This post is part of a series analyzing every show at the Avalon Ballroom
Friday May 20, 1966: Love/Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band
Saturda May 21, 1966: Love/Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band/Big Brother and The Holding Company
These shows were the first time Love played the Avalon, but they had already played for The Family Dog at their last show at The Fillmore on April 8, 1966. At the time, Los Angeles had a burgeoning and complex underground scene as well. Love, featuring Arthur Lee, were the first and best of the LA underground bands. Lee’s ‘black hippie’ clothes and spacey soul sound was acknowledged by Jimi Hendrix as a big influence, and Love’s hard driving version of “Hey Joe” was appropriated by everyone: Hendrix, The Byrds and The Leaves (who had the hit). In 1965, Jim Morrison had hoped the Doors would someday be as big as Love. Also in Love was ex-Byrds roadie Bryan MacLean (whose much younger sister was singer Maria McKee).
All eyewitnesses report that Love was a tremendous live band in the 65-67 eras, although I am not aware of a surviving live recording. Already legendary in the LA underground, Love’s first album has just been released on Elektra. Their single “My Little Red Book,” a driving cover of a Burt Bachrach song (Bachrach reputedly hated it), was getting AM airplay throughout California.
Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band were from the High Desert area of California (Lancaster, etc) now a suburb but then quite remote. They had cut their teeth in 1965 playing blues and R&B for hot-rod shows and the like, but now they were revered as the toughest blues band in LA. In 1966 Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) was known as a great blues singer, rather than the avant-garde sonic poet he was known as a few years later. Beefheart’s amazing voice allowed him to mimic the styles of great blues singers like Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters, unheard of for a white singer.
At this time Captain Beefheart had released one single on A&M Records, a remake of Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy.” Amazingly, it had become a turntable hit (airplay with little sales) on Los Angeles stations, and was getting airplay in other cities. The single was released in April of 1966, so it was probably getting at least occasional airplay on local AM stations.
The ‘Captain Beefheart’ name was made up by Van Vliet’s best friend in high school, one Frank Zappa. The Magic Band at the time was Doug Moon and Alex St. Clair on guitars, Paul Blakely on drums and Jerry Handley on bass. Rising Son bassist Gary Marker says that he played bass on May 21 and May 22, as Handley had to return to LA to deal with his draft board, and Marker was the regular ‘stand-in.’ The May 22 Sunday show, while advertised, was canceled and the Magic Band played in the South Bay instead.
All the evidence suggests that Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band played The Barn in Scotts Valley on May 22. Since this was Gary Marker's wife's birthday, it is unlikely he is mistaking this date for another one.
Big Brother and The Holding Company also played The Avalon on Saturday May 21. I have to assume this was due to poor ticket sales, as the Sunday show was canceled.
Next: May 27-28, 1966 Leaves/The Grass Roots/The Grateful Dead