Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Grateful Dead At The Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA 1967-68 (Vintage LA)

The color poster for the first Pinnacle concerts at the Shrine Exposition Hall, on November 10-11, 1967. Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead and Blue Cheer played both nights.

The Shrine Exposition Hall: The Grateful Dead in Los Angeles 1967-68
The rise of the Grateful Dead is a tale of two cities. The first is San Francisco, where the Dead rose to underground infamy, and the second is New York, where the Dead became economically viable. Dead fans in Manhattan and Brooklyn made playing the city perenially profitable for the band, and that was the platform for expanding their audience to New Jersey, Philadelphia, Long Island, Boston and the rest of the East Coast.

Los Angeles is America's other great entertainment capital, however, and the Dead had an opposite experience when they played Los Angeles. Sure, they sold a few concert tickets, but so did every other band, ever. On the whole, Los Angeles was pretty indifferent to the Grateful Dead in the 60s, and so the story of the Dead in LA is never even addressed.

Los Angeles, more than any other American city, traffics in the glorification of its own history, particularly when it comes to entertainment. LA always celebrates old theaters or nightclubs from brighter days, so often historical sites are better known now than they were back in the day. Looking at the best retro-LA sites, like VintageLA, is like reading about American popular culture history from the inside, and 60s rock history has its place in that world. VintageLA, for example--which I can't recommend enough--has features on the Aquarius Theater and The Whisky-A-Go-Go. Yet it has nothing about the Shrine Exposition Hall, which tried to be the Fillmore scene for Los Angeles. The Grateful Dead were essential to the rock history of the Shrine, as they were for many 60s rock venues, yet the tale of the Dead at the Shrine Expo Hall remains obscured. This post will illuminate the essential role of the Shrine, and the Dead's part in that, and point to why both the Shrine Expo and the Grateful Dead never lived up to Los Angeles expectations (see here for a broader, less Dead-centric rock history of the Shrine Exposition Hall in the late 60s).

The Shrine Auditorium and Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, at 665 West Jefferson Street

The Grateful Dead in Los Angeles, 1966-67
The music industry played a huge role in Los Angeles, since so many record companies were based there. However, live performances by rock bands in the mid-60s were focused more on "personal appearances," to keep bands' names and faces in front of current and prospective fans, rather than aimed at persuading listeners to buy records based on the music heard at the show. There were a lot of nightclubs for teenagers, and shows at high schools, that featured brief sets on minimal sound systems. There was a substantial nightclub industry, too, but that was oriented towards selling drinks. Danceable music, like at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, was designed to get patrons hot and sweaty so that they would purchase plenty of liquor to cool themselves down.

None of the existing performance models had any room for the early Grateful Dead. They were a dance band, of sorts, but their audience didn't drink, and in any case was mostly too young. Playing short sets missed the point of the Grateful Dead, and without a good (for the time) sound system, their music didn't make much sense, either. In any case, the long-haired Dead were scary barbarians back in the day, and not necessarily welcomed with open arms at a High School. What the Dead needed were underground gigs, but there weren't initially many of those in an industry town like LA.

When the Grateful Dead made their first assault on Los Angeles, in February of 1966, they attempted to create their own underground scene. The buzz of the Acid Tests had worked its magic in San Francisco, and Bill Graham and Chet Helms had teamed up at the Fillmore to start presenting similar events weekly. This formula failed in Los Angeles, however. The Dead had found some friends and put on some Acid Tests and "regular" shows in February and March 1966. The events, while fun, were thinly attended and made no money. The Dead's trip to LA had been intended to make the band more successful. It failed. Like many out-of-towners before them, the Dead returned home to where they were popular, and re-invested themselves in their previous incarnation. They would not return until the next year, when the band had been signed by an LA record company.

January 20, 1967 Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA Timothy Leary/Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead were booked by Warner Brothers Records to record their debut album the week of January 30. 10 days earlier, the band had a relatively high profile Friday night show appearing with LSD promoter Timothy Leary. The Dead (and certainly not Owsley) weren't that sympathetic to Leary, but they were linked in the public mind. Santa Monica, while not technically LA, was right next to it and was generally seen by everyone as part of Greater Los Angeles, so this show would have counted as a return to the city. The show was well-attended, Leary gave a speech, and the Dead played a set. A good time generally seems to have been had, and the band got paid and got some attention. Warner Brothers can not have been sorry that their underground band was doing something "hip" like this.

There is a plausible rumor that the Dead played a show at the Aragon Ballroom in Venice Beach on Sunday night, January 22 (later The Cheetah, see April 30 below). That is someone else's research, however, so I won't elaborate. The only point to make here is that if they did indeed play it--and they might have--it remains awfully obscure, so it may not have done too much to increase underground buzz.

A poster for the first shows at the Kaleidoscope (1228 Vine St), which were blocked by an injunction. The shows may have moved to the Ambassador Hotel in LA for the weekend of April 14-15, 1967
April 14-15, 17, 1967 The Banana Grove (Embassy Ballroom), Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Canned Heat
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 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. 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. 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, and VintageLA has the history of the theater itself).

This original weekend was supposed to be at a building on 1228 Vine Street (at La Mirada near Fountain), but a last second injunction stopped the event. For the weekend, the show was moved to the Embassy Ballroom in the Ambassador Hotel, at 3400 Wilshire, which also housed the legendary Coconut Grove Ballroom (I am planning to write about the weekend at the Ambassador in some detail). The ballroom was nicknamed "The Banana Grove" for the weekend.  All three bands played Friday and Saturday, but the Monday night event (April 17) appears to have been a sort of LA event for the release of the first Dead album, Taylor and Hartmann at least briefly considered keeping the Kaleidoscope at the Ambassador, but that's not what happened.

April 30, 1967 The Cheetah, Venice, CA: Grateful Dead/Yellow Balloon/New Generation (early and late shows)
With no real underground venue in Los Angeles like the Kaleidoscope, the Dead took conventional rock bookings instead. The Cheetah was at 1 Navy Pier on Venice Beach, right next to Santa Monica. It too was part of Greater Los Angeles, and not a suburb. However, the Cheetah was mostly a teen club at the time. Teenagers would come to meet people, dance, and return to the suburbs. A 45-minute set from the strange looking San Francisco band with no hit single, nor potential hit single, wasn't going to win over the type of kids who were going to the Cheetah at the time.

June 16, 1967 The Hullabaloo, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Yellow Payges/The Power (early and late shows)
The Friday night before their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the Dead were booked at the Hullabaloo. The Hullabaloo was promoted by a popular Los Angeles top 40 dj (Dave Hull), and was designed as another teen hotspot. It had a rotating stage, so as one band played, the next band set up. It was LA, and all, and sometimes good bands played the Hullabaloo, but that wasn't why people went. Once again, the sort of stylish teen scene represented by the Hullabaloo was the complete opposite of anything that made the Grateful Dead tick.

In a September '67 interview, Frank Kofsky asked Garcia if he had played in LA.
GARCIA: Yeah, but we've never *really* played LA. We've played in the Cheetah down there.
KOFSKY: Yeah, which is a drag.
GARCIA: We played at all the shit places. And we can never get it on because it always brought us down so much. I mean, the people and promoters down there are all horrible, graspy... The whole LA snap, the whole hype, you know: bread, dollars and cents, and that's it. We've never gotten it on in LA. We've played there but we've never *done* it. 
Kofsky mentions the upcoming 9/15 Hollywood Bowl show & Garcia says, "We want to do that just for the flash of playing in the Hollywood Bowl...[but] nothing's gonna happen."

September 15, 1967 Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead [Big Brother canceled] Bill Graham Presents The San Francisco Scene
September 16, 1967 Elysian Park, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (free concert)
The Hollywood Bowl, at 2301 North Highland Avenue, is one of Los Angeles' most famous performing venues. The amphitheater is carved into the hillside, and a distinctive bandshell covers the stage. Hollywood Bowl is owned by Los Angeles County (the town of Hollywood was merged into LA in the 1930s), and even in a town of fabled entertainment venues, Hollywood Bowl stands out. Capacity is around 17,000, so events at Hollywood Bowl are major indeed.

In the Fall of 1967, since San Francisco was the hottest city in the rock business, Bill Graham took to booking Fillmore bands elsewhere. Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company and the Dead had very few albums, and almost no hits, but they were legendarily infamous even by this early date. So you might expect that the confluence of them in an outdoor Hollywood venue would make for a major 1967 event. But it didn't. No one seems to recall the show. The only fact I know for sure is that Big Brother canceled and did not play. I have seen a picture of Bob Weir on the empty stage, so I know the Dead made it to the venue.

A useful source explains the shortcomings of the Hollywood Bowl as a rock venue, though not specifically for the Dead. Jimmi Seiter, the road manager for The Byrds, discussed the Bowl in Volume 3 of his voluminous memoirs (The Byrds My Way). Sieter explains why there weren't very many good rock concerts at Hollywood Bowl:
The union in those days hat the long haired hippies so of course the Byrds were put into that category...Another bad thing about the Bowl was that there was a very strict curfew since there were many homes that were affected by the sound of the shows so they had a strict 10:30pm curfew and if there was a problem they would turn off the power to the stage. This made for some very short performances when a band would play too long, but this was one of the drawbacks to a show at the Bowl.
So it's no surprise Big Brother dropped out, as there probably wasn't even time for three sets, and if the Dead and the Airplane couldn't play loud, what was the point? So it's no surprise that we have no fond psychedelic eyewitness reports from Hollywood Bowl.

The next day, the Dead and the Airplane played a free concert in nearby Elysian Park. I gather this was fairly well attended, though not a huge event. In many cities, however, any free concert by the Grateful Dead was the first time a major rock band (with a record) had ever played for free, and was also a local hippie clarion call. Ever-hip Los Angeles was different. The Human Be-In set off a wave of similar events around the country, and Los Angeles had had it's first "Love-In" at Griffith Park in March of 1967. So there had already been a fair number of free rock concerts in LA before the Dead and the Airplane played Elysian Park. So the Dead didn't make a big splash with what in most towns would be the stuff of legends.

The April 7, 1967 LA Times advertised a week-long Sport Cycle (bicycle) show at the Shrine Expo Hall

Meanwhile, Back At The Shrine
The Shrine Auditorium and Exposition Hall was built in 1925 by the Al Malikah Temple of the Masonic Order.  The building is in a Spanish Colonial Style with a Moorish flair.  The main entrance to the Auditorium was at 665 West Jefferson Street.  The stage is huge (186 by 72 feet) and it is a popular home for the Academy Awards.  The Auditorium has 6,489 seats on three levels.  The Exposition Hall, part of the same complex but around the corner at 700 West 32nd (at Figueroa) is a 56,000 square foot open area that was (and is) used for trade shows and conventions as well as rock concerts.  The Expo Hall had a capacity of about 5,000. In the late 1960s, most rock concert listings that say “Shrine” are typically at the Exposition Hall rather than the Auditorium. From the 1970s onward, however, almost all rock concerts listed as "The Shrine" were at the Auditorium (including the Dead's return in the latter 70s).

FREAK OUT Hot Spots! Insert to the first Mothers of Invention album, with a map of underground sites in 1966 Los Angeles (Freak Out album released June 1966)
August 13, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA:  Mothers of Invention/others
Los Angeles is an Entertainment industry town, and proud of it. Thus any cultural progression--new contrarian, regressive, progressive, even revolutionary--gets assimilated into modern entertainment. Any performer who can be accused of "selling out" is also buying in, because it's the nature of the beast. In the Summer of '66, with the Vietnam War expanding, the Watts Riots still haunting the city and hair getting longer everywhere, Los Angeles had an underground rock scene, just like the Fillmore and Avalon. We like to think of Frank Zappa as an iconcoclast, or should I say, Frank wanted us to think that, but the very first Mothers Of Invention album included a map to LA's nascent 1966 underground.

One of the founding events of the Los Angeles underground was a show at the Shrine Exposition Hall on August 13, 1966, featuring the Mothers of Invention and several other (then unknown) acts. Just like the Family Dog events in San Francisco, Southern California "Freaks" suddenly realized there were a lot more people like them than they realized. The Shrine was apparently simply rented, probably because it was centrally located and available.

