Thursday, August 5, 2021

March 20, 1970 The Prune Pit, 30 S. Central Avenue, Campbell, CA: Ship Of The Sun (Lost Horizons 1970 IV)

Recently I have been focusing my research on rock shows in the Bay Area in the early 1970s, focusing particularly on the lower tiers. With patience, I have done good research on the Matrix, the Keystone Berkeley, the Long Branch and a few other clubs. Yet I consistently come across tantalizing details of other venues, different untold stories and an insight into the unexplained. Without further information, I am often stuck with just the hint, not anything like the actual story.

My research method focuses on finding dates and venues where bands have performed, and constructing a narrative based on available sources. It sounds simple, but it reaps many benefits. Rather than assume what the motives and goals of different bands or promoters might be, I can let the evidence of actual performances tell me what is desired and what has resulted. The limits of this method, ultimately, are constrained by the limits of my available sources. From the 1960s and '70s, we don't always have that much evidence, so it can be hard to figure out the story. Not all old sources have been digitized, and in many cases a lot of shows were not advertised in any paper. If no local flyers were preserved, or there aren't other sources we can be left with very little. 

Lost Horizons, 1970
The Lost Horizons posts are a series of posts that I can't complete. In some cases I wish someone else would write the post, in other cases I'm hoping someone else has already written it, and in some others I am hoping for more information so I can try and take them on. There's no real connection between any of these topics, save for the device that there was a live performance in 1970 that intrigued my interest. My blogs have an explicitly rock and roll orientation, but my methodological approach veers off in different directions. Fernand Braudel, Reynar Banham, Marcy (emptywheel) Wheeler--it's still rock and roll to me. I'm hoping that the magic of the Internet and eternal Comment Threads will yield up information hitherto unknown to me. If you have any insights, corrections or entertaining speculation, please Comment.

The Berkeley Barb
The Berkeley Barb had been founded by Max Scherr in 1965. The weekly paper made a point of documenting the local counterculture. The readership was distinct from anyone subscribing to the local daily papers (the San Fransisco Chronicle or Examiner, the Oakland Tribune or the Berkeley Gazette). The Barb reported on protests, pot busts, sexual freedom and local rock shows. The ads were for organic foods, head shops or local crafts. The Barb was an alternative paper for an alternative audience. It was sold by hippies to other hippies for a dime or a quarter.  I don't know if the Berkeley Barb was the first such "underground" paper, but it was one of them, and it was a model for such papers all over the country.

By 1970, the Barb was being read all over the Bay Area. I don't know the exact details, but I believe that even outside of Berkeley the paper was available in Head Shops, espresso joints and other hip places throughout the Bay Area. At the back of every issue of the Barb was "Scenedrome," a summary of upcoming and ongoing events in the next week that might be of interest to its readers. While that would always include shows at Fillmore West, for example, it also included performers at Telegraph Avenue coffee shops, foreign movies, political meetings, self-help groups and all sorts of other gatherings. Getting listed in Scenedrome any week was free--someone just had to call the Barb by Tuesday at noon. So for hippie events that were on a shoestring, or just free, calling the Scenedrome was the cheapest way to get publicity. 

While Berkeley events had always been posted in Scenedrome every week since 1965, by 1970 it was plain that the rest of the Bay Area was paying attention as well. The Friday and Saturday listings in Scenedrome went well beyond Berkeley, a clear indicator that the Barb had a broader readership beyond central Berkeley. So we get tantalizing hints of what was going on around the Bay Area, without really knowing exactly what it was. Most of my notices below come from little more than the barest of listings in the appropriate issue of the Berkeley Barb, with occasional supplements from other sources.

The tallest of the Pruneyard Towers (at 1875 S. Bascom Ave, Campbell) is a familiar landmark on CA-17

March 20, 1970 The Prune Pit, Campbell, CA: Ship Of The Sun
In this case, the Barb listing in Scenedrome is a one-off. A club in a San Jose suburb phoned in a listing to the Scenedrome. Ship Of The Sun appears to have been an original rock band--I recognize their name from other listings--but other than that I know nothing about them. It's entirely possible that the band themselves phoned the gig into the Scenedrome. I don't really know anything else about the club or the band, leaving only hypothetical speculation about the venue or the circumstances. Fortunately, I excel at that.

Let's start with the club name: The Prune Pit.  Who thought that "The Prune Pit" was a great name for a nightclub? Now, for those who know South Bay history, this isn't quite as odd as it seems. Campbell, CA is now just a suburb of greater San Jose, but back in 1878, founder William Campbell had sold some of his land holdings to a railroad company. The area became a railroad stop, and a location for dried fruit processing. Farmers would deliver their fruit to the local canneries for drying and processing. So the connection to prunes was native to Campbell (not incorporated as a town until 1952).

In fact, the essential mid-20th century engine of Campbell was The Pruneyard Shopping Center, at 1875 South Bascom Avenue, founded in 1964. The huge, multi-use development, includes three office towers. The tallest of them, visible from CA-Highway 17, is the tallest building outside of downtown San Jose. So the "Prune" reference was local to Campbell. The listing in the Barb (above) also says DANCE/CONCERT and FREE. In 1970, "Dance/Concert" was code for "hippies." It meant no tables, or not many anyway, and loud rock where the crowd could sway to their heart's content. "Free," of course, meant no cover charge, a whiff that perhaps this was a promotion by a new club, trying to encourage first-timers. In early 1970, there weren't any clubs in the San Jose area booking original rock music. One club near the San Jose State campus, the Red Ram (at 444 E. Williams St) had attempted it, but seemed to have rapidly given it up.

The address of the Prune Pit has a bit of rock history to it as well. 30 South Central Avenue in Campbell was ultimately the site of a club called The Bodega. The Bodega, starting about 1974, was basically a Silicon Valley beer joint, with Top 40 bands providing the music. On Thursday nights, however. the Bodega had original rock bands, so groups like Elvin Bishop and Kingfish would play there, but only on Thursdays. One of the partners in The Bodega would open a similar club in Palo Alto called Sophie's in 1975, with a broader booking policy. The Jerry Garcia Band,among others, played Sophie's with some regularity. Ultimately Sophie's became the Keystone Palo Alto. 

I should add, as a teenage radio listener in the Bay Area back in '74, no white people in the Bay Area had any concept of what a "Bodega" might be, at least none of us outside of San Jose. It was just the name of a club mentioned on FM radio. So the one-off listing in the Barb of the oddly-named Prune Pit in Campbell reflects Campbell's historic past and hints at the Keystone Palo Alto. If you stretch it.