Mick Montgomery, a 1964 graduate of Fairview High School, was in the vanguard of the counterculture.
An early devotee of folk singers Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, he learned to play a cheap Harmony guitar and joined the Ethan Greene Singers, which sang “If I Had a Hammer” and “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” clad in “striped shirts and dickies.”
“We had an original called “Remember Birmingham.” That’s when I realized how cool it was to write your own songs.”
The ‘H’ word
“I was a real art kid from the time I was in grade school. I was the weirdo. I was one of the first kids at Fairview who got in trouble for having long hair.”
He started hearing the word “hippie” around the summer of ’64. It was not used as a term of endearment. “It was the worst, dirtiest name you could think of. I was not a pacifist. I ended up getting in quite a few fights about being called a hippie.”
The draft board rejected Montgomery for military service because he was married with an infant. He stuck around Dayton, worked a day job and honed his musical skills. He formed an electric band called Tonto’s Headband, which played originals and covered songs by such acts as the Mothers of Invention, the Fuggs and the Holy Modal Rounders. They performed at coffee houses that formerly showcased only folkies.
“We were pretty radical. We had a big UD following. We made great friends and great enemies playing those places, because we defiled their folk places with electric music.”
“That was my whole world and I was totally ate up with it, and it was just a little drop of what was going on at the time.”
Tonto’s Headband rehearsed at the East Dayton commune house where Montgomery lived.
“We shared the rent enough ways that everybody came up with their share every month.” Over time, though, the house became a magnet for runaways.
Path to San Francisco
Deciding to go to San Francisco to track down the 13th Floor Elevators, Montgomery packed into an Opal station wagon with five others in February 1967 and headed west.
Along the way, they were stopped by police in Oklahoma “for having long hair. They arrested us for vagrancy because we couldn’t show visible means of support. They said we couldn’t go before the justice of the peace until we looked like Americans, so we got some drunk in the jail to cut our hair.” The group was eventually fined and released.
Montgomery split up with the other Daytonians in Long Beach, Calif., and hitched a ride with a trucker who delivered him to the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco, ground zero of the counterculture.
“I think I had 45, 50 bucks in my pocket.” As he stepped out of the truck, he saw people wearing wild clothes, beads and Afro hairdos.
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“It was like, ‘Whoa, this is a Fellini move!’ It was just culture shock, really. I was with all these total freaks and all of a sudden it was like I was the straight guy. I’m walking down the street and somebody says, ‘Hey, Mick.’ This was like 15 minutes after I got there.”
It was a friend from the University of Dayton, who helped Montgomery find lodging with other Dayton transplants in “a big, three-story mansion that was just the cliche of the hippie commune house” with a psychedelic paint job and flowers painted on the walls. “I ended up living at that house for almost a year.”
The house wasn’t far from the original Fillmore, Carousel and Avalon ballrooms, and Montgomery saw local bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Fish. “We helped (Janis) Joplin and Big Brother (and the Holding Company) move their equipment.” He saw the Grateful Dead at free concerts in Golden Gate Park.
The Summer of Love
The light shows were almost as big a draw for the ballrooms as the bands. Eyedrops would glow in the black light, and people painted their faces with them. Sometimes, “people got amorous and started going at each other in twos and threes. It was the Summer of Love — it was like, ‘Love your neighbor.’ The down side of that was the free clinic — and crabs.”
The peace-and-love image of Haight-Ashbury was genuine — for awhile. But the spotlight on the neighborhood increasingly drew runaways, thieves and addicts.
Montgomery moved to Los Angeles in 1968, after he’d been robbed at gunpoint in the Haight for the second time.
“The Summer of Love was truly a remarkable experience. I met people from all over the world and made it without any money to speak of. Music and art and a lot of the cultural things were so intertwined. It was a perfect storm, a real popular cultural revolution. There were so many things happening that made people feel like the world was becoming a better place.”
Back home in Dayton
Montgomery eventually returned to Dayton. He founded the Canal Street Tavern in 1981.
“We had the thing of being invincible and immortal, and we got away with it for a few years. Then they shot a few kids at Kent State and a few demonstrators in L.A. The powers-that-be reasserted control.”
After the Vietnam War ended, it was time to “figure out how you’re going to make a living, how your kids were going to have it better than you had it, face the responsibilities that we put off for a few years.”
Could 1960s-style activism make a comeback?
“The old rubber band stretches in one direction and then another. Maybe it’s time for it to stretch in the other direction and decide we’re not going to live in fear.”