Haight-Ashbury is a district of San Francisco, California, USA, named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets. It is commonly called The Haight. The district generally encompasses the neighborhood surrounding Haight Street, bounded by Stanyan Street and Golden Gate Park on the west, Oak Street and the Golden Gate Park Panhandle on the north, Baker Street and Buena Vista Park to the east and Frederick Street and Ashbury Heights and Cole Valley neighborhoods to the south.
The street names themselves commemorate two early San Francisco leaders: Pioneer and exchange banker Henry Haight, or, (though it is arguable) the tenth governor of California, Henry Huntley Haight,the former’s nephew. Munroe Ashbury, one of the city’s first politicians, who served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1864 to 1870 lends his name to the latter street. Both Haight and his nephew as well as Ashbury had a hand in the planning of the neighborood, and, more importantly, nearby Golden Gate Park at its inception.
The upper Haight district is famous for its role as a center of the 1960s hippie movement, a post-runner and closely associated offshoot of theBeat generation or beat movement, members of which swarmed San Francisco’s “in” North Beach neighborhood two to eight years before the “Summer of Love” in 1967. Many who could not find space to live in San Francisco’s northside found it in the quaint, relatively cheap and underpopulated Haight-Ashbury. The ’60s era and modern American counterculture have been synonymous with San Francisco and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood ever since.
With that being said, I think I was a bit too “NYC” and too “Mod” to get into the “Hippie” scene. It sounds a bit provincial, but I found the hippies kind of scary and most definitely a bit weird! Some of the music was enjoyable but I really was sold on the British Invasion and was, in retrospect, a bit myopic!
Let’s examine a number of the popular bands and see what we come up with!
Incidentally, I was asked to recommend some music to go along with my posts so I will put CD links to CD’s you might like to listen to as we go forward.
The Grateful Dead began their career as The Warlocks, a group formed in early 1964 from the remnants of a Palo Alto jug band called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. he band changed its name after finding out that another band of the same name had signed a recording contract. The name Grateful Dead was chosen from a dictionary. According to Phil Lesh, in his biography “…Jerry Garcia picked up an old Britannica World Language Dictionary…[and]…In that silvery elf-voice he said to me, ‘Hey, man, how about the Grateful Dead?’” The definition there was “the soul of a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial.” The Grateful Dead formed during the era when bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were dominating the airwaves. “The Beatles were why we turned from a jug band into a rock ‘n’ roll band,” said Bob Weir. “What we saw them doing was impossibly attractive. I couldn’t think of anything else more worth doing. Their early music was part of the process of establishing what “psychedelic music” was, but theirs was essentially a “street party” form of it. They developed their “psychedelic” playing as a result of meeting Ken Kesey in Palo Alto, CA and subsequently becoming the house band to the Acid Tests he staged. After relocating to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, their “street party” form developed out of the many psychedelic dances, open-air park events, and closed-street Haight-Ashbury block parties at which they played. Their live shows, fed by their improvisational approach to music, made the Grateful Dead different from most other touring bands. While most rock and roll bands rehearse a standard show for their tours that gets played night after night, city after city, the Grateful Dead never did. As Garcia stated in an 1966 interview, “We don’t make up our sets beforehand. We’d rather work off the tops of our heads than off a piece of paper.”
I went to see them one time at some college in NJ and after an hour or so, I was ready to go. Oh well, you can’t love em all!
The Jefferson Airplane formed in San Francisco CA in 1965. A pioneer of thepsychedelic rockmovement, Jefferson Airplane was the first band from the San Francisco scene to achieve mainstream commercial and critical success. They were one of the most sought-after and highly-paid concert acts in the world and they are also notable as the only band to have performed at all three of the most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s — Monterey (1967),Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969)Although the Airplane was considered a San Francisco group, Paul Kantner was the only native San Franciscan in the band.
Quicksilver Messenger Service were one of San Francisco’s leading psychedelic bands, and one of my favorites because I enjoyed their long solos like Cream, Hendrix, et al. They gained wide popularity in the Bay Area and with psychedelic rock enthusiasts around the globe. Many of their albums ranked in the top 30 of the Billboard Pop charts. Though not ultimately as commercially successful as their contemporaries Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, the band was integral to the beginnings of their genre. With their jazz and classical influences, as well as a strong folk background, the band attempted to create a sound that was individual and innovative.
Santana was formed in 1966 in San Francisco as the Santana Blues Band. With their highly original blend of Latin-infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa, and African rhythms, the band (which quickly became known simply as Santana) gained an immediate following and the band’s early success, capped off by a memorable performance at Woodstock in 1969, led to a recording contract with Columbia Records. Bill Graham, who had been a fan of the band from the start, convinced the promoters of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival to let them appear before their first album was even released. They were one of the surprises of the festival; their set was legendary and, later, the exposure of their eleven-minute instrumental “Soul Sacrifice” in the Woodstock film and soundtrack albums vastly increased Santana’s popularity. Graham also gave the band some key advice to record the Willie Bobo song “Evil Ways”, as he felt it would get them radio airplay. Their first album, simply titled Santana, became a huge hit, reaching number four on the U.S. album charts, and the catchy single “Evil Ways” reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.
