Tag Archives: Spokane Memorial Coliseum

A Steppenwolf Riot

Image found on Internet

Steppenwolf circa 1969. Image found on Internet.

With a string of hit singles and an album in 1968, two of which, The Pusher, and Born To Be Wild, were to soon be featured in the soon to be released movie Easy Rider starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, the band Steppenwolf scheduled a concert in Spokane’s Memorial Coliseum for February 5, 1969 advertising the concert in the Spokane Natural’s late January edition. Tickets were available at P.M. Jacoy’s, Speedy’s Record Rack, and the Bon Marche. Seating was available in three areas of the Coliseum with ticket prices at $3, $4, and the top price of $5 if you wanted to sit in one of the front rows. The show started at 7 p.m.The two warm-up bands were Spokane’s Liverpool Five and an unheard of band from California, Three Dog Night, who had a recently released album and a new single Try A Little Tenderness  that soon reached #29 on the Billboard Hot 100. The producer for their album, Gabriel Meckler, had also worked with Steppenwolf on their album. Lights were provided by Retinal Circus.

The Natural sent staff writer Val Hughes, an inhabitant of the new bohemian Peaceful Valley, to review the concert. Hughes noted that the Liverpool Five were once a headliner in Spokane. The band had reduced their number of musicians to four and they had replaced members with a local musician, Fred Dennis, on bass and another musician she did not recognize.KJRB radio station personality Gary Taylor, the events promoter, served as MC for the concert. Hughes thought that Three Dog Night was the best band of the evening while Steppenwolf’s performance proved to be languid. Steppenwolf’s bass player was the exception, Hughes said, in that he was animated throughout the set. He was also wearing what appeared to be a dress. It was a dress. Nick St. Nicholas was Steppenwolf’s bass player. He had a reputation for being eccentric and for upstaging Steppenwolf’s vocalist John Kay. He was fired a year later from the band mostly for not bothering to tune his guitar and for that upstaging Kay thing. Hughes, impressed by St. Nicholas’ style and manner separate from the rest of the band said, “the bassist seemed to be in his own world.”

At the end of the show, Kay, wearing his signature dark sunglasses on stage, made an attempt at provoking the crowd into acting out some rock ’n’ roll rage at the authorities. He encouraged the opposite of crowd control. Kay invited anyone in the audience to come up and join him and the band onstage, which they did crowding together on the Coliseum’s voluminous stage. This did get a reaction from the police in that they pulled the plug on the bands amplifiers and the PA. They were shutting it down. Kay was the only one of the band left on stage. In some cities this may have accomplished what Kay wanted, a chair throwing, brawling, riot of epic proportions. But Kay overestimated what a Spokane crowd is capable of doing. There was no encore.Eyewitness Hughes described it as very underwhelming. “Now this being Spokane, nothing serious happened. The audience just went home, thinking bad things about cops, adults, and the establishment in general.”

That is, the sound went off, the lights came up and everyone politely filed out of the Coliseum. Many of the $3 ticket holders quietly came down from the second level seating on those circular ramps up in the front of the venue, passing through the front doors to catch rides with friends, or went home with a parent driving the station wagon back to Country Homes, or Hillyard, or to the Valley, or they caught the Manito Park bus for the South Hill.

Hughes talked to a musician’s agent after the show and he said that Steppenwolf was through in this town. Interviewing someone from Three Dog Night Hughes said they were “happy to be liked and ready to like back.” Hughes concluded that the show proved “we’re starting to evaluate not on a name, but on a performance . . . and maybe then the name bands will realize that you’ve got to do a bit more than just be there to turn on Spokane.”

Steppenwolf was, of course, not finished in Spokane. They would be back. Maybe it was the band reacting to the crowd that resulted in a shallow performance that night. Spokane’s audiences had a reputation among performers who appeared here as being a bit languid themselves. A year earlier Joe Felice opened up the Eagles Ballroom for rock ’n’ roll music and it folded after only a few weeks from lack of support by the public. At the August 1968 Summer Funfest held at the Spokane Fairgrounds, Grassroots guitarist Warren Entner was disappointed with the Spokane teens at their concert. He told the Natural that the whole atmosphere was bad. He said it wasn’t like a dance or concert he was accustomed to performing. He described the audience as “A lot of kids (who) didn’t come to groove on the music—they came to fuck around. Maybe it’s the lack of dilated pupils . . . there’s no communication, no love.”

