[Ed's Note: Chris Darrow represents an important part of the Americana pop fabric. From the early on eastern psych reachings of his band Kaleidoscope to the recent repressings of his solo catalog; Drag City presents the latest reissue with the repressing of Chris's 1972 debut album, Artist Proof. Predating the recent recirculations of 1973's Under My Own Disguise and a 1974 self-titled (re-packaged together some years back by Everloving Records), Proof presents that southwest Roger McGuinn-Peter Fonda cosmic-alt-country-Americana vision in a “Move on Down the Line” pedal steel Joshua Tree porch glow. In a career that started with the slogan as “the band that made bluegrass obsolete” in the Dry City Scat Band, Darrow and fellow bandmate David Lindley later started Kaleidoscope, played alongside everyone who ws anyone, Chris's back up work on Songs of Leonard Cohen's “So Long Marianne” and “Teachers”, a stint in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Corvettes, Kim Fowley collaborations, session player performances and work with numerous other notables.
Like the country rock “Beware of Time” boogie that opens up Artist Proof; Darrow presents the much glamorized/mythologized era of the late 1960s as a season of musical and spiritual rebirth changed by big money that brought about the end of an era. Darrow's take on the summer of '67 presents the ideals, the festivals, the disorganized organizers, famous friends and acquaintances, the spiritual/mental/physical expansions, the dreams of being a band on the road met with the sobering realities of the industry and the demise of the summer of love mentality.]
Monterey Pop Festival
The summer of 1967 is now known as the “summer of love” in the historyof rock and roll music. It was the coalition of the world’s music scene and the time when all the seemingly disparate factions were coming together for the first time. Our band, Kaleidoscope, was one of the major forces in the California music scene in 1967. Our first album, Side Trips had just been released on Epic records the preceding year and we were playing many of the popular California venues of the time including the Avalon Ballroom, the Whisky a Go- Go, Ash Grove, Carousel Ballroom, Magic Mushroom and the Troubadour. During the summer of ’67 we played the Mt. Tamalpais Festival, the Berkeley Folk Festival and the Fantasy Fayre and Magic Music Festival at Devonshire Downs with such diverse bands as the Doors, The Butterfield Blues Band, Jefferson Airplane, James Cotton, Mothers of Invention, Canned Heat and Steve Miller. Maybe it was because we didn’t have a powerful manager or a big hit record that we were originally overlooked as being part of the Monterey Pop Festival program. So we were all listening to disc jockey B Mitch Reed who was covering the event on KPPC FM, monitoring the progress of the festival from our respective southern California homes.
Then I get a call from Chester (Max Buda) and he tells me that our producer, Barry Freidman, has called and says that we better high tail it, as we were being asked, at the last minute, to play at the Monterey Pop Festival. We were told that the Grateful Dead were not going to make it. We had to be in Monterey the next morning and it was already late in the day when we found out about the situation. By the time we got it together, we found ourselves driving almost 500 miles north, crammed in drummer John Vidican’s, blue and white VW van and Solomon’s Chocolate Whale vehicle. We drove all night long and got near to the grounds before dawn and stopped to have breakfast at an all-night café. Earlier in the year we had been refused service in a café not too far away, in the city of Santa Maria, because of our long hair and “hippie” attire. It had been on our first trip north to play at the Avalon Ballroom with Country Joe and the Fish and Sparrow (Early Steppenwolf). Oddly enough, Los Bravos (Black is Black), the Spanish, English singing, pop group, was in the café that morning, trying to get in on the Monterey program themselves.
By the time we finally got to the grounds, we were told the Dead was going to perform and that we would be relegated to playing for the bikers and the overflow crowd that was camped outside the venue. Jacked up on coffee and lack of sleep, we tediously set up our equipment preparing to wake up the slumbering, stoned out crowd as the sun rose. We played for about 40 minutes until the people made it clear that it was still a little too early for a free, wake-up call…so we stopped. We stuck around most of the day on some, slim promise from our producer that we would, in fact, play on the main stage. With no place to stay, exhausted and let down, we finally elected to split and cut our losses.
So technically, we did play the Monterey Pop Festival, but not in the way we thought we would. The other festivals we did play that summer were very successful and added to our reputation as being one of the best live acts of the period. We ultimately became known as the first “World Beat” band, and later in the year, Jimmy Page saw us at the Avalon and called us, in Zig-Zag Magazine, his “favorite band of all time”. We went on to record perhaps our most important album, A Beacon from Mars, after dumping our producer, Barry Friedman. The issue with the pop festival failure had sealed his fate with the band. The next LP was produced by us and our managers, and was recorded basically live in the studio. It included the two lengthy pieces, the middle-eastern instrumental, Taxim and the psychedelic gem, Beacon From Mars, which would became the hallmarks of the Kaleidoscope sound.
The summer of 1967 brought an end to the organic, peace and love temperament that pervaded the early days of the psychedelic era. Monterey brought about a change in the weather, whereby money, power and management took over for the music and soulful ethic of the early days. Bands, who had before been “all for one”, changed their tune and looked to the bottom line as the measure of their success. Monterey became the turning point towards a more commercial and jaded look at a movement that started out to change the world through peace and love.
The Summer of Love
The Summer of Love was real. It had a real vibe, a real feel and a real tone….all of which added up to something none of us had ever experienced or seen before. It was in the air. The original nature of the psychedelic movement was never really about the drugs or just having fun. For the devout, it was about expansion; spiritual, mental and physical. The idea of self-realization, freedom and growth, gave the burgeoning hippie movement a direction. Having come out of a more introspective and cool scene, called the Beat Generation or beatniks, the new cool kids wanted to rock, but in an open and free way.
