The music hall called Pepperland is somewhat of a legend in Marin County lore. Although it was open, on and off, for less than three years, and fully operational for less than a year, it played host to a pretty amazing and diverse roster of international talent, including Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Chuck Berry, and many others. I got up to Pepperland two times, once to see what was billed as the Acoustic Grateful Dead and another time to see a dynamite quadruple bill of Grootna, Lamb, Boz Scaggs, and Taj Mahal’s tuba band. Pepperland has been discussed recently on a couple of the Bay Area related music blogs, so I thought I would deviate again from a chronological diary of shows to talk about this funky little venue.
|Bermuda Palms 1950s? Image courtesy of Rebecca David.|
(Check out her great book, Mid-Century By the Bay
|The Aliens performing at Bermuda Palms, early 1960s. This is clearly the same stage setup used when the hall became Pepperland.|
|Poster from the Janis/Big Brother/Gold Hell's Angel's|
At the end of July, the club closed its doors while it underwent an extensive facelift, emerging in mid September as Pepperland, a Beatles-themed hall that featured a quadraphonic sound system that was one of the earliest projects for sound engineer John Meyer, who later founded Meyer Sound, the East Bay company that started out building custom PA systems for the Dead and others, and has developed into one of the world’s premier sound reinforcement developers and manufacturers.
To complement the psychedelic décor, the support girders for the hall’s roof were adorned with painted portholes that mimicked the designs present in the fanciful craft piloted by the Beatles in their 1968 cartoon movie Yellow Submarine. Even the sound system blended into the décor, with the speakers molded into huge conical fiberglass structures as shown above.What appears to have been Pepperland’s grand opening featured an eclectic triple bill of Hot Tuna, Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, and jazz flute maestro Charles Lloyd. From then well into 1971, the club offered really interesting triple bills of acts that would normally be Bill Graham’s stock in trade in the city. Notable among these was a legendary Pink Floyd gig in which the band needed to use the ballroom floor to accommodate all of their gear, and one of the shows was plagued by power failures as Floyd’s massive sound system taxed the club’s electrical capacity. The relatively Pepperland portion of the gig list below was culled largely from the web site of Universalightforms, a site run by Bob Pulum, founder of legendary light show crew the Brotherhood of Light, who became the house visual artists at the club beginning with the club’s second gig with Frank Zappa and the Mothers. According to Pulum’s site, Pepperland’s first incarnation lasted from that initial show until an April 11, 1971 bill with Quicksilver, Hot Tuna, and Lizard, after which the promoters allegedly split with the proceeds of that show. Pepperland reopened in September with some of the original employees, including the BOL, in place, but the new venue seems to have only stayed open a few months, closing for good in January, 1972. A nice selection of poster images from Pepperland and Euphoria can be found in this page at the great Chicken on a Unicycle web site.
The Litchfield’s motel appears to have been open during this entire time and developed somewhat of a shady reputation in the 1970s. This reputation is supported indirectly by the Grateful Dead tune "Shakedown Street," which was written in 1978 about the neighborhood surrounding the band’s Front Street studios, which were directly across the street from the rear of the Litchfield’s complex.
Today the site houses a somewhat gentrified Motel 6. In front of the motel is a large building that recently housed the Zebra sofa store, and which was clearly the original Euphoria/Pepperland building. In 2008, the historic Litchfield’s sign was restored on the building through the efforts of Perry Litchfield, Marin County lawyer and Whitey’s son.
|Jerry Garcia and David Crosby|
Pepperland 12/21/70 Photo: M. Parrish
|George Marsh and Jerry Hahn Pepperland 12/21/70|
Photo : M. Parrish
|Mystery Musicians Pepperland 12/21/70|
Photo: M. Parrish
|Spencer Dryden and David Nelson of NRPS|
Pepperland 12/21/70 Photo: M. Parrish
|Jerry Garcia's nose and David Crosby|
Note: Garcia playing an SG and Crosby a Gretsch 6 String
Pepperland 12/21/70 Photo: M. Parrish
There seemed to be nothing like a curfew at Pepperland, and the musicians were clearly in no hurry to get anywhere.
|Crosby, Kreutzmann, Lesh Pepperland 12/21/70|
Photo M. Parrish
The issue of the drummer for this ensemble has been a source of some confusion. When the tapes of the Matrix show first circulated in the mid-1970s, the tape notations listed Mickey Hart as the drummer. During the Dead's acoustic sets in 1970, who provided percussion seemed to be almost random. Either Kreutzmann or Hart would generally be the principal drummer (except on the many occasions when only Garcia, Weir, and Lesh performed without percussion), so seeing a sole drummer onstage was no big deal. When I was recently able to scan the negatives from this show, it became clear that the drummer this evening was Kreutzmann, not Hart, so it seems equally likely that this was the case at the Matrix show/rehearsal earlier in the week. As discussed over at JGMF, I do not recall seeing Hart in the hall (and only one drum kit was onstage), so he most likely did not perform that evening at all.
|Taj Mahal Tuba Band at Pepperland 4/2-4/71|
Photo: Dr. Che
Next up was Lamb, which had originated as an acoustic duo consisting of guitarist-vocalist Barbara Mauritz and guitarist-keyboard player Bob Swanson. By the time of this show, they had expanded to an electric quartet, which included bassist David Hayes and a percussionist. The group's eclectic material was jazz influenced, and driven by Mauritz' powerful, hypnotic vocals. Their second album, Cross Between, featured Jerry Garcia on three cuts.
