Sunday, August 14, 2022

February 13-14, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Steve Miller Band/Elvin Bishop Group [FDGH '70 V]

 

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.
One 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 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."

The Family Dog In 1969
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.

February 13-14, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Steve Miller Band/Elvin Bishop Group (Friday-Saturday)
At the end of January 1970, the Family Dog on The Great Highway had reconstructed themselves and apparently re-financed themselves. While a merger with the Grateful Dead organization had been scuttled (fortunately for both sides, since Dead manager Lenny Hart was busy ripping off the band), the Dog was on firmer footing. Even though the Dog focused on Bay Area bands, for each weekend in February and March, the Family Dog had the type of acts that would headline the Fillmore West as well. San  Francisco was established enough that the "local heroes" had major label record contracts, and in many cases genuinely successful albums.

Steve Miller, for example, had moved to San Francisco from Chicago in October, 1966, seeking greener musical pastures. He had found them. Miller had rapidly formed a band in Berkeley featuring transplants from his days in Madison and Chicago. The first real paying gig for the new Steve Miller Blues Band had been when Chet Helms paid him $500 to play a weekend at the Avalon in late December, 1966. Miller used the money to take his band out to dinner and to rent an apartment on College Avenue in Berkeley, since he had been living in his VW Microbus. So Miller was original Avalon if anyone was. 

Steve Miller Band debut album Children Of The Future (Capitol June 1968)

In the intervening years, Miller had added another old friend to his band, one Boz Scaggs from Texas. In 1967, after shrewdly waiting for the market to ripen for San Francisco bands, the Steve Miller Band had signed a lucrative contact with Capitol Records. The band's excellent debut album Children Of The Future, recorded in London, had only come out in June, 1968. It's successor, Sailor, recorded at the same time, had come out in October and peaked at #24. Scaggs had then left to go solo, leaving the band a trio (along with drummer Tim Davis, ex-Madison, and California bassist Lonnie Turner). The radio-friendly Brave New World, with the enduring title track and "Kow Kow Kalkulator" had been released in June of 1969, reaching #22. The underrated Your Saving Grace had been released in December of 1969, still managing to reach #38. These chart numbers weren't what the Steve Miller Band would achieve in the mid-70s, but his records hadn't been ignored. 

Ironically, the Steve Miller Band still hadn't played the Family Dog on The Great Highway prior to this weekend. Miller was loyal, and had headlined the November 19, 1969 benefit concert that helped save the Family Dog, so he knew who his friends were. But the fact that the Steve Miller Band hadn't headlined a weekend in 1969 was an implicit indication of the shaky finances of the Family Dog during the prior year. Here in February of 1970, the Steve Miller Band was finally on top of the bill for the whole weekend.


At this time, Miller was mostly working on recording his follow-up to Your Saving Grace, which would be released later in the year as Number 5. Tim Davis was still the drummer, but Lonnie Turner had finally left the band after three years. Replacing him on bass and vocals was Bobby Winkelmann, formerly of the East Bay band Frumious Bandersnatch. The Frumious had come from Contra Costa County, just over the Berkeley hills. At the time, there were plenty of teenagers there, but not many bands. The group was part of Bill Graham's Millard Agency, and played a lot of gigs opening for bands at Fillmore West and the like, but they had never made it over the hump. On September 29, 1968, Frumious Bandersnatch had opened a free concert in Palo Alto for the Steve Miller Band, which is where they met. Frumious Bandersnatch packed it in sometime in 1969. Ultimately, however, 4 of the 5 members of the band would end up joining the Steve Miller Band (Winkelmann, guitarist David Denny, bassist Ross Valory and drummer John King).

The Steve Miller Band were premiere Bay Area headliners, and the Family Dog on The Great Highway was finally in a position to book them. The only cloud on the horizon was that Bay Area concert promotion had a pecking order, and Bill Graham was always the top rooster. The Steve Miller Band had headlined the Fillmore West two weekends earlier (January 29-February 1, Thursday through Sunday), supported by Sha Na Na. According to Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column, it had been very well attended. That meant, of course, that the Family Dog was getting leftovers, if tasty ones. The Fillmore West booking also explains why there was almost never any "coming soon" promotions (like posters) at the Family Dog. Graham, like all promoters, would have insisted that a headliner like Miller could not advertise another Bay Area show until his Fillmore West dates were complete. Steve Miller probably still drew a pretty good crowd to the Family Dog, but Graham was getting first bite.

The Elvin Bishop Group were regulars at the few Bay Area rock nightclubs, like the Keystone Korner and The Matrix. But Bishop had just played the Fillmore West, too, second on the bill to Chicago on the weekend of January 8-11. Now, it's even less surprising that the Elvin Bishop Group gave the favorable booking to Bill Graham, since Bishop recorded for one of Graham's record labels and was booked by Graham's Millard Talent Agency.

Elvin Bishop had been an original member of the groundbreaking Paul Butterfield Blues Band, going back to 1965. When the Butterfield band first played the Fillmore back in February '66, the twin guitars of Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, and the slashing harmonica of Butterfield made for an unforgettable front line. The Butterfield Blues Band would play their signature song "East-West" for 15 or 20 minutes, with beautiful modal jamming, while contemporary San Francisco bands were still figuring out electric instruments. When Bloomfield had left the Butterfield band in early '67 to move to San Francisco, Bishop had taken over the front line as Butter's main foil. After two more albums (Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw and In My Own Dream), Bishop himself had moved to San Francisco in mid-68.

