Thursday, August 7, 2014

August 13, 1975: Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA (FM VIII)

The Great American Music Hall, at 859 O'Farrell Street in San Francisco
The Grateful Dead's performance on Wednesday, August 13, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco is well-known to most Deadheads. The show was recorded, and much of it was later broadcast live on various FM stations on September 1, 1975, to publicize the release of the new Grateful Dead album Blues For Allah. Thus the music from the show was widely circulated both as a vinyl bootleg and on cassette almost immediately. Many years later, when the Grateful Dead decided to begin releasing archival recordings, the entire Music Hall show was released as a double cd set in April, 1991, called One From The Vault.

As a result, the Grateful Dead's performance at the Great American Music Hall had a triple significance to most Deadheads. First, it was a live performance at a time when many Deadheads were still afraid that live Grateful Dead performances had gone the way of the dinosaur. Second, it was a live broadcast in a year when the Grateful Dead had not been seen or heard outside the Bay Area. Thirdly, the entire show inaugurated the Dead's release of music from their vaults. Yet although the music from the Dead's Music Hall show is as well-known as any Grateful Dead show, the context of the event itself has become obscured. This post will look at the actual Great American Music Hall show by the Grateful Dead on August 13, 1975 in its original frame.

The Grateful Dead, Summer 1975
The Grateful Dead had stopped performing after their 5-night stand at Winterland in October, 1974. A the time, it seemed like the end of yet another 60s institution from San Francisco. The Fillmores had closed in mid-1971, the Jefferson Airplane had evolved into the Jefferson Starship in 1974, and so on. The Dead had announced that they were going to continue to make music, but no one really believed them. Yet the Dead had surprised everybody by making an appearance at the SNACK Benefit at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park on March 22, 1975. While billed as Jerry Garcia And Friends, they surprised everyone by performing a 45-minute instrumental set of new material.

On June 17, the Grateful Dead had headlined a benefit at Winterland for the late artist Bob Fried. Although billed once again as Jerry Garcia And Friends, there was no doubt in the Bay Area that the Dead were playing, and the show sold out immediately. However, unless you went to the show or knew someone who did, it remained mysterious what exactly they had played. I believe that Joel Selvin mentioned the show in his Lively Arts column in the Sunday Chronicle, so it was confirmed that they had performed, but all but the most wired-in people had little idea what actually occurred. Nonetheless, even a casual Dead fan recognized that the Dead were definitely working on something.

Thus when word leaked out--probably from Selvin's column--that the Dead were working on a new album, most readers probably believed it. In the mid-70s, it was common to read in the Random Notes column of Rolling Stone that some iconic group or duo was working together again, and it was usually untrue. Numerous Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young projects were always "just about" to be released, Paul and John were always "talking about" some project or something, and so on. In hindsight, we now know the reality quotient of some of these rumors (various CSNY projects nearly happened, for example), but at the time they just seemed like nothing but hype. However, with two Bay Area performances under their belt, and some apparently new material broadcast from Kezar, rumors of a Grateful Dead album seemed far more plausible in the Summer of 1975 than another CSNY album.

An illustration from the rock critic column of the Hayward Daily Review on August 22, 1975. Under the Hart-less illustration of the band, it says "THE GRATEFUL DEAD HAVE A NEW LP OUT-'Blues For Allah' took months to finish"
Grateful Dead Records and Blues For Allah
The Grateful Dead had shocked the music industry in 1973 by going fully independent and starting their own record companies. Initially, the Grateful Dead Records experiment went very well. Their initial release, Wake Of The Flood, in October of 1973, sold fairly steadily. Although not a huge hit, the Dead were apparently making four times as much per record as they had with Warner Brothers. At the same time, concert receipts were increasing and the Dead were doing pretty well financially.

Yet by 1975, the Dead's financial superstructure was on a rickety foundation indeed. The massively expensive Wall Of Sound ate up much of their concert revenue, so the Dead paradoxically chose to stop touring. To commemorate the end of their touring life--the Winterland shows were billed as "The Last Five Nights" and there was a notion they would never play live again--Grateful Dead Records chief Ron Rakow agreed with Jerry Garcia that a six figure sum should be spent on filming the shows, even though the band could no longer really afford it.

By the middle of '75, the Grateful Dead organization was hemorrhaging money. With no touring income, the Dead were financing both the movie and the quirky Round Records, whose financial problems I have documented at length. In order to finance continued operations, Rakow signed a distribution deal with United Artists Records. This effectively undermined the Grateful Dead's independence. UA was not going to interfere with the music, exactly, but the Dead's freedom to do what they wanted, when they wanted to do it, had gone away. The band had a nut to meet, which included 4 Grateful Dead albums as well as Garcia and Weir solo albums.

For all their problems, however, the Grateful Dead had excellent original material, thoroughly worked over during endless jamming sessions at the studio above Bob Weir's garage in Mill Valley. The music was finally recorded at the end of Spring, and the album was put together throughout the Summer. By Summer's end, the band was ready to put out the album on Labor Day. Even quirky iconoclasts like the Grateful Dead knew they had to do something to promote the album. To have a successful record in the 70s, you needed radio play, and that meant getting djs and radio station program directors on your side. Billboard Magazine was an anchor for the music industry, and they were having a Radio Programmers Forum, essentially a convention, in San Francisco. So the Dead held a private party to perform their new music for some of the key players in the music industry. To host the party, they chose The Great American Music Hall.

Typical bookings for the Great American Music Hall, the week after the Dead played there (August 22-30, '75): Les Paul on Friday and Saturday, Vassar Clements on Tuesday, The Persuasions on Wednesday and Thursday, and Ralph Towner and Oregon on the next Friday and Saturday
The Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA
The Great American Music Hall, at 859 O'Farrell, was a club in a beautiful old building in a very sleazy part of San Francisco. The establishment was built in 1907. It was initially a nightclub, restaurant and house of ill-repute called Blanco's, until 1933 and the end of Prohibition. The infamous Sally Rand ran the place as a sort of burlesque dance hall called The Music Box from 1936 to '46. It went through various incarnations in the next few decades, reopening as a jazz club called Blanco's in '48, and then taken over by members of The Moose Lodge. The building was nearly condemned, but at the last second the building was refurbished around 1970 as a short-lived French restaurant called Charles, after its proprietor.

Finally, in 1972, Tom and Jeannie Bradshaw opened the Great American Music Hall. The club featured jazz, and its full capacity was supposedly about 600, although I actually think far fewer than that were present, even for sold out shows. For the most part there were tables on the floor and the balconies, although the room was occasionally cleared of the tables to create a dance floor. Unlike many Bay Area rock clubs, there was a full bar and a kitchen, so in that respect the Great American Music Hall was a true nightclub, rather than a beer soaked dance joint like the Keystone Berkeley.

Initially, the Great American Music Hall was focused on jazz bookings. This was timely, as the older jazz clubs in San Francisco had closed or were on their last legs. There was the Keystone Korner, of course, but it did not have a liquor license (I think they did sell beer, but I'm not sure). The location was appropriate, too, as it was not too far from main streets and downtown, halfway between the Fillmore West and the old Fillmore, at the edge of a very seedy old neighborhood called The Tenderloin. However, inside the refurbished bordello it was quite beautiful, and the sound was wonderful: elegant sounds in a seedy neighborhood is the essence of jazz in many ways.

Very quickly, however, the "Great American Music" name took on a broader significance. There were plenty of rock nightclubs in the Bay Area, but with folk music no longer viable, there were plenty of artists who didn't really have a place to play. Thus the Great American became a stopping point for great American musicians like Vassar Clements or John Fahey, working in a variety of musical traditions in a mostly acoustic style, but with an appropriate seriousness that put them on the level of the jazz musicians who also played there. Sitting down at a table with a drink was a far better way to hear Doc Watson or Howard Roberts than some noisy place that was better suited for rockin' out.

The Great American Music Hall was just two doors down from a truly notorious San Francisco institution, called The O'Farrell Theater. The O'Farrell Theater, at 895 O'Farrell (at Polk), formerly a Pontiac dealership, had actually briefly been a former Grateful Dead rehearsal hall in early 1967. Later in 1967 it became a rock venue called The Western Front, but there were various problems, and they were never able to book high profile bands, so the venue closed. Near the end of The Western Front, in late 1967, it was taken over by two brothers from Antioch named Jim and Artie Mitchell. The truly infamous Mitchell Brothers gave up putting on rock shows and instead used the venue to show the movies they had made, changing the name to The O'Farrell Theater.

There is quite a lot more to the Mitchell Brothers story, although I strongly advise you not to google it at work. By 1975, although the Mitchell Brothers had made some very lucrative movies--Mitchell Brothers lawsuits are responsible for those FBI warnings you see prior to watching a video--the O'Farrell Theater was primarily focused on live performance, although not of a kind that competed directly with the Great American Music Hall.

