King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker

by Tim Van Schmidt


My time at the record store was short-lived. I had initially been hired to fill a slot while another employee took a trip to New Zealand. When she got back a month later, I was kept on for several months- for the busy holiday season and inventory- but eventually the manager’s story became “there is just no more room on the schedule.” Still, Rockmo had been a lot of fun- yes, just like in the record store movies- and I had made some lasting friendships.

With one of those new friends, I embarked on a long road trip across Utah and the great Salt Lake, over to Berkeley, down to Santa Barbara, to LA, over to the Grand Canyon and through the Four Corners, on to Silverton and Durango and back to northern Colorado. We simply loaded up our sleeping bags and a case of beer and went looking for adventure, visiting various friends and acquaintances along the way.

We stayed in Berkeley for several nights and as we trolled around Telegraph Avenue I spied the marquee at a club called the Keystone and discovered that our timing was right for seeing Jerry Garcia. I had enjoyed the double record live set Garcia had recorded with keyboardist Merl Saunders and here was the chance to see them perform in the very same club. I had seen Elvin Jones at the Keystone in San Francisco back in 1976, but Berkeley was so much more exciting.

The scruffy crowd started lining up in the early afternoon along the sidewalk and around the block. After a while, a fellow worked the line, trying to sell skull artwork- tie-dyed sheet material with a silkscreen skull/mandala design. I was feeling saucy and decided to buy something from the artist- Phillip Brown. After all, it was just like buying weavings from native Guatemalans, only in Berkeley.

Others around us were negotiating to buy psychedelic mushrooms from each other as everyone else seemed to be getting acquainted. Inside the club later, Garcia and Saunders strung together a couple of gentle, yet funky bar sets, the crowd endlessly milling around and partying, no longer strangers. I had the ill-advised urge to call Jonie at about 2 am- 3 o’clock in Colorado. She wasn’t too receptive to the fun I was having. Still, I had finally achieved an unspoken goal- to see a Dead-related show in the Bay area.

The following night, we checked out Jorma Kaukonen at a little venue called Berkeley Square. Back at the record store, one of the favorite in-store play albums was Kaukonen’s album “Quah,” a thick slice of moody, acoustic blues. It was a welcome relief from his more electric work with Hot Tuna.

But at Berkeley Square, Kaukonen had an electric band again- called Vital Parts- and played a slightly twisted version of rock and roll. The event was a benefit for Mono Lake and a slide show in the middle of the event showed natural devastation and a dire need for environmentalists to mobilize. The crowd included some decidedly younger audience members who happily danced while Kaukonen’s guitar lurched and growled in fuzzy, thick tones.

July 22- Red Rocks. .38 Specials, Jefferson Starship.

 This was my first trip to the spectacular Red Rocks, one of the world’s great music venues. Located in the Rocky Mountain foothills just west of Denver, Red Rocks is a natural amphitheater, huge rock formations jutting up into the sky, all colored a deep, rich red rust. Not having been in Colorado long, however, I didn’t know anything about Red Rocks, so when my friends asked me if I wanted to go, I was going for the music- Jefferson Starship- and didn’t know there was any real significance to the venue. But the beautiful surroundings nearly distracted me from the concert itself and has since become my favorite concert destination.

The natural beauty mixed with an energetic crowd for my first Red Rocks experience. The Jefferson Starship was also very energetic and were enjoying a revival with their new album, “Modern Times.” The music was more aggressive, particularly the song “Stairway to Cleveland,” where the refrain was “fuck you, we do what we want.” At Red Rocks, the song had the expected crowd-rousing effect.

My favorite new song was a deep, dark tune called “Alien.” Vocalist Grace Slick had recently rejoined the group after several years of tumultuous band lineups and Mickey Thomas handled the male vocal duties. The drummer was now Ansley Dunbar, who I had last seen playing with Journey back in 1977, and the emphasis here was on rock, plain and simple, not hit songs like “Miracles.”

.38 Special, lead by vocalist Donnie Van Zandt, opened the show with their tough Southern rock. The band was enjoying unprecedented sales with their new album at the time, “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys.”

