Monday, January 27, 2014

# 25 Monterey & The Butterfield Flag Smackdown

    The Monterey Pop Festival isn't the first Rock Festival, but other than Woodstock, it's the one that captures the imagination of most fans. In fact, just days before the gates open at Monterey, the Fantasy Faire, and Magic Mountain Music Festival are held across the Golden Gate Bridge, at Mt. Tamalpis. These festivals are two day events showcasing eleven bands, ranging from Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish to the soulful  pop sounds of Dionne Warwick and Smokey Robinson. They aren't large festivals, and I only mention them here because they are the festivals that establish Rock as a music which can generate large profits for artists and organizers.

   The initial idea for the Monterey Pop Festival comes from millionaire businessman Alan Pariser. He and other local business partners (including Bill Graham from the Fillmore) agree to invest in the new business enterprise. They hire a press agent, commission a wood cut logo of Pan Blowing the Pipes, and book: the Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds, Buffalo SpirngfieldQuicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead, and Ravi Shankar as the artist lineup. They also use their connection with photographer Barry Feinstein to access Albert Grossman's stable of artists which includes: Al KooperJanis JoplinThe Electric Flag, and the Butterfield Blues Band. These organizers are successful businessmen with a love of money and music, but in spite of all their expertise, they are still vulnerable to outside forces. 

    When Pariser and Feinstein approach John Philips of the Mamas and the Papas fame, the planning for the festival takes a twist. Philips pushes Pariser out of the project altogether, and raises capital from his own resources. Then, he enlists top producer Lou Adler with the explicit intention of luring members, and want to be members of the very popular counter culture movement to the festival. Philips even writes a theme song, Are You Going to San Francisco, and hires Scott McKenzie to record it with Adler acting as the producer. These new festival organizers calculate a crowd of 50 to 90 thousand people, including special treatment for label executives and A. & R. people. However, they face a final hurdle. They need to sell the idea to the high profile members of the counter culture conscious arts community in San Francisco.

    Most of the San Francisco rock bands play the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom, and they are also very suspicious of any representatives of the Hollywood establishment, labeling them "Hollywood Hippies". This presents a problem for the Philips/Adler camp, who know that their values are not in sync with most of the San Francisco artist community. They also understand that without the support of the local counter culture community, and media, they will not have a successful festival. So, in a effort to solve the problem, they develop a two prong strategy.

    First, they send New York singer/songwriter Paul Simon to San Francisco, he is assigned the task of convincing members of the Grateful Dead of the festival's validity. Secondly, Lou Adler is dispatched to convince the city's most influential rock journalists, Ralph Gleason and Jann Wenner that the festival will be good for everyone concerned. I don't doubt that part of the sales pitch includes mention of the festival documentary which will be directed by D. A. Pennabaker, and released internationally in 1968.

    The public relations campaigns are a success, and the Philips/Adler camp manages to negotiate a middle ground with promises of some profit from the festival going to provide scholarships for musicians, and workshops on copy write law to the arts community. These promises win over the key players in the arts community, ensuring the festival's success.

   So, it is confirmed that the Monterey Pop Festival will take place on June 16th, 17th, & the 18th, of 1967. It will be the largest rock festival in history, and open the door for promoters, and artists to see that rock, and big festivals can be lucrative businesses. In the coming decades rock festivals around the world will gross billions of dollars, and change the direction of Rock music forever.

    Now, cynics may conclude that the Monterey Pop Festival is the turning point where, even before the Summer of Love can get started, the anti-establishment values of the counter culture started in '65, are victims of  assimilation by their arch enemy, the corporate culture.  However, it should be mentioned that the festival does open eyes, and ears to those values promoted by the counter culture. It also catapults young artists like Janis Joplin, Jimi HendrixThe Who and many other artists, from relative obscurity into the new status of "Rock Star". In addition, other well established artists like the Butterfield band also benefit from the festival, both artistically as well as financially.

    In middle of the festival's business story there are many other subplots unfolding. Monterey will be an important opportunity for the new Butterfield Blues Band to prove their mettle in the face of the unpopular news of Bloomfield's departure from the band. It will be a tricky operation because the band is really only a few months old. In addition to the three new members, the repertoire is rearranged to reflect the new Rhythm & Blues influence, and Elvin Bishop is in the very important role of lead guitarist. So, there is an intense pressure for the band to perform better than they have done at any time in the past, with special emphasis on Butterfield as the front man.

