Eric Henderson - Early Memories of the Guitar - Part II

 Laguna Beach, CA

Laguna Beach, CA

We moved to Laguna Beach in 1967,  I had already learned to body-surf and when we moved to the beach I started to surf.  Laguna was an inexpensive small community, unlike any that I have ever seen before or since.  At that time you could pick abalone right off of the rocks on the shore and in the tide pools.  You could pound it on the rocks and barbecue it on the coals of your beach bonfire.  Not a lot of people and not a lot of laws or regulations.  There were plenty of kelp beds and fish were abundant. The water was a turquoise blue, clean and clear. Nearly all of the beaches were scooped and rock-sheltered coves.  Their half-moon shape protected them from getting too windy and gave them a sense of serene peace and quiet.

 Eric, chasing his little brother Chris

Eric, chasing his little brother Chris

I grew up with my mother, father, and two brothers in a two-bedroom house that had a small guest-house in the back part of the yard.  Both the front and backyards were filled with all kinds of fruit trees; peaches, plums, oranges, figs, apricots and lemon trees. It was only three short blocks to Woods Cove, a beautiful and charming cove looked over by a small stone castle that Betty Davis had lived in during the 40’s and 50’s.   From that time till the mid 70’s Laguna Beach was only crowded with tourists during August, the peak of the summer tourist season.  Most people in those days went to beaches north of Laguna, Newport Beach, especially, or much further south to San Diego County.  Those were the places the tourists knew. 

As a child in Laguna, I once again found myself in a place that was surrounded by orange groves.  Laguna is in the southern end of Orange County, a county named for what was once an obvious reason: its orange groves. In the past, Orange County was one of the capitals of orange farming, the Irvine Ranch was one of the largest farms.  I could go on and on about how it was in those days, the rolling hills, Laguna Beach being completely surrounded by farms and beautiful undeveloped foothills.  Absolutely no smog.

 Photo Courtesy of belhistory.weebly.com depicting "the Brotherhood" in front of the "Mystic Arts" shop.

Photo Courtesy of belhistory.weebly.com depicting "the Brotherhood" in front of the "Mystic Arts" shop.

There was another side to Laguna that in some ways was very destructive.  Laguna was a center for Southern California’s drug smugglers and a group of people who controlled most of the southern half of California’s distribution of pot, hash, and LSD.  They called themselves ‘The Brotherhood of Eternal Love.’ Woodland Drive, a street at the very beginning of Laguna Canyon Road, was a street where some of the Brotherhood lived. They had a whole system for letting each other know with whistles and other signals when the cops were coming.  If you were an outsider and they didn’t know you it wasn’t the best idea to just stroll down their street. 

One of the controlling figures of this group was Robert  ‘Fat Bobby’ Andrist.  You may remember the name, as he was the man who gave my father the guitar that I was to receive as a Christmas present when I was six.  Probably the most important headquarters of the Brotherhood was a shop called ‘Mystic Arts’ located on Coast Highway in Laguna Beach; it was a store for art and books as well as a head shop.  I was too young to begin to know all of the details about the secret passageways and stash areas that this ‘shop’ hid.  The same people who created this shop happened to also start the Sawdust Art Festival in the late 70’s, which was to become an annual festival directly across the Laguna Canyon from the ‘Pageant of the Masters’ (a nationally known event involving actors and models depicting famous masterpieces of art on stage, hence its name.)  To this day there are at most a handful of the original Brotherhood.  One of their associates, Kent Kelly, has remained a dear friend. At 16, Kent virtually ran the business of the Mystic Arts storefront. He now has an eclectic store called ‘Cherry Moon’ with art, books and vintage clothes reminiscent of ‘Mystic Arts’ and located only a few doors up from where the original used to be. It is ‘Mystic Arts’ without the drugs.  Sadly, the original shop was destroyed by a fire set by undercover narcotics agents.

The Brotherhood was also very active in sponsoring and financing local musicians and bands in town.  Coming from Claremont and being used to walking around our neighborhood and hearing numerous bands practicing, I felt a little bit disconnected and lonely.  I didn’t really own a loud enough amplifier or good enough electric guitar to sit in and jam with the musicians that were in town and I was not yet established as a player that anyone would take seriously, being only an 8-year-old kid.   I felt isolated and spent most of my time when I wasn’t in school at St. Catherine’s, playing on my nylon string and learning by ear songs of the Beatles and Rolling Stones and eventually Cream and Jimi Hendrix.  When I did have the opportunity to see and listen to local bands and musicians there was something mysterious and grand about these players.  They had Marshall amplifiers with big cabinets, they played Gibson Les Pauls or Fender Stratocasters – top of the line instruments.  They would get together and play in the hills that are now all developed, overlooking the coast.  They would set up in a field-accessed only by a fire road in an area called Countryman’s, which is now full of houses and called Arch Beach Heights.  They would bring in gasoline generators to power stacks of large amplifiers.   The first time I witnessed this scene, I was with an older friend that I used to body surf with.  He drove me to the site and we watched this band play.  The lead guitarist was a guy named Jimmy Parks.  He was incredible.  He was playing with a flair and style that I would come to recognize years later,  reminiscent of players like Larry Carleton, Wes Montgomery, and Eric Clapton.  Jimmy Parks had all of the shimmer and the gloss of a star with all of the trappings included.  He drove a Porsche and had a whole entourage of people that loved to hang out with him and get high.

 Eric at 10 years old in Laguna Beach, CA

Eric at 10 years old in Laguna Beach, CA

By the time I was nine, I began to associate success, popularity, and power with the drug culture that was so prevalent.  Drugs were everywhere and the Brotherhood really influenced most of what was happening as far as events for live music, parties and jam sessions.   It made a very powerful impression on me and I developed some pretty screwed-up values about life, music and what made for happiness and success.  It seems my life has been a series of forces that were in direct opposition.  I went to a Catholic school with a very strict curriculum and conservative value system. At the same time, most of the people that I surfed with and saw at the local beach went to public school.

Although I was eight or nine and in the fourth grade, most of the people I hung out with were much older.  They were the ones who taught my brothers and me how to surf.  A lot of them were guitar players who played rock.  I played nylon string/Spanish guitar but my idols were rock guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix. 

 Eric with his brother Chris

Eric with his brother Chris

I was already studying classical Spanish guitar, for my parents had found an incredible guitar teacher named Antonia Morales. Antonia was to become one of the most important, positive forces in my life.  I was getting bored playing by myself without a band, I needed a new role model and found one when my mother called me into the television to hear Andres Segovia perform on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’.   It was so exciting to listen to him.  Later, listening to his recordings that my parents brought home, I heard in his playing one guitar with the capability of sounding like a small orchestra.  I heard a band with lead, rhythm, and bass parts all being played on one instrument. 

Although I was studying and supposed to be going in the direction of classical music, I was still listening to, and learning by ear, music by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. I had my first real chance to combine the polyphony of classical music and the sound of the electric guitar when I was backstage at a local venue, financed by the Brotherhood.  Jimmy Park played that night and backstage  I borrowed his Les Paul to show how I could play the Bach Bouree in E minor.  People were impressed that a nine-year-old kid could play a piece that sounded like two instruments playing at once. That was the beginning of my name being circulated through town as a child prodigy. 

I earned recognition and found favor from the older rock and rollers by playing classical guitar but at the same time I so desperately wanted to be playing with these guys in their bands and jamming on electric guitar.  The fact that the two most influential and important musicians in my life are Andres Segovia and Jimi Hendrix is in many ways symbolic of the tug of war that began to shape my values, my music, and my compositions when I was a child in Laguna Beach.

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