Four Bands That Changed the World

Four Bands That Changed the World: Pop Back Up: Certain members of Big Brother and Jefferson Starship and Jerry Miller all played a part in the festival that changed American music. Head Turners: Riders on the Storm, including (from far right) former Doors Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger, perform this Sunday.

BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY

Before Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, nobody had ever heard anything like the fusion of electrified psychedelic blues that emerged from a trio of guitars, not to mention the magnificent raw emotion of Janis’ voice.

Those who saw Big Brother and the Holding Company’s two performances at the Monterey International Pop Festival on June 17 and 18 of 1967 knew they were listening to something important.

“[The Pop Festival] was a turning point for Big Brother,” says Dave Getz, the band’s drummer. “Janis drew national attention and it really marked the beginning of Janis becoming a star.”

Big Brother and the Holding Company played twice, because D.A. Pennebaker, who was filming the show for what was to become the great documentary Monterey Pop, couldn’t film their first performance and wanted them for the movie. The finished cut includes the band’s killer rendition of “Ball and Chain.”

As it did for Big Brother, Getz says, the event provided first exposure for many groups who were virtually unknown at the time.

“It was an incredible festival – different than the ones that followed, like Woodstock,” he says. “Monterey was smaller, and more like a great big party.”

Forty years later, Getz looks forward to playing at the Fairgrounds again. “The [Summer of Love Festival] is about remembering a great time.” Though he doesn’t believe the spirit of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival can be recreated, he does believe it will have meaning as a piece of nostalgia.         

“You can’t go home again; you can just celebrate it.”

Getz will be joined by Peter Albin, Sam Andrew and James Gurley, all original members of the original band. –Adam Joseph

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE

“Total insanity. Ravi Shankar was a delight. It was a revelation,” Paul Kantner says in one breath as he reminisces about the Monterey International Pop Festival.

The singer and guitarist for Jefferson Airplane and later Jefferson Starship speaks quickly and adamantly about history, politics and the criminal justice system. At the same time he emits an aura that can only come from a living rock and roll legend.

Kantner explains that the original vision for the Monterey Pop Festival was to recreate the atmosphere of the free concerts that were held in Golden Gate Park throughout the ’60s.

Afternoon concerts at Golden Gate Park, featuring Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company, were common weekend happenings. “Free music, without rules,” was the underlying philosophy of the park concerts, Kantner says.

Jefferson Airplane was synonymous with the counterculture of that time and place; their lyrics of harmonized irony, fuzz-toned reverb and liquid lightshows represented mind expansion, experimentation and above all, freedom.

“Feed your head… feed your head… ,” Grace Slick demands at the closing of “White Rabbit,” as if she were a cosmic drill sergeant drenched in a light shade of Owsley’s finest blotter.

During Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 recording sessions of Surrealistic Pillow, which included such timeless psychedelic anthems as “White Rabbit” and “She Has Funny Cars,” Kantner says the band was “reflecting on the times, and it was a positive time; we were just making music. Nobody knows how or why [music] works or how it impacts our consciousness; [music] still mystifies me, but it’s a mystery I don’t want to figure out.”

In San Francisco at the time, many people had given up on the mainstream for one reason or another and “were doing their own thing.” Kantner says he gave up on “the way things were” when JFK was assassinated.

“From 1962 until 1969, nothing happened in linear time, everything was happening at once. There were all these random factors: LSD, the Beatles, the sexual revolution, the anti-war movement, the Civil Rights Movement. It was exhilarating and encompassing and with [The Pop Festival] we wanted to bring all that emotion and passion to Monterey.”

Kantner continues to create music with Jefferson Starship, who has been on the Summer of Love Tour playing everything from songs written pre-Jefferson Airplane to songs written recently. –Adam Joseph

MOBY GRAPE

“There are so many negative things going on in the world today; its time for another dose of positive music. That’s just what we need,” says Jerry Miller from his Tacoma, Washington home.

Miller is an original member of the psychedelic rock band Moby Grape, who gained fame in 1967, coming out of the San Francisco music scene.

Miller got home at 5am this morning after playing a concert in Detroit the night prior, as part of the Summer of Love Tour. He speaks in a humble voice free of stress and worry as he reflects on the summer long celebration.

