King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker
by Tim Van Schmidt
March 23, 1973- Hollywood Palladium. Ruben and the Jets, Frank Zappa.
The first concert of the year in 1973 was an evening with Frank Zappa. Zappa and his Mothers of Invention had achieved a reputation for outrageous recordings, oftentimes bordering on a kind of sardonic smut. The group’s live reputation also tended toward the outrageous thanks to the “gross out” challenge Zappa reportedly offered to the audience- he dared anyone to come on stage and gross him out. Legend had it that one guy jumped on stage and defecated. Zappa supposedly outdid the fan by picking it up and taking a taste. True or not, the atmosphere at the Hollywood Palladium- an old time ballroom type of venue- was one of nervous anticipation that just about anything could happen.
A band that was identified as Ruben and the Jets opened the concert. The group had been a pseudonym for Zappa and his partners in an album that glorified- with tongue fully in cheek- early rock and roll. The group on stage recreated the music as if they were truly the band in question- a strange bit of stage acting. Then Zappa himself arrived, with a new take on his brand of wacky, challenging progressive music. Leonard Feather, jazz critic for the Los Angeles Times, reported that “Frank Zappa’s new bag places less reliance on ugliness, less harping on the bizarre, with increased dependence on the inherent value of his music.” To help, Zappa’s band was full of experienced jazz players, including electric and acoustic keyboardist George Duke, from Cannonball Adderly’s band, trombonist Bruce Fowler, from Woody Herman’s group, and drummer Ralph Humphrey, from Don Ellis’ band. The line-up also included Ian Underwood on alto sax, clarinet and flute, Ruth Underwood on marimba and avant-garde French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. There were also some appearances by past Mothers, including vocalist Ray Collins, in a kind of LA homecoming for the group.
Feather’s review identified some of the pieces Zappa played that night- the opening number, “Redundant,” excerpts from “Uncle Meat,” a new number titled “Fifty Fifty” and “Dental Floss.” He also saw beyond the rock satire and jazz leanings: “The attractive voicings sometimes mirrored modern classical influence.” Although Feather admitted that Ponty “had some moments of sheer brilliance,” he also “lapsed into frantic, corny C & W lines.” Also according to Feather, Zappa played timpani, engaging in a long percussion battle with Humphrey, about two hours into the set. My most distinct memory of the night, however, was watching Zappa play his guitar. I saw by Zappa’s example that you could stroke the guitar with the pick using both up and down motions, doubling the rhythmic quality of the playing and the lead line potential- a revelation for a young guitarist just barely able to play chords.
March 25, 1973- Inglewood Forum. Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young.
Neil Young’s return to LA, following his famous Dorothy Chandler Pavilion shows two years earlier, was announced with a striking newspaper ad- a flying V guitar set into the body of an open grand piano. Opening the show was Linda Ronstadt, formerly from a band called the Stone Ponys. Her short set placed her well within the burgeoning country-rock scene, her strong voice achieving full power over an electric band.
Young then came on stage at the Forum to play a handful of acoustic tunes, including “SugarMountain” and “Tell Me Why.” Then a four-piece back-up group consisting of steel guitar, bass, drums and piano joined him. The concert continued with tunes such as “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold,” both from the best-selling new Young album, Harvest. Young switched to electric guitar and performed “Time Fades Away” and “Look Out Joe.”
During the course of the concert, Young grew more and more irritated with fans in the crowd who kept yelling out requests. Young took it as rudeness and stopped the show momentarily to admonish those who insisted on interrupting. Then, the crowd was treated to one of those great rock and roll surprise moments when both David Crosby and Graham Nash joined Young on stage. Together, they performed “Southern Man,” and “Alabam”- all fully electric and fully powerful. The encore maintained the energy with “Are You Ready for the Country?” and “Cinnamon Girl.” It was clear that Young was turning away from the guise of the fragile singer-songwriter and had taken on a more robust, rockier role.
For many of the concerts I went to in the early years, I was accompanied by one or both of my brothers, who both were allowed to drive the LA freeway system. While both of them were in college, my parents had taken it on themselves to drive. Later they would reveal to me why they were so willing. I had gotten into a little trouble- I got caught shoplifting at a store in the mall- and my parents decided that if rock and roll was something I was interested in, then they would try to keep me active. I would go to shows with friends on occasion, but I was also willing to go by myself. I distinctly remember my parents driving me to the Neil Young show. They dropped me off, then went to go have dinner somewhere. Later they came back to pick me up at a prearranged spot. They told me that they didn’t mind waiting because they were so amused with watching the crowd, longhaired and decked out in concert fashions, pour out of the Forum and file past the car. I’m glad they got something out of the concert experience too.
