Harlem of the West

The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era

John Goddard


Born 1943 in Mill Valley, CA, John Goddard became interested in music when he was 13. As a teen, he traveled the Bay Area to see his favorite acts. At the same time, he began working at Village Music, a record store in Mill Valley, later buying the business and turning it into an internationally-known destination for collectors of music and musical memorabilia. John still lives and works in Mill Valley.


Interview: John Goddard
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: Tell me what year you were born, and where you were born.

JOHN GODDARD: John Goddard. I was born in 1943 and I was born and raised in Mill Valley (CA).

EPS: And how did you start to fall in love with R&B, soul and…

JOHN GODDARD: I was, I was always a collector as a kid. You know? I started off with stamps and coins and comic books and rocks and all that kind of stuff. And I got interested in music when I was about 13. And um, I went from Elvis Presley to Little Richard to Muddy Waters in the space of about six months. And I had parents that were nuts enough to let me start going to concerts when I was 13.

EPS: Did they drive you there?

JOHN GODDARD: No. I used to hop on a bus and go to the San Jose Civic Auditorium.

EPS: From Mill Valley?!

JOHN GODDARD: From Mill Valley. And after the shows, I’d take the bus back to San Carlos, and spend the night at my aunt’s house. I was doing this at 13 and seeing people, you know… the first one I went to was Bobby Bland and Jr. Parker and the Platters. And I saw people like Ray Charles and James Brown. Lloyd Price. Jackie Wilson. Johnny Otis. All that kind of …And I was doing it when I was 13, you know?

EPS: Did people at the clubs look at you a little weird like, “Who is this little white kid?”

JOHN GODDARD: Um, I did mostly auditoriums because I couldn’t get into clubs. You know? But yeah, you know, this was this little white kid with his Brownie Camera, you know? Stealing posters off the phone poles outside and up in the front taking pictures and getting autographs. The first autograph I ever got was Little Jr. Parker. And um, you know, it was a different, it was a different… And you know, I didn’t go to the Fillmore when I was that young, but I went to other places like it, you know? I saw Ray Charles in, uh, the San Diego Civic Auditorium when I was like 15 or 16 years old. And my sister and… my 12 year old sister and I were the only white people in the place except for a couple of sailors, you know.

And my parents used to let me to do this! And I still don’t understand why and they don’t, you know, they never understood why, you know? I had a mom I could wrap around my little finger. (laughs)

And she used to drive me to some shows, too. You know, she drove me over to the Cow Palace to see Fats Domino, Chuck Berrry and LaVerne Baker when I was 13, you know.

EPS: So how did you hear about the Fillmore? And when was the first time…

JOHN GODDARD: They used to advertise on KWBR which later became KDIA…

EPS: Now are we talking about the Fillmore Auditorium or the Fillmore neighborhood?

JOHN GODDARD: Fillmore Auditorium.

EPS: Okay.

JOHN GODDARD: That was, that was my first introduction. And um, you know, I went to a couple of shows at the Fillmore in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. And you could hang out there. I mean, you know, you could go over to Fillmore Street when I was, you know, not 21, so it had to be real early ‘60s. And I’d go over like and stay until 3 or 4 in the morning and just stand outside. I, I remember standing outside the Blue Mirror and seeing T-Bone Walker and he played there regularly. I couldn’t go in, but but I was safe, you know? Never ever once got hassled. Never once.

EPS: When you stood outside the Blue Mirror, what was the scene like there? Was it crowded? Were people into it?

JOHN GODDARD: It was busy. I wouldn’t say it was crowded, but it was busy. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in New Orleans on Basin Street at 3 in the morning? Or been in New York in Times Square, well, when it was safe, at 3 in the morning. You know…It was just, uh, it was busy. It was just, it was busy, there were people… you know, I’m sure there were people doing stuff they shouldn’t have been doing, you know (laughs)? But I uh, but as I said, I never got any hassle.

EPS: And was the Blue Mirror itself – I mean, did T-Bone still draw a crowd? Was it…

JOHN GODDARD: All the clubs did. You know, I used to… I used to hang out with artists that I knew. You know? I was never much on, and I really regret it now, but I was never much on little local bar bands. I, I know I missed a lot that way. But I was, y’know, kind of a… (laughs) I mean T-Bone Walker? Jeezuss! Or Jimmy McCracklin, y’know? Lowell… I went to, I went to see people I knew who they were. But, um, there were a lot of clubs. You know? And there were a lot of bars and there were a lot of people. Just, you know, I imagine it was a lot like New York was in the ‘30s and ‘40s, on 52nd Street, you know? It was just a, it was a real busy scene.

