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The Warlocks formed out of the remnants of Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band in Palo Alto, and played their first gigs in Menlo Park on May 5 of that year. By December of 1965, they had changed their name to the Grateful Dead and played the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Any band that forms in the suburbs has plans to make it big in "The City," but The Warlocks actually pulled it off. This post views the early Warlocks gigs as a geographical procession towards San Francisco. I have made a few concessions (which I will acknowledge) to illustrate my point, but it is a fair analysis to say that the stakes get bigger for bands as they get nearer the center of the action, and The Dead met the challenge.
Very little information survives about the Warlock's earliest gigs. Dennis McNally and Blair Jackson have done the best work in ferreting out memories of their earliest days, but actual details--dates, setlists, and so forth--are hard to come by. Some of the venues that The Warlocks played at are known, however, and some sense of the Warlocks development can be discerned from considering the standing of these forgotten outposts. For those not intimately familiar with South Bay geography, I have included a Google Map (above) marking the Dead's progress up The Peninsula. The map itself shows a steady Northward progression from Palo Alto, then a sleepy college town, to increasingly busy clubs near San Francisco International Airport, and finally to San Francisco itself, a geographic actualization of the Dead's musical and cultural transformation as they moved from Palo Alto to The City.
This post represents the best distillation of the limited information available to me at the time. Anyone with additonal facts, insights, corrections or recovered memories (real or imagined) please include them in the comments or email me.
The Top Of The Tangent, 117 University Avenue, Palo Alto
Downtown Palo Alto in 1965, where The Warlocks formed, had become a tiny bohemian outpost because it was kind of empty. The nearby Stanford Shopping Center had sucked the life out of downtown, so housing was cheap and businesses few. As folkies, some members of The Warlocks had played a few of the coffee houses, but the main port of call for Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Band Champions was The Top Of The Tangent, at 117 University. The Tangent was a pizza parlor, and The Top Of The Tangent was a coffee shop on the top floor where folk musicians played and hung out. Mother McCree's debuted there in about June 1964, and most of their gigs were probably there.
Peninsula YMCA, 240 El Camino Real, Redwood City (January 16, 1965)
The Jug Band definitely played a few other places, such as The Off Stage in San Jose, but one of their last gigs was at a "Hootenanny" at the Peninsula YMCA in Redwood City, on January 16, 1965 (there is a chance they played one final gig a few weeks later at College Of San Mateo). Redwood City was a few miles up the road on El Camino Real, the main "Strip" of the South Bay Peninsula.
El Camino Real (literally "The King's Road") was an extension of Mission Boulevard in San Francisco, and it went through the center of every town from South San Francisco to Santa Clara (originally a trail connecting Mission San Francisco to Mission Santa Clara). As a result, the El Camino Real was the main commercial strip for every town along the way. By day, stores on El Camino sold washing machines, automobiles or insurance; by night people went to movies, restaurants, bars and nightclubs there. Each town on the Peninsula had its differences from the others, but all of them looked somewhat similar from the vantage point of El Camino Real.
Magoo's Pizza, 635 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park (May 5, 12, 19 & 26, 1965)
The Warlocks formed in early 1965 because Mother McRee's had run out of gigs--Jug Bands seemed to be "over" in the South Bay, but electric blues and R&B, like The Rolling Stones played, was starting to come to life. The very first gig the Warlocks played was on May 5, 1965 at Magoo's pizza parlor in Menlo Park, at 635 Santa Cruz Avenue, just off the El Camino. The Warlocks played every Wednesday night in May at Magoo's. Most of the audience were High School students from nearby Menlo-Atherton High, or junior college students from equally near Menlo College. Santa Cruz Avenue was near Kepler's Books, a local bohemian hangout, and just a long walk from downtown Palo Alto, but a bunch of local High School and College kids were a lot more than had seen the Jug Band.
Frenchy's, 29027 Mission Boulevard, Hayward (June 18, 1965)
The Warlocks replaced their bass player, Dana Morgan Jr, with Phil Lesh, and played a gig on June 18 at Frenchy's, in Hayward. I have discussed this previously. This gig did not go well, and they were terminated after a day. The Warlocks seemed to have retreated to rehearse and lick their wounds. Since Dana Morgan Jr's father owned the music store that they borrowed equipment from, Garcia and Weir got jobs instead at Guitars Unlimited in Menlo Park, also on El Camino Real.
