Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Yellow Brick Road, 37266 Niles Boulevard, Fremont, CA: June 1967-January 1968 (Work In Progress)

(The flyer from June 16-17, 1967 for The Yellow Brick Road, featuring Palo Alto's New Delhi River Band and Fremont's Wakefield Loop. Poster by Paul Johansen)

The underground rock explosion that was ignited at The Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, NV in the Summer of 1965 spread rapidly when it returned to San Francisco. Although the rest of the United States was just discovering the anticipated Summer of Love, the Bay Area had already reacted to the exciting mixture of loud music, strange colors and long hair that was luring young rock fans to the Fillmore and Avalon. Miniature variations of the psychedelic ballroom scene sprung up around the Bay Area, some only briefly like the ephemeral Outfit in Palo Alto, and some more substantially like The Barn in Scotts Valley. Somewhere in between lies the brief and curious story of The Yellow Brick Road, in the Niles district of Fremont. While I am some ways from competing the story, what I have learned is such an interesting case study in how a culture takes on varying forms that it is worth telling what I have learned so far, not least in the hopes that readers can add to the story and correct any mistakes I have made.

In 1967, Fremont was a prosperous suburb in Southern Alameda County, 35 miles South of Berkeley and 18 miles North of San Jose. Fremont had only been incorporated in 1956 by combining 5 smaller communities. Although part of the central Bay Area, Fremont had a distinctly different flavor, in that its principal employer was the General Motors plant, and the city of Fremont also functioned as the economic center of the agricultural areas just to the East of town. Today, most of Eastern Alameda County is heavily populated, but in the 1960s its primary businesses were auto manufactuing, ranching and agriculture, and Fremont was its hub. The city of Fremont had a lot of Cowboy bars and Western Swing music, and it wasn't an affectation.

San Francisco and the college towns of Berkeley and Palo Alto had grudgingly come to accept long hair and loud music, and whatever the local police thought, they were constrained by local tolerance. The cities and towns nearer to those communities were somewhat accepting of the changes, too, generally in proportion to their proximity to San Francisco or one of the two Universities, and places like San Jose and Santa Cruz were coming around as well. Fremont, however, despite its geographical location remained somewhat separate. Fremont teenagers had been to the Fillmore or other hip places, had the new records and had started to grow their hair. The Fremont Police and Schools, reflecting the city's less urban character, took a hard line against such changes. Male students were threatened with expulsion from school for having anything resembling long hair, and Fremont cops thought nothing of stopping and rousting young hippies, telling them (on some occasions with guns drawn) to "get out of town" even though in fact they lived in Fremont with their parents.

(From the April 11, 1967 edition of The Fremont Argus)

On April 10, 1967 the Fremont city planning commission approved a Use Permit for a "teenage 'pyschedelic' dance club in the Niles District of Fremont." The club was approved to be open on Friday and Saturday nights, and one Sunday afternoon per month. According to one of the owners, Warren Townsend, "it would be patterned after the more successful clubs in San Francisco." A commissioner was concerned about "who would police the 'undesirable element of teenager' who would patronize the establishment," summing up the City's view of hippies. When a hippie friendly coffee-shop (The Nickelodeon, at 3987 Washington Blvd) opened downtown, the City health and safety inspectors immediately had it closed.  When it was re-opened, the police made an active point of harassing the patrons. This wasn't some hippie rumor--this was reported in the Fremont Argus (June 22, 1967) with a picture of a stern looking cop sitting in the coffee shop in front of teenagers playing electric guitars.

(5/6 of Fremont's Wakefield Loop, Summer 1967: (l-r) Dan Garvey (ld gtr), Dave Simpson (vcls), Cheryl Williams (vcls), Denny Mahdik (gtr), Julio Stabin (bass))

The Wakefield Loop were probably Fremont's first avowedly psychedelic band, playing their own music. To the Fremont police they were dangerous hippies, although they hardly looked like hardcore San Francisco freaks, and most of them where still High School students. I have been in direct or indirect contact with a number of members of The Wakefield Loop, and they are the principal sources for this remarkable chronicle. The band was named after a tiny street in Fremont where  drummer Larry Payne lived (later replaced by Don DeAugustine).

