Copyright 2000-2003 Paul Gouldhawke

Bob Masse became one of the artists who expressed a new freedom found in the wildly imaginative posters of the Sixties. He continues to work on his art and has seen a resurgence of interest in psychedelic posters and music.

Bob's work encompases the early bands of the psychedelic era and extends into current work for artists like Alanis Morrisette and Tori Amos. Many of his pieces are quite desirable to collectors.

PICNIC interviewed Bob in early December, 1999 at his studio in Vancouver, Canada.

Could you describe what started your interest in doing posters... when did that begin?

Well, I actually was doing work for a lot of the coffeehouses in Vancouver, Canada back when Robson street was the big scene. This was in the early 60's. Robson Street was the pre- hippie beatnik place, folkies - it was called Robsonstrausse because it  had a lot of European cafés, we used to hang out at a place called  the Europe Café, it was all beatniks in those days, back in '63 & '64.  I was still going to art school at the time - A friend and I did a lot of work for the Bunkhouse, a coffeehouse in Vancouver. We did  Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia, that type of band. I don't think we even charged them for them. We  just had a running tab at the bar and got to go to all the parties  afterwards. We were in our early twenties, that was enough, just to go and party with these people. 
        There was a place on Pender Street called Nelson's Happening - that  was when happenings were happening - the beginning of discotheques. we'd heard the word somewhere,  but didn't know what the hell it meant. I remember doing something  for the Surrey A Go-Go. (laughs) You would go downstairs - I remember it was close to  Bute and  Pender, and Georgia area. You went down to this basement and all they had was a record player going, and a disc jockey. There'd be no band there. They'd be playing this early Rolling Stones stuff. I can always remember the early Stones peaking. Those were quite the parties.

     Then there was the Afterthought which happened on 4th Avenue at the Russian Community Centre. We would go over to the Community Centre  for a concert but we were more associated with the West End of Vancouver at that  time. There was an enormous community of old houses in the West End in the early Sixties. And then they went through this period of  tearing them all down for the high rises. The high rises you see now in the West End - it was all houses there. It was a huge community of hip people that were artists in that area. I can remember this  friend and I we'd go there late at night and rummage through the  houses that were all being torn down - and we'd get newl posts and  staircases, doors and stained glass windows; all this beautiful stuff.  We used these things to help interior decorate some of the coffehouses.
        A lot of people that were living in the West End ended up getting  booted out of their places and started moving over to the Kitsilano area. Kits was the other area which had a whole lot of houses and lower rents. Still does. You'd get that kind of community moving over there and the Robson Street scene sort of died out and 4th Avenue started slowly growing. I had gone down to the States a lot and so had missed out on a certain amount of what was happening in town. I remember there were just millions of people wandering around. It was like Sunset Strip or Haight Asbury. Incredible crowds of people would go down to Fourth Avenue.
         I started doing posters for the coffeehouses and then I started doing ones for the Afterthought. I think I made $10-$20 a poster. You didn't get much in those days. But again, we were actually going to Art  school at the time so these were things we'd do in our off hours. It was more to get in free and party. We got to meet all the bands that were coming up.
         I remember there was a place called the Peace House - about a half mile from where I live now, in Kitsilano - which was when the early peace movement and anti-war activism started to take place.  They held peace rallies.

That's where the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane would stay when they came into town, so yeah, after each concert we'd always go to parties over at the Peace House.  I met the Grateful Dead, partied with them and the Jefferson Airplane, Steve Miller and all of  them  - but they were nothing, they were just some bands from San Francisco at the time, you know - nobody knew who they were! 

Did they fit in up here?

