Max Elbo Stoking the Engines Stoking the Engines Detroit and the Grande Ballroom

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not long after firing up its engines in San Francisco, the locomotive driving the 60s cultural revolution inland was at full bore and making whistle-stops across America.

  Paul Grushkin observed in The Art of Rock: "It wasn't very long before music-conscious cities like Detroit, Chicago and Austin began to spawn their own rock cultures. Detroit especially understood the possibilities of the new music."

 Eureka Springs artist Max Elbo, who along with Wes Wilson is featured at the Pinnacle Hills Promenade Art Festival, was a young artist in Detroit. He was a decade younger than the "Big Five" of San Francisco's psychedelic poster artists and admired them from a distance as they laid tracks for the emerging genre. Once he caught sight of it, Elbo latched onto the train from Psychedelia and dove into the nearest boxcar.

The Grande Ballroom

  Stanley Mouse and James Gurley were among natives of Detroit who joined the unfolding psychedelic phenomena in San Francisco. Mouse was among the "Big Five" of San Francisco's first psychedelic poster artists; James Gurley played guitar for Big Brother and the Holding Company and is widely considered "Father of the Psychedelic Guitar." 

  "As early as 1966," wrote Grushkin, "a Detroit subcommunity was emerging within the San Francisco hippie scene."

  When Russ Gibb visited San Francisco during the summer of 1966 and saw what was happening at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium, he realized he could do the same thing in Detroit. By summer's end, he opened the 1920s era Grande Ballroom.

  "I really think posters made the Grande," wrote John Sinclair, Detroit's foremost political activist. "Russ Gibb realized their value."

  The first poster artist Gibb hired was Gary Grimshaw, a music connoisseur with a history in graphic design. After two years in the Navy, on an aircraft carrier just home from Vietnam, Grimshaw got his first liberty in San Francisco. He went to shows at the Fillmore and Avalon.

  Grimshaw became the most prominent psychedelic poster artist in Detroit. He had just begun sharing work with Carl Lundgren when he was arrested for possession of marijuana and opted to go underground rather than fight the charges.

  Lundgren had recently returned to Detroit after a year of school in California. "I knew about Wes Wilson," he told Grushkin. "I knew about the Avalon and the Fillmore ... I loved the psychedelic art and I collected as much of it as I could." Lundgren also knew of Elbo's work: "I got him in, sort of like Gary got me in."

  Grimshaw, Lundgren and Elbo created "a body of art that rivaled the best of San Francisco," according to Grushkin. No other cities produced schools of psychedelic poster artists. They relied on radio and newspaper advertising to promote their venues.

  Now a resident of Eureka Springs, Elbo looks back at earlier years in Detroit: "Wes [Wilson], [Alton] Kelly, [Stanley] Mouse and [Victor] Moscoso were mature. They were at the peak of their talent," he said. "I was just a 17 or 18 year-old in Detroit. I don't know why they hired me in the first place."

  Elbo's work, announcing Grande Ballroom venues for Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, Jeff Beck and Blood, Sweat and Tears -- anthologized in The Art of Rock -- is evidence enough of his early talent.

Serendipity

  Early on, Elbo appreciated his San Francisco mentors and was especially aware of Wes Wilson. "I set out to meet him in '69," said Elbo. "I didn't find him." (By then Wilson had left San Francisco for Lagunitas in West Marin County, California.)

  Elbo moved to Eureka Springs in 1975. He didn't know that, within the year, he and Wilson would both chose to settle on the Ozark Plateau, living an hour away from one another.

  In the mid-90s, Beau Satori, owner of Satori Arts Temple and former mayor of Eureka Springs, featured Wilson's work at his gallery on Spring Street in Eureka.

  Born in San Francisco, Satori lived there in the mid-60s. He, too, had an early appreciation of the psychedelic poster art movement. He began collecting Elbo's work in the 70s and owns a large collection of Max Elbo originals.

  Wilson recalls Satori introducing him to Elbo: Satori said, "There's a guy over here you've got to meet." Elbo and Wilson met in Satori's gallery in the mid-90s, after twenty years of sharing the same territory. The meeting launched a friendship among two far-flung comrades who, for thirty years, often encountered the same people, places and energies as their histories undulated through the psychedelic sub-culture and into the Ozarks.2

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