A 60’s Tale….and a Summer of Love
But I am very pleased that a copy of “On the Road with Janis” by John Byrne Cooke caught my eye recently when I was strolling through the biography section of the Library. An employee had selected the book as a “Staff Choice” and so it gained a prominent display position.
John Byrne Cooke – as it turns out – is a “blue blood” of sorts. His father was Alister Cooke, a famed broadcaster and journalist who among many other endeavors hosted “Masterpiece Theater” for more than 20 years.
John’s great granduncle was the famous poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. His father was noted British journalist and broadcaster, Alistair Cooke. John Byrne’s credentials – beyond writing several novels – include an early stint with the East Coast based bluegrass group – The Charles River Valley Boys. I own their Beatles based long play, thinking at the time of it’s purchase that I was picking up a one-off “novelty” assemblage of studio musicians. Cooke relates how although he had departed their line-up, he did join them for some performances out on the West Coast including a folk gathering on the northern West Coast. He tells how they had just recently recorded an LP with the Beatles’ songs delivered in blue grass fashion and played those songs at the California folk gathering.
But John’s primary credential for the undertaking of “On the Road with Janis” is that from the early days of Big Brother and the Holding Company, through the final days of The Full Tilt Boogie Band, he was their efficient and crucial-to-traveling-success road manager.
At the recommendation of Big Brothers manager, Albert Grossman, an acquaintance of John’s, he fly’s into San Francisco from the East Coast for his “job interview” with the members of Big Brother who he had personally watched while attending The Monterey Pop Music Festival in the summer of 1967. He meets with the entire band at a location where they practice referred to as “The Warehouse”. The band members are guarded, and Janis, who is an equal partner with Big Brother, receives Byrne in a cool manner, cautiously checking him out.
San Francisco area bands were cautious and distrustful of anyone and anything outside of the Haight-Asbury boundaries who they commonly viewed as too “establishment”. That just came along with the the territory known as the San Francisco Bay Communities.
John doesn’t perform acrobatics or flip-flops to land the job during the interview. Business like and just serious enough, he gains their confidence (they definitely needed better managing on the road) and he departs with a job offer which he accepts at a nifty staring salary of $150 a week! (He learns later from a band member that Janis ‘thought he was cute’ and approved).
Monterrey Goes POP!
Now backing up, the first chapter then plunges into a very interesting narrative of the formation and the delivery of the first (and last) Monterey International Pop Music Festival which took place in June of 1967. Byrnes’ telling of the origins of this event surpassed anything I had read previously.
Cooke theorizes that if he hadn’t attended the festival he probably wouldn’t have landed the Big Brother gig. And further, if Big Brother had not been included in the line-up of participating San Francisco bands, they probably would not have gained the management services of Albert Grossman who brought the two entities together eventually.
The Boys from L.A.
An idea for an idyllic event began with a foursome out the Los Angeles music scene, ironically headed up by Derek Taylor, a British journalist who first came into favor with the Fab Four when he ‘ghost’ a weekly column with Beatle George Harrison in his newspaper, the “Daily Express”.
In short order Taylor was lured away from the “Express” by Beatle manager Brian Epstein, coming on-board full-time as press manager. A rift with Epstein brought this to an end in mid 1964. Taylor worked for a time in the U.K. before migrating to the United States, where he successfully served artists including the Beach Boys, Paul Revere (and Raiders), the Byrds, the Mamas and Papas and more.
Taylor would rejoin the Beatles in 1968, but not until after putting together perhaps the most successful and smooth running pop festival of all time, in Monterey.
The following is from a web site that continues today titled appropriately “Monterey International Pop Festival” (lots of interesting information on this site including more history – a “shop”, a great photo-collage of the performing acts and so-on).
“The actual idea for the Monterey International Pop Festival initially came from Alan Pariser, who had attended the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival. John Phillips and Lou Adler were approached by Alan Pariser and his partner, a promoter named Ben Shapiro who wanted to hire the Mamas and The Papas to headline a blues and rock concert at the Monterey Fairgrounds…” – (from the web site)
‘No Freebies’ Rebuke
Taylor and his associates, first approached his own group via professional association, the Mamas and Papas, along with a non-local East Coast choice, Simon and Garfunkle with their idea for a first-of-a-kind coming together of the stars (and future stars) of rock and roll.
The organizers presented their idea but it had a little catch. When asked about performance fees by Philips and company – and the east coast folk duo, Art and Paul, they were surprised to learn that performers would be providing their talents at a mere fraction of usual fees!
This was an immediate deal breaker, and that was that. Until Papa John apparently did some soul searching at which time he again met with the organizers and said the Mamas and Papas were in – if – other acts would come on-board. Simon and Garfunkle also reconsidered and agreed to the same terms. But this time the musicians astounded the organizers with another demand, all acts would appear gratis – no fees whatsoever!
The idea? Byrne: “The festival would be set up as a nonprofit, with the proceeds to go to causes that benefited popular music, application to be reviewed by the board.” In the book, this is the final mention of any dispersal of awards post-pop festival.
But lo and behold, in digging deeper into the Pop Festival web site (above) I learn that the spirit of the event lives on today and that indeed many grants have been provided to music related causes throughout the years. Apparently funds are raised from the sale of merchandise presented here on the web site.
