Sunday, August 30, 2009
PayLess Drug Store, Fremont Plaza, Fremont, CA: Mount Rushmore/Linn County, October 25, 1968
These advertisements from the October 25, 1968 edition of The Fremont Argus promote "in-store" appearances of rock groups at a retailer to publicize their new albums. This is a pretty common retailing practice, made fun of in the movie Spinal Tap, but this example of it must have been a pretty strange experience.
First of all, while most records in the 1960s were sold at large general retailers like department stores, a suburban PayLess in 1968 had about the same hipness quotient that it does now. I don't doubt that many suburban fans bought many of their albums at PayLess, but I doubt it was a "destination" like a Tower Records would be.
Mount Rushmore and Linn County were both pretty good bands, if now somewhat obscure. Mount Rushmore was a San Francisco band who had formed in 1967, but only released their first album High On Mount Rushmore in late 1968. Ross Hannan and I have an ongoing project to document the complete history of Mount Rushmore and related groups like Phoenix. Mount Rushmore had played many Bay Area gigs, although I don't think there were many in Fremont, and I don't know how much the album would have been played on KSAN or KMPX, then the only two FM rock stations in the Bay Area. I would find it surprising if Mount Rushmore were well known in Fremont.
Linn County was a band that had relocated to San Francisco from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The band had formed around 1964, and played extensively around Chicago and the Midwest. They were led by a fine organist and singer named Stephen Miller--no, not the guitarist in the Steve Miller Band. Miller (1942-2003) was a fine, if underrated performer. Linn County relocated to San Francisco in 1968, and were rapidly signed to Mercury, and their first album Proud Flesh Soothseer had just been released. They would go on to release another album, Fever Shot, before they broke up. Stephen Miller had a long performing career, and an extensive discography, playing with The Elvin Bishop Group, Clifton Chenier, Grinderswitch and many others.
Linn County, although they had only been in the Bay Area for a few months, were already regular performers at rock clubs like The New Orleans House in Berkeley, but I do not how much they would have played Fremont in 1968, if at all. Similar to Mount Rushmore, while I'm sure their album got a little play on KSAN and KMPX, as they were a local band, it would not have been an overwhelming amount.
The PayLess Drug Store in Fremont Plaza in October 1968 is pretty far from the Straight Theatre in San Francisco or the New Orleans House in Berkeley, where the bands would normally play. Fremont was in the suburbs, and in 1968 the suburbs were pretty straight. Sure, the teenagers in High School knew something was happening, and had some cool records, but they didn't want to go down to the Fremont Pay Less with their Mom. The younger kids who would go with their Mom had probably just figured out who the Jefferson Airplane were, and hadn't yet figured out about lesser known bands that KSAN played late at night.
San Francisco long hairs like the members of Mount Rushmore and Linn County would have looked pretty out of place in the Fremont Plaza Mall. All in all, this sounds even stranger than the scene in Spinal Tap where the band does an in-store and no fans show up. Perhaps I'm being unfair--perhaps pretty girls from the High School showed up and swooned over the bands, and perhaps all the boys asked about the chord changes to all the tunes, but I think that's kind of unlikely. Still, I have Proud Flesh Soothseer, and I've heard some of High On Mount Rushmore, and they are both pretty good for late 60s albums, so maybe there are people who remember the day fondly, treasuring their autographed copies.