Friday, August 7, 2020

The Flowers>Solid State: South Bay Psychedelica 1966-68 (New And Improved)

Bassist Gordon Stevens and his wife made this banner on their living room floor in 1966, and hung it behind the band when they played (if it was possible). It's still intact as of Summer 2020

The Flowers
For reasons of my own, I spent a number of decades seeking out the history of the New Delhi River Band. The NDRB were the "other" psychedelic blues band from Palo Alto, so their story was as if the Grateful Dead were in a parallel world where nothing went right. Once the internet was invented, the research got easier, and I started to find out some things, and I even found some sources. Eventually, I succeeded in my quest, and resurrected the lost history of the New Delhi River Band. But along the way, I learned that there was another, deeper mystery. An old Palo Alto source, by then living in San Antonio (hi Chris), told me there was another psychedelic Palo Alto band: The Flowers.

So I spent another decade patiently waiting for the internet to improve, which it did, and facts to rise to the surface, which they always do. As of last month, I felt I had pieced together enough fragments to at least sketch the apparent history of The Flowers. I sort of knew who was in the band, and although I was only able to find performance dates in Palo Alto proper, it was a start. So there was an outline, at least, enough to publish a blog post.

Lo and behold, a friend doing a documentary spoke to Jerry Garcia's ex-wife, who knew the ex-wife of a member of The Flowers, who in turn knew the bass player. I was able to get in touch with Gordon Stevens, the bass player for The Flowers, and learn the whole story. So here it is--the story of The Flowers, a seminal South Bay psychedelic band, intrinsically linked to Ken Kesey and the South Bay underground. Pictures, too! Is the internet great, or what?

The Flowers and Solid State Performance History 1966-68

Roots Of The Flowers--San Jose and South Bay Jazz
The members of The Flowers were all working jazz musicians in San Jose and the South Bay. In the nature of jazz musicians, they had worked together in different combos over the years, so there was no magical meeting in somebody's parent's garage.

The original lineup of The Flowers, at the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in late '66/early '67. (L-R) Gordon Stevens (bs), Paul Robertson (alto, flute), Terry Otis (dr), Bob Neloms (organ). [thanks Gordon for all the photos]
The Flowers--Mark I
Paul Robertson is best known as Ken Kesey's attorney. He was also a trained musician on flute and alto saxophone, and he had played many a sorority gig when he was an undergrad at Dartmouth. Robertson, according to Gordon Stevens, was the "CEO" of the band, trying to put all the deals together.

Bob Neloms' solo album from 1963, on Bai Records
Bob Neloms
played a Hammond M3 organ in The Flowers, with a Leslie amplifier. Neloms' family was from Detroit, but he had gone to High School in Eureka, CA, on the Northern Coast. Neloms had worked in Detroit, playing jazz and doing sessions for Motown in the early 60s, but he had returned to the San Francisco area in 1963. While Paul Robertson ran the business side of the band, Neloms was the arranger. Neloms had released a solo album in 1963 on Bai Records.

Gordon Stevens (b. San Jose, CA 1936) was a trained musician, having started playing viola in the San Jose Symphony at 16 (his father was Assistant Conductor). The Stevens family also ran a music store in the Willow Glen district in San Jose (with outlets later in other cities, including Fresno). Back in the late 50s, Leo Fender himself had visited their store, delivering two Strats, two Telecasters and two Precision basses. Stevens Music (at 1202 Lincoln Ave) became the official Fender representative at that time, so when the rock explosion hit in the 1960s, Stevens Music was well-placed. According to Gordon Stevens, they once sold 180 new Stratocasters in a month. Stevens had been playing as a professional jazz musician in the San Jose area since 1958.

Terry Otis, another African-American, played drums. He was a jazz player, but there wasn't much work in the South Bay, so he joined The Flowers.

All of the original members of The Flowers had been working jazz musicians in San Jose and the South Bay for several years. They had all made a living, too, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. Still, jazz wasn't growing in popularity.   Somehow, Robertson got the idea of forming a sort of electric jazz band, but to play "psychedelic" music. Kesey himself was all aboard. Kesey had made a little money with One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, so he staked Robertson to some electronic equipment.

All of the Merry Pranksters are practically mythological figures, so I won't recap it all here. Suffice to say, not only was Robertson Kesey's attorney, his wife was the sister of the infamous Prankster "Zonker" (Steve Lambrecht), who was the inspiration for the Doonesbury character. So although the members of The Flowers were all jazz musicians--rather than rockers--they had a mainline connection to the psychedelic underground.

