Thursday, March 23, 2023

December 4-7, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/The Flock/Humble Pie (x-Altamont)

A Bill Graham Presents flyer with the poster for the December 4-7, 1969 concert at Fillmore West, headlined by the Grateful Dead. On the back was a list of upcoming concerts, including Jefferson Airplane on New Year's Eve at Winterland

Here's a Grateful Dead trivia question: when did Sam Cutler first speak on stage prior to a Grateful Dead concert? I'm pretty sure that it was Thursday, December 4, 1969 at Fillmore West. At the time, he was the road manager of the Rolling Stones. Cutler was in town with the Stones because they were planning a gigantic free concert in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cutler had apparently arrived the day before (December 3), and by Thursday it appeared that the concert would be held at the recently-opened Sears Point Raceway, at Highway 37 and 121 in the Sonoma hills. On the existing tape from December 4, an unknown announcer says "Sam Cutler told you what was going on." Presumably Cutler had come on stage earlier to talk to the crowd. It was ironic that it would shortly become part of his job description, but neither Cutler nor anyone else could have foretold that.

The Grateful Dead's four-night stand at the Fillmore West, from December 4 through 7, was their fourth weekend booking at Fillmore West in 1969. Even though Fillmore West was the Dead's home court, so to speak, any reflections on the weekend are usually swallowed up by contemplation of the ensuing debacle of a concert at Altamont Speedway on Saturday, December 6. Indeed, the Dead’s Saturday night performance at Fillmore West was canceled, since the Dead were at the racetrack and most of the fans were too. It was a strange footnote that as things fell apart, the helicopters returned the band to Fillmore West, but the Dead didn't play that Saturday night.

For all the monumental importance of Altamont, however, the December Fillmore West shows remain a cipher. We only hear about Saturday night, when the Dead helicoptered back to San Francisco and didn't perform. We hear nothing at all about Thursday, Friday or Sunday. Sure, we have the tapes. Yet the tapes tell us the music that was played--always welcome--with no other context. Were the shows well attended?  How many people went to Fillmore West one of those nights, and also went to Altamont? I cannot find any trace of eyewitnesses.

This post will illuminate what we can about the actual events at the Fillmore West on the weekend of December 4-7, 1969. At the very least, the limited known facts are still indicators of trends and portents in the arc of Grateful Dead concert history. This post will look at what the how the weekend at Fillmore West shows us about how Grateful Dead concerts were evolving, without addressing the hapax legomenon of the Altamont event.

The Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead had played May 2 and 3, 1969 (Friday and Saturday) at Winterland, supported by Mongo Santamaria. Mongo, Cold Blood and Elvin Bishop were at Fillmore Thursday and Sunday

The Grateful Dead/Bill Graham Presents 1969

The Grateful Dead had been headlining concerts for Bill Graham Presents since October 1966 at the Fillmore. This status had continued when Graham moved to the Fillmore West in July 1968. These December 1969 shows were the fourth weekend in 1969 at which the Dead had headlined the Fillmore West. Grateful Dead performances for Bill Graham Presents were an evolving process, as always, but since both the Dead and Bill Graham established the future of the rock concert industry, any evolution in their arrangements had implications for the profession as a whole. Up until this December weekend, Grateful Dead shows at Fillmore West had followed the same pattern as the Fillmore Auditorium shows that had preceded them. 

At Fillmore and Fillmore West, there had always been three bands advertised ("On The Poster"), and they would both play two sets. In contrast to future years, however, the bands rotated throughout the night, so the headline band played the third and sixth set of the night. This allowed audiences to come and go. Suburban teenagers could come early, and city denizens who worked at restaurants and the like could come late, and all patrons could see all three bands. Some hardcore fans could stay throughout, but that was initially uncommon. Particularly in 1966-67, people went to the Fillmore (or the Avalon) because it was "The Fillmore," to see whoever happened to be booked. In many cases, the bands didn't even have records, or if they did, no radio station was playing them. Fans were just checking out the scene. If they were lucky, they caught the Grateful Dead or Quicksilver Messenger Service (or numerous other bands)  before they were known, laying down the future of rock music.

There were times that another act would be added to the bill, usually on Friday or Saturday night. Often they were bands who had played the Fillmore West Tuesday "audition nights," and recently discovered by the Bill Graham organization. These bands were rarely advertised, neither on "The Poster" nor even in daily newspaper listings. This peculiar practice explains bands who recall opening for famous groups at Fillmore West even though they were not "On The Poster." Such bands only played one set, so the headline act would play the 4th and 7th sets of the night.

The significance of the Grateful Dead's December, 1969 Fillmore West shows was that the venue evolved to a more conventional single set, evening-ending performance to conclude the show. The taped evidence suggests rather strongly that the Dead ended each night with a single extended set, rather than playing two shorter (45 minutes>one hour) sets at different points in the evening. Though unnoticed, this evolution brought the Grateful Dead into the mainstream of rock concert performers at the time. Due to the paucity of information about Fillmore West concerts in late 1969, I don't know whether the Dead were among the last or the first of performers who moved from two separated sets to one longer one.

Now, for every other promoter in 1969, whenever the Grateful Dead headlined a show, they came onstage and ended the show. In most cases, they played a single long set, plus an encore. It may be that in a few instances, the Grateful Dead played two sets--if they did that in 1969, the reason was likely equipment related--but the band still ended the show. The only times the Grateful Dead would turn the stage over was when they had two performances in the same evening. At Bill Graham's Fillmore East, for example, almost all shows (save for a few weeknight benefits) had an early and a late show, and the headliner and the opener played both shows. When the Grateful Dead had played Fillmore East with Country Joe and The Fish (and opener Sha-Na-Na), for example, on September 26-27, 1969 (Friday and Saturday), the Dead had played two sets separated by the other acts. From the point of view of the crowd, however, the bands would play single sets for each audience.

So when the Grateful Dead played single long sets at Fillmore West in December, 1969, they were stepping away from one of the factors that made the Fillmore West a unique rock performance venue. The configuration went from a nightclub-like booking, with multiple acts repeating their performances, to a concert setting, where each performer presented a single time.

The Grateful Dead at Fillmore West, 1969

January 2-5, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Blood, Sweat & Tears/Spirit (Thursday-Sunday)
The Grateful Dead had co-headlined New Year's Eve with Quicksilver Messenger Service, with an all-night (9pm-9am) extravaganza that included It's A Beautiful Day and Santana, then both rising bands. They followed New Year's Eve with another weekend, supported by Blood, Sweat & Tears, who would go on to become one of the biggest bands of the year (their album would sell 4 million copies). Little is known about the Dead's performances this weekend.

February 19, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Golden Toad (Wednesday) "Celestial Synapse"
The Dead played a private event on February 19, 1969, but that was a Wednesday night for an invited crowd.

February 27-March 2, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Pentangle/Sir Douglas Quintet
This four night stand at Fillmore West was perhaps the most seminal live weekend in Grateful Dead history. The band recorded most of what would become Live/Dead, on state-of-the-art 16-track Ampex recorders. The band would release a memorable 10-cd set of the entire weekend in 2005. Grateful Dead music really doesn't get any better than this.

And yet there was more. The opening act was the English group Pentangle, a unique English ensemble, with two (mostly) acoustic guitarists, a jazzy rhyhm section and a female singer. Jerry Garcia explicitly stated a decade later that hearing Pentangle made him consider the possibility of two amplified acoustic guitars over a rock rhythm section as a sonic possibility. It would take almost another year before the Dead broke out their acoustic format, but hearing Pentangle was the catalyst.

The Dead were playing the 3rd and 6th sets of the night (and on at least one night, when Shades Of Joy opened, the 4th and 7th set). One of the byproducts of this arrangement was that the headline act had to be "in the house" when the other bands where going through their second round, so musicians had little choice but to hear each other play. Thus Garcia heard Pentangle, and it had a profound influence on future Grateful Dead acoustic configurations.

May 2-3, 1969 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Mongo Santamaria (Friday-Saturday)
In 1969, the Grateful Dead had also played two weekends for Bill Graham Presents at Winterland, twice the size of Fillmore West (officially 5400 vs 2500), both times in conjunction with the hugely popular Jefferson Airplane. These concert weekend were configured differently than the Fillmore West shows. After any opening acts, the Dead and then Jefferson Airplane would play a single extended set. None of the bands returned for a second set.  

Jefferson Airplane were hugely popular, but the rock scene had not expanded enough that they could sell out Winterland on their own. So the Airplane and the Dead played Friday and Saturday night at Winterland, with as many tickets on sale as if they had played four nights at Fillmore West. Latin jazzer Mongo Santamaria opened the show. He would have been great, but this was more a case of Graham showcasing music he wanted to be heard, as he was a Latin jazz fan.

May 28, 1969 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Creedence Clearwater Revival/Santana/Elvin Bishop Group/Aum/Bangor Flying Circus (Wednesday) People's Park Bail Benefit
The Dead had also played a Benefit at Winterland on May 28, 1969, with many other acts. They had only played a brief set, however, and Rolling Stone's Michael Lydon complained that the Dead "didn't get it going.

June 5-8, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Junior Walker and The All-Stars/Glass Family (Thursday-Sunday)
The Grateful Dead headlined over Junior Walker and The All-Stars, a popular group but not a huge draw. This weekend stands out because Garcia was late one night (early set June 6) and Bill Graham insisted that Wayne Ceballos of AUM stand in for him. As if that weren't enough, for the last set of Sunday night (June 8) some experimentation by Owsley left Garcia--shall we say--"unavailable,"--so Ceballos returned with Elvin Bishop to lead a 48-minute "Turn On Your Lovelight."

