Frank Werber (1930 – 2007) for more information about please go to:
Frank Werber and Frank Werber Memorial
On May 20, 2007 Ken Flagg wrote, “Hello, I found your web site while searching for Frank on Goggle and thought you would want to know that he passed away Saturday in Silver City, NM. He suffered a stroke in February of 2004 and his health had been on the decline ever since. He is survived by his children Chala, Bodhi, Aari, and Miska and two grandchildren. I think it is wonderful that you are keeping his memory of the Trident alive, as that was one of his proudest accomplishments.
From the Kingston Trio web site: “We are sorry to report that Frank Werber, the Kingston Trio’s original manager, passed away at his New Mexico Ranch Saturday afternoon, May 19th. His loss is deeply felt by us all. Frank helped make the Kingston Trio what it was and is today, and was our dear friend for over 50 years. Frank we will miss you greatly, and you will live on in our hearts and souls forever.MUSIC mogul. Trend-setting restaurateur. New Age guru. Back-to-the-land pioneer. Holocaust survivor. Small-town newspaper editor. Defendant in a star-studded Marin County drug trial.
ALEC PALAO on FRANK WERBER:
KING OF COOL’S WILD REIGN By Paul Liberatore, Marin Independent Journal’s June 15th headline
Frank Werber, who died May 19 at 78, was all of those things. To hear the stories being told about him in the wake of his passing, he was a few others as well.
Werber made pop music history as the savvy manager of the Kingston Trio, turning three clean-cut college boys into superstars, the biggest singing group in the world in the early ’60s, igniters of the folk music boom.
He was the charismatic creator of the Trident, a jazz club that he transformed into a legendary Sausalito fern bar and organic restaurant, a “Hooters for hippies,” as one former employee describes it, where the braless waitresses wore see-through blouses, a young Robin Williams worked as a bus boy, the Rolling Stones celebrated Mick Jagger’s birthday, Janis Joplin had a special table by an arched window overlooking the bay and Woody Allen shot a scene for his 1972 movie, “Play It Again, Sam.”
The Trident closed in 1980. The building, at 558 Bridgeway, is now occupied by Horizons Restaurant.
“There was a time when Frank Werber was the center of what was going on,”
recalled comedian Tommy Smothers. “The girls were cool, the place was cool, the music was great. He was a guru, a Svengali kind of guy. He was a guy who could spin a story and make you laugh. With Frank, there was always something interesting going on.”
Kentfield psychiatrist and jazz pianist Denny Zeitlin was one of the musicians Werber booked to play for the Trident’s fashionably hip clientele.
“Frank’s spirit pervaded the whole place,” Zeitlin recalled. “I remember his energy, his sparkle, his openness to music. I thought the Trident was one of the all-time great jazz clubs. It was as special as any place I’ve ever played.”
In a 1990 interview, Werber told the Independent Journal that those days were “like riding a hurricane.”
“The Trident was definitely a manifestation of its time and a forerunner and trendsetter for multitudes of restaurants,” he said. “Its effects are still being felt.”
Werber’s reign as the king of cool began to thaw in 1968 when he was busted for having hundreds of pounds of marijuana stashed in his lavish Marin County home – an ultra-modern mansion on Richardson Bay’s Da Silva Island.
Reflecting the tenor of the times, his 1970 Marin Superior Court trial was a counterculture circus. Pot was so pervasive in those days that half of the first 10 prospective jurors admitted that they’d smoked it.
With a half-dozen of his comely, miniskirted girlfriends in the front row of the courtroom, the bearded defendant would often appear in court with his long hair pulled back in a pony tail, wearing leather pants and embroidered shirts with hippie beads around his neck.
His attorney, the combative celebrity lawyer Terrence “KO” Hallinan, argued, unsuccessfully as it would turn out, that his client used marijuana for spiritual purposes and therefore was protected by Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
Among the character witnesses were philosopher Alan Watts, prostitute union founder Margot St. James and Smothers.
