American Heritage International Blues Hall of Fame logo and Mike Wilhelm photograph by Keizo Yamazawa - May 3, 2012

Mike Wilhelm

Asked by famed rock photographer Herb Greene to name his favorite guitarist, Jerry Garcia replied, "Mike Wilhelm." Charles Perry said it all in a Rolling Stone Magazine review of Mike's first solo album when he wrote, "Wilhelm's voice is so tough and effective that it's scarcely credible that he's doing all that slick finger-picking at the same time, but the song was done in one take."

Being a founding member of San Francisco's first psychedelic rock band, the amazing Charlatans, Mike Wilhelm staked his claim in Rock and Roll history early on. The musical earthquake that happened in and around San Francisco in the mid '60s, which would go around the globe in waves, was generated by five sharp-dressed, curious and visionary musicians about to touch new land; the dawn of psychedelic rock and the fashion, image and culture that would follow was loudly trumpeted by the appearance of the amazing Charlatans. The dancehall and festival culture as well as the Vietnam protest movement were direct results of a youth that wanted to open their minds while embracing the world.

While still a teenager, he ran into Walter "Brownie" McGhee, the legendary bluesman and partner of Sonny Terry. McGhee, described by Mike as "a most generous teacher", taught Wilhelm his fingerpicking licks. Highly talented Mike impressed McGhee so much that he taught him at no charge and obviously very, very well. His fingerpicking creates the illusion that you hear at least one more guitar. His slide work has an elegant silverish tone and accuracy, both the softness and bite of a panther. He is a cultural bridge between Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash.

His career led him around the world, playing LA's famed Whisky a Go-Go and Berlin's historic Sportpalast as well as the legendary Avalon, Fillmore and Winterland, touring Japan and Europe, working with Janis Joplin's Big Brother and the Holding Company, Chicago blues great Nick "the Greek" Gravenites, playing and recording with Quicksilver Messenger Service's John Cipollina, influencing West Coast Sound and establishing trends as art forms with his bands the Charlatans, Loose Gravel and Flamin' Groovies. Mike tells the story of this land and its people when doing songs such as Pizen Switch and Betty And Dupree on six or twelve strings.

Writer H. C. Anderson is a music critic from Berlin, Germany who currently resides in San Francisco.

Contact Mike at: giglinemw@rocketmail.com


Upcoming Events, Comments, & Video


Michael Wilhelm & Hired Guns ~ Red Dog Saloon ~ Virginia City, Nevada ~ August 15 and 16, 2014 ~ 8 PM
Michael Wilhelm & Hired Guns
Red Dog Saloon
Virginia City, Nevada
August 15 & 16, 2014, 8 PM
Advance Tickets go on sale July 3, 2014
775-847-7474 ~ info@reddogvc.com


Hire the Guns


[Note: Recent Entries Have Been Archived at: Mike Wilhelm & Hired Guns]



If You Live, Mike Wilhelm & Hired Guns


Pecos River Queen by Mike Wilhelm


Strawberry Roan by Mike Wilhelm

Most artists have edited Strawberry Roan lyrics.
Here are the complete lyrics as written by Curley Fletcher, 1915.

Published on Jan 22, 2013 by Mike Wilhelm

I'm a-layin' around just spendin' my time, Out of a job and ain't holdin' a dime, When a fellow steps up and says, "I suppose That you're a bronc fighter by the looks of your clothes." "You figures me right, I'm a good one," I claim, "Do you happen to have any bad ones to tame?" He says he's got one, a bad one to buck, And for throwin' good riders, he's had lots of luck.

He says that this pony has never been rode, That the boys that gets on him is bound to get throwed; Well I gets all excited and asks what he pays To ride that old pony for a couple of days. He offered a ten-spot, I says "I'm your man, 'Cause the bronc never lived that I couldn't fan; The horse never lived, he never drew breath, That I couldn't ride 'til he starved plumb to death.

"I don't like to brag but I got this to say, That I ain't been piled in many a day." Says he, "Get your saddle, I'll give you a chance." So I gets in his buckboard and drifts to his ranch. I stays until mornin' and right after chuck, I steps out to see if this outlaw can buck. Down in the horse corral standin' alone Was this caballo, a strawberry roan.