October 24-26, 1969 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Sons Of Champlin/Doug Kershaw
Jefferson Airplane were bigger than ever. They would release their sixth album on RCA, Volunteers, in early November. The album was probably already getting heavy airplay on KSAN and other FM stations by the time of the concert, and copies may have even been available in record stores. The Grateful Dead would also be releasing the classic album Live/Dead in early November. The Jefferson Airplane closed the shows on Friday and Sunday, but the Grateful Dead were the last act on Saturday night (October 25). Also on Sayturday, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash played a guest acoustic set, and Stills jammed with the Dead on "Lovelight."

The SF Examiner listing for Fillmore West on December 4, 1969

December 4-7, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/The Flock/Humble Pie
Although the Grateful Dead's December Fillmore West shows conformed with rock concert orthodoxy by concluding with a single long set, there was still some elements that were distinctive to Graham and the venue. In the 60s, every rock concert was expected to have multiple acts. In most cases, the headline act was preceded by a local band. At the Fillmore West, the openers were bands on major labels with albums to their names. Now, it's true that San Francisco bands often opened Fillmore West shows, but they too were bands with albums on major labels.

By December, the Grateful Dead had released Live/Dead and had become established enough in the Bay Area that they did not need a major support act to sell tickets. There was still an assumption, however, that a proper rock concert at Fillmore West had three bands, and that the two openers were substantial bands, even if they were not yet popular. Many, many Bay Area rock fans were proud of having gone to the Fillmore or Fillmore West and heard bands on the way up, if only so they could brag a year later "yeah I saw Santana and Chicago open for Big Brother when no one knew who they were (e.g. September 12-14 '68)." The two opening acts in December hadn't sold a lot of records, but the musicians in the band had futures on tap. 

The Flock were a unique horn band from Chicago, and they had released their debut album on Columbia back in July. Now, rock bands with a horn section were hardly unique, particularly on Columbia. Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago Transit Authority had both signed with the label back in '68, and by late '69 both bands had sold a lot of records. Other labels were signing rock bands with embedded horn sections, too, like San Francisco's own Sons Of Champlin (Capitol), The Serfs (out of Kansas, also on Capitol) and the Keef Hartley Band (on Decca, out of London).

The Flock played jazzy rock with a touch of soul and a lot of solos, pretty much the same model as for Chicago or The Sons. The special aspect of The Flock was that the principal soloist was electric violinist Jerry Goodman. Goodman was also one of the lead singers, and the band didn't have a keyboard player. Goodman was a great player, and The Flock had a very distinctive sound. Still, the Flock didn't really have many memorable songs, whereas bands like Chicago or BS&T had endlessly hummable material, whether you liked it or not.

A little bit of live material from the Flock floats around, and they were at the very least an interesting opening act (for a live example from German TV in 1970, see here). Electric violin was still pretty exotic in 1969, particularly in the context of a horn section rather than countrified music. Jerry Goodman would go on to be well-recognized as a virtuoso when he would join the original Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971 (Deadheads may recognize Goodman from the 90s jam-band Dixie Dregs). So The Flock would have made an impression as the Dead's opening act, even if in the end they didn't really make it big. At least alert fans could say a few years later that they had seen Goodman before Mahavishnu, and that is what a certain kind of mostly male rock fan lived for (I was exhibit A). 

Humble Pie, meanwhile, was a newly-formed band touted by the English rock press as a "supergroup." At the time, the Pie were all but completely unknown. Within a few years, however, Humble Pie would be Winterland (and National) headliners in their own right. Lead guitarist Peter Frampton would leave Humble Pie in late 1971 to go solo, leading to his legendary double-live album Frampton Comes Alive. After it was released in Summer '76, Frampton Comes Alive became the best-selling live album of all time (over 3 million copies sold). While its sales record has since been eclipsed (Eric Clapton's Unplugged shipped an astonishing 10 million units), Frampton Comes Alive triggered every touring rock band to release a live "Greatest Hits" style double album sometime during the 1970s. So Humble Pie turned out to be an important band, even though they were still struggling to get heard in the States back in December '69.

Humble Pie's anchors were guitarists Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton. Both were excellent singers, and handsome lads who had been "Teen Idols" in England, a frustrating experience they had both shared. Marriott had led the Small Faces, a hugely successful "Mod" band in the UK who had never made much of a splash in the States (their only US hit had been "Itchykoo Park"). Frampton had been in The Herd, not as monumental as Small Faces, but still with some hits to their name. When The Herd had broken up in late 1968, Marriott had wanted Frampton to join the Small Faces as lead guitarist. Bandmates Ian McLagan and Ronnie Lane rejected this suggestion, however. So Marriott and Frampton went off and formed Humble Pie (McLagan, Lane and drummer Kenny Jones, meanwhile, teamed up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood to form Faces).

Marriott and Frampton added drummer Jerry Shirley and bassist Greg Ridley. Ridley had been in the underrated band Spooky Tooth, and he, too, was an excellent, soulful vocalist. With 3 strong singers and two striking guitarists, Humble Pie didn't lack for talent. In the fashion of the times, their July '69 debut album As Safe As Yesterday Is featured music that was in a rustic style that intentionally evoked Music From Big Pink. Humble Pie did not emphasize hard rock until the early 70s. The Pie were signed to Immediate Records, run by former Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham. 

At the time of the first American Humble Pie tour, Immediate was nearly bankrupt. Humble Pie's second album, the laid back Town And Country had been released in the UK, but not in the States. A few FM stations had the import, however, so Humble Pie was probably getting a little play on KSAN. Now, the Small Faces had not been big in the US, and no one would have known who The Herd were, and thus Humble Pie wouldn't have been seen as a "Supergroup." They were still a "New Thing" from England, however, and that was never nothing.

Humble Pie Live At The Whisky A-Go-Go '69, released by Castle in 2002

We actually have a pretty good idea of what Humble Pie must have sounded like in December '69, since in 2002 a Pie show was released from the Whisky A-Go-Go, recorded the very next week (on December 13-16, opening for Grand Funk Railroad). Whatever your subsequent view of hard-rocking Humble Pie, the 1969 variation had more of an R&B orientation and more pronounced movement from quiet to loud and back. They would open with a mostly-acoustic cover of the Yardbirds hit "For Your Love," followed by a mix of covers and originals. The album only has 5 tracks, but it's a good look at what the band likely sounded like at Fillmore West (for a great sample, see this 1970 German TV version of "The Sad Bag Of Shakey Jake" with all three vocalists in their prime). 

Humble Pie Live At Fillmore West December 1969

For many years, decades really, we didn't have any first-hand accounts of this weekend Fillmore West. Rather unexpectedly, a detailed description turned up in the memoir of Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley. Best Seat In The House: Drumming In The 70s with Marriott, Frampton and Humble Pie (2011; Rebeat Books) is a loving memoir of the Good Old Days when they were Bad. Of course, you have to like 60s and 70s rock in grimy detail, but that is pretty much what I live for, so I recommend it highly.

One interesting thing about Shirley's description of the Fillmore West was that he was no fan of the Grateful Dead. He has no grudge against them--he just dismisses them as being self-indulgent for playing too long. Shirley reports that Humble Pie came on in between The Flock and the Grateful Dead. I suspect this was a sign that Humble Pie was getting at least some airplay on KSAN. Shirley (chapter 8): 

The Fillmore West audiences were notoriously difficult to satisfy, and we soon found out why--they were so stoned that you could easily mistake the real culprit, barbiturates mixed with cheap red wine, for total lack of interest. The Ripples-and-reds crowd, as they were affectionately known, became our latest challenge. We were determined to leave our mark, and in this case the goal was simple: if we woke 'em up, we had scored. With this lot, the last thing in the world you wanted to do was knock 'em out!

Bill Graham ran this Fillmore with same military efficiency he was famous for at the Fillmore the beginning of December, 1969, a lot was happening in America, both musically and socially. The Charles Manson murders had occurred only months earlier, and the Stones were getting ready to play a huge free concert at Altamont, that now-famous racetrack just outside San Francisco. There was talk that the size of the crowd would outdo Woodstock (although "only" about 300,000 attended, far fewer than Woodstock's "half a million strong"), and one of the main acts on the bill was to be the Grateful Dead. Nothing wrong there, except that they were also supposed to be headliners for our third show at the Fillmore West. We were set to play the middle spot after an American band called The Flock, who had started to make some headway in the charts and featured an electric violinist who was a show all of his own. Not my cup of tea, but interesting, I suppose.

The Dead ended up not playing at Altamont because of the violence there. The problem was that the security force they had hired for the show, the Hell's Angels, who saw fit to use stabbing as a form of crowd control. The Angels killed an innocent bystander while the Stones were playing, which caused more than a little set of problems...

The Grateful Dead couldn't get out of Altamont to be at the Fillmore West. So we ended up playing our third show at Fillmore West shows as headliners, as we were the only band that could get there. The same applied to the crowd: only a very few people actually made it from Altamont, and they were so exhausted that they got in, sat down in front of the stage, and went to sleep. We must have been really impressive that night, because we managed to wake them up.  

So there you have it, such as it is: no eyewitness accounts of the Dead performances on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, although we have some tape, but a detailed memory of the night that the Dead didn't play. 

After December 1969, the Grateful Dead did not cede the stage once they got on it. They would take breaks, or play all night, as the case might have been, but there was no more rotating around the bill. The Dead would co-headline on occasion for another few months, but once Workingman's Dead got out there, the Dead were headliners in their own right. There were occasional exceptions, like giant outdoor shows or benefits, but the Grateful Dead made themselves a hard act to follow.

The Flock put out one more album (Dinosaur Swamps) and faded away. The Flock opened for the Dead again in New Orleans, when they were busted down on Bourbon Street (January 31-February 1). Jerry Goodman went on to success with Mahavishnu Orchetra, Dixie Dregs and numerous other recordings. 

