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.