Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 3, 1966: 658 Escondido Drive, Stanford, CA: "A Happening In The Wilburness" with Big Brother and The Holding Company

( a clipping from the entertainment listings of the Berkeley Barb on December 2, 1966)

Stanford University, founded in 1891 by railroad magnate Leland Stanford, was always a unique institution. However, its current status as a sort of West Coast Ivy, where the children of (smart) Presidents attend alongside other future world leaders, even as new industries are invented in dorm rooms, is a rather more recent development. When founder Leland Stanford died in 1893, the University remained on somewhat shaky financial ground until the mid-1950s. The University was always land rich and cash poor, and as a result a more interesting place than it probably is these days. The finances of Stanford changed dramatically in the 1950s, but the University still remained interesting enough in the 1960s. It was not a coincidence that Ken Kesey started the LSD revolution near Stanford, at Perry Lane in Menlo Park,  in the early '60s.

I have reason to believe that the "Happening" listed above in the Berkeley Barb was the last gasp of an older, looser Stanford, mixed in with some 1960s troublemaking, but I am unable to find a reliable eyewitness. Thus, I am using this post to marshal what little evidence I can uncover in the hopes that some reader will Flash Back and find this post and give us clues to what really happened. I can say, however, that there were quite a few interesting rock events in Stanford in the Fall of 1966, yet after this event, Stanford all but eliminated rock music shows. There was one outdoor rock concert in 1967, and one other very interesting event, and two more in 1968, but Stanford seems to have been resolutely against rock music events on campus after Fall 1966.

Did something happen that unsettled the Administration? Could it have been an all-day, acid fueled, multi-building party culminating with Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company playing the Wilbur Hall Dormitory Dining Commons? God, I hope so.

"Happening In The Wilburness"
An old Big Brother list mentions a December, 1966 event under the heading "A Happening In The Wilburness." Ross discovered the Barb listing (above, from December 2, 1966) and I am confident this was the same event. Rather than listing the event as a concert, the Barb calls it a "Happening:"
HAPPENING: Big Brother & the Holding Company, lights, film, poetry, jazz, sculpting, experiments; Wilbur Hall, Stanford U.. all day? $1.50
Some reasonable speculation suggests the outline of this event. Wilbur Hall was built after World War 2 to handle the incoming volume of students. The "Hall" was actually a complex of 8 residential houses and a central dining commons. It currently houses 707 students, and the grounds cover a substantial area. The Stanford campus has always been sprawling, since its inception, but in the mid-60s the location of Wilbur Hall would have been less developed, as there were considerably fewer labs, classrooms and other buildings on campus (the mailing address is 658 Escondido, but the actual location of the Dining Commons is on Bowdoin Lane, off Campus Drive).

Since there were no less than nine available buildings, plus some open space, the implication seems to be that different activities took place in different parts of the grounds, presumably culminating with a Big Brother concert in the Dining Commons. I have to assume "The Wilburness" was a student nickname for the grounds as a whole. Crowded as the Stanford campus is today, Wilbur Hall would have been more isolated at the time and the name may have been fairly appropriate.

A "Happening" was a 60s term for what would loosely be termed either "Performance Art" or a "Festival" today. I have to assume that the event was at the end of the Fall Quarter, and some insurrectionist students had gotten permission to hold a "Fall Dance" or something, and turned it into a full-on sixties event. I believe the key word here is "experiments," which I think is code for an Acid Test, but I will explain my reasoning subsequently.

Although Stanford was not nearly as urban as Berkeley, the campus had its share of interesting rock events in the Fall of 1966. The Cryptical Development blog has an excellent post on some 1966 and '67 ads for events in the Stanford Daily, including performances by the Grateful Dead, Butterfield Blues Band and Jefferson Airplane. After that Fall, however, as the post shows, Stanford rock events abruptly ceased. There was an outdoor rock concert in May 1967 at the Frost Amphitheater, and a Summer rock concert at Frost in July 1968, but Stanford seems to have simply declared a moratorium on such events. Why? Surely many of the Stanford students wanted to see all the Fillmore bands, who would have been happy to play there on an available Friday night.

Here's what I think happened, although I cannot find proof. Some students got access to some sort of funds for a "Fall Dance" and asked to have a sort of "Festival" at the Wilbur Hall grounds. They probably emphasized art, poetry and jazz to the Administration, who blithely said yes. LSD was legal up until October 6, 1966, and the Kesey crowd was well connected to the Stanford campus. I think the "Experiments" alluded to was a code for an Acid Test--what else would they be experimenting on?--and madness reigned all day and all night on the Wilbur Hall grounds. Why else would the students be very vague to the Barb about the length of the event?

The campus cops probably wondered why no one smelled like whisky, but they must have figured something was up. A full volume concert by Big Brother and The Holding Company must have finished off the evening and the University's patience, because rock music would not be performed at night on the Stanford campus for a very long time.

I can't prove any of this. If any old Stanford students are having odd flashbacks right now, please Comment.

"The Experimental Group"
Palo Alto and Stanford had an interesting bohemian runup to 1966. Ken Kesey had come to Stanford on a writing fellowship in the early 1960s, and his merry bunch got their start just off campus on Perry Lane. Jerry Garcia and other bohemian folkies lived near downtown, as tolerant Palo Alto was unbothered by bearded, draft-dodging ne'er-do-wells. Palo Alto even had it's own Acid Test on December 18, 1965 (and the building is still there). While Kesey went on the lam, and the Dead moved to San Francisco, there was still a modest core of like minded lunatics in Palo Alto and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The principal core of hip late 60s Palo Alto was the Mid Peninsula Free University (MFU), who began in 1967 in an attempt to provide an educational alternative to Stanford. The MFU story is too long to tell here, but MFU was instrumental in making sure there were free concerts in Palo Alto throughout 1967 and '68, in contravention to less liberal towns. On their now inaccessible website, the MFU founders were associated with some mysterious entity called "The Experimental Group," seemingly an ad-hoc Stanford organization. Who were they?

My one whiff of information about "The Experimental Group" is this mysterious poster (h/t Ross)

The poster advertised a "Psychedelic Celebrations Workshop" on Monday, April 10, 1967 at 8:00 pm. The event featured The Magic Theatre, The New Delhi River Band and the Medway Forest Indians. The event seems to have been at 'Experiment Building--Stanford University."  Let's parse what we can about this flyer.

The New Delhi River Band and The Magic Theatre were the "house band" and light show at The Barn, in Scotts Valley. At this time, The Barn had just been closed by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's department. Both NDRB and Magic Theatre lived in Palo Alto, and two of the principals of The Magic Theatre were both former Stanford art students (they were different than the later Berkeley theater troupe of the same name, however). Since the Barn was closed and the band and light show were in town, this has the look of an ad-hoc student event using some local talent.

Where was the Experiment Building? To my knowledge, there was no such building at Stanford. Although I grew up in Palo Alto, I recognize that there may have been something called that, so here are my speculations:

  • There was a lot of new building on campus at the time, and this may have been a temporary name for a building
  • This may have been a student nickname for a building that really went by another name

Either or both of these speculations seem reasonable. However, if the building named Experiment (why a noun not an adjective, by the way?) was new or colloquial, why are there no directions? It doesn't say "Experiment Building, on Pampas off Serra St." Wherever the "Experiment Building" was, anyone seeing the poster was supposed to know where it was. Anyone who couldn't figure it out--like Campus Administration--wasn't supposed to know. I have a feeling there was a newly constructed or underused new building that was used temporarily as a playhouse by some enterprising students, and this flyer gave just enough information for those who needed to know it.

The Medway Forest Indians are even more mysterious, and likely another code. The Medway Forest seems to be in London, Ontario, Canada, and I'm hard pressed to say whether there was actually any Tribe associated with the Forest. It seems more probable that this was some bogus student group that sounded plausible, like UC Berkeley's "Pretentious Folk Front."

I believe there is a different, more crudely drawn flyer for a similar event, possibly for sometime in November, 1966, but I can't find the flyer right now. I think the April 10, 1967 event with NDRB was an Acid Test disguised as a 'Psychedelic Celebration,' and on the Stanford Campus at least the code word was "Experiment," since I presume even square administrators had learned about "Acid Tests." This leads me back to thinking that the Wilbur Hall listing that promised "Experiments" was a clear shout out those in the know to leave all of Saturday afternoon and evening free for "A Day In The Wilburness."

Friday, December 3, 2010

March 5, 1970: Freight and Salvage, Berkeley, CA: Peter Rowan and Richard Greene

(the panel from Thursday, March 5, 1970, for the Freight and Salvage calendar from March 1970)

Time, as Steve Miller informs us, keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future. It is thus easy to look back and lose sight of the context of historical artifacts. The specific panel above is from the March 1970 performance calendar for Berkeley's Freight and Salvage club. The Freight opened in July 1968, and despite (or because of) being run by long-haired hippies, it was thoroughly committed to traditional forms of music in all its diversity. Each calendar featured a few dozen miniature panels for each performance (the March 1970 Freight calendar can be seen in its entirety here), and they serve as journals for the psychedelic artwork current at the time, yet they are overlooked because of their tiny size and because "folk" music is not as officially "psychedelic" as rock music from the same period.

