1968-1974: The First Songs
When I was a boy there was always music in our house. My mother sang in the church choir and played the piano. My sisters all took piano lessons. I have early memories of my sisters merrily singing in harmony while they washed the dishes. It was sometime around 1967 when my sister Betty gave me my first guitar. I learned E, D and A chords and proudly played Van Morrison’s song “Gloria.” I wondered if I’d ever be able to play the dreaded F chord. My guitar’s strings were a good half inch above the fingerboard and if you took off all the strings at the same time the neck would fall completely off the guitar. That’s what is known as poor action, but it was the only guitar I had ever played. When nobody was home, I would stuff my Dad’s microphone under the bridge, connect it to his stereo and rock out in my imaginary world.
Away at college in Sacramento I tried writing my first songs. After a few attempts I wrote “Two Rivers.” I played it a few times but never performed it, and it was all but forgotten. I wrote “Sit Beside Me” for a music class assignment, “Like A River” while sitting by the American River, “Good Bye” and “Sunshine’s Warmth” during college, and “High Tide” while sitting on a cliff overlooking the beach at Jenner, CA. Until I graduated, my sister Betty Perkins and I played Friday nights at the college coffee house with our friend Mitch, who was a brilliant guitarist.
1975: First Audio Recording of “Sunshine’s Warmth”
Treble Tones Concert, June 1, 1975
My mother, Rosemary Wells, was the choir director for the Treble Tones Choir in San Francisco, California. She would often make my sisters and me perform at her concerts. Betty and I did four songs on that June day and this is the earliest audio recording of “Sunshine’s Warmth.” That’s me sitting in the front row waiting to go on, towards the end of the video. The last photo is my first guitar.
1975–1978: Friends of the River
I moved back to Marin County and wrote “Hello” to announce my return. I was working odd jobs and trying to figure out how to become a songwriter. I entered some songwriting contests and the results were discouraging. I continued writing songs such as “Cloudburst Suite,” “I Just Want to Tell You,” “Fantasy Junction,” and “Day.
I went to a meeting of Friends of the River and that night, at 3 a.m., I wrote “River’s Got to Flow” to protest the proposed dam on the Stanislaus River. They just don’t make rivers like they used to. We have to protect the ones we have left. I’ve never seen anyone make a river, but I’ve witnessed a river destroyed by voters misled by a deceptive campaign. Mark Dubois is an environmental hero to me and I’ll always be awestruck by his courage and the huge impact he has made upon our planet. Click here if you want to watch a preview trailer for the documentary: Last River Lost Documentary Trailer
During those years I met George Cummings who had just left the band Dr. Hook. We hung out and recorded his songs and some of my songs on my four-track. George and I recorded “Like a River” with a violin player named Joshua. I learned a lot about the recording process and working with a seasoned musician like George.
In 1978 I took a job at “The Company” as a mathematician and my songwriting dreams drifted away.
1979–2001: Ramblin’ Jack and Me
Around 1980 I wrote “The Answer” for my sister’s wedding during a one-hour study period provided by “The Company” for an actuarial exam I was destined to flunk.
I think it was winter of 1994 when I first met Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. My Land Rover was parked in front of the Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes Station, CA where he was playing that night. As I was leaving the restaurant and heading to his show, there was Jack peering in the windows of my Defender 110.
Jack and I once put a show on together at the Tomales Town Hall. It was really fun and such an honor to be opening for him right in my own neighborhood. Even my dentist was in the audience! I played covers by artists like Guy Clark, John Prine, and Townes Van Zandt. I probably didn’t play any of my own songs that day. They were tucked away and all but forgotten.
In 1998 I opened for Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at Sweetwater Cafe in Mill Valley, CA. Probably the best gig I ever had. I think David Grisman might have been in the audience. CBS was there to film Jack for the Sunday Morning show and they shot my set as well. If you are interested in checking out this awesome historical video of Ramblin’ Jack, doing what he does best — “ramblin’ ” — click HERE. Sadly, my set ended up on the cutting room floor... but the classic video clips are priceless!
I was at Smiley's Bar in Bolinas, CA once to catch Jack’s show and he asked me to open for him about ten minutes before it began. I played a set on his guitar. (I wish I had a picture of that...) Jack’s late wife Jan and I opened for Jack another time at Sweetwater Cafe. We butchered a song called “Night Rider’s Lament.” I had the yodeling part and I don’t yodel — I was mortified to see Peter Rowan in the audience that night.
