Jake Sawyer’s Story

photo/The Fuge
photo/The Fuge

Jake Sawyer’s Story
The life of the legendary biker, bodybuilder and bad-ass

by Cliff Gallant

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of our serialization of Jake Sawyer’s life story. Chapter 5 will appear next month.

When we last left our hero, Jake Sawyer had walked into the barroom clubhouse of the Oakland Chapter of the Hell’s Angels, wearing penny loafers, beaten one of their toughest members at arm-wrestling, rubbed it in the guy’s face, and eventually walked out not only unscathed, but having earned a measure of respect from the bikers, who were then fast becoming the most notorious and feared motorcycle gang in the world.

Jake told me the story of becoming a Hell’s Angel while we sat inside his apartment surrounded by blown-up black-and-white photographs taken during those crazy days half a century ago.

“It was the most thrilling and personally fulfilling period of my life,” he said. “I was extremely happy. I had finally found my true family and I absolutely loved being with them. For the first time in my life I was with men who I could totally trust and respect. We looked each other square in the eye and told each other the truth, every time. No pretense whatsoever.

“I had never felt more free to be myself, yet I had never felt more connected to the people around me. When I was with the Hell’s Angels I felt incredibly grounded, as if life finally had some meaning, but at the same time I felt levitated, like I was walking on air and my world was expanding. It was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. I was smitten, I guess. Yes! That’s it! I was in love!”

Meanwhile, Jake’s relationship with Barbara, the woman who’d accompanied him across the country from Boston’s Combat Zone, was ending. So too were the plans they’d discussed about opening health clubs up and down the West Coast. “I was still working out very regularly, though,” Jake said. “Working out has always been so much a part of who I am that I couldn’t give it up even if I wanted to.

“I had been on a continual quest for many years to get bigger and stronger, and, if anything, my association with the Hell’s Angels resulted in my working out even more vigorously than I ever had before. Some guys were after getting stronger for sports, some wanted to look good, but I worked out to get stronger so I could fight better. That was it. This Mr. America and Mr. Universe stuff never appealed to me in the slightest way. What the hell does just looking good get anybody? The whole idea is to feel good so you can be better at doing what you love!

“Exercise is the way to a natural high!” he exclaimed. “It’s the magic elixir to a happier and better life!”

Since I’ve been hanging out with Jake, I’ve started working out a bit. Just a few curls with some fairly light hand-weights, a few push-ups, a brisk mile walk, little stuff like that, but I’m starting to feel real good, just like he said I would.

“Turning others on to the benefits of regular exercise has been my lifelong mission, my friend,” he said when I mentioned my progress, “and I am very happy to have been of service. I’m sure you can now better appreciate how difficult my decision was to pass on establishing a line of Jake Sawyer Health and Fitness Figure Salons up and down the California coastline. There were aspects of going in that direction that were very appealing, like helping a lot of people achieve a lifetime of good health, getting real rich and having a fabulous sex life. There’s absolutely no question I could have done it. I had the expertise, the start-up money and the connections. I was friends with Vic Tanny and Jack LaLanne, and was acquainted with Arnold Schwarzenegger. They would’ve been very happy to help me any way they could, but my heart wasn’t in it. After I met the Hell’s Angels there just wasn’t room in my life for anything else.

“My routine was to work out like a bastard in the morning, then get over to The Luau Club by early afternoon. Those guys were shaking their heads about me. You have to understand that I was a real oddball to them. Most of them didn’t change their clothes for weeks, or ever take a bath, but I showered and wore clean clothes every day. I also didn’t smoke cigarettes, get drunk too often, or gulp handfuls of pills. Well, not on a regular basis, anyway. I did do a little tripping now and then, you know, what with Timothy Leary being a friend of the Hell’s Angels and living not too far away, but, all in all … well, I guess I did do a lot more than I want to let on to, but you get my drift.

Chocolate George, one of the most beloved Hell's Angels, whose death in 1967 inspired a procession of bikers that stretched for blocks. photo/Jake Sawyer
Chocolate George, one of the most beloved Hell’s Angels, whose death in 1967 inspired a procession of bikers that stretched for blocks. photo/Jake Sawyer

“One day I was talking about the benefits of weight-lifting and Chocolate George — who got his name changed from Junkyard George to Chocolate George because he kept iced-down chocolate milk in his saddlebags on a run we made through the Mohave Desert — said, out of nowhere, in a very serious voice: ‘Whenever I think of doing something like that I get so depressed I get on my bike and go buy a gallon of chocolate ice cream and find a field to lay down in somewhere and eat the whole fucking thing.’ What cracked everybody up is you knew damn well that that’s exactly what he did.

