The CHARLATANS (USA) – ” The Charlatans “

Posted: April 7, 2020 in MUSIC
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Fathers of psychedelic rock reuniting in Virginia City

If ever there was a San Francisco Sound, The Charlatans likely are the author’s of it. Cutting their teeth at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City in the mid-1960s, the band can rightfully claim to be the first San Francisco group. Only the pop-rock group the Beau Brummels might challenge that title.

But the Charlatans were on the cutting edge of the dramatic rise in bands spawned in San Francisco and the Bay Area around mid-decade. If nothing else the band – Dan Hicks, Mike Ferguson, Mike Wilhelm Richard Olsen, and George Hunter – had a major impact on the nascent hippie culture, with their unconventional attire, a throwback to the Wild West, The Charlatans were known for clothing themselves in late 19th-century attire, as if they were Victorian dandies or Wild West gunslingers. This unconventional choice of clothing was influential on the emerging hippie counter-culture, with many young San Franciscans dressing in similarly late Victorian and early Edwardian era clothing.

Two members of the group, Hunter and Ferguson designed what many consider to be the first Psychedelic Rock poster promoting the bands residency at the Red Dog Saloon.  This poster—known as “The Seed”. Difficulties in getting a debut single “Codine,” In fact, the tune—penned by folk artist Buffy Sainte-Marie spoke of the dangers of drugs, rather than promoting their use, but Kama Sutra was adamant and refused to release the song.

Instead, two other songs from the Kama Sutra sessions, “The Shadow Knows” and “32-20”, were released by Kapp Records in 1966 as the band’s first single, with some copies being housed in a rare promotional-only picture sleeve. Kapp Records failed to adequately promote the release and, as a result, the single was commercially unsuccessful. When the song failed because of poor promotion it caused turmoil in the band. Personnel changes also sabotaged the band at a critical moment of their career. The remaining songs recorded during the Kama Sutra sessions for the Charlatans‘ debut album remained unreleased until they were officially issued for the first time by Big Beat Records in 1996, on The Amazing Charlatans album.

By the end of the year, the Charlatans had broken up, and any hope of stardom comparable to the big four San Francisco bands: the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead, were dashed.

Original drummer Dan Hicks went on to form Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, a more commercially successful ensemble that amalgamated elements of country, folk and jazz in a predominantly acoustic setting. Wilhelm went on to front the band Loose Gravel from 1969 until 1976, before becoming a member of the Flamin’ Groovies during the late 1970s and early 1980s

There were reunions over the years, and the band remained beloved by the Bay Area, but they never attained the degree of success that always seemed to elude them.

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