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"Some Kind of Genius" wrote Jim Leigh in his memoir, Heaven on the Side

(Photo by William Carter Courtesy of
Earl Scheelar)

“Erickson, usually erroneously labelled a Dixieland jazzman, was in every way a comprehensive modern musician, performer and composer whose interests ranged from the blues to Bartok.”
                                                -- Phil Elwood, San Francisco Examiner, 12.1.67

Bill Erickson (b. 3.25.29 - d. 1967) was a gifted musician: jazz piano and trumpet player, bandleader, composer and arranger.  In the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1950s and ‘60s.  He organized and played in several notable venues and combos.  As a sideman he worked for Kid Ory, Jack Sheedy, Bob Mielke and others from the late 1940s until 1967.

His piano at Pier 23 on the San Francisco waterfront was anchor for trios that included Frank “Big Boy” Goudie or Bill Napier and a focal point for jam sessions of Bay Area musicians.  He also had a fine combo at Monkey Inn (Berkeley, CA) and worked with Barbara Dane, Dick Oxtot and others.

The tapes of Erickson's Quartet at Monkey Inn, 1961-62 are especially notable.  It was a swinging combo featuring Frank Goudie (clarinet), Bob Mielke (trombone) and sometimes a (now unknown) trumpet player.  Goudie's long striding solos are heard in full fidelity stereo.

For about a decade, Bill Erickson was catalyst in the Bay Area area for good times and great jazz; his Berkeley Jazz house parties, jam sessions and gigs provided a congenial setting for musicians to freely express themselves. But the scarcity of recordings and reverberation of his pointless suicide have long obscured understanding of his dynamic role and authoritative musicianship.

Erickson was part of a second wave of revival- jazz musicians, active during the Fifties, Sixties and beyond, who are underrepresented in biography and reissue. Distinct from the San Francisco Traditional style that preceded and inspired them, this generation of talented players created a unique regional music of great charm and swing.

I hope this web page and related resources may help renew interest in the legacy of these musicians among whom Bill Erickson, Willie the Master, stood first among equals.

Remembering Bill Erickson, “Willie The Master”

Interactive article about Erickson published by SFTJF, download pdf here.
Key findings:

This interactive article presents the music and story of this gifted jazz pianist, trumpet player and session leader.  For about a decade he was at the center of Bay Area revival-jazz and a catalyst for good times and great music.  His Jazz House parties, jam sessions and gigs provided a congenial setting for musicians to freely express themselves.

After his tragic suicide in 1967, recall of Erickson and his music almost completely disappeared.  The scarcity of recordings and reverberation of his pointless suicide have long obscured understanding of his dynamic role and authoritative musicianship.

But Bill Erickson’s catalytic role in Bay Area music can now be reconstructed with tapes from the personal libraries of Dave Greer and Bob Mielke, bringing his dynamic musical life into clear focus.

New 5.2015

Interactive article recently published by San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation:

The Infamous Burp Hollow:
North Beach Nightclub and San Francisco Jazz Bar, 1956-66

"Hosted by a shady operator the best of Frisco Jazz was served up with a dubious cocktail at a crowded little gingham-topped table at the infamous Burp Hollow."

Erickson’s style is elusive to define, either on trumpet or piano.  As a piano player Bill had two distinct piano modes, as Bob Mielke explains:
"He had two manners of playing.  One was when a bass player is present in the group.  That was kind of a light, Teddy Wilson sort of style.  But if there were no bass player, then he came on like gangbusters with a strong left hand.  He was trying to be a real rhythm section unto himself."

Jim Leigh in his memoir Heaven on the Side (2000) commented on Erickson and his style in the chapter, Definitely Some Kind of Genius:
"Erickson himself never showed off at the keyboard; he played no dazzling specialty numbers.  He always played very, very well, and always served the band in all respects.  As a soloist he was neither greedy nor shy, and he rarely if ever repeated himself.

Erickson was one of the best leaders I have ever played for, and I have played for some good ones.  He led by example, he led by temperament (but without being in the least temperamental).  He wanted to play honest music in a relaxed and congenial environment.  He enjoyed pleasing listeners regardless of their level of jazz expertise."

