Monday, October 31, 2011

February 7, 1969, Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley: Judy Collins

An excerpt from Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column on February 10, 1969

Judy Collins was a popular folk act in the mid-60s, and she was so talented that she easily made the transition to the folk-rock era that followed. She has remained a stellar attraction ever since, and rightly so. I recently came across a review of a long ago sell-out concert in Berkeley, on February 7, 1969. At the time, this must have seemed like just another fine show by a popular artist, and surely it was. Nonetheless a careful reading of Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle review the next Monday (February 10) reveals a few significant details that make this a more memorable event in retrospect than it may have appeared at the time.

Judy Collins
Judy Collins (b. 1939) had been trained as a classical pianist as a teenager, but she threw it all over for folk music in the early 1960s, much to the dismay of her piano teacher. However, her eminent musicality served her in good stead in the mid-60s, when folk music expanded its palate to include a wider variety of sounds. In late 1967, Collins had had a huge hit with the Joni Mitchell song "Both Sides Now," which had been found for her by former Blues Project member Al Kooper. The newly-divroced Kooper was staying in Collins apartment while she toured, and met Joni Mitchell (also newly divorced) and called Collins in Denver at about 4am to tell her "I've got your next single!"

"Both Sides Now, " released in conjunction with Collins's October 1967 Elektra album Wildflowers, peaked at #8 on the Billboard charts. Collins's November 1968 album Who Knows Where The Time Goes was an even bigger hit, peaking at #29 on the Billboard album charts. Although Collins beautiful voice was still the center of the record, tasteful backing from various Los Angeles musicians put the album into the folk rock vein. Among the musicians on the album were James Burton (ex Ricky Nelson, future Elvis), Jim Gordon (future Domino, and co-author of "Layla") and her then-boyfriend, Stephen Stills.

Saturday, February 7, 1969: Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA
Gleason was not himself too thrilled with Collins's performance in Berkeley, although he cheerfully acknowledges her talent. He concedes that her audience received her rapturously, so they were all happy, even if he was an outlier. The interesting thing about the review was his description of the band. Collins seems to have had a regular trio of Gene Taylor on bass (ex-Horace Silver), drummer Susan Evans (whom Gleason calls a "girl drummer") and 'hippie' pianist Michael Sahl, who had played on the album. This appears to have been Collins's regular performing trio at the time (they can be seen on YouTube, appearing on the Smothers Brothers show from 1969). Also along for the ride on this Friday night in Berkeley was Stephen Stills, who Gleason describes as a "Canadian guitarist."

According to Gleason, Stills
got to play very little but it sounded exquisite. He was along only for the one night. Saturday he began recording for Atlantic with David Crosby and Graham Nash. Rolling Stone reports that Atlantic swapped Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield to Columbia for Nash (who was under contract to them). I assume it was a straight player deal,  no cash involved.
Gleason's description of the dealings between Atlantic and Columbia are correct, although somewhat simplified. The aforementioned Al Kooper had used Stephen Stills on his Super Session album for Columbia, and Atlantic had assented in return for allowing Nash to come to Atlantic. Columbia had insisted that Richie Furay be allowed to record with Columbia in his new group Poco, and the deal was done.

On the night of the sold-out show, Collin's fans were probably mostly aware that Stephen Stills was a former member of Buffalo Springfield, who had broken up in mid-1968. Although celebrity gossip was not what it was today, a few of them may have discerned that there relationship was not exclusively professional. When they look backwards, however, they probably don't think of that at all. Judy Collins is Sweet Judy Blue Eyes now, forever and a day. By the time the Crosby, Stills And Nash album was released, I think Stills and Collins had moved on, but when the record came out later in 1969, it must have been striking for those that were there to think that Stills was humming "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" to himself while performing on stage with his girlfriend.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

285 UCB Campus Drive, Boulder, CO: Macky Auditorium November 23, 1975: Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins

(an April 2011 photo of Macky Auditorium on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Construction on the 2000 seat venue was begun in 1910, although it was not completed until 1923)

Boulder, Colorado is the best American city without an ocean, and is in the top rank in any case. With perfect air that other parts of the country have to pay to simulate with air conditioning, the Rocky Mountains looming in the background and a perfect mountain stream running through downtown, it's not surprising that Boulder has been a preferred destination for emigrants and tourists for some decades now. For 100 years or so, the principal "industry" of Boulder was the University of Colorado at Boulder, the flagship of the CU system, founded in 1877.

