The Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA
The Troubadour, The Whisky A-Go-Go and West Hollywood
In the latter 60s, rock bands made their bones in the ballrooms, with the light shows and people swaying. Word would pass on the underground telegraph that Cream or Quicksilver Messenger Service or Ten Years After were great, and you would check them out the next time they came to town. There were a few rock nightclubs, but most fans weren't even 21 yet, and clubs in any case were too small to create much residual buzz, not compared to a college gym.
In the 1960s, however, there was one major exception to
this rule. The infamous Whisky-A-Go-Go club in West Hollywood (at 8901 Sunset Blvd) defied all these conventions. Name bands played
there for union scale just to get heard. The Hollywood hip people, whether in
the record industry or just cool cats, heard the bands and helped to
decide who got some buzz. In August 1966, the house band at the Whisky
were some unknowns called The Doors, and they became as big as anybody.
In January, 1969, a new group built on the ashes of the old Yardbirds
played the Whisky, and within a week the word was out about Led
Hollywood proper had been part of the city of Los Angeles since the 1930s. But West Hollywood was unincorporated, part of Los Angeles County, but not the city. It was insulated from the notorious Los Angeles police and the machinations of the LA City Council. Thus West Hollywood was, paradoxically, the entertainment district for Hollywood, and had been since the 1940s. There were clubs, restaurants and jazz, and plenty of stars came to hang out, and that was how tastes got made. Rock and roll wasn't that different. The Whisky had opened in 1964, and made "Go-Go" a thing. By 1966, the club had a new act every week, all trying to catch the Hollywood buzz. Cream and Jimi Hendrix each played there in 1967, for practically nothing, just so that people would listen. So did numerous other ambitious groups, because rocking the Whisky was a ticket to a big tour.
A mile East of the Whisky, however, was a former coffee shop called The Troubadour. The Troubadour was at 9081 Santa Monica Boulevard (at Doheny Drive), near the Beverly Hills border. Proprietor Doug Weston had opened the club in 1957, but by 1970 it had a full bar and regular performers. Initially it presented folk acts, and in a sense, it still did. Electric instruments were standard fare by the end of the 60s, and the Troubadour wasn't for purists. But the Whisky was for rocking out, and the Troubadour was for reflection. As the 70s rose on the horizon, reflection was the order of the day, and success at The Troubadour would turn out to have more impact than success at the Whisky.
|Kris Kristofferson's debut album was released on Monument in 1970. He played the West Hollywood Troubadour in June, opening for Linda Ronstadt|
Troubadour Performance List, May-August 1970
The Troubadour was open seven days a week, with performers every night. The restaurant and particularly the bar were open as well, so it was a hangout for music industry types as well as musicians. Supposedly, many 70s bands, such as the Eagles, had their beginnings in the Troubadour bar. Troubadour bookings were almost always from Tuesday through Sunday. The Tuesday night show was almost always reviewed in the Thursday Los Angeles Times, giving industry and fans an idea of what was worth seeing that weekend. A good review in the Times, followed by a packed house on the weekend, could make an artist's career, as it did with Elton John later in 1970.
Maximum capacity at the Troubadour was about 300.
Generally, there were two shows each night, and sometimes three shows on weekend nights. Sets were relatively short, from what I can tell,
in order to turn the house over. Headliners would play about 40 minutes,
and openers nearer to 20. The Troubadour was a showcase, not a place
where performers jammed all night with their pals. I don't know whether
the Troubadour had the arrangement where if the late show was not sold
out, patrons could stick around if they would buy another drink. For a packed James Taylor/Carole King show in
November of 1970, the Times reported that all 4000 tickets were sold
out, and while I don't know if that was for 12 or 14 shows, and whether it was
an approximation, but it gives us an idea of capacity.
Monday nights were "Audition Nights." Performers were booked, but they weren't advertised in the papers. Presumably, patrons could call the club, or the bands were listed at the club itself. In some cases, record companies would arrange to have performers play Monday night at the Troubadour so they could invite a few people and check them out. I assume that when a performer did not have a full Tuesday-Sunday run, and no performer was listed (usually a Tuesday or a Sunday), "auditions" were booked on those open nights too. I think one reason to call these booking auditions was also to minimize what they were paying the performer (probably just union scale). I don't think there was an admission charge on audition night. I'm not aware of any way to retrieve who played on Audition nights (and I appear to be the first attempting to capture who played the Troubadour during this period).
At the beginning of 1970, many of the acts at the Whisky had their eyes on Las Vegas, Television Variety shows and the big hotels. Hippie acts that might have been welcome at the Fillmore, or even a college campus, weren't that common. By the end of the year, the hair had gotten longer and the stakes had gotten higher. Rock music and the record industry was turning out to be big money, and finding the next big recording artist was more important than knowing who was looking good for the Ambassador Hotel downtown or the Sands in Vegas.
In a previous post, I reviewed the performers at the Troubadour from January through April 1970. In a short time, the Troubadour went from mostly featuring performers looking to get on TV or into Las Vegas to long haired singer songwriters that are famous today. It was becoming clear that there was big money in the booming record industry, and the Troubadour was right at the center. This post will review the performers at the Troubadour from May through August 1970. It will also cover the opening of the ill-fated Troubadour in San Francisco.
