Sixties Survivors #6: Signe Anderson

When I knocked off this little piece back in 2008, I never imagined it would grow such long legs that it would still be striding along in 2014. I can’t remember a week that’s gone by since without a note from someone who, like me, remembers Signe with admiration and honor. She had a short run, but an unforgettable one.

Here’s the post as it ran in 2008:

This is a rock star? You’ve got to be kidding! She looks like a normal person. Shouldn’t a mid-sixties rocker have big hair like Dusty Springfield? Or long bangs like Cher? Rock stars aren’t supposed to wear pigtails, especially with little ribbons like Petunia Pig. And her teeth aren’t even capped. Girl rock stars are supposed to look glamorous, not like somebody’s sweet cousin from Astoria.

Signe Anderson had a couple of attributes, though, that sort of worked. First, she was a terrific singer. She could raise blisters on her microphone while sending chills down your spine. Second, we hippies loved her. She was real. She was one of us except she could sing like Aretha. Well, maybe not like Aretha – but she could sing really good.

After a year or so with the Jefferson Airplane, Signe got pregnant, but she was married, so it didn’t count as shocking rock star behavior. She sang right through her pregnancy up there on stage at the Fillmore, getting a little bigger each week, still belting it out out with her finger in her ear. She was breaking all the rock star rules, but not in the approved shocking way. We could hardly wait to see what would happen next.

(Side note: The finger in the ear posture was standard for San Francisco rock singers in those days, it was so they could hear themselves. In 1966, onstage monitor speakers still had a ways to go. And, after you got used to it, it actually looked kind of cool.)

What happened was, after Signe had her baby, she decided to move back home to Oregon. Suddenly, she was gone, leaving behind only that one so-so album, The Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.

Then the Jefferson Airplane stole equally talented Grace Slick from The Great Society, and really took off for fame and fortune. But I never could warm up to Grace, not that she cares. I can’t fault her fabulous singing or her appropriate rock star looks and shocking rock star behavior – it’s just that she wasn’t Signe, and Signe was the cat’s meow.

Signe had a rough road in her later life. In the early seventies, she was diagnosed with uterine, cervical, and bladder cancer. She has spent much of her adult life trying to beat them, plus other other physical problems that cropped up along the way, including an eighties bout with breast cancer. The thing is, she’s still out there fighting…and singing.

Her old band mate Marty Balin was up to see her in August and together they played a benefit billed as the Jefferson Airplane Family Reunion. Fans came all the way from San Francisco for the event. If I had known about it, I might have dropped in myself.

Happy 67th Birthday, Signe. You’re a gas.


Paul: “John Lennon NOT Gay!”

We interrupt this blog for important news.  Turns out John Lennon wasn’t gay after all.

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting to lap up Phillip Norman’s new book, John Lennon: A Life when it becomes available in the States.   It’s the one that claims John had a gay crush on his pal Paul.  Well, that got Paul hot under the collar, I can tell you!   Here’s his official statement:

“I slept with him a million times (on tour) I’ve seen him on tour roaring drunk, out of his mind in the early days before he sobered up and went to rehab. Roaring drunk and it was always with a female, never once [with a man]. If you’ve got a little gay tendency and you’re roaring drunk, I’d have caught him once.”

So ease your fears, or hopes as the case may be.  And thanks to the folks at Powerline for this incredibly important factoid.

Now, back to our scheduled programming…

I Remember Love

Did you ever look at an old rock poster and wonder who the acts advertised actually were?  Like this one for instance…

Some ugly looking poster, huh?  Actually it’s a handbill, but that’s no excuse.

Love.  Rock scholars and sixties people will recognize the name right away. They were from LA, came up to San Francisco from time to time to try to break into our In Crowd,  and finally went on to rock and roll glory with their 1967 album, Forever Changes. It’s a great album. In fact, it’s the best of all the American takes on Sergeant Pepper, and possibly the only successful take ever (The Rolling Stones’ shot at it, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request was grim- their biggest mistake of the sixties).  But Forever Changes is pretty damn good.  I listened to it regularly until my turntable gave up and I gave all my LPs away – oh whadda fool!

