Where Are the Original Woodstock 1969 Performers Now?
Nearly fifty years have come and gone since 30 bands and artists were part of rock history as performers at the original Woodstock festival. For some, careers were launched. For others, it was just another gig (albeit with an audience of half a million.) Some are gone, some have faded into history, and some are alive, well, and still making music.
Prior to Woodstock, her music strongly reflected her opposition to the Viet Nam war and her passion for the protection of human rights. Since Woodstock, she has expanded her activism to include the environment, the death penalty, gay and lesbian rights, poverty, and the Iraq war. Her most recent album, Day After Tomorrow was released in 2008, and she continues to maintain a heavy tour schedule.
Guitarist Robbie Robertson rarely performs in public (the last time was at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in 2007) but has done considerable work in films, as a producer, performer, or composer. Drummer Levon Helm won a Grammy for his 2007 album, Dirt Farmer and toured with his own band until his death from cancer in 2012. Keyboardist Garth Hudson performs with his band, The Best! and is a busy session player. Bassist/vocalist Rick Danko died in 1999 after years of painkillers and alcohol due to chronic pain from a 1968 car crash. Keyboardist Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986 after a long struggle with substance abuse.
Blood Sweat & Tears
Lead singer Steve Katz is the only current member of the band who was in the lineup that performed at Woodstock. David Clayton-Thomas, lead singer in 1969, left the band in 1972, but returned for two more stints, the longest running from 1984-2004. He continues to tour as a solo act. Drummer Bobby Colomby currently owns a talent management company in Los Angeles. Bassist Jim Fielder has had a successful career as a session musician and is now a member of Neil Sedaka’s backing band. Multi-instrumentalist Dick Halligan composes and performs jazz and chamber music. Saxophonist Fred Lipsius teaches at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Trumpeter Lew Soloff plays with the Manhattan Jazz Quintet.
Butterfield Blues Band
It was just a few months after Woodstock that the Butterfield Blues Band disbanded. Founder Paul Butterfield did solo and session work until his death in 1987 at the age of 44 of a heart attack attributed to years of drug and alcohol abuse. Saxophonist David Sanborn has had a highly successful career as a performer and composer. He released a new studio album, Only Everything, in 2010 and maintain a busy tour schedule. Guitarist Buzz Feiten joined The Rascals and is now a solo and session player.
Band co-founders Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “The Bear” Hite died in 1970 and 1981, respectively. Drummer “Fito” de la Parra still performs with the band regularly. Guitarist Harvey “The Snake” Mandel and bassist Larry “The Mole” Taylor left in 1970 to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Mandel, Taylor and de la Parra are in the current lineup of Canned Heat, which is touring internationally in 2016.
Cocker has continued to tour and record virtually non-stop since Woodstock. His 21st studio album, Hard Knocks was released in 2010; in 2016 he was still touring.
Country Joe and The Fish
Lead vocalist “Country Joe” McDonald embarked on a solo career after his group disbanded in 1971. He and other original Woodstock performers toured in the summer of 2009 as Heroes of Woodstock. Guitarist Barry “The Fish” Melton has been a practicing attorney since the late ’80s, currently working as a public defender in California. He also tours with his own band, The Dinosaurs.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
After CCR broke up in 1972, brothers John (lead vocalist-guitarist-songwriter) and Tom (guitarist) Fogerty each pursued solo careers. Tom died of AIDS in 1990. John is still actively recording and touring. He released The Blue Ridge Rangers Ride Again in 2009. Bassist Stu Cook and drummer Cosmo Clifford formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited in 1995. They are still active with the group, performing the old CCR catalog.
Neil Young had just joined up with Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby when they performed at Woodstock — their first public performance. Both configurations (CSN and CSNY) continue to perform together today. In addition, Young continues a long and successful solo career; his favorably reviewed autobiography and several biographies and books about his music are available on Amazon.
Two members of the Woodstock lineup have died: keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan in 1973 and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, whose death in 1995 marked the end of the band’s three-decade run. Bob Weir (guitar), Phil Lesh (bass), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Mickey Hart (drums) and Tom Constanten (keyboards) have each pursued solo careers, and have performed together in various combinations off and on since 1998. Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann, and Hart have toured in recent years as The Dead. Constanten toured with other original Woodstock performers as Heroes of Woodstock.
