I recently had the chance to catch up with artist Dennis Loren after he returned from his adventure with Moonalice and their performance at the legendary Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, NV. Here’s the story…
When Moonalice Art Director Chris Shaw assigned this poster to me, I told him that I would like to do an updated homage to Michael Ferguson & George Hunter’s 1965 design for The Charlatans’ Red Dog Saloon poster. This poster became known as “The Seed” by poster collectors. Chris said, “That is a good idea. Go for it.”
Although “The Seed” looks more like a cross between an old Western newspaper etching and a Victorian era circus poster, the lettering of the word “Amazing” looks like it came from an early ’60s folkie coffeehouse flyer. Some how Michael Ferguson and George Hunter combined all of these elements and came up with this magical design. This poster would became the forerunner of the psychedelic posters that followed.
As I began working on the pen & ink drawing, I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. It was a challenge, but I buckled down and kept at it. One of the first problems I ran into was that the dimensions of a Moonalice poster are different than the dimensions of “The Seed” poster. What I decided to do was draw the top and bottom elements of the poster and not join them where The Charlatans logo divided the top from the bottom. This would allow me the chance to adjust the space between the top and the bottom after I scanned the finished art and added the Moonalice lettering.
Another thing I noticed was there weren’t really any straight lines in the original. Especially no baseline. A ruler may have been used, but not a t-square & triangle. Since I was going to use color in the Moonalice poster, I felt all the cross-hatching wouldn’t be necessary. Instead drawing a cartoon of Moonalice playing live in the lower lefthand oval I redrew the Red Dog logo that Alton Kelley redrew for the DVD cover of Mary Work’s “Rockin’ At The Red Dog” documentary, which was based on the Kelley’s original 1965 sign. After a couple of all-nighters, I somehow made the printing deadline.
The Red Dog really was “ground zero” for the music scene that would later develop in San Francisco. Many of the key people were at the Red Dog during that first summer in 1965. Along with Alton Kelley, other future Family Dog people included Luria Castlle, Ellen Harmon and Jack Tollie. Light show pioneer Bill Ham was there too. As was Chandler Laughlin (later known as underground radio DJ Travis T. Hip) and singer Lynn Hughes (who not only occasionally sang with The Charlatans, but later formed a group with Michael Ferguson called Tongue N’ Groove).
Later that summer Chet Helm’s brought the pre-Janis Big Brother & The Holding Company to play at the Red Dog. Even Rick Griffin made a road trip up from Southern California to Virginia City. If you look at his first two SF posters (The Jook Savages’ Psychedelic Shop Art Show poster and Rick’s Human Be-In poster) you can see how “The Seed” poster influenced him. All the people that I mentioned above had so much fun that summer that when they came back to San Francisco they wanted to keep all the fun going and they did by establishing the Family Dog in 1966.
Four years ago, current owners Sue & Loren Pursel bought the old Comstock House and restored the building and reopened the Red Dog Saloon. Since then they have been having special San Francisco related concerts each summer. This year their “Hipsters Of The High West” shows featured Nick Gravanites on Friday evening and then on Saturday they featured both It’s A Beautiful Day and Moonalice. In past years they have had Big Brother & The Holding Company, Dan Hicks & Hot Licks, Jefferson Starship and others play. Normally they feature locally based blues, country, jazz and folk acts, but doing the summer (when people are more free to travel to Virginia City) the Pursel’s want to keep the San Francisco rock connection alive.
At the end of Moonalice’s first set Roger McNamee spoke about The Charlatan’s and “The Seed” poster. At the end of his talk called my poster design “The Bud.” At that point he invited the people in the audience to pick-up their free poster during the break. I spent much of the rest of the night signing posters.
Of course, Virginia City is a cool old historical Western town. Lots of tourists these days, but also lots of charming old buildings. I stayed in the old Silver Queen Hotel down the street from the Red Dog. They claimed that the place is haunted, but I was so exausted after the concert, that I didn’t hear a thing – ha!!!
Watch the entire show in HD video FREE at Moonalice.com