Will McAfee, Trumpet
“At some point you have to surrender to what you really love to do.”
I was born in 1948 in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, upriver from Pittsburgh. Monongahela is named after the river—Monongahela Valley, the city of Monongahela and of course the Monongahela River which meets the Allegheny in Pittsburg and forms the Ohio—the Golden Triangle. My parents both worked and so my great grandmother took care of me. We lived on the third floor of a building that was right on the main street downtown and she lived next door. Our back view was the river where there were paddlewheel steamboats and between the house and the river were the railroad tracks. My father was a fireman for the steam locomotives. He would drive by in his train slowly and wave to me, his six year old son.
My mother had eight siblings, seven sisters and a brother, the oldest, who became a painter of trains and got commissioned by my father to paint the train that my dad worked on. That’s the picture I carried away when we left when I was six—the Monongahela, the river and the trains on the edge of the river bank and the steamboat.
I was born in the administration of Harry Truman, “Give ‘em hell, Harry”. That was a theme of my growing up. My parents didn’t really get along that well. They should never have been together. He was a Democrat, a working man, you know. My mother was raised in a Republican family. She didn’t go beyond that. She said, “My parents were Republican, I was raised Republican, so I’m a Republican.” That came into play in 1952. I was probably too young to know anything except that Eisenhower was like the father figure. I was eight years old and my dad’s saying to me, “You’re going to vote for Stevenson, aren’t you?” “No, Daddy, I like Eisenhower,” because that I’d seen him on television and he was like a primal father figure on “The Days of My Life.” “I’m a Republican.” It was the beginning of the theme of the opposing forces in my family.
I was the only child. If you’ve studied psychology you know that that’s one of the most difficult positions in the family as far as people being well adjusted—only children and the oldest of a big family. My mother’s oldest sister was kind of crazy. She was a source of embarrassment and amusement for the family but it was very sad the way she treated her children.
Both of my parents were born in Monongahela. My mother’s father was a Nazarene minister so they were very religious. He was a gentle guy. It was funny because some of his girls liked the bad boys. My mother’s older sister married a Navy man who was rough and tumble. My dad was kind of a juvenile delinquent in high school when she married him. He was also in the Navy during the war but he never saw combat. I have pictures of him in his uniform.
The music came from my mother’s side of the family. Her sisters could sing. In fact the youngest sister, my aunt Marilyn, went to Carnegie Mellon when it was still called Carnegie Tech. She was a music major and she became a music teacher, a piano teacher, a choir director. She was talented. When they would get together and sing they would do three or four part harmonies.
When the Pennsylvania Railroad started converting to diesel from steam my dad got laid off because he was a fireman. His older brother had already come to California and was settled here. He had been in the Marine Corps and went to Duquesne University on the GI Bill. He was a very dapper guy, liked to dress up nice and he had a nice car, a De Soto. He was an accountant.
My dad and he were opposites. A teacher who had the both of them told my dad, “Your brother was a gentleman and a scholar. You, I just don’t know.” My dad ended up dropping out.
The brother said, “Come on out to California. Bring your family. We’ll help you get settled. You can live with us until you get going.”
We drove out in a 1955 Pontiac Silver Chief. They liked to drive nice cars even though they didn’t have much. That was my first of about half a dozen trips back and forth across the country, a lot on old Route 66. We went through all those towns: Joplin, Missouri; Albuquerque, New Mexico. We got into the dessert and I remember Kingman and then Flagstaff, Arizona. Then you get into California and the Mojave Dessert–it was so hot. Back then the cars didn’t have air conditioning. We were trying to get some sleep in the back of the car since we’d been up all night and we were all just sweating. My mom and I were in the back seat and my dad was in the front seat. Excruciating heat. But that’s how we got out there.
I started first grade in Monongahela and I finished in Fullerton. Fullerton is interesting because it’s the home of Home Musical Instruments, the Fender. There were music programs in the schools. I was in fifth grade and there was an opportunity to learn an instrument and my mother encouraged me to do that. She was a nurse and she worked her whole life. And she liked to sing. She would sing along with the radio. They both liked music. Even my dad had something of an ear. I was exposed to a lot of different types of music. They joined the Columbia Record Club but the records would come but they’d just sit there. We had a phonograph so I started listening—Scheherazade by Rimsky Korsakov, Rhapsody in Blue, Capitol Records History of Jazz, volume 1. All kinds of stuff.
