Thursday, June 15, 2023

October 5, 1968 Civic Auditorium, Sacramento, CA: Turtles/Grateful Dead/Family Tree/others (Pigpen Exit?)

The Sacramento Bee of October 3, 1968, announced that The Turtles had replaced Traffic as the headliner of the concert that included the Grateful Dead and others at the Civic Auditorium on October 5

Scholars and fans of the Grateful Dead tend to divide their music into eras. The contours of those eras may be a subject for discussion, but almost everyone would agree that the Dead's music evolved over time, often with a change in emphasis during different periods. While everyone has their own categories, the largest agents for change in the band revolve around the changes in personnel: the arrival, departure and return of Mickey Hart, and the arrival and departure of different keyboard players, too. Yet there was almost another event in 1968 that would have dramatically shaped the Grateful Dead's music: replacing Pigpen with another lead singer. 

Let's be clear: it didn't happen. Stockton's Bob Segarini, formerly of the Brogues and the Family Tree, and later of Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes and a successful solo career as a singer and DJ in Montreal and Toronto, described being asked by Jerry Garcia to consider joining the Grateful Dead as their lead singer. Segarini described this in an interview for the 2007 re-release of the Family Tree's 1968 album. Confusingly, however, he got the date wrong, not surprising after a 38 year gap. Once I sorted out the date issue, however, the entire story makes sense. Segarini said "no," as it happened, which he ruefully called "one more stupid thing I did in my life."


Bob Segarini, from Stockton, CA, lead singer of The Family Tree, around 1968

Bob Segarini and the Family Tree opened for the Grateful Dead at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium on October 5, 1968. In the previous months, Garcia and the Dead had put Bob Weir and Pigpen on notice that they might be replaced. According to McNally, Weir actually believed that he had been fired. No one ever asked Pigpen about it. Over the years I have focused on the Dead's discreet auditions for other guitarists, but here I will focus on the Pigpen question. Segarini and the Family Tree were old Fillmore regulars, so Garcia knew Segarini's music and history. This post will look backwards and forwards at the possibility of Bob Segarini replacing Pigpen, and what that tells us about Garcia's thinking at the end of 1968.

The Sacramento Bee promoted a picture of Traffic as the headliner for the October 5, 1968 concert with the Grateful Dead, but they were replaced by The Turtles at the last minute

October 5, 1968 Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento, CA: Grateful Dead/The Turtles/Youngbloods/Sanpaku/Initial Shock/Family Tree (Saturday)
On Saturday, October 5, 1968, the Grateful Dead played a show at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium along with several other bands. The show was only modestly successful, with about 2000 seats filled in a 3600 capacity auditorium. We don't have a tape, but we have a brief review. The Grateful Dead probably played about an hour, since they were just one of six groups on the bill. From careful triangulation, however, we can tell that it was in Sacramento that Jerry Garcia asked Bob Segarini to consider joining the Grateful Dead. The fact that Garcia even asked suggests that the Dead were at a far more critical crossroads at the time than has usually been recognized.

In late summer 1968, probably around August, the Grateful Dead had a meeting in which Bob Weir and Pigpen were told that the band found their musicianship wanting. Even though there is a tape of the meeting, the future success of the Grateful Dead made it in everyone's interests to obscure this rocky moment in the band's history. Weir and Pigpen weren't actually fired, since they continued to perform with the band. By October, however, Weir at least (according to Dennis McNally) thought he had been fired and feared that he would soon be out of the band. The Dead were known to have jammed with Vic Briggs of The Animals, Elvin Bishop and David Nelson, among others, without Bob Weir, so you can't say the idea of replacing Weir wasn't in the air. No one ever talks about replacing Pigpen, however, since his later passing made talking about his possible failings too sad.

