Harlem of the West

The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era

Eddie, Dorothy & Philip Alley

Eddie Alley was handed a drum at a school music session and never stopped playing. Born on December 19, 1910, in Minneapolis, he came to San Francisco with his family in the 1920s. They moved to The Fillmore District in 1928. His band, with singer Sweetie Mitchell, played steadily for more than two decades. Eddie’s wife of more than 60 years, Dorothy, grew up in The Fillmore and, for a short time, worked as a waitress at the Club Flamingo/Texas Playhouse. Their son Philip, born August 31, 1940, was spoon-fed jazz from an early age and began sneaking into Fillmore clubs when in his early teens. Eddie Alley passed away in 2005.



Harlem of the West SF Project
Interview: Eddie Alley, Dorothy Alley
Interviewer: Elizabeth Pepin Silva
Copyright 2017, Elizabeth Pepin Silva/ Harlem of the West SF Project

Please contact the Harlem of the West SF Project if you would like to use any part of the interview. Use is free, but the Harlem of the West SF Project must be credited. The entire interview may not be reproduced.


ELIZABETH PEPIN SILVA: How did you get started playing music?

EDDIE ALLEY: Well, when I was in grammar school in Daniel Webster over in the Potrero district, they’re gonna start a band for the first time in this little grammar school, so they had all the different instruments and people would grab the different instruments. They chose their instruments they wanted to play. And I was just like the drums, so they had a contest to see who had the most rhythm on the drums. And that’s where I went hands down (LAUGHS). So they gave me three lessons on the avenues. That’s how I was introduced to the drums the first time professionally, I mean… uh…

EPS: How old were you?

EDDIE ALLEY: Well, I was in grammar school. I was about 7th grade, I guess, something like that. So that’s how old I was.

EPS: Where were you born and raised?

EDDIE ALLEY: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

EPS: When did you come to San Francisco?

EDDIE ALLEY: About 1920 approximately

EPS: When is your birthday?

EDDIE ALLEY: December 19, 1910. (LAUGHS)

EPS: You were about ten when you came out to San Francisco?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yes. Well, we came to…my brother was born in Winnemucca. Then we moved to Vallejo 'cos my father worked in the ship yards. When the war ended, we moved to Santa Rosa for about a year, and I went to school in Santa Rosa for about a year. And I met Luther Burbank when I was there. Did you ever hear of Luther BurbankI met him and I’d see him. And then we moved to San Francisco in the Potrero district.

EPS: That’s Where I live.

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah, I lived on Missouri Street. 242 Missouri Street, between 18th and Mariposa. And when we moved there, in the Potrero District, we were the only Black family in the whole district. But everybody was foreigners, so there was no prejudice whatsoever. We were all same mix so I, I didn't encounter any prejudice. (EPS: Did you ever…) That was way back in the ‘20’s? (LAUGHS)

EPS: Did you live in the Fillmore district?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yes, later on, about 1929, I guess, ’28 or 9, we moved to the Fillmore District, and that was a wonderful district, too. Very well integrated.

EPS: Do you remember where in the Fillmore you lived?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yes, we lived on Eddie Street, between Scott and Pierce, I guess. It was on Eddie Street. Then I lived in several places in the Fillmore. I lived on Post Street, a couple of different times. I lived on Broderick Street for a short time, and then my wife and I got married, we lived on Scott Street, for a short time. (EPS: What was the neighborhood like…) And Post Street, too, again.

EPS: (03:12) What was the neighborhood like when you first moved to The Fillmore? Was it mainly African American?

EDDIE ALLEY: N0, very integrated. Very integrated. But be about just a couple of families on our block black families, and we didn’t know anything about. We didn't encounter prejudice there at all, hardly, very integrated.

EPS: Was there any clubs at that time that welcomed African Americans?

EDDIE ALLEY: Not downtown.

EPS: What about in the Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: There wasn’t any, the only clubs they had then was the speakeasies. A guy named Lester Mapp had a speakeasy. There were speakeasy things, but at night you’d get to play them, and they’d form a couple of clubs. That’s where I began playing. But I was really young, it was speakeasies like dives and things like that.

EPS: Do you remember Jacks of Sutter opening?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, sure I do. Oh, yes.

EPS: (04:07) They opened in 1932. Was that the first Black night club to open up?

EDDIE ALLEY: No, Club Alabam was before that, and I played at the Club Alabam.

EPS: Do you know who owned the Club Alabam?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah, Louis Varette and Vernon, I can’t think of Vernon’s last name.

EPS: Where they African Americans?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yes, oh, yes. It’s an African American club, yes.

EPS: Can you describe…where was the club?

EDDIE ALLEY: It was on Post Street. Between Fillmore and Scott, oh, Fillmore and Webster, I think. Yes. On Post. (EPS: Did you…) She wasn’t even born. She wasn’t even born. (LAUGHS)

DOROTHY ALLEY: Oh, I just remember the area.

EPS: I’d like to interview you as well.

EDDIE ALLEY: That was real early. I didn't even know her then (LAUGHS). I was young myself.

EPS: Was it a big club? Small club?

EDDIE ALLEY: Well, it was a big club, but it wasn’t lavish or anything like that. But we had a little band in there and girls… girls going around singing, people at tables. I actually do a little singing myself with the band.

EPS: Who was in the band with you?

EDDIE ALLEY: Mike Lysinger was the leader. And I was the drummer. And the drummer for… I forget his name. But during the war years, some great musicians played with us because then the war years, the music men in the Navy when they transferred, lived in St. Mary’s, and they could come home every night. They played in the band over at St. Mary’s for the Army during the war years. So I played with Marshall Royal, who later became a big shot in Count Bassie’s band. I played for Ernie Royal. Became a great musician back East. And a couple of others I can’t remember their names. But then I…some great musicians came along and played there at different times, especially during the war years because they were in the Navy and they get to come home at night, 'cos they made records for overseas. My brother was one of them that was in the Navy over there. I tried to get in the Navy, but I couldn’t pass the test on count of my eyes. So I could stay out of the army.

