Sunday, September 6, 2020

2119 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA November 24, 1974 Earthquake/Patti Smith (Things To Come)


Sometimes past, present and future come together in a single snapshot. The weekly listing in the San Francisco Chronicle for the Keystone Berkeley from Sunday, November 24, provides a view of rock history at the time, what was and what will be. The Chronicle's Sunday Datebook section, published on pink paper, and known around the Bay Area as "the Pink Section" published weekly listings for many of the venues in the Bay Area, not just music, but theater, movies, dance, museum, sports and many others. Mostly, they are just lists. Once in a while, however, a list can be a window.

Thanksgiving week, 1974: the big albums are The Rolling Stones' It's Only Rock and Roll and Elton John's Greatest Hits. Other big hits of the year include Stevie Wonder's Fullfillingness First Finale and Eric Clapton's 461 Ocean Boulevard. Rock giants still reign on Mount Olympus. At the Keystone Berkeley, a hippie beer joint near campus, where bluesy guitar solos are the order of the day, the upcoming week brings:

Sunday, November 24: Eli/Earthquake/Patti Smith
Monday, November 25: Eddie Money
Wednesday, November 27: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders/Paul Pena
Friday/Saturday, November 29-30: Earthquake/Eddie Money
At this time, Patti Smith had just released one single on an independent label. 

The Keystone Berkeley, at 2119 University Avenue (at Shattuck), ca. early 80s

Keystone Berkeley-Fall 1974
The Keystone Berkeley was a rockin' beer joint, and it was the second best-paying gig in the Bay Area. The best gig, of course, was playing a big concert for Bill Graham Presents. Most of those bookings went to out of town acts, however. Sure, some local bands got the call on occasion, and playing for Graham was both prestigious and financially rewarding. But a band wasn't going to make their rent every month if they only played for Graham, because they would only open a few shows a year.

Headlining a weekend at Keystone Berkeley was at least a 4-figure payday, however, and bands could come back every month or two. While some Keystone headliners had some albums and got some radio airplay, other bands had slugged it out playing weeknights, until they had a big enough following to get the call on the weekend. Blues were big at Keystone, and so were long guitar solos. Sure, there were a few tables and some seats along the edge, but mostly the crowd stood up and danced on the sawdust floor. Lots of beer was sold, lots and lots.

What was Patti Smith doing there?

In November 1974, Patti Smith released her debut single on MER records, "Hey Joe" b/w "Piss Factory"

Patti Smith and "Piss Factory"

Patti Smith had been part of the New York Artist underground since the late 1960s. She wrote poetry, appeared in a play and wrote some articles for rock magazines. Smith had even contributed lyrics to some Blue Oyster Cult albums, although BOC themselves were not well-known at this time. By 1974 she had evolved from reading poetry into performing original songs with guitarist Lenny Kaye. In July, Smith had recorded two songs for a single. The single was released by an independent label in November, 1974. Back in '74, DIY indie labels were unknown, and singles were pushed by record companies for AM radio airplay. Of course, Patti Smith anticipated the punk and indie movements by years, but no one could have known that at the time.

As for the record, Smith's take on the old chestnut "Hey Joe" was intentionally provocative. At this time, Patty Hearst was still a fugitive, and people were unaware that she had been coerced into cooperation. Although Smith's take on "Hey Joe" has not aged well, it was unlike anything that had come before it. The B-side, "Piss Factory" was mostly Patti reciting a grim poem about working in a factory. This too, was remarkable, and it, too, was not going to get played on any radio station. Remarkably, Smith played three dates at Bay Area rock clubs on the weekend of November 22-24, 1974, opening for some very unlikely bands at very unlikely--for Patti Smith--venues.

From the Friday SF Examiner: "Rock Show--Stoneground, and street poet Patti Smith, at Bimbo's, 1025 Columbus Ave, 9 p.m."

Bimbo's was a strange venue in North Beach, an old sort of cabaret nightclub. It was not a club, just a room available for rent. Stoneground had been a real hippie band, formed by KSAN-impresario Tom Donahue with much fanfare in 1971. They had folded in early 1973, but they had reformed for the first of many reunions. Stoneground played a kind of boogeying soul-rock. The original incarnation had been a 10-piece band with 5 lead singers, and but now they were just a four-piece. I'm assuming that Patti Smith was just backed by Lenny Kaye, although perhaps pianist Richard Sohl was along, too. I'm confident that a full band wouldn't have come West with her for such small gigs. Bimbo's was an odd place, and Patti Smith's general uniqueness might have actually worked better than you might think.

From the Saturday SF Examiner: "Rock Dance--Eddie Money and street poet Patti Smith, at Long Branch Saloon, 2504 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, 9 p.m."

