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

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13, 1971: Doobie Brothers/Blue Mountain/The Beans, Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley, CA

A poster for the Doobie Brothers concert at Pauley Ballroom on the UC Berkeley Campus on November 13, 1971. Admission was $1.00
There are little rock concerts on college campuses every night of the week, all over the country. Since rock bands best paydays usually come on weekends, even a poorly paying gig at on a weeknight is better than nothing. In any case, college students are always the biggest consumers of rock music, so if a band puts on a good show, not only will they make some new fans, they will be the kind of fans who tell their friends. So college shows are always worth it for a band, even if the event is pretty unassuming.

For audiences, its more hit or miss, and often tending toward the miss. There are always a million rock bands trying to make it, and most of them aren't that good. Sure, a lot of them aren't terrible, but that doesn't mean they are worth your time. Having an album means that someone at a record company liked them, so that's something, but it could also mean only that someone at the record company thought they could sell a lot of records, a different calculation indeed. However, everyone's got a story about a time a band played that no one had heard of, and later everyone who went could say, "oh, yeah, I don't need to see them at the Coliseum, I saw them for a buck back in college."

On November 13, 1971, the Doobie Brothers played the Pauley Ballroom on the University of California campus in Berkeley. The Ballroom is on the second floor of the Student Union building, and was often used for mundane things like class registration (back before computers) as well as the occasional concert. You could probably stuff 1000 people in there, if you tried, although the campus frowned on that. Nonetheless, student groups who wanted to put on a concert had access to Pauley Ballroom, so their economics were a little different than a regular promoter. That was probably how the Doobie Brothers came to play UC Berkeley on a Monday night.

The cover of The Doobie Brothers debut album on Warner Brothers, released June 1971
The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers had released their first album on Warner Brothers in June of 1971. This was still a year shy of their breakout "Listen To The Music" hit, from their second album. In 1971, The Doobie Brothers were being pitched as a kind of hard-rocking biker band. The album cover was photographed in an authentic biker bar where the Doobie Brothers used to be the "house band," a notorious Santa Cruz Mountains joint called The Chateau Liberte. The quartet was wearing leather and had the requisite long hair and surly looks that was supposed to give them an air of menace.

In fact, the Doobie Brothers were from San Jose, just South of San Francisco, long before it became Silicon Valley. It was a nice place to live, and the future Doobies were more suburban than biker. Three of the band members, guitarist Tom Johnston, bassist Dave Shogren and drummer John Hartmann, had formed a group to back former Moby Grape guitarist Skip Spence. Their sole attempt at a gig, at the Chateau Liberte in mid-1970, was undermined when the mercurial Spence did not show up. The trio continued to play, however, choosing the now-unfortunate name of Pud. "Pud," at the time, was local slang for marijuana. They added fingerpicking guitarist Pat Simmons, formerly of a local band called Scratch, and attracted attention from Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers was very interested but told the band they couldn't be called Pud. While discussing band names and passing a joint around, they had a burst of fellowship and realized they were all Doobie Brothers. Warners was fine with that.

Rock historian Greg Vick has done great work in uncovering much of the Doobies early tour history. After the debut Doobie Brothers album was released in June, the Doobie Brothers went on a national tour opening for Mother Earth and Long John Baldry from June until August. Their activities are somewhat obscure for the rest of the Fall. I don't know if they returned to regular shows at the Chateau Liberte or not. The mysterious enclave was famously underpublicized, since many of its patrons did not like to attract attention. It was very hard to get to (google 22700 Old Santa Cruz Highway, Los Gatos, CA), so there was no chance that anyone "dropped in" because they were just passing by. Nonetheless, the first sign of life after the Summer tour was this Monday night concert at Berkeley on November 13.

