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Gramps Has A Ponytail

It’s been more than 20 years since Bonnie Behar Brooks lived in Westport.

But the multi-talented teacher/TV producer/media director’s latest project had its roots here. And — with 16 grandchildren of her own, and 9 great-grandchildren — Bonnie knows it will resonate with her many “grand” friends still in town.

As well as anyone else looking for a fun book for young kids that includes a connection to one of the most noted session musicians in the world.

“Gramps Has a Ponytail” is the bilingual (English and Spanish) story of a young girl who spends her birthday in the recording studio with her grandfather. He’s Bonnie’s husband, Harvey Brooks.

The bassist has played and/or recorded with Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Mama Cass Elliot, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, John Cale, Phil Ochs, Al Kooper, Mavis Staples, and Peter, Paul and Mary.

He’s featured on Miles Davis’“Bitches Brew,” the best-selling jazz album of all time. He laid down some of the most famous lines in music history — including “Like a Rolling Stone” — and his work was the hook on the Doors’ “Touch Me.”

This is the second marriage for both. They were friends growing up in 1950s Queens. But she only dated college guys. He figured she was out of his league.

In the late ’80s, Bonnie contacted Harvey. They reconnected, a bit awkwardly at first. It took a while for Bonnie’s daughters to warm up to this new man. She herself was not ready to commit to a guy who had lived all around the world, and still enjoyed a free, unfettered life.

But they had great chemistry. Harvey moved into Bonnie’s Compo Road North home. Her girls eventually came to love him too. They lived happily ever after, even after 2 moves: one cross-country, the second overseas.

Bonnie and Harvey Brooks

Bonnie was well known in Westport. After teaching at Saugatuck Nursery School, she was one of Cablevision’s first community access producers. Interviews with the likes of Paul Cadmus and Ann Chernow turned into a project now at the Smithsonian. She also produced the first TV pilots for Martha Stewart.

Bonnie served as media director for Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum, In 1988 she created “Rock & Roll: Art and Artifacts,” the first exhibition covering the relationship between art and rock. It included Hendrix’s guitar, the original “Yellow Submarine” model, photos by Annie Leibovitz, and works by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Ron Wood.

The exhibit led to Bonnie’s reconnection with Harvey. Their relationship was solidified as she fought breast cancer. She had surgery before the wedding, chemo and radiation right after.

Years ago, Bonnie wrote a children’s book starring her first granddaughter, and Harvey. (At the end of the day with “Gramps” she gets a tambourine, and everyone sings “Happy Birthday”).

She shopped it around herself, without an agent. No publisher was interested.

“I loved my Westport life. But I married a musician,” Bonnie says. In 1998 they moved to Tucson, a music and arts town that promised adventure. Seven years later they moved again — to Jerusalem. Her oldest daughter lives there.

“It’s another adventure. We’ve made a great life here,” Bonnie says. Their multi-cultural neighborhood is “like the UN.”

Bonnie and Harvey Brooks speak to “06880” via Zoom, from Jersualem.

Last year, Tangible Press published Harvey’s memoir, “View From the Bottom: 50 Years of Bass Playing With Bob Dylan, The Doors, Miles Davis and Everybody Else.”

Now they’ve published Bonnie’s book too. Reviews call it “a delightful story told with great illustrations,” “fresh and fun,” “warm-hearted and engaging.” It also fills a small niche: books about music that grandparents can read with their grandkids.

Whether anyone has a ponytail or not.

Gramps Has A Ponytail

Back in the day — back many days, in fact — Bonnie and Harvey knew each other.

They were classmates at Junior High School 109 in Queens. Both graduated from Martin Van Buren High School.

Bonnie went to Santa Barbara, and married Mike Behar. Harvey Brooks embarked on a musical career.

Their paths did not cross again for many years. By then she was the marketing/media director at Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum. To reach a young audience, she created a rock-‘n’-roll art and artifact exhibit.

Westporters Terry and Gail Cunningham Coen helped, and shared their extensive contact list. Someone else said to call Harvey  Brooks.

Bonnie knew that “her” Harvey had played bass on “Summer Breeze,” with Seals and Crofts. She dialed the number — with a Queens area code.

Two weeks later, he called back. He was indeed the same Harvey.

Al Kooper, Buddy Miles and Harvey Brooks at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Miles and Brooks were the rhythm section for The Electric Flag, which debuted at the festival and inspired Kooper to form Blood, Sweat and Tears. (Photo by Pat Murphy)

They talked about their lives. She had 3 daughters — 19, 14 and 11.

He had recorded with — among others — Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian,Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, John Cale, Phil Ochs, the Fabulous Rhinestones and Fontella Bass.

He’d laid down some of the most famous lines in music history, including “Like a Rolling Stone,” the hook on “Touch Me,” and “Bitches Brew,” the best-selling jazz album of all time.

The exhibit was a huge success. So was Harvey and Bonnie’s relationship.

But there were sour notes in their soundtrack. Harvey was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Shortly after, Bonnie was found to have breast cancer. Their 1st year of marriage was spent in treatment.

Bonnie and Harvey Brooks

They survived, and the soundtrack soared. They lived on Compo Road North. Around the corner, on Evergreen Avenue, was Eric von Schmidt. Harvey introduced Bonnie — who knew Eric only as a very talented artist — to his astonishing musical career.

Harvey and Bonnie enjoyed many musical parties at Eric’s home (and bocce court). One birthday celebration featured a jam with local musicians like Keith Richards, Danny Kortchmar and Charlie Karp.

Years later, Bonnie’s granddaughters were visiting. Danya — age 4 — sat in Harvey’s studio, joyfully beating out a drum melody. Bonnie — enchanted — created story out of the scene. It involved a girl named Sam. She lives with her grandfather — a bass player. He teaches her how sound turns into music. Together they explore the wonders of the studio, and the process of creativity.

When it was finished, Bonnie sent the manuscript to tons of publishers.

Nothing happened.

She and Harvey moved to Tucson. Bonnie unpacked the story — called Gramps Has a Ponytail — and found an artist to illustrate it. Then she shelved it again.

Finally — years later — it’s been published. Danya is now 21, and married. Harvey and Bonnie have 14 grandchildren.

The bassist who once played with some of the baddest boys in the music industry loves being a grandfather.

And being called “Gramps.”

(Click here for the Amazon link to “Gramps Has a Ponytail.”)