April 18- Santa Monica Civic, 1973. Kris Kristofferson.
Wednesday- This was the first night of a five night concert spree- not an easy feat in the LA area for a teenager still unable to drive. It started with an all-star songwriter’s night featuring Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson was a country-oriented performer whose work managed to attract an older and more sophisticated rock audience. His songs reflected a rock attitude towards police and hypocrisy in such originals as “Jesus Was a Capricorn” and “Blame It On The Stones” but one of his most popular songs was the introspective, countryish ballad “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Most memorable in Santa Monica was Kristofferson’s famous tune, “Me and Bobby McGee,” popular thanks to a hit version by Janis Joplin. Kristofferson’s version was slower, more purposeful, maybe a little bluesy and certainly full of melancholy. Throughout the evening, Kristofferson also dueted with vocalist and wife Rita Coolidge- who achieved notoriety during Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour- and jammed with guests such as Al Kooper on keyboards and Doug Sahm on guitar.
April 19, 1973- Troubadour. Steve Martin, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks.
Thursday- I returned to the Troubadour for the jazzy western swing music of Dan Hicks, famous for his tune “I Scare Myself.” However, I wasn’t in the mood for the comic antics of new comedian Steve Martin. During his short opening set, he did it all- the balloon bending and the arrow through the head gags. It occurred to me later that the overwhelming dumbness of the act was exactly why it was funny. At the time, however, I was not amused and I couldn’t wait until he left the stage. I was relieved when he did, only to have Martin continue his show from the sound booth up above the crowd.
Dan Hicks and his band, including several stylish female back-up singers, took the stage and Hicks was a little bit surly. After taking a drink in between songs, an audience member asked “Whatcha drinking Dan?” to which he replied “None of your fucking business.” Hick’s music, however, was cooler than his personality, working off the interplay between the voices- male and female- and the light, syncopated rhythms of the instrumental arrangements.
April 20, 1973- Long Beach Arena. Kenny Rankin, George Carlin.
Friday- In much the same way that Country Joe McDonald’s “Fish Cheer” at Woodstock would become famous for its audacity, so did George Carlin’s dirty word rant, “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV.” You wanted him to perform it just to hear him challenge the boundaries of language in public. Unlike Steve Martin, Carlin was the comedian of the counterculture, referring to drugs and alternative lifestyle choices in his madcap monologues. It was especially impressive that the Long Beach Arena was full to hear a single comedian rave. But more, they wanted to join in the fun. During his “Seven Words” bit, Carlin mused about the word “tits,” which he claimed sounded like a snack food. He listed a few possibilities- like “wheat tits, cheese tits, and corn tits.” Then someone hollered out “barbecued tits,” which Carlin quickly added to the list. Opening was gentle, unassuming singer-songwriter Kenny Rankin.
April 21, 1973- Anaheim Convention Center. Steely Dan, Bread.
Saturday- “Reeling in the Years” was a current hit on the radio when I saw Steely Dan open for Bread in Anaheim. After spending a full day at Disneyland, it seemed natural to get tickets for the concert occurring right across the street, even though Bread was just a little too “soft” for me. Steely Dan was a pleasant surprise, performing multi-layered pop tunes, not having yet developed their smoother, more jazzy style.
Bread, fronted by songwriter and vocalist David Gates, spent the evening playing hits, including “If,” “Make It With You,” and their current release at the time, “Guitar Man.” Gates talked with the crowd in a conversational tone in between numbers and, at one point, explained that his most popular love song, “If,” was really about his relationship with his father. Though Bread’s music was both sensitive and romantic, my date was not and we did not go out a second time. Bread would break up in 1973.
April 22, 1973- Long Beach Arena. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Sha Na Na.
Sunday- This was the first time I remember getting drunk on alcohol at a show. One of our friends worked in a 7-11 and so he bought a big gallon jug of Gallo wine, took it out the back door and we set off to Long Beach, waiting to gulp down the wine until we got into the parking lot. Under the influence, I could swear that Commander Cody was playing his hit “Hot Rod Lincoln” without his guitar being plugged in. Sha Na Na then took the stage with manic, campy energy. The group, a popular act at Woodstock, had made an art out of reviving classic Fifties rock and roll and pop music with tongue fully in cheek. Sparkling gold costuming, dramatic posturing in the spotlight and the innocent quality of the music combined to create a good time that was hard to criticize. The next morning it was back to school.
May 12, 1973- Long Beach Arena. New Grass Revival, Leon Russell.