Bill Erickson Quartet
Frank Goudie
Monkey Inn, Berkeley, CA c. 1961-62

Frank Goudie (clarinet
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Bill Erickson (piano)
Jimmy Carter (drums)

Gettysburg March.mp3
Joseph Joseph.mp3
Gold Diggers Song.mp3

Bill Erickson Quintet
Monkey Inn, Berkeley, CA c. 1961-62

add: unknown trumpet

Joseph, Joseph - Quintet.mp3 7:10
I've Found a New Baby - Quintet.mp3 7:30
Careless Love - Quintet.mp3 6:55
Bob Mielke collection

Jerry Blumberg is not the horn player on the Bill Erickson Quintet Monkey Inn tapes of 1961-62, contrary to Bob Mielke’s recollection and notations on the tape reel boxes.  Blumberg recently broke a long silence about his San Francisco years to send me correspondence stating that he was not the horn player on those recordings.  According to his own records, Blumberg was not in the Bay Area when this series of recordings began, yet he does recall playing with Mielke at the Monkey Inn. 

The notations in pencil on the Monkey Inn tape boxes regarding personnel might not be contemporaneous, but added later when the tapes were in the possession of collector Bill Raynolds.  Suggestions regarding who this horn player might be include:  RCH Smith, Eddie Smith, Ted Butterman or Jack Minger. 

Trumpet player Byron Berry has been suggested by several including Blumberg.  But my careful audition of contemporaneous Berry tapes leads me to reject this candidate.

Bill Erickson music exclusives!

Erickson and company on the Monkey Inn tapes.
Erickson piano, trumpet and jammers at Pier 23 tapes.
Erickson plays horn at Burp Hollow tapes, 1959.
Erickson hosts jam sessions at the Berkeley Jazz house.

Note on recordings:
The archival recordings heard on these pages are offered as historic artifacts.  They contain many musical and technical flaws, or are incomplete or poorly balanced  in places.  Personnel are listed as available, or as deduced  from educated guesses

New 5.2.2014

Pier 23 Live KOFY broadcast, c. 1959

This is an amazing live performance and extraordinary audio document.  It has everything:  Bill Erickson leading the band in fine form on trumpet, Burt Bales and Bob Mielke at the top of their games, a swashbucking performance by Frank Goudie, a Dick Oxtot vocal, and the electric atmosphere of a jazz broadcast from the San Francisco waterfront with an appearance by owner Havelock Jerome (a world-class weirdo).

Despite heroic restoration efforts, this tape contains unavoidable gaps, distortion and musical flaws.

Bill Erickson (trumpet)
Frank Goudie (clarinet)
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Dick Oxtot (banjo, vocals)
Burt Bales (piano, vocals)
Squire Girsback (string bass)
Bob Osibin (drums)
Suzane Summers (vocals)
Lee Crosby (on-air host)

KOFY unedited Pier 23 broadcast.mp3 (38:38)

or selections:

Royal Garden Blues.mp3 (3:37; sound improves after :25)

Chri-Chiri-Bim.mp3 (6:00)
    announce with personnel: “Live Jazz on the air nightly”

Up a Lazy River.mp3 (2:59)
    Suzanne Summers vocal duet with Burt Bales, piano

Original Dixieland One-step.mp3 (4:35)

That Certain Party.mp3
    vocal by Oxtot
Rose Room.mp3 (3:54)
    featuring Big Boy Goudie, mentions his years in Europe

Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down.mp3  (3:31, contains a brief gap)
    announcing “Jazz As Is” jazz from the Waterfront

I Had Someone Else Before I Had You.mp3 (3:00)
    vocal Suzanne Summers
   personnel and sign-off

The East Oakland Gang, late 1940s

L to R: Bob Mielke, Freddie Grote, Bill Erickson and Jerry Stanton

(Photo: Bob Mielke: A Life in Jazz, Jim Goggin)


Bob Mielke's Jazz Band, 1951
Bill Erickson (trumpet)
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Bill Napier (clarinet)
Jerry Stanton (piano)
Bob Mussiter (guitar)
John Schuler (string bass)
Jack Lowe (drums)

Crazy Chords.mp3
Riverboat Shuffle introduced by Bob.mp3

Bob Mielke's Fairway Rhythm Kings, 1951
personnel same as above

Didn't He Ramble.mp3
Photo: Erickson and Mielke, date and location unknown

Bob Mielke collection

Bill Erickson’s One Man Band
Early 1950's

Bill Erickson’s one-man-band recordings are gems, and among the more successful of their kind.  Musically and technically the tunes are tight and polished.  Besides offering several obscure-as-hell tunes, Erickson provides some delightful Bixian trumpet solos and overdubbed horn section passages.