“I didn’t stop being weird just because they made fun of me, though, and they started respecting me for it. It amused the hell out of them. I was what they called a ‘hang-around,’ I hadn’t even become a ‘prospect’ yet, but I didn’t grovel at their feet like the other wannabees did. I just kind of skated for being as weird as I was and sticking to it, I guess.

“That I was extremely strong and loved to fight did play a very big part in my acceptance, though. The Hell’s Angels admired power and strength of any kind, no matter where they saw it. They’d seen puffed-up weight-lifters before — a few had come into the Luau feeling their oats, but by the end of the evening they were lucky if they could crawl out the door. I wasn’t just strong, I was extremely agile and very fast, which are often more important than brute strength in fighting.

“The Hell’s Angels said I was a white Muhammad Ali, and I was very pleased by that because Ali has always been one of my biggest heroes. He took on the world and won, and was absolutely true to himself and everybody he met along the way. The man had a good mother, just like I did, and that’s just about all you need in this life.

“Anyway, the Hell’s Angels might have compared me to Ali, but that didn’t mean they were intimidated by my toughness in any way. Every one of them is damn tough himself, and loved fighting as much as I did. If someone, or any number of someones together, came into the Luau and tried to intimidate us with their toughness, they’d be stuffed down the sewer across the street at closing time. ‘Clean-up duty,’ it was called. We all hated it because it was so messy. When you fight one Hell’s Angel, you fight them all. If a Hell’s Angel hits you, for any reason, and you make the mistake of hitting him back, you have just thrown a punch at every Hell’s Angel in the room. It doesn’t matter how big and strong you are, or who you are, you will soon be hamburg.

“What has to be kept in mind here is that during the time period we’re discussing I was not a member of the Hell’s Angels, and wasn’t even allowed to call them ‘brother.’ I wasn’t about to trade punches with any one of them, even if it was just for fun. Later, when I became a patch-holding member, we’d sometimes punch each other around just for the hell of it, but fooling around like that when you’re not a member could get you killed.

“Along with being incredibly strong and having a great appetite for violence, it also helped that I’d been a U.S. Army Airborne Paratrooper and had been around the country a lot. Most of them hadn’t even been in the service or traveled out of California. Now here’s an honorably discharged paratrooper from frigging Maine, a former Miami Beach heath-club manager and Kentucky rum-runner, in their midst.

“What really put it over the top for me, though, was that Sonny Barger, the president of the club, became intent to find out all he could about working out and began questioning me very intensely.”

Jake paused, gathering the strength and thoughts to tackle the great subject before us. “Now that Sonny Barger’s name has been raised, my friend, allow me to tell you a little bit about the man. What you have to understand is that the Hell’s Angels was our religion, Sonny Barger was the messiah and we were his disciples. We were absolutely devoted to him. I can tell you in utmost sincerity that there has never been a greater natural-born leader than Sonny Barger.

“He has a very engaging manner and draws people to him by sheer strength of character. He never intimidates anyone or forces anything on you. Somehow you just know that he knows best, and that’s that. He’s always been a regular guy, too. He’s always had a job and a family, and he’s an honorably discharged Army veteran. He just happened to like being the leader of the most violent, most exclusive, and funnest outlaw motorcycle club in the world, that’s all.

“I had the great pleasure of visiting my brother Sonny at his gorgeous home in Arizona a few short years ago, and I am very happy to tell you that he is in the very best of health and is still very much the man he always was.

Jake Sawyer (right) with Sonny Barger at Sonny's place in Arizona a few years ago. Editor's note: Jake's location in this photo was incorrectecly noted in the print version. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer
Jake Sawyer (right) with Sonny Barger at Sonny’s place in Arizona a few years ago. Editor’s note: Jake’s location in this photo was incorrectecly noted in the print version. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer

“At some point after we met, Sonny became very devoted to working out, and I like to think the seed for that was planted by me. He always did have a much cleaner and more responsible lifestyle than the rest of us did, so working out and staying healthy came quite naturally to him. Anyway, his interest in me went a long ways toward the other guys accepting me, and it wasn’t long before I was going out on runs with them.

“The Hell’s Angels were very selective about who could ride with them on a run. To begin with, a man had to be an extremely skilled motorcyclist. You’re riding a chopped-down-for-speed motorcycle at up to 90 miles an hour in freeway traffic, weaving around cars going 70 and it’s like they’re standing still. The slightest movement or mistake on your part could have unimaginable consequences. You barely had brakes. If your brakes were too good, applying them when you’re going 90 miles an hour could cause you to flip, and flip-outs can cause widespread carnage when you’re riding in close formation. So you don’t have the time or the means to correct any mistake you might make. Stopping or even slowing down are not options.”

