Hayward, California is a blue-collar suburb on the Eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, about twenty-eight miles southeast of the Golden Gate. A one time farming community, it was long famous for the overpowering smell of ketchup that hovered over the town from the Hunt Brothers Tomato Cannery. As the modern era rolled in, new suburbs took the place of fields and industrial parks. Families filled in and by the ‘60s a whole generation of kids were coming of age, a coming of age that was abruptly interrupted by a group of four musicians from thousands of miles away—the Beatles.
“About the time, the Beatles exploded in the States a kid named Mike Filloon moved in across the street from me,” remembers Nymbus guitarist Joel Anderson. “We became friends and started listening to the Beatles nonstop. Mike already played the ukulele. I started playing my father’s six-string acoustic guitar and learned to play by ear. When I was about thirteen, we started a band called the Cruisaders (sic). My mother made vests for us to wear with shield insignias that she sewed on.”
The Cruisaders began cranking out simplistic versions of early Beatles tunes and soon graduated from garage rehearsals to performing at junior high school dances, and though they never went any farther than that, the admiration they received and the thrill of playing in front of a crowd gave Anderson and Filloon a real taste of the rock n roll life. Across town, future-Nymbus drummer Brian Miller also credited the Beatles for his interest in music. He remembers watching them on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 when he was in eighth grade. Totally blown away, he joined a local group called the Exciters and he and his friends began attending the Teens ‘n Twenties dances at the nearby San Leandro Rollarena.
The Teens ‘n Twenties dances were the brainchild of a guy named Bill Quarry. From 1965 to about the middle of 1967 Quarry rented out a roller rink and threw weekend dances. The savvy entrepreneur booked top touring acts like Them, the Byrds, and the Yardbirds and placed local groups like the Baytovens, the Harbinger Complex, and William Penn and his Pals in the opening slots. The dances were immensely popular with East Bay youth and the 1,500 head capacity Rollarena was often jammed. For the more adventurous suburban teens, the city of San Francisco was just a short car or bus ride across the Bay. There the ballroom scene was the name of the game, and big-name touring acts shared stages with local heroes like the Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
By 1966 Anderson and Filloon were now students at Tennyson High School. The Cruisaders had given it up but Anderson had formed a folk rock group called the Sunny Goodge Street Blues Band that featured Paul Frumkin III on Farfisa keyboard. Frumkin had been a member of another band, Frual Pumkin with a guy named Mario Savio (not the Berkeley free speech activist!). Anderson’s old friend Mike Filloon designed posters for their (very) local gigs.
That group eventually became Glue, “a short lived experience,” recalls Anderson, “from mid ’67 to approximately mid ’68. The band broke up when our bass player, Jim Riddle, was inducted into the army and went off to Vietnam. We played a lot of Eric Burdon and the Animals covers.”
Meanwhile Filloon started a band with Don Steffans called Captain Crud to compete in the Tennyson High School talent show. They did a song called “Finnigan” that their friend Anderson wrote. Unfortunately Captain Crud lost out to the Staton Brothers band who would go on to some measure of fame. Filloon (along with his friend Hector Tellez) was heavily into underground comics and Captain Crud was actually the name of a comic he’d been drawing. “Mike had a loose Don Martin (MAD magazine) kind of style, and I had a lot of fun jamming with him in high school,” recalls Tellez. “He was very creative and totally unrestrained.” Tellez and Filloon spent hours drawing and making up new characters often based on the social atmosphere of Tennyson High (surfers versus hondos) and their friends quirks and personalities.
Things started changing by 1968 when the sounds coming from England went decidedly heavy, thanks to outfits like Cream and Jeff Beck Group. The Rollarena didn’t survive the transition and the East Bay teen scene changed from innocent dances at the roller rink to loud outdoor concerts in parks and rented out recreation centers. Gone was the jangle of folk rock; in was the blare of loud amplifiers. Monkey-see, monkey-do Bay Area groups like Blue Cheer, Gold, and Mt. Rushmore became increasingly loud and bombastic too, continually pushing their equipment to its limit and feeding the heads of kids like then-Hayward teen Paul Honeycutt. “I spent my weekends over in San Francisco at places like the Fillmore West, the Family Dog on the Great Highway, and Winterland,” he recalls. “That year I first saw groups such as the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin. Pretty mindblowing stuff for a 16 year-old from the suburbs.” Things would get even crazier when the Rolling Stones held their notorious Altamont concert right in these kids’ backyard, just a few miles down the freeway in the hills above Livermore.