September 17, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Mothers of Invention/Little Gary Ferguson/Factory/Count 5/West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
October 15, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Little Gary Ferguson/Davie Allan & The Arrows/Kenny Dino/The Mugwumps/Dolores Johnson/The Way Out/The Fabs/Vito “Freak-In” Presented By Pat Morgan

In September and October there were sequels at The Shrine Expo Hall. The Mothers headlined in September, with some other undergroundish bands, and there was a light show as well. The October event didn't advertise the Mothers, and there were none after that. I have no idea what happened at the third one--was it a financial debacle, or did the cops hassle everyone? In any case, there were no more Freak Outs, but the Shrine Expo Hall had been proven as a possible venue for Fillmore style "Dance Concerts."

December 18, 1966  Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Quicksilver  Messenger Service/Loving Impulse
(possibly canceled)
Big Brother and Quicksilver booked a show at Shrine Expo Hall, and a poster circulates. I'm not convinced the concert actually took place. The importance of the poster, however, is it means that word had gotten around that the Shrine Expo Hall might make a Southern California Fillmore stand in.

An alternate poster for the Dead's November 10-11 '67 debut at Shrine Expo

November 10-11, 1967 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Buffalo Springfield/Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer Pinnacle Concerts Presents
By the fall of 1967, almost every psychedelic rock band had played Los Angeles, at a wide variety of venues, but there was no venue that played the role of the Fillmore. At the Fillmore, the mere fact of playing there meant you were a hip band, and fans came just to see what was hip. All over the West Coast, there were comparable places--the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Eagles Auditorium in Seattle and The Retinal Circus in Vancouver, for example--but none in Southern California. The Kaleidoscope had been conceived to fill the void, but the City Council (and perhaps the cops) had throttled it pre-birth. There may have been a few hip little nightclubs, like the Magic Mushroom, but no venue where the rising underground bands played on a regular basis.

To tell this story properly, I should tell the entire story of the Shrine Exposition Hall as a Southern California Fillmore. That story is too long to tell here, even for me, so I will limit the narrative to the general outlines of concert promotion at the Shrine Expo Hall, and the critical role played by the Grateful Dead as part of the story.

The first regular promoter of rock shows at the Shrine was Pinnacle Dance Concerts, the partnership of Sepp Donahower, Marc Chase and John Van Hamersveld. Supposedly some of the money was supplied by the heir to a cereal fortune, but that may be apocryphal. Pinnacle promoted concerts at the Shrine, both the Expo Hall and the Auditorium, on many weekends between November 1967 and August 1968. As far as I know, during the week the Shrine presented the usual run of corporate or civic events, but I don't know that for certain.

Van Hamersveld was a poster artist, at the time most famous for the promotional poster for the legendary surf film Endless Summer. By 1967, he was the the head of design for Capitol Records. Over the course of his career, Van Hamersheld did the covers for over 300 albums. Among his many, many classic album covers were the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street and the Grateful Dead's Skeletons From The Closet. Van Hamesveld did the posters for Pinnacle Productions, and many of the posters were so good that we remain familiar with them today.

After Pinnacle's debut with Buffalo Springfield and The Dead, they put on a series of shows at Shrine Exposition Hall. Pinnacle only used the Shrine on weekends, and not even all of them, and the Exposition Hall seems to have had the usual trade events and the like throughout the whole period. There weren't as many rock concerts at the Shrine as at the Fillmore, but Van Hammersveld's posters are fairly recognizable today. Pinnacle must have made at least some money, since they kept putting on shows.

When I started researching the rock history of the Shrine Exposition Hall, I was very surprised to find that there was no accessible on-line list of the Pinnacle rock shows. As a result--and being me--I made my own list, and posted it elsewhere (I will add, as a Grateful Dead footnote, that the band did not play the Shrine on December 13, 1967, nor did anyone else--it was a Wednesday, so they didn't debut "Dark Star" there).

March 9, 1968 Melodyland Theater, Anaheim, CA: Jefferson Airplane and Friends (early and late show)
By early 1968, Jefferson Airplane were selling a lot of records, and they were genuine rock stars. Los Angeles, however, was still about "entertainment." The Airplane played a weekend, with two shows each night, at the Melodyland Theater, just across the road from Disneyland. On Saturday night, the Grateful Dead were billed as "Friends," for whatever reason. It seems both bands played two short sets twice a night. The Airplane had Grace Slick, a genuine star, but the Dead were never going to win over a crowd in that kind of format.

May 17, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Taj Mahal
May 18, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Taj Mahal/
[with Jefferson Airplane as unbilled guests] Pinnacle Presents
By May of '68, Pinnacle had put on a steady run of hip shows at the Shrine Expo Hall. For the weekend of May 18-19, the Grateful Dead returned, along with another rising San Francisco group, the Steve Miller Band. The Miller Band had just released their debut album on Capitol, the great Children Of The Future. Taj Mahal was a well-known local act, whose debut album had just been (or was about to be) released on Columbia. 

In line with being cool, the Airplane "showed up" at the Grateful Dead concert on Saturday night. This was probably announced on FM radio. Pinnacle would not have had the Airplane drop in if ticket sales had been more robust. It's worth noting that the Dead, Airplane and Steve Miller were all playing the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival in Santa Clara this weekend. The Dead would have played the Shrine on Friday night, flown up to San Jose, played the Fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon, and then returned to the Shrine for the Saturday night show.

llumaniti Alert: in an interview, poster artist and Pinnacle partner John Van Hammerseld, interviewed in Paul Grushkin's Art Of Rock book (p.255), says that George Lucas was part of the light show crew at some point in 67-68. So for those of you who feel that there was a secret connection between the Grateful Dead and Star Wars...

July 11, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer
The Grateful Dead returned in 1968 to headline a rare Thursday show at Shrine Expo Hall. It's hare to read the poster, but I'm not sure if it was a Pinnacle show. Certainly Pinnacle produced the weekend show, with a triple bill of Butterfield Blues Band, Sly and The Family Stone and the Velvet Underground. Presumably, the fact the Dead could play on a Thursday suggested they had an audience, but they weren't a big enough draw for a weekend show. The Dead's weekend booking was at a tiny place on Lake Tahoe's North Shore, so it wasn't like Shrine promoters were being outbid by a high-powered gunslinger from another city.

There is one interesting detail about the July Shrine Expo show: future Jerry Garcia Band drummer David Kemper, then a teenage high school graduate, had just moved to Los Angeles. In a great Jake Feinberg interview, Kemper described seeing the Dead at the Shrine, but not remembering much, "thanks to Mr. Owsley." The timeline strongly suggests that it was this show.

[update: Commenter Brad makes a good case for July 11 as a spurious date. The poster was apparently completed in 1972, and Brad and LIA report that there is no supporting publicity. So we still don't know which show Kemper saw...maybe in May?]

Headliners for the Newport Pop Festival in Orange County were Tiny Tim (Sat Aug 3) and Jefferson Airplane (Sun Aug 4). The Dead played Sunday.
August 4, 1968 Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa, CA: Newport Pop Festival, with Jefferson Airplane/Eric Burdon and The Animals/The Byrds/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Iron Butterfly/Things To Come/Illinois Speed Press/Blue Cheer
The Newport Pop Festival, a two-day outdoor event at the Orange County Fairgrounds, was just one of many events trying to capitalize on the Monterey Pop vibe. When these kinds of concerts were a success, they generally overwhelmed the venue or the community, but if they weren't as crowded, they lost money. Still, the Newport Pop Festival is somewhat fondly remembered. The Dead played with their San Francisco friends, and got to check in with some other pals. Garcia's old bluegrass compadre Clarence White was playing one of his first shows as the lead guitarist for the Byrds, and the Dead went back a ways with Eric Burdon and The Animals as well.

Still, putting on a good show at a big outdoor event probably didn't do that much for the band. There were a lot of groups, and the Dead probably played about an hour, like everyone else. Some fans probaly liked them, but I doubt that all the high school and college students were still raving about them when school started the next month.

August 23-24, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dea/Taj Mahal/others Pinnacle Dance
Everyone seems to have had fond memories of psychedelic rock concerts at Shrine Expo in 1967 and '68, but they don't seem to have been that profitable. Pinnacle's next-to-last stand was on the weekend of August 23-24, with a weekend of concerts by the Grateful Dead. There was one more weekend of Pinnacle concerts, two weeks later (Sep 6-7, with John Mayall/Junior Wells/Taj Mahal), and Pinnacle stood down.

The Shrine concerts were recorded by the Dead, and released by the band on the 1992 album Two From The Vault. The release, although brilliantly restored, has some very misleading liner notes. All of the pictures on the archival cd are from the Auditorium rather than the Exposition Hall. The liner notes, full of details about frequency response, seem oblivious to the fact that there were different venues in the same building.

An ad for a canceled concert at the Shrine Expo Hall on September 27-28, 1968, presented by "Zenith Sunrise," and featuring the Grateful Dead and Buddy Miles Express
September 27-28, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express/Black Pearl/Little John Farm  [canceled] Zenith Sunrise presents
The Pinnacle company fell apart after August. An intriguing artifact is this poster for scheduled Grateful Dead concerts at Shrine Expo on the weekend of September 27-28. The poster says the shows will be presented by Zenith Sunrise. The concerts never happened. Presumably, Zenith Sunrise was a reformed version of Pinnacle, but it didn't happen. Much of the Pinnacle team reconvened as Scenic Sounds, and started putting on shows around Southern California. The Dead were very loyal to promoters, so I assume that if they took the September booking, it would have been with the same principals as Pinnacle.

October 18, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Grateful Dead/Cleveland Wrecking Company
December 13-14, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Grateful Dead/Magic Sam/Turnquist Remedy

Over in suburban Torrance, what was formerly the Blue Law had been reconfigured as The Bank. A group of hippies, one of whom had inherited some money, put together the Fillmore-like operation. On one hand, Torrance was more or less the suburbs, which was where young rock fans lived. Places like Torrance were also where the local police absolutely, positively did not want some hippie establishment.

The Bank had opened in July. A lot of cool rock bands played there in the Summer and Fall, even more so once the Shrine was no longer booking shows. Pink Floyd and Ten Years After both played there, as did a number of San Francisco bands. The Grateful Dead played The Bank in October, and then again at the very end of the line, in December. By the end of '68, so many people were getting busted at The Bank that crowds had dramatically thinned out. This was exactly what the cops wanted, and spelled the end of the venue. The window for a Fillmore-style ballroom in Southern California was closing.

Scenic Sounds presented Country Joe and The Fish and the Grateful Dead at the Shrine Exposition Hall on December 20-21, 1968. The Dead never played Shrine Expo Hall again.
December 20-21, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA:  Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish/Spirit/Pulse/Sir Douglas Quintet/Mint Tattoo Scenic Sounds Presents
The Pinnacle group reconstituted itself as Scenic Sounds. I know that John Van Hammersveld was the Art Director for Capitol Records by this time, and the cereal heir was gone (if he was ever really there). Scenic Sounds rented Shrine Expo Hall again for a few more shows in the Fall. Near Christmas, Scenic booked the Dead again, this time with Country Joe and The Fish as headliners. It is largely forgotten that outside of San Francisco, Country Joe and The Fish had a higher profile than the Grateful Dead.

Apparently there were two stages, so there could be more bands. Pulse was.a peculiar act, a conga player with a light show, and the drums apparently triggered the lights. Sir Douglas Quintet and Mint Tattoo were Bay Area bands, so it must have been a long evening. Country Joe and The Fish didn't really have a bass player at this point, so Spirit's Mark Andes filled in for the weekend, according to witnesses.

Yet with that, the Grateful Dead never played the Shrine Exposition Hall again. Pretty much, that was the end of Shrine Expo as a meaningful rock venue. Sure, promoters rented it once in a while, and there were occasional rock shows. In fact, there still are. Not often, but sometimes. The Shrine Exposition Hall is still a going concern, and now and again there is a concert there.