Jake fell silent for a spell, musing to himself, slightly rocking from side to side. I could see in that moment that he was back there, flying down some California freeway. Then he suddenly sprang from his chair, darted across the room and swung his body onto the seat of the stationary exercise bike standing against the wall. He grabbed hold of the handlebars and off he went…

“We were like a horde of marauding bandits!” he yelled. “The Jesse James Gang rides again! Entire towns along the way cowered in our wake! Traffic pulled over for us and people stood on the sidewalks applauding as we went by!”

Still gripping the handlebars, his knuckles whitening, Jake stared straight ahead, the wall of his apartment dissolving in the haze of a road baking under a younger sun. “There I was!” he shouted. “I was riding with the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club and was filled with a feeling of power beyond my wildest dreams! I had realized my destiny!

“There was a previously worked-out order to the formation,” Jake explained after returning to his chair. “Sonny rode left front, with Terry the Tramp, Big Al Perryman and Lonesome alongside of him. From there back it was pretty much how far you’d made it up the line. It wasn’t an out-and-out competition — we probably all would’ve been killed if we made it into that — but some maneuvering and slight jostling went on.

A Hell's Angel known as Lonesome, with unidentified "camp follower." photo/Jake Sawyer
A Hell’s Angel known as Lonesome, with unidentified “camp follower.” photo/Jake Sawyer

“I made it up to the second rank of the formation on the first run I went on, which was as high as a hang-around was allowed to go. I was right behind Big Al Perryman, who was an officer and a rising star in the club. On one occasion, I think it was on a run to Palomar [Mountain], which is outside of San Diego, we were stopped for a red light and I became very alarmed when I noticed Big Al’s rear tire was seriously worn and could blow at any time. There was a six-inch-long, three-inch-wide stretch of canvas showing. So the next time we stopped for a red light, I legged my bike up next to Big Al and warned him about it. He shrugged it off, though. Laughed like hell, actually. Said maybe it was time for him to take that long last ride up through the clouds anyway.

“Big Al made it to Palomar without the tire blowing. I’d been praying for him the whole way. Well, I’d been asking my guardian angel to get Big Al’s guardian angel onto this one big time, you know, that kind of thing. I don’t know for sure if any guardian angels played a part in it or not, but right after we pulled into camp, Big Al was parking his bike for the night when his front tire blew. At first we thought it was a rifle shot. We thought it was an ambush attack by the State Police or something like that.

“When he walked by me on his way to one of the three pick-ups we had following us with spare parts and tires, Big Al didn’t say a word to me, and I didn’t even glance at him. Sometimes there are things that are better left unsaid.

“Big Al knew that most hang-arounds would have been scared shitless about going up and saying something to him, especially about his bike. A Hell’s Angel might very well take the attitude that you’re telling him he doesn’t know how to take care of it properly, which is the worst thing you can say to a Hell’s Angel. We absolutely loved our bikes. They were part of our bodies. We’d dream about being on them. We could tear them down to a bunch of parts laid out on a blanket and put them back together again in about 30 minutes, which we’d do pretty regularly, just for the pure joy of doing it. We could straddle our bike and rev it up and know whether or not the proper amount of oil was getting to the engine at the proper time, that sort of thing. So you were careful about making even a casual remark about a brother’s bike.

“Big Al liked the way I handled the whole thing, though. We kind of became friends, to the extent that a patch-holding Hell’s Angel could be friends with a hang-around, anyway. Later on, when I became a prospect, Big Al had become president of the Nomads Chapter, which was the most violent chapter of the Hell’s Angels, and the one I was a prospect for, so let’s say I was happy that Big Al and I had a friendly history.

“Even though I was just a hang-around, I had become very visible in the ranks of the Hell’s Angels in a very short time. I’d proven myself as a vicious and very brutal fighter by picking an outlaw biker from another club up over my head and throwing him through the windshield of a car. It’s a neat trick, actually. The body is positioned horizontally, then thrust forward very violently and slightly bowed, so that the full weight of the individual hits the windshield upon impact. I learned the mechanics of the trick at a physics class I took at Norwich University, and developed the practical application of it over the years.”


Rainy Day Women

“My big break was when I started tending bar at The Luau Club, which was not very long after I first stepped into the place. This was very significant, my friend, because it meant I had made an extremely good first impression on them. The bartender at an outlaw biker club is a very central figure.

“Something to be understood here is that the Hell’s Angels had become national celebrities at just the time I showed up. The news media couldn’t get enough of us, and women were hitchhiking across America to fuck us. We’d take them in the back room and gang bang them, and they loved it. After we got tired of them we’d get them drunk and take them out and get ‘Property of Hell’s Angels’ tattooed across the cheeks of their ass. There’s a lot of older women out there today that have been sitting on that little memory for over 50 years, and loving every minute of it.

