Ustad Alla Rakha

Ustad Alla Rakha

April 29, 1919 – February 3, 2000

Docents on a Bethel Woods Museum tours  are sometimes asked: “Who was the youngest performer?” Country Joe talks about how Santana drummer Michael Shrieve was only 17–but Shrieve had turned 20 in July. The likely answer is Sha Na Na’s Henry Gross who was 18, but if Greg Reeves birthday is actually April 7, 1955 (uncertain), then he is the answer for sure.

No one has ever asked me, “Who was the oldest performer?” That distinction goes to Ustad Alla Rakha. He’s nearly the oldest person associated with the festival on site that weekend. And that person wasn’t Max Yasgur (born December 15, 1919), but likely cameraman David Myers  born on May 8, 1914.

Ustad Alla Rakha

Indian youth

Alla Rakha was born in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. He was the oldest of seven sons and his father opposed Alla’s desire to learn music.

When he was 12 Alla ran away and studied at the Punjab school of classical music. While he did have many years of training as a vocalist, he never lost his love of the tabla.

As a young adult, he worked for a theatre company and later at a radio station. In 1940 he moved to Mumbai and worked with Pandit Ravi Shankar.

He also began to compose music for some Hindi films.  Alla had five children in his first marriage, two daughters and three sons. His daughter Razia remained close to him throughout his life.

Ustad Alla Rakha

West Influenced

As the Beatles–particularly George Harrison–became interested in Indian philosophy and music, so did thousands of young westerners. Both Ravi Shankar and Alla Hakha had played in the United States before the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, but the fame, film, and soundtrack of their performance there set up many other invitations to play at other non-traditional concert venues. Of course the most famous was Woodstock.

Ustad Alla Rakha


Shankar was disappointed with Woodstock. He eschewed the use of drugs and felt that they got in the way of truly becoming one with music.

He said in a 1999 NPR interview with Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air”: Monterey was something which I liked because it was still new, fresh. And there was some – in spite of the drugs and everything, when these young girls and boys, they showed these two fingers like that, like a V, and said peace and love and offered you a flower, there was some innocence. There was some beauty which touched me so much. But Woodstock was a time which was almost two, three years later. And believe me, by then I thought that this thing is not going to live anymore because it was far gone. Music was just an incidental music to them. They were having fun. It was a fun place, picnic party. They were all stoned. It was raining. It was in mud. And as I said in my book, it reminded me of these water buffaloes we see in India who are, you know, they feel very hot and they sit there, get so – so dirty, but they enjoy it. So I mean that was the thing I felt. But because it was a contractual thing, I couldn’t get out of it. I had to go through it. But I was very unhappy.

Ustad Alla Rakha

Bangladesh Concert

Ustad Alla Rakha

Alla Rakha also played with Shankar at the famous (filmed and recorded) Concert for Bangladesh that Shankar and George Harrison had organized for the relief for the refugees of then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Ustad Alla Rakha


Ustad is an honorific given to a master musician and teacher. From BritannicaAlla Rakha…was also a devoted teacher. In 1985 he founded the Alla Rakha Institute of Music in Bombay, which further helped to elevate and popularize the tabla. Alla Rakha’s three sons—Zakir Hussain, Fazal Qureshi, and Taufiq Qureshi—all became tabla players, Zakir acquiring the most international recognition and Fazal eventually managing and expanding the work of their father’s institute. In honour of his contribution in the field of performing arts, Alla Rakha received two of India’s most prestigious awards: the Padma Shri (1977) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1982).

Ustad Alla Rakha


On February 3, 2000 a spokesman for Moment Records and Zakir Hussain Management announced that Rakah had a heart attack when he learned of the death of his daughter, Razia, during cataract surgery. [NYT obit]

Chandrashekhar Nair directed this 12-minute documentary on Rakha in 1970.

Ustad Alla Rakha

Norman Rogers Quill

Norman Rogers Quill

April 21, 1943 – July 9, 2011

The band Quill was the opening band of day 2 for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The opening band. Nowadays, when people go to a concert, are in the parking lot tailgating, and someone says, “The first band will be on soon. Should we get going?”

Nah. Never heard of them. Have another beer.”

Opening bands are often the scapegoats. Some of the crowd is actually in so might as well get things going with what is sometimes a good local band, or a band good enough to tour with the big names but not big enough to stand alone.

Norman Rogers Quill

Quill the Opening Band

That was Quill, but at Woodstock the big difference is that even though there may still have been thousands of people still streaming onto Max Yasgur‘s field, there were hundreds of thousands already there.

Woodstock Ventures had hired the Boston-based band to play at the festival, of course, but to also be in the area a week or so early as good will ambassadors to local institutions. “See us? We have long hair and big sideburns and play this rock and roll, but we smile and are good people.”

Brothers Dan and Jon Cole had begun Quill in 1967. Norm was a guitarist, Roger North a drummer, and Phil Thayer a keyboardist.  Rogers had grown up in Brattleboro, VT. He had been in the Morning Start Blues Band.

At noon that sunny Saturday in Bethel, Quill did four songs in a 30 minute set:

  1. They Live the Life
  2. That’s How I Eat
  3. Driftin’
  4. Waiting for You

Norman Rogers Quill

No Woodstock Bump

Cotillion Records did sign them and the band did release an album. Cotillion was the same company that released the famed Woodstock album, but Quill was not on it.

