King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker

by Tim Van Schmidt

February, 1972- Whiskey A Go Go. Alex Richman, Potliquor.

 In the early part of 1972, Louisiana band Potliquor had a single on the radio in LA titled “Cheer.” It had a good, bumpy rhythm, some great guitar work, a positive message and a vocal intensity. That’s what prompted me to call up Janus Records to arrange an interview with the band at the Whiskey A Go Go for my high school newspaper.

This was my first time going to the famous night club down on the Sunset Strip and it was Potliquor’s’ first trip to Los Angeles. I arrived early with friends and a photographer and was ushered upstairs to the Whiskey dressing room to sit and talk with drummer Jerry Amoroso. Meanwhile, the other members of the band jammed, Amoroso explained, on new tunes being written for the group’s next album. The dressing room was a wide-open, nondescript room with only a couple of couches and tall windows looking down onto the gritty, busy city street below. The room looked bigger than it really was thanks to a huge mirror on one wall. I was trying to act as cool as I could, considering this was my first rock and roll interview. I let my hair, normally tucked back, down over my ears but I had my shirt buttoned right up to the top.

After the interview, I joined my companions in a dark booth downstairs and caught the end of the opening set by Alex Richman, featuring a standard three-piece rock band along with two keyboardists. My only experience with a night club environment had been with friends in Phoenix, trying to see Cactus. We didn’t understand- we got there very early, endured a nondescript opening band and had to leave before Cactus took the stage. The Whiskey, however, was a famous rock and roll spot. On one wall of the club, nature films flickered and slides of pop culture images from TV shows such as MASH and Star Trek kept rotating. Potliquor cranked out a mixture of rock and roll and blues. Amoroso was in charge of a drum kit sporting double bass drums. He also sang lead vocals on a Little Richard tune and a version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” The dance floor filled up quickly and stayed that way throughout the rest of the night. One prominent dancer was a Hell’s Angel wearing his colors.

April 23, 1972- Inglewood Forum. Jerry Lockwood, Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker.

Robert Hilburn said it best in his review of Joe Cocker’s return to the concert stage in Los Angeles in 1972: “More than their voices, part of the strength of rock singers…is the matter of stage presence style and it was in this area- once his forte- that Cocker had trouble.” At the sold-out show at the Forum, two years after the success of his triumphant Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, Cocker had become a reticent and even shy performer who seemed ill at ease being in the spotlight again. Rather than throwing his whole body into the music, as he did to become what Hilburn called “the most exciting singer in rock music,” he clung to the microphone stand and pulled continuously at his hair. Gone were the uncontrollable physical movements that meant this singer was enraptured by the power and electricity of the moment.

It was popular knowledge that the 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour- which produced heaps of critical acclaim, a feature film and a hot double album that sired a top ten hit, “The Letter”- had devastating effects on Cocker. After hosting a “42 member communal touring company,” directed by Leon Russell, legend had it that Cocker was left broke and disenchanted. News from the beginning of Cocker’s comeback tour had not been good either- reports came that the audience at MadisonSquareGarden in New York booed the performer and even walked out on the show. In another report, Cocker supposedly threw up on stage. Still, Cocker’s fame as one of Woodstock’s most thrilling acts and an uncompromising stylist weighed heavily in his favor.

For me, the background information meant little. I was a Cocker fan, I loved his version of the old Boxtops tune, “The Letter,” and I had seen enough of him on television- dueting with Janis Joplin on one occasion- that the concert was a chance to see a rock great in action. Cocker’s show started out with “Black-Eyed Blues,” a tune from his new album, and even though his stage manner was obviously troubled, I was pleased to be seeing him. Other songs, including “High Time We Went” and, of course, “The Letter,” came and went. It was not until the end of the concert, when Cocker plowed through hits like “Feelin’ Alright,” “Cry Me A River” and “Hitchcock Railway,” that some of his magic returned, which prompted Hilburn to award the singer a “victory” in a “onetime champion’s return to the ring.” Recordings from this tour were released in 1976 as Live in LA.

