Monday, August 31, 2009
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I have since changed my mind about these gigs, having found more evidence. My general points still stand, but I now think the Grateful Dead played the SF Whisky through March 15, 1967--see here
A thoughtful commenter on my post about the San Francisco Whisky reminded me of the scheduled performance by The Grateful Dead at the San Francisco Whisky-A-Go-Go from March 10 through 16, 1967 (Friday through Thursday). I was aware of this event, but I completely dropped the ball in mentioning it. I take some solace in the fact that I am fairly certain that the shows never occurred, which is how I drew the conclusion that the SF Whisky did not last until March of that year. However, since I never explained it, I could hardly have expected anyone to follow my reasoning. I will attempt to rectify this with the current post.
To briefly recap earlier posts, the world famous Whisky-Go-Go in Hollywood opened on January 11, 1964. It drew its name from a disco in Paris, and there already was a similarly named, though unrelated Whisky-A-Go-Go, in Chicago (on Rush and Chestnut). The Hollywood Whisky entrepreneur, Elmer Valentine, seems to have allowed or licensed the name and "concept" to other operators. The San Francisco Whisky-A-Go-Go, now thoroughly forgotten, opened in April, 1965 and seems to have lasted until early 1967. It was located at 568 Sacramento (at Montgomery), sort of near the Financial District but somewhat far from the action on North Beach. The Doors, along with The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, played some gigs at the SF Whisky in February of 1967, but although they were scheduled for two weeks, after two days of tiny crowds The Doors handed off their gig to The Wildflower. The Doors, at least, reported that the venue had gone from a "Go-Go" club, with scantily dressed girls dancing to the music (the Hollywood model) to a topless club, with topless waitresses, a pretty common business practice in the Bay Area at the time.
Most Grateful Dead chronologies, including Deadlists and Dead.net, list March 10-16, 1967 shows for the Dead at the Whisky in Hollywood. This flies in the face of the fact that the surviving poster clearly indicates that the Dead were scheduled to play at the San Francisco Whisky (h/t to commenter psychlops). The book The Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip gets the location correct, although they do not comment on the shows themselves. In any case, most chronologies correctly suspect that the shows did not occur. In order to understand why this is the most plausible scenario--over and above the fact that no surviving tapes, photos or eyewitness accounts exist--we need to discuss the peculiar backstory of the Love Conspiracy Commune.
In 1966, the San Francisco underground exploded into the light, with local bands, drugs and scenes suddenly making waves in the National and Local press. All sorts of people flocked to San Francisco, some of them musicians, some of them future hippies, and some of them looking to make a buck. By 1967 a trickle had become a flood, and what was once a local happening was turning into a conflict between commercial potential and cultural authenticity. This tension would peak at the Monterey Pop Festival in the Summer, but the fault lines were already clear. Although Bill Graham and Chet Helms were the best known promoters in San Francisco (then and now), plenty of other people and groups put on concerts and happenings.
The Love Conspiracy Commune is usually known only from posters, having presented four events in San Francisco:
February 14-27, Whisky A-Go-Go (568 Sacramento): The Doors/Peanut Butter Conspiracy
The Doors are replaced by The Wildflower from February 16 onwards.
March 3, 1967, Winterland (Post and Steiner): Love/Grateful Dead/Moby Grape/Loading Zone/Blue Crumb Truck Factory "The First Annual Love Circus"
March 6, 1967, 8th and Irving Streets: The Love Conspiracy Commune Presents A Psychedelic Happening
No specific bands are mentioned in the poster, but Liqour, Beer and Sandwiches at low prices figure prominently in the poster.
March 10-16, Whisky A-Go-Go (568 Sacramento): The Grateful Dead
Who were The Love Conspiracy Commune, and how did they appear on the scene so suddenly to book rising underground stars like The Doors, The Grateful Dead and Moby Grape, at an established (if struggling) venue and a major hall (Winterland)? The one specific account of the Love Conspiracy Commune comes from the excellent book by Rolling Stone writer Charles Perry, Haight Ashbury: A History (Rolling Stone Press 1984). Perry writes in detail about a conflict about the March 3 show at Winterland. Local politics were too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say there was tension between those who felt that the scene should stay free or at least cheap, and those who saw it as a commercial bonanza. A sort of collective called The Diggers protested the show for being too expensive ($3.50, pricey at the time).
