Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monterey Jazz Festival September 19-20, 1969

From 1958 to the present, the Monterey Jazz Festival has remained one of the best and most popular outdoor music festivals on the west coast and, for that matter, in the world. In my youth, I got to go to the festival once, for the 12th iteration in 1969. Then, as now, the festival took place at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, which was also the site of the memorable Monterey Pop festival two years earlier. Since 1983, the festival has expanded to include venues throughout the fairgrounds property, but back then the entire event took place in the relatively intimate fairgrounds arena. Seating has always been reserved in the Arena (capacity 5850) and, not unlike the venue of a popular sports team, prime seats, particularly those on the elevated stands on either side of the stage, are kept by patrons year after year.  However, back in 1969, my family and I were able to get fairly good floor seats in advance for the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon shows.

Starting in 1966, the Monterey Jazz Festival had experimented with adding rock acts to their lineup, with Paul Butterfield’s very electric blues band added to the traditional Saturday afternoon blues show. At the next year’s festival, Big Brother and the Holding Company, who had become stars at the same venue a few months earlier during the Monterey Pop Festival, played the Saturday blues show. After a 1968 festival with no real rock based acts, the festival moved significantly in the direction of popular music for 1969, including such pure rock acts as Sly and the Family Stone and Lighthouse as well as jazz artists such as Tony Williams and Miles Davis who had wholeheartedly embraced electric jazz fusion.

The Monterey Fairgrounds is a large facility not too far from the center of the relatively small seaside community of Monterey. After a seafood dinner, we got there in plenty of time to see the evening’s opening act, a quintet co-led by vibraphonist Red Norvo and clarinet player Peanuts Hucko. Individually and collectively, the group’s leaders had worked in big bands, backed up Billy Holiday, and worked in a variety of small postwar ensembles. Their short set certainly swung, but my teenage mind was more fixated on the rock-based acts to come later in the evening.
Modern Jazz Quartet 9/19/69
Photo: M. Parrish

The Modern Jazz Quartet had already been together for 17 years when they played the Monterey Festival for the seventh time after the Norvo-Hucko set. At the time, the quartet, comprising vibraphonist Milt Jackson, pianist John Lewis, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay, had the unlikely distinction of being the only jazz act on the Beatles’ Apple label, for which they recorded two albums. Despite that rock connection, the MJQ’s music was very much classy, elegant acoustic jazz, delivered with precision and style. Unfortunately, I was too unschooled in the MJQ’s repertoire to have a concept of the set list, but did have the pleasure of hearing two of the leading vibe players in jazz to begin the evening.

Although Miles Davis had dramatically blended rock elements into jazz, as opposed to groups like Blood Sweat and Tears or the Sons bringing some jazz sensibilities and instruments into rock, Davis had yet to realize the full potential of electric instrumentation to his ensembles by the fall of 1969. He used electric instruments to great effect on the meditative In a Silent Way, but the pathway into the snarling loud fusion of Bitches Brew was led by one of Davis’ most distinguished alumni, drum prodigy Tony Williams.  After leaving Davis, Williams assembled the Tony Williams Lifetime, bringing together organist Larry Young and British guitarist John McLaughlin. Williams’ dynamic, polyrhythmic style had been a hallmark of Davis’ bands since he joined him in 1962 at the age of 17. However, he clearly had a louder, denser goal in mind, and had an inspired notion of bringing together two  other very different and gifted young musicians to assemble his dream power trio.

Tony Williams Lifetime 9/19/69
Photo: M. Parrish
The original trio version of Lifetime made a very dramatic initial statement with Emergency!  An adventurous (and loud) double album that came out during the summer of 1969 and received an undue amount of airplay in my bedroom in the next several months. Lifetime was grounded by Young’s organ, with both Williams and McLaughlin soloing furiously around him in different eccentric orbits. Their power trio approach was closer to Cream than to any other jazz trios of the day, and they really laid the groundwork for Bitches Brew (for which Miles enlisted both McLaughlin and Young) and, by extension, the entire jazz fusion movement to come. If there was a weak link in their approach, it was William’s attempts as a lead vocalist and lyricist,  although “Via the Spectrum Road” has an off-kilter charm,  with the band sounding sort of like a loopy, fusion version of Traffic.

Tony Williams Lifetime 9/19/69
Photo: M. Parrish
As compelling as Lifetime was on record, they were even more exciting live. Williams was certainly the visual focus, all of his limbs in constant furious motion as he bent over his kit. McLaughlin, bent studiously over his fretboard, was a study in concentration with only his flying fingers giving visual evidence of the maelstrom of music coming out of his amplifier. Emergency had not been well received by critics in the jazz world, and the audience that evening was clearly divided between rock fans who relished the band’s wall of sound and the large, more conservative contingent that clearly did not appreciate them.  It was a sign of the times that I was able to walk up to the front of the stage to take photos from a vantage point that is only possible today with press credentials.

Sly and the Family Stone 9/19/69
Photo: M. Parrish
The headliner for Friday evening was Sly and the Family Stone. Although their landmark Woodstock performance had taken place a month earlier, it had not yet lent them the mass popularity that arose when the Woodstock movie came out the following year. They were simply a very popular Bay Area band with a stack of hit singles, including anthems like “Stand” and “Everyday People” that called for the kind of racial harmony that the Monterey festival both celebrated and epitomized. Unfortunately, that message was diluted that evening  as the crowd grew restless when the band’s late evening appearance was  delayed for a half hour while a search was undertaken for the stool that Stone used to sit at his organ. By the time they got underway in earnest,  the band delivered a performance that was every bit as mesmerizing as their Woodstock set, except to about 295,000 fewer people. I don’t recall when it ended, but it was a very long evening.

Sons of Champlin 9/20/69
Photo: M. Parrish
The weather  in Monterey can be unpredictable, but the Saturday afternoon blues show opened to beautiful, hot, sunny weather.  The bright daylight showed the crowd’s finery off and, as another sign of the times, a few audience members dispensed with many if not all of their clothes, much to the amusement and/or consternation of the more conservative  members of the crowd.  The opening act was supposed to be veteran pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith, but the always reliable Sons of Champlin were called in as a last minute replacement.  The Sons played a strong set that consisted largely of the extended material from their second album, the cover of which announced “The Sons of Champlin have changed their name to THE SONS.” Shaggy and freaky as the Sons were at the time, their music resonated with the audience thanks to their artful introduction of horns, Geoff Palmer’s vibes, and guitarist Terry Haggerty’s jazz scales and chord progressions.

