THE TRIPS FESTIVAL
CAN YOU PASS THE ACID TEST?
BOB DYLAN'S T.B. AND ACID-ROCK (excerpt)
"The Family Dog presents a Tribute to Dr. Strange" was the title of the very first of the large rock and roll dance-concerts, with local rock and roll groups performing. It was conceived by a chick named Luria and some friends of hers. In this fast moving world of pop culture and pop thinking, it seems like a long time ago, but it was only last fall. Now everyone is in the act.
The Family Dog, seeing all the new groups around, felt this was a good way to present them, give them the opportunity to perform, and make money. They presented the Jefferson Airplane, The Charlatans, and The Loving Spoonfulls, when they were in town. Last week they presented a "Tribal Stomp" featuring the Airplane plus Big Brother and the Holding Company. Meantime various groups such as the Mime Troupe presented huge rock benefits featuring many groups, including such others as "The Great Society" and "The Mystery Trend." These latter groups are not among the best.
The Airplane is due to have an album released very soon, having achieved a $25,000 advance from RCA Victor. A Berkeley group, The Answer, is under contract to White Whale Records in LA (producers of The Turtles) and although they have had one or two releases, none have yet been successful. There are local groups which have made it, the Vejtables and the Beau Brummels among them.
The group which, if it ever makes it, will make it the biggest, is the Grateful Dead. They have been playing for The Acid Test most of the time, and appearing weekends at The Matrix in San Francisco. The Dead, originally known as The Warlocks, do incredible rhythm and blues, with an indescribably haunting organ sound. The lead guitar of Jerry Garcia (Captain Trips) will make your head its own reverb unit. They do a lot of original material as well as making total experiences of old numbers like "Midnight Hour." Among their best material is "The Only Time Is Now," "Down the Line," and "You Gotta Live for Yourself."
[ . . . ]
(by Mr. Jones, from the "Something's Happening" column, Daily Californian, February 24, 1966)
ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK (excerpt - no Dead content)
The Jefferson Airplane is the best local rock and roll group. Their sound is very tight and very beautiful. With the possible exception of Signe Anderson (who is too pregnant to put out too well), their talent is top-notch and they mix in person like on a record. "It's No Secret" takes a bit to get used to, as most everything else, but then it is a joy to hear.
KEWB gives it airplay (here I want to plug their midnight-to-six disc jockey), but KYA, perhaps scared of dance competition, hasn't so far. The last time I heard the Airplane do "Midnight Hour" I was very disappointed, but it pointed out their drawback. Their arrangements are so tight that they become restrictive. The lead guitar isn't allowed room to ad-lib and the group has difficulty sustaining happenstance ecstasy for more than a moment.
The Quicksilver Messenger Service has a fairly ordinary loud sound. They are very close as a group, perhaps explaining their rather limited performing repertoire. The sound is nice, but the Airplane really captured it first and best, and all other groups in this area better start moving on.
Big Brother and the Holding Company has potential in their lead guitar player, but the group's sound is too specialized and narrow, and consequently too boring for them to amount to much at this time. Their singing is poor. With one exception, maybe two, all their numbers lack inner coherence. Their songs could be stopped at any point before the end and it would still seem like the end. The exploration of the electronic possibilities of their equipment (and this is their uniqueness) is not terribly pleasant or even interesting.
[ . . . ] [also reviews the Family Tree, Sopwith Camel & a high school covers band]
(by Mr. Jones, from the "Something's Happening" column, Daily Californian, March 10, 1966)
THE PRANKSTERS' LAST PRANK
The last Acid Test was presented two weeks ago. It will never be held again. The Merry Pranksters have split; some to New York, some to Mexico, others to Arizona and so on. About a dozen of them are still in Los Angeles.
There are many reasons why they broke up. When Kesey split for Mexico, the dynamic force of the Pranksters left too. The rest of the people involved were too hung up on too many ways to keep the scene going. Ken Babs, who inherited Kesey's mantle as leader, was too dictatorial and alienated many of the Pranksters. More and more it became his trip, and room for self-expression was diminished.
The inner tension in the Pranksters developed to the breaking point with Kesey's departure. There were too many hangers-on, and no one was quite sure who was an official Prankster and who wasn't. In Los Angeles they had to run a show for the people, rather than the people running a show for them as in the Bay Area. There was unfavorable publicity and many problems with the rock and roll band, The Grateful Dead. They lost their flexibility, and now they are no more.
The Grateful Dead are playing every weekend in Los Angeles. So where is Kesey? Everyone seems to think he's still in Mexico. However the most probable theory I have heard to his whereabouts is this: Somehow Kesey has connected himself, if not running the entire scene, with the flying saucers appearing in Michigan.
