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The Blue Law in Torrance a Club with Great Bands

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SUNDAY, JULY 12, 2009

The Bank, Torrance CA 1968 Show List

I have done extensive research into rock concert dates in Southern California in the 1960s, but so far only my Whisky A-Go-Go list(attempting to document every show at the Whisky from 1966 to 1969) has seen the light of day. The profusion of entertainment options in Los Angeles creates the paradoxical result that many go unnoticed. As a result, some interesting 60s venues seem to have been all but forgotten, and research can be very difficult. I am posting my current research in its sketchy, incomplete form in the hopes that others will have more to add. I am very interested in any information anyone might have regarding the backers of this venue, the history of the building, its general successes and problems, and of course any corrections, insights and additions to the show list.

The Bank, at 19840 South Hamilton in Torrance, California, about 20 miles Southwest of Los Angeles, is one of the least remembered and most obscure venues in Southern California. Although it was only open for about six months in the second half of 1968, numerous fine bands played there, mostly from San Francisco, suggesting some sort of connections with San Francisco rock promoters or band managers. The posters for the shows, pleasant but unimpressive, still circulate, which has been just about my only source for information about shows at The Bank. A few listings in local newspapers (such as The Pasadena Star-News) confirm some of the poster dates, but I have found no concert reviews, musician’s recollections or groupie memoirs that recall the venue, and all I have is a list of dates.

Update: thanks to Kim’s research and a Commenter, we now have some concrete information on The Bank.  It seems that two brothers inherited something like one million dollars, and chose to spend some of it on opening a venue with bands they liked. The posters were done by one Robert Wilson. Wilson and his girlfiend Sheryl got to see almost every show as a result. Sheryl is our principal source, and while she recalls the venue fondly, she doesn’t remember the name of the brothers. Most shows at The Bank were thinly attended, except for Canned Heat, perhaps accounting for the lack of memories surrounding the venue. The soundman was a local teenager named Les Schatz, except when groups like The Grateful Dead had their own crew.

Torrance, California is an industrial suburb of Los Angeles, about 20 miles South of LA. Torrance has some beachfront, but the nearby coastal towns of Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes are better known. Torrance extends several miles inland, and The Bank was on the inland edge of town, close to the intersection of the Harbor (I-110) and San Diego (I-405) Freeways. The site of The Bank had previously been a venue called The Blue Law Ballroom, but other than a few rock shows listed below, I know nothing about that venue either, particularly whether it had a long tradition of musical presentations, or was simply a first attempt to make a Fillmore-style venue at the site. According to Google Maps, there is a building on the site (19840 S. Hamilton Ave, Torrance, CA 90502), but I do not know if it is a new building.

What follows is my list of known rock shows at The Blue Law and The Bank. The sources most dates are posters, except where indicated. I have included a few interesting notes about the chronology and history of some bands that played the venue, but I take for granted that anyone reading this post does not need a primer on the likes of Pink Floyd or Canned Heat. Some posters advertise additional theater or film attractions as part of the bills, but I have not mentioned them here, as they are outside my scope and I have even less of a context for them.

THE BLUE LAW

December 12-13-14, 1967 The Blue Law, Torrance, CA: Country Joe and The Fish/The Sunshine/Inner Spirit
Inner Spirit was an early name for Spirit (Randy California’s band).

This is the first date I have for The Blue Law. I have no idea if music had been presented before, or what the site may have been used for previously. Oddly, these shows are a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, hinting that the venue was trying to open more than just weekends. Unlike the Fillmore and Avalon in San Francisco, Southern California venues like The Cheetah and The Kaleidoscope tried to stay most nights of the week, even if bands weren’t always presented.

December 15, 1967 The Blue Law, Torrance, CA: Love/Canned Heat/Hour Glass
The Hour Glass was a transplanted Florida blues band featuring Duane and Gregg Allman, currently living in Los Angeles.

This gig is discussed at length in drummer Michael Stuart-Ware’s book about his time in the band Love (Behind The Scenes On The Pegasus Carousel, Helter Skelter Books, 2003). Ware’s description suggests the venue is somewhat small. I have found no other account of the venue, as either The Blue Law or The Bank. Ware recalls

The building was like a rec center, located in the heart of a typical suburban Los Angeles community. The stage had no private rear entrance or dressing rooms, and the groups that were scheduled to perform simply walked through the front door, past the people that had come to see them play, and right up the stage steps (p. 152).

He adds that “the place was jam-packed, but room capacity was only seven or eight hundred, tops.” The context suggests that Love did not play the venue the next night.