Two acts, Roberta Flack and the Canadian horn-heavy rock band Lighthouse, played two sets each during the afternoon. Flack, who became best known as a ballad singer later in her career, gave feisty, energetic performances climaxed by her dynamic version of Eddie Harris’ “Compared to What,” which became an anthem of the era thanks to Les McCann’s masterful performance of the the tune on the McCann/Harris live album Swiss Movement.  However, Flack, who was brought to Atlantic Records by McCann, recorded the first version of the tune for her debut album,  First Take, which came out during the summer of 1969.

Buddy Guy Blues Band 9/20/69
Photo: M. Parrish
Although the afternoon’s set was concentrated more on rock than its traditional blues orientation, the crowd was treated to a typically over-the-top performance by one of Chicago’s best, Buddy Guy. Still near the beginning of his career, Guy relied much more on his instrumental dexterity and vocal firepower than he would in later decades. Fronting a quintet without his frequent collaborator Junior Wells, Guy pretty much stole the afternoon’s show with his dazzling fretwork and frenetic body language.  In subsequent years, Guy’s performances have sometimes been hit-and-miss, but he remains one of the genre’s premier showmen, vocalists,  and instrumentalists.

Lighthouse was a popular group from Toronto who had also released their debut album the previous summer.  Led by drummer Skip Prokop, the group was one of the largest of the era with 13 members including the usual rock instrumentation along integrated with full horn and string sections. The group was riding high following a successful major label debut and a landmark performance at Carnegie Hall the previous May, and their big, pop-oriented sound earned them the headlining slot for the afternoon. The blend of instrumentation was certainly interesting, and the highlight of their set was the group’s swirling, extended adaptation of “Eight Miles High.” Lighthouse went on to become one of Canada’s most enduring and popular bands. After breaking up in 1976, the group had one temporary reunion in 1982, and then reunited on a more permanent basis in 1992, and continue to tour today mostly in Ontario.
Lighthouse 9/20/69
Photo: M. Parrish

In retrospect, I have no idea why we did not stay for the Saturday evening concert, which featured Miles Davis’ ‘lost quintet’ (sax player Wayne Shorter, bassist Dave Holland, keyboardist Chick Corea and drummer Jack DeJohnette) along with the groups of Thelonious Monk and Joe Williams. Maybe we were unable to get tickets. As it turned out, I never did get the opportunity to see Monk, although I would get to see Miles during one of his career peaks a few months later in San Francisco.

After some of the cultural and artistic divides that arose during the 1969 festival’s experiments to blend jazz and rock acts, the Monterey festival returned to an all jazz format from 1970 to the present. This proved to be the last Monterey Jazz Festival I would see until 2006. As fabulous as the lineups can be for this festival, it remains somewhat of a challenge for the devoted listener, as the scene in the arena has seemed to me as much about being seen, partying, and talking with friends as it has been about listening to the performers, and those early fall evenings outdoors can be bitterly cold as the fog rolls in. Some of these issues were alleviated in the 1980s, when several smaller venues on the grounds began hosting concerts as well, but the end result was still bigger crowds and, because the bulk of the attendees did not have seats in the arena, getting into the smaller shows requires a combination of intrepid planning and luck.  However,  as an enduring celebration of one of America’s most important art forms, the Monterey Festival has few, if any peers. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Duke Ellington Orchestra, Herbie Hancock Sextet, Redd Foxx, and Smoke. Frost Amphitheatre 5/4/69

A few weeks before I got my dad to the Fillmore West to see Woody Herman and the Who, he took me to see another outstanding jazz concert closer to home, back at the Frost. We went to the second day of a weekend celebration of African American culture entitled “Two Days in May.” The first day, which we did not attend, featured mostly vocalists: O.C. Smith, Lette Mbulu, Oscar Brown Jr. and the Chicago Blues All Stars. The show we attended was a Sunday afternoon jazz affair headlined by Duke Ellington and also featuring Herbie Hancock’s sextet, and Bay Area contemporary jazz combo Smoke. Rashaan Roland Kirk was also advertised as part of the bill, but did not appear.

Although it was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, attendance was relatively light – a shame, given the calilber of the musicians. Activist comedian Dick Gregory was the planned emcee, but he was incarcerated at the time, so he was replaced by another popular comedian, Redd Foxx. Foxx, still three years away from his big career break in Sanford and Son, gave what were certainly the raunchiest monologues that my tender ears had heard up until that time during the course of the afternoon. Racy or not, he had the crowd rolling in the aisles.

The first act, Smoke, was a popular Palo Alto based quartet led by vibist Woody Webb that at the time also featured bassist Chris Cristy, sax player Kenny Washington, and drummer John Felder. No clear memories of their set, but I do remember them being very good, with some tuneful yet extended explorations. The original group released an eponymous album on Session Records in 1970, which my dad had and regrettably I no longer have. Webb and a different lineup released a second Smoke album, Smoke Everything,  on a different label, in 1974. Both are now extremely rare, and neither has been released on CD.

After touring with Miles Davis for five years, Herbie Hancock struck out on his own by putting together a sextet in 1968. The lineup at the Frost was the same group that recorded Hancock’s 1968 Blue Note album Speak Like a Child, comprising Johnny Coles (trumpet, flugelhorn), Garnett Brown (trombone), Joe Henderson (sax, flute), Buster Williams (bass), and Tootie Heath (drums). Hancock, who continued to do sessions with Miles until 1972, was used to using electronic keyboards with Davis, but his performance at the Frost was entirely on acoustic piano, with Williams also playing standup rather than electric bass. Their repertoire included material from Speak Like a Child, as well as a luminous, extended performance of Speak Like a Child. Contemporary jazz had really first caught my attention when my father picked up Davis’ revolutionary In a Silent Way, and the Hancock performance was close enough to the territory Miles (and Herbie) mined on that album to be particularly appealing to me.  Only months later, Hancock would be commissioned to write the soundtrack for the television cartoon series based on Bill Cosby’s character Fat Albert and the soundtrack from that show, Fat Albert Rotunda, would mark his shift into more electric jazz funk.

After some more blue humor from Foxx, we were treated to an exemplary performance by one of the giants of jazz, or, for that matter, any American music idiom. Duke Ellington came to the Bay Area days after celebrating his 70th birthday at the White House in a legendary celebration that included an incredible list of guests including Earl “Fatha” Hines, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and Richard Rogers. According to Ellington biographer A.H. Lawrence1, Ellington politely sat through some piano renditions of his compositions by Vice President Spiro Agnew before Ellington himself took the stand for a marathon jam session that included numerous other jazz luminaries including drummer Louie Bellson, pianists Dave Brubeck, Hines, Hank Jones, saxophonists Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan, bassist Milt Hinton, and guitarist Jim Hall. By the time the jam session was underway, President and Mrs. Nixon had retired to bed.

