In the 1960s and early-to-mid-1970s, Berkeley was alive with the sound of live music. We really rocked. And folked. And jazzed a little.
Let me start with the folk scene.
My family, like many families in the 1950s and 1960s, sat in our living room as a family listening to records. We listened to Broadway shows. We listened to comedy records – Bob Newhart, the Smothers Brothers, Bill Cosby, Eddie Lawrence. And, amazingly, we listened to folk music. These were the folk albums that we had:
We lived outside of Boston in 1959 and my father worked in Cambridge. This album gave the feeling that we were near something New and Different.
I have carried several of the songs from the Bikel album with me for 50+ years – “Scots Wha Hae,” “Mrs. McGrath” and “The Peat Bog Soldiers.”
In 1959 we moved back to Pennsylvania, to Bryn Mawr.
Lancaster Pike was about a mile away. We walked there to go to the toy store.
Five years later, the Main Point opened on Lancaster Pike. It was a folk music club inspired by the success of the Philadelphia Folk Music Festival.
A few years later I started going to hear folk music at the Main Point. Folk music and country music and country-western music have been constants in my life.
No, this is not all about me. That was only background that may explain my above-average interest in the folk music scene in Berkeley.
Ashkenaz and Freight and Salvage we still have with us, but most of the folk spots are gone. Our first two folk clubs were the Steppenwolf and the Blind Lemon, both opened in 1958. Max Scherr owned and ran The Steppenwolf at 2136 San Pablo from 1958 until 1965. He sold the bar and with the proceeds started the Berkeley Barb. Bill Miller, who would later run the General Store on Telegraph and run for mayor and flee Berkeley, tended bar.
The Magic Theater was founded in Berkeley in 1967. They started off at Steppenwolf.
The ground where Steppenwolf stood is a parking lot now. It is owned by U-Haul, which is in some extended pissing match with the City.
Second, the Blind Lemon.
The Blind Lemon was at 2362 San Pablo, now a typewriter store that boasts a typewriter manifesto in the window of what seems to be a mostly if not always closed store.
The Blind Lemon was opened by folk singers Rolf Cahn and Barbara Dane in 1958, the year that the Kingston Trio soared to the top of the charts with “Tom Dooley.”
It was named after Blind Lemon Jefferson, the Father of the Texas Blues in the 1920s.
It was a small and intimate venue featuring coffee and folk music – a disruptive and subversive cultural mix in the late 1950s.
This is linguistically interesting – the use of “hippy” in the 1950s mostly jazz sense, the pre-flower-child sense.
Kahn and Dane often performed there. Kahn performed on opening night, along with Odetta, K.C. Douglas, and Larry Moore. Note on the bottom flyer the use of “sacrifice” instead of “cover charge.” Love it!
From the Blind Lemon, Rolf went on to 2504 San Pablo Avenue, a spot with many lives.
Today you know it as Good Vibrations, the sex store just south of Dwight. Over the years, it was home to seven different clubs/coffee houses/music halls.
First was the Cabale (1963-1964)/ the Cabale Creamery (1964-1965). It opened to the public on January 4, 1963, and closed in mid 1965. It was a folk club, not unlike Club 47 in Cambridge.
It was founded by Rolf Cahn, Debbie Green (a Cambridge folkie who strongly influenced a young Joan Baez), Howard Zeem, and Chandler A. Laughlin III (better known by his nom de guerre, Travus T. Hipp, radio commentator, 1937-2012).
Sandy Rothman writes that it “was a fairly small, long and narrow dark room with the ambience of a ’50s Beat coffeehouse. Coffee drinks were made at the far end of the room.” The folk connection between Berkeley and Cambridge was embedded in Rick Shubb’s “Humbead’s Revised Map of the World,” shown here:
This map of course brings to mind the 1976 New Yorker cover:
The club went through a couple quick changes – Goody Buddy and Caverns West – and then was reinvented as Questing Beast.
The name “questing beast” is from the lore of King Arthur. It had the head and neck of a snake, a leopard’s body, a lion’s haunches, and the feet of a hart. King Pellinore, Sir Palamedes, and Sir Perceval all did battle with the beast.
The club was briefly Tito’s, and then emerged as Babylon from July 20, 1969, until November, 1970. It too mixed folk and rock, leaning towards rock, and it too was a frequent venue for Country Joe.
The location’s last life as a club was the Longbranch Saloon.
It lasted into the late 1970s. A young Greg Kihn, the star artist signed to Beserkeley Records, performed at Longbranch on 19 September, 1976.
Biggest of all – as far as I am concerned – Patti Smith played the Longbranch on February 17, 1976. She had just finished a run at the Boarding House in San Francisco and did the one night here.
Longbranch closed. Folk music went one way, rock another. After seven lives as a music club, Good Vibrations found the spot on San Pablo and enjoyed the spot for several decades.
