Friday, December 22, 2023

Jerry Garcia Live on KZSU-fm, Stanford University, 1973-89 (KZSU II and FM XV)

The two May '73 Garcia/Saunders shows at Homer's Warehouse were broadcast on KZSU-fm

Jerry Garcia had a long and storied history as a performing artist, in numerous aggregations, the most famous of which was the Grateful Dead. One of the many innovations that the Dead popularized for rock music were live performance broadcasts. A few legendary radio stations, like KSAN-fm in San Francisco, KPFA-fm in Berkeley and WNEW-fm in New York, have a particularly legendary status amongst Deadheads for their historic and widely circulated  broadcasts of Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia concerts. Yet the first, seminal and arguably longest broadcaster of Garcia performances has gone largely unnoticed. KZSU, the Stanford University radio station, not only broadcast Jerry Garcia as far back as late 1962, they broadcast him regularly until 1988. The only comparable station in Garcia or Dead history might be KPFA-fm in Berkeley, which has an equally storied Jerriad saga, which I will get to eventually. I wrote an extensive post on Jerry Garcia's performance history on KZSU in the early 60s.  

Appropriately enough, Jerry Garcia's first studio recording was broadcast on KZSU in Fall 1962, and the Garcia Estate has released that long lost recording as Folk Time. The story of KZSU and Jerry Garcia, however, went far beyond the early 1960s, so in this post I will unravel the tale of Garcia's 70s and 80s performances on KZSU.

KZSU-880 AM and 90.1 FM
Stanford University radio station KZSU had been founded in 1947. Initially it was only accessible on 880-AM on the Stanford campus dorms and fraternities. Throughout the 1960s, however, almost all Stanford undergraduates lived on campus. Undergraduate women were required to live in campus in the dorms, as sororities had been closed some decades earlier. Thus, while KZSU had limited range, it had an outsized importance to campus life. In 1964, KZSU added an FM frequency. 90.1 FM was accessible to all, but since the transmitter had only 10 Watts, KZSU-fm was only audible in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. In the 1960s, however, FM receivers were rare, and usually confined to the type of guy--always a guy--with an expensive "Hi-Fi" stereo receiver (for more detail about KZSU, see Appendix 1 below). 

Two restless young doctors had started a Folk Club above The Tangent deli at 117 University Avenue in Palo Alto. It was near the campus, and serious folk music was usually directed at college students. Stanford student Ted Claire arranged to tape the weekend shows at the Top Of The Tangent for a weekly Tuesday night broadcast on KZSU called "Flint Hill Special." Although only audible in the dorms (and frats), the Flint Hill Special is why there were tapes of Jerry Garcia in various ensembles in 1963 and 1964 (some later released as Before The Dead). KZSU broadcast live tapes of folk music from the Top Of The Tangent at least as late as the Summer of 1964 (for a summary of the early days of live broadcasts on KZSU, see the summary in Appendix 2, and see my earlier post for more detail).

The July 4, 1967 Stanford Daily described the Grateful Dead's appearance at a Be-In at Palo Alto's El Camino Park on Sunday, July 2

Live Rock Music In Downtown Palo Alto

Folk music was popular at Stanford and in Palo Alto, but it disappeared in a cloud of funny smelling smoke. This happened in college towns and Universities all over the United States, particularly on the West Coast and the Northeast. In Palo Alto, however, unlike every other place, these strange influences weren't some mystery wind blowing in from out of town. The call, as they say, was coming from inside the house. The Top of The Tangent crowd were right in the thick of the psychedelic revolution. Ground Zero was Ken Kesey's cottage on Perry Lane in Menlo Park, within easy walking distance of the Tangent. The doors of perception were busted open a few miles South of the Tangent--but still in Palo Alto--at the Palo Alto Acid Test at The Big Beat on December 18, 1965.

In 1966, Stanford University held numerous rock concerts, featuring legendary acts in their prime. Yet the Grateful Dead had played the Tresidder Student Union on October 14, 1966 and there were no more concerts in Stanford facilities. Big Brother and The Holding Company headlined a "Happening" at the Wilbur dorm complex on December 3, 1966, and no such events were ever held again, at least officially. Good times were being had, very good times, and Stanford University was definitely not down with it.

Two things happened in downtown Palo Alto in the Spring and Summer of 1967, within a few blocks of each other. First, in April of 1967, a fish-n-chips joint at 135 University (at High Street), just two doors from the Tangent, added live bands and a light show. In 1967, Fish-and-Chips was exotic foreign cuisine (I swear I am not making this up--the competing shop was called H Salt), so that made the Poppycock suitably exotic for must-be-cool Palo Alto. Also, there were no bars in downtown Palo Alto (nor would there be until 1981), so a place that served foreign food and beer to hippies was enough for a hip music hangout. 

The second thing was that some rebellious University types started something called The MidPeninsula Free University, known locally as "Free You." Free You offered non-standard classes. All jokes about "underwater basket-weaving" for college credit can be traced back to Free You. To raise money, the MPFU had a series of free "Be-In" concerts at El Camino Park, just a few blocks from the Tangent and the Poppycock. How free concerts raised money has never been fully explained, but Palo Alto had six such events in 1967 and '68. The most famous one was July 2, 1967, when the Grateful Dead returned to town to headline the Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival on a Sunday afternoon. The musicians from the Tangent had returned, heavily armed with electricity.

