Luminaries of the Haight-Ashbury: Rodney Albin

Part I: The Folk Years

I guess of all the friends I had back then, in the halcyon days of my hippie youth,  Rodney Albin is the guy I miss the most.  When he died of stomach cancer in 1984, still a young  man, I felt like I was losing my brother all over again.

He was a pal, you know? Guys like him are hard to come by.

Well, so tell us about him, Pig.

Like so many of my erstwhile folknik hippie commie friends of the early sixties, I met Rodney kind of like this…

Late one morning in, I suppose, the Fall of 1962, I exited San Francisco State’s HLL building, where the boring part of my initiation into high Western culture took place, and ambled across the lawn towards the  Commons to get coffee and see what was up.  Despite its medieval sounding name, four legged sheep were not pastured in the Commons, nor did peasants, other than us, trudge there every morning to work their land.  The Commons was a big cafeteria in the center of campus, and everything of consequence that happened to me in those years took place inside its doors at the second table on the left.  Or on the lawn directly in front.  That’s it in the center of the picture, as it looked in 1960.  Who could guess a square building like that would become a cauldron of sixties counterculture?

On this particular morning, I happened to notice a new folkie sitting cross-legged on the lawn, surrounded by the regulars and passing around a dulcimer he had just built.  He was a tall gangly kind of folknik, just transferred in from the College of San Mateo, a junior college on the Peninsula.  He was wearing bright red trousers, a stove-piped hat and tails, and he was playing The Battle of New Orleans on his fiddle.  No.  Wait a minute.  That’s got to be my imagination.  The top hat and tails didn’t come until later.  OK, he was dressed like a normal person.  It was his dulcimer that was extraordinary.

Interested in dulcimers myself, I forgot about the coffee (never easy to do)  and squeezed into the circle.  That dulcimer was pretty cool, all right.  Shaped like Jayne Mansfield with soft flowing curves and strummed with a sea gull feather, you could tune it to any interesting modal scale you might be in the mood for, brush its strings with that quill, and there you were,  mournful and lost in the holler, sounding like you’d been born in Viper, Kentucky instead of San Francisco.  I started in on an improvised, sea gull strummed Pretty Polly, and pretty soon I was hooked.  The Commons fled and there I was in some longago fog shrouded mountain glen, watching some no-goodnik do in Pretty Polly while the pretty little birdies mourned.  It sounded like magic, and Rodney had created the damn thing out of a piece of spruce.

I got to know Rodney after a while and discovered he was from the next holler over.  My holler was called San Mateo and his they called Belmont.  He and his younger brother Peter were still living with their parents in an upper middle class shack in the Belmont hills.  I also discovered that Rodney wasn’t the new guy – I was.  He was well-known in folk circles up and down the Peninsula and across the Bay in Berkeley.  He’d masterminded the folk music festival at the College of San Mateo where young Jerry Garcia made his debut to an unappreciative audience of frat rats.  Rodney and George ‘The Beast’ Howell had opened the Boar’s Head the preceding summer, a folk-oriented coffeehouse in the loft above the book store in San Carlos where George worked.  Garcia and the other Palo Alto folkniks regularly showed up there to jam into the weekend nights.

I started dropping in to see Rodney when I was down that way.  On my first visit, he showed me the six string balalaika he’d built out of orange crate wood.   It was his first sort of crude try at building an instrument.  He was way beyond now of course. He’d already finished a viol de gamba, and now he was building a harpsichord on his bedroom floor.  Its parts spread hither and thither across the  carpet; tools, a reel to reel tape recorder and an unmade bed filled the rest.  He used the tape machine to record performances at the Boar’s Head.  Apparently some of these tapes still exist and are passed from hand to hand in Deadhead circles.   They would include: Garcia, Ron McKernan, David Nelson, Rodneys’s brother Peter of course, and other less talented performers who went on to become teachers and bureaucrats and accountants – but still played pretty good.

Rodney opened a whole new world to me.  Before Rod, folk music meant Joan Baez manning the barricades while Pete Seeger fired his musket at the Pentagon.  It meant peace marches, sit-ins and and drinking cheap dago red at parties while somebody plunked out ‘Twelve Gates To the City, Hallelujah’ on a nylon string guitar.  But these friends of Rodney’s were…dedicated.  They played bluegrass and old-timey stuff, They listened to Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers on scratchy 78s.  Was Charlie from Greenwich Village or Boston?  I wasn’t sure.  They sang about chickens loose in the barnyard squawk squawk and subjects like that.  Who could figure?  But, hey – I liked Rodney so I listened and tried to understand.  I just didn’t see how “Boil That Cabbage Down” would save the world from nuclear destruction.