      Well no, they had real long hair (laughs) and that's why were looking at these guys and going wow! And they'd  always wear these tight pants and these pointy boots - that was the  real thing - high heel pointy boots. Yeah, we used to think these guys were great.
       I started going down to San Francisco with Jerry Kruze who started the Afterthought on 4th Avenue.  It was a major focus of the 4th Avenue scene. A fellow called Roger Schiffer started the Retinal Circus which moved to Burrard and Davie.  The Afterthought sort of stopped and the Retinal Circus  took over. By this time the hippie scene had been around for 2 or 3 years and was starting to grow. So when he opened up the Retinal there was a good mob of people to go there. The Afterthought wasn't that big a crowd, because it was a pretty in crowd at that time. As  the rock concerts start getting bigger and bigger then the move to the bigger hall made sense. 

Tom Northcott was one Vancouver artist who was quite popular during the mid sixties. You've been involved in his past...

Lyrics from Sunny Goodge Street (by Donovan Leitch)

"On the firefly platform
On sunny Goodge street 
A violent hash smoker
 Shook a chocolate machine
Involved in an eating scene..."

     Tom Northcott was big locally - he did that Donovan song "Sunny Goodge Street" I did a poster for that. I remember we dressed him up in sort of a pixyish - fairy kind of wizardry kind of Donovan-y kind of getup. We had a  real big hookah pipe. I had a beautiful red MGA convertible - we were  going to a photo shoot - it was funny as we drove along and came to stop signs. He was wearing a pink and purple suit and we had this big hookah pipe in the back. It was funny enough. The shoot was in a residential area and the neighbors came out wondering what the hell we were doing. So when I took the photo I just painted over top of it basically. 
        I used to know Tom quite well; we used to go cruising around in my little MGA of mine, down by the beach and play that song  over and over as sort of a promotional thing. People would think that  it was on the radio.  I think he had a chance to make it big down in the States but I think  he just didn't want to leave Vancouver - it was a simple thing like  that With Tom - I don't think he wanted to move down to Los Angeles  and live there.

You did the artwork for the Canadian band the Collector's first album:

        I went down to the recording studio in L.A. with them - that was interesting watching something being recorded and put together. That got me an introduction to Los Angeles. I stayed in L.A. for a while working on  this cover. I used to go to the Whiskey a Go-Go which was very big at  that time. I designed their newspaper ads for a while. It's funny I ended up staying in Los Angeles rather than San Francisco - I just got down there with the Collectors and I started meeting people from the record  industry. 

What was it like back then - did the industry really know what they were dealing with in the case of the San Francisco bands? 

      They seemed to be signing everything they could.  The L.A. scene was as big as San Francisco  was, but not  acknowledged in the media as being as big, San Francisco  was the  place to be. 

This was '66 - '67?

       No it was actually more like 68/69. Sunset Strip was a big happening place but it just didn't get quite the same recognition that San Francisco did. I actually did quite a lot of work in L.A. in those days.  I stayed there for quite a while. 
       I was living  in Laurel Canyon, which is a really beautiful place in Los Angeles.  I kind of liked L.A. a little better because in comparison San Francisco had more concrete and buildings,  not much green there at all. Hollywood's an interesting place because you've got the Hollywood hills. And its all green, all bushy. It had more of a country feel to it.  

Did you catch any of the L.A. bands like Love? The Byrds or the Doors?

       I made friends with a fellow who was an agent For the A.P.A., the Agency for the Performing Arts. He was called a babysitter. He had other jobs but part of his job was  a babysitter. What that meant was when bands came to town, especially these hippie psychedelic bands you had to watch them - we were assigned to keep an eye on them. The Jefferson Airplane would be in town for the  Whiskey A Go-Go show or whatever. We'd have to follow them around and  be their shadows. They sort of knew we were there. We used to go to  this place called Barney's Beanery, which was a neat place. We'd be  sitting a couple of booths behind them and they'd get up and leave  then we'd get up and leave. You had to watch them so that they didn't get in trouble. They were notorious for getting into trouble, especially Jim Morrison of the Doors.

