No. 79: ‘San Francisco Girls’

san francisco girls bandFever Tree was another in the long line of Texas bands that migrated to California in the psychedelic era.

Before the Houston group made its move, however, it celebrated the charms of the Bay Area ladies with “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” an intriguing single that (barely) cracked the Billboard singles chart in 1968.

“San Francisco Girls,” written by manager/producers Scott and Vivian Holtzman, came on the heels of the 1967 hits “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” sung by Scott McKenzie and “San Franciscan Nights” by Eric Burdon. Fever Tree’s song certainly holds up its end of that city trilogy.

“San Francisco Girls” opens as a ballad with a tasty but improbable dance of harpsichord and cymbal. Vocalist Dennis Keller sets the scene as a flute eases in:

Out there it’s summertime
milk and honey days
Oh, San Francisco girls with
San Francisco ways

The reverie is short-lived: A guitar amped for heavy sustain repeats and speeds the opening theme until the song works itself into a gallup.

The singer then delivers the cold-hearted kiss-off at the heart of the story — perhaps importing the ‘tude from Fever Tree’s garage-band days:

Don’t try to stop me girl, you can’t have your way
Don’t try to stop me girl, nothin’ you can say
Live like you wanna live and stay where you wanna stay
I just gotta go and get back to the Bay

The tempo shifts several more times before the cinematic finale is ushered in by soaring sustain-drenched guitar.

“San Francisco Girls” gets its punch from guitarist Michael Knust and percussionist John Tuttle. The elegance comes from classically trained multinstrumentalist Rob Landes, who did the harpsichord bit. Producer David Angel of “Forever Changes” fame apparently worked on the song as well.

(Coincidence, no doubt, but “San Francisco Girls” brings to mind the Guess Who’s “American Woman,” of two years later, right down to Burton Cummings’ vocals.)

“San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” brought a modest fame to Fever Tree and endured as a free-form FM favorite.

The original band issued one compelling album, “Fever Tree,” featuring several tracks of the same quality as “San Francisco Girls” as well as some contemporary covers. Sundazed recently rereleased this, Fever Tree’s first album.

Then came the less ambitious “Another Time, Another Place” and the career-crashing “Creation.”

Sundazed also has released “Live ’69” on vinyl/download (the band’s farewell performance).


  1. I love this song, lived near the bay in 1980 to 1984, during my “youth” Those were very intense times for me.

  2. Astroman says:

    I first heard this song on the old 2-hour syndicated radio show “Flashback” (which is where I was first exposed to a lot of this type of music, as practically every other week they would do the “Flashback Psychedelic Hour”). I loved it upon first hearing. It made me want to seek out more by the Fever Tree (which I did). Texas seemed to have a pretty wild Psychedelic scene going on, with the Tree, the 13th Floor Elevators, the truly bizarre Red Krayola, and the Moving Sidewalks (featuring a pre-ZZ Top Billy Gibbons).

    But it does make me wonder how many kids across the country during that era heard “San Francisco Girls,”, as well as the other SF odes by Scott McKenzie, and Eric Burdon & The Animals, and flocked to the Bay Area looking for answers and finding only more questions. Oh, well, at least they could hang out at the Fillmore and the Avalon and see some great bands. (One song that’s probably best left buried in the past is the Flowerpot Men’s “Let’s Go To San Francisco.”

  3. Jimmy Mc says:

    Man this takes me back to 1968 mount Carmel church Houston Texas saw them twice really good live it seems likes yesterday rock on

    • Jeff balfoort says:

      Ya, I remember when. Lived down the street from Hartman Jr High. Heard one of the band members lived close to this area. One of the best Houston bands ever. Still listen today.

  4. Bill McGuire says:

    Not only saw them play live from very close up at the Teen Club in Bryan, TX, I was the lead vocalist for the house band that played while Fever Tree was on break. It was extremely cool and one of the highlights of my young life back then.

  5. This song got a great deal of play on the jukebox at the bowling alley I used to hang out at, along with “The Unknown Soldier”. But I must say that their “career-crashing” album “Creation” is one of my all-time favorites and still transports me to that time when I listen to it.

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