My Night with Gala Dali
I have had occasion to meet famous people before, but Gala (wife of Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali) was by far the most singular such occasion in my (then) short life.
We crossed the vast lobby, “we” being three black men and three white, three bearded men and three clean-shaven, but still totaling six musicians altogether, plus two great roadies there to schlep things, check us in and pay. This group of 8 males ranged in age from early twenties to late forties. A fairly wide sample of humanity with, as a bonus, one of us wearing a turban. He of the turban, Soko Richardson, who played with Ike & Tina Turner and Albert King, was also carrying a bag with 12 bottles of Louisiana Hot Sauce. The great saxophonist and flutist, Red Holloway was 47 and could play any kind of music. Larry “The Mole” Taylor was, and still is (2019) a living history of rock and blues, an original member of Canned Heat after touring with Jerry Lee Lewis and playing in house bands on the Strip.
[Note from 2021: Sadly, three of these great musicians have passed away. RIP Soko Richardson, Red Holloway and Larry Taylor.]
The moment we had entered what must have been a wondrous place 40 years earlier, a svelte Russian-looking woman in what would be called stretch-slacks had been following our sauntering gait across to the desk, and when I sat on my road case, her eyes settled on me. (Why?) I was tired, and as I gazed over I was thinking of a middle class suburban housewife on vacation, but it didn’t seem right. As I reflected on the anomalies, she rose and walked directly over to me.
She looked twice my age, but in reality was 80, about three times my 27 years. She was not bashful when she said, “You are artists? My husband is an artist.” The accent was there, fairly strong but unrecognizable to my then inexperienced ear. Not Spanish, though, at any rate. Coming from Los Angeles, I naively believed I’d have recognized that. As we moved through Spain I realized this too was an illusion. I never heard Spanish in California that resembled it as spoken in Spain. I once had to translate via English to for a visiting Spaniard at my bank in L.A., who tried to talk to a Spanish-speaking teller.
“You are artists?”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that.” I managed, in a neutral tone, already losing interest. “Maybe you have heard of him,” she intoned. “Salvador Dali?” I looked at this woman for the first time, directly, and my own Russian background from two generations back saw something in those eyes that went deep and yet, I somehow didn’t believe what she had just said. It wasn’t until I later asked the hotel concièrge who this woman was and heard his incredulous answer, “But you didn’t know, señor? that is señora Dali.”
SECOND MEETING WITH GALA DALI
The hotel staff seemed genuine when they said it was Salvador Dali’s wife, Gala. Why should they joke about it? It would be a matter of national pride, would it not? So, although at that age, I had no idea about Gala and her history, even I had heard of Salvador Dali.
We had at least an hour before the gig, so I asked the concièrge what room she was in and headed up to see her. After all, she had engaged me in conversation, for whatever reason, so I doubted she’d be bothered by a visit from a 27 year-old rock musician. I suppose today, her whereabouts would be shrouded in secrecy, but at that time I was told her room number and that she was in it.
The Ritz elevator looked like it could give out any time and sounded like it was about to. I swear it took 10 minutes to go up three floors. I knocked on her door and she answered as if she were waiting for me (or someone else?) and without waiting to be invited in, I just told her where we were appearing in a few hours and said she should come and be sure ask for me in the dressing room. She said she would, and I was already imagining how I’d be telling people about this night for years. I’m writing this 39 years later, Gala is dead, she died only 8 years after the events depicted here. I know now that she was born in 1894, Gala was 80 years old when we met!
THIS SPANISH CASTLE MAGIC WITH GALA DALI WAS NOT TO BE (ALAS!)
The gig was in some large venue, I’d say a few thousand people and the cigarette lighter thing at the end. Impressive. No Gala before the gig, none after. Well, when I invited her, I thought she wouldn’t show, so I wasn’t surprised. When you play music in front of thousands of people who make a huge light show of tiny flames at the end, you don’t think about some middle-aged lady you’d invited on a lark to stop by, anyway. Several of us went to hang out with some people we had met at the concert, and here’s where things got foggy. A lot of drinking went on, no drugs, not that alcohol isn’t a drug, but my recollection of how things happened is gone. Some of the highlights have stayed with me all these years.
First we somehow found ourselves at the seaside and got on a small fishing boat. I recall a lot of rapid Spanish and suddenly we were headed out in the harbor. A while later, as charming as this was, everyone was getting like “ok, we better go back” because it kinda looked like we were gonna go fishing seriously and we did have other cities to play in! While I don’t know what the fishermen made of all this, they did bring us back to the shore.
We then somehow got to a bar. Funny how it always gets back to a bar. So this bar, and it was now maybe 3 AM, is filled with the kind of people you’d see in a 40's movie set: sailors in striped long sleeve T-shirts, huge brawls starting and ending with no one watching or caring. We had a bunch of drinks, and left, passing in an alley, by a bakery where someone went in and brought out a bunch of fresh rolls. Christ, this should have been a credit card ad: trip to Spain: $800. “Fresh-baked bread in a dark alley near the sea, priceless.”
It was 8 AM when we returned to the hotel. I went up to my room and its unmussed bed for my guitar. On the way down I stopped at Gala’s room and knocked. Gala opened the door in a nightgown and bade me come in with an arm whose palm went in an arc from me towards the inside of her room.
“So, you couldn’t come and see us play last night?” I said, trying to be cool. She said “Oh, I was there and after, I see Dali and tell him of your great success.” Then she took some hotel stationary and wrote several lines on it. She pointed to the paper and said, “You come for lunch sometime. You take a train to here” indicating the name of the place they lived on the Costa Brava “and then you take taxi here. I pay for taxi.”
The note she signed, an invitation to come and visit Gala and Salvador Dali in Cadaquès, a note that for all I know could have been sold at auction for the price of a very fine bottle of wine, was stolen out of my car in the late 70's.
The unforgettable closing line though, the one that has rung throughout the decades since the incident, and the last words to me from the 80 year-old Gala Dali were: