Thursday, February 25, 2010

Avalon Ballroom, July 1-2-3, 1966: Grass Roots/Daily Flash/Sopwith Camel

This post is part of a series analyzing every show at the Avalon Ballroom

July 1-2-3, 1966 Grass Roots/Daily Flash/Sopwith Camel 
Since the 4th of July was on a Monday, the Avalon had a three day booking for the weekend instead of just the normal Friday and Saturday night shows. The Sopwith Camel were not booked for Sunday night, July 3--I do not currently know if any other band performed on that night.

The LA folk-rock bands are now playing the Fillmore and Avalon regularly.  ‘Folk-rock’, epitomized by The Byrds, was not only popular, but hip, and bands like The Turtles, The Grass Roots and The Association appeared to have more in common with Quicksilver or The Airplane than they do today.     The Grass Roots were starting to break out nationally.  Their current Dunhill single, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” peaked at  #28 nationally.

The Daily Flash, while founded in Seattle, had relocated to Los Angeles, where they shared management with the Buffalo Springfield. Nonetheless, they had been a huge hit at the Avalon, so they had a following in San Francisco. The Daily Flash’s repertoire actually included a lot of folk covers at this time, so this show really was a folk-rock bill, although the obscurity of these bands recorded releases meant that the audience would not know what they sounded like until they were actually at the show.

The Sopwith Camel were another group that had been founded out of the rooming house at 1090 Page Street, just like Big Brother. They had begun rehearsing at a place called The Firehouse (an abandoned Fire Station) where a few shows were presented as well. Their second show was at the Fillmore in February. They had improved steadily, however, and became a viable band. 

By July, The Sopwith Camel had been signed by Kama Sutra Records. In May, a friend of the band had sent an early demo tape of the song “Hello Hello” to Lovin Spoonful producer Erik Jakobsen, who immediately sought the group out.  He met them returning from a gig at a private girls school, and they were all dressed in tuxedos.  Nonetheless, Jakobsen recognized the potential and signed them immediately.Jakobsen was on the prowl because The Lovin Spoonful were getting even bigger.  “Daydream” had reached #2 in the spring, and “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind”, their current single, would reach #2 as well.

The Spoonful’s biggest hit, “Summer In The City” would not even hit the charts for a few more weeks. However, the Lovin Spoonful would never play the Avalon or the Fillmore. Sometime in the Summer (probably after a May 21, 1966 show at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley), Spoonful guitarist Zal Yanofsky was busted for pot, and he gave up his dealer, apparently a member of The Committee improv troupe. This poisoned the band's reputation in the Underground, and the Spoonful were persona non grata at the Avalon and the Fillmore, so they were never booked there. The drug bust problems of Yanofsky would have seemed like trivial show-biz problems to the record companies.  The idea that a band’s inability to play obscure venues in San Francisco would affect their future popularity would have been incomprehensible to a New York record company.

Oddly enough, the Sopwith Camel appear on a Fillmore poster for Saturday, July 2 (supporting Great Society and The Charlatans), and that presents a conflict with the Avalon poster. By this time, Bill Graham and Chet Helms were fierce competitors and would not have allowed a band to play both venues on the same night. Given that the Camel did not play the Avalon on Sunday, July 3, perhaps the Fillmore poster was mistaken and the Camel played on July 3 at the Fillmore (which was billed as Love/Grateful Dead/Group B).

next: July 8-9-10, 1966: Sir Douglas Quintet/Everpresent Fullness

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

August 22-23-24, 1969 Fillmore West/Family Dog, San Francisco--Wild West 'Makeup' Shows

The Summer of 1969 was the Summer of Rock Festivals. Woodstock was the most famous, but every region had a major outdoor event of some kind or another featuring numerous bands over a period of days. Ironically, San Francisco, the City where the 1967 Human Be-In inaugurated the idea of an outdoor rock festival as a collective celebration, had its giant outdoor event canceled at the last second. This cancellation was one of the catalysts of the Altamont concert four months later (on December 6, 1969). Ironically, the characterization of Altamont as a symbolic "Anti-Woodstock" has caused foggy notions about the Wild West Festival and complete amnesia about the concerts that took place in its stead at Fillmore West and The Family Dog On The Great Highway.

