‘This whole weekend was a dream come true’ … Monterey Pop Festival, day three (Sunday)

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Although devoting the whole of Sunday afternoon to Indian classical music might seem a bold move, in fact there could have been nothing better suited to thousands of California hippies who had been up half the night and were exhausted, zonked out on Monterey Purples, or otherwise spaced out, than a lesson from the master of the sitar.

Ravi Shankar

Having spent 15 minutes tuning up, after which the audience applauded enthusiastically, the Indian sitar maestro (the only artist at Monterey to be paid for his appearance; everyone else just got expenses) proceeded to play for the next three hours or so. That’ll teach ’em. Now the western world, or a significant part of its younger generation, would get to hear what George Harrison and a few others had been on about. This was not “raga rock”, these were ragas – the real deal.

Here’s the 18 minutes or so that DA Pennebaker shot for his movie. Around six and a half minutes in, note Jimi Hendrix, and then Mike Bloomfield, enjoying the show. You can also spot Monkee Micky Dolenz, taking a break from tinkering with his new Moog synthesiser, among the appreciative audience at the end. Shankar’s gracious verdict was: “This is not pop, but I am glad it is popular.”

It’s the last night of the festival, and time for the Sunday evening show.

The Blues Project

Al Kooper had just quit the band but seems happy enough (at around 9:53) watching them perform Flute Thing, featuring the talents of Andy Blumenfeld. It goes on a bit, and rhythm guitarist Steve Katz looks bored at times: you sense he can’t wait for Al to give him a call and sign him up for BS&T so he can have fun, score chicks, and make some money. All of which duly happened.

The Group With No Name

After a brief reappearance by Big Brother & The Holding Company, to be filmed playing Ball and Chain again after the sensation Janis had caused on Saturday, The Group With No Name took the stage. Michael Lydon, for once, got it right, predicting they “may well not last long enough to get a name”. No one seems to have recognised, recorded or recalled anything they played. The band was led by Cyrus Faryar, a founder member of The Modern Folk Quartet who had also played with The Whiskeyhill Singers. Devotees of the Elektra label may remember an album called The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds; Faryar did the weird but wonderful narration. Now 71, he lives in Hawaii and still performs.

Buffalo Springfield 

Not seen and heard enough of David Crosby with The Byrds on Saturday night? No problem: he’s back, this time with Buffalo Springfield, nominally standing in for the recently departed Neil Young. Stephen Stills seems happy enough but I don’t sense Richie Furay is especially impressed. The soap opera would soon be resolved when Steve and Dave got together with their new English best friend Graham, leaving Richie to take a trip to the country to form Poco. For what it’s worth, here – as introduced by Monkee Peter Tork – are his favourite group, “The” Buffalo Springfield.

Furay got to sing Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing and A Child’s Claim to Fame and they also did, at breakneck speed, this pretty good version of Bluebird.

The Who

England’s finest showed what they thought of all this “peace and love” nonsense with an edgy, in-your-face show that culminated, as My G-Generation f-faded away, in a brutal assault on his guitar by Pete Townshend. Despite a dodgy sound system that left them somewhat underpowered, The Who’s set was excellent, and made their name in the US, although the bawdy-music-hall-esque “mini opera” A Quick One While He’s Away stuck out like a cucumber stuffed down a bass player’s trousers. You can hear the full set here (sound only), but let’s face it, what we all really want is to see a bit of good old-fashioned GBH (guitar body harm) from Pete while John Entwistle plucks defiantly away at his bass until only Keith Moon is left bashing away, before kicking his drums over, like someone who knew he would die before he got old.

