Wednesday, June 29, 2016

2925 Willow Pass Road, Concord, CA: Concord Armory and Eastern Contra Costa Performances 1967-69 (Concord II)

A current view of the unassuming Concord Armory at 2925 Willow Pass Road (photo by and courtesy of Kent Wood)

The Concord-Walnut Creek area is now a thriving suburb of San Francisco, with heavy commute traffic going in all directions on a huge freeway network. In the late 1960s, however, Concord and Walnut Creek were sleepy little communities, with plenty of open space and few commuters to San Francisco, and even fewer elsewhere, as much of the County was agricultural. While teenagers were certainly aware of the Fillmore and Avalon, that was perceived as being quite a bit farther away than it is today, and there wasn't as much to do on weekend evenings. However, like many 60s suburbs, Concord and other communities in Contra Costa County had their own rock history, even if it is largely just some fond, fuzzy teenage memories.

As part of my ongoing efforts to resurrect lost Bay Area rock concert history, some years ago I pieced together what I could about a forgotten venue called the Concord Coliseum. All I had was one poster, some listings in the Teen Age section of the Oakland Tribune, and a few other fragments, but that was a starting point. The venue was run by Bill Quarry, who had run a production company called Teens And Twenties in Oakland and the East Bay in the mid-60s. By 1967, Bill Graham was dominating the East Bay, and Quarry seems to have moved over the Berkeley Hills to the next county. At this time, communities like Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Concord were growing, but still somewhat rural. There were still walnut groves in Walnut Creek--good luck finding one now.

The Concord Coliseum was only open for a year, from August 1967 through June 1968, but lots of interesting bands played there, including Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and The Fish and The Yardbirds (with Jimmy Page). My narrow little post from October, 2009, triggered a remarkable Comment Thread, however, with a remarkable Long Tail that has continued on for nearly seven years. By now, the post features not only a fairly detailed list of shows, lively memories in the Comments and a remarkable selection of never-seen flyers from the venue. Scholar and Commenter Kent has been particularly thorough and resourceful in recovering these lost treasures. Kent's work has been so good, in fact, that the post is almost getting too detailed--all bloggers should have such problems!

As a result, I am continuing our look into Concord's lost rock history with another post. The initial focus will be on the Concord Armory, but we will look to extend this to the County Fair and other venues. Anyone with additional information, corrections, insights or recovered memories (real or imagined) please include them in the Comments. Thanks to all prior Commenters and particularly Kent for making this post possible.

A current look at the inside of the Concord Armory at 2925 Willow Pass Road (photo courtesy of and by Kent Wood) 
Concord Armory, 2925 Willow Pass Road, Concord, CA
Prior to the opening of Concord Coliseum, some concerts were held in early 1967 at the Concord Armory. The National Guard Armory is still there, at 2925 Willow Pass Road, not far from the Concord Pavilion, which has been Contra Costa County's leading concert venue since 1975. Thanks to Scholar and Commenter Kent, a few flyers have been rescued. Golden Star Promotions mostly worked in Sonoma County, putting on concerts in Santa Rosa and the surrounding area.

January 27, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: The Seeds/The Tame Greens/Blue Light District

February 10, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Sopwith Camel
There is a poster circulating that has Sopwith Camel headlining a dance in Marin on this date, at the Santa Venetia (San Rafael) Armory, but the Camel were replaced by the Grateful Dead. Thus I assume that the Camel actually played Concord Armory.

February 17, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Battle Of The Bands
The poster for this long-forgotten event was by banjo legend Rick Shubb, also a well-known poster artist.

February 21, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: The Baytovens/Hypnotist Collectors
The Baytovens were a locally popular "garage rock" band, who got good airplay on KFRC-am in San Francisco.

March 20, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: The New Breed/The Wheel
The New Breed were from the Sacramento, and at one point included Tim Schmidt, later of Poco and the Eagles. The flyer tells us that The Wheel were formerly known as Jack And The Rippers.

March 25, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Sir Douglas Quintet/The Spiders/Little Jimmie and The Goodtimers
Doug Sahm had been exiled to San Francisco due to an untimely pot bust in March, 1966. Possession of marijuana was a serious crime in Texas at that time. He found a performing home at the Avalon. In 1967, his Quintet was probably full of Texans, but the original band members were still on probation and would not rejoin him for another year. The Spiders were a tight, popular East Bay band, and a huge influence on the young musicians who would become Tower Of Power.

