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.
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.
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.
Last modified: June 17, 2017