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Monday, June 4, 2012

Mandrake's, 1048 University Avenue, (between 10th Street and San Pablo Avenue), Berkeley, CA

Used to be here.

Capacity 100?

From 1965 onwards, Mandrake's was a pool hall that booked occasional music shows, often for free.
The old pool hall reopened as a beer bar and nightclub in 1968 by a schoolteacher and blues fan named Mary Moore, the wife of a jazz musician (Willie Moore).

From 1968 to 1974, Mandrake's was an important club on the Berkeley music scene. The Joy of Cooking had a regular weeknight gig there for much of 1969, and it helped to establish both the band and the venue.
Weekly bookings at Mandrake's ran the usual spectrum of American music, but there was a little more emphasis on blues and jazz than competing clubs like The Longbranch (on 2504 San Pablo) and the New Orleans House (on 1505 San Pablo).

Oh YES!  B.B. King was there. Muddy Waters was there. Magic Sam was there! "Good Rockin'" Robinson was there. Earl Hooker! Freddie Roulette! Even Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were there! And Mandrake's became a hangout for the blues greats who would sit around a big round table. And Charlie Musselwhite would lure his friends in, so John Lee Hooker was there, too, sitting and talking with his other friends. The marquee posters of coming attractions were hand painted in black on large white artist's sketching paper. After the event, the posters were stuck on the walls inside with masking tape. The walls inside were flat black, the full house lights were never very bright, but the greats were there. Even Mose Allison! Jerry Garcia showcased his new love, pedal steel guitar there. This was just June thru December 1969. Big Mama Thornton, and Lightning Hopkins, too. Those are just some of the blues greats who swung through.

A really famous rock group rented Mandrake's one fall night for a rehearsal/private party. They performed, but weren't ever listed as one of the performing acts. Name that band? Well, ok ..... They rented the place when the Magic Theater was putting on a triology of plays on Friday nights ("Supersargeant", "The Teddy Bear Picnic", and "Spider Rabbit"). The band even got onstage themselves for a few numbers and had borrowed bits and pieces of costumes from the theatrical "wardrobe room" (a small trunk upstairs pushed into the corner to make room for the sound and lights table). So they performed "incognito." Honest! (Not a word to any one now ... the Stones!)

Mary Moore was a kindly person. She arranged for a series of benefits at local clubs to help Charlie Musselwhite with medical expenses after he was in a very bad car accident. She even put a show on at the Keystone on University (long about 1971 ???) as that venue had more of a draw than Mandrake's. Charlie was part and parcel of Mandrake's. He felt welcome there and was most welcome always. Mary died in 2001 in Berkeley at the age of 73.

Just found Mary's obituary:
Mary Moore -- founder of Berkeley nightclub Mandrake's
December 28, 2001|
By Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

Mary Moore, the founder and guiding spirit of Mandrake's night club in Berkeley, died Dec. 19 at her Berkeley home at age 73.

Ms. Moore started Mandrake's in 1968, and during its six years of existence the popular club blazed across the Bay Area music scene. Ms. Moore's love of music, and her engaging personality and friendships in the music world, are credited with making the small club a large name featuring top talents in blues, jazz and other types of music.

"It was a powerhouse club for just that short period of time," said Country Joe McDonald.

Mandrake's, situated at University Avenue and 10th Street, "was the birthplace for a lot of bands," said McDonald, whose Country Joe and the All Star Band got its start there.

Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen were signed by Paramount Records after packing Mandrake's, and it was also where Joy of Cooking and Asleep at the Wheel first found an audience.

Ms. Moore was longtime friends with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, who always drew large crowds, as did John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, James Cotton, Earl Hooker, Charlie Musselwhite and Mose Allison.

From the modern jazz world came Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Freddie Hubbard, Grover Washington Jr., Pharoah Sanders, Dexter Gordon, George Benson and other famous names.

Other favorites included Elvin Bishop, Boz Scaggs, Bobby Hutcherson, Dan Hicks, and occasionally an act such as comedian Richard Pryor.

Ms. Moore did the booking and was "the infusing spirit of the place," recalled Dave Greer, Ms. Moore's junior partner. She was always there, whether sitting at a front table with Muddy Waters, tending bar or attending the lines of patrons that often stretched around the block.

Ms. Moore, who had been married to the late Willie Moore, a well-known Bay Area blues and jazz saxophonist, was known for her sharp humor, fairness, insight and love of music, Greer said.

