Thursday, October 9, 2014

November 21, 1968: Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service – Los Altos High School Gym, Los Altos, CA

Guest Post by Light Into Ashes

After more than forty years, our knowledge of the Bay Area rock performances of the ‘60s is still growing. Despite the diligent efforts over the years of researchers and sites like this to compile the histories of bands and venues, show lists even for the most famous bands are still incomplete. Some shows remain unknown or forgotten to this day, lasting only in the memories of a few aging fans.
Our knowledge that a concert took place primarily comes from posters or newspaper listings from the major cities; but when those aren’t available or don’t survive, shows can often slip through the cracks and become “lost,” especially if they were played outside the traditional venues. So when someone reminisces about the old days and says, for example, “I saw Santana and Quicksilver play a show at my high school back in ’68,” it can be hard to find any corroborating dates or details, since such a show can’t be found in any of the bands’ performance listings:

Nonetheless – in this case, not only was the show played, but there is quite a lot of information about it, including audience memories, ticket stubs, photos, and even a short review!

I first heard of this show when corresponding with Randy Beucus, a graduate of Los Altos High, about various concerts he’d seen. He commented, “When I was in high school I was able to book Santana and Quicksilver… I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of these high school shows have been forgotten.” 
This show had indeed been forgotten, and I was surprised to hear that a concert with these two bands had never been reported before.

A search revealed that a few people had mentioned the show online after all – in fact, it left quite an impression on them. For instance, on the “Fandalism” site, musicians were asked, “What was the first concert you ever went to?”
Byron Laursen: “Late 1968 at Los Altos High School, with my brother, then a teacher, who had to chaperone at a concert featuring two emergent SF bands... The show was so loud that all I could be sure of was that the second band was rock-and-roll-y and the first one had some Latin influence. It was Santana opening for Quicksilver Messenger Service.”
Alan Eglington: “The first pro Pop Concert I ever bought tickets for and attended without adult supervision was, dare I say it? (drum roll please!) "Chad & Jeremy" (hey! I had a good time so sue me!) at the Los Altos High School main gym. But to show how fast things changed…I attended my second pro concert in the same location, the "Santana Blues Band" opening for "Quicksilver Messenger Service!" That concert had a huge impact on my personal development, because soon after I was drumming in my second band. And that band ended up playing a lot of Santana & Quicksilver material.”

Eric Weitzmann also mentioned on Facebook, “Santana and Quicksilver Messenger Service played our high school (Los Altos, Ca.) in 1968. I'll never forget that show, and still have the ticket stub.”
This was exciting news, and he was able to add further details:
“The show was on Thursday, November 21, 1968. 7:30 pm in the Boys Gym, Los Altos High School. $2.50 for students with Student Body Cards and $3.00 all others. It was cool, they had a "Light Show," very psychedelic. The bands sounded really good, it wasn't unusual for rock bands to play high schools back then because there wasn't the club venue scene like there is now. I remember waiting in line before the show and all the guys from Santana walked right by us.”  
The show was well-attended, and was quite an event for the school. “The basketball floor was open for dancing, with bleacher seating on both sides… I don't recall many parents or hipsters coming. Mostly, the student body.”

Paradoxically, Randy Beucus, who’d booked the show, had no memory of it:
“I didn't go, even though it was my senior year in high school and I was pretty much responsible for putting the show together… I stayed away from the show even though I helped put it on. I just couldn't see myself seeing those bands at my high school. I was seeing both bands anyway [in San Francisco] around the same time… 
“That was the only show that I booked, but I went to a lot of rock & roll shows from my freshman year in high school, and when I found out the school had a certain amount of money to get a "big" known San Francisco group to play, someone contacted me… I must have called one of the Polte brothers (Ron & Frank) who managed Quicksilver, and maybe the same for Graham who was managing Santana at the time.”

Santana was booked by Bill Graham’s Millard Agency – Graham could be reached by phone at the Fillmore for bookings. Quicksilver would have to be contacted separately – they were booked by the West-Pole agency run by Ron Polte, who also managed the band. (Frank Polte was their road manager.)
The school’s budget is unknown, but Bill Graham for one was eager to get high school bookings, as a way of building an audience for his bands on Millard. One story from the Santanamigos site illustrates this point, when a show was booked by a San Jose high school in March ’69: “My friend Jamie called Bill Graham (promoter and Fillmore owner), and asked for Santana to play. Bill asked how much the student body had as a budget, and Jamie told him we had $2,500. Bill laughed and said ‘no way,’ Jamie said ‘thank you, we will get someone else.’ Bill called back within about 10 minutes, and said ‘OK, you can have them and the three other groups for that price!’”

Corry writes: “It was very much the Millard strategy to put their bands in the suburbs. They were all Fillmore West openers, so they could play the 'burbs and advertise truthfully, "Direct From Fillmore West." It certainly built an audience for Santana. Don't forget that the rock audience was pretty young… All of the Millard bands also played a lot of gigs at suburban gyms and movie theaters, that held 700-1000 people. A lot of parents who weren't going to let their high schoolers drive to San Francisco had no problem with letting them drive a few miles to a local place.”
It must have been a treat for the Bay Area teens who couldn’t drive to San Francisco to have the Fillmore bands come to them.