Why, then, does Boulder have almost no meaningful 60s rock history? One 60s band came out of Boulder, the excellent Zephyr, featuring Tommy Bolin and Candy Givens, but even they say that they were the only band in Boulder. Denver has a very interesting rock history rock history in the 60s, if not a satisfactory one. Chet Helms opened a branch of the Family Dog in Denver, in an effort to compete effectively with Bill Graham. It was a very clever idea, providing touring bands with a paying show partway to San Francisco. However, the Denver Sheriff, with the support of the political establishment, harassed the Family Dog into closing, and Denver's role in the 60s rock scene was to some extent superseded by Salt Lake City, of all places.

Why, then, was there no rock scene in Boulder in the 60s? If the heat was on in Denver, why didn't bands play Boulder? While Boulder was not a big town--it still isn't--why wasn't it an incubator for bands to get it together, in preparation for heading to Denver and then the rest of the country? The Macky Auditorium, completed in 1923, was a 2000 seat venue that could have accommodated the touring bands of the day, and yet there seem to have been no meaningful rock concerts there until the Jerry Garcia Band (with Nicky Hopkins) on November 23, 1975. While there seem to have been regular concerts after 1975, I can find no record of anything remotely hip before that.

While only a few "college towns" like Berkeley and Cambridge were substantial enough cities to sustain a music scene on their own, college towns generally played an important role in music from the 60s onward. A modest town with a big University generally couldn't have its own Fillmore, but there was usually a folk club and a popular dive bar for the local talent. As the 60s wore on, bands like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or The Doors might come through and play the gym or the main auditorium, with the local heroes as the opening act. The students became fans for life, even more so if a band played for free one afternoon, and especially so if the College Dean banned all rock concerts after some legendary blow out. This narrative was particularly true of college towns in striking range of California, so there are lots of fond, if fuzzy, 60s memories in places like Palo Alto, CA or Eugene, OR.

The Grateful Dead, always the pioneers, did play the University of Colorado Student Union on Sunday, April 13, 1969. However, this unique event seems to have been a "throw-in," after the Dead had played shows at the University of Arizona (Friday April 11) and University of Utah (Saturday, April 12). The band was on their way to Omaha (Tuesday April 15) and then Purdue University (Friday April 18), so playing the no-doubt tiny Student Union was probably just gigging for gas money. When the Dead put out a few successful albums in the early 70s, why didn't the band play the Macky at CU? The Dead were playing theaters and gyms up and down the East Coast, so why weren't they headlining at the Macky?

Other than far too limited Grateful Dead activity (limited by the standards of the Dead's relentless touring, anyway), all my research into Boulder bands, venues or concerts in the late 60s and early 70s turned up a dry hole. While its true there have been demographic changes since the 60s, in that undergraduate enrollment at CU-Boulder has nearly doubled (15,000>29,000), and the population of the town has increased by 1/3 since 1970 (66,000>100,000), that has largely been true of many towns with flagship state Universities, and that didn't stop those towns from having it going on in the 60s.Why not Boulder?

Why Not Boulder?
It turns out that "Dry Hole" was the correct metaphor. While Colorado lifted prohibition in 1933, along with the rest of the country, the town of Boulder did not. The city of Boulder did not allow the purchase of alcohol until 1967, and the first bar in the city did not open until the Boulderado Hotel obtained a liquor license in 1969. As a result, 1960s Boulder was a very different town economically than most other major college towns.

Sophisticated archival research is my preferred mode of inquiry, but it's very difficult to uncover something that is not present--you can't read a review of a show that did not take place. Conveniently, however, one night in The Boulderado, Boulder's first luxury hotel (built 1909), I had a very informative conversation with a worldly Boulder resident named Phil, who was born and raised in Boulder, lived and worked many places, and had returned to Boulder in semi-retirement (if I were a country songwriter, his story might make a good song, but I'm not).

In 1960s Boulder, there were no bars, only places that sold 3.2% beer. A post-prohibition Colorado law defined anything with less than 3.2% alcohol as "non-alcoholic," and brewers rapidly figured out they could brew weak beer and skirt the law. This eventually became codified into practice, and watery beer was available for adults, but stronger beer, wine or mixed drinks fell under a different set of laws. While the rest of Colorado came out of Prohibition in a somewhat typical fashion (although the 3.2% beer thing turns out to a surprisingly critical to the rise of Colorado microbrews, but that is too tangential even for this blog), the city of Boulder limited its residents to the purchase of 3.2% beer. It wasn't illegal for adults to drink or possess alcohol, but they couldn't buy it in Boulder.