The club folded in 1974 because of increasing overhead and the introduction of exclusivity contracts into the music scene that stopped touring groups from playing more than one local venue, Greer said.

The Bay Area was rich in music, and Berkeley shared in the bounty. Name that band? Well, ok ..... They rented the place when the Magic Theater was putting on a triology of plays on Friday nights ("Supersargeant", "The Teddy Bear Picnic", and "Spider Rabbit"). The band even got onstage themselves for a few numbers and had borrowed bits and pieces of costumes from the theatrical "wardrobe room" (a small trunk upstairs pushed into the corner to make room for the sound and lights table). So they performed "incognito." Honest! (Not a word to any one now ... the Stones!)

Elvin Bishop would put on a one man blues show, and he was back several times until he got too expensive. We also had sterling local acts grace the stage, the Loading Zone, and I think Tower of Power lent some horns. The Fogarty Bros once fell by for a surprise set. Lots of musicians went onstage to sit in. They were the glue that held the whole scene together. Mondays were audition nights, when new, untried bands had the stage and for a long time there was free admission on Mondays. Not just music, as Richard Pryor was onstage there.

Mandrake's was only the corner building. Next door at the time I am speaking of was Buddy's Cafe, mostly a hamburger place that also offered a $1 Race Track breakfast special. Sometimes the musicians would go there to hang out for coffee before performance.

Kaleidoscope crowded the small stage and were accompanied by a pregnant belly-dancer with many coins sewn to her belt.

Commander Cody performed for the Mandrake's Halloween Party, the show was filmed and later broadcast on KQED-TV.

The manager was an actor turned school teacher named Don, and he wore his sweaters with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows. He would laugh about the fact that the Winston commercial he had been cast for in the early 60's paid his way thru teacher's college. Five people were silent owners in the bar. It took five people to open a business, and most all of them took turns working in the bar. Most were school teachers! Lee would tend bar, Sam (of Shakespeare's Books) would only attend meeting, Harry (once upon a time a comedian who by that time was quite abrasive) no one wanted around, I think Mary had a share at that time as she removed her tiffany style hanging lamps for fear of damage (The people who came to see Commander Cody would throw their beer glasses against the wall at the beginning of a favorite tune, like faux rednecks, resulting in much breakage, and were sometimes encouraged by the band onstage to do this. Don got miffed after awhile and added the cost of new barware to the band's tab at the end of the night).

There was a jukebox near the front door. And the owners had loaded it with some of their old '45s. Almost no one ever dropped a coin in the box. I remember "Hey Senorita" by the Penguins was on there. But apparently the jukebox rental company wouldn't allow people to put their own music on, or the club couldn't afford the rent any more, and the jukebox was summarily rolled out on a handtruck early one evening to be returned to jukebox warehouse.

"Monk closed the Manne-hole on January 17, (1971) and then took the band up north for a week at Mandrake's."(2) (Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, by Robin D.G. Kelly, (Simon and Schuster, 2009), p. 421.)
The saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. who became VERY popular in the 70s played his first Bay Area shows at the Mandrake opening for Richard Pryor.

Willie Dixon's Blues All Stars had a live recording from their shows at Mandrake's. Or a video tape of Elvin Bishop making his stage entrance dangling a rubber chicken (Magic Theater prop) ... the whole club fell apart laughing or at least all the blues guys sitting at the bar did, because he was making a reference to another blues hang out across the Bay, where they'd served free chicken dinners to lure in customers who might actually spend some money, like buy a drink. Mary was graced with unerring good taste in jazz. Once in great while, though, I seem to recall she'd come in with a still camera and surreptitiously take an occasional photo of the blues greats at least. And as to Commander Cody, I do remember who it was who helped land them that most important first gig at Mandrake's

Freddie Roulette backing up Charlie Musselwhite one night.

The younger bands sometimes drank too much as well. I recall the time in 1969, Commander Cody was playing on stage and some of the musicians were really struggling their way through their increasingly ragged parts. That's when Bill Kirchen closed his eyes and fell face down on the floor. Lucky he landed on the stage. George was on piano and turned his head towards the sound of the thud. Then he turned back to his piano and played extra loud. They finished the tune, and George announced a "short break". They'd only appeared at the club a handful of times when this happened.

