Wednesday, December 16, 2009

June 7-8 Fillmore East Electric Flag/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Steppenwolf

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

June 7-8, 1968 Electric Flag/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Steppenwolf

Electric Flag had been formed behind enormous hype in Spring 1967.  The band featured former Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Mike Bloomfield, along with lead vocalists Nick Gravenites and Buddy Miles (who was also the drummer).  The concept of Electric Flag was to merge blues, soul and rock, and they had the skill and charisma to do it.  They debuted at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, and they had released one fine album A Long Time Comin’ (Columbia Mar 68).  Live tapes from this period indicate a band capable of being sensationally good since they had been playing since Summer 67. 

The original expectations for The Electric Flag had been extraordinarily high. The original Butterfield Blues Band had had a huge impact, and Bloomfield was America's first rock guitar hero. Bloomfield had quit the Butterfield band for many reasons, not least his own anxiety towards stardom, but when he formed the Electric Flag he had the backing of super-manager Albert Grossman, who was also the manager of Paul Butterfield, Bob Dylan and Big Brother, and one of the financial backers of the Fillmore East. Despite or perhaps because of the high expectations for the band, while Electric Flag had its moments in concert, they had been eclipsed musically and professionally by the likes of Cream.

The Flag had gone through a variety of personnel changes, and drummer Buddy Miles was the de facto band leader. Bloomfield's reservations about stardom arose again, and along with his own personal demons he was determined to step away from the Flag just as he had with Butterfield. Ironically, Bloomfield had just recorded his part in Al Kooper's Super Session album the previous month, that would make him an even bigger star, but at this time it was widely known that Bloomfield was leaving Electric Flag. Nonetheless, even Bloomfield could not dismiss a high profile gig at Fillmore East, so he flew the Electric Flag for the last time on this weekend.

According to various descriptions, Bloomfield was somewhat distracted, and there was a second guitarist on stage the whole night, presumably his replacement Hoshal Wright. The rest of Electric Flag at this time was Miles (drums, vocals), Nick Gravenites (vocals), Herbie Rich (organ), Harvey Brooks (bass) and a horn section (Stemzie Hunter and Peter Strazza (saxes), Marcus Doubleday (trumpet)). At one of the late shows, Jimi Hendrix came on stage to jam with the Flag for the encore, as he was good friends with Buddy Miles and Herbie Rich, but by all accounts Bloomfield had left the stage by that time.

The Fillmore East shows were Mike Bloomfield's last with the original Electric Flag. He took part in occasional reunions and guest appearances over the years, but he was never comfortable living up to the excitement that was caused by his amazing talents.

Considerably more memorable for New Yorkers was San Francisco's Quicksilver Messenger Service. This show featured the “classic” four-piece Quicksilver Messenger Service, with John Cippolina/Gary Duncan/David Freiberg/Greg Elmore. Although Quicksilver had been SF ballroom legends, their first album had only been released in May 1968 (Capitol), so the rest of the country had only heard rumors. Electric Flag lead vocalist Nick Gravenites was Quicksilver’s producer. Unlike many ballroom bands, who were much more experimental, the Quick had been pretty much working over the same material since 1966 and were now an absolutely killer live band.  Many people  outside of San Francisco who saw all the Fillmore bands only after they started touring beyond California were more impressed with Quicksilver than with the Dead, the Airplane or any others.

Steppenwolf would break later in the summer when "Born To Be Wild" became a hit in the Fall of 1968. They had just released their first album (Dunhill May 68). This weekend featured the original lineup, with John Kay on vocals (along with Michael Monarch on guitar, Goldy McJohn on organ, Rushton Moreve on bass and Jerry  Edmonton on drums). John Kay and some other members of the group had moved from Toronto to San Francisco, where they were called the Sparrow.  The Sparrow fell apart, and the remaining members moved to Los Angeles and formed Steppenwolf. “Born To Be Wild” had been written by former Sparrow guitarist Dennis Edmonton (the drummer’s brother), and although he had left the group they recorded his song.  Subsequently, Dennis Edmonton starting calling himself Mars Bonfire.

next: June 14-15, 1968 Grateful Dead/Jeff Beck/Seventh Sons


  1. The 1968 vintage is Grade-A QMS. I wish there were more tape! If anyone ever uncovered even a note of the QMS from the Quick and the Dead tour in '68, I might well die and go to heaven. As it stands, the June 7th show is one of the few that circulates complete and in good quality from that year.

  2. The June 8th show is available from the folks at Wolfgangs Vault - as are April 6 (early and late) plus November 7, 9 and 10.

  3. I think the June 8th show they list is the same as what circulates as June 7th. The November shows are incomplete. I need to revisit April 6th.

    The only other show that circulates among collectors in good sound quality from that year is the April 14 show from the Carousel.

  4. I remember the June 8th show. When Jimi Hendrixs came on stage the buzz in the audience was that it was an impostor until he played for a while. However Quicksilver Messenger Service's opening act set the bar much to high and Steppenwolf's simplistic though energetic playing then Electric Flag 'distracted' presentation never won back the audience. We were late for this "late" show as my father's VW van was not up to the hills on the Palisades Parkway with a load of college kids, but the concert schedule was dragging so we "grooved" to the light show behind the "skyline" of dark towers of speakers and amps with their "windows" of red power lights, until QSMS open up.

  5. bamel, that's a great touch: Hendrix comes on stage, and people say "it's gotta be an impostor, man." What a good story.

  6. I'd seen Jimi Hendrix a few months earlier, or perhaps longer (timeline is a bit fuzzy in my mind), in Washington D C at old movie theater, like the Fillmore East, probably same size, but they'd ripped out all the seats. Hendrix performed, everybody was in disbelief, but Hendrix was actually at bar in the back during the break talking with anybody who went up to him. Very hard for ANYONE to imitate Hendrix or to find anyone who could do 5% of what Hendix does on guitar. So, no, it was definitely not an impostor who played with Electric Flag. Still think Electric Flag was one of the truly great groups of sixties, however briefly they lasted. American rock scene was extremely fluid -- with exception of groups like Beach Boys (and Grateful Dead) very few bands (or combinations of personnel) stayed together long. Al Kooper's autobiography makes for a good read and has lots of info., including fact it was Chas Chandler, bassist of the Animals, who "discovered" Jimi Hendrix who was penniless in New York, bought him air ticket to London, & got him into a recording studio in UK -- rest is history.