In 1966, jazz was popular with beatniks, and some of the older rock fans, but it wasn't really music for teenagers. On the other hand, jazz was kind of quiet, and mostly played in nightclubs and hotels, not really accessible for younger people, nor folks with less money. So, whatever exactly Paul Robertson and Ken Kesey had in mind, they were going to inject jazz into the psychedelic rock scene--straight, no chaser.  There wasn't any concept of (what would be later called) "fusion music" yet,  and The Flowers played pretty straight jazz.

The difference was that The Flowers played loud jazz, with an electric bass and a Hammond organ. They also played it straight, and when the band improvised, they improvised in a way that fit the psychedelic rock bands at the Fillmore (Gordon Stevens called it "a heavy Anglo-Saxon beat"), rather than some free jazz being played on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. Stevens also doubled on electric viola and electric mandolin, and they would play a few recognizable "pop" hits (like Bobby Hebb's "Sunny"). The Flowers played jazz, real jazz, but it was jazz designed for rock fans, not downtown hipsters in Greenwich Village.

In Stevens' case, he joined the Flowers as a sort of lark, although he already knew the other band members. His father had just returned from a National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM) conference in Germany with a new Hofner electric bass, just like Paul McCartney played. He offered Gordon the bass if he wanted to play electric bass with the Flowers, so he took the gig. Although Gordon was a jazz player, he had been a huge fan of Paul McCartney's bass playing from the beginning of The Beatles.

The original Flowers, posing at Golden Gate Park in late '66/early '67. [L-R]: Terry Otis, Bob Neloms, Paul Robertson, Gordon Stevens
Early Gigs
The earliest performances by The Flowers seemed to have been at a legendary bohemian hangout called Ricardo's Pizza. Ricardo's was at 218 Willow Street, just across the Guadalupe River (and CA87) from the Willow Glen neighborhood, South of downtown but West of Kelley Park. Chet Baker had apparently played Ricardo's on Tuesdays back in the day, and in the future the Doobie Brothers would also had their first gigs at Ricardo's. I'm not certain if the band was called The Flowers yet, or even billed.

September 30, 1966 Gallery Lounge, San Francisco State College, San Francisco, CA: Whatever It Is-San Francisco State Acid Test
The last legal Acid Test in California was held at San Francisco State College. It was a three day event, culminating with a Grateful Dead performances at The Women's Gym on Saturday October 1, and another on the lawn on Sunday. There were numerous other "multi-media" events around the campus throughout the weekend. The Flowers were booked to make their big-city debut for the underground, in an arts show in the Gallery Lounge. The band was listed in the program as The Paul Robertson Quartet.

Gallery Lounge: Don Garrett, Chloe Scott, Poetry Reading , Paul Robertson Jazz Band, Congress of Wonders, Ron Boise Musical Sculpture and Artwork of Dion Wright, Bob Branaman, Bruce Connor and Karen Koslow

Unfortunately, things did not go well. Zonker, befitting his Prankster identity, insisted that all members of The Flowers drop acid before the show. Now, the band members, being jazz musicians, were hardly innocents. Still, the LSD was pretty potent, and Bob Neloms had a poor reaction, finding himself effectively frozen in place. Although Neloms eventually came down with no ill effects, the Flowers did not play that night, so their chance to get known on the underground San Francisco circuit was wasted.

During the downtime, however, Gordon Stevens went to the Pranksters bus and ended up talking with Neal Cassady, who was monitoring it. The Pranksters were about to take a bus trip to New York, and Cassady told Stevens that Kesey wanted two bass players on the trip, both Stevens and Phil Lesh. In reality, the Grateful Dead were just about to take off, so Phil of course wasn't going to New York. Stevens at least contemplated it, but of course when he got home and his wife pointed out that they had kids at home, that was the end of that idea. In any case, Kesey was soon in jail for his pot bust.

Fall '66 The Barn, Scotts Valley, CA: Del Fis/The Flowers
One of the legendary Bay Area hippie enclaves was.a mysterious building called The Barn, in the little hamlet of Scotts Valley, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I am pretty much the only person I know of who has done any research on The Barn. My first, simple version of The Barn saga can be seen here, but I have a lot more information now, but a revision will take some time.

The Barn was run by one Leon Tabory, a psychologist who had worked with Neal Cassady. The Barn was a converted dairy barn, with the upper story converted into a miniature psychedelic ballroom, with colorful murals and a light show. In Fall of 1966, there were so few genuine underground gigs that many cool bands played there, since there were so few other places to play. Scotts Valley, though nestled in the mountains, was just a few minutes from downtown San Jose and about 45 minutes from Fremont and Hayward. Lots of teenagers whose parents wouldn't have allowed them to go the Fillmore in San Francisco were perfectly OK with a visit to nearby Scotts Valley. Little did they know.

