Acid Rock – the US Underground 1966-71 – From Rock Routes – a book on Rock Music by Opher Goodwin.

Everything you always wanted to know about Rock Music.

Acid Rock – the US Underground 1966-71


The Acid Rock scene was an intellectual form of music closely associated with the student protest movement and largely evolving out of the Folk scene. It was very political with anti-war and social emphasis and closely allied to the drug culture with its use of psychedelics like LSD, Psilocybin and marijuana – hence the term Acid Rock.

The music itself was experimental and very much concerned with the creation of new sounds, texture and tones. It developed into long drawn-out jams, with use of feedback and distortion, which interacted with the drug state of the audience and reflected the state of mind everyone was in. Freaks claimed that the only way to really appreciate it was to light a spliff, line up the speakers and sit back in your armchair with yours eyes shut.

There was a relationship with British Psychedelia and the two certainly fed off each other, each scene vying to see who could get furthest out; the weirder the better. Great expectations rose for each new release as everyone thrilled to see what new wonders were about to be unveiled. Was the Beatles new album going to match up to the new Doors effort? Were the Stones totally outstripped by Beefheart or the Airplane?

There were two centres of focus for the Acid Rock Scene and both had different origins and different styles that reflected the different vibe of the environment they developed in. In San Francisco it was focussed on the Haight-Ashbury area and in Los Angeles it was Venice and Sunset Boulevard. Freaks migrated to these areas in great numbers to set up short-lived viable communities. In the early days, before it decayed into junkies and pan-handling, there were vibrant community activities and a great convivial, creative spirit engendered in the 1967 Summer of Love. It was quite an ephemeral time peaking in 1967 and 1968 and trailing off into 1971 by which time the place was inundated with pseudo-hippies, junkies, teenage runaways, dogs, swindlers and tourists.

During 1967 so much good music was produced.

The music itself evolved out the Garage Punk scene and the Folk scene. In the early 1960s following the strangling of Rock ‘n’ Roll Pop music became rather trivial. Folk music, being vital and intellectual following the emergence of Bob Dylan, became the only direction for a musician with brains and many talented youngsters headed off in that direction. The West Coast received its fair share of these Folk musicians and they became involved with the social and political turmoil of the area with its tolerant bohemianism and the burgeoning drug culture. Stanley Owsley AKA ‘Bear’ was a young rogue underground chemistry who had started manufacturing LSD while it was still legal in 1965. Owsley became heavily involved with the Grateful Dead when they were the Warlocks and ended up supplying most of the LSD to all the Acid Rock Bands in the area. He was renowned for its purity and strength. Blue Cheer were named after a favourite variety. Strawberry Fields was another variety.

Following the British Beat invasion of 1964 there was a resurgence on interest in Rock and following the success of the Searchers folk style with ‘What have they done to the rain’ and ‘Where have all the flowers gone’ and the Animal’s ‘House of the Rising son’ (Them did a version of Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s all over now Baby Blue on their second album) other bands started turning to Folk. The first of these were Manfred Mann and the Byrds who both turned to Bob Dylan for inspiration.

The area was full of Garage Punk Bands churning out R&B adapted from the British sound. With the introduction of LSD they moved into Psychedelic Punk so that by 1966 there were basically two varieties. There were the ones that had moved in from Garage such as the Seeds, Chocolate Watch Band, Count Five and Electric Prunes and there were the lighter Folkier sounds of FolkRock.

From the Garage side developed bands like the Doors, Captain Beefheart, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The American Four, Beau Brummels and Grateful Dead while from the Folkier side there were Grace Slick and the Great Society, Buffalo Springfield, Country Joe and the Fish, the Rising Sons, and the Charlatans. Frank Zappa and the Mothers were fairly unique being heavily influenced by Doo-Wop, parody and theatre.

The Warlocks were typical of the R&B side. They started life as a R&B group and were taken on the road with the Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters to provide free-flowing distorted, feedback jams as a background to the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests. They evolved into an Acid Rock band. Grace Slick took her songs into the fledgling Jefferson Airplane and they took off from their folksy sound to become a driving Acid Band. The American Four evolved into Love with its Punky first album. The Rising Sons spawned both Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. Country Joe and the Fish evolved out of the Country Joe Jug Band.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Rock Music!

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Opher Goodwin

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