King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker
by Tim Van Schmidt
My brother in Tucson was studying Russian linguistics at the University of Arizona and his department made a special trip offer- $1000 for 11 days in Russia, guided and pampered. The small print said we also had to get to New York City, but even with that airfare added on, it was still a deal. Since I was a willing relative, I was allowed to join the group. The Soviet Union was still strong and very paranoid at the time. That added some extra adventure to the trip- guessing at who might be KGB and whether or not we were being followed everywhere we went. It was 19 degrees below zero when we touched down in Moscow, but after settling into the hotel, we couldn’t help but check out Red Square anyway- after champagne and orange caviar.
My experiences with live music in Moscow were limited to checking out a balalaika band in the basement bar of the Moscow Hotel. The group mixed traditional acoustic instruments with electric. The music was folk-based and energetic, the balalaikas “ringing out” just like in the Beatles song, “Back in the USSR.” The first night, I tried sketching the strange new instruments that I was seeing. Members of the band noticed my artwork and approached me during the break, asking me what I was doing, then identifying each instrument. My brother acted as translator and we quickly became friends with the musicians. Every night while in Moscow, we would visit our friends in the band, listening to their bright, quick-paced music while washing down the day’s experiences with- what else?- shots of vodka. At one point, the guitarist insisted that I sit down and play his instrument. I was into jamming, but didn’t know many songs, so I just kind of fiddled with the instrument. Still, another tourist in the bar came up and requested some Cat Stevens music.
En route to Leningrad, we stopped in the city of Oryol. There we stayed in a huge, wide-open hotel, surrounded by the freezing Russian landscape. To entertain the tourists eating dinner, a Russian version of an American covers band played rock and roll. We talked with these musicians as well, but they were not quite as warm and friendly as the balalaika musicians in Moscow. Mostly they pumped us for music information and inquired if we had any cigarettes to sell. The band members did reveal that most of the music they were playing, standard pop tunes from the last fifteen years or so in the West, came from the radio. The group sang songs like Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheels” in English, but with a kind of mush-mouthed accent that revealed that they probably didn’t know what they were saying. Oddly, they also played a selection from Jesus Christ Superstar. In Leningrad, we went to see a dance production, accompanied by a live orchestra. The theater was small and beautifully ornate and probably served the richest citizens in previous times.
We had trouble leaving the Soviet Union when the trip was at its end. A person in the travel group had accepted some letters from some Russian friends and had tried to smuggle them out in his luggage. The Russian customs guys found the letters and held up our flight for hours as they wrangled about what to do with us. Finally, they loaded us on the plane, soldiers ringing the airplane with machine guns pointed and ready.
We also had trouble after we left our fueling stop in Shannon, Ireland. Some half-hour or so after we took off over the Atlantic Ocean, a guy came down the aisle and ripped up the carpeting right next to my seat. It turned out they couldn’t raise the landing gear. The drag would be enough to use up our fuel before we could make it back to New York, so they turned us around and flew us to London. They taught us the crash position and as we approached the runway, I looked out to see dozens of emergency vehicles lined up, ready for a disaster. They told us that they couldn’t be sure if the landing gear would hold when we touched down. A priest in the back of the airplane was giving confessions to worried passengers. This was a whole different kind of rock and roll in my life. The landing went smoothly, however, so we waited for the repairs, then we were off to New York again. As we neared the United States, travelers on the plane spontaneously broke out in a rendition of “God Bless America.”
While in New York, preparing to fly back to the West, I joined the group filing into the Imperial Theatre on January 12 to see my first Broadway production, Pippin. It was a spirited affair, more closely related to opera than pop music because a lot of the singing had to do with telling a story. The music had a decidedly aggressive edge to it thanks to the proliferation of “rock operas” like Jesus Christ Superstar and the Who’s Tommy. Broadway was trying to keep up.
My interest in Russian culture extended to some literature courses in translation at UCSB- particularly poetry. I learned of surrealist poets and the great Vladimir Mayakovsky, the revolutionary Soviet poet who wrote rousing proletarian verse and had big ideas- like putting poetry on billboards. I also learned that Russians loved and revered poetry. Poetry readings in Russia, I was told, were similar to rock concerts, held in stadiums. On my second trip to Russia, during the summer, I read a poem to a family we visited and they spent the next half hour- in between shots of vodka- analyzing what they thought it meant. Poetry had power in Russia, too. On that second trip, the border guard who checked my bags held me up for a considerable length of time because of the poetry in my journal. He insisted on knowing what certain parts meant.
In California, I was invited to join other students for trips down to UCLA to hear two great Russian poets- Bella Akhmadulina and Andrei Voznesensky. Akhmadulina had been married to the revered poet Yvgeny Yevtushenko and was a fiery speaker, folding her hands behind her back, stamping her feet and projecting her verse, in her native tongue, out into the auditorium. This was a different performing style than American poets- the Russians memorized their poems. Akhmadulina would fire off a passionate delivery and the American would calmly read the translation at a lectern- cool and clinical. I met Akhmadulina over a glass of champagne at a reception after the performance- and she signed a book to me- “with love.”
Voznesensky- who had formed ties with the Beatnik movement in America and had a book published by the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco- was just as dynamic as Akhmadulina. He looked the part of the radical poet in a sleek black leather coat and his voice pushed its way out of his small, stocky body and exploded. He was gruff and manic- a poet punk from another world.
January 25, 1977- Robertson Gym. Journey, Santana.