Nonetheless, our detailed analysis of the founding of the Freight and Salvage reveals a number of surprising details about rock history. As we have detailed at length in our early history of the Freight and Salvage, the club served a variety of social and musical functions in late '60s Berkeley. One of those functions was to provide an outlet for musicians in rock bands to play the traditional music that had initially inspired them. Many of the rock musicians of the late 60s and early 70s had gotten started in music by playing bluegrass, blues or folk music in folk clubs; Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen were among the most prominent of those in the Bay Area. Yet many other band members around the Bay Area had similar stories.

The group Seatrain was based in Marin County, but its roots were on the East Coast. A few members of the Blues Project (bassist Andy Kulberg and drummer Roy Blumenfield) had moved from East to West, and after completing some contractual obligations (the Blues Project album Planned Obsolescence) formed the group Sea Train. After an initial album, they elided their name to Seatrain, and added East Coast pal Peter Rowan on guitar and vocals, along with the Californian Richard Greene on violin. Greene and Rowan had played together in Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, and Greene had wide experience in various ensembles, including recording with the Gary Burton Quartet (on the 1969 lp Throb). Rowan had been in Earth Opera with David Grisman, who recorded two albums for Elektra, but the band had exploded mid-tour in California in 1969.

By late 1969, Peter Rowan was working with Seatrain in Marin. Rowan, Richard Greene and various other members of Seatrain regularly played acoustic shows at the Freight and Salvage in late 1969 and early 1970 (we have extensively documented the the 1968-69 Freight here). Whether they played "acoustic Seatrain," bluegrass or other original material isn't entirely clear, but the little panel on the March  1970 calendar gives an intriguing clue. The March 5 listing says "Peter Rowan--alias Panama Red." Other listings at the Freight from around that time advertise "Panama Red and Richard Greene," and yet others list Rowan, Greene and other members of Seatrain by name.

Peter Rowan first bubbled out into rock consciousness as the writer of "Panama Red," the title track of the October 1973 New Riders of The Purple Sage album of the same name. Lucky Deadheads in the Bay Area who had seen Rowan play with Jerry Garcia and David Grisman in their bluegrass band Old And In The Way, or heard various local FM broadcasts, knew that Old And In The Way had been doing their version of "Panama Red" as well (both OAITW and the Riders also did Rowan's "Lonesome LA Cowboy"). I have discussed the early, misty origins of Old And In The Way elsewhere, but suffice to say it isn't hard to guess where the New Riders heard the song. The Riders catchy country rock version of the song received regular airplay both on rock stations like KSAN and soon afterwards on the groundbreaking "psychedelic country" station KFAT, out of Gilroy, CA.

"Panama Red" was a perfect mid-70s rock song, catchy and hummable, naughty enough to guarantee no AM airplay, but coded enough to escape the notice of imaginary authority figures (as if High School principals were analyzing rock lyrics). Indeed, as Panama Red itself was replaced by more potent forms of THC, the song itself became a paean to a more carefree era. When the Old And In The Way version was finally released on their 1975 album, the imprimatur of Jerry Garcia assured the song's immortality. Rowan became a popular alternative country rock figure, and new songs like "Free Mexican Airforce" became staples on KFAT. Rowan has had a diverse and successful career ever since, and he continues to tour and record.

It's easy to be nostalgic about Peter Rowan, "Panama Red" and days gone by--I certainly am--but a closer look at the evidence introduces a slightly different twist to the narrative. The Freight and Salvage poster frame celebrating Peter Rowan as Panama Red excerpted above is from March, 1970--a full three years before Old And In The Way and the New Riders started performing the song. Not only had Rowan probably already written the song by 1970, but apparently "Panama Red" was already some sort of performing alter ego for him. "Panama Red" seemed racy and coded enough for 1973, but the song may have been written as early as 1969, when it would have been downright subversive.

Seatrain recorded a number of albums for Capitol, but Peter Rowan had left the group by 1972. I have to assume that Capitol had rejected "Panama Red," or that the band refused to even consider showing it to them. By 1973, Rowan didn't even have a band, so letting the New Riders sing his catchiest song must have been a relief to Rowan, even if he may have been professionally frustrated. Yet it's intriguing to think that the catchiest weed song of 1973, a sort of early Anglo narcocorrido, had been too hot to handle for some years. It's also funny to think that the Freight and Salvage, often chastised back in the day for being too quiet and too serious (people couldn't even smoke!), was the only venue where Rowan's songwriting gems may have revealed themselves, as a true folk tradition in the making.

Although many fine folk artists have played the Freight every month since it's inception (see for yourself), a closer look shows the implicit rock links to the Berkeley folk scene. A few groups who would become Fillmore West and Winterland regulars are already playing there, such as Commander Cody and Joy Of Cooking, and more serious scholars may recognize some connections to the likes of the Diggers and Owsley Stanley. Rowan was a former member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, and certainly earned his credentials as a folk musician many years before, but he too was another Freight musician who would make "folk" a part of rock music yet to come.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rhythm Dukes Performance List: January-July 1970 (with Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin)

(a scan of a poster for Lee Michaels,  The Rhythm Dukes and Robert M. Savage at The Family Dog On The Great Highway, March 6-8, 1970)

I did extensive research into the performance history of The Sons Of Champlin from 1966 through mid-1970, and as a result I became familiar with the history of The Rhythm Dukes. The Rhythm Dukes were a Santa Cruz Mountains band from 1969 to about 1972, with various members, but they were founded by Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson of Moby Grape, so the Dukes have always been historically associated with The Grape. However, after a variety of somewhat mysterious personnel changes in late 1969, The Rhythm Dukes were revitalized in 1970 when Bill Champlin joined Miller and the rhythm section to make a somewhat serious attempt at success. Some recorded evidence suggests that this configuration was a terrific band, if short-lived, and I felt I should document what I have been able to find out about their performing history.

The Rhythm Dukes
I wrote about a 1969 version of The Rhythm Dukes elsewhere, specifically about a surviving tape from December 1969 at The Family Dog, so I will not repeat all of it here. Suffice to say, the original formulation of The Rhythm Dukes featured both Miller and fellow Graper Don Stevenson, along with bassist John Barrett and drummer Fuzzy Oxendine, all of whom shared a house in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although Stevenson had been the drummer in Moby Grape, he played guitar and shared vocals in the Dukes. The original Rhythm Dukes did one tour in the Summer of 1969, but they were often billed as Moby Grape, much to their dismay. Sometime in the Fall, Stevenson left the group.

The Rhythm Dukes played a number of Bay Area shows in Fall 1969, but the exact lineup or lineups remains a mystery. The surviving tape features a five piece band, with Jerry Miller as the sole lead vocalist, and a saxophonist as well as a pianist/rhythm guitarist joining Oxendine and Barrett. The material is also obscure, although they sound pretty good for an opening act at The Family Dog.

The Sons Of Champlin
I have written an extensive performance history of The Sons, so I needn't recap it. However, by early 1970, despite a loyal Bay Area following and two excellent Capitol albums, the Sons were frustrated and broke and they decided to go "on hiatus." Effectively that meant they were breaking up, although they continued to finish an album they owed Capitol (released in 1971 as Follow Your Heart). How the plan for Champlin to join The Rhythm Dukes came about remains unknown, and since band members are usually cagey about their future plans (so as not to offend their current bandmates), I'm not aware of how long the idea was afoot. Nonetheless, Moby Grape and The Sons Of Champlin went way back together, and I suspect that Miller and Champlin knew each other from their predecessor bands as well (The Frantics and Opposite Six, respectively). More importantly, bassist Barrett and drummer Oxendine had been in a band called Boogie that rehearsed at the Sausalito Heliport along with The Sons. Oxendine had even been in The Sons briefly in mid-69, when the band experimented with having two drummers. So there were plenty of connections between Bill Champlin and the other members of the Rhythm Dukes.

Bill Champlin played his first show with The Rhythm Dukes in January, 1970. After The Sons gave their "Farewell" performance on February 21, 1970, Champlin moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains and made The Rhythm Dukes his primary musical endeavor. What follows is my chronicle of the known performances of The Rhythm Dukes with Bill Champlin. Anyone with additional information, updates, insights or corrections is encouraged to email me or put them in the Comments.

Rhythm Dukes Performance History January-June 1970

January 7, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Rhythm Dukes w/Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin
The Sons were still actively touring at this juncture, but Bill Champlin joined the Rhythm Dukes for this Wednesday night show at The Matrix. The show was mentioned in Ralph J. Gleason's SF Chronicle column that day (above).

>February 20-21, 1970: Family Dog At the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company with Nick Gravenites/Rhythm Dukes with Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin
Because the poster for this shows circulates comparatively widely (for a Family Dog On The Great Highway event), it often represents one of the few ways in which the Miller/Champlin collaboration was known. However, the dates on this poster conflicts with the heavily publicized shows the Sons played as their "farewell" shows (Berkeley on Friday February 20, and Contra Costa Fairgrounds on February 21). However, a close look at the SF Chronicle listings for the weekend show that Cat Mother and The All Night Newsboys had replaced The Rhythm Dukes at The Family Dog.