From late September 1968 through October 1968 we have only one sure Pigpen sighting with the Grateful Dead. The band played a few gigs during this time and had started recording Aoxomoxoa. Pigpen wasn't involved in recording that album at all, to my knowledge, nor does he play with Mickey and The Hartbeats, and he seems to have skipped at least some gigs. Pigpen sang at the September 20, 1968 show in Berkeley and the September 22 show in San Diego, but he does not appear on the October 12 and 13 Avalon shows. We have no tape or setlist for October 11(Avalon), October 18 (Torrance) or October 19 (Las Vegas) but he sings at the Greek Theater on October 20. You can decide for yourself whether Pigpen thought he was being fired and skipped some gigs, or just that we are simply missing his songs. 

We have to assume, by default, that Pigpen was actually at the Sacramento show. Still, the Dead probably only played an hour, as there were six bands on the bill (see below), so perhaps he wasn't. In any case, in the context, consideration of a Pigpen substitute seemed plausible in October 1968, perhaps for the only time in the 1960s.

Mickey and The Hartbeats (booked as "Jerry Garceaaah") on a Matrix flyer, October 8-10, 1968

Fall 1968: Was There A Plan?

In Summer '68, Garcia and Phil Lesh apparently felt that Weir and Pigpen were insufficiently committed to the musical advancement that the other four members were undertaking. Songs like "China Cat Sunflower" were entering the repertoire, and the jamming was getting broader and wider, magnified by the double drummers. The Grateful Dead had lined up Tom Constanten to play organ as soon as his Air Force hitch ended in November. TC had apparently jammed with the Dead as early as Fall 1967. 

As to another guitarist, the Dead were trying out other guitarists from September through December. Although all parties say now that there were no plans to replace Weir, it rings pretty hollow if you've ever known anybody in a band. If your girlfriend is out of town, and you keep inviting other women to go out dancing with you, are you shopping for a new girlfriend? You can say "no" all you want, but why were you going dancing?

On September 21, 1968, the Dead invited both David Crosby and ex-Animals guitarist Vic Briggs up to San Francisco to jam at Pacific Recording. There's a tape. They took two LA guitarists and invited them up to jam, and Weir wasn't there. At the time, neither was known to have a band (Crosby was already making plans with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, but it wasn't public). Both players were more advanced than Weir at that stage. 

On October 8, 9 and 10, 1968, Garcia, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann had played the Matrix as Mickey and The Hartbeats. Elvin Bishop dropped by to jam. Bishop would return for another jam on October 30. Sometime around December, David Nelson was invited to jam with members of the Dead at Pacific Recorders--Bob Weir wasn't there, again--and they tried on "The Eleven." You can't say that the Dead weren't trying out guitarists, not least since they never did anything like this again. They already had a new organist lined up. 

There had been an infamous meeting, around August 1968, taped by Owsley, in which the band's unhappiness with Weir and Pigpen was made known. The tape is as much legend as fact. Still, in the excellent Deadcast episode about Pigpen, Jesse Jarnow found a reliable eyewitness (Mike Dolgushkin) who had heard the tape. Interestingly, there was no mention of Pigpen and Weir actually being "fired." The proposal would seem to be that Weir and Pigpen would continue to write songs and record with the Dead, but not be part of the performing unit. Jarnow speculated that this inexplicable proposal only makes sense if you imagine that the Dead were concerned about their status with Warner Brothers, and felt they still needed to include Pig and Weir as signatories to the recording contract. 

The Pigpen Deadcast makes another point, however. An eyewitness in Archive comments says that Garcia announced from the stage at one of the October Avalon shows that Pigpen was absent because he was home taking care of his sick girlfriend. His longtime partner, Veronica Barnard (known as Vee) had suffered an aneurysm around this time, and Pigpen was taking time to nurse her back to health. So Pigpen's absence from the Dead in this period may have had more to do with personal choice, and not his status with the band. It seems likely that Pigpen wasn't with the band in Sacramento.

If a full transition was under consideration, however, the band would need another lead singer. Sure, I guess the Dead could consider just having Garcia do all the vocals, but that would not only put a huge strain on Garcia's voice, it would have greatly cut down on the range of songs they could consider. None of the guitarists they had tried out had a significant history as a vocalist. Much later in their careers, both Elvin Bishop and David Nelson would become experienced lead singers, as would David Crosby, but they did not present that way in late 1968. So it makes sense that Garcia was looking around for another lead singer.