South Berkeley was a rough neighborhood and had been for years, and when the sun went down, the environment could be dicey. Not all was sweetness and light even at Mandrake's. The club had hired two young men to help with load-ins, equipment, sound and lights, tend bar, tend the door, and then everything to do with close out -- haul the overflowing trash cans out into the ally at the end of the evening, and occasionally make a run to the bank around the corner to deposit the night's take in the night slot. To aid in visualizing, the two young men were identical twins, which sometimes could cause laughable confusion to patrons. As young men, they pretended to be hipper and tougher than they really were. One had an acquaintance who he'd invited into the club, and though no one else liked him, he became something of a regular. Until he was discovered stealing from the tip jar, which immediately escalated into rifling through the waitresses' purses and stealing money one evening and slipping money out of the till one evening on yet another. I recall hearing Mary had a talk with him on the first occasion, and the second, and remarked he was just like "her kids" (meaning the delinquents she used to teach at juvey), and he'd pretty much been 86'd from the premises. Within a very short time, I returned to work one evening after having the previous night off to discover this young man had returned also, but he went to the greasy spoon next door where he robbed and pistol whipped "Mr Buddy", the man who owned the place, and sent him to the hospital. "Mr Buddy" poured me a cup of coffee a few nights later, and he had a horrific blue bruise from cheek to jawbone, and his eye was nearly closed.

Robbery and pistol whipping, unpopular though they were, had an encore at Mandrake's.

Deacon and the Suprelles made their debut appearance at Mandrake's on August 25, 1969. What was to have been a Monday night try-out for an untried but promising band made a lasting lifelong impression on me. I hate to make things larger than they really were, or dramatize the retelling, but this was a night of firsts which became an evening of ongoing mystery changing rapidly into a time of never agains.

Like anything in the Berkeley at that time, what promised to be a simple Monday night show evolved into a complicated sort of thing. The band described themselves as a "Jewish soul" group, meaning they performed R&B and soul tunes. Pretty good, kinda like the records.

Which is exactly what they were doing at the time. They were onstage performing in front of a leopard skin curtain they'd brought for the occasion when a man and woman came into the club, sat down on the tall padded stools at the bar, where they ordered and were each served a drink. The phone rang shortly thereafter. A weeknight and we were breaking in a new bartender on what we assumed would be a much easier night than a busy weekend shift. Our new bartender, his first night on the job, answered the phone and chatted for awhile.

He hung up the phone, came over and told me the police had just called. I probably said, "The police called?" That was a new one. I'd never heard anything like that before. He explained the cops had called and were looking for some suspects who had just robbed a hotel and pistol whipped the night clerk just down the street, and the cops described the couple who were now sitting at the bar. As he’d just served them a drink, the bartender recognized them from the description and told the cops the people were there. The police advised him the couple were armed and dangerous, and to clear the club without the suspects noticing it.

After the bartender apprised me of these facts, he slipped over the bar and went out the front door. So I told the manager about this phone call, and he soon slipped away through that same door with the bouncer. We weren't used to trouble in that place. Onstage, the band continued what was likely the first song of their first set of the evening and I was the last employee left in the building. I went around casually pretending to wipe off tables and empty ashtrays. Maybe overacting the part while trying to look casual by boogalooing with my tray from table to table. And I leaned close to speak as the music was loud and I could feel the heat from the candles on the tables as I asked people one at a time and very cautiously to vacate the premises, to leave and be really cool about it.

The band continued to play onstage. A group of white boys who covered R&B tunes pretty well, they were probably beginning to wonder about the quality of their performance with everyone starting to leave and all.

I went back behind the bar and the couple noisily demanded another drink. I gave them each a drink, and I accidentally spilled some of one as I set it down. I apologized, lifted the glass, and wiped the spill from the bar top with a cloth.

This incident made the woman very angry, and she seemed to spiral out of control and didn’t seem to like me, and let her companion know with the words, "kill that bitch." She started screeching, "Kill that bitch! Give me that gun, I’ll kill her." "Gimme the gun" she was shouting loudly. She moved towards him on the bar stool and tried to pull something from the pocket of his jacket, but he kept pulling his jacket away from her and told her to take it easy.

While they were so engaged, I walked away and got the last few people near the bandstand out. I walked over to the stage and told the lead singer every one’s getting off stage, there was going to be trouble. They tumbled off right away, and left en masse by the back door which slammed shut behind them. And I was soon right behind them, too, happy to leave the couple with the club all to themselves.

The cops leveled their fire power at me as I came out the back door and I
was so startled to be staring straight down gun barrels that I nearly hit the dirt. Unbelievably, up the block, a tv crew had been close and scanning the police radio. They'd set up and were interviewing the bartender. Why bother talking to him about anything, I thought, he'd barely even been there. His first night as a bartender in a blues club..

