Mar 25, 2015

July 2, 1971: Fillmore West, San Francisco


Fillmore West finally closed last night, but the San Francisco Sound - that mystical product which includes geography, chronology, and life-style as well as music - had its Fillmore closing on Friday and Saturday nights when the Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Yogi Phlegm (the original Sons of Champlin) played their final sets for Bill Graham at the venerable Market and Van Ness ballroom.
Only Jefferson Airplane was missing (Marty Balin has left the group he founded and Grace Slick has been bedeviled by minor ailments of late) but the musical guts of the band - lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and the surpassing bassist Jack Casady - were present as the leaders of Hot Tuna.
The Dead played Friday and, needless to say, dominated the evening. The house had been sold out for a week and people started lining up seven hours before the doors were opened...not for tickets but to assure a close proximity to their beloveds.
The Rowan Brothers opened the program, augmented by the ubiquitous Jerry Garcia (Garcia was to play guitar and pedal steel guitar from 8:30 p.m. to nearly 3 a.m. with only three breaks along the way). The New Riders - with Garcia on pedal steel, Bill Kreutzman on drums, and Marmaduke offering up some gentle vocals for your dancing and listening pleasure - followed with silky smooth country rock and their large contingent of admiring howlers in full disarray, shouting and hooting, an embarrassment of wretches, love and affection and dope measured by decibels and stripped throats.

Then at 11:15 p.m., Bill Graham took the microphone, as he is wont to do. "After all the (bleep) that's gone down over the years," he intoned, "I'm very grateful to them and consider them friends...The Grateful Dead."
The crowd erupted, the Dead's psychedelic amplifiers began spitting, one of the Heavy Water light shows girls started moving in a Westernized version of Tai Chi Chuen, a mini-flame thrower behind the musicians split the darkness. Garcia, now on conventional electric guitar, embraced the room with a molten solo and the band - the group that many think is the world's greatest rock and roll band - began a three-hour set interrupted only by one intermission.
They did "Me and Bobby McGee" and a smashing "Good Lovin'," did not do "Midnight Hour" or "Dancing in the Streets," and generally played with a mutual rapport, inventiveness, and musicianship attained by few groups in the short history of rock
And one more thing...they played with pleasure and joy and made the audience feel good. There aren't very many major groups that have that effect anymore; there aren't that many groups left that want to play music quite so much.

Saturday opened with a good set by Yogi Phlehm ("Who picked your name?" "We got it from a horoscope.") and closed with Dino Valenti's agonized vocals and guitar leading a Quicksilver which, without John Cippolina, isn't really the original Quicksilver.
But the evening, for me, belonged to Hot Tuna, which had graciously consented to take second billing to Quicksilver.
Kaukonen, Casady, Papa John Creach (the nonpareil fiddler), and drummer Sammy Piazza played a two-hour set which ranged from the pure, tingling blues of "Rock Me Baby" to the old folkie "Know You Rider" to the hoe-down of "Never Happen No More" to the wildly exciting "Three Weeks on the Road," a tune on the upcoming new Airplane album which evolved from the written song to a 15-minute jam session among Kaukonen, Casady, and Papa John.
The Tuna vibes were similar to the Dead's...bodies in the crowd bobbing as if each were undergoing individual and personalized earthquakes, a phenomenal blonde dancer named Renea on stage - a fifth member of the group - the smiles and joy, the carillon bells sound of Jorma, the soaring violin of Papa John, and the earth-rending bass of the unflappable Casady, a separate amplifier-speaker system for each string: notes as powerful and assertive as their author is quiet and slim.
It was our music at its very best...

(by John Wasserman, from the "On the Town" column, San Francisco Chronicle, 5 July 1971)

* * *


"This is going to be the greatest motherbleeper evening of our lives," Bill Graham delicately announced Sunday night at Fillmore West, and in many ways it was.
The crowd - which had stretched four and five deep down Market to South Van Ness, and then nearly to Mission Street by 7 p.m. - was suffused in an extraordinary eight-hour orgy of rock, nostalgia, sentiment, balloons, beer, champagne, and a gathering of musicians rarely equalled at one time in one place. They were joined by tens of thousands of homes which picked up the live broadcast on KSAN and KSFX.
Creedence Clearwater Revival (making its first public appearance since 1970), Santana, Tower of Power, and jam session participants Michael Bloomfield, John Cipollina, Sam Andrew, Van Morrison, Jack Casady, George Hunter, Luis Gasca, Lydia Pense, Linda Tillery, and Sammy Piazza - among others - provided the music, Graham provided the potables, and the ghost of nearly six years of the best rock and roll music in the world took care of everything else.

It is neither inaccurate nor maudlin to say that there will never be another night quite like it. It was a magnificent wake - in the old Irish sense of joy-sadness - for Bill Graham, for San Francisco, and for rock. All will continue, of course, but the whole will no longer be greater than the sum of its parts.
The ballrooms - which combined the informal intimacy of small clubs with the financial advantages of the big auditoriums - are dead. In one month of the summer of 1967, the old Fillmore Auditorium (which was smaller than Fillmore West) booked 18 bands, including Cream, the Doors, the Yardbirds, Chuck Berry, the Rascals, Muddy Waters, the Electric Flag, and Count Basie. That will never happen again.

The evening opened with a cooking hour and a half set by Tower of Power, the East Bay blasters, and the other bands spent the rest of the evening trying to equal - much less surpass - the 10-piece band's drive and energy. By and large, they succeeded.
Shortly after 11, Graham's jealously guarded surprise - the world premiere of Creedence as a trio, minus Tom Fogerty - was revealed to the 2000 ecstatic listeners. Totally professional as always, lead singer and guitarist John Fogerty (attired, incidentally, in an electruc turquoise '50s rock 'n' roll star cowboy suit and boots), bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford rocked happily through 14 numbers in an hour or so - opening with "Born on a Bayou," closing with "Keep On Choogling," and playing the new single, "Door to Door," "Sweet Hitchhiker," and a half-dozen million-selling singles in between.
The most touching part of the evening followed Creedence's set - first when Allen Ginsberg showed up, shades of the first Fillmore concert in November, 1965, now short of hair and bereft of beard, and produced an "ohm" chant for a minute or so; then when Graham paid tribute to his staff...taking care to repeat several times that "these are the people who made Fillmore what it is" and, wryly, that "sometimes I am not a particularly easy person to work for." He brought them all on stage - cops, cloakroom girls, short-order cooks, stage managers, house manager Gary Jackson, girl Friday Vicky Cunningham, accepted their earnest compliments with glowing discomfort, and introduced his wife Bonnie and their son David, a blue-eyed blond who is, Graham said with the timeless optimism of a proud daddy, "almost 3."

At five minutes to one, Santana arrived. Now featuring teenage-prodigy guitarist Neil Schon and Latin percussionist Coke Escovedo in addition to the regular sextet, Santana ploughed into the likes of "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va," and "Soul Sacrifice," and spent their 90 minutes seething like an ant hill receiving electric shock treatments.
At 2:45 a.m., Schon was replaced by Bloomfield, a few minutes later Carlos Santana was replaced by Cipollina, a few minutes after that the Tower of Power horn section appeared, and the jam was on. My last indelible memory is Miss Tillery rendering "Angel Baby" at 4:12 a.m. and the music stopped completely at 4:25. It was over and the crowd - almost intact from 8 p.m. - moved reluctantly for the exit. The last champagne bottles were emptied, Graham quit banging on his beloved cowbell, Fillmore West ceased to exist.

(by John Wasserman, from the San Francisco Chronicle, 7 July 1971)

* * *


"We've had some good times here," Bill Graham said matter-of-factly on Sunday night at the Fillmore West wake. So we have. A few memories, both old and new:
Back at the old Fillmore Auditorium when the Black Panthers took over for a couple of benefits and one gun-toting bodyguard informed Graham that he could not go upstairs because "nobody goes upstairs." Bill looked at the man. "You do not seem to understand the situation," he said evenly. "This is MY place." He went upstairs.
The surprises...Ray Charles joining Aretha Franklin for a smashing "Spirit in the Dark" only weeks ago...Creedence Clearwater Revival appearing from nowhere on Sunday, taking second billing to Santana and not even worrying about it...and, going back to 1967, Joan Baez and Mimi Farina joining Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead for 30 minutes of "Midnight Hour" singing and dancing, then, by themselves, doing "Little Boy Blue" and turning the scruffy ballroom into a cathedral.
The early experiments in creative booking - Soviet poet Andrew Voznesensky, "The Beard," Manitas de Plata (the second-rate but showy flamenco guitarist), Charles Lloyd and avant-garde jazz, Count Basie replying with the tried-and-true, Monga Santamaria promoting Afro-Cuban (musically, if not politically), Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, and Otis Redding before anyone knew he was immortal, the earliest (and greatest) light shows (Tony Martin, Bill Hamm, and the Glen McKay-Jerry Abrams Head Lights), and the all night New Year's Eve parties, with the Airplane, the Dead, and Quicksilver for the soul, breakfast for the body, and Jim Haynie and Willie B. Hart in diapers for the spirit.