For the Frost show, Ellington’s orchestra consisted of trumpeters Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Rolf Ericson, Mercer Ellington, and Ray Nance, trombonists Lawrence Brown and Chuck Connors, a sax section comprising Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Norris Turney, Harold Ashby, Harry Carney, and Russell Procope, second pianist Wild Bill Davis, bassist Victor Gaskin, drummer Rufus Jones, and vocalist Tony Watkins.  The Ellington band was in transition at this point. He retained loyal employees like Hodges, Carney, Williams, Procope, Brown, and Golsalves who had been with him (in some cases on and off) for 25 up to 40 years or more, but was working with a rhythm section and vocalist who were newcomers to the fold. His loyal composition partner and ‘deputy pianist’ Billy Strayhorn had passed away the previous year, and his position onstage was occupied by Davis, another relative newcomer.

Ellington, who served as an icon of one of the most successful and visible African American bandleaders, was also walking a political tightrope that required all of his charm and diplomacy. He graciously accepted the White House invitation, but provided a guest list that did not clearly align with the current administration’s politics. The day after the Stanford performance, Ellington performed at San Francisco State, where he fell short of denouncing the embattled President S.I. Hayakawa but did dedicate the concert to “those of us who are totally dedicated to developing the Black Studies Program.2

At Stanford, politics did not present themselves, but Ellington and orchestra did deliver a remarkable afternoon of music. This was my first exposure to one of the classic big bands, and it was remarkable to see them decked out in their suits and matching music stands. I was too new to this music to remember the entire set list, but Ellington did perform a good chunk of what was his second Sacred Concert, which he had recorded in New York and performed at a number of churches, including San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral the preceding year, along with classics like the inevitable “ Take the A Train.” As usual, Ellington premiered some new music as well possibly part of his Latin American Suite, but I regrettably can’t summon up any further details.

I was mightily impressed by Ellington’s music, and as much by his charisma and style, which were such a strong contrast to the earthier presence of many of the rock musicians to which I was being drawn. I do remember feeling that Ellington was impossibly old, but a current reality check is that both the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh and Hancock celebrated their respective 70th birthdays this year, and I am only 13 years behind them. To his credit, Ellington stayed on the road playing one nighters until he was hospitalized with advanced cancer a couple of months shy of his 75th birthday, and he passed away less than a month after that milestone.

My father was ecstatic about the concert, but dismayed at the relatively sparse attendance at the event. It spurred him to write a letter to the Dean of Bay Area music critics, Ralph Gleason, bemoaning the apparent failure of the Stanford student body to get the word out about the show. Gleason’s short, hand typed reply to my father is one of my favorite musical mementos from the era.

1. Lawrence, A.H. 2001. Duke Ellington and His World, Routledge Press, New York. Pp. 377-380
2. Gleason, R.J. San Francisco Chronicle, 5/7/69.

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.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Who, Woody Herman’s Herd, A.B. Skhy – Fillmore West 6/19/69

I finally conned my father into going to the Fillmore West with me in June. His teen years paralleled mine in that he was a kid from the suburbs who spent a lot of time in the theatres and ballrooms in Chicago hearing the big bands that were such a part of the pre-war era.  At that time, as now, Chicago was one of the epicenters of the popular music world, so all of the best big bands were frequent visitors – Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington – and Woody Herman’s Herd.  When I told him that the Herman band was being billed with the Who, he took the bait. We bought some tickets at Discount Records, and off we went.

Even though the Who were touring behind Tommy, which was by far their biggest commercial success to date,  the Fillmore West was by no means oversold. It shows how much the music industry has changed that groups like the Who and the Dead could play a roughly 1000 seat hall in 1969-70 and not sell it out.  I remember that we parked on Van Ness just around the corner from the Fillmore West entrance, got in line, and were in within a few minutes.

Dennis Geyer and Jim Marcotte of
A.B. Skhy 6/16/69 Photo: M. Parrish
The show was opened by A.B. Skhy, one of a cluster of very good blues-rock bands plying their craft in San Francisco at the time. At this time, A.B. Skhy comprised the quartet that recorded the group’s first album on MGM – guitarist Dennis Geyer, bassist Jim Marcotte, drummer Terry Anderson and Hammond B-3 organist Howard Wales. 

Their sound was defined by Geyer’s soulful vocals and Wales’ swirling jazz-influenced chops. Today, the group is probably most often remembered for the presence of Wales, who shortly thereafter forged a musical partnership with Jerry Garcia that resulted in one very fine jazz rock album Hooteroll as well as a myriad of local club gigs, mostly at the Matrix.

Howard Wales 6/19/69
Photo: M. Parrish
A.B. Skhy recorded two albums for MGM,. Their first eponymous release featured a full horn section backing the quartet, and its material formed the basis of their live shows the few times I saw them,  including their swaggering cover of B.B. King’s “You Upset Me Baby” and Wales’ instrumental showpiece,”Camelback.” The second A.B. Skhy album, “Ramblin’ On” featured a different lineup. Wales and Anderson were gone, replaced by drummer Rick Jaeger and guitarist James Curley Cooke, who was all over the San Francisco blues rock scene,  starting with the original lineup of the Steve Miller Band and later fronting his own Hurdy Gurdy Band and gigging with pianist Ben Sidran. The album was produced by noted LA Scenester Kim Fowley, and it was more polished, but the raw energy that fueled the Wales iteration of the group was missing, although it was definitely in evidence that evening at the Fillmore West.

The show turned out to be a funny hybrid between the format that Bill Graham had been using previously with two sets per group each night and the one he went to shortly thereafter with each band only playing once. Although the other two bands each played two sets, the centerpiece of the show (between the first sets by AB Skhy and Woody Herman) being one long set by the Who. The reason for the single set and their early position on the bill was that the band had to catch a redeye to New York City after their set, where Townshend had to stand trial for an event that had occurred at the Fillmore East the previous month. They were in the middle of their set when a plain clothes policeman commandeered the microphone to announce that a fire had broken out in the adjacent building. Townshend, not realizing what the policeman was up to, assumed he was some tripping audience member trying to take over his stage and kicked him off the stage. Needless to say, New York’s finest did not take this kindly, and Townshend was arrested. At his court appearance, he ultimately was assessed a $30 fine for his infraction. There is a great reminiscence of that show here.

