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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Poppycock, 135 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA

The Poppycock, a fish and chips/beer joint that was also Palo Alto's first regular rock venue, was open from 1967 to 1971. Roy Kelsey ran The Poppycock. They'd mix up paint in psychedelic colors used to advertise bands on the front window. It was located near the train station, on University Avenue and High Street and next door to the pizza parlor where Jerry Garcia and other folkies had honed their chops to tiny audiences in the early 1960s. The building is still intact.

The clearest date of the beginnings of the Poppycock comes from a book by writer Ed McClanahan, an associate of Ken Kesey’s. McClanahan was hired in to publish an underground newspaper, The Free You, associated with MidPeninsula Free University.

In the latter 1960's, on a corner of downtown Palo Alto scarcely a brickbat’s throw from the Stanford campus, there stood an aged, derelict, three-story brick office building, the first floor of which was occupied by a fish ‘n’ chips ‘n’ rock-and-roll establishment called The Poppycock (2003: University of Kentucky Press p.53).

McLanahan writes of renting office space on the second floor, just above the bandstand, for twenty five dollars a month from the “sweaty hatband gents” who took over an office building originally leased to lawyers and doctors and leased it instead to a younger and less savory bunch. Those familiar with the today’s genteel and pricey Palo Alto, a “hotbed of social rest” (to quote local writer Rob Morse), would hardly recognize McLanahan’s description of the corner in 1968.

Beneath my window, meanwhile, the beat went on day and night. The sidewalks swarmed with rock and roll riffraff, adolescent acidheads and swiftly aging speedsters, motorcycle madmen and wilted flower children, slightly unhinged outpatients from the nearby VA hospital, spare changers and affluent musicians and plainclothesmen and nouveau riche dealers, all the myriad varieties of California white trash…The Poppycock corner was where It was indisputably At in Palo Alto (pp. 53-54).

In 1967 The Poppycock was sort of like a lounge with regular entertainment but not "names" (a local jazz trio did play there regularly, featuring Woodside High School student Mike Shrieve on drums). By 1968, however, the club had switched to a more rock-oriented format, albeit with some folk and Theater mixed in. The Bay Area was the place to be for rising rock bands, and a circuit was developing for working bands, that included The Matrix in San Francisco, The New Orleans House in Berkeley and The Poppycock. Bands on the road could "tour" the Bay Area, in between more high profile gigs opening at The Fillmore and The Avalon. At the same time, local bands had a place to build their audiences.
Jim Kweskin, Dan Hicks, John Lee Hooker, Charlie Musslewhite, and so many more. New Riders of The Purple Sage supposedly played their 1st gig here, but all had modest attendance!!(2)

San Jose's Gordon Stevens, whose family operated Stevens Music on Lincoln Avenue for decades recalls in the mid-'60s, Kesey's attorney, Paul Robertson, lived in the Rosegarden neighborhood, and Kesey often parked the bus in front of Robertson's house, underneath the sycamore trees. Stevens and Robertson played in a band called Flower; they were the house band at the Poppycock in Palo Alto.
According to Stevens, Kesey gave them some of the dough he'd made from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with which they purchased the band equipment and recording gear. 
Also, as Stevens recalls, he and Robertson joined one of the Merry Pranksters, Steve Lambrecht, a.k.a. Zonker, and synthesized LSD into capsules at another house in the Rosegarden. Again, this is when LSD was still legal, and Zonker apparently had a connection in the chemistry department at San Jose State who supplied the beakers. "That was one of the first times LSD was made in capsule form," Stevens said. "Owsley hadn't really gone big time yet."
Playing with Santana was more the result of an all night jam than an audition reflects Schon. "I was playing in an r&b/blues band in the [San Francisco] Bay Area and our bass player was friends with Michael Shrieve and Gregg Rolie, so we invited them down to see the band at a club called the Poppycock in Palo Alto. They showed up one night and stuck around after we had finished our set and we ended up jamming until it got light the next day. (3)

On Friday, February 28 - Saturday, March 1, 1969, The Boogie/Rhythm Dukes and The Sons Of Champlin performed here.

Before they were The Gollywogs, the first time they ever played as Creedence Clearwater Revival was at the Poppycock in Palo Alto.
It was just a little club.(4)

Palo Alto Times
April 17, 1968
by Terry Ryan
There were few people there to hear them, but Petrus--a rock group with something to say and a fine way to say it--opened for three nights at the Poppycock in Palo Alto Tuesday night.
Talent and music are commodities that Petrus has in abundance.
Many of it songs were written by members of the group itself, and they packed a tremendous amount of music into the evening.
Vocalist Ruthann Friedman provided the spark that ignited Petrus. She sings with a superabundance of intensity, yet manages to come through with reasonable clarity. She has a deep, throaty voice that fitted well with the sound of three guitars.
...."Morning Becomes You" one of Friedman's songs, had to be the most hauntingly beautiful piece Petrus did all evening...
...Another song that could become popular if given the right exposure was "Panther" Miss Friedman rapped it out as if she came out of the jungle with it...

U-turn in Palo Alto
"I remember playing in Palo Alto at the Poppycock, after the gig (3 or 4 am), I was driving the band’s old Post Office truck with everyone - band, roadies & friends, equipment too, - on board, all exhausted, some of us stoned… and I made a U-turn to save a little time - cause there were no other cars on the road… and a cop pulled us over and had us pull into the Palo Alto Police Station – as I remember it, a very high tech place for the times – where they put me in a kind of big enclosed booth and had me empty my pockets into a drive-in bank-teller-like metal drawer.  I just did as they said without even thinking about it and the cop behind the glass window cracked up because I’d put a big hunk of hashish and a pipe, a couple joints and some miscellaneous pills in the bin… he called all his buddies over, saying "Hey, come look at this!".  When they got control of their laughter, the lead guy said something like, “Well now, sonny, if I have to put these in an envelope and write down your name and the contents, I think we might have to keep you here for a long, long time.  On the other hand, if I just get rid of this stuff for you, you can just deal with that little traffic misdemeanor… hmmm?”  And, naturally, I said “Gee, I’d appreciate it if you’d get rid of it for me then, Sir”… then after spending the night (what little was left of it) in a cell, they let me go… " (5)
The Poppycock was professionally connected to The Top Of The Tangent, next door, although it may have been called The Trip Room by then.
The Poppycock had a fair amount of theater events, particularly on weeknights.(1)
In 1971 it became a jazz joint called In Your Ear.
The building burned down in 1972.
There was a branch of Stanford University Bookstore there, which has since vacated, but the building is still for lease. The building has been substantially remodeled since its Poppycock days.(1)

Jerry performed here on
11/13/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage(1)
11/20/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage

1.)^Arnold, Corry, 2010-04-16,
2.)^Singh, Gary, Sonic Sutra, 2011/08019,
3.)^Burnett, Ralph, Beyond The Thunder, 1995,
4.)^Reid, Graham, Elsewhere,


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  2. A unique time in history. What great memories!

    1. Our father took us there when we were in our teens. Charlie Musselwhite was playing. Across the street were the Be-ins at Lytton plaza! That generation was one of a kind. So far from that world, that time, that place. Never again. So grateful to have been there.

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  4. I lived just opposite in the Hotel Stanford, now the Hotel Keen. Had a great job - 3 of our technician followed CCR, were regulars at the Poppycock. Eventually lost my job through then being a Scientologist. Not all Peace and Love. But a time of hope and creativity like we will probably never see again.