April 8, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Syndicate Of Sound
The Syndicate Of Sound were from Sunnyvale, and had a big hit with "Hey Little Girl." The band and the venue were very teenage, but note the Avalon-style art and cryptical references to "certain herbs." Psychedelia was making its way across the Berkeley Hills.

April 15, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Tears/Spiders

May 20, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Baytovens
The Baytovens, originally from Hayward, could still draw out in the suburbs, but they couldn't dream of a gig at the Fillmore or the Avalon, and the time for these groups was starting to fade.

June 24, 1967 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Immediate Family/The Virtues
By this time, school was out, so it seems there were fewer concerts.  The Immediate Family were a Walnut Creek power trio, led by guitarist Tim Barnes, who would end up in Stoneground. The Virtues were an ambitious Contra Costa band that would evolve into Country Weather. The era of teen bands was ending, and heavy psychedelic blues was the order of the day. On August 4, 1967, Bill Quarry opened the Concord Coliseum at 1825 Salvio, and the Armory was not used for concerts for some time.

November 22, 1968 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Frumious Bandersnatch
Frumious Bandersnatch were from Lafayette. They had a three guitar lineup, not at all typical for the era, and most of the members were good singers. While the group did not release an album while they were together, one of them (George Tickner) played with Jerry Garcia, most of the members ended up in the Steve Miller Band at one time or another--one of them (David Denny) still tours with him--and some of them ended up in Journey as well, including manager Herbie Herbert.

Herbie Herbert and Frumious probably rented the Concord Armory and promoted this concert themselves. The Concord Coliseum had closed at the beginning of Summer 1968, and by this time the Bay Area concert market had regionalized, emphasizing bigger shows in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose, rather than smaller regional events.

July 21, 1969 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Santana
In the Summer of 1969, there were a series of shows at Concord Armory. I do not know who the promoters were. However, one dynamic at play in the Bay Area was the immense popularity of Fillmore shows had extended to the suburbs, but not all those suburban teenagers were able (or allowed) to go to big, bad San Francisco. So many second and third tier Fillmore bands put on smaller shows all over the Bay Area, usually with a local light show. Bill Graham's booking firm, the Millard Agency, was particularly active in finding suburban gigs for its acts.

Santana was booked by the Millard Agency, and by this time had already recorded their first album for Columbia, but it hadn't been released. The band would be familiar to teenagers from many Fillmore West posters, and they had played various High School dances around the region at well. A month later they would play Woodstock.

August 20, 1969 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Sons Of Champlin
Marin's Sons Of Champlin were another hard-working band who played all over the Bay Area. They were booked by West-Pole, run by Quicksilver manager Ron Polte, who was also sharp about the appeal of the Fillmore bands in the suburbs (for a more complete story of the Sons during this period, see my post here).

September 13, 1969 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Country Weather/Fox/Daybreak
Country Weather, once the Virtues, were also booked by Millard.

October 18, 1969 Concord Armory, Concord, CA: Rejoyce/Linn County/Beggars Opera
Rejoyce was a familiar name from old Bay Area rock handbills, but I don't know anything about them. Linn County were from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by way of Madison, Wisconsin and Chicago. Known as The Prophets in Cedar Rapids, they had become the house band at a Chicago club called Mother Blues and changed their name to Linn County Blues Band (Cedar Rapids is in Linn County). They were signed by Chess Records and began to record, but Mercury Records heard them, signed them and moved them to San Francisco. In 1969, they had released their second album Fever Shot.

Contra Costa County High School Rock Highlights
It would be a formidable task to assemble a list of every rock band who played a Contra Costa County High School in the 1960s, and I won't even attempt it. Nonetheless, it is worth pointing out a few highlights. Anyone with additional highlights, please send them along.

August 23, 1966 Las Lomas High School, Walnut Creek, CA: Grateful Dead
The JGMF blog covered this in some detail. "Bob," a Commenter on the site sums up the story
I attended the 1966 show in Walnut Creek - I was 15 and attending Las Lomas High School at the time. My parents were subscribers to the Civic Arts Art Forum series and bought me tickets to shows I wanted to see. Most of the shows were at the Walnut Creek Library - I saw Dave Brubeck play there. I don't really remember that the Dead show was originally supposed to be at the library but was moved. It seems quite possible, even logical since rock 'n' roll was rare in the series, the library was small and there were a bunch of kids who wanted to see the Dead. Sorry to say, I don't remember much of what they played - one song that sticks in my memory was Pippen singing "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" - of course that was totally appropriate. My main memory is what happened when the show started. There was no lecture, just a brief introduction. The crowd was split between season ticket holders like my parents and teenagers. When the Dead started playing all the teenagers left their folding chairs and started dancing, and someone, I guess the Civic Arts organizers, stopped the show. There was some discussion with the band on stage, then Jerry explained that the Civic Arts people had not applied for a dance permit, so there would be no dancing allowed. He said the band wasn't happy about it, that their music was dance music, but there was nothing they could do. So we sat on the floor in front of the stage and bounced around, dancing as best as we could sitting down. 
Phil Lesh's parents attended the show, apparently.

