Growing up in Watts, California in the 1930s and 40´s provided a rare musical learning environment. I was in high school talent shows with "Little Esther" Phillips and Bobby Nunn of the Coasters. I learned to sing chord changes from the man who would become jazz master Charles Mingus while he was minding his sister´s kids across the street from my house.
Alienated by teachers who wanted me to go to shoe shop when I wanted to study debate, I left high school before graduation and joined the Army where I became addicted to heroin.
I served four stints in San Quentin and Folsom prisons on drug-related charges. I think, partly due to my love of jazz, I was able to survive those ordeals. In two of my incarcerations, I was a featured singer in the warden´s show performing with an inmate big band with Art Pepper soloing on all of my tunes. When I wasn´t doing time, I did many "open mikes" with jazz greats like Wardell Gray, Art Farmer, Hampton Hawes, Dexter Gordon, and others.