Perry details a complicated confrontation (p.150-151) in which The Diggers ended up picketing the Winterland show, and The Dead refused to play unless the picketers got in for free. The promoters relented, and some picketers were let in, though apparently not all. Amongst the various broadsides passed back and forth
"One of the group, said the Diggers, had admitted that the Love Conspiracy Commune was backed by "some mob." The mob was a group of dealers from the University of North Carolina who jokingly called themselves the "Chapel Hill Mafia" (p.150)."
While this accusation seems like the sort of criticism that angry ideologues hurl at each other, Perry points out later (p.189) that a Methedrine/DMT lab associated with the Love Conspiracy Commune, on Baker Street (in Pacific Heights), was busted on May 3, so the Commune may indeed have had some shady underpinnings.
The March 6 poster is interesting too. It promises a "Happening" with no specific bands, and makes clear that "Liquor, Beer and Sandwiches" will be available. While hardly illegal, this is clearly an effort to turn an Acid Test into a profitable dance party--dare I call it "A Rave"--and it too must not have gone over well in The Haight. Of course, I have never read or heard a single thing about the March 6 event, so I do not know what happened.
However, by the time of the scheduled March 10-16 Whisky event with the Dead, the "Love Conspiracy Commune" had already caused an ugly rift with the Haight community, and put the Grateful Dead in the middle of a political dispute. The Dead were always comfortable with chaos, but shied away from conflict, and I can't imagine them wanting to play a downtown club with topless waitresses for an out-of-town group who had already shown poor judgment at best.There is no record of the Grateful Dead shows at The Whisky, other than the poster, and I have no reason to think they played the gigs.
My own theory about the Love Conspiracy Commune is that they were connected to drug dealers of some kind, who were looking to make a splash quickly (perhaps to hide money). They blew into San Francisco and took over the booking of an available club, The Whisky A-Go-Go, not realizing it was in the wrong part of town and antithetical to the local scene. They seemed to have the ready cash to book a big event at Winterland, too, but they seemed to have drastically misjudged the local participants, who were still devoted to events that reflected the community as it was perceived, and not ready to fully exploit it commercially. The "Happening" on March 6 that advertises refreshments is actually the most jarring note, and a sign that the San Francisco scene still had an underground feel to it, even if it was slowly conceding ground to commercial realities.
The Peanut Butter Conspiracy/Wildflower shows went through February 27, and I have never seen an ad for an SF Whisky show other than the March 10-16 Dead poster. Its my belief that the SF Whisky had closed by March 10, if not even sooner after February 27, as another misguided enterprise from The Love Conspiracy Commune.
Crossposted on LostLiveDead
Saturday, August 29, 2009
The world-famous Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood opened on January 11, 1964, with the then unknown Johnny Rivers as the featured act for much of the year. By the end of 1964, Rivers was a successful recording artist (his big hits were "Secret Agent Man" and "Memphis"), his hit album recorded live at the Whisky A Go Go, and the Whisky was a National sensation. The Whisky's special ingredient was pretty girls dancing in cages elevated above the crowd, dancing to a happening live band.
In early 1965, Whisky owner Elmer Valentine appears to have formally or informally licensed the Whisky name to other operators. There had been other clubs named Whisky A Go Go (in Chicago disco in 1958 for example), but the Hollywood Whisky invented its own formula. there are only traces of the various clubs, and my own research seems to be one of the few attempts to make sense of the San Francisco operation. It appears there was more to Elmer Valentine's club than just pretty girls, and it was not so easily copied.
This promotional photograph of Johnny Rivers is from the Oakland Tribune of April 18, 1965. It is the earliest notice or advertisement I have seen for the San Francisco Whisky. Although I know no more than the fact that Johnny Rivers was playing the SF Whisky in April 1965, we are able to glean a number of important conclusions from this shred of information.
- The San Francisco Whisky was newly opened in April 1965, and in fact I would not be surprised to find out that Johnny Rivers was the first performer, as he had opened the Hollywood Whisky.
