Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pigpen Solo Projects 1969, 1971, 1973 (Why?)

The vast scholarship on the music of the Grateful Dead is deeply entwined with the emotional investment of its scholars. Their feelings about the Dead's music play an essential role in the way the band's musical legacy is interrogated. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan is a foundational part of that legacy, and yet, for all his importance, The Pig remains just beyond the edge of accessible. Sure, we have plenty of tapes of his performances, and some photos and video, but Grateful Dead scholars treat him with a reverence that is not accorded to other band members.

The Grateful Dead had a relatively small audience in the 1960s, so not that many people actually saw Pigpen in concert. Those that did were often fairly young, and just figuring out the Dead on their own, so however impressed they may have been, they often didn't quite grasp all that Pigpen brought to the table when he busted out of a difficult "Dark Star" jam with a blazing "Turn On Your Lovelight." Even the members of the Dead themselves, an unsentimental lot on the whole, turn mystical and rhapsodic when the subject of "the mighty Pig"--as Phil Lesh called him--is invoked. So Pigpen, though revered, remains oddly unexamined.

Everyone who knew Pigpen said that he was the least interested of any of the band in being a "rock star." In Jerry Garcia's words, Pigpen didn't have "the celebrity head." Pig loved music, worked hard, was loyal to his mates, but on some level he wasn't really interested in success. Interested in music, yes; interested in not having a real job, yes; but interested in being a revered icon? No. So why then were there Pigpen solo projects? There were two or three, depending on how you want to count, and they are at odds with everything we know about Pigpen. So it is time to examine the not-unknown but still ephemeral Pigpen solo projects from 1969, 1971 and 1973 to see what they can tell us about Ron McKernan and his relationship to the Grateful Dead.

Heavy, Iron Butterfly's 1968 debut album. Lead singer Darryl DeLoach had left the group before the hugely successful Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida was released later that year
Pigpen and The Grateful Dead
In the early 60s, rock and roll was a strange, rebellious enterprise. The few people who were interested in such a thing hardly knew anyone else who cared, or had a way to connect to them. Most mid-60s rock bands were initially formed as a group of like-minded friends, often with widely varying talent. The original bassist for The Beatles, for example, was John Lennon's best friend, Stuart Sutcliffe. He was a talented artist, apparently, but no musician, so Paul McCartney had to switch over from guitar. That worked out ok in the end, fortunately. The Warlocks bass player was the son of the music store owner where much of the band worked, but he was no bassist either. In this case, a friend was drafted as much for like-mindedness as musicianship, and certainly Phil Lesh had never played guitar, or bass. Still, that too worked out in the end. Most 60s rock bands had such stories in the early days, of musicians hired for their haircut or suitable attitude.

However, rock music changed dramatically from 1965 to 1968, and that led to another series of changes in plenty of bands, even ones who had records. Since a lot of bands were mainly a group of friends that stuck together, they played whatever music they liked, rather than having any sort of plan. But that sometimes meant that a band changed so much that original members didn't fit in. Many mid-60s "British Invasion" style bands were modeled on groups like the Rolling Stones, with a lead singer trying to emulate R&B singers. Yet within a few years, extended jams and long solos were more typical, and lead singers were more dispensable. Many lead singers found themselves pushed out after an early album or two. To name just one example, the original Iron Butterfly featured lead singer Darryl DeLoach, and he was on the band's first album, Heavy. However, as the band evolved into playing longer songs, the other band members could cover the vocals, and DeLoach was nudged aside. Thus by the time Iron Butterfly had a 1968 smash with "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida," one of the biggest hits of all time, DeLoach was just another struggling singer in LA without a band.

Pipgen very nearly followed the path of Darryl DeLoach. Pigpen was essential to the Warlocks and the early Grateful Dead, as a singer, an organ player and a personality. By the beginning of 1968, the Grateful Dead were playing some difficult music, and for all that Pigpen had been musically ahead of most band members at the beginning, he had largely fallen behind. All Deadheads know that there was a famous Summer '68 band meeting when Pigpen and Bob Weir were all but fired from the group. Both of them managed to hang on, but Pigpen's role was hugely diminished. His role as organ player was taken over by Tom Constanten, and while he still sang some key rave-ups, like "Turn On Your Lovelight," the 1969 Grateful Dead played far fewer blues covers, which had been the bulk of Pig's stage repertoire. It was a credit to both Pigpen and the Dead that Pigpen was not simply forced aside, like Darryl DeLoach. Weir could have sang "Lovelight," and everyone else would have been sharing Pigpen's piece of the financial pie. So there is some reason to think that for all the band's personal loyalty to Pig, he had a peculiar adjunct status that no other band member did. Thus the recurring idea of a Pigpen solo project fits in with Pigpen's musical contributions: part of the Grateful Dead, but not quite the same.

The Sir Douglas Quintet's second album for Mercury (on the Smash imprint) was Mendocino, released in April 1969. The success of the hit single and album justified Mercury's investment in numerous SF bands at the time
1969 Sessions for Mercury Records
The first and most mysterious of the Pigpen solo projects is the 1969 recording, ostensibly from Mercury Studios. Nothing is really known directly of this project, but LightIntoAshes, as always, has done stellar work in finding out the details. "I’m a Lovin’ Man" is a slickly produced country song sung by Pigpen and Weir. Garcia plays pedal steel, and John Tenney plays fiddle. Also circulating on tape was an instrumental version of Buck Owens’ song "I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)"  again with Garcia on pedal steel and Tenney on fiddle. LIA contacted the violinist on the session, veteran Bay Area musician John Tenney, who recalled:
In late 1969 I played fiddle on a song called ‘I'm a Lovin' Man’ for a proposed Pigpen solo album. Jerry, Pigpen and Weir were playing. The bass player was Dennis Parker (on my recommendation), then with a SF band called All Men Joy. The drummer was Scott Morris. The song was written by Clancy Carlile, a novelist, songwriter and honkytonk guitarist/singer with whom I was playing in a country band. (He was involved in the production.) The session was at Pacific High Recording. My recollection is that Pigpen's album was maybe going to come out on Mercury or its subsidiary Smash. Mercury had a strong presence in San Francisco at the time, with its own studio. The producer I think was one Bob Serempa, a local A&R man with Mercury. I don't know why he used Pacific High for the recording, except that the Mercury studio was very busy with people like the Sir Douglas Quintet at the time.
Bob Serempa, as LIA points out, was not just a Mercury A&R man, but their Director Of West Coast Operations. Mercury Records, though late to the party in San Francisco, had come in hard to SF and had signed a dozen bands in 1968. They had even opened their own studio on 1340 Mission Street, and indeed Dan Healy was doing a lot of contract work for Mercury. However, another scholar queried Dan Healy for me, and Healy corrected the record somewhat:
This is too much for me to write about now but I will sit down with you when we have a chance and you can get my info about it. That version of "Lovin' Man" was written by Doug Sahm and it wasn't PHR, it was Columbus Recorders (basement ot the Flatiron on Columbus Ave) owned by Frank Werber and the Kingston Trio. The story goes on, but not here. Serenpa was the West Coast Mercury "director," but not really a so-called A&R guy.
Yet this still leaves the question, raised by LIA, as to why was Pigpen recording not only country music, but recording for Mercury when the band was signed to Warner Brothers. We can do nothing but speculate, but a few key factors come into consideration. As always, the key to unlocking inexplicable Grateful Dead activities can be turned with a simple question: where's the money? Why would Bob Serempa, a senior Mercury Records director, pay to record members of the Grateful Dead for a solo project, when the band was under contract to another label? And why would Mercury use an inferior studio, when they had their own studio right there in San Francisco?

The only answer that makes sense is that the recordings were demos for a future project, and that Mercury expected to be able to sign the Grateful Dead, or at least Jerry Garcia. The band members themselves were fairly naive about their contract status in 1969, but in fact manager Lenny Hart was negotiating with Warner Brothers for an extension, without telling the band. Otherwise, the band might have been free agents. Serempa and Mercury may have known this--indeed, Lenny Hart may have told him--and Serempa may have wanted to evaluate the Dead in the studio while also building up some good will with Jerry Garcia. Thus hiring old buddy Dan Healy to engineer the sessions was smart business, and using the somewhat inferior Columbus Recorders was ok, since the sessions were not necessarily going to yield an album. Calling the sessions a "Pipgen solo album" would have provided a little bit of polite cover in case Warner Brothers heard about it.

Keep in mind also that Garcia, Weir and Pigpen would have been paid for the sessions, probably about $90 for a three hour session. Whoever was designated the "leader" got $180. So if the band members spent a couple of days in the studio, doing four 3-hour sessions, for example, they would have ended up with several hundred dollars. Did they cash the checks? Lenny might have, and not told them. This would also explain why the other band members could be safely left out of the payday, if Lenny had arranged some peculiar pay scheme. Certainly Phil Lesh has alluded to the fact that the 1969 Dead members were not good at playing with non-Dead musicians. Dennis "Funky" Parker, a great bassist, would have been a far better choice in 1969 than Phil Lesh, who by his own admission, was completely idiosyncratic.

Why would Mercury go to all this trouble? It's easier to ask why they wouldn't. Record companies were making money hand over fist in 1969, and signing the right artist could be a gold mine. Warner Brothers, for example, has certainly benefited over the decades from the fact that Lenny Hart extended the Grateful Dead's deal in 1969 for three more years, rather than letting it expire. It was common practice for record companies to throw money around to favored artists, in the hopes of merely getting them to consider signing with them at a later date. Columbia's Clive Davis essentially signed the New Riders Of The Purple Sage (who in the end made a lot of money for CBS) in order to get in Garcia's good graces. This did not pay off until around 5 years later--although just for Clive Davis, not for Columbia--, when the Dead finally signed with Davis and Arista. At the same time, Warner Brothers signed Mickey Hart to a three-album deal. Once the Dead went independent, however, Warners rejected Hart's last two albums. 

