Monday, July 20, 2009
September 30-October 1, 1967: Frenchy's, Hayward, CA: Sly and The Family Stone plus T-Bone Walker
This advertisement from the September 29, 1967 Oakland Tribune (left) features two acts that between them encompass a huge swath of American and African-American music history.
T-Bone Walker (1910-1975) was the founding father of modern electric blues guitar, and by extension rock guitar as well--you can take B.B. King's word for it if you don't believe me. Already a popular singer and guitarist in Los Angeles prior to World War 2, Walker recorded "Mean Old World" in 1942, and after the WW2 recording ban was lifted, "Stormy Monday" in 1947. Although the recordings are primitive by modern standards, the style of singing and playing still sounds contemporary. BB King, J0hnny Guitar Watson and Clarence Gatemouth Brown were among the most prominent successors to Walker, but Jeff Beck and Steve Miller owe plenty to him as well. Walker also recorded in a grittier Chicago blues style for Atlantic in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Walker was not only a huge recording star, but reputedly a fantastic performer as well, capitalizing on the electric guitar's qualities by playing the guitar behind his back, or walking out into the crowd. Chuck Berry--whose style owes plenty to Walker, particularly in his blues playing--also seems to have built on Walker's showmanship.
Unfortunately, by the time of the "Blues Revival" in the mid-1960s, Walker was not in great health and only performed and recorded sporadically. More's the pity, since a healthy and hungry T-Bone would have woken up the Fillmore in a big hurry. Great players like BB, Albert and Freddie King reinvented their careers for white rock audiences, and its unfortunate that T-Bone never really got that opportunity.
Vallejo, California's Sly and The Family Stone are one of the most important groups in American popular music. As Joel Selvin says, "there is 'before Sly', and 'after Sly'." The group's potent mix of original songs, danceable hits, meaningful lyrics and exciting stage presence made them a huge force in American music when they set out to conquer the world in 1968
In 1967, however, Sly and The Family Stone were just a popular attraction in Bay Area and Nevada clubs, often playing week long engagements at dance-oriented clubs. Among the venues I have seen them listed playing at are Winchester Cathedral and The Fireside Room (2322 El Camino Real) in San Mateo, The Lighthouse in San Pablo (San Pablo Ave at San Pablo Dam Road) and Frenchy's. Frenchy's, in Hayward (at 29097 Mission Boulevard), was one such club. It had been open for some years, trying various formats, including topless shows, floor shows, rock music and other combinations. During 1967 Frenchy's seemed to focus on popular, danceable music.
Note that the advertised show is a "breakfast show" from 2am to 6am. Bars closed at 2am in California, but some places were allowed to remain open afterwards (if they served food) and continue the entertainment. No liquor was served, but I can't imagine that none was consumed. Groups would play these gigs after they finished their regular gig for the night. Sly and The Family Stone probably had another gig on Friday night (Sep 29) and came to Frenchy's to kick off the all-nighter at 2 am Saturday morning.
I wonder if T-Bone Walker even had a regular band? If he didn't--a likely possibility--a local band would have to support him, which is not as difficult as it sounds, since every decent blues player would have known his hits. If a band had to be hired, I have to hope that Sly and The Family Stone got a few extra bucks to be his backing group. The idea that T-Bone Walker led Freddy, Sly, Larry Graham, Gregg Errico and the horns (Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson) through "Stormy Monday" and "Let's Have A Natural Ball" represents a true cosmic convergence.
Cosmic convergences can happen anywhere, even in a bar in Mission Boulevard in Hayward at 3 am. T-Bone was not reputedly in great shape in the mid-60s, but I hope he had a good enough night that Sly's rhythm machine could turn up the heat and the lucky, tired patrons got to see the future and the past of American music at the same time.