April 28-May 3, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Van Morrison/Elyse Weinberg (Tuesday-Sunday)
Van Morrison was yet another artist who used the Troubadour to get heard by the whole industry. Morrison had been around for a while, of course: he had been in Them, he had a '67 hit with "Brown-Eyed Girl," and a classic 1968 album Astral Weeks. Astral Weeks hadn't sold that well, however, and while Morrison had toured a little bit, he hadn't been much heard from. By this time, Morrison was based in Woodstock, NY.
Moondance, Morrison's new album on Warners, had been released in February 1970. I don't need to add that it was a revelation. There were no big singles, but FM radio worked differently than AM. Songs off the album got played all the time on the big FM stations: the title track, "Crazy Love," "And It Stoned Me," "Caravan" and Into The Mystic" got played all the time. And that was just from side one. Los Angeles wanted to hear just how he was doing this.
Michael Sherman gave a generally positive review of Van Morrison in the April 30 Times (covering opening night). Sherman praised the great song and the swinging six-piece band, and of course Van's epic singing voice. The only real complaint was Morrison's eerie detachment when he delivered his joyous music. Pretty much, this was the review of every Van Morrison performance ever (certainly all the ones I saw over some decades): great songs, hot band, fantastic singing, strangely aloof. Still, Van Morrison's talent wasn't going to be contained, and playing the Troubadour for a week ensured that.
Opener Elyse Weinberg is fairly obscure now, but she was very much in the mix in the 1960s. She had made a solo album in 1969 on Tetragrammaton, and it wasn't the typical singer-songwriter thing, but rather sort of a psychedelic album. Born in Ontario, Weinberg had been part of the Toronto folk scene around 1963. She had moved to Los Angeles in 1966 to meet up with her friend Neil Young. Staying with Cass Elliott, her songs got heard, and she got signed. Her album featured Neil Young and others, and apparently is a sort of lost psych classic. Weinberg released another album in 1971, then signed with Geffen Records in 1973, but ultimately retired from music.May 5-10, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Rick Nelson and The Stone Stone Canyon Band/Fairport Convention (Tuesday-Sunday)
Rick Nelson had been a radio and television star since the 1950s, as the real-life and TV son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. In the early 60s, teenage Ricky liked rockabilly music, so most episodes of Ozzie And Harriet featured Ricky playing a song with his band. His band included the great James Burton on guitar, and for pop music, it was pretty rockin'. Thanks to the power of TV, the records sold massively, and songs like "Hello Mary Lou" are classics today.
By the end of the decade, with Ozzie And Harriet off the air, Rick (not Ricky) Nelson was more interested in country rock in the style of Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline. His new album was called Rick Sings Nelson, credited to Ricky Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band. The Stone Canyon Band included pedal steel guitarist Tom Brumley, an All-Star from Buck Owens' Buckaroos. Also in the band were guitarist Allan Kemp, drummer Patrick Shanahan and bassist Peter Cetera.
Opening act Fairport Convention, then fairly obscure, would have been the real revelation. Their previous album, Liege And Leif (released in the States on A&M in December 1969), had all but single-handedly invented English folk-rock. Songs like "Come All Ye Roving Minstrels" and "Matty Groves" were getting good FM airplay all over the country. Yet for their first American tour, Fairport was without their most recognizable member, lead singer Sandy Denny. Of course, all that meant was that lead guitarist Richard Thompson was even more prominent. Despite the short opening sets, Fairport clearly caught the ears of the locals, since the band returned as headliners a few months later (in September), and apparently every musician in Los Angeles would show up.
Hedge And Donna had deep roots at the Troubadour. The married folksinging duo (last name Capers) from the San Dieog area had been so impressive at a Troubadour Hoot Night in 1967 that Doug Weston became their manager. By 1970, Hedge And Donna had released their 4th album on Capitol, Special Circumstances. The duo were backed by heavyweight Hollywood session pros (Joe Sample, Carole Kaye, Paul Humphrey, Ron Tutt, Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Bernie Leadon, to name a few), but their folk-rock sound had become somewhat passe.
Frank Kimel is unknown to me.
May 19-24, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Pentangle (Tuesday-Sunday)
Pentangle were brilliant and unclassifiable, but they are usually broadly lumped in with Fairport Convention as "British Folk-Rock." That's not even wrong, but Pentangle was so much more. The quintet included two of the best and most original acoustic guitarists in the British folk scene, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Established jazz bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox added a light but swinging rhythm section, and Jacqui McShee had a striking, madrigal-style voice, ably supported by singing from the rest of the band.
Pentangle were among the pioneers in--for lack of a better term--amplified acoustic music. The twin guitars could be heard with the bass and drums, and the vocals soared over the delicate but firm sound. They weren't purists--banjo or electric guitar was added as needed. They did English folk songs, American folk music, the odd R&B song and even some Charles Mingus. There was nothing like them. The previous year, the band had toured all the psychedelic ballrooms. When Pentangle had opened for the Grateful Dead (Feb 27-Mar 2 '69 at Fillmore West), Jerry Garcia was so impressed that he adopted the twin-acoustics-plus-rhythm sound for the acoustic live Dead of 1970.
For this tour, Pentangle was supporting their fantastic new album Basket Of Light, which had been released in October of 1969 on Transatlantic Records.
May 26-31, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Doug Kershaw (Tuesday-Sunday)
Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw had been a country musician for at least a decade. His song "Diggy Diggy Lo" had reached #14 in the country charts back in 1961. Cajun music, however, was particularly suited to the amplified style of rock music, and Kershaw's remake of "Diggy Diggy Lo" had reached #69 in 1969, not too shabby for an old country guy. Kershaw's 1970 album was Spanish Moss (on Warners), made in LA with James Burton, Red Rhodes (steel guitar), Russ Kunkel (drums) and others. His version of the bluegreass classic "Orange Blossom Special" had even been a minor hit. So Kershaw was playing the Troubadour, apparently to introduce himself to a different audience.
