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Ken Frankel's Music History

To read about my music history, click a link to info below:

Professional Music Groups

Music Venues
Studio 55 Marin
Cotati Cabaret

Other Music Endeavors
Freight & Salvage Shows
SF Bluegrass and Old Time Festival
Music Inventions

Well Known Musicians I Have Performed With (alphabetically)

Tom Constanten Judy Frankel Jerry Garcia Richard Greene Robert Hunter Hial King
David Nelson Sandy Rothman Rick Shubb Warren Sirota Tim Ware


Late 1958-1960 Lead Guitar with the Newports

This was my first professional group, which I joined when I was 16. This band was led by Hial King on sax, and I think later became Hial King and the Newports. It also included my step-cousin John Spilker, a wonderful piano player. We played many CYO dances, and almost every weekend we played a dance for Ted Raden Dance Clubs. We played rock instrumentals, and standards for slow songs.

1961-1963 Lead Guitar with Louis Haas Band

Louie Haas is now a very successful attorney, but when we where in college at Berkely together, he was a wild and crazy rock musician and singer. We both played electric guitar, and traded off leads. We played many fraternity parties, and for a couple years played almost every Friday night at a place on Shattuck called The Monkey Inn. Louie and I played great together, and we were quite successful as a working band playing copies. Lots of Chuck Berry songs, etc.

1966-1969 Lead Guitar with The Ill Wind

The Ill Wind was one of the first bands in Boston in the 1960's to play original music, and was probably the first psychedelic band in the area. We were quite famous in New England, and played all over the area in concert halls, including the main Boston hall called The Boston Tea Party (see the picture to the right). Richard Zvonar, who passed away in 2005, created a very nice web site for this band (click on the band name link above).

1970-1978 Home - Duo with Judy Frankel

This was a 2-person 4-piece folk-rock band with my ex-wife Judy. Judy played guitar and my programmable drum machine invention with her feet. I played guitar and footpedal bass. As usual, my ideas were about 20 years ahead of their time, specifically the idea of performing with a programmable drum machine. We only performed for about a year, then I built a recording studio, where we made a few recordings. We didn't do much music after 1972, because I was busy building my real estate career. However, Judy went on to become internationally famous singing Sephardic songs she had discovered.

1979-1980 Electric Piano with Lagniappe - New Orleans R&B

This band was led by Billy Asprodites. We played mostly in bars. I played electric piano, which is definitely not my best instrument. We were pretty good anyway.

2006-2007 Electric Guitar with Outnumbered - Country Rock

The only time I was the sole melody instrument in a band: just me, bass, drums, and a couple vocalists.

Acoustic Folk Groups

1961-1964 Coast Mountain Ramblers - Old Timey Band with Dave Pollack and Richard Greene

I had played music in high school with Dave, who is as good a musician as I have ever met. In 1960 we were undergraduates at Berkeley, and were trying to put together an old-timey group. We put a few notices up looking for a third person, but couldn't find anyone. Richard was an excellent classical violinist from our high school, living in the same place as Dave (the co-op). Out of desperation, we decided to try to teach Richard how to play fiddle. He was a little resistant in the beginning, and made fun of the music. We put a few songs together and played them on a folk radio show (the Midnight Special on KPFA). Much to our surprise, and especially to Richard's surprise, everyone went crazy for us. All of a sudden, Richard was hooked. In the early 1960's, we played on the Midnight Special radio show often, and in small concerts and clubs. In 1963 we won the Ash Grove talent contest, which was a year long event. (Ry Cooder came in second). Our prize was to play for a week at the Ash Grove. We were so successful they held us over for a second week. Shortly after that, Dave and I graduated from Berkeley and went on to other types of endeavors. Richard made fiddle his career, which was a good thing for his many fans.

1962-1964 Old Timey and Bluegrass Bands with Jerry Garcia

I performed in several old timey and bluegrass bands with Jerry and several of Jerry's friends, including Bob Hunter and David Nelson. Several of these groups have been written about in various Grateful Dead books. In the bluegrass groups, I usually played banjo, but sometimes mandolin. In the old timey groups, I played fiddle, banjo, and guitar. I also performed a few songs once as a duo with Bob Hunter. This all happened while I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, and Jerry and his friends were living in this strange quasi-communal house in Mountain View called the "Chateau," where I would go on weekends to visit, rehearse, and hang out. Other musicians I met who hung out there were Ron McKernan and Eric Thompson.
      In 2015, a 50-year-old high quality studio tape of one of our bands was discovered in an attic. This was put out by Jerry's estate as his first ever studio recording. I played banjo on the bluegrass songs, and guitar or fiddle on the old-timey songs.

