Two new songs recently released by Kenny Wilson available on Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music. Listen to them in their entirety here. Produced and Recorded in his home studio in Leicester, U.K. February 2020.
Builder of Dreams
Two new songs recently released by Kenny Wilson available on Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music. Listen to them in their entirety here. Produced and Recorded in his home studio in Leicester, U.K. February 2020.
Builder of Dreams
In the rock ‘n roll firmament of the 1960s, Janis Joplin was a shooting star who burned white hot for five short years. She died of a heroin overdose at age 27. Joplin sang her own brand of the blues in an incendiary style. Yet in her short time — between 1966 and 1970 — she carved out a piece of music history that was distinctly her own. During these years, she traveled from the conservative community of Port Arthur, Texas to the expansive and unpredictable world that was the drug/hippie/music scene of 1960s San Francisco — and mostly in the glare of national stardom. Joplin was born in Port Arthur, an oil refinery town, in 1943. As a teenager in the late 1950s, she had read about Jack Kerouac and the Beatniks, began to dress in her own style, and started listening to blues music with a few high school friends. Black blues singers Bessie Smith and Leadbelly were among her heroes.
An outcast in Port Arthur by the early 1960s, Joplin had made her way to California a time or two, and eventually came to San Francisco’s music and hippie scene. At the June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival she captured national attention with a stunning blues performance of “Ball and Chain.” From that point on, she became something of national phenomenon.
But not everyone loved Janis Joplin. Her stage antics and whiskey-swilling, devil-may-care style put many people off. Some were convinced she had a death wish and was killing herself slowly with each performance and each day’s excesses, so that when she sang “Piece of My Heart,” the meaning was for real. The article that follows here covers some of the main events in the last four years of her life, from her rapid rise to stardom to her untimely death.
Janis Joplin did not initially see herself as a big-time performer or a major talent. But in 1966, when she first teamed up with a real rock band she had met through friends, Joplin had a kind of epiphany. Chet Helms, a fellow Texan and one of San Francisco’s music promoters, introduced her to a then little-known band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. Up to that point, Joplin was thinking she had a good enough voice for local gigs, but that was about it. “… All of a sudden someone threw me into this rock band,” she would later explain, recalling her Big Brother session. “They threw these musicians at me, man, and the sound was coming from behind, the bass was charging me, and I decided then and there that was it, I never wanted to do anything else. It was better than it had been with any man, you know… Maybe that’s the trouble…”
Joplin joined Big Brother in June 1966. Her first public performance with them was at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco where they became the house band. In the following year, they cut their first album, Big Brother and The Holding Company, and gained a following with songs from that album, including, “Bye Bye Baby,” “Blind Man” and “Down On Me.” Then on June 17, 1967 she an Big Brother performed their show-stopping set on the second day of the Monterey International Pop Festival, setting them on a path to national stardom.
After Monterey, and after signing with Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman in November 1967, Joplin and Big Brother were playing all over the country. Grossman got them a whopping recording contract with CBS/Columbia Records. They were soon making about $10,000 a performance, with Joplin’s annual income rising to about $150,000 — then very big money. In February 1968, they began an East Coast tour in Philadelphia, and also played Anderson Hall in in New York where Joplin revealed her raw power over an audience. On the last day of their East Coast swing, April 7, 1968, Joplin and Big Brother performed at the “Wake For Martin Luther King Jr.” concert in New York along with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop. The next month or so was spent recording the album Cheap Thrills, which would be released later that summer. In July 1968 she hit the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. In August, Cheap Thirlls was released and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts. It sold one million copies in the first month featuring songs such as “Piece Of My Heart,” among others. Joplin and Big Brother appeared on the West coast TV show, Hollywood Palace on October 26, 1968, performing two songs: “Summertime” and “I Need a Man to Love.”
By early December 1968 Joplin decided to leave Big Brother, and by the end of the year she had formed a new band called the Kozmic Blues Band, a soul revue band with a complete horn section. Their first performance playing soul music was in late December in Memphis, TN. However, the band’s performances at the Fillmore East in February 1969 received mixed reviews. Elsewhere though, Janis and her band were getting more notice.In March 1969 there was a TV appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace and a Rolling Stone cover story that month posing the question: “Janis: The Judy Garland of Rock?” Also in March, Joplin and her band appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Then it was back to San Francisco to Winterland and The Fillmore West.
A European tour came in April-May 1969 — Frankfurt, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Paris. Her debut in London at Albert Hall that April produced rave reviews in the papers and trade press — Disc, Melody Maker, and The Telegraph. Back in the States, studio work for another album,Kozmic Blues, began in Hollywood in June. Joplin also appeared on The Dick Cavett Show for the first time July 18,1969. She would appear on Cavett’s show two more times in 1970. She and her band also played various music festivals that summer–Devonshire Downs in Northridge, CA, and the Atlanta Pop Festival in Georgia in July. At the Atlantic City, New Jersey Pop Festival in early August, she sang with Little Richard.
Then in mid-August came Woodstock where she performed on the second day of the festival, singing a ten-song set that included such tunes as: “To Love Somebody,” “Summertime,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” Piece of My Heart,” and “Ball & Chain.” Joplin by then had parted ways with Big Brother & the Holding Company. Still, she had a full compliment of musicians backing her at Woodstock, where she performed in the wee hours, Saturday-to-Sunday, at about 2:00 a.m. Some reported that without her normal band, Joplin’s performance lacked its usual punch, but others found it a solid performance.Henry Diltz was an official photographer at Woodstock and had an “all-access pass” that got him to the stage, and more importantly, “a little catwalk built just under the lip of the stage” where he took photographs of Joplin performing. “I was literally feet in front of her while she was singing — the absolutely best seat in the entire house of 400,000 people.” Diltz said of Joplin’s performance: “Everything I saw her sing, it was nothing held back.”
Following Woodstock, and through the remainder of 1969, there were other outings for Joplin and her band. In September they played the New Orleans Pop Festival at Baton Rouge International Speedway in Louisiana and at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. In October there were gigs in Austin and Houston, Texas. In November she appeared at Curtis Hall concert in Tampa, Florida where she was charged with two counts of using vulgar and obscene language on stage. Later that month she appeared at Auditorium Hall in Chicago, and also Madison Square Garden in New York where she sang with Tina Turner at a Rolling Stones concert. Her first solo effort, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, with the Kozmic Blues Band, was released about that time, and received mixed reviews. It included songs such as “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” and “To Love Somebody,” a cover of a Bee Gees’ tune.
At the end of November 1969 Joplin played the West Palm Beach Rock Festival. In December there was an appearance in Nashville and another at Madison Square Garden — called a “rousing display of blues and rock” by the New York Times — where she was joined on stage by Johnny Winter and Paul Butterfield. It was about this time that she was “romantically linked” with Joe Namath in the New York papers, which appears to have been exaggerated beyond a meeting and a date or two. Other appearances in 1969 included ABC-TV’s Tom Jones Show, the Quaker City Rock Festival/Philadelphia, the Civic Center/Baltimore, ABC-TV’s show Music Scene, and the Toronto Pop Festival. Back home in California, meanwhile, Joplin moved into to a secluded home in a Redwood forest in the Larkspur area of Marin County, California, north of San Francisco, a beautiful spot between Mount Tamalpais and the San Francisco Bay. But toward the end of 1969, Joplin decided to take some time off.
R&R in Brazil
In January of 1970, Janis and her Kozmic Blues band parted ways, and in February, she traveled to Brazil with her friend and costume designer Linda Gravenites. Gravenites had been with Joplin since 1966 and had lived a clean and sober life and was traveling with Joplin in part to help her kick her drug and alcohol habits.
In Brazil, Joplin met and became involved with David Niehaus, a clean and sober American schoolteacher who was traveling around the world at the time. The two were later photographed as happy revelers at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, described as a “carefree” couple having a great time. Niehaus was one of the first men in Janis’s life at the time who saw her as a woman and not a rock star, and Janis was quite taken with him. By April she reported from Rio that she was “going off into the jungle with a big bear of a man.” But when Joplin returned to the U.S. she began using heroin again and her relationship with Niehaus ended as a result. Still, some friends would say that Niehuas was the lost love of her life.
Back in San Francisco, meanwhile, Joplin had formed her new band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band — a band composed mostly of young Canadian musicians; a band that Joplin had taken a more active role in forming than she did with her prior group. She would later describe this band as more fully her own. Joplin began touring with the Full Tilt Boogie Band in May 1970 and was quite happy with their performances and the feedback from fans and critics. Still, earlier that year, she had done a few performances with her former bandmates.On April 4th in San Francisco, she performed a reunion gig with Big Brother & The Holding Co. at the Fillmore West. Again, on April 12th, she appeared with Big Brother at Winterland where she and group were found in excellent form. By the time she began touring with Full Tilt Boogie in May 1970, Joplin had told friends she was drug-free. In fact, the young Canadians in her new band were also drug free and had no association with her old San Francisco crowd. Still, some noticed that her drinking had increased.
In late June 1970, she appeared on TV’s The Dick Cavett Show, where she announced she would attend her ten-year high school class reunion later that summer in Port Arthur, Texas. High school had not been a happy time for Joplin, noting at one point that her classmates, “laughed me out of class, out of town and out of the state.” More on the high school visit later.
The Festival Express
In late June and early July 1970, Joplin and her new band joined the all-star Festival Express tour through Canada. On this tour, Joplin and her band performed on the same bill with other acts including: the Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie, Rick Danko and The Band, Eric Andersen, Ian and Sylvia, and others.
The Festival Express was unique among rock festivals. Rather than flying to each city — Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver were each scheduled — the musicians would travel by chartered Canadian National Railways train. The idea was to foster an atmosphere of musical creativity and closeness between the performers. The trips between cities were a mix of jam sessions and partying, with no shortage of drugs and alcohol. One of these sessions became quite notable — with Rick Danko of The Band, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin all having a rollicking good time.
During the actual Festival Express series of concerts — which saw the Vancouver concert cancelled due to the mayor’s “anti-hippie” edicts — Janis Joplin gave some memorable performances. Footage of Joplin singing “Tell Mama” in Calgary would later become an MTV video in the 1980s. This performance would also be included on later Joplin albums and DVDs.
The Festival Express Tour ended in early July 1970, but some 30 years later, in 2003, a “rockumentary” was produced featuring the original Festival Express tour, its music, and travels. That film would reap more than $1.2 million at the U.S. box office, and the DVD would become a hot seller as well. Shortly after the Festival Express, Joplin and the Full Tilt Boogie Band traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii where they performed in early July 1970 at the International Center Arena. But then it was back to California.
On July 11th, Joplin and the Full Tilt Boogie Band arrived in San Diego for a concert there at the Sports Arena. They were joined in San Diego by longtime Doors producer, Paul Rothchild, who was being considered to work with Joplin on her next album. Janis’s sister, Laura, would later write of Rothchild in her book, Love, Janis:
“In San Diego, Janis gave him a stopwatch, saying ‘Look, I’ve got thirty-five good minutes in me. You stand behind the amps and I’ll look you over, you flash me how much time I have left.’ Paul thought it was a good sign that she was pacing herself like a runner.”
Joplin was fighting her alcohol and drug demons at the time.
Rothchild later said of watching Joplin’s performance as she was singing:“. . . I was enraptured because I was listening to one of the most brilliant vocalists I ever heard, in classical, pop, or jazz music. What a voice. . . all of the woman was revealed. The vessel of Janis vanished. For somebody like me, who was always talking about the inner beauty and all that stuff, it got me big. So I was totally hooked from that moment on, on every single possible level.”
Several weeks later, Rothchild would help Janis work on her final album, Pearl.
On the plane ride back to San Francisco after the San Diego concert, Janis was upbeat, as the presence of old friends at the concert had energized her. She bought drinks for everyone on the plane.
But some of those with her, like Big Brother guitarist James Gurley, thought she was a bit “too exuberant, trying to be the life of the party.”
Joplin was still on an emotional roller coaster; high and then low. She was struggling to maintain her equilibrium.
In early August 1970, Joplin again appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, and a few days later, on August 6, 1970, performed as a surprise guest at the Festival for Peace at Shea Stadium in Queens. Joplin was not on the original roster of performers for the concert, but since she was in New York and her former band, Big Brother, was on the bill, she agreed to do the concert. By some accounts, at least 50,000 fans attended Joplin’s performance, re- portedly aided by a bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey. This concert — also called the Summer Festival for Peace — followed a Winter Festival for Peace that had been staged earlier that year at Madison Square Garden. These concerts were among the first ever in the U.S. to be used for political fund raising and anti-war purposes. Such concerts were not generally seen prior to 1970, but became more common thereafter. The acts at the Peace Festivals generally donated their time and performances. Among the performers at Shea Stadium that August were Peter Yarrow, Pacific Gas & Electric, Tom Paxton, Dionne Warwick, Poco, Ten Wheel Drive, Al Kooper, Richie Havens, Sha-Na-Na, The Young Rascals, Paul Simon, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf, The James Gang, Miles Davis, Johnny Winter, Herbie Hancock and others. The show ran from 10:00 a.m. to midnight. And by some accounts, at least 50,000 fans attended. Joplin’s performance — reportedly aided by a bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey — included at least four of her songs: “Ball & Chain,” “Summertime,” “Turtle Blues” and “Piece of My Heart.”