The Grateful Dead

Pennebaker’s crew were sleeping on the job here, failing to capture any footage of what by all accounts was a typical really-loose-except-when-it-was-really-tight Dead performance, on their home turf, by Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Pigpen and Bill Kreutzmann. Garcia had appeared at the Monterey Folk Festival in 1963, playing banjo with The Wildwood Boys. The Dead’s set comprised Viola Lee Blues, Cold Rain and Snow, and Alligator/Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks). Luckily we have the audio, all 34 minutes and 55 seconds of it, and it’s terrific.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi Hendrix warmed up for his US concert dates in July – as support act to The Monkees – by reinventing the electric guitar and proving himself, already, its greatest exponent. Opening with a killer-diller version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor, he continued with Foxy Lady, Like a Rolling Stone, Rock Me Baby, Hey Joe, Can You See Me, The Wind Cries Mary, Purple Haze and a Wild Thing that made the original, by The Troggs, seem about as wild as a sleepy kitten. Oh yes, and he set his Stratocaster on fire. Unlike Townshend’s earlier act of premeditated violence, however, this was more a crime of passion; Hendrix seems almost sad about it. But then he had just spent half an hour making love to the instrument. Here’s the trailer for Jimi Plays Monterey.

The Mamas & The Papas

Hendrix would have been a hard act to follow for anyone, and The Mamas & The Papas were tired, bleary, and not at their best. Even so, it’s a bit unfair to dismiss them as “pop shit” (thank you, Country Joe McDonald). There wouldn’t have been a festival without them and in a sense this group, with all their hippie-dippery, summed up what it had all been about: a “love-in”, if only for three days, a celebration of youth, a brief glimpse of a better world. They sang their hits …

… and then Scott McKenzie gave a fine performance of Phillips’ Monterey anthem San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) …

… and the whole thing finished with Dancing in the Street.

Eric Burdon later paid tribute to the festival in his great song Monterey: “The people came and listened/Some of them came and played/Others gave flowers away, yes they did/Down in Monterey./ Young gods smiled upon the crowd/Their music being born of love/Children danced night and day/Religion was being born/Down in Monterey.”

This weekend, 16-18 June 2017, Burdon was back at Monterey for the 50th anniversary of the festival (Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead and Booker T Jones returned as well, and Ravi Shankar’s daughter, Norah Jones, also played). It’s poignant to reflect on the many musicians who didn’t make it this far, some of whom did not even survive the 1960s, and to wonder what became of all those beautiful young people, frozen in Technicolor and in time.

One of them, Mama Cass, declared 50 years ago tonight: “This whole weekend was a dream come true.” Two days before the festival began, a young man named Donald Trump had celebrated his 21st birthday. It’s not the fault of the musicians, or the gentle people with flowers in their hair, if the dream was to prove an illusion.

Links

The greatest music festival in history – New York Times article
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/opinion/the-greatest-music-festival-in-history.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region&_r=0

A bloody battle over Monterey – Jann Wenner, in a 1968 Rolling Stone piece, on the failed attempt to stage a second festival in 1968, which he calls “a bizarre enactment of the entire American tragedy”
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/a-bloody-battle-over-monterey-pop-festival-19680406

Those interested in hearing more music from this era should subscribe to psych67’s excellent YouTube channel, full of hidden gems and rarities
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrnU6fBzCoGraOVTn-sSpKQ

 

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‘Your mother gets high and you don’t know it’ … Monterey Pop Festival, day two (Saturday night)

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Barely time for a quick wash-and-brush-up at the huge Monterey camp site, and off we go again. There was a lot of excitement on Saturday night over persistent rumours that The Beatles were going to make an appearance. I think we’d probably have heard about it by now if they had done. But who needs the Fab Four when you’ve got San Francisco’s Fab Five …

Moby Grape

One way not to get into the Monterey Pop movie was to demand $1 million to appear in it, which is where Moby Grape’s manager went wrong; producer and co-promoter Lou Adler declined, and not politely. Another bad idea was by Columbia, their record label, who had just released five flop singles – that’s 10 tracks from their first album – simultaneously. (What was wrong, or right, with the other three?) Local heroes Moby Grape pressed on regardless to the cult status they still enjoy today. They had three good guitarists, one of whom, Peter Lewis, was the son of Hollywood star Loretta Young.

