Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968

I look back with an awesome sense of wonder how the music in 1968 established my artistic consciousness. In those days I was listening to 12″ vinyl records on a hi-fi phonograph in my room and progressive rock music on a boom-box like radio from WNEW-FM 102.7 in New York City.

My Facebook music feed uncovered a new book from that era,  Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan Harris. (Thanks, Chris Morris…)

If you have any affinity for the Van Morrison sui-generis masterpiece recording  Astral Weeks you should read Jon Michaud’s New Yorker article, “The Miracle of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks”.  The article will whet your appetite to pursue further discovery surrounding the recording as well as the impact Boston had on Van Morrison’s muse in 1968.

When I think of the Bosstown Sound 1968 I flash on Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union, Earth Opera, and Orpheus. Ryan Walsh expands substantially on the cultural experience Boston provided in 1968. I am elated to learn how the Boston scene proved integral to Van Morrison and Astral Weeks. I have always associated Astral Weeks with the hills of San Francisco. Little did I realize the astral plane was formed elsewhere.

Astral Weeks is one of a handful of LPs that I return to often. There is a special magic to these particular Van Morrison’s songs.

This video from the WNET Channel 13 Public Television Fillmore East broadcast, which I recall watching on my black and white TV complete with tin foil rabbit ears, shows Van getting caught one more time in “Cypress Avenue”. Watch the introduction from the late Bill Graham that captures Van’s essence perfectly why “It’s Too Late To Stop Now”.

 

Fillmore East Opens 50 Years Ago Today

Big Brother and the Holding Company – March 8th, 1968

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For the very first performance at the Fillmore East, Bill Graham decided to bring the sound of San Francisco out to the East Coast. He gave Big Brother and The Holding Company the honor of replacing Freddie King in the opening slot. The New York cultural insiders descended on the venue that evening to witness the blues-rock band fronted by a singer from Texas named Janis Joplin. Even though tensions in the group were at an all-time high because of Joplin’s burgeoning star status, Big Brother managed to set their differences aside that night and deliver a tremendous performance, especially in the second set, which kicked off at nearly two in the morning and gathered a rapturous standing ovation. In the course of just one night, the entire city was put on alert: The Fillmore East was the new place to be seen and heard.

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Fillmore East Poster

I recently visited the East Village 2nd Avenue location where the Fillmore East once stood. Here are some photos from that pilgrimage.

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Today the property is occupied by Apple Bank. The lobby features one wall of original black and white photographs by Amalie R. Rothschild, the official photographer of the Fillmore East. The other wall has framed color decoupage of various eras of the theatre.

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Peace,

Ed

 

The Who Live at the Fillmore East 1968

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April 20th Universal Music drops a 3-LP / 2-CD set of The Who’s stunning 1968 live performance at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East theatre in New York.

The Who were in New York and near the end of a grueling tour on April 4, 1968, the day that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. America was already a country divided; Anti-Vietnam demonstrations, civil rights disturbances and militant student activism. With this turmoil as a backdrop on Friday and Saturday, April 5 and 6, 1968 The Who performed two incendiary live sets at Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore East on the lower East Side of Manhattan.

The venue had only just re-opened in March by Graham from its previous incarnation as the Village Theatre where the band had played on a couple of occasions the year before. The Who was the first British rock act to headline the Fillmore East and were booked to play four shows over the two nights. However, because of feared social unrest in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination, it was decided to compact the shows into one per night.

The Who’s time in New York City in 1968 can best be described as ‘lively’. Keith Moon’s antics with cherry bomb explosives had meant that the band had to move hotels. When installed in the plush Waldorf Astoria he then somehow managed to a blow a door off its hinges and, they had to move once more.

On the morning of the Fillmore rehearsal, the band was photographed for Life magazine by Art Kane and legend has it that they were so tired from Moon’s antics that they nodded off under the large Union Jack draped over them at the base of the Carl Schurz Monument in Morningside Park. This iconic image was later used as the album cover and poster for The Who’s classic film The Kids Are Alright.

Both nights were recorded by Who manager Kit Lambert with the intention of releasing the results as The Who’s fourth album after The Who Sell Out and before Tommy. Disaster struck when it was discovered that due to faulty equipment or human error only part of the first night was captured. Thankfully the second night was recorded and has now been fully restored and mixed by longtime Who sound engineer Bob Pridden (who was the band’s roadie on those nights in 1968) from the original four-track tapes. For the 50th anniversary of these legendary shows, the unreleased recordings are to be issued on triple vinyl LP and double CD.

Due to an acetate reaching the bootleg market in the early ‘70s, The Who’s reputation as rock’s most dynamic live act quickly grew. The show is regarded by fans as something of the ‘holy grail’ of Who live shows equalling the legendary Live At Leeds album. The tapes have been meticulously remastered for optimum sound quality and will only serve to enhance The Who’s reputation as the best live act of the time.

The 3LP set includes three Eddie Cochran numbers; ‘My Way’, ‘Summertime Blues’ and the never before released Who version of ‘C’mon Everybody’.