His legs is all spavined, he's got pigeon toes, Little pig eyes and a big Roman nose, Little pin ears that touch at the tip And a double square iron stamped on his hip. Ewe-necked and old with a long lower jaw, I can see with one eye, he's a reg'lar outlaw. I puts on my spurs - I'm sure feelin' fine - Turns up my hat and picks up my twine.

I throws that loop on him and well I know then, That before he gets rode, I'll sure earn that ten, I get my blinds on him and it sure was a fight, Next come my saddle, I screws it down tight. Then I piles on him and raises the blind, I'm right in his middle to see him unwind. Well, he bows his old neck and I guess he unwound, For he seems to quit livin' down on the ground.

He goes up toward the east and comes down toward the west; To stay in his middle, I'm doin' my best. He sure is frog-walkin', he heaves a big sigh. He only lacks wings for to be on the fly. He turns his old belly right up towards the sun, He sure is a sun-fishin' son of a gun. He is the worst bucker I've seen on the range; He can turn on a nickel and give you some change.

While he's a-buckin', he squeals like a shoat, I tell you, that pony has sure got my goat. I claim that, no foolin', that bronc could sure step But I'm still in my saddle, a-buildin' a rep. He hits on all fours and suns up his side, I don't see how he keeps from sheddin' his hide. I loses my stirrups and also my hat, I'm grabbin' the leather and blind as a bat.

With a phenomenal jump, he goes up on high, And I'm settin' on nothin', way up in the sky, And then I turns over and comes back to earth And lights into cussin' the day of his birth. I knows the horses I ain't able to ride Is some of them livin' - they haven't all died, But I bets all my money there ain't no man alive, That can stay with that bronc when he makes that high dive!

Time Machine June 1965
The Charlatans Debut - View PDF File

Mike Wilhelm playing his DeArmond Starfire Special - Photo by Keizo Yamazawa
Photographs from May 3, 2012, Presidio Yacht Club by Keizo Yamazawa

Mike Wilhelm inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame, March 14, 2012
Mike Wilhelm recognized as Great Blues Artist of San Francisco
and Inducted in the, American Heritage International Blues Hall of Fame, March 14, 2012

Mike Wilhelm Blues Hall of Fame Induction photo by Keizo W. Yamazawa
Mike Wilhelm Blues Hall of Fame Induction photo by Keizo W. Yamazawa


Mike Wilhelm CD Release - Keys to the Highway

High Curtis,

I again have CDs available of the solo acoustic blues album Keys to the Highway... Money order to P. O. Box 2094, Clearlake, CA 95422. $15 domestic orders, USD $20 foreign orders. Personalized autographs gratis. Please allow at least 30 days for delivery.

Happy trails, Mike Wilhelm


New Section (on Right) about Mike Wilhelm's Guitars: Featuring Mike's 1954 Gretsch Country Club or click below

Mike Wilhelm Guitars
Guitars
featuring Mike's 1954 Gretsch Country Club



Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor, Mike Wilhelm, 1978, from Girl George TV Show


Fan It, Mike Wilhelm, 1978, from Girl George TV Show - after return from Europe tour with Flamin' Groovies.


Mike writes August 17, 2011

A couple more in my continuing Cowboy & Western series.

The Ridge Runnin' Roan -- The Pecos River Queen

Check out the Pecos River high bridge. Whoa!

Pecos River Bridge

Addendum August 19, 2011: I noticed that Jack Thorpe had it wrong about it being the Comstock bridge. It was Jim Converse's bridge, he being Southern Pacific's Chief Engineer of Lines West and responsible for it's construction. I re-recorded this song today with a corrected lyric and put it up on sound cloud. The previous link works.

Happy trails, Mike Wilhelm

Mike writes:

A new song, Buckaroo Life, http://soundcloud.com/guitar-willie/buckaroo-life

Buckaroo: A corruption of the Spanish word "vaquero", meaning "cowboy".

