|A poster by 'Machine Studio' for The New Delhi River Band performance at The Barn, in Scotts Valley, on Friday, October 14, 1966|
Despite substantial efforts by the group in 1967, The New Delhi River Band never succeeded outside of their South Bay turf, and the members moved on to other pursuits. My research seems to suggest, however, that they were an interesting and popular band in the little universe of the South Bay underground in 1966 and 1967, and their story makes a great case study on how regional bands help shape scenes while getting left behind themselves—the story of The New Delhi River Band stands for the tale of every cool local long haired band in 1966 and 1967 who never got big past the County Line, living on as a fond, hazy memory of their fans.
David Nelson was one of Jerry Garcia's best friends, and Nelson's career presents an interesting counterpoints to Garcia's. The Grateful Dead were the South Bay's first psychedelic blues band, of course, and the New Delhi River Band's ups and downs shed light on different ways in which the Dead were both fortunate and special. By the time Nelson and Garcia reconnected in 1969 with the New Riders of The Purple Sage, Nelson had had his own odyssey, far less legendary than Garcia's but fascinating nonetheless. This post will be part of a series on the hitherto lost history of the New Delhi River Band.
In a 21st century interview for RD Records, drummer Chris Herold recalled
NDRB was a really fine band. Some very fond memories of the formative time. We were one of the first white blues bands, probably THE first in the Bay Area. We were Butterfield Blues Band fans and it showed in our music. We also drew from all the old greats Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters . . . the list goes on. The band members were: Sweet John Tomasi (vocals and harmonica), Peter Sultzbach (lead guitar), David Nelson (rhythm guitar), Dave Torbert (bass) and me [Chris Herold] on drums.”David Nelson played a critical role in Jerry Garcia's career, both before the Grateful Dead and during their existence. After the New Delhi River Band ended in early 1968, Nelson re-appeared in Garcia's universe at the end of 1968, participating in the Aoxomoxoa sessions (although probably not appearing on the record). More importantly, Nelson, along with Garcia and John Dawson, was a founding member of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Garcia's first extra-curricular band. In subsequent decades, Nelson made all sorts of great music, with and without Garcia, and continues to do so in both the revitalized New Riders and the David Nelson Band.
This chronology would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of Ross Hannan, Chris Recker, the late Russell Towle and David Nelson. Anyone with additional information, insights, corrections or recovered memories (real or imagined) is urged to Comment or email me.
Recap: The Formation Of The New Delhi River Band
Part I of the New Delhi River Band story reviews how David Nelson was a bluegrass musician in Palo Alto, just like his friend Jerry Garcia. The arrival of the Beatles and LSD electrified the tiny community of bohemian musicians, and the hitherto acoustic Nelson started to get interested in plugging in. By mid-1966, Nelson and his Channing Avenue housemate Carl Moore had joined forces with a Los Altos band called Bethlehem Exit, and hatched the idea of The Outfit. The Outfit was intended to be a sort of permanent Trips Festival in sleepy little Palo Alto, with a venue, a band and a light show all called The Outfit. According to Nelson, there was only one show, a memorable mini-Acid Test in June 1966 graced by Neal Cassady himself, but the enterprise never got any further.
The Outfit venue withered, but out of its ashes arose two light shows, one of them still called The Outfit, and also the New Delhi River Band. After some early gigs that even I have not been able to trace, the band rose to the surface in the South Bay in August of 1966. The New Delhi River Band opened for Roy Head, Van Morrison and Them and The Doors at a club called Losers South in San Jose. The New Delhi River Band also started to play at a mysterious, legendary venue in the Santa Cruz Mountains called The Barn. We pick up the story in October, 1966, as The Barn starts to rise to prominence in the still-tiny hippie scene of the South Bay.
|A map of the location of The Barn (from the Oct 14' 66 poster above). The configuration of Highway 17 and Scotts Valley has completely changed, and no trace of The Barn remains. The site is now the parking lot of The Baymonte Christian School|
In the 20th Century, when a form of music was new, it generally needed a new venue to express itself. New music, by its nature, would not fit in with established commercial interests, so without a new place to play, new music would remain obscure. Whether it was be-bop in the 1940s or rock in the 60s, groundbreaking music was usually associated with a specific location. For the most famous bands, their musical birthplaces are famous as well: The Cavern Club in Liverpool was the foundation of The Beatles, and the Fillmore was the launching pad for the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the other San Francisco bands.
