Mar 23, 2018

October 4, 1970: Winterland Ballroom


The San Francisco sound is alive and well and living in, you guessed it, San Francisco. One might think that a place so totally saturated with rock and roll would finally tire of it and move on to other things. Hardly. The very fact of that saturation seems to be perpetuating the mode and redefining the mold.
Witness the opening of a new rock ballroom, Winterland, right in the middle of the city, not far from Bill Graham's Fillmore West. The Winterland debut bill featured the progenitors of San Francisco musical essence: Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, groups not exactly new on the scene.
Probably everyone in San Francisco who has thought of grass as other than that green stuff you are supposed to keep off of has seen them half a dozen times. But the head count for the two nights was more than 15,000 with a turnaway mob of about 5400.
Winterland is the first solo venture of promoter Paul Baratta, recently and significantly a Graham associate. Baratta has learned his lessons well. And some of them have been rather expensive. He was put in charge of the Los Angeles shows at the Olympic Auditorium earlier this year.
[ . . . . ]
Winterland is a sprawling hall with an audience accustomed to rock shows, comfortable in the crush of people and sophisticated enough in its musical tastes to settle for nothing less than excellence. It makes a Los Angeles audience, which gets frenzied over the musically impoverished likes of Grand Funk Railroad and the Iron Butterfly, look like Philistines.
Winterland has a health-food concession in the balcony section, and popcorn and sandwiches are sold downstairs for the less demanding. The sound is excellent from just about any place in the hall. Security is handled by an inside "peace patrol" and outside by a few special service San Francisco police.
The debut show also was the first San Francisco ballroom scene to be broadcast live over television and in quadraphonic sound over two FM radio stations.
Winterland is going to be stiff competition for Graham and the Fillmore. In the first place, Graham's shows usually are more expensive. And it isn't hard to imagine the politics that must be going on to snag the bookings. Graham can use his Fillmore East in New York as a wedge, declining to book any act that chooses to play Winterland in San Francisco. But then he may find himself out of the money if the act is big enough.
With the Family Dog on the great highway out of business, Graham has been running free in San Francisco. Now he is faced with a real rival - and one to whom he has taught all the secrets.
The competition is breathing new life into San Francisco rock.

(by Kathy Orloff, Chicago Sun-Times News Service, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, 18 October 1970) 

* * *  


LOS ANGELES - The "San Francisco Sound" is a phrase that has been used frequently over the last several years to lump together a group of bands who live and play in and around S.F. It was the first geographic designation given to a particular kind of music - the "Motown Sound" was generated out of a record company, more than from the city of Detroit itself.
Since the surfacing of the San Francisco Sound, there have been several claims to geographic excellence, among them the Boston Sound, most notable for its publicity and total lack of any musical content.
San Francisco has endured - grown with the times, kept its integrity, continued to supply its audiences with top entertainment - good live shows and fine recordings. Seeing the Grateful Dead recently in S.F., I was reminded of several of the elements that have contributed to the success of the bands up north.

The Dead was probably the first of the San Francisco bands. They were scuffling around with Ken Kesey in the days of the early Acid Tests, playing at parties, benefits, and in the ballrooms. Jerry Garcia, their lead guitar player, is credited as "spiritual adviser" on Jefferson Airplane's first album with Grace Slick, "Surrealistic Pillow." His fine pedal steel guitar can be heard on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Teach Your Children."
The Grateful Dead are better today than they ever have been. Their show at the opening of the Winterland Ballroom was as fine an example of musical compatibility as ever I have heard.
The songs themselves were topnotch, both melodically and lyrically, and unlike so many of the overamplified groups hammering away at audiences today, they could actually be heard and understood. Like most of the San Francisco bands, they are not intimidated by acoustic instruments. They suit the instruments to the songs, rather than the other way around.
At one point during "I Know You Rider," they actually stopped playing for a phrase or two, letting the vocal harmonies, tight and strong, carry the song. The 7,500 people in the audience were quiet, and when the number was through, let up a tremendous yell of appreciation for the group whom they must have seen dozens of times. San Francisco audiences are not bored by their groups, because their groups are not boring. Among other things, they recognize the difference between live situations and recording in the studio, and plan accordingly.

While the Grateful Dead serve as a superb example of San Francisco music, each of the groups has its own particular style. The Dead have a more countrified flavor than Jefferson Airplane, which frequently tends toward more folk and blues sounds. The Airplane is another example of incredibly good musicianship coupled with a great sense of theater and of the absurd.
The Airplane's latest album, "Volunteers," is their best to date. The album recently released by lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bass player Jack Casady, titled "Hot Tuna," is one of the best acoustic blues albums of the last five years. And rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner, who writes much of the Airplane's best material, has an album of his own coming out shortly which promises to be extraterrestrial.
The Youngbloods have become much the S.F. band, even though they are transplants from New York. Credence Clearwater, which insists on its Berkeley base, is also immediately identifiable, but is one of the few S.F. groups that depends so heavily on one leader. Quicksilver Messenger Service and It's A Beautiful Day continue to enhance the flavor of the locale's reputation, although it is rumored that Quicksilver has broken up.

(by Kathy Orloff, Chicago Sun-Times News Service, from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 29 October 1970)

* * *


WINTERLAND, S.F. - If you're going to open a new ballroom in San Francisco, there's no better way to do it than to call upon the three top San Francisco bands to come put on a show. Paul Baratta, being an alumnus of the Bill Graham organization, went one step further and had the opening of Winterland (an existing facility, formerly used on occasion by Graham but now being run exclusively by Baratta) telecast over educational TV. Sound was carried by two (count 'em, two) radio stations. Both nights (Sunday and Monday) found a capacity crowd (7500) to enjoy music at its peak.
The music of the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service is, or should be, well known to all, and it is way past the point of doing critical analysis of their respective styles. Having seen all three groups at various locations around the country, the only point to be made is that San Francisco music just seems to sound much better in San Francisco. If Baratta can keep his level of booking high, there's no reason why San Francisco can't once again support two major ballrooms. If nothing else, Winterland may give agents an alternative to the Cow Palace!