June 2-7, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Mike Nesmith with First National Band (Tuesday-Sunday)
Mike Nesmith had been a Monkee, of course, so he was nationally famous. Also, he was quite a talented songwriter, but the Monkees' management had no interest in that. So when the band disintegrated at the end of 1968, Nesmith set out to make himself a "real" artist, instead of the plastic Monkee that had come before. In fact, prior to the Monkees, Nesmith had carved out something of a modest career already.
In 1965, when Nesmith had been "discovered" by the TV production company, he had been the "Hootmaster" at the Troubadour. His job would have been to sing a few songs and then keep the participants moving on and off the stage. He had also written and copyrighted a number of original songs. One of them, "Different Drum," had even been a hit for the Stone Poneys (with Linda Ronstadt) in 1967, during Monkeemania. So Nesmith had plenty of building blocks for the next phase of his career.
Nesmith was interested in playing what would now be called "country-rock," and formed a band with pedal steel guitar ace Red Rhodes. Nesmith played guitar, sang and wrote, and drummer John Ware and bassist John London rounded out the group. In July 1970, Mike Nesmith and The First National Band would release the album Magnetic South on RCA Records. Playing the Troubadour prior to the album's release was probably intended to give agents and radio people some insight into what to expect from the former Monkee. Given how popular the Monkees had been, that was no small thing.
Theo Bikel (1924-2015) was famous as both an actor and a folksinger. Born in Austria, he had emigrated to pre-war Palestine, and then ended up in New York. Among many other credits, he had originated the role of Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music. The Times noted that he would be playing triple shows on Friday and Sunday. Bikel would have appealed to a broader age range than the hippie acts who were starting to dominate the Troubadour's bookings. Bikel would have been appealing to older fans who knew him from folk music and TV.
Peter Evans was a flamenco performer.
June 16-21, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Ian and Sylvia with Great Speckled Bird/Danny Cox (Tuesday-Sunday)
Ian and Sylvia Tyson had been a popular Canadian folk duo going back to 1959. When folk music faded away in the mid-60s, the duo easily made the switch to country-rock, both because of their talent and their excellent songwriting skills. Ian And Sylvia's early 1968 album Nashville, on Vanguard, was one of the first collaborations between rock songwriters using Nashville session men, preceding The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. By 1969, Ian And Sylvia had evolved into the band Great Speckled Bird, releasing an album of that same name on Ampex Records in October '69.
Ian and Sylvia received a very positive review, including compliments for their pedal steel guitar player. Although not named in the review, the steel chair was held down by the great Buddy Cage. Cage would play on many of Anne Murray's hits (like "Snowbird"). When Great Speckled Bird joined the fabled Canadian Train Tour immortalized in the movie Festival Express, Jerry Garcia heard Cage and tapped him as his own replacement in the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Cage would leave Great Speckled Bird to join the Riders in the Fall of 1971. Guitarist Amos Garrett would also end up moving to the Bay Area.
Danny Cox was an African-American folksinger from Kansas City. He shared management with Brewer And Shipley. Like them, Cox would also record in San Francisco with Nick Gravenites, but his debut album would not be released until 1971.
June 23-28, 30, July 1-5, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Linda Ronstadt/Kris Kristofferson (Tuesday-Sunday, Tuesday-Sunday)
If Linda Ronstadt and Kris Kristofferson appeared together today in Hollywood, it would be a media event--even though they both have retired and wouldn't be performing. Imagine, for a moment, both of them young, engaging, on the rise and singing for their future, appearing for two straight weeks at the Troubadour. There would have been 24 (or maybe 30) show over twelve days--no wonder the Troubadour is a West Hollywood legend.
Linda Ronstadt would have been supporting her second solo album, Silk Purse, which had been released on Capitol on April. Ronstadt had been part of the Stone Poneys, with Bobby Kimmel and Kenny Edwards. The trio had released three albums in 1967 and '68, and had even scored a modest hit with the Michael Nesmith song "Different Drum," which reached #13 in 1967. The Stone Poneys had come from Tucson in 1965, and had played the Hoot Night at the Troubadour many times. Ronstadt had received offers as a solo singer, but she had refused to abandon her bandmates. Finally, after a Troubadour hoot performance in 1966, the Stone Poneys had been signed as a group.
In the 1960s, Kris Kristofferson was only known as a Nashville songwriter, albeit a quite successful one. He had written hits like "Sunday Morning Coming Down," "Help Me Make It Through The Night" and "Me And Bobby McGee" for various artists. Kristofferson had only released his first album in 1970, Kristofferson, on Monument Records. It featured his own versions of many of his hits for others. He had toured around clubs a little bit, but he wasn't yet a polished performer. Kristofferson's backing trio had Zal Yanovsky (ex-Lovin Spooful) on guitar, Norman Blake on dobro and guitar, and Billy Swan on bass.
According to a Robert Hilburn article (see August 2 below), Weston had been in San Francisco working on his new project, and invited folk legend and old friend Ramblin' Jack Elliott to see it. Elliott had brought along Kristofferson, and when Weston had heard Kristofferson casually picking and singing, Weston said he knew he had to book him. Weston had very good instincts about performers, which was how the Troubadour had consistently hired good acts on the way up.