EPS: Probably better that way.

EDDIE ALLEY: Yes it was.

EPS: (06:41) So Jack’s opened after?

EDDIE ALLEY: Jack’s opened after I forgotten what year. It was more of a… a little classier than the Club Alabam.

EPS: And do you know who owned it?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah, I forgot the fellow’s name now. I sure I knew him real well. A couple of people I can’t think of their names.

EPS: (07:03) Those were the first two jazz clubs in the Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: That I remember, yes. (EPS: And then, so…) There was another club, Willie Brooks’ father had a club. It was kind of a… in the Fillmore, too.

LEWIS WATTS: The Blue Mirror?

EPS: The Blue Mirror opened after World War II.

LW: It was Leola King.

EDDIE ALLEY: That was way late, a lot later.

EPS: And before it was the Gold Mirror, and John Handy said that African Americans weren’t allowed in there until it turned into the Blue Mirror. Is that true?

EDDIE ALLEY: I don’t remember that at all. I don't remember that part of it, no.

EPS: So the music scene was pretty small until WWII and the huge migration into The Fillmore District. Do you think that’s true?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yes. That’s true, yes. More people came and there’s more African Americans that attended these clubs, because you know, there were people here to. Attendances were larger. But during the war, why, movie stars and everybody used to come out to the Fillmore District, the clubs. That much of it, it’s a little Harlem in a way.

EPS: (08:22) Can you describe what it was like? People have said that you could walk down the street and go from club to club…

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, it was, why Jack’s Tavern and Jackson’s Nook. I can’t think of the rest of them. Earl Watkins remembers it more than I do. He’s got a good memory. But the Club Alabam and (EPS: Elsie’s Breakfast?) Elsie’s Breakfast, yeah, and, the, what was that club called?

EPS: The New Orleans Swing Club?

EDDIE ALLEY: Wesley Johnson’s and the New Orleans Swing Club, and some place on Post Street, Dorothy, on Post Street?

DOROTHY ALLEY: I’m trying to think.

EDDIE ALLEY: There were a lot of clubs.

EPS: (09:01) Plantation Club?

EDDIE ALLEY: Plantation. Yeah, all those clubs, a lot of clubs. And they were all run nice, too.

EPS: Was there any problems at all?

EDDIE ALLEY: Not at all.

EPS: People had fun?

EDDIE ALLEY: People had fun and …

DOROTHY ALLEY: I don’t recall ever hearing about any problems.

EDDIE ALLEYL: It was very, very nice. No problems at all. Robert Mitchum would come out and sing with the band once in a while, and movie stars would come out that way. And wasn’t any problem.

EPS: Why did the neighborhood work so well – was so integrated?

EDDIE ALLEY: Well, in the first place, the Black people that were here before the war were used to being integrated. They were used to be a lot of the people that we… we didn't know too much about prejudice at all. Not that much.

EPS: That was very unusual?

EDDIE ALLEY: Except if we found work, then we found a lot of prejudice when we were looking for work. But as far as living together, we didn't. We did visit each other, we were all friends. But the prejudice part would come in if we looked for work. But people are very friendly, we all went to school together and everything.

EPS: So when you got out of high school did you immediately decide you were going to become a jazz musician?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, no, not at all.

EPS: (10:17) How did that work?

EDDIE ALLEY: Let me see. I guess through necessity I imagine, because when I got out of high school, I couldn’t get a job on the streetcars, I couldn’t get a job in department stores. I couldn’t get a job anyplace. And so I got a job red capping down Third and Townsend, and in those days they didn't even play a salary, worked for tips only. (LAUGHS) And later on they gave us a little salary.

Then I liked music and I, I played in, I got a book up here where my pictures are in the book. In 1937, where I played a band down in North Beach. But in those days, one way I started out, I worked at a place called Toopsy’s Roost (EPS: Out at the…) soon as I got, soon as I first got out of school. I got out of school in ’29, in 1930, I got a job at Toopsy’s Roost and I was busboy. But I liked music so much, I talked the manager to letting me play the drums with the phonograph records. Until the band came at 9 o’clock. So I took my drum set out there and put some of my records on, had a big nice dance hall and I sat in the corner. I’d play music and people would dance, a few people would dance until the big band came. So the union said that I had to… they found out about this, I had to join the union before I wanted to do that again, I couldn’t play anymore. And I just liked playing the drums to records. So I went to Golden Gate School of Music and learned how to read and improve on my music. Everything, and I took lessons. Then I had to go down to the union, take a test, examination, I passed it. That’s how I got in the union, That was 1930.

EPS: What was the… You said North Beach was the first place you played as a real jazz musician?

EDDIE ALLEY: No, I played for a little dances around here, The Center, community center and places like that before I played there.

EPS: In The Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah, in the Fillmore. We had a community center on, uh… (EPS: Booker T. Washington?) Booker T. Washington on Divisidaro, yes. And I played there. In fact, Earl Watkins played there. First glimpse that he ever played (?) on my set of drums. So I played there. And the fellow that sided me out on music more than anybody was a fellow named Leslie Peoples. He was very talented. I think he was a saxophone player at first. So it’s a fellow named Ernie Lewis, he played piano, Leslie Peoples played saxophone. But Ernie Lewis had other things to do, and so Leslie turned to the piano he was a better piano player than Ernie Lewis. He was a terrific piano player. And he was a good friend of the trombone player with Duke Ellington, what was his name? Duke Ellington’s trombone player. He became a good friend of mine. Brown.

EDDIE ALLEY: Lawrence Brown. He was a terrific kid uh, trombone player. So this fellow, Leslie People, we, he started me out in music more than anybody. He had a little band. He was a piano player. Soon as he’d get jobs and he’d take me with him. And I began playing quite a bit. With him. He would have been, he died pretty young, he would have been a fantastic musician if he had lived. He was a natural. And so we’d play in little places around here and I remember one time another fellow hired me to play with him named Clifford Weisinger. He was related to who was, the guy that played with Jack Benny? The comedian appeared with Jack Benny? He was oh. Black comedian, he’s played movies and everything. Well, this fellow was related…


EDDIE ALLEY: Rochester. That’s it. Well, his family lived right next door to us, and downstairs from us or something, I forgot which. His whole family did.