[ . . . ] [review of Sopwith Camel at the Matrix]
Paul Butterfield's Blues Band was in town last weekend, playing three nights at the Fillmore Auditorium. Friday night there was only a light crowd; Saturday night it was jam-packed, and Sunday it was nearly empty. At the end of his final set on Sunday Butterfield said, "I've played at all sorts of clubs, but this place is certainly the most bizarre."
Butterfield's band was fantastic. The two guitar players have frizzy hair like Bob Dylan. To watch the two of them work out on the guitars was an incredible listening experience.
If you ever have an opportunity, drop everything you might have planned and go see this group - they are fantastic blues, and indescribably rock and roll. Short of that, buy their record (Elektra 294). On the back of the record jacket it says "We suggest that you play this record at the highest possible volume in order to fully appreciate the sound of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band."
Ralph Gleason says "This is a real 'take-charge' band. They come on like they know what they are up to and play as if there was no question about their success. This is a great stance and it helps a good deal. The solo guitarist, Mike Bloomfield is really an extraordinary player. He produces long, exciting, soaring solos that leap out over the sound of the band and come alive, whirring and snapping through the hall." They return April 15 to the Fillmore Auditorium and April 16th to Harmon Gym with the Jefferson Airplane.
These weekend dances at the Fillmore Auditorium are being promoted by a little man named Bill Graham. When these things were originated by The Family Dog, they were meant to present local rock groups and generally provide everyone with a good time, as little hassle as possible, and just be a gas for the performers, participants, and spectators. Graham has turned these dances into money making schemes first and foremost. Whatever fun one has is strictly incidental to, almost in spite of, Bill Graham.
(by Mr. Jones, from the "Something's Happening" column, Daily Californian, March 31, 1966)
BUTTERFIELD BLOWS INTO TOWN (no Dead content)
During the past few weeks I've been madly running about trying to keep up with local folkies and the nearly 3000 acid bands in San Francisco. Here are a few observations therefrom.
The single finest rock/acid/beat/blues band to hit this town in months, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band from Chicago, appeared at one of the musical rites of psychedelia at the Fillmore Auditorium.
Promoter Bill Graham has endeavored to titillate all the senses of those parting with their two buckses via blasting music, exploding galaxies of lights, silent films, and rather ghoulish ornaments on the walls. Unlike the usual teen-age concert riots, Graham's customers keep cool, dig the fine sounds, and generally cause no problems.
I think one reason for this extraordinary behavior on the part of 2000 hip kids is that they appreciate the nice surroundings, continual entertainment, and chance to dance without blowing ten dollars for an evening. (That's a rough estimate of the tab for a night of bar-hopping downtown.)
At any rate, the atmosphere of hot, swaying bodies, luscious young chicks, and totally non-violent dancers tripping around the floor in their own passive worlds was a gas.
The Quicksilver Messenger Service opened the spectacle with some wild, deafening songs. They have some difficulties keeping their menagerie of guitars running on the same track, but they do try harder and a couple of numbers exhibited some definite polish. What they lack in repertoire they make up in raw enthusiasm, but I had trouble hearing many of the words in their songs.
After a short pause the Butterfield aggregation trooped onto the stage, plugged in and screamed off into another universe. Where other bands hammer away, occasionally finding some nice phrases and momentary agreement, the Butterfield group has total, consummate control at all times. Each instrument hauls a share of pure power, but the band's arrangements provide the real proof of ingenuity and taste.
Butterfield handles the majority of the singing and his direct, shouted style shows the influences of numerous Chicago bluesmen. His harp work is devastating - always covering the spaces apportioned him by guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop.
Alternating between pulsating riffs, rich bass chords, and shrieking upper register notes, Butterfield places his harp between, under, and solidly with the movement of each number, inciting his band to evermore magnificent, inspired music. Bloomfield plays an astounding lead guitar with more notes per second than I thought possible. When Butterfield or organist Mark Naftalain take lead, he chords in the precise mix that supports the harmonic balance of the entire group. Given a chance he can carry the whole stage away in one climactic run.
To top off the evening, Bloomfield pulled out the stops and with Butterfield sweeping in and out on the harp, he delivered a guitar solo that can only be described as Shankaresque concluding with an honest-to-god fire-eating exhibition. The place promptly sailed into shock waves of ecstatic approval. You better not miss this group!
I heard the "Great Society" and thought them quite over-rated. Their female lead singer is fair, but the band fails to carry the songs along with her.
At the Matrix I caught the Wildflower, who suffer from undistinguished arrangements and a dearth of musical invention. Mostly they thrashed about with weak singing and uninteresting guitar work. Perhaps with some more practice and attention to coordination of instruments they'll discover some better sounds.
