2005. Great American Music Hall Marquee sign. 2005 fundraiser and tribute for Chet Helms…hosted by Pete Sears, Roger and Ann McNamee, and Dawn Holliday.
Here’s a piece written about Chet in the Haight Street Music News by my friend Don Aters…Don was close to Chet.
Don Aters – Haight Street Music News 2005.
A Farewell For My Friend, “The Mayor Of Haight Ashbury”……..Chet Helms.
He ventured to San Francisco amidst the turbulence of political and social unrest during the early sixties with nothing more than a pocketful of dreams, an affinity for equal rights, the disdain for brutality and senseless death of his peers in Vietnam and a scraggly, pocked face teenager named Janis Lynn Joplin. From that humble beginning, he rose to prominence as the leader of the notorious Family Dog Promotions, and in 1966 proceeded to book the elite musicians of the day at The Avalon Ballroom on Sutter & Van Ness. Chet had tried three uneventful bookings with the other legend of the era, Bill Graham, but as a tandem with vastly different ideology, these juxtaposing entrepreneurs would forever be etched in the annals of The Counter Culture & “hippiedom” during the apex of Flower Power and the rise of psychedelia into mainstream “rock n roll”.
During these neoteric days of identity search for the masses, Chet Helms provided a venue for commonality augmented by the musical royalty of the day, i.e., Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Charlatans, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Sweetwater, Taj Majal, The Youngbloods, and Big Brother & The Holding Company, just to name a few. Always the consummate activist, he explored a myriad of ways to perpetuate and unite the masses, and along the way expose awareness to the community that music was and is the common denominator.
He once told me, as we reminisced about ”The Golden Era” that the basic difference between him and Bill Graham was that he was still breathing. Actually, the obvious difference was Bill Graham was a business person, and he did it for the money and notoriety while Chet toiled in virtual obscurity while trying to expand the parameters of the genre and the bonding of those who frequented Family Dog Productions.
His impact and malleable personality can be clearly seen during the recent anniversaries of The Summer of Love (beginning in1967), when Chet brought back such noted bands as The Love with Arthur Lee, its A Beautiful Day, & Quicksilver Gold with Joli Valenti. Last year at my showing at The Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, Chet happily flew from the bay along with Tom Constanten as special guests and exuded the endearing witicism and charm he his noted for as he spent the evening signing autographs, getting pictures taken and consequently just being Chet, “The Story Teller”.
Many were cognizant of their efforts over the years but had never really met a living legend. We were to begin a lecture series on July 23 rd in Louisville, with posters, images of those who have paved the way musically, and the stories that only those who were there know the significance.
I will soon be writing a letter to The Hall Of Fame, to try and insure that his untiring work and efforts do not go unnoticed and that his name will forever be noted in the echelons of greatness and the folklore of the sixties. I recall our conversation a few weeks ago and we dwelled on what he has meant to so many but it’s not all of that I will miss. He was my friend, his jokes, his reference and rapport with Marilyn, his 3:00 A.M calls to just chat, menial things in the sands of time analogy but…..how do you replace a void of such a loving, legendary figure who couldn’t afford a coat for the brisk evenings of San Francisco or to wear to the burgeoning opportunities of new showings and galleries? He gladly approved of those I brought from Leatherhead in Louisville.
He was a hero of my youth, one of those that most aspired to emulate, much like Jack Casady and Skip Spence. Strange how our paths would cross after a devastating event that equated to nearly a decade of healing and would ultimately bring us together as friends. From thoughts of pre-med to the fleeting lives of musical immortals, John Cippolina, David Freiberg, Sam Andrew, Peter S. Albin, Pete Sears, Jack Casady, Paul Kantner, Levon Helm, Buddy Cage, Jerry Miller, Bob Mosley, etc. Much like Chet, it was a personal choice, my money, my time, my skills, and never worried about how best to make these ventures into a profit making business machine.
His notes, images, posters, will become instrumental as a book of his life will surely become a reality sometime soon. San Francisco seems far less the allure now, and the rolling meadows of Golden Gate Park have become somewhat empty now that Chet is gone, and I hate that.
As children, all of our parents could see the “light” burning as we grew older and our contributions to society began to unravel. In the life of Chester Leo Helms, that “light” would burn until his untimely demise last month.
It’s been said before but with far less meaning, “there will never be another like him”.
and as we bid adieu in various ways, his ability to reach out and love unconditionally permeates the entire nation and has now evolved into the finality of “farewell to The Mayor of Haight Ashbury”, activist, entrepreneur and most importantly, a friend that leaves a void in my heart…I will think of him often and will miss him with a lingering, heavy heart.
Don Aters – Haight Street Music News — with Don Aters and Chet Helms.