The Family Tree opened for Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore Auditorium on Saturday, April 2 (Quicksilver Messenger Service opened Friday April 1)

During its existence from 1966-68, the Family Tree only released a single on an obscure label in late 1966, a single on RCA in 1967 and an RCA album around May 1968. They were a successful live band on the West Coast, particularly in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, but since their recorded output was slim, they remain obscure. The Family Tree name is best known from their presence on Fillmore and Avalon posters from 1966, often opening for Quicksilver Messenger Service. Few people who recognize the name, however, know anything of their music. Bob Segarini had been born and raised in Stockton, in Central California, and he had been in the band Ratz, with Gary Duncan, from nearby Ceres, as early as 1965. Duncan (then known by his birth-name Gary Grubb) would wind up in Quicksilver Messenger Service by 1966. Bob Segarini was thus well-entrenched in the San Francisco music scene from its earliest days.

The Family Tree only released two singles, on in 1966 (on Mira) and one on RCA in 1967. They would release the album Miss Butters on RCA in May, 1968, and broke up later that year. With only two singles, an album and some demos, we only have a sketch of what Family Tree sounded like. In general, Segarini found a slot between West Coast folk-rock and Anglo rock and roll. Think of a sweet spot between Buffalo Springfield and The Kinks, and we have at least a hint of the sound of Family Tree.

The Sacramento concert on October 5 was two weeks after the Dead’s jam with Crosby and Briggs, and a few days before the first jam with Bishop at the Matrix. If there was any time Garcia was thinking about a new configuration of the Grateful Dead, it was during this window. The band gets to Sacramento, and Jerry finds his old pal Bob Segarini singing in one of the opening acts, so he hits him up. Before we address the history of Bob Segarini, however, I want to sort out why I am certain that the conversation took place on this date, even though Segarini's own belated account is somewhat different.

Family Tree around 1967, Seagrini in front

Unpacking The Evidence

I was aware of Bob Segarini's assertion that he had been asked to join the Grateful Dead in 2007, when I read the great liner notes to the Rev-Ola Records cd re-release of the Family Tree's only album, Miss Butters. The album had originally been issued by RCA Records in 1968, and the LP had become a collector's item (I myself had never laid eyes on a vinyl copy, and even though I had been aware of it). Steve Stanley's excellent liner notes discuss the story of Segarini and the Family Tree, and they included this intriguing tale:

During this time [ca 1968-70], Segarani had other career opportunities. He recalls just one example: "In 1969, we were opening the Bitter End West on Santa Monica Boulevard. This was during the period between The Family Tree and Roxy. It was Graham Nash, Rita Coolidge, one of the guitarists from Iron Butterfly, Little Richard's drummer. We were opening the show. The Grateful Dead were the headliners. I'd known Jerry [Garcia] for years, and he said, " Do you want to join the band and be the lead singer? And I said "no, I've already got my own thing going.' One more stupid thing I did in my life; I coulda been in the Grateful Dead."

There were a number of confusing things about this story, which made it difficult to process. In simplest terms, although Segarini was between bands in 1969, the Bitter End West was not open until October 1970, so something was wrong with his timeline. Eventually, however, I was able to unpack the details, which I will explain. I am convinced that Segarini is conflating two very real but separate events:

I think both these things happened, and Segarini merged them in his mind. He has had a long complicated career, and he was asked 38 years after the fact. 

To deal with the second memory first: In 1970, Segarini formed a band called Roxy, who had released a pretty good debut album on Elektra Records in 1969. On the weekend of August 28-29, 1970, Roxy had opened for the acoustic Grateful Dead at a new "showcase" venue called Thee Club. It was a real Hollywood opening, apparently, with all sorts of stars dropping by. By October '70, the venue had changed its name to the Bitter End West (after the famous Greenwich Village folk club). I wrote about the Dead's appearance at Thee Club at great length in another post. 

