The iconic New York rock venue has always been Bill Graham's Fillmore East, and rightly so. The Fillmore East only opened in 1968, however, when the rock business had become fairly established. The less imposing Cafe Au Go Go had opened on February 7, 1964. It was a brick room with a low ceiling, long and narrow, and not ideally designed for electric music. Prior to the rock boom, it had been a haven for jazz, folk and comedy performers, but the Cafe Au Go Go became one of the first clubs in Greenwich Village and New York City to regularly book "name" rock acts, particularly from out of town. Within a few short years, it was primarily a rock club, and one of the first places bands had to play for the critical but enthusiastic New York audience.
Thanks to my friend Marc, I have had an excellent list of performers at the Cafe Au Go Go from 1965 to 1969, when it closed. I was lacking much of a context, however, but now that I have discovered the excellent New York City site prosopography blog Its All The Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago, and its exceptional post on the Cafe Au Go Go, my performers list can be put into some kind of context.
My goal for this series is to list all the rock performers at the Cafe Au Go Go from July 27, 1965 through late 1969, when the club closed. I have included some brief information about where each performer stood at the time each of their Au Go Go performance, such as their current album and lineup, but I have not tried to create exhaustive biographies for each band. I am trying to capture how different bands came through Greenwich Village and New York City in their efforts to succeed. I have listed folk, jazz or other performers but have largely refrained from commenting on them.
The Café Au Go Go was an oddity, a music club that didn’t serve liquor. This made it accessible to underage patrons, but it also meant that there were no bar receipts to rely on when things were slow on the bandstand. By coffee house standards, the Au Go Go was large, with room for 300 to 400 people. However, when the Greenwich Village folk boom started to die down, it became more of a struggle for the club to survive. Electric Rock and Blues acts began to be billed regularly at the Au Go Go in mid-1965, and this list picks up the story there.
This list is mostly drawn from advertisements in the Village Voice and other papers, and a few biographies and other sources when the Au Go Go was mentioned. Like all nightclubs in big cities, who was advertised was not always who appeared. Missing dates are more likely due to a lack of advertising or missing issues of The Village Voice, as the Au Go Go probably presented live music almost every night from 1965-69. It is possible that nights that were not advertised simply featured local groups, but those too may have been of historical interest. The Au Go Go advertised regularly in the Village Voice, and there were occasional flyers around, but there is probably much more to be learned, particularly about opening acts and casual guest appearances.
This is a work in progress. Anyone with additional information, corrections, insights or recovered memories (real or imagined) about any of the rock performers is urged to post it in the Comments or contact me. For ease of navigation, this series will be divided into nine parts (late 1965, early and late 1966, early and late 1967, early and late 1968 and early and late 1969).
The Cafe Au Go Go 1961-65
The Cafe Au Go Go seems to have opened on February 7, 1964. The club was owned by Howard Solomon, who was also manager of the influential singer Fred Neil. Whatever the source of the name "Au Go Go", it had nothing to do with "Go-Go Dancing," a product of the Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood, which also opened in 1964. I will leave it to rock and roll linguists to parse the history of the word. For the first few years, the Cafe Au Go Go appeared to mostly featured folk, jazz and comedy performers, typical of the shows in Greenwich Village at the time.
Wikipedia has some interesting highlights of the pre-rock period of the Au Go Go
In 1964, Comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested here on obscenity charges, along with owner, Howard Solomon. In 1964 Solomon also brought in a large group of singers and musicians from an off-Broadway show, and christened them the (Cafe) Au Go Go Singers to rival the Bitter End Singers across the street at the Bitter End Cafe. Solomon managed the group until their break-up in late 1965. In the Au Go Go Singers were Kathy King (who later toured with Bobby Vinton), Jean Gurney, Michael Scott (afterward played bass for the Highwaymen), Rick (Frederic) Geiger (later performed in light opera), Roy Michaels (soon after joined "Cat Mother" and toured with Jimi Hendrix), and Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, both who would eventually form the Buffalo Springfield. Two other members, Nels Gustafson and Bob Harmelink, quit show business entirely after leaving the group.For a list of "pre-rock" performers at the Cafe Au Go Go, from February 1964 to July 1965, see here
It was also at the Cafe Au Go Go that afterward a new folk/rock group was formed (Geiger, Michaels, Scott, Gurney, and Stills) from the remnants of the Au Go Go Singers, called The Company. It was when the Rollins and Joffee Talent Agency sent The Company on a tour of Canada that Stephen Stills met Neil Young. Eventually, Stills, Young, Richie Furay and two others became the Buffalo Springfield.