The Long Branch show has to be the most surreal Patti Smith event ever. The Long Branch was another Berkeley beer joint, about a mile further from campus than Keystone Berkeley. The Keystone liked to rock out, but there was some serious music there as well. Long Branch just liked to rock. The crowd at the Long Branch was younger, a lot nearer to 21, and the place was smaller than Keystone (300+ vs 500 at Keystone). Successful weekend bands at the Long Branch aspired to move up to the weeknight slot at Keystone Berkeley.

Keystone Berkeley, for all the loud guitars, got some University people. Long Branch--not so much. Patti Smith, being Patti Smith, may have thrived on a rowdy crowd hoping for some loud blues, probably mystified at way too many words and no drummer. But it would have been strange.

Eddie Money had been playing the Long Branch since about 1972, when he was still called Eddie Mahoney and his band was called The Rockets. By '75, he could headline Saturday night at the Long Branch. Two years later, he would release his debut album, which featured "Two Tickets To Paradise" and "Baby Hold On To Me." Money was dynamic, and all, but a completely derivative performer, just recompiling the music that had come before him.

Who Booked Patti Smith?
Who in Berkeley knew to book Patti Smith? I don't know--but I'll bet I can guess. The hippest, most ultra-cool record store in Berkeley was Rather Ripped Records, on Hearst and Euclid. It was Northside, relatively far from the turmoil of Southside and Telegraph Avenue. Do you recall the kind of record store where everyone was too cool for words, they knew all the Kinks b-sides by heart, and could tell you the difference between the first and second pressing of Pink Floyd albums by reading the scratchings in the vinyl? Rather Ripped was the model for all of those stores.

Part of the Rather Ripped thing was that all the other Berkeley stores--over on Telegraph and Southside--were into hippie stuff, and Rather Ripped was into the British invasion and weird progressive rock. It was a great store, and they would open any record and play it for you if you asked, but their whole thing was that they were wired into the underground mojo.

A number of Berkeley musicians regularly worked at Rather Ripped, including some of the Beserkely Records crowd. Within a few years, Beserkely, a local independent label, would release albums by Earthquake, Greg Kihn, Johnathan Richman and others. So seeing that Patti Smith was opening for Earthquake at the Keystone is a hint of the Beserkeley/Rather Ripped connection. Rather Ripped had at least enough favors to call in that they could get someone to open on a weeknight at the Keystone.

Thanksgiving Week at Keystone Berkeley, 1974
So let's review the week at Keystone Berkeley:

In 1975, Earthquake would release the album Rocking The World on the independent label Beserkeley. The record featured covers of cool, obscure 60s records.

Sunday, November 24: Eli/Earthquake/Patti Smith
Eli was a band from Tallahassee, I think. OK--I saw them once. Earthquake had formed in 1967 in Berkeley High School as The Purple Earthquake, and were still slugging it out. They had released two albums on A&M in the early 70s, but had been dropped by the label. They had kept plugging, and would soon release their own albums on Beserkely. Earthquake played like a British Invasion band, and specialized in obscure covers from the 60s (like the Easybeats "Friday On My Mind"). Patti Smith, then obscure, would go on to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

In 1977, Eddie Money would release his debut album on Capitol. It had two giant hits, "Two Tickets To Paradise" and "Baby, Hold On To Me."

Monday, November 25: Eddie Money
Eddie Money, as discussed, probably sold more records than anyone on this list, at least while alive. He's a footnote now. Sometimes you hear his music on late-night commercials for baby boomer products. Money is a symbol of 70s/80s "Arena Rock," and all that it implies.

Paul Pena's 1971 debut album for Capitol

Wednesday, November 27: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders/Paul Pena

Jerry Garcia used the Keystone Berkeley as his personal clubhouse. He played there over 200 times, more than any other building (including the Fillmores, the Warfield, etc). On this Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Garcia and Merl Saunders would have been jamming on Bob Dylan and Smokey Robinson songs, with Jerry soloing away to his heart's content. Whether you think Garcia's penchant for jamming was a sign of artistic depth or profound self-indulgence doesn't matter here. Jamming out in public in some club on a Wednesday is what you would expect a 60s hippie guitarist to do, and Jerry did it at the Keystone.

Opening act Paul Pena is an interesting case, with a surprising resonance. Pena, who was mostly blind due to a childhood condition, had a blues band in Philadelphia that had opened for the Grateful Dead at the Electric Factory in February 1969. Pena became friendly with Garcia. Pena moved to the Bay Area in 1971. Almost entirely blind by this time, he called the Dead office, who helped him get work. Pena ended up living near Keystone Berkeley, so he played the club regularly.

Pena recorded two albums, for different labels. His self-titled debut album came out on Capitol in 1971. The followup, New Train, was recorded for Bearsville in 1973, but (like many Bearsville albums) was tied up in litigation for decades and not released until 2000. However, Steve Miller had heard a copy of New Train, and made a big hit of Pena's song "Jet Airliner," providing Pena with a solid income.

