Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Grateful Dead and Menlo Park

Palo Alto, California, for a town of under 60,000, has a surprisingly high profile. Founded to accommodate Stanford University, the town has achieved renown as the incubator of Silicon Valley, The Grateful Dead and Google, just to name a few major icons. On the other hand, while Palo Alto deserves its place as an interesting matrix of ideas, South Bay residents know that much of Palo Alto's notoriety comes from the tendency of its residents to re-write history so that Palo Alto is at the center of every story. Palo Alto has a notoriously smug reputation (which, just to be clear, this Palo Alto native is quite proud of), looking down on the towns around it as insufficiently tasteful or cutting-edge.

Nothing illustrates Palo-centrism so clearly as the narrative of the early Grateful Dead. The story is regularly told of how Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and others were struggling folk musicians and beatniks in Palo Alto, met Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters and formed The Warlocks, participated in the Acid Tests, changed their name to the Grateful Dead and moved to San Francisco to change the world. However, surprisingly few of the seminal events took place in Palo Alto proper, and many of the important places in early Grateful Dead history actually took place in Menlo Park, the town just North of Palo Alto. While I have relatively little to add to the story of the early Grateful Dead, I am going to retell the key events from the point of view of Menlo Park, with a chronology of important Grateful Dead pre-historical and historical events that took place in Menlo Park.

1961 Peninsula School, 920 Peninsula Way: Jerry and Bob
Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter's first paying gig as a folk duo in the South Bay was at Peninsula School in Menlo Park. Peninsula School, at 920 Peninsula Way, was founded in 1925 and is still there. Greil Marcus, John Dawson and me all went there, though not at the same time.

1961-65 Kepler's Books 935 El Camino Real
Roy Kepler founded his famous bookstore at 935 El Camino Real in 1955, and it was the first bookstore  in the South Bay that allowed patrons to sit and read, drink coffee, hang out or play music, perfect for the budding bohemians who would become San Francisco's psychedelic rockers. All sorts of key events took place at Kepler's, such as Peter Albin (later in Big Brother) meeting Jerry Garcia for the first time, when Jerry was holding court in the back of Kepler's with a guitar. Jerry Garcia probably met his first wife (Sara Ruppenthal) here as well, though she was from Palo Alto.

Kepler's Books has since moved across the street (to 1010 El Camino Real). The site of the original store is currently a Leather Furniture Store

1961-63 The Chateau 2100 Santa Cruz Avenue
Jerry Garcia, David Nelson, Bob Hunter and many others lived in a rambling house near the Southern end of Santa Cruz Avenue called "The Chateau." It was a true hangout, with dozens of rooms and a party in all of them. Most stories about hanging out with Jerry in the old days generally refer to The Chateau. For various reasons, some people think that The Chateau was in Palo Alto, but that was actually the purple house on Waverley Street (at Channing) where Jerry and Sara Garcia moved in 1965. The address, near Sand Hill Avenue and Sharon Heights, is now a subdivision (note: I had previously thought the address was 838 Santa Cruz, which had been published elsewhere, but better information has come to light).
update:
The front yard at 2100 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park, CA, previously known as The Chateua, back in the mid-70s (thanks to Robert for the photo)


1962-65 Ken Kesey's House on Perry Lane (updated)
Tom Wolfe immortalized Ken Kesey's house on Perry Lane in his book The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. According to no less of an authority than the Archivist at the Palo Alto Historical Association, Kesey's Perry Lane house was on the site of today's current Perry Avenue. At the time, the area was in unincorporated San Mateo County, with a mailing addresses of Menlo Park, although it may have since been incorporated into Menlo Park.  The houses that were associated with Kesey's activities have long since been torn down and replaced by newer structures, but the current Perry Avenue is the site of Perry Lane in Kesey mythology (I had thought for many years that the nearby Oak Creek Apartments were actually the site of Perry Lane, but the Archivist pointed out that were actually they were actually built on Stanford land in Palo Alto proper, before the original Perry Lane structures were torn down).

Update: Menlo Park's leading blog, InMenlo, has discovered the exact address of Kesey's cottage: 9 Perry Lane. The whole story is here, including an interview with Kesey's neighbor and friend (at 13 Perry).

The somewhat younger members of the future Grateful Dead used to go to Perry Lane parties, possibly uninvited. This led to both the introduction of the young Warlocks as the house band for Kesey's infamous "Acid Tests"--don't forget, LSD was legal in California until October 6, 1966--and the initial connection between Jerry Garcia and his future (second) wife, Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Adams.

Magoo's Pizza, 635 Santa Cruz Avenue
In 1965, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Pigpen and many others had a jug band, but the band had almost no gigs other than poorly paying ones at Palo Alto's only folk club, The Tangent. Pigpen urged Garcia to form an electric blues band, and the Warlocks were born. Garcia and Weir worked at a music store in Dowtown Palo Alto called Dana Morgan's (at 536 Ramona). Since the son of the owner (Dana Morgan Jr) was The Warlocks bass player, the band could borrow equipment from the store and practice there as well, with the grudging acquiescence of the owner.

However, there were no gigs to be had in Palo Alto. Thus the first Warlocks gig was in Menlo Park, at a pizza parlor in Menlo Park. Magoo's Pizza was either at 635 Santa Cruz Avenue or at 639, as near as I can determine. 635 Santa Cruz is a restaurant called The Left Bank, and 639 is a furniture store. Any Menlo Park residents who can shed some light on the original location of Magoo's are encouraged to Comment or email me.

