Red Dog Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada, 1965... At last there's a DVD with footage of and about those days.
As one reviewer put it, if you're looking for stories revolving around the popular bands during those times, don't buy this DVD. But, if you have ever heard or read of the Red Dog Saloon, or -- better yet -- were a part of it if only for one visit, then this DVD is a must-have.
Amongst other things, it contains the only known footage of the Charlatans, the real pioneers of the San Francisco music scene circa 1965-66. Also, there are excerpts of the Red Dog Reunion concert back in the early 1990s with the Charlatans and Big Brother And The Holding Company. Lynne Hughes is there, too. The background of the Light Machine is explained. Interviews with people from the scene less famous than the typical names associated with it. Oh yes, and music. Music that is virtually forgotten by most of us today but still belongs and is easily identified as part of the dawn of psychedelic rock.
With music by The Charlatans, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Lynne Hughes, Mark Unobsky, Dan Hicks, Alice Stuart, Ph Phactor Jug Band, Final Solution, Wildflower, Boston Wranglers, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service
Directed By: Mary Works
Their names and music became legendary: Big Brother & the Holding Company, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the house band - The Charlatans. If the psychedelic sixties were born in the dancehalls of San Francisco, then they were conceived in a saloon in Virginia City, Nevada where the musicians carried Winchesters & the kitchen served French gourmet meals.
The psychedelic era fostered cultural growth and artistic expression. The Red Dog Saloon was the incubator for the lightshow and psychedelic poster art, an entire lifestyle that truly defined a remarkable era and defied classification as it weaved it's tapestry of free love and music, which the Grateful Dead would spread around the world.
Filmmaker Mary Works (assistant editor "Titanic", "Saving Private Ryan") was entrusted with access to the lives, antics and attics of this unique extended rock and roll family that grew out of these wild times.
DVD Features - A conversation with the filmmakers, Where are they now?, Jim Marshall Photo Gallery and Interview
Amazon Sales Rank: #16145 in DVD
Released on: 2005-07-05
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Formats: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
Original language: English
Number of discs: 1
Running time: 91 minutes
Michael Simmons - Rolling Stone, L.A. Weekly, High Times, BAM
"The best documentary on the `60s ever made. Red Dog Saloon rocks!"
Joel Selvin - San Francisco Chronicle
"…engaging affectionate…full of characters whose eyes still gleam…"
"...an amazing piece of Rock & Roll history...far reaching significance in the overall story of 20th Century America"
from "Haight Ashbury - A History" by Charles Perry:
"Around the same time that Owsley's name was becoming a household word in some households, there were rumors of a project that seemed designed to alleviate the adventure shortage. Some crazies were opening a totally Old West saloon with folk music in, of all places, the semi‑ghost town of Virginia City, Nevada.
"Virginia City wasn't actually such an odd place for a hippie saloon. The old boomtown capital of the Comstock Lode silver rush already had a colony of exotic people, including some psychedelic users. The latter group was centered around a second‑generation bohemian named Don Works, a member of the peyote‑eating Native American Church who had moved out to the Comstock country to be with his coreligionists among the Washoe and Piute Indians.
"Works lived on a little plot named the Zen Mine after a pair of nonproducing mine shafts running into the dusty hillside behind his cinder‑block cabin. The idea for the Red Dog Saloon had been formed there a few months before, when Works, a tall desperado type named Chan Laughlin (who had once owned a Berkeley folk music coffeehouse), and a rich folkie named Mark Unobsky were stranded in Works' two‑room cabin by a blizzard. With nothing to do but get stoned and play the board game Risk, they started fantasizing about a folk nightclub to enliven the mountain evenings. It actually sounded plausible, because there was no decent nightlife around for competition, and particularly because folk musicians were always passing through Nevada on their way between the Boston‑New York scene and San Francisco‑Berkeley. Some fairly big names might be willing to stop off and play a relaxed night or two.
"That was the original plan, anyway. Unobsky bought the old Comstock House building on C Street, near the original claim of the wild silver rush that financed the Civil War and drove Germany off the silver standard. Bohemian carpenters were called in from Marin County, and Laughlin was dispatched to San Francisco for antique red velvet drapes and brass fittings.
"On one of these buying trips Laughlin stopped off at Pine Street, where he'd hidden out for a while a few months before when he figured the police were after him for smuggling marijuana. While he was talking up the excitement of this stylish folk cabaret in the hills to a Pine Street friend, he met a fellow with a long blond Dutch boy haircut and a missing front tooth who was dressed to the nines in Edwardian duds. It so happened that this Edwardian dude with the elusive, slightly formal manner had put together a musical group that might fit right in.
"His was not a folk group, though, but a rock and roll band called the Charlatans. Well, why not? The Beatles, Dylan, this band in Los Angeles named the Byrds that was being called a folk‑rock group—suddenly it was clear that a hip rock and roll band was just what the Red Dog needed. And the Charlatans already had a following. Bob Hunter, the Dutch boy blond with the missing tooth, was a culture hero in certain circles at State College for his elegant Edwardiana. The pianist, Michael Ferguson, had the same sort of stature and had once run an unheard‑of kind of store at the edge of the Haight‑Ashbury. Magic Theater for Madmen Only had sold nothing but antique clothes, knickknacks, a little art and a lot of marijuana stash jars.