[ . . . ]
(by Michael Chechik, from the Daily Californian, April 14, 1966)
ROCK 'N' ROLL PARAPHENALIA (excerpt - no Dead content)
Probably the best rock and roll concerts so far in the Bay Area were presented last weekend: The Jefferson Airplane and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It was the first time I really had an opportunity to listen to Signe Anderson; she is stunning and sings powerfully. There were fantastic speaker systems mounted on large box-like structures. By standing up against the box, closing your eyes, you could simultaneously hear the sound and feel it pulsing and pounding through your body. Airplane drummer Skip Spence was particularly good in this regard. The Airplane is an excellent group, certainly better than most American top-40 groups, including the Byrds.
Butterfield's group was again incredible. In the areas of blues harmonica, lead and rhythm guitar work, they have the finest talent available in the United States today. They put a group like the Rolling Stones to shame. Mike Bloomfield, who did the lead guitar work on Dylan's last album, is a master, and as much a star as Butterfield. Both of them know it. Butterfield will blow on his harp and Bloomfield will reply on the guitar creating soaring electronic sorties against fast moving heavy rhythm, all of which is beyond comment by me. On stage they seem as if, with all their talent, they might well explode. Each number they do seems as if it is being performed for the first and last times; it has that kind of spontaneity, instant creation, polish, and beauty.
Bill Graham presented the three shows, climaxed Sunday afternoon by an hour-long jam including the Airplane, Butterfield's band, and Muddy Waters. Graham says: "I'm trying to present the best sound, the best lights, and the best groups available. If I was in it just for the money I'd never have presented the Airplane and Butterfield on the same bill. Ultimately I hope to turn the Fillmore Auditorium into a total theatre where I can present anyone with something valid to say. A promoter has to like what he puts on stage, but it must be marketable. I will never be connected with what is called a concert and should be a dance. It's a crime you can't look at and dance to the Beatles or the Stones anymore; your only connection is through a record. I'm proud of the Fillmore. I'm proud that we move, we swing, and that we wail."
Toward this end, Graham is driven by what he describes as a "maniacal frenzy." In attempting to secure a permanent rock and roll scene at the Fillmore, his drive and passion have not won him any new friends. I think he believes he owns the whole scene, and this is wrong. He recently told the Family Dog they couldn't put on any more concerts at his auditorium. It was the Family Dog which began the concert-hall scene, originated the light shows, and has always been out front in the lead. They were the first people to bring Butterfield out here. They recently brought Love and the Sons of Adam up from L.A.
This weekend the Family Dog presents The Blues Project from New York with the Great Society. They will play at the Avalon Ballroom, Sutter and Van Ness in the city, a gassy Victorian style place with carpeted lobbies, drapes, gilt decor, mirrors, and some crazy sort of spring suspension dance floor. Also on April 22 & 23, Bill Graham presents the Grass Roots from L.A., the Quicksilver Messenger Service, and The Family Tree at the Fillmore.
Meanwhile, the Outline is presenting a "Trips 66" festival at the Longshoreman's Hall. Rock groups include The Grateful Dead, finally returning from L.A., The Loading Zone, and The Answer. The theme is supposed to be a Renaissance trip with appropriate decor and costumes, but the predictions by old hands from the original Trips Festival are not very good. Go at your own risk. [ . . . ]
(by Mr. Jones, from the "Something's Happening" column, Daily Californian, April 21, 1966)
CAMPUS ENTERTAINMENT SCENE TEMPO RISES (excerpt - no Dead content)
[ . . . ] Saturday night's dance at the Harmon was a beautiful scene, by far the best of the recent "Trips" dances. The music was great, with Jefferson Airplane and Paul Butterfield providing the sounds. The sound system, though turned up too high, was the best I've heard at any of these affairs. Having only two groups eliminated delays between sets and confusion with all that electronic gadgetry which collects when several groups must share the stage.
To the usual wild lighting effects, Bill Graham added a strobe light. Rapidly flickering on and off, the strobe gave dancers in its beam a weird, old movie appearance which resembled a series of still photographs. [ . . . ]
(by Martin Marks, from the Daily Californian, April 21, 1966)
BLUES FESTIVAL SPARKLES (excerpt - no Dead content)
[ . . . ] On Saturday night, Bill Graham presented the Paul Butterfield band and the Jefferson Airplane in Harmon accompanied by Tony Martin's mind-bending light display. The Airplane's amps were excessively loud, so much so that it was difficult to discern harmonic paths and runs. Signe Anderson's version of "Me and My Chauffeur" (Memphis Minnie) was phrased like a popular jazz number, distinctly an idiomatique anomaly. After three sets the group sounded tired and somewhat trite, but their material is partly to blame, being mostly folkish and repetitive in chordal structure.