EDDIE ALLEY: Rochester’s family. I never met Rochester.

EPS: Did he grow up in the Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: Really he did, but I never met him, though. But I moved there why he’s already in Hollywood and …but I knew his sisters, brothers. And his grandmother, the whole family. And so Clifford Weisinger was related to him, too. So we, he was a playing a little bit (?) playing a lot, so one of the, the first gigs we had was in Vallejo and we got $7 that day from Vallejo, playing. (LAUGHS). And we played the same tune about 4 different times, five different times. But I thought it was great. I, I loved it. You know? And he loved it, too. We were young. And then later on I began to play with different guys. But then I had, you know, formed my own ideas about music. 'Cos those days, they played boom, boom, boom. I began playing ballads and different types of music, more commercial. And after, when the war started, these people came out here, I was the number one band leader. I was booked for a year in advanced, because I had uniforms and I played, we played all kinds of music. We’d play like Latin music and everything.

EPS: Who was in your band at that time?

EDDIE ALLEY: Douglas Kennard. Sam, Sweetie Mitchell anyway, me, Peewee Clayburg and Eddie Walker. And this, he was (EPS: the second from the left) he was really…he was a very smart man.

EDDIE ALLEY: Sam Allen. So when he quit me, he took a job in agricultural department and was one of the highest on the test, he was that smart. Got a job in the state, but he died kind of young after that.

EPS: When year do you think this photo was taken?

EDDIE ALLEY: I haven’t any idea.

EDDIE ALLEY: It was after the war. It was after the war, in the ‘50’s, I guess. Yeah. Doug Kennard, he was a wonderful man, Sam Allen.

EPS: Was that Canard with a C?

EDDIE ALLEY: K-I-N-N-A-R-D. Sam Allen. Sweetie Mitchell, that’s me, Peewee Clayburg, Albert Claybrook, and Eddie Walker. Eddie Walker was married to her. (points at Sweetie Michell) And so I got, got new uniforms and being first class. Then when, as the war, a lot of people from all over came here to work the ship yards, and a lot of clubs formed. And I was always the first one they would hire. And sometimes I’d be booked a year in advance. I got all the jobs, I was working every weekend.

EPS: (18:45) What was your favorite club in The Fillmore to play during the war years?

EDDIE ALLEY: I didn't play only in the Fillmore. I played at sometimes played somewhere in North Beach by the water there.

EDDIE ALLEY: We were first class. And then later on why some of the white people heard about me, they’d hire me to work downtown.

EPS: (21:06) What was Harold Blackshear’s club like?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, it was nice. It was on Fillmore, it was a nice club.

EPS: Do you know Fillmore and where?

EDDIE ALLEY: Fillmore between, I think it was between Sutter and Post. And I know Joe Lewis came there one time. Came in there one time with his girlfriend. With two girlfriends. Wouldn’t met him, I think they followed him some way. He was something else.

EPS: Joe Lewis was?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah. He didn't talk to them, but he didn't have to (LAUGHS). And it was first class, it was a society club for Black people. Right nice, and people dressed nice and everything.

EPS: Do you remember when Slim Gailard opened up Vout City?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah, I remember Slim Gailard, I met Slim Gailard.

EPS: (22:00) Why did he come to the Fillmore? I thought he was from Los Angeles?

EDDIE ALLEY: I don't know. Slim Gailard is one of the most fantastic performers I ever knew in my life. He could speak every language… at least ten different languages fluently. A Jewish guy come and he’d speak Jewish to him. Italian guy come and he’d speak Italian to him. He was very fluent in the languages. He was a brilliant guy. He was a nut in one way. He was eccentric in some ways. But he had a wonderful command of languages.

EPS: When did he open Vout City?

EDDIE ALLEY: no, I really don't. 'Cos I had a day job, too, see. I didn't get around like these other fellows did. Like these other guys did, 'cos I had a day job.

EPS: (22:43) What did you do?

EDDIE ALLEY: First of all, I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning on 3rd and Townsend, and red cap. At 8 o’clock I’d run to the Metropolitan. And work. Then get off that night and red cap again and come home. And then play on weekends. So I, that’s why I never became traveled because I had children 2, 4 kids, so Vernon could do all that I, I couldn’t do it.

EPS: (23:12) Do you think the 1940s was the peak time for African Americans in the Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: No doubt about it. No doubt about it. It was terrific.

EPS: Why did it change?

EDDIE ALLEY: It changed because uh, some of the houses were old. And they meant well because a lot of these houses were dilapidated and old. So they tear them down and they changed Geary Street into that avenue. so a lot of old houses, a lot of old. And they said that when it was completed, why, the Black people could move back. But they couldn’t move back, they couldn’t afford it. So that, and that was it. So they moved to most of them moved to Hunter’s Point. But I was a kid, Hunter’s Point was all Italian mostly. When I lived in the Potrero District. Wasn’t any black people out there at all. In fact, I was only a black family in Potrero in the early ‘20’s when I was there.

EPS: Do you remember Charles Sullivan?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, sure. He owned the place on Fillmore? He got killed -- was robbed. I knew him real well.

EPS: What was he like?

EDDIE ALLEY: He was a very quiet guy, and strange. He’d always take, carry money around and to the bank and (?) somebody’d say don't carry money around with you like that. And I worked for him once, down the peninsula. Quiet guy. (EPS: In San Mateo?) Yeah, I played down there. Guy named Richard Wangs, he’s a big piano player now back in New York. He played with me down.

EPS: Did you play at the Fillmore Auditorium when he ran it?

EDDIE ALLEY: I played there before he even got in the scene. I played there, Leslie Peoples when the Jewish, people… that used to be a Jewish place. And I played there for some, Leslie Peoples. It was my band and Leslie Peoples was living then.

EPS: That was in the late 1930s?