March 4, 1970: High Street Local, (Santa Cruz), CA: Rhythm Dukes
This show is known from a J.Freiermuth poster on the Rhythm Dukes website, although I don't know the exact address of the venue. There's every reason to assume that the Rhythm Dukes played a fair number of shows in the Santa Cruz/Monterey area, particularly on weeknights. However, the Santa Cruz area was much less populated than it is now, and while the shows were probably very fun, the club scene would not have been that lucrative. 

March 6-8, 1970: Family Dog at The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Lee Michaels/Rhythm Dukes/Robert M Savage
An eyewitness reported that Lee Michaels was “impossibly loud.” This would probably have been the effective debut of the Champlin/Miller version of The Rhythm Dukes in the Bay Area (poster up top).

March 11, 1970: High Street Local, (Santa Cruz), CA: Rhythm Dukes

March 20-21, 1970: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA: Rhythm Dukes
The New Orleans House was Berkeley's home for original rock music, giving groups that were lower on the bill at the Fillmore West or Family Dog a chance to headline. 

April 3, 1970:  Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA: Rhythm Dukes/Snail/Joint Possession
This show is known from a Richard Moore poster on the Rhythm Dukes site. It is interesting for a number of reasons. Opening act Snail had evolved out of two local bands, Talon Wedge and The Bubble, and they would go on to be local heroes for the next several years, even putting out two albums. Snail never made much headway outside of Santa Cruz County, but they remain a headline act in Santa Cruz clubs even today (they have a reunion every decade or so).

Equally interesting is the use of Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. The Civic, at 307 Church, would have been the perfect 60s rock venue, in a hip college town not far from San Francisco, but for a variety of reasons the City of Santa Cruz refused to sanction that. Their refusal opened the door for the temporary success of The Barn, a much wilder venue a few miles Northeast, in Scotts Valley, and I have discussed the history of The Barn elsewhere. This show headlined by The Rhythm Dukes seems to be the first to use the Civic for a rock show since 1967, and that is an interesting piece of Santa Cruz rock history in its own right.

April 10-12, 1970: Family Dog at The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA:  Albert Collins/Rhythm Dukes/A.B. Skhy

On April 16, 1970, old friend Bruce Walford recorded a demo tape of The Rhythm Dukes at The Sons’ rehearsal facility (The Church in San Anselmo).  The 10 tracks appear to be recorded live in the studio, with some modest piano and harmony vocal overdubs from Bill Champlin.  Bill sings lead on 8 of the 10 tracks, all but one of which turned up in some form in the Sons repertoire in the next few years (the exception was a cover of “Kansas City”).  The Rhythm Dukes, however, had a more laid-back bluesy feel than the Sons uptempo, swinging sound.  The material was officially but privately released (a mere 34 years later) on a cd entitled Flash Back. The accompanying Rhythm Dukes website has some nice photos of the band and posters.

April 23-25, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: The Rhythm Dukes w/Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin

May 1, 1970: Gym, Monterey Peninsula College, Monterey, CA: Rhythm Dukes/Potter’s Wheel
For about a year, thanks to the Millard Agency (Bill Graham's booking agents) and some local promoters, there were regular rock shows in the Monterey area, mostly at the gym at the local Junior College. This little scene did not quite have the momentum to sustain itself, but many San Francisco-area bands played there for that year.

This show is known from the Richard Moore poster on the Dukes website. Potter's Wheel was the Santa Cruz incarnation of a Bay Area band called Phoenix.

May 22-23, 1970: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA: Rhythm Dukes w/Bill Champlin/Nargul

June ?, 1970:  The Matrix Rhythm, San Francisco, CA: Dukes w/Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin
A poorly reproduced May/June 1970 Matrix calendar makes the exact date difficult to read.

June 19-21, 1970:  Family Dog at The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Flying Burrito Brothers/Cat Mother and The All Night Newsboys/Rhythm Dukes with Bill Champlin, Jerry Miller

June 27, 1970: Gym, Cabrillo College, Aptos, CA: Elvin Bishop/Rhythm Dukes/Snail
Cabrillo College was a Junior College in Aptos, not far from the UC Santa Cruz campus. It's not clear when Bill Champlin left the Rhythm Dukes, but since he was booked at the Family Dog the week before, I have to think that he played this show as well.

July 3, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Bill Champlin and Friends
It's not at all clear if this was a Rhythm Dukes show or Bill playing with other musicians. I am more likely that to believe the latter. The exact date of Champlin’s departure from the Rhythm Dukes is unknown.

At some point in the Summer, Bill Champlin moved back to Marin County. He may have finished a few shows with the Rhythm Dukes, but he left the band and they continued on without him. Champlin started to hang out at The Lion's Share in San Anselmo, playing impromptu gigs with various musicians, including former members of The Sons. One thing led to another, and by September, 1970 The Sons Of Champlin were back in business under the improbable name of Yogi Phlegm. They rapidly returned to their original name, however, and went on to long career--with some significant interruptions--that is still lively today.

The Rhythm Dukes continued on until about 1972, weathering not only Bill Champlin's departure in 1970 but Jerry Miller's departure in 1971, when Moby Grape reformed once again. What little recorded evidence remains of The Rhythm Dukes suggested they were an excellent live band, although an actual live tape of the Dukes with Champlin remains elusive. The Rhythm Dukes have even been known to reform on occasion, including once in 1992 at the Crow's Nest in Santa Cruz, when Bill Champlin joined in once again.

Monday, November 1, 2010

7551 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA: Thee Experience: Performance List March-December 1969

(a scan of an ad for the opening of Thee Experience, at 7551 Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, for March 14, 1969)

Thee Experience was a rock club in Hollywood at 7551 Sunset Boulevard (at N. Genesee). While only open for about 9 months in 1969, it often gets mentioned in memoirs of the 60s Hollywood rock club. Despite the constant references, there is very little coherent information about the club. Mark and I have been researching performance dates at the club from a variety of sources, and although the resulting list is incomplete, it still provides a useful snapshot. I am posting my information as it currently stands, in the hope that readers can add information about performers or the circumstances around the club. I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who went to the club, even if they don't recall who they saw. It appears from published ads that the club was open 7 nights a week, but I do not know if there were live bands every night. I also gather that Thee Image was consciously attempting to be a cool hangout for musicians and industry folks, but I do not know if it was cleaner, louder or had better food, or just depended on a sort of vibe.

Thee Experience operator Marshall Brevetz had been been an important player in the Miami rock scene. He had a Miami club in late 1967 called Thee Experience, but by early 1968 he needed a bigger place. He found a disused bowling alley and converted it to a psychedelic ballroom called Thee Image. A Tampa, FL group called The Motions moved to Miami and became the house band, changing their name to Blues Image. Thee Image became a major stop on the fledgling underground rock circuit, and most of the top bands played there in 1968 and early 1969. Brevetz also played a key role in the December 1968 Hollywood Pop Festival in Florida, along with future Woodstock promoter Michael Lang. By the end of 1968, however, the Blues Image had been encouraged by the likes of Frank Zappa and Eric Burdon to relocate to Los Angeles, and they did so. Brevetz followed Blues Image to Southern California.

The middle 60s had been the high water mark of live rock on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, with the legendary Whisky Au Go Go as the most famous location. By 1969, the Whisky was still thriving, and the record companies were clustered around Hollywood, but as the rock market had become much bigger, the best live bands often bypassed the Sunset Strip as the venues were simply too small. It appears that Hollywood had become more of a hangout and less of a place for touring bands, and smaller clubs that had really been conceived as dance clubs weren't as conducive for the kind of business being conducted in Hollywood.

From what I can tell, Thee Experience was planned as a place where industry people could hang out, and record companies could book their newest bands, giving industry people and local tastemakers a chance to hear them and spread the word. Casual jamming seems to have been encouraged, and there are numerous (if rather vague) tales of numerous players sitting in whenever they were in town. With studios and record companies in Los Angeles and many musicians making their home in Southern California, the idea that a civilian could go to see a hip new band and potentially rub shoulders with the industry and see a late night jam with some heavy players seems very enticing.

The only feature I know for sure about the decor of Thee Experience was that its front had a giant mural of Jimi Hendrix, and the front door was his mouth. Although this seems quite weird, Marshall Brevetz was apparently friendly with Hendrix (and many other stars) so while he may not have had formal permission, Hendrix must have at least been somewhat OK with it (in any case, he seems to have shown up to jam one night in June). Apparently there was a light show, which may have been a little outdated for style conscious LA, but I can't say that for sure. In various references to Thee Image, there are general references to the fact that the club had extremely pretty waitresses, but that may have been a Hollywood thing (and may still be) rather than specifically associated with Thee Image.

The list of performers that we have uncovered generally features bands that were newly signed to labels, or had just released an album, or were on their first National tour. As a result, a number of interesting bands played there, although not big stars. There appears to have been a number of interesting guest appearances, but they are much harder to pin down, and I have only referred to them here when I can identify a date. Anyone with additional information, corrections, insights or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to Comment or email me.

March 14, 1969: T.I.M.E/Blues Image/Steve Young/Magical Berri Lee
No group was listed in the ad for the grand opening on March 14 (above), but Marc managed to figure out who played. Friends and namesake Blues Image  had been signed by Atco and had released their debut album in February 1969, so in that respect they fit the Thee Experience mold: hip, connected and with a debut album on a major label.

