 12

[17] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 76

[18] The Dramatic Tragic Destiny of Etienne Brule – page 87