Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Doors, Lonnie Mack, Elvin Bishop. Cow Palace, 7/25/69


When my cousins came in from the Midwest, they decided they would like to hear some rock music on a Friday night. We had the choice of going to the Fillmore to see Steve Miller and Albert King or going to the 15,000 capacity Cow Palace, in Daly City just south of San Francisco, to see the Doors, Lonnie Mack, and Elvin Bishop. In retrospect, it seems odd that the Who would play the Fillmore West while Bill Graham would need to rent the Cow Palace to handle the demand for the Doors.  The Los Angeles quartet were at the height of their popularity in 1967-68, and Jim Morrison’s infamous bust for public exposure in Miami in March did nothing to dent demand for the group, at least in California.  It did result in at least 24 of the spring Doors engagements being cancelled by the promoters in other parts of the country, and this was only the group’s ninth gig since the bust three months earlier.

The Cow Palace got its name from the cattle shows that used to be held there regularly. Hardly an ideal concert venue, it resembles a grossly oversized Quontset hut. Nonetheless, it hosted many high profile shows dating back to the mid Sixties when groups like the Beatles and the Stones had played there. I had been there many times previously to attend the Boat and Sports show held there each January, but this was my first concert experience there.

I can’t remember whether seats were reserved or not, but my cousins and I (one of them was of driving age, so my parents weren’t called on this time) got pretty nice seats on the risers on the east side of the arena pretty close to the stage. The hall was really full, but I don’t know whether it was sold out.

Elvin Bishop Group
7/25/69 Photo: M. Parrish
The opening act was blues guitarist Elvin Bishop and his relatively new group. Bishop has played on a bit of a cornpone image since being given the nickname “Pigboy Crabshaw” during his days in the Butterfield Blues Band, but he was no slouch intellectually, having attended the University of Chicago as a physics major in the early 1960s. It was there that he started frequenting the amazing blues clubs nearby and met blues harmonica player-vocalist Butterfield, initially performing as a duo with Butterfield and then becoming the lead guitarist in the original incarnation of the Butterfield Blues Band. In 1965, the group was augmented by the prodigious Michael Bloomfield on lead and slide guitar, and the group recorded two extraordinary albums for Elektra including the classic East-West, which featured some remarkable extended improvisational duels between the two guitarists that presaged similar workouts by groups like the Allman Brothers, Cream, and the Dead. Bloomfield left in 1967 to form the Electric Flag, and Bishop carried on for another year or so, recording two more albums as Butterfield gradually moved the band in a jazz direction, adding a full horn section. During 1968, Bishop spent more and more time in San Francisco, jamming with folks like Jerry Garcia and Steve Miller, and he ultimately moved there permanently by mid year, subsequently forming his own group that was one of the first acts signed to Bill Graham’s fledgling Fillmore Record Label.

Elvin Bishop Group
7/25/69 Photo: M. Parrish
Bishop’s debut album, The Elvin Bishop Group was released in 1969, but I’m not sure if it had come out yet by the time of the Cow Palace gig. His band was pretty much the same lineup featured on the album, comprising keyboard player Stephen Miller (not to be confused with guitarist Steve Miller), bassist Art Stavros, drummer John Chambers and harmonica player Applejack, and the set consisted mostly of that material as well. From what I can remember, Bishop took all the lead vocals, despite the fact that Miller is an excellent blues-rock vocalist who took the bulk of lead vocals in his other band, Linn County – another top flight, but largely unheralded bay area blues rock group. Miller appears to have played in both groups simultaneously from 1968-70. Although Bishop’s vocal range was limited, his aw-shucks stage patter and, particularly, the band’s dynamic ensemble playing and his stinging lead guitar, won the large crowd over.

Lonnie Mack 7/25/69
Photo: M. Parrish
Second on the bill was Indiana blues rock icon Lonnie Mack. Mack, who had a major hit in 1963 with a blistering instrumental version of “Memphis,” was enjoying his first of several high profile comebacks of his career, having recently been signed to Elektra records where he had just released the first of three albums for that label, Glad I’m In the Band. Largely unknown on the West Coast, Mack had come to the attention of Elektra and west coast music fans when Rolling Stone published a piece in late 1968 extolling the virtues of Mack’s revolutionary blues guitar technique, which brought country/bluegrass picking techniques into a blues/rock context, so his appearance, which I believe was his first bay area gig since the Stone article, was eagerly anticipated. 

Lonnie Mack 7/25/69
Photo: M. Parrish
Like Bishop, Mack proved a master showman, making good use of his guitar wizardry through his trademark Gibson “Flying V” guitar and also working the crowd with his rich, gospel-tinged vocals. In addition to sharing a bill and a label with the Doors, Mack subsequently guested on their next studio album, 1970’s Morrison Hotel, taking the memorable guitar break on “Roadhouse Blues.” Mack’s strong set at the Cow Palace was politely received by the crowd, but it was clear that the audience was impatient for the headliners. In a precursor to the big business model of rock shows soon to come, the show at the Cow Palace had a much less intimate feel than those in the friendly confines of the Fillmore West. It also seemed that there was a lot more alcohol in evidence, and thus it was no surprise that the audience was more rowdy as well.