John Hartford was a singer, songwriter and talented musician from Missouri. He was best known for writing the song "Gentle On My Mind," a gigantic hit for Glenn Campbell and others. The success of the song gave Hartford some economic comfort not usually afforded bluegrass musicians. By this time, Hartford was familiar to audiences for having regularly appeared on TV shows like The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Glenn Campbell Goodtime Hour.
RCA had signed Hartford back in 1966, probably figuring they were getting another country singer. In fact, Hartford was a unique and creative talent, but not always very commercial. In late 1969, Hartford had released an album entitled John Hartford (even though it was his sixth record for RCA). Strangely, it was a complexly-orchestrated country "art-rock" album, if such a thing can be imagined. It was not well-reviewed, nor did it sell well. Early in the year, Hartford had played a single Friday night engagement at the Troubadour, presumably in support (on January 2, 1970).
In mid-1970, Hartford had released Iron Mountain Depot. While less arty, it seemed to be a sort of wry knockoff. Micheal Sherman reviewed Hartford's show in the Times and said it was bland. Hartford had a four-piece band, and Sherman also disapproved of his playing an electric banjo. Per Sherman, Hartford played 9 songs in his set.
At this time, Steve Martin was a writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and an aspiring comedian. Since the highly-rated Smothers Brothers show had been abruptly canceled, however, Martin was probably out of work. Sherman commented that Martin played the banjo and told jokes "in the style of the Kingston Trio." I don't think he meant it as a compliment. Of course, Martin's angular approach to humor may not have been fully formed yet, and it may not have struck home to Sherman, either.
|Neil Diamond's Gold album was recorded live at The Troubadour on July 15, 1970, and released in August. It featured performances of his biggest hits up to that time.|
July 15, 1970 The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Neil Diamond (Wednesday)
Neil Diamond had been a hugely successful pop songwriter for many years, and in 1969 he started to get big hits under his own name. He didn't really have a reputation as a performer yet, however, so he had played a week at the Troubadour back in March (March 24-29). Playing a week at the Troubadour would have given the industry a chance to see how well Diamond could put on a show. It must have gone well, since Diamond returned for a night to record a live album. Diamond's album Gold: Live At The Troubadour was released shortly after, in August of 1970. It was a sort of "Greatest Hits" for Neil Diamond, but including some songs that had been hits for other artists. Diamond was backed by a trio (Carol Hunter [guitar], Randy Sterling [bass] and Eddie Rubin [drums]).
was from Brooklyn, and had worked in the famous Brill Building in the
60s. He had moved to Los Angeles in 1969. In 1969, Diamond's big hits had been "Sweet
Caroline," which had reached #4 in May, and "Holly Holy," which had
reached #3 in October. It is an irony of pop culture that the bigger of
Diamond's two hits that year is now largely forgotten, whereas "Sweet
Caroline" (thanks particularly to the Boston Red Sox) is an anthem.
Eric Andersen had been among the first wave of folksingers that followed Bob Dylan. By 1969, he had released five album for Vanguard, and his songs had been recorded by a variety of artists. Andersen then signed with Warner Brothers, and given his excellent songwriting and the renewed interest in singer/songwriters, he seemed to be well-positioned. His self-titled December 1969 album had been his second album for Warners (and his seventh overall).
I'm not sure whether Andersen played solo or with a band, probably the former. Despite the changes in the record industry, his career never received the renewal that would have seemed so likely. He moved to the West Coast around this time--I'm not sure precisely when--but despite his talent and stellar connections, he never reached the success that might have seemed likely.
Comedian David Brenner opened the shows. I don't know if the Andersen/Brenner booking began on Tuesday and took a night off for Neil Diamond, so I have assumed they started on Thursday.
July 21-26, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Albert Collins/Jerry Hahn Brotherhood (Tuesday-Sunday)
The Troubadour did not have a purist aesthetic, so for this week the club featured loud electric guitars. Texas guitarist Albert "The Iceman" Collins had been recording since the 1950s. In 1964, he had a hit with the song "Frosty," and he became somewhat well-known. In 1968, the band Canned Heat was playing in Houston and attended one of his shows. The Heat offered to get Collins a record deal and live work, and he accepted. Collins signed with Imperial Records, and moved to Palo Alto, CA (of all places) in November '68. Collins' first Imperial album was Love Can Be Found Anywhere. By 1969, Collins was a regular at rock venues throughout the West Coast.
In Michael Sherman's review in the Times, he praised Collins, but suggested that he was only doing what other bluesmen had already done. Sherman probably didn't know that if there was a "typical" blues guitar sound, Collins had played a role in establishing that. Still, it isn't untrue that Collins fell into the category of "very good, but not exceptional." The Troubadour, like Hollywood in general, was about the Next Big Thing, and that wasn't going to be Albert Collins.
The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood were a San Francisco band that had only formed in March. They had gotten a fairly big advance from Columbia, who was heavy on the jazz-rock vein, since they had hit it big with Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago Transit Authority. 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. Organist Mike Finnegan was 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 had just left the Loading Zone, an interesting (if perpetually struggling) Oakland band.
Michael Sherman's review of the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood was scathing. The Hahn group was used to San Francisco, where every band jammed their brains out. Not in Hollywood. Sherman bluntly said that "at times the result was appalling. The band is either ahead of its time or simply grotesque. This reviewer leans towards the latter interpretation." The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood retreated quietly back to clubs like The Matrix in San Francisco, where they didn't seem to be grotesque.
