Thursday, November 6, 2014

December 22, 1969, Napa Valley Sports Camp, Napa, CA Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Rejoice/People!/Loading Zone

The Scendrome listing from the Berkeley Barb of December 19, 1969, mentioning a benefit concert in Napa on Monday, December 22, headlined by the Grateful Dead
The 2013 release of Dave's Picks Volume 6, featuring a performance by the Grateful Dead at the Old (original) Fillmore on Saturday, December 20, 1969, was very well received. A bonus disc, with additional material from the next day's show on Sunday, December 21, 1969, added to the feast. It was a reminder of how many shows the Grateful Dead played back in the day, a hard working band always ready to put out. Amazingly enough, however, the Grateful Dead not only played a hot weekend at the Old Fillmore, they were scheduled to play an outdoor benefit show on the Monday after the weekend. Did the Grateful Dead really play a Monday afternoon show in an empty field in Napa, on December 22, 1969? They certainly advertised the show, and there is no reason to think they didn't play.

The Scenedrome entertainment listings of the December 19, 1969 Berkeley Barb yielded the unexpected information that the Grateful Dead would headline a benefit concert on Monday, December 22 in  the Napa Valley. In its entirety the listing (above) says
ROCK CONCERT: Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Rejoice, The People & Loading Zone. Disc jockeys from local stations will mc the event. Napa Valley Sports Camp, 5 miles west of Napa on Highway 12 in the quiet and beautiful Brown's Valley. $3.50 and tickets can be purchased from St. Mary's High School, Albina and Hopkins Streets. Berk, call Bill Doherty 555-1039.
[This is a re-post of a long-ago entry]

The cover of the Quicksilver Messenger Service's Shady Grove lp, released on Capitol in December 1969. Nicky Hopkins had joined the band, as Gary Duncan had left, and Dan Healy manned the mixing board. It featured the original recording of "Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder," which Hopkins performed with the Jerry Garcia Band in 1975.
The Dead had played The Old Fillmore on December 19, 20 and 21 (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), and did not have a gig until Texas on December 26. While non-Californians may wonder at an apparently outdoor concert on a Monday in December, remember that many people are on holiday during Christmas, and daytime winter temperatures in Napa are about, oh, 65 degrees or so. This show would be very plausible in terms of the Grateful Dead touring schedule as known.

As near as I can tell, the location would have been in between Napa and Sonoma, and somewhere in the vicinity of Napa Road and Burndale Road, probably near the current location of the Homewood Winery. In those days, Napa was fairly rural and agricultural, so while hippies may not have been entirely welcome, they would have been mainly only bothering cows (and the occasional race car at Sears Point International Raceway, just a few miles South).

What is particularly rare about this show is that it may represent a 1969 show by Quicksilver Messenger Service. There is no good Quicksilver tour history on the Web yet, but this would be only the 8th known show of 1969. The band definitely included John Cipollina, Nicky Hopkins, David Freiberg and Greg Elmore. Dan Healy occasionally played guitar and bass on stage with them during this period, as well. Gary Duncan and Dino Valenti would rejoin the group on New Year's Eve, though perhaps they used this as a warmup gig. Their album Shady Grove had just been released in December.

People! were a San Jose band, although they had not achieved much beyond their 1968 hit single "I Love You." People! did have some South Bay connections with the Dead, as bassist Geoff Levin had played bluegrass with Jerry Garcia and David Nelson around 1964 (check out photo # 1/22 on Levin's site). Rejoice is a common band from bills at the time, and The Loading Zone were old friends from the early days of The Fillmore.

The Yellow Shark was on the case, as always:
The show was actually a benefit for St. Mary's College High in Berkeley, and possibly other high schools that were responsible for sponsoring the event. I have a handbill somewhere - but have not seen it for years. Whilst it was common for high schools to sponsor shows in the 60s (proms, fundraisers etc.) they were generally held at the school itself or somewhere reasonably near by. What seems odd here is that the event was being held 40 miles away from Berkeley - which leads me to think there may have been other schools or colleges involved. A snippet appears in the December 13, 1969 Oakland Tribune: "St. Mary's College High in Berkeley is participating in a high school-sponsored rock festival to be held Dec. 22 at the Napa Valley Sports Camp. The 40-acre site is located about five miles west of Napa on Highway 12 in Brown's Valley. Groups scheduled to appear are The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Rejoice, The People and The Loading Zone. Booths selling food and merchandise will be located throughout the site for the duration (9 a.m.- 5 p.m.) of the festival. Tickets are now available at St. Mary's." 
What Was The Napa Valley Sports Camp?
Based only on the thin evidence that I have uncovered here, it appears that the Napa Valley Sports Camp was an outdoor area for some affiliated urban private high schools to use for athletic activities. I have no idea what they actually did there--does anyone play Capture The Flag anymore? In any case, I suspect that whatever casual athletic activities were undertaken would no longer be allowed. Not that it would matter, since land in that part of Napa Valley is so valuable it would never be rented as a relatively empty field. Today, the area is vineyards, farms or expensive homes, but no large, empty fields, that's for sure. Napa County was an agricultural area in 1969, with only the faintest hints at the wine and hospitality mecca that the area has become today.

The connection between private East Bay high schools and psychedelic Fillmore bands seems odd as well. Nonetheless, I do know that by 1969, many high schools had regular dances where Fillmore rock bands appeared. The Grateful Dead, for example, had played at Campolindo High School in Moraga in May of 1969. Further south, in the Fall of 1968, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Santana played the same dance, incredible as it may seem, at Los Altos High School. St. Elizabeth's High School in Oakland, high in the hills, and very likely to have been a co-sponsor for this event, had a surprising number of pretty hip bands that played dances there, so the connections ran deeper than we may think.

