An extract from Rock Routes – a book on Rock Music by Opher Goodwin
Posted on by Opher
Everything you ever wanted to know about Rock Music –
The Acid Rock Scene of 1966-1967
By 1966 the Hippie sub-culture of Haight-Ashbury had become more than a minor cult. It had begun to attract in huge numbers of followers and grown into a thriving community with idealistic aspirations and a peaceful message that was both simple and revolutionary and about to engulf the whole globe with its message of ‘Peace and Love’. Its bands were Country Joe & the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, It’s a Beautiful Day, Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), Quicksilver Messenger Service, Blue Cheer and the Grateful Dead. A similar scene, with a slightly harder vibe, had grown up in Los Angeles involving Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa’s Mother’s of Invention, the Byrds, the Doors, Steppenwolf, and Love. While these scenes were largely autonomous there was a degree of interchange.
This came to be known as Acid Rock.
It was on the brink of exploding both on to the national charts and to rule the Underground Rock Scene.
The first thing you noticed about this style of music was the completely different sound created by the guitars. They soared, shrill with piercing energy. The second difference was in the lyrical content which was full of drug references, peace philosophy, politics and anti-war statements.
At the same time the British Underground was getting under way and the two scenes became intertwined, feeding off each other and vying to get further out. As the bands travelled, toured and intermingled they learnt from each other and despite their very different cultural and musical backgrounds began to get more and more closely aligned. They dug each other and were turned on by each other.
In San Francisco the top bands started getting recording contracts with the major record companies. The record companies had realised that there was a new scene to exploit and wanted in on the action. Unlike with earlier problems with groups like the Charlatans they began, mainly because nobody understood what to do with them, to be given a far greater freedom of expression in the studio. This enabled them to experiment and developed their sound even more. One of the first was Jefferson Airplane who featured Grace Slick on vocals. They played a Folksy Acid Rock on albums like Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing at Baxters, Crown of Creation, Bless its Little Pointed Head and Volunteers. Their double sided single ‘White Rabbit/Somebody to Love’ became massive. ‘White Rabbit’, with its Lewis Carrol allusions, was a classic LSD trip inspired song. The band reflected the current counter-culture philosophy and aligned itself fully with the culture it had emanated from. They performed at all major Haight-Ashbury events performing many free concerts in the Golden Gate Park. With their long hair, flowing multicoloured robes and ground-breaking light shows they set the scene.
Another big favourite was Country Joe and the Fish. They evolved out of the Instant Action Jug Band and were more overtly political right from the start with their ‘I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag’, ‘Tricky Dickie’, ‘Superbird’, ‘The bomb song’, ‘Who am I’ and ‘Untitled protest’. Their act was also infused with druggie songs such as ‘Grace’ (about Grace Slick), ‘Janis’ (Janis Joplin), ‘Bass Strings’, ‘Magoo’, ‘The Marijuana chant’ and ‘The Acid Commercial’. They released three groundbreaking albums – ‘Electric Music for the body and mind’, ‘I feel like I’m fixin’ to die’ and ‘Together’ before running out of steam.
Big Brother & the Holding Company were one of the earliest bands on the scene but were pushed into the background as Janis Joplin, the lead singer, was given more prominence. They made early recordings without her and later ones after she’d gone that showed that they were a lot more than a mere backing band. Yet it was the album ‘Cheap Thrills’ with its cartoon cover featuring Janis singing numbers like Big Mama Thornton’s ‘Ball and Chain’ and the incredible ‘Piece of my heart’ that was their apotheosis. Janis went on to have a tragically short solo career recording ‘Dem ol’ Kosmic Blues Again Mama’ and hits with numbers like ‘Me and Bobby McGhee’.
The Grateful Dead were legends before their time. They actually blended R&B and Country in their early incarnations and started as Mother McCrees Uptown Jug Champions before morphing into the R&B Warlocks and meeting up with Kesey for the Acid Tests. They epitomised the San Francisco philosophy, living in a house on the Haight in what was a commune, consuming shit-loads of drugs and devising a stage act with the state of the art light show, long improvised numbers complete with Jerry Garcia’s oscillating feedback. They gathered a fanatical following but somehow failed to capture the complete magic of their stage act on record; their best being ‘The Grateful Dead’, ‘Live Dead’ and ‘Anthem of the Sun’.
Blue Cheer was a heavy unit named after a brand of LSD produced by Owsley. They were part of the heavy, psyched out power trio style that spawned Heavy Metal. Their extremely heavy version of Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ was the highlight of their first album Vincebus Eruptum.
