Wild Bill Cardoso

Total Gonzo Tales

By: - Jun 07, 2014


In 1971 kids knocked down the fences and trashed the Newport Jazz Festival. For a time that ended what had started in 1954 as an annual gathering of jazz fans over the Fourth of July weekend. Entrepreneur George Wein faced a setback but by the next day regrouped and took the concept of Newport’s branding, national and indeed global.

The Jazz Festival has returned to Newport but the mood today is more sedate.

With an eye on boosting the bottom line Wein had provoked purists by introducing more rock, allegedly influenced by jazz and blues, into the festivals. Perhaps that started when fans booed Bob Dylan who famously went electric during the Newport Folk Festival.

During a New York press conference to announce the lineup I ragged on Wein for booking popular ersatz jazz acts like Spyro Gyra. That was a bridge too far beyond Herbie Mann.

The all time floppeeroo occurred when Wein booked the Danish psychedelic rock group Savage Rose. They just froze on stage in front of an unresponsive audience.

Which was not the case when we heard the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals and later Stones guitarist, Ron Wood, on bass. It was a great set of “Spanish Boots.”

The press was treated like royalty by PR man Harry Paul. There was a generous area of seating up front and an adjacent tent with typewriters and phone booths. There was a photographer’s pit in front of the stage. Even though I wasn’t shooting at the time I would hang there to see the great artists up close.

During an afternoon performance I could feel the energy of young black kids pushing on the snow fence behind the press seats. On stage James Brown was singing “Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

Initially, in 1969, I was at Newport shadowing Tim Crouse who was departing for Rolling Stone. We hung out and went to the beach with a comely young usher. Somehow we crashed in the dorm of a boarding school.

There were fabulous parties in mansions that followed the performances. In particular the blues musicians jammed into the night. I vividly recall Big Mama Thornton getting down. That was the year that Muddy Waters joined and gently walked off the legendary Son House who got lost during his set. It was history man. Dick Waterman was managing Bonnie Raitt at the time. She was jamming with all the blues legends. I knew her from Cambridge bars. She lived the life. You have to suffer to sing the blues.

They were incredible hipster gatherings. I hung out with Bill and Suzie Cardoso who much enjoyed the cool sea breeze and jazz on a summer’s night. They were pushing around the legendary writer Larry Novak, or “Nobby”, who had busted a leg. He was on sick leave from the investigative team of the Herald. That just doesn’t exist anymore at the dailies.

He had let me crash in a room in the mansion. Seems he wanted to take a nap before filing for a paper in Rhode Island. I had hooked up with a California girl I dubbed Wild Strawberry. Later that summer I flew her in to join me at Woodstock. We slept in my vintage 1947 Pontiac with Joey Sefter underneath trying to stay dry.

It was late at night and Nobby was resting curled up in the window sill. We heard raucous activity and shots fired. A man in skivvies came up the fire escape and bolted into the room.

An alarmed Novak yelled “Get out of here or I’ll call the cops.”

We were astonished when the dude said “I am a cop.”

Over breakfast at a seaside restaurant I recounted the adventures of the previous evening waxing poetic at the wonder of the morning and a fine breakfast.

As was his way Cardoso sharply offered a different opinion, “The eggs are cold, the toast is burnt and the service is lousy. Where you at Big Boy?”

For me the glass tends to be half full.

There was always a sense of friendly rivalry with the Globe.

Famously the Herald scooped and duped the Globe when Jackie Kennedy announced plans to marry Greek oligarch Aristotle Onassis. Society columnist Rose Walsh, a friend of the Kennedy clan, got the tip.

The first edition of the dailies, printed at midnight, is called the mail bag. It’s shipped to the burbs and out of town. When trucks make early drops to newsstands there is a courtesy exchange. If there is breaking news that gives the other paper an opportunity to cover during the later replate before running the morning edition.

Those crafty bastards at the Herald made up a fake front page for the bundle delivered to Morrisey Boulevard. The morning edition was a global scoop.

My opposite number was Ernie ‘The Fox’ Santosuosso. So called because he was known for getting scoops. He had been a staff reporter but convinced management to cover rock and jazz appealing to younger readers. Ernie was a great guy and always willing to share a set list, but, well a bit square. He knew the tricks.

Like filing body copy of the Saturday night concert for the Sunday edition. After the concert he would blow a head on the piece and freshen up the boiler plate.

By then I was living like a king during the festival with a suite in a five star resort a short distance from the festival. I invited my sister Pip and her friend to share the digs for the holiday weekend.

After the noon concert I filed a review which left me free to enjoy the evening. Downtown I ate a leisurely dinner and chatted with Cannonball and Nat Adderley at another table. I knew them from gigs and interviews at the Jazz Workhop.

The concert had already started when I arrived late. There was a hill behind the gates that was packed with kids who had mostly come for the Allman Brothers. They started to scale the fences which soon came down.