Still, the narrative for the Grateful Dead in the 60s in Los Angeles is the opposite of practically everywhere else. In New York, in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest, in Miami, in Philadelphia--the Dead rolled into town and stuck a flag in the ground. Buoying every new psychedelic ballroom, playing the first free concert in town, playing longer and louder than anyone else. It was the stuff dreams were made of. Los Angeles isn't like other towns, however, and is proud of it. The Shrine Exposition Hall was just another venue. Sure, there were some great shows, because great bands were on tour, but Shrine Expo didn't have a big impact on Los Angeles culture or music, even though it's bona fides were as great as any other contemporary venue. 

Aftermath: Pacific Presentations
The significant impact of Pinnacle concerts at Shrine Expo was the genesis of subsequent concert promotion companies. The Pinnacle team became Scenic Sounds. In early '69, Scenic Sounds started booking regular concerts on weekends at the Rose Palace in Pasadena. The ever-loyal Grateful Dead played for Scenic twice more at the Rose Palace, on March 21-22, 1969 and then again on May 10.
Scenic Sounds in turn became Pacific Presentations. Pacific put on concerts all over the country, particularly in secondary markets like San Antonio or Rochester, where there weren't major promoters. A band like the Dead was willing to play the hinterlands, but they wanted to work with promoters they already knew, so Pacific Presentations promoted a lot of Dead shows all over the country.

Pacific grew into one of the largest concert companies in the United States, promoting thousands of concerts all over the US and Canada. The company established and popularized venues such as the Hollywood Palladium, and the Santa Barbara County Bowl. Pacific put together California Jam in 1974, which set the record for paid attendance. The company also promoted entire tours of Rod Stewart & The Faces all through the 1970s, helping make the artist one of the biggest attractions in the world. In the late 1970s, Gary Perkins, Brian Murphy, and Bob Bogdanovich split from Pacific and formed Avalon Attractions. Danny Kresky was also with Pacific. After around four years, Danny left to start his own company, DKE in Pittsburgh. Donahower stayed with Pacific and promoted tours with Bob Marley & The Wailers and other attractions. 
Sepp Donahower is currently the sole owner of Pacific Presentations. After Perkins left Avalon a few years later, Irving Azoff and Bob Getties bought into Avalon and it was sold to SFX a few years later. SFX was then sold to Clear Channel, and Clear Channel spun off their concert company into Live Nation, which now has merged with Ticketmaster.

Monday, September 7, 2020

January 2-5, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Blood Sweat & Tears/Spirit

The Randy Tuten poster for the Bill Graham Presents show at Fillmore West on January 2-3-4, 1969, with the Grateful Dead, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Spirit (a Sunday January 5 show was added)

The Grateful Dead and their fans, in a collective enterprise, have attempted to preserve all the music they ever made. The Dead's archive of live tapes is unprecedented in the 20th century rock industry for its vastness. Dead fans themselves have taped shows, going back to the 60s, with audience tapes often filling in gaps left in the archive of board tapes. Grateful Dead fans have also made an extraordinary effort to determine every show and catalog the setlist for all of them.  For the 2,400 or so live shows by the Grateful Dead, surprisingly little is unknown.

There are gaps, of course, here and there, usually back in the 60s. Inevitably, if the band played an unscheduled show in Ohio or a Wednesday night in Baltimore, it's not totally surprising that we don't have any record. Indeed, the remarkable thing is the number of out-of-the-way 60s shows where we at least have some kind of tape or good eyewitness account, so we at least have a feel for what happened. The near-completeness of the historical record adds to the depth and color of the Grateful Dead's long journey.

On the weekend of January 2-4, 1969, the Grateful Dead were booked to headline the Fillmore West from Thursday to Saturday. Although neither of the Dead's two albums had been successful, really, the Dead were genuine rock stars in San Francisco, and had been since 1966. The Dead had co-headlined an epic party at Fillmore West on New Year's Eve, and they were back for more a few days later. We know the weekend was a success, because Graham appears to have added a Sunday afternoon show. In general, Graham only did this when the rest of the weekend's ticket sales had been robust. So it had to have been a pretty good weekend.

1969. San Francisco. The Fillmore West. Four Grateful Dead shows.
  • I know of no tape of any of the four nights
  • I know of no setlists for any night
  • I don't even know of an eyewitness accounts of any of the shows.

Why? Four nights, likely good crowds, probably eight sets, on their home court, and we know nothing about what the Grateful Dead performed? This isn't Athens, OH or Baltimore, on some weeknight on the road, it's San Francisco, Fillmore West and a weekend. I don't know the reasons--maybe my post will resurrect some long buried sources or memories--but I think I can figure it out.

The Grateful Dead's immortal Live/Dead album was recorded in San Francisco in January, February and March 1969, at the Avalon and Fillmore West

Why No Tapes?

The absence of any Grateful Dead tapes from the January run at Fillmore West is easier to explain, although I can't be definitive. Paradoxically, I think the absence of any tapes has to do directly with attempts to record Live/Dead. As you will recall, the Dead were attempting to record a live album using a brand-new Ampex 16-track tape recorder. Since the Dead were playing New Year's Eve at Fillmore West, Ampex engineer Ron Wickersham helped the band lug the recorder they were using at Pacific Recorders in San Mateo to the Fillmore West in order to record the show.

Apparently the attempt to record the New Year's Eve show was a disaster. One track remains, a messy version of "Midnight Hour." The rest of the tape was recorded over a few weeks later, since 16-track tape was expensive. I do not know what the technical problems might have been on New Year's Eve, nor would I likely understand if they were spelled out. It does appear, however, that Wickersham and the band lugged the Ampex 16-track back to San Mateo, probably mid-day on January 1. A review of the tape showed dismal results, and apparently modifications were in order.

It does make sense, however, to consider that the Dead had set up their sound board and sound system to record on December 31, and returned without their gear on January 2, since Wickersham was resolving the problems. Now, of course, with hindsight, we say "didn't Owsley have his regular deck--what happened?" Honestly, who knows? But it does make a certain sort of sense that the Dead had a certain plan, to record New Year's Eve and the subsequent shows, and it all went South. The Dead did not return to 16-track recording until January 24 at the Avalon, and in between Owsley taped a show the old way (January 17 in Santa Barbara). Still, the band had a plan for Fillmore West, and it went wrong. So the lack of tapes, while still mysterious, is at least somewhat explicable to me.

Why No Reviews?
We think of the Grateful Dead as big rock stars, and that was true in San Francisco in 1969. Nonetheless, the Grateful Dead were also a hometown band who played quite regularly. So while there was plenty of coverage of the Dead in the local newspapers, there were rarely actual reviews of them. A touring band who might show up once a year was worthy of some column inches, but the Dead were a constant, like the cycles of the moon. So they weren't reviewed, not the way that Cream or even The Doors got reviewed.

Also, the regular beat writers for the local papers were a lot less likely to go out and about on the weekend after New Year's Eve. This was just human nature. Chronicle writer Ralph Gleason, as well as Examiner music writer Phil Elwood, often went to Grateful Dead shows, and commented on the goings on. But since neither of them appear to have gone out that weekend, we have no reports. To my knowledge, no other Bay Area paper, nor the Berkeley Barb or any other underground paper commented on these Dead shows, either. So we have no information at all from the press.

A printed ticket for Thursday, January 2, 1969 at Fillmore West. The same run of printed tickets was used for Sunday January 5 (the tickets had a printed reproduction of the poster to prevent counterfeits).
Who Went To The Show?
The weekend of shows was originally announced as Thursday through Saturday, January 2-3-4. From some surviving ticket stubs, it appears that a Sunday night show was added. This was common practice for Bill Graham Presents. It made sense to sell tickets for three shows, and if the demand was there, to add an additional show. This was particularly true for the kind of acts which might cause people to see a show and say, "wow, that was great, I'd love to go again." Of course, the Sunday night scheduling was agreed to in advance by the bands, their agents and managements.

The Grateful Dead had just co-headlined four nights at Fillmore West on November 7-10 with Quicksilver Messenger Service. The Dead and Quicksilver had also hosted New Year's Eve, along with the rising groups Santana and It's A Beautiful Day. Quicksilver's debut album, released in May of 1968, was hugely popular on FM radio. It was also far more accessible than Anthem Of The Sun. So while the Dead were local legends, they were more likely to draw people who had already seen them. The Dead were rock stars, sure, but they couldn't really sell out a weekend at Fillmore West on their own dime.

The two other bands booked with the Dead on this January weekend, as it happened, were perfect examples of bands who were hot. Blood Sweat & Tears and Spirit had both had successful debut albums, and now they were following them up. It appears to have been Blood Sweat & Tears and Spirit who drew the crowds, more than the Dead. Now, to be clear, the Dead were popular, and many of the people drawn to the shows would have looked forward to seeing the Grateful Dead as well. But another reason we know so little about the January shows may be that the Dead were overshadowed by their openers.

I don't mean to suggest that the Dead were "blown off the stage," or anything so dramatic. I just think the what hardcore Deadheads there were in those days were wiped out by New Year's Eve, and other local rock fans were the ones attending on the weekend. Neither Blood, Sweat & Tears nor Spirit have the kinds of fans who document everything they saw 50 years later, which is a shame, because I think that is who were really excited about this show.

Blood, Sweat & Tears debut album Child Is Father To The Man was released by Columbia in April 1968. Al Kooper was the principal writer, arranger and lead singer.

Blood, Sweat & Tears

If we set the Wayback Machine to January 1969, the top group playing this weekend wasn't the Grateful Dead, it was Blood, Sweat & Tears. Blood, Sweat & Tears had been formed by Al Kooper and Steve Katz in Fall, 1967, out of the remains of the Blues Project. Kooper's idea was to have a rock band modeled on the big band sound of Maynard Ferguson. B,S&T's debut album Child Is The Father To The Man, released in April, 1968 was a sophisticated homage to the likes of Ferguson while still retaining a rock beat and a soulful groove. The album sold pretty well, and it got good reviews. B,S&T was an eight-piece band, with the horns actually part of the group, instead of added on later. With players like Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Fred Lipsius (alto sax), the horns were big-band quality too.

Child Is The Father To The Man was a great album, and it still sounds pretty good today. Kooper was the primary songwriter and arranger. Really, the only weakness of the album was Kooper's lead vocals, which were only barely adequate to the power of the arrangements. Steve Katz and other members wanted to add a "real" lead singer. Notwithstanding other disputes in the band, Kooper did not take kindly to the idea of a new lead singer, and he left the group. Thanks to a recommendation from Judy Collins, Blood, Sweat & Tears signed up Canadian singer David Clayton-Thomas. After a few other personnel changes, they had returned to the studio in October 1968. 

Columbia Records was very interested in merging rock bands with horn sections. At the time, Columbia not only had B, S&T, but Chicago Transit Authority and The Flock, who also merged horns with the rhythm section. Columbia assigned producer Jim Guercio, who had been in the Buckinghams, whose hit "Kind Of A Drag" seemed to imply the kind of soul-rock mix that the company was looking for. In late 1968, Guercio was working with both Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago Transit Authority, and those two groups were perhaps the biggest ever sellers on the rock-band-plus-horns model.

Blood, Sweat & Tears self-titled second album, released in December 1968. There were three huge AM hits on the album, and the lp sold over 4 million copies.

"You've Made Me So Very Happy"-Blood, Sweat & Tears
Blood, Sweat & Tears second album, named just Blood, Sweat & Tears, was released in December, 1968. It was huge. Really huge. It sold 4 million copies, a staggering number for the time. There were three gigantic singles that came off the album. If you were sentient in America in 1969, you heard a Blood, Sweat & Tears single from that album all year long. The three big hits were:
  • "You've Made Me So Very Happy" (single released Jan '69, remake of a '67 Brenda Holloway hit)
  • "Spinning Wheel" (single released May '69)
  • "And When I Die" (single released Sept '69)

Blood, Sweat & Tears was so big that they were the second highest paid band at Woodstock (Jimi Hendrix got $20,000, and BS&T got $15K). For various contractual reasons, they were not in the movie, but Blood, Sweat & Tears was one of the break-out bands of 1969. Even before the singles hit, BS&T would have been getting play on KSAN. To 60s hippies, "jazz" was sophisticated music, but parents still didn't like it, so liking jazz or "jazz-rock" meant you were sophisticated. At least initially, BS&T came into 1969 as a cool band. So I think the Fillmore West shows did really well because of Blood, Sweat & Tears, not the Grateful Dead.