May 17-18-19, 1968 The Blue Law, Torrance, CA Blue Law Survival Benefit
Strawberry Alarm Clock/Quicksilver Messenger Service/P, G & E/Sweetwater/Love Exchange/Hour Glass/Things To Come/Albert King/Spirit/Genesis/Touch/Mothers of Invention/H.P. Lovecraft/Triangle/East Side Kids/Copper Leaf/Fair Befall
The flyer suggests this is a benefit for the club itself. Since The Bank would open on the site later, its clear that the club is near the end of the line. The exact reason and date for the demise of The Blue Law is completely unknown to me. However, the fact that some established bands were willing to play a benefit for the club suggests that The Blue Law was an established venue.

Obviously these groups were spread out over the entire weekend. The band Genesis was a local band (featuring former members of Sons of Adam), not the English group.

May 19, 1968 The Blue Law, Torrance, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/The Mothers of Invention/Iron Butterfly/LA Smog and Refinery
The flyer says “Rock For McCarthy” and advertises “2pm to 1am Sunday.” This sort of fits in with the above flyer, although not exactly. The flyer says “Blue Law Ballroom”

THE BANK
The first indication of a show at The Bank is a poster for the weekend of August 9-11, 1968.  Given that established bands played there, however, I would be surprised if the arrangement where bands walked through the front door onto the stage was not modified. By 1968, touring bands had more equipment and casual arrangements could be more problematic.

Based on the posters, the pattern at The Bank seemed to feature multiple acts on Friday and Saturday night, often including a substantial headliner, and Sunday shows (often in the afternoon) featuring local groups.

August 9-10-11.1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: PG&E/Illinois Speed Press/Sons of Champlin/Freedom Highway
Sons Of Champlin and Freedom Highway were both associated with West-Pole Management in San Francisco, who also managed Quicksilver Messenger Service. Numerous West-Pole groups played The Bank in its brief tenure.

P, G & E was a Los Angeles blues rock band (formerly The Bluesberries), and Illinois Speed Press had recently been signed by Columbia and relocated from Chicago to LA. Guitarist Paul Cotton, later famous in Poco, was the main singer and writer for the ISP.

August 16-17, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: The Fugs/Mt. Rushmore
Mt. Rushmore (who had two albums on Dot Records) were another San Francisco group managed by West-Pole.

August 18, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Gravity (afternoon show)

August 23-24, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Pink Floyd/Black Pearl
August 25, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA : Black Pearl(afternoon show)
Black Pearl was an obscure San Francisco band, featuring former members of New England’s Barbarians.

August 30,31, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: United States of America/Taj Mahal
The United States of America were a very forward looking band featuring experimental composer and UCLA ethnomusicologist Joseph Byrd and singer Dorothy Moskowitz. They released one obscure album that has grown in stature over the decades, and made one brief tour before they split up. This was probably one of their last shows.

September 1, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA jam/guest bands (afternoon)

September 6-7, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Moby Grape/Fair BeFall
September 8, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Fair BeFall/Gravity (afternoon show)

September 13-14, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Lee Michaels/All Men Joy
All Men Joy were a San Francisco band, and did not feature Duane and Gregg Allman. Lee Michaels was also based in the Bay Area at the time.

September 15, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: All Men Joy/Gravity

September 20, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Sons of Champlin/Love Exchange
September 21, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Sons of Champlin/Ace Of Cups
Quicksilver, The Sons of Champlin and the all-women band Ace Of Cups were all San Francisco West-Pole bands.

September 22, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: jam

September 27-28, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: John Mayall/Chicago Transit Authority/Mug-Wumps
John Mayall’s group was a quartet featuring guitarist Mick Taylor.

The Chicago Transit Authority, like the Illinois Speed Press, had been signed by Columbia and relocated to Los Angeles. They had not yet released their first album.

September 29, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: John Mayall/Maze/Flash Gordon (afternoon show)

October 4, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Country Joe and The Fish/A.B. Skhy Blues Band
The A.B. Skhy Blues Band, featuring the fine organist Howard Wales, had recently relocated from Milwaukee (where they were known as The New Blues) to San Francisco.

October 5, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: The Hook/A.B. Skhy Blues Band
October 6, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Shakey Jake and The All Stars
The poster for the October 4/5/6 weekend says at the bottom “Next week-Canned Heat and Spirit, ” but a later ad in the LA Free Press does not have Canned Heat and Spirit, suggesting the bill was changed.

October 11-12, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Charlie Musselwhite/Shakey Jake and His All-Stars/Pollution
Harmonica player and singer Charlie Musselwhite, who had moved from Chicago to San Francisco in 1967, was yet another Bay Area band that played The Bank. Ron Polte, the head of West-Pole and Quicksilver’s manager, was a former Union organizer in Chicago, so he had many connections to all the Chicago>San Francisco transplants (Musselwhite, Mike Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel, etc), even if he did not manage those artists. The constant stream of San Francisco bands at The Bank managed by West-Pole or socially connected to Ron Polte suggests a close association between him and The Bank’s owners or managers.