Mercury Records had come into San Francisco late and big. By 1968, all of the legendary bands from the city had been signed. Nonetheless, Mercury signed pretty much anyone with long hair, and ended up with a dozen bands on their roster. Some of them are awfully obscure--raise your hand if you have ever heard the Fifty Foot Hose album--but one of them was a giant success. Doug Sahm, exiled from Texas and pop stardom due to an untimely 1966 pot bust, was an Avalon back marker when he signed with Mercury. He reformed his Sir Douglas Quintet (some original band members had finally gotten off probation from the bust) and they had a giant hit with "Mendocino." The money Mercury made on "Mendocino" made up for all the other bands, by a huge margin. Mercury thus got as much Return-On-Equity as Columbia, Warners, Capitol or RCA, even if the Fifty Foot Hose barely sold anything. Dropping a few thousand in the hopes that there could be a play in the future for Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead? No problem--he could have had a sixty-foot hose, if he had wanted one.

Yet what about Pigpen? Pig apparently had a good feel for honky-tonk style country music, and Doug Sahm usually wrote in a bluesy style, so that fits. Buck Owens seems to be a Jerry touch, but certainly Buck owed plenty to R&B and Chuck Berry, even if Buck didn't wear it on his sleeve. At the very least, Mercury seemed to be using a song by its own artist, perhaps in the hope of getting some publishing money out of a future deal. The session actually makes musical sense, but it's hard not to see Jerry as the driver, rather than Pigpen. The fact that so little is known or recalled about these sessions suggests some Lenny Hart maneuvering. Dan Healy may be the last one who remembers what was actually intended, and hopefully he will tell the story sometime. In any case, it does not seem that there was an actual Pigpen album really intended, since there was neither a signed contract nor a plan. 



It made sense for Warner Brothers to release a Jerry Garcia album, but not a Mickey Hart one. No matter--Warners released it anyway, because that's how record companies worked back then
1971--The Year Of Solo Albums
By 1971, Sam Cutler had the Grateful Dead ship sailing in safer waters. The Dead had toured hard in 1970, and they had also recorded two FM-friendly albums on time and under budget. The Dead weren't rich rock stars yet, but they had graduated from all living communally on a ranch, nor were they just driving leased Ford Cortinas. Band members were starting to see the middle class, if it was still a bit down the road. However, with the first trappings of success, the Dead would also have started to see how the early 70s record industry distorted their individual finances.

The Grateful Dead covered their expenses and made payroll thanks to their extensive touring. However, touring itself was expensive--plane tickets, gear, road crew--so it was hard to get a really big payout just from playing every college gym on the Eastern seaboard. Since Workingman's Dead and American Beauty were good selling records, the band members would have been starting to see some money from them. However, the money would initially have been skewed towards the songwriters rather than the band members.

All 60s record contracts basically required the band to pay back the expenses of recording the album before the band saw any money. Thus an expensive record like Aoxomoxoa would not see any royalties for many years. An album like Workingman's probably broke even fairly quickly, but of course any other advances had to be paid back as well, and in any case the Warner Brothers accountants were not going to do the Dead any favors either. So royalty money probably just trickled in to the general ledger.

However, songwriting royalties came from the publishing company, which in the case of Ice-Nine was ASCAP. Actually explaining how ASCAP royalties were generated is too much of a diversion, even for this blog--notwithstanding you wouldn't believe it--but in general the revenue came from a portion of radio station ads that went to the music publishers like ASCAP, who in turn sent some to the writers. Thus, as soon as Workingman's Dead started to receive substantial airplay, Ice-Nine Publishing and the individual songwriters would have started to get money, long before royalties from Warners, since the band would not yet have recouped the costs. Ice-Nine money went into the general ledger, but Garcia and Robert Hunter had written all the songs for Workingman's, so they would have gotten the most money the quickest.

It doesn't take Fernand Braudel to figure out that the next Grateful Dead album would feature songwriting credits for more than just Garcia. Hunter wrote all the lyrics for American Beauty, but Weir, Lesh and Pigpen wrote music. Hunter, in fact, wrote the lyrics for "Operator," and may have written some of the music, too, but at Pigpen's request he assigned the copyright to Pigpen. Hunter has never regretted giving away the credit, but the fact that Pigpen asked means that he was acutely aware of the financial benefits of composing a song on a hit album.

Over the course of relentless touring in 1971, the members of the Grateful Dead were writing songs in anticipation of various future recording projects. These songs would turn up in the live repertoire as the band found time to rehearse them. All of the band members were preparing for an unscheduled but forthcoming Grateful Dead studio album. However, because the Dead chose to go independent, no studio album was recorded, and live versions of the band's new songs were put on Grateful Dead and Europe '72.

Pigpen was no different than Weir or Garcia, in that he must have seen that the direct path to income was including songs on forthcoming albums. Pigpen wrote four songs that were actually performed by the Grateful Dead, "Mr. Charlie" (with Hunter, debuted Jul 31 '71), "Empty Pages" (debuted Aug 23 '71), "Chinatown Shuffle" (debuted Dec 31 '71) and "Two Souls In Communion" (aka "The Stranger," debuted Mar 21 '72). No such studio album was ever recorded, to the disappointment of Robert Hunter (not to mention the rest of us), but if it had, Pigpen would have surely had a track or two. In any case, "Mr. Charlie" made it onto Europe '72, released in November of that year.

The other dynamic for both the Grateful Dead and the record industry as a whole was the rise of the solo album. By 1971, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had shown that fans could appreciate solo albums without thinking that a band had "broken up," so record companies encouraged solo albums by band members under contract. In many cases, these solo albums were considered part of the band's deal with the record company. Bob Weir's Ace, for example, was considered a Grateful Dead album per the Warners contract. Of course, there were numerous other attractions to solo albums, both for the record company and the artist. Record companies found it easier to deal with and promote a solo artist, thus avoiding band politics, and artists in turn found that they could get more money and have considerably less hassle. Both Garcia (July 1971) and Weir (May '72) had released solo albums, and a Pigpen album made perfect sense. Pigpen had some original tunes, and along with some covers and maybe some help from the ever prolific Hunter, a pretty cool album could have materialized.

Oakland Tribune, September 8, 1971
The most tantalizing hint of such a project was a little known advertisement for a Pigpen solo gig, at an obscure bar in San Francisco, which I first unearthed some years ago. As near as I can tell, The Gold Club was at 56 Gold Street, an alley in North Beach, near Jackson Street, between Montgomery and Sansome. I think the Gold Club was the former Assay Office back in Gold Rush days, and the alley and the club got that name. I believe it was a gay bar in the 80s and 90s, and it is currently Bix Restaurant. While I am sure the building has been remodeled, current pictures on the link gives us an idea of the contours of the interior.

The idea, apparently, was that Pigpen would sing and play harmonica, backed only by Merl Saunders on organ and piano. Regular contributor LightIntoAshes found a quote from Merl Saunders, who explained the genesis of the idea:
I started hanging out at this club with Jerry and that is where I first met Pigpen. We only lived four blocks from each other... I had heard about Pigpen but I had never met him.I was into Jimmy Smith and the Hammond Organ sound. Jerry and I started playing The Keystone in Berkeley and Ron and the rest of the guys would come down. Ron would sit in with us and I was always trying to get him to play keyboards. He would say “No, I just want to play my harmonica behind your organ playing.” That is how we got it going. We had actually discussed doing a thing together with piano, organ and harmonica. There was a little club off of Broadway in North Beach that was going to hire us, but unfortunately it never happened.
Leaving aside, for a moment, the tantalizing subject of Pigpen sitting in with Garcia/Saunders at Keystone Berkeley--hitherto unknown to us--Merl's remark gives us a hint to what might have been considered. The key to me is not imagining the Merl and Pig show, cool as that would have been, but the idea of Pigpen as a solo performer.

By September 1971, Jerry Garcia had released his Warner Brothers solo album, and the Ace project for Bob Weir had probably been agreed to in principle. Given the record industry at the time, a corresponding Pigpen solo project would have made a lot of sense. If Merl Saunders was on board to shepherd the execution, it could have been a cool album. We know Pigpen was working on his own material, Hunter could have been counted on for a song or two, and there would have been an infinite universe of covers to choose from. If Merl was running the sessions, Jerry Garcia would surely have been there, and Bill Kreutzmann wouldn't have been far behind.

However this was conceived, it never happened. The most important issue, of course, was that Pigpen's health was in serious jeopardy, and he stopped playing with the Dead until December of 1971. Secondarily, there's no evidence that Pigpen himself wanted to make a solo album. It would have made a lot of sense to Jon McIntire, but not particularly to Pig. Garcia and Weir both had the "celebrity head," and were interested in what they could do without having to conform to the tastes of other band members. Pipgen, by contrast, never evinced such interests. Certainly, Pigpen wanted to have the financial rewards of his own song (or two) on the next Dead album, but little did he know that it was some ways away. A Merl Saunders produced album by Pigpen was a great idea, and Warner Brothers surely would have financed it (they financed a Mickey Hart album, after all),  but it wasn't in Pigpen's head. So no such thing happened.

Wake Of The Flood was recorded in August 1973 and released in November
1973-The Last Go Round
We all know the story. Pigpen had to go off the road in Fall '71, while Keith Godchaux became the piano player. Pig reappeared in December of 71, but his health still wasn't great. Supposedly, he was told that going on the Europe '72 tour in the Spring would endanger his health, but Pig went anyway. After the tour, and one final appearance at the Hollywood Bowl (June 17 '72), where he didn't even sing, Pigpen went off the road for the last time. Everyone in the band thought it was liver problems from his extensive drinking, but in fact it was an auto-immune disease (the liver problems were triggered by the auto-immunity failure, apparently). The assumption, however, was that if Pigpen "got healthy" by staying off the road and not drinking, he would be OK--whatever that meant. By all accounts, he did make a genuine effort to be as healthy as possible.

