Sunday, December 20, 2009

Washington at Murphy, Sunnyvale, CA Wayne Manor January 22-February 19, 1967 Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers

I have written earlier about how while rock music was becoming "serious" at the Fillmore and Avalon, it was still just teen entertainment elsewhere in the Bay Area. The best example of this was Sunnyvale's Wayne Manor, a rock and soul nightclub modeled on the very popular Batman TV show starring Adam West. Inside Wayne Manor, apparently, it was got up like the Bat Cave, and the staff was dressed in various costumes. For a long time, the house band was a Fremont band called The Gotham City Crimefighters, and they wore capes and tights.

Besides the Crimefighters, Wayne Manor also featured live touring bands, who generally played several nights a week, at least according to the ads. Different groups cycled through the club, and were advertised in the papers. The ad featuring The Thunderbirds ("Direct from Reno") was from the October 21, 1966 San Mateo Times.  More interesting to me is the presence of Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers, who played Wayne Manor from January 22, 1967 through at least February 19. They were advertised every week in the San Francisco Chronicle (the above is from Saturday, February 4), so they were definitely seen as an attraction.

Lead singer Bobby Taylor had been born in North Carolina, but raised in Washington State. In the early 1960s, his band (The Four Pharaohs) met another group (Little Daddy And The Bachelors) while they were in San Francisco, and they merged. They relocated to Canada, and in Calgary they were known as the Four Shades in reference to their multi-racial band members. By 1965 they were based in Vancouver, and mostly performed Motown covers, which is how they came to the attention of Motown Records, who signed them. I'm not sure if they had been signed to Motown by early 1967, but by 1968 they had a modest hit on Motown with "Does Your Mama Know About Me," which reached #29, and their sole album cracked the top 100 (#85).

Still, the history of a modestly popular soul band from Canada isn't the point of this post. Musicians are usually pretty hip, even if their band plays mainstream music, and their home base of Vancouver was a happening place in many ways. If the Vancouvers spent a month in San Francisco playing most nights of the week, they must have spent some time hanging out in hip San Francisco, Berkeley or Santa Cruz. It must have been pretty weird to go hear far out, free thinking stuff with light shows and LSD, and then go back the next night to a club modeled on a TV show with a house band of teenagers dressed like Batman and Robin. It can hardly have been clearer that music was changing, even if they were making good money.

Because I am in the precise age bracket that thought Cheech And Chong was the funniest thing a 14-year old had ever heard ("Dave's not here, man"), I am always interested in Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers because the band's rhythm guitarist was Tommy Chong. I guess if he did a comedy routine where he said "we played in this club, man, where it was like the Bat Cave, and the waitresses dressed like Bat Girl," everyone would have thought it was just a drug-fueled fantasy. The idea that the Vancouvers had really done that, for a month, and got paid for it, would have been beyond my thinking at the time.

There are actually many interesting things about Bobby Taylor, not least that the Jackson 5 opened for them in Chicago in July 1968, and Taylor was so impressed he brought them to Motown for an audition. The Vancouvers broke up shortly afterwards, and Taylor ended up producing much of the first Jackson 5 album. As for the Gotham City Crimefighters, they ultimately returned to Fremont, dropped their uniforms and changed their name to The Motowns, and subsequently became Tower Of Power. Yet for all that, I am still stuck in 1972, thinking how Cheech and Chong's stoner musings were actually more conventional than what Chong, at least, had actually done as a musician.

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