- Johnny Rivers was a very big recording star in April 1965. "Secret Agent Man" had been a local hit (it would be a National hit in 1966, reaching #3), his cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" had reached #2, "Maybelline" went to #12, "Mountain Of Love" to #9, and "Midnight Special" had gone to #20. He had also recorded a number of successful live albums at the Hollywood Whisky. Elmer Valentine was not Rivers's manager, but whoever was must have been tied into the finances of the San Francisco Whisky, because getting Johnny Rivers to open your club was quite a coup.
I have not been able to determine much about the other Whisky franchises, but I would not be surprised to find out Johnny Rivers opened those venues too. I have seen other ads and notices for the SF Whisky in Bay Area papers from 1965 to 1967, but Rivers is far and away the biggest name to have played the venue until the abortive Doors/Peanut Butter Conspiracy shows in February 1967 (The Doors canceled after two days).
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
January 4-6, 1968: Winterland Vanilla Fudge/Steve Miller Blues Band/Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee/Sweetwater (4th Fillmore)
This continues the Steve Miller Band performance history from 1966 through 1968. For the first installment, from October 1966 through May 1967, see here. Anyone with additional information, corrections, insights or memories should contact me or post them in the comments [2017 update: I am substantially updating the Steve Miller posts in honor of the 48th anniversary of Brave New World]
By the middle of 1966, the Steve Miller Band were an established attraction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Organist Jim Peterman, a friend from Wisconsin, had auditioned in February, but had wanted to finish college. At the end of his senior year at UW, he flew out to join the Steve Miller Band, arriving in late May or early June.
The group was often billed or listed in newspapers as the Miller Blues Band. This wasn't correct, but it didn't interfere, since all the local hippies knew who they were.
June 6-8, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Blues Band
The poster suggests that Miller headlined two nights at California Hall, but a contemporary listing in Ralph Gleason's column shows that Quicksilver headlined Friday (June 9), and AAA replaced The Sparrow.
June 13-15, 1967 The Matrix, San Francisco Steve Miller Blues Band
June 17, 1967: Monterey Pop Festival, Horse Show Arena, County Fairgrounds, Monterey, CA
June 17, 1967 Athletic Field, Monterey Peninsula Junior College, Monterey, CA: Grateful Dead/Eric Burdon and The Animals/Country Joe and The Fish/Steve Miller Band/others
The Grateful Dead did not entirely approve of the organization of the Monterey Pop Festival, and at their insistence the athletic field across from the Fairgrounds was available for camping. There was also a free stage, and the Dead and some other bands performed. Some eyewitnesses put the Steve Miller Band there, which seems logical, as it was a great opportunity to get heard, but of course no ones memories are very clear.
June 22, 1967: Bandshell, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Steve Miller Blues Band/Sons of Champlin/Ridge Runners free concert
The San Francisco Examiner sponsored free Thursday afternoon concerts from 1:00-3:00pm in the Golden Gate Park Bandshell, with Examiner music critic Phil Elwood as the MC. This was the first one. Supposedly, this was Boz Scaggs debut with the Miller Band, but the dates don't quite line up. The Ridge Runners were a band from nearby St. Ignatius High School.
June 24, 1967: Earl Warren Showgrounds, Santa Barbara, CA Chambers Brothers/Steve Miller Blues Band/Canned Heat
June 25, 1967 Provo Park, Berkeley, CA Steve Miller Blues Band/Loading Zone/Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band/Motor free concert
July 14-15, 1967: California Hall, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Blues Band/Sunshine Company/Anonymous Artists of America
July 17-20, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Blues Band/Mother Earth
July 24-27, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Blues Band/Mother Earth
July 28-29, 1967: Continental Ballroom, Santa Clara, CA Steve Miller Band/Kaleidoscope/Anonymous Artists of America
August 4-5, 1967: Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR Steve Miller Band
August 9, 1967: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA Steve Miller Blues Band
August 11-13, 1967: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA Electric Flag/Steve Miller Blues Band/Southside Sound System
August 15-17, 1967: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA Chuck Berry/Charles Lloyd Quartet/Steve Miller Blues Band
September 1-3, 1967: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Band/Mother Earth/Bukka White
September 9, 1967: California Hall, San Francisco, CA Kaleidoscope/Steve Miller Band/Sopwith Camel/Southside Sound System/Hair/Mt. Rushmore
September 12-14, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Blues Band/Peter Walker
I don't have any specific evidence that Boz debuted at these Matrix shows, but the timing fits.