One of Joplin’s idols growing up had been Bessie Smith, the famous blues and jazz singer of the 1920 and 1930s. Smith’s music had been an early influence on Joplin. But when Joplin learned that Smith’s grave site had no marker, she moved to help provide a major portion of the funds to obtain one. A few days following her concert at Shea Stadium, on August 8, 1970, Joplin provided at least part of the financing to provide a headstone for Smith’s unmarked grave at Philadelphia’s Mount Lawn Cemetery. An inscription on the installed headstone reads: ‘The greatest blues singer in the world will never stop singing.’ Joplin’s next scheduled appearance in 1970 was in Boston, at Harvard College, but her band’s equipment was stolen. The group managed to make their performance at Harvard Stadium on August 12 th before 40,000 fans using borrowed equipment. Still, they seemed to have delivered a decent concert, as a front-page story in Harvard Crimson newspaper gave the concert a positive review. It would be Joplin’s last public appearance with the Full Tilt Boogie Band and her last public performance. Her next stop was her former home town, Port Arthur, Texas for the tenth year reunion of her high school class.
|Janis’ Texas Hurt1956-1964
Growing up in the conservative oil refining town of Port Arthur, Texas in the 1950s was not easy for young Janis Joplin. Although she was loved by her family while growing up there, her high school and local college experiences in Texas appeared to have scarred her deeply. As a teenager she had read the Beatniks, began to dress in her own style, and started singing folk and blues music locally. But in high school, she had gained weight and developed bad skin, and was called “pig” by some of the other kids. After graduating high school in 1960, she attended Lamar State College that summer, at nearby Beaumont Texas, and continued there in the fall. Ridiculed there as well, and not comfortable in class, she dropped out. In 1961, after passing a secretarial exam, Joplin’s parents sent her to Los Angeles to live with her aunts, but she soon found a place of her own in Venice Beach where drugs became part of her life. The visit home to Port Arthur for the reunion did not achieve what Joplin had hoped, and once again she left town feeling rejected and unloved. By the end of the year, she returned home to Port Arthur. In 1962, she enrolled in fine arts at the University of Texas in Austin and was also singing locally, blues mostly, but also with a blue grass band. Her experiences on the University of Texas campus, however, weren’t much better than in Port Arthur or Beaumont, as she was nominated for the “Ugliest Man on Campus” award at one point, a deep cut. After hearing about the post-Beat scene in San Francisco, Joplin made her way to North Beach in San Francisco and then Haight-Ashbury, then becoming more heavily involved with alcohol and drugs. After a near-death experience, and reportedly dropping to a weight of about 88 pounds at one point, she returned to Port Arthur in 1965. Back home, she tried college again at Lamar, this time enrolling as a sociology major. She kicked her drug habit, changed her look to a more conservative style, but still, her experiences at Lamar were no better. In Austin, meanwhile, she continued singing blues at a few clubs in late 1965 and early 1966. By mid-1966 she returned to California for good, pursuing her music career in San Francisco by joining Big Brother and the Holding Company. By late 1967, following her debut at the Monterey Festival, she was on her way to national stardom.
In mid-August 1970, when Joplin returned to Port Arthur for her 10th year high school reunion, she was coming back, in part, to make a statement about her success, and specifically for those who had treated her badly as a teenager. But during the visit, Joplin was drinking hard and she did not attempt to “tone down” her dress or her style. She had also previously made negative remarks about Port Arthur in the national press — or as one New York Times writer put it — “never missed a chance to dismiss her blue-collar hometown as a bastion of small-town intolerance.” On August 14th, Joplin attended her high school reunion at Thomas Jefferson High School. She was accompanied by fellow musician and friend Bob Neuwirth, road manager John Cooke, and her younger sister, Laura. Dressed in the popular San Francisco hippie fashion of the day with feathers and beads and her trademark purple-tinted glasses, Joplin answered questions at a press conference, during which some of her more painful high school days came up again. All in all, it wasn’t a pleasant visit for Joplin. Generally, this visit home to Port Arthur for the reunion did not achieve what she had hoped, and once again she left town feeling rejected and unloved. She soon returned to California to work on her music.
During late August, Joplin arrived in Los Angeles to begin work on a new album. Sessions were planned for the Sunset Sound Studio with producer Paul Rothchild. Joplin checked into the nearby Landmark Motel. She had been seeing a steady new boyfriend, a younger and wealthy easterner named Seth Morgan, and they were rumored to be engaged. But Joplin at the time threw herself into her recording sessions and the work on her new album.When he entered her motel room, Cooke found Joplin dead on the floor. She also had a bit of fun at the session, at one point recording a birthday greeting for John Lennon that would be sent to him later — using the Roy Rogers / Dale Evens tune, “Happy Trails.”
On Saturday, October 3, 1970, Joplin visited the Sunset Studios to listen to the instrumental track for the song “Buried Alive in the Blues” prior to recording her vocal track with it, scheduled for the next day. But on Sunday afternoon, she failed to show up at the studio. Producer Rothchild and road manager John Cooke became concerned. Cooke drove to the Landmark Motel where he found Joplin’s psychedelically painted Porsche still in the parking lot. When he entered her motel room, Cooke found Joplin dead on the floor. The official cause of death was later determined as an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol. Janis Joplin was 27 years old. Her ashes were later scattered into the Pacific Ocean along Stinson Beach north of San Francisco.
Joplin’s newly recorded material from her Los Angeles studio sessions, meanwhile, had not gone to market. Four months after her death, in February 1971, the new material was released under the album name, Pearl, a nickname sometimes used for Joplin. The album included the songs “Mercedes Benz,” “Get It While You Can,” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” Pearl topped the album charts for nine weeks, and “Me and Bobby McGee” became a No. 1 single in 1971 and one of her biggest hits. But the one song on that album without Joplin’s lyrics — the performance she never showed up for the weekend of her death — was left as an instrumental, “Buried Alive in The Blues.” Part of the verse in that song goes as follows: “All caught up in a landslide / Bad luck pressing in from all sides / Just got knocked off my easy ride / Buried alive in the blues.” And as Joplin herself once said: “People, whether they know it or not, like their blues singer’s miserable. They like their blues singers to die afterwards.”
Joplin as Icon
Joplin’s death was a blow to her fans and the music world, especially since only weeks earlier, Jimi Hendrix had also died. Joplin was remembered as a musical force and an icon for her own times as well as the ages. Many thought Joplin was just hitting her stride with Pearl, and might have gone on to much greater things had she overcome her demons. Tom Moon, writing in his book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, calls Pearl, “the precious last testament of a belter.” By her last year, Moon says, Joplin had grown into “a devastatingly original voice, the rare white interpreter of African American music who resisted the ready cliche. She treated old Delta songs and ’50s R&B ballads as theatrical platforms, ripe for large-scale rethinking. Her blues woe was never typical blues woe. …[S]he could turn out a plea that made listeners feel like they were part of a fateful make-or-break moment happening right then.”
Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote that Joplin was: “overpowering and deeply vulnerable, brassy and shy, stylized and direct, indomitable and masochistic. She took the tough rasp of old blues shouters and made it her own by bringing out pain and tension to match the bravado. With magnificent timing Joplin made it seem as if she was pouring out unvarnished emotion.”
The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, writing her 1995 induction description, adds: “Janis Joplin has passed into the realm of legend: an outwardly brash yet inwardly vulnerable and troubled personality who possessed one of the most passionate voices in rock history.”
Megan Terry, among other authors writing in the book, Notable American Women, observes: “Joplin brought to her music a distinctive sound and look, passion and an honest interpretive ability. Her hold over an audience was as great as that of Elvis Presley and her success was an extraordinary and unprecedented feat in the male- dominated rock and music world.”
In fact, along with Grace Slick of The Jefferson Airplane, Joplin is credited with opening doors for women who would follow her in the rock ‘n roll business. And finally, music journalist Ellen Wills noted that “Joplin belonged to that select group of pop figures who mattered as much for themselves as for their music. Among American rock performers, she was second only to Bob Dylan in importance as a creator-recorder-embodiment of her generation’s mythology.” Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Musicologists and historians continue to revisit her work. In November 2009, Case Western Reserve University and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum celebrated the music of Janis Joplin during the 14th annual American Music Masters series, calling her one of rock ‘n roll’s most passionate and influential artists.
Janis Joplin photograph, undated.
Back in Port Arthur, Texas, meanwhile, and nearly two decades after her death, some of the love and recognition Janis Joplin had sought from her hometown began coming her way in after-the-fact fashion. In 1988, Joplin’s life and achievements were showcased and recognized at a January Convention Center gathering — an event, wrote Peter Applebome of the New York Times, “that perhaps had as much to do with economics as with affection.” Some 5,000 people came out for the ceremony, a major turn out for Port Arthur. There was a dedication of a Janis Joplin Memorial, which included a multi-image bronze sculpture of Joplin. The sculpture, along with momentos of Joplin’s career, as well as that of other local musicians including the Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.) and Johnny Winter, would eventually become part of the Museum of the Gulf Coast, housing a permanent Joplin exhibit on the second floor.In January 2008, Port Arthur celebrated Joplin’s 65th birthday by putting a historical marker in front of her childhood home. The town now proclaims its link to Joplin with billboards, brochures, an annual concert, and local tours of various Joplin landmarks. “She was a very popular figure in the ’60s, and she had a lot to do with the style of music that evolved at that time,” said Yvonne Sutherlin of Jefferson County Historical Commission in January 2008. “We just want people to know that she’s from here.”
Beyond Port Arthur, the life and career of Janis Joplin has been explored on stage and screen in a number of productions and documentaries. In 1974-75, Janis, a Canadian film about her career using archival footage was produced. In 1979, the Hollywood film, The Rose, starring Bette Midler, was loosely based on Joplin’s life. In 1992,the biography, Love, Janis was published, written by Joplin’s sister, Laura. A musical stage show with the same title, Love, Janis, ran off-Broadway during 2001-2003 for more than 700 performances. In Washington, D.C., the Arena Stage featured a 2013 production – A Night with Janis Joplin – which includes the Janis character telling stories of inspiration from other artists such as Odetta and Aretha Franklin. A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame came for Joplin in 2013, and a U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp was issued in her honor in 2014. And in 2015, the documentary film, Janis: Little Girl Blue, directed by Amy J. Berg, was shown at the Toronto film festival, since airing to positive reviews in early 2016 on the American Masters PBS-TV series. See also at this website: “Selling Janis Joplin, 1995,” about a Mercedes-Benz TV ad using a Joplin song, and “White Rabbit,” a profile of a Jefferson Airplane song, its politics, and the group’s lead singer, Grace Slick. Other stories on notable women can be found at the topics page, “Noteworthy Ladies.” Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s
University of Toronto Press, 2011
394 pages, Paperback and ebook $29.95, Cloth $70.00
Stuart Henderson’s Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s is an adventure back in time to Yorkville at what many would consider the pinnacle of its cultural history. Fifty years ago, the Yorkville Coffee Mill opened, among the first of many to become a hub for youth exploring counterculture through music and mysticism. Henderson’s book, which stemmed from his doctoral dissertation at Queen’s University, is rich with oral histories and underground press coverage of the day.
Personal experience drew me to Henderson’s work. I grew up in London (Ontario) in the 1990s. My father worked in Toronto for a time and stayed in an apartment on Bay Street near Bloor. Visiting on weekends, my mother and I would wander the “Mink Mile”. By then, Yorkville was a hub of elite consumerism, with couture boutiques and flagship stories. It was cultured, rather than counterculture.
Making the Scene tells the stories of the Toronto neighbourhood of Yorkville and the hip culture that pervaded the district in the 1960s. Henderson argues that, for roughly a decade, Yorkville served as the site in Canada for youth seeking an alternative to the dominant Canadian culture. He asserts that being part of a counterculture – defined as a subculture with values and practices that deviate from mainstream culture – involves the performance of identity. “A hippie,” he notes in the introduction, “does not, never can, exist wholly outside his or her cultural process” (5). In short, counterculture is a negotiation of identity, with cultural hegemony in play.
The book is organized chronologically in sections. Within each section is two chapters, one providing a political and cultural history of the period and the other assessing how the cultural identities in Yorkville were performed at the time. The book’s chronological organization makes Henderson’s argument easy to follow. However, there exists a strong historiography on counterculture-as-performance. Henderson does not especially take advantage of this material, and unfortunately relies on his readers to be familiar with the literature. For example, the performativity of “making the scene” requires the crossing of a threshold. Henderson even states that “as a geographic location, Yorkville was … metaphorically cut off,” and that Toronto was a divided cityscape, with Yorkville a zone of local “foreignness” (17)– both a cultural attraction and a destination. As a historian caught up in the meaning of place, this excited me until I realized that Henderson was not going to explore from where these people were being attracted, and how Yorkville was situated in the context of a rapidly expanding Toronto. In particular, it struck me that there were opportunities for the use of historical maps to tell these types of stories and to better illustrate the growth of the Yorkville coffee houses, followed by their retreat.
While Henderson situates Yorkville very well within its chronological context, the book seemed geographically isolated. The relationship between countercultures, identity, and place has been widely explored, so why not make better use of New York’s Greenwich Village or San Fransisco’s Haight-Ashbury to show what made Yorkville unique? Here, again, I think that the general reader may be disappointed that Henderson expects a high level of familiarity with the themes. Early in the work, I found myself asking questions about other countercultures in other cities and about the history of the 1960s counterculture phenomenon more broadly.
Similarly, the act of performing an identity that Henderson claims is part of “making the scene” requires the crossing of a boundary. Henderson states that “as a geographic location, Yorkville was metaphorically cut off” (268). I interpreted this to mean either that it was fully autonomous or that it had to be filled with people coming from elsewhere—by those who needed to cross the threshold from the dominant culture to the counterculture. Bloor Street between Yonge Street and Avenue Road remains, to this day, a cultural border best crossed under the right economic or social circumstances. I had hoped that Henderson would explore this idea further. Where were the people coming from? How was Yorkville situated in and affected by its geographic context of a rapidly changing and growing Toronto? Most of the images in the book are taken from underground press. There is one map, at the beginning, which shows the streets of Yorkville and their coffeehouses. Indeed, Henderson refers to Yorkville as “tied to a map of meaning which treated it as a circumscribed island of difference within the wider cityscape” (268), but we aren’t shown what exists around the island.
Henderson relies on dialogue from the film The Big Lebowski (1998) to describe the legacy of hip Yorkville:
‘Your revolution is over,’ counsels the conservative figure, as the bemused [Jeff] Bridges turns away. ‘My condolences. The bums lost. My advice is do what your parents did: get a job, sir. The bums will always lose. Do you hear me?’ But he doesn’t. Do we? (273)
The end of a rebellion is nothing new. The 19th century French statesman Francois Guizot has been attributed with the following: “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” What makes Yorkville and the 1960s counterculture unique, according to Henderson’s conclusion, is that it influenced the mainstream culture that we see today. That may be the case. He also suggests that the struggle for physical space was ultimately insignificant. This statement ignores the post-1970 gentrification of Yorkville that occurred, in part, because of the displacement of youth from this space.
It felt at times like Henderson was writing for those who were there, or who wished they could have been there. There were moments throughout when I felt like I had to have been there to understand why the event or place being described was important. The writing, much of which is done in first-person narration, is at times valourising in its tone. The book’s strength lies in its archival research and oral histories, and from reading it came some interesting debates about the nature of culture and place in the city of Toronto. I would recommend it for readers interested in the history of the Yorkville neighbourhood, Canadian culture in the 1960s, or youth culture in Canada. I will no doubt return to it for projects that reference these subjects. It would be a good supplemental work for those interested in counterculture, the history of Toronto, oral history, and underground media.
Kaitlin Wainwright is a graduate of Carleton University’s Public History program. She’s currently the Plaques and Markers Program Coordinator at Heritage Toronto.
The venues, schools, record labels, stores, and other landmarks that have created the sound of our city and shaped its music history.
The 1960s was the decade in which Toronto’s music scene took shape. With twin focal points in Yorkville and along the Yonge Street strip, the city produced highly regarded folk, rock, and R&B-influenced sounds. Though many of the venues from the decade are long gone, acts that developed their reputations in them, such as the Band and Gordon Lightfoot, became known around the globe.
