King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker
by Tim Van Schmidt
February 13, 1976- San Diego Sports Arena. David Bowie.
In between ASU and moving to UC Santa Barbara, I spent several months with my parents in their new home in Brawley, California- a sleepy, dusty burg in the Imperial Valley, a highly agricultural area, not far from El Centro. I found out about a David Bowie show from the LA Times and convinced my parents we needed to take a road trip to San Diego- more than a hundred miles away, over rolling hills. It would be like old times: they would go to dinner and I would go to the show and meet them afterwards in a Denny’s across from the concert hall. Before the show- perhaps suffering from concert deprivation- I had a nightmare. In the dream, about half way to San Diego, I realized I had forgotten my ticket. There I was, trapped in the dry hills- too far to go back and no longer with any reason to go forward. It was frustrating. I made sure the ticket was well in hand when we did start the trek.
This was during Bowie’s Thin White Duke phase, utilizing a standard rock band stage setting to create a deep, funky electric sound. The band included keyboardist Tony Kaye, whom I knew from Yes’ Yes Album, and guitarist Carlos Alomar, who contributed most of that thick electric deepness that underscored Bowie’s new music. The concert started with a showing of Luis Bunuel’s film collaboration with Salvador Dali, Un Chien Andalou, complete with the razor blade-in-the-eye scene. At one point during the concert, Bowie got chatty with the audience about sexuality and asked the crowd if they were bisexuals. He received a roar in response.
The official “Isolar” tour program was innovative in itself- a newsprint magazine folded and placed in a simple white envelope. A lot of the program featured full-page color and black and white fashion shots of Bowie. There were also images of Buster Keaton, the David Live cover photo and a surreal picture of Bowie in a doorway, looking down at a woman in a bathtub. The water in the bathtub was replaced by floor tile and Bowie’s reflection in the mirror was looking at himself, not at the woman. Another page was labeled: “Forefinger. Kirlian Photography by David Bowie.” The program also included a discography, illustrated with album covers, up to the latest release, Station to Station.
When I hooked up again with my parents, the Denny’s was busy. There were people with all kinds of different color hair walking around- in leather, with heavy mascara, yelling, throwing stuff. My folks were kind of stimulated by it. They had always said that they didn’t mind waiting for us after concerts because they enjoyed watching the crowds go by. But in this case, they weren’t in their car. They were surrounded.
As part of my parents’ independent ceramic business, we rented a booth at the California Mid-Winter Fair, located on a fairgrounds halfway between Brawley and El Centro. The entertainment was staged on a track in front of the grandstands. The most curious event I saw during the run of the fair was the February 27 show by Wolfman Jack. The Wolfman was familiar to me from listening to his radio show in LA several years before. He was also in the public eye thanks to the popularity of the film American Graffiti. On stage, he growled “baby” several hundred times, introduced and played old hits while fueling a dance group that would gyrate to the music. Opening the show was Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids, a Sha Na Na-like revival band of 1950s rock and roll. Dressed in black with slicked-back hair, they were energetic and kept the set moving briskly. Their show was heavy on the music and light on the shtick.
On March 5, I saw Rare Earth for the second time. Like their opening slot for Traffic at Tempe Stadium in 1974, the band presented hits like “Get Ready” and “I Just Want to Celebrate.” Their music was a rough and ready mixture of rock and roll and soul, nearly always energetic. This was the first time I ever noticed the racial mix of a crowd. As I watched Rare Earth, I became aware of the fact that most of the people watching the show were Hispanic. There was nothing negative about it, but it was obvious. Opening this show was a Beach Boys oldies-type band named Oo Papa Doo Run Run. They also kept the stage patter brief and played surf rock and pop rock with efficiency.
On March 6, I watched through the chain-link fence off to the side of the grandstands as Freddy Fender played electric country music. This was not country rock coming from the rock side, like the Eagles. This was country rock coming from the country side- electrified, but more roots oriented. I noticed a lot of cowboy hats in the crowd for this show.
March 21, 1976- Anaheim Stadium. Steve Gibbons Band, Little Feat, The Who.
The time had finally come to see the Who. My earliest memories of the band were those early singles that I played as often as my Beatles records- “Pinball Wizard” and “I Can See For Miles.” There was something about the Who that invited swinging your arms and taking rock and roll poses. Their songs were dramatic and full of rousing climaxes. But it wasn’t until I accompanied my brother to a friend’s house that I became acquainted with the real power of the Who. This guy had just bought the new record at the time, Live at Leeds. Not only did the album feature some of the most electric, raw music I had ever heard from a band of rockers, but it also included some package inserts. Stuffed in the sleeve were facsimiles of bills for damage and equipment expenses. The Who’s contribution to the Woodstock album- “We’re Not Going to Take It”- was also a milestone recording, big and incendiary. The band was colorful and dangerous, and one of the leading groups in the world- peers of the Stones.