“We also had a lot of celebrities wanting to hang around us. In my first few weeks hanging around the Hell’s Angels I became acquainted with Bob Dylan, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and a bunch of other hot shots in the arts-and-entertainment world. Terry the Tramp was banging Janis Joplin for a while. She was absolutely in love with him, but Terry was a big slut who was more interested in camp followers than he was in having a normal relationship. No matter how we treated them, though, these people couldn’t get enough of the Hell’s Angels. They were always trying to impress us with how bad they could be. What they generally didn’t get, of course, is that we were the real thing and they weren’t. They proved that by going out of their way trying to impress us.”

Wait a second. Bob Dylan? Jake knew Bob Dylan? Trying to be casual about it, I asked Jake how much he remembered of him.

“He used to come in and sit at the bar when I was the bartender,” Jake said. “He didn’t try to impress anybody, ever. He was Bob Dylan, and that was that. I got to know him fairly well. He’d certainly remember me today. We liked each other because we were a lot alike.”

Jake let that remark hang in the air for a second, then added, “Bet you knew I was going to say that, right?” He pointed at me and laughed. “Hey, if you ever get tired of this bragging shit, just say so and I’ll back off a bit,” he said. “The only thing I can tell you, though, is that everything I’m telling you is true. Is it bragging if it’s true? Who knows? That was the kind of question Dylan and I would get into now and then, actually. Hey, I’m not going to tell you I was a guru to the guy, but we had some interesting talks.

“He came in wide-eyed, believe me. Here’s this Jewish kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, walking into a Hell’s Angels bar in a rundown section of Oakland, California. Robert Zimmerman, oh my word! Of course, he felt kind of safe because he was already famous, but anything could have happened — you never know. That’s why he liked it, I think. It put him in some kind of peril, whereas the rest of his life was very safe and isolating. He was looking around for ways to deal with his fame, you know, and he liked the way he was treated at The Luau Club. We gave him due respect, we loved his music and played it all the time, but he had to play by the rules, which, in a Hell’s Angels bar, means that there are no rules. You take each moment as it comes and deal with it as you will, before the eyes of all, and that’s what he did.

“The reason Dylan first came into the Luau was that he was friends with Sonny Barger, and for that reason alone he was absolutely safe in our company. Every celebrity in the country wanted to hang with Sonny. He was sort of the anti-celebrity. He got famous without even trying. He was just being himself and didn’t give half a fuck what anybody thought about anything he did. Sonny was a happy, friendly guy, though. Always was, and is to this day. He was good friends with all the members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. He’d laugh about Jerry Garcia being a big tub of lard with a beard, and Garcia would say that Sonny was nothing but a smelly biker, but it was obvious that they liked and respected each other.

“Anyway, one night Dylan invited us all to a party that was being held at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, which is the fanciest hotel in San Francisco. The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were there, and Dylan and Sonny introduced us around and everything was going very smoothly.

“Well, at one point Moldy Marvin found it necessary to piss on a guy wearing a fashionable suit, from behind, while the guy was sitting on a couch entertaining a group of admirers with his wit, but that was very minor. I guess the guy had made a face and pinched his nose like he smelled something foul when Marvin walked behind him — something like that. The pissing incident ended up in all the tabloids because the guy was very well-known in the entertainment field, and evidently his career never recovered from it. Getting pissed on in public is very bad for your image, especially when you’re too much of a pussy to do anything about it. Shit, the little sweetie didn’t even dare to complain and just kind of scurried out the door. After that night, people would snicker whenever his name was mentioned. No one ever gets anything from the Hell’s Angels they don’t deserve, but they sure as shit are gonna get it if they do deserve it.

“Dylan got a hell of a kick out of the whole thing, and after we were asked to leave the party — very tactfully, of course — he accompanied Terry and I on his fire-engine red, 500-cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle to an estate some friends of his owned in the hills of Sausalito, where we had a very nice time. There were two very attractive young women there when we arrived and they took Dylan, Terry and me out to dinner at a very fashionable restaurant.

“Terry and I were a little concerned about the reception we might get, but no fear. We were treated like we were Clark Gable and Rock Hudson. We were instant celebrities, and people just couldn’t wait for us to be bad. They kind of sat back and smiled and waited for something to happen. Terry and I just weren’t in the mood, though, being that we were in the pleasant company of Bob Dylan and two gorgeous women, not to mention eating some very fine free food.

“After we left the restaurant Dylan invited us all to his houseboat, which was tied up to a dock in Sausalito. The two women rode with Terry and me on our bikes, of course. That terrifying but broadening experience had the effect it always did on women, and by the time we got to Dylan’s houseboat the ladies were very eager to ravage our bodies. Being completely dependent on a man in the midst of terrible danger, especially a very bad man, seems to bring out the beast in a woman. I’m not really sure where Dylan disappeared to, but we didn’t much care. His two lady friends took very, very good care of us in his absence, so we didn’t feel slighted in the least.