Back in Santa Barbara, I discovered that I was suffering from mononucleosis, which made it difficult to recover from the trip and start school. Still, there were classes to take and concerts to see, which included another date with Santana, this time in the informal environment of Robertson Gym.
Opening the show was the relatively new band Journey, founded by two Santana alumni, keyboardist Gregg Rolie, co-founder of Santana, and guitarist Neal Schon, who joined Santana after the Abraxas album. Rollie had been the lead singer on the famous Santana recordings of “Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways,” but there was none of that on stage as Journey. This was a whole new music, aiming at combining aggressive rock rhythms with controlled pop-oriented vocals while underscoring it all with crack musicianship. The drummer was Ansley Dunbar, known for his work with John Mayall, the Mothers of Invention and others.
Meanwhile, something had happened to Santana since I had seen the band back in Seattle in 1974. In Seattle, the event was satisfying thanks to the plentiful hits on the set list. Reviewer Patrick MacDonald, however, hinted at what was to come when he reported that “the music flowed with few breaks.” The set at Robertson Gym was taken to the next level. I’m sure that plenty of classic Santana material was played, but the songs did not matter. What mattered was the band’s confidence and domination of the stage while making a honed, polished sound- an intense amalgam of rock, jazz and Latin music. This was connected to a band and a history, but also blew all of that away. It was a highly electric experience, clean and majestic.
February 5, 1977- Campbell Hall. Jerry Garcia Band.
Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia spent his sabbatical away from the Dead concentrating on his own band. But then again, he always did work outside the Dead; the New Riders and Merl Saunders were prime examples. Since the Dead had returned to touring, however, it seemed like an unusual opportunity to see Garcia’s solo band, especially at Campbell Hall. While entering the show, I ran into one of my Deadhead friends from my high school days in CanogaPark. He was still a Head.
The band that took the stage not only included Garcia, but also Keith and Donna Godchaux from the Dead. Especially with Donna’s powerful voice helping back up Garcia, this was an energetic, buoyant affair. Garcia also did not forget to play some guitar, something missing from the Kingfish show at Campbell Hall the previous year.
February 12, 1977- Arlington Theater. Ella Fitzgerald w/ Modern Jazz Quartet.
I had not experienced very much formal show band jazz, featuring great vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald. In an attempt to impress a girlfriend, however, I bought tickets for this special benefit concert- for “Four Paws- The Animal Shelter Trust Fund.” The Modern Jazz Quartet opened the show with music that was cool and light. The group featured vibraphonist Milt Jackson, who maintained a consistently delicate touch while his mallets flew up and down the instrument. The rest of the band followed suit- literally, as they were all dressed in tuxes. Then Fitzgerald took the stage, joining the Modern Jazz Quartet for a set of show tunes- sometimes bluesy, sometimes jazzy and a little bit soulful. The highlight of the evening was hearing Fitzgerald, looking splendid in a long dark dress, indulge in some crazy scat singing.
February 27, 1977- Robertson Gym. Grateful Dead.
Only a few weeks after the Jerry Garcia show at Campbell Hall, the Dead came to Robertson Gym. The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium reported that the set list for this show included a “‘68-‘70 arrangement” of “Saint Stephen,” but the showstopping peak for me was a rocking version of the Rascals’ old hit “Good Lovin’.” Everybody in the venue was jumping and shaking.
In the Daily Nexus, writer Ben Kamhi declared that Santa Barbara was “Grateful Dead territory” thanks to strong ticket sales. In fact, according to Kamhi, Santa Barbara Deadheads had scooped up “1,700 tickets on the first day of sales- to a concert which was announced formally in a Nexus ad that morning.” The demand, however, did not best other recent shows, including the Peter Frampton date at the CountyBowl, which sold out 4,200 tickets in an hour and a half. Namhi reported that the capacity of Robertson Gym was 3,800 and that the Jerry Garcia shows at Campbell Hall had recently set a sales record on campus: “The day tickets went on sale for his two February 5 shows in the 900-seat hall, over 1,000 were purchased.”
In a separate article for the Daily Nexus, Kamhi reported on the production of the concert, beginning bright and early at 7 am. First of all, security barriers were put up to keep the gathering crowd at bay while crews wrestled with the stage and equipment. Kamhi’s piece was accompanied by some candid shots from the day- pictures of crew members on a cherry-picker, Garcia arranging his gear, drummer Mickey Hart warming up and a piano getting tuned. According to Kamhi, security problems during the show were limited because of “localized ticket sales to students and friends,” although once the show began, “Deadheads poured off the upper levels the moment the group started, jamming the lower level aisles.”
Writer Mike Pullen reviewed the concert for the Daily Nexus and declared that Santa Barbara’s first encounter with the “post-retirement Grateful Dead” was satisfying indeed. Pullen reported that the three hour, seventeen song set included “New Minglewood Blues” from the band’s first album, “Not Fade Away,” which segued into “Morning Dew,” “Peggy Lou,” “Loser” and encore “Johnny B. Goode.” For Pullen, the recent addition of the “Eastern-inclined” Hart served to “tighten the whole group sound.”
Pullen also detailed some of the work of the other musicians on stage that night. Pianist Keith Godchaux “served as a sort of foundation.” According to Pullen, guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir “gave tender tribute” to “El Paso” and later “howled his way through” Rev. Gary Davis’ gospel/blues tune “If I Had My Way.” About Garcia’s performance, Pullen noted that on “The Music Never Stops,” he peeled off “one of his more explorative solos. A crisp mesh of blues and rock phrases.” Pullen finished his review with a telling prediction about the Dead: “They’re the one band that I can honestly see playing twenty years from now.”