Cafe Au Go Go Rock Performers List
Part I July 27, 1965-December 1965
July 27-August 1, 1965 Butterfield Blues Band/Bob Gibson/Barbara Dane/Chambers Brothers
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop, presaged the entire wave of electric blues and rock that would sweep the county, and they were as good as any band that came later. With twin lead guitars, Butterfield's amazing harmonica and Muddy Waters’ rhythm section, they were an obvious signing for Elektra producer Paul Rothchild. The group had already recorded an album in December 1964, but Rothchild junked the LP because the sound wasn’t good enough.
The group had become known because of a track on an Elektra Sampler album called What’s Shakin', featuring various groups, and Bloomfield had played on Bob Dylan’s "Like A Rolling Stone" session. Elektra decided to record the band live and booked them for two weeks at the Au Go Go. However, the recordings were not successful, as the live recording of electric bands was still in its infancy, but the band made a splash in Greenwich Village. The Butterfield Blues Band had just backed Bob Dylan's "apostate" electric rock and roll performance at the Newport Folk Festival (on July 25) so there was already a buzz in the air.
White bands had been fooling with rhythm and blues, but a mixed band playing as well as any band in Chicago was a new revelation. The Butterfield Blues Band sent out an unmistakable message that white musicians could play exciting blues without aping the established greats, and a thousand bands were formed in their wake, a few for every place the band performed.
Barbara Dane, based in San Francisco, was one of the few (perhaps the only) white female blues singers in the 1950s. The Chambers Brothers, initially from Los Angeles, had initially been gospel singers who moonlighted as blues players, and found a following on the folk circuit. They would move to Cambridge, MA around the time of these shows, and evolve into a rock band.
August 3-24, 1965 Oscar Brown Jr
Oscar Brown was a folk singer who recorded for Elektra, as did many other folk (and later rock) artists.
August 25-3, 1965 Butterfield Blues Band/Oscar Brown Jr
September 1-4, 1965 Butterfield Blues Band/Oscar Brown Jr/John Hammond
September 5, 1965 Oscar Brown Jr/John Hammond
At this time, the Butterfield Blues Band was still a five-piece. Organist Mark Naftalin (a long-time friend of the group) did not join until the recording sessions in Cambridge a few days later (September 9, 1965)). The whole story is told in great detail in the excellent Mike Bloomfield biography If You Love These Blues: An Oral History (Wolkin and Keenan, Miller Freeman Books, 2000), and a slightly shorter version can be found here.
John Hammond, by virtue of having access to his legendary father’s record collection, was the master of many then-obscure blues guitar styles. Bloomfield had already played electric guitar on a Hammond album the previous year. Its not clear to me whether Hammond played solo or with a band, but I'll bet he sat in at least once with the Butterfield crew.
September 6-12, 1965 Butterfield Blues Band/John Hammond/Little John Trio
This was billed as “The First New York Blues Project.” This did not appear to refer to the group later called The Blues Project (see below), which at the time was still called the Danny Kalb Quintet. Elektra Records had released a “Various Artists” album in 1964 called The Blues Project, so the name was in the air somewhat.
September 14-23, 1965 The 7 Sons
September 24-25, 1965 The 7 Sons/David Blue/Jim and Jean
September 26-30, 1965 The 7 Sons
The 7 Sons are unknown to me. David Blue (real name David Cohen) was a Greenwich Village folkie, who later recorded for Elektra, and Jim and Jean Glover were a folk duo who had released an album on Phillips.