Humble Pie toured successfully until 1975, even after Peter Frampton left. They had moved to A&M Records in 1970, toured hard and made themselves into a great concert attraction. Frampton left in late '71, to great success, but the Pie continued to rise in popularity. It all ground to a halt, however, and there were many financial issues with management. Steve Marriott, hugely talented and much beloved by his peers, nearly had a reunion with Peter Frampton and a reformed Humble Pie in 1991. The project was put on hold, however, and Marriott died in a fire in 1991, deeply mourned by the public and his friends.

Friday, December 30, 2022

April 14-15, 17, 1967 The Banana Grove, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Canned Heat (Might Have Been)


The signature of The Kaleidoscope was its circular posters, eminently collectable today. The venue was supposed to debut on the weekend of April 14-15, 1967, with Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Canned Heat. The venue was a former movie theater on 1228 Vine Street in Hollywood.
Soon after their first album was released in March, 1967 the Grateful Dead were booked for the debut of a hip new psychedelic ballroom in Los Angeles on the weekend of April 14-15, 1967. On April 17, the Monday following that weekend, the Dead were also booked for what was apparently a record company sponsored party at a ballroom in a prominent Los Angeles hotel. The show at the new venue got canceled, however, and instead the bands all played the hotel ballroom that weekend. It went well, and the idea was floated for the hotel to have a regular psychedelic ballroom of its own, this time, in a true hotel ballroom.

Los Angeles rock history might have been different. As usual, it's not what happened. But it's worthy of thinking about, however briefly.

April 14-15, 1967 The Kaleidoscope, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Canned Heat Blues Band
After the Grateful Dead's first album was released on Warner Brothers in March, 1967, the Dead made some effort to "make it" in Los Angeles. Their first Los Angeles booking was at a nascent underground venue called The Kaleidoscope. The obscure venue is known today mainly for its unique, round posters (well, and my detailed history, too). The Kaleidoscope was a venture by Canned Heat's managers (Skip Taylor and John Hartmann) to open a Fillmore-style venue in Los Angeles.

With the Fillmore and Avalon providing the template, groovy little psychedelic venues popped up in all sorts of cities in 1967. One would have thought that fashion-conscious LA would have been on top of that trend. Taylor and Hartmann were both former talent agents at William Morris, and clearly knew a good idea when they saw one. With a new band to promote, they thought big and decided to create a venue, too. They leased a building at 1228 Vine Street in Hollywood (at La Mirada near Fountain), but still in the city of Los Angeles, and planned to have Jefferson Airplane and the Dead for their debut weekend. The actual venue had opened as the La Mirada Theatre in March 1926. On May 9, 1928 it was taken over by West Cloast Theatres and renamed Filmarte Theatre. Later it was operated by Fox West Coast Theatres.

For 1967, this was quite an inspired booking. Jefferson Airplane had just released Surrealistic Pillow and "Somebody To Love" was climbing the charts, while the Grateful Dead were underground legends who had just released their first album. Canned Heat were unknown to all but a few Los Angeles club goers, but they were an excellent live band.  A last second injunction stopped the event. The story in the Los Angeles Times was that the building was sublet without the knowledge of the owners (National General Corporation). Still, there was every reason to believe that the city of Los Angeles was looking to keep hippies out, using any excuse.This sort of meddling was exactly why all the cool 60s rock clubs were in then-unincorporated West Hollywood, out of range of the Los Angeles police.

Digby Diehl's review of Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Canned Heat at the Embassy Ballroom in Los Angeles, on April 14, 1967 (full text in Appendix 1 below)
April 14-15, 1967 Embassy Ballroom, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Canned Heat
For the weekend, the show was moved to the Embassy Ballroom in the Ambassador Hotel, at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard. The Ambassador, one of LA's pre-eminent luxury hotels, also housed the legendary Cocoanut Grove Ballroom. Performers at the Cocoanut Grove were at the apex of the Los Angeles celebrity pyramid, so the history of performers at Cocoanut Grove is a Who's Who of 20th century American entertainment. Per the LA Times article, the Embassy Ballroom was nicknamed "The Banana Grove" for the shows. 
Digby Diehl's review (see Appendix 1 below for the transcript) is somewhat patronizing, but it's notable that he has a sensible appreciation of what a live psychedelic rock show has to offer. The Embassy apparently fit in 1,300 patrons, pretty close to the capacity of San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium. The audience at the show is young and hip, and in an entertainment town like Los Angeles, they are always on the lookout for the next big thing. Diehl, while no musical expert, compliments the singing of Marty Balin and Pigpen. He also describes the light show accurately, makes it seem like an enjoyable evening. He may have been patronizing, but like any good entertainment writer, he knows something is happening.

April 17 1967 Embassy Ballroom, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead
The Monday night event (April 17) appears to have been a sort of LA event for the release of the first Dead album, and that likely accounts for the hotel picking up the weekend shows. We don't know anything about the Monday night show. The previous month, however, Warner Brothers had held a record release in tiny Fugazi Hall in San Francisco. Ralph Gleason described the March 20 event (see Appendix 3 below) in the SF Chronicle.

Fugazi Hall, at 678 Green Street, was too small for a real Grateful Dead concert even in early 1967. More recent SF residents may recognize it as the home for many decades of the show Beach Blanket Babylon. Following the record company protocol at the time, the invited guests would have been record company promotional staff, some disc jockeys and radio station employees, and a few band friends and lucky hippies. The Dead had played a set, in this case cut short when the power cut out unexpectedly. There's every reason to presume that the Embassy Ballroom event was the same, a shortish set for industry people and a few lucky folks. We have no eyewitnesses, however, because in LA, those sort of events happened every week, and good or not, there wouldn't have been anything memorable about it to the local record company and radio staff.

The empty Embassy Ballroom, in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles

What Might Have Been?
Los Angeles was one of the world entertainment capitals, and home to many record companies, both major and independent. It was a peculiar dynamic that the psychedelic rock explosion took place in San Francisco and other cities, and that Los Angeles was more of a consumer than a creator. The ultimate reason for this was that live rock bands playing original music couldn't really make a living in LA from 1966-68. Now, sure, many great bands from Southern California got signed by record companies, and many of them made great music, both live and studio. But the fact was, bands in LA were performing for record companies, hoping to get signed just so they could afford to eat. This was the opposite of the San Francisco model, where bands could make a living playing live--while living hand-to-mouth, sure--and figure out recording later.
Jefferson Airplane would have been fine if they had been living in Los Angeles, and Buffalo Springfield would have killed it at the Avalon if they had ended up in San Francisco. But The Byrds needed LA, just as the Grateful Dead needed San Francisco. So the absence of a viable LA ballroom skewed the history of live bands in Southern California, even if we don't know how. Were there gigs, for the likes of Kaleidoscope or Canned Heat? Sure. But they couldn't just tell the record companies to come back later.
The Magic Mushroom, out in the Valley at 11345 Ventura Boulevard in Studio City was a "teens only" nightclub. It had replaced the Cinnamon Cinder, a teen club run by KRLA-dj Bob Eubanks (also host of The Dating Game). The club was managed by Chesley Millikin at one point. This ad is from 1968.

There was a club called The Magic Mushroom out in Studio City, (formerly the Cinnamon Cinder) too small to make any money, and a place called The Blue Law in Torrance (which evolved into The Bank), which was backed by an enterprising dentist and never really viable. If there had been a downtown Los Angeles Fillmore, where bands could actually make a buck playing live, the locus of 60s music might have  shifted south from SF to LA.

The Ambassador, thanks to the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom, was locked in to the highest levels of the Los Angeles entertainment elite. Sure, the film and TV people looked down on rock music as "kid stuff," but the fact was that all the big studios--Columbia, Warners, MGM, ABC-Paramount--each had record labels. If the Ambassador Ballroom would have been a pipeline to the Next Big Thing, the Majors would have all accommodated it with ease. Cool bands could have played "The Banana Grove," made a few dollars, and their managers could have negotiated favorable deals with anyone in town. 

Why didn't it happen? All these things come down to money. Canned Heat's managers, John Hartmann and Skip Taylor, were both former William Morris agents, so they knew what was what. According to the LA Times article (below), "Kaleidoscope owners are considering continued use of the Embassy Room as a "total environment" until the use of the Vine St. location is resolved."
It's a great idea. The real issue, however, would have been who would have controlled the bar receipts. I am certain that the Ambassador would have happily hosted the Kaleidoscope, long-haired hippies and all, as long as they controlled the bar and any food income. Hartmann and Taylor would have taken the opposite position, so it was never going to happen.

The Kaleidoscope Theater at 6230 Sunset Boulevard, ca. 1968 (formerly the Earl Carroll Theater, then The Hullabaloo, and later The Aquarius)


  • Taylor and Hartmann continued to work on the Kaleidoscope concept, eventually taking over the Earl Carroll Theater at 6230 Sunset (I have written about that venue at length). The building  has a remarkable history in its own right, like a metaphor for Hollywood, and of course Alison Martino and VintageLA have the complete breakdown.
  • The Kaleidoscope, on Sunset, opened in Summer '68. It was inspired, but a year late. Canned Heat were influential, and sold a lot of records, but thanks to bad luck (and an unfortunate trip to Denver) never made the money they deserved. One of their road crew, Phil Hartmann—the younger brother of their manager--is now widely beloved for his entertainment career, and rightly so.
  • The Ambassador Hotel, central to the Los Angeles entertainment ecology, is now recalled as the site of Bobby Kennedy's tragic assassination on June 5, 1968. The hotel was sold in 1971, and closed to guests for safety reasons in 1989. The site was demolished in 2004. So it goes.
Appendix 1

Kaleidoscope Opens at Embassy Room by Digby Diehl (Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1967)
As the shaggy-haired boy in a checkered mod suit and his equally hirsute miniskirted companion approached the entrance to the Ambassador last weekend, you could almost imagine the doorman saying, 'Excuse me, I think you're in the wrong place." But he didn't.

The couple continued into the hotel lobby, mixing with the expensively attired guests from the the Cocoanut Grove, strolled under the elegant chandeliers and and turned in at the ornate doorway of the Embassy Room. There, amidst a whirl of colored spots, strobe light, far-out films and floor shaking rock bands, 1,300 other teeny-hippies gyrated joyously in the celebration of International Kaleidoscope's opening.

More than just a stipples victory in social integration, the Kaleidoscope's presence in the Embassy Room foiled an injunction against the club's intended residence at 1228 Vine St. by the building owner, National General Corp. A supoena served last Thursday before the announced opening, prevented all persons from entering Los Angeles' second psychedelic ballroom. 

Electronic Vibrations
By setting up the psychedelia in the Ambassador, Kaleidoscope managers Skip Taylor, John Hartmann, Gary Essert and Walter Williams were able to provide a sample of the latest in the art of the freak-out dancehall. 

The Ambassador's new Banana Grove, as some dubbed the room, featured the electronic vibrations of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and the Canned Heat Blues Band. All three rock groups were happily received.

Particularly effective was Airplane leader Marty Balin's version of "This Is My Life," which seemed to voice a popular existential stance in the audience. Pigpen, of the Grareful Dead, who looks like Jerry Colonna in drag, was a vocal success with his modern interpretation of screaming' blues.

In, Out of Focus
Inventive use of the baroque Embassy Room's crystal lighting fixtures and mirrored walls was made by lighting director Bill Kerby. In back of the bandstand, a series of multi-color pattern backgrounds flashed in and out of the focus while the silhouette of a girl dancing was superimposed over the projection.

On the sides of the room, film clips of the love-ins, psychedelic body paintings, Gov. Reagan's speeches and sundry other materials were bounced off mirrors, and mixed in bizarre juxtaposition with pattern slides. Phosphorescent and stroboscopic lights played over the bobbing heads on the dance floor. 

Representatives of the Ambassador claimed to be satisfied with the behavior of the clientele. Kaleidoscope owners are considering continued use of the Embassy Room as a "total environment" until the use of the Vine St. location is resolved. 

Appendix 2

March 20, 1967 Fugazi Hall, San Francisco, CA: Warner Brothers Record Release Party for The Grateful Dead Debut Album

Ralph Gleason's SF Chronicle column from March 22, 1967

It had been established for some time that Warner Brothers Records had an album release party for the Grateful Dead's first album at a North Beach venue called Fugazi Hall, at 678 Green Street. Up until this time, I had been unable to uncover any other information about it. However, Ralph Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle attended the Monday night party, and wrote about it in his March 22, 1967 column:
In Antonioni's Blow-Up there's a wonderful moment in a rock club scene when guitarist Jeff Beck first belts the amplifier and then wrecks his guitar at the frustration at the problems of electronics. 
Monday night's part [sic] for the Grateful Dead was aborted when the power failed and the set was chopped short. So everything you see in the movies isn't fantasy.
Whatever the cultural dynamics of the 1967 Grateful Dead playing in a tiny hall for a weird mixture of record company promotional staff and a few lucky hippies might have been, it seems to have been cut short.

Appendix 3
The Cocoanut Ballroom in The Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA
Formerly located at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, between Catalina Street and Mariposa Avenue in present-day Koreatown, the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles was built as part of the Ambassador Hotels System. At the time the hotel opened in January 1921, the chain consisted of the Ambassador Los Angeles, the Hotel Alexandria in Los Angeles, the Ambassador Santa Barbara, the Ambassador Atlantic City and the Ambassador New York. The Santa Barbara property burned down soon after on April 13, 1921, and the Alexandria left the chain in 1925, while the Ambassador Palm Beach joined in 1929. The Schine Family owned the Ambassador from its opening in 1921 until 1971; it was set back from Wilshire Boulevard on 24 acres, which included the main hotel, a garage and several detached bungalows.

The Ambassador Hotel was frequented by celebrities, some of whom, such as Pola Negri, resided there. From 1930 to 1943, six Academy Awards ceremonies were hosted at the hotel. Perhaps as many as seven U.S. presidents stayed at the Ambassador, from Hoover to Nixon, along with chiefs of state from around the world. For decades, the hotel's famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub hosted well-known entertainers, such as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Liza Minnelli, Martin and Lewis, The Supremes, Merv Griffin, Dorothy Dandridge, Vikki Carr, Evelyn Knight, Vivian Vance, Dick Haymes, Sergio Franchi, Perry Como, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Sammy Davis Jr., Little Richard, Liberace, Natalie Cole, Richard Pryor and Shirley Bassey. 
Sadly, the Ambassador Hotel is most famous for being the site of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination on June 5, 1968. For safety reasons, the hotel was closed to guests in 1989. The building was demolished in 2004.

Friday, September 23, 2022

March 7, 1982 The Saddle Rack, San Jose, CA: Jerry Garcia Band KFAT Fat Fry (FM XIX)


Patrons at the Saddle Rack in San Jose, ca 2001

March 7, 1982 The Saddle Rack, San Jose, CA: Jerry Garcia Band KFAT Fat Fry (FM XIX)

Melvin Seals played organ in the Jerry Garcia Band from 1981 until 1995, playing with Garcia for several hundred shows.  Yet Seals was only on a Garcia radio broadcast a single time, on KFAT-fm from Gilroy, CA, recorded at an Urban Cowboy bar called The Saddle Rack, in San Jose. The entire time that Seals played with Garcia, both Garcia and the Grateful Dead became a greater and greater attraction. Yet Garcia radio broadcasts became a thing of the past, so Melvin only participated in that single one. In many ways, the early '82 period showed the Jerry Garcia Band at a crossroads, on the verge of separating itself from any normal part of the 20th century music industry. This post will examine how the Jerry Garcia Band not only came to play the Saddle Rack--a Silicon Valley joint that nonetheless had live, actual bulls in a stockade--but to see how it came to be broadcast on the radio.

Jerry Garcia Band: Status Report, 1982
In 1982, the Grateful Dead were not in a good financial way. Their concerts were still fairly lucrative, but they were carrying a lot of staff and had expensive gear, so profits were probably not high. Their record sales had cratered, too, so royalties were not adding to the bottom line. Songwriters would still be getting a little money, but with record sales down, their fortunes were not swelling. Also, by the early 1980s, none of the Grateful Dead or their extended family wanted to live commune style on an old ranch. They all wanted a somewhat middle class life in a house with their family members and a car that worked, so their expectations of what was a reasonable to receive as compensation would have been higher than it was a dozen years earlier. The Grateful Dead members, crew and staff were generally hurting for cash. 

The Jerry Garcia Band had gigged steadily throughout 1981, ending their year with a substantial Eastern tour in November. In late December, the Jerry Garcia Band had started recording at Club Front, and they would continue recording through February, in between some Grateful Dead shows. The JGB played just a few shows in early 1982, two at the Old Waldorf, two at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and five at the various Keystones (Berkeley, Palo Alto and The Stone). On Wednesday, March 3, the band had played an afternoon show at a tiny (300 capacity) room at San Francisco State. 

Unknown to most fans at the time (certainly unknown to me), "Jerry Garcia Band" was not just a name under which a band was booked, but a corporate partnership between Garcia, John Kahn and Ron Tutt, dating back to 1975. Originally the LLC had included pianist Nicky Hopkins, but he had been written out when he left the group at the end of '75. The Jerry Garcia Band had released one album, the poorly-received Cats Under The Stars on Arista. Tutt had stopped performing with the band before the album was even released, and I don't know whether this was directly related to the death of Tutt's other employer, Elvis Presley. Buzz Buchanan and then others had taken over the drum chair in the meantime.

The Fall '81 Jerry Garcia Band tour had stood out not least because Ron Tutt had returned to the band on drums. I can remember calling the Grateful Dead Hotline and hearing (I think) Steve Marcus announce the tour as "The Return of Ronnie Tutt." Drummer Daoud Shaw had left the band at the end of the Summer, Bill Kreutzmann had briefly filled in, and Tutt came on board for the big East Coast tour. When Garcia had returned to the stage, however, for three Keystone shows in December, 1981, I asked someone who went and he assured me that Kreutzmann had played drums. Did this mean Billy was just the filler for local gigs, or that Tutt was out of the band? In retrospect, it looks like Kreutzmann was just intended as a fill-in drummer for local gigs, but Tutt ultimately left the group without making any more live appearances with the Jerry Garcia Band.

Run For The Roses Sessions at Le Club Front

The Jerry Garcia Band still existed as a company, and it appears that Garcia and Kahn were bringing back Tutt in order to record. There were Club Front sessions intermittently between September 1981 and February 1982. Tutt played on the tracks that were released on Run For The Roses, but I don't know exactly when he was recording. Given that Bill Kreutzmann drummed for the Garcia Band in September and December 1981, its possible that Bill had some involvement in the sessions, but more likely in a rehearsal role.

The Run For The Roses album would not be released until Fall 1982, and the release was confusing to fans. We now know that while 5 of the tracks were recorded in 1981, two of them were 1974 outtakes from Compliments Of Garcia. That wasn't clear from the album credits, however, and to contemporary record buyers (like me) it had appeared that Merl Saunders had been invited to Garcia Band sessions, even though he hadn't played with Garcia since Reconstruction in 1979. It is difficult to explain how little information there was about the Jerry Garcia Band at the time. A few insiders may have known (or figured out) that Roses included two outtakes from the prior album, but it was largely unknown when the record came out.