This is not jazz per se, but excellent arranging aimed at satirizing some of the rickey-tickey ‘mouse music’ played by the dance-bands and hotel-orchestras of the late-1920s, a tongue-in-cheek send-up and affectionate tribute to the popular music of an earlier generation.  Erickson’s gentle parodies are showcases for his formidable arranging, detailed section work, and some clangorous musical jokes that utilize advanced harmony and modern composition.

And what a delight to have a fully orchestrated rendition of the bawdy “Green Light.”  This clever Fifties ode to a popular condom brand of the day almost got Erickson arrested in San Francisco, according to Dick Oxtot in his Jazz Scrapbook memoir: 

“Someone complained to the authorities about what they considered a vulgar song.  Bill and I were informed that we would be cited and even arrested if we continued to sing “Green Light” in public.  Each evening a cop was [at Jack’s Waterfront Hangout], apparently keeping his ears open to see if we, once again, sang about “Green Light” which was a trade name for condoms."

As a sound engineer, I’m baffled how such clean undistorted sound was achieved with the recording equipment then available, requiring at least half a dozen overdubs.  Even Oscar Anderson, who made his audio equipment available to Erickson, is unsure quite how Erickson achieved such excellence.

  * * *   Great thanks to Richard Hadlock for sharing these unique treasures.   * * *

New 8.2014

Bill Erickson One Man Band
Early 1950's, Woodmont Ave.
Oakland, CA

(All instruments and vocals by Erickson):

Trumpet, clarinet, piano, washboard, vocal harmony:

Your Mother and Mine.mp3
You Can't Make Your Shimmy Shake on Tea.mp3
We're All For You Uncle Sammy.mp3
The Merry Go Round Broke Down.mp3
The Good Ship Lollipop.mp3
Teddy Bears Picnic.mp3
Hot Town.mp3
Hard Boiled Mama.mp3
Green Light #2.mp3

Forthcoming: The best and rarest of the archival jazz recordings heard on these pages will soon be available for purchase on CD or downloads (Amazon, i-tunes, etc) from Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities, a partnership between Dave Radlauer and Grammercy Records.

Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, Bob Mielke, Bill Erickson combo
in Stereo Hi-fi Live at Monkey Inn, 1961-62. 
(3 CDs)
Five hours of music from the legendary Monkey Inn combo of Bill Erickson.

Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities offers unissued historic recordings from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes.  Recorded mostly in the Bay Area 1940-75, this is lost sound from a boisterous musical culture that created an independent jazz style of its own.

Bill Erickson

at an East Bay jazz party
with Mielke (trombone) and Napier (center front)

Mielke collection

Bill Erickson sings
These songs were associated with Erickson and never commercially issued.  They are recovered here thanks to Dave Greeer, Oscar Anderson, and Richard Hadlock.

My Sunday Girl.mp3
Dick Oxtot Birthday 1965:
P.T. Stanton (cornet)
Bunky Coleman (clarinet)
Bill Bardin (trombone)
Peter Allen (bass)
Bill Dart (drums)

Green Light.mp3
Erickson One-Man-band early 1950s.

Bill plays all instruments.

A Rough and Tumble Past

Jim Leigh first encountered Erickson in the late-1950s and considered him at that time equally skilled on piano and trumpet.  Bill was part of the Berkeley-East Bay jazz contingent with Dick Oxtot, Bob Mielke, Bill Bardin, Earl Scheelar, Jerry and P.T. Stanton and others like Bret Runkle.

Though a graduate of Pasadena College, Erickson told Jim that he'd learned piano playing for “exotic dancers” in the San Francisco tenderloin.  He then joined a trio on a cruise ship sailing between S.F. and Hong Kong, working with a drummer who was addicted to heroin.  To avoid being drafted into the Korean War he got himself a habit too.  And it worked . . . except that Erickson was then arrested, tried and served a year in prison for felony drug possession.  After release he never took heroin again, though he told clarinet player Bill Carter that it never fully gone away as temptation.


Dave Greer recalls Erickson:

Greer Intro.mp3

Willie the Master, musical skills.mp3

In 2007 Bill Erickson’s friend Dave Greer wrote liner notes for a proposed but never issued CD.
Below are excerpts. 

