Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Airplane and the Dead at Stanford 66-67

As the San Francisco Bands were building an audience and looking for places to play, it was inevitable that they would turn their attention to some of the universities in the Peninsula. This was particularly true of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, as they had deep roots in the folk clubs of the mid and south peninsula. Still, given the proximity to San Francisco and the potential of large audiences of college students, neither group played the Palo Alto area particularly often after they became established. The last Airplane show, discussed below, was in May, 1967 and the Dead did not play the Stanford Campus at all between the 66 gig discussed here and their memorable performance at Maples Pavilion on Feb. 9, 1973.

Finding information on rock, jazz, and folk performances in the mid-Peninsula area is challenging because they were only infrequently listed in the San Francisco Chronicle and were all but ignored by the Palo Alto Times and San Jose Mercury News. However, the Stanford Daily proves to be a font of such information, between calendar listings and advertisements. A recent perusal of the microfilm records of the Daily during the mid-1960s yielded some specifics about the early performances by the Dead and the Airplane, as well as some obscure records of a few other concerts held at Frost Amphitheater in in the mid to late ‘60s.

I’ll start off with a real curiosity, from the California Avenue shopping district of Palo Alto. Somewhat of a second downtown, California Avenue was at one time a real downtown of a separate community, Mayfield. Mayfield was annexed into Palo Alto in 1925. Mayfield’s original downtown remains a popular shopping and entertainment area, drawing many from the adjacent Stanford Community. In the latter third of the 20th Century,  the region was home to a great music venue, originally called Sophie’s and later renamed the Keystone Palo Alto. But what I want to highlight here is a short, but tantalizing remnant of a different establishment that sprouted across the street from the future home of the Keystone, at the corner of California and Park Avenue. The Red Hat, established on Sept. 24, 1966, advertised “Grandly Terrific Paranorma, Nocturnal Banquets, and Libations.” What was particularly interesting, however, was a brief writeup of the Hat in the Stanford Daily, which alluded to a run there by a band called “The Hasty Assembly,” made up of the best of several professional bands, including Rose Anne, original singer of the Jefferson Airplane.” Airplane fans know that the group’s original singer was Signe Anderson, and none of the Airplane biographies mention a Rose Anne, so either she played the folk clubs with some of the Airplane members before the band was established, but is seems unlikely that she was in the Airplane per se. One wonders if the Hasty Assemblage might have included some other musicians who went on to greater success in later aggregations. Alas, this is their only mention, and the two items shown here were the only references I could find to the Red Hat in the Daily. For the last several decades, the corner where the Red Hat was situated has been occupied by venerable watering hole Antonio’s Nut House. 

Anyway, back to the Airplane. It appears that they performed twice at Stanford. The first show, a co-bill with the Butterfield Blues Band, was held October 6 at the Stanford Basketball Pavilion. This was not Maples, where the Dead played in 73 when it was newly built, but what was subsequently called the “Old Pavilion” and more recently remaned the Burnham Pavilion, which appears to have had a capacity close to 2000 for a concert setting.

On October 6, the Airplane and the Butterfield Band were in the midst of a co-billed engagement at the Fillmore and Winterland (they played together in SF 9/23-25, 9/30-10/2, 10/7-9, and 10/14-16, certainly one of the longest runs ever at a Bill Graham venue).  On the last day of the Fillmore run, Signe Anderson , who left the Airplane to have her first child, was replaced by Grace Slick, but she would have been on hand for the Stanford Show. The Butterfield Band was also at the height of its initial power during this run, with Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop sharing lead guitar duties on extended versions of tunes like “The Work Song” and their trademark improvisational extravaganza “East West.”  Tickets for this show, sponsored by the Stanford Senior Class, ranged from $2 to $3.50.

Incidentally, this is not the only time the Butterfield Band played on campus. Here is a poor quality scan of a photo, credited to photographer Tom Wong, showing the Butterfield band at a Friday afternoon performance as part of a series of Chicago blues bands.