Does this cryptical ad for The Barn in the September 2, 1966 Santa Cruz Sentinel indicate The Flowers? Barn owner Leon Tabory had good reason to be vague about what was really happening
Actual performance dates at The Barn can be hard to come by. Tabory was constantly battling the county, so the advertisements in the Santa Cruz Sentinel tread lightly on the subject of which noisy electric band was really playing. The Barn was a true underground scene, however. The Kesey "Furthur" bus was parked out back, and all the local underground--hippies, Pranksters, beatniks, pot dealers and bikers--all hung out in peace there on weekends. Gordon Stevens recalls playing The Barn at least once (with the Del Fis, whomever they may have been). Tabory liked The Flowers, because they played jazz and didn't have vocals, different than almost all the young guitar bands.

Winter '67: The Vault, Sunnyvale
Terry Otis was a fine drummer, but he was basically a jazzer. Otis left The Flowers, and he went on to play some good jazz in the East Side San Jose scene, with guys like Napoleon Murphy Brock (later in The Mothers of Invention) and organist Clifford Coulter.

To replace Otis, The Flowers got drummer Buddy Barnhill. Barnill (1938-2011) had been born in nearby Los Gatos. Barnhill was well-known to the band members, and in fact Neloms, Stevens and Barnhill had played a regular trio gig together in Downtown Palo Alto. Barnhill was more versatile than Otis, and comfortable with the rock beat.

In early 1967, The Flowers had a regular gig at a place called The Vault, a converted bank in downtown Sunnyvale (I had thought that The Vault was the former Sunnyvale Whisky A-Go-Go at Washington and Murphy, but the timeline is wrong). At The Vault, the Flowers added a few songs with vocals. Paul Robertson wrote some songs, and Barnhill's wife (the former Louise DeLucchi) was a fine Bossa Nova style singer, so she sang a few numbers as well.

When The Poppycock opened in downtown Palo Alto in April '67, Stevens recalled his weekly trio gig with Neloms and Barnhill at a place called The Tangent, at 117 University. It was at the Western end of downtown, accessible to all the downtown beatniks, but in range of both the train station and Stanford students. University Avenue had seemed like a pretty amenable location, and the Poppycock was larger than The Tangent, and just a few doors away. The band members told Paul Robertson it was worth a try.

An ad in the April 21, 1967 Stanford Daily for the opening of The Poppycock, a Fish 'N' Chips joint that also presented music. It was Palo Alto's primarry rock club from 1967-1969. The Flowers (later Solid State) were effectively the house band throughout 1967, playing more weekends than not.

Downtown Palo Alto and The Poppyock: 1967
Palo Alto, California, is only a town of about 60,000, about 35 miles South of San Francisco, and yet it looms large in the world, far out of proportion to its modest size. Palo Alto residents, like the residents of most small towns, think the world revolves around itself.

Palo Alto, by its own accounting, played a big part in 60s psychedelic rock and roll. The history of the Fillmore and The Avalon always begins with Ken Kesey at Stanford, and the parties and acid tests that followed. Of course, Kesey's cottage was really next door in Menlo Park, but that sort of detail never interfered with a Palo Alto story. At the same time, Jerry Garcia and other bohemians were hanging out in downtown Palo Alto, even if they often lived in Menlo Park themselves. Certainly, Jerry Garcia started playing live in Stanford and Palo Alto, and he took acid for the first time in Palo Alto, and by the end of 1965 Garcia was the lead guitarist in an electric blues band. The Warlocks--who debuted themselves in Menlo Park--became the Grateful Dead, and the house band of The Merry Pranksters, and Palo Alto's place in the rock revolution was secure.

In the 1950s, Palo Alto had a thriving downtown. Palo Alto had been founded by the railroad magnates Leland Stanford and Timothy Hopkins as the town adjacent to the new Stanford University. Stanford opened in 1892, but the foundation of Palo Alto dated back to 1875. A condition of Palo Alto's formation was that there were no bars downtown. After Prohibition ended, Palo Alto relaxed slightly, and allowed beer and wine to be served at restaurants. Palo Alto residents, however, liked having no bars, and there were still no bars in the 1960s. At the same time, the revolutionary Stanford Shopping Center had opened in 1955, and wiped out many of the downtown Palo Alto business. So downtown Palo Alto was empty, yet had no bars. 

By the early 60s, dowtown Palo Alto was pretty sleepy, and there was plenty of cheap housing for local bohemian types like Jerry Garcia and his friends. There had been a little folk scene at The Tangent because the bohemians lived cheaply downtown, while Stanford students were still near enough to provide an audience. Palo Alto, though dull, was tolerant, and let the little scene grow on its own.