[This one known deviation from the Warlocks march up El Camino Real has been left off my map, because it made the map hard to read. I don't think this is a major point (crypto-Hegelians should email me for a detailed exposition on Hayward as Antithesis), but I wanted to acknowledge that I am aware I left something off]
Cinnamon Tree, 900 American Way, San Carlos (August 1965)
In August, The Warlocks renewed their assault on the world, this time with more success, although it may not have seemed that way at the time.They had a booking agent, Al King, who booked numerous acts into El Camino Real clubs, so even though the band was low on the totem pole, at least they had started to climb it.
The Cinnamon Tree opened in July 1965 as a "teen" club, with no liquor served (though no doubt plenty was consumed). The idea was to give teenagers something to do, particularly on weekends. The club was located on an industrial road between El Camino and the Bayshore Freeway. Since it featured teen audiences, one of the popular bills was a "Battle Of The Bands" were numerous groups played a song or two, hoping to win a cash prize (thus insuring that each band's friends came to the show). The Illustrated Trip places Warlocks gig(s) at The Cinnamon Tree in August.
Blair Jackson (in his fine 1999 book Garcia: An American Life) quotes Mike Shapiro, lead guitarist for a South Bay band called William Penn And His Pals, who says "we used to Battle Of The Bands with [The Warlocks] at The Cinnamon Tree...we actually lost to them and I thought they were the sh*ts"(p.70). Its not clear from Shapiro's context if they played one or several Battles with The Warlocks, but its clear they played. While "Battle Of The Bands" judging was notoriously suspect, for The Warlocks to win, it must have meant that rowdy, raggedy blues had some incipient following on the Peninsula.
Big Al's Gashouse, 4301 El Camino Real, San Mateo (August 1965)
Big Al's Gashouse was a pizza-and-beer joint, affiliated with similarly named places in North Beach and around the Bay Area (there really was a "Big Al"). Big Al's was another pizza place, like The Tangent or Magoo's, but at least it was connected to the City, if not really part of it. The exact date of the Warlocks gig (or gigs) is unknown, but McNally and Jackson (in The Illustrated Trip) place it in August.
Big Al's Gashouse burned down in January 1966. It was eventually replaced by a suburban hipster bar called The Trip, which opened in November 1966, but by that time the Warlocks were very far past that road.
Fireside Lounge, 2322 El Camino Real, San Mateo (August 1965)
The Fireside Lounge was run more on the Las Vegas model, if without the gambling. There was dinner and drinks to go with the dancing, sometimes a floor show, or topless dancers late at night. The object for a band was to keep people dancing so that they would buy drinks. I have written about the Fireside Lounge elsewhere, albeit with respect to another band.
According to McNally and Jackson in The Illustrated Trip, The Warlocks played one or a few gigs at The Fireside Lounge in August of 1965. It was probably a sort of "audition" gig, but the band didn't return there, to my knowledge.
The In Room, El Camino Real, Belmont (mid-September to late October 1965)
The In Room was a popular nightclub in Belmont, although I have not yet been able to identify the exact location (on the map, I located it El Camino Real and Ralston Avenue, a principal intersection the business strip, and The In Room was certainly near there). McNally describes it as
a heavy hitting divorcee's pick-up joint, the sort of swinging bar where real-estate salesmen chased stewardesses and single women got plenty of free drinks. Dark, with red and black as the color scheme, it was the kind of place that sold almost nothing but hard liquor (p.88)The Warlocks were booked at the In Room for six weeks, from mid-September until late October of 1965. They played five 50-minute sets a night, five nights a week. 150 sets later, The Warlocks were a real band. The first week they had backed The Coasters for a set each night, but for the balance of the run they covered the gig themselves. They would start out playing almost straight-up, but as they got higher and the night got looser, their playing got more "barbaric." Oddly enough, they started to build their own audience of nascent freaks, who would show up for the later sets, distinctly different than the hard-drinking pick up crowd. One night, for example, a band of Tacoma transplants called The Frantics ended up hanging out there, which is how Moby Grape guitarist Jerry Miller and Jerry Garcia first met.
The In Room was in Belmont, half way between Palo Alto and San Francisco. The Warlocks had played a little further up the El Camino (The Fireside and Big Al's), but the In Room stood for a mid-point. The Warlocks were a real band making real money (if not a lot), but they were still doing their own thing and finding their own audience, so they were half way there.
