Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 4, 1965: Rolling Stones, San Jose Civic Auditorium, San Jose, CA

The San Jose Civic Auditorium at 135 W. San Carlos Street in San Jose, July 2011
The Beatles were the harbinger of modern rock and roll, updating what Elvis Presley had begun. However, mid-60s British Invasion music was still presented as an entertainment rather than an art, much less a call to higher consciousness. There was a lot of great music played by British Invasion bands in the early 60s, but it was still trapped as "fun for the kids." By the time the Fillmore came along to change the rock industry, rock music in general and rock concerts in particular had become serious matters. They were serious art and serious fun, a direct transmission from artist to audience, seemingly unmediated by the trappings of industry. This wasn't really true, of course, as there is always an economic portion to any artistic presentation, but fans certainly felt that rock concerts were authentic vehicles for communication from an artist. Conveniently, the exact crossroads of rock music as entertainment for kids and rock music as an artistic presentation of a higher consciousness can be precisely located: the San Jose Civic Auditorium at 135 W. San Carlos Street in downtown San Jose, California, on December 4, 1965.

On Saturday, December 4, 1965, the Rolling Stones were headlining the San Jose Civic Auditorium, a 3000 seat venue built in 1934. It was the biggest venue in the South Bay. The Rolling Stones' popularity was only eclipsed by The Beatles. While the Beatles were already too big to even play the San Jose Civic, no other groups were sized out of San Jose. Perhaps the Dave Clark Five was as big as the Stones, but no one save the Beatles were bigger. The Stones had numerous catchy hits on the radio, but they had a rocking dark side, too, by AM standards, an edge that set them apart from the family friendly Beatles. To American radio listeners, the Stones were definitely celebrating black music, white guys playing music from the wrong side of the town, and the fact that they were successful suggested that other aspiring white rock musicians could do the same.

During 1965, a secret group of adventurers in the South Bay had been experimenting with a perfectly legal product called LSD-25. LSD gave the users up to twelve hours of dreamlike hallucinations and expanded consciousness. This intrepid bunch had started holding a series of parties called "Acid Tests" in which everyone attending would ingest some LSD-25, and numerous entertainments were provided not for "fun" but in order to expand the experience of the users. Along with strobe lights, live microphones and other amusements, there was a "house band" who performed, just as dosed as the audience. They played whatever they played, for minutes or hours as the circumstances seemed to demand or as they were able. Partygoers found the music electrifying in more ways than one, even if they could hardly recall it afterwards. The Acid Tests were run by a group more or less headed by novelist Ken Kesey, and they called themselves the Merry Pranksters. The house band had been named The Warlocks, but for various reasons by the time of the Acid Tests they had changed their names to The Grateful Dead

All of these goings on were made famous by Tom Wolfe in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. In November, The Merry Pranksters had gotten the idea that the Acid Tests should be open to the public, instead of just their friends. The problem was finding the right sort of adventurous people, willing to stay up all night and listen to weird music while ascending to a higher plane. This was all perfectly legal, of course, but there was no good reason to invite the police, so a normally advertised event was out of the question. The Pranksters image of themselves encouraged them to be cryptical rather than direct. The Prankster logic was as follows: cool people liked the Rolling Stones, so the cool people not already known to the Pranksters would be found at the Rolling Stones concert at San Jose Civic.

The Rolling Stones concert at the San Jose Civic was the next-to-last show of the band's 3rd American tour, which had begun in October. On Friday, December 3 the Stones had played two shows at the Sacramento Civic Auditorium, and on Sunday (December 5) they would end their tour with a show at the relatively giant Sports Arena in Los Angeles. For Saturday night, however, the Stones were playing two shows at the San Jose Civic. I don't know what they played; shows weren't reviewed in those days, and the idea of someone taping the show was unfathomable. There were certainly a bunch of opening acts, although again I don't know who. Probably a few lucky local garage bands were on the bill, because they would work cheap. The Stones almost certainly played no longer than a half-an-hour for both the early and late shows. Their equipment would have been minimal by modern standards, and to modern ears the show would have sounded tinny and weak. No matter--the Stones were the coolest of the cool.

After the late show, which probably ended well before midnight, exiting fans found some scruffy looking people handing out flyers that said "Can You Pass The Acid Test?" The Acid Test was held at a private house, a rambling old Edwardian near downtown. The flyers included the address of the house, but no explanation of what was actually being promoted. Whether people took the flyer from a scruffy stranger, or saw it tacked up on a tree, only a few of them took up the offer. Nonetheless, those that found their way to the house found themselves flying on a plane they didn't even know they had boarded.

The Acid Test was a roaring success, so successful that it couldn't be contained in a house.  It moved to Muir Beach, and then a nightclub in Palo Alto, and finally a place called "The Fillmore Auditorium" in San Francisco. By February, two promoters were putting on shows at the Fillmore that simulated acid tests, even if no acid was provided, and the modern rock concert was born. But a few adventurous people in downtown San Jose had already started the trip three months earlier, outside of the San Jose Civic Auditorium.

Friday, November 18, 2011

November 19, 1970: Derek and The Dominos, Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA

The cover to the January 1973 album Derek & The Dominos In Concert, recorded October 1970
How did 16-year old Neal Schon, future guitarist for Journey, come to be playing on stage with Eric Clapton and Derek and The Dominos on November 19, 1970? At the time, Schon was a high school dropout and playing in a local band, but he had not yet joined Santana, much less Journey. Yet there he was, invited to join rock music's most famous living guitarist on stage at a headline concert in Berkeley. The story of how this came about was a reflection of a time when rock guitarists were visiting gunslingers, and meeting at High Noon was the order of the day. That era would soon pass, and Clapton's appearance at Berkeley seems to be about it's last manifestation.

Derek And The Dominos
By 1970, Eric Clapton was perhaps rock music's most famous and respected lead guitarist, as a result of his stellar work with Cream. Cream established the idea that rock musicians were potentially the equal of jazz musicians, and hearing them play live was a unique experience that, by definition, could not be repeated. Only Jimi Hendrix had eclipsed Clapton's stature as a guitarist, and after his unfortunate death on September 18, 1970, Clapton was alone at the top of the tree. That isn't to say that many rock fans couldn't make a good argument that Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jerry Garcia or someone else wasn't "better" than Clapton, whatever that might mean, but Clapton was the standard by which all other rock guitarists were judged.

