By Danny Goldberg, excerpted from In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea.
Lou Adler was thirty-three years old in 1967 and was a power in the then small Los Angeles music business. His label Dunhill Records had Steppenwolf under contract and Adler had produced and released Barry McGuire’s radical pop single Eve of Destruction but his biggest artist was The Mamas and The Papas who’d had a string of big hits .The group’s leader John Phillips and Adler were approached by promoter Alan Pariser and William Morris agent Benny Shapiro who had a contract with the Fairgrounds where Monterey Jazz Festivals had been taking place and were planning its first Pop Festival. They’d booked Ravi Shankar and some blues acts but they realized they needed a bigger name to sell tickets.
“They offered us more than the Mamas and Pappas usually got for a show,” remembers Adler, “but that night at three in the morning, John called me with the idea that to do something special, all of the artists should perform for free with profits going to charity.” Phillips thought that with this approach they could afford to have three days worth of performances to do justice to the cultural moment. Shapiro was old school and he hated the idea so Philips, Adler, Johnny Rivers, Paul Simon and record producer Terry Melcher each put up $10,000 to buy him out. Phillips and Adler opened an office at the old Renaissance Jazz Club on Sunset Boulevard to pull the festival together. They only had seven weeks before June 16th the night the Festival would start.
Simon and Garfunkel immediately committed, as did Rivers and The Byrds. To broaden their reach Adler enlisted Andrew Loog Oldham producer and manager of the Rolling Stones who had temporarily moved to Los Angeles to avoid his native London. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Stones had been busted for drugs in Keith’s Redland home weeks earlier and Oldham didn’t want to attract the attention of London cops. He recruited The Who to the festival and asked Paul McCartney for advice and the Beatle said that Jimi Hendrix was a must. The twenty-five year old Hendrix had recently electrified London club audiences with his mind-blowing virtuoso fusion of blues and rock guitar and had dazzled the Beatles by playing a psychedelic version of the title song to Sargent Pepper’s at Albert Hall days after the album had been released.
Then the Monterey team headed north. “We knew we needed the fresh rock and roll which was coming out of San Francisco and that people there thought of us as slick and commercial. “It didn’t help that Phillips had just written and produced San Francisco (With Flowers In Your Hair) for Scott McKenzie. It was an instant hit on Top 40 radio but perceived by the Haight hippies a simplistic exploitation of their scene. Adler, Oldham and Phillps flew up to San Francisco for a meeting with the managers of he Dead and the Airplane and Adler remembers “It almost came to blows and I couldn’t figure out what the fight was about. I guess they thought we were somehow gonna make money from their culture.”
In his memoir Living With The Dead, former Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully gives his version: They met with several managers of local bands at the Airplane’s house on Fulton St. in Haight-Ashbury. It started with John and Michelle Phillips coming to see us representing themselves as fellow musicians who’ve taken acid or who have maybe taken acid. Phillips is a musician whose group we respect but why is he taking like that? The hip malapropisms, the music-biz clichés, the fake sincerity. We discover that once you get beyond the fur hat and the beads he’s just like a goddam LA slicko. We all get the same vibe from him. He’s here to exploit the San Francisco hippie/love phenomenon by building a festival around us and Janis and Country Joe and Quicksilver and the Airplane.
In deference to Oldham, Scully kept an open mind. The trio of Festival guys then met with San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph Gleason, a respected figure in the Haight community. Based on their commitment to give all profits to charity, Gleason gave the Festival his blessing. Scully was also impressed that the Beatles PR advisor Derek Taylor was brought in to do the press. Paul Simon’s enthusiasm also had weight with some of the San Francisco musicians .Despite some lingering misgivings, The Airplane, The Dead, Country Joe and The Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin’s band) and Moby Grape were in.
San Francisco’s new “ underground” FM radio station KMPX talked the Festival up and ticket sales exceeded expectations. The press office was overwhelmed with eleven hundred requests for credentials. Derek Taylor said yes to everybody. The international coverage of Monterey dwarfed even the attention that the Be-In got.
Moreover, the Festival was filmed. In order to pay for the costs of putting it on Adler had made a deal for $400,000 with the ABC-TV network. They chose as the director D.A Pennbaker, the documentarian who had recently directed the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back.
The crowd at the Monterey Fairgrounds was so large that having sold twelve thousand tickets, the promoters decided to take down the fence and let another twenty-thousand people in for free. Grace Slick recalls ”Even the stalls selling food and concert items were quaint and uninfected by corporate logos and pitchmen. Police cruisers had orchids on their antennas. “A large banner on stage read LOVE, MUSIC AND FLOWERS.
LSD manufacturer Owsley and his partner Rhoney Gissen Stanley were there of course. Mama Cass (of the Mamas and the Papas) ha asked Owsley to bring acid and he arrived with thousands of purple tablets. He also carried a small bottle filled with liquid LSD, which he made available all of the musicians backstage. Ravi Shankar, who didn’t do any drugs at all, angrily walked out of his dressing room when it was offered to him.