By the end of 1968, the Elvin Bishop Group was playing regularly around the Bay Area. Bill Graham had not one but two record labels, in partnership with producer David Rubinson, and Bishop was signed to Fillmore Records, distributed by CBS. The Elvin Bishop Group album had been released in mid-1969. The Millard Agency booked Elvin Bishop all over Northern California, on the premise that even if suburban teenagers might not be allowed to come to San Francisco, Millard could bring the Fillmore West bands to them. At the time, the Elvin Bishop Group would have been

Elvin Bishop-guitar, vocals
Jo Baker-vocals
Stephen Miller-organ, vocals
Kip Mackerlin-bass
John Chambers-drums

Organ player Stephen Miller, from the Elvin Bishop Group, had released a solo album on Phillips in 1970

Stephen Miller (the "other" Stephen Miller) was from Cedar Rapids, IA, and had led the band Linn County, which had moved to San Francisco. Linn County had released three albums on Phillips (a Mercury subsidiary), while Miller had played with the Bishop Group when he could. Their last album had been Til The Break Of Dawn, released in late '69. Linn County still existed in early 1970, sort of, and played the occasional show, but Miller was full-time in the Bishop Group by now. Miller would release a solo album on Phillips in 1970, featuring members of both Linn County and the Bishop Group, probably fulfilling an obligation to the label. 

The Millard Agency and Bill Graham was happy to book the Elvin Bishop Group at the Family Dog, even though the Dog was a competitor to the Fillmore West. It was probably a good paying gig, and in any case the Fillmore West had the dominant position. As I have stated in previous posts, I think Bill Graham was happy with Chet Helms as a weak but competent rival across town, rather than leaving an opening for a better capitalized threat.

For the next post in this series (Feb 20-21, 1970 Big Brother), see here


 

Friday, August 5, 2022

February 6-7, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Mike Seeger/Freedom Highway [FDGH '70 IV]


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.
One 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 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."

The Family Dog In 1969
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.

February 6-7, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA:  Quicksilver Messenger Service/Mike Seeger (Saturday only)/Freedom Highway (Friday-Saturday)
The Jefferson Airplane had played a stealth event to re-open the Family Dog on the Great Highway on the last weekend of January, and the three biggest bands in San Francisco--Santana, the Airplane and The Grateful Dead--had filmed a PBS television special in the middle of the week (Tuesday and Wednesday February 3-4). For the first properly advertised show of the new Family Dog, Chet Helms presented the return of Quicksilver Messenger Service. The band had not exactly broken up, but just as the band's popularity had been peaking at the end of 1968, with a popular debut album and a live one coming, the band had disintegrated. Quicksilver Messenger Service had spent 1969 as a pale shadow of itself. Now, as far as fans were concerned, they were back.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway had returned to business at the end of January with a seemingly new plan. They had acquired capital from somewhere--probably hippie entrepreneurs who sold "certain products"--and the venue was focused on high profile weekend bookings rather than financially draining community events. The Dog's focus was on San Francisco's own bands.  Since San Francisco was one of the worldwide centers of rock music, all the "locals" not only had albums, many of them were nationally successful. Although the Fillmore West was still better paying and higher profile, it also emphasized national touring acts, which the new Dog largely ignored. From that point of view, the return of Quicksilver was perfect.


By any calculation, Quicksilver Messenger Service was an original San Francisco psychedelic ballroom band, whose limited output from Back In The Day has paradoxically made them more popular rather than less. For most of us who weren't there, the band's first two Capitol albums, Quicksilver Messenger Service (released May 1968) and Happy Trails (released March 1969) are true San Francisco rock classics, lysergically etched in the brains of past, present and future hippies. What few live tapes survive of the band from 1967 and '68 are plenty impressive, as well. 

The roots of Quicksilver go back to late 1965 and the very beginning of San Francisco rock. A few long-haired musicians had been rehearsing at the Matrix, and their band did not even have a name. Jefferson Airplane had poached their guitarist, Skip Spence, and turned him into their drummer. The unnamed-band's bassist (David Freiberg) then spent 60 days in jail on a parole violation for weed. Two guys in the band (guitarists John Cippolina and Jim Murray) went to the very first Family Dog event at Longshoreman's Hall on October 16, 1965 (pre-Chet Helms), and met two musicians from Stockton, CA, whose band (The Brogues) had just fallen apart. Once guitarist Gary Duncan and drummer Greg Elmore joined Cippolina, Murray and Freiberg, the band was back on its feet. The Quicksilver Messenger Service had even put on their own show at the Fillmore (February 12, 1966), before Bill Graham had fully established his operation. So Quicksilver went back to the very beginning.

Quicksilver Messenger Service was an essential part of every major San Francisco venue and rock event from 1966 through 1968, worthy of a book in its own right (actually, I know someone who wrote one, and it's very good, but I don't think it will ever see the light of day). Old tapes show us that the initial Quicksilver quintet had a broad palate and an interesting mixture of driving rhythms and folk-rock harmonies. By the time their debut album was released in May, 1968, however, Jim Murray had departed. There were fewer harmonies and more guitar, right in line with the explosion of psychedelia. Quicksilver toured the country, and the quartet killed it everywhere they went, less sloppy than the Airplane yet more direct than the Grateful Dead. Stardom beckoned for the band.


Unfortunately, guitarist Gary Duncan left Quicksilver Messenger Service at the end of 1968, feeling the band had stagnated. Duncan felt they had been playing the same set live for months, one of the things that made them powerful on the road. It's also why most '68 QMS tapes are pretty much the same, if uniformly enjoyable. Duncan's guitar was essential to the band's sound, and he shared lead vocals with Freiberg. Quicksilver existed in 1969, but only as a ghost. Duncan had gone off to form a group with former folk singer Dino Valenti (whose story is too long to tell here).

In March, 1969, Capitol had released the band's second album, Happy Trails. Happy Trails, mostly recorded live, remains a psychedelic classic to this day. "Who Do You Love," taking up most of side two, showed the rest of the music world how psychedelia was done just right in San Francisco. The album got major airplay on the new FM rock stations all over the country. The band was a hit. But they weren't really a band without Duncan.

