THE BACKBEAT YOU CAN’T LOSE IT – Part 2
In late summer of 1967, when I got my orders for duty station returning from Vietnam, it was to Yuma Proving Grounds, in Yuma, Arizona. I asked my father if he could do anything to change it and, after pulling a few strings, my orders were changed to Oakland Army Base, California, where I was to be the Billeting Officer.
“ARE YOU JOKING”? one minute I was looking at hanging out with Frank Gill in the hottest place in the USA, 40 miles from Mexicali, and the next minute I am on my way to the Bay Area, 45 minutes from home.
As my first September nights back at my parents home began to settle me into the quiet peacefulness of Menlo Park, and I began to reconnect to my classmates in Santa Clara and San Francisco, I realized that their were some pretty cool new things going on – lots of pot, rock music, a colorful new sense of art, and freedom to play. At night I went out into the folks backyard for a smoke and enjoy the evening and when I went back in I listened to a radio station that played really good music with no ads – KMPX (and Russ the Moose Syracuse on KYA).
The third night home I went down to the old U to Gibby’s apartment. After a half hour of chit-chat Gib asked “Have you listened to Sergeant Peppers?” … I had in fact heard parts of it in June ’67 while totally out of it on Singha beer and thai sticks in a bar in the packed, dirt, streets of Bangkok on my R&R. Mama-san had come and told all of us sitting, out of our minds, “This is the New Beatles Album”. All I had heard in my beer soaked haze was “A Day in the Life” and I remember thinking – “this is noisy avant-garde crap; the Beatles are done as a R&R band”. Well, back in Santa Clara, Gibby turned down the lights, got some munchies out, and we sat down on the floor. I pulled out some of those filtered numbers I had pick up on the way to my last flight out of the war, and after lighting up, listened to Sergeant Pepper’s in a whole new way. That was my introduction to the new music scene that I had largely missed while away at basic training in Virginia and running convoys to the Cambodian border. Later that evening in the warm glow of the Beatles I went over to Kathy Sheehan’s – we had been in love two years before but had sadly grown apart as I headed for the Army – we lay on the floor, happy to look into each other eyes, and listened to Glen Campbell singing the great ballad “Gentle on My Mind”.
Soon I moved into my own billet in the army BOQ in San Franciso.
It was on the cliffs of Fort Mason, where the Alcatraz fog horns played in the immense amphitheater created by the Berkley Hills, Sausalito, and Pacific Heights. I could walk thru the eucalyptus and costal pine grove down to Aquatic Park and Ghirardelli Square and catch the cable car up through North Beach and downtown. Heaven after AnKhe and Pleiku and the long road to Cambodia.
I had set up the high end Japanese stereo system I’d gotten at the PX in downtown QuiNhon – Teac reel to reel, Pioneer turntable and massive wooden 5 way speakers, Sansui integrated amp-receiver – all in a 200 sq ft studio in old WW2 barracks…just a bed and sounds. I had bought my first new 33 rpm record – “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd with the massive hit “See Emily Play”…hot stuff. We were ready to get rockin’.
The Summer of Love had tailed off as Fall ‘67 came and the action was going to be in the clubs and dance halls instead of the fields of Golden Gate Park. We’d heard about a dance hall where some serious rock bands were playing concerts produced by a group of young new promoters who called themselves “The Family Dog”. Pete and I headed over there one night in late October to check out the new scene.
The Avalon Ballroom was up and over the VanNess Hill between it and Polk Street on Sutter. On that cool evening, the weekend of October 27, a band called Quicksilver Messenger Service, with the incredible John Cipollina on lead guitar, was headlining; along with Sons of Champlin and a young fellow who is still playing today named Henry Saint Clair Fredericks or as you know him “Taj Mahal”.
The pounding music, smell of incense, and liquid light projections created an all absorbing atmosphere. We wandered around the back and sides of the dance floor. Everyone was dancing, individuals bouncing in rhythm, spinning, waving, arms in the
air, groups form and disperse, not much touching beyond a hand to the arm or a caress of a long silk scarf twirling around the girls in long flowered dresses with the ever changing, multicolor lights bathing the faces.. We wandered up into the balcony that surrounded 2 sides of the floor. There was something new for me here – small stalls selling all sorts of hand made crafts – candles, jewelry, slogan buttons, peace signs, mobiles, god’s eyes, tees, and scarves and caps and oils and pipes and papers…nice to wander through the new age souk. I’m sure you know what I mean…in my first visit to an SF music hall since Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable a year and a half earlier, I was captivated by the scene and the music and was ready to dive right into the unending stream of songs being played from Haight Street to Santa Cruz. **
What can I say about John Cipollina…? I’ve always felt the name Quicksilver came as a result of the fluid sliding notes and whammy bar of his guitar.