EDDIE ALLEY: That was in the ‘20’s. When I got married, wait a minute, it might have been the early ‘30’s. But I was the first one ever played it, we were the first band that ever played there. (EPS: Because it was all white for a while) it was all white, it was Jewish, it was a Jewish temple or something, the Jewish people owned that place. And I played there with Leslie Peoples. And that was before they even knew about the, you mentioned.

EPS: Charles Sullivan?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah, he wasn’t even, he wasn’t even around then. That was a long time ago. I was really young myself, but I was one of the first ones ever played there, really.

EPS: (26:05) It was for an all-white audience, right?

EDDIE ALLEY: I’m sure it was, yes.

EPS: Then it was a skating rink?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yes, it did that.

EPS: Then back to a night club?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yes, yes. I played it later on, also, for different organizations. Different things.

EPS: Which bands cam in there after?

EDDIE ALLEY: NO, I don't, I don't remember.

EPS: Did you play the Primalon Ballroom?

EDDIE ALLEY: Where was that located?

EPS: Primalon Ballroom was on Fillmore at Ellis.

EDDIE ALLEY: I don't think I did. No. Fillmore and Ellis, no, I’d remember playing there.

EPS: What about the Long Bar?

EDDIE ALLEY: No, no. I knew the guy down there. Corolette owned that place, but I never played there. That was kind of a honky-tonk place, no, I didn't play there.

EPS: What about Elsie’s Breakfast Nook?

EDDIE ALLEY: No, I didn't play there, that was an after hours joint and I couldn’t, I couldn’t play out there. I… I worked days. Sara Watkins could do all that, 'cos she didn't do that. And these guys, but I couldn’t play. Jimbo’s I didn’t play there, either. But I knew I was in there, but see, I had a different life. I was, I had a family. And I had these red cap, I’d go to the Metropolitan, and I’d just play on weekends, so I couldn’t live the life some of the musicians lived.

EDDIE ALLEY: California Theater Restaurant. Yeah. I played there. In fact I used to take, ever hear of Lee Young? (~ovlp~) Well, Lee Young was a famous drummer. And he played with Nat King Cole. So when he would, had business to take care of, he had the band there to take care of, actually he’d go, he’d say, Eddie, I want you to take my place on the drums, 'cos you’re like my style. I wasn’t gonna, you’re not gonna turn my drums up and bam, bam, bam. I was a finesse drummer. And so he said, I want you to take my place when I'm gone, so I’d take his place while he was gone.

EPS: (29:20) So this was at the California Theater?

EDDIE ALLEY: California Theater Restaurant, yeah. So I’d play there. I’d play there.

EPS: Was that a big hall?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, it was a nice, classy place. First class.

EPS: What about Booker T. Washington Hotel? Do you remember that?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, I remember it real well. But I never played there. But I remember it.

EPS: Wasn’t it just a small cocktail lounge?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah, it was, it was. Yeah, I went down there with Ben Webster a couple of times. And.

EPS: Oh really? With Ben Webster?

EDDIE ALLEY: Dizzy’d come by my house all the time. All the guys. Miles. Dizzy Gillespie used to come by my house…

EPS: And you all’d bring them down to The Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: No, they’d come by my house to eat dinner. My mother would cook for them. Dizzy Gillespie uh, Ben Webster uh, Sweets Edison. All the big time musicians would come by my house.

EPS: Is this the house in the Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: No, this is on 19th Street. When I moved from 19th Street between Church and Sanchez.

EPS: I was told that people have to stay at the Booker T. Washington and the Manor Plaza because the hotels downtown wouldn’t let them stay there. Is that true?

EDDIE ALLEY: That’s true, that’s true. A lot of prejudices down there because, yeah, that could be true. I know we couldn’t get any work anyplace. That’s why I was pretty busy. The first job I got, I had, was the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (~I~). And it was on an elevator. And the fellow told me, says, Eddie, there’s an opening on the elevator. I was just gonna… I wanted to get married in ’39, it was like ’38. And I was getting married. So they said you can have the job if the uniform fits you. So the fellow, the guy’s twice as big as me so I said, I made it fit. I said, it fits perfectly. So they said, you’re never gonna get off the elevator because you’re colored. I said, I need a job. But I ended up being the first (African American) clerk and the first supervisor in the history of the Metropolitan in time. (LAUGHS)

EPS: Do you remember the Havana Club?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, sure.

EPS: (31:35) Who owned that club?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh. Who was his name? The guy, and he died in Vegas, I think. The Havana’s right down from the other club on Sutter street there. I knew him real well. I can’t think of his name. I knew him real well. Uh, I never played there, but I used to go there quite a bit.

EDDIE ALLEY: (34:47 MID-STATEMENT) That’s Billie Holiday. (EPS: Right) I worked for her.

EPS: You did?


EPS: Here in San Francisco?


EPS: Where did you guys play?

EDDIE ALLEY: Downtown at a place called… what’s the name of that club? It’s where a big store is now downtown on Post Street.

EPS: Black Hawk?

EDDIE ALLEY: No, a clothing store. Post near Powell -- a big store. Used to be a club.

EPS: City of Paris?

EDDIE ALLEY: What was that place? I could find out for you. But that was a famous club, and I worked there. I played there with Billie Holiday.

EPS: (35:19) Did you ever play with her in the Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: No, I played with a guy named Mingus. Did you ever heard of Mingus? (EPS: Charles Mingus?!) He was in the band, too.

EPS: Charles Mingus, Billie Holliday and you?

EDDIE ALLEY: Me and… Saunders King had the band. I got a picture of Charles Mingus wasn’t in the band then. He left to go back East. But I got, I have a picture of the band, guys in the band, somewhere.

EPS: (36:53) Somebody said that if you walked around The Fillmore during World War II, music was pouring out of every house?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, sure and it was peaceful, no, no problems at all, too. And it’s been integrated, too.

EPS: You heard music everywhere?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, sure. A lot of clubs there around different places. It was a joyous occasion. Very pleasant.

