|Old Davis, Stanford 10/5/69 Photo: M. Parrish|
Looking back on 1969, I actually was able to see quite a bit of music for a kid without a driver’s license. The fall brought several more memorable concerts, including another memorable multi-act bill at the Frost Amphitheatre, my first of many visits to the late, lamented Winterland, and a chance to see Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young in their formative period.
MFU site, the Midpeninsula Free University had to abandon their El Camino Park Be-Ins in 1968. However, they continued to sponsor music events, and the October 5 SCORE (Stanford Committee on Radical Education) concert held at Frost Amphitheatre was sponsored by the MFU and served as a benefit for the Defense fund for a group of individuals arrested in a demonstration at SRI earlier that year.
This show was memorable for me in that it was the first time I had gone out anywhere with a girl. I had known Monica for a year or so as our parents were mutual friends, so we ended up spending a lot of time with her and her brother at dinner parties and such. Because we liked the same kind of music as well, it made sense that we would go to this together. Still, it was a big step for me, and she was great company at both this show and the Winterland Airplane-Dead show I will describe next. It turned out that these were the only two shows we went to together, but I enjoyed her company and have fond memories of both outings.
When scanning my photos of the event, I came upon shots of a band that I did not remember at all. After a certain amount of detective work, and a consultation with Rock Prosopography's Corry 834, it was established that this group was peninsula band Old Davis, which at one point had future Santana-Journey member Neil Schon as a guitarist. Obviously, they did not make a lasting impression on me. Another group listed on the posters, Stone Rock Outcrop, I neither remember nor photographed. They may have played before we got to the show, or were also no-shows.
|Sanpaku 10/5/69 Photo: M. Parrish|
|Cold Blood 10/5/69|
|Dancing Girl 10/5/69 Photo: M. Parrish|
The show’s closing act was It’s a Beautiful Day, who were by then well established as a headlining act in the ballrooms, had released a popular debut album, and had a solid FM radio hit with “White Bird.” Since I saw them a year earlier, leader David LaFlamme had acquired a moustache and the band had hired a new keyboard player, Fred Webb, who had recently replaced Linda LaFlamme. The group’s set again included most of their debut album, along with material such as the instrumental “Don and Dewey,” which would come out on their second release, Marrying Maiden, the following year. The group was more confident than they had been at when I saw them open for Cream, and had developed a harder edge. Laflamme and vocalist Patty Santos had developed a dynamic stage presence, and their vibrant vocal harmonies at the time were reminiscent of the similar chemistry seen between Marty Balin and Grace Slick in the Jefferson Airplane. All in all, it was another great afternoon of music. No real superstars, but a consistently interesting and energetic lineup of groups.
|It's a Beautiful Day 10/5/69 Photo: M. Parrish|
Although I had been to the Fillmore a few times by then, the much larger Winterland was definitely an adjustment. By the time we got into the hall, the lights were down and the huge hall, which seemed generously oversold, was full to the rafters with revelers. We ended up staking out a bit of floor space near the back of the hall, which was not too bad a location given that the stage was located on the wide, western end of the hall. However, being crammed into the extremely crowded floor was a very different experience than being at the Fillmore, which somehow never seemed too crowded, even when a show was sold out.
Opening the evening was a curiosity for an evening of San Francisco music. Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw had recently released a mainstream album on Warner Brothers that was getting a lot of airplay on local FM stations. For his set at Winterland, Kershaw was backed by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, still relatively new to the area after relocating to Berkeley from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I recall a high energy set, with Kershaw playing his biggest hits, “Diggy Diggy Lo” and “Louisiana Man” along with a bunch of other stuff. Cody and company played dutiful backup, but did not have a venue to demonstrate their own arsenal of talent that evening.
After a longish break, the Sons of Champlin played a great set of music very similar to the one they had delivered at Monterey several weeks earlier. Their set from this show actually circulates in collector’s circles, and consists of all but one track from their second album (which, according to a stage announcement from Bill Champlin, was due to be released the following week) followed by a long medley of “Get High” and “Freedom” from their earlier release “Loosen Up Naturally.”
After another long break, the Dead finally came on about 10 PM. I was starting to get nervous, because we had planned another midnight meeting with my parents outside, based on the assumption that each band would play two sets in the evening as had been the protocol at the Fillmore West shows I had seen. It was quickly becoming apparent that this would not be the case that evening, and indeed, from then on, all Graham-run shows I saw consisted of a linear progression of acts rather than the earlier format comprising six set evenings with each act playing twice.
