Big Brother and the Holding Company, part seven. 1978-1989

 1978-1989             The Crash Test Dummy Goes Into Research and Development.

Big Brother crashed in 1972 or 1973. I was the only original member in it for a long time, and finally Kathi and I decided that it was time for a break.

My girlfriend Carol Cavallon decided to move back to the East Coast and attend Windham College in Putney, Vermont.

I went with her and we lived in a little cabin in Grafton, near where this schoolhouse stands.

We ultimately decided to live in Manhattan, first on the Upper East Side with her parents who were wonderful people.

Later, Carol and I moved to 278 West 11th Street between West 4th and Bleecker Streets. I lived in that apartment longer than I have lived anywhere else. The loudest sound I heard all day long was children playing in the gardens out in back, which was good because it was time for some serious study.

8 April 1973   Pablo Picasso died after a long lifetime of reinventing himself.

I went to the New School for Social Research over on Twelfth Street. I had always read music, but I mainly played by ear and wrote music intuitively. Now I wanted to study composition formally.

Frank Wigglesworth, winner of the Prix de Rome, taught me counterpoint, the art of putting two or more independent melodies together so that you can hear them all at the same time. James Gurley and I had done this by trial and error, of course, notably on Summertime and Hall of the Mountain King, but generally throughout our playing.

The top line is the fixed song, the cantus firmus, the original melody, and then you learn how to put a second melody with the first, one note against one note.

Then, you move on to two notes against one…   (I see a “mistake” here, but this is just an example.)

Then you learn to put four notes against one and so on until you arrive at a fugue with complex rhythms and four or five voices.

I used two classic works to learn counterpoint:  One was Fux’ 1725 treatment Gradus ad Parnassum. (In 1994, Big Brother was to go to Moscow to play an event called Steps To Parnassus, a translation of this title.) Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and many other composers used Fux’ book in their contrapuntal practice.

The second book I profited from in the study of counterpoint was by Knud Jeppeson who interpreted Fux and put him in a historical context. Just looking at this book takes me back to that intense time of study. I wrote hundreds of exercises in this discipline. This was a lot of fun and very educational. Something like three dimensional chess perhaps. Or four dimensional, because time, rhythm is also an essential part of this technique.

The rules for counterpoint are like the rules of perspective in art. They can be a principal or an ancillary study. Some artists, some composers, will make counterpoint and perspective their main focus. Two of those come to mind: J.S. Bach and M.C. Escher.

In 1975, I met Laura Gomez and my motto that year became “Alive in ’75.”   I love Laura. She is a very interesting person.

And I wish I would have been a better person for her.                 Laura and her daughter.

I was writing a lot of cereal music at this point, inventions, fugues, string quartets, a symphony that I heard performed exactly once. (Too bad it wasn’t in the Royal Albert Hall where I could have at least heard it twice.) Sometimes it was cereal music, sometimes it was serial music and sometimes it was traditional music. Snap, crackle, pop.

4 February 1974    Café Wha ?   Hey, I’m on the same bill with Richie and Yoko.    David Amram, serious composer, showed up and played flute on this gig.

Recording at Atlantic.

1975     Dickie and Donnie.   Can you feel the love ?  Donnie was known as Rumstud during the early reign of George W. Bush, that is, until he was made a nonperson after the reëlection.  Dickie is still with us, commenting on all the ways that everyone else is screwing up now, after he had done so well in his time. Smirking, shirking, jerking.

4 July 1976     The tall ships came sailing into the Hudson and I was there on a pier mere blocks from my apartment enjoying the spectacle along with thousands of other people. This was such a great Bicentennial.

I talked to Ahmet Ertegun about joining Atlantic but Big Brother was in limbo at this time.

25 July 1977      There was a blackout in New York City.  I walked the streets enjoying the silence. I could actually hear conversations four or five floors above me. It made me feel as if I were living a hundred years earlier. There was a camaraderie during this emergency, despite all the alarmist stories one hears.

17 September 1978   Mstislav Rostropovich performed at The White House.  The violoncello is such a great instrument, tremendous range and a beautiful sound and he played it so well.

1 October 1978   Tribal Stomp    Greek Theatre     Berkeley

Judy Davis and Patrisha Vestey worked hard on this event.