With his shoulder length hair and tall, slim shape he was the poster star of the San Franciso band scene.
As we went through the next 11 months Pete and Louie and Patti Pere and I would see him a dozen times. The Sons of Champlin were also a mainstay but I never connected with their sound. Taj Mahal comes to Portland annually and I often see him. Twenty years later I was walking through the back alleys of Kathmandu when a gringo stopped me to comment on my tee shirt..it was of the Dinosaurs – a classic “all stars” band composed of SF musical whiz kids from the ‘60s..Barry Melton, lead for Country Joe and the Fish, Peter Albin bass player for Big Brother, Spenser Dryden of the Airplane on drums, Merl Saunders the great organist for Jerry Garcia Band, and Cipollina waving his Gibson out in front. The Himal traveler & I chatted about how great it was to see these old guys still cranking; connecting though music 10,000 miles away at 5000 feet above the plains of the Ganges. Cipollina died in ‘89 Dryden in ’05, Saunders in ’08, Albin still playing with this years version of Big Brother, Barry Melton is an attorney in Lake County.
Two weeks later we went back to the Fillmore for a dance concert with the band that I was most interested in hearing – Pink Floyd. It was their first tour to the US and we saw them their second night, November 9.
You realize how new they were when you realize they were playing second billing to Procol Harum. As exciting as the Floyd was I was stunned by a band out of Chicago named HP Lovecraft after the early 20th century horror writer ( The Dunwich Horror among many). Their version of “Let’s Get Together” is my favorite as is “Wayfaring Stranger”.
Pete and Louie and I and Patty Pere working as a Playmate at the Playboy Club – we lived in SF for the better part of a year..from the end of “The Summer of Love” until Pete and I took off for Europe and North Africa in August ’68 and Lou went back to finish school until he graduated in January and came over to Spain and bailed me out of the police jam on the Rock of Gibraltar ( see post dated Jan 26, 2012). I moved from Ft Mason to Page Street on the edge of the Haight, then Lou and I got a small house down by the beach in the Avenues. I got into trouble with the Army for playing too much and moved back on base. Life was a constant search for new experiences and new sources for pot. With my army butch cut getting dates was hard but we’d occasionally get lucky. I did volunteer works and took some meditation and drawing classes, read Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows… Life was exciting and good, and rock music was still the constant beat.
There will NEVER be as rich a period of R&R live performances as in that period in San Francisco. Week after week after week we’d pick a venue and go see the now legends performing at the Fillmore, Winterland, the Polo Field in GG Park, and The Carousel Ballroom, Avalon. The Holy See, Brotherhood of Lights, and Glen McKay’s Headlights did the visuals. Bill Graham and Chet Helms that year produced hundreds of shows – Janis Joplin every few weeks, The Dead all over the place, the Airplane, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Santana, The Youngbloods, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Who, Steve Miller, Paul Butterfield, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, BB King, Albert King, The Chambers Brothers, Chuck Berry, Canned Heat, Electric Flag, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Floyd, Traffic, BST, Country Joe, Jimmy Page led Yardbirds, Steppenwolf with John Kay…all these boys and many more played multiple times, some of them dozens of times, then, in the height of their creative genius.
And this music scene was accompanied by an explosion in a new style of illustrative art with posters blasting in electric colors the tasty musical treats available that weekend.
Original poster art by the likes of Nicholas Kouninos, Mouse Moscoso, Stanley Mouse sell for upwards of a grand today. If you have favorite bands from that era you should take a look at Bill Graham’s collection sales site: http://www.wolfgangsvault.com .
One of the things many of us have learned over the years is the importance of life sports and actives that we can do with our kids. As Jenny and Nick entered their teenage years, way up north in Oregon we skied, played golf, hung out in and on the salty sea, explored lots of countries…we’ve kind of kept count of many of them. In the 90’s we’d count the number of ski days; in the last decade with Nick the number of scuba dives. In their teen years we’d see thirty or forty bands in a year – the kids were as committed to Rock and Roll as I was. Jen introduced me to Dave Mathews, The Cranberries, Duran Duran, Del Amitri; Nick’d recommend ska bands, took us deeper into Reggae, Phish, and more of The Dead and developed a serious love for Bob Dylan ( I’ve seen Dylan play about 12-15 times – many of them with Nicky). But there was never anything comparable in scope and amount of music we’d experience in those 10 San Francisco months between October 1967 and August 1968
I have been asked by my kids, after a few glasses of beer, what I would call out as the 10 Best concerts – I’ve modified this to be more like the Top 14 Rock experiences.