Given the record industry at the time, a Pigpen solo album seemed like a logical choice. The band was regularly quoted to that effect (via LIA)
Bob Matthews: “In the last couple of years of his life he was being encouraged to do an album by both the band and the record company. I had him set up with my own little portable Ampex half-inch 4-track machine and a little Ampex 2-channel, 4-microphone mixer…it allowed him to overdub. But I never heard any of the stuff he did with it.”
Alan Trist: “During that period when he wasn’t on the road with the band he was actually working on an album, working on songs. Around that time, the solo album thing really took off – Jerry was the first, then Weir, and Mickey, and Pigpen was right in there too. He was working up songs, planning it out. I remember going over to his house a couple of times and hearing odd tapes that he played. His way of projecting the blues through his singing was so soulful and authentic, whether it was with the Grateful Dead or by himself at home.” 
Weir said in ’72, “Pigpen, if health permits, will be coming up with some surprises pretty quickly. His album is still in the future. It’s not a concrete reality yet. He’s written some very good songs, but…he’s not ready to do an album yet.” 
This is the story that is repeated over and over. Pigpen wasn't a working member of the Dead, but he was "working on a solo album." Various tapes have circulated with labels like "Pipgen demos." It's a nice story. But there seems to have been a lot of wishful thinking attached to it. Pigpen didn't want his own project--he never did. Merl Saunders would have been happy to work on album with him, and it would have been good, but Pigpen never initiated that. I think the band members comforted themselves about Pipgen's exile by saying "he was working on an album." That had worked for Mickey Hart, who didn't lack for drive and ideas, but that wasn't Pigpen. He still saw himself, now and forever, as one of the Grateful Dead.

Rock Scully, always a complicated figure in Grateful Dead narratives, nonetheless seems to have hit the nail on the head (via LIA)
According to Rock Scully: “I don’t think it was really going to be a solo album. I think the way he looked at it was it was going to be part of a Dead album. He wanted three songs on a Dead album. A couple of them were beautiful. He didn’t have enough for a whole album; he wanted [to be on] a Dead album again. He’d worked up a couple of really nice songs. They were a little sad, but with Jerry’s influence I think they could have worked beautifully with the Grateful Dead.”
Remember, in Fall '72, the Grateful Dead had abandoned their contract with Warner Brothers, and refused to sign with Columbia or anyone else, because they had chosen to go independent. For the likes of Jerry Garcia, this meant he could release solo albums and projects to his heart's content. No doubt the original architecture of Grateful Dead and Round Records included an idea for a Pigpen solo album, but I don't think it was shared by Pigpen. He wanted to sing on the next Dead album, whenever that was.

In late 1972 and early 1973, while Pigpen was still alive and apparently "doing well," the Dead had rehearsed a batch of new songs. By February 1973, most of those songs were in the live repertoire. Although the band still owed one more album to Warner Brothers--Bear's Choice covered that--they would soon be free. Plans must have been afoot for the recording of the next Grateful Dead studio album. I have to think Pigpen wanted to be in on that.

And really, it would have been fun. In early '73, the band members probably realized it was going to be a long time, if ever, before Pigpen could have more than a limited studio role with the Grateful Dead. Of course, they didn't know how sick he really was, but hindsight is 20/20--at the time, they would have thought that Pigpen just needed a couple of years off the road. If they were planning a Fall '73 album on Grateful Dead Records, it would have been cool if Pigpen was on board to sing a song. I have to think that it was at least generally on the band's mind, even if they don't talk about it now.


My own opinion, unsupported by any evidence, is that if Pigpen's health had allowed, he would have had a song on Wake Of The Flood, but it wouldn't have been "The Stranger" or any of his other songs. I think it would have been "Loose Lucy." The song was written and rehearsed in early 73 with a much slower arrangement, and it seems custom made for Pigpen. To be clear, I can't remotely prove this. However, Hunter had facilitated Pigpen before, with "Easy Wind" and "Operator"--why not "Loose Lucy"? Pig could have put his own inimitable stamp on it, probably a lot more bawdy than Garcia's, and both songwriters would have cheerily added the mighty Pig to the writing credits.

It wasn't to be. Pigpen died on March 8, 1973, to the shock of his friends and bandmates. They thought he was in ill health, but had been cleaning up his act. Little did they know that his auto-immune disorder was the problem, not particularly his history of excessive drinking. The band moved on. "Loose Lucy" dropped out of the rotation. It re-appeared a year later, much faster, at a tempo that suited Jerry but not Pigpen. but that hardly mattered anymore.

Coda
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan is a touchstone of Grateful Dead philology, but few of the Grateful Dead philologists have ever seen him in person. Given Pigpen's importance in the band's history, we all take at face value his critical importance to the Grateful Dead. Yet at times, we refuse to see the evidence in front of us. In an era when even drummers got to record solo albums, Pigpen--a vibrant singer, a pretty good songwriter and a knowledgeable blues enthusiast--regularly refused every opportunity to go out on his own. The band members and family members hoped and wished that Pig would make his own record, but he never showed any inclination. More's the pity. The history of would-be Pigpen solo projects tells us more about the band and their wishes for their friend and bandmate than about the subject himself.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 30 1975, Marx Meadows, Golden Gate Park: Jefferson Starship/Diga Rhythm Band (Jerry and Owsley Fin De Seicle?)


The Stanford Daily Entertainment Listings for May 30, 1975. The Jefferson Starship free concert in Golden Gate Park was listed, a sign that the concert was not only approved but not expected to overwhelm the park
The Diga Rhythm Band put out an album on Round Records in March 1976, but they only had three known public performances under that name, all in May 1975. All three of them were opening for the Jefferson Starship and The Sons Of Champlin. Diga opened for the Starship on a Friday and Saturday night at Winterland, on May 16 and 17. While in the middle of a national tour supporting their new album Red Octopus in a very San Francisco fashion, the Starship played a free concert in Marx Meadows in Golden Gate Park on the afternoon of Friday, May 30. There is no doubt of the dater in Starship's performance, as it was publicized in the papers. However, it is not generally noticed that not only did The Diga Rhythm Band open for the Starship and The Sons at Marx Meadows, but that they were joined by David Freiberg on bass and Jerry Garcia on guitar for a 14 minute version of "Fire On The Mountain." For some years I was not certain of Garcia's presence, but the entire 33-minute has surfaced, and there is no doubt.

There may be another lost piece of significance to Garcia's jam with the Diga Rhythm Band at Golden Gate Park on May 30, 1975. There is a reasonably high probability, though not a certainty, that the Jefferson Starship's soundman may have been manning the board for Diga. Since the Starship's soundman was one Owsley Stanley, it would have been fitting that Jerry was mixed by Owsley one last time, at a free concert in Golden Gate Park.

Ustad Alla Rahka and his son Zakir Hussain
Mickey Hart and The Ali Akbar College Of Music
All the members of the Grateful Dead were constantly exploring new music, but Mickey Hart was the only one who made a specific effort to actually receive any kind of formal training. Master indian tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha had moved to the Bay Area in about 1963. Rakha was responsible for the foundation of both The Center For World Music, based in San Francisco and then Berkeley (and now San Diego), and also The Ali Akbar College Of Music, first in Oakland and then in San Rafael.

The Ali Akbar College Of Music was established in Oakland in 1967. Mickey Hart started studying at the school with tabla master Shankar Gosh in 1968, taking what he learned in the school back to Bill Kreutzmann and hence to the Grateful Dead. The College was based in a house in the Oakland hills, at 6024 Ascot Drive. The school outgrew the house however, and thanks to the timely intervention of Rhoney Stanley, the lease was taken over by Owsley Stanley, and the house passed into Grateful Dead legend. At different times, Owsley and Rhoney's roommates included Bob Weir, Bob Thomas, Bob Matthews, Ramrod and Betty Cantor.

In return for letting Owsley and Rhoney take over the lease on 6024 Ascot, Alla Rakha got Rhoney to arrange for his drumming students, including Mickey, to take part in a Grateful Dead concert. True to her word, Rhoney arranged for a special drumming session at the Berkeley Community Theater on September 20, 1968, when Gosh and Vince Delgado joined Mickey and Bill for some high-end percussion. The event was not only an early rock band experiment with "World Music"--not an extant term at the time--but also the first inkling of the "Rhythm Devils" section of Grateful Dead concerts that would arise 10 years later. The Ali Akbar College Of Music then moved to San Rafael, where it remains today.

Shankar Gosh returned to India in 1969, and he was replaced at the school by Zakir Hussain. Hussain was just 21, but he was Alla Rakha's son and had been training since he was 8, In 1970, when Hart and Zakir Hussain met, Mickey would have only been 26 and he had been a drummer since childhood as well, so although from different continents and musical traditions, they appear to have had many parallels. I do not know whether Hart was formally a student of Hussain, but clearly they were friends and Hart presumably played regularly with him. Hussain had an Indian/Rock fusion group called Shanti, who released an album on Atlantic Records in 1971, and Hart had hosted a party and probable FM broadcast at his ranch (August 21, 1971), with Jerry Garcia and the New Riders playing as well. Hart and Hussain also produced an album called Sarangi, The Music Of India, by Ustad Sultan Kahn, in 1974.