December 16, 1966 Miramonte High School, Orinda, CA: County Joe And The Fish
Country Joe and The Fish came over the Berkeley Hills--do you think they took Fish Ranch Road?--to play a Christmas dance at Miramonte.

July 29, 1967 San Ramon Valley High School Stadium, San Ramon, CA: Yardbirds/Sir Douglas Quintet/Loading Zone
One of the most famous events in Contra Costa High School history, at least retrospectively, was Jimmy Page and The Yardbirds headlining the football stadium at San Ramon Valley High School (at 501 Danville Blvd). San Ramon was probably an unincorporated area at the time. According to legend, Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty was sick, and a drummer from one of the other bands filled in.

October 31, 1968 Monte Vista High School, Danville, CA: Sons Of Champlin/Spiders
Monte Vista High School is in Danville (3131 Stone Valley Road). Now, Danville is a very prosperous community of commuters to Silicon Valley and San Francisco, but back in the 60s it was still pretty rural. The Spiders were a popular East Bay dance band whose tight, sophisticated performances were a big influence on Tower Of Power.

February 22, 1969 Ygnacio Valley High School, Concord, CA: Beggar’s Opera/Lazarus/All Men Joy/Phoenix/Maggie’s Farm Benefit for Biafran Relief
All Men Joy and Phoenix were San Francisco bands. Lazarus was from Berkeley, and Maggie's Farm and Beggar's Opera were from Contra Costa. 

April 1, 1969 Las Lomas High School, Walnut Creek, CA: Santana
Santana had not yet recorded their first album, but it was the famous lineup. This was probably more like a concert than a school dance, but the distinction may not have been large.

The Grateful Dead at Campolindo High School in Moraga on May 16, 1969 (via JGMF)
May 16, 1969 Campolindo High School, Moraga, CA Grateful Dead/Frumious Bandersnatch/Velvet Hammer
The Grateful Dead, whose finances were always on a wing and a prayer during 1969, appear to have filled an off night by playing Campolindo, much to the pride of future graduates. Stories abound, not all of them true. Attendance was probably limited to high school students, but that's who was going to attend suburban rock concerts anyway. Velvet Hammer included some members from Campolindo.

A listing from the June 21, 1969 Teen Age section of the Oakland Tribune announces the concert by  Frumous Bandersnatch at De La Salle High School
June 21, 1969 De LaSalle High School, Concord, CA Frumious Bandersnatch/Beggars Opera
De La Salle is a private high school with a prestigious reputation for sports, but it had only opened in 1965. By the Summer of '69, Frumious Bandersnatch were regulars at Fillmore West, albeit as show openers. They too were booked by the Millard Agency.

The San Andreas Fault poster (FD-700702) for the Family Dog presentation of The Kinks at Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord on July 2, 1970
July 2, 1970 Ygnacio Valley High School, Concord, CA: The Kinks/Beggars Opera
Although 1970 is beyond my scope, no chronicle is complete without mentioning perhaps the most curious 60s rock show in Concord:  a Family Dog production at Ygnacio Valley High School. Since school was out, the hall would simply have been rented. I'm not aware of another Family Dog production this far East. The Kinks had played Tuesday and Wednesday for Chet Helms and the Dog in San Francisco, and Chet added an extra date.

Contra Costa County Fairgrounds
Every county in California has a County Fairgrounds, initially to provide a place and a means for farmers and ranchers to display their wares and buy and sell goods. It was also an excuse for an annual celebration. By the mid-20th century, while every county still had a county fair, Fairgrounds were used for entertainment and trade shows as well. The Contra Costa County Fairground were in Antioch (at 1201 W. 10th Street), in the Eastern part of the county. In the late 60s, Antioch was still in a rural area, which was a good place for the County Fairgrounds.

Still, rural or not, there were rock shows at the Contra Costa Fairgrounds in 1969. Since the rock audience was largely teenage, parents were probably far more comfortable with letting their kids go to a show at the Fairgrounds, where they had probably been many times, rather than letting them drive off to Berkeley or San Francisco. This is hardly a complete list of Fairgrounds shows, just a few highlights. If anyone can confirm other evidence of Fillmore West bands playing the Fairgrounds, please note it in the Comments.

