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This is the first SWU gig I know of but I suppose you could say it wasn't a proper Underbelly gig as such - they simply learned a bunch of Steve Noonan songs and backed him up at this gig.
I presume this came about through the auspices of John Wiesenthal, who had previously brought Jackson Browne, Steve Noonan and Tim Buckley out to play at one of the Stony Brook dorms (JSouth lounge on 19 March 1967). BOC fans might be interested to know that a certain George Geranios handled the sound for that gig.
Phil Ochs was "a civil rights movement folkie guy", so, on the face of it, it might seem to be a strange pairing...
Yes but this isn't that odd because we played with Steve Noonan who was a folkie... and he played acoustic guitar, Donald played very light electric - we were a folk group...
I think we had about 2 days (to practice his songs) - but we had the band house so we could practice for as long as we wanted - we could practice all day, and we played a whole set...
Q: Did you get to play any of your stuff or was it all his?
No, purely Steve Noonan - we didn't do any of ours... so it wasn't really our first gig but it was with Andy Winters, Allen Lanier and John Wiesenthal.. the full band...
Was Jeff Richards in the line-up, I wonder...?
I was a student at Stony Brook from September 1967-June 1971. I espcially remember seeing them at a dance (we called them "Moods") in H Quad at SUSB. They seemed to be the "house band" and played at a lot of semi-official events on the campus.
Here's my ticket stub (#326) from the 1967 Phil Ochs concert and my youthful note on the reverse, (including the name of my date that weekend at the bottom!).
"Phil Ochs... A Dove Perched Atop His Guitar"
The Phil Ochs Concert, sponsored by the Student Activities Board in the Stony Brook gym, on Friday, October 20, signalled the start of Fall Festival Weekend. It promised and confirmed an exciting evening.
Phil Ochs was excellent. Strumming, a dove perched atop his guitar, he sang some of his best folk ballads.
His songs were designed to mix the controversial with the poignant. Ochs sang to tell a message that had to be told. It was a message that demanded an answer.
Ochs appealed to reason. He asked if we would calmly accept the suicide of the United States, when he sang "I Declare the War Is Over."
He challenged the youth of America for their meekness in going to war because their elders tell them to, and he sang "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore."
Ochs provided a bitter commentary on American life in "When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do", and when he sang "Changes", one forgot the outer world and only rememembered the inner world of passing time.
Ochs shared the Stony Brook posters with a musical group, Steve Noonan with Soft White Underbelly. Noonan and his group were loud and exciting.
Noonan had a great voice, and was backed up with a comfortable beat by his group. Their songs like "Tumble Down" and "Songs to the Street Singer" were electric. Or, Noonan's rendition of "Buy For Me" was soft and plaintive.
A note in passing about the Holy Modal Rounders who opened the concert. Comprised of a fiddler who gave a running commentary, and a silent guitarist, the Rounders were a very disappointing start to a great concert.
Their music was thin and trite, as was the fumbling for a flat pick or even the right words to use.
Even though the Holy Modal Rounders were poor, Phil Ochs and Steve Noonan with Soft White Underbelly combined to form a fantastic start to Stony Brook Fall Festival Weekend.
from "The Statesman" (25 October 1967) by Robin Simon
I only know of the date (and existence) of this gig thanks to John Wiesenthal, who kindly sent me an image of the poster he designed for the event.
Hence, although this is gig number 2, this is probably the first SWU gig under their own steam. Being as it was a disco, however, maybe they were constrained (by the tradition of these things) to play a set of covers...?
Again, I don't know if Jeff Richards was yet a part of the line-up for this gig...
I think so. I had a picture once with Allen in the lobby but it could have been just a lounge...
OK Jeff, well for now, I won't add you to the band list because you don't reckon you played in the following gigs and my thoughts are that the gigs you played would have been in a contiguous block - you wouldn't have played this gig, and then not the next 3 and then the one after that etc - that's my logic for now, anyway.
I only know of this gig thanks to the following:
When I was a student at Stony Brook University in the fall of 1967 young Sandy Pearlman started bringing the boys around to the college. At first they would jam in the dorm lounges. One Saturday night in November 1967 a Hendrix-Cream copy band named Alice was playing in one of these lounges. The boys and Sandy were hanging out listening. Alice lent them their instruments and let them sit in. They had no singer then. They jammed like you and I breathe--every waking moment it seemed.
SWU let me sing a Doors song "My Eyes Have Seen You" during that set, which they expanded into a long jam after the second verse. I stood right next to Donald and Andy Winters, their original bassist, who was quite good. Donald was all over his guitar, as the saying goes. He flew. The room tripped out with them playing in it. The boys were tight and fast and rocked hard even then. This was 1967. Pearlman knew exactly what he had.