Opening the show was singer-songwriter Jerry Lockwood, followed by a 55-minute set by Stevie Wonder. Wonder’s Music of My Mind album had just been released and his appearance with Cocker was one of several attempts by the quintessential soul performer to reach rock audiences. This would signal a change in Wonder’s music, from the clear-cut, melody driven radio hits of the past to a more aggressive, funky sound- “get it on rock-soul numbers,” as Hilburn put it. Wonder’s energy level was infectious and the final image of the blind performer jumping up and down while playing percussion was riveting. Wonder was still jumping as he was lead off stage and his efforts to introduce himself to new fans had worked as far as I was concerned. I was one rock fan who had just become a Stevie Wonder fan.

June 11, 1972- Inglewood Forum. Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones.

Going to see the Stones for the first time was like finally hitting the big time. In fact, a friend in Phoenix asked me later, “Well, how was it, seeing the big time?” Since the demise of the Beatles in 1970, the Stones had no clear challenger for the title of “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band,” except for maybe the Who. The Stones truly were the biggest band on the planet.

Robert Hilburn announced the new tour plans in a Los Angeles Times news article several months beforehand. He reported that there would be three area shows- at the Hollywood Palladium, the Forum and the Long Beach Arena- and that the band would include Bobby Keys on saxophone, Jim Price on trumpet and Nicky Hopkins on piano, “each of whom was on the group’s English tour last Spring.” The Stones specifically wanted to play the Palladium because they had seen a few concerts there- T. Rex and Chuck Berry. Hilburn also warned that getting tickets wasn’t going to be easy: “Because 37,000 seats for the Stones’ last local appearance (two Forum concerts in November of 1969) were sold in one day, the demand for June’s concerts is expected to be enormous.” The full page “Calendar” section ad for the tour was dramatic- a big jet airliner headed into a cityscape with a tongue and lips design on the tail fin.

We only got tickets because a friend was willing to ditch school. This was a sacrifice for him because his mother taught at the school and there would be trouble if he got caught. But he agreed to get the tickets if we could give him a ride. We had been into the ticket outlet several nights before the Stones tickets went on sale- to buy Led Zeppelin tickets- and the woman on duty agreed to hold some tickets aside for us. Of course, when our friend inquired, no one knew anything about it. Still, we got tickets for the Forum show anyway and they were prized possessions in a summer that would be a young concert-lover’s dream. At the beginning of the summer, I had tickets for the Stones, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, George Carlin, Led Zeppelin and more in my drawer.

The big day came and the electricity of the event started outside the Forum as the crowd was filing in. Preachers had positioned themselves with bullhorns right by the entrance ramps and insisted that the crowd was going to see Satan himself- Mick Jagger. People in the crowd good-naturedly mocked them, clutching their tickets and pushing insistently toward the door.

Inside, the excitement grew. Pot smoke filled the air and Stevie Wonder kicked in with his instantly funky energy. There was a story circulating at the time that having Stevie Wonder as an opener was a bit of sweetness for the Stones, who originally opened for Wonder on their first tour in America. Wonder’s set was similar to what we had seen earlier in the year at the Joe Cocker show, and the results were the same- rock fans being turned on to Wonder’s new boogie music.

The Stones were big and legendary and their production, headed up by the famous Woodstock staging mastermind Chip Monck, matched the image. Notably, they had huge video screens- state of the art- above the stage, at times dwarfing the real life figures on stage. The Stones’ new album, Exile on Main Street, had just been released and plenty of the new material mixed with the old. One of the most memorable tunes for me was “Sweet Virginia,” with Richards lazily leaning his foot on the monitor while the band swayed through their saucy take on American country music. Older songs in the show included “Brown Sugar,” the whole arena joining in on the “woo” parts, “Jumping Jack Flash” and my favorite, “Bitch.” The showstopper, however, was “Midnight Rambler,” Jagger whipping the stage with his belt. How was the big time? Full of everything a rock fan could want- excitement, sex, some social rebellion and a crowd unified in a common understanding that for this one night, anyway, this was the best party on earth.

June 17, 1972- Hollywood Bowl. New Riders of the Purple Sage, Grateful Dead.

The time finally came for me to see the Grateful Dead live. Living in California was like having the Dead as the house band and over the next several years I would see the Dead in a wide variety of venues. On several occasions I took the Greyhound Bus back and forth to Phoenix to visit friends. On one trip back, I wearily looked out the window as we started to get sucked into the LA metropolis and noticed that the semi truck rumbling along next to the bus had a huge skull design on the side. The Dead seemed to be everywhere.