Those were the days when Graham managed to get, on occasion, something like 3000 people into the Fillmore Auditorium (cap. 989). "I'd say we had, at the most, about 1200," he says now with a perfectly straight face. "They INSISTED on coming in." Especially on New Year's Eve, you could stand in the light booth and see nothing but the tops of heads. Not bodies; not even necks...
The roses and special preparations for Martha and the Vandellas ("Come here, white boy," she crooned to Graham, extending her arms), the Mynah bird door-prize at the Batman festival (April, 1966) which went deaf from the music and was later cooked by the happy winner. The Who and Cream redefining the word excitement.
And other relics...the basketball games, starring the Fillmore Fingers, where Bill played only dirty enough to win, and the apples and Wes Wilson's historic posters, and Graham's dramatic little introductions - "Four gentlemen and one GREAT broad...Big Brother and the Holding Company," or "If you're going to fly, fly first class...Jefferson Airplane."

And the final weekend - the forged tickets (unsuccessful) and the shakedowns (all liquids attempt to comply with Chief Nelder's unworkable "crackdown"). The humor and simple pleasure in the playing of Creedence, Hot Tuna, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage - commodities in short supply among rock groups - the plentiful obscenities which went out over the air during the live broadcast on KSFX and KSAN, and the discreet but definitive filming by Medion films...
Spencer Dryden drumming away with the New Riders, weary of being listed as Bill Kreutzman, who he isn't; the phenomenal dancer Renee, who can touch her left hand to her right foot over her head, like pincers (try it sometime if you wish to use up accumulated sick leave); the unseeing, beatific, slack-jawed, ecstatic, smiling, awed, earnest, and tired faces staring up at the musicians from the front row. And the heat.
The girl who went topless Sunday night revealing a gold cross around her neck and a superstructure that Graham muttered was not really up to Fillmore standards; the dozens who stood outside all night, Friday through Sunday, unable to hear anything, but at least they were THERE...
The gold-spangled fabric drooping wearily from the ceiling, the bespectacled girl from the Heavy Water show, mixing oils like a mad chemist; Graham receiving a standing ovation Sunday night and playing with his son David ("About three and a half years ago," he said wryly, "I had a night off") - looking not at all like a capitalist-pig-mother-bleeper-rip-off-artist.
And John Fogerty's flowery eloquence in greeting the audience - "Long time no see." And, finally, the girl who freaked, wanting to dance on the stage with Creedence. Virtually hysterical, she was forceably removed by stagehands. Moments later she reappeared and was grabbed, as gently as possible under the circumstances, and shoved to the side. Suddenly Graham appeared, shouted the men off, and took the flailing girl in his arms. "I know her," he said, "she'll be ok." And he led her, now quiet, gently away.

(by John Wasserman, from the San Francisco Chronicle, 9 July 1971)

Thanks to

See also


  1. The Fillmore West is here treated as a "venerable" San Francisco institution, its closing the passing of an era. It had been open for three years. Wasserman considers it interchangeable with the original Fillmore Auditorium, though, as the 'Bill Graham ballrooms' that had been running since late '65.

    He embraces the Dead as one of the best rock bands (though he seems to be more thrilled by Hot Tuna). Note the "flame-thrower" onstage, which seems to have been a regular part of the Dead's act. Oddly, he describes a large & delirious New Riders fanbase in SF, which seems a little unlikely - he also misidentifies the NRPS drummer as Kreutzmann instead of Dryden (which he corrects in the last article).

    I included a couple more articles to complete his closing-of-the-Fillmore West series. The evening he describes with "Joan Baez and Mimi Farina joining Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead for 30 minutes of 'Midnight Hour'" was 7/16/66. There are a few more references to that evening here:

    Wasserman barely mentions (in a brief aside in the last article) that all the shows were being filmed, as well as broadcast on the radio. The Dead's show was filmed, but all the footage was later junked except for the bits used in the film.
    I've quoted these elsewhere, but it's worth repeating the Dead's reaction to the show. McNally reports, "The Dead played so poorly they asked not to be in Graham's film - their resistance drove Graham crazy, until eventually they relented and allowed him to have one song."
    Garcia said in an interview, when asked about the film: "We fought it, tooth and nail, every inch of the way. We didn't play well at all. For that reason alone we didn't want anything to do with it. But Bill was so insistent, and it was kind of like we've got an old game with him. We did want to do the performance but I'm sorry we did it now. It was bad timing for us. We had been in the studio for a month and hadn't played at all. Then we went out and did that cold. There were a lot of other drawbacks. I was playing a guitar that was weird. It was one I'd never played before. We weren't singing well. We were out of tune."
    (Staska/Mangrum, "Jerry Garcia discusses Grateful Dead, albums," Hayward Daily Review 10/12/72)

    1. What were they doing in the studio in that period, going through tape for Skullfuck?

    2. Exactly. It wasn't just "going through tape," they also did considerable overdubbing on the tapes in May/June '71 (at Alembic Studios, I think), and the only shows they played in those two months were 2 at Winterland and one in France.
      Sometime in July, Garcia started recording his solo album at Wally Heider's, which I think indicates that work on the live album had finished.