The Wild West Festival: A Brief Overview
Most 1969 Rock Festivals were on the "muddy field" model, either on an empty farm or an isolated auto racing track, with music running 16 to 24 hours a day, overnight camping and general madness. All of these events were marked (if not marred) by the attendant isolation, lack of facilities, lack of food and water attendant on packing tens of thousands of people in a place not equipped for it. Many of the events effectively turned into free concerts when security broke down. 

Despite the shaky footing of all these events, all the major touring bands played at least one if not several festivals in late 1968 and throughout 1969. The San Francisco bands in particular were mainstays of these events. Thus it only seemed appropriate that the big event planned for San Francisco would be a unique and forward looking event that would set the City apart from other places, always a desirable result in Northern California.

Among the distinguishing characteristics of the plan for the Wild West Festival were the following:
  • A three day event in Golden Gate Park that featured three nightly paid concerts in the football stadium, while a free festival went on throughout the park during the day
  • A collective approach that featured all the major players in the San Francisco concert scene, Bill Graham and Chet Helms most prominent among them
  • The stadium acts would be exclusively Bay Area bands
In 1969, only San Francisco had the musical firepower to have 10 headline acts that were hometown heroes, all of them willing to take the gig for a comparatively reduced fee, possibly as little as just expenses. Every other Festival imported acts from America and England, particularly San Francisco, but San Francisco had no need for recourse to elsewhere. According to the poster, the scheduled acts for the events in Kezar Stadium (itself located in Golden Gate Park) were
  • Friday, August 22: Janis Joplin/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Turk Murphy
  • Saturday, August 23: Jefferson Airplane/Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites/Edwin Hawkins Singers/Sons of Champlin/Fourth Way
  • Sunday, August 24: Sly and The Family Stone/Santana/Country Joe and The Fish/Steve Miller Band/The Youngbloods
There were 10 ballroom headliners amongst these acts. Amongst the acts included for "diversity," Oakland's Gospel group The Edwin Hawkins Singers had had big hit with "Oh Happy Day," Turk Murphy's group was the leading Dixieland band, and The Fourth Way were an electric jazz-rock group.

All of the major acts were in the midst of ferocious Summer touring schedules, and were prepared to go well out of their way to make the hometown event. Six of the bands had been at Woodstock the weekend before, on the opposite Coast. If the Wild West had gone off as planned, The Grateful Dead, for example, were in between gigs in Seattle (Wed Aug 20) and Oregon (Saturday Aug 23), and would have had to fly in and out for the Friday night show. Janis Joplin was on the East Coast, and had a Saturday night show (Aug 23) in New Jersey (at Asbury Park) but had promised to fly in to headline Friday night. Country Joe and The Fish had a weekend gig in Chicago, Santana would have just finished three nights in Boston, and both would have had to race back to play Sunday night, but none of the bands were going to miss out on this. 

It was not to be. The Wild West Festival collapsed amongst the insistence of too many parties that the show should be free, while others, particularly Bill Graham, pointed out that appropriate sound, lights and security were not at all free. When it all collapsed the week before the event, there was a wave of public hostility throughout the San Francisco hip community, mostly directed at Bill Graham, who in turn publicly threatened to close the Fillmore West and quit the rock business altogether. Whatever the Summer Of Love had been, free concerts in Golden Gate Park were not viable. The City of San Francisco, for its part, was plainly relieved that no such mammoth event occurred in the City limits, and made sure to refuse every permit for a major outdoor concert in the Park for the next 22 years. Ironically, the ban was lifted in 1991 to allow a free concert honoring Bill Graham after his untimely death.

The Wild West "Makeup" Concerts
Amidst all the bad feelings, the week after Woodstock there was a giant hole in the San Francisco concert calendar. The Fillmore West and Family Dog had not booked concerts for the weekend, expecting that their staff, performers and audiences would all be in Golden Gate Park. While some bands, like The Dead, Janis and Santana, had their travel schedules simplified, many of the local bands found an empty weekend date on their calendars. Various other parties who had committed funds to planning the Wild West event, particularly Chet Helms, were left in a difficult financial situation, accenting Graham's point that free concerts weren't free at all.

