Scott Thunes of the Mother Hips, formerly with Frank Zappa

The Bass Guitar That Missed The Bus

A musical career helped by a good samaritan

Before Scott Thunes started playing bass with Frank Zappa, he was living in San Francisco and studying music at the College of Marin, a long bus ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. One day, though, he got off the bus in Marin Country and got a rude awakening: “I realized I didn’t have my bass with me,” he recalls.

“I am so sorry to do this to you, but I’m desperate, could you please go and check?”

Nor was it just any bass, but a 1965 Fender Jazz Bass, an instrument the likes of which can fetch north of $10,000 on eBay today. Thinking fast, Thunes managed to bring to mind the name of the bakery on the corner of Van Ness Avenue where he caught the bus each day. From a pay phone (still a commonplace sight in the late 1970s), he dialed information for the number, and 10 cents later he had the bakery clerk on the line.

“I got this nice girl on the phone, and I told her, I am so sorry to do this to you, but I left my bass leaning against a lamppost right outside your bakery. I’m desperate, could you please go and check?”

Moved by his plight, the clerk left her station and came back with the bad news: “I don’t see anything out there.”

Hoping against hope, Thunes pressed his luck, counting on another favor from a person who was already leaving her post to help him. He explained that it was not a tall stand-up bass she should be looking for, but a slim black guitar case. “It’s shorter than you, and it’s leaning up against one of those big white square concrete lampposts,” he told her.

She put the phone down again, and this time came back with a different story: “I got it!” Another long bus ride later and the bass was back in Thunes’s hands.

For Thunes, who now plays with San Francisco Bay Area rock band The Mother Hips, it was a good turn that arguably helped his career: When he auditioned for Frank Zappa several years later, it was that ’65 Jazz Bass that he played, and which started him on a professional relationship that would last the rest of Zappa’s life. He might have gotten the job regardless, but it’s nice to think that the kindness of that bakery clerk helped, in some part, to close deal.

More Good Turns View all
singular devotion at the Mexican border
Building Bridges At The Border
help homeless youth on spider day
Help Homeless Youth For Spider Day
the doctor who learned to help
One Good Turn Spawns Many More