Sometime in 1968 Anderson and Filloon met up with drummer Brian Miller, who was introduced to them by a girl he was dating in their neighborhood. By then their respective bands had broken up and they were ready to try something new. They put together a trio and called it Nymbus. Hector Tellez worked up a logo. “Joel, Mike, Hector, and I came up with the name based on the cloud name,” recalls Miller. “If you look at the posters, Nymbus is written in clouds. ” The “Y” might have been in reference to the Yardbirds.
Change makes this world a trip, just look up to the sky.
If it was the Beatles that initially inspired the three musicians, it was the Yardbirds who had really given them a kick in the pants. All the guys recall being blown away by the Jeff Beck-led blues act when they played at the Rollarena in 1966. Because the Yardbirds had made such a big splash in the East Bay (Quarry had helped booked their tour and made sure local East Bay bands got opening slots, special attention was paid as the super-group lost Jeff Beck, gained Jimmy Page, and eventually splintered into Led Zeppelin and the Jeff Beck Group. Anderson took Beck’s guitar work to heart and the group began including their own take on “Beck’s Blues” in their early set lists. Nymbus was also very aware of what other Bay Area groups were up to. “Quicksilver Messenger Service and Frumious Bandersnatch were a couple of local bands that I really liked,” recalls Miller. “As for touring acts, The Who, The Kinks, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix Group…” Not a surprising list of influences, especially as all of them had been through the Bay Area in recent months.
Inspired by the extended jamming that they heard from some of these groups, Nymbus began taking things far out from the blues base they’d begun with, emphasizing epic instrumentalization over the tight, song-based leanings of bands in the years previous. “All our songs had extended solo sections/jams,” explains Miller. “They were spontaneous but were built on riffs that either Joel or Mike created.” A Nymbus set list might look something like this… “Rabbo the Rabbit,” “Finnigan the Pirate,” Light the Night,” and “Get Up and Dance Mother Fuckers.” Most of these songs would spill over into twenty minute long jams. There were no boundaries with Nymbus’s music, whether working stuff out at rehearsal or performing it live on stage. “Dropping acid and staying up all night in Joel’s parent’s garage, jamming with a cassette tape recorder were definitely contributors to new songs,” recalled Miller. “We were just doing what we were inspired to do without any preconceived idea.” Nymbus began venturing to where heavier Northern California groups like Blue Cheer and the Oxford Circle were taking the blues, resulting in effect-laden sounds that have much in common with Aum’s debut and post-Blue Cheer material like Randy Holden’s Population II.
Fellow Hayward musician Paul Honeycutt remembers that time well, “Joel (Anderson) was our local Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page. He had that British blues rock thing down. I remember when I first heard Led Zeppelin I thought Page sounded like Joel! I talked ‘em up every chance I got. I remember telling some friends how good I thought they were and one who’d been a singer in a bunch of bands said, ‘Jesus, you act like they’re Cream or something.’”
It was the technical proficiency and stylized lineups of Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the Jeff Beck Group, that drove Nymbus to go ahead as a three piece, shunning the larger stage presence that many of the East Bay groups followed. “I don’t remember being influenced by any other Bay Area power trios,” says Miller. “Cream had just come out and we were greatly impressed and influenced by them which may have played a major role in choosing to be a trio.”. Of course there was Blue Cheer but the guys weren’t impressed by their “just a lot of loud noise.” “My opinion was that they just weren’t that talented,” admits Anderson. Miller agrees. “The last time I saw them was with the Who in ’68. The last song Blue Cheer played was “Summertime Blues.” The Who came on after. They traditionally opened with “Can’t Explain” or “Heaven and Hell”. However, Pete Townsend, never one to be upstaged, instead opened with “Summertime Blues.” Although the Who could have blown away Blue Cheer when they were having an off night, that was not the case here. The Who obliterated Blue Cheer in my opinion. The audience went nuts. It was awesome!”