The mood of the patrons was not improved by the lengthy break that ensued between the end of Mack’s set and the time the Doors took the stage perhaps an hour later. Jim Morrison’s erratic onstage antics have been well documented elsewhere, most vividly in Greg Shaw’s excellent (but sadly out of print) book The Doors On the Road. Until now, little has been written about their Cow Palace performance, probably because no tapes circulate of that show. 

The Doors had just come off of a very successful two night stand at the Aquarius Theater in Los Angeles which subsequently formed the basis of their Absolutely Live album and were subsequently released in their entirety on the Doors Bright Moonlight label. For those shows, the Doors focused on earlier material, some of Morrison’s extended poetry pieces, and blues-rock covers like “Little Red Rooster” and “Who Do You Love?.” Therefore, this was the first real gig that the band performed since the release of their fourth album The Soft Parade, a month before. Possibly for this reason, the group attempted a more generous chunk of the album than they did before or since. Unfortunately, things did not go all that well.

Doors 7/25/69
Photo: M. Parrish
An obviously well lubricated Morrison took the stage and kicked things off with, I believe, “Five to One.” (Note: I do not have a setlist for this show, so any remembrances of order and even material performed are based on 41 year old memories. If anyone out there knows more specifics, please chime in). As can be seen from the photos,  Morrison’s metamorphosis from sex symbol to beefy, hirsute Irish poet was well underway, and his heavy beard and baggy clothes emphasized his new image. 


The Doors 7/25/69
Photo: M. Parrish
In the body of the show came “Break on Through,”  "When the Music's Over," "Alabama Song," “Touch Me,” and, I’m pretty sure, a rare version of “Tell All the People,” along with some other standard fare of the day. Morrison hung on the microphone, slurred his words at times, and certainly didn’t move around as much as he did in previous years. The rest of the band played well, and Krieger's guitar work was particularly memorable. 

The Doors 7/25/69
Photo: M. Parrish
One positive was that Morrison did not get into any verbal or physical spars with the audience, but he did fail to heed a request from the promoter to wrap things up for curfew.  Morrison tried to lead the band into the “Soft Parade” medley, got as far as the spoken “Seminary School” monologue before the emcee (I think it was Jerry Pompili) called time from an offstage mic. At this point, Morrison got belligerent and egged the crowd on to demand that the band be allowed to keep playing. With the stage lights off, Morrison continued to rant and the crowd got more and more insistent. A standoff continued for a long time, maybe 20 minutes, and finally the band won out, although the overtime union fees probably came out of their proceeds for the evening. From what I remember, they then ran through the full “Soft Parade” and wrapped things up with a speedy, but pretty energetic, run through “Light My Fire.”

One might think that such behavior at a Bill Graham venue would prompt permanent banishment, but the Doors were back at Winterland for two nights the next February, their last gigs in Northern California before Morrison retired to write in Paris.

Compared to other Doors gigs of the era, things could have been worse. No one in the band or the audience were injured, and no arrests were made. In retrospect, it was a pretty satisfying evening of music, with some classic Jim Morrison psychodrama thrown in for good measure.


18 comments:

Corry342 said...

The Cow Palace was completed in 1939, and it was the site of the first Grand National Livestock Exhibition. The building had a nondescript name, but a newspaper writer sniffed "While people are being evicted from their homes, a palace is being built for the cows." The name stuck.

Corry342 said...

This is another excellent post. You are correct to identify it as the Shape Of Rock To Come. A giant headliner, supported by an act on the headliner's label (The Doors and Lonnie Mack were on Elektra) and an act affiliated with the promoter (Bishop recorded for Graham's label). Lonnie Mack and Elvin Bishop were pretty good, fortunately, but as you say it was very different than what had come before.

Its interesting also to know that Stephen Miller was playing live with Elvin Bishop this early, since he wasn't on the first album (possibly due to a label conflict--Linn County were on Mercury).

http://jim-morrison-fanclub.blogspot.com/ said...

Jim Morrison was killed?
What you know about this?
You' ve seen the movie at http://jim-morrison-fanclub.blogspot.com/
about his last day?
Very strange!

cryptdev said...

Corry - thanks for the additional background on the Cow Palace.

Stephen Miller did play on the first Bishop release. The version I have is the Sundazed reissue, and he is credited as a band member there - possibly his name was left off of the original issue for the contractural reason you allude to. However, the whole Bishop band plays and was credited on Miller's lone (1970) solo album on Phillips, so maybe they worked out an exchange until the Miller/Linn county Phillips/Mercury contract expired. The Miller album is a great one, with three tracks featuring the Bishop band (including vocalist Jo Baker, who joined after the first Bishop album was released) and the rest featuring Linn County.

Corry342 said...

You are certainly right about Miller playing on the first album, as I just looked at my Sundazed copy. I do think he was a sort of "informal" member in early 69, because Linn County was still extant, but its very interesting to realize that he seems to have played a big role in the group from the start.

I had no idea about the Stephen Miller solo album--was that ever released on cd?

cryptdev said...

