|Poster for the Avalon Ballroom|
Things were changing rapidly in the 60s, both culturally and musically. The main beatnik meccas like Greenwich Village in New York City, Provincetown on Cape Cod and especially San Francisco, were morphing into something new. Beatniks were being replaced by flower children, folk music was evolving into folk rock and a new word was making the scene, “psychedelic.” Ground zero for this change was a neighborhood in San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, or the “Haight” as it was known then and now by locals. The open microphoness of the Beat coffee houses were becoming the open jam sessions and free concerts of many of the local bands like the Grateful Dead, and spontaneous gatherings in Golden Gate Park.
While many things like free love, LSD and flower power were helping to shape the music, so was the spontaneity of the performances. While most Rock ‘n’ Roll concerts consisted of a band doing relatively faithful renditions of their vinyl pressings, San Francisco bands were gather in places like the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore West and other places, and serving up 30-40 minute improvisations of their songs to the acid soaked hippies in attendance. In my post of June 3, 2013, on the Sidewalk Skipper Band, I talked about how their success was hampered by how they were marketed. The music industry standard up to this point was the typical 2:30 single, pressed on a 45 RPM record. The San Francisco Sound was a prime mover in the shift to the record album or LP, capable of conveying longer tracks of psychedelia. Songs like Santana’s Soul Sacrifice (6:42), the Dead’s St. Stephen (4:30) and Jefferson Airplane’s We Can Be Together (5:49) were becoming the well-known staples by the artists. The Sidewalk Skipper band was marketed and released as singles instead of as an album, which was the opposite of what the fans were demanding of its psychedelic bands.
This same shift in recordings found its way onto the airwaves. Most Rock ‘n’ Roll and Pop stations were on AM radio. Those that existed on FM almost always just simulcast their counterpart’s content from the AM airwaves. The FCC was cracking down on this with regulations and FM radio soon became more “free form,” allowing DJs to play longer sets of whatever they wanted. Soon these longer tracks were finding a home on FM radio, leaving AM to play the more mainstream acts like Simon & Garfunkel and the Beatles. Hence, Album Oriented Rock (AOR) as an FCC station format was born on FM radio.
So, the psychedelic flower power coming out of Haigh-Ashbury and the Summer of Love (1967) was shaping the San Francisco Sound, as were the concerts in the city at places like the Fillmore West, the Carousel and the Avalon. There were also the larger servings of music with the longer songs and albums dominating FM radio. But is this enough to categorize these bands as a “sound?” Is there anything in the music that pulls this together and defines the sound? There are.
The folk music embraced by the predecessor beatniks was still to be found in much of the music. Bassists like Phil Lesh of the Dead and Jack Cassidy of the Airplane were breaking their traditional bonds and taking a more prominent place in the music for the bass. Also, one thing that is almost completely absent are the brasses like you often hear in bands like the Beatles and Chicago. Finally, the lyrics are deeper and more poetic than their more “Pop” counterparts. These more complex lyrics can inevitably be listed as an additional beatnik influence.
From 1966 to about 1972, many bands in San Francisco “made the scene.” Many more bands heard what was going down and traveled to that city. Many more hippies put flowers in their hair and also came to the city by the bay to be part of the groovy scene going down. At the height of the Summer of Love, Eric Burdon and the Animals released a song that said it all in its intro…
This following program is dedicated to the city and people of San Francisco, who may not know it but they are beautiful, and so is their city. This is a very personal song so if the viewer cannot understand it, particularly those of you who are European residents, save up all your bread and fly Trans-Love Airways to San Francisco, U.S.A. Then maybe you'll understand the song. It will be worth it, if not for the sake of this song, but for the sake of your own peace of mind.
|The Grateful Dead play a free concert on Haight Street, 1968|