I have to think that the schools were looking to have a joint fundraiser, and turned to the bands to help out. I suspect the bands took a reduced rate, possibly just some sort of expenses. Since it was a Monday afternoon, none of the groups would have been working. If the Dead were willing to bring their sound system, having just unhitched it from the the old Fillmore the previous night, everything would have sounded pretty good.

It's a strange thought--the Monday afternoon before Christmas, a bunch of high school kids in a mostly empty field, in a bucolic setting, goofing off while Fillmore rock legends are jamming away. I checked out the weather, and it reached 55 degrees, with only the slightest hint (0.01 inch) of rain. So it was probably a pretty good day for a concert, as December days go.

Did it actually happen? The high school kids were probably too busy chasing each other, and the Dead and Quicksilver didn't seem like that big a deal to them, since they played high school dances on occasion. I don't know of any eyewitness account. Of course, a tape might be definitive, but none has surfaced yet. One of America's leading scholars suggested that an undated fragment could belong to this date, so perhaps there may be some lost piece of tape waiting to surface, a memory of a multi-school dance on a December afternoon in a distant rural county.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

February 6, 1972 Pacific High Recorders, San Francisco: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders live on KSAN-fm (FM V and 1/4)

San Francisco's KSAN-fm, 94.9 on the dial, was San Francisco's leading FM rock station and a pioneer of live rock broadcasting.
Even in retrospect, some events just seem to be part of a long chain and don't generate much reflection. Yet some events that seem routine turn out to be full of significance when any attempt is made to categorize them. One such event in Jerry Garcia's history is his live broadcast on KSAN-fm with Merl Saunders, John Kahn and Bill Kreutzmann from Pacific High Recorders in San Francisco on Sunday, February 6, 1972. The show has circulated widely over the years, often under different dates, and one song was even officially released.

The February 6, 1972 performance was the first official broadcast in the Bay Area of Jerry Garcia performing his own music, separate from the Grateful Dead. For many, it was the first chance that  non-club goers--including teenagers who made up much of the Grateful Dead's audience--had to hear the Garcia/Saunders ensemble. Since KSAN continued to play tracks from it on the air for years, it also served as de facto publicity for Garcia/Saunders, since they would not release the Live At Keystone album until January 1974, almost two years later. And finally, the set was recorded at the very same studio where the Dead had recorded Workingman's Dead just two years prior. This post will take a closer look at the Garcia/Saunders show from February 6, 1972, and consider it in its larger historical context.

KSAN Live Broadcasts
I have written at some length about KSAN-fm and its tradition of live broadcasts. KSAN was the most popular station in the Bay Area in the early 70s--bigger than News, AM Top 40, you-name-it--and it achieved that status by being the hippest rock station. One of the ways that KSAN did that was by pioneering fm broadcasts of of live rock bands. Now, KSAN was not the first radio station to do that. The first was probably KMPX-fm in 1967, who had broadcast live Grateful Dead as early as February 14, 1968. KMPX was unequivocally the first hip underground rock station. However, due to a dispute with management, the staff went on a legendary strike, and the KMPX staff went on to found KSAN.

One of KSAN's many innovations was having local rock bands perform "live in the studio," for a few invited guests. Given that remote broadcasting was a new craft, performing live in a recording studio solved certain technical problems. The record companies loved getting the airtime for their bands (and probably bought ads in return). There was a sponsor for  these shows, but the sets were not interrupted by ads. Bands generally played about an hour.

In September 1971, KSAN inaugurated the "KSAN Live Weekend," in which mostly local bands played live for much of the weekend. Each band would play about an hour, the station would go back to the djs for another hour while they changed over the set, and the next band would then play, and so on. This would go on for several hours on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and evening. That is why there are so many fm broadcasts from San Francisco of local bands all dated September 1971--they were all from the same weekend. Some of the broadcasts are now obscure, but a few became quite legendary. The most famous was an amazing broadcast of Van Morrison, which included a show-stopping version of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman," which KSAN played on the air for years, as if it were a record.

Workingman's Dead was recorded in February and March 1970 at Pacific High Recorders on 60 Brady Street in San Francisco, in an alley behind the Fillmore West.
Pacific High Recorders
The venue that KSAN chose was Pacific High Recorders, at 60 Brady Street, right behind the Fillmore West. The studio had only opened in 1968, and from its beginnings, it catered to the longhaired San Francisco rock bands. The day-to-day operations were handled  by Richard Olsen ("traffic manager" in studio parlance), formerly of those San Francisco originals, The Charlatans. Dan Healy brought Quicksilver Messenger Service in to record Shady Grove, and in early 1970 Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor used Pacific High to record Workingman's Dead. The main room didn't actually sound that great, but it was very large and there was a stage at one end. The 1970 Jefferson Airplane performance film Go Ride The Music was filmed at Pacific High as well.

The size of Pacific High's main room made it perfect for KSAN's first live weekend.  The crowds were probably 100 or so, mostly invited friends of each band, but enough to give the performances a live feel. There was no bar, but it being KSAN I'm pretty sure everyone found a way to relax anyway. Still, by the end of 1971, the economics of the studio weren't really working out, and Pacific High was sold to Alembic Engineering, and 60 Brady Street became Alembic Studios. At the time, Alembic also provided the sound system for the Grateful Dead and customized instruments for Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia, Jack Casady and others. Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor immediately set to resolving various sonic issues in the studio's main room.

