|An ad for the Boarding House, from the June 11, 1971 SF Good Times. Each night's menu is listed sideways across the bottom. Admission is $1.00 after 9pm.|
The Boarding House, 960 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA
The Boarding House, at 960 Bush Street, is one of the most fondly remembered San Francisco rock clubs of the 1970s. The intimate, bowl-shaped room, seating around 300, was the site of many great shows. In the mid-70s, when record company support was at its peak, the Boarding House was the prime location for booking acts that were on the rise. Record company economics were about finding a club that appealed to writers and tastemakers, in order create some buzz, and the Boarding House was a perfect spot for that. True, the club barely broke even, but the list of great shows at the Bush Street joint is very long.
Jerry Garcia, Neil Young and others played memorable shows at The Boarding House. The Tubes played two weeks there in the Summer of 1975, ensuring that their soon-to-be-released debut album got maximum attention. Comedians like Steve Martin would play the club just as they were approaching stardom. Every month would feature acts with new albums, rising stars with some real (if sometimes manufactured) buzz and constant attention from reviewers in the San Francisco daily papers.
Yet the Boarding House did not at all start out this way. Initially, the building at 960 Bush Street had been purchased and renovated by Doug Weston, the operator of West Hollywood's premier club, The Troubadour. The SF outpost of the Troubadour was only open for 4 thinly attended months, starting in August 1970. The West Hollywood formula did not work in provincial San Francisco. The manager of the Troubadour, David Allen, who had managed the Hungry i, then took over the space. The Boarding House opened in March, 1971, nearly six months after the last Troubadour show on October 30, 1970. Allen leased the space from Weston, who apparently still owned the building.
|The Boarding House, at 960 Bush Street in San Francisco, some time in the mid-1970s|
The Boarding House, Year 1
960 Bush Street was in Lower Nob Hill, in-between Union Square and Chinatown. It was about six to eight blocks from downtown, depending on the direction you went. San Francisco is hilly and cold, so there wasn't going to be a lot of walking traffic. Although the neighborhood was pleasant, there weren't convenient parking garages nearby. All of these problems had plagued the Troubadour, and the Boarding House didn't really solve any of them.
Bay Area rock fans of a certain age may recall the Boarding House, or may have seen photos. In fact, those recollections do not apply. Although the Boarding House was always at 960 Bush Street, initially the club was in the basement, rather than the theatrical bowl of later years. Doug Weston had purchased and renovated the building, and he had opened the Troubadour in the ground floor. The second floor, formerly a theater and restaurant, and previously a recording studio, had remained unfinished. Later in 1971, the second floor of the Boarding House started advertising theatrical events as the Boarding House Theater.
In early 1972, a few rock shows were put on at the Theater, and ultimately the entire operation moved upstairs. The address was always 960 Bush Street, but patrons would eventually go up the stairs rather than down. The initial Boarding House configuration was apparently a flat room with extended "family-style" tables. In later years, the downstairs would be used for some lower-profile comedy shows, and sometimes as a dining room.
The initial business model of the Boarding House was that patrons would buy dinner, and perhaps some beer, wine or coffee, and afterwards see a show. Patrons could of course skip dinner and just see the show, but the best seats would have been reserved for the diners. One entree was served each night. Initially, the Boarding House just booked acoustic acts. There wasn't any prohibition against electric music, but the economics of the club was for smaller ensembles, mostly local, and drummers were rare.
There were plenty of coffee house and nightclub gigs for acoustic performers in the Bay Area, but they were hardly premier bookings. Either they were tiny coffee shops, or perhaps the Sunday night at a rock nightclub in the hinterlands. The calendars would usually just say "Sunday--Folk Music," which just meant "one or two performers singing and playing acoustic." A few clubs played actual folk music, mainly the Freight And Salvage in Berkeley, but that was a specialized endeavour. Rock had gotten louder and louder in the 1960s, but had reversed itself somewhat in the 1970s. Popular artists like James Taylor and Cat Stevens were selling records now, and Elton John, another big star, was introspective amidst all his rocking.
The Boarding House opened on Friday, March 26, 1971. An article in the
March 24 San Francisco Examiner described it as "an acoustic music
salon." The club served dinner, with one seating each night, at a cost
of $3.25. Patrons could also skip dinner and come later, but of course would have conceded the better seats. With his history at the Hungry i, proprietor Allen was well-connected to the local press and the ways of San
San Francisco wasn't Los Angeles, so the Boarding House didn't get big stars on the verge of success, like the Troubadour in West Hollywood. In 1971, though, the Boarding House was perhaps the premier booking for acoustic acts and singer/songwriters in San Francisco, since it was actually devoted to that kind of music. As it turned out, many fine acts played the Boarding House, but that hardly led to success. The performers we recognize now had to go somewhere else to make it, New York or Los Angeles usually, or wait for a few other turns of the wheel. Nonetheless, the initial months of the Boarding House gives us a useful snapshot of the songwriters in the Bay Area in 1971.
|Diane Sward Rapaport's 1979 book How To Make & Sell Your Own Recording was a critical text for the independent musician. The book has sold over 150,000 copies. Rapaport had been a band manager for Bill Graham from 1969-74.|
The dilemma of Bay Area singer/songwriters was aptly summed up by manager Diane Sward (later Diane Rapaport). Sward was an aspiring band manager, and had talked her way into the Bill Graham organization's management wing. Sward managed the group Lamb and singer Pamela Polland, and also helped to book various acoustic acts as a sort of local package. Sward (1939-2020) had a remarkable blog, well worth reading for any fans of old San Francisco music days, and indeed well worth reading in general. In one post Sward described what faced local singers who weren't in a loud rock band:
Gigs in Bay Area coffeehouses were easy to get, but they didn’t make a lot of money for anyone, including the performers. They were able to get a few gigs in clubs at 8 or 8:30 p.m., prior to when many rock bands began setting up for a 9:30 show. I told club owners that my band would help warm up the audience, didn’t need a big stage setup (no drums, no big amps, no stage monitors) and would make them enough extra bucks selling drinks to pay us.
However rock fans and acoustic music fans didn’t always mix well. More often than not the audience would start getting impatient around 9:15. “We want Jerry (Garcia); we want Elvin (Bishop) and so on.”
I attended a lot of Lamb gigs and saw such other Bay Area acoustic performers as Lambert & Nuttycombe, Jeffrey Cain and Uncle Vinty. They were all bucking up against rock ‘n roll. The audiences for rock bands were larger; and that meant more money for the club owners.
Sward went on to find unique bookings for her acts, and helped them record as well. The Boarding House was intentionally designed as a different kind of club than clubs like Berkeley's New Orleans House, or Palo Alto's Poppycock, which were miniature Avalon Ballrooms with a light show and a dance floor. Or, to put it another way, miniature Avalons if the Avalon had sold beer. The Boarding House would remain distinct when clubs like Keystone Berkeley, the Long Branch and the Orphanage gained prominence in the next few years. The Boarding House had no fear of electric instruments, but the more theatrical club appealed to a more reflective audience.
The sixties had been the era of self-contained rock groups, writing and singing their own music and playing their own instruments. The sixties had also brought forth the rise of FM rock radio, and the much broader playlists of those stations opened the door for a wider variety of music. As the 70s dawned, record companies were discovering there was a huge appetite for artists who wrote and sang their own songs, but weren't part of a group. The 1970s were the era of the singer/songwriter, and record companies figured out quickly that there was a lot of money to be made. The heart of this was at West Hollywood's Troubadour club, hard by all the LA record companies. Bands who were a hit at the Troubadour could spring forth with record company backing that could make them into stars.
For rock bands, 60s touring had been more of a profit and loss proposition. Bands played where they had a following, so they could come home with more money than they started with. FM radio had started to change that. Record companies' new goals were to spark FM airplay, which could lead to substantial sales. The typical singer/songwriter wasn't going to go over well if they were third on the bill to a couple of noisy rock bands. It was in company interests to ensure that solo artists got heard at smaller places like The Boarding House, so that they would get good reviews and the most committed fans could go back to the work or the dorm and say "you gotta hear so-and-so's new album."
What evolved was system where record companies provided "tour support." This meant that the record company laid out some money to get there artist on the road: buying airline tickets in advance, for example, or renting equipment. The performer then just had to break even on the road to pay for food and lodging. It made a smaller place like The Boarding House more financially viable, since artists weren't committed to huge paydays in order to tour (it's also possible the Boarding House provided traveling artists a place to stay, but I'm just guessing). Now, this wasn't charity--any cash laid out by the record company for tour support was recouped from future royalties. But if an album hit it big, that was small change.
From looking at the bookings of the first four months of the Boarding House, it's plain that the record companies saw a lot of value in the venue. In April and May, the acts headlining were mostly local. By the beginning of the Summer, almost every headliner was an out-of-town band with an album. This meant the record company was likely buying ads on the local radio stations, or other promotional support, and helping both their own act and the venue itself.