After tons of rehearsals, Nymbus began playing regularly at the Recreation Center in George Weekes Community Park in Hayward where there was a ‘Teen Drop In’ on one week night and dances on the weekends.” Recalls Honeycutt, “the Drop In was a time to meet up with friends and girls and go out into the park and get high and be silly.” Groups from all over the East Bay came to play. Honeycutt remembers seeing the Bristol Boxkite play there once. “They could have become a Jefferson Airplane cover band as the whole band was modeled after them. They had a wall of Vox Super Beatle amplifiers and the girl singer wore a short dress that allowed me to see what color underwear she was wearing from where I was sitting!”
The city of Hayward was very supportive of teen rock groups, most likely as a way to keep kids out of trouble. The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD) began hosting an annual regional Battle of the Bands in 1964, so there was always impetus to get a tight group together in hopes of winning it all. The Battle was originally held at the Hayward Park Municipal Bandshell and groups like the Opposite Direction, the Simple Forms, and the Tickitts would have been popular at the Rec Center dances after winning the Battle. There were tons of local bands, many now forgotten. “My friend Rocky sang with a group called the Knight Ryders,” remembers Honeycutt. “Rocky thought he was the second coming of Jim Morrison so his band covered the Doors, Animals and a lot of blues.” As they had become in the San Francisco music scene, the blues too had become an obsession in Hayward. Another local outfit that went by the cryptic name of SPECTOR went so far as changing their band’s name to Peter Green, after Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist. “I never understood why and I thought maybe they were trying to make people think that’s who they were coming to see!” reckons Honeycutt. In fact it was through one of these bands that Honeycutt first learned of Nymbus. “It was a friend of my brother, a guy named Steve Muñez who played in a band called the Ugly Truth. I think he mentioned Joel in the same sentence as Clapton and Beck!”
Sometime in 1968, Nymbus hired a manager named Lee Pederson who got them more local gigs outside of the HARD scene. No doubt to the relief of Anderson’s parents, the group moved their rehearsals from the family garage to an abandoned farmhouse in nearby Union City. Nicknamed “the Farm,” the secluded property was Nymbus’s home base for the second half of 1968 through the first half of 1969. “We’d throw parties there after gigs from time to time,” recalls Anderson. “When Nymbus opened for Alice Cooper at the IDES Hall in Hayward in 1968 we all went to the Farm for an all night party after the gig.”
The IDES Hall was the local home of the Brotherhood of the I.D.E.S. Society (The Society of the Divine Holy Spirit), a fraternal organization sorta like the Elks but with a religious bent. They began renting out their hall for teen dances as early as 1966 as evidenced by a handbill advertising the Sopwith Camel and the Second Phase playing the “Idescope.” The list of performers who graced the low stage there is like a who’s who of East Bay musicians… The Misanthropes, Peter Wheat and the Breadmen, the Fortes, Just IV… even Muddy Waters once performed in the stuccoed building on C Street.
The resourceful Pederson began throwing concerts around town under the title of Aura Enterprises, the first showcasing Nymbus at the IDES along with Fillooon’s old rivals the Staton Brothers (who were just a few months away from recording the theme for the George of the Jungle cartoon!). Pederson kept the band busy, though they still managed to enjoy themselves. “Lots of mind enhancing substances were ingested,” Miller admits. “We were openers for some big name acts, i.e. Alice Cooper, Buddy Guy, MC5, Jefferson Airplane, Steve Miller, Bo Diddley… Unfortunately I can’t remember much about them because of my influenced state!” Most of the group’s posters were done by their friend Hector Tellez.