Quicksilver Messenger Service 3rd album, Shady Grove, released by Capitol in December 1969. Nicky Hopkins was a member of the band, and Dan Healy was the engineer.

Quicksilver Messenger Service muddled through 1969, trying to record a follow-up to Happy Trails. Lead guitarist John Cippolina wasn't a writer, however, nor was Freiberg, even though he was a good singer. Pianist Nicky Hopkins, a friend of Cippolina's, joined the band, but he wasn't a writer or singer either. Producer Nick Gravenites contributed some songs, a few friends contributed some songs and the band released the messy album Shady Grove in December of 1969. Throughout the year, the band played perhaps a half-dozen gigs, mostly unsatisfactory ones. A band with great promise had been stopped in its tracks. 

In 1969, however, Duncan and Valenti had achieved nothing together, so they rejoined Quicksilver Messenger Service at Winterland on New Year's Eve 1969. I'm not really sure what went down on stage that night (the tape circulating with the New Year's date does not seem to be from that show). Still, all their fans were happy to have Duncan back on the train. The new Quicksilver had the core quartet (Cippolina, Duncan, Freiberg, Elmore), along with Hopkins on piano and Valenti as another vocalist. It seemed like a winning combination. This weekend at the Family Dog was the public return of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Shady Grove had been a flop of an album, but everything looked promising.

Mike Seeger at the U. of Montana in 1972

Legendary folk artist Mike Seeger (1933-2009) was added to the bill for Saturday night. Seeger seemed to be touring around, and he was so seminal that he could play rock or folk gigs with ease. Seeger (half-brother of Pete) had played the Family Dog with his legendary band The New Lost City Ramblers back in August. By early 1970, the Ramblers had broken up. While Seeger might have performed as a solo, he had a lot of friends on the Berkeley folk scene, so some fellow musicians probably joined him.

The New Lost City Ramblers had been formed in Greenwich Village in 1958. At the time, string band and “old-timey” music was inaccessible to all but the most determined of record collectors. By performing and recording this music, the New Lost City Ramblers were the essential actors in introducing early American music to serious folk musicians, from Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia to everyone else. The original trio had been John Cohen, Mike Seeger and Tom Paley. Tracy Schwarz had replaced Paley in the early 1960s. By 1969, the Ramblers had released over 15 albums. They would stop performing regularly after 1969, but continued to play occasional reunions for decades.  Their last album had been Modern Times, which had been released in 1968 on Folkways. Seeger continued to tour as a mostly solo performer from 1970 onwards, although he worked with a variety of other musicians as well.

Freedom Highway, as a trio, circa 1968


Freedom Highway was a band of young Marin players, under the aegis of Quicksilver manager Ron Polte. The band had been around in some form since 1966. By this time, they were probably a trio, with Richie Ray Harris on guitar, Scott Inglis on bass and Bruce Brymer on drums. They did not have a  record, although some demo tapes from the previous year were released as Freedom Highway Made In '68 in 2002 (guitarist Gary Phillipet had also been in the band in 1968, as was bassist Dave Schallock).

What Happened?
Like most shows at the Family Dog on The Great Highway, we don't really know what happened. In this instance, however, we do have a tape of Quicksilver Messenger Service's performances. The Quick aren't the Dead, however, so tape scholarship isn't nearly so advanced. There are two sets of music that may be from one night or two. Based on the setlists, I think these are from Friday and Saturday nights--note the encore is the same both nights. Quicksilver, unlike the Dead, never really had that much material, so they weren't really inclined to play a lengthy two-set show.

It would be interesting to know how the new-edition Quicksilver went over with the crowd. In early 1970, the band was known from Happy Trails for the contrast of Duncan's driving guitar against Cippolina's unique electronic shiver. The brilliant Hopkins would fit in easily with that. Dino Valenti, however, was rather an acquired taste. Valenti did contribute the song "Fresh Air," a kind of hit that would help temporarily revitalize the band's fortunes, but not everyone liked Valenti. More importantly, Dino was the kind of singer who dominated every song he sang, moaning wordlessly when he wasn't singing. Not everyone liked it, particularly if they just wanted to hear Duncan and Cippo going at it.

Such were the criticisms of the Valenti-era Quicksilver by the end of the 1970. But we don't know whether people's expectations were met or disappointed by what actually went down in February. My guess is that fans were happy to hear the two guitarists back together, and figured they would adjust to the rest of it over time.

February 9, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Monday Night Class with Stephen Gaskin
On February 9, Stephen Gaskin held his final "Monday Night Class" at the Family Dog. These events had been regularly held on Mondays--though not quite every Monday--since at least August of 1969. Gaskin spoke about what would now be called "Human Potential," but at the time was considered a "hip guru." After this Monday night, Gaskin moved his presentations to Sunday afternoons at the nearby Cliff House. Sometime in 1970, Gaskin and his fellow travelers rented a fleet of school buses and journeyed around America, ultimately moving to a large piece of property in Tennessee called The Farm. Although Gaskin died in 2014, the Farm is still functioning today.

The final Monday night class was one of the last vestiges of the Family Dog on The Great Highway as a "Hip Community Center." For the next several months, the Dog focused on being a working rock venue.

Appendix: Quicksilver Messenger Service Setlists, Family Dog on The Great Highway, February 1970

Friday, February 6, 1970
1. Intro > Fresh Air
2. Shady Grove
3. Tabla Jam
4. Don't Let it Happen to You
5. Mona
6. The Truth
7. Joseph's Coat >
8. Edward the Mad Shirt Grinder
Encore :
9. Poor Boy    
Saturday February 7, 1970
    1. Intro > Jam > Pride Of Man
    2. Subway
    3. Gold & Silver
    4. Fresh Air
    5. Too Far
    6. Mojo
    7. Who Do You Love?
    Encore:
    8. Poor Boy
John Cipollina, Dino Valenti, Greg Elmore, David Freiberg, Nicky Hopkins & Gary Duncan.