The Yellow Brick Road was an old equipment rental facility. A stage was installed in the back of the room, and the venue had its own little parking lot (for a larger version of the photo, see here). The owners were the Townsend family and the Rapp family. Teenager Russ Rapp, still a High School student, was effectively the manager of the venue. Wakefield Loop guitarist Denny Mahdik assisted him with the booking.

June 10, 1967 Wakefield Loop/others?
The venue opened shortly after school ended, and Wakefield Loop members recall that they played opening night, although there may have been other bands. I have assumed that the club decided to have an opening act without an out-of-town headliner, just to make sure everything was running smoothly. June 10 was a Saturday, but that is just speculation on my part--the Loop could have played Friday, and other bands played Saturday (I'm hoping someone who remembers will write in).

Lead singer Dave Simpson recalls the presence of Sopwith Camel manager Yuri Toporov, who soon signed up the Wakefield Loop. Toporov brought along his friend, San Francisco guitarist Carlos Santana, then just another young gun on the scene. 

June 16-17, 1967 New Delhi River Band/Wakefield Loop
Palo Alto-based New Delhi River Band had been the house band at The Barn in Scotts Valley. A hip blues band, their membership included David Nelson and Dave Torbert, both future members of The New Riders of The Purple Sage. Denny Mahdik had been to The Barn a number of times, and in some ways the Yellow Brick Road was similar to The Barn: weekend gigs, no liquor sales that excluded teenagers, hippie friendly. It was appropriate that The Barn's house band were the first out-of-town headliners at Yellow Brick Road.

The New Delhi River Band also headlined Fremont's first free psychedelic happening, on Sunday June 18 at Fremont Central Park. This is an interesting event in its own right, and I have written about it elsewhere. Suffice to say, despite civic resistance, Denny Mahdik organized a successful outdoor event that drew some thousands of people to hear bands in the park, dragging Fremont unwillingly into the 1960s.

June 23-24, 1967 The Garden Of Chaste Refreshment/The Plastic People
June 30-July 1, 1967 Purple Earthquake
July 7-8 Loading Zone/Wakefield Loop

Thanks to this surviving poster, and one other, we know about the initial weekends at Yellow Brick Road. The Garden Of Chaste Refreshment was apparently a Hayward band, and Purple Earthquake were from Berkeley. The Purple Earthquake featured guitarist Robbie Dunbar, then a Berkeley High School student, and they would evolve into the group Earthquake, who had several albums over the years on A&M and Berserkely Records. The Loading Zone were a popular East Bay club band as well, the first hippie group to mix psychedelia with soul, kicking the door open for many others like Sly and The Family Stone and Tower of Power. This early version of the Zone most likely did not have a horn section, and future lead singer Linda Tillery was still in High School in San Francisco. Loading Zone would put out albums in 1968 and 1969 as well (along with one in 2008).

A surviving poster shows Wakefield Loop opening for the Loading Zone, and band members recall helping Loading Zone organist Paul Fauerso get his heavy Hammond B3 organ into the venue. It seems likely that local Fremont bands opened many of the shows, with regional headliners topping the bills. In the Spring, the Fremont Argus had reported on various Fremont "Battle Of The Bands" at different High Schools, the prizes of which were a gig at Yellow Brick Road, so the venue was clearly focusing on local groups as well.

The balance of the Summer of 1967 at Yellow Brick Road remains obscure. The Wakefield Loop started working with Yuri Toporov, playing all over San Francisco and Marin, so they don't recall playing Yellow Brick Road for the balance of the Summer. The group played an exciting week at Muir Beach, despite having their equipment stolen, but at the end of the Summer the group broke up. Some band members recall that The Sons of Champlin played Yellow Brick Road, but whether that was the Summer of Fall of 1967 remains obscure. It does appear that the venue closed at the end of Summer, but I suspect that was as much to accommodate end-of-Summer holidays.