I sprinted to the photographer’s pit and grabbed my man Jimmy Carleson. I told him to come with me. In the middle of shooting he resisted. I insisted “Move it now.”

By then the kids were pouring in. Jimmy said “oh shit” got his shots and raced back to the Herald.

I was the first into one of two phone booths. Getting the city desk to call back I hung out and reported Wein verbatim from the stage. By then there was a long line of angry reporters waiting their turn.

It was a front page scoop with Carlson’s photos in the Sunday Herald.

Ernie’s story covered the Dionne Warwick performance of “What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love” that never happened.

Unlike Cardoso, a journalism major at Boston University, I stumbled into a career as a critic. It started when Mel Lyman invited me to be the New York correspondent for the underground paper The Avatar. By then I was writing reviews for the now defunct Arts Magazine.

After an adventurous drive hopefully to Mexico with Ardeenah the Queenah, we broke down in New Orleans and dead broke staggered to Boston. Roxbury actually, and an apartment on Fort Hill. During the summer of 1968 Arden, David Wilson, Sandy Mandeville and I published Avatar. That was after I put out the famous lost issue twenty five.  I took over designing covers when we canned the traitorous Ed ‘Beardsley’ Jordan.

When Dave quit Avatar to focus on his music publication Broadside I was hired by Boston After Dark, later The Boston Phoenix, as design director. That didn’t last long but Arnie Reisman, formerly my editor at The Justice of Brandeis University, kept me on as the paper’s art critic.

Bunking with blues musician Jim Silin, and dining mostly on brown rice, I survived on $50 a week. By then Arden had joined L. Ron Hubbard’s Sea Org. With a commission to create 50 enormous water colors on the history and jazz and blues for the Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans I earned enough money to make it to Woodstock.

Back in Boston I reconnected with the counter culture and Cardoso.

We knew each other from the hipster crib on Speedway Avenue in Allston. So named for the racing mechanic on the dead end street.

It was a 24/ 7 party and Cardoso, whose name may have been on the lease, reveled in the company of a motley crew of boosters, philosophers, petty dealers, and deranged poets. Musicians in town for gigs would fall by to score.

Memorably, the gang made it to the Workshop to catch a set by Trane. You could beat the cover by hanging at the bar in back. After an extended solo Trane departed to score with Lowrider who I later knew as the manager of blues legend T Bone Walker.

That left bass player Jimmy Garrison on stage for a solo that lasted about a half hour. Eventually Trane returned to the stage and they ended the tune. By then Trane was playing one long composition per set.

Being to the manor born this encounter with the underground and criminal element was disorienting to me.

Doc Martin, a rail thin, scruffy dude in a beat up army jacket, struck me as strange. He showed me how, with a piece of scotch tape, washers became dimes to use in phone booths. Bill tossed him from the crib when he got so speeded that he began taping frying pans to the ceiling. Later Martin became livid when I refused to buy an electric typewriter from him. There were lines I wouldn’t cross.

Although I truly adored that ultimate hipster Albert ‘Al the Arab’ Hamway. He had impeccable taste and style with a meticulously formed sky carefully placed over his thinning, curly hair. Al may not have had a dime but always wore highly polished Spanish boots. There was a neat crease to his wash and dry pants.

As a doctor of gonzology he was a mentor and friend particularly later when on the lam and down on his luck in New York. With a love of words he greatly expanded my vocabulary. In his lexicon, for example, a streetcar was called “a rattler.”

Hamway was constantly fussing with the invention of a bridge for his violin. It was a matter of getting just the right angle. But the physics flummoxed him as it was constantly breaking.

Walking about he had a measured, prancing gate. Back then I was faster on my feet. “You’re race horsing me” he would exclaim with anger until I slowed down to meet his showboating, titubating pace.

A habitué of a music store Al scored tickets and we went off to Carnegie to hear violinist Hymie Brest. The concert was sparsely attended.

Al had a strange world view. “A broad will put a dead bird on her head and call it a hat” he told me with a grimace before breaking into a muffled, chortling laugh.

My friend the artist Arthur Yanoff, another renowned doctor of gonzology, insists that Al wasn’t even an Arab.

The shirtsleeve for a collection of magazine essays Maltese Sangweech states “William J. Cardoso was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and received a conventional education there and in Boston. He is a veteran and prize-winning newspaperman and magazine writer. A hometown boy in a lot of places, he currently lives in the low desert of California.”

Raised in a middle class environment, the son of a Portuguese fireman, Cardoso dedicated his life and career in pursuit of the adventurous and unconventional. Cambridge has a large Portuguese population. He liked the racial slur ‘Ghee’ and pointed to the renowned Judge Cardoso with allusion to past greatness.

During one infamous summer he languished in the Portuguese/ Hippie ambiance of Provincetown. Crashers were sleeping in Dunes as did I in the 1960s. You woke at first light and made it to the Portuguese bakery for hot French bread to eat on the wharf.