Jerry Garcia first played the Great American Music Hall with Merl Saunders on July 19, 1973. The show was significant for another reason, in that it was the first time that Martin Fierro sat in with Jerry and Merl. Garcia and Saunders did not return to the club until February 5, 1974, but Garcia/Saunders played 18 dates at the Great American Music Hall in 1974, and 7 more in 1975. Although Garcia's home base was the Keystone Berkeley, the Great American seems to have been his preferred club in San Francisco. Garcia/Saunders would often play on a weeknight, so it must have been a great booking for the club, since Garcia could pack the place on a night that did not interfere with other plans.

After the demise of Old And In The Way at the end of 1973, David Grisman and Richard Greene formed a group that would play all styles of American music on acoustic instruments. The band was called either the Great American String Band or the Great American Music Band, and not surprisingly its debut was at the band's namesake, the Great American Music Hall. The initial performances of the Great American String Band were at the GAMH on March 9 and 10, 1974. Jerry Garcia had some conflict that prevented him from performing on March 9, but he was present on March 10, so in fact Garcia played the Music Hall on 19 nights in 1974.

Soundcheck, August 12, 1975
Looking backwards at decades of Grateful Dead shows, we sometimes forget how unique the show at the Great American Music Hall really was. For one thing, the GAMH was surely the smallest place the Dead had played in San Francisco since their album release party at Fugazi Hall in March of 1967. For another thing, the Dead had not been touring, so they had no sound system. Their previous two performances had been at Bill Graham Presents shows (at Kezar and Winterland), so BGP would have taken care of providing a PA. However, this was the Dead's party, so they had to get their own system. According to McNally, they used the sound system of McCune Audio. Although McCune Audio were highly respected professionals, full rock sound systems were rare in the Great American Music Hall, so the Dead were not going to leave the sound to chance.

Regular reader Dave recalls
I was at the River City club [in Fairfax] on 8/12/75 seeing the Rowan Brothers and Phil was at the bar. This was the night before the Dead's Great American Music Hall show. I understand Phil had just come from their dress rehearsal at the gamh. We heard about the next night's Dead show while we were there.
The soundcheck is mostly mentioned with respect to Mickey Hart's idea that there should be a microphone on a box of crickets, and that they should be integrated into the performance of "Blues For Allah." This apparently did not work very well, and unlike some Grateful Dead innovations, insect choirs did not become a staple of rock concerts.

Here's the part that interests me, though: did they play "Blues For Allah" at the soundcheck? There were only three live performances of "Blues For Allah", two of them instrumental, at SNACK and Winterland. They only sang "Blues For Allah" once in public, at the Great American show. If they played anything at soundcheck, particularly with the cricket scheme, I would think it would be "Blues For Allah." So maybe, just maybe, there is an innocuous tapebox that says "August 12 '75," and it's got a lost performance of the suite? With crickets? We live in hope.  

The paper cover to the bootleg lp Make Believe Ballroom, on TAKRL (The Amazing Kornyphone Record Label), the gold standard for 70s bootleg record companies. The double lp was recorded from the fm broadcast on September 1, 1975, of the August 13 Great American Music Hall show.
The Grateful Dead, Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, August 13, 1975
August 13, 1975 was a Wednesday. The Music Hall was such a nice place that it was regularly used for industry events on weeknights. On Friday, August 8, the great acoustic guitarist John Fahey had played. On Saturday, August 9, it was jazz legend Stan Kenton. Tuesday was the soundcheck, and on Wednesday the Dead were the featured attraction at the Radio Programmers party. There was no word to the public about the show, because the relatively tiny club would have been mobbed.

In the 1970s, the way to sell a lot of albums--well, assuming you had made a good record--was to get your music played on FM radio. In the mid-70s, while the ownership of FM rock stations was often corporate, the day-to-day choices for music were still controlled by the individual station. Although djs still had some freedom to play what they wanted, they were mostly under the direction of their Program Director, who was responsible for hiring and firing them. The Program Director was worried about ratings, even if the djs might not always have been.

An fm Program Director decided which albums were going to be in "high rotation" on his or her station. The dj might get to choose which tracks to play, and in what order, and might get to occasionally play some of his own favorites, but for the most part there was a big stack of albums next to the turntables, chosen by the PD, and the dj had to choose from that stack. So the key for a band was to get the PD to put their album into that stack. Probably there were about 5,00 to 10,000 rock albums released in 1975, so competition for PD attention was fierce. A private party at a nice club, with free drinks and an exclusive performance, was the kind of thing that made PDs feel important, so they would give a band's music a good listening.

The Grateful Dead's performance was recorded by Dan Healy, and all but the "Blues For Allah" suite was broadcast three weeks later. The Blues For Allah album was released on approximately September 1 (70s release dates were not precise), and the tape of the concert was broadcast that night on KSAN in San Francisco, KMET in Los Angeles and WNEW in New York, all of which were owned by the same corporation (Metromedia). I do not know if other stations carried the broadcast. I have a general idea that the same tape was broadcast later on the syndicated King Biscuit Flower Hour.

As a result of the broadcasts, many pristine copies of the tape circulated in an era when few tapes were available. The best of the bootleg companies, TAKRL (The Amazing Kornyfone Record Label), put out a nice sounding double lp. In the 70s, very few people had cassette decks, and bootleg lps were hugely influential in spreading music. I myself had a treasured copy of the TAKRL album, called Make Believe Ballroom, and wore it out.

Although he was only a guest, Bill Graham introduced the band. Of course, this was a major San Francisco event, and there was no way he wasn't going to be front and center at the party. On the One From The Vault release, Graham begins by saying "Good evening, we welcome you on behalf of the group...on the piano we have Mr. Keith Godchaux, on the drums on stage left, we have Mr. Mickey Hart," and continues on as each musician steps into their part of "Help On The Way." To the outside world, Bill Graham and the Grateful Dead were like pizza and beer, and seemed to belong together, and so it seems an appropriate and now historic introduction.

The actual introduction was longer, and was elided for the release, but it was part of the radio broadcast. I am quoting from memory, but the Make Believe Ballroom album is etched on my brain, so the essence of this is accurate. Graham said
Before the show, I was offered 25 dollars to announce the band by Mr. Ron Rakow. I flipped a coin for double or nothing and won. We flipped a coin again, and I won, so I am being paid 100 dollars to introduce the band.
Rakow had probably been out shaking hands with many of the Program Directors, so this was probably extremely funny after a few drinks. Nonetheless, it summed up Rakow's approach to money management, and I don't think the reminder was welcome when the album was released 26 years later. Thus the first part of Graham's introduction was not part of the One From The Vault release.

Since the audience were industry professionals, and not ones particularly interested in the Grateful Dead, I had never heard an eyewitness account until reader Dave checked in. He picks up the story here, one of the few civilians to have actually witnessed the show. As you will recall from above, Dave, having heard about the show by chance the night before, was not going to miss it:
We heard that earlier that night the Dead did a practice at the Great American Music Hall and the next night would be a private concert there. We went down in hopes of getting in. We heard the first set from outside. During the break many journalists who probably had to be there but didn't really want to, started leaving and would hand their invitations to us waiting fans. I think there were maybe 25 people trying to get it. I managed to get one but when I got to the door the guy asked who I got the invite from. I had to think quick because the wrong answer would mean not getting in and having the invitation taken away. I said Anton Round was the one who invited me and he let me in. I was able to see most of the second set but had to leave before the end as i was catching a plane home. As I left I asked at the door if I could have an invitation as a keep sake and he said ok as long as I didn't give it to someone else. I still have it to this day.
I wouldn't give it away, either.

The cover of the 1975 Grateful Dead album Blues For Allah, on Round/UA
However historic the Great American Music Hall show seems to us today, it was just another day at the office for the Dead. A few days after the Music Hall show, the Dead were already recording at Ace's again. My theory is that they were laying the groundwork for the next album they owed UA, and laid down existing songs like "It Must Have Been The Roses." It appears to me that this plan was changed when Garcia and Nicky Hopkins were unable to complete an album, and the tracks were used for Reflections. Now, maybe Garcia was planning them as part of his solo album, but in any case, the Dead were working at Ace's throughout August and September, just as Blues For Allah was hitting the stores.

Jerry Garcia had played 26 nights at the Great American Music Hall prior to the August 13, 1975, the most recent times having been July 4-5, 1975. However, Merl Saunders had been quietly pushed out of working with Jerry Garcia in August, right around the time of the GAMH shows. Merl himself was quite surprised, as Garcia let John Kahn do the unpleasant deed of telling his friend Merl that he was out of the band. Thus Garcia really had no side band when the Dead played the Great American Music Hall. Nevertheless, the next week's listings showed a booking of "The Jerry Garcia Band" on Wednesday and Thursday August 20 and 21, 1975.

In fact, Garcia played the Great American Music Hall on August 20 and 21 with the Keith And Donna Band. The music itself was great, from the surviving tape (on the 20th), and very different from the subsequent sound of the Jerry Garcia Band with Keith and Donna. It remains an open question as to why Garcia was billed this way--was Nicky Hopkins scheduled and not ready, or was this a canceled Garcia/Saunders booking taken over by Jerry? We do not actually have eyewitnesses from either show, so while I'm sure a fair number of tickets were sold, they were on weeknights in a highly dubious part of town, so they probably weren't packed out.

