Tinker and me...
by Albee Tellone
I first met Carl "Tinker" West in 1970 at the Upstage Club in Asbury Park,NJ. I am not sure exactly when but it was early summer. At the time, Steven VanZandt was the Bass player with Steel Mill and he was one of the guys I shared an apartment with. I remember going over to Tinker's surfboard factory to listen to Steel Mill rehearse and just hang out. Bruce, Vini and Tinker were all living there at the time. Later on, Robbin Thompson moved in too when he joined the band.
Tinker is some kind of a genius type of eccentric guy. In his younger days in 1950s California, he had been a rocket scientist, but got disgusted working of the government and started making surfboards in the sixties. He was about 40 years old when I met him in 1970. He knew electronics very well and that's why he was always building sound systems. He always looked to improve what was going on. Tinker and I shared an interest in acoustic guitar music. We both played acoustic guitars and both wrote our own songs. His were very political and mine were just love songs. He always told me I was a good musician but my songs were boring. He was right but I didn't care. Tinker and I sometimes would perform his songs at the Upstage coffeehouse called the "Green Mermaid". His favorite song was one that he wrote about the infamous Clearwater Concert where the police came and shut down the show and attacked the crowd.
Tinker was looking for a new location for his surfboard factory with cheaper rent and he found one in Highlands,NJ - about 15 miles away. It was a large empty building that a mechanic friend and bass player (Dennis Monahan) had been using for a repair garage. (Dennis later played Bass in Albee and the Hired Hands and is now a well respected guitar builder in upstate New York).
Tinker got us all together to move all of his stuff there. He liked that building because it had enough room to build a recording studio in it. He showed me that the joists where the roof and the walls attached were rotten and the concrete block walls were beginning to tilt outwards. If we didn't fix them, the walls would collapse eventually.
He got about 10 guys together (Bruce and the band and other friends) and took us about a mile away to a beach at Sandy Hook State Park. This beach was not for swimmers and it was covered with huge pieces of lumber that had been washed ashore during storms and hurricanes from years past. We couldn't beleive our eyes. We saw the remnants of some of the old piers and boardwalks along the Jersey Shore lost in storms. I distinctly remember all of us barely able to lift 10ft. long boards that were 2x10 and 2x12 . We put these monsters in the back of Tinkers stake body flat bed truck and drove them back over the bridge to the new factory. We also had picked up some 4x10s to use for the wall reinforcement. We cut them with a 2 man saw like you see lumberjacks use. Tinker and I cut notches out of them and the roof beams. We fitted them together with huge steel bolts. I learned a lot from Tinker about tools and construction. Like I said before, he's extremely intelligent. Some of the guys from the Sunny Jim band and I worked for Tinker on a regular daily basis during all of this. We all needed jobs and Tinker paid us well. After we fnished the studio, I worked for Tinker doing pinstripes on surfboard and applying coatings of toxic sealants. When the day was over Tinker and I would go to his house which was just a few blocks away to eat supper and play our guitars. We wrote a lot of forgettable but fun songs at that house.
While I worked for Tinker, he had me assist him in the construction of 2 huge bass reflex cabinets for his sound system. They were ten feet wide, three feet high and four feet deep. Each cabinet had two 15" JBL bass speakers. In order to get the 3/4 inch plywood to bend inward to make the reflex, Tinker made cuts about half way through the boards with a skilsaw one inch apart. I literally stood on the end of the box so that he could put the screws in to hold it down. Those monsters worked great for the rock concerts he promoted, but we had to have 6 or 8 people to lift one. When Tinker was in charge, nothing was impossible. He had his own way of doing things and always calculated what was monetarily feasible. We never had any debts. He is still a successful independent business man today in the year 2006 at the age of 75.
Copyrght by Albee Tellone for www.castiles.net
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