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The Charlatans

Biography

The Charlatans
Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images Images

As the original Haight-Ashbury band, the Charlatans remained true to the area's bohemian ethic. They were an amateur group, conceived by draftsman/designer George Hunter, whose main talent was a sense of rock's visual possibilities. Outfitted in Victorian and Old West costumes, they first played for three months at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, in the summer of 1965, before returning to the Haight. For this show, Ferguson designed what is generally considered to be the first rock poster ever. Soon they were sharing bills with the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead (then called the Warlocks) at the Fillmore, Avalon, and other Bay Area venues.

The Charlatans' repertoire remained essentially unchanged throughout their brief career: folk, blues, ballads, and jug-band tunes. MGM signed them, then sold the group to Kama Sutra. They recorded one unreleased album for that label (Kama Sutra did release an unsuccessful single over the group's objections). Reduced to a quartet (Hunter departed in early 1968, as did Dan Hicks to form his Hot Licks [see entry]), the Charlatans finally released their first album in 1969 before disbanding.

This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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