In addition to continuing to write and perform songs about social injustice, Guthrie has appeared in films and on television, produced concerts, and written a children’s book. His 28th album, Tales of ’69 was released in 2009. He continues to tour, often with his son, Abe.
Between 1969 and 1975 Hartley released nine albums before dropping off the radar until his autobiography was released in 2007. He left the music industry and opened a cabinet-making business. He had replaced Ringo Starr as the drummer for Rory Storm and The Hurricanes when Ringo signed on with The Beatles. Hartley died in 2011 at the age of 67.
In the four years following Woodstock, Hardin released four albums, none of which did particularly well. In spite of being booked at Woodstock, he was better known as a songwriter (Rod Stewart’s “Reason To Believe” and the often covered “If I Were A Carpenter”) than as a performer. During the ’70s he split his time between the U.S. and the U.K. and became increasingly hooked on hard drugs. In 1980, he died of an overdose of heroin and morphine at the age of 39.
Woodstock transformed Havens from a Greenwich Village favorite to an international star. Since then, he hasn’t stopped working, releasing 23 albums, most recently Nobody Left To Crown in 2008. He continued to tour, and in August 2009 performed at the site of the original Woodstock stage for the festival’s 40th anniversary. Havens died at age 71 in 2013.
Hendrix was the closing act at Woodstock. His scheduled Sunday night performance of his popular songs didn’t happen until mid-morning Monday, long after all but a few thousand of the original crowd of half a million had gone home. The most famous left-handed guitarist died just over a year later, reportedly choking to death after consuming an excess of wine and sleeping pills. His Woodstock bandmates included bassist Billy Cox, who went on to do solo and session work; Juma Sultan (congas) recorded with a number of jazz artists; and Jerry Velez (percussion) who has collaborated with a variety of artists and worked as an event producer and music director. Larry Lee (vocals/guitar) died in 2007; Mitch Mitchell (drums) died in 2008.
Incredible String Band
Originally a trio, this psychedelic folk band from Scotland had expanded to four members by the time they played Woodstock. After the band’s breakup in 1974, co-founders Robin Williamson and Clive Palmer concentrated on solo careers. In addition to a prolific 47 album catalog (including two released in 2008), Williamson has also published a novel, several books of poetry and several on Celtic history. Palmer has been in and out of music, including a second stint with Incredible String Band when it was revived from 1999-2006. Rose Simpson and Licorice McKechnie both left the music business after the band’s first demise.
Marty Balin (vocals) has remained active in the music business, releasing eight solo albums and performing with the band’s successor, Jefferson Starship. Grace Slick (vocals) retired from music in 1988 after a stint with Starship and took up painting and drawing. Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals) stayed close to home, occasionally performing with the Starship until his death in 2016. Jorma Kaukonen (guitar, vocals) and Jack Casady (bass) formed Hot Tuna after their Airplane ride, and both continue to tour with Tuna. Nicky Hopkins (piano) worked as a solo and session performer until he died in 1994 at age 50 of complications from intestinal surgery. Drummer Spencer Dryden was in and out of music, and died of colon cancer in 2005 at the age of 66.
Like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin lived for just a little over a year after Woodstock. During that time, she was on and off drugs and alcohol. In October 1970 she died of a heroin overdose while in the midst of recording what would become her best selling album, Pearl.
Melanie had recorded just one album prior to Woodstock. Another 33 followed, the most recent, Ever Since You Never Heard of Me, in 2010. She still performs a few concerts a year and continues writing music, including the theme song of the Beauty and the Beast TV series.
, Felix Pappalardi, N.D. Smart and Steve Knight had performed in public just three times before they took the stage at Woodstock. Over the years, West (guitar, vocals) has formed and re-formed Mountain several times, and also performs as a solo artist. Pappalardi (bass, vocals) moved from performing to producing albums during the ’70s. In 1983, he was shot and killed by his wife, Gail, a co-writer of several Mountain songs. Smart, who was replaced on drums by Corky Laing shortly after Woodstock, went on to work with Todd Rundgren and Ian & Sylvia. Knight left music to work as an engineer, author and, from 1999 to 2007, a member of the Town Board of the town of Woodstock.
Boston-based Quill were not known outside the Northeast in 1969, and their performance at Woodstock did nothing to change that. They were a crowd favorite, but a technical glitch rendered film of their set unusable in the Woodstock movie that made household names of others. As a result, their label (Atlantic) lost interest, and they disbanded shortly thereafter. Only drummer Roger North stayed in the music business, performing with Holy Modal Rounders until the mid ’80s before going on to design drums.
