One of the more enjoyable parts of starting a new Rolly Waters book is the research I get to do in my hometown of San Diego. Sometimes I get to investigate places I already know. And sometimes I just happen upon a place that strikes me as great location for scenes in a book. Such was the case when my wife and I discovered Driscoll’s Wharf a few years ago. It quickly became a key location for Ballast Point Breakdown.
Places that are rundown and a little rough looking always attract my attention, especially when there’s a close combination of elements, place where different types of people can intermix. It’s clear when you walk down to the end of Driscoll’s Wharf that the area has seen better days. There have been some improvements since I first visited. The buildings I described as “shambolic grey elephants” now have a fresh coat of paint. The jagged, rusted fence connecting these brick columns has been removed.
I took these photos in early March 2020, shortly before the Covid-19 outbreak. Social distancing should be relatively easy to do in the Wharf area if you go for a walk in the area. And Mitch’s is doing takeout orders if you call ahead.
You can see from the map below how Driscoll Wharf abuts part of the US Naval Base on San Diego Bay. The Admiral Kidd Club sits on the point just behind it. Dolphin pens from the Navy’s Marine Mammal program were just offshore near the Harbor Drive bridge, but they moved somewhere else while I was writing the book.
First off, you need to listen to the recording below, of Frankie Miller singing Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues). Go on, I’m not saying anything until you’ve listened to this.
This one of my favorite old-but-new-to-me songs I’ve discovered in the last year. I can’t listen to this one without dancing just a little in my chair. I may have even levitated the first time I heard it. It makes me feel good deep down in my soul. This song was my introduction Frankie Miller.
Like most Americans, I didn’t hear any Frankie Miller on the radio when I was growing up in the 1970s. I was vaguely aware of the name, read a few things about him in Rolling Stone or some such thing, but never actually heard any of his music (and I only had a limited number of $$$ to spend on albums).
So with the advent of streaming, Frankie Miller became one of those artists from the past I wanted to catch up on. Wow, what a singer, with a great soul voice that reminds me simultaneously of Rod Stewart, Paul Rodgers and Sam Cooke. Apparently Stewart and Bob Seger were both big fans.
Something Sweet is from Miller’s High Life album, which was produced by the great Allen Toussaint. You can hear Toussaint’s touch in that loose but funky rhythm section, those tight just right horn parts and the snaky New Orleans piano. Frankie’s voice rides on top like a glass of sweet, smoky bourbon. Three Dog Night took their version of this song into the Top 40, but it sounds dull and clunky in comparison.
Even without breaking big in America, Miller had pretty decent career going before suffering a brain hemorrhage in 1994. Although never breaking through on his own, he wrote a number of songs which were covered by others, including Burn One Down which he co-wrote with Clint Black. At the time of the attack he was putting together a new band with Joe Walsh, Nicky Hopkins and Ian Wallace. It’s a shame we never got to hear how that supergroup might have sounded.
High Life is my favorite Frankie Miller album, but he made several very good ones and there’s always a couple of great tunes even on the lesser ones. If you’re a fan of rock’n’soul music, give Frankie a listen. Below is a Tops of the Pops rendition of his biggest hit – Darling
Take one of these books off my hands and I’ll give $10 to the CDP Covid 19 Response Fund.
Here’s the deal. I’m stuck at home. You’re stuck at home. As I sit here wondering what to do (other than writing more books), I’m also looking at a bunch of old, odd editions of my previous books that stare down at me accusingly from the upper reaches of my office bookcase. I need to get rid of them. And now I’ve got a plan. But I need you. Here’s how it works:
- You fill out the form below
- I’ll sign a copy of the book you’ve selected
- I’ll send the book to you (free shipping!)
- I’ll donate $10 to the CDP COVID-19 Response Fund
- I’ll post a thank you note to you on my Facebook page
I estimate I’ve got 100 or so of these books sitting around. Some are Advance Reader copies. Some are older editions. Some have artwork or copyediting errors that had to be corrected. But all of them are highly readable and have essentially the same content as newer editions. Help me and help those affected by this pandemic by signing up for your free book below. Only available for addresses in the U.S.A.
*Note: As of 8/12/20 only copies of Desert City Diva are still left
I always try to use interesting bits of San Diego history in the Rolly Waters mysteries. For Ballast Point Breakdown, I got to include the USS Recruit, which has been a notable presence along San Diego Bay since it was first commissioned by the US Navy in 1949. More than 50,000 recruits trained here on a ship that never sailed. The Recruit is now a California historical landmark and part of Liberty Station, a mixed-use development on the site of the former Naval Training Center San Diego. In BPB, Rolly and a couple of security guards chase down a harmonica-playing transient who manages to elude them all while hiding in the ship.
He crossed the street, walked to the bottom of the bridge, and took a shortcut through a stand of trees to get down to the parking lot where he’d left his old Volvo. He stepped out of the trees next to a large structure that looked like a Navy ship. The USS Recruit had served as a training platform for new enlistees at the old Naval Training Center, its top deck and tower fitted with the same rigging and cleats found on more seaworthy vessels. The below decks were empty and hollow. Dubbed the USS Neversail by former recruits, the training ship had been decommissioned years ago, then sold to developers as part of a transfer of Navy land to the city.
When Rolly was ten, his father had taken him on board the Recruit, sharing his memories of boot camp and sea voyages, hoping to pass on his enthusiasm for Navy life to his son. He gave Rolly lessons in rigging, how to tie knots and use the marlinspike, but it hadn’t turned Rolly into a sailor. Their disappointment in each other might have started that day.
From Ballast Point Breakdown, chapter 18, The Ship
It’s been is a good year for The Go-Go’s. First came the fabulous Murder a Go-Go’s anthology of stories based on their songs and now the band is getting a long overdue documentary. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie when it arrives in theaters.
In the late 1970s, early 80s, my band played many of the same L.A. clubs the Go-Go’s were performing in at the time. They had created a local buzz long before their first record came out. I went to see them at the Whisky a Go Go and they already had that great mix of punky attitude and 1960s girl-group musicality. Beauty and the Beast came out about a year later and was a huge hit, as you probably know. The Go-Go’s were rightly celebrated as the first all-girl band to hit the top of the charts.
But they weren’t the first great all-girl rock band. That was Fanny. Their first album came out in 1970, ten years before the Go-Go’s arrived. Give a listen to to the song Blind Alley below. That’s right. Fanny rawked!
I was fourteen years old when I first saw/heard Fanny on the Midnight Special TV show. As best I can remember my reaction was, well…adolescent male confusion. They sounded like a real rock and roll band. But they were girls. Girls didn’t play music like that. I wasn’t anti girl rockers, but…my aspirations to become a rock star were closely related to my being a quiet, nerdy male person who played an instrument reasonably well. I joined other male persons of the same sort to make a loud, rhythmic and occasionally melodic sound. That’s what rock bands were supposed to be. And now there was this! Mind blown.
Other folks were probably as confused as I was, maybe more so. Fanny did pretty well for their time, considering the level of sexism in the music industry. A couple of their songs made it into the Top 100. David Bowie promoted them and Barbara Streisand hired them as her studio band. They toured with Jethro Tull, Slade, and Humble Pie (the last two seem like particularly good match).
Anyway, thanks to the wonders of internet and music streaming, you can now give Fanny the listen they deserved all those years ago. Some links below: