The chance meeting between Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann is a foundational story of Grateful Dead cosmology . According to Dennis McNally (and everyone else), Mickey Hart was at the Fillmore on August 20 or 21, 1967 to hang out with his friend Sonny Payne, the drummer for Count Basie (co-billed that night with Charles Lloyd). A stranger introduced Hart and Kreutzmann, and then disappeared. Billy and Mickey hit it off, went over to the Matrix to see Big Brother and The Holding Company, and started hanging out together.
Hart was invited to Grateful Dead rehearsals, but could never find the warehouse (actually the Potrero Theater on 308 Connecticut). The first time Hart heard the Dead was when he saw them at the Straight Theatre on September 29, 1967. He was invited to sit in for the second set, and by the end of the night was a member of the band. It’s a great story, and one of the many magical moments of Grateful Dead history. Nonetheless, sitting in with the Grateful Dead on no notice takes a hell of a musician, which Mickey Hart surely was (and remains)—it seems logical to think he played music with other bands after leaving the Air Force in 1965 and before joining the Grateful Dead in September 1967. For all the many interviews that Hart has done, I am not aware of any information from him about who he played with.
McNally outlines the basic story (p.222-224): Hart grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island, estranged from his drummer father, Lenny Hart. Hart played a lot of music in the Air Force from 1961-65, and managed to get in touch with his father, who invited him to help run a drum-centered music store in San Carlos, California. Mickey helped manage the store (called Drum City, on 894 Laurel Street in San Carlos) and practiced drumming, but I find it difficult to believe that he didn’t play with other musicians. Let’s face it: mediocre drummers who are absolutely stone crazy usually have more offers of gigs than they can manage, so sensible, friendly guys who are fantastic, versatile drummers have to be in great demand.
I’ve only found one reference to Mickey’s pre-Dead Bay Area career, and Hart himself has never mentioned it. Around late 1965/early 1966, Hart joined a San Mateo group called William Penn And His Pals. Even more remarkably, he was the second drummer, presaging his future. Hart seems to have left the band in short order, however, before organist Gregg Rolie joined (pre-Santana Blues Band) and they recorded their garage classic “Swami.” The fact that William Penn And His Pals, a pretty successful local band, wore Tri-Corner hats and pseudo-Revolutionary War garb, like Paul Revere and The Raiders, has to have been an unappealing memory to someone with Grateful Dead sensibilities.
Since Hart was introduced to the Dead by a stranger, no one in or around the band had any idea who he might have played with prior to joining them. His only pre-Dead association was his father Lenny, the band’s manager from 1969-71, which ended very badly, so no one around him knew his background. This meant that Hart was in a position to control his own story, and while he seems to have enjoyed describing his childhood, his grandmother, his struggles in High School and his time in the Air Force, hart has left a blank in his musical career from 1965 to 1967. I grant that as store manager he may not have had time to tour with bands, but I remain certain that he played with a variety of Bay Area groups, probably in the South Bay, and I remain very curious as to who they might have been.