Here they are, not in order of preference.
Paul McCarthy Band, at Wembley Auditorium, (with Robbie McIntosh & Hamish Stuart doing the “Medley”) (maybe 1995?)
Bruce Springsteen’s 3 hour, 26 song, non stop blowout, with Margo Ann, Rose Garden, Nov 28, 2012
Eric Clapton at Royal The Royal Albert Hall, “From the Cradle” tour with John & Judith Woodget … all classic blues songs – 1994
Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Tour, Dec 1965, with Kathy Sheehan, San Jose Civic … first electric tour
Jimi Hendrix Experience, with Pete and Lou, at the Fillmore, Feb 1968
Cream, at the Fillmore, with Pete and Lou, Mar 7, 1968
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, 1990, with Michelle DiPietro, at the Memorial Coliseum, “Ragged Glory”
Santana and Rusted Root, with Waynette and Kaywood and our kids, Portland Waterfront, circa 1996
Dave Matthews Band, with Nicky’s gang, at the Gorge, July 1999
Buddy Guy release party for “Slippin’ In” at Legends Bar & Grill, S. Wabash, Chicago, 1994
Hot Tuna, June 2008 at Cal-Neva Lodge, North Shore, Lake Tahoe
Neil Young, Solo Acoustic concert, with Nick, Arlene Schnitzer Auditorium, a master class in guitar playing
Bob Dylan with Brad J., and Adam, playing at the Roseland Bar in 2000
I’d like to think for a few minutes about Hot Tuna. This is the band that Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy formed when they broke up Jefferson Airplane. Jorma and Jack had started playing together in high school, way back in the late ‘50s. I first met Jorma when we were going to Santa Clara University at the same time. He was giving guitar lessons and workshops and I was fortunate to go to a workshop where he taught us to play a 4 finger picking style “Freight Train”.
The Airplane had also gave one of their first concerts in a large Nobili Hall classroom. One night we “underage” college kids were trying to get in The Matrix with our fake id’s but failed, but as we walked away the smell of burning bacon came out of the alley way and we chatted for a minute with the band who were taking a break. We loved the Airplane – “Takes Off” was one of the few albums I had in Vietnam and I played it on a tiny portable 33rpm battery powered record player. Jack and Jorma have continued to build on their base of “folk rock”.
Hot Tuna plays in two separate versions – electric and acoustic. and they tour in one or the other guises. Jorma & his wife, with lots of frequent support from Jack, have what has to be a way cool “music ranch” about 70 miles south of Columbus Ohio on the road towards Roanoke Virginia. They have concerts, workshops, lessons, old rockers abound – players in concert, this year, in the wooded hills include Marty Balin, John Sebastian, David Lindley, Janis Ian, GE Smith, Crai Chaquito – amazing – they are essentially sold out for 2014, and it’s only February!. There YOU CAN GET BEGINNERS GUITAR LESSONS OR BASS LESSONS FROM 2 OF THE GREATEST ROCK MUSICIANS OF ALL TIME!! https://www.furpeaceranch.com
Jorma and Jack – they are living their lives the way God intended us to live.
As I write this I wonder “what is Rock and Roll”?
I don’t mean in the usual sense of jazz & blues met Appalachian, and pop ran into race records, and Rickenbacker, and Gibson, and Les Paul invented and perfected the axe, and Leo Fender came on with more and more powerful amps, and Owsley, besides making powerful blotter acid, also built the worlds largest concert sound system for the Grateful Dead – “The Wall of Sound”, not to be confused with the wife murderer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” for the Ronnettes and the Crystals, etc., etc.,.
I mean, why did it develop when the technology and cultural vectors were there, so ripe for convergence?