“A couple of days later we decided to pay Dylan another visit, since the first one worked out so well. Terry and I had gotten the impression that the two women we’d met were bisexual, or at least they were ‘bi-curious’ — you know what I mean. That intrigued us, so we decided to have Mama Judy accompany us, just to see what might develop.

Mama Judy (back to camera) with Hell's Angels circa 1966. photo/Jake Sawyer
Mama Judy (back to camera) with Hell’s Angels circa 1966. photo/Jake Sawyer

“Mama Judy was one fine woman, and very much loved by the Hell’s Angels. She was definitely our favorite camp follower. We never got tired of her. She was a strikingly beautiful blonde with legs that went on forever, and she was also very intelligent and witty. We’d have raunchy sex with her, then we’d all be laughing our asses off together. The other women hated her, of course. She had hitchhiked from Louisiana to fuck Hell’s Angels and that’s sure as hell what she did — it didn’t matter whose boyfriend you were. Mama Judy was also very tough, by the way. She’d get as much pleasure out of beating up one of the other women as she did fucking their boyfriend.

“Terry and I knew that it was a very delicate matter. If we showed up with Mama Judy looking like she always did, like she’d just been ravished by a small party of Hell’s Angels, it would be a major turn-off to the two other women. So we grabbed Mama Judy, threw her on the back of my bike and took her to a high-fashion dress shop. She screeched like mad and objected all over the place, but we stuffed some bills in her hand and told her to come out with a complete set of new clothes, from panties and bra on out. We also stopped at a cosmetics place and made her go in and buy some lipstick and nice perfume. Man, I’d have to say that I’d been sort of losing my taste for Mama Judy, but the lady looked damn good cleaned up. I was starting to think I didn’t care whether we hooked up with the other two women or not.

“We could have called Dylan to see if he was going to be there, but that wasn’t the way we went about things. Even a small display of good manners would’ve gone a long ways toward tarnishing our image. We just showed up on the dock in front of his houseboat revving our engines, with Mama Judy still riding with me. Pretty soon the two ladies from before came out onto the deck all excited and very happy to see us. They said Dylan wasn’t around but we could come in and wait for him if we liked. We liked! Right on! Here we come!

“We sat around making conversation for a while and found that we got along very well together. Let’s keep in mind here that we’re in the middle of counterculture California and we’re on Bob Dylan’s houseboat. There was a very high degree of excitement in the air, and we felt like we were at the epicenter of it all.

“After a while it became apparent that Dylan’s two lady friends were becoming very infatuated with Mama Judy. The three of them started giggling all over the place and fooling around on the couch, and out of nowhere Mama Judy somehow had a wardrobe malfunction. One of her very pretty and very firm breasts loosed its bounds from the new lacy bra she had bought for the occasion, and from then on things heated up pretty quickly.

“I am familiar with the wholesome nature of your publication, my friend, so I won’t linger over details, but let us just say that we bared all and did all, and leave it at that. Never has a plan come together so well, and Terry and I were quite delighted with ourselves. Right at the height of it, though, guess who came home! I was standing on the couch naked, with two of the women strategically placed, and Terry had the other one naked and inverted against a wall when Dylan walked in with one of the guys from his band.

“‘Just in time!’” I yelled. “‘Jump in!’”

“Dylan was white-faced. He wasn’t mad, happy or embarrassed — he was dumbfounded. You’re not in Hibbing anymore, Bobby, I was thinking.

“‘Whoa-a-a!’” he yelled, “‘See ya later! We’re gonna go get somethin’ to eat!’ So he and his friend went to a nearby restaurant for dinner, and the proceedings on his houseboat continued with barely a slow-down for a good long time after they left.

“Dylan went on a national tour shortly after that, so we didn’t see him for a while, but one night months later he walked into the Luau and when he saw me he yelled, ‘Whoa-a-a!’ — just like he did that night — and it cracked both of us up. These American icons are not half bad when you get to know them.”

Dylan happened to be in Portland for a concert the day Jake was telling me this story, and I had visions of getting them together, but things like that don’t happen in real life. I imagined Dylan seeing Jake after all these years and yelling “Whoa-a-a!” And they’d laugh like hell once again.

From left: Tiny the Rat, Big Al Perryman, Fat Freddie, Crazy Red, Dirty Delbert, Jake "Bonecrusher" Sawyer, and Terry the Tramp. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer
From left: Tiny the Rat, Big Al Perryman, Fat Freddie, Crazy Red, Dirty Delbert, Jake “Bonecrusher” Sawyer, and Terry the Tramp. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer


A prospect at last

“As time went on, I became more and more desirous of becoming a patch-holding Hell’s Angel, which means you are an official member and are now authorized to call other members ‘brother,’ because when you become a patch-holder that is what you are to each other, in every way.