Also featured is a rare cover version of ‘Fortune Teller’ written by Allen Toussaint, originally recorded by Benny Spellman but made famous by The Merseybeats, the Rolling Stones, and several English beat groups. These shows also showcased ‘Tattoo’ and ‘Relax’ from The Who Sell Out as well as stunning extended versions of ‘A Quick One (While He’s Away)’ and ‘My Generation’ which becomes a 30-minute-plus jam with the climax of guitar-smashing and drum demolition!

TRACKLIST

Disc One / Side 1

  1. Summertime Blues
  2. Fortune Teller
  3. Tattoo
  4. Little Billy

Disc One / Side 2

  1. I Can’t Explain
  2. Happy Jack
  3. Relax

Disc Two / Side 3

  1. I’m A Boy
  2. A Quick One (While He’s Away)

Disc Two / Side 4

  1. My Way
  2. C’mon Everybody
  3. Shakin’ All Over
  4. Boris The Spider

Disc Three / Side 5

  1. My Generation (Part One)

Disc Three / Side 5

  1. My Generation (Part Two)

PRE-ORDER

To pre-order the 3-LP click here

To pre-order the 2-CD click here

How The Fillmore East Changed My Life

The year was 1969. I was a 17-year-old high school graduate living and working in Connecticut. I was a babe in the woods when it came to New York City and “Live” rock concerts. My music tastes were forged listening intently to progressive rock radio station WNEW-FM 102.7.

The Fillmore East was the goal I had to experience. Bill Graham’s magic venue was constantly advertised on WNEW which made that passion stronger in my soul.

Photo courtesy of Wolfgang’s Vault

 

A fellow Jethro Tull fanatic scored four tickets at $5.50@ for us to see The Jeff Beck Group, Jethro Tull and The Soft White Underbelly perform at The Fillmore East on July 3rd, 1969. I was pumped. I could finally see my first “live” rock concert and it would take place at The Fillmore East! Little did I realize it would be the first of 425+ concerts in the next 46 years I would attend. This concert changed my life from radio station listener to active music participant. I have loved and nurtured the role of concert attendee ever since that day.

Since none of us drove a car, we rode the train from South Norwalk, CT to Grand Central Station. All the way down to the East Village we held a lively debate about our favorite band Jethro Tull and their first album, This Was. We loved to argue competitively which was the best song on the album. My favorite choice was “Serenade to a Cuckoo” by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. I fought for it vehemently as others articulated their favorites. Tull fanatics were we enjoying our obsession!

We took the IRT Lexington Avenue subway line to Astor Place. It was a cool and comfortable July evening in the East Village neighborhood. Our anticipation grew as we approached The Fillmore East venue on 2nd Avenue. The smell of pot and incense filled the air. The sidewalks were crowded with long-haired hippies like us. I was approached several times before we went inside if I had a spare ticket. I never responded and just kept walking. The famous lighted marquee above showed in black letters, July 3 Jeff Beck/Jethro Tull. We surrendered our tickets at the door which the Fillmore usher proceeded to tear in half. Fillmore East Ticket StubHe gave us each a program (which I have since lost, sigh) and then he escorted us to our seats under the balcony overhang. He had long hair to the middle of his back and was wearing a Fillmore East green basketball jersey. He used his flashlight to point out our four seats in aisle M. Then he smiled and said, “Enjoy the show.” I thought what a cool job wondering how many great shows had he seen?

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The theater was bustling as people milled about. The banter of the crowd was loud and lively. The stage was smaller than I thought it would be. I was fine with that as it added to the intimate nature of the celebration.

Soon the lights went down and Kip Cohen (Managing Director) announced the opening act. “Ladies and Gentleman please give a warm New York City welcome for Soft White Underbelly.” The first act Soft White Underbelly was a local Long Island band. They would evolve to later become Blue Oyster Cult. I was not familiar with this band’s music at all. I loved their raw energy and loud, thrashing guitars. I watched as Light by Pablo set the backdrop for their set with lots of uses of white and grey graphics. At one point I saw an image of the great white whale Moby Dick thrashing in the ocean behind them. I loved witnessing the use of lighting and graphics accented the artist’s music as they played. This art form fascinated me. Soft White Underbelly played a short, 30 minute set and received a nice round of applause for their effort.

We started yelling, “Jethro Tull, Jethro Tull”, repeatedly. The guys in front of us gave us a look of disapproval but we didn’t care. We heard the announcer say, “From England, Jethro Tull”. Next thing you know Ian Anderson and the Jethro Tull band took the stage. Ian was a whirling dervish that night. Silver flute in hand wearing a red checkered bath robe with long suede boots laced all the way up to his knee. He had this wild look in his eyes and he often stood on one foot as he played the flute. Off they went into the first song from This Was, “My Sunday Feeling”.

I was jumping up and down with Tull as they rocked the house. Wow, I was really getting to see my favorite band perform right in front of me. They sounded fantastic, much more dynamic than their album ever conveyed.