March 26-28, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: James And The Good Brothers/Melissa (Friday-Sunday)
The last act to play the San Francisco Troubadour, on Sunday, November 1, 1970 had been the Canadian trio James And The Good Brothers. Whether by plan or luck, the same trio were the headliners for the opening weekend of The Boarding House.
James And The Good Brothers were a Canadian acoustic trio who were an extended part of the Grateful Dead family. Guitarist James Ackroyd had teamed with twin brothers Brian and Bruce Good, on guitar and autoharp, respectively. All sang, and their music was in a country-folk style, but without a pronounced Southern twang, somewhat like a laid back version of The Band. The trio had met the Grateful Dead when they played on the infamous Festival Express cross-Canadian tour. The Dead had invited them to San Francisco, and the trio came down to San Francisco, where the Dead office helped them get gigs.
James and The Good Brothers sang original songs, more or less in the vein of Crosby, Stills and Nash or America. They were more country than either of those bands, but since they had Canadian accents rather than Southern ones, their music had a different resonance with listeners. Also, since the Good Brothers used an autoharp, a rarely used instrument, their music had a different feel to it. It's no surprise that James And The Good Brothers were signed to Columbia, since record companies were snapping up any band in the CSN vein.
James And The Good Brothers would record at Wally Heider's with Grateful Dead engineer
Betty Cantor. Jerry Garcia and Bill Kreutzmann likely played on the
initial sessions, although they were not used on the final album.
Ultimately, parts of the album seems to have been re-recorded in Toronto. Columbia would release the James And The Good Brothers album in November, 1971.
When James And The Good Brothers had played at the SF Troubadour in 1970, they had just arrived in town. By March, 1971, however, the band had opened a weekend for the New Riders Of The Purple Sage at Fillmore West (on February 25-28). When they had played there, Jerry Garcia (pedal steel guitar), Jack Casady ("balalaika" bass) and Spencer Dryden (drums) had joined the trio. Now, Garcia and Dryden were playing with the New Riders, but the fact that a trio of heavyweights joined them got the band mentioned in a review. It also made their status as Grateful Dead "family members" apparent. During the opening Boarding House weekend, the Grateful Dead were in town, but we have no evidence that Garcia sat in with them (ultimately, James Ackroyd would stay in California, and the
Good Brothers would return to Canada, where they had a successful
musical career along with their banjo-playing younger brother Larry).
Opening act Melissa is unknown to me.
April 2-4, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: High Country (Friday-Sunday)
The headliners the second week were the bluegrass band High Country. I assume the band started their booking on Tuesday, but I have only seen them listed for the weekend. In almost all cases, I have every expectation that acts were booked from Tuesday through Sunday nights, but I am only noting when I have seen an ad or a listing, rather than speculating about missing dates.
High Country had been founded in 1968 by Berkeley mandolinist Butch Waller. Waller had been playing bluegrass since at least 1962, and he was old pals with Jerry Garcia and David Nelson from those days (per fellow scholar Jesse Jarnow, Waller was apparently on board for Jerry Garcia's first LSD trip in Palo Alto in 1965). Nelson and Waller had been in the Pine Valley Boys in the mid-60s. Nelson went electric with the New Delhi River Band, but Waller had stuck with bluegrass. Initially, High Country had been a duo with Waller and guitarist Mylos Csonka, but the group rapidly expanded. By 1969, an out-of-work Nelson had temporarily rejoined, and there were various other sometime-members, including Richard Greene, Andy Stein, Rick Shubb and Pete Wernick. One famous night (February 19, 1969), other banjo players seemed to have been busy, and Jerry Garcia filled in (yes, there's a tape).
By 1971, the lineup of High Country had stabilized. Along with Waller on mandolin and tenor vocals, Ed Neff was the fiddler, Bruce Nemerov played banjo, Rich Wilbur played guitar and sang baritone, with Elon Fenier on bass. More importantly, the Youngbloods had their own record label, thanks to the success of "Get Together." Youngbloods member Lowell "Banana" Levenger was an old bluegrass pal from way back, and thus he would sponsor and record High Country for Raccoon Records. The album was released on Raccoon (distributed by parent label Warner Brothers) later in 1971.
