Saturday, January 8, 2011
January 2, 1969: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jorma Kaukonen/AB Skhy
The Jefferson Airplane were San Francisco's biggest homegrown rock band, but after three frenzied years of touring and recording, they took a well-deserved rest at the end of 1968. Grace Slick had had an operation on her vocal chords in December, so she was prevented from singing. The Airplane couldn't tour, but they focused on beginning work on their next album, which turned out to be Volunteers. However, local Airplane fans must have been surprised to see that guitarist Jorma Kaukonen was listed as a performer at the tiny Matrix club on Thursday, January 2, 1969. I have every reason to believe this show to be the first public performance of what would later be known to this very day as the band Hot Tuna.
Jorma and Jack
Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady had been playing together since they were teenagers in Washington, DC in the late 1950s. Kaukonen had insisted that Casady join the Airplane as bass player in late 1965 without, in fact, having heard him play bass. No matter. Casady turned out to be one of the great electric bassists in rock. While other members of the Airplane came from a folk singing background, Jorma and Jack were more about playing. During downtime on the road, they would play together in their hotel rooms, with Jorma's elaborate fingerpicked acoustic guitar winding in and out with Jack's tasteful electric bass playing.
The two musicians decided that the Airplane simply didn't play enough, and apparently decided in late 1968 to start playing local clubs themselves, rather than trying to goad the other band members to perform more often. Since Grace had already had her operation (reported by Ralph Gleason in the January 8 Chronicle), early 1969 seemed like a great opportunity to get started. Although the Thursday night Matrix show was billed as "Jorma Kaukonen," there's every reason to assume Jack Casady played along with him. However, up until now this show seems to have been ignored by historians, and I know of no tapes or eyewitnesses.
January 9-12, 1969: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: County Joe and The Fish/Led Zeppelin/Taj Mahal
Country Joe and The Fish had had difficulties filling their bass chair (Bruce Barthol was in England avoiding the draft, and replacement Mark Ryan had fallen ill), so Jack Casady filled in for some December dates. He also played the four nights at Fillmore West that proved to be the last stand of the most famous configuration of the band. One night of the concert stand (either January 11 or 12) was recorded and ultimately released in 1994 (as Live! Fillmore West 1969). Since CJF was breaking up, in a manner of speaking, all their friends showed up: Steve Miller, Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen sat in for a 30+ minute version of "Donovan's Reef."
Of course, many of the lucky fans attending these shows were still recovering from the blazing performance by the opening act, the then thoroughly unknown Led Zeppelin, just a dozen shows into their first American tour, with only advance copies of their first album available. It's telling, however, that on a night when Jack Casady had another gig, Jorma showed up to jam anyway.
January 27-29, 1969: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady/Morning Glory
Although there is no telling where Jorma and Jack may have popped up in the rest of January, the next sign of them that I have uncovered was a three night stand at The Matrix from Tuesday January 27 through Thursday January 29. A tape has survived from the January 29, and that is the earliest "Hot Tuna" performance on record (I am using quotes since they would not use the name Hot Tuna until quite some time in the future).
The Matrix, at 3138 Fillmore Street in the Marina District, was San Francisco's primary hangout for hippie musicians. It was actually a pizza parlor that served beer, rather than a bar per se, and dancing was not actually allowed (by law). The Matrix had opened in August 1965, owned by Marty Balin, his father and some other partners, and it had been the first place to favor adventurous electric "folk-rock." The Fillmore and the Avalon and other places came along the next year, of course, but they were concert halls rather than clubs, so the musicians used the Matrix as a place to play on off-nights and hang out and jam as well. In the late 1960s, even in tolerant San Francisco, there still weren't that many places where longhairs felt comfortable relaxing, so the Matrix filled the bill nicely.
The Matrix was also the favored stop for bands that were new in town, or newly formed. The Matrix was also the preferred venue--practically the only one--for band members who wanted to try something outside of their usual groups. Since a lot of Matrix material was taped (I'm happy to say), we have at least some idea of what went down, and some pretty weird music got played there. There were regular jam sessions, mainly on Monday nights but often other times as well. Tapes have endured of Jerry Garcia, Jack Casady and various other musicians having some particularly memorable jams in October 1968 (known for various reasons as the Mickey Hart and The Hartbeats tapes, even though they were billed as Jerry Garcia and Friends). So the Matrix was the obvious choice for Jorma and Jack's experiment in modern blues.
