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Interview with Rock Museum Curator Dennis Newhall

Historic Sacramento radio station memorabilia

Dennis Newhall has been the organizer and curator of the Sacramento Rock and Radio Museum since 2000. The museum, which houses a wealth of local concert memorabilia, only opens for the public on Second Saturdays. It’s located at 911 20th Street, next door to what used to be a hot local band venue called the Oasis Ballroom. Dennis himself played a role in the local music and radio scene, working for radio stations KZAP, KSFM and KROY. The museum showcases his vast collection of concert posters and donated memorabilia of mainly the 1960s through 1980s, but also includes later artifacts. On Saturday night, May 11, Dennis and I did a video interview for SacTV.com about the museum and how it has attracted large crowds of over a thousand people at one time. 

The museum is fairly spaceous and might only take a few minutes to walk through if you were not concentrating on the displays. But since there’s a story behind every framed picture, it’s possible to spend hours at the museum recalling memories about shows, artists, venues and radio stations. Dennis has also put together a database of as many Sacramento concerts as possible to document local history. He found the information from ticket stubs, posters, publications and going through the records of the Memorial Auditorium. "The fantastic but unachievable goal," Dennis says in the interview, "is to have everything documented."

Almost every major act besides the Beatles visited Sacramento in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, one of the first shows the Rolling Stones ever did on their first American tour in 1964 was at Memorial Auditorium. The Stones, who kicked off another tour last week and played in the Bay Area, visited Sacramento four times over a two year span between 1964 and 1966, including the infamous Dec. 3, 1965 show in which the show ended early due to Keith Richards getting shocked. Huffington Post quoted Richards last week as saying "my most spectacular moment was in Sacramento."

Even for people who did not grow up in the region, the museum can trigger memories and conversations about rock history. The concert posters reveal many things about how society has changed, both musically as well as the cost of ticket prices. Many shows in the sixties, for example, cost no more than three dollars. Historians may be interested to know that the Beach Boys recorded a live album at Memorial Auditorium in the early sixties, which was not an era known for live concert recordings. According to Dennis, Sacramento was the band’s biggest town for shows at the time, which is why they visited the River City so frequently. 

As far as the local music scene, Dennis says the New Breed gained a lot of attention in the sixties. Their bassist, Timothy B. Schmit, went on to join the Eagles and eventually Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band. "Pretty much in 65 and 66 the New Breed was regarded as the best local band by far," Dennis confirms. "They had some records produced that were on the air that should have been hits had they not been on small labels without much clout." One of the band’s notable achievements was learning and performing the Beatles’ entire Help! album the week it came out in 1965.

SacTV also captured a video tour of the museum that highlights many posters and radio logos, including the famous KZAP logo with an orange cat. Walking through the halls of this museum reminds Sacramentans that the city has been visited by many legends including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Doors. Bay Area concert promoter Bill Graham began doing big rock shows more frequently when the Cal Expo Amphitheatre opened in the 1980s. In many ways the museum is a reminder that Sacramento has been a part of music history for decades, which may even be of interest to diehard rock historians throughout Northern California. 

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