Sep 21, 2018

February 4, 1970: Family Dog


Wednesday night (last Wednesday - a week ago) there was a hot-shit, high-class, invitational only bash at the Family Dog. If you had gone down, you could have gotten in - like you walk up to the door and say, "Marty Balin invited me," and bop on through. I said, "Ralph Gleason invited me," (actually it had been Sandy Darlington). I invited a number of people myself, and they said, "Black Shadow invited me." Everybody got in. Hip high-society, rubbing elbows. Get in free.
KQED-TV was taping a live rock show with the Airplane, the Dead, Santana, and Kimberly. But it was really a party, a television party, and as a matter of fact it was pretty neat. I usually get places early ('cause I dig watching things get set up), and Lil and I arrived around 8:00. The Dog was mostly empty except for a bunch of people sitting around the stage, early-bird movie cameramen, and some technicians playing with their shiny TV cameras. It felt good, even with nothing happening; people were relaxed and expectant, rapping and watching the big color-TV monitor by the side of the stage. There were three cameras, two of them on high dollies and one (right in front of the stage) on a low, rolling platform. People drifted in in pairs and triplets, and strolled up and down the hall looking for their friends.
After a while, Kimberly started to play. We hadn't brought any dope, and I went looking for someone who had. No luck, so I complained to the management and wandered some more. The cameras were mostly taking pictures of the audience, and big, colored lights blinded us. That's the price you pay for fame and everything. The Dog was getting more crowded now, and I could feel the curve of excitement rising slowly. Something was building, but not yet built. Fuck, where was the dope?
The second (or third) wave of arrivals came bearing the sacrament, and an angelic chick who had come with Robert Altman led me to where it was being smoked. Five or ten minutes later I slipped back into the flow, as Kimberly finished their set and the Stones bootleg concert album started playing on the PA. Dope circulated freely. The curve was getting up there now, and I realized that it wasn't a concert, wasn't even an event, but merely a party. Santana started to play, and I found my way up to the front so I could watch the cameramen and the TV monitor.
TV is groovy stuff, man. Instant feedback, watching the image in the back of the camera while you take it. There wasn't much room to move around, but whenever the cameras had to change position the crowd obligingly melted, flowed, and crystallized again, understanding the reason for the disruption and perfectly cool. Altamont should have been like that. No one was uptight about anything. The earlier promise of good vibes had been fulfilled, and I was well and truly stoned. Helpless to do much more than sit there and take it all in, I let Santana fill me with energy, watched the cameras, and smoked more dope.
There had been rumors (the usual rumors - you know) that the man was arriving with a lot of acid. I went over to the snack bar and discovered two big barrels of kool-aid punch - a barrel of green kool-aid and a barrel of red kool-aid. I stood there trying to figure out the psychology of the kool-aid makers: if I were going to put acid in one of these barrels, which barrel would I put it in? Finally I drank some green and some red, filled cups, and brought them to Lil and Altman. But the acid turned out to be rumor-acid, and we never got off. No matter.
By now the Dead were setting up. Earlier in the evening I had gone over to ask Jerry Garcia something, and discovered him in the grip of an intense karmic involvement with this cat whose lady wanted to dance on-stage with the Dead. The cat was channeling a really heavy energy beam at Garcia, and Garcia was just doing the best he could, saying, "Sure, man, she can do whatever she wants, it's cool," but the cat couldn't dig it and kept right on beaming in, saying, "She couldn't get it together to ask you, and you're just her favorite band," and on and on. I remembered a Common meeting when someone had accused Garcia of being a rock star, and Garcia said, "We can't help it, man, if people need to make us rock stars we gotta play along."
So now she was up there with the Dead, living a dream and dancing North Beach go-go style. I watched her tits bounce for a while, but the best dancers were on the floor, dancing for themselves. I really don't dig watching go-go dancers - the ego-trip gets in the way. The Dead put out some pretty music, but they weren't up to the energy explosion that they usually pull off. They had just gotten busted in New Orleans a couple of days before, and under the circumstances I could dig that they might be a shade off the mark. But even on an off-night the Dead look out for your head, and it was good to dance, good to be there with them.
The dope was still going around, and it all began to flow even smoother than before. Somehow the Dead got off and the Airplane got on, and then Jorma's guitar was ripping through the smoke-filled hall, carrying an intensity that couldn't have hit me more intimately if his guitar strings had been attached to my teeth. A rush, heavy and fine, and then Marty and Grace were into "Another Side of This Life," just as sad/true as it was when Fred Neill sang it in the Gaslight on MacDougal Street, lo these many years ago. The Airplane did it up just right, and now the curve was peaking and I leaned into it, giving over to the music.
But going through the acid number (you know: Is it coming on? Am I getting off?) had used up a lot of energy, and Jorma's guitar was about all I could still pick up on. Tired, happy, wasted, I wandered around until I found Lil and we crashed somewhere off by ourselves, letting the Airplane TCB. There was a jam afterward, but I couldn't listen anymore and we split.
Sure was a nice party.

