Sunday, October 25, 2009

Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco May 13-14, 1966: Blues Project/Sons Of Adam/Quicksilver Messenger Service

This post is part of a series analyzing every show at The Avalon Ballroom.

Friday-Saturday May 13-14, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA 
Blues Project/Sons Of Adam/Quicksilver Messenger Service

Just five weeks into its existence, the Avalon Ballroom was already repeating bookings. Blues Project had played the opening of the Avalon, less than a month earlier (April 22-23). Although the release date of their first album (Live At Cafe Au Go Go) is somewhat foggy, it had definitely been released by now. Blues Project were ending a stay of several weeks in California, and their live shows had been enormously successful. The band members were much more experienced musicians than most of the musicians in the San Francisco bands, and even more so on electric instruments. The Blues Project would return East with a legion of hip fans on the West Coast.

Sons of Adam had played the second weekend of the Avalon (April 29-30). The Los Angeles band had a sterling reputation as a live band, although no recording has been released. Supposedly (per Ugly Things magazine #26) there is a good live tape of Sons Of Adam that may eventually see the light of day, where guitarist Randy Holden shines. One may hope its so.

Quicksilver Messenger Service had played for the Family Dog before, but when Chet Helms was alternating bookings with Bill Graham at The Fillmore Auditorium on February 26, 1966. Quicksilver had been formed when guitarists John Cipollina and Jim Murray met guitarist Gary Duncan and drummer Greg Elmore at the initial Family Dog event at Longshoreman's Hall (on October 16, 1965). Cipollina and Murray had been rehearsing a band at the Matrix, but the band never performed. One member, guitarist Skip Spence, was poached by the Jefferson Airplane (to be their drummer, oddly), and another, bassist David Freiberg, got busted and had to spend 60 days in jail. Supposedly there were plans to align this rehearsal group with singer/songwriter Dino Valenti, also then in jail on a drug bust, but with Spence and Freiberg gone the group disintegrated (drummer Casey Sonoban was the final member).

Duncan (nee Gary Grubb) and Elmore were from a little town in Central California called Ceres, near Merced. They had played in a variety of successful "teen" bands, most notably The Brogues, who released some fine, punky 45s. The Brogues were popular from about San Jose to Stockton, but the band broke up when some key members were drafted. Duncan and Elmore came to San Francisco to look for band members, and found Cipollina and Elmore. When Freiberg ended his 60-day sentence in late January, the band was complete. They lived on an old houseboat in Sausalito, a lodging obtained via the offices of John Cipollina's father. Initially the group had no name, and played that way at The Matrix and parties at Muir Beach Lodge in Western Marin.

Initially, Quicksilver had very little money or equipment. Their first gig was at a Christmas Party for an improvisational comedy troupe called The Committee, probably on December 24, 1965. With only two guitars, Gary Duncan mostly sang and played tambourine. At a party at Muir Beach Lodge in Western Marin, probably on January 15, 1966, they met their patron Ambrose Hollingsworth, a wealthy heir who provided some financial support for the band. The group considered their converging astrological signs and settled on a name as well.

Quicksilver Messenger Service rapidly became regulars at The Fillmore Auditorium. Initially, various promoters rented the hall from leaseholder Charles Sullivan, and shows were presented by Bill Graham, Chet Helms and various other entities, including Quicksilver themselves. By the time of their first Avalon show in May, Quicksilver had played the Fillmore 18 times from February to April.

By this time, the band had three guitars, and Duncan's driving rhythm guitar centered the band. Here and there they would switch instruments as well, as Duncan was a good bass player and he could free up Freiberg for some singing. Cipollina was working on his unique, shivering guitar style, and Duncan, Freiberg and Murray shared lead vocals. There are no tapes of Quicksilver from this early, but apparently thanks to Duncan and Elmore's live experience the band had a much more professional sound much more quickly than some of their San Francisco contemporaries.

Next: May 20-21, 1966 Love/Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band/Big Brother And The Holding Company

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