[There is some general talk that The Warlocks played some High School dances in the South Bay in Fall 1965. It is possible, but its important to remember that in the 60s and 70s everybody in the South Bay had a Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia story, and most of them were wishful thinking. Every High School had a story about how the Dead played there back in the day, or Jerry Garcia went there, and they can't all of been true. Supposedly the Warlocks played Palo Alto High School on September 19, 1965, but it has been impossible to confirm this]
Pierre's, Broadway at Columbus, San Francisco (early November 1965)
At some point, The Warlocks made Phil Lesh's former roommate, Hank Harrison, into their manager. Harrison did very little for the group in his brief tenure. One gig he did get them was playing at a topless joint on North Beach called Pierre's. Pierre's, on the corner of Broadway in Columbus, the same corner as City Lights Bookstore, had been a popular Latin Jazz nightspot in the early 1960s. As topless joints took over Broadway, Pierre's went topless as well, but the club was fading.
Topless dancing in the 1960s was considerably tamer than strip clubs today. The Warlocks had at least intermittently backed topless dancers at The In Room. Club owners didn't care what weirdness a band played as long as they kept the beat going, so topless clubs were a chance for fledgling bands to work on their chops.
The Warlocks played a brief and unsuccessful stint at Pierre's in early November of 1965. A friend of the band wandered in (I believe it was Peter Albin) and found them playing to a nearly empty house. The Warlocks had made it to San Francisco, but they were in a club that was past its prime, where music wasn't even the main attraction.
The gig wasn't a complete bust, however. While in San Francisco, they made a demo on November 3, 1965, for Autumn Records, San Francisco's leading independent label. At this time, the band was worried that there were other bands called The Warlocks, and was experimenting with different names, and the demo is colloquially known by the name The Emergency Crew. The material was eventually released on Birth Of The Dead in 2003.
Parallel to the commercial fortunes of The Warlocks, the band had been hanging out with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. In their new incarnation as The Grateful Dead, they had begun playing Acid Tests with the Pranksters (remember, LSD was legal until October 6, 1966). The band was unbilled, since The Acid Tests themselves were only cryptically advertised. I have not dwelt on the underground side of the story, since it has been so well covered by Tom Wolfe and others. During this period, however, after some band members attended a private event in Soquel (at Ken Babbs's spread), the band played an Acid Test at a house in San Jose on December 4 (near downtown).
Fillmore Auditorium, 1805 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco (December 10, 1965)
By early December, The Warlocks were officially The Grateful Dead, although they were still known as The Warlocks. On December 10, 1965, they played the second Mime Troupe Benefit, which was the second Bill Graham production and the first Bill Graham event at the Fillmore. On the bill were two of the leading San Francisco "underground" bands, The Jefferson Airplane and The Great Society (with Grace Slick). The Warlocks presence was acknowledged by Chronicle columnist Ralph Gleason and by night's end the Grateful Dead were part of that scene for good.
The Grateful Dead's first appearance on a poster was at the January 14, 1966 Fillmore show. The fact that Bill Graham made sure the poster said "Grateful Dead-formerly The Warlocks" suggests that the Warlocks had enough of a following that it was worth mentioning. This suggests there were many more Warlocks gigs than we currently know about. At this point, however, we only have this telling but fragmentary smattering of performances, leading The Warlocks up El Camino Real in their journey to San Francisco and transforming themselves into The Grateful Dead.
The Big Beat, 998 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto (December 18, 1965)
The Grateful Dead had played San Francisco, and after an acid test in the wilds of Western Marin (Muir Beach Dec 11, 1965), in a symbolic moment they returned to Palo Alto for an Acid Test. The Big Beat was Palo Alto's first rock club, but Prankster Page Browning rented it the Saturday night before it opened. Although The Big Beat was in South Palo Alto, far from the bohemian downtown, it was ironic that Palo Alto got its first rock club just as Palo Alto's most famous rock export had graduated.
After playing at The Big Beat Acid Test, the band was now playing in a different league, briefly journeying to Los Angeles with Owsley in February of 1966, but returning to San Francisco, not Palo Alto, and ultimately to Marin. They did play nearby Stanford University numerous times over the years, as part of regular rock band touring, but the scruffy Warlocks had made the journey up El Camino Real and become something different in the process. The Grateful Dead only played Palo Alto itself one more time, at the free Palo Alto Be-In on June 24, 1967, and only the tiniest traces remain of their peculiar 1965 oddysey up The King's Road.