In the Free Press, an LA alternative newspaper, writer Harley W. Lond called the Dead “the last of the underground rock bands.” My first time seeing the band that would set the highest standard for live American rock and roll was a thrill. My brother and I took a mutual girl friend that liked to dance.

The show started with a set by the New Riders of the Purple Sage. The band enjoyed instant acceptance with the Dead crowd because the New Riders’ first album featured steel guitar work by the Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Powerglide was the new album and the Bo Diddley beat of “Willie and the Hand Jive” got the crowd up and bumping to a sly, understated, yet insistent rhythm. Dancers gathered on either wing of the stage, hippie women twirling in their long skirts.

Meanwhile, an intense battle between security crew and audience members was brewing. Rough treatment of music fans by security staff at concerts was a hot issue at the time, but Lond suggested that there was real reason: “Los Angeles audiences are counted among the worst anywhere.”

Despite uncomfortable security situations, the main business of the concert was being fulfilled- an interaction between the audience and the Dead. Lond declared that “the sound bounces around the people and they move and glow and the Dead feed off it…They can channel enough energy to give birth to a world totally beyond themselves.” The group was back in America directly after the tour that produced the Europe ‘72 album, a three-LP live set that succinctly defined the Dead of the Seventies- a band with a big sound and a willingness to let the songs flow into each other. Tunes that day included “Sugaree,” “Casey Jones,” “Playin’ in the Band,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Not Fade Away,” “Goin’ Down the Road, Feeling Bad” and “Truckin’.”

For Lond, however, the real climax of the show came later with “The Other One,” as the Dead got lost in the “womb of their sound.” Lond also reported a few interesting details including that the Dead take for the night was $30,000, the Hollywood Bowl received 15% of the sales and the promoter walked away with $4-5000. Attendance was put at 12,000 spectators. The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium by Michael M. Getz and John R. Dwork reported that the Hollywood Bowl set list also included “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider.” According to the Compendium, this show was Pigpen’s last performance with the Dead and he was featured on “Rockin’ Pneumonia.” The song “Stella Blue” was also debuted.

June 25, 1972- Inglewood Forum. Led Zeppelin.

Part of the allure of Led Zeppelin was the ear splitting volume- the higher, the better without regard to aesthetics or safety. This was certainly the case at the Forum where the band fully pushed the envelope with dramatic blues and heavy, heavy rock.

Like at the Stones show, pot was absolutely everywhere. One guy we met had smuggled in a pound of pot, taped to his belly. The Led Zeppelin IV album had been released in 1971, but material such as “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Stairway to Heaven” was all considered untried compared to the crowd favorite, “Whole Lotta Love.” Most memorable during the evening was guitarist Jimmy Page’s grandiose exercise in showmanship, dramatically bouncing a bow on his guitar, the result echoing out of whatever corner he pointed to. Page’s double-neck guitar playing garnered just as much attention. Drummer John Bonham delivered an awesome version of “Moby Dick,” and John Paul Jones remained an enigmatic figure, playing bass and keyboards out of reach of the main spotlights.

Afterwards, some DJ was playing “Whole Lotta Love” on the radio as the crowd piled out onto the freeway. We had it turned all the way up- so that the speaker itself was rattling- but no one could really hear a thing over that pronounced ringing in the ears only Zeppelin could impose. My ears continued to ring for three more days.

By an incredible stroke of luck, recordings from this one and only Led Zeppelin concert I attended were released in 2003 on How the West Was Won, a companion audio disc to the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD. In his brief liner notes, Jimmy Page called this “Led Zeppelin at its best.” Thirty one years after attending the concert, I was able to listen to the music again, turning a ragged memory into something ultra real. On the recordings I could hear every nuance of music that wasn’t quite so clear in the Forum itself. But audio magic makes a long ago time live again: Led Zeppelin rose like a fiery Phoenix.