1st generation reel to reel > revox > amplifiers > tascam audio cdrw750 > cd > computer > plex tool professional XL > wav > flac.

For the next post in this series (February 13-14, 1970 Steve Miller Band), see here

Thursday, July 28, 2022

February 4, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Santana/Kimberly "A Night At The Family Dog" [FDGH '70 III]


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.
One 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 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."

The Family Dog In 1969
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.

February 4, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA:  Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Santana/Kimberly "A Night At The Family Dog" (Wednesday)
Most of the concrete information we have about the Family Dog on The Great Highway comes from Grateful Dead scholarship. Almost all of the surviving live tapes from the Dog are from the Grateful Dead or associated with them. Those non-Dead, non-Garcia tapes that exist were largely recorded by either Owsley or Alembic (Bob Matthews et al), each affiliated with the Dead. On top of that, what press coverage there was on the Family Dog was often anchored by reporting about the Dead or Jerry Garcia. 

For the wider audience of rock fans, and even of Deadheads, the most prominent knowledge of the Family Dog on The Great Highway was the Public Television special "A Night At The Family Dog," recorded at a special concert for an invited audience on Wednesday, February 4, 1970. The show was initially broadcast on NET (now PBS-tv) affiliate stations nationwide on April 27, 1970, and re-broadcast various times. With only three commercial networks and the occasional independent station, Public Television shows were widely watched in a way that would be unfathomable today. I assure you that the NET "Night At The Family Dog" special was watched by young people nationwide in large numbers, and was probably influential in suggesting that events like this went on in San Francisco all the time. Certainly, if you were in cold Des Moines or windy El Paso and saw Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Santana sharing the stage, everybody dancing and a big jam afterwards, it would make you believe that San Francisco was the promised land indeed.

I have looked into this event at some length, starting a decade ago when I discovered a contemporary San Francisco Chronicle article about the Wednesday night filming of the KQED special by Ralph Gleason. Although Gleason was disingenuous about his role--he was co-producer of the TV special--it was a striking description, and our only source of information up until that time. It seems, however, that there was a lot more to the story. At least some of the music from the special may have been recorded the night before. There was a dress rehearsal the night before, with professional video and audio, some of it may  have been used in the TV special [for a more Grateful Dead-oriented version of this discussion, see my blog post here].

The Grateful Dead's performance at Chet Helms' Family Dog on The Great Highway on February 4, 1970 is fairly well known today. The hour-long video of concert highlights, originally broadcast on Public Television, has since been released in 2007 on DVD as A Night At The Family Dog. In 2005, the Grateful Dead released the recording of their entire set from that night. Thus both the audio and some video are available from the show, a rare and potent combination. However, while the music is well-covered, and video is available, very little has been recalled about the circumstances of the actual event itself. Even the Dead's cd release is scarce on details. Some years ago, I unearthed detailed coverage of the February 4 event itself, written by SF Chronicle critic Ralph Gleason. While Gleason was disingenuous about the fact that he was co-producer of the special, it was an informative blow-by-blow description of the event (you can read my detailed blog post here). You can watch the video, play the cd, light one up--legally, in most states--and get a feel for what it might have been like Back In The Day.


Grateful Dead scholarship never rests, however, and it seems that the video and cd may have been somewhat more of a pastiche than we originally thought. One of the best sources of the era has been Sally Mann Romano, the ex-wife of the late Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden. Her 2018 book The Band's With Me is a must-read for anyone interested in California rock history in the late 60s and early 70s. In a Twitter exchange, Romano recalled that the filming of the TV special was actually two nights at the Family Dog, on Tuesday and Wednesday (February 3 and February 4). This memory was confirmed by an article published much later. The first was a rehearsal and sound check, prudent considering that filming live rock concerts was still in its infancy. I recently discussed the possibility that some of the released Grateful Dead material may have been from the rehearsal the day before.

Owsley Stanley's tape box for the recording at the Family Dog on February 3, 1970. The sticker says "Probably really 2/4/70"--I disagree.
What About Tuesday, February 3?
The Owsley Stanley Foundation has a long-term project of preserving Owsley's live recordings, even when the tapes themselves may not yet be released. Recently the Foundation announced that an Owsley 2-track recording of the February Family Dog had been preserved. The tape box itself says "See 16-track," an indicator that Owsley's recording was different than the Bob Matthews/Alembic recording that would have been the basis of the PBS video special. Owsley, always scrupulous about dates, has marked the box "Dead #2/Airplane #1, 3 Feb 70 Family Dog." A sticker on the box, in different handwriting, says "Probably really 2/4/70," since February 4 was the known date of the live recording of the special.

As I have documented in the previous post in this series, the Family Dog on The Great Highway had re-opened the previous weekend with a comparatively stealthy appearance by the Jefferson Airplane on Friday and Saturday, January 30 and 31. When I asked Sally Mann Romano about this on Twitter, however, she specifically did not recall that weekend's shows, and her recollections are uniformly precise. She plainly recalled going to the Family Dog for two days, presumably February 3 and 4 (Tuesday and Wednesday), and she understandably said that she surely would have remembered spending 4 out of 6 nights at the Dog. Mann Romano's recollection was my first indication of a rehearsal filming on the night before the official event. 

Now, the most-likely explanation for Mann and Dryden not going to the Dog on the weekend is an only-in-Jefferson-Airplane category. The most likely reason was that the Airplane were thinking about firing Dryden, and were trying out drummer Joey Covington, all without telling Spencer or his wife. Indeed, Dryden would be pushed out of the band a month later, and Covington took over the drum chair in March. The actual dating of Covington's arrival is confusing, and not a rabbit hole I will go down here, but suffice to say inviting Covington to a secret gig and not telling the current drummer was just another day in Jefferson Airplaneville. 

