Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The San Francisco Music Scene: 1965-1970, Part Two of Two

"It kind of came at one time and then it spread out. One time I remember we were playing the Acid Tests at the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco, a big old open hall and Ken Kesey at the time was on the run for the police. We’d be doing Acid Tests with him for a few months, once a week at least. There’s all kind of costumes and all of sudden this guy comes walking up to me and Jerry and he’s in a space suit. Then he opens the visor and it’s Kesey. He’s hiding out from the cops but he doesn’t want to miss the trip. It was the San Francisco Trips Festival and there he was. He says, “You guys are going to get much more known than just around here.” And I kind of went, “Oh, maybe he’s right.”
It’s kind of obvious but that happened: a
guy walks up to you in a space suit raises his visor and tells you that you’re going to be more famous than you know and later on, sure enough…"--drummer Bill Kreutzmann on the early days of The Warlocks, the original name for a more famous band forever associated with San Francisco in the 60s. 

By  the time I came over to San Francisco as an adult to sample what was left of the Counter-Culture movement, the area known as the Haight-Ashbury District still had a "funky-vibe" to it some fifteen years after the fact of The Summer of Love.     Of course there was the inevitable  "gentrification"  around the neighborhood and in the near-by environs---the result of the real estate boom of the 1970s which sadly replaced a lot of the low-income housing with condominiums, trendy restaurants with cloth napkins and dishes that the US/Euro-jet crowd could enjoy.    Those lucky enough to benefit from the city rent-control laws still made it a mixed-income neighborhood so older and wiser refugees from Consumer America could still gather at local saloons and hear poetry and folk music or enjoy a reinactment of sorts of the free concerts that were held "on the green" from time to time at near-by Golden Gate Park.

Above, George Harrison and his wife Patty visit "the scene" in San Francisco.

Whereas some had come to in 1967 to "tune in, turn on and drop out" to use Dr. Timothy Leary, Godfather of the LSD movement,  now it seem the drop-outs were more society outcasts than itinerant seekers of truth--the homeless and the destitute looked bereft of hope and just wanted food and a warm place to sleep in a doorway or in the parks.  This was the fall-out from the handy work of first Governor and then President  Ronald Reagan, a leader with an uncanny knack for stigmatizing people and emptying state mental health facilities of people who were far from equipped to deal with the unkinder and harsher America he and his proponents decided was the cure for an imaginary lack of morals among the young and the workers and veterans who didn't see things the new establishment way.  I suspect some of these people wound up in the nihilistic cults of the 70's that climaxed with the frightening figure of the Reverend Jim Jones of the People's Temple who took 900 people out of San Francisco and into the jungles of Guyana on his paranoid race to perpetuate one  of the greatest acts of mass murder-suicide in November of 1978.  I was living in the Bay Area at the time and I vividly recall the utter terror of what a single human soul was capable of--so far from the liberating melodies of the best of the artistic community in the former decade.

        Then there came a new group  of folks around the Haight area--the "neat-niks", those  slumming youngsters from the post "Flower power" era, most armed with money who came into San Francisco and dressed down to hide their wealth from trust funds or the fresh money they had made in the real estate and computer industry boomlets in the outlying parts of the Bay Area, especially the San Jose/Santa Clara/San Mateo County area south of of the wind-swept City by the Bay.  These folks begat a new generation of faux  counter-culture types who were more urban hipsters than revolutionaries of either material or spiritual values.  I suppose it all had to end (and I felt more of a tourist myself than a part of any movement). But it was nice while it lasted and the music lives on, as does a spirit that might not have quite caught on in Middle America, USA, but still inspires millions in and out of San Francisco even four decades and more later.

(above) This is Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring the amazing soulful voice and ultimately self-destructive and  tragic Janis Joplin, formerly of Port Arthur, Texas.

   Before they became "The Grateful Dead", the group that became world-famous and typified the loosely-defined San Francisco Sound were known as "The Warlocks". Jerry Garcia didn't have his trademark facial hair yet, but the music a lot of their music was still infectious.The Grateful Dead began their career as the Warlocks, a group formed in early 1965 from the remnants of a Palo Alto, California jug band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions.[14] The band's first show was at Magoo's Pizza located at 639 Santa Cruz Avenue in suburban Menlo Park, California on May 5, 1965. They were known as the Warlocks although at the same time the Velvet Underground was also using that name on the east coast.[15][16] The show was not recorded and not even the set list has been preserved. The band quickly changed its name after finding out that another band of the same name had signed a recording contract (not the Velvet Underground who by then had also changed their name). The first show under the new name Grateful Dead was in San Jose, California on December 4, 1965, at one of Ken Kesey's Acid Tests.[17][18][19] Earlier demo tapes have survived, but the first of over 2,000 concerts known to have been recorded by the band's fans was a show at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco on January 8, 1966.[20] Later on that month, the Grateful Dead played at the Trips Festival, an early psychedelic rock show.

Above, Grace Slick and Janet Joplin.

