scan of a poster for Lee Michaels, The Rhythm Dukes and Robert M. Savage at The Family Dog On The Great Highway, March 6-8, 1970)
I did extensive research into the performance history of The Sons Of Champlin from 1966 through mid-1970, and as a result I became familiar with the history of The Rhythm Dukes. The Rhythm Dukes were a Santa Cruz Mountains band from 1969 to about 1972, with various members, but they were founded by Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson of Moby Grape, so the Dukes have always been historically associated with The Grape. However, after a variety of somewhat mysterious personnel changes in late 1969, The Rhythm Dukes were revitalized in 1970 when Bill Champlin joined Miller and the rhythm section to make a somewhat serious attempt at success. Some recorded evidence suggests that this configuration was a terrific band, if short-lived, and I felt I should document what I have been able to find out about their performing history.
The Rhythm Dukes
I wrote about a 1969 version of The Rhythm Dukes elsewhere, specifically about a surviving tape from December 1969 at The Family Dog, so I will not repeat all of it here. Suffice to say, 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 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.
The Rhythm Dukes played a number of Bay Area shows in Fall 1969, but the exact lineup or lineups remains a mystery. The surviving tape features a five piece band, with Jerry Miller as the sole lead vocalist, and a saxophonist as well as a pianist/rhythm guitarist joining Oxendine and Barrett. The material is also obscure, although they sound pretty good for an opening act at The Family Dog.
The Sons Of Champlin
I have written an extensive performance history of The Sons, so I needn't recap it. However, by early 1970, despite a loyal Bay Area following and two excellent Capitol albums, the Sons were frustrated and broke and they decided to go "on hiatus." Effectively that meant they were breaking up, although they continued to finish an album they owed Capitol (released in 1971 as Follow Your Heart). How the plan for Champlin to join The Rhythm Dukes came about remains unknown, and since band members are usually cagey about their future plans (so as not to offend their current bandmates), I'm not aware of how long the idea was afoot. Nonetheless, Moby Grape and The Sons Of Champlin went way back together, and I suspect that Miller and Champlin knew each other from their predecessor bands as well (The Frantics and Opposite Six, respectively). More importantly, bassist Barrett and drummer Oxendine had been in a band called Boogie that rehearsed at the Sausalito Heliport along with The Sons. Oxendine had even been in The Sons briefly in mid-69, when the band experimented with having two drummers. So there were plenty of connections between Bill Champlin and the other members of the Rhythm Dukes.
Bill Champlin played his first show with The Rhythm Dukes in January, 1970. After The Sons gave their "Farewell" performance on February 21, 1970, Champlin moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains and made The Rhythm Dukes his primary musical endeavor. What follows is my chronicle of the known performances of The Rhythm Dukes with Bill Champlin. Anyone with additional information, updates, insights or corrections is encouraged to email me or put them in the Comments.
Rhythm Dukes Performance History January-June 1970
The Sons were still actively touring at this juncture, but Bill Champlin joined the Rhythm Dukes for this Wednesday night show at The Matrix. The show was mentioned in Ralph J. Gleason's SF Chronicle column that day (above).
>February 20-21, 1970: Family Dog At the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company with Nick Gravenites/Rhythm Dukes with Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin
Because the poster for this shows circulates comparatively widely (for a Family Dog On The Great Highway event), it often represents one of the few ways in which the Miller/Champlin collaboration was known. However, the dates on this poster conflicts with the heavily publicized shows the Sons played as their "farewell" shows (Berkeley on Friday February 20, and Contra Costa Fairgrounds on February 21). However, a close look at the SF Chronicle listings for the weekend show that Cat Mother and The All Night Newsboys had replaced The Rhythm Dukes at The Family Dog.
This show is known from a J.Freiermuth poster on the Rhythm Dukes website, although I don't know the exact address of the venue. There's every reason to assume that the Rhythm Dukes played a fair number of shows in the Santa Cruz/Monterey area, particularly on weeknights. However, the Santa Cruz area was much less populated than it is now, and while the shows were probably very fun, the club scene would not have been that lucrative.