My folks were raised with a prejudiced attitude. I don’t think they had the kind of hate and hostility that was prevalent in the South but back then in the ‘50s and ‘40s that’s what they were raised with. But Anaheim, California, had this Melodyland Theater–theater in the round there but also music. I even went to see the second fight between Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay there. (It was over the in first round.) They went to see Ray Charles and they just loved it. They kept raving about that. My mother said, “It was pretty racy.” (laughs) She was very conservative.
I don’t know why I picked the trumpet. I probably didn’t like Louis Armstrong at that time, didn’t have the taste that I do now but I knew other trumpet players like Louis Prima. I had a record album of his. And of course Al Hirt. But I can’t remember how I ended up playing trumpet. My first trumpet cost $140. It was brand new at Fullerton Music. I took private lessons for a while before high school. And then after one year of high school I dropped it. I didn’t play for forty years. I started getting interested in cars and took auto shop. And I loved to play sports though I was never good enough at anything to compete. I was a distance runner.
When I was nineteen and we started to listen to rock and roll, I picked up the guitar. That was mostly what I played for those forty years. I was never in a band but I had a friend Randy who had learned to play the organ. He hadn’t taken piano lessons but he learned a method taught to him by his organ teacher who played bowling allies, the Lowrey Organ. But then Randy got into the Hammond Organ which is what all the jazz and rock and roll people play. And he got into groups; he was starting to have gigs in his early 20s, right around Disneyland. The Disneyland Hotel hired bands.
I was a lost soul. We call it depression now. My dad was a high school dropout. He said, “Well, Bill, you’ve got to get a college education. Don’t do what I did. Don’t make it hard on yourself.” I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I would have been better off traveling and having some life experiences. Instead I went to school and I think it contributed to my depression. It would have been interesting to take courses in history or English but I registered late at Cal State Fullerton and they had psychology classes available so I said, “I’ll take that.”
I was freaking out, stuck in my head, unable to express my deep feelings for women. I felt like I was starting to go mad. I was lucky that I even got out of college. I was minoring in philosophy. The philosophy of mind professor had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He had been a TA for Angela Davis. He would start talking, get real emotional and start crying and walk out of the classroom. But we had deep and very interesting discussions. When I moved away from Fullerton I read that he was on trial for murder. (editor: In 1986 Richard L. Smith was convicted of killing the estranged husband of his girlfriend and former student, Consuela Matter. His attorney presented psychiatrists and psychologists who testified that he was mentally ill with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia but the juors were not convinced.)
We went to someone’s house and listened to the Moody Blues as part of the Philosophy of Mind class that I loved.
I met a guy in a physiological psychology class and we took a second class together, psychopharmacology. We hit it off. He was a guitar player too and still is, a very interesting fellow. I found him to be a kindred spirit. I would go to his house and we would play music and talk about mysticism and expanding consciousness. By that time I had done acid once. It wasn’t a great experience but we would smoke weed and have these very ethereal conversations. We once went hiking in the Sierras for about four days too.
I hadn’t seen him since 1973 but finally I said, “I wonder what happened to that guy.” So I looked him up. I Googled his phone number and we had this great conversation. He’s living out in Massachusetts. He had become a counselor. And he made a CD with some friends of his. He’s a really good fingerpicking guitar player. They play these old blues songs.
Anyway, I finally got out of college, graduated. My dad had said, “Well, Bill, you’ve got to get your education” so now I’ve got this degree in psychology and what am I going to do with that?
I got a motorcycle, a Honda 750, and headed up the coast to see a friend who lived on the Monterey Peninsula. I have always loved that area. I ended up staying with him and lived there for three years just being a free spirit. I had unemployment from some different jobs I had done and there was a beach where all the young hippies would hang out, a place to meet girls. And I was going to the bars and making a lot of friends there. For a while I wondered why they ended up being kind of crazy but that’s because I met them in a bar; they were all alcoholics. Sort of a John Steinbeck thing. In fact, it was the same place–Cannery Row before it got to where it is now. There were a few nice new places there but the rest of it was just old dilapidated canneries. I lived a block above Cannery Row in a dirt floor garage that I paid thirty bucks a month for. I had a friend who used to go up to Oregon and pick psilocybin. He’d come back and I’d buy everything he had. I had a wonderful experience on acid at Tassahara Hot Springs. That was probably my peak experience of all time.