When we went to this show, we were going once again for the rabble-rousing Leon Russell who had sparked up Joe Cocker’s music and the Bangladesh concert. The opening act, however, was the New Grass Revival, playing a heavily bluegrass oriented music. In a big concert setting, the complexities of the music were lost and it sounded like just so much strumming- not really to the taste of rockers ready to roll. Russell, however, delivered the rabble-rousing part with his full showband and a fistful of hit material, especially rocking on the “Jumping Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley that had worked so well at the Bangladesh show. Russell had mastered the art of rocking an arena and was now so strong and confident as a performer that it almost seemed that the emotional revival he had originally offered was now just show business. Or maybe that emotional release was just no longer a surprise.
May 18, 1973- Santa Monica Civic. Shawn Phillips.
A friend in Phoenix had introduced me to Shawn Phillips, a Texas singer-songwriter who had played sitar for Donovan. Legend had it that Phillips had built a collapsed lung back up with yoga and that he had achieved an amazing vocal range as a result. On record, Phillips made a progressive acoustic-based music that bridged art rock with folk music. On stage, his palette was broad, ranging from intense solo acoustic tunes to full band workouts.
The Civic was hardly half full for Phillips’ concert and without delay, he invited everyone in the room to move closer to the stage. James Brown, of the LA Times, called Phillips “one of rock’s knights of the anonymous” and reported that “even the empty seats seemed to be enjoying themselves.” Musically, Brown recognized that Phillips’ vocals, first and foremost, were an ever-changing thing: “Phillips’ voice here is a whisper evolving into a siren-like roar at the slightest tension.” Phillips began with an acoustic set- just the man with his long hair tied back, a friendly, affable charm and a semi-circle of a variety of guitars. Then he was joined on stage for a second set by a band that included Tony Walmsley on guitar, Barry DeSouza on drums and Peter Robinson, who had played on the original Jesus Christ Superstar album, on keyboards. Brown described the ensemble as a unit capable of making music that was “lyrical, whimsical, and often entering the realm of pseudo-science fiction- just for the sport of it.”
For fun, I took along a camera and tried to take some photos. Unfortunately, the only way to expose the film in the concert darkness was to hold the shutter open manually and my pictures came back severely blurred. Still, they did reflect the colorful array of lighting that accompanied the performance- pinks, purples and yellows, creating an aura around Phillips, making him glow as if he was going to beam into outer space.
At the time, I was a subscriber to the great jazz magazine downbeat and to my surprise, the magazine later ran a review of the Civic concert. Writer Eric Gaer quoted Phillips as he explained how hard it was for a working singer-songwriter to produce commercial material: “There is no way you can recreate a great day that lasts 12 hours in 3 min. 20 sec.” Gaer also praised Phillips’ vocal skills at “creating orchestral-like sounds.” Phillips, on double-neck Gibson 6-string and 12-string, performed “Moonshine,” his voice rising “from a whisper to a booming crescendo.” The encore was “Parisian Plight” and Gaer was once again impressed with Phillips’ versatility: “Creating sounds of a saucy French horn, clarinet, flute and finally a trombone, Phillips captivates his audience totally.”
May 25, 1973- Hollywood Palladium. Foghat, Johnny Winter.
I grew to love the concert ads in the LA Times. They were lively invitations to upcoming happenings- band pictures and graphics mixed with show information. There was always something new and exciting each week in the “Calendar” section.
My favorite newspaper ad was for a concert by Johnny Winter. The wild, albino blues-rock guitarist was leaning over his guitar, white hair spreading out around him as he looked intensely outward. The ad said “Only So. California Appearance” and I knew what I had to do. Johnny Winter was one of my brother’s favorites, the three-sided album Second Winter getting a lot of play time. For his birthday, I created a ruse. When the Winter show was announced, I told him that we already had tickets for a Procol Harum concert- a show on the same night- down in Anaheim. He was bummed not to see Winter, but was consoled that at least we would see Procol again. As we drove down the freeway, I had him get off at the Palladium exit and then revealed the surprise- that we really were going to see Johnny Winter. At this show, Winter was more than just Still Alive and Well, the new album at the time. The white haired guitarist was all over the stage in a flashy outfit and no mercy, raunchy guitar solos.