The show with the MC5 should have been particularly memorable. It happened at the Straight Theater on Haight St. in March of ‘69—a free show thrown in cooperation with the political group the Motherfuckers. To a crowd of 200, Nymbus did their thing before the Motor City madmen took the stage. A review in the free rag the Fifth Estate described it as follows. “The bawdy Scum Palace was filled to capacity with (in the words of the master of ‘ceremonies’) ‘the most baddest, low down, come down, run down, vile, likker drinkin,’ drug runnin,’ spiteful, nogood man-haters that ever stalked the face of this earth!’ Predictably, the crowd went insane. Dee-generate, glassy-eyed, straw-toned, teased out braless freakies threw themselves at lead guitarist Wayne Kramer, their raunchy groins oozing fuzz-tone energy. It was a surreal, macabre burlesque of a 1955 Gene Vincent State Fair show.” There is no mention of Nymbus in the review but the MC5 must have made an impact on the group, as they referenced the quintet’s “kick out the jams” slogan in their own new song, “Get Up and Dance Mother Fuckers.”
On July 8, 1969 Pederson’s Aura Enterprises presented Nymbus and Crystal Garden at the IDES Hall. Hailing from next-door San Leandro, Crystal Garden had been playing the scene since ’65 and had just recorded a fabulous 45 for the local Baytown label (You all remember their far-out “Peach Fuzz Forest” from Pebbles #11, right?). Besides being Nymbus’s manager, Pederson was also a roadie for the West Coast Natural Gas spinoff band Indian Puddin’ and Pipe, and so a couple months later Nymbus held down the middle slot on a bill that featured that group and Lazarus at the Ahepa Center in Oakland. AHEPA stands for American Hellenic Progressive Association and it’s a Greek-American association that works to promote the ancient Greek ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, etc. The center on MacArthur Blvd. had a hall for rent and Aura booked it for what appears to be the first rock concert at this location. The Hector Tellez-designed handbills say “Grand Opening” so possibly Pederson hoped to continue doing shows there. Corry Arnold mentions infamous promoter Matthew Katz booking the AHEPA around this period as well, filling the bills with bands signed to his San Francisco Sound label. Indian Puddin’ and Pipe, who had a new jammy, jazzier sound by this point were one of his. Was Pederson testing out a partnership with Katz or did Katz find out about the AHEPA after his group played there and told him about it?
Judging from old listings and mentions in local newspapers, it seems Nymbus had no problem landing gigs. They performed outdoors at Kennedy Park in downtown Hayward on June 24th, 1969. Later that summer a particularly busy September weekend had the band providing the soundtrack to teen tomfoolery at a high school dance at Mt. Eden H.S. and at a psychedelically-lighted to-do, as the Oakland Tribune reported, “The Hayward Recreational Department’s teen club will hold its first fall dance this evening at 8 at the Weekes Park Community Center on Patrick Ave. in Hayward. Nymbus and Karpenterzelbo will be featured groups. Lights will be worked by Abercrombie.”
The group even made it as far south as Ventura for a daytime gig at the community college there. Photos from that day show “one of our roadies arranged for us to play,” Miller remembers. The daytime show was well-documented in black and white photos. In them, astonished community college students look on as an intense-faced Anderson stabs at an SG Jr. held up by a medieval-looking shiny metal-scale strap. Filloon is laying down the rhythm on a Mustang bass, and Miller, shirtless, sits regally behind a boss-looking double bass drum kit flanked by Ampeg stacks. “The Ampeg amps were on loan from Clyde Blackwell Music in Oakland to promote the music store and Ampeg,” explains Miller. “They were a new line of amps and Clyde was the exclusive East Bay retailer at the time.” Nymbus paid special attention to the equipment they utilized, and it paid off in their awesome sound. “I was playing a 1969 Rickenbacker 6-string through a 1969 Ampeg Colossus. I used the Boss Tone sustain unit that plugged directly into the guitar,” recalls Anderson. Self-professed gearhead Honeycyutt remembers, “Local bands used Fender or Sunn or Vox amps. Marshalls were still exotic and weren’t seen much. Nymbus played through Ampeg amps. Both Joel and Mike had matching rigs, possibly V-22 heads through 2 x 15” cabs. Mike had an Ampeg bass, the kind Rick Danko of the Band used. I think he sometimes used a Fender bass as well. Joel was playing a Fender Telecaster and sometimes a Rickenbacker 360 six string that had Gibson humbucking pickups installed. Joel got a good overdrive sound and I once asked him how he got it and he said he had a “preamp.” As I recall it was a homemade box that boosted the signal from his guitar overdriving the amp.”
