Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 1965, Dining Hall, Menlo College, Menlo Park, CA

The Warlocks played Menlo College in Atherton, CA around September 1965
I was recently fortunate enough to have a lengthy conversation with someone who was one of the very first fans of The Warlocks. I quizzed her about some hitherto mysterious legends about the performing history of The Warlocks and received some surprisingly specific answers. The Warlocks history is usually treated like a "Creation Myth" rather than as the actions of actual people, and I have been anxious to pin down some very vague rumors. Rock Scully, who did not even meet the band until several months later, had alluded to a performance at Menlo College in his autobiography, but since he described the band as "debuting" at Menlo College it seemed impossible.  My source knew perfectly well that the Warlocks had debuted at Magoo's Pizza, since she was there. However, she could confirm the Menlo College performance as well, since she was there also. Thus, we now have an eyewitness account of The Warlocks performance at Menlo College, and I will pass on what I have pieced together.

Early Warlocks
My source was one of the first two Warlocks fans. The internet being what it is, I won't identify her by name, although she may choose to reveal herself in the Comments (some scholars will figure it out anyway). In any case, she was a Palo Alto High School student (class of '66) who saw the Warlocks at Magoo's, Frenchy's and numerous other places where she was able to get in the door. She distinctly recalls seeing The Warlocks at Menlo College. She remembers that it was in some sort of dining hall or "rec room," and that numerous tables had to be pushed against a wall to allow everybody to dance. Her memory was that the purpose of the show was probably to encourage Menlo College students to recommend The Warlocks for paying gigs at school dances.

The performing history of The Warlocks remains murky. They played every Wednesday in May, 1965 at Magoo's Pizza, at 635 Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park, but at the end of that run Phil Lesh replaced Dana Morgan Jr as the band's bass player. Apparently, however, the Warlocks raucous fans violated a local ban on dancing, and the shows at Magoo's had to end. Lesh debuted when The Warlocks played at Frenchy's in Hayward, on June 18, 1965, but they were fired after the first night of a three night engagement. Up until recently, the band's activities for the balance of the Summer had remained a mystery, but my source recalls that the Warlocks regularly played The Top Of The Tangent on a regular, if informal basis.

My source doesn't recall when the band played Menlo College. However, given the California school year, it seems pretty likely that the Menlo performance must have been at the beginning of the next school year, around September of 1965. The school would not have had student events in the Summer, and an informal event in a dining hall seems like a beginning-of-term event.
update: a Menlo alumnus tells me 
[I] remember what you call sock hops, but were actually called "mixers."  They weren't held in the dining hall, which was called the Commons, but in the student union building toward the entrance of the school with parking nearby.  I remember bands, but can't recall if it was the Warlocks or not.
By the end of the Fall session, the Warlocks would have more likely been looking farther North than school dances in Menlo Park. As a result, I am marking the Menlo show as September, 1965, although I am open to any recovered memories anyone may have.

Menlo College
Menlo College was a very peculiar institution for the West Coast, as it was an East Coast style Prep School located in the West, far from its native habitat. The Menlo School for Boys, at 50 Valparaiso Street in Atherton, had been formed in 1924, taking over a Military Academy on the same site. In 1927, the Menlo School for Boys also formed Menlo College, which was a sort of junior college that prepared students to go straight into the upper division. Menlo College was and still is located at 1000 El Camino Real in Atherton. Thus, the Warlocks appearance at Menlo fits in with the band's slow march up El Camino Real towards San Francisco.

Atherton, a very wealthy Peninsula town, was literally across the street from the town of Menlo Park, so the name was appropriate. Menlo students were given a program where they would be prepared for college, and then spend the first two years of college in their Prep School itself, transferring straight into their junior year at their chosen University. Menlo School always had close ties to Stanford University, and the programs were generally designed to get students directly into Stanford as juniors.

