The club known as First Avenue has a winding history, and Twin Cities PBS offers up a deep dive on the venue known as the Depot/Uncle Sam’s/Sam’s/First Avenue in our new Minnesota Experience documentary, First Avenue: Closer to the Stars. While doing research for the documentary, we met photographer Mike Barich, and with his blessing, we’d like to share a little history of the club while it was still known as the Depot.

Opening night at the Depot with Joe Cocker 4/3/1970.

Mike Barich was there on the Depot’s opening night, shooting on behalf of Connie’s Insider, the local Twin Cities music magazine. Mike was the photographer for the Insider and the club was now his beat.

Mike took his first photo using the Polaroid camera that Benilde High School bought for their AV department. “The cost of a camera and flash was comparable to a used car in those days,” he remembers. Buying his own Nikon F series camera, Mike soon found work from Connie Hechter, who published Connie’s Insider, and later found paid work through Columbia Records. Mike was busy in the late ’60s and shot photographs of every touring band you can imagine when they came through the Twin Cities, but he hung up his camera strap in the early ’70s to run the Skyway movie theater in downtown Minneapolis.

Drawing from more than 20 performances at the Depot, Mike’s photographs are a treasure trove of historic rock culture – and some of these photographs haven’t been seen in 50 years.

Edgar Winter and White Trash – June 6, 1971

Edgar Winter would be the last national act to play the Depot. The business closed not long after this performance.

The review in the Minneapolis Star described Edgar Winter’s White Trash as raw and scruffy looking. “They look more like young men back from working on the river than rock stars.”
“He is lithe and fluid. With a voice of such clearness and range that it has to be heard to be believed.” – Marshall Fine, The Minneapolis Star
In an effort to avoid the cover charge, this youth jumped two stories, landing painfully.

Johnny Winter – May 23, 1971

At least 1,500 people – mostly young – jammed into the Depot Sunday night to stomp, shake and shout to the sounds of Johnny Winter… There appeared to be another 1,500 fans waiting outside in the rain for the second set. – Michael Anthony, Minneapolis Tribune

This was the fifth time Johnny Winter played the Twin Cities. This band featured Rick Derringer, formerly of the McCoys. The J. Geils Band from Boston opened the show.
Johnny Winter and his band performed versions of “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo,” and “Johnny B. Goode.”
“A sell-out crowd filled the Depot Sunday evening, expecting a night of high energy music from the J. Geils Band and Johnny Winter. They did not leave disappointed as the two groups combined to produce a pulsating, electric show.” – Marshall Fine, The Minneapolis Star.
Johnny Winter hanging out in the upstairs office.

Eric Burdon and War – March 21, 1971

Live Session: Eric Burdon and War will be recording live for their next album during 7:30 and 10 p.m. performances at the Depot Sunday. – The Minneapolis Star

Eric Burdon quit the band this same year, while on a European tour.

Group photo with some local luminaries, taken in the upstairs offices.

Ike and Tina Turner – March 14, 1971

“The Turners’ agent tells me they aren’t going to play unless I give them the other half of the $7,500,” Allen Fingerhut said. “Finally my manager grabs my cashier’s check and gives it to them but he tells the gendarmes at the door there’s no way we’re gonna let them get out with all of those electronic wonder-machines unless they play both sets.” – Jim Klobuchar, The Minneapolis Star

“As soon as we get our contract straightened out, then we’ll begin,” said Ike Turner… The band played some easy little riffs for a while, giving us something to listen to until all the managers agreed about the details. – Scott Bartell, Minneapolis Tribune
“Ike and Tina Turner had them climbing the cigarette machines and dangling wrist-to-ankle from the balconies.” – Jim Klobuchar, The Minneapolis Star
“There is no question that Allen Fingerhut’s music asylum plays to some of the biggest and most tumultuous crowds in the Twin Cities. When the joint is moving full stride, with all mufflers removed, Williams Arena in mid-tournament is a confessional booth by comparison.” – Jim Klobuchar, The Minneapolis Star
“Probably the best moments came when Tina was doing little dialogues with Ike on the blues, ‘You Just Won’t Let Me Be,’ or on the highly erotic, ‘I’ve Been Lovin’ You Too Long.'” – Scott Bartell, Minneapolis Tribune

