50 YEARS OF MAGIC
By DENNIS STRAZULO
Perhaps it is no coincidence Austin de Lone moved to Mill Valley in 1972, the same year Sweetwater opened in its earliest form – then known as The Office, described by de Lone as “a small and very dark bar with a half-moon window, red velvet walls, and a white piano.” But the reason de Lone’s story is the most appropriate to tell the legend of Sweetwater goes way beyond concurring dates. Austin is the common thread in a fabric that has formed Sweetwater’s tapestry of music and cherished memories. If Sweetwater is a “historical gem” then de Lone can be identified as one of the most significant particles emerging from the explosion creating that jewel. Metaphors aside, Austin’s path to Mill Valley and vibrant, ongoing association with Sweetwater is filled with twists of fate, improbability and humility, all wrapped in a most generous soul. For those in Mill Valley who know de Lone as just the guy who hosts open mic nights at Sweetwater, keep reading. If you are familiar with his story, enjoy another journey down this magical lane. It deserves reinforcement.
In a direct but also circuitous way, a man by the name of Sidney Hundgen can be credited with luring de Lone to Mill Valley in 1972, while unknowingly planting a seed that shaped history. A few years earlier, however, is when the ball started rolling. de Lone, a native of Philadelphia, started playing piano from the time he was 12. Good grades got him into Harvard where he fostered his music interest by writing songs with a friend he met while living in Cambridge, including One For One, which Linda Ronstadt covered with her band, The Stone Poneys, as their first single. Not a bad start to a musical career, except, as de Lone mused, “that song paved the way for Ronstadt’s second and successful single release, Different Drummer, by going straight to the bottom of the charts.” Undaunted, de Lone decided a path in music favored continuing with college. He left Harvard and took piano lessons at the New England Conservatory of Music while continuing to write music. He then made the bold move to sell all his belongings (“including a small but awesome record collection for pennies on the dollar,” he sadly recalled) and hitchhiked to the Bay Area, landing in Berkeley. He was invited to live in a house with a band, Sky Blue, whose bass player was Jack O’Hara. Austin and O’Hara became friends and soon joined Minx, a backing band for folk singer, Alice Stuart, playing in San Francisco’s North Beach beatnik scene in the late 60’s. It was quite a scene, but de Lone and O’Hara, ever ambitious, ventured to New York to try their luck playing music in Greenwich Village, where they met another musician, Brien Hopkins, and found their groove as a trio, forming the band, Eggs Over Easy. In 1970, while living together in a SOHO loft, they finagled their way to the offices of Cannon Films, whose executives listened to them play in their hallway and responded: we like you; we want to get you management and recording deals! That “sounded cool,” de Lone recalled, and “The Eggs” immediately started searching for a producer.
Cannon had just hired Peter Kauff, who had previously worked for The Beatles and The Animals, to run their music division. Kauff was friends with Chas Chandler, bass player for The Animals and, legendarily, was a producer for Jimi Hendrix! “Chas really liked us,” recalled de Lone, “and said, ‘let’s do an album, and let’s do it in London at Olympic Studios’ where the Rolling Stones had famously recorded. We were out of our minds and thinking, we’re gonna be famous!” They may not have said this out loud, but they were at least thinking “we’re on our way!” But there was a glitch. Kauff, who took over management of the band, supported the idea of going to England. He had negotiated a record deal for Eggs with Mercury Records before Chandler’s invitation but thought they could do better. He had to reveal that although the band’s deal with Cannon allowed Eggs the freedom to make the London journey, their contract with Mercury did not. If they pursued this recording opportunity and cut an album in England with Chandler, Mercury would own the master. Presented with this, the band’s initial collective thought was, “we’re f-d. What are we going to do?” But the answer was simple: “We’re going to England…we don’t care!” Across the pond, they ventured. It was a decision that changed the course of music history with reverberations from London to Mill Valley!
