Little Princess 109 began as a jug band for the James Logan High senior show in 1967. The school was in Union City, California, but most of us lived in neighboring Hayward. Many rock bands at that time had their names printed on their bass drums. Our main rhythm instrument was a washboard, and already printed on it was the trade name, Little Princess No. 109. Well, that must be our name, then!
By June that year, inspired by visits to the Fillmore Auditorium and the latest in pharmaceuticals, the jug band morphed into the light show, keeping the name and most of the personnel. Founding members included Chris Mickey, Kirk Linstrum, Jeff Hawley, Jerry Radcliff, Jacque Asbury, Vince Green, Gary Lawrence, Rollin Lewis and David Hillis--LP 109 always had a large cast!
We spent the first year doing a lot of college and high school dances, often blowing their fuses with the unanticipated demands of the equipment. In 1968 we got a summer-long gig at St. Elizabeth's High in Oakland (thank you, Paul August!), and every dime (and a lot of our parents' dimes) were put into newer and more powerful projectors.
Vince handpainted scores of slides, Chris did all the movie loops and most of the rest focused on the liquids. We auditioned for Bill Graham that fall, used all our best stuff, and were astonished to be handed our first weekend that December, with Santana, and our names on the poster! (You can see the poster in the liner notes of the CD Santana: Live At The Fillmore '68.)
Along with Brotherhood of Light, we became a house light show for Bill Graham Presents. We worked at Fillmore West and Winterland continuously from December 1968 until Fillmore West closed in July 1971. According to the records of the Bill Graham Presents archives, we worked for Graham longer than any other light show, and performed more nights of light than any show for the entire Fillmore/Fillmore West/Winterland period. Simply put, we were Number One.
At a typical Fillmore West show we would use six overhead projectors for liquids, three movie projectors, and sixteen slide projectors behind rotating color wheels. All the shows at Fillmore West were front projection; sometimes Winterland gigs were rear projection, depending on the placement of the stage. We had on-going but friendly back-and-forths with Rich the sound and lights guy, trying to get him to dim the stage lights to avoid washing us out in the center. In July 1969, as Neil Armstrong got ready to walk on the moon, Graham rented a video projector and we, along with everyone else in the audience, got to see the walk, live.
Being one of the two regular shows, we were invited to Bill's annual staff picnics at Angel Island and his retreat in Felton. And we had the privilege of putting ourselves on the guest list--if there was a group we wanted to see on someone else's weekend, we could just call up the office and say, "Little Princess for four" and we were in! On the other hand, whenever we'd go to him for a raise, he would calmly relate how the light shows were like the barrel of apples he always had out at the top of the stairs--he did it because he liked to, but he didn't need it to sell tickets. We grumbled but never dreamed of quitting!
It was a dazzling, exciting time, and we got to do shows with The Allman Brothers, The Band (Vince's slides can be glimpsed in the inside photos of the musicians in the album The Band), Chuck Berry, The Byrds, Chicago, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Miles Davis, Delaney and Bonnie with Eric Clapton, Everly Brothers, Grateful Dead, Herbie Hancock, Elton John, Janis Joplin, B.B. King, The Kinks, Little Richard, Taj Mahal, Steve Miller Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Leon Russell, Santana, John Sebastian, Boz Skaggs, Sly and the Family Stone, Ike and Tina Turner, The Youngbloods, Frank Zappa and several dozen others. Our name is on over 50 posters.
Steve Miller was a particular favorite because he would regularly pause during his set and say, "Hey, how 'bout that light show?" and people cheered. He may have said it in every city, but we still appreciated it because we rarely got recognition from the stage. There was that one night with the Dead, though, when someone from their organization came up to our balcony and dosed everybody . . .
When Bill closed Fillmore West, the work pretty much dried up and except for a few night club shows, the troupe members moved on to other pursuits. However, for New Year's Eve 1977, our leader Chris convinced Graham to have us back, and for that night we were blazing again, doing a rear screen projection behind Santana and Journey--an excellent au revoir, in more ways than one.
Chris died of Hodgkin's Disease in April 1978, at age 29.
We were too large a group to ever make a living at it, even with the steady work--we all had day jobs--and it was hard lugging all that equipment and setting it up for every show (we had no roadies, nevermind groupies!).
But the energy, good times and glorious music easily outweighed all the tribulations.
We were blessed.
David Hillis - June 2002