Monday, July 26, 2010

July 22, 1967 Springhill Road, Lafayette, CA: Country Joe and The Fish

(Country Joe and The Fish performing at a benefit in Lafayette, CA on July 22, 1967-h/t Pat McF for the photos. L-R: Bruce Barthol [bass], Barry Melton [gtr], Chicken Hirsch [dr], Joe McDonald [vcls], David Bennett Cohen [gtr])

Update: Once my friend actually saw her photos blown up to a larger size on the blog, she realized the concert was not in Canyon at all, but at an undeveloped area next to the Buckeye Ranch in suburban Lafayette, not far from Canyon but a different place entirely. Most of my suppositions about the concert that I have promulgated for some time turn out to be incorrect, and I now believe that this concert was July 22, 1967, a show which I have written about elsewhere. The photos are still fantastic, and long lost, although my conclusions are quite different.

Many years ago, a friend of mine recalled seeing Country Joe and The Fish and The Grateful Dead in1967 at a benefit concert on Labor Day weekend in tiny Canyon, California, just over the hill from Berkeley. She proved this astonishing tidbit by unearthing photos she had taken with a Brownie camera. While she ran out of film before the Grateful Dead appeared on stage, the photos provided snapshots--literally--of San Francisco rock when it was still off-the-cuff. She vaguely recalled a few other details, but at the time I talked to her about it the concerts were about twenty years past.

Canyon, California is an unincorporated community just over the hill from Berkeley, but part of the next County (Contra Costa). Even today it is only accessible by some winding, rarely traveled roads, and most residents of Alameda County (which includes Berkeley and Oakland) and Contra Costa County (which includes Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Moraga) can go their entire lives without ever driving through Canyon, or even realizing it exists. Isolated and iconoclastic Canyon became a counterculture outpost in the 1960s. A poster has survived of the first known Canyon rock concert, a benefit held on July 16, 1967, featuring Country Joe and The Fish, The Youngbloods and others.

When I first raised the possibility of a Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish show on Labor Day in 1967, others looked into it, and one intrepid researcher found some evidence of it in a book called Berkeley At War. Country Joe McDonald himself seemed to confirm it. Deadlists summarizes the entry as follows (under the date 9/??/67):
Bill Gallagher: in the book "Berkeley At War" by WJ Rorabaugh (1989), p. 145 it says "In 1967 Canyon's hippies held a benefit concert to raise money to rebuild their general store. Country Joe McDonald, the Grateful Dead and others came to play. The narrow, winding road into Canyon was clogged with flower-painted VW vans." Canyon is a small community over the hill from Berkeley towards Moraga and Walnut Creek. Bill Gallagher contacted Country Joe and he said: "The benefit was held in Canyon, I believe, in the school yard of the little private school. I have a couple of posters of the event. cheers, cjm"
Based on the Grateful Dead's touring schedule, I had assumed that the concert was Monday, September 4. The Dead were playing Santa Cruz on Saturday, and they played Rio Nido Dance Hall on Sunday night (September 3) and possibly Monday night as well (I couldn't confirm two nights at Rio Nido). In any case, it was reasonable to assume they played in the afternoon of either the 3rd or the 4th, and I'm assuming they played on Labor Day itself (Sep 4). Thus I was responsible over a decade ago for both the listing in Deadbase and the listing on Ross's definitive Country Joe Performance History. There were some conflicts with the CJF timeline, but they were in flux at that time, so anything was possible.

Recently, my friend got a scanner, and after some begging from me, sent me the photos and allowed me to post them on the blog. I cheerfully wrote a post explaining how the Grateful Dead and Country Joe and The Fish played tiny Canyon, CA on Labor Day. The original photos were quite tiny, however, and once my friend saw them in a larger size, she realized it wasn't Canyon at all, but rather a place in Lafayette called Buckeye Ranch (sometimes known as Keener Ranch). A little bit of research and speculation suggests the following conclusions, all of which I will free to change if new information comes to light:
  • The photographs are from an event on Saturday, July 22, 1967, advertised as "The Fantastic Flight Of The Mystic Balloon." A newspaper article from a few days later describes efforts of the local residents to gain an injunction against any subsequent events. Per the article, the event was on the property of something called The Casa Loma Swim Club, at the end of Springhill Road. My friend, who grew up in Lafayette, recalls a swim club of sorts on Springhill Road, although the grounds were quite small.
  • Lafayette was such a sleepy place in 1967, however, that the odds of two events in the Summer of 1967 being held on Springhill Road are pretty small, particularly if there was an injunction preventing further events. The land between Buckeye Ranch and "The Casa Loma Swim Club" was probably contiguous, so whatever then-undeveloped canyon the concert was held in was only accessible at the end of Springhill Road.
The Buckeye Ranch (owned by the Keener family) now appears to be part of Briones Regional Park, as there is a "Buckeye Ranch Trail" at the Southeastern edge of park (The Keener family moved the Buckeye Ranch to Dixon, CA). Springhill Road has been largely developed, but it dead ends in Briones Park, so its unclear whether the site of this concert is a housing development or parkland.

