A lost San Francisco saga

Rediscovering the music of Herman Eberitzsch Jr. III

Herman Eberitzsch Jr. III, during his early-1970s recording heyday


MUSIC "There are great artists and musicians who will never be discovered," says Herman Eberitzsch Jr. III "That's the way it is," he reasons. "There's only so much room at the top."

That's why you've most likely never heard of Eberitzsch (pronounced "eh-bur-itch") despite his remarkable music talent. He has a name straight out of a gothic fairy tale — far from the iconic, slick-sounding syllables associated with San Francisco's psychedelic soul renaissance during the late 1960s and '70s. Yet his recordings hold up to the best of them. "We had a strong conviction that we were the next big thing," Eberitzsch says. "But we weren't."

Each generation harbors a certain aesthetic mood that mutates and evolves under the prescient vision of a limited number of innovators. Their fresh styles, resonant at first, then become formulated and stagnant, disseminated in the norm. We then await the next genius, or at least a movement of collective creativity, to shake things up. But what attunes us to one artistic strand, pregnant with a world of open-ended meaning and feeling, rather than another with just as much potential richness? How do we come to discern between the vanguard and the wayward? And what if we miss something in the process?

Eberitzsch's unlikely story might just read like a rediscovery of what we overlooked. He recorded hours of bluesy soul fueled by free-form jazz throughout the '70s that never saw commercial release. He arranged, wrote, sang, and funkified the keys on dozens of songs with mainstays of Santana's circuit (Coke Escovedo, Linda Tillery), Lee Oskar of War, and Sly Stone's drummer, Greg Errico, among many others. Most of the musicians who recorded on Eberitzsch's own arrangements were, by and large, no-namers, yet it's their music which now stands out.

Eberitzsch's songs leap and wander. They gracefully move the spirit while grounding the body in rich, earthy grooves. They are a naive and inspiringly audacious attempt at channeling the sort of raw expression that challenges, mesmerizes, fights, and loves. In the midst of so much experimental and groundbreaking sound, Eberitzsch's music either missed the ears of the right A&R rep or was just not the right kind of different.



Now Eberitzsch is sitting across from me in a café near his former Potrero district home, excited to tell his story. He greets me as Allen Ginsberg (my look-alike visage intact, masked in dark beard and glasses), and I feign appreciation for the well-meaning reference, knowing that although Ginsberg had quite a poetic sharpness, he wasn't the best-looking fellow. But Eberitzsch's generous charm and earnest happiness with the course his life has taken, despite the disappointments, quickly win me over. Waves of amiable energy overtake the slightly weathered rasp in his voice. A youthful, idealistic Eberitzsch naturally emerges in the course of minutes. In a way, he's been waiting for this interview for 40 years.

"Atlantic told me, 'We don't hear it at this time,'<0x2009>" Eberitzsch says, highlighting the elusive way a record company executive might elongate time, stretching the curt word like a worn rubber band. "But when you invest your life and your heart and soul into a project of your own creation, your own little children of songs, you don't throw them away. You don't send them down the River Styx," he says, laughing. "So I put 'em in the basement."

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