EPS: What was the Fillmore Auditorium like? That was pre-Bill Graham, Charles Sullivan era.

JOHN GODDARD: It was a little funkier, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t that much different from later on.

EPS: Would Charles Sullivan get up on stage and introduce the bands? Or was he…

JOHN GODDARD: You know, I don’t even… I don’t think so, but I don’t even remember that. Usually someone in the band introduced the headliners. They didn’t really have MCs as such. They didn’t, they didn’t have anybody that worked there as such doing it. But I mean the guys, a lot of the reviews had their own MC, you know, like James Brown had Danny Ray. And, you know, or somebody in the band would do the introductions. But they didn’t really have… And a lot of them had reviews. I mean like Bobby Bland, or Jackie Wilson or James Brown would travel with like a half dozen of their own acts and they’d just do this… Ike and Tina Turner did the same thing. Just this review. They’d have like four or five singers and then it’s star time. But it was a, it was a package deal. I mean it wasn’t like uh… they didn’t even have like local bands opening for them. It was just a package. You bought the Ike and Tina Turner Review and that was it for the night.

EPS: Do you… was it a mixed crowd at the Fillmore at that time? Or were you….

JOHN GODDARD: No. 98% Black I would say.

EPS: And people accepted you? No problems?

JOHN GODDARD: I never had a problem. I never had… Every once in a while, someone would come up and say, “you know, if anybody gives you any trouble we’ll keep an eye out for you.” ‘Cause, you know, I was just this little kid. I could see where I might have had problems if I had been with half a dozen guys.

EPS: Right.

JOHN GODDARD: But I always went by myself. And, you know, I never picked a fight with anybody. I never smart-mouthed anybody. And I never… no body ever did to me.

EPS: Do you remember the Fillmore starting to go through Redevelopment?

JOHN GODDARD: Oh yeah. They tore down all the record stores and bar-b-que places. You bet I remember. They tore everything down.

EPS: How did that make you feel? I mean this was something that you really loved, and then all of a sudden it was starting to disappear…

JOHN GODDARD: You know, it happens everywhere. You know, it’s a world that’s starting to disappear as far as I’m concerned, and it’s gotten nothing but worse.

EPS: What did you… you said you went to the Melrose Record Shop. Can you describe what the store was like? Was it like your store?

JOHN GODDARD: (points around his record store and begins laughing hard) It was dirty and there was stuff on the walls and the bins were full, and, you know… (continues laughing) It was, you know, smaller (than Village Music), and there was another store out there, too. I forget what it was called. There were three? I think there were three on Fillmore Street if I remember right.

EPS: Oh really?

JOHN GODDARD: Yeah. At least two, and I think three. And they were, they were pretty much all the same. You know? They were just um… they were dingy and dark and crowded and they carried records that you never saw anywhere else. And you know, I just loved it.

EPS: You said something on the phone to me about thinking that the Fillmore was Harlem, until you realized that the real Harlem was actually in New York.


EPS: Can you describe that a little bit?

JOHN GODDARD: Well it was just, um, you know, I’m just this white kid from Marin County, you know. And to go to an area where all of a sudden you are the only white face. And, you know, if I’d known better, I’d never would have done it. But I, I was in the Boy Scouts in the late ‘50s and I went on a Jamboree in ’57, and it was at Valley Forge. And I was just this 11, 12 year old kid in little khaki Boy Scout shorts, leaving the hotel in Washington DC and just going for a walk. And I went uh, you know, I went for blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks through neighborhoods where I was the only white face.

And even in the ‘50s, it probably wasn’t a real good idea to do it in Washington DC, but I didn’t care. You know, I didn’t even, didn’t even think about it. You know, nobody ever told me that’s really stupid. You’re really crazy. You know, you’re gonna get killed. And I never thought about it. And I was the same way going, going to concerts and clubs.

You know, I went to so many shows where I was the only white face in the place and never even thought about it, you know. Never considered, that, you know, maybe this isn’t a good idea.

I went to Sweets Ballroom in Oakland one night to see Bobby Bland and Marvin Gaye, and I walk up to the box office to pay my money and there was this elderly Black woman at the box office, and she goes, “Are you sure do you know where you’re going?” “Do you know where you are going?”

And I said, “Yeah, I’m gonna go see Bobby Bland and Marvin Gaye.”

And she goes, “Uh…”

And I said, “Is it okay?” (laughs) You know?

