|Very likely the first ad for Jerry Garcia by name in any publication. Newly married Jerry and Sara Garcia open for Mike Cooney at The Top Of The Tangent on Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4, 1963. From the Stanford Daily, Friday, May 3, 1963|
Early performances at The Top Of The Tangent have regularly been described in interviews by Jerry Garcia and others since the earliest days. Remarkably enough, relatively soon after trading Grateful Dead tapes became widespread, a few tapes of Garcia's aggregations playing at The Tangent turned up as well. Nonetheless, although the importance of The Top Of The Tangent was widely known, the venue itself remains clouded in myth. Stanford University is Stanford, however, and while they digitized the archives of the student newspaper some years ago, it appears they have been recently upgraded. Suddenly the story of Jerry Garcia at The Top Of The Tangent comes into clearer focus. This post will take our newly-found information about Jerry Garcia and his friends at the Tangent and try and link it to other threads in Grateful Dead history.
Palo Alto, Stanford and Folk Music In The Early 60s
The city of Palo Alto was founded in 1875 on empty land to accommodate the forthcoming Stanford University, and the city and the campus have been intricately connected since the University opened in 1892. It is ironic, then, that downtown Palo Alto was quite far from the center of campus, and all but the sturdiest of undergraduates could not walk from school to the downtown area. As a result, by the mid-20th century, Palo Alto's downtown was far less of a university town than cities like Berkeley, Princeton or Chapel Hill.
However, one of the world's first shopping malls, the Stanford Shopping Center, had opened in 1955, triangulated between the Stanford campus and the downtowns of Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Businesses in downtown Palo Alto had suffered, and rents were cheap, so at least there was room for new ventures. McNally tells the story:
[Top Of] The Tangent started as an amusement for two bored young doctors, but it became, for two years, the home of folk music on the Peninsula. Stu Goldstein and David Schoenstadt were Stanford Hospital residents who knew nothing about folk music, but Max and Bertha Feldman's Palo Alto deli had a room upstairs, and it occurred to Stu and David to open a club there, using Pete Seeger's songbook, How To Make A Hootenanny, as their blueprint. They opened in January 1963, with open hoots on Wednesdays, and the winners playing weekends. The charge was a dollar fifty, and the performers got five or ten dollars. It quickly became Garcia's new musical home, [Garcia:], "a little community...a sweet scene." [p47]In the early 60s, folk music appealed to college students. It's true, some non-college students liked folk music, too, but even those tended to be the sort of kids who were smart enough to consider college, but weren't particularly academically oriented. As far as commercial propositions went, then, if you were trying to make a dollar off folk music, there had to be college students nearby. So it's no surprise that the doctors chose a place that was at the end of University Avenue that was nearest to Stanford University. 117 University, at "The Circle," was at the foot of University Avenue, downtown Palo Alto's main street, and right across from the Southern Pacific Train Station.
The train station wasn't irrelevant either. Stanford, of course, had been founded by SP railroad magnate Leland Stanford, and the Palo Alto train station had been built to accommodate the university. Stanford students were always allowed to ride the SP trains for free, so Stanford always had a distinctly San Francisco orientation, since the students could get there so easily (to my knowledge, although the corporate parent of the SP Railroad was swallowed up sometime ago by the DRGW, Stanford students still ride the local trains [CalTrain] for free). The fact that the Tangent was in easy walking distance to the train station made it uniquely attractive to Stanford students.
The Stanford Daily was the campus newspaper. Since Stanford's central campus was at least a mile from downtown, the Daily was probably a primary source of information for the students. The Palo Alto Times was the town's daily paper, but it was a fairly stuffy publication, pretty good with state and national news but not exactly forward looking. It wouldn't have appealed to students, who had little contact with the town of Palo Alto anyway. The reputation of Stanford students, rightly or wrongly, was that they all preferred to go to San Francisco. Leaving aside how many of them had access to cars, if you were a student who was going to walk a mile to downtown Palo Alto, and you could stop halfway, at the train station, and go to San Francisco for free, what would you do?
The Daily appeared five days a week during the schoolyear, and one day a week when school was out. There was a certain amount of general news, mostly of the sort interesting to college students, and plenty of Stanford sports and reviews and previews of local events. The Daily was available on campus, and possibly a little bit around Palo Alto, but it was the best way to let Stanford students know what was up. So it's no surprise that Top Of The Tangent had a regular Friday advertisement, and that the Friday performance listings regularly described upcoming Tangent shows.
|The Westport Singers, with Butch Waller and Herb Pedersen, and Janice Joplin, seem to have been the first performers advertised by name at the Top Of The Tangent, in the April 5, 1963 Stanford Daily.|
Presciently enough, the performers on the weekend of April 5 and 6 were The Westport Singers and one Janice Joplin. Both acts had probably succeeded at hoot night, since they were otherwise unknown. The Westport Singers, who I think played a kind of old-timey/bluegrass hybrid, were from the Berkeley area. Banjo player Herb Pedersen was the hot young player in Berkeley, and when he first met Garcia, Palo Alto's hot banjo-man, they apparently circled each other like wary gunfighters. They soon became friends, however, and Pedersen ended up joining Old And In The Way when it reformed after 1995. As for Butch Waller, still the leader of the great bluegrass band High Country, his place in Grateful Dead history was assured on May 1, 1965, when he joined in on Jerry Garcia's first acid trip.