April 6-11, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: James and The Good Brothers/Jo Ellen Yester (Tuesday-Sunday)
James And The Good Brothers returned two weeks later, so the opening weekend must have gone alright. Jo Ellen Yester was a local singer. Yester had been singing in various ensembles since the early 60s, but had not been a full-time professional musician since then (she had been married to Jim Yester of The Association). In 1971, she was re-starting her active career again, and she would go on to have a lengthy performing history.
April 13-18, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Terry Dolan/River City (Tuesday-Sunday)
Terry Dolan was a songwriter from the Washington, DC area. He had moved to San Francisco and had been playing the coffee house circuit. Within a few years, he had become locally known for leading the band Terry And The Pirates. The Pirates were a part-time band, but Dolan friends like John Cipollina and Nicky Hopkins made them a lively ensemble that got good play on KSAN.
River City is unknown to me.
|Revolting, the debut album of The Congress Of Wonders, released on Fantasy Records in 1970|
April 20-25, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Congress Of Wonders/Little Jim Evans (Tuesday-Sunday)
Congress Of Wonders were a comedy trio from Berkeley, initially from the UC Berkeley drama department and later part of Berkeley’s Open Theater on College Avenue, a prime spot for what were called “Happenings” (now ‘Performance Art’). The group performed at the Avalon and other rock venues.
Ultimately a duo, Karl Truckload (Howard Kerr) and Winslow Thrill (Richard Rollins) created two Congress of Wonders albums on Fantasy Records (Revolting in 1970 and 1972's Sophomoric). Their pieces “Pigeon Park” and “Star Trip”, although charmingly dated now, were staples of San Francisco underground radio at the time.
Little Jim Evans is unknown to me.
April 29-May 2, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Lane Tietgen/Len and Malia (Friday-Sunday)
Lane Tietgen (1946-2020), from Topeka, had been in a Kansas band called The Serfs. The lead singer of the Serfs was organist Mike Finnegan, and the band had released a 1969 Capitol album called Early Bird Cafe. The album was quite obscure, and Finnegan moved to the Bay Area. Finnegan became the organist and lead singer of The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, a jazz-rock band built around native Kansan guitarist Hahn. Jerry Hahn Brotherhood had released a highly-touted but unsuccessful album on Columbia, prior to breaking up in early 1971.
In the meantime, Tietgen seems to have played around San Francisco, at least temporarily. The Brotherhood album is now obscure, too. Nonetheless, many of the songs on the album were written by Tietgen, and two of them were covered a few years later by Manfred Mann. Manfred Mann, while not a major pop star, isn't obscure. Tietgen's songs "Captain Bobby Stout" and "Martha's Madman" were part of the Manfred Mann Earth Band repertoire for over 40 years.
Len and Malia are unknown to me.
Examiner critic Phil Elwood, always a supporter of local clubs, reviewed this week's show in the Friday (May 7) edition. He notes that David Allen was leasing the space from Doug Weston, so Weston had not sold the building yet. San Francisco real estate was a good bet, so whenever Weston sold, he probably ended up doing just fine.
Pam and Ray Clayton were an acoustic duo, backed by electric bass and guitar.
Tim Dawe was a Chicago folksinger (and presumably songwriter) in the style of Gordon Lightfoot.May 11-16, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Kendall Kardt/Shapiro and Stafford (Tuesday-Sunday)
Kendall Kardt (b.1943) had been in the group Rig, who had been booked by the Bill Graham organization. Rig played the Fillmore East, and opened for a variety of National acts. Rig released an album on Capitol in 1970. The band broke up, however, and Kardt moved to the Bay Area to be nearer to the Graham team. Kardt recorded a solo album for Capitol, with help from the likes of Jerry Garcia, Ronnie Montrose, Pamela Polland and Spencer Dryden, but the album was shelved. He would record an album for Columbia in 1972, but it too was shelved.
Ultimately, Kardt moved to Chicago. He continued his career as a songwriter, and his songs were recorded by Montrose, Jim Post and others. At this time, the Bay Area was not geared for solo acoustic artists, in contrast to Los Angeles or New York.
Shapiro and Stafford are unknown to me.
May 18-23, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Chris Williamson/Stephen Fisk (Tuesday-Sunday)
"Chris" Williamson was the advertised headliner for this week at the Boarding House. Cris Williamson would go on to a unique, hugely successful career, but the Bay Area scene had no mechanism at this time for getting an artist like her heard by more people. Opening big rock clubs was a poor choice for serious songwriters (to Diana Sward's points above), and playing clubs in San Francisco didn't really get acts signed or played on the radio. A singer might get a little following, and make a little coin, but San Francisco wasn't the place to break out of the box. The Boarding House listings for this period show numerous interesting artists who only got somewhere when they moved on from the local rock scene. Williamson may be the case in point.
