Thursday, September 24, 2009

2504 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA: The Longbranch June 1975


As we have discussed earlier, in California as in most places, a Use Permit that allows a nightclub or concert venue tends to remain in force, so that new operators will always find it easier to take over or refurbish an existing venue than start a new one. If a building is in an area that is not subject to robust development, it may remain a nightclub for a very long time. Since many rock venues tend to be in either "nightclub" districts or sleepy warehouse districts that don't mind noise, many buildings have long musical histories. As a result, musicians may find themselves in long-forgotten venues many years after the fact.

The listing above is from the Music section of the Hayward Daily Review for June 6, 1975, advertising the shows at a Berkeley venue called The Longbranch, at 2504 San Pablo Avenue. The venue opened in January 1963 as The Cabale, later changed to The Cabale Creamery, and it presented folk music.In 1965 it briefly became The Good Buddy, then Caverns West and finally The Questing Beast (from November 1965 to May 1966), all of them folk joints, more or less, but with rock bands starting to play some shows at The Questing Beast. The first electric performance of Country Joe and The Fish took place at the Questing Beast, in March of 1966, when Joe McDonald, Barry Melton and Bruce Barthol brought electric instruments to the club and tried out some of their material.

From 1967 to 1969, 2504 San Pablo was a sort of R&B dance joint called Tito's, featuring local bands, but starting in 1970 it became The Longbranch. The listing above is from the June 6, 1975 Hayward Daily Review, and it is interesting to see the number of performers who appear to have some prior history with the building.

Friday, June 6, 1975 Earthquake, Eddie Money
Earthquake had originally been a Berkeley High School band called Purple Earthquake, and it would have been surprising if guitarist Robbie Dunbar had not been to the Cabale as a teenager. Eddie Money, then an unknown local singer, was originally from New York City.

Saturday, June 7, 1975 Keith and Donna
During the Grateful Dead's hiatus from 1974-76, Keith and Donna Godchaux formed their own band to play Bay Area clubs and support their album Keith and Donna. Besides Keith (electric piano and vocals) and Donna (vocals), the band was Ray Scott (guitar), Stephen "Jack Bonus" Schuster (tenor sax, flute, congas), Mike Larscheid (bass) and Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. When the club was called The Questing Beast in 1965-66, it was a nascent psychedelic club, managed by unknown parties with reputed ties to the reclusive acid king Owsley Stanley. Supposedly, the Grateful Dead were going to rent the building as a rehearsal hall in February of 1966, but went to Los Angleles with Owsley instead. The Dead tape that circulates as "Questing Beast Rehearsal" from February 11, 1966 is clearly spurious--the Dead were already in Los Angeles--but that doesn't rule out the fact that Kreutzmann and the others had rehearsed there, or at least checked out the building.

Friday, June 13, 1975 Alice Stuart
Alice Stuart had probably played The Cabale in 1964, but she definitely played Caverns West in mid-1965, and opened the Questing Beast in November of 1965. At the time, she would have probably been a solo folk/blues artist. By 1975, she was generally fronting an electric trio, in her appearance at a fourth incarnation of 2504 San Pablo.

Saturday, June 14, 1975 Stoneground
The original Stoneground had broken up in early 1973, but guitarist Tim Barnes had reformed the group with a somewhat stripped down lineup. I don't know who was in the band.

Mondays (June 9 and 16, 1975) The Shakers
The Shakers were a white reggae group.

Wednesdays (June 11 and 18, 1975) Delicia and The Depressions
This group is unknown to me.

Thursdays (June 12, 1975) Country Joe McDonald and Friends, Energy Crisis
Berkeley resident Joe McDonald found himself back at 2504 San Pablo, where he had first played the Cabale in 1964. His "friends" were the band Energy Crisis, a group featuring lead guitarist John Blakely, guitarist/vocalist Phil Marsh (ex-Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band), drummer Tom Ralston (Sky Blue, CGSB) and bassist Bruce Barthol, also an original member of the electric Country Joe and The Fish.

Energy Crisis had not met with much success locally, so they teamed up with Joe, who was recording for Fantasy and had a new album that would be his biggest hit in years. Joe and Energy Crisis played Bay Area clubs for much of the summer, and the group would form the core of his backing group for some time. Thus Joe McDonald and Bruce Barthol found themselves back at 2504 San Pablo, trying out their new band, just like when they had begun 10 years earlier. They played the following dates at The Longbranch: May 8, 22 and 29, and June 5, 12, 21 and 26, and July 5 (for some reason they played Saturday June 21 instead of Thursday June 19). Thats about as many dates as Joe, at least, had played at The Cabale and The Questing Beast the first time around. When Joe left, the Thursday night residency was taken over by another Fillmore veteran, Jerry Miller of Moby Grape.

After a few more years, some of them as a reggae joint, The Longbranch became a store called Good Vibrations (don't Google it at work). But its still standing--so Joe may be back there one of these days in its next incarnation.

2 comments:

  1. i have great memories of being at The Longbranch. I remember speaking with Tower of Power when they were there. I lived on Dwight Way a few blocks up from The Longbranch. I loved the venue. I miss it dearly and Keystone Berkeley on Shattuck

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  2. well, it's surprising what we miss as time marches on. When I look at an old Keystone Berkeley calendar from long ago, it's hard to believe how we took it for granted--Sons Of Champlin, Mike Bloomfield, Tower, Jerry Garcia, all in the same month. Boy, I miss that sawdust covered dump.

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