July 28-August 2, 1970, The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Tiny Tim/Lynn Kellogg (Tuesday-Sunday)
Tiny Tim, born Herbert Khaury, was a talented, if eccentric performer, and an expert on largely-forgotten styles of American popular music. However, he had become a sensation when he appeared on the popular NBC variety show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. He had become a national figure, although he was seen as a novelty rather than a serious artist. At this time, his current album was For All My Little Friends, released in 1969 on Reprise Records. Tiny Tim had appeared earlier in the year at The Troubadour (the week of January 13-18).
Lynn Kellogg is unknown to me.
The Sunday Los Angeles Times (for August 2) had a glowing Robert Hilburn profile of Doug Weston. Weston was described as "the father of folk music in Southern California." Among other things, the article mentioned that Weston owned the building housing the Troubadour. More intriguingly, however, the article revealed that
Since the Troubadour's location is threatened by a future freeway, Weston has been devoting much of his energy lately to the renovation of a four-story building in San Francisco. The building will eventually serve as the center of an entertainment complex that will include a club, recording studio, health food restaurant, offices for his record company and his residence.
He originally planned to open the building last month [July], but a series of delays made him revise his schedule. Now, he's planning to open one phase of the operation at a time, with the restaurant due this month.
"I will be able to stay in that building and keep busy 24 hours a day" Weston said. "It's the fulfillment of my dreams."
While it seems surprising that a Los Angeles personality like Weston would plan to decamp up to San Francisco, there was logic behind his thinking. For at least two decades, the San Francisco Bay Area had been an incubator of innovative musical talent that Los Angeles record companies had thrived upon. Back in the 50s, jazzmen like Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader, singers like Johnny Mathis and groups like the Kingston Trio had all come from the Bay Area. More recently, bands like Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and now Santana were huge successes. So San Francisco was perhaps a better place to find and nurture new talent than Los Angeles. SF was open to new sounds, and the pressure was lower than in Hollywood.
Now, granted, Bill Graham was also trying to build a music machine, with concert promotion, a booking agency, management and two record companies. Graham, however, was more oriented towards loud rock groups. Graham's talent and connections were less oriented towards quieter singer/songwriters, since they were not going to go over as well when they were third on the bill at Fillmore West. Still, thanks to Graham and the Fillmore, the record companies were starting to build studios in San Francisco: Mercury had built a studio, Columbia was planning one, and all the big acts used Wally Heider's San Francisco studios. So SF wasn't a backwater.
I should note in passing that outside of sports--and really just the Giants and Dodgers--any enmity between San Franciscans and Los Angeles residents was strictly one-way. People from SF delight in putting down LA, but everybody I've ever met from Southern California absolutely loves the Bay Area. So Weston's willingness to base his operation in SF made lots of sense. For one thing, there really weren't any high profile contemporary rock clubs in San Francisco. The Matrix was a tiny backwater, and clubs like The Poppycock (Palo Alto) or The New Orleans House (Berkeley) were small and out of town. Weston would not be competing with Fillmore West for acts, and he would have no other serious competitors. It was a good plan.
Livingston Taylor was two years younger than his brother James, but he had been a folk singer in the Boston area since 1966. At this time, James Taylor had released one forgotten 1968 album (on Apple, of all things) and had released his Warners debut Sweet Baby James in February. So "Fire And Rain" was climbing the charts, but Livingston wasn't just "James' brother." Not yet anyway.
Livingston was also a songwriter, but he played in a bluesier style than James. Livingston had been one of the first signings on Capricorn records, the Macon, GA label founded by former Otis Redding manager Phil Walden. Walden and Capricorn's flagship was the Allman Brothers Band, of course, but they had various other acts as well. Taylor's self-titled debut on Capricorn had probably just come out. The album was produced by Boston's Jon Landau, but mainly recorded in Macon. Players on the album were Southern soul/rock veterans Pete Carr (guitar), Robert Popwell (bass), Paul Hornsby (keyboards) and Johnny Sandlin (drums).
August 4-9, 1970 Troubadour (North), San Francisco, CA: Kris Kristofferson/Doug Kershaw (Tuesday-Sunday)
On Tuesday, August 4, 1970, the San Francisco outpost of the Troubadour opened on 960 Bush Street. Old San Francisco rock fans may recall 960 Bush Street as the address of the Boarding House, a much-beloved venue open from 1972 to 1980. For those of us that recall the intimate circular bowl of a theater at the Boarding House, however, that was not in fact the setting for the Troubadour. The Troubadour's showroom was in the basement, basically a large dining room with a stage. In the Boarding House years, the old Troubadour stage was sometimes used for comedy shows, and generally referred to as the dining room. Probably it was used to serve dinner as well (I have included a picture of the Boarding House from the mid-70s, to show what the building looked like).
What few references there are to the San Francisco Troubadour often call it the "Troubadour North," but in fact that was just a nickname; the club was named The Troubadour. To keep this post from going off the rails, however, I am referring to it here as the Troubadour (North).Phil Elwood reviewed the opening of the Troubadour in the August 5 Examiner. Elwood was very positive about Kris Kristofferson, and polite but dismissive about Doug Kershaw. In general, Elwood's description is mostly positive.