An original song by Michael Ray Wilhelm


On 12/09/2010 Mike writes: Here's a link to a rare Monica Dupont video [now embeded below]:


Hurricane Betsy by Monica Dupont


Mike Wilhelm, on 12/06/2010, writes:

Found this track in my flash drive. From my Japan tour April/May '95. Don't remember exactly where or who the musicians are but I'm playing my Rickenbacker 450 12-string. Just a jam but I started singing Two Trains Runnin' so I guess that's the title.

http://www.flyingsnail.com/Podcast/TwoTrainsRunnin.mp3

Yours truly, Mike Wilhelm


30th Anniversary - Summer of Love Video
Mike Wilhelm: Video Interview by Dwight Dolliver
http://www.flyingsnail.com/video/30th-summer-of-love/index.html


High Curtis,

Just found some stuff on YouTube of the guy I played with in Japan back in '95 & '97. kyOn is a great keyboard, accordian, guitar & mandolin player. This stuff is from the band he formed in the late '90s called the Hobo King.

He's the tall guy on the left, purple suit, plexiglass guitar and or mandolin. Yours truly, Mike Wilhelm

バニティーファクトリー 佐野元春 and The Hobo King Band (Live)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPRQecmVTcA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4MdDhcRMsM


201008.23 - Blog and New Video

Mike Wilhelm's Blog - http://blogs.myspace.com/mikewilhelm1

New Video - Fan It - http://www.myspace.com/mikewilhelm1

201008.16 - Anthony Clark writes:

Curtis, The new album by former Flamin' Groovies singer Chris Wilson features a number of old band mates - Mike Wilhelm, George Alexander, James Ferrell and original Groovies front man Roy Loney. Rounding out the guest list is Procol Harum's Hammond player Matthew Fisher and Robin Wills, guitarist from The Barracudas.

Mike contributes slide guitar to the Zeppelin-infused Bad Dreams, George appears on two tracks - Can't Let Go and Semaphore signals, and James and Roy guest on the song Gamblin' Man, an old-school Groovies-style rock 'n' roll stomp. This is the first time Chris and Roy have sung together on a studio track, something that will no doubt excite Groovies fans.

Matthew adds bravura keyboards to Fading Away while Robin sings and plays guitar on Way Too Fast.

The album, Love Over Money, is due for release in October on the French Rock Paradise label.

The attached photo is Anthony Clark and Chris Wilson in the studio.  Photo provided by Anthony Clark
Anthony Clark [left] and Chris Wilson in the studio...
For more information visit: www.flamin-groovy.com

201008.13/18 - NEW Charlatans and Flamin' Groovies photographs

201008.08 - Mike Wilhelm writes: New MP3s for webpage

Ladyfriend - Here's another Flamin' Groovies track, a cover of an obscure Byrds tune that only appeared on the flip side of a 45 single. Ladyfriend was written by David Crosby. We opened our show at Le Pavillon de Paris with this song and it tore the crowd up.

I Got Mine - Mike Wilhelm, acoustic 12-string and vocal; Riley Osbourne, piano; Waller Collie, bass; Fred "Freddie Steady" Krc, drums. Krc is pronounced "Kirch". Recorded in Austin, March, 2000.

Sweet Home Chicago - New Bottle Rock Blues & Rhythm Band track.

201007.31 - Mike Wilhelm writes: Flamin' Groovies mp3s for webpage

Hi Curtis, 'Tis me in another facet of my ever more fractured personality. ;-)

Mike Wilhelm, Flamin' Groovies, Brunel University, England
Mike Wilhelm, Flamin' Groovies, Brunel University, England

Take Me Back [MP3] is from Flamin' Groovies Now

In The USA [MP3] is from Flamin' Groovies Jumpin' in the Night.

Personnel are: Chris Wilson, vocal & guitar; Cyril Jordan, vocal & guitar; George Alexander, vocal & bass; Mike Wilhelm, guitar; David Wright, drums. Both tunes from the late '70s and songwriting credit is Jordan/Wilson.

[Ed. Note: Available via Podcast feed http://www.flyingsnail.com/Podcast/rss.xml]


Mike Wilhelm Press Quotes

1967: Jerry Garcia was asked to name his favorite guitarist on the San Francisco scene. His quick reply? "Mike Wilhelm."

