Billy Bones & Other Ditties
Crooning mariners create ruckus at local bar every Thursday night - By Angela Hill, OAKLAND TRIBUNE, STAFF WRITER OAKLAND - MAKING TIMELY passage into a barnacled waterfront bar, westward from the Embarcadero in Oakland, 'tis there was said to play a raucous band of mostly mariners, and 'twas truth that be told. There be pirates of the croonin persuasion...Yahhr. A couple hundred years too late to be plundering the seven seas, but long before Johnny Depp conquered the deep of our seafaring souls, the men of the Starboard Watch got hooked by the lure of the sea chantey. And it has been nigh on 15 years that this small band in various incarnations has been strummin and singin salty old nautical songs every Thursday night at L.J. Quinn's Lighthouse to a bursting hold of chantey groupies. They've now taken over the Germans too, with a full-ahead pirate party the first Friday of every month at: Speisekammer restaurant in Alameda. (Guests get a free rum drink if they go in full pirate regalia. Yo ho ho and a free drink of rum.) Weathered and wily, a damn tough life of toil and strife or maybe not yet still seeking gold and glory, the men of the Watch give and get a roarin, rippin, rummin good time. 8 p.m., and all was well Thursday when they launched into their musical lore. Six ofem this time, but it can be five or eight, depending on who shows up on a given night. This time a squeezebox player, a banjo man, a bass, a fiddle, a pennywhistle and a backup singer to boot. They acquiesced to a flood of requests, crooning songs about a whaler and many a drunken sailor, or Homeward bound on the Arctic round, rollin down to Old Maui. Not sure if it's singing, though, so much as growling and shouting. A raucous Rex Harrison kind of technique. Their skippers a mighty sailin' man. His mates be brave and sure. Are you Skip? a newbie swabbie queried. 'What's left of 'i'm,' Skip snarled and slurred, sippin a shot o whisky that may not have been the first of the night. He's Skip Henderson, a seaman from way back, singer and squeezebox player. Won't reveal his age, but looks as though he's lived life at 100 knots. His hair, silver as seafoam, slips out from his captain's cap. Complexion appropriately ruddy and rugged. A scar under his right eye. Bar fight, mayhaps? Skip won't say for sure. 'I picked up the squeezebox as a result of hanging out with some drunken Irishmen,' Skip growled, picking up his button accordion and holding it close. 'This ones a 1934 Hohner. Probably sold to some sailor back then. It's got a sound like an angel's harp.' The second floor bar, poised atop a fine restaurant in the historic Quinn's, is cozy as a captains cabin. Wood paneled walls, draped in buoys and knots, her floors layered with enough empty peanut shells to drive an elephant mad. Cool Bay air blows in off the estuary when someone slides open the door. Boats in the marina below bob and weave in their slips. Tis a whale of a different club scene, to be sure. Yet packed each week, with young and old, most who know all the words and sing along. 'Way-hey up she rises, err-lye in the morrr-nin!'