|The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, ca. 1969|
The Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
The Family Dog was a foundation stone in the rise of San Francisco rock, and it was in operation in various forms from Fall 1965 through the Summer of 1970. For sound historical reasons, most of the focus on the Family Dog has been on the original 4-person collective who organized the first San Francisco Dance Concerts in late 1965, and on their successor Chet Helms. Helms took over the Family Dog in early 1966, and after a brief partnership with Bill Graham at the Fillmore, promoted memorable concerts at the Avalon Ballroom from Spring 1966 through December 1968. The posters, music and foggy memories of the Avalon are what made the Family Dog a legendary 60s rock icon.
In the Summer of 1969, however, with San Francisco as one of the fulcrums of the rock music explosion, Chet Helms opened another venue. The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, on the Western edge of San Francisco, was only open for 14 months and was not a success. Yet numerous interesting bands played there, and remarkable events took place, and they are only documented in a scattered form. This series of posts will undertake a systematic review of every musical event at the Family Dog on The Great Highway. In general, each post will represent a week of musical events at the venue, although that may vary slightly depending on the bookings.
If anyone has memories, reflections, insights, corrections or flashbacks about shows at the Family Dog on the Great Highway, please post them in the Comments.
|660 Great Highway in San Francisco in 1967, when it was the ModelCar Raceway, a slot car track|
The Edgewater Ballroom, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
As early as 1913, there were rides and concessions at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, near the Richmond District. By 1926, they had been consolidated as Playland-At-The-Beach. The Ocean Beach area included attractions such as the Sutro Baths and the Cliff House. The San Francisco Zoo was just south of Playland, having opened in the 1930s. One of the attractions at Playland was a restaurant called Topsy's Roost. The restaurant had closed in 1930, and the room became the Edgewater Ballroom. The Ballroom eventually closed, and Playland went into decline when its owner died in 1958. By the 1960s, the former Edgewater was a slot car raceway. In early 1969, Chet Helms took over the lease of the old Edgewater.
of the only photos of the interior of the Family Dog on The Great
Highway (from a Stephen Gaskin "Monday Night Class" ca. October 1969)|
The Family Dog In 1969
The Family Dog On The Great Highway
The Great Highway was a four-lane road that ran along the Western edge of San Francisco, right next to Ocean Beach. Downtown San Francisco faced the Bay, but beyond Golden Gate Park was the Pacific Ocean. The aptly named Ocean Beach is dramatic and beautiful, but it is mostly windy and foggy. Much of the West Coast of San Francisco is not even a beach, but rocky cliffs. There are no roads in San Francisco West of the Great Highway, so "660 Great Highway" was ample for directions (for reference, it is near the intersection of Balboa Street and 48th Avenue). The tag-line "Edge Of The Western World" was not an exaggeration, at least in American terms.
The Family Dog on The Great Highway was smaller than the Bill Graham's old Fillmore Auditorium. It could hold up to 1500, but the official capacity was probably closer to 1000. Unlike the comparatively centrally located Fillmore West, the FDGH was far from downtown, far from the Peninsula suburbs, and not particularly easy to get to from the freeway. For East Bay or Marin residents, the Great Highway was a formidable trip. The little ballroom was very appealing, but if you didn't live way out in the Avenues, you had to drive. As a result, FDGH didn't get a huge number of casual drop-ins, and that didn't help its fortunes. Most of the locals referred to the venue as "Playland."
Chet Helms had opened the Family Dog at 660 Great Highway to much fanfare on June 13, 1969, with a packed house seeing the Jefferson Airplane and The Charlatans. One of the goals was that the Dog would feature mostly San Francisco bands and a variety of smaller community events and groups. Since so many San Francisco bands were successful, and had record contracts, this didn't confine the venue to obscurity. A lot of great bands played the Family Dog in 1969, but the distant location and the gravitational pull of major rock events hosted elsewhere in the Bay Area kept the Family Dog isolated. We know only the most fragmentary bits about music played, events and audiences throughout the year. Despite the half-year of struggle, Helms had kept the Family Dog on The Great Highway afloat. He had entered the new year of 1970 with a new plan.
- For a complete list of Family Dog shows (including FDGH), see here
- For the previous entry (July 14-15, 1970 Terry Reid) see here
- For a summary and the link to the most recent entries in this series, see here
|A photo of the band Phananganang (purportedly), from Discogs|
July 24-26, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Indian Puddin' & Pipe/Tripsichord/Phananganang (Friday-Sunday)
By the middle of the Summer, Chet Helms must have only kept the Family Dog on The Great Highway open because he thought he could find new financial backing. The venue no longer even put on rock concerts every weekend, and was effectively for rent. The three obscure acts booked for this weekend all had in common that there were managed by the infamous Matthew Katz, who had been making money off San Francisco rock since 1965.
Katz had been the first manager of the Jefferson Airplane in 1965. By mid-66, the Airplane members were unhappy with him and wondering where their money had gone. A long series of lawsuits ensued, not resolved until the mid-1980s. At the end of 1966, Katz had put together five experienced musicians to form Moby Grape. By mid-67, the band members were angry and sued. The litigious Katz argued that he owned the name Moby Grape (sending out a fake Grape at one point). The legal wrangling over the rights to the name Moby Grape are still going on to this day. In 1967 Katz backed the band It's A Beautiful Day. As soon as they had a big hit with "White Bird," the lawsuits began. Leader David LaFlamme sued Katz and lost, causing untold damage to LaFlamme's career, since he couldn't reform his own most famous ensemble.