2008: Mike's marvelous new self-produced acoustic CD, Keys to the Highway, displays the guitarist's stellar abilities as a stand-alone bluesman, in the manner of his heroes Brownie McGhee and Robert Johnson.

The veteran guitarist is now 66 years old. He began studying blues while still a teenager with legendary Tennessee bluesman Walter "Brownie" McGhee. Mike had run into him in Los Angeles, quite by chance. He enthuses, "I told him I really dug his records. I wanted to know how he managed to get that thumping bass and how he fingered his signature turnaround lick. Of course, I had my guitar with me; I never went anywhere without it back then! He asked for my guitar, showed me his set of fingerpicks and then the lick. I almost couldn't believe it happened just like that! I bought a set of fingerpicks the next day and a day or so later I had Brownie's turnaround down. And so it began..."

McGhee, recognizing Mike's talent and strong desire, thoroughly schooled him at no charge. "At one point I began to think I was getting pretty damn good. Then Brownie told me that, once I could play licks in the long A position, do bass runs at the same time and sing over that intelligibly and with feeling, I could seriously consider myself a blues guitarist. I mean, talk about setting the bar high! Even after I began playing professionally, it was many years before I cracked that nut. Even now, I'll make some really cool breakthrough, then suddenly I get the flashback, 'Oh, right! Brownie tried to get me to do that over 40 years ago!' I owe him so much, what a wonderful, generous man!"

The bulk of these tracks are fresh renditions, including his most recent sly update of Brownie's hard times classic, Pawnshop Blues. In The New New Old Pawnshop Blues, Mike sings about today's hard times with wry humor...now the middle class has the blues! His arrangement of Big Bill Broonzy's Key To The Highway stands out from the pack through his use of the changes he "learned from Brownie"...plus some tricks of his own! Wilhelm is fond of introducing songs with, "Here's one from back when the blues had chord changes."

Eric Clapton made it trendy to cut Robert Johnson tunes but not even Clapton did so without backup musicians. Here Mike has no problem pulling off three of Johnson's songs with no overdubs. Like on Johnson's recordings, there are times when I could almost swear I hear a second guitar but, with practiced ease, Wilhelm can readily reproduce this illusion in live performance.

Other old masters, the Reverend Gary Davis, Ma Rainey, Blind Willie McTell, and W. C. Handy, are represented here as well. We have two of Mike's moody 12-string instrumentals. Lakeview Shuffle is an A-A-B-A format, unusual for delta blues. The eerie Ghost Train is like nothing I've heard from any blues guitarist. Obviously not content to be a slavish imitator, Wilhelm has created a style all his own while carefully remaining true to the music he so obviously loves.

He is, as he says, "in all the rock history books" as a founding member of San Francisco's first psychedelic rock group, the Charlatans, back in 1964. After the Charlatans broke up in 1969, he led his own rock and roll trio, Loose Gravel, until 1976 when he joined cult heroes Flamin' Groovies. The Flamin' Groovies are considered the fathers of power pop. He toured and recorded extensively in both Europe and America with the Groovies until 1982 when he began anew his solo career.

Wilhelm has played solo all across the U.S., in Europe and did solo tours of Japan in 1995 and 1997. 1997 also saw a series of reunion concerts with the Charlatans culminating in their historic shows at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and San Francisco's Fillmore. In 2007, Mike and the Charlatans played the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love in Golden Gate Park.

In addition to his recent solo work, like Western Maryland Blues Fest, he has been appearing with the very popular Lake County Blues Allstars at local venues, such as the Blue Wing Blues Festival.

Alexandria Johns
Lake County, CA, July 2008

Mike Wilhelm Discography

Mike Wilhelm: Dapper and dangerous as usual

Written by Gary Peterson, Friday, 09 February 2007

"May the baby Jesus shut your mouth and open your mind." That's what it says on the Family Dog's logo and that's how Lake County's finest guitarist, Mike Wilhelm, signs his e-mails these days.

It's an anonymous quote, probably contributed by Family Dog founder and Avalon Ballroom entrepreneur, Chet Helms, who died in June 2005. Helms was the power behind the throne of both the concert hall and the people promoted shows.

