I remember coming home from school back in the day and flipping on MTV to watch videos of my favorite performer, Mill Valley's own Sammy Hagar.
In those big-hair videos, if you looked close enough in between shots of Ferraris and tequila, you'd see Sammy's band rocking out behind the blond frontman. One of those band members was keyboardist Jesse Harms, who today owns and operates in Novato’s Tresch Triangle Plaza.
Gone are the days of sold-out world tours and playing to 15,000 screaming fans. For Harms, that life is replaced with running the instrument store and occasionally working with and recording students from the rock band class at .
"I really couldn't take the road anymore," said Harms, 57. "I've been a musician for 30 years and played all the gigs, but felt it wasn't worth being away from my family.”
Born in Massachusetts and raised in Berkeley, Harms has lived in Marin for 12 years with his wife, Susan, and their two teenage children. Marin Music Center has been in business since 1965, and Harms bought it six years ago when it came up for sale. Harms said his post-touring plan was to share his experience and help local musicians as much as he can, including with songwriting.
"Since the road had no appeal to me anymore, I wondered, ‘What else can I do?’" said Harms, who had considered everything from starting a butterfly farm to online seed distributing. "(Owning a store) wasn't something I really set out to do, but figured it gave me a place I could hang my hat and hoped the store could run itself while I continued to write songs and produce albums.”
Harms took part in nine gold and platinum album awards in a career that started about 30 years when he plays on Ry Cooder's 1980 “Borderline” album and John Hiatt's 1982 “All of a Sudden” release. But it was a referral to Hagar from future Ozzy Osbourne drummer Tommy Aldridge — who was at the time in the Hughes/Thrall band with Harms — that brought him his most fame.
"Sammy was looking for a keyboardist who could also sing and tour, so he got three birds with one stone," Harms said.
Harms was a member of Hagar’s band from 1982-85 and played on rock hits such as"I Can't Drive 55" (see accompanying video). Hagar joined Van Halen in 1985 for an 11-year run. Harms rejoined Hagar's band from 1997-2003.
The missing Van Halen years were active for Harms when he worked with ex-Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth and REO Speedwagon, but it was a song Harms had written called “Walk on Water” that helped pay the bills for a few years (see accompanying YouTube clip).
"I had this song written that I knew was a hit, and offered it to Cheap Trick and .38 Special," Harms said. ".38 Special didn't get back fast enough, so Cheap Trick's producer Richie Zito said it was too late for their album, but said he wanted it for Eddie Money's next album, and the rest is history.”
Harms continued write songs for artists such as the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Guitar Shorty, Johnny Van Zant, Patty Smyth, Bad English and the Michael Schenker Group before landing at Marin Music Center. There, he not only sells equipment and supplies but also rents equipment and privides lessons from 16 teachers on instruments ranging from woodwinds to guitar and drums (the sound of a clarinet was heard as I interviewed Jesse for this story). There is a 24-track recording studio in the back that anyone can rent by the hour. For more information, visit www.marinmusic.com.