By 1969, Katz had focused on the rights to name a band, then inserting different members. To the extent he released records, they were on his own label (San Francisco Sound) and he promoted his own concerts. At various times he seemed to control some venues in the Bay Area, including the Headhunters Amusement Park at 345 Broadway in San Francisco (in 1969), and the Aheppa Center in Oakland (at 7400 MacArthur Blvd). The venues mostly featured only his own bands.
On occasion, Katz booked concerts at larger venues, which seemed to be what was going on here. The three bands all have West Coast roots and confusing histories, which I won't detail in this post. Indian Puddin' and Pipe had evolved out of a Seattle band called West Coast Natural Gas, Tripsichord (sometimes called Tripsichord Music Box) would actually put out an album in 1971 and Phananganang were apparently from Marin. Needless to say, we know nothing about this weekend's performances.
In the Fall of 1969, San Francisco State literature instructor Stephen Gaskin had made "Monday Night Class" a popular thing, where he would lecture for free. Donations from the crowd covered expenses (the interior picture above is from a Monday Night Class). San Francisco State College was just up the road, and it was expanding rapidly. A lot of young people lived within range of the Family Dog, and what we would now call "Consciousness Expansion" was a big thing. At the time, Indian thought was considered to be the most sophisticated form of such things. Later in the 70s, the same people became interested in the "Human Potential" of things like EST.
If I have my gurus correct, Bhaktivendanta Swami was the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, but that is outside the scope of this blog. For this night, the Dog was just rented out, just as with Matthew Katz's bands. The Hare Krsna group had rented the Family Dog as a culmination of a weekend long event the previous month (on June 27), so there was an existing business relationship.
July 31-August 2, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Youngbloods/Joy Of Cooking/Jeffery Cain (Friday-Sunday)
The Family Dog on The Great Highway had a true headliner for the last weekend of July. The Youngbloods had played the Family Dog soon after it opened (July 11-13 '69) and had played there again in the Spring (March 27-29). The Youngbloods had formed on the East Coast in 1967, and RCA had released their debut album mid-year. In September 1967, the band had moved out to San Francisco, recognizing a better place for their music. By 1969, the Youngbloods had released their third album for RCA, Elephant Mountain, and were well-entrenched in Marin and the Bay Area Fillmore scene.
Unexpectedly, a song from the Youngbloods' 1967 debut was used in 1969 as background music for a Public Service Announcement for the National Conference of Christians and Jews. "Get Together" had been a modest hit in 1967, but when it was re-released in Summer '69, it went all the way to #5 on Billboard. The Youngbloods, a fine band with only modest success, were suddenly a high-profile rock group. They had the sense to get a new contract while they were hot.
By 1970, the Youngbloods had signed to Warner Brothers, who gave them their own Imprint, Raccoon Records. The Youngbloods were also a very entrepreneurial band, so my guess is that they played the Family Dog without a guarantee, probably in return for a better piece of the door. This is an assumption on my part, but the Youngbloods would play the venue for another 18 months after the Family Dog closed (when it was called Friends And Relations Hall) so I am assuming that the self-financed approach was in play here.
In the middle of 1970, the Youngbloods were a trio. Lead singer Jesse Colin Young played bass or guitar, Banana (Lowell Levenger) played piano, banjo, steel guitar and anything else, anchored by Joe Bauer on drums. Sometimes they were joined by a harmonica player (Richard "Earthquake" Anderson, who may have also been their road manager). It's possible that the Youngbloods' first Warner Brothers album Rock Festival had been released by this time. A mixture of live and studio recordings (including one track from the Family Dog, back in March), it had been produced by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor, who had also produced Live/Dead and Workingman's Dead.
|Joy Of Cooking's debut album would be released on Capitol in January 1971|
Joy Of Cooking had played the Family Dog in March, and now they were returning. Joy Of Cooking had formed as a duo in Berkeley called Gourmet’s Delight, featuring guitarist Terry Garthwaite and pianist Toni Brown. Garthwaite was a veteran of the Berkeley folk and bluegrass scene, and Brown was an artist as well as a musician. The group had expanded to include conga player Ron Wilson, bassist David Garthwaite (Terry’s brother) and drummer Fritz Kasten. They changed their name to Joy of Cooking and shared management with Country Joe and The Fish. Joy Of Cooking had been a regular performer weeknights at a tiny Berkeley club called Mandrake's, where they built up a solid following.
Joy of Cooking was a significant group on the Berkeley scene, because both Garthwaite and Brown were accomplished musicians. Although both were excellent singers as well, Joy of Cooking featured the same kind of lengthy jamming popular at the time, rather than short and sensitive neo-folk songs. The group were ultimately signed to Capitol Records and released their first of three Capitol albums in January 1971.
Singer/Songwriter Jeffrey Cain had been signed to the Youngbloods' Raccoon label. The Raccoon imprint allowed the band to sign anyone they wanted, while Warner Brothers would manufacture and distribute the record. The profits and losses were assigned to the Youngbloods (the Airplane had a similar deal with RCA, called Grunt Records), but the band had artistic control. Cain's album For You was released in mid-1970, and members of the Youngbloods backed him on the album.
For the next and final post of the series (Quicskilver Messenger Service August 21-22, 1970), see here