The Who 6/19/69 Photo: M. Parrish
What this meant for us was a single long set by the Who, a bit road weary from a long tour, but still firing on all cylinders. In a format that was familiar for them at the time,  they opened with a string of short tunes, starting with perennial set openers “Heaven and Hell” and “Can’t Explain.” At this point, I had all of their albums, but was not fully prepared for the sonic and visual assault that was the Who in their prime. Like Clapton, Townshend had twin Marshall stacks that seemed a lot louder in the friendly confines of the Fillmore West than they did in a big hall like the Oakland Arena. Townshend’s jumps and windmills were a revelation in that era before concert videos, as was Keith Moon’s hyperkinetic drumming. It was a surprise to see vocalist Roger Daltrey, who had sported a Beatlish bob on previous album covers, with what subsequently became his trademark mop of curls. I think their overall presence was probably quite a culture shock for my dad, as were the dense clouds of non-tobacco smoke wafting about, but he took it all in stride, and certainly appreciated the Who’s chops as well as their showmanship.

After a quicker than usual run through Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues” the Who played the bulk of Tommy in an abridged version that ran just under an hour. Again, a plethora of archival video and audio releases have made the remarkable vehicle that was the concert version of Tommy familiar, but at the time it was a remarkable, and very energized alternative to the album version. Eschewing the overture,  the group plowed directly into the rock opera’s plot following a verbal synopsis from Townshend.  The more remarkable parts were the blazing “Sparks” with taciturn bassist John Entwhistle leading the charge, an uptempo version of “Eyesight to the Blind,” a charged version of their single of the time “Pinball Wizard. The larger than life finale “See Me Feel Me” had not yet worn out its welcome, and provided a dazzling climax to the rock opera.

With Tommy under their belt and an eye on the clock, the group closed with a speedy medley starting with Entwhistle’s  macabre “Boris the Spider” followed in quick succession by “Summertime Blues,” “Shakin’ All Over” and an extended “Magic Bus.” Much to the crowd’s dismay, they took their leave without an encore or even a guitar-smashing “My Generation” finale – but they had a good excuse, and apparently made their 1130 flight without any trouble.  A very good audience recording of this performance exists among collectors, and it is regarded as one of their finer shows of the era by Who aficionados.

No one except possibly Jimi Hendrix should have had the task of following the Who at that point in their career, but that was the daunting task that faced Woody Herman and the Herd. However, Herman knew a thing or two about whipping a crowd into a frenzy, and had the raw power of his horn heavy big band to do so. Herman had been courting a rock audience in recent years,  and his recent album had featured covers of both “Light My Fire” and Richard Harris’ schmaltzy “MacArthur Park.”Being ignorant of their repertoire at the time, I can’t offer many details of their set, but they did indeed succeed in winning the crowd over.  A year or so later, Herman went even further into the rock arena by cutting an album, Brand New, that was a collaboration with bay area guitar icon Michael Bloomfield. We left after the first Herman set – it was a Thursday night and I’m pretty sure my father had to go to work the next day.

The Who 6/16/69 Photo: M. Parrish

Woody Herman's Herd 6/19/69 Photo M. Parrish

 My experience of the audiences at the Fillmore West was that they were open to anything, and Bill Graham had a long tradition of diverse bills that brought jazz, blues or salsa veterans together with the headliner rock acts of the era. Unfortunately, this tradition fell by the wayside,  even for Bill Graham’s bookings, as popular music became more of a big business.  In its day, it made for some fine, eclectic shows, and this one was certainly a highly memorable one for me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Buffalo Springfield Again - Bridge Benefit 10/24/10

In my first post of this blog, I bemoaned passing up the chance to see the Buffalo Springfield at our local high school (Palo Alto's Cubberley) in April, 1967. Forty three and a half years and a couple of aborted reunion attempts later, the three surviving members of the group united for a couple of shows at Shoreline Amphitheatre, a scant two miles from the site of the concert I missed back in 1967, so I determined not to miss them this time. Forgive my delving briefly into the present, but those who have expected this to be a purely chronological blog have had their expectations dashed already.

Shoreline Amphitheatre is the south bay version of the large outdoor concert shed, built by Bill Graham and his associates back in the late 1980s. It allowed Graham to stage his own large scale concerts during the spring through fall months, and had its own distinctly Northern California stamp, down to resembling a Grateful Deadish skull when viewed from the air.

The occasion was the twenty fourth annual benefit for the Hillsborough, CA Bridge School for children with severe physical and/or speech impairments hosted by Neil Young and his wife Pegi, who is on the school’s board. As is always the case, the two shows were each daylong events featuring a smorgasbord of rock, pop, and country acts, all playing acoustic instruments. For scheduling reasons, I was only able to attend the Sunday show, but it also turned out to have the more interesting lineup, at least to me.

Following a longstanding tradition, Neil opened the show with the same two songs, “Sugar Mountain” and “Comes a Time” that he always seems to pull out to get things underway. First up were two relatively young bands, Grizzly Bear and Modest Mouse (17 years and counting, so not so young, I guess). Both were interesting – the Grizzlies had the northwest Pendleton look down pat and some rich, throaty vocal harmonies. Modest Mouse seemed to bend over backwards to be eclectic and quirky, but the punky demeanor of lead singer Isaac Brock (the guy sitting next to me said “He seems like an Angry Mouse!”) was a stark contrast to the group’s densely layered horn, string, and percussion textures.

Kris Kristofferson was slated to appear with Merle Haggard, but Haggard had to cancel for medical reasons, so Kristofferson delivered a short, somewhat rusty set of his most familiar tunes, closing with the possibly appropriate “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

The longest stretch of the show was given over to T. Bone Burnett’s Speaking Clock Revue, which has featured a different lineup of artists that have been produced by Burnett during its ongoing national tour. It was a somewhat stripped down revue for the Bridge show, with Elvis Costello, Jeff Bridges, Neko Case, Ralph Stanley, and the piano duo of Leon Russell and Elton John taking successive turns at center stage. High points were the short, rocking set by Costello and the considerably longer one by Russell and John, which featured the bulk of the material from their just released joint album, the Union. Jeff Bridges was a crowd pleaser as he sang two songs from Crazy Heart, including a winning version of “Fallin’ and Flyin’” with Burnett and Costello adding harmonies at a shared microphone.

Through numerous previous Bridge Benefit appearances, Pearl Jam has figured out how to convey the energy of their rock performances using acoustic instruments. Eddie Vedder’s powerfully craggy voice helps a lot, and the group drew on a seemingly unlikely string section for some added firepower that worked better than one would expect. Young joined the band for a powerful version of his “Walk With Me” from his recently released album, Le Noise.”