During 1970 and 1971, one of the Bay Area's best bands was the octet led by by Boz Scaggs. After departing the Steve Miller Band at the end of 1968, Scaggs took a year or so off from performing, but cut a legendary, eponymous album in Muscle Shoals with a lot of help from Duane Allman. When that album garnered a lot of airplay. Scaggs went ahead and assembled a band to, as much as possible, capture the tight big band sound he had captured on the album. The new group featured drummer George Rains (late of Mother Earth and the Sir Douglas Quintet), bassist David Brown, jazz keyboard player Jymm Joachim Young, guitarist Doug Simril, and a horn section comprising sax player Mel Martin, trombonist Patrick O'Hara, and trumpeter Bill Atwood (replaced at some point by Tom Poole). The group's diverse sets were drawn mostly from the Atlantic Scaggs album and the band's first Columbia album, Moments, both of which featured a blend of rockers and soulful ballads that were very different than the disco material that brought Scaggs his greatest commercial success in the late 1970s and 1980s. A high point of their sets as the time was a long, spacy version of "Baby's Calling Me Home" which Scaggs had contributed to the first Steve Miller Band album, Children of the Future.
Taj Mahal was ubiquitous in the Bay Area during the era, but this was the first time, to my knowledge, that he performed locally with the remarkable band he assembled for a couple of tours that was documented in The Real Thing. Taj was always staking out new musical territory, but the so called "Tuba band" was perhaps his most audacious (and probably expensive) experiment. Comprising first call musicians like guitarist John Hall (later leader of Orleans), one-time Hendrix bassist Billy Rich, pianist John Simon, drummer Greg Thomas, and conga player Kwasi "Rocky" DziDzournou, the group's most startiing element was the quartet of tuba players led by Howard Johnson and also featuring Bob Stewart, Joseph Daley, and Earl McIntyre.
Few vocalist-guitarists have enough presence not to be upstaged by a quartet of tubas, but the combination worked remarkably well. Taj used the tubas mostly to provide a tremendous bottom to tunes like "Sweet Mama Janisse" and the extended "You Ain't No Street Walker Mama, But Honey I Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff." After doing a couple of songs solo, Taj brought the rest of the musicians out for a slow, breezy version of "Ain't Gwine To Whistle Dixie (Anymo') highlighted by both exclamations from the tuba section and Hall's jazzy guitar. It was a great set and, given that it was a Saturday night, we stayed until the end.
|The Interior of the Pepperland Building Circa 2/2011|
The stage was located back by the flat Screen TV and
the exercise balls. Photo: M. Parrish
|The Bermuda Palms/Euphoria/Pepperland Building |
Circa 2/2011 Photo M. Parrish
|The former site of Le Club Front as of 2/2011|
Photo: M. Parrish
7/28/67 Sons of Champlin, Baltimore Steam Packet, Thursday’s Island, Mieville Square, The IV Kings.
5/21/70 Hell’s Angels Party with Janis Joplin and Full Tilt Boogie (billed as Main Squeeze, but they had broken up by then), Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Gold.
7/3,4,5/70 Big Brother and the Holding Company, A.B. Skhy, Joy of Cooking
7/14, 16/70 Grateful Dead, NRPS, Rubber Duck
7/20/70 Country Joe and the Fish, Southern Comfort
7/24,25,26 Chambers Brothers, Boz Scaggs, Southern Comfort
9/18,19/70 - Pepperland Ballroom Hot Tuna, Capt. Beefheart, Charles Lloyd
9/25,26/70 - Pepperland NBL Productions - Frank Zappa & Mothers, Tim Buckley, Kindred
10/16,17/70 - Pink Floyd, Kimberly, Osceola
10/24,25/70 - Steve Miller, Jerry Hahn, Dan Hicks & Hot Licks
11/13,14/70 - Incredible String Band, Doug Kershaw, Joy Of Cooking
11/28/70 - Leon Russell, Capt. Beefheart, Clover, Truk
12/18,19/70 - Chuck Berry, Sir Douglas (or Edward’s Hand?) , Boz Scaggs
12/20/70 - Joan Baez
12/20/71 – Grateful Dead?, Crosby/Garcia/Lesh/Kreutzmann, John Kahn and?, NRPS, Jerry Hahn Brotherhood
1/22,23/71 - Youngbloods, Sea Train, John Fahey
1/29,30/71 - Cold Blood, Boz Scaggs, Stoneground
2/5,6/71 - Elvin Bishop, PG&E, Tower Of Power
2/20,21/71- Big Brother, The Sons, Clover
2/26,27/71- Spencer Davis, Dan Hicks&Hot Licks, Country Weather
3/5,6/71- Steve Miller, John Lee Hooker, Bronze Hog
3/12,13/71- Lee Michaels, Joy Of Cooking, Fourth Way
3/11/71 - Linda Ronstadt, Clover, Little John, Chris Darrow
3/19,20/71 – It’s A Beautiful Day, Odetta, Victoria
4/2-4/71 - Taj Mahal, Boz Scaggs, Lamb, Grootna
4/11/71 - Quicksilver, Hot Tuna, Lizard
Last NBL show
9/9-11/71 - Steve Miller, Yogi Phlegm, Nazgul, Clover
9/24,25/71 - Mike Bloomfield, Stoneground, Clover
11/13/71- Tower Of Power, Cold Blood, Norman Greenbaum
12/4/71 - Boz Scaggs, Earthquake, Staton Bros.
12/11/71- Joy Of Cooking, Commander Cody, Crossfire
1/22/72- Tower Of Power, Redwing, Roger Collins