(c) Grant Jacobs
George Michalski
When it comes to genius, you need look no further than George Michalski.  The native San Franciscan has certainly paved his own musical highway during an illustrious career.  A true child prodigy, Michalski performed his first concert at the tender age of 4, performing a program of Bach at the Main Branch of the San Francisco Library.  By the time Michalski turned 7 he was offered a full scholarship to the prestigious San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  In 1964 and 1965 George won the gold medal from the National Recording Society for his virtuoso piano playing.  At the age of 12 he was elected President of The Pacific Musical Society and traveling the world performing.

And that’s only the beginning of the story.

Benefiting by growing up in a City whose musical community was just beginning to blossom, a young Michalski fell in with the Grateful Dead, visiting with Jerry Garcia and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan at the band’s legendary 710 Ashbury pad.  A hirsute Michalski can be seen in the photo that graces the gatefold center of the band’s landmark album, “Live Dead”.

By 1970, Michalski was recording with Blue Cheer, and through Blue Cheer guitarist Leigh Stephans, George performed on a recording session with up and coming singer Lottie Golden.  The guitarist on that session was the late Michael Bloomfield.  Bloomfield raved about the band in an interview in Crawdaddy published later that year.

Relocating to Los Angeles in 1972, Michalski formed the band, Foxtrot that became the house band at the famed Hollywood nightspots the Whiskey A Go-Go and The Starwood.  The band had the distinction as being the first white band signed to Motown Records. During their two-year reign Foxtrot was headlining over such young upstarts as Van Halen as well as touring with the Electric Light Orchestra.

In 1975, a chance meeting with a then obscure actor by the name of Don Johnson, led to the pair sharing various Los Angeles homes for the next 8 years representing a bacchanal period in the pianist’s life.  In 1977, producer Jon Peters heard Michalski and partner Nikki Oosterveen on a suggestion of a colleague.  “Jon Peters heard us on a Wednesday and the next day a limousine picked us up and we were with Rona Barrett on Good Morning America.  By Sunday, Barbra Streisand was sitting on my piano bench leaning my songs,” recalled Michalski.   Streisand would record George’s  “The Man I Love,” which was the flip side of her biggest selling single, “Superman.”  Michalski would also go on to score the Barbra Streisand/ Ryan O’Neill film, “The Main Event” as well as recording the album “M & O” (Columbia).  Michalski also scored the music for the films “Candyland,” a Faye Dunaway movie “The Eyes of Laura Mars,” and he wrote “Rock ‘n Roll World” for the television series, “Fame.”  George also scored the music for the Readers Digest production of  “Yosemite” which quickly became the biggest selling video at the time.

George also established a hometown San Francisco connection when he was introduced to the mime group Shields and Yarnell by powerhouse manager Rick Marcelli.  Coming on the heels of their hit CBS Television show, Shields and Yarnell were one of the most popular comic acts in the world.  Serving as their Musical Director for the next 4 years, Michalski toured the globe with the mime sensations even scoring their spectacular HBO Special, “2 In A Box”.  George has many fond memories from this time especially an extended run at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where Shields and Yarnell opened nightly for The Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra.

George is known for his uncanny ability to bring together musicians.  In 1986 he founded the legendary Los Angeles band, Black Tie.  Like most of Michalski’s musical efforts this was another all star affair featuring:  T-Bone Burnett, David Kemper, Jimmy Griffin, Billy Swan, Blondie Chaplin, and Randy Meisner.  “Four of the band members had a #1 song,” Michalski boasted recently.  A national tour by Black Tie preceded a year-long Tuesday night residency at the Cine Grill located inside famed Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

I met George through my friend guitarist James Gurley back in 1989.  George had moved back into his Richmond District home in San Francisco and just finished recording his highly acclaimed CD, “When The Power Goes” (Blue Jazz).   Gurley had invited me down to a ongoing Tuesday night gig at The Last Day Saloon in San Francisco where he was performing with Michalski in the loose-knit jam band, The Greatful Beetles.   What I heard that evening was simply incredible.  Besides Gurley on guitar, the band featured:  Bill “Sputnik” Spooner (guitar), Mitchell Holman, (bass), Don Graham, (drums), and Vince Wallace, (sax).  Michalski ran the show from behind his electric piano offering up three phat sets to the regular Tuesday night crowd which often was filled with luminaries such as: Gregg Allman, Robin Williams, Dennis Miller, Peter Albin, Prairie Prince, Kenny Dale Johnson, Brad Gillis, Harvey Mandel, and Carlos Guitarlos, who would come down to jam or just to hang out.  These evenings would prove to be the humble beginnings of J.C. Flyer.

The 90’s also proved fruitful for the resourceful Michalski.  The pianist teamed up with virtuoso violinist Kristina Kopreva to record the successful CD, “Yosemite” (Masia Music).  George would also receive a boost from his old friend Don Johnson who decided to work an original idea from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson into a hugely successful CBS television series,  “Nash Bridges”, that was based in San Francisco.  Michalski served as the show’s Musical Director for each of the weekly series’ five seasons.  During that time he was able to air the music of over 50 unsigned musical acts, a feat that is unheard of in the television industry.  One of the many highlights from “Nash Bridges” included the recording of “Santa Claus is Coming To Town,” and “Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas,” sung by the show’s co-star Cheech Marin backed by Michalski on keyboards along with: Clarence Clemons (sax), Neil Schon (guitar), Carmine Appice (drums), and Ross Vallery (bass).  I almost forgot to mention that the musicians were dressed in full police blue when they performed the songs during the show’s holiday broadcast.

Last year, Michalski recorded “San Francisco”(Masia Music), which has been hailed as the soundtrack of The City.  The recording features the crème of the Bay Area music scene such as:  Martin Fierro (sax), Harvey Mandel (guitar), Brad Gillis (guitar), Michael Carabello (congas), Richard Olsen (clarinet), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (poem), Barry Sless (pedal steel), Lorin Rowan (guitar and mandolin), and Kathi McDonald (vocals).   George is currently working with 1950’s heartthrob Eddie Fisher who will be recording his first studio album in nearly 25 years with the gifted pianist.

George Michalski has been a major influence in my life.  His wonderful piano arrangement on “California” is one of the reasons that the song remains so enduring.  His contributions to five of the songs on “Movin’ On” are extremely rich, and filled with passion and emotion.  It was George’s suggestion that I use the Rowan Brothers to sing harmony with me on “Movin’ On”.  And like most of his musical ideas this one turned out to be a winner.

Thank you Dr.!

For more information on George Michalski please click here.  (www.georgemichalski.com)

The Band 

Email J.C. Flyer at: JCFlyer33@aol.com


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