Assuming my supposition about the July 22, 1967 concert is correct, this leads to three prosopographical corrections, all my own fault:
  • The Deadlists reference to a concert in Canyon on 9/??/67 is incorrect. Joe McDonald's memory of the concert likely refers to the July 16, 1967 event with the Youngbloods, and the writer of the book has simply added the Dead to a concert they didn't play (a common enough mistake, I might add)
  • The September 4, 1967 listing on Ross's Country Joe Performance List for Canyon, along with the Grateful Dead, is also wrong
  • Its unlikely that The Grateful Dead played in Lafayette on July 22, 1967, as it seems likely they would have been mentioned in the newspaper article, and they were never booked
In my friend's defense, the Dead were just another band in those days, and she had seen them various times (the Avalon, Human Be-In, etc) and she had simply confused them with Steve Miller Band or someone else. I was the one who was tremendously interested in the photographs--such are the perils of researcher enthusiasm.

With all that being said, the Lafayette event of July 22, 1967 was remarkable in its own right, and these photos are a fantastic window into a forgotten event.

Notice the biggest difference between the above photo and the one at the top of the post: the above one has a tall woman in a white minidress and go-go boots, and a man filming her. The top photo has no go-go dancer, and no film. This does lead to the tantalizing possibility, however, that there is film of this event. I know little about 60s underground film,  but some relatively well known film artistes lived and worked in Canyon (which wasn't far away) and were associated with some of the bands (Robert Nelson, for example, made a 7-minute film of the Grateful Dead around this time), so someone might be able to identify the cameraman (I think he's visible in the same place in the top photo, without the camera).

The crowd at the concert seems distinctly suburban, not surprising for sleepy Lafayette. Lafayette is a prosperous suburb now, but it was a smaller and less well-off (though hardly poor) community then. The Springhill Road site is very near Acalanes High School in Lafayette, so I would guess that Lafayette students make up the bulk of the sparse crowd. Other High Schools, like Campolindo in Moraga, were not far away, and St. Mary's College (and High School), also in Moraga, was also not far away, although there would have been few St. Mary's students around in the Summer. The town of Lafayette was not ready for the psychedelic rock scene of San Francisco and Berkeley (see the article below), but at least some of the students were already waiting for it to arrive.
This otherwise unspectacular photo of Barry Melton (l.) and Bruce Barthol tuning up offers one incredibly intriguing detail: there's a reel to reel tape recorder on stage. So not only might there be film footage of the performance, there could be a relatively listenable tape recording as well. 

I don't see any other band's equipment. This may be because Country Joe and The Fish were headlining, and everyone else's equipment was gone, or it may be because there was a staging area out of site (such as behind the stage). Nonetheless, if the tape deck was running, there may be some cool tapes of Steve Miller and Salvation (aka Salvation Army Banned). Only six of the scheduled groups played, and the only ones we know for certain are CJF, Miller and Salvation, although I have reason to believe a Walnut Creek group called The Virtues played as well (they later became Country Weather).
 We conclude with a mystery. The last shot seems to be a solo performer with an electric guitar. My friends have simply forgotten who this might have been. Could it be Steve Miller, performing solo? He does seem to be performing in front of the Fish's equipment. I do note that the tape recorder is present, too.  Miller, at any rate, was well known around this period for using tape loops.

Regardless of my own fumbling about the date, these are amazing photos of a rock concert in the Bay Area suburbs in the Summer of Love itself, so near and yet so far from Berkeley and San Francisco. 

My write-up on the court case about the concert is here.
The article below is from the Oakland Tribune of July 26, 1967


  1. How wonderful!

    Moraga is right next door, really, and from my East Bay bias I tend to associate Canyon more with Contra Costa (Moraga, Orinda, Rheem, Lafayette) than with Oakland/Berkeley. Based on that (flimsy as it is), I'd bet the attendees are from that area: Miramonte HS, Campolindo HS, Saint Mary's College, and maybe as far away as Acalanes HS.

    Great pick up on the taping. What an amazingly tantalizing possibility. Someone should wade into Canyon, knock on a few doors, and ask some old-timers what they know. (Of course, I'd suggest that whoever does that wears a bullet-proof vest and takes rejection well -- in my experience, Canyon folks don't cotton to outsiders snooping around.)

  2. My impression is that Canyon is the sort of town where the guy who filmed the go-go dancer still lives in town, probably in the same house. If he hasn't moved, then the tape and film are more likely to be there...

    I think you are right about the attendees. My friends were from Lafayette. Most East Bay people residents have no idea Canyon exists.