As a result, the city of Boulder was quite a sleepy place. All the good restaurants were outside of town, since otherwise they couldn't have served wine with dinner. There was no night life, because there were no bars. The adult men all belonged to private clubs--Phil's father often went to the Elks Club, across the street from the Boulderado, because he could get a drink there. Private clubs, however, cannot get a license for live music that allows outsiders, so none of those clubs could serve as a venue.

It may seem that hippie pyschedelic rock bands would not have needed bars, but in fact the opposite is the case. However much 60s bands liked playing free concerts and all night rave ups, the ecosystem of music requires paying gigs. If there aren't a few bars to provide steady work, you don't have working musicians, certainly not any drummers, and as a result you have no bands. It may also seem that coffee shops and folk music would be immune to an absence of bars, but the reality is that the opposite was the case. While it's true that the 60s Folk Scare started in coffee shops, so that high schoolers could get involved, coffee shops thrive in districts where there are bars. After all, what would be the point of meeting a pretty girl and bonding over Pete Seeger songs if you couldn't invite her across the street for a beer? Even Berkeley's Freight and Salvage (opened 1968), the first venue not to allow smoking, was across the street from the Albatross Pub.

The seemingly obvious parallel to 60s Boulder would seem to be Palo Alto, a town that Boulder generally aspires to be. Palo Alto had strange liquor laws, stemming from it's founding as the college town for Stanford University in 1875. In the 1960s, despite a profusion of Acid Tests and the like, there were still no bars in downtown Palo Alto, because of an old law (supported by most downtown area residents) that no liquor could be sold within 1 1/2 miles of the Stanford Campus. Yet Downtown Palo Alto was a bohemian enclave of folk clubs in the early 1960s, and Jerry Garcia was only the most famous of the early folkies hanging around Downtown looking to make music.  Why did sleepy Palo Alto--and trust me, it was sleepy--have a nascent little folk and rock scene, and Boulder seemingly have none?

One simple difference between Boulder and downtown Palo Alto's liquor laws was that Palo Alto allowed beer and wine to be sold at restaurants. Thus nightclubs (like St. Michael's Alley, The Top Of The Tangent or The Poppycock) could set themselves up as restaurants and at least sell beer. Furthermore, there could at least be restaurants downtown, which while they did not cater to young hippie musicians, at least created a downtown that provided some potential employment for their girlfriends. Boulder's restrictions had neither of these ameliorating factors.

The most important difference, however, was that despite downtown Palo Alto's restrictive liquor laws, it was a relatively tiny blip on a very busy suburban Peninsular strip from San Francisco to San Jose. Even within the city limits of Palo Alto, much less all the neighboring towns, there were bars, nightlife and music gigs. While the bands that formed in Palo Alto couldn't find a paying booking in downtown Palo Alto, there was no lack of employment in the bars, coffee shops and pizza parlors on the El Camino Real strip. El Camino (an extension of Mission Blvd in San Francisco) ran from The City all the way to San Jose, and parts of it were within walking distance of downtown Palo Alto. Thus downtown Palo Alto's isolation affected the town itself, but did not have much impact on the area just around it.

Boulder's metropolitan circumstances were very different. A Boulder County resident explained to me that in the late 1960s, the city of Boulder started buying up all the land around the city. Effectively, the city created a 7-mile wide Greenbelt around itself, but at 1960s prices. In this way, Boulder was far ahead of Palo Alto (oh, if Palo Alto had only bought up Menlo Park and Mountain View in 1966...). What this meant, however, was that while downtown Boulder was sleepy, there were no nearby towns to pick up the overflow. You could walk from downtown Palo Alto to downtown Menlo Park, which helps explain while the Palo Alto-born Grateful Dead actually got their professional start in Menlo Park. The nearest towns to Boulder were 10 or more miles away, as they are today, so Boulder was isolated by choice and not just geography.

Certainly the University of Colorado was full of students, probably about 15,000 undergraduates or so. However, CU is up on a hill above the town (mind you, a "hill" in the Rockies would be called a "mountain" in some parts of the country). While presumably the students enjoyed 3.2 beer in great quantities, any serious socializing or interesting dates probably required a car anyway, and if you had a car, why go to sleepy, dry Boulder when you could go to a bar in another town? You're in the car anyway--why not drive to where it's more fun?

