Thursday, April 8, 2010
The Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside, Portland, OR Performance List July-December 1967 (Oregon II)
This post is the second part of a series listing the rock performances at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon in 1967 and 1968. Also see
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. It 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 second 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 July to December 1967 (for January to June 1967, see here).
We have no firm information on gigs at the Crystal from June through September 1967. According to Tim Hills' book, the Crystal continued to put on shows, but very little evidence has survived. According to Hills, memories and facts about performances at the Crystal in the Summer of 1967 are very hard to come by. For one thing, co-promoters Michael Magaurn and Whitey Davis were playing a considerably smaller role. Magaurn was focusing on other, more profitable promotions around the Portland area, and Davis was simply “not around” (update: I have since learned that Whitey Davis was scouting bands in North Lake Tahoe, and that he took one of them to New York City, although nothing ever came of it). Booking was left to Melvin Olsen, the proprietor of the psychedelic shop next door. Since Olsen was not familiar with the rock business, he had fewer connections (and even less financial clout) to bring out of town bands to the Crystal.
It may seem strange that there were not many rock concerts in Portland during the Summer Of Love, but that may have been partially because many Portland hippies had gone to California for the Summer. College students at Portland State and elsewhere were an important part of the Crystal’s paying audience, and they were of course out of school, and likely that many of the hippest ones made a beeline to California. This was not unprecedented in Portland history—an apocryphal story says that when news of the California Gold Rush hit Oregon in 1849, the population of Portland was reduced to three.
Nonetheless, Hills cites some foggy memories of the Steve Miller Blues Band, Moby Grape, the Electric Prunes and possibly even Big Brother and The Holding Company as playing the venue. I find the Steve Miller booking quite likely and Moby Grape plausible. Since the Electric Prunes played in the Fall (see October 28, 1967), that may account for the idea that they played the Summer, although I’m not ruling it out. Big Brother may simply be wishful thinking, but its still within the realm of the possible.
It appears that during 1967 the Crystal stopped using posters for publicity, or at least artistically interesting posters, as it is usually the colorful “psychedelic” posters that endure. Along these lines, it is reasonable to speculate that mostly local or regional groups played the Crystal during this period, since even artistically dull flyers of world famous groups were typically retained as artifacts. The dates we have found for the balance of 1967, from the tour schedules of better known acts, are listed below. Note that most of the dates are single dates, suggesting that the Portland market could not sustain multiple dates of headline acts.
August 4-5, 1967 Steve Miller Blues Band
The Steve Miller Blues Band, with newly-joined rhythm guitarist Boz Scaggs (replacing the ill Curley Cook), had become quite a popular band around the San Francisco Bay Area. I have looked at their touring schedule for the period, and there are some open weekends in August, so I find a Crystal performace by them to be quite likely. I am asserting August 4-5 as a plausible date, but August 19-20 and August 25-26 are just as likely.
October 6, 1967 Charles Lloyd Quartet/Family Tree/Wild Wild Weeds
Charles Lloyd and his excellent quartet (probably featuring Keith Jarrett-piano, Ron McClure-bass and Jack DeJohnette-drums) were an established jazz group, but they were one of the few to regularly play The Fillmore, Avalon and other rock ballrooms. Charles Lloyd had played the Denver Dog the previous weekend. The 6th was a Friday, and I do not know if there was another show on Saturday night.
Note that the poster retains the name "Crystal Ball" for the venue. Also, the top line says "Carol & The Dom Present." I wonder who that was, and if it implies that outside promoters were also booking shows at The Crystal.
October 13-14, 1967 Country Joe McDonald
Electric Flag was the original headliner, but canceled as some members were arrested in Los Angeles. Country Joe and The Fish were supposed to replace them, but the show featured just Country Joe (solo), as Joe and the rest of the band were squabbling, so they were touring separately.
unknown 1967 Them
According to Hills, the great Irish band Them played a rocking show at the Crystal Ballroom, and the red-haired Irishman fronting the band brought down the house. It was only later that Portlanders figured out that Van Morrison had left Them the previous year. Since Van played on October 17, I have to presume Them played before that. I am unfamiliar with latterday Them and their touring history, so it could have been considerably earlier in the year.
Hills describes the story slightly differently and implies that Them played around the time of the Van Morrison date, but since the Morrison date is confirmed, this has the distinct sound of a story that has been somewhat embellished in the telling. A related entity called Them Again did play Portland on February 19, 1967 at a coffee house called Caffe Espresso (409 SW 13th Ave), just around the corner from the Crystal, and in early 1967 most fans would not have been aware that Van Morrison had left Them. My own supposition is that Them Again played the Espresso in February, and people did not realize that Van was not in the group, as they had never seen him, and found out otherwise in October when he played the Crystal. Somehow the story got simplified in the telling, even though it was probably fundamentally true.
October 17, 1967 Van Morrison/Daily Flash
After leaving Them at the height of their success, Van Morrison had moved to Cambridge, MA. By late 1967 Morrison was touring the West Coast on his own. He played the Denver Family Dog on October 13-14, 1967 and the Avalon in San Francisco on October 21-23. This show was on a Tuesday night, suggesting a one-off gig for a relatively popular bill, and the initial stirrings of Chet Helms’s strategy of providing multiple dates throughout the West for touring acts. The specific date comes from the extraordinarily well-researched Van Morrison chronology. “Brown-Eyed Girl” was a popular radio hit in many cities at this time.
The Daily Flash were a popular Seattle band who moved to Los Angeles, although they were on their last legs at this time.
October 20-21, 1967 The Incredible Fish
This was the Fish without Country Joe (see October 13-14, 1967)), with lead guitarist Barry Melton fronting the quartet. This was a Saturday night date also.
October 28, 1967 Electric Prunes
The Electric Prunes, thanks to their rather dated name and complex recording history, are unfairly maligned as a sort of bland wannabe psych band. In fact, surviving evidence suggests that the San Fernando Valley based band was a driving psychedelic outfit in concert. This was a Saturday night date.
November 18, 1967 The Incredible Fish
Barry Melton and the rest of the band (David Cohen, Bruce Barthol and Chicken Hirsh) returned. This was a Saturday night date also.
December 1-2, 1967 PH Phactor
The PH Phactor Jug Band were a local Portland folk-rock-jug band (if such a combination exists). Groups like PH Phactor probably played the Crystal on many Friday and Saturday nights, but there is scant evidence of the shows.
December 3, 1967 B.B. King
B.B. King very likely had played the Crystal Ballroom before, when it was on the R&B circuit. Thanks to constant accolades from the likes of Mike Bloomfield and Eric Clapton, BB was now bringing his swinging blues orchestra to white rock audiences. This show was on a Sunday night. Eyewitnesses in Hills book recall King playing an electrifying show on a cold and rainy night, with water leaking onto the stage while the musicians played.
December ?, 1967 The Fugs
On the December 1-2 poster (above) you can see it says "Fugs-Commin," so I assume they played later in December.
There were certainly many more shows at The Crystal for which we have not yet found a trace. There is every reason to believe that the Crystal put on shows many more weekends, but we are unable to confirm that. Anyone with additional information about Crystal shows during this period should Comment or email me.
next: Crystal Ballroom rock performances from January to June 1968
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.