Thursday, January 7, 2016

Donna Jean Thatcher Godchaux, Vocals (February 15, 1973)

In American Studios, Memphis, TN, ca. February 1969, recording From Elvis In Memphis: Mary Holliday, Jeanie Greene, Elvis Presley, Donna Jean Thatcher, Ginger Holliday
The former Donna Jean Thatcher, known to most Grateful Dead fans by her married name of Donna Jean Godchaux, holds many "first and only" distinctions as a Grateful Dead member. She was the first and only woman member, the first and only one who did not play an instrument on stage, the first and only member who joined the band after her spouse was already in, the first to skip shows for maternity leave, and so on. We live in a gendered world, and Deadheads are no different. Journalists, historians and bloggers interrogate the details of all the males--when did Phil Lesh stop playing trumpet? what kind of guitar strings did Bob Weir use? what are the names of each of Mickey Hart's numerous drums?--but never ask these kinds of questions about or of Ms. Donna Jean. Instead: what were her feelings? How did she feel about Jerry, about her husband, was it hard or was it easy? Those kinds of questions got asked a lot.

Yet where did Donna learn to sing? Did she take lessons? When did she start singing? Did she ever play an instrument, even at home?  When she sang on stage with the Grateful Dead, had she ever sung on stage with anyone else? When, and with who? Who asked her to join the Grateful Dead? For that matter, who asked her if she could sing? Donna, apparently a kind and self-effacing person, has never complained about how she may have been slighted, but that still leaves a blank canvas where there should be a tapestry.This post will look at the musical history of Donna Jean Thatcher Godchaux, as if she were--y'know--a musician.

This Is All A Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of The Grateful Dead, by Blair Jackson and David Gans (Flatiron Books 2015) is essential reading for any Deadhead
All A Dream
Most knowledgeable Deadheads know that Donna Jean did sessions as a background vocalist in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in the late 60s. They know that she sang on Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman" in 1966, and Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" in 1969, because she has mentioned them. They mostly know that she sang on the first Boz Scaggs album, in 1970, because there is a picture of her on the inside cover. Some patient readers of the great Deaddisc site know a few other records where Donna is listed as a backing vocalist, some of them quite obscure. But she must have sung on hundreds of sessions, and thus be recorded on dozens of tracks, and no one dwells on that. How did all this happen?

Fortunately we have some new information, albeit not enough. All serious Deadheads should get the new book This Is All A Dream We Dreamed One Afternoon: An Oral History Of The Grateful Dead, by David Gans and Blair Jackson (Flatiron Books 2015). One of the many virtues of the book is a chance to hear from some voices who have not said much in detail so far about the Grateful Dead. Donna Godchaux says far more about her background than has ever been quoted before, mainly because no one seems to have ever really asked her previously. Donna:
I grew up in a situation where a new sound was originating. In the early sixties, the whole Muscle Shoals [Alabama] sound was just beginning to get big. My first recording session was with Ray Stevens, right after "Ahab The Arab." Felton Jarvis was producing, and one day one of the background singers couldn't make the session. I was fifteen, a cheerleader at Sheffield High, and the whole bit. I remember I'd had cheerleader practice, so I ran down to the studio in my little uniform. That was the beginning [p179]
Sheffield, AL, was the town right next to Muscle Shoals. Donna was born in Florence, AL, just across the Tennessee River from Muscle Shoals, and all the locals in the area probably went to Sheffield High. "Ahab The Arab" (don't even ask about Ray Stevens--a different blog should address this) was a hit in 1962, so young Donna Jean was recalling the 1962-63 school year. At 15 (born August 22, 1947), she was probably a sophomore in High School (incidentally, has anyone ever seen a picture of Donna as a cheerleader, perhaps in the Sheffield High yearbook?). But even as a sub, who gets invited to a professional recording session at 15, even as a last second fill-in?

Update: Bring It On (thanks to Correspondent Gary, with an assist from Lone Star Dead)
Donna Thatcher, a Senior in the Class of '65, head of the Sheffield High (AL) Cheerleader Squad, posting a V for Victory. Decades later, aging R&B stars recalled to her how much they liked coming to record in Muscle Shoals, where a white girl in a cheerleader outfit was one of the background vocalists.

Donna must have learned to sing somewhere. My assumption is that she learned to sing in church, but I don't actually know that for a fact. Did she receive some formal training? Was it part of the church choir program? Did she have private lessons? Did she play piano? Many singers take piano lessons, if only for the basic music training. Was Donna simply plucked from the pews because someone heard her singing? Did she have to audition for the choir? I would note that Phil Lesh has been quizzed at length about his violin lessons, his experiences in the College Of San Mateo jazz band as a trumpet player and his formal composition training at Berkeley and Mills, and they inform us a lot about how Lesh's musical background enriched his bass playing. Yet no one has ever asked Donna any of these things, or at least quoted her answers. Of course, she is musically talented, but it trivializes Donna's singing to not even ask how she became so successful at a young age.

It's also unstated how someone knew to call the teenage Donna when a different singer couldn't make it. That's why I am assuming that she sang in the church choir along with other background singers, and they knew that she had the goods. No doubt Donna had expressed interest to her friends, who must have been older. Still, all this is supposition on my part. However, we do know something about the surprising explosion of rhythm and blues recordings in sleepy Muscle Shoals, and that will add some depth to the picture.

FAME (Florence Alabama Musical Enterprises) Studios, at 603 East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, AL. It was here where Donna Thatcher sang backup  on Percy Sledge's hit "When A Man Loves A Woman" in 1966
FAME Studios, Muscle Shoals, AL
Muscle Shoals is in Northwest Alabama, right on the Tennessee River. It is midway between Memphis and Birmingham, roughly 200 miles from either. In general, it is a sleepy agricultural area. Although it is a most unlikely place for a sixties music explosion, there had been a blues musical tradition in the area. W.C. Handy, who was perhaps the first write down the blues, and famed producer Sam Phillips (who recorded Elvis Presley at Sun Records), were both from The Shoals. Nonetheless, when producer Rick Hall and few partners began recording acts in Florence, AL, in the late 50s, it was an effort unlikely to lead to great success.

The story of Rick Hall and FAME studios is one of the most amazing stories of sixties music. Hall, who was white, recorded some of the greatest sixties R&B hits in a sleepy little town, backed by mostly white studio musicians, and white backup singers as well. Some of the greatest soul hits of the sixties came from FAME. Ultimately, Hall's primary rhythm section--guitarist Jimmy Johnson, keyboard player Barry Beckett, bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins--broke with the producer in 1969 and opened another studio down the road. Yet throughout the 70s, FAME recorded more hits than ever, while the Muscle Shoals rhythm section became legends in their own right, producing and recording numerous hit albums, including a large number of albums for English bands who admired the Muscle Shoals sound of the sixties.

The story of Muscle Shoals is too much for any blog, but fortunately there is a terrific movie that tells the story. All of the living principals are interviewed--including Donna Jean Godchaux--and with all the music in the background, it gives you a picture of how critical the Muscle Shoals scene was to sixties and seventies British and American rock and soul. Thus Donna's participation in the Muscle Shoals scene was not just the interesting backstory to a member of the Grateful Dead, but links them directly to an essential current of American music.

Donna Jean Archaeology
Rick Hall began FAME studios in a tiny building in Florence, AL, just across the river from Muscle Shoals, and in fact Donna Jean Thatcher's birthplace. By 1962, Hall had moved FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) to a converted tobacco warehouse on Wilson Dam Road in Sheffield. It was probably there that Donna sang on her first session. However, in 1962 Hall had had a pretty good hit with Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" (later covered by the Rolling Stones), and he was able to build a new studio. The new studio, at 603 East Avalon in Muscle Shoals, right next to Sheffield, was the legendary building where all the hits were recorded.