Cris Williamson (b. 1947) was from Deadwood, SD, of all places. She had released three obscure solo albums on Avanti Records in 1964-65. By 1971, she had resurfaced in the Bay Area. Williamson had released an album on Ampex in 1971. It had been recorded in New York (with Eddie Kramer, at Electric Lady Studios) and in San Francisco (at Wally Heiders, with Jim Gaines). An army of session men, some well-known, were on the record. It went nowhere.
In future years, Williamson would assert that there should be a record label run by women, for women, and that would lead to Olivia Records. Olivia released Williamson's 1975 album The Changer And The Changed. Besides being a fine album, Olivia was in the forerfront of DIY releases, fitting in nicely with Beserkely Records and numerous punk labels. The message was, if you want albums of a certain type, release 'em yourself. Once again, there were good acts at the Boarding House, but San Francisco didn't know what to do with them.
Stephen Fisk--actual name Stephen Fiske, so both acts used conventional spellings--was an interesting story in his own right. I don't need to tell you the entire story, since you can read it on his website. Unlike many aspiring 60s dropout musicians, Fiske went to NYU on a basketball scholarship and majored in Art. In 1968, he moved to San Francisco, joining a group called Bycycle. In his own words:
"As the lead singer and songwriter of the band, “The Bycycle” performed in all the major rock palaces on the West Coast including The Fillmore, Winterland, and opened for such acts as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jimi Hendrix, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, among others."The interesting twist about Bycycle, who originally used the name Hofmann's Bycycle (a clear, if misspelled LSD reference), was that their bass player was Dan Healy. Dan Healy was mainly a recording engineer at the time, but he is best known for being the Grateful Dead's soundman from about 1972 onwards. Back in 1968, he had already helped produce an album for the band (Anthem Of The Sun), and he was working with his pals Quicksilver Messenger Service and other groups. But he had a band on the side (don't worry about Googling--I'm the only person ever to write about it). Fiske was the lead singer, and no doubt Healy's standing in hip San Francisco made sure that Bycycle got some really good gigs.
By the early 70s, Bycycle had broken up. Dan Healy was a freelance producer, mainly for Mercury Records. Fiske, usually booked with the name Stephen Fisk, was a regular at coffee houses around the East and North Bay. In that respect, appearing at the Boarding House was a chance for him to get heard by a wider audience.
|Seductive Reasoning, the 1975 Columbia debut album by Maggie and Terre Roche, some years before their sister Suzzy made them a trio|
May 25-30, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Congress Of Wonders/Maggie and Terre Roche (Tuesday-Sunday)
The return of the Congress Of Wonders also featured a surprising opening act, yet another lost story of the San Francisco scene of the early 70s.
Maggie and Terre Roche were from suburban Park Ridge, NJ. They had dropped out of high school to become a folksinging duo. Maggie wrote original songs, and they played guitars and harmonized together. By the late 70s, The Roches would include Maggie, Terre and their younger sister Suzzy. The Roches never became huge stars, but they were well-known in a New York way, and they certainly had a unique sound that only sisters could have. But the narrative of the Roche sisters seems to simply leave out any time spent in San Francisco as a duo.
I don't know for a fact if the two Roche sisters spent the summer in San Francisco, or they were just touring around and kept coming back to the Boarding House during this time. In either case, any references to this time seems to be forgotten from their stories. By 1972, the Roches had returned to New York City, where they sang on a Paul Simon album. They would manage to parlay bartending jobs into a chance to audition at the famous Gerde's Folk City club. By 1975, the pair had released their only album as a duo, Seductive Reasoning. Suzzy would join a few years later, and the first Roches trio album was released in 1979.
A live tape of Maggie and Terre floats around, a short set from a coffeehouse in Eau Claire, WI, on January 16, 1975. It's the best available hint for what the duo might have sounded like at the Boarding House back in 1971. If they were just 75% as good as the tape (which was 4 years later), no wonder the Boarding House liked them. The Roches had a successful career when they were based out of New York, but 1971 San Francisco had nothing for a pair of singing sisters with acoustic guitars.
|Thanks to Dr Demento, teenage boys of a certain age are familiar with their friendly neighborhood Narco Agent|
June 2-6, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Jef Jaisun/Maggie and Terre Roche (Tuesday-Sunday)
Jef Jaisun, a journalist and photographer as well as a musician, had been the bassist for Phoenix, who had played the Bay Area club circuit in 1968. Jaisun had left Phoenix to go solo later that year . Jaisun wrote the song “Friendly Neighborhood Narco Agent,” and released it in 1969. The song became a Bay Area FM radio staple, as well as a "Dr. Demento" classic. Despite his local infamy, few other listeners in the Bay Area would ever hear another song by him on the radio.
