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The Charlatans

From: San Francisco, CA, USA

Though not as well known as other San Francisco bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, the Charlatans are widely accepted as being one of the first 60s psychedelic rock groups. This honor is due in large part to their 6-week residence at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, where patrons took steady doses of then legal LSD while listening to the band's lively sets. These early "happenings" in the summer of 1965 were the precursors to the Acid Tests and other live shows that routinely combined music and mind altering substances as part of the psychedelic experience. The original lineup consisted of George Hunter (vocals, autoharp), Dan Hicks (drums), Mike Wilhelm (guitar), Mike Ferguson (piano) and Richard Olsen (bass). Hunter and Ferguson are also credited with designing the very first psychedelic rock poster, nicknamed "The Seed", which advertised the Red Dog shows.

A drug bust in Nevada prompted the group to return to San Francisco where their 19th century old west attire and gritty songs made them a hot live attraction. They soon signed with Kama Sutra and were assigned Lovin' Spoonful producer Eric Jacobsen. 'Codine Blues', written by Buffy Saint-Marie, was recorded and planned as the band's first single. Hunter's eerie autoharp and Wilhelm's bluesy solo made this a proto-psychedelic classic, but the label got cold feet over the song's title and lyrics and instead released 'The Shadow Knows', a song the group didn't even want to record. The single failed miserably, denying the band the chance to record a full-length album.

In 1967, the Charlatans went back in the studio to record some of the best material that they had been playing live for years. Dan Hicks emerged as the group's main writer with the sarcastic 'How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away' and the excellent 'We're Not On The Same Trip', while Hunter chipped in with the evocative 'Walkin'. Despite the quality of the material, a recording contract didn't materialize. More recording was attempted in 1968 but a lack of success prompted Hicks and Hunter to leave the band. Wilhelm and Nelson recruited Terry Wilson and Darrell Devore for a self-titled LP that eventually saw release in 1969. Folk-rock and psychedelia are found throughout most of the album in songs such as 'Easy When I'm Dead', 'Time To Get Straight' and their signature song, 'Alabama Bound'. An outstanding version of Johnny Cash's 'Folsom Prison Blues' shows the band's flair for choosing excellent cover songs and playing them in their own eclectic style.

A brief reunion by the original five band members in 1969 wasn't enough to entice them to carry on and they disbanded once again. In 1996, their catalog of unreleased recordings was finally issued on the CD 'The Amazing Charlatans' while their self-titled 1969 album also remains in print. The band has reunited a few times over the past decade, most notably in 1997 and 2007 for the 30th and 40th Anniversaries of the Summer of Love in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA...we were there for both!

Article researched and written by Matt Williamson & Paul Moews. Artist © photo courtesy of Herb Greene.

Singles/Unreleased

Codine

(Originally Unreleased Demo - 1966)

Original LPs/EPs

The Charlatans

Original LP/EP Label: Philips 600.309

Released: May, 1969

Songs from this album played on TWOS:

  • Ain't Got The Time
  • Alabama Bound
  • Doubtful Waltz
  • Easy When I'm Dead
  • Folsom Prison Blues
  • High Coin

    (Original 45 Label: Philips 40610, A - May, 1969)

  • The Blues Ain't Nothin'
  • Time To Get Straight
  • When I Go Sailin' By

    (Original 45 Label: Philips 40610, B - May, 1969)

  • When The Movies Are Over

Artist Compilations

The Amazing Charlatans

Songs from this album played on TWOS:

  • 'Long Come A Viper

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - , 1966)

  • 32-20

    (Original 45 Label: Kapp 779, B - October, 1966)

  • Alabama Bound [Golden State Recorders Version]

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - July, 1967)

  • Baby Won't You Tell Me

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - July, 1965)

  • By Hook Or By Crook

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - , 1966)

  • Codine Blues

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - , 1966)

  • Devil Got My Man

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - , 1966)

  • How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - July, 1967)

  • I Always Wanted A Girl Like You

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - July, 1967)

  • I Got Mine

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - , 1968)

  • Jack Of Diamonds

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - August, 1965)

  • Number One

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - August, 1965)

  • Steppin' In Society

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - , 1968)

  • Sweet Sue, Just You

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - July, 1967)

  • The Shadow Knows

    (Original 45 Label: Kapp 779, A - October, 1966)

  • The Shadow Knows [Correct Speed Version]

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - , 1966)

  • Walkin'

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - July, 1967)

  • We're Not On The Same Trip

    (Originally Unreleased Demo - July, 1967)

General Compilations

Mindrocker: Anthology Of 60s U.S. Punk Garage Psych

This compilation CD contains the following songs by this artist that are played on TWOS:
- 32-20
- The Shadow Knows

Nuggets: Original Artifacts From The First Psychedelic Era

This compilation CD contains the following songs by this artist that are played on TWOS:
- Codine Blues

San Francisco Nights

This compilation CD contains the following songs by this artist that are played on TWOS:
- Codine

psychedelic music
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