The tour has been a chance for Miller to chat with old musician friends who came out of the same scene.

The band’s set list during the tour has consisted of new Jerry Miller Band songs as well as Moby Grape favorites such as “Indifference” and “Omaha.”

“[The Pop Festival] was killer. There was nothing else like it.’

“[Moby Grape] opened the show because no one else wanted to play first.

Following the Grape’s performance, Otis Redding knocked an audience of hippies out of their seats with his no nonsense soul. Then Jimi Hendrix blew the same audience away with his innovative electric blues that ended with his guitar going up in flames.

Needless to say, the Grape’s four song set was quickly overshadowed by those acts that followed, admits Miller.

“It was still great,” he adds.

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Miller recently attended a special 40th anniversary screening of the Monterey Pop Festival film in Los Angeles, along with Pennebaker, Grace Slick, Eric Burdon and many others who were involved.

Forty years after the Grape’s debut album, Miller is the only original member who has consistently toured and made music since the band’s breakup.

The Grape Monterey All-Star Review, set to perform at the Monterey Summer of Love Festival, will include Miller and surviving members of Moby Grape along with musicians from the Doobie Brothers, Quick Silver Messenger Service, Rita Coolidge, Boz Skaggs and others. –Adam Joseph

RIDERS ON THE STORM

Despite having their hit single “Light My Fire” residing at the top of the charts for most of the Summer of Love, the Los Angeles-based group The Doors were never invited to play the Monterey Pop Festival. Ray Manzarek remembers The Doors were “pissed” that they were not taking the stage at the Monterey Fairgrounds for the three-day show.

“We were quite angry wondering why The Association was at the Monterey Pop Festival, and The Doors were not,” he says.

Of course,The Doors overcame that disappointment and built on their early successes to become one of the most important groups in rock history. With deep voiced crooner and sex symbol Jim Morrison’s poetic lyrics and Manzarek’s unique keyboard playing, The Doors released a parade of songs that are still popular today – “Love Me Two Times,” “People Are Strange,” “Hello, I Love You.”

After the band’s 1971 album L.A. Woman was completed, Morrison moved to Paris and died of an apparent drug overdose. The remaining members of The Doors continued on without the charismatic vocalist on albums including Other Voices and Full Circle, but it was obviously a different band without Morrison. The Doors eventually disbanded.

One of the most amazing aspects of The Doors’ music is how it resonates with contemporary music fans. Recently, electronica acts like Thievery Corporation and Paul Oakenfold have remixed the legendary outfit’s songs. Manzarek says The Doors are still important “because the band represents freedom, an exploration of both the light and dark side of life.”

The keyboard player also believes that Morrison is a revered figure for one single reason. “First and foremost, he was a poet, and that’s his most important aspect to me,” he says. “The sex machine was of no concern to me.”

Since The Doors, Manzarek has pursued all sorts of creative endeavors. In the ‘70s, the musician released a handful of solo albums and produced X’s punk masterpiece Los Angeles. Manzarek has also penned a nonfiction memoir of his time with The Doors titled Light My Fire and Snake Moon, a novel set during the Civil War.

In 2001, Manzarek reunited with surviving Doors members, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer Johns Densmore, to record an episode of VH-1’s Storytellers. Vocalists including Perry Farrell, Creed’s Scott Strapp and The Cult’s Ian Astbury guested on the project.

The reunion led to a new incarnation of the Doors featuring Manzarek, Krieger and Astbury. At first called The Doors of the 21st Century, the band changed its name to Riders on the Storm in 2005 for legal reasons. The band plays a wide range of The Doors catalogue, from neglected gems like “Peace Frog” to hits including “Light My Fire.”

Recently, Astbury left Riders on the Storm, leaving the group without a vocalist. This past March, Brett Scallions of the hard rock band Fuel was tapped as the new singer. Manzarek lists Scallions strengths as “great voice, six feet tall, 165 pounds, spiked blond hair, nose ring, prowls the stage like a cat and wears leather like it’s licorice.”

As for the contemporary music scene, Manzarek says bluntly that the music of the late ‘60s “beats the hell” out of the music of today. Then, he goes into another list of reasons why. “Spiritual quest,” he says. “Intelligent, musically adventurous, a desire to change the world for the better.”  –Stuart Thornton

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