Having both been born in Philadelphia, and given my Mom (Phyllis)’s gregarious personality, both my parents had a wide group of friends spread out across Philly, DC, and NJ. They’d get together with Old Fashion’s and Manhattan’s and hang. They’d sometimes drag us kids to Ocean City NJ when we were staying with the Davaney Clan in Stone Harbor or Avalon to visit Phyllis’ pals “the Dollaway sisters” who had a high end dress shop on the Boardwalk. One late afternoon/early evening we found ourselves in the sister’s living room in a nice clapboard beach house a couple of blocks set back from the shore. Mom was playing the piano and the whole group of 50 somethings were leaning on the baby grand with cocktails in hand singing Rogers & Hart’s classic ballad “Blue Moon”. When someone else took over tickling the ivories Mom came over to me and said something like “this is the way we used to do it, all the time, when we’d get together”…and that went for the “Black Bottom” as well.
Music fills our hearts and fills our souls. It’s great to sit and listen too but even better if you can get up and shake it with some friends and hopefully some cute gals. It can be simple ditties or grand operas, with no story or with 15 hours of exposition as in The Ring. It starts with some guy in a bedroom playing E, A7th, B7th and ends up with half a million people at Woodstock or Glastonbury or listening to KINK over the web on Santorini; or 5 guys singing Dion songs and smoking Winston’s in Charles Hutchen’s ’61 Chevy.
So R&R is kind of like Viennese Waltzes were in the late 18th Century, Clapton and The Beatles like Johann Strauss and Fils; The Who’s “The Wall” or “Tommy” like Die Fledermaus. You know, I LOVE Wikipedia .. check this out on the beginnings of the Viennese Waltz in about 1790:
“This (waltzing) action also required the dancers’ bodies to be very close together and this closeness also attracted moral disparagement. Wolf published a pamphlet against the dance entitled “Proof that Waltzing is the Main Source of Weakness of the Body and Mind of our Generation” in 1797.” ”
“The advent of the Waltz in polite society was quite simply the greatest change in dance form and dancing manners that has happened in our history” we need to realize that all European social dances before the waltz were communal sequence dances. Communal, because all the dancers on the floor took part in a pre-set pattern (often chosen by a Master of Ceremony). Dancers separately, and as couples, faced outwards to the spectators as much as they faced inwards. Thus all present took part as dancers or as onlookers. This was the way with the country dance and all previous popular dances. With the waltz, couples were independent of each other, and were turned towards each other (though not in close contact). Lord Byron wrote a furious letter, which precedes his poem The Waltz, in which he decries the anti-social nature of the dance, with the couple “like two cockchafers spitted on the same bodkin.” ”
..as my friend Darrell Owens (the spy) likes to says “ you can’t make this stuff up”
So this has rambled on long enuf..
Last Monday we went with Frank and Mary to our wonderful Oregon Symphony doing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. The last movement is a drummers delight with supersonic beats and split second shifts – Ludwig notated “forte fortissimo” which I think means “Stronger than the strongest” or “kick the snot out of it”; “Bacchic Fury”, “whirling dance energy” – Beethoven called it “one of my best works” ; Wagner said it was “the apotheosis of the dance”. Our kettle drum player – Jonathan Greeney absolutely NAILED IT! He was shaking & twisting and dancing way back there behind the woodwinds – laying down the beat with those big sticks.
…he coulda been Buddy Miles or Ginger Baker if he wanted to, but why, when you can play like that on the 7th?
The last week I have been making playlists for a sailing trip this summer. My last 2 playlist ventures have received “mixed” reviews from the listeners. They will not let me off the hook however – Big Bubba says I’m on a CAP. But Geri and Karen are helping me and in that process I’ve learned a ton about “newish” current singers..guess what? There is great new stuff being played now a days: Drake, Daft Punk, Robin Thicke, Barbara Lynn, Adele, Fleet Foxes, The Lumineers, Kyle Minogue, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Lorde, Gwen S., Lana Del Rey, the list is endless ..the beat goes on!! Greece awaits In’shallah.
…with that I close with the sagest thoughts in music…
to paraphrase Billy Joel: “It’s all rock and roll to me”
and Neil: “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World”,
and Danny and the Juniors: “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay”..
** footnote: Andy Warhol started his artistic life drawing ladies shoes for an advertising company. His family emigrated from Slovakia in 1914 to Pittsburg where his dad was a coal miner. Warhol studied art Carnegie Mellon. He was 35 years old in 1962 when he burst onto the scene in ’62 with his first New York solo show at Stable Gallery.
Unbeknownst to many Warhol was a pioneer in rebirth of Dadesque films in the 60’s. Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, playing on those spring evenings at the Fillmore on Geary was a sensory happening. The new concept of “light shows” was taken to a new level with this production by Warhol. Projected on the walls were 16 mm B&W movies – one of a cat sleeping, another of a man in a rocking chair eating an apple, crazy stuff.