Sunday, July 26, 2020

22700 Old Santa Cruz Highway, Chateau Liberte, Los Gatos, CA: 1970-75 (Santa Cruz Mountains Rock History)

The pool at The Chateau Liberte in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with a tiled representation of "The ZigZag Man." Rock History lives on.

The Chateau Liberte was a former resort hotel that was turned into a hip entertainment enclave in the early 70s. Calling the Chateau Liberte "notorious" doesn't tell the half of it. Although the Liberte is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and on the Old Santa Cruz Highway, it is actually in Santa Clara County. In the early 70s, the Santa Cruz Mountains had plenty of cheap, inaccessible housing, so those hills were full of bikers, pot growers, entrepreneurs and layabouts. Many Mountain residents fit more than one of these categories, and all of them hung out at Chateau Liberte on weekends.

"The Chateau" had originally been a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop. From 1920 to 1945, it was a resort called Chateau Boussy, a French restaurant and resort, noted as a hideaway for important political figures to stash their mistresses. When it got taken over by hippies in the early 70s, it became infamous for its swimming pool, which had a tiled "Zig Zag Man" adorning the swimming pool. The Chateau had a deserved reputation for being a hangout for the Hell's Angels, but many people who went there claim that it was mostly a mellow scene.

The cover of Doobie Brothers debut album (Warner Brothers '71), taken at the Chateau Liberte bar.

In 1970, when The Chateau first got rolling, one of the regular bands was Mountain Current, led by Matthew Kelly and John Tomasi (John Tomasi was the former lead singer of The New Delhi River Band). Mountain Current often shared the stage with either The Doobie Brothers or Hot Tuna, who tended to alternate weekends. Often the nights ended up in a big jam. The cover of the first Doobie Brothers album was taken at the Chateau Liberte bar, and the second Hot Tuna album (First Pull Up, Then Pull Down) was recorded there in 1971, with an inner sleeve photo of Tuna on stage at the Chateau.

W.J. McKay, who first frequented the joint as a teenager, recalled how everyone seemed to get along: "You had people that were totally politically opposite, socially opposite," he told me. "Bikers and hippies were about as different as people could be, and yet they totally co-existed up there. They even had their own underground economy going on. Dope had an established exchange rate. Pot was worth so much in weight, for so many hits of acid. The hippies and the bikers totally worked together. They exchanged food, they worked on each other's vehicles, they did chores for each other."

"It wasn't just a legendary rock & roll bar," McKay said. "It was an example of music and people breaking barriers, for better or worse, in one of the most beautiful natural coastal rain forests in the world. It was a scene that will never be re-created, and hopefully never forgotten."

Mountain Current had a floating membership, depending on who Kelly could get to play each weekend. Future Kingfish guitarist Robbie Hoddinott, then just out of Los Altos High School, played when he could. One other member of Mountain Current that I know was a temporary one, legendary South Bay guitarist Billy Dean Andrus. Andrus was the frontman for the popular San Jose band Weird Herald, fondly remembered by all who saw them (and by those lucky enough to have heard anything from their unreleased album on Onyx). Andrus was some character, however, and at one point around 1970 he was fired from Weird Herald, who temporarily replaced him with old Garcia pal Peter Grant. Andrus played with Mountain Current for about six weeks. Andrus liked to jam, and the suggestion was that he just plugged in and roared with Mountain Current. Andrus particularly enjoyed jamming with Hot Tuna (and no doubt the Doobies) when the shows were winding down.

How legendary was Billy Dean Andrus? He died in November of 1970, apparently after a wild party, and it hit all his friends hard, particularly those who were musicians. Kelly described the scene from that event, and it was so scary that the cops were afraid to come down the road to the club. After a nearly 24-hour blowout, with the musicians (and everyone else) high from too much crank, everybody tried to come down. Andrus took too much dope, and OD'd. Everybody took it hard.

Jorma Kaukonen, one of Andrus'  closest friends, wrote "Ode To Billy Dean," and Hot Tuna not only started playing the song by the end of that month, they still play it to this day.  Doobie Brothers' guitarist Pat Simmons had known Andrus when Simmons was just a teenager, working in folk clubs like The Brass Knocker. Simmons also wrote a song for Billy Dean, called "Black Water" ("Oh black water/Keep on rollin''/Mississippi Moon, won't you keep on shining on me"), and it became a worldwide hit that everyone recognizes. Pat Simmons and the Doobies still play that song, today, too.

In late 1974 and early 1975, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir each played a few shows at The Chateau. In Garcia's case, I think he was just filling in the date book for an empty weekend, as the venue was tiny even by his standards. Kingfish, on the other hand, seemed to have used the gigs to give Bob Weir a chance to get his sea legs with the band. According to various accounts, the sound man at The Chateau was quite willing to let tapers plug in, so even though the gigs were obscure, tapes from the venue circulated relatively widely.

One other unique piece of Grateful Dead history took place at the Chateau Liberte: a very rare showing of the Sunshine Daydream movie, way back in 1974. I know it was also shown once at Stanford University around that time as well, as I recall not going because "how could it be any good if I hadn't heard of it?" Today, the Chateau Liberte is owned by a real estate agent, and the house is a private residence. It is hard to get to, and can't be seen from the road anyway. But the pool is still intact, apparently, so rock and roll history does live on.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. I didn't remember much of this. Of course I don't remember what I had for breakfast. I was there for the recording of "First pull up then pull down".