Letter From The Field

By Downtown Fred

From left: Downtown Fred, John Mayall & Paul AaronsonI was born at the right time for music, with rhythm and blues changing over to rock ‘n’ roll—from Murray the K shows to Bill Graham’s Fillmore East. My very first show was Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore East.

I grew up in Brooklyn, and Mom took us to the Brooklyn Academy of Music three times a year, determined that we have culture. In my Irish-Puerto Rican home, we had all types of music. Saturdays, it was Irish and country music with my Nanna and Uncle Pete. Sundays it was Latin salsa and jazz with my Puerto Rican aunts. My youth was surrounded by live music, and it’s always been my thing, but in the long run, I became a blues man!

At 16, my friend and I snuck in to our first concert. The Jefferson Airplane filmed part of Bless Its Pointed Little Head that Spring night in 1967. That same summer, the Airplane played a free concert in Central Park. Things were different in ’67, much looser, people could do anything they wanted. I made my way backstage and said hello to Jack Cassidy, and we just hit it off, and then met Jorma, who I always felt comfortable with over the years. They’re just regular guys, like you and me.

I always wanted to get in. Whenever I went to a show I’d make a point to meet the promoters. I loved being around the bands, and tried to make myself useful. I was a roadie for Hot Tuna, Michael Murphy and James Cotton when they were playing in the area. I’d haul and set up equipment, and do most of the driving. It wasn’t like I was the designated driver, we all had fun; back then, nobody cared. Fun was not always by the book. One artist gave us a free pass to a club, like a business card, and we went and printed 500 of them. The college circuit was the big thing at the time. I didn’t go to college but if there was a college show, I was there. I once figured that in a four-year period I saw over 300 shows. I always had a regular job, though. For a time I was in law enforcement.

My favorite part is hanging out in the audience, getting feedback, because that’s where you get the energy. I love working with Elmore because I get people into the groove. The people are out there because they love live music, and if they like live music, they’re going to love the magazine. It’s not that hard.

The performers appreciate getting the magazine, too… they like seeing themselves, like anybody else, and when they read it, they dig the magazine because it’s a knowledgeable, real music magazine. And it’s refreshing that somebody gives them something.

Still, for me, the best part is being with the audience. I’m nocturnal so I get my energy from the moon, and from the audience—it’s keeping me young. So at festival time look for me at the Elmore booth along with Ned, Suzanne and Arnie, and say “How you doing…” E

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