What we are left with, however, is the knowledge that there was a rehearsal the night before the official taping. Today, even small venues are set up for live video with synchronized sound--we can all do it ourselves on our phones now anyway--but this was new stuff in 1970. Video cameras were giant at the time, and needed their own locations. Separate trucks were needed for the video feed and the sound recording, and cable snakes would have been laid everywhere. It's not surprising that a full tech rehearsal was in order. And it's also likely that the entire rehearsal was filmed and the music recorded, if only to ensure that there was backup material in case the "official" event on Wednesday (Feb 4) had technical problems.

If there was a full rehearsal the night before, it would not be at all surprising to find out that the official video may have been a pastiche of both nights. At the time, the entire industry considered live recording another way to create product, not an historic record of an event. One track on the Woodstock movie soundtrack album, for example, was actually recorded at Fillmore East (CSNY's "Wooden Ships"). The Grateful Dead released the Family Dog show as part of their Download Series in 2005, but that series was poorly curated and had almost no recording information. The date was listed as February 4, but that was probably based on an assumption. The cd has 9 tracks. The final six are the same as the ones on Owsley's tape (above). I don't think the Dead repeated six songs--either there was only one show, or I think the Dead played better the first night rather than the second, and three of those tracks were used for the PBS video{see the Appendix below for track listings].

What About The Grateful Dead on February 4, 1970?
If in fact, the existing audio and video recordings of the Grateful Dead were from February 3, not February 4, and there were two nights, what did the Grateful Dead play on February 4? It raises the tantalizing possibility that there would have been existing professional recordings of the Dead from the "official" night that were never used. Since there was an invited crowd on Wednesday night, probably there were plenty of crowd shots, but the Dead's actual performance would have been different. My guess is that the Santana and Airplane sets were used from the 4th, as was the jam (opening act Kimberly, associated with Santana management, would not have been recorded).

Unfortunately, however, video tape and 16-track recording tape were expensive. If it was determined that the Dead's February 3 set was superior, then the Dead tapes for the 4th would simply have been erased. Owsley seems to have taped the rehearsal night, but it seems less likely he would have been allowed to tape the "official" performance, if only because space would have been at a premium. There remains the remote hope that some fragments exist, somewhere, or perhaps some production notes. Since no one asked Sally Mann Romano, the existing Owsley tape was casually indicated (by the sticker) as incorrectly dated, when it could have been accurate. Over in the Comments Thread on my Grateful Dead blog post, a careful review of the clothes band members were wearing points toward the February 4 date being accurate, and Owsley's tape box date being wrong.

The tantalizing part is that Owsley's label dates the show as February 3, but says "Grateful Dead #2" (and "Jefferson Airplane #1). Was there a "Grateful Dead" #1" box with material from February 3? Will we find an Owsley tape with more Airplane, or more Santana, or more Dead? If in fact the Owsley box above was just misdated--unlike Owsley, but very plausible--then it meant Owsley had his deck running. We can tell he got some extra Airplane. Maybe he got some Santana, or some of the big jam at the end, too? Now, sure, tech rehearsals usually have a lot of standing around, and bands idly jamming while they wait for something to be checked out or corrected. But with the Dead, that sounds like fun. Here's to hoping some musical fragments from February 3 and 4 come to light, thanks to Mr Owsley. 

Now, as for the video, video tape was very expensive in those days, and any video from February 3 is likely went to the cutting room floor, never to be seen again. Any Dead video from the 3rd has likely disappeared. Sic Transit Gloria Psychedelia.

Appendix 1: A Night At The Family Dog TV show
Broadcast on Public Television stations on or about April 27, 1970
Produced by Ralph J. Gleason and Bob Zagone for National Educational Television (NET)

A Night At The Family Dog DVD
with Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane/Santana
Eagle Vision: released 2007

  • Incident At Neshabur - Santana
  • Soul Sacrifice - Santana
  • Hard To Handle - Grateful Dead
  • China Cat Sunflower - Grateful Dead
  • I Know You Rider - Grateful Dead
  • The Ballad of You And Me And Pooneil - Jefferson Airplane
  • Eskimo Blue Day - Jefferson Airplane
  • Super jam featuring members of Santana, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane

 A Night At The Family Dog audio
Grateful Dead Download Series
Grateful Dead Records: released 2005

  • Hard To Handle
  • Black Peter 
  • Me and My Uncle 
  • China Cat Sunflower > 
  • I Know You Rider 
  • St. Stephen > 
  • Not Fade Away > 
  • St. Stephen > 
  • In The Midnight Hour

 (plus bonus tracks from other 1970 shows)

Appendix 2: Excerpts from Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle column, February 6, 1970


"Do you have a set schedule for what's going to happen?" the technician asked Bob Zagone of KQED. "We don't have a set schedule for anything, Zagone said. 'We have a loose schedule."

They were in the KQED mobile video tape recording truck outside the Family Dog. Several other trucks and a generator, roaring away like a power drill, were set up in the parking lot. Zagone and the KQED crew were getting ready to videotape a Jefferson Airplane party at the Family Dog for National Educational Television.

There's a young band called 'Kimberly' going on stage starting in a few minutes," Zagone said. "The it will be Santana. After that I don't know what's going to happen."


The cables were strung all along the sidewalk and into the hall and the huge TV cameras on dollies were rolling back and forth through the place in the wild assembly of San Francisco hip society.

On stage the musicians were plugging in their guitars and tuning. In a little while Kimberly, a neat, melodic band, began. Light men experimented with different combinations. Rock critics wandered through the hall. "It has the right feeling tonight," Mike Goodwin of Rolling Stone said. And poet Lew Welch pointed out that it was one of the few times in recent memories that you could actually get close to a band and not be jammed by the press of a crowd.