Look at that phone. You did something called “dialing” with it.,

The Tribal Stomp was a big deal. I had been living in New York for ten years. Now I was coming home.

Big Brother and the Holding Company would start playing again.

We could work with Kathi McDonald and Nick Gravenites and continue some of the good ideas we began after Janis left.

So, imagine my surprise when everyone said good bye and so long after the gig.

They were all going back to their private lives.

James was going back to the desert.   Peter was going back to his model shop.

There was no interest in doing Big Brother again.

I had finished my life and left my apartment on the East Coast. Now what to do ?

I had to learn how to paint, sculpt, play the saxophone and do a variety of other activities to keep busy for the next eight years.    Keith Haring did this painting.

19 April 1980           Snooky Flowers and I formed a band with a gay man Joey Amoroso who called himself Pearl.

Pearl had more than a little in common with Louis XIV.

19 April 1980       Pearl Heart        Oakland Auditorium

Playing with Frank Alsing from the Pearl band.

Pearl, who was very flamboyant, sang Janis’ songs in the same key that Janis did, something that very few of the Big Brother singers have achieved since.

1980    We played the Gay Day Parade at the Civic Center.  I played clarinet in one of the gay day parades up in Seattle, but this one in San Francisco was a whole other thing.

We played on a stage right in front of City Hall.

July 1980    I also performed with a band called Little Bumps Garden at The Haight Street Fair.         Jym Fahey    Lenny Kobiela

16 February 1981         Homesick for the Apple thinking about those lox, er, locks, and that love.

November 1981         Bringing home the pumpkin.

Sculpting some very large heads.

1982   Release of a new coin in the United Kingdom.   Obverse of the Half Sovereign valued at £ 100-150.   Beautiful design, isn’t it ?

And the reverse.

I was practicing the saxophone wherever I could. You have to play saxophone loud to learn it. With almost every other instrument there are ways to play quietly. With an electric guitar you can simply leave it unplugged and practice to your heart’s content. Even with a trumpet, you can mute it. Drummers can work with practice pads. Not saxophone. You can stuff a sock in the bell, but that’s about it and it won’t make it much quieter. You simply have to blow into it with passion and dedication for it to work. So saxophonists are notorious for playing in some strange places.

Sonny Rollins practiced on the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s perfect because the traffic seems to filter out the mistakes, and no one is complaining about the noise. It’s a bit like singing in the shower.

Trying, and usually failing, to take some decent photographs.

Playing saxophone seriously, scales, arpeggios, memorizing Charlie Parker solos.

This was a long saxophone meditation and it introduced me to some great players besides the masters whom I knew well.

Players like Joe Henderson, Jack Montrose, Dexter Gordon, James Moody, Mel Martin and Cannonball Adderly who played with technical proficiency and intense emotion.


I started making assemblages and hope to get back to that some day.

I decided to form a group of musicians to play some of these three or four hundred ballads and jump tunes from the 1920s, 30s, 40s that I was memorizing on the saxophone.

In time, this became The Sam Andrew Quartet and we played small clubs all over the Bay Area.

I had the opportunity to hire musicians who were a lot better than I was, good experience for similar activity later with Big Brother.

I learned that if you get the gig, you can get the musicians and the audience.

1985   Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Theo van den Boogaard was doing some amazing graphic work and I became a fan.

The Sam Andrew Quartet slowly morphed into The Sam Andrew Band and I switched between saxophone and guitar for a while. We played all over the USA, including many places where Big Brother would later play.

People seemed to like what we were doing.

Snooky Flowers, Peter Walsh, Robin Sylvester, Scott Matthews. This was a good outfit. Snooky and I had been playing together since The Kozmic Blues Band.

1985     They’re ALL cults, aren’t they ?       Even television.     Television seems like the biggest cult of all.

Now THIS, this is a cult.

I was still sculpting, painting and photographing.

I depicted everything in sight, and some things out of sight.


Not “finding myself,” but creating myself.

I have to give a hand to George Bernard Shaw for the insight that one can take hold and change one’s life and not merely accept a given destiny.

21 March 1985      There began to be rumblings of a coming change.

Let’s see, how can I get Big Brother and the Holding Company together again?

I know. I’ll build a rehearsal studio.

They’ll get a good laugh out of that.

1986   Then it happened. An agent called and asked if we would like to play again. The occasion was a special anniversary, the Summer of Love.