Over at the Poppycock, the house band was The Flowers, who had changed their name to Solid State by the time of the Mary Poppins Umbrella Fest. The Flowers were mostly a jazz group, but they played electric instruments, loud, and they had the old equipment from the Merry Pranksters, so they were part of the new psychedelic rock world (you can read the entire saga of The Flowers in a different post). Initially, the Flowers, and later Solid State, played every weekend at the Poppycock, but over time the club booked different acts every weekend. It was the Bay Area in the late 60s--there were plenty of bands, and a lot of them were really good.

The Stanford Daily of April 19, 1968 mentions broadcasting then-unknown Creedence Clearwater Revival live (on KZSU-fm radio)

KZSU-fm Live Broadcasts
It's always fun to make fun of Palo Alto--I never tire of it--but the city has legs to stand on. There were lots of college radio stations in the 1960s, most of them fairly dormant until the 1970s. KZSU, however, started doing live remote broadcasts from the Poppycock as early as February 1968. At this time, KMPX-fm in San Francisco was quite literally the first "underground" rock radio station in the country, and they had only started doing live rock broadcasts in the Summer of '67. KZSU very well may have been the second such station. The initial broadcast (per the Stanford Daily) was a comedy trio called Congress Of Wonders. Congress Of Wonders is largely forgotten now, but their hip comedy was played regularly on the radio once their albums were released ("Pigeon Park" remains a classic).

The first real rock band broadcast from the Poppycock by KZSU was on March 22, 1968, featuring another local act: the newly-named Creedence Clearwater Revival. The band headlined the Poppycock on Friday and Saturday night, and the first set on Friday night was broadcast on the radio station. It would only be audible on the Stanford campus and nearby Palo Alto and Menlo Park, but who else was going to the Poppycock? No tape survives of this, to my knowledge, but the fact that it happened at all sets Palo Alto apart whether you like it or not.

As to other events, a tape has circulated of the Lafayette (Contra Costa County) band Frumious Bandersnatch, from May 31, 1969. The Stanford Daily mentioned a few broadcasts as well: The Apple Valley Playboys on November 26, 1969, and the bluegrass team of Vern And Ray on January 22, 1970. I suspect there were a few other live broadcasts from The Poppycock in '68 and '69 that for which we have no references. The Poppycock closed in Spring 1970, squeezed because its small size (capacity probably about 250) was not substantial enough to book popular local bands. I know that Miles Davis was broadcast on KZSU when they broadcast his Frost Amphitheatre show on October 1, 1972, but I have no idea if jazz broadcasts were rare or common.

In May, 1971, the site of The Poppycock became the club In Your Ear, which was sort of a jazz club, but with a much more eclectic booking policy. Besides jazz, In Your Ear featured blues, a little rock and some folk music, too, similar in many ways to what the Great American Music Hall would book a few years later. The intriguing club came to an abrupt halt when a pizza oven fire burned down the building on December 31, 1972. Live music pretty much disappeared from downtown Palo Alto after that. 

Homer's Warehouse, 79 Homer Avenue, Palo Alto, CA
Homer's Warehouse was an old quonset storage building next to the train tracks, at 79 Homer Avenue. It was in walking distance of downtown, although you had to take a pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks (for Palo Alto locals, Homer's Warehouse was behind Town And Country Village, and the site is now a parking lot for the Palo Alto Medical Center). The club was intermittently open in mid-1971, appealing to bikers and the like, and marginally tolerated by the police since it was not in downtown itself. In late 1972, the venue was taken over by local entrepreneurs Andrew Bernstein and Rollie Grogan. Bernstein wrote about his adventures at Homer's Warehouse in his 2018 self-published biography California Slim: The Music, The Magic and The Madness.

It is well-known that Jerry Garcia and Old And In The Way broadcast a set on KZSU on July 24, 1973. I myself heard that show. It was, quite literally, the first time I had ever heard bluegrass music. At the time, it was easier to read about new music than hear it. I had read that Garcia was playing banjo in a bluegrass group that played local clubs, but I was too young to go to any nightclub, and in any case I had no car and no money and lived in the suburbs. I knew that bluegrass was some sort of country sub-genre, but I didn't know what it sounded like. When I stumbled onto the KZSU broadcast that night--I used to listen to KZSU regularly--I knew it was Garcia playing bluegrass. It was the first time I heard "Panama Red" and "Lonesome LA Cowboy," among other things, as the New Riders of The Purple Sage versions had not yet been released. Andrew Bernstein describes booking Old And In The Way in some detail, including having Asleep At The Wheel as an opening act. 

Bernstein was a Palo Alto native, and had taken banjo lessons from Garcia back in 1963 or so, as a high school student. He knew Kreutzmann and Pigpen as well, and while he hadn't been in touch with the Dead once they moved to San Francisco, he had more of a connection than a regular club owner might. Old And In The Way had been booked at Homer's Warehouse for one of their very first concerts back on March 8, 1973, and Garcia and Merl Saunders had played a successful weekend in May, and then Old and In The Way again later in May, so it's no surprise that Old And In The Way returned. The first set was broadcast, and people were implicitly encouraged to come down to the club for the second set. I could have walked the dog over there, I guess--it was only a few blocks away from my house--but I didn't realize that while I was listening.