1 Village Corner (174 Avenue Road, north of Davenport)
Another early folk venue, one where music duo Ian & Sylvia launched their career. As a member of the duo the Two Tones, Gordon Lightfoot recorded his first album here in January 1962.
2 Rockpile (northwest corner of Yonge and Davenport)
For a time in the late 1960s, the main space of the Masonic Temple (now home to MTV Canada) was a Fillmore-style concert hall. It is usually associated with Led Zeppelin, who played there twice in 1969. Before their August 18 gig, manager Peter Grant noticed the extensive lineup outside and threatened to cancel the show if the band didn’t get more money. The burly former bouncer got his way, but the amount handed over played a role in the venue’s closing soon after.
3 Penny Farthing (112 Yorkville Avenue)
Far more respectable than its next door neighbour, this spot specialized in blues and jazz. Veteran bluesman Lonnie Johnson played for several weeks in 1965, resulting in an album with one the venue’s regular acts, Stompin’ at the Penny with Jim McHarg’s Metro Stompers, featuring Lonnie Johnson. Johnson enjoyed playing in Toronto and spent the last five years of his life in the city.
4 Riverboat (134 Yorkville Avenue)
Opened in October 1964 and run by Bernie Fielder for 14 years, the Riverboat was usually considered the top venue in Yorkville thanks to a steady stream of high-level blues and folk acts. Sometimes timing worked in the Riverboat’s favour: in order to book bluesmen Sorry Terry and Brownie McGhee, Fielder was pressured by their agent to also slot in a rising folk duo named Simon & Garfunkel. By the time the pair was to perform in early 1966, their songs were rising up the charts. The duo wanted out of their commitment, but a compromise was reached, and Torontonians had what proved to be a rare opportunity to catch the pair in an intimate setting.
5 Mynah Bird (114 Yorkville Avenue, at Hazelton)
Named in honour of owner Colin Kerr’s pet, who could be found at this coffeehouse’s entrance, the Mynah Bird loved drawing attention to itself. For a period, it trotted out the latest innovations in topless entertainment, including Wyche, “the world’s first topless folksinger” (though her long hair covered her bosoms). Kerr also managed a rock group named after the venue, fronted by Rick James—after they separated from Kerr, Neil Young was among the musicians who passed through the group’s ranks.
6 Varsity Stadium (Bloor Street and Bedford Road)
Two major music festivals were held here in 1969. The bill for June’s Toronto Pop Festival ranged from southern soulsters (Carla Thomas) to Quebeçois chansonniers (Robert Charlebois). Local favourite Ronnie Hawkins managed to get a teenager named Jeanne Beker to jump onto the stage. September’s Toronto Rock and Roll Revival went down in history for being the live debut of the Plastic Ono Band featuring John Lennon and the Alice Cooper “chicken incident.”
7 Bohemian Embassy (7 St. Nicholas Street)
Situated at various places around the city over its history, and not to be confused with the condo bearing the same name, the venue founded by Don Cullen called the Yonge-Wellesley area home from 1960 to 1966. One of the city’s first major coffeehouses, it offered up a mix of folk, jazz, comedy, and literary readings—among those whose careers were boosted by appearances at the Bohemian Embassy were Margaret Atwood and Sylvia Tyson.
8 RCA Studios (225 Mutual Street)
Once home to CHUM radio, 225 Mutual Street became one of the city’s busiest recording studios. Operated by RCA during the 1960s and 1970s, then McClear Place, the studios saw acts ranging from Rosemary Clooney to Rush use its facilities over half a century of sound recording. The building was demolished in 2010.
9 Club Blue Note (372A Yonge Street)
A key venue for developing the mix of rock and R&B that came to be known as the “Toronto Sound.” As George Olliver, who sang with the house band The Five Rogues (later Mandala) told the National Post last year, “so many of the hit artists who used to work at the Maple Leaf Gardens came here after hours—people like Stevie Wonder, The Righteous Brothers.”
10 Hawk’s Nest (above Le Coq D’Or, 333 Yonge Street)
Having proven a popular attraction at Le Coq D’Or, Ronnie Hawkins made a deal with its owners: in exchange for free use of the building’s third floor (which ended up housing an office, gym, and after hours parties), he would run an all-ages club on the second floor. The Hawk’s Nest proved a blessing for music fans too young to go into the other venues along the Yonge Street strip.
11 Friar’s Tavern (283 Yonge Street)
Now the Hard Rock Café, the Friar’s Tavern was another stop for bands gigging along the Yonge Street strip. A plaque inside commemorates the morning of September 15, 1965, when Bob Dylan caught a performance by Levon and the Hawks, Ronnie Hawkins’ former backing band. For the next two nights, Dylan and the group that became the Band rehearsed at the Friar’s before going out on Dylan’s first electrified tour.
12 Colonial Tavern (203 Yonge Street)
Situated between two historic banks across from the present-day Eaton Centre, the Colonial Tavern attracted a steady stream of blues, jazz and rock acts during its existence. A parkette currently graces the site.
13 Electric Circus (99 Queen Street East)
Opened in December 1968, the Electric Circus was intended by its backers to bring a New York–style trendy nightclub to Toronto. Partner Jerry Brandt told the Globe and Mail that “we think a person should be free to do what he wants. He can dance, he can watch, he can disappear for a while into an environment room…We have set up the facilities for you to have an experience. It’s not what you do, but how you do it.” After its run as a club/music venue, the site was used as the original studio for Citytv, who later resurrected the name for its dance show.
14 King Edward Hotel (37 King Street East)
Between their afternoon and evening performances at Maple Leaf Gardens on August 17, 1966, the Beatles attended a press conference at the venerable King Eddy. John Lennon refused to apologize for his recent statements that the band was more popular than Jesus. They also admitted that the scariest fans they encountered so far on what proved to be their final tour were found in Cleveland.
15 O’Keefe Centre (Yonge and Front)
This all-purpose concert hall, now known as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, was one of the most versatile venues of the decade in terms of performers. The pre-Broadway tryout of the musical Camelot, starring Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, opened the O’Keefe in October 1960. Acts that trod its stage during the 1960s ranged from grand opera to the Grateful Dead.
Additional material from Before the Gold Rush by Nicholas Jennings (Toronto: Penguin, 1997) and the December 21, 1968 edition of the Globe and Mail.
By Alex Ross (New Yorker Magazine)
In September, 1974, Bob Dylan spent four days in the old Studio A, his favorite recording haunt in Manhattan, and emerged with the greatest, darkest album of his career. It is a ten-song study in romantic devastation, as beautiful as it is bleak, worthy of comparison with Schubert’s “Winterreise.” Yet the record in question—“Blood on the Tracks”—has never officially seen the light of day. The Columbia label released an album with that title in January, 1975, but Dylan had reworked five of the songs in last-minute sessions in Minnesota, resulting in a substantial change of tone. Mournfulness and wistfulness gave way to a feisty, festive air. According to Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard, the authors of the book “A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ ” from 2004, Dylan feared a commercial failure. The revised “Blood” sold extremely well, reaching the top of the Billboard album chart, and it ended talk of Dylan’s creative decline. It was not, however, the masterwork of melancholy that he created in Studio A.
For decades, the first “Blood” circulated on a bootleg called the New York Sessions. The compact disc that I picked up in a basement Greenwich Village store had a pleasant overlay of vinyl noise—the result of a transfer from a test pressing. Although several of the tracks have shown up in Columbia’s long-running Bootleg Series, the perennial absence of the full album has made fans wonder whether Dylan is wary of revisiting a turbulent time of his life, when his first marriage, to Sara Lownds, was dissolving. Dylan has denied that “Blood” is autobiographical; in his memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One,” he suggests that the songs were based on Chekhov. Artists tend to dislike personal readings of their most personal work.
Last month, Columbia issued “More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14.” Available both as a single-disk compilation and as a six-CD “deluxe edition,” it is both more and less than what Dylan obsessives have been tiresomely clamoring for. The logical move would have been to include the entire album in its initial guise. Yet the single disk gives you only two of the test-pressing tracks, alongside some admittedly riveting outtakes. The box set has all of the discarded tracks, but they are scattered through a complete chronological survey of the four days of sessions—five and a half hours of Dylan at the height of his powers. You will have to study the track listings to assemble the original record. The elusiveness of “Blood on the Tracks” has been integral to its allure, and so it remains.
The Morgan Library, which owns the autograph manuscript of “Winterreise,” also possesses a five-inch-by-three-inch red spiral notebook in which Dylan wrote down lyrics for “Blood on the Tracks.” A hardback book included with Columbia’s “deluxe edition” reproduces forty pages of sketches. Some of them are sung more or less as written on both incarnations of the album:
He woke up, the room was bare
coulddidn’t see her anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care,
pushed the window open wide
Then felt an emptiness inside
to which he just could not relate
Brought on by a Simple Twist of Fate
Other lyrics never saw the light of day, and are brutally confessional: “Doomed (led) by a heart that wanders astray / Trapped by a brain that I can’t throw away . . . Was it really 12 years ago, well, it seems like just the other day . . . And it’s Breaking me up with only myself to blame.”
Clichés about heartbreak feeding genius fail to explain the singular potency of “Blood on the Tracks.” The rawness of feeling is certainly there, but it is joined to meticulous craftsmanship in the working-out of words and music. The notebook shows constant, obsessive revision—a sort of perfectionism of disaster. “Idiot Wind,” the extended primal scream at the heart of the album, is seen in drafts so crowded with marginal additions that they are hardly legible. Often Dylan doesn’t cross things out, instead superimposing alternatives:
The priest wore black on the seventh day and waltzed around on a tilted floor
stepped all over me
After you (came down on me) you said you never saw my face before
did me in
(After you stepped all over my head, you said ya never wanted to see my face no more)
I BEG YOUR PARDON MADAM
(thru the circles round your eyes)
IDIOT WIND – BLOWIN EVERY TIME YOU MOVE YOUR JAW
FROM THE GRAND COOLIE DAM TO THE MARDI GRAS
(blowing thru the hot and dusty skies)
Such collisions of hallucinatory images and dour realism—the waltzing priest, the marital argument—are common in Dylan’s work, yet here the literary touches seem less an artful device than a form of extreme emphasis. What’s more, the writing process is open-ended: images are shuffled around through successive drafts and, later, through successive takes in the studio. That priest waltzes on a tilted floor; then he waltzes while a building burns; then he sits stone-faced. The wind blows from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras, then to the Capitol.
The music that Dylan wrote for these lyrics has a chilly, clammy air. His guitar is in open-E tuning, meaning that all six strings of the guitar are tuned to notes of the E-major triad: E, B, E, G#, B, E. As a result, the tonic chord rings rich and bright. But each verse begins with a jarring A-minor chord, which tends to land awkwardly. The middle note easily strays off center, souring the sound. Occasionally, a stray F-sharp bleeds through, adding a Romantic tinge. The unwieldiness of the progression is at one with the fraught atmosphere of the text.
The emotional violence is troubling. The word “idiot” is flung down twelve times. Some lines are openly assaultive: “One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzing around your eyes, / Blood on your saddle.” Here, Dylan’s original approach makes a substantial difference. He made four complete takes in New York, plus several rehearsals and false starts. Each time, he has only a quiet bass guitar backing him. (A ghostly organ was later overdubbed.) The tempo is slow, the delivery subdued. All this is at odds with the song’s smoldering rage, and the contradiction gets resolved in the final chorus, where Dylan shifts from the second person to the first-person plural: “Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats / Blowing through the letters that we wrote . . . We’re idiots, babe, it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”
Many Dylanists will disagree with me—the second “Blood” has eloquent defenders—but to my ears the later version, recorded with six pick-up musicians in Minnesota, cuts out much of the complexity. Mannerisms overtake the singer’s delivery. “Idiot” becomes “yidiot,” and a goofy pirate yowl periodically intrudes: “I woke up on the roadside, daydreaming about the way things sometimes aaahhhhhrrrre.” (When he does this on one of the New York takes, Tony Brown, the bass player, laughs out loud.) The admission of shared responsibility at the end doesn’t register: you’re carried away by the momentum of the band.
All through the New York sessions, you hear a persistent downward tug in the voice, a grimace of regret. Even the album’s livelier numbers, such as “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” can be wrenched into the abyss; on one take, the tempo drastically slows, giving an almost tragic tinge to a line like “I’ve only known careless love.” The potential downside is a tendency toward relentlessness: one piece after another in the key of E, spiralling through love and loss. The final album offers more variety. The Minnesota band gives a rollicking energy to the cinematic yarn of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” Arguably, that song suffers under the austere New York style, though I love it anyway.
Ultimately, the long-running debate over the competing incarnations of “Blood on the Tracks” misses the point of what makes this artist so infinitely interesting, at least for some of us. Jeff Slate, who wrote liner notes for “More Blood, More Tracks,” observes that Dylan’s work is always in flux. The process that is documented on these eighty-seven tracks is not one of looking for the “right” take; it’s the beginning of an endless sequence of variations, which are still unfolding on his Never-Ending Tour. In an article from 1999, I notated some of Dylan’s live revisions of “Simple Twist of Fate.” The “More Blood” book reproduces alternate lyrics that were written on stationery from the Hotel Drei Könige am Rhein, in Basel. Dylan is still at it. The other night, in Durham, North Carolina, he sang:
He woke up and she was gone
He didn’t see nothing but the dawn
Got out of bed and put his shoes back on
Then he pushed back the blinds
Found a note she left behind
What’d it say? It said you should have met me back in ‘58
We could have avoided this, ah, little simple twist of fate.
To assemble the original “Blood on the Tracks” from the eighty-seven takes on “More Blood, More Tracks,” select tracks 69 (CD 5, No. 3), 71 (CD 5, No. 5), 34 (CD 3, No. 3), 76 (CD 5, No. 10), 48 (CD 4, No. 2), 16 (CD 2, No. 5), 11 (CD 1, No. 11), 59 (CD 4, No. 13), 46 (CD 3, No. 15), and 58 (CD 4, No. 12).
Further evidence of the importance of coffee bars in the radical culture of the 1960s. (From the New York Times.)
In the summer of 1967, Fred Gardner arrived in San Francisco with the Vietnam War weighing heavily on his mind. Gardner was 25 years old, a Harvard graduate and a freelance journalist for a number of major publications. He was attracted to Northern California’s mix of counterculture and radical politics, and hoped to become more actively involved in the movement to end the war. He was particularly interested in the revolutionary potential of American servicemen and couldn’t understand why antiwar activists and organisers weren’t paying more attention to such a powerful group of potential allies.
