I turned forty recently and realized something that I found intriguing. When I was 15 in 1992, the legendary music year of 1967 was just as many years in the past as 1992 is for me now. Maybe it’s the perspective of having lived in it, but the musical landscape of the early 90’s do not seem as entrenched and gilded to me now as the Summer of Love, Acid Tests and Monterey Pop festival did to me when I was 15. Growing up in the Bay Area, there were plenty landmarks of the 1960’s counterculture, but Portland music history seems to jump from the Kingsmen of “Louie Louie” fame to the dire post punk of The Wipers.
There is a wealth of amazing information online about the Portland music scene in the late sixties. Blogs documenting when the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin or The Doors hit town and there is even an excellent scholarly essay about local bands at the time. Using these sources and The Oregonian archives, I came up with a live music itinerary for the first week of December, 1967 in Portland.
I don’t read the Oregonian to check out music, so maybe it’s coverage hasn’t changed in fifty years, but it was pretty much show tunes, classical and big band jazz. I was intrigued by Cindy Layne and Don Palmer at the Keyhole on NE 102nd and Halsey. From the small amount I could find online, it seems like they were a husband and wife musical comedy act where the gag was that she was a 6 foot tall blond and he wasn’t. Being signed by Joey Bishop means that they were sponsored by the least known member of the “Rat Pack” at its nadir. Not really my thing, but I bet the drinks were stiff at the Keyhole.
Frat Boy Garage Rock
The Longhorn at NE 94th and Sandy had a house band called Prince Charles and the Crusaders. They were a legitimate group at the time whose members also played as The Ultimate and The Dart. Drummer and vocalist Gary Nieland appears to have been playing shows throughout Oregon until at least the early 2000’s. Based upon their R&B sound and kitschy medieval garb, they were part of a Northwest garage rock trend that Steve Bradley of the Portland blues rock group U.S. Cadenza described as follows:
“It was all that act, those uniforms, the three-cornered hat deal . . . Papa Oo Mau Mau, Jolly Green Giant, Long Tall Texan, Louie Louie, Twist & Shout, white frat boy R&B kind of things . . . I mean, it’s cool that the Raiders and the Kingsmen are doing it because they invented that sound, but there’s 100 other bands that are like carbon copies. It was just appalling. Get out of here with it.”
But hey, if they were playing every night at the Longhorn, Prince Charles and the Crusaders had to be a tight band, right? Their 45 “Mr. Love” / “Lights of the Town” is listed at a steep price on Discogs, but you can listen to the A side on an archived WFMU setlist here. It sounds good and if you were comfortable drinking some Blitz-Weinhard beer with the crew-cut set, this could be a fun night.
If You Remember It, You Weren’t Really There
Portland was a stop for the big west coast acid rock acts, with Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape all visiting in 1967. The Crystal Ballroom was an important venue for Portland hippies when it reopened that January. The first major out of town act was Bay Area group Sopwith Camel, who supposedly did not get paid, which was sometimes an issue at the Crystal back then. A lesser known venue was The Masonic Temple at 1119 SW Park, now the home of the Portland Art Museum. The Grateful Dead played their first advertised Portland show at the Masonic in July, although there are rumors of an “acid test” performance a few months earlier in Old Town. 1967 was the breakout year for the counterculture nationally and Portland was no exception. That December there were two great options for seeing heavy hitters of the era with the Doors at Memorial Coliseum on the 2nd and B.B. King at the Crystal the next night.
Keep It Local
Boasting a strong downtown music scene of it’s own, Portland was more than a destination for big rock acts in 1967. In her illuminating essay, Music on the Cusp: From Folk to Acid Rock in Portland Coffeehouses 1967-69, author Valerie Brown documents the bands and venues of the time. Due to Oregon’s byzantine liquor laws, only a handful of establishments could sell alcohol and allow live music (or even dancing) at the time, opening the door for so-called coffeehouses to be the destination for local bands. In a strange twist, the Greater Portland Council of Churches (GPCC), were one of the most important forces in the coffeehouse scene, operating The Catacombs in the basement of the First Congregational Church at 1126 SW Park and The Charix at the Unitarian Church on SW 12th and Salmon. The GPCC got involved in order to provide social service outreach to the significant amount of teenage runaways and homeless young adults living downtown. Local bands with a blues or acid rock style such as the Portland Zoo Electric Band, U.S. Cadenza and Nazzare Blues Band were the lure to bring the kids in, and it worked too well. City officials singled out the coffeehouses as the root of an out of control hippie scene growing in Portland. By 1968 most of the coffeehouses were closed, including the commercially operated Cafe Espresso, which was owned by Walter Cole who would go on to fame as the proprietor and personality behind female impersonator cabaret Darcelle’s XV.
In early December of 1967, the coffeehouse scene was still in full swing, so who better to see than the Charix’s house band Portland Zoo? According to a spread in Portland State’s Vanguard they were playing every Wednesday and Saturday to what must have been packed houses of hippie kids at the time. Based upon interviews in Valerie Brown’s essay, the goal for Portland bands in the coffeehouse scene was to keep it local and not try to get big. Portland Zoo member Sharyle Patton said,
“We looked at the bands that were really trying hard to make it professionally and being on the road to make money and make the records, and I think Peter (Langston) and I had a kind of funny idea that we wanted to play the best possible music . . . but we weren’t really interested in being rock stars. . . . We didn’t want to be on the road being pasty-faced and not getting enough sleep and having to deal with all the pressures of that.”
Mike Cross of Nazzare Blues Band echoed this sentiment.
“In those days it wasn’t competitive. . . . It was so much about the music and so little about commerce, that never got to become part of the equation. It was friendship dead-on right from the start. We were united in a musical adventure.”
It is safe to say that the outlook of these bands have been a major aspect of the Portland music scene since then. Whether it be early 90’s bands like Hazel and Crackerbash who turned their scene inward in the face of the grunge explosion, Dead Moon’s long bond with their hometown or the countless small local groups who have been in it for the music and the fun as opposed to stardom.
Early December of 1967 provided plenty of options to rock out in Portland. Even though our city has become a hip destination spot recently, there is a long music history worth looking into. If you’re interested in learning more check out the below sources that I used for this post.
Blog Rock Prosopography 101 documents mostly West Coast concerts from the sixties and seventies in detail and images of concert posters.
Valerie Brown’s essay on the Portland coffeehouse scene is a treasure trove of local music history. You can read it for free by registering on JSTOR at https://www.jstor.org.
Music on the Cusp: From Folk to Acid Rock in Portland Coffeehouses 1967-69, by Valerie Brown, Oregon Historical Quarterly Vol. 108, No. 2 (Summer 2007)
The Oregonian issues December 1, 1967 to December 7, 1967
Website Pacific Northwest Bands