This is Rock History
Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company,
at Selland Arena, April 19, 1968 Concert, Fresno California
the Baba Love Company.
How Janis Joplin came to Fresno
I first met Chuck Swift when I was 11 years old at the first meeting of the newly formed boy scout troop 42 at Ernie Pyle elementary school in Fresno California, I was one of 21 boys who were there to divide themselves up into three groups that the Boy Scouts called patrols. I was picked by Chuck to join his patrol, thus starting a 25 year friendship. Chuck was mature for his age. He was the oldest of 5 siblings and was uses to herding his younger siblings around, so six more scouts were no problem for him.
“Being first born is a leadership asset.”
Chuck’s backyard had fifty bicycles piled up near the side fence. Their ever growing numbers were more than any 5 kids could ride. On a darker side, his dad was an insurance agent and when a kid or an adult was seriously injured or killed in a bicycle accident, Mr. Swift would bring those unwanted bicycles home so that their undamaged parts could be used by his children for projects. Chuck showed me the black dried blood on many of those bikes, just to prove what he was telling me about their grim history was true.
Chuck had a heavy Schwinn bike that he decorated with parts from those bloody bikes. At 11, Chuck had a paper route and he was disciplined by it to keep it as a steady revenue stream. Just like thousands of boys from as far back as 1883 delivered papers after school, Chuck collected monthly subscriptions from his customers/neighbors each month for the Fresno Bee.
“Early responsibly leads to Leadership.”
“Economic power leads to leadership.”
To be a Fresno Bee boy had high status and it was about the only way for a boy in those days to make steady spending money. Only boys could deliver papers up until girls joined their ranks in the 70’s. But the independent business of paper delivery by kids all ended when a Fresno Bee girl while collecting money was eaten by a deranged man.
Fresno was provincial in 1958, It would be called wholesome today. It was like, “Leave it to Beaver” at every home. I did not know of any married woman that worked accept for my mother. There were new three bedroom houses springing up as fast as the peach and almond orchards were laid down before the blade of an army of Caterpillar bulldozers. My parents bought a reseller home and moved in to the Town and Country Estates, They would live there for 55 years. Every man in the neighborhood was a WWII vet except for my dad who was 4F during the war a condition caused by a bad college football injury.
During the long hot Fresno summers, kids would try to cook eggs on the blistering sidewalks. At times the streets were so hot that they melted. That is when we would leave shoe prints on the surface of the road. I was a street light kid, up at 7am and not having to come home until the bright mercury lights turned on at nearly 10 pm. Chuck lived a half a mile from me. Our neighborhood was a safe and happy place to live.
—Times, they were a Changing
During the winter of 1967 things started to change for all us. Chuck moved out of his parents house and rented a one bedroom house near Fresno City College. It quickly became a place to hang out, being that all the rest of his friends still lived at home with their mamas. Chuck’s house had a bed and four chairs and a kitchen table. The front window was over sized and covered by a large, white, pull down roller shade. On the floor there was a record player with music albums stacked in the corner. Chuck played one recording many times over. It was not among the records in the living room pile, but in his bedroom.
The album was by a very attractive white, Chicago, blues singer in her thirties. The album cover pictured her with long blonde hair and a black velvet cocktail dress that matched her soft voice. Chuck was 20 years old with dreams of driving the 2,100 miles to Chicago in his 1958 topless Triumph sports car to hear her sing. That never happen.
“Outside knowledge leads to Leadership.
—— Baba Love Company
Chuck’s bedroom was full of his hoard of books. Chuck was an English major, he read widely and thought himself quite learned by the amount of information that he could recall under pressure. On his dresser was a book by Asian Swami, Baba Love. Chuck was always looking for knowledge and inspiration to impress the many girls that dropped by the house.
The name Baba Love Company was a play on Big Brother’s Holding Company and Baba’s teachings in his book. So just like that, the Baba Love Company was formed.
“Outside knowledge leads to Leadership.”
Chuck was always coming up with ideas that were based on doing something just for the fun of it, Things like, he once got it into his head that he wanted to raise a dog to live like a hippie, no rules, no structure, just hang out and chill, maybe listen to some music and be free of, “The Man,” telling the freedom loving pooch how to live, The dog ate from the table and crapped any place he wanted to. We were forbidden to instruct the dog on doggy manners or to scold him for doing a behavior that we might believe was not in his interest. It was a real mess.
The girls would put flowers in his hair and for a collar he wore three beaded necklaces. Finally, the dog ran away and since it had no collar, tags or name we were at a loss to find him. I can only say that the last time I saw him, he was going west towards San Francisco with some flowers in his hair.
