Former road rocker now on Santa Rosa streets
Decades have boogied past since drummer Michael Equine and the band Cat Mother last warmed up major-venue audiences for Jimi Hendrix or set out from Mendocino for gigs at honkytonks up and down the coast.
In a way, though, Equine is on the road still. All these years after he played his part in the 1960s music scene in Manhattan's happening Greenwich and East Village neighborhoods and rocked Woodstock before it was Woodstock, he lives in his Jeep and parks nights near Santa Rosa's Coddingtown Mall.
"I'm eating at the soup kitchen," Equine said, seemingly without drama or self-pity, "and drinking senior coffee at McDonald's for 54 cents."
With no place to keep or play his drums, Equine parted with them way back. More recently the tall, lean and gentlemanly ex-Top 40 country-folk rocker plucked and strummed an electric guitar for personal enjoyment until he pawned it to raise a little cash.
"I have two months to get it out," he said through a moustache and beard little changed since his counterparts in the 5th Dimension heralded the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. This particular day Equine, once a frequent headliner at Cotati's hallowed Inn of the Beginning, wore atop his shoulder-length hair a sharp Western hat with a costume lawman's badge pinned to it.
Fully 60 years after he started his first band as a 13-year-old, unaware of how the music business and the lifestyle's attendant temptations can wring a person dry, he doesn't boast about the fleeting highs he achieved.
But Cat Mother, Equine's band, certainly held its own among some big names. It earned a billing as the house band at the East Village's Electric Circus club, also an early venue for the Allman Brothers, the Velvet Underground, Sly & the Family Stone and the future Blue Oyster Cult.
In 1968, a taste for change drew Cat Mother north to rural New York state and Woodstock. There, Equine and band co-founders Bob Smith, the keyboard player, and bass guitarist Roy Michaels and the rest of the group performed in the outdoor "Sound-Outs" that preceded the historic 1969 mega-concert.
After one Sound-Out, Equine recalled, a British stranger approached and said, "You guys are fabulous. How'd you like to travel and open for Jimi Hendrix?"
The guys in the band thought he was kidding. But Michael Jeffery, who'd managed — some would say mismanaged — Eric Burdon and The Animals before taking on Hendrix, assured them he was serious.
Equine doesn't savor talking about Jeffery, whom Cat Mother took on as the band's manager. "He stole all our money," he said.
But for a time, the association with Jeffery and Hendrix made for a magical ride.
In a flash following that initial contact at Woodstock, Equine and the band — known then as Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys — were opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience at shows across the U.S. and Canada.
Venues included the Forum in Inglewood, Chicago Coliseum, Woolsey Hall at Yale University, Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, Boston Garden and Cobo Arena in Detroit.
All through late 1968 and the first half of 1969, Equine said, "Wherever Jimi was, we were there."
Also in '69 Hendrix, perhaps the world's finest electric-guitar artist, produced Cat Mother's first of four albums. Released by Britain's Polydor Records and titled "The Street Giveth ... and the Street Taketh Away," the LP sent one song halfway up the Top 40 charts.