Friday/Saturday, November 29-30: Earthquake/Eddie Money
Come the weekend after Thanksgiving, just another weekend in Berkeley. Two bands who ruled the Longbranch, moving a dozen blocks nearer to campus. Sawdust, beer and loud guitars. No street poets on the bill tonight. Still, in a week: two future members of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, some songwriters who would write massive 70s hits, and some local bands just trying to make it pay.


 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

22700 Old Santa Cruz Highway, Chateau Liberte, Los Gatos, CA: 1970-75 (Santa Cruz Mountains Rock History)


The pool at The Chateau Liberte in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with a tiled representation of "The ZigZag Man." Rock History lives on.

The Chateau Liberte was a former resort hotel that was turned into a hip entertainment enclave in the early 70s. Calling the Chateau Liberte "notorious" doesn't tell the half of it. Although the Liberte is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and on the Old Santa Cruz Highway, it is actually in Santa Clara County. In the early 70s, the Santa Cruz Mountains had plenty of cheap, inaccessible housing, so those hills were full of bikers, pot growers, entrepreneurs and layabouts. Many Mountain residents fit more than one of these categories, and all of them hung out at Chateau Liberte on weekends.

"The Chateau" had originally been a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop. From 1920 to 1945, it was a resort called Chateau Boussy, a French restaurant and resort, noted as a hideaway for important political figures to stash their mistresses. When it got taken over by hippies in the early 70s, it became infamous for its swimming pool, which had a tiled "Zig Zag Man" adorning the swimming pool. The Chateau had a deserved reputation for being a hangout for the Hell's Angels, but many people who went there claim that it was mostly a mellow scene.

The cover of Doobie Brothers debut album (Warner Brothers '71), taken at the Chateau Liberte bar.

In 1970, when The Chateau first got rolling, one of the regular bands was Mountain Current, led by Matthew Kelly and John Tomasi (John Tomasi was the former lead singer of The New Delhi River Band). Mountain Current often shared the stage with either The Doobie Brothers or Hot Tuna, who tended to alternate weekends. Often the nights ended up in a big jam. The cover of the first Doobie Brothers album was taken at the Chateau Liberte bar, and the second Hot Tuna album (First Pull Up, Then Pull Down) was recorded there in 1971, with an inner sleeve photo of Tuna on stage at the Chateau.

W.J. McKay, who first frequented the joint as a teenager, recalled how everyone seemed to get along: "You had people that were totally politically opposite, socially opposite," he told me. "Bikers and hippies were about as different as people could be, and yet they totally co-existed up there. They even had their own underground economy going on. Dope had an established exchange rate. Pot was worth so much in weight, for so many hits of acid. The hippies and the bikers totally worked together. They exchanged food, they worked on each other's vehicles, they did chores for each other."

"It wasn't just a legendary rock & roll bar," McKay said. "It was an example of music and people breaking barriers, for better or worse, in one of the most beautiful natural coastal rain forests in the world. It was a scene that will never be re-created, and hopefully never forgotten."

Mountain Current had a floating membership, depending on who Kelly could get to play each weekend. Future Kingfish guitarist Robbie Hoddinott, then just out of Los Altos High School, played when he could. One other member of Mountain Current that I know was a temporary one, legendary South Bay guitarist Billy Dean Andrus. Andrus was the frontman for the popular San Jose band Weird Herald, fondly remembered by all who saw them (and by those lucky enough to have heard anything from their unreleased album on Onyx). Andrus was some character, however, and at one point around 1970 he was fired from Weird Herald, who temporarily replaced him with old Garcia pal Peter Grant. Andrus played with Mountain Current for about six weeks. Andrus liked to jam, and the suggestion was that he just plugged in and roared with Mountain Current. Andrus particularly enjoyed jamming with Hot Tuna (and no doubt the Doobies) when the shows were winding down.

How legendary was Billy Dean Andrus? He died in November of 1970, apparently after a wild party, and it hit all his friends hard, particularly those who were musicians. Kelly described the scene from that event, and it was so scary that the cops were afraid to come down the road to the club. After a nearly 24-hour blowout, with the musicians (and everyone else) high from too much crank, everybody tried to come down. Andrus took too much dope, and OD'd. Everybody took it hard.

Jorma Kaukonen, one of Andrus'  closest friends, wrote "Ode To Billy Dean," and Hot Tuna not only started playing the song by the end of that month, they still play it to this day.  Doobie Brothers' guitarist Pat Simmons had known Andrus when Simmons was just a teenager, working in folk clubs like The Brass Knocker. Simmons also wrote a song for Billy Dean, called "Black Water" ("Oh black water/Keep on rollin''/Mississippi Moon, won't you keep on shining on me"), and it became a worldwide hit that everyone recognizes. Pat Simmons and the Doobies still play that song, today, too.