Wilhelm attended Helms' funeral where he says a large urn containing Helms' ashes sat next to a smaller one with the overflow and a blown up portrait of the anti-Bill Graham standing in front of Palo Alto's Antonio's Nut House with its "Hippies Use Side Door" sign.

Wilhelm's old band, The Charlatans (with Dan Hicks), played the Avalon in the 60s -- as well as Virginia City's Red Dog Saloon, establishing themselves as the first psychedelic band in San Francisco and Nevada.

Charlatans George Hunter and the late Mike Ferguson also produced the first psychedelic posters for Family Dog and the Avalon.

Wilhelm, who is on the cover of one of the histories of Haight-Ashbury, penned by an ex-Billboard editor, is all over the photos in others in the company of Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, etc.

Last year he had a problem with his hand, which was cured by Chinese acupuncture. Later he was invited by Flamin' Groovies founder, Cyril Jordan, to sit in at a Plimsouls Reunion/Magic Christian in San Francisco at the Cafe du Nord on Market Street.

Wilhelm was in the Flamin' Groovies, named the number four SF band of all time by the Chronicle in 2000 (right after the Grateful Dead) for six years. Magic Christian is Jordan's new band, with drummer Prairie Prince (The Tubes), Roger Daltry-like lead vocalist "without the English accent," Paul Kopf, and British music archivist and bassist, Alec Palao.

Palao wrote the liner notes for the English issued "The Amazing Charlatans" and produced boxed sets by The Zombies and Creedence Clearwater Revival as well as the ever popular "Nuggets" anthologies of one-hit wonders.

Peter Case, who's just reformed his 70s band, The Plimsouls, busked the streets of San Francisco in bygone times with Wilhelm and others.

In his post-concert blog at www.petercase.com, Case describes his dressing room reunion with the "Kaiser:" "Wilhelm comes in looking dapper and dangerous as usual, the quintessential SF musician/1890s outlaw vibe ... and we start jammin' up there. I never play like this with anybody. We do 'Stagolee,' (Mike's strange, rocking endless old ragtime version with the big chorus no one's heard, the one we used to do on the street).

"Then 'Ella Speed,' the Mance Lipscomb song that begins with the lines: 'first time I shot Ella, I shot her through the side'... outrageous ... I'd cut an album of this stuff with Wilhelm ..."

In a post-concert phone interview, Wilhelm gave his version of the dressing room reunion: "I brought my resonator guitar upstairs with me so as to be able to go over the songs we would play at the jam with Peter and his boys ... Peter and I reminisced about playing on the streets of North Beach and Chinatown where we first met back in the early-mid seventies ... Peter asked about my ragtime version of "Stagger Lee,' which has nearly endless verses and a chorus he has never heard anyone else do ... I then started and Peter quickly joined in playing Mance Lipscomb's decidedly original version of 'The Death of Ella Speed.' "

Wilhelm learned the latter from Lipscomb. That and his having had Brownie McGee as his guitar teacher give the man a direct line straight back to the old guys.

My favorite Wilhelm stories still come from Lake County though. One time, coming off a two-week isolation due to illness, Mike came to my house and literally spent eight hours reminiscing about the Flamin' Groovies legendary tours of Europe.

In Manchester, England, he recalled, the Groovies played one night after the legendarily volatile English-French punk rock band, The Stranglers. Manchester is famous for its tough criticism so the Stranglers actually went out, sought out the particularly vicious critic, and beat him up.

When the Groovies hit the stage the next night in the Beatlesque costumes they then favored, the audience was, shall we day, a tad unfriendly. So the band left, then Wilhelm came out again, alone, "dapper and dangerous as usual," as Case put it, and simply said in his Johnny Cash deep bass voice: "We agree with The Stranglers; there are older laws."

The Manchester audience remained most respectful for the rest of the evening.

Another Wilhelm tale: When the Groovies played the Sports Palace in Berlin, where Hitler made many of his speeches, not only was it eerie, but when Mike hit the stage someone yelled out at the top of their lungs -"(Expletive Deleted) you, Mike Wilhelm!

Mike figures it was a response to his gesture towards Bill Graham at the end of the film, "The Last Days of the Fillmore.

In any case, it was something akin to the infamous heckler at the Dylan/Band concert at Royal Albert Hall.