By 1967, folk fans were ready to plug in. There were no bars in downtown Palo Alto, but restaurants could serve beer and wine. The Poppycock, near enough to campus but still downtown, was a Fish "n" Chips shop--this was "foreign cuisine" in 1967, I kid you not--that served beer. They had a take-out counter, and a bigger room in back for music. There weren't a lot of working bands in the South Bay yet that played original music, so The Flowers got booked almost every weekend at The Poppyock when it initially opened.

The corner of University Avenue and High Street in downtown Palo Alto, as it appeared in 2018 (looking East towards downtown)
April 14-15, 1967  The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: San Francisco Mime Troupe/The Flowers
April 20, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
April 21-22, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: San Francisco Mime Troupe/The Flowers

Palo Alto's first rock club had been  a place called The Big Beat, way south of downtown. It is infamous as the site of the Palo Alto Acid Test on December 18, 1965, just prior to its opening. The Acid Test, aside, the club featured bands playing covers, and appealed to factory workers in the South Bay. The second rock club was The Poppycock, which opened on April 14, 1967. It was downtown, near the Stanford campus, at the corner of University Avenue and High Street (hard to make this up). I have written in great detail about the history of The Poppycock.

The first band to play the  Poppycock was The Flowers. They had played on opening weekend after the Mime Troupe, an on Thursday, April 20, they were the only act. 

April 27-29, 1967: The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
May 4-6,1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA The Flowers
May 11-13, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers

I have listed every booking of The Flowers that I have been able to find. In fact, from April through June 1967, The Flowers probably played The Poppyock just about every weekend, but I am only including those were there has been concrete evidence. Generally, The Flowers held down the Thursday to Saturday slot, starting at 9:00pm with admission for 50 cents or a dollar. The Flowers seemed to have been the only act, although there is a report that The Standells (an LA band famous for the hit "Dirty Water") played on Thursday, April 27.

Gordon Stevens sent along an excellently recorded live set from the Poppycock right around this period. The Flowers play some straight-ahead jazz with a firmer beat than most jazzers of that era. By this time, Stevens had switched to a Fender Precision bass, as the Hofner had been too light in his hands. The Precision (as opposed to a Fender Jazz), combined with the Hammond, gave The Flowers a rockish sound, even though they were pretty much playing modern jazz. When they improvised, the band veered more towards a loose, rock sound rather than an avant-garde jazz sound, so they were danceable. In the set, they play some original material, a few with rock vocals (sung by Robertson), a jazzed-up pop single ("Sunny"). For the last number, Gordon Stevens switches to his custom-built electric viola, and plays an uptempo version of the Beatles "Norwegian Wood," complete with an echoplex box.

May 14, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA MPFU Be-In (local bands)
Have you ever wondered where the cliche started of replacing "Intro To English Lit" with "Underwater Basket Weaving?" It started in Palo Alto, because Palo Alto likes to start things. The Mid-Peninsula Free University (MPFU), or "Free You," was a loose affiliation of young Stanford professors and learned drop-outs who wanted things to be different. This was somehow connected to a Stanford group called "The Experiment." MPFU published a catalog of unique classes given in people's homes or community centers, offering instruction in all sorts of things. The Free You story is too long and too Palo Alto to go into here, but Palo Alto always documents itself, so you can read all about it.

In order to raise money for itself, the Free You decide to have a "Be-In," rather than a benefit concert. They held a free concert with local bands--I have never been able to find out who they were, although I suspected the Flowers were there--at El Camino Park in Palo Alto. El Camino Park was a grassy athletic field across from both The Stanford Shopping Center and ‘El Palo Alto’ (the tall tree that gave the city its name). The Park (at 100 El Camino Real) was at the intersection of Palo Alto Avenue, Alma Street and El Camino Real at the Palo Alto/Menlo Park border, and within easy walking distance of downtown. It is Palo Alto’s oldest park, first open in 1914.

After the initial “Human Be-In” in Golden Gate Park (on Jan 14 '67), The Diggers, the Grateful Dead and other like-minded souls were holding Be-Ins in the Bay Area and around the continent. There were Be-Ins (or similar events) in Los Angeles (Griffith Park), New York (Tompkins Square) and Vancouver (Stanley Park), for example, and around the Bay Area in Berkeley (Provo Park), San Jose (10th and Alma) and finally Palo Alto. The Palo Alto event capped a brief era that had begun only a half-mile away at Perry Lane. While Palo Alto’s leading hippies were migrating North to San Francisco or West to the Santa Cruz Mountains, the scene’s beginnings were still present. Palo Alto, while unhip, was a tolerant town and seemed perfectly willing to allow revelry to take place in a city park on a weekend afternoon. It went so well, Free You decided to have another one six weeks later.

I have never been able to find out who actually performed at the first Be-In, but I was 100% confident that The Flowers were one of the bands, and Gordon Stevens confirmed it.

