SAN FRANCISCO – The Summer of Love in 1967 marked a turning point in rock and roll history: It introduced America to the exciting new sounds coming out of San Francisco’s local music scene.
There was the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company, which launched Janis Joplin’s career, and Country Joe and the Fish, another signature band of the era.
The Associated Press talked to members of these bands to discuss their memories of that legendary summer and how it shaped their careers and influenced their lives. Here’s what they said:
Bob Weir, 69. Grateful Dead, guitarist, vocals.
On how that summer shaped his life: “We were sort of forced into a divorce from what we’ll call the straight culture. They had a war going on that, Number One, didn’t look good to us, and then even worse boded quite ill for us. If I had fallen to the draft, I probably wouldn’t be here now. So what the straight culture had to offer for us, for me, was death. In our culture, in the Summer of Love, I had the life that I’ve lived to this day to look forward to.”
On making music history: “We were remaking the rules for music. I think we had a notion that we were remaking the rules a bit more than we actually ended up doing. But we did change music, our generation.”
On Jerry Garcia: “When I first met Jerry, he wasn’t a hippie. He was basically a banjo player. He was a talented guy, and a great guy to hang with and an accomplished musician. And I figured I could do a lot worse than hooking up with that guy and playing music because I could see that we could go places together.”
On Jimi Hendrix: “I found myself jamming with him at the Monterey Pop Festival backstage. I didn’t know who he was, and I don’t think he knew who I was. But we were plugged into the same amplifier and had a great time together basically destroying that amplifier. And we became friends after that.”
On fame: “Our great fame didn’t come right away, believe me. It was a long time in coming, which is one of the reasons that those of us who are still here are still here. Because we never got a chance to suffer from that ‘too much, too soon’ syndrome, which is almost invariably quite destructive.”
Country Joe McDonald, 75. Country Joe and the Fish, lead singer, guitar.
On the hippies: “The main thing about the Summer of Love and that period of history is that we were incredibly poor and disenfranchised. Our clothes were hand-me-downs, and our instruments were cheap musical instruments, and the artists were lucky to get paid $50 or $100 bucks. The bands were making $200 a night, split five, six, seven ways.
On the vibe at the time: “It was exciting. It was small, and it was new. It was empowering and inclusive. Anyone could participate and was encouraged to participate. It had something that people wanted. It was also a period of invention and creativity, and with each new creative moment and invention, our morale was boosted.”
On what led to the Summer of Love: “In 1965 and ’66 we had had enough. We couldn’t stand it anymore. We weren’t going to do what the status quo asked us to do. I grew up with a T-shirt with nothing on it. There was like one haircut for men. There was death in Vietnam, for black Americans, for minority Americans of all kinds. There was nothing for homosexuals except prison. For women, there was nothing except marriage and nursing, but there wasn’t opportunity. We created opportunity. We created a mindset.”
On how it shaped his life: “It gave me a life. I didn’t feel comfortable in the old life I had. I was part of it, I was successful in it. I was in the Navy, but I didn’t feel safe in my own skin and comfortable in it. There wasn’t a world for me to be part of, and now I’m part of history. I’m not just talking about some song I wrote that made a lot of money. I got so much more out of it than money.”
Dave Getz, 77. Big Brother and the Holding Company, drummer.
On the scene in San Francisco: “It was a cultural movement of artists, musicians, dancers, the gay culture, the writers. It was just all kinds of people interacting with each other and discovering each other and dropping acid. It was just a real exciting time. It was a revelatory time, and there was this great energy happening.”
On how the Summer of Love changed that scene: “By the spring of 1967, everybody knew that there was going to be an influx of people … that there was going to be this mass invasion of young people in San Francisco. Nobody was really sure whether that was a good thing, or what would happen. It was what it was.”
On bandmate Janis Joplin: “After Monterey (Pop Festival), from 1968 on, it really became inevitable that she was going to go off and be a star. … I think it would have happened anyway, because she was just destined for greatness.”
“I think toward the end, she was starting to become somewhat of a caricature of this certain part of her personality … some part of herself that wasn’t quite real anymore. Because she was a much more complex person than that. She wasn’t Mae West. She was something else. She was very, very intelligent, very literate and very thoughtful on some other level. She just had a lot of sides to her that I thought maybe she was burying under this other image of herself, this sort of swaggering Mae West boozy character.”
On one epic night at the band’s house in late ’66: “We had a massive party when we knew we were going to move out. And all the people from the different bands came and it was like a big jam session. It was a great moment where everybody got high and everybody drank a lot. There was a lot of playing and animals running around. One of the things I remember was that someone brought a goat, and the goat ate my bedspread. I got back to my room in the morning, there was half a bedspread and a goat walking around the place.”
On how that era affected him: “I think there were moments at the time when I kind of thought to myself, ‘This will be the seminal moment of my life. And take it in, because it’s never going to be the same.’”
David Freiberg, 78. Quicksilver Messenger Service, bassist and vocals. Joined Jefferson Airplane in the early 1970s.
On the Summer of Love: “It just felt like walking down the street was magic. Just to be there was amazing.”
On the Haight-Ashbury: “For a while, it was kind of like everyone was there, doing their own thing, whether you were a poet, an artist, everybody existed in an enlightened state of existence. It felt very special.”
“It felt like a community for that short period of time until everybody got so big that they never saw each other anymore.”
On what changed the Haight-Ashbury: “It was doomed as soon as it made the cover of Time magazine, as soon as the (tour) buses pulled up with people to look at Haight Street.”
On the 50th anniversary: “It seems kind of tame to be marking the Summer of Love with museum exhibits and looking at posters.”