However, to the Spokane audience’s credit maybe it was the music itself that needed adjustment. Also at the Funfest and appearing the next day was Canned Heat, a popular blues boogie band. This band, it was noted, did get the crowd up and on their feet. So in the end, maybe it’s not the audience that was the problem, it was what style of music Spokane wanted to hear, what got them jumping and singing and dancing. In the end, what Spokane wanted was to boogie down. That’s all.

“Steppenwolf.” Advertisement. Spokane Natural. Vol. 3, No. 3. January 31 – February 13, 1969: 16.
“Nick’s ouster and the bunny ears.” GoldyMcJohn.com.
Hughes, Val. “One Dog Night.” Spokane Natural. Vol. 3, No. 4. February 27, 1969: 9.
“Eagles Turns On” Spokane Natural Vol. 2, No. 20 Sept. 27 – Oct. 10 1968: 4.
“All Kinds of Heat.” article. Spokane Natural, Vol. 2, No. 16, Aug. 2-15, 1968: 7.

According to Steppenwolf keyboardist Goldy McJohn, St. Nicholas was dismissed for a number of reasons: “The führer (Kay) fired him [for] wearing dresses in Steppenwolf with that bleached blonde hair, being out of tune at gigs … lots of reasons. I liked the bunny ears, but John made such a stink about it at the Fillmore East, you’d think he was in charge. Everyone else was on acid in the audience and this great big guy got up and told Kay to let Nick tune up and everybody cheered. Stealing John Kay’s limelight has and always will be his modus operandi, in other words.”

© Copyright Robert Schoenberg 2014


1976 Gig List: Spokane Memorial Coliseum

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA photo by Robert G. Schoenberg

. . . Date . . . .  . .      Band . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    . . . . . Attendance 
February 5 Electric Light Orchestra 1,602
February 12 Kiss 7,516
April 22 Johnny Winter 5,563
April 27 Elvis Presley 7,232
April 28 Peter Frampton 1,831
June 27 Jefferson Starship na
July 25 Yes 6,383
September ? BTO 5,620
October 7 Lynyrd Skynrd 2,454
October 22 ZZ Top 6,506
October 31 Rush na
November 19 Ted Nugent 6,196
November 28 Blue Oyster Cult 6,011
December 19 Beach Boys 6,840

Top grossing event was the Elvis show selling $7.50, $10 and $12 tickets bringing in $89,360. The Jefferson Starship concert was a request to rent in the April SEACAB meeting minutes.

Source: “Coliseum 1976.” SEACAB records; Spokane Arena Office Binder: “Coliseum Concerts” typed, handwritten and word processor documents 1975 to 1994. 14 Jan., 2011.

Copyright © 2013 Robert Schoenberg

Jefferson Airplane – Byrds Concert at Spokane Memorial Coliseum May 29, 1967

Rock and Roll concerts in mid-sixties Spokane were marketed to teenagers, who by now were fans of The Monkees, an industry created, television promoted band that was more marketing than edging out of the musical envelope; or Bobby Sherman, a singer leveraged into the music industry by his management team after placing him on television’s music show Shindig; teenagers were teenyboppers, a marketing concept that earned money for the actors, musicians, producers, record company executives and publishers targeting that age group. The music wasn’t serious, or meant to be. Teenyboppers were just delirious, mindless teenagers responding to the best that the industry could crank out in as short of time as possible, marketed with photo spreads and made up stories in 16 Magazine, Tiger Beat, or whatever marketing tool was available. The record companies release the singles, and then tour the bands at concerts or teen fairs in just about any town with a big enough venue.

In 1966 the Bob Dylan concert at the Spokane Coliseum was cancelled. However, the Beach Boys came to town to appear at the Coliseum, Paul Revere and the Raiders were a hot act that year appearing on stage as headliners; and at the Spokane Teen Fair in August, promoted by George Phillips and the radio station KNEW, kids got to see the Animals from England and the Beau Brummels from California.

But something was changing in rock ‘n’ roll music in those two years from 1965 to 1966. It’s a shame that Dylan cancelled his concert in Spokane, because anyone who would have gone to the concert would have heard what were some of those changes then and there.