The agency and management unit had booked this group,  paid a lot of money for this band to show up, and they didn't want  these guys tripping out, getting into trouble, getting lost or whatever (laughs). That was fun, you can imagine a little Vancouver  guy down there getting to meet all these people. I can remember chasing Jim Morrison around or following him anyway -  he had this mauve-light purple colored Jaguar XKE. He'd be driving all over LA and he was driving fast too the bugger! We had to make sure he didn't get in any trouble. Every now and then we'd be up all night shadowing these bands. That was kind of a fun little thing. We shadowed a lot of bands, really, I remember- I met Janis Joplin, we shadowed Hendrix once. He was a short little guy - really surprising. 

The giant of the guitar. 

       Yeah, I know it's funny isn't it - he walked right by me and my shoulder was brushed by Jimi Hendrix. (Laughs) It was great- we got in backstage to all the shows. It was a great time period for me, I loved it - I had a great time doing that. That's  why I stayed in L.A.

      There were a lot of outstanding S.F. bands that would come down to L.A. to  play... 

       There was just as much happening in L.A. too. I lived in Laurel Canyon - that's where the "Ladies of the Canyon" come from by Joni Mitchell. The Mama  and Pappas were up in the Canyon, Joni Mitchell was there, Crosby Stills & Nash were there,  Frank Zappa was there, Logins and Messina and others. They were all  living up in this hilly canyon area. You'd hear them all practicing at night. It was an incredible atmosphere - you just lay there and you'd hear all  this music being played. Musicians lived all thorough the Canyon. It  was great - it was a magical kind of place at that time.

Did your posters catch on in L.A. ?

       I did quite a lot down there. I don't really acknowledge them as much  as I should; most of the stuff on my web page is on the Vancouver scene. I don't really acknowledge myself as kind of a Los Angeles poster artist of the time, when really I was. I was one of the major people working down  there. 

How much were you influenced by that you'd see in  San Francisco?

     A lot of things that happened in Vancouver were caused by someone going to California  -  they were always a couple of years ahead of us -  coming back and turning us on to what was happening there. It was amazing in  those early days going to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. Everybody was really  wild down there - huge big long hair, big beards,  it was an outrageous place to go to, especially if your some little guy from Burnaby.

 Did you make it to any of the major events like the Monterey Pop Festival?

         I attended many festivals while in L.A. such as the Newport and Palm Springs Rock Festivals. I didn't make it to Monterey but we went to the Fillmore and the Avalon many a time. We stayed at the Grateful Dead house once. Most of the  time we stayed at people's places. I remember once driving down to San Francisco  with Jerry Kruse of the Afterthought in his Mustang. There's a famous black & White  photograph of the Grateful Dead and his Ford Mustang is in the background. I remember one time we were there and Paul Butterfield came into town  and he just dropped in to the house - he really looked different - he looked like a  mobster in his slicked black hair. It must have been wild for the people back in Chicago, New York,  Michigan and those areas. They were not yet hippies. They were all  sort of dressed in gangster mode. Butterfield  had a show at the Fillmore and I helped them load stuff into the hall. It was a great show.

Can you share some memories of the Avalon and Fillmore?

Both The Fillmore and the Avalon had light shows and there'd be a little corner where there'd be a black light. People would be tripping around there putting fluorescent paint on. I don't seem to remember paying that much attention to the people on stage that much when I first went there. It was such a gas what was going on inside - the people and the strobe lights and all that - it was wild.

You've worked in black and white as well as colour?

        Not that much black and white. I am starting to put a lot of my early stuff on my web page. We've added a lot - the early stuff was all black and white because there was no  money - we just went to an instant printer and printed up a bunch of  8 1/2  X 11 sheets. But very quickly I started getting into 2 and 3  color pieces.  Most of my stuff was pretty well 3 color pieces and hand separated. Which meant you'd have to do these overlays as acetate overlays: you'd have a black and then you'd have to put an overlay and you'd cut out where it'd be red and where it'd be blue, and you'd do it that way. Most of  my pieces were done that way, like the Grateful Dead. That was all hand-done.   What I do nowadays is I'll do a painting like the Chili Peppers and the camera separates it. But in the old days everything was hand  separated. It was all to save money. I started learning lots of tricks on how to squeeze more colors out.