T.I.M.E was a new band socially connected to Steppenwolf. Steve Young was a singer/songwriter. I have no idea about Berri Lee and his or her magic.

Marc discovered that Thee Experience was apparently open every night of the week. We assume that groups like Rockin Foo played on the weeknights, and the relatively bigger names played the weekends.

March 27-29, 1969: Alice Cooper/Slim Harpo/Rockin Foo
Alice Cooper (a band at the time, rather than just lead singer Vincent Furnier) had been signed to Frank Zappa's Bizarre label (a Warners subsidiary), but they would not release their debut album until August.

April 3, 1969: Albert Collins/Linn County
April 4-5, 1969: T.I.M.E./Albert Collins/Linn County
Linn County was a Cedar Rapids, IA band that had relocated to San Francisco. They had already released their first album on Mercury.

April 10-12, 1969: AB Skhy/Fair Befall/Rockin Foo
AB Skhy were a progressive blues band from Milwuakee, WI, who had recently relocated to San Francisco. They featured organist Howard Wales.

April 17, 1969: Blues Image/Blues Magoos/Rockin Foo
This seems like a fairly late performance for The Blues Magoos.

April 18, 1969: Blues Image/Southwind/Rockin Foo/Black Pearl
Southwind were from Oklahoma, but they had relocated to Los Angeles. They had an obscure debut album, and then released a 1970 album on Blue Thumb, Ready To Ride. Singer/guitarist John "Moon" Martin had success later as a songwriter, including "Cadillac Walk" (Mink DeVille) and "Bad Case Of Loving You" (Robert Palmer).

April 19, 1969: Pogo/Blues Image/Rockin Foo
Pogo was still a fairly new group at this time. Their first album would not be released until May, by which time there name had been changed to Poco. The group was probably a quartet at this time, as bassist Randy Meisner had left during the recording of their debut. Guitarist Jim Messina took over the bass chores during this period.

April 24-25, 1969: Flying Burrito Brothers/Junior Markham and The Tulsa Rhythm Review/Bobby Doyle
Although the Flying Burrito Brothers had been together for some time, they had played very few live shows. Despite their immense talent and wonderful songwriting, they were a very erratic live band.

I'm fairly certain that Junior Markham and the Tulsa Rhythm Review were a loose aggregation of Oklahoma area players like Don Nix, Jessie Ed Davis and Jimmy Karstein. These guys were studio regulars and toured with different acts, but they liked to have some fun on their own. Delaney and Bonnie and Friends were a similar organization, and they may have shared some members.

May 1-3, 1969: Colwell-Winfield Blues Band/T.I.M.E/Blues Magoos

May 8-10, 1969: Screaming Lord Sutch/Mighty Fat/Fields
Lord Sutch, an English rock and roller known as Screaming Lord Sutch, was a legendary English figure, sort of a pre-Beatles Alice Cooper. Despite Sutch's lack of vocal talent, he was a charismatic and entertaining character.

May 15, 1969: Illinois Speed Press/Linn County/C.K. Strong
May 16, 1969: Linn County/C.K. Strong
May 17, 1969: Blues Image/Linn County/C.K. Strong
Illinois Speed Press had been signed by Columbia and relocated to Los Angeles. They had just released their first album.  CK Strong featured singer Lynn Carey, later to become a sort of legend due to the album cover of her of next band, Mama Lion (google it yourself, but not at work).

May 22-24: Joanne Vent/Congress Of Wonders/Rockin Foo

May 27-28, 1969: John Lee Hooker/Earl Hooker/Blues Image

May 29-31, 1969: John Lee Hooker/Earl Hooker/Golden Earring

May 29-31, 1969: John Lee Hooker/Golden Earring/Earl Hooker
Golden Earring were already a popular group in Holland, but not known in the States. Some years later they would have a big Top 40 hit with "Radar Love." I think they still perform.

June 5, 1969: Sons of Champlin/Tsong
The Sons Of Champlin were a funky, sophisticated band from San Francisco who had just released their first album on Capitol, Loosen Up Naturally.

June 6-7, 1969: Blues Image/Tsong

June 8, 1969: Tsong

June 9-11, 1969: Joe Cocker and The Grease Band/Bluesberry Jam
Joe Cocker and The Grease Band were on tbeir first American tour, and this would probably have been one of their first Stateside shows. Bluesberry Jam was a local blues group. They would later evolve into the group P, G and E.

June 12, 1969: Southwind/Bangor Flying Circus
June 13-14, 1969: Blues Image/Southwind/Bangor Flying Circus

June 16-17, 1969: Lord Sutch
Apparently Jimi Hendrix showed up to jam one night.

June 19, 1969: Larry Coryell/Bonzo Dog Band
June 20-21, 1969: Larry Coryell/Bluesberry Jam
The story of the Bonzos is too long (and too unbelievable) to tell here, but they were an influential, one-of-a-kind band whose impact far outweighed their modest record sales. Anyone lucky enough to have seen the show would have, among other things, found out the musical answer to the age-old question "Can Blue Men Sing The Whites?"

June 26, 1969: Roxy/Rockin Foo
June 27-28, 1969: Blues Magoos/Roxy/Rockin Foo

July 3, 1969: Eric Burdon/C.K. Strong
Eric Burdon's activities during this period were somewhat mysterious. He wasn't playing with War yet, but he was supporting a Best Of album by playing a few shows. Its not clear who he played with, but he did at least some shows with Blues Image, so perhaps he played with them here. Possibly he just sat in with someone who was booked at the club. However, since Burdon was billed for three nights at Fillmore West on the weekend (July 4-6), this show may have been a warmup gig to get the music together.

July 4-5, 1969: Lonnie Mack/Southwind
July 6, 1969: Lonnie Mack/C.K. Strong

July 10-12, 1969: Illinois Speed Press/Charity

July 13, 1969: Fields/Jerome

July 18-19, 1969: Poco/The Baby/C.K. Strong

July 20, 1969: Jerome/Armageddon/Fat Legs

July 21-23, 1969: Charlie Musslewhite/Roxy/Fat Legs

August 7-10, 1969: Grand Funk Railroad,/The Baby/Stoneface
Grand Funk Railroad had just released their Capitol debut On Time. Its clear that Thee Experience was positioning itself to be the Hollywood debut for bands that had just released their debut albums. Such bookings probably guaranteed that the record companies bought a lot of tickets and paid for a lot of drinks.

August 11-13, 1969: Tyrannosaurus Rex
Tyrannosaurus Rex were a hippie folk duo at this time, featuring guitarist Marc Bolan and conga player Steve Took. They had a sort of spacey, Tolkienesque vibe, quite a long way from the hard rocking glam music that would make Bolan famous in T-Rex.

August 14-17, 1969: Spencer Davis Group/SRC
The Spencer Davis group had reconstituted itself after Steve Winwood had departed. SRC was a well regarded power trio from Detroit.

August 18-20, 1969: Buddy Miles Express/Thumper

August ?, 1969: Bonzo Dog Band

September 4, 1969: Elvin Bishop/The Crow/Sun Country
Elvin Bishop was signed to Bill Graham's label, a Columbia subsidiary. I'm not sure of the exact timing of his debut album, which was released sometime in 1969, but although Bishop was an established club and concert attraction in San Francisco, this would have been an opportunity to introduce him to the Los Angeles based music industry.

September 5-7, 1969: Delaney and Bonnie and Friends/Sun Country
In 1968, Delaney and Bonnie had mainly been playing in the Topanga Corral in Topanga Canyon. They had a number of fine transplants from Oklahoma and thereabouts playing in their group, many of them also working days in the studio, such as Carl radle and Leon Russell.  Delaney and Bonnie had released a little noticed album on Stax in early 1969, but in mid-1969 they had released their album Accept No Substitute on Elektra. The album came to the attention of Eric Clapton (via George Harrison, apparently) and Delaney & Bonnie had opened for Blind Faith for their mammoth Summer '69 American tour.

September 8-11, 1969: Blues Image

September 18-20, 1969: PG&E/The Litter/South
PG& E had evolved from the Bluesberries.

September 21-23, 1969: Merryweather/Jerome
Neil Merryweather was a Canadian musician who had come to California via Chicago.

September 24, 1969: Jean Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio
This show was recorded for a live album with George Duke on Fender piano, John Heard on bass and Dick Bock on drums. There were probably several more shows. These were Jean Luc Ponty's American debut, and it seems that these shows were how Frank Zapppa discovered both Ponty and George Duke.

September ?, 1969: James Cotton

October 2-5, 1969: Flying Burrito Brothers/Lighthouse/Rockin Foo
Lighthouse was a Canadian group led by drummer Skip Propop.

October 10-11, 1969: Poco/Stonehenge/Smoke
TIm Schmidt had joined Poco as  bassist by this time, returning them to a quintet.

October 16-18, 1969: Big Mama Thornton/Bluesberry
Since PG& E had evolved out of the Bluesberries, I'm not sure who "Bluesberry" might have been. Perhaps part of the band kept going under the old name.