Boulder Now
Now, of course, Boulder is Mile High Palo Alto. There are nice restuarants, lots of bars, some converted movie theaters that make great rock venues, and bands play the Macky Auditorium, the CU Events Center (gym) and even Folsom Field, if the bands are big enough to fill up a football stadium. Boulder's population has stabilized, since the city owns all the pristine land around it (Palo Alto's population has been the same since the 1970s), and as a result of the natural advantages of Colorado and the boom in Denver, Boulder is a desirable happening place to live, musically or otherwise, if you can afford it. The University of Colorado has joined the Pac-10, so Boulder is now rightly on a par with Berkeley, Palo Alto, Eugene or Westwood, and it certainly belongs there. Yet a look into Boulder's vacant rock history from the 1960s shows that Boulder has transformed itself into something very different than it was in the past.

I could be wrong about this. Maybe Zephyr was just the only Boulder band that made it out. None of the economic pointers suggest that, however, and I think that Boulder did not have an interesting 60s music history because the economic conditions did not support it. However much the creativity and desire of individual musicians is essential to making music, if the material conditions for a successful music scene are not in place, it will be no accident when there are no memorable bands or concerts to recall. Of course, as always, I will be delighted if if any long time or long ago Boulderites can prove me wrong, and tell me about a secret history of Boulder venues and musicians, but I think that Boulder's very virtues were foundational in insuring that its 60s music history was largely silent.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

412 Broadway, San Francisco, CA, Mr. D's, November 7-8, 1969: Three Dog Night/Hoyt Axton

(a San Francisco Chronicle ad from November 2, 1969, advertising Three Dog Night at Mr. D's, located at 412 Broadway)

When Historians look backwards, it is easy to make the path of history seem simple and inevitable, with a series of discrete events leading to a self-evident conclusion. This effect remains in force whether you look at Medieval Europe, 19th Century Railroads or 60s Rock. However, a closer look at the facts on the ground as they really happened always shows an uneven trail of dead ends and roads not taken. At the same time, the seeds of future result can be seen long before any fruit has ripened.

By November,  1969, Three Dog Night was a hugely successful band by any standard. They had just released a live album, following up on their two successful studio albums. They also had tremendously successful hit singles climbing the charts. What were they doing playing a supper club on Broadway in San Francisco, just down the street from Carol Doda at the Condor, and all the other topless clubs? Why weren't they headlining the Fillmore West, like every other hot band, or else the Berkeley Community Theater or some other venue? The weekend at Mr. D's was Three Dog Night's first headlining performance in the Bay Area, and it seemed to fly in the fact of rock orthodoxy.

Since the band's engagement at Mr. D's has seemingly been lost to rock history up until now, and I can find no other information about it besides promotion for the event, I will consider what facts I do know about the band, the venue and the rock market at the time in the hopes of finding a convincing hypothesis. Hopefully some long dormant memories of the Three Dog Night engagement at Mr. D's will be resurrected. Anyone with information, informed speculation or just a clever idea is encouraged to share them in the Comments.

Three Dog Night
Three Dog Night had initially formed in Hollywood in 1967, under the name Redwood, but became a real going concern in 1968. Although the band had a contemporary rock sound, they had a number of features that made them different than their peers. First of all, the group had three excellent lead vocalists, rather than one, and had sophisticated vocal arrangements in the style of Motown or Stax, albeit in a rock rather than a soul context. Secondly, the majority of Three Dog Night's albums featured newly arranged cover versions of contemporary rock songs, few or none of which were commissioned by the group. Three Dog Night keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon (in his fascinating autobiography One Is The Loneliest Number) cites Vanilla Fudge's dramatic re-arrangement of The Supremes "You Keep Me Hangin' On" as an inspiration.

Three Dog Night's musical discipline and cover material was in distinct contrast to the self-contained self expression of 60s rock, particularly the kind coming out of San Francisco. This did not make Three Dog Night popular with Rolling Stone magazine and its readers. Nonetheless, the band had a fantastic ear for hearing good songs and giving them a "heavy" rock treatment that worked well both on the radio and the home stereo. The majority of Three Dog Night's fans had not heard the originals anyway, as they were plucked off very obscure records, so it all sounded new to them. Time has been fairly kind to Three Dog Night--songs like "Eli's Coming" and "Liar" hold up fairly well when compared to a lot of psychedelic odes to self expression recorded in the late 60s and early 70s, and the band's contributions to their hits makes it clear that songwriting is only one piece of a hit record.