The Summer of Love was always a rather suspect phrase.

They used to sell Love Burgers on Haight Street. I wonder how the cows felt about that. Did they feel all that Love ?

1986       Michel Bastian with Peter and James.

20 August 1987      Cotati Cabaret     Cotati    California

27 August 1987   New George’s     San Rafael     California

I loved her singing, and her mom’s, and her aunt’s.  In fact, I used to rehearse down the hall from Dionne Warwick in New York.

29 August 1987     Fillmore Auditorium    San Francisco       Our new singer’s name is Michel. That’s the name she likes and that she was born with.

Rehearsing for the Fillmore.   Yes, once upon a time we actually rehearsed. Well, most of us anyway.

2 September 1987    WOW Hall      Eugene    Oregon      I told her that Michel was French for Michael, so she changed it to Michelle for a while.

3 Septembeer 1987    Pine Street Theatre     Portland   Oregon         But she is Michel Bastian. She has a warm gospel voice right out of Oakland.

4 September 1987     Seattle Center Exhibition Hall    Seattle

5-6 September 1987    Alaska State Fair     Borealis Theatre

9 September 1987     Parker’s    Seattle

12 September 1987   Twentieth Anniversary Summer of Love  Polo Fields    San Francisco


24 September 1987     Sweetwater      Mill Valley      California

17 October 1987       The OMNI     Oakland     California

I was once playing saxophone in this club with a cordless set up and I wandered off the stage out into the traffic at this intersection, blowing away. That was fun.

20 October 1987  The Church San Francisco    Sam Andrew Band, Texas division. Lips played bass. Gloria Meehan sang backing vocals. Good band.

9 December 1987    Palace of Fine Arts    San Francisco

12 December 1987      Cotati Cabaret      Cotati     California

1988     With my brother Dan in Austin.

19 February 1988       Catalyst       Santa Cruz

21 May 1988      Golden Gate Park       San Francisco

8-19 June 1988      I wish I could have been in Bologna for this event.

22 July 1988        The Backstage       Seattle

23 July 1988      Pine Street Theatre    Portland    Oregon

7 August 1988      Molson Park    Barrie      Ontario

8 September 1988  Alice’s Champagne Palace   Homer  Alaska   The Kenai Peninsula is a beautiful, beautiful place.

18 November 1988     “Living in Seattle is like being married to a beautiful woman who is sick all the time.”    Herb liked that.

19 January 1989         Port Arthur     Texas

20 January 1989   Rockefeller’s     Houston

27 January 1989   Psychedelic Summer of Love  Universal Amphitheatre  Universal City California   I was trying to chat up Debbie Harry at this gig and a very persistent fan came between us. The moment was lost.

April 1989    Luther Burbank Center for the Arts    Santa Rosa    California

23 April 1989    IBeam    San Francisco       Michael Dolgushkin did this poster.

22 April 1989      Club Lingerie     Hollywood        Vala Cupp      Michel Bastian

Sam Andrew Band     Washington chapter     KK Ryder    Mark Riley   Todd Zimberg

7 June 1989        Rexville Grange     Washington

Bainbridge Island        Washington

27 July 1989       Great American Music Hall     San Francisco

1989    In Beijing, momentous changes were occurring. The “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” Tienanmen, was an odd name for that place, that day.

18-19 August 1989        Wetlands       New York City

4 October 1989

26 November 1989       Earthquake Benefit    Kaiser Auditorium    Oakland

Downstairs at The Fez under Time, New York City, with David Peel, Dorothy Rothschild and Lenny Kaye.

The Four Stooges at four in the morning.      New York City

See you next week.      Sam Andrew.


Big Brother and the Holding Company.


One thought on “Big Brother and the Holding Company, part seven. 1978-1989

  1. I’m an old friend of the Wigglesworths and took care of Frank when he was dying and was with him at St. Vincent’s, when he died, in 1996. I don’t recognize the man in your Frank photo. I’ve tried to see Frank in the photo and can’t. There’s a photo of him here
    It’s from the CD that Andrew Bolotowsky had recorded, after Frank died. I was nosing the net looking for info about Pearl Heart, who I used to know in SF, and found the reference and photos on your site. I have a scan of the CD insert, if you’re interested. Better resolution than the image at the link.

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