While in England, Eggs Over Easy “recorded a bunch of stuff with Chas at Olympic Studios,” de Lone told us. But none of it could be immediately released, if ever. Around the beginning of 1971, while awaiting the fate of their recordings, the band was introduced to John Steele, drummer for The Animals, who de Lone described as “just a great guy and a great drummer, sort of Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones) style.” Eggs Over Easy added Steele to their trio and started looking for gigs near their band house in Kentish town. In that neighborhood was the Tally Ho Pub, known for housing famous British jazz acts six nights per week. “Jack walked in,” as de Lone recalled, “and asked if we could play there and said, ‘we’ll play Mondays.’” The proprietor agreed and very soon after large crowds started attending the Monday shows at Tally Ho. “We became very popular,” de Lone said. “What can I say,” he added with a touch of modesty, “we were pretty hot!” The band went from playing one night to another night, to another. A year later, the improbable group was playing four sessions a week, with other rock bands playing two nights, and jazz was on the bill for only one. As their popularity grew, other like-kind bands started joining the fray. In a year’s time, Eggs Over Easy had created a genre of music known as “Pub Rock.”
What does this have to do with Sweetwater? The answer brings us back to Hundgen. In early 1972, despite Pub Rock starting to go big, Kauff suggested it was time to return to the States. Chandler was against it, perhaps having a premonition, but the band returned to New York and Kauff negotiated a deal with A&M Records to record an album with Link Wray, known to be “a hero of Pete Townsend’s” (The Who), de Lone said. It was another moment hard to pass up – first an opportunity to record among the greats in England, and now a chance to collaborate on a record with one of history’s greatest guitarists. That brought them to Tucson where they recorded with the Native American superstar. With the band then looking for a break, their road manager, Hundgen, “suggested we go hang out in Mill Valley for a while because his brother lived there,” de Lone remembered, “so we thought, sure, let’s go see what that’s like.” The band rented a house together, close to downtown on Lovell Ave. Like so many of that era, they frequented The Old Mill Tavern, not playing music but just “hanging out waiting for the A&M record to become a hit,” de Lone said with a laugh. It wasn’t until they returned from a moderately successful tour promoting the record in the Fall of 1972 that folks at The Old Mill Tavern asked them where they had been and what they did. “We’re a band,” they offered. “No, really, what do you guys do?” was the reply. “Seriously, we are a band,” they insisted, to which the final retort was, “OK, prove it.” So, they did it by playing gigs at The Old Mill. People soon realized “you guys are pretty good.” In time, The Old Mill Tavern became a venue, of sorts, while just up the road, Fred Martin, co-owner of The Office, was transitioning the Throckmorton location from a dark bar to a saloon with live music. Seeking a name to reflect its remodeled, organic look, Martin and his partner settled on “Sweetwater,” deserving credit for creating a name now synonymous with music history in Marin County and beyond. The space officially opened under that name on November 17, 1972. During the early years of Sweetwater, the music scene picked up rapidly, with Eggs Over Easy becoming regulars and gaining momentum much in the same way things had developed at Tally Ho. These guys were for real! Truly a Sweetwater original, de Lone also started performing there with other artists. Eggs remained a main act at the nightclub until they finally disbanded in 1981, shortly after Jeannie Patterson assumed ownership of the venue. One of Sweetwater’s biggest attractions during that era was funky jazz saxophonist, Jules Broussard, who consistently packed the house for his Sunday shows, often inviting the likes of Boz Skaggs, Carlos Santana, and Joan Baez to share the stage with him. When Broussard’s run ended, de Lone took over the slot for an extended period playing with Tim Eschliman of the original Americana band, Commander Cody, and His Lost Planet Airmen.
After assuming ownership of Sweetwater in 1980, Patterson transformed it into a full-time venue, expanding the Mill Valley music scene while continuing with acts from the prior regime, including Moonlighters – a collaboration created by de Lone in the prior decade with Bill Kirchen, co-founder of Commander Cody. While this was the beginning of Patterson’s Sweetwater legacy and a continuation of de Lone’s, there is little doubt the biggest influence of its expansion, in terms of pulling in notable acts, was John Goddard, proprietor of Village Music. Goddard had an incredible collection of records and eclectic music and word about his compilation had spread to famous musicians who made Village Music a required stop during visits to San Francisco. Artists who resided locally such as Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bonnie Raitt, and Van Morrison, were already enamored with the store. Village Music’s reach expanded to notables including BB King, Mick Jagger, Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder, and Aaron Neville. Goddard was not only adept at luring these musicians to Village Music with his unique assortment of records, he befriended them, inviting many to perform at his store. They were happy to oblige. Goddard, Patterson, and de Lone, all living in Mill Valley, became friends. Goddard started calling on Patterson to host Village Music anniversary parties at Sweetwater, with his “clients” appearing as the musical acts. As the cumulus of this perfect storm was forming – in the mid-80s – de Lone ventured back and forth to London to record a Moonlighters album produced by Nick Lowe ( a key player with fellow Pub Rock band, Brinsley Schwartz) and toured internationally with the band opening for Commander Cody. These journeys not only led de Lone to find out “we left too early for the Pub Rock explosion” he said with a comfortable laugh, it rekindled his relationship with Lowe and others in the London music scene, established a decade prior. It also led to de Lone playing keys for Elvis Costello & The Confederates’ 1987 international tour.