Once Nicky Hopkins joined the Jerry Garcia Band, the operation took on a more serious booking schedule. I think the Keystone Berkeley was far move lucrative for Garcia than the Great American, and the club dates that the Garcia Band tended to play were at the Keystone. The Dead and Garcia were hurting for cash, so it was no accident that Garcia's new venture was named after him and actually played a few Dead songs, unlike the willfully obscure ventures with Merl Saunders.

Jerry Garcia played The Great American Music Hall one more time, on Sunday, July 4, 1976, with the Keith And Donna edition of the Jerry Garcia Band. The Grateful Dead had already returned to touring, and Garcia and the Dead would only get bigger in ensuing decades. The opportunities to jam out in an elegant yet funky little club had slipped away, albeit because of success, but slipped away nonetheless.

The Great American Music Hall thrived throughout the1990s. Even though Tom and Jeannie Bradshaw had divorced, they continued to run the club for a long time. Many acts returned over and over to the club throughout the decades. The name of the club was prescient, too, since there has been a renewed interest in all sorts of forms of American music. The club remained a desirable destination for fans and musicians, even though the O'Farrell Theater remained open just down the street. The Great American Music Hall continues to thrive in the present day. It now shares ownership and booking with Slim's, another famous San Francisco nightclub, and continues to book great acts, even if none of them want to bring their own crickets.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

May 27, 1989 Oakland Coliseum Stadium, Oakland, CA: John Fogerty with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir (Centerfield)

Time, as Steve Miller has observed, keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future. As we slip forward, we inevitably see things differently. Nonetheless, on occasion it is a healthy exercise to recall events as they appeared at the time, in contrast to how they seem now. The Grateful Dead headlined a Benefit Concert at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium on May 27, 1989. There were many fascinating aspects to this booking, but in retrospect the most fascinating was that former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty was second on the bill, and it was known before the show that Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir would be part of his backing group.

Creedence had been hugely, titanically popular, but Fogerty had been in a bitter dispute with his record company since the mid-70s, and as a result had refused to play any of his great Creedence songs in concert. By 1989, however, although Fogerty's ire towards Fantasy Records had not subsided, for various reasons he had come to terms with his old songs, so it was widely known that not only would Garcia and Weir be backing Fogerty, but that they would be playing Creedence classics as well. Everything pointed towards an event of historic proportions.

I went to the show, as did about 40,000 of my closest friends. The weather was great, the crowd was nice, the vibe was relaxed, the show ran smoothly and everyone went bonkers for John Fogerty. And yet, and yet, somehow, for Deadheads like me and others, the glow wore off quickly. It was historic to see Fogerty, and unique to see Garcia and Weir play with him, but somehow it seemed like just another rock show. I love Creedence songs, but they are basic, and Garcia and Weir's talents were not particularly needed. Somehow, my memory of that show faded into a lost opportunity, of Garcia playing with a legendary opening act and just comping away.

Yet Deadheads tend to celebrate recordings from "This Day In History," and when May 27 came around, there were some casual reminiscences about the event which caused me to re-think it. It also turned out there is accessible YouTube video of the entire Fogerty set. Seeing the video reminded me of the show, and caused me to think about it the way I thought about it at the time. So watch the video, if you haven't already, and we can think about how the show seemed so bright and exciting at the time, and in many ways genuinely was--regardless of how I feel about it today.

In Concert Against AIDS, Oakland Coliseum Stadium, Oakland, CA, May 27, 1989
Grateful Dead/Special Appearance by John Fogerty/Tracy Chapman/Los Lobos/Joe Satriani/Tower Of Power
It seems shocking today that a Benefit concert for a terrible disease would be seen as a progressive political act, but such was the Reagan 80s. At least in San Francisco, efforts to prevent AIDS and provide care for those suffering from it had finally expanded beyond the gay community into the general culture. Nonetheless it was still significant when major rock bands headlined a large benefit concert in the Bay Area's biggest venue. Concern for AIDS had finally reached parity with Amnesty International and the Rain Forest, which was a welcome thing. The Coliseum benefit was the largest of several events around the Bay Area, all organized by Bill Graham Presents, and meant to raise awareness as well as money.

Originally the Oakland show was supposed to have joint headliners, with both the Grateful Dead and Huey Lewis and The News. A few weeks before the show, however, Huey Lewis had to drop out of the show. Rather sheepishly, his management publicly conceded that the stadium show was cutting into ticket sales for Lewis around Northern California, and they couldn't afford to work for what was effectively nothing. Lewis and The News were popular, and had had a number of big AM hits, but their last album (1988's Small World) had only reached #11, whereas the previous two (1983's Fore and 1986's Sports) had both reached #1. The News had played around the Bay Area a lot, and while they put on a good show, their fans apparently weren't going to see them an infinite number of times.

The Dead, of course, had no such concerns. At a press conference, Jerry Garcia graciously said that Huey had to listen to his management, it was part of the business. Yet the Dead had just played two shows at Stanford's Frost Amphitheatre (May 6-7) and had booked three nights at Shoreline (June 18, 19 and 21)--on weeknights no less--and still packed them all. We take this for granted now, but in the Bay Area it was a public reminder of both how huge the Grateful Dead were and how committed their fan base was. Huey Lewis And The News were the biggest act in the Bay Area at the time with respect to record sales, and yet the Dead outdrew them by several multiples. The Dead were no longer an aging hippie band who hadn't broken up--they were the biggest draw in town.

John Fogerty
I no longer recall the exact sequence of booking, but I think John Fogerty replaced Huey Lewis on the bill. It wasn't entirely necessary, as the Dead sold so many tickets. Still, it was in Bill Graham's interest to make the concert a special event, and Fogerty's presence certainly met that criteria. Fogerty had a unique status in the Bay Area at the time, and everyone was reminded of that when word was unofficially "leaked", I believe through Joel Selvin's Chronicle column, that not only would Garcia and Weir back Fogerty, but that Fogerty would be playing old Creedence songs.

Creedence Clearwater Revival had originally formed in El Cerrito High School in 1959 as The Blue Velvets. The band was a quartet, featuring John Fogerty on lead guitar, his older brother Tom on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and childhood friends Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums. The group soldiered on throughout the 60s, under various names (like The Golliwogs), releasing a few singles and playing numerous shows around Northern California. All four of the band members had various obligations to the military, so although the band always played, they could not participate full time in the San Francisco rock explosion of the mid-60s.

By 1968, however, with John Fogerty's service in the US Army Reserve coming to an end, the band could be all-in. The Golliwogs changed their name to the hipper sounding Creedence Clearwater Revival, and took a Monday night residency at a local rock dive called DenoCarlo's, at 750 Vallejo Street, later better known as the Keystone Korner. Soon the experienced band was playing much bigger shows around town. Their long-time label, Fantasy Records, despite mostly being a jazz label, figured they had something and recorded and released Creedence's first album quickly, releasing it in July 1968. The album got good local FM airplay, and the single "Suzie Q" reached #11.

In January 1969, Creedence Clearwater released the album Bayou Country. When John Fogerty was finally released from US Army Reserve duty, he wrote the song "Proud Mary" to celebrate. That song, along with "Born On The Bayou," began a long run of hits for Creedence. The band was hugely popular on both AM and FM radio, a rarity at the time, they were popular with hippies and servicemen, and the band's Southern flavor--they were all from a tiny town near Berkeley, nothing Southern about El Cerrito--broadened their appeal way beyond the usual bunch of hippies.

Bayou Country reached #7 on the album charts, and until Creedence broke up in 1972, they had 4 more top 10 albums and 10 singles in the top 10 as well. For all the famous bands that came out of the Bay Area in the 60s, Creedence outsold them all, both at the time and later. Yet the band's breakup in 1972 was very bitter, and made more so by lawsuits between John Fogerty and Fantasy Records. Fogerty was primed to have a great post-Creedence career, but his anger over how he felt Fantasy had taken his money caused him to lay very low. Ultimately, Fogerty forewent his Creedence royalties so that he could sign with Warner Brothers, and he had some good hits with them, like 1985's "Centerfield."

When Fogerty finally started touring to support his albums, around 1986, he absolutely refused to play any of his Creedence material, since he didn't want any money to go to Fantasy. At the same time, Fantasy was not interested in promoting Creedence, either, so by mid-80s standards, Creedence Clearwater Revival was somewhat forgotten relative to other classic rock bands. However, when Fogerty played a Vietnam Veteran's Benefit in Landover, MD on July 4, 1987, he apparently had a change of heart and his band played 8 Creedence classics, to the enthusiastic reception of the audience. So while seeing Fogerty perform Creedence songs was rare, it was not entirely unprecedented. It is also possible that some legal matters had been resolved with Fantasy, so Fogerty was freer to do what he wanted, but in any case it made the show far more intriguing.