The solution to this void was very San Francisco: empty ballrooms, available bands and audiences with nothing to do equaled a prime opportunity to have some big rock concerts on a moment's notice. These shows were billed as fundraisers for the Wild West organizers, but exactly who profited from them isn't clear, and I'm not certain whether or to what extent the bands got paid. Nonetheless, there were some interesting rock concerts, and they are usually left completely out of Fillmore West chronologies because they do not have posters that are part of the BGP series. Thanks to Ralph J Gleason's column in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, August 25 (excerpted below), and a few other peripheral sources, I have some idea of what happened, so I will summarize these lost events here.

Gleason wrote
The Wild West, driven into the ballrooms this weekend by its enemies, still managed to present an absolutely beautiful grouping of bands, for some of the most interesting rock the city has known. 

Friday August 22, 1969 Fillmore West
Quicksilver Messenger Service/The Youngbloods/Ace Of Cups/Womb/The Fourth Way/The Committee
This show was described in some detail by then-teenage diarist Faren Miller (accessible to determined googlers). Quicksilver, largely invisible in concert in 1969, made the public debut of their new lineup, with pianist Nicky Hopkins effectively in place of Gary Duncan. The Youngbloods were riding a wave of popularity at the time because of the hit re-release of their single "Get Together." The Ace Of Cups, Womb and The Fourth Way were popular bands in local clubs, and The Committee was a popular counterculture Improv troupe.
Saturday, August 23, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway
Quicksilver Messenger Service/Sons Of Champlin/Jimmy Witherspoon/Anonymous Artists of America
Gleason writes in some detail about the Quicksilver performance Saturday night at the Family Dog. He makes some interesting points in passing: apparently Quicksilver played a few hitherto unknown stealth gigs in Golden Gate Park. Gleason also observes that Dan Healy plays occasional bass, presumably to free up Freiberg to sing (Miller made the same observation about the night before). Healy was Quicksilver's engineer, and he had recently left his job as the Grateful Dead's soundman, a job to which he would return in a few years. This seems to have been Healy's only stab at sustained performance until his own Healy-Treece Band that began in 1979. The "Denise Jewkes" referred to is the married name of Ace Of Cups member Denise Kaufman, who wrote some songs used on the Shady Grove album.
Jimmy Witherspoon, an Oakland-based blues singer, seems to have been backed by The Sons Of Champlin. The comparatively unheralded Sons were among the very best musicians on the Fillmore scene, and could play authoritatively in any style. The Anonymous Artists of America, by contrast, originally a Santa Cruz Mountains band, had a reputation for being fun yet sloppy, so when  Gleason says they "surprised me by the way they swung," it is because they had not done so in the past. From what I know, they had moved to San Francisco and got a hot young drummer from Texas (Richard somtehing), so that probably improved matters.

Saturday, August 23, Fillmore West
Jefferson Airplane/Aum/Los Flamencos De Santa Lucia

Gleason heads across town to the Fillmore West on Saturday night to catch the Jefferson Airplane. One of the most interesting points is that Gleason says
the Airplane was on when I arrived...and Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were doing their acoustical guitar and electric bass duet which now provides a very effective interlude in the Airplane's program.
Just a few weeks later, Jack and Jorma would record their first album as a duo at Berkeley's New Orleans House, dubbing their band Hot Tuna, but at this time it did not yet have a name. Jorma and Jack had played around The Matrix and elsewhere in 1969, but the name Hot Tuna was invented for the record.

Gleason goes on to describe Quicksilver, having finished their set at Family Dog, stopping by the Fillmore West to hear the Airplane. While its a fact that the Fillmore West was on the way home to Marin, the band still had no obligation to stop and hang out, yet it was a sign of the vitality of the scene that the bands were still friends and enjoyed socializing, a fact of life that would slowly fade away over the next few years.

