Nowadays, Judge Russell Engebretson sings this sad song: In the sixties I had hair to spare; now there's nothing but bare up there.
I'm gonna tell you, Mona, what I want to do. I'm gonna move, baby, next door to you…When I come out on the front, listen to my heart going pumpity pumpity pump.
Ralph J. Gleason (1917-1975) should be a familiar name to those who read Rolling Stone magazine during its glory days of the late sixties through the mid-seventies. Gleason was co-founder of Rolling Stone and a respected jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle as well as an associate editor of Downbeat magazine for 12 years. His contributions to Rolling Stone in praise of the emerging psychedelic music scene in San Francisco helped to propel several SF bands onto the national stage.
The two discs here were Ralph J. Gleason productions that originally aired on public television in 1969. Tracks for each disc are in the following order:
Go Ride the Music:
The bulk of the first disc is given over to Jefferson Airplane, the premiere San Francisco rock band of the sixties (my apologies to Deadheads, but JA was the only way to fly) whose music adroitly encompassed folk-rock and experimental psychedelia. The vocal dueling between Grace Slick and Marty Balin; and the nimble interplay between Jorma Kaukonen's lead guitar, Jack Casady's bass, and Paul Kantner's rhythm guitar delivered a unique, mind-altering aural experience never since matched. For a more extensive set of songs, a generous helping of history, and contemporary interviews with band members, Fly Jefferson Airplane is just the ticket; however, Go Ride the Music is a decent supplement for the JA fan. It is also notable for being filmed in a small, studio-like setting rather than an outdoor venue. Although the television soundtrack is only mono (likely from the 16mm optical track), the audio is passable. Artificially created 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby stereo tracks are also available.
Quicksilver Messenger Service is also featured on four videos filmed at an informal outdoor concert—a truly loose, casual affair. The band is not even on a stage, just a grassy area with roadies and equipment trucks in the background. During one song a little kid wearing a headband and fringe leather jacket runs zigzag between band members, skipping over a guitar cable. The laid-back atmosphere seems to have inspired the band. The tunes captured on film are rousing and playful.
The standout of Quicksilver's set is "Mona," an acid drenched erotic anthem pounded out in a relentless Bo Diddley rhythm. John Cipollina's signature SG Gibson vibrato guitar licks pulsate behind the lead singer's intense vocal moans and growls. It nicely complements the studio version from their Happy Trails album.
West Pole, listed as a bonus disc, is less focused than Go Ride the Music. It's a mix of well-known bands—Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver, Grateful Dead, and the Steve Miller Band—and a couple who missed the limelight: the first all-female rock band Ace of Cups, and the slick jazz-fusion band Sons of Champlin (whose lead singer went on to fame and fortune with the group Chicago). The program is a hybrid documentary and musical video, which now has become a period piece.
The songs are interspersed with commentary from Ralph Gleason and brief interviews with young people standing in long queues to watch various San Francisco rock bands in long-gone venues such as the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore West, and the Matrix.
Most of the mini-interviews are embarrassingly lame: "Well, I really like (insert name of band here). They're just like, you know, really cool." Which helps buttress the widely held belief that American teens and early twenty-somethings are like, you know, sort of, like, inarticulate. A more generous view, which I subscribe to, is that they were just typical adolescents intimidated by the camera and desperate not to appear unhip in front of their peers. Whatever the case, it's entertaining to see the clothes, cars, and other accouterments of this particular slice of sixties Americana as the camera sweeps past the crowds.
The video looks good for material this aged, although the picture is often quite soft—maybe due to a later generation print or an old 16mm to tape transfer. Color is at least sometimes vibrant and natural, and there are remarkably few scratches and specks for a 40-year-old film. There are no extras, but the menu does allow one to pick out individual songs rather than chapters. The translucent DVD keepcase includes a single, four-color, folded page with written commentary by Toby Gleason and John Swenson. It's a well put together package worth a purchase for aficionados of SF psychedelic bands, especially for those into Jefferson Airplane.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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