March 6-8, 1970: Family Dog at The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Lee Michaels/Rhythm Dukes/Robert M Savage
An eyewitness reported that Lee Michaels was “impossibly loud.” This would probably have been the effective debut of the Champlin/Miller version of The Rhythm Dukes in the Bay Area (poster up top).
March 11, 1970: High Street Local, (Santa Cruz), CA: Rhythm Dukes
March 20-21, 1970: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA: Rhythm Dukes
The New Orleans House was Berkeley's home for original rock music, giving groups that were lower on the bill at the Fillmore West or Family Dog a chance to headline.
This show is known from a Richard Moore poster on the Rhythm Dukes site. It is interesting for a number of reasons. Opening act Snail had evolved out of two local bands, Talon Wedge and The Bubble, and they would go on to be local heroes for the next several years, even putting out two albums. Snail never made much headway outside of Santa Cruz County, but they remain a headline act in Santa Cruz clubs even today (they have a reunion every decade or so).
Equally interesting is the use of Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. The Civic, at 307 Church, would have been the perfect 60s rock venue, in a hip college town not far from San Francisco, but for a variety of reasons the City of Santa Cruz refused to sanction that. Their refusal opened the door for the temporary success of The Barn, a much wilder venue a few miles Northeast, in Scotts Valley, and I have discussed the history of The Barn elsewhere. This show headlined by The Rhythm Dukes seems to be the first to use the Civic for a rock show since 1967, and that is an interesting piece of Santa Cruz rock history in its own right.
April 10-12, 1970: Family Dog at The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Albert Collins/Rhythm Dukes/A.B. Skhy
On April 16, 1970, old friend Bruce Walford recorded a demo tape of The Rhythm Dukes at The Sons’ rehearsal facility (The Church in San Anselmo). The 10 tracks appear to be recorded live in the studio, with some modest piano and harmony vocal overdubs from Bill Champlin. Bill sings lead on 8 of the 10 tracks, all but one of which turned up in some form in the Sons repertoire in the next few years (the exception was a cover of “Kansas City”). The Rhythm Dukes, however, had a more laid-back bluesy feel than the Sons uptempo, swinging sound. The material was officially but privately released (a mere 34 years later) on a cd entitled Flash Back. The accompanying Rhythm Dukes website has some nice photos of the band and posters.
April 23-25, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: The Rhythm Dukes w/Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin
For about a year, thanks to the Millard Agency (Bill Graham's booking agents) and some local promoters, there were regular rock shows in the Monterey area, mostly at the gym at the local Junior College. This little scene did not quite have the momentum to sustain itself, but many San Francisco-area bands played there for that year.
This show is known from the Richard Moore poster on the Dukes website. Potter's Wheel was the Santa Cruz incarnation of a Bay Area band called Phoenix.
May 22-23, 1970: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA: Rhythm Dukes w/Bill Champlin/Nargul
June ?, 1970: The Matrix Rhythm, San Francisco, CA: Dukes w/Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin
A poorly reproduced May/June 1970 Matrix calendar makes the exact date difficult to read.
June 19-21, 1970: Family Dog at The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Flying Burrito Brothers/Cat Mother and The All Night Newsboys/Rhythm Dukes with Bill Champlin, Jerry Miller
Cabrillo College was a Junior College in Aptos, not far from the UC Santa Cruz campus. It's not clear when Bill Champlin left the Rhythm Dukes, but since he was booked at the Family Dog the week before, I have to think that he played this show as well.
July 3, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Bill Champlin and Friends
It's not at all clear if this was a Rhythm Dukes show or Bill playing with other musicians. I am more likely that to believe the latter. The exact date of Champlin’s departure from the Rhythm Dukes is unknown.
