Friday, June 26, 2020

Petrus w/Ruthann Friedman and Peter Kaukonen (Half Moon Bay, CA-1968)


The SF Chronicle Datebook from March 1, 1968 announces what appears to be the debut performance of the band Petrus, at the Straight Theater in the Haight-Ashbury
The San Francisco Bay Area band Petrus, which seems to only have existed in the Spring of 1968, was hardly a major band. They never released an album, and I have only been able to find evidence of a small number of shows. Still, despite their low profile, they are fairly intriguing. In this post, I have attempted to put together what I could find out about the band.

Petrus was based in El Granada, near Half Moon Bay, of all places, on the opposite side of the hill from San Mateo. The lead guitarist was Peter Kaukonen, Jorma's brother. Peter had been Jorma's first choice as electric bassist for the Jefferson Airplane back in October '65, but Peter had had to stay in Stanford to avoid the draft, so the bass chair had gone to Jack Casady instead.

More intriguingly, the lead singer and principal songwriter of Petrus was Ruthann Friedman. Friedman was an interesting Los Angeles songwriter, best known for writing "Windy," which hit #1 for The Association in July 1967 (when you hear it, you'll realize that everyone knows it's "Windy").

Friedman (b.1944), from the Bronx, had moved to Southern California as a young teenager. She had fallen in with the young folk crowd, playing guitar and singing. After 1964, she bounced around a bit, first to Denver and then to San Francisco in 1966.

Around the time that Signe Anderson left Jefferson Airplane (October 1966), Ruthann was living in Haight-Ashbury with members of the band. She was briefly considered to be their new vocalist. “The Jefferson Airplane gave me enough money to buy boots… They didn’t take me, which was smart. I mean, Grace Slick, how can you turn that down? While I was up there, I sang with Country Joe and the Fish at the Avalon Ballroom and learned the pleasures of Southern Comfort from Janis Joplin and purple acid from Owsley.” 

Back in Los Angeles by1967, Friedman began working with various Los Angeles players, including songwriter Tandyn Almer, who had written "Along Comes Mary" for The Association."
“Tandyn asked me if I’d like to come in and sing on a Goodyear tire commercial. It was a parody of Nancy Sinatra’s hit, (sings "These tires are made for walking"). Soon after Tandyn asked Ruthann to sing on a new song he wrote with John Walsh called “Little Girl Lost–and–Found.” “I fell in love with that song. Tom Shipley [of Brewer & Shipley] and I sang the vocal parts. It was Tandyn and Larry Marks’ studio project. Why they didn’t release it under my name I could never understand. That could’ve been my entrĂ©e.”

“Little Girl” was issued by A&M in April 1967 under the moniker The Garden Club and the single was a regional success, especially in Los Angeles where it received a significant amount of airplay. As a result, Ruthann was asked to form a live “Garden Club” to help promote the record. Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane) suggested his brother Peter for the “Club.” As a result, Ruthann and Peter became fast lovers, traveled up and down the coast, and formed a band called Petrus.

Concurrent to this activity, Ruthann received a call from Association member Jim Yester’s wife, Jo-Ellen, inquiring if she had any songs suitable for them to record. Ruthann suggested a new tune she had written while living in a single underneath David Crosby’s house on Beverly Glen. “It only took me 20 minutes to write, and I wrote it as an escape."

“Windy” went to Number One in July 1967, staying there for four weeks, and reached Number 3 on Billboard’s Top 100 Songs of 1967. “I ended up not getting any of the publishing, and if I had a decent person representing me, I would’ve made out much better.
Ruthann Friedman's 1970 solo album Constant Companion, on A&M Records. Peter Kaukonen played some guitar parts, co-wrote some songs and did the cover art. The album is the only hint of what a Petrus albummight have sounded like
 I have only found traces of a few Petrus shows in the Bay Area, and the Carousel one seems to be the most notable. Petrus broke up later in 1968, as did Peter and Ruthann. Friedman went on to release one interesting solo album in 1970, Constant Companion, which included some co-writing credits, guitar parts and cover art from Peter Kaukonen. Friedman only recorded and performed intermittently after that, but she is still around. Peter went on to play with Hot Tuna, Jefferson Starship and even the final version of the Jefferson Airplane, and has continued to have a long and interesting musical career. If there are any lost Carousel tapes in the Owsley Archives, I hope Petrus is one of them. If they had recorded, the combination of a famous songwriter and a talented Kaukonen could have been interesting indeed.