Sunday August 24 Fillmore West
Country Joe and The Fish/Its A Beautiful Day/Sons Of Champlin
This is the show about which I know the least. Country Joe and The Fish had played Woodstock the weekend before, and then had a weekend gig (Aug 22 and 23) in Chicago at the Kinetic Playground. They too would have had to fly in for the show, but other than that I don't know anything about it. Its A Beautiful Day had just released their extremely popular first album (with "White Bird" and other classics) and were rapidly rising out of the "local band" category.

The Wild West Festival is a lost San Francisco event, although given the ambitious and unrealistic plans for the event, it probably would have been a debacle. Of course, if there had been a public debacle in San Francisco in August, the Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones would probably have not concocted a scheme to put on a huge San Francisco Bay Area rock concert, and the Altamont mess might have been avoided. But without Altamont, of course, what would have stood as the official ending to the 1960s?

Lost in these events are some fine concerts in San Francisco by some of the best exponents of the rock music of the City. Since the hastily scheduled events lacked posters, they are not part of typical chronologies, even though by Gleason's (and Faren Miller's) account they were a memorable musical weekend in San Francisco.

Friday, February 12, 2010

June 16, 1967 Cubberley High School Graduation Dance, Palo Alto, CA Quicksilver Messenger Service/Freedom Highway

(excerpt from an article in The Catamount newspaper, Cubberley High School, Palo Alto, CA June 9, 1967)

Many High Schools, if not most of them, have some sort of story about some long ago Prom Night or Graduation Dance where the coolest band in town played, right before they got big. Most of these stories get told and re-told until they become impossibly distorted, and efforts to discover the truth reveal a much more mundane reality. The narrative of every High School is always that it used to be much cooler, when in fact the experience of High School changes very little for those people in it. 

Nonetheless, once in a while these stories turn out to have a grain of truth to them, and once in a very great while they turn out to be very much true. One of those tales is the Spring 1967 entertainment calendar for Elwood P. Cubberley High School, at 4000 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. The San Francisco Bay Area was the center of the musical universe going into the Summer Of Love, but all the rising bands were still broke. Rock concerts were not yet big business, and rock music was still seen as directed at the young. As a result, all sorts of bands would play a High School if they were available, because they needed the cash and their management believed (with some justification) that the hippest audiences were actually still in High School. 

April 27, 1967 Pavilion, Cubberley High School, Palo Alto, CA: "Spring Concert"
Buffalo Springfield/Sopwith Camel
(Cubberley Catamount newspaper, April 21, 1967. Concert coordinator Ron Jew admires Bill Perry's poster)

In 1967, Palo Alto was a booming suburb. Cubberley High School had only opened in 1956, joining Palo Alto High School, which dated back to 1898, yet the city still had to open a third high school (Gunn) in 1964 to accomodate the explosive growth of the Baby Boom teenagers. In the Spring of 1967, all three schools booked a concert for their collective student bodies. With such financial clout, they were able to get an actual Fillmore headline band as well as a group with a hit single to their names. Since the concert was on Thursday night, groups like Buffalo Springfield and Sopwith Camel would not typically have gigs, so a paying concert was found money. 

Bufalo Springfield were riding high on the hit single "For What Its Worth" as well as their debut album. In concerts, the twin lead guitars of Neil Young and Stephen Stills along with bassist Bruce Palmer matched the musical excellence of any of the Fillmore bands. Sopwith Camel had been an original San Francisco band, although they had been signed by the Lovin Spoonful's producer, long before their contemporaries, and had an album on Kama Sutra and a modest hit single in "Hello Hello." The surprising part of this show was not that it was held, by why so few High Schools in 1967, at least in the Bay Area, didn't take advantage of the abundant musical talent available.  The fact was that while California parents (at least) had grudgingly accepted The Beatles as fine young lads, they were still suspicious of long haired hippies singing about drugs and rebellion. Cubberley High School, however, was a rather different place. 

