|The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood were regular performers at the Matrix throughout 1970. Their lone album on Columbia was released around July|
The Matrix, at 3138 Fillmore Street in San Francisco's Marina District, had quite literally been the first hippie nightclub. Originally opened in August, 1965 by Jefferson Airplane lead singer Marty Balin's father (along with some partners), the club not only housed the Airplane, it was also the only hangout for most of the long-haired musicians. When the Fillmore and Avalon started putting on shows in early 1966, pretty much the only other steady hippie gig in the city was at The Matrix. Many of the Fillmore bands, even the popular ones, put in time at the Matrix.
The Matrix was a tiny, rectangular club, a former pizza parlor with a beer license. Maximum official capacity was 150. Patrons were not allowed to dance--this was no joke, as the cops liked to bust hippies just to find joints in their pocket--so the Matrix generally eschewed dance music. Befitting the Fillmore, the Matrix favored noodly blues jamming, presented in all seriousness like a jazz club. The owners of the Matrix also tried to tape every show, a saga in its own right, which over the years has left us far more of a history of music at the club than would normally be available.
By 1970, rock music was booming all over the Bay Area. There were rock clubs that booked original music in Berkeley, Palo Alto and Sonoma County, and shows in high school and college gyms on weekends. The Matrix was no longer the only alternative if there was no Fillmore gig. The Matrix, however, although hardly lucrative, still had some advantages over its suburban competitors. For one thing, the Matrix was open six or seven nights a week, so working bands with good gigs on the weekend still booked at the Matrix during the week. Furthermore, the Matrix had an expectation like a jazz club, with musicians playing serious music without worrying about pleasing a crowd, very different than a rocking high school gym. Thus weeknight bookings at the Matrix are often far more intriguing in retrospect than the weekends, in contrast to most nightclubs.
Although the Matrix was in decline by 1970, and no longer at the center of the San Francisco rock scene, its unique status meant that interesting musical events still happened there. Most famously, one night in January when Boz Scaggs missed his show, an unknown band from New Jersey played instead, and Examiner critic Phil Elwood became the first of many to write a glowing review of Bruce Springsteen. Throughout the Spring, the Monday night jam session evolved into the seeds of what would become the hugely successful Jerry Garcia Band. In a prior post, I reviewed all the performers at the Matrix from January to June, 1970.
This post will review all the performers at the Matrix from July through September, 1970. While Matrix shows were listed regularly in San Francisco and Berkeley newspapers, they were rarely reviewed, so some of the listings have contradictions. I have made my best guesses here, but not attempted to resolve the murky differences between, say, the Berkeley Barb or the San Francisco Examiner on a given weekend. I am confident that all the bands listed here played the Matrix during the second half of 1970, even if here and there the exact dates may vary slightly. While Bruce Springsteen had returned to New Jersey by Spring, there was still interesting and excellent music played at the Matrix in latter 1970.
|Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders, around 1973 or so. There are no pictures (known to me) of Garcia and Saunders playing at the Matrix (and for that matter only one brief tape)|
Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders at The Matrix
By the second half of 1970, the Matrix was mainly a musician's hangout. In retrospect, the most interesting story of this period is the emerging collaboration between Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders. Garcia had already played the Matrix many times, with the Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart and The Hartbeats and at informal jams. In the first half of 1970, Garcia had started jamming regularly on Monday nights with organist Howard Wales and drummer Bill Vitt. Vitt had brought in bassist John Kahn. Garcia enjoyed having regular jamming partners, and made time in his schedule to ensure he got to jam at the Matrix.
When crowds started to turn out for Garcia at the Matrix--remember, we are talking about 100 people on a Monday night--Howard Wales became uncomfortable with the notoriety. In the Fall, Kahn brought along his friend Merl Saunders, and he took over the Hammond at the Matrix jams with Garcia. While the jams were informal, they were regular and scheduled. Ultimately, these jams would lead to collaboration and recording by Jerry Garcia, John Kahn and Merl Saunders (and Bill Vitt). In the end, Kahn and Garcia were musical partners for the next 25 years, and it all began at The Matrix during this period. Amongst all the performances at the Matrix in the second part of 1970, the casual but real formation of Jerry Garcia's future as a stand-alone performer had the most lasting impact. Garcia was booked for 25 nights over the course of 1970 (plus dropping by for a few jams), a remarkable number for a musician with a full-time rock band at the same time.