Since the music industry considered teenagers a marketing group, producers applied the lowest common denominator to the creation and promotion of the music they were selling on the ten week pop single plan. The plan was based on the long held model of producer/band/song concept that meant putting out a single every ten or twelve weeks, promote it through the radio station networks, get as much publicity in the teen media, and then see how far up the charts it can go. The farther up the chart it went, the more money everyone made.

But bands like Dylan’s’, or the Beatles at this time with their album Rubber Soul, and a host of bands in San Francisco, were creating music not meant for the teenybopper market; these bands were appealing to an older part of the generation, those in their twenties, in college, and yes, those over the age of thirty. It was a more modern music, and thanks to Dylan, the lyrics now had a more grown up message of alienation, anger, and protest.

All through 1966 bands such as The Grateful Dead, The Great Society, Quick Silver Messenger Service, Every Mother’s Son, Mount Rushmore, Jefferson Airplane, Captain Beefheart, The Son’s of Champlin, and the Steve Miller Blues Band, were playing various venues in the San Francisco area, including a number of events known as Acid Tests put on by the Merry Pranksters led by Ken Kesey. The Acid Tests, of course, involved the taking of the the drug LSD by not only the audience, but the band as well. Music was expanding in various ways in 1966, media was including the descriptive adjective trippy, to describe it, and categorized it as Acid Rock. Musical events were often advertised as a trips festivals, named after Kesey’s acid tests, a phrase that was soon picked up and exploited by the industry who once again saw dollar signs wherever they went.

After the breakup of her band, the Great Society, Grace Slick was asked to join the Jefferson Airplane, who had recently lost their lead female singer, Signe Toly Anderson, when she started a family and opted out of being in a band for a while. Slick joined the band in the fall of 1966 while at the time they were scheduled to be in the studio to produce another album. Surrealistic Pillow, the album they produced, was released in February 1967, along with the single, White Rabbit. At the time the San Francisco sound of music was just hitting the national media. An article appearing the previous December in Newsweek included references to the taking of drugs and describing people who wore bead necklaces (hippy beads) using them as a sign that they have taken and experienced an LSD trip.

These songs were not targeted to the hit single, 10 week plan of making money. Hendrik Hertzberg, the Newsweek writer who wrote the article noted that the songs written and played by these San Francisco bands were often characterized by the length of the song, often 15 or more minutes long, which was contrary to the two and half minute pop single. But that didn’t stop the industry from exploiting the bands for the teenage market. Hertzber wrote, “Meanwhile more and more record companies are tempting the San Francisco groups, more and more clubs across the country are opening wide their doors. But so far the San Francisco Sound prefers the warmth of its hippies. ‘When we play out of town,’ says 23-year-old John Cipollina, lead guitarist of the Quicksilver Messenger Service, “the out-of-towners have to be turned on to our message of freedom. In San Francisco they already accept it. The people out here are really open and the musicians are open. There’s a big love thing going around, you know.”

In January of 1967 all of the burgeoning hippy culture from 1966 seemed to appear out of nowhere at Golden Gate Park for the Human Be-In featuring dozens of the local bands for a free concert that garnered wide media coverage. At the very forefront of this cultural storm that was breaking over America were The Jefferson Airplane. Another hot band from Los Angeles that helped create the term folk rock because they included many Dylan songs in their playlist, were the Byrds.

Spokane was lucky to get both these bands booked into the Coliseum right at this time, as the music was just beginning to influence rock ‘n’ roll. Promoted as a Trips Festival, the appearance of the Jefferson Airplane and the Byrds was to be the essence of what happend at the notorious concerts at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in San Francisco. It was the trippy drug induced hippy experience exported and taken on the road. Or at least that was what was advertised.

Spokane’s underground newspaper had just begun printing its weekly edition when the Airplane and the Byrds appeared at the Coliseum. Spokane Natural editor Orman Otvos, who went to the show, listed a number of things that he claims were advertised for this Trip-Lansing promoted concert at the Coliseum. He said he knew from accounts of what was happening in San Francisco the previous year involving what would be the Acid Test would be brought to Spokane for this show. This would mean that the concert would involve many of the typical Acid Test items – light show, strobe lights, cheap things to munch on like apples, candy, or whatever, open floor seating, black lights, fluorescent paints – but Otvos said very little of that was available, only a bare dance area and the bands, with a dysfunctional sound system to boot. There was a strobe light, there were sheets on the wall for the light show, and there was a mirrored ball, now called a disco ball, twirling overhead.