Peter Albin was already a more accomplished musician, although still in high school.  He could wail on Bile That Cabbage Down but he could also play Mississippi Delta slide guitar riffs, and,  what really impressed me — he knew some Chuck Berry stuff.  I know I was supposed to have outgrown this teenaged foolishness, but tell my ears that!

There was something about Rodney, his gentle spirit, his brilliant mind and his dry sense of humor, that drew me to him.  I liked hanging out with him, and so did most everyone else in our circle. Later I learned there were circles like that all up and down the Peninsula.

Rodney was kind of funny looking.  He had a classic beanpole shape, gawky you might say, you might even say gawky and sniffy.  He was born to play comedy roles, and he worked it.  The first time I saw him (as opposed to meeting him) was the preceding spring when he was still attending the College of San Mateo.  I knew some CSM kids in a school production of Twelfth Night, and I went see one of them, Dick Shapero,  play Malvolio.  Dick was an experienced actor and knew how to get laughs,  but when Rodney as Sir Andrew Aguecheek entered stage right, Dick had to give up.   Rodney didn’t say anything.  He just stood there in his Elizabethan get-up, awkward, gawky, rubbing his nose, looking around as if he couldn’t quite remember his lines. The audience slowly began to titter and he built the moment into a the play’s biggest laugh.  He worked that role successfully for the next twenty years.

(I KNOW this isn’t Twelfth night, ok?  I don’t have a photo of Twelfth Night and I need a photo here.  So here is the same company’s Pygmalion, produced a few months later)

A few days after Rodney passed his dulcimer around, I was sitting on the grass trying to impress some proto-hippie chicks by  playing “I’m a  whinin’ Boy, don’t deny my name” on my Mexican folk guitar.  I was using a two-fingered picking style I’d made up.  Like crab pincers, my thumb kept the rhythm while my index finger picked out the melody.  It was pretty primitive.  If I hadn’t been a soulful singer, the chicks would have walked.  As it was, they were listening all right, but they weren’t idolizing me like they should.  What could I do?

When it was Rodney’s turn to do a song, he launched into ‘Freight Train, Freight Train Going So Fast’, singing in a thin nasal voice like an elderly gent from Viper, Kentucky.  I thought his singing could use some help, but, man, he had that Elizabeth Cotton style finger-picking right down!  His thumb was rocking between the bass strings and he syncopated the melody just like the old girl herself!  Actually, I’d never heard of Elizabeth Cotton before, but whoever she was, I wanted to play like that too.  But three fingers!  How could anybody ever make so many fingers work together?  Maybe I should stick to my authentically primitive crabstyle.

But Rodney encouraged me.  He showed me the moves over and over till I started to get them.  I went back to my apartment and drove my wife mad singing the silly holy thing over and over with my thumb rocking and fingers trying to syncopate it right, “Please don’t tell them what train I’m on so they won’t know where I’ve gone.”

Linda was thinking, ‘When’s that train leaving?”

Come Christmas, Linda, in a moment of madness, gave me a mandolin.  She’d found it in a Third Street pawn shop and bought it for $20.  I was thrilled.  It’s just – how did you play one of these things?  I loved messing around with instruments and could sort of play a lot them, all by ear and without much skill.  I asked Rodney if he knew how to play one and it turned out he did.  He showed me how to hold a pick and how to play a simple tune called Liberty.  After I mastered that he taught me a more complicated minstrel song called “Colored Aristocracy.” After that, I didn’t need any more lessons.  I knew four chords and could pick two songs.  I was ready to roll!

I didn’t know it yet but I was about to take my place in the Albin Brothers’ amorphous shape-shifting band, The Liberty Hill Aristocrats.  One night, Rodney said they were going to play the Top of The Tangent in Palo Alto and they needed somebody on mandolin.  I was a mandolin player!  So next night, with some trepidation,  I got up on the little stage, playing with the likes of Jerry Garcia and Peter Albin and David Nelson – real masters of their instruments.  Rodney didn’t care if I only knew four chords.  He even let me sing one, I think it was Little Birdie.  – he liked to include people, and that included The Pondering Pig.  You had to love a guy like that.  I did.

That was Rodney, he got people going, he included them, even if it affected the professionalism of the music.   He had his priority list, and friends were higher up than professionalism.  Me too.

