If you're making a list and checking it twice for a music lover, there are no shortage of choices of great music with direct Mill Valley connections. In addition to the list below, there are a bevy of other possibilities, from Lee Michaels, who had a recording studio in Mill Valley to bands like Clover, Eggs over Easy, Commander Cody, the Moonlighters, Stoneground and the Mill Valley Bunch. Some members of Clover ended up recording with Elvis Costello while they were in England for his first album, My Aim is True, giving it a strong Mill Valley connection.
There are also more recent contenders like DJ Shadow, whose debut was recorded elsewhere but who lives here now, as well as Meat Beat Manifesto, whose frontman Jack Dangers lives here. There's even the aptly named 2AM Club, which has its roots at and is now based in Los Angeles. Here's my take on the 10 best Mill Valley albums:
1. Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968) The self-titled debut from one of the Bay Area's legendary psychedelic rock bands showcased the guitar work of alum John Cipollina and Gary Duncan, including the 12-minute closing jam "The Fool."
2. Sons of Champlin – Loosen Up Naturally(1967) The Sons formed out of the ashes of the R&B band the Opposite Six, which came out of . Opposite Six members Bill Champlin and Tim Cain added Terry Haggerty and a cast of musicians from the R&B and jazz circuits. Though they never received national recognition, this is an excellent album that set itself apart from the guitar-dominated bands of the Bay Area in the late 1960s.
3. Quicksilver Messenger Service – Happy Trails (1969) This is too good not to include. The band's sophomore record has them turning the Bo Diddley song "Who Do You Love" into a 25-minute suite featuring both studio cuts and live recordings. The band closes the album with a cover of the theme song for Roy Rogers' TV show.
4. Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Original Recordings (1969) This is a gem from one of Mill Valley's classic characters. Dan still lives in Mill Valley and actually shops in our store. His mix of a wide range of musical styles – from jazz and country to gypsy and swing - were the perfect backdrop for his wry sense of humor. "I Scare Myself" is a classic!
5. Nick Gravenites – My Labors A relatively unheralded name who had his hands in all sorts of great Bay Area music in the late 60s, Gravenites called on many of the big names he worked with for his debut solo album, from Quicksilver to Michael Bloomfield, whose guitar work here is fantastic.
6. David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971) Crosby released this, his debut solo album, one year after Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's classic "Déjà Vu," In recording, he gathered some of the biggest names in music, including Nash, Young, Joni Mitchell and members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana. "Tamalpais High (At About 3)" is a classic.
7. Electric Flag – Long Time Comin' (1968) After leaving the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Michael Bloomfield moved to Mill Valley and put together this terrific group that included Buddy Miles and Barry Goldberg. The horn-drenched "Killing Floor" is a classic.
8. Jerry Garcia and David Grisman - Garcia/Grisman (1991) David Grisman lived in Mill Valley for a long time and had his own Dawg Studios here. He recorded a number of records there, but this first collaboration with Jerry Garcia, which includes covers like "The Thrill Is Gone" and "Friend of the Devil," is the best. The 16-minute "Arabia" is just incredible.
9. Huey Lewis and the News – Sports (1982) The third album from Huey Lewis and the News was a smash, certified seven-times platinum. Huey grew up in Mill Valley, attended and got his start in Mill Valley jazz-funk band Clover. This album features the iconic cover photo taken inside the .
10. Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point 4th Grade Class (1970) The starting point for this project was the song "Mill Valley," a song Rita Abrams wrote and recorded with her third grade class. The song reached Number 90 on the Billboard singles chart and put Mill Valley on the map nationally. I don't know if that was necessarily a good thing. The album was recorded with the same group, then in fourth grade.
Gary Scheuenstuhl is the owner of Mill Valley Music at 320 Miller Ave.