October 2-4, 1967: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA Steve Miller Band
This KPFA Benefit was originally supposed to be headlined by Pink Floyd, on their first American tour. However, the band had visa problems and canceled their first American dates. Steve Miller Blues Band took their place. The above is a contemporary ad from the Berkeley Barb (h/t Ross). The Incredible Fish were Country Joe and The Fish but without Joe McDonald, who had temporarily left the band due to the usual "creative differences" (he rejoined a few months later, although the creative differences remain at issue). The Collectors were a hip band from Vancouver.
November 14, 1967: North Face Ski Shop, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Blues Band/Jesse Fuller
North Face was the hip ski wear company started by Doug and Susie Tompkins, later famous with the Esprit clothing line. The store was at 308 Columbus. Unlikely as it may seem, the Steve Miller Band were not the first rock band to play the North Face, as the Grateful Dead had played the stores opening the month before. It appears that this event was to celebrate the second store, near the Stanford University campus.
November 15, 1967 North Face Ski Shop, Palo Alto, CA Steve Miller Blues Band/Jesse Fuller
North Face also had a store in the Old Barn near the Stanford Shopping Center. I'm not sure if this was a grand opening or not.
|The Steve Miller Blues Band at the Matrix on the weekend of December 20-23, 1966|
Some of the musicians who lived in the house had a jug band called The Instant Action Jug Band, so named because they could spring into action at any time when the Jabberwock had no other performers. The membership was kind of fluid, since if anyone had another gig or a date they didn't play. According to Joe McDonald and Barry Melton, the future founders of Country Joe And The Fish, Miller not only stayed with them, but actually played with the Instant Action Jug Band as well. Miller was sold--he made plans to return to Berkeley.
Miller's new band rehearsed over Thanksgiving weekend in the unlocked basement of Wurster Hall, the UC Berkeley Architecture building. According to Miller, he rapidly had a band that knew 25 tunes, “in tune and tight.” He found a gig for his band at a Berkeley coffee house on Telegraph Avenue (near Bancroft) called The Forum.
As December wore on, however, Miller began to run out of money. His gig at The Forum, however, lead to a paying gig at the Avalon, and the princely offer of $500 made sure he would not be forced to return to Chicago. To celebrate, Miller rented a room on College Avenue, and took his band to dinner and a movie.
|The Datebook listings from the San Francisco Chronicle of December 16, 1966. The Steve Miller Blues Band and guitarist Steve Mann are opening at The Matrix. This was the first published listing for the Steve Miller Band|
The Steve Miller Blues Band was booked at The Matrix, probably as a result of being seen at The Forum. In any case, once they were on an Avalon poster, even as an opening act, the Matrix could book them. Steve Mann was an astonishing fingerpicking blues guitarist, a successful session musician and a personal mess, with numerous health problems. Those who saw him play way back when--and that includes people like Jorma Kaukonen--say he was one of the most talented players in the Bay Area.
January 6-7, 1967: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA Quicksilver Messenger Service/Miller Blues Band
Dick Personett seems to have returned to the Midwest fairly quickly. Around this time, Miller replaced Personett with Berkeley bassist Lonnie Turner, whom he’d met at The Jabberwock on the previous year’s scouting trip. At the time, Turner was the bassist for a Berkeley band called Second Coming. It's not certain when Turner actually joined.
February 17, 1967: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA Steve Miller Blues Band
February 18-19, 1967 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Blues Band
Sometime in February of 1967, Miller flew out keyboard player Jim Peterman, also from Madison. In an interesting interview with Nick Warburton, Peterman explains that he came out and played some shows in February to see if he would fit in. It's not precisely certain which shows he played, but I assume he would have had some warmup gigs at a place like the Matrix before playing more high-profile shows like the Fillmore. The audition was a success, but Peterman wanted to finish his last three months of college at UW, so he did not join the band until late May.
