Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fillmore East May 17-18, 1968 The Byrds/Tim Buckley/The Foundations

(this post is part of a series cataloging every performance at The Fillmore East)

May 17-18, 1968 The Byrds/Tim Buckley/The Foundations

The Byrds had been major rock stars since 1965. They had even played the venue in its previous incarnation, The Village Theater (on July 22, 1967, supported by The Seeds and Vanilla Fudge). By 1968, however, while still popular, The Byrds had been through numerous personal and musical changes, and were not as highly ranked in the firmament as before.

The Byrds current album at this time was Notorious Byrd Brothers (Columbia Jan 68), but the band had already moved on. The May 1968 lineup of The Byrds featured Roger McGuinn, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman and Kevin Kelley, and banjoist Doug Dillard (Dillard was not actually a member of the group, just an additional musician). The Byrds had just finished recording Sweetheart of The Rodeo, although that album would not be released until August.  The country sounds of the Gram Parsons-era Byrds would have been completely unprecedented to a New York Fillmore East audience, as Gram Parsons was crucial in legitimizing the concept of country rock (although he himself did not like the term).  According to the June 1 Billboard review (quoted in Christopher Hjort's fine Byrds chronology So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star), however, the Byrds country material was quite well received by the audience.

The review in Billboard magazine was a crucial element of Fillmore East's importance. Billboard was the leading music industry trade journal, and in many ways the only source of information about bands on tour. One of the weekend performances in Fillmore East was always reviewed in each week's Billboard, so that meant that all three bands on the bill got National exposure. Managers, particularly of English bands, liked to start tours at the Fillmore East because a good review in Billboard could go a long way towards creating interest in their group amongst booking agents and promoters.

The Foundations are mainly known for their 1968 hit  “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Much to the surprise of everyone who recalls the song, they were actually an English group (with some West Indians and a Sri Lankan thrown in for good measure). The Foundations were one of the few English groups to have success playing in a soul style. They had plenty of live experience in England, and they were probably a pretty good live band. In Hjort's book, Foundations bassist Peter Macbeth recalled that their equipment was stolen and that the Byrds wouldn't let them borrow theirs. Equipment hassles were particularly critical at the Fillmore East, since bands rightly felt the pressure of needing to have a great performance there in order to have a successful tour.

Tim Buckley had played Fillmore East the first night it opened (March 8, 1968), and returned for another engagement.

May 20, 1968 Black Theater for The Black Panthers
Benefit for Eldridge Cleaver with LeRoi Jones, Marlon Brando and others.

Eldridge Cleaver was running for President on the Peace And Freedom Party ticket. Cleaver was also Minister Of Information for Oakland's Black Panthers. This event was held on a Monday night, and the poster lists various speakers and writers, but no musicians. The history of The Peace And Freedom Party (and for that matter The Black Panthers) is an interesting 60s story, but outside the scope of this blog. Suffice to say that Bill Graham was very alert to the virtues of allowing local benefits for various popular causes at his venues on off nights.

next: May 24, 1968: Ravi Shankar with Alla Rakha//May 25, 1968 Country Joe and The Fish/Pigmeat Markham

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