Richard Cromelin of the LA Times saw that for Winter “the fierceness and power of his playing and the inescapable charisma of his presence…were twin components of the incredibly fast-moving, uncomplicated display of rock ‘n’ roll fireworks.” Between originals like “Rock and Roll Hootchie Coo,” or intense covers such as “Jumping Jack Flash,” Winter seemed to be “sucking the music from the guitar with his fingers.” Cromelin insisted that while Winter was not known as a great singer, he had earned respect for guitar work that “unflinchingly creates an invigorating, piledriving emotional thrust.” According to Cromelin, the high energy presentation was aided by the “sparkle of the costuming” and Winter’s “regal, pale appearance.”
Several years after the concert, I found a bootleg copy of the show in a record store in Seattle. I was impressed, but I didn’t buy it. On the Internet in 2003, I found the track listing for the bootleg, Live Hollywood, on Pig’s Eye Records: “Rock Me Baby,” “Can You Feel It,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hootchie Coo,” “Black Cat Bone,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Too Much Seconal,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Crossroads” and “Roll Over Beethoven.”
The opening band for the night was Foghat, who were enjoying radio time for their grungy version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” They were playing the hit just when I had to take a restroom break- bad timing for me.
June 23, 1973- Hollywood Bowl. Guitar Explosion: Mary Osbourne with Jim Hall, Robben Ford, T-Bone Walker, Shuggie Otis, Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass with Herb Ellis, Roy Buchanan.
Right along with listening to rock and folk music, I was also listening to jazz. I had started with jazz fusion- checking out records by electric guitarists such as Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin- but needed an education on more traditional styles. The opportunity came when promoter George Wein attempted to bring the famous Newport Jazz Festival- at least the concept- to the West Coast. It was an ambitious plan that provided young music lovers like me with an opportunity to check into jazz. Scheduled from June 17-24, the “1st Annual Newport Jazz Festival West” featured shows at a variety of venues such as the Santa Monica Civic, colleges and a park in Watts. I chose to go to two shows at the Hollywood Bowl.
The first show was an afternoon program called “Guitar Explosion.” The festival program said “you don’t have to be a genius to know this is the age of guitar. But what isn’t generally understood is that we are entering the age of jazz guitar…Just as the instrument led the re-birth of rock and roll in the Sixties, so it is leading into a new awareness of jazz in the Seventies.” Wisely, festival promoters mixed jazz players with rock and blues players for a stellar line-up to ensure that, as the program stated, “there are just as many young people in the audience as there are longtime jazz buffs.” I was one of them. This was the first time I remember being able to drive to a concert. I drove to a parking lot in North Hollywood- so I didn’t have to go on the freeway- and took a shuttle bus over to the Bowl. It was a hot, sunny day and the players filed on and off stage quickly and easily.
The most recognizable name on the bill for me wasn’t a jazz player at all. Roy Buchanan was a rock player who had achieved a huge reputation even though he rarely played outside of his home area in Washington, DC. The bio in the program revealed that Buchanan had taken up the guitar at age five and had his own trio, working in bars, at age nine. Most notably, the Rolling Stones were said to have asked him to join the group after Mick Taylor left, but he declined in deference to staying with his family. At the Hollywood Bowl, I remember his set as the most powerful of the day, in volume if nothing else. Particularly, I remember a very intense version of “Hey Joe” and an observation about his guitar playing: on occasion, Buchanan would be ripping through a lead solo without using his pick hand at all- no strumming, no picking, just fingers pressing down on the fretboards, notes flying. LA Times critic Leonard Feather, however, found Buchanan out of place in the festival: “Buchanan’s heavy, heart-on-gut playing and singing seemed crude.”
Feather wasn’t all that sympathetic towards the blues players of the day, either. For him, T-Bone Walker performed “as if his mind were somewhere else.” Shuggie Otis, son of blues revue leader Johnny Otis, “threw away” his opportunity to impress the audience. Robben Ford, at 21 years old, vocalized “with more energy than quality.” Feather didn’t seem to like blues or rock very much.
What Feather did like, however, was the work of the jazz players that afternoon. Herb Ellis, a staff guitarist for the Merv Griffin Show, teamed up with JoePass and the pair were “incredibly deft in their weaving of two-guitar counterpoint.” Jim Hall was “tasteful and intimate.” Barney Kessel moved from a “post-Charlie Christian to a meditative East Indian mood.” Kenny Burrell offered a “needed change of pace” by playing two tunes on classical acoustic guitar. Mary Osbourne, the only woman performer that day, applied a “crisp sound and fleet style” to tunes like “Take the A Train” and “Soft Winds,” also adding vocals to “You’ve Changed.”
June 24, 1973- Hollywood Bowl. Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Mann w/ David Newman, Charles Mingus, BB King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Billy Paul.