The student union building on the UC Berkeley campus, circa 2009. Pauley Ballroom is on the top floor, with the high windows and the red curtains. The Bear's Lair coffee shop is on the ground floor.
Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley
This photo from March 12, 2009 shows the ASUC Building at the back of Lower Sproul Plaza. Pauley Ballroom fills the rear (nearest to the camera) half of the second floor, with the 30-foot windows. The Bear's Lair coffee shop is in the basement. The ASUC Building was built in the mid-1960s, and its basic layout remains the same today as it was then. Pauley Ballroom is a 9000 square foot ballroom, used by the University of California for a variety of events (for internal pictures, see here; in a concert configuration, the shades would be drawn, and I'm not certain where the stage had been located). The university rates it as a capacity of 999, so probably a few more than that could be squeezed in.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, UC Berkeley had a lot of money for student organizations. If some students were ambitious enough, they could start a little organization and get some money to throw a party, show a movie or book a rock concert. My friends and I were still doing this to a small extent as late as the early 1980s, and that was when the University was starting to catch on. In the previous decade, it had been considerably easier. Campus facilities like Pauley Ballroom were cheap for students, but it was hard to find open dates. Also, the University limited the hours, usually to something like 8:30 to 11:00 pm. Also, students weren't allowed to turn a profit using campus facilities, so any excess had to be turned over to some charity. The Doobie Brothers Pauley show seems to benefit some Anti-Vietnam war organization, but it's important to note that the bands at the concert were almost certainly paid--the "benefit" part was just a university regulation. The trick for student organizers was to spend every penny you earned, if you could.

Many nightclubs were closed on Monday nights, and few bands worked. The Doobie Brothers had gotten their start in the South Bay, and were probably hardly known at all in Berkeley. Regardless of how much or how little they got paid for this show, there almost certainly weren't any other gigs for them on a Monday night, and it was a chance to make some new fans in Berkeley.  Tickets were likely only a $1.00 because the hall rental was probably effectively free and some sort of student organization (funded by UC) had kicked in a few hundred dollars seed money.

The Concert
Rock historian Greg Vick actually attended this show. According to him, the Doobie Brothers were much harder rocking than their first album would have suggested.  Producer Ted Templemann had taken the hard rocking band and focused on country-styled songs with three-part harmonies. Many FM radio listeners who may have dismissed them as CSNY clones would have been quite surprised to hear the music that made the bikers dance. Greg Vick can't have been the only person who was favorably impressed that Monday night in Berkeley.

Shortly after the Pauley show, The Doobie Brothers revised their lineup. Bassist Tiran Porter replaced Shogren, and they added a second drummer (Michael Hossack) as well. The band's second album, Toulouse Street, with "Listen To The Music." was released in June of 1972 was a monstrous hit, and the Doobie Brothers went big time. Their hard rocking sound served them well in concert, since if you were playing a sawdust covered nightclub or a huge hockey arena, double drummers and twin guitars got the point across a lot better than sweet harmonies. Back in Pauley in 1971, though, the Doobies were just another band with a debut album trying to make it.

Blue Mountain was another Bay Area band that was in that CSNY turf with electric guitars and harmonies. They weren't a bad group, really, but not that memorable. The Beans had just arrived from Phoenix, AZ, and the Pauley show was one of their first in the Bay Area. The Beans had been formed from two popular local groups in the Phoenix area, some of whose members joined forces and decided to move to San Francisco to make it.

Amazingly, The Beans really did make it, at least for a while. Greg Vick only saw their last number, a theatrical rock rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business." Within 18 months, The Beans had gone fully San Francisco and became The Tubes, and for several years they had one of the most memorable live shows in rock history up until that time. Of course, the expense of the performance meant that they never made any money, and by the mid-1980s The Tubes had declined and broken up, but they too had their time in the sun.

Friday, November 11, 2011

November 11-12-13, 1966: Buffalo Springfield/Country Joe and The Fish/Bola Sete, Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA

"For What It's Worth"-Buffalo Springfield (Atco Records, Dec '66)
Everybody recognizes it now: the droning guitar chord, and Neil Young squeezing out a sustained note. On cue, just as we expect, the voice of the young Stephen Stills conspiratorially sings "There's something happenin' here/What it is ain't exactly clear." As the music rises, he goes on "There's a man with a gun over there/Telling me I got to beware." Whether it's the radio, the muzak at the supermarket, or a beer commercial, we all subconsciously join in on the chorus "I think it's time we stop children/What's that sound/Everybody look what's going down." Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," released in late 1966, is one of the classic songs of the 60s, full of anger and yet reserved, catchy and memorable, featuring two guitarists who were eventually among the most well-known names in rock.