Now, to be clear, unlike in later decades, there was no inherent dismissal at the time of the Dead as "an old hippie band"--hippies weren't even old yet. I think the sort of fan who wanted to see B,S&T thought, "oh yeah, the Grateful Dead are supposed to be good, it'll be fun." But I also think that a fan seeing B,S&T would sit through the first Dead set, and the second B,S&T set, but not stick around for Grateful Dead late night. So any killer "Dark Star" at 2am--there had to be at least one, right?--was probably to a pretty thin crowd.

"I've Got A Line On You"-Spirit
Spirit was a band from Los Angeles. Their situation was somewhat of the reverse of Blood, Sweat & Tears. The band had an underground following, and they got airplay on the few FM rock stations that existed. But the band did not sell many records until after they broke up. Today, many Spirit songs are recognizable from television commercials (like "Mr. Skin" and "Nature's Way"), and the group is widely revered by people who own too many records as one of the most original bands in the 1960s. In January, 1969, however, Spirit wasn't very well known. In December '68, the band had just released their second album on Ode Records, The Family That Plays Together.

Still, Spirit only had one kind-of-hit in the 60s, and it was the single "I Got A Line On You." The single was released in October 1968. It was a great song, and ultimately it got as high as #25 nationally. The Family That Plays Together was a great followup to Spirit's 1968 debut album, and it would have gotten some good airplay on KSAN. Now, to be clear, Spirit would have been a cult item, whereas Blood, Sweat & Tears would have been mass-market. But for the kind of hipster who would only go to a show if there was something super-cool to brag about, Spirit would have been it. The Grateful Dead were still reasonably cool, as these things went, but it was Spirit that would have been the draw for the hipoisie. Once again, this kind of fan would have cheerily caught two sets by Spirit, and enjoyed the Dead's first set, but they weren't hanging out for the late night "Dark Star." 

A Call For Archaeologists

  • The Grateful Dead, in their prime, make no tapes of the early January weekend shows at Fillmore West, presumably because of tape equipment issues related to recording what would become Live/Dead
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears has just released one of the biggest albums of the 1960s, and probably helped pack the house.
  • Spirit, not well known but well regarded, seemed to be a band on the rise to stardom, a far more intriguing band to see than the Dead, who had headlined Fillmore West five times in the previous eight weeks

No tapes, no setlists, no reviews, no memories: can someone prove me wrong? Please? Find a review, a lost comment thread on a Blood, Sweat & Tears chat board? January 1969, at home, and we got nothing?

The internet is a remarkable instrument. I'm counting on the audience to find something.

Spirit released their fourth album, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus in late 1970. The band broke up in January 1971, but the album went on to become a huge hit afterwards.


The Blood, Sweat & Tears album was a monster, 4 million sold and three giant hit singles. The next album, 1970's Blood, Sweat & Tears 3, was also huge. It too had a giant hit single, "Lucretia MacEvil." B,S&T, however, for all their success, was rapidly shoved down the hipness ladder, seen as a bunch of poseurs. By 1970 standards, B,S&T mostly played covers, and the band played charts and didn't improvise. Clayton-Thomas, though an excellent singer, was a trained vocalist, like a Las Vegas singer, rather than gravel-voiced like Rod Stewart. BS&T had to answer the claim that they were "inauthentic," a fatal criticism in those days. Since the band toured on behalf of the US State Department and then appeared regularly in Las Vegas, the group lost all the jazz credibility that had been established with their debut.

By about 1973, although Blood, Sweat & Tears were still very popular, no one was going around bragging about the time they saw them opening for the Dead. BS&T has toured for many decades--they may still--but they don't have the kind of fans who document every show back until the dawn of time. So any memories of the time that the band opened for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West remain uncaptured. Indeed, some of the SF rock fans who went to check out Blood, Sweat & Tears may have been embarrassed about it after they heard "Spinning Wheel" for the millionth time, so they blocked it out.

Spirit, in contrast, has remained the height of cool since 1968, and deservedly so. Unfortunately, despite the initial success of "I've Got A Line On You," The Family That Plays Together wasn't a big hit. It's followup, 1969's Clear Spirit, another great album, went nowhere. Spirit broke up in early 1971, shortly after their album Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was released. Twelve Dreams was a huge hit, a staple of FM radio, and much beloved by rock fans everywhere. Various versions of Spirit performed into the 1990s, and there were some spinoffs (like JoJo Gunne), but nothing could recapture the magic of the original band. Spirit's brilliant lead guitarist Randy California drowned in a tragic accident in 1997, and that ended any chance of the heroic recognition they richly deserved.

The Grateful Dead toured continuously until 1995, when lead guitarist Jerry Garcia died. Members of the band have continued to tour and record, and archival releases of the band's material continue to sell in great numbers into the present day.

Appendix: Lineups, January 1969
Blood, Sweat & Tears
David Clayton-Thomas-lead vocals
Steve Katz-guitar, harmonica, vocals
Fred Lipsius-alto sax
Lew Soloff-trumpet
Chuck Winfield-trumpet
Jerry Hyman-trombone
Dick Halligan-organ, piano
Jim Fielder-bass
Bobby Colomby-drums

Randy California-lead guitar, vocals
Jay Ferguson-vocals, piano
John Locke-organ, electric piano, piano
Mark Andes-bass, vocals
Ed Cassidy-drums

Friday, August 28, 2020

February 6, 1979 The Pavilion, Tulsa, OK: Grateful Dead (Last Lost Live Tape)

The board tape for January 22, 1978, in Oregon
The Grateful Dead were the first band to not only allow audience taping, but the first to openly encourage it.  Inadvertent or not, the Dead's strategy to allow the free circulation of live tapes was essential for the group to build their loyal audience, who returned to see the band again and again, indifferent to whether the band current record release, if they even had one. The Dead succeeded financially running directly against late 20th century music business orthodoxy.

Deadheads know, of course, that not every Dead show was taped, or preserved on tape. Many shows in the 60s were missing, and even into the early 70s there were scattered shows with limited or missing tapes. By the early 70s, however, the Dead were popular enough in an underground way that even the "untaped" shows had newspaper reviews, eyewitness accounts and other ephemera, so we had some idea what happened those nights. 

There's an outlier, though. And it's late, much later than anyone realizes. On February 6, 1979 the Grateful Dead played the Tulsa Pavilion in Tulsa, OK. No board tape survives in the vault. No one seems to have made an audience tape, not even of terrible quality. There was no newspaper review. No one has appeared online as an eyewitness. Maybe it was just a Tuesday night in Tulsa--maybe they played "Dark Star" for 40 minutes. We don't know.

How did this happen?

If you go down to the Deep Ellum DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) station, you probably don't have to keep your money in your shoes.
The Grateful Dead in Texas and The Southwest 

The Grateful Dead first established themselves as a money making act on the two coasts, followed by the Upper Midwest. If you define a traveling circus by roadways, the Dead's initial main lines were US101 in the West, Interstate 95 in the East, and I-80 linking the two across the country. This is hardly a metaphor, as an analysis of their first touring schedules will tell you. Throughout the 70s, initially under the guidance of Sam Cutler, the Dead worked on building audiences in different places, along different roads. Financial success for the Dead meant profitable touring, and building audiences in new territory required returning to a region again and again, maybe not in the same cities but near enough for a road trip.

The Cutler road map played huge dividends over time, even if the paydays didn't come until after Cutler was long gone. Over the decades, the Dead extended their touring schedule to include upstate New York and the "New South" of North Carolina and Virginia. When the band finally hit it big in 1987, with "Touch Of Grey," the willing audiences in those places allowed the Dead to tour from city to city without excessive travel. This favored both the road crew and the road-tripping Deadheads. Put another way, the band took their three main highways, and added two more: I-90 (in New York State) and I-85 (in Virginia and North Carolina). 

But the Cutler plan wasn't foolproof. Throughout the 70s and early 80s, the Dead played relentlessly in Texas and some surrounding states. They played some great music, per the tapes, but the Dead never really took hold in Texas. It seems strange, given the generally strong economy and Texans love of love music. I wrote about this at some length, but I can't say why Texas wasn't prime Deadhead territory. By the time '87 rolled around, the Dead had pretty much given up on the state, and after 1988, they never played there again. The Grateful Dead's failure to add I-10 as a major thoroughfare was the the backdrop for that Tuesday night in Tulsa.

The Pavilion in Tulsa, OK, built in 1932 with a capacity of 6,311. Located on the State Fairgounds at 1701 S. Louisville Avenue, the Grateful Dead played here on February 6, 1979
February 6, 1979 Tulsa Pavilion, Tulsa, OK 

After December 1978, it's hard not to draw the conclusion that the Grateful Dead somewhat gave up on Texas and the Southwest. They only played the region intermittently throughout the 80s. As the 80s rolled on, when the Dead played their strongholds in Florida and Atlanta, they took the North/South route through Virginia and North Carolina rather than East/West through New Orleans and Texas. This was not necessarily a planned decision, but it was a rational one. As the Dead's ticket sales became more focused on fans who saw the band over and over again, the booking policy led to a touring schedule that featured relatively short drives on a nightly basis. The vast distances of the Southwest were far less attractive for any fans who were thinking of catching three or four shows in six nights.

Another factor in the Dead's declining presence in the Southwest was the absence of any longstanding relationships with local promoters. Sam Cutler was an old comrade, and he had run Manor Downs in Austin, but for mysterious reasons he dropped out of managing the facility in the late 1970s. The Dead would indeed return to Manor Downs but Cutler's departure meant that the band focused on established beachheads elsewhere. We will have to wait for Cutler's new book (hurry up, Sam!) to unravel the details, but it seems that his departure combined with the vast plains of Texas to keep the Dead touring in the more humid climes of the Southeast, rather than the Southwest.

The Grateful Dead's only appearance in Tulsa on February 6, 1979 indicates how small a part the Southwest played in the band's plans. Everything about the Tulsa show is an outlier, and indeed the entire section of the tour is an outlier. The Dead had never played Tulsa before, which is 107 miles Northeast of Oklahoma City, and the second largest city in the State (behind OKC). The  Pavilion, at 1701 S. Louisville Avenue, had a capacity of 6,311, and had opened in 1932. It was originally called The Fairgounds Pavilion. The Pavilion was only the second-largest venue in Tulsa (the 8,900 seat Convention Center had opened in 1964), so it wasn't a glamorous booking even for Tulsa.

 It was also a Tuesday night. Even weirder, it was in between a Sunday night show (Feb 4) in Madison, WI and a Wednesday show (Feb 7) in Carbondale, IL. Both of those shows were effectively university gigs.

Any band that would go 750 miles for a Tuesday night gig in a city they had never played, just to go 500 more miles for a Wednesday night show in another city they had never played was hurting for money. The Dead had two weekend nights in Kansas City, KS (Feb 9-10), so they had to fill the week with any paying booking. If Texas had been a good gig, they might have gone there, but Tulsa and Carbondale seem to have been better choices. Draw your own conclusion.

When I mentioned the Tulsa show in an earlier post, commenter Brad K mentioned that someone who put up posters for the show had said that it snowed. I checked this out, and it's correct--temperatures were under thirty and there was snow, albeit not a lot. Now, sure New England 'Heads will say, "c'mon 25 degrees and snow flurries, I'd do that!" But the Southwest isn't the Northeast. The roads and the people aren't equipped for any snow, so anyone making a last minute decision would have just stayed home. Daunting weather would have discouraged any non-roadie from driving to Tulsa from any distance.

There's yet another observation derived from Brad's comment. In the late 70s, promoters only hung posters around town if a show was way undersold, and they were desperate to sell tickets. How many Grateful Dead shows were there in the 70s where anxious promoters put up signs around town? Not anywhere I lived. And another thing--not only is there no tape for the Tulsa show, nor a setlist, but there's a missing poster, too. Sure, it's probably a standard "boxing -style" poster that says "Tuesday Night, The Pavilion, from San Francisco: The Grateful Dead." But right now, it's rarer than any Avalon poster.