(from the San Francisco Good Times, 13 February 1970)

* * *


In April the National Educational Television network will present an hour and a half special featuring the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Santana, and 800 invited guests in various states of heightened consciousness. The show was pulled together by writer Ralph Gleason, who was able to secure for the groups complete control over the program, filmed last week at the Family Dog Ballroom on the Pacific Coast Highway. The show promises to be unique in many ways. To begin with, not since the heyday of the old Fillmore Ballroom almost three years ago have I seen such a cosmic gathering. In the crowd Dino Valenti wandered around, as did members of the Quick Silver Messenger Service, Bill Graham, Chet Helms, the old Charlatans, and other members of Frisco bands and scene makers. Members of the San Francisco Hip Society, sipping red or green Kool Aid, according to taste.
At the rear of the hall in a sound box was Owsley, the sound man at the original Family Dog and Acid Test gatherings. It was like the class reunion of Sandoz '65.
The taping started at eight in the evening. Santana, the Airplane, and the Dead were each to do short sets, then join together for a jam session.
The jam session started late in the evening, the Kool Aid and the vibes were electric as the Dead, Quick Silver, the Airplane, and Santana played with each other. Various members of the audience also took the mike and crooned their trip into it. After a decent allowance of time with the mike, the tripster would be gently guided off stage as, together, the bands played on into the night.
All of the bands were as good as I have seen them before, only this night they seemed especially so. It was as if they all got a chance to take a trip back to the scene Frisco was before they were rock stars, before the ballrooms got over-crowded and people stopped dancing in them.
Gleason wrote a book last year, The Jefferson Airplane and The San Francisco Sound (Bantam, 95 cents), in which he reviewed the San Francisco scene from its beginnings and interviewed each of the Jefferson Airplane. In the interview with singer Marty Balin, the following dialogue takes place. 

GLEASON: It's a profound sociological event, this whole last two years.
MARTY: It's funny how it happens like that. If you have a sense of history, you can see...we are the renaissance of today...the young people, the grass, and the music.
GLEASON: They can't stop the music...there are little delaying guys did are on the top of the charts on every radio station in this country. They can't erase that. It is there. Forever. When you do your ninety minute TV thing, what it ought to be is the whole thing. It should lay it right out there visually.
MARTY: That's what we want to do. Yeah! We want to tell it from the inside and tell it so beautifully and so heavy that, for an hour, people are just caught up...not with just selling it, or this and that, you know, just showing off, but just the sheer poetry of it, the beautiful idea that exists. It would blow people's minds, and hour and God! [sic] How can we get the chance to do it? Nobody will give us the chance. They think we are all crazy! When we went into those towns, well, we said, "Let's go play in the park for the people like we do at home." So we'd do that, and I'm not kidding you! We'd play in these Civic Centers, and we played one place, the cops just lined up around this whole Civic Center, all the cops in the city, from out of town, and there are maybe 50,000 kids there for our free concert, right in the middle of the Civic Center. It was just great! It was a fantastic thing... They would have barriers up, and we'd just knock the barriers over. We'd take off our shirts and not bullshit. We just came out on this sunny day, and we're all getting tans, too, and they just had a great time. [We'd] do that before we'd go play a concert lots of times, and they'd still come to the concert. Promoters would freak out. They'd say, "You can't play anywhere for a 50 mile radius," so we played for nothing, for ourselves for free, and they'd blow their minds.
GLEASON: Have they tried to write anything into the contract saying you can't play for free?
MARTY: No. They don't think anybody plays for no money.