Even their early single, My Little Red Book, deserves a three-decker rock and roll cake.  It blasted pure rock and roll fervor at a time when the music was getting just a little too flabby for my taste.   I downloaded the song from Itunes just now to check and, yes, it’s still drives like a 1966 Batmobile.   But in 1966 to my piggy ears they were just another okay band from LA.  Let them entertain us if they choose, but never shall they be invited into our superior society, he sniffed with snout held high.

At the time of this concert, Love’s first album was in the stores.  It was regularly seen in Haight-Ashbury collections because, unlike the  the Jefferson Airplane’s boring first album was and the Grateful Dead’s first outing – which, not to put too fine a point on it, stunk, Love’s first wasn’t half bad.

But who in heck was Everpresent Fullness?  Therein lies a story…

Next: The Pig’s Sad Story

Sixties Survivors #3: David Crosby

Personally, I think Boomers get too much credit for stuff they had nothing to do with.  Take the creation of modern rock music in the 1960s.  Face it, boomers, the oldest possible member of your illustrious group was born nine months after V-J Day, which comes out to be June, 1946.  There were a few child prodigy boomer rockers like Little Stevie Wonder, who was born in 1950 and had his first hit in 1963, but these guys are few and far between.  The great majority of the forces who changed rock ‘n roll into rock were born in the unremarked decade: 1936-1946.

Take David Crosby, for instance, born August 14, 1941.  (My gosh!  That makes him 67 years old today!  What a coincidence!).

He was a Santa Barbara kid, scion of film folk, going to school in nearby Montecito where the rich kids live, and in Carpinteria, a normal beach town for kids who get kicked out of Montecito. He made a few cursory attempts at drama at Santa Barbara City College. Then he jumped on the folk music bandwagon and split for the wide world beyond.

By 1963, he was hanging out in LA with Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke — the Byrds.  At first, they looked like just another American wannabe British Invasion band, but oh that sound!  That gorgeous, unique, David Crosby master-minded harmony sound and McGuinn’s ringing 12 string Rickenbacker.  Man, you could tell it was The Byrds in one second.

Here’s their 1966 hit, Eight Miles High.  Crosby got the writing credit for it although in truth it was a group production.  After all these years it still stands alone in my mind, a monument, maybe a blind alley.  It’s a remarkable attempt to break out from folk-rock into free jazz – and it actually made the charts (how wild was 1966?).  Actually, I like the song better today than I did back in the day, when my ears heard unformed mishmash.

After David left The Byrds (irreconcilable differences – they wouldn’t record his songs), he got together with some other pals to form Crosby, Stills and Nash and rocketed from stardom to superstardom.

CSNY cut much of their best material at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, including the classic Deja Vu.  And Crosby brought in many of San Francisco’s finest for his 1971 solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name – Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann from the Dead; Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady from the Airplane; Gregg Rolie and Michael Shrieve from Santana; David Frieberg from Quicksilver.  Crosby is always strongest as a collaborator, he brings out the good stuff in himself and his band mates.

Here’s one of David’s most famous from that era: Long Time Coming, a semi-acoustic version from the early ’90s.

You probably already know about the tabloid scandals, the millions of dollars up his nose or down his arm, the arrests, jail time, liver transplant, fathering Melissa Etheridge’s kids bla bla bla – who cares? Let’s start saving up to see the kickoff of the 2008 Crosby Nash Tour September 27 at Oakland’s Paramount Theater.  Orchestra seats still available at $125 per.  Hey, bring the family!

Congratulations, David on making your 67th birthday.  See yuh on the road.

Here’s a penny for the old guy.