October 13, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA jam plus films

October 18, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Grateful Dead/Cleveland Wrecking Company
Cleveland Wrecking Company were a well regarded San Francisco-area band. They were a 7-piece band (founded at College of San Mateo) that played jazz rock. They mainly played dances, but they also played a few Fillmore-type gigs as well. Although they played original material, they never recorded and apparently never had plans to do so.

October 19, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Big Mama Thornton/Cleveland Wrecking Company
October 20, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA
Free Clinic Benefit (bands not named)

October 25-26, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Sweetwater/Black Pearl
October 27, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA
films/jam KPFK broadcasting live

November 1, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Three Dog Night/Alice Cooper
In a slight deviation from the norm at The Bank, there are two local headliners on Friday night, with a different lineup on Saturday and Sunday.

Three Dog Night had recorded their first album for ABC Records, and probably released their first single (“Nobody”), but their album had not yet come out. They were still playing local gigs around Southern California to establish themselves.

Alice Cooper—at the time, the name of the band, not lead singer Vince Furnier—had only changed their name from The Nazz in March 1968. By November, they were affiliated with Frank Zappa, but their debut album on Zappa’s Straight Records would not be released until the next year. Sheryl recalls that the Alice Cooper group lined up at the entrance to The Bank and shook hands with each arriving patron, as if they were on the receiving line at a wedding.

November 2-3, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Alice Cooper/Mint Tattoo/Pollution
Mint Tattoo were also a San Francisco-based group, although the principal members were actually from Sacramento. Guitarist/vocalist Bruce Stephens and bassist/organist Ralph Burns Kellogg went on to join Blue Cheer in 1969, and both recorded in a number of obscure but interesting settings over the next few decades. Kellogg (1946-2003) was a successful engineer and producer in Los Angeles in the 1980s under the name Ethan James, for groups like The Minutemen and Black Flag.

November 8-9, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Ten Years After/The Collectors/Floating Bridge
This bill was a unique instance at The Bank where none of the acts were California-based. Ten Years After were on the second of their 28 (count ‘em) American tours, the Collectors were from a suburb of Vancouver (Chilliwack, BC) and The Floating Bridge were a highly regarded band from Seattle.

November 15, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Canned Heat/Linn County/Flamin Groovies
Sheryl recalls Canned Heat playing the club at some point, and that it was the best attended show in the history of The Bank, so they definitely played some weekend.

Linn County were from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but they too had relocated to San Francisco in 1968. They released three albums on Mercury. The Flamin’ Groovies were a San Francisco band as well, but their neo-British Invasion stylings were never popular in the Bay Area itself.

November 16, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Harvey Mandel/Linn County/Flamin Groovies
Harvey Mandel, an exceptional guitarist, was one of the white Chicagoans who played authentic blues, like Mike Blomfield and Paul Butterfield. He had relocated to San Francisco as well. Besides recording for Mercury, he would later work with Canned Heat and John Mayall.

November 17, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: jam (afternoon)

November 22, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Bo Diddley/Fur
November 23, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Bo Diddley/Notes From The Underground
Notes From The Underground were a Berkeley Folk-Rock group. They released an album on Vanguard.

November 30, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Spirit/Harvey Mandel
This gig was mentioned in the entertainment listings of the November 30 Pasadena Star News. As the 30th was a Saturday, its reasonable to assume that the same bill played the night before.

December 6, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Love/Three Dog Night/Fair BeFall
December 7, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Love/Three Dog Night/Middle Earth
A handwritten Three Dog Night tour diary shows 3DN playing both nights (for $500 each night), varying a bit from the poster.

December 8, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: The Turtles/’KPFK Live’
I don’t believe this indicates that The Turtles were broadcast live on KPFK (although it would be great if they had been, as the Turtles were reputedly a fine live band).

December 13-14, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Grateful Dead/Magic Sam/Turnquist Remedy
The bare outlines of the story of The Bank in Torrance end here. A clue to the club’s fate comes from the poster for the show. Half of it is taken up with an entreaty:

The Police can only close us
with YOUR fear.
Please help us, the Music,
and yourself.
Bring friends to The Bank.
Come clean, be safe be happy

This plea suggests that police pressure had led to enough drug busts that it affected attendance, a common fate of rock ballrooms in the 1960s. The poster advertises a movie on Sunday afternoon, December 15 (The Return of Flash Gordon), but I have to assume the venue closed after these shows.

Unlike many Grateful Dead shows, there were no known tapers at the December Grateful Dead shows. Uniquely, however, there was a tapir (really).

Thanks to Kim, Sheryl, and all the Commenters who helped out. Anyone with further information or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to Comment or contact me.

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