The public schools in the South Bay generally had a very good reputation, so private schools had to fill certain niches. By the 1960s, and certainly into the 1970s, Menlo School filled a very specific niche. There was a certain kind of South Bay teenager--one lived across the street from me--who were pretty bright but not very academically motivated, and who did not necessarily do well in the public schools full of  the children of college professors and the like. Menlo was a place where--for a price--they could get more attention and do the first two years of college, thus setting the table for their transfer to Stanford or a similar school, which is what their parents desired. Many of the Menlo students, besides being smart but not academic, were also very good at sports, a fact not lost on colleges looking for transfer students.

Thus the boys who went to Menlo School or College--remember, you could go to Menlo from 9th Grade until your Sophomore year of College--were often well off, good at sports and slackers, a clear recipe for fun. Yet where would these handsome lads find girlfriends? The nearby private girls school of Castilleja, in Palo Alto, was one possibility, and the former Grace Wing (later Slick) had gone there, so that wasn't nothing, but really the best bet was the public school girls at the public high school of Menlo-Atherton, located just a mile away (at 555 Middlefield). Menlo was in the Menlo-Atherton district limits, so the Menlo boys had to know who the prettiest girls at M-A were, and the M-A girls had to know there were some real catches at Menlo. Bob Weir, along with Bob Matthews, Matt Kelly (and later Steve Marcus, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks) all went to M-A, but the real money would have been at Menlo.

Warlocks Plans, 1965
Magoo's Pizza, where the Warlocks had played there first shows, was in the Menlo Atherton district, but there's no way the buzz hadn't gotten over to Menlo College. Indeed, Menlo School was full of boarders, some from quite far away, and Magoo's was just a block away from the school (Menlo was up on El Camino).  There's no way some of the Menlo boys didn't walk over to Magoo's on those Wednesday nights. Warlocks fans from M-A looking to drum up business for the band would have definitely found a way to get them in at Menlo School. The story about pushing aside tables in a dining hall leads me to suspect that the band played an informal sort of sock-hop early in the school year, hoping to get hired on for Proms or Formals later in the season. Of course, by the time the big events at Menlo College rolled around, the Warlocks were playing the Acid Tests, the Trips Festival and the Fillmore, so they weren't so concerned about the missed opportunities.

Still, we can now confirm that some Menlo boys with ambitious parents found themselves at a sock hop event in their school cafeteria in about September, 1965. They were probably hoping for some pretty girls from Menlo Atherton High School, and they probably found some. They also found a strange, noisy band of barbarians playing something they had only heard on car radios in the middle of the night on the wrong side of town, but as long as the girls wanted to dance, it probably didn't matter to them who the strange guys were that were playing that weird, dangerous music.

A picture sleeve for the Rolling Stones "Little Red Rooster"/"Off The Hook" single
Off The Hook
My source had one other, peculiar, unique memory about the Warlocks playing Menlo College. She and a friend had the duty of writing down the lyrics to songs that the band wanted to learn, many of them Rolling Stones songs. One thing she recalled about the Menlo gig was that the band had learned the Rolling Stones song "Off The Hook"  (released in the US in February 1965 on the album The Rolling Stones Now). My source had carefully explained to Jerry Garcia that when Mick Jagger sang the lyrics "it's off the hook, " Jagger had mimed holding a telephone to his ear. Whether she knew that from having seen the Stones, or from some television appearance isn't quite clear.

Nonetheless, my source recalled Jerry not only singing "It's Off The Hook," but miming the telephone bit. He even smiled at her when he did it, to show he'd learned his part. How often the Warlocks played "Off The Hook" after that remains unknown, and I doubt Jerry mimed the phone much. But he did it once, at least, even if the Menlo boys had their eyes somewhere else.


  1. Fascinating bit about Off The Hook...another piece added to the Warlocks repertoire!
    While Jagger doesn't do the Off The Hook phone-miming in the TAMI Show movie (released in Dec '64), he does do it on this TV clip:
    So she could have seen it live or on some other TV show.
    It's also interesting that Jerry was the one singing it, as Pigpen sang the single's A-side, Little Red means Stones songs were shared by different singers in the Warlocks. Perhaps Pigpen handled the blues covers while the others got the 'pop' songs.