Around the country, and even around the English speaking world, a thousand psychedelic flowers bloomed as the locally adventurous musicians became the featured attraction at the local ballroom. Thus the Boston Tea Party, the Trauma in Philadelphia, the UFO Club in London, the Grande Ballroom in Detroit and numerous others are enshrined in local or even national legend, thanks to the bands that played there. After the Filmore, but before all of those, however, there was The Barn in Scotts Valley, and that was where the New Delhi River Band found its home and cemented their fuzzy legend as the anchors of the South Bay underground.
The Barn, known as 'The Fillmore of The Mountains," was only open from mid-66 through mid-68, and indeed it was closed during much of that time as well. What little information is available on The Barn mostly comes from our site, and what is posted there is fairly outdated. By the Fall of 1966, the New Delhi River Band would become the "House Band" of The Barn, whatever exactly that meant. After The Barn closed, it disappeared without a trace. I can recall being at the Foothill College radio station in 1975 and reading Pete Frame's New Riders Family Tree (promulgated as part of a Columbia Records promo package), and finding out about both The New Delhi River Band and The Barn for the first time. The Barn was located in Scotts Valley, less than 8 years and 30 minutes from where I was standing when I first read about it (Moody Road in Los Altos), and it was as if it had never existed at all.
Eric Nord, proprietor of a string of coffee houses that included the famous Hungry I in San Francisco and the Sticky Wicket in Aptos (in Southern Santa Cruz County), had opened a coffee house and art gallery in a converted dairy barn in Fall, 1965. Scotts Valley was about 15 miles from the Santa Cruz coast, nestled in the the Santa Cruz Mountains, between Santa Cruz and San Jose. Scotts Valley was an isolated mountain town at the time, not even yet an incorporated community, and the residents did not take kindly to the sort of beatniks who visited the coffee shop. While the coffee house closed in early 1966, to the dismay of the locals, it was taken over by a Santa Cruz psychiatrist, Dr. Leon Tabory. Tabory started presenting rock shows in the relatively cavernous upstairs part of the structure, which had hitherto been used for square dances and basketball games. The Barn rapidly coalesced from a “Performance Space” to the “Fillmore Of The Mountains.” Some of the San Francisco bands played there, and it appears that guest appearances by famous musicians who were in the area were not unknown. The Barn is remembered fondly by anyone who ever attended or played there, but memories are very fuzzy (why, do you think?).
Tabory (1925-2009) was a remarkable man whose story is too much to tell in this context. Tabory had been Neal Cassady's prison psychiatrist. After testifying to help defend a Prankster (Peter Demma) in an obscenity case, he focused on the idea that people needed a 'performance space' to express themselves. The earliest known rock show at The Barn is May 22, 1966, with Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, but it may have begun before that. In any case, by Summer 1966 The Barn had become the hip place to hang out in the South Bay on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
I now know, however, that Tabory got his insight into how The Barn should operate from visiting The Outfit. Whether or not Tabory ever went to the Fillmore or Avalon is unclear, but in any case he would not likely have gone on his own, as he was considerably older than most of the bohemians. It appears he went to The Outfit through his connection with Neal Cassady. Tabory hired Gayle Curtis and Paul Mittig to do the light shows at The Barn, and they named themselves The Magic Theater. A local Santa Cruz artist, Joe Lyzowski, painted psychedelic murals on the walls of The Barn. Carl Moore and others at Channing Avenue continued to operate as a free lance light show called The Outfit after Curtis and Mittig left.