By far the biggest audience Nymbus ever played to was at the Aquarian Family Festival, a free three-day concert that took place on a football field on the campus of San Jose State University in May of 1969. The festival was organized partly in protest of the high ticket cost of another festival which was taking place the same weekend at the nearby Santa Clara Fairgrounds. While the Folk Rock Festival advertised big-name groups like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin (who ended up not playing), and Spirit, the Aquarian Family Festival boasted an even more massive lineup that consisted of a few bigger Bay Area bands like Joy of Cooking, the Sons of Champlin, Mad River, the Steve Miller Band, and Jefferson Airplane (who managed to do sets at BOTH festivals), but mostly newer or regional bands like the Ace of Cups, All Men Joy, Zephyr Grove, and Birth. According to Corry Arnold on his Rock Prosopography101 site, “The organizers simply called every band they knew, and a lot of them showed up. The agreement with the College stipulated that people could only be present when music was playing, so bands played continuously for the entire 72 hours. A specially constructed stage allowed one band to set up while another played. Apparently, bands simply showed up at the site and signed up, like signing up for a tennis court.” It is thought that between 20,000 and 80,000 people were in attendance that weekend, a real big deal for lesser-known local groups who got to perform.
Nymbus showed up and brought a lot of fans there from the East Bay. Paul Honeycutt was one of them. “I had hitch-hiked down from Hayward with my friend Squirrel and his girlfriend, Angelica who had tickets for the big festival. There was camping there and a lot of people stayed the night in the park who were attending the festival. I ran into some friends from Hayward and hung out at their campsite while they went to the big festival. I’d dropped acid and when Squirrel and Angelica came back to start home, I decided to stay the night.”
It was very, very late by the time Nymbus finally went on. “When we were setting up, the stage hands mistakenly plugged our amps into the 220 volt slot in the generator which blew the fuses,” Miller remembers. “This caused the Ampegs severe damage and blew the power supply in both amps. They didn’t have any extra fuses so our manager found some aluminum foil to wrap the blown fuses with. Fortunately, there were no more power issues. If there had been, the amps would have fried!” “We were able to play at 3AM right before the Jefferson Airplane went on,” remembers Anderson. “Nymbus played well and were well received,” Honeycutt remembers. “Then after their set at the other festival, Jefferson Airplane came over and played. They previewed songs from their forthcoming Volunteers album until the PA went down, so Paul, Jorma, Jack, and Spencer got into jam mode, more like Quicksilver or the Dead then the jams I’d heard them play before. What I remember most is the way they weaved the 12-string, bass and lead guitar together.” Had Nymbus’s freeform jamming inspired the scene vets? Who knows?
Not everyone enjoyed the concert as much as Honeycutt however. Rolling Stone magazine reported that one woman in the neighborhood complained to the festival board in the event’s aftermath, “We had queers walking up and down our lawn, claiming they were God. I had to clean excrement from my lawn and that’s no picnic, sirs!”
As the sun rose over the chaotic scene, concertgoers packed up their sleeping bags and tried to get back home. “The next morning I ran into the guys from Nymbus and managed to catch a ride back to Hayward,” Honeycutt remembers. “I was pretty spaced from the acid and however much pot I’d smoked and don’t remember much about the ride home other then getting dropped off a ways from home and having to hoof it back to my own neighborhood.”
It was probably hard to go from opening for the Jefferson Airplane to living with your parents so around this time eighteen-year-old Anderson and the group rented out a flat above a bar called the Monkey’s Paw in Berkeley. “It consisted of five one-room apartments with a community kitchen and bathroom,” explains Anderson. “All three members of Nymbus occupied one of those apartments along with our roadie and our road manager. Pedersen and his girlfriend occupied one of the other apartments. We built bunkbeds in our one room apartment so that the band, road manager, and roadie could live somewhat comfortably.” Wild times ensued. “Orgies, drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll was the lifestyle,” Anderson willfully admits.