    On a sidenote, it was quite funny when you refer to Warlocks music as "something they had only heard on car radios in the middle of the night on the wrong side of town"...considering the Rolling Stones Now album went to #5 when it came out in Feb '65.
    Weird & barbaric the Warlocks may have been, with many obscurities up their sleeves, but a band covering Off The Hook in 1965 seems to be a band very much in tune with the pop audience...

  2. LIA, thanks for the link to the Off The Hook clip.

    While I agree that the 1965 Warlocks had pop sensibilities because they were playing the Rolling Stones, they would have been louder and sloppier than the recorded Rolling Stones. They wouldn't have sounded much like AM pop music to white teenage ears, but more like R&B. Of course, the R&B bands on black radio would have been infinitely better players than the Warlocks at that time, but the Warlocks reputedly had that ragged edge.

  3. True, the Warlocks leaned heavily toward R&B - by '66 their shows were still stuffed with blues, and Garcia even commented on it in a '67 interview:
    "We played in a spade show, in fact, like a rhythm & blues show; and I think we were a shock to them, because the music we were playing was heavy blues, certainly heavier than any of the spade guys were doing; they were doing all the lighter stuff."

    Of course, it's an open question how kids in 1965 would have "heard" the Warlocks, since we don't really know what a Warlocks show sounded like... (And there were, of course, many other young garage bands around too, perhaps playing similar songs.)
    While many people were quite struck by them, those of course tended to be the people who fell into the Dead orbit!

    Anyway - on another subject, there's a little tidbit in Hank Harrison's book The Dead:
    "In the winter of 1965 and into 1966, Dick Smith, the tooth doctor who did Wavy Gravy's rainbow teeth, was throwing dances at the Barn in Felton just off the freeway over the foothills near Santa Cruz... The free-dance rock band scene was miniscule in those days, maybe 400 people knew about any of it, but the Barn meant we could get loose until the heat came around. The Warlocks probably played their last gig under that identity at the Barn. After that they started wandering off to Kesey's spread in La Honda, over to Soquel...[etc]"

    While Harrison's book has numerous accuracy & chronology issues, this seems to have the ring of memory in it (it follows a paragraph where he describes early Warlocks rehearsals) - so I wondered what you made of it.

  4. This is a very interesting quote from Hank Harrison, but as usual it has the ring of truth without quite being true. The Barn was actually in Scotts Valley, not Felton. It did open in Summer '65, but as an art gallery and coffee shop--it didn't become a psychedelic concert venue until Spring '66. It was definitely a secret hangout for the Pranksters and the South Bay/Palo Alto crowd, but the Dead had already moved beyond it. The New Delhi River Band, with David Nelson, were kind of like the house band in Fall 66.

    Harrison's recollection of The Barn scene is roughly accurate, so I'm sure he was there, but he has added the Warlocks, who weren't.

  5. P.S. - This seems to be a good place to mention that the night of the second Acid Test at "Big Nig's" in San Jose, the Rolling Stones were also playing at the San Jose Civic Auditorium.

    Blair Jackson writes that the Acid Test "took place in the wee hours of December 4, 1965, after the Rolling Stones had played a show...with the Dead and Kesey's gang in attendance... As the Stones concert ended, the Pranksters swung into action, handing out 'Can YOU Pass the Acid Test?' handbills to the masses filing out of the auditorium..."

    McNally tells a somewhat different version:
    "The Rolling Stones were playing just down the street that night, and Sue Swanson, Connie Bonner, and Neal Cassady went off to 'bring back the Stones.' Unfortunately, the girls rushed the stage in the general melee occasioned by Mick Jagger's shirt coming unbuttoned, and were ejected... Alas, they returned from the Civic Auditorium empty-handed."

    I found a review of that Stones show, from a 12-year-old who attended:
    Note that the Stones played two shows, at 7:00 and 9:30.

    It is one of the ironies of the time that the very day before the Stones missed out on the Acid Test, Bob Dylan had the press conference in San Francisco in which he held up a poster for the 12/10/65 Mime Troupe Benefit at the Fillmore and said he wished he could go...

  6. Thanks for the Harrison clarification. He can be maddeningly vague, and apparently least trustworthy when he's being most specific! Oh the stories he could've told, if only his mind wasn't so fried....

