Rockin’ the Fillmore was a pastime for many City kids. Bill Graham pushed hard to establish the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco as a respectable concert hall during the 1960s. Downtown was concerned that such an establishment would draw too many kids from the Richmond and Sunset Districts. The potential for further trouble was palpable.
Scruffy bearded young men wore tie-dye headbands while their dates swayed to the music in their heads, their loose fitting blouses drenched in patchouli oil. Bill Graham policed the ticket line at the Fillmore Auditorium himself, manhandling drug dealers and pickpockets. Once inside, you climbed a staircase to a giant room festooned with chandeliers and bands of colored lights. Free apples awaited in a nearby ice bucket while an attendant passed out complimentary posters of that night’s entertainers. (more…)
Fillmore notables of old San Francisco included Nate Thurmond and John Handy. Though “Harlem of the West” was on life support in the late sixties, the music prevailed. At Mario Sullivan’s speakeasy (his brother George was the top black music promoter in the West), John Handy played in the backroom of the diner, training other jazz artists to keep the sound alive. His performance at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival was recorded and released as an album, which won Grammy nominations for “Spanish Lady” and “If Only We Knew”.
Up the street toward Geary Boulevard it would not be unusual to find Leola King boarding a tour bus, promising a free drink if the passengers took a chance to venture into her Birdcage, a cabaret featuring musicians such as John Handy as well as the best chicken-in-a-basket this side of the Mississippi. (more…)
Gentrification of the Fillmore District in San Francisco probably started with the Redevelopment Agency’s wrecking ball in the sixties. Justin Herman was head of the department from 1959 until his death in 1971. Under his administration, thousands of residents, many of them poor and non-white, were forced to abandon their residences and businesses.
The Redevelopment Agency ran Geary Boulevard under Fillmore Street so that commuters from the Richmond District could bypass any “trouble’ on their way to their glass cages in the financial district. The wrecking ball found its target on the backsides of some two thousand painted ladies as well. The Victorians were left to rot where they fell. Kids played in the rubble, competing with each other to see who could catch the biggest rodent. (more…)
The Irish ruled San Francisco in the sixties. Judge O’Connor was responsible for the juvenile justice system. Tom Cahill was chief of police while Jack Shelley occupied the mayor’s office (see photos). All was as it was apparently meant to be. Until 1966. The mysterious death of George Sullivan, who was the top black music producer on the coast, seemed to trigger an avalanche of racial tension. One hundred and sixty-seven dissidents were arrested for picketing the Sheraton Palace Hotel and their failure to hire blacks. One hundred and eighty civil rights demonstrators were hauled downtown for illegal sit-ins at Wessman Lincoln-Mercury and Cadillac dealerships.
A riot broke out in Hunters Point after a white officer shot and killed a seventeen-year-old African American, Mathew Johnson, as he fled the scene of a stolen car. (more…)
Benny Barth, musician and local treasure, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1929, becoming a song-and-dance man by the age of four. He took up the trumpet but soon left it behind when he noticed that the girls liked him better as a drummer. Benny received a music scholarship to Butler University where he played the best black jazz clubs in the city. To this day, he is the only white member of the Bebop Society of Indianapolis. When the group met at Benny’s house, they would gather in a circle with their arms around each other, each scatting two choruses of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Hooly Koo”. In this segregated city, neighbors would prance by, shielding children from the sinful sight.
He became part of the Mastersounds that were signed by World Pacific Records in the late fifties. They were hot, playing at the Blue Note in Chicago as well as the original Birdland in New York. These boys had hit the national scene. (more…)
Back in the late sixties, I lived a block from the Jefferson Airplane. They resided at 2400 Fulton Street near St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco. How close these rock ‘n’ rollers aligned themselves with God is unknown. The fact that their three-story Colonial Revival was painted black might be an indication. While doing research for upcoming crime novel, Don’t Stop the Music, I unearthed the fact that the address on Fulton would later become the title for their 1987 album, which included such hits as “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”. (more…)
Jerry Garcia was a San Francisco kid through and through. He was raised in the tough Outer Mission by his grandmother who was a no-nonsense organizer for a local union. Jerry would hang out at his mother’s bar in the Embarcadero with hard-drinking longshoremen. In fact, his Irish legacy in the City goes back to the Gold Rush days. So you can see that perhaps he was more than a little miffed when Chief Cahill and Mayor Shelley and others referred to him as an “outsider”, but that was the way he and the Grateful Dead were treated during the Summer of Love in 1967. (more…)
Janis Joplin seemed destined to experience and contribute to the full measure of the sixties…for better or worse. While doing research for my next crime novel, Don’t Stop the Music, I unearthed some rather interesting anecdotes. Soon after leaving the University of Texas (where she was misunderstood and voted “Ugliest Man on Campus”) she embarked on a music career and hooked up with Big Brother and the Holding Company as well as the Grateful Dead. They all lived together in Lagunitas up north in Marin County in 1965. The following year, Big Brother and Janis broke out of the local scene and were introduced to the world at the Monterey Pop Festival. While this propelled them onto center stage, their living arrangement reportedly introduced Janis to hardcore drug use. (more…)
Bill Graham was a music promoter and a tough cookie. During my research for my next novel, Don’t Stop The Music, I realized that Graham’s thick skin was forged at an early age as a Jew in Germany during World War II. His mother and a sister were gassed by Nazis. At the tender age of nine he trekked across Europe alone and eventually found his way to Portugal, then Casablanca to Dakar and finally landing in New York where he ended up in an orphanage.
After serving in Korea, he worked as a New York cab driver before coming to San Francisco. It is here where I found some rather interesting facts that would take center stage for my historical fiction crime story. (more…)