Ever since completing a two-year stint in the Army Reserves in 1965, Gardner had been closely watching the increasing instances of military insubordination, resistance and outright refusal that were accompanying the war’s escalation. From the case of the Fort Hood Three — G.I.s arrested in 1966 for publicly declaring their opposition to the war and refusal to deploy — to the case of Howard Levy, an Army dermatologist who refused his assignment to provide medical training for Special Forces troops headed to Vietnam, it was clear that the Army was fast becoming the central site of an unprecedented uprising. By 1967, the “G.I. movement” was capturing national headlines.
And it wasn’t just the war that was aggravating American servicemen. The military’s pervasive racial discrimination — unequal opportunities for promotion, unfair housing practices, persistent harassment and abuse — fueled increasing outrage among black G.I.s as the war progressed. Influenced by the civil rights and black liberation movements, black soldiers participated in widespread and diverse acts of resistance throughout the Vietnam era. Racial tensions were particularly high in the Army, where a vast majority of draftees were being sent, and where evasion, desertion and insubordination rates among black G.I.s exploded in the war’s later years. An antiwar movement in the military was beginning to take shape, with black soldiers often its vanguard.
As Gardner sat in the radical coffeehouses of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood that summer, he thought about the explosive power of servicemen turning against the war and wondered how that power could be supported and nurtured by the civilian antiwar movement. Most of all, he wanted to find a way to reach out to disaffected young G.I.s, to show them that there was a whole community of antiwar activists and organizers who were on their side. He finally settled on an idea: opening a network of youth-culture-oriented coffeehouses, just like the ones in North Beach, in towns outside military bases around the country.
In January 1968 he did just that, travelling with a fellow activist, Donna Mickleson, to Columbia, S.C., home of Fort Jackson, one of the Army’s largest training bases and the crown jewel of the state’s many military installations. The UFO coffeehouse, decorated with rock ’n’ roll posters donated from the San Francisco promoter Bill Graham, quickly became a popular hangout for G.I.s — and a target of significant hostility from military officials, city authorities and outraged local citizens (“It’s a sore spot in our craw,” a Columbia official said.) The coffeehouse was located just off base, out of the military’s reach but close enough for soldiers to visit during their free time — places where active-duty servicemen, veterans and civilian activists could meet to plan demonstrations, publish underground newspapers and work to build the nascent peace movement within the military.
By the summer of 1968, major antiwar organizations took notice of the controversy the UFO was stirring up in Columbia and initiated a “Summer of Support” to organize funds for more coffeehouse projects around the country. In ensuing years, more than 25 “G.I. coffeehouses” opened up near military bases in the United States and at a number of bases overseas.
Over the course of six years, the coffeehouse network would play a central role in some of the G.I. movement’s most significant actions. At the Oleo Strut coffeehouse in Killeen, Tex., local staff and G.I.s mobilized to support the Fort Hood 43 — a large group of black soldiers who were arrested at a meeting to discuss their refusal to deploy for riot control duty at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. A black veteran present at the meeting described its mood: “A lot of black G.I.s knew what the thing was going to be about and they weren’t going to go and fight their own people.” Army authorities were caught off guard by the publicity the coffeehouse brought to the case, and began to examine their strategies for dealing with political expression among the ranks.
When eight black G.I.s, each of them leaders of the group G.I.s United Against the War in Vietnam, were arrested in 1969 for holding an illegal demonstration at Fort Jackson, the UFO coffeehouse served as a local operations center, drumming up funds for lawyers and promoting the “Fort Jackson Eight” story to the national media. After G.I. and civilian activists created intense public pressure, officials quietly dropped all charges, signaling a shift in how the military would respond to soldiers expressing dissent.
During its brief lifetime, the G.I. coffeehouse network was subjected to attacks from all sides — investigated by the F.B.I. and congressional committees, infiltrated by law enforcement, harassed by military authorities and, in a number of startling cases, terrorized by local vigilantes. In 1970, at the Fort Dix coffeehouse project in Wrightstown, N.J., G.I.s and civilians were celebrating Valentine’s Day when a live grenade flew in through an open door; it exploded, seriously injuring two Fort Dix soldiers and a civilian. Another popular coffeehouse, the Covered Wagon in Mountain Home, Idaho (near a major Air Force base), was a frequent target of harassment by outraged locals, who finally burned it to the ground.
Though their numbers dwindled as the war drew to a close in the mid-1970s, G.I. coffeehouses left an indelible mark on the Vietnam era. While popular mythology often places the antiwar movement at odds with American troops, the history of G.I. coffeehouses, and the G.I. movement of which they were a part, paints a very different picture. Over the course of the war, thousands of military service members from every branch — active-duty G.I.s, veterans, nurses and even officers — expressed their opposition to American policy in Vietnam. They joined forces with civilian antiwar organizations that, particularly after 1968, focused significant energy and resources on developing social and political bonds with American service members. Hoping to build the resistance that was already taking shape in the Army, activists at G.I. coffeehouses worked directly with service members on hundreds of political projects and demonstrations, despite relentless government surveillance, infiltration and harassment.
The unprecedented eruption of resistance and activism by American troops is critical to understanding the history of the Vietnam War. The G.I. movement and related phenomenon created a significant crisis for the American military, which feared exactly the kind of alliance between civilians and soldiers that Fred Gardner had in mind when he opened the first G.I. coffeehouse in 1968. Despite the extraordinary political and cultural impact that dissenting soldiers made throughout the Vietnam era, their voices have been nearly erased from history, replaced by a stereotypical image of loyal, patriotic soldiers antagonized and spat upon by ungrateful antiwar activists. In the decades since the war’s end, countless Hollywood movies, books, political speeches and celebrated documentaries have repeated this image, obscuring the war’s deep unpopularity among the ranks and the countless ways that American troops expressed their opposition.
This historical erasure serves a distinct purpose, casting dissent — from wearing an antiwar T-shirt to kneeling during the national anthem — as inherently disrespectful, even abusive, to American soldiers. A fuller reckoning with the era’s history would begin by acknowledging the countless G.I.s and civilians who stood together against the war. G.I. coffeehouses are a vital window onto this history, showing us places where men and women came together to share their common revulsion at the war in Vietnam, and to begin organizing a collective effort to make it stop.
Bill Graham, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia—half a century on, these names still evoke the sound of San Francisco in the late 1960s. To be sure, the city’s greatest concert promoter, singer, and guitarist all deserve their status as cultural icons, but it was another guy whose name you might notimmediately recognize, Marty Balin, who drew the world’s attention to San Francisco in the first place. That’s because in 1965, Balin undertook two inextricably linked projects that together changed rock-music history—he helped open a small but highly influential club called the Matrix, and he founded a new band, Jefferson Airplane, which played its first gig on his club’s opening night.
“You could predict how a show would go according to the drugs lined up on the back of the amps.”
Those two acts would have been enough to secure Balin’s place in music history, but the singer was just getting started. That fall, Balin encouraged an ambitious impresario named Bill Graham to host a benefit concert for a theater group Graham was managing, offering up Jefferson Airplane for the occasion. A second benefit at the Fillmore Auditorium, also featuring the Airplane, followed that December. By February of 1966, Jefferson Airplane was headlining the first non-benefit concert at the Fillmore for Graham—during that year, Balin’s band would play more than 30 dates at the hall.
The following year, 1967, the Airplane performed more than 100 times, including an electrifying appearance at Monterey Pop. In the winter of 1968, Balin and company briefly partnered with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead to produce their own shows at the Carousel Ballroom. And then, in 1969, after performing at Woodstock that summer, the Airplane ended the decade as one of the openers for a free Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, where Balin was knocked unconscious by a Hells Angel when Balin came to the aid of a fan who was being beaten with pool cues by multiple members of the notorious motorcycle gang.
For Balin and the Airplane, the trajectory to that fateful day had been fast and steep. But like most musicians, Balin’s “overnight” success was years in the making. His first record deal, inked in 1962 when he was just 20, was with Challenge Records of Los Angeles, whose claim to fame had been a catchy single by The Champs called “Tequila.” For Challenge, Balin recorded four songs (only one of which he co-wrote), which were pressed onto a pair of 45s.
Like a lot of Johnny Mathis and Paul Anka wannabes cutting records in those days, Balin was given a stage name—he was born Martyn Jerel Buchwald. In the studio, Balin sang with the L.A. music industry’s go-to backup band, the Wrecking Crew. “The lead guitar player at the session was Glen Campbell,” Balin remembers. “He was the hot guy in town at the time.” Also at the session—which his father, Joe Buchwald, paid for—was guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Red Callender, Jack Nitzsche on piano, and Hal Blaine on drums, with the Blossoms providing the backing vocals and Ricky Nelson’s arranger, Jimmie Haskell, conducting the strings. “They put me in a little room with a window and said ‘sing.’” Balin recalls.
Balin sang, although his debut went unnoticed by radio stations and, hence, the public. Still, Balin had his first taste of the music business, and he wanted more. He got it in the summer of 1963, while hanging out one evening in a San Francisco folk-music spot on Union Street called the Drinking Gourd. There, Balin met three other musicians who were looking to form a group. From that chance encounter, the Town Criers were formed. Before long, they were playing the Drinking Gourd and clubs like the hungry i and the Purple Onion, on one occasion opening for the great comedian Dick Gregory—within few years, Gregory would be sharing bills with the Airplane.
The year 1964 was a transitional one for American pop music. By then, the folk revival of the 1950s and early ’60s was feeling the competition from the British Invasion. The Beatles had arrived in February with Little Richard and Chuck Berry numbers in their repertoire. The Rolling Stones followed in June, introducing white American kids to black American blues. And in November, the Animals had an unlikely hit with a traditional American folk song called “The House of the Rising Son.”
By 1965, folk-rock hybrids were popping up all over the place. That spring, The Byrds had a hit with Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which was recorded in an L.A. studio with many of the same musicians who had backed Balin for Challenge Records. During the summer, Bob Dylan famously “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, a new San Francisco group called the Charlatansperformed for six weeks straight—but not “straight”—at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, and the Lovin’ Spoonful burst on the scene with the release of its first single, “Do You Believe in Magic?”
What San Francisco lacked in 1965 was a reliable performance space for this new genre, which is partly what had sent the Charlatans to Virginia City. “When I was in the Town Criers,” Balin says, “I wanted to use electric guitars and drums, but places like the Drinking Gourd didn’t want that because it was too loud.” Still, Balin performed frequently at the Drinking Gourd, often on “hootenanny” night, accompanying his beseeching tenor with a nylon-string Martin guitar.
It was a meager act, but Balin played those hootenanny nights for all he was worth, and that passion was enough to earn him a small following. “These nurses would come in and see me,” Balin remembers. “I guess they kind of liked what I did. One night, they brought their boyfriends, and after my set, I joined them at their table. The boyfriends, who were engineers, were talking about how they each had $3,000 to invest and didn’t know what to do with the money. I immediately jumped in and said, ‘Hey, give it to me.’ They said, ‘What would you do with it?’ And I said, “I’d open a nightclub and put a band in it. You can have the nightclub, I’ll keep the band.’”
That may have seemed like a bold proposal coming from a nobody who was still covering Rod McKuen tunes, but Balin was one of those people who had a natural knack for making things happen. “I’m an Energizer Bunny,” he says, “a stimulator. I have ideas and then I get other people to show off their talents and abilities, too.”
Indeed, on that night at the Drinking Gourd, Balin already had some of the pieces for his still-unnamed band in place. In March of 1965, Balin had found his first recruit, Paul Kantner, at one of the Drinking Gourd’s open-mic nights, as Balin told Got a Revolution author Jeff Tamarkin for a 1993 interview published in “Relix Magazine.” “I remember I was standing at the door and he came in and the guy said, ‘No more room, we’re filled up.’ I said, ‘Give him my spot,’ because he looked interesting; he had two guitars, one in each hand, which was rare. Kind of a weird-looking dude. So he came in and he had a 12-string and a six and he came out onstage and tuned up, like he still does, and started to play this song and then stopped. He was embarrassed or something. And he walked off.”
According to Kantner in Got a Revolution, embarrassment had nothing to do with it. “It was a noisy, drinking kind of crowd. So I said, ‘This sucks. I’ve had enough, good-bye.’” For some reason, Balin was smitten. “As I was leaving Marty said, “Hey, you want to start a band?’” Kantner did.
The Drinking Gourd was also where Balin and Kantner met Bob Harvey, the Airplane’s first bassist, who briefly played an upright before Jack Casady gave the band its signature, and very electric, bottom end. Signe Anderson, the band’s first female vocalist, was also a Drinking Gourd regular, and she sang with the Airplane for more than a year before leaving the group to raise her child, her memory as an original member of Jefferson Airplane all but obliterated by the arrival of Grace Slick, who had been fronting a competing group called the Great Society. The band’s first drummer, Jerry Peloquin, was an acquaintance of Balin’s, although he was quickly replaced by Skip Spence, who was fired less than a year later for disappearing one day to Mexico—Skippy, as friends called him, eventually resurfaced to help form Moby Grape. The last puzzle piece, lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, arrived via Kantner, although it was Balin who chased him down. In addition to a blues-infused guitar, Kaukonen also contributed the band’s absurdist name, a shortened version of a nickname Kaukonen had been given by a friend (as a proper name, the words “Jefferson Airplane” are never preceded by “the”).
While all this was going on, the nurses’ three boyfriends—Elliot Sazer, Ted Saunders, and Paul Sedlewicz—were scouting locations, finally settling on a 40-by-80-foot pizza joint called the Syndicate, which was located on Fillmore Street a handful of blocks away from the Drinking Gourd. Renamed the Matrix by Sazer, the club was literally designed for the group Balin was assembling. “I built the stage to fit the band,” Balin says. “It was a little bigger than most stages.” It would have to be to support two guitarists, a pair of singers, and a rhythm section—six pieces in an era when four Beatles or five Stones were the rule.
And then, finally, it was opening night: Friday August 13, 1965. “The Matrix was a going thing from the day it opened,” Balin says. “That first night, representatives from every record company in the world were sitting in the audience. They all gave me their business cards, and I pinned them up in the dressing room. Everybody was going, ‘Oh man, let’s sign, let’s get a record deal!’ We knew about six songs,”—Balin described them to San Francisco Chroniclewriter John L. Wasserman as “social blues”—“and we extended those songs as instrumentals. So even though we didn’t have that many tunes, everybody wanted us.”
Balin tried to put the brakes on his bandmates’ enthusiasm. “I said, ‘No, no, guys, we’re not going to sign anything until we hear from Phil Spector. And then the second night we played, Phil’s sister, Shirley, was in the audience, and she came up and said, ‘Phil Spector wants you to come to L.A.’ Things happened very fast.”
Although not with Phil Spector. “We didn’t get along with him at all,” Balin says. “He was too crazy for us.” No matter—by November, the band would sign with RCA Records, securing a then-staggering $25,000 advance in the deal.