At some point in the Summer, Bill Champlin moved back to Marin County. He may have finished a few shows with the Rhythm Dukes, but he left the band and they continued on without him. Champlin started to hang out at The Lion's Share in San Anselmo, playing impromptu gigs with various musicians, including former members of The Sons. One thing led to another, and by September, 1970 The Sons Of Champlin were back in business under the improbable name of Yogi Phlegm. They rapidly returned to their original name, however, and went on to long career--with some significant interruptions--that is still lively today.
The Rhythm Dukes continued on until about 1972, weathering not only Bill Champlin's departure in 1970 but Jerry Miller's departure in 1971, when Moby Grape reformed once again. What little recorded evidence remains of The Rhythm Dukes suggested they were an excellent live band, although an actual live tape of the Dukes with Champlin remains elusive. The Rhythm Dukes have even been known to reform on occasion, including once in 1992 at the Crow's Nest in Santa Cruz, when Bill Champlin joined in once again.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Monday, November 1, 2010
Thee Experience was a rock club in Hollywood at 7551 Sunset Boulevard (at N. Genesee). While only open for about 9 months in 1969, it often gets mentioned in memoirs of the 60s Hollywood rock club. Despite the constant references, there is very little coherent information about the club. Mark and I have been researching performance dates at the club from a variety of sources, and although the resulting list is incomplete, it still provides a useful snapshot. I am posting my information as it currently stands, in the hope that readers can add information about performers or the circumstances around the club. I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who went to the club, even if they don't recall who they saw. It appears from published ads that the club was open 7 nights a week, but I do not know if there were live bands every night. I also gather that Thee Image was consciously attempting to be a cool hangout for musicians and industry folks, but I do not know if it was cleaner, louder or had better food, or just depended on a sort of vibe.
Thee Experience operator Marshall Brevetz had been been an important player in the Miami rock scene. He had a Miami club in late 1967 called Thee Experience, but by early 1968 he needed a bigger place. He found a disused bowling alley and converted it to a psychedelic ballroom called Thee Image. A Tampa, FL group called The Motions moved to Miami and became the house band, changing their name to Blues Image. Thee Image became a major stop on the fledgling underground rock circuit, and most of the top bands played there in 1968 and early 1969. Brevetz also played a key role in the December 1968 Hollywood Pop Festival in Florida, along with future Woodstock promoter Michael Lang. By the end of 1968, however, the Blues Image had been encouraged by the likes of Frank Zappa and Eric Burdon to relocate to Los Angeles, and they did so. Brevetz followed Blues Image to Southern California.
The middle 60s had been the high water mark of live rock on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, with the legendary Whisky Au Go Go as the most famous location. By 1969, the Whisky was still thriving, and the record companies were clustered around Hollywood, but as the rock market had become much bigger, the best live bands often bypassed the Sunset Strip as the venues were simply too small. It appears that Hollywood had become more of a hangout and less of a place for touring bands, and smaller clubs that had really been conceived as dance clubs weren't as conducive for the kind of business being conducted in Hollywood.
The only feature I know for sure about the decor of Thee Experience was that its front had a giant mural of Jimi Hendrix, and the front door was his mouth. Although this seems quite weird, Marshall Brevetz was apparently friendly with Hendrix (and many other stars) so while he may not have had formal permission, Hendrix must have at least been somewhat OK with it (in any case, he seems to have shown up to jam one night in June). Apparently there was a light show, which may have been a little outdated for style conscious LA, but I can't say that for sure. In various references to Thee Image, there are general references to the fact that the club had extremely pretty waitresses, but that may have been a Hollywood thing (and may still be) rather than specifically associated with Thee Image.
The list of performers that we have uncovered generally features bands that were newly signed to labels, or had just released an album, or were on their first National tour. As a result, a number of interesting bands played there, although not big stars. There appears to have been a number of interesting guest appearances, but they are much harder to pin down, and I have only referred to them here when I can identify a date. Anyone with additional information, corrections, insights or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to Comment or email me.
