Friday, May 22, 2020

A bit of keyboard magic with the Charlatans

Bear with me; setting the stage for this one will take a bit.

The Charlatans — not to be confused with the popular West Midlands rock band of the same name, founded in 1988 and still going strong in the UK — was a Northern California folk rock and psychedelic rock band that formed in 1964. Despite a run that lasted only five years and was plagued by personnel changes, bad decisions, bad record deals and just plain bad luck, the group had an outsized influence on the burgeoning San Francisco/Haight-Ashbury music scene.

The Charlatans, circa early 1967: from left, George Hunter, Richard Olsen,
Mike Wilhelm, Dan Hicks and Mike Ferguson
Indeed, the Charlatans also strongly influenced the developing 1960s look, starting with their affected late Victorian/Wild West clothing: a style that was embraced by the emerging anti-establishment youth movement. The band also kick-started the era’s poster art, thanks to a playbill created by members Mike Ferguson and George Hunter, to publicize their summer 1965 gig at Virginia City’s Red Dog Saloon, across the state border in Nevada. Rock historians credit that advertisement as the first true psychedelic concert poster, which quickly influenced the artwork of Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Bonnie MacLean, Wes Wilson, and Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley.

(It could be argued that the Charlatans also deserve recognition as the first true acid rock band, given that everybody took LSD prior to their first Red Dog performance. But the band’s sound wasn’t characteristic of what became true acid rock, so that claim is debatable.)

Ben Marks’ complete history of the band — “Hippies, Guns and LSD: The San Francisco Rock Band That Was Too Wild for the Sixties,” a thoroughly enjoyable read — was published July 19, 2017, and can be found here. The essay is laden with photos, and I’m indebted to Marks for some of the information that follows.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The De Maupassant connection

On July 16, 1964, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph Gleason reported that Guaraldi and Bola Sete were scheduled to record some short programs — known as “fills” — for National Educational Television (NET) member stations; San Francisco’s KQED Channel 9 was one such station. (NET existed from 1952 to October 4, 1970, at which point it was replaced by the PBS network we know today.)

Guy de Maupassant
As with PBS, NET programming aired without the advertising spots found on commercial networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC. The aforementioned short spots therefore were used when a series — often imported from the UK — ran only 54 minutes or so, which required the NET network to “fill” the remaining time with a short subject of some sort.

On January 27, 1965, Gleason reported that “a series of solo ‘fills’ of five and six minutes, which Guaraldi did for Educational TV, now is being shown on KQED before dramas.”

Despite the fact that numerous copies of these fills must’ve circulated among the country’s many NET stations, none has surfaced. (I can’t help feeling that tapes are Out There somewhere, in some station’s storage room, or some retired line producer’s attic.) These fills therefore remain high on the list of Guaraldi’s most-wanted video appearances.

Indeed, until just a few weeks ago, I hadn’t even figured out how many existed, and how they were used. That said, I’d seen tantalizing clues over the years, although their significance was difficult to judge. Scattered among the results of generic Internet searches on “Vince Guaraldi,” I’d see occasional newspaper TV listings at odd hours of the evening, which read something like this:

Channel 7, 10:55, “Vince Guaraldi: Twilight of Youth.”

(Since I didn’t learn that “Twilight of Youth” was an unrecorded Guaraldi composition until several years after my biography was published, I didn’t immediately suspect it might be one of the aforementioned fills; it sounded more like a short interview segment.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

An Ear-ful of Poppycock

My renewed deep dive into Guaraldi's career resulted in a fresh look at his activities in the early 1970s, when — from the autumn of 1971, through the late winter of '72 — he had a semi-regular gig at a Palo Alto night spot dubbed In Your Ear. This is the venue where — most famously (for our purposes) — a young George Winston played intermission piano in between Guaraldi's sets, and was bold enough to introduce himself to Dr. Funk, probably on October 24, 1971. And we all know where Winston's admiration eventually led.

I was reminded, while re-reading some of the notes and performance dates, that I'd learned very little about this club, during my bio's research phase in 2009 and '10. Aside from the fact that it occupied the building at 135 University Avenue, in Palo Alto — and that Guaraldi often could be found there on Tuesday evenings, for five or six months — newspapers and the Internet had yielded very little. Heck, I've never even been able to find a photo of the place, inside or outside. Whazzup with that?

Clearly, it was time for renewed exploration.

The effort proved very fruitful.

In Your Ear wasn't the first music club at 135 University; that honor belongs to The Poppycock, which opened its doors in April 1967. A sign of things to come was visible in the classified "employment opportunities" section of Stanford University's newspaper, the Stanford Daily, beginning April 12:

Beertenders, waitresses, Olde English Fish Cooks. Full and part time. Start Immediately. Poppycock. 135 University Ave.

(One wonders how many Stanford students qualified as "Olde English Fish Cooks.)

Guests musicians were eclectic and comparatively modest during the initial few months; the stage hosted a diverse assortment that included The Flowers, Doc Watson, The Mind's Eye, Lightning Hopkins and Schlomo Carlsbach (a folksinging rabbi). But all manner of San Francisco Bay Area outfits soon found their way to The Poppycock: some little more than short-lived garage bands, others ... well, a whole lot more famous. Stanford's radio station KZSU claims credit for a live broadcast from the Poppycock, which gave the first-ever airplay to an obscure little group dubbed Creedence Clearwater Revival.

In March 1968, politically active students hosted a "petition party" for Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, to help fund his effort to become the Democratic nominee for U.S. President.