Heckler: "Traitor!" Dylan: "I don't believe you!"

For the Sunday's last concert, Mike changed in the "airless" dressing room, into his equally "dapper" outfit, a Black Italian suit with a Crosby, Stills & Nash Fillmore tie, diplomat shirt with pale blue stripes and white collar and cuffs. His spider-in-web cufflinks were a gift from Richard Olsen (Charlatans) back in 1967.

I once had dinner at a restaurant with Mike and his lovely wife, Ana Maria, and he left the orginal 60s Charlatans black cowboy hat behind. But, only briefly, as we went back and got it.

You'll notice a lot of Wilhelm in George Thorogood, who was taken in by the then Loose Gravel guitarist and taught most everything he knows, including how to dress for performance. The Charlatans favored a 19th Century frontier look that bands like the Doobie Brothers later emulated for their robbing the stagecoach LP cover. Stevie Ray Vaughn's hat comes to mind as well.

Mike's only comment: "Poor old misguided Bill Graham is no longer around to collect the royalties on his necktie line."

In "The Last Days of the Fillmore," Wilhelm told Graham what he thought of him for not allowing Loose Gravel to play in the recorded concert, via his middle finger.

"Bill liked it so much," Wilhelm once told me, "they kept it in."

The man who told off Bill Graham didn't actually sit in with Magic Christian Sunday night, as I thought he might. But the group did a stellar set of mostly Jordan-penned originals from their new "official bootleg CD," which includes a live concert recorded at the Great American Music Hall and a few old Groovies covers.

The famously balding Jordan, sporting a wig, somehow managed to make his Dan Armstrong plexiglass guitar sound exactly like George Harrison's guitar on the original "Tax Man."

"Bleeding amazing, that," Wilhelm commented, adopting a British accent.

Their set also featured "Make My Bed," by the Down Under Beatles, The Easybeats.

Mike and Cyril joined the Plimsouls at the end of their excellent set played to a sold out audience of 350 mostly younger people, who probably don't remember the Charlatans.

But the last time I saw Wilhelm open for Case, who was then playing solo in SF, the audience screamed "Charlatans, Charlatans," repeatedly, something you don't hear in Lake County.

But this crowd was no less enthusiastic for the reunited Plimsouls and friends. In fact, I've talked to a surprising number of younger folks who remember the original Plimsouls.

When Jordan and Wilhelm joined the reunited band, they brought the house down with covers of the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Reed, the Groovies' classic, "Jumpin' In The Night,' and even "The House of Blue Lights," sung by the Kaiser hisself.

Before the show, I asked Mike if he was going to do Chuck Berry's duckwalk, something I've seen him do a few times. He didn't and he also didn't say why.

Maybe, he's just saving the best for Lake County.

http://lakeconews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=248&Itemid=2

Mike Wilhelm
Mike Wilhelm, Lake County Fair

An Unlikely Blast From the Past Film,
CD bring S.F.'s Charlatans back to life

JOEL SELVIN, Chronicle Pop Music Critic
Monday, October 7, 1996

As likely as being struck by a bolt from the blue, members of a long-forgotten '60s San Francisco rock group suddenly find themselves in the spotlight again, with a documentary film and a CD release of recordings made 30 years ago.

When the four surviving members of the Charlatans arrive tonight at the Mill Valley Film Festival in a vintage limousine for the world premiere of "The Life and Times of the Red Dog Saloon,'' the musicians, always conscious of how they looked, will disembark clad in the same sartorial combination of Edwardian finery and Wild West wear that was their trademark.

"We didn't go national,'' said Dan Hicks, who was the band's drummer before starting a successful solo career. "We didn't get past Denver. We never made a record. Never toured. Never appeared on television.''

BEGINNING OF S.F. ROCK SCENE

Nevertheless, the Charlatans spent a brief but shining moment at Olympian heights atop the nascent San Francisco rock scene, headlining the first acid rock dance at Longshoreman's Hall, billed above the Jefferson Airplane, which was also making its first concert appearance. But the Charlatans, by virtue of their residency that summer at the fabled Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nev., were the stars of the show that night in September 1965 that marked the beginning of the San Francisco rock scene.