Perhaps no other band was launched further faster than Santana after their Woodstock performance. The band has continued, with a wide array of personnel, under the direction of founder and lead guitarist Carlos Santana (with the exception of a brief period in the early ’70s when the band played on without him.) Keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie went on to become one of the original members of Journey in 1973. He continues to perform with his Gregg Rolie Band. Drummer Michael Shrieve, the youngest Woodstock performer at age 20, went on to work with a number of other rock acts. Today he performs in his own band, a jazz fusion group. David Brown (bass) died in 2000 of liver and kidney failure. In 2016, Santana, Shrieve and other surviving members of the original group gave a series of reunion concerts in Las Vegas.
Sebastian had left The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1968. He was in the audience enjoying “Country Joe” McDonald’s set when a concert staff member recognized him and asked him to play an impromptu set because so many of the scheduled performers were still stuck in traffic jams far from the venue. In 1970 he released the first of a half dozen solo albums. Since the late ’70s he has concentrated on writing and performing music for film and television, and instructional videos for guitar students.
Sha Na Na
Their outfits, hairdos and music were strictly from the ’50s, conspicuously out of place even in the eclectic mix of musical styles at Woodstock. In spite of lukewarm reception, they went onto appear in the movie Grease and had their own network TV show from 1977-1982. They released 21 albums (in addition to being on the Woodstock soundtrack.) The band is still active, with two original members, Donny York and Jocko Marcellino, featured.
The most famous sitar player in the world was invited to Woodstock on the basis of his collaboration with The Beatles (especially George Harrison) and his appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. His music wasn’t intentionally psychedelic, but that’s how it sounded to audience members high on various illicit substances (which, ironically, Shankar heartily disapproved of.) He had released 16 albums prior to his Woodstock performance, and managed nearly two dozen more between between and his death at the age of 92 in 2012.
Sly and the Family Stone
The band had just broken through with its fourth album and its first hit single (“Everyday People”) in the months prior to Woodstock, so they weren’t as hungry for exposure as were many of the Woodstock acts. Nonetheless, they gave what is considered one of their best live performances. Things went down hill rapidly in the months following, as Sly Stone became more and more immersed in the drug scene. After the band finally dissolved in 1975, Sly made a few solo albums but his career never regained traction. Sly’s brother Freddie wrote and produced music and today is a minister. Sister Rosie worked as a solo and session singer. Sister Vet is now fronting the Sly-sanctioned tribute band, Family Stone. In 2011, Stone released an album made up of versions of the group’s standards, I’m Back – Friends & Family. It was not favorably reviewed.
Except for a brief stint with The Left Banke, Sommer’s musical career was as a solo artist. Best known for his single “We’re All Playing In The Same Band,” he released four albums between 1969 and 1977. He appeared in the original Broadway production of Hair. Sommer died in 1990 at the age of 41 of respiratory disease.
Sweetwater was riding high going into Woodstock. They had toured with The Doors and opened for Eric Burdon and The Animals. They were early adopters of the psychedelic style eventually popularized by Jefferson Airplane. Just a few months after Woodstock, a car crash left lead singer Nancy Nevins with severe brain and vocal cord injuries that stopped the band in its tracks. Drummer Alan Malarowitz was killed in an auto accident in the early ’80s. Albert Moore (flute/vocals) died of pneumonia in 1994.
Two of the four original members of the band didn’t live to see many Woodstock anniversaries. Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978 of a drug overdose at the age of 32. Bassist John Entwistle died of a cocaine-induced heart attack in 2002 at the age of 57. In the years since Roger Daltrey (vocals) and Pete Townshend (guitar/vocals) have occasionally toured and recorded with various supporting personnel. Endless Wire, their first new studio album in 24 years, was released in 2006 and supported by occasional tours.
Many (if not most) in the Woodstock audience were hearing Johnny Winter for the first time, but the gritty blues rocker had them standing in the aisles (if there had been aisles) by the end of his set. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, he produced Muddy Waters’ last three albums, two of which won Grammy awards. His 18th studio album, Roots was released in 2011. He continued to captivate live audiences, albeit at a slower pace due to health problems in recent years, until his death in 2014 at age 70, while he was on tour in Europe.