I think Petrus was a conventional rock quartet, with Peter Kaukonen on lead guitar, Ruthann Friedman on gutar, and a bassist and drummer. But I don't even know that for sure.

March 1-2, 1968 Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Charlie Musselwhite/Santana Blues Band/Petrus
The Straight Theater was at 1702 Haight Street, in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury. By the time it had opened in late 1967, however, the hippies had moved out of the Haight, and the neighborhood itself had declined. Kids from the suburbs, the real rock audience, weren't going to drive all the way into the neighborhoods. The Straight, though fondly remembered, floundered as a business. A lot of cool San Francisco bands played there, but mostly to tiny crowds.

Charlie Musselwhite may have still had Harvey Mandel on lead guitar. The Santana Blues Band was still 15 months from their debut album and Woodstock tour de force, but they were a good blues band. Carlos and organist Gregg Rolie were the only band members at this time who would appear at Woodstock.

April 16-18, 1968 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Petrus
Petrus lived on top of a hill in nearby Half Moon Bay, about 22 miles Northwest of Palo Alto, only a mile or so from the beach and not convenient to anywhere. However, the Poppycock, at 135 University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, would have been the nearest venue to the band’s hilltop home.  The Poppycock was Palo Alto's leading rock club from 1967 through 1970. Although not a major club, lots of original bands played the Bay Area circuit, playing clubs like The Poppycock in the hopes of getting an opening slot at the Fillmore or the Avalon.

The Palo Alto Times reviewed Petrus on April 17, 1968 (reproduced on Ruthann Friedman's now-incactive website). This itself was rare: the conservative Times generally paid no attention to rock music, and certainly not to the Poppycock. For some reason, the Times reveiwed the Thursday night show at the club.
Ralph Gleason's Ad Lib column in the SF Chronicle mentions Petrus at The Poppycock on Friday and Saturday, May 10-11, 1968 (they probably played Thursday May 9 as well)
May 10-11, 1968 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Petrus 
Things must have gone well, as Petrus returned to the Poppycock a few weeks later (they probably played Thursday, May 9, as well).
May 18, 1968 Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Allmen Joy/Curley Cooke's Hurdy Gurdy Band/Petrus
May 19, 1968 Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Flamin' Groovies/Curley Cooke's Hurdy Gurdy Band/Petrus
Petrus returned to the Straight a few months after their debut. The bands playing the Straight were, if anything, more obscure than before. Allmen Joy was not Duane and Gregg Allman's band (their band was called Hour Glass, and based in Los Angeles). James "Curley" Cooke had been in the first Berkeley version of the Steve Miller Band. The Flamin' Groovies were a local band who preferred British Invasion-style music to the typical SF blues-jamming.
May 31, June 1-2, 1968 Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Charlie Musselwhite/Petrus (Friday-Sunday)
Jun 2, 1968 The Panhandle, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Charlie Musselwhite/Petrus
(Sunday afternoon free) 
Everything to do with the Grateful Dead takes on a much higher profile historically than they usually did at the time. The Dead were infamous, of course, and genuine rock stars by 1968, but they weren't enormously popular. The Dead, Jefferson Airplane and others were trying to run the Carousel Ballroom as a competitor to Bill Graham and Chet Helms, and it was failing dismally. For this weekend at the Carousel, the Dead headlined over Charlie Musselwhite and Petrus for three days. On the last day, the bands played a free concert in the Panhandle.
Among other things, the dates on the poster are wrong, and Petrus' name is mispelled as "Petris."  Like most shows at the Carousel, this was poorly attended, and the venue closed within a few weeks. Bill Graham took it over and renamed it the Fillmore West.

