The young, tall and slim guitar player, Jim Brunner was well-known to, and well-liked by the small tribe of hippies who called Yakima “home” in 1967 (OK, maybe 68?). Jim and the rest of us hung out at the few places in town that appealed to and/or accepted us. I’ve written previously about Shannon’s Boutique, the beloved Electric Angel, and the Gallery, which were all our haunts for a time. But another of our favorite hangouts was Yakima’s great teen dance hall, the Downtown. We had many Downtown meet-ups on Saturday nights, where, for very little money, we heard great bands like the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Lemon Pipers, Three Dog Night, Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts, and the Fabulous Wailers. Music meant so much to us; it was the glue that held our little group together.
I especially loved the Downtown. The band I played and sang in, the Velvet Illusions, played at least one Battle Of The Bands there. I remember how we competed with another popular Yakima band, The Lost Souls. We were their rivals. I didn’t ever think I’d be friends with any of them. I did find it intriguing that their guitar player, Randy Knowles, and I had rhyming names. But get this: after we’d grown up a bit — matured, you might say — we made friends; and in 1975, Randy Knowles and Randy Bowles moved into an apartment together. — Next door to another guy named Randy (Karstedder). We felt real sorry for our mailman! — Randy and I put together an Americana music trio with Mike Stengel, a great guitarist/singer, out of Pennsylvania. We played the Mural Amphitheater Stage at the Country Kayo Picnic in summer 1975. For all you Lost Souls fans, see below photo. (BTW, our other roommate was the fabulous Carol Evans, of Yakima’s amazing Evans family. It was great fun getting to know her brothers and her beautiful sisters. I remember a time her sister Marcia, who towered over me, made me oatmeal for breakfast. I immediately fell in love. All of the Evans girls were near or at six feet tall.)
But let’s get back to our story. Here’s a photo of some young hippies, hangin’, just to get us back on track.
I recall a Saturday night where a psychedelic band was scheduled to play the Downtown. Since we had no smart phones, no social media, etc., we couldn’t plan like folks can now. We just automatically showed up. On this particular night, we arrived a little early, so that we’d be able to claim a spot on the dance floor right in front of the bandstand. We wanted to see and hear, to the max.
On our way in, once we got past ticketing, Jim Brunner, sporting his beautiful, white-boy Afro, stood there, kindly handing out free, fragrant sticks of incense from India, to anyone who wanted one. I gladly accepted one, as did about eight other young, long-haired people. – The Downtown seemed to have no trouble with us burning a few sticks of incense at their events. — We felt welcome there. We were a well-behaved bunch. We didn’t like to drink and cause trouble. We were there to groove on good music and to find comfort in our small numbers. — I can say that I never saw even one of our crowd look for trouble, or cause trouble at the Downtown. We were budding hippies, and due to our long hair and unconventional dress, we were learning fast to be on our best behavior while in public, because we attracted the attention of the authorities whether we were behaving, or not. There was no reason to push our luck….
And sure enough, on this star-crossed night, the Yakima Police Department decided to stir things up a bit. – To this day, I’m not sure why. — The ten of us young people were sitting in front of the bandstand, waiting for the show to begin, when a group of cops swooped down on us, grabbed several of us by the arm, and pulled us onto our feet. I was one of those folks. One minute I was gently waving my incense stick around, visiting with my pals, waiting for the music, and the next, a large, hulking cop had jerked me up off of the floor and was getting in my face. — I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and I wondered what he wanted. He soon pointed at my incense stick, and asked, “What’s that?” (I noticed several other friends were simultaneously being put through this routine.) I replied to the angry officer, “It’s incense”. He said, “You know what it smells like!” I replied, “Incense”. He said, “No, you know what it smells like!” I said, “It’s just incense. We’re burning incense before the band starts”. At that point, I couldn’t think of anything else to say, because it dawned on me that this cop was not trained to know the difference between incense and weed. I’d never smoked weed; but at least I knew the difference. I mean, my mom burnt sandalwood incense in our home. Anyway, the cop said, “You’re coming outside with me.” He motioned me to go out the back door. I noticed my friends were also being herded out. When they had us assembled outside, the cops lined us up against a wall, and one of them began taking down our names and phone numbers in his little spiral notebook.
Jim Brunner became quite animated and said, “You guys can’t bust us for burning incense, Man!” One of the cops repeated the line, “You know what it smells like!” Jim said, “It’s not weed. It’s incense”. Well, rather than arrest us, the cops made us all go home, saying we’d be hearing from them. So, after paying for our tickets, we were accosted, and kicked out before we heard even one song.
We were all about 16-18 years old, frightened, rattled, and/or angry. It would be one thing to be caught doing something wrong; but we were totally innocent. It was scary to know that we could get in trouble for just trying to have a perfectly legal, good time.
The next day, I called the Yakima Police Department and spoke with a detective. I told him how we were simply burning incense, not smoking marijuana, and that we were all concerned, because we didn’t want to get in trouble. He would only say that the matter was being looked into. He did nothing to try to calm my feelings, or assure me that the matter would be dropped.
I ran into a couple of our bunch a few nights later. Jim, who was present, said his mom contacted the ACLU on our behalf, telling them that the cops tried to bust us for burning incense. It made me feel better to know they were aware of our situation.
Well, none of us heard back from the authorities, so apparently the matter was dropped. But I look back and shake my head. There I was, an eighteen year old, long-haired boy, who had never tried marijuana, but I knew more about it than our local cops did. And for some reason, they decided to seriously harsh our mellow. I just thanked my lucky stars that some authority figure had the good sense to let the matter drop. – With no apologies to us, of course.
I realize there were a lot of dedicated officers in Yakima. In the mid-70’s, four Yakima police officers formed a band called Cops Ltd., and performed all around Yakima. My band at the time, the Western Electric Band, a “cosmic cowboy” band, played five-nights-a-week at a really cool club called the Country Cousin, which was located fairly close to the Holiday Inn. The four members of Cops Ltd. and their wives came in to catch our act quite often. I wasn’t sure if they were true fans, or if they were there to keep an eye on us! But I was sure to sit with them on all of our breaks, to keep them occupied, so our lead guitarist, Dan Davis (later a member of Paul Revere and the Raiders) and our bassist, Weasel Claghorn (RIP), could go out to the car and smoke the real thing in peace! Our drummer, the one and only Stan Ruehlow, who co-founded the legendary Fluorescents, remained indoors and behaved himself. As did I.
And here is the perfect song to accompany my story:
RIP Dan Davis, a great guitarist.
Check my archives for many more Yakima tales.