Although the group came apart at the seams and finally dissolved two years later, the musicians reunited eight years ago in a successful legal battle to reclaim ownership of the various tapes the Charlatans recorded. By coincidence, the release of "The Amazing Charlatans,'' a 23-song British CD combining tapes from three sources (including an unreleased 1966 album), coincides with the debut of a documentary film by Mary Works, the 29-year-old daughter of a couple who worked at the Red Dog Saloon 30 years ago.

The Charlatans served as house band at the silver rush dance hall, renovated by a bunch of crazed hippies playing cowboys and Indians while high on LSD in the Sierra Nevada ghost town. In Works' engaging, affectionate film, the Charlatans emerge as the centerpiece of a wild and wacky little community, full of characters whose eyes still gleam as they recall the glories of summer 1965.
How They Ended Up

"I was always afraid I'd lose you guys to Harrah's or something,'' Red Dog proprietor Mark Unobski, who died earlier this year, tells Richard Olsen of the Charlatans.

Today Olsen heads one of San Francisco's leading society dance bands. Hicks continues his solo work in performances across the country, a career move he made even before leaving the band in 1968. Charlatans founder George Hunter is a successful furniture designer living in Sonoma. Guitarist Mike Wilhelm lives in Clear Lake and considers himself retired. Pianist Mike Ferguson died in 1979, a blind diabetic amputee living on welfare in Alameda.

Assembling at Olsen's Inner Richmond home for a photo shoot recently, Wilhelm easily fit into the Victorian waistcoat he wore that summer in Virginia City, while Hicks said he no longer owns any of his authentic Charlatans outfits ("I outgrew 'em,'' he said, patting his waist. "I have a belt buckle left''). Hunter needed to borrow an Autoharp; he lent his to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

"Essentially I was wondering about the movie, would it be of interest to anyone else,'' said Hicks. "I mean, we have a film of our frat party and we can always watch it and dig it. But I'd like other people to see it.''

The recordings on the British CD have been circulating on European bootlegs for more than 20 years, but "The Amazing Charlatans'' marks the first time the complete record of the band's studio sessions has been assembled on one piece from the master tapes.

There may be some truth to the musicians' jocular accusations of each other that they were the source for the illicit bootlegs. Hunter frankly admitted that he gave Rhino Records the one Charlatans track officially rereleased in this country 10 years ago. "I collected all the royalties and didn't give any to the rest of the guys,'' he said.

"It's not that we don't know about it,'' said Olsen. "I have a complete accounting upstairs.''

"I got rich on that one,'' said Hunter.

But the new record also supplies some long-missing physical evidence to counter an oft-repeated claim that although the Charlatans always looked great, they never played that well. "After listening to this stuff and seeing it in perspective,'' said Hunter, "I think we were a lot better than we thought we were.''

"We were certainly a lot better than we were given credit for,'' said Olsen, still smarting.

Indeed, Jerry Garcia often cited Wilhelm as his favorite guitarist on the San Francisco scene. "Some of the stuff I played back then was so difficult I don't know how I did it,'' said Wilhelm.

But the legend of the Charlatans has lingered, the image of these gun-toting, guitar-playing dandies too delicious to fade away entirely. Several years ago, in fact, a British rock group decided to simply appropriate the band's name, although when Olsen warned the group's American record label, the British upstarts suddenly turned up Stateside named Charlatans U.K.

"If we're not the Charlatans, who is?'' said Olsen. "That's our name. They should think up their own.''

With all the current activity bringing the band back from the shadows of dim memories, talk inevitably turns to a return to the stage. The band members obviously have discussed the possibility, envisioning the four original members augmented by some of the musicians currently performing with the Richard Olsen Orchestra.

"Everybody's talking about it,'' said Wilhelm. "But nobody's talking about paying us.''

Some things never change.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1996/10/07/DD31203.DTL

Mainliners - Mike Wilhelm and Sam Linde 1964 Pre-Charlatans
1964, 2 of the Mainliners in George Hunter's front parlor, Mike Wilhelm and Sam Linde.
Photo by Sam Linde from the Mike Wilhelm Collection


Mike Wilhelm and Curtis
Mike Wilhelm & Sprung


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