My Big Brother Ernie

When I met Ernie & the Emperors at the Dolphin Club in Solvang in 1965 I was only 14, but I'd already written a lot of songs and played a pretty damned good guitar. I may have looked like a little kid, but there was a whole lotta music inside of me.

The Dolphin Club (1610 Oak Street) was a members only place that had a pool, dressing rooms and a dance hall that included a snack bar. In 1965 the owners figured out they could make a little money by holding dances for the teens of Solvang, with live bands from all over the tri-counties. Within the year it became a venue that a lot of bands vied for. There was nothing else for us to do in Solvang in those days. The closest entertainment of any sort was an hour's drive away and a lot of parents didn't like the idea of their kids driving the San Marcos Pass at night...

I took to Ernie & the Emperors as quickly as I had the Beatles only a year and a half earlier. They were on Reprise Records, which was also the home of the Kinks. Their single, "Meet Me At The Corner" sold very well in California and because the local record store sold out of it, I assumed the Emperors were as famous as any other band at that time. I played that 45 record out, both A and B sides. It now sells online for $30. Not only was their sound fresh, they were really, really talented and put on a great show; they were true showmen. And they wore dog collars, too. Very cool. I think I remember buying them matching dog collars that Christmas.

I don't remember actually going up to the stage and striking a conversation between sets. In fact, I don't really remember that night at all any more, but I must have introduced myself, because I had their address. I know this because I wrote a letter to them. Yeah, a real fan letter, which I mailed in a black envelope so that it would be easily spotted in the piles of fan mail I assumed they received. I was not only surprised when Ernie wrote back... personally... in his own hand, I was ecstatic. I took the letter to school with me the next day and proudly waved it about, which resulted in the envelope getting ripped as the girls tried to grab it from my hand.

14 year-olds...

The Emperors returned in November and I and my friends were there. I brought my camera. My foster sister, Ginger, even went to the club that night, something she usually didn't do. I took pictures of them on stage and one of Ernie and Randy with my friends. Why didn't I get one of me with them!? This is one of those pictures. Sorry it's so faded. Sorry too for the big blond hair in front. That's Ginger. The dark head above hers is my brother, who's dancing with a girl named Jean. Notice he's paying a lot of attention to Jean. He was a drummer in another band and had to check the Emperors out for himself after he heard me prattle on about them for so long.

I went to quite a few of their shows, when I could bum a ride out of town with someone. One time my friend Cathie and I imposed ourselves on them by showing up at their house in Santa Barbara. They were all very nice to us, but looking back, I'm sure they knew that we were just saucer-eyed fans.

On the night of my last day of school (junior year), my brother and I went with them to a Lovin' Spoonful concert at Earl Warren Showgrounds and I brought my yearbook with me for them to autograph. They did, then suddenly, that clown prince of Rock, Zal Yanovsky, just grabbed it in his effusive way and signed it without my even asking him. And in huge writing that entirely covered the page I'd marked, "Reserved for Ernie". I was pissed. I think I've told you before that I wasn't like most girls in the Sixties. I never wanted to marry a Beatle, I wanted to be a Beatle -- and I certainly wasn't a groupie type -- so my backstage experience was very different from that of other girls who thought they were in love with one of a band's members. And Zally stealing Ernie's page just didn't impress me. It's funny now, of course.

In my Saturday post I wrote about when the Emperors and I met Jimi Hendrix, so I won't go into all that again. We saw each other off and on through the decade of the Seventies, finally gelling once again in 1979 when, as "Faith", they secured a weekly gig for several months at a club not far my house in Ventura County. I was there nearly every week, and sometimes they'd bring me up on stage to sing backups. To this day I can't hear "Get Together" ("...Come on people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another right now...") without singing my harmonic line. That's me with the rubber chicken. What's up with those overalls? What was I thinking???

In the 41 years (!!!) that we've known each other, Ernie and his brothers Cory and Brian, have always remained true to Rock and Roll. They've rolled with the punches. They've learned, assimilated, adapted and kept on keeping on, and always in the spirit that their fans, audiences and friends are all part of their family. I think that's what has made them go the distance, why people still enjoy not only their shows, but also their off-stage company, as much as we did all those years ago. And people in the business love them and love working with them. If I were a different kind of person I could drop some names that would make your head spin.

I can't remember the last time I saw or spoke with them. I think it was in 1989 or something when I stopped by their house during a weekend stay in Santa Barbara. Over this past weekend I was thrilled to find them on MySpace. With the help of their lead singer, Karen, I was able to get word to the guys and on Sunday afternoon I was pleasantly surprised when the phone rang and it was Big Brother Ernie calling me. We talked for about half and hour and then he was off to a recording session.

I offered to build a website for them and Karen and I are working on getting the stuff together for it. I'm very excited and honored to be working with the Brian Faith Band in this way, and I'll be sure to post a link for you when the site is completed.

I'm as happy as a puppy with two peters tonight. Between the wonderful evening I spent with Ville on Friday, Nettl's Kaiserschmarrn, and being back in communication with my "big brothers", my heart is about as full as it can get.

Have a wonderful Monday everyone!