May 19-21, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
May 26-28, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
Paul Robertson had always run the business side of the band, but according to Stevens, when the Flowers were regulars at The Poppycock, they actually started to make some money. Throughout this whole period, Stevens, Neloms and Buddy Barnhill played other jazz gigs, including a regular trio booking for a Sunday brunch show in Santa Cruz (across the street from the Cocoanut Grove). Palo Alto was more happening, however, and Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady would often visit The Poppycock.

In Spring '67, The Flowers went into Columbus Studios to record a demo. Columbus Studios was owned by Frank Werber, who had managed the Kingston Trio. The studio was in the uniquely shaped "Flatiron" building, at 916 Kearny (at Columbus and Jackson) in downtown San Francisco. The Flowers recorded a 9-track demo. According to Stevens, his Hagstrom electric bass was a little out of tune, and Paul Robertson got a little sharp on occasion, so the tracks weren't perfect. Most of the tracks were jazz instrumentals, but there were a few rockish songs with vocals. Still, they didn't get any bites from record companies.

June 3-4 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Doors/Miller Blues Band/The Flowers
Gordon Stevens recalls playing the Avalon Ballroom and opening for The Doors. I have only been able to triangulate the date, but it appears to be June 3-4, 1967, third on the bill beneath the Steve Miller Blues Band. The Flowers were not on the poster (Victor Moscoso's FD-64, above), but the Avalon almost always had opening acts who were not "on the poster" (for a discussion of this murky subject, see here).

The Flowers got the Avalon booking because Ken Kesey had called Chet Helms, and Chet basically took Kesey's recommendation. Stevens recalls their roadie parking their truck behind the Avalon, and the whole band going for a meal. When they returned, a bunch of their gear had been stolen, including Stevens' electric viola, electric mandolin, Fender bass and Fender PA system. Since Stevens' family owned a music store, the equipment was soon replaced.

July 2, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In
Grateful Dead/ /Anonymous Artists of America/New Delhi River Band/Solid State/Good Word/
Since the network news had covered the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park back in January, the music industry caught the wave, and it all led to the Monterey Pop Festival on the weekend of June 16-18, 1967. All of the San Francisco bands, with only the barest of record sales, if that, were high profile guests with hip acts from London, Los Angeles and New York. Attendance at the Monterey Fairgrounds was somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000, far more than anyone had anticipated. After Monterey Pop ended, the Dead's crew cheerily absconded with the rented Fender amps. According to Rock Scully and a few others, they used the amps to put on free concerts for a short while. The July 2, 1967 Palo Alto Be-In was clearly one of these events. After a while, Scully contacted Fender and told them in which warehouse their borrowed amps were located, and invited them to pick them up. Scully thoughtfully added, "if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair."

Solid State at the Palo Alto Be-In in El Camino Park on July 2, 1967. [L-R], Robertson (alto), Buddy Barnhill (dr) and Bob Neloms (organ). Gordon Stevens (bs) took the photo.
From the article in the Stanford Daily, we can see that The Flowers were by now using the name Solid State. According to Stevens, Ken Kesey had suggested that the band drop the name "Flowers," as it was passe: "I'm getting tired of this hippy-dippy shit." Kesey was intrigued by the technology of the new portable Fender amplifiers, so he suggested the name "Solid State." Thus The Flowers changed their name, probably in the nick of time.

My father, not interested in rock music per se, but having the foresight to recognize cultural touchstones when they occurred in his town, took the whole family to the Palo Alto Be-In—I was nine years old. I mainly recall Bill Kreutzmann’s psychedelically painted drum set, and my younger sister getting her face painted by nice hippie girls. My older sister recalls the Dead playing “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” (which is how that song made it into the Deadbase list). So it's possible that I even saw Solid State, though not necessarily likely.

A poster for the Fantasy Fayre Music Festival, held at the Devonshire Downs horse track on July 15-16, 1967. It exclusively featured underground hippie bands from both Northern and Southern California. A few were wellknown, like Jefferson Airplane and The Doors, but many were unrecorded or unsigned.
July 15-16, 1967:  Devonshire Meadows Raceway, Cal State Northridge, Northridge, CA  Fantasy Fayre and Magic Music Festival
Saturday, July 15 posted running order (10:00am-8:00pm): Second Coming/Kaleidoscope/Whirling Dervishes/Doors/Solid State/Iron Butterfly/Grass Roots/New Delhi River Band/Thorinshield/Kaliedoscope/Solid State/The Factory/[unknown]/The Groupies
Sunday, July 16 posted running order (10:00am-8:00pm): Solid Sate/Humane Society/Sunshine Company/Butterfield Blues Band/Country Joe And The Fish/Heather Stones/New Delhi River Band/ Jefferson Airplane/Thorinshield/Sunshine Company/Merry Go Round/Canned Heat
The "Fantasy Fayre" music festival at the Devonshire Downs racetrack was one of the first to have psychedelic "underground" bands, certainly the first in Southern California. The Monterey Pop Festival (and its Marin County predecessor, Magic Mountain), had only been the months before. All sorts of California hippie bands without record contracts played the Festival.
A sign at the Fantasy Fayre Muisc Festvial at Devonshire Downs, showing the actual running order of the bands. Solid State was scheduled for both days (Saturday and Sunday July 15-16, 1967)

