December 1969: A couple months had gone by since the Steppenwolf concert and I wondered what band would be next to rock the county cow barn.
As I inked my drawings one evening with the local FM rock station on in the background, I flipped in delight when a radio spot announced the Iron Butterfly were scheduled to play the Coliseum.
The previous year, “In a Gadda da Vida” was released to critical acclaim becoming a massive commercial hit for the band. The album produced an abridged single for AM radio play, clocking in at 2:52, while FM rock aficionados were treated to the entire seventeen minute psychedelic anthem.
The album was a study in itself. It sold 30 million records world wide, guitarist Eric Brann was a mere 17 years young when the LP was released, and the title song was recorded in one take. Very impressive by 1969’s standards.
On the day of the show I arrived around 4:30, and couldn’t stop looking at the marquee with the band’s name in big black letters. It was a wow moment for me – this event was my second rock show and I had a feeling I’d be witnessing music history along with several thousand other fans.
The huge delivery doors that faced Paisano Drive were still open and no one was around.
As I nonchalantly walked inside the Coliseum’s main floor I was immediately distracted and puzzled with the stage set up. It was centered on the east side of the venue atop the first few rows of bleachers, above the cement wall that separated the floor from the stands.
It looked odd, and it was unusual to see the staging so high up above where the audience would be – on the cement floor.
Gone was the intimate four foot stage that was predominantly used in so many of those late sixties–early seventy shows.
Eventually, my lingering was noticed and I had to leave and wait outside for the main doors to open.
Evening came and a large crowd had gathered in front of the main doors. Once we were let in, many fans walked down a big ramp that had been set up to allow access to the floor from the bleacher section.
I made my way to the tall stage as close as possible as hundreds of others had also joined in sitting festival style. At showtime, a local band called McKatush were first up – a garage type trio that covered popular hits like The Plastic Ono Band’s “Cold Turkey”.
They rocked it good, and what a gig it was for them to open for such a high profile and established rock band.
After intermission the lights dimmed and amid the cheers, I was puzzled to see a couple spotlights reveal several dignitaries alongside the members of the Iron Butterfly.
The band was being honored for their “In a Gadda da Vida” album’s mega sales and popularity in Mexico, and were presented with butterfly pendants that were placed around their paisley shirt collars.
The four guys stood sheepishly at the front of the stage as the presenters posed for a photo-op with the “band of the year.” The camera’s flash ended the impromptu Kodak moment and as some polite applause dissipated, the band quickly took their places ridding the the moment of the awkward formalities.
The opening guitar riffs to “You Cant Win” tore into the air.
It was loud and heavy, just as expected.
The band then cranked out “Flowers and Beads”, “Soul Experience”, “In the Time of our Lives”, without any banter in between the music.
As their set continued into the evening with their psychedelic colored compositions, the final entry was no surprise to everyone as the keyboard’s familiar intro notes to “In a Gadda da Vida” was met with thunderous applause.
In the middle of the long jam, during Ron Bushy’s trademark drum solo, guitarist Eric Brann stood close to the drum kit, bouncing in place as he hooted and hollered indian style.
The crowd loved the long anthem and rose to an ovation as the last note was played.
For the encore the band churned out the Iron Butterfly Theme; a slow, hypnotic instrumental from their first album, accented with Doug Ingle’s haunting background vocals within parts of the densely electrified music. I was in awe; the Butterfly enveloped the audience with a powerful and dream-like sound that closely paralleled their studio albums.
It was a show I have never forgotten.
I’ve heard first hand stories of what acid trips are like and in retrospect, The Iron Butterfly Theme’s layered effects and heavy production could be the epitome of tripping out on LSD.
Google the song and if you listen to all four minutes and thirty-five seconds, you’ll need to be snapped out of your trance when its over.
1969 gave way to the new year and after witnessing a couple of heavy rock acts just months apart, I wasn’t prepared for what was headed to EP.
Do you recall any rock shows from that era? Leave a comment! I’d like to hear from you.