And I was reading. A couple of books that were really significant to me were Ram Dass’s Be Here Now and the Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda. They really resonated with me.
It was not a very stable environment but I did have guitar gigs for some of that time. I had been exposed to so many kinds of music that I could never settle on one style. I liked jazz, I liked Rock and Roll, I liked the Grateful Dead and what other rock musicians were doing. And the folk thing. Every time I heard something that was really nice I said, “I want to be able to play that.”
Timothy Leary said the summer of love started in 1967 and ended in 1980 with the election of Nancy Reagan. Leary was an interesting guy and of course he was a psychologist too. What an incredible faculty Harvard University had! Ram Dass was there; Leary was there and the Allport brothers. Fantastic place in ’73 but by that time it was really only alive in places like Berkeley and maybe Santa Cruz.
After three years in Monterey I ran out of unemployment and money and I had a buddy who said, “We can go to Sonoma County where we can pick fruit, apples and such,” so I hitchhiked out there and my friend Roger—We used to call him Roger the dodger.—got as far as Santa Cruz. He spent the night in the hospital there our first night on the road. He said, “I don’t think I’m going to go any further.” So I was on my own and I thought, “This is great. I’m hitchhiking. It’s an adventure. I don’t know what I’m going to do next.” I found my way up to Santa Rosa on a bus where I met this long haired guy, Joseph Goodale, who had a fancy serape on. We struck up a conversation about these deep and heavy things. He was going to Sonoma State and after we talked he said, “Well, why don’t you come and stay with us?” It turned out to be this fantastic house of students and other people. They had a teepee and a nine acre piece of property that was right on Petaluma Hill Road where the Green Center is now. They did peyote rituals on the full moon a la the Native American Church. They called themselves the Full Moon Tribe. I had found kindred spirits. When I was in Monterey it was more people who were kind of flawed. They were in bars and they drank a lot and of course they smoked pot and did acid and all that stuff. The people in that house at Sonoma State were much more refined. They were kind and into positive things and politically active. They did the medicine and the circles became a venue for healing. That became a tool for me to use. Sonoma State was called Granola State at that time. It was like Cotati. Now it’s more like Rohnert Park.
We had drum circles and this guy in Cotati named Avi built African drums out of redwood. Several of us owned drums that were built by him and we learned African drumming. I sat in on African drumming and music theory classes at Sonoma State and when Diamandopoulos was president I sat in on one of his philosophy classes. Very interesting. So for Joseph’s graduation—to be in psychology you needed to have a project—he’s talking about the peyote rituals and he’s leading chants and drumming and all these people are dressed up in their robes, their long Mexican blankets, playing their drums with long hair and everything. That’s how he got his bachelor’s degree in psychology.
From out of all that came a desire to go home and help my mother whom I had been estranged with. I remember one of those all night circles. I left early and went into the house and wrote my mother a letter. And I ended up going back there and it was partly out of concern but more a selfish desire to make some money because my uncle—my mother’s sister’s husband—was an executive in Chevron and he said, “Well, if you come back here to live I can get you a job as a lab tech and you can make some decent money.” So I said, “Oh, I like that!” So I went back and lived with my mom for two and a half years. I worked at Occidental Research Corporation which is the research wing of Occidental Petroleum.
But I met a girl there who had left Occidental and moved out to Berkeley to complete her degree in computer science. I had some time off and I called her up and I said, “I’ve got to get out of here. I’m living with my mother in Southern California. I’m miserable. Can I come up and see you?” So I went up and spent the weekend with her and it was what I needed. (laughs) She had already graduated and she was about to go to Israel to live on a kibbutz. I ended up giving my notice at Occidental. I was lucky. They were laying people off and I got a big severance packet, a bunch of money. So I ended up just going up there and stayed at Cordenesis Village in Albany Ca. where she lived. She had turned me on to the sailing club so I spent a lot of time sailing. I got unemployment and then I worked at construction and got involved with several women.