COMING SOON: THE  STORY OF 1090 PAGE STREET

Photo credits: Rodney, CSM Play: Pig’s files – photographer unknown, SF State campus: SF Pub Lib

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48 thoughts on “Luminaries of the Haight-Ashbury: Rodney Albin

  1. A great reminiscence of your pal Rodney. You made him visible with your descriptions, pig, bringing him back for a little while. I guess when people are that close to us, they’re never really too far away, never really completely gone, are they?

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  2. Fantastic piece, dad. I can hardly wait for more! Is that the same mandolin that hung around our house all growing up? How come I never saw you pick it up and play it? And another thing, do you remember when I was younger I used to be obsessed with asking you if you’d ever met anyone famous? All you’d tell me about was your trip to June Allyson’s house and your acquaintance with Pigpen. And I’d have to say from your writing of this blog that you knew/met a lot more people than *that.* Gosh, you never even told me about when Janice Joplin stood behind you at the bank.

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  3. Rodney Albin lives, thanks to the elegiacal memories, sensibilities and gifted keyboard artistry of his friend, The Pondering Pig. Thank you.

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  4. Two things. One, this face, I remember it. Were you and Rodney still hanging out at 17th Ave?

    Two, this description: “He was wearing bright red trousers, a stove-piped hat and tails, and he was playing The Battle of New Orleans on his fiddle,” – it reminds me of something I’ve asked mom about, which she doesn’t have an answer for. We used to stop and watch a man at Golden Gate Park? Ghiridelli Square? that matched this description run a Punch and Judy type show in a big red box, and be a one man band, with cymbals and fiddle and snares and kazoo and all, tied on to him. Very tall, very gangly, with clothing like you describe. Although the puppet show person and the one man band person might posiibly have been different people. Were either of these Rodney? Or can you shed some light on this memory?

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  5. Rodney and I remained friends until his death, so he certainly was at our home on 17th Avenue in the City. I intend on covering the rest of his story, if briefly, in the next two installments of his tale. The man you remember from GG Park was not Rodney, though. I remember him too.

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  6. One of my few claims to greateness is that I can wrap a rubber band around an object so that the band has no twists in it, so long as the bind consists of a multiple of three winds. In fact, I cannot bring myself to do otherwise, ever since learning the trick from Rod, just as some people cannot avoid stepping over the cracks between paving-stones.

    Actually, what I learned from Rod was how to fold a band-saw blade, but it’s the same thing in principle. Unlike band-saws, however, rubber bands get used by me almost daily, and each and every time I wrap something I think of Rod, with the same irresistible compulsion which prevents me from tolerating superfluous twists in the band – even though it’s now over forty-two years since the sawblade lesson. And that’s just one of the many things, of greater and lesser import, which I learned from my good friend Rodney Albin.

    The sawblade episode occurred back in 1967, when Rod and his wife Jean were living further downhill from the Haight-Ashbury district, about the level of Gough Street, if I remember correctly. Rod and I had both married and left 1090 Page Street at just about the same time, where we had until then been sharing a room on the ground floor, on the left-hand side as you entered the one-time stately home, in what had once been some Victorian patriarch’s reception room. The room was generously dimensioned and, together with the rest of the ground floor and much of the basement (a venue which looms large in rock music history), had unbelievably sumptuous parquet flooring. The furniture throughout the house, by contrast, was a ramshackle collection of parental cast-outs, auction bargains, items of unknown or dubious origin, and makeshift constructions: in short, typical student milieu. It was a bit like slumming in the royal palace.

    1090 Page was owned at the time by Rod’s uncle, and the property on
    which the house stood was destined to be “developed” – that is, turned
    into anonymous concrete slabware to generate higher revenue. In the
    interim, through Rod, said avuncular personage tolerated students living
    there for a song (often quite literally), under the tacit understanding that these would disappear without resistance when the end came. I left San Francisco shortly before demolition was to proceed, and don’t know to this day what became of the plans. I like to think that that magnificent house might have survived after all, much like the Victorian real estate which was given a new lease on life by the Fillmore District renascence. But I have never dared to go back to look, for fear that it might merely be wishful thinking.

