INTERVIEW: Charlie Hale
Our friend Charlie, '66, answered our questions on Saturday, May 23, 2010.
SPOON: Where were you born?
CH: Fullerton General Hospital. It’s on Pomona near the old library. I think it’s a rest home now, or it was. The nurse that helped deliver me, helped deliver my daughter Lindsay at St. Jude Hospital , 28 years later.
SPOON: When did your family come to Fullerton ?
CH: My grandmother brought my father and uncle here in 1924. My dad was 5 years old. He attended Ford Elementary School , Wilshire Junior High, Fullerton High School and Fullerton Junior College . My grandmother worked at the only café/coffee shop in Fullerton at that time. It was a small town in 1924 and she knew everyone in town. My dad lettered in all four sports for all four years at FUHS and received a lifetime pass from the school. He was captain of the football team his senior year and voted most valuable player. He held the shot put record for several years until a young John Raitt came along and broke his record.
My mother’s family came to California in 1931. She attended Hollywood High for half a year then the family moved to Santa Monica where she finished her freshman year at Santa Monica High. They moved to Fullerton in 1933 and she attended FUHS and Fullerton Junior College .
SPOON: Was your family musical? When and how did you learn to sing?
CH: I don’t know that our family was especially musical, but we always had a piano in our house. We were given piano lessons at an early age. My sister took lessons for about six years. I took lessons for four years. My sister had a natural touch for the piano.
It seems like I was always singing, I’m not sure exactly when I started. My sister is six years older than me and she was always playing the piano. I used to stand by the piano and sing songs she was playing. I was about three years old at the time. One day I went with her to her piano lesson and without prompting, sang every song she played. The piano teacher was amazed and tutored and encouraged me with my singing. She then arranged for me to sing for local groups around Fullerton and Anaheim . I even sang at Hillcrest Park in what would later become Teen Center . I did this for about a half of a year and then she entered me in a talent show in Anaheim . The winner would go on the Leo Carrillo show on TV. The rules of the contest stated that you had to be 12 years old in order to compete for going on the Leo Carrillo show. [Photo at right, Leo Carrillo]. I was to be just an added attraction for the Anaheim contest, since I was only 3 ½ years old and my sister who accompanied me on piano was 10 years old. However, we won the contest and the representative for the Leo Carrillo show said we were going on TV. I can still remember talking to Leo back stage and then going on stage. I think I sang three songs, “The Loveliest Night of the Year, “Beautiful Dreamer”, and my favorite, “On Top of Old Smokey”.
SPOON: Who are some of the singers who influenced you, at various stages of your life?
CH: My sister being six years older than me, I was hearing a lot of great singers on 45’s at an early age. The ones I would try to mimic were Fats Domino, Richie Valens, Eddie Cochran and of course Elvis. My sister always had her cheerleader friends over to the house and I would sing Elvis songs for them. I think I was about 9 years old at the time.
Later on Mick Jagger influenced me a lot. Not so much for his singing, but his performance. The ones at the top of the list would have to be Jim Morrison, Taj Mahal, Van Morrison, Jay Ferguson and my favorite Ron “Pigpen” McKernan [see photo, at left]. I like singers that can project a lot of controlled volume. Jay Ferguson was a great singer. I hung around with him and some of his friends in 1972. He was with Jo Jo Gunne at the time. His friends rented that old ski lodge in Carbon Canyon that used to have plastic on the hillsides that you would ski down. He would come over there from time to time and all of us would jam. He was also great on the piano.
I met Pigpen when we were playing in a club in Marin County ; I think it was San Rafael in 1970. I was singing “Good Morning Little School Girl” and when I got done he came over to me. I’d never met him before. He said that’s not the right song for you, you look like you’re a schoolboy. He belted out a few lines of “Turn On your Love Light” and said that’s a song for you. I’ve been singing that song ever since and still do today. I never saw Pigpen again, he died in 1973, but I sing most of his songs today.
SPOON: Where have you made your home, Charlie, and where have you sung?
CH: I’ve lived in Fullerton all my life, except for 5 years in San Clemente . I sang mostly in Orange County , L.A. County , Manhattan Beach and a couple times in the Bay area.
SPOON: Did you sing more with groups, or as a solo?
CH: I always sang with a group. There were times when I would go to a club and ask the group playing if I could sit in and sing a couple songs. I always enjoyed doing that, singing with strangers and belting out “Love light” or “Me and Bobby McGee”.
SPOON: How important is poetry to you, Charlie? Most of your songs are poetic.
CH: Poetry is everything to me. With poetry you can throw out rational thought and logic and deal from the heart and from the deeper levels of your psyche. It’s not something you think about doing and then write it down. It just comes to you. To me, poetry and the art of a painting are similar. The truth and insights revealed defy literal translation. There is imagery and symbolism used that barely touches a portion of what the poet or artist has experienced in creating his or her work. And yet, the poet or artist write or paints this vision in an attempt to interpret it to others.
Yes, most of my songs are poetic and only the simpler ones have I been able to put to music. Maybe I should have been born in the age of the troubadour.
SPOON: How many songs would you say you’ve written?
CH: I’m not really sure, probably 40 or 50. Many have been discarded as I went on to newer ones.
SPOON: What key do you sing in?
CH: I sing most blues songs in the key of ‘E’ and most other songs in ‘G’.