Led Zeppelin, on the recordings, prove that they were a super band, total masters of the blues-rock and rock and roll genres. Not only did they help design the rock that ruled in the 1970s, but they also were confident enough to be able to reach beyond it. The Forum recordings include plenty of Led Zeppelin’s most well worn material, including “Dazed and Confused,” “Moby Dick,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Bring It On Home.” But in this case, the familiarity bred a swaggering confidence and the desire to play around, explore and take a journey. Particularly “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love” were journeys in themselves. They segued in and out of song forms, spinning off into space and back. Jamming was still alive and well in 1972 and Led Zeppelin had turned guitar-based freeform music into an art. That included the long section of bowed guitar from Page and the use of a theramin, an electronic instrument that created atmospheric sound effects at the wave of a hand.

Though Led Zeppelin’s music was crammed full of Jimmy Page’s guitar sound, the other members were each mighty in their own way. Robert Plant, for example, successfully competed with the electric barrage coming from his three band mates with a voice that became a sex-drenched come on in “Black Dog,” plaintive and mellow during “That’s the Way” and playful and free during “Whole Lotta Love.” John Bonham, of course, drove the entire proceedings with his deep, thundering down beats, but also took a solo rhythmic excursion during “Moby Dick.” If drummers of years after had to work as hard as Bonham did at the Forum, there wouldn’t be as many bands. But also John Paul Jones supported everything Page did, particularly on “Black Dog” and “The Ocean.” It’s clear that all four parts of Led Zeppelin worked overtime and truly cranked out a powerful sound.

The mood was buoyant for the band at the Forum and Plant took the opportunity to fool around with his vocals. But Page won the prize for the most notes played. All in all it was a real work out just listening to the recordings. That feeling underscores how hard Led Zeppelin was working at the time. The recordings on How the West Was Won time out at more than 100 minutes. The set list was much longer. That means that this rock tour de force reached more than two hours of incredible musicmaking. Led Zeppelin’s members all demonstrated multiple skills and their list of songs allowed for a broad range of expression.

Indeed I would find out on the Internet that the concert was a favorite bootleg among Zeppelin fans. A review by writer David P of a bootleg copy of the Forum show revealed that Zeppelin fans like himself were in awe of the “passionate throng of Led Zeppelin followers” on the recordings. For him, “they were witness to Led Zeppelin’s true creative force and energy that some would argue would never be the same after this tour.”

The entire set list was also readily available on the Internet: “Immigrant Song,” “Heartbreaker,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Black Dog,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Going to California,” “That’s the Way,” “Tangerine,” “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp,” “Dazed and Confused,” “What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Dancing Days,” “Moby Dick,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Rock and Roll,” “The Ocean,” “Louie Louie,” “Thank You,” “Communication Breakdown” and “Bring It On Home.” The Forum show was part of a five-day swing through California, including dates in San Bernardino, San Diego, Berkeley and Long Beach. Recordings from the Long Beach show were also featured on How the West Was Won.

July 3, 1972- Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Claire Hamill, Eagles, Procol Harum.

While I was aware of Procol Harum’s 1967 hit song “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” it wasn’t until the success of their top 10 album, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, that I investigated the band more closely. That included collecting older releases such as the great album Broken Barricades, featuring guitarist Robin Trower. Trower was gone by this time, however, but Procol was enjoying a high-profile revival. This was not just a commercial revival, but also an artistic one. Robert Hilburn praised the band in his concert review in the LA Times for being an act that could “serve as a generator, a way to revive your spirits.”

Hilburn was thankful for Procol’s aesthetic values: “Procol Harum captures you with the majesty, range and beauty of its music.” Drummer BJ Wilson managed to give the proper power to “Simple Sister” even without Trower’s input, but the highlights of the show were the popular single from the live album, “Conquistador,” and the wistful sailor story, “A Salty Dog,” complete with sea gull sounds. Keyboardist and vocalist Gary Brooker’s ageless voice was full of a nearly measurable emotion that night. Procol also included songs from the new album, Grand Hotel, prompting Hilburn to call the band’s set “simply, a sensational performance.”

Opening the show was Claire Hamill, a bubbly, energetic singer-songwriter. She easily talked with the audience and her songs were upbeat and had character. Then, in an odd billing choice, the Eagles followed. The Eagles’ country rock did not agree with my taste for English progressive rock and I leaned back in my seat and tried to fall asleep. Hilburn wasn’t particularly impressed either, predicting that the Eagles’ “songwriting limitations will probably keep the group in the middle echelon of rock.” Still, Hilburn admitted that the LA-based quartet did “an extremely credible job” on Jackson Browne’s “Take It Easy” and Jack Tempchin’s “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”

July 10, 1972- Whiskey A Go Go. Chico Hamilton, John Mayall.

