2001. John Cipollina “Electric Guitarslinger”.
Documentary about my old friend and “Copperhead” band-mate. I lived with John in his antique gun room on King St in Mill Valley for quite a while…just down the road from his parents house on Shady Lane. We had many good laughs together as well as sharing some very special musical moments. John introduced me to several people who were instrumental in helping establish my foot hold in the San Francisco Bay area music scene, including Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, David Freiberg, Joey Covington and Papa John Creach. I’d already lived in the area on and off with Leigh Stephens and “Silver Metre”, and “Stoneground”…both band managed by big Tom Donahue. I was interviewed briefly for the documentary.
But playing with John was a joy, being with him and hanging out with him, he was a wonderful person. A lot of people talk about what a crazy rock’n’roller he was, and he certainly was. He had emphysema from childhood, and I think he knew he was in bad shape…so he lived life hard as if he sensed he would die young. You hear the crazy rock stories about John…but what you don’t hear about so much was that he was a very generous person. He was always ready to help a friend in need. He put me up when I needed somewhere to stay at the beginning of “Copperhead”.
John and I were very close at one time…but we lost touch after I joined Jefferson Starship.
I remember bumping into John at a show for San Francisco poster artists at one point…I think that was the time I sat in with the “Dinosaurs”. My memory of the event is a bit murky other than John was in a wheelchair as he had broken his hip. He was surrounded by the usual group of well wishers and friends who were looking out for him. I grabbed the wheelchair and whisked him off into a maze of corridors…just the two of us. A few of his more recent friends looked a little nervous as we disappeared…but they didn’t try to go after us.
It was good to be together…just like old times. John told me he was frightened…the medication they were giving him for his lungs were making his bones brittle…hence the break in his hip. He seemed to enjoy talking quietly with an old friend. We sat for a while just talking over old times, before I wheeled him back to his friends. It was a special moment.
Sometime after John passed away Jeannette and I had his mother Evelyn over to our house in Mill Valley for dinner. She told us she was very ill and asked if I would scatter her and John’s ashes mixed together from an airplane…she knew I used to fly. It was quite an emotional moment and I of course said that I would. She passed away soon after. I had sold my old-open cockpit bi-plane and even though I still had my license…I was no longer current. So we went up in somebody else’s airplane, a friend of Mario’s wife who owned a beautiful Beechcraft Bonanza. The owner came with us and let me fly the plane from the right seat. We knew that Antonio Cipollina, my wife Jeannette and a few special friends were waiting for us on Bolinas Ridge. When we reached the area I put the plane into slow flight attitude and the owner (I don’t recall his name…nice guy) tried to pour the ashes (more like granules really) out the little window on the left side of the airplane. This proved to be more difficult than anyone imagined and many of John and Evelyn’s ashes flew into the back seat all over Mario and his wife. But he did get most of it out the window. We have a short video taken from below and you can clearly see the dark stream trailing from the airplane. It was a very emotional moment for all. We flew back to Gnoss field in Novato and after we landed we noticed that the leading edge of the port side horizontal stabilizer had been stripped of paint…like it had been sand-blasted. I felt sorry for the owner of the aircraft…although it had been him that had emptied the ashes out the window. He was a good sport about it though. I couldn’t help but see some humor in the situation…it was just like John to have a good prank even after passing. It was like his last joke on us…all in good fun. His own ashes sand-blasting the paint off our wing…you gotta laugh. I’m sure he and Mark Unobsky were rolling around somewhere in hysterics…they’d both been flying with me in happier times. His twin sister Michael passed away sometime ago…they are together with Evelyn again now; and Gino is cooking up some of his special pasta. — with John Cipollina.