    Some more ramblings:
    He mentions driving Phil Lesh & Bobby Peterson to see the Warlocks at Magoo's, and spotting John Dawson & Dave Nelson there, "quiet in the corner waiting patiently to join Garcia." (Dawson has also independently said he saw the Warlocks at Magoo's, so it seems the place wasn't just full of schoolkids, but also Garcia's friends were invited...)

    "It was really high that night - but it wasn't folk music, nobody knew what it was - it was intense and alien. We boogied and got off on the Warlocks. Phil stood up on the redwood table and danced - the one and only time I ever saw him dance. Phil's head was reeling..." [Phil describes this scene almost the same way.]

    He also drops references to "Kreutzmann's dad wanting to manage the Warlocks," and their playing "gigs that didn't pay off in Santa Barbara." Lost in the mists of time or confused memories, I guess...
    He makes the brief comment that after they talked to Chet Helms & Luria Castell about other bands (that would presumably have been at the Family Dog show in October), "everybody knew we had to shift to the City."
    And indeed, it was right after going to the Family Dog show that the Warlocks finally played in San Francisco (albeit merely at Pierre's), and auditioned for Autumn Records.

    Ironically, they had auditioned for the first Family Dog show in October, but were rejected as 'a mere cover band'! McNally: "A couple of Family Dog members had gone to the In Room to check out the Warlocks as a possible band for their first show, but they decided the boys didn't have enough original songs to make the cut."
    What's interesting is not so much that (as at Autumn Records) the boys didn't make the cut, but that the Family Dog folks had heard of them in the first place, in early October '65!

  7. I think the Bohemian community in the Bay Area was pretty small. Greenfield's book describes Garcia and Pigpen visiting a Jefferson Airplane rehearsal at the Matrix. Pete and Rodney Albin were living at 1090 Page, and they certainly knew what the Warlocks were up to. The Lovin Spoonful had played Mothers (Tom Donahue's club) on Broadway, and a lot of proto-hippies came out for that, including apparently the Warlocks.

    There is a story of Phil Lesh going up to Luria Castell at the second Family Dog dance (Oct 24 '65) and saying "Lady, what this seance needs is us!" But that was apparently after she had already passed on them. If Phil was free on a Saturday night (assuming the story is true), then maybe the In Room was over by October 24.

  8. True, the Warlocks were probably establishing ties & friendships with SF bands long before they started playing there. They had gone to the Lovin Spoonful show at Mother's back on August 4. (Phil apparently immediately added Do You Believe In Magic to the Warlocks set.) And they would have had an early connection with the Airplane through Jorma, whom Garcia, Pigpen & Weir had known for years.
    So they could easily have been telling people to check them out at the In Room...

    McNally lists the second Family Dog dance as October 30, for some reason? At any rate, it seems the Warlocks had already been rejected prior to the first dance (by Alton Kelley & Ellen Harmon). Phil's comment may have been kind of a barb...
    Garcia cites that evening as a revelation: "It was just really fine to see that whole scene - where there was nobody there but heads and this strange rock & roll music playing in this weird building. It was just what we wanted to see... It became clear to us that working in bars was not going to be right for us."
    McNally says the Warlocks played at the In Room for six weeks, so they could've started playing there in the second week of September. They likely missed the October 16 dance due to being booked - as Garcia said, "I never saw anybody. When we were working the bars, I lost contact with almost all my friends cause the Warlocks were playing every night, and on Sundays, afternoons and nights. We were booked solid."

    McNally: "By the end of October, it became clear that the In Room could get along without them...and they brought the run to a close. As they packed their gear into the Pontiac on the last night, the manager [told them] 'You guys will never make it. You're too weird.'"
    So evidently they were somewhat homeless as a band when they wandered into the second Family Dog dance...
    (Ironically, the Dead ended up not playing any of the early Family Dog events!)

  9. An alumni of Menlo has told me "[I] remember what you call sock hops, but were actually called "mixers." They weren't held in the dining hall, which was called the Commons, but in the student union building toward the entrance of the school with parking nearby. I remember bands, but can't recall if it was the Warlocks or not.

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