The Butterfield band demonstrated tremendous ingenuity in a potporri of blues and rock arrangements. Butterfield is definitely leading the group to some fascinating eclecticism, mixing jazz and oriental flavors with the inherent power and drive of the amplified instruments. Look for this band to move into some shadings of modern improvisation heavy on foreign melodies and themes.
This weekend the Blues Project from New York will be appearing with the Great Society at Avalon Ballroom on Friday and Saturday nights. I hope they dream up more interesting music than their lp exhibits. The record was rather unsuccessful, a combination of awkward, weak blues imitation and some cute rock. [ . . . ]
(by Michael Chechik, from the Daily Californian, April 21, 1966)
HERE THEY COME AGAIN (excerpt - no Dead content)
Friday night Bill Graham's Fillmore dance was raided by the police, ostensibly to enforce a statute requiring kids under 18 to be accompanied by an adult. This incident should be fair warning to other San Francisco promoters that the local authorities are heading towards another tangent - against "bohemian" promoters.
In Graham's case there may have been some ill feeling from a Chronicle cartoon and editorial chastising the police and civic administrators for trying to close the Fillmore. (April 21st issue; see Ralph Gleason's column in the April 25th edition also.)
These periodic fits of morality are always saddening, the power structure clumsily stomping on another threat to teenagers' morals. Apparently someone up high fears brawls and drinking, these activities being the substantive reasons for our elders to have attended such functions. Times have changed slightly, these kids behave in a more orderly manner than a gang of legionnaires running wild at a downtown convention, and they certainly pose less of a threat than the out-of-control grownups. So what else is new?
The Family Dog presented the Blues Project from New York along with the Great Society at the Avalon Ballroom last weekend. I can only compare the Project's talent and polish to that of the Butterfield band. Sounding like a huge calliope, the group performed some tightly balanced, melodically complete numbers ranging from blues to love songs with a couple of gospel numbers for a change of mood.
A good measure of the band's fine show must be attributed to the two giant speakers adjoining the stage which all the instruments are piped through. The entire range of acoustic brilliance found in electric instruments is transmitted through this system, each note and phrase comes out clearly without fuzzing or distortion.
[ . . . ]
The Family Dog offered a strange and energetic light show centered on the half-moon backdrop of curtains behind the stage. In renting the Avalon Ballroom, the Dog has moved slightly into the lead in the environmental settings department. Full of musty remembrances of the roaring twenties, carpeted with plush fireproof rugs, surrounded by graceful carved columns, and topped with some swooping light fixtures, the Avalon provides an eerie setting to dig the crass sounds of the sixties.
[ . . . ]
(by Michael Chechik, from the Daily Californian, April 28, 1966)
DICK ALPERT FOR PRESIDENT (excerpt)
[ . . . ] If you like to listen to music, Bill Graham presents the Jefferson Airplane, Lightning Hopkins, and the Jaywalkers tonight at the Fillmore Auditorium. Tomorrow night the same bill except the Quicksilver Messenger Service substitutes for the Airplane. I heard the Messenger Service last weekend and they have gotten much better. All their songs show that this group is looking for perfection and finding it. They had a particularly good "Mojo" number.
One of the first 'cops vs. rock and roll' battles is being fought over Bill Graham, who was busted last weekend. In Berkeley last Saturday, the cops stopped a Scheer Benefit dance for lack of a permit. The cops had long discussions with the Scheer committee during the week, but told them about needing a permit less than an hour before the dance. Rock and Roll is something the police don't understand, and they're scared. It would be nice to see a good crowd at the Fillmore Auditorium this week, as a gesture of support for Bill Graham and/or rock and roll.
Along the line of unfortunate events, the so-called "Trips 196?" show at the Longshoreman's Hall last weekend was an unelaborate hoax and a complete fraud. What happened there was completely unrelated to the previous trips festival, nothing in the least "trippy" happened, and the rock and roll was a major disappointment. There wasn't even a light show worth speaking of. In the crowd were aspiring hippies (people who have to be told where it's at, and then don't know they're being told a lie), aspiring teeners (who missed the usual Action USA scene), and aspiring Hell's Angels (the Gypsy Jokers).
The Grateful Dead were there, back from L.A. with about $20,000 worth of new electronic equipment, including not a single piece of conventional Fender-like amplifiers. They have much new material, but I didn't stay to hear much of it. Jerry Garcia is still the best lead guitarist in the Bay Area rock scene, and Bill Croitsman is the best local drummer. They plan to remain in the Bay Area - they're getting a house in Marin county - until August.