October 19-22, 1969: Southwind/Linn County

October 23-26, 1969: Charles Lloyd/Baby Tsong/Bonzo Dog Band
Tenor saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd did not tour that much during this period, as he was mostly studying Transcendental Meditation in Los Angeles, but he was still an exceptional player.

October 29-November 1, 1969: Albert Collins

November 20-23, 1969: Red Hot And Low Down with Barry Goldberg

November 28-29, 1969: Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart
Zappa had broken up the Mothers in August. His lineup was either FZ, Artie Tripp, Jeff Simmons and Ian Underwood, or FZ, Underwood, Captain Beefheart, Sugarcane Harris, Max Bennett and a drummer, possibly Ralph Humphrey.  Zappa played gigs with various one-off lineups during this period.
[update] Bruno and leading FZ scholar Charles Ulrich confirm that Zappa's lineup was FZ/Tripp/Simmons/Underwood. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band were also on the bill.

December 1, 1969: Richard Groove Holmes

December 4-6, 1969: Captain Beefheart/TIME
I do not know who was in Captain Beefheart's band at this time. TIME was a group of mostly Toronto transplants, socially and musically connected to Steppenwolf.

After December, the trail of Thee Experience grows cold. I think the club closed around this time, but closures are never advertised like openings. The idea of a destination club for up and coming bands was an idea somewhat ahead of its time, although it would be successfully executed a few later when The Roxy opened. Marshall Brevetz would go on to open Thee Club in 1970, a sort of rock and roll supper club. This too was ahead of its time, but in 1970 rock fans did not have the money or inclination to pay for a fine meal as part of their rock and roll menu. As fans got older, ate better and had more stable incomes, the idea began to make more sense.  To some extent this concept was copied by the Rainbow Bar and Grill, upstairs from The Roxy, although the Rainbow did not have performers.

Marshall Brevetz was an interesting character, and friends with many of the bands he booked. He seems to have a great feel for seeing trends before they happened, whether outdoor rock festivals or happening nightclubs, but he never managed to put all the pieces together. He went on to produce films and manage Bobby Womack, among other things, and he would probably have quite an interesting story to tell, but he passed away in 1986.

Update: Tales From The Kitchen Of Thee Experience
Although you'll have to embiggen this to read it, it's worth it. Roger Martin of Lawrence, KS was a dishwasher at Thee Experience in 1969. When he returned to Kansas, he wrote about it in the local underground paper, Public Notice. If you've read this far, check it out.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Forest Gate Center, Woodgrange Road, London E7: The Upper Cut Club, December 21-31-1966

(a scan of the advert for the opening of the Upper Cut Club, London, December 1966-h/t Ross)

My archeaological and prosopgraphical research into rock history has a natural center in the Bay Area in 1966. While San Francisco and Bay Area were critically important to the history of rock music since then, particularly the history of live rock music, its important to look at other scenes periodically in order to consider the ways in which other environments were materially different. 1966 London was a genuinely swinging place, and thanks to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones the first Capital City of Rock. When Rock moved from being "popular" to "Art," English bands were right at the forefront. They were led by the Beatles, of course, but London had no lack of cool, interesting and way out musicians ready to join the transformation of the rock music landscape triggered by the prominence of the Fillmore and Avalon in San Francisco.

The above ad is for the opening of The Upper Cut Club in East London, which began operations on December 21, 1966. While most of the bands listed were popular in London at the time, they mostly fell into the category of the cool and hip rather than huge stars, even though some of them would become just that. Many of the performers would go on to play the West Coast concert circuit in the coming year, or had other important connections, but the context in which they were playing points up some interesting distinctions between the American and English rock market.

Billy Walker was a popular heavyweight boxer, back when boxing was a nationally popular sport. Handsome and engaging, he had a status similar to David Beckham or Derek Jeter today, an athlete whose appeal extended beyond simply fans of his accomplishments in the ring. Obviously, Walker had partners in the venture, but he was a genuine celebrity in his own right. Chris Welch of Melody Maker reviewed The Who on opening night, and reported a celebrity audience from both show business and the sports world. Note also that while rock bands are only playing on weekends at The Upper Cut, a 15-piece show band (The Mack Sound) plays every night of the week. Show bands were a UK phenomenon, to my knowledge, but I believe they generally included a wide variety of music--big band, pop, soul, music hall and traditional, among others--and were intended to appeal to a broad audience. In the midst of this, some of the hippest bands in London were booked, something that would be hard to fathom in the American rock universe at the time.

One of the often forgotten differences between the American and English rock markets was the vast size of the American continent, which implicitly emphasized regionalism. This is not to say there were not profound differences in different parts of Great Britain, but the entire English music industry was centralized in London. The Beatles were the pride of Liverpool, and proud of it, but they too moved to London in order to become successful. Although there were concert venues all over Britain, London was central enough that a London-based band still had access to the entire country.

In the United States, however, vast and often somewhat empty Western states had entirely different economics, cultures and opportunities than those in the Midwest, South and East. Thus bands or styles of music could be popular and lucrative in one part of the country while having no impact on any other part. Even performers who flew to concert dates--as many did--had a hard time actually covering the country in its entirety, so artists often had pockets of popularity spread around a region if not the entire country (this had a lot to do with radio at the time, but that is outside of the scope of this blog).

England, however, had centralized radio, a centralized music industry and its major economic areas accessible from that place. Thus even the most forward looking bands appeared on TV shows or played variety shows at various major venues, in between playing regular shows for their primary audience.

The Beatles moved to London, as was accepted practice for English success--but if Frank Zappa had moved to Chicago or the Jefferson Airplane had relocated to New York, it would have been seen as "inauthentic" in the American market at the time. Bands from a small place could move to a larger place, but bands who found success in a region in the 1960s were branded "sell outs" if they re-located to a major Music capital like New York or Los Angeles. By the early 1970s, American regionalism had started to fade, as the rock industry became nationalized, but in 1966 American rock music was very much rooted in its locations. Underground rock bands did make occasional appearances on local TV shows of various kinds, but they were the exception rather than the rule, and usually it was because the show didn't realize what sort of barbarians they had signed up.

The only American rock establishment that compares to The Upper Cut would be the fabled Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood. However, while the Whisky was initially a place to see and be seen in Hollywood when it opened in January 1964, it initially featured the same performer almost every night (Johnny Rivers). When the Whisky stopped being the place to see and be seen (or at least was not as glamorous to film stars and the like) it started focusing on hip rock groups (some of whom played The Upper Cut). Yet the Whisky was never really a celebrity joint that booked hip rock groups at the same time, but rather went serially through a phase of being a celebrity hotspot and then a rock club that booked hip bands.

I do not know how long The Upper Cut lasted--probably not that long. I do know that The Small Faces (the classic lineup with Steve Marriott, Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane and Kenny Jones) did have a regular residency there at one time. Although I am hardly expert on London geography, I do know that The Upper Cut was in the part of London where the members of The Small Faces actually grew up, so that's not so surprising.

The other claim to fame of The Upper Cut seems to be that Jimi Hendrix apparently wrote "Purple Haze" at the club. Whether that was on Boxing Day isn't clear to me, and in any case I'm not certain how it was determined that Jimi wrote the song there, but it makes my point nicely. Here's Jimi Hendrix, newly arrived in England, writing his arguably most famous song at a club backed by a famous athlete and patronized by celebrities. Imagine if Syd Barrett had written "See Emily Play" while booked at a New York club owned by Mickey Mantle and the disconnect is apparent.

Generally speaking, English bands in the late 60s were more professionally competent than their American counterparts, but Americans were often freer to experiment in different ways that wouldn't have been possible in the competitive London show business environment. The Grateful Dead, The Velvet Underground and The 13th Floor Elevators were all unique, and uniquely different, aggregations that would have had a hard time succeeding in England. Yet all three of those bands stumbled sideways into becoming electric rock bands, while English groups like The Who and The Spencer Davis Group were ultra-competent. It seems simplistic to suggest that the size and isolation of American regions had a profound influence on the music, but it is a point so rarely made that I felt it was important to highlight, and the first week of The Upper Cut presents itself as a uniquely 1966 London experience.

Notes On The Bands

December 21, 1966: The Who
The Who's opening performance was favorably reviewed by Chris Welch of Melody Maker (31 Dec 66 issue). Highlights included "Happy Jack," "Substitute" and the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann."

All the shows (except Boxing Day) are from  7:30-11:30 pm. London venues closed considerably earlier than most American nightclubs. I have to assume that The Mack Sound played their sets, and then the headliners did their turn. As far as I know, sets for headliners at places like these were typically about 30-40 minutes.

December 22, 1966: The Easybeats
The Easybeats were the biggest band in Australia, and Australia's first important pop music export. All the members had emigrated as children to Australia from elsewhere, so they had a symbolic importance to the country beyond sheer popularity. At this time, The Easybeats would have just relocated from Syndey to London, and in November 1966 they had released their most famous song, "Friday On My Mind." Songwriters and guitarists George Young and Harry Vanda returned to Australia in the mid-1970s, largely as producers. Their most famous productions were of the band featuring George Young's younger brothers, Angus and Malcolm, AC-DC.