2001–2009: Dropping out of the Rat Race
I left “The Company,” burned my tie in a campfire, and life was good. I play in a band called Well Perked with my sister Betty Perkins and her husband Michael Perkins. We played unplugged at Mostly Natives Nursery where I worked part-time propagating plants. In 2004 Well Perked played at the very first Farmers’ Market in Point Reyes Station, after playing my song “Hello” live on KWMR radio that morning.
2009: Meeting “The Piper”
It seemed like a normal day when I picked up a Citizen, the local Point Reyes Station newspaper, to read an article that caught my eye. The article said folks were getting together on Monday nights in Point Reyes Station to play Irish tunes with a master whistle player who happened to live nearby. I had no idea that reading that article had just started a chain reaction that would lead me to realizing a lifelong dream.
I went to that first session and met Ted Anderson who was the piper mentioned in the article. We became good friends and I was having fun learning Irish tunes on my guitar. Some of those tunes found their way into the set lists for Well Perked. And then Ted began to sit in with us at some of our gigs. His whistle was an awesome addition to our guitars and ukuleles.
2009: Recording on YouTube.com
I also met Karen at that session with Ted and she introduced me to YouTube.com. I wrote “My eBabe” and “Feeling Like the Star” for YouTube, and met Simona who organized international collaborations.
Playing on some of those online collaborations gave me lots of recording practice. I began to make friends with musicians all around the world! I was honored to play guitar on “Paper Boat Shores” with Jaydon Whistler, a talented composer in the Netherlands, and on “Wildwood Flower” with an amazing mandolin player, Diptanshu, from India.
There was a large international collaboration of 9 musicians across 8 countries, hosted by Sherly in Malaysia in which we performed “Humours of Glendart/Lilting Banshee,” Another collaboration that recorded 10 musicians from 6 countries was on a traditional celtic tune known as the “Butterfly Jig.” All of these videos and more can be found on our VIDEO page.
Ron Voelker and Andy Davis are a pair of prolific songwriters I met on YouTube. Andy writes the words in Minnesota and Ron puts them to music in Florida. Various musicians on YouTube have recorded covers of their songs. Recently they released a CD entitled Caught In The Undertow that has various musicians from all around the world performing their songs. I have recorded two of their songs — “The Chill Inside” is on their CD and “I’m Forgetting You” can be found on our VIDEO page.
I recorded my own song “Like A River” with Randy Shartiger, a flat picking wizard in West Virginia on YouTube, and we went on to collaborate on “Whiskey For Breakfast” and “Don't Think Twice.”
One day my song “I Just Want To Tell You” was running through my head. I had always felt that song, with its single verse and chorus, was too short. Suddenly more words were coming to me. I grabbed a scrap of paper and scribbled them down. I finished the song 35 years after I first wrote it.
2012: Recording with Jac O’Keeffe
Ted recommended Studio E, a local recording studio, to an Irish woman named Jac O’Keeffe who was planning a CD recording project. Ted was invited to play whistle on the project and she asked him if he knew of a guitar player. In April we recorded her CD Nothing and Everything with an international group of musicians. Most of us had never even met before. Recording at Studio E was such a great experience I vowed to return with Well Perked to gain some recording practice and refine our sound. Maybe we’d even make a CD to sell at our gigs.
We booked a date at Studio E in mid-January 2013, a full six months in advance. Betty came up with a list of songs from our playlists. She began working on obtaining permission for us to record covers of songs like “Ripple” and “Here Comes the Sun” and several of our other favorites. We mostly played covers of John Prine, Guy Clark, Paul Simon, Hoyt Axton, Bob Dylan, and occasionally a few of my songs. We played “High Tide” at the nursery and someone asked me if I knew the origin of that song. One day as we were playing and working on the list I asked what everybody thought about doing all originals instead. I wasn’t sure how that idea would go over but they were excited about it. That decision changed everything.
January 2013: Recording at Studio E
We recorded fifteen original songs in a day and a half! A few days later Jeff Martin of Studio E asked if I’d like for David LaFlamme to add some violin on a song. I agreed right away but I didn’t really think it would ever happen. I picked “My eBabe” and the result amazed me. David came back and recorded “Fantasy Junction” too. He played a few different takes and Jeff used them and wove them into a section of violins. Then Jeff added some cello and we had a whole string section!