And as for blues singer Janice Joplin, from Port Arthur, TX, her most famous appearance at the Tangent was the time she didn't show up, per McNally. It may have been this occasion. When she didn't make it, her accompanist, guitarist Jerry Kaukonen, allowed that he could play a little blues. It turned out that, indeed, he could, and he became a regular at Top Of The Tangent himself.
The Top Of The Tangent did not advertise every single Friday in the Daily, but they seem to have had an ad most of the time. As you can see, the layout and size of the ad were always identical, and the text of the performers would change each week. This was typical of the way repeat advertising was handled by newspapers at the time. Given the ancient nature of these performances, what seems remarkable at a distance is that actually we have tapes of any Jerry Garcia performances at the Tangent, much less several of them. Reading the Daily, however, the explanation becomes clear: in 1963 and 1964, everyone who played weekends at The Tangent was probably broadcast on the radio.
Stanford had its own radio station, KZSU, broadcasting on 880-am. FM broadcasts on KZSU began in the spring of 1964, with the commercials deleted, from a 10-watt transmitter on 90.1 fm (and still are today, although with 500 watts). However, KZSU-am was only audible in the Stanford dorms. Still, in the early 60s, KZSU-am probably got a good hearing on campus, as most students lived in those dorms. The Daily posted the nightly KZSU schedule, and there was a regular folk music show at 9:00pm on Friday nights, called The Flinthill Special, sponsored and run by The Top Of The Tangent. Throughout 1963 and '64, the 9:00pm Flinthill Special folk show was advertised as live music from the Top Of The Tangent. I doubt it was truly live--my assumption is that the shows were taped each week, and highlights were broadcast the next week--but it meant that Stanford students got a taste of live folk music every week.
In 1963, the host of the live folk show from the Tangent was Ted Clare, and in 1964 it was Phil DeGuere. Ted Claire was a Stanford student who was friends with Rodney Albin and others. He was a sometime member of The Liberty Hill Aristocrats, the old-timey band with Rodney and his brother Peter, and a decade later he was still playing with Rodney in a band called Roadhog, who were ultimately joined by Robert Hunter in 1974. So one host of the Friday night show was definitely a fellow traveler. Philip DeGuere, of course, besides being the producer of Simon & Simon and many other hit TV shows, was also the co-director of the legendary Sunshine Daydream movie, filmed in Veneta, OR on August 27, 1972. So both of the hosts of the KZSU show must have facilitated a few welcome tape transfers.
Naturally, anyone reading this will immediately think "hey! Are the tapes still at KZSU?" The answer is probably, yes, I expect that the tapes are still there, but they have something else on them. Tape was expensive in those days, and tape recorders exotic, so tape was probably re-used over and over again. Since I only know of Garcia tapes having survived the Tangent, I think Mr. Clare and Mr. De Guere (and producer Pete Wanger, about whom more later) are the most likely culprits, and we thank them for that.
Jerry and Sara Garcia got married on April 25, 1963, and took a honeymoon trip to Yosemite National Park. Just two weeks later, they were opening the weekend's show at Top Of The Tangent. We are fortunate to have a tape of some of it. I expect the source was ultimately KZSU, since the penniless Garcias could not have afforded either a tape or a tape deck. The May 5, 1963 Stanford Daily ad that shows "Jerry and Sara" opening for Mike Cooney (the ad is up top) is probably the first time Jerry's name--any of it--was published in an ad as a performer.
The 1963 Monterey Folk Festival
One of the crossroads of pre-Grateful Dead history was the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival, held on the weekend of May 17-19. The series of relatively large ads in the Stanford Daily indicate that college students were a primary target for the festival. The most popular act, in fact, was probably the Friday night headliners, the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary. Today, however, the resonant booking is on Saturday night, with The Weavers, Bob Dylan and The New Lost City Ramblers.
The infamous story of the Monterey Folk Festival was that the Saturday afternoon event, listed here as "Folk Talent Show." According to McNally, The Hart Valley Drifters (Garcia, Nelson, Hunter on bass and Ken Frankel on mandolin) won Best Amateur Group. There was also a banjo and fiddle contest, a staple of bluegrass festivals. Bluegrass is fast-paced, difficult music, and there is a gunslinging element to playing it well. Similar to a "cutting contest" in jazz, the best players like to show off their chops. At a high profile event like this, everybody's six guns were ready for shootin'.