After Kimberly, Santana took over and the rhythms of the drums and the bass melded with the guitar and conga drum and rose to an incredible [something]. It ended with Santana almost leaning over backwards, hitting the guitar strings and bassist David Brown, his eyes squeezed shut, flailing away at the guitar. The crowd screamed. Out in the truck, Bob Zagone complained "we're not getting that audience noise" and Bob Matthews, who was doing the sound, whipped out a mike and set it up taping the audience.  



"We'll go dark as they start their set and bring the light up gradually," Zagone said and the Grateful Dead began. In the truck the multiple images on the little screens made a fascinating montage. Jerry Garcia's face silhouetted but still clear, approached the mike on the screen and he began to sing. The little screens that showed the pictures [of] the various cameras were registering, flicked from one to another. "Gimme a two shot," Zagone said, "Let's see both those guitars."

Out in the crowd, which was dancing or sitting on the floor and around the sides of the stage, John Carpenter of the L.A. Free Press said "when is it going to be aired?" and hoped a definite date could be set. The man from N.E.T said probably in April. "It's a good night," Carpenter said. "I had forgotten what San Francisco was really like. I've seen people I haven't seen in years."

On stage the sound was into those rhythmic phrases that make the Dead such groovy dance music and several guests were dancing behind the band and on the stage. Still photographers leaped up from the audience and shot pictures like the paparazzi in "Z."




Then the Airplane came on and Grace smiled and Marty sang "Do you want to know a secret, just between you and me," and the lights flickered off the sweat on his forehead as he sang and Spencer drove into the drums with a fierce concentration and Jorma sang "Good Shepherd" and the crowd gyrated and the cameras rolled back and forth.

It was a great evening. San Francisco within a week had two TV specials shot here. Both on rock. There will be more and if they end up on the screen as good as they are in person, the rest of the country will see something unique.

For the next post in this series (Feb 6-7 '70, Quicksilver Messenger Service), see here


 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

January 30-31, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Osceola [FDGH '70 II]


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.
One 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 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."

The Family Dog In 1969
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.

Chet Helms, late 60s (also: some guy)

Family Dog, 1970: Plans and Portents

In 1969, the Family Dog on The Great Highway had mostly featured San Francisco bands as weekend headliners, while also open many nights of the week for a variety of community and entertainment events. Economically, the Dog had been a dismal failure. Undercapitalized to start with, the organization also had to get out from under a $5000 IRS tax lien, a substantial sum in 1969. By year's end, the Dog told the San Francisco Examiner that they were $50,000 in debt. A benefit concert, held at the Fillmore West of all places, had helped to keep the Great Highway operation afloat. Helms promised, albeit vaguely, to have a new plan for the next year that focused on larger weekend events. The New Year had opened with some modest bookings the first two weekends (January 2-3 and 9-10), and then the Family Dog was dormant until month's end.

All the evidence we have for the first part of 1970 points to an ambitious, sensible plan by the Family Dog on the Great Highway. Helms was never explicit about these plans, however, for reasons that will become clear. I have had to piece together the outlines of the Family Dog's new arrangement from external evidence and a few after-the-fact reminisces, some of them from anonymous sources on Comments Threads (@anoldsoundguy, always hoping you can weigh in). I am providing my best guess, always subject to modification, and I should add that even if I am largely correct, Chet Helms and the Family Dog may not have used the modern terminology with which I describe the approach. Nonetheless, here's what all the evidence points to for the Family Dog's road to stability, even if they never got very far. 

The first part of the plan seems to have been designed to kick everything off with a big bang: a weekend of concerts featuring the most popular San Francisco band.

A tiny listing in Thursday's (January 29) San Francisco Good Times was the only print listing of the Jefferson Airplane's weekend at the Family Dog. Ralph Gleason had mentioned it in his column, and it was probably announced on KSAN as well, but there were no paid ads, as there was no need.

January 30-31, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Osceola (Friday-Saturday)
The Jefferson Airplane were San Francisco's biggest rock band, and also stood as the flagship for the San Francisco Sound, whatever exactly that was. In November, the Airplane had released their sixth album, Volunteers, and it had been another huge success. By late '69, FM radio stations were cropping up all over the country, and most tracks on Volunteers were probably played regularly. Their was no bigger way for the Family Dog to show they were back in business than to have Jefferson Airplane headline Friday and Saturday nights. There was no advertising, because there was no need. Ralph Gleason had mentioned the upcoming show in his Chronicle column on Monday (January 28), and there was a tiny listing in the SF Good Times underground paper (above). No doubt KSAN mentioned it on the air. 

We have no actual account of the show, but I'm confident that both nights were packed houses. The Airplane were big time headliners, at home or away, and 1500 tickets a night was nothing. The Airplane was somewhat erratic live, of course. When they fired on all cylinders, they were formidable indeed, but that didn't always happen. There would be great versions of some of their songs, often followed by a ragged mess, and then followed with something compelling. But drama was part of the Airplane's appeal, and certainly Grace Slick was a true rock star, with charisma to go.

(I uncovered evidence of this show some time ago, and wrote a now-10-years-old blog post about it. The Comment Thread features a lot of old-timers, and is extremely informative)

I do think, however, that one byproduct of this stealthy performance was that it was a public tryout for drummer Joey Covington. Spencer Dryden had been the drummer for the Airplane since mid-66, and he had played on all their classic hits since the first album. He was a fine drummer, but the Airplane was full of volatile personalities, and he would shortly get pushed out of the band, for non-drumming reasons. Intra-band conflict was the main narrative of the Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship saga over several decades, so Dryden's departure itself was just another tale. Some indirect evidence, however, suggests that Dryden wasn't told about the Family Dog gig. We would have to guess who played drums, but since Joey Covington replaced Dryden in March, it seems pretty likely it was him.


