Its full name was The Continental Rollerball but we just called it The Continental. As the name suggests, it was a former roller-skating rink that was converted into a music venue. It was a great venue and many great bands of the time performed there. It was the South Bay’s answer to San Francisco’s Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms. The 1967 grand opening show featured Big Brother and the Holding Company along with Quicksilver Messenger Service.
The Doors played there later the same year. A bootlegged tape of the performance that night circulates on the Internet, and apparently, it was a wild scene. Dave Aguilar, lead singer for Chocolate Watchband, recalled a memorable pie fight with another band that was set up by the promoter as a publicity gimmick but got out of hand, and the audience rushed the stage to join in.
The Continental was quite large, and there were actually three separate stages built inside. While one band was playing, other bands could set up on the other stages, so that when the first band was done, the next could start instantly without any setup lag time.
The building later became One Step Beyond, a popular 1980s nightclub, and now is occupied by an industrial tools warehouse and export company.
Due to the fact that Rob Vallelunga kept a journal throughout our playing days, we have a very accurate picture of dates, times, people, and events throughout the Nitecaps’ history. For the most part, everything seems to line up with information that we’ve found on the Internet. One anomaly, however, involves the Continental: Wikipedia indicates that the Continental opened in 1967, while Rob’s journal verifies that we played there as early as 1966. Jim’s recollection of meeting Janis Joplin is a 1966 event. By all accounts, Rob was very meticulous with his journal, so we’re sticking with his information. This is a case where it appears that the Wikipedia page is inaccurate, but we’re always open to additional information.
The Continental was such a cool place to play; it did have kind of a Fillmore vibe. This really wasn’t a place that you went to dance, this was a place you went to listen to bands. Prior to being a concert venue, it was a roller rink so as you can imagine the room was huge. There were two elevated stages on opposite sides of the room. While one band was playing the crowd would gather around the stage. As soon as that band played its last song the stage would go dark and the lights on the other stage would come on as the next act was introduced. The crowd would immediately turn around and move to the other stage to hear the next group.
I remember the first time we played the Continental, it was very exciting! The place was packed and we had a great set. After our last song the lights across the room came on and the next band started playing. They were the Goliwogs. As many of you know, this four man band would soon become Creedence Clearwater Revival. The group did have a single out at the time, “Brown Eyed Girl,” that was getting a lot of air play. They really sounded great but were still mainly a cover band. They wore these wigs that reminded me of shag carpeting and had not started wearing plaid flannel shirts. We actually had played with the Goliwogs a few months before at the Brass Rail, but that’s probably another story.
Jim Bruno: My Janis Joplin story
On April 8, 1966, a Friday night, the Nitecaps played the Continental. The next day, I discovered that I had left some of my clothes in the dressing room, so Robert and I came back the following evening to check out the show and to pick up my clothes. One of the groups playing there that evening was Big Brother and the Holding Company, and when I walked into the dressing room the whole band was there.
The coat and vest that I had left behind were hanging on a windowsill, and sitting right underneath them was a woman drinking out of a bottle that was covered up with a paper bag. As I didn’t want to be rude, I apologized to the woman for the interruption as I reached for my clothes, and she looked up at me, smiled, and said “Here, honey, want some wine?” Keep in mind that I did not know who this was and honestly, she kind of looked like a tough biker chick. I passed on the wine, took my clothes back to my car and went back inside to listen to the bands.
That would be the first night I heard Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin. The band came on and Janice started to sing – there were strobe lights firing off, and Janice was singing and doing almost James Brown-type things with a microphone stand. In all honesty, I was so into soul music that the style of Big Brother’s music wasn’t all that much my cup of tea, but I could tell that Janice was something different than any woman I had ever seen sing before. At that time, female singers who were popular were like Diana Ross and the Supremes – that kind of very light touch singing girl groups, nothing nearly as aggressive as this woman.
My reaction to her – and I remember it well – was leaning over to Robert and saying, “She has a man’s energy,” and I do not mean that as an insult to her as a woman. I meant and thought that she handled the microphone and sang with the command and energy than I was used to seeing from guys, but had never seen in a woman before.
As I said, Big Brother wasn’t really my favorite kind of music and I thought it was just okay that evening. But after Janice left Big Brother and struck out on her own, I saw her singing with her own group and I became a huge Janice fan. I still am – I’ve even gone to see some of the shows that follow her career and life.
Anyway, that’s my Janis Joplin story, and it’s tied to the Continental, another one of the great venues that no doubt you would have attended if you grew up in the 1960s and lived in the Bay Area.
There were so many great groups that played at the Continental, and yes, I’m happy to say that so did the Nitecaps.