Hugh Masekela

The Monterey Pop Festival may have been based in part on its established jazz equivalent, but there wasn’t much jazz on show over the weekend. The exception was the South African trumpeter and political activist, Hugh Masekela, who had been living in exile in the US since the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. This is a fine performance.

Masekela and Big Black, his brilliant percussionist, had played on the recording of The Byrds’ So You Want To Be a Rock’n’Roll Star in January and their awe-inspiring new single, Lady Friend, which brings us to …

The Byrds

It’s like watching a couple you have known for years break up, sad but morbidly fascinating. “Your mother gets high and you don’t know it!” announces David Crosby, a ubiquitous and excitable presence throughout the weekend, to an enthusiastic, if baffled, audience. Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman, cool as ever, make a mental note to cross Croz off their Christmas card list and look forward to performing The Notorious Byrd Brothers as a trio. Why can’t he just shut up for a moment? Meanwhile, Michael Clarke’s purple plant-pot wins the Silliest Hat at Monterey award in the face of some tough competition. The Byrds opened with Renaissance Fair and continued with Have You Seen Her Face, Hey Joe, He Was a Friend of Mine, Lady Friend, Chimes of Freedom, I Know My Rider and So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star. It’s a ragged set, but the magic is still there, and you can listen to the whole 17 minutes (without the Croz introductions) here. This is my favourite.

Laura Nyro

You either get Laura Nyro or you don’t. If you get her, you will love her (but not, I assure you, as much as I do) and want to tell everyone you meet that a) she was the greatest female singer-songwriter of all time and b) she was fantastic at Monterey. Either way, don’t listen to the critics – Michael Lydon in Newsweek said she was “melodramatic”, a “disaster” and the low point of the festival, but then he didn’t like Hugh Masekela either so what does he know? Laura left the stage in tears, thinking some of the audience had been booing her, but it was probably just Lydon: everyone else loved her, too.

Jefferson Airplane

Viewed from this distance, the Airplane seem more important for social than musical reasons. They certainly caught the spirit of the times but to me, much of their music is posturing, with slogans for lyrics and a certain smugness about their stage presence. There again, I loved them as much as anyone at the time and there’s no denying they were one of the hits of the festival from the opening bars of Somebody to Love. White Rabbit, She Has Funny Cars and several others followed. I thought High Flying Bird was pretty good. And Grace Slick still has the cutest nose in rock.

Otis Redding

After Booker T & The MG’s had warmed the crowd up with Booker Loo and Green Onions, the great soul man walked on to the stage and straight into music history with a sensational performance that sealed his reputation as a major artist with a huge new audience. From Shake to Respect, from I’ve Been Loving You Too Long to Satisfaction, the man defined what “soul” is. To round off Saturday, something even better: Try a Little Tenderness.

Before the year was out, Otis would be dead, aged just 27. RIP.

Just the Sunday shows to go. Ravi Shankar, The Who and Jimi Hendrix await us tomorrow.

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‘You are out of it, so far out of it’ … Monterey Pop Festival, day two (Saturday afternoon)

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So here we are at Monterey on Saturday morning, and what do you do while you’re waiting for the music to start this afternoon? Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane recalled: “The best festival of all time was Monterey. They had these little booths where you could actually walk up if you wanted to buy something, with artists’ stuff on display. You could get food. You could go to the bathroom. People could see things. it wasn’t too big. When it was over and you wanted to go home, you could just get in your car and drive there.”

We get it, Gracie: it wasn’t Woodstock. As well as food – available free from the Diggers if you didn’t have any, er, bread – you could buy most stuff, from a Moog synthesiser (Monkee Micky Dolenz bought one, which would be heard to great effect in November on the band’s superb album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd) to a batch of “Monterey Purple” LSD made specially for the occasion by Owsley Stanley.

On to the music. Saturday afternoon had a bluesy feel and featured the prodigiously talented young white blues musicians who had exploded on to the contemporary scene. When I die, if I get to Blues Heaven I want to hear Al Wilson on slide guitar, Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar, and Paul Butterfield on harmonica and vocals. They all performed on this memorable afternoon. And I haven’t even got to Janis yet.

