|Bassist Gordon Stevens and his wife made this banner on their living room floor in 1966, and hung it behind the band when they played (if it was possible). It's still intact as of Summer 2020|
For reasons of my own, I spent a number of decades seeking out the history of the New Delhi River Band. The NDRB were the "other" psychedelic blues band from Palo Alto, so their story was as if the Grateful Dead were in a parallel world where nothing went right. Once the internet was invented, the research got easier, and I started to find out some things, and I even found some sources. Eventually, I succeeded in my quest, and resurrected the lost history of the New Delhi River Band. But along the way, I learned that there was another, deeper mystery. An old Palo Alto source, by then living in San Antonio (hi Chris), told me there was another psychedelic Palo Alto band: The Flowers.
So I spent another decade patiently waiting for the internet to improve, which it did, and facts to rise to the surface, which they always do. As of last month, I felt I had pieced together enough fragments to at least sketch the apparent history of The Flowers. I sort of knew who was in the band, and although I was only able to find performance dates in Palo Alto proper, it was a start. So there was an outline, at least, enough to publish a blog post.
Lo and behold, a friend doing a documentary spoke to Jerry Garcia's ex-wife, who knew the ex-wife of a member of The Flowers, who in turn knew the bass player. I was able to get in touch with Gordon Stevens, the bass player for The Flowers, and learn the whole story. So here it is--the story of The Flowers, a seminal South Bay psychedelic band, intrinsically linked to Ken Kesey and the South Bay underground. Pictures, too! Is the internet great, or what?
The Flowers and Solid State Performance History 1966-68
Roots Of The Flowers--San Jose and South Bay Jazz
The members of The Flowers were all working jazz musicians in San Jose and the South Bay. In the nature of jazz musicians, they had worked together in different combos over the years, so there was no magical meeting in somebody's parent's garage.
|The original lineup of The Flowers, at the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in late '66/early '67. (L-R) Gordon Stevens (bs), Paul Robertson (alto, flute), Terry Otis (dr), Bob Neloms (organ). [thanks Gordon for all the photos]|
Paul Robertson is best known as Ken Kesey's attorney. He was also a trained musician on flute and alto saxophone, and he had played many a sorority gig when he was an undergrad at Dartmouth. Robertson, according to Gordon Stevens, was the "CEO" of the band, trying to put all the deals together.
|Bob Neloms' solo album from 1963, on Bai Records|
Gordon Stevens (b. San Jose, CA 1936) was a trained musician, having started playing viola in the San Jose Symphony at 16 (his father was Assistant Conductor). The Stevens family also ran a music store in the Willow Glen district in San Jose (with outlets later in other cities, including Fresno). Back in the late 50s, Leo Fender himself had visited their store, delivering two Strats, two Telecasters and two Precision basses. Stevens Music (at 1202 Lincoln Ave) became the official Fender representative at that time, so when the rock explosion hit in the 1960s, Stevens Music was well-placed. According to Gordon Stevens, they once sold 180 new Stratocasters in a month. Stevens had been playing as a professional jazz musician in the San Jose area since 1958.
Terry Otis, another African-American, played drums. He was a jazz player, but there wasn't much work in the South Bay, so he joined The Flowers.
All of the original members of The Flowers had been working jazz musicians in San Jose and the South Bay for several years. They had all made a living, too, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. Still, jazz wasn't growing in popularity. Somehow, Robertson got the idea of forming a sort of electric jazz band, but to play "psychedelic" music. Kesey himself was all aboard. Kesey had made a little money with One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, so he staked Robertson to some electronic equipment.
All of the Merry Pranksters are practically mythological figures, so I won't recap it all here. Suffice to say, not only was Robertson Kesey's attorney, his wife was the sister of the infamous Prankster "Zonker" (Steve Lambrecht), who was the inspiration for the Doonesbury character. So although the members of The Flowers were all jazz musicians--rather than rockers--they had a mainline connection to the psychedelic underground.