Clay Grillo

In  the 1970s Bernard Mayes (see Black Mass series)  was hired by James Day, Manager of KQED-TV  in San Francisco, to initiate a radio adjunct, KQED-FM. Mayes was already a colleague at KPFA and he asked me to join him to direct a Drama & Literature Department. I left KPFA with the intention to return if things didn’t work out.  They didn’t. Mr. Day suddenly left KQED for better opportunities on the East coast. He left us in the hands of KQED-TV, which had little interest in affording a radio station and after a year of preparation and a few months on the air the staff was dismissed with a two-week notice.  During that year KQED-FM attracted many talents and volunteers, such as Clay Grillo, to set up and produce daily programs.  Clay had shared duties with KQED’s music and drama department. His recording and mixing sound was exceptional and he quickly relocated them at KPFA in my department. Recording sound on location or inventing it as musical composition was a natural gift for Clay and fit in effectively with my adaptations and other original audio work by artists associated with the station. 

He continued to work with me, producing drama for revived Black Mass episodes and other pieces that involved sound effect composing.  One such drama, Scrap. was a BBC script by writer, F.W. Willits, that came to us while Grillo had begun recordings at a huge scrap metal institution on the Berkley water front.  It was an awesome experience watching and recording the operations of crushing automobiles and other metallic collectables, hoisted then by carts to an enormous cauldron far up at the roof that roared as the metals were melted and poured.  From these sounds Clay composed several compositions and finally the sounds for a radio play, Scrap, a script sent by the BBC about an aging couple neighboring a scrap yard and who lived a life of torment, being unable to hear each other without shouting. 

KPFA harbored numerous young artists and gave them the opportunity to develop their gifts, usually to the point where they were whisked away to better or more rewarding opportunities. Clay’s departure had a happy then tragic outcome.  First he joined several adventurers who had found a paradise on Mexican west coast beaches and an interest in Mexican folk art.  The magical jungle cove and beach of Yelapa became his home and, with a companion, the building of a house from local materials that was awarded recognition by an architectural publication. It became the focus for his new occupation of collecting and trading folk art.  I traveled with them to the village sources of this art, Taxco, Tepoztlan, and in particular Oaxaca and the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban. 

It was a good life for Clay, far from the sound world of scrap metal, but close to a contact with Mexican wild life in the jungle and nearby villages. Illness brought Clay and his partner back to San Francisco where they sold their collections. Death quickly followed for his friend and later Clay, by his own hand.