When I realized that Family Tree had opened for the Dead in Sacramento, I put all the pieces together. By October of 1968, Family Tree had all but fallen apart, but they had still opened for the Grateful Dead. The next time Segarini would open for the Dead was at Thee Club, and I am asserting that he just merged the two events. 

Animals guitarist Vic Briggs (right), jamming with a friend, probably May 1968

What Might Have Been

I don't want to go too far for down the counterfactual road, but let's at least think about a new-look late 1968 Grateful Dead:
  • Garcia, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann
  • Another guitarist to duel with Garcia (Vic Briggs, Elvin Bishop, David Nelson or who knows?)
  • Tom Constanten on organ
  • Bob Segarini on lead and harmony vocals, and maybe some rhythm guitar

Lots of fine 60s bands had significant personnel changes, and they had a wide variety of outcomes, many, though not all, quite favorable  There's no reason that the Alterna-Grateful Dead couldn't have risen to the heights of the one in our timeline, but I'll leave that speculation to you. Now, even if Segarini had said "yes," it was no guarantee that he would have actually ended up replacing Pigpen, and we can imagine scenarios in which Weir remains but Segarini also joins, but we'll leave it to our imagination to consider what that band might have sounded like.

Bob Segarini, with his band The Dudes, late 1970s

Who Is Bob Segarini?

Bob Segarini was raised in Stockton, CA. At about age 16, he dropped out of high school to become a full-time musician. In 1965, he was in a band called The Ratz with guitarist Gary Grubb, from the tiny town of Ceres, near Modesto. The Ratz opened for the Rolling Stones on December 4, 1965 in San Jose. Grubb went on to form The Brogues, and later Quicksilver Messenger Service, using the name Gary Duncan.

Segarini, meanwhile, had formed The Family Tree in early 1966. Members included organist Micheal Olsen and ex-Brogues bassist Bill Whittington, and drummer Newman Davis. The Family Tree played many early gigs at the Fillmore and elsewhere with Quicksvilver Messenger Service. So Segarini had been a regular on the Fillmore scene since its inception. Within a few months, the Family Tree had evolved. Whittington and Mike Olsen left--Olsen becoming famous using the name Lee Michaels--and Segarini was joined by bassist Kootch Trochim, guitarist Mike Dure, organist Jimmy DeCocq and drummer Van Slatter. Initially, Family Tree had signed with tiny Mira Records.

The "Fillmore Scene," such as it was on the West Coast, also existed in parallel with a pre-existing teen circuit with its initial roots in the Pacific Northwest. Bands like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver only dabbled in that circuit, just playing the occasional high school prom, but there was a lot of money for bands playing the typical teen dance halls. Family Tree did very well from Sacramento through Oregon. They had a regional hit in early 1967 with their only Mira single "Prince Of Dreams." Segarini recalls buying a new 1966 Jaguar XKE with cash from all the money the Family Tree made playing the Northwest. 

The view from the front yard of Bob Segarini and Roxy's house "Cold Red," outside of Stockton in 1969

Segarini has a wonderful blog called Don't Believe A Word I Say, which you can read for yourself. It's very entertaining, and very long (Segarini says it is 1.8 million words and I believe him). I did extract this Grateful Dead story, written in 2012. The timeline seems somewhat garbled--plainly Mr Owsley's fault--but this passage about the house his band was living in 1969, just outside of Stockton, includes a discussion of where they got their acid. From the source, as it happens. Clearly, Segarini was no outsider.

I had come into possession of the acid by way of an acquaintance we had met through The Grateful Dead, whom I had gotten to know during the Family Tree days at the Fillmore and Avalon. Owsley, (Augustus Owsley Stanley, who occasionally went by the name ‘Robert Owsley’ for some strange reason), was not only a fine chemist, but one of the most advanced sound technicians of the day. He spent time both before and after serving time for drugs, as an investor in the Dead, as well as their soundman. At one point, when Roxy was living in L.A, and the Dead were in a rented house there while they were recording, we all went to their place for Chinese food, and found the entire house full of sound equipment and a shitload of big Voice of Theater speakers. Very cool…you either had to sit on the floor and eat, or stand at one of the speaker cabinets and eat. It was so…exotic! 