"For What It's Worth" was Stephen Stills reaction to the so-called 'Sunset Strip' riots. Although the problems on Sunset Strip were actually spread out over a number of weeks, the critical event was on the night of Saturday, November 12, 1966, when dozens of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officers cleared the streets of teenagers, mostly around a teen club called Pandora's Box. The Sheriff's Department had been anxious about the number of teenagers coming to Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood to drive around and hang out, and they finally decided to put the hammer down and clear the streets. Unlike in Berkeley, where cops battled college student protesters over the Vietnam War, in West Hollywood it was mostly suburban teenagers with cars and nothing to do, and they were only "protesting" their right to have fun. The cops were afraid of a replay of the previous year's Watts Riots, and so they put a stop to all the hanging out in the most heavy handed way possible, immortalized by the Stills song, which was quickly recorded and turned into a massive hit by his band The Buffalo Springfield.

No one thinks Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die, and yet he wrote and sang "Folsom Prison Blues" with power and conviction. So it was that Stephen Stills was not present at the climactic event of the Sunset Strip Riots on November 12, as the Buffalo Springfield was playing the Fillmore in San Francisco that weekend. "For What It's Worth" captures the ambiguity of the event with power and dignity, while maintaining the confusion associated with protests in general. Allowing teenagers to hang out on Sunset Strip at night was hardly the most important issue facing America, and yet it was where the flash point was in Southern California in 1966. On the other hand, as the song warns about people "singing songs and carrying signs/Mostly saying 'hooray for our side,'" a cautionary note about protests in general. Stills was working out of town that night, so he missed the whole event, and yet he seems to have captured the importance of it from a distance. At the time, Stills was just an aspiring folk-rock nobody, looking for a break with an out-of-town gig.

Entertainment listings for Friday, November 11, 1966, from the SF Chronicle
November 11-12-13, 1966, Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
Bola Sete/Country Joe And The Fish/Buffalo Springfield
Bill Graham and Chet Helms began what we recognize as the modern rock concert industry with a Jefferson Airplane concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco on February 4, 1966. The Fillmore, at 1805 Geary Boulevard, was a former big band dance hall, built in 1912, and by the early 1960s it had become a prime stop on the African American R&B circuit, featuring acts like B.B. King, Ike & Tina Turner or Little Richard. When promoter Charles Sullivan retired, Graham took up the lease and started presenting rock shows  in the style of Ken Kesey's notorious 'Acid Tests' with lights and loud music. Rock music was art now, not just entertainment for kids.

By the Fall of 1966 the San Francisco rock underground was in full swing. The Fillmore was the coolest place in town, except perhaps for its rival the Avalon Ballroom, run by Helms, who had split with Graham in the Spring. People went to the Fillmore because it was the place to go, and the posters looked cool. Although the names on the posters are famous to us now, many of them were largely unknown at the time. The weekend of November 11-13 was one such booking.

Bola Sete
Bola Sete is a considerably less memorable name than either Country Joe and The Fish or Buffalo Springfield, but he was far and away the best known act at the Fillmore, so he headlined the show. Brazilian Bossa Nova music was becoming very popular around this time.  Bola Sete was a Brazilian guitarist who had lived in California since the early 1960s.  Bola Sete (a nickname meani)ng “Seven Ball”;  his real name was Djalma de Andrade) had recorded on Fantasy with pianist Vince Guaraldi who by 1966 was best known for the "Peanuts" theme music.  Whie Brazilian music was integral to Bola Sete’s style, but he was more of a West Coast jazz artist.  Nonetheless, thanks to the popularity of Gilberto Gil and others, his excellent music had a much higher profile.  At the time, he was touring as a trio with two percussionists, Paulinho de Costa and Sebastian Neto.

Bola Sete had released several albums and he was a "name," so he was the headliner. One of the ways that the Fillmore stood out was the way in which it mixed rock, blues, folk and jazz artists on the same bill. While Bola Sete played jazz, it was lively and energetic and would have been a good fit for the lively scene at the Fillmore. Since the capacity of the room was only 1500, his trio would still have communicated well with the crowd. Compared to the groups below him on the bill, however, Bola Sete is now just a footnote, if a very talented one.

