On the Strip in ’68–

1968–Looking back it was a snapshot in time, a bygone era that you would only really know if you had experienced it yourself. Summer had come. It was after my freshman year in college. I had gone right back to my old ways, hanging on the Strip, being exposed to a whole lot more than anyone my age should have been. Did some after-hour gigs (1:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.) back when we were a bunch of garage band wannabes. The standard had already been set by the best of us, The Yellow Payges (https://theyellowpaygesband.com/home). I had met some players, Flo, Eddie, Chris Hilman, and Arthur Lee, mostly at the Kaleidoscope. (I had started going there two years earlier when it was the Hullabaloo.) Back then, seeing and experiencing the Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield, Canned Heat, the Turtles, the Airplane, the Doors, Love, the Iron Butterfly, Eric, Janis, and a studio band by the name of the Robbs seemed commonplace, almost taken for granted. We were just minnows in the sea of humanity making the street scene. Some people were cruising, some were just standing around, some were in lines, while others, were trying to see through the aroma packed clouds of smoke filling the interiors of all those music emporiums. We couldn’t get into some. We were still too young. Yet we managed to catch some concerts at the bowl and of course, traveled to the OC to be a part of the Newport Pop Festival in August. (It sure wasn’t Monterey the year before).

June 21-22, 1968 The Byrds/Crazy World Of Arthur Brown/Frumious Bandersnatch
The Byrds at this time featured their Sweetheart Of The Rodeo lineup. The album had been recorded but not yet released. The Byrds consisted of Roger McGuinn, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Kevin Kelley and non-member Doug Dillard (on banjo)

July 6, 1968 The Doors/Spirit
Spirit, then a rising underground band in Los Angeles, were listed on the poster along with a variety of other (possibly whimsical) entertainments. The Doors headlined the Saturday night show. They had headlined the huge Hollywood Bowl the night before, so their presence at the relatively small Kaleidoscope could not have been advertised.

July 9-11, 1968 Canned Heat/Sly and The Family Stone/Sons of Champlin
According to Sons road manager Charlie Kelly, Canned Heat played only one song (“Refried Boogie”) for all six sets throughout the entire second weekend. They were recording a live album (ultimately released as Living The Blues).

July 12-13, 1968 Big Brother and The Holding Company/Rhinoceros
A photo exists of The Kaleidoscope, and this bill is visible on the marquee. It is the only photo I know of the Kaleidoscope incarnation of the building.

July 17, 1968 Don Ellis Orchestra
Billboard (July 13, 1968) says that Don Ellis will play Wednesdays at the Kaleidoscope for an “indefinite” engagement. This seems to confirm the LA Free Press ad. Of course, the peculiar nature of the Don Ellis Orchestra favored set residencies in Hollywood, unlike an ambitious band such as the Illinois Speed Press.

August 8, 1968 Canned Heat
Canned Heat kicked off a four-day around the clock film weekend festival, advertised in the Free Press. August 8 was a Thursday, so this seems to be another sign that the Kaleidoscope was having trouble booking headline acts.

August 16-17, 1968 Muddy Waters

August 23-25, 1968 Moby Grape/Group Therapy/Genesis/McCoys
The McCoys were from Indiana, and trying to live down their pop hit “Hang On Sloopy.” They made a try at being a psychedelic blues band.

August 30-31, 1968 Staple Singers/Genesis
Marc Skobac confirmed that this was the last Kaleidoscope show to be advertised in the Free Press, followed by a Sunday, September 1 showing of the movie Manchurian Candidate. The musical Hair started sometime in September.

The former Kaleidoscope was re-invented yet again, this time as The Aquarius Theater. A touring production of Hair, the first rock musical, ran for several nights a week for an extended period, starting sometime in September of 1968. Sometime in late 1969 or 1970, a stage version of The Who’s Tommy also ran for extended periods. The Aquarius was still used for occasional rock shows, when Hair wasn’t playing, or between musicals.

It was my year of living dangerously. I went to everyone of these concerts and more. If we were fortunate enough to be selected to play after-hours, we may have gotten home by 7:00 a.m. It was cool being up on the revolving stage. It was eye awakening behind it. This wasn’t some high school battle of the bands competition. There was a whole lot of growing up that summer. Everything was available. It was living on the edge. The trick was not to fall off. Fortunately, I didn’t. It took time to learn how to be a part and not a part. To be aware, stay in control, and not get “addicted,” both figureatively and literally. It was an exposure to a side of life that most would only see in a movie. I was into the music big time but not consumed by the rest of it. Before high school I had grown up in some rough neighborhoods. I knew not to let my guard down. It was all so strange, so “Surrealistic.” Here I was living on the fringe of the late 60s lifestyle while I had buds in “Nam.” Whether here or there, some of those friends I never saw again. Somehow, I survived. Some of them didn’t. We were just nineteen. We had experienced different dangers, careful to avoid the sporadic chaos and the swinging night sticks on the streets. It was a window in time that was only open for a moment. We took it all in, careful not to get out of line. Who better to describe the street scene than Stephen Stills:

“There’s Something Happening Here, What It is Ain’t Exactly Clear.”

Amen brother!!

(Details of the Kaleidoscope from ROCK PROSOPOGRAPHY 101)

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