One peculiarity of Alembic Studios was that they did not publicize the name Alembic Studios very much. Well after Alembic took over the studio, the name Pacific High Recorders was regularly used. Some of this may have been casual--the musical community called it Pacific High, and there was no reason to argue about it. Alembic may have also wanted to discourage the curious. In any case, when you see a credit like "mixed at Alembic Studios by Bob and Betty and The Grateful Dead" (such as on Europe '72), keep in mind that it was the same 60 Brady Street where Workingman's Dead had been recorded. So when KSAN supremo Tom Donahue introduces Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders as playing live from Pacific High Recorders, it's an anachronism, if an approved one. Jerry and Merl were actually playing at the site of Pacific High Recorders, in the Alembic Studio.

Some Logistics
On Saturday, February 5, Garcia and Saunders had played at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. They may have played there on February 3 and 4, too, or maybe the Lion's Share in San Anselmo, but on Saturday night they had played Keystone Korner. The Keystone Korner was at 750 Vallejo Street. 60 Brady was just over at Market and Van Ness. So whoever was loading out Jerry and Merl that night, probably Ramrod and Steve Parish, only had to truck the equipment 2.6 miles on Broadway and Franklin, and juke at Van Ness onto Brady, which was actually a little alley. After loading the equipment into Alembic for the night, they could just scamper on home. Thus for the next day's gig, all the crew had to do was turn up, as the equipment was already in place.

Few people remark that the first live FM broadcast of Garcia and Saunders actually featured Bill Kreutzmann on drums. The truth is that no one knows how often Kreutzmann subbed for Bill Vitt. Vitt did not like to travel out of town, as he had toured plenty with a band called Jack Bedient And The Chessmen back in the 60s, and no longer found it interesting. However, based on existing tapes, it seems that Kreutzmann played a fair amount of local shows as well. It may be that Betty Cantor taped more shows with Kreutzmann, but truthfully we just don't know. In any case, Kreutzmann played regularly with Garcia and Saunders and knew the material well.

I have to assume that Bill Vitt had the option of playing the show and chose not to. One possibility is that Vitt had another engagement. Vitt was in The Sons Of Champlin, then going under the name Yogi Phlegm, so perhaps they had a gig. Certainly Vitt was a regular at the Sunday night jam at the Lion's Share, but its not likely that he would skip that for a radio broadcast. Its also possible that the KSAN broadcast was effectively unpaid. Vitt may not have wanted to come into the city for nothing.

Most live FM rock broadcasts were subsidized by the band's record company. In return for allowing a band to play uninterrupted. the record company would pay for the lost commercial time. My assumption has always been that the company bought additional future ads rather than paying cash, but I don't know for sure. However, in early '72, Merl Saunders did not have a record out, and Warner Brothers were not likely to subsidize Garcia playing material that wasn't from his album. The hipness quotient was high, however, and there was probably a sponsor for the hour (usually Pacific Stereo, a local electronics chain), so it was worth it for KSAN. If that was the case, however, I don't think the musicians or crew got paid, except perhaps in party favors.

Hooteroll?, by Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia was recorded from October 1970 through mid-1971 and released in late '71.
An East Coast Precursor
Right before the KSAN broadcast, Jerry Garcia made his first tour outside of California under his own name. He played 7 dates on the East Coast with Howard Wales' band, playing some pretty jammed out music with Wales' quartet. The tour was generally overshadowed, however, by the stunning performances of the opening act. The newly minted Mahavishnu Orchestra featured a new guitar hero in John McLaughlin, and a new look for fusion jazz. Wales and Garcia seemed rather noodly by comparison.

Another scholar has considered the '72 Wales/Garcia tour in some detail, so I will not dwell on it. However, the important point in this context was that the Garcia-Wales set on the first night in Boston was broadcast on WBCN-fm. The January 26 '72 tape has been widely circulated amongst Deadheads for many years. The Mahavishnu Orchestra were also part of the broadcast. Both Mahavishnu and Howard Wales Hooteroll? album were on Columbia (Hooteroll? had been on Douglas, a Columbia subsidiary).

When the Grateful Dead had supported their double live album ("Skullf**k") with over a dozen live broadcasts in every city that the band played, the New Riders of The Purple Sage had been broadcast in a number of those cities as well (this is covered in the preceding part of this series, Part V, which I concede I have not actually posted yet). The Dead's album had gone gold, and the NRPS debut album was selling briskly as well. Columbia appears to have figured out that Jerry Garcia would get people to tune into the radio, so they used it to promote two of their albums. Thus Jerry Garcia's first broadcast under his own name actually took place in Boston.

Given that touring plans have to be settled at least 30-60 days in advance, and any Garcia gigs had to be worked out around the Grateful Dead, it seems certain that the WBCN and KSAN broadcasts were conceived and agreed to at roughly the same time. It would be interesting to know if one inspired the other, or if they both arose of their own accord.
Howard Wales with special guest Jerry Garcia/Mahavishnu Orchestra
January 21, 1972 Academy Of Music, New York, NY
January 23, 1972 Field House, Villanova U., Merion, PA
January 26, 1972 Symphony Hall, Boston, MA
January 27, 1972 Symphony Hall, Boston, MA--WBCN-fm broadcast both bands
January 28, 1972 Palace Theater, Providence, RI
January 29, 1972 [unknown venue], SUNY, Buffalo, NY
Garcia/Saunders, Early '72
The Feb 6' 72 show was the first Garcia/Saunders music that I heard, and given the wide circulation of the tape, it seems to have been one of the first Garcia/Saunders tapes that most people heard. For many fans, probably most of us, for a very long time the Feb 6 '72 tape was also the earliest Garcia/Saunders tape. Thus, although the performance is a little simplified, it seems to set out the template for what was to come for Jerry Garcia in both Garcia/Saunders and the Jerry Garcia Band in the next 23 years: some Dylan, some R&B, all jammed out within their song structures. Indeed, in many way, the tape does set the table. But it may very well have been something new for Garcia.