Homer's Warehouse and KZSU
Bernstein tells an unheard story about the link between Homer's Warehouse and KZSU, and how they came to broadcast Jerry Garcia. Most intriguingly, Bernstein says that the two Garcia/Saunders shows at Homer's on May 4-5, 1973 were both broadcast on KZSU. Per Bernstein, the Old And In The Way July broadcast followed from the initial ones in May. We don't have any airchecks of the May JGMS shows, which isn't surprising, as few people had cassette decks, and fewer still would have been in the range of KZSU's 10-watt transmitters. In any case, we have Betty Boards for both shows, so we don't need the FM broadcasts. But Bernstein's descriptions of the circumstances of the KZSU broadcasts have gone unnoticed, so I am inserting them here (please note that 30 years after the fact, Bernstein's memories are not particularly sequential and some details appear questionable. Decide for yourself how much corrective analysis is needed). Bernstein describes the May 4 set-up in detail:
Rollie's [Grogan, Bernstein's partner] biggest triumph to date came on the afternoon he booked Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders for a weekend show. Joining them on May 4th and 5th, 1973 would be John Kahn on electric bass and Ron Tutt, Elvis's old drummer and famed Nashville studio percussionist...[note: Tutt would not join the band until 1974, and Bill Vitt was likely the drummer]
There was yet another surprise waiting in the wings. Lobster [Paul Wells], one of our regulars, was part of the FM radio scene in the Bay Area at the time. He was big, loud and both a DJ at KSJO in San Jose and the musical director of KZSU, the Stanford radio station. One afternoon, he approached Rollie and me about broadcasting the Merl and Jerry shows live from Homer's on KZSU. Rollie and I both thought it was a great idea, so Lobster connected us with Mike Lopez, the student manager of the station. Lobster had told us that we would reach the whole Northern California market [note: this was completely untrue], but Mike had even bigger plans than that. It seems that Stanford had access to a transatlantic phone cable that had been dormant for many years, so Mike decided that what several Iron Curtain countries needed was a heavy dose of Jerry--via pirate radio from Homer's!
Mike's plan called for Hungary, Belarus and parts of East Germany to receive the feed. However, first we needed to get permission from Jerry, which meant going through Sam Cutler (more blow, please!). When Sam gave us the green light, it was full speed ahead. Of course, the university would know nothing of this little international broadcasting caper....
Around 10:00am on the day of the show, our Purple Room started to take on the look of a command center, overrun by cables and wires with crazy-looking guys from Stanford hooking up 20,000 watts [the Warehouse sound system]. Both shows would be taped on a gigantic Memorex reel-to-reel. It was a fuck-all, balls-to-the-wall extravaganza... 
Around 3:00pm, the sound truck arrived with the road crew, and out stepped the lead technician for the night--Owsley Stanley.
Because of his eccentric and unpredictable character, Owsley didn't know how to finish a project on time, so he was banned from any involvement with sound when the Dead were on tour. However, for Jerry shows, he was "the man." His first task, when he got to Homer's, was to make sure the broadcasting guys from Stanford knew who was running the show. General Patton had arrived. Sound mix, PA levels, acoustics, tape speed, the whole shebang was under his direct control. The packed Purple Room was known that night as The Command Center.
Sam Cutler showed up around this time Owsley was like an obsessed woodpecker. He was a pain in the ass, but a perfectionist, eventually, with only fifteen minutes before the doors were scheduled to open for the Friday night show, we got the sound up and working to his desired metrics.
The music for the show started at 7:30pm sharp. Lobster was the live DJ, operating the radio control board for the broadcast out of the Purple Room. He was hyped, as we all were. I did the stage intros. 
This is history in the making, I thought as I introduced the band. 
Then I ran out to Rollie's car and turned on the radio...There we were coming through loud and clear. I tried to imagine some Hungarian family puzzled by what the hell they were listening to. I hope they enjoyed it.

According to Bernstein, not only was there a broadcast on May 4, the entire process was repeated the next night:

Once Owsley, Sam Cutler and their wild-eyed sound crew arrived, the madness set in once again. Unlike the day before, however, all the gear was already in place, so all they had to was push some buttons and turn some knobs

So Garcia apparently broadcast from KZSU three times in 1973, even though we only have the tape for the July Old And In The Way show.

Jerry Garcia and KZSU: Encore
Keystone Berkeley owner Freddie Herrera had opened a sister club in Palo Alto in early 1977. The Keystone in Palo Alto was at 260 South California Avenue, in a commercial district that was distinct from downtown and University Avenue. The commercial district (formerly the downtown of the town of Mayfield, which had merged with Palo Alto in 1925) was adjacent to the Stanford Campus, but not particularly near any student housing. In late 1977, the Keystone in Palo Alto started having regular Monday night broadcasts with the local "alternative" country station KFAT, in nearby Gilroy. The Monday "Fat Fry" broadcast the first set at the Keystone, to publicize the band and the club, and to encourage listeners to drop by for the second set. The second Fat Fry, in fact, on December 5, 1977, featured Robert Hunter and Comfort, with Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor mixing the sound for the radio.  A similar effort was tried on one occasion with KZSU with Garcia.