Cubberley High School
Palo Alto itself had a strange history. Originally, railroad magnate Leland Stanford had wanted to found a University in the town of Mayfield, but only if the notoriously rowdy community would agree to close all of its saloons. Not surprisingly, Mayfield refused, so Stanford and a partner (Timothy Hopkins) bought up all the land just North of Mayfield and invented the town of Palo Alto. Palo Alto was founded in 1887 as a University town that did not allow drinking, and so it was a town that was erudite yet stiff. Mayfield continued on its merry way, but come Prohibition the saloons closed anyway, and after 1925 Mayfield was grudgingly annexed to Palo Alto.

Palo Alto High School had been founded in 1898, and in 1925 it had moved to its current site across from the Stanford Football Stadium (on Embarcadero and El Camino Real). Mayfield's own High School had closed so that the Schools could merge (amusingly, Mayfield School became the Palo Alto Continuation School, a faint trace of the rowdy Mayfield legacy). Palo Alto had two downtowns, its own on University Avenue (site of The Tangent and The Poppycock) and another on California Avenue, in the former Mayfield (the future site of The Keystone Palo Alto). 

After World War 2, Palo Alto expanded enormously, as did many California suburbs. Cubberley High School was opened in 1956 in the Southern part of Palo Alto (at 4000 Middlefield). South and North (old) Palo Alto were always in competition with each other, and while the history of Mayfield was largely forgotten, the tentacles of the old rivalry was re-enacted in the differences between the two sides of town and the High Schools. By the late 1960s, Cubberley, in South Palo Alto, had the reputation as an edgy, interesting High School, which even the ever-smug Paly students would concede (Gunn, which had only opened in 1964, and located in Southwest Palo Alto, did not have much of a profile at this time).

By the mid-1960s, Palo Alto itself, while dull, was populated by well-educated progressive parents who were opposed to the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation and racial discrimination. As a result, while most Palo Alto parents had little interest in drugs, free love or rock music, they didn't find them to be scary concepts. Thus, when their own kids were interested in underground rock bands that played the Fillmore, Palo Alto parents were not as threatened as those in other communities, even if the parents themselves were still just middle-class suburbanites. By whatever means it was conceived that there should be a rock concert for all three Palo Alto High Schools, parents would have been cheerily indifferent instead of threatened by long haired rock bands singing about rebellion (as in "Stop/Children, what's that sound/Everybody looks what's going down"). Cubberley would have been the obvious location, as Paly and Gunn were too Northerly and Southerly, respectively, and Cubberley's edgy Mayfield tradition, however sublimated, made it a receptive host.

The posters for the Buffalo Springfield/Sopwith Camel, designed by Bill Perry, have circulated over the years. The attendance for the show seems to have been limited to High School students, although it may not have been limited only to Palo Alto students (I know a contemporary Woodside High School student who went). In any case, it would have been a somewhat different environment than the Fillmore, with a much earlier starting and ending time than a City show. At the same time, the bands would have been accessible to a lot of teenagers who lacked the wherewithal (or permission) to get to San Francisco.

June 16, 1967 Graduation Dance, Cubberley High School, Palo Alto, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Freedom Highway
As a result of Bill Perry's poster, there is some consciousness of the Buffalo Springfield show, and it appears on various Neil Young chronologies. Quicksilver Messenger Service's appearance at the Cubberley Graduation Dance for the Class of '67 falls into the category of Urban Legend (according to one Cubberley grad, at least) but in fact it is a true story. At least one copy of the program even circulates for sale on eBay on occasion. Nonetheless, the article from the June 9, 1967 Catamount confirms the fact.

Quicksilver Messenger Service were established Fillmore and Avalon headliners by mid-1967. They had attracted plenty of attention from record companies, but they had kept their distance, which only added to their underground cool. The group at the time was a five-piece, and all the members (John Cipollina, Gary Duncan, Jimmy Murray, David Freiberg and Greg Elmore) were handsome, stylish hippies, so the band was popular with girls as well as boys, not the case with some of the less attractive bands around at the time. 

