(A brief article and a clip from Ralph Gleason's column from the Friday, December 12, 1969 San Francisco Chronicle)
Family Dog: Canned Heat and Bob McPharlin will appear tonight and tomorrow night at the Family Dog on the Great Highway next to Playland. Canned Heat is now featuring Harvey Mandel.
Ad Libs: At the Lion's Share, San Anselmo (F&S), Joy of Cooking, Personal Friends, Jim Trout: Sun: Thompson Brothers...at the Family Dog (F, S&S) Canned Heat (w. Harvey Mandel, Rhythm Dukes (w. Jerry Miller), Bob McPharlin...at the Both And (F, S&S) Big Black...at the Loma Prieta Ballroom (SJ State, Sat.) Mike Bloomfield, Nick GravenitesIn line with some recent research I have done on rather obscure shows at the Family Dog On The Great Highway, also known as Family Dog At The Beach, at 660 Great Highway in San Francisco, some tapes from that venue have surfaced. One tape in particular appears to have The Rhythm Dukes on one side and Canned Heat on the other, and the helpful soul who is circulating the tape was unable to date it precisely, but I can go a long way towards locking it down. Canned Heat and the Rhythm Dukes played the Family Dog on the weekend of December 12-14, 1969, and there is every reason to believe that both these performances on the tape come from one of those nights.
The Canned Heat tape was identified as in the 69-70 period, based on the band's personnel: Bob Hite (vocals), Harvey Mandel (lead guitar), Alan Wilson (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Larry Taylor (bass) and Fito Parra (drums). Serious Family Dog collectors were aware of the Family Dog poster advertising Canned Heat and Bob McPharlin at the Dog (FD19691212), even though the artist is unknown. The tape of Canned Heat's performance is excellent, similar in style to their 1970 album Live In Europe.
The Rhythm Dukes tape is a considerably more exotic bird. The Rhythm Dukes are mostly known today as a short collaboration between Jerry Miller of Moby Grape and Bill Champlin, when both Moby Grape and The Sons were on hiatus. A fine cd was released privately, albeit somewhat officially, recorded in April 1970. Although Bill Champlin appears to have played a show with the Rhythm Dukes as early as January 7, 1970 at the Matrix, he did not join up with them regularly until after The Sons "Farewell" appearance at the Contra Costa Fairgrounds on February 21, 1970 (I realize The Sons are still playing today, but Ralph Gleason reported it as a sort of farewell in anticipation of a 5-month hiatus).
The Family Dog Dukes tape sounds quite different from the Champlin/Miller version of the band. The person in possession of it sent it to Bill Champlin, who reported that it was indeed the Rhythm Dukes but that Champlin was not yet a member, which explains why Miller is reported as the only vocalist. This also helps to date the tape somewhat, as well. The original formulation of The Rhythm Dukes featured both Miller and fellow Graper Don Stevenson, along with bassist John Barrett and drummer Fuzzy Oxendine, all of whom shared a house in Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although Stevenson had been the drummer in Moby Grape, he played guitar and shared vocals in the Dukes. The original Rhythm Dukes did one tour in the Summer of 1969, but they were often billed as Moby Grape, much to their dismay. Sometime in the Fall, Stevenson left the group. Since Stevenson (nor anyone else, apparently) sings lead on the tape, this dates it to the period between Stevenson and Champlin.
The Rhythm Dukes mostly played in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the South Bay, and this show at the Family Dog seems to be one of their earlier forays into San Francisco. The band appears to be a five-piece on the tape: Miller on lead guitar and vocals, bass and drums (surely Barrett and Oxendine), a sax player and someone alternating between guitar and electric piano. I can only speculate on the identity of the last two players. Saxophone can be a relatively easy instrument to make a guest appearance, so it may have been just a friend sitting in. Oxendine and Barrett had been in a band called Boogie that rehearsed with the Sons at Sausalito Heliport, and there were two sax players in the group, apparently called Goose and Crow, so perhaps one of them was part of the group.
As to the keyboard/guitar player, a likely suspect might be Dale Ockerman. Ockerman is a fine player on both keyboards and guitar, and acknowledges jamming with Miller at the time. I had been under the impression he replaced Champlin in late 1970, but perhaps he also preceded him as well. Ockerman lived in Boulder Creek and attended Pacific High School (too much of a digression to explain here), but being only 16 at the time may have been an unwise choice for a band of professionals looking to play bars. When Ockerman turned 18 in 1971, he went on the road as a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service.
The Rhythm Dukes had a reunion at a club called The Crow's Nest on September 25, 1992. Champlin, Miller and Oxendine played, and I believe Dale Ockerman did as well. Certainly Ockerman participated with Jerry Miller at the Summer of Love 'Reunion' in 2007. So Ockerman seems as likely as anyone to be the mystery member of The Rhythm Dukes at The Family Dog in December of 1969.
Some Notes About February 20-21, 1970
Ralph Gleason reported in his February 18, 1970 column that the Sons were taking a break from performing. Ralph Gleason also reported in his Friday, February 20 Chronicle column that The Family Dog will feature Big Brother along with Cat Mother and The All Nite Newsboys. Since Gleason also reviews the Sons performance in Berkeley, there can be no doubt the Sons played Berkeley and Antioch, and the Rhythm Dukes were replaced at the Family Dog by Cat Mother. Since Gleason alludes to Champlin joining the Rhythm Dukes when the Sons go on a planned 5-month break, I have to assume some well-paying bookings came up at the last minute and Champlin delayed joining the Rhythm Dukes for a few weeks.