Quoted from the San Francisco Bay Guardian (Oct 18, 1995)
Traditions and trends
SPECS 12 ADLER MUSEUM CAFE
Urban legend has it that Specs, a charming, bespectacled,
and well-read former merchant seaman and sheet-metal worker,
bought his cozy bar on Adler Place with money from the royalties
to the song "Ridin' the MTA," an antigovernment tune
that was made famous by a 1960s Kingston Trio recording.
Legend is unclear, however, as to whether Specs himself
wrote the song (as of press time, he was abroad and unavailable
for comment or self-defense) or a pair of his aunts wrote it.
Further legend has it that the bar was formerly
one of the city's premier jazz hot spots and
one of North Beach's many covert gay and lesbian bars.
Today the bar is roomy and filled with the bounty of Specs's travels
-- historic photographs and artifacts from shells to toilet seats
-- making for many conversation pieces.
It is also a certified Cockroach Sanctuary. (Hinckle)
12 Adler Place, S.F. (415) 421-4112.
Footnote by Lee Lady, 2005: Specs's daughter Ellie Simmons is currently planning a documentary film on the bar, the man, and related matters.
A Google search on "MTA song" + Specs (see in particular Jonathan D. Reed's home page) turns up the fact that the MTA song was in fact originally written in 1948 by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes (daughter of the folklorist John Lomax and brother of Alan Lomax) as a campaign song for Walter A. O'Brien, candidate for mayor of Boston on the Progressive Party ticket. A folk singer named Will Holt subsequently heard the song played in Vesuvio by Specs ("to the accompaniment of a single chord played amateurishly on my guitar," according to Specs), and recorded it for Coral Records.
The record company withdrew the recording after complaints in Boston that the song made a hero of a "communist" radical, namely O'Brien. (For the record, O'Brien was never a communist, but this was the McCarthy era and people were none too careful about their useage of this word.)
As he tells the story, Specs later brought the song to the attention of a New York radio station, where it was given considerable airplay, resulting in its being picked up in 1959 by the Kingston Trio, who made it into a nationwide hit. In gratitude, Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax signed over a portion of the royalties to Specs.
Specs says that during the 1950s Bessie Lomax herself was blacklisted as a communist sympathizer, so that her recordings were banned from the airways. But as a still further interesting footnote, during the Sixties she was appointed to the board of the National Endowment for the Arts, thus honored by the same nation that once ostracized her.
Further footnote by Lee Lady, 2008: For a more detailed account of the historial background of the MTA Song and how it came to be written and was eventually popularized, see an article in Dissent magazine.