Remembering Fantasy Records in the Mission

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This house on Capp Street seems just like many others in the Mission – a two-story, squeezed between its colorful neighbors.

But inside,  more than three decades of the history of the San Francisco Blues Festival unfolds in front of you – in posters.

On the walls are no fewer than 100 posters from concerts around the city featuring such greats as Cal Tjader, Luis Casca, Bola Sete, Santana and so on. Many more are hidden away in a house crammed with memorabilia.

Tick tock, tick tock – time here is announced by a band of numerous clocks.  “Geez, I wonder… what’s the time?” asks Dogpaw Carrillo, 56, pointing to the wall behind us. At least 50 different clocks are counting the seconds away. It’s exactly 2:15 on a Sunday afternoon. And, by the way, he prefers to be called Dogpaw.

Time is of essence to Dogpaw, an amateur historian, collector, painter, musician, radio journalist, or simply “a Renaissance guy.”

He invites me into the kitchen to talk. A weary shopping bag lies forgotten on a table made from dozens colorful beer caps.

“Other people show pictures, I only have records,” says Dogpaw as he pulls old vinyl records out of the bag. The names on the them match the ones on the posters. Most of them are signed personally for Dogpaw. “I’m always the fan,”  says the fan who grew up around the music stars who roamed the Mission in the late 1960s.

“To be 16 years old and be a part of all this was something that kept me out of trouble,” he says of his childhood at 841 Treat Street, just next door to the site of the famous Fantasy Records, where the San Francisco Mime Troupe now has its offices. “You couldn’t help it: musicians coming in and out of there all the time. Initially, I thought it was a radio station,” he says. “Then, as we grew older, we realized – wait a minute, they make records here, this is cool.”

Established by brothers Max and Sol Weiss who owned a plastic molding building business that turned into a record pressing plant in 1949, Fantasy Records became the studio for jazz musicians such as Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Cal Tjader, and Vince Guaraldi, for blues singer Taj Mahal, as well as for comedian Lenny Bruce.

“We thought that this happened all over the city,” says Dogpaw. “That every neighborhood had a place where you could be five, six years old and watch giants play.”

Stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce was big on Tootsie Rolls. “We’d always be out in front of the house playing, and we would go in and he’d always be ‘Hey, kid!’ and give us candy – it was a Tootsie,” says Dogpaw, pulling Lenny Bruce’s “Interviews of Our Times” out of another old shopping bag.

Vince Guaraldi, famed for writing the music for Charlie Brown Christmas, had dogs. “Little boys and dogs are inseparable,” Dogpaw says smiling. “And he was just the sweetest guy. He’d leave the studio door open during summertime and we’d watch him play. That’s what he wanted.”

This time Dogpaw’s hand reaches for a red vinyl. (Colored records characterized the Fantasy Records label.) This one’s Cal Tjader’s. The Latin jazz musician was “a major inspiration,” says Dogpaw.

Once, after a concert at California Hall, Dogpaw, then a teen, saw Cal Tjader at the bar. His alcohol issues were a known fact. “I had to go up and say: ‘Hey, dude, you rock,’ ” says Dogpaw. Tjader bought him and a friend a beer. “You could see this guy was a drinker and it made me feel bad. Nobody has to go through that, especially if you are Cal Tjader – you’re already high, you’re already making everybody else feel this uplift.”

Dogpaw offers to take a walk to his childhood Treat Street. The afternoon sun is setting just behind the house where Taj Mahal, the Grammy Award–winning blues musician lived. It was just a step from Fantasy Records that Dogpaw was first introduced to blues. “He used to come out every now and then and play for us with his guitar, to just sit on front steps,” Dogpaw says. “Once you have been bitten by this music, especially when it’s played live, that’s gonna make you stronger, happier, and elevated. I owe it to this man here.”

We continue on Treat to the old home of Fantasy Records. Dogpaw touches the same door he used to sneak through as a kid. One of the actors from the S.F. Mime Troupe opens it and invites us in. One of recording studio rooms now serves as the theater closet; the room where Vince Guaraldi recorded is now a carpenter’s workshop. “Oh boy, does it feels good to be back after so many years,” says Dogpaw.

The legendary album Suzie Q by Creedence Clearwater Revival, released in 1968, marked a change of ownership, when Fantasy Records was purchased by former movie and record producer Saul Zaentz, who moved it to Berkeley. But groups such as SAPO and Spectrum continued to rehearse at the old building in the Mission.

Dogpaw used to hang out at SAPO’s rehearsals after school and became buddies with the band. “They were just the coolest people. It was the music that was the high and made me think, “Wow, this is really going to change the world, I want to be part of this,” says Dogpaw, showing with pride a personal autograph from the group.

Fantasy Records created a true community on Treat Avenue. “It was not the kind of label that demanded the artists to sell a bazillion records in order to keep their doors open,” remembers Dogpaw. “The musicians had trust, and they’d write these amazing pieces.”

We circle back to Capp Street. Time is of the essence to Dogpaw.

His ordinary house, now a home not only to Dogpaw, but a big part of neighborhood’s history, was recently purchased.

“I have not been given anything on paper yet,” says Dogpaw, who fears eviction in early September. The new owners, he says,  are nice people, but might want his apartment for in-laws or other family.  The biggest worry for Dogpaw is where all his archives will go. He doesn’t want to be the last to know the history of the Mission.

“We were living in a candy shop all the time without even realizing it,” says Dogpaw, looking back at his time on Treat Avenue. “I was born at the right time.”

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2 Comments

  1. Heidi-Jane Schwabe

    Nice to see this article about our neighborhood’s rich musical past. Hopefully it will help put Carrillo in contact with the right people who might help him assure preservation of such a treasure chest of history . Best of luck.

  2. X

    Great photos. Thanks, Mission Local.

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