Two things prompted my return to the Whiskey. The first was being able to see John Mayall, whose 1969 album Turning Point, with Jon Mark and Johnny Almond, was a favorite at the time. I was delighted by the mouth percussion part on the song “Room to Move” and it was a pleasure to be introduced to the acoustic blues, no-drum-kit concept. But by this time, Mayall, of course, was beyond that “acoustic blues” phase and was into a fusion of blues and jazz. In fact, his 1971 album was titled Jazz-Blues Fusion, Mayall hiring some great jazz players to play beefed up arrangements. The second thing that brought me back to the Sunset Strip was the little tag on the ad in the LA Times that said “Recording Live.” The idea of actually witnessing the recording of an album was stimulating. The club was crowded, the sound was marginal and there was no fanfare about the recording. Still, some kind of musical history was being made.

We ended up in a seat in the very top corner of the club, almost looking straight down at the performers. To my surprise, a waitress asked me what I wanted to drink and when I sheepishly replied “red wine,” the nearby bartender said, “You better check his ID.” I looked nervously at the waitress and she told me just to show her anything. She made a show of looking over my high school ID, then got me a glass of wine- my first drink in public. I kept the glass as a souvenir.

Opening the show was jazz drummer Chico Hamilton, playing with a small combo and creating impressive rhythmic flourishes. Mayall’s band included Keef Hartley, Larry Taylor, Blue Mitchell and Freddie Robinson- and the stage at the Whiskey was jammed full. Also appearing was guest artist Cannonball Adderly, adding to the hard-edged, fast-paced quality of the music. Years later, I interviewed Mayall and he reported that the recordings with Adderly were faulty and didn’t make it onto the album. The rest of the evening was released by Polydor Records under the title of Moving On.

Moving On was almost the exact opposite of Turning Point. Instead of minimalist acoustic blues, this was thick, chunky music with plenty of room for all the instrumentalists to play. In his liner notes, Mayall explained that he scheduled the show at the Whiskey specifically to record an album release to accompany his Fall tour of the US. He brought along his Jazz-Blues Fusion crew and “decided to augment the lineup with a larger horn section.” That included Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Clifford Solomon on alto sax and Fred Jackson on baritone sax. Charles Owens played tenor and soprano sax and flute. Drummer Keef Hartley “came over from London to make the gig in the midst of working on his own new album.” Additionally, bassist Larry Taylor played electric bass in tandem with Victor Gaskin’s string bass playing. The brief introduction at the beginning of the set was made by Bill Cosby.

The power of the band at the Whiskey seemed to overshadow Mayall as a frontman. However, that was one of Mayall’s main skills- to put together great bands. In this case, he had so many excellent soloists on stage that it made sense to let them blow long and hard. Still, Mayall kept the music focused with his high, thin, piercing vocal parts, occasional harmonica solos and his steady keyboard work. Mayall’s songs retained character thanks to the autobiographical nature of the lyrics, but it was the instrumental work that was important on this occasion. Hartley’s drum work also served to anchor the group while giving the rhythms just enough swing to help turn blues into jazz.

But what really turned this music into jazz was the innovative soloing that the horn players turned in at the Whiskey. Owens, in particular, used each of his solo opportunities to create a torrent of notes, recalling the frantic aesthetic of the bee bop jazz artists- creating bee bop blues? His saucy soprano solo on “Worried Mind” and his flute work on “Christmas ‘71” were highlights of the set. The other horn players filled in the sound with short effective blasts of harmony. Watts turned in an especially impressive solo for “High Pressure Living,” getting lost in the jam of an intense potboiler.

The classiest soloist at the Whiskey, however, had to be Mitchell on trumpet. His solos on tunes like “Keep Our Country Green” and the title song, “Moving On,” were smooth and dynamic. Mitchell’s tone and attack were uniformly polished and he held back the number of notes in favor of a more mature kind of sound- notes crafted by melody and flow rather than speed. Robinson’s chording on guitar helped support Mayall’s keyboards. On occasion, he also let loose with a stylistic balance between less complicated riffs and a flurry of notes.