    The band-saw was something Rod had pieced together using two gutted
    bicycle wheels and various additional bits and scraps. That was typical for Rod: nearly everything he possessed he built himself. The only things he had to purchase specifically for the band-saw were the stabilizing guides and, of course, the sawblades, which could be folded instantaneously into three loops with a deft hand movement, as I was to learn and never to forget. I was there when he put the finishing touches on the contraption. After the electric motor sprang into action for the first time – a motor which Rod had of course rescued from some abandoned apparatus and adapted to its new calling, as he had the bicycle wheels – the whole thing wobbled a bit at first, until Rod calmly went to work with pliars and screwdrivers until the mechanism ran smoothly and – thanks to its custom-made gear transmission – at perfect speed for the job at hand: cutting out the individual pieces for making guitars, fiddles, dulcimers, banjos, what have you. That’s what we did. Or rather, that’s one of the things Rod did, with occasional assistance from me, under his supervision.

    Then, in September 1967, following my graduation from San Francisco
    State College, wife, son and college graduate left for Leeds, England, the latter bent on pursuing a postgraduate degree. As it happened, none of my life’s blueprints turned out as originally envisaged – the degree, the marriage, and eventually the triumphant return to the United States and a prestige academic career -, so that, little by little, with the gradually waning flow of correspondence characteristic of pre-email days, Rod and I gradually lost touch with one another.

    During a visit (in 1978, I believe) I did my level best to reestablish
    contact. I managed to locate Jean, only to learn on the ‘phone that she
    and Rod had split up and that she could give me no further information
    about his whereabouts. And so I heard no more about him until just a few days ago, when I googled his name and found your blog article.

    It is painful to know that Rod has been gone from this earth for a
    quarter of a century. Painful for the fact and circumstances of his
    death, painful for its finality, painful that it took me so long to learn of the passing of one of my best friends. As I pointed out, I have reason to think of Rod nearly every day: it’s not only the rubber bands, not even the bluegrass banjo which I made with the aid of the Bandsaw Built for Two and which I still possess, cherish and occasionally play using the finger movements which Rod taught me; it’s all the things which make me me because Rod was who he was. It’s countless little things the recollection of which make one go all warm. Things such as my trying to commit Rod’s songs to musical notation, which meant distilling a melody out of the mass of vocal folk tradition so that the staff wasn’t afterwards stuffed full of ligatures and dotted demisemiquavers. Things such as observing Rod’s infinitely patient forbearance with the consequences of other people’s follies – a quality reserved for people like Rod, who are able to couple a realistic assessment of human limitations with genuine affection for those who possess them.

    Up until a few days ago, when I chanced across your article, I would on occasion recollect the two of us as we were then, in the five rich years of our comradeship in those heady student days when all options were open and friendships were forever. The news of Rodney’s death has put a ceiling on this eternity, and the pleasant thought of “perhaps someday getting together again”, however unlikely that prospect might loom in practical reality, has been irreversibly removed from the pending list.

    But in spite of the pain, I thank you from deep in my heart for your
    eulogy. It is evident from the befitting way you write about Rodney that you knew him intimately – he literally came to life in your lines – and you and I must certainly know one another as well. From the autobiographic clues you weaved into your article I have worked out a short list of candidates, but since you’re writing under a pseudonym I will respect your privacy and say no more.

    Gerald

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  7. Forgot to click the “notify me” button.

    Just stumbled across some more of your blog pages, including reminiscences of Nathan Zakheim, Loren Means and Edmund the Mad Magician. They, along with Rod, had been lodging together since 1962/3, in those days in a cheap lodging house in the Fillmore on Divisadero Street. A few you missed out of that crowd, including Bill (“Willy the Wizard”) Dahlgren and yours truly. Just wait until I send this off and I’m certain to remember more …

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  8. Thank you, Gerald. There is more to this story, if you haven’t found it yet. The second part of Rodney’s story is found at https://ponderingpig.wordpress.com/2008/10/24/luminaries-of-the-haight-4-1090-page-street/
    I haven’t written the third part, which will include the amazing story of Rodney’s wake. I have to tell you I have always seen the Pig as a kind of lighthouse, sending out signals in the night to the lost friends and compatriots of my generation, and I am so glad you saw the light. I’ll tell all Rodney’s pals that I still know about your insightful response. — Chris Newton. Many of us are on Facebook, by the way. Are you?

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  9. I have many stories about Rodney Kent Albin. He made the table I am now writing on and he is in there, inside the burned almost up oak thing, a survivor from his south of Market shop and magical theater…. so many stories to tell it seems a dautning task just to begin. I should write a whole book from his eye level view. The man had about a 200 IQ. My measely 130 could hardly track him. We majored in Psych at SF State together. When I want to fire up my chakras I put on his (Road Hog) version of the Battle of New Orleans and I get chills. We taught school together at Balboa high. He taught chemistry I taught history and English. He knew everything about everything.

