Acid Rock as a genre started in the mid-sixties and flourished in the late sixties.
At that time LSD – lysergic Acid Diethylamine – was legal and thought to be safe. Marijuana was the drug of choice for the burgeoning alternative culture and was extensively used.
A Rock Scene sprang up in the two cities on the West Coast of America which had attracted in large numbers of alternative characters. In Los Angeles the scene was centred around Venice and the Sunset Strip and in San Francisco it was around Haight Asbury.
The culture was very radical. It became known a the Hippie movement typified by its long hair and bright clothes, liberalised attitudes to drugs and sex and a distrust of the establishment.
The Acid Rock culture had grown out of a coalescing from a number of sources. There was the influence of the British Bands who had inspired a number of musicians to get into bands; the politics and poetry of the Folk movement, exemplified by Bob Dylan, with its radicalising message; the influence of East Coast musicians like the Lovin’ Spoonful and then the seminal band the Byrds with their Folk-Rock and spacey sounds.
In Britain a similar thing was taking place simultaneously. It was based in London where both cannabis and :LSD were circulating and was creating a Psychedelic scene based around clubs like The UFO Club, Middle Earth and the Eel-Pie Island.
The two were to cross-fertilise and interact.
In Los Angeles the leading lights were the Doors, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Buffalo Springfield, The Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa) and Love. They tended to have a Blues based sound. Frank was a a bit of a one-off and not really what I would call Acid Rock but …….
In San Francisco it was Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Grateful Dead. There was more of a Folk influence here.
The effects of the drugs on the music was very evident. The pieces were drawn out into long jams with the integration of soaring guitars and harmonies. It was intricate and interweaved into complex rhythms and there was the use of different instrumentation, musical forms, electronic sounds. It created a dense sound that was mesmerising and you could get lost in. It was album based, rather than singles, and was focussed on the ideology of the alternative culture with its peace, love and anti-establishment themes. The music was of and for the sixties alternative culture.
When coupled with light shows in small clubs the atmosphere was a total immersive experience that was intended to be consumed while high.
Surprisingly it was instantly commercially successful with bands like the Doors and Jefferson Airplane hitting the singles charts. This threw everyone into a dilemma. The bands were in danger of being called ‘Sell-outs’ and losing their street credibility and the establishment was shocked and did not know how to deal with the drug references and social messages.
Some of these bands went on to become among the biggest in the world – like the Doors. Others developed huge stadia followings like Grateful Dead and others fell by the wayside like Country Joe and the Fish.
My favourite was the incredible Captain Beefheart who produced the greatest body of work, pushed the boundaries, was innovative and extraordinary, was a poet of great originality, and created complex music the like of which has never been bettered. He influenced a thousand other musicians and remains a largely unsung hero.
My book – ‘In Search of Captain Beefheart’ is not actually about the Captain; it is about my quest for the lodestone of Rock Music. It’s a tale of a man’s journey and love of Rock Music.
I have a number of other books concerned with Rock Music you might enjoy – Tributes to the Top Rock acts:
My views on the greatest albums of all time: