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Awakenings Abounding – Part 3 (The San Francisco Music Scene)

September 25, 2012

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Being a music major at San Jose State in the 1960s meant that you were automatically in the San Jose Sate Marching Band. Music majors had to be available for all the football games, school parades, and any memorial and civic commitments that the school administration deemed to be worth the effort of having the Marching Band getting suited up for. Besides the actual events, there were the two rehearsals each week. Chuck hated Marching Band. He used to complain that it wasn’t so much about music and band as it was about marching and learning how to do “quarter step turns.” The avant-garde, a-tonal music intellectual music expert despised the fact that he nearly always had to have his saxophone case with him nearly every time he set foot on the campus, ever ready for the call to the Marching Band’s demands. His great disdain for Marching Band was a great source of our sarcastic humor and we would taunt and tease Chuck at every opportunity to bring up his hated Marching Band. But, using the Marching Band commitment as an excuse, Chuck started taking a lot of acid (LSD). He called his acid trips his escape from the Marching Band. It was a ridiculous justification but we let him have it, none of us had any such big time commitments like the Marching Band and, as much as he hated it, he pretty much did everything they wanted, complaining only to us. He really wanted to get straight “A”s on his report card.

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On the other side of the coin, however, Chuck did have his other “extra-curricular” activities that did give him a whole lot of challenge and satisfaction. One of these non-school labors got me real invovled as I had my very reliable Volkswagen bug and Chuck had the need to travel to the City (San Francisco) or Marin or up into the Santa Cruz mountains to promote his latest and most ambitious endeaver, song writing. I have mentioned previously, Chuck didn’t drive, let alone have a car. At first it was just on the weekends, but as he got more successful and popular, I’d be requested to haul Chuck to all sorts of odd and hidden locations where the bands were hiding, up in the woods, all along the Central California Coast. For the most part, I had no problems trucking the modest music guru all over our half of the state. We were always meeting the most interesting people and we were constantly touching the very heart of the hip culture, the music makers of the Fillmore Ballroom and the Winterland Concert Hall. We came to know, as well, the poster makers, the overly payed seamstresses who made the extravagant garments so common in those days, and the guys who put on the amazing light shows that danced and swirled behind the musicians at every show. You could just not get any more hip than this.

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We became quite comfortable when entering the private compounds of the “Family Dog” or “Big Brother and the Holding Company” and the “Grateful Dead,” the central residences of the large, extended families that originated in the zygote beginnings of the Haight-Ashbury hip culture. Straight people are not usually aware that the bands that blossomed from these extended families would simply use the family’s name as the band’s name when they performed at the Fillmore or at the free concerts in Golden Gate Park, and indeed, any member of the family was a member of the band if they felt so inclined.

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This is a picture of some members of the San Francisco “hip family:”

The Family Dog

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The famous “un-ending” concerts that the early Grateful Dead put on, as well as the Quicksilver Messenger Service and others, were not so long and rambling simply for the drugs used by the band, as many critics claim, but the music session would run on and on, as while there may be only be four or five guys on the stage performing at any given time, there might be a dozen or two family members hanging out just off stage and when one of the family members got the right feeling, they would meander up and take over a stray guitar on the stage or set of drumsticks and join in the music making. The meandering comings and goings of these replacement performers made these extended concerts not quite as strenuous for the bands as it might seem to the audience, who, not uncommonly, might doze off through certain portions of the long, wandering performances. These audience members, themselves, were often being aided through the extended musical escapades by certain chemical enhancements not unlike those used by the performers that they were watching and appreciating.

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For his youthful efforts in the jazz and acid rock scene up in the City, before he came to San Jose State, Chuck had a bit of a head start as he pursued getting his new songs to be performed and heard. He already knew lots of people. It always amazed me how Chuck could simply walk up to a big time star or music promoter and just start a conversation, discussing the most casual of things or some big time political conundrum, he would just go for it, taking it all in his stride. I always stood in the background, just soaking up the periphery of these conversations, I didn’t have the confidence to put in my two cents nor was I a musician. I didn’t feel like I really had the credentials to join in. These guys would talk about drummers they knew in common, guitarists who were coming and going into different bands, into different gigs, keyboardists who just OD’ed and almost died. These music people lived in their own, separate and closed off little world. I always felt lucky to be even let in this much. I wasn’t a music maker, but I was a very entrenched music appreciator, and for the coolest guys, this was enough, we spoke the same language, we loved the same things.

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Chuck had a childhood friend who was a fairly successful drummer in the San Francisco music culture. Dave was his name and he hadn’t settled in with any one band yet but he found himself under the wing of the famous Rock promoter, Bill Graham and Dave was, luckily, able to make a living from his music without having the dreaded “day job” that musicians hate to rely on for food and housing. Graham was always able to get Dave a gig as a stand-in drummer when others got sick, or needed some time off, and Dave did a lot of session work (recording sessions). I had first met Dave when he was going to Stanford University and I’d take Chuck to visit Dave, who also didn’t have a car. As his drumming career got pretty solid, he left Stanford to pursue his music. Just being in Graham’s stall of musicians was a good measure of success, but with all of the guys in the stable, they all wanted to find a home in a good, steady band gig.

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Bill Graham (in the clear glasses) trailing Mick Jagger (of the Rolling Stones)

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For all the disdain heaped on Graham in these early days for being a cut throat and ruthless businessman and an asshole of a person, he did promote the music like no one else and was the successful manager and promoter of many of the greatest bands to come out of the San Francisco culture in those days, most notably, the Jefferson Airplane. Graham was a demanding, sometimes unfair taskmaster, but for guys like Dave, he was a guardian and a savior. Graham would sometimes get enough talent in his stable that he’d put several of the guys together to see if they would get along well enough and be creative enough to be a real, free standing band all on their own merits, not because of their master’s influence. By the time that Chuck was ready to sell some songs, Dave had been placed in one of these “petri-dish” band scenarios.

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The lead guitarist was the younger brother of the lead guitarist in the most famous and well respected of all of Graham’s successful bands. When entered in classical guitar competition in Europe, it was usually the younger brother who would win, not the more successful older brother. The lead singer in this newly contrived band was a young woman who had released several very successful “pop music” albums but she was determined to make it in this new, evolving genre of hip music. All the others had been in successful bands and had experience living the musician’s life on the road and on the stage, all save our friend Dave. He was the youngest and least experienced but that spoke well of his drumming skills and overall sense of maturity. Graham got this bunch together and rented them a very nice, fairly modern house in the little hamlet of El Granada, in the hills above the small, sea side town of Half Moon Bay, some twenty miles or so south of San Francisco. The group was looking for some new material and Dave called Chuck, asking him to bring up some of his new songs. Chuck called me for a ride up to El Granada. Chuck didn’t have a real strong voice so I was really curious how his songs might sound coming from a professional. We all looked forward to this meeting on the next Saturday morning.

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(to be continued and concluded in a fourth part)

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