I still haven’t figured out what I was doing in Berkeley. It was the end of that period when I was doing psychedelic drugs. I ended up in living on Telegraph and Durant in 1982. Coming from my background . . . The city I grew up in was conservative Orange County. It’s not even the conservative of it but the homogeneity. For me it was a kind of a bizarre environment. There’s a lot of dirt and filth and it’s rougher but there are a lot of interesting cultural things. And there were street people. The Bay Area seemed pretty radical to me but by the time I got there it wasn’t the red Berkeley with the radical politics. In fact many of the people in the apartment where I lived were former Reagan people. Every once in a while there’d be some kind of big protest, almost like a flashback and people would march up and down Telegraph Avenue but Berkeley just didn’t have that same vibe. People’s Park at that point was an enclave for homeless people. A lot of homeless people suffer from mental problems. There was one guy who was there, a big guy and because he had a pack on his back he almost looked like a hunchback. He was homeless but he didn’t seem to have any of those kind of issues. He was just living on the street. I was gone for years and years and when I came back, I saw him and he remembered me.
After I had been in Berkeley for two and a half years I went down to visit my mother. She looked awful when she opened the door. She was fifty-eight, retired and a diabetic with all the complications from having diabetes from the age of thirty-three: retinopathy, kidney failure and high blood pressure. After I was there for a few days she collapsed and died right in front of me. I had to stay down there settling the estate and selling her house and when I left I moved up to Sonoma County again instead of going back to Berkeley. I enjoyed part of being in Berkeley but I like nature. I had money from the inheritance and I wanted to buy property so I got this place in Mendocino County. That was 1986.
I became a painting contractor. There was a lot of work available. You get a job, you go for a week and then you go somewhere else to another job. You get to meet different people, you get to work different places and then there would be time off in between. I really enjoyed that. I got into doing some big jobs and I had to hire employees and (laughs) some of these guys who are painters are pretty crazy. The biggest job I did was an eighty unit condominium complex in Lakeport—nineteen two story buildings, seventeen fourplexes and two sixplexes. And it wasn’t new construction. People were living there so we couldn’t spray. It was all brush and roll. It was big. I had about four other guys working for me at one point. And then it got crazy, paying workers’ compensation and social security and stuff. It wasn’t working financially. My happiest times were either working by myself or working with just one other guy.
But I found out that I was plugged into one of the premier growing centers (editor: marijuana) in Northern California. So I got into that business too and not long after that the prices went up to an all-time high. It was the right place at the right time. I was able to stay at home in this beautiful place around nature that I love and make a living doing it. I did that on and off for about twenty-four years.
I had stumbled into this community and within that community it was all set up. That was the beauty of it. People would come to my house and buy as much as I had and at a higher price at that time—for a while it was $5000 a pound. I consider myself very fortunate but because the price was high it was dangerous. There were rip offs and you had to guard your stuff. And then of course there was the government trying to bust you. It was a creative thing trying to deal with both of those things. Sometimes you just don’t feel comfortable leaving home.
I did it on and off for about twenty-four years but after eight years of being up here—’88 to ’94—I really missed my community in Sonoma County. So I ended up going down there. I rented for a while and then bought a place. For many, many years I was going back and force between Mendocino and Sonoma County and most of my social life was in Sonoma County—the cultural stuff, all the great music. There was great stuff in Mendocino too but I had gotten put off by some of the experiences I had had with my neighbors and I had withdrawn from the community.
Back in ’94 when I decided to go back to Sonoma County I reconnected with some people. One old friend was married to a music promoter who did the Kate Wolf Festival. Before that he had the Celtic Festival in Sebastopol. He promoted shows at the Community Center in Sebastopol and in some of the bars, mostly groups like the Old Blind Dogs from Scotland, Celtic musicians. He started the Celtic Festival which went on for a few years. I had money so I became one of the sponsors and I helped him. And he let me do a set on one of the side stages. I was starting to play guitar with some of my old friends.
I met a woman I eventually married whose ex-husband and father-in-law had the Sebastopol Community Band. Her ex-husband asked me, “Do you play anything?” I hadn’t played the trumpet in forty years but he said, “Come on and join the band.” I pulled out the trumpet and the valves were all stuck. I had to take it to a place where they had a vice and could pull it apart. They finally got it working. So I started playing the trumpet again in 2004. I met a whole group of people, good people. There were two trumpet players in our section, one of whom was Chuck McCormick who plays trumpet in the New Horizons Band. And he would tell me about the New Horizons Band.