Cheyenne Frontier Days. Oak Ridge Boys.

 In the west, country music was king long before the commercial explosion in the national mainstream. There was no better place to see it than at Cheyenne Frontier Days, the summer rodeo event nicknamed “the daddy of them all.” Thanks to my record store buddies, we got a handful of free tickets to see the Oak Ridge Boys- one of the hottest country sellers of the time thanks to the hit record “Elvira.” Before the concert, we sampled Indian fry bread, checked out the merchandise booths and strolled the midway. In the rodeo arena, we also watched calf roping, bull riding and other events.

For the concert portion of the day’s activities, a stage sat out in the dusty arena facing the grandstands, which were full for this popular act. The Oak Ridge Boys had started out as a gospel act more than twenty years before and the group’s vocal music continued to reflect that in their full, four-part harmonies. There was a rustle in the crowd particularly every time the bass singer stepped briefly into the spotlight and sang with deep, rich tones.

While I was enjoying the show, Jonie was not feeling so hot. She and a friend had braved a few rides, especially one that put participants into a little cockpit, which was rotated end for end. You could also make the cockpit rotate the other way simultaneously and they did it all. She looked green from the ride and all the cigarette smoking going on in the grandstands during the show. There was no non-smoking section. The Oak Ridge Boys celebrated the popularity of “Elvira” by playing it once during the main body of the show, then including it again in the encore.

September 8- Lincoln Center. John Bayley. Peter Tosh.

Record store friends had free tickets to the joint production between CSU and the local promoter, Quantum Arts, presenting reggae legend Peter Tosh. However, one of them still had a security crew t-shirt left over from a previous event, so he volunteered to put it on and simply walk in and start guarding something while I used the ticket.

Opening the show was a regional musician named John Bayley. Bayley was well known as a night club act and used the appropriate moniker of “the one-man reggae band.” Bayley started the show with energetic acoustic reggae tunes, all punctuated by his easy-going stage manner and a gregarious laugh.

Then Tosh took the stage but he seemed to be in a surly mood. Later it was said that Tosh was unhappy that the audience didn’t have any black people. Still, his reggae pounded and lurched, the crowd on its feet for most of the show. Tosh rode a unicycle around on stage in a lighter moment and was joined on stage by his band Word, Sound and Power, featuring the great rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.

Bad moods aside, whatever happened at the concert didn’t diminish the fact that Tosh was now the king of reggae. The great Bob Marley- who I had failed to go see in Santa Barbara when I had the chance- had died of cancer only four months before this concert. Bunny Wailer remained in Jamaica, a religious reclusive. That left only Tosh to represent the Wailers, or the “three wise men of music.” The concert program explained that “Tosh’s reggae is inspired by the Rastafarian’s strong religious beliefs, and defined by his Trenchtown, Jamaica ghetto background of poverty, oppression, and struggle. His potent social/political/religious attack is tempered in his music by his inclination to celebrate life.” Tosh’s latest release at the time was “Wanted: Dread or Alive.”

November 4- Lincoln Center. Pat Metheny Group with Lyle Mays.

Since I had last seen guitarist Pat Metheny play with Gary Burton in 1977, he had split off to form his own band, own music and own legacy. At this point, the band included Lyle Mays on keyboards, Dan Gottlieb on drums, bassist Steve Rodby and “guest member” Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. Gottlieb had also played in Gary Burton’s group and had followed Metheny into the new group.

This band had achieved a world-fusion jazz that was culturally dramatic, sometimes atmospheric, always presented with crisp, clean sound and interesting arrangements. I missed the mix of guitar and vibes from Burton’s grouping with Metheny, but more dynamic was the mix of guitar and keyboards Metheny and Mays had concocted with melody heightened by rhythm. Metheny’s legacy was to be an inspirational figure to contemporary fans of challenging music.

 I decided to go to the show at the last minute, stopped by the Lincoln Center to see if they had tickets and scored a single front row seat for the second show. It was a perfect vantage point from which to watch the interaction between musicians- the true core of jazz. It turned out that the show was particularly significant for the local promoting company, Quantum Arts. Pat Metheny had been their first booking in February 1979. It was also the first “rock” act to play the Lincoln Center, completed in October 1978.