Six hours of music and a couple of hours of rain into the show, the headliners finally made their appearance. Reunions between Stills and Young have been fairly commonplace over the years, but the two Bridge shows (they also played the previous evening) marked the first time the original three guitar lineup of Stills, Young, and Furay have shared a stage since 1968. The energy of the trio was palpable, with the ebullient Furay leading the charge as the group went right into the original Springfield arrangement of “On the Way Home,” replete with its introductory round of “oo-ooh-ooh’s.” In what was obviously a well rehearsed set, the trio, augmented by Young’s regular bassist Rick Rosas and Stills’ preferred drummer Joe Vitale, proceeded to reprise ten of their most familiar tunes, all reasonably faithful to the arrangements on the original recorded versions, with the exception that the electric guitars were replaced by the trio’s acoustic instruments.

All three musicians looked and sounded great, especially a slimmed down Stills, and Young broke out a fringed leather jacket as another nod to the good old days. The unplugged format precluded some of the sweet country licks on tunes like “Go and Say Goodbye” and the blazing guitar interplay on “Bluebird” that is evident on the few live recordings of the group in their heyday. Stills and, particularly, Young have maintained the highest profiles since the group disbanded, it was really Furay, taking the bulk of the lead vocals and bouncing around at center stage with a huge grin on his face, that was the secret ingredient that made this feel like a genuine Springfield reunion. Given that both members of the band’s original rhythm section, drummer Dewey Palmer and bassist Bruce Palmer, passed away recently, this is as close to a reunion as we will ever see.

Considering Furay’s full time gig as a pastor in a Colorado church and Young’s mercurial temperament, it remains to be seen whether this new Springfield chapter will extend beyond the Bridge concerts. Regardless of any future plans, it was a true delight to see the three singers and songwriters of the group come together one more time and to succeed so well in rekindling their old magic.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dixieland Jazz in San Francisco


The first popular music concert I recall going to in California was a 1962 performance by Turk Murphy and his Dixieland jazz band at Murphy’s club, Earthquake McGoon’s on Clay Street in San Francisco.  Although Dixieland originated in New Orleans, and is inextricably tied to that city, it had a long tradition in San Francisco as well. Sometimes derided by those who were boosters of the modern jazz that became a vital part of the bay area music community by the 1950s, Murphy’s band and its evolutionary ancestor, Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena jazz band, were well established, very popular groups that included some ferocious players.

Cornet player Lucius “Lu” Watters was born in Santa Cruz in 1911 and spent time working in some conventional big bands before deciding to form a Dixieland ensemble, the 12 piece Yerba Buena Jazz Band, in 1939. The Watters band was unusual in that the musicians were all Caucasian, and none of them had worked in Dixieland bands in New Orleans. For the next eleven years, Watters and company held forth as the house band in two successive venues, first the Dawn Club,  at 20 Annie Street just south of Market, and later the legendary Hambone Kelly’s across the bay at 204 San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito. During World War II, Watters was drafted and led an army big band in the Navy. His band carried on without him in San Francisco, but Watters’ leadership was missed, and the Dawn Club was closed when he returned from the war and discovered that no one had been paying taxes for the club or the band.

Watters then opened Hambone Kelly’s in the basement of a place that had formerly been called the Hollywood Club, run by legendary fan dancer Sally Rand. Watters and band inherited a big club with a 100 foot bar, a large dance floor, and an extremely exotic décor.  The band members lived in apartments upstairs from the club, and it again became a very popular venue where the band could hold forth until dawn if they so desired. At the beginning of 1951, Kelly’s closed and Watters broke up the Yerba Buena band. He retired from music entirely in 1957, moved up to Marin County, and got a degree in Geology.

With the demise of the Yerba Buena band, bay area Dixieland continued a long run under the tutelage of Turk Murphy, who had been the trombonist in Watter’s ensemble.  Murphy was born in 1915 in rural Palermo, California, and was exposed early to traditional jazz by his father, who played both trumpet and drums. As a young musician, Murphy did yeoman’s duty as a trombone player in touring big bands, but ultimately ended up in the bay area, where he, along with clarinet player Bob Helm and trumpeter Byron Berry, started a traditional jazz band in 1937. Ultimately, all of these players were drafted into the Watters band, where they remained during the period described above.  Like Watters, Murphy served in the armed forces during World War II, when he worked as an aviation mechanic.

Earthquake McGoon's
on Broadway
When the Watters band broke up, Murphy freelanced for awhile, but ultimately assembled his own group and spent the rest of his career doing regular residencies at a variety of San Francisco venues, starting with the Italian Village at Columbus and Lombard. Murphy’s band was smaller than Watters, but included a number of colleagues from the earlier band, including Helm,  trumpet player Bob Scobey, pianist Burt Bales. Murphy’s band was typically a more manageable 6 piece, but its stock in trade remained the traditional New Orleans music that the Yerba Buena band had embraced. In 1960, the Murphy Band opened the first of several nightclubs named Earthquake McGoon’s after a character in Al Capp’s “Lil Abner” comic strip. The initial club was at 99 Broadway, in the middle of the nightclub district.

In 1962, the club relocated to the Financial District, at 630 Clay Street, in what had formerly been the William Tell Hotel. The new club had a kitchen and apparently, in order to maintain their liquor license, the place also had to serve food. It was here, a few weeks after the second McGoon’s opened, that my entire family ventured out to hear some live Dixieland jazz. I don’t recall whether my parents had heard Murphy’s band live previously, but the fact that the new venue did serve food meant that we, as minors, could attend. I remember a Friday evening drive into what then was an unfamiliar part of the city, and entering the ornate, Barbary Coast style place. We arrived early for dinner and, at the time, were about the only patrons in the place. Our order was taken by Murphy himself, and he also did the cooking. According to one online source, he did the cooking for several years, and would make a great show of getting off the bandstand and stomping into the kitchen if some hapless patron would order some food once the band had started playing.  From what I can remember, he was cordial enough to us, but the steaks he brought us were horrible.  A few years later, a fan Murphy met in Japan apparently took over kitchen duties, presumably to the bandleader’s relief.

As time went on, the room filled up, and Murphy and company delivered a rousing evening of traditional New Orleans jazz. I don’t remember a lot of details (after all, I was nine years old at the time), but the entire event made quite an impression on me.

