One of the appealing things about Jerry Garcia's non-Grateful Dead endeavors in the 1970s is the flexible approach he took to performance. Although clearly Jerry was thoughtful about finding high quality musicians to perform with, he seemed comfortable and even eager to capitalize on the casualness of his gigs by having all sorts of guests and substitutions. Most Bay Area Garcia shows in the 1970s had no advance tickets, and were often added, canceled or changed with little notice. Thus a casual substitution in his band at the last minute made little difference, as there were few direct expectations. Various times I saw the Jerry Garcia Band with Phil Lesh or Bill Kreutzmann in the band (not at the same time), no doubt to cover conflicts of one kind or another. In the 1970s, at least, guest appearances seem to be equally casual, as the number of trumpet players alone seems to be surprisingly large.
Thanks to The Jerry Site and numerous accessible tapes, Deadheads can take these facts as a given and enjoy the music. However, one thing I am interested in pursuing is where exactly musicians connected with Jerry Garcia, and how they came to play with him. More high profile musicians like David Grisman have been interviewed many times about this subject, but some of the less prominent ones open up numerous questions. One that I am interested in pursuing is the October 11-12, 1975 Keystone Berkeley performance of the then-new Jerry Garcia Band. On both nights, the Garcia/Nicky Hopkins/John Kahn/Ron Tutt quartet is joined by electric piano player Tim Hensley. Hopkins even introduces him as a member of the band. Who was Tom Hensley? Where did he come from? Why was he a member of the group? Why did he drop out after one weekend's gigs? (note--I am aware that "Mike Godman" is listed as playing guitar with the JGB on October 11 but not October 12, and I address that in the appendix below).
In a different post, I have taken the stance that the first shows billed as "Jerry Garcia Band" were actually Keith and Donna Band shows with Jerry sitting in. My theory was that John Kahn was busy, and Garcia just wanted to play, so he sat in with Keith and Donna a few times until his band was available. With that in mind the first Garcia/Hopkins shows were
- September 18, 1975 Sophie's, Palo Alto (later Keystone Palo Alto)
- September 19, 1975 Crabshaw Corner, Sacramento
- September 20, 1975 River City, Fairfax
- September 21, 1975 River City, Fairfax
- October 8, 1975 Del Mar Theater, Santa Cruz (early and late show)
- October 10, 1975 Flint Center, De Anza College, Cupertino
- October 11, 1975 Keystone Berkeley
- October 12, 1975 Keystone Berkeley
- October 17, 1975 Concord Pavilion, Concord (w/Kingfish, Keith & Donna)
The question for me is not why Tim Hensley didn't continue with the band, as I think (in my own nostalgically prejudiced mind) that he wasn't needed, but why he even played one weekend with the Jerry Garcia Band.
The Jerry Garcia Band, 1975
Its never been adequately explained why Jerry Garcia decided to stop playing with Merl Saunders (their last gig was July 6, 1975), but apparently Garcia felt that it was time to move on. One has to presume that he started quietly sniffing around for other keyboard players. One thing that it can be hard to remember from this vantage point is that Jerry Garcia spin-off bands had peculiar economics. While the Grateful Dead were on touring "hiatus" at the time, they had a new album coming out (Blues For Allah), and Garcia had and would be spending substantial time editing their forthcoming movie as well. Since the Dead's return to performing in the Spring (March 23, 1975) and Summer (June 17 and August 13, 1975) it was plain that despite his penchant for performing, Garcia's professional (as opposed to musical) commitment to his own endeavors would likely be constricted. There was good money to be made touring with Jerry Garcia, but that could be interrupted by Grateful Dead commitments at any time.
Both Ron Tutt and John Kahn were established session musicians, with Kahn more on the production side, so Garcia was not their exclusive source of income. Over time, that may have changed for Kahn, but in the mid-1970s Kahn was part of a busy San Francisco studio scene, and also working with girlfriend Maria Muldaur as well. Tutt, of course, like all great drummers, had more work than he could possibly handle in one lifetime. Garcia must have seen the advantages to musical partnerships with a keyboard player who didn't exclusively rely on him for income.
The Nicky Hopkins story is worthy of a book, not just a blog post, but I can at least illustrate a few highlights. A classically trained pianist who discovered rock and roll as a teenager, the perpetually sickly Hopkins had to drop out of touring in the early British rock and roll scene. The ironic result was that he became the "first call" session piano player in London, and in the latter 60s and early 70s played with The Beatles ("Revolution," the single), The Rolling Stones (the Beggars Banquet album), The Kinks ("Sunny Afternoon"), The Who (Who's Next), John Lennon ("Jealous Guy") and numerous others. Ray Davies even wrote a song about him ("Session Man").