And she said, “Well… well yes boy. It’s okay. It’s okay, I just wanted to make sure you knew where you were going.” (laughs)

EPS: Oh my god.

JOHN GODDARD: And I didn’t even think about it. Didn’t even think about it.

EPS: When you look at the Fillmore now and, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they’re trying to make this jazz preservation district.

JOHN GODDARD: Well at least they are opening Emmett Powell’s place again. So that’s gotta be a plus! (laughs)

EPS: That’s true. (laughs) I mean, do you think… what do you think about that idea? How do you bring back something that they wiped out?

JOHN GODDARD: You know, the same thing I think about Frontier Land and Disneyland. I mean, it’s a cute little amusement park idea, but I don’t, you know… it’s a different world. You know? It’s gonna have some upscale jazz clubs that will probably be no different than Yoshi’s. Which, that’s not my idea of a club. You know, my idea of a club is Eli’s if it was in a better neighborhood.

You know, I miss…I like my clubs funky. I liked the Avalon better than the Fillmore because it was a little funkier. My favorite club in the sixties was The Keystone Berkeley which was a hole. You know, but it’s just, um…

You know, I don’t like going and having dinner and sitting in this nice little table, reserved table, you know? It takes all of the fun out of it.

EPS: Yeah.

JOHN GODDARD: It gets as sterile as a lot of the music has gotten. The whole, the whole environment is sterile. That’s why I hardly ever go to shows anymore. You know, it’s just sterile. It’s not…

EPS: It’s not organic any more. It’s not like coming from the neighborhood. People in the neighborhood don’t own the clubs.

JOHN GODDARD: No. It’s just, the whole, the whole scene has gotten very sterile.

Is there anything else…

JOHN GODDARD: Most of the time I was really really concert hopping, I was under 21.

EPS: Right.

JOHN GODDARD: I couldn’t go to the bar.

EPS: Right. You weren’t hanging out.

JOHN GODDARD: I did the most of it between the times I was 13 or 14 and the times I was 19 or 20. And then I pretty much quit. Like you know, ’63, ’64, I started to go to like Circle Star Theater and the Civic Auditorium and all those kinds of shows. (EPS: Right.) I went to a lot of British Invasion shows and I went to a lot of, ya know, a lot of the bigger Mo… Temptations, Supremes. That kind of stuff. And I really didn’t do as many of the shows that I used to go to.

EPS: Actually, I do have a question about your photo (John’s photo of Jimi Hendrix). Can you tell me about that show, the Little Richard/ Jimmy Hendrix at the Fillmore? Tell me about that show. How’d you hear about it?

JOHN GODDARD: I’d been a huge Little Richard fanatic since I was 13 years old. And like I said, I went from Elvis Presley to Little Richard to Muddy Waters. Well, I stopped at Little Richard pretty much for a while.

The first show I ever went to was Little Richard. I saw…

EPS: That show?

JOHN GODDARD: Oh no no. Way earlier. I saw Little Richard in 1957 at Mission High School.

EPS: Oh my god!

JOHN GODDARD: And that was, you know… I was barely 13. Barely 13. And it changed my life. You know, that was probably the defining moment for me. You know and it just uh… I was a huge Little Richard fan. And I went and saw…I saw him a couple of times at The Fillmore. But this particular show, I was taking a lot of pictures, and found out that, you know, years later, this guitar player that kept getting in the way was Jimi Hendrix. You know, I didn’t even know I had the pictures until the late ‘60s. You know. I just happened to be looking through some old Little Richard pictures and go, Jezzus, that’s Hendrix! Yeah! (laughs)

And he was just this guitar player… and I remember he used to play with his teeth and behind his neck. But, but he was just this guitar player who kept getting in the way.

EPS: You mean, Little Richard would shove him?

JOHN GODDARD: In the way of my pictures!

EPS: Oh, oh. (laughs)

JOHN GODDARD: Of my pictures.

EPS: Oh, not in the way of Little Richard.

JOHN GODDARD: Oh well apparently he did, because he didn’t last very long with Little Richard.

EPS: Yeah.

JOHN GODDARD: No, he just kept getting in the way of me taking pictures. And that’s why I remember him.

EPS: Was it crowded that night?

JOHN GODDARD: Oh, yeah, it was packed. I never went to The Fillmore when it wasn’t jammed.

EPS: So Sullivan really brought in big named acts and smashed them in.


EPS: Do you remember Sullivan at all?

JOHN GODDARD: Never met him. Didn’t even know his name until not too many years ago. I heard about Sullivan to the extent that Bill Graham got – took over – The Fillmore from Charles Sullivan.