Regrettably, that evening in 1962 was the only time I saw Murphy perform. He kept the Clay Street version of McGoon’s going for some 16 years, and then relocated two more times, first to a club off the Embarcadero, and then to tourist destination Pier 39, finally closing up for good in 1984. Murphy then played regularly at the Fairmont Hotel’s aptly named New Orleans room before passing away in 1987.

Murphy’s delving into New Orleans traditional music was, ironically, derided by some modern jazz critics and aficionados as being too conservative and/or too commercial. However, the pursuit by Murphy, Watters, and their colleagues of a traditional music form that was relatively obscure at the time was commendable, and the arranging skills and chops of the musicians were commendable. Over time, Dixieland became an integral part of the San Francisco artistic scene, and Murphy became a sufficiently heralded city figure to have a tiny street running between Broadway and Vallejo, not far from the original McGoon’s location, named Turk Murphy Lane in his honor. The San Francisco Dixieland musicians also made a number of economic and artistic decisions that were embraced by the pioneers of the burgeoning rock community a few years later, such as communal living and owning their own venues so that they could play as long and as often as they wished – not to mention co-opting a traditional American music form into a more contemporary context.

Real New Orleans Dixieland music was also popular in the Bay Area, and I saw the touring version of the house band of that city’s Preservation Hall on a number of occasions in the 1960s, including a gig at the newly erected events center at my high school, Cubberley, during my time at the school. Preservation Hall, which opened in 1961 remains a vital center for traditional New Orleans music. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Finally – the Grateful Dead (Fillmore West 3/1/69: Grateful Dead, Pentangle, Frumious Bandersnatch)

Although the Grateful Dead got their start in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area, they went a very long time (1967 to 1973) without getting onto a stage together in the mid-peninsula. Although some fantastic musicians did come within striking distance in 1968, I really wanted to see the Dead, and I wanted to see them in one of the ballrooms in San Francisco. 

Another group I had become particularly enamored of was UK acoustic quintet the Pentangle. Although I was not to enter a major British folk rock phase until some decades later, the Pentangle’s combination of the acoustic guitar wizardry of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, Jacqui McShee’s exquisitely ethereal vocals, and the jazz influenced rhythm section of standup bassist Danny Thompson and percussionist Tony Cox was unlike anything else on the radio at the time, and I picked up their sophomore release, the double LP Sweet Child, as an import when it first came out at the end of 1968.

When Bill Graham booked these two groups together, along with the horn-heavy San Francisco version of Doug Sahm’s Sir Douglas Quintet, for a four day weekend at the Fillmore West, I made a sufficiently good case to my parents that they had to let me go to one of the shows. This was a major concession and, as things turned out, quite an imposition on them (they spent a couple of hours caught in Chinese New Year’s traffic), but I have been forever grateful to them for the opportunity. The way we worked it out was that they drove me and my friend Llew up to the city the Saturday night of the run, let us out at Market and Van Ness, and arranged to pick us up in front of the Fillmore West at midnight. 

The Fillmore West was located upstairs above the Waters Buick dealership and you entered mid-block up a tall narrow stairway after buying your tickets at the ground level (If I remember correctly, we in fact did pick up our tickets at the door rather than in advance). At the top of the stairs was a long hallway parallel to Market which housed the coat check room where those attending a Sunday night show could pick up free posters for the next week’s show. Just inside the ballroom proper was a refreshment stand that sold cokes and snacks, and, just beyond, the ballroom itself. It was a long, rather narrow room with the stage backing up to the Van Ness Avenue side. At the opposite end was the elevated platform where the light shows worked their magic. Most of the floor was just that, a big wooden dance floor left over from the hall’s earlier incarnations as a big band and Irish dance hall. Along the south wall, opposite the entrance, was a raised area where one could stand and get a good view of the stage, which was a surprisingly low affair that afforded those in the front of the hall an unusually intimate connection with the bands. Near the light show platform in the back were several well worn but cozy sofas. I have been unable to get a precise estimate of the Fillmore West’s capacity, but I would estimate its legal capacity at somewhere just above 1000 people, an incredibly small venue by today’s standards. The funky accoutrements, the light show, and the elbow room afforded by the full-but-not oversold room made for a concert experience that simply could not be duplicated in today’s market. Llew and I found a spot on the floor maybe 1/3 of the way back, which was close enough for me to get some photos, although the combination of low light and the required slow shutter speeds made for some less-than-stellar results.

Frumious Bandersnatch
3/1/69 Photo: M. Parrish
The evening began with a disappointment, as illness caused the slated Sir Douglas Quintet to be a no-show on Saturday (they played at least one of the other nights). In their place was Frumious Bandersnatch, who again delivered a solid set of straight rock and roll. As was the convention up until sometime in 1969, the show’s format called for all three bands to play twice, so the opening set was less than an hour in length.

Next up was the Pentangle. The stage was largely cleared, save for Terry Cox’s modest drum kit, two chairs for the guitarists, and a stool for vocalist McShee. Because of the small size of the Fillmore West, the extremely attentive audience, and the hall’s remarkable sound system, the group’s delicate music came across perfectly. I do not recall the entire set list, but they did draw heavily on Sweet Child, starting, as did the album, with the evocative group composition “Market Song.”

Jacqui Mcshee and Bert Jansch
3/1/69 Photo: M. Parrish 
The group’s strongest draw was probably guitarists Jansch and Renbourn, both of whom had very successful careers as solo jazz-folk pickers before teaming up in Pentangle. Whether trading solos or weaving together remarkable instrumental harmonies, the pair were ably supported by Cox and Thompson, whose extensive experience in acoustic jazz combos was perfect training for the group’s complex harmonies and time signatures. McShee has one of those high, silky voices that was a welcome counterpart to Renbourn’s gruff pipes and Jansch’s plaintive midrange vocals. Simply a superb group, the Pentangle carried on until 1973, when they disbanded. Today, McShee continues to lead a version of the group, and the original lineup has reunited successfully a couple of times, most notably a 2008 40th Anniversary outing that found them able to successfully recapture past glories. It has been postulated that the gigs with the Pentangle were at least one factor that led the Grateful Dead, eight months later, to begin including a few numbers, and then an entire acoustic set, into many of their 1970 shows. However, the Dead were already experimenting with acoustic guitars onstage, and in fact would use them for the first two songs of their second set later that evening.

The Grateful Dead 3/1/69
Photo: M. Parrish
After another short break, Bill Graham announced the headliners with one of his inimitable introductions: “The American Version of the Japanese film Magnificent Seven – the Grateful Dead!” At that point, my chief point of reference for the Dead was Anthem of the Sun, and I was particularly taken with the first side’s swirling psychedelic suite “That’s It for the Other One/New Potato Caboose.” Thus I felt richly rewarded when Jerry Garcia counted out “One, Two, Three, Four!” and led his comrades into a long, intense version of the bulk of that opus, which had actually become a rarity in their concerts by that time.