March 6, 1977- Arlington Theater. Ambrosia, Styx.
Styx delivered what you would expect from a progressive rock band- electric music that went beyond the verse-chorus-break-verse-chorus structure of pop music. They created mini-suites out of each piece, manipulating dynamics as musical themes were presented, then changed, then changed again. Styx, however, was not as much of an intellectual experience as it was gut-level showmanship. Each song always reached a screaming, multi-leveled climax, blending instruments with lots of voices for a highly dramatic effect. At the Arlington, Styx took the stage in costumes- the guitarists were dressed in metallic-looking jump suits and the keyboard player was dressed in tails. The band worked the stage with vigor and included their popular song “Lady.” In this more or less refined environment, however, the presentation seemed a little overdone. While certainly rousing, the music had a busyness and energy level that was also kind of exhausting.
Another of the new hard rock/progressive rock bands, Ambrosia, opened the show, also presenting a spirited set. Back in high school in Bremerton, I had an English teacher who loved and promoted the works of writer Kurt Vonnegut. We read Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle, in class, so I enjoyed hearing Ambrosia’s song “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” a reference to the book. But the climax to its set came when the band performed its version of the Beatles song, “I Am the Walrus,” a longtime Beatles favorite for me. The group had contributed the recording to the All This and World War II album. Though it seemed odd to be hearing this strange Beatles classic played by another band, the effect was the same- a swirling, heady sound that built in intensity while being underscored by those mysterious lyrics.
March 12, 1977- Arlington Theater. Tom Chapin, Janis Ian.
Though singer-songwriter Janis Ian was first known as a teenage star that challenged social attitudes with her song about interracial marriage, “Society’s Child,” I did not really know much about her early music or career. I was more familiar with her 1975 hit album, Between the Lines, which yielded the song, “At Seventeen.” This song was important and socially relevant in a way that even went beyond “Society’s Child.” “At Seventeen” lent heartfelt understanding to those who did not feel beautiful, did not feel popular, yet yearned passionately for some kind of outside contact- if nothing else, a call on the telephone. In effect, this song, with its melancholy mood, spoke for the feelings of many, many people- not just females. Predictably, this was the most poignant and emotional moment of Ian’s show at the Arlington. Ian was mature and controlled on stage, keeping the between-song patter succinct and meaningful. Tom Chapin, Harry Chapin’s brother, opened the show. His voice had some resemblance to his brother’s and his acoustic solo music was simple, friendly, maybe even gentle, while his stage presence was calm and warm.
March 24, 1977- Inglewood Forum. Genesis.
It was curious to watch the new version of Genesis after the departure of vocalist Peter Gabriel. Drummer Phil Collins had taken over the main vocal duties with commendable ease. His voice even sounded like Gabriel’s in a general way. Since I had seen the group on “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” tour in 1975, Genesis had added drummer Chester Thompson in order to allow Collins the freedom to sing and move around.
At the Forum, the group’s show dispensed with the stage settings and costumes while achieving a bigger, more accessible presentation. That meant crisp, clean sound, attractive lighting and a kind of lighter band personality. The group had honed their new sound down to shorter songs, but continued to play some of the old material. That night they even performed my favorite, “Supper’s Ready,” though Collins literally leapt into the “666” portion of the song- the dramatic climax- a few bars too early. Still, it all seemed to be going well for a band that had already been working hard for years- the Forum was full and the crowd treated them like rock stars, not cult figures.
March 31, 1977- Shrine Auditorium. Renaissance, Gentle Giant.
By this time, my parents had moved back to the LA area- up to Valencia, one valley north of the San Fernando Valley. This helped renew my access to the LA concert scene. A return trip to the Shrine Auditorium, however, came out as a draw. Gentle Giant’s tricks were well worn. The detachment I felt at the Arlington the year before was magnified even more by the bigger size of the auditorium. The band also seemed to be tired- or maybe just too intent.
More interesting was opening act Renaissance. Featuring vocalist Annie Haslam, Renaissance straddled the divide between progressive folk music and progressive rock. Haslam’s voice was high, strong and clear over the thick, purposeful sound of the band. But the most memorable moment of the concert was a visual image, not the music. At one point a bright white light was shining from behind Haslam, perfectly outlining her body in silhouette against her long white dress.
April 2, 1977- Devonshire Downs Stadium. Ronnie Laws and Pressure, Herbie Hancock.
I knew Devonshire Downs from my swap meet days back when I lived in CanogaPark. I would sell there on weekends. I was also aware that the facility had been used for other events- like a famous Jimi Hendrix concert. The California Jazz Festival ’77 headlined Herbie Hancock along with Ronnie Laws and Pressure as well as Randy Crawford, Karma and Gerald Wilson’s Big Band. Hancock was still playing jazz-fusion, having honed it down to an even more powerful electric sound. Hancock was no longer emphasizing ethnic African themes as he did with the Headhunters, but blasting out straight funk with instrumental play. This was the same for the preceding act, Ronnie Laws and Pressure. Melody in this case was secondary to the rhythmic groove and the soloing.
This was the second time I would consciously notice the racial mix of a crowd. In this case, I was a lone white man surrounded by African-Americans. Discomfort came when I noticed a group of young men gathered in a circle near me, heatedly discussing something while pointing over at me. I moved to a different spot and was met with curious eyes- not just a few- all around me, checking me out. I left the show early.