June 7-8, 1968 The Ark, Sausalito, CA: Petrus/Flamin' Groovies
The last glimpse of Petrus was at The Ark, in Sausaliot. A grounded ferryboat, the Charles Van Damme, had been made into a sort of floating restaurant and hangout. Bands would play on Friday and Saturday night, and another band would play a "Breakfast Show" from 2-6am on Sunday morning (this weekend it was the Marin band Transantlantic Railroad).

Petrus drops off the radar after playing The Ark. They probably broke up shortly after. Ruthann Friedman continued to recrdd, and then abruptly retired from the music industry for family reasons around 1973. In 2006, after getting her degree at UCLA and raising a family, re-releases of Constant Companion led to her return to performance. Peter Kaukonen went on to play in Hot Tuna, Black Kangaroo and various solo projects, in a professional music career extending many decades. He was in the initial touring lineup of Jefferson Starship, and later part of the reunified Jefferson Airplane in 1990.

The Flowers>Solid State (1967 Palo Alto Psychedelic Rock)



An ad in the April 21, 1967 Stanford Daily for the opening of The Poppycock, a Fish 'N' Chips joint that also presented music. It was Palo Alto's primarry rock club from 1967-1969. The Flowers (later Solid State) were effectively the house band throughout 1967, playing more weekends than not.

Update: thanks to this post, I got in contact with Flowers bassist Gordon Stevens, and I learned the complete story of The Flowerw, plus pictures! Is the internet great or what?

 

 

Palo Alto, California, is only a town of about 60,000, about 35 miles South of San Francisco, and yet it looms large in the world, far out of proportion to its modest size. Palo Alto residents, like the residents of most small towns, think the world revolves around itself.

Palo Alto, by its own accounting, played a big part in 60s psychedelic rock and roll. The history of the Fillmore and The Avalon always begins with Ken Kesey at Stanford, and the parties and acid tests that followed. Of course, Kesey's cottage was really next door in Menlo Park, but that sort of detail never interfered with a Palo Alto story. At the same time, Jerry Garcia and other bohemians were hanging out in downtown Palo Alto, even if they often lived in Menlo Park themselves. Certainly, Jerry Garcia started playing live in Stanford and Palo Alto, and he took acid for the first time in Palo Alto, and by the end of 1965 Garcia was the lead guitarist in an electric blues band. The Warlocks--who debuted themselves in Menlo Park--became the Grateful Dead, and the house band of The Merry Pranksters, and Palo Alto's place in the rock revolution was secure.

For all that, however, there were only four Palo Alto psychedelic bands. After the Dead came David Nelson's New Delhi River Band. Although based in Palo Alto, the NDRB primarily had a following in Santa Cruz and the South Bay. I have researched the New Delhi River Band's history in great detail. There was also the Anonymous Artists Of America, founded at Stanford University, and intimately connected to Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters. They lived in a crumbling mansion in the hills above Redwood City. I have not gotten around to their full story, but they aren't innaccessible on the internet (google "Trixie Merkin" if you aren't at work). So that leaves The Flowers.

The Flowers were the Palo Alto pyschedelic band who played the most in Palo Alto, and they were intricatley connected to the Ken Kesey axis. Because they never recorded, and there aren't even any photographs of the band, they are all but entirely forgotten. That is what rock archaeology is all about.


