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 …
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last modified: June 18, 2017