In late 1974 and early 1975, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir each played a few shows at The Chateau. In Garcia's case, I think he was just filling in the date book for an empty weekend, as the venue was tiny even by his standards. Kingfish, on the other hand, seemed to have used the gigs to give Bob Weir a chance to get his sea legs with the band. According to various accounts, the sound man at The Chateau was quite willing to let tapers plug in, so even though the gigs were obscure, tapes from the venue circulated relatively widely.

One other unique piece of Grateful Dead history took place at the Chateau Liberte: a very rare showing of the Sunshine Daydream movie, way back in 1974. I know it was also shown once at Stanford University around that time as well, as I recall not going because "how could it be any good if I hadn't heard of it?" Today, the Chateau Liberte is owned by a real estate agent, and the house is a private residence. It is hard to get to, and can't be seen from the road anyway. But the pool is still intact, apparently, so rock and roll history does live on.


Friday, July 17, 2020

519 W. Zane Street, Louisville, KY: The Kaleidoscope (1968)




The Kaleidoscope, 519 W. Zane Street, Louisville, KY
Kaleidoscope. An optical instrument with two or more reflecting surfaces tilted to each other in an angle. Basically a child's toy. Nonetheless, it became a sixties "word," like "Mandala" or "Stonehenge," turning up everywhere. In my archaeological diggings in the substratum of 60s psychedelic rock, Kaleidoscope always turns up
Sometimes, your archaeological digs find a synergy, unexpected but all the better for that. Here are the potsherds of the story of The Kaleidoscope in Louisville, KY, a psychedelic outpost on the circuit for 8 or 9 months in 1967.

Anyone who recalls anything--flashback, bad dream, recovered memory, grand jury testimony--please represent in the Comments.

Louisville, KY
Louisville, Kentucky was pretty far outside of the rock and roll touring mainstream in the 1960s. Louisville was near the rapids at the Falls of Ohio, on the Ohio River. Thus Louisville became a transit point, as boats had to be unloaded and their cargo transferred downriver. Prior to the Civil War, Louisville was also a focal point for escaping slaves, since neighboring Indiana was a Free State. In the 1960s, like many cities, Louisville experienced a move to the suburbs, leaving downtown buildings and businesses stranded. Although I do not know for sure, it is likely that is how the hotel where the Changes club was opened became available.

519 Zane St near the Ohio River and I-64, just north of the U. of Louisville. The University of Louisville was founded 1798,  city funded until 1970, when it became a state institution. The school was always a college basketball power, not surprising considering it was in between the University of Kentucky (in Lexington) and the University of Indiana. Peck Hickman was head basketball coach from 1944-67, and had 46 straight winning seasons (and his assistant John Dromo ran the team through 1971). Louisville hired Denny Crum in 1971, and he in turn ran the team until 2001, bringing the University of Louisville to the national sports stage. Crum won his first NCAA title in 1980, when Darrell Griffiths--" Dr. Dunkenstein"--led the team over Larry Brown's UCLA squad, anchored by Kiki Vanderweghe.



A photo accompanies a Louisville Courier Journal article from June 26, 1967. Innocent times. (the full article is reproduced below)

Some years ago, I did some crucial archeology on The Kaleidoscope in Hollywood. There were great posters, all sorts of Los Angeles law enforcement issues, great bands, a Saturday Night Live connection and so much more. As part of the analysis, I felt I needed (for Google purposes) to note that there had been venues named The Kaleidoscope in Philadelphia and Louisville. This was about a decade ago, and I think if you googled "Kaleidoscope + Louisville," all you got was my blog. Unexpectedly, I got some amazing comments about the Louisville venue.
Just a few things from memory regarding Kaleidoscope in Louisville, Kentucky.

It was originally called Changes and was located in a very old 3 story opera house. The first floor was an excellent gift/head shop. The exterior was painted brightly with flowers, peace signs, etc. Changes was owned by a dude from California, but I can't recall his name. He built a fantastic house in beautiful Floyd Knobs just across the river in Indiana. I smoke my first there.

Later, the club was owned by an interesting family trio of wonderful ladies; 3 generations of women running the coolest live music club in the Midwest. I can remember the names Goggie and Debbie, but the third escapes me. Both had a magnificent decor and wondrous light-show by Aurora Borealis (I think)

You are correct that Iron Butterfly played there, but the most memorable show was Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Local favorites were The Tiffany System and 31st of February who eventually became the Hour Glass, Allman Joy, and of course the Allman Brothers.

The place was under constant siege by the Louisville Police Department who at one time stole the club's dance license off the wall and tried to arrest anyone who danced. This was foiled by a signal light triggered from downstairs. When the light came on, everyone stopped dancing and sat down.