Its important to remember that in Summer and Fall 1966, long hair, weed and the blues were pretty Underground commodities. Outside of the Haight Ashbury and the vicinity of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, such people weren’t welcome. One of the very few safe, fun places in the South Bay to go for adults who aspired to that was The Barn. The reach of The Barn extended well beyond its nearest residents, to Southern Alameda County and other parts of the Bay Area. Teenagers who couldn't get into bars and were a long way from Berkeley or San Francisco found a welcoming hangout in tiny Scotts Valley, even if the community itself was highly suspicious of the visitors. South Bay bohemians, Merry Pranksters, future South Bay hippies, Gypsy Joker bikers, members of the Family Dog and other fringe characters knew that they had a safe haven on weekends at the converted Dairy Barn off Granite Creek Road. The New Delhi River Band became regular performers at the hippest place outside of San Francisco, and they are fondly (if somewhat fuzzily) remembered by all who saw them there.
The history of the New Delhi River Band has only been alluded to a few times over the years, and what little information there is about the group has mostly come from a single item on the 1974 Pete New Riders of The Purple Sage Family Tree, promulgated as promotional material for Columbia Records for Brujo. The Frame Tree lists the New Delhi River Band's lineup as follows:
Sweet John Tomasi-vocals, harmonicaHowever, several years of determined research on my part has shown that Torbert and Herold did not join the NDRB until October of 1966 at the earliest, and probably not until November. I know that the initial bass player for The Outfit, at least in rehearsal, was one Austin Keith, and Nelson rather surprisingly told me that they had tried out John Dawson as the bass player, too, but he only lasted one gig, because (as Nelson put it) "he wasn't really a bass player." When I was fortunate enough to get a chance to speak to Nelson about this subject, I asked him how Dave Torbert came into the New Delhi River Band, and I got an equally surprising answer.
Peter Sultzbach-lead guitar
Nelson told me "Chris Herold, our drummer, was in a Redwood City blues band called The Good News, and he played with Torbert, and that's how he came into the group." This revelation caused me to look into the history of The Good News--I am nothing if not thorough--and when I unraveled that story, it became clear that The Good News were an active live band until the end of October 1966, so even if Herold and Torbert were temporarily in both bands, they could not have really joined NDRB on a permanent basis until October, so there must have been at least one other bassist and drummer, and possibly several, up until then. Given the importance of Torbert and Herold to the whole saga, however, a brief review of the history of The Good News is worthwhile.
White blues bands with a rock edge were forming all over the Bay Area, and indeed the United States and England. The Grateful Dead had been perhaps the first in the South Bay and Palo Alto, but a few more followed shortly after. Redwood City was two towns North of Palo Alto (nearer to San Francisco), and The Good News were the first white blues band to come out of Redwood City. Formed in late 1965, probably in the wake of the debut Butterfield Blues Band album, by 1966 they were gigging steadily up and down the El Camino Real and the South Bay. By mid-66, the Good News' lineup was
Chris Herold-drums,Although The Good News mostly played local teen clubs and dances (for the complete story as I know it, see my post about the history of The Good News), besides the emphasis on straight-up blues, they distinguished themselves by having pop-art stage clothes and a light show. It appears that the Good News light show was mainly a strobe light, but for South Bay teen clubs it was still a brave step into the brave new world.
Dan Hess- Bass,
Bob Stephens- Keyboards, Sax, Harmonica, Vocals
Tim Abbott- Lead Guitar and Vocals
Dave Torbert-Lead Vocals and Guitar.
The Good News had started to get a South Bay following, and there was enough buzz about them that they got to open a show at the Fillmore on the weekend of October 22 and 23, 1966. Although The Good News were not on the poster--the opening act usually wasn't--they played along with Captain Beefheart, the Chocolate Watch Band (San Jose's finest) and The Great Pumpkin (from Oregon). The Good News played well enough that they were asked back to the Fillmore, according to guitarist Tim Abbott, but by that time they had already broken up. That places the demise of The Good News to shortly after October 23, and from that we can reasonably assume that Herold and Torbert had moved over to the New Delhi River Band at that point.
My own theory has been that drummer Herold was sort of moonlighting in the New Delhi River Band, possibly without the awareness of other members of the group. The still mysterious bass player must have dropped out, so Torbert was brought over and converted from guitar, a common enough scenario in the 1960s. Even if Torbert and Herold were planning to defect, they wouldn't have missed out on a Fillmore gig, but if they thought their chances were better with the New Delhi River Band, it explains why the Good News broke up shortly after the Fillmore shows. For now, I am assuming that Herold and Torbert joined the New Delhi River Band in October 1966, but it's not impossible that Herold had at least played a few shows before that (update: I have since found out, from David Nelson himself, via David Gans, that originally the New Delhi River Band had no drummer at all. Chris Herold apparently played a few shows, and then joined full time. John Dawson played one show at The Barn, possibly October 14. Nelson played "Beaumont Rag" on his guitar to impress Torbert. It seems to have worked).
Guitarist Tim Abbott, my principal source for the history of The Good News, recalls that they played The Barn at one point, but he can no longer recall if they were booked or just sitting in. My own suspicion is that they played one of the Thursday night shows for locals, possibly with the New Delhi River Band, or at least with some of the members present. That would explain how Herold connected with the NDRB. In any case, after The Good News broke up, Abbott ended up in the Chocolate Watch Band, and ultimately reunited with Torbert and Herold a few years later in a group called Shango in 1968, but that is getting ahead of the story (Abbott currently owns a recording studio in Campbell, and he's still in the Chocolate Watch Band, and they are still San Jose's best group).
New Delhi River Band Performance History, Fall 1966
The New Delhi River Band's first notable shows seem to have been at a place called Losers South, at 1500 Almaden Road in San Jose, opening for Roy Head, Van Morrison and Them and The Doors. In between they played some considerably more obscure places, that even I have not yet been able to pin down. However, I do know that band members were hanging out at The Barn as early as August. I believe they must have played enough shows at The Barn, whether on Thursday night 'local night' or opening for relatively higher profile groups, that they became a sort of attraction at The Barn by October of 1966.
The other significant event in October took place on October 6. LSD was made illegal by the state of California on that day--it's quite incredible to realize that Acid Tests were a fully legal enterprise up until that time. Granted, publicity attracted the police, who would bust longhairs for weed, speed or expired car registration, but LSD itself was not illegal until October 6. A rally of sorts was held in the Panhandle in the Haight Ashbury, on the edge of Golden Gate Park (between Fell and Oak). The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and The Holding Company and Bobby Beausoleil's Orkustra peformed on the back of a flatbed truck, and much to everyone's amazement, thousands of people showed up. Although Chris Recker was unable to go (for a reason he no longer recalls), he remembers that the Channing Avenue crowd, including Nelson, went to the event and came home buzzing with--among other things--the realization that there were like-minded pockets of free thinkers all over the Bay Area. Suddenly it seemed like the new world was just around the corner, and I do not think it was a coincidence that the New Delhi River Band, along with many other local groups, started to look on their musical careers with a new seriousness.
October 14, 1966: The Barn, Scotts Valley: New Delhi River Band/Michael Finch/The Magic Theater
The first public trace of the New Delhi River Band was in issue #9 of the legendary Haight Ashbury fanzine Mojo Navigator (the publication date of the typed, mimeographed 'zine was October 17, 1966). The actual wording was “a place called ‘The Barn’ in Scotts Valley near Santa’s Village which has been putting on some weekly happenings lately with the New Delhi River Band and a couple of others.” Since we have a poster (up top) we are certain of Friday, October 14. The wording implies that the band had played there regularly, and I'm inclined to think that they might have played Friday, October 7 as well.