Based on a Jake Feinberg interview with Melvin Seals from just a few years ago, it appears that Ron Tutt was surprised at what bad shape Garcia was in. Now, sure, Tutt was no innocent, and he had toured with Elvis, so he wasn't naive about the pressure on rock stars. Certainly the Garcia of 1975 through 1977 hadn't adhered to any kind of clean living. But Tutt was still surprised, and did not stick around. As far as I can tell, Tutt did perform on the October tour, and recorded the basic tracks (probably in 1981), but had left the band by the beginning of 1982. I assume that the release of Run For The Roses as a "Jerry Garcia Band" album was the vehicle for Tutt exiting the partnership with Garcia and Kahn. 

For the purposes of this post, however, it's important to remember that in the Spring of 1982, Garcia was still looking to make a viable proposition out of the Jerry Garcia Band as a recording and performing entity in line with the music industry orthodoxy of the time. The Garcia Band was recording an album for a major label, and was at least thinking about how they might present the album to the record-buying public.

Jerry Garcia FM Broadcasts
Live FM broadcasts were an essential part of the Grateful Dead's history, and their Fall 1971 tour was an integral component in making the band a long-lasting phenomenon. Most early 70s bands (or their management, anyway), wrung their hands in anxiety that any FM broadcast might create a bootleg LP. The Dead, while no fans of bootlegs, nonetheless benefited hugely from the bootleg phenomenon. For major market FM broadcasts, however, the critical component was a record company willing to compensate the radio station for lost advertising time. Warner Brothers had shown themselves willing to do that in 1971, and the Dead--and Deadheads--had been the beneficiaries.

The Jerry Garcia ensembles of the early 1970s did not have the backing of any major record company. Yet Garcia managed to play on the radio anyway, due to a combination of the unique conventions of Bay Area rock radio, and Garcia's own willingness to appear live on the air. KSAN-fm regularly broadcast live shows, mostly from local studios, and some other stations followed suit. So the Garcia-Saunders ensemble and Old And In The Way had appeared live somewhat regularly around the Bay Area, thanks to these practices.

Another Bay Area practice, probably somewhat related to KSAN's habits, was that local college stations also broadcast shows live. Stanford's station KZSU, for example, just had a 10-watt signal that could  only be heard on campus and in Palo Alto, but Garcia was willing to allow broadcasts on the station (not surprising, when you find out that Garcia had been broadcast live on KZSU since 1963). Old And In The Way also had some broadcasts on other local college stations, in a nod to the post-WW2 tradition of bluegrass bands. So even without record company backing, live Garcia was not without a presence of FM radio.

Once Garcia became a solo artist on Arista Records, the Jerry Garcia Band had a live FM broadcast in Washington DC on March 18, 1978. I assume that Arista supported this, even though the 1978 show was prior to the release of Cats Under The Stars. I think Clive Davis had a long enough view to see that Garcia's appeal was over a long period of time, so he made sure there was a broadcast.

KFAT-fm, 94.5 Gilroy, CA

The Jerry Garcia Band show from the Saddle Rack in San Jose was recorded on March 7, 1982, and broadcast on KFAT-fm, out of Gilroy, CA, as part of an ongoing series called The Fat Fry. The tale of KFAT is hard to imagine these days, and I can only sketch it out. Suffice to say, the KFAT Fat Fry appealed to fans in the range of KSAN and the Bay Area tradition of live rock broadcasts, and it was largely self-supporting. Thus a band did not require support from their record company. My guess is that the Garcia Band was offered a lucrative gig at the Saddle Rack, in return for allowing the show to be broadcast throughout San Jose and the South Bay. Unlike many acts, FM broadcasts were always fine with Garcia. It would have been a good paying show and broadcasting was normal for him. Who knew that it would be the last live broadcast of a Jerry Garcia Band show?

The Keystone Palo Alto broadcast a live show on KFAT every Monday night back in the late 70s and early 80s, as part of The Fat Fry. KFAT was a legendary psychedelic country station in then-tiny Gilroy, CA (pre-Cisco Systems), whose story is too bizarre to believe (read it and weep--radio was like this once, but only once). Every Monday night a local live attraction would play the Keystone Palo Alto and their first set would be broadcast on KFAT, audible all over the South Bay, and even in South Berkeley if you were lucky. To some extent, this was to advertise the bands themselves, and to some extent this was to promote the Keystone Palo Alto.

KFAT broadcast a quirky mix of country, blues, old-timey music, raunchy comedy, bluegrass, Hawaiian, and whatever struck the fancy of the disc jockey. It was on the air from mid-1975 to January 1983 at 94.5 FM. From high atop Mt. Loma Prieta (site of the famous 1989 earthquake) near San Jose, its signal reached to the edge San Francisco to south of Monterey and east to the Sierra Nevada mountains. Some of the original KFAT staff carries on the tradition (updated for the 21st Century) at KPIG in Freedom, CA (107-oink-5 fm). KFAT wasn't really audible in San Francisco, and reception was sketchy in South Berkeley (and non-existent further North). So the real audience was the greater San Jose, Santa Cruz and Monterey areas, back before the area was dominated by well-off Silicon Valley suburbs. It wasn't exactly rural--although there were some farms and ranches--but it wasn't really suburban either. 

On December 5, 1977, the headliner for the second-ever Monday Fat Fry had been Robert Hunter and Comfort. They brought along Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor (Hunter name-checked them from the stage) to ensure a great sound. They performed a complete version of Hunter's "Alligator Moon" suite. Since Hunter never allowed the Comfort version of the suite to be released, the live Fat Fry version remains the definitive recording. As at any Fat Fry from that era, the first set was broadcast, and Hunter encourages the listening audience to come down to Keystone Palo Alto for the second set. So the Dead family, if not actually Garcia, was familiar with the Fat Fry, and must have been positively disposed.

A promotional belt buckle for KEEN, San Jose (1370am). "Country Music 24 Hours A Day"

San Jose and The San Jose Country Music Scene

San Jose had initially been a medium-sized California city, but in the 1960s it underwent explosive growth. At a time when San Francisco's population growth was capped by geographic limitations, the flat plain of the Santa Clara Valley was custom-made for suburbs. San Jose boomed, and the suburban cities around it (Santa Clara, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Campbell and others) expanded as well. Given that the city was full of teenagers, its no surprise that San Jose had a thriving rock scene in the 1960s, even if much of it was somewhat self-contained. Certainly the Grateful Dead and all the other San Francisco bands regularly played outdoor and indoor shows in San Jose, because it was too lucrative not to

Comparative Population (Census Data)
Census    San Francisco    San Jose
1960        740,316             204,196
1970        715,674             459,913
1980        678,974             629,400
1990        723,959             782,248
2019        881,547            1,019,995
Come the 1970s, however, while San Jose was bigger than ever, the rock market had regionalized. Rock promotions were focused on San Francisco and Berkeley, mostly at shows promoted by Bill Graham Presents. Rock fans from San Jose or the nearby suburbs had to expect to get in their cars (or their parents' cars) and drive to Winterland, Berkeley Community Theater or Oakland Coliseum to see big rock shows. There were a few venues in San Jose, but there weren't that many memorable rock shows. 

As far as the 1970s went, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead had each played a show at the San Jose Civic Auditorium in 1972, the Jerry Garcia Band had played Cupertino in 1975 and the Grateful Dead had played the San Jose State football stadium in 1979, but that was about it. Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead had played Palo Alto and Stanford in the 70s, so San Jose Deadheads had some opportunities, but Palo Alto wasn't San Jose, and everybody knew it.

By 1982, San Jose was not only booming, it was getting wealthy. The early harvests of microprocessors had made Silicon Valley increasingly prosperous. It is a long-forgotten fact that the original coinage of "Silicon Valley" was a play on the Santa Clara Valley. The Santa Clara Valley had been a prosperous agricultural area since the mid-19th century, and up through the 1960s, San Jose had basically been a farm town. All of the farms and ranches throughout the greater South Bay bought their feed and tractors in San Jose. The Bay Area's biggest country radio station was KEEN-1370-AM, out of San Jose. When Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia talk about hearing country music on the radio growing up, they were talking about KEEN. As far as the Bay Area was concerned, San Jose was a farm town, and a big city like San Francisco or a college town like Palo Alto was always going to look down on San Jose. San Jose got no cultural respect from anywhere else in the Bay Area, and once rock music became "Art," that was true of rock as well. 

Don Cox, owner of Cowtown in San Jose, had a local hit with "Crazy Gringo" in 1976

As it happened, however, and not surprisingly, San Jose was the heartbeat of a thriving country music scene since at least World War 2. Not only was there KEEN, but there were numerous venues and bars for country and honky tonk music. This was true well into the 1970s. Among the biggest country music venues in San Jose was Cowtown, at 1584 Almaden, opened in the late 1950s by local country singer Don Cox. Cowtown had a house band, playing music for dancing and sometimes backing visiting country stars. Cowtown was open on Almaden up through the early 80s, and when it closed Cox re-branded his other joint, Sam's Club (over on Monterey Road), as Cowtown, and the successor stayed open until 1988.

In fact, there were a few Grateful Dead connections to Cowtown. In the early 1970s, one of the regular pedal steel guitarists in the house band was Bobby Black. The story goes that Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen heard Black--they may have been booked at Cowtown--and were so impressed that they ended up hiring him in 1972. In 1978, Black would spend a year in the New Riders of The Purple Sage, after Buddy Cage quit (and before Cage returned). Black was a fine steel player, with a more pronounced Western Swing style than Cage. It was Black on pedal steel with the Riders when they opened for the Grateful Dead on the night Winterland closed, New Year's Eve 1978.

