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George Hunter
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Los Angeles
A founding member of the seminal rock band “The Charlatans,” George Hunter and fellow band founder Michael Ferguson (1942-1979) created the first psychedelic rock poster to advertise The Charlatans’ performances at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, during the summer of 1965, a poster now known as “The Seed.” Hunter was born in 1942 in Los Angeles. The family moved to Santa Barbara around 1947. His father died in 1952. His mother remarried in 1955, and the family moved to the Canoga Park district of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, in 1957. A self-taught architectural draftsman, after graduating from Canoga Park High School Hunter worked for the architectural firm William Pereira & Associates; one of the projects he worked on was a building for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Hunter also built architectural models. In his spare time he hung out at coffee houses and jazz clubs with his friend Michael Wilhelm (b. 1942), a musician who played with some of the bands. In 1961 or 1962 Hunter moved to San Francisco, where he created electronic music for dances and happenings and socialized at San Francisco State College, but did not enroll. He grew his hair and began to dress like the Beatles. In an interview Ferguson described Hunter as “the first hippie I ever saw in San Francisco.” Although he was not a trained musician, Hunter was the principal creator of the band originally called The Mainliners, formed in the summer of 1964 with Ferguson on piano, Richard Olsen (a music major at San Francisco State College) on bass, Wilhelm on guitar and first Sam Linde and then Ben Van Meter (b. 1941) on drums. By the time Dan Hicks (1941-2016) replaced Van Meter as the drummer that fall, they called themselves The Charlatans. They liked to dress in an Edwardian style to differentiate themselves from British bands. Their big break came not in San Francisco but Virginia City. A group of young men was refurbishing the old Comstock House there to convert it to a bar decorated in Wild West fashion and named the Red Dog Saloon. One of them, Chandler Laughlin (1937-2012, later the radio commentator known as Travus T. Hipp), went to San Francisco to buy more antique furnishings and find a house band. Laughlin shopped at Ferguson’s head shop that also sold vintage clothing and antiques, learned about The Charlatans, and invited them to audition in Virginia City. Although high on LSD, the band was hired, leading to a two-month run at the Red Dog during the summer of 1965, dressed in Old West and Edwardian attire and using rifles as stage props. Assisted by a light show designed by Bill Ham (b. 1932), who later along with Van Meter became famous for light shows at rock concerts, and featuring gourmet French cuisine, the Saloon and its band drew numerous visitors from California as well as Nevada. That fall The Charlatans played at two San Francisco clubs and then were hired by a group of people who had worked at the Red Dog Saloon that summer to play at a series of dance concerts. The Family Dog Collective, comprised of Luria Castell (d. 2014), Ellen Harmon, Jack Towle and artist Alton Kelley (1940-2008), put on three concerts at San Francisco’s Longshoremen’s Hall in October and November 1965 featuring The Charlatans, and two more at California Hall the following January and February. These concerts began the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene, and set up a run of dozens of concerts for the band in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area. Venues included concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium presented by Bill Graham (1931-1991) and at the Avalon Ballroom presented by Chet Helms (1942-2005), who by then ran the Family Dog. Ferguson left the band in 1967, but it continued with other personnel. Hunter designed a few other rock concert posters in 1967 and 1968, two with Ferguson. Hunter left The Charlatans in April 1968 and formed a design and advertising agency called Globe Propaganda with Peter Ness. The firm planned media campaigns, created radio commercials and designed LP album covers for such bands as the Grateful Dead, Canned Heat and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Hunter also did some interior design work. In 1975 he moved to Sonoma, Calif., where he designed and built custom furniture and cabinetry. In 1993 he helped his two sons start a business building high-end cabinet drawers. Hunter has joined his surviving Charlatans colleagues for occasional reunion concerts, including appearances at the Red Dog Saloon in 1991, at the Mill Valley (Calif.) Film Festival to celebrate the release of a documentary film on their 1965 concerts at the Red Dog in 1996, and 50th anniversary concerts in Virginia City at the Red Dog Saloon and the Piper’s Opera House in 2015. Hunter continues to live in Sonoma. (TNB 2/2017) Selected bibliography: Grushkin, Paul. The Art of Rock: Posters from Presley to Punk, pp. 66-69. New York: Abbeville Press, 1987. Selvin, Joel. “S.F.’s ‘60s rock scene started with a band you never heard of,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 2015.