To those of us who never lived through the “Summer of Love” (as though love can somehow be restricted to a season) the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival has always stood for the Utopian sixties that one always dreams it to be; a haze of beautiful people all turning on to the greatest era of music that Western Civilization has ever known. As a young female fan states at the beginning of the iconic concert film by D.A. Pennebaker – “God! I think it’s gonna be like Easter and Christmas and New Years and your Birthday all together you know? I mean the vibrations are just going to be flowing everywhere…”
And flow they did. Over a single weekend in June 1967, within days of the release of The Beatles Sgt Pepper, the songs and artists poured pop music out to the American West Coast masses with a diversity not seen before or since. From The Byrds, The Animals and The Who – to The Mamas and Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding – the list of the performers spanned the length and breadth of the story of Rock and Roll. It had been barely a decade since Sam Phillips had recorded a young truck driver in Memphis with the unlikely name of Elvis Presley – and yet there it was in 1967 – in all of it’s blues, folk, jazz & pop electric glory – the message that every teenager on the planet could understand – the Music itself. No corporate managed merchandise stands selling t-shirts made in third world sweat shops – and no iPhones held aloft in unison beaming the message to the intelligent life-forms avoiding us in outer-space. The Monterey Pop Festival was all that had been before – rolling in one splendid swirling wave of sound – and at the edge of that Whitman wave curled a young Texan blues singer by the name of Janis Joplin, with her San Francisco based band of blues brothers – Big Brother and The Holding Company.
At the Monterey Festival The Byrds took flight, Hendrix set his guitar a-light and Otis Redding sang soul prayers to the tens of thousands of young American youth. But no-one – NO-ONE – distilled the spirit of the moment like Big Brother and the Holding Company singing their classic San Fran anthem “Combination of the Two” – a performance unbelievably left on the cutting room floor of the celebrated concert film.
It was a repeat performance from the band who, having refused to be filmed the previous day, were asked to make a repeat appearance by the films’ organizers. And what an appearance it was. Janis Joplin breezed from a smiling insecure young woman to a Boudica possessed goddess with a guerro in the blink of an eye. Wild eyed lead guitarist James Gurley howled opening notes to the crowd like a pack of hungry wolves – and in-between the two stood Sam Andrew – singing the lead vocal chant for everyone to “come to San Francisco and dig our sound – you’ll feel more, you’ll feel more, you’ll feel more!”
47 years later and some things haven’t changed. Big Brother plays on with Sam Andrew, Peter Albin and Dave Getz – still imploring us to feel more….. and the spirit of Janis and James live on forever in the music. Mysterion Art Factory had the honor of asking Mr. Sam Andrew some questions about Big Brother and their key involvement in the first ever major Pop Music Festival. Forget about being there – what was it like being on stage at Monterey? What was it like to not just feel the electricity – but to create it?
Whilst spending time in North Beach in the early days did you ever get the chance to meet any of the great “Beat” writers and poets?
I knew Michael McClure, who was among the youngest of the Beat poets, and I knew Allen Ginsberg because we had done many events together. Neal Cassady always scared me a little but of course we knew each other. I felt as if I already had enough Neal Cassadys’ and Brian Jones’ in my life. I liked the women, of course. Diane di Prima and Lenore Kandel meant a lot to me. So did Anne Waldman.
Big Brother moved in together not long after you formed. How did the whole band moving into the house in Lagunitas contribute to the over-all sound and camaraderie of Big Brother and the Holding Company?
We had been living in separate places in the Haight Ashbury, so just the fact that we were all doing something together was a unifying thing. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Marin seemed like entering some kind of sylvan paradise after the streets of San Francisco. In Lagunitas, I lived in a little cabin out in back of the main house, which suited me very well. I wrote a lot of songs out there and would bring them in to rehearsal in the morning around ten. We played music all day, and came to know each other very well indeed.
Who organized the recordings of the “Lost Tapes” sessions and what equipment did you use to record with? Where were most of the recordings done?
In the first year of our playing together, Big Brother and the Holding Company did many engagements at Marty Balin’s nightclub, the Matrix, which was about the size of a pizza parlor. Hey, wait! It WAS a pizza parlor. Every time we played at the Matrix, we were recorded by Pete Abrams, who was the sound person. Over time, Pete had quite a collection of recordings, and we secured his permission to release a lot of that very early music. I am not sure what machines Pete was using to record us.
Why was the “Lost Tapes” music never released on an official Big Brother album?
Because, as I say, these are very early performances. We hadn’t really learned how to play quite yet and the recording technology was equally elementary. Columbia Records, certainly, would never have approved of such basic recordings nor such primitive performances either. For Columbia, we would simply have gone back into the studio and done the tunes with better recording and better performances, as, indeed, we did with several songs.
What are your personal memories of the days leading up to the Monterey Pop Festival? Were you confident that the band would make the impact that it did?