The entertainment listings from the Hayward Daily Review of May 16, 1975 list the Diga Rhythm Band opening both nights at Winterland for Jefferson Starship and The Sons of Champlin
Diga Rhythm Band and Jefferson Starship
The roots of the Diga Rhythm Band itself was explained in  the 1976 Round Records Newsletter:
In 1971 Zakir began to select some of his advance students for a school orchestra of only rhythm instruments. This was called Tal Vadyum Rhythm Band and they performed once a quarter at the Ali Akbar Kahn Collect of Music. This was the beginning of the Diga Band. In April, 1975 the Jefferson Starship asked them to play a concert with them and the Sons of Champlin. The band decided to play and also to change their name for public performance. The name chosen was Diga Rhythm Band.
We don't know how often Hart played with the Tay Vadyum Rhythm Band at their quarterly shows, but Hart was not touring at the time, so he would have been regularly available. 

The Jefferson Starship, of course, and risen from the ashes of the Jefferson Airplane, and were on their way to selling even more records than the Airplane had done. When Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen refused to leave Hot Tuna to return to the Airplane, Paul Kantner organized the Jefferson Starship as a touring entity in early 1974. After some live success, the Starship released the well-received Dragon Fly album in September, 1974. It got excellent FM airplay and sold very well, going Gold and reaching #11 on the Billboard album charts. The Jefferson Starship emphasized the harmonies and sharp songwritng side of the Airplane, rather than their looser, rebellious edge. In anticipation of their subsequent album, Red Octopus, Marty Balin had returned to the aircraft, and in May they had released his song "Miracles," which was a huge AM hit. "Miracles" peaked at #3, higher than any Jefferson Airplane single. Red Octopus was going to be released in June, and it was going to be huge.

By mid-decade, financial realities had moved the Jefferson Starship towards mainstream rock and away from psychedelic rabble rousing. In the late 60s, riding high, the Airplane had struck a deal with RCA for their own label imprint (Grunt Records) and an unlimited recording budget at Wally Heider's studio in San Francisco. Of course, the cost of that recording was paid out of future Airplane royalties. Paul Kantner and others took to recording at Heider's rather than touring, and the recording often included Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Graham Nash and other members of the San Francisco rock scene. When members of the Airplane and their friends recorded at Heider's it appears that they got paid session fees as well, so the so-called PERRO sessions gave everyone walking-around cash, always welcome for musicians.

As the Airplane faded, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick had put out a series of solo-type albums, some under the name Jefferson Starship. Garcia and Betty Cantor were heavily involved. By the fourth of these however, sales had dropped off considerably (the albums were Blows Against The Empire, Sunfighter, Manhole and Baron Von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun) and royalties no longer adequately funded the excess. The Jefferson Starship went on tour in Spring 1974, with young guitarist Craig Chacuiqo and Jorma's brother Peter Kaukonen on bass. Peter Kaukonen was replaced by Pete Sears (doubling on keyboards and bass with David Freiberg), and the band had released Dragon Fly to great acclaim. Marty Balin rejoined the band and the Starship took flight.

Nonetheless, socially the Jefferson Starship were still good friends with the Grateful Dead, not the least because they were among the last organizations still standing from the old Fillmore days. After all, Dragon Fly had included a song by Robert Hunter, saxman Stephen Schuster worked with both Jefferson Starship and the Godchauxs, most Starship members still lived in Marin, all but one of the current members had at least played the Fillmores, if not with the Airplane, and Alembic still consulted with them on sound and equipment. However, the most important connection was even older than that. At some point, I think by about early 1975, the Jefferson Starship had hired one Owsley Stanley as their soundman.

Now, the Starship did not have a permanent touring operation, like the Grateful Dead, so Owsley would have been hired per tour. However, once the Dead had stopped touring at the end of 1974, Owsley would have no longer been on the Dead's payroll. In any case, Owsley had not had a specific role in the Dead's touring scheme, as his time in jail (1970-72) had allowed for Alembic and Dan Healy to take over the sound and crew. So while outwardly the Jefferson Starship had swung towards a more commercial sound, they still had the retired Acid King himself as their soundman, so psychedelic rebellion was never out of the question.

With a big hit single and a hugely anticipated album coming out in June, the Jefferson Starship had been touring nationally for Red Octopus.  The Starship headlined two shows at Winterland on May 16 and 17, 1975. The Sons Of Champlin, also old Marin friends, were invited to open the shows, and just to give it the old Fillmore flavor, the Starship also invited Mickey Hart's percussion orchestra. The unheard and unprecedented ensemble hearkened back to the mixed bills of the old Fillmore, when a Russian poet once opened for the Jefferson Airplane (Apr 7 '66). The Starship were going for the gold ring, yes, but they were still doing it in San Francisco style. The Sons Of Champlin and The Grateful Dead were just about the only intact bands from the old Fillmore days, so along with the Airplane crew, it was as close as they could get to Old-Timers Day.

Marx Meadows in relation to other famous parts of Golden Gate Park
Live From Marx Meadows
Since the Jefferson Starship were still a proud San Francisco band, mainstream or not, they were going to go about things Fillmore-style. By all accounts, their headline shows at Winterland came off well, and I believe the Diga Rhythm Band got good notices too, even if they were hard to fit into a slot. At the time, there was no public concept of the idea of "World Music," although of course musicians were aware of it, and an intercultural percussion ensemble was unheard of. So the booking of the Diga Rhythm Band was an enjoyably weird thing for the newly-commercial Jefferson Starship, and a definite whiff of the old days.

There is a circulating tape from Winterland, misdated as May 25, although it must be May 16 or May 17. The tape is 40 minutes long, and seems only slightly cut off at the beginning. 45 minutes would be about right for the opening act at Winterland in those days. Diga plays two long numbers, "Tal Mala" and "Magnificent Sevens." Between numbers, Zakir Hussain introduces the band. He tells the crowd that the first number was by Mickey Hart, and "you know him as the drummer from the Grateful Dead," to a big roar from the crowd.
Diga Rhythm Band, May 1975
Zakir Hussain-tabla
Mickey Hart-trap drums
Jordan Aramantha-congas
Jim Loveless-marimbas
Ray Speigel-vibes
Arshad Syad-duggi ("imported specially from India")
"Ali Akbar College of Music sub-line" (Zakir says "behind us," presumably referring to additional drummers providing a basic pulse) 
The Starship national tour had started in May, but to end this leg the band decided to play a free concert in Golden Gate Park. The Starship had played a similar free concert in Central Park in New York City's Central Park back on May 12 (broadcast on WNEW-fm). These free shows were definitely a nod to the olden days. The San Francisco show was no stealth arrangement, and was approved and booked with the city for Friday, May 30. The Starship could not have admitted the show prior to playing the Winterland bookings--Bill Graham wouldn't have allowed the publicity--but once the weekend was over it was no secret. So much so, that the concert was noted in the Stanford Daily performer listings for the day (see the clip up top). It is a sign of the status of the Jefferson Starship that though they had a hit single on the charts ("Miracles") and were a descendant of San Francisco legends, they could still actually publicize a free show in Golden Gate Park and not overwhelm it. Admittedly, it was a Friday, not a weekend, but the Starship were not going to get mobbed.

When you google around, some notes put the free show in Marx Meadows, and others in Speedway Meadows (now called Hellman Hollow), but I found an eyewitness who confirmed that it was Marx Meadows. The previous Garcia free show in Golden Gate Park, with Merl Saunders, had been in Marx Meadows (Sep 2 '74 with Garcia/Saunders), and the Grateful Dead would play a free show in Speedway Meadows on September 28 '75. However, my recollection of the September Dead show was that the Jefferson Starship had openly booked a show for Speedway Meadows with themselves and "other bands", and the Dead were essentially snuck in. I think the May show was booked, and went successfully, so the Starship could say with a straight face "we will have other bands" and the city just figured it would be the Sons or something. So, in that respect, the mainstream Starship still had some old Airplane rabble-rousing left in them.

The Diga album, released on Round Records in March 1976
Diga Rhythm Band Live
I'm not sure what time the concert started, presumably around noon or something, which is pretty early for most musicians. Diga Rhythm Band opened the show. The tape seems complete, and including stage announcements, it is 33 minutes long. The group is introduced somewhat tentatively as "The Diga Rhythm Band." Zakir Hussain tells the crowd that they are all musicians from the Indian Music college,  The Ali Akbar School Of Music in Marin, and "they play music all night and day." He explains that the Diga Rhythm Band is "The Rhythm Band Of The World." Remember, at this time, there was no term like "World Music," even though a few groups like Kaleidoscope and Shanti had done such things.

Rather uniquely, Zakir Hussain then introduces all the drums on stage, like the trap drums (which he calls "The American Drum"), and the congas from Cuba and Africa, and so on, but he does not introduce the actual band members. The group then plays a 13-minute piece, apparently called "Sweet Sixteen" that seems to have a certain basic structure but appears to include plenty of improvisation, as well. Then, Zakir announces that they have a few friends who will join them for the next number. The subsequent roar leaves no doubt as to who one of those friends is (punctuated by people shouting "Jerry!!!" of course). Although he is not announced, and it is hard to be certain from the audience tape, my eyewitness confirmed that David Freiberg played bass along with Jerry. In any case, Jerelyn Brandelius published a photo with Freiberg on bass with Diga from Golden Gate Park [update: Commenter ruppi43 points out that Garcia can be seen in the linked photo]. I'm not aware of a photo of Jerry on stage with Diga [update: Commenter ruppi43 links to a Ron Draper photo of Jerry on stage, playing the Wolf] , although there may be one of him waiting to go on stage. Also, the Grateful Dead Archive has a photo of some members of the Sons of Champlin "backstage" at Golden Gate Park in 1975, and I suspect that it is from May 30, as well.