So the early music of the period was introspective, naïve and terribly personal. Freedom was the watchword, uniqueness the point. To counter the lameness of the early sixties tripe of Frankie Avalon, Fabian and the like, an alternative consciousness was needed and we were led into it by the English invasion, and primarily the Beatles. Suddenly our rock heritage was being thrown up in our faces and we were eating it up in spades.
I was fortunate enough to be a first hand participant in the burgeoning psychedelic scene and performed at most of the major venues and festivals of the time. I was in a band called Kaleidoscope and was in the heart of the LA music scene in the mid-sixties, via both bluegrass and rock and roll music. The precursor to the English invasion period was a post Beatnik and pre-hippie time. The Folk Boom of the late 50’s brought a lot of us into folk, bluegrass and traditional American music. Almost all the guys who were in the California scene at the time, from Gene Clark and Chris Hillman, to Jerry Garcia or Marty Balin, came from folk music. The American Beatles, the Byrds, brought about the Folk Rock idiom as an American reaction to us being sold our own music by a bunch of Englishmen. So the nexus of the world music scene shifted to California, and especially San Francisco, and parenthetically, Los Angeles. The east coast establishment, who had previously run the folk music machine, suddenly lost much of their power and it moved to Los Angeles, where all the pop music record labels were. The major folk labels like Folkways, Vanguard and Elektra had been east coast companies. At the time there were no west coast record labels featuring traditional American folk music. So when the west coast scene was in its infancy, it should be noted that many of the folk music participants just moved into electric music following the advent of the Beatles. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield, Canned Heat, Taj Mahal, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Mama and Papas, Moby Grape and the Kaleidosope, to name but a few, had some, or all of their members, coming out of the folk music milieu.
The world at large started looking at Haight-Ashbury and Sunset Blvd. as the American equivalent of Carnaby Street and Piccadilly Circus. Soon teenagers were hitchhiking from all over the country to get a piece of the new, hippy culture. Long hairs and their girlfriends were coming out in droves to take LSD and drop out of the old, social society and into a newer, freer existence. However, the idealistic, naïve stage only lasted for a short time, before turning into a more hard-edged, materially driven movement. There were major egos emerging, both musically and politically, which forever changed how the world would be run. The Feminist movement, the Pill, Black Power, La Raza and Free Love all came out of the climate of the time. Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were just a few of the activists who laid their doctrines out in this exiting epoch. The Viet Nam War was going on and high school pals were now fighting in the jungles, while others went to college, took acid and picketed against the war and racism.
Our band played at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco for first time in Febuary of 1967. On the bill with Kaleidoscope were Country Joe and the Fish, Sparrow (later Steppenwolf) and Steve Miller. It couldn’t have been more perfect. The bands were good, the sound was great and the light show was brilliant. There was an aura of honest mysticism in the air, as if every one in the room was trying, the best they could, to raise the consciousness or awareness of everyone else in the room. That attitude pervaded the entire city at the time. One could walk down the Haight and see smiling faces, hear tender greetings and watch people being genuinely friendly, open and sincere. You could walk into a shop and there would be the smell of incense in the air, a beautiful girl behind the counter and great music on the radio or sound system. The movie hadn’t been made yet, and wouldn’t or couldn’t be made at the time, but that’s what if felt like…. being in a movie. A movie where everything was the way you wanted it to be.
By the end of the summer things had changed and bands started getting hits and royalties started rolling in. The California phenomenon had gone from Flower Power and pot to money and bad acid. The Monterey Pop Festival marked, to me, the beginning of the acknowledgement of big money in the equation. East coast entrepreneurs like Albert Grossman came to see what was going on. Jimi Hendrix broke it open. Janis Joplin became the queen. Otis Redding proved he was the best. But after the festival there was a sense that things had changed and would never be the same. The cover story of Time Magazine for July 7, 1967 was, The Hippies: The Philosophy of a Subculture. No longer was it just a regional phenomenon, but it had saturated the big time media and the world was now the stage for this movement to take hold.
By the end of 1967 things were turning. There were people from all over the country and the world gravitating towards San Francisco and Los Angeles as a Mecca to freedom. Soon there were homeless kids on the streets, doing drugs, having sex and trying to figure out why it wasn’t as easy as they thought it was going to be. That’s when people turned to dealing, stealing, prostituting and all other types of behavior that were needed to survive in a big city. The bubble was beginning to burst and by the end of the year the money made in music was starting to rise.
Songwriting royalties and high sales for the new music brought about a new society in both San Francisco and LA. The new millionaires were buying houses, cars, and throughout 1968, most of the music on the top playlists was dominated by the post-English Invasion groups. The early sixties music of Fabian and Frankie Avalon was gone, however, Motown was the major, big survivor of that time frame. By 1969 there was no longer any vestige of the old days, save a few ballads now and then, and the music spawned by the Beatles and others was the norm. The sixties ethic died with The Altamont Festival on December 6, 1969 and the Manson killings on August 8. Ironically, Woodstock, considered the Festival of Festivals came just days after the Manson murders and set the stage for Altamont. The seventies brought another vibe into the music business, but the sixties and the Summer of Love, mentality, was over.
Chris Darrow's reissue of Artist Proof is available now from Drag City.