The next night I returned to the Bowl for the final event of the festival. I was particularly attracted by two names- Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Mann. I had heard Gillespie’s name often, but didn’t know anything about his music. I had listened to some Herbie Mann records. Perhaps because of my early interest in Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson’s dramatic flute playing, I was open to the idea of a flute being the lead instrument. Mann’s music was cool and melodic- easy to listen to. I didn’t really know who Charles Mingus was; I had recently seen BB King, so I knew what to expect from him; and I had no real interest in the soul acts, which I considered a little too commercially oriented.
Gillespie made for a striking figure on stage, with his sideways horn and bulging cheeks. In his LA Times review of the show, Leonard Feather was complimentary to Gillespie’s efforts: “His three chorus solo on “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” was a masterpiece of form, warmth, sensitivity and imagination.” Gillespie’s band included Mike Longo on piano, Al Gafa on guitar, Earl May on bass and Mickey Roker on drums. Following Gillespie was Charles Mingus. I remember watching the great bass player leaning over the instrument while a cacophony of sound came from the stage- fast and furious. Feather stated that the quintet combined “chaotic freedom sounds” with “themes and solos in the hard bop vein.”
Then BB King’s band took the stage, impressive in a bigger setting. The strongest memory of this set was not the guitar playing, but King’s vocals on the song “That’s Why I Sing the Blues.” Feather noted King’s “mischievous, finger-wagging delivery” and the crowd responded warmly. Herbie Mann followed, bringing David “Fathead” Newman on stage with him. Feather saw this as savvy showmanship: “Their two-flute unison lines and back-to-back solos work well.” The mood at the Bowl was low key and pleasant.
Then the Hollywood Bowl came alive. Gladys Knight and the Pips took the stage and took charge with slick choreography and upbeat arrangements of songs like “Neither One of Us.” Feather saw the sea change in the concert and reported that jazz “took a back seat to soul.” Armed with only a current popular hit, “Me and Mrs. Jones,” soul crooner Billy Paul closed the evening anticlimactically, especially after the spirited showmanship of Knight and the Pips. Feather also reported that producer George Wein admitted that the Newport Jazz Festival West had lost a substantial amount of money. That was business. In two days, this fan had seen fourteen acts and gotten closer to jazz- along with good doses of rock and soul too.
June 29, 1973- Universal Amphitheater. Grateful Dead.
After a successful summer run of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972, the Universal Amphitheater announced its first pop music season in the summer of 1973. Other acts included John Denver and War, but the opener was the Grateful Dead, clocking in for three sold-out nights. The amphitheater seated only 5,200 and boasted that no seat was farther from the stage than 140 feet. This insured intimacy with the performers. A friend was visiting from Phoenix and we got tickets to the first and third nights of the run. My friend and his buddies back in Phoenix had had success getting autographs from the band King Crimson by sending them some paper, a pen and self-addressed stamped return envelope. So in preparation for the Amphitheater shows, we sent some artsy postcards and our request for autographs to the Dead, hoping to get an answer. Of course, that was unrealistic for a band as hip and unapproachable as the Dead.
In the LA Times, Robert Hilburn called the Grateful Dead a “rare property in rock” in that their music had developed into a “relaxed, purposeful, country-flavored rock that is so rich in design and delivery…that it can continue three to four hours or more…without tiring its audience.” Hilburn also recognized the kind of insider camaraderie of the crowd: “You sense most of the people in the audience have seen the Dead before and that they will see them again.” I joined the celebration, dancing for the fun of it.
An uncredited writer in the Valley News and Green Sheet in Van Nuys also reviewed the shows at the Amphitheater and gave some song title details: “Starting out with a burst of energy, the group just continued to build momentum through such tunes as ‘Mexicali Blues,’ ‘Sugaree’ and the old Marty Robbins classic ‘El Paso’….After a 40-minute jam reminiscent of the Dead of the 1960s, the band broke into a rousing version of ‘Sugar Magnolia.’” The encore was “One More Saturday Night.” The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium also reported this sequence of material: “He’s Gone”-“Truckin’”-“The Other One”-“Space”-“Morning Dew.” My friends and I noticed that Jerry Garcia had shaved off his beard and joked that he had cracked it with a smile.
July 1, 1973- Universal Amphitheater. Grateful Dead.