 What was your inspiration for the posters?

      It was all the San Francisco  boys - I'd go down there and see all this stuff up in the streets, all the Mouse, Moscoso, Kelly and Wes Wilson pieces, it was just amazing. Sometimes you would get the Fillmore operating one weekend and the Avalon would be putting on another Family Dog  event and you'd get two sets of posters on a weekend. That was my major influence. I basically created San Francisco  style posters. With a lot of the  flowing lettering and all that sort of stuff.  A lot of posters now are computer generated. I don't personally  like the looks of them. I like the more hand done kind of style of the old posters. These new ones don't do it to me much. 

You've been working on posters for contemporary artists like Alanis Morrissette...

       A few years back I was doing a lot for the venues in Vancouver. I knew some people who were working for Perryscope at  the time. Perryscope merged and formed a bigger concert promotion group I think it's called International now. All the people that I knew left. I started getting people from other cities. I have a guy in New York that gets me a lot of concert poster work.

       People who collect and buy or sell posters sometimes know a promoter in their home town and  they'll see if they can line up a concert and I'll give them some free posters as part of the deal.
     A couple of people I know were putting together the 25th anniversary Easter Be-In in Vancouver. This was in 1992.  I did a poster for them - they spread these things all over town. You could tell people really like this kind of stuff. I remember I had a table at the Be-in selling posters and I had a huge lineup of people. I also did the 30th Anniversary San Francisco Summer of Love poster for the promoters. 

Any music you are currently enjoying?

     Santana's latest album is very good, I picked it up in June. It's just a  dynamite album.  I've got a Santana poster on the way that I've been working on for a while.


You've done posters for famous 60's groups : Eric Burdon & The Animals, Canned Heat, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Vanilla Fudge, The Yardbirds, The Byrds, Steve Miller, The Electric Flag, The Doors...

Not too many people seem to remember Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield. Buddy Miles was the drummer. It's interesting - I've been listening to a lot of early Dylan and I think that's Bloomfield on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. Along with Al Kooper on organ, that was a unique sound with that organ thrown in there.  I like the early Dylan stuff. I feel sorry for kids these days - the junk they have to listen to. I just have no use for current music at all. When you've lived through Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix,  the Beatles and the Rolling Stones -   what a time period that was! A lot of young kids I know are listening to this stuff now,  early Dylan,  the Doors, Cream, great stuff.  I think that's why at these concerts you get these huge crowds now. 

       I worked on a Dusty Springfield memorial this spring and I was looking for references to her - and was doing some research and saw some great videos - Ready Steady Go shows - they are good ones to have. Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, the early Beatles, etc. The groups would be in the studio with all these kids all around them - they couldn't move, they were trying to sing and they'd be mobbed.

You're expanding your web site and adding more material...

      I wanted to get a lot of the early 60's stuff up - I wanted people to  realize that I've actually been around this long and done posters for all these particular bands because a lot of people know me for what I've done in The 90's - with my current stuff here. I wanted  people to realize that I was actually doing stuff way back in 65 and '66. I  still have tons of stuff that's not up on the website. Pieces no one's seen yet. It's gonna take a while. I'm going to have a huge site by the end of this! An historical thing - my folio piece, my gallery, look at what I've done over the years.

What's your philosophy to creating posters now?

       I don't really do my posters in a modern way; I still do it in the old fashioned way. Except for hand overlays. I'm doing full color pieces,  paintings that are color separated. There's a lot of computer cheating that I could use, borders could be computer generated, lettering can be generated by computers but I don't do that. I still hand do everything. So consequently I can't do that many a year, I can maybe crank out 6  to 8. It almost takes me 2 months to do a piece. They take a long  time. They're very time consuming. That's the way I like to do it,  I don't feel right if I'm cutting corners - I feel like I'm cheating people in a way. They're all very complex pieces. That's what people like.

During the late seventies until about the middle of the 90's the poster scene dried up, so I concentrated on commercial art and graphic design. It's great to be working on posters again!

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