“Prospects for membership had to prove themselves worthy by some very dangerous and difficult ways. Something key to be understood here is that in the three months I’d been hanging around the Hell’s Angels, I’d been getting very little harassment from them. In many instances they were treating me like a brother, but, of course, we knew that I was not truly a brother until I applied for and was voted in as a member.

“I became an official prospect in early March of 1966, and I expected the harassment would start then, but it didn’t. The reasons for that are complex, but it had something to do with the ways in which I had already proven myself to them, and also the fact I’d been a United States Army Airborne Paratrooper. They had kind of made the paratroopers out to be more than it was, really, but I didn’t try to disavow them of their beliefs. Paratrooper training was hard, yes, but the truth is that what a recruit went through to become a paratrooper was a lot less than what I was watching Hell’s Angels prospects go through, and I was happy as hell that I wasn’t one of them. I’d see prospects down on their hands and knees being ridden around Hell’s Angels campsites, with their hands and knees all bloody, and the Hell’s Angel on their back would be having a hell of a great time.

“At least in the paratroopers there’s official limits on how far the training personnel can go. The Hell’s Angels knew no such limits, and there was no set time when it would end. They’d keep you as a prospect for as long as they felt like it, and it took only one brother to block your name from coming up for a vote. Then you could go through all this shit for two or three years, and if one brother black-balled you, that was it. This is a one-for-all, all-for-one deal in every way, so you treated every one of them very well at all times.

“The process of becoming a member of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club was very similar to that of entering a monastery and committing yourself to a lifetime in the service of the Lord. The outside world would no longer have any meaning for you, and you joyfully accepted any hardship or challenge that was presented to you in your new life. As I have related to you, the Hell’s Angels regarded Sonny Barger as the messiah and we were all his disciples.


The suicide charge

“My ultimate test was kind of self-generated. I longed to do something heroic for the club and dangerous as hell, and, glory be, I got my chance.

“A brouhaha got started when the wife of one of the officers of the club got slapped by some guy who supposedly had a longtime beef with her. He was in a car behind hers with some enemies of the club, they pulled up behind her at a light and he got out and slapped her through an open window, or something like that.

“Naturally, there had to be retribution. They knew she was the wife of the vice-president of the Hell’s Angels, and that’s really what the whole thing was about. It was an act of total fucking war!

“She had gotten their plate number, so we were able to get a name and address through our official connections, and once we confirmed that a particular address was the domicile of the parties to be targeted, it was only a question of what exactly was to be done. We met at the official clubhouse in Richmond to discuss the matter, and words flew hot and heavy. The outlaw biker world was waiting to see what we were going to do. The Hell’s Angels had pillaged and burned and changed the physical condition of many individuals forever by way of repayment for far less serious offenses, so who knew what the fuck was going to happen now?

“Some of the guys wanted to throw Molotov cocktails into the place, others wanted to hot-wire a bomb to the ignition switch of their car, others wanted to catch them alone and tear them apart, one by one, like they did in the Westerns. You know, have a list and scratch off the names as we went along. That would provide some wholesome entertainment over an extended period of time, some guys thought. But after Lonesome barked out that we should just barge into their apartment and beat the living fuck out of anybody we found there, that was the plan that was decided on. Felt more personal, somehow — the direct, hands-on approach. And, well, we knew they’d be armed, so we would be too, just in case they got any wild ideas.

“It was the stupidest battle plan ever devised! It would, without question, result in every one of us either being killed, seriously maimed, or sent to prison for a very long time. No other reasonable outcome could be expected. I’m a direct descendent of Rollo and Charlemagne, and come from a long line of other well-known warrior-chieftains, as I have told you, and in all the chromosomal memories of great battle plans I have from over the ages, not one is as lame as the one my Hell’s Angels brothers came up with on that particular occasion.

“Again, I was not a member of the club at that time, and I had only recently become a prospect, after a few months of being just a hang-around, so I couldn’t vote and wasn’t expected to say anything at meetings. I just couldn’t hold back, though. I yelled out from the rear how stupid the plan was. I told them in very clear terms what I just told you, that everybody who went on the charge into that apartment would either end up behind bars for a good long time or be deader than hell for even longer.

“Of course, they all started calling me a pussy and making remarks about me being just a prospect. Then somebody called out for a vote. The plan was unanimously approved!

“So I jumped on board. What the fuck, it’s going to happen anyway, I thought. I raised my arm and started screaming ‘Hell’s Angels forever!’ and soon everyone else was screaming it along with me. I can still hear that roar, man! It was so damned invigorating! When you’re part of something like that, your primal instincts kick in big time and you’ll do absolutely anything for the pack, and right away I got my chance to prove just that.

