The Denver Family Dog – Part 2
This week’s installment is a continuation of my musing on the lack of documentation and recording of the incredible shows played at Denver’s legendary The Family Dog. When one considers that Hendrix, Cream, Van Morrison, Zappa and so many other legendary artists played there, the fact that no tapes or film from inside the venue have surfaced and only a couple of photos, is shocking. There are tapes in existence from virtually all the other major venues from the ‘60s.
To be precise, there circulates one song of The Doors (“Light My Fire”) in terrible quality, and one concert by the Mothers of Invention from May 3, 1968 (pretty good quality) and that is it! In the 50 plus years since its heyday nothing else has surfaced. How is this possible?
Early on in my career at Twist And Shout, I had a great customer named Ron Babcock. He was a native Denverite, who told me he had gone to every show at The Family Dog. He had some pretty specific recall of certain shows. From the stuff he purchased, I could tell he was a big-time music fan who had really seen some stuff in his life. He had detailed recollections of Van Morrison, The Doors, Blue Cheer and a few others. An interesting side note about Ron was that he was always covered with paint when he came into the store. I finally asked him if he was a painter, and he informed me that he was an assistant to legendary Denver expressionist Vance Kirkland (now the subject of a beautiful museum at 1201 Bannock Street in Denver). Our conversations started to revolve around Kirkland instead of The Family Dog. I wish I had been more persistent. In a way I am torn between thinking it is a great tragedy to history that no evidence exists, but in another sense, the lack of evidence has just added to the mystery and excitement of the place.
The legacy of The Family Dog is larger than you might realize. If he hadn’t built his reputation there, Barry Fey might not have had the wherewithal to build Feyline Productions into one of the most successful promotion companies in the world. He went on to literally change the face of concert promotion along with Bill Graham, Ron Delsener and a few others. He ended up eclipsing his original mentor Chet Helms in a big way.
In the concert business, there are what they call tertiary, secondary and primary markets. It is fair to say that in 1967 all of Colorado was a very tertiary market, but through Fey’s groundbreaking work, Colorado has become a primary market. We have an abundance of incredible indoor and outdoor venues of all sizes. Also, Denver has moved from a semi-sleepy “cow-town” to a bastion of cutting-edge cultural innovation and progressive thought. Much of our state is unrecognizable from what it was in 1967 (for good or ill), but there along West Evans Avenue, the sight of historical innovation remains essentially untouched. My kids both live on the west side of town these days, and it has caused me to drive up West Evans a lot. No matter how many times I drive by 1601 West Evans, where The Family Dog once stood, I always get an excited chill at the history and what was to come.
Which leads us to the posters. Almost immediately upon moving to Denver in 1968, I became aware of the fact that there were psychedelic concert posters from this music venue that had recently closed. In those pre-internet days, it was really hard to get any firsthand information, so the process of figuring out the story has been a lifelong passion project for me. Over the next many years, I made it my business to track the posters down. They were pretty plentiful to find back in the 1970s but not so much anymore. They were produced in the Bay Area by the same artists who were doing the posters for the Avalon, Fillmore, Carousel etc., so these were the real thing. The best of the psychedelic artists, producing artwork for the cream of the 60s bands for shows on West Evans—absolutely mind-blowing!
-Quicksilver Messenger Service with local boys Super Band (several of whom would go on to be in Sugarloaf, a Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee). This poster references Quicksilver’s Happy Trails LP, and really captures the nexus of the psychedelic and cowboy worlds.
-Grateful Dead – Two nights with Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth. This is the rarer variation of the poster with the name of the band written on the skull. Even in the ultra-completist world of Grateful Dead concert collecting, no copies of these shows exist.
-The Doors, Lothar And The Hand People and Captain Beefheart. This gorgeous Bob Schepf design, utilizing a Gustave Dore lithograph is probably one of the most sought after posters from The Family Dog. A masterpiece! Denver Band Lothar and The Hand People would go on to be enormously influential to modern bands in the decades to come.
-Jim Kweskin Jug Band with Solid Muldoon-two shows-one in San Francisco, one in Denver, designed by Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso, make for one of the most unique presentations in rock poster history
-Chuck Berry (backed by Denver band New World Blues Dictionary) with The Sons Of Champlin. This Rick Griffin design is impossible to read, because it is in a made-up language.
-The Doors, The Allmen Joy, Gingerbread Blu-3 nights culminating on New Year’s Eve 1967. One of the most important Rick Griffin designs and possibly the most emblematic of all The Family Dog shows-The Doors would indeed “Break On Through” to much wider acclaim shortly thereafter. But this New Years Eve they played to less than a thousand Coloradans on West Evans.
– January 12 and 13, 1968–A rarely seen poster featuring American Standard (which was Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee Tommy Bolin’s pre-Zephyr group), Beggar’s Opera Co., and 8th Penny Matter. Interestingly, this poster incorporates the Rocky Mountains as part of the design. A couple of local bands playing in the 60s at a legendary psychedelic ballroom.
-Six handbills from The Family Dog
– Paul Epstein, Co-Chair, Colorado Music Hall of Fame; founder/former owner of Twist & Shout; music historian and archivist
“I moved to Colorado in 1968 and started going to concerts almost immediately. I eagerly grabbed posters, flyers, ticket stubs, advertisements, concert recordings, pretty much any proof I could find that the event happened. In 1988, I started a record store called Twist & Shout, and my collecting of memorabilia went into even higher gear. Over the next 34 years, I had rare access to memorabilia of all types and sizes. Now that I’ve retired, the time seems right to start sharing these things, and the stories that go with them. So, every other Tuesday, I will ask you to Let Me Take You Down (to the basement) to check out some of the good stuff!” – Paul Epstein