Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fillmore East March 8, 1968: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Tim Buckley/Albert King

(This post begins a series cataloging every performance at The Fillmore East)

The Fillmore East was an old Greenwich Village venue that was originally a Loew’s Commodore movie theater. By 1967 it was known as The Village Theatre, and had featured a number of rock shows.  It was located on 105 2nd Avenue at 6th Street in the East Village.  Bill Graham, with a very successful operation in San Francisco with the Fillmore Auditorium, was looking to go bi-coastal and renamed the 2500-seat Village Theatre the Fillmore East. Unlike the Fillmore or Fillmore West, the Fillmore East had theatre seats and a balcony. Whereas the West Coast Fillmore was more of an environmental ‘happening’, the Fillmore East was more of a theatrical event.  The spectacular sound system and house light show were used to maximum effect to bring out the best every band had to offer.

The Fillmore East bills generally played Friday and Saturday, with two shows each night at 8:00 and 11:30 pm, although most recollections do not indicate whether they attended an early or late show.  However, this very first Fillmore East show was only presented on a Friday night. The next show was not until two weeks later, after which the venue put on shows just about every weeekend, so I assume this first gig was a sort of "Technical Rehearsal" for the venue.

Big Brother and The Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin, were stalwarts of the San Francisco scene. Their most recent album was the terrible first album on Mainstream (Aug 67), all recorded in 1966.  Cheap Thrills would not come out until late July 1968, so to some extent Big Brother were headliners as much on the basis of being underground legends as anything else. They had played New York as recently as the previous month (Anderson Theater, Feb 17, 1968). Big Brother’s manager was Albert Grossman, also the manager of Bob Dylan and others.  Grossman had helped finance the Fillmore East for Graham, so it is not surprising that one of his acts opened the venue.  

Tim Buckley was a unique jazz/rock singer/songwriter with a remarkable voice.  He was from LA, and he shared management with Frank Zappa. In 1968 he was supporting his well-regarded second album Goodbye And Hello (Elektra Sep 67). Tim Buckley died young in 1975, and he was the father of unique singer Jeff Buckley, who also died young. 

Albert King was the legendary left-handed blues guitarist, who had just recently debuted at San Francisco’s Fillmore (2.1.68). Many ‘Chitlin Circuit’ blues performers were given a new and more lucrative career by the Fillmores.  Albert King was an ancient 45 years at this time (for those who accept 1923 as his year of birth).  The reverence with which Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and others held Albert, Freddie and BB King, along with Buddy Guy, Bobby Blue Bland and others, gave all those performers a hitherto undreamed of access to white audiences. His classic album Born Under A Bad Sign (Stax Feb 67) received extensive play on FM rock radio.

Albert King was a substantial influence on rock guitarists of this period.  To name just a few of many influenced by him, Cream did a cover of “Born Under A Bad Sign” and the legendary opening lick of Eric Clapton’s “Layla” is based on Albert King’s song “As The Years Go Passing By” (a tidbit acknowledged by Clapton).  King had also played with another famous left-handed guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, on the Chitlin circuit some years earlier, and had indeed shared the bill with Hendrix a few weeks earlier at the Fillmore and Winterland in San Francisco.

Next: March 22-23, 1968 The Doors/ARS Nova/Crome Syrcus

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