Gleason says, "The book is a gas if you were, like myself, involved in the early days of the San Francisco scene. The crazy people Marty spoke of finally got their chance, in the Family Dog Ballroom, to lay it out for TV, so beautifully that the people were caught up, and the old San Francisco magic came back for a return appearance. In April you'll be able to see what all the shouting was about way back then, on Channel 28.

(by John Carpenter, from the Los Angeles Free Press, 20 February 1970)

* * *


The Haight-Ashbury may be a disaster area and the hippies may be dead, dispersed, or diverted, but the music which made the mid-Sixties a turning point in American social history is alive and well.
The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service are the three bands from the original dances in 1965-66 and they are still strong bands today, and the Dead, strangely enough, is now more popular than ever.
When it was all happening in the beginning months, TV crews and filmmakers from all over the world flocked to San Francisco's ballrooms and photographed the action. I remember when a BBC-TV crew spent weeks here in a frenzy of filming, living with the Grateful Dead and following one band after another around to dances and concerts.
But somehow all these representations of the San Francisco scene failed to bring out what it was really like, perhaps because of time limitations, perhaps because of other things.
In any case, it certainly never seemed to me that what I ended up watching on the screen or the tube really got the feeling that the events themselves had in that period.
So when the chance came to make a film and a videotape program for National Educational Television on the San Francisco adult rock music [scene], it was too good to resist.
The results will be seen today on Channel 9 at 10 p.m. in NET's "Fanfare" series and next Sunday night at 10. Tonight's program is a filmed performance documentary and is called "San Francisco Rock: Go Ride the Music." Next Sunday night's program is a videotape show and is called "San Francisco Rock: A Night at the Family Dog."

The programs began as a series of discussions between Dick Moore (then head of KQED's film unit and now head of the entire KQED operation), Bob Zagone (who had directed numerous rock and jazz programs for KQED), and myself. When NET approved the idea, we then went to the Jefferson Airplane for a long evening's discussion of what to do, and the project was under way.
That was early this year. The Airplane wanted the music to be seen and heard in its most natural setting. So we took over the ballroom on the Great Highway that the Family Dog was then operating and had a two-night rehearsal and shooting schedule with the KQED mobile video unit and with special assistance from Glenn McKay, the light show artist who had done so many of the Airplane's shows.
The program consisted of sets by the Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Santana, one of the exciting younger bands who was there as the Airplane's guest, and a jam session at the end of the evening. Special care was taken to keep the lighting necessary for video cameras low enough so it did not distract either the musicians or the audience and [was] still bright enough to get an image.
Bob Zagone worked outside in the mobile unit's command truck with its control room setup, and the whole evening was videotaped and an hour show edited down from that.