Maggie and Terre Roche returned for another week. Given their talent and future success, it's no surprise that they were a hit and kept getting invited back to the Boarding House. The pair were booked for additional weeks in June (22-27, below), August (3-8) and October (19-24). This suggests that they were at least based on the West Coast, if not actually living in the Bay Area.
|Doug McKechnie and his Moog synthesizer ca. 1968|
June 8-13, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Doug McKechnie Moog Synthesizer/Noel Day with Mark Schecter (Tuesday-Sunday)
It's easy to make fun of the obsession of San Francisco and the Bay Area to be different, to be not like New York or LA, sometimes just for determination, not sense. All sorts of famous acts (musical and otherwise) got no love from San Francisco just because they were popular "everywhere else." At the same time, San Francisco loves its own thing, whether or not anywhere else ever gets it (google "Beach Blanket Babylon"). Still--where else in 1971 but San Francisco would an "acoustic music salon" give over a week to a pioneering underground Moog Synthesizer artist?
Doug McKechnie's history was unique in so many ways. Around about 1968, McKechnie had lived in a warehouse type building on 759 Harrison (between 3rd and 4th Streets). Avalon Ballroom soundman and partner Bob Cohen lived in the building, and Blue Cheer (and Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks) practiced upstairs. One day, McKechnie's roommate Bruce Hatch acquired a Moog Synthesizer, and the instrument arrived in boxes, awaiting assembly. At the time, a synthesizer was like a musical unicorn, only slightly more real than a myth. Hatch had the technical ability to assemble the machinery, but he was basically tone-deaf. So McKechnie focused on actually making music on the Moog.
McKechnie and Hatch referred to their enterprise as Radical Sound Labs. Word got around--McKechnie helped the Grateful Dead record the strange outtake "What's Become Of The Baby" on the 1969 Aoxomoxoa sessions in San Mateo (his memories are, uh, fuzzy). Thanks to the Dead, McKechnie and his Moog--the size of a VW Bus--can be seen in the Gimme Shelter movie, providing peculiar music on a gigantic sound system for the anxious masses. Sometimes McKechnie opened for rock shows at the Family Dog, using the name "SF Rad Labs."
Unlike the very few other synthesizer artists, McKechnie was not associated with an academic endeavor, he wasn't trying to sell an instrument, and he didn't have any record company affiliation. None of those things were bad, by the way--it's just that the thoroughly hippie underground McKechnie could do what we wanted. Now, probably, what he played this week at the Boarding House wouldn't have held up that well over time, if there was a tape. But at the time, a Moog was a Unicorn. If you saw at a Unicorn at a farm, you wouldn't say "it's not a good plow horse, though." So this must have been pretty far out to listeners at the time, even if it would sound less so to us now (for reference, 759 Harrison is now across from Whole Foods).
Noel Day and Mark Schechter are unknown to me.
June 15-20, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Paul Siebel/Ron Douglas (Tuesday-Sunday)
Paul Siebel (b. 1937) was already somewhat known as a songwriter, but he had only released his first album the previous year. Woodsmoke And Oranges had been released on Elektra in October 1970. To most people, his best known song was "Louise," which would be recorded by Bonnie Raitt and many others. While Siebel was hardly major, he wasn't from the Bay Area. The Boarding House was tapping into the need for a National circuit that featured singer/songwriters in a useful setting, not some loud rocking beer joint. Siebel seems to have been the first touring act to play the Boarding House. In the ensuing decade, it was touring acts that would make the Boarding House a memorable San Francisco club.
June 22-27, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Congress Of Wonders/Maggie and Terre Roche (Tuesday-Sunday)
|An ad for The Boarding House from the June 25, 1971 SF Good Times|
June 29-July 4, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks (Tuesday-Sunday)
Dan Hicks had been around the San Francisco scene as long as there had been one. He had been the drummer in the Charlatans, the band that started the psychedelic ballroom revolution in Virginia City, NV. Later he had switched to guitar, so he could sing more. The Charlatans played loud, psychedelic blues, however, and Hicks had other interests. He formed a "side group" with local violinist David LaFlamme to play a sort of modified swing music. When LaFlamme left to form It's A Beautiful Day, Hicks left the Charlatans and formed Dan Hicks And His Hot Licks.