Those who only saw the Dead in the 90s, 80s, or even 70s might have difficulty envisioning the intensity and aggression that characterized their playing that evening. Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh paired up dramatically at the top and bottom of the music, respectively, with Bob Weir and keyboardist Tom Constanten providing swirling midrange color. From our vantage point, the three standing guitarists and the two drummers were the visual focal point, with Ron “Pigpen” Mckernan and Constanten largely invisible back in the shadows. The aural intensity was mirrored by the onstage stances of the musicians, with Garcia, Lesh, and Weir forming a tight circle as they stretched the instrumental passages of “The Other One” far beyond its length on the album. 

Phil Lesh and Bob Weir 3/1/69
Photo: M. Parrish
After reaching a dramatic crescendo, the group dialed way back energetically for the slow, mellow “Cryptical Envelopment Reprise” with dueling arpeggios that led into another long terminal crescendo, with Lesh’s booming bass leading the charge this time, eventually dissolving into Garcia playing the slow, languid strains that open the Lesh/Robert Peterson composition “New Potato Caboose." Although the vocal harmonies were a bit ragged, this was another spellbinding performance, highlighted by a long Lesh bass solo and a dramatic arpeggiated middle passage in which Lesh’s bass had fallen painfully out of tune.  As on the album, the tune concluded with a long, lyrical Garcia solo that builds to a huge final D chord. Ironically, this was to be one of the last few live performances of NPC by the Grateful Dead proper, although it has been resurrected by several of the subsequent ensembles led by Dead alums Weir and Lesh. 

Instead of leading into Bob Weir’s punky “Born Crosseyed” as on the album, the band charged into a pair of new tunes that they were recording at the time in the studio for their next album, Aoxomoxoa. “Doin’ That Rag,” with its playfully modal chord structure, was an early harbinger of Robert Hunter’s recycling of lyrical motifs from the traditional American music in which he, Garcia, and Weir had immersed themselves before going electric. Not yet fully formed, the Fillmore version had some rough edges, but it has a lot of heart and Garcia’s voice, yet to be ground down by decades of cigarettes, was a high, playful delight.

Grateful Dead 3/1/69
Photo: M. Parrish
Without taking a breath, the group launched into “Cosmic Charlie” rendered at the breakneck tempo employed in the first studio versions of the song and as performed by Garcia the previous October 8 with Mickey Hart and the Hartbeats, a far cry from the mellow shuffle it became on the album. Screaming banshee guitars led into a ferocious guitar and bass boogie with Garcia and Weir singing the bulk of the song in unison, Lesh lending some high harmonies towards the end. The song ended with another batch of banshee power chords, an instrumental chorus, and a final round of “Go on home, your mama’s calling you” to round out the set. As the group headed offstage, Weir promised they would be back for “Another Set – a long one.”

Unfortunately for us, the midnight hour was approaching, and we had to head outside to meet my folks after hearing a few songs of the second Bandersnatch set. It would be another ten years before I finally heard a primitive audience tape of the second set, which consisted of two more Aoxomoxoa tunes (“Dupree’s Diamond Blues” and “Mountains of the Moon” leading into the familiar Live Dead suite of “Dark Star,” St. Stephen, “The Eleven,” and “Turn on Your Lovelight,” concluding with a very ragged Pigpen sung version of "Hey Jude" for the encore. 

Over time, this show has been regarded as one of the classic Dead performances, and it, along with the other three nights of the run, were released as a deluxe 10 CD set by Grateful Dead records back in 2005. It certainly was a great introduction to the Fillmore West, which I still consider by far the finest rock venue of the many I have attended over the years.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cream/The Collectors/It’s a Beautiful Day. Oakland Coliseum Arena 10/4/68

I was completely captivated by Cream’s Wheels of Fire when it came out in the summer of 1968. In particular, I played the live disc over and over, probably much to the dismay of our long suffering next door neighbors. I had actually received Disraeli Gears as a present at Christmas the year before, but my father was much more of a fan of it at the time than I was, although it certainly grew on my by the time Wheels of Fire came out. When Cream’s farewell tour was announced in late summer 1968, we got tickets. Ironically, this was still not to get me to the fabled ballrooms in San Francisco. Instead, the concert was to be held at the nearly new Oakland Coliseum Arena (now Oracle Arena), just off of the Nimitz Freeway (now Hwy 880) in Oakland. The giant Arena, developed in conjunction with the adjacent outdoor Oakland Coliseum, opened in 1966 as an urban alternative to the aging and cavernous Cow Palace across the bay in Daly City.

Although all of the Cream appearances in San Francisco had been held at the Fillmore Auditorium or Winterland, under the aegis of Bill Graham’s organization, the Oakland show was put on by a different promoter, Concert Associates, Inc. Graham had booked Cream for two extended engagements at Fillmore/Winterland, one in August-September 1967, and the second in March, 1968, but apparently Graham refused to come up with the fees demanded by Cream manager Robert Stigwood so Cream had bypassed San Francisco on their June, 1968 tour (playing instead at the San Jose Civic Auditorium) and did not book the Farewell tour show in Oakland. Also, Graham had yet to try to build a market for shows at the huge Coliseum Arena (original concert capacity ca. 15000, expanded in 1997 to 20000), although he would promote the Rolling Stones there in November of 1969 and he would start using it regularly starting in 1973. In 1968, the two biggest touring rock acts were Cream and Jimi Hendrix, so it is not that surprising that they were two of the earliest rock acts to play the Arena.

As originally booked, the Oakland Cream show was a British rock dream pairing of Cream and Traffic. However, by the time the show rolled around, Traffic was off the bill, presumably because Dave Mason’s second departure ground their tour plans to a halt. By show time, Traffic had been replaced by two acts with less commercial clout, Canadian band the Collectors and rising San Francisco band It’s A Beautiful Day.  Both had made a few 2nd and 3rd bill gigs at the Family Dog and Fillmore by that time, but neither was a headliner by any means.

Oakland Coliseum Arena
BALLPARKS © 1996-2001 by Munsey & Suppes
I vividly remember the drive over to Oakland that Friday night. It was the first time I had gone over the new, spacious span of the San Mateo Bridge, which had opened the previous year, and it was a somewhat surreal experience being that high over the bay. Because my father was driving, I had plenty of opportunity to gape. Although it seems pretty conventional by today’s standards, the Coliseum Arena also had a somewhat space age appeal at the time with its cylindrical shape, its vast expanses of glass, and curving promenades both indoors and outside.  Despite a major indoor makeover that added an additional 5000 seats, the external appearance of the arena today is largely unchanged.