December 23, 1966: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich
This British quintet was quite popular worldwide and remains so to this day. They were more pop oriented than some "British Invasion" bands, and did not make the transition to the harder rocking Fillmore circuit.

December 24, 1966: Eric Burdon And The Animals
Although few realized it at the time, Eric Burdon had reconfigured the Animals from an organ-based band to a twin guitar attack that featured Vic Briggs (from Brian Auger's Trinity) and John Weider. The expansive style of the new Animals was custom made for the new rock circuit that would arise in America for the balance of the 1960s.

December 26, 1966: Jimmy Hendrix Experience (Afternoon-2:30-5:30)
The advert helpfully suggests BOXING DAY FOR ALL THE FAMILY. Yeah, bring Gran and the kids. Good times.

December 26, 1966: The Pretty Things
The Pretty Things were a fine and underrated band from that era, somewhere between The Rolling Stones and The Who. Their hair was very long, and their behavior shockingly bad. Had they ever made it to America they could have been extremely popular, if their notoriety didn't get them exiled (like it did in New Zealand), but it was not to be.

December 30, 1966: The Spencer Davis Group
The original Spencer Davis Group was supposed to be one of the finest live bands in England during the era, not surprising given that the key player was then 18-year old Steve Winwood, who sang like Ray Charles while playing lead guitar, organ and piano. The other band members (guitarist Davis, Steve's brother Muff Winwood on bass and Pete York on drums) were solid too, and they had great original material to go with apparently tremendous covers.

December 31, 1966: Geno Washington and The Ram Jam Band
Geno Washington and The Ram Jam band were a very popular English R&B band, so they did not export themselves to the United States. Lead singer Geno Washington was an African American (from Indiana) who would sit in with local bands while assigned to an Air Force base near London. When he left the service, he took up guitarist Pete Gage's offer to become lead singer with the Ram Jam Band. The group released some popular live albums in the 1960s, but I have never heard them.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

660 Great Highway, San Francisco Family Dog On The Great Highway: December 12-14, 1969 Canned Heat/Rhythm Dukes (w/Jerry Miller)/Bob McPharlin

(A brief article and a clip from Ralph Gleason's column from the Friday, December 12, 1969 San Francisco Chronicle)
Family Dog: Canned Heat and Bob McPharlin will appear tonight and tomorrow night at the Family Dog on the Great Highway next to Playland. Canned Heat is now featuring Harvey Mandel.
Ad Libs: At the Lion's Share, San Anselmo (F&S), Joy of Cooking, Personal Friends, Jim Trout: Sun: Thompson the Family Dog (F, S&S) Canned Heat (w. Harvey Mandel, Rhythm Dukes (w. Jerry Miller), Bob the Both And (F, S&S) Big the Loma Prieta Ballroom (SJ State, Sat.) Mike Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites
In line with some recent research I have done on rather obscure shows at the Family Dog On The Great Highway, also known as Family Dog At The Beach, at 660 Great Highway in San Francisco, some tapes from that venue have surfaced. One tape in particular appears to have The Rhythm Dukes on one side and Canned Heat on the other, and the helpful soul who is circulating the tape was unable to date it precisely, but I can go a long way towards locking it down. Canned Heat and the Rhythm Dukes played the Family Dog on the weekend of December 12-14, 1969, and there is every reason to believe that both these performances on the tape come from one of those nights.

The Canned Heat tape was identified as in the 69-70 period, based on the band's personnel: Bob Hite (vocals), Harvey Mandel (lead guitar), Alan Wilson (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Larry Taylor (bass) and Fito Parra (drums).  Serious Family Dog collectors were aware of the Family Dog poster advertising Canned Heat and Bob McPharlin at the Dog (FD19691212), even though the artist is unknown. The tape of Canned Heat's performance is excellent, similar in style to their 1970 album Live In Europe.

The Rhythm Dukes tape is a considerably more exotic bird. The Rhythm Dukes are mostly known today as a short collaboration between Jerry Miller of Moby Grape and Bill Champlin, when both Moby Grape and The Sons were on hiatus. A fine cd was released privately, albeit somewhat officially, recorded in April 1970. Although Bill Champlin appears to have played a show with the Rhythm Dukes as early as January 7, 1970 at the Matrix, he did not join up with them regularly until after The Sons "Farewell" appearance at the Contra Costa Fairgrounds on February 21, 1970 (I realize The Sons are still playing today, but Ralph Gleason reported it as a sort of farewell in anticipation of a 5-month hiatus). 

The Family Dog Dukes tape sounds quite different from the Champlin/Miller version of the band. The person in possession of it sent it to Bill Champlin, who reported that it was indeed the Rhythm Dukes but that Champlin was not yet a member, which explains why Miller is reported as the only vocalist. This also helps to date the tape somewhat, as well. The original formulation of The Rhythm Dukes featured both Miller and fellow Graper Don Stevenson, along with bassist John Barrett and drummer Fuzzy Oxendine, all of whom shared a house in Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although Stevenson had been the drummer in Moby Grape, he played guitar and shared vocals in the Dukes. The original Rhythm Dukes did one tour in the Summer of 1969, but they were often billed as Moby Grape, much to their dismay. Sometime in the Fall, Stevenson left the group. Since Stevenson (nor anyone else, apparently) sings lead on the tape, this dates it to the period between Stevenson and Champlin.

The Rhythm Dukes mostly played in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the South Bay, and this show at the Family Dog seems to be one of their earlier forays into San Francisco. The band appears to be a five-piece on the tape: Miller on lead guitar and vocals, bass and drums (surely Barrett and Oxendine), a sax player and someone alternating between guitar and electric piano. I can only speculate on the identity of the last two players. Saxophone can be a relatively easy instrument to make a guest appearance, so it may have been just a friend sitting in. Oxendine and Barrett had been in a band called Boogie that rehearsed with the Sons at Sausalito Heliport, and there were two sax players in the group, apparently called Goose and Crow, so perhaps one of them was part of the group.

As to the keyboard/guitar player, a likely suspect might be Dale Ockerman. Ockerman is a fine player on both keyboards and guitar, and acknowledges jamming with Miller at the time. I had been under the impression he replaced Champlin in late 1970, but perhaps he also preceded him as well. Ockerman lived in Boulder Creek and attended Pacific High School (too much of a digression to explain here), but being only 16 at the time may have been an unwise choice for a band of professionals looking to play bars. When Ockerman turned 18 in 1971, he went on the road as a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service.

The Rhythm Dukes had a reunion at a club called The Crow's Nest on September 25, 1992. Champlin, Miller and Oxendine played, and I believe Dale Ockerman did as well. Certainly Ockerman participated with Jerry Miller at the Summer of Love 'Reunion' in 2007. So Ockerman seems as likely as anyone to be the mystery member of The Rhythm Dukes at The Family Dog in December of 1969.

Some Notes About February 20-21, 1970
For the tiny universe of people concerned with Sons Of Champlin Performance History (probably just me), it has always been troublesome that there was a Family Dog poster for February 20-21, 1970 (above) featured both Big Brother and The Holding Company and the Rhythm Dukes with Bill Champlin and Jerry Miller. Since I had discovered that the Sons were booked at Berkeley Community Theater on February 20 with The Youngbloods and February 21 at Contra Costa Fairgrounds (in Antioch), I had always wondered about the conflict. Newspaper research resolved the problem, however.

Ralph Gleason reported in his February 18, 1970 column that the Sons were taking a break from performing. Ralph Gleason also reported in his Friday, February 20 Chronicle column that The Family Dog will feature Big Brother along with Cat Mother and The All Nite Newsboys. Since Gleason also reviews the Sons performance in Berkeley, there can be no doubt the Sons played Berkeley and Antioch, and the Rhythm Dukes were replaced at the Family Dog by Cat Mother. Since Gleason alludes to Champlin joining the Rhythm Dukes when the Sons go on a planned 5-month break, I have to assume some well-paying bookings came up at the last minute and Champlin delayed joining the Rhythm Dukes for a few weeks.

Friday, August 6, 2010

660 Great Highway, San Francisco Family Dog On The Great Highway January 30-31, 1970: Jefferson Airplane/Osceola

To some extent, Archaeology is about uncovering mysteries, so here's one that's recently come to light for me. The above is a clip from Ralph J Gleason's San Francsico Chronicle column on Wednesday, January 28, 1970. I realize its hard to decipher, so I will quote the clip the Lion's Share (San Anselmo) tomorrow night Sir Douglas Quintet, Shades of Joy...The Jefferson Airplane and Osceola will be at the Family Dog this The Rehearsal tonight and tomorrow night John Antle, Jim Britton
Buried at the end of Gleason's usual lengthy recitation of upcoming rock. jazz and folk shows in the Bay Area in the coming days is a reference to a Jefferson Airplane show at Chet Helm's Family Dog, presumably on January 30 and 31, 1970 (Friday and Saturday).

As far as lists go, this Jefferson Airplane show is a new one for me. Without question, the best list for Family Dog shows is Ross's list, and I see no sign of it here, and the various Jefferson Airplane lists that circulate do not include it. From that perspective, its always great to add another show in the interests of accuracy. However, there are a number of aspects to this booking that make it all the more curious, with respect to both the Family Dog and the Airplane.

