Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fillmore East May 31-June 1, 1968: Moby Grape/The Fugs/Gary Burton

(this post is part of a series analyzing every performance at the Fillmore East)

May 31-June 1, 1968 Moby Grape/The Fugs/Gary Burton

Moby Grape had been hyped as the best band to come out of San Francisco.  That may have been true, as it happened, but the hype did them in.  Moby Grape was made up of 5 experienced musicians, all good singers, performers and writers, and handsome to boot. Their second album Wow! had been released just before this show (Columbia Apr 68). It was a good album, but not as good as their epic first album, and the underground suspicion of anything popular undermined them. They were beset with management problems and other frustrations, and their best songwriter and resident genius Skip Spence started to have serious drug and emotional problems at this time, so the net effect was very difficult for the band. By all accounts, what should have been a triumphant appearance at the Fillmore East was rendered somewhat ragged because Peter Lewis, angry at the band for various reasons, skipped out on the tour and went home early.

Sadly, these Fillmore East shows were Spence's last stand with the Grape for some decades, as shortly after these shows, Skip Spence had an episode where he lost touch with reality, went AWOL for a few days and tended up in the Psych Ward at Bellevue Hospital. In any case, after the Fillmore East Moby Grape were effectively reduced to a four-piece band, albeit a very talented one (guitarists Jerry Miller and Peter Lewis, bassist Bob Mosley and drummer Don Stevenson). Although they still had plenty to offer, they now had to live down their previous success rather than just be themselves. Moby Grape were a great band, and their debut album is a 60s classic, but their entire history is a frustrating tale of what might have been.

The Fugs were often considered as a Greenwich Village version of The Mothers of Invention, although a more accurate comparison might have been Berkeley’s Country Joe and The Fish.  The Fugs were not particularly memorable musically, but they were provocative and exciting. They had been around for some time, and in fact had played the first Bill Graham Mime Troupe Benefit on November 6, 1965. In complete contrast to Zappa, they were very political, but only barely musical, singing songs like “Kill For Peace” and “Coca-Cola Douche.”  People who left the Fugs wrote books (singer Ed Sanders wrote Helter Skelter, about the Manson family), whereas people who left the Mothers joined the Symphony or played jazz  (except Motorhead Sherwood, who got a job in an auto body shop).

At the time of these shows the Fugs would have been supporting their album Tenderness Junction (Reprise, Jan 68). The Fugs released a live album recorded at this show called Golden Filth (Reprise, 1970). At the Fillmore East, The Fugs were supported on stage by various backing musicians.

Gary Burton was a jazz vibraphonist, raised in Nashville and like many young jazz musicians in New York at the time, he liked everything, not just jazz. The original lineup of the groundbreaking Gary Burton Quartet, featuring guitarist Larry Coryell had opened for Cream at San Francisco's Fillmore, among many other rock gigs, and they had released some sensational albums that still sound great today (including Duster and Lofty Fake Anagram on RCA in 1967). The lineup with Coryell (and bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bob Moses) also recorded two albums in 1967 that were released in 1968, although I am not sure exactly when: Live At Carnegie Hall and Carla Bley's Genuine Tong Funeral. However, by the time of the Fillmore East shows, Coryell had left the group, replaced by the less well-known but still tremendous guitarist Jerry Hahn, formerly with John Handy amongst various others.

June 2, 1968: Bill Cosby/Janis Ian/Frankie Dunlap & Maletta/Jazz Pantomime 
"Salute to Dick Gregory"

Although a Bill Graham produced show, this was a non-rock event. Dick Gregory, a well-known comedian and activist, was running for President on the Peace And Freedom Party ticket that opposed the Vietnam War. While this is an interesting 60s story, it is outside the scope of this blog. At this time, besides being a popular stand up comedian with best selling albums, Bill Cosby had just finished his run starring on the popular NBC series I Spy.

Next: June 5, 1968: Incredible String Band WBAI Benefit


  1. Skip played a twelve string Rickenbacker on Friday night, and Gary Burton's drummer was the powerful Elvin Jones.

  2. Elvin Jones at Fillmore East with Gary Burton? Wow.

    Jerry Hahn was the guitarist by this time, right?

  3. Good post, thanks. I was at the early show either Friday or Saturday night, I don't remember which. I don't recall Skip being particularly diminished that evening, though when I saw the Grape a month later in Central Park (Muddy Waters opened) he was gone. But I remember the Fillmore gig with great fondness.

    What I remember about the Fugs' set was them making fun of various celebrities, particularly Nancy Sinatra and Bobby Kennedy. A few days later RFK was dead.

    And thanks for clearing up the Coryell question. I couldn't remember for sure, and while I've always thought he wasn't there that night I've wondered all these years.

    Tom Panelas

  4. Was the person who wrote this at any of the shows? And if not, did he do any research? Although I have to admit I don't remember Peter Lewis being absent, it's possible, but I have to wonder given the other arguable "facts" here. I have certainly never heard of success being one of the many problems that did in the original incarnation of Moby Grape; more concrete factors have been written about elsewhere so I won't go into any of that. Ed Sanders wrote "The Family", not "Helter Skelter", & both Sanders & Tuli Kupferberg were writers before, during & after the Fugs. The Mothers, rather than influencing the Fugs, probably adopted some of the Fugs' stage presentation when they played for several months at the Garrick Theater on Bleecker St., around the corner from the Fugs at The Players Theater on MacDougal. I also don't remember Coryell being absent, though that's likewise possible, but I'd already seen the group (as well as the other two acts before that night), & I was very taken with Coryell & might have noticed his absence (or the presence of Jerry Hahn, who I'd seen play with Handy & some of whose soloing with that group I had learned to play). I was in the audience for the recording of the Quartet's live album, actually titled "Live At Carnegie Recital Hall" (a smaller theater within Carnegie), & I'm pretty sure it was some months after this Fillmore concert, & Coryell was absolutely still in the group for that one. At the Fillmore show, though, Bob Moses did not play drums (nor did Elvin Jones), it was Roy Haynes. And by the way, people who left the Mothers mostly played rock or continued to play Zappa's material. Fun concert, great memories, really lousy recap.

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