Forty years ago, throngs of idealistic youth descended upon San Francisco with flowers in their hair for what is still known as the Summer of Love. That singular season spawned a vibrantly creative local culture, and helped launch a psychedelic music scene that still resonates today.
Just ask Jack Casady: He was playing bass in a local band called Jefferson Airplane, whose 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow featured the mega-hits “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” and was for many the psych-rock soundtrack of that groovy summer.
“There was a tremendous amount of excitement,” recalls the 63-year-old musician from his Los Angeles home. “And there was something to do every night, or you made something to do every night. We were young, full of energy. But part of the charm of it was that it was contained, it wasn't commercialized, you knew everybody that was doing everything, you knew the promoters that were promoting shows.”
Casady, who would go on to form Hot Tuna with Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, remembers the local music scene transforming over that fateful summer. “It started out as a local scene, and when our record started to break out, then San Francisco started to get some national attention.”
Indeed, Bay Area bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, and Blue Cheer made an impact internationally, and the hippie-trippy sounds of the late Sixties continue to reverberate through the music of the Bay Area. From freak folksters and Byrds-ish jangle pop to a small army of heavy acid-psych bands, many local artists are channeling the spirit of '67. While flower-power psychedelia has never really gone away and has seen cyclical resurgence with such movements as the Paisley Underground of the mid-'80s, there's been a definite revival of late.
One local band tapping the Sixties vein is the Dilettantes, fronted by former Brian Jonestown Massacre tambourine thwacker Joel Gion, a quintet that delivers a dual-guitar interplay reminiscent of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Dilettantes guitarist and longtime Sixties aficionado Jefferson Parker confirms there's a definite influence from that era in his band's pop-rock tunes. “We couldn't help but have that,” Parker says from his day job at S.F.'s Amoeba Music, “just because some of our favorite music is by bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service or Moby Grape. Or even the Flamin' Groovies, who don't get put in that stack of bands too often, but they were around.”
San Francisco's Birdman label boasts several Sixties-tinged artists, including the Grateful Dead-like “van rock” of Howlin' Rain and the vintage Red Krayola/Pink Floyd-isms of Gris Gris, as well as eclectically retro songwriters Greg Ashley and Brian Glaze. Birdman honcho David Katznelson, who tends to sign artists that smack of classic garage and psych, sees a whole new generation discovering and reinterpreting the sounds of the late '60s and early '70s. “As far as psychedelia is concerned, I think the only real difference is that the younger folk who go out to see music have gone away from electronic music and back into more rock-and-roll live stuff. There were always bands around; I think that there are more now because the kids are more interested in it, and that's what they're listening to more.”
Haight District resident and former Pleasure Forever keyboardist Andrew Douglas Rothbard is someone who in recent years has gravitated toward something decidedly more Sixties-infused. His recent album Abandoned Meander may have been recorded on a PowerBook, but it was conceptually inspired by vintage psychedelic pop, largely of the West Coast variety. “My perception of music dating from the late 1960s is that it was a pure manifestation of lysergic optimism,” e-mails Rothbard, “and that artists were more likely to push every conceivable boundary imaginable. A lot of this was happening on major corporate record labels, who were anxious to descend upon cities like San Francisco and attempt to ink up anybody and everybody doing anything vaguely “psychedelic.' The fact that an anarchistic attempt at musique concrete like the Grateful Dead's Anthem of the Sun was released on a record label like Warner Brothers is astonishing to me.” Some Summer '07 shows with a psychedelic Sixties vibe:
Wednesday, June 27, Great American Music Hall, and Friday, June 29, the Fillmore. Hot Tuna. It doesn't get much more Summer of Love than this: These guys provided the soundtrack for the damn thing as members of Jefferson Airplane. While grounded in American roots music, these jam-band pioneers have pumped out some mind-melting moments over the years, courtesy of the virtuoso instrumental innovations of bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. For these shows, they'll be performing as an acoustic trio with multi-instrumentalist Barry Mitterhoff.
Friday, June 29. Hemlock Tavern. Colossal Yes, with Giant Skyflower Band. Colossal Yes is the piano-centric musical project of Oaklander Utrillo Kushner, who also plays drums in Bay Area blast-psych quintet Comets on Fire. Kushner's keyboard tunes have a definite Procol Harum influence, and hearken to such Sixties songwriters as Carole King and Harry Nilsson as well. Giant Skyflower Band, made up of former SF Weekly writer Glenn Donaldson and multi-instrumentalist Shayde Sartin, proffers what they call “bummer psych,” a stoned-out sitar hypno-raga vaguely reminiscent of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.
Thursday, July 12, Makeout Room. Greg Ashley. Gris Gris leader Greg Ashley's most recent solo album, Painted Garden, sports a heady mix of acoustic folk, blissed-out Velvet Underground drone pop, and catchy melodies. The disc features hauntingly gorgeous production throughout, which is even more amazing considering it was recorded in Ashley's Oakland apartment.
Saturday, July 14. Hemlock Tavern. Mammatus, with the Bad Trips. Taking its name from a certain type of cloud, Mammatus spews forth a hallucinogenic haze of the more Black Sabbath variety. That the Santa Cruz-area four-piece has received rave reviews from StonerRock.com speaks volumes. The band's recently released second album, The Coast Explodes, sports some seriously tripped-out moments filtered through more modern electronic sounds. Openers the Bad Trips are from Ventura and have been described as sounding “like one of those bands in the acid scene of a psych-sploitation film.”
Saturday, July 28, Edinburgh Castle. Almaden. Guitarist Michael Hilde, who actually hails from Almaden Valley down by San Jose, performs a shambling, acoustic folk that bears resemblance to Tyrannosaurus Rex-era Mark Bolan. That Hilde's list of influences includes Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Devendra Banhart, and Allen Ginsberg says it all.
Thursday, August 2, Café du Nord. The Dilettantes. Combining the sounds of Sixties California Soul jangle and harmonies with '80s guitar outfits á la the Church and the Go-Betweens, this quintet celebrate the release of their debut CD, appropriately titles 101 Tambourines, on Stranger Touch. Frontman Joel Gion wields a mean tambourine, and his deadpan vocal delivery brings to mind Brit-pop bands like Felt.