(an article from the September 14, 1967 Fremont Argus, and an ad from the September 15, 1967 Hayward Daily Review)

September 15-16 Rock-A-Day Daisy And The Good Time Band/New Grass Garden (16th only)
The brief article is quite revealing. It says "The Yellow Brick Road, Fremont's teen dance center, re-opens for Friday and Saturday for young adults in the Tri-City Area." After describing the upcoming events, the article ads "Age limits are from 15-20 with a dress code similar to those used by local schools." Its not clear whether the dress code and age limit had been in force in the Summer, but in any case the terms ensure that the relaxed freedom implied by the Fillmore was still just in San Francisco.

Russ Rapp, although just a teenager, must have realized that many acts had a following that included people over 20, and if they were excluded from the audience, nor allowed to dress in jeans (which were not typically allowed at High School dances in Fremont) the potential audience was considerably smaller. Members of The Wakefield Loop speculate also that the constant hassling of hippies by the Fremont police cannot have been appealing to any out-of-towners, not least the bands themselves. Yellow Brick Road seems to have been receding from a cool suburban Fillmore to just another teen dance hall.

(Hayward Daily Review ad September 22, 1967)

September 22-23, 1967 The Blues Bag/St. Matthews Experiment
Both of these groups are unknown to me, but there is a good chance that St. Matthews Experiment was a blues band led by harmonica player Matthew Kelly. Kelly was associated with the New Delhi River Band, and after many permutations would end up leading the band Kingfish, with Bob Weir and Dave Torbert.

(The ad is from the September 29, 1967 Hayward Daily Review; the article is from the "Women's Section" of the September 6, 1967 Fremont Argus)

September 29, 1967 The Collective Works/The S.E.
Fremont, a merger of five smaller communities, was named after an explorer named John C Fremont, known as "The Pathfinder," so Fremont's big celebration was called "Pathfinder Day" (modern knowledge about John Fremont suggests he was not so admirable a role model). On the actual day, September 29, a public dance was held at Yellow Brick Road. The Collective Works were apparently one of Fremont's most popular and successful cover bands, less hip than bands like Wakefield Loop but of course earning considerably more money. For Saturday night, the venue was taken over by the Fremont's Women Club (see article). The event featured a psychedelic light show, a guest appearance by Miss Elizabeth, Australia (Elizabeth, AU was Fremont's sister city) and a 17-piece orchestra for dancing.

(ad from the Hayward Daily Review October 6, 1967)

October 6, 1967 The S.E./The Golden Crank
October 7, 1967 The S.E./Deep Blue Quintet
The Wakefield Loop had reformed by October (lead guitarist Dan Garvey, vocalist Cheryl Williams and drummer Don DeAugustine were joined by bassist Steve Lind and guitarist Mike Swindell). Yet they recall that their hope that the Yellow Brick Road would be their local Fillmore was fading. For one thing, constant police harassment was not an inducement for out-of-town bands to play there. In any case, Fremont did not have a cool reputation in the Bay Area (I can attest to that), so it was quite difficult for Russ Rapp to get "name" bands to play there, and apparently shows mostly featured local bands. For the most part, memories of the last few months of the Yellow Brick Road are fairly vague.

(ad from the Hayward Daily Review, October 26, 1967)

October 27, 1967 The Fish/Collective Works
In October of 1967 Country Joe McDonald temporarily split with Country Joe and The Fish, due to the proverbial "creative differences". Joe McDonald fulfilled some dates as a solo act, and Barry Melton and the rest of the band (organist David Cohen, bassist Bruce Barthol and drummer Chicken Hirsh) played gigs as The Incredible Fish. This "split" lasted about two months. The Fish played Fremont (between Portland, OR on Oct 20-21 and the Fillmore on Oct 30) on Friday October 27. The Wakefield Loop are fairly certain that they opened for The Fish, and do not recall "replacing" The Collective Works (whom they knew), so there is the distinct possibility that The Fish played again in November, with The Wakefield Loop as the openers.