EPS: It looked like people liked to really dress up?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, it was first class. Yeah. It was a little, a little Harlem in a small scale. But (~I~) LA was really the Harlem of the West. Central Avenue. That was as, but it’s as small on a small scale. Harlem of the West, you’re right.

EDDIE ALLEY: Uh, there’s Wesley Johnson.

EPS: In the white ten gallon hat.

EDDIE ALLEY: He used to live next door to me.

EPS: What was he like?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, he was a good friend of mine. He was a very nice guy. But I just, when I was a kid, I used to shine shoes while he used to bring pencils to me. After school I had to work the day after school 'cos I’m pretty poor and I had to shine shoes. He used to bring me pencils and everything, so I knew Wesley Johnson for a long time.

EPS: Was he successful businessman?

EDDIE ALLEY: Very successful. Very successful. I remember when he first started out, he owned a lot of buildings on Fillmore and when he died, he was very successful. He was.

EPS: There were quite a few successful Black businessmen in the Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, there was. Yes. He was one of them. Yep.

EPS: (40:58) That’s Jimbo.

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t have recognized him if you told me, but I knew him.

EPS: What was he like?

EDDIE ALLEY: He was a nice guy. Shrewd businessman. He didn't stand for any boloney. Gee, I knew all these guys who played at Bop City.

EPS: That’s Chico Hamilton?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh. I know Chico Hamilton in my drums one time. (~I~) I’ll tell you a story about that. (~I~) He’s supposed to play for Lena Horn at the Fairmont Hotel. And it’s, his instruments were left on the plane and something delayed or something. So he had to borrow some of my cymbals and things so I loaned him some of my stuff so he could play.

EPS:   Johnny Mathis.

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, Johnny Mathis. He played with me… he sang with me as a kid (~I~) . Next door to us. (EPS: Really?) My kids came up with him.

EPS: How did he become a singer?

EDDIE ALLEY: Well, he used to live next door to us on Post Street. And they were so poor, they lived in the house in the back. Now he living in Rudolph Valentino’s house down in LA I think (LAUGHS). So he sang with me once downtown at (?) hotel. And I told my wife, it’s another singer I like better, Saunders King, did you ever hear of Saunders King? (EPS: Um hmm) it’s Saunders King that he might (?) voice that much. He became a millionaire. So my wife always kids me, he’s a millionaire, I ain’t got a pot (LAUGHS). But I knew him, his father helped move me to 19th Street. I knew his mother and father. You know, my kids came up with him. Yeah.

EPS: (51:29) So what was Robert Lee like?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, he was a character.

PHILLIP ALLEY: He was a player, a hustler.

EDDIE ALLEY: Character.

PHILLIP ALLEY: A woman’s man.

DOROTHY ALLEY: And I don't think he did a day’s work in his life. But you know, he lived very well.

EPS: He sure looked great. Every photo we have of him. The best suit…

DOROTHY ALLEY: Now, I don't really know, but the little that I did know that I remember him never working much.

PHILLIP ALLEY: He lives off women, he lives off women and he hustles.

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, yeah, he was a hustler.

PHILIP ALLEY: A hustler.

EPS: (53:38) So what street did you grow up on?

DOROTHY ALLEY: I grew up on Willow Street. It was the little short street, and it was between Ellis and Eddy. Oh, I guess we had to walk, maybe we walked every day, my mother took us for a walk every day. Maybe about 3 blocks from actually Fillmore Street.

EPS: What was the neighborhood like when you were a kid?

DOROTHY ALLEY: It was very nice. Quiet and it was uh, clean and it was a lot of Black people living on that street, but there was Orientals and white people also. It was a mixture of people.

EPS: (54:15) Do you remember music back then?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Well, after I grew up some size then and they started building the clubs there… what was the name? Jack’s Tavern. What’s the name of that went right down? (EDDIE ALLEY: Blackshears.) Harold Blackshear’s. The New Orleans Swing Club and what was that big old one that was on Post Street for years?

EPS: California Theater?

DOROTHY ALLEY: The California Theater Restaurant, that was later.

EDDIE ALLEY: That’s Johnny Mathis, Earl Watkins.

EDDIE ALLEY: He sang with me. He lived right behind us. He was so poor, They lived in the house behind us.

DOROTHY ALLEY: And we were poor, too (LAUGHS). Anybody who lived behind us, they were poor (LAUGHS).

EDDIE ALLEY: He moved down to LA later on. Johnny Mathis. He was a heck of an athlete.

DOROTHY ALLEY: He was an athlete, everything. I was surprised when people started, oh, no, no. That he was gay.

EPS: Is he gay? I didn’t know he was gay. My mom’s heart will be broken. She was in love with Johnnie Mathis

DOROTHY ALLEY: Yeah, but, but he was you know, but he was a wonderful athlete, and see I think that, and he carried himself so different. I mean, unless you actually knew and heard through the grapevine.

EPS: (56:08) So when did you start going to the clubs?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Oh, I was married and I didn't, but we didn't go out too much because he was a musician too, and he worked on the night, so and I had 4 kids. And so I didn't, once in a while somebody would come over and stay with the kids and then if I knew of a club that was having maybe a party in one of the clubs, they would have part of the club that and you’d have dinner, I would go. But I couldn’t go that much because I had, you know little kids. And he was working all the time. 'Cos he’s a musician, too. He’s playing every weekend.

EPS: How did you meet?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, I used to play tennis across the street from where she went to high school. Introduced me to her. I’d walk her home with her books (?)

DOROTHY ALLEY: Yeah, he used to carry my books home (LAUGHS).

EPS: You are a little younger?

EDDIE ALLEY: Oh, she’s about 10, 9 years younger.

DOROTHY ALLEY: I’m a few years younger (LAUGHS).

EDDIE ALLEY: Before I got this dialysis, I was in a good shape. I worked 'til I was 90. (EPS: You worked until you were 90?) Heck yeah.

DOROTHY ALLEY: Played music. You’d stay out, you know, come home 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.

EDDIE ALLEY: But I didn't drink or smoke or anything.