April 4, 1977- Arlington Theater. Return to Forever w/ Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke.
The spell had been broken for Return to Forever. The great, hot unit featuring Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Al DiMeola had dissolved. DiMeola had gone solo and Clarke also had a solo career going. Still, Corea took the group through another transmutation. Clarke stayed on for this tour and Corea added Joe Farrell, a sax player from an earlier version of the group, and vocalist Gayle Moran. The music, then, also changed- from the intense jamming of a compact unit, to a bigger, wider sound- most notably adding the vocals and hornwork, necessarily cutting back on the pure electric stuff.
April 7, 1977- Lobero Theatre. Towner and Abercrombie.
The Lobero Theatre was a tiny, quaint venue off on a side street in downtown Santa Barbara. The room only held hundreds, not thousands, which made it a perfect place to see a variety of events- like a production of Waiting for Godot, featuring actor Ralph Waite- and, of course, concerts. After their outstanding performance at the Arlington for the ECM festival in 1976, it was a treat to see guitar duo Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie again, but in a much more intimate environment.
The pair performed guitar duets that mixed the sounds of acoustic guitar and electric. This was not a duel between the two sounds, but a melding. Towner’s bright, crisp sound was supported and enhanced by Abercrombie’s supple yet controlled playing. After the concert, my friends and I ventured back stage to get autographs. We found Towner and Abercrombie hunched together in the little dressing room so small that we couldn’t fit in there with them, but had to crowd around by the door. The musicians were friendly and seemed to be pleased that we were visiting them. They had a six pack of Heineken beer, their “bonus” from the producer for being the “stars.” They offered to share.
April 10, 1977- Santa Barbara County Bowl. Arlo Guthrie w/ Shenandoah.
The story had been circulating that singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie had recently made a religious conversion and it was rumored that he had become a practicing monk. It seemed significant, then, that this show was being produced in the afternoon on Easter Sunday. However, none of that entered into this appearance by another Woodstock alumnus, whose marathon storysong “Alice’s Restaurant,” had made him a counter-culture spokesman back in the 1960s. Guthrie’s manner on stage was relaxed and easy and he talked with the crowd as readily as he played. Guthrie was backed by the band Shenandoah, who supported his music without dominating it. Guthrie was clearly the focus here and the band remained reserved enough to let his personality shine. One memorable moment of the show was “The Motorcycle Song,” a good natured, nonsensical piece that had the audience singing along and reacting with delight. The emotional pay-off, however, was a rousing version of “The City of New Orleans.”
April 22, 1977- Arlington Theater. Hollywood Stars, Kinks.
Like everybody else, I had been exposed to the most popular music by the Kinks- “You Really Got Me” from their early years, and, of course, “Lola,” controversial because of the gender-confusion in the lyrics. But the Kinks music that really scored with me was the concept work Arthur. In fact, the perception of the Kinks had shifted from hit-single band to ambitious concept-album band, all with that caustic musical smirk that was the Kinks’ real trademark.
By this time, however, the Kinks seemed to have abandoned the concept works and approached this show with a freewheeling, devil may care attitude. At one point, singer Ray Davies was waving around an over-sized inflated liquor bottle and the song “Lola” became a kind of boozy sing-along. The performance had the same effect as the sloppy Rod Stewart and the Faces show I had seen in Phoenix in 1975- the sense that the band just wasn’t interested in putting out. It all seemed to be a big joke to them, although I’m sure they didn’t forget to pick up their paychecks. The Hollywood Stars opened with a set of aggressive rock.
May 5, 1977- Arlington Theatre. Harry Chapin.
It had been several years since the release of his two major hit singles, “Taxi” and “Cat’s in the Cradle,” but the strength of those songs insured that audiences would welcome singer-songwriter Harry Chapin on stage. Chapin had become renowned for his deep, very human story songs. The twist was that, along with the story, there was a touch of street-level psychology. In “Taxi,” Chapin expressed feelings of regret as an unambitious taxi driver has a chance encounter with a dissatisfied actress he knew in his youth. “Cat’s in the Cradle” dealt with family issues as a young man learns to be just like his dad- too busy to offer love and affection to anyone. Each tune was revealing for as much of what wasn’t said as what was. This gave Chapin an unusual quality in pop music, applying a keen eye for observation while digging inside to touch the heart. On stage, Chapin was calm and collected and approached each piece like an old friend, one you could be sympathetic but honest with.
After the show, my friend and I joined the fans crowded around a table in the lobby. Chapin was behind the table, selling merchandise and signing autographs, all to benefit world hunger organizations. I didn’t want to buy anything, so approached Chapin with my ticket stub for an autograph. He looked at me and said he’d sign it if I made a donation to the cause. I obliged and so did he. More than being just a musician, Chapin was a social activist, using his stardom to effect real change. This was a level of community commitment that was indeed rare among pop musicians. This was not a jump-on-the-band-wagon, everybody-get-together kind of trendy activism, but honest, individual work- the very meaning of integrity.
May 7, 1977- Campbell Hall. Oregon.