“I testified that I’d had some religious experiences with Mr. Werber,” the comedian remembered. “As I recall, we went out and smoked a joint between one of the sessions. That was the mindset at the time.”
The jury, which included two admitted pot smokers, found Werber guilty of marijuana possession. He was fined $2,000 and sentenced to six months in jail. In San Francisco, a federal jury acquitted him of marijuana smuggling charges.
Even as a child, Werber’s life was extraordinary. Born in Cologne, Germany, he arrived in the United States in 1941 with his father. The story goes that they escaped from a concentration camp after the elder Werber was spared execution – along with his son – because he was such a good cook that the Nazi commander didn’t want to lose him.
In San Francisco, Werber developed a talent for show business, managing Enrico Banducci’s famed North Beach nightclub, the hungry i.
During that time, he went to see an unknown collegiate singing group, the Kingston Trio, discovering them at a little club in Redwood City, the Crack Pot.
“Somebody had told him about us and he loved what he saw,” remembered the Kingston Trio’s Bob Shane, now retired and living in Phoenix. “We made up a contract with him on a paper napkin.”
Shane credits Werber with coming up with the Trio’s button-downed image and squeaky-clean persona.
“As much as we were, he was responsible for getting us started,” he said. “He helped mold us, got us rehearsing on a regular basis, got us working on a show, helping us get our outfits together so that we’d be a visual act, too. We went to Stanford, so they had us billed as America’s clean-cut college kids, but don’t think any of us even knew one.”
Werber may have been a wild flower child, but Nick Reynolds, another original member of the Kingston Trio, thanks him for keeping the group’s phenomenal success in perspective, encouraging them to invest their fortune – in the Trident, in a number of homes and properties in Marin and San Francisco, including the Columbus Tower, now owned by Francis Ford Coppola.
“We were the biggest group in the world for four or five years,” Reynolds said from his home on San Diego’s Coronado Island. “We had five albums in the top 10 at one time. The main thing I can say about Frank is that he kept us safe. We stayed in San Francisco, we didn’t move to L.A. We never had any mob scenes around us. We all kept our sanity. I know I did. He kept us together. He was like a second father to me.”
By 1967, the Kingston Trio were on their way out, replaced on the pop charts by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the rest of the British invasion.
In the early ’70s, with his trial behind him, Werber moved to a little mining town, Silver City, in southeast New Mexico.
“When he first got here, he did a lot of hanging out in the hot springs, playing the pseudo cult leader guru, smoking a lot of weed, probably doing a lot of acid,” Werber’s daughter, Chala, 35, recalled.
“In typical Frank Werber fashion, the first thing he did was open a health food store, the Sunflower, so he could have a place to get good food. It was the first health food store around here.”
After a year or two, Werber tired of town life and moved his family to a remote ranch two hours away, becoming a pioneer in the back-to-the-land movement.
“We had chickens and goats and horses and an organic garden that was at least an acre,” Chala said. “We’d only go to town every month or two. We were pretty much self-sustaining. It was a great place to grow up as a kid.”
Werber eventually moved back to town, rescuing a failing newspaper, the Silver City Enterprise, publishing it for a few years.
But his health had steadily been failing since he developed diabetes in his 50s, his daughter said, and he suffered the first of several strokes three-and-a-half years ago.
When he died of heart failure at home last month, he had his four children around him – Chala, Mishka, Aari, Bodhi – and a number of others who were close to him.
“We all gave him parting gifts of water from the spring, crystals, beads, Buddhas, cologne, good drink and good smoke,” Chala said in an e-mail. “He had the ashes of his dog, Jet, at his feet. He was the center of everybody’s universe. He was very much himself to the end.”
A memorial service is planned for October.