Garcia and Saunders had played exclusively at the Matrix from their first appearance together on September 7. 1970, through the demise of the Matrix in May of '71. After that, their home base shifted to the Keystone Korner, and the played a few other local places, like The Lion's Share in San Anselmo. However, the earliest confirmed tape we have of them is May 20, 1971, and the quartet--Garcia, Saunders, Kahn and Vitt--play nothing but jammed out instrumentals. It seems that Garcia did not begin singing with the group until Tom Fogerty joined the group in June 1971. Garcia may not have felt comfortable singing without a rhythm guitarist. In any case, although Fogerty was a regular member of the group through the end of 1972, he did not make every gig. Garcia was a quick learner, too, so by February he already felt comfortable singing with another guitarist. I have engaged in an extensive dialogue about this elsewhere, so I won't repeat it, but suffice to say that the musical approach of the February 1972 Garcia/Saunders group appears to have been a recent development in Garcia's history.

The Show
I do not believe the February 6 show was part of a "Live Weekend." In later years, the "Live Weekend" had a Spring and Fall edition (I know there was one in April 1973), but I don't think there was one in early '72. However, KSAN was already regularly playing the material from the first live weekend, particularly Van Morrison's "Just Like A Woman," so they would have been eager to give Garcia a forum to play, and would have liked the idea that they would be able to re-broadcast unreleased material.
  1. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
  2. Expressway (To Your Heart)
  3. That's The Touch I Like
  4. Save Mother Earth
  5. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  6. I Was Made To Love Her
  7. Lonely Avenue
  8. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
I assume the show was late Sunday afternoon or early in the evening. KSAN did not like to relegate special events to late Sunday night, so Garcia/Saunders probably played at 7:00pm or so (if anyone recalls, please mention it in the comments). The set was a good spectrum of '72 Garcia/Saunders: two Dylan covers, 2 Motown hits, 2 R&B standards, an obscure contemporary cover (Jesse Winchester's "That's A Touch I Like") and a Merl Saunders original ("Save Mother Earth").

It's difficult to say if the Garcia/Saunders live broadcast had its intended result, since I think the participants were pretty casual in their intentions. I think KSAN's Tom Donahue invited them to play, Garcia and Saunders agreed, a convenient date was chosen, and the deed was done. Nonetheless, in retrospect the effect of the show was persistent.

For one thing, KSAN re-broadcast the Feb 6 '72 show with great regularity. Once "Live Weekend" became a regular event every Spring and Fall, KSAN's standard format was to have a band every other hour live in the studio. In the in-between hour, while the bands changed over their equipment, KSAN typically broadcast a live tape from a prior KSAN event. Thus the very first Garcia/Saunders live broadcast was replayed over and over. The rebroadcasts must have been partially responsible for the tendency of the show to circulate under various dates--the show was broadcast many times, and so a tape label that said, for example, "Garcia-Saunders September 1972" wasn't necessarily incorrect, even if that wasn't the original performance date. The tape spread far and wide, and for old-timers it was very likely the first live Garcia/Saunders that they had heard, or at least the first tape (Howard Weiner devotes a whole chapter to the tape in his book Positively Garcia).

Also, for at least the next 18 months, KSAN would play songs from the Feb 6 '72 broadcast as a regular part of their shows. This was a KSAN thing, playing music that wasn't available to other stations. They did this with Van Morrison's "Just Like A Woman" (from Sep 5 '71 at Pacific High)., The song I recall being played was "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry." Of course this was the first song on the tape, but I suspect it had been converted into an easy-to-play 8-track copy for djs (a "cart" in old-time radio talk).

If you were a rock music fan in the Bay Area, it was hard not to notice that Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders were regularly playing around the Bay Area. But it was a mystery as to what they sounded like. However, with not only the regular rebroadcast on KSAN of the entire show, but the periodic playing of "It Takes A Lot To Laugh" or other songs over the air, even suburban teenagers like me had an idea of what Garcia/Saunders sounded like. I think this effect was a clue to Garcia that Old And In The Way could be promoted in the same way.

As I have discussed elsewhere, just like an old-time bluegrass bands, Old And In The Way used a series of radio broadcasts to promote their music around the Bay Area. The first official Old And In The Way appearance was on a KSAN broadcast from the Record Plant in Sausalito on March 2, 1973. Several weeks later, on April 21, 1973, Old And In The Way played the Spring '73 "Live Weekend." I'm sure that the Pacific High tape was broadcast in April as well. On July 8 '73, Garcia/Saunders broadcast on KSAN again, once more from the Record Plant. Clearly, by this time Garcia had figured out that KSAN live broadcasts had their own currency as publicity. Saunders had his Fire Up album, the pair were playing the Keystone regularly, and they were about to record a live album, so the broadcast helped all those ends.

Merl Saunders' album Fire Up was released on Fantasy Records in early 1973, and it featured the track "Lonely Avenue," recorded at the PHR KSAN broadcast on February 6, 1972.
Fire Up Album
I do not know how much national promotion there was for Merl Saunders' mid-72 album Heavy Turbulence. I suspect there was not very much. However, Merl's early '73 album Fire Up was a different story. I recall specifically that Fantasy Records took out a full page ad in Rolling Stone, with an inset picture of Jerry, showing Merl and an Austin Healey at the Golden Gate Bridge, and the tag line was "Not Everyone Can Be In San Francisco" (my cousin, who had just moved to the Bay Area, cut out the ad and mailed it to his best friend in Piscataway, NJ).

