|John Lee Hoooker's 1970 album I Feel Good, recorded one night in Paris in October, 1969, and released on Carson Records. Hooker played the Matrix regularly.|
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, but it was 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 from such a small establishment.
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. In the following post, I reviewed all the Matrix performers from July through September, 1970.
This post will review all the performers at the Matrix from October through December, 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 guess 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 last quarter of 1970, even if here and there the exact dates may vary slightly. While Bruce Springsteen had long since returned to New Jersey, there was still interesting and excellent music played at the Matrix in latter 1970.
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.
|Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders ca 1973. There are no photos of Garcia and Saunders at the Matrix (and for that matter, only one brief tape)|
Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders at The Matrix
Throughout 1970, the Matrix was mainly a musician's hangout. By the end of 1970, it was mainly Jerry Garcia'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 musically 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 two full-time rock bands at the
|John Kahn (l) and Bill Vitt, ca. 1973 from the Live At Keystone album (photo Annie Liebovitz)|
Drummer Bill Vitt (1943-2019) 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 had invited his Forest Knolls neighbor John Kahn (1947-96). 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.
Somewhere around early September, probably Monday, September 7, 1970, Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders played at the Matrix with John Kahn and Bill Vitt. While Garcia and Saunders
had met at Wally Heider's studio, through John Kahn, they had not played
together. When Garcia and Saunders plugged in the first night, neither
would have really known what to expect from the other. Saunders' music could not
have been a more striking contrast to Howard Wales, a fact commented on
by Garcia. Wales's music was far-out jamming, defying conventional
structures. Saunders, however, already had a decade of experience in
dance bands and organ trios, and knew all the popular songs and jazz
standards. Garcia had no direct experience of playing "The Great
American Song Book." Initially, from what tiny evidence we have, Garcia and Saunders just jammed, with no formal songs, but probably with more structure than the excursions with Howard Wales
|Get Back Home In The USA, recorded by John Lee Hooker on November 30, 1969 in Pau, France, and released in 1970 on the French label Black and Blue Records|
The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: October-December 1970 Performers List
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. In 1970, a variety of old Hooker recordings were being released by various companies, but Hooker didn't really have a current album. In the States, his most recent recording was I Feel Good, recorded in Paris, France in October 1969 and released on Carson Records. In November, 1969, in Pau, France, Hooker would record Get Back Home In The USA, but it was only released in France. Somewhere around this time, Hooker would move to the hills behind Redwood City (where he would live 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.
October 6-7, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Ray Bregante (Tuesday-Wednesday)
|There were very few flyers for the Matrix. Note that only women ("chicks") under 21 are welcome. This was a common arrangement at the time.|
October 8-10, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Vince Guaraldi Trio (Thursday-Saturday)
|Ready To Ride, by Southwind, released in 1970 on Blue Thumb Records|
October 22-24, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Southwind (Thursday-Saturday)
|Robert Savage (Bobby Arlin), from the inner sleeve of the 1971 Paramount album The Adventures of Robert Savage (In the 60s, Arlin had been in the Leaves and later The Hook)|
November 4-5, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Robert Savage Group (Wednesday-Thursday)