“‘So, Jake,’” Big Al yelled out, ‘since you’re so much for this little action all of a sudden, you’re going to be the one to lead the charge!’

“Damn! I knew it was pure suicide. But just like I’ve always done at critical times in my life, I went right straight for it. ‘Yes, sir!’ I screamed as loud as I could. ‘My pleasure! Just let me know when and where, sir!’

“Everybody started roaring their heads off, stomping their boots on the floor and throwing beer bottles against the walls. That’s when you knew something big was coming down with the Hell’s Angels: when they started throwing beer bottles against the walls.

“After things quieted down a bit, Lonesome came over to me and filled me in on the details of the plan. Oh, they were brilliant! To begin with, everyone but me was going to be armed, Lonesome informed me. I wasn’t going to need a gun because I was going to be used as a human battering ram.

“So, here’s how it went down. Six of us, all with guns drawn — except me, of course — arrive at the apartment at the stroke of midnight a couple nights later. We didn’t have any idea how many men were going to be on the other side of the door. There could have been 20 of them, or one, or maybe nobody would be home. For all we knew, they might have done the smart thing and booked it for the Fiji Islands.

“The plan was for me to knock, then when someone answered the door I was to reach in and grab him and pull him out into the hallway, then turn him around and hold him out in front of us as a shield as we charged into the apartment. The thinking was that having their buddy in front of us like that would prevent them from firing at us, or at least act as a deterrent to some degree. My Hell’s Angels brothers had every confidence in my ability to muckle onto whoever came to the door and use them any way I wanted to. Oh, man, I might have oversold myself to these guys, I was thinking.

“The guy who answered the door appeared to be about 17 years old, had a very slender build, and was extremely nervous. He had a look of bewilderment on his face that instantaneously conveyed to me that he had no idea what was going on. I instinctively felt sorry for him, and instead of grabbing him and using him as a shield, I took hold of his shoulders and shoved him into a coatroom next to the door — which, without question, saved his life, because we immediately came under fire from a guy who had run out of a bedroom down the hall. If the kid didn’t get shot by him, he probably would have been shot by one of the Hell’s Angels behind me, because they were firing like mad at the guy down the hall.

“With the kid pushed out of the way, I started running, crouched over, down the hall towards the guy with the pistol. In the paratroopers we were taught to crouch and look forward when heading into enemy fire. Suddenly there was another body in the way that needed to be dealt with, though. I had bullets flying all around me when a woman ran out of a side bedroom and jumped in front of me, screaming hysterically for us to get the hell out of her boyfriend’s apartment. I wasn’t about to use a woman as a shield either, of course, so I quickly shoved her back into the bedroom and continued charging at the guy with the gun. I later found out that he fired six shots at us in the hallway, wounding three of my Hell’s Angels brothers.

“When he saw he hadn’t stopped me, the guy ran back into the bedroom, probably thinking I wouldn’t follow him because he was armed and I wasn’t — and he had seen me chivalrously get the woman out of the way — but he obviously didn’t know the kind of maniac he was dealing with. I wheeled into the bedroom right behind him, and before I could get to him he got three more shots off. He was waiting for me and had the pistol leveled right at me. I kept coming, though, and when I got close enough I jumped at him and crushed him against a wall, then started pummeling him in a very vicious manner.

“Truthfully, though, I didn’t think he deserved to die for what he had done. He had just slapped a woman, after all. It would have been sufficient for me to have sought him out somewhere and beat the piss out of him, so I really wasn’t hell-bent on beating him to death or anything. As I related to you previously, I thought the whole charge idea was absurd and absolutely unnecessary.

“I didn’t have time to really do the guy up bad anyway. We had three wounded and my other brothers were screaming that we needed to get them to a hospital, so that’s all I could think of. The most seriously wounded Hell’s Angel was in agony and paralyzed from the neck down. When we heard our brother in such pain, we were frantic to get him to a hospital, so we just left the guy I had beaten to a pulp on the floor. As we were exiting I caught sight of the woman and the kid huddled together in the bedroom I had thrown her back into. I think they were mother and son, and they were obviously very grateful to be alive, especially when they heard my Hell’s Angel brother screaming in agony.

“When we got to the emergency room the nurses and orderlies didn’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation right away, so I ran down a hallway, where I saw three stretchers lined up. With blood streaming down my forehead and the side of my face, I commandeered the three stretchers, which I immediately wheeled out to the parking lot. When a young doctor demanded to know what I was doing, I grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him around and pushed him towards my wounded brothers. That didn’t go down too well with the other medical personnel in the area, as one might suppose would be the case, and the police were called.

“In all the confusion, I didn’t even know that I’d been shot. I still don’t know when I was hit — whether it was when I was charging down the hall at the guy, or when I ran into the bedroom and tackled him. It was only a slight scalp wound, but it looked very dramatic.