Clapton had been unhappy with what he considered the self-indulgence of Cream's music, and he had become enamored of The Band and their album Music From Big Pink. Clapton wanted to put his formidable guitar playing in the service of a group playing songs, rather than improvisation for it's own sake. He had joined Blind Faith, with Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker, but the massive hype overwhelmed the project. He then tried to be just a sideman, playing lead guitar for Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and in that case the fact that Clapton wasn't out front enough let his fans down. Delaney Bramlett produced Clapton's first solo album in 1970, but Clapton was still unsure of himself.

When Clapton started to tour in support of his Eric Clapton album, he insisted on being billed as Derek And The Dominos. The core of the band was Delaney and Bonnie's rhythm section, drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, guitarist Dave Mason and organist/vocalist Bobby Whitlock. Mason only played the very first concert (London, June 14, 1970), and then left the group, but Clapton was on the lookout for another guitarist. When the Dominos recorded the immortal Layla album in Florida in the Fall of 1970, Clapton found his co-pilot in the great Duane Allman. Duane had his own band, however, and his Allman Brothers obligations kept him from touring with Derek And The Dominos (save for two shows in Tampa and Syracuse, of all places).

However, when Derek And The Dominos set out on their American tour in the Fall of 1970, Layla had not yet been released, and the name Derek And The Dominos meant nothing. The band was generally billed as "Derek And The Dominos featuring Eric Clapton." The band toured as a quartet (Clapton/Whitlock/Radle/Gordon), and while they did a few numbers from the Layla album, which was released in November of 1970, the tour was perceived as an Eric Clapton solo tour. Nonetheless, Clapton, after his great experience with Duane Allman in the studio, was looking for a guitarist to trade licks with on stage.

Welcome To San Francisco
Thanks to the Fillmore and The Fillmore West, San Francisco had been a sort of rock mecca in the 1960s. One of the rites of passage for touring English bands when they played the Fillmores in the '60s had been an invitation to jam with the Grateful Dead or the Jefferson Airplane, if they were in town. There was an appeal and the hint of a threat in this. The Dead and the Airplane saw rock music as serious Art, and themselves as striving to be like jazz musicians. Bands whose members felt likewise would find themselves challenged by the opportunity to play with the local heroes, particularly if they were all dosed to the gills on Owsley's finest. The implication was that a real psychedelic gunslinger would be delighted to spend a free afternoon jamming with the Dead or the Airplane, zonked out of their minds, while lightweight musicians were just possibly a bit chicken.

Some great friendships and alliances grew up between visiting English bands and the San Franciscans: Jimi Hendrix wanted Jack Casady of the Airplane to join his band, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac found his music transformed by the free-flowing jamming of the Grateful Dead, and so on. There were some negative implications, too: Jimi Hendrix blew off a jam with the Dead one night, and when--according to legend--he showed up the following night at the Avalon hoping to jam with the Dead, Jerry Garcia refused to invite him on stage (October 13, 1968, if the legends are true).

By 1970, most of the English bands had been through San Francisco, and in any case the local bands were mostly on tour, so the jamming ritual kind of faded away. However, the major San Francisco attraction for visiting musicians in 1970 was the group Santana, who had become an international sensation following the release of their debut album in August, 1969. While the Santana members were all nice guys, they were all hard driving musicians who liked to show visitors how well they played. Clapton had missed some of the early business of jamming with the locals, so when Derek And The Dominoes showed up in San Francisco in November, Clapton accepted an invitation to jam with Santana in the studio. The Santana members were all big fans, of course, but there was the implied challenge--six-strings at High Noon.

Neal Schon and Santana
By 1970, Santana was looking to add some additional members, particularly another guitarist. With only Carlos Santana on guitar and Gregg Rolie on organ, they had a hard time keeping up with the awesome rhythm section featuring three drummers. Neal Schon was a high school dropout who was playing with a band from suburban Redwood City, CA called Old Davis. Old Davis had been playing Peninsula gigs for years, never really breaking out of the local mold, but with enough of a following to kind of make a living. Rolie and drummer Mike Shrieve, both from the South Bay themselves, heard Schon play with Old Davis at a Palo Alto club called The Poppycock, and invited him to jam with Santana. This wasn't casual--they had an eye towards adding Schon to San Francisco's hottest band.

Coincidentally, one of the days when Schon was jamming with Santana was the day when Clapton was jamming with them as well. Derek And The Dominoes were headlining two nights at the Berkeley Community Theater, and on the afternoon of the second day, Clapton came by the rehearsal studio to hang out and play. Clapton passed the musical test with Santana easily, of course--whatever his own reticence about his fame, Clapton was a sensational player with a guitar in his hands. The surprising part to Clapton was the presence of Schon. Clapton was so taken with Schon's playing that he invited him to sit in with Derek And The Dominos at Berkeley that very night.

A 21st Century shot of the back of Berkeley Community Theater
Berkeley Community Theater
The Berkeley Community Theater was (and is) on the grounds of Berkeley High School, at Alston and Martin Luther King Jr Way (then Grove Street). However, although it serves as the Berkeley High auditorium, it is also the principal performance venue for the city of Berkeley, seating about 3500. In 1970, it was the largest available seated venue short for rock concerts short of the giant Oakland Coliseum, which often had conflicts with basketball or other events. It was also considerably larger than the Fillmore West, so acts that could easily sell out Fillmore West were often moved over to the Community Theater. Derek And The Dominos were headlining two nights there, supported by the now-obscure Toe Fat (Toe Fat featured Ken Hensley, later in the better known Uriah Heep).

The setlist for the November 19 Derek And The Dominos show was:
Got To Get Better In A Little While
Key To The Highway
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
Tell The Truth
Mean Old World
Little Wing
Blues Power
Have You Ever Loved A Woman
Let It Rain
Little Queenie
Neal Schon played on stage with the band for most or all of the show. There is a mediocre audience tape of the show circulating, but its hard to hear for certain whether Schon plays on every song, but there are definitely two guitarists. Pretty heady stuff for a 16-year old to be invited on stage to sit in with the most famous rock guitarist in the world, on pretty much no rehearsal. According to legend, Schon did so well with Derek And The Dominos that Clapton asked him to join the band.