SPOON: What musical instrument touches you most deeply?
CH: Piano and blues harmonica.
SPOON: Best couple of concerts you ever attended?
CH: Always a Grateful Dead Concert. There’s no experience that can match it for me. Also in 1969 I saw Taj Mahal, Spirit, and John Mayall at CSUF. It was a great concert.
SPOON: Who were some of your best friends growing up?
CH: Bill Brehm and John Givens in elementary and jr. high. In high school, Jim Green, Kenny Challman, Kenny Seefeldt, Bob Scott and Buddy Purel.
SPOON: How old were you when you first kissed a girl?
CH: I don’t know, maybe 2nd or 3rd grade. I know I first went steady in 2nd grade. Having an older sister corrupted me.
SPOON: Did having such a pretty older sister make it easier for you to understand girls and get along with them?
CH: : No, not at all. I was always introverted and very shy. I didn’t have an easy time approaching or dating girls until I was singing in my 20’s and 30’s.
SPOON: Who were your favorite teachers at Golden Hill, Wilshire and Sunny Hills, Charlie?
CH: At Golden Hills it was Mrs. Harris, my kindergarten teacher and Miss Anderson in 3rd grade. My daughter Summer also had Mrs. Harris and my mom worked for Harris Drugstore when she was younger. At Wilshire it was my speech and drama teacher, but I can’t remember her name at the moment. At Sunny Hills it was my speech teacher Ruth Elwell, coach Payne and coach Martin.
SPOON: What was your neighborhood in Golden Hill like when you were growing up, Charlie?
CH: It was great. We lived on Casa Blanca [see map] and there were lots of kids the same age. Kathie Delahanty, Mary next door, Kent Wiese, Ernie and Larry Clark, George Cornwall, Jim Flint, Bob Kazebee, Bill Brehm, Al Johnson, Mike Weese. The church wasn’t built yet and we used to dig dirt tunnels and play army. There was also a gully in between our houses and Golden Hills School and at the end of it we used to build forts and keep food and water in it. We also used to play in the water reservoir that was in back of the school. We used to play a game called ditch on top of the roof of Golden Hills School . Of course there were always orange fights because there were orange groves everywhere. I have a lot of good memories from back then.
SPOON: How would you describe living in Fullerton today?
CH: I still love the town even though it’s different today. I guess it’s because of my family roots here. At one time, I had Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents, cousins mostly living in Fullerton . My kids were born here and went to school here. My family came here nearly 90 years ago. I’m the only one that’s still in Fullerton . I live in the old section of Malvern and it’s still a very quiet, peaceful area. One thing I miss the most is the smell of orange blossoms from all the orange groves that used to be here when I was a child.
SPOON: Are you primarily a Beach, Mountain or Desert person?
CH: It’s close between beach and desert. I always have loved the beach and ocean and wrote a lot of poetry sitting on the beach in San Clemente when I lived there. The desert is also a magical place for me and I like the solitude of camping out there. I went on a vision quest in the desert in 1998 that transformed my life.
SPOON: Define happiness. Define misery.
CH: I think that is subjective and different for each person. I guess we could all agree they are two sides of a coin. The yin and the yang of life, one does not exist with out the other and to speak of one without the other is meaningless. For me, having a passion for the life experience brings happiness and lacking that passion brings misery. I’ve had my share of both.
SPOON: Define an ideal friend.
CH: My wife, Marisa.
SPOON: Define an ideal place.
CH: I think that gets back to your question on happiness and misery. An ideal place is not a physical location; it’s a state of mind.
SPOON: Who are some of your favorite authors, Charlie?
CH: Nietzsche is my favorite. His concept of amor fati really changed my viewpoint on life. Amor fati, love of your fate. I once explained this in an article I wrote saying- To love one’s fate means to fully affirm one’s life. There can be no resentment for the past present or future. Nietzsche said, "how could I wish that my life had been anything other than what it was, for I would not be who I am." This is not the philosophy of a fatalist who is blown here and there like a leaf in the wind resigned to its fate. This goes beyond acceptance. Amor fati is about the struggle. It is not about what happens to one, but what happens as a result of our active participation in the life event. Love of one’s fate is the love of our involvement with life. It is a cause for celebration. Chaos, pain, and defeat are opportunities to gain wisdom, stature and strength and prepare for future victories. One welcomes the battle. Fate is loved when one is consumed by living it.
SPOON: What was your favorite beach?
CH: When I was in high school it was 17th street in Newport , not 15th street . That’s where a lot of us hung out.
SPOON: Did you like to dance back in the day?
CH: I used to go to Teen Center in 7th and 8th grade, but I wasn’t the best at learning new dances. Just as I would learn a dance, a new one would come along and I finally quit trying to learn. When I was a singer in the 70’s and a girl would ask me to dance, I would say, what do you want, a singer or a dancer? I got that line from some comedian.
SPOON: Are there any Sunny Hills High School friends you’d like to reach but haven’t been able to so far?
CH: There are some that I’m curious about what they are doing now. Bob and Grant Scott, Steve Forsythe, Jim Green, Cynthia Warren, Jamie Hopton, John Givens.
SPOON: What are you most grateful for today?
CH: My family, friends and life in general, and also my dog Chaos.
THANK YOU, CHARLIE!