The bottom line for the gig at the Whiskey and the subsequent album release was that it was simply an excuse for the musicians to play. The audience also joined in on the fun. Several times throughout the recordings on Moving On, the crowd broke in with very enthusiastic applause. It had indeed been a hot night on the Sunset Strip. I remember hitting the street after the show. Despite traffic and the usual urban rumble, it seemed oddly calm. Like rock and roll, the jazz-blues fusion, in its flurry of notes, worked well at blowing the rest of the world away.

July 14, 1972- Inglewood Forum. Buddy Miles, Three Dog Night.

Though my personal musical taste was purposefully growing away from the world of hit singles, I still wanted to make a pilgrimage to see Three Dog Night. The desire went back to the years in Phoenix when my older brothers were going to concerts and I was not. I listened to the wildness on a cassette my brother Andy recorded on one trip to see Three Dog Night and it was finally my turn. The concert was a feast of pop rock and I remember dancing and singing along to the tunes- especially “Eli’s Coming”- until I was happily soaked in sweat. Buddy Miles opened the concert with a full show band including horns.

July 22, 1972- Universal Amphitheater. Jesus Christ Superstar

With creative staging illustrating the action, Universal Studios opened its outdoor amphitheater with a full stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The ads warned: “The Amphitheater is an outdoor theater so don’t forget to dress warmly.” Up above the Valley, with all the summer lights twinkling below, and with cool stuff happening on stage, the experience was so pleasant, I went back several times. By this time, Jesus Christ Superstar was “The Musical Sensation of the Seventies!” and Universal delivered a first rate production, complete with set pieces and costuming. The music remained lively while Pontius Pilate wheeled around the stage on a throne of skulls and Herod made the place jump with an irreverent ragtime tune. The rock and roll frivolity was balanced by very dramatic moments, including a dreamy simulation of Christ’s crucifixion. The show offered some religious reverence as well as dazzling entertainment, LA style. The original cast album was released on Decca Records. 

July 28, 1972- Long Beach Arena. Ramatam, Malo, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Rock music in the 1960s had put the electric guitar fully into the spotlight. With the development of what was being called “classical rock” in the 1970s, the keyboards enjoyed some renewed attention. One of the star keyboardists of the time was Rick Wakeman of the Yes. But the king was Keith Emerson, known as a flamboyant and articulate performer from his days with the Nice, then with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Drummer Carl Palmer came from the band Atomic Rooster and bassist/vocalist GregLake had been working with King Crimson. ELP had already produced two trippy albums full of mini-suite type compositions balancing piano excursions with rough-edged, otherworldly rockers. As a leading force in “classical rock,” ELP had also released a live version of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The latest release, however, was Trilogy, perhaps the band’s most radio-accessible work to date.

A vivacious girl I knew from school hooked up with us and sat on my lap for most of the show because our seats were great- 5th row. We were on Emerson’s side so I got a good snapshot of him when he crawled off the stage and walked down our aisle, shooting people rapid fire with his strip synthesizer. Emerson, dressed in a tight-fitting silver jump suit, also kicked his organ around and stabbed it with knives while it produced weird feedback. Palmer was fully surrounded by his drum kit and Emerson turned back and forth wildly between different sets of keyboards, sometimes playing both sides at once. The most memorable musical moments, however, were the slower, more melodic pieces such as “Take a Pebble” from the first record and the new single “From the Beginning,” pieces which featured Lake’s distinctive voice.

Opening the show was a “super group” formation called Ramatam. The band was notable particularly for featuring a female lead guitarist, April Lawton- certainly a rare thing in rock. The band also included Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell and guitarist Mike Pinera, formerly of Blues Image and Iron Butterfly. Malo followed with their Latin-inflected rock, featuring Jorge Santana, brother of Carlos, on guitar. Malo’s self-titled debut album and Dos had been well received and their live show was confident and powerful, working some of the same big band Latin rock- with lots of percussion- that Santana had pioneered.

July 29, 1972- The Troubadour. Goose Creek Symphony, Joy of Cooking.

