George Michalski's San Francisco
"The Soundtrack of The City"

By: J.C. Juanis

When it comes to genius you need look no further than George Michalski. The native San Franciscan has certainly paved his own musical highway during his illustrious career. A true child prodigy, Michalski performed his first concert at the tender age of 4 performing a program of Bach at the Main Branch of the San Francisco Library. By the time Michalski turned 7 he was offered a full scholarship to the prestigious San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 1964 & 1965 Michalski won the gold medal from the National Recording Society for his virtuoso piano playing. At the age of 12 he was elected President of the Pacific Musical Society and traveling the world performing.

And that's only the beginning of the story….

Benefiting from growing up in a musical community that was just beginning to blossom, a young Michalski fell in with the Grateful Dead, visiting with Jerry Garcia and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan at the band's legendary 710 Ashbury pad. A hirsute Michalski can been seen in the photo that graces the gatefold cover of the band's landmark album, "Live Dead."

By 1970, Michalski was recording with rock 'n' roll's first heavy metal band Blue Cheer, and, after answering an ad in the newspaper, Michalski also performed on a recording session with up and coming singer Lottie Goldman. The guitarist on that session was the late Michael Bloomfield. Bloomfield raved about George and the band in an interview with Crawdaddy Magazine published later that year.

Relocating to Los Angeles in 1972, Michalski formed the band Foxtrot that quickly became the house band at the famed Hollywood nightspots, The Whiskey A Go Go and The Starwood. Foxtrot had the distinction of being the first white band signed to Motown Records. During their two-year reign Foxtrot was headlining over such young upstarts as Van Halen as well as touring with the Electric Light Orchestra.

In 1975, a chance meeting with a then obscure actor by the name of Don Johnson, led to the pair sharing various Los Angeles homes for the next 8 years representing a bacchanal period in the pianist's life. In 1977, producer Jon Peters heard Michalski and partner Nikki Oosterveen on a suggestion of a colleague. "Jon Peters heard us on a Wednesday and the next day a limousine picked us up and we were with Rona Barrett on Good Morning America. By Sunday, Barbra Streisand was sitting on my piano bench learning my songs, " recalled Michalski recently. Streisand would record Michalski's "The Man I Love" which was the flip side of her smash single, "Superman," and is included on her million selling albums: "Songbird," and "Love Songs" (Greatest Hits). Michalski would go on to score the Barbra Streisand/Ryan O'Neil film, "The Main Event," as well as recording the album "M & O" (Columbia). Michalski also scored the music for the films: "Kandyland," a Faye Dunnaway movie, "The Eyes of Laura Mars," and he wrote "Rock 'n' Roll World," for the television series "Fame." Michalski also scored the music for the Readers Digest production of "Yosemite," which quickly became the biggest selling video at the time.

Michalski also established a hometown San Francisco connection when he was introduced to the mime group Shields and Yarnell by powerhouse manager Rick Marcelli. Coming on the heels of their hit CBS television show Sheilds and Yarnell were one of the most popular comic acts in the world. Serving as their Musical Director for the next 4 years, Michalski toured the globe with the mime sensations even scoring their spectacular HBO Special "Two In A Box." Michalski has many fond memories from this time especially an extended run at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where Shields and Yarnell opened nightly for The Chairman of The Board, Frank Sinatra.

George Michalski is known for his uncanny ability to bring together musicians. In 1986 he joined the legendary group Black Tie. Like most of Michalski's musical efforts this was an all-star affair featuring: T. Bone Burnett, David Kemper (Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia Band), Jimmy Griffin, (Bread), Billy Swan, Blondie Champlin, (Beach Boys, Rolling Stones), and Randy Meisner, (Eagles). "Four of the band members had a #1 song", Michalski would later boast. A national tour by Black Tie preceded a yearlong Tuesday night residency at the Cine Grill located inside the famed Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. George Michalski also performed with legendary Southern rockers the Allman Brothers Band during the band's tour of Southern California in 1980 as well as recording with Tom Petty and Dwight Twilley on their smash duet "Girls." By the end of the 1980's Michalski moved back to his San Francisco Richmond District home and would record his highly acclaimed CD, "When The Power Goes" (Blue Wave). It didn't take the gifted pianist long to establish another Tuesday night tradition, this time at San Francisco's Last Day Saloon. Performing under the name, The Greatful Beetles, Michalski formed a weekly loose-knit jam session that featured Bill "Sputnik" Spooner, guitar, (The Tubes), Mitchell Holman bass, (It's A Beautiful Day), James Gurley, guitar, (Big Brother & The Holding Company), Don Graham, drums, and Vince Wallace (sax). Michalski ran the show from behind his electric piano offering up three sets of high-energy rock 'n' roll for the regular Tuesday night crowd that was more often than not filled with such luminaries as: Gregg Allman, Robin Williams, Dennis Miller, Peter Albin, Prairie Prince, Kenny Dale Johnson, Brad Gillis, Harvey Mandel, and Carlos Guitarlos, who would come down to jam or to just hang out.

The 90's also proved fruitful for the resourceful Michalski. The pianist teamed up with virtuoso violinist Kristina Kopriva to record the highly successful CD, "Yosemite." (Masia Music). George would also receive a boost from his old friend Don Johnson who decided to work an original idea from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson into a hugely successful CBS television series, "Nash Bridges" that was based in San Francisco. Michalski served as the show's Musical Director for every episode of the weekly series' six seasons. During that time he was able to air the music of over 50 unsigned local bands, a feat that is unheard of in the television industry. One of the many highlights from Nash Bridges included the recording of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", and "Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas," sung by the show's co-star, Cheech Marin backed by Michalski on keyboards along with: Clarence Clemons, sax, (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band) Neil Schon, guitar, (Journey), Carmine Appice, drums, (Vanilla Fudge, Jeff Beck), and Ross Vallery, bass, (Journey). The musicians were dressed in full San Francisco Police blues when they performed the songs during the show's holiday broadcast. In 1995, Michalski performed for President Bill Clinton at the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. Michalski also performed with Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead at a benefit for the late Allen Cohen ~ the beloved founder of the San Francisco Oracle.

George Michalski has recently released "San Francisco" (Masia Music) which has been hailed as "The Soundtrack of The City." Michalski pays a loving homage to his hometown - incorporating both the feeling and the flavor of the ethnically diverse city -from the poetry of North Beach- to the funky Latin beat from the streets of the Mission- through the psychedelia of the Haight Asbury. From Laughing Sal to Lawrence Ferlinghetti -to the bell tolling from Mission Delores -- all uniquely what is San Francisco. The musicians who perform with George Michalski on San Francisco are the crème of the crop of the San Francisco Music scene: Lorin Rowan (guitar and mandolin), Richard Olsen from the legendary Charlatans (clarinet), Martin Fierro (sax), Barry Sless (pedal steel), Night Ranger's Brad Gillis (guitar), Michael Carabello, the original conga player from Santana (congas), Kathi McDonald (vocals), Harvey Mandel (guitars), and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (poetry), with the original cover art by famed psychedelic poster artist Alton Kelley. The CD disk bears the official seal of The City and County of San Francisco an unprecedented honor bestowed on Michalski by proclamation of the Board of Supervisors and signed by Mayor Willie Brown.

Currently Michalski is working with 50's heartthrob Eddie Fisher. For George Michalski, the pairing of San Francisco's most gifted pianist and the classic crooner just represents more of the diversity, and the celebration that is…..San Francisco.