The New Delhi River Band appears to have played many of their 1966 gigs at The Barn. They may have even acted as a sort of “house band” although that is difficult to determine from this distance. In general, I think that meant that the New Delhi River Band played most Friday nights at The Barn, and sometimes other nights as well (I think the Thursday events were strictly a Summer of '66 phenomenon). The Barn was the kind of place where fans just showed up, since there were few other options, and a 'name' headliner wasn't actually required. According to people who went to The Barn regularly, it was a magical period, where the few longhairs in the South Bay got together to hang out, college students, bikers, artists and high school kids from Fremont all felt that brief flash of solidarity that a scene gives you.
Michael Finch appears to have been the opening act. Its possible that he played downstairs, in the coffee shop part of the venue, while the headliners played upstairs. The Magic Theater was the name of the light show company resident at The Barn. The principals of The Magic Theater were Paul Mittig and Gale Curtis, from the Channing Avenue house. There was a third partner in The Magic Theater as well, whose name remains uncertain, but he was a sort of business manager and wasn't really part of the creative team. The Flowers, who headlined on Saturday, October 15, were another South Bay nascent psychedelic band. Chris Recker recalled them, but can't remember anything about where they were based.
October 28-29, 1966: The Barn, Scotts Valley: New Delhi River Band/The Magic Theater
There is a surviving poster of these shows. Possibly this is one of the events referred to in Mojo Navigator #9.
According to some eyewitnesses, people from the Family Dog and the Grateful Dead 'family' were regulars at The Barn as well, although they were careful to point out that these did not include Chet Helms nor any actual Dead band members. It does assure us, however, that The Barn was definitely a critical outpost for the still fledgling Bay Area psychedelic rock underground. Around this time, Ken Kesey and His Merry Pranksters had largely returned from Mexico, and the notorious bus Furthur was permanently parked outside The Barn, much to the chagrin of local Scotts Valley residents. A description of a Prankster 'performance' at The Barn from around November 11, 1966, can be found in Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, giving one of the few relatively contemporary accounts of The Barn.
November ?, 1966: The Experimental Building, Stanford University New Delhi River Band/Medoy Forest Indians
This date is approximated from a poorly scanned handbill, and some details are very hard to determine. In Fall 1966, there were a number of interesting shows at Stanford University, but by 1967 such events were limited exclusively to Frost Amphitheatre on Saturday afternoons for the next few decades. For a brief period in the 1966-67 school year, the sprawling, then mostly empty Stanford campus was subject to some peculiar events that were probably pretty interesting, if anyone could retain a coherent memory.
One eyewitness (Greg Troll) does remember this gig fondly, if vaguely, though he thinks it was Spring ’67, and an April 8, 1967 event at the same place is known, so perhaps the band played there twice. I can't figure out where the 'Experimental Building' might have been. I do know there was a lot of construction on the Stanford campus at the time, and some underused buildings may have been ripe for unauthorized activities.
The Medoy Forest Indians were a long-gone Native American tribe from the region. I can't say for certain exactly what the reference might have been.
November 18-19, 1966: The Barn, Scotts Valley Big Brother and The Holding Company/New Delhi River Band/Mercy Street Blues Machine
Peter Albin of Big Brother distinctly recalled these shows. Nelson and Peter Albin had been friends as South Bay teenagers, and indeed Albin had been with Nelson when he first met Jerry Garcia in Kepler's Book's in Menlo Park. I asked Albin if he recalled Big Brother playing The Barn, and he was kind enough to recollect:
For sure in November of 66 because we borrowed a VW double-cab pick-up from our landlady of the Argentina House in Lagunitas (we lived there between July 66 & January 67). We had problems with the truck. It was a rainy weekend and all the truck had to protect our equipment in the back was a sort of covered-wagon sort of affair which allowed water to collect in the bed of the truck. On the way back, we either blew the engine or transmission (I can't remember which) that we had to get repaired. So we didn't make much money that weekend. One of the times we played the Barn was with the New Delhi River Band, and another time was with the Congress of Wonders.Since the other Big Brother date at The Barn was February 25, 1967, and the NDRB were playing elsewhere, this seems to be the weekend they played together. Nelson and Albin had played folk festivals around the South Bay in the previous two years; now they were both playing loud, electric blues.