THEE EXPERIENCE PERFORMANCE LIST March-December 1969
March 14, 1969: T.I.M.E/Blues Image/Steve Young/Magical Berri Lee
No group was listed in the ad for the grand opening on March 14 (above), but Marc managed to figure out who played. Friends and namesake Blues Image had been signed by Atco and had released their debut album in February 1969, so in that respect they fit the Thee Experience mold: hip, connected and with a debut album on a major label.
T.I.M.E was a new band socially connected to Steppenwolf. Steve Young was a singer/songwriter. I have no idea about Berri Lee and his or her magic.
Marc discovered that Thee Experience was apparently open every night of the week. We assume that groups like Rockin Foo played on the weeknights, and the relatively bigger names played the weekends.
March 27-29, 1969: Alice Cooper/Slim Harpo/Rockin Foo
Alice Cooper (a band at the time, rather than just lead singer Vincent Furnier) had been signed to Frank Zappa's Bizarre label (a Warners subsidiary), but they would not release their debut album until August.
April 3, 1969: Albert Collins/Linn County
April 4-5, 1969: T.I.M.E./Albert Collins/Linn County
Linn County was a Cedar Rapids, IA band that had relocated to San Francisco. They had already released their first album on Mercury.
April 10-12, 1969: AB Skhy/Fair Befall/Rockin Foo
AB Skhy were a progressive blues band from Milwuakee, WI, who had recently relocated to San Francisco. They featured organist Howard Wales.
April 17, 1969: Blues Image/Blues Magoos/Rockin Foo
This seems like a fairly late performance for The Blues Magoos.
April 18, 1969: Blues Image/Southwind/Rockin Foo/Black Pearl
Southwind were from Oklahoma, but they had relocated to Los Angeles. They had an obscure debut album, and then released a 1970 album on Blue Thumb, Ready To Ride. Singer/guitarist John "Moon" Martin had success later as a songwriter, including "Cadillac Walk" (Mink DeVille) and "Bad Case Of Loving You" (Robert Palmer).
April 19, 1969: Pogo/Blues Image/Rockin Foo
Pogo was still a fairly new group at this time. Their first album would not be released until May, by which time there name had been changed to Poco. The group was probably a quartet at this time, as bassist Randy Meisner had left during the recording of their debut. Guitarist Jim Messina took over the bass chores during this period.
April 24-25, 1969: Flying Burrito Brothers/Junior Markham and The Tulsa Rhythm Review/Bobby Doyle
Although the Flying Burrito Brothers had been together for some time, they had played very few live shows. Despite their immense talent and wonderful songwriting, they were a very erratic live band.
I'm fairly certain that Junior Markham and the Tulsa Rhythm Review were a loose aggregation of Oklahoma area players like Don Nix, Jessie Ed Davis and Jimmy Karstein. These guys were studio regulars and toured with different acts, but they liked to have some fun on their own. Delaney and Bonnie and Friends were a similar organization, and they may have shared some members.
May 1-3, 1969: Colwell-Winfield Blues Band/T.I.M.E/Blues Magoos
May 8-10, 1969: Screaming Lord Sutch/Mighty Fat/Fields
Lord Sutch, an English rock and roller known as Screaming Lord Sutch, was a legendary English figure, sort of a pre-Beatles Alice Cooper. Despite Sutch's lack of vocal talent, he was a charismatic and entertaining character.
May 15, 1969: Illinois Speed Press/Linn County/C.K. Strong
May 16, 1969: Linn County/C.K. Strong
May 17, 1969: Blues Image/Linn County/C.K. Strong
Illinois Speed Press had been signed by Columbia and relocated to Los Angeles. They had just released their first album. CK Strong featured singer Lynn Carey, later to become a sort of legend due to the album cover of her of next band, Mama Lion (google it yourself, but not at work).