The show evidently also had significance for the community at large because Metheny was met with a barrage of local press. Three newspapers interviewed Metheny, reviewed the show and published generous spreads of photos. The common image in all three reviews was of Metheny in the throes of guitar solo ecstasy. All the other members of the band were featured in photos between the three articles- including shots of Vasoncelos playing the strange-looking instrument called the berimbau- but Metheny’s sincerely creased brow and dramatic guitar handling was perfect feature material.

The review in the Rocky Mountain Collegian, CSU’s student newspaper, was credited to a pair of writers- Mark Tatchell and Rex Welshon. They found “cause for excitement, contemplation and investigation” in Metheny’s adventurous sounds. Tatchell and Welshon explained that “this new breed of music isolates a plethora of influences, presenting each with integrity.”

Welshon and Tatchell reported that the show began with “San Lorenzo” and ended with “(Cross the) Heartland.” They described the Ornette Coleman-influenced tune “Off Ramp,” as “an explosive cacophony.”  The pair of writers made it a point to complain about noisy fans and their enthusiastic yelping during the concert. However, they did not let that annoyance distract from the fact that Metheny and group had plenty to offer: “an entirely different mood was achieved in the next-to-last number, a dreamy and evocative free-jazz work.”

In the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the only daily newspaper in Fort Collins, writer Valerie Moses reported that 2000 fans had attended the two shows and that Metheny and group played two hour sets at each show. Moses was enthusiastic about Metheny’s playing on both solid-body and hollow-body guitars and for her, the music was pleasantly overwhelming: “there were moments when the jumble of notes were so fast and furious, they seemed to spring from the stage like jillions of tiny time capsules.”

Moses singled out the title track to the Metheny group’s latest release, “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls” and found the music was “stupefying in its beauty”: “There are times when listening is like watching slow-motion photography of wild and beautiful animals in flight.”

In the Fort Collins Review, a weekly, writer Dan Lassiter reported briefly on the concert as well as presented an interview with Metheny that occurred after the shows. Lassiter, whose photos of the concert appeared with Valerie Moses’ article in the Coloradoan, not with his own article, summed up the concert experience by noting that Metheny’s “highly polished electro-technical guitar playing hypnotized the crowd, combining changing tempos, musical dynamics and strong melodies.” In his interview with Metheny, Lassiter brought up the significance of the Lincoln Center date and Metheny responded by admitting that “this was the first place we played that wasn’t a funky club, and we’ll remember it for a long time.”

November 6- Sam’s Old Town Ballroom. Papa John Creach.

My experience with seeing Papa John Creach with Hot Tuna in 1972 had not been very positive. The sound mix placed Creach’s high-pitched violin sawings up front and consistently dominated the music, making it grating and exhausting. Nine years later at Sam’s, however, Creach presented a show that put aside all that Hot Tuna rock and roll excess and relied more on the touch and instincts of an older showman. His six-piece band introduced him and Creach took the stage, slow and old. But when he finally reached his place at the microphone, he seemed to light up, get animated and get down to the business of pulling out a wide variety of music presented with an upbeat attitude. Unlike the thick electric mud of Hot Tuna’s music, Creach’s backing band supported and enhanced without overpowering. This allowed Creach to balance high-energy dance tunes with moments of sweet nostalgic reverie, such as an emotionally evocative version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Writer Liam Rooney covered Creach’s two-night stand at Sam’s in the Fort Collins Review, reporting that the Fort Collins dates were on the last leg of a six-week nationwide tour and describing the 64-year-old musician’s comfortable stagecraft: “Hopping, stomping, and strutting back and forth on the stage, Creach led his six-piece band through a unique variety of tunes while dancers silhouetted against the stage lights worked hard to keep up with the pace.”

Rooney also interviewed Creach, who had been “playing on an amplified violin since 1943.” He told Rooney that he “always had a “built-in” beat.”  Creach played about 180 shows a year, touring the country with his wife Gretchen and the band members. Gretchen managed the band while Creach delivered the musical goods.