The San Francisco Sound


Between the middle of the 1960’s through the early part of the 1970’s, a new era in music thrived. The music was all about the counterculture, a culture of young people who were out to change the world. Kids that were looking to upset the establishment, to change the status quo, and to blaze their own path and make their own future. Teens and young adults who rejected their parents way of life. They flocked in droves in the mid sixties to a city. They made San Francisco their Mecca. More and more, the hippies made their way to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. From this part of San Francisco, the psychedelic music phenomena took root. The San Francisco Sound was born.

The new music that emerged from Haight-Ashbury no longer followed the standard boy meets girl, 2-3 minute songs that were prevalent on the radio. The standard was broken, and a new way of producing music followed. An improvisational, longer, jamming emerged, with lyrics focusing now on deeper subjects, searching for meaning in the new world that the hippies were creating. It was becoming more about living the psychedelic lifestyle, searching for the inner journey of the mind, and about taking psychedelic drugs. Many of the bands that developed at this time were married to the psychedelic lifestyle, and many of them jammed and created music while under the influence of psychedelics. They lived what they sang about.


The list of bands that made at least some form of impact on the San Francisco sound in the mid sixties to early seventies was extensive. Most would be in agreement that the main bands from the era were The Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. These two groups certainly were the most popular. However, the list of bands is long, and all contributed to the sound that was developed in San Francisco around this time.


Here are some of the bands: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Blue Cheer, Moby Grape, The Great Society, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, The Beau Brummels, It’s A Beautiful Day, Malo, Cold Blood, Steve Miller Band, Mother Earth, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Kozmic Blues Band, Sopwith Camel, Frumious Bandersnatch, The Charlatans, Fifty Foot Hose, The Ace of Cups, Butch Engle & the Styx, Salvation, The Final Solution, Blackburn and Snow, The Mystery Trend, We Five, and the list goes on. This list is not a complete representation of the bands of the San Francisco sound.

There were many other bands that made an impact in the psychedelic sound in California. These are some other San Francisco Bay Area


Bands that are worth checking out: Country Weather, Country Joe and the Fish, The Loading Zone, The Doobie Brothers, Syndicate of Sound, Count Five, The Savage Resurrection, The Chocolate Watchband, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Earth Quake, Tower of Power, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and others.

The first group that was recognized as being a psychedelic band that actually performed while on acid is The Charlatans. They were very influential on many of the bands in San Francisco in this era, including the major acts like the Grateful Dead. Though The Charlatans never made it truly big time, they are considered by many people to be the group that got the whole psychedelic scene going from the beginning.

Famous Music Venues in San Francisco

San Francisco had some venues that are considered very important in getting the whole psychedelic scene going. There was the Matrix, the Fillmore, the Avalon Ballroom, Winterland Ballroom and Golden Gate Park, where a lot of the psychedelic bands gave free concerts and where hippies congregated to hang out. This was a time where some great music evolved into what became known as the San Francisco Sound.

The Matrix was a former pizza parlor that was turned into a night club that existed during the rise of psychedelic music from 1965-1972. This venue was very instrumental in the rise of psychedelic music. The Matrix opened on August 13th, 1965, with the first band being Jeffereson Airplane. Famous bands The Doors, The Great Society(with Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane), Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, as well as The Velvet Underground had live albums recorded at the Matrix.

The Fillmore was a very popular music venue in San Francisco. Although it had been around since much earlier, the venue was made popular by Bill Graham, a famous music promoter during the time of the psychedelic music explosion in the mid to late sixties. Graham opened a music venue on the east coast in March 1968, called the Fillmore East. In July of the same year, he opened the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Many of the same bands that cut their chops at the Matrix, also played at the Fillmore, both east and west, with both venues closing down in 1971.

Another venue that contributed to the San Francisco psychedelic sound is the Avalon, or what is also known as the Avalon Ballroom. The Avalon was founded by Robert E. Cohen and Chet Helms and his production company Family Dog Productions. Typically, bands were booked to play only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The sets usually started at around nine o’clock in the evening, with two different bands each performing two sets. Many local bands from San Francisco, as well as other acts performed at the Avalon, such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, as well as The Doors and the Grateful Dead played there 29 times from 1966-1969. The Dead recorded two live albums from the Avalon.

The Winterland Ballroom was an ice skating rink and music venue in San Francisco during the psychedelic era. It was run by Bill Graham, of Fillmore East and West fame. The first concert was the Jefferson Airplane and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1966. Many bands performed there, and some major live records were recorded there, including records by the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and many more. The Winterland was eventually torn down in 1985.

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, hosted the Human Be In on January


14th, 1967, was the event that kicked off the Summer of Love in that same year. This is considered to be the unofficial start of the rise of hippie culture, with Woodstock being the climax in 1969.

6 thoughts on “The San Francisco Sound

  1. nice recap.
    I would never think that Creedence is considered a psychedelic band. I consider them to be way more mellow than that.

    You mention the Doors a few times, but You didn’t note them as the more influential bands at the beginning of the post. Can I ask why? I think they are one of the most influential bands in music history, and I think current artists would claim that they were somehow affected by them.

    1. Hello, and thank you for the comment! Actually, The Doors are my favorite band. I am huge Morrison fan in particular. You bring up a great point, and I agree. They are one of the most influential bands in history. But in relation to the San Francisco sound, they participated in the scene, I don’t feel they contributed to the development of it. The Doors were a band with their home base in Los Angeles, and though they performed in San Francisco, at The Matrix and the Avalon and other venues, they considered themselves as an LA band. They really were’nt part of the hippie counterculture. They were a bit darker, not as much in the whole peace and love scene as was the counterculture of San Francisco. These are only my opinions, and I think the Doors are the best!! Thanks for commenting again, and come back often!!

  2. Love your post about the san francisco sound. You know your stuff and I find it very interesting how the sound of a city develop in your case San Francisco.

    I’m from a small island in South East Asia which struggles to find its sound merely I think its because #1 its small and people pay attention to ecomomics rather than arts #2 not enough deliverate attention is paid into developing a culture or a sound of the island.

    I’m curious what is your take of what it takes for a city to develop its unique culture and sound? How can one person made a difference?

    1. Hello, thank you for the comment! You ask a interesting question. This is only my opinion, but in the case of San Francisco, I think that it is a relatively small area and many of the bands knew and influenced each other. San Francisco is considered a major city, but in relation to New York and Los Angeles and Chicago, the area is smaller and more compact. It gave it the ability to have a sound melt together as one region, with people in the music industry kind of influenced each other. Also, it was a very specific time in history where a generation tried to make the world a better place, by expressing themselves through music, art, poetry, etc. Thank you so much again for visiting the site!!

  3. Even though I was born in the 1980’s, my parents brought a lot of this culture into my life though music. There’s a lot of history that was formed through the music of the 70’s. Some of the artists I’ve heard of and some of them I haven’t. Thanks for sharing.

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