On December 23, 1977, KZSU broadcast the first set of the Jerry Garcia Band from Keystone Palo Alto. Per an eyewitness, the dj started up the second set and then cut it off. I believe they didn't realize the concept was just to broadcast the opening set, to encourage late arrivals. While the KFAT Fat Fry continued to be broadcast from Keystone Palo Alto every Monday night for several more years, I'm not aware of other KZSU experiments. Of course, since KZSU was not a commercial station, their imperatives would have been different than KFAT's. In any case, we got a good tape of the first set from December 1977, at a time when quality JGB was not in circulation. How appropriate that Garcia was returning to where he had first broadcast, although I'm sure he was unaware of it at the time. 

Final Homage
The Grateful Dead had an appropriately rocky history with Stanford University. The Dead's concert at Tressider Union on October 14, 1966 was the last concert there--good times I'll bet--and the Dead did not return until February 9, 1973 (when they played the Maples Pavilion basketball arena). When the Beta Theta Pi fraternity arranged to book Robert Hunter and Roadhog in May 1976, they were told the Grateful Dead were banned from campus. Of course, Bob Weir had played Frost Amphitheatre by that time, but there was at least some voodoo associated with the Grateful Dead name.

Nonetheless the Grateful Dead finally headlined Frost Amphitheatre in 1982, and played several weekends at the venue through 1989. By the time the Dead stopped playing there, the band was much too popular to play the 10,000-capacity bowl, and huge crowds congregated outside the venue. Stanford did not like the atmosphere, and unlike a commercial establishment, they did not really need the revenue. For the 1988 shows, however (Saturday and Sunday April 30 and May 1), I know that the shows were broadcast on KZSU to allow the huge parking lot crowd to hear them. [update 20231226: Commenter and former KZSU staffer reports that:

My KZSU friends have confirmed that we did broadcast the Grateful Dead Frost shows from 1985 to 1988 at least, with interviews of Healy in 1985, Mickey in 1986, and Jerry & Bobby in 1987 or 1988. 

I'm not sure if this was done again on May 6 and 7,1989. After that there were no more Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia concerts at Frost, anyway.

Update 20240109: Correspondent Geoff Reeves weighs in with the 411. All the Dead shows from 1985-89 were broadcast on KZSU, and there were numerous interviews too:

My name is Geoff Reeves and I was a staffer at KZSU for much of the 1980s. I kicked off the live broadcasts of the Dead at Frost in 1985 by calling up Dan Healey and convincing him we weren’t looking to score free tickets and were legitimately from KZSU. Dan helped get permission to broadcast live and figure out how to connect us to the board. A 5-year tradition began. And, yes I can confirm we broadcast live from 1985 through 1989. I’ve got board tapes of all 10 shows (with custom art on the labels :-) In addition to any broadcast recordings, we also made copies of the boards available to anyone wanting them so they should be in pretty wide circulation.
Around that time Dan started mixing ambient audience sounds into the board so the board tapes and broadcast had a much better live feel than the more ‘sterile’ boards from earlier times. More like audience tapes but mixed intentionally.
In 1986, we started recording interviews before the shows and during breaks to be broadcast after the live show ended. The ‘interviews’ with random deadheads were some of the most entertaining (when edited down) but over the years we interviewed Dan Healey, Dennis McNally, Wavy Gravy, Bill Graham, Mickey Heart, and, (eventually) Mickey, Jerry, & Bobby.
It may also be of interest to know that KZSU broadcast a program called Dead to the World during those years. The name poked fun at our still weak transmitters (100 W) but, hey, they could hear us as far away as Berkeley (sometimes).

Live Jerry Garcia music was first broadcast from the May 3, 1963 show at the Top Of The Tangent (probably broadcast on Tuesday, May 7). It was last broadcast on May 1, 1988, (or maybe May 7, 1989 from the Frost Amphitheatre, about a mile away. In between, Garcia was broadcast a surprising number of times, with a variety of ensembles, covering the arc of his career from struggling folk musician to rock guitar legend.

Appendix I: The Roots Of College Radio
One byproduct of the massive expansion of American higher education after World War 2 was the rise of radio stations associated with colleges and universities. In the Post WW2 universe, college was seen as more than just a degree factory where future employees were produced, and schools had a host of activities that were meant to broaden both the college community and the individual students themselves. In the case of Stanford University, radio station KZSU started in 1947 as part of the Department of Communication. KZSU facilities were used by the speech and drama department, although unlike some smaller schools, Stanford was not providing a professional program for future broadcasters. KZSU was only broadcast on 880 on the AM dial, and the station could only be heard in campus buildings, like dorms and fraternities.

By the early 1960s, radio played a more important part in student life, but KZSU was still a campus-only station. As far as I know, all Stanford freshmen and all women were required to live on campus. There was not enough housing for all undergraduates, so some Stanford men lived off campus, but I do know that the majority of undergraduate students still lived on campus in any case. All women students and all Freshman males lived in campus dorms. Some men also lived in fraternities, but the sororities had been shut down some decades earlier. KZSU broadcast to the dorms and fraternities.