The Quicksilver Messenger Service produced long psychedelic improvised versions of R&B numbers like Bo Diddley’s ‘Mona’ and the wonderful ‘Who do you love’. Their apotheosis was the album ‘Happy Trails’. After that they suffered a number of drug busts and the band fell apart.
Moby Grape was created by Skip Spence who was the Jefferson Airplane’s original drummer and was launched on a major hype. They had a huge party complete with the handing out of gimmicks and decals to signal the release of their album and simultaneous release of all ten tracks as 5 singles. All five flopped and they suffered a loss of street cred from which they never recovered.
The LA music scene was centred on the Sunset Strip with a number of small clubs like London Fog, Ciros and the Whiskey a Go Go. The alternative community would travel in from centres like Venice in order to sample the wares of these Acid Rock Bands.
One of the earliest bands on the scene were Captain Beefheart and His Magic and. The Captain – Don Van Vliet – had been to school with Frank Zappa. They’d formed a leather-jacketed R&B/Doo-Wop band in the late 1950s which had terrorised everyone and got nowhere.
He changed his name to Captain Beefheart (from a musical play he put together with Frank Zappa) put together the Magic Band and had a minor hit with Bo Diddley’s ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’ in 1965. Their early style was very Blues based but was also extremely original and his stage act at that time can be heard on the Mirrorman album which was released in 1969. Beefheart’s voice was said to be the most powerful in Rock with its huge range. The first album featured Ry Cooder on guitar and was called Safe as Milk. They followed up with Strictly Personal with its much debated psychedelic phasing and released the incredible Trout Mask Replica produced by Frank Zappa – probably the most innovative album of all time. Beefheart claimed that the music came out of the dessert and that none of the musicians could play and that he’d taught them from scratch so that they could play this new type of music. He claimed that experienced musicians could not be trained to play this way. All of the band were given new names – Zoot Horn Rollo, Rockette Morton, Drumbo, Winged Eel Fingerling, Mascara Snake and Antennae Jimmy Semens. Trout Mask Replica was the result of the band being isolated in a big house and practicing endlessly for hour after hour. Don was not weird. He only called in a tree surgeon because he was concerned that the music might be having a detrimental effect on the trees around the house who might get frightened of the loud music. He also claimed to have written all the songs on the double album in one day. When sarcastically asked why it had taken him so long he replied that he wrote them on the piano and he’d never played a piano before. The band was one of the most brilliant, weird and exciting live acts. The standard of brilliance lasted right through to 1980, despite Don’s reputation as being impossible to work with and a changing set of musicians. Don then went off to have a second career as an artist.
The Mothers of Invention were another early band and the brain-child of Frank Zappa. One of his early incarnations was a band he formed in 1964 called Soul Giants. He was always messing about with sound in his home-made studio but following a run-in with the Vice Squad over the manufacture of a sex tape that earned him three years of probation and furnished him with the Suzy Creamcheese idea. The Mothers, as they were originally called before the record company added the ‘Of Invention’ in order to avoid any suggestion of offensiveness, were an outrageous group of individuals who used theatre, satire, and strong political overtones flouting all conventions in the process. Uniquely their roots were not so much in R&B but a strange mixture of 1950s Doo-Wop, avante-garde experimental classical and sleazy Jazz. Their first two albums were ‘Freak-Out’ and ‘Absolutely Free’ and featured a variety of tracks such as ‘Who are the Bain Police?’ and the satirical ‘Brown Shoes don’t make it’. Their outstanding masterpiece was ‘We’re only in it for the money’ which was a gatefold take-off of Srgt Peppers featuring the band in drag. It sent up the whole hippie phenomenon with ‘Hey Punk’ and had numerous other highly original tracks along with a unique cut up presentation.
The Byrds started out based at Ciros on the Strip and broke nationally with their FolkRock electrical presentations of Dylan numbers in 1965. By 1966 they were entrenched in the counter-culture with a series of psychedelic albums like Fifth Dimension, Younger than Yesterday and Notorious Byrd Brothers and druggie singles like ‘8 miles high’. They were an important precursor to the whole West Coast sound as well as stimulating Dylan to turn electric. They then went on to unfortunately add Gram Parson’s to their line-up to pave the way for Country Rock putting an end to their psychedelic brilliance. The Notorious Byrd Brothers was their apotheosis.