DOROTHY ALLEY: Eddie, he was the type of musician, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't cuss. All he did was play the drum. And smile. All night he’s smiling, all night. He had a very nice… um…he had a very nice reputation and he was, but never drank anything. If it was anything, any, all, 7-Up, Coca-cola. (~ovlp~) And sometimes, sometimes the guy’s say I’m not gonna spend my money on no 7-Up in no night club. Eddie’d say well, no thanks (LAUGHS).

EPS: So did you work with Wesley Johnson?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Yeah, when he first opened, but I, I worked there for uh, oh, a few months. (~I~) Just a waitress. Served and uh, but his place was very small. And.

EPS: What was it called?

DOROTHY ALLEY: The… What was Wesley’s place where I worked?

EDDIE ALLEY: Flamingo.

DOROTHY ALLEY: The Flamingo.

EPS: And how did you get the job there?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Because Wesley Johnson knew me when I was born (LAUGHS). He knew me all my life. And it was kind of fun. (~I~) Well, I was married. Yeah, I was married.

EPS: What were the people like in the clubs?

DOROTHY ALLEY : Oh, they were oh, see, Wesley Johnson liked to, it’s too bad that he wasn’t an entertainer because he liked to, and he put, he’d play records in the back and he’d dance up and down the bar and he, and he entertained everybody that came in there. (~ovlp~)

EPS: Anyone famous come in there?

DOROTHY ALLEY : Oh, gosh, I can’t remember.

EPS: Did you have fun working there?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Yeah, it was kind of, it was 'cos you know, people are you know, when they drink and they have, it was nothing else to do.

EPS: Was it safe walking around in the neighborhood?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Oh, I didn't walk, somebody always took me, brought me home. Sometimes he would even come and get me. But I never walked around after I got off work, never.

EPS: Was there… Someone described the Fillmore as an all night party. Do you think that was true?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Well, they had a lot of night clubs and things there, and it was, and it was a nice area. You never knew of anybody, every once in a while somebody would get kind of out of line, but it was pretty nice, pretty nice.

EPS: Wesley kept things under control?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Oh, yes, he did. You walked in there, and if you even looked funny, you were out. (LAUGHS) He didn't even stand for any foolishness, no.

EPS: Did his son work there?

DOROTHY ALLEY: No, no. they were a little younger, and they didn't, no. He sent them to college.

EPS: (01:04:53) So it looks like it was pretty crowded place. Pretty popular?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Yeah, and, and it was a nice place. He didn't allow anybody that even looked like they were gonna start something. Umm mnn. He didn't allow any foolishness, he ran it very well.

EPS: Was he a ladies’ man?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Well, you know, he married kind of early and he had two sons, didn't he? Wesley? Didn’t he have two sons?

EDDIE ALLEY: Yeah. One just died a few weeks ago.


PHILLIP ALLEY: When I was young, man, the people I saw, and the conversations I heard were Dizzy Gillespie and Ben Webster (~ovlp~) all the time. These musicians (~ovlp~)

DOROTHY ALLEY: They’d come here all the time, and I’d cook red beans and rice.

LEWIS WATTS: I’m sure they behaved themselves, too.

DOROTHY ALLEY: Oh sure. They

EPS: These bands would come over when you were a kid?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah, when I was a kid. Dizzy Gillespie would be sitting there eating and Bennie Webster and all, Sweets Edison and all these musicians, and they’d be conversing and I’d, I would listen to their conversations (~ovlp~) and they’d talk about life. Women that were crazy about them, women this woman came after me and I met her in Detroit and I… all kind of stories, you know? I heard all these things.

EDDIE ALLEY: We were serious when we gave one of the guys a ring.

PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah, and I learned a lot about life by listening to these musicians. I mean, the down low on life, the realistic life, you know? The real deal.

EPS: Is that why you didn't become a musician?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well I went to the job on the docks was so, you know, they opened up and I went. (~ovlp~) I had a family and two kids.

EDDIE ALLEY: Walter Oaks, I knew him real well, he died.


EPS: What year were you born?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Uh, I’m 64 years old. I was born in 1940. August 31st, 1940.

DOROTHY ALLEY: Hampton, lived for the joy of music.

EDDIE ALLEY: I was born in 1910 (LAUGHS)

EPS: Do you remember going to the Fillmore as a kid?


EPS: What was it like?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, it was a place where a… Blacks had their own clubs. You know, and their own eateries, you know, they had barbecue places, they had the theater, the American Theater and the other theaters were all open. And they’d have matinees and then they’d have groups come and sing, you know, they had all kind of talent that would come. It was a thriving place. A very thriving place. Preschool, all of the, a place where all the hustlers and the pimps hung out and they would go in Tree’s Pool Hall, yeah. And that’s why, that’s where Robert Lee, he would venture in the pool hall, you know, and various other you know, other people that were in the life. In the life, you know? Because that’s where people came to buy stolen goods and and dope, you know, and everything. I’m just letting you know (LAUGHS) Don't give it to the police, they might arrest me (LAUGHS). But Tree’s is gone now.

EPS: Was that in the early ‘60’s?

PHILLIP ALLEY: In the ‘60’s, late ‘50’s and ‘60’s, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was a different place. The place to go, but now it’s changed.

EPS: (01:10:37) Did you go to any of the clubs?

PHILLIP ALLEY: I used to sneak in, Bop City. I used to go to Bop City on my own. I used to sneak in, I actually, I had an old hat I used to pull down over my head. And but the guy that owned Bop City. (~I~) He knew who I was, but he said well, go sit in the corner, and I’d go sit in the corner and I wouldn’t be able to drink anything because he knew who I was. When I was out there, he knew my father and he knew my Uncle Vernon. And so I had a little you know, place to go where other kids couldn’t go, you know? And I knew a lot of the musicians that were playing. Up on… they might have been in my house that day or the previous day, you know? And 'cos they were traveling through. And they’d play there and they’d come by our house and eat. And so I knew, I knew a lot of musicians, and so I kind of got away with it, you know? And I was underage

DOROTHY ALLEY: He behaved himself.