Then we went to work on the film program, the idea of which was to show the bands in several different scenes and to get some feeling of how it was for them, as differentiated from the feeling of the video show at the Family Dog which was more from the audience viewpoint.
We filmed an evening with the Airplane at Pacific High studios in San Francisco where they just played a couple of sets for their friends, a group which included members of most of the other bands and several visitors such as David Crosby. There we had more mobility with hand-held cameras and simultaneous shooting from several locations.
Next we had the unusual opportunity of participating in one of the dances that the San Francisco bands themselves ran. This was an evening at Winterland featuring the Airplane and the Quicksilver Messenger Service.
We were able to film the special technical arrangements being made prior to the performance and to film, with one hand-held camera, a portable light, and a tape recorder, backstage in the dressing room as Dino Valenti rehearsed a new song with David Freiberg of Quicksilver.
Then, with good luck running with us, we were able to arrange for a free concert by Quicksilver at Sonoma State College on a gorgeous sunny afternoon in March during a special week-long peace program. It was a wild day.
One of the group had decided to quit and we didn't know if he would show up. There was a terrible hassle getting a piano for Nicky Hopkins. The electricity blew out three times in the opening number, but somehow we survived it all and got a lot of excellent footage of the band and the audience in that benign setting.
Then the hard part came when Bob Mathews mixed down the music tracks and Claire Ritchie and Bill Yahraus edited the film. That is the show we will see tonight, with the video performance at the Family Dog next Sunday night.
In neither of the programs did we want to set up an outside voice to narrate, so the only voices heard are those of the musicians themselves. In tonight's film there are short interviews with both Marty Balin, lead singer of the Airplane, and Jerry Garcia, guitarist and unofficial musical guru of the San Francisco scene, which set the stance for the entire approach.
Since the filming at Sonoma State followed the evening when Dino Valenti brought out his new song, we were able to cut from the dressing room rehearsal to the outdoor performance in one of the most effective moments I have seen concerning contemporary music.

Rock music is, of course, inextricably bound up with electronics, and we were lucky throughout to get the kind of realistic sound we did. In addition, Bob Zagone's prior experience with Jazz Casual shows and with several rock shows (including the West Pole series) was of immense value in capturing the feeling of the musicians and of the event itself in each case.
Both of the programs are being sent out over the Public Broadcasting System's network to the educational TV stations all over the country, and hopefully they will all program them.
San Francisco's contribution to contemporary music has finally had an adequate representation on film and videotape which, no matter what may happen now to trends and styles, will be available for history. I am proud to have had even a small role in bringing it about.
Both programs will be repeated, incidentally, on the Saturdays following the initial showing. Tonight's program will be repeated Dec. 12 at 6 o'clock and next Sunday night's program will be repeated at 6 on Dec. 19.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the San Francisco Examiner, 6 December 1970) (China>Rider) (Hard to Handle)

See also:


  1. A few more articles on the Family Dog TV taping (some others are in the linked post). "Black Shadow" gives a good account from the audience perspective - notably, he's more concerned with looking for drugs than with the music! (I love how, when he couldn't find someone to give him dope, he "complained to the management.")
    He notes that the Dead show isn't very hot, they're having an off-night - "they weren't up to the energy explosion that they usually pull off" - and suggests this is due to the recent bust. It may also have been the TV cameras, but Dead shows at the Family Dog were generally very laid-back.
    Access to the band was easy - he goes to ask Garcia something, and finds Garcia already cornered by a persistent fan. This reminds me of Ed McClanahan's report of a Fillmore West show in August '70, where Garcia's constantly being pestered by various backstage psychos.
    Two months after Altamont, it's ironic to find the new Stones bootleg concert album playing on the PA between bands - this must be Liver Than You'll Ever Be, from their Oakland show in November '69. (Rolling Stone had reviewed the bootleg just a week earlier.)

    Carpenter's article is briefer, more of an outsider's viewpoint. For Black Shadow, the event was a party more than a concert; for Carpenter, it reflects the way things used to be back in '65 "before they were rock stars," a "cosmic gathering" that restores the old magic for a night. (By 1970 nostalgia for the good old days was strong, and it was already felt that the best years were long past.)
    Only a snippet of the concluding jam made it into the TV show; it's said to have lasted an hour. It's interesting to hear that vocalists from the audience participated too! Bob Matthews was recording, and there's a chance that audio tape of the jam still survives (along with the rehearsals from the day before), but I think not much of a chance it'll ever see daylight.

