San Francisco, Epicenter West

It's amazing what a nice thick fog can do for a city

George harrison in SF 1967In a few short strokes, here’s why San Francisco became an epicenter for great music and why the aftershocks continue to this day… Seaport. Historically multi-culty. City Lights Books. Allen Ginsberg and other Beats. Political activism at area universities. Plenty of youth. Cheap housing when it counted in the mid-’60s. Tolerance coupled with prosperity.

George Harrison and wife Patti Boyd, Haight Ashbury, 1967
Mark the beginning of the Bay sound’s modern rise however you like. The day in 1963 when Janis Joplin stepped off the bus from Beaumont, Texas. The day that same year when Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia met at the Dana Morgan Music store in early hippie-glow Palo Alto? Grace Slick Janis Joplin

Grace Slick and Janis Joplin

Or maybe the night in summer of ’65 that the Matrix, San Francisco’s first Folk-Rock night club, opened on Fillmore Street in the Marina District with a new band headlining: The Jefferson Airplane.

Don’t forget The Beatles’ riotous first appearance in SF in ’65 at the Cow Place, nor the show at Candlestick Park in 1966, their final concert in America. Maybe you want to slide up north of San Francisco and glimpse the teenage years of John Fogerty who would come screaming and snapping to life in Creedence Clearwater Revival. And then there is big, bad Oakland, home to everyday people like Sly and The Family Stone. dead kennedys

There are so many rocks to turn over all round the Bay. You could roll ahead to the San Francisco Punk scene of the ’70s that prominently featured The Avengers, Mutants and Dead Kennedys, whose first show was in late 1978 with The Offs. 

You might zip over to Richmond near Berkeley and visit the garage where Metallica rehearsed their classic Heavy Metal album Master Of Puppets. A little farther north on Interstate 80, you’d come to Rod’s Hickory Pit in Vallejo, site of the first performances by Sweet Children, Armstrong and Dirnt’s proto-band that preceded Green Day.

Arctic monkeys

A little mythological travel is in order, too. You might find Van Morrison on the steps of the namesake church of his song “St. Dominic’s Preview.” Or hassle with the Arctic Monkeys as they tell their “Fake Tales Of San Francisco.”

With luck, when you stop at Sausalito just over the Golden Gate you’ll catch Otis Redding singing his timeless “Dock Of The Bay.”

Somebody To Love

Jefferson Airplane
Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

To the public’s detriment and delight, “Somebody To Love” (from 1967) has been played unrelentingly for the last five decades. Eighty-year-olds know it. Babies dance their heavy little feet to it.

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Fake Tales of San Francisco

Arctic Monkeys
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006)

About San Francisco in a roundabout way, “Fake Tales” (2006) drives a spear through the heart of wannabe hipsters from South Yorkshire, England (home of The Arctic Monkeys). Self critique? A warning to one another not to get too big for their Sheffield britches?

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Standing On The Moon

The Grateful Dead
Built To Last (1989)

Once you’ve cut through the thicket of Grateful Dead jams – one of the great joys and great trials of the band – you’ll feel like a hero who has reached a gleaming castle. You can call it “Standing On The Moon.”

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Piece Of My Heart

Big Brother & The Holding Company
Cheap Thrills (1968)

Joplin and Big Brother infused it with a neurotic, manic energy that exploded pre-conceived notions of what a female Rock-N-Roller should or could be.

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Green Day
American Idiot (2005)

The song is touching in the deepest way, conveying the sense of a bird on a wire that just can’t free itself but can fly short distances. But through the raw and powerful majesty of the song and the help of his bandmates, Armstrong does grow up and at least gives vent to his agony, if not fully sloughing it off his shoulders. We are left with the thought that some hurts never are fully healed.

Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

Peace Of Mind

Blue Cheer
New! Improved! (1969)

Like dropping by a psychedelic candy store. Colors, smells, flavors, wide-eyed wonderment. Blue Cheer is one of the neglected San Francisco hippie-era bands. But if any group ever snatched the globular, amoebic lights from the swirling sky, they sure did. Too groovy. Way too groovy.

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Turn On Your Lovelight

The Grateful Dead
Live/Dead (1969)

It’s been covered a hundred times since Bobby Blue Bland released it in 1961 when it reached #2 on the R&B charts.

Van Morrison and Them, The Rascals, The Allmans, Bob Seger, even The Blues Brothers did very good to great jobs.

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Who’ll Stop The Rain?

Creedence Clearwater Revival
Cosmo's Factory (1969)

John Fogerty was born in Berkeley, California, but his alcoholic father abandoned the family and left Fogerty’s mother to raise five boys on her own. They were brought up in El Cerrito just up the pike from Berkeley in reduced circumstances.

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Metallica has lived, composed, practiced and reposed in El Cerrito (childhood home of John Fogerty). They also occupied space in Berkeley and Albany, California, before settling in Marin’s San Rafael, their base of operations. (Hey, I can see The Dead from my back porch!)

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

Dance To The Music

Sly & The Family Stone
Dance To The Music (1968)

Sitting across the bay from San Francisco is Oakland, a harbor of musical excitement, a challenge to those living in the inner city.

Roll on back to the funky year of 1968. Streets on fire, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy murdered by psychopathic extremists. Youth of all color were fed up to here with the establishment.

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

San Franciscan Nights

Eric Burdon and The Animals
Winds Of Change (1967)

Once the goofy, kitschy spoken-word intro is pushed out of the way, Eric Burdon And The Animals – a reconstitution of the group that gave us “House Of The Rising Sun” and “It’s My Life” – deliver a moody, foggy song that captures the darker, druggier side of San Francisco in 1967.

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San Francisco was instrumental in the musical education of Carlos Santana, helping him to absorb, through the kinetic club scene, Blues, Jazz, Folk and Rock-N-Roll.

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

The Dock Of The Bay

Otis Redding
The Dock Of The Bay (1968)

Otis’s “home in Georgia” was everyone’s home, whether you came from Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Burlington or Birmingham.

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What About Me?

Quicksilver Messenger Service
What About Me? (1970)

A bitches brew of psychedelia, mid-decade Traffic leanings, Latin beats and trippy lyrics, “What About Me?” from Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1970 is a final gasp of the first phase of the San Francisco sound.

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