May 22-24: Joanne Vent/Congress Of Wonders/Rockin Foo
May 27-28, 1969: John Lee Hooker/Earl Hooker/Blues Image
May 29-31, 1969: John Lee Hooker/Earl Hooker/Golden Earring
May 29-31, 1969: John Lee Hooker/Golden Earring/Earl Hooker
Golden Earring were already a popular group in Holland, but not known in the States. Some years later they would have a big Top 40 hit with "Radar Love." I think they still perform.
June 5, 1969: Sons of Champlin/Tsong
The Sons Of Champlin were a funky, sophisticated band from San Francisco who had just released their first album on Capitol, Loosen Up Naturally.
June 6-7, 1969: Blues Image/Tsong
June 8, 1969: Tsong
June 9-11, 1969: Joe Cocker and The Grease Band/Bluesberry Jam
Joe Cocker and The Grease Band were on tbeir first American tour, and this would probably have been one of their first Stateside shows. Bluesberry Jam was a local blues group. They would later evolve into the group P, G and E.
June 12, 1969: Southwind/Bangor Flying Circus
June 13-14, 1969: Blues Image/Southwind/Bangor Flying Circus
June 16-17, 1969: Lord Sutch
Apparently Jimi Hendrix showed up to jam one night.
June 19, 1969: Larry Coryell/Bonzo Dog Band
June 20-21, 1969: Larry Coryell/Bluesberry Jam
The story of the Bonzos is too long (and too unbelievable) to tell here, but they were an influential, one-of-a-kind band whose impact far outweighed their modest record sales. Anyone lucky enough to have seen the show would have, among other things, found out the musical answer to the age-old question "Can Blue Men Sing The Whites?"
June 26, 1969: Roxy/Rockin Foo
June 27-28, 1969: Blues Magoos/Roxy/Rockin Foo
July 3, 1969: Eric Burdon/C.K. Strong
Eric Burdon's activities during this period were somewhat mysterious. He wasn't playing with War yet, but he was supporting a Best Of album by playing a few shows. Its not clear who he played with, but he did at least some shows with Blues Image, so perhaps he played with them here. Possibly he just sat in with someone who was booked at the club. However, since Burdon was billed for three nights at Fillmore West on the weekend (July 4-6), this show may have been a warmup gig to get the music together.
July 4-5, 1969: Lonnie Mack/Southwind
July 6, 1969: Lonnie Mack/C.K. Strong
July 10-12, 1969: Illinois Speed Press/Charity
July 13, 1969: Fields/Jerome
July 18-19, 1969: Poco/The Baby/C.K. Strong
July 20, 1969: Jerome/Armageddon/Fat Legs
July 21-23, 1969: Charlie Musslewhite/Roxy/Fat Legs
August 7-10, 1969: Grand Funk Railroad,/The Baby/Stoneface
Grand Funk Railroad had just released their Capitol debut On Time. Its clear that Thee Experience was positioning itself to be the Hollywood debut for bands that had just released their debut albums. Such bookings probably guaranteed that the record companies bought a lot of tickets and paid for a lot of drinks.
August 11-13, 1969: Tyrannosaurus Rex
Tyrannosaurus Rex were a hippie folk duo at this time, featuring guitarist Marc Bolan and conga player Steve Took. They had a sort of spacey, Tolkienesque vibe, quite a long way from the hard rocking glam music that would make Bolan famous in T-Rex.
August 14-17, 1969: Spencer Davis Group/SRC
The Spencer Davis group had reconstituted itself after Steve Winwood had departed. SRC was a well regarded power trio from Detroit.
August 18-20, 1969: Buddy Miles Express/Thumper
August ?, 1969: Bonzo Dog Band
September 4, 1969: Elvin Bishop/The Crow/Sun Country
Elvin Bishop was signed to Bill Graham's label, a Columbia subsidiary. I'm not sure of the exact timing of his debut album, which was released sometime in 1969, but although Bishop was an established club and concert attraction in San Francisco, this would have been an opportunity to introduce him to the Los Angeles based music industry.