Like the ECM stable of artists, the group Oregon was another popular choice among hip music fans and musicians. Of course, members of the group- like guitarist Ralph Towner- had recorded for ECM, so the connection was natural. Oregon, however, was pioneering its own unique kind of jazz, combining a creative blend of sounds- all acoustic- with a stream-of-consciousness artistic approach. Oregon’s music was a true forerunner to “world music” thanks to the wide selection of instruments and the use of exotic musical themes. The line-up was Towner on guitar and piano, Paul McCandless on woodwinds, Glenn Moore on bass and violin and Colin Walcott on tabla and sitar. Again, friends from Phoenix came to visit, jam on guitars and see Oregon. Besides getting Moore’s autograph, I also had great seats- second row- and felt immersed in the improvisational play among the musicians. It was a treat to watch Towner play other instruments- piano and French horn- since I had recently seen him play guitar duets with John Abercrombie only a month before.
I borrowed a friend’s lecture cassette recorder and managed to record both sets. My prime seat location and excellent sound helped make for recordings that clearly showed the depth of this unique performing unit. While based in jazz, the music explored other areas, including melodic art songs as well as neo-classical quartet music. The instrument choices were plentiful: guitar, piano, French horn, trumpet, shakers, sitar, tablas, bass, soprano sax, whistles, as well as violin and clarinet. Each musician was featured during the course of the show, as the group worked to build and deconstruct the music in long excursions. The only speech from the stage that night was for crediting one of the tunes, but other than that, the instruments did the talking.
The instrumentation was certainly exotic as far as rock was concerned, but also as far as jazz was concerned. This allowed Oregon to explore areas not commonly visited by other genres. From repetitive melodic themes, allowing improvisation on top, to breakdowns into chaotic sounds, or even atmospheric space music, Oregon created not just songs, but soundscapes. McCandless soared on some of his solos and Towner’s hands flew over the piano keyboard. Changing and shifting, Oregon took the audience on long journeys of instrumental flight. The tune “Timeless” was the most familiar of the pieces, but that truly didn’t matter. This was a meeting of musical minds, brought together for the purpose of making the moment eventful. The music surged with inspiration then fell into introspection. It worked an irresistible melody and challenged the ear with avant-garde experimentation. This was sophisticated jam music.
The recordings revealed that the audience was very quiet during and in between pieces, but erupted in enthusiastic applause at the end of each section. Also, Oregon was very adept at dissolving the music, fading out to silence. All in all, the group provided virtuoso playing, creative instrumentation and a wide-ranging variety of musical moods. In two full sets, there was a sense of rhythmic and thematic play, musicians readily changing instruments in the course of a single piece.
May 8, 1977- UCSB Stadium. Kenny Loggins, Fleetwood Mac.
Since I had seen Fleetwood Mac at the UCSB Stadium the previous year, the band had capitalized on the success of the Fleetwood Mac album with a new release, Rumours, a recording that would go on to eclipse the success of the previous effort. At UCSB, Rumours became like Frampton Comes Alive!– Fleetwood Mac was pouring out of dorm windows and doors without mercy. As a result, the group’s return to the campus stadium was met with a much more intense reaction.
In advance of the concert, writer Mel Sibony explained in the Daily Nexus that the Fleetwood Mac show was an important event for UCSB student organizations: “The…concert…will be a first in that the entrepreneurial tasks of booking and setting up the campus stadium event will be taken care of solely by AS Concerts.” Sibony also reported that according to Jim Curnutt, Activities Coordinator for AS Concerts, the concert was a real coup for the university. Originally Fleetwood Mac had scheduled a twenty-four city concert tour, however, vocalist Stevie Nicks’ “voice wasn’t up to par when the rehearsals ended and seventeen of the stops were cancelled…this will be their only Southern California appearance.” The budget for the show was $120,000 and half the tickets had been sold four weeks before the concert.
Kenny Loggins opened the show as a solo artist. Following the breakup of Loggins and Messina, Loggins’ distinctive voice was now being applied to an energetic pop music, dropping country influences for a fluid, melodic style. Loggins was well received and his set was upbeat and confident. Fleetwood Mac also came on with confidence. Most notably, Nicks was very animated on stage, swirling around in her “witch dance” while Lindsay Buckingham dug deep into his guitar for blazing solos and remarkable textures.
Afterwards, the Daily Nexus reported that the concert had been “the most successful event in the history of the Associated Students of UCSB” and that AS Concerts- a non-profit organization- had earned $20,000, “to be distributed to various groups and programs under the auspices of Legislative Council.” A photo spread in the newspaper pieced together several shots to create a panoramic view of the stadium during the concert with “over 23,000 people all having a good time.”
May 12, 1977- Campbell Hall. Rachel Faro, Robben Ford, Allen Ginsberg.
Inspired by his participation in Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, original Beat poet Allen Ginsberg did a little touring of his own, bringing along musical friends to create a show, not just a poetry reading. Ginsberg was in his “Ahhhh” stage, instructing the audience and having them join in on deep meditative breaths before launching into his randy, energetic flow of words. Ginsberg had made a personal style out of turning a dizzying number of statements and images into waves of sound, challenging listeners with wild thoughts and declarations while soothing them with a lulling kind of vocal intonement. Opening the show was singer-songwriter Rachel Faro, who performed a version of her most well-known tune, “Refugees,” as well as blues guitarist Robben Ford, whom I had seen play at the Hollywood Bowl for the Newport Jazz Festival West in 1973 and with George Harrison in 1974. Afterwards, I did what everybody else was doing- I got Ginsberg to sign my copy of his famous book, Howl.
Santa Barbara County Bowl. Leon Redbone, Leo Kottke, Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band.