February 19, 1967: California Hall, San Francisco, CA Country Joe and The Fish/Steve Miller Blues Band/Mime Troupe
February 26, 1967: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA BB King/Moby Grape/Steve Miller Blues Band [added]
March 5, 1967: California Hall, San Francisco, Steve Miller Blues Band/Orkustra/Dino Valenti/SF Mime Troupe/The Committee/Richard Brautigan
The Communications Company was a sort of "newspaper" and printing press that printed a lot of broadsides in the Haight on behalf of the Diggers.
March 10-11, 1967: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA Quicksilver Messenger Service/Steve Miller Blues Band/Daily Flash
“Phoenix Dance” Benefit for Aid to Vietnam and Mississippi
March 30, 1967: Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA Jimmy Reed/John Lee Hooker/Charles Lloyd/Miller Blues Band
April 1, 1967: Main Auditorium, San Francisco State College 6th Annual Folk Festival Buffy St. Marie/Greg Ohrlin/Patrick Sky/Steve Miller Blues Band
April 1, 1967: Girls Gym, San Francisco State College 6th Annual Folk Festival Dance Chambers Brothers/John Hammond and The Screaming Nighthawks/Steve Miller Blues Band
|An ad from the April 6, 1967 Sf Chronicle for the Steve Miller Band at the Rock Garden.|
April 4-9, 1967: Rock Garden, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Band/The Only Alternative and His Other Possibility with Kay Olsen/The Orkustra
The Rock Garden was a short-lived attempt to have a Fillmore style venue at in the neighborhoods. Now the venue is largely only remembered for some exotic, circular posters.
April 14-15, 1967: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA The Doors/Miller Blues Band/Hajibaba
April 21-23, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA Steve Miller Blues Band
May 5, 1967: Stockton Ballroom, Stockton, CA Steve Miller Band/The Plague
An obscure poster for this event has turned up. The Stockton Ballroom was a small ballroom that still exists. The show was presented by Green Grass
May 13, 1967 Wurster Hall, UC Berkeley Steve Miller Blues Band
This was part of a campus event called The Beaux Arts Festival. Wurster was the new UC Architecture building. It is doubtful that the current configuration could handle a dance concert, but I assume the building was less full then.
May 15, 1967 Both/And Club, San Francisco Steve Miller Blues Band
The Both/And was a jazz club at 350 Divisadero, near the Haight. Rock bands sometimes played there as well, particularly on otherwise empty Monday nights like this one.
May 28, 1967: Provo Park, Berkeley, CA Steve Miller Blues Band, Mad River, Purple Earthquake
Bands played for free in Berkeley's main city park (at Grove and Allston), similar to how they played for free in Golden Gate Park.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Since the reproduced poster can be hard to read, I will indicate the facts here. The header says "Muhammad Ali Festival-Hunters Point-Free-June 10-11." Hunters Point was a mostly African-American district of San Francisco, which had grown to prominence during World War 2, as many African Americans moved to San Francisco to work in the Naval Shipyards in Hunters Point (similar to Oakland, Richmond, Marin City and Vallejo). Free rock concerts in San Francisco, of which there were a lot at the time, had hitherto been in Golden Gate Park or nearer Downtown (Union Square, etc), so a free concert in an African American neighborhood was new territory, particularly a two-day event on Saturday and Sunday. Along with a 1969 Synanon Festival in Oakland, this show appears to be one of the very few efforts to merge white rock hippie festivals with the African American community, so whether the show succeeded or not is a much more interesting question than usual.
Muhammad Ali also had a unique status at this time. Besides his enormous status as an athlete (comparable to someone like Shaquille O'Neal), he had refused induction into the US Army as a Conscientious Objector, saying that it went against the teachings of The Koran. His famous remark "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong" made him a hero to many people who were not boxing fans. In 1964, Ali had changed his name from Cassius Clay, and this alone was unprecedented (most sports headlines still called him Clay), and making his religious beliefs the basis for refusing to be drafted made him a figure much larger than a mere a sports hero. In April, 1967 Ali was arrested for formally refusing his draft notice, and his trial was set for June 20. He was convicted, and although he was not jailed, he was stripped of his heavyweight title and did not box again until 1971. As a result, Ali crystallized opposition to the War, reflecting a man so principled that he gave up money and fame to do it.