Although KZSU was only audible on campus, it had an outsized importance to Stanford students. FM radio was exotic, and little was broadcast on it, and regular AM stations in San Francisco and San Jose were the only other options. There were a few Top 40 stations (KYA-1260 and KFRC-610 in the City, and KLIV-1590 in San Jose), a country station (KEEN-1370) and various news-talk-music stations for adults (like KSFO-560, KNBR-680, KCBS-740 and KGO-810). So Stanford's student-run-for-student-listeners station was a good choice for a dorm resident.

KZSU producers, announcers and disc jockeys were all students, or at least University-affiliated. The programs were a mixture of Stanford sports, news updates, documentary-type specials and lots of music. A wide spectrum of music was covered, including jazz and classical. It being the early 60s, when folk music was popular with college students, there was folk music on KZSU as well. Certainly more folk was broadcast on KZSU than was heard on any commercial station, and that is how the connection to The Top Of The Tangent came about.

Appendix II: "The Flint Hill Special" and The Top Of The Tangent

It is a well-known piece of Garciaography that Garcia and his folk pals really made their bones at a tiny folk club called The Top Of The Tangent in Palo Alto. What has remained under the radar is how critical KZSU was to the modest success of The Tangent. Without KZSU, the Top Of The Tangent might not have thrived, and thus the whole story of Garcia, Weir, Pigpen and Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band Champions would have taken some different, unknown course.

I have discussed the history of The Top Of The Tangent at some length elsewhere, so I will only briefly recap it. Two restless young doctors, Dave Schoenstadt and Stu Goldstein, decided to start a folk club in eary 1963. Their only guide was a Pete Seeger book called How To Make A Hootenanny. There was a delicatessen at the end of University Avenue that was nearest Stanford, with an extra room above it. The two doctors arranged to have shows there on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as a "hoot night" on Wednesdays. The little room held about 75 people. Sometimes there were touring folk acts, but more often the performers were from the Bay Area folk scene. Locals who shined at hoot night got a chance to play on the weekends, and could build their own followings. The Tangent deli was at 117 University, and the folk club was above it--hence "The Top Of The Tangent." In reality, however, everyone just called the folk club "The Tangent," so I will do that hereafter. 

Here's the reason we have those early Garcia tapes--throughout much of 1963, every weekend Tangent show was taped, and parts of all those shows were broadcast on KZSU. I'll repeat that, just so you don't think I mis-typed--almost every Tangent show through at least June 1963 was taped, and parts of most of them were broadcast. So there's no mystery why we have prehistoric Garcia tapes. Don't forget, by the way, that everyone else who played the Tangent in '63--Pigpen, Peter Albin, Jorma Kaukonen, Janis Joplin, Herb Petersen and many others--would have been broadcast on KZSU as well.  And yes, before we go on any further, I assure you that the Garciaological equivalent of SEAL Team 6 has been on the case for some time. If there's anything new to uncover, they'll get it.

The two good doctors who ran the Top Of The Tangent knew that Stanford students would be a key component of the audience of any folk club. Since KZSU featured weekly shows of many different types of music, The Tangent sponsored the Tuesday night folk show. The host was either (Stanford student) Ted Claire or (Dr. and Top Of The Tangent co-founder) Dave Schoenstadt. The hour long show was aired at 9:00pm Tuesday nights. A sample description, from the Tuesday May 14 edition of the Stanford Daily (clipped above), says

9:00: Flinthill Special- An hour of authentic American folk music, records, tapes, live talent (Dave Schoenstadt)

"Flint Hill Special" was the name of a famous Flatt & Scruggs bluegrass standard, and in the code of the time, "authentic American folk music" meant "serious" folk music, like bluegrass or old-time music, not "popular" sing-alongs like the Kingston Trio.

Ted Claire's deal with the doctors was that he would tape the weekend Tangent shows, and broadcast some highlights over the air on Tuesday nights. So the boys and girls in the Stanford dorm who liked folk music could listen to KZSU and hear what they missed at the Tangent that weekend. Little did they know that a few years later they'd be seeing Jerry, Janis and Jorma at the Fillmore, playing many of the same songs just a little bit louder.

Friday, September 22, 2023

June 15, 1973 Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH: Grateful Dead (canceled)

The Grateful Dead's scheduled show at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, planned for June 15, 1973, was canceled the day before. Nice to see Pigpen with the boys, even if he wasn't going to play with them.

One of the pleasures of being a Grateful Dead fan is considering the difference between listening to the tapes of great shows versus actually attending them. Some shows have more depth every time you listen to them again, whereas others had their most magical moment in the very instant of creation. Yet some shows stand even above those comparisons, epically memorable shows for whom the tapes revealed extraordinarily powerful music that stood out on its own. During the Spring and Summer of 1973, the Grateful Dead played five huge outdoor dates in Iowa, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Washington, DC, all of them memorable moments for everyone who attended. The tapes, too, circulated widely, and the Grateful Dead Archive released all five shows in their entirety in the Summer of 2023. Here Comes Sunshine, a 17-cd set box set, was released to great acclaim, and Grateful Dead fans can't get enough of the music or the memories. 