I caught up with the band who were heading off down 10th St as I didn't want to go in the other direction where the television people were. After a cup of coffee with the band at a nearby restaurant, we waited for the police to enter the building and subdue the suspects.

Well, the cops eventually went in and took them. But I was left wondering why I had to be the one taking the risks. Suddenly I felt like I had taken enough risks, and I was genuinely disappointed no one else was willing to take part. I guess there was an issue about safety and rescue, too, whirling around for me. Most times, there’s no such thing, you know.

We all made our way back to the club and finished off the night. Anyone who wanted to come back in to hear the music came back. I got my wages for the night and the tips though always lousy were even scarcer than usual, but the owner made a special point of expressing appreciation when I showed up for my next shift. No shots were fired, no blood was spilled, but this incident made a profound and lasting impression on me.

All I know as "the end" is the police came back several times during daylight hours in the following days to search the club from top to bottom for the weapon, which was never found. The band to my knowledge never played Mandrake's again.
I wish you could have tasted that 35-cent a glass champagne at Mandrake's ... not half bad.

Uneventful? Like the two Sexual Freedom League parties we played at under the name Electric Trousers? There's nothing like playing in a band with your naked manhood hanging out below your guitar...

For the record (for THELONIOUS MONK as above):

Tues Jan 19 (1971) - Mandrake's
Weds Jan 20 (1971) - Mandrake's
Thur Jan 21 (1971) - Mandrake's
Fri Jan 22 (1971) - Mandrake's
Sat Jan 23 (1971) - Mandrake's
Sun Jan 24 (1971) - Mandrake's

("Brilliant corners: a bio-discography of Thelonious Monk", by Chris Sheridan, Greenwood Publishing Group, (2001), p. 454)

Thelonious Monk Quartet (Paul Jeffrey (ts); Monk (p); Larry Gales (b); Leon (Ndugu) Chancler (d))

(Daniel Moore headed the Floating Lotus Magic Opera at the same time McClure's plays were being done at Mandrakes -- slip of the tongue)

I am "fairly confident" Jerry had visited Sandy Bull back in 1967 or so when Sandy lived off 5th Street in South Berkeley. Sandy was already playing pedal steel and had one set up in his living room. And Jerry may have been inspired somewhat.

The twins who acted as bouncer/bartender on some nights went away somewhere, maybe on a trip, maybe off to visit their grandmother. In the interim, Don who was growing concerned about the increased roughness of the area had hired a new doorman. A huge well muscled black man. The guy certainly presented a scary appearance. Even he began acting up, and that was scary to consider. It started shortly after I sat at a table with him to get to know him a bit. He never seemed to say a word, and not just because he was the strong, silent type. and I wondered how it was he got thru the interview. We sat across from one another at a small table for two, and the table candle flickered. The whites of his eyes were rimmed with red. He always wore black. And we spoke. I tried to "rap" with him, get to know him a bit. He mumbled his answers, and all I could hear of his personal history was that he used to work in a steel mill, or foundry, and in Louisiana he had served two concurrent sentences. His voice dropped when he said that. And I asked him for what, and he said simply, "Murder." My blood ran cold as he warmed up to the conversation, and told me again he used to work in a steel mill, "And I drink molten steel." He spoke quite softly and mumbled a bit when he did. So I excused myself and went to talk to the manager about what I had found out about this man, or at least what he had said. He continued on, with no appreciable trouble from him. He would sometimes amuse himself in the cooler by picking up a beer keg (which weighed close to 100 pounds) ... one in each hand, and he'd lift them up and down like he was pumping dumbells.
He stuck around until he erupted one night. I was walking up the aisle toward the bar, and I saw Don the Manager and him having a conversation by the wall just past the jukebox. Then suddenly he lifted Don up and placed him against the wall, then he was holding Don by the throat, and Don's feet were fully two or three feet off the ground as he was kicking his feet. The guy held him in place with one arm and turned to look at me coming up the aisle. I was shouting, "No! No!" so he let go and down Don slid into a seated position holding his throat. Somehow that scene cooled out and I think Don fired the guy.

Sandy Bull lived, renting a basement room from the guy who worked at the Berkeley Repertory. He had a pedal steel that had a sticky foot pedal. He practiced for hours, countless hours. Some of the others in the vicinity at the time might recall exactly how Jerry and Sandy connected, though Sandy's 2 Vanguard records were in every single musician's record collection at the time. All I know is some Golden Toad musicians were around at the time, and the Grateful Dead's sound man liked their music a lot, and I saw his green and foreign and most unpractical car parked down the street now and again.