Frank Nicholas Werber Born Cologne, Germany, March 27, 1929 Died Silver City, NM, May 19, 2007 Survived by his children, Chala, Bodhi, Aari, Mishka and Daniel; his grandchildren, Anahi and Mylena; and the children’s mothers, Diane and Cathrine; as well as a myriad of other loves and friends who’s world has become more empty with his passing. His life full to overflowing, Frank was among other things: a Holocaust survivor, refugee, Navy sharpshooter, student of architecture, hobo, beatnik, photographer, music and entertainment entrepreneur, night club owner, race car driver, marijuana advocate, hippy visionary, restaurateur, health food pioneer, single parent, conservationist, newspaper owner and hermetic guru. He passed away at his daughter’s home in NM, and per his wishes was laid to rest the next day in a natural burial on his ranch in the Gila Wilderness. Sometimes credited with having started the folk music movement, and possibly best know as the manger/producer of the Kingston Trio, Werber was also the creator of the famous Trident Restaurant, a 1960s and ’70s Bay Area hot spot which was long considered one of the top restaurants in the country. While many of the most famous and influential people of the era counted him as a friend, fame and fortune were never a most important measure of esteem to Frank. Tiring of the California “scene” he purchased a remote hot springs ranch in the mountains outside of Silver City, NM, in 1974 and slowly turned his energy inward toward the wilderness and his family. Frank will be greatly missed, but his light burned so brightly that those who truly knew him will always feel the glow. A memorial is being organized for this fall. For info, or to offer a donation please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle on 5/27/2007.
San Francisco Chronicle June 8, 2007
If anyone ever lived up to the image of the swinging 1960s hipster, Frank Nicholas Werber was the man.
The original manager of the Kingston Trio and a successful restaurant and business owner, he had been living it up for several years by the time the Summer of Love rolled around. The bearded entrepreneur wore beads and a tweed coat with a flower in the lapel. There were sports cars, miniskirted young ladies, a penthouse office in San Francisco, sailboat cruises in Mexico and pot.
Lots of pot.
Narcotics agents said six sea bags full of marijuana were delivered to his swanky home overlooking Richardson Bay in 1968, leading to his arrest, two sensational trials and a six-month jail sentence in Marin County.
The charismatic hippy music agent died May 19 of heart failure in Silver City, N.M., where he had lived on a ranch since 1974.
Born in Cologne, Germany, in 1929, Mr. Werber spent time in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust.
He told his family that he and his father were at one point lined up to be shot by a Nazi firing squad when an officer ordered the elder Werber pulled from the line. As the story goes, the officer didn’t want to lose the camp’s best cook. Because his father wouldn’t leave without him, Mr. Werber, too, was saved. The father and son later escaped, although details about that are vague.
Mr. Werber learned to cook from his dad, and from then on, good food played a major role in his life.
He immigrated to the United States. After high school, he joined the Navy and served as an aviation photographer, midshipman and sharpshooter. He later attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago and the University of Colorado.
Family members said Mr. Werber worked as a commercial artist, gold miner, cabdriver, horse rancher, ski-lift operator, construction worker and press photographer.
He eventually landed in San Francisco, where he met Enrico Banducci, the renowned North Beach impresario who operated the hungry i nightclub. Mr. Werber impressed Banducci and was hired as manager.
He stayed at the nightclub for four years and then happened upon a group of young Stanford singers at a bar and signed them to a management contract. The Kingston Trio soon blossomed into a national sensation, ushering in a folk music movement that lasted through the 1960s.
Mr. Werber turned out to be a masterful promoter. He created a multimillion-dollar recording studio and promotional development and publishing company called Kingston Trio Inc., which took up two floors in the Columbus Tower office building.
He then established Sausalito’s famous Trident Restaurant, which started out as a jazz hot spot in the 1960s. Mr. Werber later turned it into a psychedelic health food restaurant with hanging plants and handmade candles where rock musicians hung out and ogled braless waitresses.
The now-defunct restaurant, on Bridgeway, set aside a table for Janis Joplin, and a young Robin Williams worked there as a busboy, according to Mr. Werber’s daughter, Chala Werber.
“Everyone who was anyone hung out at the Trident,” she said. “He interviewed all the waitresses, and they had to be super hot. They weren’t expected to wear a bra.”