“At that point I could have wiped the blood off my face and ducked away from the hospital, and no one would have known I had even taken part in the incident. But I hung around the emergency room tending to my brothers until the police got there, and the police arrested me as soon as they laid eyes on me, which I knew they would. Even when they had the cuffs on me and were stuffing me into the back seat of a cop car, I was yelling out to the doctors and nurses to take good care of my brothers.”

Newspaper photo of Jake (center) and fellow Angels heading to jail after the suicide charge. image/courtesy Jake Sawyer
Newspaper photo of Jake (center) and fellow Angels heading to jail after the suicide charge. image/courtesy Jake Sawyer

First night in jail

“When we got to the jail and I was being led to my cell, a newspaper photographer took a picture of me in handcuffs with blood streaming down my forehead and the side of my face, and it appeared in a number of publications across the country. Yours truly was featured in accounts of the incident that appeared in High Times and True Detective magazines.

“So there I was, Jake Sawyer, the mayor’s son, graduate of a prestigious prep school, an honorably discharged U.S. Army Airborne Paratrooper and former General Motors exec, locked up in the Sacramento jail and facing some very serious charges, including armed home invasion in the nighttime with the intent to commit murder. As I think I mentioned to you before, my father was running for political office at the time I was incarcerated, and he placed an item in the Society section of the Maine Sunday Telegram announcing that his son Jonathan was currently vacationing in California.

“Some vacation! In spite of all the wild and stupid-assed things I had done in my life, I had never seen the inside of a jail. I was 28 years old. I did not like the sound of that cell door closing behind me. I was a damn prisoner, man! I felt very lonely and desperate. From the very beginning I knew I would not be a good prisoner, so I was afraid I’d never get out. You also have to keep in mind that I had a severely wounded Hell’s Angels brother in the hospital, and two others who were shot up pretty badly too, and that was very much on my mind. I was severely depressed and sat there on my bunk thinking that my life was going down the tubes very quickly and there didn’t appear to be very much I could do about it.

“To make matters worse, there was an absolute maniac in the cell down the hall who’d heard there was a Hell’s Angel locked up with him, and he carried on all night long about how he was going to tear me apart in the morning when they opened the cells to take us to breakfast. He knew that maiming a Hell’s Angel would get him a lot of prestige throughout the prison system, and that kind of reputation is what lifers live for. He had been in some penitentiary for some brutal murder, and they were bringing him to court to be tried for some other violent crime he had committed.

“I was very scared, no question about it. When you know you’re gonna have to fight some demented Neanderthal in the morning, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, or how vicious a fighter you are — you’re scared. Especially if it’s your first time in jail.

“They let the guy out of his cell in the morning before they let me out of mine, and I knew he was waiting for me, so the first thing I did when the guard opened my cell was push him aside and charge from my cell and hit the other prisoner with a flying tackle. The guards had been hearing him yell all night about what he was going to do to me, so they were expecting something and didn’t make much of an effort to pull me off him. I might have saved the State of California from having to house the guy for the rest of his life, actually. I pushed him onto a radiator in the hall, and before he could get up I wrapped my hands around his neck and proceeded to repeatedly bash his head into the metal pipes. He didn’t have much of a pulse when they finally pulled me off him, but I never did find out what the extent of his injuries were. Never got charged for it, either. The guards knew he had it coming and they must have made up some kind of story.

“I was detained in that jail for two weeks before bail was set, and then I was out on the street awaiting trial, which would take place in three months. As I have said, I became quite depressed in jail, but I did have the consolation of knowing I had impressed the hell out of the Hell’s Angels. My state of mind was greatly improved by the contents of a letter I received from them one day. In consideration of my heroic and selfless actions leading the suicide charge into the apartment of enemies of the club, and in consideration of the fact I disregarded my own best interests by staying at the hospital to ensure my Hell’s Angels brothers got proper medical treatment, I had been voted in as a patch-holding member of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club — while I was still in jail! Never had anyone become a member of the Hell’s Angels in such a short time as I had!

photo/The Fuge
photo/The Fuge

“The authorities were telling me I’d better get a good lawyer, that I was facing a very long prison term, maybe life, when I went to trial, but it didn’t matter to me! I was a patch-holding member of the Hell’s Angels! The picture of me with blood streaming down my forehead tells the whole story. If you take close notice, my friend, you will see that I’m smiling. Smiling! And I’m being locked up for the first time in my life! I’m being led to my frigging cell!

“I call it my ‘Mona Lisa Smile,’” Jake said with a grin. “The difference between her smile and mine, though, was that no one quite knows for sure what she’s smiling about, and I can tell you for damn sure what I was smiling about!”

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