Around this time the band began rehearsing in a studio space inside the aforementioned Clyde’s Music Store on 13th St. in Oakland. “He rented out studio space in his store for Nymbus to practice in,” Anderson explained. “He also repaired all the Jefferson Airplane’s amplifiers.” The band played a few gigs at the New Monk (now the Keystone) on University Ave. in Berkeley, but things were really starting to slow down for Nymbus. The final shows were a sparsely attended March 14th appearance at an old hall in Livermore, and then the guys sharing the stage with a group called Motherfred at the Babylon (formerly the Cabale Creamery) on San Pablo Ave. on March 10th. Though they remained quite popular locally, Nymbus was never really able to break out of the East Bay music scene and by the spring of 1970 they were disillusioned and a burnt out. “There was no interaction with record companies that I was aware of,” admits Miller. Filloon was the first to go and then Anderson and Miller decided to call it quits as well, for the time being anyway.
“Shortly after the gig in Livermore, Nymbus broke up,” Anderson explained.” Brian and I wanted to keep the band going so in early 1971 we added Jim Riddle on bass and Cecil Wells on lead vocal and rhythm guitar.” The new lineup produced a drastically different sound from the previous incarnation, “Wells wrote the majority of the music which demanded an entirely different instrumental backup—kind of folk rock with an edge, but nothing like the original Nymbus. “We just kept using the name because it was recognizable,” Miller explains. Meanwhile, Nymbus’s official artist Hector Tellez was doing well designing posters for other local bands and even gracing the cover of the Berkeley Tribe free paper.
The new Nymbus continued playing around the Bay Area, successfully translating the original group’s following into bigger and better things. One memorable gig was being asked to open for Stoneground (fresh off their Medicine Ball Caravan film tour) at the Hayward Theater in early ‘72. In his “KG Kwotes” column of the Daily Review KG reported, “Nymbus… is a Bay Area favorite and may cause some excitement.” In his post-show review however he declared Truckin to be “by far the group of the evening” (finishing) with ‘I’m a Man,” a Chicago tune.”(!) He did throw Nymbus a little bone though, describing them as “a four-piece band that doesn’t knock your socks off but shows their blues-rock touch is together.”
Other confirmed shows were a benefit for the Chabot College Child Care Center at Carpenter’s Hall on Mattox Rd. in Hayward in June of ‘72 with Bogus Thunder (ex-the Otherside of “Streetcar” fame) and GM and the Mark of Excellence, a group who’d recently placed in the Hayward Battle of the Bands. A year later, and now as a quintet with added organist Bruce Crockett, Nymbus played the opening of the “new” 700-head capacity Matrix Club in North Beach along with the Mike Bloomfield Group and John Cipollina’s Copperhead. This lineup became MAZE, who continued to play H.A.R.D. dances into the early ’70s. MAZE did manage to record a two-sided acetate (“The Beginnings/Thank You”) which Anderson says he still has a copy of. Maybe we’ll hear it someday. When MAZE ended Anderson went to work putting together the Awesome Light Band, which gigged around Northern California for the next decade or so.
And that would have been the end of the Nymbus story were it were it not for a listening party at a guy named Jim Sorensen’s house some forty years later. One night as Sorensen was playing an old reel-to-reel of a concert he’d taped on a March night in 1970, his friend took a look at the spinning reels that had “Nimbus” (sic) scribbled on them and emphatically suggested Sorensen get this amazing, unheard music released. The only problem was he had no idea how to get a hold of the band.