Canned Heat

Singer Bob “the Bear” Hite, Al “Blind Owl” Wilson on slide, lead guitarist Henry “Sunflower” Vestine and Larry “the Mole” Taylor (bass) are on good form in this version of Rollin’ and Tumblin’, which unlike most of Saturday afternoon actually made the cut for DA Pennebaker’s movie. Drummer Frank Cook was fired for not having a cool nickname and by December Canned Heat would feature Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra, a former member of Bluesberry Jam, on drums.

Big Brother & The Holding Company

Despite their excellent band name, no one would remember this bunch of slackers had it not been for their lead singer, one Janis Joplin, who brought Monterey to life and made her career with a head-and-heart-wringing display of screaming, shouting, crying, pleading, wailing and moaning. No wonder Mama Cass was so impressed. Wow! indeed.

Janis and the guys also performed Combination of the Two (used by Pennebaker at the start of his film), Down On Me, and a couple of other songs. It’s poignant to reflect that this amazing talent would be extinguished in less than three years of hair-raising vocal pyrotechnics and hair-curling alcohol consumption. She would be 73 now, and I bet she would have still sounded great.

Country Joe & The Fish

One of the more polished and political Bay Area bands opened with a love-and-hate story, Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine, from their horizon-expanding album Electric Music for the Mind and Body. Next up was the trademark anti-war numbers I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag and The Bomb Song, and finally a long – or it certainly feels long – instrumental, Section 43. Barry Melton, the blond guy with a nice line in acid-tinged lead guitar, is now a criminal defense attorney; he’s on LinkedIn if you need him.

Al Kooper

As well as the young man who played the organ part on Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone a split-second behind the other musicians (he was picking up the chords as he went along), Al Kooper is the author of the best rock autobiography ever, Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards. At Monterey, in between leaving The Blues Project and forming Blood, Sweat & Tears, he was working behind the scenes and did a short set that included his brilliant single I Can’t Keep From Cryin’ Sometimes and Wake Me, Shake Me.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

A fine singer and even finer harmonica player, Paul Butterfield’s band of superb musicians included guitarist Elvin Bishop and alto saxophonist David Sanborn. Their long set, one of the highlights of the festival, finished with this heartfelt version of Driftin’ Blues.

Quicksilver Messenger Service

Great band name, two great guitarists in Gary Duncan and John Cippolina, performances often a bit ramshackle and rarely captured at their best on record, Quicksilver are something of an enigma. This version of Dino’s Song is workmanlike but for real fireworks it would have been good to hear their astonishing take on Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love. Sadly most of the Saturday afternoon performances survive only in snippets, Pennebaker having decided he only had enough film to shoot each band doing one song.

The Steve Miller Band

As you can hear from Mercury Blues, Steve Miller’s outfit (the line-up also included Boz Scaggs) at this time was still a fairly basic blues band. Things were to get more interesting, psychedelically speaking, a little later with the albums Children of the Future and the brilliant Sailor.

The Electric Flag

The first gig by ex-Butterfield guitarist Mike Bloomfield’s new band, and I kid you not: this man was one of the very, very finest guitarists you will ever hear. Over-Lovin’ You featured drummer Buddy Miles, in his best tie, on vocals; Wine, sung superbly by Nick Gravenites, showcases Bloomfield in all his fluid brilliance, even if you can’t hear the backing vocals.

Having wisely abandoned a plan to rename themselves Thee, Sound (sic) after Monterey, the band made one great album, A Long Time Comin’. The restless Bloomfield then left to work with, among others, Al Kooper; the others continued without him but it wasn’t the same. As David Crosby opined: “Man, if you didn’t hear Mike Bloomfield’s group, man, you are out of it, so far out of it!”

Which seems like a good time for a quick cup of tea before things get heavy … back in time for Moby Grape to kick off the Saturday evening show.

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