When Frank, the original founder and conductor of the Sebastopol Community Band, died there were a few people who came and went but there were a lot of gaps so Chuck McCormick said, “I’m a founding member of the New Horizons Band. Why don’t you come and play with us.” I did my last crop in 2014 and rented the place out to a grower who was paying me quite a bit of money so I was able to just walk away for a while. I got a cheap place to live down in the Hessel area and joined the New Horizons Band in 2015 and I’ve been playing off and on with them since then. There have been gaps.
I used to play guitar with one of my friends from the original Sonoma State crowd and he started playing ukulele so I took it up too around 2015. Then I joined the West County Ukulele group that meets at the Union Hotel in Occidental. Another trumpet player in the Sebastopol Community Band, John Victor who has since passed away, was also a ukulele player. He said, “I belong to this ukulele group that rehearses at the Sebastopol Community Church. Why don’t you join that?” I did but they haven’t met since the pandemic. They did a few zooms but it’s not the same.
West County Ukelele group was the first group I played with, then the Sebastopol Ukestars which is where I met my current partner, Lynn. I also play with a group that meets at Finley center in Santa Rosa.
The thing about the uke, it’s so easy to play. I would have preferred to get into the mandolin. It was a financial thing. Mandolins are more expensive. The mandolin is of course tuned differently. The ukulele is tuned a fourth above a guitar. Sometimes if I’m going back and forth from the guitar to the ukulele I get confused. A “D” on a guitar is a “G” on a ukulele. It sounds real nice and suddenly . . . a totally wrong chord. The standard classic tuning which would be a G C E A. On a standard classic ukulele that’s a high G on the bottom. A lot of guys who started out on the guitar like the low string on the bottom which is what I play. Jake Shimabukuro, the world’s greatest ukulele player, plays the standard tuning. What he can do with those four strings!
My partner Lynn’s twin sister passed away of dementia in February 2022. It was really a sad situation. We had a celebration of life after that where I played the ukulele and sang a song. Her caretaker wrote the words and I put the music to it. That was part of the celebration.
And I’m playing trad jazz trumpet. We rehearse at Dave Stare’s house and play at the Moose hall, both the blues hall and the big jam once a month. We’ve got Mark Lightner, a trumpet player from Napa, Dave Stare and John Ray, Linda Green who plays clarinet and string bass. We’ve got a guitar and a couple of banjo players. We’ve got Pete, the piano player. And also Brian (trumpet) will come some times. He reads real well. In the Swing Band the trumpet has most of the solos but they’re written. Improv is different.
There was this guy at the Moose Hall who was dancing with a very sleek woman with boots on. He was dapperly dressed, a bean pole, everything perfect about his appearance. And what a dancer he is. He’s taking these babes out there and he’s spinning them around and down, slick moves.
I am not comfortably retired. During the pandemic I was looking for ways to work from home and there were a lot of jobs for remote loan processers and loan originators. The more I applied for them the more I learned that I had to get my license which is a separate license from real estate because after the mortgage meltdown in 2008 they passed a bunch of legislation and you have to pass these tests that have a lot to do with ethics—the does and the don’ts. Some kinds of advertising are taboo. Giving people gifts is taboo. It cost a lot of money between the education and the license fees. It’s been slow but I got my license.
I like doing websites so I’ve got a website going. Most people have a business that develops through their circle of people, through their contacts. But I’ve never been in the business and I wasn’t successful in real estate because I don’t have that kind of circle. The ex-wife and I got into that together and she was perfect for it because she has maintained relationships with all these people who live in Sebastopol for forty years and she has done a tremendous amount of business just through her friends and her friends refer other people and that’s how it works.
I’m more of a geek. I can maintain the website and I stay at home but that’s a low probability proposition. You’ve got to get out there and press the flesh.
I’d rather work in the morning when I’m refreshed than in the afternoon. When I’m traveling twenty miles to Santa Rosa for rehearsals I’m not as effective working the second half of the day. We’re older people. It’s a balancing act. I don’t do that many drugs any more. You have to work more to get those idea out. They don’t just fly out. But I like writing. I like writing so ngs. Writing a musical. I love being creative, playing my instruments, thinking ideas. At some point you have to surrender to what you really love to do. You think, “Oh, I’ve got to make money, I’ve got to do this or that.” Do what you love!