Walking along the cliffs, dodging the beach tar hidden in the sand and being surrounded by surfers in Santa Barbara was one way to experience living by the ocean. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet’s view of living by the ocean had to do with sailing and drinking. Buffet’s persona as the lazy sailor was crystallized in his hit song “Margaritaville,” from the album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes. The song mixed a wistful sense of regret with placid acceptance.
“Margaritaville” had become a smash hit by the time the band came to the CountyBowl and Buffet celebrated his success with a set of good, clean rock and roll. Buffet’s back-up unit, the Coral Reefer Band, was a first rate collection of musicians and remained tight-knit throughout the show. Buffet’s voice had a mellow, soothing quality to it, but with the band, the music did achieve a rousing climax that had the audience dancing happily. The set was free of artistic pretensions as such and simply rocked. Buffet was amiable in the spotlight and treated the affair like a friendly gathering in a bar. Opening the show was the enigmatic Leon Redbone, who was most certainly a strange bird, singing old vaudeville-type songs with a distinctive mush-mouthed style while accompanying himself on guitar and tuba. In between Redbone and Buffet was a set by Leo Kottke.
Arlington Theater. Al DiMeola, Weather Report.
Beside Stanley Clarke, the other great bassist of the jazz-rock fusion movement was Jaco Pastorius. Beside Return to Forever, the other great band was Weather Report. By the time I saw Weather Report at the Arlington, the band still included original members Joe Zawinul on keyboards and Wayne Shorter on saxes, but Pastorius had become a popular focal point and he did not disappoint. Pastorius was active and even flamboyant on stage, jumping and posing with his bass swinging carelessly in front of him. Meanwhile, the rest of Weather Report conducted themselves with a little more dignity, jazzman style. The music was certainly based on funky grooves, but the sound was thick and well textured, thanks in great part to Zawinul’s keyboard work. The opening act was ex-Return to Forever guitarist Al DiMeola, whose band sound was much more controlled, much more centered, of course, on the guitar than Return to Forever’s music. The guitar was a featured part of the composition, not just another solo instrument.
Arlington Theater. Dave Mason.
After being an integral part of the early success of the band Traffic, guitarist and songwriter Dave Mason went on to an equally successful solo career. I had collected several Mason records, including a colored vinyl copy of his debut solo effort, Alone Together. Mason’s voice had a soothing quality to it but his musical arrangements were generally crisp and precise, letting his guitar soloing take the music to the edge. The hit single at this time was “We Just Disagree,” but the showstopper at the Arlington was Mason’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” It was not as ragged as Dylan’s version and not as hard-edged as Jimi Hendrix’s version. Mason had turned the song into a rousing and inspirational workout.
June 4, 1977- Inglewood Forum. Grateful Dead.
By this time, the Grateful Dead had released a new album, Terrapin Station. The title song was a mini-suite that succeeded in propelling the Dead back into the realm of rock majesty. Like the old Dead song “St. Stephen,” “Terrapin Station” had highly dramatic elements that would rise and fall throughout the piece, until finally achieving a rousing climax. This music, big and bold, was not country influenced but was artful rock and belonged in a bigger venue like the Forum. The Forum, however, still seemed like an odd, unimaginative place to see the Dead. The show started more or less on time, even though the crowd had hardly started to drift into the arena. This drew criticism from guitarist Bob Weir, who admonished fans for taking their time getting to the show. The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium reported that the set list for this show also included “Playin’ in the Band,” “Franklin’s Tower,” “China Doll” and “Not Fade Away.”
My first trip to Russia had been so stimulating, that my brother and I decided to go back for another visit, only this time in the summer warmth. We flew to England, after being stuck on the tarmac in LA for an extended time. It seems our plane had been held up in order to allow Led Zeppelin to land- I saw their jet through the window. Finally we flew to London, then hooked up with an Australian bus tour company. We set off for a major trek through Scandinavia, Russia and Eastern Europe with a bus full of Aussies, some English and a handful of Americans. By the time we returned to London, we were ready to relax for a while- besides we didn’t have much cash left.
By this time, the punk rock scene had already exploded- something I had only heard scattered comments about back in California. I rounded up a copy of Melody Maker magazine and started checking the local music news, which was full of band names I had never heard of. One night, I started out from our B & B in Tooting Broadway to a small club to see the Adverts. I chickened out, however. Punk at the time had a reputation for being violent. It took a kind of revolutionary stance that necessarily hated everything before it, including long hairs like myself. I ducked into the local pub and drank a few pints instead. I did pluck up the courage to read at an open poetry gathering, however.
Though I didn’t see any live punk, I did buy punk singles- twice. The first batch I chose got stolen at a gravestone-tracing place. I bought a second batch- including all of the Sex Pistols singles- and was the first one on my block back in Santa Barbara to have any of this stuff. I liked the raw sound and the irreverent attitude and was fascinated with this brand new crop of bands that just didn’t care about what the rest of the music industry was doing, who was on the charts and how many records they were selling. It was indeed revolutionary. I would use the records for an article on punk for the Daily Nexus when the fall semester started.
August 11, 1977- New Theatre. Unicorn, Steeleye Span.
One of the ads I saw in Melody Maker was for a show by Steeleye Span in Oxford. We were planning our itinerary for a rented car trip and put Oxford on the list. What could be a better representation of the music of England- both traditional and contemporary at the same time- than Steeleye? We made it to Oxford and took some time to walk around the clean, stately city, the university buildings pricking the sky with their sharp, ornate spires. We went to the venue and I tried an I’m-a-journalist-from-America tack to try to take pictures at the show- my first attempt at a “photo pass”- but, of course, was refused. So we went around behind the venue to a pub to grab a glass and wait for show time. To our surprise, the band members of Steeleye Span were also carousing in the pub, crowded around the jukebox and looking jolly. We didn’t try to approach, but felt part of the party anyway.