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding all became overnight rock stars because of media excitement and word of mouth about their performances. Grace Slick wrote of it “Were we the bands there to invoke the spirits? The gods? Were we pagan? No labeling was necessary. We were all shamans of equal power. Channeling an unknown energy, seeking fluidity .I could see ‘royalty’ in every direction. The audiences was just more of “us.” The performers were just more of “us.” It was shades of Huxley, Leary, the surrealists, Gertrude Stein, Kafka; the inexhaustible list of artists who’d encouraged multiple levels of observation. It was our turn. We were ready to breathe. Ready to celebrate change.”
Perhaps no artist was more effected by Monterey than Eric Burdon whose group The Animals had been one of the stars of the British Invasion a few years earlier most notably with their cover of the old blues song The House of the Rising Sun. Burdon had been mesmerized by seeing Hendrix re-invent rock and roll in London and was enthralled by the Haight-Ashbury scene and by acid (he wrote a song called A Girl Named Sandoz a reference to the original Swiss manufacturer of LSD). The band was now known, played on the first night of the festival and Joel Sevlin wrote, “Burdon did nothing short of reinvent himself in front of the audience.”
Two months later Eric Burdon and The Animals (as the band was now called) released the single San Franciscan Nights. The record starts with a spoken word intro by Burdon “to the city and people of San Francisco, who may not know it but they are beautiful and so is their city.” He urged Europeans to “save up all your bread and fly Trans Love Airways to San Francisco, U.S.A. to understand the song for the sake of your own peace of mind.” In England the B-side was Gratefully Dead another gesture of respect to the San Francisco scene. In November the band released Burdon’s song Monterey a celebration of the festival with shout outs to many of the artists Burdon saw play there.
Adler recalls “By the end the policemen had flowers in their hair and the national guardsmen had painted flowers on their shaved heads. For one weekend the harsh realities of Vietnam, student unrest, the Cold War, racism, and urban riots were suspended and even transcended.”
Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was there and at John Lennon’s request arranged to have a photographer friend smuggle back a couple of dozen of Owsley’s purple tabs to London for the Beatle. Also present was actor Dennis Hopper as well as Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees who were so impressed with Hendrix they asked him to open their upcoming tour. After the first couple of dates, there were so many complaints from parents of young Monkees fans about Hendrix’s sexuality that he was dropped but by then it didn’t matter. As Slick says, “If any musician represented that era it was Jimi Hendrix.” His talent was so extraordinary that Hendrix immediately entered the pantheon of rock icons alongside the Beatles, The Stones and Dylan.
Adler, Phillips and Pennebaker all thought they had a feature film, not a mere TV show. “ABC was run then by Tom Moore, a Southern ‘gentleman’, so we showed him Hendrix fornicating with guitar and predictably he said ‘not on my network.’ He gave us the film. They were fine with losing the $400,000. They just wanted to get us out of the office.”
The film Monterey Pop is considered one of the best rock films ever. However at the time the existence of the film fanned flames of mistrust by the San Francisco contingent. The Dead refused to be included unless they could also approve the way they were edited and where the Foundation made donations which was two bridges too far for Adler. Joplin initially refused to let the Big Brother performance be filmed but her performance was so explosive that her new manager Albert Grossman (who also managed Bob Dylan) persuaded her to repeat the set so she could be in the film. It is one of the performances Joplin is most remembered for. She had seen Otis Redding sing at the Fillmore while she was on acid a few days earlier and later said his performance had inspired her to dig deeper.
After the Festival, Adler became aware that the Grateful Dead had taken the backline amplifiers for the festival and he called Scully to ask for them back. “Why don’t you come and get them,” Scully sneered, “and wear some flowers in your hair.”
Gleason brought a young journalist named Jann Wenner to Monterey. In September Wenner would start publishing his new magazine Rolling Stone with the Nov. 9,1967 issue. The front page had a piece by Michael Lydon “The High Cost of Music and Love. Where’s The Money From Monterey?” It said that there was a net profit of $211,451 (including the money from ABC). All of that was given away to various charities by the Monterey International Pop Foundation Adler and Phillips set up but the article implied that the promoters and artists had been profligate in incurring expenses citing as an example the $345 cost of a hotel room for Johnny Rivers. In a further attempt to ingratiate the new magazine with the Monterey skeptics around the Dead the piece concluded, “A festival which should and could have been all up front still leaves questions asked and unanswered.” Fifty years later all income allocated for the Festival producers from licensing of film footage was still being given out to a variety of organizations by the foundation in the name of the artists who performed at Monterey. In retrospect the carping seems absurd but given the sense of dread that the hippie community was experiencing as mass media overwhelmed its sub-culture, a certain amount of paranoia was to be expected.
On June 16th,17th and 18th this year exactly fifty years later at a similarly politically fraught time, Adler will be at another Monterey Pop Festival on the same fair grounds. Echoing the original it features Norah Jones (who is Ravi Shankar’s daughter) , Eric Burdon and the Animals , the Book T Stax Revue and the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh with his Terrapin Family Band as well as contemporary artists like Father John Misty and Gary Clark Jr.
About Danny Goldberg
Danny Goldberg is the author of How the Left Lost Teen Spirit and Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Business. Since 2007 he has been president of Gold Village Entertainment, whose clients include Steve Earle and Against Me. Previously, Goldberg was president of Gold Mountain Entertainment (Nirvana, Bonnie Raitt, the Allman Brothers), CEO of Air America Radio, chairman of Warner Bros. Records, president of Atlantic Records, and vice president of Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records. In Search of the Lost Chord is his latest work.