Three Dog Night's self-titled debut album on ABC-Dunhill was released in October 1968. The single "One" (a Harry Nillson song) did not hit until mid-1969. "One" peaked at #5 on the Billboard magazine charts, while the album peaked at #11. Three Dog Night's follow up album Suitable For Framing was released in June 1969 (ultimately reaching #16). By November, it had spawned two giant hits, "Easy To Be Hard"(peaking at #4) and "Eli's Coming" (#10) A third hit, "Celebrate" (#15), would climb the charts in early 1970. For some reason, ABC-Dunhill also released a live album, Captured Live At The Forum. Recorded on July 14, 1969, when Three Dog Night opened for Steppenwolf, the album recapped the most popular songs of the first two albums. It too was a huge hit, reaching #6.

Three Dog Night Live In The Bay Area 1968
San Francisco and London in the 1960s were the twin Capitals of rock music. While rock music in America was financed and produced primarily in New York and Los Angeles, the San Francisco model of rock concerts and FM radio transformed the music industry. As a result, American record companies often looked to San Francisco for credibility and innovation. This wasn't just habit: for some years after the first wave of bands came out of the Fillmore and the Avalon, a slew of innovative and popular bands came out of the Bay Area, like Sly and The Family Stone, Santana, Tower of Power, The Doobie Brothers and The Tubes, to name a few. For a new band, establishing itself in the Bay Area was one sure way to attract attention and confer credibility.

August 10, 1968: Continental Ballroom, Santa Clara, CA: Country Joe And The Fish/Eternity's Children/Three Dog Night/Weird Herald
Three Dog Night made their Bay Area debut at the Continental Ballroom just outside of San Jose. The Continental was the San Jose area's main psychedelic venue (it was located at 1600 Martin Avenue in nearby Santa Clara), but it was never associated with one promoter. As a result, it has less of an historic profile than the Fillmore or the Avalon, but all the heavy San Francisco bands played there. I do not know anything about this show other than the fact that it happened. All the members of Three Dog Night were very experienced performers by this time, but since it was still two months prior to their debut album, the crowd would have had no predisposition towards them one way or the other.

It would be very interesting to find out how Three Dog Night went over at this show (or anything else about it). Weird Herald had a tremendous reputation as a live band, but they were in the hard rocking psychedelic San Jose school of music (in which The Chocolate Watch Band ruled supreme). Country Joe and The Fish were a way more disciplined band than people realized at the time, but they were a prototype Fillmore band themselves. I know nothing about Eternity's Chidren. There's no telling how long or short Three Dog Night's set was, or what the sound was like, much less how they went over to a crowd of San Jose hippies.

San Mateo Times, Dec 20, 1968 ad
December 26,1968: Cow Palace, Daly City, CA: “Holiday Rock Festival”
Steppenwolf/Canned Heat/Santana/New Buffalo Springfield/Three Dog Night/Spencer Davis Group/Blue Cheer/The Electric Prunes/Flaming Groovies/Tender Loving Care
This KYA (1260am) sponsored event seems to have been an attempt to cash in on the model of the Monterey Pop Festival. I'm not sure if all the acts even played, and in any case they must have played short sets. Three Dog Night shared management with Steppenwolf, so that accounts for the booking. It's worth noting, however, that Three Dog Night's management has booked them at a Top 40 radio event rather than third on the bill at Fillmore West. Since the band shared management with Steppenwolf, they would not have lacked access to Fillmore West if they had desired it.

History has made the December 1968 "Holiday Rock Festival" look different than it really was. Steppenwolf and Canned Heat were the big headliners, as Three Dog Night had not had a hit yet. Santana was a popular live attraction at the Fillmore West and elsewhere, but they were some time away from recording their debut album (it was released in August 1969). The Spencer Davis Group, featuring Eddie Hardin, was a pretty good live band, but Stevie Winwood had left for Traffic two years earlier. The crowd was apparently fairly unhappy to find out that the New Buffalo Springfield only had drummer Dewey Martin from the old group, and that Steve Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay were not part of the band. Richie Furay was playing with Poco at Fillmore West that weekend, and when he heard about the band, lawyers forced Martin to change the band's name to New Buffalo.

Blue Cheer were a true Fillmore psychedelic band, but if they in fact played, I can't imagine how the suburban crowd would have reacted to guitarist Randy Holden's sonic attack. This would have been near the end of Holden's brief tenure with Blue Cheer.