Once again, the LA Times tipped me off to the concert and provided the ticket information. I had to pass on seeing the band’s previous tour, rumored to have been their last, so I could not pass this one up. I convinced a friend to come over from Phoenix and when we arrived in Anaheim, we booked a room at a local motel. This was not a high class place and there were suspicious brown stains- blood?- smeared into one of the curtains. But the motel was positioned between Disneyland and Anaheim Stadium. Thankfully, we didn’t spend much time in that room.
We only got to hear just a little wailing from Chaka Kahn and Rufus as we entered Anaheim Stadium. Reportedly, Rufus had gone on early in order to make a plane connection. Next up was the Steve Gibbons Band, playing a clean hard rock, all delivered with a minimum of posturing. Our seats were just above home plate with the stage on the other end of the field, directly opposite us. Little Feat then bumped and rolled through another set that did not get through to me. In such a large venue, all you could hear was the way the groove jumped and lurched, but most of the subtleties of the music were lost. It was notable, however, that guest artist John Sebastian joined Little Feat toward the end of their set.
The weather was fine but I was glad we had seats in the shade, though far from the stage. The massive crowd stretched out across the field and baked in the sun. The management flashed a message on the scoreboard: “A friendly reminder: Sun Burns Your Skin.” The afternoon was also punctuated by an aerial show by Art Scholl- doing dips and dives- and by a man named Jumping Joe Gerlach, who made an 11-story leap into a bed-sized sponge.
Finally after an all-day wait, the stadium darkened and the Who arrived- drummer Keith Moon doing a somersault as he approached his drum kit. It was like a powerful dream. The Who were majestic and dynamic, they were loud and poignant. A spray of laser lights against a freeway backdrop underscored the tough power that the band delivered. “Baba O’Reilly” was magnificent, lights spreading out over the huge crowd- truly a teenage wasteland. It was a gas to hear “Magic Bus,” my favorite tune from Live at Leeds, with Moon at the drums. Moon also took a turn at vocals for “Uncle Ernie.” The fans- a capacity crowd of 55,000- rocked to the point where the management flashed another message on the scoreboard, asking patrons to stop stomping in the grandstands. Evidently they were worried about the safety of the structure as the Who played.
In the LA Times, Robert Hilburn reported that the Who began the show with “I Can’t Explain,” and that the set also included “My Generation,” “Substitute,” “Magic Bus,” “Summertime Blues,” a half-hour of selections from Tommy, and three songs from Who’s Next. Hilburn noted that “Squeeze Box” and “Dreaming From the Waist,” from The Who by Numbers, were the only “post-1971” Who tunes, although he also included “The Real Me” in the set list, a tune from 1973’s Quadrophenia album. For Hilburn, the crowd reaction to the “see me, feel me” refrain from Tommy– thousands of lit matches held aloft- created an emotional highlight: “Though the match tribute has become something of a concert fixture in rock, the vast outdoor setting and search/salvation theme of Tommy combined to give it renewed effectiveness.” Other Who songs that night included “I Can See For Miles” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.”
Though the Who obviously had remained a major concert draw, there was a feeling that perhaps the band had stalled out creatively on new material. It had been three years since Quadrophenia, and the new album, The Who By Numbers, yielded a hit, but was not the band’s strongest album effort. The release of Odds and Sods, a collection of old recordings, added to the feeling of career filler rather than hard-won accomplishment. But, as Hilburn remarked in his review, there didn’t seem to be anybody able to take the Who’s place: “No band has arrived with both the artistic vision and popular appeal to challenge the best of the 1960s bands.” The power of “classic rock” had already become identified.
The feeling of danger that surrounded the Who, however, was intact in Anaheim. The band had the power to incite riotous behavior in its audience- from stomping too hard in the grandstands to torching a car in the parking lot. As we exited the stadium, the car, flames shooting high into the night, had attracted a police helicopter, buzzing noisily around it, flashing its busy spotlight all over the Who’s rock and roll war zone.
April 3, 1976- Santa Barbara County Bowl. Juice Newton and Silver Spur, Loggins and Messina.
I left Brawley one fine morning and made the move to Santa Barbara in a hand-me-down station wagon. Otis Redding’s song “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” came on the radio just as I hit the Pacific Ocean, sparkling in the afternoon sun. My connection to the Santa Barbara area went back a few years to a summer vacation spent with a friend’s family on the beach south of Carpenteria. I just remembered the fine sand, the blustery days and the relative calm. Tempe had none of those qualities and I needed a change of environment. The University of California at Santa Barbara accepted me as a sociology major, but I quickly changed to English. I had no personal contacts there, but was up for the adventure.
That included checking out the local concert scene. My first Santa Barbara music experience occurred at the fine Santa Barbara County Bowl, an outdoor facility smaller than the Hollywood Bowl but just as green. If you were in the right spot, you could see the ocean below and past the city. This show’s opener, Juice Newton and Silver Spur, played perhaps the most hardcore country rock I had heard. Then Loggins and Messina produced a show full of joyful, clean rock- the perfect way to feel comfortable in a new environment. I had a ticket for the lawn area- a patch of grass making a wide semi-circle in front of the stage. For this concert, the stage was decorated like an old west warehouse. The most memorable moment was catching that distant view of the ocean as the band cranked out “Vahevella.” The show ended in the rain, but was very satisfying.