The story, detailed by Blair Jackson, was that the ultra-competitive Jerry Garcia came in second. Worse, for Jerry, was that he came in second to a frailer, the same Mike Cooney that Jerry had opened for two weeks earlier at the Tangent. Frailing is "old-timey" banjo, tasteful but not nearly as difficult as the three-finger style pioneered by Earl Scruggs in Bill Monroe's band. For a three-finger picker like Jerry to lose to a frailer on a judge's decision had to seriously rankle. The "outtakes" to Blair Jackson's books include some dismayed comments from judge Rodney Dillard (an excellent bluegrass musician himself), cranky that he still had to defend his decision 35 years later.
Garcia's disappointment aside, there was plenty of great artists at the festival that directly or indirectly influenced Garcia and the Dead over the years, such as Doc Watson, Mike Seeger and Lightnin' Hopkins (on Saturday afternoon, the "Country Boys" were actually the White Brothers, with Clarence White). However, the road not taken was described by McNally, as Garcia recalls leaving before Dylan had even finished his set. Hunter says the sound was lousy, and perhaps it was, but Garcia was a purist, too, and not interested yet in "new music." Neither Garcia nor Hunter had really heard or heard of Dylan at this time.
|The Black Mountain Boys, with Jerry Garcia, David Nelson, either Eric Thompson or Sandy Rothman and an uncertain bassist (possibly Norm Van Maastricht), played Top Of The Tangent on February 7 and 8, 1964|
|The Black Mountain Boys and Jerry Kaukonen are at the Tangent on March 6 and 7, and Jesse Fuller was at The Offstage. From the March 6, 1964, Stanford Daily.|
|Mothe McRee's Jug Band opens for Ken Carter, on May 1 and 2, 1964, at the Top Of The Tangent in Palo Alto. The Stanford Daily ad (from May 1 '64) says "Minors Welcome," which implird a change in poicy|
|The Stanford Daily listing from May 1, 1964 for the Mother McRee show at the Top Of The Tangent|
Like most newspapers, the Stanford Daily listed the shows of its advertisers in its roundup of local events. The May 1, 1964 edition includes some intriguing detail
The Tangent reopens this weekend with singer Ken Carter and Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions. New features are a pizzeria and room downstairs for people under 21. The same show will play in both rooms at 8:45, 10:30 pm downstairs, 9:30, 11:15 upstairs. Hoots and auditons will now be held every Wednesday evening. $1.25, 75 cents with discount card.We learn a number of interesting things about the Tangent here. First of all, because of the timings, we know that the opening act would play downstairs and then upstairs, and would still be performing up there while the headliner was downstairs. Folk music was not particularly loud, so this was actually plausible, but it seems strange to modern fans.
More critically, it appears that the Tangent itself is trying to expand its market to include people under 21 as well as over. It's not clear to me why the insistence that there will be an upstairs and downstairs show is so critical. We know that Bob Weir and many others who were not 21--and certainly didn't look 21--had been regulars at the Tangent. It may be that after the remodel, the Tangent started to serve beer. Once there was beer, there had to be a distinction between upstairs and downstairs, at least officially.
Palo Alto has always had a peculiar relationship with liquor. Leland Stanford had originally wanted the town of Mayfield to host his university, but they refused his condition that they close all the saloons. Instead, Leland Stanford and his partner Timothy Hopkins bought up 75,000 acres between Mayfield and Menlo Park, and the dry town of Palo Alto was founded. Palo Alto laws required that there be no saloon within a mile of campus limits. When prohibition came, Mayfield merged with Palo Alto anyway (Mayfield's downtown was on California Avenue, the future and now-past site of the Keystone Palo Alto).
After Prohibition, bars opened a mile from campus--conveniently, the old Mayfield was just over the limit, and the county line was a mile away, in East Palo Alto. But downtown Palo Alto did not have a bar until--this is not a typo--1981. This helps to explain why decades of Stanford undergraduates were so anxious to go to San Francisco instead. Palo Alto residents like my parents were satisfied with this, because they did not want the sleepy downtown to become infested with sleazy bars that were open late. However, per California law, restaurants were allowed to serve beer and wine. This meant that a place like The Tangent, which served food, was one of the few places to get a beer in downtown Palo Alto, since they did not have to compete with any bars.
|117 University Avenue, Palo Alto, as it looked in 2006. At the time, it was a dive bar (by PA standards) called Rudy's. The upstairs was only accessible by a door on the right (in the center of the photo), with the new address of 119 University.|
However, by 1967, the action moved next door to a club called The Poppycock, at 135 University, but it too did not last beyond 1970. For many years, the building at 117 University Avenue was a pleasant, low-key bar called Rudy's, but it closed around 2013. The upstairs part now has a different entrance and a different address (119 University). Last I looked, there was some sort of high-tech startup there, but they had already moved to San Francisco, just like those who had come before them.