The third Dead night at the Amphitheater was our occasion to party. We hadn’t made any special arrangements two nights before because we knew we had another Dead show coming up. So through our connection at the 7-11, we bought a six-pack of malt liquor to enjoy during the concert. I volunteered to put the six-pack under the extra shirt I was carrying in the naïve idea that it was hidden. Luckily, when it was my turn to go through the turnstile, the security person turned his back to search someone else, so I slipped on by unnoticed. Pleased, I kept the supplies under my seat and prepared to enjoy the show. The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium reported this sequence of songs: “China Cat”-“Truckin”-“Drums”-“Other One”-“Warf Rat”-“Me and Bobby McGee”-“Feedback.” Phil Lesh’s feedback sequence was the most powerful moment of the night. The weird, unpredictable noise stopped all the dancing and created a space and time of its own- a skill that only the Dead (and maybe some jazz guys) seemed to possess.
A side benefit to going to Disneyland often was the chance to see a variety of performers- like the slick, choreographed soul band the Spinners, or the Hispanic rock band El Chicano, who scored a minor hit with Van Morrison’s “Brown-eyed Girl.” Performers appeared at scheduled times at various Disneyland stages- all part of the price of admission. On one instance, I watched Buddy Rich play, his face churning as he kept beat for some traditional show band jazz. The best concert I didn’t see was Duke Ellington- I waited and waited at the stage for the show to start, but finally had to meet the family or miss my ride back to the Valley.
July 8, 1973- Hollywood Palladium. ZZ Top, Michael Bloomfield and Friends featuring Mark Naftalin, Doobie Brothers.
On occasion, the circumstances surrounding an evening can overwhelm the musical experience. That was the case for this show at the Palladium. My friend from Phoenix was still visiting and we were just looking for something to do. I had seen the Doobie Brothers before and they were acceptable. Michael Bloomfield was a respected guitarist who had been in the Butterfield Blues Band and was a featured performer on the famous Super Session album, also featuring Al Kooper and Stephen Stills. ZZ Top was unknown to us. What was also unknown to us was how uncomfortable the concert would be. We should have taken a tip from the concert ad, which warned: “Drug/Alcohol Laws Enforced.”
The first thing that happened after we pulled up to a parking spot on top of a garage right next to the Palladium was that an unmarked car came screaming around the corner and pulled up behind us. Two guys got out, showed us their guns and told us to line up to be frisked. They told us that there had been a lot of trouble in the area recently and they were looking for weapons. We were suspicious of their authority, especially when they took a little too long frisking one of our friends. The “cops” split and we went down to go in to the show. There, they were handing out leaflets that said: “Notice 1. Long haired undercover police drop in frequently. We suggest that you be careful. 2. Persons smoking pot, consuming drugs or possessing liquor bottles will be asked to leave with no refund. Thank you for your cooperation.” The double whammy of being needlessly frisked, then put on edge with stern warnings didn’t feel like cooperation.
Still, the concert went on. ZZ Top proved to be very adept at getting down to rock and roll business. Their music was lean, loud, direct and grungy. I would seek out their album Texas Mud as a result. Bloomfield and his band, featuring pianist Mark Naftalin, formerly of Quicksilver, ended up playing a straight guitar rock, providing limited musical adventure.
The Doobies had gotten bigger since I had seen them open for T. Rex in 1972. Stage smoke filled the air and lights flashed. The band had a new drummer and a more ambitious presence. It looked just like the stage picture that ended up on the cover of the album What Once Were Vices Are Now Habits. For me, the most memorable musical moment during this show was actually between sets. I had not listened to Yes since The Yes Album and it was a treat to hear “And You and I,” from Close to the Edge, with its positive, assuring tone, over the loudspeakers. Those positive vibes were rare elsewhere on this evening.
July 12, 1973- Santa Monica Civic. Frampton’s Camel, Electric Light Orchestra.
The final show my Phoenix friend and I took in during his visit was at the Santa Monica Civic, the venue I had by then identified as my favorite place to see a concert in the LA area. The headliner was Electric Light Orchestra, a band my friend had already seen and highly endorsed. But first, guitarist Peter Frampton opened the show with his band Frampton’s Camel. We knew Frampton from Humble Pie but weren’t aware of his solo music. What we discovered was a clean, tight rock with smooth vocals and melody mixed with dramatic guitar breaks. Frampton was a pleasant surprise. His guitar tone yielded plenty of clarity while maintaining just enough edge. Most impressive was a version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe When I Fall in Love, It Will Be Forever.”