September 5-7, 1969: Delaney and Bonnie and Friends/Sun Country
In 1968, Delaney and Bonnie had mainly been playing in the Topanga Corral in Topanga Canyon. They had a number of fine transplants from Oklahoma and thereabouts playing in their group, many of them also working days in the studio, such as Carl radle and Leon Russell. Delaney and Bonnie had released a little noticed album on Stax in early 1969, but in mid-1969 they had released their album Accept No Substitute on Elektra. The album came to the attention of Eric Clapton (via George Harrison, apparently) and Delaney & Bonnie had opened for Blind Faith for their mammoth Summer '69 American tour.
September 8-11, 1969: Blues Image
September 18-20, 1969: PG&E/The Litter/South
PG& E had evolved from the Bluesberries.
September 21-23, 1969: Merryweather/Jerome
Neil Merryweather was a Canadian musician who had come to California via Chicago.
September 24, 1969: Jean Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio
This show was recorded for a live album with George Duke on Fender piano, John Heard on bass and Dick Bock on drums. There were probably several more shows. These were Jean Luc Ponty's American debut, and it seems that these shows were how Frank Zapppa discovered both Ponty and George Duke.
September ?, 1969: James Cotton
Lighthouse was a Canadian group led by drummer Skip Propop.
October 10-11, 1969: Poco/Stonehenge/Smoke
TIm Schmidt had joined Poco as bassist by this time, returning them to a quintet.
October 16-18, 1969: Big Mama Thornton/Bluesberry
Since PG& E had evolved out of the Bluesberries, I'm not sure who "Bluesberry" might have been. Perhaps part of the band kept going under the old name.
October 19-22, 1969: Southwind/Linn County
October 23-26, 1969: Charles Lloyd/Baby Tsong/Bonzo Dog Band
Tenor saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd did not tour that much during this period, as he was mostly studying Transcendental Meditation in Los Angeles, but he was still an exceptional player.
October 29-November 1, 1969: Albert Collins
November 20-23, 1969: Red Hot And Low Down with Barry Goldberg
November 28-29, 1969: Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart
Zappa had broken up the Mothers in August. His lineup was either FZ, Artie Tripp, Jeff Simmons and Ian Underwood, or FZ, Underwood, Captain Beefheart, Sugarcane Harris, Max Bennett and a drummer, possibly Ralph Humphrey. Zappa played gigs with various one-off lineups during this period.
[update] Bruno and leading FZ scholar Charles Ulrich confirm that Zappa's lineup was FZ/Tripp/Simmons/Underwood. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band were also on the bill.
December 1, 1969: Richard Groove Holmes
December 4-6, 1969: Captain Beefheart/TIME
I do not know who was in Captain Beefheart's band at this time. TIME was a group of mostly Toronto transplants, socially and musically connected to Steppenwolf.
After December, the trail of Thee Experience grows cold. I think the club closed around this time, but closures are never advertised like openings. The idea of a destination club for up and coming bands was an idea somewhat ahead of its time, although it would be successfully executed a few later when The Roxy opened. Marshall Brevetz would go on to open Thee Club in 1970, a sort of rock and roll supper club. This too was ahead of its time, but in 1970 rock fans did not have the money or inclination to pay for a fine meal as part of their rock and roll menu. As fans got older, ate better and had more stable incomes, the idea began to make more sense. To some extent this concept was copied by the Rainbow Bar and Grill, upstairs from The Roxy, although the Rainbow did not have performers.
Marshall Brevetz was an interesting character, and friends with many of the bands he booked. He seems to have a great feel for seeing trends before they happened, whether outdoor rock festivals or happening nightclubs, but he never managed to put all the pieces together. He went on to produce films and manage Bobby Womack, among other things, and he would probably have quite an interesting story to tell, but he passed away in 1986.
Update: Tales From The Kitchen Of Thee Experience
Although you'll have to embiggen this to read it, it's worth it. Roger Martin of Lawrence, KS was a dishwasher at Thee Experience in 1969. When he returned to Kansas, he wrote about it in the local underground paper, Public Notice. If you've read this far, check it out.