A more intriguing Cowtown connection, however, involved Garcia's old pal Peter Grant. According to Grant, back in '64 or so, when Grant and Garcia were in the Black Mountain Boys together (Grant on dobro, Garcia on banjo), they were driving around in Garcia's Corvair when they hear Buck Owens' new hit "Together Again," with the great pedal steel ride by the Buckaroos' Tom Brumley. Both Grant and Garcia agreed on the spot that they each had to learn pedal steel. Although Garcia had bought a Fender pedal steel in 1967, he sold it because he couldn't keep it in tune, so Grant had learned the instrument first. It was Grant that played pedal steel on "Rosemary" on Aoxomoxoa

By April 1969, however, Garcia had bought a Zane Beck Double-Ten (ZB10) pedal steel at Guitar City in Lakewood, CO. He had started to play it with John Dawson, then the Grateful Dead and then the New Riders. He also played some sessions on some rock albums, including the Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers and "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. By 1970, the New Riders were turning into a serious enterprise, and for his own Garcia-reasons, Jerry bought a new Emmons DB 10. So--being Jerry--he called up Grant and asked him if he wanted his earlier one. Grant owned a pedal steel guitar, but it wasn't nearly as good as the ZB10 that Garcia was moving on from, so he gladly said yes.

Peter Grant and Jerry Garcia's old ZB10 Pedal Steel Guitar at Cowtown in San Jose, ca 1974

By the mid-70s, Peter Grant was a regular member of the house band at Cowtown. Grant was a full-time musician, and though he went on tour once in a while (with Hoyt Axton, for example), he lived in San Jose and his main gig was Cowtown. And so it came to pass that Jerry Garcia's legendary ZB10 was live at 1584 Almaden Avenue in San Jose at a honky tonk bar many nights of the week in the mid-70s, just as it was intended. Garcia never played Cowtown, but his steel guitar was regularly in the house. 

The Saddle Rack opened on August 13, 1976, at Lincoln and Auzerais Avenues, near downtown. Unexpected as it may have seemed, in the heart of early Silicon Valley, it was a savvy move to open a Cowboy bar in urban San Jose. True, San Jose had not really been a Feed And Seed hub for some years, and many of the former orchards in San Jose were now housing developments. Thanks to San Jose's inferiority complex towards Palo Alto and San Francisco, however, the city was an attractive place to live for the kind of guy who worked in a factory and liked Merle Haggard. 

It's largely forgotten now that the first wave of Silicon Valley, from the early 60s onward, was oriented towards manufacturing. There were a lot of factories, and the men and women who worked there didn't have advanced degrees from Stanford. When that bell rang at 5:00pm, they wanted a cold one, dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music. The Saddle Rack hit the mark, and was an instant hit. The 1980 Urban Cowboy movie, with John Travolta, captured this dynamic in Texas a few years later, but it was already in full force at the Saddle Rack.

According to a 2001 Fare-Thee-Well retrospective of the Saddle Rack in the San Jose Metro, Travolta's Urban Cowboy movie supercharged the atmosphere at the Rack. The club's manager said "At the time the movie came out, it moved from a little country bar into a massive, and I mean massive, country bar." The Saddle Rack had a mechanical bull, and for a year or two, they even had some real ones. Yes--it's possible that the Jerry Garcia Band played a live concert in a room with real actual bulls:

[owner Hank] Guenther turned up the cowboy mystique when he incorporated a bull pen--yes, live bulls--in the back corner, where the dance floor closest to the bathroom now stands, around 1982. The story sounds familiar. On a busy Thursday night [in 2001], Patty Gergel, 22 and a recent graduate of San Jose State University, tells her group of friends that she heard a rumor about the bulls. 
"They got loose and started running on 280," she tells her sorority sisters.
"Shut up!" one of them screams.
"It ran on Meridian [Avenue], not 280," says [manager Andy] Buchanan, clarifying the rumor later that night. 
Was it all the bulls?
"Just one. It jumped over a 10-foot fence. That was amazing to see. An 1,800-pound bull jumping the fence."
An automobile traveling on Meridian hit the bull and ended its spree of freedom. The bull arena didn't last much longer and in 1984, after their insurance company said they wouldn't cover it, Guenther shut it down. These days, the mechanical bull is one of the largest draws, with many just-turned-21, it's-my-birthday gonzos tanked on liquid courage lining up for a crack at it. (Wednesday bull riders pay $1; Thursday is free and Fridays and Saturdays is $2.)

More importantly for our story, however, was that the Saddle Rack became a live venue. San Jose had no nightclubs booking original music at the time (notwithstanding The Bodega in the nearby suburb of Campbell), at least not on any level beyond local bands. Somewhere around 1981, the Saddle Rack took over from the Keystone Palo Alto as the sponsor of the Fat Fry. In 1981, the Saddle Rack was a big, booming operation and the financial arrangement was probably better for the bands. In any case, San Jose was right in the center of KFAT's audience, even if Palo Alto had a bigger irony quotient. More from the Metro:

Beginning in 1981, the Saddle Rack hosted live shows and concerts featuring singers and rockers--heavy metal and country--on the way up and on the way down, Buchanan says. Over the years, they've booked such acts as James Brown, B.B. King, Garth Brooks, Huey Lewis, Roy Orbison, the Charlie Daniels Band, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride and an all-star roster of other bands and singers. And it's not all Texas-style bragging. Inside Guenther's office, just like in the movie where Wes attempts to rob Gilley's (which inspired Guenther's Rack), wood-framed photos of celebrity singers line the faux wood-paneled walls.

Recap: The Jerry Garcia Band at The Saddle Rack, San Jose, CA March 7, 1982
The Jerry Garcia Band played an Urban Cowboy bar, perhaps for the only time. There was a mechanical bull in the house, and just maybe a couple of real ones. It was perhaps Garcia's only direct nod to the country tradition in San Jose, even if Jerry himself hardly thought about it. Garcia had played a fair amount in San Jose in the 60s, but despite the increasing size and importance of the city in subsequent decades, it remained outside the Garcia and Grateful Dead orbit (save for a Jerry Garcia Band show at the Events Center in San Jose State University on April 25, 1992, capacity 7400).

The Saddle Rack show was the last Jerry Garcia Band live broadcast, and I believe his last non-Grateful Dead live broadcast of any kind. I taped it myself, in my Berkeley apartment. I was thrilled to get some current Garcia on my cassette deck, of course, but it never occurred to me that it would be the very last one. No doubt, Garcia rocked the house, and everyone was dancing--I wonder if there was any line dancing? It is a latterday Garcia irony that in contrast to most touring bands at the time, Garcia's manager would have been more concerned about the payday for the show--no doubt pretty darn good--and unconcerned about the virtues or defects of performing live on the radio. Garcia, with and without the Dead, had appeared so many times on air by 1982 that he would have had no reservations, and rightly so.

One indeterminate question is whether the show was broadcast live or tape-delayed. KFAT Fat Frys were always on Monday, and March 7, 1982 was a Sunday night. I do know that while the Keystone Palo Alto Fat Fry was always live--artists always encouraged listeners to come on down for the late set--at least some Saddle Rack shows were taped. According to one internet posting, at least once the Saddle Rack had multiple bands that were then broadcast on successive Monday nights over the next few weeks. I myself taped the Garcia Band show, but I no longer recall if it was broadcast or tape-delayed to the next night. I also no longer recall if they only broadcast one set. My guess is that they probably just blasted out one set, since I think I would have recalled an all-night Fat Fry (I long since gave up my original cassette to the four winds).

And as for the Jerry Garcia Band in 1982, its future arcs were unexpected in any number of ways. Run For The Roses was released by Arista in November, 1982, to very little fanfare. Only the title track passed into the regular JGB repertoire, with the rest of the new material fading into obscurity. The covers were unmemorable, including a needless "Knocking On Heaven's Door." Presumably Ron Tutt opted out (or was bought out) of any partnership, and the Jerry Garcia Band would not release any material until a live double cd in 1991. The Jerry Garcia Band retreated into the silo of Grateful Dead fandom, and disassociated itself from the rest of the music industry in almost every way. 

Yet, remarkably, the Jerry Garcia Band thrived against all odds. It wasn't just that the Grateful Dead became huge, massively huge, far beyond the dreams of even the most devoted Deadhead. It was also that, in some strange way, the Jerry Garcia Band was a contrast of sorts to the Dead themselves. Given, of course, the inevitable effect of "The Garcia," the Jerry Garcia Band strove to minimize the trappings of a Grateful Dead concert. The pacing and song choices at JGB shows minimized the raucous drama of Dead shows, and Garcia's own choices de-emphasized his most famous songs. For many years, the Garcia Band never did an encore (before caving in to the inevitable). As a result, many aging Deadheads, myself included, stuck with the Garcia Band long after going emeritus on the full circus of the Grateful Dead themselves. Thus, the Jerry Garcia Band developed into a massive concert attraction, outside the scope of the music industry at the time.

The condominium development at the former site of The Saddle Rack uses the old club as its street name (above: 1390 Saddle Rack St, San Jose, CA)

The Saddle Rack in San Jose closed on August 5, 2001. The site is now a high-density condominium unit. The condo is now located on Saddle Rack Street, which did not exist when the club was there. The club moved to 42011 Boscell Road in Fremont, across the Bay. It continued to thrive for many years, but finally went out to pasture amidst many other closures in May, 2020. 

Two big questions remain about the Jerry Garcia Band's last live broadcast on March 7, 1982 at the Saddle Rack:

  • Was the show broadcast live on Sunday night, or delayed until March 8 (Monday)?, and
  • Were there live bulls in the house while Garcia played!