The remarkable thing about Clapton's job offer to Schon, however it exactly may have occurred, was that Schon turned him down. Schon had gotten another offer from Santana, supposedly earlier in the day, and he preferred playing with them. Imagine--how many High School dropout guitarists are there, dreaming that if they just got the chance they could show the biggest rock artists in the world how good they were. Neal Schon not only had the opportunity, he got job offers from both Clapton and Santana, both on top of their respective universes at the time.

I suspect the actual reality of Schon's situation was a little more complex. Both Santana and Clapton had management, and the actual sequence of events was a little more complex and somewhat duller. Nonetheless, the outlines of the story are fixed by the timeline: Clapton was only in the Bay Area for a few days, invited Schon to jam with him on stage and must have made some kind of job overture before he left town. Whatever the Santana crew had been planning, they would have had to step up to the plate quickly to keep Schon in their camp, and they succeeded.

Schon's instincts were correct. Derek And The Dominos only lasted another few weeks on tour, and after some abortive sessions in London the next year they disintegrated. Santana, on the other hand, went from strength to strength, and Schon joined the band for Santana III (which included "Everybody's Everything," among other famous tracks). After a few years touring the world with Santana, Schon went on to even greater success with Journey. Even today, however, there has to be a lot of hot guitarists, young or old, who think, "man, if I could just jam with Eric, I know he'd invite me on stage." It really happened to Neal Schon.

November 18, 1970: Traffic, Fillmore East, New York, NY

The cover of John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic, released July 1970
Traffic was one of the great rock bands of the 60s and 70s, made all the more legendary by the very few albums that they released. Intriguingly, a concert recording of a great show was supposed to be released, but for reasons unknown the recording was replaced by very different one a few months later. It's even possible that the album release story is apocryphal, and the tape was just circulating in an era when very few high quality recordings were available. No matter: the November 18, 1970 show by Traffic at Bill Graham's fabled Fillmore East was a great moment in time, and the infamous tape can be streamed or downloaded through Wolfgang's Vault (for best results, stream it now while you read this).

Traffic had formed in 1967, after Steve Winwood had left the Spencer Davis Group. The Spencer Davis were one of England's best and most successful R&B bands, as hits like "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "Keep On Running" will attest today, as they are still regulars in the oldie playlist. The then-teenage Winwood (born 1948) not only was the lead singer for the Davis group, he also played lead guitar, organ and piano. After a string of great hits, the ever-talented Winwood wanted more, so he left the Spencer Davis Group to "do his own thing." His own thing was Traffic.

Traffic had four members: Winwood, two guys from a Lancashire group called Deep Feeling, drummer Jim Capaldi and guitarist Dave Mason, and Chris Wood on woodwinds. Traffic's great innovation was to take a lesson from Sgt. Pepper's, and not to have a fixed configuration of instruments. Up until Traffic, every band had a certain lineup, usually based on their live configuration--say two guitars, piano, bass and drums, for example--and just about every song on an album was built on that framework. Traffic, however, already had the famous Winwood when they formed, and spent a month in a cottage in the Berkshires "getting it together" (thus starting another trend) and they were a successful recording act before they ever performed.

Traffic's specific magic was that the members played whatever instruments were appropriate for the track, so every track on their first two albums sounded different. Winwood played organ like Jimmy Smith, piano like Horace Silver, acoustic guitar like an English folkie and electric guitar like a jazzed up Chicago bluesman. He could yell the blues like Ray Charles or croon like Van Morrison, as needed. Did I mention Winwood also played bass? Mason had a completely different lead guitar style than Winwood, and also played bass and some rudimentary sitar, Mason and Capaldi were both good singers and Chris Wood played a variety of woodwinds, and thus every track sounded different. Traffic's first hit was "Paper Sun," a sort of Syd Barrett-like pop tune sung by Mason, but the most popular track of their debut album was a double guitar jamfest called "Dear Mr Fantasy."

Dave Mason had a strange relationship with his band mates, leaving Traffic right before the album was released (called Mr Fantasy in the US), so he was left off the cover, to the confusion of American fans. Mason had rejoined for the second album, entitled Traffic, but then departed again. The second album, released in October 1968. was an even better album than the first, and as FM radio spread across America, Traffic was a staple of every station's playlist. Traffic had a very successful American tour in 1968 without benefit of a hit.

However, due to Traffic's approach to recording, they were a very different band in person. Mostly Mason didn't tour with them, so they were just a trio, leaving them with some tricky work to replicate their amazing recordings, which all depended on overdubs. On stage in 1968, Winwood typically played organ while managing the bass with his feet (using the organ pedals), Capaldi played drums and Wood played flute and sax. Wood would switch to organ or electric bass for those songs where Winwood needed to play electric guitar. Traffic actually sounded pretty good live, but their trio sound was in distinct contrast to their delicate studio constructions.

Mysteriously, with just two great albums under their belt, Traffic broke at the beginning of 1969. Winwood went on to form Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, and Wood, Capaldi and Mason went on to other endeavors, including forming a group together (with organist Mick Weaver). Rock fans were left with two fantastic albums and what-might-have-been. The record company cobbled together a final album, Last Exit (May '69)with a few leftover studio tracks and some live material from the Fillmore East. Traffic seemed like another great lost sixties group.

Blind Faith was the most popular live group of 1969, but they did not survive the year. Winwood made a few appearances with an interesting group called Ginger Baker's Air Force, but although he was more famous than ever, he was left group-less. Like every other musician whose band had disintegrated, Winwood decided to make a solo album. While working on the record, tentatively titled Mad Shadows, however, Winwood ran into a roadblock. The profoundly talented Winwood did not need additional musicians to help him record, since he could play every instrument better than most professionals. He did need collaborators, however. First he called back Capaldi to help with songwriting, and then they called on Chris Wood for a little woodwind coloring, and suddenly Traffic was back together again.

