The following is a separate part of an interview series detailing Mick Montgomery’s time in the California scene of the mid-to-late ‘60s.
Mick Montgomery is a well-known, respected musician, teacher, venue owner and promoter in the Dayton, Ohio scene. A Wright State University art graduate, he taught for several years, running the legendary Canal Street Tavern which helped launch the careers of The Breeders, Mary Chapin Carpenter and gave countless local, regional and national touring acts a cool place to play.
Years before Canal Street opened, Montgomery traveled cross-country to California leaving college and Ohio, determined to get a real life education in the culture of the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury District, taking a trip to LA before heading back.
“While I was gone I got a world of reality and got much more of an education than I got in any classroom,” Montgomery remembers. “I had some of the most incredible experiences. I lived in The Haight in this big beautiful house. I don’t know how many people lived there but at the end of the month my rent was like $12 because everybody shared and there were so many people. At the time I was experimenting with the ‘less is more’ philosophy.”
Montgomery had to survive like everyone else, but it was part of the experience of being there. “I certainly did my share of panhandling. Anyone who lived in Haight-Ashbury panhandled at one time or another.” The underground economy supported the scene. “On the weekend the street would just be bumper to bumper cars with kids, movie cameras, driving slowly, taking pictures of everybody. This was the scene when I first got there, it was culture shock.”
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There was an acceptance that Montgomery hadn’t experienced before. “In Dayton, where every time I turned around some redneck wanted to beat my ass for being a hippie, out there I’ll never forget the first time I walked up Haight Street, I felt like I was in a Fellini movie. It was like a circus. There were people on both sides of the street in all kinds of hippie regalia, long hair and feathers, bells and beads.”
Unfortunately the scene eventually went away and things got bad. “It was an unbelievable time for creativity blowing up.”
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Like many TV/YouTube documentaries on the era, Montgomery’s memories and stories of The Haight match what filmmakers put on the screen. “There would have been no Haight-Ashbury if it wasn’t for [tourists] and straight people coming to gawk and look for experimentation.”
Montgomery spent time in LA gathering more stories to tell. “I went out there, had some interesting experiences and ultimately lived in LA for a while.” He got a gig in LA with a musician calling themselves The Joint Project. They were hired in LA to play a venue in Aspen, Colorado. “We got a gig playing the Soaring Cork Lounge at the Aspen Inn and we thought we had it made because it was a good paying job and we were doing a lot of folk, bluegrass and humorous songs. We played the (before dinner gig).” They had a rock band play the covers of the day after dinner. “So, we were supposed to get people to come in for a drink. It was a great gig.”
It was supposed to last all ski season but the guy he played with liked to party a bit. When Montgomery met him, he’d never seen him drunk before. He’d been on the wagon for a while. They went to Aspen and about a month into it, his frat buddies showed up and Montgomery never saw him sober again. They lost the gig, getting fired about a month into it.
“I had gotten to see a lot of really cool venues out west, especially LA.” Montgomery played The Troubadour one night sharing the stage with a young Steve Martin. “I played their open stage and Steve Martin played the same night. When he first started he came out with a banjo, playing “Darling Corey” and always had an arrow through his head. He’d start his comedy monologue and was just insanely hilarious.”
Montgomery’s first night in LA was memorable for the wrong reason. “When we first moved to Hollywood, we decided there was more going on musically for what I did there and might actually be able to learn something or play.” They went there with a friend from The Haight. “We were in a really cheesy motel right on Sunset Strip. I’ll never forget, in the room with the TV on, we just kept hearing sirens everywhere.” Something weird was happening. Walking out on the second floor railing looking out, Montgomery saw there were cops going everywhere. “Bobby Kennedy had just been shot in Santa Monica a few miles from where we were. That was our first night in LA, so we can actually look up the date,” he remembers. “I was like fanatically a Bobby Kennedy fan at the time and I remember we went out on the strip. There were people in shock crying. They announced later that evening he’d died.”
Montgomery recalls some eerie locals with true crime ties.
“By that time, I was actually living more in Hollywood and East LA when that whole (Manson) murder thing happened.” There was a costumed androgynous group of people that used to hang out on Sunset that were LA’s version of the Haight-Ashbury scene. They enjoyed being strange. “Supposedly they were somehow connected or they knew the whole Manson Family. They were also into the rock scene. I remember seeing a concert with The Mothers of Invention and saw those people there and it was insane.
Montgomery made a brief trip to Santa Fe before returning to Dayton. “All the time I was contemplating coming back to Dayton. I was gonna come home, go back to school, seriously apply myself, get my degree as fast as I could and was going to get a job teaching art in public schools.” His main goal was putting back enough money to open his own music club. “I figured I’ll go back and teach for three or four years. I had an idea in the back of my mind what I wanted to do.”
Montgomery, a former art teacher and retired venue owner and promoter spent over 30 years giving Dayton area musicians a place to hone their craft at Canal Street Tavern. He now works from home.
A brief history of the Canal Street Tavern, as told by Montgomery, will be upcoming.
Main image by Mike Ritchie