"The only problem with the band was that Hunter, an artist and boy‑wonder architect, had conceived the Charlatans as a sort of pop art statement, an American response to the British rock groups. At the moment it was really only the concept of a rock band; they had hundreds of publicity stills, featuring Edwardian clothes and twenties rowing‑crew uniforms, but had never rehearsed. For months now they'd been growing their hair down to their shoulders—much longer than the Beatles' hair—and carrying on like a rock band at parties, and now it was time to get down to finding out what they could play. A lot of work needed to be done. Hunter, for instance, couldn't play anything but tambourine and autoharp, and there were those who said he couldn't play that.
"The Red Dog became a sort of Pine Street project. A collage artist and one‑time motorcycle racer named Al Kelly went up to Virginia City to work on the remodeling. Ellen Harmon, the rangy woman who shared his tiny room in Pine Street where the walls were painted with pop art sound effects ("Poww!" "Bawannnngggg!"), went as a waitress. There was an abstract expressionist painter on Pine Street who managed two of the apartment houses, a shaggy‑bearded Southerner named Bill Ham. His light shows, which were like moving abstract paintings projected in brilliant colors on a screen, were Pine Street's favorite evening entertainment. He designed a light box for the Red Dog that would pulsate with color in time with the music.
"Altogether, a couple of dozen people from San Francisco moved up to Virginia City for the Red Dog project. After a number of delays and false starts, the Red Dog Saloon finally opened on June 29, 1965, advertised by a poster drawn by the Charlatans' pianist in a sort of old‑timey medicine‑show style that described the band as "The Limit of the Marvelous." The band moved up to Virginia City on opening day with one loudspeaker and a ten‑watt amplifier.
"The sheriff came to see opening night. The new place was the only nightclub in town, and people had been pushing him to look into it anyway. All these city people dressing in vests and string ties and celluloid collars—and that sign out front, too, with the slavering red dog on it.
"But he had to admit they'd done a hell of a job as he mounted the plank sidewalk, rebuilt and roofed over just as it had been in the 1860s. As he pushed in through the swinging doors, he could see they'd spared no expense on the interior, either. All period furnishings, red and turquoise velvet drapes with a lot of gold braid, the whole place painted red with black trim. The bartender was in a striped shirt with sleeve garters, and the waitresses were all in saloon‑maid bodices and net stockings. Some of the customers knocking back the beer and bourbon were in old‑time getups as well.
"A couple of things, you couldn't figure whether they were out of place or not. Maybe in the 1860s there could have been a 380‑pound Washoe Indian bouncer in a top hat and a Rainbow Girls sash. The musicians in those days surely didn't play rock and roll, but maybe they did get as looped as these guys on the stage seemed to be, rolling their eyes and staggering and trying to play each other's instruments.
"But all told, it was enough to touch a man's heart. The least the sheriff could do was to honor the hallowed Code of the West, which held that when a man entered a bar he checked all his firearms at the door. "Check my gun?"
"Without blinking an eye, Don Works plucked the pistol out of the sheriff's hand, threw a practiced glance down the barrel, spun the chambers, cocked the hammer and fired off two quick shots into the floor. "Works fine, sheriff," he said.
"Rock and roll meets the Old West—the possibilities were staggering. The Charlatans' gig stretched on far longer than the planned two weeks. People told their friends about it, and some of the posters made it back to San Francisco, where they tended to be handed around from person to person rather than posted. More and more people made the three‑hour drive just to see whether it could be true, an Old West Bar with a hip rock band in the Edwardian style.
"As a matter of fact, the Charlatans had started changing their style. Stuck in Virginia City week in and week out, they and everyone else working at the Red Dog fell into the Old West style. In a way it was the only thing to do: get a pair of chaps and a ten‑gallon hat and spend the afternoons picking off jackrabbits. Owsley's LSD had been around since opening night, and on Mondays, when the Red Dog was dark, the staff would have LSD parties. The sense of the frontier grew stronger and stronger.
"Some of the people envisioned the Red Dog as a movie. Chan Laughlin would lecture about it: "This is an Old Western town, and we're more Old Western than anybody else. Remember, when your feet hit the floor in the morning, you're in a Grade B movie. This is that saloon down the street where the manager has his office under the stairs and all the gunhands sit around out front and periodically he comes out and motions a couple of them to ride away and rustle some cows. It's that place, complete with fancy girls going around bending over tables and the music and people roaring and ordering more drinks and carrying on."
"Yes indeed. Everybody started wearing the clothes and carrying fancy firearms. Each bartender as he came on shift brought his own personally selected bar pistol. After a while the Charlatans had a set of matched‑caliber Winchester rifles they would carry onstage and lean up against the amplifier before picking up their guitars. Now, what was all this fuss about the Beatles and their so‑called flashy style?"
See Red Dog discussion at:
Rockin' At The Red Dog