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Members include Daniel DeVore (joined group, 1968), piano; Mike Ferguson (left group, 1967), piano, drums; Patrick Gogerty (group member 1967-68), piano; Dan Hicks (born on December 9, 1941, in Little Rock, AR; left band, 1968), drums, guitar, vocals; George Hunter (left group, 1968), vocals, autoharp; Sam Linde (left group, c. 1965), drums; Richard Olsen, bass; Mike Wilhelm, guitar; Terry Wilson (joined group, 1967), drums.
The Charlatans are credited with being the first of San Francisco's psychedelic bands of the 1960s. While steeped in the drug culture of the era, the band's music does not resemble the feedback-drenched, psychedelic blues and electric instrumentals of fellow San Francisco bands the Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Instead, the Charlatans created a music that evoked an earlier era of jugband blues, parlor piano, and ragtime. The band members personified the musical era they recreated by adopting a fashion sense that included vintage turn-of-the-century clothing, including hats, vests, cowboy boots, and pocket watches, as well as a fascination with firearms. The band's only official album release, The Charlatans, released in 1969, only features two original members. Earlier, a series of recordings made for Kama Sutra in 1966 resulted in the release of only one single, "The Shadow Knows," which is the only officially released document of the band's most popular lineup.
The Charlatans formed in San Francisco in 1964 as the brainchild of George Hunter, an architectural model builder who had seen some of his building designs produced while still a teenager. Hunter was a student at San Francisco State College, where he also taped collages to accompany the choreography of his girlfriend, Lucy Lewis. Hunter met Richard Olsen, and the latter's youthful appearance, physical attractiveness, and background as a clarinetist inspired Hunter to form a band around him, despite the fact that Hunter played no instruments himself, and could barely carry a tune as a singer. Hunter recruited a high school friend, Mike Wilhelm, to play guitar in the group, and pianist Mike Ferguson joined the group shortly thereafter. Ferguson managed the Magic Theater for Madmen Only in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Between Hunter's fascination with Old West fashions and mythology and Ferguson's knowledge of Victoriana, the group developed the unique visual style that would define the Charlatans. The group's original drummer was Sam Linde, a neighbor of Hunter's. Linde was quickly replaced by Dan Hicks, a San Rosa musician in jazz bands and dance orchestras, and the first and most popular incarnation of the Charlatans was in place.
The Charlatans quickly became avatars of the mid-1960s drug culture, a reputation only enhanced by their tenure at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1965. Olsen and Wilhelm met Chandler Laughlin, a Red Dog employee visiting San Francisco to purchase antiques for the renovation of the Red Dog. Mistaking the pair as members of the Byrds, Laughlin offered them the house band position, but after learning they were not the Byrds, he offered them the job anyway. The band leapt at the opportunity, with the exception of Hicks, who was finishing college and due to take a physical in preparation for his draft induction. Hunter paid him a hundred dollars, and Hicks graduated, intentionally failed the intelligence test of the draft physical, and departed for San Francisco with his bandmates. The band's Red Dog audition consisted of the intoxicated band playing before the Red Dog staff.
During this period, they formed the core of their repertoire, which consisted of covers of such songs as Roy Acuff's "Wabash Cannonball," the New Lost City Ramblers' "East Virginia," and Jelly Roll Morton's "Alabama Bound." An early attempt to record the group with producer and San Francisco deejay Sly Stone was unsuccessful. After Wilhelm was arrested for drug possession, future Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina traveled to Virginia City to replace him, but was told that the band was returning to San Francisco with the newly bailed-out Wilhelm.