The Concert
The weather for the Day On The Green concert was perfect. Bill Graham, apparently, had an exclusive arrangement with some greater power, so that it never, ever rained when he was having a major outdoor show, and his deal remained in place for the May '89 AIDS Benefit. Another oddity about the AIDS Benefit was that there were no less than five opening acts for the Grateful Dead, which I think was some kind of record for a Bay Area Grateful Dead show. Although I don't precisely recall, I have good reason to think that we were intentionally late, and only arrived in time to see John Fogerty and the Dead. By 1989, I no longer had any desire to spend 12 hours in the sun, just to wipe myself out for what I wanted to see at the very end.

I don't believe the show was sold out, although I no longer can remember for certain. By 1989, the Dead were huger than ever, thanks to "Touch Of Grey", and I think the Coliseum show was an opportunity for a lot of people who had always wanted to see the Dead but hadn't been been able to get tickets. Frost and Shoreline shows sold out pretty rapidly, so regular rock fans who wanted to see the Dead were out of luck. Thus the crowd was very Dead-positive, with plenty of Deadheads, but far less like the insular club of Deadhead veterans that were characteristic of Bay Area shows at the time.

Johh Fogerty hit the stage in the late afternoon, last up before the Grateful Dead. His band, previously announced, was
John Fogerty-lead guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-guitar
Bob Weir-guitar
Randy Jackson-bass
Steve Jordan-drums
Jackson and Jordan were well-known and well regarded as session players. Randy Jackson was a working member of Santana's band at the time, among many other gigs. Today, of course, Jackson is best known as a judge for the TV show American Idol, but that was far in his future. Jordan had played the Bay Area recently, on the 1988 tour with Keith Richards, whose album he had co-produced. Fogerty played 11 songs in about 45 minutes.
Born On The Bayou
Green River
Down On The Corner
Rock And Roll Girl
Proud Mary
Midnight Special
Bad Moon Rising
Fortunate Son
encores with Clarence Clemons-tenor saxophone
Suzie Q
Long Tall Sally
We had pretty good seats, but by definition of having seats, we were pretty far back--behind first base, as I recall. However, there was a big video screen, so we could see what was happening onstage.  I was seeing a lot of rock bands at the time, and I was pretty excited about seeing Fogerty. A lot of bands were doing what amounted to "Legacy" tours, like Pink Floyd and The Who, and I had mixed feelings about them. I had seen Fogerty a few years earlier, next door at the Coliseum Arena, and while he did a good show, the absence of all his great hits left a shadow over the concert.

Unlike some middle-aged rock acts, Fogerty looked healthy and sounded great, probably a function of Fogerty having mostly spent most of the previous 15 years at home with his family instead of grinding it out on the road like The Dead. Nonetheless, it was strange for me in many ways, as it must have been for many fans that were present: here was John Fogerty, a huge rock star, playing a relatively historic show, and here we were obsessing over what his backup guitarist was doing.

Garcia And The Fogertys
Most serious Deadheads knew that Garcia had played with Tom Fogerty, John's brother. Tom had left Creedence in 1970 over various issues, reducing the band to a trio. Merl Saunders had been on Fantasy Records since the mid-60s, and he had known the Fogerty brothers long before they were famous. Since Merl and Jerry regularly hung out at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, at 10th and Parker, the so-called "House That Creedence Built," it was hardly a surprise when Merl had invited his old friend Tom to play guitar alongside of Jerry in 1971. Tom Fogerty had played quite a few shows with Garcia and Saunders, up through late '72, and played on various studio projects with Merl and Jerry as well.

However, by 1971, relations were strained between John Fogerty and Fantasy Records, so it is very unlikely that John Fogerty ever hung out at 10th and Parker. While I assume that John Fogerty and Jerry Garcia had met backstage at some rock festival or something, the Dead and Creedence had hardly ever played shows together. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one indoor show together, a multi-act People's Park Benefit at Winterland on May 28, 1969. In that respect, it was if Garcia and John Fogerty had gone to high school together. They had many shared experiences and mutual friends and nemeses, no doubt, and had--in effect--passed each other in the halls many times, yet hardly knew each other.

Did Garcia Rehearse With John Fogerty?
The question I would most like to have answered about this show is "who rehearsed?" From watching the video, it is clear that John Fogerty had run through the songs with Randy Jackson and Steve Jordan. Now, Creedence songs are delightfully basic, as well as famous worldwide, so pros like Jackson and Jordan hardly needed many takes. On every song, however, Jackson and Jordan both provide a funky bottom and plenty of accent. They knew the tunes, and they knew how to make them swing, so I think they had worked on them with Fogerty.

Jerry Garcia, however, was notorious for never wanting to rehearse. Weir is far less notorious for avoiding rehearsals, though it is also known that he is famously not on time, so it may amount to something similar. Since John Fogerty wasn't particularly close to any members of the Dead, it's clear that Bill Graham was the one who got Garcia and Weir to accompany Fogerty, and in so doing make it "an event," in classic Graham style. Could Graham have persuaded Garcia to rehearse? The alternative is strange, namely playing a show in front of 40,000 people with at least two band members completely flying blind.

Here's what I think, although I am anxious to hear if anyone knows different. Fogerty knows his songs are simple, and assumes that everyone knows them. I think Fogerty had a rehearsal with Jackson and Jordan on a prior day. On the day of the show, I think Garcia and Weir had a dressing room run-through with Fogerty and the rhythm section, agreeing on the tempos and the intros. Sandy Rothman has described how the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band did not really practice songs, they just agreed on an intro and tempo and sang a chorus together. Granted, Rothman, Garcia and David Nelson had played all those songs before, but it was usually twenty years earlier. Still, one chorus run through was sufficient. So I think Fogerty talked Garcia and Weir through the planned songs, but they had never really played together until they got on stage.

Jerry Garcia-Electric Guitar and Backing Vocal
Garcia's appearance with John Fogerty has seemingly receded in importance over the years. Fogerty has been a relatively regular performer, touring with Bruce Springsteen for example, so his mere performance of old Creedence songs is no longer a big deal, just another classic rock guy. Creedence songs have a nice groove, but they aren't jamming platforms, so of course Garcia just plunks away through the entire show, and nothing about his playing at the Coliseum is really memorable.

However, watching the video again, after all these years, caused me to think about the show in a different light. On one hand, Jerry Garcia's health in 1989 was as good as it had been in at least a decade, nor it would ever be that good again. Yet the stunning success of "Touch Of Grey," gratifying as it must have been, insured that the bubble of Garcia's life meant that he was more insulated than ever. Garcia wasn't just a legend to Deadheads, he was in the pantheon now, the biggest rock star in the Bay Area, in a beautiful cage with no escape.

When Fogerty kicks off the familiar, booming riff of "Born On The Bayou," Garcia is tucked back on stage left, next to Steve Jordan's drums. Randy Jackson is on the other side of Jordan, and Weir is right next to Jackson. Although Garcia plays a very simple figure behind Fogerty for "Bayou," his eyes are on Jordan, and Jerry has a big, happy grin on his face. I'm not imagining this--Garcia has a big grin on his face throughout the entire set, and he mugs happily with Jordan as the drummer plays fills and accents through the set. Weir seems to be having the same kind of fun with Randy Jackson over on stage right. Fogerty is the star, front and center, but the band is getting their own groove on behind him.

The Fogerty set isn't a big deal to Deadheads, but it's hard to get around the fact that Garcia is having a great time. Whether Fogerty was "bigger" than Garcia is beside the point. Fogerty is a genuine star, with genuine hits, so he is the center of attention while he is on stage. For any singer less important than Fogerty--as in, just about all of them--Garcia could not hang back, but he can do so here. For 45 minutes, it's like Garcia is at the Keystone Berkeley or something, hanging out with his peers, playing the guitar parts that are dictated by the music, simple though they may be.

When they get to the third song, the unforgettable "Down On The Corner," Jerry is practically jumping up and down. In a small but fascinating moment, he steps up to the mic to sing the backing vocals. Now granted, the whole English speaking world knows that it goes "Down on the corner/Out in the street/Willie and The Poor Boys are playing/Bring a nickel, tap your feet," but Jerry actually steps up to sing. Over the years, I've seen and heard Garcia make lots of guest appearances with various artists. Yet how often did he sing the chorus of other people's hit songs?

After "Down On The Corner," Fogerty introduces the band, and Garcia's back is turned when it is his turn, as he's tuning up. Fogerty says "wake him up!' and Garcia turns around. "On guitar, Jerry Garcia!" Garcia grins and goes back to tuning, and Fogerty says "Genius at work." This is just musicians goofing around, albeit goofing around on stage in front of 40,000 people, but Garcia gets to be just another dude on stage, perhaps for one of the last times. A few months later (August 2, 1989), he would share the stage with Carlos Santana and Ruben Blades but that was for a TV special where he was a featured guest. At the Oakland Coliseum, he's just a hired gun playing a bunch of top 40 songs.

The event is clearly a big deal for Fogerty, as well. He puts on an A's cap, and says what an honor it is to play in his hometown in center field, and then, of course, plays "Centerfield," but Jerry seems to enjoy that too. Garcia joins Weir for the backing vocals for "Proud Mary" and "Midnight Special." Most interestingly, on "Bad Moon Rising," Weir sings the backing vocal, but Garcia does not step up to his mic. Nonetheless, he can be clearly seen mouthing the familiar lyrics, along with every other person in the Oakland Coliseum.