The July 1970 release of John Barleycorn Must Die was remarkable for any number of reasons. First of all, in the wake of the 1960s, the idea that a group could break up and get back together again was more or less unprecedented. More importantly, John Barleycorn was arguably better than the two fine albums that came before, so all seemed right with the world. The reviewer in Rolling Stone specifically mentioned that if Buffalo Springfield would get back together, then everything would be great. It went unstated that if Traffic could find a way to work together, maybe the Beatles could as well.

FM radio absolutely loved John Barleycorn, so Traffic was very well received on their Summer tour in 1970. However, it was harder than ever for the trio of Winwood, Wood and Capaldi to make Traffic's delicate songs work on stage. The album was doing great, though, and the record companies had figured out that if English bands wanted to make it big in America they had to tour non-stop, so Traffic came back in the Fall. This time, however, Traffic added a fourth member, bassist Rick Gretch.

Rick Grech had been in a Lancashire band called Family, whose 1968 debut album (Music In A Doll's House) had been produced by Dave Mason. More importantly, when Winwood, Clapton and Ginger Baker had formed Blind Faith, they tapped Grech to play bass, leaving Family in a difficult situation (Family drafted ex-Animals bassist John Weider). Blind Faith had collapsed in August 1969, after their only American tour, but Winwood and Grech had stayed close. With Grech on bass for Traffic, suddenly Wood and Winwood could concentrate on their main instruments, and Traffic was a very viable live proposition. After a brief English tour, the new-look Traffic found themselves headlining the Fillmore East in November of 1970.

The Fillmore East
The Fillmore East, and 2nd Avenue and 6th Street in the East Village, had been rock music's showcase theater from the day it opened on March 8, 1968. Whereas Bill Graham's Fillmore West followed the West Coast tradition of a total performing environment, with no seats on the main floor to facilitate a consciousness meld between the audience and the musicians, the Fillmore East was conceived by Graham to be a theater, first and foremost. The aging venue (opened as a Yiddish Theater in 1926) had been completely refurbished by Graham in to a place that hitherto would have been "too nice" for a rock show. All the seats were reserved, and instead of two-set shows like Fillmore West, there were always early and late shows.

Bands playing the Fillmore East knew they were performing, and performing in America's premier city for arts of all kinds. The place was nice, the sound system was state-of-the-art and audiences were enthusiastic about expressing their likes and dislikes of each performer. The Fillmore East was a crucial stop for any English band trying to make it America. The important people in the music industry and rock press attended shows at Fillmore East, usually the first show on Friday night. A killer set could get an unknown band a great write-up in Billboard and Rolling Stone, and attention would follow them all over the country. In contrast, a lukewarm writeup of a veteran act could signal that maybe their time had come and gone. A band who could knock 'em dead at some college gym in Ohio was all well and good, but winning New York meant killing the crowd at Fillmore East, and every English band knew that.

Traffic, Fillmore East, November 18, 1970
Almost all Fillmore East dates were a booking for Friday and Saturday night, with double shows (8:30 and 11:30 each night). A few larger bands, like Crosby Stills Nash and Young, might play Thursday through Sunday. Weekday shows were fairly rare. However, Traffic were booked for Tuesday and Wednesday night, November 18 and 19, 1970. Opening acts were Cat Stevens and Hammer. The fact that Traffic was booked at all on a weeknight was a clear sign that this was a special event that would bring out the jaded New Yorkers. Traffic had killed everybody the previous Summer, however, and although they didn't sell a lot of records, Traffic was beloved of writers and were considered a serious band by everyone who worried about such things.

According to legend, Traffic was planning a live album, and thus recorded the Fillmore East shows. I'm not entirely convinced of that. The Fillmore East sound crew had a penchant for secretly recording shows for their own listening pleasure--god bless 'em--but that was not really acceptable in the 1960s, so they had reason to be quiet about it. The only reason we really know about the Fillmore East sound crew's activities on the side was because they recorded some Grateful Dead shows, and the Deadhead taping community found out about it some years later. By the time the word leaked out about it, the Fillmore East was long closed, so it's unclear exactly what the crew might and might not have taped. It is true, however, that if they made a tape, they couldn't really admit it, so I don't know if the record company recorded this show, or John Chester and the Fillmore East crew. It sounds great, of course, but so did the tapes that the Fillmore East boys made of the Dead (in February 1970), so I'm uncertain.

There's also a confusing history to the tape, linked to the fact that the Grateful Dead's loyal fans were the first to really have a large group of people unknown to each other starting to collect tapes. For reasons that are too byzantine to explain, the Traffic tape circulated with the date of November 23, 1970, and was identified as Traffic at the Anderson Theater, opening for the Dead. To make a long story short, the Dead did play Anderson Theater (in NYC) that day, but Traffic did not. Further research eventually revealed the Traffic tape to have been from November 18, but no one has said whether it was from the early or late show. It's only a little over an hour, so it may just be the early show.

Whatever the story of the tape itself, for a Traffic fan it's an amazing show. Here's the setlist:
01. Introduction by Bill Graham
02. Medicated Goo
03. Pearly Queen
04. Empty Pages
05. Heaven Is In Your Mind
06. Forty Thousand Headmen
07. John Barleycorn Must Die
08. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring
09. Every Mother's Son
10. Glad/>Freedom Rider
11. Means To The End
12. Dear Mr. Fantasy
What's striking about the November '70 tape is how it represents a version of Traffic that had been lost to history. John Barleycorn Must Die was released in July 1970, and it was indeed followed by a live album recorded in 1971, Welcome To The Canteen. While I loved Canteen (released September '71) it was a different Traffic entirely: Jim Gordon took over from Capaldi on drums, while Capaldi stuck around as a singer and percussionist, Rebop Kwaku Baah was added on congas, and unexpectedly Dave Mason returned to sing and play guitar. The Canteen album, recorded in July of 1971, has more of a superjam feel, with rambling solos and a rumble of percussion. It was followed by the crisp and brilliant The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys just a few months later (November '71), with Mason departed but Winwood and Capaldi at their peak as songwriters.