Moby Grape was formed in late 1966 in San Francisco, at the instigation of Skip Spence and Matthew Katz. Both had been previously associated with Jefferson Airplane, Spence as the band’s first drummer, playing on their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, and Katz as the band’s manager, but both had been dismissed by the group. The band name, judicially determined to have been chosen by Bob Mosley and Spence, came from the punch line of the joke “What’s big and purple and lives in the ocean?” While Jerry Miller was the principal lead guitarist, all three guitarists played lead at various points, often playing off against each other, in a guitar form associated with Moby Grape as “crosstalk” In a marketing stunt, Columbia Records immediately released five singles at once, and the band was perceived as being over-hyped. This was during a period in which mainstream record labels were giving previously unheard-of levels of promotion to what was then considered countercultural music genres.As described by Jeff Tamarkin former editor of Relix and Goldmine, “The Grape’s saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad-luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, and less.” This is truly a sad tail that was not the first and most certainly, will not be the last!
Sly & The Family Stone was pivotal in the development of soul,funk, and psychedelic music. Headed by singer, songwriter, record producer, andmulti-instrumentalistSly Stone, and containing several of his family members and friends, the band was the first major American rock band to have a multicultural lineup. They also had one of the foremost and groundbreaking bassists, Larry Graham in the group. He created a technique known as slap and pop which has become a mainstay of any bassists vocabulary. Joel Selvin, a San Francisco-based music critic and author known for his weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle sums up the importance of Sly & the Family Stone’s influence on African American music by stating “there are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone, and black music after Sly Stone”. The band was inducted into theRock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
It’s A Beautiful Day was formed in 1967, the brainchild of violinistDavid LaFlamme, a former soloist with the Utah Symphony Orchestra. Although they were one of the earliest and most important San Francisco bands to emerge from the Summer of Love, It’s a Beautiful Day never quite achieved the success of their contemporaries such as The Grateful Dead and Santana, with whom they had connections. e group’s original manager, Matthew Katz, had previously been fired by both Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape. The group’s signature song “White Bird” was inspired by the experiences David and Linda LaFlamme had while living in Seattle.
Blue Cheer was based in San Francisco, and played in a psychedelic blues-rock style. They are credited as being pioneers of heavy metal. Their cover of “Summertime Blues” is sometimes cited as the first in the genre. The band was named after a street brand of LSD and promoted by renowned LSD chemist and former Grateful Dead patron, Owsley Stanley.” Jim Morrison of The Doors called the group, “The single most powerful band I’ve ever seen.” It is said that Blue Cheer decided to adopt a power trio configuration after seeing Jimi Hendrix perform at the Monterey Pop Festival. Sadly, bassist and lead singer Dickie Peterson passed away on Oct 12, 2009 from prostate cancer.
Ok, I know I am going to hear some comments but Janis Joplin scared me! I am not certain why, but I had this feeling about her that really chilled me. Maybe it was her profound sadness, I don’t really know. Her 1968 LP Cheap Thrills with Big Brother and the Holding Company is considered one of the masterpieces of thepsychedelic sound of San Francisco; it reached number one on the Billboard charts, and was ranked number 338 in Rolling Stone‘s the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Sopwith Camel is best known for being the second San Francisco band to get a recording contract with a national record label, and the first to have a Top 40 hit.
Would you like some of my tangerine?
Country Joe and the Fish‘s name is derived from leftist politics; “Country Joe” was a popular name for Joseph Stalin in the 1940s, while “the fish” refers to Mao Tse-Tung’s statement that the true revolutionary “moves through the peasantry as the fish does through water.” This makes a great deal of sense since their biggest hit, was the anti-war “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag”, which debuted the same year as the band, but became best known after Country Joe’s solo acoustic performance of it at Woodstock. It was a musical protests against the Vietnam War. In any case, I enjoyed their first album “Electric Music for the Mind and Body” which included a song you hear often on Sirius XM Deep Tracks “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine.”
One of my favorite tunes, which I incidentlly heard on Little Steven’s Underground Garage last night was The Chambers Brothers “Time Has Come Today.” The group was part of the wave of new music that integrated American blues and gospel traditions with modern psychedelic and rock elements, spawning a heady mix integrating all these factors. Based on their Southern roots, the brothers brought a raw authenticity to their recordings and live performances that was missing from many other acts of that era. A truly great song! Their music has been kept alive through heavy use in film soundtracks.
Next week, it is back to NY! I look forward to hearing from you. Have a great week!