Monica Topping For the Times-Standard
Article Launched: 09/18/2008
Old-time musicians are full of old stories and David LaFlamme is no exception.
Like the one about the time that LaFlamme, best known for his
electric violin-playing in the band It's A Beautiful Day, needed to
sell his "rather expensive guitar," and the subsequent house-visit
that changed his musical life.
La Flamme had purchased this guitar at the House of Music in San
Francisco, with a small down payment and was making payments on it.
"I fell behind on the payments and they called me and told me 'you're
either going to have to give me some money, or bring that guitar
back,'" says LaFlamme.
"That afternoon, I ran into this fellow that I really didn't know,
named Jerry Garcia, and I started talking to him. I had seen him play
a couple of times in the park with Pigpen and the rest of the guys,
but I didn't know him. So I went over and started talking to him, and
in the course of our conversation, I told him that I had this
expensive guitar that I owed money on, and that I really needed to
sell it and pay the loan off."
Garcia suggested LaFlamme bring the guitar over to his place in the
Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, and then purchased the
"As we came outside, Nick Gravenites was standing there in the
hallway," says LaFlamme.
Gravenites, who grew up on the southside of Chicago, playing the
blues alongside Elvin Bishop, Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield,
and established himself in San Francisco by 1965. In addition to
releasing a couple of his own solo albums, Gravenites wrote songs for
Janis Joplin and many other bands. Gravenites' song "Born in Chicago"
was made famous by the Paul Butterfield Blues band in 1965.
Garcia introduced LaFlamme and Gravenites and they spent some time
together, during which Gravenites gave LaFlamme a tape of some of his music.
"Even to this day, in my so-called It's A Beautiful Day group, I do
some of the music that was on that tape, all of those years ago,"
In 1971, Gravenites wrote a song called "Buried Alive in the Blues,"
for Janis Joplin. It was recorded by her band for the "Pearl" album,
but legend has it that Joplin died the night before she was scheduled
to lay down the vocal track, and thus, it appeared on the album as an
Paul DeMark, drummer for local band the Delta Nationals, remembers
Gravenites from back in the early '70s.
"I met Nick Gravenites in November 1972, while doing a month-long
tour of San Francisco Bay area clubs as the drummer with the
Sunnyland Slim Blue Spirit Band with special guest Mike Bloomfield,"
says DeMark. "Nick's band opened for us on several dates. I remember
him as a powerful and emotionally direct blues singer with a dry
sense of humor off-stage."
DeMark remembers hearing Gravenites performing "Buried Alive in the
Blues" in 1972.
"I remember it as a great blues song," says DeMark. "He sang it like
he meant it."
Over the years, Gravenites and LaFlamme went their separate ways,
both continuing to record music and tour. Gravenites, who turns 70
years old in a couple of weeks, has been living near Sebastopol, so
when LaFlamme, who worked in the Southern California music industry
for about 20 years, returned to the Santa Rosa area a couple of years
ago, he called Gravenites, who suggested they get together to play
some music and catch up on old times.
"I think I bring something a little different to (the Nick Gravenites
Band)," says LaFlamme, "because of course, being a violinist and
playing in an old blues band, it's a little bit different than you
might normally hear or expect."
The band, which also includes John Beckwith on bass and Roy
Blumenfeld on drums, will play this Friday and Saturday nights at the
Riverwood Inn in Phillipsville.
Fans might be lucky to hear It's A Beautiful Day's hit "White Bird,"
but LaFlamme reiterates that this band is really Gravenites' project
and that he is merely accompanying the bluesman.
"A lot of the songs that we do are some famous '60s songs that were
done by San Francisco groups," says LaFlamme. "Songs like 'Get
Together' and 'Pride of Man.' Some of what we do is definitely old
hippy music, and then some of what we do is a lot of old blues music,
because you have to remember that he's from Chicago and born in the blues."
Tickets for the Nick Gravenites Band are available in advance for $20
at the Works in Eureka and Arcata and at Wild Horse Records in Garberville.