EPS: What was it like at Jimbo’s?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Real small compact place, like, you know, it sounds like Jimbo’s would be a big old place and a big stage. No, it was very small. Marcus Bookstore was Jimbo’s. It was very narrow, very small and tight.

EPS: How many people would be in there?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Oh, wow. I couldn’t really say but there’d be a lot of people in there. You know, (~ovlp~) yeah, it’d be packed. And then musicians would come in and out and play. They’d you know, they didn't have no format. They’d just played all night long. And different musicians would come and go. You know, one guy, he gets real, he’d pack up his stuff, he’d leav and somebody else would come take his place, you know? And it was a heck of a place. It was jumping.

EPS:   Who were some of your favorites?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah. Some of my favorites were John Coltrane, he came through there.

EPS: He must have been young?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah, he was, John Coltrane was the same age category as Dizzy and those guys, you know? And what’s the tall guy that plays sax. Got. Ben Webster would come through. Let’s see, various musicians would come through. And they’d take turn playing. And sometimes they’d get to the point where they like to blow each off the stage, you know? they’d have these battles, like, you know? Jam sessions, and they would, one guy would blow the saxophone, another guy would get up there and he’d try to, he’d match him, you know, on his trumpet, whatever. And they’d have things like that going on. (~I~) It was very exciting. Hustling and bustle all the time. And people in and out, all the players, and all the night people. Of all types would come in Bop City after 2 o’clock.

EDDIE ALLEY: You went there more than I did. ‘Cause I didn’t go there. I was working.

EPS: (01:13:32) Did you go to any of the other clubs? The Primalon Ballroom or…?

PHILLIP ALLEY: I used to go to Blue Mirror.

EPS: What was that like?

PHILLIP ALLEY: It was a nice club. It was owned by a friend of my mother and father’s. (~I~) Leola King. It was a nice, she had a nice club.

EPS: It’s unusual for a woman to own a nightclub?

PHILLIP ALLEY: She was a heck of a woman. (~ovlp~) Not only that, she was tough, you know, she’s one of those king of tough women, you know?

DOROTHY ALLEY: She’d take care of herself. But she was a lady at all times.

PHILLIP ALLEY: I’m not sure, but I used to venture into the Blue Mirror because they had good musicians that would play there. And uh, I’d come in there and listen to the music.


PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, yeah, she was the type of woman, she was rough and she knew how to handle people. She knew how to talk to the pimps, she knew how to talk to the hustlers. You know? She didn’t play and they knew how to conduct themselves in her arena, her club, so. So that’s how she was able to be the owner of Club Leola King.

EDDIE ALLEY: She was tough.

PHILLIP ALLEY: She was a nice looking woman, too.

EDDIE ALLEY: I knew her father a bar-b-que place. A chicken place. He was very famous businessman. Barbecue and chickens or something. But I knew her father. But she was tough. She broke a lot of guys (LAUGHS).

PHILLIP ALLEY: She was a beauty, and she, and a lot of guys, you know, she made a lot of guys pay for that (LAUGHS).

EDDIE ALLEY: I know one guy (?) she broke him. He had a lot of money at one time. And she got through with him, he didn't have anything.

PHILLIP ALLEY: Like Robert Lee, he couldn’t fool with a woman like her, because she was just as hip as he was. And you know, (?) they offset each other.

EPS: What bands did you see at the Blue Mirror?


EDDIE ALLEY: I saw this guy play piano and sang. What was his name? He was a famous entertainer on television. He played there. He made records and everything.

PHILLIP ALLEY: I think, what’s the guy who played the organ?

EDDIE ALLEY: That’s what I’m talking about. This guy was a first class entertainer.

PHILLIP ALLEY: Jimmy Smith. Didn't Jimmy Smith play at her club?

EDDIE ALLEY: No not Jimmy Smith. It’s another guy who played organ.

PHILLIP ALLEY: Big Bill Patton I think played there once.

EDDIE ALLEY: It was a guy, I can’t remember his name.

EPS: Nick Rough?

EDDIE ALLEY: No. he played in Reno, too. He played down at, downtown, I got a musician for him. So when he went to Reno or Tahoe, I was in line, and he saw me in the back of the line and he took me quickly inside. I didn’t have to pay for anything. He was of the best entertainers I ever met in my life. He had more personality than anybody. I can’t thin of his name. Played organ and piano and could sing. He was great.

EPS: He played at her club

PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah, she had a lot of musicians play in her club. (~ovlp~) And she’s have them local, local people and people that came through. So she, she had a good mix.

EDDIE ALLEY: She was tough.

PHILLIP ALLEY: She was a good business lady.

EDDIE ALLEY: And she could take care of herself.


EDDIE ALLEY: She lived on Scott Street.

PHILLIP ALLEY: She had a great loss come at the end of her career.

EPS: Why?

PHILLIP ALLEY : What do they call it when they take away all of your property? (~I~) Immanent Domain. They took a lot of people’s property. That’s where Bop City was, and they took that whole strip of Geary Street. And they took a lot of people’s property and they call it eminent domain. And a lot of the people were supposed to come back and they never came back, you know?


EDDIE ALLEY: Well, she had a place on Scott street for a long time. (~ovlp~) Yeah, oh, sure. A nice house on Scott Street.

PHILLIP ALLEY : I didn't know the place on Scott, I knew the place on Fillmore. The Blue Mirror was on Fillmore.

EDDIE ALLEY: And she had a place on Scott Street, a big house on Scott Street.

EPS: Did she own the Birdcage?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Oh, the Bird Cage up in Oakland?

EPS: On Fillmore, Leola King’s Bird Cage?


EPS: She told me she owned that club for a little while in the Fillmore, too.

PHILLIP ALLEY : She might have, but there also is a Bird Cage in Oakland.

EDDIE ALLEY: I knew her father. Her father had a business.

EPS: Did he live in Fillmore?

EDDIE ALLEY: He lived across the bay in Oakland. He had a business of some kind, I forgot it, but I knew him.

PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah, they had a Bird Cage in Oakland. That’s the name of the club, the Bird Cage.