(a San Francisco Chronicle ad for Martha and The Vandella's at Mr. D's, from January 5, 1969)

Mr. D's, 412 Broadway, San Francisco, CA
Broadway in San Francisco was the City's entertainment district. It abutted bohemian North Beach, which provided the City's culture--Italian food, espresso and Beat Poetry, while Broadway provided bright lights, booze and jazz. The San Francisco jazz scene in the 1950s wasn't really lucrative, but its proximity to Los Angeles made it a great incubator for talent, and the same was true of folk music at the time. Success in San Francisco at the hungry i or other clubs was often a ticket to much larger success in the 50s and early 60s. Broadway in San Francisco, along with Jack London Square in Oakland and the El Camino Real in the South Bay, was part of the circuit of entertainment that played the lounges of Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe.

Broadway changed in the early 60s when topless dancing became the principal form of entertainment. This is worthy of a blog in itself (not written by me), but it had a profound effect on San Francisco music. For one thing, topless clubs were not perceived like strip clubs are today, and indeed shared almost nothing in common with them (save the obvious). Topless clubs were racy, but sort of respectable, like seeing an R-rated movie today. While they featured women without tops (duh), they also usually had music, comedy, dancing and other kinds of performances.

The big change for San Francisco musicians was that Broadway club owners abruptly lost interest in paying for quality music. The clubs needed bands, but mainly just to keep the beat. While rock groups that were new in town found a nightly gig at a topless club a convenient way to pay the bills, no agent was going to discover them there. The rise of the topless phenomenon in the mid-60s forced all the rock musicians to play the Fillmore and the Avalon, since there were no other well paying bookings on Broadway anymore.

While Broadway's time as San Francisco's first stop in entertainment was passing, that wasn't so obvious at that moment. I'm not sure who "Mr D" was, but the club opened around late 1968, replacing a topless club called The Moulin Rouge. Mr. D's was a supper club, offering dinner, drinks and two shows a night. They shared headliners with Reno and Tahoe. Motown acts were booked regularly, like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations or Martha And The Vandellas (above), and they typically played a week long engagement. Because it was a restaurant, minors were welcome, but that was aimed more at groups of people (who might include the occasional minor) rather than teenagers per se, since it was too expensive for kids.

After a year of booking Vegas-style acts like Tony Bennett and Motown, I have to assume that Mr. D's started to see the writing on the wall. Up until the Three Dog Night show on November 7, 1969, I know of no rock act booked at Mr. D's. However, Mr. D's was booking headliners like Marvin Gaye, so their financial terms must have been reasonable. Three Dog Night was riding its third straight hit single of the year, and the band knew its way around the stage. Thus it's plain that Mr. D's was trying to hook a new audience with a popular band, and that Three Dog Night must have had various options for performing in San Francisco, and their booking agent must have consciously chosen Mr. D's. A few years later, intimate clubs for rising rock bands were par for the course, exemplified by The Bottom Line in Manhattan or The Roxy in Los Angeles, but no one was ready for it in 1969.

Three Dog Night at Mr. D's, Friday November 7 and Saturday November 8, 1969
At this point I am left with only speculation. Anyone with real insight or knowledge is urged to chime in via the Comments. Nonetheless, the evidence points to certain facts.

  • Three Dog Night had not played San Francisco since the end of 1968
  • Three Dog Night's music style and willingness to cover contemporary rock songs was different than other bands
  • Three Dog Night never played The Fillmore West

Three Dog Night had become very successful in 1969 by following a path that no other band was taking. It did not make them popular with Rolling Stone magazine, but the market was now big enough that there was room for other ways to make it as a rock band. Three Dog Night's management must have wanted the band to headline an engagement in San Francisco, rather than share billing at the Fillmore West. I think Mr. D's was pretty desperate to get in on the rock market, and made a pretty good offer for Three Dog Night. Since Three Dog Night had defied sixties rock protocol so far, skipping Fillmore West to headline a Broadway club would have been par for the course.

However, I think the show was a financial disaster. The show was mentioned in Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column on Friday night (above), but it was never reviewed to my knowledge. Mr. D's booked a few lesser rock acts for the balance of the year, and then closed. Broadway had gone from an entertainment district to a (sort of) red-light district, and there was no place for supper clubs. I think the teenagers who wanted to see Three Dog Night would not have been allowed to go to Broadway by their parents, and the adults who wanted to see them would have found it difficult to park.