We rehearsed for Monterey. We had a sense that it was going to be important somehow, although, of course, we didn’t have any idea how important. We practiced in a loft down on the north waterfront of San Francisco. My girlfriend had brought an album back from London. It was Jimi Hendrix. She was raving about it, so I listened to it all the way through. I thought, wow, if he plays anything like this onstage, he is going to be a smash. I didn’t even think about his ‘act,’ the way he was going to present himself. Of course he played better at Monterey than he did on his album. Jimi was so good. Big Brother were all right. Not one of our best performances, nor one of our worst. To me, we were already well known, so I wasn’t thinking about how we would go over. I just wanted to turn in a good set.
The film footage of the crowd at Monterey shows everyone looking relaxed and chilled out. What was the atmosphere in the air at Monterey really like – both in the crowd and backstage? Does the film accurately depict the 3 days?
The weather at Monterey was sunny and warm, which is not always the case. So, we were all calm and shining out to each other with friendship and respect. Being backstage with all of our San Francisco friends and our new friends from out of town, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar and Marianne Faithful was a calm and interesting experience. There was a ‘summer camp’ ambience to the whole affair that was beautiful and beguiling.
Michelle Phillips has a nightmare story about missing Otis Redding’s legendary performance. Was there anyone on the bill that you missed seeing and now regret?
I saw the people I wanted to see: Otis, Jimi, Ravi, and they more than lived up to their reputations. I am sorry for Michelle, and I wish I could have helped her make it to the show.
Did you get to meet and spend time with Brian Jones at the festival?
No, I love Brian Jones for what he meant to the Stones, authenticity and a striving for a real blues study, but we had plenty of Brian Jones type people in San Francisco. I am sure that he was a worthwhile person, though.
Were you watching the Byrds’ performance when David Crosby announced to the audience that JFK’s assassination was a cover-up? If so, what was the crowd’s reaction to this statement? What was your personal reaction?
Nothing would surprise me about politicians who are at the top of the heap in this country or any other. I assume that they are all callused and more than a little dishonest by the time they’ve reached that level. On the other hand, one song, like Turn, Turn, Turn, say, is so much more powerful than an explicit statement, that it would seem unnecessary to harangue the crowd at a sunny event about the Grassy Knoll. I am much more overtly political now and further to the left too, even though I was far to the left then. People like David Crosby, though, remind me of those revolutionaries who are so intent on throwing over the government, so they can get in there and someone can call for their overthrow in less than ten years, you know what I mean? As far as how the crowd took it that David was revealing a breathtaking new idea about the assassination cover-up, people at rock events become nonverbal, even very verbal people. Thus, pundits like Paul Krassner or Lenny Bruce or even Peter Coyote do better at musical concerts with less verbiage. This is a place where actions are far more eloquent than words.
Big Brother & the Holding Company originally refused to sign any contract allowing them to be filmed at Monterey. What were the circumstances that lead to the band replaying their set for the cameras the following day?
Moby Grape and the Grateful Dead refused to be filmed at Monterey. When you think of bands who played there, do you think about Moby Grape and the Grateful Dead? I don’t. I have to think long and hard before I even remember that they were there at all. Sometimes what seems like a wise decision is not so wise at all in the long run. We all thought we were being cool and self protective not to allow ourselves to be filmed at Monterey. But when we were actually there, we realized that this was an important event, even if we were being exploited by people like John Phillips and Lou Adler. Sometimes the value of the exposure outweighs the damage of the exploitation. Everyone came to us and said, “Hey, you have to be filmed, this is important,” and we came to believe them. So, we asked Albert Grossman, “Do you think we should go on tomorrow and be filmed as we are being asked to?” He said, yes, so that was good enough for us. If we hadn’t agreed with Albert to be filmed, very few people today would even remember that we were at Monterey, and you certainly wouldn’t be asking me about it.
Our research shows that you played five songs during your first un-filmed set and only two songs during your repeat performance the next day. Why did you choose to only play two songs for the film?
Maybe there was a time limitation? After all, we were fitting into an already arranged schedule. Maybe we played more than two songs, but only two were filmed? On Saturday afternoon, things were relaxed and easy. On Sunday night, it was the big time. Everything was tighter, more purposeful, more controlled. We are probably lucky they let us play at all.
Is there any known recordings or footage of your first Monterey performance?
I don’t know if there are any video or film or sound recordings of our first Saturday performance at Monterey. This could be a very good thing, or it could be sad if we played better on Saturday than we did on Sunday night. Janis was always great, but we had to play instruments as well as sing, and the quality of our performances could vary greatly.
During “Combination of the Two” each band member seems to be at a particular peak – both individually and as a group. Was the Monterey performance particularly ‘special’ or was it indicative of how tight the band had become by the summer of ’67?
You are kind. I don’t remember our turning in a peak performance at Monterey, but sometimes it feels very differently inside from how it is perceived outside, you know? This is just a fact of life and we all experience it in one way or another. Maybe our playing at Monterey was an indication of how much we had progressed by playing many, many engagements over the year preceding. I would like to think so, and thus your comments are gratifying. Thank you.
No – Thank You Sam Andrew. Thank You. Peace and Love. 2014.
(Sadly Sam Andrew passed away 12th February 2015 - his music, his knowledge and his honesty will be truly missed).