As far as I know, the February 6 Tulsa show is the last, latest Grateful Dead show for which we have no audience tape whatsoever. That tells me that for whatever little community there may have been of "tourheads," none of them were going to Tulsa on a Tuesday night in February. Legend also has it that when Brent Mydland joined the band, in late March, Garcia grabbed a few tapes of recent shows off the shelf and handed them over. While unprovable, it would explain why Tulsa and a few other shows from that run have no board tapes in the vault. Thus February 6, 1979 in Tulsa, OK, is the latest Dead show for which we have not a single recorded note from any source, listenable or not. 

If you meet a guy, and he tells you "I saw them do "Dark Star" during a snowstorm in Tulsa," well, maybe he's deluded. But maybe.... 

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, a few distant fragments have been threaded into one place. Thanks to everyone who contributed, but particularly fellow scholar Jesse Jarnow:
Grateful Dead at Tulsa Fairgrounds Pavilion, February 6, 1979

First of all, not one but two posters exist (it turned out both were on Deadlists). They aren't great, but they exist.

Eyewitness Accounts
It turns out there are a number of comments on recalling the show. It appears that the show was kind of undersold anyway, and then a snowstorm encouraged people to stay home. And it was several inches of snow, which is a lot for the Southeast. Here's some good samples:

"Tulsa Steve" recalls:
That snowy show.....

Yup, I was there too. It was a weather disaster. There was a blizzard raging in the hours prior to the show. The band made it to Tulsa. I'd always heard that the TU Student Association posed as a "real" promtion company and brought the Dead to Tulsa. having been a fan for many years, this was my 3rd show with the Dead and I was happy to attend. I bought our tickets early on and had great seats right in front of the stage. As I recall, the band had played Saturday Night Live about a week before and they were touring hard. Jerry's voice was in lousy shape (you could hear it when he sang I Need A Miracle...lots of crackling in those pipes. I chalked it up to working so hard and being on the road for weeks. The unfortunate thing is that many of the fans couldn't make it in due to the snow - seriously, it was a foot deep. Even people from Oklahoma City backed out and consequently, the Fairgrounds Pavillion was really about 2/3rds empty.

For me, not the best show, maybe the worst - but by God I was there and its sorta like fishing - my worst day fishing is better than my best day worst Dead show was DEFINITELY better than most other days in my 55 yrs! Thanks to Patrick Dead Head for confirming my thoughts. I too went on to earn my degree from TU and happy I stuck it out. This made that fateful year even more interesting. By the way, I'd also heard rumors after the show that the Dead would NEVER play Tulsa again and you know what? They never did! I'm going to run some traps cause if the Lafortunes have a tape of that show, it needs to be liberated!!!!!

"Patrick Deadhead" has an illuminating story

Tulsa show
At the age of 19 I produced the show on behalf of the Tulsa univ student assn, changed my life . due to the weather we lost $15k, a valuable lesson ( with someone elses money) about business. Experience of a lifetime. They felt sorry for us and invited me on the bus. I stayed and got my degree instead . Asked Dicks Picks about it , tapes were damaged .There was someone with a good rig close to the stage, but i never got the tape. They were a bit shocked at my age when we met at the airport. Jerry was real friendly and we hung out and had a long converstaion at intermission. My girlfriend and I had a steak dinner cooked by the crew backstage second set. The experience was crazy , the Babtists threatened to protest ( Oral Roberts country ) , the stage union tried to shut us down for using student labor , one of the cars with band members wrecked on the slick ice. Mickey threatened to toss the TV out the window when they would not let the band in the hotel bar with jeans on. That experience prepared me for a great job that included working with global promotions , beauty pageants , TV shows and all kinds of good stuff. Thanks Greatful Dead. Learned a lot of lifes lessons that unforgetable night. I still have the coffee cup from the band commisary

An alternate poster for the Grateful Dead at the Tulsa Fairgrounds Pavilion on February 6, 1979

There seems to be enough information to construct a setlist, as some Commenters pointed out
Set 1:
Jack Straw, Loser, Beat It On Down The Line, Peggy-O, It's All Over Now, China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, From The Heart Of Me, New Minglewood Blues, Deal
Set 2:
I Need A Miracle,>Bertha>Good Lovin', Ship Of Fools, Estimated Prophet>Eyes Of The World>Drums>Not Fade Away>Black Peter, Around And Around
Johnny B. Goode

"China Cat Sunflower" had returned a few days earlier, in Indianapolis (Feb 3), so if there were any actual tourheads, it would have been heartening to find out that the return wasn't just a one-off (like in '77).

A writeup of the Tulsa Grateful Dead show from the 1979 University of Tulsa yearbook, with pictures of Phil and Bob


The Tulsa College yearbook has pictures from the show. No review, but pictures.

A photo of Jerry Garcia and The Wolf, onstage at the Fairgounds Pavilion in Tulsa, OK, on February 6, 1979. Photo from the 1979 University of Tulsa yearbook

The Tape

And of course, the tape. Someone taped it. We even know who taped it. William LaFortune is currently a judge in Tulsa, and he used to be the mayor of the city. And he taped it. He recalls it in an interview. But he doesn't know what happened to the tape.

An interview with Judge (formerly Mayor) William LaFortune in the April 2015 edition of Tulsa Lawyer Magazine  (great research from @bourgwick)

Somewhere out there, someone has a box of dusty old cassettes they were given back in the 80s. Maybe Tulsa Feb 6 '79 is there. If you see it, pass it on.




Saturday, May 30, 2020

Formation of The Bob Weir Band-Fall 1977 (Enter Brent)

Brent Mydland in 1984

The World Historical Nature of the Grateful Dead has led to a slow explosion of scholarship in the previous few decades. One powerful strain of Dead research looks into the formative experiences and early musical careers of the band members, in order to better understand the music they made in the Dead. I myself have made great efforts to contribute to these studies. Strangely, however, very little effort has been made to contemplate the pre-Dead history of Brent Mydland. Brent had the longest run of any Grateful Dead keyboard player, probably played the most shows--at least on keyboards--and is fondly remembered by any fans who were lucky enough to see him with the group. Yet his pre-history is generally shrugged off in a few sentences.

Unlike every prior member of the Grateful Dead, when Brent Mydland joined the band in 1979, he had been a working rock musician for at least 5 years. He had played on albums with a major label, and wrote songs on one as well. As for the prior members, only Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart had any kind of performing experience on the instrument they actually played with the band, and Hart had mostly played rock music as a sideshow in the Air Force. Hart had recorded a few singles (in Spain in 1964), but the rest of the players made their studio debuts with the Warlocks or The Grateful Dead. Sure, Donna Jean Godchaux (nee Thatcher) was a professional studio singer in the 1960s, but ironically she had never performed live as a professional singer. Brent, younger than the rest of the band, had already been doing that thing for several years.

OK, sure, interviews with Brent were few and limited. Tragically, Brent made the final load-out before anyone expected, and there was no time to ask him about some missing pieces. Even so, a fair amount is known about his career prior to the Grateful Dead. So on one hand, this post is a summary of the known touch points of Brent Mydland's professional career. At a higher level, however, this story is a meditation about how a shy, talented guy from a very out-of-the-way town ended up in the Grateful Dead, through no fault of his own save for talent and luck. Brent's talent isn't in dispute. You can decide for yourself if his luck was good or bad.

Bob Weir's second solo album, Heaven Help The Fool, released on Arista Records in January 1978

Heaven Help The Fool
In order to traverse the circuitous path that led Brent Mydland to the Grateful Dead, it's easier to start at the key moment, namely October 26, 1978. Bob Weir had formed a band to tour in support of his Arista solo album Heaven Help The Fool. The album had been released in January 1978, and per record company orthodoxy, Weir had then played a few dozen dates across the country in February and March. Live, the Bob Weir Band played the entire album, plus a few choice covers and a couple of songs that Deadheads recognized as "Weir songs." Brent Mydland was the keyboard player, mainly playing Hammond organ, and shared harmony vocal duties with lead guitarist Bobby Cochran.

In October 1978, Weir reconvened the Bob Weir Band, albeit with a different bass player. They played a few local shows, and then a three-day weekend of shows with the Jerry Garcia Band in the Pacific Northwest. Weir, Garcia and the rest of the Dead had apparently been contemplating the idea of replacing Kieth and Donna Godchaux. Although Garcia had definitely met Brent (documented by David Browne in So Many Roads p.277), he had almost certainly had not seen him play live. The apocryphal story was that after seeing Brent play with the Weir Band in Portland, Garcia told Bob "this guy might work." Brent started rehearsing with the Grateful Dead in late March of 1979.

A poster for the Bob Weir Band, including Brent Mydland, performance at the Franklin Pierce College Fieldhouse in Rindge, NH on March 4, 1978

The Bob Weir Band: February>June 1978

Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-rhythm guitar, vocals
Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, harmony vocals
Rick Carlos-bass
John Mauceri-drums
I believe that Heaven Help The Fool was recorded in the Summer of 1977. Mickey Hart had injured himself in an auto accident, and a lot of Dead shows were canceled, so Weir would have been available. The album was produced by Keith Olsen, who had recorded the Fleetwood Mac hit album Rumors and also Terrapin Station. It's important to remember that in mid-1977 many of the best-selling album acts were old Fillmore stalwarts who had simplified their traditional approach with a healthy dose of radio-friendly production. Prominent examples were not only the Mac, but Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs and Jefferson Starship. The idea that photogenic rock and roller Bob Weir had serious commercial potential was a pretty sound one.

Some interviews with lead guitarist Bobby Cochran suggest that the band was being put together in November/December 1977. The Dead, and thus Weir, had no gigs between November 6 and December 27. One-off touring bands cost money to put together, so this suggests a timeline of a December '77 tour. That only makes sense if the album was going to come out before Christmas (it actually came out in January of '78). Nonetheless it seems that the Bob Weir Band was put together in November 1977, but did not tour until February of 1978.

Lead guitarist Bobby Cochran was introduced to Bob Weir by Ibanez executive Jeff Hasselberger, who had been working on guitar ideas with Weir. Per Cochran, from a Jake Feinberg interview, the band already existed when Cochran joined. The band leader was drummer John Mauceri. Mauceri had brought in bassist Rick Carlos and Brent on keyboards. For whatever reasons, the tour and album were delayed until the first of the year. So John Mauceri had brought Brent to the Weir Band, and set the wheels in motion for him to end up joining the Grateful Dead.

John Mauceri-Drums
John Mauceri was an excellent drummer, and probably still is, but his understated style made him an excellent hired gun who never took the spotlight. If you had no life in the 1970s, and spent a lot of time in record stores memorizing the backs of albums (reflecting on no one in particular), his name turned up here and there, but for the most part he was a well-regarded but semi-anonymous professional. For this story, Mauceri turns out to be the key link between Grateful Dead and Brent Mydland, but for no other reason than the fact that Mauceri grew up in Las Vegas.

In late Summer 1977, Mauceri got a call saying that he had been recommended by David Lindley for the drum chair in the Jerry Garcia Band. Much as I love the idea of Jer calling up Mr. Dave and asking for a scouting report, I don't think that's what happened. John Kahn was the JGB straw boss, and he would have asked a producer, very likely his old pal Michael Stewart. Stewart, who had produced Billy Joel ("Piano Man") and Tom Jones, among others, was probably the one who checked in with Lindley.

As it happened, David Lindley was effectively Jackson Browne's band leader, and Mauceri had been Browne's drummer since 1976. Browne toured relentlessly, so Lindley had plenty to go on. While I don't think Lindley was personally close to the Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope has shared bills with the Dead many times in the 60s, so surely Garcia was aware of him. Anyway, Lindley had been the banjo champion five years running at the Ash Grove folk club (after which he was made a judge), so that had to count for something.