Solid State, per the running order posted above, was scheduled to perform on both days. According to Gordon Stevens, the schedule on Saturday was adjusted so that Solid State could come on before The Doors, rather than after. Jim Morrison, apparently, had been "up all night" and needed to rest. The Doors also borrowed some equipment from Solid State, rather surprising for a hit band.

The members of Solid State at Devonshire Downs on the weekend of July 15-16, 1967

Paul Robertson had been unable to put a record deal together, and Bob Neloms was getting restless. He left the band, returning to Detroit. Ultimately, Neloms moved on to Manhattan, living near the Village Vanguard and continuing his jazz career.

To replace him, the band signed up pianist Don Alberts to play Farfisa organ. Alberts, another veteran Bay Area jazzman, had been in trio with Stevens and Barnhill that had played all over the Bay Area, including San Francisco, San Jose and the San Pablo Avenue strip in the East Bay.

July 28-29, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Solid State
(formerly The Flowers)
Although I haven't found many bookings for Solid State, indirect evidence suggests they played The Poppycock for many of the weekends in the Summer and early Fall of 1967. The Poppycock did not advertise much, and the San Francisco papers rarely listed Poppycock bookings, so I don't really know who played there. I do suspect there were few out-of-town acts--they would have been advertised or noted--and there weren't really many local bands at this point, either. The Poppycock did point out in the Stanford Daily  (July 28 '67) that The Flowers had changed their name to Solid State.

October 1, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Steve Miller Band/Blue Cheer/New Delhi River Band/Solid State/Anonymous Artists of America/Congress of Wonders MPFU Be-In
Solid State definitely played the third Palo Alto Be-In of 1967 (it's mentioned in Don Alberts' novel, below).  This edition of the Steve Miller Band featured the classic lineup with Boz Scaggs, although their first album (Children Of The Future) was still almost a year from release. The New Delhi River Band, meanwhile, after early success, was starting to lose momentum. The NDRB had a following in the South Bay, but The Barn, their home base, had closed, and the group had not broken into the more lucrative San Francisco scene. Blue Cheer had formed relatively recently, and while their first album was a long way away, their demo was getting played on KMPX-fm. Congress Of Wonders was a popular hippie comedy troupe.
The Poppycock ad in the Stanford Daily for September 25, 1967
October 4, 6-7 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Solid State
The Poppycock mostly stopped advertising in the Stanford Daily after the Spring '67 quarter, so my information about Poppycock shows is very scarce. For the first Stanford Daily issue of the Fall '67 quarter, however, The Poppycock had a relatively big display ad in the paper. When there weren't touring acts, Solid State was holding down the weekend. That suggests to me that Solid State still played the Poppycock regularly, but possibly not with the frequency of the Spring. The rock market in the Bay Area (and indeed the world) was exploding, and rock fans wanted to see something new and different each weekend, rather than just the same old house band.

A few Bay Area clubs that featured original rock, along with some blues and folk, was starting to surface. There was The Matrix in San Francisco, along with Mandrakes's and the New Orleans House in Berkeley. Slowly, the Poppycock would become a South Bay stop on the local circuit. The best bands in each of the counties would play the other clubs, and start to develop a name. In turn they would get the chance to open at the Fillmore or the Avalon. Solid State had opened at The Avalon (see above), but they never made the club circuit around the Bay Area.

Paul Robertson and the band took one more shot at a record contract. The quartet recorded at a studio on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood (Stevens no longer knows which one), and even stayed at the infamous Tropicana Motor Inn, owned by Sandy Koufax. They recorded about an album's worth of material. Some weeks later, Robertson hooked Gordon Stevens up with the hip son of a famous talent agent (Stevens no longer recalls the name), woi  took Stevens around the Hollywood record companies, searching for a deal. Stevens recalls puttin on a turtleneck and borrowing a Corvette to look cool.

Stevens recalls talking to staff at A&M Records, Capitol, MGM and Elektra. At A&M, Stevens recalls hanging out in the waiting room with Hugh Masakela and his band. The A&M guy liked the recordings, and said he would give it to Herb Alpert (Herb was the "A"--"M" was Jerry Moss) for the weekend. When Stevens called back on Monday, Alpert apparently complained that the sax was out-of-tune (not noticing Stevens out-of-tune Hagstrom bss). Capitol wasn't interested, and while the Elektra guys were nice, and one guy there liked it, they weren't going to sign Solid State.