Throughout the summer and into the fall, the band’s personnel solidified and its sound tightened as its members got in lots of practice at the Matrix, often backing whoever Balin had booked. “Mainly I hired the old blues guys I had played with,” Balin says, “like Lightnin’ Hopkins, J.C Burris, cats like that who would play for 300 or 400 bucks a night. Whoever was in the Airplane at the time would back them. We knew how to play the blues,” he adds, “but some of these guys would play like 15- and 15-and-a-half-bar blues, instead of the standard 12 or 16, and you’d be, like, ‘What the hell, man?’ It was a great education.”
In September and October of 1965, Jefferson Airplane backed both Hopkins and Burris at the Matrix, as well as performing there under its own name. That October, the band also played the first of three Family Dog produced concerts at Longshoremen’s Hall—almost immediately, the San Francisco music scene had outgrown the cozy confines of the Matrix. The Bill Graham benefits followed in November and December, which is also when Jefferson Airplane went to L.A. to record its first album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” for RCA.
By January of 1966, the Airplane, Charlatans, and Family Dog had teamed up for a packed show at California Hall, and while Balin was ready to do more, George Hunter of the Charlatans wasn’t. “The Charlatans were very popular,” Balin remembers. “They were one of my favorite bands, and George and I were good friends.” But Balin didn’t have time to be disappointed. On February 4, Jefferson Airplane was headlining the official opening of the Fillmore Auditorium. Now it was the Fillmore’s turn to be packed. The Airplane was also the top-billed act when Chet Helms and the Family Dog produced their first Fillmore show on February 19. Within six months, Jefferson Airplane had gone from being the house band in a former pizza joint to being the supergroup of San Francisco.
By April, Helms had moved the Family Dog from the Fillmore to the Avalon Ballroom—sharing the Fillmore with a competitor had proved too much for Graham. Although the Airplane had opened the Fillmore for both promoters, the band would only play one subsequent weekend at the Avalon, in no small part because Balin was so comfortable with the way Bill Graham ran the Fillmore.
“Bill was the best promoter ever,” Balin says. “He just took care of every little detail. When you walked out onto his stage, it was ready for you. Everybody was calm, everybody was quiet. There was no rushing around. And Bill would be there, and he’d say, ‘The stage is yours.’ And you’d go out and there and everything would be perfect. It was just the best stage you could ever play.”
During most of 1967, Graham and the Airplane had more than a promoter-performer relationship because Graham was now managing the band. Given this close association, it’s perhaps not too surprising that in May of 1967, when Graham’s regular poster printer went out of business, Graham gave the work to Neal, Stratford & Kerr, where Balin’s dad, Joe Buchwald, worked as a pressman. Ironically, this was just a few months before Neal, Stratford & Kerr went bankrupt. Fortunately, its lead pressman, Levon Mosgofian, acquired the company’s presses and other printing hardware to form what would become Tea Lautrec Litho, and just as fortuitously, Buchwald stayed on with Mosgofian.
That almost sounds like Graham decided to hire Balin’s father’s firm for sentimental reasons, but Balin cautions against this kind of thinking. “Bill never did anything out of romance, unless it was for a woman,” he says. “He had a big sign behind his desk that read, ‘Though I walk in the Valley of Death, I am the meanest son of a bitch in that valley.’” So why did Graham go with Tea Lautrec if not because of his father? “Graham probably got a good deal,” Balin says.
In fact, Buchwald had been a part of his son’s professional life since he coughed up the dough for that first Challenge Records session in 1962. Buchwald also helped make the Matrix a reality, putting Balin in the unique position—for those times, anyway—of constantly bumping into one of his parents. “He was in the scene real tight,” Balin says of his dad. “I’d go to these dark, acid parties, and there would be my pops. I remember one time I was really stoned on LSD and found myself at this new thing called a light show. All these blobs of color and music were forming out of the darkness; man, was that crazy. I was coming on to the acid pretty strong when I noticed my dad sitting about two rows in front of me. I said, ‘Hey, Pop, get me out of here. I’m so stoned I can’t even walk!’ And he just said, ‘Relax! Let’s see the rest of the show, then I’ll take you home.’”
Naturally, Buchwald’s participation in the scene expanded when he and Levon Mosgofian began printing Fillmore posters for Bill Graham. As a pressman for San Francisco’s premier printer of psychedelic concert posters, Buchwald worked closely with the best rock-poster artists of the 20th century. These artists held Buchwald’s ability to coax their visions out of Tea Lautrec’s Miehle 29 offset printing presses in high esteem. Consequently, Buchwald was invited to countless concerts, parties, you name it. To hear Balin tell it, his pops rarely declined, which sometimes proved awkward—not for him, but for his pops.
“He was always backstage when the Airplane played the Fillmore and Winterland,” Balin remembers. “I’d also run into him on the road, be it somewhere in the Midwest or Europe, even. I’d look over to the side of the stage, and there’d be my father with some chickie of his. I’d say, ‘Hey, Pop, how are you doing?’ After the show, though, he’d be gone. He wouldn’t even stick around to say ‘hi.’ He was embarrassed, I guess, because although he was still married to my mom, he had all these girlfriends. But I didn’t get uptight. I told him, ‘I’m not going to judge you. I understand Mom doesn’t want to go out and doesn’t stay up late. You’re a late-night go-getter. I dig it.’ After that, we became closer and friendlier.”
Graham managed Jefferson Airplane until early 1968, when Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden, who were a couple at this point, delivered an ‘either he goes or we go’ ultimatum. Among other reasons for the rupture, Slick and Dryden were tired of Graham’s argumentative style, and Slick in particular felt like Graham was working the band too hard.
Balin was more sanguine. He understood where Graham was coming from, and he liked the fringe benefits the band enjoyed thanks to its privileged relationship with the volatile promoter, even after Graham was no longer their manager. These benefits extended beyond regular bookings at Graham’s venues, including the fabled Fillmore East in New York City.
“After we’d played our gig,” Balin says, “we’d go back to his apartment in New York. Bill used to have his security guards take pot away from the audience because it was against the law at the time. So, he had this huge stash of confiscated weed in his apartment, which we’d all smoke after the show. It was great.”
Which is not to say that Balin was unfailingly loyal to Graham. Around the same time Jefferson Airplane decided to drop Bill Graham as their manager, replacing him with an old friend of Balin’s named Bill Thompson, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead agreed to be partners in a venerable San Francisco dance hall called the Carousel Ballroom. There, they would produce their own shows without the help of Bill Graham, Chet Helms, or anyone else.
“That was great,” Balin says. “We finally had our own ballroom!” Unfortunately, the rent was too high and tons of people got in free. To make ends meet, the bands behind the Carousel were obliged to play it regularly, usually for little or no money, just to keep the enterprise afloat—between January and June of 1968, the Dead or its various members played the Carousel Ballroom almost 20 times, while the Airplane or its personnel put in eight appearances.
Coincidentally, as Graham recalled in Robert Greenfield’s Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out, Graham decided he had to get out of the predominantly African-American neighborhood for which the Fillmore Auditorium was named because the area had gotten too dangerous for his mainly white audience in the aftermath of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4. Graham had heard that the Carousel had turned into a money pit for the Dead and Airplane, so to secure the lease on the ballroom, Graham flew to Ireland to personally make his case to the building’s owner. After numerous rounds of bourbon, Graham had the Carousel’s lease, which was probably just as well for the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
“We were too scattered, too hippie to run the Carousel,” Balin says. “I don’t know anybody who was as good a businessman as Bill was. Bill was primo, top of the line, a former New Yorker, so he had the hustle.”
Of course, the transfer of the Carousel Ballroom’s lease from two rock bands to Bill Graham was hardly the most important event of 1968, a year when the American public was becoming increasingly impatient with the war in Vietnam. That disenchantment led indirectly to the assassination of yet another major political leader, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who only got into the 1968 presidential race when the incumbent, Lyndon B. Johnson, pulled out.
Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, hard drugs like heroin and speed had flooded former hippie havens such as the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, with predictably corrosive results. In addition, the bands themselves were starting to come apart, seen most dramatically in the exit by year’s end of Janis Joplin from Big Brother and the Holding Company. Not surprisingly, Balin played a part in that story, too.
“We were playing a concert down the coast,” Balin begins, referring to the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival held on May 18, 1968, at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. “I was sitting out in the audience, watching Jim Morrison and The Doors. And Janis, who was also performing, came up to me and said, ‘I want to talk to you. Come on.’ So we’re walking along, and we pass Jerry Garcia, and she said, ‘Jerry, come on, I want to talk to you.’ So we got in this old pickup truck and started driving, with Jerry behind the wheel, Janis in the center, and me riding shotgun.”
Joplin was distraught because her new manager, Albert Grossman, who also managed Bob Dylan, wanted her to leave Big Brother. “He wanted her to have a better band,” Balin says, “but there was something so raw and funky about Big Brother. They just fit her so perfectly, with Jim Gurley on that crazy heroin guitar of his. But that’s what the record companies did to everybody—they always wanted to break the girl away from the band. I’m sure they tried to do that with Grace and the Airplane, saying, ‘Oh, you’re better than they are. We can make you a superstar. You don’t need these people.’ I don’t know, but I’m sure she got the same hassle.
“Anyway, Janis was upset because these were her friends. Big Brother was who she had started out with, so she wanted our advice about whether she should leave her old buddies, or not. We told her to follow her heart, and to follow the path that would be best for her music. In the end,” Balin says, “I don’t know if she made the best decision, but it was tough for her because Grossman was telling her that he was going to make her a big, big star. She didn’t realize,” he adds, “that she was already a big, big star.”
Nor was Joplin the only one struggling with success. In 1966, Balin had given Jefferson Airplane its first single, “It’s No Secret,” a rockin’ love song on its debut LP, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.” But when Grace Slick entered the picture in the fall of 1967, she brought “Somebody to Love” with her from the Great Society (her former Great Society bandmate and brother-in-law, Darby Slick, had written it as “Someone to Love”), as well as a song of her own called “White Rabbit.” Both would make it onto the Airplane’s next album, “Surrealistic Pillow,” along with three tracks written by Balin (“Comin’ Back to Me,” “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover”) plus two more Balin co-wrote, including “Today,” one of several tracks on the album featuring Jerry Garcia on lead guitar.
Despite Balin’s prodigious output, Slick’s “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” became the songs people remembered most from “Surrealistic Pillow,” which reached No. 3 on the “Billboard” charts. Those two songs and the hype around their singer may be why D. A. Pennebaker, the director of the film version of Monterey Pop, kept his cameras on Grace Slick, even while Marty Balin was singing. Those two songs could also be why the editors of “LIFE” magazine decided to put Jefferson Airplane on the cover of its June 28, 1968, issue, with Grace Slick sitting in the top cube of a plexiglass pyramid. In fact, in the opinion of lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, those two songs are probably why Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
By his own admission, Balin struggled at times with Slick’s fame from the 1967 release of “Surrealistic Pillow” until he left the group in 1971—the Airplane lumbered on for another year or so without him. Even after Balin rejoined Kantner and Slick in 1975 for one of the many incarnations of Jefferson Starship, and several of that band’s biggest early hits—“Caroline,” “Miracles”— it was always Slick who got the spotlight. “For a while, the radio stations were playing ‘Miracles’ every hour on the hour,” Balin says, “and every time they played it, they’d say, ‘That was Grace Slick and Jefferson Starship.’ They never said ‘Marty Balin and Jefferson Starship,’ but I got my check, thank God.”
To hear Balin tell it today, Jefferson Starship was your classic rock ’n’ roll nightmare, whose creative sparks were extinguished by egos, drugs, and alcohol. Even before he left the band in 1978, he was so burned out that he turned down the chance to front an up-and-coming group called Journey, leaving the door open for Steve Perry, whose voice was very much in the Balin mold. For its part, the Starship replaced Balin with Mickey Thomas, who, in 1985, would share lead vocals with Grace Slick on “We Built This City,” which “Rolling Stone” readers voted the worst song of the decade and “GQ” magazine labeled “the most detested song in human history.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but Balin had nothing to do with that tune.
Balin’s Starship experience may have been exhausting, but the unraveling of Jefferson Airplane broke his heart. It wasn’t even that Slick had stolen his spotlight. Rather, Balin hated the way the Airplane had balkanized into discrete units—Kantner and Slick, Kaukonen and Casady—each of which was carving out its own musical niche, and neither of which seemed to want to have much to do with him.
“I’d go to these dark, acid parties, and there would be my pops.”
“When the Airplane became famous, everybody was pretty much into their own little ego. ‘I want to do my thing.’ Well, I always thought it was our thing, or the band thing. Pretty soon, Jorma didn’t want to play with me because the songs I was writing were too square. Grace was off in her own little world, and Paul was doing his massive military-march songs. We used to write together, but after a while, Paul didn’t want to write with me, either. I felt kind of left out because everyone was just separating off into their own little worlds. We came together and did the same old show on stage, but making records and working together became harder and harder.”
Jorma Kaukonen sees the band’s struggles with success a bit differently, as he explained in Got a Revolution. “Marty really had this thing about ‘my band,’ and maybe it started that way. But it really wasn’t anybody’s band. I don’t think Marty’s ever gotten over the fact that we didn’t just back him up and do what he said. We did drive him nuts, but when he left, the Airplane was pretty much without direction.”
On the other hand, Kaukonen completely cops to being seduced by success, as he explained to Nick Hasted in a 2016 interview published in Uncut. “We became rock stars,” he says of the period in 1967, when Jefferson Airplane was in the studio working on its third album, the very psychedelic “After Bathing at Baxter’s.” “The Beatles had rented this house when they came to L.A., so of course we had to rent it, and it had all kinds of absurd amenities. A pistol range, and a window into the pool underwater. I think we enjoyed being famous and enjoyed having money, and I’m sure some abuses went along with it. It was a nonstop carnival.”
In the same Hasted interview, Jack Casady puts it this way: “Was Marty on the outside by then? It sounds so neat and tidy, [but] at the time I’m not so sure. Marty was dealing with the fact that there was another hugely strong personality in Grace Slick, and you’ve gotta understand, at the time, hardly anyone had seen a woman in a rock band really strong like that. But Marty was opening up his singing style, too, to match the improvisatory style of the way Jorma and I were driving the band. Jorma and I were starting to faction off together as a musical entity, and Marty was left on his own a little bit. ‘Crown Of Creation’ [the band’s fourth album] displayed some of those different directions on the record.”
And then there were the drugs. “There was a period after acid when cocaine, methedrine, and all this crap heroin came in,” Balin says. “I wasn’t into that, but it changed everything. It for sure changed my band. When I used to walk out onto the stage, I’d look at the back of the amps and see a pile of cocaine, methedrine, and I don’t even know what. And I’d say to myself, ‘Oh, so this is how we’re going to play tonight,’ and sure enough you could predict how a show would go according to the drugs lined up on the back of the amps. That stuff made everybody crazy.”