Although Donna seems to have been a nice, churchgoing cheerleader, she was nonetheless an R&B girl through and through:
[I was into] rhythm and blues, people like Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Sam Cooke, Joe Tex. Amazingly, I ended up recording backgrounds with all those people, except for Otis, because Muscle Shoals was such popular place to record R&B. It had really started with Percy Sledge, who was an intern at a local hospital. He had a little band on the side, and my best friend, who sang with me in a vocal group called Southern Comfort, had a husband who produced Percy's big hit, "When A Man Loves A Woman." Us girls were the background singers for his first records. I still remember the day it hit number one on the charts.
After Percy's record, we were on other black records. The black artists who would hear us didn't know we weren't black. Most of them, when they got down to the studio, would see four white girls aged 18 to 23, and they'd flat out lose it. There were a few who refused to use us when they found out we were white, but most were excited [that] there [were] white girls who sang like them. [p.180]
Although Donna seems to have started singing on records in 1963 or so, she would have graduated from Sheffield High School in about 1965. I assume she became more of a full-time singer around that time. Of course, no one has ever asked her. Did she still live with her parents? Did she have a "regular" job? Was singing at FAME the equivalent of a full-time job? In any case, "When A Man Loves A Woman" was recorded in early 1966 at FAME. It was actually re-recorded shortly afterwards at a nearby studio (Norala, owned by producer Quin Ivy), because the horns were out of tune. Hall offered the single to Atlantic Records, who inadvertently released the earlier, out-of-tune version. It was released in April, 1966 and rapidly shot to #1. So Donna Jean Thatcher was on a #1 single on May 28, 1966, the day before the Dead went into Buena Vista Studios in the Haight to record their very first record ("Don't Ease Me In'/"Stealin'", released on Scorpio Records a few months later). Donna would have been 18 at the time.

Jeanie Greene (born Mary Johnson) released her solo album on Elektra in 1971
Lost Donna
Yet there seems to be more to the story of Donna and Muscle Shoals then just her background work on numerous soul hits. When FAME first started, in 1959, like most such studios it recorded quick demos of any aspiring musician, in the hopes of finding a hit or a star amongst the humdrum. By 1964, FAME was recording nonstop, and they had a core of regular musicians who played on many of the tracks. One of those musicians, pianist Quin Ivy, wanted to expand his role. He owned a record store on 2nd street in Sheffield, and he got the idea to open a studio to record demos and other smaller fare, since FAME could no longer handle that kind of traffic.

Rick Hall was supportive, so Ivy opened Norala Studios (for North Alabama) on 2nd street, across from his record store. The one-room studio acted like a satellite of FAME, since it was nearby, and Quin Ivy was part of the FAME team. One line of business for such a studio was allowing aspiring performers to cut a demo, in the hopes of starting a career. Norala opened in 1965. Ivy's first customer? Donna Thatcher, then probably still 17 years old. So Donna Jean got in a studio before even the Warlocks. Has this demo survived? Is there a copy of it? What did she sing, and who backed her (many of the Norala crowd were 60s studio legends in their own right)? No one has ever asked Donna, apparently, nor anyone else. If Donna cut a demo, she must have at least considered the idea of having a solo recording career of some kind.

Looking into Quin Ivy and Norala gives some perspective on how Donna got hooked into the studio scene in Muscle Shoals. One of Quin Ivy's partners at Norala was producer Marlin Greene, who according to Ivy “could do anything – play guitar, engineer, arrange strings” and added “he even drew the logo for the business and later designed my second studio.” Greene's new wife was Jeanie Greene (born Mary Johnson), who had been a singer for some time. Jeanie Greene was good friends with Donna, and she was Donna's main connection to studio work. Of course, it is unclear how Jeanie and Donna became friends, since Jeanie was several years older and married, which is one of the reasons I think they may have met in the church choir.

Boz Scaggs 1970 debut lp, recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1969. Duane Allman played on the album, and there was a Jim Marshall photo of Donna Thatcher on the inside sleeve
Donna At Work
After the success with Percy Sledge in 1966, Atlantic started moving a lot of their recording down to Muscle Shoals. Atlantic had been using the Stax-Volt Studios in Memphis, with the legendary Booker T and The MGs, but there had been a dispute, and Atlantic rapidly switched over to recording mainly at Muscle Shoals. Among their first big successes were with Wilson Pickett and newly-signed Aretha Franklin (who had been mishandled on Columbia). Thus numerous Atlantic artists, large and small, started recording at FAME. That, in turn, made FAME a desirable destination for other rhythm and blues recording artists, and the sessions probably happened every day.

Very few 60s pop and soul records included detailed credits of the backing musicians, so we only know fragments of what records Donna might have sung on. Musician credits was basically a jazz thing, adopted by Atlantic Records for some R&B albums to make them seem "serious" like jazz, which in turn was adopted by hippie rock musicians in California and New York. However, it's important to remember that background singers usually did overdubs, rather than singing live with the rhythm section. Thus Donna would have known all the producers, and been in the studios with many singers, but rarely actually recorded with the guitarists and drummers and so forth that gave Muscle Shoals its legendary status. To add to the mystery, background vocalists regularly did many takes in multiple sessions, and which singers' tracks were used on which final recordings may be lost in a mist of pre-digital erasures and splices, so neither Donna nor her producers may always know which records her voice actually ended up on.

Nonetheless, Muscle Shoals and Sheffield were small towns, and Donna probably knew most of the people around her age--since she had gone to high school with them or their siblings--much less any long-haired musicians who were in town. So even if Donna didn't actually clock sessions with the Muscle Shoals regulars, she surely knew them. One of the many threads of the Muscle Shoals story is that Duane Allman left his brother back in Los Angeles to settle the crummy record deal they had with The Hour Glass, and moved to Muscle Shoals in 1968 and lived in a tent. Duane became a regular at FAME, most famously persuading Wilson Pickett to record "Hey Jude."  Muscle Shoals was tiny, so Donna surely knew the long-haired Floridian who mostly lived in a tent. Thus, Donna knew Duane Allman before anyone else in the Grateful Dead, but did anyone ask her about him?

Jeanie Greene was the leader of Southern Comfort, and had her own recording career. The Alabama State Troupers were a kind of R&B Revue featuring Jeanie Greene and producer Don Nix. This live album was recorded in 1972.
Southern Comfort and Felton Jarvis
By the end of 1968, Donna was working somewhat formally with a group of singers called Southern Comfort. The group was organized by Jeanie Greene (married to producer Marlin Greene), and it included sisters Mary and Ginger Holliday along with Donna. At this time, session musicians were catching on the success of Booker T and The MGs, and giving themselves names: The Bar-Kays, the Memphis Horns and so on. Marlin Greene produced a single for Southern Comfort, on Cotillion ("Milk And Honey"/"Don't Take Your Sweet Love Away") in 1970, although Donna may have already left town or would leave shortly after. No album followed.

Jeanie Greene, being a bit older and married to a producer, was far more connected than teenage Donna would have been. In particular, Jeanie knew Felton Jarvis, a Nashville producer who was assigned by RCA to produce Elvis from 1966 onwards. RCA executive Chet Atkins had assigned Jarvis because he liked to record late at night, and all night long, just like Elvis. In a fascinating interview, Greene explains how she bumped into Felton Jarvis and offered her singing group as background vocalists for The King. By this time, FAME was an anchor for Atlantic's R&B recordings, so Greene's offer was well-timed. When Elvis decided to make a record at American Studios in Memphis in early 1969, Southern Comfort got the call as background vocalists.

Producer Felton Jarvis, drummer Ronnie Tutt, The King and a security man, on November 14,1970. Probably in Nashville, TN, a long way from the Keystone Berkeley.
Felton Jarvis produced sessions for Elvis Presley in Memphis in January and February 1969. These sessions were released on the album From Elvis In Memphis, released in June 1969. The big hit was the April release of "In The Ghetto," which went to #3 on Billboard (#1 on Cashbox). Additional tracks were part of the album Elvis In Person: From Memphis To Vegas (October 1969), and most famously, on the single "Suspicious Minds." "Suspicious Minds" went to #1 in November 1969. Donna Thatcher was on another #1 hit, while the Dead were still headlining at the Family Dog, and carried as a hip loss leader by Warner Brothers.

Jeanie Greene describes the Elvis sessions in detail in her YouTube interview. Southern Comfort waited in their hotel rooms while the tracks were recorded, and were finally brought in to do the backing vocals. Donna has described elsewhere how "Elvis stared right down her throat." The grumpy criticism in the 70s of how Donna was always out of tune--everyone seems to have given Bob and Phil a pass on their harmonies--was just a monitor issue, as Elvis could have used anyone. It may have been hard to hear on stage with the Grateful Dead, but that wasn't a Donna problem. Certainly her exceptional harmonies on stage with the Jerry Garcia Band made it clear that their wasn't a problem with Donna, just what she was hearing--Jerry and Elvis' choosing Donna is good enough for me.