Seven months later, the Airplane was invited back to campus, this time to play at Frost Amphitheater in a co-bill with comedian Dick Gregory. Unlike later Frost rock shows, this one featured chairs and reserved seating, with tickets ranging from $1.75- 3.25. This was the most familiar Airplane lineup, comprising Slick, Airplane founder Marty Balin, guitarists Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen, and the rhythm section of bassist Jack Casady and drummer Spencer Dryden. In these few months, the Airplane had morphed from a fairly polite folk rock band into a psychedelic force of nature, as evidenced by a bootleg performance of their show two weeks later at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where they mixed older material with harder edged material like “White Rabbit” and “Saturday Afternoon/Won’t You Try.” The Daily published an uncredited photo from the Frost event that also included the following succinct review as a caption: This is the Jefferson Airplane. They make music, sometimes. They also make commercials for white Levi’s. They played at Frost Amphitheater on Sunday. They stank.” Had you been there, your mileage might have varied, but the Daily reporter was clearly not impressed.

Perusing the Daily archives through 1970 failed to turn up evidence of another Airplane performance at Stanford, and certainly not a co-bill with Santana, which is why I asserted in a previous post that it was most likely that Michael Shrieve would have first heard Santana at the 7/28/68 Summer Rock show rather than at a show where they supported the Airplane.  Although the Airplane played numerous shows during ’66 and ’67 in San Jose and at Santa Clara University (Kaukonen’s alma mater), and then performed at the Northern California Folk Rock Festival on 5/18/68, it, surprisingly, appears that the May show at Frost was the last time the group played in the Palo Alto/Stanford area.

It is well known that the Grateful Dead got their start in the Palo Alto-Menlo Park area, and members of the group undoubtedly played the area folk clubs scores of times.
Their show, held on at the Tresidder Memorial Union, had an admission cost of $1.25. The location was identified on the ad as the TMU Deck, which I believe corresponds to the union’s back patio, where classical and jazz concerts are held today.

While I was researching these shows in the Daily microfilm archives, I came up with a few other interesting shows that took place at Frost during that era.

First, three weeks after the Airplane/Gregory show, R&B star Wilson Pickett played the venue.

A couple of months after the Summer Rock show, on 9/24/68, the Associated Students of Stanford sponsored a concert with the Youngbloods and Sundown Collection. This was notable in being an evening concert, starting at 8 PM. As Frost does not have lights, the logistics of this show would have been interesting, to say the least - a bit like trying to play baseball at night at Wrigley Field before they put in the lights. The Youngbloods, fairly recently arrived from the East Coast, were coasting on the first top 40 run of their cover of Dino Valenti’s Get Together. At this point, they would have been in their original quartet configuration comprising front man Jesse Colin Young, guitarist Jerry Corbitt, multi-instrumentalist Lowell “Banana” Lovinger, and drummer Joe Bauer. Over the next year or so, Corbitt would leave, the band would pick up bassist Michael Kane, and they would come to epitomize the west Marin County laid back lifestyle.

The Sundown Collection were a pioneering country rock band, based in Los Angeles but originally from Fort Worth, Texas. The group, which never recorded, featured John “Rabbit” Bundrick, who went on to play with Bob Marley and a bunch of British rockers including Free and the Who, with whom he has toured since the 1980s to the present. The group had hopes for a major recording contract, but they broke up before one materialized.

I will get to some of the other notable shows held at Frost in 1969-1070 in a later post.


Corry342 said...

This is such amazing research, I don't know where to start, so I'll start at Tressider (TMU Deck). A friend of mine saw Lovin Spoonful on a Friday in Fall 66 at TMU Deck. She's certain of the year--she was in 7th grade at the time, and she knows that school had started and it was still warm, putting it in the September-October time frame. Do you have any sense of how regularly there were Friday afternoon shows?

I'm also wondering how they charged admission if the show was on the back patio. Didn't Tressider have a second floor, above the food court? What was up there? I find it hard to imagine they had an outdoor rock concert blasting on campus every Friday night.

Still, its great to see the actual advertisement after all those years. It's also interesting to see an early use of the term "Freak Out."

Corry342 said...

Do you have even an approximate date for the Butterfield concert? If it was a Friday afternoon, it might have been an "extra" show on one of the Fillmore weekends.

Can you discern whether it was Spring or Fall 1966?

One oddball bit of trivia I have read about the Oct 6, 1966 show is that Bloomfield apparently played Jorma's guild instead of his own guitar. Impossible to verify this without a photo, however.