November 26, 1969 Main Exhibition Building, Contra Costa County Fairgrounds, Antioch, CA: It's A Beautiful Day/The Kinks/Cold Blood/Dry Creek
It's A Beautiful Day was riding high on their first album, so they headlined over The Kinks. After a long absence from touring America, the Kinks had returned in late 1969, behind the album Arthur and the single "Victoria." Pianist John Gosling had joined the band, and they were now a five-piece.

February 21, 1970 Contra Costa County Fairgrounds, Antioch, CA: Sons Of Champlin/AUM/Joy Of Cooking
The Sons Of Champlin had put out three fine albums and toured hard, but gotten nowhere. They pretty much broke up after this show, and did not formally perform as The Sons for a few more years. AUM, featuring guitarist Wayne Ceballos, were booked by the Millard Agency and had opened many Fillmore West shows. Joy Of Cooking was a rising Berkeley band at the time.

April 17, 1970 Contra Costa Fairgounds, Antioch, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/AB Skhy/Beggars Opera
This would have been one of the final shows of the Just For Love lineup of Quicksilver, with singer Dino Valenti and piano legend Nicky Hopkins augmenting the classic quartet (John Cippolina, Gary Duncan, David Freiberg, Greg Elmore). AB Skhy had relocated from Wisconsin, and picked up organist Howard Wales in San Francisco, but I think Wales had left by this time, replaced by guitarist Dennis Geyer.

1300 Boulevard Way, Walnut Creek
Walnut Creek is now a very upscale Bay Area suburb--Stephen Curry lives there, for example--but it was not always so. I can recall when there were actually walnut groves. Walnut Creek doesn't really have much of a 60s rock history. Interestingly, however, it all revolves around one place--1300 Boulevard Way.

February 23, 1963 Walnut Creek Hall, Walnut Creek, CA: Bobby Freeman/Wally Cox/The Untouchables
Correspondent Kent found this ancient "boxing-style" poster, for what very well may be Walnut Creek's very first rock show. It was held at The Walnut Creek Hall, at 1300 Boulevard Way. Bobby Freeman had had a huge hit with "Do You Wanna Dance" (no, Jerry Garcia did not play on it, whatever you may have read). The Wally Cox was not the actor, but a singer.

March 1-2, 1968 Clifford's Catering, Walnut Creeek, CA: Grateful Dead/The Looking Glass
For many years, this show was listed as having been at The Looking Glass, on 1300 Boulevard Way. I had assumed it had been canceled. JGMF finally tracked it down, however, and it turns out to have actually occurred. The Grateful Dead played Walnut Creek twice, in 1968.  JGMF correspondent Brad Vicknear reports the details
I saw The Grateful Dead at Clifford's Catering in Walnut Creek on Saturday, March 2nd, 1968 
I was friends with twin brothers and their older brother was one of the guitar players for The Looking Glass. They were a band from Concord/Walnut Creek that played locally in the late 60's. The drummer's father booked The Grateful Dead and The Looking Glass at Clifford's on Friday, March 1st and Saturday March 2nd. The Dead played the weekend before at Kings Beach Bowl in Lake Tahoe and the day after their Saturday night gig in Walnut Creek, they played on two flatbeds on Haight Street. 
The venue was originally Portuguese Hall. A poster from 1963 promoting Bobby Freeman, Wally Cox, and The Untouchables lists the venue as Walnut Creek Hall. In 1965 and 1966 the venue was called Holy Ghost Hall. Local bands and major recording artists appeared, including Sonny & Cher, Martha and the Vandellas, Dick and Dee Dee, Dobie Gray and others. In 1967, the venue was called Scuzzy Mouse. The venue has gone through many name changes over the years, but is best remembered as Holy Ghost Hall. 
The venue was called Clifford's Catering when The Grateful Dead appeared. Clifford's was a restaurant/catering business that would rent out the hall on occasion.
It might seem that the rock and roll history of Walnut Creek would end at Clifford's Catering, but that was not quite so. It is a little known (but confirmed) fact that Pete Townshend and his family spent the Summer of 1975 in Walnut Creek, so that Townshend could study with Meher Baba. And where was Meher Baba's study center located? You guessed it--1300 Boulevard Way.

I am looking forward to updating this posts with additional Conta Costa County events at various locations from around the region.