There are some memories of San Francisco's Flamin Groovies playing the Yellow Brick Road, possibly more than once. Denny Mahdik remembers going as a fan, and Dan Garvey recalls Wakefield Loop opening for them, and then being surprised not to be asked back (the Groovies wanted another band), so whatever the exact story the Groovies were definitely around. Other bands must have played there, but memories get foggier, and in any case the rock biz became more about making it big rather than local fun, and Fremont's out-of-the-way status did not help. Although the exact date of the last show at Yellow Brick Road is unknown, it appears to have been January 1968.

Throughout February of 1968, the Fremont Argus reported on efforts of a local businessman to open a sort of "Cowboy Bar" at the site of the Yellow Brick Road. The permit was eventually rejected, as allowing an actual night club in place of a "Teen" hangout was even less appealing to the neighborhood. However, the framing of the various articles (the one here is the final one, from the February 21, 1968 Fremont Argus) suggests that The Yellow Brick Road had closed in January of 1968. The rock business had gotten bigger by 1968, and it was no longer a "teen" phenomenon. By 1969, the Fremont schools backed down on insisting that male students keep their hair short, and the city moved grudgingly into the 1970s. By this time, the rock scene was much more oriented towards larger shows at Fillmore West, Winterland and Oakland Coliseum, so no local Fremont venue really replaced the Yellow Brick Road.
By the end of 1968, 37266 Niles Boulevard was an ASCO Appliance Warehouse. The building is still extant, and its most recent client appears to have been a Bar-B-Q joint, although it appears to be currently unoccupied. Nonetheless the peculiar brief story of The Yellow Brick Road, along with the Wakefield Loop and the "Banana At Noon" Be-In make a nice metaphor for the effect of the 60s on music and culture. The long haired Fremont teenagers represented things to come, but they had already graduated and moved on before the town came to see that they were right.

Anyone with additional information, corrections, insights or recovered memories (real or imagined) about The Yellow Brick Road should contact me or mention them in the Comments.


  1. A google search on 37266 Niles Blvd reveals that the building is currently for rent (1,750 sq ft at $2/ft).

  2. I noticed an article regarding the New Grass Garden appearing on Sep 16, 1967 at the Yellow Brick Road. I was a member of that group along with Dale Longhorn, Wil Tolero, and Kim James (replaced by Art Lopez as drummer). I played a Vox Organ. Wil was our lead guitarist and singer, Dale was the bass player, and Kim the drummer. This is the first time I've ever seen anything in print about our band. Thanks for including it. Brad Constantine

  3. i'm the daughter of dan garvey - decided to google his name and i found this. AWESOME!!! love to learn just a little more of my old man's history!!!!!!!

  4. I followed the Collective Works in Fremont, CA and San Jose and Oakland. They were a great band, had a big following and Mark Bromley still has a wonderful voice. I recall when I first heard them around 1974 at the Cloverleaf Bowl in Fremont!

  5. Spent many nights at Cloverleaf,I went to high school with Mark Bromley he's still in Fremont He's a Farmers insurance agent

  6. The night Country Joe McDonald played I'll never forget: my first French kiss. Still recall a plump girl, Mama something or other, suddenly sticking ... My reverie was interrupted by a paranoid kid worried about getting STDs from kissing my very same 'Mama'. My high school classmate I came with and on whom I had a crush, left, she with a guy - out of respect for his privacy I won't name - she met there. I, still high from that kiss, but humiliated nonetheless.

  7. I have a recording of "Big Daddy" Tom Donahue plugging the June 23-24 gig at the Yellow Brick Road live on KMPX on 6/22/67! Cool page! One day I'll rip it digital and post!