And I knew then what I had to do next.
I had been debating whether or not to ask my friend Ramblin’ Jack to play on my CD. It seemed like a chance in a lifetime and I needed to give it a shot. So I went over and visited Jack. I was thinking about asking him when his phone rang. It was a guy who had sent him a song to learn. The guy wanted to hire Jack to record a track on it. He was calling to find out how it was going. Jack fumbled around and found the unopened envelope. After he got off the phone Jack started talking about how he didn’t really feel like doing that song. And I chickened out and left without ever asking him.
Jeff truly believed in my songs. He arranged for Nina Gerber to play on a song. My head was spinning. I was thinking this couldn’t possibly really be happening. “Cloudburst Suite” turned out to be a masterpiece with her guitar. And when the session was over she offered to play more. I started to worry it was all just a dream and I would soon wake up lying in a gutter somewhere with a bad hangover. David LaFlamme returned and recorded “Sit Beside Me.” Nina came back and recorded “The Answer.” To have these famous musicians return for encores just amazed me beyond words.
Jeff called again and suggested that David Grisman play on the CD. Dawg himself! And once again my disbelief loomed up. I was torn between “River’s Got To Flow” or “Hello” which had a nice instrumental break. We decided to send both and let him choose. He played them both! And the result is awesome.
Buoyed by all this added talent, I again called Jack. I happened to get him as he was driving home from a tour. He was crossing the border back into California. I told him I have Nina playing and Dawg too. Then I took a deep breath and asked him. And he said as long as it was in ¾ time and in the key of D he’s in. And then we lost the connection and the phone went dead.
When the time came near to record Jack, Jeff called again. He asked if I’d like to include David Grisman in the session with Ramblin’ Jack on “Here We Go Again.” We decided that rather than overdub, we would do a live session with all of us playing together. The session was a total blast... an experience I will never forget! And it was the first time those two had ever recorded together. Jeff Martin, our enormously talented recording engineer, backed us on bass. He set the levels in the control room, pushed the record button and came out and joined us live.
Mixing took about nine months and the results far exceeded my expectations. Each mix was an exciting event and it was so wonderful to hear my songs coming to life one by one. And now these songs can endure forever.
High Tide CD Release Party at Studio E
At long last the release date had been set. A tricky thing that has to consider all sorts of variables, especially the estimated arrival date of the discs. We went all out and it was wonderful having so many of our family, friends and lifetime supporters in the house, smiling and singing along. The sound there is always wonderful and David LaFlamme and Jeff Martin played with us. For me it was a peak lifetime experience that I will never forget. If only someone could have told me that the guy who wrote that song about a bird that I had in my college notebook would someday be performing with me on stage! Performing songs that I wrote! Nah, it’s better this way...
This thing plum got away from me. And my lifelong dream has already come true no matter what happens next.
—Stan Wells, November 2013
Betty Perkins — Guitar and Vocals
Raised in a musical family, Betty’s mother encouraged her singing by making a recording of her at age 3. Music is a joy that runs through every family member whether listening to it or performing. While raising her two daughters, she pursued her career as a School Psychologist, all the while performing in a 50’s rock and roll band, playing guitar.
After writing the book, Lion Taming, The Courage To Deal With Difficult People, Including Yourself (Aslan Publishing, 1995) she pursued her second career as a Feng Shui consultant. This coincided with her love of Hawaiian music and the ukulele.
Here is a link to Betty’s company website: HealingYourEnvironment.com
Michael Perkins — Ukulele and Bass Ukulele
Inspired by the many musicians around Berkeley, Napa and Sonoma County during the 60's Michael developed his finger-style guitar playing, and continued learning and performing over the years as he pursued his engineering career. Falling in love with Hawaiian Slack Key style and ukulele he is on a mission to bring elements of both to as many musical genres as he can. His ukulele influences include Herb Ohta Jr., Jake Shimabukuro and Aldrine Guerrero.
Ted Anderson — Whistles and Uilleann Pipes
Ted Anderson and I met playing Irish music at a session in Point Reyes Station and we’ve been friends ever since. In addition to playing whistles and uilleann pipes, Ted is a leading resource for pipers all around the world. Ted was recently flown to Ireland to teach them how to make the reeds for their pipes.
Here is a link to Ted’s website: PipersSupply.com