The club, once Facks II and the Balalaika restaurant among many other names, has been refurbished, expanded and fitted with excellent sound and light systems for the stage...It also has some traffic problems (inside and out), noisy patrons, natural foods, organic juices, sandwiches, dinners, "breakfast trips," plus beer and wine.Clearly, Weston's concept was that the Troubadour (North) would be a restaurant destination, and not just a music showcase. It's fair to say that Weston correctly anticipated culinary trends of the next few decades, but I think he was at least a decade too early. He did say to Elwood that he expected a big lunch trade in the San Francisco club. 960 Bush (at Taylor) is in Lower Nob Hill, just West of Chinatown. It's not far from Union Square, and about six to eight blocks from Market Street and downtown, depending on what route you take.
Six to eight blocks from downtown sounds promising for a nightclub, or a fashionable lunch spot. But you have to think about San Francisco. For one thing, there are steep hills in San Francisco. For another, at all times of the year, the city can be cold and windy (insert mandatory Mark Twain joke). If your date or wife was wearing high heels--it was 1970, right?--were you going to say "come on honey, let's walk 8 blocks to dinner"? Sure, you could drive, but most people don't like driving on hills, much less parallel parking. So in order to go to see a show at 960 Bush Street, you had to be comfortable driving and parking in the city, and know your way around, or else be very, very warm and hearty indeed. Certainly, for suburban folks who only came to the City a few times a year, Bush and Taylor wouldn't be a trip made with confidence.
August 10, 17, 24 1971 Troubadour (North), San Francisco, CA: Hoot Night (Mondays)
The San Francisco Examiner usually listed the Monday auditions as "Hoot Night," continuing the pattern of the Hollywood club. I would love to know who played, but there's probably no way to ever find out.
August 11-16, 1970 Troubadour (North), San Francisco, CA: Livingston Taylor/The Dillards (Tuesday-Sunday)
One very obvious benefit to Weston to opening the SF Troubadour was that he could book artists in two cities. For the opening month, San Francisco and Hollywood had very similar bookings. Livingston Taylor had played the previous week in Hollywood, and then came up to San Francisco for another week.
Also on the bill were The Dillards, who had played the West Hollywood club many times. The Dillards were veteran bluegrass performers, having come out to Los Angeles from Salem, MO back in 1963. The Dillards, too, had some TV fame, having had recurring roles as The Darling Family on The Andy Griffith Show. The Dillards had a new album in 1970, Copperfields, although I'm not sure exactly when it was released. It was their fifth album for Elektra, and their first in two years (since 1968's Wheatstraw Suite). By this time, The Dillards had remodeled themselves into a more folk-rock style, and less explicitly bluegrass oriented, but the high lonesome sound was probably still a big part of their stage show. Herb Pedersen had replaced Doug Dillard, but Rodney Dillard (guitar), Dean Webb (mandolin) and Mitch Jayne (bass) were still in the band.
In the August 11 Examiner, Elwood had an extensive interview with Doug Weston about his new club:
"The Troubadour is not a night club," the thin, 6-foot-6 owner, Doug Weston stated as we walked through his newly opened establishment.
"It is the prepared health food and service here in the San Francisco Troubadour that are going to be the most important," he said, "not just the entertainment, or the recording studio, shops or even the natural food store.
"The Troubadour is going to provide the opportunity, for everyone who wants it, to get out of their plastic, rubber-stamp world. We are catering to all levels and phases of San Francsico's population.
"The Troubadour, you see, is a way of life to me and those who work with me. We think our life-style is worth expanding into the community."
Weston, something of a legend in the world of folk-rock (he admits to coining the term) has spent a dozen years building the Santa Monica Boulevard Troubadour in Hollywood into a world-famous entertainment room.
Six months ago [February] he bought the 45 year old building at 960 Bush Street and began a massive refurbishing job.
The lowest level (of four) is the showroom which opened to the public last week....
One level was once the Bush Street Theater, later Coast Recording's studios. The proscenium remains, as does a mishmash of recording studios and engineer's rooms. Weston plans to present live programs and TV programs from the hall as well as utilize the recording facilities...
What Elwood refers to here as the former Bush Street Theater would re-open as a theater in late 1971. By that time, SF Troubadour manager David Allen had re-opened the Troubadour as The Boarding House. Around 1972, the "Boarding House Theater" started being used for Boarding House shows, and ultimately the entire operation was based upstairs. The sightlines were better, and the capacity was greater (300 vs 225). In the Theater's prior life, it had been the Coast Recording studios in the 1950s and early '60s. In the early and mid-60s, the apprentice engineer was one Dan Healy, later the Grateful Dead's soundman (he apparently would sneak the Dead and other bands in after hours to make tapes).
August 13-16, 1970 The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Laura Nyro/Peter Evans (Thursday-Sunday)
Laura Nyro headlined a week at The Troubadour, and it was a major event. Todd Rundgren, a formidable songwriter himself, heard her play live and changed his whole approach to songwriting, possibly at one of these concerts (in the song "Baby, Let's Swing" from Runt he sings "Laura/I saw you open in LA"). Laura Nyro was already a hugely successful songwriter by this time, but she didn't perform much. Few people would have been able to see her live, so this was a major event. Apparently she did not disappoint.
Laura Nyro (1947-1997) had been born in the Bronx. Her songs merged the catchy Brill Building sound with soul music, so her songs were catchy, deep and danceable--a formidable combination. Her 60s hit songs are familiar to everyone of a certain age: "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic" (both Fifth Dimension), "And When I Die" (Blood, Sweat and Tears), "Eli's Coming" (Three Dog Night) and "Stoney End" (Barbara Streisand) are just the most prominent.