Country Joe And The Fish's 1966 EP on Rag Baby Records
Country Joe And The Fish
Country Joe And The Fish had originally been a folk duo, featuring Berkeley folkies "Country" Joe McDonald and Barry "The Fish" Melton. Their nicknames were obscure references to Joseph Stalin and Mao, respectively, but Berkeley residents at the time probably recognized the allusions. After having seen The Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Fillmore in February, Barry and Joe decided to "go electric." They got some folkie friends and plugged in, figuring out how to be rock musicians as they went along. Country Joe And The Fish, the band, played a fluid sort of bluesy rock, with avowedly political songs.

CJF had built up a following in Berkeley, and had started to generate interest in San Francisco. With typical Berkeley iconoclasm, the band had recorded a three-song EP in June and released it on their own Rag Baby label. The Country Joe and The Fish EP was sold through used bookstores and head shops and the like, and sold something like 15,000 copies, an amazing number for the time. For much of the country, even the Bay Area, the San Francisco underground scene was just a rumor, and the EP was often the first "psychedelic" record many people had heard. Country Joe and The Fish had filled in at the Fillmore on August 27 and September 4, but the November date was their first formal booking at the auditorium. Since they had a sort of underground hit record, they were higher on the bill above the Buffalo Springfield. Even so, Country Joe and The Fish were still really underground. Drummer John Francis Gunning refused to learn any of the songs, simply letting the band start up and then drumming along however he felt.

Buffalo Springfield
Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay, all singing guitarists and aspiring folkies, had decided to form a rock group instead. The story of how they met is too well-known to recap here, but suffice to say they all found themselves in Southern California in early 1966. Along with bassist Bruce Palmer and drummer Dewey Martin, they debuted on April 15, naming themselves after a tractor company. Since The Byrds were huge stars, record companies were looking to snap up their own folk-rockers, and Atco Records rapidly signed the Buffalo Springfield and put them in the studio.

By November of 1966, the Buffalo Springfield had recorded their first album, but it hadn't been released yet. They had released one single, "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing," a Neil Young song that featured Richie Furay on lead vocals, since Furay's voice was considered more salable than the reedy Young's. "Clancy" had reached the Top 25 in Los Angeles, but hardly made a ripple anywhere else. Perhaps a few San Francisco radio listeners had heard their song played on one of the big AM stations (KFRC-610 and KYA-1260), but in general the Buffalo Springfield was completely unknown outside of Southern California.

The Buffalo Springfield would have played two 35-minute sets each night. Probably they appeared first and fourth in the evening. Generally, Bill Graham instructed groups to play different sets, since many patrons at the Fillmore sat through all six sets. The first Buffalo Springfield album had been recorded, but not released. While it's not a bad album, most of the songs that we associate with the Springfield, like "Bluebird," "Mr. Soul" and "For What It's Worth" were still in the future, so while they were a great band, it may not yet have been entirely obvious to the Fillmore audience.

Meanwhile, back in West Hollywood, the confrontations between the Sheriff and the local teenagers were escalating, and they reached a peak on November 12, while Stills and the Buffalo Springfield were playing the Fillmore 400 miles to the North. Filmmaker Roger Corman produced a quickie movie called Riot On Sunset Strip that, for all it's cheesy production values, provides a pretty good snapshot of the situation. The total budget of the movie must have been about $11, but it does feature the wonderful Chocolate Watch Band, and most of the extras are wearing authentic fashions (probably their own clothes). Under the circumstances, the script is a fairly good accounting of the tensions, even if it's delivered by less-than-Oscarworthy acting performances.

Stills and the Springfield had been around Hollywood as the confrontations started, and they must have gotten back for the aftermath. It is generally elided from rock history, however, that Stills was working out of town when it all came to a head. Just as Joni Mitchell managed to capture the spirit of Woodstock without actually being present, Stephen Stills managed to capture not only the Sunset Strip riots but the tension of protest in the air throughout America. "For What It's Worth was debuted a few weeks later, over Thanksgiving weekend at West Hollywood's hippest club, the Whisky A-Go-Go. The Springfield immediately went in to record the single, and it was on the air by the end of the year. By early 1967, "For What It's Worth" was turning into a big hit.