"The Acid Test," the recording that Kesey and the Pranksters made at Sound City a few months ago, is boring and uninteresting. I've listened only to the free promotional EP which supposedly has excerpts of the best parts on it. What a drag. First of all, the Acid Test doesn't seem to be the type of thing that can be recorded, and secondly, Kesey seemed to think that their session that day at Sound City was a bad trip anyway.
The Airplane will have a new 45 release in two weeks. The two sides will be "Blues from an Airplane," and "Let Me In." Their previous release was a success in the Bay Area, but didn't make it elsewhere. Their album, already recorded and finished, won't be released until at least late May. The Dead released a single in L.A., but it didn't go anywhere and was ultimately recalled.
[ . . . ]
(by Mr. Jones, from the "Something's Happening" column, Daily Californian, April 29, 1966)
THE RETURN OF NOWHERE MAN (excerpt)
A rather disappointing rock and roll weekend, this last one, despite a dozen dances and concerts. At the Fillmore: The Airplane is always the Airplane, but after an initial showing of strength, The Jaywalkers are rather disappointing having only a good singer to their credit. At the Winterland Ice Arena (capacity 2500) The Mojo Men, The Vejtables, and The Hedds, drew less than 25 people each night. The Beaux Arts Ball in Berkeley was highly praised for its conception and atmosphere. The Quicksilver Messenger Service did their thing, but no one liked the Bethlehem Exit who tried to compensate for musical ability by the length of material. They are from Walnut Creek.
At the Avalon Ballroom, the Daily Flash was an utter disappointment. They are competent vocalists, but that's it. No originality, no rhythm, no interest. They try, oh so hard, to be psychedelic... The three of them wear wigs. The Rising Sons, however, were very good and kept up a strong rhythm. The lead singer (named Taj Mahal) (really) has a nice fast voice, reminiscent of Jagger, and he maintained a happy and competent stage presence. They have good original material (signed with Columbia) and a strong on-stage rapport among themselves and with the audience. I'd like to hear them again.
For me, the highlight of the weekend was at Harmon Gym when the Grateful Dead performed "Midnight Hour." It is one of their best numbers, and the best version of that song I've heard any group do. They are supposed to be playing next Saturday night at the Veterans' Memorial Hall in Berkeley with the Final Solution, a group just breaking into the scene which has, barring possible setbacks, a very bright future. However, the Veterans, scared by these dances, are backing out of the rental agreement.
Also next weekend: The New Generation from LA, The Charlatans, and the Jaywalkers at the Fillmore; The Sons of Adam and the Blues Project at the Avalon Ballroom (Sutter & Van Ness, SF). Tonight the Blues Project plays at Pauley Ballroom on the campus.
Promoters are more and more often going out of town to get groups for their weekend dances. It's nice to see what's going on in other cities and be presented with the variety. Some of the non-local groups have been superb (Butterfield's Band), others mediocre (Love), and others embarrassingly bad (The Daily Flash). But on the whole, San Francisco groups are the best available anywhere, certainly better than Los Angeles, and most of the time more distinguished than current national stars. Here groups have developed their own distinct styles, doing their own material interestingly and in an original manner. San Francisco will be known as the Liverpool of the United States.
(by Mr. Jones, from the "Something's Happening" column, Daily Californian, May 12, 1966)
BREAD AND CIRCUSES (excerpt)
"Whatever It Is" portion here:
. . . The best thing in town was Bill Graham's show of Muddy Waters, Butterfield's Band, and the Airplane. In spite of commercial success Graham presents a show in excellent taste. That's positively un-American. Although the cops shut down the show early, Muddy's band and Butterfield's constantly outdid themselves. On their first night, the weekend before, ne plus ultra was ne plus ultra'ed all evening.
This weekend it goes on again at the Fillmore, minus Muddy, but with the Dead added to Butterfield and the Airplane. More on all of them when it happens. This Saturday on Mt. Tamalpais, a peace benefit with the Dead and others. And at the Avalon the Family Dog has the non-electric Kweskin Jug Band.
Tomorrow a "Love-Pageant-Rally" will be held at 2 p.m. at Masonic and Oak, San Francisco. That's the day the LSD law comes into effect, and this is about that. We shall see...
(by Jann Wenner, from the "Doin' the Thing" column, Daily Californian, October 5, 1966)
'WHATEVER IT IS' - IT WASN'T A HAPPENING (excerpt)
"Whatever It Is" portion here:
. . . Let us hope the SF State organizers will spend a few weekends at the Fillmore or Avalon where they can see a "happening" that really happens.