ELO then took the stage and I was transfixed by their highly powerful, electric sound. Yes, the band included strings, but this wasn’t “classical rock” in the sense that they were adding classical sounds to rock. Instead this was using classical instruments to create rock sounds, heightening the tension and emotion with new, full musical layers. The hit “Roll Over Beethoven” blatantly twisted classical themes into a raging rock and roll performance. The old Move song “Do Ya” also rocked hard. Most powerful that night, however, was the song “Kuiama,” a highly emotional piece that rose with dramatic intensity, fell back, then rose again. I was impressed. At the final climactic moment of the song, my friend standing next to me suddenly convulsed and fell back into his chair. At first, I thought he was just knocked out by the music, as I was. But after a few seconds, I noticed that he wasn’t surfacing normally. He came to and later we could only trace his problem to a joint he had bought from someone in the crowd. His wiring simply went crazy just when ELO struck that final, mighty chord.
July 22, 1973- Inglewood Forum. Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull.
My brother and I would join nearly 75,000 other people in seeing Jethro Tull during an unprecedented four-night stand at the Forum. This show was a grand and ambitious production that featured, first of all, Tull’s latest album, A Passion Play. Programs, including the words to Anderson’s new extended composition, were passed out to the audience as they were seated and the set began with a white dot flashing on a huge screen in front of the stage. Eventually the dot turned red and a ballerina came to life on the screen and jumped through a mirror, signaling Tull’s arrival.
LA Times rock reviewer Robert Hilburn greeted Tull’s attempts with a tough, guarded attitude. Forty minutes of A Passion Play, twenty minutes of Thick As A Brick and hit selections from Aqualung made him admit: “There were…moments of high style and imagination…but there were also some moments of extremely tedious music.” Hilburn preferred the “punchier, crisper, more concise pieces” from Aqualung and suggested that “Anderson remains a talented, serious, imaginative artist, but his extended works need more easily identifiable, engaging themes and varied musical elements.”
For the audience, who had reportedly paid upwards of $400,000 to see the band, the concerts were a feast. This was heightened by an energetic opening set by Steeleye Span, who had recently added a drummer to help underscore their electrification of traditional English folk songs. Steeleye, who had been so strong on stage at the Civic with Procol Harum in 1972, now had a big sound that truly filled the arena. Vocalist Maddy Prior’s fashion, a long dress, also worked well, because even audience members in the upper levels of the arena could clearly see her dance, her skirt twirling around. Tull, with film, special settings and Anderson’s frantic dominance of the stage, was big and bombastic.
August 18, 1973- Santa Monica Civic. Judy Collins.
Seeing Judy Collins was like seeing the exact opposite of Tull. Known for her sweet, clear voice, Collins and her band created a careful and purposeful music. I had become acquainted with Collins’ music through her album Whales and Nightingales, which included real recorded whale sounds mixed with Collins’ pure soprano voice. Instrumentalist Eric Weisberg was part of the band at the Civic and the show paused long enough for him to perform his tune “Dueling Banjos,” popular because of the film Deliverance. The audience responded with hoots and hollers. Otherwise, the evening belonged Collins’ voice and her graceful stage presence.
Mid-August, 1973- Hollywood Bowl. Shakespearean Benefit.
My interest in music- and show business in general- had broadened my horizons beyond rock and I was looking for opportunities to see new and different shows. For example, I made a return trip to the Hollywood Bowl to see a showcase benefit for the LA area Shakespearean group, Free Shakespeare. The event was called “A Shakespeare Cabaret” and the draw for me was seeing Alice Cooper perform. Dressed totally in black, Cooper stepped up and sang “Guttercat vs. the Jets,” inspired by West Side Story, which had been inspired by Romeo and Juliet. But also appearing on stage were the actors from the TV series The Waltons– who arrived on stage on horseback- as well as Werner Klemperer, known as Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes, who did a dramatic reading. Roddy MacDowell, wearing his Planet of the Apes makeup, sang a duet with Jean Simmons. Also appearing was Glenn Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan, who did the introductions. At the end of the show, all the contributors took the stage for a group hug and bows, Cooper staggering around on stage with a beer in his hand, awash in TV stars.
August 26, 1973- Hollywood Bowl. Jackson Browne, America.
My final trip to the Hollywood Bowl was to see two strong singer-songwriter acts, both of which leaned more toward folk, rock and even pop rather than country. Jackson Browne opened the show. He was first known as a songwriter, then established a recording career that produced his first hit in 1972, “Doctor My Eyes.” Browne also co-wrote the Eagles’ hit “Take It Easy” and had released his second album, For Everyman, in 1973. His live sound faithfully replicated the recorded sound and Browne’s voice had a soothing quality, yet lent itself to being heard even over a full band in the Bowl environment. Many years later, Browne’s guitarist, David Lindley, told me in an interview that his favorite memory from this show was meeting comedian Robin Williams backstage.