1963 Bluegrass Trio with Sandy Rothman and Rick Shubb

Sandy played guitar and sang lead, Rick played banjo, and I played mandolin and sang harmonies. We played every Friday night for several months at a club on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. When I graduated from UC Berkeley, I gave Jerry Garcia's number to Sandy, and vice versa, and told them to call each other, because they would enjoy playing with each other. Shortly after that, they did play with each other, but Sandy recently told me they never did call each other through my intervention, but met anyway.

1965-1966 Accompanist for Norm and Judy

Norm Gan and Judy Bradbury were a folk duo with great singing but very weak instruments. I met Norm at a party where he played a tape of some of their songs, and I volunteered to be their accompanist. I played with them for about a year. We played at folk clubs around Boston, and in particular, played at a club called The Loft every Friday night for about 6 months. I played guitar and banjo. (This is how I met my ex-wife Judy, who became Judy Frankel when we married.)

1980-1981 Westwind International Folk Ensemble

I played in the "orchestra" for this wonderful dance group. Westwind had the unique philosophy that all dances should be to live music. In addition, in between dances, there were live music interludes to make the performance flow. I played 7 different instruments during our performances, including mandola and tenor banjo during an Irish interlude between dances, banjo during a bluegrass interlude, guitarron during a mexican dance suite, and guitar during a 1940's American dance suite. The "orchestra" changed personnel during each interlude or dance suite, and had an average of about 5 people in it. The highlight of my one year with Westwind was our performance at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley.

2006-2007 Ross Valley Roots

I played I played fiddle, banjo, and guitar in this acoustic trio. Susan Nielsen sang lead and harmonies. Christopher Smith sang lead and harmonies, and played guitar, banjo, and mandolin. We didn't stay together long, but we made a very nice demo, which is on my music recording web page.

2007-2012 Family Lines

This was an acoustic trio, with my wife Susan Nielsen, and her brother Tim McDonald. I played guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. We featured fabulous singing and harmonies by Susan and Tim, and their excellent orignal songs. We played some great gigs, made 3 amazing videos, and have some very nice live videos also.

2013-2016 Sound of Sirens

This was an acoustic quintet, that featured the singing and harmonies of our "sirens" Susan Nielsen and Kristna Zeiss. I played guitar, banjo & mandolin. Scott Underwood played bass. Greg Barnett played guitar in 2013, then Jared Karol played guitar & harmonica. We have some very good videos from our shows at Studio 55 Marin, which are on my recorded music web page.

Classical Groups

1975 Mandolin Quartet with Tim Ware, Bob Wilcox, and Kathy Allen

This group was a fairly standard mandolin quartet. We played string quartets on two mandolins, a mandola, and a mandocello. We didn't perform much, but we were all very good musicians, and played very well together. This was the group in which Tim learned to site read.

1976-1979 Berkeley Mandolin Ensemble

After my mandolin quartet, I played mandolin, mandola, and mandocello with this wonderful group in concerts, on radio, and on TV. I traveled with them to Germany as the only USA representative at the 1976 German Zupfest.

1981-1985 Electric Guitar Quartet

The Electrc Guitar Quartet (EGQ) played string quartets and other classical pieces on electric guitars which I specially designed and had built. I came up with the idea for this group because I loved playing string quartets in my mandolin quartet, but had so much trouble finding other classical mandolin players. The other guitarists in this group were Kathy Greenstone, Van Williamson, and Warren Sirota. The EGQ recorded a very nice cassette that included a piece by Tom Constanten, who also performed with us once as a quintet (Tom played electric piano).

Music Venues

1981-1990 The Cotati Cabaret

I owned and co-managed this club, which during this decade was the premier live music venue north of San Francisco. Mark Bronstein, who had run the Inn of the Beginning for many years previously, was the co-manager. We continually strived to book the best local and national acts, and to make the Cotati Cabaret the most comfortable and enjoyable club in the country. By the time Mark and I called it quits, we actually had a national reputation, despite the fact that Cotati is a small town about an hour north of San Francisco. When I finally decided to close the club and have a life again, we were such an important Bay Area institution that this decision resulted in a large article on Page 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle.

