THE FIRST TIME I MET CARLOS GUITARLOS
The first time I met Carlos Guitarlos he was standing in the middle of the intersection of 12th and Folsom
at one AM with his guitar in his hand. As I approached he said, “Will you do me a favor?” I didn’t really
know Carlos, but I’d heard about him, so I was more than just a little hesitant.
“What?” I asked cautiously.
“Will you go in there and get my amp for me?” He indicated a nightclub across the street.
“Why don’t you go in there and get it?”
“I don’t think they want me back in there right now” he said, “…or ever…well, maybe never.”
“Really? What happened?”
“Oh, man, I don’t know,” he shrugged, “I probably used the wrong fork or something. So, would you?” he
I was trying to find a nice way to tell the guy no when the bass player came out lugging his own
equipment. Carlos went over to him saying, “Would you go back in there and get my amp for me?”
The bass player just dumped his stuff in the middle of the asphalt, turned around and went back into the
club from which they’d apparently just been ejected.
“Help me get this stuff out of the street,” Carlos said, and I picked up a couple things and together we got
it to the opposite curb where we stacked it up. I was focused on the club they’d just been thrown out of as
the drummer and the bass player emerged like firemen, hauling equipment, dropped it on the sidewalk,
lowered their heads and charged back in to save more. Carlos, meanwhile, had been eyeing the joint we
were now camped out in front of, a dive considerably less appealing than the upscale night spot which
had ousted him. He stood there evaluating the thunderous noise that was coming from the second floor.
“Listen to that,” he said, “those guys are terrible. We should be playing in there and those guys should be
out here on the street,” he said. Then he disappeared inside.
He emerged a couple minutes later and said, “Let’s get all this stuff inside.”
“We got a gig,” he said. “Help me get this stuff inside or, better yet, wait here. When the drummer shows
up tell him he can come in. The bass player can come in if he wants…”
I must have looked confused because Carlos leaned in toward me and said, “The drummer’s got the
So, then, there we were inside this place and Carlos Guitarlos’ three piece band was setting up quickly
because it was getting pretty near closin’ time. After giving instructions, Carlos hopped down off the stage
and started to go upstairs. I don’t know why, but I followed. At the top of the stairs there was a big
muscular blockheaded kind of guy who nodded to Carlos but stepped in front of me, barring my way. He
wanted a $5 cover charge from me. Carlos came back and said, “He’s OK. He’s with me.” and the guy
actually apologized to me as he stepped aside.
Upstairs it was a madhouse of shoulder to shoulder dancing and squealing and people standing around
yammering loudly at each other and waitresses weaving in and out of the crowd with heavily laden trays.
The band was grinding out a steady pounding pulse of blistering mayhem with a male vocalist screaming
something over the top. Carlos cut a straight path through the crowd and got right up to the apron of the
stage where he began shouting at the singer.
The guy, quite naturally—in the middle of a performance—was making every effort to ignore Carlos. I was
stuck; unable to get through the crowd. So, I was craning my neck and standing on my toes and bobbing
and weaving, trying to see what was going on. I’d have given anything to hear what Carlos was saying.
Knowing him as I do now, I have no doubt that he was probably saying something like, “You guys are
terrible. You should be playing downstairs to an empty room. We should be up here.”
Whatever he was saying the front man wasn’t happy with it. Between lyrics he would cover the mic and
lean down and shout something back at Carlos. Throughout all of this the song continued and the
dancing and the drinking and the laughter. Finally Carlos turned around and started pushing his way
back through the crowd. When he got to me he said, “Let’s go, let’s go. There’s not much time left.”
We scampered downstairs and Carlos climbed on stage and counted off the first tune and they played for
thirty minutes straight to a house consisting of me, two local drunks and the barkeep, who seemed to be
unaware that anything at all was going on. At about ten minutes until 2, the barkeep sighed, put down the
glass he’d been wiping as long as we’d been there, and came over to tell Carlos to wrap it up. “Just one
more tune,” Carlos pleaded, “just one more tune.”
By this time things were getting pretty hazy and somehow we found ourselves all back out on the street
again. A Plymouth Valiant station wagon appeared out of nowhere and the band loaded it up with their
Carlos was about to climb in when I said, “Hey, wait, what about the interview?”
“Oh that’s right,” said Carlos, “Can we do it some other time?”
“I came all the way down here to get this interview and you’re gonna skip out on me?”
Carlos thought for a moment. “You got a car?”
Carlos leaned into the window of the Valiant and said, “You guys go on; I’m gonna hang around with this
writer guy for a while.”
They didn’t need further prompting; they were gone, like that. And, like that, Carlos and I were in my truck.
He directed me to a chicken joint somewhere deep in the Mission District where, upon entering he said,
“Good, we got the good guy.” Carlos ordered a couple burritos and instructed me, “Watch this guy; watch
how he handles the cilantro.” I watched as the kid took a huge bundle of cilantro and, using a cleaver,
sliced it almost paper thin before tossing huge handfuls of the stuff into our burritos.
“Cilantro is everything,” Carlos said.