Love formed in LA in 1965 out of a Garage Punk Band called Grass Roots and were the first of the new Acid Rock Bands to get themselves signed up to a major company – the highly rated Elektra. They were a strange mixture of aggressive Punk sound and light almost folksy melodies. They released four brilliant albums – Love, Da Capo, Forever Changes and Four Sail and achieved moderate commercial success. The song writing of Bryan Maclean and Arthur Lee created a range of incredible songs that ranged from punchy hard hitting to mellow and beautiful. Their album ‘Forever Changes’ is consistently voted one of the best of all time. They were torn apart by heroin addiction and Arthur went on to serve a long jail sentence for fire-arm offences.
The Doors were formed after a chance meeting between Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek on Venice beach in 1965. Jim was studying film at UCLA and Ray already had a band called Rick and the ravens. Ray was greatly impressed with Jim’s poetry and philosophy and they put the band together. The name – the Doors – was taken from Aldous Huxley’s ‘Doors of Perception’ which in turn was borrowed from William Blake’s poem ‘The Marriage of Heaven & Hell’. Jim had this idea that you could break through this mirage of reality into a greater reality. He certainly tried his hardest to test the limits of his mind with acid, hash and alcohol.
Their music was a fusion of Jazz, Rock and Blues featuring Robbie Kreiger’s unique slide guitar sound while Manzarek not only did the swirly organ bits but also provided the intricate bass lines. Robbie Densmore was an extremely inventive drummer who provided a range of interesting rhythms, including Latin American. The result of marrying Jim’s poetry to this was an extremely varied style. They could produce driving Rock and heavy Blues as well as long extended psychedelic stuff all very listenable and commercially successful while containing an edge that kept them at the forefront of the counter-culture. They were extreme and dangerous if a little unpredictable.
They quickly gained a residency at the London Fog on the Sunset Strip and quickly moved on to take over the Whiskey A Go Go. They built up a strong following who were enthralled with their performances while driving the management bananas in fear of getting themselves closed down because of Jim’s use of expletives and extreme content and behaviour. Jim was often very stoned or drunk and tried to push things further ad further creating his Greek Adonis stage act to elongated freaked out Blues numbers and Jim’s poetic interpretations of his own epic stuff such as ‘The End’, ‘Break on through to the other side’ and ‘When the Music’s over’.
The lyrics Jim produced were extremely erotic and Jim’s stage act was often spellbinding. The band had a strong political sense that came through strongly on numbers like ‘Unknown Soldier’ and ‘Five to one’.
They became signed to the prestigious Elektra label and released a number of excellent albums and singles – ‘The Doors’, ‘Strange Days’, ‘Waiting for the sun’, ‘The Soft Parade’ and ‘Morrison Hotel’. Jim got himself charged with lewd behaviour and incitement to riot after seemingly exposing himself on stage. His subsequent death in Paris was shrouded in mystery. He is supposed to have died in the bath from alcohol or drugs or heart failure or even electrocution from an electric fire that was accidentally knocked into the water. We’ll never know because a doctor quickly filled out the death certificate without carrying out a post mortem and he was buried the next day before anyone actually saw the body. It sparked tales of Jim, having become disillusioned with the life of a Rock Star, engineering the whole thing and taking himself off to Africa in complete anonymity.
The Doors were probably the most successful of all the Acid Rock Bands.
Buffalo Springfield was also formed in Los Angeles in 1965 when Folk musicians Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and Ritchie Furay met up and decided to form a band. Legend has it that Stills and Furay were stuck in a traffic jam on an LA Freeway and saw Neil’s hearse up ahead and jumped out of their ca to run over to him and get him to join. Neil had come down from Canada to Los Angeles to find them but had been unable to make contact and had decided to head back to Canada. They took their name from the manufacturer of a steamroller that was working in the road outside where they were staying. Buffalo Springfield were launched on to the LA Scene. They were immediately successful and got signed up to release 3 albums before friction between Stills and Young broke them up. Their most successful songs were ‘For what it’s worth’, ‘Broken arrow’, Expecting to fly’, ‘Bluebird’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll woman’ and ‘Mr Soul’.
The death of Buffalo Springfield signalled the birth of Crosby, Stills and Nash. This happened when Stills got together with David Crosby from the Byrds and Graham Nash from the Hollies at John Sebastian’s house. They started jamming around and found that their harmonies really gelled. Graham had come across to the West Coast after getting fed up with the Hollies commercial trivia and leapt at the opportunity to get his teeth into something more substantial. This new ‘supergroup’ made its debut at the infamous Woodstock festival.