The historical building was destroyed by a mysterious fire that most thought was set by the police.
Randy Guest I believe was the original owner of the Kaleidoscope in Louisville. His wife's name was Keiko. Even though I was under age at the time, I was possibly Louisville's youngest hippie-freak and I spent a few enjoyable evenings there as well as having a private party celebrating my 9th birthday there, if I recall correctly. One of the popular local bands at that time who played there regularly was The Waters.


An old photo of the three-story opera house at 619 W. Zane Street, in Louisville, some decades before it became Changes (in 1967) and then the Kalieodoscope

As the internet has improved its scope and reach, we can find out a little bit about The Kaleidoscope and the Louisville rock scene. It's just fragments, but it paints the outline of what was happening. What we don't know from this vantage point is how often the Kaleidoscope was open. Most psychedelic clubs in this era were just open on weekends, rather than six or seven nights a week. There wasn't a bar, to my knowledge, and rock fans were young in those days, so the club wouldn't likely have made money on a weeknight. My guess is that local or regional bands played most weekends, and every once in a while they got a good out of town band.

The 1968 Vanguard debut album by the 31st Of February, with Scott Boyer, David Brown and Butch Trucks. Apparently the Jacksonville band played Louisville's Kaleidoscope
The 31st Of February were a Jacksonville, FL trio with guitarist Scott Boyer (later in Cowboy), drummer Butch Trucks (later in the Allman Brothers for 45 years) and bassist David Brown. Their debut album was released on Vanguard in 1968 (later in 1968, they were joined temporarily by Duane and Gregg Allman)

A long lost flyer for The Mothers of Invention show at The Kaleidoscope, on March 17, 1968 (thanks Lonnie for tweeting out the scan)
March 17, 1968 The Kaleidoscope, Louisville, KY: Mothers of Invention/The Oxfords (two shows)
This show was confirmed by Zappa scholar Charles Ulrich, the gold standard, so we can be sure of it even if we know little else. The lineup was the full MOI HOF: Ray Collins, Ian Underwood, the Gardners, Motorhead, Don Preston, Roy Estrada, Artie Tripp and Jimmy Carl Black (the Indian of the group).

June 13, 1968 The Kaleidoscope, Louisville, KY: Blue Cheer (two shows 8:00 and 10:30)
San Francisco's Blue Cheer was riding high behind their debut album Vincebus Eruptum, and the sorta-hit "Summertime Blues." Were they good? Opinions vary. Were they loud? Stacks of Marshall Stacks, cranked to 11--they were loud, in era when backlines were small and PAs often non-existent. Blue Cheer had enough infamy at least (and apparently some AM radio play, per the ad above) for the promoters to have two shows.

July 30, 1968 The Kaleidoscope, Louisville, KY: Iron Butterfly
Iron Butterfly were a cool underground band, at this point. Atco had just released their second album, Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida, the week before. That album that sold so much that Atco Records invented the Platinum record to honor it. At the time, though, the Butterfly were just a quartet from LA, with Erik Brann on guitar, not that well known after just one prior album. In 1969, behind their hit, Iron Butterfly would return to Louisville to headline the U. of Louisville basketball arena, Freedom Hall.

October 31, 1968 Freedom Hall, U. of Louisville, Louisville, KY: The Doors/Waters/Tom Dooley/The Lovelight
On Halloween 1968, however, The Doors were already big enough to headline Freedom Hall. It appears that the Kaleidoscope team did the lights, and Waters, who were one of the opening acts, were Kaleidoscope regulars. 


December 7, 1968 Knights Hall, Bellarmine College, Louisville, KY: Grateful Dead/The Oxfords/Waters/Stonehenge
The Grateful Dead always have a part to play in these psychedelic narratives, In this case, apparently the Dead were supposed to play The Kaleidoscope but instead played at nearby Bellarmine College. The Kaleidoscope crew put on the concert, however, and some of their regular bands seemed to be opening. The Grateful Dead were always willing to take a chance with new hippie venues in towns they had never visited, one of the reasons that so many 60s venues have some sort of legendary Dead show attached to their mythology.

It's not clear to me whether the Dead would have too big for the Kaleidoscope, or the building had already burned down. In any case, the December show seems to be the end of The Kaleidoscope story in Louisville.

Sic Transit Gloria Psychedelia.




Archaeological Appendix: Louisville Courier-Journal Article, June 26, 1967
I tend to focus pretty exclusively on 60s psychedelia, and I'm mainly interested in the bands and the economics and contemporary neighborhood politics around different venues. Still, this article from the previous year's Louisville Courier-Journal  (June 26, 1967)seems a goldmine for those interested in proto-hippie pop culture outside of the two coasts. The article is about two "Teen" clubs, Changes and the nearby 7-To-1 club. The reporter talks about the teenagers clothes, and what high school they go to, and has quotes from 17 year olds trying to sound sophisticated. You'll have to embiggen the clipping above, but if this sounds interesting it's a fascinating snapshot into 1967 Louisville teen life.