The event was not as advertised, according to Otvos, who said that “The Coliseum management pretty throughly screwed Trips-Lansing. Which ran the show. Mr. Stinnerson, the manager is a very arbitrary person, and treats problem people by expelling them.”

Spokane musician and record collector Bob Gallagher, had also gone to the show. Mainly because Byrds guitarist David Crosby was one of his musical heroes. When he got to the Coliseum he immediately worked his way to the front of the stage in order to see the band as close as possible. “It was the best show ever,” Gallagher said. “The Byrds were playing Younger Than Yesterday, from their best album, and the Airplane were playing songs that would become Baxter’s, their second record (with Slick), as you know, not a hit single on the record at all, being mostly ten minute songs. I thought both bands were at their prime, a really good show. What happened was the PA wasn’t happening right. I was right in front of a PA speaker, and there was a cop standing right next to the PA on stage. The Byrds play and they go back behind the stage and close the curtains and you hear David Crosby say ‘all they hear is our goddamn rhythm tracks, they can’t hear a goddamn thing we are singing!’ and it’s coming through the PA, and there’s a cop standing right there. We thought it was over for them, but they came back out. The Byrds were so awesome. It is one of my favorite concerts of all time.”

The Jefferson Airplane, Otvos said, refused to go on stage until the sound system was hooked up correctly. Otvos said that the Coliseum electrician responsible for hooking up the system was told by someone in the audience who had appeared onstage, how to hook it up. When the Coliseum electrician could not adequately do so, the guy complained and Stinnerson had the fellow removed from the stage area. Otvos said the system wasn’t operational until after 20 minutes of work, and that when it was working appeared to be along the same lines as what that guy had outlined in the first place. Otvos called the show “amateur,” but only from the point of view of how he thought the show should have been more like what he knew from shows in San Francisco at the Fillmore.

Otvos, Ormon. “Jefferson Airplane – Byrds Concert Spokane Coliseum.” Spokane Natural, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2 June 1967: 11.

“Minutes of the 182nd Coliseum-Stadium Advisory Committee.” May 25, 1967

Hertzberg, Hendrik. “The Nitty-Gritty Sound.” Newsweek. 19 December, 1966: 102.

Interview with Bob Gallagher, 4 April 2012.

Copyright 2013 © Robert G. Schoenberg

1977 Gig List: Spokane Memorial Coliseum

. . . Date . . . .  . .      Band . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   Attendance 
February 2 Fog Hat 8,500
April 15 Super Tramp 5,301
April 17 Willie Nelson 1,717
August 11 Kiss 8,365
August 19 Styx 6,998
August 27 Heart 8,358
September 19 Rush 5,112
December 7 Buddy Rich 882

Top grossing show, Heart with $59,834; Kiss grossed $58,912; and Fog Hat cleared out with  $55,590.

Source: Spokane Arena Office Binder: “Coliseum Concerts” typed, handwritten and word processor documents 1975 to 1994. 14 Jan., 2011.

Copyright © 2013 Robert Schoenberg

1978 Gig List: Spokane Memorial Coliseum

. . . Date . . . .  . .      Band . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    . . . . . . .  . Attendance 
February 21 America 3,000
March 13 Nazareth 8,500
April 20 Fog Hat 7,068
May 13 Ted Nugent 8,500
May 16 Tom Jones 4.087
May 18 Bill Gaither Trio 2,828
June 14 Boz Scaggs 6,270
July 27 Aerosmith 7,800
August 5 Blue Oyster Cult 7,800
August 12 Tribute to Elvis 1,675
September 10 Boston 7,800
September 28 Black Sabbath 4,529
November 8 Rush 4,200
November 17 Commodores 7,242
November 26 David Gates & Bread 3,697

Top grossing show, Ted Nugent with $63,750; then Aerosmith and Boston at $62,400 each; and Blue Oyster Cult with $59,219.

Source: Spokane Arena Office Binder: “Coliseum Concerts” typed, handwritten and word processor documents 1975 to 1994. 14 Jan., 2011.