CSN had two sides; the first was acoustic and the second was electric. For the electric style they opted to bring Neil Young into the fold to form Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They reflected the times with their ‘Wooden ships’ and version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’. With Neil Young they came up with strong songs like ‘Ohio’ and ‘Chicago’.
|Artist||Stand out tracks|
|Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band||Abba ZabbaGrow FinsYellow brick roadSafe as milkElectricityDrop out boogieZig Zag wandererAh feel like ahcidSafe as milkTrust usOn tomorrowGimme that harp boyMoonlight on VermontDachau BluesElla GuruThe blimpSteal softly through snowShe’s too much for my mirrorVeteran’s day poppyHobo chang baSmithsonian Institute Blues|
|Jefferson Airplane||Somebody to loveWhite rabbitLet’s get togetherPlastic fantastic loverShe has funny carsThe ballad of you and me and PooneilCrown of creationLatherTriadWe can be togetherVolunteersGood shepherdThe son of Jesus|
|Blue Cheer||Summertime BluesThe hunter|
|Mothers of Invention||Help I’m a rockWhat’s the ugliest part of your bodyWho are the brain policeBrown shoes don’t make itCall any vegetableConcentration moonWho are the brain policeYou’re probably wondering why I’m herePlastic peopleCall any vegetableThe idiot bastard sonLet’s make the water turn blackTake your clothes off when you danceHarry you’re a beastThe way I see it BarryMy guitar wants to kill your mamaWillie the pimpLonesome cowboy BurtI’m the slimeDinah-Moe HummDebra KedabraMuffin manSam with the showing flat topPoofter’s Froth Wyoming plans aheadTitties and beerCosmic debrisDon’t eat the yellow snow|
|Quicksilver Messenger Service||MonaWho do you loveHappy trails|
|Buffalo Springfield||For What its worthMr SoulExpecting to flyBroken arrowRock ‘n’ Roll womanBluebirdFlying on the ground is wrongBurnedNowadays Clancy can’t even singHung upside downRock ‘n’ Roll WomanExpecting to flyI am a childBluebird|
|Doors||Love me two timesMoonlight driveThe crystal shipThe endGloriaBack door manBreak on through (to the other side)Soul kitchenStrange daysYou’re lost little girlPeople are strangeUnhappy girlWhen the music’s overMy eyes have seen youHello I love youLove streetThe unknown soldierNot to touch the earthFive to oneMy wild loveWild childWishful sinfulShaman BluesThe soft paradeMaggie McGillPeace FrogWaiting for the sunThe changelingLove her madlyCrawling kingsnake|
|Grateful Dead||Goodmorning little school girlSitting on top of the worldBorn cross-eyedSt StephenCosmic CharlieDark starThe elevenUncle John’s bandCasey JonesSugar MagnoliaTruckin’Box of rainPlaying in the band|
|Big Brother & the Holding Company||Piece of my heartBall and chainDown on meSummertimeI need a man to love|
|Country Joe & the Fish||JanisGraceI Feel like I’m fixing to die ragWho am I?MagooUntitled protestNot so sweet Martha LorrainePorpoise mouthSuperbirdBass stringsPat’s songColors for SusanSusanRock & Soul musicBright Suburban Mr & Mrs Clean Machine|
|Byrds||8 miles highI wasn’t born to followDolphin smileSo you want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll starChymes of freedomAll I really want to doMr Tambourine manTurn Turn TurnLay down your weary tuneHe was a friend of mine5D (fifth dimension)John RileyEverybody’s been burnedMy back pagesThe girl with no nameHave you seen her faceArtificial energyTriadTribal gatheringGoin’ backChange is nowDolphin’s smileSpace odysseyDraft morningNothing was deliveredThis wheel’s on fireDeporteeBallad of easy riderIt’s all over now baby blueLover of the bayouPositively Fourth Street|
|Love||Alone again orMy little red bookMushroom cloudsMy flash on youA message to prettySigned D.C.7 and 7 isStephanie knows whoOrange skiesShe comes in coloursAlone again orA house is not a motelAndmoreagainLive and let liveThe daily planetBummer in the summerYou set the sceneSinging cowboy|
|Crosby, Stills Nash & Young||Wooden shipsOhioTeach your children wellSuite: Judy blue eyesChicagoWoodstockGuinevereHelplessly hopingLong time goneCarry onAlmost cut my hairHelplessOur houseJust a song before you goThe lee shore4 + 20Wasted on the wayFind the cost of freedom|
|Janis Joplin Kosmic Blues Band/Full Tilt Boogie Band||Kozmic bluesTry (just a little bit harder)To love somebodyMercedes BenzMe and Bobby McgheeCry baby|
Everything you ever wanted to know about Rock Music!
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