The Dead played a nice set (you can listen to part of it here), although it paled in comparison to their amazing performance back in March at the Fillmore. Although the Dead had four albums worth of material I knew well, the bulk of their set was new to me. They opened with a quartet of original songs that would find their way out on the group’s next studio release, Workingman’s Dead, the following year. Casey Jones had first appeared in the Dead’s sets the previous June, and was still a work in progress, delivered at a breakneck tempo, and without the syncopated, rolling cadence it was played at by the time it was recorded early the following year. At least on the partial audience tape of the show that circulates, Tom Constanten’s roller rink organ was prominent in the mix the entire show. On artistic grounds alone, it is clear why he parted company with the Dead a few months later, as their new music did not leave a lot of space for the sound of his keyboards.
“Dire Wolf,” Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s sardonic little gambling ballad, had already been through an interesting evolution. Appearing in June as an acoustic ballad sung by Garcia, it then became one of several songs that allowed Garcia to flex his chops on his new pedal steel guitar. During this juncture, Bob Weir assumed the lead vocals, presumably because of the difficulty of playing the pedal steel and singing lead simultaneously. By the time of the Winterland show, Garcia had established a more regular pedal steel outlet with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, so he was back to singing the song while playing regular electric lead. The slow, mournful “High Time” was another new Garcia/Hunter tune that had emerged as a favorite point of resolution out of open ended tunes like “Dark Star” and “China Cat Sunflower,” but here they went straight into it after the relatively unadorned “Dire Wolf.”
When I first saw the Dead at the Fillmore West in March, Pigpen was all but invisible, as Constanten was at both shows I saw in which he participated. However, at Winterland, Pigpen was prominent in the front line, behind a pair of conga drums. He was also featured prominently in the set list, first with an early, extended version of “Easy Wind,” one of the few songs in the Dead’s repertoire that had a sole authorship credit by Robert Hunter. The middle section of the tune developed into a bit of an instrumental jousting match between Garcia and Constanten.
From its origination, “China Cat Sunflower” had been a song in search of an ending. At its introduction, in early 1968, it had flowed directly into “The Eleven” with which it was originally linked lyrically. When “The Eleven” found its way into the Live Dead suite between St. Stephen and Lovelight, China Cat was dropped from the live setlist for awhile, and then, in the spring of 1969, became the frequent jumping off point for “Doing That Rag” and later “High Time.” At Winterland, it was newly paired with “I Know You Rider,” a combination that was maintained throughout the rest of the Dead’s performing history. The version that night was revved up, with an extended jam out of the last verse of “I Know You Rider” that ultimately crashed back down into an additional version of the old folk song’s refrain.
Pigpen stepped to the microphone again for Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle,” another tune relatively new to the band’s repertoire. This became a real show stopper for the band in 1970 and 1971, but it was no less energetic, if a bit less polished, in this early version. Although Redding’s original is hard to beat, Mckernan owned this song, and there was nothing like his shouting out the refrain and the band cranking out that three chord riff in response.
Based on my first experience with the Dead and their soon-to-be-released Live Dead (which I had already heard in its entirety on the radio numerous times), I was expecting a long, improvised segment and, nearly an hour into the Dead’s set, they began one with “Cryptical Envelopment.” Fully warmed up at this point, the tune naturally evolved into a medium length version of “The Other One.” The only part of this suite that I’ve heard on tape is a snippet beginning late in “The Other One” and moving into “Cosmic Charlie.” This passage contains some brilliant playing, as one tune morphs gradually into the next. Garcia started things off with a wailing banshee riff that Lesh soon anchored with his bass. Over the next minute or so, they switched back and forth between that intro and the chords of the “Cryptical” reprise before dropping deftly and gently into “Charlie.”
The Dead rounded out their set with another extended extravaganza, their Pigpen sung adaptation of the Rascals hit “Good Lovin’. At this point, this tune was newly restored to their repertoire, and, like “Hard to Handle,” it lacked some of the punch it developed over the next couple of years. However, it gave the two drummers plenty of space to strut their stuff, and wrapped up the set nicely.
I suppose I should have been thrilled to have heard such a strong set by the Dead back in 1969, but I was actually pretty unhappy at this point. The Dead’s set was largely unfamiliar to me, and included none of Live Dead. Worse was the fact that they wrapped up after 1130 and, thanks to another set change, the Airplane didn’t hit the stage until about 5 minutes before our pumpkin coach was to arrive outside. At this point, I was probably as big a fan of the Airplane as the Dead, and had never seen them live. Regrettably, all I can describe of their set was the corrosive version of their apocalyptic “House at Pooneil Corners” that opened what presumably was a lengthy set, which we heard as we were making our way to the door.
One of the big music events of late 1969 was the Rolling Stones tour, and I really wanted to see the band at their show at the Oakland Coliseum. Regrettably, both shows were sold out by the time I had arranged transportation. As a result, I did not see the Stones until 1972 as my parents, very wisely as it turned out, did not let me trek up to Altamont for that fabled social disaster of a free concert the next month. As a consolation prize for missing the Stones in Oakland, I ended up getting a plane ticket down to Santa Barbara to visit my brother, who was then a freshman at UCSB. In addition to seeing the campus and visiting my now collegiate sibling, the occasion was one of the very early gigs by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, at the university’s stadium. It was a cold, cloudy day, and Bill and I ended up getting pretty good seats in the stadium stands for the sold-to-capacity afternoon show.
The opening act was Los Angeles octet Sweetwater, with their eclectic mix of folk-jazz-rock. Lead singer Nancy Nevins’ gentle voice, August Burns’ cello, and Albert Moore’s flute gave the group a much mellower edge than many of their contemporaries. Sweetwater had played the first day of the Woodstock Festival a few months earlier, but they did not end up in the movie or receive any of the attendant secondary fame that many of the other festival acts enjoyed. At UCSB, they played a rather long set, but I was unfamiliar with their music at the time so can offer no particulars about what they played. Just weeks after the UCSB gig, Nevins was severely injured by a drunk driver, and she suffered through a lengthy recovery. The band did record two albums after the accident, but broke up in the early 1970s. Today, a revived version of Sweetwater exists, featuring Nevins, along with original bass player Fred Herrera and keyboardist Alex Del Zoppo.
The Steve Miller Band was booked to play between Sweetwater and CSNY, but they ran into travel delays, and we endured a lengthy break while waiting for Miller’s arrival. Finally, the decision was made to have CSNY go ahead and play, with the Miller Band slated to play afterwards if and when they showed up.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young were still a very new commodity in November 1969. The initial album by Crosby Stills and Nash had come out in mid-1968, to universal acclaim and sold briskly, reaching #6 on the charts and receiving Gold status within weeks of its May, 1969 release. In the meantime, Stephen Stills’ old bandmate Neil Young had recorded two solo albums. His eponymous debut didn’t generate a lot of heat, but Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which also came out in the summer of 1969, generated a tremendous buzz thanks to the long, corrosive guitar jams he recorded with Crazy Horse and the album’s radio-friendly single, “Cinnamon Girl.” When Crosby, Stills, and Nash set out to tour, they realized they needed another instrumentalist, and Stills lobbied for Young’s inclusion. As history has shown, the charges in this powerful nucleus of talents were consistently unstable, and alliances between group members were broken and forged repeatedly over the decades. However, in the fall of 1969, all was new, and the group was seemingly reveling in their talents and in the steady flow of creative energy the new partnership had brought.
In Santa Barbara, the group played a wonderful, long set, opening with a bunch of acoustic tunes led off by Stills’ omnipresent harmony vehicle “Suite Judy Blue Eyes.” No known recordings of the show exist, and I did not keep a detailed set list, but the group played the bulk of the Crosby Stills and Nash album along with a long, jammed out version of Young’s “Down By The River” and some new songs like Stills’ “4 + 20”, and “So Begins the Task,” Young’s “Helpless” and “Sea of Madness,” and the group’s luminous cover of Lennon and McCartney’s “Blackbird.” The set was also notable for what was not played. At one point mid-set when the group was debating what to play next, an exasperated Young piped up “Let’s play a Grateful Dead tune.” They didn’t take the bait, but the possibility is strong that they could have done one of the Dead’s new country inflected tunes. The quartet, and Stills and Crosby in particular, had been hanging out with the Dead in recent months, and helping them hone their harmonies. As the set neared the end, Nash announced that the group would next do a brand new tune written by Joni Mitchell about Woodstock. After more onstage sturm und drang, someone within the group decided that Mitchell’s tune was not ready for prime time, although they were playing it regularly onstage within a couple of weeks.
Sometime during the CSNY set, a large group of people outside the stadium broke down a fence and charged into the grounds, espousing the then popular philosophy that all music should be free, and that the era’s musical heroes should presumably ply their craft freely without compensation. The effect of this civil disobedience was that those that tore down the fence got to hear a few minutes of music, and the UCSB Stadium was not used for outdoor concerts for nearly four years. It also meant that Steve Miller never did play, although it is unclear whether his band ever made it to Santa Barbara or not.
As mentioned earlier, I did not make the trek to Altamont and, as it turned out, the CSNY show was the last major concert I attended in 1969. It had been a remarkable year for popular music, and I was lucky to have heard many of the era’s icons at, or near, their peaks.