Her actual recording career was more checkered. More Than A New Discovery, her debut, had been released by Verve Folkways in February 1967. Nyro had then appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in July, but her soul sound did not go over as well as the more feedback-heavy acts. David Geffen then took over as her manager, and managed to void her previous contracts on the grounds that she had signed them as a minor. Nyro went to Columbia, where she had released Eli and The 13th Confession in 1968. It was followed by New York Tendaberry in Fall 1969. By 1970, Geffen and Nyro had sold her publishing (through Tuna Fish Music) for $4.5 million, a huge number. They split the money, and Nyro was then free of having to worry about her next hit.
Robert Hilburn's review of the opening show (Thursday April 13 early show) is glowing. The place was packed, Nyro played 8 songs on the piano and the crowd went absolutely crazy. She comes back for two more encores. Hilburn cannot say enough nice things about her, and all of Hollywood agreed. Although only 22 (Hilburn mentions this), Nyro doesn't need to record or tour, so it makes the rare display of her many talents all the more special. The fact that Nyro played the Troubadour and not a larger place--which she could have easily sold out--added immeasurably to the club's aura.
Nyro did not play a full six nights, like most acts, probably because she didn't need to. I'm sure there were additional "Audition Nights" on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I can't find any record of who might have played.
I believe Peter Evans was a flamenco guitarist.
The Dillards now headlined a week at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. They had played the clubs many times before, but in their most recent appearance (in January of 1970) they had been opening for Phil Ochs. Now they were the headliners. I suspect this was because they had a new album (Copperfields), but I haven't been able to track down the release date. Since they were playing in Los Angeles, it's likely they were joined by fiddler Byron Berline, who was sort of an adjunct member of the group.
Opening act Longbranch Pennywhistle was the singer/songwriter duo of
Glenn Frey and JD Souther. The pair would release their only album on
Amos Records in early 1970. They had opened at the Troubadour before, for the Flying Burrito Brothers (in January and then April of 1970). Presumably Frey and Souther's housemate,
Jackson Browne, dropped by at least once.
Phil Elwood reviewed John Stewart's opening night at the Troubadour in the Examiner (Thursday August 20), and hinted at the club's problems. Elwood loved Stewart, but he began the review by saying "If the new Troubadour on Bush Street can come up with a quality headliner like big John Stewart every week, most of Doug Weston's problems will evaporate." So even two weeks in, it was clear that the Troubadour wasn't catching on. Jerry Jeff Walker had originally been booked, but he seems to have been replaced by Stewart. Stewart had many local ties, and may have already been living in Marin by this time. Elwood mentions that Stewart played a 9-song set, and compliments his' singing and guitar playing, mentioning that he was backed by bassist Bryan Garafolo and drummer Lloyd Barata.
John Stewart (1939-2008) had been a member of The Kingston Trio from 1961 to 1967. The group had been very popular, but they were passed by when the likes of The Beach Boys and The Beatles came along. Stewart had gone solo, and released a variety of well-received albums, such as 1969's California Bloodlines. Although he had written a hit for The Monkees ("Daydream Believer"), Stewart was well known at this time, but not particularly successful. His current album would have been Willard, released on Capitol in 1970. The album was produced by Peter Asher, and recorded in Hollywood and Nashville. The LA tracks included players like James Taylor, Carole King, Mike Stewart (John's brother) and Chris Darrow, and the Nashville tracks had stellar backing as well. Clearly, Capitol felt Stewart was ticketed for success in the new world of singer/songwriters. Stewart actually had a fairly productive career into the 21st century, but in the early 70s he did not have the success that his talent would have foretold.
Elwood also briefly mentioned opening act Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. Hicks had been around the San Francisco scene as long as there had been one. He had been the drummer in the Charlatans, the band that started the psychedelic ballroom revolution in Virginia City, NV. Later he had switched to guitar, so he could sing more. The Charlatans played loud, psychedelic blues, however, and Hicks had other interests. He formed a "side group" with local violinist David LaFlamme to play a sort of modified swing music. When LaFlamme left to form It's A Beautiful Day, Hicks left the Charlatans and formed Dan Hicks And His Hot Licks.
The band had released an album in 1969 on Epic, Original Recordings. The group wore Edwardian clothes, and it looked like a repackage of an old album. While the band played acoustic swing music, kind of, Hicks' wry, cynical lyrics were a striking contrast to the music. The album included future Hicks' classics like "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away" and "I Scare Myself." Nobody sounded like Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. The band at this time was probably Hicks on lead vocals and guitar, Jon Weber on lead guitar (Elwood mentions him), Sid Page on violin and Jaime Leopold on bass. "The Hot Licks" personnel varied sometimes, but at this time I believe it was Maryann Price and Naomi Ruth Eisenberg. Hicks most famous album, Where's The Money (Blue Thumb) would actually be recorded at the West Hollywood Troubadour in February 1971.
August 25-30, 1970 The Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA: Elton John/David Ackles (Tuesday-Sunday)
Elton John's appearance at the Troubadour was likely the most significant booking in the history of the club, and that's no small thing. Certainly, Elton John is a huge star, and his performance at the Troubadour was a booster rocket for his success. Elton himself thinks that, as the event is replayed in his biopic, where he feels like he is being lifted off the stage as he plays the Troubadour. Still, the event wasn't just significant for Elton John's formidable career.
The 1960s had witnessed the rise of rock music, first the Beatles and Stones, and then Cream and Hendrix and both Fillmores. It was loud, free and electric. In Hollywood, rising rock bands played the Whisky-A-Go-Go. Led Zeppelin had come to town as nobody in January of 1969, and after a week at the Whisky they were off and running.