James Gang – December 6, 1970

‘GANG TO APPEAR’: The James Gang and NED will appear at The Depot at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

James Gang performing in support of their album, “James Gang Rides Again.”
Joe Walsh, who would go on to join The Eagles, playing with power trio James Gang.
Fans dreamily enjoying the James Gang performance.
Shot of the bar during James Gang performance at the Depot.
Joe Walsh hanging out in the upstairs office.
Joe Walsh hanging out in the upstairs office. Rock stars being rock stars.

Sweetwater – November 22, 1970

Sweetwater consisting of six musicians with splendidly varied backgrounds (blues, classical music, Latin, etc.)… appeared minus Nanci Nevins, their lovely lead singer and classical guitarist. Although she is heard on both their albums, she has not travelled with them in some time. She was in a car accident and it was only with careful medical attention that her voice was saved, and she is still not well enough to be on the road. Her sound was sorely missed. – Scott Bartell, Minneapolis Tribune

“Their sound is rich and compelling, their stage presence relaxed and congenial.” – Scott Bartell, Minneapolis Tribune
“They only played five songs for their first set, perhaps holding off for a larger crowd. Yet even those five numbers demonstrated the intricate workings between the Afro-Cuban rhythm section, the highly flexible keyboard work of Alex Del Zappo, and the jazz stylings of flutist Albert Moore and cellist August Burns.” – Scott Bartell, Minneapolis Tribune
The ticket price for the show was $2.75.

Small Faces – November 8, 1970

The Small Faces appeared in concert at the Depot Sunday night and exhibited talents that were anything but small. This English group, which has come upon the scene just this last year, cut its premier album with Warner Bros. (First Step) and currently has a hit single, “Baby, I’m a Man” making the radio rounds. They have been to Minneapolis before and word of mouth about them was good before the date, so the Depot was over two-thirds full for their early show. – Scott Bartell, Minneapolis Tribune

“Lead guitarist Ron Wood produced some of the most original country and blues lines I’ve heard recently. I enjoyed them very much because their variety kept me listening, everything from subtle sparseness to a solid wall of sonics. I hope I see those Small Faces again.” – Scott Bartell, Minneapolis Tribune
The lead singer, Rod Stewart, has a voice and approach like Joe Crocker [sic], though lighter in tone and minus the worst spastic seizures.” – Scott Bartell, Minneapolis Tribune
Stewart and Guitarist Ron Wood had split from the Jeff Beck Group and teamed up with the three remaining members of the Small Faces following the departure of their frontman, Steve Mariott.” – Chris Riemenschneider, First Avenue Minnesota’s Mainroom
“The guy on the left is Zoner. I don’t even know his last name (I think his first name is Dale). The guy on the right is Jim Kane, the bass player for the Litter.” – Larry Hofmann, Crockett
Audience member digging the sounds of the Small Faces.
Both Small Faces shows were all ages, no liquor was served.

Mothers of Invention with Frank Zappa – October 25, 1970

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, along with the Flying Burrito Brothers, will appear for two concerts next Sunday at the Depot. The shows will be at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. All tickets are $4. All ages will be admitted. – The Minneapolis Tribune

“The Mothers, led by Frank Zappa, came on at first as if they were going to give us a generous sampling of the anarchic iconoclastic rock-satire for which they are renowned. But in last night’s first set they played only about 35 minutes (which was barely longer than they tuned up) and most of the reaction they aroused was synthetic and short-lived.” – Peter Altman, The Minneapolis Star
“Zappa and the Mothers are always hard to understand because they operate on so many levels. They are also probably the sharpest critics of the youth movement extant because they are so close to it, yet almost every kid I know digs them – I certainly do.” – Scott Bartell, The Minneapolis Tribune
Zappa and the Mothers really did not show me enough yesterday to sustain much comment. There were scattered shafts of outrageous insult and sexual vulgarity (which were few but funny) but not much else.