The 80’s London journeys and tour with Costello further cemented de Lone’s already impressive list of music connections. That was good news for Sweetwater. Upon his return from the Costello tour, de Lone became more involved with Patterson and Goddard, curating, managing, and playing alongside a cast of celebrated musicians at Sweetwater, effectively serving as music director for numerous, now-famous performances at the venue. As de Lone fondly remembers, “seeing musicians of this caliber in a 125-person venue – well, it just doesn’t get any better. These started out as private parties but became highly sought-after shows open to the public if you were lucky enough to get in.” And deLone was at the center of all of it: organizing and playing the music. It was“just fantastic,” he exuded!
Perhaps even more special was the cool scene downstairs at Sweetwater, where, as de Lone revealed, “there was just a little extra magic taking place.” That was where icons of the music industry would hang out, play pool, or play poker while Patterson casually visited with them from her adjacent office, grabbing their drink orders from a hole in the ceiling that led to the bar. Austin continued to collaborate with Sweetwater and Goddard presenting legendary acts throughout the 90’s , working in similar roles during the new ownership era of Thom and Becky Steere from 1998-2007. He was also busy then with other impressive endeavors. After touring with popular, roadhouse Texas blues band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, he settled down at home with the birth of his daughter, Caroline, in 1992. (Caroline, taking after her father, has forged her own successful career as a singer-songwriter, currently thriving in Nashville.) He later took over as music director for “The Bammies,” the wildly successful Bay Area music awards show presented by BAM magazine. Meanwhile, he performed regularly at Sweetwater. This included Tuesday and Wednesday night appearances with Kirchen, calling themselves The New Beatles, drawing playful criticism from music writer, Joel Selvin, who wrote, “are these guys for real?” “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” shrugged de Lone. He also played keys for Anna Rizzo & The A-Train, managed by local legend Larry “The Hat” Lautzker, and wrote a saucy ballad for the band, Pistol On The Shelf.
The open mic concept at Sweetwater, which de Lone currently hosts, dates to The Old Mill Tavern, where Dan Hicks (Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks) served as colorful MC for an array of characters at that establishment. The Steeres renewed the idea in the early 2000’s with de Lone taking the helm. Austin recalls Pat Monahan of Train and prominent pianist/singer-songwriter, Vienna Teng, as notable open mic alumni.
Having established himself as a pioneer of Pub Rock with a similar influence on the legendary Sweetwater music scene, de Lone was thrust into the most challenging role of his life in 1998 when his beloved son, Richard, was born with Prader-Willi syndrome. In line with his history, de Lone’s wife, Lesley, and Austin transformed this challenge into another innovative mission, forming the Richard de Lone Special Housing Project, later named Prader-Willi Homes of California. Its goal is to build not-for-profit homes for those living with this challenging disorder. After years of dedication, raising money through benefit concerts, with the generous help from musicians, including Costello who last month played his fourth benefit for the foundation, they are now on the brink of completing construction on its first home – the most important pioneering landmark along de Lone’s journey.
Today, de Lone remains entrenched in music, artfully playing keyboards for Wreckless Strangers – the “California Americana Soul” band of seasoned Bay Area musicians, featuring Marin’s red-hot Amber Morris on vocals – who released an album this year will appear at Sweetwater on November 12. Check them out! If you meet Austin, you won’t hear much from him about his amazing experiences, the influence he had on music, or that Eggs Over Easy‘s 1971 recording was finally released as an album in 2016 (London 71) when the rights were given back – he is far too modest for that – but he will speak loudly, and rightfully so, about the work he and Lesley are doing to help those individuals and their families coping with Prader-Willi. Otherwise, if you want to take a shot at a career in music, he will quietly host you on a Sweetwater open mic night with a smile and soft charm. Just join him on a Tuesday night and you may be well on your way. In doing so, please thank him for all he has done for Sweetwater, for this community, and for those less fortunate.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, SWEETWATER AND AUSTIN DE LONE – FOREVER CONNECTED!