Miss Butters, the only album by The Family Tree, released on RCA in May 1968

By 1968, an album on Mira hadn't materialized, but RCA had noticed the Family Tree's regional hit, and signed the band to a contract. RCA had been hugely successful with the Jefferson Airplane, so they must have been looking to capitalize on new young bands from the West Coast. The Family Tree recorded Miss Butters with RCA staff producer Rick Jarrard, who had also produced the Airplane. Miss Butters had Beatles-like pop overtones, probably somewhat at odds with the more rocking sound of Family Tree in concert. 

Miss Butters was released in May 1968, but it had no hit single and largely disappeared without a trace. The Family Tree ground to a halt. By October 1968 Kootch Trochim was already playing bass for another Sacramento band (Sanpaku), and the Sacramento Civic show must have been one of Family Tree's last gigs under that name. By early 1969, Segarini and others played under the name Asmodeus, but they didn't play much. Segarini would go on to form Roxy with guitarist Randy Bishop (for more about Segarini's later career, see below). Roxy, too, opened for the Dead at Thee Experience in 1970, but as noted, Segarini seems to have merged the events in the telling.

The September 29 Sacramento Bee listed upcoming concerts. Traffic was the scheduled headliner for Saturday, October 5 (replaced by The Turtles)

Concert Report: October 5, 1968 Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento, CA
The Sacramento show was promoted by Whitey Davis. Davis had been one of Chet Helms' lieutenants at the Avalon in late 66, and had moved up to Oregon. Davis had been the co-proprietor of the infamous Crystal Ballroom in Portland. By Summer '68, however, the Crystal had folded, and Davis turned up in Sacramento. He started booking shows at a place called The Sound Factory, which was supposed to be Sacramento's version of the Fillmore, and working with KZAP-fm, the local underground rock radio station. He also managed the band Sanpaku. The Sacramento Memorial Auditorium was the biggest venue in town, with 3600 seats.

Initially, Traffic had been booked as the headliners. They had been scheduled to open for Cream at the Oakland Coliseum (October 4), and play the ill-fated "San Francisco Pop Festival" outside of Stanford University on October 6. The band had just released their great second album, Traffic, with "Feelin' Alright" and many other classics. Dave Mason abruptly quit the band, however, and all dates were canceled. Instead of Traffic, The Collectors opened for Cream, the San Francisco Pop Festival was moved from Stanford to Pleasanton, and The Turtles replaced Traffic in Sacramento. The Grateful Dead were bumped up to headliners. The Turtles, regardless of their bubblegum-pop hits, were actually a terrific folk-rock group.

With six bands on the bill, every band must have played short sets.  I don't know what advantage Whitey Davis would have seen in booking so many bands.  Only 2000 people attended, so it can't have been a huge success. We do have one  brief review, from Mick Martin in the Sacramento underground paper Pony Express:

In Sacramento, The GRATEFUL DEAD, TURTLES, YOUNGBLOODS, INITIAL SHOCK, SANPAKU, and FAMILY TREE played to a surprisingly small crowd of 2,000. [Memorial Auditorium, 10/5/68] The TURTLES were funny and entertaining. They were a release from the intensely musically innovative atmosphere. Mark Volmann is a comedian, in the truest sense of the word.
The DEAD, INITIAL SHOCK, and SANPAKU were the musical highpoints of the evening. SANPAKU's hornmen are so beautiful, their solos are always different, and yet they build to a completely emotional climax. Their original material is well arranged and worth repeated listens.
INITIAL SHOCK and the DEAD were better than ever and twice as groovy. Both groups always provide me with the feeling that I have heard something worthwhile, and on this night I felt they did exceptional jobs. YOUNGBLOODS were nice, and FAMILY TREE shows promise. It was an enjoyable evening, but I can't wait for Sacramento to get it together and support promoters like Whitey Davis, who really cares about music.

