Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside, Portland, OR Performance List January-June 1967


(A poster advertising the February 3-4-5, 1967 weekend at the Crystal Ballroom, soon after it opened as a rock venue. h/t Ross for all the scans)

Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon was a regular stop on the touring circuit for all kinds of entertainment, but in the late 1960s it was not a major or important market. As a result of Portland’s then modest status and a tolerant attitude befitting its status as port city on the West Coast, it became a sort of satellite of the San Francisco scene. 

The Crystal Ballroom, 1332 West Burnside at N.W. 14th Avenue, Portland, OR, 97209
The Crystal Ballroom at 1332 West Burnside (at NW 14th) was built in 1914 as the Cotillion Dancehall.  The third floor ballroom was constructed with a mechanical “Floating Dance Floor” (on ball bearings), a concept that was thought to be unique on the West Coast at the time. The building was used for dances, parties and musical performances throughout its history. The complete history of the Crystal, and in effect the entertainment history of downtown Portland, can be found in Tim Hills' book The Many Lives Of The Crystal Ballroom (1997: McMenamins Pubs & Breweries). This book is the principal source of almost all the information currently available on the web about the Crystal, and I have relied on it heavily here for background and facts about both the Crystal and the Portland scene in general.

In the early 1960s, the Crystal became an important stop on the Rhythm and Blues circuit, and many famous R&B acts like James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner had memorable performances at the hall. These shows were booked by one Charles Sullivan, who booked many R&B acts up and down the West Coast. Sullivan controlled the lease on San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium (Bill Graham took over the lease when Sullivan retired in 1966), and booked shows not only at the Fillmore and the Crystal but at a string of venues in the Northwest (including the University of Oregon at Eugene, the Salem Armory, the Evergreen Ballroom in Lacey [WA], the Crescent Ballroom in Tacoma and the Encore Ballroom in Seattle). Hills has excellent and detailed recollections of the various soul and R&B shows at the Crystal in the early 60s.

Hills also documents the city of Portland’s uneasiness with the popular shows in the local African American community. When the city put a freeway through the middle of downtown (now Interstate 405), many businesses near the Crystal were demolished. Although the Crystal itself was spared, many of the patrons of the Ballroom had lived in nearby residence hotels that disappeared. With Sullivan on the verge of retirement and the Crystals’ neighborhood crippled, management gave up their lease on the Crystal at the end of 1965, and the building was dormant for all of 1966.

As the “underground” rock market became bigger in the wake of the Fillmore, Whitey Davis, manager of the Caffe Espresso (previously The Folksinger), needed a bigger venue to accommodate larger crowds for bigger bands. Davis had worked at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, so he was both well connected and had some idea of how to proceed. He formed a partnership with friend and Los Angeles club manager Michael Magaurn, and on January 1, 1967 they took over the lease on the then-vacant Crystal Ballroom.

Starting on Friday, January 20, 1967, Davis and Magaurn took over the Crystal Ballroom for weekend dances. Most of the initial acts were local, but by the end of 1967 the Crystal became a regular stop on the West Coast for bands touring the “ballroom circuit” that had developed from San Francisco’s Fillmore and Avalon. There may have been dances on other nights of the week as well, but our information so far has come from surviving posters and handbills, and weeknight shows seem to have been limited to when major acts were passing through Portland.

According to Hills, while the Ballroom was immediately popular with the local counterculture, Davis and Magaurn had trouble making ends meet. As a result, bands were apparently not paid well (compared to other venues), and some of them appear to have had a sour taste about the Crystal.In early 1967, however, the hippie counterculture scene was still exciting and early shows were well attended. This post is the first of a three part history of performances at the Crystal Ballroom in its brief flowering as a psychedelic rock ballroom, from January 1967 through June 1968.

I have taken the best available information from posters, books and reminiscences (cited above and throughout).   This performance list only covers the period from when Whitey Davis took over the booking in 1967 to when the city of Portland forced the closure of the ballroom in June 1968. As our research is mostly from posters, there are substantial gaps in the chronology. We do not know if the Crystal skipped a lot of weekends, or (more likely) whether we simply have not uncovered the dates.

As this remains a work in progress, anyone with corrections, insights, new informations or recovered memories (real or imagined), please Email me or post them in the Comment section. I have made some comments on some of the bands, but for more detailed information, see the fantastic Pacific Northwest Bands site (which includes an alphabetical list of Crystal performers, but not by date). For a sharper picture of the Portland scene, and particularly the move from  based acoustic folk music to electric rock music, see Valerie Brown's exceptional article in the Summer 2007 Oregon Historical Quarterly (From Folk To Acid Rock In Portland Coffeehouses, 1967-70).

This post covers Crystal Ballroom rock performances from January to June 1967.

January 20, 1967 Weeds/Tweedy Bros/Family Tree
It appears that the psychedelic ballroom era of The Crystal Ballroom began on Friday, January 20, 1967. The existing poster says nothing about Saturday night, so I have no idea if there were other bands (or anyone) the next night.

The Tweedy Brothers were a Portland band, and The Weeds were a transplanted Las Vegas band who had settled in Portland (The Weeds would move to Los Angeles in February 1968 and change their name to the Lollipop Shoppe). The Family Tree were a California band, but they were regulars in venues North of San Francisco and in Southern Oregon. Besides frontman/singer Bob Segarini, the Family Tree at this time also featured guitarist Jimmy DeCocq, bassist Kooch Trochim and drummer Vann Slater. The Family Tree had released one obscure 45 on Mira Records, recorded in Lake Tahoe, but they were becoming a popular live act  on the West Coast. 