Clarence Clemons joins in for the encore. Bruce Springsteen was the biggest act in the country at the time, and having his chief henchman on stage made the set even more of an event. As a Grateful Dead footnote, I believe this was Clarence's first stage appearance with Garcia [update: my belief was incorrect. Clarence had played with the Grateful Dead on Dec 31 '88, and may have already played with the Garcia Band as well, back in March]. Clarence's second appearance with Garcia would come about 90 minutes later, when he joined the Grateful Dead for much of their first and second set at the Coliseum. Clemons would go on to play a number of shows with the Jerry Garcia Band, but on this May afternoon it was the first most public onstage intersection of Bruce's world with Jerry's.

The Dead played their headline sets later that day, and went on to even greater success. John Fogerty came to grips with his past, and generally speaking Creedence songs played some part in his future shows. Fogerty and the Dead only crossed paths one other time, however, once again and far more tragically engineered by Bill Graham. At the memorial concert in Golden Gate Park for Graham's death, on November 3, 1991, the Dead played the final set. Graham's deal with higher powers was good one last time, and despite being November, the weather was great. John Fogerty joined in for four songs, obviously with no rehearsal, but with plenty of confidence that it would work. The music was nice, but I don't think Jerry was grinning ear to ear this time.

As Deadheads, we always wanted certain things from Jerry. When Garcia didn't give us what we want, we grumbled, and thanks to the magic of tape and digital recording, we can collectively complain about it for decades. Good times! But we have to keep in mind that what we wanted wasn't always what Jerry wanted. For a Memorial Day Saturday, Garcia wanted to be in a band, playing songs the way they were written, singing his parts when they came around, grooving with the drummer and letting the front man do the heavy lifting. Did it ever come around again that Jerry got to play simple, popular songs with a front man with enough gravitational pull so that it wasn't All About Jerry? In that sense, Garcia's role as John Fogerty's backing musician is a last look backwards for Garcia, a time when he could just be in the band, if only for 45 minutes.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

January 20, 1967 Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA: Timothy Leary with The Grateful Dead

There have been circulating lists of Grateful Dead shows since at least the early 1980s. I got my own copy of the Janet Soto list in 1981, Paul Grushkin published Dennis McNally's list in 1983 in his The Official Book Of The Deadheads, John Dwork had a circulating list and so on. When the first edition of Deadbase was published in early 1987, the baseline text for Grateful Dead scholarship was established. As the collective enterprise expanded to multiple additions of Deadbase, Deadlists,, The Jerry Site, and so on, our knowledge of the history of Grateful Dead performances expanded enormously. Yet in the never-ending quest to find new "lost" Dead shows, a quest that appears to be led by me right now, we lose sight of some unexplained mysteries that have been on "The List" for so long that we no longer question them.

A show that has been part of the Canon since the early eighties is a performance at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Friday, January 20, 1967. The headliner at this show was former Harvard professor and "acid guru" Timothy Leary, and he was supposedly "backed" by the Grateful Dead. Upon reflection, this must have been a very strange event, so strange that I wonder if it even happened. I am aware of no eyewitness accounts, no reviews and no recollections from members of the Grateful Dead. I do know the source of our knowledge of the show, however, and it is quite fleeting. This post will consider what little we know about the Grateful Dead's performance on January 20, 1967, at the Santa Monica Civic, supporting Timothy Leary. This would have been the Grateful Dead's first performances in the Los Angeles area since their February and March sojourn with Owsley the previous year. In early 1966, the Grateful Dead were unknown, but by early 1967 the Dead were at least underground sensations who were newly-signed to Warner Brothers Records.

[update: thanks to inspirational Commenter LightIntoAshes, we know the concert took place, and we have an eyewitness account from Owsley himself]

Ralph Gleason's SF Chronicle column on Friday, January 27, mentions the Grateful Dead playing with Timothy Leary the previous week.
The primary source for adding a Tim Leary/Grateful Dead show at Santa Monica, comes from a generally reliable source, San Francisco Chronicle music columnist Ralph Gleason. He wrote four columns a week on music for the Chronicle, and he regularly covered the San Francicso psychedelic ballroom scene in great detail (along with jazz, blues and country music). The excerpt above is from Friday, January 27, 1967, and it says:
Tonight and tomorrow night, Dr. Timothy Leary will unveil the mystery of religion as show biz in his two dates here at the Berkeley Community Theater (tonight) and Winterland (tomorrow night). The Leary production was a sell-out in Santa Monica, I'm told, and the Grateful Dead played with him. 
This weekend the Dead won't be along (they're at the Avalon Ballroom) and it's not known if another rock band will perform. The Leary happening includes films, a light show, chants and a psychedelic trip induced without drugs. "It really works," an expert in this genre told me. Personally I wouldn't miss this out of sheer animal curiosity. It may be the most interesting religious event since the last Black Mass. 
A few details stand out from this description. Gleason was a supporter of all kinds of music, but he was a journalist first. When he says the show "was a sell-out in Santa Monica," and then adds "I'm told," he is noting that this was unverified by him, and raises the hint that perhaps some exaggeration may be taking place. When he says "'It really works,' an expert in this genre told me," his deadpan tone suggests that the whole thing is hype.

One of the best sources for San Francisco 60s rock history was Gleason's columns in the Chronicle, and they were relatively accessible in later years through good libraries. A mistake in Gleason's column will be repeated over and over in numerous rock tomes, a clear sign that their root source was the same. Thus I am pretty certain that the Dead's Santa Monica performance was uncovered by research on Gleason's column. Someone must have figured out that the show was Friday January 20 rather than Saturday January 21, but I have never seen an ad or listing in the paper (please send one if you've got it).

If Gleason did in fact attend one of the Leary shows in San Francisco or Berkeley, he did not write about it, which leads me to think he didn't drop by. We do have one reliable account of the Bay Area shows, however, from writer Charles Perry. Perry was a Berkeley hippie at the time--he was briefly Owsley's roommate in 1964 or so--but he became a writer for Roling Stone. Perry wrote the excellent book Haight-Ashbury: A History, in 1984. At the time, 1967 seemed farther ago than it does now, but many of Perry's friends and acquaintances had been through the whole thing, so Perry's sources were far more contemporary. In the book, Perry has an excellent chronology, clearly based on the Chronicle, but with additional details, no doubt provided by people he knew.

Perry says that the two Leary performances at Berkeley and Winterland were busts, with Leary droning on to largely empty auditoriums. There was a rock group present, a hip but obscure band called The Outfit. According to Perry, The Outfit noodled along while Leary talked. I'm not surprised that Leary drew tiny crowds: by the standards of the 1967 rock market, Winterland and BCT were huge (8900 capacity between them), and Leary was not a popular figure in the Haight. No San Francisco rock band could have sold 8900 tickets on a weekend, so it's no surprise that Leary didn't. This too, provides some grounds for suspicion about the Santa Monica show. Was Tim Leary more popular in Los Angeles? I doubt it. As for the Grateful Dead, while they did have some underground cachet, they had no record and they had hardly played LA. The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium had a seated capacity of 2500, still nearly twice as large as The Fillmore, a lot of seats for the era. The more we look into this, the stranger it seems.

The Lee Conklin poster for the Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service show at the Avalon Ballroom on January 27-28, 1967, while Timothy Leary was at Berkeley and Winterland, backed by The Outfit.
The Grateful Dead, January 1967
January of 1967 was an extremely busy month for the Grateful Dead, but it is true that the weekend of January 20-21 is blank except for the Santa Monica show. The previous weekend (January 13-15), the Dead had played the Fillmore with a new Los Angeles band called The Doors. In the middle of it, the band found time to play at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on Saturday, January 14. All of hip San Francisco was there, as was Timothy Leary. Leary spoke to the assembled crowd at some point, but all observers say that despite his celebrity status, he had little impact on the audience.

On the weekend of January 27, the Dead played three shows at the Avalon. Friday (January 27) and Saturday (January 28) the Dead played with their pals the Quicksilver Messenger Service. On Sunday night (January 29), the Dead were joined by Big Brother and The Holding Company and Moby Grape in a benefit for the San Francisco Hare Krshna temple (no word on whether Jerry joined in for some jamming on their well known hit "Hare Krshna, Hare Krshna, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,"). On Monday, January 30, the Dead began recording their first album at RCA Studios in Los Angeles.

Yet the Dead were a working band, and perpetually in need of cash, so it makes sense that they would try to find a paid booking anywhere they could. If they were paid to play on a bill with Timothy Leary, they would have done it if the money was good. In those bygone days, it only cost $20 to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Pacific Southwest Airlines, which wasn't much money even then. So the Dead, who only had one crew member at the time, could have bought six tickets, and perhaps a few extra for the guitars or managers, and flown down to the show. What is more curious is their pairing with Timothy Leary, which was at odds with what would come to follow for both Leary and the Dead.