Download BILL ERICKSON by Dave Greer.pdf

by Dave Greer

Bob Mielke, a trombonist, recalls Bill was, “Inspiring to play with,” a pianist, “who gave horn players ideas.”  Originally impressed by the iconic cornetist, Bix Beiderbecke, Bill developed his joyous spirit and the same flawless musicianship which characterized his piano work.

Jazz critic and musician Dick Hadlock, who played reed instruments with Bill, said that he, “Knew where he was going and how to get there.  He knew how to arrange and run a band and was totally reliable.”

Bill had studied composition and had some of his works performed by the music department of San Francisco State.  He was also an avid chess player and built his own electronic equipment.  His old friend Oscar Anderson recalls that Bill constructed a radio which functioned on one tube instead of the usual five.  Although Anderson has a degree in electrical engineering and a PhD. in physics, he was unable to understand how Bill did it.

Bill was a kind of Renaissance man who also possessed the talented writer’s ability to find humor and underlying human truths in everyday life.  His narrations of such events could have been printed as short stories with little or no editing.

[His playing was] clean, precise, and swinging.  While being scrupulously faithful to the tune, Bill’s flow of improvisations upon it seem as much a part of it as do sails unfurling on the spars of a ship.  By the time he finishes a tune, we have the feeling that everything that ever needed to be said about it has been said.

Bill Erickson will long be remembered as one of the finest of the many musicians who helped to make the 1950s and ‘60s a golden age of traditional jazz in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Those of us privileged to know Bill will never forget his remarkable mind, his insightful humor, his kindness, and his enjoyment of life which he shared so generously both on and off the bandstand.  Vaya con Dios, old friend.

New 12.1.2013


Bill Erickson piano solos.

Multiple takes recorded in the rumpus room above Earl Scheelar’s VW garage by Dave Greer in 1963.

BIG BOY Erickson Composite take.mp3
BIG BOY Erickson Take 1.mp3
BIG BOY Erickson Take 2.mp3

I USED TO LOVE YOU Erickson Composite take.mp3
I USED TO LOVE YOU Erickson Take 1.mp3
I USED TO LOVE YOU Erickson Take 2.mp3
I USED TO LOVE YOU Erickson  Take 3.mp3
I USED TO LOVE YOU Erickson Take 4.mp3

TIA JUANA Erickson Take 1.mp3
TIA JUANA Erickson Take 2.mp3
TIA JUANA Erickson Take 3.mp3
TIA JUANA Erickson Take 4.mp3

Richard Hadlock recalls Erickson’s admiration of Arthur Schutt:

“One of Bill's pianist heroes was Arthur Schutt, a name only a few collectors knew in the '60s.  One night at the Pier a well-lubricated customer in her 60s or so hollered, 'you're pretty good, but you ain't no Arthur Schutt!' 

Bill nearly fell off the piano bench. 
Turned out the real Schutt had recently moved into a fleabag hotel at the foot of Broadway with his lady and this was she, alone and drinking at the Pier.  I got acquainted with Schutt after that.”


GREEN LIGHT Erickson.mp3 (:60)

Key to understanding this little ditty is the knowledge that Green Light was a popular brand of condom.

Recovered contact prints of Earl Scheelar (cornet),

Bret Runkle (washboard),

and Bill Erickson at Monkey Inn.

Shot for Earl Scheelar by William Carter, 1962.

Updated 12.20.2013


Bill Erickson piano solos
with banjo accompaniment by Earl Sheelar
Monkey Inn, Berkeley, 1962

A Shanty in Old Shanty Town.mp3
I Aint Got Nobody.mp3
When You're Smiling.mp3
Wabash Blues.mp3
Robert E. Lee.mp3

Thanks to Earl Scheelar and Dave Greer.

Clarinet player Bill Carter's recollection:

I didn't know Bill Erickson anything like Mielke and the others did; but I did work with him one night a week at Burp Hollow on Broadway in San Francisco for a few months in about 1960 or 1961.   I drove him much of that time from Berkeley where I was living, since he did not have a car.  It was Oxtot's band.  As everyone will attest, he was a sweet soft-spoken guy.  

My only burning memory was of him chatting about his [heroine] habit one night as we headed toward and over the Bay Bridge.  I remember him saying that he had deliberately made himself a heroin addict in order to avoid being drafted (for I assume the Korean war?); that he had recovered from the habit; but that it never really could go away in the sense it remained out there, always tempting him to revert back.