The Friday night graduation dance wasn't Quicksilver's only gig for the weekend--they were booked at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival the next night. Indeed, Quicksilver would spend the weekend jamming with the Grateful Dead and others at the free stage at Monterey Peninsula College, when they weren't playing their brief, incandescent set at the Festival. A song from Quicksilver Messenger Service's performance at Monterey Pop is accessible on the current DVD version of the Pennebaker documentary, and they were a powerful band indeed. Grad night is a big deal for most attendees under any circumstance, but with a classic band approaching the apex of their powers, it must have been some night (openers Freedom Highway were a younger San Francisco band associated with Quicksilver's management). 

The key point about Quicksilver's graduation night appearance at Cubberley is not so much that they played, but that they played six weeks after a high profile Fillmore-style concert and the parents of the graduating Seniors were apparently okay with it. This was in distinct contrast to many sixties sagas wherein shrewd teenagers slip a popular underground or psychedelic band into a Civic or School Auditorium, the aftermath of which was a ban on such performers going forward. 

However, while there are a few eyewitness accounts of the Buffalo Springfield show at Cubberley, I know of no eyewitness description of Quicksilver's Graduation Dance performance.  No doubt it was memorable, but as attendance was limited to graduates and their dates, the prospect of a First Kiss, a Last Dance and Old Friends probably made even the mighty Quicksilver seem like part of the scenery. Still, it must have been odd eleven months later, as those who attended the show found themselves in College or Vietnam (the two main choices for young men at the time) and heard "Pride Of Man" or "Gold and Silver" and thought "hey--those guys played my graduation!"

Appendix 1-Complete Catamount article on Cubberley Graduation Night (June 9, 1967 edition)

Appendix 2--Additional Palo High School Concert Highlights 1967-69

A flyer for an apparent High School Prom at the Palo Alto Elks Club on May 6, 1967, featuring Quicksilver Messenger Service
May 6, 1967 "Shangri-La" Junior/Senior Ball, Elks Lodge: Quicksilver Messenger Service
[update] A recent TRPS Facebook entry presented this unknown flyer (h/t D Sullivan). Someone's father snagged this in Palo Alto in 1967. The Elks Club in Palo Alto was at 4249 El Camino Real, far down in South Palo Alto. Presumably this was a Senior Prom, but for now it is not clear for which High School. One Paly graduate recalls that the class of '67 had their Prom at Elks, but that's no guarantee that this was the same event. Elks Lodge is near Gunn High School.

It may be that the crowd at the Prom, for whichever school, didn't really know who Quicksilver were. The jocks went to Prom, not the hippies.

June 23, 1967 Gunn High School: Country Joe and The Fish
I do not think this was the Graduation dance. This concert at Gunn appears to have been the Friday night after school closed, although if some attendee or graduate wants to set me straight I would be very interested. Gunn (at 780 Arastradero Road) had the newest gym, but it was rarely used for public events to my knowledge. [update] Apparently a series of summer rock concerts were held at Gunn.

December 15, 1967 Cafetorium, Cubberley High School: Fritz Rabyne Memorial Dance
The December 8 Catamount reports that Cubberley's Christmas Formal was named after the band, the Fritz Raybne Memorial Band. Not very imaginative, but prescient, since the Menlo-Atherton High School based band featured lead singer Stephanie (Stevie) Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.

June 6, 1968 Gym, Palo Alto High School: Cold Blood
I am told by Paly '68 Grads that Cold Blood played the Graduation Dance.

June 6, 1968 Fiesta Lanes Bowling Alley: People!/The Jaguars
According to the Catamount of May 31, 1968, the Cubberley Grad Night party was at the Fiesta Lanes Bowling Alley, and featured People and The Jaguars, both popular South Bay bands.

I do not know who performed at Gunn's '68 Grad night party.

Apri1 18, 1969 Gunn High School: Its A Beautiful Day/Cold Blood/Lamb/AB Skhy
This was another "tri-school" event. I do not know if one was held in 1968 as well. 

June 10, 1969 Gym, Palo Alto High School: Santana
Paly's 1969 graduation had Santana, two months before Woodstock, but after they had begun recording their classic first album. This was the event in Paly's history that no class could ever top. Paly had the oldest facility at the time, so its not surprising it was not widely used for public events, compared to the newer High Schools.