The quartet Traffic was something else entirely. With just 4 members, the songs are crisp and well-rehearsed. Yet with the solid Grech anchoring the beat with Capaldi, Winwood and Wood are free to cover the front line without worrying about playing bass, so their playing is much freer than it was in earlier years. Yet a four-piece is still not a large band, so whether Winwood is playing acoustic or electric guitar, electric piano or Hammond organ, he really has to fill a lot of space, and he is just a glorious player. Later versions of Traffic had numerous members, freeing Winwood just to be the group leader instead of having to stretch out, but frankly it's more fun to hear him stretch out. Traffic released so little material during the life of the band that it's a revelation to hear their best material reconfigured for a four piece band.

Traffic's classic album The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, released November 1971
Traffic stayed together through 1974, with several more albums and a variety of personnel changes. Winwood went on to well deserved solo stardom in the 1980s, and he is correctly ensconced as rock royalty, periodically touring with Eric Clapton so that Blind Faith's promise can finally be fulfilled as well. Traffic even reformed in 1994, and for those lucky enough to see them--I was--it was fabulous to hear all that great material performed live. The accompanying album was far cry from Traffic's heyday, however, and Winwood returned to his solo career. A few songs from the November 18, 1970 concert were actually released as bonus tracks on the re-released John Barleycorn cd in 199.

To me, and to many others, 1971's Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys was Traffic's high water mark. Looking at the back cover, with the six musicians in their 70s gear, skinny and with long hair, can be kind of melancholy, since all but Winwood aren't with us (well, Jim Gordon is alive, but in a psychiatric facility under sad circumstances). Everything ends, however, and as far as rock goes it's always better to think about bands when they were on top of the world. November 18, 1970, was one of those nights, when the long-lost 4-piece Traffic was as good as it got.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November 16, 1968: Jimi Hendrix Experience/The McCoys/Cat Mother, Boston Garden, Boston, MA

The cover to Jimi Hendrix's album Electric Ladyland, released in October 1968
By the end of 1968, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream were the biggest live acts in rock, and Cream were on their farewell tour. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were bigger than Hendrix, but all of them had not toured the United States since 1966, and rock had changed significantly. Boston, MA, with its huge population of college students, had one of the hippest rock audiences, so when Hendrix came through Boston at the end of 1968, he played the Boston Garden, home of the NBA's Celtics and the NHL's Bruins, and that marked Hendrix as a huge act. Going forward, lots of 60s rock acts would be big enough to play The Boston Garden, but when the Jimi Hendrix Experience headlined at the Boston Garden on November 16, 1968, Hendrix became the first artist who had played the Fillmore circuit to graduate to the home of the Celtics.

Boston Garden
The Boston Garden Arena was at 150 Causeway Street, on top of the North Station MBTA stop. The arena was built in 1928, and it was originally named The Boston Madison Square Garden, but the name was shortened over time, and in fact many people colloquially called the arena 'Boston Gardens.' The arena had a basketball capacity of 14,895, and although the concert setup was different, the capacity was probably pretty close. Boston Garden was the city's largest and best known arena, and it was the primary home to both the NHL's Boston Bruins and the NBA's Boston Celtics, as well as other major events. Until rock music got to be very big business at the end of the 1960s, there were very few rock acts big enough to play a concert at Boston Garden.

The Beatles had played Boston Garden on September 12, 1964, and the Rolling Stones had headlined there on November 5, 1965. James Brown had headlined a famous concert at the Boston Garden on April 5, 1968 the night after Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated (April 4). After King was shot, there was rioting or the threat of rioting in many cities, including parts of Boston. Many nighttime events were canceled all over the United States. With some negotiation between Brown and the Mayor of Boston, not only did Brown put on his show, but WGBH-TV in Boston broadcast the entire event live. Since Brown was the biggest live act in the R&B universe at the time, the unprecedented live broadcast is generally credited with keeping everyone in Boston at home and the streets relatively safe from rioting. Brown was rightly praised for this, and while the city of Boston made up some of his losses, Brown took a financial hit in order to keep the peace.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1968
In general, only the largest acts could play a venue the size of Boston Garden. Up until 1968, to qualify as a big act, an artist had to have a string of memorable hit singles on AM radio, preferably #1 hits. Great as the Beatles, Stones and James Brown were, it's important to remember they were popular with a mass audience in the formal sense of having radio hits that everyone recognized (and indeed, still recognizes today). Cream had changed that equation, however, by capitalizing on FM radio to play album tracks and presenting concerts of unparalleled musical virtuosity, like jazz musicians. Cream had become huge with only some relatively modest AM hits, but their albums were staples of the new free-form FM rock radio stations. Rock fans went to see Cream for the same reason they went to see John Coltrane of Miles Davis, in that the concert would provide a unique moment of high artistry that would never be repeated.

In November of 1968, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was probably the top live rock act in the United States. Cream had an equal status, but they had just finished their "Farewell Tour" and played their final concert in London on October 26. Cream, in fact, had been scheduled to play Boston Garden in October of '68 as part of the Farewell Tour, but for various reasons the show had been canceled and replaced with a show in Rhode Island (I presume that fall dates had to be scheduled in between hockey and basketball games, so re-scheduling would have been hard).

The timing of the booking was propitious for the promoters. At the end of October, Hendrix had released his third album, the epic double lp Electric Ladyland. After Hendrix's first two exceptional albums (Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love), topping them was a tall order, but Hendrix had made an album for the ages. Electric Ladyland shot to the top of the charts, bolstered by heavy airplay on every FM station. Boston had a hugely popular FM rock station (WBCN) and I don't doubt that Electric Ladyland got plenty of play. Thus when Hendrix played Boston, he would have been a very big deal indeed, so it was appropriate that he played the biggest venue.

Hendrix's manager, Mike Jeffery, has had a reputation of being a shady operator, and even while Hendrix was alive there were complicated accusations of financial mismanagement and strange decision making. Nonetheless, Jeffery had a very shrewd appreciation of how valuable a commodity the Jimi Hendrix Experience really was as a concert attraction. The Hendrix show at Boston Garden had to have been planned at least three months in advance, and scheduled around NHL and NBA games, so it may have been planned even earlier. Hendrix was already extremely popular, of course, but Jefferey clearly had a sharp eye on how big major rock acts were really going to be. In the 1970s, most 'major' rock acts played the local NBA arena in big cities, but this was still new territory. Here was Jimi Hendrix with a new album, no hit single, and indeed no real chance of a Beatles-style hit single, already booked for the biggest arena in one of the nation's hippest rock markets, and it turned out to be just what the audience wanted.