Erickson archive, here
More about Bob Mielke, here
Erickson's Pier 23 tapes
Erickson's Monkey Inn tapes

At Burp Hollow,
San Francisco, late 1950s

L to R:
Bob Mielke, Bill Erickson, bassist Pete Allen (barely visible), Dick Oxtot,
Bill Napier

Photo: Oxtot Collection


Burp Hollow

For a while in 1959 Erickson played trumpet at Burp Hollow on Broadway in San Francisco, a dismal dive owned by a thoroughly unpleasant former Chicago mobster.

Circumstances aside, this group was the quintessence of East Bay players: Erickson on trumpet, Napier, Mielke, Oxtot, Pete Allen.  Blending well with the ensemble, Bill’s horn lead was sometimes beautiful, other times muscular, with a rich full tone.  The trading-fours and paired-up riffs played behind soloists were emblematic of Erickson-led sessions.

Bill Erickson (trumpet)
Bill Napier (clarinet)
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Dick Oxtot (banjo)
Pete Allen (bass)
possibly Max Leavitt (drums)

Back in Your Own Backyard.mp3
Darktown Strutters Ball.mp3 (3:30)
Original Dixieland One-Step.mp3 (5:42)
Blues at the Hollow.mp3 (7:01)
L-O-U-I-S-I-A-N-I-A.mp3 (3:46)
Beale St. Blues.mp3 (5:38)
Don't You Leave Me Here.mp3 (4:12, good blues trumpet)
There's Yes, Yes in Your Eyes.mp3 (5:20, Oxtot vocal)
Tiger Rag.mp3 (6:58, incomplete at end)
Song of the Islands.mp3 (4:10)
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans.mp3 (5:53, Napier, bass clarinet)

Thanks to Dave Greer for these rare recordings.


Erickson's stint in the Kid Ory band -- at On the Levee in 1960 -- seems to have coincided with that of
Bill Napier (clarinet). 

Others were RCH Smith (trumpet), Walter Roberts (bass), Bob Osibin (drums), and Ory (trombone).


Photos: William Claxton & Joachim E. Behrendt, 2005

JAZZLIFE: A Journey for Jazz across America in 1960

The Jack Sheedy Dixeland Band, c. 1950

Sheedy's was the first to play San Francisco's famed Club Hangover in 1949.

Jack Minger (trumpet)
Cattolica (clarinet)
Jack Sheedy (trombone, vocal)
Paul Miller (guitar)
Bill Erickson (piano)
Vernon Alley (bass)
Bill Dart (drums)

A Good Man is Hard to Find - Jack Sheedy.mp3
Blues in the Night Jack - Sheedy.mp3
Down in Jungletown - Jack Sheedy.mp3
Gamblers Blues Jack - Sheedy.mp3

Leigh came to know Erickson well after 1961 and was fascinated with his intense intelligence, humor, imagination and vast musical gifts.  He describes an octet that was, “a rehearsal band . . .  just for the fun, the exercise, and to give him a chance to work off some of his musicianship.” 

During 1963 this ensemble included Robin Hodes (trumpet), Dave Clarkson (tenor sax), Frank Goudie (clarinet), James Carter (drums) and others.  Every week Erickson would compose a new tune, and score it for the octet . . . the music was not easy.

Some Kind of Genius
Years later Jim encountered an instructor in music composition with whom Erickson had studied when he attended San Francisco State University in the 1950s. 

The professor related how Bill had come to him with the score of a Mozart symphony, saying he could write one.  "And I said 'Well who knows, someday you might.'  Because I knew he was very bright.  But you see he meant a Mozart symphony.  So what could I say?  I laughed . . . 'Oh, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t write a Mozart symphony.'  But then, my God, he did.  He got the whole thing.  It was just  . . . an early Mozart symphony.  I mean, Mozart could have written it.

I really do believe . . . that he was definitely some kind of genius."

Jim Leigh could only agree.

Dave Greer on Erickson & the
Berkeley jazz house, c. 1955-65

Dave Greer (right) is a jazz enthusiast, amateur trumpet player and tape recordist who was close friend and roommate of Bill Erickson in Berkeley.  Their residence became a Jazz house that was the site of ongoing parties.  Greer is a lifelong journalist, and these recollections are culled from his letters, interviews and articles.

Berkeley Jazz Parties

When I arrived in Berkeley in 1955, there were revival jazz bands performing somewhere every night of the week and more than one could take in on a Friday or Saturday.  [There were] large jazz parties that musicians, their families, friends, and hard-core fans frequently held in their homes.