By 1969, the bloom was long since off the rose, even before the decade ended in violence at Altamont. But Balin had one more Airplane album in him, “Volunteers,” for which he wrote the lyrics and sang the lead vocal on the title track. After Altamont, in 1970, the band toured only sporadically, kept off the road by drummer Spencer Dryden’s departure, Grace Slick’s pregnancy, and Kaukonen and Casady’s increasing interest in their offshoot project, Hot Tuna, which continues to perform to this day. But it was an event unrelated to the palace intrigue surrounding members of Jefferson Airplane that really caused Marty Balin, in April of 1971, to leave the band he’d founded—the death of his friend Janis Joplin, from an overdose of heroin, on October 4, 1970.
“I remember one night I was at RCA Victor,” Balin says of an evening a few days before Joplin died. “It was late and nobody was there but me. I was listening to some tapes, and in comes Janis, and she says, ‘Marty, I’ve just made the greatest record ever! You’ve got to hear it! ’ So we got a couple bottles, went over to Sunset Sound, got drunk, and enjoyed her record, ‘Pearl,’ over and over and over.
“She would be sitting up there on the mixing board, and I would be sitting in a chair,” Balin recalls, “and after every track, she would go, ‘Listen to that. Am I greatest singer in the world or what?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, Janis, you’re the greatest singer who ever lived. You’re it. You’re the main man.’ And the truth is,” he adds, “she was the greatest singer in the world at the time.” The night of Joplin’s death, Jefferson Airplane would be on stage at Winterland, co-headlining the first of two nights with the Grateful Dead and each band’s offshoot, Hot Tuna and the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Balin was too distraught to attend.
I found this link on the Middle Earth Facebook group. Tom Rapp was part of a great late 60s band called Pearls Before Swine. They were one of my favourites. He was a really great songwriter and a big influence on me. He wrote a song called Rocket Man which inspired Elton John to write his version, which obviously became a big hit. Tom’s was better in my opinion, though.
Tom Rapp, a civil rights attorney and musician best known for his late-’60s and early-’70s recordings under the name Pearls Before Swine, has died while in hospice care at his home in Melbourne, Fla., his publicist confirmed to NPR Music. He was 70 years old.
Like many of his generation, Rapp was inspired by Elvis and The Everly Brothers. But it was hearing Bob Dylan‘s “Blowin’ in the Wind” in the early ’60s that finally galvanized him to begin writing music in earnest. (A possibly apocryphal tale goes that Rapp and Dylan actually competed as children in the same talent contest, with Dylan placing fifth, Rapp second.)
Pearls Before Swine’s first record, One Nation Underground, released in 1967, wore that influence plainly on its sleeve — not so much the fraught Hieronymous Bosch extract that adorned its cover, but in the Xeroxing of Dylan’s vocal delivery (with the addition of Rapp’s notable and endearing speech impediment) heard on the song “Playmate.” While Rapp may have been emulating on the mic there, the rest of the music on “Playmate” is woven with forward-thinking threads of psychedelia and garage rock. Further on, Rapp steps into his own, even presaging punk’s approach to institutional fealty (don’t) in the lyrics of “Drop Out!” and an avant-garde approach to a cursing word, spelled out in Morse code, on “(Oh Dear) Miss Morse.”
The album would go on to sell “about 250,000,” Rapp told NPR Music’s Bob Boilen last fall during a conversation centered on its 50th anniversary reissue. Despite the impressive sales, Rapp and his bandmates received next to no money from them. Bernard Stollman, who ran the label ESP-Disk’ that released One Nation Underground and its follow-up, told them that “the CIA and the Mafia were putting [the records] out themselves,” and so the sales weren’t ending with money in the pocket of ESP-Disk’ and, by extension, Pearls Before Swine. (Or many of the label’s other artists, the story goes.)
Rapp would go on to release eight more well-regarded records — Balaclava, the follow-up to One Nation Underground, perhaps highest among them — before utterly disappearing from music in 1974, not long after opening a concert for Patti Smith.
Infused with the spirit of the counterculture, but not willing to take his own advice and “drop out,” Rapp headed to college and, from there, law school, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1984. Rapp was a civil rights attorney in Philadelphia until 2001, after which he returned again to Florida. His practice emphasized reining in corporations and local governments.
As much as his music, Rapp’s work as a lawyer and his attitude towards his rediscovery in the popular imagination were illustrative of his spirit. Nearly 17 years ago, Rapp’s career was profiled for Weekend Edition by Peter Clowney. Rapp was bemused at the bloom of his late-in-life celebrity, treating it with a humbled, arm’s-length detachment, the attitude of someone who had long since filled his life.
Describing that rediscovery, which began around 1992 while he was in Philadelphia, Rapp said: “They call me a psychedelic godfather and they have these articles about how I’m a legend. The way that works is, you do some albums in the ’60s that are OK, you go away for 30 years, and you don’t die — then you’re a legend.”
During that piece, Rapp shared his “lessons from the ’60s.” They began with a dark half-joke: “One of the lessons of the ’60s was that assassination works.” He continued: “Love is real. Justice is real. Countries have no morals; you have to kick them to get them to do the right thing. Honesty is possible and necessary. And everything is not for sale.”
This blog was originally published on the web site Sixties City where you can find more information about Swinging London! It doesn’t include some of the legendary folk venues like Bungie’s and Les Cousins but it certainly gives a comprehensive background to British Jazz , Rock & Roll and Mod culture. It’s interesting to note how short lived some of these places were but had a significant long term impact. This is also true for the many coffee bars in my home town of Leicester that were imitations of the London trend but had a massive influence on the local live music scene with places like the Green Bowler, the Nite Owl, The Chameleon and the Casino Ballroom.
A couple of years back I visited the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool where the Beatles started.When it was opened it was based on the 2is Coffee Bar in London where most of the early British Rock & Rollers played. It is incredibly well preserved and gives a real insight into the Coffee Bar trend of the 60s. The fact there was no alcohol served meant they could open when they wanted, even all night, and created a real live culture that was full of confidence and cultural aspiration. This is where the success of the British music industry was really established.
Of particular interest to me was the club called the Scene which obviously became the template for many similar clubs around the country during the height of the Mod era. Like them it was very short lived but shone with an intense and powerful light during it’s existence. Until relatively recently I knew nothing about this club but all the regular acts like Georgie Fame and his Blue Flames, The Graham Bond Organisation and Geno Washington and his Ram Jam Band also played often at the Nite Owl and probably many other clubs up and down the country.
Soho occupies an area of London about a square mile in size whose boundaries are generally accepted as being Oxford Street to the north, Leicester Square to the south, Charing Cross Road to the east and Regent Street to the west and includes the area known as ‘Chinatown’ which sits between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue. These are fairly modern delineations as the original area has never been formally identified, either geographically or administratively. To the north of it is Fitzrovia, with St. James’s to the south, Covent Garden to the east and St. Giles and Mayfair to the west.
The area was open agricultural and grazing land in the Middle Ages, when it was owned by the Abbott and Convent of Abingdon and the Master of the Hospital of Burton St.Lazer (also the custodian of the Leper Hospital of St.Giles), until it was ‘acquired’ by Henry VIII, during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, for use as a royal park attached to the Palace of Whitehall.
The name of the area ‘Soho Fields’ seems to have first come into use during the early part of the 17th century and is believed to originate, for whatever reason, from an old hunting cry, which is not unlikely as the area had probably been used for ‘royal hunts’ during that period. The cry of ‘Soho!’ is certainly known to have been used as a rallying call in the Battle of Sedgemoor at the end of the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, many years after being adopted into general use for the London area.
Some of the land passed from the crown to the 1st Earl of St. Albans, Henry Jermyn, in the mid-1600s, and 19 acres of it was subsequently leased to brewer Joseph Girle who acquired building permission for the land before passing on the lease to Richard Frith in 1677. Frith, a bricklayer by trade, initiated the major construction in the area.
The land to the south, that was to become the parish of St. Anne, was gradually sold off by the crown in parcels during the 16th and 17th centuries, some of which was acquired by Robert Sidney, the Earl of Leicester. Freehold of the bulk of the area was granted to William, Earl of Portland, by King William III in 1698. The intention of the various landowners was to try and develop the area in the same way as nearby Marylebone, Mayfair and Bloomsbury but, although attracting a few aristocrats to the likes of Soho Square and Gerrard Street, it failed to retain any long-standing popularity as a residence with the rich of the country. It did, however, attract immigrants, particularly French Calvinist Huguenots, that led to it becoming known as ‘The French Quarter’ in the latter part of the 17th century.
After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 around 15,000 Huguenots fled France to avoid the religious persecution and by 1711 almost half of the parish of Soho was French. There is still a French Protestant church at 8/9 Soho Square that they founded in 1891 – 1893.
Developed during the late 1670s, Soho Square was a very fashionable place to live in its early years. It was originally called King’s Square in honour of Charles II and a statue of the king, created by Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber, was the centre piece of the Square in 1681, atop a fountain whose four spouts represented the rivers Thames, Severn, Tyne and Humber. . It was removed during alterations to the square in 1875 and eventually placed on an island in a lake at Grim’s Dyke, where it remained until 1938 when it was restored to its present location. Its name was changedfrom King’s Square to Soho Square sometime after 1739 and two of the original houses, numbers 10 and 15, still remain. The British Board of Film Censors (now The British Board of Film Classification) was created in 1912 by the film industry, who much preferred to retain regulation of their own censorship rather than have the government do it for them, and established itself in Soho Square.
Frith Street, named after developer Richard Frith, was built around 1680. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the Bohemian influence of the area was increased by the artists, writers and other historical notables who were born, died or moved into the area in general and in this street in particular. Legal reformer Samuel Romilly was born at number 18 in 1757.
Between 1764-5 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, together with his sister and father lodged at number 20. Painter John Alexander Gresse was here in 1784 (the year he died) and John Horne Tooke (a philologist and political figure) and artist John Constable lived here in the first decade of the 1800s. Actor William Charles Macready was living at number 64 in 1816 and essayist William Hazlitt lodged and wrote at number 6 until his death in 1830. Sculptor John Bell resided here in 1832-33 and lithographic artist Alfred Concanen worked out of a studio at number 12 for many years.
In the 20th century, John Logie Baird lived and ran his laboratory at number 22 (now occupied by Bar Italia) where, on 26th January 1926, he first demonstrated his television to Royal Institution members.
Poet William Blake was born in Soho, Shelley composed poetry in Poland Street, Casanova carried out his seductions from Greek Street when he visited London in 1764 there and Karl Marx worked on ‘Das Kapital’ while living in 54 Dean Street and also at number 28, in the building that is now the Quo Vadis restaurant. The principles of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ were laid out at a meeting in the Red Lion pub in Great Windmill Street. Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith frequented a coffee house at number 33 and next door, at 33a was Walker’s Hotel where Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson stayed before embarking for Trafalgar. Other notable political agitators residing in the area at various times included Guiseppe Mazzini, Louis Blanc and bomber Martial Bourdin, whose attack on the Greenwich Observatory in 1894 was the basis for Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘The Secret Agent’. The King Bomba delicatessen at 37 Old Compton Street was where the owner, Emidio Recchioni, and other Italian anarchists plotted the assassination of Benito Mussolini in 1931.
Over the century between about 1750 – 1850 the character of the area continued to diminish. The aristocracy had already departed by the middle of the 18th century and, with the subsequent neglect and lack of development, other respectable families gradually followed. In 1816-24, a rare act of the Crown was passed resulting in 700 properties being demolished to create Regent Street as a boundary between the upper classes of Mayfair and the residents of Soho. Composer Richard Wagner and his wife are known to have stayed in The Kings Arms at 23-25 Old Compton Street in 1839, and also at another establishment then called The Swiss Hotel at number 44, which was later to become known as The Swiss pub and where Harry Webb and his backing band made the decision to become Cliff Richard and The Drifters in 1958.
In 1854 there was an outbreak of cholera in Soho, caused by a spring that had become contaminated by sewage, that was tracked down to a public water pump at the junction of Broadwick Street (then called Broad Street) and Lexington Street (then called Cambridge Street ) by Dr. John Snow. The original pump has long gone, but a replica remains, a few yards away from the John Snow public house, named in his memory. By the middle of the 1800s the area had largely become populated by small theatres, music halls and, inevitably, prostitutes.
Soho has been at the centre of London’s ‘sex industry’ for well over 200 years. Between 1778 and 1801 the notorious ‘White House’, a “magical” brothel fitted out with various mechanical contraptions designed to terrify the unwary, was located at 21 Soho Square and, in more recent times, before the introduction of the 1959 Street Offences Act, prostitutes packed the streets and alleys.
By the early Sixties there were nearly 100 strip clubs and the area was inundated with stickers and postcards (known as ‘walk-ups’) advertising ‘French Lessons’ or similarly ambiguous services. The early Sixties also saw the introduction of a number of ‘sex shops’, initially by Carl Slack, which had expanded to just under 60 locations in Soho alone, by the mid-Seventies. A photographic studio at number 4 Gerrard Street was occupied by ‘glamour photographer’ and ‘girlie magazine’ publisher Harrison Marks, who was responsible for such publications as ‘Kamera’ until he broke up with partner and ‘model’ Pamela Green in 1967.
Gerrard Street is the main thoroughfare of ‘Chinatown’ and is named after Baron Gerard of Brandon, Suffolk, who commissioned the development of the land in 1680. It first saw an influx of Chinese residents in the 1920s, but did not become a significant ‘Chinese’ area until after WWII when the oriental population was expanded by the many refugees from other heavily-bombed parts of London.
By the start of the 20th century, with the further influx of immigrants who ran cheap eating establishments, the area continued to enhance its Bohemian reputation and increasingly became ‘the’ fashionable meeting place for artists, actors, writers and intellectuals. This, in turn, provided the essential basic clientele for the opening and growth of many more drinking houses and it was during this period that local pub landlords firmly established themselves in the area. Lyons specialised in large-scale catering and the three Corner Houses in Soho seated 9,000 people, and handled up to 15 sittings (135,000 customers) a day!