Zakir Hussain then announces that the next composition is called "The Fire On The Mountain." Diga, Jerry and Freiberg launch into a percussionized version of the "Fire On The Mountain" theme that we are all familiar with, and then launch into a lengthy jam that is loosely based on the rhythms, but there is no singing nor anything resembling a verse structure. At the end, after about 15 minutes, the group comes back for a reprise of the theme, and then they end the song. Zakir Hussain thanks the crowd and says, "The Sons Of Champlin will be coming on shortly."

It's important to remember that while Garcia loved to play, and had more time on his hands during 1975 than any other year in his Grateful Dead career, he did not like to "hang out," nor did he like casual jamming on inferior or borrowed equipment. Any Jerry Garcia appearance in 1975 was planned, even if only Jerry and a roadie knew of that plan. So here are some facts to consider:
  • Garcia was in town. While Garcia was playing around with his own band, he wasn't playing with the Dead, of course, so he was far more likely to look for opportunities to sit in with other bands
  • Whether or not Garcia had played with The Tal Vydum Rhythm Band--probably not--he had jammed with Hart and Zakir Hussain at Hart's barn, so he was comfortable with that style of music
  • David Freiberg was present with the Starship, and his equipment would have been on stage. Freiberg had played with Garcia many times, so he was no untried stranger who couldn't handle the curveballs.
  • If Hart was bringing equipment over, Garcia's amp could be put on the truck as well. This too would have been no small thing to Garcia, who wouldn't have wanted to play difficult music on some borrowed Fender that he hadn't broken in.
Mickey Hart and Robert Hunter had written "Fire On The Mountain" back around 1972, and the song was intended to be the title track to Hart's second solo album. Warner Brothers rejected the album in 1973, not least because the Dead had not re-signed with Warners, so the label had no desire to release what they would have considered a money-losing vanity album by their former clients' former drummer. So the song was known to Garcia and Hart, but not to anyone but the most connected Deadheads.

The album Diga, by the Diga Rhythm Band, was released on Round Records in March of 1976. Recording had probably begun by Spring 1975, but any chance to complete and release the album was delayed until the next year, as Round Records had one of their perpetual cash crises. One of the tracks is titled "Happiness Is Drumming," and it appears to be the basic pattern of "Fire On The Mountain," with Garcia on guitar. So Hart, Garcia and Diga may have already been working on this. On the album, the composition is credited to Diga Rhythm Band, rather than Hart. Since there was no singing, Hunter did not need to credited. Still, Zakir Hussain's mention of the song title would have been it's first public usage.

Owsley Stanley, after being busted in Orinda, CA on December 23, 1967. This SF Chronicle photo was one of the few photos of Owsley that were published in the 20th century
Owsley?
The final question is whether Owsley was the soundman. I don't know when Owsley was hired by the Starship, but I think it was definitely by Spring '75, and possibly the Fall before that. If the Starship were going to play in Golden Gate Park, they were going to try out their setup, so they would want their regular touring soundman. So I think he was there. That doesn't mean that Dan Healy or Betty Cantor wasn't on the board for Diga instead, and maybe I am thinking wishfully, but it's a worthwhile consideration. If anyone went to the show and recalls who was on the board, please let us know in the Comments.

I think Owsley's presence would have been significant. Garcia liked to jam with other musicians, and just be part of the band, but by 1975 he only wanted to do it in controlled, professional situations. The Sons Of Champlin might have brought their own soundman, but who would Diga have used? Owsley sure seems like a likely choice, since he would have been there with Starship. Owsley also seems like someone who would have directly invited or indirectly enticed Garcia to play with Diga, since he could guarantee the sound in his own inimitable fashion.

If Owsley did mix Jerry with Diga on May 30, 1975, it was the last go-round. I don't know who mixed the sound for the Speedway Meadows Dead set on September 28, but it wouldn't have been Owsley. Owsley was probably mixing the sound for the Starship set in September, but Dan Healy and the rest of the crew had their issues with Owsley and would have actively insured that his hands were not on the board for the Dead's set. So it may be that a largely forgotten Garcia appearance in Golden Gate Park in someone else's band was the the formal end of the musical partnership between two giants of late century psychedelia.

Appendix 1: Diga Rhythm Band album

Diga

Diga Rhythm Band

Initial release : March 1976
Round Records RX 110 / RX-LA600-G
Percussion based album from Mickey Hart and friends. Garcia plays guitar on two tracks.
Tracks
  • Sweet Sixteen (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Magnificent Sevens (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Happiness Is Drumming (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Razooli (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Tal Mala (Diga Rhythm Band)
Musicians
Diga Rhythm Band;
  • Jordan Amarantha - congas, bongos
  • Peter Carmichael - tabla
  • Aushim Chaudhuri - tabla
  • Vince Delgado - dumbek, tabla, talking drum
  • Tor Dietrichson - tabla
  • Mickey Hart - traps, gongs, timbales, tympani
  • Zakir Hussain - tabla, folk drums, tar
  • Jim Loveless - marimbas
  • Joy Shulman - tabla
  • Ray Spiegel - vibes
  • Arshad Syed - duggi tarang, nal
Guests;
  • Jerry Garcia - guitar (on Razooli and Happiness Is Drumming)
  • Jim McPherson - vocals (on Razooli)
  • Kathy McDonald - vocals (on Razooli)
  • David Freiberg - vocals (on Razooli)
Credits

  • Produced by Mickey Hart
  • Associate producer - Vince Delgado
  • Production assistant and arranging associate - Zakir Hussain
  • Engineers - Dan Healy, Bill Wolf, Betty Cantor
  • Assistant engineer - Brett Cohen
  • Recorded at the Barn, Novato
  • Remixed in 1988 :
  • Engineer (1988) - Tom Flye
  • Assistant engineer (1988) - Tom Size
  • Digital mastering (1988) - Joe Glaswirt
  • Cover art - Jordan De La Sierra
  • Package design - Steven Jurgensmeyer
  • Photograph - Onehart
  • Liner notes - Frederic Lieberman
The Winter 1976 Round Records newsletter provided a history of the Diga Rhythm Band.
In 1968 Mickey Hart was studying at the Ali Akbar College of Music with Tabla Master Shankar Gosh. Mickey would work on compositions with Shankar which included Rhythmic Cycles of 4, 6, 16, 5 & 7 and take these teachings to Bill Kreutzmann. Mickey and Bill were instructing Shankar on traps in exchange for Tabla lessons and would combine their knowledge in compositions of East and West.
In September of 1968 the Grateful Dead played a concert at Berkeley Community Theater. Before the concert the drummers had planned a surprise for the audience. During part of "Alligator", the G. D. amps rolled apart and two risers rolled on stage between Mickey and Bill. On them were Shankar Gosh and Vince Delgado, a fine dumbec player and a student of Shankar's. The four men sat and fixed compositions together, taking a rhythmic journey through many "Tals" or time cycles. Ali Akbar Kahn composed the closing composition for them and when they were finished, the applause was deafening. Shankar left Ali Akbar College in 1969 and returned to India, at this time Mickey also left to pursue electronic music.
In 1970 Mickey was introduced to Zakir Hussain, son of Mickey's mentor, Alla Rakha. Mickey met Alla Rakha in 1967 and had given himself over to the teachings of Indian rhythms during their first meeting. He subsequently became Shankar's student in California. Zakir had come from India to replace Shankar as Ali Akbar's personal drummer as Tabla instructor for the school. Quite a job for a man of 21, but Zakir had been studying since 8 years of age, he came well prepared.
In 1971 Zakir began to select some of his advance students for a school orchestra of only rhythm instruments. This was called Tal Vadyum Rhythm Band and they performed once a quarter at the Ali Akbar Kahn Collect of Music. This was the beginning of the Diga Band. In April, 1975 the Jefferson Starship asked them to play a concert with them and the Sons of Champlin. The band decided to play and also to change their name for public performance. The name chosen was Diga Rhythm Band. The concerts at Winterland in San Francisco on May 16 & 17, 1975 were successful, Alla Rakha was there both nights and was very pleased. Bill Graham was elated and the musicians from the other groups were very receptive to the music.
Diga is currently recording an album for Round Records, to be distributed by United Artists, in April. The band also plans to tour maybe in the Spring of '76.
Appendix 2: Jefferson Starship circa 1975
Grace Slick-vocals
Marty Balin-vocals
Craig Chaquico-lead guitar
Paul Kantner-rhythm guitar, vocals
Papa John Creach-electric violin
David Freiberg-keyboards, bass, vocals
Pete Sears-bass, keyboards
John Barbata-drums

Fillmore notes:
  • Slick, Balin and Kantner had played the original Fillmore and both Fillmores West and East with the Jefferson Airplane
  • Papa John Creach had played Fillmores West and East with Hot Tuna
  • David Freiberg had played all the Fillmores with Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • John Barbata had played the Fillmore with the Turtles, and Fillmore East with CSNY (June 2-7 '70)
  • Pete Sears had played Fillmore West with Silver Metre (May 28-31 and July 9-12 '70)
  • Craig Chacuiqo, the youngest member of Starship, had never played the Fillmores
Here is the setlist for the Starship's free concert in Central Park earlier in May. The Golden Gate Park set was probably similar.
May 12 1975 Central Park, New York, NY: Jefferson Starship (WNEW-fm broadcast)
Ride the Tiger, Fast Buck Freddie, The Witcher, Devil's Den, Caroline, Driving Me Crazy, Papa John's Down Home Blues, Play on Love, Better Lying Down, Have You Seen the Saucers, Come to Life, Sweeter than Honey incl. drum solo, Somebody to Love, White Rabbit, Volunteers

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco, CA 1192 Market Street, San Francisco, CA: Summer 1976 (plus Live FM Broadcasts Part X)

An ad for the six Grateful Dead appearances at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco from July 12-18, 1976
Given the number of venues where the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia played many dozens of times, the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco should hardly loom large in their tour histories. And yet it does. Jerry Garcia played one show there in 1976, the Grateful Dead had a six night run and then there was a peculiar seven-show JGB reprise in 1988 and '89, and that was it. There are venues all over California, not to mention the rest of the country, where the Dead and Garcia played more runs over the various decades, yet the history of Garcia and the Dead at the Orpheum remains far more interesting. This post will look at the exact circumstances of Jerry Garcia's and the Grateful Dead's appearances at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.