Atlantic sent Cher to Muscle Shoals to record an album. The title was the address of the studio, and Cher posed on the cover with the Muscle Shoals studio crowd and other musicians. Donna Thatcher appeared on the record but was not in the photo.
Muscle Shoals Studios, 3614 Jackson Highway
The Muscle Shoals story took another turn when the primary rhythm section (Jimmy Johnson, Barry Beckett, David Hood and Roger Hawkins) opened their own studio just down the road at 3614 Jackson Highway. Ironically, this made Muscle Shoals even more popular. Soul and R&B acts tended to still record at FAME, and rock acts, particularly English bands, tended to go to the Muscle Shoals Studio on Jackson Highway. The Rolling Stones recorded "Brown Sugar" there, and English and American rock acts followed in droves.

Donna and Southern Comfort recorded at Jackson Highway too. Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine brought Boz Scaggs to Muscle Shoals to record his first (self-titled) solo album on Atco. It's well regarded for great songs like "I'll Be Long Gone" and the classic "Loan Me A Dime," with Duane Allman taking a scorching solo. Yet it was astonishing a decade later to have one of my friends pull the album off my shelf, open it up and say "look, there's Donna." Indeed, there she was. By 1969, hip rock solo albums listed all the musician credits, just like jazz albums. Boz Scaggs had not only credits but pictures, so besides Duane and the Muscle Shoals crew, there was Southern Comfort including Donna Thatcher. It was Donna--my first hint, in about 1981, that there was more to Donna's career than just being the piano player's wife, and the first time I found out her maiden name.

California Bound
San Franciscans, like New Yorkers, never question why anyone wants to move there, so they never ask "why did you come to San Francisco?" Blair and David seem to be the first ones to have asked Donna why she even came to San Francisco in the first place.
I remember always wanting to go to California. I just saw myself there, for years and years, even when I was a relatively little girl. It came to a point where even though I was doing music, I wanted a new adventure in my life. [p.180]
Many people left their hometown for San Francisco in the 60s and 70s, but most of them weren't making records with hit artists at the time. So the pull of California must have been very strong to Donna. But of course we know nothing else of her life in Sheffield, so there may have been other reasons that she prefers to leave out. In any case, by 1970, Donna was living in San Francisco (where?) and processing credit cards for Union Oil of California (Unocal).  Certainly, no member of The Warlocks would have gotten a job at any oil company.

The story of how Keith Godchaux ended up in the Grateful Dead has been told many times, usually by Donna herself. To summarize, Keith and Donna saw the Grateful Dead at Winterland on October 5, 1970, soon after they had met. Keith was determined to actually play with the Dead, and Donna was determined to make it happen. Some time in the summer of 1971, they saw Jerry Garcia at Keystone Korner and Donna approached Jerry. She told Jerry that her husband was the Dead's new piano player, and got Jerry's home and office phone number. After some missed connections, Jerry invited Keith and Donna to a Dead rehearsal. However, Jerry forgot that the rehearsal had been canceled, but Jerry jammed with Keith anyway. Jerry was so impressed that he called Bill Kreutzmann, and after Billy had jammed with him too, it was settled. Keith was in the Dead.

The story of Keith Godchaux's unexpected insertion into the Grateful Dead is usually seen as a combination of Donna's determination and Keith's talent. This too, however, is a fairly gendered response, though not in an obvious way. Donna's determination won the day, it is true, but no one ever considers the story from Jerry's point of view.

Jerry Garcia was a remarkable musician and artist in many ways, even by the standards of legends. Nonetheless it is easy to lose sight of the fact that he was an ambitious rock star, used to being the center of attention and having things his way. How many times do you think strangers came up to Jerry offstage and told him they wanted to play with the Dead, or use a new amplifier or play a benefit? This must have been practically a daily occurrence until Steve Parish began to protect Jerry in the mid-70s. Up until that time, it was pretty much up to Jerry to say no himself. Jerry could have called Steve Winwood, Mark Naftalin or a dozen other heavy keyboard players to join the Dead, yet he gave a strange woman his home and office number. Why?

To start with, look at the photo of Donna at the top of the post. She could have gotten the home and office number of any man at Keystone Korner that night, no problem. Jerry was a rock star, and was perfectly used to attractive women coming up to him at shows and asking how they could get in touch--of course he happily handed out his phone numbers. I don't think Jerry was that interested in Keith, truthfully. Donna, of course, had to know this. I also don't think Jerry "forgot" that the Dead rehearsal was canceled

What did Jerry really expect? That Donna would call him at home, and ask to come over? We know he wasn't bothered by other people's marriages. Jerry himself probably didn't know what to expect, and didn't recall. But it must have seemed intriguing--an intense, charming Southern cheerleader asks for his number because she says her husband can play, so Jerry says "OK". How many times had he said yes to equally peculiar requests from pretty women backstage? I think Jerry invited Keith and Donna to a "canceled" rehearsal because he expected to blow Keith away, and figured he would work out what Donna was up to afterwards, and didn't want band members around to complicate matters. The exact opposite of that happened. Still, Jerry and Bill's astonishment makes more sense if you realize that Jerry likely thought it was initially an upside-down come-on from some pretty Southern Belle.

Joining The Band
The story of Keith and Donna joining the Grateful Dead is equally gendered. Keith started rehearsing in September 1971, and debuted with the band on October 19, 1971. Yet Donna never set foot on stage until New Year's Eve, when she sang along on "One More Saturday Night," which at the time would have been thoroughly unknown to the crowd. Bob Weir introduced her, and everyone listening must have correctly figured that she was the piano player's wife. Donna does not appear to have sung at the next show at Winterland, just two days later (January 2, 1972), even though they did "One More Saturday Night" again.

Donna's first real efforts singing with the Grateful Dead came during the recording of Bob Weir's Ace at Wally Heider's, in January and February of 1972. Come March, with the Dead gearing up for Europe by playing six shows at the Academy Of Music in Manhattan, and Donna was on stage with regularity. It seems that she participated in most newly-rehearsed songs, while the vocal arrangements of older songs remained intact. For most Deadheads, however, those not lucky enough to have seen the band in California, New York or Europe, the first sign was seeing the back of the Ace album. Warners released Ace in June 1972, and listed on the credits it said: "Donna Godchaux-chick vocals." Thus by the time the Dead got to various cities in the balance of '72 and '73, most Deadheads would have figured out who she was. Certainly no one else on stage was doing any "chick vocals"

Donna has said that she was initially asked to sing with the Dead, but declined so that Keith would have his chance without distraction. There's every reason to believe this story. However, no one seems to have asked Donna how the band found out she could sing. Who asked if she could sing? What did they do when they found out that she had sung on some of the biggest hits of the 60s? When did she sing first with the band--and what song did she sing? The story is always about Keith, never Donna, who was just "a chick."

February 15 1973
Once Donna joined the Grateful Dead on stage, all of the members seemed to have good reasons for her presence. Phil Lesh was not really interested in being a harmony vocalist, and after Donna joined he pretty much stopped participating in new vocal arrangements. In fact, when the band "returned" in 1976, Phil stopped singing altogether, and all his old vocal parts were reconfigured for Donna. Bob Weir had an onstage vocal foil, and Donna's presence allowed Bob to approach some songs in a more R&B style, with a lot of call and response, while still leaving Jerry free to play. Songs like "Looks Like Rain" and "The Music Never Stopped" worked far better with Donna on board than if she had not been there.

As for Garcia, he seems to have been the most committed member of the Grateful Dead to Donna's vocals. Not only did her harmonies play a big part in all of his songs from 1973 onwards, but Keith and Donna joined the Jerry Garcia Band as well in 1976. Jerry and Donna's voices blended very nicely on stage with the JGB, not least because the sparser rhythm section left plenty of room for those voices to be heard.

In early 1973, the Grateful Dead undertook some serious rehearsal of new material, probably at the Stinson Beach Community Center. Numerous new songs appeared, and a few nearly-new songs got spiced up arrangements. On February 15, 1973, the Dead began their national tour (after one show at Stanford) at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, WI. Amongst all sorts of new material was a cover of Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man," with Donna Jean Godchaux singing lead vocals. This was Donna's first solo lead vocal with the Grateful Dead.