This brief review does not indicate whether Pigpen performed. If so, it would have been the only sighting of him for 30 days. If he wasn't present, it might also have made it easier for Garcia to chat openly with Segarini about replacing him. 

Segarini took a pass. Ultimately, Pigpen returned. Bob Weir never left. Bob Segarini went to LA, then Northern California, then Montreal, then Toronto and had a pretty lively career in the music business. 

Coulda been different. Wasn't. So it goes.

Appendix: Bob Segarini Career Overview

Bob Segarini may not be a major figure, but he's a pretty good rock and roller with a diverse career, and it's still going on. I have sketched out a few highlights here, but this list isn't anywhere near the entire story. For more about Segarini, see his own blog Don't Believe A Word. For a starting point on his extensive catalog, I would recommend Wackering Heights, the 1971 debut album of The Wackers.

The Us
Bob Segarini first surfaces on tape with The Us,  recorded by Autumn Records in Fall '65. San Francisco-based Autumn had scored a hit with The Beau Brummels, and was recording emerging rock bands around the Bay Area, including The Great Society (with Grace Slick) and The Emergency Crew (later to change their names to The Warlocks, and then to something else).

The track "How Can I Tell Her, " written by Segarini, was produced by staff producer Sylvester Stewart, later better known as Sly Stone. I'm not certain if the track was actually released as a single. Segarini was apparently credited as "Cylus Prole," possibly because he wasn't a legal adult yet. The rest of the band was bassist Varsh Hammel, guitarists Jock Ellis and Rueben Bettencourt and drummer Frank Lupica. Lupica, in another instance of convergence, created his "Cosmic Beam" which was the direct inspiration for the instrument built by Dan Healy and Mickey Hart.

"How Can I Tell Her" was released on the 1994 Autumn Records compilation Dance With Me, part of the Nuggets From The Golden State series.

The Ratz
The Ratz were from Stockton, and briefly featured Ceres, CA guitarist Gary Grubb along with Segarini.  Grubb had left The Ratz by the time they opened for the Rolling Stones at the San Jose Civic Auditorium on December 4, 1965.

Grubb would join a Merced band called The Brogues, who were popular in San Jose and the Central Valley, and released a few singles. Grubb and Brogues drummer Greg Elmore had met guitarists John Cippolina and Jim Murray at a Family Dog event at Longshoreman's Hall in October '65. The Brogues ended up breaking up because some members got drafted into the military, so Grubb and Elmore formed a band with their two Marin friends. By 1966, the band was named Quicksilver Messenger Service and Grubb was using the name Gary Duncan.

The Cirque, Hillsboro, OR March 16, 1968. San Francisco's Best, The Family Tree plus The Jefferson Davis Five (Hillsboro is West of Portland)

Family Tree
The Family Tree was founded in early 1966 by Segarini and ex-Brogues bassist Bill Whittington. Also in the initial lineup of Family Tree were drummer Newman Davis and organist Mike Olsen (formerly of the Joel Scott Hill Trio).  The Family Tree played both the early Fillmore circuit and the "teen circuit" in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Segarini knew Gary (Grubb) Duncan, of course, so Family Tree was in on the Fillmore from the very beginning. It's not clear how Segarini had met Jerry Garcia, but it doesn't matter: the San Francisco psychedelic music scene was tiny, with only a few dozen working musicians, and everyone knew each other.

Family Tree had started to attract attention later in 1966. By this time, Mike Olsen had left for a solo career under the name Lee Michaels (Lee's first drummer was Frank Lupica, incidentally). Jim DeCocq joined on keyboards, Vann Slater came in on drums, Danny "Kootch" Trochim replaced Whittington on bass and Mike Dure was added on lead guitar. The Family Tree was signed by Los Angeles based Mira Records, releasing the single "Prince Of Dreams" on Mira in September '66. Additional tracks were recorded for a prospective album, but Mira fell apart

Family Tree was increasingly successful on the California/Oregon live circuit, however, and they were picked up by RCA. A single was released by RCA in 1967, and the band recorded the album Miss Butters under the direction of staff producer Rick Jarrard. The rocking side of Family Tree can be heard on the Mira demos from '67, but the RCA album emphasized the poppier side of Segarini's work. Now, to be clear, Segarini had written all the songs and was very much into Beatles-style pop music, so RCA wasn't undermining the band, but all the traces suggest Family Tree rocked much harder in concert than Miss Butters implies. 