Of course there were a lot of bands that didn't rock the world so to speak but they are certainly
worthy of recall.  Below here you can find Craig "Butch" Atkins and his band The Count Five, a "one-hit wonder" group that was formed in my home town of near- by San Jose, thirty miles south of San Fran.
From Wikipedia" "The band was founded in 1964 by John "Mouse" Michalski (born 1948, ClevelandOhio) (lead guitar) and Roy Chaney (born 1948,IndianapolisIndiana) took over bass duties, two high school friends who had previously played in several short-lived outfits. After going shortly under the name The Squires, and several line-up changes later, the Count Five were born. John "Sean" Byrne (1947-2008, born DublinIreland) played rhythm guitar and lead vocals, and Craig "Butch" Atkinson (1947-1998, born San JoseCalifornia) played drums. The Count Five gained distinction for their habit of wearing Count Dracula-style capes when playing live.
"Psychotic Reaction", an acknowledged cornerstone of garage rock,[1] was initially devised by Byrne, with the group refining it and turning it into the highlight of their live sets. The song was influenced by the style of contemporary musicians such as The Standells and The Yardbirds.[citation needed] The band members were rejected by several record labels before they got signed to the Los Angeles-based Double Shot Records. "Psychotic Reaction" was released as a single, peaking at #5 in the U.S. charts in late 1966. The band got along for about another year, but dropped out of view altogether when their only hit had fallen from public memory. Another setback to a potential career in the music business was the decision of the five members (who were between the ages of 17 and 19) to pursue college degrees."

And no doubt some of those degree-seekers were trying to get deferments to stay out of the disaster that was the Vietnam War, a war without clear purpose that held a pall over the whole era.  


  1. 1967 is a year I remember well Doug. I think it is right to say that the whole world youth culture was a suburb of San Francisco during that year of the Summer of Love. Scott McKenzie (another one hit wonder) started the Flower Power ball rolling with that great tune "San Francisco" (be sure to wear flowers in your hair). Then hot on its heels in Autumn 1967 came "Let's Go to San Francisco" the only UK-charting single by the English one hit band The Flower Pot Men. The best of all was The Animals 1967 hit "Hot San Franciscan Nights", the 'B' side of the UK single was a song called "Gratefully Dead". So by the end of that year my soul was suffused with the spirit of the San Fancisco scene. I'd watched the film of the Monterey Pop Festival held in June 1967 at a midnight movie in Birmingham when it was released in the UK the following year.

    The 'underground' literature I read like the iconic 'International Times' and 'Oz' magazine featured interviews with Grace Slick and Janis Joplin amongst others. Both mainstream and "alternative" culture was focused upon San Francisco in general and Haight Ashbury in particular during that Summer of Love, Flower Power, Hippie era that a whole generation for a while endorsed with open arms.
    In some ways the San Franaciso scene was a bit like what had happened in Liverpool in the early 60s, but now moved on and luminescent in psychedic light shows and hallucinatory symbolism. For a young kid from the industrial heartlands of England what could there be not to love about this Love Generation stuff? In some rather odd way I consider the Summer of Love to have been one of the best things to happen to me which carried me off on a wave of enthusiasm and optimism until the harsh realities of life crept back in and sadly unlike Peter Pan or Puff the Magic Dragon I grew up (well sort of). I've never heard Psychotic Reaction Doug, but it sounds like my kinda song.

    I'll check it out now and come back soon.

    1. Thanks for your memories and the order of how the music came to you via San Francisco to Birmingham, AA. I imagine there was a lot of pent-up energy in the UK from the long austerity of 50's post-war life and the desire to step away from the Cold War to make a stand with new faces and arts--a revived Life Force maybe?

      From what I've read and seen and heard later on Liverpool was the jumping off point for a lot of what blossomed in places like San Francisco. A lot of the US music on these tracks owe a great deal to groups like The Beatles, The Searchers and Gerry and the Pacemakers. People coming from England to New York City in the early sixties found the music scene rather staid.

      And of course, as soon as the music that erupted in your area went hot the "center of cultural gravity" moved to London and across the seas. A similar thing in music happened to the English New Wave movies-- films like "A Taste of Honey",(1961) "This Sporting Life" (1962) and John Schlesinger's "Billy Liar" (1963) for instance. According to a very good film critic, Joel Brocko, films set in the Midlands and the North of England ebbed as far as the international market and films went to London and more cosmopolitan and less working class based--films like "Darling", "Blow-Up" and "Georgy Girl" (all 1965 or 1966).

      The music scene in San Francisco was really over by 1970 but those few prior years were golden indeed.

  2. I have listened to The Count Five a couple of times now and to me the song has a made for the silver screen feel to it, it's what bands played at parties or Love Ins in films made at about that time on both sides of the Atlantic. Psychotic reaction I presume originates from dire warnings about hallucinogenic substances like LSD and the effect they have on the mind and the brain.....stories of people leaping off high buildings convinced they could fly or going blind through staring at the Sun had absolutely no deterrent effect whatsoever on the psychedelic generation, as I doubt warnings about the dangers of recreational substances fashionable now do on the young today. I liked The Count Five's casual, even conversational approach to the performance. Meanwhile the drummer remains focussed on providing a backbeat at the end that is pure country and western. I thnk. I can hear Johnny Cash doing San Quentin for the last bit of the song Doug. Thanks for introducing me to this bit of local Bay area rock 'n' roll and a band that peaked before I caught sight or sound of them myself.