Jon Cole would soon leave the band. Norm Rogers also left, but came back to record a second album. When Cotillion did not release it, the band broke up. Norm returned to Brattleboro.

Norman Rogers Quill


He died in 2011 and the Brattleboro Reformer’s obituary read as follows:

Norman Page Rogers, 68, passed away unexpectedly at home, July 9, 2011. Norman was a loving husband, father, friend, artist, illustrator, musician and student of life. Son of Hubert and Helen Rogers, born April 21, 1943, Ottawa Canada, grew up in Brattleboro. Graduate of High Mowing School, N.H., 1961, studied at St. Lawrence University, Marlboro College and The Arts Students League, New York City. Traveled worldwide with colleague and friend Hugh Swift to Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal and into the Himalayas. Inspired by Never Cry Wolfe, Norman traveled to Newfoundland to find author Farley Mowat. Served in the Merchant Marines and spent time long line fishing off The Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Georges Bank. Norman celebrated the bicentennial by riding his bicycle from Vermont to Washington, D.C. He had an extensive musical career, his band, Quill, was the first band to play at Woodstock, Saturday, Aug. 16, 1969. As a string bass player and vocalist Norman’s career included playing with: Arwen Mountain Band, The Filthy Rich, Jeff Potter and The Rhythm Agents, and The Bill Strecker Band. Past 20 years was a musician with Andy Avery of Normandy. A singer in The Blanche Moyse Chorale. Most recently enjoyed playing with the Windham Orchestra.

Article on entire band from Boston dot com

Norman Rogers Quill

Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron

Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron

From Peron’s Facebook page (
April 8, 1945 – January 27, 2018

Father of Medical Marijuana

A 2014 headline in a San Francisco Gate article summed it all up:

Why you can thank a gay, hippie Vietnam veteran for legal medical and recreational marijuana today

Dennis Peron was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island, NY and served in the Air Force in Vietnam.

Of his time in Vietnam he said, ““[During the Tet Offensive,] it was a perfect storm. They [the Vietcong] brought the war home to Saigon. They [the Air Force] got even with me. They put me on the morgue for 30 days and I’m 20 years-old. I’ve never seen a dead person. That month I saw 25,000 dead people. I came out of my closet and found out who I was.”

After the war, he moved to San Francisco’s Castro District. During World War II, if the armed services discovered that a soldier was gay, it discharged him. Often this would happen just before the soldiers shipped out and San Francisco was a primary port during the war.

Some of these soldiers settled in San Francisco and later the Castro District became a primarily gay neighborhood.

Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron


Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron

Peron joined the Youth International Party ( Yippies!) , the radical side of hippies which promoted various anti-authoritarian ideas, such as promoting the use and legalization of cannabis.

Toward that end, Peron helped organize smoke-ins.

Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron

Medical Marijuana

He also sold cannabis from storefronts in the Castro and advocated for medical cannabis as the scourge of AIDS grew in the 1980. His partner, Jonathan West died of AIDS in 1990.

In 1991, Peron founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club at the height of the U.S. drug war in 1991.  He gave out cannabis to AIDS patients along with Brownie Mary.

Also in 1991, Peron organized for the passage of San Francisco’s Proposition P, a resolution calling on the state government to permit medical cannabis, which received 79% of the vote.

That same year, he co-founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the first public cannabis dispensary. The club, which served 9,000 clients, was closed by a San Francisco Superior Court judge in 1998.

In 1993, Peron and Brownie Mary jointly released a cookbook with recipes for cannabis edibles.

Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron

Proposition 215

In 1996, Peron coauthored California Proposition 215, which sought to allow the use of medical cannabis.

Dan Lungren, the Attorney General of California, ordered a police raid of Peron’s club a month before the election, arresting Peron.

Proposition 215 was passed soon thereafter, which allowed the club to reopen. Later in 1996, the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party of Minnesota fielded Peron as their nominee, their first, in the U.S. presidential election.

In 1998, Peron ran in the Republican primary for California governor against Lungren, who won the primary and lost the election to Gray Davis.

Peron voiced support for decriminalization of all marijuana use, believing that it is medicinal. He opposed medical marijuana use for children.

Dennis Peron wrote in his 2012 book, “Memoirs of Dennis Peron,” that he was just a “gay kid from Long Island who joined the Air Force to get away from home.”

Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron


Peron opposed California Proposition 19 in 2010, which would have legalized recreational cannabis, because he did not believe that recreational use exists, as all people who use marijuana are using it medicinally. He opposed California Proposition 64 in 2016 (approved adult use marijuana) because for the same reason. Voters approved the proposition 57.13% to 42.87%.

In 2013 he published his memoirs: Memoirs of Dennis Peron.

Peron spent some of his last years on a 20-acre farm he owned and operated in Lake County [CA] growing and giving away medical marijuana.

Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron


San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recognized Peron, who was suffering with late-stage lung cancer, with a certificate of honor in 2017. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy called Peron “the father of medical cannabis”.

On January 27, 2018, aged 72, Peron died of lung cancer at the Veteran’s Administration Health Center in San Francisco.

“The city and the country has lost a cannabis leader who lived life on the edge,” Terrance Alan, a member of the city’s Cannabis Commission, told the Chronicle, “He lived his whole life on the edge, and that’s what allowed us to lead in cannabis.”

Cannabis Activist Dennis Peron