Since we know nothing of Donna's performing history, we don't know if this was her first public performance with a band. Had she ever played with a band? Had she ever sang lead? I have assumed she sang in church, but even if she had, singing in the congregation for your family and friends is a little different than singing for 10,000 hippies in Mad City. Was Donna solo debut with the Grateful Dead her solo debut as a singer?

In 2014, the Donna Jean Godchaux Band released the album Back Around
Gotta Travel On
Donna Jean Godchaux sang with the Grateful Dead from December 31, 1971 through February 17, 1979. There are many peaks throughout the Grateful Dead's performing history, but almost all Deadheads will agree that Donna was there for a lot of them. Whether or how much you think she contributed to those peaks is a matter of taste, of course, but the Grateful Dead were greater than the sum of their individual parts, so no matter what Donna was part of the mix. Eventually, however, the strain of actually having a family and staying in the band was just too much, and Keith and Donna left the band somewhat voluntarily in early 1979. Keith Godchaux resigned his seat on the Grateful Dead board on March 1, 1979, and the Godchauxs were set free back into the rest of the world.

Keith's departure revealed something significant about the Godchaux's relationship to the Grateful Dead proper. Keith and Donna Godchaux were both members of the Grateful Dead, but they only had one board seat--a 1/6 share of the band in 1979 (their percentage of Ice Nine was slightly less, but the principle was the same). While Donna got an extra seat on the plane, per diem on the road and probably the same modest weekly salary as most staff, she wasn't any more expensive than another crew member. The band didn't even need an extra limo or hotel room for her on the road. One reason that Keith and Donna remained in the band was that their replacement had to handle both the keyboards and the vocals, and take up only one board seat. That was one reason why the discovery of Brent Mydland was so critical, since he could take up both roles. The band could have found another keyboard player, maybe, but to replace the vocals they could never get someone as cheaply as a spouse.

Many people wonder why the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band kept Keith Godchaux on keyboards throughout 1978, when his playing was clearly in decline, along with his health and well-being. Of course, the relentless need to keep gigging was one factor. Another was the financial issue, in that a replacement had to cover both Keith and Donna's roles. Bob Weir, quoted in Gans and Jackson's book, was rather ungracious in 1980, when he described Brent's vocal contribution:
The singing has gotten a touch tighter, because Donna never did learn to inflect the way Jerry and I grew up inflecting together. Brent does it more naturally and it's just more naturally, and it's just more natural with him there. 
I never thought having a female vocal in the band--not just Donna, but any female--was exactly right for the band. I'm not being a male chauvinist or anything, it's just a matter of taste. For this band and for the kind of tunes we do, it didn't work well. It sounded askew to me. (p.295)
Weir was entitled to his opinion, but one of the key reasons that Keith Godchaux remained the band's pianist throughout 1978 was that Jerry Garcia valued Donna's vocal contributions. After adding Donna in 1976, Jerry and John Kahn added Maria Muldaur to the vocal mix for most 1978 JGB shows. The twinned female vocals became the template for the permanent lineup of the Jerry Garcia Band, which did not reach fruition until 1981. Garcia must have known he could have replaced Keith Godchaux easily enough for his bar band, with any number of California pros, but Donna was a far trickier replacement. Obviously, it couldn't be permanent.

Yet JGMF recently uncovered a 1982 radio interview with Garcia where he was asked about Donna, after Keith's death, and Garcia had some interesting comments. It was a radio call-in show, and Cary in Parkersburg, IN, asked "what is Donna Godchaux is up to?"Garcia responded, "she's recently married, recently had another child and has a band with her new husband, who’s a guitar player. We see Donna pretty frequently."

Donna's musical influence, ultimately, was on Garcia rather than directly on the Grateful Dead. Brent Mydland did an excellent job of handling the Dead's harmonies throughout the 80s, so the Dead were covered there. Yet Garcia took Donna's roots in gospel and R&b music and had a succession of background singers who were very much in the Muscle Shoals tradition. Jerry Garcia is a giant in 20th century American music, no matter how you slice it, and he worked with a wide variety of musical legends. Yet a cheerleader from tiny Sheffield, AL showed Jerry what he needed to get the musical sounded he wanted on stage.

Comments and Correspondents have begun to unearth a treasure trove of lost information about Donna Jean. The Comment thread is like an additional post, and well worth reading in its entirety. It seems inevitable that a new and more thorough post on Donna will be forthcoming. In the meantime, however, here are some updates:

Appendix 1: Grateful Dead, Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI February 15, 1973

BandGrateful Dead
VenueDane County Coliseum
Date2/15/73 - Thursdayposterstickets, passes & laminates
One - 1:40:00Loose Lucy [6:34];[0:46] ;
Beat It On Down The Line [3:27];[0:08]%[0:27] ;
Brown Eyed Women [4:56];[0:05]%[0:06] ;
Mexicali Blues [3:27];[0:09]%[0:06] ;
Tennessee Jed [7:53];[0:07]%[0:12] ;
Looks Like Rain [6:30] ;
Box Of Rain [4:50] ;
Row Jimmy [7:49] ;
Jack Straw [4:45] ;
China Cat Sunflower [5:58] >
I Know You Rider [5:35] ;
Me And My Uncle [2:46] ;
Bertha [5:18] ;
Playing In The Band [15:36] ;
Casey Jones [6:41]
Two - 1:31:04Here Comes Sunshine [9:32] ;
El Paso [4:20] ;
You Ain't Woman Enough [3:26] ;
They Love Each Other [4:46] ;
Big River [4:19] ;
Dark Star [19:15] >
Eyes Of The World [19:09] >
China Doll [7:03] ;
The Promised Land [2:58] ;
Sugaree [7:08] ;
Sugar Magnolia [9:08]
Encore - 6:58Uncle John's Band [6:58] ;
One More Saturday Night
Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI - complete, 4.8, 
205min, Sbd, A1D0, Reel M -> Reel 1 -> Dat 0, 48k, 
7inch Master Reels@7.5ips 1/2trk -> Reel 1st Gen(dolby B) -> 3800 x 0

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Grateful Dead, The Electric Factory and The Spectrum, 1968-77 (Philadelphia Story)

The Grateful Dead played The Spectrum in Philadelphia 53 times
Philadelphia was America's first great city, but by the end of the 18th century, it had started to be eclipsed by New York, which was just 90 miles to the North. Yet Philadelphia has continued to be one of America's great cities ever since then, by any accounting. However, it has suffered from proximity to Manhattan, in that Philadelphia is always compared to New York in a way that other cities are not, and it minimizes the importance of Philadelphia itself. Philadelphia and the history of The Grateful Dead are no different; Philadelphia played an absolutely central role in the national importance of the Dead, and yet you would never know it. New York swallows up the East Coast history of the Dead, and the crucial role of Philadelphia gets lost. This post will look at the history of The Grateful Dead's concert appearances in and around Philadelphia, with a special emphasis on The Spectrum, the most critical venue for both the band and the city.

The Philadelphia Spectrum was at 3601 South Broad Street, at the South end of Broad Street, built in 1967 for the expansion Philadelphia Flyers and also to accommodate the 76ers, with an initial capacity of around 15,000. The Spectrum looms large in Philadelphia history. In a sports-mad town--you have no idea--the home of the Flyers and the 76ers from 1976 to 1996 was going to loom large in the memories of Philadelphia residents and fans.

As if sports weren't enough, The Spectrum was the crucial concert venue for Philadelphia well into the 21st century. All sorts of legendary rock events took place at the Spectrum, like Cream in 1968, Hendrix in 1969 and 42 Bruce Springsteen concerts, just to name a few. The Grateful Dead topped even Bruce, playing the Spectrum 53 times. Yet Grateful Dead history focuses on New York and San Francisco, for better or worse, so the critical role of other cities and promoters gets lost. This post will look at the crucial history of the Grateful Dead in the Philadelphia area, and in particular the arc of how the Grateful Dead worked with the Electric Factory promoters to become a staple of the Philadelphia rock scene.

This Is All A Dream We Dreamed by Blair Jackson and David Gans (Flatiron Books 2015) is the definitive oral history of The Grateful Dead
Touring To Build An Audience in the 1970s
It is now common to try and retell Grateful Dead history as if they were radical business innovators, foretelling the internet age before there was even an Internet. Perhaps they were. When the Dead staked their claim in San Francisco, and then made landfall in Manhattan in 1967, they were doing things their own way, in defiance of reality and good sense. Yet the Dead managed to survive professionally, and thus their legend was born. After San Francisco and Manhattan, the Dead next conquered New Jersey and Philadelphia, which are side by side. There were some accidental elements to New Jersey's ascension as the East Coast Deadhead stronghold, but the Dead's conquest of Philadelphia was not only more conventional, it turns out that it was planned.