The concert hall was pretty small- more like an auditorium than a theater- and the audience was reserved and formal, a little stiff considering Steeleye’s energetic music. No one moved a muscle for the light country rock set of opening band Unicorn. Things thawed for Steeleye, but not much. This was “The Original Masters” tour and Martin Carthy, a guitarist from an early version of the band, had rejoined. The music maintained its saucy character, but there was the feeling that perhaps American audiences were more delighted with Steeleye’s music than their English counterparts were.
September 2, 1977- Eastvold Auditorium, Pacific Lutheran University. Merce Cunningham with David Tudor.
The Cornish Institute was a school in Seattle that recognized and fostered accomplishment in the arts. As a senior in high school, I had entered a Cornish writing contest and was awarded a “half-scholarship” to a summer program I did not participate in. However, I was lucky enough to time another visit to the Northwest to coincide with a Cornish celebration for the arts that included lectures by and collaborations among professionals in different mediums.
The first event that friends and I attended was a dance concert in Tacoma that had some very innovative artists involved: the choreography was by Merce Cunningham, the musical advisor was John Cage and the artistic supervisor was Jasper Johns. The musicians performing for this event included David Tudor, famous as a composer and as the pianist who sat silently at the piano bench when Cage’s piece “4’33”” made its debut at Carnegie Hall.
The program explained the form of this and other evenings on the schedule: “Presented without intermission, these EVENTS consist of complete dances, excerpts from repertory, and often new sequences arranged for the particular performance and place, with the possibility of several separate activities happening at the same time- to allow for not so much an evening of dance as the experience of dance.” To advance the events, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an exhaustive article about the “coexistence of music, dance and décor.”
September 8, 1977- Cornish School. John Cage.
In an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, writer Melinda Bargreen revealed that John Cage had spent two years at the Cornish School in the 1930s as “a composer and pianist.” According to Bargreen, Cage’s famous prepared piano compositions had their root in his work at Cornish. The “prepared piano” was a standard piano whose strings are modified with clamps of various types to change, manipulate and mostly interrupt the sound when the strings are struck by the hammers. My friends and I had tried the same trick to our guitars, using alligator clips, with questionable results. But that was the point- to question the results, to think outside the box. Rock and roll had elements that challenged the boundaries of music too, but Cage’s ideas were even wilder. The shocking thing was that he had been doing it for decades. That’s why my musician friends and I were attracted to Cage. When he entered the small, old auditorium theater at Cornish, I couldn’t help it- I hurried up and had him sign my copy of his book, Silence. He simply signed his name and moved on with a nod and a calm smile.
What happened on stage was a retrospective of some of Cage’s most adventurous works, including some prepared piano. Each piece was played by different groupings of musicians, including David Tudor. Cage himself was set to perform on two pieces- “Music for Marcel Duchamp, ” composed in 1947, and “Dream,” originally composed in 1948 with an arrangement “written for piano with string drone in 1977.” Also in the program was “Solo for Trombone from Concert for Piano and Orchestra,” written in 1958. For this piece, the soloist took his place in a chair and read music on a music stand. The trombonist moved his slide according to the music, but did not blow- a horn version of “4’33’’.”
For the final piece, everyone, including Cage, filed out of the theater and into the parking lot. The piece, “Imaginary Landscape No. 4,” was a four-minute composition written for twelve radios to be played by 24 performers. It had first been performed in 1952. As this bizarre scene unfolded, I was standing next to Cage by the theater doorway and he was literally laughing up his sleeve. This was his coup de grace: a conductor swung his baton as players turned the radios on and off in a semi-circle of autos positioned on the blacktop. The sound simply crackled here and there, voices leapt out of the car windows, as well as quick snatches of music and commercials. It continued- a chaos of sounds organized by the fact that we were all there listening to it. At the end, what was left of the crowd cheered, then the concert was over, dissolving into happy confusion.
October 7, 1977- Lobero Theatre. McCoy Tyner.
Back in Santa Barbara, I returned to the Lobero for some jazz. McCoy Tyner was a pianist with a significantly different playing style than someone like Bill Evans, whom I had seen play at Campbell Hall the previous year. At the Lobero, Tyner led his small combo through a set of straight-ahead jazz, not fusion. Where Evans’ playing style was thin and delicate, Tyner’s sound was thicker, meatier. Tyner’s massive hands would attack his keyboards with abandon, pounding out rhythm, while also picking out precise runs of notes. Afterwards, I slipped back stage and had Tyner sign a concert poster.
October 15, 1977- Santa Monica Civic. Gary Burton, Shakti.
My favorite Mahavishnu John McLaughlin album, My Goal’s Beyond, had a significantly different sound than McLaughlin’s work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Though future members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra were on the album, the music was acoustic based and Eastern oriented. That’s why I greeted with excitement the news that McLaughlin had formed a new group- an acoustic-based band- with some Indian musicians. It would also spur a return visit to the Santa Monica Civic, one of my favorite venues in the LA area.
