Thursday, September 17, 2009
234 S. Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA: The Ice House Captain Beefheart/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band June 28-July 3, 1966
This listing from the June 28, 1966 edition of The Pasadena Independent seems unimaginable today: avant garde legendary mystery man Captain Beefheart paired with the authentic Country professionalism of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, in suburban Glendale to boot. Things were different then.
The Ice House in Glendale was connected to The Ice House in Pasadena, although I do not know which one came first. The Ice House in Pasadena (at 24 N. Mentor Avenue) was one of the popular folk coffee houses in Southern California, and aspiring teenage musicians like Ry Cooder and Pamela Polland were regulars on the stage during hoot nights and in the audience for touring acts. The Ice House in Glendale was, at one point, called The Under The Ice House (although apparently you still had to take an elevator to the club) and many performers played both clubs. By late 1965, 'Folk-Rock' bands were not unknown at either Ice House, as folk venues had to compete with burgeoning rock clubs.
Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band were known in Southern California as the toughest white blues band around. They played "Car Club" gigs, where teenagers drove their cars (often the same make) to a meeting point and had a party. Beefheart had the reputation, at least, of impressing his audiences as well as any of the local black blues bands, and was the first white singer to claim that distinction. Without repeating the entire Beefheart story here, suffice to say he recorded some sides for A&M records, and one of them, the blues song "Diddy Wah Diddy", was even a hit on KRLA. The Magic Band at this time would have been Alex Snouffer and Doug Moon on guitars, Jerry Handley on bass and Paul Blakely on drums. Beefheart had already played the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco (May 20-21).
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were a Long Beach group, initially calling themselves The Illegitimate Jug Band. They had changed their name, but they played "Jug Music", essentially old-time string band music, wearing pinstripe suits and cowboy boots. The band at the time included Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden and Les Thompson, all of whom would be in the band throughout much of the 1970s, along with Ralph Barr, Bruce Kunkel and 17-year old Jackson Browne. At this time, String Band music was serious folk music, learned off very old records, whose heritage was somewhat mysterious. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band would not release a record until about a year later, by which time Browne had been replaced by multi-instrumentalist John McEuen. McEuen was a key figure in the Dirt Band's eventual focus on authentic traditional country music.
From the perspective of the 1966 audience, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band were first-class exponents of a mysterious music--the blues--unseen (if not unheard) in its original form by white teenagers. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, though less well known, were exponents of an equally mysterious music--"old time string band"--equally unseen and even less heard in its original form. Its hard to say how the two bands sounded side by side, of course, but this was not nearly so far-fetched a pairing as it initially looked.
The Ice House in Glendale is currently a theater called A Noise Within. The Ice House in Pasadena remains open, mostly presenting comedy.