I have never found any reference to Mr D's other than ads in the Chronicle, much less Three Dog Night's performance there, and thus it remains a mystery. One enduring curiosity, however, is the fact that Hoyt Axton seems to have opened for them. I don't know if this is where he met the band--probably not--but hanging around together during a disastrous weekend engagement is one way that musicians become friends, so I can't help but think the band gave a good listen Hoyt's songs, even if they didn't strike gold with them until later (as they would with "Joy To The World" and "Never Been To Spain").

Three Dog Night had numerous successful singles and albums up through the mid-1970s. Relative to their massive success, however, they were never big in San Francisco. Perhaps they were so successful elsewhere that they never needed to try, but given the few, odd performances that Three Dog Night had in the Bay Area in the 1960s, it probably wasn't a complete coincidence. After many ups and downs, the band broke up and reformed various times, but as of today Three Dog Night are still going strong.

412 Broadway mostly remained a nightclub, as it does today, even though it changed names and formats. Briefly, its history seems to be

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

3138 Fillmore Steet, San Francisco, CA, January 6, 1969: Open Jam with Peter Albin and Dave Getz

(San Francisco Chronicle Datebook listings from Monday, January 6, 1969)

The San Francisco Chronicle Datebook section was full of interesting listings in the 1960s, even if they often only provide tantalizing clues to events that would otherwise have disappeared. San Francisco's Matrix club was one of the few hippie hangouts, and all sorts of surprising events took place there. Ironically, as a hangout rather than a major venue--The Matrix was too small to be "major"--many of the most interesting events seems to have taken place on weeknights. On January 6, 1969, the first Monday of the year, the listings of openings (above) are topped by this one:

ROCK CLUB--Peter Albin and David Getz in an open jam session at The Matrix, 3138 Fillmore.

Peter Albin and Dave Getz were the bassist and drummer, respectively, of Big Brother and The Holding Company. Big Brother had just broken up in late 1968, when Janis Joplin had left the group. Janis had not been an original member, but she rapidly eclipsed the group itself, and when their 1968 album Cheap Thrills became a mega-hit, Janis ended up leaving the band behind. The rocket ride from underground hipsters to National rock stars had been very hard on some of the band members, and Big Brother did not survive her departure. Janis Joplin and Big Brother played their last show at the Avalon Ballroom on December 1, 1968. Afterward, guitarist Sam Andrew continued on with Janis's new band, while fellow guitarist James Gurley took some time out from making music. Albin and Getz were left adrift.

I had known from various Family Trees and the like that Albin and Getz started jamming together in early 1969. David Nelson, an old South Bay friend of Albin, was known to be one of the participants. Nelson's group The New Delhi River Band had ground to a halt in early 1968, so he too was at loose ends. A few other musicians are vaguely alleged to have jammed with Albin and Getz, but it was difficult to ascertain. However, until I found this listing, I had no idea that Albin and Getz had led any kind of public performance. Who played with them? What did they play?

From 1968 onwards, at least, Monday night was usually "jam night" at the Matrix. A local band or musician would host a jam session. Usually someone was the host for many Monday nights in a row, but sometimes individual musicians or bands would host a single Monday night session. Monday night was a very thin night for performances, so in many ways it was like "musicians night out." When you read about various rumors about famous San Francisco players sitting in at the Matrix, often as not it turns out to have been on a Monday night. Also, to some extent the term "jam" implied as much that the show wouldn't be "regular" rather than specifically that there was a jam. Thus if a group of players wanted to work on something different in public, billing it as a "jam" implied that you wouldn't be seeing a regular set.

In any case, you know what I know. Albin and Getz, who had probably been jamming with their friends somewhere, led a jam session at The Matrix. I would suspect David Nelson was there, since he has acknowledged hanging out with them at the time, but even that is just a guess. Albin and Getz knew everybody and were well liked, and on a Monday night in January almost no musican in San Francisco was working, so absolutely anyone could have played with them.

Tantalizing as this event was, it doesn't seem to have been repeated. The next weekend, January 13, the bill wasn't Albin and Getz--it was "Carlos Santana And Friends," if anything even more fascinating. The next two Mondays (Jan 20 and Jan 27) were not listed in the Chronicle, so while there may have been even better shows, we don't know anything about them. Needless to say, anyone with insights, recovered memories (real or imagined) or amusing speculation is encouraged to chime in.