    1. I think you've "diagnosed" Psychotic Reaction" very well, AA, better than I could actually. I find it rather ironic to see the very conventional "American Bandstand" host Dick Clark greeting the band at the end of a performance of a song mentioning "psychotic". Clark always struck me as a Pat Boone/Gene Pitney/Del Shannon kind of fellow, so the 1967 wave of links between acid/serious sex talk/ rock and roll no doubt had him and his television producers at ABC nervous as a herd of cats in an air-horn factory.
      In the early 1970s when I was a lad we saw all kinds of films in elementary and junior high school about the dangers of drugs. Some were quite over the top, and remember seeing a young woman in an "educational films" apparently drivingoff the road in a car over a cliff to her death and Sonny Bono (of Sonny and Cher fame) saying "Do you think smoking a little 'pot' is really okay." The anti-drug hysteria was rather thick--a sort of backlash to the Summer of Love. It backfired on the establishment a bit when many of us tried pot anyway and somehow didn't become zombies. Good old alcohol has actually messed with more of my friends' lives than any illegal drug, AA, but that's another story.

  3. While I had albums by Jefferson Airplane and listened to Janis Joplin in rapt admiration of her gritty Southern Belle sex appeal and her rock 'n' roll lifestyle which in not a lot of years of course proved fatal to her.
    On the other hand the Grateful Dead largely passed me by, although a band I think of as musically related, namely Creedence Clearwater Rivival I had several LPs by. As a matter of fact I thought their 1969 album Willy and the Poor Boys was brilliant and would still classify it as a 60s classic. But very little Grateful Dead music permeated my world then nor has it since really. I considered bands like Canned Heat as must see performers, I was present at the live recording of a Canned Heat album at Mother's Club in Birmingham around 69 I think, but the Dead I were sort of aware of on the margins of my musical experiences. I think I was damaged by early exposure to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and somehow that prevented me from connecting with the Grateful Dead, I can't think of any other reason. I wonder if I can sue the Zappa Family Trust for this Doug?

    1. Coincidentally, I had a rather marginal sense of "The Grateful Dead" early on myself, AA, mainly because I rarely heard them on the Top 40 radio I listened to as a lad. They were more popular for their live performances of course, and the concerts were hard to get tickets to when they played the Bay Area venues--they really were a band with a cult following. I did start playing more attention to them on small-station FM frequency "album rock" stations in the early 80's. Frank Zappa was probably beyond all of them--a frequency unto himself, AA, and I well believe early exposure could throw a fellow off, to put it mildly. :-)

      I am so glad you mentioned Credence Clearwater Revival, another of the great bands. John Fogarty and company was one of my early musical passions: songs like "Proud Mary", "Lodi" and "Fortunate Son", "Run Through the Jungle". Fogarty was such a dedicated artist he kicked his own brother out of his band when he couldn't play up to his standards. He went on to some good solo albums as well.
      Canned Heat had one or two nice hits as well. How great that you got to see them live at their height!

      Thanks for sharing these memories AA, and giving your takes on these postings.

  4. Here's a link to my favorite Canned Heat song, 1968's "Going Up the Country", a song they played at the Woodstock Festival.


    1. Thanks for the link Doug, it is one of my favourite Canned Heat songs too along with On The Road Again of course. Good images with the song too showing some of the diversity of the North American landscape and the magic of that fleeting moment, the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, Merry Pranksters. In 1971 when I was a dining hall porter on England's south coast I had a tee shirt printed and I had emblazoned upon it the Pranksters magic bus sligan which read 'No Left Turn Unstoned'....I wore it to work nobody cared in those days. Thanks for posting the video Doug, it takes me back to what were great times for me.

    2. You're most welcome AA. Good for you for having the pluck to go with that Merry Pranksters' motto for a tee-shirt.

    3. Yes, I was glad i could fins such a good video of images to go with that song. Sometimes all you can find is a single image of an old record album to go with the music so its always great to get an unexpected visual treat that reflects the song and those places and faces that inspired it.

  5. Sighhhhhhhhh
    Those were the days. I've just read through 1 and 2 of 2, you recall the atmosphere and the sense of this being 'our time' so perfectly. The artists you mention are the ones I remember so well even thought I never visited the places you talk about. And you are right, their music lives on, much of what was produced back then turned out to be timeless, as good now as it was then. I love the Janis and Grace photo, never seen that one before and its a really good likeness of both of them.
    Thanks Doug, for a really good read and some lovely memories. I sometimes feel sorry for kids today because they don't have what we had..

  6. Thank you Loretta. I was glad I could bring a bit of that spirit alive for you again. I may be biased having lived in the San Francisco area, and grew up on music from The Jefferson Airplane and other bands, but I concur 100% with your thoughts here. Thanks again for your comments. :-)