    For the December '70 broadcasts of the Family Dog show and "Go Ride the Music," Gleason wrote an article on the background of their production. The Airplane had been filmed at Pacific High on April 2; the date for the Sonoma State College Quicksilver show has been unknown, but here Gleason says March '70 "during a special week-long peace program."
    Actually, it was 4/28/70 - the Petaluma Argus-Courier (on 4/30) reported that a peace symposium had been taking place at the college:
    "Wednesday afternoon, [several local] bands played consecutively through the afternoon by the lake, and drew hundreds of students.
    Tuesday, the word got around that the famous Quicksilver Messengers from San Francisco were making an unannounced appearance at the college and kids poured in after school from all over the area. Observers said up to 2,000 heard the band play.
    The performance and the crowd was televised for a documentary KQED is making on the message of the country's music makers.
    Today [Thursday] by the lake in the afternoon will include performances by Osceola, Maggie's Farm, Helix, and the Rhythm Dukes."
    Gleason also says they filmed Quicksilver backstage at a Winterland concert earlier, which I presume was 4/15/70 - it's a pity they didn't film the actual concert!
    Gleason had also been involved with the West Pole TV show in 1968, the year he put together his Jefferson Airplane book to document the scene. It's notable that now he says the San Francisco music scene is preserved and "available for history" on film, although earlier filming attempts "failed to bring out what it was really like." His optimism was somewhat misfounded, given that two Dead shows at Winterland were filmed for TV that year in 1970 and both have disappeared; and as for the BBC crew that stayed with the Dead and "spent weeks here in a frenzy of filming" concerts back in 1966, whatever show that was for, it seems to have vanished as well.

    1. About Quicksilver, yes, the Winterland show was the one on April 15, 1970, while the Sonoma State College gig was on April 28, 1970

  2. As Black Shadow's article suggests, getting in free to Family Dog shows was a popular sport at the time. There was a Good Times article on the Family Dog's problems that month ("Voyeurs Rush Family Dog," SF Good Times 3/5/70) - they owed the IRS back taxes and needed to raise ticket prices to $3.50, while dozens of people at a time were sneaking into shows. (The window in the women's restroom was one favored entryway.) During shows, gatecrashers were climbing the walls, breaking windows, throwing rocks, tearing the fence down, and attacking security guards.

    Describing the Dead's 2/27/70 show:
    “The Family Dog is under siege. Inside, the Grateful Dead pound out their own particular brand of music, dancers dance, spectators sit, trippers trip in the fetid closeness. The patio, once a place for between-the-acts smokes and a little fresh air, is deserted, disputed territory. The doors are locked and barred, and the odor of a thousand bodies mixes with that of various burning weeds, a self-contained vortex. It's very hot.
    'It used to be, sneaking into the Dog was just a game,' Jim Hay, manager of the Dog, said earlier that afternoon... 'Lately, though, it's become more of an all-out assault... Security's been so loose in the past, sometimes there were as many as two or three hundred sneak-ins a night,' Hay says. 'That's a little large.' ...
    Friday night, halfway through the performance: in the lulls between songs, the steady pounding of would-be crashers drifts through the fetid air. 'Let’s open those doors and get a little fresh air in here.' No response. Garcia asks again. Finally a billow of fresh air rushes into the place and the Dead break into 'Easy Wind.'
    The lights are groovy... The sound is crisp and carries all over the ballroom... The floors collect their usual covering of dirt, cigarette butts, candy wrappers... [A] kid flings himself up the wall again to claw at the plywood door... Another...tries to riff his way in the front door with a hard-luck story... Inside, the band thumps and bumps toward an orgasm of light and sound. Another board comes off the fence and another rock bounces into the deserted patio.
    Are Chet Helms and the Family Dog traitors to the movement, exploiters of the Community?
    A relatively unbiased observer, when asked, had the following comment: 'If they were doing this to Bill Graham, he'd probably machine-gun them.'”

  3. I always thought the female dancer on the film was a member of the dad's inner she was just some guys old lady. ha. It's true though the dead weren't really on -stagefright perhaps again- or just not feeling the vibe. Hard to handle is a little let down as was Rider.

  4. I want to just cross-reference my "San Francisco Sessions, 1970" post here, because part D of that post goes into too-elaborate, and probably, to some extent, incorrect detail about the various filmed events. With more time, I'd cross-check carefully with LIA's comments here ...