Season 7 of Deadcast, the Grateful Dead's official podcast, tells the whole story of the Spring and Summer of 1973. Jesse Jarnow and Rich Mahan wrote and produced the saga of the great concerts, the great music, and all the events surrounding the Spring tour. Jarnow ends the final episode, however, with a tantalizing remark. After the stadium tour ended at RFK in DC on June 10, 1973, there was another concert scheduled for Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati, just five days later. The Dead's crew were there, the sound system was being constructed, but technical problems caused the show to be canceled the day before the planned event. 

So the Grateful Dead world almost had one more June '73 stadium show, two or three sets in the summer sun, epic jamming on new material on an 80-degree Ohio afternoon. At 3 pm on June 15, the Cincinnati airport reported 85 degrees and a 10 mph breeze. It would have been perfect weather, right about when the boys (and one girl) would have been cranking up a second set.

There have been lots of projected Grateful Dead shows that didn't happen. But once the band became headliners by 1970, there were very few where tickets were sold, the crew was in place and the show still didn't happen. Now, sure the Grateful Dead had canceled a huge outdoor show at Ontario Motor Speedway just the month before (originally scheduled for Sunday, May 27 with the Allman Brothers) but that was canceled on May 21, with a week to go. But nobody was camped out in the parking lot, and the crew hadn't rolled any semis. Cincinnati was different. It nearly happened. This post will try and unpack how the June 15, 1973 show at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati nearly made landfall, but didn't, and what it tells us about the history of Grateful Dead touring.

Cincinnati Enquirer, May 31, 1973

Risk And Reward
Enormous amounts of talk and writing about the Grateful Dead phenomenon have been proffered to the world, and I am as culpable as anyone for contributing to the huge volume of words. One aspect of the Dead's history that that receives less attention than it should, however, is the band's appetite for risk. Jerry Garcia himself had a higher risk tolerance than anyone in the band, but all members of the Grateful Dead organization had to sign on to a career of high-risk propositions. The Grateful Dead's constantly improvisational music was a moment-to-moment risk, and the commitment to it over the repetition of formally arranged songs was another inherent layer of risk. Even when the Grateful Dead had a popular song, if not a hit, they would not always play it, nor ever play it the same. Hardly a logical approach to success in popular music. 

The Grateful Dead's tolerance for risk extended to their business practices. The Grateful Dead were regularly the first out-of-town band to play many of the new psychedelic ballrooms than sprung up around the country in 19l67 and '68. These new ballrooms were modeled, however vaguely, on the Fillmore and Avalon. Almost all of the proprietors of these establishments were inexperienced hippies who had little or no business experience. In most cases, they also didn't know anyone directly associated with the Dead, but just sounded persuasive over the phone. The Dead flew to these cities with no real guarantee of a payday, or a way to afford to get home if they didn't get paid. Yet the band took chances on new promoters nearly every month in the late 60s.

Other decisions by the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia also depended on  extraordinary risk tolerance, particularly in the early 1970s. Touring Europe, starting their own record company, starting a second record company (Round Records) for less popular material, spending their touring profits on a better, sound system and starting a travel agency (all of which is explored by Jesse Jarnow in Deadcast 7:4), just to name a few things, were each by themselves not a risk most bands would take. The Grateful Dead took all of them, in the space of two years. The band took chances. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn't.

As Jarnow documents in Deadcast Season 7, the Grateful Dead's audience was expanding quickly, and in order to capture the crowds, the Dead moved their shows to places even larger than the indoor basketball arenas that had been rock music's top tier up until that time. Also, the Dead did not hesitate to work with inexperienced promoters if they felt that they "understood" the needs of the band. Most of the Spring '73 shows had a large degree of new promoters, new venues or both. 

We don't have Jesse Jarnow and a Deadcast episode to query the Cincinnati event, more's the pity. But from what we know, the Nippert Stadium presentation was another attempt by the Dead to expand their concert footprint. A venue never before used for a rock show and inexperienced promoters sounds like a risky proposition, and indeed it was. But that was how the 1973 Grateful Dead rolled. If it sounded like a good time, and might make for good music and a good day, the band was down. Mostly it worked, so why not?

Some Geography
The Grateful Dead had constructed a bespoke sound system for outdoor stadiums on their 1973 tour. That gargantuan PA had to be trucked across the country, so it was not a coincidence that the touring schedule  had gaps of at least one week between every show. The haul from San Francisco (after May 26) to Washington, DC (by June 9) was substantial. It makes sense to have tried to book a show on the way back. Even if the Cincinnati show might have turned out to be as profitable as some of the other shows, it would still make sense to have a payday on the way home.  

Also, by 1973 the Grateful Dead were catching on to the fact that their big outdoor shows were drawing a regional audience. The Washington, DC concerts, for example, drew plenty of Deadheads from New York and Philadelphia. Cincinnati was 500 miles from DC and nearly 600 from Iowa. So a huge contingent of Midwestern Grateful Dead fans were going to see themselves as within traveling range. The Cincinnati location made sense just by looking at a map. The Grateful Dead had already played Cincinnati four times (six shows, in 1968, '69, 71 and '72). They had also played Cleveland three times. Cincinnati and Ohio seemed like a logical choice.

The Cincinnati Comets of the American Soccer League opened their 1973 season with an exhibition game on May 20 at their home field, Nippert Stadium. They played (then 2nd Division) Bristol City, who beat them pretty handily, apparently.

Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Nippert Stadium was the home stadium for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team, and had been throughout the century. The Bearcats had first played on the grounds in 1915, when it was called Carson Field. The stadium seats were constructed in 1925, and expanded in 1928 and again in 1954. The football capacity was 28,000. Nippert Stadium had been home to the AFL Cincinnati Bengals in 1968 and '69, until they moved into the new Riverfront Stadium in 1970.

In 1973, rock concerts in stadiums was still a new concept. Stadiums that hosted major league baseball were unwilling to put their playing fields at risk, so that left football stadiums. In the early 1970s, however, the rage was publicly-owned "multi-use" stadiums, so many cities had a facility that hosted both NFL and MLB teams. Thus there were fewer stadiums willing to try on big rock concerts. In the case of the Grateful Dead's spring '73 tour, neither Harder Stadium in Santa Barbara nor Kezar had major sports tenants. RFK had lost its baseball team (the Washington Senators had become the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season). 

The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival bill, held on June 13, 1970 at Crosley Field. Promoted by Mike Quattro and Russ Gibb from Detroit. The Reds had just moved to Riverfront Stadium.

Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati hosted the baseball Reds, so it would not have made itself available. There had been one stadium concert in Cincinnati, at the old Crosley Field in Summer 1970. Crosley Field had been the home of the Reds for many years, but the Reds had moved to Riverfront mid-season. The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival on June 13, 1970, an all-day event with numerous acts headlined by Grand Funk Railroad was hard rock madness at its 1970 worst. Iggy and The Stooges stamped their legend when Ig surf-walked into the waiting arms of the packed crowd. No one wanted a repeat.

Still, the University had signed up for a slate of six concerts in the Summer of 1970, of which the Grateful Dead would be the first. In 1970, the University had replaced the natural grass with astroturf. Cincinnati was not a public school, so they probably felt the revenue would help their bottom line. There was some risk, sure, but on the scale of things it wasn't much different than the UC Santa Barbara scenario. There was even a precedent in Ohio--sort of.

Belkin Productions, Cleveland's principal rock promoters since 1966, had booked a series of concerts at the Akron Rubber Bowl for the summer of 1972. Akron is 40 miles South of Cleveland. Jules and Mike Belkin had rented the Rubber Bowl from the University Of Akron for the summer, for about $40,000. The stadium had been built as a civic facility in 1940, but the University of Akron had purchased it for $1 from the city in 1971. Belkin put on 9 concerts at the football stadium. Most of the shows drew about 20,000, but the sold-out Rolling Stones show drew as many as 50,000 (for a list of the shows, see below).

At the end of the Summer of '72, the University of Akron chose not to renew the contract with Belkin Productions. The shows had been profitable, but there had been tension between the city and the promoters, and rock concerts still made communities nervous. The Rubber Bowl would replace the natural grass with astroturf in 1973, too, but I don't know if that figured into the decision not to renew. In any case, the Grateful Dead had played for Belkin in Cleveland before, but there was no chance they could play for them at the Rubber Bowl in '73.

Cincinnati Post June 7, 1973

Cincinnati Post, June 7, 1973 (cont)

The June 7, 1973 Cincinnati Post reported on the upcoming show:

THE GRATEFUL DEAD, which comes to the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium at 7 pm, June 15, to kickoff a series of concerts, will initiate a new method of staging quite different than anything ever seen in this area.

Producers of the concert said that although Nippert Stadium seats approximately 30,000 persons, the stadium is being set-up for the Grateful Dead concert to handle a limited number of patrons.

Physically, the stage will be set-up between the 35 and 50-yard lines, playing into the horseshoe configuration of seats at Nippert Stadium. The astroturf immediately in front of the stage will be covered with a special new material to enable festival seating in front of the stage. Patrons in all locations will have an excellent view of the stage and a specially adapted sound system will provide stereo-type sound reproduction.

Although tickets to the concert are available on a general admission basis, producers of the concert said that since seating will be limited, patrons would be wise to purchase tickets in advance--once the supply of printed tickets is depleted, no more seats will be available.
I don't have any details about how Sam Cutler and the Grateful Dead made the connection to the University of Cincinnati. The show was promoted by the University itself  (the UC Office Of Programs and Cultural Affairs), a similar arrangement to Santa Barbara. Maybe there was an experienced concert promoter in the background. I don't know who had promoted the Dead's prior 1970s shows in Cincinnati, but Belkin Productions would  the Dead's next show in Cincinnati (on December 4, 1973) so I wouldn't be surprised if they had some involvement. In Santa Barbara, although the Dead were working with inexperienced young promoters, the (relatively) veteran promoter Sepp Donahower was assisting them. Probably there was a comparable arrangement in Cincinnati, with Belkin or someone. 

The Grateful Dead had a five-day break between RFK (ending June 10) and Cincinnati. The band members probably flew home, anticipating a return to Cincinnati a few days later. It was probably cheaper for the band to fly home than pay for hotel rooms. In any case, the Dead had their own travel agency, so they could find a bargain on tickets. In Jerry Garcia's case, he actually had a bluegrass gig in Warrenton, VA on the afternoon of June 11, so I assume he flew home a day later than the rest of the band. 

