MAD RIVER HISTORY
Mad River was a seminal band in the San Francisco scene of the late 60′s. The band was formed while they were students at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. What began as a campus blues band in the style of the Butterfield Blues Band, eventually evolved into an innovative and original group doing their own music during a time of intense social and political upheaval. Mad River moved to Berkeley in 1967, got a band house where they all lived and practiced, and began playing gigs in Provo Park. The band did a three song demo that year which got the attention of several major labels. They eventually signed with Capitol Records and released the classic recording “Mad River”, produced by Nick Venet (who also produced Bobby Darrin, Fred Neil, Linda Ronstadt, and others). This established their reputation as an innovative, psychedelic tinged, politically minded, loud, and unique group and provided them with the chance to perform at many of the favoured venues of the time- The Avalon Ballroom, The Fillmore, The Straight Theatre, and many of the large Golden Gate Park gatherings of the Summer Of Love and the following few years.
They also were appreciated by some of the leading poets of the movement like Richard Brautigan, Lenore Kandell, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg and others. This led to some interesting gigs and joint ventures like funding, glueing up, and distributing Richard Brautigan’s free book “Please Plant This Book” that consisted of a folder with seed packages in it and poems on each one. It was given away on the street in Sausalito and Berkeley. Brautigan also read “Love’s Not The Way To Treat A Friend” on Mad River’s second LP, “Paradise Bar And Grill” (1968, produced by Jerry Corbett of the Youngbloods). With the support of the Diggers, Tom Donahue ( KMPX radio dj and father of the San Francisco sound), Chet Helms, Bill Graham and others, Mad River became known for their literate, dark and complex arrangements, and their extended solos that explored the emotions of the music.
Mad River consisted of Lawrence Hammond as lead singer, main writer, and bass and guitar player, Gregory “Duke” Dewey on drums and vocals, David Robinson on lead guitar, Tom Manning on rythmn guitar and vocals, and Rick Bockner on second lead guitar and vocals. Tom left the band to return to university after the first album was released, and Mad River continued as a four piece band. The group played often with the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, The Youngbloods, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Electric Flag, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Grateful Dead, and most of the other leading bands of the West Coast scene.
Their second recording marked a departure from the psychedelic rock of “Mad River” and more towards their earlier personal roots in folk, country, blues and acoustic sounds. Less angst-ridden and chaotic than their first release, “Paradise Bar And Grill” offered a balance of music ranging from the neo-classical “Equinox” to “Revolution In My Pockets”- reminiscent of the earlier album, to “Copper Plates” with its country licks, to Brautigan reading his poetry to the accompaniment of the band. It was a more evolved and thoughtful, and less outraged. Capitol did not know how to handle it, and in early 1969 the label dropped the band from its roster of artists. Shortly thereafter Mad River disbanded- some members (Lawrence and David) returned to university to continue their educations, Duke went on to play with Jefferson Starship, Country Joe and the Fish, and Dan Hicks. Rick moved to British Columbia and lived for many years in the mountains there, writing songs and developing his guitar playing, and performing locally.
Mad River remains a unique musical marker of the social movements of the ’60′s. Political, with pre-punk angst, combined with tightly disciplined arrangements of complex songs, and some great guitar playing, their music is worth a visit to capture the excitement, disillusionment and expectations of the turbulent times of the San Francisco Sound. Both albums are available from Capitol as a boxed 2-cd set.
Mad River’s recordings have been released in many countries over the years. Their songs have been included in many compilations of San Francisco rock from the 60′s. Most of the band members still play and record. They still get together every few years to check in on each other’s lives and compare memories and experiences. There is a lively and appreciative fan base today for Mad River and some of them have spent many hours of research chronicling the history, gigs, and great poster art of Mad River. For more information you can visit chickenonaunicycle.com/Mad%20River.htm
SOME FAVOURITE MAD RIVER MOMENTS
from Rick Bockner
In late July, 1967, the band was living on Fell St. which formed one side of the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. The Panhandle was a wide green strip that ran from the park several blocks through Haight Ashbury. It was the staging ground for be-ins, food and community support for the kids who all headed west, and musical concerts. On that day we were home and I looked out the window and was the familiar sound system on a 5-ton flatbed parked in the Panhandle. There was a guy with a big afro and a Sgt. Pepper marching band jacket on. A few minutes later we heard, very clearly, the first lines of “Foxy Lady” ripping through the brick walls.