This concert presented a long program of sit-down acoustic music mixing dramatic precision with blinding virtuosity. The buzz was about the young violinist, L. Shankar, but both Zakir Hussain on tablas and T.H. Vinayakram on the clay pot were red hot. Add in McLaughlin’s rapid-fire crystalline guitar runs and you have thousands of notes throughout the course of the concert. But more, the four had quickly achieved an interpersonal musical communication that allowed them to answer each other’s phrases as well as come together for a final flourish and a stop-on-a-dime ending.
A big bonus for the evening was being able to see opener Gary Burton’s band again. Cool and melodic, Burton’s music maintained precision, but also ventured out into the atmosphere, thanks to the ringing tones of the vibraphone and Pat Metheny’s distinctive guitar tone and soaring solos. This was the most stunning concert of instrumental music I had seen since the previous year’s ECM festival at the Arlington.
November 4, 1977- Ucen Lawn. Jack Tempchin
Like other Universities, UCSB attracted special events of all kinds. The earliest event I attended was a performance by a local reggae band- in the theater department’s performance space. In the classroom, I would experience a presentation by a group of Shakespearean actors- including a young actor named Ben Kingsley- turning Shakespeare’s language into contemporary talk. At Campbell Hall, the great absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco introduced his new film, The Slime, and gave an address. Comedian/social activist Dick Gregory also addressed students- about government conspiracies. The large green lawn behind the student center hosted a variety of events, including speeches by politicians Tom Hayden and Jerry Brown.
I also got to see an acoustic performance by Jack Tempchin. The ad in the Daily Nexus had a striking steer-skull-with-bird-wings design, expressing Tempchin’s association with the Eagles. Tempchin had written the Eagles’ hit “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” and co-written “Already Gone.” On the Ucen lawn, Tempchin was just strumming and singing with very little fanfare, a small audience listening while enjoying their lunch.
November 12, 1977- Arlington Theater. Wendy Waldman, Randy Newman.
Randy Newman’s performance at the Arlington was an intimate affair thanks to third row seats. I knew of Newman’s music first from Three Dog Night, who had a hit with his tune “Mama Told Me (Not to Come.)” But then I heard his classic album Sail Away, full of songs that displayed a keen, caustic wit and a music that was somehow soothing and sometimes sounding like something out of another era. Newman had a kind of drawl style of vocalizing and he accompanied himself with easygoing piano. His songs offered both clarity of image as well as psychological twists that would take pot shots at selfish hypocrisies and bigotry. Most memorable at the Arlington, however, was an early Newman song, “Freddie the Fat Boy,” that expressed a deep empathy for a kid who got picked on for being overweight. Newman was like a Southern storyteller and his songs vividly created characters, voices and attitudes, all to be examined with a full measure of irony. Singer-songwriter Wendy Waldman opened with an upbeat, energetic acoustic solo set.
Ambassador Theatre. Julian Bream
During my summer European trip, our tour group had settled in a town in Austria called Kirchenburg for a couple of days. While there, we met another tour group who ended up staying in the same hostel. In the course of our time there, I met a young woman from Grand Rapids, Michigan. We got acquainted fast, enjoying a town beer festival together- a live polka band in leiderhosen providing the music. After our groups went their separate ways, she and I exchanged letters and finally she came out to Santa Barbara for an extended visit. Also a musician, my friend was just as interested in culture as I was and we made it a point to go to everything that came along. However, rather than seek out big name entertainment or rock and roll, we explored all types of cultural events. That included visiting my favorite art museum, the Norton Simon in Pasadena. While there, we went across the street to the very formal Ambassador Theatre to check out a concert by another of the revered classical guitar masters, Julian Bream. Bream opened the concert with a fanfare that sounded like a whole orchestra of guitars. His playing was lighter, perhaps less formal than Segovia’s, but technically sharp and quick.
During the coming weeks we would also go to concerts on campus, including several events in the intimate theater of the music department. For example, we attended a concert by a group called Musica Antiqua. The ensemble was playing ancient European music with facsimiles of the original instruments, including several wind and stringed instruments. Often this music sounded off key, or unnatural, though they were perhaps much more natural than most contemporary instruments. We also listened to a violin recital and a concert by a flute choir.
At Campbell Hall, we listened to classical music, courtesy of the New York Brass Quintet. My friend saved me from embarrassing myself at this concert. I was about to applaud after a movement of music had ended. Like a greenhorn, I didn’t know that at classical concerts, the audience waits until the entire piece of music has been played before clapping- keeping silent during the breaks between movements. We also saw the Lincoln Center Chamber Music group and several dance concerts, including Wilson Pico, who presented a kind of dance play about police brutality and political persecution, and Cliff Keuter, who presented a concert as well as a lecture on the aesthetics of dance.
November 22, 1977- Lobero Theatre. Tom Waits
Since I had seen singer-songwriter Tom Waits get booed off the stage at the Paramount in Seattle in 1974- opening for Frank Zappa- he had become a cult figure and respect for his songwriting had grown. Waits was now a fabled figure who lived in a motel and wrote about the gritty, seamy side of life. He snarled and growled when he sang and exuded a wise, street-level cool, accentuated by Beatnik–like lyrics. For his show at the intimate Lobero Theatre, Waits had a full band- his “deluxe Main Street Burlesque Revue”- and his presentation was strong and confident. The ad for the concert in the newspaper had promised “A Very Special Turkey for Thanksgiving” and delivered fully, but without much stuffing- just raw, aggressive show songs. At one point during the show, a stripper danced underneath a street lamp stage prop. The Lobero was no longer a theater but a street corner where the people from the underworld met.