Postscript: I am no expert on this, but it is plausible that "The Commodores" who are playing at Nero's Nook in Palo Alto, were in fact the Lionel Richie-led band from Tuskegee, AL, who hit it very big in the 1970s. They did sign to Atlantic in 1968, and Nero's Nook, at the swanky Cabana Hyatt House, would be the sort of supper club engagement Atlantic might have tried to find for them.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

1702 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA, January 17, 1969: Indian Puddin' And Pipe/Tripsichord Music Box

(a clipping from the January 17, 1969 San Francisco Chronicle Datebook, announcing shows that would be opening that night)

San Francisco's Straight Theater, located at 1702 Haight Street (at Cole), was seen as the linchpin of a successful Haight Ashbury. The hippies who lived in the neighborhood, bands included, had to go downtown to the Fillmore and the Avalon to make or listen to music. The Straight Theater was an old movie theater that was ripe for conversion to a psychedelic concert hall, but it was blocked by the city of San Francisco in a political struggle over dance permits. By the time the Straight started putting on shows in Summer 1967, the wave had crested somewhat, and the Straight never caught up to its competitors. Although the venue was a crucial part of the Haight community, the Straight never had the cachet of either the Fillmore or the Avalon, but it is remembered fondly. We have attempted to construct the history of musical performances during the Straight Theater's existence as a rock venue, but some gaps persist. Some peculiar listings in the early 1969 San Francisco Chronicle shed some light on an obscure window of the Straight's final months.

January 17, 1969: Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Indian Puddin' and Pipe/Tripsichord Music Box
The Straight was managed in a collective, hippie style, but it was not prepared for the explosion of the rock music in the late 60s. Just as rock music became profitable, the absence of working capital insured that the venue was unable to compete. Up until now,  we had thought that the venue was dark from New Year's 1968/69 through March 1969. That appears to not quite be the case. In early January, Chronicle columnist Ralph J Gleason wrote "the Straight Theater is now running weekends again with local bands." Although I am not aware of any ads, there were a few listings in the Chronicle's Datebook section. The first one, visible up top, featured two groups, Indian Puddin' and Pipe and the Tripsichord Music Box. Both of these groups were also promoted on the weekend of January 31-February 1.

January 31, 1969: Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Indian Puddin' and Pipe/Tripsichord Music Box
What is the significance of these two groups playing some underpublicized shows at the Straight Theater in early 1969? They indicate the unmistakable presence of the infamous promoter Mathew Katz. The rarely photographed Katz had been the manager of Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape when they had first started. Katz was in litigation with the Airplane for over 20 years; the Grape's lawsuit against him was only settled (in their favor) last year, after over 40 years. Few of the musicians who worked with Katz have fond memories of him.

By 1969, Katz was more focused on owning the names of groups, rather than the groups themselves. Both Indian Puddin' and Pipe and Tripsichord Music Box have complex personnel histories that are hard to follow. Katz seemed to believe that a popular group name had more value than the band members who made up the group, and he would pick out the group names himself. From 1967 onwards, Katz also seemed to have an interest in controlling certain venues, at least temporarily, in order to provide an opportunity for his bands to play. How thinly attended concerts at underpublicized venues helped Katz's promotional plans remains impossible to discern.

The whiff of these two listings suggests that Katz took over the booking of the Straight Theater for a month or two in 1969. The lack of other listings is more likely a sign of Katz's unwillingness to actually purchase advertising or pay for posters, just one of his many inexplicable practices. By March of 1969, circulating posters suggest that other entities were attempting to use the Straight for rock shows, even though they weren't successful. However, if Katz was the de facto promoter of the Straight for a month or two in early 1969, it's not surprising that few people recall it and even fewer mention it. Katz has had a lot of bad ju-ju assigned to him over the decades, apparently with some justification, and no one seems to have good memories they want to recall. It's no wonder that this chapter of Straight Theater history has remained unknown.

As near as I can tell, Katz continued to book his bands in distinctly different venues, apart from the regular rock nightlife in the Bay Area. By the mid-summer of 1969, Katz's bands mostly played at a place on 345 Broadway in San Francisco called Headhunters Amusement Park (it was the former site of a club called Goman's Gay 60s). Later in 1969, his bands were regularly listed at the even more mysterious Aheppa Center, at 7400 MacArthur Blvd in Oakland (near the Eastmont Mall). The radio silence that accompanies most of Katz's activities has left these venues complete ciphers that await excavation.