Something In The Music – Part 2
After Jimi Hendrix played Sacramento State on February 8’th 1968 life took a dramatic turn for me. A few weeks later I was approached by a radio salesman from K.R.O.Y radio, Sacramento’s leading rock station, who had sold us our ads for Jimi’s show, about meeting with a man who owned an advertising agency and was interested in opening a dance/concert hall. Our student club had continued doing shows at Sac State in the Women’s Gym but it was a lot smaller than the men’s gym so our options were limited. We could only use it occasionally and only used semi-big acts. The biggest we used there was Blue Cheer just after “Summer Time Blues” hit the charts. But business people were realizing that Sacramento was a great stop off spot for big acts heading to and from San Francisco and Los Angeles. The problem was that Sacramento had no real venues like the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in San Francisco or the Palladium or Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. So the radio ad salesman and the man with money were looking for someone who they thought might be interested in running a dance/concert hall and since my name had been on the Hendrix contracts I was the guy they were looking at. Actually there was an existing dance hall in Sacramento; The Coconut Grove Ballroom and another rumored to be opening, The Mill, an old rice mill in downtown Sacramento, but The Mill was just in the talking stages and the Coconut Grove was booked every weekend with soul shows or traditional big band dances.
However, the radio guy and investor had an ace up their sleeve. They knew a man who owned a good sized building on Alhambra Boulevard that had been a hardware and air conditioning store before it closed. The owner wasn’t sure if he wanted to sell the building or lease it out, so the two of them wanted to approach him, explain to him what it would be and see if it would fly. They talked to him; got the key, called me and we met to walk through the place. It was perfect. It had a mezzanine ideal for light shows, a basement which had small rooms, great for dressing rooms, and the main floor was very large with no obstructing views or poles. The only problem was the building was bare with high ceilings and flat untextured walls. An echo chamber if there ever was one. But it was a building and that’s we all were worried about. If a deal could be struck we’d have a good size hall available to us at all times. Like with the shows we’d done with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, having a place to play in between the big cities would give us some bargaining power. We had a formal meeting, reached an agreement with the building owner and my college student days were over.
It was a baptism under fire and once the process of remodeling the building and making it rock ready it moved rapidly. We hired several local bands guys to sound proof the walls with empty egg cartons glued to the walls, and two contractors to build a stage and remodel the three basement offices. I moved into one of the offices downstairs got phones and recruited a friend of mine who managed a local band to work with me. Around town in the music community the word was spreading and I was on the line to the agents as well. Suddenly the phone was ringing non-stop and people traffic was intense. I hired a rock and roll girl to act as secretary and got down to planning the opening and who was going to play. We did a couple test runs with a Davis California band, Kak, to test the sound and with only one detail left to take care of we got ready to open in late June but that almost didn’t happen because the detail we hadn’t taken care of was getting a dance license from the city. The city council had to approve it and there had been some rumbling by two of the neighboring business, a car dealership and a furniture store. They had visions of hippies running wild through their parking lots, smoking pot and making love on the street. On the other side of the coin two other businesses, Luisâ€™s great Mexican restaurant, and Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, loved the idea of hungry concert goers so it turned into a small political skirmish. We won on the strength of a former Mayor of Sacramento’s endorsement and the police Chief weighting in on our side. The ex-mayor was a lifelong friend of the building owner and the Chief knew he’d have no problem letting some of his off duty officers pick up easy money by standing around watching people rock out! We were mandated to have six officers per night and keep the area clean of litter and we agreed and so did they; we got the license. It was like the Janis and Jimi shows, we’d never done anything like those before so it was scary and of course we didn’t have a clue, but hey, why not?