If this gig did indeed take place on "a Saturday night in November 1967", then it would had to have taken place on one of the following dates:
04 November 1967
11 November 1967
18 November 1967
25 November 1967
The Doors "Strange Days" LP had only been released on 25 Sept 1967, so the fact that SWU had worked up a song from it only a few weeks later and that Robby in the audience stepped up knowing all the lyrics indicates the significance and impact the Doors were having on the Stony Brook "cultural nexus" at that time...
Was Jeff Richards on board yet? I don't think so because he says he didn't play the next show...
We played the Cafe a Go Go sandwiched between James Cotton and Richie Havens...
This is going to be a hard gig to date. A week after the Stony Brook Ravi Shankar gig, I know the Soft White Underbelly played at the Cafe A Go Go Blues Bag, which was held during the Thanksgiving Holiday week between 21-26 November 1967.
"Weird Tales from the Early Days of BOC" by Vivien Goldman
Richard Meltzer: "I was the singer for one night, that was the best... this was at the Bluesbag Cafe a Go Go in New York.
They used to have people like Howlin' Wolf, James Cotten, people like that on there, and for some unknown reason this band was booked on it. We're speaking of '68.
So anyway, we decided Rich was gonna be the singer that night. He stood up onstage and went PISS! PISS! SHIT! So then I stood up, I took my shirt off, I stuck my head inside the drums, I pulled the plugs out..."
Allen intones solemnly from his corner, "It was really the blues, man." To me, that vivid little evocation is a strong reminder of performance art, or some similar 'art statement' theatrical form.
Sounds 31 July 1976
Here's Meltzer again on the subject of this gig (albeit writing about himself in the 3rd person):
That Thanksgiving the boys got to do their first non-college type gig, the annual Blues Bag at the Cafe au Go-Go, and Wiesenthal was present on unamplified keyboard (so you wouldn't hafta hear him). The nite before he'd taken off on the wings of mesc-o-leen and was particularly off-the-wall so he got R. Meltzer - an old college buddy of his and Pearlman's - to be the 'singer' for the show. Meltzer was allowed to do anything he wanted and all he did was rip off his shirt (an Indian shirt), stick his head inside the bass drum, and yell "Piss!" in each of the three mikes set up in front of the stage. Then he pulled out the plug on Don's guitar (club schmucko Howard Solomon was screaming for them to stop by then cause they were starting to infringe upon his half-hour limit) and their first gig was over (they got paid a hearty handshake for it).
Backstage Wiesenthal befriended Richie Havens and the talk was kosmic, all about shiny lovebeads and the month of July, whole lotta horsepoop.
At this time Dutch was in the army cause he failed to physical himself out of it.
So they needed some extra meat to make their music. Jeff Latham, a college chum of Albert and Donald from somewhere upstate where they had all dropped out of (droppin' out was a big deal at the time), was employed and he brought along his skinny broad. Jeff became rhythm ax man. Meanwhile the other Jeff, Richards, was called upon to both sing and play sax (tenor).
Meltzer seems to suggest Allen Lanier didn't play this gig as he'd already been drafted by this stage: so, did his fill-in replacement, Jeff Latham, play this gig?
And was Jeff Richards brought in to play this gig yet, or was he still yet to come...?
I went I think, but didn't sing...
The question also remains: on which of the six days that the Blues Bag ran did SWU play?
I couldn't tell you the exact day. Only that it was a one night stand. It is possible that Howlin' Wolf was also on that bill. Jim Morrison came in and I talked with him about Rock musicians bringing the Vietnam War to an end. He agreed to help. Unfortunately our conversation never went any farther than that.
I also had a wonderful conversation with Havens. Great man, gentle soul.
By the way - I played I played Hammond organ at this show. On all other performances with the band, I played guitar...
During this time we were doing free-form improvisation inspired by Jackson Pollock's painting and Cecil Taylor's piano. AVANT GARDISM. I'm no keyboard player and my experiments on the organ were just that: blind (but not deaf) explorations of the spontaneously created harmonic and rhythmic environment we joyfully spawned.
In keeping with this, at the Cafe au Go-Go, Richard Meltzer shouted "Piss, Piss" into the microphone and stuck his head in the bass drum.