“The initial grant went towards a music instruction program in Harlem championed by Paul Simon. Subsequent grants include the San Francisco and Los Angeles Free Clinics, Washington D.C. based Rhythm & Blues Foundation; Chicago’s Providence St. Mel Prep School in Chicago on behalf of Otis Redding; Northern California’s Blue Monday Foundation initial contact Mark Naftalin; The Los Angeles Children’s Hospital; Texas’ Habitat for Humanity on behalf Janis Joplin; Bill Graham‘s San Francisco Earthquake Relief Fund …….” And on and on it goes! (Click on Image to Visit the Foundation)
To attract the attention of the potential performing acts and to ensure the success of the Monterey experiment, an impressive board of directors was assembled – perhaps the most impressive board ever.
(L-2-R: Smokey Robinson, James Roger McGuinn – Paul Simon – Brian Wilson – Lou Adler – Paul McCartney – Mick Jagger – Johnny Rivers – “Papa” John Phillips and Andrew Loog Oldham.
With this impressive “gang-of-ten” on board literally, musicians started lining up to be included on what would be a three day festival (June 16-18, 1967).
This is where Cooke’s account reveals that an important element was missing from the festival ; The “Haight-Ashbury” community artists were missing. They weren’t really snubbed. More simply there just was not a lot of awareness from the rock establishment, including the L.A.-Hollywood scene to the south of San Francisco.
Jefferson Airplane was a somewhat known entity – Cooke attributes to the success of “White Rabbit”. Which must be an error since that song made it’s debut in late May of ’67. Most likely Cooke was thinking of “Somebody To Love” but even that may not be entirely correct since that song hit the national charts in April of 1967 and it would seem that the planning and recruiting would have had to occurred much earlier on in 1967. Checking the Los Angeles area radio stations’ survey sheets the earliest appearance of the song came on March 29th of ’67 on station KHJ. By that time the song was flying high on the San Francisco area stations including KYA and KFRC as well as in the neighboring communities.
Papa John and Mama Michelle, along with Lou Adler, traveled to the Bay to check out the musicians. This was followed by a visit from Paul Simon. The San Fran clique were wary according to Cooke, “It was clear to the San Francisco groups that while Adler and company didn’t know much about the individual bands, they were aware of the San Francisco scene and they wanted to tap into it’s energy. Which convinced some of the musicians that the festival would exploit the bands and rip them off.”
Gleason to the Rescue!
Enter long-time jazz column writer from the “San Francisco Chronicle”, Ralph Gleason. The concept of Monterey caught his attention and so he went to work on the locals. The Airplane had already been approached and had agreed but there was room for more infusion of the San Francisco spirit. Just a few days prior to the opening of the festival Gleason delivered the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, the Steve Miller Band, Moby Grape and Janis Joplin fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company.
The “Haight” would explode into the public conscientious with Monterey. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix would both be “discovered”. Although the Monterey Fair Grounds only held about 7,000 people, the performing groups accommodated the large surrounding gatherings outside the perimeters with makeshift performances – sort of spurred on by the San Fran bunch who were accustomed to performing in the Bay area in such a manner. This pacified all in attendance and proceedings continued to run smoothly throughout the three days of concerts.
In short, the festival was tremendously successful, and from the aspects of efficiency, peacefulness, and serene enjoyment, perhaps was never really matched again anywhere. The event was not repeated even though the foundation lives to this day.
So Cooke’s account of his time with Big Brother, The Kozmic Blues Band and finally Full Tilt Boogie continues with loads of entertaining and revealing information and tales which I found very well presented from Cooke’s “insider” status. His isn’t a “tell all” but is much more sensitive, reflective and respectful of his relationships with the musicians and especially with Janis Joplin.
Cooke left Janis and the band for a time – but when she got underway with “Full Tilt Boogie” he again returned as road manager and was with Janis right up until the very end and, in fact was the one who entered her hotel room with the hotel manager when she failed to answer his phone calls on October 4th, 1970 – where he found Janis dead from an apparent overdose. Ironically, things were seemingly going well for Janis at this time, as well as they had gone for some time, although she never fully conquered he battles with substance or overcame her struggles with loneliness, according to Cooke.
She had more control over her recordings and musical decisions, had a tight and talented group of musicians backing her and so on. But the loneliness which accompanied fame was there, and she did return to hard drug use after staying clean for a good amount of time. According to Cooke Janis apparently obtained an extremely potent and dangerous substance. An experienced coroner does a thorough examination and rules out suicide – “accidental overdose” is his verdict.
A sad ending – but get the book. It is worth taking that journey from a seemingly magical time long ago – which like all “magical” times is still grounded in reality.
Big Brother & Janis in Denver
Big Brother and the Holding Company – with Janis at the vocal helm – appeared in Denver on four different occasions. The first one was at the local version of “The Family Dog” along with “Blue Cheer” in September of 1967 and then again at the Dog for two dates, June 28th and 29th of 1968. Next was later in the year at the Denver Auditorium November 26th
Her final appearance was with the “Kozmic Blues Band” at the “Denver Pop Festival” in Mile High Station in June of 1969.
Below are some of the books on Janis Joplin of which there are many.