The Matrix (club)

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For the club in Berlin, see Matrix (club).

Coordinates: 37°47′55″N 122°26′09″W / 37.7987°N 122.4357°W / 37.7987; -122.4357 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.[1] 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.[2]

Emergence of Jefferson Airplane[edit]

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.[3] 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.

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The Music[edit]

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:

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. Known musicians never paid a cover charge.

Original club layout[edit]

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 50 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 18 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[edit]

Sometime in 1966 or 1967, Marty Balin sold his share of the club to Peter Abram and Gary Jackson, two of the original partners; they bought out the remaining partner.[8] 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. For a brief period towards the end of 1966, Bill Ehlert, better known as the "Jolly Blue Giant" or simply "Jolly", owner of the Jabberwock in Berkeley took over running The Matrix for a couple of months. This saw a distinct change to the booking policy where Jabberwock favorites Country Joe and the Fish, the New Age, and Blackburn & Snow would perform at The Matrix. Another change was seen in the advertising of shows, where Jabberwock house artist Tom Weller provided some classic posters and handbills.

Live music albums recorded at The Matrix[edit]

album artist label released recorded format
Conspicuous Only in Its Absence The Great Society Columbia Records (9624)
How It Was The Great Society Columbia Records (9702)
Early Steppenwolf Steppenwolf ABC Dunhill (DS-50060)
Collector's Item The Great Society Legacy Recordings/Sony BMG
1969: The Velvet Underground Live The Velvet Underground Mercury Records
Cheaper Thrills Big Brother & the Holding Company Edsel,UK (ED135,EDCD135)
Live At The Matrix The Great Society Edsel,UK
Collector's Item The Great Society Legacy Recordings/Sony BMG
1990 reissue
Cheaper Thrills Big Brother & the Holding Company Get Back,Italy (6688)
Cheaper Thrills Big Brother & the Holding Company Acadia (8001)
Collector's Item The Great Society Legacy Recordings/Sony BMG (B0000024X1)
2008 reissue
Live at the Matrix 1967 The Doors Rhino/WMG
Return to the Matrix 02/01/68 Jefferson Airplane Collectors' Choice Music Live

The Great Society tapes[edit]

Jefferson Airplane in front of an interior wall at The Matrix
Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album cover photo
(click to enlarge)

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[9] 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, due to separate licensing agreements in the US and the United Kingdom.

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[edit]

Released by ABC Dunhill Records in 1969, the album Early Steppenwolf was material recorded live at The Matrix, purportedly on May 14, 1967, more than a year before the remodeling. However, the recordings were actually made when Steppenwolf was still called The Sparrow and were taped between May 9 and May 11, 1967 or between May 19 and 21. On May 14, the Sopwith Camel were playing the last day of a three day set at The Matrix and The Sparrow did not appear.

Big Brother & the Holding Company tapes[edit]

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. Like many of the Matrix tapes, there has been some mislabeling and the actual recording dates have been lost over time. What is known is that the recordings were made in 1966 and 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 18-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 2 feet above the dance floor and measured 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 stage lighting system hung from the ceiling just in front of the stage.

End of The Matrix[edit]

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; although briefly re-opening at a new location (412 Broadway - previously "Mr D's") in the fall of 1973.

When The Matrix closed, a nearby bar, "Pierce Street Annex", leased the space and moved in, remodeling once again, and turned it into a nightclub with only a DJ, and no live music. After the Pierce Street Annex closed, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom's company, PlumpJack Group, took over in 2000 and renamed the space "MatrixFillmore".[10] Live music was incorporated into the venue during the first few years; however, this layout was not a viable venue for live music and the program was dropped. MatrixFillmore now has only DJs. MatrixFillmore was one of the first ultra lounges in San Francisco.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ View archival newsfilm shot by KRON-TV from February 1967, featuring band The Only Alternative and his Other Possibilities rehearsing at The Matrix:
  2. ^ "The High Times Interview: Marty Balin", High Times Magazine, March 2000
  3. ^ San Francisco Chronicle: Phil Elwood obituary, Jan. 11, 2006
  4. ^ biography at Harvey Mandel website
  5. ^ Matrix poster for Nov. 5-9, 1968
  6. ^ Richard & Mimi Farina website -- Mimi's bands: The Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities
  7. ^ Matrix poster
  8. ^ "The High Times Interview: Marty Balin", High Times Magazine, March 2000
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ MatrixFillmore

External links[edit]