Anyone who knows, or thinks they know someone who knows, or has something interesting to say anyway, please suggest it in the Comments

Appendix: Setlist from The Saddle Rack, San Jose, March 7, 1982
I: Sugaree, Catfish John, Valerie, Second That Emotion, Tangled Up In Blue
II: The Harder They Come, Mystery Train, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Tore Up Over You, Midnight Moonlight

Note: while it is suggested in JerryBase that Dave Torbert played bass this night, no evidence seems to support this claim (unfortunately). Torbert did sit in for the first set in Chico just 10 days later, as John Khan was delayed by fog.

Friday, June 24, 2022

February 3, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (Lost and Found) [FDGH VII]

The KQED-tv Special A Night At The Family Dog, recorded in February 1970, was released in 2007

February 4, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA:  Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Santana/Kimberly "A Night At The Family Dog" (Wednesday)
Most of the concrete information we have about the Family Dog on The Great Highway comes from Grateful Dead scholarship. Almost all of the surviving live tapes from the Dog are from the Grateful Dead, or are associated with the band. Of the non-Dead, non-Garcia tapes that exist, many were recorded by either Owsley or Alembic (Bob Matthews et al), each affiliated with the Dead. On top of that, what press coverage there was on the Family Dog was often anchored by reporting about the Dead or Jerry Garcia. 

For the wider audience of rock fans, and even of Deadheads, the most prominent knowledge of the Family Dog on The Great Highway was the Public Television special A Night At The Family Dog, recorded at a special concert for an invited audience on Wednesday, February 4, 1970. The show was initially broadcast on PBS-tv affiliate stations nationwide on April 27, 1970, and re-broadcast various times. With only three commercial networks and the occasional independent station, Public Television shows were widely watched in a way that would be unfathomable today. I assure you that the PBS Night At The Family Dog special was watched by young people nationwide in large numbers, and was probably influential in suggesting that events like this went on in San Francisco all the time. Certainly, if you were in cold Des Moines or windy El Paso and saw Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Santana sharing the stage, everybody dancing and a big jam afterwards, it would make you believe that San Francisco was the promised land indeed.

I have looked into this event at some length, starting a decade ago when I discovered a contemporary San Francisco Chronicle article about the Wednesday night filming of the KQED special by Ralph Gleason. Although Gleason was disingenuous about his role--he was co-producer of the TV special--it was a striking description, and our only source of information up until that time. It seems, however, that there was a lot more to the story. At least some of the music from the special was likely recorded the night before. Now, that may mean that there was a dress rehearsal the night before, with professional video and audio, some of it seems to have been used in the TV special. Alternately, it may mean the date of February 4 was incorrect.

So: while we might have the date wrong, we might actually be missing a show. There could be audio, and there could even be video. Let's look at what we know today.

The Grateful Dead's performance at Chet Helms' Family Dog on The Great Highway on February 4, 1970 is fairly well known today. The hour-long video of concert highlights, originally broadcast on Public Television, has since been released in 2007 on DVD as A Night At The Family Dog. In 2005, the Grateful Dead released the recording of their entire set from that night. Thus both the audio and some video are available from the show, a rare and potent combination. However, while the music is well-covered, and video is available, very little has been recalled about the circumstances of the actual event itself. Even the Dead's cd release is scarce on details. Still, you can watch the video, play the cd, light one up--legally, in most states--and get a feel for what it might have been like Back In The Day.

Grateful Dead scholarship never rests, however, and it seems that the video and cd may have been somewhat more of a pastiche than we originally thought. One of the best sources of the era has been Sally Mann Romano, the ex-wife of the late Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden. Her 2018 book The Band's With Me is a must-read for anyone interested in California rock history in the late 60s and early 70s. In a Twitter exchange, Romano recalled that the filming of the TV special was actually two nights at the Family Dog, on Tuesday and Wednesday (February 3 and February 4). The first was probably conceived as a rehearsal and sound check, prudent considering that filming live rock concerts was still in its infancy. Some very good evidence, however, suggests that at least some--and perhaps all?--of the TV special and the subsequent Archival cd release was actually from February 3.
Owsley Stanley's tape box for the recording at the Family Dog on February 3, 1970. The sticker says "Probably really 2/4/70"--I disagree.

What About Tuesday, February 3?
The Owsley Stanley Foundation has a long-term project of preserving Owsley's live recordings, even when the tapes themselves may not yet be released. Recently the Foundation announced that an Owsley 2-track recording of the February Family Dog had been preserved. The tape box itself says "See 16-track," an indicator that Owsley's recording was different than the Bob Matthews/Alembic recording that would have been the basis of the PBS video special. Owsley, always scrupulous about dates, has marked the box "Dead #2/Airplane #1, 3 Feb 70 Family Dog." A sticker on the box, in different handwriting, says "Probably really 2/4/70," since February 4 was the known date of the live recording of the special.

As I have documented in the previous post in this series, the Family Dog on The Great Highway had re-opened the previous weekend with a comparatively stealthy appearance by the Jefferson Airplane on Friday and Saturday, January 30 and 31. When I asked Sally Mann Romano about this on Twitter, however, she specifically did not recall that weekend's shows, and her recollections are uniformly precise. She plainly recalled going to the Family Dog for two days, presumably February 3 and 4 (Tuesday and Wednesday), and she understandably said that she surely would have remembered spending 4 out of 6 nights at the Dog. Mann Romano's recollection was the first indication of a rehearsal filming on the night before the official event. 

Now, the most-likely explanation for Mann and Dryden not going to the Dog on the prior weekend is in the only-the-Jefferson-Ariplane category. The most likely reason was that the Airplane were thinking about firing Dryden, and were trying out drummer Joey Covington, all without telling Spencer or his wife. Indeed, Dryden would be pushed out of the band a month later, and Covington took over the drum chair in March. The actual dating of Covington's arrival is confusing, and not a rabbit hole I will go down here, but suffice to say inviting Covington to a secret gig and not telling the current drummer was just another day in Jefferson Airplaneville. 

What we are left with, however, is the knowledge that there may have been a rehearsal at the Family Dog the night before the official PBS taping. Today, even small venues are set up for live video with synchronized sound--we can all do it ourselves on our phones now anyway--but this was new stuff in 1970. Video cameras were giant at the time, and needed their own locations. Separate trucks were needed for the video feed and the sound recording, and cable snakes would have been laid everywhere. It's not surprising that a full tech rehearsal was in order. And it's also likely that the entire rehearsal was filmed and the music recorded, if only to ensure that there was backup material in case the "official" event on Wednesday (Feb 4) had technical problems.

If there was a full rehearsal the night before, it would not be at all surprising to find out that the official video may have been a pastiche of both nights. At the time, the entire industry considered live recording another way to create product, not an historic record of an event. One track on the Woodstock movie soundtrack album, for example, was actually recorded at Fillmore East (CSNY's "Wooden Ships"). The Grateful Dead released the Family Dog show as part of their Download Series in 2005, but that series was poorly curated and had almost no recording information. The date was listed as February 4, but that was probably based on an assumption. The cd has 9 tracks. The final six are the same as the ones on Owsley's tape (above). I don't think the Dead repeated six songs--either there was only one show, or I think the Dead played better the first night rather than the second, and three of those tracks were used for the PBS video{see the Appendix below for track listings].

What About The Grateful Dead on February 4, 1970? First Hypothesis
If in fact, the existing audio and video recordings of the Grateful Dead were from February 3, not February 4, what did the Grateful Dead play on February 4? It raises the tantalizing possibility that there would have been existing professional recordings of the Dead from the "official" night that were never used. Since there was an invited crowd on Wednesday night, probably there were plenty of crowd shots, but the Dead's actual performance would have been different. My guess is that the Santana and Airplane sets were used from the 4th, as was the jam.

According to the Owsley Stanley Foundation, the tape with the Grateful Dead from February 3 includes two Jefferson Airplane tracks, "The Other Side Of This Life" and "Somebody To Love." Neither of those are on the Family Dog video. There's also some implications from the numbering--since there is a "Grateful Dead #2" and a "Jefferson Airplane #1" it follows there are additional tapes with the Dead and the Airplane. As far as a soundcheck goes, my assumption is that the Dead and the Airplane showed up for the soundcheck, and the Dead are famous for using soundchecks as an opportunity to play as long as they felt like it. Now, granted, we can hear some audience after "Hard To Handle," but it's not unlikely a few friends and family were around. 

Santana was a hotter band than the Dead or the Airplane at the time, and less likely to show up for the soundcheck the previous night. It's just an assumption on my part, but it's plausible. Kimberly, I should add, who opened the show, appear not to have been recorded. Kimberly were associated with Santana management, which suggests the privileged part accorded to Santana's presence.

Unfortunately, however, video tape and 16-track recording tape were expensive. If it was determined that the Dead's February 3 set was superior, then the Dead tapes for the 4th would simply have been erased. Owsley seems to have taped the rehearsal night, but it seems less likely he would have been allowed to tape the "official" performance, if only because space at the mixing board would have been at a premium. There remains the remote hope that some fragments exist, somewhere, or perhaps some production notes. It's a little more complicated since Bob Matthews recorded 16-track tape for Alembic, but it's entirely plausible that the existing recording was either from February 3 or an edit of the two nights.

Since no one had asked Sally Mann Romano, the existing Owsley tape was casually indicated (by the sticker) as incorrectly dated, when in fact I suspect it was accurate. Any missing Dead tape from the 4th has likely disappeared. Sic Transit Gloria Psychedelia. But here's to hoping some undated audio and video fragments of the Dead's performances on February 3 and 4 1970 can be identified and resurrected. I trust Owsley to have gotten the date right. 