Thus an event 10 days before Ali's trial that says "Muhammad Ali Festival" is self-evidently intended as a celebration of racial solidarity and opposition to the Vietnam War. Of course, that would be the hippie interpretation--whether the local community perceived it as supportive or patronizing is unclear. Some of the fine print says "Free Bar B-Q", which in California was effectively code for African Americans, although how black people might have felt out about it was completely unclear. There is also a small map of Hunters Point but I cannot discern the actual place where the festival was held.
No specific organizer or affiliations are identifiable for this event, so it makes me wonder how carefully it was organized. A lot of hippie events were thrown together kind of casually, and they did not always fall together gracefully: bands didn't show up, generators ran out of power, the cops hassled about permits, neighbors complained, and so on. Its impossible to say if this well-intentioned event had a chance of succeeding, much less whether it actually did.
As to the mystery of this event, it happened to take place on a particularly busy rock weekend in the Bay Area. A huge rock festival that was scheduled the previous weekend at Mt. Tamalpais in Marin had been delayed and rescheduled to the weekend of June 10-11. This all day event, featuring groups like The Doors, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and The Fish and a couple of dozen others, would have sucked away numerous people who might have considered journeying to Hunters Point. Numerous other people may have been saving up time or money to go to the Monterey Pop Festival the next weekend. Meanwhile, The Doors were at the Fillmore Friday and Saturday night (June 9-10), Big Brother and Canned Heat were at The Avalon all weekend (June 8-11) and Steve Miller Band was headlining California Hall on Friday and Saturday night as well.
The listed performers for this concert were not well known at the time, even if some of them have grown in stature since. The acts listed are:
Steve Miller Blues Band: a great group, but a year shy of their first album, and only known locally. Curley Cook was still on rhythm guitar, as Boz Scaggs would not join until later in the Summer.
Orkustra: A Haight Ashbury band that played all instrumental music, featuring future Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil on guitar and David LaFlamme, later of Its A Beautiful Day.
The Loading Zone: an Oakland band that played both rock and soul clubs, they too were a year shy of their debut album.
The Charlatans: though Haight Ashbury legends, these pioneers were never actually that popular, and their first album did not come out until much later.
Ulysses Crockett and The Afro Blue Persuasion: Crockett was a Berkeley vibraphonist whose modern jazz sextet played a lot on Haight Street.
Phoenix: A San Francisco group that was still a year shy of their performing peak, although they never got the breaks they needed either.
Anonymous Artists of America: A Santa Cruz Mountains band who lived in a commune
SF Mime Troupe: Popular political theater group in the City
The Committee: Improvisational theater troupe, based on Broadway in North Beach
Sonny Lewis Quintet, Haight Street Jazz Band, Raquels, Earth: all unknown to me.
One of the "acts" says "Gonga Drums", which I take to be an informal drumming group, common in Golden Gate Park and Sproul Plaza, and the Radha Krishna Temple. What the temple was providing isn't clear, although one assumes they all chanted. There are numerous initials, like "B.A.Q," "P.L.T's" and "B.J.", which may be code or who knows what. There are numerous assurances of "Surprise Guests," but of course there is no way of knowing.
To some extent, the fact that this event ended up taking place on a giant rock weekend during the Summer Of Love has pushed it into obscurity. Nonetheless, the poster remains a tantalizing curiosity about an event that was interesting whether it occurred or not.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
On August 9, 1969, the City of Oakland held a Synanon-sponsored Street Fair. It featured a 14-hour free concert on two stages, headlined by Country Joe and The Fish. Just one week before Woodstock, the Oakland Tribune reported that 75, 000 people attended the event.
August 9, 1969 7th and Market Streets, Oakland, CA: Synanon Street Fair with Country Joe and The Fish
On Saturday, August 9, 1969, one week prior to Woodstock, Country Joe and The Fish headlined a 14-hour free concert at a Street Fair in Oakland for as many as 75,000 people. There are many remarkable things about this event, not the least that it seems to have been totally forgotten in the history of the East Bay and East Bay music. Until I discovered it recently in the archives of the Oakland Tribune, I knew nothing about it, and that made it officially obscure. This post is a brief effort to show what I have learned from the Tribune archives, as well as showing how remarkable this event appears to be.