The world's two leading Grateful Dead scholars have a new and important book that will be a boon to bloggers like me for the rest of our days. This Is All A Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History Of The Grateful Dead, by Blair Jackson and David Gans, has been released by Flatiron Books just in time for Christmas 2015 (if you get it now, you can finish reading it before you wrap it as a gift). Instead of a retread of the already-known, Jackson and Gans have a vast trove of new interviews with those who were there. By now, enough time has passed that truths can be told, and history can be seen more clearly. A quote from early-70s tour manager Sam Cutler explains the Dead's touring strategy.

Sam Cutler: The art of touring is to tour with a specific end result in mind.  I'll give you a quick, classic example.  Rock Scully was very central to all of this.  Rock was really the only guy in the Grateful Dead who understood the centrality of FM Radio to what the Grateful Dead were doing. There's a way in which FM Radio could be used to reach markets that, hitherto, hadn't been touched.  So, for example, in Pennsylvania, you wanted to do a gig, let's say, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, that holds 18,000 people, you obviously can't just walk into the Spectrum, and be, you know, David Gans or the Grateful Dead at that time and promoter goes "we'd love to put you on at the Spectrum, but you aren't even going to sell 800 tickets.  It's an 18000-seat venue" So the question becomes, how do we get this band into, make this band in such a way, that they are exposed to enough people that they can sell out the Spectrum.  Well, one of the clues to that, keys to that, was FM Radio.  And one of the specific keys to FM Radio was actually college radio stations, because the amazing thing is that everywhere in America, to this day, there's college radio stations in New York, Philadelphia, wherever you want to be.  So what we did was we took Pennsylvania, as a market area, and worked on playing at different colleges where there were 15-20000 resident people.  We used the FM Radio station in that market to reach more people [p.184]
[Sam Cutler interview with David Gans: July 29, 2014, Saugerties NY]
When we unpack Cutler's remarkable quote, it transforms numerous truisms about the Grateful Dead.
Truism: When Lenny Hart bankrupted the Grateful Dead in 1970, they had no choice but to tour relentlessly for any paying gig
  • Reality: the Dead had to tour for income, yes, but Sam Cutler had a plan
Truism: Rock Scully was an old pal, Jerry's drug buddy and teller of tall tales
  • Reality: Rock was Rock, of course, but per Cutler he understood the newly-formed rock market as well or better than anyone else at the time--if you don't believe me, who's bigger today from back then, the Grateful Dead or anyone else (hint: Fare Thee Well)?
Truism: The Grateful Dead were just mellow, sincere hippies who caught the rising tide
  • Reality: The Dead worked hard for success, their plan worked and they succeeded. The fact that no one saw it as a well-executed plan by a hard-working band isn't their problem
Truism: The Grateful Dead's FM broadcasts of concerts in 1971 broke them to a whole new market\
A newspaper ad for The Electric Factory in Philadelphia in March of 1968, soon after the venue opened. The Electric Factory mostly advertised on radio, so there were very few display ads and almost no posters for the venue
The Electric Factory, The Spectrum and Philadelphia Rock Concert Promotion
Compared to the rock concert history of some cities, the Philadelphia story is pretty straightforward. After a few fledgling folk clubs tried to book electric music back in 1967, two young guys and some 30-something bar owners opened The Electric Factory. The Electric Factory, at 22nd and Arch Streets (2201 Arch), near downtown, had recently been a tire warehouse. The 2000-capacity room immediately became Philadelphia's psychedelic rock headquarters, and every hip 60s band played the Electric Factory, including the Dead.

The Electric Factory was open from February 2, 1968 until the end of 1970, when the room simply became too small for the ever-expanding rock market. However, the Electric Factory team had been promoting shows at the much larger Philadelphia Spectrum, just south of downtown, soon after it's opening in 1967. Thus the Electric Factory were the principal Philadelphia rock promoters from 1968 onwards, not only at the original venue but at the Spectrum and around the entire region. The Electric Factory can be favorably compared to Bill Graham Presents in San Francisco, where a single organization was booking the same acts from the 60s through the 90s. Electric Factory Concerts remains the dominant promoter in Philadelphia, though it was subsumed by SFX (now Live Nation) in 2000, just as Bill Graham Presents had been a few years earlier.

However, back in 1970, just as now, if a rock band wanted to play the biggest venue in Philadelphia, they had to go through the Electric Factory. The biggest rock venue in Philadelphia was the Spectrum, and the Grateful Dead did not play it until 1972. However, as Sam Cutler's quote shows, they had been working towards the Spectrum from 1970 onwards. Fortunately for the Dead, their roots went as deep as any other 60s band with the Electric Factory promoters. 

Electric Factory Concerts
The five partners who began The Electric Factory in Philadelphia were from different universes. Larry Magid had gone to Temple University and onwards to New York, where he had become a talent agent for the huge General Artists Corporation, one of the largest Talent Agents in the country. He worked with some of the younger acts on their roster in the mid-60s, However, as "the new guy," he got to book the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Big Brother, since no one above him who knew who they were.

Magid booked some jazz acts in Philadelphia as well, and one of the places he booked them at was a club called The Showboat, on Broad and Lombard. Herb Spivak ran The Showboat, and along with his brothers Allen and Jerry, he booked jazz concerts around the Philadelphia area. The Spivaks were in their 30s at the time, so they had eventually taken on a younger partner, Shelley Kaplan. Magid had known Kaplan at Temple, so when opportunity beckoned, the three Spivak brothers and the younger Kaplan and Magid made a good team.

Philadelphia was a huge music town, but while Fillmore-type venues were opening all over the country in 1967, no one had succeeded with one yet in Philadelphia. There had been a few places like The Kaleidoscope and The Trauma, but they were small and unable to absorb the wave that was about to come. The five partners recognized that there was going to be a growing rock circuit, and wanted to be in on it. Herb Spivak had found a building at 22nd Street and Arch, a former bakery, a former Pointiac dealership, and then a tire warehouse. He obtained the lease, and The Electric Factory debuted on Friday, February 2, 1968 with The Chambers Brothers. The soul of Philadelphia was immediately psychedelicized, and the Electric Factory was an instant hit.  The Electric Factory put on shows downtown most weekends through the end of 1970, except when it got too hot in the summer for the not-air-conditioned venue.

April 26-28, 1968 Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA; The Grateful Dead/Amboy Dukes/Edison Electric Band/Beymont
The Grateful Dead's first performance in Philadelphia was a weekend (Friday>Sunday) booking at the Electric Factory. The band had just come from a two-weekend stint in Miami that had started poorly, but had ended well. By early 1968, The Dead's first album was over a year old, which made them Last Year's News in rock terms. They shared the bill with a rising band from Michigan, The Amboy Dukes, whose album and single "Journey To The Center Of Your Mind," had just been released in April (you may be familiar with Amboy Dukes lead guitarist Ted Nugent).  There were also two local bands. The Edison Electric Band featured bassist Daniel Freedberg, later better known as "Freebo" (he worked with Bonnie Raitt) and organist Mark Jordan, later a successful LA session man (with Dave Mason, Jackson Browne and many others).

In his 1996 book Living With The Dead, former Dead road manager Rock Scully made great sport of the fact that on this Philadelphia trip, the band were put up in what appeared to be a house of ill-repute. It appeared that there were mostly African-American prostitutes and their clients using the hotel, and they mostly hung out in the blues bar on the ground floor. Scully doesn't name the promoter of the hotel, but it doesn't take much research to figure it out. Garcia and the others were very disturbed, according to Rock, and insisted that he find generous co-eds to put them up for the weekend. In Scully's book, the Dead are glad to make tracks from the hotel, except of course for Pigpen, who hung out in the bar all weekend and was apparently ready to move in.