Gathering at the Depot – September 13, 1970

Woman Booking Agent Sets Up ‘Gathering.’

Jeanette Arithson is a 21-year-old blonde rock fan who is on her way to becoming the first important woman booker on the Twin Cities scene. She is now the booking agent for Alpha Productions and will present her first major event today at the Depot. The event is what she calls “A Gathering,” and it will run from 1 p.m. to midnight. It will feature 10 rock groups from this area, including The Litter, White Lightning, Pepper Fog, Grizzly, The Mystics, Danny’s Reasons, Dave Mark Syndicate, Lemon Pepper, Kiwani, and Free and Easy. – Mike Steele, Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writer

Day-long Rock Gathering: 10 groups, 1 p.m. to midnight, The Depot, 29 N. 7th St. – The Minneapolis Tribune
Legendary psychedelic garage rock band The Litter play their set at ‘A Gathering.’
Depot house band Crockett play their set at ‘A Gathering.’
“The concert today will be recorded by Sound 80 and issued on an LP. The record will be used for promotion by Alpha Productions and, when one of the bands play a date, the record can be sold wherever they play.” The Minneapolis Tribune

Local music fan at ‘A Gathering.’
One of the greatest ’70s shirts ever!

Al Jarreau – July 28, 1970

No reviews found for this show.

We could be wrong, but it looks like this is Jarreau, the amalgamation of singer Al Jarreau and local group Zarathustra.
Al Jarreau lived in Minneapolis for a spell. “I had kind of a lusty one-nighter with Minneapolis,” is how Jarreau described it in a 2016 interview. – Chris Riemenschneider, First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom
“Jarreau’s manager at the time was Sheldon Jacobs, a Minneapolis native who later launched the Shelly’s Woodroast restaurant chain… Jacobs contacted his childhood friend Allen Fingerhut about giving Jarreau a gig at Fingerhut’s new club, and soon got it.” – Chris Riemenschneider, First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom

Pacific Gas and Electric – July 26, 1970

The Depot Tonite: Pacific Gas and Electric, 8:00 & 10:30, Admission $3.50, Box Office opens at 1:00 P.M. – The Minneapolis Tribune

Later known as PG&E, the short-lived blues rock band formed in Los Angeles.
The band’s third album, “Are You Ready,” supplied their first hit, the title track, which made it into the Top 20 in the summer of 1970. – Sean Westergaard, Allmusic.com
Lead singer Charlie Allen

BB King – June 28, 1970

BB King at Depot: A Blues Paradise – The Depot was a blues freak’s paradise Sunday night as it presented three fine acts, including the incomparable “crown king of the blues, the man himself, BB King.” – Jim Gillespie, The Minneapolis Star

The show at the Depot started out with Lazy Bill Lucas, then the Mojo Buford Blues Band performed, followed by BB King, backed by Sonny Freeman and the Unusuals.
BB King interviewed by deejay Alan Stone from KQRS.
BB King with a woman, identified as Lorrain Page from notes on the negative envelope.

The Kinks – May 23, 1970

The Kinks, in person, disappoint: The Kinks played at the Depot last night and for one who had waited years to hear them live, they were rather a disappointment. – Jim Gillespie, The Minneapolis Star

“These concerts were the kick-off dates to the band’s U.S. summer tour and fell at a particularly pivotal time in Kinks history, just a few weeks earlier, the band finished recording their album “Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round,” which would be their first major hit since the mid ’60s.” – Chris Riemenschneider, First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom
“Since the early days, they have added a new bass player and most recently a new keyboard man. The first set they did last night lasted only half an hour and it was the only one I heard. They did not do any of the songs from their much touted rock opera, “Arthur” – Rolling Stone called it the best English album of 1969.” – Jim Gillespie, The Minneapolis Star
“Zoner! and David Richardson.” – Larry Hofmann, Crockett
At the bar during The Kinks performance.
At the bar during The Kinks performance.
Danny Stevens, looking into the camera, was instrumental in starting the Depot.

