Jo Baker - vocals, percussion; Annie Sampson - vocals, percussion; Tim Barnes - guitar, vocals; Terry Davis - bass; Fred Webb - piano, organ, vocals; Sammy Piazza - drums
Beginning as a trio from Walnut Creek in the mid-1960s and developing into an elaborate 11-piece traveling communal festival favorite by 1969, Stoneground boasted many great musicians as well as several of the most talented singers of the era, each with a distinctive voice and style. One of the hardest working bands, they took their soulful San Francisco groove around the world, packing countless nightclubs and becoming a ubiquitous presence at rock festivals the world over. They continued releasing respected albums into the early 1970s, but like so many of their Bay Area contemporaries, Stoneground was a band best experienced live.
In 1974, when this performance occurred, Stoneground had regrouped in more compact form. Guitarist Tim Barnes assumed the male lead vocal duties and soulful vocalist Annie Sampson remained as one of the female lead singers. To double up on the female vocals, Barnes and Sampson recruited Jo Baker, another powerful singer well known for her vocal work in the Elvin Bishop Group. They also brought in Terry Davis on bass and Fred Webb, formerly of It's A Beautiful Day, to help write and play keyboards. In the drum chair sat Sammy Piazza, fresh off a several year stint with Hot Tuna. This new stripped down lineup had a rejuvenated sound, not quite as festive as the big band, but tighter and punchier. With Baker and Sampson belting out the majority of the lead vocals, Stoneground became a much more cohesive unit, equally comfortable with rock, soul, gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues.
This performance, recorded on a rainy Tuesday night in December 1974 before a home town crowd in San Francisco, proves just how much the group had to offer. For people looking to party and dance, this lineup of Stoneground packed a serious punch. Although a founder of the band, Tim Barnes was often obscured in the previous formations, but here he comes across as a fluid and engaging guitar player. His lead vocals are more an acquired taste, but needless to say, Jo Baker and Annie Sampson pack a serious vocal wallop, trading off and often sharing lead vocals on many of the best songs.
Following Jerry Pompilli's introduction, Stoneground waste no time cranking up the energy by opening with the high energy rocker "Make Up Your Mind." A prime example of the vocal blend between Sampson and Baker, one can also hear a sparkling chemistry between these musicians. A more soulful form of that same chemistry is applied to "I Got A Song," featuring Sampson on lead vocal. Next up Tim Barnes fronts the group for the funky rocker, "You Got The Right." The entire band cook on this, and Barnes and Webb each take impressive solos, but it is drummer Sammy Piazza who is possibly the most outstanding musician here. The next number, "Do You Hear Me," is in fact written by Piazza, with both Baker and Sampson trading vocals and harmonizing on a rockin' gospel number. Jo Baker takes lead vocals on "Let's Leave This Town," a song of escape that showcases some more of Webb's impressive organ work. All three singers play an integral part in "Don't Take My Guitar."
This pattern of mixing it up vocally continues throughout the set, with "Walking Blues," another soulful rocker co-written by Samson and Webb, followed by "Break On Through" and "I Got A Feeling" (both originals, not the Doors or Beatles songs) on which Samson and Baker powerfully blend their vocals. The common thread is that all of this music is equally listenable as it is danceable. On "I Got A Feeling" Baker engages the audience to clap and sing along as she improvises vocals applicable to that rainy night.
Next Barnes whips out the bottleneck slide for a high energy romp on "L.A. Freeway," followed by a powerful performance from Sampson on "The Jesus I Know." This begins as a pure gospel number featuring only Webb's church-like organ and Sampson's penetrating vocal. Following the first two verses, the band launches in creating a gradual build up that is engaging and dramatic. With lyrics that question Christian religious rhetoric, Sampson concludes "The Jesus I know lives in my soul." To close the set, Stoneground introduce a new song, "Just For Me," a hot R&B number celebrating independence. By the end of this song, the entire Winterland audience is unison stomping for more and not about to let Stoneground go without an encore. The group obliges with a final blowout on the strident blues rocker "Rock Bottom," containing Webb wailing on organ and one of Barnes' best solos of the set. This is the kind of high energy blues that Jo Baker excelled at in Bishop's band and she delivers the goods here, after which Sammy Piazza propels the group into a sizzling jam on "Bo Diddley" to end the set, exhausting all the dancers in the audience.