    Adding to this pressure, the band must face a campaign by the relatively new rock press who want to use the Bloomfield exit to sell papers. Some of them see a story in Butterfield's situation, and plan to take advantage of it. They manufacture a story about a competition between the Butterfield Blues Band, and the Electric Flag. One paper even suggests that the "great light" of Butterfield's band is Bloomfield, and "that light is dimmed without him". In an move directed toward supporting the battle of the bands promotion, festival organizers have positioned the Butterfield band between Al Kooper, who has recently left Blues Project, and headliners the Electric Flag.  It is a manufacted story of a conflict between artists where no artistic conflict exists. What the press does not mention is the tamer reality, that the artists in the story are in fact friends, and harbor much professional respect for each other.

    So, once the two bands complete their performances, the post game commentary begins. Predictably,while the press seem to favour the Electric Flag, they also suggest a division of opinion, even uncertain, and of course encourage readers to discuss the issues by reading their paper.  However, some knowledgeable people who do not express their opinions to the media of the day, do open up years later. They have another perspective on how the Butterfield Blues Band versus The Electric Flag smack down unfolds.

    Bill Graham doesn't think The Electric Flag lives up to its expectations.

    “I always thought that the Butterfield Blues Band sort of glued naturally, that the musicians just fit, as opposed to the Electric Flag.  The Flag was put together for music business purposes. It wasn’t a natural evolution that ended up being good because it seemed to fall that way. Listening to Butter’s band , it just seemed right.  Everything about them, from the time they walked on the stage, it was real.  It wasn’t a little powder, add water. It was all real. That’s a group of musicians who played that kind of music, and that’s what they do, that’s who they are. As opposed to going shopping for a saxophone player or a drummer or a keyboard player, and then trying to make things fit.
    There was a difference between the two for me, even though they can say, “Hey, we’re funky, and we want to get it on and lay it out.”  I just didn’t feel the same about the band.”  (Wolkin 148)

Butterfield's keyboardist Mark Naftalin is more diplomatic,

......” I don’t think that I felt that what was created there was as satisfying a vehicle for his (Bloomfield) talents as what I had known him before. Which was the Butterfield Blues Band.   I thought the Flag was a very adequate vehicle for his talent.  I just think a blues artist will shine more where there’s more blues artistry in the setting.  And if you’re playing with someone like Paul Butterfield, you’re not going to get any more of a concentration of the blues artistry, in my opinion, unless you might happen to have a Jr. Wells of something like that.  And so, in terms of context, that’s a hard thing to replace. (Wolkin 147)

    Regardless of what anyone concludes about the individual manufactured conflicts, or the performances, the Monterey Pop Festival  is a huge success. Almost fifty years after the event, owners of the images, and recordings are still collecting royalties. Also, music fans, as well as industry representatives, discover many new artists over the three days, and many great memories are created by the event.

   The festival is also good for Butterfield's career as it allows him a quicker assent up the ladder toward more success. As a result of the publicity he receives from the festival performance: the demand for his band increases, they become headliners, touring becomes more incessant, they can charge more for performances, and can now hire roadies as well as a road manager. Business is good for the Butterfield Blues Band before Monterey, and even better after it! In addition, he is writing and recording new material for the release of his third album due in November. 

    But the success comes with a price tag. Butterfield has recently bought a house in Woodstock,N.Y., he has married again, and has a baby son at home, but he is rarely home to enjoy them. It is the invisible side of artists involved with the instability of going out on the road to sell a product. Billy Davenport knows this feeling, and has had enough, shortly after Monterey he hands in his resignation, and packs up to return home.

The Butterfield Blues Band live at The  Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967.

1) Born In Chicago2) Tollin’ Bells, 3) One More Heartache, 4) Look Over Yonders Wall, 5) Droppin’ Out, 6) Marianne.

Paul Butterfield: vocals and harmonica, Elvin Bishop: guitar, Mark Naftalin: keyboards, Gene Dinwiddie: tenor sax, Keith Johnson: trumpet, Bugsy Maugh: bass, Billy Davenport: drums.

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