The corner of University Avenue and High Street in downtown Palo Alto, as it appeared in 2018 (looking East towards downtown)
April 14-15, 1967  The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: San Francisco Mime Troupe/The Flowers
April 20, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers 
April 21-22, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: San Francisco Mime Troupe/The Flowers
Palo Alto's first rock club was a place called The Big Beat, way south of downtown. It is infamous as the site of the Palo Alto Acid Test on December 18, 1965, just prior to its opening. The Acid Test, aside, the club featured bands playing covers, and appealed to factory workers in the South Bay. The second rock club was The Poppycock, which opened on April 14, 1967. It was downtown, near the Stanford campus, at the corner of University Avenue and High Street (hard to make this up). I have written in great detail about the history of The Poppycock.

The first band to play the  Poppycock was The Flowers. They had played on opening weekend after the Mime Troupe, an on Thursday, April 20, they were the only act.  I think The Flowers played sort of spacey jazz. I did google to find out who was in the band, but the only direct reference was in a Roman-a-Clef novel, so the names may have been changed to obscure the guilty. The names I did find were:
Paul Robertson-tenor sax
Don Alberts-Farfisa organ
Gordon Stevens-electric bass, mandolin
Buddy Barnhill-drums
I have no idea if this was actually representative of the regular membership, or just a lineup for one time period. It is generally overlooked that during their acid tests, the Merry Pranksters liked making music on various electric instruments. Ken Kesey had a little money from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and some of it was spent on some comparatively expensive electric gear. The Pranksters habit of performing is overlooked because the Grateful Dead's performances, however spaced out, were far more memorable. Also, limted evidence suggest that the Pranksters weren't very good musicians. In any case, saxophonist Paul Robertson had been Ken Kesey's laywer, and when the Merry Pranksters decamped for Mexico in late 1966 (since Kesey had gotten busted), Robertson got the Pranksters' musical equipment. 
Gordon Stevens was the son of the proprietor of Stevens Music in San Jose (he would turn up in Moby Grape a few years later). Stevens Music, at 1202 Lincoln Avenue in the Willow Glen district, sold instruments to all the South Bay bands, and Don Buchla could be found in the back room constructing strange synthesizers. So the members of The Flowers had the psychedelic credentials, even if there's no actual trace of their music today.

Don Alberts (1932-2018) had been raised in the Bay Area, but had moved to Portland, OR, where he played piano for a variety of touring acts. He returned to the Bay Area, where he not only played jazz, but published jazz compositions and wrote books. What little information I could find about The Flowers came from his novel (linked above) The Rushing: Manbaby and The Crooked Road To The Big Time. Alberts also recollects Stevens playing mandolin with The Flowers, which only adds to the mystery of what they might have sounded like.

Alfred "Buddy" Barnhill (1938-2011) grew up in Los Gatos, CA. He played drums with a wide variety of well-known jazz musicians. So the jazz credentials of The Flowers were well established. Only the Farfisa organ seems to indicate a rock orientation. On the other hand, older hippies liked jazz, so some extended Coltrane style jamming probably went down well when minds were flying high.
April 27-29, 1967: The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
May 4-6,1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA The Flowers
May 11-13, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
I have listed every booking of The Flowers that I have been able to find. In fact, from April through June 1967, The Flowers probably played just about every weekend, but I am only including those were there has been concrete evidence. Downtown Palo Alto was a peculiar place in the 60s, and The Poppycock was thus a peculiar sort of rock club, even by 1960s standards.

Palo Alto had been founded by the railroad magnates Leland Stanford and Timothy Hopkins as the town adjacent to the new Stanford University. Stanford opened in 1892, but the foundation of Palo Alto dated back to 1875. A condition of Palo Alto's formation was that there were no bars downtown. After prohibition ended, Palo Alto relaxed slightly, and allowed beer and wine to be served at restaurants. Palo Alto residents, however, liked having no bars, and there were still no bars in the 1960s. At the same time, the revolutionary Stanford Shopping Center had opened in 1955, and wiped out many of the downtown Palo Alto business. So downtown Palo Alto was empty, yet had no bars.