Atco had released the Buffalo Springfield's debut album to little acclaim in December 1966, but around March 1967 they replaced one of the songs with "For What It's Worth," and the single and the album took off. The single apparently sold a million copies, and remains a powerful song to this day, and Stills and Young had finally gotten the career break they had been hoping for. Just as Johnny Cash never shot a man in Reno, however, Stills wasn't there for the event that triggered his most famous song. If anyone tells you that they saw Buffalo Springfield at the Fillmore in November of 1966, they were lucky indeed, but don't listen when they tell you that Stills sang "For What It's Worth."

Bola Sete had a reasonably successful jazz career, but he never really got any bigger than he was in the mid-60s. He died in 1987.

Country Joe and The Fish were signed to Vanguard Records a few weeks after these Fillmore concerts. As a condition of their contract, they had to destroy all the remaining copies of their EP. In December, the band recorded their memorable Electric Music For The Mind And Body album, which was released in April. Along with its successor, Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag, Country Joe and The Fish made some of the most memorable music of the 1960s. The band broke up after 1970, or more accurately Joe and Barry broke up, since the band members had already changed several times (other than Joe and Barry, none of the band members playing in the Woodstock movie would have been at the Fillmore in 1966, for example). Joe and Barry have periodically reformed the band for brief tours and benefit performances, although less so n recent decades.

Buffalo Springfield's last live performance in the 20th century was May 5, 1968 at the Long Beach Arena. Neil Young went solo, while Stephen Stills went on to form Crosby, Stills, Nash, soon rejoined by Young. Richie Furay did not reach the heights of either Stills or Young, but he put out many excellent albums with the group Poco and had some fine solo albums as well.  Bass player Bruce Palmer died in 2004, and drummer Dewey Martin passed on in 2009, but on October 23 of 2010 Stills, Young and Furay performed again as the Buffalo Springfield, at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA, just South of the Fillmore. They played a brief concert tour in California in June 2011, followed by a festival performance (at Bonaroo). According to Furay, Buffalo Springfield will be touring again in 2012.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 10-11, 1969: Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Procol Harum/Pink Floyd/H.P. Lovecraft

The picture sleeve for the UK 45 of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade Of Pale," released in May, 1967
The so-called "British Invasion" of the mid-60s, led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, effectively introduced Americans to American music. Although the popular English rock bands all put their own styles onto American rock, rhythm and blues and country music, the likes of John Lennon and Keith Richards were firmly rooted in an American sound. Thus when A Hard Day's Night caused a legion of folk musicians to grow their hair and start playing rock and roll, those folk musicians had already grown up with the music. It took a few more years for a distinctly British rock sound to arise, linked to but separate from the American roots of rock and roll and rhythm and blues. Thanks to the rise of FM rock radio, the best of this British music was almost instantly popular. One of the earliest major concerts exemplifying the new British sound was a concert at San Francisco's Winterland ballroom on November 10 and 11, 1967, featuring Procol Harum and Pink Floyd. Both bands had only released their first albums, and were on their first American tour, and yet they were headlining the 5,400 seat Winterland because they were already too big for the Fillmore Auditorium.

Procol Harum
The best exponents of returning American music to Americans were the Beatles, although they were followed closely by a raft of others, such as The Stones, the Yardbirds, the Animals, Them and many others. Paradoxically, since access to American music was limited for most English teenagers, the likes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon had to get the most out of whatever they heard. American teenagers, in contrast, got to choose between rock, country and soul stations, with all the attendant cultural distinctions that went with it. This left English teenagers much more able to see how much Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers and Muddy Waters shared, rather than seeing them as distinct. By the time of Rubber Soul and Revolver, the Beatles seem to have merged all American music styles in their vocal and instrumental palette. Being the Beatles, once they had climbed the mountain, they simply found a new one.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a groundbreaking album for any number of reasons, most of which I won't attempt to detail here. However, many songs, particularly the epic final song on the album, "A Day In The Life" presaged an entirely different kind of music. On one hand, it had a rock beat and a touch of R&B vocals, so it was firmly rooted in the rock tradition. Conversely, it did not have a conventional verse/chorus structure, and was heavily orchestrated. To top it off, it had some weird electronic effects, which were unprecdented for a popular group at the time. The lyrics themselves were quite serious yet elusive, while not at all in the metaphoric style of Bob Dylan. Since The Beatles were enormously popular, regardless of whatever experiments had been going on in the rock world (and there were a lot), all of a sudden people's ears got opened to the idea that all rock music didn't have to sound like a Carl Perkins tune sung by the Everly Brothers.