October 4&11, 1965 Nam June Paic and “Electronic Video Recorder” (an Experimental Film)
Monday nights tended to be reserved for other kinds of artists.
October 5-10, 1965 Luiz Bonfa
Bonfa, a guitarist, had composed “Black Orpheus.”
October ?, 1965 Blues Project
The Blues Project, six Jewish kids who liked the blues, was the first meaningful white blues band in New York City. The first “known” Blues Project date (per Mark's exceptional research) was at The Bitter End on October 7-9, 1965. Al Kooper had been hired to play piano on a record company demo and was asked to join the group, even though he knew little about the blues. Kooper, well known around town as a session musician after playing on “Like A Roling Stone” (and with Dylan at Newport in July), agreed to join in order to improve his organ chops. He appears to have joined shortly after the Bitter End shows.
Kooper recounts the story of the Blues Project’s initial month long gig at the Café Au Go Go in his usual hilarious fashion in the book Backstage Passes (Billboard Books 1998). The band was playing at the smaller Night Owl nearby, when Solomon offered them a week at the Au Go Go. Although crowds were initially tiny, the band played for weeks on end and eventually developed a following of teenagers anxious for something different. The Blues Project seems to have played most of the Fall at the Au Go Go, and in so doing made their own career and established the Au Go Go as a place to break new bands.
October 26, 1965 Jaqueline Carol, Louis St. Louis, David Brooks, Ralph Mauro and Lilly Tomlin This bill (probably all comedians) probably played through the week.
We have some gaps in the October and November ads, but I assume that many, though not all, of those dates were taken up by the Blues Project.
November 8 & 15, 1965 "Happening" with Cosugi, Shigeko and Moorman
A "happening" was 60s-speak for what would now be called Performance Art or Experimental Theater. These dates were Monday nights, slow nights anyway for most clubs.
November 9-21, 1965 Blues Project
The Blues Project at this time was Tommy Flanders (lead vocals), Danny Kalb (lead guitar), Steve Katz (guitar/harmonica), Al Kooper (organ), Andy Kulberg (bass) and Roy Blumenfield (drums). This run probably started in October.
November 22, 1965 Happenings with Larry Loonin, Woody King and Alison Knowls
Another Monday Night “Happening.”
November 24-27, 1965 Blues Bag w/ Blues Project/Big Joe Williams/Son House/Bukka White/ Skip James/Eric Andersen/John Hammond/John Lee Hooker/Geoff Muldaur/Seventh Sons/T Bone Walker
Verve Records, who had signed the Blues Project, had the idea of recording the band live. To justify the project, they had a sort of “Blues Festival” and recorded all the acts. Kooper recalls Muddy Waters being on the bill, and feeling embarrassed to come on after Waters. The Project’s teenage fans, while liking the real thing well enough, preferred the suburban white blues of the Blues Project, much to the confusion of Kooper. Kooper may be confusing this "Blues Festival" with a similar one held in 1966, where Muddy Waters was actually on the bill. This bill featured a mixture of electric and country (acoustic) blues performers as well as some white folk musicians with a blues orientation (John Hammond, Eric Andersen and Geoff Muldaur).
Several tracks from the Blues Project debut Live At The Café Au Go Go were recorded at these shows.
December 1-2, 1965 Blues Project and Workshop
I'm not sure exactly what was meant by "Workshop," but I assume it was along the lines of events held at Folk Festivals, where musicians demonstrated specific styles or techniques.
December 3-5, 1965 Shoshanna Damarri
December 14-16, 1965 The Fugs/Richie Havens
The Fugs were established East Village beatniks, folkies and troublemakers. Richie Havens, too, was an established folk musician.
December 17-26, 1965 Blues Project/Fugs/David Blue
December 28, 1965-January 2, 1966 Orbit In Orbit: Holiday Blues Bag w/ Blues Project, Beverly Ann Gibson, Nate Edmonds, George Wilson, JD Brown, Little Gerry Griffin, Stan Green, The Vilons, Leo Wright and the LJ’s
Other than the Blues Project, the acts are unknown to me. Perhaps they were East Coast blues or R&B performers.
For the next installment, see here