The 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
pre-rock: February 1964-July 25, 1965
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
Part VIII January 1969-June 1969
Part IX-July 1969-October 1969
The Cafe Au Go Go had been closed at the end of June 1969, as Howard Solomon had sold the club. Apparently he moved to Florida to manage Fred Neil. I'm not sure who ran the Cafe Au Go Go for the Fall of 1969, but there was a brief effort to make it a competitive rock club again. We are missing numerous dates, mainly due to missing ads in the Village Voice. Its hard to be certain how things we're really going, but I'm presenting the information as we have it.
update: thanks to a correspondent, a Rolling Stone article about the closure of the Cafe Au Go Go (below) tells us that the new owner was one Moses Baruch, who added singer Richie Havens as a partner. There are some contradictions between what the article says and who was actually advertised. The article suggests that the Au Go Go was closed from June to September, when in fact it seems to have re-opened in July.
July 8-14, 1969 Head Band Blues Band/Bruce Pain/King Biscuit
July 15-21, 1969 Budddy Miles Express/Uncle Dirty
The Buddy Miles Express had been formed by the drummer in late 1968 after The Electric Flag had disintegrated following the departures of Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites.
August 15-21, 1969 Tyrannosaurus Rex
Tyrannosaurus Rex was a hippie folkie duo featuring guitarist/singer Marc Bolan and Steve ‘Peregrine’ Took on bongos and congas. They were very different than the gritty glam rock machine Bolan would lead in the 70s, known for the hit single “Bang A Gong.” This was part of Tyrannosaurus Rex’s brief American tour, supporting their 3rd album, Beard Of Stars.
August 29-31, 1969 Van Morrison/Holy Modal Rounders/Tom Brimm
Van Morrison’s group probably consisted only of John Payne (flute and sax) and Tom Kielbania (bass).
The Holy Modal Rounders were from the Lower East Side, and were primarily an Acid Folk duo, featuring Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel. They are credited as the first musicians to release a song with the word “psychedelic” in it (in 1964!). They had released 4 albums by this time, not counting their stints as members of The Fugs, their most recent being 1968’s The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders. By this time, they were sort of a folk-rock group—an acid folk-rock group—but the exact configuration of the group for these gigs is unknown. The pair have continued to record intermittently as the Holy Modal Rounders through at least 2006.
September 24-27, 1969 Ace Trucking Company/Holy Modal Rounders/Eric Mercury
The Ace Trucking Company were a ‘sketch comedy’ group. Fred Willard (from Fernwood 2Nite and many other shows) was a member.
Eric Mercury was a black R&B singer from Canada, who moved to Chicago in the late 60s. He was probably promoting his Avco Embassy album Electric Black Man.
September 29-October 1, 1969 Grateful Dead
It seems odd that the Dead would play a venue as small as the Au Go Go, but the Dead on the road would fill any open night with a gig (and perhaps there had been a latent favor with former booker Barry Imhoff?). Tapes exist, so the shows definitely happened, and the Dead were at their ripping '69 best.
Update: an eyewitness reports that there were different opening acts each night: Eric Mercury, Lonnie Mack and the Holy Modal Rounders, although the precise order is forgotten. The Dead played early and late shows. There was so little room on the stage that Pigpen's congas were set up out in the audience.
October 2, 1969 Peter Walker
Billed as “Peter Walker and some friends of the Café Au Go Go.”
October 7-8-9, 1969 Elvin Bishop Quartet
Elvin Bishop had moved to San Francisco after he quit the Butterfield Blues Band in Fall 1968. By mid-1969, he was managed by Bill Graham’s Millard Agency, one of whose agents (Barry Imhoff) was the former booker for the Au Go Go. By this time, Bishop had released his debut album on Epic (The Elvin Bishop Group). The band had Bishop on lead guitar and vocals, Art Stavro on bass, John Chambers on drums and Applejack (Jack Walrath) on harmonica. Bishop had just debuted at the Fillmore East the previous weekend (Oct 3-4).
October 9-12, 1969 The McCoys/Waldrop and Roundtree/Blues Project II with Danny Kalb
The McCoys featured brothers Rick and Randy Zehringer, from Indiana. The band had had a hit with “Hang On Sloopy,” but the group were largely embarrassed by it. They had moved to New York, where they were managed by local promoter Steve Paul (proprietor of the midtown club The Scene, among other things). The band had “gone psychedelic” with their 1969 album Human Ball, but it was very difficult to be seen as anything other than a “Top 40” group.
In 1970, Steve Paul teamed the McCoys up with another of his clients, Johnny Winter, and formed the group Johnny Winter And. The cruelly underrated 1971 album of the same name featured the original recording of “Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo”, written by guitarist Zehringer (who by then was known by his Nom Du Rock Rick Derringer)
October 13, 1969 Benefit for Billy Cheeseboro with John Mayall, Tim Hardin and many friends
I do not know who Billy Cheeseboro was. John Mayall was apparently touring around the East Coast at the time (he played Fillmore East on Oct 3-4), so he was probably expected to just make an appearance, rather than bring his entire band.
October 14, 1969 Tuesday Night Jam Session
October 15, 1969 Vietnam Moratorium
October 16, 1969 Tim Hardin/Eric Mercury
October 17-19, 1969 Eric Mercury
October 21-22, 1969 Elvin Bishop
The Café Au Go Go seems to have closed soon after this, and this chapter of rock in Greenwich Village came to an end. It is fitting that the rock era at the Au Go Go began with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in July 1965, and a member of that original group closed the club.
Scheduled shows in November that were never played included Santana and Jack Cassidy [sic] and Friends (the fledgling Hot Tuna). update: According to a Rolling Stone article from the December 27, 1969 issue (p.14--h/t Iver)
According to the Streets You Crossed blog, the building seems to have been torn down and replaced by apartments built sometime in the 1980s.Rock & Roll Offed At Café Au Go Go
New York – The Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village is no more. In its place is the Café Caliph, serving up Middle Eastern entertainment and fare.
The decision to drop the rock was made by club owner Moses Baruch who bought the lease from Maidmen Realty Inc., after original owner Howard Solomon left New York last June for Coconut Grove, Floriday, to manage Fred Neil.
“I took over the club to run it the same way as a jazz club, but for rock and roll,” says Baruch. “I put in a couple of big groups like the Grateful Dead but I couldn’t make a go of it. I tried to do it and even took in Richie Havens as a partner. But it’s impossible.
“The big groups go to the Fillmore East and personally, if I wanted to see them I’d rather go there since you see a show and it’s not too expensive. I just can’t cover the costs.”
The club was closed from June to September when it re-opened with a benefit headlining Blood, Sweat and Tears. Havens wanted to turn the Au Go Go in to a showcase for rock in New York, but management difficulties and fiscal problems kept it in the red.
The demise of the Café Au Go Go leaves New York with few rock clubs. Ungano’s on the Upper West Side continues to prosper, as does The Bitter End in the Vllage. The East Village’s tacky temple of tourism, the Electric Circus, also remains. Cheetah caters to the R&B crowd. Tarot, a new club on Union Square, is attempting to pick up where the Scene left off, and has two dance floors and a liquor license, plus, for better or for worse, the former musical director of Hair hiring performers.