It was always a struggle to keep Mandrake's afloat, the ebb and flow of lucre. So it was a good thing that NRPS played there as the house was packed all of those nights. There were some surprises with other performers. When Linda Tillery reappeared as Sweet Linda Divine, people bought tickets and came in expecting to see the Loading Zone powering out "Danger, Heartbreak Straight Ahead". But Ms. Tillery announced that no dancing was allowed when she was singing, and this was a gospel night. But she and her staff were so strident about this, their demands cast something of a pall on the room. And a few couples got up and danced anyway, which upset her. Maybe Mary knew this would be a different sort of performance, but that was not communicated to me. When Sonny & Brownie performed, an unusual crowd appeared, the olde folke crowd, super respectful of the performers. So much so no one would order so much as a beer when they were onstage. Between songs, it was deadly still as well and something like being in church. Maybe one or two people got a glass of wine. You can see that those shows cost the club money to produce and generated very little beyond the door fee, which was quite modest. They really were almost giveaways. Jerry's visit with his band helped the club along quite a bit, maybe helped us continue to make payroll and order a bit more booze for a few weeks.

Did they do the "rider" song at that time? Here is what came to me in the past few moments. I thought that song might be a derivative of another. The stage steps at Mandrake's were awkwardly located to the left of the stage facing it, near the men's and women's restrooms. First night they entered from that side and played, which because there were a lot of them and a lot of their friends hanging near them, that clogged up the access to the bathroom for customers (and in a beer joint that could be difficult for people). So, the next night they came in walking through the front entrance, first through were a couple of guys, and I saw Jerry and tried to say something appropriately "hip", like ... "Hey, I know you, Rider ... " as a way of saying howdy. I think that was it. But truly I was like a piece of furniture in the way to some others around him, and they kind of muscled him past me. So that's ok, this is not the same guy now I tried to teach what little finger picking I knew on guitar to, not now he isn't ... and they were clumped near the front and beginning to spill their numbers towards the rest rooms again. I was a little hurt and miffed about what seemed to me to be arrogant behavior from a couple of guys around him, but I figured that's show biz. I pointed out the bathroom situation to Mary. She went and disbursed them, and that's why they made their entrance from the front door and came down the aisle. On another night, they made stage entrance by coming in from the alley door. Sounds a little flat and colorless, but memories are like that some times.

Jerry's singing wasn't the greatest, and his voice was fractured and he sang off key. Through the mikes sometimes it sounded like he was gargling. So I went home quite late (as always) with my boyfriend that night I was totally disregarded and we were getting ready for sleepy bye. I was brushing my teeth and gargling. I'd made a discovery. So I stopped and shouted a bit for my boyfriend come in and hear my imitation of Jerry's singing, which was done gargling with mouthwash and ended up with a complete chorus of The National Anthem. Take that, I said to myself.

Reading through the roster, and couldn't believe we'd only charge 50 cents admission some nights.
And there were often naked women on the stage swirling and dancing ... two, three, four times a week some evenings.

Charlie Musselwhite would sometimes pull out obscure tunes. He sang "J.B. Lenoir is Dead," but with such a distant hollow sound to his voice it sounded like the music was being piped in from a place far away and long ago.

The club folded in 1974 because of increasing overhead and the introduction of exclusivity contracts into the music scene that stopped touring groups from playing more than one local venue.(1) After Mandrake's closed in 1974, the venue reopened as Jerry's Stop Sign.

Now it's the Pet Emergency Treatment and Specialty (PETS) Referral Center.

Jerry performed here on
10/14/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage
10/15/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage
10/16/69 New Riders Of The Purple Sage
4/21/70 New Riders Of The Purple Sage
4/22/70 New Riders Of The Purple Sage
6/2/70 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and The Rubber Duck Mime Band (Tom Constanten)
6/3/70 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and The Rubber Duck Mime Band (Tom Constanten)
Jerry made his entrance from the street door that night I am describing. He was holding his guitar, and he curled over a bit like a player in a football rush ... The band had already set up on the little stage and an announcer came to the microphone ... the crowd exploded into cheers and Jerry ran in and onto the stage. That's all I can recall of that evening, although it was also a nice crowd.

1.)^Barbara Flaska, Rock Archeology 101, 2009-08-16,
2.)^Kelly, Robin D.G., Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, (Simon and Schuster, 2009), p. 421.)

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