Information was far less fungible in days of yore, but an ad in Rolling Stone was like a top-rated video on YouTube.  Since Fire Up included a cut from the Feb 6 tape, Jerry's take on "Lonely Avenue," it was a brief taste for the rest of the country about what might be going on at the Keystone Berkeley. We take vast amounts of music for granted now, but "Lonely Avenue" was the only whiff of the Keystone Berkeley that many Deadheads had until the release of Live At Keystone in January 1974.

Of course, the most long range affect of the Feb 6 '72 tape was the one that could have been least anticipated. Since the Pacific High tape was re-broadcast many times, well into the late 70s, it circulated widely, even if the date was sometimes wrong. As we all know, the circulation of tapes is what cemented Garcia's music to the psyche of his fans, and as one of the very few circulating FM broadcasts of solo Garcia, the tape spread far and wide.

This does beg the question of what became of the original tape, not least because it would make a great single cd release for the Garcia Live series. Since it was an original KSAN broadcast, at least theoretically it should have been in the KSAN Archives, which would have meant that it was briefly in the "Bay Area Music Archives" (too long a story to recount here) and thence to the Bill Graham Archives. If that was the case, then it should have ended up in Wolfgangs Vault. However, there is no sign of it there. This means that either the original tape was burned up in the 1985 BGP warehouse fire, which would be sad, or, perhaps, that a tape of Jerry Garcia recorded by their house sound crew in Alembic made its way into their own hands, leaving KSAN with just a copy. Here's to hoping the latter was the case. Maybe once more we can all Fire Up and hear it again, not a copy but the real thing, just as it was on a Sunday night in San Francisco long ago.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

July 2, 1971: Fillmore West, San Francisco Grateful Dead KSAN-fm Broadcast (FM IV)

The entertainments listings from the Hayward Daily Review of July 1, 1971. showing the bookings for the closing of Fillmore West along with the other coming attractions
The Grateful Dead have been influential to the music industry in ways that are not always self-evident. One way in which the Dead have had a huge influence on the music industry was their enthusiasm for live FM broadcasts of their concerts. In the early 1970s, the Dead's willingness to broadcast their performances for free over the airwaves was in complete opposition to music business orthodoxy. Very rapidly, however, as the Dead started to sell records without benefit of a hit, the industry started to take notice. Live FM broadcasts became a staple of rock radio by the mid-70s, and they laid the groundwork for the explosion of music available on the internet, however distant that future might have been.

In the first installment of this series, I described the very earliest live FM broadcasts of rock shows. The first show broadcast, to my knowledge, was the HALO Benefit at Winterland on May 30, 1967. I remain alone in asserting that the Dead did not play that show, even though they were billed, but the show was unquestionably broadcast, as KMPX-fm's Tom Donahue can be heard as the host on a circulating Quicksilver tape. In any case, the Grateful Dead and Country Joe and The Fish broadcast live from the Carousel Ballroom on February 14, 1968, and the resulting copies were foundational for Grateful Dead tape collectors over the years. There were a few other early experiments, including a live broadcast on Berkeley's KPFA-fm from the Avalon Ballroom on April 6, 1969, and a set from San Diego on KPRI-fm (106.5) on May 11, 1969.

For my second installment, I analyzed how many of the Grateful Dead tapes from the 1960s that circulated in the 1970s and 80s were broadcast on San Francisco's KSAN-fm in the 1970s, although they were not in fact actually broadcast during the 60s. In my third post, I looked at all the live broadcasts by the Grateful Dead and various individual members from 1970.  None of the circumstances of any of the 1970 broadcasts were ever duplicated, but it made a good case study on how the Grateful Dead determined the best way to promote their music for their own benefit. For this post, I will look at the live broadcast of the Grateful Dead's concert at the closing of the Fillmore West on July 2, 1971.

The Fillmore West broadcast was the basic blueprint for just about all the Grateful Dead concerts that were broadcast throughout the 1970s. KSAN-fm was the best rated music station in what at the time was the hippest music city in the United States. When a band played live on the air for nearly three hours, with no commercials (except during the setbreak), it was an unprecedented event. By 1971, enough people had tape recorders hooked up to FM receivers that great sounding tapes could circulate. Thus the July 2 '71 Fillmore West Grateful Dead show was the first concert in wide underground circulation, even if that circulation was mostly by bootleg albums rather than tapes.

The front cover of a bootleg double-lp made from the FM broadcast of the Grateful Dead's performance at the Fillmore West on July 2, 1971. Upper right it says "entire 1 3/4 hour show". I purchased the album in a used record store for $4.00 or so in about 1974 (photo courtesy u.t.)

The Closing Of The Fillmore West, June 29-July 4, 1971
Bill Graham and Chet Helms had made the Trips Festival into regular musical performances at the original Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom, respectively. But it was Graham who made the weekly Fillmore rock concerts into a commercially viable proposition. His empire expanded to the Fillmore East in Manhattan and then to the Fillmore West in San Francisco. The Fillmores were the first venues that stood on their own as a mark of taste and style in the 60s rock universe. If a band had played any of the Fillmores, they had status in Albuquerque or Altoona.