The crew, meanwhile, would have torn down the sound system at RFK, loaded it up and driven to Ohio. Figure it took a full day to deconstruct the sound system and load it up, and another full day to drive there. So the crew would have arrived in Ohio on Tuesday night, and would have begun setting up on Wednesday. That seems to be when trouble set in.


Cincinnati Enquirer, Thursday, June 14, 1973

 The June 14, 1973 Enquirer had the mournful headline "Grateful Dead Off At Nippert." 

The Grateful Dead concert, set for Friday at UC's Nippert Stadium, has been canceled. Reason for the cancellation, according to promoters, were "insurmuoutable problems connected with the staging of the event."
The technical problems were twofold. The size of the stage needed to accommodate the full Grateful Dead show posed a problem. So did the fact that the stadium is located directly behind the UC physical plant, which according to the Dead's road manager, Sam Cutler, makes entirely too much noise. He feared it would be a distraction.

It is believed the show will be rescheduled later in the summer when there some more time to prepare fully for it.

In general, when road managers in the 1970s explain why concerts had to be canceled, particularly road managers named Sam Cutler, they did not usually tell the truth, or much of it. In this case, however, I think Cutler's explanation was likely mostly true.

  • The principal reason that concerts were canceled was because of poor ticket sales, and given the Grateful Dead's popularity in 1973, I don't think that was the case.
  • The second most likely reason for bands to cancel concerts is that they don't think they will be paid. The University of Cincinnati was not some cigar-chewing mobster, however--any check from the school was going to clear the bank.
  • The other reason that bands canceled concerts was that some members weren't able to play. Usually, however, the band would state it as such, and in any case we know so much about the Grateful Dead. All the band members were fine, so that wasn't the problem either. 

The Deadcast made clear how much effort went into the groundbreaking Grateful Dead sound system, fine tuned for every venue. If the stage was really in front of the "physical plant," which I take to mean the University power station, I can see how it might undermine the Dead's state-of-the-art sound. I did think that a member of the Dead's sound team (such as Bob Matthews) visited all the venues beforehand, but somehow this got missed. 

In any case, since the report was in the Thursday paper, the show was effectively canceled on Wednesday, June 13. Given the putative schedule I described above, the crew would have been begun building the stage on Wednesday, and soon identified the issues. The band was still in San Francisco, presumably scheduled to fly on Thursday (June 14), so they never left home. 

The Nippert Stadium show didn't happen. The Here Comes Sunshine box set was just 17 discs, not 20. he Grateful Dead returned to action the next week in Vancouver, on June 22, 1973. The Dead played Cincinnati, indoors, on December 4, 1973 at Cincinnati Gardens. On October 2, 1976, they would return to the city again to play the 16,000 seat Riverfront Coliseum, but they never played outdoors there did not play a stadium in Cincinnati, although they played the Rubber Bowl with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty on July 2, 1986.

Appendix 1: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH 1973
There were two concerts in Nippert Stadium in the summer of 1973, however. Presumably the bands weren't as finicky as the Grateful Dead about the technical issues or the size of the stage.


July 22, 1973 Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH: Edgar Winter Group/James Gang/Peter Frampton's Camel  (Sunday)
Attendance was apparently between 5000 and 7000. The Edgar Winter Group had scored a big hit in '72 with the instrumental "Frankenstein," and would soon score an even bigger one with bassist Dan Hartman's "Free Ride." Guitarist Ronnie Montrose had been replaced by Jerry Weems.

The James Gang featured singer Roy Kenner and guitarist Dominic Troiano, as Joe Walsh had left the band. Peter Frampton had left Humble Pie at the end of 1971, and was making his first American tour with his band, Frampton's Camel.

July 29, 1973 Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH: Grand Funk Railroad/Ball'n Jack (Sunday)
Grand Funk Railroad, about to have a mid-career boom with their newly-released "We're An American Band," drew about 8000.

August 3, 1975 Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH: Aerosmith/Black Oak Arkansas/Blue Oyster Cult/Styx/REO Speedwagon/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Foghat/Mahogany Rush/Outlaws (Sunday) Ross Todd Productions and U.S. Concert Board present the Ohio River Music Festival
Two years later, there was a big outdoor show at Nippert Stadium, headlined by Aerosmith

Appendix 2: Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron OH Summer 1972
Belkin Productions, out of Cleveland, booked nine concerts at the Akron Rubber Bowl in the Summer of 1972. For a complete look at the history of the shows, with pictures and all, see the Akron Beacon-Journal article here.  The shows were financially successful and fondly remembered by fans, but the University of Akron chose not to renew the contract.

June 16, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Three Dog Night/James Gang (Friday) estimated crowd- 12,000

July 3, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Faces/Badfinger/Cactus (Monday) est: 17000

July 11, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Rolling Stones/Stevie Wonder (Tuesday) est: 50000

July 17, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Black Sabbath/Humble Pie/Edgar Winter/Ramatam (Monday) est: 18000

July 21, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Osmonds/Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods (Friday) est: 20000

August 5, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Alice Cooper/J Geils Band/Dr. John (Saturday) est: 20000

August 11, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Yes/Mahavishnu Orchestra/The Eagles (Friday) est: 20000

August 20, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Chicago (Sunday) est: 19000

August 21, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Jefferson Airplane/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (Monday) est: 21000

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.