Wednesday, 2 June 2010

This Katz Where It's Happening

The following article, penned by Jef Jaisun - then Phoenix bass player and Barb jounalist - appeared in the August 25, 1967 edition of The Berkeley Barb. The photograph of Mr Katz was taken by Gsheidle.
Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, West Coast Natural Gas, Melvyn Q.

The names are readily recognizable to anyone who frequents Bay Area dance halls, collects posters, or buys records. And to a greater or lesser degree each of the above groups has contributed to the creation of what the national music industry is today calling the San Francisco "Sound."

There is, however, a much more common yet lesser known meeting ground for the four groups; they all came up through the spotlight ranks while under the knowing managerial guidance of one man.

His name is Matthew Katz (pronounced like "dates") and his business is music.

"You can pay $50 an hour for studio time, press 1000 records, and put them out on the market make two million bucks if it's that easy," Katz recently told the Barb. “But out of every 8,800 records cut, only one makes it. In this scene you've got to have ideas; or you don't make it."

Katz, a 37-year-old Sagittarius who towers well over six feet in his bare boots, began a show business career 15 years ago. I was an entertainer who went into folk music, not only because I liked folk music but because I couldn't stand what was passing for rock and roll."

Though he sports a neatly trimmed beard and longish hair, Katz clings to no particular cultural category, “I wasn't accepted by hippies - they said I was plastic. I wasn't accepted by the straights because I was a hippie. I kind of got squashed between them and I was melted into both."

During the folk boom of the early sixties Katz broke into managing, with dubious results. "I produced a lot of straight music that never made it.

Then about two and a half years ago he received a call from a young singer named Marty Balm. “I’d heard Marty sing before and I told him I’d be glad to help him anytime. As far as I’m concerned, he's still the best male vocalist around."

The call from Balin eventually developed into what has become a national phenomenon, the San Francisco "Sound", an outgrowth of rock and folk, a driving, bluesy, sometimes soft, often screaming expression of musical freedom.

"Jefferson Airplane is a Happening. It's like the Beatles. Not because of singles, not because White Rabbit is number three on Cash Box with a bullet to go higher.” Jefferson Airplane started a musical thing that is turning on the world to an entirely different sound. It's a real sound. "That's what the Beatles were when they hit here. They were real. The S.F. Sound should hit Europe like the Beatles hit the States”

“Go to a record store and you probably find the Dead, Moby Grape, the Airplane. There are 30 or so other groups all trying to get into the psychedelic thing. But they're not San Francisco groups, and, there is definitely a San Francisco sound.”

Where does it come from? "It's brought about by drugs like grass and LSD, which eventually they (musicians) get off because it blows their thing. But it's the mind opener. They get on stage, the audience gets into it, digs it, trips out, and people groove. This is it - the SF Sound!"

Katz' optimism was not nearly as high on the subject of local cooperation in publicizing the Sound. "So far we've done a piss-poor job of getting it out-because no one will get together to work. It’s got to be a family. Everybody pretends it is, right?"

Katz cited the current Joint Show Art Exhibit as the kind of cooperation needed in the music scene.

"If the musicians can just take a lesson from the artists. That five cats can get together and put on a joint show - Kelly and Moscoso and those guys deserve one hell of a lot of credit."

The lack of unity in the SF music community has had a profound effect on Katz. He is currently involved in a multi-thousand dollar breach of contract suit with the Airplane and Fillmore Auditorium owner Bill Graham.

Katz, under whose direction Moby Grape rocketed to the top of national record charts in two short months, always has his ears open for new talent. The recently-signed West Coast Natural Gas from Seattle received a standing ovation at the Avalon two weeks ago, and Katz has even bigger plans for them.

"There's a formula for putting together an outstanding group, and it's not that hard. All you need is four or five better than aver age musicians who can sing - and I mean sing together – and you work like like hell.

"Then you find someone to tell a guy, 'Sorry, man, but we need a new bass player who’s heavier'."

“The reason most groups don’t make it is not because they don’t get the recognition. It's because they don't deserve it."

Katz' latest project is the renovation of the Orkustra, a popular local jazz-rock group into a "musical happening" called It’s A Beautiful Day. "We've added two chick singers and a new sound.”

He also has a formula for getting the San Francisco Sound out to the world. "Five years ago I turned down a thing with Dylan on a TV show because I thought he would hurt the image of the folk group I was handling. The place where I was five years ago is where the big industry is now. They don’t understand yet. They've GOT to know.

“Whatever's happened in the last two and a half years has got to be put into a crash program. Everybody's got to see the whole thing; not garbage, but the real thing delivered by the people who created it”

"We may not make a lot of money, but we’ll deliver the message.”

6 comments:

  1. jeez, that's a rare photo of katz..I sent this out so the musicians of both Grape and IABD can see it

    40 years later and those lawsuits, I still have them on my front page

    www.bluoz.com

    I want to put this and the photo on my blog sometime. I have a photo of him in San Francisco superior court from just a few years ago

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  2. Matthew Katz, 2002, San Francisco Superior Court

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/9640932@N04/sets/72157624068202263/

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  3. It was really the photograph that attracted my attention in the Berkeley Barb. I have been picking and choosing a few articles that folks may find interesting. Jef's article on Mr Katz is interesting in that very few such pieces exist - particularly with nifty photographs such as this. Hence the posting.

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  4. Mitchell Holman, the bass player for It's A Beautiful day, sad that Katz used to have this photo hanging on his wall in his studio in 67

    I guess it was one of the few photos ever, because he said in interviews he didn't like having his photo taken

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  5. He is and was a complete charlatan and fraud. He could not be more despised by the musicians he took advantage of if he had robbed them with a pistol. I am Sally Mann (Dryden), wife of Spencer Dryden, drummer for Jefferson Airplane, and it is hard to think of a more reviled individual in the music business, and that covers a LOT of bad road. He's revolting in any image.

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    1. Hi Sally. I met you years ago when you and Spencer lived on Spring St. in Sausalito. I was part of a not-that-great Palo Alto/Stanford band back then, and Spencer took us under his wing—coming down to spend a day of rehearsal with us, listening to tapes. He was so kind and generous—more than we deserved, certainly. I had a brief reunion with him at Uncle Charley's in Corte Madera in the early '80's. I still think of him often, and miss him. I hope you are well.

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