These gatherings, attended by 80 to 100 or more people, took fire in the afternoons, roared through the evening, and smoldered into the morning hours.  They were remarkable events musically and socially.  We were mostly poor; but our doors were open to all, and hosts provided plenty of “day old” French bread, spaghetti or red beans and rice, and cheap wine.  

Dollar-a-gallon Sergeant burgundy was the house wine in the big old Victorian space where I roomed with the late piano and trumpet player Bill “Willie the Master” Erickson.  At our parties there were sometimes bands playing in the front room, the kitchen, and the backyard.  Bliss it was to be young and a member of the Berkeley jazz crowd.   

Clarinetist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie . . . was a regular at these assemblies.  The great Darnell Howard set high standards for the young reed men, as did Clem Raymond.  Wellman Braud, Duke Ellington’s long-time string bass player, and Pops Foster, bassist in many famous bands including Luis Russell’s, both helped swing these parties.  Aside from being first-rate performers, they were all real gentlemen of jazz.


Dave Greer interview clips:

Jazz House parties.mp3

Victorian sold, Erickson's apartment, and electronics.mp3

Nude Party at Jazz House.mp3

Ted Butterman at Nod’s

While I was living with Bill Erickson [we] would have dinner -- he took a real interest in food and was quite a good cook -- and then we usually decided to go down to Nods.  Bill took his horn, and I should have taken my recording gear and I knew it, but I felt it would be an awful hassle in such a crowded space, and I never did.  Some exceptionally fine music was lost.

(Dick Oxtot, left, Ted Butterman, right. Photo courtesy Dave Greer.)

A place called Nods in Berkeley had begun having jazz bands play once a week in a back room.  It wasn’t very big, but there was a bandstand if no dance floor.  Tables came up pretty close to the bandstand and the musicians.

I always remember Ted Butterman being on stage . . .  Bill sat in with him.  [Butterman was from Chicago and later played with the Golden State Jazz Band. DR]  They swapped choruses on the tunes, and these were monumental exchanges!  Bill had begun playing as a Bixian but moved into his own style.  The competition with Ted brought out the best in both of them.  

While less effortlessly agile, Bill created logical, elegant musical structures any one of which could have gone on record with never a note changed.  I had heard many fine musicians exchange choruses . . . but I never heard any as consistently excellent as these before or since.

Bill Erickson's Stradivarius Bach
(now owned by
Dave Greer).

New 12.7.2013

Bill Erickson plays trumpet at Pier 23

(early 1960s)

Bill Erickson (trumpet)
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Bill Napier (clarinet)
Dick Oxtot (banjo)
Pete Allen (bass)
Jimmy Carter (drums)

Love Nest_Erickson, Bill Erickson trumpet, Pier 23.mp3
Original Dixieland One Step, Bill Erickson trumpet, Pier 23.mp3
Darktown Strutters Ball, Bill Erickson trumpet, Pier 23.mp3

Bill Erickson (trumpet)
Frank Goudie (clarinet)
(date and other personnel unknown)

Rosetta, Bill Erickson trumpet, Pier 23.mp3

Thanks to Dave Greer for these rare recordings.

Find all the Pier 23 sessions, here.

In 1951 Bob tried a golf-themed promotion for his first band, The Fairway Rhythm Kings.

L to R: Bob Mielke (looking rather like a young James Cagney), unknown musician, Bill Napier (Looking rather natty) and Bill Erickson

Courtesy of SFTJF.

Sam Charters Washboard Band

Because of Bill Erickson’s masterful musical skills he was participant in numerous music projects where his talent for organizing sessions was welcome.  One example is the Sam Charters Washboard Jazz Band on which Bill played piano.  He was deeply involved in directing and recording the project in 1957-58.  Unpublished until 2009, the session has recently been issued on Merry Makers Records, MMRC CD33.

Sam Charters Washboard Jazz Band
Plays the Classic 1920s Jazz of Clarence Williams
excerpted from Earl Scheelar's liner notes.

“Sam Charters, musicologist and writer of several books on New Orleans Jazz spent a lot of time in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s.  He put this band together in 1957 to record songs written and/or recorded by Clarence Williams in the 1920s and 1930s.  He chose musicians who were fans and collectors of the records of the Clarence Williams Washboard Bands.  Like many of the Williams recordings the instrumentation on most of the songs consists of cornet, clarinet, piano, tuba and washboard.  On three songs the tuba player switches to second cornet and another tuba player is added.