The Poppycock was.a Fish 'N' Chips shop, but it also served beer. In 1967 Palo Alto, Fish 'N' Chips counted as ethnic cuisine. The Poppycock was open 7 days a week for takeout, and in a back room they served beer and had performers. There were no bars in Palo Alto, and hippies weren't that welcome, so The Poppycock became the de facto hippie hangout. To my knowledge, there were performances 7 nights a week at the Poppycock. On weeknights, they might be local folksingers, or jazz trios or just old movies, but there was always something. Generally, The Flowers held down the Thursday to Saturday slot, starting at 9:00pm with admission for 50 cents or a dollar.
May 14, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA MPFU Be-In (local bands)
 Have you ever wondered where the cliche started of replacing "Intro To English Lit" with "Underwater Basket Weaving?" It started in Palo Alto, because Palo Alto likes to start things. The Mid-Peninsula Free University (MPFU), or "Free You," was a loose affiliation of young Stanford professors and learned drop-outs who wanted things to be different. This was somehow connected to "The Experiment" (see April 10 '67 above). MPFU published a catalog of unique classes given in people's homes or community centers, offering instruction in all sorts of things. The Free You story is too long and too Palo Alto to go into here, but Palo Alto always documents itself, so you can read all about it.

In order to raise money for itself, the Free You decide to have a "Be-In," rather than a benefit concert. They held a free concert with local bands--I have never been able to find out who they were, although I suspect the Flowers were there--at El Camino Park in Palo Alto. El Camino Park was a grassy athletic field across from both The Stanford Shopping Center and ‘El Palo Alto’ (the tall tree that gave the city its name). The Park (at 100 El Camino Real) was at the intersection of Palo Alto Avenue, Alma Street and El Camino Real at the Palo Alto/Menlo Park border, and within easy walking distance of downtown. It is Palo Alto’s oldest park, first open in 1914.

After the initial “Human Be-In” in Golden Gate Park (on Jan 14 '67), The Diggers, the Grateful Dead and other like-minded souls were holding Be-Ins in the Bay Area and around the continent. There were Be-Ins (or similar events) in Los Angeles (Griffith Park), New York (Tompkins Square) and Vancouver (Stanley Park), for example, and around the Bay Area in Berkeley (Provo Park), San Jose (10th and Alma) and finally Palo Alto. The Palo Alto event capped a brief era that had begun only a half-mile away at Perry Lane. While Palo Alto’s leading hippies were migrating North to San Francisco or West to the Santa Cruz Mountains, the scene’s beginnings were still present. Palo Alto, while unhip, was a tolerant town and seemed perfectly willing to allow revelry to take place in a city park on a weekend afternoon. It went so well, Free You decided to have another one six weeks later.

I have never been able to find out who actually performed at the first Be-In, but I am 100% confident that The Flowers were one of the bands.

May 19-21, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
May 26-28, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers

July 2, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In
Grateful Dead/ /Anonymous Artists of America/New Delhi River Band/Solid State/Good Word
Since the network news had covered the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park back in January, the music industry caught the wave, and it all led to the Monterey Pop Festival on the weekend of June 16-18, 1967. All of the San Francisco bands, with only the barest of record sales, if that, were high profile guests with hip acts from London, Los Angeles and New York. Attendance at the Monterey Fairgrounds was somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000, far more than anyone had anticipated. After Monterey Pop ended, the Dead's crew cheerily absconded with the rented Fender amps. According to Rock Scully and a few others, they used the amps to put on free concerts for a short while. The Palo Alto Be-In was clearly one of these events. After a while, Scully contacted Fender and told them in which warehouse their borrowed amps were located, and invited them to pick them up. Scully thoughtfully added, "if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to where flowers in your hair."
Although details about the Palo Alto Be-In have been hard to come by, quite unexpectedly several rolls of film turned up. Happily, they are in the safe hands of the Grateful Dead Archive at UC Santa Cruz, and can be viewed in detail by anyone so inclined. If only every Dead show had 145 photographs. A careful look at the complete photo set shows that the first two bands were neither New Delhi River Band nor The Flowers. From the article in the Stanford Daily (above), we can see that The Flowers were now using the name Solid State. As the band is largely a mystery, I have no idea why they changed their name. It's possible, though, that "Flowers" had become a hippie cliche.

