|Posted by [email protected] on March 30, 2017 at 11:35 AM|
Area wise, San Francisco is not a big city - only 47 square miles. Most of the clubs were located either in North Beach or the Fillmore District. It was about a ten minute bus ride from to get from one place to the other.
The jazz clubs mainly were located in the Fillmore, and there was about any type of music you wanted in the North Beach clubs. Consequently, there was a lot of cross pollination of musical styles happening. However, it was mostly adventurous Jazz musicians that sat in with some Rock bands at late night gigs.
On one evening of club hopping, I caught three name acts in North Beach alone, a Folk, Jazz, and Rock gig.
The premier Rock club was the Matrix started by the founding member of the "Jefferson Airplane," Marty Balin, as a venue to showcase the band, but went on to showcase international acts. (There's quite a few live recordings of bands on Youtube that played at Matrix.)
In 1966/early 1967 the whole San Francisco music scene was casual and more of a hometown thing. It was commonplace to sit next to a musician you saw night before at a coffee shop the next day or at some Jazz club catching Willie Bobo or Thelonious Monk and not think anything of it - it was like meeting a neighbour on the street - a nod of recognition.
The quality of the local Rock bands were making a quantum leap from being average club bands to journeyman musicians and attracting international attention among fellow musicians.
North Beach coffeeshop conversations always turned to who saw who and what groups were playing where and when. Life seemed to revolve around the music scene.
Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium was fastly becoming the place to play for most of the groups, and Graham started locking up all the best acts in most every musical genre.
The second venue was the Avalon Ballroom the hardcore Hippie hangout where Chet Helms featured mainly local talent and groups up from Los Angeles. The Allman Brothers Band played their first gigs there under the moniker of “The Allman Joys.”
The scene was rapidly evolving into something more substantive than simply Rock bands doing Saturday night dances as a fusion of styles seeded and sprouted among the musicians.
Ralph Gleason, Jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, took an interest in the "Jefferson Airplane" and began promoting them in his column, and soon included more aspiring local Rock groups worthy of note.
A few local groups were incorporating seasoned horn sections. A group called “The Loading Zone” was the first band I heard that you could classify as a fusion group with a top notch horn section. You couldn’t actually classify them in any category as they incorporated many musical elements into a unique sound https://youtu.be/zYTnsjqXrfw
However, back then, the guitar was king, and evolving technology added an extra dimension.
Hometown Guitarists like Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane” started experimenting with feedback, and John Cipollina of “Quicksilver Messenger Service” was pushing his work to the limit. (The best example of Quicksilver’s work is their 1969 album, “Happy Trails” - https://youtu.be/fCG0oqWT5wc).
At the time, Cipollina and Kaukonen were pioneering new and unique styles indigenous to the San Francisco Bay area.
Most bands also used a rhythm guitar, and the Jazz influence was evident. Usually, with Rock bands, the rhythm guitarist just chunked out metronomic chords, but with groups like the Airplane, Quicksilver, and Country Joe and the Fish, and others, there was syncopation incorporated with transitional lead tradeoffs transforming the mundane into something interesting. Most of that innovation came from listening to
Blues bands where it's common practice for guitarist to do tradeoffs and emphasis the rhythm guitar. .
The rhythm sections became more sophisticated with the inclusion of conga drums, etc.
The bass players were doing more intricate work. It was an expedited learning curve for everyone involved, and the audiences expected more and more out of the musicians driving experimentation even further into unknown territory.
"Quicksilver Messenger Service" had the best guitar duo outside the Butterfield Blues Band guitarists, Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield with Cipollina and Gary Duncan.
In 1966, The “Paul Butterfield Blues Band” released the album “East West,” which never got much popular acclaim, but regarded as a seminal album by many critics. On side one, they covered Nat Adderley's classic “Work Song” brilliantly with Mike Bloomfield fusing a Blues style with an Indian Raga feel. Butterfield’s harmonica work and searing guitar duets by Bloomfield and Bishop pushed the tune to another level.
The title cut of that album, “East West” was a classic frenetic opus - an Indian Raga/Blues fusion and probably the first cohesive, extended jazz orientated piece by a Rock/Blues band. It was inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s work in that area https://youtu.be/qvIUdDtOO9E.
