Brown Sugar

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My first bike was a Honda Scrambler, a CL-77 305cc. I was happy with that bike, but I always knew I wanted a Harley so I kept my eyes open for the bike of my dreams. This is kinda how it all happened.

Shovelhead Austin
Shovelhead Austin

I was hanging out in Greenwich Village in 1967 back then. I met a lot of cool guys, but one of the coolest I’ve ever met became my best friend, Spade George. He was riding a 1953 Panhead with a jockey shift. We would ride all over the area and he would tell me from time-to-time to get a Harley. I’d always say, “No this Honda is ok for me and it’s fun.”

Then one day in 1969 I decided to get a Harley; a chopper. I found one out in Queens N.Y. So I sold the Honda and jumped on a train and took a ride to Queens to check out the Panhead. And there it was, looking so ugly. The guy painted the frame like a candy cane. It was silver and blue with a peanut tank that didn’t match. The seat was a Bates solo that was white and had seen better days. Now the good part. The front end was from a Triumph extended about 12” and the way they extended it was by welding
12” from another set of forks. It was the first thing I took off the bike.

I told the guy that I wanted to buy it and he said ok and took $500 for it. So I gave him the money and kicked it over and was on my way to back to Brooklyn. Oh by the way, it was raining and every time I had to stop for a light I would get a shock from the coil. Not fun.

I was in a club called the Rat Pack MC at that time. When I pulled up to the club house all my brothers where very surprised, especially my best friend Spade George. I was a little afraid of owning a Harley, but I had nothing to worry about because my best friend knew all about them. Well, so I thought.

The next week, out of the blue, Spade says, “I’m moving to San Francisco next week.” Oh no! So I had to teach myself how to work on my bike alone, knowing I wouldn’t have George around to help me if I got in over my head.

I took a ride to 3rd Street in Manhattan and bought a Wide Glide front end for $40, put that on the bike and I was on my way. Check this out, a guy pulls up out side of the club house one day to sell me a bike. Someone had told him I was looking for a Harley and he was riding a ‘47 Knucklehead, all stock. He was asking $500 for it. I told him no thanks, I’m looking for a chopper. I know, know, if we all had 20/20 hindsight.

So George moved out to California and was always asking me to go out there and visit him. So in March of 1971 I finally made it out there. I hauled the bike out there, but I did ride back. One of my friends was moving to North Hollywood so I put my bike in the van with his stuff and off we went, two hippies and me, a black biker. We took a “southern route,” stopping in New Orleans then they decided to go to Mexico. It was a good idea until it was time to get back into the United States. They stopped us at the border, two hippies and a black biker coming out of Mexico. Remember, hippies were not exactly the salt of the earth to the straight folks and a black biker wasn’t something you saw everyday. They made us empty the van of everything except my bike. I told them that it was too heavy, and they said okay. They had us there for hours. The only thing they found was a knife they said was illegal. They reluctantly let us go.

The other thing I remember was they told me that they just finished a movie they made themselves. It was called the Black Angels. I had a chance in the mid 80s to see the finished movie. It was one of the worst movies of all time, but the bikes where the baddest in any movie.

When I got up to San Francisco a friend of George’s gave me a job. I was selling custom motorcycle parts for a small parts distributor called C&D. We sold parts to everyone in the Bay area. I started to rebuild my bike out there and at that time in 1971 the Rolling Stones had a big hit song called Brown Sugar. It was a song that I really liked so when I gave the painter my frame, gas tank and fender to paint, I told him that I wasn’t sure what color was that I wanted but when it’s finished I want to call the bike Brown Sugar. When I got it back it was gold with a lot of brown running all though the paint job and on the top of the tank he wrote Brown Sugar. And everyone in San Francisco started to call me Brown Sugar.

I have a lot of old photos of cool bikes. The quality of the photos isn’t the greatest because we were using Polaroids and cheap film plus many of the photos were damaged over the years. Hammer asked me to sort them out and try to put together a short story of the photos and my recollection of the bikes, owners and period. He also asked that I start out with this introduction so the readers would have an idea who I was. Hope you enjoy the photos and memories of an old biker.

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