Update: 519 W. Zane Street--The Whole Story

Set the Wayback Machine, and listen to a 2-hour (!) audio special on 519 W. Zane Street, complete with a 60s rock and roll soundtrack. It turns out that the building dates to 1888, founded as the Louisville Athletic Club. Afterwards, it had many incarnations: a school, a Dairy, an Oil Company, and finally around 1958, local abstract artist Leo Zimmerman had formed the Society For The Arts in Louisville opened 519 W. Zane as the Louisville Art Club. It was a private club, which I think allowed it to serve liquor. Jazz acts and many other performers played the club.

There's a lot of great information--Iron Butterfly got paid $700, and Steppenwolf apparently played the Kaleidoscope (for $2000). Great work by the Louisville scholars. It's well worth the time of listening, so I won't spoil it all.


Monday, July 13, 2020

1814 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA--Regency Ballroom, Oakland, CA

The Leamington Hotel in Oakland was a downtown hotel that had fallen into disuse by the 1960s as fewer and fewer visitors actually stayed in hotels downtown. It was used briefly as a rock venue, initially for "teen" dances around 1966, and also for one psychedelic show with a widely circulated poster. On February 10, 1967, The Funny Company presented The Sparrow, The Widlflower, The Living Children and The Immediate Family at The Regency Ballroom. The Sparrow, then based in Sausalito, later evolved into Steppenwolf; The Wildflower were an Oakland-based band who were Fillmore and Avalon regulars; The Living Children were the finest psychedelic band in Fort Bragg, CA; and The Immediate Family, with guitarist Tim Barnes, were a popular Contra Costa County band. This intriguing foray into psychedelia was rare for Oakland, and never repeated at my knowledge at The Regency Ballroom. The venue was small, parking was probably difficult, public transport non-existent and the police almost certainly intolerant. Although the bands seem excellent today, and were probably a lot of fun in concert, they all would have been fairly unknown at the time. Although the site has obviously changed, the ballroom was plainly quite small by late 1960s standards, and even if the venue was full it would not have generated the kind of revenue needed to sustain a rock ballroom like The Fillmore or Avalon. I visited the site of The Leamington Hotel, at 1814 Franklin Street on August 7, 2009, and took photos of the interior (above) and exterior of the building. I assume the pretty colored glass in the center of the building is a remnant of the Regency Ballroom--it must have looked nice when it was part of a light show. The Leamington Hotel, now called "The Leamington", is basically an office building with a few shops and restaurants. In the 1980s, there was a good pizza place in the building (Da Vinci's), which is how I am aware of it.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

August 2, 1969 Baylands Athletic Center, Embarcadero Road East, Palo Alto, CA: Eleven Hours, Eleven Bands (Last Palo Alto Be-In)


The August 2, 1969 SF Chronicle lists "12 bands, 11am-11pm"

Palo Alto likes to see itself as one of the launching pads for 60s rock history, and it may not be wrong. The Beatles stayed in Palo Alto in 1965, and there was an Acid Test, and there was the Grateful Dead. So Palo Alto played its part. Unlike other small towns in the 60s, and even unlike most college towns, Palo Alto had a number of Be-Ins in the 60s. Most college towns had one, or sometimes two, and then gave it up. The City Of Palo Alto actually had six, from 1967 to '69.

The organizers of the Free Concerts were the constituents of the MidPeninsula Free University, or "Free You." Free You was an aggregation of intellectuals, artists and characters, who provided alternative educational opportunities in storefronts and people's homes. While Free You helped popularize the likes of "Underwater Basket Weaving"--thanks, Palo Alto--the model has been copied by University Extenion courses throughout the country, so they weren't wrong. Initially, however, the Free You freaks raised money by having free concerts and asking for donations.

The first Free You Be-In was at El Camino Park in Palo Alto on May 14,1967. El Camino Park, at 100 Alma Street, was Palo Alto's oldest park. The park had opened in 1914, and it was the Western edge of downtown, across from Stanford Shopping Center. The May Be-In was a big success, with a few local rock bands (like The Flowers) providing the entertainment,and since Palo Alto was a tolerant town, FreeYou received a permit for a second one.

The second Palo Alto Be-In was an all-timer--on July 2, 1967, local heroes the Grateful Dead returned to Palo Alto in triumph, and packed the park. Palo Alto was still Palo Alto, though, and FreeYou held a third Be-In on October 1, 1967, with the Steve Miller Band (including Boz Scaggs) on top.

