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.