      It's interesting to see just how down Garcia is on this show. In comparison, when he talks about the June '71 French gig, he has only happy memories of the trip & the unusual setting; how well they played didn't matter. But when it comes to having part of a Dead performance preserved on film, he gets very critical. "We didn't play well, we didn't sing well, we were out of tune"...the Dead could be quite critical of themselves!

      It's notable that the Dead would play such a high-profile closing-of-Fillmore show, that they knew would be filmed & broadcast, without any preparation. They must have done some rehearsing before the 7/31/71 Yale show & the short August tour. The playing in that month is a considerable step up (and there's some new material).

    3. More Garcia comments along the same lines, when he was asked about this show in a 1972 KSAN interview:
      "We struggled to avoid getting into the [Fillmore] movie because it was like really a notably bad night for us and the tapes were a drag, and everybody was out of tune and everything, was that thing of not having played for a couple of weeks, you know, three or four weeks we'd been in the studio... We didn't really wanna [overdub it] either. But finally Graham just hassled us and hassled us and we finally went for it. We doctored 'em up a bit."

  2. A few other notes:
    Though John Cipollina showed up for the final night's jam, he was no longer playing with Quicksilver (which disappoints the reviewer).
    Wasserman also mentions that Jefferson Airplane should be there, but was missing - Marty Balin had quit the band earlier that year, and Grace Slick was in a car crash, so they cancelled all shows til August, though they remained in the studio over the summer recording Bark. Their old drummer Spencer Dryden was now with the New Riders.
    This was one of the Sons of Champlin's first shows as Yogi Phlegm, after some personnel changes. Bill Graham hated the name, and they were still sometimes billed as the Sons of Champlin. Bill Vitt was then drumming for both Yogi Phlegm and the Garcia/Saunders band.
    Tom Fogerty had left Creedence for a solo career, but at this point he was also playing with the Garcia/Saunders band.

  3. The 7/9/71 San Francisco Good Times ran a lengthy article on Bill Graham and the closing of the Fillmore West ("Rock & Roll Gets A Break"). Naturally, they were happy to see the uptight Graham close the doors:
    "Everyone's saying that the closing of the Fillmore is the end of an era. God, we hope so.
    The Fillmore had become the lower depths. Heavy vibes of downers, cruisers, and pig mentality was all that was left. Sure, there were many high moments when a band would pull things together despite the dreary boredom of the place...but the original high of community and rock and roll was gone."
    Concerts there were "airtight like a prison recreation yard," although admittedly "the vibes at the last night were up, in comparison to the kind of ennui and downer smog that were the usual Fillmore trip."
    Nothing was said of the Dead, but there was a sidebar on a young dancer named Renee:

    "'If I didn't dance every day, I'd go insane.'
    Renee, 20, has been dancing for 12 of those years. Since the Acid Tests in the bright dawn of the psychedelic San Francisco scene, she has been at one ballroom or another every night there's music playing, usually at the side of the stage, frequently on it, sometimes just out in the middle of the crowd, her long yellow hair whipping through the air, her leg kicked high above her head, twirling, swirling, leaping...
    The only time she misses a concert is if she is ill. 'It's just that dancing makes me feel good. And that's what it's all about, feeling good...'
    Dancing onstage really gets her high, she says. You might have seen her during Hot Tuna's set at the Fillmore last week... But Renee doesn't like the Fillmore or Bill Graham. 'He took what was basically a family thing and turned it into a business,' she said.
    Her favorite musicians are Pink Floyd, and moogman Doug McKechnie. The Grateful Dead don't rate too highly with Renee. 'I'm bad vibed by all the bad people around them.'
    Now that the Fillmore is closed Renee will be at [Friends & Relations Hall] more - she likes the openness there as compared with the stiff way Graham ran the Fillmore. Say hello to her next time you see her."

    An upset Renee promptly wrote a letter to the Good Times editors, which they ran in the 7/23/71 issue:

    "Dear Good Times Family,
    Don't misunderstand me, I felt very complimented you felt I was worth recognizing. But I’m very sad that you said I didn’t love the Grateful Dead. How could I be a...hippie if I didn’t?
    The fellow I spoke to must have misunderstood me, or perhaps I wasn’t clear, which is likely, since I was dancing at the time. When he asked me the reason I wasn’t on stage with the Dead at the Fillmore, I said because 1) I have little or no income and their family is too big to put second-cousins like me on the guest list, and 2) if I should manage to get in there, someone self-appointedly says to me “dancin’ girl, the Grateful Dead don’t want you dancin’ for them tonight.”
    The band never ever says anything like that to me. Ever. And just because I’m not on stage doesn’t mean I’m not in the back, dancing.
    The Grateful Dead is one of the boogien’iest bands around (& the New Riders). I love ‘em.
    Thanx, Love, Renee."