January 31, 1969: Londonside Tavern, Glen Ellen, CA: Jack Casady & Jorma Kaukonen, Wingnut Buckboldt
The most remarkably obscure performance I have been able to uncover is this booking at the Londonside Tavern in Glen Ellen. It was mentioned in Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column of that day (above). There is actually a typo in Gleason's listing, and the actual name of the venue is Londonside Tavern, not Longside. Bucolic Glen Ellen is in Northern Sonoma County, 50 very twisty miles from the Matrix. Famed writer Jack London had an estate up there, which is now a state park, and the "Londonside" reference of the venue refers to the writer rather than the Thames Estuary. I do not know where, precisely the Londonside Tavern was located, but Glen Ellen is not large now, and surely was even less so then.
Bay Area groups regularly played the Londonside Tavern in early 1969, but the venue mostly favored quieter and more folk oriented ensembles, like Berkeley's Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band or the very peculiar Golden Toad. Marin-based Golden Toad seems to have had a Sunday night residency for much of early 1969. The Golden Toad mostly played somewhat medieval music on lutes and such, mostly playing Renaissance Faires during the Summer. Their leader was Bob Thomas, an old compatriot of Owsley's, and among many other accomplishments Thomas created the Grateful Dead "Lightning Bolt" logo.
Thus, while it is indeed strange that Jorma and Jack played a show in tiny Glen Ellen, the little venue was part of the circuit of local club bands. The surprising part, in the end, was that Jorma and Jack would go against entertainment business convention and play such small venues even though they were presumably "stars." This interesting pattern would be followed by Jerry Garcia several months later when he played numerous smaller rock clubs with the New Riders of The Purple Sage at the end of 1969.
February 17-19, 1969: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jack Casady & Jorma Kaukonen/Elvin Bishop Group (17), Weird Herald (18-19)
Jack and Jorma returned for three more shows at The Matrix in mid-February. It seems odd that Elvin Bishop was also booked on Monday night (Feb 17), which I take to mean that Jack and Jorma were added to the bill at the last minute. Weird Herald were an excellent San Jose band. Although their surviving single is sort of folkie, their actual sound was pretty psychedelic and hard driving. The group featured two old friends of Jorma on guitars, Billy Dean Andrus and Paul Ziegler, along with bassist Chuck Bollinger and drummer Patrick McIntire. The band was well regarded in San Jose, and according to McIntire, a long-dormant recording may yet see the light of day.
Weird Herald had other impacts on the history of Hot Tuna. Weird Herald broke up in early 1970, and Paul Ziegler joined Hot Tuna as rhythm guitarist for a while. He took part in some abortive recording projects, but there is little evidence today of his time in the band. Andrus, who had gone on to form the group Pachuco with Moby Grape's Skip Spence, died under unfortunate circumstances in November 1970. Jorma promptly wrote the song "Ode To Billy Dean," and Hot Tuna performs the song to this day (the Doobie Brothers's Pat Simmons, another friend, wrote "Black Water" in Andrus's honor as well). To my knowledge, these two Matrix shows are the only time that Billy Dean Andrus played on a bill with Jorma Kaukonen after the Jefferson Airplane formed.
Jorma and Jack ended the week by playing two Friday night shows at UC Berkeley's Bear's Lair coffee shop, another typical stop on the local folk-rock circuit. The Bear's Lair was (and is) in the basement of the Student Union building (Pauley Ballroom is two floors above it). Although I'm sure the room has been remodeled numerous times over the years, the basic contours of the building haven't changed. The basement coffee shop is a tiny room now, and it would have been a tiny room then. It's remarkable to think that Jorma and Jack played two shows in a place about the size of two classrooms.
I am not yet aware of any March Jorma and Jack performances. In any case, the Airplane would have been recording Volunteers in earnest and gearing up for a tour (did they play that March 8 show in Hawaii mentioned above?), so there would have been less downtime anyway. Yet by the time Jorma and Jack recorded the first acoustic Hot Tuna album in September, 1969 at the New Orleans House, it turns out that they had been performing live since January, for the lucky few who were able to catch them.