Timothy Leary addressing the crowd at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, January 14, 1967
Timothy Leary
The whole subject of Timothy Leary is complex and interesting for those people who are interested in that sort of thing, but I am not particularly one of them. Thus I will just recap some key points of Leary's history up through 1967, as the rest of his story is quite accessible on the web. Leary (1920-1996) had ended up as an untenured 39-year old Assistant Professor at Harvard in 1959 (his actual title was Lecturer in Clinical Psychology). Leary was a popular and charismatic lecturer, with a lengthy list of accomplishments up to that point, but he was hardly conventional. Along with his colleague Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass) Leary begin clinical studies on the effects of Psilocybin and LSD.

Leary had a knack for attracting attention, and by 1962 he was actually turning away volunteers for his experiment, which apparently led to a small black market for LSD around the Harvard Campus. From another point of view, however, though Leary's research interests were sincere, his methodology was sloppy, and it seemed unlikely that he would get tenure at Harvard. This is common for Assistant Professors at Ivy League colleges, but they are supposed to get tenure elsewhere and return to the Ivies some years later in triumph. Leary, who liked undergraduate women and liquor as well as psychedelic drugs, focused more on having a party and burnishing his image.

By the time Leary was relieved his duties in May, 1963, he was already infamous. He spent the next few years as a sort of public figure, advocating the then-legal use of LSD. When the Pranksters and then Owsley arrived on the scene, there became two distinct threads of LSD advocacy. Leary had fallen in with some wealthy patrons, Peggy and Billy Hitchcock, who lived at the Millbrook Estate in New York, so he could afford to have a philosophical bent. In the Fall of '66, Leary had a sort of tour where he lectured at college campuses. He also claimed to have founded a religion, with LSD as its holy sacrament, a distinctly different approach to LSD than the one shared by Kesey, Owsley and the Dead. Thus there was a distinct philosophical divide between the Haight-Ashbury's view of LSD as a tool for living, and Leary's more patrician philosophy.

The Outfit, with Bobby Beausoleil on guitar, played at Chinatown's Dragon A Go Go on September 6, 1966
The Outfit
By early 1967, Leary was a public figure. However, he was more of a well-known figure amongst adults and "The Establishment," and younger, long-haired rock fans were somewhat indifferent to him. By 1967, Leary was 47 years old, and a master at presenting himself in provocative soundbites, like "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out." I think many young people in 1967 thought Leary was cool, in some sort of general way, because he advocated getting high, but he hardly had iconic status. Young people weren't ultimately that interested in 47-year-old ex-Professors and their philosophical views when they faced the reality of themselves and their friends getting drafted. San Francisco, which then as now saw itself as hip central, would also have been dismissive of Leary because his hipness was of a patronizing East Coast variety that never goes over out west.

The fact that The Outfit was hired to support Leary at his performances actually tells us quite a bit. The Outfit remain a super-obscure SF band, but they were cool insiders to the core, even if their music probably wasn't particularly memorable. We know the story of The Outfit from the classic fanzine Cream Puff War #2. Originally formed in 1965, by mid-66 The Outfit rehearsed at the Straight Theater on Haight Street, along with the Grateful Dead and others. By this time, band members were singer Win Hardy, bassist John Ciambotti (later in Clover), drummer Steve Bonnicelli (later in Flying Circus), rhythm guitarist "Cousin Robert" Resner and lead guitarist Bobby Beausoleil. Robert Resner was the cousin of Straight partner Hillel Resner, so the band was hooked in from the beginning. One of their managers was Bard Dupont, the original bassist for The Great Society, chosen for his Beatles-like hair, and another real scene-maker.

By early 1967, The Outfit hadn't really made any progress. Beausoleil had left, first to play with the intriguing Electrik Chamber Orkustra, and then to join with a disturbing Haight denizen named Charles Manson (which is why Beausoleil is serving life in prison). The Outfit added Jim Brown on lead guitar, who had been writing songs with Hardy. Some brief hope of a Columbia records contract in December, 1966 came to nothing, and the band returned to San Francisco. However, though hardly well known, The Outfit were always well connected, so they had the connections to be chosen to back Leary. For a group like The Outfit, a paying gig was always welcome, even if the circumstances were not exactly rock and roll. By the time of the Leary shows, Bard Dupont was no longer the manager and singer Win Hardy was out of the band, too, and The Outfit were down to a quartet (Jim Brown-lead guitar, Cousin Robert-guitar, John Ciambotti-bass, Steve Bonicelli-drums).

Santa Monica Civic
The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, located at 1855 Main Street in Santa Monica, was built in 1958. It had a seated capacity of 2500, and at the time of its construction it was the second largest auditorium in Los Angeles. I have to assume that a former college professor like Leary wanted his audience seated so they could concentrate on his lecture, not dancing around. Over the years, the Santa Monica Civic was used for many musical, sporting and other events, but it was never the province of one promoter, so it doesn't have particular cachet as a rock venue. In later years, as the rock market got bigger, Santa Monica Civic tended to be used only when other arenas weren't available. Because it is in the Greater Los Angeles area, however, many well known tv shows and albums have been recorded there, including The TAMI Show in 1964 and the Eagles Long Run live album in 1980.

I personally have a theory that the The Grateful Dead played Santa Monica Civic on January 17, 1969 (since there is no Santa Barbara Civic Auditorium), but that is a topic for another post. As for confirmed shows, the Dead only played Santa Monica Civic one other time, on March 7, 1970. I believe the 1970 show was promoted by Bill Graham or an associate, so the Civic was a venue that would be available to outside promoters. However, even with the unseated 3000 capacity, the Dead would outgrow Los Angeles venues the size of Santa Monica Civic in the next few years anyway, so it's not surprising that the Dead never played there after 1970.

Some Traces
So what are we left with? An unverifiable assertion from Ralph Gleason that the Grateful Dead somehow "backed" Tim Leary to a packed house in Santa Monica, even though the very next weekend Leary played to minimal crowds in the Bay Area, supported by an obscure band that would play any gig? Any subsequent reports of Grateful Dead connections to Leary, such as the band members' trip to Millbrook in June '67 (the Dead were playing the Cafe Au Go Go, and Weir had reconnected to John Barlow, who had an in at Millbrook), omit any mention of the Santa Monica gig. Leary was at the Human Be-In, but it wasn't surprising that the Dead never met him there. Why weren't any reminiscences about Millbrook flavored by any recollections about backing Leary in Santa Monica?

Are we to believe that the Grateful Dead flew down to Santa Monica to play a show with Timothy Leary, and never spoke to him? Now, Leary was notoriously autocratic, and would have thought nothing of having some sort of underling "instruct" his "backing band" on how to support his greatness, but who are we dealing with here? The 1967 Grateful Dead were hardly likely to noodle quietly for 40 minutes while Leary droned on about philosophy--they were more likely to break into an extended rave-up on "Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks," which wouldn't have gone over well with the one-time professor.

Underneath his engaging persona, Leary had a reputation as a master manipulator. However, I suspect that one of his main methods in 1967 would have been to get people around him to drop acid, and then to take advantage of them when they were in a somewhat confused state. This strategy would have failed spectacularly with the Dead. For the 1967 Grateful Dead, dropping acid and performing was pretty much like a typical office worker having their coffee prior to the first meeting of the day, so the band would hardly have been intimidated by any high minded head games perpetrated by Leary or his minions.

If the Dead had been annoyed or offended by Leary, and particularly if they had pranked him by playing loud, or any other thing, I would think that it would have been mentioned over the years, given how many times the Dead were asked about LSD. It's more likely that the Dead simply agreed to play before or after Leary spoke, and just played a set or two of music. So whether it was a good show or not, it was just another gig for the band, and they may not have met Leary at all. Nonetheless, when you reflect upon it, it is curious to consider two icons of the 60s, one at his peak, about to go down,  and the others still on their way up, on the same bill, and none even recalling the event at all.

There is a final point to consider. When I first wrote about the Grateful Dead's touring itinerary in 1967, I made the point that most paying shows were on weekends. As such, the historiographical goal was to find empty weekends that may may have a secret lost show attached to them. Given that the Dead may have indeed gone down to Los Angeles to perform on the same bill with Timothy Leary, there may have been other Grateful Dead shows in the Los Angeles area that weekend. One of my fellow researchers is on the trail of just such a thing, and that may add a lot to the puzzle. If he comes up aces, I will be sure to report it here, but for now we have to just consider that it may have been a possibility.

It's plausible that the Santa Monica show with Timothy Leary was just another paid booking for the Grateful Dead, at a time when they needed it. If they were in Los Angeles to play more than one show, then maybe the Leary show hardly weighed on the minds of the band members, so when Leary and the Dead had their "summit meeting" some months later at Millbrook, none of them recalled it.

One of the attractive things about blogging about modern history is that the history is still contemporary. If any readers have any light to shed on this event--a listing, a review, a rumor, a screwy hypothesis--please include it in the Comments or email me.

Update: Commenter and Scholar LightIntoAshes has the scoop:
McNally has a small confirmation of the show with Leary in January, saying that the Dead opened for his lecture, and Danny Rifkin found his slide show "quite gorgeous."

