The Matrix (club)

The Matrix (club)

The Matrix, a renovated former pizza shop, was a nightclub in San Francisco from 1965 to 1972 and was one of the keys to what eventually became known as the "San Francisco Sound" in rock music. Located at 3138 Fillmore Street, The Matrix opened August 13, 1965 showcasing Jefferson Airplane, which singer Marty Balin had put together as the club's "house band." Marty had persuaded three limited partners to put up $3,000 apiece to finance the opening of The Matrix, giving them 75% ownership, while he retained 25% for creating and managing it.

Emergence of Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane rose rapidly to local prominence during late 1965 and early 1966 with their performances at the Matrix, and it was there that they were first seen by noted music critic Ralph J. Gleason, who became an early champion of the group. The photograph of the members of Jefferson Airplane that was featured on the front cover of their best-known album, "Surrealistic Pillow" (1967), was taken inside the Matrix.

The Matrix was a favorite haunt of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in the late 1960s (see "Fear and Loathing in America," c. 2000) and was also mentioned briefly in his book, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", during a flashback scene. During this period, Thompson was a contributing editor for the then-new tabloid magazine, Rolling Stone, which was founded in San Francisco in 1967.

The Music

The Matrix was an important place in the formative years of the San Francisco rock music scene, featuring not only rock bands, but several blues artists and blues bands, with an occasional jazz artist thrown in. Besides Jefferson Airplane, many other well-known bands and musicians performed there; Big Brother and the Holding Company, Elvin Bishop, The Blues Project, Sandy Bull, The Chambers Brothers, The Charlatans, Congress of Wonders, Country Joe & the Fish, The Doors, Electric Flag, Flamin' Groovies, The Grateful Dead, The Great Society, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, Jerry Garcia & Friends aka Jerry Garcia Band, Marvin Gardens, Mickey Hart & the Hartbeats (a subset of the Grateful Dead consisting of Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzman, and Mickey Hart), Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf, Hot Tuna, It's a Beautiful Day, Taj Mahal, Harvey Mandel, Marvin Gardens, Steve Miller Blues Band (with Boz Scaggs before he formed his own band), Moby Grape, Charlie Musselwhite, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Otis Rush, Santana, Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, Sopwith Camel, Steel Mill (with Bruce Springsteen), The Sparrow (just before they changed their name to Steppenwolf), Sonny Terry & Brownie Magee, The Tubes, Velvet Underground, and many more. [ [ Wolfgang's Vault: Matrix posters] ]

Since it was originally created and run by musicians, The Matrix was always popular with local and visiting musicians, so, on their off nights, many of them would come there to hear other groups they knew or just to hang out.

Original Club Layout

In the early years of The Matrix, there was a huge mural of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the left wall near the rear; rumor was that the members of Jefferson Airplane painted it before the club first opened (appropriate, since "these" four horsemen all carried musical instruments). The mood the mural conveyed was sort of in keeping with the very subdued lighting everywhere in the club other than the small stage.

The entrance was recessed about two feet and was left of center on the windowless wall seen from the street, but there was a movie-poster-like cabinet outside to the door's right, where upcoming bands were listed and handbills were posted. Inside, near the entrance, there was a bar (beer and wine license only) on the front left. The interior was about 40 feet by 80 feet. The front third of the club had about a 10-foot-high ceiling, but farther back, it went up to about 20 feet. The right front area had chairs and most of the cocktail tables, while the center to rear of the room was a dance floor. The stage was a step above the floor on the right side, center to rear. A small sound booth occupied the center of the left wall, and a few cocktail tables were at the left rear in front of the mural. The rear wall had a window opening for the small galley used to prepare bar food and other snacks.

Ownership Change

Sometime in 1966 or 1967, Marty Balin sold his share of the club to Peter Abram and Gary Jackson, two of the original partners. Peter actively managed the club room and did bookings while also recording any musicians who were well-known or that he enjoyed or who were recommended to him. Gary took care of accounting and general business matters.

Live Music Albums Recorded at The Matrix

The Great Society Tapes

In 1968, after finally getting all the necessary releases, The Matrix's owners sold to Columbia Records some tapes of live sets from 1966 by The Great Society (the band Grace Slick belonged to before replacing Signe Anderson [Jefferson Airplane's first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, had already been released to critical and popular acclaim, but Signe left the band after the birth of her first daughter.] in Jefferson Airplane). Edits of those tapes (including the first commercial recordings of "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love") eventually became two LP's, "Conspicuous Only in Its Absence" and "How It Was" (promoted as by "Grace Slick & The Great Society"). Over 20 years later (1989-1990), identical combinations of the two LP's were re-released under different names as CD's by two different labels, possibly due to separate licensing agreements in the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom. [This is reasonable supposition based on the timing of what occurred and on how the music business operates.]

Trivia note: The Great Society band photo on the album covers was taken in front of the same wall inside The Matrix that Jefferson Airplane posed in front of for their album, "Surrealistic Pillow".

Early Steppenwolf Tapes

Released by ABC Dunhill Records in 1969, the album "Early Steppenwolf" was material recorded live at The Matrix on May 14th, 1967, more than a year before the remodeling.

Big Brother & the Holding Company Tapes

First released in the UK in 1984 by Edsel Records (a Demon Music Group label), "Cheaper Thrills" is the best tracks from several Big Brother gigs at The Matrix before the band was well known. Recording dates ran from July 28, 1966 to April 25, 1967.


The earnings from the Great Society tapes enabled a major remodeling of The Matrix, including a professional mixing booth and two higher quality tape decks, as well as the major improvements to the sound and lighting systems. As part of their contract, Columbia Records also created a custom mixing board for the club, hoping for additional tapes of future live performances.

The entrance was moved to the far right of the street wall. The ceiling was opened up to its full 20 foot height for the entire room. Just to the left of the entrance, against the street wall, was the new mixing booth, with its large, doubled-glass windows facing into the main room. The stage was moved to the center of the left wall, and was 3 feet up and about 12x28 feet (instead of the 10x18 feet of the original stage). Large speaker systems were mounted near the ceiling in the left front and left rear corners. A new lighting system aimed at the stage hung from the ceiling just in front of the stage. Additional details are forgotten as of this writing.

End of the Matrix

The Matrix continued to showcase local and visiting bands for a few more years. It was always a hangout for local musicians, famous or otherwise, both because of its history and because of the owners' respect for serious musicians. The club closed in 1972.

When The Matrix closed, a nearby bar, "Pierce Street Annex," leased the space and moved in, remodeling once again, turning it into a nightclub with only a DJ, and no live music. When the Pierce Street Annex closed, Mayor Gavin Newsom's company took over in 2000 and renamed the space "Matrix Fillmore". Live music has not returned.


External links

* [ "Rock & Roll Roadmaps:" The Matrix]
* [ "San Francisco Chronicle:" Phil Elwood obituary, Jan. 11, 2006]
* [ - Big Brother and the Holding Company]
* [ "Rainman Records:" Jefferson Starship - Biography]
* [ "Bay Area Bands:" The Great Society]
* [ "The High Times Interview: Marty Balin", "High Times Magazine," March 2000]
* [ "allmusic guide:" Cheaper Thrills - Overview]
* San Francisco Bay Area

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