In 1966 the Charlatans made their first attempt at recording an album. They were introduced to Erik Jacobsen, the record producer for the Lovin' Spoonful, at the time the best-selling American pop group. The Spoonful recorded for Kama Sutra Records, and the Charlatans eagerly signed a contract with the label. Jacobsen, however, found recording the group a difficult process as they were unaccomplished musicians at best. Progress on the album proceeded slowly, as Jacobsen divided his time between coasts in order to record the Lovin' Spoonful. The band kept busy during Jacobsen's absence by performing as the house band for a San Francisco strip club, and the experience helped the band refine their playing abilities. In the meantime, the band attempted to record "The Shadow Knows," a cover of a song made popular by the Coasters that Kama Sutra executive insisted the band perform. The band hated the song, however, and Kama Sutra sold the single to Kapp Records, which released it in October of 1966.
In 1967 the band once again tried recording; this time with famed performer and producer Leon Russell. The sessions were unsuccessful, and tensions among the band escalated. Hunter fired Ferguson, replacing him with Patrick Gogerty. The group also hired drummer Terry Wilson, freeing Hicks to play rhythm guitar and sing his compositions as a front man for the group, "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" and "We're Not on the Same Trip." Despite his heightened profile in the band, Hicks was the only original member of the band who could be considered a professional musician. His increasing frustration led him to form Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, a quintet featuring It's a Beautiful Day violinist David LaFlamme, bass player Jaime Leopold, and two female backup vocalists. The Hot Licks opened shows for the Charlatans, and received more positive reviews by such revered critics as Ralph Gleason. In the meantime, Hunter's negative behavior toward Gogerty (who, Hunter discovered, was homosexual) led the pianist to depart in 1968. Hicks left to pursue his muse with the Hot Licks shortly thereafter. Unhappy with Hunter's lack of musical ability and overbearing demeanor, Wilhelm and Olsen opted to fold the band legally.
With Hunter out of the picture, Wilhelm, Olsen, and Terry Wilson re-formed the Charlatans as a quartet with pianist Darrell De Vore in 1969. The group recorded The Charlatans for the Philips label. De Vore contributed several originals to the group's canon, which still included "Alabama Bound," "Wabash Cannonball," and the Johnny Cash classic "Folsom Prison Blues." According to Joel Selvin, author of The Summer of Love, the album is "an unenthusiastic coda to a misspent career, a band life that began in the summer sunshine and high hopes of the Sierra Nevadas and straggled to an end the previous year in Vancouver and Seattle." All Music Guide critic Bruce Eder disagreed, however, writing that "in all, heard properly for the first time in decades, this is a rather gorgeous and gently challenging piece of San Francisco rock, incorporating elements of blues and big-band swing, as well as '50s rock & roll and elegant '60s pop. ... It is one of the prettiest and most subtly beguiling albums to come out of the '60s San Francisco scene." Following the release of The Charlatans, drummer Wilson began serving a prison sentence for marijuana possession, effectively ending the group forever. The group's work is preserved on compact disc reissues and bootlegs, including the 1991 CD San Francisco Nights, which includes the Kapp single "The Shadow Knows" and the previously unreleased Kama Sutra single "Codine."
by Bruce Walker
The Charlatans's Career
Group formed in San Francisco as the Androids and, later, the Mainliners, before renaming band the Charlatans, 1964; began recording debut album for Kama Sutra records and released single, "Codine," 1966; pianist Ferguson replaced by Patrick Gogerty, drummer Terry Wilson added to lineup, Dan Hicks switched from drums to guitar, 1967; Hicks, George Hunter, Gogerty left band, pianist Darrel DeVore joined, 1968; remaining lineup recorded Philips label album The Charlatans, 1969.
- Selected discography
- "The Shadow Knows," Kapp Records, 1966.
- The Charlatans Philips, 1969 (reissued as The Charlatans 1969 Acadia, 2000.
- San Francisco Nights Rhino Records, 1991.
- The Amazing Charlatans Ace, 1996.
- George-Warren, Holly, and Patricia Romanowski, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 2001.
- Selvin, Joel, Summer of Love, Plume, 1994.
- Rolling Stone, March 1968; May 25, 2003, p. 15.
- "The Charlatans," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 6, 2005).
The Charlatans Lyrics
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