There was the time Chuck tossed a few ideas out to the rest of us to give him feedback. I never heard anyone ever say that any of Chuck’s ideas were out there. At one time he asked if he should run for mayor of Fresno and wanted us to help him to raise money for his campaign by throwing by $5 dollar a head house party with a underground movie and with all you can drink beer flowing from a keg. That movie was Chuck’s first delve into entertainment for hire, He never ran for mayor.
First idea to have a rock and roll Concert
One Sunday afternoon, seven of us whose ages were from 17 to 23, were hanging around Chuck’s house playing music on the record player when during the small talk I mentioned that an album by Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin and a pair of binoculars had been stolen from the store where I worked. The albums release date was August 23, 1967 just after the Monterey Pop Festival. Keying on my comment, Chuck smiled and then put on one of his big grins. He had an idea. This time his notion was that we should hold a music concert.
That’s when Janis’ name came up. Was she available and what would be the cost of her performance? Chuck liked the way she sang the blues. She sang them hard, just the opposite of his favorite, Chicago blonde. He would make some calls and see if Janis and the Holding Company could be booked. Now for the money to do all of this, I for sure had no money, buying gas for 25 cents a gallon was a strain, my hourly wage was $1.25 as a part time clerk. But Chuck knew that Stuart Golway had a rare thing in those days and that was a credit card with cash advance. Golway pulled his card out of his wallet and gave it to Chuck.
Now it was no longer a crazy idea without a chance of success. We were going to do it on credit. We were bringing Janis to Fresno. Woodstock would start in another 16 months. Rolling Stone magazine called it one of “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll” but we were way ahead of that movement but never mentioned in Rolling Stone.
Over the next week there was a meeting with the mayor of Fresno who shook his head at the idea of having a rock and roll concert at the Selland Arena produce by some underaged kids. That was what the old rundown Rainbow ballroom was for. The issue was security. Chuck assured Mayor Floyd H. Hyde that everything would be taken care of and dropped a few names of his backers. Golway got is dad, a college history professor, to invest plus a few other well known professors from Fresno State College. To make the road smoother, Stuart who was 3 years older and of legal age was named producer.
You can’t trust anyone over 30?
With in the process of brainstorming Chuck came up with the idea that older people were out of it and just like Baba Love he sought to open their minds and enlighten them with this new sound. At that time in Fresno there was a radio station called KYNO, it played only top forty hits, the closes thing Fresno had to a rock station, but there was a FM station that did not play rock but became a pirate station after midnight. The night DJ played album rock after midnight because he knew that the station’s owner was sleeping. This station was where I first heard Black Sabbath and Big Brother. Still, Janis was not known and was mostly thought of as a shy girl singer from Texas for the established San Francisco band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. She became famous with the release of the next album, Cheap Thrills, four months after she was in Fresno. Most people in Fresno never heard of album rock nor knew of the FM pirate station.
Fresno in those days was just like its sister city, Modesto. We had the Fulton Street where we “dragged the main” and Modesto had the American Graffiti’s 10th Street. Just like in the movie we listened to Wolfman Jack and would drive to Cayucos beach as it was the nearest cool spot in the summer. Fresno was just 200 miles from San Francisco but 5 years behind it culturally. Fresno was not hip or cool in anyone’s eyes.
I was extremely tight when it came to money. So tight that I would coast from midway down my block and slowly roll to a stop at my house just to save gas. I kept my head down when Chuck started asking for more money for printing posters and printing tickets. Because of my focus on saving money, the thing that I did do was to up the “free for anyone over 30 ” to “over 35 are free.” This happened when I ask if we could afford the loss if a bunch of 31 year olds showed up wanting free tickets. Chuck changed the age to the oddly “free to everyone over 35” age requirement. Thinking no one of that age, being born in 1937, would attend in any meaningful numbers.
—Then it was Over
When all the bills were paid the guys sat around and licked their wounds. Stuart lost the most, his credit card really taking a hit. Others had pawned their treasured amps or borrowed money from family and friends. I invested nothing and I lost nothing, but I never said anything about it being a bust to anyone. After two concerts, the first by the little known Grateful Dead and the second by Janis Joplin there was no more Baba Love Company. It disappeared from sight like the love flowers on that hippie dog’s tail.
Meher Baba died 9 months after our concert.
Here To Help
What Did We Learn?
Answer: A Leader has a personal road map that others will trust and follow.
Movement is leadership. If a person is on a journey she will be followed for no other reason than the her movement itself.
Having goals and asking others to help you reach those goals is leadership. Just Ask.