The recordings were done at several sessions at my house and were recorded by Stan Page with a professional Ampex tape recorder.  Unfortunately the original tapes were lost when Stan’s house burned in the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, however I had made copies of the tapes . . .

In the 1950s the musician’s  interested in playing traditional jazz were a small select group and all were record collectors and knowledgeable about the crators of jazz in the 1920s.  It wasn’t until the 1970s with the proliferation of the Jazz Festivals that we saw a lot of bands playing the music.

Sam Charters, the organizer, washboard and banjo player on these recordings, went on to write extensively about music and produce recordings for Folkways Records, played washboard or jug on several recordings and has written several books on jazz.

The tuba player, Walter Yost, was regarded by many of us as one of the finest  brass bass players around.  He was also a very highly regarded cornet player.

The piano player, Bill Erickson, also a very accomplished cornet player, was a wonderfully talented and highly respected musician until his untimely death in 1967.

I was the clarinet player on these recordings.  I came to the Bay Area in 1950 to be a part of the Jazz Scene and consider myself very fortunate to have been associated with a group of such fine musicians.”

Sam Charters Washboard Band
Berkeley, CA 1957-58

Session personnel varied, but for these tracks the lineup was:

Dick Oxtot (cornet)
Walter Yost (second cornet)
Earl Scheelar (clarinet)
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Bill Erickson (piano)
Sam Charters (washboard/banjo)
Jerry Fredgren (tuba)

“Shake it Down”
“Red River Blues”
“Spanish Shawl”

These and 10 other tracks are available:

Sam Charters Washboard Jazz Band
Plays the Classic 1920s Jazz of Clarence Williams
Merry Makers Records, MMRC CD33.

Merry Makers Record Company
926 Beechwood Circle
Suisun City, CA 94585


Bill Erickson, trumpet with the Estuary Jazz Band, 1959
Live broadcast from Pier 23, San Francisco, California
KGO (AM & FM dual mono/stereo broadcast)

Just a Closer Walk with Thee.mp3
Saturday Night Function.mp3

Bill Erickson, trumpet
Frank Goudie (clarinet)
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Dick Oxtot (banjo)
Burt Bales (piano)
Squire Girsback (bass)
Bob Osibin (drums)
Note:  Estuary was an outgrowth of the Pier 23 jam sessions.  Musically, it was directed by Erickson's strong trumpet lead, and featured soloists
Frank Big Boy Goudie (clarinet) and Bob Mielke (trombone).  All the  players were bandleaders, except for drummer Bob Osibin.  The two 1959 broadcasts from Pier 23 were a pioneering experiment in stereo: the left and right signals transmitted simultaneously via AM and FM radio.

(Thanks to Bob Mielke and Bill Reynolds.)

More about Frank Big Boy Goudie, Erickson & Co, here.
More about Erickson at Pier 23, here.

PIER 23 Jam session, Spring 1962
Amos White, Bob Hodes (trumpets)
Frank Big Boy Goudie (clarinet)
Bill Erickson (piano)
Mike Prince (bjo)
Jimmy Carter (drums)
(bass unknown)

Sweet Sue_PIER 23.mp3
Old Fashioned Love PIER 23.mp3
Over the Waves PIER 23.mp3
St. Louis Blues (incomplete) PIER 23.mp3
Has Anybody Seen my Gal PIER 23.mp3

PIER 23 Jam session, 6.25.60
Ray Ronnei (trumpet)
Frank Big Boy Goudie (clarinet)
Jim Leigh (trombone)
Bill Erickson (piano)
Pete Allen (bass)
Jimmy Carter (drums)

Just a Closer Walk_PIER 23.mp3
Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet_PIER 23.mp3

TRIO (Goudie, Erickson, Carter):
You Took Advantage of Me_PIER 23.mp3
You're Driving Me Crazy_PIER 23.mp3
[Blues at the Pier] PIER 23.mp3

[These historic tracks are made available despite being rough or incomplete in places.]
Great thanks to recordist, Dave Greer.


“Chicks Party” and "Last Jazz House Party" at the Berkeley Jazz house.
These tapes convey the effervescence of the music, personnel and spirits.

