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.
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