In the UCSB student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, writer Victor Walton reported that the six-man backing band, including Woodie Christman on fiddle, was “very tight.” Walton especially had praise for the two-man woodwind section, under the direction of arranger Jon Clarke, who played “everything from piccolo to bass sax…I haven’t heard too much rock oboe before, but I have to tell you it sounds great.” Walton pointed out that Loggins and Messina were part of the old school of performing in that the group was open to instrumental jamming on stage: “They use each song as a point of departure for long instrumental sections, sometimes drifting into entirely different tunes.” He also noted that the set list included “Danny’s Song,” “Be Free,” “Growin’,” “Pretty Princess,” “Nobody But You,” “Listen to a Country Song” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance.”
April 11, 1976- Santa Barbara County Bowl. Little Feat, Marshall Tucker Band.
A week later, I returned to the Santa Barbara County Bowl for a taste of Southern rock. I had tickets at one point for an Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead show that never happened but that’s as close as I had gotten to this distinctive branch of rock. This wasn’t country rock, such as West Coast bands like the Eagles were cranking out. This was a more blues-oriented sound that maintained an aggressive edge. The Marshall Tucker Band had a little bit more Western twang to its music than the Allmans, but were just as capable of taking extended journeys in their jamming sections. Lots of guitar mixed with flute and sax parts and the band even dipped into jazz as they explored. The song “Take the Highway” was grandiose and even inspiring, but it was the melancholy refrain of “Can’t You See?” that had the most emotional impact.
I finally got what was so great about Little Feat, who opened the show. As an opener for Focus, then for the Who, Little Feat’s music seemed out of place. But now, as I watched from only a few feet away on the lawn area, I got to check them out up close. They produced a concise set, direct, effective and full of funky passion. Little Feat’s music would usually start with a rolling groove that would kind of lull the listener, then the band would start hammering on the syncopation while front man Lowell George growled and howled with bluesy abandon. It was cool, controlled music that built up steam until everything seemed to be jumping on the groove. The third time was the charm.
April 22, 1976- Granada Theater. Return to Forever.
My first trip to the Granada Theater, a grand old-style movie theater in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, was for an update on Return to Forever. The theater, which showed films more frequently than had concerts, was jammed with fans. The atmosphere was charged and the stage ignited with hot, electric jamming. Jazz rock fusion had reached a peak and this band was enjoying the ride.
April 24, 1976- Santa Barbara County Bowl. Brecker Brothers, Gary Wright, Peter Frampton.
You could tell by walking around the dorm complex just what the hottest tickets in the area would be. Since I had seen Frampton open for Robin Trower in Tucson in 1975, his smash hit album Frampton Comes Alive! had come on like gangbusters. You could hardly pass a dorm room door or window without hearing songs like “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do?” Everything that I had liked about Frampton was there- the clean performance, melodic songs and memorable hooks. I liked the music but enough was enough. Still, when Frampton’s show at the CountyBowl was announced, I went ahead and bought a pair of tickets anyway. It was strange- all of a sudden, kids who wouldn’t talk to me started greeting me and later approached to see if I might sell that extra ticket. I took a date instead and enjoyed stage level seats above the grass area.
The Brecker Brothers opened the show with some funky horn band music- upbeat and precision-oriented like Tower of Power. Then Gary Wright took the stage, sporting a pair of tall silver boots. I knew of Wright from his previous band, Spooky Tooth, and he had a current hit as a solo act with the song “Dream Weaver.”
Frampton then took the stage, the sun fully beating down. Frampton wore his sunglasses throughout most of the show because of the sun and it had an unusual effect. Not being able to see his eyes took away an expressive key to his performance. It seemed that the audience was being shut out somehow, that the personality behind the songs and music was taking the day off. Still, the results were predictable. The song “Do You Feel Like We Do?” roused the crowd and girls in particular seemed to be whooping it up. It was obvious a lot of them thought Frampton was cute. By this time, Frampton’s use of the guitar effect that matches vocalizing with the guitar line- popularized by Joe Walsh in his song “Rocky Mountain Way”- was a standard part of the show.
May 2, 1976- UCSB Stadium. Small Wonder, UFO, Warren Zevon, Fleetwood Mac.
The cloudy, windy weather wasn’t particularly nice, but I got to the UCSB stadium at the crack of noon for this long rock bill. My first memories are of the harder, metal-like rock of UFO. Featuring Michael Schenker, from the Scorpions, UFO’s music suggested an emphasis on rhythm, volume and straight-ahead performance rather than focusing on melody. They kicked it in gear and didn’t stop. Warren Zevon also left an impression- he seemed really drunk, wobbling on his piano stool and speaking incomprehensibly in between tunes- a loose cannon.