In 2011, Larry Magid produced a career retrospective, My Soul's Been Psychedelicized: The Electric Factory-Larry Magid with Robert Huber (Temple U. Press, 2011). Magid's memoir covers over 40 years in the music industry, and it actually has relatively little prose, as the book is mainly vintage photos and posters. Nonetheless, Magid takes the time to comment on Scully's slight, pretty much the only criticism he levels at one of the acts that played for him.
The Dead performed several shows at the Factory in '68. They weren't great musicians, apart from Jerry Garcia, and they didn't yet have a popular song that readily identified them. Their initial appeal was in the way that they lived--as a commune. The sweet sense of a new rolling movement defined them. One weekend the club loaned them the Electric Factory car, a '59 Cadillac Limo with big fins and a psychedelic paint job. The Dead loved tooling around the city in the limo, although they were less enthralled by the accommodations offered at the Douglass Hotel above the Showboat at Broad and Lombard, the Spivaks three-dollar-a-room joint, where a lot of the guests stayed maybe an hour. Garcia and his bandmates found the Douglass way too funky. For years, they would tease Allen Spivak and me about it: "You put us up at that place." (p13)
So Magid concedes Rock's story, disses most of the band, makes the point that they liked the car, and acts as if the hotel was just fine, a scant 43 years after the event. Grudge much?

update: a Correspondent sent a great link about the Douglass Hotel, at 1490 Lombard Street (later The Bijou Cafe, also run by Larry Magid)
A newspaper ad for the second Quaker City Rock Festival at The Spectrum, on December 6, 1968. The Grateful Dead were billed along with four other West Coast groups
December 6, 1968 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA Sly And The Family Stone/Grateful Dead/Iron Butterfly/Steppenwolf/American Dream The 2nd Quaker City Rock Festival
The first event at The Spectrum was not a sports event, but a jazz festival. Herb Spivak regularly booked jazz acts at The Showboat, so Magid and the Spivaks promoted the First Quaker City Jazz Festival at The Spectrum on September 30, 1967. The next year, the Electric Factory promoted two Quaker City Rock Festivals. The naming conventions have confused matters a little bit, but the 1st Quaker City Rock Festival was on October 19, 1968, featuring Big Brother And The Holding Company, Moby Grape, The Chambers Brothers and Buddy Guy.

Seven weeks later, on December 6, the second Quaker City Rock Festival was held, with three bands from San Francisco and two from Los Angeles. Note that the Grateful Dead were the only one of those bands not receiving any radio play, and that all four other bands sold far more albums than the Dead ever did. Nothing is known of the Dead's performance. I assume they played a short, hour-long set or something similar.  Al Kooper was listed on the bill, but he was just the MC, announcing bands. I don't think he played with any of the groups, more's the pity. update: per below, Creedence canceled and was replaced by American Dream. Al Kooper sat in with the Dream.

[update] Another scholar weighs in with some further details in the Comments
At that time the venue had a revolving stage (until mid-'69), which bands hated. 
Al Kooper was the MC and played with American Dream, replacing Creedence Clearwater (who canceled). 
Some audience memories: "Stage was in center and rotated. Dead used own wouldn't let it rotate. Place wasn't full so they encouraged those sitting behind to come around... Sly and the Family Stone stole the night... [The Dead] were freaky and weird and that was alluring. Shows in 72 and 73 were transcendental: made me a Deadhead for life."
"There was a round stage in the middle of the floor of the Spectrum that rotated slowly. However the Dead didn't dig the rotating thing so they set up their own sound... One thing I do remember is Al Kooper being the MC but also sitting with a local band and jamming blues to fill in for Creedence who did not show up."
"Al Kooper covered Donovan's Season of the Witch with the Philly band American Dream who replaced CCR."
"We really had gone to see InDaGaddaDaVida by Iron Butterfly but I personally was awed by Sly and the Family Stone... The Dead played at a different stage while the other bands played 'In The Round'."
Al Kooper recalled that "Larry Magid, the promoter, paid me with a coffee table I had admired on a previous visit." 

The Electric Factory made a brief foray into Baltimore in early 1969, promoting 3 concerts as "The Baltimore Rock Festival." The Grateful Dead opened for the Chambers Brothers for two shows at The Lyric Theater in 1969 (the amazing ad is via the Rock Concert Data Base)
February 9, 1969 Lyric Theater, Baltimore, MD: Chambers Brother/Grateful Dead (two shows)
For whatever reasons, Baltimore in the 1960s did not have many interesting touring rock bands perform in the city. Although this show date has long been known, nothing is known about the concerts themselves. Some recent research by other scholars (the Rock Concert Tour Database, via LIA at DeadEssays) has shown that the Dead's Baltimore date was a double show headlined by the Chambers Brothers, and promoted by The Electric Factory.

To my knowledge, the Factory's foray into Baltimore was not repeated, but this early date shows the interest in their efforts to expand beyond Philadelphia itself. If anyone knows anything about the Lyric shows, even 4th hand rumors, please mention them in the Comments.

February 14-15, 1969 Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA; The Grateful Dead/Paul Pena
The Grateful Dead returned to the Electric Factory proper on the weekend of February 14-15. Presumably they were ok with the Electric Factory's accommodations, too, since they had already played Quaker City and Baltimore for them.

Paul Pena had an electric blues band that toured around a little. He was losing his eyesight due to a genetic condition. He met the Dead this weekend, and in 1971, when he was completely blind, he moved to the Bay Area. Jerry Garcia helped him get a recording contract with Fantasy Records, played on his records, and helped make sure that the Keystone Berkeley provided him with regular gigs, sometimes opening for Garcia and Saunders. Pena's song "Jet Airliner" ended up being a big hit for Steve Miller, and Pena was later the subject of a documentary, recounting how he taught himself the "throat singing" of Tuvan monks.

After February 1969, the Grateful Dead did not play Philadelphia again for 15 months, and they did not play for the Electric Factory for over 3 years. Nonetheless, Cutler and Scully were clear that the goal was to conquer Philadelphia and play the Spectrum. The peculiar structure of the Philadelphia market made it both an admirable goal for the band and a plan with no possible alternative.

By the Summer of 1970, it had become clear to the Electric Factory partners that the original venue at 22nd and Arch was too small for the exploding rock concert history. The partners could not afford to promote the most popular bands at any place save the Spectrum. At the same time, the original operators of the Spectrum were in serious financial trouble. While we tend to look back to the late 60s as a golden age of sports, that was not really true financially. The Philadelphia 76ers of the 1960s were a great team, featuring hometown legend Wilt Chamberlain (not to mention Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and Chet Walker), but Wilt was traded to the Lakers in Summer 1968 for what were essentially financial reasons. Attendance, ticket prices, sponsorship and particularly Television deals for NBA and NHL teams were a tiny fraction of today's money, and thus the Spectrum, even in sports-mad Philly, went into bankruptcy in 1970.

The Spectrum went into receivership proceedings, and as part of the agreement to keep the venue open, Electric Factory agreed to produce at least 10 concerts per year, starting in 1970 or 71. In fact, the promoters rapidly exceeded that number, and in some years they produced as many as 60 rock concert events at the venue. If it had not been for the Electric Factory, the Spectrum may not have been a viable venue at all. It was a little-known fact that 70s-era arenas, without luxury boxes or high-end concessions, only broke even from sports tenants. Special events like rock concerts, ice shows and conventions provided the profit margin. So with Electric Factory dominating Philadelphia concert promotion and the biggest venue in town, they were instrumental in making the Spectrum thrive.

The Grateful Dead played an outdoor show in Philadelphia with Jimi Hendrix for the Concerts East production company. Sam Cutler described the event at length, and there was nothing good about what should have been a great event.
The Road To Broad Street
May 16, 1970 Football Stadium, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA: Jimi Hendrix Experience/Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Cactus
Early in 1970, the Grateful Dead were pretty much playing any show that Sam Cutler could book for them, because the band needed the money. I'm sure the Electric Factory would have tried to book the Dead again, but the small venue downtown probably couldn't pay their fee. Thus the Dead played an outdoor concert booked by Concerts East, a national competitor to regional promoters like Bill Graham Presents and Electric Factory.

Concerts East and its counterpart Concerts West were affiliated with Jerry Weintraub, and they booked some of the biggest touring acts, including Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix. Later they became significant promoters of Led Zeppelin, starting in 1971. Because Concerts East was national rather than regional, they often used larger venues not typically used by the regional promoters, who usually controlled the local venues. The Temple University football stadium was small for a stadium, with a working capacity of about 20,000. Sam Cutler described this debacle of an event in some detail in his book You Can't Always Get What You Want. Without naming names, Cutler alludes to the fact that the promoters seemed to be associated with certain Connected Gentlemen, rather than righteous hippies. This is a common theme with stories about Concerts East and Concerts West.