November 16, 1968: Jimi Hendrix Experience/The McCoys/Cat Mother @ Boston Garden
A bootleg tape circulates of some of Hendrix's set. The surviving tape includes six songs and seems to be about an hour. This was probably most if not just about all of Hendrix's set. Almost no acts except the Grateful Dead played more than an hour. At the Fillmore West, headline bands played two one hour long sets, but they were separated by other acts. At a big arena, with unions and city curfews and other obligations, concerts rarely ran longer than a few hours. Hendrix liked to jam and hang out, but that was for nightclubs, not a big NBA arena.

Hendrix was still playing with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the trio he had begun with when he started playing in London in late 1966, with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. The setlist that circulates is
  • "Fire"
  • "Spanish Castle Magic"
  • "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)"
  • "Red House"
  • "Foxy Lady"
  • "Purple Haze"
Once Hendrix got really big, Mike Jeffery and Hendrix management tended to deal with their own booking agents and concert promoters. I do not know for sure who promoted this concert, but I think it was Concerts East, part of an aggregation of promoters that booked shows for Hendrix, Eric Burdon, Vanilla Fudge and a variety of opening acts. Over the next few years, Concerts East (and Concerts West on the other side of the country) became affiliated with Jerry Weintraub and Pat O'Day, who were the principal promoters of Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin, but I'm not certain that affiliation had been established yet.

Jefferey and Hendrix's promoters were also shrewd about the value of the opening act. Most Fillmore style concerts in the late 60s featured multiple acts, often of almost equal stature. The Byrds would play with Mike Bloomfield, or Country Joe and The Fish would play with the Grateful Dead, or Procol Harum would play with Pink Floyd. Hendrix stood alone, however, and the opening acts at Boston Garden were there to allow people to file in and perhaps buy some popcorn. Both of the opening acts were pretty good, as it happened, but they weren't there to sell tickets. This too became common in the 1970s, where the opening act was a trivial afterthought, but Jeffery saw clearly that the allure of Hendrix was so all-powerful that spending money expensive opening acts would merely cut into his profit. If Hendrix was Hendrix, no one would remember the opening acts anyway.

The McCoys
The McCoys were from Indiana, and had had a #1 hit with "Hang On Sloopy" in 1965, as well as some other hits. By 1968, however, "Hang On Sloopy" was already a dumb, unhip oldie. The McCoys tried to remake themselves playing heavy psychedelic blues. They changed record labels, and in 1968 they put out a pretty good 'serious' rock album, Infinite McCoys. The McCoys had plenty of talent, too. Guitarist Rick Zehringer would become much better known in the 1970s as Rick Derringer ("Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo"), but in 1968 their name was still associated with the bubblegum pop of "Hang On Sloopy." The McCoys had become the house band at a Manhattan nightclub called The Scene, where Hendrix liked to hang out. Although the McCoys were actually a good choice to open for the Experience, there was probably a personal favor of some kind involved in the booking.

The McCoys released another psychedelic album, Human Ball, in 1969, but unable to overcome their past, the band broke up. Three of the McCoys (Derringer, his brother, drummer Rick Zehringer and bassist Randy Jo Hobbs) joined Johnny Winter's new group, Johnny Winter And.
The Street Giveth and The Street Taketh Away, the 1969 debut album for Cat Mother And The All Night Newsboys

Cat Mother
Cat Mother was a New York band. Their "full name," if bands have such a thing, was Cat Mother And The All-Night Newsboys. They had formed in New York in 1967. The vocalists, Roy Michaels and Bob Smith, were both former Greenwich Village folkies. Cat Mother played what would now be called "Roots Music" or "Americana," but no such term existed at the time. Because some members of Cat Mother played fiddle and banjo on some songs, Cat Mother has been not unfairly identified as a country rock group. However, the band had a rootsier sound than California bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Cat Mother had played around New York City in 1967 and '68 and become friendly with Hendrix. Cat Mother ended up being managed by Mike Jeffery, and Hendrix produced their first album, The Street Giveth And The Street Taketh Away. Cat Mother had a modest AM hit with a rock medley called "Good Old Rock and Roll," and a more representative song that got played alot on FM (at least in my day) called "Strike A Match And Light Another," a folksy song about smoking weed.

Mike Jeffery was also one of the first managers to recognize that a huge headliner created a captive audience for the opening act, so he was one of the first to insist that his own bands open the shows for his headliners. That is why 1968 concerts by the likes of Hendrix and Eric Burdon usually featured Jeffery-managed bands like Soft Machine, Eire Apparent and Cat Mother. Such practices became common in the 1970s, but Mike Jeffery was one of the first to exploit it. In fact, Soft Machine, Eire Apparent and Cat Mother were all good groups, particularly Soft Machine, but Jefferey's vertical approach to management was why Hendrix rarely had a wide variety of openers. Jefferey knew that any Hendrix show was a sellout anyway.

Cat Mother was very uncomfortable with Mike Jeffery's management practices, however, and split with him at the end of 1970. As a result, they moved from New York City to coastal Mendocino, CA, prior to their second album (Albion Doo-Wah). The band put out a few more albums, but faded away by the mid-70s. Many of the members apparently stayed in Mendocino.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14, 1974: George Harrison/Ravi Shankar, Tucson Community Center, Tucson, AZ

The cover of George Harrison's Dark Horse lp, released December 1974
It is difficult to fathom today how popular the Beatles were in the 1960s. They were the only rock group that everyone liked: jocks, stoners, parents, hippies, poets, violin players, you name it. The Beatles all but created the rock industry, but the ubiquity of their music during their time has never been duplicated. As the 60s wore on, every Beatles album became a bigger and bigger event, and amazingly,  the records lived up to expectations. My father had to buy every Beatles album from Sgt. Pepper's onwards, to prevent my sisters and I from fighting over who would get to play it. The only contemporary phenomenon that parallels the Beatles would be Harry Potter. Children of a certain age grew up with Harry, and the day a book was released was a day when time stopped. So it was with the Beatles.