We quickly learned that Mick Abrahams, original Tull lead guitarist, had been replaced by Martin Barre. I was disappointed because I loved Abrahams style and wanted to see him play. Martin Barre, as the new Jethro Tull took a bit of getting used to that night. (Martin Barre became a fixture with Jethro Tull for the next four decades.)

We did not know yet that we were about to be treated to several new tracks from their “unreleased” second studio recording, Stand Up. 

The lighting for Jethro Tull was a thick, dark, wooded glen. The screen changed into fantastic shades of forest green and blue. I recall the leaves turning bronze and copper which offset the trees smartly.

The song I liked the best from Stand Up was “Fat Man”. It was Ian Anderson seated singing and playing mandolin and Clive Bunker on bongos with bells on his feet staying in time. It was a departure from the songs on This Was. I found the song about being fat enchanting and fun. Ian Anderson’s wry sense of humor came across on these lyrics.

The Fillmore East concert was held on the eve of the Newport Jazz Festival on July 4th. George Wein had decided that Newport Jazz would go Rock that year. Jethro Tull and The Jeff Beck Group along with Led Zeppelin were scheduled to change jazz festival history as part of a transformative  lineup in Newport, Rhode Island. Ian Anderson mentioned to the audience how he couldn’t wait to perform with Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Then Jethro Tull played my favorite song, “Serenade to a Cuckoo”. I was enthralled to get my private wish of hearing this song played live answered. Tull justified their place at Newport when they performed this jazz classic.

Their set ended too quickly for us. We yelled and screamed “Tull” as they excitedly vanished to wildly enthusiastic applause.

The Jeff Beck Group headlined The Fillmore East concert. Jeff Beck was a very skillful guitar slinger set against the light show extravaganza. The lighting effect for The Jeff Beck Group was the psychedelic bubble formed in a petri dish on an overhead projector. I was reminded of the cover of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida as the bubble throbbed and mutated above the band. I was witnessing a member of the Yardbirds. How cool was that?

Copyright Atco Records

 

Rod Stewart was vocalist extraordinaire for Jeff Beck. He was the dandy with a long scarf that he threw about his neck as he strutted the stage like a peacock. He was very tall and the women were taken with him. He was the sex symbol we would later read about in the seventies. I loved his gravelly voice.

The Jeff Beck Group also featured Ron Wood (Small Faces, Rolling Stones) on bass guitar and Tony Newman on drums. They tore the roof off The Fillmore East venue that night.

After the concert we walked back to the subway stop, making a pit stop at Gramophone a record shop where I purchased Beck-Ola by The Jeff Beck Group. I wanted to become more familiar with the songs I heard them do that evening. I still own that album and play it when the mood strikes me.

Copyright Epic, Division of SONY Music

 

Years later I ended up seeing Blue Oyster Cult right up the street from where I live, Jethro Tull six more times (not including the Ian Anderson Rubbing Elbow Tours, which is another story for another day) and Jeff Beck twice at Madison Square Garden.

The Fillmore East – 105 Second Avenue, East Village

The Fillmore East survived just four years. Rock music was moving to the arenas and stadiums. The Fillmore business model could no longer afford to pay the bands who made our music. The Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation commemorated The Fillmore East on October 9, 2014 with this plaque.

Rock Palaces – Morrison Hotel Gallery

There was a time in New York City Rock History when The Fillmore East and the Academy of Music were THE Rock Palaces where rock music ruled the planet. Both venues were based in the East Village, not too far apart from each other.

Thanks to Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo we can revisit that era through the art of the rock photographer’s camera lens.

Rock Palaces – Amalie R. Rothshild and Bill Green

On Thursday, May 7th from 7-9pm at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, located at 116 Prince Street in SoHo, there will be an opening reception of an exhibition of photography by Amalie R. Rothschild and Bill Green. This show features photographs  shot at the Fillmore East and the Academy of Music here in New York CityYou may RSVP HERE by email.

Live at the Fillmore East & West – John Glatt

I peer inside the hallowed halls of The Fillmore East and The Fillmore West, musing about the unique concert stories each bedrock music venue can unearth. Thankfully these sacred tales and more have been brought to light by author John Glatt in his new book, Live at the Fillmore East and West: Getting Backstage and Personal with Rock’s Greatest Legend

John Glatt’s book begins with a foreword by Joshua White who founded the legendary Joshua Light Show. The rock music history that unfolded had a unique illuminated art as its backdrop from the art of Joshua White and his team. I was fortunate to witness this light show at The Fillmore East in June of 1969 at a Jeff Beck Group show I have written about on this blog.

Should you wish to know more about the Joshua Light Show and the team that provided the lighting I refer you to the book, Live at the Fillmore East A Photographic Memoir by Amalie R. Rothschild.

I view John Glatt’s book as a companion piece to Amalie’s publication. If you combine John Glatt’s first book, Rage & Roll : Bill Graham and the Selling of Rock with Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield you will own the definitive core knowledge that laid the foundation for the art form of the rock music concert.

I am eager to acquire John Glatt’s books to add them to my rock music concert library. I am certain his books will be a valuable read of depth and insight. These books are certain to provide invaluable knowledge about how Bill Graham conducted business with the famous rock musicians in the day.