Interestingly, while all this was going on, and it was still, basically, an underground scene that hadn’t grasp national/international attention to any degree other than from other musicians. However, in 1967, the release of the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” off the album “Surrealistic Pillow” hit number eight on the Billboard chart to become the anthem for the evolving psychedelic revolution, and enjoys popularity to this day.
The release of “White Rabbit” marked the emergence of the San Francisco music scene onto the national and international stage.
Grace Slick, vocalist, for the Airplane penned “White Rabbit” and said that as far as developing song, she listened to Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ “Sketches of Spain,” and drew from Ravel’s Classical piece, “Bolero.”
By 1967, what once was an underground scene started to become a full fledged, “flower power” movement. At first people trickled into San Francisco, and as spring evolved to Summer, more than one hundred thousand people flooded into the small city surrounded by water on three sides.
The stage was set for a three day event that was the advent of the rock festivals. In June 1967, “The First Monterey International Pop Festival.” ‘Monterey Pop’ as it became to be known, was the prototype for all major music festivals to come, but it was unique at the time because of its inclusiveness. Not only did the lineup include many well known pop groups as well as the local staples, but also Jazz artists such as Hugh Masekela and Lou Rawls.
Monterey Pop featured thirty-three acts over that three day period.
The legendary classical sitar artist,Ravi Shankar, was there as well as Soul singer Otis Redding backed up by Stax Record session bands, “Booker T and the MGs” and the “Mar-Keys” who were also featured acts on their own.
“The Who” and Jimi Hendrix made their incendiary debut in the US market at Monterey Pop.
Aside from vaulting many acts from obscurity to stardom, Monterey Pop sported the most sophisticated sound system for a large scale event to that date.
Fortunately, highlights of that festival were documented in the film, “Monterey Pop,” produced by D.A. Pennebaker https://youtu.be/3N3eDAiRaN8).
Eric Burdon penned the song, “Monterey” that best summed up the experience in a song (https://youtu.be/Mvs8U0oxnlI).
Shortly after Monterey pop, I went to a concert at the Fillmore where Jimi Hendrix was second on the bill for headlining Jefferson Airplane. Opening for them was Jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo. Curiously, as an unintended consequence, it was Szabo’s performance that stuck in my mind - even to this day, some fifty years down the road, I still have Szabo in my collection. I went out and bought his Album “Spellbinder” the next day (https://youtu.be/jb1SHMJKQJo).
It was that Summer in the San Francisco the stage was set for an international revolution in music and culture, but it was also the beginning of the end for the intimate underground scene in San Francisco.
The city was jampacked with pilgrims from all over the world looking for peace, love, free sex, and just getting stoned. Haight Street became a seething mass of humanity punctuated with panhandlers, drug dealers, and bus loads of photo snapping tourists. However, Bill Graham’s Fillmore and Chet Helms’ Avalon began attracting even more international acts they incorporated with other musical genres expanding the audiences’ experience and introducing the featured groups to new concepts. It was a learning experience for everyone involved.
Instinctively, I knew the renaissance wouldn’t last, but with a sense of urgency, I wanted to experience as much of it as possible before it dissipated into history and silly, nostalgic reminiscences by people trying to relive the past.
Form 1966 through 1970, if a person was into music, the San Francisco Bay Area was the place to be because all the great acts came to you, and it only cost a pittance to get in the door at one of the music halls or clubs.
On Saturdays and Sundays, most all the local bands did free gigs in the Panhandle at Golden Gate Park - there was always something happening.
Retrospectively, it’s one thing to read about a significant era or be on the fringes when it’s happening, but it quite another being at the epicentre of a burgeoning revolution that changed the world. I was fortunate to be there. As much as people try, it can never be recreated, but music is the legacy that best tells the story..
Next up: “Requiem for a Juke Joint Troubadour.”
Back in the mid 1980s, I got into the Blues underground while living in St,. Petersburg, Florida. The whole scene was pretty much relegated to gun and knife clubs and biker bars. If you wanted to hear some authentic Blues, you had to take your chances.
I got acquainted with a fellow, Deacon Fuller, and wound up promoting him for a year or so. The experience wasn’t for the faint hearted, but a worthwhile adventure nonetheless.