Bill Graham is currently presenting the finest electric band in the country, Paul Butterfield's band from Chicago. For the past two weekends they have appeared with the Muddy Waters blues band (remember them?) and the Jefferson Airplane. Though fighting inherently bad acoustics in the cavernous auditorium (best referred to as the "Winter Palace"), Butterfield and company presented two sets of blues interspersed with jazz improvisation (Nat Adderley's "Work Song" for example) and a few rock numbers.
In the months since their last Fillmore appearance they have drifted much closer to jazz phrasing and arrangements, perhaps best heard in the improvised solos of lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield and organist Mark Naftalin. Butterfield's harp solos stretch the capabilities of the instrument to the extreme. Often sounding like a raucous sax, Butterfield pumps out punctuating rhythmic riffs or full wailing upper register screams that burn into your ears and rattle your brain.
I missed the Sept. 30-Oct. 1st program which had been moved back to the Fillmore Auditorium after the "racially-oriented" disturbances scared some of us away. Hopefully the bill will remain there as the acoustics are vastly superior and the cozy brown alcoves somehow suit the music and audience better than empty, Lawrence Welkish Winterland.
The Waters band came on as stiffly show business, an image that can never really fit Muddy, the bluesman with his slashing slide guitar and down-home singing. He followed his regular format of roughly half contemporary rhythm and blues and half his now legendary sides for Aristocrat and Chess from the early 1950's. "Little" George Smith has replaced Jimmy Cotton on harmonica and Sammy Lawhorn has returned as lead guitar.
I felt the Airplane was shucking like mad on both evenings - not playing to capacity, that is. Signe Anderson's torchy vocals sounded strained and superficial, Marty "Tell it to the people" Balin's singing came out a bit melodramatic during instrumental breaks, and Jorm Kaukonen's guitar work never achieved any momentum. I think the group has been over-exposed locally and might benefit from a change of audience and atmosphere.
(by Michael Chechik, from the Daily Californian, October 7, 1966)
TURN ON GRANDMA
A year ago this weekend the first dance-concert of the current style was presented by the original Family Dog: the Great Society, the Jefferson Airplane, the Charlatans, and the Marbles. It was m.c.'d by Ross The Moose Syracuse. The next weekend the Lovin' Spoonful was presented at a "Tribute to Sparkle Plenty." (You remember old Sparkle Plenty, don't ya...?)
Ken Kesey is back, and promises climax on Halloween. He says he'll be there, palm fronds courtesy of the Merry Pranksters, protection courtesy of the Hells Angels, and revelry care of the Grateful Dead. This final Acid Test is going to be a "put up or shut up" to J. Edgar and the Narcotics Squad. (Good name for a group.)
So they've been circulating mug shots of Kesey all around the Bay, 'cause if they don't get him now, they'll never get anyone. [ . . . . ]
Another name in the news is Augustus Owsley Stanley. He hasn't dropped out of sight but is very much in town. The "growing army of acid heads" didn't applaud him this weekend, if they ever did. That part of the Chronicle expose was probably an anonymous tip from Owsley himself. But he sure made great acid...
San Francisco's two top bands were on display last weekend. The Airplane, distinguished by professional perfomers and top quality original material by Marty Balin, has increased its kilowatts with a new drummer. Next week Signe Anderson will be replaced by Grace Slick, ex of the Great Society. Grace is a competent organist and that instrument would make a nice addition.
The Grateful Dead took two encores Saturday night. They put a group like the Blues Project to shame. (If Danny Kalb wouldn't sing and that group re-formed as "Al Kooper's Band," then it would be of comparable quality.) The Dead are currently negotiating a very liberal recording contract with Warner Brothers. They figure on signing this week with assurances of creative freedom, money, and an excellent publicity program. They'll be Warner Brothers' only rock group.
Big Brother and the Holding Company were at the Avalon. They're just not interesting, in any way. The Jim Kweskin Jug Band was cute, as far as jug bands go. Back at the Fillmore, Paul Butterfield's traveling zoo wailed as if tomorrow wasn't coming. Every time they get on stage you know you're going to hear something new. Even their old structured numbers ("Born in Chicago," "Mystery Train") are different and original each time, in fact they're practically new songs. This band violates the Federal Incredibility Statute.
Saving the best for last, the Mama's and the Papa's were at the Civic Auditorium. It was presented in a teenage concert format by KFRC with The Association the preceding act. Despite "Cherish," The Association is a high school band. The Mama's and the Papa's were excellent: Denny with a Lennonesque German accent ridiculing the security guards at the stage; John with a story of Americans in Europe never leaving their hotels.
Momma Cass was SUPER-SUPERB. Her beautiful voice comes from the depths. She dances in her boots when she sings and when she wasn't singing she was giving the teenagers lectures on middle class morality. They did their famous numbers, and closed the set with a rocking, swinging "Dancing in the Streets." You wanted to be at the Fillmore and by rights this show should have been. They are the top new group of 1966. They gotta come back.