Doug Weston’s Troubadour was a small club on Santa Monica Boulevard that had become famous as the top showcase nightspot in the LA area. Elton John, for example, had made his American performance debut at the Troubadour. For “One week only July 25-29,” the Troubadour was presenting Joy of Cooking and since there was no age limit- vitally important to a teenager interested in live music- it was an interesting alternative to the big concert halls. The Troubadour was certainly small, with a cozy upper level. This was not a concert hall, but a night club and there was a two-drink minimum, which we fulfilled by buying sodas. The draw for us was not Joy of Cooking, but the opening act Goose Creek Symphony. They had been a favorite since I’d heard them on Phoenix radio. They were rootsy, playing old-fashioned stuff, with wit and wisdom and a little bit of gospel. Under the leadership of Ed Gerhard, Goose Creek was as original and as American roots-oriented as the Band. On stage they looked a little scruffy- the country boys in the big city- and played with good humor. The song “Gerhard and God,” a down-home conversation between the songwriter and the deity, was particularly memorable.

I was much less familiar with Joy of Cooking. What we were treated to was a funky, groove-oriented R & B music prominently featuring two women performers- Terry Garthwaite and Terri Brown. The pace of the music was generally quick and upbeat and the object seemed to be to set up a situation where Garthwaite, with a funky kind of growl, and Brown, with a smoother, soothing vocal style, could scat and let their voices intertwine. The longer they sustained the interplay, the more the music gained intensity. Joy of Cooking’s final night of a five-night stand at the Troubadour was just that- cooking.

July, 1972- Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. Leon Russell.

Another return to the Coliseum- to see Leon Russell- confirmed that the best of times for rock and roll had gone in Phoenix. The atmosphere was still restrained and the new restrictions put into place by Coliseum authorities were accepted policy by now. Russell’s band was well seasoned by this time, almost workmanlike, but still stirred up rock and roll with revival fervor. With the greased ease of a working unit- still including stalwarts such as bassist Carl Radle and guitarist Don Preston- the show had become a familiar and sturdy touring revue. Sadly, though, instead of presiding over a meeting of the rock tribe, this was just a concert, people lined up in their seats and encouraged to stay there. Still, from some ten rows back on the floor, Russell’s show was inspiring. We couldn’t dance in the aisles, so we jumped up and danced on our chairs.

September 30, 1972- Valley Music Theatre. Dick Dale, Ike and Tina Turner.

The Valley Music Theatre was a strange-looking, dome-like building nestled neatly into a hillside on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills. Inside was a nondescript theater-in-the-round. The seating ringed around the stage and the stage itself revolved. Opening this show was surf guitar king Dick Dale, bleached blond and energetic by the very nature of surf rock- simple, upbeat rock and roll with some dramatic California flair. Then, Ike and Tina Turner took the stage and revved up their intense amalgam of soul and rock. The main focus on stage, of course, was Tina, flanked by two more vocalists. The women worked hard, singing and dancing, whipping up some real sweat on stage. I know, because I had a front row seat and the revolving stage broke down right in front of me. For the rest of the evening, Tina was shimmying not more than ten feet away. She drove an engine-hot version of the Beatles’ “Get Back” right through my chest. I remember at one point looking at the young black man sitting next to me. He looked back and both of our sets of eyes were wide, wide open. Ike played guitar back by the band, while the women entertained. Other memorable moments included Ike and Tina’s perennial showstopper, “Proud Mary.”

October 14, 1972- Santa Monica Civic. Doobie Brothers, T. Rex.

This was the first major mistake I made in concert going. Some friends had organized a trip to see David Bowie, but I opted to go see T. Rex instead. T. Rex was part of the glitter movement and “Bang A Gong” had been a favorite radio hit. Ushers handed out “The Slider” buttons, to promote the new album, as the audience was being seated and anticipation was running high. The Doobie Brothers opened the show with a clean, unassuming set, including their first radio hit “Listen to the Music.” T. Rex then followed and it became quickly apparent that guitarist Marc Bolan was in a bad mood. He looked puffy and snarled at the crowd, eventually threatening to leave the stage- the show unfinished- if the audience didn’t cheer louder. It was a pathetic example of showmanship. Added to this was the fact that members of the audience were pathetic too. Throughout the evening, the girl next to me kept screaming for “Telegram Sam.” Two songs after they played it, she turned to me and said “I sure hope they play ‘Telegram Sam.’” This was a case where the less-exotic Doobie Brothers were way more appealing than the pissed-off headliner, heaving his bulk around the stage in anger.