Now, wherever you are on the spectrum of Elton John fandom, it's undeniable that he cut across a lot of boundaries. Bernie Taupin's lyrics were thoughtful, and Elton sang them with feeling. The songs were carefully arranged so the full impact of those lyrics could be heard. Yet even just with a trio, Elton John rocked hard, his piano covering a lot of musical territory. Elton could have rocked out the Whisky, no problem. Certainly, Elton killed it later in the year at both Fillmores. But he played The Troubadour the week of August 25-30, 1970, and elevated it, and the era of the singer-songwriter had begun, with its most successful performer.
Elton John had been a working musician in England in the mid-60s, playing with Long John Baldry and others. He also had a songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin. Elton (birth name Reginald Dwight) had released his debut album Empty Sky in 1969. It was only released initially in the UK, and made little impact. In 1970, he released his second album, Elton John, but it was his first album released in the United States, on the tiny Uni label (DJM in the UK). Ultimately, there were two big hits off the record, "Your Song" and "Take Me To The Pilot," but the single wasn't released until October of 1970. Still, Elton's album was getting FM airplay on rock stations.
Elton's management sent him to America mainly to expose him to the music industry, so that he could get radio play. It was the form book for success in the 1970s. The old 60s model had been that bands toured all the Fillmore-type places, as well as the civic auditoriums and the rock festivals and college gyms, first as an opening act, then second and finally headlining. As a band became known, they started getting airplay on the local hippie FM stations. Bands like Ten Years After became huge on this model, without any really major records. The 1970s acts inverted this model--get big on the radio, and then rake in the concert receipts. In that sense, Elton John (along with his manager John Reid) were pioneers.
Rejoice. Rock music, which has been going through a rather uneventful period lately, has a new star. He’s Elton John, a 23-year old Englishman whose United States debut Tuesday night at the Troubadour was, in almost every way, magnificent...
His music is so staggeringly original that it is obvious he is not merely operating within a given musical field (such as country or blues or rock), but, like Randy Newman and Laura Nyro among others, creating his own field…
The audience, which included one of the largest local gatherings of rock writers in months, roared its approval, bringing John back for an encore….Tuesday night at the Troubadour was just the beginning. He’s going to be one of rock’s biggest and most important stars.
Remember, Hilburn was right in all of his predictions. Hilburn reveals another important point, too, which any 20th century rock journalist would confirm. The local rock writers in any city all knew each other, and often judged the buzz surrouding an artist by how many of their fellow critics were at a show. When Hilburn says Elton's opening show was "one of the largest local gatherings of rock writers in months," it's a marker that it isn't just Hilburn who can read the omens. Elton John was coming, and the Troubadour was where you got to see it first.
David Ackles, an American songwriter, had released his second album on
Elektra in 1970, Subway To The Country. Ackles was widely regarded by
British artists like Elton John, Elvis Costello and Phil Collins, but he
did not become known at all until later, and he was never really
popular. Ackles opened for Elton John at the Troubadour in both
Hollywood (August 25-30) and San Francisco (September 1-6), and apparently Elton watched
his show every night. Bernie Taupin would produce Ackles' 3rd album (American Gothic) released in 1972.
August 25-30, 1970 Troubadour (North), San Francisco, CA: Mike Nesmith and First National Band/Lisa Kindred (Tuesday-Sunday)
Nesmith and his First National Band played a week in San Francisco. By this time, their new album Magnetic South would have been out for at least a month.
Opener Lisa Kindred was a bluesy guitar player from Buffalo. She had released an interesting album on Vanguard in 1965 (I Like It This Way). While it was well-received, Kindred had had a variety of problems with record companies, and pretty much did not release anything after that. She had moved to the Bay Area by 1969, where she would perform in various configurations for many years. Elwood praises her singing, and mentions that she was accompanied by guitarist John Besharian.
September 1-6, 1970 Troubadour (North), San Francisco, CA: Elton John/David Ackles (Tuesday-Sunday)
The display ad above (from the August 28, 1970 Examiner) is one of the very few traces of Elton John's appearance at the San Francisco Troubadour. Following his pattern, Weston booked Elton John for a week in San Francisco right after his Los Angeles debut. Elton's performance at the Hollywood Troubadour made his career, changed his life and was a milestone in popular music.
It is telling that Elton John's similar performance in San Francisco disappeared almost without a trace. I'll save you the trouble of googling--I'm the only person to write about it. Even the first-rate Eltonography site can only allude to it vaguely. Now, let's be clear--the SF Examiner reviewed the opening night, and the reviewer (Michael Kelton) acknowledges Elton's talent, energy and songs. But he dismisses him for being "inauthentic," although he uses the term "artificial." The San Francisco ethic at the time was Jerry Garcia or Carlos Santana, crouched and squinting over their guitars, not a guy in a sequined suit jumping around. Elton John's appearance at the Hollywood Troubadour is the centerpiece of his bio-movie--his appearance at the same club in San Francisco is barely even noted in the website devoted to his history.
Music and the music industry was changing, and the center of gravity was heading south down Highway 101, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. By the end of 1970, as we will see in the next installment, the West Hollywood Troubadour was one of the most important venues in popular music. The San Francisco Troubadour would only last two more months, and would disappear with almost no trace.
Appendix: Other Posts in the 1970s Rock Nightclubs Series