(Yorkville Village, 1960s)
When Rock & Roll was Young and Hungry: Remembering the Old Clubs
In a recent post to Facebook, I wrote about the history of the Concord Coliseum and included a photo of what the building downtown looks like now that it’s a Petco store. Concord, California’s former concert hall premiered on August 4th & 5th, 1967, and stayed open for a year-and-a-half until 1969. My post sparked some reminiscences from the local “kids,” (I did not live here then). One of them remembers seeing Jimmy Page play with the Yardbirds at the Coliseum (Jimmy went on to found Led Zeppelin).
Some of the biggest names in music at the time, Sonny & Cher, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Van Morrison, Big Brother & the Holding Company (with Janis), and Sly & The Family Stone played there. The former co-owner of the Coliseum, Bill Quarry, was also booking acts at Frenchy’s, the hot spot in Hayward in the East Bay area in the 60’s and 70′s.
This stirred up my own memories of playing in my first rock and roll bands in the early sixties. When I was in high school in my hometown of Oakville, Ontario (Canada), Rock & Roll was a cottage industry (1961 – 1966). After the British Invasion, everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon and get into Sergeant Pepper’s Band. In 1965, my popular high school rock band, the Delshanes, got a manager and a regular gig at the local hot spot “The Grotto” (shades of The Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles started). Our graduation from high school ended the Delshanes’ career. The lead singer joined an opera company a couple of years later and began his long 17 years on the road touring with various opera companies. I went on to play R&B in Yorkville Village, Toronto, where Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, and Gordon Lightfoot, among others, launched their careers. Living in Toronto, I also got to see Led Zeppelin on their first US tour in 1969. They played a humble venue called the Rockpile. What a treat! But the music was too loud for such a small place. With ears ringing, I remember leaving early.
I moved to Northern California in the 1970s, where Uncle Sam’s in Sebastopol was one of the cool places to play. This hippie nightclub that held about 250 people was where I saw Mose Allison live for the first time. Along with the bands I was in at the time, Frontier and Pemmican, there was another local band called Clover. They were led by vocalist and blues harp player, Huey Lewis. Like many of us in those “cottage industry” days of rock music, Clover scraped together a living by playing gigs up and down the West Coast. They were luckier than most of us in that they’d recorded two albums on Fantasy Records. These vinyl discs were largely ignored in America but they succeeded to some degree in England where they caught the attention of Elvis Costello. Clover got another break backing Elvis Costello on his debut album in 1977.
In the 1980s, Huey went on to achieve fame and commercial success with Huey Lewis and the News, joined by a couple of the Clover guys. Clover’s pedal steel and lead guitarist John McFee was asked to join the Doobie Brothers, to replace Jeff Baxter who left the band in 1979.
Another famous member of Clover I can recall was bass player, John Ciambotti. He went on to play for Lucinda Williams before he passed away at age 67 in 2010.
John McFee is still busy and creative. He recently produced our friend Pamela Polland’s 2010 album, Hawaiinized, and played almost all the instruments. She was one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s finest singers and now lives in Hawaii, still singing as fabulous as ever. John helped make a wonderful album for her, available at http://www.pamelapolland.com/.
It was inevitable that rock music would become big business and lose its small town roots. But those of us who were there, miss the days of intimate club performances, the camaraderie of the old music club scene. It just wasn’t the same, going to see stadium bands in big sports arenas, or digging a punk band from the mosh pits of the 1980s. Of course the high-powered arena rock era swallowed up the folk music scene but it came back to life when the Unplugged era made acoustic music popular again some decades later.
(by Dave Holt)