The last Beatles concert was August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Although the modern rock concert industry had started up only a few miles away and a few months before at the Fillmore, Beatles concerts were part of the old model, where shows were merely publicity to sell records. At Candlestick, the Beatles played about 30 minutes on a lousy sound system, separated from their screaming fans by the entire baseball field. The Beatles were serious artists, so they retired to the studio for good. By the end of the 1960s, rock concerts were for serious artists as well, but The Beatles had no part of that. Thus the band that triggered the rock concert industry had no real part in it, never playing the Fillmore or the Royal Albert Hall, much less Wembley or Madison Square Garden or a giant outdoor rock festival. Blind Faith, Jimi Hendrix or The Rolling Stones would have been like nothing if the Beatles had performed in the 1960s, but they broke up and it was not to be.

There had been brief sightings. John Lennon had played a few brief benefits with his Plastic Ono Band, George Harrison had played the star-studded Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, and Paul McCartney had done a stealth tour of England with his band Wings in 1972. For Americans, however, unless one had been lucky or connected enough to see the Concert for Bangladesh, a Beatle performing live had not been seen since the band shut down. In 1974, George Harrison toured the United States, playing huge arenas lengthy West-to-East tour from November 2 through December 19. George wasn't John or Paul, but he was still a Beatle, and he wasn't just playing New York and Los Angeles, he was playing all across the land. The expectations for the George Harrison tour were sky-high. Major cities were used to major events, at least, but here was George playing two shows at the Tucson Community Center in Tucson, AZ on Thursday, November 14, 1974. This had to be the biggest rock event in the history of Tucson, and for all I know the biggest cultural event ever held there.

George Harrison 1970-1974
George Harrison was rightly or wrongly called "The Quiet Beatle," mainly because he was neither John nor Paul. He had contributed the occasional song to a Beatles album, and while they were generally excellent ("Taxman," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and "Something" for example), no one really knew how much he had in him. Everyone loved George's guitar playing, of course, but the standards for judging guitarists had risen since the Beatles' prime, and no one knew how good he really was.

In late 1970, George had released his first "true" solo album, All Thing Must Pass. It was a fine album, somewhat overrated n retrospective, but a fine record nonetheless. It had two albums of finely crafted pop songs and one "jam" album with Eric Clapton and others. The jam album is forgettable now, but it helped establish George's credit as a "real" musician, not a player dependent on the studio. George's own music, and particularly the huge hit "My Sweet Lord," sounded enough like the Beatles to be familiar while still carving out his own style. All Things Must Pass demonstrated to most people's satisfaction that George Harrison had been an integral part of the Beatles, even if the bulk of the songwriting had been done by John and Paul.

In May, 1973 George released Living In The Material World, which instantly went to #1. People loved the Beatles, and they had loved All Things Must Pass, so they bought the album on faith, more or less. However, while not at all a bad album, it was somber and less catchy than its predecessor, and the album did not receive much airplay. George was still a Beatle--he'd always be a Beatle--but the album didn't have legs, in record industry parlance. If George was going to be a success as a solo artist, it seemed that he would have to be like Eric Clapton or the Rolling Stones, and get out on the road to drum up interest in his new record, just like they did.

The Dark Horse Tour
The plan was that George would record his new album in mid-1974, release it in the Fall and then tour to support it at the end of the year. For various reasons, not the least of them that George's wife Pattie had just left him for Eric Clapton (cue the intro to "Layla"), the project was delayed. The album, entitled Dark Horse, was recorded in September and October 1974, but it was not complete by November, when the tour was scheduled to begin. This would not be the first time that a major artist had had to play a booked tour before their album was complete, but this was a Beatle. The album itself was not released until December, by which time the tour was almost over.

The run-up to the tour was covered breathlessly by the likes of Rolling Stone magazine. Who would George choose to tour with him? There wasn't really a precedent for this. In the end, George signed up a younger group of hot studio players rather than big-name stars. The only exception to that was keyboardist Billy Preston, who of course had played with The Beatles on the "Get Back" single and had a successful solo career in his own right. The band lineup was
  • George Harrison (Guitar)
  • Robben Ford (Guitar)
  • Willie Weeks (Bass Guitar)
  • Andy Newmark (Drums)
  • Billy Preston (Keyboards)
  • Emil Richards (Percussion)
  • Tom Scott (Horns)
  • Chuck Findley (Trumpet)
  • Jim Horn (Saxophone)
Robben Ford and Tom Scott were from the jazz-rock group LA Express, and they would go on to back Joni Mitchell a few years later, among many other stellar appearances. Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark were American musicians, but they had recently recorded an album in London with Ronnie Wood (I've Got My Own Album To Do) and that was probably the link to Harrison. Emil Richards, Jim Horn and Chuck Findley were all established Hollywood session musicians, as in fact were the rest of the band save Preston.

Tucson Community Center, Tucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ is 118 miles Southeast of Phoenix, just 60 miles from the Mexican border. The University of Arizona had been founded there in 1885. Tucson had undergone staggering growth in the preceding decades, but it was still a considerably smaller city than it is today. In the 1950 census, Tucson had a population of 45, 454. By 1970, the population was 262, 933 (as of 2010 it was 520, 116). In 1971, the city built a new arena, the Tucson Community Center, which had a capacity of 9,275. 9,000+ capacity is relatively small by the standards of modern arenas, but it would have made Tucson seem like a real city. When George Harrison booked his American tour in 1974, amazingly enough he played Tucson between the Los Angeles Forum (November 12) and Salt Lake City (November 16.)

Tucson had one symbolic and one actual connection to the Beatles. Every Beatles fan knows the line from "Get Back:" "JoJo left his home in Tucson, Arizona/For some California Grass." In 1969, when "Get Back" was recorded and released, there was no reason to think that any member of the Beatles had ever been to Tucson. Presumably composer Paul McCartney chose the city for metrical reasons. However, Paul's girlfriend Linda Eastman--soon to be Linda McCartney--had gone to the University of Arizona, so presumably that is why Paul had heard of the town. Up until George Harrison's concert in 1974, "Tucson, Arizona" were just lyrics in a Beatles song, not a place any of them had been.

