Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Emerald Tablet, Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco June 25-July 16, 1967

Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso's poster for the June 22-25, 1967 13th Floor Elevators/Charlatans bill at the Avalon [FD67]--h/t Ross for the scan
Ralph J. Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle column for Friday, June 23, 1967, listing the Emerald Tablet as an additional opening act on Sunday, June 25

The history of San Francisco rock music in the 1960s has in many ways been an outgrowth of the fantastic poster art of the era. The legendary Fillmore and Avalon posters, along with other famous ones from the era, were reprinted many times, and have been displayed on dormitory walls and living rooms for decades. Many posters are now more well-known than the bands who actually appeared on the bills they advertise. As a result, the starting point for most 60s San Francisco rock prosopography is a transcription of the performers advertised on the most well-known posters. I myself started my research some years ago by making lists of this sort.

However, as I have done considerably more research in the meantime, I have learned that what was advertised on Fillmore and Avalon posters was at best only part of the story. The complexity of the art work and the practical issues associated with printing meant that the posters had to be commissioned, designed and produced before the show's details were finalized, and many Fillmore and Avalon shows featured somewhat different bills than were advertised. Speaking generally, the headline acts on almost all the Fillmore and Avalon posters usually performed as advertised, there were periodic substitutions for the secondary acts, and there were numerous bands who performed on Fillmore and Avalon bills who were not advertised at all on that weekend's poster. It is the third category that interests me the most, and is the subject of this post.

I have been doing newspaper research (via microfiche) on the 1967 San Francisco Chronicle. The Datebook entertainment section often included detailed information about local "Dance Concerts," as they were referred to, in both the regular listings and in Ralph J. Gleason's Ad Lib columns (on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday). The Chronicle listings were usually based on press releases that were more current than the posters. As a result, when there are differences between a poster and the Chronicle, the Chronicle was more likely to be correct, since the press release was more recent than the poster. In most cases, the principal difference for Fillmore and Avalon bills was the addition of another act, usually a lesser known band, to fill out the bill. In some cases, there were changes to the bands billed on the poster.

However, while the additional bands added to the Fillmore and Avalon bills that have been revealed in the Chronicle are obscure by any normal standards, they are familiar to scholars of 60s San Francisco rock: The Daily Flash, The Other Half, Salvation Army Banned, and so on, while not well known today, were regular bands on the scene, so its not unexpected that they would play the major venues. From my point of view, however, this begs an important question: who were The Emerald Tablet?

The Emerald Tablet, whoever they were, seemed to have played 11 shows at the Avalon between June 25 and July 16, 1967. All of these were mentioned in press releases sent to Ralph Gleason at the Chronicle, so the performances weren't completely ad hoc. The Avalon was a prime San Francisco venue, and bands always welcomed paying bookings. Every band in San Francisco wanted to play the Avalon, so there wouldn't have been any lack of choices. Plus, Helms always had hip ears and found interesting bands, so a band that got a couple of weekends at the Avalon was more likely to be an interesting group than not--how come there is no trace whatsoever of The Emerald Tablet? I am presenting what little evidence I have here, in the hopes someone may shed some light.

June 25, 1967 13th Floor Elevators/The Charlatans/Emerald Tablet
As shown by the clip above, the Emerald Tablet seem to only be playing on Sunday.

June 29-30, 1967 Quicksilver Messenger Service/Mt. Rushmore/Emerald Tablet
This clip from Ralph Gleason's June 28, 1967 Ad Lib column shows the Tablet opening on a Thursday night.

June 1-July 2, 1967 Big Brother and The Holding Company/Blue Cheer/Emerald Tablet
This listing from the Chronicle's entertainment section on Saturday July 1 shows Emerald Tablet opening for Big Brother. Incidentally, these two listings clarify the poster that suggested that Quicksilver and Big Brother played 4 nights together at the Avalon (June 29-July 2): in fact they each headlined two nights, while the mysterious Emerald Tablet apparently opened all the shows.

July 6-9, 1967 Steve Miller Blues Band/The Sparrow/Emerald Tablet
This listing from Gleason's July 5 column has Emerald Tablet opening for Steve Miller Blues Band and The Sparrow (note that the poster, Wes Wilson's FD70, has Miller and Siegal Schwall). I suspect the Sparrow had just broken up, but its hard to be certain. If they had in fact broken up, then perhaps there was yet another band on the bill, possibly Siegal Schwall.

July 14-16, 1967 Charlatans/Youngbloods/Emerald Tablet
This listing from the Sunday Chronicle Datebook (the "Pink Section") of July 9, 1967 lists the Youngbloods and Charlatans along with the Emerald Tablet. Yet Bob Fried's poster (FD71) lists the Other Half as opening the show. Leaving aside that we know that the Youngbloods were replaced on Sunday July 16 by The Wildflower (the Youngbloods were playing a benefit in the tiny Berkeley Hills town of Canyon), we are left hanging. At this point, the Emerald Tablet disappear without a trace, just as they appeared, after a dozen shows at The Avalon during the Summer Of Love. Who were they?

Some Speculation
Helms tended to work with the hippie underground, both in San Francisco and elsewhere, and less so with established record industry booking agents. Helms also had good ears, and knew who to trust if someone told him to give a chance to a band, which is why the Avalon was so good at discovering acts, even if the Fillmore ended up making them big. Given Helms connections, and importance as a scenemaker, I feel safe making a couple of assumptions about the mysterious Emerald Tablet.

  • I don't think the Emerald Tablet would have been an unknown group pushed by a record company, as Helms was on the opposite side of that world
  • While the Emerald Tablet may have been unknown, they wouldn't have been inexperienced musicians, as too many good (if obscure) bands were lining up to play the Avalon in the Summer of Love
My most likely guesses for the identity of the Emerald Tablet are
  • A popular band in some obscure region where Helms had a connection. Helms might have offered the band some gigs and a place to stay, trusting his friend's instincts. Its a good idea--but why isn't there some story floating around about a band from Fort Worth or Kansas City who spent three weeks at the Avalon during the Summer of Love? Did they all go into the Witness Protection Program?
  • A band that is known to 60s scholars, but who changed their name right before they broke up. The most likely candidates here might in fact be The Other Half, who had moved to San Francisco around this time and then broke up. There are almost no records of The Other Half's time in San Francisco, so a final name change might have gone unnoticed. If not The Other Half, then perhaps another local band that was otherwise familiar used this name for a while--why?--before moving on in some fashion.


  1. Please do not click or follow any links shown as comments on this blog that appear as Chinese characters (as shown below this comment in the Summary) or any related to inane comments along the lines of "This is nice and I would like to share it ...". They seemingly lead to viruses/malware. Ross

  2. Thanks Ross. I deleted every one that I could find.

  3. An interesting little find from around August/September 1967. "Arlo recently sang "Alice" during an unnounced set at the Avalon in SF on a Saturday night, sandwiched in between a blues band and the loud Charlatans." This, in my view, opens up only two viable dates for this (1) June 24 - a Saturday, The Charlatans with Big Brother and The Holding Company. The down side here is that I would have expected BBHC to have been named rather than a "blues band". The favourite: July 15 - Charlatans, Youngbloods, Emerald Tablet (replacing the Other Half). A Saturday, a "blues band" - perhaps the Emerald Tablet?

  4. Originally published in Open City - republished in Underground Digest (dated March 1967 but clearly August, maybe September).