Family Dog, January 1970
The Family Dog's history is complex and obscure after it was forced out of the Avalon Ballroom in December 1968. Noise complaints generated a review of the venue's city issued Dance Permit, itself a strange anachronism. Helms complained in subsequent years that he could have simply paid off the police and gotten around the review but he refused to do so (there is good reason to believe this account). However, the Family Dog's finances were always tenuous after the failed effort to open another branch in Denver in late 1967, so the battle over the Dance Permit may have given Helms a chance to rethink his business.

The Family Dog On The Great Highway opened on June 13, 1969 with the Jefferson Airplane. The site was at the former Edgewater Ballroom, part of the Playland At The Beach complex. Despite the dominance of the Fillmore West, many fine bands played the smaller FDGH in the Summer of 1969. However, after a "strike" involving Light Show operators in August, 1969, the Family Dog was once again in dire financial straits. While the Family Dog continued to put on shows in their ballroom throughout the balance of 1969, the fine posters advertising the events were rarely produced, and based on contemporary newspapers advertising and promotion seemed somewhat haphazard.

Ross and I, among others, have relentlessly trolled through old flyers, Berkeley underground papers and various daily newspapers of the time, and yet we are still struggling to come up with a complete list of shows. Thus it is remarkable to find a Family Dog show in January 1970 featuring the Airplane, probably the most successful band to ever play the Dog. This "lost" Airplane show suggests that Chet Helms had found a new source of finance to re-invigorate his enterprise.

By the end of 1969, The Family Dog On The Great Highway was producing regular shows, but headliners were mostly local club bands like Osceola or Cleveland Wrecking Company.  A few old Avalon stalwarts (like Canned Heat on December 12-14) headlined some shows there, but that very well may have been as much a favor to Helms as anything else. The bills in the previous month had been

  • December 26-28, 1969: Lonnie Mack/Osceola/AB Skhy
  • January 1-3, 1970: Osceola/Cleveland Wrecking Company/Devil's Kitchen
  • January 4, 1970: Osceola/Cleveland Wrecking Company/Mendelbaum/Phoenix
  • January 11-13, 1970 Chambers Brothers and Friends

Of these groups, only the Chambers Brothers and Lonnie Mack had a national profile, and the Chambers Brothers were past their commercial prime, and in any case old regulars from the Avalon. Many of the other groups were fine bands, but they were all regulars at The Matrix rather than Fillmore West, and FDGH seemed to be a Western extension of the SF club scene.

In contrast, the Airplane show presaged an exciting month:
  • January 30-31, 1970: Jefferson Airplane/Osceola
  • February 4, 1970: NET TV Special, "A Night At The Family Dog" Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Santana/Kimberly (invited audience, broadcast in April 1970)
  • February 6-7, 1970: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Freedom Highway/Mike Seeger
  • February 13-14, 1970: Steve Miller Band/Elvin Bishop Group
  • February 20-21, 1970: Big Brother and The Holding Company with Nick Gravenites/Cat Mother and The All Night Newsboys (Cat Mother replaced Rhythm Dukes)
  • February 28-March 1, 1970: Grateful Dead/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
  • March 6-8, 1970: Lee Michaels/Rhythm Dukes with Jerry Miller and Bill Champlin/Robert Savage
  • March 13-15, 1970: Country Joe and The Fish/Joy Of Cooking
  • March 20-22, 1970: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Kaleidoscope/Devil's Kitchen
  • March 27-29, 1970: Youngbloods/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen/Jeffrey Cain
  • April 3-5, 1970: Eric Burdon and War/Ballin' Jack

Although many old friends seemed to be returning for Helms, all of these groups were working bands who could not readily have given up weekends for free, so their had to be some expectation of a payday. In Stephen Gaskin's 1980 book Haight Ashbury Flashbacks he alludes to attending meetings with Chet Helms at the home of some potential backer, so we know that Helms was working to find a new partner. Bill Graham (of all people) has alluded to loaning money to help Helms, but I think that was in the late '69 period. Based on the sudden improvement in bookings from January 30 to April 3, along with actual posters (which cost money), Helms clearly found someone as a silent partner. Their very silence suggests either a rich hippie or downtown businessman who preferred to not to advertise his investment, or a partner in a "business" that shunned publicity.

The other interesting event in the January/February 1970 period has to do with the Grateful Dead. While the Grateful Dead were frantically touring the country, trying to pay pack the debts they owed to Warner Brothers Records, their manager Lenny Hart was hatching a plan to merge the Grateful Dead operations with the Family Dog, and move Dead headquarters from Marin County to the San Francisco Dog. Musically and culturally, this was a very interesting idea, and if the Dead had had their own concert facility starting in February 1970, with an experienced booker like Chet Helms running it while they toured, San Francisco rock history might have taken some very interesting turns indeed.

The only problem with the Dead/Dog merger was that Lenny Hart was not an honest businessman. By the middle of February, the Grateful Dead would realize that he was absconding with their money and fire him, a difficult thing even though he was drummer Mickey Hart's father. In the end, Lenny was found to have taken $155,000 from the Dead, a huge sum for 1970, effectively bankrupting the band. The Dead were forced to tour endlessly just to make ends meet, and as a result made an entire generation of Northeastern college students lifelong Deadheads.

According to Dead biographer Dennis McNally, however, Chet Helms sniffed out Hart's perfidy while the Dead were on the road, sometime in the January-February period. Helms had a reputation as keeping sloppy back-of-an-envelope records, but he wasn't a con man. When Helms asked to see the Dead's account books and Lenny Hart refused, Helms called off the merger (the Dead were in Oregon, Hawaii, New Orleans or St. Louis).

A con man like Lenny Hart would not have wanted to merge with the Family Dog unless their were assets he could co-opt. In late 1969 the Family Dog was apparently even more broke than the Dead--and that's saying a lot--yet Lenny found the Dead's arrangements fine. Presumably having stripped their assets bare, he needed another target, and Lenny's eagerness to merge with the Dog suggests some deep pockets to pick. Helms was enough of a businessman to call off the merger and promote the Dog for one last hurrah in February and March. However, the distant location of The Great Highway and the rising costs of the rock market doomed the Dog in any case, and it only lasted through August of 1970.

Jefferson Airplane, January 1970
The activities of Jefferson Airplane in January 1970 are quite murky, and the discovery of this January 30-31, 1970 show adds a little clarity, though not much. The Airplane had released their hugely successful Volunteers album in November 1969, and they were bigger than ever. Existing 1970 Airplane chronologies put them in Hawaii from January 22-26 with the Grateful Dead, but this unlikely event did not take place (the Dead played two nights with local bands in support). In fact, it appears the band only played twice in December (Altamont on Dec 6 and Winterland on New Year's Eve) and one more time at the Family Dog, playing an abbreviated set at the NET special on February 4, 1970. The NET show appears to have been Spencer Dryden's last performance with the Jefferson Airplane.

Thus if the Family Dog Airplane shows on January 30-31 really happened, they would be the last complete concerts by the "classic" Airplane (Grace, Paul, Marty, Jorma, Jack, Spencer). Since the activities of the Family Dog in this period are always murky, and we only have Ralph Gleason's single reference to go on, its hard to say for certain whether the shows occurred or not. A couple of speculative points worthy of consideration:

  • The Jefferson Airplane had played at least one "stealth" concert at the Family Dog before, on September 6, 1969, when they played with the Grateful Dead (and Owsley thoughtfully taped it).
  • Although we put the Airplane today in the same category as the Dead or Country Joe and The Fish, in 1970 they were one of the biggest draws in rock and could easily have sold out the Family Dog on the basis of word-of-mouth alone. Thus the absence of a flyer is not in itself significant.
  • On the other hand, the San Francisco rock scene was very much like High School, and the Airplane were not part of Chet Helms's "set." They only played the Avalon one weekend (July 22-23, 1966), and while they did play the Denver Dog (November 7-8, 1967) they did not have the long history of regular shows with Helms that some of the other bands did. This fact is another suggestion that the Airplane's show was part of a business arrangement rather than a personal favor.
  • Even more oddly, the Airplane were not planning a tour and the drummer was about to quit. They had less of an incentive to play a stealth show than they might have at other times. 

Still, given the run of shows that followed the weekend of January 30-31, 1970, there is every reason to think that Jefferson Airplane made the shows. Since the show was hardly publicized--it didn't have to be--it never got reviewed, and no flyer or poster survives, but a few thousand people likely heard the last stand of the classic Jefferson Airplane at the edge of the continent in the San Francisco fog.

Friday, June 18, 2010

415 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA December 29, 1969: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Youngbloods/Ramblin Jack Elliott/Penny Nichols

The underground rock explosion in San Francisco in the mid-1960s was critical in turning rock into big business, for good or for ill. With a city full of bands, all sorts of efforts were made to create successful rock promotions. Many of them remain largely mysteries. The above clipping from the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle of Monday, December 29, 1969 is one such mystery. The Geary Theater was and is San Francisco's premiere "legitimate" theater, but in 1969, even the Geary attempted to put on some sort of Holiday Rock Extravaganza. Lacking any other information, I will use the post to speculate on what might have been intended. Anyone with even the most fragmentary memories or information is encouraged to Comment or email me.