Dryden's wife, Sally Mann Romano, wrote the epic rock memoir The Band's With Me in 2018, which I cannot recommend enough. It's a testament to her power as a storyteller (and of course, her life) that for all the chapters about the Airplane, Frank Zappa, the Grateful Dead, David Crosby, Richard Manuel and others, the most absolute rock-and-roll chapter involves the teenage Romano taking a Texas-to-LA road trip with the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1966. I cannot summarize the chapter, and can only hope it turns into a Netflix mini-series.

Romano, whose memory is shockingly accurate, mentioned on Twitter that she clearly recalls the filming of the famous Airplane/Dead/Santana TV Special called A Night At The Family Dog (the subject of the next post in this series). The show was filmed at the Family Dog on Wednesday, February 4, with a soundcheck/rehearsal on Tuesday (February 3). As to the preceding weekend shows in January, however, Romano pointed out that she would surely have recalled if she and her husband spent four nights out of six at the Dog, but she doesn't. It's hard not to think that the Airplane snuck Covington into the drum chair for two nights before dumping Spencer Dryden the next month.

 

Guitarist Alan Yott of Osceola at the Family Dog on The Great Highway, sometime in 1970

As for Osceola, they had been playing the Family Dog since September of 1969. They would play the Dog many times, and played around the Bay Area regularly until at least 1972. Osceola lead guitarist Bill Ande was a transplant from Florida. He had played and recorded with some modestly successful bands, like the R-Dells, the American Beetles (really), who had then changed their name to The Razor's Edge and had even played American Bandstand. Come '69, Ande had relocated to San Francisco to play some psychedelic blues. The musicians he linked up with were all Florida transplants as well, so even though they were a San Francisco band, they chose the name Osceola as an homage to their roots. To some extent, Osceola replaced Devil's Kitchen as the informal "house band" at the Family Dog, insofar as they played there so regularly.

Osceola was a five piece band with two drummers, and played all the local ballrooms and rock nightclubs. Ande was joined by guitarist Alan Yott, bassist Chuck Nicholis and drummers Donny Fields and Richard Bevis. Osceola was a successful live act, but never recorded. Almost all of the band members would return to the Southeast (mainly Tallahassee and Atlanta) in the mid-70 to have successful music careers.

The Rest Of The Plan
It's pretty clear that Helms hoped to kick off the weekend with a high-profile Airplane booking and a high-profile announcement. The Airplane played, but the announcement was canceled. We can infer the outlines of the plan, however, even at this distant remove.


  

Step 1: Weekends Only

From January 30 onward, the Family Dog on The Great Highway only booked weekend shows, and the headliners were established bands with albums. It was a fact of San Francisco that just about all the headliners were Bay Area bands, as San Francisco was at the center of rock music at the time. So the Family Dog was in a unique position to feature largely local acts while still having headline bands with albums. In many cases, the albums were successful, too. So it wasn't exactly a "local" venue, but definitely home-grown. San Francisco is an insular place, so this was a potentially viable strategy. The Dog wasn't opposed to hiring touring bands, but they were more expensive, and in any case preferred the higher-profile Fillmore West.

Here and there the Family Dog was used on weekdays for a few events, but it stopped trying to be a community center. Weekend ticket prices were typically $3.50. That was high, but not excessive. The shows were booked in order to make a profit for the bands and the venue. The headliners in February and March read like it was 1967 again: Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver, Steve Miller, Big Brother, the Grateful Dead, Lee Michaels and Country Joe and The Fish. All those bands were from the Avalon days, but they all had record contracts and current or forthcoming albums, too.

Step 2: New Finance
Clearly, the Family Dog was recapitalized by the end of January. Although Chet Helms had loyal support from the local bands that had played the Avalon, they were all working bands as well. Helms could not have booked the bands that he did from February through April without some cash on hand. It is the source of the new finance that has never really been explained, and that I have had to infer. Anyone who has insights or knowledge into this area, please Comment or email me. I am noting in advance that these are my most plausible guesses, and I am open to substantial corrections.

As near as I can tell, Helms collected contributions from local hippie entrepreneurs. My guess is that most of them sold products that were--shall we say--not subject to taxation, nor available in stores. Similarly, these same entrepreneurs did not want their names publicly identified as a source of cash.  

Step 3: A New Implied Business Model
Chet Helms is often unfairly criticized as a poor businessman, because he has always been compared with Bill Graham. Pretty much anyone wasn't as good a businessman as Graham, certainly not in the rock and roll business. Helms had his flaws as a business operator, but he was very innovative, and in many ways I believe his approach to the Family Dog on The Great Highway was innovative as well. For simplicity's sake, I will use modern terminology to explain what appear to have been the outlines of his plan. I'm sure that Helms himself would have used different terms, but I'm not aware of a public or written statement. 

The traditional criticism of Helms' business practices vis-a-vis Graham was that Bill charged everybody for tickets, and Chet let all of his friends in for free. By 1970, I do not believe that was the case. Based on Comment Threads, it appears that the Family Dog doorman had a Rolodex (address card file), and if your name was in that Rolodex, you got let in for free. Many of the names on that Rolodex were the hippie entrepreneurs that had laid out cash to keep the Dog going. In return, they got in for free whenever they wanted.

Was this a new model? Not really. It's how every museum in America was run, and largely still is. It's true that museums are not-for-profit and donations are tax-deductible, but Chet may have got to that over time. Certain people in the hippie community had money, and they contributed more of it in return for guaranteed admission. Today, the venerable Freight And Salvage club in Berkeley runs on this model. It's a very sound plan that could have worked.