Since the Dead played for a national competitor, it probably didn't sit well with the Electric Factory. On the other hand, the Dead never played for Concerts East or Concerts West again, to my knowledge, so that lesson seems to have been learned.

October 16, 1970 Irvine Auditorium, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA: Grateful Dead
Back in May, when the Dead had opened for Hendrix at Temple, the band had not yet released Workingman's Dead, and were still sort of a hippie cult item. Once the album came out in June, however, the Dead had a greater footprint thanks to FM radio airplay. FM rock radio, known at the time as a "Free Form," "Underground" or "Progressive" format, to distinguish it from AM Top 40, had gotten its start in San Francisco at KMPX-fm, later moving to KSAN-fm. FM rock started to sweep the country. Philadelphia's big rock station was WMMR-fm (93.3), which started playing rock on April 29, 1968.

Once FM rock stations hit a city, bands like the Grateful Dead had a chance. If a dj liked the song, he played it, regardless of the length. Songs would become well-known, like Top 40, even though no single would have been released. Once Workingman's Dead came out, the Dead started to get regular play on stations like WMMR. So by the Fall of 1970, the Dead could return to Philadelphia as headliners. This specific concert was the Homecoming Dance for Drexel University, although using the auditorium at the nearby University of Pennsylvania.

Drexel would give up football in 1973, but it was still following the older tradition. Since Homecoming was a campus event, the Dead's fee would have been subsidized, and would not have to have been entirely covered by ticket sales. Every other row of seats were apparently reserved for Drexel alums and their dates (or spouses), and the rest sold to the general public. Apparently it was quite a peculiar scene, with every other row steadily emptying out.

November 22, 1970 Middlesex Community College, Edison, NJ: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage
I have written about this event at length elsewhere, so I won't recap it. This was a Sunday night show at a suburban junior college, clearly subsidized by the school entertainment budget. Since the show was not advertised off campus, it did not conflict with any non-compete clause enforced by Bill Graham at Fillmore East. Edison is about equidistant from Philadelphia and New York. The robustness of the Philadelphia concert market was greatly enhanced by suburban New Jersey teenagers who often found it easier to go to Philly rather than New York Metro.

The Grateful Dead played around the Philadelphia area in April 1971. Franklin & Marshall is in Lancaster, PA, about an hour West of Philadelphia. The Electric Factory seems to have participated in producing this show, and apparently many fans from Philly were there.
April 10, 1971 Mayser Center, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA; Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage
The Grateful Dead began their assault at Franklin And Marshall College. F&M is a highly regarded liberal arts school with about 2000 students, about an hour west of Philadelphia, in the center of Amish country (the pretzels are great, trust me). The school would have been heavily populated with undergraduates from the Philadelphia area. This event, held in the gym, was actually the school's Senior Prom. You can read all the memories on the archive, but it sounds like it was some Prom. It was near enough to Philadelphia, however, that there were some non-students as well, no doubt drawn by hearing them on the radio. Much of the school probably got on the bus, and it sounds like some townies did, too.

The presence of fans from the Philadelphia area would be no surprise, since it appears that the Electric Factory played a part in promoting the show (this poster appears in Magid's book). So the Electric Factory had a good idea of how the Dead were building a market in the suburbs.

April 13, 1971 Catholic Youth Center, Scranton, PA: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage
Scranton is two hours (125 miles) north of Philadelphia. The Dead did not play a college, as Scranton was an old industrial town that had seen better days. However, Scranton was just in striking distance of Philadelphia, so it would have fit Rock Scully's goal. Also, with nothing happening in Scranton, teenagers and young adults would be looking to get out, and that likely meant Philadelphia or New York, so any nascent Deadheads would have had plenty of future opportunities.

April 14, 1971 Christy Matthewson Stadium, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA; Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage
Bucknell University is a private liberal arts college two and a half hours and 160 miles Northwest of Philadelphia. It may seem strange for the Dead to have continued their pursuit of the Spectrum so far from Philadelphia, but Rock Scully's prescient understanding of the FM rock market starts to make sense. By Spring 1971, the Dead had released American Beauty, and the band's music was in high rotation on every FM rock station. The Dead toured mostly colleges in Spring 1971, and FM had primed the pump. All the undergraduates were ready for Fillmore East bands, and the Dead were the real deal. It seems that every undergraduate who same them on the East Coast that tour is still on the bus today.

Lewisburg is no metropolis, so many if not most of the undergraduates would have come from Philadelphia (or Pittsburgh), and would have heard the Dead on WMMR. There can't have been much to do in Bucknell, so when Spring came and a real rock band was coming, all those Philadelphia teenagers were going to go. The campus radio station probably hyped the show, too, and their may have been no other FM station playing rock out there at the time.

Christy Mathhewson--Memorial Stadium was a 13,100 seat stadium built in 1924. Matthewson was a Bucknell alumnus who was a Hall Of Fame pitcher for the New York Giants. In tiny Lewisburg, any student or townie who wanted a ticket would have gotten one. The high of the day was 60 degrees, 10 above the average, so it would have been a great spring day. Now, a commenter on the archive says
I was at this show. Garcia played with the New Riders from 8:15 until 10:30. The Dead came on at 11:00 and were still playing when we left at 3:30. I've seen Garcia, the Dead and and Weir and Lesh many times since then, but I have to say this is the best Dead show I was to. The show is wonderful but heck I was there so take anything I say with a grain of salt Cause I was 16.
Sparsely attended (300-400?).

Even though I think fans usually underestimate sparse crowds, it still wasn't a huge audience.  But I'm certain they all returned to the dorm as permanent Deadheads, and thus the legend would have gotten back to the Philadelphia suburbs.

April 15, 1971 Allegheny College, Meadville, PA: Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage
Allegheny College was an even smaller school (2000 students) than Bucknell, and nearer to Pittsburgh and Cleveland than Philadelphia. Nonetheless, it would have had its share of students from greater Philadelphia, so word would have filtered back come the Summer. Meadville is pretty isolated, and at least one archive commenter recalls the scene
This show was a blast and is captured beautifully here. A very intimate setting, and a crowd that was primed and gliding with the scene. I was there (as Lou Sleaves) with a group of friends, some from Virginia - Buckeyes, Dick (AKA Bones), Helmet Head, meableffutS, Cliff, Kiff, Madman, Carl. We brought a shopping bag full of oranges and threw them around in the crowd in that small, old gym. The Dead were very friendly and had a running conversation wih the crowd, not separated from them by more than a few feet. The atmosphere was bright, upbeat, trippy.
April 17, 1971 Dillon Gymnasium, Princeton, NJ:Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage
I have also written at length about this legendary show, so I needn't recap it. Almost every single person attending the show was a Princeton student, and Princeton students are from everywhere. Thus although the future leaders of American all became Deadheads that night, they were spread far and wide. Princeton is only about an hour Northeast of Philadelphia, however, so word would have filtered back in the Summer about how you could buy the Brooklyn Bridge for a dollar and a quarter.

In the space of a week in April 1971, the Grateful Dead had played five shows, West, Northwest, North and East of Philadelphia. Save for Scranton, undergraduates abounded, and many of those young adults would return to Philadelphia in the Summers and possibly for careers. If the Dead came to Philadelphia, all of them were going to the show, and they were taking their brother, their roommate and their girlfriend. Rock and Sam knew what they were doing: FM radio had piqued student interest, and there's nothing like the legend of five hour concerts as a permanent--if fuzzy--memory of glorious undergraduate days.

The Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1991, right next to Veterans Stadium
September 21, 1972 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA; Grateful Dead
John Scher had booked the Grateful Dead in Jersey City on July 18, 1972, and demonstrated that the band was a viable draw, even without any sort of real hit. By this time, the Dead had put out yet another popular album ("Skull And Roses"), and both Garcia and Ace were getting FM airplay. However, although the Dead had greatly expanded their market in Fall 1971 by allowing their shows to be broadcast live on FM radio, there had been on broadcast in Philadelphia because their had been no gigs there. Nevertheless, with a return visit to Jersey City on September 19, and plenty of eager undergraduates ready to hear the Dead again, the band finally played Philadelphia's biggest venue on September 21, 1972.

