Category Archives: Woodstock Music and Art Fair

Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson

Internet footprint

Once again a person one would think that information about someone who played in a well-known band--Paul Butterfield Blues Band--and played at what many think is the most famous festival of all time--the Woodstock Music and Art Fair--would be easy to find.

Not true, of course, and even in the 21st century one can apparently minimize their internet footprint. Perhaps old school research in a brick and mortar library would yield more, but my laziness trumps (sorry, but it's an old word with a new meaning) such research.

Most of today's information came from the wonderful AllMusic site which so often rescues the inquisitive music fan, but even it doesn't show Johnson's birth date. Thus, I am placing him today with plans to do the other "birth-less"  Woodstock Butterfields over the next several days.

Trumpeter Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson was mainly a trumpeter, but as so often happens on the musician's path, other instruments come into play. Jazz was his niche.

He became part of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in time to perform with them a the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967.  Released in December 1968, The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw was the first Butterfield album Keith appeared on. 

He stayed with the band for their next two albums: In My Own Dream (1967) (an album cover I stared at for many hours) and Keep on Moving (1969). 

A team player, at times Johnson played organ, but the trumpet was always his first and best instrument.
Keith Johnson
Despite the success of "horn" bands such as Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago, the Butterfield band did not enjoy the same success. In 1970 he left the band and played with the Elephant's Memory, the band that (without Johnson) became associated with John Lennon. 

Johnson also played with Van Morrison. Moogiy Klingman, Etta James, and Martha Velez.  Velez also played with Van Morrison and later married Johnson.

Professor Keith Johnson

It seems that Keith became Professor Keith Johnson and taught at the college level, including the University of North Texas. If so, in May 2012 he received the “Award of Merit” from the International Trumpet Guild which recognized his substantial contributions to the art of trumpet playing through performance, teaching, publishing, research, composition, and support of the goals of ITG. 

Oddly, in the report from that conference, much is said about Johnson's musical life, but nothing about his early career with 60s music.

Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian

Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian

Elpidio “Pete” Cobian

Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian

Continuing with my mini bios for those Woodstock Music and Art Fair performers for whom I have not found a birth date (the day I typically post the bio)...

Elpidio "Pete" Cobian had been in the California version of Jay Walker and the Pedestrians, the band Robert 'Bob' Barboza had originally formed in Rhode Island and re-formed with different members when he re-located to Los Angeles. Cobian played congas.

Pete was with the band that April 1967 night when Nanci Nevins walked in to watch Jay and the Pedestrians play. The band, by choice, had no vocalist, but saw her standing and singing along. They invited her up to perform, not usual since the actual members in the band varied with the date. Sometimes there were 7 members, sometimes more than 2 dozen.

Pete and the others liked what they heard, but Nevins left without giving them her name or contact information. Life went on.

They eventually did find her and she briefly became a Pedestrian. Briefly because  band member Alex Del Zoppo suggested to other members Albert Moore,  Andy Friend, and Pete that with the Nevins as vocalist they could expand their possibilities the four as a new band.

Sweetwater

And so they sowed the seed of Sweetwater.

Their Woodstock Music and Art Fair appearance is one of the many typical side stories that that disheveled weekend tells. Stuck in Liberty because of an historic traffic jam, organizers drafted a reluctant Richie Havens to open the festival.

Finally on site, Sweetwater followed. Ironically, their opening song, one they had played dozens of times, was an echo of the now-famous rendition that Havens had closed with: Motherless Child (with Havens extemporaneous "Freedom" tagged on).

Sweetwater did not make the 1970 Woodstock album. Sweetwater did not make the 1970 Woodstock movie. And before all that, in December 1969, a drunk driver's crashing into Nancy Nevins's car nearly killed her and kept her out of music for nearly a quarter century.

In the meantime, the band released two more albums, but gradually broke up and members went their own way. Some continued in music.

Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian

According the the Sweetwater band site, "In 1994, Sweetwater conducted a reunion to commemorate Woodstock’s 25th anniversary. Attempts were made, but no one was able to find out what had happened to Elpidio, our former conga player. A few years later, we learned Elpidio still plays occasionally with groups, but has had a really successful career working for the film studios on their set crews. He worked on underwater sets, principally as a welder, for such hit movies as “Jaws” and “The Abyss”, among others. He has a wife, Evelyn, and two adult sons, Orlando and Mario."

Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian, Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian, Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian, Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian, Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian, Sweetwater Elpidio Cobian, 

Sweetwater Fred Herrera

Sweetwater Fred Herrera

Sweetwater Fred Herrera
Sweetwater Fred Herrera second from right

Woodstock’s opening band

Sweetwater is often described as the opening band at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. That is true as long as the preceding performance of Richie Havens, Daniel Ben Zebulon, and Paul "Deano" Williams is excluded.

Sweetwater deserves the title considering the path their lead singer Nancy Nevins and then the rest of band endured shortly after the famed Woodstock.

Jay Walker and the Pedestrians

Sweetwater evolved out of a band called Jay Walker and the Pedestrians, a band that bassist Robert 'Bob' Barboza  had formed in Rhode Island. Barboza relocated to Los Angeles and reformed his band there.

In June 1967, Pedestrians Alex Del Zoppo (keyboards) , Albert Moore (flute), Pete Cobian (percussion), and Andy Friend (guitar) along with newcomer Nevins (vocals) left Jay Walker and started a new band. It remained unnamed for a bit, but after Moore told Nevins that some stream water he'd just quenched his thirst with wasn't bad at all, it was sweetwater, they realized they'd found a name.

Sweetwater Fred Herrera

Sweetwater Fred Herrera
Fred Herrera far left
Fred Herrera had not been in Jay Walker and the Pedestrians.  Del Zoppo new him from playing other gigs and knew him to be a good rock bassist. Rock was the direction that Sweetwater wanted to head in. Keep in mind that in 1967 the definition of rock had expanded to include the influences from all areas of music. They included idea of jazz jamming along with the feel of free wheeling rock. The odd thing about the band was that it had no guitarist. 

The band became one of the main opening groups for many other suddenly famous bands like the Doors, the Grateful Dead, and Johnny Winter. They joined those bands and many more on the festival circuit. 

TV had realized that this "new music" sold well--that is, advertisers would buy time on their shows if they featured such bands.  On June 10, 1969, Sweetwater played on the Los Angeles TV show, "New Sound." Unusual for these new shows, Sweetwater played live. Herrera recalls, "They actually recorded us video and audio live at the same time, which was never done at that time. All of the other TV shows we did in those day either took the feed directly from the album which we then lip-synched to, or recorded the band offstage beforehand. Then they would come in and 'stage' us according to the music to allow for correct camera angles. It was refreshing that they didn’t care what we did. They just turned on the camera and said, 'Go!' It was a lot different than just about everything else on TV that was going down then."

Woodstock Music and Art Fair

Bruce Blatman was Sweetwater's manager. He suggested the band add another festival to their 1969 summer itinerary: "an intimate, no-pressure music and art fair itn ehcountryside of upstate New York called Woodstock."  (see Horror stories).

Keyboardist Alex Del Zoppo was in the Air Force Reserves at the time. When facing the reality of fighting in Viet Nam, many young men of the time joined a reserved branch of the US military. Though the length of service was longer, the chance of deployment was far less. Del Zoppo told Blatman that his 2-week summer training started Sunday that weekend. Blatman said they'd be the opening act on Saturday afternoon, Del Zoppo could get to JFK Airport in plenty of time to fly to California and his base on time for Sunday.

We know that didn't quite work out as planned. The word plan that Woodstock weekend had a very loose meaning.

Aftermath

Sweetwater Fred Herrera

Del Zoppo got in trouble but also eventually got out of the reserves without having to serve. The point was moot since on December 8, 1969 a drunk driver t-boned the car that lead singer Nancy Nevins sat in. She was in a coma for two weeks and awoke with damaged vocal cords.

Sweetwater did not make the 1970 movie's soundtrack or the movie itself. It became a footnote, a bar bet: what Woodstock band had no guitarist?

The appetite for Woodstock has never gone away. Surprisingly to many, there are many gen-Xers who arrive in Bethel, NY at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts seeking inspiration. Some of Sweetwater's Woodstock music is now available . Though three of the original members have died, the others, including a recovered Nevins, continues to play music.

Herrera's credits include playing or producing Grupo Fuego (1993), The Exies (2000 and 2003), and Father John Misty (2015).

Sweetwater Fred Herrera, Sweetwater Fred Herrera, Sweetwater Fred Herrera,