SF Examiner columnist Jack Rosenbaum mentioned on Wednesday, February 25, that the Grateful Dead had taken over the Family Dog on the Great Highway (although in fact Chet Helms had backed out already, and the deal was off)

Step 4: A High Profile Partnership
It seems that Helms wasn't going to do this alone. He had a partnership lined up, and his partners were going to be no less than the Grateful Dead. The Dead were going to move their operation from Novato to the Family Dog on The Great Highway. It some ways this may have been designed as a replay of the Carousel Ballroom, with an experienced producer like Helms as part of the team. The New Riders of The Purple Sage had played numerous dates at the Family Dog in 1969, so Jerry Garcia clearly liked the place. Remember, there were only a few, tiny rock clubs to play in the Bay Area at the time, so the 1000>1500 capacity Dog left room for the Riders to consider building their own audience.

Of course, the Dead and the Family Dog did not merge. The merger was scheduled for February of 1970, and that is precisely when everything fell apart for the Grateful Dead. The band was busted in New Orleans, putting the freedom of soundman Owsley Stanley in great jeopardy, due to a prior LSD arrest. More critically, the Dead discovered that manager Lenny Hart (drummer Mickey Hart's father) was an outright crook, and had ripped the band off for $150,000, an enormous sum at the time. The Grateful Dead were dead broke, without a manager and without a soundman. Dennis McNally mentions the abandoned merger in his epic Dead history, but it is remarked on almost in passing amidst all the other tumult. McNally:
As the Dead had been busted in New Orleans [January 31], [Lenny Hart] had been in the process of moving their office from Novato to the Family Dog on the Great Highway, with Lenny to become manager of the FDGH as well as the Dead, and with Gail Turner to be the FDGH secretary as well as Lenny's. The idea of sharing space with the Dead appealed to Chet Helms, but became evident to him and Gail that the numbers weren't adding up and that there had to be at least two sets of books. Before anyone in the band even knew, Lenny moved the office back to Novato. [p.360-361].
So just as Jefferson Airplane are re-opening the Family Dog, the Grateful Dead office is relocating to merge their businesses. Helms, while no Bill Graham, was neither a sucker nor a crook. Lenny Hart would have stolen from him, too, so he canceled the merger. The Grateful Dead themselves were probably unclear about what was happening, in between recording Workingman's Dead, worrying about Owsley and constantly performing.  But the planned merger can't have been a secret in the local rock community. On Wednesday, February 25, Examiner columnist Jack Rosenbaum (the Ex's Herb Caen, if you will), had an item (posted above):
Love Generation: to help the Grateful Dead rock group build a defense fund for their pot-bust in New Orleans, Bill Graham staged a benefit Monday night [Feb 23] at Winterland, raising a tidy $15,000. So-0, the Grateful Dead have taken over the Family Dog rock-dance auditorium on the Great Highway--in competition with Graham.
Rosenbaum was wired to local gossip, but not the freshest of rock news. Now, thanks to McNally (writing in 2003), we know that by late February the Dead-Dog deal was off. Still, the point was that the word was around and had gotten to a city paper columnist.

Kleiner Perkins HQ on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, a mile or so from the former site of Perry Lane

A Brief Reflection
It's world-changing to imagine Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead with their own performance venue doubling as a rehearsal hall, on the beach in San Francisco. It's important to remember that it could not have happened. Hart had organized the deal, Helms had seen through the scam, and both entities were fairly broke. It's ironic that the local dealers probably loved the idea of supporting a partnership with the Dead, but could not publicly acknowledge themselves. The Dead/Dog merger could never have worked in the form in which it was conceived.

But let's take a moment to respect Helms for his forward thinking. The Edgewater Ballroom, which evolved into the Family Dog on The Great Highway, was torn down in 1973. But, just for a moment, let's say there was still an elegant 1500-capacity dance hall at Ocean Beach. What does the funding structure look like in 2022?

Proposition:
  • A Jam Band palace at Ocean Beach, on the edge of San Francisco
  • The Great Highway converted to pedestrian only access (or nearly so)
  • Cannabis entrepreneurs providing capital, and now able to publicly sponsor the hall
  • For a membership fee, you would be guaranteed entrance without needing a ticket (within the confines of safety laws, of course)
  • Participation and partnership from and with the Grateful Dead organization

Ocean Beach is near Interstate 280. You could head South and turn off at the Sand Hill Road exit Menlo Park, where Kleiner Perkins and all the other Venture Capitalists started the tech boom. Kleiner Perkins helped found Amazon, Google and Twitter, among many other companies. You could arrange infinite financing on your iPhone before you even got to Sand Hill Road--before Crystal Springs, honestly--and just sign the deal when you got out of the car. Helms was just ahead of his time by 50 years or so.

It wasn't to be. Jefferson Airplane re-opened the Family Dog on Friday, January 30, but the plan was already crumbling around the Dog.

February 2, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Monday Night Class
Stephen Gaskin was a popular literature instructor at San Francisco State, whose campus was not too far down the road (at 19th Avenue and Holloway). Gaskin spoke about what we would now be called "Human Consciousness" or "Self-Help," but at the time he was called a "Hip Guru." I am no expert in this area, but I will say that Gaskin was neither a con artist nor interested in turning a profit, rare for those sort. His "Monday Night" class had been running since at least July. I don't know think it was every Monday night but just some, and it was the most popular regular booking at the Dog, save perhaps for the Grateful Dead (the picture at the top of the post is from one of his Monday night events). Admission was free, and Gaskin just lectured, although I think they took donations. 

Gaskin had been putting on Monday night shows going back to the late Summer of '69, although exactly when they started isn't certain. By October, at least, they were a certifiable "Big Deal," but I don't think his popularity was ever properly converted into increased paid attendance at other Dog events. As far as I can tell, this was the next-to-last "Monday Night Class" with Gaskin at the Family Dog. Sometime in 1970, Gaskin would lead a caravan of 60 vehicles to a commune site Southwest of Nashville known as The Farm, which is still functioning.

For the next post in this series (February 4, 1970-Family Dog PBS Special), see here