Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cafe Au Go Go, New York City 152 Bleecker Street Rock: Performance List January-June 1968 (Au Go Go VI)

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 CafĂ© 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 
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

January 4-7, 1968 BB King
Thanks to Bill Graham and the Fillmore Auditorium, popular blues artists like BB King found a second life on the white rock circuit. Interestingly, BB King had mostly been seen by the R&B audience as a singer, whereas the hippies appreciated BB for his great guitar playing. Both views were true, of course, but the perception of a musician changed when he was lauded for instrumental excellence, like a jazz player.

January 9-21, 1968 John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers/Steve Miller Band (12th-18th).
For his first American tour, John Mayall’s band featured Mick Taylor on lead guitar and Keef Hartley on drums, along with a horn section (Dick Heckstall-Smith and Chris Mercer), plus Keith Tillman on bass. This was the last of his “straight-ahead” blues lineups. The band had already recorded the live album Diary Of A Band, but their September 1967 album Crusade had been released on London records in the US in January 68.

The Steve Miller Band were based in Berkeley, but made their name at the Avalon and the Fillmore. Miller was from Madison, WI, via Chicago and Texas and played the blues better than the San Francisco bands. When he moved to SF in late 66, he rapidly formed a group and made a name as a bluesy yet innovative guitarist. This was the first eastern foray of his group, which now featured Boz Scaggs on vocals along with Miller.

January 25-February 4, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears/James Cotton
February 5-18, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears
Blood, Sweat and Tears finished recording their debut album (Child Is Father To The Man) for Columbia in December 1967, and it came out ain February 1968. The group had much more of a Big Band feel like Maynard Ferguson than the stacatto, Vegas-y sound they would later adopt after Kooper left.

Around this time, Eric Clapton, once again in New York recording with Cream, hangs out at the AuGoGo and jams with BB King and others, and it is a profound reminder for Clapton of the directness of the blues. Cream has gotten too big too fast, and jamming with BB King in a club reminded Clapton of what he was trying to do in the first place.

February 27-March 3, 1968 Albert King
Albert King was another Chicago blues guitarist, now recording for Stax (distributed by Atlantic) who had been discovered by the white rock market. 

March 7-17, 1968 Electric Flag
Electric Flag had been formed in California by Mike Bloomfield and friends of his from Chicago and New York. The group was Bloomfield’s attempt to merge all types of American music—rock, blues, soul, jazz and country—and it almost succeeded. Hype, personalities and drugs put too much of a burden on a potentially great concept. The band’s debut album (An American Music Band) had just been released by Columbia.

On March 17, there was a jam, probably after hours, According to Al Kooper, such jam sessions were common at the Au Go Go and elsewhere in the Village, as all the groups playing in different clubs would get together to play and hang out. This particular jam was recorded, so we know that Jimi Hendrix, Elvin Bishop, Buddy Miles, Harvey Brooks, Phil Wilson, James Tatum, Herbie Rich and Paul Butterfield were at least some of the musicians that night. Bishop and Wilson were in Buttefield’s band, and Miles, Brooks and Rich were in the Flag.

>March 8, 1968 Big Brother and The Holding Company headlined the first show at The Fillmore East at 2nd Avenue and 6th Street, near to the Au Go Go. Abruptly, the Cafe Au Go Go was instantly behind the eight-ball. Rock bands playing New York instantly had a much larger venue in the Village. Once the Fillmore East opened, being second on the bill at Fillmore East was a bigger deal than headlining the Cafe Au Go Go.

The Au Go Go had offered Tri-State teenagers a chance to get into a show at a club accessible by public transportation. Fillmore East offered that too, with comfortable seats and a nice sound system to boot. Suddenly the fact that the Cafe Au Go Go doesn't have a bar to keep things profitable on a slow night becomes a major handicap. Although the Au Go Go has some good times left, the Fillmore East is emblematic of the exploding rock market and the club begins its steady downward path here.

March 19-24, 1968 Jim Kweskin Jug Band
The Kweskin Band, though successful in its time, had passed its moment. Richard Greene was probably playing violin in the group at this time.

March 29-30, 1968 United States of America
United States of America were one of those unique experiments that only get signed in times of flux, and they released an album on Columbia. They featured the academically trained composer Joseph Byrd and lead singer Dorothy Moskowitz, and their music was self-consciously avant-garde.  Their live performances, however, were apparently rare and poorly received. The group played the Fillmore East both of these nights (opening for Richie Havens and The Troggs), so probably they finished up at the Fillmore East and came over later to the Au Go Go.

The reformed Blues Project (see July 9, 1968) were scheduled to play through April 21, but canceled.

April 2-7, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears
Due to internal band disputes, Al Kooper left Blood, Sweat and Tears during a run at the Garrick Theater from April 14-18, 1968 and Blood, Sweat and Tears rapidly became one of the best selling bands of the era., but in a much poppier vein than originally envisioned by Kooper. Thus Kooper's run with the band ended more or less where it began, at 152 Bleecker Street.

April 9-14, 1968 Ian & Sylvia/PF Sloan/The Sidetrack
A Billboard Review (4.27.68) describes the April 10 show, with PF Sloan (solo) and Sidetrack, an unsigned six-piece group.

P.F. Sloan was a very successful producer and songwriter, writing such songs as “Eve Of Destruction” (for Barry McGuire) and “Secret Agent Man” (for Johnny Rivers), and was a successful producer for groups like the Grass Roots. He was also a fine musician, but performed comparatively rarely.

April 18-21, 1968 Steve Miller Band/Bunky and Jake/(John Fahey) 
Steve Miller Band had signed to Capitol by this time. They had played upstairs at the Garrick earlier in the week.

Johh Fahey was a unique and icoclastic acoustic guitarist based out of Berkeley, who released records on his own Takoma Records label.  However, the Billboard review (May 4, 1968) says Mercury duo Bunky & Jake opened the show.

April 25-June 3, 1968 Collision Course '12 plays'
The plays “previewed” beginning on April 25, and officially opened on May 8.

June 4-6, 1968 Canned Heat
Moby Grape was scheduled at one point, but seems to have canceled. The group was disintegrating at the time, and went home to California (except for poor Skip Spence, stuck in the Pysch ward at Bellevue).

June 9, 1968 James Cotton

June 11-16, 1968 Sidetrack/PF Sloan/Peter Walker

June 18-27, 1968 Blood, Sweat and Tears
June 28-July 7, 1968 Blood Sweat and Tears/James Cotton (28th>29th only)
At this point, Al Kooper had left the group, and singer David Clayton-Thomas appears to have already joined. However, they would have still mainly been performing Kooper’s material.

for the next installment see here

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