The guys at MGM Records were pretty interested, however. A few days after arrival, MGM offered the band a $5000 retainer. A senior manager's approval was required, however, and he wasn't immediately available. It was a Tuesday, though, and Stevens had to return to the Bay Area because the group had gigs. Stevens recalls going back to Don Alberts' house, and waiting all week. No one from the record company called. Finally, the MGM guy called and said the whole thing was off. They had never cashed the check, so they didn't have to return any money, but that popped the air in the bubble.

A flyer for The Poppycock in February 1968, advertising The Flowers on Feb 21. The band was dormant, but hadn't really broken up. By this time, they usually used the name Paul Robertson Quartet.

February 21, 1968 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Flowers
Once the record deal fell through in late '67 the band was pretty much finished. In fact, however, in the manner of jazz bands, they didn't "break up." The band continued to gig off and on through late '69, usually performing as the Paul Robertson Quartet. But the dream of recording as a psychedelic jazz band had passed them by

On Wednesday, February 21, 1968 The Flowers were booked again at The Poppycock. I think in this case, they were using their best known name. There was a circuit around the Bay Area now for bands playing original rock music, but The Flowers weren't part of it, having arrived too early at The Fair.

Paul Robertson's second album on Palo Alto Records, 1982's Old Friends, New Friends
Paul Robertson (1936-93) had a very successful legal career, mainly in finance. He also contributed to legal practice on Search and Seizure, since he had kept so many people out of jail. He still found time to record. He released two album on Palo Alto Records, 1980s The Song Is You, and 1982s Old Friends New Friends. His supporting cast on the records included Mike Melvoin, Tom Harrell and Eddie Marshall.
Bobby Neloms 1982 album Pretty Music, on India Navigation Records
Bob Neloms (1942-2020) returned to Detroit, and then headed East to Boston and New York. For a while he taught at the Berklee School of Music. Later he moved to Manhattan, living near the Village Vanguard. Neloms played with The Roy Haynes Quartet (1974-76), The Charles Mingus Band  on Three Or Four Shades Of Blue, and the Dannie Richmond Quintet (1979-82), among others. Neloms released the album Pretty Music in 1982.

Bob Neloms passed away on July 28, 2020. Neloms' obituary was published in the New York Times.

Bob Neloms at the piano in the 1980s (photo c) and courtesy of Rick Luftglass)
update: Neloms' friend Rick Luftglass passed along a more detailed appreciation of Neloms musical career, as well as a photo (above):
Robert James (Bob) Neloms, 78, who died on July 28, 2020, was a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator.

The world has lost a musical treasure. Best known for his tenure with Charles Mingus in the late 1970s, he was also the original Motown Records staff pianist from 1961 to 1963 and helped create the popular Motown sound enjoyed by millions around the world. His May 1983 interview about his Motown years can be heard online at

Born in Detroit, MI in 1942, he began formal piano instruction at the age of five, encouraged by house visitors such as Art Tatum and Coleman Hawkins. Aged 6, he and his adoptive parents moved to Eureka, CA where he graduated from Eureka High School, playing in country and western bands as a teenager.

Neloms won a Downbeat scholarship and studied at Berklee School of Music in Boston in 1959-60 before moving to Detroit, where at 18 he joined the Choker Campbell band, which backed such entertainers as Aretha Franklin and George Kirby. Berry Gordy hired the Campbell band intact for Motown Records for studio recordings and road tours with the Motortown Revue.

After his time with Motown Records, Neloms moved to California, where he recorded his first album, Bobby Neloms, at the age of 21, played jazz locally, and formed the pioneering jazz-rock fusion groups, The Flowers and Solid State, in San Francisco. He played with up and coming musicians including Sly Stone and Larry Graham, was the musical director for the Harlem Clowns basketball team in 1963 and musical director for actor Ted Ross from 1964-78.

Returning to Boston in 1968, he gained a reputation as a talented and versatile sideman. Moving to New York City in 1973, he began a long succession of engagements with such jazz innovators as Roy Haynes, Freddie Waits, Pharoah Sanders, Pepper Adams, Junior Cook, Bill Hardman and Clifford Jordan. In Mingus’ last band, he recorded with Mingus, Jack Walrath, Ricky Ford and Dannie Richmond on four albums and toured through over thirty countries. He was also a member of the All-Star Mingus Orchestra at the 25th Anniversary Newport Jazz Festival in 1978 in New York.