The band had released an album in 1969 on Epic, Original Recordings. The group wore Edwardian clothes, and it looked like a repackage of an old album. While the band played acoustic swing music, kind of, Hicks' wry, cynical lyrics were a striking contrast to the music. The album included future Hicks' classics like "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away" and "I Scare Myself." Nobody sounded like Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. By 1971, the live band was probably Hicks on lead vocals and guitar, Sid Page on violin and Jaime Leopold on bass. "The Hot Licks" personnel varied sometimes, but at this time I believe it was Maryann Price and Naomi Ruth Eisenberg. Hicks had just recorded what would be his most famous album, Where's The Money at the West Hollywood Troubadour in February, 1971. The album would be released on Blue Thumb some time during the year. So although Hicks was a local favorite--he had played 960 Bush when it was the Troubadour the year before--this was another band who actually had a recording contract, not just hopes and dreams.
During this week, Bill Graham was closing the Fillmore West, with much fanfare (in the Graham tradition). Dan Hicks, as a member of the Charlatans, had been instrumental in creating the whole San Francisco scene that had made Graham rich and famous, but he had no part in the Fillmore closing.
|The July 9, 1971 ad for the Boarding House in the SF Good Times|
July 6-11, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Lamb (Tuesday-Sunday)
When Lamb had formed in 1969, it had essentially been the songwriting duo of Barbara Mauritz and guitarist Bob Swanson. Mauritz played piano and sang, so she was out front, but they were a team. Come 1969, they had added a bass player, and after a while they were an outright rock band. Diane Sward (see above) had taken on the role of manager for them, and got them assigned to Bill Graham's Fillmore label, distributed by Columbia. Sward had taken Lamb from the penurious coffee houses to the more lucrative rock circuit.
Lamb had released their Fillmore Records debut A Sign Of Change in 1970. The band was subsequently signed to Warners, but considering that Graham had connections to both, that wasn't an unlikely switch. By 1971, Lamb had added David Hayes on bass. The band's second album was Bring Out The Sun, and their third was Cross Between. Both were released in 1971, but I'm not sure of the exact timing. By the third album, Barbara Mauritz had taken on a much more prominent role in the band, and Bob Swanson was in the background. The previous week, the Fillmore West had closed its doors, and Lamb had played on July 1 (Thursday night, opening for Elvin Bishop Group and It's A Beautiful Day). As part of the Fillmore West festivities, Lamb had been broadcast live on FM radio from the Fillmore, as well as ultimately getting included on the memorial Last Days Of The Fillmore album.
Once again, the Boarding House was featuring a band with an album and management support, although in this case it was local. Lamb manager Diane Sward had married Lamb producer Walter Rapaport, and they remained married into eternity. Barbara Mauritz would produce a solo album in 1972 (Isn't It Just A Beautiful Day, on Warners). She went on to a career composing film and commercial music
July 13-18, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Norman Greenbaum/Pamela Polland (Tuesday-Sunday)
Headliner Norman Greenbaum was a bit of a paradox here. Greenbaum had been in various obscure 60s bands around the Bay Area (like Dr West's Medicine Show and Junk Band). Completely unexpectedly, he had a massive hit in 1970 with "Spirit In The Sky," which had reached #3 in April 1970. The nature of AM radio at the time meant that a true hit was massive on a scale that cannot be contemplated today. Greenbaum, who lived on a farm in Petaluma (in Northern Marin County), lived modestly and didn't really have to work again. He still recorded, and even had a local hit with the song "Canned Ham," from his 1970 Reprise album Back Home Again. Probably, Greenbaum played with a small combo, but I don't know.
Singer/songwriter Pamela Polland had recently moved to the Bay Area. As a Los Angeles teenager, she had performed in folk clubs with Ry Cooder. By 1968, she had released an album as part of the duo with Rick Stanley called Gentle Soul. In early 1970, Polland was one of the many backup singers on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs And Englishmen. By 1971, she had signed with Columbia and had decided to move to Mill Valley. In Mill Valley, she had met Diane Sward, and Sward became her manager.
