My favorite Bay Area 1960’s psychedelic band was Mad River, who coincidentally hung out with my favorite 60’s poet/author, the iconic Richard Brautigan.
Mad River was formed at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH in 1966. They recorded demos in Dayton, OH early in ’67. Later in SEPT of that year they packed everything into a VW bus and moved out to the Bay Area landing in Berkeley. Once there they began gigging and ran into Lonnie Hewitt who recorded and released the bands first Ep on his new label, Wee Records, a LTD ED of 1,000 copies. While in Berkeley they also became friends with Richard Brautigan who helped them hand assemble it on the dining room table.
During 1967 & ’68, I saw Mad River in concert several times. I made trips to the Bay Area for anti-war activities. One time during the massive “People’s Park” demonstration, I saw them play in the Berkeley streets on the back of a flatbed truck while the National Guard was stationed, bayonets at the ready, on the street corners. I also saw them play back down in Central CA at the Roeding Park “Love In” and Rainbow Ballroom.
Years later, the band still vividly remembers one of their Fresno concerts, especially dropping acid on a moonlit night beforehand at the farm of a noted poet/professor who I had taken classes from while going to the local college.
Around this time, the band moved across the Bay to SF. Their first album came out and Capitol stupidly literally sped the tape up during mastering & Rolling Stone gave it a bad review. In reality, the bands complex arrangements and politics didn’t fit the mold of the stoned jamming vibe adored by the hippie masses.
Mad River recorded a second album, which marked a change, more acoustic, and country styled. They played what turned out to be perhaps their last gig at Pauley Ballroom on the UC Berkeley campus, and by late 1969, early 70’, had faded away. Ironically, the second album, released shortly after received a positive review in Rolling Stone.
Richard Brautigan was very close friends with the members of Mad River; often stocking their refrigerator with food during their leaner times while living in SF, and crashing at their pad. He also often paid their rent after “Trout Fishing in America” his first book was published.
The band had him read one of his poems on their second album. He also recorded his own spoken word album, “Listening to Richard Brautigan” released in 1970.
In my mind, his book “In Watermelon Sugar” is one of the classic artifacts of that era. Its beautiful watercolor imagery epitomized the dreams of youth at that time. Brautigan’s life also epitomized the tragedy. A short story told to me by a very close friend illustrates this…
Shortly before he shot himself with a 44 Magnum, Richard Brautigan was seen on the beach in Bolinas for much of the day trying to rescue fish washed ashore by the current and dying. Today many years later, that seems perhaps a metaphor of those times with a many-layered meaning.
This past week I did a Special Radio Program featuring music by Mad River, with a spoken word segment at the end by Richard Brautigan. Personally when I listened I felt a bit haunted by the past, but also amazed how unique and inspired the music and his voice felt all these years later.
Take a listen yourself I think it’s a quite interesting audio document.