An Alternative Hypothesis: Maybe The Date Was Wrong?
Of course, there's another possible explanation for the dating confusion. Maybe the date of the concert really was February 3, not February 4. February 4 has been accepted as the proper date for decades, but it's not supported by an advertisement or announcement, because there weren't any. Ralph Gleason's article was Friday, February 6, which suggests that he saw the bands on Wednesday, February 4. But the Chronicle was a morning paper, so if he went on Tuesday (February 3) he still could not have published until Friday.

It's true that Sally Mann Romano, my most reliable witness, remembers two nights, which is why that is my preferred hypothesis. But there are other possible explanations for her memory (the Airplane were not coming in off the road, unlike the Dead, for example). In any case, the context of her memory was that she and her husband were definitely not there four nights out of six (January 30-31, February 3-4). I'm still inclined to thinking that the Dead played two nights, but I am at least acknowledging another possibility.

[update: legendary scholar David Kramer-Smyth found a link (see the Comments) to a Good Times review of the event. It isn't very informative, but it does indicate the event was on Wednesday (February 4), so that points toward performances on Feb 3 and Feb 4]

"Hard To Handle"
Even casual poking around will lead you to online comments from people who recall seeing the public tv special in April of 1970 and being absolutely floored by the Dead. We did not have direct access to the video until it was released in the 21st century (I don't know if it floated around in collector's circles previously). The Dead performed three songs on the video: "Hard To Handle," "China Cat Sunflower" and "I Know You Rider." Only one of those songs was on a previously released album ("China Cat" was on Aoxomoxoa). "Hard To Handle" would not be officially available until Bear's Choice in early 1973, and the "China Cat>Rider" medley did not come out until October '72 (on Europe '72). So numerous teenagers got on the bus hearing songs that would not circulate officially for a few more years. Now, it turns out we didn't even have the date correct.

Appendix 1: A Night At The Family Dog TV show
Broadcast on Public Television stations on or about April 27, 1970
Produced by Ralph J. Gleason and Bob Zagone for National Educational Television (NET)

A Night At The Family Dog DVD
with Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane/Santana
Eagle Vision: released 2007

  • Incident At Neshabur - Santana
  • Soul Sacrifice - Santana
  • Hard To Handle - Grateful Dead
  • China Cat Sunflower - Grateful Dead
  • I Know You Rider - Grateful Dead
  • The Ballad of You And Me And Pooneil - Jefferson Airplane
  • Eskimo Blue Day - Jefferson Airplane
  • Super jam featuring members of Santana, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane

 A Night At The Family Dog audio
Grateful Dead Download Series
Grateful Dead Records: released 2005

  • Hard To Handle
  • Black Peter 
  • Me and My Uncle 
  • China Cat Sunflower > 
  • I Know You Rider 
  • St. Stephen > 
  • Not Fade Away > 
  • St. Stephen > 
  • In The Midnight Hour

 (plus bonus tracks from other 1970 shows)

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, ca. 1969

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
The Family Dog was a foundation stone in the rise of San Francisco rock, and it was in operation in various forms from Fall 1965 through the Summer of 1970. For sound historical reasons, most of the focus on the Family Dog has been on the original 4-person collective who organized the first San Francisco Dance Concerts in late 1965, and on their successor Chet Helms. Helms took over the Family Dog in early 1966, and after a brief partnership with Bill Graham at the Fillmore, promoted memorable concerts at the Avalon Ballroom from Spring 1966 through December 1968. The posters, music and foggy memories of the Avalon are what made the Family Dog a legendary 60s rock icon.

In the Summer of 1969, however, with San Francisco as one of the fulcrums of the rock music explosion, Chet Helms opened another venue. The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, on the Western edge of San Francisco, was only open for 14 months and was not a success. Yet numerous interesting bands played there, and remarkable events took place, and they are only documented in a scattered form.

660 Great Highway in San Francisco in 1967, when it was the ModelCar Raceway, a slot car track

The Edgewater Ballroom, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

As early as 1913, there were rides and concessions at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, near the Richmond District. By 1926, they had been consolidated as Playland-At-The-Beach. The Ocean Beach area included attractions such as the Sutro Baths and the Cliff House. The San Francisco Zoo was just south of Playland, having opened in the 1930s. One of the attractions at Playland was a restaurant called Topsy's Roost. The restaurant had closed in 1930, and the room became the Edgewater Ballroom. The Ballroom eventually closed, and Playland went into decline when its owner died in 1958. By the 1960s, the former Edgewater was a slot car raceway. In early 1969, Chet Helms took over the lease of the old Edgewater.
One of the only photos of the interior of the Family Dog on The Great Highway (from a Stephen Gaskin "Monday Night Class" ca. October 1969)

The Family Dog On The Great Highway

The Great Highway was a four-lane road that ran along the Western edge of San Francisco, right next to Ocean Beach. Downtown San Francisco faced the Bay, but beyond Golden Gate Park was the Pacific Ocean. The aptly named Ocean Beach is dramatic and beautiful, but it is mostly windy and foggy. Much of the West Coast of San Francisco is not even a beach, but rocky cliffs. There are no roads in San Francisco West of the Great Highway, so "660 Great Highway" was ample for directions (for reference, it is near the intersection of Balboa Street and 48th Avenue). The tag-line "Edge Of The Western World" was not an exaggeration, at least in American terms.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway was smaller than the Bill Graham's old Fillmore Auditorium. It could hold up to 1500, but the official capacity was probably closer to 1000. Unlike the comparatively centrally located Fillmore West, the FDGH was far from downtown, far from the Peninsula suburbs, and not particularly easy to get to from the freeway. For East Bay or Marin residents, the Great Highway was a formidable trip. The little ballroom was very appealing, but if you didn't live way out in the Avenues, you had to drive. As a result, FDGH didn't get a huge number of casual drop-ins, and that didn't help its fortunes. Most of the locals referred to the venue as "Playland."

The Family Dog In 1969
Chet Helms had opened the Family Dog at 660 Great Highway to much fanfare on June 13, 1969, with a packed house seeing the Jefferson Airplane and The Charlatans
. One of the goals was that the Dog would feature mostly San Francisco bands and a variety of smaller community events and groups. Since so many San Francisco bands were successful, and had record contracts, this didn't confine the venue to obscurity. A lot of great bands played the Family Dog in 1969, but the distant location and the gravitational pull of major rock events hosted elsewhere in the Bay Area kept the Family Dog isolated. We know only the most fragmentary bits about music played, events and audiences throughout the year.  Despite the half-year of struggle, Helms had kept the Family Dog on The Great Highway afloat. He had entered the new year of 1970 with a new plan.He had new backers, and he would merge his operations with the Grateful Dead's. It didn't happen, however, and the Family Dog on The Great Highway ws closed by the end of the Summer of 1970.


Appendix 2: Excerpts from Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle column, February 6, 1970

"Do you have a set schedule for what's going to happen?" the technician asked Bob Zagone of KQED. "We don't have a set schedule for anything, Zagone said. 'We have a loose schedule."

They were in the KQED mobile video tape recording truck outside the Family Dog. Several other trucks and a generator, roaring away like a power drill, were set up in the parking lot. Zagone and the KQED crew were getting ready to videotape a Jefferson Airplane party at the Family Dog for National Educational Television.

There's a young band called 'Kimberly' going on stage starting in a few minutes," Zagone said. "The it will be Santana. After that I don't know what's going to happen."

The cables were strung all along the sidewalk and into the hall and the huge TV cameras on dollies were rolling back and forth through the place in the wild assembly of San Francisco hip society.

On stage the musicians were plugging in their guitars and tuning. In a little while Kimberly, a neat, melodic band, began. Light men experimented with different combinations. Rock critics wandered through the hall. "It has the right feeling tonight," Mike Goodwin of Rolling Stone said. And poet Lew Welch pointed out that it was one of the few times in recent memories that you could actually get close to a band and not be jammed by the press of a crowd.

After Kimberly, Santana took over and the rhythms of the drums and the bass melded with the guitar and conga drum and rose to an incredible [something]. It ended with Santana almost leaning over backwards, hitting the guitar strings and bassist David Brown, his eyes squeezed shut, flailing away at the guitar. The crowd screamed. Out in the truck, Bob Zagone complained "we're not getting that audience noise" and Bob Matthews, who was doing the sound, whipped out a mike and set it up taping the audience.  

"We'll go dark as they start their set and bring the light up gradually," Zagone said and the Grateful Dead began. In the truck the multiple images on the little screens made a fascinating montage. Jerry Garcia's face silhouetted but still clear, approached the mike on the screen and he began to sing. The little screens that showed the pictures [of] the various cameras were registering, flicked from one to another. "Gimme a two shot," Zagone said, "Let's see both those guitars."

Out in the crowd, which was dancing or sitting on the floor and around the sides of the stage, John Carpenter of the L.A. Free Press said "when is it going to be aired?" and hoped a definite date could be set. The man from N.E.T said probably in April. "It's a good night," Carpenter said. "I had forgotten what San Francisco was really like. I've seen people I haven't seen in years."

On stage the sound was into those rhythmic phrases that make the Dead such groovy dance music and several guests were dancing behind the band and on the stage. Still photographers leaped up from the audience and shot pictures like the paparazzi in "Z."

Then the Airplane came on and Grace smiled and Marty sang "Do you want to know a secret, just between you and me," and the lights flickered off the sweat on his forehead as he sang and Spencer drove into the drums with a fierce concentration and Jorma sang "Good Shepherd" and the crowd gyrated and the cameras rolled back and forth.

It was a great evening. San Francisco within a week had two TV specials shot here. Both on rock. There will be more and if they end up on the screen as good as they are in person, the rest of the country will see something unique.