Sgt. Pepper's was released in June of 1967, and one forward looking song from around that time was already becoming a hit in the UK. "A Whiter Shade Of Pale," full of mysterious lyrics and a classically influenced organ theme, recorded by an unknown English band called Procol Harum, had been released in May. Soon it was zooming up the charts, first in England and then in the United States. Procol Harum was a pretentious name, a sort of fake Latin name, but such names were common in the 1960s.

Procol Harum singer and pianist Gary Brooker had been in an R&B cover band called The Paramounts from 1964 to 1966, but they hadn't made much headway. He had gotten hooked up with an aspiring lyricist named Keith Reid, and along with organist Matthew Fisher they concocted the glorious "Whiter Shade Of Pale." Ried's lyrics were evocative and literate without being too specific, and they were perfectly set off by the gently melody and Fisher's Bach-cantata-inspired arrangement on the organ. Brooker's soulful, knowing vocals embedded the song with an emotional complexity that magnified its power while retaining its mystery:

But I wandered through my playing cards

and would not let her be

one of sixteen vestal virgins

who were leaving for the coast

and although my eyes were open

they might have just as well've been closed

And so it was that later

as the miller told his tale

that her face, at first just ghostly,

turned a whiter shade of pale
"A Whiter Shade Of Pale" was an instant hit in England when it was released. John Lennon supposedly said "why didn't we think of this," or words to that effect, although of course within a month "A Day In The Life" would be released. In fact, Procol Harum hardly even existed when the record came out, but "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" was such a striking song that the three band members instantly formed a band to go with it and set out on tour. Guitarist Robin Trower and drummer BJ Wilson, both former members of The Paramounts, rejoined Brooker, and along with Fisher and bassist David Knights they immediately set out on tour (lyricist Keith Reid did not perform, but sometimes accompanied the band on the road).

Thanks to KMPX-fm and the rise of album rock radio, by the time Procol Harum got to San Francisco, they were headlining for three nights, Thursday night at the legendary Fillmore (Nov 9) and on the weekend at the much larger Winterland (Nov 10 and 11). By this time, Sgt. Pepper's was playing on every turntable in the land, and the Beatles had carved out a distinctly English style of rock. Procol Harum was the first English group playing in this style to launch a major tour of the United States, and thanks to KMPX the band was huge in San Francisco.

A 1999 cd by South Carolina bluesman Pink Anderson, one half of Syd Barrett's inspiration for Pink Floyd's name (the other being North Carolina bluesman Floyd Council)
Pink Floyd
Second on the bill was another distinctly English band, Pink Floyd. Although the name Pink Floyd had been inspired by an album featuring two bluesmen (Pink Anderson and Floyd Council), the band's music was very far removed from the R&B inspired music of most English bands in 1965. There was an underground music scene in London and a few other places, comparable in certain ways to the Fillmore scene in San Francisco. The two main bands were Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine. The Soft Machine are a fascinating story in their own right, but the Floyd were bigger, more important and arrived in America first.

The Pink Floyd were an underground cult hit throughout London, playing "happenings" with light shows and other innovations for London's hippest. They were signed in February 1967. For all their penchant for long jams and feedback, lead guitarist Syd Barrett had a brilliant ear for pop music, and their second single, "See Emily Play" was a huge hit in England, reaching number 6. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Pink Floyd's debut album, was released in August 1967, and it too was inspired. Pink Floyd joined Procol Harum and other groups in defining a uniquely British approach to rock music. Pink Floyd also received heavy airplay on KMPX-fm, so they too were popular in San Francisco before almost anywhere else.