Fleetwood Mac had suddenly become superstars, thanks to a new line-up including guitarist/songwriter Lindsay Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks. The pair helped revitalize a band that had already been through years of personnel and musical direction changes. The group’s latest album, the self-titled Fleetwood Mac, would set the stage for their upcoming mega-hit, Rumours, as well as establish Nicks as a sex symbol. Rather than applaud the new stuff, however, I was more pleased to hear some of the pre-Buckingham Nicks stuff including “Green Manalishi” and my favorite, “Oh Well.”
May 14, 1976- Robertson Gym. John Denver.
In a benefit for an anti-nuclear group called Project Survival, supporting the “nuclear safeguards” initiative #15 on the election ballot, singer-songwriter John Denver presented a show that was appropriate for the whole family- and they all came out. I went because I was familiar with the radio hits, particularly “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and, of course, “Rocky Mountain High.” Another plus was that the show was right on campus. Robertson Gym was just that- a big gym that could be converted into a concert hall. Harking back to the first show I saw- Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass- this was clean-cut entertainment, not a hip scene, and the people appreciated it. The place went wild for “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” Denver’s stage presence was warm and friendly and he chatted with the crowd easily between tunes.
May 15, 1976- Campbell Hall. Bill Evans Trio.
It had been quite a while since I had experienced live jazz music that wasn’t jazz rock fusion. But then an acquaintance in the dorm went out of his way to suggest that I go check out pianist Bill Evans, as part of the jazz series at Campbell Hall. Campbell Hall was a large domed theater that doubled as a lecture hall, located right on the campus of UCSB. I would go to multiple music events as well as take several classes at Campbell Hall over the next few years.
The band that night consisted of Evans, Eddie Gomez on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums. The music was a restrained delicate jazz, made more for the mood than the music of the bombastic jazz rockers. It was a much more intellectual listening experience. Evans’ melodic meandering on the piano was answered by nimble upright bass work and light drums, building until it all synched in with precision and purpose. The flash here was inside the music, not on the stage. This was a dignified and meaningful concert, almost like a classical music event.
May 19, 1976- Granada Theater. Fool’s Gold, Boz Scaggs.
A handy feature of the dormitory that I lived in was that each floor had a male and female wing. That made it easier to make friends of the opposite sex and I got acquainted with as many females as I could.
One group of girl friends was very much into the music of Boz Scaggs, whose album Silk Degrees was a hot dorm room favorite. They thought he was sexy. I would kid them about Scaggs’ music, relegating him to being some kind of slick disco singer. I didn’t get it, so the girls whom I chided bought me a ticket for the upcoming show at the Granada Theater and “made” me go with them. What better way to enjoy the great white soul that Scaggs was making, than to be surrounded by girls? Despite the power of the band cranking into full tilt tunes like “Lido Shuffle,” the most memorable moment of the show was a version of the song “Harbor Lights,” an orange color/sunset spreading across the big movie screen behind the band. The music was cool, controlled and funky. Scaggs had a sophisticated air about him, exuding grace and style.
May 22, 1976- Campbell Hall. Kingfish.
The Grateful Dead had taken a break from touring and in the interim, Dead guitarist Bob Weir had joined David Torbert from the New Riders in forming a band called Kingfish. Their debut album had just been released and the song “Jump for Joy” was the favorite. Campbell Hall looked a lot different with a bunch of Deadheads in it than it did as a lecture hall. The music kept within the boundaries of rock and roll, with less exploration than the Dead, serving more as an outlet for songs rather than jams.
June 11, 1976- Arlington Performing Arts Center. Seals and Crofts.
The Arlington Theater was located in downtown Santa Barbara, just a block away from the Granada. The Arlington, too, showed films on occasion, but it acted like a cultural center for the city. It was a good-sized theater with a formal walkway/entryway. The lobby was big and received crowds comfortably and the seating opened out into a big wide room with old-fashioned style. The ceiling was painted like a night sky with “stars” twinkling.
My first experience at the Arlington was a show with Seals and Crofts. The duo- Jim Seals and Dash Crofts- had released a long string of radio hits featuring an acoustic-based pop rock that despite annoying repetition, was not unpleasant. Live, the group not only played the hits but also demonstrated strong instrumental ability. Memorable songs included “Summer Breeze,” complete with Seals and Crofts’ sweet pop harmonies. At one point, while Seals and Crofts and band pumped out some energetic instrumental acoustic music, fans got up to dance, eventually joining hands and bounding around the perimeter of the theater. The afterglow from this show was positive.
June 21, 1976- Inglewood Forum. Paul McCartney and Wings.
Finally, the opportunity came to see another Beatle. During my constant search for concert news in the newspapers, I would scan the ticket agency ads. I had successfully scored Stones tickets in 1975 from a ticket agency and my eye was caught a number of times by ads claiming to have tickets for upcoming shows by John Lennon. It was just wishful thinking. I did score seats for Paul McCartney’s heralded tour, however.