The development of its music scene, for which the area and name are now world famous, is generally considered to have evolved from just after the second World War at Club Eleven, a nightclub situated at 41 Great Windmill Street , that is now looked upon as the genesis of modern jazz music in Britain. Although it only had a two year lifespan between 1948 and 1950 it was significant in the development of a form of modern jazz known as bebop. It had two ‘house’ bands – one led by Ronnie Scott which included Lennie Bush, Hank Shaw, Tony Crombie and Tommy Pollard – the other led by Johnny Dankworth which included Bernie Fenton, Laurie Morgan, Leon Calvert and Joe Muddell. These 10 musicians, together with business manager Harry Morris, gave the establishment its name – Club Eleven. The club moved to 50 Carnaby Street in 1950 but closed down a few months later as a result of a police raid. Other notable local music establishments of the period were The Daybreak Club at 44 Gerrard Street, The 51 Club in Great Newport Street and The Harmony Inn, which was a seedy, ‘open all hours’ cafe on Archer Street that provided a late-night hang-out for musicians and music fans from the nearby Cy Laurie’s Blue Heaven Club (in Ham Yard, on the site of The Ham Bone club, which originally opened in the 1920s and became Cy Laurie’s Skiffle Club in the Fifties, but was best known for its jazz music). London’s first skiffle club ‘The London Skiffle Centre’ was opened in 1952 on the first floor in The Roundhouse pub, Wardour Street, by blues guitarists Bob Watson and Cyril Davies.
The basement premises of Studio 51 (originally just known as ‘The Studio’) in Great Newport Street were owned by Vi Highland. During 1950-51 various jazz ‘clubs’ were held on different nights featuring artists such as Johnny Dankworth, Joe Muddel, The Crane River Jazz Band and Chris Barber (‘Lincoln Fields’). From May 1951 five nights of the week were earmarked for modern jazz, and these were named ‘Studio 51’, under Joe Muddel’s musical direction. When Ken Colyer returned from his New Orleans trip in 1954 a ‘club’ with his name started on Monday nights and, by 1955, it was also host to the Johnny Dankworth ‘club’ and a band led by Harry Klein. Ken Colyer’s single ‘club’ night expanded to four with the increase in popularity of trad jazz and modern jazz was largely dropped, with the venue then being known better as The Ken Colyer Club rather than Studio 51. The 1960s saw rhythm and blues taking over from trad jazz with Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, The Yardbirds and John Mayall performing there, as well as The Rolling Stones who had a residency there in 1963, although The Ken Colyer ‘club’ continued until the late 1960s.Although thought of as a comparatively modern thing, the influx of Italian immigrants saw Bar Italia being opened at 22 Frith Street, in 1949, by Lou and Caterina Polledri. It still opens 22 hours a day, is home to a Mod scooter club that meets every Sunday at 6pm and has an original 1950s Gaggia coffee machine. There was a ‘renaissance’ of coffee houses in the Fifties, but it really exploded when Gina Lollobrigida officially ‘opened’ the Moka coffee bar at 29 Frith Street in 1953, which boasted London’s first Gaggia expresso machine. Achille Gaggia had patented the espresso machine in 1938, a machine that applied steam pressure to ground coffee, extracting its flavour to create a rich, creamy foam layer. An improvement ten years later incorporated a spring that applied additional pressure, allowing the production of a short black espresso in just fifteen seconds.
Italian-style espresso bars sprang up everywhere, almost overnight, initially in Soho but rapidly spreading across the capital and the country, sparking a revival in the popularity of the drink among the younger generation who were precluded from alcohol-serving establishments. The Moka was a huge success, selling over a thousand cups of coffee a day and it survived until 1972 when it closed under strange circumstances. Beat legend William S. Burroughs was not impressed by The Moka and believed it to be responsible for an ‘outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy and poisonous cheesecake’. He decided to mount a sound-and-vision attack, as he had previously successfully done against the Church of Scientology at 37 Fitzroy Street. He maintained that ‘as soon as you start recording situations and playing them back on the street, you create a new reality’ and that constant exposure to such attacks would lead to ‘accidents, fires and removals’. He stood outside The Moka every day, taking photographs and making tape recordings, returning the next day to play the previous day’s recordings. On October 30th 1972, the Moka Bar closed.
Many of the new espresso bars attracted the clientele of the local youth by featuring the live music for which the area was already famous, including the ‘Heaven and Hell’ in Old Compton Street and the ‘Top Ten’ in Berwick Street but the most famous of these was undoubtedly the 2i’s, in the basement of 59 Old Compton Street, which was previously a steak bar, bought and opened in its new form in 1956 by ‘Doctor Death’ – a famous masked wrestler and wrestling promoter of the time called Paul Lincoln. The establishment’s name is believed to relate to two brothers who were previous owners. The 2i’s also featured live music and was a popular venue for artists and acts hoping to be ‘discovered’.
Some of the future stars who performed there were Cliff Richard, Hank Marvin, Jet Harris, Tony Meehan, Brian Bennett, Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking, The Vipers, Tommy Steele, Russ Sainty, Tony Sheridan, Rory Blackwell, Joe Brown, Clem Cattini, Screaming Lord Sutch, Mickie Most (as The Most Brothers), Paul Gadd (who became Paul Raven and later Gary Glitter), Johnny Kidd, Big Jim Sullivan, Terry Dene, Carlo Little, Richie Blackmore, Alex Wharton, Jay Chance, Wee Willie Harris and Eden Kane. Peter Grant was employed there as a ‘bouncer’ prior to his career as the manager of Led Zeppelin and Marc Bolan worked there as a waiter. The bar was featured in Cliff Richard’s second film, ‘Expresso Bongo’, made in 1959.
Subsequent to the success of the original 2i’s, the owners established a new venue at 44 Gerrard Street, initially known as the new 2i’s but which was later to become ‘Happening 44’ where Fairport Convention played some of their first gigs. The various establishments all found their niche in the society of the area and tended to attract their own specific clientele from the various ‘cultures prevalent in the area including the Edwardian ‘teddy boys’, the bohemians and, slightly later, the homosexual community who found the bars less threatening and more sociable than the strongly heterosexual clubs and other locations than they had previously had to use for furtive liaisons and gatherings.
Prior to 1957, The Wolfenden Report and a police crackdown on homosexual meeting places, basement and attic bars in venues such as Take 5, The Casino, No.9,The Huntsman and The Alibi had been favourite haunts until frequent police ‘raids’ drove them underground.
Also prevalent in the Fifties was the Beatnik culture, whose followers steeped themselves in beat poetry, jazz, jive dance and political debate and who also favoured the newly-introduced establishments such as Chas McDevitt’s ‘Freight Train’, The Stockpot, La Roca, Melbray, Le Grande, Universal, El Toro, Las Vegas, Le Grande, Sam Widges, Melbray, The French, The Picasso and Le Macabre in Wardour Street with its coffin-shaped tables.
The owner of Le Macabre (and also the New Yorker restaurant), Tony Mitchell, went on to buy premises in SW7 at 3, Cromwell Road and created The Cromwellian Club, soon to be joined in the business by professional wrestlers Judo Al Hayes ‘The White Angel’, Bob (Anthony) Archer nicknamed the ‘Wrestling Beatle’, ‘Rebel’ Ray Hunter and Paul Lincoln, aka ‘Doctor Death’, who owned Soho’s 2is coffee bar.
In bars like the 2i’s that featured live music, fees for appearing were a rarity, performers usually being recompensed with free coffee and Coca Cola, as they also were in another nearby establishment, The Cat’s Whisker, which was owned by Peter Evans who went on to found the Angus Steak House chain. Another fondly-remembered hang-out was the ‘Coffee Ann’ that catered almost exclusively for the music club-goers. Situated down some steep steps in the basement of a warehouse in Whitcombe Street, it was known for staying open into the early hours of the morning but was rarely, if ever, open during the day. ‘Les Enfants Terrible’ at 93 Dean Street was another expresso café venue that featured live music and was mainly frequented by many French students.
However, the coffee bars are most strongly remembered and identified as being the focal point for young people ( now becoming generally identified as ‘teenagers’), embracing the new musical sounds being imported into the city’s culture. This came about due, in equal parts to the ‘fashionable’ drinking of Italian coffee, the bright and modern furnishings, the provision of the exciting new music that they loved and the fact that, unlike public houses, they were not subject to licensing laws meaning that anyone of any age could enter and the places could stay open all the hours that they wanted, serving non-alcoholic drinks such as coffee and cola.
There was also the added attraction of a greater female presence due to the less threatening and ‘public’ nature of the coffee bars compared to the male-dominated pubs and clubs. In January 1966, towards the end of the ‘coffee bar’ era, ‘The Goings On’ was opened in Archer Street organised by a group of Liverpool beat poets including Johnny Byrne, Spike Hawkins and Pete Brown. The bar happily functioned as a sort of ‘beat club’ on Saturday afternoons, spending the rest of the week operating as an illegal gambling establishment.
Places known as ‘clip joints’ also started to appear in the early Sixties, swindling tourists who were looking for ‘a good time’ by selling them low quality liquids as ‘champagne’, at vastly inflated prices, with the unfulfilled promise of the services of the female ‘hostesses’. The Compton Cinema Club, a ‘private member’ establishment to circumvent the law, opened at 56 Old Compton Street in 1960, becoming the capital’s first sex cinema.
The owners were Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger, who produced some of the early Roman Polanski films such as ‘Cul-de-sac’ and who also owned the premises that had previously been a Beatnik club, turning it into the ‘Heaven and Hell’ hostess club, just across the road from the 2i’s coffee bar on the corner of Dean Street and Old Compton Street.
Muriel Belcher, ‘a theatrical Portuguese Jewish lesbian of Welsh extraction’, was the founder and proprietor of a private drinking club called ‘The Colony Room’ (also known as Muriel’s) upstairs at 41 Dean Street in 1948 (next to The Groucho Club), having previously run a club called ‘The Music Box’ in Leicester Square during WWII. Although public houses had to close at 2:30pm, she managed to acquire a 3pm-11pm drinking licence for The Colony Room bar as a ‘private members’ club. The club had some notoriety, not only for its clientele and its sickly green décor (a bright green room decorated with bamboo, mottled mirrors, leopard-skin barstools and plastic tropical plants), but also for the personality and sexuality of the owner herself – she attracted many gay men to the club as well as those brought there by her Jamaican girlfriend, Carmel.
George Melly said of her, “Muriel was a benevolent witch, who managed to draw in all London’s talent up those filthy stairs. She was like a great cook, working with the ingredients of people and drink. And she loved money”. Belcher was famous for her rudeness, a trait which became part of the club’s ‘culture’. Members included George Melly, Francis Bacon, Peter O’Toole, Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice, Charles Laughton, E.M. Forster, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Tallulah Bankhead, Mary Kenny, Lady Rose McLaren and John Hurt. On her death in 1979 it was taken over by her long-term barman, Ian Board (known as ‘Ida’) until his death in 1994, then by veteran barman Michael Wojas, and Dick Bradsell until its closure. It was popular with artistic types, particularly those known as ‘Young British Artists’, (YBAs), who included Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin.
Denmark Street first appears on land surveys dating from the 1730s situated in an area known locally as ‘The Rookery’ which was basically an unplanned slum that was mostly cleared and redeveloped by the end of the 1800s. It is one of the very few roads in London that still has original 17th century terraced facades on both sides. It is a short and narrow road with St. Giles High Street to the east and Charing Cross Road to the west, particularly renowned for its connections with British pop music, and is generally regarded as the British ‘Tin Pan Alley’.
The industry connections are many and not just limited to its large number of instrument-selling and music-related establishments. Melody Maker was first published there in 1926 and The New Musical Express was founded on, and published its first British music chart from, the first floor of number 5 in 1952.
Denmark Street was the place to be for songwriters and music publishers during the Fifties and early Sixties and it was in the bars and cafes around the area that a young writer named Lionel Bart , more famous for his musical show scores, listened to the R&B sounds brought back from America by merchant sailors, inspiring him to write some of the first British rock’n’roll music, mainly for Larry Parnes‘ artists. In the early days his co-writers included Tommy Hicks (Tommy Steele) and Mike Pratt (actor probably best known as the ‘alive’ partner in the TV series ‘Randall & Hopkirk – Deceased’).
The Regent Sounds Studio opened at number 4 Denmark Street in 1963, one of the first in the area, and The Rolling Stones recorded their first album there in 1964. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder also recorded there, as did the ‘British Bob Dylan’, Donovan, and it was one of the first studios to install a 16-track sound recorder. David Bowie allegedly couldn’t afford a flat here and chose to live in the street in a camper to be closer to the studios and, slightly more recently, The Sex Pistols lived and recorded their first demo tracks above number 6. The Beatles’ George Harrison is said to have purchased an acoustic guitar in Denmark Street which was used on the track ‘Til There Was You’ on their second album ‘With The Beatles’ and Elton John is supposed to have written ‘Your Song’ there. Denmark Street was also the ‘birthplace’ of the SciFi comic empire, ‘Forbidden Planet’.
Between Wardour Street and Dean Street there is a connecting alley called St.Anne’s Court where The Blue Gardenia Club existed for a short while at number 20 during the early Sixties. Managed by Brian Casser (Cass, of Cass and The Cassanovas) whose claim to fame is allegedly being the first venue in London where The Beatles ever performed, on the 9th (or possibly 10th) December 1961. This was apparently an impromptu set played by Paul and John, with Pete Best on drums, while George (who had the ‘flu) chatted with one of the clientele.
Almost next door, at number 17, is Trident Recording Studios, the first in the UK to install 8-track recording and where The Beatles recorded ‘Hey Jude’, four of the tracks for ‘The White Album’ and ‘I Want You’ from ‘Abbey Road’. Ringo Starr’s ‘Sentimental Journey’ album, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ and much of his ‘All Things Must Pass’ triple album were also recorded here as was Paul McCartney’s production of Mary Hopkin’s ‘Those Were The Days’. On the edge of Soho, situated at 31 Whitfield Street (Fitzrovia) was the CBS ‘Hit Factory’ where, in December 1966, The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded their first album ‘Are You Experienced’. The Clash also recorded their first album there in 1977.
The number of live music establishments increased considerably during the Fifties, taking advantage of the new sounds arriving from America and the emergence of modern British music talent alongside the already established jazz and R&B establishments. This, inevitably, attracted the younger generation who had more money than ever before and were eager to break away from the grey days of post-war society.
From this melting pot came the Modernists, or ‘Mods’, embracing the new music and evolving their own hairstyles, fashions and culture, and who were to ‘adopt’ certain of these new music establishments as the ‘in’ places to be, although pretty well all the clubs had a Mod clientele to a greater or lesser extent. The best-known of these were The Flamingo, La Discotheque, The Scene and The Marquee Club.
The Flamingo Club (which also incorporated weekend late-opening sessions known as the ‘AllNighter’) was located at 33-37 Wardour Street and evolved from Jeffrey Kruger’s ‘Jazz at the Mapleton’ which began life in August 1952 at The Mapleton restaurant in Coventry Street, moving to Wardour Street in 1957. Jeffrey Kruger was to become a major music promoter, later forming Ember Records and the TKO Group. During its early life the club featured a resident band containing the likes of Ronnie Scott, Tony Crombie, Tommy Pollard and Joe Harriott and attracted notable live performers such as Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. In 1959 it was re-launched as The Flamingo Club where, in 1962, it was the venue at which the infamous fight between Aloysius ‘Lucky’ Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe over a girl named Christine Keeler occurred, a link in the chain of events that was to explode into British political history as ‘The Profumo Affair’.