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  10. Pingback: The House On Divisadero Street (Part 1 of 6) « the pondering pig

  11. Rodney was my uncle (yep, Peter is my dad). He passed away when I was 17, so seeing as we only saw him a couple times a year for holidays and such, I feel like I never really “knew” him. But reading all these remembrances is amazing. I’m so thankful that folks are writing stories and feelings about him. I’ve learned so much about him as a person. Dad said he was incredibly smart, incredibly talented and very funny. He’s got some pretty good stories about Rodney he should share here… Rodney’s only child, Steven, is an amazing musician as well. pple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Thank you all for your submissions.

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    • Lisa, I think I met you once in your babyhood. I hope to spend an afternoon with your Dad next week and drag out more Rodney stories. I didn’t know Steven was a musician, but it makes sense. Thanks for writing!

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  12. I just came across this site. I did not know Rodney but back in 1975 I ordered a guitar that he built. I still love to play that guitar and friends of mine who are professional players have offered me more than the money I paid for it back then, but I would never give it up. It sounds so beautiful. It was great to read about him as a real live person and to know that the love he had for music shows up in the instruments he made.

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    • Tom, thanks for your comment on Rodney’s instruments. I know of two or three others besides yours and there must be many more. BTW, I shared your comment with Rodney’s brother Peter, who was happy to know Rodney’s instruments are still bringing pleasure out there in the world. Peter owns a beautiful one, I have played it several times.

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      • I have a magical 1973 book-matched rosewood D-28 with projection, balance, and beautiful tones that Rodney made for me in his old warehouse shop. Rodney was a brilliant gamin in those days of electric-insight and myriad possibilities. Rodney, the music and the instruments epitomize the rather innocent energy of what was a heady time in the ‘hood. He and others gave us gifts, and I continue to be grateful..and interested in reading about Rodney, wonderful musician and Master Instrument Builder. Interesting how those of us who own his guitars are so very passionate about them..about their quality, precision, projective-sound and playability.
        Like the other owners, I’ve been offered much-dinero from even professional players for this now 38-yr. old dreadnought guitar, but it will be my special instrument until I pass-on, and then much coveted by my professional-guitarist nephew.
        We owners know these wonderful guitars possess a piece of Rodney’s soul, his marvelous creativity, and the passion with which he undertook his life and his music. They are his legacy, these guitars, and should be chronicled. Each one Rodney’s voice, each guitar a Rodney story in fine-wood. My guitar is numbered 4707440. My recollection in a conversation I had with Peter Albin a few years ago is that Rodney’s guitar production was about 75. Be fun to know more about them.
        Thank you for your animated memories of Rodney Kent Albin, of the music, of the Haight, and of the times we lived, sometimes rather well..!
        Mark

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    • Good question. I haven’t talked to her since the 80s and haven’t made an effort to find her. But she would be a great resource for further Rodney stories. Where do you know Rodney from?

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  13. I think of rodney every day or so since his passing. one of the things he wrote in his letter to be read after he died went (paraphrasing): “If you want to remember me, when you see someone on the street playing music, if they’re good give them some money. if they’re not tell them to get the f@#k off the street.” so I always give street buskers money, if they’re good. I’ve yet to feel so strongly about a bad one to follow the second half of that wish. I “thankfully” did not make it that day to the wake, though the story lives on in infamy, I suppose.

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  14. I wasn’t at the wake either, living in New Jersey at the time, but I know the stories, and I’ve a very good interview with Ted Clare where he tells the whole story. When I get back to the Pig, if I ever do, I’ll include it. Meanwhile, I just checked out your blog, and it looks excellent. Looking forward to digging though it. http://www.chefducinema.com/

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  15. I knew Rodney briefly in 1979-1980. I was 17 years old at the time and wanted to build my own solid body electric guitar. A saw a notice on the bulletin board of a music store on Haight street (don’t remember the name of the store) that Rodney had put up offering to teach people to build acoustics for a very modest fee. I called him and asked him if he’d be willing to help me build an electric and he said he’d help me build two. I remember him as being quiet, kind, generous and incredibly patient with me. He gave me a bench in his shop, and a heck of a lot of his time. I was incredibly impressed with his knowledge and all the inventive ways he had figured out how to accomplish certain tasks and my first guitar turned out beautifully. I sold it to a friend several years later who held on to it all these years and just this Spring gave it back to me. I now play that guitar every day. I started, but never finished, the second guitar. All of us have certain seminal experiences and people we have known. I can’t say that I knew Rodney well, but I will always hold him as someone who gave me the gift of a tremendous experience. Having my old guitar back has given me the desire to build another one, which I plan on doing over the next year or so. I feel confident because I can still visualize, in detail, almost every facet of building the first one. So maybe I can finally finish that second guitar, and I know that Rodney will be helping me.