Anyone with additional information or insight into any of these bands, or with suggestions for accurate dating, or missing groups, or just intriguing speculation, is encouraged to enter them in the Comments.
|Boz Scaggs' debut album, released on Atlantic in 1969. Duane Allman and Donna Jean Thatcher were both on the record, produced by Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner|
The Matrix, San Francisco, CA Performers List: July-September 1970
June 30-July 1, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Boz Scaggs (Tuesday-Wednesday)
Boz Scaggs had been in the Steve Miller Band in 1967 and '68. He had left the Miller Band and was signed to Atlantic. Scaggs had released a terrific debut album in 1969, produced by Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, recorded in Muscle Shoals, AL with Duane Allman, Donna Jean Thatcher (pre-Godchaux) and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Although the album got good airplay on San Francisco FM radio, it really didn't sell. While signed to Atlantic, Scaggs was neither touring nor recording, so he played a lot of local clubs. When he didn't have other gigs, Scaggs played the Matrix.
Boz' ensemble at the time was a five-piece, with Doug Simril on lead guitar, David Brown on bass and Reese Wynans on organ (I'm not sure who was the drummer). Brown had played with Duane Allman and Butch Trucks in Florida around 1968, in a band called 31st Of February. Wynans, from Sarasota, FL, had been in a Jacksonville band called Second Coming, which had included guitarists Dickie Betts and Larry Reinhardt, as well as bassist Berry Oakley. In 1969, Second Coming broke up because Oakley and Betts had joined Duane Allman's new band in Georgia. Initially, Wynans had joined the nameless band as well, but he was soon nudged aside for Duane's brother.
Somehow Brown and Wynans had ended up in San Francisco, playing with Boz Scaggs. I don't know what the exact link was, but it seems clear that Scaggs' recording connections in Muscle Shoals played a part. Brown would remain part of Scaggs's band for the next few years, whereas Wynans would return to the South, ultimately becoming part of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble.
|So Fine!, the second album by the Elvin Bishop Group. It was released in July 1970 on Bill Graham's label, Fillmore Records (distributed by Columbia)|
July 2, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Elvin Bishop Group (Thursday)
July 6, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia, Howard Wales and friends (Monday)
Organist Howard Wales was from the Cincinnati area, where he had backed guitarist Lonnie Mack in the mid-60s. Wales then ended up in El Paso, TX, working in a jazz trio with tenor saxophonist Martin Fierro, and after that in Seattle. By 1968, Wales had made landfall in San Francisco. He joined a blues trio that had just moved from Milwaukee, The New Blues. They became a quartet called the AB Skhy Blues Band. The band's debut had been released on MGM in 1969, and they performed regularly around the Bay Area. Wales had jammed with the Grateful Dead at least once (the tape is from August 28, 1969), so he had met Garcia somewhere.
Drummer Bill Vitt had gone to High School in Northern California (he was born in Washington State), but had ended up as a studio musician in Los Angeles around 1965. Around '66, Vitt had joined Jack Bedient And The Chessmen, and he toured Nationally, even going to Hawaii for a residency. By 1969, however, Vitt had tired of the road, and he preferred Northern California, so he quit The Chessmen and moved to the Bay Area. Besides playing local gigs, Vitt was soon in demand as a session drummer. There was a growing recording scene in the Bay Area, and Vitt worked on many sessions for producer Nick Gravenites. Another of Gravenites' first call players was bassist John Kahn, and Vitt and Kahn had met when the drummer was invited to play with Mike Bloomfield. Kahn lived near Vitt in the tiny Marin community of Forest Knolls, and they worked many sessions together.
After the initial bass player (classically trained Richard Favis) did not work out, Bill Vitt invited his Forest Knolls neighbor John Kahn. The most likely date for Kahn's debut on stage with Garcia was April 13, 1970. Besides being regular session players for Nick Gravenites (Kahn and Vitt were the rhythm section for the Brewer And Shipley hit "One Toke Over The Line," for example), the pair played together in the Mike Bloomfield band. Nick Gravenites put together lineups to back Bloomfield, a genuine rock star who liked to play small clubs and never rehearse--hey, does this sound like a plan?--and would book whatever players were available. John Kahn was always his first-call bassist, and his first-call drummer was Kahn's best friend, Bob Jones. Jones had another band, however (Southern Comfort), so if Jones wasn't available, Bill Vitt got the call (amusingly, Jones was Vitt's landlord).
Kahn and Garcia hit it off, musically and personally. They would become musical partners until Garcia's death, with Garcia/Saunders, Jerry Garcia Band, Old And In The Way and a variety of other ensembles. Kahn would organize the bands and deal with many of the musical logistics. Garcia himself said that without Kahn, most of his side-ensembles would not have existed.