  3. Based on new information, I have dramatically changed this post. Rather than being held in Canyon on Labor Day, 1967, it was held in undeveloped land in Lafayette (nearby), almost certainly on July 22, 1967.

  4. I was at this show and it was a coming out (psychedelically speaking) for a lot of Lafayette kids like myself. I was 16 and it was the first time I'd ever done acid, much less done it in public (such as it was). This was a huge event in my area. And my recollection, is, sadly, somewhat blurred by my first ever "dropping".
    There was however, another event in Canyon proper, that summer, that was a benefit for the Canyon store where CJ and the Fish also performed. I went to Campolindo and there were several kids from Canyon who attended school there. Canyon was where we went when we cut school and where we learned to roll joints and hang out.
    And finally, the Grateful Dead had nothing to do with any of this.
    As a postscript, Country Joe and the Fish also performed at Miramonte High School's Jr. Prom in 1967.

  5. Chef, these are great memories.

    The Canyon show was probably the one on July 16, 1967 (the week before this event), as its the only one we know about.

    CJF played Miramonte High on December 16, 1966. The dance was entitled "Ye Gods And Little Fishes." Was this the Junior Prom, or was their another date in Spring 67 as well?

    Any speculation on who the "mystery performer" might be in the last photograph?

  6. I was in Frumious Bandersnatch at that time and we did play at the Mystic Flight gig. We went on about 11:00 AM.
    I remember Roger Collins also played and Steve Miller did not. He found out that he wasn't going to get paid and stormed off. Roger had a regional hit called "She's Looking Good" and did another funky song called "Foxy Girls from Oakland" which was written by Joe Crane from the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils.
    The promoter was Rick Townsend. There was a court action later regarding this event. I think Rick got sued. I thought this was actually a pretty benign gig-- local kids, shuttle buses up Springhill-- but, like Chef, I was on LSD that day. It was a fun day, as I recall.
    I also remember the Canyon gig because The Youngbloods played. They had a friend who lived in Canyon ( I forget his name, Paul something ) who wrote a song called "One Note Man" that was on their first album. They were doing the gig as a favor to him.

    1. I also Frumious Bandersnatch at Kings Beach in Tahoe about the same summer. :)

  7. Brian

    This is a fantastic memoir. I had always thought that Frumious seemed like a likely candidate for this event, but I hadn't been able to confirm it.

    Hey, too bad Steve Miller didn't show up, since there seemed to be an inescapable link between Steve Miller and Frumious Bandersnatch--I guess it had to be delayed a couple of years.

    I assume the Canyon artist you are referring to was Paul Arnoldi. Its a very interesting detail to find out that he lived in Canyon (I believe he was a UC Berkeley Architecture Grad student at the time).

    Could the "mystery artist" in the last photo have been Rodger Collins, or did he have a band?

  8. Rodger Collins is black and the "mystery artist" in the photo is white....for me the "mystery guy" is Don Holland...he's the only other solo artist on the bill that day.

  9. I think Don Holland was a jazz pianist who worked out of Oakland, since I have seen a lot of ads in the Tribune from the time for lounges with the Don Holland Trio.

    Good point about Rodger Collins though--still a mystery.

  10. As an aside to the Miramonte High show on December 16, 1966 (Ye Gods And Little Fishes), Joe went back on September 20, 2008 and performed at the reunion of Miramonte High School Class (at Scott's Restaurant, Walnut Creek, CA).

  11. Corry mentioned Paul Arnoldi living in Canyon. Paul actually painted the card poster that was in the store and is now in the keeping of Mr Hill of Launceston, UK.

  12. If the Ye Gods and Little Fishes event was the Junior Prom, they would have indeed graduated in 1968.

    I guess the Palo Alto High School class of 1969 missed on getting Santana last year. There's still time for the Paly class of 1970 to get Cold Blood.

  13. Another sidenote, I grew up in Moraga, CA and went to Campolindo HS...all though years later than all of this. Alot of my friends are from Canyon, CA and it was really hazing on who was playing these shows as well. Interestingly enough, the Grateful Dead did play @ Campolindo High School on May 16th, 1969 (according to some reports, Jerry got pissed they wouldn't let him smoke in the auditorium and left) and the recording is awful but it's funny to think they played the prom (I also learned that Santana was also there). Interesting read for sure.

  14. Critter, a Campolindo graduate has done extensive research on that legendary show, and its a great read which can be found here

  15. I was with several friends that day in Canyon, but I don’t remember very much about it. I was 15 and just becoming aware of the world, as it were. I’m pretty sure it was on Monday September 4th, which was Labor Day.
    We all lived about a mile south of the top of Pinehurst Rd, on Skyline Blvd. We heard about it just after noon and didn’t get there until 3 or 4 o’clock. Some people were building a stage with a geodesic dome shell made of railroad ties.
    I’m pretty sure the Youngbloods were there, perhaps Notes from the Underground and Country Joe. I remember two things for sure: Phil Ochs was there and sung ‘A small Circle of Friends and Tom Waits ‘The Piano Has Been Drinking (not me)’.