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  16. Thanks again dear friend, I miss Rodney so very much these days, he put acid (sunshine barrells) in the chicken .. When they took his ashes out to dump them at sea they ate the chicken and they all flashed and they called me because I once ran an LSD rescue project, so funny, glad I didn’t sail with them that day, I would have tried to swim home…

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  17. Rodney was my landlord at 101 (I think ) Haight Street ’66-’68. I’ve lived in Europe since ’69 and only just found out from your blog that Rodney died so many years ago. What a great guy! He and Willy Dahlgren built an oscilloscope from a Heathlkit to refine the sound produced by the electric violin which I reckon Rodney invented.
    One day I bumped into him outside a ‘Head’ shop higher up the hill (those early shops were regarded with indignation as unwanted incursions of commodity capitalism – but we were soon seduced). In his hand, Rodney had what might have been the first (or only?) pre-Janis single Peter’s band ever cut. It was called, “Oh Sunflower In The Sun” and it turned out to be pretty awful but Rodney was so excited, I bought a copy for a dollar. I wonder if anyone has one now? I’d love to hear it again. Sad to learn of Rodney’s untimely death so much after….I can still hear Jean’s dulcet tones beckoning Rodney away from whatever mad project he and Willy were immersed in.

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    • What a great surprise to hear from you. I remember the place on Haight well — was there dozens of times. Thank you so much. Actually, I am putting together a book of my stories of San Francisco in the 60s and if you have more Rodney stories I will love to hear them. Are you still in Europe? I am in regular contact with Peter – I will ask him about the single.

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    • Rod went on to work for Dahlgren who developed an amazing etching system for incised signs on brass and plastic. Rod was a psych major at SF State with me and we were very close. We gave each other IQ tests. I came out around 129-132 Rod broke the chart. I think I need to write a whole book on Rod because every time I start to work on my chapter about him I see 234 more pages. I have never heard the sunflower music but if you want to hear something screeching out on that fiddle he invented just listen to hios solo on the Battle of New Orleans with Road Hog. Also Hyde Street Grip with Liberty Hill Aristocrats.

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  18. Rodney was my freshman science teacher… and my musical mentor, 1967 in Newbury Park High School

    I tested his first prototype solid body electric violin. Rodney started my ever expanding direction in music. Rodney, his wife and I entered the Battle of the Bands contest at Thousand Oaks High and played “White Rabbit”. Rodney played his solid body mandolin mandolin, his wife sang and I played his electric violin through a fuzz pedal. We were disqualified because Rodney and his wife were teachers. Actually we knew ahead of time we would be but snuck in under the bands name as “Rubber Band”

    He set up a workshop in the storage closet of his science classroom and worked on his solid body electric instruments. I would often stay after school and test his prototype violin which allowed him to fine tune his custom made pickup.

    At the end of the year he was repelled from school. I met him and his wife in the school parking lot and helped him load the last of his belongings into his “Bonaville”. He confided his new where abouts to be at the Fillmore West in San Francisco with his brother Peter Albin, bass player with “Big Brother and the Holding Company”. We got high, spoke of the future, gave me his address and invite… then drove away “White Rabbit” blaring from his radio. I’ved wondered for 45 years that the radio played that tune at that time…

    I regret that my life never saw it’s way to seeing Rodney again.

    I met an electric violin maker at the NAMM show who once worked with him that both Rodney and his wife had passed away. He told me many tales of Rodney’s influences in the advancement of electic violin making.

    Rodney was a pioneer…

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    • He was my science teacher, at Newbury Park High, great guy, very easy going. He wrote the formula for LSD on the black board, we laughed. I felt at ease in his class, no pressure. very interesting man. I just wish I could have really focused on what he was teaching instead of thinking about boys.

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      • Rodney often did that but would always leave some aspect of the indole nucleus out or some step slightlty wrong. But he had the damned thing memorized, so what does that say about his IQ?

