Cafe Au Go Go, at 152 Bleecker Street in New York City's Greenwich Village, was a critical venue for aspiring rock bands in the 1960s. Whatever the indisputable charms of the West Coast, the commercial and cultural capital of the United States has always been New York City, and bands had to make a good showing in New York if they expected to make it. Perhaps because the venue had no collectible poster art, the club has been somewhat unfairly left out of many rock chronicles, when in fact it played a crucial role in introducing new bands to New York City, and by extension to the whole country.
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).
Cafe Au Go Go Rock Performers List
Part I July 27, 1965-December 1965
Part II January 1966-June 1966
January 1-2, 1966 Orbit In Orbit w/Blues Project and top blues and rock stars
January 14-28, 1966 Oscar Brown Jr
January 29-30, 1966 Blues Project/Oscar Brown Jr
Vocalist Tommy Flanders had left the Blues Project, leaving Katz and Kooper to fill in as singers. Verve didn’t want an album featuring only a vocalist who had quit, so some January dates were recorded for the forthcoming live album, although the exact dates of the recordings are uncertain.
January 31-February 13, 1966 Blues Project/Fred Neil/Judy Roderick (1st>6th)/Richie Havens (7th>13th)
Fred Neil is mainly remembered today as a songwriter (“Everybody’s Talking At Me,” ‘The Other Side of This Life”), but in Greenwich Village he was well regarded as an innovator who was one of the first musicians to integrate folk, jazz and blues in his own style. He was also managed by Cafe Au Go Go owner Howard Solomon.
Judy Roderick was a folk singer who recorded for Vanguard.
March 15-18, 1966 Blues Project/Richie Havens/The Myddle Class
The Myddle Class were a band of mostly teenagers from Summitt, NJ. An early single, "Don't Let Me Sleep Too Long," was effectively a copy of the Blues Project song "Wake Me, Shake Me" which the band had heard while opening for the Project. The Myddle Class's 45 of the song was actually released before the Blues Project version of the song (on their second album Projections) and was a minor hit in the Northeast.
March 19, 1966 Seventh Sons with Buzz Linhart/Blues Project/Richie Havens/Myddle Class
The Seventh Sons, a local band featuring guitarist Buzzy Linhart, released an album on ESP, but the album may have may have been recorded and/or released after the group’s demise. Linhart was widely regarded amongst his Greenwich Village peers.
March 20-27, 1966 Blues Project/Richie Havens/The Myddle Class
April 1-11, 1966 Blues Project/Richie Havens
The Blues Project headed to San Francisco immediately after this for a lengthy series of gigs, including playing the San Francsico State College Folk Festival and headlining the debut concert of Chet Helms’s Avalon Ballroom (on April 22-23, 1966). During this period the Blues Project featured a female singer named Emmeretta Marks, and she was definitely on the San Francisco trip.
May 1-8, 1966 Jim Kweskin Jug Band/Youngbloods
The Jim Kweskin Jug Band (featuring among others Geoff and Maria Muldaur) were longtime mainstays of the Cambridge, MA folk scene, and recorded for Vanguard.
The Youngbloods were a folk-rock group that had gotten together in Cambridge after Jesse Colin Young (nee Perry Miller from Queens) had recorded an album for RCA called Young Blood. Other members were Lowell (Banana) Levenger, former banjoist turned pianist, guitarist and singer Jerry Corbitt and drummer Joe Bauer. Young switched to electric bass and shared the lead vocals with Corbitt.
May 13-23, 1966 Muddy Waters/John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker’s album Live At The Café Au Go Go was probably recorded during this stretch, as he was backed by the Muddy Waters group on the album.
May 19-21, 1966 Blues Project/Muddy Waters/John Lee Hooker
Verve released the first Blues Project album Live At The Café Au Go Go in May, 1966. Presumably they were added to the bill at Cafe Au Go Go, appropriately enough, to promote the album's release. Although Emmeretta Marks was probably still singing with them at this time, she would have left the band by June or so.
May 27-29, 1966 Bo Diddley/Blues Project/Youngbloods
May 30-31, 1966 Bo Diddley/Blues Project/Youngbloods
June 1-2, 1966 Bo Diddley/Blues Project
June 3-5, 1966 Bo Diddley/Blues Project/Fred Neil
June 6-19, 1966 Blues Project/Fred Neil/Youngbloods
June 29-30, 1966 Youngbloods
June 30, 1966 Blues Project
By the middle of 1966, the Cafe Au Go Go's bookings have a very electric feel. Bo Diddley, who had not had a hit in some time, was being rediscovered to some extent by the rock underground. During Fred Neil's lengthy stand (June 3-19), he was backed by a pick-up band whose membership (probably rotating) included Al Kooper, Harvey Brooks, Felix Pappalardi and John Sebastian. There would still be periodic folk performers at the Cafe Au Go Go, but for the most part the club featured not only rock music but hip underground rock. Greenwich Village was always looking for the next cool thing, and for a while a lot of cool bands were about to pass through the Cafe Au Go Go.
for the next installment see here