THE FORGOTTEN ITEM & PHONE CALL LEADING TO AUSTIN DE LONE TOURING WITH ELVIS COSTELLO
When Austin de Lone made a return journey to England in the early 80’s, touring with Commander Cody, with Nick Lowe opening, Lowe was managed by Jake Riviera, who was also managing Elvis Costello. Not incidentally, Riviera, resulting from the Pub Rock era, had started the independent record movement as co-founder of the pioneering British Indie label, Stiff Records. Having settled back in Mill Valley after these excursions, de Lone and his wife Lesley were set to enjoy a rare weekend away at The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite in late 1986. Ready to roll and buckled in their ’68 Mustang, de Lone realized he forgot something and raced back into the house. While gathering the forgotten item the phone rang. Hesitant to answer as they were already delayed, de Lone picked up the phone. It was Jake Riviera. “Hello, Mate, how are you” de Lone recounted in his best British accent, “listen, Benmont Tench (keyboard player for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) was set to play keys on Elvis Costello’s & The Confederates tour through the Southern States in Australia and Japan. He can’t make it. Could you possibly do it?” de Lone recalled this moment barely able to finish repeating the absurdity of the question posed by Riviera, with laughter that was likely reminiscent of how he felt at the moment. Of course, the answer was “yes,” causing he and Lesley to venture to Yosemite “with stars in our eyes,” he admitted.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT OUR FEATURE RESIDENT, AUSTIN DE LONE
John Goddard-owner of Village Music: “I have known Audie for at least 40 of the 50 years he has been in Mill Valley; he had as much to do with making Sweetwater what it was than anybody.”
“When I was throwing parties at Sweetwater Audie was always my band leader. Jeannie Patterson or I literally could not have done what we did at Sweetwater without Audie.”
Dick Bright (Bay Area Music legend who directed the Bammies before de Lone took over,) and Bonnie Hayes (beloved SF native, singer-song writer) shared a playful moment reflecting on de Lone:
Joel Selvin: I once asked Huey Lewis, how does Audie get all those gigs? Huey said,“well, he’s a really nice guy.”
I can’t find one bad thing to say about Audie….I think he’s a great player
Bonnie Hayes: I love Audie. He’s my guy. He’s one of the best people you will ever meet. Plus, he plays his ass off. Plus, he is a lot of fun!
THE BIRTH OF PUB ROCK
Austin de Lone’s band, Eggs Over Easy not only transformed music in 1971, it was creating a movement in London. At the time, “big pop music was all glam and we were completely the opposite,” he recalled. Big glam referred to highly produced acts wearing fancy wardrobes, such as David Bowie, T-Rex, Roxy Music, ELO and Queen. The acts at their neighborhood establishment, Tally Ho, where they turned a jazz club into a Pub Rock bar, were focused just on the music. Wearing jeans and t-shirts, Eggs Over Easy and other bands such as Brinsley Schwartz (with Nick Lowe on bass, later of Rockpile fame along with Dave Edmunds), were capturing the attention and hearts of music fans. de Lone describes the music as something we would now identify as Americana with country and R&B roots, also influenced by The Band, the group formed of Bob Dylan’s backing musicians. “Brien Hopkins liked country, I was more R&B, and Jack O’Hara was somewhere in the middle,” he said. The result of this, and the run Eggs Over Easy had during this time period, is what is now universally recognized as Pub Rock. The band didn’t quite realize the magnitude of their influence at the time, other than clearly seeing they had flipped the script at Tally Ho. But history has certainly recognized it. Eggs Over Easy is now known as “the American band that invented UK Pub Rock,” as plainly described by Spotify. Further to that, Pub Rock is credited with influencing the careers of Lowe, Huey Lewis, and Elvis Costello, and laying the groundwork for a grassroots movement that would spawn UK Punk, including the popularity of bands such as The Clash. Though the music put out by the original Pub Rock artists obviously differs from the punk scene that followed, it was this movement that led to the formation of independent record labels allowing artists to reduce the cuts taken by larger music conglomerates.