EPS: Did you go to The Fillmore when Charles Sullivan ran it?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Oh, Sullivan? Yeah, Sullivan was a heck of a businessman. (~ovlp~) He was well-known as you know, as a businessman and he had quite a few businesses going on.

EDDIE ALLEY: I played for him once down in that place.

PHILLIP ALLEY: And he met up, you know, he had back luck at the end, though, you know?

EDDIE ALLEY: Well, he used to carry all his money in his pocket instead of all this, but I knew he could be robbed someday, 'cos he carried it and put it in his pocket instead of giving it to the guard or somebody and he was robbed and they killed him. Stole all his money. He was a heck of a promoter, too.

EPS: He was the biggest promoter of Black music west of the Mississippi?

PHILLIP ALLEY : He was, and then this other guy moved in, what’s the Jewish guy’s name?

EPS: Bill Graham?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Bill Graham moved in on it and Bill Graham you know, took over the.


PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah, Bill Graham gave a lot of people made a lot of money, though. I mean, you know, he made sure he made a lot of money (~ovlp~)

EDDIE ALLEY: I don't like that kind of music though, because it took over for jazz. (LAUGHS)

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, what he did, he did the popular music of the times. He wasn’t into the music, he was into making money, and so the music of the times is what he presented to the people. And he made millions.

EPS: What do you think of the Fillmore these days. The Fillmore?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, it’s not the same Fillmore.

EDDIE ALLEY: It doesn’t have an identity yet. It may have later on, when they build the big jazz place and it returns to The Fillmore. It might have more of an identity then, when this place becomes built. I know the engineer in charge of building it.

EPS: The music scene has changed?

EDDIE ALLEY: Well, music is kind of different.

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, you know, it’s… the Black people that had business on Fillmore and had the clubs, and all, they’ve all gone. So the change is, has been from that to what it is now, you know? And it’s changed completely, really.

EPS: Does that make you sad?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, in (EDDIE ALLEY: To me it does) it does, because it was like Little Harlem, you know, you could go as a Black person you could go and you’d be all the Black clubs, all the Black food. All Black entertainment, and you know, your own, you know, your own people going, you know, doing things. Hustling or whatever, you know?

EDDIE ALLEY: It was very well integrated, though. That's what I liked about it. There was no, everybody got along, white, Black and everybody else. That’s. (~ovlp~) that was the strength of the Fillmore.

DOROTHY ALLEY: Wherever you went, you could go any place.


EDDIE ALLEY: When I came up, that’s the way it was, very well integrated. 'Cos none of the big shots from Hollywood would come there, and no fighting or nothing like that.

EPS: Considering the time, that was amazing?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, it wasn’t that way in the ‘50’s and the ‘60’s. White people didn't venture into the Fillmore in those days.

EPS: Why?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, because they had, you know, it was Black-controlled and white people were very rarely seen there, you know?

EDDIE ALLEY: When I played they were the ones who kept our places up.

PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah, well, they, they’re the ones that white people have always contributed to the music because that's what makes it, jazz or even hip-hop if it wasn’t for, you know, white consumers, they wouldn’t even be in existence. They’ve always made money off the white consumers, all the jazz musicians. Even blues musicians.

DOROTHY ALLEY: (MID-STATEMENT) very well, and a lot of people from all over San Francisco came, like on for a Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, 'cos there was always entertainment, music.

EPS: During the day as well?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Sometimes they did have entertainment during the afternoons, yeah.

EPS: There were a lot of churches, too?

DOROTHY ALLEY: But it was conducted very well. It wasn’t you know, a lot of problems and of course there were a few guys that were trying to push dope, you know, when they see a lot of people come in, they figure, well, you know, I’ll make some money tonight or something, you know? And unless they made themselves obnoxious, you know, sometimes they were very quiet about it. We’d go out sometimes they’d you know, have dinner or go have a drink or something, and but they most everybody knew my husband. He never drank, never smoked, played in all kind of night clubs, dives.

EPS: Some guys got bad habits?

DOROTHY ALLEY: Oh, he didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he didn't do nothing. Seven-up or Coca-cola (LAUGHS). And don't dare put. (~I~) Yeah, he played all, every night club around here and down the country every place. But he had a reputation. Never drank, never smoke. 

EPS: (01:28:16) Where was this recorded Eddie? (A recording of Eddie’s band is playing in the background). Where was this recorded?

EDDIE ALLEY: Mark Hopkins or the Fairmont.

EPS: Mark Hopkins or the Fairmont?

PHILLIP ALLEY: At one point you couldn’t play the Mark Hopkins or the Fairmont. Or the Mark Hopkins. Racial segregation, you know, and then it opened up. And then they got to play, you know? And that was the unique thing.

EPS: Do you think that’s why the Fillmore clubs thrived?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Well, a lot of different reasons why the Fillmore dried up was the eminent domain.

EPS: I meant thrived.

PHILLIP ALLEY: Oh, because of the musicianship? Yeah. Oh yeah. They played in venues that the average person could go, you know, and economics-wise, but when they started playing at various other clubs, where you know, white people, they went to these very expensive places. And so it eliminated them, you know? Because they couldn’t afford it. When they came into town, they came to The Fillmore, they’d get down with the clubs in the area, and they were successful.

EPS: John Handy said that the musicians would play for the whites downtown and then come to Jimbo’s and play for themselves?

PHILLIP ALLEY: Yeah. That’s how they did it. See that’s what I’m, that’s what I was talking about you know? And they would really get down. I mean, they let themselves, they’d let it all hang out, you know, because they were surrounded by their own, you know? And they’d just get on and get down, do their thing, you know? It was a beautiful time. I mean, it was an era that is past, but that’s like life, you know, you got to carry on, things change, move on. And hopefully with this new construction going on with Yoshi, it might bring a little life back to the Fillmore.

EDDIE ALLEY: I was there! (laughs)

DOROTHY ALLEY: We used to tape a lot of the jobs. Soon as they’d start playing, he’d turn the button on and then he’d come home and play it for me. See this is how we

sounded tonight. 'Cos I had a bunch of kids.