I had read the news that Ringo Starr was creating an all-star band, but had not heard of any shows in my area. So who else but McCartney then could best represent the Beatles to the world? Of course, McCartney’s intention wasn’t ever to represent the Beatles with this tour. He was representing his new group, Wings, a gregarious band of rock and roll veterans including McCartney’s wife Linda. Wings had maintained McCartney’s voice in the commercial radio market, but the Wings music felt softer and lighter than the Beatles music. The point is that in a short time, they had created a distinctive sound as a band. Still, all eyes were on McCartney to also light the Beatles fire.
My friend and I missed the very beginning of the show because security personnel were checking concert-goers one person at a time, creating a massive build-up of fans waiting anxiously to get in. We heard the opening music to “Venus and Mars” and pushed right by the sputtering security people. We weren’t going to miss any more of this date with a music legend.
Like seeing the Who, this experience was also dreamlike. McCartney had every stage trick, every great song of the last thirteen years right in his pocket and he effortlessly pulled out a Beatles song here, a McCartney solo rocker there, sprinkled in new Wings songs as well as older hits. That’s right: in the six years since the Beatles had broken up, McCartney had scored plenty, and consistently, especially with Wings. As a concert, the songs all meshed together into a triumphant tour de force of pop showmanship with McCartney confidently at the helm.
My favorite parts of the show included the song “Live and Let Die” that featured very effective pyrotechnics timed to emphasize the music. New tunes like “Let ‘Em In”- spotlighting a trio of colonial-style soldiers on stage- mixed with old ones, like the Moody Blues’ first hit, “Go Now,” included to feature guitarist and vocalist Denny Laine, an early member of the Moodies. Another surprise highlight was rocker “Medicine Jar,” not a well-known tune from the Wings catalogue. Of course, every Beatles song was a precious moment. The biggest surprise came just as McCartney and Wings were finishing up their set. Ringo Starr then walked on stage, carrying a bunch of flowers. The applause was unrestrained and expectant as two Beatles appeared on the same stage at the same time.
The headline for LA Times writer Hilburn’s review spread the news: “Paul, Ringo Wing It In Mini-Reunion.” Hilburn’s article conceded that the moment “wasn’t exactly the ‘reunion’ millions have been waiting for,” but the Forum audience had seen something unique, if not important. Hilburn described the brief encounter on stage, Starr handing flowers to guitarist Denny Laine, kissing Linda McCartney’s hand, and taking the bass from McCartney to strike an “exaggerated rock ‘n’ roll pose.” Starr wasn’t the only celebrity at the McCartney concert that night. Hilburn also reported that Elton John had been spotted with Cher.
Hilburn had plenty to say about the music as well. He identified the band, including Jimmy McCulloch on lead guitar, Denny Laine on guitar, Joe English on drums and Linda McCartney on keyboards and backup vocals, and called them a “most capable unit.” The line-up also included four horn players identified in the tour program as Howie Casey, Tony Dorsey, Steve Howard and Thaddeus Richard.
But more, Hilburn called McCartney a “master of concert design,” for the way he sequenced the show material and for his pacing. For example, the beginning of the show proceeded from “Venus and Mars” to “Rock Show” to “Jet” without a break: “By the time he did pause…there was an enormous energy level in the arena. The applause…was thunderous.” Hilburn reported that McCartney alternated between bass and keyboards throughout the evening. The set also included “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “Lady Madonna.” The first segment of the concert ended with “Live and Let Die,” using “various visual effects (from lasers to fire/flash bombs).” According to Hilburn, “Live and Let Die” was followed by an acoustic set that included “Yesterday.” The set list also included a concentration of songs from At the Speed of Sound.
Live recordings from this tour ended up being released as the Wings Over America triple album. A pink dot on a United States map on the side six label suggested that perhaps the album had been recorded in LA. The backstage meeting between McCartney and Starr that night at the Forum appeared in the Wings Over the World television special, which aired in 1979. Inevitably, the concert begged comparison with the experience of seeing George Harrison two years earlier. Hands down, McCartney was in better shape musically and the impact was huge. Harrison, however, a rarer commodity in his own way, had put on a dazzling showcase of Indian, contemporary and Beatle music. McCartney was much stronger as a performer and this show would be hard for anyone, even a fellow ex-Beatle, to match.
June 24, 1976- Arlington Theater. Tubes.
I was spending the summer in school to catch up on credits I’d lost during my move from Tempe to Brawley to Santa Barbara- and from a semester system to a quarter system. I moved out of the dorms to live in a beach house on the cliffs right above the ocean. The class load was light, so there was plenty of time to check out some shows.