Rock Stage (10:00am-midnight, scheduled order)
VeeJays/Southern Comfort/Phananganang/Marvin Gardens/Country Weather/Transatlantic Railroad/Synanon/Frumious Bandersnatch/Joy of Cooking/Flamin’ Groovies/Everyday People/Country Joe and The Fish/Morning Glory/Womb/The Crabs
Concert Stage (10:00am-midnight, scheduled order);
Johnny Mars Blues/Ice/Murray Music Co/Martha Young/Eddie Henderson/Gentle Dance/Harley White Sextet/Afro-Jazz Quartet/Gospel Tonics/Sounds of Synanon/Esther Phillips/QueQeg/Sebastian Moon/Orion
In an article on the day of the concert, The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band were also listed as performers, probably on the Rock Stage.
- A huge free concert near downtown, directed at a multi-racial audience, is both radical and far-sighted, particularly for Oakland. Whose idea was it, and how did it get traction?
- Free rock concerts, starting in Golden Gate Park (on October 6, 1966), and followed by The Human Be-In (January 14, 1967), were iconic events in the 60s rock world, remembered fondly and often incorrectly by aging white hippies. What did the African American community think of this event, held near "their" neighborhood, then, afterwards and now?
- If this concert was the success the article makes it out to be, why wasn't it repeated? While I note the large crowd in the picture above, based on the schedule the picture was probably taken about 1:00 o'clock in the afternoon. How big a crowd was there at midnight, when The Crabs and Orion closed each stage?
(I have re-written this post with substantially more information here)
Provo Park in Berkeley, originally named Constitution Park, lies in the center of town, near City Hall and Berkeley High School. It is bounded by Allston Way, Martin Luther King Junior Way (called Grove Street in the 1960s) and Center Street. In the mid-1960s, Berkeleyites started calling Constitution Park "Provo Park" in support of the IRA, and the name stuck. This is typical Berkeley politics, hardly noticed by residents, and almost no one living there now recalls why the park was called Provo Park.
January 15, 1967 Loading Zone/Ulysses B. Crockett
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Whisky A-Go-Go in West Hollywood is rightly revered as a seminal club in the history of rock music. It is a little remembered fact, however, that owner Elmer Valentine appeared to have franchised the name and style of the club (or "The Brand" as we would now say) to other operators outside of Los Angeles. There was a Whisky A-Go-Go in Chicago, and I believe in Atlanta, and one in San Francisco, all largely forgotten.
The San Francisco club was at 568 Sacramento Street (at Montgomery), right near downtown but somewhat far from the action on North Beach. The earliest evidence I have seen of it is the first week of 1966, from which the article (right) about the engaging Ms. Tina Loo's dancing ability was drawn (San Mateo Times, January 7, 1966). The last I know of it was February, 1967, when The Doors played a few dates, quickly replaced by The Wildflower. I have seen a few other ads from the San Mateo Times in early 1966, of which the above (from February 11, 1966) is typical.
Other than these scattered facts, I know very little about the San Francisco Whisky, or anything at all about the other Whisky "franchises." However, the little information I have about the San Francisco Whisky does show how the "business model" of an entertainment vehicle depends so much on the operator, not the model. I have written extensively about performers at the Whisky from 1966 to 1969, and while they were only paid union scale, they were the coolest and most interesting bands in Los Angeles, whether living there or just visiting. West Hollywood was where the cool people were, and the Whisky became a hangout and taste-making club. In an entirely different way, the same could be said of the Fillmore and The Avalon in San Francisco.
Conversely, however, a bunch of unhip lounge bands and pretty go-go dancers in San Francisco's Financial District seems to have made an impression on no one. Elmer Valentine's booking policies made the Whisky what it was, and the style and the girls were just icing (if delicious at that). By the same token, Fillmore-style clubs never made it financially in Southern California, because despite plenty of good bands it lacked the focus that the Fillmore and Avalon brought to San Francisco.
I know that by the time The Doors played the SF Whisky it had become a topless joint, and after there were only a few patrons at their first gigs (on February 14-15, 1967), The Doors handed off their booking to The Wildflower. I think the SF Whisky folded soon after that. To this day, I have no idea who financed or ran the San Francisco Whisky.
Crossposted at Rock Archaeology 101.