Mojo Navigator Rock & Roll News
By Jaime Henderson

Mojo Navigator Vol 1 No 4, Courtesy of the California Historical Society
Mojo Navigator Vol 1 No 4, Courtesy of the California Historical Society

The wild going-ons of San Francisco’s psych rock scene were recorded in the West Coast’s first rock & roll magazine Mojo Navigator R&R News. Its premier issue, published by teenagers David Harris and Greg Shaw on August 8, 1966, includes a colophon stating the Mojo Publishing Company, at 2707 McAllister Street, San Francisco, would publish weekly. The mimeographed, stapled zine did not stick too closely to this arduous weekly schedule – presumably its young editors were busy attending the many musical performances, light shows, be-ins and happenings that Mojo Navigator covered in its gossip and events columns. Instead, only fourteen issues were published beginning in August of 1966 and ceasing sometime in 1967. But these fourteen issues included interviews with bands that would come to be known as seminal rock & roll artists, and the short-lived zine would be considered a major influence for the creation and publication of Rolling Stone magazine.

Harris and Shaw attended high school together in a Bay Area suburb. Harris had been a rock & roll fan, listening to Berkeley’s  KPFA Midnight Special radio show, which featured local artists such as The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin playing live music and attending shows at the Longshoreman’s Hall, the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium. Shaw was more interested in print – writing and publishing two fanzines. The first,Entmoot, was devoted to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the second, a sci-fi fanzine called Freemwlort. What Shaw might have lacked in knowledge of the San Francisco rock & roll scene, he more than made up for with his zine making skills, including a keen talent for stenciling and being particularly handy with the mimeograph machine.

Young Greg Shaw at his mimeograph machine. Courtesy Rock and Roll Report
Young Greg Shaw at his mimeograph machine.
Courtesy Rock and Roll Report

Just out of high school, Harris, Shaw, and Geoff Evans, Mojo Navigator’s art director, moved to McAllister Street, nearby Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle, where the Diggers distributed free food to any person who was hungry and held rallies and happenings for the hippies that proliferated in the Haight neighborhood. From their apartment, Harris and Shaw began work on the first issue of Mojo Navigator R&R News.Published Tuesday, August 8, 1966, the typed, four-paged zine contained gossip and news about Bay Area artists such as Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and R&B artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley; Shaw’s record reviews of The Peter, Paul and Mary Album (“Don’t expect much from this record if you do buy it”) and the Byrds Fifth Dimension (“every song is flavored strongly with originality and performed flawlessly”); and a special report on radio DJ Wolf Man Jack, based out of Chula Vista, California, who could be heard in the Bay Area on XERB 1090 from 9 pm to 3 am. One hundred copies of the inaugural issue were printed and made available in local stores, such as Cosmo’s Grocery Store, the Psychedelic Shop and City Lights Bookstore.

As Mojo Navigator’s popularity grew so too did its print runs and distribution. The burgeoning San Francisco rock & roll scene created a fan base that yearned for a smart, hip and in-the-know music magazine that featured news and criticisms about the bands they were listening to. The teen magazines such as Teenbeat and 16 wouldn’t touch the long-haired, drugged out, heavy guitar bands, instead still focusing on teenybopper pop and American Bandstand hit makers. Music journalist Mick Farren noted: “A new and serious breed of rock fan required a publication that could be trusted to clue them in on all that was happening as original music – from A to Z, from The Animals to Frank Zappa – poured from every creative orifice….  An embryonic rock magazine would need to have the grit of the street and a delinquent iconoclasm.”

Short on the heels of the publication of East Coast writer Paul Williams’ Crawdaddy – the earliest rock & roll fanzine – Mojo Navigator R&R News provided its San Francisco Bay Area readers with reviews, gossip, and interviews with bands producing the acid-infused, psychedelic sounds of the local scene, while also keeping its hip readers in the loop about happenings such as the San Francisco Calliope Company’s dance parties and the Diggers’ Love Pageant Rally, where participants gathered together to ingest LSD on October 6, 1966. Farren notes that Mojo Navigator’s writing was “smart, and yet still manage[d] to retain the disturbed and disturbing subversion of the street.”

Mojo Navigator Vol 1 No 5, Courtesy of the California Historical Society
Mojo Navigator Vol 1 No 5, Courtesy of the California Historical Society

During Mojo Navigator’s just-over-one-year, fourteen issue run, Harris and Shaw managed to interview the heavyweights of  rock & roll, publishing possibly the first interview with the Grateful Dead in August and September of 1966 (before the release of their self-titled first album in 1967); and interviews with Big Brother and the Holding Co., Country Joe and the Fish, and the Doors. The magazine ceased publication in 1967, not before providing a major influence to fellow San Franciscan Jann Wenner, who began publication of Rolling Stone magazine in November of 1967.

In 1970 Greg Shaw introduced Who Put the Bomp in response to the “mainstream” music press. The magazine published the early writings of rock music journalists Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus and Richard Meltzer, and grew into an independent record label, BOMP!, with the 1974 release of the San Francisco-based band Flamin’ Groovies’ single “You Tore Me Down.” BOMP! Records has released innumerable influential artists in the garage, punk and power pop genres. The label continues today under the guidance of Suzy Shaw, ex-wife and life-long friend and partner to Greg, after his death in 2004.

The California Historical Society holds four of the fourteen issues of Mojo Navigator R&R News, including the rare first issue, and the issues featuring the two part interview with the Grateful Dead.

Works cited:
Shaw, Suzy and Mick Farren. BOMP! Saving the World One Record at a Time. American Modern Books, 2007.

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