June 10, 1969 Frontier Village: Cold Blood
According to the June 5, 1969 Catamount, Cubberley High's Newspaper, Cubberley and Gunn held a joint Graduation Dance at Frontier Village, featuring Cold Blood. The joint Grad Dance appears to be due to poor attendance, a very 60s phenomenon. This is worth noting, however, since it suggests that considerably fewer people saw Santana's performance at Paly than have claimed to do so.

I do not know what bands played the 1967-68-69 graduation dances, other than the ones mentioned here. Any Palo Alto residents who can fill me in would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

June 21-22, 1968 Fillmore East Vanilla Fudge/Georgie Fame/James Cotton Blues Band/Loading Zone

(this post is part of a series analyzing every show at the Fillmore East)

This weekend at the Fillmore East featured different headliners on Friday and Saturday nights, with the same opening acts in support. Vanilla Fudge headlined both Friday night shows, while Georgie Fame was the Saturday night headliner. The James Cotton Blues Band and San Francisco's Loading Zone opened both nights.

June 21, 1968 Vanilla Fudge/James Cotton Blues Band/Loading Zone
The Vanilla Fudge are now remembered as a kind of joke, and with some justification as their music seems pretentious and heavy-handed.  Nonetheless, they were not only popular but influential in their time.  They were significant influences on Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Three Dog Night, and Jeff Beck’s desire to form a band with Fudge members was instrumental in breaking up the original Jeff Beck Group.

The Fudge were from Long Island, where they were one of the house bands at a huge dance hall in Long Beach called The Action House.  They practically invented ‘heavy’ rock, doing songs slow and loud, with plenty of Hammond organ and feedback mixed in with highly emoted R&B style vocals.  Bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice were very well-recorded, and their thunderous attack was transformational for English musicians, particularly for members of the yet-to-be-formed Led Zeppelin.  The Fudge had released a heavy rock version of the Supremes “You Keep Me Hanging On” (the album version of which was 7 minutes long), and the effect was enormous.  In America and England, musicians everywhere realized you could turn one kind of music into another.

The Vanilla Fudge’s only real weakness is that they weren’t ultimately very good.  Nonetheless, they were first, and they sold a ton of records in the meantime.  At this time they were touring behind their third album Renaissance (Atco Jun 68). The early show was reviewed by Billboard magazine critic Fred Kirby, so we have a detailed description of their performance. Kirby was extremely enthusiastic about their performance, showing how what seem like cliches today do not at all seem so when they are invented. Kirby enthusiastically describes heavy covers of "Eleanor Rigby," "You Keep Me Hanging On," Junior Walker's "Shotgun" and Beethoven's "Feur Elise and Moonlight Sonata." Kirby also describes Carmine Appice's virtuouso performance in a 10-minute (!) drum solo, followed by a bass-drum duet where "the two alternated phrases in a style similar to Indian music."

To modern ears--well, my ears, anyway--I have little patience for the idea of Ravi Shankar as a member of Cactus, because I think "been there, done that." While that's true enough, its important to recall that Vanilla Fudge were the ones who went there and did it first. They were among the first groups to become popular by making the rhythm section the instrumental equals of the front line. Cream was certainly the first, and many American rock groups were working in that direction at the time, but they were not yet popular (the Grateful Dead or Blues Image being good examples). Vanilla Fudge were huge, and their influence was correspondingly large, even if their music sounds heavy-handed and dated now. Kirby reported that both shows were well-attended, even if another writer (Richard Kostelanetz) noted that the crowd was "full of drunks."

The James Cotton Blues Band had already played Fillmore East two months earlier, but Kirby enthusiastically reviews his performance. Cotton was supporting his Pure Cotton album on Verve/Forecast. Guitarist Luther Tucker and pianist Albert Gianquinto get the nod for fine playing (Gianquinto was later a sort of adjunct member of Santana).