    1. My band The "Blues Union" was also there although we as well never had the opportunity to play. We also missed the free pancake breakfast which I still pine about...

  16. Brian, thanks for your memories. The Canyon show you recall is certainly the July 16 event where Country Joe and The Fish, Paul Arnoldi, The Youngbloods, Blackburn and Snow together with the Notes From the Underground played a benefit for the Canyon Store. There is a really nice and well known handbill for this event and a poster, hand painted by Paul Arnoldi that sat in the window of the Canyon Store before the event and now resides here in England. I suspect that your recollection of Phil Ochs is really one of Paul Arnoldi who would have been a solo guitarist. As an aside, Country Joe and the Fish had flown up from LA in the afternoon to play this show after completing their set at the Fantasy Faire around 2PM so the equipment would have been a back line provided by the promoter rather than the band’s equipment on stage – although investigation shows the organ to have been David’s. Another aside, Barry is playing the Mr & Mrs Martin Dimbatt purchased for him – another story for another day.
    The Lafayette at the Casa Loma Swim Club discussed in the main article is interesting as we know that only some of the bands showed up and played, and at some point there were complaints about the noise and the resultant injunction named Country Joe and the Fish specifically. Nobody seems to know who the solo guitarist is but it has been noted that the show was probably recorded (as a tape recorder appears on stage). I also note that the stage has no drum set at the time the solo performer was photographed. The very thin crowd at that point, many not paying attention, may imply he was simply tuning up prior to playing with his band later. We may never know.
    Finally, I am yet to be convinced that the Private School Benefit in September did not take place. It has always been proposed that Country Joe and The Fish, the Grateful Dead and Johnny Talbot and De Thangs played. Perhaps one for checking out further.

  17. I would love to go back into Canyon (I misspent a whole lot of time in those woods in my youth) and talk to some old timers, though "trust of outsiders" was never a defining feature of Canynonites in my time.

    1. exactly the same for me.....moraga misfit flower child spent as much time in those trees as possible!

    2. But is the John Bear Trail still open? Wait, here comes Super Joel with Chico and Adrian in the VW bus.... boinggggg....

  18. Just to be clear, the whole business of the Grateful Dead playing Canyon comes mainly from me, and it's a false trail. The friend of mine who took the photos recalled the show as Canyon and that the Grateful Dead played, but she said that she left or ran out of film before they played. I combined this with other ephemeral rumors, some of them related to the Aug 16 Canyon show, and became convinced there was a "lost" GD/CJF show in Canyon. This was about 20 years ago.

    Thus all the references in Deadbase, etc, come from me. They are wrong. Eventually I found the listing of the Buckeye Ranch, and my friend remembered that it wasn't Canyon (she lived in Lafayette and may have gone to the Canyon show too).

    The Grateful Dead never played Canyon. It sounds right, and I wish they had, but they didn't.

    FWIW, I like the idea that the "solo artist" is just a guy soundchecking for his band.

    1. Moby Grape played the Canyon School, but it wasn't much of a gig. The Menzies girls were there, though, so a good time was had by all!

  19. If you suggest the pictures above are of the show on the 16 of July which you say I must have attended, that's not true. I was in the schoolyard until around midnight, and you're Dead. See the dome at 19:10 on the video aired a year ago on KPIX 5.

  20. The July 16 event saw Country Joe and The Fish, Paul Arnoldi, The Youngbloods, Blackburn and Snow together with the Notes From the Underground played a benefit for the Canyon Store. The photographs are not from that event but the July 22 event.

  21. Just got this email from the Pricipal of Canyon Elementary School:
    "Canyon School is a public school and the Grateful Dead did play here in 1967, in our apse (I’ve attached a picture). I could not find out what date the concert happened. If you come across any photos of this event, we’d love to have them for our archives.
    The store was called the Canyon General Store. It burned down in a gas line explosion."

    Let me know if you need any more information.

    Chris Kerrigan
    Canyon Elementary School

  22. That 7/16/67 poster is for the "Restoration of the Canyon Community Center"(says so on the right side of the poster).
    Is this a separate place than the Canyon General Store?

  23. Nice to see Buckeye Ranch get proper credit. It was run by Bob and Heather Keeney (not Keener). They rented the land, and eventually moved their entire operation north, to the Vacaville area.

  24. It appears the cameraman was filming Country Joe and the go-go dancer for the 1968 film "Revolution". Fortunately, someone has put a clip on Youtube- forward to 4:00 for the CJF footage;

    1. A good spot Brad - I had not linked the two.