January 27-29, 1967 Weeds/Redcoats/US Cadenza
Gary Puckett, later of The Union Gap (“Young Girl”), was in The Redcoats at some point, but may have left by this time.

February 3-4, 1967 Sopwith Camel/Tweedy Bros/Gozero and The Psychedelics
February 5, 1967 Sopwith Camel/Tweedy Bros/ Wild Wild Weeds/The Others
Posters from this period, such as the one at the head of the post (through May 12-13) refer to the venue as “Crystal Ball”, although I list the venue as Crystal Ballroom.

The Sopwith Camel had been one of the earliest San Francisco ballroom groups, but they had since had a modest hit single with the song “Hello Hello.” Various foggy stories suggest that the Sopwith Camel didn't get paid, or didn't get what they were promised, and the Crystal's reputation as a fun but frustrating venue for out-of-town bands was initiated.  

February 10-12, 1967 Family Tree/Gazebo/Warlocks
The Warlocks were a band from Tigard, OR. It is possible that a single they had released in 1965 caused the San Francisco's Warlocks to change their name. At any rate Phil Lesh saw a single in a record store by some band called the Warlocks, precipitating the name change to the Grateful Dead and some believe it must have been the Oregon Warlocks.

Note that the Family Tree had already returned for their second weekend. However some San Francisco bands may have been treated, Family Tree returned again and again, so they must have done alright there.

Hills' book refers to Drake Levin's band The Golden Hind playing the venue about a week after Sopwith Camel, but its not certain if it was this weekend or a subsequent one (Levin had been in the hugely popular Paul Revere and The Raiders, but had left for National Guard service, and only performed part time at this point).

March ? 1967 Music Machine
Advertised as “coming in March” on the February 10, 1967 poster. The Music Machine, from Los Angeles, had had a hit with the song “Talk Talk.” Presumably there were shows every weekend in February and March, but we have only been able to determine the dates listed here.

March 22, 1967 Buffalo Springfield/Mr. Lucky and The Gamblers/The Warloks/The Weeds
Buffalo Springfield, a very popular band at the time, was on a tour of the Pacific Northwest. This accounts for the atypical Wednesday night show at the Crystal. Mr. Lucky and The Gamblers, originally from Newport, OR were a very popular Northwestern group, but in the more typical Northwestern R&B style rather than overtly psychedelic.

The Weeds remained in Portland because lead singer Fred Cole fell in love Toody Conner, who worked at a club called The Folksinger, where the Weeds were playing for gas money. By Spring 1967, Toody Conner was helping to run the Crystal, although according to Hills book neither she nor other volunteers were ever really paid. In any case, for obvious reasons, then, The Weeds seem to have been regular performers at the Crystal (Fred and Toody are still married, by the way). 

March 31, 1967 Gazebo/Sound Transfusion
April 1, 1967 Gazebo/The Moguls 

April 14, 1967 Family Tree/Warloks
April 15, 1967 Family Tree/Redcoats
The Family Tree returned to The Crystal regularly during its ballroom period. They apparently were a terrific live act.

April 28, 1967 New Direction/US Cadenza
April 29, 1967 Pre-Cambrian Lightning Bolt/Moguls

May 5-6, 1967 New Tweedy Bros/Cheetahs/Mr Lucky and The Gamblers



May 12-13, 1967 Neighb’rhood Childr’n/Warloks/Montells
The Neighb’rhood Childr’n were from Medford, OR, and they were the finest (and only) psychedelic band from there. The Southern Oregon/Northern California region was a separate economic entity from either the San Francisco Bay Area or the Portland area, and the Childr’n were extremely popular in that region. They also played on the fringes of the San Francisco ballroom circuit, and throughout Central California, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest. They made one excellent 1968 album, Long Years In Space (on Acta Records), since re-released as a cd on Sundazed.

May 21, 1967 Benefit for SNAP
Allen Ginsberg/PH Phactor/Great Pumpkin/Tweedy Brothers/Laura and The Vipers
SNAP was the Society for New Action Politics. The show was a fundraiser for local activists called The Portland Provos, who (similar to San Francisco's Diggers and the Berkeley Provos) were focused on the city's indigent.

May 21 was a Sunday night. Presumably there was a regular bill on Friday and Saturday night, but we haven’t yet uncovered any evidence.

May 31, 1967 The Fugs/Family Tree
According to Steve Stanley’s excellent liner notes for the cd release of Family Tree’s only album, Miss Butters (RCA May 68, cd Rev-Ola 2007), The Fugs and Family Tree were playing the Crystal Ballroom, and David Crosby (in town for the Byrds show at the Memorial Coliseum) came over and played the groups a reel-to-reel tape of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which would not be released for two more days. The exact dates of the actual gigs are not precise, but Family Tree singer Bob Segarini’s memory of hearing the tape is very certain.

The information about this gig suggests there were many more gigs at The Crystal for which there may not have been posters. There is every reason to believe that the Crystal put on shows many more weekends, but we are unable to confirm that.  

next: Crystal Ballroom rock performances from July to December 1967

Although it closed as a rock venue in June, 1968, The Crystal remained dormant, a beautiful dream left sleeping downtown. Happily, the building was purchased and restored by local entrepreneurs, and the Crystal Ballroom reopened in 1997. Its “Floating Ballroom” was restored as well, and The Crystal Ballroom is once again a popular local attraction and a glamorous tour stop for a wide variety of music.

2 comments:

  1. Re: March 22, 1967 Buffalo Springfield/Mr. Lucky and The Gamblers/The Warloks/The Weeds .... also on the bill (possibly) Green Day Goods

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have been reliably informed that I mistakenly thought that Crystal co-promoter Michael Magaurn was named Jim Magaurn, but I have corrected that.

    ReplyDelete