Cambrian: Opinion

Frey’s passing brings back memories of ’70s concert

Chumash medicine man Semu Huaute, seen here on Red Wind Foundation land in North County, attended an Art Beal fundraiser on Nit Wit Ridge in Cambria the early 1970s.
Chumash medicine man Semu Huaute, seen here on Red Wind Foundation land in North County, attended an Art Beal fundraiser on Nit Wit Ridge in Cambria the early 1970s. Special to The Cambrian

The recent passing of rock star Glenn Frey, a founding member of the enormously successful Eagles country-rock band, brought to mind a front page feature in a 1973 issue of the Cambrian.

It was a photo spread of a fundraiser for the Art Beal Foundation, held on Nit Wit Ridge. Several dozen people attended the festivities, including SLO County Supervisor Richard Krejsa and Semu Huaute, also known as “Grandfather,” the Chumash medicine man who founded the intertribal Red Wind Indian group.

Beal, with his Klamath tribal heritage, and Semu, whose luminous Native American countenance — and status as a grandfatherly shaman who played American Indian roles in numerous Western movies — were two of the luminaries in this delightful gathering in “West Cambria Pines,” as Beal referred to it (over and over and over to the point of annoyance).

Semu had a kindly, earthy baritone voice; when he spoke, people drew closer. He was a member of the Chumash “Owl Clan,” and looking into his communicative eyes was like a face-to-face encounter with the huge, mysterious eyes of a Great Horned Owl.

Red Wind had settled on 20 dusty acres of the old Bethel Ranch in North County, 20 or so miles east of Santa Margarita. I was the “Community Liaison” for the Economic Opportunity Commission (EOC), and because Red Wind qualified as “low income,” I wrote several grants for them.

I remember Semu perpetually carrying the pleasant aroma of fresh sage. He wore moccasins, and had a black hat with a silver owl icon in the front. He didn’t trust government agencies — who could blame him?

But in time, his group coalesced around the grants and advocacy I helped with. Semu made regular visits to my EOC office in San Luis Obispo; he used my office phone to stay in touch with Indians and those whose lives he had touched.

One day I heard him talking to “Neil” on my phone. It turned out to be rock icon Neil Young, for whom Semu had reportedly performed “medicine ceremonies” in Southern California when Young struggled with substance issues.

I learned that Semu had also touched the life of Bernie Leadon, then banjo/lap steel player for the Eagles. Thanks to Leadon, and the helpfulness of album cover designer Gary Burden — whose designs for the Doors, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Eagles, Mamas and Papas, Jackson Browne and Neil Young made him a influential insider in the musicians community — we arranged a benefit concert at Cuesta College (two shows, March 16, 1974), to help pay off Red Wind’s land.

The fundraiser originally involved the Eagles, but a couple of weeks before the gig, Young agreed to be the opening act. The Eagles were touring nationwide to promote their album “On the Border.” Young had just released “On the Beach,” an entirely coincidental and fascinating juxtaposition of vinyl offerings.

Local music fans were ecstatic that for five bucks they could see Neil Young and the emerging superstar ensemble — Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Don Felder — in an old quonset hut auditorium on campus.

I forget now who brought Beal to the concert, but I recall how seamlessly he fit in with the roadies, band members and Red Wind (whose drummers opened the concert with a lively, well-received set).

Oversights and outcomes

This was my initial gig as a rock promoter, and my foremost mistake drew the considerable ire of the Eagles’ stage manager, Richard Fernandez. Weeks earlier, I had reserved a baby grand piano from a rental outfit in Santa Maria, as per the Eagles’ stipulation. But, oh my, did I receive a profound chewing out when the piano failed to show up!

Tough lesson learned: I failed to check back with the rental agency a few days before the concert to make absolutely certain that it was available. It wasn’t. That piano had somehow been sent to Santa Barbara on March 16, and we had to use a less-than-pristine stand-up campus piano. The piano tuning resulted in the first show’s delay by an hour. Ouch.

The show had been pitched as a way to help pay for Red Wind’s 20 acres; hence, the sound and light companies (on tour with the Eagles) also donated their services. But after I turned the proceeds over to the Indians (around $10,000), they bought a new pickup instead.

In fairness, Semu frequently traveled across the West (as part of his shaman’s duties) and their existing pickup was on its last legs. Still, I never told the Eagles’ manager, Irving Azoff, how the money was actually spent.

Around the time of the concert, I received a phone call at EOC from actress Carrie Snodgrass, then Neil Young’s wife. Snodgrass, an Oscar-winner for her lead role in “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” wanted directions to Red Wind.

Young donated two buffalo to the Indians, and I had the honor of leading the truck-trailer down the narrow, winding dirt road leading to Red Wind.

The farm-orchard grant I had secured provided a constant supply of hay bales for the iconic livestock.

Subsequent to the concert, I was offered an opportunity to manage Browne’s T-shirt program (on tour and mail order), raising money for grass roots no nukes groups nationwide.

The Browne gig had me on the road a fair share of the year, much to the chagrin of Beal. I had previously visited him often; I brought friends he could entertain, and I had written several articles about him.

Perhaps Beal was entering an early dementia period; to wit, one day he angrily and falsely accused me of dipping into the Art Beal Foundation funds — money I had helped raise (with Vicki Leon and Jim Duenow) to pay his back taxes and to pay back the man (Owen Garrity in Morro Bay) Beal had deeded his land to years before.

Still, my reflections on Captain Nit Wit are 97.7 percent positive. As to why he turned on me, Bob Dylan’s lines provide context: “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.” And some of that wind, in my mind’s portfolio, is Red.

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at john fitz44 @gmail .com.