However, though Bill Graham had been critical in defining how to run a proper rock concert, the very success of the young industry made the Fillmores too small to complete. Graham had moved out of the original Fillmore (official capacity 1500) to the larger Fillmore West (official capacity 2500) in July 1968, but by 1971the rock market had outgrown the Fillmore West as well. The last night at the Fillmore East was June 27, 1971, and last call at the Fillmore West was a week later. At the time, Rolling Stone and other observers considered this "the end of the 60s," and so on. This was probably true, as a matter of fact, although Graham and many of the Fillmore headliners went on to become even more successful in the 70s. At the time, however, the classic San Francisco bands were in flux, and it did seem like things would never be the same again. The final week's bill at the Fillmore West was:
June 29, 1971: Sawbuck/Malo/Kwane and The Kwanditos 
June 30, 1971: Boz Scaggs/Cold Blood/Stoneground/Flamin' Groovies
July 1, 1971: It's A Beautiful Day/Elvin Bishop Group/Lamb
July 2, 1971: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Rowan Brothers
July 3, 1971: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Hot Tuna
July 4, 1971: Santana/Creedence Clearwater Revival/Tower Of Power plus closing jam
Of the groups that could legitimately be called 'original' Fillmore performers, only the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver were really the same continuous group. Many of the bands featured players that had played the Fillmore in the day (such as Boz Scaggs with the Steve Miller Band), and the Santana Blues Band had opened for some shows as far back as 1967.  By 1971, Santana and Creedence had become the biggest rock bands to come out of San Francisco, but it was left to the Dead and Quicksilver to show the flag from days of yore.

The Grateful Dead, Summer 1971
In the middle of 1971, the Grateful Dead were in a very different position than they had ever been before. For the first few years of their existence, the Dead were underground legends, with all the baggage that entailed: three inconsistent albums, lots of peculiar gigs, some of them rumored to be great, along with a devoted clutch of diehard fans. In November, 1969, Live/Dead suggested to discerning listeners that those legends might be true. More shockingly, the arrival of Workingman's Dead in June, 1970 revealed a completely different band, accessible and reflective, yet without quite removing the stoned overtone. Soon after, American Beauty was released in November, 1970, and the Dead were no longer underground. Workingman's and American Beauty were played regularly on FM radio across the country, and rock fans all over America started getting curious about the Dead's legendary performances.

Of the classic Fillmore bands, only the Dead were on an upward trajectory in Summer '71. Jefferson Airplane kept losing members, and hadn't put out an album in a while. Quicksilver had lost their archetypal guitarist John Cipollina, and while new lead singer Dino Valenti helped them sell records, older fans of Quicksilver weren't happy with the new sound. Country Joe and The Fish had broken up, and while Big Brother And The Holding Company had four of their original members, with Janis Joplin not on board they were no longer Fillmore West material. Yet the Dead were bigger than they had ever been back in the day, and their previous two albums had been their most coherent and popular. By modern standards, however, the rock concert industry was still small. The Dead's magic was in live performance, and there was no way for them to play for enough people. The Dead, like every other 60s group, had tried the rock festival circuit, but by '71 bands, communities and promoters were fairly fed up with outdoor festivals in a muddy field.

The answer turned out to be live FM broadcasts of Grateful Dead concerts. The Dead, along with a few other groups, had experimented with different ways to broadcast their shows. Included amongst these ideas were studio tv performances, quadrophonic fm and a variety of other configurations which we would not now recognize as typical. However, once uninterrupted Grateful Dead concerts were broadcast in every city that the Dead played, the Dead landscape changed dramatically. The rock audience was young and suburban, and new FM rock stations ruled the market. When the Dead were on the radio for hours at a time, all the hipsters had to listen. Enough of them liked what they heard, particularly some who were too young, too broke to too carless to get to wherever the Dead were playing. It didn't matter--the FM radio was a bus stop just the same, and people in every city got on.

The first broadcast that we would recognize as a "typical" Grateful Dead broadcast was the July 2, 1971 Fillmore West show. Soon afterwards, in the Fall, to support their new live album, the Dead would get Warner Brothers Records to agree to spend $100,000 in promotional money--a lot of money for those days--to broadcast 14 shows throughout the country [McNally p.410]. No rock band had ever done anything like this. Of course, no rock band would ever do anything like this again, either, except for the Dead themselves in 1976. Still, after the success of the Grateful Dead (aka Skull And Roses) album, behind the FM broadcasts, the industry took notice. Live FM broadcasts became a staple of rock marketing from 1973 onward, and it was no coincidence. Even thought the Fillmore West was closing, even in its waning moments it was still a place that influenced the rock music business.

The label from one of the bootleg lps. The album was on the Record Revolution label (not that any such label really existed)
The Broadcast
The Grateful Dead's Fillmore West performance on Friday, July 2, 1971 was broadcast on KSAN-fm, then San Francisco's leading rock station. KSAN was one of the top-rated stations in the Bay Area, against all other types of programming, not just other music stations. KSAN had grown out of the groundbreaking KMPX, and it prided itself on being innovative. KSAN had already broadcast the Dead a few times, so they were the obvious choice as the broadcaster for the Fillmore West show. With both the Rowan Brothers and the New Riders Of Purple Sage opening the show, the Dead probably came on stage at about 10:00 or 10:30, and probably played until a little before 2:00am.

It is important to emphasize that KSAN would not have been broadcasting the Grateful Dead on a Friday night just for charity. Warner Brothers Records would had to have compensated the station for the lost advertising time. There would be no ads during the performance, although there may have been ads during the set break, and KSAN would not go without ad revenue for four hours. In any case, Warners probably would not have paid cash directly to KSAN (although they might have). More likely, Warners probably committed to a certain number of ads on KSAN in the next month, or some other similar arrangement.

I have also seen indications that the Fillmore West show was broadcast on KMET in Los Angeles. I do not know if this was a full or partial broadcast, or live or tape-delayed. However, KSAN and KMET were owned by the same corporation, Metromedia--who also owned WNEW in New York--so the collaboration seems very plausible.

To tape aficionados, the performances from the closing of the Fillmore West are well-known and circulate widely. It is generally asserted that all the shows from the last week were broadcast on either KSAN or KSFX-fm (which may have been a less-hip corporate sister to KSAN). After many years of research and speculation, I for one, do not believe that the closing week of Fillmore West was broadcast. Yes, the Dead were broadcast; yes, the closing jam from the final night (in the wee hours of July 5) was broadcast; and I think Hot Tuna was broadcast, although I'm not certain of that.

