Roots of West Coast Psychedelic RockAugust 24, 2012
Sopwith Camel at the Old Stonehouse Brewery!
This came in the mail yesterday so I put up a little notice about it on my Facebook page. The Pig rates it as an unmissable show. I’d be rooting there myself if I didn’t live 900 miles away. The responses got into a conversation about some of the early San Francisco ballroom bands, the meaning of ‘psychedelic music’, etc. etc. so I thought other pig fanciers might be interested too. Following is an edited version of the thread.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with California, Nevada City is a town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, in what is called the gold rush country…
Here’s my original Facebook post:
Actually, in the roots period, none of these bands were playing acid rock. Sopwith Camel had more of a folk-rock oldtimey sound, Mike was playing lead guitar with the legendary Charlatans, and Sal wasn’t even on the scene – he was still with the Beau Brummels, who were busy cashing in on the British Invasion sound. Psychedelic rock was pioneered by the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the good old Grateful Dead.
Tzila Z Duenzl. Charlatans!!! Hadn’t thought of them in a long time. In my time in the Haight, hanging with all the musicians, they were a big part of the scene.
Kurt Stix Stine. Yes they were, and they were always together stretchin their long legs down the ave with their very long hair flowin. I remember them well. Also remember the Sopwith Camel very well, “Hello hello. I like your smile …” I can’t believe they’re still performing together. Hell, I can’t believe any of the bands from our era are still performing!
Loved the Beau Brummels with “Laugh laugh”, but even more than them one of my favorites from that time was The Blues Project with “Violets of Dawn”, but they never caught on with the masses like the Airplane & Big Brother did.
Ponderpig: Yeah, the Blues Project was a bit ahead of the curve. Also, they were a New York band if I remember right and may have been a lot bigger in the East.
Kurt: They were from the same scene that Dylan started in, Greenwich Village. Al Kooper actually played organ with them after he played for Dylan on Highway 61. That was a funny story too, Kooper came into the Dylan studio hopin to play backup guitar and they said they only needed an organist so he said he could play even tho he couldn’t. The notes he pounded out on that organ are more vivid in my memory than any other instrument in that song.
Ponderpig: I figure that story has to be a legend – Kooper’s Hammond is absolutely essential to Dylan’s sound in that period. As you say, it’s unforgettable. Dylan couldn’t have got lost in Juarez without it. The guy had to have fussed around around with it at home at least.
Kurt: No, when he went into the studio they pointed to the organ and said “Play” :)) On a disc of his he went into how he stumbled into that gig.
Here is The Blues Project’s song “Violets of Dawn”:
Daily Flash Side Trip
Kurt: lookin in YouTube I was surprised to see that friends from Seattle, The Daily Flash, covered the song. Daily Flash actually made it down to the Avalon Ballroom as a headliner followed-up by Country Joe and the Fish.
Remember the Daily Flash, Pig? They always performed at The BFD on Denny Way & 9th downtown Seattle. Man, that place was a legend back then, there and also the Spanish Castle out on Hwy 99 (Hendrix wrote ‘Spanish Castle Magic’, about that place, I’m sure), and then the Aquarius way out on Aurora Ave.
Ponderpig: Hey, I remember The Daily Flash. They played the Avalon Ballroom one weekend. I still remember one of the songs they played that night, even tho I only heard it that one time: “She used to love to dance the Grizzly Bear, I guess she went to Frisco to dance it there, cause when I woke up this morning, she was gone…solid gone.”
Kurt: Hehe, yeah funny song. I knew the drummer, Jon Keliehor, guitarist Steve Lalor, and bass player Don McCallister. Funny story about McCallister, he got busted for smack so couldn’t play in Vancouver BC, so they put another friend out front on stage pretendin to play base, and Don was behind the curtain, playin & singin.
The songs they’re most remembered for are Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately”, and “Jack of Diamonds”, but the one I liked the most was “The French Girl” —-
Here’s link to their website, and it says the Grizzly song was a Youngbloods song: http://www.rhinoceros-group.com/dailyflash.htm
I’ve got their poster from that night, got it from WolfgangsVault.com
Kurt: And if anyone has this handbill of their previous night there in May, it’s worth $3,600!
Performers that weekend were:
The Daily Flash The Rising Sons
Big Brother and the Holding Company
Ponderpig: Believe it or not, Kurt, I do have that poster – or the handbill of it anyway. And it’s probably worth even more because my friend Melanie Kinkead colorized it with her Pentel pen set at the kitchen table one night when we were all stoned.
Kurt: Bummer, just read the website about the Flash and Don McCallister OD’d back in the early 70′s. I think I related best with him. Liked Steve and it was easy to know him because of his outgoing personality. At least he’s still kickin & playin. I remember my first impression of John Keliehor was he was a class person. He became a studio drummer, and glad to read how successful he became by followin his soul.
Sopwith Camel’s Peter Kraemer Joins The Conversation
Peter A. Kraemer: Actually, Christopher, we were making up songs on stage at the Fillmore and opened for Richard Alpert and Allen Ginsburg. You might also refer to one song on our first album”Frantic Desolation” (no. 5 chronologically on the Rolling Stone list of American Psychedelic recordings).