The cops were super right wing and brought in Narcs who busted everyone and cleared the dunes of squatters. It had been a close call for Bill as the noose tightened in an ersatz Battle of Algiers.

In defiance of a bourgeois Catholic upbringing Bill collected and reveled in the colorful misfits of society. But never quit his day gig. He knew how to party all night but pay the rent. Early on I accompanied him on a trip to a publication where he used the scales for an illicit purpose.

There was a complex transition when our circles of friends merged and expanded. Most of my buddies were college educated hippies compared to his crew of street smart hipsters and hustlers.

So it was with misgiving when he demanded on an Easter morning that I hand over the lovely Susan Sessions.

She was brought up in the academic circles of Cambridge. My best friend Fernando Alonso, one of four sons of a famous Harvard professor who died young, first dated Susan’s mother. At one point both and then just Susan.

A classmate at Brandeis Fernando talked me into driving to New Hampsire for a double date with Susan and her friend Chris Capoon. On the car radio was Del Shannon’s “Runaway.”

Later Susan joined our Brandeis circle living off campus with the handsome and smooth Bob Markowitz. She was thrilled when my Matisse inspired portrait of her was published in the class yearbook.

It was Bill’s second marriage and he went straight taking a gig as a reporter for the Valley News in Vermont. They were happy years driving about in the Austin Healey which was a parting acquisition of the Speedway years. Spilling seeds when rolling endless joints the short began to sprout marijuana plants.

Later as a Globe correspondent Bill tooled about covering the New Hampshire primary.

Visiting them Bill was enjoying the good life. The pay was decent and he was tracking down great stories. He was particularly proud of outing the nasty business of extracting the urine of pregnant mares, badly treated, as material for pharmaceuticals. In a similar manner he pursued, but never published, a story on the wild horses of the west slaughtered to make dog food.

The Globe’s management correctly identified a rising star and in the worst possible move promoted him. They took a great reporter out of the field and stuck him in an office on Morrisey Boulevard to edit the Sunday Magazine.

The bread was better and initially Bill enjoyed the challenge and prestige.

But ultimately The Glob, as we liked to call it, was just another rag.

He had violated his own rules about staying independent and never showing up at the Heem.

Bill often told of deep admiration for an alcoholic Globe crime reporter who lived with the cops. He would sleep in a cell and they would clean him up and feed him. When something broke he was always the first on the scene to call it in.

There was camaraderie among Boston’s journalists. I hung with Bill, Bill Fripp, the Globe’s society reporter, and the always charming, witty, anecdotal Ian Forman. Bill was a part of a weekly pizza cabal in the North End with regulars including Globe art critic and feature writer, Robert Taylor, and Fernando’s novelist brother Juan Alonso. With an ever shifting circle of guests there were shared pearls of wisdom.

But it wasn’t enough as the gig grated on him.

The parties got bigger and more elaborate when they moved from a basement on Comm. Ave. to a grand house with pool in Randolph. It was Cardoso’s Gatsby period. But only on weekends as Bill was too busy at the Heem which was bringing him down.

Management and editors have a ball busting way of wearing down and crushing talent.

Until the breakdown and escape to the Canary Islands it was fun around the pool. Nobby moved in reading a book a day.

Bill’s daughter Linda, then a teenager, started to live with her dad. It was odd to see Bill as a parent.

During a rock party he freaked when she wandered off with the Indian band Redbone. She chafed against his strict rules and wanted to exert her freedom. We all loved Linda.

Returning from the failed attempt as an ex-pat in the Canary Islands things unraveled.

He and Suzie split and it was tough on both of them. She died young some years ago as did my friend Fernando.

Bill went west in search of work hoping to hook up with Rolling Stone. But they didn’t need another Gonzo journalist which he had become by then. He hung with Rolling Stones writers.

One of them, David Felton, knocked on my door with an introduction from Cardoso. He was researching a story on the Lyman Family. In the piece I was slandered as the rude, leftist and slovenly Harry Bikes.

Later during a junket to the coast I encountered Felton at a party and threatened to punch out the sniveling coward. Elton John looked on aghast. Through my handler legendary PR guy Norm Winter , who wouldn’t let me spend a dime, I returned home with a rhinestone cowboy suit from Nudie’s of Hollywood.

Now and then Bill kept in touch but the freelance life was rough. There were long lapses between paydays as he lived on the edge. By then he enjoyed cheap jugs of zinfandel which he dubbed Living in Zin.

In Sangweech he recounted burning bridges. Now and then there were great assignments and glorious intervals. The book documents those highlights.

One call was upbeat. He described a gig running a concession on the ferry from San Francisco to Oakland. The daily sail was wonderful with its refreshing ocean breeze. I can just see him on deck taking in salt air.

For a long time he had a steady relationship with Mary Miles Ryan. Using baseball terminology he named her Line Drive. It described an attractive, red headed, straight shooter and pr person.

When he passed I got a nice note from her.

This, my friend, is where the trail ran cold.

Dr. Gonzo, William J. Cardoso part one.