Post by TheWallsScreamedPoetry on Feb 4, 2011 18:20:10 GMT
The Doors with Lonnie Mack & Elvin Bishop. Live Cow Palace, 25th July 1969
When my cousins came in from the Midwest, they decided they would like to hear some rock music on a Friday night. We had the choice of going to the Fillmore to see Steve Miller and Albert King or going to the 15,000 capacity Cow Palace, in Daly City just south of San Francisco, to see the Doors, Lonnie Mack, and Elvin Bishop. In retrospect, it seems odd that the Who would play the Fillmore West while Bill Graham would need to rent the Cow Palace to handle the demand for the Doors. The Los Angeles quartet were at the height of their popularity in 1967-68, and Jim Morrison’s infamous bust for public exposure in Miami in March did nothing to dent demand for the group, at least in California. It did result in at least 24 of the spring Doors engagements being cancelled by the promoters in other parts of the country, and this was only the group’s ninth gig since the bust three months earlier.
The Cow Palace got its name from the cattle shows that used to be held there regularly. Hardly an ideal concert venue, it resembles a grossly oversized Quontset hut. Nonetheless, it hosted many high profile shows dating back to the mid Sixties when groups like the Beatles and the Stones had played there. I had been there many times previously to attend the Boat and Sports show held there each January, but this was my first concert experience there.
I can’t remember whether seats were reserved or not, but my cousins and I (one of them was of driving age, so my parents weren’t called on this time) got pretty nice seats on the risers on the east side of the arena pretty close to the stage. The hall was really full, but I don’t know whether it was sold out.
The opening act was blues guitarist Elvin Bishop and his relatively new group. Bishop has played on a bit of a cornpone image since being given the nickname “Pigboy Crabshaw” during his days in the Butterfield Blues Band, but he was no slouch intellectually, having attended the University of Chicago as a physics major in the early 1960s. It was there that he started frequenting the amazing blues clubs nearby and met blues harmonica player-vocalist Butterfield, initially performing as a duo with Butterfield and then becoming the lead guitarist in the original incarnation of the Butterfield Blues Band. In 1965, the group was augmented by the prodigious Michael Bloomfield on lead and slide guitar, and the group recorded two extraordinary albums for Elektra including the classic East-West, which featured some remarkable extended improvisational duels between the two guitarists that presaged similar workouts by groups like the Allman Brothers, Cream, and the Dead. Bloomfield left in 1967 to form the Electric Flag, and Bishop carried on for another year or so, recording two more albums as Butterfield gradually moved the band in a jazz direction, adding a full horn section. During 1968, Bishop spent more and more time in San Francisco, jamming with folks like Jerry Garcia and Steve Miller, and he ultimately moved there permanently by mid year, subsequently forming his own group that was one of the first acts signed to Bill Graham’s fledgling Fillmore Record Label.
Bishop’s debut album, The Elvin Bishop Group was released in 1969, but I’m not sure if it had come out yet by the time of the Cow Palace gig. His band was pretty much the same lineup featured on the album, comprising keyboard player Stephen Miller (not to be confused with guitarist Steve Miller), bassist Art Stavros, drummer John Chambers and harmonica player Applejack, and the set consisted mostly of that material as well. From what I can remember, Bishop took all the lead vocals, despite the fact that Miller is an excellent blues-rock vocalist who took the bulk of lead vocals in his other band, Linn County – another top flight, but largely unheralded bay area blues rock group. Miller appears to have played in both groups simultaneously from 1968-70. Although Bishop’s vocal range was limited, his aw-shucks stage patter and, particularly, the band’s dynamic ensemble playing and his stinging lead guitar, won the large crowd over.
Second on the bill was Indiana blues rock icon Lonnie Mack. Mack, who had a major hit in 1963 with a blistering instrumental version of “Memphis,” was enjoying his first of several high profile comebacks of his career, having recently been signed to Elektra records where he had just released the first of three albums for that label, Glad I’m In the Band. Largely unknown on the West Coast, Mack had come to the attention of Elektra and west coast music fans when Rolling Stone published a piece in late 1968 extolling the virtues of Mack’s revolutionary blues guitar technique, which brought country/bluegrass picking techniques into a blues/rock context, so his appearance, which I believe was his first bay area gig since the Stone article, was eagerly anticipated.
