NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND might have issued their sole album in 1968 a little late to catch the San Franciscan Summer Of Love gravy train, but it was a great record, evoking all that was best about the questing Bay Area musical vibe.
The earliest version of the band formed in 1965, in just enough time to play at one of the earliest – and pivotal – San Francisco musical events: the Family Dog’s first promotion, a multi-band show at The Longshoreman’s Hall on Saturday, 16 October 1965. Following residencies at the New Orleans House and the Jabberwock coffee house (where the resident band had been Country Joe & the Fish) the band signed up with New York’s Vanguard Records late in 1967. The Notes didn’t get to record at a local studio like other recent signing Country Joe & The Fish, but were shipped off to Vanguard’s own studio in New York.
Billeted in the Chelsea Hotel – Country Joe, Janis Joplin & Big Brother and Mike Bloomfield were also staying there – the Notes played a two-week residency at the Electric Circus. New York’s audiences proved receptive, but their studio sessions weren’t so happy. Producer Sam Charters wanted the Notes to conform to his idea of what a jug band was supposed to be, but even so the Notes From The Underground’s identity shone through on the finished album. Fuller-sounding re-recordings of tracks from their independent EP from April 1967 - (all four tracks from the EP plus three outtakes are included on Ace’s essential compilation “The Berkeley EPs” [CDWIKD 153] - were complemented by the rather Country Joe-ish Where I’m At and the punk-leaning Why Did You Put Me On. Skip Rose shone on a consummate version of Herbie Hancock’s Cantalope Island, while the delicate Tristesse was a highlight.
Although the Notes were regulars on the Bay Area circuit they found that more line-up changes meant Vanguard were shy of promoting them. The band continued into 1969, but had split by the end of the year. Their sole album may have been under-promoted, but it captures a engaging diversity and is clearly one of the Bay Area’s finest long-players.
By KIERON TYLER