Actually, John's mention of Jim Morrison popping in would - if accurate - be useful in helping to date the show a bit more precisely. The Doors gig schedule went thusly:
18 Nov 1967: Winterland San Francisco, CA
24 Nov 1967: Hunter College Assembly Hall New York, NY
25 Nov 1967: Washington Hilton International Ballroom Washington, D.C.
26 Nov 1967: Bushnell Auditorium Hartford, CT
So if Morrison was available to be on hand, it can't have been 24-26 Nov as he was gigging. But if The Doors were playing in NYC on the 24th Nov, then the 23rd is the more likely date for him to be available to call round at the Cafe au Go Go...
The main bands on the bill present a slightly confusing picture also. Adverts say it was Butterfield Blues Band, the James Cotton Blues Band and Richie Havens who were the main bands on, and Buck confirms these last two, but suggests the SWU didn't actually open:
However, Albert says that Muddy Waters - although not on any of the adverts - was also definitely on the bill - perhaps in a headlining slot.
On Albert's monthly radio show on WFKU.org (on the Tuesday 17 Dec 2013 edition), he played "Stuff You Gotta Watch" by Muddy Waters and then gave much more info on the Cafe au Go Go gig: "A year or so later we opened the show for Muddy Waters and Richie Havens..."
Afterwards, Albert told a story about having a good chat after SWU's set with Richie Havens who gave him his phone number - and then he said he went up to Francis Clay, who played drums for Muddy Waters and had a nice chat, and he was thrilled when Clay took him to the Go Go's dressing room to "meet Mudd"...
He also said he ran into Francis Clay again when SWU played the Generation Club in 1968 because Clay was playing with the headliner BB King at that time.
When I mentioned this on the Cafe A Go Go Facebook page, and asked if anybody had any more info, I got told to remove my post and to stop posting inaccurate information as Muddy Waters was not on the Blues Bag bill!
I asked Albert for a definite clarification - did Muddy definitely play this gig, or could he be mistaken? He assured me he wasn't - Mudd played!
This, therefore, opened up another potential avenue for determining the date - Muddy Water's availability...
After a bit of research, I discovered that Muddy Waters & His Blues Band apparently played at The Electric Circus on the following dates:
Tue 21 November 1967
Wed 22 November 1967
Thu 23 November 1967
So there we have an interesting situation: we know the event lasted from 21st Nov to 26th Nov 1967 - on one of these dates, the SWU played - but which night?
(a) If Muddy Waters played on the same day as SWU, then it's unlikely to have been on the 21st-23rd November (because Muddy was playing at The Electric Circus on those nights) - that leaves 24th-26th Nov.
(b) However, if John Weisenthal is correct about Jim Morrison popping in, then it's unlikely to have been on 24th-26th Nov because The Doors were gigging on those nights.
My initial guess for this gig was 23 Nov, but I've since upgraded that guess to Friday 24th November 1967.
This date allows Muddy Waters to be available to play the show and although on the face of things, that would seem to prevent any appearance by Jim Morrison during the proceedings, maybe it doesn't...
On the 24th, The Doors were playing Hunter College (Park Avenue) so, in theory, were he so inclined, Jim Morrison would have been free to stroll on down the road to catch the show at the Cafe au Go Go... a bloody long stroll down Park Avenue, of course, but that's a mere detail...
But if anyone can help me date this gig for definite, please let me know...
The concept of celebrating Beethoven's Birthday with a party was a new concept to me, but I had heard something before about SWU playing just such a gig, thanks to Meltzer:
Bout this time was when they decided they needed a singer. They played a Beethoven's birthday party at Stony Brook and all sorts of guys tried out singin' with 'em, including Larry Silvestri (a shorty) and Les Braunstein (an asshole from summer stock who once wrote a hit for Peter, Paul & Mary or maybe it was just on an album or something, "I'm in Love with a Big Blue Frog"). Les had a van too and that's what they needed so he became their singer. This was not a singer's band, just a bunch of musicians who took long jams and they didn't want any of this singer shit but they finally had to settle cause none of them wanted to do it.
Now Meltzer placed this party after the February 68 Anderson gig, so that's when I thought it must have roughly occurred.
Furthermore, I also had an advert for a 15 December 1967 "Irving Christmas Party" gig at the ABC Lounge in Irving College, and for a long time I thought these were two seperate gigs until John Wiesenthal told me this:
The December concert was called a Beethoven's Birthday Party. That poster is probably around somewhere.
Allen's girlfriend Hope Nigro was part of a school planning committee and she set up some of the dorm shows for us.
I then researched Beethoven's birthday and discovered it was thought to be on December 16, and realised John Wiesenthal had it correctly - this December gig was the Beethoven's Birthday Party show - Meltzer had got his timeframe wrong...
Again, my usual question is: did Jeff Richards play this gig?