(by A.R., from Cash Box, 17 October 1970)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

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  1. Kathy Orloff wrote a syndicated column called "The Now Sound" - she was based in Los Angeles, writing profiles of various rock artists from 1969-71, and her articles were widely printed in papers around the country.
    This is very much an outsider's report on the San Francisco scene - it's funny that, although she primarily wrote about Los Angeles acts, here she presents LA audiences as musically impoverished philistines compared to their northern SF counterparts.

    She's also mistaken about this being "the opening of a new rock ballroom" - Bill Graham had been presenting shows in Winterland since 1966. He'd stopped putting on rock shows there in April 1970, though, and Paul Baratta took over for several months in late 1970; these were Baratta's first Winterland shows.
    Billboard ran a report on the San Francisco music scene in its 11/14/70 issue ("San Francisco Revisited," by George Knemeyer) with some more background:
    "Bill battling his former helper, Paul Baratta, now promoting concerts at Winterland... 'I broke with Bill because of a growing disenchantment. We just went our separate ways,' says Baratta. 'Winterland was going to waste, and the owner called me and said they were going to do rock shows and wanted to know if I was interested in helping them...' Baratta doesn't speak bitterly of Graham, although he does think the Fillmore West head was foolish not to have taken Winterland. Graham had a lease on the building for first options on rock shows, but finally let this expire, paving the way for weekly shows at Winterland."
    John Glatt's book Live at the Fillmore reports: "Paul Baratta staged a coup for Graham had failed to pay his $60,000 guarantee. The owners decided to back Baratta, giving him sole rights to stage all future Winterland concerts. Baratta immediately signed Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead for his first show there...
    'I think Bill's in for a fight,' Baratta told Rolling Stone, vowing to become the number-one promoter in San Francisco. 'Graham has never had any real competition. I know how to package a show as well as Bill. Winterland is the biggest hall in town and I know the market well enough to put the shows together so the people will come to see them.'"
    But after some backstage maneuverings, Graham ended up taking back Winterland only a couple months later, as the 1/9/71 Billboard reported:
    "Bill Graham has taken over Winterland as its concert promoter. Paul Baratta, a former Graham employee, had booked the large facility since Oct. 4. Graham's first bill is New Year's Eve...
    Graham is still operating the Fillmore here, but has announced plans to close it and get into other areas of show business.
    Graham's contract for the exclusive use of Winterland covers all rock shows in 1971 with two one-year options. The only exception is when the Ice Follies moves into the building [during the summer months].
    Winterland is operated by Medicor, a Minneapolis-based firm. Graham acts as an independent promoter with a straight rental agreement for the building."

    Anyway, Orloff doesn't say much about the show - in fact, no observations on the sets except for the Dead's, since she only intends a brief overview of the San Francisco Sound.
    These shows marked a turning point for a couple bands - Quicksilver didn't break up, but John Cipollina left the band; and Papa John Creach played with Jefferson Airplane for the first time, while Marty Balin threatened to quit.

  2. Orloff managed to write two articles around these shows, each with a different focus (the ballroom & the SF bands). The second article struck me as a rush job, with so little said about the show and some sentences randomly thrown together in haste without much connection. (A reader would think that the Dead played acoustic stuff at the show, and this article doesn't even indicate that any other bands played.)
    I took the article from the Honolulu paper because that was the longest copy - the other newspapers that printed the article usually edited out two or three paragraphs.

    The brief Cash Box piece also calls this "the opening of Winterland," which was misleading since Graham had used the venue much more than "on occasion" (though his rock-show bookings there had been somewhat off & on and irregular). But it shows this wasn't just Orloff's error. My guess is that's how the shows were advertised, with Baratta staking a claim on Winterland as a new rock ballroom. From 1971 onwards, after the Fillmore West closed, Graham would stage rock shows in Winterland much more frequently.

  3. Kathy Orloff had also written an article on the Jefferson Airplane back in August 1969, worth quoting:

    "Jefferson Airplane has always been one of my special favorites as far as groups go. I have been excited by their successes and managed to forgive them their failures. It has all been worthwhile, and their best is yet to come.
    The Airplane's newest RCA LP, tentatively titled "Volunteers of America," is down to the final mix and polish at RCA's Los Angeles studios. I happened into a session last week and the cuts that I heard just about knocked me down. It's Jefferson Airplane, all right, but you've never heard them like this.
    The music is far more melodic, far more meaningful and far richer than any of their previous attempts. I would hate to have to pick out a single from the lot. They're all equally great. The tone of the album tends away from [Baxter's] and toward the more consistent rhythms that got San Francisco off its rear end and dancing. [ . . . ]
    Even though the Airplane is mixing their album in L.A., it was recorded in San Francisco. The group refuses to believe that L.A. is the musical capital of the country, as many record company executives would like to believe. It may be where the machines are, but it's not "where it's happening." "There's nothing happening in L.A.," says Paul. "Everyone's like a zombie. There's no together." But he doesn't foresee a huge shift in recording from L.A. to the North."
    She also recommends Ralph Gleason's book "Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound": "despite some flaws and superficialities...a valuable little documentary... It is perhaps very instructive that the book was written around the Airplane. Their comments and feelings on what has happened and what is going on in San Francisco may do a great deal to explain why the climate cannot be re-created elsewhere."