By 1968, sleepy Palo Alto was inadvertently turning into a rock and roll town. There was a popular rock club, The Poppycock, just a few blocks from El Camino Park. The high school kids discovered that a downtown plaza was private property, and held their own mini-Be-Ins and free concerts. University Avenue was full of hippies on Friday and Saturday nights. Things were happening.


The July 3, 1969 Stanford Daily describes how local rock bands risked getting their equipment impounded if it exceeded 25 watts when performing at a scheduled July 4 Be-In at El Camino Park

Palo Alto: 1969
Palo Alto isn't most towns. In most towns, in 1969, the issue with free concerts would have been fear of hippies, long hair, rampant drug use, topless young women, and the dreaded fear of corrupting youth. Palo Alto parents were middle class and extremely progressive, however, the kind of people who had hated Joe McCarthy, liked Pete Seeger and wanted to ban the bomb. It was their own kids who had long hair, and by and large Palo Alto parents were dismissive of those criticisms.

What Palo Alto didn't like, however, was noise, and any big crowds associated with rock concerts. The apartment building at 101 Alma was finally successful in shutting down the Be-Ins on the basis of noise. In the Spring of 1969, Palo Alto City Council had passed an ordnance that limited the amplification of Be-Ins to 25 watts. So Palo Alto would approve a permit for a Be-In, but not a sound system. FreeYou got a permit for a July 4 Be-In, but no sound system. Bands did not want to risk a bust, so no Be-In happened.

Remember, however, most of Palo Alto wasn't opposed to FreeYou or even rock music, as long as it was quiet and uncrowded downtown. So Palo Alto offered a different city site for a Summer Be-In. The city allowed FreeYou to have a free concert at the new softball complex at the Baylands Athletic Center, near the Bay on the Eastern edge of town.

The softball field at Baylands Athletic Center as it looked in the 21st century

Baylands Athletic Center
Most Palo Altans think of the city as ending at the Bayshore Freeway (US101), but it's really not the case. In fact, the city extends East over the freeway, following Embarcadero Road all the way to San Francisco Bay. Just north of it, the extension of University Avenue was East Palo Alto, and the extension of Willow Road was East Menlo Park. "East Palo Alto" and "East Menlo Park" were just designations in the 1960s, as they were unincorporated land in the county next to Palo Alto (East Palo Alto is now an incorporated city within San Mateo County). Out on Embarcadero Road, past the Bayshore, Palo Alto had all sorts of things, an airport, a duck pond, a yacht harbor, a "waste disposal site" (which we called "the dump") and some other ununsed wetlands.

Palo Alto, being Palo Alto, had an idea way back in the 1940s that some of the little-used wetlands should be preserved. Parks were established in the Baylands as early as 1940. By the 1960s, there were serious efforts afoot to preserve the environment of the fragile bayland ecology. Still, Palo Alto had needs, and along with the airport and yacht harbor, Palo Alto built an athletic center, with a lighted softball field and a baseball diamond. The athletic facility (now with the address of 1900 Geer Road), was just on open land between the Bayshore Freeway and the bay itself.

Palo Alto had limited any Be-In at El Camino Park to 25 watts of power, which was effectively a denial of the permit. But in turn, the city offered up the softball diamond, complete with lights, for a 12-hour free concert. We can laugh at Palo Alto--I love to laugh at Palo Alto--but in 1969, what other city was offering up a city facility for free, with parking, bathrooms and lights, for a 12-hour free concert?

The August 1, 1969 Berkeley Tribe says "11am-11pm, free." The only address is "Embarcadero Rd East," which I assure you was sufficient. Once you got past the Post Office, there was nothing on Embarcadero Road save for the softball field.

August 2, 1969 Baylands Athletic Center, Palo Alto, CA; Sunbear/Underwood Jug Band/ Western Addition/ United Circus Band/Divine Madness/ Magic/Cide Minder/Happy Now/ Blu/ Kidd Africa/ Schon & Ice

Who were the bands?
Sunbear, Underwood Jug Band, United Circus Band, Magic, Happy Now and Blu are unknown to me. I assure you, if a late 60s Peninsula band is obscure to me, they are awfully obscure.

Western Addition was some kind of R&B band with a horn section, probably playing covers. Their lead singer, however, was the fabulously talented Wendy Haas. Haas was from nearby Atherton, and had been in an all-girl garage band called the Freudian Slips. The Slips played the lower end of the Fillmore circuit, and got their picture in Life magazine, and then broke up when some of the members went to college (Haas said "we weren't very tight"). Haas knew Michael Shrieve, however, and got connected to the Santana axis, which is how she ended up singing in the wonderful group Azteca. She also worked with the Santana band and others. Haas was the lead singer for Western Addition.

I recognize the name Divine Madness. I think they were a San Jose-area band.