We had decent seats, on the low risers on the right side of the stage maybe 1/3 of the way back. Unlike the rock shows in San Francisco at the time, there was no light show, just conventional spots.  The show was my first experiment in shooting an indoor concert, and dealing with low light always proved to be a challenge under those circumstances. What I generally did was to use Tri-X film chemically pushed to 3X its normal ASA value, which sort of worked. Today, with the aid of Photoshop, it is possible to recover a lot more detail from these negatives than I could at the time. Still, these are far from magazine quality shots, although they do have some historical significance.

It's A Beautiful Day 10/4/68 Photo: M. Parrish
It’s a Beautiful Day was a relative newcomer to the Bay Area music scene.  Although violinist David LaFlamme had earlier been part of the infamous Orkustra with Manson family member Bobby Beausoleil, IABD itself was basically put together by infamous manager Matthew Katz, who asked David and Linda Laflamme to join the group he was crafting as a vehicle for 18 year old singer Patty Santos. Relationships with Katz did not go well, and the group split from his management in early 1968, after they felt he was not able to get them either gigs or a major label recording contract. Katz maintained that he owned the group name, and has subsequently spent decades in legal tussles over ownership of materials by IABD, Moby Grape, and even the Jefferson Airplane.   By spring of 1968, the group had started played some gigs at both the Avalon and the Fillmore, but the opening gig for Cream at the Oakland Arena was by far the biggest break the group had received to date – remarkable for a group whose debut album would not appear for another six months or so. 

It’s a Beautiful Day played a remarkable set that evening, consisting of material that would appear on their eponymous debut album in 1969, including extended versions of "Bombay Calling" and "Time Is," as well as a great version of what would become their signature piece, "White Bird." The chemistry between David LaFlamme and Santos was dynamic, and their soaring vocals and LaFlamme’s searing violin playing easily filled the gigantic room.

The Collectors 10/4/68 Photo: M. Parrish

 Next up were the Collectors, an eclectic quintet from British Columbia whose dark, swirling music was a sharp contrast to IABD’s bright, sunny vibe. The hall was literally dark for their set, which is why the pictures I took of them evaded clarification even through the magic of Photoshop. The group’s debut album evoked strongly polarized opinions, but it’s magnum opus, the stark 19 minute What Love (Suite) was in heavy rotation on KSAN at the time, and was the centerpiece of their set that evening. Multi-instrumentalist Claire Lawrence played everything in sight including (as pictured) the trombone.

Cream 10/4/68 Photo: M. Parrish

After a longish break, it was finally time for Cream to play. This was the opening night of the band’s Farewell tour, and the group had not performed together, or even been in the same room, for nearly four months. They apparently spent the afternoon rehearsing, and it was reportedly not the happiest of reunions. Nonetheless, they came out with figurative guns blazing for a dramatic, if musically erratic, 65 minute set. They opened with their then-current FM hit “White Room,” and it was undoubtedly the loudest thing I had heard up to that point. Both Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce were playing through two Marshall stacks, and Ginger Baker did not seem to have any trouble matching their volume, through sheer physical stamina (and some well amplified drums). Clapton’s extravagant wah-wah filigrees washed over Bruce’s sturdily rumbling bass lines, although the two did not always sound in synch. Bruce and Peter Brown’s lumbering blues “Politician” was next, with an over-the-top vocal by Bruce.  Crossroads had a new intro and was performed at the kind of laid-back tempo that Clapton has favored in recent years, although his and Bruce’s rapid fire soloing offered a sharp contrast to the song’s lumbering pace. Announced as “our last single,” the group offered a perfunctory reading of “Sunshine of Your Love” highlighted by emotive shared vocals by Bruce and Clapton and Baker’s thunderous drum fills.

Cream 10/4/68 Photo: M. Parrish
One of the highlights of Wheels of Fire was the extended cover of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.” At the Oakland show, this seventeen minute extravaganza found Clapton and Bruce both wailing away with fury but considerably less substance than the recorded version, relying largely on the same riffs played over and over again for much of the song while Bruce injected a lot of vocal scats and Baker attempted to ground the proceedings with jazzy fills. It finally ground to a somewhat anticlimactic halt – not one of their finest quarter hours.

Next, the group played a couple of very unusual numbers at the show that indicated their intention to showcase a bit of an expanded repertoire for their last tour. Supposedly the plan was to release a double album made up, as was Wheels of Fire, of a live disc and a studio disc, so perhaps they were hoping to capture performances of songs beyond their admittedly limited live repertoire at the time (ultimately the final album Goodbye had three tracks from the 10/19 Forum gig as well as three final studio tracks). Whatever the motivation, the attempts to expand beyond the familiar were seemingly abandoned after the Oakland gig, resulting in a couple of unique performances.  “Deserted Cities of the Heart” was a somewhat experimental Bruce-Brown composition from the last album that was a harbinger of some of the interesting directions Bruce would take in his solo career. What seems to be the only live performance of the song ended up (along with "White Room" and "Politician") on both Live Cream Volume 2 and the box set Those Were the Days. It’s a spirited but perfunctory performance, with both Bruce and Baker pushing the tempo, and Clapton taking a fiery solo between the verses.

Ginger Baker 10/4/68 Photo: M. Parrish
The next number has been identified on bootlegs as “Passing the Time” and also by the mysterious name “Scattafragus.” It indeed begins with the intro to “Passing the Time” from Wheels of Fire, but that song’s lyrics are gone, replaced by a short bit of very off key scat singing by the three musicians that led into a bit of trio jamming and then into the inevitable Baker drum solo. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how they would have been able to deliver the delicate, cello-ornamented lyric section early in the song in a live power trio context. The drummer acquitted himself admirably, playing with both substance and fury before the two guitarists joined in for a very ragged finish. I was enamored of “Toad” at the time, and found this a mysterious replacement, although it remains an interesting artifact.

The show ended with an equally ragged, but energetic version of “I’m So Glad,” and no encore was forthcoming.  Listening to the excellent stereo soundboard of this show that circulates today, it is easy to be critical of one of the group’s less than stellar performances. However, I consider myself lucky to have been able to see Cream, warts and all. To juxtapose two overused but entirely appropriate rock critic clichés, they truly were an elemental force of nature onstage, and the strength of the three personalities (and those Marshall stacks) made for a larger than life performance.