2012-2016 Studio 55 Marin

I started this music listening room in 2012, and closed it in 2016. Great sound system, comfortable seating for 150, easy parking, and great performers. I videotaped every show, and recorded every sound system track separately, so that every performer could remix their show and create a high quality audio recording or video if they wanted. Click the link above to go to the website, where I've listed every show, and for most shows have links to YouTube videos from the shows that I uploaded .

Music Booking Gigs

2008-2010 San Francisco Bluegrass and Old Time Festival

I was the booking agent for this festival for three years. We had about 50 bands over a 2-week period every fall, in about 20 different venues throughout the Bay Area. This was a ridiculously time consuming task, but I think I did a great job, and supervised 3 great festivals.

2010-2012 Dr. K's Home Grown Roots Review, at Freight & Salvage

When Freight & Salvage Coffee House moved into their new 12,000 square foot home, they arranged with me to put on a monthly show series. My goal was to present bands that I thought were good enough to play at this famous venue, but didn't have the fame or reputation to get enough audience by themselves in the new 450 seats auditorium. I featured three bands at each show, each doing about a 45 minute set, with quick changes between bands. At the request of the general manager, as a kind of joke, I dressed in a white doctors lab coat, acted as the mc, and supervised the shows. I was told by many people associated with the venue that this was their favorite shows. I put on this show series for a couple years, until I opened my own venue, Studio 55 Marin.

Music Inventions

Split Signal Regular and Fuzz Guitar

This is how I set up my guitar in the band Ill Wind. I had two separate signals coming off one of my pickups. One signal fed into the normal guitar outlet cord. The second signal fed into a separate outlet. This second signal went to a fuzz tone. Both of these signals, normal and fuzzed, then went into a double foot volume control. This control had two directions: up-down, and left-right. I used left-right to control the regular guitar volume, and up-down to control the fuzz volume. This way I could get various relative amounts of regular and fuzz signal, and change these interactively as I was playing. This created an unusual and interesting sound, at least to my ear.

Programmable Drum Machine

As usual with most things I do, this was about 20 years ahead of its time. I built this in 1969 in order to create my duo with my wife at the time, Judy Frankel. Although we were only two people, we sounded like four people, since Judy played guitar and controlled the drum machinge with her feet, and I played guitar and footpeddle bass. I started with a primitive drum machine, disconnected all the sounds and timers, and reconnected them through various programmable modules and footpeddle controls. I realize this sounds pedestrian by today's standards, but this was many years before computers and the digital age. All my programmable modules were permanently hard-wired in pluggable modules, or temporarily hard wired through miniature patch panels. It was definitely one of a kind, and worked perfectly.

Delayed Fuzz Echo

This is an effect I invented in the 1960's. I have not heard of anyone using anything like it, but someone else has probably thought of it by now. When I invented it, digital delays didn't exist, so I made a tape recorder into a variable speed delay. I set the delay for one beat. I then sent a guitar signal to the delay, which fed through a fuzz tone. In other words, when you play a note on the guitar, you hear the note, and then one beat later you hear the same note fuzzed. This is quite an interesting sound.

Remote Amplifier Volume Control

I wanted someone working for my band to be able to sit in the audience and control the relative volumes of the guitar and bass amplifiers. Now this is easily done, since all amplifiers and drums are miked, and there is a giant mixer which controls everything, including the monitor mixes. However, in 1969, when I invented this system, it was the first of its kind. I'm not sure there is anything like this available even now, although I don't know if anyone other than me would be interested. In this invention, I controlled the volume by running each guitar cord through a photoresistor which shorted to ground. The amount of resistance was determined by a light bulb connected to the photoresistor through a short piece of heat-shrink tubing. This system, although very simple, was quite elegant, and worked perfectly.

Hexaphonic Fuzztone (Electric Guitar)

Before the days of guitar sythesizers, I decided I wanted the ability to play fuzz guitar on adjacent strings on my guitar without the interference this normally causes. I solved this problem by installing a hexaphonic pickup, and building a hexaphonic fuzz tone, which is actually six separate fuzz tones in a box. Each fuzz tone gets the signal from one string. Each fuzz tone can be turned on or off separately to get interesting effects. This was quite a lovely sound, and different from anything else around at the time. I had this set up on a Telecaster that also had a Parsons-White string bender on the second string, and a palm pedal modified by Parsons to work on the first and third strings, so I could get steel guitar effects on the top three strings. This was definitely the only guitar like this in the world.

For more information, or to give feedback, email Ken Frankel