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      • Must have been in the same class. First year of Newbury Park High was definitely very loose times. Including many of the teachers! Rodney was my favorite. Obviously I know you…

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  19. Hello all. Between the years 1/77 and 6/81 I studied with Rodney, mostly six days a week; instrument building, and design, as well as, repair and restoration. Lessons learned far trumped that stuff. I remain a student after all these years and welcome communication, I have stories to fill chapters and welcome the opportunity to share. Thanks……. chris madison

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    • Hey Chris, your note comes at an opportune moment. I am getting a book of my stories together for publication and have just been pondering the one abut Rodney and how I could finally capture who he was. Would love to hear whatever you have. I’ll send you my email address.

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      • Hello to all…. who was he? More than a reflection of what we needed. An infrequent, occasional soul on our Earth. From my point of view he cut the ties, was one who awoke, gathered nothing, and saw how to break free. We will have a difficult time indeed to capture this essence. We need to try.

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  20. I can’t remember who introduced me to Rodney, but somehow I was directed to his guitar making shop in Bill Grahm’s warehouse.
    We became fast friends and I became his apprentice in making an Irish Harp. I was going the San Fran Art Inst. at the time and it was probably 1973 -75. In a return gesture, he asked me to paint the inside of a harpsichord lid for him as like a renaissance painting, but with modern day people and musicians. This I did and delivered it to him to attach to his Harpsichord. He was a patient man for sure. Then after that he opened “Chicken that Sing” on Haight Street and I designed is logo and his sign for the store. I use to go in there to buy my harmonicas. One day I told him I wanted to get a mic and a small tube amp. He just gave me a nice Shure Mic and he gave me a small simple tube amp that Owsley had made. It sounded great! Wish I still had that amp… After that I did not see him too often. But the Harpsichord lid did resurface a few years ago on facebook and one of his relatives was trying to sell it. I was sorry when he had passed away. He was a great soul. Truly someone in my life who made an impact on me. I miss him.

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    • Great note, Holly. Thanks for sharing your Rodney memories. Do you have a picture of the Chickens That Sing logo or sign you could send me? I have a photo of the shop’s window, but its only sign reads “R. Albin Instruments”. It’s made from stained glass (also one of Rodney’s interests) and framed. I have a picture of it which I will send to your email address. Thanks again, Ponderpig

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  21. A Lucky Break

    I found this page awhile ago, when, in a particular spurt of missing Rodney I did a net search. I was surprised and yet not, to find a place for some shared Rodney memories and appreciation. I don’t know who you are, Pondering Pig, but I thank you for this space.
    Being chronologically challenged I can’t say for sure, think it was 1970 or 71? when I met Rodney. I had been staying with some folks and left my 1955 Gibson J-45 with them when I went to look for my own place to stay (which turned out to be a room in a $15.00/week hotel on Market St.)
    I met my friend at her bus stop when she was going to work because she was bringing my guitar but told me she had dropped it in her haste (I had it in a nearly useless cardboard case yet in all my travels it had fared well until that point). The neck was cracked near the body so she said she would find the name of someone for me to take it to and would pay for repairs. The name was Rodney Albin and the place was upstairs in Bill Graham’s warehouse. The Gibson had been painted white, so as well as gluing the crack, Rodney re-finished it for better looks and tone.
    I accepted Rodney’s invitation to hang out with him at his shop (if he didn’t have a substitute teaching job and between my jobs) and to accompany him on his various errands, and jobs such as mending a staircase out of town for one of his interesting relatives, going to China Camp to move his rowboat (can that be right?) that he kept at Bob Hunter’s? I seem to remember a step van and of course his Alfa Romeo he was patching with fiber glass and maybe another vehicle? Besides the chronological challenges some of the details are shaky but the heart theme is there. I also thought I remembered two sons, Steven and maybe Greg? Or is that retro-hallucination? Being picked up by or going to meet Rodney always brought me to the threshold of an interesting and/or wonderful adventure, largely because of being in his company. It wasn’t just that he knew so much, which he did, but that he also enjoyed knowing what he knew and sharing same.
    Having Rodney in my life was like having an amazingly benevolent, brilliant and magical older brother or uncle. I cannot recall if I truly communicated to him what a blessing he was for me .
    Fast forward to a time when I realized how extremely weary of concrete I was. Had landed in an apartment on Noe Street, just a wink from Duboce Park where I walked with my dog every day. We were also across from a (private) hospital with helicopter service. More concrete also noise and much dust. The concrete hurt my eyes while the noise hurt my ears and it all hurt my heart.
    Long story short, I moved back east with the man who I would later marry, while he went to school. Rodney and I kept in touch but in the ‘olden’ days long distance was expensive and we only had the postal service.
    After three or four years we were able to head west again and I chose Oregon. More years went by, we had a two plus y/o daughter and were to spend a month in San Francisco for my husband’s training but I had not been able to locate Rodney at the last address from which we had been corresponding, so I called his dad who gave me the contact info, told me about the cancer and that Rodney was being inaccessible because of creditors. Rodney and I connected and I went to see him. I must have evinced some initial shock and much later I realized that he had sort of minimized his situation to me, probably deliberately–there he was, taking care of my feelings! He was enough of an upbeat version of himself that I didn’t feel any dread, just enjoyed being with him again. Soon, when he was getting married I was unable to go down. (Was I pregnant then or was that later for his wake/celebration?) Rodney’s dad sent me a lot of clippings about it. I was extremely bummed out and down, because I had still been buying into Rodney’s downplaying of the extent of the illness and I thought I would be seeing him again on earth. Denial is a two faced entity….
    Rodney offered so much and yet instinctively gave one enough space; he was an open treasure chest of a person. He also had so many interesting schemes, one of which was to get me to stop smoking cigarettes by inserting a tiny explosive device in one of them and putting it back in the pack. He really really wanted to try it!!! Good times….. I loved him and still do.
    I was a little regretful that I hadn’t gotten an instrument from him, at least a dulcimer kit, to have something musical with his energy in it. I called Ted Clare who didn’t know what was happening in that area but I guess a lot of other people had the same idea. I didn’t pursue it.
    Then at some point I woke up: Rodney had mended and improved my J-45 which I played frequently and for some time have been playing everyday. Rodney is with me. I don’t think I had a photo of him but not only has his image always been strongly in my mind–usually I see him in his work clothes and overcoat–but his voice is unusually clear in my mind or wherever these things actually exist. What is a mind, anyway…… (Would still adore to have one of his guitars of course)
    And it feels lovely to be able to honor him amongst others who are doing same. Thank you.
    Lena

