Bands of San Francisco

They made the San Franciso Sound unique

A-list bands like Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and The Fish, Santana and Steve Miller Band are among the best known and most successful examples of the San Francisco Sound of rock in the '60s.

Just beneath that tier were the likes of Moby Grape, Beau Brummels, Youngbloods, Blue Cheer and Quicksilver Messenger Service who got enough national exposure to still be familiar names.

Then there were the dozens of bands who never had the notoriety, but who were part and parcel of developing and sustaining The San Francisco Sound.

Ace Of Cups

Big Beat Records

Between 1967 and 1971 this self-described "original all-girls band of the San Francisco rock scene" was a fixture on the live circuit, appearing at venues like Filmore West, Avalon, and Winterland. Although they did some studio recording, no singles or albums were released during the band's existence. It's Bad For You But Buy It, consisting of unreleased studio and live recordings were released in 2004.

Blackburn & Snow

Big Beat Records

Jeff Blackburn and Sherry Snow were linked both professionally and romantically, beginning in 1965. What little notice they received outside the Bay Area was with the single, "Stranger In A Strange Land," which was written by David Crosby (using the alias Samuel F. Omar) when he was with The Byrds. Snow turned down an offer to replace Signe Anderson as Jefferson Airplane's lead vocalist. Blackburn and Snow broke up shortly after their personal relationship ended in 1967. Blackburn later joined Moby Grape, and Snow eventually left the music business. The two singles that had been released in 1966 and 18 other previously unreleased tracks made up Something Good For Your Head, released in 1999.

Butch Engle and The Styx

Sundazed Music

This Bay Area band released just three singles (one of them under the name The Showmen) between 1964 and 1968. Virtually all of their songs were written by Ron Elliott of the Beau Brummels, leftovers that didn't make the cut for inclusion on Brummel's albums. Although Engle's band was popular on the local club circuit, the formula for recorded material didn't work, and the band broke up in 1968. A compilation of their singles and a number of previously unissued tracks were released as No Matter What You Say: The Best Of Bruce Engle And The Styx in 2000.

The Charlatans were one of the very first psychedelic rock bands to emerge from the Haight-Ashbury district. They had a significant influence on those that followed, albeit as much because of their unconventional outfits and behavior as their music, which tended more toward jug band blues. Their self-titled debut album wasn't released until 1969, by which time they were on the verge of disbanding. The Charlatans was reissued on CD in 1996.

Chocolate Watchband

Big Beat Records

The name alone was worth some degree of notoriety among the psychedelic set. Musically, however, Chocolate Watchband leaned much more toward punk rock than psych rock. Their manager felt it best to capitalize on the Flower Power craze, with the result being that their recordings (which were heavily post-produced to emulate a psychedelic sound) bore little resemblance to what the band sounded like in live performance. Constant clashes with management and frequent personnel turnover spelled a relatively quick end to the band. In 2005, the two-disc set, Melts In Your Brain ... Not On Your Wrist: The Complete Recordings 1965 to 1967 brought all of the band's recorded works together in one package.

Count Five

Collectables Records

The band's name usually draws blank stares, until you mention the one song that garnered them any notoriety, "Psychotic Reaction." After the single reached as high as #5 on the Billboard singles chart, Count Five rushed to follow up with an album, which sank as colossally as the single had risen. Because the band's members were intent on staying in college to maintain their draft deferments, they didn't have the time or motivation to continue as a serious band. A digitally remastered version of the album Psychotic Reaction was released in 1999.

Dan Hicks was a member of the Bay Area's first psych rock band, The Charlatans, before leaving to form Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks in 1968. His own band's sound was based on folk music but also incorporated elements of jazz and country. 1973's Last Train To Hicksville was the band's fourth album but was the one that finally brought them recognition well beyond San Francisco. And just as the band was on the rise, Hicks shut it down, eventually pursuing an off-and-on solo career and developing a cult following of devotees of his often eccentric brand of music.

Dino Valente (also spelled Valenti) was actually Chet Powers, who was an original member of Quicksilver Messenger Service and who wrote the Youngbloods' hit "Get Together." Valente/Powers' only solo album was released in 1968, shortly after he finished serving jail time on a drug possession charge. The fact this his singing voice wasn't all that great was largely masked by sweetening in the studio and overshadowed by the lyrics and musical arrangements. Arguably his greater influence on the San Fransisco Sound, however, was his songwriting. In addition to "Get Together," he also wrote most of the songs on the 1970 Quicksilver album, Fresh Air, using yet another pseudonym, Jesse Oris Farrow.

Family Tree

Rev-Ola Records

Family Tree was formed from the remnants of two Bay Area garage bands, Ratz, and The Brogues. Their second album, Miss Butters (1968) showed the influence of Harry Nilsson, who had taken the band under his wing. Their concept album was praised by some, criticized by others who felt it was too similar to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It is a good example of San Francisco psych rock at its peak.

Fifty Foot Hose stood out among San Francisco psychedelic rock bands because it really wasn't one. It was more an avant-garde, experimental, electronic band. Writes Richie Unterberger in All Music Guide, band founder Cork Marcheschi "constructed his own electronic instrument from a combination of elements like theremins, fuzzboxes, a cardboard tube, and a speaker from a World War II aircraft bomber." Even though they couldn't get radio airplay even on underground stations, they were embraced by psychedelic fans because they took chances, experimented, and were seriously unconventional. Their only album, Cauldron was released in 1968.