Like lemmings to a cliff, I watched all the young people gather in front of the truck to see Jimi Hendrix play for the first time since his return from England- for free in the park. There were not more than 300 people there and he did all his tricks- playing with his teeth, behind his head, burning and smashing his Fender strat. It blew us all away. He played that night at the Fillmore and Bill Graham thought a teaser in the park might draw a full house. He was right. Rolling Stone magazine referred to this event as one of the 25 greatest moments in rock and roll. I tell my kids that Jimi played in my front yard once.
Over the years we shared practice studios with a few notable bands. For a while we used the Western Front during the day or week day evenings for our rehearsals. We shared time there with Big Brother And The Holding Company. I remember coming a bit early one to find Janis Joplin reaming out her band, throwing chairs and being generally unreasonable with them. We got to know the band from numerous shared gigs over the years. Even during a tantrum, Janis was compelling and a mix of innocence and grit. She was a self immolating focal point for so much energy during those years.
We also shared a space in Sausalito with The Electric Flag. This band was a conglomeration of legends – Nick Gravenites, Buddy Miles, and the great Michael Bloomfield . I was at their inaugural gig at the Fillmore and will always remember how excited Bloomfield was. He looked like a puppy that had to pee. It was a magical night with him curled over his telecaster and giving us some of his amazingly crisp and unique guitar playing, while Buddy Miles murdered the drums. Unforgettable.
One of our less successful gigs was a benefit for the Black Panthers in Oakland. It was a street gig and Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver were the speakers. There was an uneasy empathy between the hippie politicos and the Panthers. Coming out of the civil rights movement era, the Panthers wanted to be beholden to no one outside their community. But they still liked music at some of the functions and Mad River was it on this day. This was the heyday of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas- real classic soul artists. They invited Mad River – a loud, intellectual, and hard to dance to band (depending on your diet)- for this particular event. We set up with the best of intentions, but soon the crowd was not with us musically, and shortly following the food began to fly. I found it ironic that this white band was dodging chicken bones and watermelon rinds as we dismantled our gear and left. Shortly afterwards, the FBI raided their building and a shootout ensued. We didn’t play that gig.
In 1969, the Vietnam War was the main conflict of the day, both in the U.S. and Asia. The draft was on and we were all affected by the war. The Bay area was a potent mix of naval bases, army camps, and active and dedicated war resisters. Mad River was asked to play at Univ. of California in Santa Barbara for and evening of poetry and music called “Poets Against The War In Vietnam”. The readers included Robert Bly, Richard Brautigan, Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, Lenore Kandell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and other notables. Mad River was the only music. Our anti-war material included “Orange Fire” and “The War Goes On”. It was a great night and a chance to feel how rock and roll and poetry can inhabit the same landscape and support a common cause.
We also played a beach gathering in Santa Barbara that was “organized” by the Diggers. The Diggers didn’t really believe in organization. They held events by finding space, getting the word out, and encouraging people to build an event. Brautigan had booked us. When we got there the party was going strong. Thousands of kids on the beach. No parking. People began parking on the freeway and walking to the beach. Traffic was blocked both directions for some distance. I remember a policeman going through the crowd demanding to know who was in charge. He was assured by several party goers that he was, and that he should cool out. The band had a good gig, facing the Pacific and watching the celebrations around us.
Mad River played a be-in held in Golden Gate Park in 1968. It was a large event. The Airplane, Big Brother, Mad River, and others played from the deck of a truck to thousands of people. As usual, there were several undercover narcotics agents working the crowd- taking pictures of people and activities. At one point a beautiful and near naked girl approached one of these guys and gave him a big hug and a kiss and said,”Peace Brother”. Then she turned and danced off into the crowd. This particular cop spent the rest of the afternoon being stealthy while wearing a sign that said “Narc” in red letters stuck to his back. No one told him it was there, but he got a lot of giggles directed at him for the rest of the day.
I will post more of these memories as they occur to me and I have time to write them down.