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The Charlatans
Origin San Francisco, California, United States
Genres Psychedelic rock
Folk rock
Years active 1964 – 1969
Labels Kapp, Philips, Groucho, Eva, Big Beat, One Way, Acadia
Associated acts Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, Loose Gravel, Tongue and Groove, The Flamin' Groovies
Former members
George Hunter
Richard Olsen
Mike Wilhelm
Mike Ferguson
Dan Hicks
Sam Linde
Patrick Gogerty
Terry Wilson
Darrell DeVore

The Charlatans were an influential psychedelic rock band that played a role in the development of the San Francisco music scene in the 1960s and are cited as being the first group to play in the style that became known as the San Francisco Sound.[1] Exhibiting more pronounced jug band, country and blues influences than many bands from the same scene, the Charlatans’ rebellious attitude and distinctive, late 19th century fashions exerted a major influence on the Summer of Love in San Francisco.[2] Their recorded output was small, with their first album, The Charlatans, not being released until 1969 (see 1969 in music), some years after the band's heyday. The band is also notable for featuring the first commercial appearance of Dan Hicks, later of Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks.

Contents

Early Years: 1964–1965

Formed in the summer of 1964, by amateur avant-garde musician George Hunter and music major Richard Olsen, the earliest line up of The Charlatans featured George Hunter (autoharp, vocals), Olsen (bass, vocals), Mike Wilhelm (lead guitar, vocals), Mike Ferguson (piano/keyboards, vocals), and Sam Linde (drums). Linde's drumming was felt to be substandard by the rest of the band and he was soon replaced by Dan Hicks (drums, vocals).[2]

The group was known for their style of dress, clothing themselves in late 19th century attire, as if they were Victorian dandies or Wild West gunslingers. This eye-catching choice of clothing was influential on the emerging hippie counter-culture, with young San Franciscans dressing in similarly late Victorian and early Edwardian era clothing.[1][2]

In June, 1965, the Charlatans began an extended residency at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, just across the border from Northern California. This six week stint was important for two reasons; Firstly, band members Mike Ferguson and George Hunter produced a rock concert poster in advance of the residency to promote the performances. This poster — known as "The Seed" — is almost certainly the first psychedelic concert poster.[3] By the end of the decade, psychedelic concert poster artwork by artists such as Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, and Victor Moscoso had become a mainstay of San Francisco's music scene.

(NOTE: there were two "Seed" posters, which look almost identical. They are differentiated by the date. The first lists the band as playing "June 1–15", while the second states, "Opening June 21". The second "Seed" poster can be seen here.)

The second reason that the Charlatans' extended stay at the Red Dog Saloon was important was that, immediately before their first performance at the club, the band members took LSD. This was the first time that a musical group had performed under the influence of LSD. As a result, the Charlatans are sometimes called the first acid rock band, although their sound is not representative of the feedback-drenched, improvisational music that would later come to define acid rock.

The Charlatans returned to San Francisco at the end of the summer of 1965 and, in September, were given the chance to audition for Autumn Records, a label headed by local DJ, Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue. Autumn didn't sign the band, partly due to conflicts between the group and Donahue over suitable material and partly due to lack of money; the label was on the verge of bankruptcy and was sold to Warner Bros. Records early the following year.

Later Years: 1966–1969

The failed Autumn Records audition proved to be only a minor setback as The Charlatans signed with Kama Sutra Records in early 1966. As home to the Lovin' Spoonful, one of the earliest folk rock bands to find international success, the group thought the label would be the ideal home for their music. However, after the band had recorded a number of songs for the record label and chosen the song "Codine" as their debut single, the record company vetoed the release, due to the song’s drug connotations.[4] Ironically, the tune penned by folk artist Buffy Sainte-Marie spoke of the dangers of drugs, rather than promoting their use, but Kama Sutra was adamant and refused to release the song.[5]

Two songs from the Kama Sutra sessions were released as the band's first single ("The Shadow Knows" with "32-20" on the B-side) by Kapp Records in 1966, in a very rare promotional-only picture sleeve. Unfortunately, Kapp Records failed to adequately promote the release and the single was a commercial flop.[2] The remaining songs recorded during the Kama Sutra sessions for The Charlatans’ debut album remained unreleased until they were officially issued for the first time by Big Beat Records in 1996, on the album The Amazing Charlatans.

