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Monday, February 13, 2012


Like many fringe folkies, beatniks, and downright weirdos, the San Francisco chaps that made up the Charlatans were transformed by the arrival of The Beatles in the United States in early 1964. The group, along with the hit making (yet "scene-excluded") Beau Brummels, were the two groups that began the San Francisco sound. What the Beau Brummels had in tightness and professionalism, the Charlatans were sloppy, freaky and downright anarchic.

The group were also stylistic trendsetters in their appearances in Victorian and western garb; Victorian vintage clothing became a ubiquitous part of the 'Frisco scene, and Jon Lundberg's music store in Berkeley became the epicenter as not only THE place for bay area musicians to buy their instruments, but also Lundberg's had racks of vintage clothing which was completely innovative and took the scene by storm.

The Charlatans took on a summer '65 residency at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, NV; typically the type of situation where a group hones their chops and "gets it together". In the case of the Charlatans, they took a bunch of acid, had a good time and probably improved a little bit musically without losing their sloppy charms that are heard on this single.

After a disastrous stint as Autumn Records recording artists that yielded no record, The Charlatans were signed to Kama Sutra Records. Seemingly a fitting home for the group as KS was also home to the Lovin' Spoonful, label A&R refused to release the groups intended first single, a cover of Buffy St Marie's "Cod'ine". This song was pulled from the sessions and released to commercial failure. The group's 1966 LP remained unreleased until 1986, and though they limped along and released an LP in 1969, the charm was gone. Guitarist Mike Wilhelm continued on as a member of Loose Gravel and The Flamin' Groovies, and Dan Hicks (initially on drums, then later guitarist) went on to great success with his Hot Licks.

I saw the reformed Charlatans in 2005 at the Chet Helms memorial concert in Golden Gate Park, and they were loose, anarchic, and rollicking. Just as they shoulda been.

from 1966...


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JohnnyDiego said...

I first saw the Charlatans in San Francisco in 1968. I'm not exactly sure where the ballroom was. I don't think it was the Filmore, although we were sitting on the floor and it was a Bill Graham concert.
Being new in town I knew them only by reputation but I was impressed by the variation of outfits but not overly impressed by the music.
They weren't the primary reason I was at that concert. Since it was produced by Bill Graham the line up along with The Charlatans included Thelonious Monk and Doctor John (the Night Tripper.)
That type of musical lineup wasn't unusual for a Graham concert. I remember seeing Frumious Bandersnatch, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and The Edwin Hawkins Singers ("Oh Happy Day") together at the Filmore.

Thanks for the post.

Apesville said...

I thought The Paul Peek (Ex Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps) "The Shadow Knows" (1966) Columbia (NY) 45 - 43771 would have been more up your soul street. For me Link Wray "The Shadow Knows (1964) Swan (PA) 45 - 4171 is the killer but The Charlatans version is great & the guitarist must be a Link fan.

Anonymous said...

Kind of reminding me of v. early Captain Beefheart no?