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Preface: In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, this week we'll take a look at some of my favorite live performances from the first and only Monterey International Pop Festival, held in June of 1967 as a precursor to the Summer of Love. Everybody knows that bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who created some incredible vibrations, but I'm gonna try to focus on some of the lesser known bands that made an impression at the festival.
Monday (8/06/07): The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Driftin' And Driftin'
Comments: We'll start this week with perhaps my favorite performance from the festival. With the departure of Michael Bloomfield from the band, Elvin Bishop stepped out from the shadows to take the role of premier guitarist in Paul Butterfield's band. Their performance of the incredible slow blues, Driftin' And Driftin', is simultaneously soulful and electrifying. Paul wrestles with his harmonica through a quietly emotional solo between the main bulk of the song and the reprise. This was the song that got me hooked on the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (even before I realized it had any connection to Bloomfield). "Every now and then I wonder, does that little girl even think of me?"
Tuesday (8/07/07): Electric Flag - Drinkin' Wine
Comments: Michael Bloomfield quit the Chicago-based Paul Butterfield Blues Band to explore new musical directions. He relocated to San Francisco and formed an "American music" group - Electric Flag - with a bunch of friends. Their first live gig was the Monterey Pop Festival. Electric Flag was a very earthy band, with very talented members. Not every performance they played was spectacular, but when they gelled, it was a near-religious experience. Their debut at the festival may not have been their best performance, but the talents of the members is hard to ignore. Nick Gravenites takes vocal duties on Drinkin' Wine, while Michael Bloomfield fires off during the guitar breaks. Drummer Buddy Miles would add his soulful voice to other songs the band played.
Wednesday (8/08/07): Al Kooper - Wake Me, Shake Me
Comments: Shortly after the festival, Al Kooper would form his own American music band - Blood, Sweat & Tears, almost mimicking Bloomfield's musical development. In 1968, both Bloomfield & Kooper would quit their respective bands and join together for an incredibly lucrative studio session (a "super session", as it were) that would result in quite possibly the best album of either of their careers. But at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, Al Kooper was "between bands", yet still able to wow a crowd with his catchy jam song Wake Me, Shake Me.
Thursday (8/09/07): The Blues Project - Flute Thing
Comments: As a matter of fact, Al Kooper was a member of The Blues Project until shortly before the festival. The Blues Project was an incredibly tight band - and very good, for their lack of recognition. Though their name suggests a blues band, they actually played around with that and other genres, like folk and rock. The simply-titled Flute Thing is one of the band's more unusual musical experiments, and one of the more interesting, and impressive.
Friday (8/10/07): Country Joe & The Fish - Section 43
Comments: Country Joe & The Fish were one of the premier psychedelic acts of the San Francisco scene, though not as well-known as bands such as Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead. Country Joe's claim to fame was "The Fish Cheer", as can be heard in the Woodstock film, which articulates his political stance well but unfortunately does no justice to the music he and The Fish could create. At Monterey, Country Joe & The Fish play their trippy instrumental titled Section 43. And it grabs you right from the start.
Saturday (8/11/07): The Animals - Paint It Black
Comments: The Animals, featuring the distinctive vocals of Eric Burdon, cover The Rolling Stones' proto-goth depression anthem, Paint It Black, adding a haunting new violin part. I feel bad giving this entry a single sentence when the rest nearly have a paragraph each, so here's a completely useless personal note about the song: I never could sympathize with the line "I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes; I have to turn my head until my darkness goes." But here's the trick - I didn't even realize it until recently, but this song is supposed to be about a girlfriend that died, presumably in some kind of unfortunate accident. I guess that's proof right there of the amount of attention I spend on lyrics when I listen to music...
Sunday (8/12/07): Big Brother & The Holding Company - Ball And Chain
Comments: Janis Joplin made her breakout performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival, as a member of Big Brother & The Holding Company. Her soulful, heartfelt vocal style was beautiful in a raw, powerful way, and she knew enough about hardship to make you feel it in your gut when she sang. Ball And Chain is the heaviest song she performed, thanks in part to Big Brother & The Holding Company's searing accompaniment.