According to Mauceri, in a remarkable 2014 interview with Jake Feinberg (excerpted below), Mauceri said he got to the point of starting to learn Garcia Band songs, only to find out that he was not going to be the JGB drummer. Although Buzz Buchanan got the Garcia chair, Mauceri's bona fides were in turn passed on to Weir, and he was Bob's first hire. In turn, Mauceri hired two old band mates, both from the the distant East Bay town of--I kid you not--Brentwood. Rick Carlos joined the Bob Weir Band as bass player, and Brent Mydland joined on organ. Mydland and Carlos had been playing together since Liberty Union High School in Brentwood, where Brent had graduated from in 1971.  Mydland, Carlos and Mauceri had all played together in a group called Batdorf & Rodney, and after that in a band called Silver.

The Silver lp cover, released on Arista Rcords in 1976. The cover design was by future SNL player Phil Hartmann, whose brother John co-managed Silver

It was strange coincidence that prior to joining the Grateful Dead, Brent Mydland had recorded one album with a group, and that group was on Arista Records. I don't think Arista had any contractual hold on Brent, it's just one of those strange coincidences. Silver released their lone album on Arista sometime in 1976.

Silver played "AOR" (album oriented radio) rock, kind of like Kansas or REO Speedwagon. They were a little less rockin' than those two, however, and were probably aimed more in a sensitive vein, like Fleetwood Mac. The front line trio of Brent and guitarists John Batdorf and Greg Collier all sang and wrote, and the harmonies were well done. Brent wrote and sang two songs on the album. It was OK, fairly typical of the many carefully sculpted albums promoted by record companies at the time, but nothing special. Certainly nothing that hinted at Brent's future contribution to the Grateful Dead.

Originally, Silver was supposed to include Rick Carlos and John Mauceri on bass and drums, but they were somehow forced out, according to Mauceri (replaced with Tom Leadon-bass and Harry Stinson-drums). I don't know how much touring Silver did, but they did play on some big national dates supporting the group America (you can see the dates listed here, on the great GDSets site). The connection seems to have been the management team of Hartmann and Goodman, who appear to have managed both America and Silver. In any case, the pairing tells you who their management thought would buy the Silver album.

Of the known dates listed for America and Silver, it's interesting to see that Brent had already played at some of the venues that he would play with the Dead in the future. Some examples include War Memorial Auditorium in Syracuse, SPAC in Saratoga Springs, McNicols in Denver and the San Diego Sports Arena. Silver seems to have ground to a halt in mid-1977, once they were dropped by Arista.

The only real research about Brent's life during the Silver period was done by David Browne, for his indispensable book So Many Roads (pp.276-280). It appears that after Silver disintegrated, Brent went home to stay in a house in Concord owned by his father. He was living with his girlfriend, and apparently not doing much of anything, when he got a call out of the blue from John Mauceri, inviting him to play for the Bob Weir Band. It was the Las Vegas connection of Mauceri that had made it happen.

The 1971 debut album on Atlantic by Batdorf and Rodney, Off The Shelf. John Batdorf wrote the songs, he and Mark Rodney both sang and picked guitar, session guys filled out the sound.

Batdorf & Rodney
In the early 70s, one popular format favored by record companies was two long-haired dudes playing acoustic guitars and singing in harmony. Seals and Croft, Loggins and Messina, Zager and Evans, Crosby and Nash, the list goes on and on. More broadly, you can see this as a variation on groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash and America, only with fewer members. There were a lot of these groups, mostly forgotten, a few just partially remembered. If you spent a lot of the 70s in your local record store, flipping through albums, you will sort of remember Batdorf & Rodney. They weren't big, but they weren't obscure, either. As it happened, they put out an album on Atlantic, one on Asylum and another one on Arista. They turn out to be essential to the Brent Mydland saga.

Drummer John Mauceri had grown up in Las Vegas, in a "showbiz" family. His father was a classically trained percussionist, so when young John discovered rock 'n' roll, falling into playing drums was easy. After a brief sojourn to Los Angeles, soon after graduating high school in 1970, Mauceri had to return home to his family in Las Vegas. He reconnected with Mark Rodney, whom he had known earlier. Mark was the son of trumpeter Red Rodney, a jazz legend who had been the only white member of Charlie Parker's groundbreaking bebop quintet from 1949-51. After various difficulties, Red had moved to Las Vegas.

Mark Rodney had been playing in Las Vegas venues with John Batdorf, playing their guitars and singing Batdorf's original songs. In 1970, this is what was happening. Batdorf and Rodney were playing in Las Vegas venues--I'm not quite sure exactly where--and got signed by Atlantic. They put out their debut album, Off The Shelf, in 1971 and were set to go on the road. So they needed a band. Mauceri got the call, because he knew Mark Rodney and he was a drummer. Mauceri in turn called bassist Rick Carlos, whom he had known from earlier. The live band was then:

John Batdorf-guitar and vocals
Mark Rodney-guitar and vocals
Rick Carlos-bass
John Mauceri-drums

The first big tour for Batdorf and Rodney was opening for the band Bread, who were huge at the time. No one recalls Bread now, but they had huge "soft rock" hits with songs like "If," "Make It With You" and "Baby I'm A Want You," to name a few. The Batdorf & Rodney live quartet was steered right at the Bread demographic.

Batdorf & Rodney, the second album by the duo, was released in 1972 on Asylum Records

Come 1972, Batdorf & Rodney had moved from Atlantic to Asylum. The album was recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, with John Mauceri and Rick Carlos on the tracks. So even though Batdorf & Rodney were pitched as a duo by their record company, they were acting like a band in the studio.

In the 1970s, the record business made a lot of money, so much so that record companies could justify keeping promising bands going, even if they weren't actually playing anywhere. In 1973, Batdorf & Rodney seemed to ground to a halt. So much so, that their rhythm section went on tour with David Blue, another Asylum artist. On August 11, 1973, at Winterland, I saw Mauceri and Carlos as part of Blue's band (along with future Eagles guitarist Don Felder). They were supporting Blue's album Nice Baby and The Angel, produced by Graham Nash. Nash himself joined Blue for a few numbers at Winterland that night (Blue was fourth on the bill below Poco, Mark-Almond and Robin Trower--a really great show, by the way).

Life Is You, Batdorf & Rodney's third album, was released on Arista Records in 1975. Brent Mydland plays some uncredited parts on the album

By 1974, Batdorf and Rodney were reactivated again, this time signed to Clive Davis' Arista Records. For the new live configuration, the band needed a keyboard player. Rick Carlos called his old high school pal Brent Mydland, and Brent got the gig.  What music was Brent playing between graduating high school in 1971, and joining Batdorf & Rodney in 1974? For that matter, when did he get a Hammond organ? You don't learn that instrument overnight, however good a piano player you might be. Was he in a band? Did he jam with anyone or hang out? No one seems to have any information until 1974.

Most people who remember Batdorf & Rodney recall them as a sort of Seals & Crofts type duo, with a soft rock vibe. Apparently, however, the duo saw their music as more like the Doobie Brothers, with twin guitars and a jumping rhythm section. Brent Mydland's contribution on organ sound a lot more interesting in that context, but I know of no live recordings of Batdorf & Rodney from the 1974-75 Brent era. It was Arista boss Clive Davis who wanted the duo to sound like Seals & Crofts, and insured that every guitar solo was cut out, and the rocking minimized.

Batdorf & Rodney weren't huge, but they had a following, and they toured a far amount. Mauceri (in the Feinberg interview) speaks highly of Brent's playing, as does John Batdorf (when interviewed by Browne). Both of them, however, say that Brent did not compromise well, and did not really have the "take-it-as-it-comes" vibe of most traveling musicians. According to Browne, Brent had a lot of anxiety, and sometimes disappeared for a few days at a time. Batdorf & Rodney was just five guys in a van, plus maybe a roadie or two. The Grateful Dead circus was several magnitudes of The Crazy more than that, so it must have been hard on Brent. That being said, he never missed a Dead gig that I know of.

The 1975 Batdorf & Rodney album on Arista, Life Is You, was recorded with session players. Rick Carlos does play on it, but I think most of the record was recorded before the duo put the touring band back together. In late 1974, when they decided they needed a keyboard player, Rick Carlos recommended Brent, with whom he had played back in bands back in High School.

According to John Mauceri, Brent did a little uncredited work on the album. Batdorf & Rodney did released a single in 1975, however,  that had not been on the record. Apparently the touring band played on it, so if you come across the single "Somewhere In The Night" (Arista 1975 b/w "Ain't It Like Home" album track), it could be a lost Brent artifact.

Soon after he joined Batdorf & Rodney, Brent got together with Cherie Barsin, who was John Batdorf's sister-in-law. The two of them lived in a trailer in Thousand Oaks, between Oxnard and Los Angeles. At home, Brent liked playing board games and listening to jazz and classical music. Per Cherie Barsin (via Browne) "his preferences were Chick Corea, Jeff Beck. Nothing with lyrics." When Batdorf & Rodney ground to a halt, Brent joined Batdorf's next venture, which was Silver. Mauceri and Carlos got pushed out of Silver, for whatever reasons, but they did not forget Brent's playing.

Jethro Tull's great album Benefit was released in April, 1970. In May, John Mauceri and Rick Carlos' band Terracotta opened for them in Las Vegas
John Mauceri had grown up in Las Vegas as part of a showbiz family. His mother was a dancer and ice skater, and his father was a singer/dj/comedian. His stepfather was a classical percussionist, and while he wasn't really a drummer, there were drums around the house. Once Mauceri heard The Beatles, all he wanted to do was drum. He took some vibraphone lessons, but he wanted to be a drummer. His family lived near the great Buddy Rich, and Mauceri used to hear him practice, but he just wanted to rock. This would have been around 1967, and there was no FM radio.

A band called Terracotta, from the East Bay, turned up in Las Vegas. They were mostly "emancipated" (legal adults), but they were Mauceri's age. Their drummer split on them, and they had heard about Mauceri some how, so he joined Terracotta. They played around a lot, and even opened for Jethro Tull and Spirit, so this must have been 1970 (per Ministry Of Truth, Jethro Tull played Las Vegas on May 9, 1970). The day Mauceri graduated high school, Terracotta moved to Los Angeles. They broke up a month later. Mauceri was crestfallen and returned home to Las Vegas.

When Mauceri returned home, he reconnected (in his words) with his birth father. So he also connected, or re-connected, with guitarist Mark Rodney. As noted, Mark Rodney was the son of famous jazz trumpeter Red Rodney, so he too was from a "showbiz" family. In any case, Rodney played guitar and had teamed up with another singing guitarist John Batdorf. They had been playing around as a duo, and they had gotten signed to Atlantic, so they needed a band. Mauceri was in as a drummer--did he know a bass player? Yes he did.

Mauceri called the former bassist for Terracotta, Rick Carlos. Carlos didn't have a gig, mainly because Terracotta had broken up. It's not entirely certain to me whether Carlos came to Las Vegas, or met Batdorf, Rodney and Mauceri in Los Angeles. For our story, however, it doesn't matter. A long forgotten East Bay band called Terracotta, featuring a bunch of legal-adult-teenagers, was how Rick Carlos ended up playing bass for a Las Vegas group with an Atlantic Records contract. Brent Mydland, a senior from Liberty Union High School in Brentwood, now had his unlikely path to join the Grateful Dead. If Mauceri had called someone else, it wouldn't have been Brent, because Rick Carlos had played with Brent in high school.

Liberty Union High School, in Brentwood, CA, sometime in the 20th century
Liberty Union High School, Brentwood, CA
You can look up Liberty Union High School, now Liberty High School. The most famous alumni from that school is Brent Mydland. There's no need to name the school after him, though--Liberty Union High School was in the then-tiny Contra Costa County town of Brentwood, so the town is already named after him.

In the conventional thumbnail biographies of Brent Mydland, it's always mentioned that he grew up in Concord, CA, an East Bay town just North of Walnut Creek. It's reasonable to assume that when Brent's family first came to the Bay Area, they lived in Concord. Since Brent went to Liberty Union HS, however, we know he had to live near Brentwood, and not Concord. Concord was two high schools away.

Back in the 20th century, people who grew up, lived or worked in San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley largely ignored anything in Contra Costa County beyond Walnut Creek, and sometimes the Concord Pavilion. Anything North of Walnut Creek was often vaguely referred to as "Concord," even if it was 10 or 20 miles East of Concord proper (the comparison is Brooklynites who say "anything above Columbus Circle is Upstate New York"). I was as guilty of this as anyone. I heard that Brent was from Concord, or maybe Antioch, and couldn't have cared less at the time.