Ray Ronnei (cornet)
Frank Goudie (clarinet)
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Dick Oxtot (banjo)
Bill Erickson (piano)
Pete Allen (bass)

Just Because (5:24)
Under the Bamboo Tree (4:25)

P. T. Stanton (trumpet)
Frank Goudie (clarinet)
Dick Oxtot (banjo)
Bill Erickson (piano)
unknown (drums)

Say Si, Si.mp3 (5:25)
I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.mp3 (6:05, incomplete and tape interrupted)
Sweet Jennie Lee.mp3 (5:40, Oxtot vocal off mic)

Great thanks to recordist, Dave Greer. 
[These historic tracks are made available despite being rough or incomplete in places.]


It may well have been
Barbara Dane who dubbed him “Willie the Master,” a name which caught on quickly:
"He was always there with the right thing and the right swing.”

The Wharfcats played at Jack's Waterfront Hangout, c. 1957

Bill Erickson,
Barbara Dane,
Dick Oxtot

(Photo from: Bob Mielke: A Life in Jazz, Jim Goggin)

Newly added 12.1.2013


Dane, Oxtot, Erickson
Party above Earl Scheelar's garage 1963

Oxtot and Erickson play convincing blues accompanying Barbara on St. James Infirmary; the other is a curious folk, spiritual and jazz fusion.

Barbara Dane singing (and guitar)
Dick Oxtot (cornet)
Bill Erickson (piano)
other personnel unknown

ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES Dane, Oxtot, Erickson.mp3
WE SHALL ALL WALK TOGETHER Dane, Oxtot, Erickson.mp3

Toward the end of his life Bill was teaching himself guitar.

A musical genius, Erickson lived an unconventional life. 

Talking recently with Bay Area musicians who’d known him, it was clear his suicide in 1967 still hurts today.

(Photo courtesy Dave Greer.)

“Jazz Memorial on Sunday For Pianist Bill Erickson,”
San Francisco Examiner, December 1, 1967

by Philip Elwood

       A mammoth Memorial in Jazz, dedicated to pianist Bill Erickson, who died a few weeks ago, has been planned for Sunday evening, beginning at 4 o’clock at both Earthquake McGoon’s and the Pier 23.

       Erickson, usually erroneously labeled a Dixieland jazzman, was in every way a comprehensive modern musician, performer and composer whose interests ranged from the blues to Bartok.

       After his death, dozens of friends pitched in to organize the informal Sunday affair.  there will be jazz of all kinds played by Erickson's colleagues, helping to establish a memorial fund in his name for the S. F. State music students.

       Trombonist Bob Mielke, perhaps Erickson’s closest musical friend, has planned Sunday’s  bash and will lead the Mielke’s Bearcats in performance.

       The champ of the Chicago pianists from the Austin High days of the 20s, Joe Sullivan, will again lead the band, with trumpeter Byron Berry, which played in San Francisco almost 10 years ago.

       Wally Rose’s ragtime band with singer Pat Yankee, the Chris Ibanez Trio (featuring bassist Vernon Alley and drummer Dave Black) and Ted Schafer’s Jelly Roll band are also donating their services.

       Pianist Burt Bales and the brilliant clarinetist Vince Cattolica are joining forces for the evening with Cuz Cousineau on drums.

       Red Gillham’s Valley Jazz Band, the Bay City Band and Earl Scheelar’s gang, singers Claire Austin and Carol Leigh, clarinetists Bob Helm and Bill Napier, pianist Norma Teagarden . . . Dick Oxtot and New Orleans old timer Amos White;  the list goes on and on, as will the performances.

       Tickets (at $1.50) bought at either club, will be honored by both: all door receipts go to the Erickson Student Loan Fund, including a percentage of the bar take from both saloons.

After Erickson's death by suicide, a large memorial concert was organized.  A scholarship fund for San Francisco State University students established in his name.

Note on recordings:
The archival recordings heard on these pages are offered as historic artifacts.  They contain many musical and technical flaws, or are incomplete or poorly balanced  in places.  Personnel are listed as available, or as deduced  from educated guesses.

LINKS (this site):

Bill Erickson archive, here
Erickson with Frank Big Boy Goudie and others
Rare unissued recordings from Pier 23
Rare unissued recording from Monkey Inn
Berkeley Jazz house
Bob Mielke
Burp Hollow tapes
Barbara Dane
Dick Oxtot

Woodmont Ave,
Oakland, CA, mid-1950s
Foreground: Mielke, Erickson, Napier

Mielke collection

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