If it matters we also played some old-timey tunes and were frequently on acid while doing so. I made the e-flyer at the top of the page as sort of a joke; “Psychedelic rock poster” and people said “what’s psychedelic about it?” I think that means that the word has become commodified and now it just means “tie-died” or has Wes Wilson retro lettering. BTW, The Airplane and the Dead were mostly real “folkies” and were doing lots of covers for the first year or so. The Charlatans were the first “psychedelic band’ and most of their set was “old timey” stuff. The Beau Brummels were right on the cusp and Sal went well over the edge with Stoneground. We had the first hit from the psychedelic ballroom scene and it was inspired by the piano players in the bars in Virginia City that i frequented in in my childhood. Same place the Charlatans started getting psychedelic, same place that rock with lichen is. How the recordings from that period came out were influenced largely by the record companies and as soon as “psychedelic” became a marketing tool there were a lot of screechy cliches. In the real world at the Fillmore and Avalon however what was “psychedelic” was what happened in the moment, and stuffing things into categories wasn’t happening.
Raymond J Hutson. Don’t forget Sgt.P.L.H.C.B.
Kurt: Puddy Lovin Hard Core Bastard?
Peter: I think the story goes that the style (psych) started in England and the Charlatans were the first US band called that. We all listened to Srt. Puss of course. And you might recall that the Beatles and the Stones both did old music hall style tunes on their early psychedelic records.
Roots Lineup Rationale
So, here’s the rationale for the “roots of” line up. Sal had the last SF pre-‘psychedelic ballroom scene’ hit, Sopwith Camel had the first. Mike Wilhelm was in the first American band to be described as psychedelic. That all tends to be pretty early.
I find it interesting that Sal was dissed by the gatekeepers of psychedelic as soon as they got their record deals etc. How certain people who did more to glamorize heroin and crank than LSD became the gatekeepers might make an interesting topic.
Ponderpig: Hey, no fleas on the Sopwith Camel. In the 1966 era they were one of the most popular bands on the circuit, as the many posters featuring their name give evidence. I saw many of their shows back in the day because I liked their music. And I thought the Charlatans on a good night were the best dance band out there. Acid rock wasn’t really that much fun to dance to and I was one of the dancing hippies. I loved to get out there on the floor and shake my booty, but when James Gurley went into one of his 15 minute avant-garde solos, we just sat down and listened. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like Big Brother – they were just different.
Peter: In ‘66 Big Brother’s big tune was “In the Hall Of the Hollow Mountain King,” a pretty tightly arranged number.
Kurt: Chet was right to match Janis with BBHC. They didn’t really float my boat until she appeared with them at the Avalon. I was there that first night with Nick Poulos, and Nick was on Janis like white on rice while we talked with her durin a break. From that night on I was always front-center stage to watch her sing, whatta woman.
Peter: We were only in the ballrooms for the summer of “66. Lived in the Fillmore and jammed all night in a huge wooden attic. One our main tunes at the Fillmore and Avalon was a 20 minute jam to the bass line from 2120 Michigan Avenue. Years later I was sitting with Richard Brautigan and he was asking me about his favorite lyrics of mine from that time. Couldn’t help him because I had made them up fresh every night; the only consistent words were also the title, “Turn On!”
Ponderpig: Peter, I don’t remember the psychedelic gatekeepers or anybody else dissing the Beau Brummels. I don’t remember anybody saying anything about them. They were not part of the scene, period. It would have been like dissing The Vejtables or We Five, both perfectly good Bay Area bands that never played the Matrix or the ballrooms. (I’m not counting Tom Donahue’s short-lived “psychedelic” nightclub, Mother’s) The Beau Brummels were off in another world somewhere.
Peter: True about the Beau Brummels. I just think they might have felt dissed. Hard to figure why they didn’t make the transition; they were a Tom Donahue band. I’ll ask Sal next week.
But that’s why I called it “Roots”, because one day the popular SF Bands were the Vegtables and We Five and the next day they were out and the Charlatans were in. Same flowerpot, something changed in the roots. British bands went psychedelic, no problem. Wonder if it’s something in the “Biz”.
Michael Wilhelm: Think it was because the Vejtables didn’t come out of the S.F. scene. Weren’t the We Five a Frank Werber group? They were considered commercial or something…they had some weird kind of molded image, with the drummer playing behind a curtain…if he’d been on stage they would have been the We Six…what a strange business.
Kurt: Hehe, image indeed! Here they are doin the Ian & Sylvia song “You Were On My Mind” (loved that song) They even show the missing drummer. Plus they were introduced by living legend Fred Astaire.
We Five – You Were On My Mind (Live On Hollywood Palace)
Here’s a lip-sync version in black & white that better defines their appearance & style. Love her Go-Go Boots .
We Five – You Were On My Mind www.youtube.com
Peter: Mike, I get why no We Five and Vegtibles; they actually seemed to be from LA. Just can’t remember why the Beau Brummels were out. Wasn”t Tom Donahue some kind of arbiter of the hip? I suspect they were as ready to go acidy as anyone else in those days. I mean, the Beatles had pop hits before they did “Day in the Life” and the psychedelia was largely provided by George Martin and the London Phil.—-I’m confused.
Anyway we can have panel discussion in Nevada City. “So Sal how did you feel about not playing the Matrix?”
The missing question is “Hey Mike, was Codeine a psychedelic?” Answer to the Codeine question: Depends who took it.
Ponderpig: One last thought about the late unlamented We Five: they were a Marin County group for sure, same as Quicksilver Messenger Service. The young Lisa Law took a lovely photo series of them in a big house in Coldwater Canyon or somewhere along those lines. I don’t remember the Vejtables’ music but I remember they had the first chick drummer I had ever seen and that was very cool. I saw them perform twice, first at a KYA battle of the bands type event – possibly the seminal Rolling Stones 1965 show at the Civic Auditorium, and a little later at Mother’s in North Beach.