Mike Wilhelm, of Charlatans & Flamin’ Groovies, Dies

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The Charlatans in 1965 (l. to r.): L-R: Mike Wilhelm, George Hunter, Richard Olsen, Dan Hicks, Mike Ferguson.

In the concert film Fillmore, which documents the final days of the venerable San Francisco rock venue in 1971, promoter Bill Graham is arguing with a musician who is trying to persuade him to book his new band, Loose Gravel, for one of the closing shows. Graham is not interested, especially when the musician gives him the finger and shouts, “Fuck you and thanks for the memories!” before vacating the office in a huff.

Related: Dan Hicks, Wilhelm’s bandmate in the Charlatans, died in 2016

That musician, Mike Wilhelm, was already a fixture on the local scene for several years, as a member of the pioneering band the Charlatans. He’d later join another local band of great renown, the Flamin’ Groovies, and played with several others over the years. Wilhelm died May 14 of cancer, in San Francisco. He was 77.

Listen to the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Jumpin’ in the Night”

Born March 18, 1942, in Los Angeles, Wilhelm learned to play guitar in his teens and in 1964 became a founding member of the Charlatans—often credited as the band that launched the Bay Area psychedelic music scene, although they gained much of their fame via their gigs at the Red Dog Saloon in in Virginia City, Nev. Dressed in Edwardian costumes reminiscent of clothing worn in the Old West, the Charlatans—whose best known member was Dan Hicks, later the leader of Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks—mixed rock with blues, jug band music, folk, country and other styles. Although they recorded little during their initial five-year run, the Charlatans are considered one of the major forces in the development of what became known as the San Francisco sound.

Watch a promo film featuring the Charlatans

Wilhelm formed Loose Gravel after the Charlatans’ 1969 split, but the band never took off and in the late ’70s Wilhelm joined the Flamin’ Groovies, playing on their albums Flamin’ Groovies Now and Jumpin’ in the Night. He remained with that band for six years. He also released several solo albums, beginning with 1976’s Wilhelm, and later played with the Bottle Rock Blues & Rhythm Band. He also took part in a 2015 reunion of the Charlatans to mark the group’s 50th anniversary.

Watch Mike Wilhelm perform “Me and My Uncle” solo in 1978

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Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been a prolific music journalist for more than four decades. He is formerly the editor of Goldmine, CMJ andRelix magazines, has written for dozens of other publications and has authored liner notes for more than 80 CDs. Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. His first book was 'Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.' He is also the co-author of 'Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.,' with Howard Kaylan.
Jeff Tamarkin
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  1. gene sculatti
    #1 gene sculatti 15 May, 2019, 20:13

    Another sad passing. Wilhelm, Hunter & the rest of them started it all, and no band was hipper. To have caught them back in the day was truly The Limit of the Marvelous. RIP.

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    • okiedoke
      okiedoke 17 May, 2019, 12:15

      That first solo album of Mike’s, which I found on a German label way back when, remains one of my prized vinyl treasures. Tip of the hat to one righteous old-school soul.

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  2. Cisley
    #2 Cisley 16 May, 2019, 21:52

    There is a really good DVD, “Rockin’ the Red Dog” that has a lot of great history of the Charlatans. I feel fortunate that I lived near the Bay Area and could see so many bands during those years. I would not want to be young at any other time in history.

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  3. Cisley
    #3 Cisley 16 May, 2019, 21:54

    Does anyone know what promo film is being referred to in this piece???

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  4. Leo
    #4 Leo 17 May, 2019, 11:00

    The Charlatans were absolute icons of an era….was lucky enough to meet both Mike and Dan Hicks at the 50th reunion show at the Red Dog in 2015. They will be missed.

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