Luckily, we have a longer, more complete account of the evening - it turns out Owsley also attended!
From Greenfield's biography of Leary:
"Six days after the Human Be-In, Tim appeared with the Grateful Dead at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Owsley Stanley would later recall, 'Somebody played a sitar and Tim did a rave, and then the band played. He was being Guru Tim.'

Tim later described his appearance as 'the highlight of the road tour. Hall jammed. Grateful Dead jammed. The LSD alchemist Owsley was everywhere dispensing his White Lightning pills.' He omitted mentioning the 'little old lady' who threw rotten eggs at him while yelling, 'You ruined my son with your devil drugs!' ...

'Tim did his lecture and people threw packets of hash and LSD and joints and flowers, and an old lady threw some eggs,' Rosemary Woodruff remembered. 'My mother and father were in the audience, and when I asked my mother, "What did you think of Tim's lecture?" she said, "Well, Daddy doesn't like the smell of incense, honey."

'I was backstage listening to Tim while watching Owsley pace and do the monitors. And he said, "Are you sure you guys take acid?" Because Tim was going on and on.'

'Everything he said was very provocative,' Owsley Stanley recalled. '"Fuck authorities. To hell with your parents. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Take acid, don't care about what anyone would say, do as you please.' He scared a lot of people because they thought he was too weird. And he was. He just kind of went around the bend. Everyone was saying, "Look, Tim, you're out of control here. You've got to cool it. You're bringing too much heat on everything. We don't want a lot of attention." But he wouldn't listen.'" (p.303-4)

On p.330, it's also mentioned that founding members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love went to see Leary at this appearance, though with no extra details.
So apparently there was a sort of 'multi-media' show, and Leary gave some sort of lecture, and then the Dead closed the show. There are many remarkable details embedded within these quotes. For one thing, the Grateful Dead had parted ways with Owsley in August 1966, since his "business interests" were not aligned with the Dead's goal of being successful professional musicians. Nonetheless, they were all still friends, and it sounds like Owsley was the guest soundman for the night ("do the monitors").

The most tantalizing detail is that the the founders of The Brotherhood Of Eternal Love went to see the Dead. Unraveling the double helix of connecting strands between the Dead and the BOEL would practically take a book, and fortunately one is being written right now. So it turns out that not only did the Dead and Tim Leary share the stage in Santa Monica in January 1967, but all sorts of wheels were set in motion for underground America as well.

updateII: Commenter runonguinness has found an eyewitness account, from Rosie McGee's book (in chapter 4)
During that trip to Hollywood, the band was asked to play for one of Timothy Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery events, held in a Santa Monica auditorium for an audience of several hundred.

Backstage we all ceremoniously dropped acid with Leary and his entourage, taking our time before going out onto the stage that was covered with carpets and decorated with floral arrangements and candles. At first, we all sat cross-legged in a circle and listened as Leary started the evening’s “guided trip” by reading from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, while a slide and light show of eclectic images played on a large screen above him. (The book is a translation of an eighth century text that is traditionally read aloud over the body of a person who has just passed on, in the belief that it will guide them on their journey from death to whatever follows.)

Leary likened the stages of a psychedelic journey to the stages of transition described in that classic book and he spoke at great length. As I started to come on to the acid, my initial impression of Leary from the Be-In was validated—that he was impassioned and sincere, but tedious as hell.

I guess his more formal and serious framework for a psychedelic trip was too rigid for someone who’d so recently participated in the no-holds-barred Acid Tests. As I looked around at the guys in the band and the others who’d come with us, I saw I wasn’t alone in my impatience with Leary.

When he finished the first part of his talk, he asked the band to play, and I don’t recall it being a particularly long set. I do remember that the audience just sat there in their auditorium seats.

The most enjoyable part of the night was coming down from the acid at the beach house of a friend of Bear’s. The entire house was geared toward post-psychedelic comfort and warmth. There were overstuffed chairs and couches throughout the house, upholstered in muted shades of gold, purple and red, and covered with pillows. The lamps were fitted with amber or red bulbs, and candles were everywhere. Light and fragrant incense burned in the living room and the music, alternately classical guitar and Indian sitar pieces, was set at a low volume.

The contrast between the trip itself in a sterile auditorium and that homey re-entry was striking. That night I learned for the first time what a difference environment makes to the quality of a psychedelic experience.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

September 21, 1968 Pacific Recording, San Mateo, CA ("Jam with Vic and David")

Eric Burdon And The Animals on stage at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival on August 11, 1967. (L-R), John Weider (guitar), Vic Briggs (guitar ) and Burdon.
Grateful Dead history is a sprawling beast, and the internet contributes to that sprawl. Mining message boards and Comment threads often turns up all sorts of fascinating information, but the fragmentary nature of the communication makes it hard to gather that knowledge coherently. Patience is a virtue, however, particularly in archaeology, because digging slowly and carefully reveals sights unseen.

Back in 2007, David Lemieux posted a fragment of tape on of a jam at Pacific Recording in San Mateo on September 21, 1968. in Fall '68, the Grateful Dead were just beginning the recording of what would become Aoxomoxoa, and Bob Weir and Pigpen were possibly not going on with the band. In 2012, a scant five years later, on a Deadlists post, I found out that there were two other guitar players on one of the tracks. David Lemieux said that they were listed as "David and Vic." We all assumed that the "David" was David Nelson, who had recently admitted that he had been invited to jam with the Dead-minus-Bob Weir around that time. But who was "Vic?" David Gans asked Nelson, who had no idea. There was another problem, too: Gans played the tape for Nelson, who said it wasn't his playing. Never mind who was Vic--who was David?

It's better to be lucky than good. I was pretty sure I knew who Vic was, and I was right. The 'Vic" on the tape was Vic Briggs, who at the time had just left his post as lead guitarist for Eric Burdon And The Animals. Thanks to our extensive history of the second, psychedelic Eric Burdon And The Animals from 1966 to 1968, I was in touch with Briggs, who has an extraordinary memory. Briggs not only confirmed the event, he remembered the other guitarist. This post will discuss the context of the September 21, 1968 jam at Pacific Recording with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Vic Briggs and David Crosby.

The Grateful Dead, Fall 1968
Somewhere around September of 1968, the Grateful Dead had the infamous meeting in which Bob Weir and Pigpen were either threatened with being fired or actually fired, depending on what version you believe. Garcia and Lesh, apparently, felt that Weir and Pigpen's musical abilities had not grown as quickly as the other four band members, and that maybe the band would be better off without them. Pigpen's opinion was never directly known, but according to McNally, by October Weir basically considered himself fired.

However, the perpetually broke state of the Grateful Dead meant that the band continued to play shows with Weir and Pigpen, since they had no other meaningful source of income. Supposedly, the Dead had signed some contracts that required six musicians to be present, but in any case, Weir and Pigpen still played the late 1968 shows. By the end of the year, Weir seemed to have stepped up his game, and Tom Constanten had mustered out of the Air Force, allowing him to take permanent command of the keyboards. No meeting ever memorialized the changed status--Weir and Pigpen seemed to have simply figured out that they weren't going anywhere. The fact that Garcia, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann played occasional gigs at The Matrix as Mickey Hart And The Hartbeats also seemed to have fulfilled their own need to play certain kinds of unstructured music.

However, it's hard not to draw the conclusion that during the Fall '68 period, Garcia and Lesh were at least thinking about other musicians to replace Weir and/or Pigpen, and indeed Tom Constanten did take over the organ slot. Elvin Bishop was not aligned to a group in 1968, and he jammed some with the Hartbeats, and Jerry and Phil must have at least thought about him. David Gans confirmed with David Nelson that Nelson was invited to jam at Pacific Recording without Weir, probably in December, a pretty clear sign that the band hadn't made up it's mind. According to Nelson, the first song they played was "The Eleven," another sign to me that the "jam" was an audition, not just a goof.

Bob Matthews had started working at Pacific Recording in San Mateo in the Summer of '68, assisted by Betty Cantor. Mostly they recorded demos of unsigned song writers, including one session by John Dawson. By Fall, the Dead were ready to start recording their next album. On Friday, September 20, the Dead played Berkeley Community Theater, and on Sunday September 22, 1968, they played the Del Mar Fairgrounds near San Diego. The fact that the Dead not only went to the studio on the intervening Saturday night, but brought in two unaffiliated guitar player friends from out of town seems to be a pretty clear sign that Bob Weir was right to think his status in the band was shaky indeed.

Vic Briggs (in the hat) letting it rip on "Monterey" as Eric Burdon and The Animals play a Berlin television show in 1968

Eric Burdon And The Animals, 1966-1968
Vic Briggs had been one of two lead guitarists in the psychedelic configuration of Eric Burdon And The Animals, which ran from November 1966 through the end of 1968. The Animals had been a hugely popular "British Invasion" band from 1963 through 1966, but on one of their last tours, lead singer Eric Burdon had taken a day off in San Francisco (around August 9, 1966). Burdon experienced that rarest of events, a "warm San Franciscan night," and visited the Fillmore and Avalon, and it changed his music and life. Burdon, still a big star, reconstituted the Animals as a jamming psychedelic blues band.