The Tubes had originated as a band in Phoenix and they had achieved a reputation for wild, theatrical shows. I managed to score a fourth row center seat at the Arlington and the Tubes did not disappoint. During the early 1960s pop send up, “Don’t Touch Me There,” a full sized motorcycle appeared on stage, a sexy woman stretched out across the seat. More busty women danced and wiggled with nothing on but sparkling g-strings and pasties, as vocalist Fee Waybill, suave, stylish and perverse, lead the band through a set of hard rock and roll. The stage was littered with multiple television sets projecting closed circuit images of the live action, adding to the stimulating chaos. Of course, during the song “White Punks on Dope,” Waybill turned into his alter stage ego, Quay Lewd, a raving madman on stilts, stage smoke filling the air, lights flashing like crazy, the band blaring, women wailing. Everything else was blown away. Besides Waybill, the Tubes also included keyboardist Vince Welnick.
June 27, 1976- Santa Barbara County Bowl. Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band.
The opportunity to see the Band- with or without Bob Dylan- was rare indeed, especially at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. Rumors were flying that Dylan would show up, but he was smart and stayed someplace in the shade. The concert was held on a hot, hot day, challenging the musicians and the audience to endure more than enjoy. In the LA Times, Robert Hilburn noted that this concert was the Band’s first Southern California performance in six years, not including appearances with Bob Dylan. Hilburn reported that the musicians joked about the heat and complained about trying to keep their instruments in tune. He also stated that the Band received standing ovations at the beginning and the end of the set, and listed the personnel: Robbie Robertson on guitar, Rick Danko on bass, Levon Helm on drums, Garth Hudson on organ/saxophone and Richard Manuel on piano.
Hilburn suggested that what made the Band great was its level of musicianship and progressive sound: “It is able to capture both the intensity and grit of rock, yet also convey a fluid appealing sound that stretches beyond conventional rock to reflect the various country and blues roots that helped shape rock initially.” According to Hilburn, the set included 14 songs before the encore, including tunes from Northern Lights, Southern Cross such as “It Makes No Difference,” “Forbidden Fruit,” and “Ophelia.” Hilburn praised Robertson’s “marvelously appealing guitar work” and noted that Hudson’s long introduction to “Chest Fever” included “a humorous tip-of-the-hat to the Bicentennial.” Hilburn also reported that Manuel struggled vocally, though his version of “In a Station” was “chilling.” The Band would break up only four months later.
Opening the show were the Flying Burrito Brothers, playing country rock with plenty of twang. This version of the band featured pedal steel guitar player Sneaky Pete Kleinow, but very little else from the group originally founded by Gram Parsons.
July 16, 1976- Arlington Theater. Gentle Giant.
The previous year at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, Gentle Giant had nearly upstaged the Strawbs with a very strong set. On the bigger stage at the Arlington, the same music took on an even greater power thanks to a little extra breathing room for the band. Lost, however, was the intimacy of being crowded around the group at the Celebrity. The bigger venue put some distance between the musicians and the audience and Gentle Giant’s music took on a more abstract tone- still quirky and challenging, but also impersonal.
July 23, 1976- Arlington Theater. Jay Furgeson, Three Dog Night.
I’m glad I had a seat in the balcony of the Arlington for this one- so I could hide. My nostalgia for Three Dog Night had been satiated when I saw the band at the Forum in 1972, but since I was in town for the summer and the Arlington was a very attractive venue, I would go see just about anyone. Jay Furgeson opened with a strong enough set of pop-oriented rock. But then Three Dog Night came on stage and tanked. They were a pale version of the rousing band that used to be. For one thing, after so many years of playing large venues, I’m not sure the band knew how to play in a smaller place anymore. Their sound was overblown for the Arlington’s relatively intimate environment. The great vocal work of the past was tired and not synched in. There was very little joy in the music and I think everybody in the room, including the musicians, knew it.
August 8, 1976- Santa Barbara County Bowl. Crosby and Nash.
One of my favorite albums of the 1970s was David Crosby’s solo record, If I Could Only Remember My Name, a collection of wistful songs supported by a who’s who of the West Coast music scene. After seeing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young struggle to succeed in Phoenix, I hoped that the CountyBowl show with Crosby and Nash would be a more delicate affair, like Crosby’s album. I was rewarded with just what I wanted, a concert featuring fine harmonies and material that included the dreamy song “Guinevere.” Neither Nash nor Crosby took the lead in terms of showmanship, so this was a generally mellow affair, balanced, warm and friendly.
September 5, 1976- Keystone San Francisco. Elvin Jones.
A week’s trip to San Francisco to visit a friend yielded plenty of adventure. We took our instruments down to Fisherman’s Wharf and played for spare change. That is, until my friend, a Jew, got offended by a Nazi (yes, a real one with a uniform and swastika arm band) who came by handing out hate literature. We also signed up for an open mic event at a small hole-in-the-wall bar called the Holy City Zoo. We played with passion and I broke a string while on stage. At my friend’s apartment building, we discovered that one of his neighbors- a well-known alcoholic- had died alone in his apartment and we spent one morning dealing with police.