The Lake Tahoe area has always been a sort of remote suburb of the San Francisco. It is no surprise, then, that in the late 1960s the Lake Tahoe area was a prime outpost for all the bands playing the Fillmore, but this slice of rock history has been largely forgotten. There were no less than three major venues in Lake Tahoe in the late 60s, yet even I was surprised to discover this another remote outpost of the San Francisco ballroom scene, with a press kit photo of the late '68 Santana Blues Band promoting the band's weekend appearance near a ski resort. It appears that TNT-Alpine Meadows (as it was called in the Chronicle) was only open for about a month, but it provides an easy way to introduce some of the mysteries of the Lake Tahoe scene in the late 60s.
Lake Tahoe, straddling California and Nevada, is one of the West’s largest, deepest, clearest and most beautiful lakes. The lake sits six thousand feet above sea level, and the Truckee River feeds the lake, flowing into and then out of the lake. Truckee, California, about 12 miles North of Lake Tahoe and 30 miles West of Reno, was an original train stop on the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1899 the Duane L. Bliss Family built the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company. The Southern Pacific Railway actively encouraged tourist attractions along its rail lines, and Lake Tahoe became a popular resort for the San Francisco Bay Area.
Many families in both the Bay Area and the Sacramento/Central Valley area would buy or rent second homes in Lake Tahoe, and they would spend much of the Summer and many Winter weekends at Tahoe. Part of Lake Tahoe's specialness was that it was a great resort for both Summer and Winter. After 1960, when the Winter Olympics were held at nearby Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe boomed again, particularly for Winter sports. Since the Lake was on the California/Nevada border, parents could go over to the Nevada side and gamble, leaving their teenage kids to fend for themselves.
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(The site of the American Legion Hall, Post 795, in South Lake Tahoe, CA, at 2848 South Lake Tahoe Blvd [US 50])
Lake Tahoe Music in The 1960s
The first person to catch on to the vast quantity of teenagers in Lake Tahoe was a guitarist named Jim Burgett. He started putting on dances at the South Lake Tahoe American Legion Hall (at 2848 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA) in 1958. The story is complicated, but by the mid-60s Burgett was holding dances at the Legion Hall seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For any teenagers spending a week, a month or a Summer in Lake Tahoe, every night was Friday night, and with the parents often away in Nevada anyway, the Legion Hall dances were the only show in town. Burgett's own band played most nights, but on occasion he hired out of town acts as well. When the Fillmore bands became popular, he would often hire them to give his own band a night off (they also played six days a week at Harrah's Tahoe, believe it or not). The Jim Burgett saga is amazing, and well worthy of a book, which fortunately he is planning to write.
North Lake Tahoe, about 20 miles away, was less crowded and hence had less activity. However, the North Lake Tahoe set considered themselves cooler than the South, and a venue opened in North Lake Tahoe as well. Kings Beach Bowl, a converted bowling alley on North Lake Avenue, was opened in the Summer of 1967, but it was only open on weekends. The sons of the owners had a band, and their dads created a place for them to play. Although the teenagers were not the bookers, they advised the booking agents on what was cool in Sacramento (where they were from) and San Francisco, so some very cool Fillmore bands played Kings Beach Bowl in 1967 and 1968, including Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield.
By 1968 there were so many teenagers in Tahoe that a third venue opened, The Sanctuary. The Sanctuary took over an old supermarket in South Lake Tahoe, and being just a mile North off Lake Tahoe Boulevard it was a direct competitor to the American Legion Hall. It too was open many nights of the week, starting in June of 1968, with an eight week residency by Santana. In 1968, at least, The Sanctuary was focused a little more on hip San Francisco bands while the smaller but more established Legion Hall depended on Jim Burgett's well known band. The smaller, more distant Kings Beach Bowl retained its hipness factor, but it was too small to compete directly with the two South Shore venues.
Lake Tahoe had primarily been a Summer resort, but after the 1960 Winter Olympics were held in Squaw Valley, on the Western edge of the Lake, Winter tourism boomed as well. Many of the same families who came to Lake Tahoe for Summers would also go the area to ski, skate and enjoy the Winter. This was exotic fun for Californians, since "Winter" in the Bay Area generally means sunny, 60-degree days with occasional rain. With the increasing number of Winter visitors, it's not a surprise that some Tahoe venues experimented with rock shows to capture some of the teenagers who would have been visiting from the Bay Area on any given weekend.