At this time, Garcia, Wales and company were just playing way-out jams. As far as anyone knows, there weren't "songs." We only have one tape, from May 18, 1970, released as Side Trips many years later. But no comments by Garcia or Kahn suggest that they did anything but jam. Nonetheless, there's no doubt that jamming at The Matrix was a high priority for Garcia. On July 6, the Grateful Dead had just returned from the legendary Canadian Festival Express Tour (immortalized in a movie), and their last date was in Calgary on Sunday, July 5. Garcia must have returned to SFO that afternoon, and been jamming at the Matrix just a few hours later.
|A flyer for the New Riders of The Purple Sage show at the Matrix on Tuesday, July 7, 1970. The Matrix did not produce flyers for their shows, so someone associated with the band must have done this. Note: Guys 21, Chicks 18.|
July 7, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage (Tuesday)
Jerry Hahn was a pretty serious jazz guitarist,
based in San Francisco, and he had played with John Handy and Gary
Burton, among others. As "jazz-rock" became a thing, Hahn seems to have
wanted to play in a more rock vein. Early in 1970, organist Mike Finnegan had been newly
arrived from Wichita, Kansas. He was not only a great Hammond player, he
was a terrific blues singer too (also, he was 6'6'' tall, and had gone
to U. of Kansas on a basketball scholarship, making him the Bruce
Hornsby of his era). Filling out the band were jazz musicians Mel Graves
on bass and George Marsh on drums. Marsh recently been in the Loading Zone, an interesting (if perpetually struggling) Oakland band.
|Hello There Universe, Mose Allison's 1970 album for Atlantic. He had a large (8-piece) ensemble backing him, instead of just playing in his usual trio format.|
July 22-25, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Mose Allison (Wednesday-Saturday)
|The SF Examiner listing from Monday July 27, 1970 lists Mickey Hart and the Hart Beats, with Jerry Garcia, for Monday and Tuesday (July 28)|
July 27-28, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Mickey Hart and The Hart Beats with Jerry Garcia (Monday-Tuesday)
I recognize the name Benny Cecil from local bills, but I don't know anything about him (or if it as a group). Uncle Vinty sang and played piano. Old photos show him wearing viking hats and other odd get-ups. He seems to have been some kind of satiric performer, but for a minor act, he is certainly remembered fondly on the internet.
|Big Brother and The Holding Company had existed before Janis Joplin, and they had existed afterwards. The Be A Brother album, released in Summer 1970, was actually really good, but no one noticed it.|
August 18-19, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company (Tuesday-Wednesday)
|The very strange Music Of El Topo album, inspired by the film, but not the soundtrack. Musicians included Howard Wales, Martin Fierro and the Shades Of Joy. Recorded 1970, released 1971.|
August 27, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Shades of Joy (Thursday)
Shades Of Joy is a local group (a spin-off of several other local units) which features wild free form modern jazz saxophone playing by Martin Fierro, a roaring R&B rhythm section and two voices, Martin and Millie Foster, who is much better in this role than as a pure jazz singer. It's an exciting and interesting group...It is rather a wild experience to see a group featuring a saxophone soloist who looks like the leader of a Third World Student picket line accompanied by a drummer who looks like he just got in from the cattle drive. Is there still hope?
|Seatrain, with Peter Rowan, Richard Greene and Andy Kulberg, released their second album (although their first on Capitol) in 1970.|
September 1-2, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Sea Train/Kracker Jack (Tuesday-Wednesday)
|Lovecraft was an outgrowth of the Chicago bands Aorta and HP Lovecraft. Their album Valley Of The Moon was released on Reprise in 1970.|
September 3-5, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Lovecraft (Thursday-Saturday)
|Cat Mother and The All Night Newsboys were a Greenwich Village band, aligned with Jimi Hendrix's manager. They recorded their second album in San Francisco in 1970. Most of them stayed in the Bay Area afterwards.|
September 22-23, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Cat Mother and The All Night Newsboys (Tuesday-Wednesday)
September 29-October 3, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: John Lee Hooker (Tuesday-Saturday)
John Lee Hooker was a blues legend, of course. Hippies officially loved the blues--Eric Clapton played them, and so on--but in fact there weren't many bookings for veteran blues artists. They were out-of-date for R&B clubs, but not hip enough for white rock shows. At this time, Hooker's most recent album would have been 1969's That's Where It's At on Stax. Somewhere around this time, Hooker would move to the hills behind Redwood City (where he lived for many decades), so he preferred playing in the Bay Area.
Phil Elwood of the Examiner, perhaps the only writer in town who actually went to the Matrix, reviewed Hooker's show there in the October 1 edition (probably a review of the September 30 show). Elwood was very enthusiastic, and mentioned that Hooker's band included Tim Kaihatsu on guitar, Geno Skaggs on bass and Kenny Swank on drums.
Rock music was booming, in San Francisco as elsewhere. As the rock audience got older, nightclubs started to play a more prominent role for rock music. The tiny, out-of-the-way Matrix was not benefitting financially from either of these developments. Paradoxically, the club was more than ever an oasis for local musicians to do what they felt like, if they had the time.
Appendix: Other Posts in the 1970s Rock Nightclubs SeriesLoading Zone Performance List 1970 (Loading Zone I)