Like Bishop, Mack proved a master showman, making good use of his guitar wizardry through his trademark Gibson “Flying V” guitar and also working the crowd with his rich, gospel-tinged vocals. In addition to sharing a bill and a label with the Doors, Mack subsequently guested on their next studio album, 1970’s Morrison Hotel, taking the memorable guitar break on “Roadhouse Blues.” Mack’s strong set at the Cow Palace was politely received by the crowd, but it was clear that the audience was impatient for the headliners. In a precursor to the big business model of rock shows soon to come, the show at the Cow Palace had a much less intimate feel than those in the friendly confines of the Fillmore West. It also seemed that there was a lot more alcohol in evidence, and thus it was no surprise that the audience was more rowdy as well.
The mood of the patrons was not improved by the lengthy break that ensued between the end of Mack’s set and the time the Doors took the stage perhaps an hour later. Jim Morrison’s erratic onstage antics have been well documented elsewhere, most vividly in Greg Shaw’s excellent (but sadly out of print) book The Doors On the Road. Until now, little has been written about their Cow Palace performance, probably because no tapes circulate of that show.
The Doors had just come off of a very successful two night stand at the Aquarius Theater in Los Angeles which subsequently formed the basis of their Absolutely Live album and were subsequently released in their entirety on the Doors Bright Moonlight label. For those shows, the Doors focused on earlier material, some of Morrison’s extended poetry pieces, and blues-rock covers like “Little Red Rooster” and “Who Do You Love?.” Therefore, this was the first real gig that the band performed since the release of their fourth album The Soft Parade, a month before. Possibly for this reason, the group attempted a more generous chunk of the album than they did before or since. Unfortunately, things did not go all that well.
An obviously well lubricated Morrison took the stage and kicked things off with, I believe, “Five to One.” (Note: I do not have a setlist for this show, so any remembrances of order and even material performed are based on 41 year old memories. If anyone out there knows more specifics, please chime in). As can be seen from the photos, Morrison’s metamorphosis from sex symbol to beefy, hirsute Irish poet was well underway, and his heavy beard and baggy clothes emphasized his new image.
In the body of the show came “Break on Through,” "When the Music's Over," "Alabama Song," “Touch Me,” and, I’m pretty sure, a rare version of “Tell All the People,” along with some other standard fare of the day. Morrison hung on the microphone, slurred his words at times, and certainly didn’t move around as much as he did in previous years. The rest of the band played well, and Krieger's guitar work was particularly memorable.
One positive was that Morrison did not get into any verbal or physical spars with the audience, but he did fail to heed a request from the promoter to wrap things up for curfew. Morrison tried to lead the band into the “Soft Parade” medley, got as far as the spoken “Seminary School” monologue before the emcee (I think it was Jerry Pompili) called time from an offstage mic. At this point, Morrison got belligerent and egged the crowd on to demand that the band be allowed to keep playing. With the stage lights off, Morrison continued to rant and the crowd got more and more insistent. A standoff continued for a long time, maybe 20 minutes, and finally the band won out, although the overtime union fees probably came out of their proceeds for the evening. From what I remember, they then ran through the full “Soft Parade” and wrapped things up with a speedy, but pretty energetic, run through “Light My Fire.”
One might think that such behavior at a Bill Graham venue would prompt permanent banishment, but the Doors were back at Winterland for two nights the next February, their last gigs in Northern California before Morrison retired to write in Paris.
Compared to other Doors gigs of the era, things could have been worse. No one in the band or the audience were injured, and no arrests were made. In retrospect, it was a pretty satisfying evening of music, with some classic Jim Morrison psychodrama thrown in for good measure.
M. Parrish from Cryptical Developments November 2010
"That's the trouble with reality!.... it's taken far too seriously! I do hope God is good to me and Santa Claus to the children! Celebrate...this parties over...I'm going home!"