The Orpheum Theatre, at 1192 Market Street (at Hyde) in San Francisco, in 1931
Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, 1976
The Grateful Dead had "retired" from live performance after a five-night stand at Winterland in October, 1974. They were determined to simply record albums for their own label, and play around a little bit when the circumstances were right. Most rock fans, myself included, figured they were goners, but in fact the band did record Blues For Allah and play four shows in 1975. The Dead played wonderful, unfettered music in '75, but it was a dream that was not to endure. By 1976, Grateful Dead Records and Round Records had collapsed, the band's deal with United Artists had been cashed out, and the band members were broke. To fulfill their UA contract, they assigned Owsley to produce a live double-lp from the Winterland shows, taking care not to use any of the good jams.

Releasing an all-but-intentionally weak album was not unprecedented for the Grateful Dead, but it was a particularly risky strategy when they were trying to resurrect themselves as live performers on the national stage. By 1976, the Grateful Dead were looking like a band of old hippies. Sure, there were plenty of old hippies around, but the likes of the Jefferson Starship and Steve Miller Band had cleaned up their sound and were playing shorter songs you could hum. A poorly-recorded cover of Johnny Cash's "Big River" wasn't a ticket to high-rotation nationwide FM airplay.

Still, the Grateful Dead managed to make one shrewd and long-lasting move in 1976. Everyone knew that the Dead had a loyal audience, but truthfully, even the Dead didn't know how that would translate into ticket sales. How big a place could they really play, and how many cities would it be profitable to tour through? The band bypassed all that. In the booming rock market of 1976, playing a 12,000-capacity basketball arena and only selling 9,000 tickets would have been seen as a failure of sorts, and the Dead couldn't afford that in their comeback attempt.

So the Dead took a relatively unprecedented step. They took their four biggest East Coast markets, chose some 2000-seat theaters, and sold the tickets only by mail order. Up until this time, there had been only one rock concert mail-order-only effort that I know of, the Bob Dylan/Band tour in early 1974. Despite the clunkiness of mail order at the time, the hype surrounding mail order had allowed national promoter Bill Graham to emphasize how the Dylan/Band tour was an Event, not just another band on the road. The Dead shrewdly took the same tack, surely inspired by Graham, but executed by New Jersey promoter John Scher. The unique twist was that the band only offered tickets to fans currently on the Deadheads mailing list. They signed on with their most loyal promoters in each city, and made sure that there was an FM broadcast in each region. The band were replaying their 1971 strategy with Grateful Dead ("Skull And Roses"), and providing a "virtual" free concert in all those markets. No other major band would do that in 1976, or ever again.

The Steal Your Face album, released in June 1976, had an iconic cover, but little else of lasting value
Grateful Dead Summer Tour 1976
June 3-4 Paramount Theater, Portland, OR: Grateful Dead
The Dead opened with two shows out of town, in Portland, OR, perhaps their most loyal market. To my knowledge, these shows were not part of the mail order, but almost stealth warmup shows. Bill Graham Presents produced these shows.

June 9-12, 1976 Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA: Grateful Dead (Wednesday thru Saturday)
Broadcast: Saturday, June 12, 1976,WBCN-fm, Boston
The Boston Music Hall shows were promoted by Don Law, who had been producing the Dead in the Boston Area since the Boston Tea Party days back in the 1960s.

June 14-15 Beacon Theater, New York, NY: Grateful Dead (Monday-Tuesday)
June 18-19, 1976 Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ: Grateful Dead (Friday-Saturday)
Broadcast: Saturday, June 19, 1976, WNEW-fm, New York, WOUR-fm, Utica
The Dead had two key promoters in the New York Metro area. Howard Stein had promoted the band on the New York side of the Hudson, at Flushing Meadows, Capitol Theater in Port Chester, Gaelic Park and The Academy Of Music, among other venues. The Dead gave him two nights at the Beacon, but the weekend shows were reserved for John Scher at the Capitol Theaer in Passaic, NJ. Scher was the Dead's promoter on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, and he was organizing the East Coast leg of the tour. Scher got the prestige broadcast, but Stein's Monday and Tuesday bookings were no small thing, since the band would fill the Beacon on nights when it might usually be dark.

I am aware that the Passaic show was simulcast on Utica's WOUR as well as WNEW. I don't know if there were other simulcasts, in New York or elsewhere.

June 21-24, 1976 Tower Theater, Philadelphia, PA: Grateful Dead (Monday-Thursday)
Broadcast: Thursday, June 24, 1976, WMMR-fm, Philadelphia
The Jerry Garcia Band had played the Tower a few times. The Dead's booking at the Tower was with the Electric Factory. It was a sort of peace offering, rekindling a profitable business relationship that had started in 1968, only to have it undermined by crew misbehavior in 1973. Once again, by playing Monday through Thursday, instead of the weekend, it made for an attractive booking for the Electric Factory. The Dead promptly returned to the Philly Spectrum the next Spring, and there were no more problems with the Electric Factory.

June 26, 1976 was the official release date of Steal Your Face. It is entirely possible that some record stores were already selling the album before that. Radio stations could have been playing it beforehand. but I'll bet only the sponsoring stations were really playing it.

June 26-29, 1976 Auditorium Theater, Chicago, IL: Grateful Dead (Saturday-Tuesday)
Broadcast: Tuesday, June 29, 1976,WXRT-fm, Chicago
The Chicago promoter was probably Aaron Russo, who had promoted the band back during the Electric Theater/Kinetic Playground days in the 1960s.
update: a Commenter reports that the promoter was Flipside and John Scher Presents. I do not know if Flipside had associations with Aaron Russo, but it was Russo who had initially promoted the Dead in Chicago and established them in the region.

July 12-14, 16-18, 1976 Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead (Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday)
Broadcast: Sunday, July 18, 1976, KSAN-fm, San Francisco
The Grateful Dead shows at the Orpheum were produced by Bill Graham Presents. They were not part of the mail order. On the Sunday in June that tickets went on sale, there were huge lines at the BASS ticket outlets. The lines were magnified by the fact that the shows had reserved seats, long not a factor in Bay Area Dead shows. I managed to snag one ticket for Saturday, July 17. I was not a minute too soon.

The FM Broadcast was on the last night, Sunday, July 18. Graham did it up in style, giving everyone in the audience a glass of champagne, and surprising the band when he brought the curtain up with a toast from the audience. Pretty women in swimsuits, with banners that said "Miss Jerry," "Miss Bob" and so on, put roses on the band. Graham himself, not in a swimsuit, had a banner that said "Mr. Donna." The triumphal return to six nights of packed houses made the Dead's gamble pay off. The Grateful Dead were an event, instead of a washed up choogly hippie band.

The Kingfish album was released in March, 1976. It had some initial success, but it couldn't be sustained
Grateful Dead Member Finances, 1976
However, the Orpheum itself had been critical to the Dead's successful tour, but not in a way that was obvious at the time. In early 1976, although the Dead had produced a new studio album in 1975, and Phil Lesh and Owsley were putting together Steal Your Face, the Grateful Dead were a band in name only. Once Ron Rakow wrote himself a check for about $275,000 in April--which was most of the money they got for SYF--, Grateful Dead and Round Records were finished. The band had no label and no money.

It goes largely unnoticed that between September 28, 1975 and May 28, 1976, when tour rehearsals began, there is no evidence that the Grateful Dead played together as a group. I would love to find some hint, but I don't think there is any. I think they didn't play. The last session I know of was at Ace's in August 1975, for material probably intended for a follow up to Blues For Allah, that nevertheless ended up on Jerry Garcia's Reflections.

In the Winter and Spring of 1976, both Garcia and Weir had new albums. Reflections and the Kingfish album had been released in February and March of that year, respectively, and both bands were touring across the country, making a stab for conventional rock stardom. Kingfish was broadcasting live concerts in a few cities, and even had a show recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour, a syndicated nationwide radio program probably inspired by the Dead's 1971 Fall Tour.

March 11, 1976 Roxy Theater, Los Angeles, CA: Kingfish (early show)
Broadcast: KMET-fm, Los Angeles
The Kingfish album had been released in March 1976. United Artists did the traditional promotion for new bands, booking Kingfish at LA's most prestigious record company haunt, the Roxy Theater. The Roxy, at 9009 Sunset Boulevard, had been started by the owners of the Whisky-A-Go-Go, but it was more oriented towards the bar, as a place for industry people to hang out and drink on the record company tab. Kingfish was booked for four nights (March 10-13, Wednesday-Saturday).

On Thursday, March 11, the early show at the Roxy was broadcast on KMET-fm. UA would have subsidized the radio station by paying for the lost ad time (probably by purchasing future ads). Former KSAN-fm dj Thom O'Hair was the host.

March 27, 1976 Calderone Theater, Hempstead, NY: Kingfish (early show)
Broadcast: WKIR-fm, Hempstead, NY
Hempstead, NY, in Long Island, was the home base of WLIR-fm, a station which emphasized live broadcasts. Many WLIR broadcasts were from a club called My Father's Place in nearby Roslyn, but they also broadcast from a local studio (Ultrasonic) and sometimes from the Calderone Theater. The early show was broadcast on WLIR, apparently on a delayed basis.