The Loading Zone were from Oakland, and were on the first (and as it turned out, only) National tour, behind their RCA debut album. Kirby was enthusiastic indeed
Perhaps the surprise of the evening was the debut of the Loading Zone, a West Coast group. Increased in size by the addition of a trumpeter, the RCA unit consisted of eight instrumentalists plus Linda Tillery.
Although the musicians played well, especially the three-man brass section, it was Miss Tillery who raised the performance to an exceptional level. She can belt in a superb soul style, and the young artist particularly established a rapport with the audience which had greeted the group mildly. The crowd was calling for more by the time the set ended....
Organist Paul Fauerso, who also aided in the vocals, stood out among the instrumentalists as he was clearly the most animated member of the unit. More experience should loosen up the rest. 
The Loading Zone had been together since early 1966, one of the first groups to try and merge psychedelia and R&B. Tillery had joined in early 1968, and the band immediately recorded an album of their current set. As a result, despite Tillery's fine voice, the record has the stiff feel of a band still working on figuring themselves out. By mid-Summer, the group was getting rave reviews in concert, no doubt because they had all found their groove and integrated a horn section in with the vocals.

Unfortunately, the star power of Linda Tillery, apparently self-evident in concert, caused CBS to sign her for a solo career that never took off. She recorded an Al Kooper produced a 1969 solo album called Sweet Linda Devine, and Loading Zone continued on without her in a much jazzier direction. In 1970 she rejoined the Zone, but although they remained a popular Bay Area attraction, they never broke out of the regional status they had achieved. Tillery ultimately went on to a successful non-rock career as a performer, and The Loading Zone occasionally reformed for a show or two in the 21st century, albeit without Tillery.

June 22, 1968 Georgie Fame/James Cotton Blues Band/Loading Zone
Headlining the Fillmore East was a profitable gig, but it was also a prestige show. Since Billboard magazine regularly reviewed the shows, an opening act that received a good review (like the Loading Zone or James Cotton) got noticed by promoters and talent agents all over the country. However, for what I assume were deadline reasons, almost all rock critics went to the early Friday night show. Georgie Fame headlined both Saturday night shows, but he didn't get written up in Billboard. That's not to say if he had headlined Friday instead of the Fudge he would have made it big, but the lack of recognition for the talented Fame cannot have helped.

In the early years of the British Invasion era, Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames had been one of the biggest acts in England.  Fame (real name Clive Powell) was a very funky organist and vocalist, and he ruled the roost at England’s best R&B club, the Flamingo. The Flamingo, in London, was where other musicians went after finishing their own gigs on Saturday night, mostly to hear Fame and The Blue Flames.  Fame mixed American Soul sounds with a taste of West Indian Ska sounds to create a sound known as ”Blue Beat.”  Fame’s biggest hit was “Yeh Yeh,” which reached #1 in the UK in 1964.  The song reached #21 on the US singles charts (in July 65), but Fame and The Blue Flames never toured America to capitalize on his talent.  Reputedly, the fact that the Blue Flames were an interracial band was considered too risqué for 1965 American popular music.

By 1967, Fame had broken up the Blue Flames and had gone solo.  Although still a soulful vocalist, he now performed more mainstream popular music.  At this time he had a big hit with the song “The Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde,” which reached #7.  His current album was The Third Face of Fame (Columbia 1968). I do not know of many other American performances by Fame other than this Fillmore East gig, and it may have been a sort of one-off.

Georgie Fame was a popular English musician who should have made it very big in American music. In recent decades he has often been a bandleader and foil for Van Morrison, and I can vouch for the fact that the guy is a tremendously talented singer and organist.

After this show, there was a month long break in Fillmore East performances, and the next show was not until July 19, 1968. I do not know why there was an extended break during what could have been a lucrative Summer season. I assume that Bill Graham's move on the West Coast from the old Fillmore (on 1805 Geary) to the Fillmore West (the former Carousel Ballroom at 1545 Market) must have had something to do with it. Still, I suspect there was some other reason to keep the Fillmore East dark this month, such as a critical remodeling of the building.

next: July 19-20, 1968: Jefferson Airplane/HP Lovecraft