The oddity of a Beatle playing Tucson can be explained by the economics of 70s touring. In the days of the British Invasion, a band simply took their guitars and got on a plane. Some rented amplifiers were present at the local civic auditorium, and the extant Public Address system was used as well. They generally sounded terrible, but that was considered par for the course. By the time of the 1970s, major rock bands had learned the lessons of the late '60s and toured with their own sound, lights, equipment and crew. However, this meant that even though the band members flew from city to city, huge semi-trucks needed to roll in order for concerts to happen. Thus consecutive shows needed to be in reasonable proximity. Since the George Harrison tour was playing The LA Forum on Tuesday November 12 and the Denver Coliseum on Monday, November 18, economic logic dictated that some dates had to be found inbetween. Some of the curious booking choices--why play Los Angeles on a Tuesday, for example?--could probably be discerned by a nationwide comparison of NBA and NHL schedules since a Fall rock tour had to compete for time with major sports arenas. Tucson was between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, and the city of Tucson did not have a sports franchise that was using their arena on a Thursday, so rock fans in Tucson were fortunate enough to find out that a Beatle was playing live in their town.

The popularity of George Harrison wasn't in question. In a throwback to an earlier era, Harrison played afternoon and evening shows at many venues. At a relatively smaller place like Tucson, this would have made the date more profitable, but double shows inevitably were shorter and caused more wear and tear on the performers. Nevertheless, George Harrison had two shows at Tucson, so there was no question his arrival was a big event.

George Harrison/Ravi Shankar, Tucson Community Center, Tucson, AZ, November 14, 1974
For all the anticipation of the 1974 George Harrison tour, people don't reminisce about it much. The truth is, it wasn't that great, and more importantly it was a tremendous let-down. The most memorable fact about the tour was that George Harrison's voice was hoarse. At the time, this was attributed to the fact that since Harrison had not been on the road since the 60s, his voice wasn't prepared for the rigors of touring. That very well may have been a factor, but apparently Harrison had been suffering throat problems for some months, but since his Dark Horse lp was so behind he had to keep recording rather than rest, so he began the tour with a sore throat. It never really got better, leaving people to joke that this was his "Dark Hoarse" tour.

Besides Harrison's vocal weakness, his choice to make a group of Indian musicians featuring Ravi Shankar an integral part of the show did not resonate well. Of course, Harrison had done more than anyone to make the world aware of the depth and breadth of Shankar and Indian music, but the truth was that although people paid lip service to Indian music, they didn't actually listen to it that much. If Shankar had done an opening set and then Harrison had played his set, it might have worked out fine, but Harrison took a different tack. Harrison and his band typically performed about 5 numbers, usually including one by Billy Preston, and then turned over the stage to Shankar and the Indian musicians for about 40 minutes. Thus from the audience's point of view, just when they were getting into a groove, the spell was broken by something that didn't interest them.

Thus cities like Tucson and Salt Lake City got a Beatle in their midst before a lot of other cities, but they went home disappointed for the most part. George Harrison wasn't happy either. Critics shredded the shows, and while musicians regularly declared that they don't care what rock critics say, the fact is George Harrison never undertook a major tour again, and never played America at all. He did one tour of Japan with Eric Clapton's band in 1991, and played a few benefits in London over the years, but save for a casual drop-in at a bar in North Hollywood (The Palomino) in 1988 with Bob Dylan and John Fogerty, he never booked another show in the United States.

Tucson has doubled in size since 1974, but I don't believe a Beatle has ever played there again. Paul McCartney played in a football stadium in Tempe (Sun Devil Stadium, April 4 '90--do you think he got a big roar when he sang "JoJo lived at home in Tucson, Arizona"?), and in fact Paul owned a ranch outside of Tucson, where his wife Linda sadly passed away in 1998. The Tucson Community Center is still active, although it is called the Tucson Convention Center now, but I don't think a performer of George Harrison's magnitude ever played there since.

A tape circulates on the internet of the afternoon George Harrison show. It doesn't sound great, but if you like field recordings, a stream can be found here.

The complete setlist and notes can be found here, but I have posted them below.
George Harrison, Tucson Community Center, Tucson, AZ Nov 14, 1974, Afternoon show,
Disc 1 (73:49)

1. Hari's on Tour (Express) (Harrison) (5:04)
2. While my Guitar gently weeps (Harrison) (6:10)
3. Something (Harrison) (4:24)
4. Will it go round in Circles (Preston) (4:28)
5. Sue me sue you Blues (Harrison) (5:43)
6. Zoom zoom zoom (Shankar) (7:10)
8. Naderdani (Shankar) (6:29)
9. Cheparte (Shankar) (6:44)
10. Anourag (Shankar) (14:00)
11. I am missing you (Shankar) (7:09) Indian musicians introductions
12. Dispute and Violence (Shankar) (6:01)

Disc 2 (1:17:55)
5. For you Blue (Harrison) (3:56)
6. Give me Love (Give me Peace on Earth) (Harrison) (4:06)
7. In my Life (Lennon/McCartney) (6:20)
8. Tom Cat (Scott) (4:39)
9. Maya Love (Harrison) (5:14)
10. Nothing from nothing (Preston/Fisher) (4:02)
11. Outta Space (Preston) (6:17)
12. Dark Horse (Harrison) (4:55)
13. What is Life (Harrison) (6:34)
14. My sweet Lord (Harrison) (7:33)
Indian musicians:
Ravi Shankar (Sitar)
Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute)
Rijram Desad (Percussion & Strings)
T.V.Gopalkrishnam (Mridangam & Vocal)
Gopal Krishn (Vichitra Veena)
Sultan Khan (Sarangi)
Kartick Kumar (Sitar)
Kamalesh Maitra (Percussion)
Satyadev Pawar (North India Violin)
Alla Rakha (Tabla)
Harihar Rao (Percussion)
Lakshmi Shankar (Vocal)
Viji Shankar (Vocal)
Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor)
L.Subramaniam (Violin)

1970 census: 262, 933
2010 census: 520, 116
118 mi SE of Phoenix