Copyright © 2013 Robert Schoenberg

1979 Gig List: Spokane Memorial Coliseum

. . . Date . . . .  . .      Band . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    . . . . . . .  . Attendance 
March 2 Phoebe Snow  Opera House
March 9 Marshall Tucker/Firefall na
April 2 Styx 8,523
April 14 Van Halen 7,445
April 15 Super Tramp 4,714
April 20 Country Music Hall of Fame 4,232
April 25 Kenny Rodgers/Dottie West 7,218
May 6 Yes 5,419
June 1 Triumph 2,873
June 23 Eric Clapton 5,994
July 23 Ted Nugent na
July 7 Nazareth 3,939
July 13 Kansas 6,728
August 9 Blue Oyster Cult 8,517
September 9 The Cars 8,500
November 7 The Knack 2,237
November 28 Earth Wind & Fire 7,699

Top grossing show, Earth Wind & Fire with $73,140; Blue Oyster Cult grossed $69,477; and The Cars put $68,000 in the trunk before heading out.

Source: Spokane Arena Office Binder: “Coliseum Concerts” typed, handwritten and word processor documents 1975 to 1994. 14 Jan., 2011.

Copyright © 2013 Robert Schoenberg

The juvenile delinquent image of rock ‘n’ roll becomes life following art

As I mentioned last week, my research involves reading newspapers on microfiche machines at the Spokane Public Library. My eyes scan the pages of the Spokesman Review and the Spokane Chronicle looking for advertisements for rock ‘n’ roll music at local venues like the Armory, the Coliseum, Grafmiller’s Big Barn, or Nat Park. I also read headlines as they scroll past, and at times find stories that involve rock ‘n’ roll in some sort of fashion.

While looking for a couple of Spokesman Review and Chronicle stories that Spokane Natural underground newspaper editors’ Russ Nobbs and George Maloney mentioned as they were getting up in the face of the Spokane’s establishment authorities, I came across the kind of story that gives rock ‘n’ roll its anti-social reputation in the American cultural stream.

In 1968 two Spokane Valley teenage boys were in juvenile court convicted for their behavior and were due to receive their sentences.

Two teen-agers who stole microphones and other equipment from Spokane Valley churches for their rock ’n’ roll band were found to be delinquent yesterday.

The two were among several bandsmen arrested in connection with thefts of sound equipment from three churches. Others of the group also were involved in other burglaries, the court was told.

The two sentenced had been expelled from their jr. high schools. One said he had been expelled from two schools and dropped out of the third in the past year.

One of those expulsions was because he and another youth had poured gasoline on a school official’s lawn then setting it afire.

The other boy’s sentence was suspended and told to stay away from his former associates.

The behavior had a precedence in rock ‘n’ roll, but it seems to be manufactured in Hollywood.

Rock ‘n’ roll in the fifties quickly became associated through the medium of the movies with anti-establishment behaviors. The juvenile delinquent film often involved hot rod racing, motorcycles, girls willing to have sex in the back seat of the hot rod, boys fighting each other, and the musical score reflected this rebellious youth with the appropriate rock ‘n’ roll tune, a type of music that was quickly gaining traction through portable record players in every teenager’s room along with a collection of seven-inch 45 rpm records.

This type of cross-media pollination worked in favor of the rock ‘n’ roll performer in that the movies were watched by hundreds of thousands of teenagers at drive-in theaters across the country like Spokane’s East Trent Drive-In, the Autovue, or the Y-Drive-In. This in turn helped sell records for the musicians and bands, and helped push their single 45 rpm record up the Billboard Hot 100 list for the summer. A record company worked to make these connections between the music, the movies and television. It was all marketing of rock ‘n’ roll to teenagers. It worked. Rock ‘n’ roll is now forever linked with the bad-boy image. It might be said that not all rock ‘n’ roll music can be connected to juvenile delinquency, but maybe all juvenile delinquents listen to rock ‘n’ roll, at least according to the mid-century modern, straight-to-drive-in, teenage movie.

I can’t help but wonder who those two Spokane Valley boys were, and if they had gone on to either become rock ‘n’ roller musicians, life-long criminals, or settled down, got married, and found a job that they are about ready to retire from now.

In the teenage drive-in movie version, the one expelled from three schools would go on to become a self-destructive, wild lead singer who dies early in his career in a fantastic flame-out somewhere in punked out rock ‘n’ roll New York.

Fade out.

“Two Church Burglars Adjudged Delinquent.” Spokane Daily Chronicle. 21 February, 1968: 20.

Copyright © 2013 Robert G. Schoenberg