Avalon Calendar Jams: The Blues Project

If you think back to 2008, you’ll recall that I made a series of posts based on artists featured on a blues calendar I was using that year. I thought that was pretty interesting; it introduced me to some new music, and, judging by the hits I got for those posts, most of you seemed to enjoy it as well.

Last year I used a Spanish language scenic view calendar so, unfortunately, I wasn’t really able to do anything related to my purpose here. My 2010 calendar, though, is a collection of posters from the heyday of San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom, so I thought I’d return with a similar series of posts

A very brief history of the Avalon: The place was originally built in 1911 as the Colin Traver Academy of Dance. In April 1966 Chet Helms and Family Dog Productions, along with Robert E. Cohen, reopened the building as the Avalon Ballroom, where local bands such as the Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Steve Miller Band performed in the 500-person capacity ballroom. Janis Joplin supposedly made her first public appearance at the Avalon in June 1966.

To advertise these gigs, Cohen and Helms hired artists such as Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, and Stanley Mouse to create posters. Over time, of course, these posters would become classics of the genre. Hence my 2010 calendar.

January’s poster, done by Wilson, advertises an April 1966 three-night stand by the Blues Project and the Great Society. A quick Wes Wilson bio: Born in 1937, he attended school at San Francisco State, but dropped out in 1963. His very first published poster was a swastika within an American flag motif, a protest of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Living in San Francisco, Wilson was part of the scene there and soon began making handbills for the San Francisco Mime Troup and the Merry Pranksters. He eventually also began making posters for Helms, which would lead to his being involved with Family Dog Productions and creating promotional posters for the Avalon.

Wilson is generally credited with developing the design that is now known as the psychedelic poster. His style of filling all available space with lettering, creating fluid forms from letters, and using flowing letters to create shapes became the standard that most psychedelic artists followed. (For more information about Wilson, including how to purchase some of his work, click over to his Website.)

The Blues Project, which is the main subject of this month’s poster, had a lifespan about the same as that of the Avalon Ballroom (the Avalon would close in November 1968). They formed in 1965 and split in 1967. Most of the original members were – or would become – renowned session men: Danny Kalb, Al Kooper, Steve Katz, Tommy Flanders, Andy Kulberg, and Roy Blumenfeld. Projections, the band’s second album – and first studio album – was also the last with the original members. Kooper left after that release, followed in quick succession by Katz and Kalb.

During their life, the Blues Project garnered a reputation as a jam band; some critics would even refer to them as New York’s answer to the Grateful Dead. The Projections album featured an 11-minute version of “Two Trains Running,” which showcased their improvisational tendencies. I’ve got that song for you today, as well as a lesser-known song called “Cheryl’s Going Home.” The reason I picked “Cheryl” is because I originally heard that song performed by “rock and roll’s greatest failure,” John Otway. Take my word for it; his version is drastically different from the Blues Projects’.

Two Trains Running.mp3
Cheryl’s Going Home.mp3

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