Corry342 said...

The Sep 24 1968 Youngbloods concert is interesting in that its a Tuesday--I can't think of another weekday event at Frost during the school year, ever.

Corry342 said...

Stanford had a fair number of rock concerts in Fall 1966, and then they stopped. From then on they were only Frost Sunday events, often in the Summer (one reason the Youngbloods in 68 is so interesting).

Was there an official ban on rock concerts that was announced in the Stanford Daily? Or did it just sort of, ahem, happen?

There seem to have been a number of Acid Test like events on campus in late 66, possibly early 67, and I was wondering if they triggered administration anxiety.

cryptdev said...


I spent some time looking at maps of the TMU trying to figure out where this would have been held. The only outdoor place that seemed to make sense was the "Back Patio." If I remember correctly, there is a tiny deck on the second floor, but I have trouble imagining the Dead, their equipment, and any kind of audience fitting up there. I will run up to Stanford next weekend and check it out. The Tressider union appears to be basically unchanged since the '60s.

I did not see a lot of other ads for shows being held there in the Daily - certainly nothing notable, or I would've taken note of it.

As for the Butterfield show, it appears to have been January '66, based on an upcoming Feb. 1 event cited in an article on the same page.

I did not find an article referring to any ban or limitation on rock concerts at the Frost in '67 (but you know what research on microfilm is like!). Such a ban may well have been possible, at least for Stanford sponsored productions. Summer rock and the subsequent '69 and '70 events all appear to have been sponsored by others.

Corry342 said...

wow--January 1966 for the Butterfield band. They were based in Los Angeles at the time, apparently mostly playing The Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, and possibly The Trip in Hollywood. They didn't play The Whisky until February 1966.

Thus the gig you have found was the first Butterfield Blues Band performance in Northern California, on some Friday in January 1966. They must have skipped out on a night at The Golden Bear to play a better playing gig at Stanford.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the reference to "Rose Anne" as vocalist for JA. Any consideration that this may have been Signe using an alias? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Great blog Crypt. Keep them coming.

cryptdev said...

I wish I had more information about "Rose Anne." I had no luck googling. I suppose it is conceivable that it might have been Signe using a pseudonym. If anyone knows, please chime in!

Anonymous said...

I was in Sundown Collection and the 9/24/68 show with the Youngbloods was a logistics problem. They had flood lights set up but when it got dark and they turned them on it tripped the breaker and everything went dead in the middle of our set. I stood at the front of the stage and tried to entertain the crowd with stories about Texas. We had won Paul Revere and the Raiders' national battle-of-the-bands doing "Grizzly Bear" by the Youngbloods and the show promoters asked the Youngbloods not to put that song in their set because they wanted us to do it. Pretty weird.

cryptdev said...

Anonmyous - Great story! I always wondered how they managed evening concerts at Frost back then. Not too well, apparently. Thanks for sharing your memories.

Anonymous said...

The TMU deck was a second story deck above the bowling alley that was originally in the lower space (now an exercise center and restaurants). Decades later they built a second story up there, at first a student computer center (pre-laptop days) and now offices and meeting rooms. I snuck into the Lovin Spoonful concert with friends by slipping under a barrier erected around the perimeter. So, it was not on the back patio (which remains pretty much as originally built(, and they probably charged admission, or perhaps required Stanford ID - I was 15.) The Spoonful had also played inside TMU several months earlier in the large dining area, to which I also snuck in under a barrier. Also saw Youngbloods at Frost (bought tickets), Butterfield in the Old Pavilion, and The Dead in Maples. A great show was Sly Stone in Frost in the fall of 1969 on a Friday night, What about the free Sunday afternoon concerts at El Camino Park across from Stanford Shopping Center, featuring a number of the SF bands?
Stanford brat

Bruce Borgerson said...

Fascinating! Googled to find out the date of the Dead on the Deck, which I attended as a Stanford soph. Also caught the Spoonful gig inside, Butterfield at the Pavilion (my first high on weed). But most memorable was the Wilbur "Happening" of late 1966. On a makeshift stage of tables shoved together in the Rinconada dining hall...Big Brother with Janis.