Saturday, January 8, 2011

1702 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA, January 17, 1969: Indian Puddin' And Pipe/Tripsichord Music Box

(a clipping from the January 17, 1969 San Francisco Chronicle Datebook, announcing shows that would be opening that night)

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.

9 comments:

  1. The Straight Theater is famous for having shown the Magical Mystery Tour in 1968 on the same day as JFK was murdered. What historians do not mention, and I was in the theater during the November 1968 show, is there was also an "underground" film shown, which was an early black and white version of the stills from Zapruder films, mixed with other black and white photos of the assassination, entitled I believe Commission Exhibit 885.

    I recall seeing one woman scream and flee from the theater as she was expecting the happy Beatles experience to continue on.

    Have you heard of this before in your historic excavations? It is a true story and should be remembered.

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  2. That's fascinating, Barbara. These are the kind of things that everyone conveniently forgets.

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  3. Yes, not to belabor the point but 1968 was one of the worst years in recent modern history, at least as it appeared to be unfolding in the East Bay environs. In April then in June, one directly on the heels of the other, Martin Luther King then Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Those were sad and heavy times, brothers and sisters. The feeling: God help us all now. And the Commission Exhibit 885 showing should be viewed in that historic frame, and remembered.

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  4. I took a look to see if I could frame this more exactly date wise in November 1968. November 1-3, 8-10, 15-17 and 29 to December 1 were Friday to Sunday "film shows" with no specific advertising of scheduled events per se. However, the weekend of November 22-24 did see "Magical Mystery Tour" played on the Friday and Saturday whilst Freedom Highway, Clover, Psycle and Doug Williams performed on the Sunday. So I have amended the Straight Theater entries for November 22 and 23, 1968. Thanks Barbara.

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  5. I've been interviewing the guys from Nymbus for a piece for Shindig and there's a show they played at the AHEPA Center with Indian Puddin and Lazarus Sept. 6, '69. The handbill reads Aura Productions presents... Aura Productions was Lee Pederson, who was also acting as Nymbus's manager. I'm not sure if he managed anyone else. The H.T. initials at the bottom show that Nymbus artist Hector Tellez drew it. It also says "grand opening" at the bottom right. Was this the first rock show at the AHEPA, or just Aura's first? And how does Katz fit into this scenario as one of his bands is on the bill...

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  6. I think Sep 6 '69 is the first Ahepa Center show, although what "Ahepa" stood for or meant is beyond me. Katz's mysterious hand floats around. He seemed to book all his bands at a club on Broadway in August '69 (Headhunters Amusement Park) and then they started to turn up at the Ahepa Center.

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  7. It's the American Hellenic Progressive Association, a Greek-American association that works to promote the ancient Greek ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, etc.

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  8. Lucky day! I was looking for something else in a 1/21/69 issue of SF Express Times and found this as an editorial by someone named Smokestack El Ropo.

    "Group manager/promoter Matthew Katz, who has mostly broken into the news when hassling with his musicians, is planning to turn the old Straight into a membership club for musicians, equivalent to the Press club for journalists, open to them and their guests 24 hours a day. Most of the music under his plan will be in the nature of jams and "creative interchange," of primary interest to musicians, though benefits and other shows open to the public will be scheduled—some at usual dance hours, others after-hours from 2-6 in the morning."

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