Mitch Ryder – May 17, 1970

Allan’s Committee presents Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Mitch Ryder, Mojo Buford in two no age limit concerts at 3 and 8 p.m. – The Minneapolis Tribune

“Delaney & Bonnie canceled a pair of shows which left the duo’s scheduled opener, Mitch Ryder, as the headliner. The Detroit-bred “Devil in a Blue Dress” hitmaker had Mojo Buford, Minneapolis’s adopted blues hero, as his opening act.” – Chris Riemenschneider, First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom
Sparse crowd at the Mitch Ryder show.

Ramsey Lewis – May 8, 1970

When Ramsey Lewis opened this week at the Depot, he sensed what a lot of other people have sensed in this most dramatic Minneapolis night-life development in years. There’s a special sound, a special audience response, a rapport with the people gathered in a place that’s at once so sprawling and so intimate. – Will Jones, The Minneapolis Tribune

“Lewis and his current group are making bigger sounds, amplified sounds, more attuned to the tastes of today’s audiences.” – Will Jones, The Minneapolis Tribune
“Lewis alternates between the concert grand and an electronic amplified piano with which he’s been experimenting.” – Will Jones, The Minneapolis Tribune 
“Pianist Ramsey Lewis is taping a new album this weekend during his appearance at the Depot, the new downtown night spot.” – The Minneapolis Tribune
“I find the Depot an exciting place to be, and I can say that without withdrawing any of my earlier kvetching about the place. There’s now carpeting and perhaps that has removed some of the painful sharp edges of the sound.” – Will Jones, The Minneapolis Tribune
Audience for Ramsey Lewis.
The crowd at the bar during the Ramsey Lewis performance.
Ramsey Lewis and Allan Fingerhut next to the mobile sound unit recording the live album. 
A high-tech set-up for 1970, perhaps.

Poco – April 17, 1970

“In their first set, they had the audience clapping, stomping, and hooting for more. As instrumentalists, they are excellent. As vocalists they are even better.” – Marshall Fine, The Minneapolis Star
“The Depot, in two weeks, has mellowed quite a bit. The crowd is smaller, quieter. The whole atmosphere is calmer than when it opened. Its potential is considerable and it has turned into, generally, a pretty nice place.” – Marshall Fine, The Minneapolis Star

Paul Butterfield and the Butterfield Blues Band – April 11, 1970

“Relatively small crowd.” -Twin Cities Highlights website

Allan and Sharron Fingerhut at the Butterfield Blues band performance.
“Keep it moving.” Even in the 1970s, people liked to hang out on the stairs.
Employees in the upstairs office. 7th Street is visible below with the Venice Cafe and the World Theater.

Joe Cocker – April 3 & 4, 1970

The Depot, Minneapolis’ newest, and possibly wildest, night club, opened with a concert by Joe Cocker and his Grease band. The place was jammed, the initial supply of liquor ran out at 8 o’clock and many were forced to wait outside with hopes of getting in for the second show. – The Minneapolis Tribune

