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
Part III July 1966-December 1966
Part IV January 1967-June 1967
Part V July 1967-December 1967
Part VI January 1968-June 1968
Part VII July 1968-December 1968
July 1-7, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears/James Cotton (28th>29th only)
At this point, Al Kooper had left the group, and singer David Clayton-Thomas appears to have already joined. However, they would have still mainly been performing Kooper’s material.
July 9-21, 1968 Seatrain/Albert Ayler
In early 1968, two original Blues Project members, drummer Roy Blumenfield and bassist/flutist Andy Kulberg, reorganized the group and based it in Marin County. The band featured John Gregory on guitar and vocals (ex-The Gordian Knot and the final lineup of Mystery Trend) and Don Kretmar on bass and saxophone. Sea Train had been formed from the ashes of that last Blues Project. Violinist Richard Greene had departed the Jim Kweskin Jug Band (based in Cambridge, MA) in the Spring of 1968 to join the Blues Project on the West Coast. For various murky reasons, the group changed their name to Sea Train. Greene’s classical training and bluegrass sensibility (he had toured with Bill Monroe) gave him a distinct and powerful sound, and his fiddle acted more like a horn in the group.
The Blues Project still owed an album to Verve, so this lineup of Sea Train (Kulberg/Blumenfield/Kretmar/Gregory/Greene) recorded their “first” album as the last Blues Project album with the title Planned Obsolescence, released in December 1968.
Albert Ayler was a cutting-edge “free jazz” saxophonist (“out there” is just a starting point).
July 23-25, 1968 John Lee Hooker
July 26-27, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears
August 2-4, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears/Buzz Linhart
Buzzy Linhart had been the lead guitarist of a Greenwich Village band called The Seventh Sons, who had an obscure album on ESP Records, but he had begun a solo career.
August 6-10, 1968 Blues Magoos/Buzzy Linhart
The Blues Magoos were a Bronx band who had originally been Village regulars who made it big with “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” in 1967. They toured nationally with Herman’s Hermits and The Who in the summer of 1967, but by 68 the band had fallen apart. However, lead singer Peppy Castro put together a new lineup with Erik Kaz on organ, among others, and the band put out another album, but they never recaptured their initial success.
By August of 1968, the Fillmore East was becoming the prime spot for bands in the Village. Although the Cafe Au Go Go still had relationships with certain bands, up and coming groups seemed to prefer being second or third on the bill at Fillmore East to playing the Au Go Go. Probably not coincidentally, by August of 1968 Au Go Go booker Barry Imhoff had moved to San Francisco to work with Bill Graham's talent agency, the Millard Agency.
August 23-25, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears
August 28-September 2, 1968 Butterfield Blues Band/Buzzy Linhart
The Butterfield Blues Band’s first album without Mike Bloomfield had been recent The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw (released in November 67), which represented a more soulful sound, with a horn section. Their new album was In My Own Dream (August 68), still featuring Elvin Bishop on lead guitar, although Bishop had left the group shortly after these shows and moved to San Francisco to start a recording career.
September 6-7, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears
September 10-15, 1968 The Nazz/The Wind In The Willows
The Nazz were a popular group on the Philadelphia psychedelic scene, and featured lead guitarist and songwriter Todd Rundgren. The Wind In The Willows featured a brunette lead singer named Debbie Harry.
September 16, 1968 Tyrannosaurus Rex
This appears not to be the English Tyrannosaurus Rex (see August 15, 1969), who did not play in America until the next year.
September 19-26, 1968 Rhinoceros/John Lee Hooker (20 and 21 only)
Rhinoceros was Elektra’s attempt to put together their own Electric Flag-like “super group”, featuring ex-Iron Butterfly guitarist Danny Weis and ex-Mother Billy Mundi. One of the strange features of their founding was competitive, sports team-like auditions to determine band membership (with Doors producer Paul Rothschild deciding who made the team). Rhinoceros was playing shows in New York nightclubs to build up a buzz about their forthcoming first album (Elektra Nov 68). Similar to Moby Grape’s experience, although Rhinoceros was a pretty good group, with a sort of heavy rock/R&B sound (midway between Iron Butterfly, Booker T. and The Band), they had great difficulty overcoming their own hype.
The band was originally booked all the way through to Ocotober 19th, but the gig was foreshortened.
September 27-October 5, 1968 Tim Hardin/Van Morrison
Tim Hardin, a Cambridge folkie and ex-Marine, was a bit older than his contemporaries, but according to Richie Unterburger’s excellent book Turn Turn Turn (Backbeat Books 2002), was the first musician to mix folk with a blues rhythm section, and was a huge influence on the likes of The Lovin Spoonful. Hardin became somewhat well-known as a songwriter (“If I Were A Carpenter” and “Reason To Believe”) but his drug and personal problems prevented him from being a real success.
Van Morrison was probably still living in Woodstock at this time and playing with a trio. He was in the midst of recording his immortal Astral Weeks album.
Its possible that Van Morrison was replaced by Rhinoceros, or put another way, that Van Morrison never replaced Rhinoceros, or that all three acts played.
October 12-17, 1968 Moby Grape/Mom's Apple Pie
Moby Grape, despite all their talent, never caught a break. Due to severe personal difficulties, guitarist Skip Spence had left the group and the band was now a four-piece.
A play called "The Moke Eaters" was also presented at the Cafe Au Go Go during this time, probably between Moby Grape and Dino Valenti, and possibly other times as well.
October 30-November 4, 1968 Dino Valenti
Dino Valenti had been an influential Greenwich Village folkie in the early 60s, but had moved to California (supposedly Richie Havens act was modeled on Valenti's). In 1965, Valenti was busted for pot, forcing him to sell the rights to his song “Get Together.” While Valenti was in jail, Quicksilver Messenger Service was formed to provide a backing band for him, but they became successful in their own right. Valenti got out of jail and went solo. This was one of his relatively rare performances outside of San Francisco. Although Valenti did not come off well on rccord, contemporaries such as Paul Kantner speak glowingly of his charisma as a performer.
There is a review of a Rhinoceros show on November 1, 1968, and The Nazz may have played Cafe Au Go Go as well.
November 12-16, 1968 Ian & Sylvia
November 26-December 1, 1968 Blues Bag with Danny Kalb/Richie Havens/Dave Van Ronk/Ultimate Spinach/Big Joe Willaims/Butterfield Blues Band/Bloomfield and Kooper
It is unlikely that Bloomfield and Kooper did any kind of perfomance together, Super Session style. However, it is a reasonable assumption that either or both showed up to jam on various nights. By this time, The Butterfield Blues Band featured Buzzy Feiten on guitar.
December 3-9,1968 Silver Apples and Tommy Flanders (with Danny Kalb 7-9 only)w/Pacific Gas & Electric (5 only).
Pacific Gas & Electric (later shortened to P,G&E at the firm request of the California utility) were a Los Angeles based blues rock band who released several albums (on Kent and then Columbia) from 1968 to 1973.
December 20-31, 1968 Tim Hardin
for the next installment see here