Saturday, May 15, 2010

660 Great Highway, San Francisco Family Dog On The Great Highway July 25-27, 1969 Zoot Money/Poco/Charley Musselwhite

Chet Helms opened his Family Dog On The Great Highway in June, 1969 as a successor to his legendary operation at the Avalon Ballroom. Helms knew he had lost the battle to be San Francisco's leading rock entrepreneur to Bill Graham, but he also knew that he had a better ear and a different perspective than Graham, so he intended the Great Highway operation to be a sort of cultural center, focusing on rock as a medium for cultural and social development rather than mere entertainment. While the FDGH did not really achieve its goals, it still featured many interesting acts, some of which are worthy considerably more research.

One of the most intriguing bookings for the Family Dog was the July 25-27 weekend show featuring Zoot Money, Poco and Charley Musselwhite. Charley Musselwhite was a fine local blues act, probably featuring Ukiah guitarist Robben Ford by this time, but he was well-known in Bay Area venues. Poco was a new Los Angeles group started by Richie Furay and Jim Messina, formerly of the Buffalo Springfield. Their first album Pickin Up The Pieces (Epic Records) had been released in May 1969. While the album is now seen as a forward looking country rock album, at the time of its release it was not a commercial success. Poco was an excellent live group, although at this time bassist Randy Meisner had left the group, and lead guitarist Jim Messina had temporarily taken over the bass chores (in September, Timothy B Schmidt would take over as bassist, while Meisner would play in Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band and then join The Eagles). Poco had played a few dates in the Bay Area by mid-1969, but in general they would have been a new and somewhat unknown quantity to most Northern Californians.

However, the enduring mystery of this weekend's booking at the Family Dog was headliner Zoot Money. Organist George Bruno Money, called 'Zoot' in honor of saxophonist Zoot Sims, had led one of England's leading R&B bands in the mid-60s, Zoot Money's Big Roll Band. When psychedelia hit, Zoot and lead guitarist Andy Somers dropped the horn section and made some amazing psychedelic rock as Dantalian's Chariot. However, the Chariot never found an audience, and by Spring 1968 Money ended up in Los Angeles, joining Eric Burdon and The (New) Animals, effectively taking over as musical director from guitarist Vic Briggs. When Briggs left, Money brought in his pal Somers, and they played in the Animals until that group's demise in late 1968.

The activities of Eric Burdon and his former Animals in the year 1969 are somewhat vague. Eric Burdon brieflyt attended film school (he didn't like doing his assigned work), did a brief tour in support of a Best Of album with an unknown backing group (probably Blues Image) and finally joined the group War by July. Bassist John Weider ended up replacing Rick Grech in the group Family. Somers stayed in Los Angeles, getting a degree at Cal State Northridge and marrying a Californian, but his biography (under his better known name Andy Summers) remains very vague about this year. Zoot Money also remained in Southern California and looked into being an actor, an alternative career that he has continued to this day.

Mysteriously, however, Zoot Money headlined a weekend at the Family Dog. Who was in the group? What kind of music did they play? Was this part of a project that got stalled, or just a creative lark? The newspaper article above, from the San Francisco Chronicle Entertainment section from Saturday, July 26, 1969, offers the only information I have ever found about this venture, and its not much. It says
The Zoot Money Band, a British "classical jazz-rock" group, is making its first appearance this weekend at the Family Dog on the Great Highway
So, from knowing nothing, we now know that they considered themselves a classical jazz-rock group. That's it. At one point, I had considered the idea that the Zoot Money group was some sort of stealth Eric Burdon performance, but the timeline was all wrong, as Burdon was already working with War. I wonder who else was in the group? I have to think Andy Somers was a likely candidate, since he was in Southern California, but it still begs a lot of questions.

I know of one other Zoot Money show in California during this period, at a club called The Comic Strip in Santa Monica (on 120 Ocean Front), from June 6-8. This only adds to the peculiarity--a weekend in a tiny Santa Monica club, then a headlined weekend in San Francisco 5 weeks later, then nothing? Zoot Money did return to England, where he has continued to have a successful career as a musician, bandleader and actor that continues to this day, but his brief sojourn as a Californian band leader remains a cipher. Anyone with helpful information or entertaining speculation is encouraged to Comment or email me.

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