One night, we also went to the Keystone nightclub in San Francisco. I had heard of the Keystone in Berkeley through a live album recorded by the Dead’s Jerry Garcia with keyboardist Merl Saunders. I only knew of drummer Elvin Jones from the film Zachariah, a hippie cult film featuring other rock figures such as Country Joe McDonald. Jones’ music, however, was a hard-driving jazz fusion, highly electric and explosive. Jones set to work on his drum kit with passion and he would stick out his tongue as he played, his mouth churning to the music. Just before Jones’ set, a person took the seat next to me- the only empty seat left in the small club. That person turned out to be my apartment-mate from Tempe. He was working as a freelance writer and was there to review the show.
Fall Semester- The Poetry Troupe
I returned to UCSB- and to the dorms- ready for action. I published a notice in the Daily Nexus soliciting like-minded individuals for a poetry performance group. The idea was strength in numbers. I got some calls and several student poets and I founded the Santa Barbara Poetry Troupe. Famous area poet Kenneth Rexroth attended our first group reading- and fell asleep. We would perform with various members at various venues throughout the next few semesters, until another poet wrested control away from founding members and renamed it the Catalyst Poetry Troupe. A highlight of our performances was a formal production in a student theater, featuring poetry, dance, and- in the back of the auditorium- a cello. I found performing poetry easier on the nerves than playing guitar in front of people, but I was still scared stiff. Being with a group helped create confidence. We also read on the student radio station, mixing our voices with the environmental sounds on Walter Carlos’ Sonic Seasonings album.
October 2, 1976- UCSB Stadium. Heart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jefferson Starship.
Once again, memories of my brothers coming home from a Jefferson Airplane concert in Phoenix spurred my interest in checking out the Jefferson Starship, headlining at UCSB stadium. This was a high profile time for the group, who had reunited with singer Marty Balin. The album Red Octopus was a hit thanks in great part to the song “Miracles” and the show featured Balin’s voice, mellow and easy to listen to, balanced by Grace Slick’s dramatic and domineering stage presence. However, Balin might not have made it at all. Daily Nexus writer John Schlosser reported that Balin “didn’t show up until the middle of the second song, having ‘lost his way’ on Highway 101.” (Years later Balin told me in an interview that he had indeed been lost and he pulled into a parking place behind the stage just as the band went on.) Schlosser also noted some of the other band members’ stage antics, guitarist Craig Chaquico “sticking his guitar between his legs.” The show mixed Airplane oldies and new stuff. “Miracles” sounded great, but it was the Airplane song “Volunteers” that capped off the set.
Opening the show was fledgling rock band Heart. The attraction here was two rocking females- sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson. The Seattle group’s first album, Dreamboat Annie, had just been released, but already two songs, “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man,” were hits and the band’s set was strong and confident. Heart took a hard rock approach to their music, creating solid instrumental grooves while the Wilsons wailed on top.
Next up was Lynyrd Skynyrd. Second only to the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd was the most successful of the Southern rock bands wielding much less twang and much more rock than the Marshall Tucker Band. Skynyrd was a big band. With nodding heads and lots of guitar poses, the whole group participated in dominating the stage. At the center, of course, was vocalist Ronnie Van Zandt, wearing his trademark hat, swinging the microphone stand around, stalking around with the mic in his hand, flipping his hair to emphasize the high points. By the time they got to “Free Bird,” the whole unit was synched in and rocking hard. Only a year later, a plane crash would kill Van Zandt, guitarist Steven Gaines and his sister Cassie.
October 3, 1976- Santa Barbara County Bowl. Jesus Christ Superstar.
By 1976, Jesus Christ Superstar had been around for a while and the production at the Santa Barbara County Bowl had the feel of a revival of an old favorite. Featuring vocalists Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson- voices that had come to be associated with the roles of Jesus and Judas- the story of Christ’s struggle unfolded once again in another pleasing outdoor setting. My seats were farther up in the Bowl and at one point I turned around to find Ted Neeley behind me, performing via remote mic. Though the rock music part now seemed nostalgic, even quaint, Jesus Christ Superstar remained very effective theatre.
October 5, 1976- Santa Barbara County Bowl. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Only a year after I’d seen Springsteen’s triumphant Born to Run tour at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, it had become well-known that Springsteen’s career was being stalled thanks to legal entanglements. Still, Springsteen could play live if he couldn’t record and his show with the E-Street Band at the CountyBowl reprised a lot of the previous year’s stage show- starting off with Springsteen alone in the spotlight for “Thunder Road.” Though I was only a new fan, it was somehow shocking to note that Springsteen had shaved off his scruffy poet’s beard. Clean-shaven, he seemed to take on a different personality. The music was still dramatic, if a little less joyful and devil-may-care.
October 15, 1976- Shrine Auditorium. Grateful Dead.
