Rock-star encounters happen every day in Marin, from sharing a bathroom with Huey Lewis to sharing a sandwich line with Carlos Santana. My favorite story involves a childhood sleepover at Jerry Garcia's place that left a young girl wondering why the fridge was stocked solely with tubs of giant mushrooms.
"People lived down the street from Grace Slick or saw Van Morrison in the drugstore—they really treasure those kinds of associations," says Marin Independent-Journal columnist Paul Liberatore. In his March 20 column, Liberatore rather innocently proposed that the county create its own rock hall of fame. Almost immediately, he had a mountain of old stories and memorabilia to peruse. "I expected some response, but I had no idea of the scope," says the former rocker, who was inspired by the deaths of musician friends Martin Fierro and Chuck Day. "I got way over 300 emails, and when people started sending in nominations, it went off the charts."
Serendipitously, the Marin History Museum was preparing for "Marin Makes Music" as the theme for its annual gala fundraiser, held May 2 in Mill Valley. "I go to 20 or 30 fundraisers a year," says Pam Hamilton, who does PR for the museum, "but there was something electric about that night; people were so excited." Excited enough, apparently, to make it an annual event. "Next year, we will embrace the Marin Symphony, country, blues, jazz," Hamilton says. "Tommy Castro couldn't make it, but said, 'Next year I'm there.'"
Hamilton, like many, sees the hall of fame concept as restrictive and inherently controversial. "It becomes a selective process," she says. "We want to honor people regardless of whether they made the top of the charts like Huey Lewis or are just one of the most solid music-makers, like Austin de Lone."
Liberatore's idea has similarly evolved. "After I've had time to think about it and talk to people, the emphasis should be Marin's rock history rather than making it a hall of fame for all the hotshots," he says. "Criteria would be decided later, but now I'd like to see us preserving our rock history and getting it out there so people can enjoy and learn from it."
Local real estate agent and guerrilla historian Jason Lewis, whose Marin Nostalgia website features an interview with jazz luminary George Duke, couldn't agree more. "I think Paul's thing is a great idea, but the national one has left out some groups that are more than deserving," he says. "What is a true hall of fame based on? Record sales? Number of Top 40 hits? Or just bands the editors of Rolling Stone magazine think are 'cool'?"
Coincidentally, the museum gala's emcee was former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres. He is also weary of the increasingly criticized Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, cofounded by his former colleague Jann Wenner. "It's a no-win situation, where people are pulled in and others are left out," he says. "You also have the politics and the economics of an organization like that."
Fong-Torres has even devoted an episode of his KFRC 106.9-FM radio show to those who were snubbed. "The Steve Miller Band, the Doobie Brothers and Boz Scaggs come to mind," he lists. "I don't understand why they haven't even been nominated. There's something going on there."
Having covered Bay Area music for decades, Fong-Torres supports the plan but believes extra precaution is wise. "Altogether, [the gala] was a successful early step in the process, but let's try to do it right and recognize as many people as possible right away," he says with a laugh. "[Pianist] Jon Allair is totally unknown to the music industry, even though he's got great credits with Van Morrison and others."
Perhaps Village Music's recent closure and the Sweetwater Saloon's sluggish relocation have catalyzed local fervor. "I think it woke people up," Liberatore says. "People are afraid, and they see these things going away."
And this cultural richness doesn't stop at county lines. "I think Sonoma may want to have its own, which I would encourage," he says. "People like David Grisman, Tom Waits, Nick Gravenites in Occidental. It overlaps in a lot of ways, but Sonoma has a real history of its own, too."
As pied piper of this effort, Liberatore remains generous. "I would like to see it happen, so anything that I can do to bring it about, I'm going to do it," he says. "I know Martin [Fierro] really would've liked some recognition. Wouldn't it have been nice to be able to honor [him and Chuck Day] when they were still living?"