Miss Butters was released in May 1968, but made no headway on the charts. Family Tree soldiered on, but ultimately fell apart. The October booking in Sacramento seems to be one of the last for Family Tree. By this time, Kootch Trochim was playing bass for the Sacramento band Sanpaku (also on the bill), and I don't know who else was even in Family Tree by then.

Family Tree discography
Sep 1966 45: Mira Records "Prince Of Dreams"/"Live Your Own Life"
1967 45: RCA Records "Do You Have The Time"/"Keepin A Secret"
May 1968 LP: RCA Records Miss Butters

A Berkeley Barb ad for Berkeley's New Orleans House, February 1969. Sea Train had recently been the reformed Blues Project. The Steve Miller playing the next week is the organist from the band Linn County (and later Elvin Bishop), not the better-known guitarist. A.B. Skhy featured Howard Wales.

I don't know who was in Asmodeus save for Bob Segarini. They apparently played around in early 1969.

Roxy's only LP, released on Elektra Records in 1969


Roxy formed later in 1969, with Jimmy DeCocq (now lead guitar), Randy Bishop (bass, guitar, vocals), James Morris (keyboards) and John McDonald (drums). They released one album on Elektra in 1969. Roxy had a more upbeat sound than Miss Butters. They lasted until late 1970, and opened for the Grateful Dead at least twice. Roxy opened for the Dead in Phoenix on March 8, 1970, and then for the acoustic Grateful Dead at the Thee Club in August 1970 (Thee Club changed its name shortly afterwards to the Bitter End West). 

The Wackers

In late 1970, Segarini and Bishop abandoned Roxy, who had ground to a halt. They moved themselves up to the far-Northern California outpost of Eureka, CA. For those not familiar with the geography, Eureka is 270 miles North of San Francisco, and though near to the Oregon border, it is still 400 miles South of Portland. It was (and remains) completely detached from the California music scene. Segarini knew the region from his success with Family Tree, but moving to Eureka wasn't an obvious career move.

Segarini and Bishop formed The Wackers, along with drummer Earnie Earnshaw, Michael Stull (keyboards, guitar and vocals) and returning bassist Kootch Trochim. Wackering Heights, the bands first album on Elektra, had great harmonies in the popular vein of Crosby, Stills and Nash, but propelled by short, catchy songs with a beat

In 1972, after the band's second album Hot Wacks, The Wackers relocated to Montreal, Quebec. They drove there in an old VW bus. Elektra released their third album, Shredder later in 1972. The Wackers, stayed in Montreal, building up a following in Canada.

The Dudes 1975 Columbia Records album

The Dudes

The Wackers had some personnel changes after Shredder, including some Canadian musicians. By 1974, The Wackers were gone, and Segarini had formed The Dudes, with Kootch on bass and some Canadian players. In 1975, Columbia released The Dudes debut We're No Angels, but the band fell apart.

Gotta Have Pop, Bob Segarini's first solo album, released on Bomb Records in 1978

Gotta Have Pop-
Bob Segarini
Since The Dudes fell apart, Segarini went solo. His first album Gotta Have Pop was released in 1978. He went on to have an extensive solo career in Canada, which I will not attempt to summarize here.

In 1982, Segarini began a successful career as a dj at the Toronto fm station CHUM. As near as I can tell, he is better known as a radio personality in Canada than as a singer, though of course the two careers are merged.


Thursday, March 23, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grateful Dead/Bill Graham Presents 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grateful Dead at Fillmore West, 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humble Pie Live At Fillmore West December 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 30, 2022

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix 2

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

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

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

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

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