In the 1980s he continued to refine his piano playing solo at Burgundy and Kasper’s and in group contexts at the Tin Palace and other venues, and devoted considerable energies to composing, arranging and teaching. His 1982 solo piano album, Pretty Music, features all original songs except for one standard. He appeared as a sideman in recordings by Hamiet Bluiett, Ricky Ford, Lionel Hampton, Teruo Nakamura, James Newton, Dannie Richmond and on various Motown recordings with Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and others.

Neloms’ work as an educator includes Artist-in-Residence at State University of New York – Binghamton Harpur Jazz Project, Manhattan Midtown Jazz School, United Cerebral Palsy Foundation as a music therapist, New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, Elma Lewis National School of Afro-American Art, Boston and private students from 1964 to the late 1980s.

He attended Berklee School of Music in 1959-60 and 1968-69; San Jose State College in 1966, Northeastern University, Boston in 1970, Manhattan College, 1974-76 (Dean’s List); and Baruch College, 1978. Up until 2017 he was still hoping to complete his B.A. and to resume a career on stage.

Bob’s good friend, critical care specialist, Dr. C. Simpkins, whom he met at Wally’s in Boston in the early 1970s while at Harvard Medical School, described Bob as follows:

“Bob was a charming and sincere person who was a natural-born teacher. He had a disarmingly playful sense of humor coupled with a brilliant musical spontaneity and drive. Following his complex emotional contours always had surprises with one constant to which he ferociously held. That constant was finding and speaking truth through music.” Bob had an essential influence in Dr. Simpkins writing of his book Coltrane: A Biography, teaching him many of the technical aspects of the music.

Jon Pareles, in the New York Times in 1985 described Neloms as “a thoroughly up-to-date player whose strong sense of history is underlined by a solid left hand….He can make a bass line strut or knock out oompahing stride patterns; he can also pile up angular modern chords or top a crescendo with a gospelly tremolo….His good humor and the volatility and ebullience of his playing are contagious.”

Predeceased by his mother, Nebba Best Kirk-Mial, and his adoptive parents Robert and Margaret Neloms, he is mourned and lovingly remembered by his wife of 35 years, Karen Hegge Neloms, and his children with his first wife - daughter GeMar Neloms and son Hillary Neloms .

Buddy Barnhill (1938-2011)
He was born on Dec. 1, 1938 and, like his father before him, graduated from Los Gatos High School, where he was in the marching band and orchestra. He was also in the choir at St. Mary’s Church. He married his high school sweetheart, Louise DeLucchi, and the two shared a love of music, Buddy as a professional drummer and Louise as a singer. They were married for 14 years and had two children, Scott and Cari.

Buddy spent his entire career as a musician, touring the United States and Canada and recording several albums. He played with such jazz greats as Toots Thielemans, Joe Sample, Al Jarreau, Wynton Marsalis and Freddie Hubbard and later toured with Don Ho. According to Louise, though, “his greatest highlight was playing gigs with his son Scott,” a professional saxophone player.

Don Alberts (1932-2018)
Don was raised in the Bay Area, started piano at age 10, and played the jazz venues of the ’60s. Don served in the armed forces and worked as a draftsman while starting a family. In the Portland, Oregon, jazz scene, Don played with Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank and hosted jazz radio. Returning to the Bay Area, Don issued ASCAP-awarded volumes of jazz compositions, recorded albums and gigged regularly at such venues as Pearl’s and the 7 Mile House, where his poetry was read to jazz accompaniment. Don also wrote fiction and a significant Bay Area jazz history book.

Alberts' 2009 history book was A Diary Of The Underdogs: Jazz in the 1960s in San Francisco, an impressionistic look at jazz in its context. More intriguing was Alberts' 2006 Roman A Clef novel,
The Rushing: Manbaby and The Crooked Road To The Big Time. The novel was significant for this blogger, at least, since prior to me it had just about the only googlable reference to The Flowers at The Poppycock.  It even listed the members of The Flowers (when Alberts was a member), without which I would not have gotten this far.

Gordon Stevens remained a professional jazz musician through 1975. Around 1971, he was also joined Moby Grape, since he was friend and minder to Skip Spence. Stevens played electric viola and mandolin on the 20 Granite Creek album. Stevens also worked in his family's music store. In 1994, Stevens turned the music store building into the Open Path Recording Studio, a business he ran until 2008. Stevens is still alive and well, and still living in San Jose.

The Flowers, later called Solid State, were one of the very first underground psychedelic rock bands in the Palo Alto area,  performing in 1966 and '67. Their few contemporaries were The Grateful Dead, the New Delhi River Band and The Anonymous Artists of America, only one of which is remembered today. Yet The Flowers were as wired to the Prankster underground as any of those groups, and need to take their place in psychedelic history.

135 University Avenue in Palo Alto, the former site of The Poppycock, at the corner of University and High, as it appeared in 2010