Saturday, January 8, 2011
1702 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA, January 17, 1969: Indian Puddin' And Pipe/Tripsichord Music Box
San Francisco's Straight Theater, located at 1702 Haight Street (at Cole), was seen as the linchpin of a successful Haight Ashbury. The hippies who lived in the neighborhood, bands included, had to go downtown to the Fillmore and the Avalon to make or listen to music. The Straight Theater was an old movie theater that was ripe for conversion to a psychedelic concert hall, but it was blocked by the city of San Francisco in a political struggle over dance permits. By the time the Straight started putting on shows in Summer 1967, the wave had crested somewhat, and the Straight never caught up to its competitors. Although the venue was a crucial part of the Haight community, the Straight never had the cachet of either the Fillmore or the Avalon, but it is remembered fondly. We have attempted to construct the history of musical performances during the Straight Theater's existence as a rock venue, but some gaps persist. Some peculiar listings in the early 1969 San Francisco Chronicle shed some light on an obscure window of the Straight's final months.
January 17, 1969: Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Indian Puddin' and Pipe/Tripsichord Music Box
The Straight was managed in a collective, hippie style, but it was not prepared for the explosion of the rock music in the late 60s. Just as rock music became profitable, the absence of working capital insured that the venue was unable to compete. Up until now, we had thought that the venue was dark from New Year's 1968/69 through March 1969. That appears to not quite be the case. In early January, Chronicle columnist Ralph J Gleason wrote "the Straight Theater is now running weekends again with local bands." Although I am not aware of any ads, there were a few listings in the Chronicle's Datebook section. The first one, visible up top, featured two groups, Indian Puddin' and Pipe and the Tripsichord Music Box. Both of these groups were also promoted on the weekend of January 31-February 1.
January 31, 1969: Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Indian Puddin' and Pipe/Tripsichord Music Box
What is the significance of these two groups playing some underpublicized shows at the Straight Theater in early 1969? They indicate the unmistakable presence of the infamous promoter Mathew Katz. The rarely photographed Katz had been the manager of Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape when they had first started. Katz was in litigation with the Airplane for over 20 years; the Grape's lawsuit against him was only settled (in their favor) last year, after over 40 years. Few of the musicians who worked with Katz have fond memories of him.
By 1969, Katz was more focused on owning the names of groups, rather than the groups themselves. Both Indian Puddin' and Pipe and Tripsichord Music Box have complex personnel histories that are hard to follow. Katz seemed to believe that a popular group name had more value than the band members who made up the group, and he would pick out the group names himself. From 1967 onwards, Katz also seemed to have an interest in controlling certain venues, at least temporarily, in order to provide an opportunity for his bands to play. How thinly attended concerts at underpublicized venues helped Katz's promotional plans remains impossible to discern.
The whiff of these two listings suggests that Katz took over the booking of the Straight Theater for a month or two in 1969. The lack of other listings is more likely a sign of Katz's unwillingness to actually purchase advertising or pay for posters, just one of his many inexplicable practices. By March of 1969, circulating posters suggest that other entities were attempting to use the Straight for rock shows, even though they weren't successful. However, if Katz was the de facto promoter of the Straight for a month or two in early 1969, it's not surprising that few people recall it and even fewer mention it. Katz has had a lot of bad ju-ju assigned to him over the decades, apparently with some justification, and no one seems to have good memories they want to recall. It's no wonder that this chapter of Straight Theater history has remained unknown.
As near as I can tell, Katz continued to book his bands in distinctly different venues, apart from the regular rock nightlife in the Bay Area. By the mid-summer of 1969, Katz's bands mostly played at a place on 345 Broadway in San Francisco called Headhunters Amusement Park (it was the former site of a club called Goman's Gay 60s). Later in 1969, his bands were regularly listed at the even more mysterious Aheppa Center, at 7400 MacArthur Blvd in Oakland (near the Eastmont Mall). The radio silence that accompanies most of Katz's activities has left these venues complete ciphers that await excavation.