Monday, August 22, 2016

Shows I've been to: Jefferson Airplane & Big Brother & the Holding Company, August, 1966

Early August 1966. I was 16, on "home leave" from Beirut with my family, staying with friends in Los Gatos, where we had lived before moving to Beirut in January 1964. I had friends in Los Gatos who played in a rock band (for the life of me I can't remember their name). The drummer was Randy Ritchie, who passed away in 2012. They took me along to the club, Losers South, in San Jose, on a few occasions, because they performed there on occasion. This was the first live rock show I ever went to in the US (I'd seen bands in Beirut, of course).

I don't remember whether it was the first night I went that I saw Jefferson Airplane perform. I was really blown away, I'd never heard anything like it. This was when Signe Toly Anderson was the female lead singer. She was to leave the band shortly thereafter, doing her last show in October 1966. The Airplane's first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, was released in August as well, and I grabbed a copy and took it back with me to Beirut. Wish I still had it!

The opening band the night I went (not sure which of the dates) was Big Brother & the Holding Company. I have to admit that they were too loud and intense and I was not into them. This was less than two months after Janice had joined the band -- she first performed with them on June 10, 1966. Of course when I returned to the US in 1968 for college, I had seen the error of my ways, and I went to see them live that fall.

The one thing I remember about the show was that there was a go-go dancer onstage with the Airplane while they were playing. This was a common feature of shows in the early to mid-sixties but it went out of style with the rise of psychedelia. I think the presence of the dancer must have been something that the club management put on the program. I have to say that at the San Jose there was no flavor of the emerging psychedelic scene that was emerging 60 miles away in San Francisco. Check out this footage of the Airplane playing at the Filmore in 1966 -- there was no light show in San Jose, that's for sure. (The sound is not live, it's from the record, but you can see Signe Toly Anderson onstage.)

I found a blog post which has this to say about the Losers South club: "The venue never caught on, both because of the terminal unhipness of San Jose and the fact that Losers South was apparently notorious for not paying its acts (and no doubt, unlike the Avalon would not even give unpaid bands a kilo of weed)." Well, at least it was hip enough to book the Airplane and I got exposed! [Added 23 August: Another thing that was great about Losers South was that I was allowed in as a teenager, aged 16. There was no checking of ID. I didn't have one!]

The poster -- which I now of course wish I had snagged -- was apparently designed by Stanley Miller ("Mouse") and Alton Kelley, whose most famous psychedelic poster work was for the Grateful Dead.

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