November 8, 1972- Hollywood Palladium. Wishbone Ash, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Hot Tuna.

Hot Tuna, a splinter group from the Jefferson Airplane featuring Jack Casady on bass and Jorma Kaukonen on guitar, played a strange mixture of heavy San Francisco rock and an odd kind of ragtime blues. “Keep On Truckin’” off the Burgers album was a radio hit in LA at the time and I went to the Hollywood Palladium to see the band with my Deadhead hipster friends from high school. However, I was not prepared for such an extended night. The concert opened with Wishbone Ash, an English band turning two harmonizing lead guitar lines into a flavorful trademark. Then the New Riders played their country rock, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead joining them for the encore, “Johnny B. Goode,” then a standard Dead number. I was so unhip then that I remarked how fun it was that Phil Lesh, the Dead’s bassist, had come out to play. My friends looked at me like I was crazy. By the time Hot Tuna came out, I was already beat. They turned the volume way up and all I could hear was Papa John’s screeching violin. The show drew on until two in the morning. To the chagrin of my companions, I spent the last half-hour of the show lying down on the floor, waiting for it to be over.

November 12, 1972- Santa Monica Civic. Tir Na Nog, Steeleye Span, Procol Harum.

The pleasure of seeing Procol Harum again had a lot more to do with knowing what I was headed for- a performance exhibiting an unusual amount of grace and pomp. This time, the excitement of discovery came from the opening acts. First up was an acoustic duo called Tir Na Nog- a new folk discovery playing a gentle, wistful music reminiscent of Donovan. I would end up seeking out and buying several of their import albums. Next came Steeleye Span, a group that I had been originally introduced to by a record dealer at the Simi Valley Swap Meet. I had obtained a copy of their record Please to See the King in a sack full of promotion records my father brought home from work. The music was rooted deeply in English folk traditions, mixing acoustic and electric sounds together to make a sound strangely modern yet patently ancient. Steeleye took the stage and stood in a line, a boudran the only rhythm instrument. The group won over the audience with their spirited delivery and keenly honed vocal harmonies.

December 5, 1972- Valley Music Theatre. BB King, Ray Charles.

My return to the Valley Music Theatre was at once a triumph and a disaster. Sound problems plagued headliner Ray Charles and helped create a disjointed set. Still, something special seemed to be happening. The opener was BB King, who took the stage with a full band- four horns, a grand piano, drums and bass. For me, the main attraction to BB King was from hearing the song “The Thrill is Gone” on the radio one melancholy afternoon. The mood of the recording fit the moment perfectly, combining the emotional solace of blues vocals with expressive, introspective guitar playing. The buzz was that King did not sing and play at the same time. It was true- King would sing, letting his guitar hang to the side, then he would reach over, pull the guitar into place and apply his fingers to the strings, playing lead parts that were full of natural sustain and stinging vibrato. King had become the blues player of choice- downbeat magazine and Guitar Player magazine had picked King as best blues player for three years in a row at this point- and his show kept the guitar playing up front.

The ads for the concert had pumped the evening as “the king of soul and the king of the blues together for the first time!” Seeing Ray Charles- a name I had heard but wasn’t real clear why- was a bonus for going to see BB King. Charles took the stage with his Raeletts and began an evening-long battle with sound difficulties. Charles had a full big band on stage and the revolving stage meant that the orchestra’s back was often all you could see. However, in the course of a set that leaned heavily on showband soul, one audience member was moved to yell “Play it like you feel, Ray Charles!”

The best surprise was when BB King came out at the end of the show to play guitar with Charles’ band. Seated only a few rows away from my seat, keyboardist Billy Preston- who had started in Charles’ band- also leapt out of the audience to join the soulful super group. They launched into “Everybody Must Get Stoned” but halted it mid way because Charles was told that “it wasn’t that kind of audience.” The evening basically ended in production chaos, but remains a memorable grouping of musicians. The Valley Music Theatre continued to promote shows, often presenting comedians such as Shecky Greene and Redd Foxx. Though I was tempted by one show- Woody Allen doing stand up comedy with singer-songwriter Jim Croce opening- I would not return. The theater eventually became a Jehovah’s Witness hall.