SAN FRANCISCO & FILLMORE HOUSE
Fillmore House was the Fillmore house band.
Prior to it was Whorl, and who knows what other band was there before that… The house had seen its share of musicians and other eccentrics over the ages, and it was rumored that “I left my heart in San Francisco” had something to do with our beloved landlord and his colorful lifestyle. It was San Francisco after all, the greatest city in the world, capital of free sex and thinking, of wild hallucinogens and psychedelic music… Anyway, it was also a place where all the starving musicians and poets drove for the various taxi cab companies. Fillmore House, both the house and the band were rife with cab drivers. It was almost the in-thing to do job-wise, if only for the fact that it was self-employment, and, therefore, a noble profession. Those were the 1980s, and if times then weren't any less tough for artists than they are now, at least we had the benefit of sticking together and finding solace in being broke collectively. The house had three stories and the band’s large practice room, and later studio, was on the top floor. The tight staircase was every roadie’s nightmare, but it also was a formidable and economical insurance against equipment theft.
I met Ed Pasqualin from the band Whorl at the cab lot and he told me that the group had gone through some personnel changes and needed a lead guitarist. I joined and shortly thereafter, moved in. People went in and out of the place with such frequency that I’m not sure if Blythe Reis, the keyboardist, was living there or not at the time, but eventually we shared quarters… That’s when thing started to fall apart with Whorl, as Blythe and I found ourselves at the helm of a threesome with Fred Epstein on drums. The band was renamed Fillmore House and Alyson Steinman joined in on bass shortly thereafter.
As much as Whorl acted as a hub for all kinds of interactions with the SF music scene, and members of known and unknown acts came in and out of the house with frightening regularity, Fillmore House on the other hand, was more private and indulged in a more sophisticated brand of music that required rigid practices. It may also have been the end of the collective spirit as the world around us started to become self-conscious and, sadly, grew more fascinated with rules with each passing day…
Thank God, the cab driving days ended fast and I soon spent more of my time on music. Blythe and I built an 8 track studio in the rehearsal room and formed Mission Blue publishing and Whorl Records.
Both Whorl and Fillmore House were phenomenal bands and our gigs were generally well received, except perhaps for the time when we played the Anarchist Coffee House and I destroyed my gear on stage. I prefer to not elaborate…
Fillmore House recorded its one self-titled album in 1987 that was released the next year. Fred left the band in mid-project and was replaced by Marc Louis. Shortly after the release, Alyson left and Marc who had been battling with demons, lost the fight, so Blythe and I started recording other acts and playing on their tracks. As far as I recall we were prolific but I have very little besides memories, and the tapes are most likely gone... Of interest, before the grand debacle we re-recorded Branscomb for later use as a video track, (which I will try to locate and post here in due time.)
A mention should be made of another band that lived in the basement apartment of the house, named Universal Musik Noise, fronted by German ex-Whorl singer, Lela Hohmann, and which produced 2 albums. I played on 3 tracks on one of them. Later Lela and I would find ourselves in yet another group, and I recall that Country Joe McDonald opened for one of our gigs… Actually, and to make this short, it seemed everybody played in everybody’s bands, because that was the way the cookie crumbled in the magical city. SF was the kind of place where you could have a beer with John Cipollina, talk food with Merl Saunders, and share a story or two with Chris Isaac all in the same week. Even though I do not live there anymore, it is and will forever be “my city.”