The Miller album does not appear to have been released on CD. Stephen Miller seems to have been a busy guy during 1969, as he also cut the legendary Hooker'N'Steve for Arhoolie Records with Earl Hooker, participated in the Flying Bear Medicine Show super session tour (with Buddy Miles, Shades of Joy, the McCoys, and the Sir Douglas Quintet) along with touring and cutting albums with both Bishop and Linn County.

After leaving Bishop's band in 1974, Miller moved back to Iowa, and briefly reformed Linn County with a different lineup before he joined southern rockers Grinderswitch, with whom he toured and recorded for five years.

Anonymous said...

I'm almost positive the photo listed as mystery musicians is Terry Haggerty on the right . (Son of Champlin)

see this photo (he's back right)drummer front (left)

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/74296474

cryptdev said...

Anonymous:

You may well be right. I did not remember Haggerty playing that night, and was not convinced that it was him in the photo. However, how many long haired blond bearded bespectacled jazz guitarists could one find on any given Monday night in San Rafael? I would have to tentatively opine that indeed Howard Wales did play between the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and the Kahn blues guy set and the guitarist playing with him was most likely Terry Haggerty (who is probably one of the few musicians of that era capable of getting as far outside as Wales could).

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, your memories of the Doors performing at the Cow Palace leaving something to be desired. There's a great San Francisco Examiner review of the show and the reviewer gives a much more complimentary description of the band's performance than what you describe from your dim recollections. I suggest you refresh your memories by visiting the SF Library and reviewing the Examiner on microfiche.

cryptdev said...

Anon:

Thanks for your comments, but I have to respectfully disagree about my memory. I was a big Doors fan and, at the time, Morrison's reputation for onstage antics did not precede him as much as it does in hindsight. I clearly remember the gradual onset of inebriation, and the extended faceoff between the promoter and Morrison about extending past curfew. He was definitely stronger at the beginning of the set, and I suspect that the Examiner reviewer, facing deadline, had to leave to post his review before most of the antics I described ensued. I'm sure that extending the show cost Graham a good bit of change, as union rules generally dictate that all stagehands get paid overtime at a higher rate after curfew, and many venues impose penalties of their own for going overtime.

Brian Jarvis said...

I have an original poster from this event that is misprinted with 187 as apposed to 186 to Bill Grahams number catalog. Does anyone know if this a legit poster or just a nice piece of Rock n Roll history?
You can e-mail direct for added info jarvisbe@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I remember waiting what seemed like an eternity for The Doors to appear on stage.
I left disappointed. Morrison was bloated and drunk. Between songs the lights would dim and he would huddle with the others, probably discuss what to perform next.
I recall hearing them do a somewhat lewd version of 'Backdoor Man', "her legs up in the air". Anyway, thanks for the memories.

Anonymous said...

I remember leaving disappointed that night. It seemed like an eternity before they got on stage.
Seeing Morrison bloated, full face beard and drunk. Nothing like the cover shot on Soft Parade. Robbie, Ray, and John were great but we all came to see the Lizard King. What a let down. Between songs the lights were dimmed and he would huddle with the others probably to discuss what to perform next. Audience saying 'do Light My Fire' I recall them doing a Morrison version of Backdoor Man(he would ramble 'with her legs up in the air, I'm your back door man baby..')
That was a highlight. Thanks for the memories.

SkiBird said...

Anon, I have similar memories. I was more than disappointed when I left, I felt ripped off by a guy I loved. We were all waking up at that time to the fact that the summer of love was over. The night started weird with the uptight Shriner ushers. Remember them? After the Filmore, Avalon, Speedway Meadows, Provo Park, etc, the venue was weird. The opening acts erased fears of an unpleasant evening, then there was the interminable wait for the Doors. My memory is that Morrison didn't come on stage for a long time and when he did he could barely standup and hung on to the microphone for a very short and shitty set, he was just too drunk. What a waste of rare talent.

Doccus Rockus Maximus said...

Wow.. you passed up Albert King and the Steve Miller Blues Band, for the Doors. Elvin Bishop, and the almost completely unknown Lonnie Mack, who , IMHO, was by far the best of the three...
Not a died in the wool blues afficionado at the time, I gather..
Still an interesting article, and now I know more about the infamous "cow palace" where Moonie passed out over his drums in the middle of a Who set!

Paul Karpurk said...

I remember as a young boy seeing this show (the only time I saw the Doors live) and though my memories are a bit hazy (I'm almost sixty now) I could have sworn that Morrison sang while on his back during one or more of his songs...he was most definitely pretty wasted and his performance was sorry to say the least, but I do remember the band played extremely well! The music was pretty tight, the opening act of Elvin Bishop was very good, I don't even remember Lonnie Mack at all but then again this was a large concert venue and it was quite smokey! If any of you remember Morrison singing while on hi
s back I would appreciate your response!

cryptdev said...

Paul - Sorry to be so long responding and posting your comment. I believe that Morrison did spend a bit of time on the floor singing. He was certainly acting out during much of their set.

cryptdev said...

Doccus - I ended up at the Doors show because my cousins were in town and that's who they wanted to see. I was also at that Who concert. Will get to that one eventually,,