As to the tapes of the rest of the week, all of which circulate (many as a sort of collection curated by the gaily-named "Hell's Honkies"), they are generally marked as "pre-FM." I'm not aware of actual FM broadcasts of any of the other bands, the sort of tapes where djs cut in and with other anomalies. Even if one or two of the other bands were broadcast, and I'm not aware of it, I'm still convinced that the bulk of the shows were not broadcast. I would be very interested in hearing from Bay Area rock fans of the era (you know who you are) who may recall how much was actually broadcast.

My reasoning for believing that most of the shows were not broadcast is worthy of a lengthy blog post on a different blog, so I will just point out some highlights:
  • Bill Graham and CBS Records were recording the shows for the planned Closing Of The Fillmore West album and movie, so the existence of the tapes is not surprising
  • Broadcasting a complete live performance was a radical thing for a band to do, and not something that would generally be approved by record companies. Even if bands were inclined to do it, their record companies would have to pay for it, which was another layer of difficulty. Bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy) and It's A Beautiful Day (CBS) had no history of management approving untried, costly new approaches to promotion.
  • Although many of the bands who played the closing week of Fillmore West are well-known to us today, lots of them were quite obscure at the time. Boz Scaggs and The New Riders for example, were not big acts--the Riders didn't even have an album.
  • As for July 2 itself, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage and the Rowan Brothers were both Columbia (CBS) acts who had not yet released their first album. CBS was not going to pay KSAN to broadcast groups who did not yet have albums they could sell.
My thinking is that the fact that the Dead show and the closing jam (and perhaps one or two others) were broadcast was so unprecedented that the story morphed over the years into "all of them" being broadcast. I would be very interested to know exactly which sets made it out over the air.

[update] Correspondent Rion weighs in with some memories
having lived to tell the tale, I can affirm that the whole week was broadcast, except 6/29, which I never thought of as part of the closing celebration.  Proof:  in the Fillmore movie, Graham is arguing with Santana’s manager and says that all the groups for the entire week agreed to let their music be broadcast except Santana.   The bill for the last night was not revealed before hand.  Everybody I knew thought it was the Airplane, and were disappointed because Creedence was not that interesting.  I had tapes of everything, but didn’t keep them because most of the music wasn’t that interesting.  Santana’s show was not broadcast. 
As far as I can remember, all the shows were on KSAN.   I would bet that  they were all on KSFX too, because the Hot Tuna tape I made again had Paul Krassner as the announcer.   The big tease for the final night was the last act.   That wasn’t announced until showtime, I believe.   I’m sure I didn’t make it all the way through and have no info about the jam.
As you can see from the ad above, the final night's bill was listed as Santana and Tower Of Power, so there must have been plenty of intentionally placed rumors about a "surprise guest" on July 4. I do find it fascinating that the unrecorded opening acts were broadcast as well. 
The back cover of the bootleg lp. Since the album appears to have been made in 1971, the song titles are just guesses ("Had To Move," "My Uncle" and "No Chance Of Losing" for example) (photo courstesy u.t)

The Bootleg
Bay Area rock fans had had more opportunities to hear the Grateful Dead perform live on the radio than anyone else. What few FM broadcasts there had been were mostly in the Bay Area, whereas other parts of the country had mostly only heard the May 2 '70 Pacifica broadcast (from Harper College at Binghamton, NY), if they were lucky. For the then-small-but-daily-growing coterie of Deadheads, it wasn't enough. Bay Area Deadheads at least could see the band with great regularity. However, in the Dead's other stronghold, New York City, other means were needed to disseminate live Grateful Dead music. 

The sprawling, interconnected web that links the Grateful Dead taping community is now world-renowned. It is little recalled, however, that in the early 70s the principal way that interested Dead fans heard alternative Grateful Dead music was through bootleg lps. These lps, with minimal graphics, or just white covers, and incorrect song titles and little or no information about the recording, were quietly available in hip (non-chain) record stores. Unofficial recordings of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones had led the way, as documented in the Clinton Heylin book Bootleg. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, the truly committed amongst the Deadheads made their own live tapes and produced them as albums, often selling them outside of concerts.

The subject of bootleg Grateful Dead albums, and their intimate connection to the underground movement of tapes and other products from one coast to another is worthy of a book. Fortunately, one is being written. Fellow scholar Jesse Jarnow is working on Heads: A Biography Of Psychedelic America, and the bootleg lp will be resurrected and given its rightful due. It will be well worth the wait to see the rightful context. As for me, I can give a flavor of their importance by describing the bootleg lp of the Closing of The Fillmore West show that I purchased in late 1973 or so.

When I was in the 10th grade (1972-73), a friend with older siblings had loaned me the Bob Dylan Royal Albert Hall bootleg (actually Manchester, but of course we didn't know that). I was floored. The idea that there was a different, better, live version of Dylan's greatest music was staggering. Grateful Dead bootlegs started to appear in Palo Alto and Berkeley the next year (1973-74). By this time, I had the existing Grateful Dead albums and had memorized them. I purchased a double-lp of the Fillmore West show in the middle of the school year. The front and back cover (or most of it, anyway) and the label are reproduced above. I bought it as a "used" record, which I think was the dodge to get around the illegality. It was a revelation.

Now, I had gotten a couple of Dead bootlegs along with it, around the same time, and they were great. But I couldn't tell where they were from, nor anything else about them, so they were straight up mysteries. Within a few years I figured out that they were from Binghamton (May 2 '70) and Felt Forum, but I didn't know that at the time. But the Fillmore West lp seemed to be a complete concert, with a date and everything. I had even seen the Dead a couple of times, so I wasn't completely innocent. Yet here was an alternative version of Skull And Roses, complete with strange cover versions that I had never heard of.