My father, not interested in rock music per se, but having the foresight to recognize cultural touchstones when they occurred in his town, took his whole family—I was nine years old. I mainly recall Bill Kreutzmann’s psychedelically painted drum set, and my younger sister getting her face painted by nice hippie girls. My older sister recalls the Dead playing “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” (which is how that song made it into Deadbase). So it's possible that I even saw Solid State, though not necessarily likely.

July 28-29, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Solid State (formerly The Flowers)
Solid State was the new name for The Flowers. Had their been personnel changes in the band? Were they still playing every weekend? (If anyone knows, please Comment). The indication is that Solid State were still the house band, but the information is slight. It may be that Flowers/Solid State only ever played in Palo Alto, a very surprising history for a professional rock band.
October 4, 6-7 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Solid State
The Poppycock mostly stopped advertising in the Stanford Daily after the Spring '67 quarter, so my information about Poppycock shows is very scarce. For the fist Stanford Daily issue of the Fall '67 quarter, however, The Poppycock had a relatively big display ad in the paper. When there weren't touring acts, Solid State was holding down the weekend. That suggests to me that Solid State still played the Poppycock regularly, but possibly not with the frequency of the Spring. The rock market in the Bay Area (and indeed the world) was exploding, and rock fans wanted to see something new and different each weekend, rather than just the same old house band.

A few Bay Area clubs that featued original rock along with some blues and folk was starting to surface. There was the Matrix in San Francisco, along with Mandrakes's and the New Orleans House in Berkeley. Slowly, the Poppycock would become a South Bay stop on the local circuit. The best bands in each of the counties would play the other clubs, and start to develop a name. In turn they would get the chance to open at the Fillmore or the Avalon. 

Solid State did no such thing. To my knowledge, they only played Palo Alto. I can find no trace of The Flowers or Solid State outside of The Poppycock and El-Camino Park, a unique and peculiar history for any working band.

October 1, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Steve Miller Band/New Delhi River Band/Solid State MPFU Be-In
Solid State definitely played the third Palo Alto Be-In of 1967 (it's mentioned in Don Alberts' novel).  This edition of the Steve Miller Band featured the classic lineup with Boz Scaggs, although their first album (Children Of The Future) was still almost a year rom release. The New Delhi River Band, meanwhile, after early success, was starting to lose momentum. The NDRB had a following in the South Bay, but The Barn, their home base, had closed, and the group had not broken into the more lucrative San Francisco scene.
The Solid State trail goes cold after October, 1967. Although my Poppycock lists are not complete, there are more listings in various papers, and none of them mention Solid State. My guess is that The Poppycock bookings became fewer, and the band simpply disappeared.

A flyer for The Poppycock in February 1968, advertising The Flowers on Feb 21. Was it the same Flowers as before, reverting to their earlier name, or another group?

February 21, 1968 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Flowers
There is one final, mysterious coda to story of The Flowers. By early 1968, The Poppycock was starting to book bands on weekends that played around the Bay Area. Some of them had even signed record contracts, or even had albums. It does appear, from limited evidence, that local rock bands still played The Poppycock on weekdays. 

On Wednesday, February 21, 1968 The Flowers were booked again at The Poppycock. Was this a reunion? Had they been playing somewhere else? Was this a different group using the Flowers name? Like most things about The Flowers, we can only guess. Indeed, given the passage of time, we may never find out

By 1967, Palo Alto had four psychedelic bands. One became a legend, another had well-known members in it, and a third was infamous. The Flowers remain, glimsed distantly from the past, as though in a foggy haze.

135 University Avenue in Palo Alto, the former site of The Poppycock, at the corner of University and High, as it appeared in 2010