The Geary Theater
The Geary Theater, located at 415 Geary Boulevard near Mason Street (just East of Union Square), was completed in 1910, and has a capacity of 1,667 patrons. The great 1906 earthquake had destroyed all of San Francisco's theaters, but they were soon replaced. Although the elegant Geary has a complex and interesting history, in 1967 it became the home of the American Conservatory Theater. I am no historian of American theater, but even I know that ACT is a leading Western Theater company. It seems to have been no accident that a vibrant Theater company was established in the cultural ferment of San Francisco in the 1960s.

I can attest that by the 1970s, at any rate, when I saw their productions, while ACT put on many fine productions of 'classics' (George Bernard Shaw, etc), it also produced more cutting edge playwrights like Tom Stoppard. Today, ACT is still widely regarded, although I suspect it depends a little more heavily on more classic playwrights, like Tom Stoppard.

In any case, ACT took up residence in San Francisco in 1967, presenting year-round theater at the Geary as well as elsewhere. By 1974, ACT's reputation was so sterling that an extraordinary donation from the Ford Foundation allowed them to buy the Geary, which has remained their home ever since. I do not know the exact circumstances of the Geary Theater lease in 1969, but I have to assume that American Conservatory Theater at least generally controlled the facility, and if a rock show was put on there it was with ACT's approval if not outright cooperation. To my knowledge, this show has been the only rock show in the history of the Geary Theater.

The Concerts
The Datebook listing advertises 2 shows, at 2pm and 7pm. Although December 29 is a Monday, it is between Christmas and New Years, so there is a reasonable assumption that people will be free to attend the show. Monday night is also most likely to be the night that the regular ACT productions would be dark, so the theater would be available for a rock show. I can't help but think that the ACT business managers were looking for a chance to make a little extra money by booking a rock show on a Holiday Week Monday.

Although ACT is a well-established program today, in the 1960s all the major players at the Company were probably well shy of 40. Also, part of ACT's strength has always been that besides presenting excellent shows, they always had training programs and workshops for younger actors, so many of the participants at ACT would have been the same age as all the Fillmore rock bands. Actors and musicians always keep the same hours and are naturally inclined to each other, so I don't doubt there were many social connections between the younger theater community and the rock bands.

The Geary was presenting two shows, at 2pm and 7pm, with two different headliners and the same opening acts. The headliners were Big Brother and The Holding Company in the afternoon, and The Youngbloods in the evening. The opening acts were Ramblin Jack Elliott, Penny Nichols and The Zig Zag Follies. The choice of acts suggest a conscious effort to create a kind of "revue," which bespeaks a more theatrical approach to the show than the typical aggregation of rock bands. A look at the listing shows that it just says "Geary Theater" without an address, since the Chronicle assumes that everyone should know where the Geary was located. San Francisco exceptionalism aside, this suggests that this show was intended with more of the trappings an 'event' than a typical rock concert.

While the other performers at these concerts are known--if you're me--the Zig Zag Follies are entirely a mystery. It is self-evident today that 'Zig Zag' refers to a brand of rolling papers popular with pot smokers, but that was hardly self-evident in 1969 to people who weren't hippies. I can't help but think that the Zig Zag Follies were some of the younger members of the ACT Company, who prepared some sort of theatrical entertainment to go along with the rock bands. Even by 1971, "Zig Zag" would have been such an obvious doper reference that ACT may have frowned on (at least publicly), but at the time it was like saying "4:20"--in order to know, you had to know.

To my knowledge, this event was not repeated. I do not know whether this was due to a lack of financial success, or because of some constraint of the facility involving theatrical requirements (ACT may have been between productions, for example). Unlike many 60s stories, however, I doubt that there was any conflict between ACT, their staff and the rock bands, as they were all young, alive and living in San Francisco. Maybe this show was just another gig, but I suspec the Zig Zag Follies were more interesting than they might initially seem. Many famous actors got their start as junior members of ACT, so perhaps there are some celebrities involved in this story as well, but unless someone involved recalls it we may never know.

Notes On The Performers
Big Brother and The Holding Company with Nick Gravenites
Janis Joplin had left Big Brother in December of 1968, and the group had scattered somewhat. In Summer of 1969, the original four members of the band (Sam Andrews, James Gurley, Peter Albin and David Getz) got together again. They were a "name" band in San Francisco, but without their star attraction.

Nick Gravenites had been the leader of the Electric Flag, but his largest contribution to San Francisco rock was as a producer. He produced Quicksilver Messenger Service, and, ironically enough, Janis Joplin among many others. He actually recorded with Big Brother (on their 1970 and 71 albums), and performed with them periodically, but this is one of the few shows I know of where he was actually billed with them. He sounded very good with Big Brother, but the peculiar onus of "replacing" Janis made it difficult for the band to use different lead singers.

The Youngbloods
The Youngbloods had moved to San Francisco in September, 1967, and had established themselves as a San Francisco band. By late 1969, they were at their peak, as the re-release of their 1967 song "Get Together" had become a huge radio hit.

Ramblin Jack Elliott
Legendary folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott was actually a doctor's son from Brooklyn, but nonetheless he re-invented himself as a troubadour of the American West. Friend to Woody Guthrie and a huge influence on Bob Dylan and many others, by now he sounds familiar even if you've never heard him. In the 1960s, he was not widely known outside of Folk circles. He is a remarkably engaging, hypnotic performer in a way that does not translate well to recordings and is very difficult to explain to those who haven't seen him.

Penny Nichols
Penny Nichols had been an Orange County folksinger in 1965, who ended up touring Vietnam in 1966 as part of a folk duo. By 1967 she had moved to San Francisco, where she was a regular performer at the Fillmore and elsewhere (she opened for Traffic at Winterland in March, 1968, for example). She recorded a 1968 album for Buddah, and then went to England. By late 1969, she had returned, but for the next few decades she mostly wrote and recorded as a studio player (for more see here). This 1969 performance is the only one I can think of for this period, and leads me to suspect that there may have been some personal connection, as she was not a regular performer around the Bay Area at this time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hwy 14, Middleton, WI The Bunny Hop April 25, 1966: The Sir Douglas Quintette

Some intriguing research finds only lead to more intrigue, which may never be resolved. The above ad is from the April 25, 1966 edition of the Capital Times in Wisconsin. On a Monday night, San Antonio's answer to the British Invasion, the Sir Douglas Quintette (sic) are playing a fairly large venue called The Bunny Hop. The ad says there is seating for 599, and the address is "2 Mi. W. of Middleton-Hwy 14" suggesting a rural rocking roadhouse.

The ad also says "Bring Your Wis. ID Card." I am fairly certain that Wisconsin had a drinking age of 18 rather than 21, and Middleton was a suburb of Madison, so many University of Wisconsin students would be expected. I assume the reference to "Wisconsin ID" cards was to discourage out-of-state drinkers from Northern Illinois, but perhaps there was a different reason. In any case, the musicians of the original Sir Douglas Quintet had been schooled in tough rhythm and blues sounds before the British Invasion arrived, so they knew a little bit about keeping a crowd of beered-up kids dancing all night long.

The Sir Douglas Quintet had scored a huge hit with "She's About A Mover" in Spring 1965, and they had a modestly successful early 1966 follow-up, "The Rains Came," and they had appeared on TV shows like Hullabaloo and Where The Action Is, so they were certainly well known enough to play for University of Wisconsin students on a Monday night. On the other hand, Doug Sahm and other members of the group had been busted for marijuana at the Corpus Christi airport in December, 1965, and as a result their movements were restricted by court dates and probation. If the Quintet was restricted by probation, did they actually play Wisconsin that Monday night?

The answer, apparently, is probably not. The Sir Douglas Quintet were a hugely popular American group in the British Invasion era, when beyond a hit single no one really knew what a group was like. Initially, the Quintet was encouraged to let everyone think they were actually English. However, the Quintet's promoter was a shady, fascinating character named Huey Meaux, and his business dealings were always suspect. It appears there was more than one group touring the country under the name Sir Douglas Quintet, possibly even before the bust. Somewhere on the web (I can no longer find it), there is an hilarious memoir by a group called Larry And The Bluenotes, which includes lengthy memories of impersonating the Sir Douglas Quintet out on the road, under the direction of various doubtful operators.

Of course, its possible that the Wisconsin show was played by Doug Sahm and some Texan variation of the Quintet, but its unlikely. When Sahm moved to San Francisco in about May 1966, it was because his court case was settled with 5 years probation. However, organist Augie Meyers was apparently unable to leave the state for his probation. As a result, by mid-66 there were at least two versions of the Sir Douglas Quintet: Doug Sahm led one in San Francisco, (along with drummer Johnny Perez and saxophonist Frank Morin), and Meyers led the Texas version (along with bassist Harvey Kagan). Then add in Larry And The Bluenotes, and who knows who else, and it appears that the Quintet were movers indeed.

Probably the band that played the Wisconsin show doesn't remember it, and probably had a vested interest in forgetting it: they were impersonating a band, or they were breaking probation, or something. Oh well--as long as the band played "She's About A Mover," and all the UW students got their Monday night beer on, it was probably fine.