Originally from the farm town of Livermore, by the late-‘60s Jim Sorensen was living in Hayward, crossing the bridge as often as he could with his friends to catch bands at the dances in the City. “We used to go to the Fillmore and see, you know, Quicksilver, 13th Floor Elevators, the Great Society, take acid and the whole bit.” Sorensen’s love for music led him to enroll in Bill Graham’s Fillmore Seminars, which were taught by Columbia Records’ David Rubinson and Fred Catero. Rubinson of course had produced the first two Moby Grape LPs and was then in a partnership with Graham in Fillmore Records. The seminars were twice a week classes producing and engineering at the Fillmore and at studios around town. Sorensen hit it off with an engineer named Dave Talcott, a one-time Henry Jacobs associate, who brought the student into the fold so to speak.* “I recorded my wfriend Moondog (a local blues singer and not that Moondog!) and I had Mike Ferguson of the Charlatans come in and back him up on piano,” remembers Sorensen. Next up were sessions with the Johnny Mars Blues Band featuring Johnny Mars, who’d recorded as a member of the Burning Bush (yep, they of the killer “Evil Eye” 45!). Unfortunately by 1970 Graham had grown tired of flaky students and washed his hands of the whole seminar thing.
Finding himself out of a job, Sorensen decided to throw live concerts out in Livermore. Populated by more cows than people, the rural burg was most famous for being home to the Lawrence Livermore Lab, which had one of the first nuclear reactors in the state. “Livermore was kind of a cowboy town in those days so doing a rock n’ roll extravaganza was kinda cutting edge to say the least,” Sorensen recalls. He called his one-man production company Outlaw Blues and did all the handbills and promotion himself. “Part of what I wanted to do was bring bands from the City out to the East Bay ‘cause there weren’t too many venues doing the kind of thing I wanted to do.” Sorensen ended up renting out the Livermore Veteran’s Memorial Hall, an old 1930s building with a wide stage and plenty of room.
“When I went in and saw the wood floors, the architecture, and the ceiling and high walls I knew right away I wanted to do a light show in there and to try and record some of the bands. So Dave (Talcott) and I set up a four-track TEAC. We had a liquid light show—the first in the Valley—by some kids who called themselves Warthog.”
Sorensen and Talcott knew something special was about to happen as soon as the guys from Nymbus arrived at the venue. “Joel came in and laid out enough foot pedals, special effects boxes, and relay switches to knock the Lab’s reactor off line,” he describes, “Then Mike Filloon got up there and said ‘C’mon honey sit on my face… get up and dance motherfuckers!’ The audience just lit up, they were like shit! I knew about MC5 and bands like that, but Livermore didn’t!”
The recording from the show is a gem, with epic intros that find their way into brief “songs” before tumbling into long, drawn-out jams again. “Flight” has echoey leads, very “Beck’s Bolero” in parts. “Get Up and Dance Mother Fuckers” is a charging, uptempo boogie. There’s a slower number in the vein of “New York City Blues” which Country Weather, who hailed from the same area, had also done a nice version of. Overall, the feel is very atmospheric. “Nymbus just filled the room with their music, and one of the things that we learned through the Fillmore Seminars was that besides recording the bands onstage you wanna get the sound of the room. That’s one of the things we were proud of with the Nymbus recording, we got not only the sound of the band onstage but the hall too.”Sorensen eventually tracked down Anderson and Miller, the two surviving members of the original Nymbus, last year, and the recordings were released by Shattered Music on both LP and a CD with extra tracks.
Nymbus may have dissipated away into the ether, but that magical energy-charged night at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall in Livermore will echo on as long as there are turntables and folks to start them spinning. As Sorensen so aptly puts it, “the Lab’s reactor didn’t go off-line that night but it was rumored that several fuel rods exploded into fiery balls of light with a strange nimbus surrounding them.” •
*Born in Berkeley in 1938, Talcott was a musician and electronics engineer who did time at KPFA where he associated with Henry Jacobs and Harry Partch. In 1957, Talcott, Jacobs, and Jordan Belson threw the first Vortex program at San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium. This film and musical “happening” was considered the first marriage of audio and visual stimulation and a direct precursor to the light shows of the late ‘60s.
An abbreviated version of this story appeared in Shindig #41.
Thanks to Joel, Brian, Jim, Hector, Paul, Corry, and Ross.
And especially Bruce Tahsler’s The San Francisco East Bay Scene—Garage Bands From the 60’s Then and Now. Teens N’ Twenties Publications, 2007.