(by Jann Wenner, "Doin' the Thing" column, Daily Californian, October 12, 1966)
10/26/66 - excerpt from Wenner's column:
"What's happening are Pigpen tee-shirts, which come in three assorted, various, sublime, colorful colors. If you don't have a friend in the group who could have given you one free, they're available for $2.50 from the Grateful Dead Fan Club, P.O. Box 31201 San Francisco...
Ken K. Kesey, who wrote two excellent books, is somewhere around. That's his bag and although I would rather listen to the Grateful Dead, I'm supposed to know what Kesey is up to. . . . Who cares? People who want to be hip."
11/2/66 - Wenner column tidbit:
"Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead is AIRing the Jefferson Airplane's new album this week in Los Angeles."
(On the same page, an editorial asks readers to "Vote for Brown" instead of Reagan in this week's election for governor of California. "To say that 'the lesser of two evils is still evil' may be a fine moral position to take, but it fails to take cognizance of the fact that the greater of two evils is in this case very evil indeed.")
QUEEN HAROLD'S TROUSERS (excerpt - no Dead content)
The Jefferson Airplane is around and about with new female vocalist Grace Slick. She has brought in some new material and her voice, while not as mellowly pleasing as Signe's, is more dramatic. She seems to enjoy working with Marty Balin. The best of their new numbers is a cute, lonesome-sounding song, "My Best Friend." It will be released as a single with several others before another album. Their new LP has already been recorded, reportedly with somewhat of a Mama's and Papa's style. Although the Airplane is one of my favorite groups, their style and material have not really changed or developed substantially since they first began.
Moby Grape, a six-weeks old unit from Sausalito among other places, is a lot of fun. Skip Spence, the Airplane's old drummer, and Peter Lewis, Loretta Young's son, write most of their material. They are good entertainers, but have not made the best use so far of their full five-voice potential. Their manager is also an ex of the Airplane, Matthew Katz. He says, "Tell 'em that Moby Grape loves you more."
The Thirteenth Floor Elevator, from Texas, are a group without much musical merit, except they are great to hear and dance to. Melodies and lyrics are without flair, but they have a real hard-rock smash sound. I could do without the screaming of singer Rocky Ericson, but I suppose it's part of his own exuberant stance, and that is really what makes this group fun.
[ . . . ]
Notes for acid-eaters: Ken Kesey and the boys and the girls have split for Santa Cruz where they take up residence in retreat. Little Acid Annie and Wonder-Dog Cap have stayed behind and it looks like she's left Ken forever... [ . . . ]
In the rock and roll future, Bill Graham is throwing a 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. dance, concert, breakfast, orgy, around-the-clock spectacular with the Airplane, the Dead, and Quicksilver on New Year's Eve. That's if you're the type who doesn't drink.
(by Jann Wenner, from the "Doin' the Thing" column, Daily Californian, November 16, 1966)
THE GREATEST SO FAR
S.F. ACID-ROCK: WHERE TO GO FROM HERE? (excerpt - no Dead content)
After a year's development, San Francisco's acid-rock dances are settling in. What was once an amateur project for a few friends has become big business. The question is, "Where do we go from here?" Are these dances to become another function of the city's tourist trade, like North Beach, or will they remain essentially underground with primarily hippy audiences?
The answer to this question will come from the men who determine the city's range of musical experiences - the promoters.
Bill Graham (Fillmore Auditorium) and Chet Helms (Avalon Ballroom) appear to be heading in different directions as reflected in their recent bookings.
Both halls have greatly broadened the range of entertainment in the area, and nearly every national news media has featured stories on the Bay Area rock scene.
Graham has presented a wide range of performers: saxophonist Charles Lloyd, a truly electric band - the Yardbirds, and flamenco guitarist Manitas de Platas. In comparison, Helms has restricted his bills to rock bands, most of them from San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Graham has been criticized for deviating from the hippie concept of a dance: As hippies originated the first dances a year ago, they've come to think of the Fillmore and Avalon as their special domain. Now big-time show business types are filtering in - record company reps, fan magazines, and pushy agents.
The infiltration of the glittering shills was quite apparent a few weeks back when I attended a late night jam at the Gay 90's in North Beach. Three local bands and some hundred dance-goers (camp followers?) filled the posh club. Everyone was trying to look right at home.
Like plastic caricatures of slap-em-on-the-back Sunset Strip night clubbers, young hippies scurried from table to table whispering the latest show business gossip.
