al collins, grasshopper pie, and me

music friday: the fillmore, 50 years ago today

Here was the bill for a show at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco on August 26, 1966:

The poster was done by Wes Wilson, and can be seen on the SF MOMA website:

If the link works (it does now, but there’s no guarantee it will always be there), you’ll see that while the 13th Floor Elevators were apparently the headliners, Grace Slick was the drawing card. It probably says something about those days that I couldn’t find any info about the actual concert, but it was easy to find the poster.

This is the moment when I have to decide how much I need to explain. I only have a few regular readers, but a good portion of them weren’t even born in 1966, and I don’t know if the three bands on the bill are known these days. So I’ll assume they are new to most folks.

Sopwith Camel was a San Francisco band that suffered from not fitting into the “San Francisco Sound”, whatever that was. They were the second S.F. band to sign a record contract, and ... well, let’s quote from their website:

Because the Camel shared the same label and producer (and similar musical tastes) with the Lovin' Spoonful, most people thought they were from New York. Their friends in San Francisco groups "accused us of being sellouts. That's absurd; back in those days, we were all looking for hits. It's just that ours was the first." The Camel's big return to San Francisco met with disaster. "We were headlining over the Airplane and the Dead. The Dead did one of their long, long sets, and by the time we were on, we were only able to do three tunes before the cops pulled the plugs before curfew. We took it to be a sign of some sort."

That first hit was “Hello, Hello”, which hit #26 on the charts. The single hadn’t been released in August of 1966, which may explain why they were on the bottom of the bill. It was their only hit. For some reason the original is nowhere to be found on YouTube, so here they are in 2011:

The Great Society were the spawning ground for one of the best artists from that period. They had actually released a single for Autumn Records (owned by the legendary Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue) earlier in 1966 that went nowhere. A story goes that Sly Stone, a producer for the label, gave up on the band after they spent (depending on who is telling the story) 50 takes on one of the songs without getting it right. Less than two months after the concert that is the focus of this post, the female lead singer left the band, taking two songs with her, with the result that Jefferson Airplane, with Grace Slick, recorded their own versions of “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”. Here is The Great Society’s version of “White Rabbit”:

There is a reason The 13th Floor Elevators headlined. They already had a hit single, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. They were out of Austin, Texas, and had been together less than a year in August of ‘66. Of all three of these bands, The Elevators are the most influential. Singer Roky Erickson has lived a rough life, but he is a truly unique artist. Here is their big hit, on American Bandstand ... this song still packs a punch, even 50 years down the road:



I honestly hadn't heard of any of them, and I never knew the Grace Slick beginnings story. Thanks!

Steven Rubio

Grace was born Grace Wing. She went to Finch, where Tricia Nixon also went. Grace was invited to a White House event when Dick Nixon was president ... the invitation was for Grace Wing, although she had been Grace Slick for a long time. She took Abbie Hoffman as her plus-one. They weren't allowed to get in. She married a guy named Jerry Slick ... he and his brother Darby were charter members of the Great Society, and Darby wrote "Someone to Love" (Grace wrote "White Rabbit").

Grace Slick was so beautiful that I think I underrated her musical abilities at the time. Her voice is quite powerful, and she was a multi-instrumentalist, which I think especially goes unnoticed.

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