Mike Ferguson was fired from the Charlatans in 1967 and replaced by Patrick Gogerty. Additionally, Terry Wilson was brought in to take over as drummer after Dan Hicks moved to rhythm guitar, enabling him to sing his compositions as a front man for the group. Hicks eventually left the group in 1968 to form his own band, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks and Gogerty was fired from the band.

Tensions between George Hunter and the rest of the band escalated throughout 1968 until Mike Wilhelm, Richard Olsen and Terry Wilson decided to disband the group, reforming soon after without inviting founding member George Hunter back into the band.[2] The Charlatans recruited new member, Darrell DeVore (piano/keyboards, vocals), and soon secured a recording contract with Philips Records. The band released one album with Philips in 1969, titled simply The Charlatans. Unfortunately, the album was a commercial failure, largely due to the band's sound being somewhat outdated by 1969, with the commercial explosion of San Francisco rock having passed them by.[1]

Breakup and Reunions

Following the release of The Charlatans, drummer Terry Wilson was forced to leave the band in order to begin serving a prison sentence for marijuana possession. The original quintet of Hunter, Olsen, Wilhelm, Ferguson and Hicks reunited briefly during the summer of 1969 but by the end of the year, The Charlatans had broken up for good.[2]

After the breakup, Mike Wilhelm went on to front the band Loose Gravel from 1969 until 1976, before becoming a member of The Flamin' Groovies during the late 70s and early 80s. Richard Olsen became a producer at Pacific High Studios and latterly formed the swing group Richard Olsen & His Big Band. George Hunter founded the Globe Propaganda design company and his artwork appeared on many LP covers including Happy Trails (Quicksilver Messenger Service), Hallelujah (Canned Heat) and It's A Beautiful Day (It's a Beautiful Day). Mike Ferguson joined Lynne Hughes, a barmaid from the Red Dog Saloon, in the band Tongue and Groove.[6]

In 1996, a documentary was released entitled The Life and Times of the Red Dog Saloon (also known as Rockin' at the Red Dog: The Dawn of Psychedelic Rock), in which the surviving members of the Charlatans (Ferguson died in 1979 from complications from diabetes) were interviewed about their heady days at the Red Dog. The following year, the Charlatans rehearsed for a series of top secret gigs at the legendary Sweetwater club in Mill Valley, followed by a series of reunion performances at the Fillmore. The band, composed of Hunter, Hicks, Wilhelm, and Olsen, were not heard from again until 2005, when they performed at a memorial concert for Family Dog founder Chet Helms in Golden Gate Park. The foursome returned to Golden Gate Park on September 2, 2007 for what would be their final performance to date, at a free concert commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco.

Despite their lackluster recording career, The Charlatans earned a unique place in the history of rock and roll. Being the first of the underground San Francisco bands of the mid-1960s, their importance is felt by the dozens of successful Bay Area bands that emerged later in the decade, and by all the bands that those groups influenced.

Discography

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Albums

Compilations

Unofficial Compilations

  • The Charlatans (1979, released as a limited edition picture disc)
  • The Autumn Demo (1980)
  • Alabama Bound (1983)
  • The Charlatans/Alabama Bound (1992)

Singles

  • "The Shadow Knows"/"32-20" (1966)
  • "High Coin"/"When I Go Sailin' By" (1969)

References

  1. ^ a b c www.allmusic.com[1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f The Amazing Charlatans (1996 CD liner notes)
  3. ^ www.professorposter.com [2]
  4. ^ www.danhicks.net[3]
  5. ^ Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 (1998 CD box set liner notes)
  6. ^ www.allmusic.com[4]

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