One chickie in a smartly tailored pants-suit next to me said, "They've been offered a contract with MGM but they're holding out for Columbia." And a wispy young man talking in hushed, staccato phrases said, "There's supposed to be a friend of Phil Spector's up here scouting for new groups."
Suddenly, underground fun has turned into super-serious business. New groups spend more time manicuring their images and planning trips to England than they do arranging songs.
Now everyone knows Bob Dylan's bass player. The chick next door put up Mick Jagger's third cousin and your roommate turned on a girlfiend of the Mothers' ex-drummer.
Absurdity breeds further madness: twenty-year-old hippies whose musical experience began with the Stones' second album are making learned musical criticism.
So and so plays better guitar than Mike Bloomfield and Howlin' Wolf learned to sing from a Captain Beefheart record. Sure, baby. . . .
Bay Area rock and roll can claim one worthy service: Kids who normally would listen to the Beau Brummels are now digging Ravi Shankar, or are they?
If one hears Indian music (or Bach or Coltrane or Butterfield) he doesn't necessarily understand the music's structure. . . .
After a few guitar players discovered some "Eastern-sounding" runs, every hippy in town started dropping knowledgeable terms: raga, tabla, sarod. When local groups trotted out their blues repertory, hippies mentioned Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.
If the rock scene has turned a few people onto fine music, it has produced precious little outstanding music itself - certainly not as much as most of Haight-Ashbury would have you believe.
There are admittedly some pretty imaginative musicians around: Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, bassist Jack Cassidy of the Airplane, and Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish are prime examples.
But acid-rock cannot claim much more than a fast start for itself. Ninety percent of the musicians working in the acid-rock groups are still in their musical infancy. It takes time to have five or six musicians meld their styles and start to work as a unit, and this scene is only a year old.
In the same vein, I wonder about the sanity of hippies who feel only electric rock is the road to true musical innovation. Musical styles do not exist in a vacuum. Muddy Waters follows a line of delta blues singers, jazzmen have their antecedents in the swing music of the '40s and dixieland of the twenties. And to take this analogy to its obvious end: Ali Akbar Khan did not spontaneously master the Indian culture's complex music, he listened to the sages of his country who, in turn, had learned from their predecessors.
Every musical style and fad had its roots in related fields, and it's ridiculous to think of electric rock as a means of expression free of influence from earlier eras.
[ . . . ] (digression on why rock groups don't use horns like R&B bands do)
A few local groups think their music is pretty important, and in terms of their personal development I can't disagree. But in an overall survey of all pop musicians, they rank rather near the bottom. In jazz or pop music, few artists attain prominence without many years work shuffling from one orchestra or band to another. . . . Placing acid-rock in the spectrum of all music, its innovations are comparatively minor.
Why has such a furor been made over San Francisco rock and roll? First, the performers onstage have droves of friends and these friends love being part of the glamor and attention of public performances. Where there isn't something happening, the hippies are creating an artificial sense of activity - more in their own heads than anywhere else.
Second, in a very real sense, the Fillmore and Avalon are the coffeehouses of hippiedom. Many of the musician-freaks playing the two halls are refugees from defunct coffee houses. What was called "folk music" in the early '60s was an expression of a generation's attitudes towards adult society. . . .
The standards of the coffee house boom have carried over to the present dances. Performers were rarely criticized for a lack of innovation then and they aren't now. Coffee houses grew, in part, out of a desire on the part of folkies to protest the inanities of the middle class. As such, no one wanted to bring down their friends by saying their singing was off-key. It was a time of fun and escape from the middle class, and this feeling was a basic component of the first rock bashes.
Third, every record label is desperately ensnaring local groups with contracts - few of which offer young groups anything but their name on a record label. In the past, if a musician was offered a recording contract, it signaled his ascension into the big-time. Now it means the companies don't want to be caught short of a ready supply of new faces if demand merits some new releases. Rock and roll is a profitable business, you know.
Fourth, no other city has found itself with two such unusual dance halls complete with light shows and poster art. Both the establishment and the hippies recognize the uniqueness of this phenomenon and they're damn well going to crow about it.
No matter what the musical low points to the dances, they will continue to prosper for the moment, but a few changes could be made which would help the scene retain its vitality.
Besides horns and organs, someone should follow the lead of the Beach Boys and begin experimenting with such instruments as the theramin.
So far the audiences at both dance halls have been predominantly white. Graham helped overcome this with Martha and the Vandellas, and Otis Redding will appear soon.
But all the experimentation and integration in the world won't hold the scene together without an increase in the quality of the sounds. Right now such an increase does not seem very likely.
(by Michael Chechik, from the Daily Californian, December 9, 1966)
Thanks to Dave Davis.
The Daily Cal -
Background on Jann Wenner at UC Berkeley -