When Native Americans occupied Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971, the pier outside the Trident was used to ferry supplies to island dwellers. In 1974, the Rolling Stones held a private party at the Trident thrown by Mr. Werber’s good friend Bill Graham. It was, according to several revelers, a mind-altering experience.
Erudite and witty, Mr. Werber had a financial interest in the hit show “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” He was active in numerous sports, including sailing and scuba diving, which he practiced often in the tropical waters off Puerto Vallarta.
He was, by all accounts, on top of the world in 1968 when federal agents raided his Marin County home and seized 258 pounds of Mexican pot they accused him of conspiring to transport.
Mr. Werber admitted smoking pot, but said he never trafficked in it. He argued that he was set up by dealers who were trying to save their own skin. A federal court jury eventually found him not guilty after a widely publicized trial. He was then tried by Marin County authorities for possession and cultivation of marijuana.
Mr. Werber was defended by Terence Hallinan, who would later become San Francisco’s district attorney. The trial was a circus. Sheriff’s officers dragged sea bags full of pot into the courtroom, and Hallinan talked about Mr. Werber’s spiritual connection to pot rooted in his experiences during the Holocaust. Celebrities marched in and out of the courtroom as a fan club of young women in miniskirts rooted for Mr. Werber, who, participants said, smoked pot a few times during the breaks.
Mr. Werber loved to recount how Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers testified that he had known the defendant for years and “before he started smoking pot, he was a real — hole.”
“It was a pretty interesting trial,” said Smothers, 70, a longtime friend who got a big laugh when he testified. “It was very stressful for him at the time, but he just moved on.”
Mr. Werber retired at age 43 to an old adobe lodge on 160 acres of wilderness in New Mexico once used by Teddy Roosevelt on his hunting expeditions.
“Everything my dad ever did, he did completely,” his daughter said. “His philosophy was there is nothing worth doing that isn’t worth overdoing. There was never any half-assing in anything in his life.”
Smothers said: “He was a little slick, a little slippery and wonderfully funny and entertaining. He was a guy you would go out of your way to visit.”
Besides his daughter Chala, he is survived by another daughter, Mishka Werber, sons Bodhi Werber and Aari Werber, stepson Daniel Benavidez and two granddaughters, all of Silver City.
A memorial is planned for the fall.
Letter to the Editor in response to the above article:
San Francisco Chronicle
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Editor — The June 8 obituary for Frank Werber seemed to damn with faint praise, suggesting that appreciation of a good doobie was the most significant achievement of this singular man’s life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Werber was a pathfinder who wrought still-unacknowledged change within the entertainment industry in the late 1950s and ’60s.
Werber took what were essentially three Peninsula frat boys — the Kingston Trio — and turned them into one of the biggest popular-music phenomena of the mid-20th century. However, it was in his supervision of the trio that Werber established guidelines on how a professional entertainer should be treated. He designed the basis of the “rider” that is used to this day whenever a performer appears, to guarantee an environment respectful of both artist and audience.
He took what had previously been the college lecture circuit and turned it into the college concert circuit. Most significant, Werber avoided the crass exploitation that was the overriding hallmark of artist representation in those days — i.e. the likes of Col. Tom Parker — preferring to take care of business in a classy, erudite manner.
No mention was made of his stewardship of We Five, whose Werber-produced 1965 smash hit, “You Were on My Mind,” was the highest charting single to emerge from the Bay Area music scene until the rise of Creedence, almost five years later. Nor of the Trident Productions stable, an early and prescient breeding ground for many local rock stalwarts such as the Sons of Champlin.
Because, by late 1967, Werber had tired of wiping musicians’ behinds and decided to dissolve his music interests, he is often written out of most histories of the 1960s San Francisco rock explosion. Frank had been out of the biz for many years by the time I got to know him, but he was still as smart and witty and hip — not “hippy” (sic) — as he had ever been. He deserves to be properly remembered for the pioneer he was.