It is a 21st century opinion to dismiss the Jul 2 '71 Fillmore West show as a weak show. From some points of view, that may be correct, although I think people are unnecessarily harsh. From my 11th grade point of view, however, it was beside the point. At the time, there were 9 Grateful Dead albums, and I perceived the band's music as having had a certain arc. Here was a 10th album, and my perception of the band's arc was completely wrong. I didn't yet know what it was, of course, but I had to throw out everything I had thought. Here was a different, Godchaux-less "China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider"; here were lengthy covers of "Good Lovin" and "Sing Me Back Home"; here they went back into "Not Fade Away" after "Going Down The Road."

It was all well and good for grizzled veterans of the Fillmores (all of about 26 years old at the time) to say, "c'mon, everybody knew that." I didn't know that, and I didn't know any grizzled heads, either. I was stuck in the suburbs, wishing I was in the mix. Bootleg Grateful Dead lps put me in that mix. I ended up with about 12 of them, and a couple of New Riders bootlegs as well, and I memorized them all. Of course, a few years later, I discovered cassettes and the tape-trading universe, and the bootleg lps didn't matter, but without them, the doors would have taken a lot longer to open.

The blue double lp that I had was regularly seen in Bay Area used record stores for the next several years--it was about as near to a "regional hit" as a bootleg could ever be considered. It's not surprising. A local show, broadcast locally, pressed somehow, and quietly distributed to sufficiently cool stores. That was, in fact, pretty common on the East Coast and less so in the Bay Area, but with respect to my listening it jump started me by about four years. I couldn't have been the only one.

After the distribution of the Rolling Stones bootleg lp Liver Than You'll Ever Be, record companies and bands were very worried about disintermediation. The Grateful Dead were no exception, and went to some lengths to stop bootleg lps from being sold. One of the reasons bands were so cautious about live broadcasts, and record companies so unwilling to support it, was the fear that once the shows were broadcast, the bootleg lps would cut into "real" record sales. The Dead, though no fans of bootlegs, were pretty much alone in thinking the rewards of live broadcasts outweighed the risks, and hewed their own path.

For major 70s rock bands, indeed for any 70s rock band, the Grateful Dead must have had more hours of concert broadcast by several magnitudes over other bands. After various experiments from1968 through 1970, the Dead had finally found the formula at Fillmore West, and that concert was the template for almost all the broadcasts that would follow. Whether or not you think July 2, 1971 was a good show--my feelings are obviously quite personal--it was a critical performance in Grateful Dead history.

The King Biscuit Flower Hour
The record industry surely noticed that after two successful studio albums, the Dead put out a comparatively indifferent double live album (Skull And Roses). It had no hits, they only included one older and sort of weird song, and there was a bunch of pretty strange cover versions, plus some new material. Yet the album was the first Grateful Dead record to go gold. The only thing different about the album was that Warners had spent $100,000 getting them broadcast live in 14 cities. Fear of bootlegging, as well as fear that some 70s bands couldn't really deliver on stage, kept any other bands from really joining in.

However, the rock industry noticed. One of the ways the industry took notice was with a syndicated radio show called The King Biscuit Flower Hour. The King Biscuit Flower Hour was started by some young rock veterans, including some Fillmore East managers, who recognized what was going on. King Biscuit was a weekly hour long syndicated radio show that featured live recordings of touring bands (in my day, it was on at 9:00pm on Sunday nights on KSAN). King Biscuit would record the bands professionally. Some larger bands had the entire show, but more typically there were two half-hour segments with different bands.

Since the show was syndicated, there were regular ads between songs, which made it a viable proposition. The bands (or their management) got to choose the songs, so any fears about what should or should not be circulated could be assuaged. Since only part of the concert was typically broadcast, any clunkers could be edited out as well. King Biscuit would let the artists mix the tape themselves, if they wanted. Record companies could time the broadcast, more or less, to get maximum effect for their promotional campaign.

The first King Biscuit Flower Hour was broadcast on February 18, 1973, with Blood, Sweat And Tears. For many years, King Biscuit shows were the only circulating FM soundboards for many touring bands. King Biscuit finally ground to a halt in 1993, but they were a critical part of rock music marketing in the 1970s. Although some tapes were lost in a fire, the remaining material is now part of Wolfgang's Vault. There's no question in my mind that the record companies saw what the Grateful Dead had done and looked at the Biscuit as a way to commodify the market channel (as they say). Without the Grateful Dead and Fillmore West, the King Biscuit experiment would not have happened the way it did.

Appendix:     Grateful Dead, Fillmore West, July 2, 1971

One Bertha [5:47] ;
Me And Bobby McGee [5:38] ;
Next Time You See Me [3:50] ;
China Cat Sunflower [4:50] >
I Know You Rider [5:47] ;
Playing In The Band [4:54] ;
Loser [6:33] ;
The Rub [3:34] ;
Me And My Uncle [3:10] ;
Big Railroad Blues [3:35] ;
Hard To Handle [7:19] ;
Deal [6:13] ;
The Promised Land [2:46] ;
Good Lovin' [17:16]
Two Sugar Magnolia [6:41] ;
Sing Me Back Home [9:48] ;
Mama Tried [2:47] ;
Cryptical Envelopment [2:02] >
Drums [5:16] >
The Other One [15:40] ;
Big Boss Man [5:18] ;
Casey Jones [5:36] ;
Not Fade Away [3:49] >
Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad [7:22] >
Jam [1:09] >
Not Fade Away [3:35]
Encore Johnny B. Goode [3:43]

Johnny B. Goode [3:43]

Thursday, August 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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