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
July 1-3, 1966 Blues Project/Butterfield Blues Band/Big Joe Williams
By this time, the Butterfield Blues Band were smoking hot and widely regarded nationally. Their first album had come out in October 1965, but their live shows were dominated by the epic instrumental “East West” which would be the title of their second album.
The Blues Project and The Butterfield Band were the best and best known “white blues bands” and this was just about the only time they played on the same bill. Kooper has great tales about these dates in his book Backstage Passes.
July 4-10, 1966 Butterfield Blues Band
Apparently, on either July 3 or 10, Mike Bloomfield invited Jimi Hendrix over to jam with the band. Hendrix at the time was playing the nearby Cafe Wha? under the name Jimmy James.
July 12-17, 1966 Pozo Seco Singers/Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods
The Pozo-Seco singers were a trio featuring Don Williams, Lofton Kline and Susan Taylor. They recorded a few albums for Columbia. After 1970, when the group broke up, Williams went on to significant success as a Country singer and songwriter.
The Youngbloods took over the role of The Blues Project to some extent, seemingly appearing most nights around this period. The Youngbloods at this time were a little more blues oriented than their later, mellower work in the 60s.
July 19-24, 1966 Gordon Lightfoot/Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods
Canadian Gordon Lightfoot better known as a folk songwriter at this point, having written songs like "Early Morning Rain" for Ian And Sylvia, for example. By 1966, however, he was managed by Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan's manager, and he had just released his first American album Lightfoot, on United Artists.
July 27-31, 1966 Butterfield Blues Band/John Lee Hooker
August 1-7, 1966 Butterfield Blues Band/Pozo Seco Singers/Youngbloods
In August 1966, Elektra released the second Paul Butterfield Blues Band album, East-West. The title track was a 12-minute improvisation built on Indian music (the band actually called it "The Raga") that miraculously merged sophisticated Indian music with driving Chicago blues. The album laid out the blueprint for every improvising band of the 1960s, with Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop's guitars winding in and out with Butterfield's harmonica and Mark Naftalin's swirling organ. In concert, the song was getting longer and longer, and some versions lasted as long as 30 minutes. In an era when many rock bands still featured folk musicians trying to figure out electric instruments, the Butterfield band's virtuosity opened up a new universe.
August 8-14, 1966 Muddy Waters/The Youngbloods
August 16-18, 1966 Jim Kweskin Jug Band/Jim & Jean
August 19-21, 1966 Muddy Waters/John Lee Hooker/Jim Kweskin Jug Band/Jim & Jean
Sometime in August, two Berkeley hippies named Joe McDonald and Barry Melton hitchhiked out to New York City in search of a manager for their fledgling rock band, Country Joe and The Fish. They spent some time with the Blues Project at the Au Go Go. The Blues Project were actually playing at a place called The Phone Booth at the time, but Joe and Barry seem to have met them at the Au Go Go.
At the end of August, Joe, Barry and their friend Robbie Basho return to California in the Blues Project’s van. The Blues Project’s road manager, Eugene (ED) Denson, becomes the manager of Country Joe and The Fish.
August 27-September 4, 1966 Butterfield Blues Band/John Lee Hooker
September 6-13, 1966 Tim Hardin/Times Square Two/John Hammond
Tim Hardin was a fine songwriter and performer who merged jazz and blues with regular folk stylings, and his songs were widely covered. The Times Square Two were a sort of ragtime folk duo.
September 15-22, 1966 John Hammond with Jimmy James and The Blue Flames/Judy Roederick
John Hammond had apparently been playing the Cafe Au Go Go as an acoustic blues player, but he apparently decided to go electric. A group called Jimmy James and The Blue Flames were playing 5 sets a night at the smaller Cafe Wha? down the street. Hammond, versatile enough to play Chicago-style electric blues as well as acoustic delta-style, invited guitarist Jimmy James and his rhythm section to back him for two sets a night. The Blue Flames rhythm guitarist, transplanted Californian teenager Randy Wolfe, sat out for Hammond’s sets. Jimmy James called Wolfe ‘Randy California’ (to distinguish him from the Texan bass player also named Randy).
Randy Wolfe returned to California at summer’s end and joined a group called Spirit, and Jimmy James moved to England and became Jimi Hendrix.
September 23-27, 1966 Blues Project/Junior Wells
September 28-30, 1966 Blues Project/Larry Hankin
Larry Hankin was a comedian.
October 1-2, 1966 Blues Project/Larry Hankin/Times Square Two
October 3, 1966 Blues Project/Larry Hankin/Phil Ochs/Judy Roderick/David Blue/Jim and Jean
Phil Ochs was a well-established folk singer. Perhaps this was a benefit or special event.
October 4-6, 1966 Blues Project/Larry Hankin
October 7, 1966 Blues Project/Times Square Two
October 9, 1966 Blues Project/Eric Andersen/Judy Roderick/Jim & Jean
Verve released the second Blues Project album, Projections, in October 1966.
October 11-27, 1966 Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods
Patrick Sky played with the Youngbloods on October 20.
October 28-29, 1966 Judy Roderick/Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods
October 30-31, 1966 Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods
November 1-6, 1966 Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods
November 8-20, 1966 Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor was a rising young comedian at this time.
November 21-27, 1966 Blues Bag with Blues Project/Big Joe Williams/Muddy Waters/Otis Spann/ John Lee Hooker/Richie Havens/David Blue
The "Blues Bag" event was repeated. Given that Muddy Waters played this show, it may be that Al Kooper has merged his memory of the different Blues Bag shows in his mind (see November 24, 1965).
November 29-December 3, 1966 Youngbloods
December 1-2, 1966 Lothar and The Hand People
Lothar and The Hand People had been Denver’s main psychedelic band, but they had moved to New York in August 1966. They featured a Theremin, a primitive synthesizer (most famously used for the electronic sounds on “Good Vibrations”). ‘Lothar’ was ostensibly the name of the Theremin. The group did not release an album until 1968.
December 4-5, 1966 Richard Pryor/Big Joe Williams/Lothar and The Hand People
December 5-11, 1966 Butterfield Blues Band/Richie Havens
I’m not certain of the exact billing on 12.5.66 Since it was a Sunday, perhaps this bill played in the evening, and Richard Pryor and the others (above) finished out their engagement Sunday afternoon.
December 13-18, 1966 Eric Andersen
Eric Andersen was a folk singer on the Cambridge/Greenwich Village circuit, who recorded for Vanguard. His best known songs were “Thirsty Boots” (recorded by Judy Collins) and “Violets Of Dawn” (recorded by The Blues Project). His second album Bout Changes N Things had been released in 1966.
December 19, 1966 Blues Project
December 20-24, 1966 Blues Project/Ian & Sylvia/Richie Havens
December 26-31 Ian & Sylvia/Richie Havens
Ian & Sylvia Tyson were a popular Canadian folk duo who recorded for Vanguard.
For the next installment see here