April 3, 1976 Beacon Theater, New York, NY: Kingfish (early and late shows)
Broadcast: King Biscuit Flower Hour (nationally syndicated)
Howard Stein would have been the promoter of the Beacon show. I don't know the exact date of the broadcast, probably about a month or two later. If typical patterns were followed, Kingfish would have broadcast about 25 minutes or so, sharing the hour-long program with another rising band on tour (both the early and late shows were ultimately officially released in their entirety--see the Appendix).

With Garcia and Weir both constantly on tour, the Dead would hardly have had any chance to rehearse. But of course they really had nowhere to rehearse, either. The Garcia Band rehearsed (jammed, really) at Keith and Donna's in Stinson Beach, and Kingfish, if they rehearsed at all, would have used Ace's. The Dead had no money, and could not have afforded a real rehearsal space. At this time, 20 Front Street was just a warehouse used by the Garcia Band. No one called a Dead rehearsal, and in any case Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann had hardly played a live gig with anyone since the new year, nor had Mickey Hart (although Mickey was working on Diga). Lesh may have played occasional gigs with his bar band, Toulousse To Truck, but if they even happened, they were just jams. Kreutzmann had no band at that time, as far as I know.

On top of that, and perhaps most importantly, even if the band had decided to rehearse at Ace's or somewhere, they had no sound system. When the band was a permanent touring operation, they had gear set up in their rehearsal space. But for now, they had no sound system and no gear. Sure, the Garcia Band and Kingfish no doubt had some of the equipment, but that was split up between separate road crews, and probably in separate places. In order to make a June tour, the Dead not only needed to rehearse, they needed a location and a sound system, and they had no money for either.

May 21, 1976 Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia Band
The Grateful Dead's summer tour had been announced around May, to give everyone time to deal with the mail order. However, while Joel Selvin (in the SF Chronicle) may have indicated that the Dead would play the Bay Area afterwards, we still knew nothing about the details. Meanwhile, the Jerry Garcia Band had regularly been playing the Keystone Berkeley, and sometimes at other clubs around the Bay Area. Thus it was quite a surprise when the Jerry Garcia Band announced a concert at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, on May 21, 1976, There had never been a rock concert at the Orpheum, and indeed no one I knew had ever been there for any event whatsoever. To top it off, Garcia almost never played concerts, as opposed to clubs, and this wasn't even a Bill Graham Presents show.

The back story can now be seen, although it wasn't at all clear at the time. A few weeks after the May Orpheum gig, tickets went on sale for the six Grateful Dead concerts at the Orpheum in July, produced by BGP. So we thought that Garcia had been "trying out" the Orpheum for the Dead. That was true as far as it went. However, some years later we found out that the Dead rehearsed at the Orpheum for a week or so after the Garcia Band gig. There are photos and tapes to confirm it. There was even apparently professional video shot, probably on May 28. The wonderful Voodonola edit marks this as the July 12 '76 soundcheck, but I am going with May 28. When the Dead soundchecked on July 12, I doubt they set up a full movie lighting rig when they would have been trying to get their sound right on opening night (see the Appendix below). The audio tapes are from May 28-30, but there may have been more rehearsals than just those. Clearly the gear was left in place at the Orpheum after the JGB show. But that was still only half the story.



The Dead had no sound system and nowhere to rehearse. The Orpheum solved both those problems. The band rented a sound system, apparently from a Santa Barbara company, that was suitable for small theaters, and tried it out in the Orpheum in advance of the tour. Remember, without having a touring apparatus, Dan Healy and the rest of the crew would have had to put together all the pieces. Some of the "rehearsing" may have actually been for the crew to put the equipment together. The band could fake the music if they needed to, but the equipment had to be sorted out first.

However, the Dead had no money. So Garcia almost certainly had to play the Orpheum gig in order to get the money to put the gear in place. The May 21 show financed the rehearsals. Now, that was a great show, as you can hear from the 2001 release of the cd Don't Let Go. The Orpheum, though in a truly threatening neighborhood, was a wonderful venue once you were indoors. As I recall, although it wasn't a a BGP show, Bill Graham was present and wandering around. The actual promoters were a local outfit called "Carlos And Star Productions," who had many Grateful Dead connections. It seems that Carlos And Star financed the show, but hired Graham's production crew to run the stage, a common arrangement.

An ad for Hair at the Orpheum from the Stanford Daily on October 30, 1970, 
A Brief History of The Orpheum Theatre
The Dead needed to rehearse in a small theater with seats, not a big ice rink like Winterland. What was the story with the Orpheum?

The Orpheum Theatre was at 1192 Market Street, at 8th Street (which becomes Hyde Street), in the Tenderloin District. The Tenderloin was the city's theater district, just a ways from downtown. The Orpheum had opened in 1926, as the New Pantages Theatre. It had 2,203 seats. Originally it was a Vaudeville house, as Pantages was a Vaudeville chain. It was the fifth of Market Street's six great music palaces, another of which was the nearby Warfield, which had opened in 1922. Come the 1930s, the New Pantages was converted to a movie house, and so the Orpheum Theatre was just a movie palace up until about 1970 (for the complete story of The Orpheum, complete with pictures, of course you must go to Jerry Garcia's Brokendown Palaces ).

In 1970, however, the Orpheum again began to be used for theatrical presentations. Hair, the first 'Rock Musical" had had a brief, successful run at the Geary Theater, nearby on Market. Hair had been a hit on Broadway in New York, and now it had theatrical companies in many cities. Hair had an extended run at the Orpheum, which was larger than the Geary. A surviving program from 1972 lists future famed choreographer Kenny Ortega in a lead role. Ortega's was the first choreographer for The Tubes, a few years later, and he would ultimately go on to direct the High School Musical movies and many other Hollywood successes.

Although Hair was a musical, it had rock band backing, and McCune Sound is noted in the program for doing the sound. McCune Sound was well established in the San Francisco rock community, and indeed would provide a system for the Grateful Dead's one-off show at the Great American Music Hall in 1975. Since McCune would have provided a quality system for the Orpheum, there would have been a professional awareness that the Orpheum could work for rock bands.

I think the Orpheum showed some movies in between Hair presentations. However, by the mid-70s it appeared to have been closed. It would re-open in 1977 as a theater, however, for the San Francisco Civic Light Opera, so I think it must have been undergoing renovation. Bill Graham must have known all this, and that was why an empty theater in good shape was available for a week of Grateful Dead rehearsals and then a week of concerts a month later. The Orpheum was not in use, so it was available for the Dead as a testbed for their one-off small theater sound system. It is my recollection that a small piece of the Wall Of Sound was used at the Orpheum, I think the old vocal stack, but clearly the system had been designed for that tour alone.

Grateful Dead Touring, Fall 1976
Even though the Steal Your Face album got deservedly terrible reviews and tanked immediately, the mail-order Summer tour showed that the Grateful Dead were still an event. Using the Deadhead mailing list was the shape of things to come, even if that, too, was not clear at the time. From the music industry's point of view, the Dead's audience showed that they were ferociously loyal and indifferent to whatever record was currently released. That may seem obvious now, but it wasn't obvious then.

Clive Davis had always been interested in signing Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, and the band's 1976 summer had to make him more positive about it. A few weeks after The Orpheum shows, the Dead headlined two shows at small stadiums in the Northeast (Colt Stadium, Hartford, CT Aug 2 and Jersey City, NJ Aug 4) to apparently full houses. Their Fall tour included a number of larger venues throughout the Midwest, culminating with a pair of Oakland Stadium shows with The Who. The Dead were back as a touring act, whatever their status as a recording one.

The cue sheet for the DIR Productions King Biscuit Flower Hour 90-minute special featuring the Grateful Dead from the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. The concert was recorded July 18, and broadcast on November 28.
King Biscuit Flower Hour, November 28, 1976: The Grateful Dead At The Orpheum Theater, San Francisco, CA (July 18 1976)
For Thanksgiving Weekend, the King Biscuit Flower Hour broadcast an edited version of the KSAN Orpheum show (the broadcast, complete with commercials, is available on the Archive). At the time, for any Deadheads outside of San Francisco or the few cities where the Dead had broadcast in the Summer, this was a unique opportunity to hear live Grateful Dead, no small thing.

An ad for the BGP 76 New Year's shows (probably from the SF Chronicle), including the Grateful Dead and Santana at the Cow Palace and The Tubes at Berkeley Community Theater
December 31, 1976 Cow Palace, Daly City, CA: Grateful Dead/Santana/Soundhole
Broadcast: KSAN-fm, San Francisco
Arista had to be comfortable having bet on the Grateful Dead, since they must have helped finance the Dead's New Year's Eve broadcast from the Cow Palace. Remember, in 1976, the Dead had not yet released anything on Arista, so any record sales from the broadcast would accrue to Warners or UA. Arista was betting on the Dead's future here, not their past. Note also that when judged by record sales, Santana was a far bigger act than the Grateful Dead would ever be. However, in San Francisco on New Year's Eve, the Grateful Dead would always top the bill.