In 1971, Polland was just starting out her career as a solo artist. Probably she just accompanied herself on piano, but she might have played guitar as well. In 1972, she would release her self-titled solo debut on Columbia. She recorded a follow-up in 1973, Have You Heard The One About The Gas Station Attendant, produced by no less than Gus Dudgeon (who had produced Elton John). But the Gas Station album was never released, due in part to Columbia politics. A frustrated Polland put her energy into creating the fictional persona of Melba Rounds, an "itinerant jazz madam," organizing a revue of early 20th century blues music, featuring Rounds (Polland) as the primary singer. Polland's songs continued to be recorded by other artists, and she remains a working musician.
July 20-25, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Art and Happy Traum/Rowan Brothers (Tuesday-Sunday)
Artie and Happy Traum were singing guitarists based in Woodstock, NY. Older brother Happy (b.1938) had been a folksinger in Greenwich Village, and had studied blues guitar with Brownie McGhee. Artie Traum (1943-2008) was the primary songwriter. The duo was managed by Albert Grossman, himself based in Woodstock, and famous as the high-powered manager of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary and Janis Joplin. Art and Happy had just released their second album on Capitol, Double Back.
The Rowan Brothers were an intriguing story as well. Chris and Lorin Rowan were singers and songwriters from Wayland, MA. Their older brother Peter Rowan had played with Bill Monroe for three years (1964-67), and then had made two albums with the Cambridge, MA "psychedelic folk" group Earth Opera. By 1970 Peter had joined the group Seatrain. The younger Rowans were managed by former talent agent Richard Loren, and produced by mandolinist David Grisman. In September of 1970, Loren and Grisman had visited David's old pal Jerry Garcia at a Grateful Dead Fillmore East show. Garcia suggested that they move to San Francisco and offered to help (Grisman ended up on stage that night, too, of course).
By October 1970, the Rowan Brothers, Grisman and Loren ended up living in Stinson Beach, just down the hill from Garcia's house. Loren and Garcia hit it off, and Loren ended up managing all of Garcia's non-Dead projects for the rest of his career. Starting in February of 1971, the Rowan Brothers had started playing coffee houses as an acoustic trio, with Grisman on mandolin. By May, with Columbia Records showing interest in the band, they had an electric configuration, with Grisman mostly on keyboards. Co-producer Bill Wolf played bass, and the lineup was filled out by Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. The electric Rowan Brothers even played a few local gigs, including opening for the Grateful Dead at the closing of Fillmore West on July 2, 1971. This, too, was broadcast on the radio, probably courtesy of Columbia.
There's no evidence, nor likelihood, that Garcia and Kreutzmann played with the Rowans at the Boarding House. Still, the band either had a record contract or would get one soon. Yet the Rowan Brothers weren't going to make it as quiet folkies, either. Their Columbia debut the next year (1972's Rowan Brothers album) was far more rocking than the countrified music they were playing in 1971.
July 27-August 1, 1971 Boarding House, San Francisco, CA: Jeffrey Cain/Mark and Miranda (Tuesday-Sunday)
Jeffrey Cain was a singer/songwriter who was associated with the Youngbloods, though I'm not quite sure what the original connection had been. Cain had released an album on Raccoon Records, the Youngbloods' imprint on Warner Brothers. For You (1970), had been produced by future luthier Rick Turner, before he focused exclusively on building guitars. Cain would go on to release a second album on Raccoon, Whispering Thunder (1972), produced by Jesse Colin Young.
Mark and Miranda are unknown to me.
By the end of July 1971, a definite pattern had emerged at the Boarding House. There were a lot of acoustic acts in the Bay Area, featuring original music. It wasn't folk music, because it wasn't traditional music, and of course there were the occasional electric instruments and drummers. But record companies were signing these kind of acts, and were looking for places for them to play. Third on the bill at a rock venue wasn't it, nor was a beer joint, even if the singer was a "headliner." Record companies wanted a place where people would actually listen, buy the singer's record if they liked it, and tell their friends at work or school.
The Boarding House had carved out a niche. San Francisco was a shining beacon for musicians all over the country. It was an irony, however, that while talented songwriters with acoustic guitars showed up in numbers in the Bay Area, it wasn't a great place to be in 1971. I don't have to guess about this--plenty of artists who played the Boarding House in the first part of 1971 (in this post) or the second half (the next post) went on to good success, but not because they were popular at the Boarding House. So the initial incarnation of the Boarding House as "an acoustic music saloon" never got its performers what they deserved as artists.