Santana played quite a few local high school shows in the year before their first album came out – in fact, the day after this show, November 22, they would play at Campolindo High in Moraga. Other examples include:
Mission San Jose High School, Fremont (fall '68 dance)
Elizabeth High School, Oakland 10/18/68
Woodside High School, Woodside 2/11/69
James Lick High School, San Jose 3/7/69
Washington High School, Fremont 3/8/69
Las Lomas High School, Walnut Creek 4/1/69
Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto 6/10/69 (graduation dance)

In contrast, Quicksilver were rarely spotted at high school shows at this time. They were the more established, well-known band and had just taken a short cross-country tour in October; whereas Santana would barely leave California until the summer of ’69. Making this booking even more unusual, this was to be one of Quicksilver’s last appearances before Gary Duncan left the band in January ‘69, effectively leaving Quicksilver in limbo for another year before he rejoined.

This was an unusually high-profile booking for Los Altos High, which typically had less well-known local bands play its dances. For instance, the Homecoming dance in ’68 was played by The People (fresh from their regional hit “I Love You”), and the prom dance in ’69 featured the Syndicate of Sound (still best-known for their ’66 hit “Little Girl”) – both popular San Jose bands who’d been in the charts, though not the kind of acts you’d see at the Fillmore.
Randy mentions: “I tried to have Paul Butterfield to play my high school the year before…but when I called Albert Grossman, the price he wanted for the Butterfield Blues Band was higher than the school could pay for.”
Other concerts at Los Altos High from ’66-70 were played by such local groups as the Tribesmen, the Lord Jim Quartet, Bogus Thunder, New Dawn, Green Catherine, and Gropus Cackus, and others even more obscure, or still in high school – we only know of these since they were pictured in yearbooks. (Chad & Jeremy’s show there is still fondly remembered by some grads, though!)

As a big show for the school, you might wonder if the Santana/QMS concert was mentioned in the school yearbook, the Excalibur. I was thrilled to find out that the show actually got a two-page spread in the 1969 yearbook, with photos and a brief report:

Pictures courtesy of Randy, who observes: “Notice the mistakes in names for the members of Santana. The yearbook company got into trouble for adding the balloon caption over Duncan's head!”

In an odd case of misreporting, the Santana bandmembers’ names are totally mistaken. In reality, the bass player was David Brown; the drummer was Bob “Doc” Livingston; and the percussionist was Marcus Malone. (Livingston and Malone were soon to leave the band within the next few months.)
The yearbook culprit who had Gary Duncan saying “I’m so sweet” has not yet been found.

The text:
Shades of Quicksilver and Santana 
“The sometimes annual fall concert featured the sounds of “Quicksilver Messenger Service” and “Santana” and the lights of Mr. What. The barrier between performers and the sizable audience of 2000 was broken when members of Quicksilver asked some of the listeners to come closer and sit on the floor. Although given second billing, Santana drew the admiration of many, and their blues sound was widely considered better than the rock of Quicksilver.”

It’s interesting that the relatively unknown Santana proved more popular with the audience. Quicksilver had one album out, but Santana had not yet recorded and their first album wouldn’t be released until October ’69, so they were perhaps known mostly by their live reputation. Some students might already have seen a few of the many San Francisco shows Santana had played that year.
On the other hand, Santana’s band and its “Latin influence” may also have seemed more fresh and new to older listeners than Quicksilver, who had been playing the same small repertoire all year.
Santana’s “blues sound” is mentioned – at the time they were sometimes still billed as the “Santana Blues Band.” (Though they’d shortened their band name back in the summer, show posters outside of San Francisco still kept the older name.)

Randy wrote: “As I recall I was told that the bands only played one set each. At that time Quicksilver's first sets were nothing special. Kind of like the Dead, they really came alive in their second sets.”
Quicksilver’s request to the audience to “come closer and sit on the floor” is also striking. Perhaps they were having trouble ‘coming alive’ – one wonders why this empty floor wasn’t filled with dancers?
But that reminds me of a recent eyewitness memory of a somewhat older crowd at the Dead/Quicksilver show at South Oregon College in Ashland, Feb 4 ’68: “I was there and it seemed the only ones dancing were the ones that had a fair amount of LSD in our systems (far too many folks were sitting on the floor with their mouths agape).”

Scheduled for 7:30, the concert probably did not run very late. As the opener on a weeknight high-school show Santana’s set may have been short, but their setlist was probably similar to the Fillmore West sets from the next month released as “Live at the Fillmore ’68.” Quicksilver’s setlist was most likely much the same as at their famed Fillmore West run earlier in November, partly used on the Happy Trails album and later circulating on tapes and bootlegs:  
So it’s easy to imagine what the show must have sounded like in the crowded gym.

Mr. What also did the light show at Santana’s 2/11/69 Woodside High concert, but I haven’t seen them listed elsewhere.

At any rate, the bands were loud, the light-show psychedelic, the gym converted to a mini-Fillmore for the night, and the experience was burned in students’ memories. No doubt before long many of them were heading off to San Francisco to see more rock shows.
While it would be nice to report that this show passed into Los Altos legend, oddly enough, any word of it instead soon vanished into the fog of the sixties. No ads or posters have survived, no press listings were found; and the yearbook spread appears to have remained unknown outside the student body. As a result, only those who attended remembered that it ever took place.
It’s possible more memories of this show may come to light, now that this article has been posted. Los Altos High also had a biweekly newspaper, the Lance, which may well have run an article on the show, if anyone has access to issues from November ’68…

Two related posts worth checking out:  
A description of a Santana/Quicksilver show with the Dead at Winterland a month later (and “so sweet” Gary Duncan’s last appearance with Quicksilver for a year) -  
And a listing of Palo Alto High School concert highlights, 1967-69 -