Headlining was America, who had seemed to come from nowhere just the year before with their Neil Young-ish hit “Horse With No Name.” Armed with two more hits, “I Need You” and “Ventura Highway,” America worked the same ground as Browne with memorable melodies, harmonies and interesting lyrics. Though lighter in fiber than Browne, America’s songs nonetheless pleased. The image of driving down the Ventura Highway on a sunny day with the breeze blowing back your hair, was a rich fantasy. The evening climaxed with guest appearances by Joe Walsh and Don Henley, from the Eagles. Walsh and group performed a raucous version of “Rocky Mountain Way” to cap off the night.
August 31, 1973- Santa Monica Civic. Little Feat, Focus.
My days in Canoga Park were now numbered, and my final LA concert before moving to the Pacific Northwest was at the Santa Monica Civic. Little Feat opened and seemed out of place next to the headliner, progressive Dutch band Focus. Little Feat’s music was earthy and groove-oriented, perhaps soulful, but not the least bit flashy. Flash is what Focus provided, playing their instruments at breakneck speed. The fiery guitar work of Jan Akkerman supported the vocal antics of keyboardist Thijis Van Leer, their music at times on the edge of control, a manic kind of rock fusion. Focus was riding the progressive rock wave with their hit “Hocus Pocus” and while that number was an extreme example of what the band was capable of, it still aptly illustrated their virtuosity and provided something else- a sense of humor. Focus also performed some grand melodic pieces, but it was the fast stuff that satisfied.
November, 1973- Paramount Northwest. Section, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Thanks to my dad’s job, our family once again moved- this time to Bremerton, Washington, a naval shipyard with ferry access to Seattle. After rocking and rolling in LA, being stuck out in the trees in Washington seemed like solitary confinement. We lived outside of Bremerton and I actually had to take a school bus to my new high school in the little town of Silverdale. This was my senior year and it seemed ignoble to have to ride the bus when in the Valley I had my own car and much more freedom of movement. However, the atmosphere in Washington- with lots of green and lots of moisture- was somehow soothing to teenage angst. I enjoyed being in Washington.
Access to live music, however, was limited by my situation. A regional band named Chinook came to the school to play, but for anything bigger, you had to board the ferry, travel across the sound for an hour or so, then land along the waterfront near Pike’s Street Market and downtown Seattle. It was especially convenient to grab some fish and chips on the waterfront before hiking up into the city. I finally organized a trip with a new friend to see the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The show was at the Paramount Northwest, an old style theater that had become the city’s main music hall. I went to the Paramount often in the year that I lived in Bremerton.
The Section, a cadre of seasoned studio musicians, opened the show with no-nonsense rock jamming- just theme, chorus and soloing, like jazz players. Then Mahavishnu John McLaughlin took the stage and asked for a minute of silence. His request was answered with a few whoops and catcalls, though others in the audience tried to quiet the restless ones down. Then the Mahavishnu Orchestra launched into the deep, dark, simmering electric fusion that had recently changed the landscape of jazz. The opening tune was “Meeting of the Spirits,” from the Inner Mounting Flame album, but sound problems mangled the momentum of the set. Still, keyboardist Jan Hammer was able to smooth out the fiery edges of McLaughlin’s guitar work while bassist Rick Laird maintained the groove. Drummer Billy Cobham propelled each piece with hefty, complicated rhythms and Jerry Goodman’s thick electric violin added an exotic dimension to the intricate sound tapestry. The music created a kind of palpable tension in the air. The musicians must have felt it too, as Goodman would disappear off stage whenever he wasn’t playing.
The trouble with living in Bremerton was that if you missed the last ferry out of Seattle, you were out of luck, unless you were able to drive around the sound. My friend and I stayed at the Paramount until the last possible moment, then ran down the streets to the ferry station. I tripped while running across some railroad tracks and fell full front into a mud puddle. Though soaked, I made the ferry. The relaxing thing about riding the ferry was that once you were on, there wasn’t anything to do but sit back and enjoy the ride. After so much intensity in the concert hall, it was a relief. In a teacher’s effort to get me interested in writing for the school newspaper, I was asked to write a review of the show, which was published without a byline. Welcome to Washington.
Towards the end of the semester, I also played my first gig on guitar. I had sung in church choirs and played trombone in the school band, but playing guitar in public was a whole new thing. The band teacher in Silverdale had gotten wind that a friend and I were playing together, so he suggested we pick a tune and perform at the fall jazz band concert. We agreed, practiced then took the stage nervously. My hands froze up in fright and I broke a string to make matters worse. It was embarrassing- really gut churning. But I found out firsthand what other performers went through.