Considering who played in the band, Frumious Bandersnatch (the name came from a creature in the Lewis Carroll poem, "Jabberwocky") should have lasted longer and recorded more than it did. During their brief life (1967-69) the band released just a three-song EP, on their own label. At one time or another, the band's roster included Russ Valory and George Tickner, who became founding members of Journey, and no fewer than four future members of the Steve Miller Band -- Valory, David Denny, Jack King and Bobby Winkelman. Enough Frumious tracks were uncovered to compile A Young Man's Song in 1996.

After playing with fellow San Franciscans Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and others, rock violinist David LaFlamme formed It's A Beautiful Day in 1967. The band's self-titled debut album, released in 1969, is still sought after by collectors because of its stylishly artistic cover. The album contained the closest thing the band had to a hit, "White Bird." A few albums later, LaFlamme went back to working with other bands.

Kak

Big Beat Records

For a band that recorded just one album, played a tiny handful of live shows, and lasted for only a year, Kak has generated a lot of interest among collectors and San Francisco rock historians. Lead singer and primary songwriter Gary Lee Yoder briefly tried a solo career, then joined a more established Bay area band, Blue Cheer. The band's one and only self-titled album, with some bonus demo and Yoder solo tracks, was released in 1999 as Kak-Ola.

The Loading Zone

Acadia Records

The Loading Zone's music was a curious blend of R&B, jazz, blues, and psychedelic rock. That made them an ideal opening act for artists like Cream and Janis Joplin. Unfortunately, the appeal of their live performances didn't carry over to their self-titled first (and last) album, and they disbanded after lasting barely three years (1967-70.) Band founder Paul Fauerso (vocals, keyboards) later produced the Beach Boys' First Love album. Lead vocalist Linda Tillery pursued a successful solo career.

Mad River

Collectors Choice Music

Being unique was considered a good thing in San Francisco in the '60s, and in the midst of an odd assortment of bands, none were more odd than Mad River. They were a little bit dark, a little bit frenzied, even a little bit country. So, fans of psychedelia loved them. They released two albums, Mad River in 1968 and Paradise Bar & Grill in 1969. Both were released on a single CD in 2000.

Mojo Men

Sundazed Records

The Mojo Men (one of whom, drummer Jan Errico, was a woman) had just one national hit, a cover of Stephen stills' "Sit Down, I Think I Love You" in 1967. A local hit, "Dance With Me" was produced by Sly Stone. Although they were never able to crack the national market, their recorded work provides a representative sampling of the various styles embodied in The San Francisco Sound.

Ironically, The Mystery Trend wanted nothing to do with the psychedelic music that other Bay Area bands were playing in the mid-60s. Where others were improvising, jamming, and experimenting, the band's music was tightly structured. In fact, they started out as an R&B dance band. Nonetheless, they often gigged with psych-rock bands like The Charlatans and The Great Society and released one marginally successful single. All of their recorded work, including some demos recorded at band members' homes, were released in 1999 on the album, So Glad I Found You.

Oxford Circle

Big Beat Records

Like many of the Bay Area's mid-60s psych rock bands, Oxford Circle was very popular on the local club circuit, but couldn't land a record deal. Their sound tended toward punk and was quite blues-oriented. Principal songwriter, Gary Lee Yoder, went on to perform with San Francisco bands Kak, and the better known Blue Cheer. Oxford Circle released just one single, but a live performance at the Avalon Ballroom was released in 1997.

Seatrain was originally based in New York City (and was originally called Blues Project) but migrated to the left coast. Like Grateful Dead, their music was heavily tinged with elements of folk, rock, bluegrass and blues. Unlike many of the SF bands of the era, Seatrain released four albums between 1968 and 1973. Two of them, Seatrain and Marblehead Messenger (which was produced by The Beatles' producer, George Martin) were released in one package in 1999.

Sons of Champlin

Big Beat Records

Sons of Champlin may hold the record for longevity and discography among the Bay Area bands of the '60s. They released seven albums between 1969 and 1977. They reunited in 1997 and have released a live album and two new studio albums since then. One of the band's distinguishing features was its use of horns, which was somewhat unique at the time. It's not surprising, then, that founder Bill Champlin went on to a career with Chicago. Fat City was recorded in 1966 and 1967 but wasn't released until 1999.

The Sopwith Camel established itself by being the first of the 60s San Francisco bands to score a national Top 40 hit, the novelty tune, Hello, Hello. Their sound was far from psychedelic, running to light folk-rock. The band's self-titled debut album was released in 1967. They broke up that same year when they weren't able to duplicate the success of the single. Reforming in 1971, they released one more album before breaking up again in 1974.

Syndicate Of Sound

Sundazed Music

Their 1966 single, "Little Girl" was Syndicate of Sound's sole nationally charting single. They whipped out an album in just a couple weeks and toured nationally with bands like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Three unsuccessful singles and a draft notice received by the band's drummer led to its breakup in 1970. Although they didn't break out nationally, the band's sound is generally considered to have been a major influence on what became psychedelic rock.

Great Society was fronted by Grace Slick before she moved to Jefferson Airplane. Solo artists like Janis Joplin (Big Brother and The Holding Company) and Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth) became better known than the bands they emerged from. The Warlocks became Grateful Dead. The Tikis were unknown outside the Bay Area, but recorded a national hit single, "59th Street Bridge Song" in 1967, using the name Harper's Bazaar.

And then there were the bands who never got a record deal, never had a hit single, never broke through: The Vejtables, Notes From The Underground, Savage Resurrection, Country Weather, Luther Pendragon, and Mourning Reign are just a few of those who nonetheless have a lasting place in the history of the San Francisco Sound. More »