When Hopkins felt able to tour in March 1969, and went out with the now-legendary Jeff Beck Group (with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood), it seems all the more remarkable because he had turned down Jimmy Page's offer to join the fledgling Led Zeppelin the previous Fall. Hopkins ended up in San Francisco, where he joined Quicksilver Messenger Service for a year, played Woodstock with the Jefferson Airplane, and toured America with the Rolling Stones in 1969 and '72. His status rose in the 1970s, amazingly enough, and he continued as a top-of-the-line player for rock's royalty. For whatever reasons, he seems to have returned to the Bay Area in 1975, and its not surprising that Garcia would be interested in playing with him. Hopkins's health precluded permanent membership in any group, so a gig with the part-time Garcia Band seemed perfect.
Why Tim Hensley?-Speculation
Since I have no idea who Tim Hensley was, its hard to say what is introduction to Garcia might have been. The big question is why Hensley sat in with the Jerry Garcia Band at all. I have always found the Garcia/Hopkins/Kahn/Tutt ensemble to be a band of musical equals who left a lot of space for exploration, and to my ears Hopkins was the only one of Garcia's keyboard partners (except perhaps Howard Wales) who was his musical equal. I recognize that Hopkins health and his apparently excessive drinking (which was obvious from the audience) caused a variety of practical problems. I also heard, sometime after he departed, that the mundane fact of an Englishman without a driver's license in California was a problem as well, so I realize that Hopkins was not likely to last as a Garcia partner. But given the quality of his playing, why did Garcia even bother to allow a second keyboard player into the mix?
All I can do is speculate. Here are a variety of propositions, not at all necessarily exclusive. The first question to consider needs to be Why might the Jerry Garcia Band have added Tim Hensley as a second keyboard player, after playing seven shows without him?
- Garcia was looking for a twin keyboard sound, like The Band or Procol Harum: This isn't far-fetched; the Garcia Band (1981) and the Grateful Dead (1990-91) had double keyboard lineups
- Nicky Hopkins had a potential commitment, and they wanted to have a substitute in place: Hopkins was the ultimate "first-call" session man, and with a big National tour beginning October 22, Garcia would have needed to have a Plan B if Hopkin expected a call from the likes of The Rolling Stones or George Harrison.
- There was fear about Nicky Hopkins health. Hopkins was drinking way too much, and he had always had a myriad of other health problems. There may have been fear about an urgent operation or other health demand that would have stood in the way of a National tour
- Tim Hensley was owed a gig as sort of a payday. The August/September Garcia Band schedule is odd, with shows at Keystone Berkeley being billed as Jerry Garcia Band, only to have Jerry playing with Keith & Donna. Hopkins may have arrived later than expected, and Hensley may have been lined up (through Ronnie Tutt) as a reserve. Letting him sit in for two gigs paid him a little money, which may have justified some other inconvenience imposed on him.
- Some expected or feared event did not transpire: if Hopkins had a prior commitment to a Beatle, or a pending operation, it did not happen, and the contingency was no longer necessary
- Tim Hensley had a prior commitment: We don't know who Tim Hensley was, so its impossible to say what his other obligations might have been
- Tim Hensley didn't like the Dead scene: The Dead scene could come off very unattractively to an outsider. Hopkins was drinking heavily, by his own admission, and Jerry Garcia and John Kahn were not exactly hymns to healthy living.
- Garcia didn't like the sound: Jerry was ultimately about music, and Hensley may not have worked out the way he expected. In particular, Garcia may have had an idea for a double keyboard sound, with Hensley playing an organ-like electric piano, which is how he sounds on the tapes. The synergy of the wide-open spaces between Garcia and Hopkins may have been so promising, however, that Garcia may have gone back on his original idea and stuck with the quartet.
Appendix: Mike Godman on guitar, October 11, 1975
According to The Jerry Site, the October 11, 1975 Keystone show features "Tim Hensley on keyboards and Mike Godman on guitar," though October 12 features just Hensley. Hensley is audibly announced by Nicky Hopkins.
Contrastingly, I can't hear a second guitar on any of the October 11 tape, Mike Godman does not appear to be announced, and I haven't a clue to who Mike Godman might be. This points to some lesser, if still interesting, facets of Grateful Dead spin-off groups in the 1970s:
- It was common if you saw Garcia or Weir with his own band in a Bay Area place like the Keystone for some band friend to sit in for a few songs on some supporting instrument like rhythm guitar, trumpet, harmonica or congas. Sometime you might recognize a Matt Kelly or something, and sometimes you might hear about the name of a guy sitting in, but often it was just a complete mystery. I assume Mike Godman was just a band friend who played semi-audible rhythm guitar for a few songs, a not-unheard of event in that decade
- It is striking that there is enough a manuscript tradition in Jerry Garcia history that however the name of Mike Godman came to be known--assuming it even to be accurate--it has continued to be passed down for decades.