The Grateful Dead sabbatical had ended and it was time to get back in touch. The Shrine Auditorium was an old-style theater combining some graceful and ornate design with lots of seats. For some years, it was the site for the annual Academy Awards ceremony. For the Dead, I sat in the balcony and the show took up exactly where the band had left off- it was a Dead show, full of peaks and valleys. The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium reports that the show I attended- driving all the way from Santa Barbara to check it out- was part of a two-show run that was the first southern California appearance after “retirement.” The set list included “The Other One.” The prominent CountySheriffs on duty underscored a pot warning from the stage.
Papoon for President.
By chance, I got to experience the mindbending comedy of the Firesign Theater at a campaign event for a fictitious candidate for president named George G. Papoon. A friend dragged me along to the event without clear warning about what it was we would see. It turned out to be a raucous affair full of flashing lights and passionately cheering “constituents.” Papoon, you see, was a candidate for the “National Surrealist Party” and he wore a paper bag on his head. Firesign members Phil Austin and David Ossman had chosen an obscure location in Santa Barbara for the “1st Bison-Tennial Convention,” trumpeting Papoon’s “Campoon ’76.” They played it up big- music blared, film crews circulated throughout the room, incomprehensible speeches were made from the stage and a hyped up anarchy ruled. It was very intense, frantic and, of course, surreal.
The Santa Barbara News-Press covered the progress of Papoon with several articles. In June, the newspaper ran an article with a headline that read: “Bagged Candidate: Papoon Claims He’s Not Insane.” In July, the News-Press ran an article with the headline: “Papoon Plans to Campaign in the Nude.”
Santa Barbara area associates of Austin and Ossman included Richard Proctor and Mark Ward. Ward was a member of the Santa Barbara comedy group, the Deluxe Brothers. Ward and Proctor were also hosts of a popular radio show. The pair were involved in several of the Firesign activities in the area including shows such as “Radio Laffs of 1940” and the “Big Broadcast of 1976” on KTYD-FM in Santa Barbara. Proctor and Ward also appeared as a comedy duo and I yukked it up with them one night at the Lobero Theater in downtown Santa Barbara. That night, the crowd was cranked up and the pair had a slick, quick, wise delivery. Another night, I took advantage of a nighttime Proctor and Ward dinner concert at Borsodi’s Coffee House in Isla Vista. I had to eat anyway and Borsodi’s was perfect for an up close comedy act- small and funky. Another act that I saw at Borsodi’s around the same time was Sunburst, a hippie rock band that was made of members of the Sunburst Farms, a local farming collective.
November 12, 1976- Arlington Theater. Gary Burton, Jack DeJonette, Towner and Abercrombie, Eberhard Weber’s Colours.
By 1976, records on the ECM jazz label had become popular choices among progressive music lovers and musicians in America. The ECM players- Ralph Towner, Gary Burton, Jan Garbarek and many others- were making jazz but with a little extra texture. The records included more atmospheric sounds than straight traditional jazz, also allowing acoustic and electric instruments to freely mix. With a decidedly European coolness, even sparseness, the ECM album releases were refreshing for musical creativity and audiophile quality. The music could be identified as a forerunner of both new age and world music. The album designs were often beautiful, and clean production resulted in crystal clear sound.
Therefore, the “ECM Festival of Music,” coming live to the Arlington, was a rare opportunity to see a good many of the musicians in the ECM stable all at once. My progressive musician friends from Phoenix thought so too and drove over to Santa Barbara for the concert. Gary Burton opened, his vibes ringing in crystalline flourishes and offbeat accents while guitarist Pat Metheny soared around on top. Jack DeJonette followed, hunched over his drums while John Abercrombie dug into his electric guitar. Abercrombie then worked a duo format with Ralph Towner- Towner on acoustic and Abercrombie on electric. Then bassist Eberhard Weber and his band Colours recreated that great seamless quasi-classical music that his recordings were full of- like soundtrack music to a foreign film; like chamber music for the mind.
Arlington Theater- Dan Hicks, John Mayall, Maria Muldaur.
With friends visiting from Phoenix, I thought it would be a good idea to check out some music, but we picked the wrong show. Opener Dan Hicks, playing acoustic solo, was evidently drunk or just pissed off and he spent most of his set spitting insults at the audience. Then John Mayall took the stage with a big show band. He had turned away from the jazz blues fusion he had been experimenting with several years before and was now pumping out muscular pop versions of blues songs. The breaking point was when Mayall jumped on top of the piano to sing, a truly unconvincing move. The random thought came into my head that Mayall was trying to be a bandleader like Boz Scaggs, but with none of Scaggs’ suaveness. We may have caught a few tunes by the headliner, Maria Muldaur, but by that time, we had other things to do.
November 18, 1976- Arlington Theater. John Klemmer.
Another branch of jazz fusion was the pop-oriented sound of players like saxophonist John Klemmer. Klemmer had created a trademark style playing his horn through a special effects unit that gave him repeating and fading phrasing- lots of sustain and reverb. The music was atmospheric at times, but also busy with intersecting lines echoing into each other. The jazz itself was geared toward providing Klemmer with plenty of time to play while maintaining a sense of emotive melody.