Although the Spectrum had a concert capacity of 15,000-plus, the Electric Factory had arrangements were the building could be configured for a smaller crowd. The nature of rock at the time was that sold-out shows were as important as ticket sales, so if an act could only sell 8000 tickets, it was better to configure the arena for 7500 and have a sell-out, rather than try and sell 8500 tickets and leave the arena partially empty. So it's possible that the Electric Factory configured the Spectrum this night for a somewhat smaller crowd, perhaps 10-12,000, and they wouldn't have explicitly advertised it. Also, both the Philadelphia and Jersey City shows would have drawn from the same New Jersey suburbs, and their may have been concerns about how many tickets were sold.

Nonetheless, Sam and Rock's strategy had worked, and the Dead were booked at Philadelphia's biggest venue. And we don't have to ask about ticket sales--the Dead were booked at the Spectrum just six months later, and I guarantee you that the house was configured for the max in the spring.
[update] LIA found a newspaper review that said The Spectrum was packed to capacity.

March 24, 1973 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA; Grateful Dead
The Dead had played a killer show in September, but all the evidence suggests that the March '73 show was even better. The archive is full of vague, delirious memories of when Giants walked the Earth. The Dead owned the Spectrum now.

The Electric Factory promoted the legendary two-day Allmans/Dead show at RFK stadium in Washington, DC
June 9-10, 1973 RFK Memorial Stadium, Washington, DC: Allman Brothers Band/Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm Band (9th)/Wet Willie (10th)
The Summer of 73 began for the Grateful Dead with two huge stadium concerts with the Allman Brothers in Washington, DC. There was no major concert promoter in the DC/Baltimore area, so the shows were promoted by The Electric Factory. The Allman Brothers Band were the most popular touring act in the country, behind "Ramblin' Man" and the Brothers And Sisters album, but the RFK concerts showed that if the Dead were booked with the Allmans, attendance escalated beyond the individual appeal of both bands.

Both shows were epic, and very well attended, and their success led directly to the indescribably huge event at Watkins Glen. The second night ended with a great jam, when members of the Allmans joined the Dead. The Grateful Dead and the Electric Factory were good to go, and Philadelphia was there for the taking.

However, Magid describes an event that probably took place at RFK that indicated trouble ahead:
Before a Grateful Dead concert at JFK Stadium [sic--I am assuming it was RFK, as the Dead never played JFK until the 80s] in the seventies, a roadie setting up the show demanded to be supplied with cocaine. Allen [Spivak] refused. The roadie and his crew stopped working, a standoff that lasted four or five hours. Finally, Allen decided to give them a $5000 down payment on their night's work, and that did the trick [p.33]
This sort of crew behavior would cause the Dead serious problems when they returned to The Spectrum in a few months.

September 20-21, 1973 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA; Grateful Dead
After a triumphant summer, including the Watkins Glen show (July 28) and two outdoor shows in Jersey City with The Band (July 31-August 1), the Grateful Dead returned for two shows at the Spectrum. They owned Philadelphia now.

After a falling out with the Electric Factory, the Grateful Dead played two shows for a different Philadelphia promoter at the smaller, older Philadelphia Convention Center.
August 4-5, 1974 Philadelphia Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA: Grateful Dead
If the Grateful Dead owned Philadelphia after 1973, and had made huge returns for the Electric Factory promoters, why then did the band play at the much smaller and older Philadelphia Convention Center the next year, for other promoters entirely? Something had to have gone wrong.

McNally explains what took place:
The distrust for promoters was epitomized in a 1973 incident between crew member Ben Haller and Philadelphia [Electric Factory] promoter Allen Spivak. Miffed because the crew had been served spaghetti--the Dead's contract called for high-protein dishes like steak and lobster--Haller collected leftovers from his, Lesh's and Ramrods' plates and proceeded to dump them on Spivak's head. Larry Magid, Spivak's partner, wrote to road manager Sam Cutler to complain
...we've had quite a few problems with your crew in the past. You say that the band knows that they're animals but that you can't do anything about the situation. All well and good, but they do represent you.
Cutler replied
In the years to come, no doubt, we'll all be able to laugh about it, but until then I guess it will be hard for the Dead tIo work with you and Allen....allow me to finish with the conclusion that the Dead made their own bed, and thereafter they lie in it.
That they did; for the next three years they worked with another Philadelphia promoter at a much smaller venue, costing themselves a considerable amount of money. (McNally p.268)
The Dead had Philadelphia, a huge rock market, under their control, and they let it slip away because of crew misbehavior. The Electric Factory so dominated Philadelphia concerts--later a subject of a major Federal anti-trust lawsuit--that the band was left with no alternative but to take less money at a smaller place. The Philadelphia Convention Center was at 3400 Civic Center Boulevard, and it was built in 1931. It's concert capacity was probably about 12,000, which at most was just 80% if Spectrum capacity.

The Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA, in suburban Philadelphia.
November 16, 1974 Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA: Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders (early and late shows)
The Grateful Dead had stopped touring in October 1974, and one reason was apparently to rid themselves of reckless crew members. Only the Dead would go about managing personnel issues in such a backwards way. In any case, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir immediately started performing, within weeks of the Dead's "Last Five Nights" shows at Winterland (Oct 16-20, 1974). Garcia was the first to tour the East, with his club band featuring Merl Saunders.

Obviously, Garcia/Saunders were not going to play the Spectrum. The Tower Theatre was in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby, and had a capacity of about 2000. Another smaller, local promoter booked the shows.

April 11, 1975 Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA: Legion Of Mary (early and late shows)
Garcia/Saunders returned the next spring, as The Legion Of Mary, so obviously the Fall shows had worked out well.

October 31, 1975 Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA: Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins (early and late shows)
The newly minted Jerry Garcia Band returned in the Fall for double shows. Once again, they weren't going to play the Spectrum in any case, but it never helps matters to have poisoned relations with the biggest promoter in a town.

June 21-24, 1976 Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA: The Grateful Dead
The Dead were fortunate that events conspired to make some peace with the Electric Factory. The promoter using the Tower Theatre elected not to continue, and The Electric Factory took over the venue by the end of 1975. This gave Electric Factory a different sort of venue for acts not suitable for the Spectrum.

The Grateful Dead had returned to touring in June 1976. They were supporting a turkey of an album, Steal Your Face, so they elected to make the first tour an event rather than focus on a big moneymaker. After two stealthy warmup shows in Portland, OR, the Dead played multiple nights in small theaters in five cities that were Dead strongholds, booked by long-standing Dead promoters. The tickets were only available to people on the Grateful Dead mailing list, an unprecedented approach in the 70s. All the shows sold out instantly. The last night in each city was broadcast on FM radio.

The Grateful Dead played four nights at the Tower Theatre on June 21-24, 1976, which was now booked by the Electric Factory. The final night (June 24) was broadcast live on WMMR-fm, the first Dead broadcast in the Philadelphia area. Although not as profitable as a Spectrum show might have been, the Dead's return was a prestigious booking for The Electric Factory. Also, the Dead played from Monday to Thursday, nights when the Tower would typically have been dark. Thus the sold-out shows were like free money to the Electric Factory, since any regular weekend booking could still take place.

April 22, 1977 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA: Grateful Dead
Come the Spring, and things were back to normal for the Dead in Philadelphia. The Dead headlined the Spectrum. They would headline the venerable arena 47 more times. Jerry Garcia would come back and play the Tower Theatre 9 more times, and even played the Spectrum four times (JGB Mar 16 '78, possibly with a smaller configuration, JGB and Weir/Wasserman Nov 3 '89, JGB Nov 12 '91 and JGB Nov 16 '93). After 1976, the crew was less notorious, and seems to have caused no new problems.

Bands need promoters, but promoters need bands, too. While it is true that the Dead's crew cost them some real money in Philadelphia in 1974, the fact was that the enormous drawing power of the Dead was such that The Electric Factory needed the Grateful Dead, just as they needed the Electric Factory. Electric Factory remained, and remains, the dominant promoter in the Philadelphia area, a fact confirmed by a Federal anti-trust lawsuit against them in the 21st century.

Rock Scully had a plan. For all his tall tales and personal excesses, he was right as rain about how FM radio was going to work in 1970, long before most band managers had figured it out. The road to the Philadelphia Spectrum wasn't exit 17 on I-95, but rather through Lancaster, Scranton, Lewisburg and Meadville. That roundabout road kept them on stage at the Spectrum long after their peers had stopped working, and the Grateful Dead ruled Philadelphia right up to the end.