The best known of the attempts at Winter Lake Tahoe rock shows was what I believe to be the first attempt at a "psychedelic" Winter event. Kings Beach Bowl had a three night event from Thursday to Saturday, February 22-24, 1968. The poster (above) was entitled "Trip Or Ski." The date was well-chosen: Thursday, February 22, was Washington's Birthday, then a National holiday, and all schools would have been off. Many families would have gone to Lake Tahoe on Wednesday night, skipping out on work or school for Friday the 23rd. Thus the weekend was perfectly timed for a foray into exporting the San Francisco ballroom scene to wintery Lake Tahoe.
The Grateful Dead had already played Lake Tahoe the previous Summer. They had played a memorable show at the American Legion Hall on August 19, 1967, and then played the next Friday and Saturday night at Kings Beach Bowl (August 25-26). In the intervening week, Jerry Garcia and Mountain Girl, bored of their low-rent motel, went camping. There is even a plausible sounding eyewitness account of a thinly attended American Legion Hall show in Fall 1966. Nonetheless, it hardly mattered: almost all the people in North Lake Tahoe in February '68 would have been from the Bay Area or Sacramento, and the younger people would have known the Grateful Dead well.
The February '68 Kings Beach Bowl shows were part of the Dead's Anthem Of The Sun project, so the shows were recorded. Ultimately, the Friday and Saturday shows (Feb 23-24) were released as Vol 22 of the band's Dick's Picks archival series in 2001 (there were problems with the tape of the first night). Although I have been in touch with someone who attended the shows (a Marin teenager who was mainly interested in seeing the opening act, The Morning Glory), I'm not sure how well attended the events were.
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(Alpine Meadows, just South of Squaw Valley and West of Lake Tahoe)
Clearly the Bay Area rock community was aware that much of their audience decamped to Lake Tahoe on Winter weekends. TNT, whatever it stood for (if anything), seems to be an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of San Francisco bands by extending themselves to Squaw Valley. The location of the venue is described in the (above) photo as "one mile south of Squaw Valley in the Powder Bowl." Squaw Valley and Powder Bowl were both ski areas about 10 miles West of Lake Tahoe. In between them was Alpine Meadows. In contemporary press releases, the venue is described as "TNT-Alpine Meadows." The area was probably unincorporated at the time. I do not know what building was used for the venue. I suspect it was a left over building from the 1960 Olympics, repurposed as a rock venue.
So far, I have only been able to find four booked weekends for the TNT Alpine Meadows venue, all in the month of January. The bookings were
- January 10-11, 1969: Santana Blues Band (Friday and Saturday)
- January 18-19, 1969: Cold Blood (Saturday and Sunday)
- January 24-26, 1969: Country Weather (Friday thru Sunday)
- January 31-February 1, 1969: Frumious Bandersnatch (Friday and Saturday)
Santana in early 1969 was not quite the band they would become by the time of their first album and Woodstock, but they were still a great band. The lineup for this show was probably Carlos Santana, Gregg Rolie (organ, vocals), Dave Brown (bass), Mike Carabello (congas) and Doc Livingston (drums). It's possible that conguero Marcus Malone is in the photo above, as it's hard for me to tell for sure. In any case, it probably made for a great night for the young skiers who attended the show.
I don't know what happened to the TNT-Alpine Meadows, or anything else about it. I know that Kings Beach Bowl had some low-key shows later in the Winter of 1969, so the idea didn't totally die out. The most unexpected event of the Winter of 1969 was that the owner of The Sanctuary asked Jim Burgett to take over his operation. This was fortunate for Burgett, since at some later point in the Winter heavy snowfall collapsed the roof at the Legion Hall, but he had already agreed to take over The Sanctuary. Burgett changed the name of the venue to The Fun House, and it remained the premier Tahoe venue for several more years. Millard Agency clients from the Bill Graham organization, like Elvin Bishop, Cold Blood and others were regular performers at The Fun House, which became the major Lake Tahoe destination for rock bands and fans. The subsequent history and fate of TNT-Alpine Meadows remains unknown at this time.