After Babylon came Jabberwock at 2901 Telegraph.
Glenn Ross had run Tsubo at 2901 Telegraph since 1961.
It was what you would expect in a 1950s coffee house. Granted, it was the 1960s, but this was before the Big Changes.
The Jabberwock closed in 1967.
The house behind the Jabberwock was not torn down. It was owned by Mrs. Sherrill, a retired teacher who converted the rubble of the Jabberwock into a beautiful flower garden. Country Joe and his Fish bandmates lived in the house 1965-1966.
The folk music torch then passed to Freight and Salvage, which was opened and owned in the early years by Nancy Owens.
The first location was 1827 San Pablo.
In 1984 the club moved nearby to 111 Addison. The basic concept was simple. Coffee, food, folk music.
The Freight and Salvage website describes the early years:
It all began when Nancy Owens took over the lease and the name of a failing used furniture store at 1827 San Pablo Avenue. Keeping her predecessor’s business sign, telephone number, and yellow page listing, she re-opened the door as an 87-seat coffee house in June of 1968. “It was the first place that was available,” Nancy recounts. “I had a vision of a place where people could be whatever they wanted to be, as individuals and as members of a community. Almost immediately, kindred souls gathered around and gifted musicians emerged to fill the room with song.” In those days, everything was done by hand. Volunteers baked cakes and cookies and brewed tea and coffee on a small stove, and augmented the inventory taken over from the furniture operation with tables and chairs accumulated from a thrift stores, garage sales and donations.
Rock clubs were starting to edge out folk clubs, but the Freight and Salvage persevered as a folk and roots music club.
A discussion of folk music in Berkeley would be incomplete without mention of three folk music shops.
First was Barry Olivier’s Barrel Folk Music Center.
The shop was in the alley east of Telegraph, connecting Dwight and Haste.
Barrel was run by Barry Olivier, a pioneer of the Berkeley folk music scene. He hosted the folk music show “Midnight Special” on KPFA starting in 1956, opened the Barrel, and then in 1958 launched the Berkeley Folk Music Festival.
A 1958 issue of Caravan magazine reported that the store was “an excellent meeting ground for folk singers, dancers, instrumentalists, and musicians of all kinds.”
Up second – Lundberg Fretted Instruments.
The store was located at 2126 Dwight, run by Jon Lundberg. As was the case with folk music shops in general, it was a meeting and sharing place for folk musicians and folk music aficionados. And Lundberg sure knew his instruments.
This photo shows Lundberg and his wife Diedre at work on instruments. Leaning not the counter is Chandler Laughlin slash Travus T. Hipp, later a founder of the Cabale Creamery folk club on San Pablo. Here are a couple more photos of Lundberg:
Rag Baby was a short-lived Bay Area version of Broadside, put out by Country Joe McDonald.
I don’t know if there were more than three issues of Rag Baby. Country Joe’s website only shows the three shown here.
Third of the music shops was Campbell Coe’s Campus Music Store.
The shop was at 2506 Haste. I suspect that it was where the Folk Barrel had been, in the alley behind the Espresso Forum. Coe was a skilled guitar player, an omnivorous lover of music, a great craftsman when it came to instrument repair, and a fascinating conversationalist.
His little store died out in the 1970s as the countercultural tide abated.
I will treat the Berkeley Folk Festival elsewhere. This is long enough already.
I showed all this to my friend, who was thumbing through pictures from Romania that Gabby and sent. The mention of Travus T. Hipp got him real nostalgic real fast, yearning for the good old days of KFAT in Gilroy. It was a hippie country-western radio station from 1975 until 1983.
I was living in Salinas, and then San Juan Bautista. My first exposure to country western music came in 1974. We worked Saturdays, and there was a country western show that we could get on the radio in the office in Salinas from KUSP. The theme song was Johnny Russell’s “Red necks, white socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer.”
And then came KFAT. My friend was living down there at the time. If I remember correctly, he was living with a bunch of UFW legal department staff in a rambling ranch house in Prunedale.
We related to KFAT two ways. First – the music. Holy mackerel! It had the same effect on us that The Anthology of American Folk Music had on an earlier generation. It opened our eyes to the glory of authentic American music. The music that we listen to today is music that we learned on KFAT.
Second – the station. They were rebels, hippies in a small farming town (garlic), and always at odds with the station management.
There were many brilliant DJ’s, each with their own style. Sully Roddy was my friend’s favorite. I would go so far as to say that he had a little bit of a crush on her. The station fell apart shortly after our time with the UFW. We related to their dissolution.
After my friend got the KFAT chat out of the way, he wondered if we could watch a certain movie tonight.
A Mighty Wind. Of course. Why not? But what did he think of the Berkeley folk scene, now gone?