The Flamingo was a ‘jazz’ club until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, when the ‘AllNighter Club’ club kicked in, which would remain open until about 6a.m. Although the establishment was known to be one of the main centres of Mod culture, it was frequented by fans of both jazz and R&B, from many ethnic groups, and it is generally accepted that it helped significantly in breaking down the old post-WWII racial prejudices in the area. Specialising in the R&B sounds loved by the Mods, The Flamingo probably had the dearest entrance fee, £1-10shillings (£1.50 – about £24 in today’s money) because of the top acts it featured.
Regularly appearing at the venue were Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames (who released a full LP titled ‘Rhythm & Blues at The Flamingo’ in 1964), Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band and Shotgun Express, who featured an artist called Rod Stewart. Members of other major groups of the time such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix were all regular visitors. In the mid-Sixties the club attracted many major artists from the other side of the Atlantic such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley and His Comets, Stevie Wonder and John Lee Hooker.
The club was renamed The Pink Flamingo (aka The Flamingo at The Temple) in the mid-late Sixties and finally closed its doors a couple of years later. Also located at 33-37 Wardour Street, on the upper floor of the same premises, was another live music establishment, the Whiskey A-Go-Go where, in March 1958, Buddy Holly gave a press conference prior to his 25-date tour of the UK. Although arguably less popular than The Flamingo, it had a certain ‘chic’ as it was one of the few clubs that was licensed to sell alcohol and survived until 1981 when it changed its name to The Wag Club, enjoying something of a revival for a time. In 1996, in a strange ‘full circle’, it was boosted by the introduction of the Sixties-inspired ‘Blow-Up’ sessions, finally closing its doors in 2001. The location is now in use as one of the O’Neill’s Irish theme pub chain.
With its entrance situated in Ham Yard, off Great Windmill Street just behind Piccadilly Circus, The Scene club (formerly The Piccadilly Club) had previously been a jazz club featuring both records and live acts that had, by 1963, been ‘adopted’ by the Mods. To accommodate its ‘new’ clientele it was remodelled and re-opened in March 1963 with DJ Guy Stevens spinning the latest records from America via a Duke Vin sound system. Guy was also one of the originators of the Chuck Berry Appreciation Society, instrumental in bringing Chuck Berry to Britain for his first UK tour.
In 1964 the man who ‘discovered’ Millie Small and turned her into a pop star with ‘My Boy Lollipop’, Chris Blackwell, employed Stevens to run his Sue Record Label company. After serving a jail sentence for drug possession in 1966 Stevens was to go on to produce Procol Harum (named after Stevens’ cat!), Free, Mott The Hoople and the ‘London Calling’ album for The Clash. Live entertainment was provided by a number of ‘house’ bands including Zoot Money, Graham Bond, Georgie Fame and, on occasion, The Animals, who appeared as part of what was something like a ‘work exchange’ scheme of the time. Such was its reputation as the Mods ‘HQ’ that all the ‘faces’ congregated here and it was visited on a regular basis by representatives of the TV music show ”Ready Steady Go” to choose audience members and dancers to appear in the ‘live’ shows to exhibit the latest fashion trends and demonstrate new dances.
Set in a basement, the main décor was matt black with red toilet walls. Membership of the club was 1 guinea, (21 shillings or £1.05 – about £17 today) after which there was also an entry fee which apparently varied according to the entertainment available. As with some other clubs such as the Whisky-A-Go-Go, Tuesday nights were free to members, other nights were about 1 shilling (5p) except the ‘all-nighter’ on Saturdays (a favourite night for police drug raids) which would set you back 5 shillings (25p – about £4 today). Hands were stamped and once down the stairs and through the ‘bat wing’ doors, you were in a surprisingly small, low-ceilinged area, dimly-lit with blue fluorescents. There was a non-alcoholic bar, the DJ’s area, an undersized stage area with a ‘baby grand’ piano and a number of ‘booths’ with tables along the far wall, the rest of the area being occupied by the dance floor. The club was managed by an entrepreneurial Irishman called Ronan O’Rahilly who also managed several of the acts, including Graham Bond and Georgie Fame, and owned his own independent record label.
The music industry of the time was something of a cartel that was monopolised by the big labels such as Pye, Decca, Philips and Columbia records, as Ronan discovered when he tried to get a Georgie Fame recording played on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. The situation was, to him, completely unacceptable and he found a unique way around it by setting up the pirate radio station Radio Caroline off the coast of Essex in international waters. The Scene lasted until 1966 when the Mod era started to dissipate and I believe it became the King Creole club for a time until it finally closed down. Sixties City Pirate Radio History
Also in Wardour Street was the legendary Marquee Club. Originally opened on April 19th 1958 as a jazz, skiffle and blues club located at 165 Oxford Street, featuring acts such as Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and was the venue where, on 12th July 1962, The Rolling Stones played their first live gig.
It relocated to smaller premises in an old Burberry warehouse at 90 Wardour Street in the spring of 1964 when its opening night acts included Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds. Although not an ‘essential’ Mod club, with its staple R&B and Blues music, it still attracted many now-famous acts, such as Manfred Mann, The Who, The Spencer Davis Group, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds, The Moody Blues and Long John Baldry.
In late 1966 it staged the Sunday afternoon ‘Spontaneous Underground happenings’ that featured the latest in ‘psychedelic rock’ music, including a young Pink Floyd, led by Syd Barrett.
It also hosted Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Moody Blues hit ‘Go Now’ was recorded by Alex Murray, their manager, in a homemade studio in a garage at the back of the club and also produced the UK’s first ‘pop’ promotional video. It is said that the Marquee Studios were largely financed from the profits of this one record.
The club relocated to Charing Cross Road in 1988 when it was believed that the vibrations from the sound system had caused damage to the structure of the building’s façade. Although the original entrance remains, known as Soho Lofts apartments, the main club area was demolished and replaced with a Terence Conran restaurant.
Just a few doors down from The Flamingo, at number 17 Wardour Street, was La Discotheque which was a little different in that it did not feature live acts but established itself as London’s first real ‘disco’. In the mid-Fifties the notorious Notting Hill slum landlord Peter Rachman decided to expand his ’empire’, building up a chain of gambling clubs and, in 1956, opened the El Condor club under the management of Raymond Nash, one of the Lebanese gangster family. The El Condor was one of ‘the’ places to be in the late Fifties and boasted a clientele that included royals such as the Duke of Kent and Princess Margaret. It was re-launched as La Discotheque in the early Sixties, featuring curious Bohemian décor, including toilets and bedsteads. This was also to have a connection with the Profumo Affair due to Rachman’s involvement with Mandy Rice-Davies who, with dark hair, can be seen with Rachman in photographs of the club’s opening night, and who was to famously throw a drink in the face of one of the Kray brothers in an incident at the club.
In Carnabv Street, before the Mod fashion boutique ‘boom’ when the narrow side street consisted of a brick warehouse along one side and contained only a few clothes shops and a newsagents, was The Sunset Club – home to jazz and Caribbean music which played until seven in the morning. It provided a place for musicians to get together when their own clubs closed for the night and was, racially, totally mixed, there being no such thing as a purely black clientèle at that time. Under the ownership of a larger-than-life character called Count Suckle ( real name Wilbert Augustus Campbell) it became ‘The Roaring Twenties.
The Count had come to the UK in 1952 as one of the ‘Windrush’ generation, along with the celebrated Jamaican DJ Duke Vin, who is credited with setting up the first hi-fi sound system in the UK and who provided sound systems for several local establishments. Charles Brown, (who was the Jamaican landlord of murderer John Christie at 10 Rillington Place) was the doorman at the Sunset club. Count Suckle also owned The Cue (later ‘Q’) Club in Praed Street, Paddington, and was later to start his own record label, Q Records (a subsidiary of Trojan Records). The sounds consisted largely of Ska/Blu Beat (later known as reggae) and the music of the likes of The Kingsmen, Doris Troy, Etta James and Otis Redding, both as a disco and with live performances. Georgie Fame also appeared here.
Another club in close proximity to Carnaby Street was the ‘Bag O’Nails’, affectionately known as ‘The Bag’, at 8/9 Kingly Street, opened by Rik and John Gunnell (in November 1966) who were already part of the local club scene. In the heart of the Sixties fashion and music world it was an important part of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ society. Using the DJ’s booth, The Jimi Hendrix Experience played their first UK gig there in December 1966 and the internals of the establishment have changed little to the current day. The club was a popular celebrity venue, somewhat more ‘up market’ than other venues in that it provided food and drink as well as live music.
Apart from the many celebrities who frequented it – almost a ‘who’s who’ of British Sixties music, it is also known as being the meeting place of Linda Eastman and Paul McCartney at a Georgie Fame gig on 15th May 1967. Paul recalled “I saw this blonde across the room and I fancied her. So when she passed my table I said something stupid like Hello, how are you? Let me take you away from all this”. Linda commented ” It was like a cartoon. It sounds silly, but our eyes met and something just clicked”. Also said to have met here for the first time were the (later) Fleetwood Mac members John and Christine McVie. On the other side of the coin, it is alleged that Elton John spent an evening drinking here in 1968 with Bernie Taupin and Long John Baldry who spent the entire time talking him out of his upcoming marriage at which Baldry was going to be best man.
Carl Douglas & The Big Stampede had a 14-night residency during the opening fortnight. Band member Tony Webb “We’d been playing at the Bag O’ Nails the night before and had left the gear there. When we went in [the next day] all of our gear was off the stage to one side. We didn’t know it at the time but this guy who we now know was [Jimi] Hendrix and his three-piece band was playing onstage with photographers. We were more annoyed that our gear had been taken off the stage!”
Also nearby, 4 Kingly Court housed The Pinstripe Club which was frequented by celebrities such as Oliver Reed, Steve McQueen, George Best, Richard Harris, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. It closed down as a result of the 1963 scandal where John Profumo was forced to resign as Secretary of State for war over allegations regarding an affair with Christine Keeler, the mistress of a Russian spy, at the height of the Cold War. The same general clientele returned when it re-opened as The Kingly Club, becoming known as ‘the haunt of the rich and infamous’.
Geoffrey Worthington and ex-policeman William Bryant opened a club, similar in concept to The Scene but essentially aimed at the homosexual community, in a basement in D’Arblay Street in 1964, called Le Duce, following a failed attempt to operate a discreet bar called The Lounge in Whitehall. The new establishment stayed open all night on Saturdays, favouring mainly Motown and Blue Beat music, and had a vigorous entry policy that was, by all accounts, fairly successful in keeping out undesirable and disruptive elements.
Mods aside, there were a number of jazz clubs in the area, by far the most famous of which is Ronnie Scott’s. It originally opened on 30th October 1959 in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street, moving to its present, larger location at 47 Frith Street in 1965. The original club continued to exist, known as ‘The Old Place’, as a ‘proving ground’ for new talent until its lease expired during 1967. Managed by musicians Ronnie Scott and Peter King, it was a live music establishment and the galaxy of stars who have appeared at the venue over the years are far too numerous to mention, as well as the number of performances ‘recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s’. Pete Townsend and The Who premiered their rock opera ‘Tommy’ at the club in 1969 and it is also famous for being the venue of Jimi Hendrix’s last live performance.
Following Scott’s death in December 1996, King ran the club for a further nine years until June 2005 when it was sold to theatre impresario Sally Greene.
Known as The Skiffle Cellar prior to the Sixties, Les Cousins (reputed to have taken its name from the 1959 Claude Chabrol film of the same name) was an innovative folk and blues club located in the basement of a restaurant at 49 Greek Street. Its décor included fishing nets and a large wagon wheel and it was extremely popular with more progressive artists in the field during the mid-60s folk music revival, with a number of live albums being recorded there. It is noted for having an influence on the careers of such musicians as Bert Jansch, Alexis Korner, Paul Simon, Al Stewart, Davey Graham, John Renbourn, John Martyn and Roy Harper.
Situated at 100, Oxford Street, The 100 Club was originally called The Feldman Swing Club, becoming The London Jazz Club in 1948, The Humphrey Lyttelton Club in 1954, Jazz Shows Jazz Club and then, in the mid-60s, The 100 Club. The Ad Lib Club was located on the top floor of the Prince Charles Theatre at 7, Leicester Place, was a hang-out for the ‘beautiful people’ and is alleged to be the place where John Lennon and George Harrison shared their first LSD trip. Other clubs in the area included The Jack of Clubs in Brewer Street, The Alphabet Club in Gerrard Street which cost 10 shillings (50p – about £8 today) to get in, The St.Moritz Key Club in Wardour Street, Le Kilt, Club St.Germain and La Poubelle in Poland Street.
Opposite the 100 Club at number 79-89, was the short-lived Tiles Club (previously known as ‘Beat City’), which opened in March 1966 in a remarkable subterranean area. One of London’s best-kept secrets are the hidden and underground rivers and waterways that run through it.
One such river runs through the basement of Gray’s Antiques on South Molton and Davis Street and can be seen through a glass floor. It is thought that the river once ran across Oxford Street with a riverside roadway, due to there being a cobbled street with door arches and building frontages that apparently still exist in an area two floors below the ground.
In the Sixties this was known as ‘Tiles Street’ and formed a part of the Tiles Club complex with late night shopping in the businesses that established themselves in this underground shopping arcade’. The club itself occupied a large open space with a coffee bar at one end and ‘Tiles Street’ was off to one side. The catacomb of small shops included a beauty parlour, a record shop and various clothes and accessory shops, including a boutique for women called ‘Plumage’.
The club itself, unusually, was open at lunch times during the week, running an ‘all-nighter’ on Saturdays, and hosted an impressive number of live acts during its short existence, although it never gained the ‘cult’ status of the music establishments that had been in on the ‘ground floor’ of the culture change in the earlier years.
It had a superb, very reliable (but not hi-fi) PA system installed by Imhof’s, a record retailer in New Oxford Street, with speakers that ran all around the dance floor, which is not so surprising when you know that one of the club’s backers was a guy called Jim Marshall who owned the Marshall Amplifier company. The regular DJ was the ubiquitous Jeff Dexter, who was famous for disco gigs around the London clubs with his Jeff Dexter Record And Light Show.
The club closed on Sunday 24th, 1967, unable to continue after the owners lost a fortune from their investment in an unsuccessful Woburn Abbey music festival, and the DJ presiding over their last night was John Peel. The site existed as an aquarium for a time during the Seventies that made way for redevelopment of the area in the Eighties.
Of course, the Sixties British cultural and music ‘boom’ went hand in hand with the revolution in fashion, and at the heart of it was a man called John Stephen and a run-down narrow lane in Soho, called Carnaby Street .