Author: Robert Force, John Griffin
Date/Studio: 1978 Kaye-Smith, Seattle, WA
Engineer: Dave Mathew
Producer: Bill Tootell
Original Release: Crossover (KM308)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
Capt'n Barefoot John infected me with the desire to be the swash-buckling captain of my own sailboat, “In the islands”, he said, “90% of the conversations begin with, 'Hey, mon, you got a boat? I got a great idea.'” Flush with a new Random House check I left the Pilgrim, my river-bound steel lifeboat on the Multnomah Channel and booked air passage to Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands. There I would board John's black-hulled schooner, the Southwind, and begin a life of adventure on the high seas.
Southwind was in the harbor and I contacted the current live-a-board. She freaked out. Apparently the vessel had two owners and her status was based on that other person's permission to be there. I was denied boarding or even visiting rights. My funds did not include the contingency that I would have to pay for a place to live. I began catching a few gigs sitting in with lounge bands at tourist traps.
I also found my way to Sparky's in Creeque Alley and sang a few songs where the Mamas and Papas got their start. I was treading the path of musical history. But a few bucks and a couple of beers were not going to do it. That's when the truth struck me. Six or seven large cruise ships a day disgorged thousands of passengers into Charlotte Amalie's narrow streets. Staying in the Virgin Islands meant I would have to adapt to an economy based on selling things and services (like music) to tourists.
The mainland was left behind with the idea in mind that if I was going to be true to my music then I should continue to travel. In Search had been published. I viewed that as “time out” from doing. There is a poem in the book where I talk about my music sleeping while I was writing. Stateside I had been asked to be part of a recording project. That, too, seemed like a divergent course from the true path of music. I was very anti-establishment and did not want to be co-opted by the music business.
But I was running out of money; a decision had to be made. Either I would throw my lot in with the island and take what came or I would have to go back to the mainland. One kind soul had invited me into his home for a night. At least I was able to get a shower and share a meal. The next day anything leading to a place to sleep did not materialize. I went looking for a place to spend the night.
Down on the beach many local fisherman had their small, 16-foot boats overturned to keep rain water out. I selected one that has a small foc'sle and slid under the boat, pulling my dulcimer in after me. It was a long, uncomfortable night but eventually I did sleep. My plan was to get up at first light and skedaddle out there before anyone came. That plan didn't work out the way I thought.
I was awakened by the sound of three or four men standing around the boat and talking. “Oh no” I thought, “They are going to flip over this boat and there I will be.” I quietly gathered my things and crouched ready to make a break for it. That's when a stream of urine splashed into the sand near my face. The men relieved themselves and moved on. I waited until their voices faded and scuttled out.
The next day I booked a flight to New York City. I had discovered that if I was to be able to continue with my music then I would have to take the path that was visible. I bought as much rum as I could carry on the plane, landed in NYC and called Neal Hellman. He and his parents welcomed me. That call began a lifelong friendship and set the stage for the Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project.
Back in the NW after recording PacRim I was recounting my adventures to John. I told him I was going to write a song about it. Too late. By the next morning he had written Paradise Boy. The island of St Thomas-- and that song-- certainly set the calypso rhythm going in me that has stayed with me my whole life. His A to A7 fingering move is one I still teach today to help folks get the calypso feel.