Photo credits: Patrushka, Up From The Deep, P.S. Zollo

Sixties Survivors #2: Mick’s Mates

I used to read Variety regularly when I was in my show business phase, and I always turned to the obits.  I loved finding out about people I never heard of and their interesting lives.

It seems like show business people fall into two camps – either they die of a heart attack in their forties or they live on forever and die when they fall over the wash pail during the big Follies Hanukkah Show  at the Home for Aged Actors in Poughkeepsie or Sherman Oaks at the age of 103.  Either the pressure and the booze gets to you or it doesn’t.  Take your choice.

Rockers are different – they’re immersed in this weird macho rebel culture that revels in self-destruction.  I’d go on at length except you’ve already heard it one hundred million times.  Today I’d rather celebrate Mick and all the other rock survivors.  In fact I think I’ll initiate a new department that will be in such charge of such celebrations.  I’ll start with some other Stones: Hooray for drummer Charlie Watts – already 103 and busy practicing for their next world tour.  And Hooray for Bill Wyman, their original bass player, who makes Charlie look like a pup.  He retired like a man of wisdom and goes to the beach with his metal detector every morning, already over one million years old.  Way to go, Bill!

A Poster For Bo Diddley

Here’s a poster Alton Kelley (and Stanley Mouse) did for Bo Diddley, the pioneer rocker who followed Kelley into the great unknown yesterday. Bo Diddley was already legendary in 1966, one of the legends of our youth. He invented the bo diddley beat. It sounded so simple when you listened to it, but it was hard or impossible for aspiring rockers to pull off — that relentless driving cross the night.

I was still in high school in 1959 when my more intelligent Palo Alto girl friend introduced me to its grinding, insinuating rhythm, although we were sitting in her parent’s living room with all the lights on. She flipped on her new LP and swung it into “Hey, Bo Diddley”, then the one I couldn’t get out of my head for weeks, “Diddley Didlley Diddley Diddley Daa-aah-die”. Bless you, girl. By 1966, when he appeared at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, he’d already finished his first brush with fame, and was on the comeback trail. Actually, Bo wasn’t particularly rave among the hippies and promoter Chet Helms took a chance by booking him. But the Paul Butterfield Blues Band had blown the hippies away when they arrived in San Francisco the preceding spring. The Chicago masters soon followed in their wake – Muddy Waters and James Cotton became San Francisco regulars, and an unknown named Steve Miller (The Steve Miller Blues Band in those days) showed up a little later. So by the time of this July concert the pump had been primed to go beyond Chicago blues…and into the Chicago bo diddley beat.

Donovan – 61 Yesterday

Hey, Donovan has joined the rest of us forerunners who, due to circumstances beyond our control, live in the Sixties. Welcome, man.

Don’t Look Back, the great Pennebaker doc about Bob Dylan’s 1965 English tour is finally out on DVD and I read a review of it the other day. A commenter, desiring to demonstrate Bobbie’s big dog status in 1965, chose to describe the filmed meeting between the two, where Donovan played his soon-to-be-hit, Catch The Wind, and Dylan supposedly destroyed him by following with his It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.

I’m sorry, but this is all wrong. The truth is everyone, with the possible exception of John Lennon, was blown off the stage by Dylan in the mid-Sixties. So what? Donovan was and remains an authentic voice in his own right. Dylan himself recognized it. That’s why Donovan was sitting in the inner sanctum trading songs with the man.

To me, Donovan most perfectly captures the flower children aspect of the Sixties. No one else of the era could have written a line like this one (from his 1967 album Wear Your Love Like Heaven),

“Have you found the secret door
to let you down to the earth’s deep core
you’ll be back in time for tea
with a diamond to show me.”

A spiritual journey with no suffering, no pain. And probably with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy along for the adventure. It’s what we all wanted, wasn’t it? Oh, I forgot for a minute. You weren’t born yet. Well, it was. And Donovan’s music captured the moment surpassingly well. Besides, I want my tea too.

Hail, Atlantis!
Here’s a penny for the old guy.