The only reliable detail we have about Brent's adolescence comes from David Browne, who reported that Brent's 70s girlfriend (John Batdorf's sister-in-law) said that teenage Brent felt isolated from his family, living on a houseboat on the San Joaquin River Delta while his sisters and parents lived in the main house. For that geography to work, the Mydland compound would have had to be somewhere around present-day Oakley (we will leave aside the synergy of two consecutive Dead keyboard players living on houseboats).

For Brent to have gone to Liberty Union, he would have had to be nearer to it than Antioch High School. Today, Antioch (pop. 111,000) and Brentwood (pop. 64,700), just East of it, are bedroom communities for families who work in Walnut Creek, Oakland or San Francisco. Antioch has a BART station, and Brentwood may have light rail to the Antioch BART soon. But when Brent was there, it wasn't like that at all.

Antioch is one of the oldest towns in California, founded in 1849. It was primarily a boat landing for grain shipped in from the Delta and out to San Francisco Bay. The land that Brentwood was built on was acquired in 1837 from the original Mexican land grant. Brentwood was a rural agricultural area, but it had a post office in 1878, although the town only incorporated in 1948 (the name came from the original landowner's home town in County Essex). Old as they were, Brentwood and Antioch were tiny in Brent Mydland's day. In 1970, when Brent would have been a junior at Liberty Union, the town of Brentwood only had a population of 2,649, and Antioch (25 miles West, nearer Concord), only had 28,600. Since then, the population has exploded by nearly 600%.

But back in the day, Brent probably went to school with farm kids from the surrounding area. An unsourced Wikipedia entry says that Brent played trumpet in the marching band, but was kicked out for having long hair. It's likely true [update: confirmed]. Brentwood wasn't Berkeley in1970, even if it was just an hour away. Who were Brent's friends? What were the names of his bands? Did he sing with them, or just play keyboards? And when did he get a Hammond organ? Now sure, his father was (or had been) a minister, so maybe there was a church connection, but that's interesting too--did Brent play organ in his father's church? No one seems to have found out, or even asked the questions.

Correspondent Eric sends a photo from the 1968 Liberty Union HS Yearbook, with freshman Brent Mydland (circled) and his trumpet

All we really know is
  • Brent graduated from Liberty Union High School in 1971
  • Rick Carlos played in bands with him in those days
We don't even know if Rick Carlos went to Brentwood. But, in the end, it didn't matter. Brent was a talented, quiet guy in a farming community. He was a million miles from the music explosion in the Bay Area 60s, even if he was just an hour from Berkeley. But a bass player in some now-forgotten band remembered when other guys asked for a good organ player. Not once, but twice Brent got the call, first from Rick Carlos for Batdorf & Rodney in late 1974, and then again from John Mauceri for the Bob Weir Band in late 1977. Brent ended up in the Grateful Dead from 1979 to 1990, and he's easily the most famous person who ever went to Liberty Union.

Esteemed scholar LightIntoAshes noted that Blair Jackson, ahead of the curve as always, interviewed Brent Mydland on October 21, 1987, for the Fall 1987 issue of Golden Road Magazine. The indispensable GDSets has scanned the  entire issue, and the whole interview is worth reading. But here are the backstory highlights, clarifying some hitherto unknown points:

[Germany] We moved to Antioch when I was 1, so I don’t remember Germany.

[Do you remember your first band?]
The first thing you could almost call a band? Yeah. We played a few bars on the river [in the Sacramento River Delta region] for small crowds. We did things like”When A Man Loves A Woman,” “For What It’s Worth.” We even did that Arlo Guthrie song “I don’t want a pickle/I just wanna ride my motor-sickle.” Anything with just two or three chords, cause most of the guys couldn’t play anything harder.

I had a little Thomas organ you could barely hear. A couple of years later I got a Gibson Kalamazoo,, which was sort of like a Farfisa…I was even in a band where I used to sing “Morning Dew.”

In my junior year in high school [at Liberty], there was me and one other guy who had long hair, and by “long” I mean the length I have it now [ca. 1987]. I got kicked out of school for long hair just before finals. I stayed out for a few days and then decided it wasn’t worth having to repeat a semester for that, so I got my hair cut. They said “Sorry, not short enough.” They mad me get a crew cut before they’d let me back in to take my finals. This was at Liberty High in Brentwood. SO I took my finals and then moved to Concord where you could have long hair in school [for Contra Costa in the 60s, Concord was hip]. I didn’t cut my hair for a long time after that.

Senior year I got thrown out of the high school band for long hair anyway: “Sorry, we’ll lose points for your long hair.” So that was the end of my band career. I gave up trumpet and concentrated on keyboards.

[What did you do right after high school?]
Senior year I got together with this guitar player named Dave DeMille who’d come up here from Southern California and went to another high school in Concord. The day after we graduated [1971] we drove down to L.A. and tried to get a band started down there. He knew a drummer and bass player who were pretty good. We were serious about it for about the first six weeks or so and then it kind of fell apart…I ended up living alone in a Quonset Hut in Thousand Oaks, writing songs and eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly…

Eventually I came back to the Bay Area and lived with my dad and just jammed around for a couple of years. I played with a lot of different people. We’d have these jams that would turn into parties with like 300 people and we’d play until the police would break it up. Then I started playing in bands hat actually made some money, mainly playing Top 40 clubs. This was around ’72, I guess, and it was mainly black music.

[Did you ever have to wear matching suits?]
Yeah, for a couple of months once. It was really embarrassing. I hated it. II’d rather not dwell on that [laughs].

The best music I played back then was with this guy who’d gone to the Berklee School of Music [in Boston] and wrote this interesting music that sounded like John McLaughlin. We tried to get a band together and actually had some really nice music, but we never could get any gigs. I learned a lot from it but we couldn’t earn any money. So I ended up going back to playing rock ’n’ roll, though in cooler clubs, where we could play some originals.

In one of the bands, I [had] played with a bass player named Rick Carlos, and he got a call from John Batdorf of Batdorf & Rodney asking him to come to L.A. to play with them. A couple of months later they were looking for keyboard player who could sing high parts so I went down there and checked that out an joined the band, which was a great experience.

Brent has compressed the Batfdorf& Rodney timeline a bit (Rick Carlos had been playing with B&R for two years), but we now see the essential thread.
  • Brent grew up in Antioch, or thereabouts
  • He went to Liberty Union High in Brentwood, but graduated from a Concord high school
  • He played in various obscure bands from 1971-74, playing both originals and covers
  • Rick Carlos played in one of those bands around 1971-72, and doesn't appear to be from Brentwood

Besides playing in the Grateful Dead, Brent Mydland played on the 1981 debut album by Bobby And The Midnites

After The Bob Weir Band
Per John Mauceri, Brent Mydland made something like $1000 a week on the road with the Bob Weir Band. For Brent, in 1978, that was probably the life he always dreamed of. Making actual money playing good rock and roll for a living, with a girlfriend back home in Thousand Oaks. Who could wish for anything more? Indeed--be careful what you wish for.

In August of 1978, Brent and his girlfriend were invited to Jerry Garcia's birthday party, in the house he shared in Hepburn Heights (San Rafael) that he shared with Rock and Niki Scully. Later, Garcia heard Brent play live, in the Pacific Northwest, and raised the possiblity of Brent replacing both Keith and Donna Godchaux. Weir in turn mentioned it to Brent, and (per David Browne) Brent and his girlfriend were invited backstage for the Closing of Winterland New Year's Eve show. Contemplate that for a moment. If you see backstage footage from the video of a guy who looks like Brent--well, it's Brent.

Keith and Donna Godchaux left the Grateful Dead around March 1, 1979, and Brent began rehearsing with the Dead later in that month. Brent's live debut with the band was April 22, 1979, at Spartan Stadium in San Jose. Brent held down the keyboard chair for the Grateful Dead until his untimely passing on July 26, 1990. I have not counted, but Brent has to have played keyboards at more shows than any other member of the Grateful Dead (Pigpen having mostly been supplanted in 1969). Brent also played for about a year in Bobby And The Midnites, from Fall '80 until late 1981.

Come 1982, Brent was dating Betty Cantor, and she recorded a solo album for him. John Mauceri was called back to play drums. Mauceri asked Brent if he should call Rick Carlos, but Brent rejected the idea, an irony considering how Rick Carlos had given Brent his big breaks. Nonetheless, Brent let Mauceri pick the bass player (Paul Solomon Marshall on bass, and Kevin Russell played guitar). The album is interesting, but has never been released.

In 1985, Brent played a few East Coast dates with a band called Kokomo, including Bill Kreutzmann, ex-Santana bassist David Margen and guitarist Kevin Russell (ex-707, who had played on the solo album project). The next summer, with the Dead off the road due to Garcia's coma, and finances precarious, the band was reconstituted as Go Ahead, adding Alex Ligterwood (ex-Santana) on vocals and Jerry Cortez (ex-Youngbloods) on lead guitar. The 1986 Go Ahead tour was very fondly remembered (check the Comment Thread), and successful enough to have an encore tour the next Summer.

In 1987, "Touch Of Grey" hit big time. The Grateful Dead were a huge concert attraction, and Brent had songwriting credits on the album. Brent co-wrote more songs on the next album, Built To Last. Suddenly, from living hand-to-mouth, money was rolling in. John Mauceri, by his own admission, had spent the 1970s and the early part of the 80s drunk and stoned. Drinking was one of the things he had shared with Brent. Mauceri always stayed with Brent when he was in the Bay Area, but by the end of the 80s, a sober Mauceri would try to reach out to not-sober Brent, but he couldn't get through. Brent had everything he could have ever wanted, and it all crashed down around him.

American Capitalism
Being a musician or artist in America in the late 20th century was a hard, hard road. Yes, the potential rewards for a lucky few might be huge, but talent and ambition wasn't enough. So many things had to go right. If you were lucky enough to be a young man in San Francisco in 1965, or have a family connection to the music industry, or were willing to go out and meet every important person you could, maybe you had a fighting chance. While it doesn't diminish any star's talent to have been in the right place at the right time, it's another barrier for everyone else. We all know of musicians, either personally or from their music, who were talented and just never got the break.

Brent Mydland's father was from Norway, and apparently emigrated to Minnesota to study as a minister. Mydland Senior was a chaplain in the US Army when Brent was born in Germany in 1952. The Mydland family ended up in Concord, CA, afterwards, and seems to have stayed around there. Brent's dad, at least, seems to have done well enough to own a house or two. Brent himself, in the immigrant tradition, far surpassed his father. He had a wife and family, and more money than he must have ever expected.

Brent didn't really express his feelings, except through music, so we can't really know what he was thinking. The most appropriate choice seems to be the actual expression of a song not by Robert Hunter, but David Byrne

You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"
How indeed. Brent Mydland (October 21, 1952-July 26, 1990), Rest In Power.

Appendix: Notes from Jake Feinberg's Interview with John Mauceri (Nov 25, 2014)
Jake Feinberg interviews rock and jazz musicians from the late 20th century. With no time limit and a wide-open format, his conversations roam far and wide. What follows are my notes from Feinberg's interview with drummer John Mauceri on November 25, 2014.

I took notes for research purposes, so these are paraphrases rather than transcriptions. I also left out parts that didn't focus on areas of importance to me. All of Feinberg's interviews are interesting, and it is well worth subscribing to his site.

John Mauceri Nov 25 2014
Part 1
Come from a showbiz family, mother was a dancer/ice skater, dad was a singer/dj/comedian. She ended up in Vegas. Grew up in LV. Saw a lot of shows backstage in the RatPack era as kids. Stepfather was a classical percussionist. Not really a drummer, but he had drums around the house. Attracted to drums right when the Beatles broke through. Also played the vibraphone, and took lessons for a few years. 

Buddy Rich lived a block away, his daughter was friends with my younger sister. I used to stand outside his wall and listen to him practice. But I didn't care about jazz, I just wanted to rock. This was around 1967, there was no FM radio. 