The Barn was a two-story structure, with the main performance space (which was also a basketball court) upstairs. The downstairs was a sort of coffee shop, but sometimes there were performers there as well. The Mercy Street Blues Machine, also known as The Hershey Gumbo Band, was a sort of free jazz/performance art ensemble put together by Chris Recker and a partner (Ralph Sanders). Due to their association with the New Delhi River Band, they performed at various shows with the NDRB at The Barn, including for certain one of the nights Big Brother played, since Recker recalls an encounter with a friendly but mystified Janis Joplin. Chris Recker has told me the whole, unvarnished story of The Mercy Street Blues Machine, but it is too 60s and too unbelievable to tell in part, so I will save the entire story for a blog post on another occasion.
|A Joe Lyzowski poster for The Barn in Scotts Valley, featuring The New Delhi River Band (Fri Dec 16) and The Anonymous Artists Of America (Sat Dec 17)|
December 16, 1966: The Barn, Scotts Valley New Delhi River Band
From what evidence we have, the New Delhi River Band seems to have had a regular Friday night booking at The Barn throughout the Fall of 1966. Without evidence to the contrary, I have to guess they played just about every Friday night, and some of the Saturday nights too. I'm not yet aware of non-Barn gigs in the Fall of '66, save for the Stanford show, the date of which is uncertain. However, while I expect there must have been some non-Barn shows, the truth was that there were few 'underground' places in the South Bay for electric bands to play in 1966. That would change dramatically within the next few months, however.
December 31, 1966: The Barn, Scotts Valley, CA New Delhi River Band/Anonymous Artists of America
From the evidence I have, it seems that the regular Friday night booking at The Barn at the end of 66 and the beginning of 1967 was held by the New Delhi River Band, and Saturday nights were covered by The Anonymous Artists Of America. The Anonymous Artists of America lived in a commune in La Honda called Rancho Diablo. When the Merry Pranksters abandoned the Santa Cruz Mountains, they gave much of their equipment to the AAA. One of the members of the group was Sara Ruppenthal Garcia, Jerry Garcia’s soon-to-be ex-wife.
The AAA was a very strange sounding group, by their own admission not very good at the time, but they were definitely way out there. Their story, too, is a strange and complicated '60s story that defies reality, so I will refrain from telling it all. Nonetheless, the Anonymous Artists had a Palo Alto genesis as well, and Sara had been Nelson's roommate in Waverley Street just a year earlier. With Kesey's bus parked outside The Barn, and two bands with folkie Palo Alto roots holding down the fort each weekend, the Santa Cruz Mountains were becoming a significant outpost for bohemian psychedelia, a title the area retains to this day.
On New Year's Eve 1966, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service had headlined an all-night extravaganza at the Fillmore Auditorium, about which only the foggiest of memories survive. However, although San Francisco was the center of the psychedelic rock explosion, things were breaking out all over. 16 months earlier, Jerry Garcia had been living in Waverley Street in Palo Alto and playing South Bay dives with the Warlocks, and now the Grateful Dead were headlining a sort of concert that literally hadn't existed then. That very same night, two of his former Waverley Street roommates (one of them his ex-wife), were headlining a similar, if smaller event just 75 miles to the South. No doubt the event at The Barn went on very late as well, but there are not even fragmentary records of the event.
By the end of 1966, the New Delhi River Band seemed to be following a path carved out by the Grateful Dead. The band was playing it's own brand of blues, it was the anchor attraction at it's own venue, and the group members were becoming professional musicians while seeming to conform to no previous model for the music industry. Those few who recall The Barn from this period recall it intensely and fondly, and the New Delhi River Band's driving blues were the soundtrack to a magical time in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
the next installment of the history of the New Delhi River Band can be seen here