“I got two thousand carnations and then we just threw them all over the place.” – Allan Fingerhut
“Everyone – everyone – began swaying in time to the music, which became so loud that it was beyond the audible – it was simply deafening.” – Tony Swan, Twin Citian
Columnist Will Jones attended the opening night of the Depot with Joe Cocker and the Grease band. He lasted about 3 minutes. “What’s been created there is an environment in which no creature born before 1940 can survive.” – Will Jones, The Minneapolis Tribune
The drinks were overly expensive. There was an excessive wait in getting in. The opening band was terrible, and if you were at Joe Cocker’s first show, you only saw a 20-minute set. – Marshall Fine, The Minneapolis Star
The audience’s response was comparable to that of an equally drunk group shouting, “take it off,” at the Roaring ’20s. The coming groups promise to be as good as Cocker. But if the crowd is anything like the one on opening night, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn: The Depot is a drag. – Marshall Fine, The Minneapolis Star
For $10 a head you were supposed to get a table. They ran out of tables. For $4 you were supposed to get standing room. But by 8 p.m. there was standing room only if you were willing to nudge, push and peacefully fight for it. – Allan Holbert, The Minneapolis Tribune 
Then along came Joe Cocker, in his long hair, skivvy shirt, and blue jeans. He worked hard singing like a black man, which he isn’t, and doing his dancing stuff like a spastic, which he isn’t either. – Allan Holbert, The Minneapolis Tribune
The new club’s directors, who call themselves The Committee, have managed to cast a pall on the whole concept in opening the Depot on Friday night. It is a case of bad planning. As of Thursday, the remodeling was unfinished. Friday night there were still many rough edges. – Marshall Fine, The Minneapolis Star
The three bars with squares of flashing light bulbs over them continued to operate. The beautiful people in their bell bottoms, furs and long hair sat or stood patiently. – Allan Holbert, The Minneapolis Tribune
Marsh Edelstein, a well-known local promoter of bands in the Twin Cities.
The first show was a dud, with too much noise and confusion and older people holding their ears and beautiful people “with resplendent sun tans and $250 hippie outfits” more interested in checking each other out than listening to the music. – Tony Swan, Twin Citian
Cocker has recently increased his group to some 40 people. It’s a kind of a circus side show that includes a couple of pre-school kids, who dance, several female hangers-on who sing their hearts out and one or two rock groups who look (and sound) like they just happened onto the stage. – Allan Holbert, The Minneapolis Tribune
When the first show ended, most of the people on the inside stayed in their seats, so it looked like most of the people on the outside were going to stay there. – Allan Holbert, The Minneapolis Tribune
Anyway, there is Fillmore West, there is Fillmore East and just when we were beginning to think that never the twain would meet, we now seem to have a Fillmore Upper Midwest. – Allan Holbert, The Minneapolis Tribune
Allan Fingerhut, the principle owner and investor in the Depot, was obviously perplexed. “I don’t know what’s going on here any more,” he said on the steps between the balcony and the main floor area. “We ran out of booze at 8 o’clock and had to send out for more.” – Allan Holbert, The Minneapolis Tribune

Joe Cocker – Color Slides

Mike Barich was also hired by the Depot’s management for the club’s grand opening. Mike shot color slides of the first Cocker show, ran them over to Pro Color down the street for developing and they were then projected against the club’s screen before the second show. “Cocker played two shows a night for two nights,” Barich explained. “So we shot show two and projected them before show three, and the same for show four.”

The club has since refrained from putting toddlers on amplifier cabinets during shows in the mainroom.

A portion of the rockumentary, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” was filmed at The Depot.
“Cocker returned to the club one more time when it was called First Avenue in 1994, the same year he played the 25th anniversary Woodstock festival. However, he could not remember the 1970 gig.” – Michael Rietmulder, Minneapolis StarTribune, 2014

Joe Cocker calling it a night.

Special Thanks: Jeanne Andersen, Tom Campbell, Denny Johnson, minniepaulmusic.com, Minnesota Historical Society, Chris Riemenschneider, StarTribune, twincitiesmusichighlights.net.

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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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“That big, round, black building at 701 North 1st Avenue in downtown Minneapolis contains more legends and myths than Minneapolis probably deserves. The early history of the club is rife with change, contributing to its mercurial feel. For some people, it’s a symbol of musical expression; for others an adult Disneyland.” Continue a tour through the history of the legendary club now known as First Avenue.

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