Friday, December 18, 2009

49 Wentworth Alley, San Francisco Drag'on A' Go-Go January-February 1967


Rock music in the 1950s and 1960s was essential in creating a distinct category of American human called "Teenager." Up until the mid-1960s, rock was seen as fun to dance to, but too trivial for adult attention. The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the San Francisco changed that, but even into 1967 many rock clubs were still directed exclusively at teenagers. The Drag'on A' Go-Go was in San Francisco's Chinatown, at 49 Wentworth Alley near the intersection of Grant and Washington.

Although Chinatown was a genuine and long-standing community of immigrant Chinese and Chinese-Americans, commercially Chinatown was geared towards tourists. In the 1960s, Chinese restaurants were not common in most places, and good ones were even less common, so Chinatown made San Francisco an exotic and attractive destination. Since Chinatown was in walking distance of both the Financial District and North Beach (if you don't mind a few hills), it was accessible to the majority of San Francisco visitors. Chinatown was an appealing destination for families from the suburbs looking to spend a fun evening in the City, because it was exotic and fun, but easy to get to.

The Drag'on A' Go Go seems to have been open from about 1965 to 1967, at the height of both teen clubs and "Go Go" clubs. As far as I can tell, the Drag'on pushed cokes and hot dogs, and the like, although it may have sold beer, to, and directed itself at the 18-20 year old segment. For a couple of years it seemed to make money, too. While no truly legendary bands played the Drag'on, a few good groups appear to have played there, including the Beau Brummels and The Frantics (who evolved into Luminous Marsh Gas and then Moby Grape). The club's name (spelled Dragon) comes up in various chronologies of Bay Area rock.

The Liverpool Five were actually from England, though not from Liverpool, and had two albums on RCA in 1966 and 1967. They toured America pretty steadily and were apparently a pretty good live band. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, from which the above ad comes, the Liverpool Five engagement had started on January 17, and continued at least through February 26, so they must have been packing them in. Drag'on owner Lou Chin was quoted in the Chronicle as saying they had to turn people away, and while that may be hyperbole, they would not have been extended for nothing.

I do not know how long the Drag'on A' Go-Go lasted, but I doubt it made it to 1968. Go-Go music  seemed pretty unhip to teenagers by '68, when they were listening to FM radio and going to the Fillmore and Avalon. In any case, Wentworth Alley (known as Salty Fish Alley in the early 20th century) was at a central location for restaurants, and it would have been a desirable place for many establishments, so once they stopped turning people away I assume it must have become another restaurant. I am unable to determine the current use of the building.

7 comments:

  1. I have a very brief and not looked at for years Dragon a Go-Go chronology and it certainly survived in to the 1970s - at least to 1971. It is worthy of some more thought - the Outfit, Frantics, New Breed, Moby Grape all played there.

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  2. Dragon A Go Go also hosted soul groups; The Whispers (who might be considered legendary by many people) had a pretty well-known residency there. Local guitarist & bandleader Eugene Blacknell opened for them there too.

    The Outfit (of which Bobby Beausoleil was a member) played there in September 1966 and The Leaves played a 10-day gig in July 1966. There are fliers posted online somewhere. Probably all included in your chronology though. The May 6, 1966 Billboard mentions DAGG among other sights & sounds of swinging SF.

    DAGG was in the basement of a restaurant called Kuo Wah, replacing a nightclub called the Lion's Den. According to the owner's grandson it operated from 1965-68. Proprietor Louis Chin/Chinn later opened the Soul Train Club in North Beach with Don Cornelius and Dick Griffey (probably as a result of the Whispers' success).

    PS Love this blog!

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  3. Thanks for the kind words and the details about the restaurant.

    Very interesting to find out that Louis Chin was a partner in Soul Train. The site of Soul Train was 412 Broadway, which had been Moulin Rouge(65-67) and Mr D's (67-69?), then the "New" Matrix (73), then Soul Train and then The Stone.

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    1. I was in the house band there ("The Season Of Soul" and later "The Rubber Band") and Lou Chinn was our manager. We played there 5 or 6 nights a week. The band on Monday nights was "Darby Slick" (Grace Slick's brother, who wrote "Somebody To Love" for the Jefferson Airplane. I later joined The Electric Flag, The Elvin Bishop Group, Sly & The Family Stone, The Tokens, and co-founded Rubicon with Jerry Martini. I can't remember how long we were the house band there, but it was many months :-)

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  4. The Stone was preceded by The Hippodrome, I think. Harry Angus attended the February 1, 1980 Jerry Garcia Band show at the Stone, recalls it as the grand opening under the new name, and has a "Hippodrome" matchbook which he got that night and that lists the 412 Broadway address.

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  5. Check out 950 Grant Ave between June 11- Sept 10 2010. The SF Arts Commission is hosting 5 artists in various vacant spaces in Chinatown .
    My art installation is Chinatown Memories Shop, an imaginary store front that collects and showcases memories.
    Could I use some of your comments to post? I am working with Andy a few times a week, he is the grandson of Andy Young of Kuo-Wah and Lion's Den onsite there. Lots of history popping up.
    check out www.cynthiatom.blogspot.com, apparently I just psinted it the color that was Dragon A Go Go. and post things on We Grew Up in Chinatown on Facebook

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  6. I have a KYA 1260 Dragon AuGoGo commercial from 07-09-66. Lu Chen's place was swingin'. This week the Peter Wheat & The Breadmen were appearing. The next week, the Leaves were appearing.

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