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    • Chris,

      Thank you for sending, I enjoyed reading this. I just got hit with the reminder that today is my birthday, nice that you sent this to me. She writes well.

      July 28th 1943 happens to be Mike Bloomfield’s birthday. Rodney and I spoke about him occasionally, we both heard him play around the neighborhood, he liked him. Mike was someone I took a liking to way back. He was on that tape collection I inherited playing with Chicago blues greats at Lake Forest folk festival 1963, it wasn’t until after he passed away that I learned we shared the same birthday. He would have been 70 today.

      Got my facebook up and running with interesting things to look at each day, I dig the items you post. I will be posting my art work as time allows, check them out ok?

      today, tomorrow…always

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    • Such a sweet letter – you have really caught the man. Thank you for writing. One of these stories is going to be in my upcoming book, The First Few Friends I Had. I too had a chance to visit Rodney in his last days on the planet, when he couldn’t get out of bed – and it was a joy to be with him that day, not sorrowful at all. He told me about his plans for a TV series to be broadcast from his bedroom where he interviewed San Francisco rock stars from his bed. It really should have happened – it would have been perfect!

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  22. Oh I love that he was scheming up to the last bit of his earth time! He continues to inspire….
    (I recall another of his schemes but it’s probably not for public posting)
    Thank you PonderingPig

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  23. Rodney invented the ‘NeanderLin; the first and only pedal steel electric Banjo for Jeff Dambrau in Roadhog. By then he had changed the name of the store from ‘Chickens That Sing’ to ‘Acoustic Music’. The store was our rehearsal hall

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  24. I’m too bleary eyed in emotion reading all these memories of Rodney. Hard to believe he’s gone 30 years. Thanks to all who contributed here for the fond memories. Rodney was one of the first friends I made upon my arrival to SF back in ’73. And tho I may have a few stories, I wont go into them here.
    But I think I need to correct something: Rodney’s music store on Haight was called Acoustic Music, his successors renamed it Chickens That Sing, and that store eventually transitioned into Haight Ashbury Music, as it remains today.
    Regardless of any historical inaccuracies from our aging brains, thank you Pondering Pig and all who shared their love of Rodney Kent Albin!

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  25. Hi Pig,
    I’m writing The Encyclopedia Of Jerry Garcia Music Venues. I’m interested in locating a photo of both Boar’s Heads that the Albins ran . I’d need it at least 1mb or larger. Could you direct me to someone who has one or knows the address of the Hutchins Bookstore Loft?
    Please email me at slipnut01@gmail.com.

    Thank you
    Harry Angus

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