Category Archives: Woodstock Music and Art Fair

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, 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweetwater Albert Moore

Sweetwater Albert Moore

Sweetwater Albert Moore

Moore Sweetwater

Today's short essay on Albert Moore is the third on the members of Sweetwater. As noted previously, I typically do such an essay on the performer's birthday, but Moore's birth date, like all the members of Sweetwater, is not available. 

Albert Moore was one of the original members of Sweetwater. He was among the group that, Nancy Nevins,  the eventual Sweetwater singer, met before Sweetwater had formed. The various musicians were sitting around “The Scarab" and Nancy walked in and sang along for awhile before leaving.

When we think of a rock band, a flute is not the first instrument that comes to mind. Of course, the most famous rock flautist is likely Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, a band that did precede Sweetwater by a year. Keep in mind that by 1968 the idea of what could be rock and roll had evolved and expanded to include nearly any type of music. One of the things that separated Sweetwater from nearly every other rock band of the time, including Jethro Tull, was the absence of a guitarist.

Like most other band members who played at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the internet does not have much content. The Sweetwater site has the following: "A former policeman, Albert, who played flute, sang, and wrote some of the songs, was quite a recognizable image and a great presence on stage. He was an energetic, happy guy who loved playing music. We had a lot of great times together. After he hung up his big Amish, Sweetwater hat, he became a schoolteacher in northern California. He died from lung cancer in 1994."

Sweetwater Albert Moore

So much to ask about that. A policeman? Before? After before being a school teacher? What kind of teacher? What grade level? Did he teach music? Another art? 

Fortunately, Woodstock Ventures recorded and filmed their historic event without realizing it would be historic. And though the following video isn't the best quality, it is better than nearly any other festival recording of that summer.

Sweetwater was a great band and not just a great band of the eclectic Sixties. Fortunately for us, organizers and the music business was willing to give bands like them the chance to perform for larger audiences and prove their wonderful worth. Also as noted imperviously, it was unfortunate that they missed the cut in both the subsequent movie and album.