Cide Minder is likely Sideminder, a Monterey County band (maybe they changed their spelling, or it's a transcription error). Sideminder was popular in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and occasionally made forays into the Bay Area. It was a sound practice at the time to play a free concert if you could, in the hopes that the locals would then pay to see you at a club (in this case, The Poppycock).

KiddAfrica is a familiar name from various billings, but I don't know anything about the band or singer.

Schon is very likely San Mateo's own guitar sensation, Neal Schon. At the time, Schon would have been 15 years old. What isn't clear is whether he had his own band, or he was sitting in with Ice.

Ice were booked by the WestPole agency, who booked Quicksilver Messenger Service, Sons Of Champlin and many other Bay Area acts. WestPole director Ron Polte was extremely shrewd about building a following from the ground up. The Sons, for example, had played a million gigs all over the Bay Area, but by the time their album was released in 1969 they had a solid following all over the region. Ice was a tier below the Sons, and I don't actually know anything about them besides their WestPole affiliation, but Polte was shrewd about using free concerts to build audiences.

The August 2 weather report for the Santa Clara Valley, published in the August 1 Examiner

What Happened?
The free concert at The Baylands Athletic Center in Palo Alto on August 2, 1969 was fairly well publicized, for an event with no "name" bands. So what happened?

No one knows. There were absolutely no reports from afterwards, I've never heard of anyone who went, no one mentions it on Facebook, no band members recall it in their memoirs. There is no trace of the event (and I actually look for these things). The weather forecast (above, from the previous day's SF Examiner) was "mostly fair," so that wouldn't have been a problem.

My guess is that Be-Ins were a downtown phenomenon, with a lot of hippies walking to the event, maybe going to or from a coffee shop or pizza joint before or after. Getting in a car to drive across the freeway for some no-name bands just wasn't attractive. I think the 1969 Palo Alto Be-In was thinly attended and unmemorable, so--execpt for me--it became lost to history.

An ad for a rock concert at the Baylands Athletic Center in Palo Alto, on Sunday, November 15, 1970, featuring Big Brother, AUM, Tower of Power and Nevada.
Never Again?
It's easy to say that the Be-In must have been such a debacle that there was never a concert at the Baylands again. To some extent, that's true. The Baylands Athletic Center had just opened in Summer 1969, and by the next Summer, any Saturday would have found the softball field booked solid with determined players. Good luck ever getting them to accept they should lose Saturday games to a rock concert, when the Fillmore West was just up the highway. Not to mention, a crowd would wreck the outfield grass, and that would never be an acceptable outcome.

For a minute, though, let's think about it. The Baylands was safely separated from residential Palo Alto by a freeway, which in turn gave tremendous access to the site for the entire Peninsula. Parking was abundant, the facility was preexisting, with bathrooms and concession stands. Even in August, being right next to the Bay means there is inevitably a cooling ocean breeze. OK, there's a slight issue of the fact that it was built on landfill, and every once in a while you might smell the rotting waste. But really, it's a rock concert, the whole crowd is going to be burning some fat ones, what are you really going to smell?

November 15, 1970 Baylands Athletic Center, Palo Alto, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/AUM/Tower Of Power/Nevada Palo Alto Jaycees Benefit
And it can't have been that terribleof an idea, anyway, since the Baylands Athletic Center was used for a concert the very next year. It was a benefit, sponsored by the Palo Alto Jaycees Youth Advisory Council. Knowing Palo Alto, this was probably a scheme to "keep the kids out of trouble." It was held on a Sunday afternoon from 11am-4pm. Remember, also, that the weather is balmy in Palo Alto, even in November. Maybe people had to wear a sweater, since it was probably windy, but a daytime concert in November is plausible in the Bay Area.

Sure, Janis had left Big Brother, but they were still a name. AUM, a power trio, were a good band who had played around, and of course the great Tower Of Power was up and coming. It was probably a pretty good show. Note that Big Brother's name is taped over Boz Scaggs, so there must have been some changes, so maybe it wasn't going as well as hoped. Still, I know nothing about this event, either, other than the poster. In any case, it was well after softball season, so there wouldn't been a conflict with any games, nor would they have had to worry about wrecking the turf. The header "AUTUMNAL 2" hints that maybe there was an earlier event as well. Still, I can find no trace of a Baylands concert after 1970.

Despite only having apparent failures as events, the blueprint for a concert at the Baylands Athletic Center seems to be a perfect model for a suburban concert venue. And so it was. On June 29, 1986 the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, just 4 miles South of the Baylands Athletic Center, debuted as the Penisnula's premier concert venue. OK, it wasn't free, but it had every other benefit of the Baylands Athletic Center, and no interference from softball bookings. So the Baylands event was a failure, but the seeds of success were embedded within it.