Orpheum Redux, 1988--and The Fillmore Returns
The Orpheum Theater in San Francisco, probably from the early 1970s (via JerryGarciasBrokendownPalaces)
The San Francisco Civic Light Opera took over the Orpheum Theatre for theatrical productions in 1977, but their venture folded by 1981. The Orpheum was taken over by the Shorenstein Hays Nederlander (SHN) organization, and they used the Orpheum as an outpost for touring Broadway shows. Despite the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood, the venture has been successful to this day, helped in no small part by the nearby Powell Street BART station. From 1976 until now, there have only been a few rock concerts at the Orpheum, mostly Jerry Garcia Band shows in 1988 and 1989.
May 7, 1988 Jerry Garcia Band--This was the night after the JGB show at the Fillmore Auditorium (May 6), where Howard Wales had made a surprise reappearance on a lengthy "Don't Let Go."
December 2-3, 1988 Jerry Garcia Band/Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman--The next night (December 4), Garcia, Weir and Wasserman played Neil Young's Bridge Benefit at the Oakland Coliseum Arena.
January 27-28, 1989 Jerry Garcia Band
March 3-4, 1989 Jerry Garcia Band--Clarence Clemons sat in for the entire show on March 3.
When we understand why the Jerry Garcia Band, and pretty much only the Jerry Garcia Band, played the Orpheum Theatre during this window, we can see both the underlying economics of the JGB and the importance of Jerry Garcia to the operations of Bill Graham Presents.

Through much of the 1970s, the ever-expanding rock market in the Bay Area had followed the Fillmore model, where rising bands had played second or third on the bill to established headliners. By the 1980s, however, better employed and more knowledgeable rock fans preferred to see bands they liked as headliners rather than openers. Rock fans were much more likely to pay to see Weather Report or Robert Cray play a full show at the 2000-seat Warfield Theater rather than see a 40-minute set opening at the Oakland Coliseum. At the same time, headliners played longer and longer sets, and opening acts were not really part of the package at arenas. 

In late 1985, the old Fillmore Auditorium had re-opened as a rock venue. It was not run by the BGP organization, but they were on good terms, and Graham occasionally rented it out. The new Fillmore mostly booked younger, "Alternative" bands, along with some older groups who needed a crowd on their feet dancing. In a parallel development, Freddy Herrera and Bobby Corona's Keystone partnership had come to an end, and the three clubs were closing. Jerry Garcia, the mainstay of their bookings, had simply gotten too big for the clubs, and Bill Graham was finally going to take over booking most of the San Francisco Garcia shows. This left open the question of where Graham should book the Garcia Band in San Francisco. 

At the same time, the Warfield was scheduled to undergo another renovation in the 1988. BGP held no rock shows at the Warfield between March 31 and December 28, 1988. Graham, always planning ahead, seems to have arranged to rent the Orpheum as a proxy Warfield. The Shorenstein family were San Francisco real estate royalty, and Graham would have had many connections with them. Although the Orpheum had extended runs of touring Broadway shows (through the powerhouse Nederlander organization), there were always gaps in the schedule. By the mid-80s, touring Broadway shows had rock concert quality sound systems, so that was no problem, either.

The unavailability of the Warfield in 1988 was less of a problem for BGP than one might have thought, because at the same time they had taken over the operation of the Fillmore Auditorium. BGP arranged to hire the successful bookers of the Fillmore, so they kept the relationships with the cool Indie bands. Yet they were able to book some old-time BGP connections, like Ron Wood, Carlos Santana and Leon Russell, providing another layer of performers to appear. Meanwhile, over at the Orpheum, there were a few shows that weren't fits for the Fillmore, like Miriam Makeba/Hugh Masakela (Apr 15) and King Sunny Ade (June 17).

BGP booked two Jerry Garcia Band shows, May 6 '88 at the Fillmore, and May 7 at the Orpheum. One would have implicitly expected that the Fillmore Auditorium, historic, beautiful and sounding great, would become the post-Keystone home of the Jerry Garcia Band. Yet the balance of the year's JGB shows were at the Orpheum, not the Fillmore, and in fact the Jerry Garcia Band never played the Fillmore again. The Orpheum was the proxy for the Warfield, and the Warfield became the JGB's home court for the balance of Garcia's career.

Why not the Fillmore as the JGB's San Francisco home? The answer wasn't the venue, nor the sound, nor the vibe, but the bar. The Fillmore in 1988 had bars, but the main one was upstairs at the back of the auditorium. It was primarily designed for people to wait out opening acts that they did not like, since the stage was inaudible from there, and indeed often acoustic acts played in the bar while the bands played on stage. Indeed, I spent many a pleasant hour in the Fillmore bar in those days, waiting out some tedious Indie band until the likes of Graham Parker would come on stage.

However, the financial lynchpin of the Keystones had been the ease of buying drinks while Garcia was playing. At the Keystone Berkeley, there was no real distinction between the barroom and the stage, and The Stone and Keystone Palo Alto had table service. The Orpheum had a better bar than the Fillmore, and it was larger (2203 vs around 1500), so it won out over the historic Fillmore. When the new, revised Warfield re-opened in early 1989, it had dramatically improved bar service downstairs and upstairs, and it was custom made to sell drinks to relaxed, employed JGB fans ready to spend an entire evening hanging with Jerry and John. 

Dave's Picks Volume 18, the Grateful Dead recorded at The Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco on Saturday, July 17, 1976 (released May 1, 2016)
Aftermath
The Warfield became the Jerry Garcia's San Francisco home, and ultimately Garcia played the club around 100 times, mostly after 1989. Yet it was the Orpheum which had provided proof-of-concept back in '88, just as the the theater had done back in 1976. The Orpheum itself has not held a rock concert that I am aware of after Garcia's performance on March 4 '89 (although I have not done a thorough study). It has undergone various renovations, and it is a hugely successful venue for traveling Broadway shows. Even the sleazy Tenderloin district has improved somewhat, and the Powell Street BART stop remains as a critical asset.

The Grateful Dead at The Orpheum is finally getting it's musical due, a few decades too late. The JGB Don't Let Go cd was released in 1998, and on May 1, 2016 the glorious show from Saturday, July 17, 1976 will be released as a Dave Pick's. I was there, and I can assure you it was a classic show. It was all the more so because no one knew what was going to happen. We had heard rumors that "Truckin'" and "China Cat" and the like were out of rotation, but there was no established network for finding out what the band had played elsewhere, much less getting the tapes.

Thus we were stunned to hear "Samson And Delilah," stunned to hear a noodly jam open the second set that turned into "Comes A Time," stunned to hear the entire second set done as a continuous medley, stunned to see "Eyes Of The World" wrapped by verses of  "The Other One," confused by Donna's non-appearance in the second set with no explanation, and stunned by the blazing, unexpected "Not Fade Away" as the second encore. The next night (Sunday July 18) was broadcast on KSAN, and we were treated to "Might As Well," "St. Stephen" and "The Wheel," and clearly a Brave New World of the Grateful Dead. Whatever you think of 1976 tapes now--your mileage may vary--at the time it seemed like everything was possible. Who was to think that the Grateful Dead would never grace the Orpheum stage again?
The cover of the 2001 release on Grateful Dead Records of Don't Let Go, the complete Jerry Garcia Band performance at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco on May 21, 1976

Appendix
There are a few details that are worth recapping here

The "July 12 1976" Orpheum Video
I have read believable but unconfirmed comments on line that the May 28, 1976 Orpheum rehearsal was professionally photographed and video taped (there was no such thing as amateur video at the time). This is not widely known or assumed, however. The great Voodonola has posted a video of the Grateful Dead at the Orpheum identified as a July 12, 1976 "soundcheck." Since it is clearly a rehearsal without an audience, this was a plausible assumption. However, for a number of reasons I do not think the hour-long video is from July 12. The video isn't casual, as there are bright stage lights and multiple cameraman, at least one of whom is on stage. Two points:
  • On July 12, the Dead were starting a high profile six-night run at a venue they had never played. I find it unlikely that they would set up significant equipment on a night when they were trying to nail down the sound
  • The numbers they play are mostly new or newly-arranged (like "Dancing In The Streets" done disco-style) and they sound unformed to me. During "Stella Blue," Garcia stops the band so he, Weir and Donna can go over some harmony arrangements. By July, the Dead had played 18 dates, and the material was far more hammered out.
I think United Artists was paying for some promotional video and photography in May, with the hopes of using it for some kind of publicity. It never saw the light of day, however. Does UA have anything else in their vaults (which would housed by Vivendi Universal Music Group, actually, since EMI they bought UA in '78, and the bankrupt EMI was sold to Vivendi in 2012)? For now, I am considering this "July 12" video to have come from May 28, 1976, until we get better information.

Kingfish KBFH show
Although Kingfish would have only broadcast about 25 minutes on the actual syndicated radio show, the King Biscuit people started a record label where they would release entire performances. Kingfish was one of the few bands to agree to license their material, so both the early and late shows from the Beacon were released in 1996 as Kingfish In Concert: King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents. It remains the most thorough and best capture of Bob Weir and Kingfish live in concert in their initial incarnation.

Incidentally, the syndicated King Biscuit show circulated their shows with specially made LPs or reel to reel tapes, which were sent to the radio stations. So that means there would be a "collectable" Kingfish KBFH LP from 1976, for those that seek out that sort of thing.

Robert Hunter and Roadhog at The Shady Grove
Back in 1976, there was still not much of a universe for Deadheads traveling to San Francisco for big runs of shows. But there were a few. The Dead must have had some awareness of this, since the one night of the week during the Orpheum run that they didn't play (Thursday June 15), Robert Hunter and Roadhog played at The Shady Grove in the Haight, not far down the street (if you took the 5 Fulton or 7 Haight bus). I believe there was a Jerry Moore audience tape. At the time, Hunter had not performed outside the Bay Area under his own name, and not at all outside of the West Coast, so seeing Hunter perform in person would have been exotic indeed.

KSAN Re-Broadcast
KSAN re-broadcast the Sunday, July 18 Orpheum show a number of times. For reasons that never made any sense to me, some of the later broadcasts included the songs in a different order. It may have had something to do with the King Biscuit Broadcast, as perhaps the master tape got re-edited somehow.

New Year's Eve 76 cd
Rhino Records released a 3-cd set of the New Year's Eve Cow Palace show from 1976. The Santana set from that night can be heard on Concert Vault.