Pink Floyd had been scheduled to make their United States debut on October 30, 1967, at the Fillmore. However, due to visa problems, the band did not arrive until a few days late. In fact, Pink Floyd made their US debut opening for Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company at Winterland in San Francisco on November 3. Amazingly, Pink Floyd appeared on American Bandstand the next day, and returned to Winterland that night (November 4). This was followed by an appearance on the Pat Boone show and a show at the Cheetah in Santa Monica (November 5).  The next weekend Pink Floyd would return for a showcase performance with Procol Harum at Winterland, after a Thursday shakedown cruise (November 8) at the smaller Fillmore.

Wish You Were Here
In the last 40 years, a style of British rock has evolved that is distinct from its American counterpart. It's most popular formation has been in so-called "progressive rock," which indeed was progressive at one point, and also in a kind of baroque pop that Americans have difficulty pulling off. Plenty of English musicians play music that owes more to American roots music, but groups like Pink Floyd and Procol Harum, along with the Beatles, carved out a path that was traveled on by the likes of Yes, Genesis, Supertramp, Radiohead and dozens of others. A time traveler would very much like to see it when it all began, with two of English rock's original exponents on their first American tour.

Procol Harum, 3/5 of whom were the former Paramounts, were a pretty steady performing unit. There are tapes from the early days of Procol Harum, if not quite this early, and they could rock pretty hard when they needed to, always helpful when playing a big place. Drummer BJ Wilson was so good that Jimmy Page tried to steal him a few years later for his new band, but when Wilson stuck to his mates in Procol Harum, he got an unknown named John Bonham who played in a similar style, so you can take Page's word that Wilson could drive that train.

As for Pink Floyd, they were years ahead of their time, but Syd Barrett, genius that he was, was not ready for stardom and the physical exhaustion of heavy touring. By the time of this tour, Barrett was not comfortable on stage, and Pink Floyd suffered dramatically for it. I don't think it had quite reached the stage that it did on the subsequent English tour, when Barrett would barely touch his guitar, and another player (Davey O'List from The Nice) had to play the parts on stage, but San Francisco fans would surely have found Pink Floyd a far cry from their glorious first album. At the time, it would have seemed that Procol Harum was on a path to become huge, while Pink Floyd already looked like a one-hit wonder.

Unfortunately, we don't have a tape or even an eyewitness account of the Winterland shows that I am aware of. Procol Harum were a solid live band, since most of them had been knocking out R&B in The Paramounts, so they were battle tested. Pink Floyd, on the other hand, were at a low ebb with a very fragile Syd Barrett as the most important member of the group. I doubt they played well, and most people there probably figured that Procol Harum had the ticket to ride. The opening act, H.P. Lovecraft, from Chicago, was also an excellent group. They, too, were not wedded to the blues, and they featured two vocalists, one operatically trained, so despite being from the States they pre-figured the English style that Pink Floyd would later help to define as "English" in the 1970s. So between Lovecraft and Procol, fans probably had a pretty good time, and they must have known they were seeing something really different than the blues and folk based rock that was prevalent in San Francisco at the time. 

Procol Harum had a pretty good career, releasing 10 albums through 1976, but they never quite topped their first hit. They had a few other hits, including a 1972 remake of their early song "Conquistador," but they never got over the hump. They broke up and reformed, as groups do, and a version of the band still tours. Sometimes Gary Brooker has even been known to sing the rarely heard third and fourth verse of "A Whiter Shade Of Pale."

Pink Floyd, of course, replaced Syd with David Gilmour. Usually, replacing a band's lead singer, chief songwriter and lead guitarist is a recipe for disaster, but not if you have Roger Waters as your bass player. Pink Floyd went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world, and one of the all-time concert attractions. Indeed, one of their biggest albums was essentially about Syd Barrett himself, the unforgettable Wish You Were Here, released in 1975. The Floyd pretty much epitomizes the English style of rock in all its respects, having opened the door in 1967 and much to everyone's surprise having wound up owning the house.