I was doing after hours clubs in Vegas, and I also did original stuff, and that's where I met Rick Carlos. I was 16, Rick came in with a band called Terracotta. They were all from the East Bay (Contra Costa), and they came to LA with this drummer (David Blanchard). The band were legal adults. They heard about me (through an agent) and he put me with this band. Three guitars and a bassist, a lot of three part harmonies. Good singers, good songwriters. I hooked up with them

We opened for Jethro Tull and Spirit. We moved to LA the day after I graduated from High School. A month later we broke up. I cried. 

Carlos went back to the Bay Area. I went back to Vegas, I was semi-homeless. Reconnected with my biological father. I was in touch with Mark Rodney, whom I knew from Vegas (his dad was Red Rodney). Mark had heard Terracotta. Batdorf and Rodney had done an album with Ahmet Ertegun, and Mark called me, and I called Rick. 

Rick Carlos was an East Bay Funk guy, he liked Tower and Sons of Champlin, I was more into folk rock, Doors and Byrds. 

First tour with Batdorf and Rodney was with Bread, who were the biggest band at the time. Ended up being in a solo band with Jamie Griffin

I got kicked out of Silver. Rick and I were bounced out of Silver. Rick went back to the East Bay. I ended up getting the David Blue gig [note: Mauceri has the timing wrong, David Blue was in 1973]. I think my wife might have known him or something, I don't remember. David Blue was on Asylum, so were B&D. They needed a bass player, so I called Rick. Then they needed a guitar player so they got Don Felder. David and Felder were doing duo gigs opening for Crosby and Nash. They needed a band, so they got Rick and me. 

We did a tour with Deep Purple. That was our one tour [note: forgot about Poco gig at Winterland]

Went to Jackson Browne in 76, worked with him for a year, and worked with Lindley. Garcia was looking for a drummer, and Lindley recommended me for a gig, and they sent me all the Garcia albums. Then I got a call that they were using someone else (Feinberg: Buzz). But right after that I got a call from Bob Weir, who was needing to put a band together. 

The Bob Weir thing only lasted a few months, but they were huge on the East Coast. Bob was happy, and he talked about wanting to do more. I'd gotten Brent into Bob's band. Rick had gotten Brent into the Batdorf band. 

We did some shows with the Garcia Band, and Bob and Jerry got to hear Brent. 

John Batdorf had split up with Rodney, and he had Hartmann and Goodman and we had Mark, Brent, RIck and me. However, mgmt wanted to replace Rick and me with Tom Leadon (bs) and Harry Stinson (drums). I don't know why.

I saw a [Dead] show in 68 at the Convention Center in Vegas. 

I saw Brent spiraling down and tried to help him, but I wasn't successful. Brent and I did a lot of drinking when we were young. We always drank. In the Bob Weir Band he probably made 1000 a week, I made a little more. When the Dead happened, he became wealthy very fast. I would see shows and visit him, and we would get high and then I would go home.He lost his license, then lost his family, and finally lost his life.

I was friends with Jon McIntire. I used to stay with Brent when I was in the Bay Area. I was out of the picture by then. It was very sad. Jon said "they believe very much in personal responsiblity."

I saw Mahavishnu in the Whisky and Billy Cobham was so intense I had to leave. 

Flying Burrito Brothers: I was still doing drugs, so I don't remember how I got the call. I did some dates in California with them. Sneeky Pete the only original. Skip Battin, John Beland (ex-Dolly Parton) and Gib Gilbeau. Toured Pacific Coast and the West, and did a tour of Italy. [probably late 70s]

Brent called me around '82 to work on his solo album. I'm the drummer probably on all all of it. I asked him if he wanted to use Rick and he said no, but he wanted me to pick someone I had been using. I got this guy Paul Solomon Marshall (sp). We recorded at the GD studio (Club Front). We were flown up from LA. He was dating Betty Cantor. She was a really good engineer. 

Brent was living with his parents. 

Growing up he was into Brian Auger, Tower of Power and some of these progressive rock guys. However, good as he was musically, he was just inept socially. It was like all of his energy went into music. He could play Jimmy Smith stuff like it was nothing. 

I toured with the Dillards, toured with Hoyt Axton for a year. Height of my drinking and drugs, took time off to get sober. 

Brent played on the last Batdorf and Rodney album Life Is You (not credited). There was a single [might be song "Somewhere In The Night," not on Life Is You]

Jon McIntire was Bob Weir's road manager. One time, we played a soundcheck at the beginning of the tour, and our road money was in a briefcase backstage and it got stolen. It was like $15000. McIintire called together both bands, explained that the money was stolen and that he was going to sit in the audience and he wanted it back in two hours. The money was returned. Never found out who did it, but we got the money back.

McIntire moved to LA for a while, tried to make it as an actor. My style is based on four guys, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkel and Hal Blaine.

[can you tell me a Brent story?] We were on the road with Batdor &Rodney when Brent was in the band. We traveled together in a van. Doubled up in rooms. Me, Rick and Brent would share a room. We would flip coins to see who lost and sleep in the rollaway, Brent hated it. One night he had slept in the rollaway twice in a row, Brent and Rick flipped for it. Brent was mad and he went to sleep in the van. When he woke up in the van (Summer) it was 100 plus degrees.

When Brent wanted to express intimate feelings, he put it into a song. You could get along with him, but if you had to wrangle with him, disagree with him, he didn't know how to compromise or give and take. Had a short fuse and got frustrated. I never had long intimate conversations with him like I did with other people. Near the end, when I got sober, I tried to reach out to him, but I couldn't succeed. I could see him any time.

Appendix 2: Brent Mydland Discography
A correspondent snipped out the Brent section from The Compleat Grateful Dead Discography. The Batdorf & Rodney details were not included, because they were not known at the time.

from 'the compleat grateful dead discography':

Sweet Surprise - Eric Andersen (Arista 4075)  Brent Mydland sings on
"Crazy River" and "Dreams Of Mexico" on this 1975 release.  This is
prior to Brent Mydland joining the Grateful Dead.

Silver - Silver (Arista 4076)  A pre-Grateful Dead Brent Mydland plays
on this 1975 release.  Brent Mydland was in this band before he joined
the Grateful Dead.  Two of Mydland's songs appear on this album:
"Musician (Not An Easy Life)" and "Climbing".  Prior to Silver,
Mydland had been with Batdorf and Rodney.

A Wing And A Prayer - Matt Kelly (Relix RRLP 2010)  With Jerry Garcia,
Bob Weir, Billy Kreutzmann, Brent Mydland, and Keith Godchaux.  It
includes "Over And Over" (3:38), co-written with Brent Mydland.

 - Go Ahead ( )  This unreleased album includes "Nobody's", written by
Brent Mydland, which was broadcast on the "Grateful Dead Hour".
Members included:  Jerry Cortez (guitars), Bill Kreutzman (drums),
Alex Ligertwood (vocals), Brent Mydland (keyboards and vocals), and
Dave Margen (bass).

 - Brent Mydland ( )  Mydland recorded and mastered a solo album, but
it was never released.  Intended for this album were "Tons Of Steel",
with Monty Byron on guitar, a rock arrangement of "Maybe You Know",
"Nobody's", "Long Way To Go", and "Dreams".  Betty Cantor-Jackson did
the engineering and production for this album.  Other songs possibly
intended for this "album" are "Inlay It In Your Heart", "See The Other
Side", and "Take One".  These comprise about 40 minutes of music.
Some of the tapes that circulate in trading circles list a date of
February 25, 1982.  The possible songs slated for the album were
"Inlay It In Your Heart", "Tons Of Steel", "Dreams", "Maybe You Know
(How I Feel)", "Nobody's", "See The Other Side", "Long Way To Go", and
"Take One".  A tape of the original version of "Tons Of Steel" was
played during the intermission of the Dead's June 21, 1984 broadcast
from Toronto.  Brent Mydland authored several songs, including "Fire",
in 1987.  Songs, in collaboration with John Perry Barlow, include
"You're Still There", "Love Doesn't Have To Be Pretty", "It Doesn't
Matter", and "It Is What It Is".  Songs, in collaboration with Matt
Kelly, include "If That's The Way", "Over And Over", and "Shining

Down In The Groove - Bob Dylan (Columbia OC 40957)  Garcia, Weir, and
Mydland sing backup on "Silvio".  Hunter wrote "Silvio" (3:06) and
"Ugliest Girl In The World" (3:32).  Released on May 30, 1988.  Some
verses of "Silvio" originally appeared as verses in "Black Muddy
River", dated September 14, 1986.

New Frontier - New Frontier (Polydor 835695)  Brent Mydland plays
keyboards on "Motel Rain" on this California's band debut album from
September, 1988.  The band includes Timothy B. Schmidt, David Lindley,
and Paulheno Dacosta.  Out of print.

Mahalo - Bill Kreutzmann (, 2003)  This CD
was released as a complimentary CD and not for sale or public
broadcast.  The cover artwork is "Sun Sun" by Bill Kreutzmann.  The
five tracks on the CD are:  "Girl Like You" (Jennings/Seals) (4:06),
recorded at Front Street on July 24, 1985 by BBDK (Bill Kreutzmann,
David Margen, Brent Mydland, and Kevin Russell); "Are You Lonely For
Me" (Berns) (21:42), from a live performance by Garcia/Saunders
(Martin Fierro, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Bill Kreutzmann, and Merl
Saunders) at the Keystone in Berkeley on January 17, 1974 with ;
"10,000 Mics" (Dipirro/Kreutzmann/Woodson) (8:58) by the Trichromes
(Mike Dipirro, Sy Klopps, Bill Kreutzmann, and Ralph Woodson) at the
Sy Klopps Studios on March 30, 2002; "Hey Jude > Dear Mr. Fantasy"
(14:47) by Go Ahead (Jerry Cortez, Bill Kreutzmann, Alex Ligertwood,
David Margen, and Brent Mydland) at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic,
New Jersey on October 31, 1986; and "Eyes Of The World" (9:41) by The
Dead (Rob Barraco, Jeff Chimenti, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Herring, Bill
Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Joan Osborne, and Bob Weir) at a rehearsal on
May 27, 2003.

The Twilight Zone (CBS Broadcasting, 1985)  The Grateful Dead and Merl
Saunders, with Bob Bralove, wrote a number of the scores for this
series which premiered on September 27, 1985.  The main and end titles
music is by the Grateful Dead.  This TV series, produced by Phil
DeGuere, was broadcast in 1985 and 1986.  The opening theme piano
music is Merl Saunders and Brent Mydland playing together.  Robert
Hunter had been hired to write the introductions to each episode, and
had been considered to do the voice-over as well.  One of the
agreements between CBS Entertainment and Grateful Dead Productions
(i.e., the band members) is dated June 12, 1985.  Individual band
members recorded a number of stings and bumpers that were used to
present different moods in the programs.

The Heroes Journey:  The World of Joseph Campbell ( )  Premiered on
May 29, 1987 in Los Angeles at a benefit for the Hermes Society.  The
soundtrack includes Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia, and Brent Mydland

Nobody's - Go Ahead ( )  The video for this song by Brent Mydland was
directed by Justin Kreutzmann and Gian-Carlo Coppola.

Transformation Of Myth Through Time - Joseph Campbell ( )  Music
composed by Rand Weatherwax, and performed by David Jenkins on guitar,
Brent Mydland on piano, and Jerry Garcia on banjo.  Broadcast on PBS
in 1990.

The Music Never Stopped (2011)  This film, directed by Jim Kohlberg,
was released on March 18, 2011.  It is adapted from the essay "The
Last Hippie" by Oliver Sacks.  The Grateful Dead are played by actors
Phil Bender (Jerry Garcia), Rich Campbell (Bob Weir), Buzz Roddy (Bill
Kreutzmann), Ethan F. Hamburg (Phil Lesh), Mark Greenberg (Mickey
Hart), and Paul Sigrist (Brent Mydland).  The soundtrack includes
several Grateful Dead songs:  "Uncle John's Band", "Sugar Magnolia"
(live), "Not Fade Away / Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad" (live),
"Truckin'" (live), "Touch Of Grey" (live), and "Ripple".