I will refrain from telling the entire story of the second Animals (though you can read it all here), but guitarist Vic Briggs joined the group in November of 1966. The band's first American tour began in February of 1967. Although fans knew about Burdon from the "old" Animals, the new group's live sound was closer to Quicksilver Messenger Service, but with a dynamic lead singer. Briggs' jazzy approach to the guitar contrasted nicely with the bluesier approach of fellow guitarist John Weider (bassist Danny McCulloch and drummer Barry Jenkins filled out the group). Although live tapes are scarce, all the evidence suggests they were  a tremendous band. To the extent that the Animals sounded like Quicksilver, it was somewhat coincidental, since only Burdon had been to San Franciscos, and the Animals had ended up with their sound by their own path.

Needless to say, Eric Burdon and The Animals were a big hit in San Francisco. On March 26, 1967, the Dead were playing the Avalon, and The Animals--who at the time were much bigger stars--dropped by the show and played some songs as a guest act. This was where Vic Briggs first met the Dead. The Animals also played the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967. The band was very popular, and hugely popular in San Francisco. Although Burdon's lyrics sound dated now, the group had big hits, with "When I Was Young," "San Franciscan Nights, " "Monterey" and "Sky Pilot." Briggs took the swinging electric sitar solo on "Monterey," which he played on guitar when the band played live.

The second Animals had a great run, but they were beset by management and financial issues, and Eric Burdon could be a difficult bandleader. Briggs left the group in July 1968, on fairly amicable terms. Even though the entire band had relocated to Los Angeles, the Animals' guitar post was turned over to another old English pal, Andy Somers, today better known as Andy Summers, and famous as one-third of The Police. Eric Burdon And The Animals soldiered on until the end of 1968, while Briggs chose to become an independent producer in Los Angeles. When the Grateful Dead invited Briggs up to the Bay Area to jam in September 1968, Briggs was unaffiliated with any group.

David Crosby, Fall 1968
David Crosby's story is known to most rock fans, so I won't detail it. The famous party at Joni Mitchell's house where Graham Nash sang a third harmony part for Crosby and Stephen Stills (on the song "You Don't Have To Cry") took place in July 1968. By August 1968, Nash had left The Hollies and soon relocated to Los Angeles. By September 1968, Crosby, Stills and Nash were working together and plotting world domination. However, from the point of view of the Grateful Dead, who were long-standing friends, Crosby was another guy without a band. He had left The Byrds at the end of 1967, and had hardly recorded or performed since. Even if the Dead knew about Crosby's collaborators, it would hardly have seemed set in stone yet.

It's hard not to draw the conclusion that the Dead, or at least Garcia and Lesh, were shopping for new bandmembers. There had been a meeting where Weir and Pigpen were at least threatened with being fired, even if it was financially unviable, and the Dead were about to record their third album. Why invite two guitarists from Los Angeles up to the Bay Area, if the Dead weren't at least considering their options?

The 1969 Capitol/EMI album Wings Of A Man, by former Animals bassist Danny McCulloch, produced by Vic Briggs
Antion Meredith (Vic Briggs)
Fortunately, as a result of having worked extensively on the history of Eric Burdon And The Animals, I had been in touch with Vic Briggs. In this century, Briggs uses the name Antion Meredith and lives in New Zealand. The Vic Briggs story of being a musician in the 60s is a great one, but his life is, if anything, even more interesting after that, but you'll have to read about it yourself (and it's well worth the time).

Fortunately, Antion's memory is spectacularly good and his stories are always engaging, making him an ideal contact for a rock prosopographer. Thanks to the miracle of email, I found out quickly that I was right--Vic Briggs was the guest jammer.

(personal email from me to Antion Meredith)
It seems there is a tape in the Grateful Dead vault dated September 21, 1968 (a Saturday), and the tape is marked "jam with David and Vic." At the time, the Dead were thinking of firing Bob Weir and Pigpen (band politics) and fooling around with others. The 'David' was future NRPS guitarist and old Garcia pal David Nelson. However, other people, including the Dead's archivist [David Lemieux] said "I have no idea who the 'Vic' might be." Well, hey, I've got an idea who the Vic might have been...

Any chance you skipped out to Pacific Recording in San Mateo (near SF) in September '68 to jam with Garcia and the boys (not Weir) on "The Eleven" and other difficult stuff? Any chance they offered you the gig?

(personal email from Antion Meredith to me)
Lot of energy around this week.  On Tuesday I did an interview on
national TV here in NZ:

And today this print interview hit the internet:

And now you write to me about that jam session.  I’m going to to tell you as much as I can remember about it.  For some reason I have barely talked to anyone about it in the last 45 years; probably because no one ever asked me.

We first met the Dead at that one off gig we did at the Avalon Ballroom in April of 1967 [sic-March 26, 1967].    I really hit it off with Bill Kruetzman and Phil Lesh who were sharing an apartment with their ladies in Haight-Ashbury a few blocks from the Dead House. (This meant that they never got busted along with the rest of the Dead when the cops raided the Dead House, but that’s another story).

After the Monterey Festival I went to stay with them when we played the Fillmore [June 27-July 2, 1967].  I flew back to LA for us to play the Whiskey [July 6-8] and then John Weider and I flew back to SFO to spend two weeks just hanging in the land of Hippiedom.  This was all in 1967.

Later, in the fall [October 19-21], we were back in the Bay Area.  I stayed with Bill and Phil again.  I also met Mickey for the first time.  He had joined the band since I had last been there.

I cannot remember how it came about but yes, I did find myself down at the San Mateo studios with Jerry and we played together.  I cannot remember who else played except for one person and this may surprise you.  If indeed this was the same tape (there may be a problem with dates, as I’ll explain in a minute), the David referred to is none other than David Crosby.

That’s right, one and the same, of the Byrds and later Crosby, Stills and Nash.  I have no idea what David was doing there but I am 100% certain he was there.  He didn’t play any lead, he left that to Jerry and me.  I do not remember who played bass, drums or anything else.

This was the only time that Jerry and I played together.  In retrospect I don’t remember why I never jammed with the Dead. I was around for some of their rehearsals at the Marin Heliport during the summer of 67 but I do not recall ever jamming with them except on this one occasion.  And, as I said, I can’t even remember if any more of them were there playing with Jerry, David and I.

A friend of mine who was also close to Jerry once asked him about me and my playing.  Jerry said to him “You know, I’ll tell you one thing about Vic.  When we played together, everywhere I went, there he was, right there with me.”

I certainly took this as a compliment because, in those days, there were not many guitarists’ who could keep up with Jerry.

That’s as much as I remember.  Now, here’s the problem.  Looking at your site and the dates on it, I would say that this event happened on Saturday October 21st 1967.

I remember a couple of days after we finished our Fillmore gig [October 19-21, 1967], flying to LA with Mickey Hart.  The Dead were heading for LA, I think to record.  That was when they rented that big mansion house which later became notorious.  It is shown in Lisa Law’s Flashing on the Sixties book [note: Pacific Recording was not open in 1967, so the date has to be September 1968, not October 1967].

I’m not 100% certain and my mind was starting to get pretty addled at the time, so it is quite possible that I confused this with 1968.  In October of 68 I was by then an independent producer/arranger in LA and it is certainly possible that I was up in the Bay Area for a visit.

Anyway, here’s what I know for sure.
  • I jammed with Jerry at the San Mateo studio.
  • David Crosby was there, also playing.
  • It was a Saturday (I have this funny talent for remembering the energy
    of different days of the week and associating them with events that
    happened on that day). So it may be that my memory is off and this actually happened in 1968.
  • However, no one ever said anything to me about maybe joining the Dead.
One day I’ll tell you how Jerry and I met up again at Bill Walton’s house in San Diego in 1989 and how I was inspired to buy the first guitar I had owned since 1970.
September 21, 1968
Although Vic Briggs was our only eyewitness to the September 21, 1968 jam, there was nothing casual about the event. The Grateful Dead had gigs on a Friday and a Sunday, and the Sunday gig was out of town, and yet they invited two friends over for a jam, with two other players missing. Both of the players were Los Angeles musicians, too. Now, it's possible that both of them had reasons to be in town, which Vic alludes to, but it still had to be planned and organized.

Pacific Recording is in San Mateo, on the South Bay Peninsula, between Palo Alto and San Francisco. It's not near anything, and LA rock musicians do not "hang out" in San Mateo. The Dead themselves were based in Novato at this time, an hour to the North, so it wasn't really convenient for them, either. I would note, however, that San Mateo was only a few minutes from San Francisco Airport, so if either of their guests were flying into or out of SFO, Pacific Recording would have been extremely convenient.

Maybe it was just for fun. Maybe the players were in town, and Garcia and the Hartbeats were having a jam without Weir and Pig, and invited them over. No one asked Vic to join the band, so at the most any plans were somewhat unspoken. Still, it happened. Members of the Grateful Dead invited some guitar player friends to the studio and the thought of another version of the Grateful Dead had to at least have crossed Jerry's mind, if not Phil's. We are fortunate to have the very slightest trace as to what they might have been thinking, just for the evening of September 21, 1968.