The Warlocks first played Magoo's on Wednesday May 5, 1965, and they played every Wednesday in May. The club was packed with students from Menlo Atherton High School, thanks to shrewd campaigning by the group's first fans. However, despite the promising start to the young band, bassist Dana Morgan was not cutting it. Garcia's friend Phil Lesh saw the last Wednesday night gig (on May 26), and Garcia invited him to replace Morgan (Garcia had to teach Lesh to play bass, as Phil only played trumpet, piano and violin).

Guitars Unlimited, El Camino Real
Since Dana Morgan Jr had been fired from the Warlocks, the band was not welcome to use equipment from the store, nor were Garcia and Weir wanted as guitar instructors. Both Garcia and Weir got jobs at a music store called Guitars Unlimited on El Camino Real, right near Santa Cruz Avenue. Both of them brought their own guitar students with them, an attactive proposition even though Garcia in particular had what was perceived as a "menacing" demeanor. Of course, the band promptly borrowed equipment from Guitars Unlimited.

Throughout the balance of 1965, The Warlocks struggled with trying to make it like a normal South Bay band, mostly playing up and down the El Camino Real. Things started to change at the end of the year, however, as they began to play Kesey's Acid Tests. While the band played at the infamous Big Beat Acid Test in South Palo Alto, they still had not yet had a paying gig in Palo Alto. By 1966, things were developing at a rapid pace, and in February the newly-named Grateful Dead took off to Los Angeles with their patron Owsley Stanley, to help put on Acid Tests in Southern California. Of course, the band took all their equipment from Guitars Unlimited. Whether the band eventually paid for them is not clear.

The story of the Grateful Dead and Menlo Park ends in February 1966. The group did play a Be-In at Palo Alto's El Camino Park on June 24, 1967, which was an easy walk from Magoo's, Kepler's or Guitars Unlimited. [update: I have since learned that the address of Guitars Unlimited was 1035 El Camino Real, in Menlo Park, now the site of the Su Hong restaurant]

The Underground, El Camino Real May-June 1969
The story of Jerry Garcia and Menlo Park was not quite over, however. In April 1969, while on tour in Colorado, Garcia bought a pedal steel guitar. Looking for an opportunity to play the instrument, he discovered that old Los Altos pal John Dawson was performing his own songs at a Hofbrau in Menlo Park called The Underground, somewhere on El Camino Real in Menlo Park. Another old South Bay friend, David Nelson, without a band at the time, joined in playing electric guitar.

Dawson, Nelson and Garcia would go on to found the New Riders of The Purple Sage, although they would not be known by that name until August. The trio played most Wednesday nights at The Underground, however starting May 7 (probably May 14, May 21 and June 4 also, and possibly June 18). Their last gig at The Underground was probably June 25. It is a little-remarked fact that the first gigs of both the future Grateful Dead and the future New Riders took place within walking distance of each other in downtown Menlo Park.

Thanks to a Commenter, I know the approximate location of The Underground, but not precisely. It appears that 1029 El Camino Real would be the approximate location of The Underground. That is currently The Oak City Bar And Grill, but I do not know for a fact whether the buildings have been remodeled or if The Underground was at the same place.

Peninsula School, 920 Peninsula Way June 3 1969: Jerry Garcia and John Dawson
Outside of The Underground Hofbrau in Menlo Park, the first public gig of the future New Riders--at the time unnamed--was at Peninsula School. Dead biographer Dennis McNally alludes to this event, and by triangulating I can approximate the date, but it could be any weeknight around that time. Banjoist Peter Grant had probably joined the trio, and possibly other players as well.

I had moved on to Public School by this time, but a friend of mine, then aged 11, went to the school and recalled the show (although its possible he was recalling the 1970 show). He and his friend snuck into the equipment room and someone knocked on the door. Since they weren't supposed to be there, they refused to let the person in. He plaintively said "but you have to let me in, I'm Jerry Garcia." Scared of their Moms, however, they remained silent until Jerry left and they could sneak away. Many years later, my friend's Mom moved to The Oak Creek Apartments, but those sort of imaginary "coincidences" were common in the then-insular South Bay.

The New Riders would go on to play two more shows at Peninsula School, one around May 1970, and another on May 28, 1971. The May 28 show was odd because a very ill Jerry Garcia could not make the show, and The Riders played as a quartet. 

Conclusion
The Grateful Dead saw themselves as a Palo Alto band, and rightly so. Without Palo Alto, there would have been no Grateful Dead. The cool parts of Menlo Park, like Kepler's or The Chateau, to some extent depended on being near to downtown Palo Alto while being cheaper. Nonetheless, without Menlo Park there wasn't necessarily a Grateful Dead either. Palo Alto has a right to be at the center of a lot of stories--Joan Baez, Stanford Shopping Center, Silicon Valley, The Homebrew Computer Club, Yahoo, Google and Facebook to name just a few--but it doesn't exist in a vacuum, however much we natives try and suck up all the air around us. There's a Grateful Dead walking tour of Menlo Park ready to be made, if someone could just find the addresses of the long-gone establishments.

31 comments:

  1. From The Jerry Site comes this note:

    From Michael: The Underground was a coffee house/pizza parlor on El Camino Real in Menlo Park. It was a block north of the original location of Kepler's and two doors north of the old Discount Records.

    Can you generate the precise address based on this description? Also, I believe that info was contributed by Michael Parrish, so I'll try to see if he has anything more to add.

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  2. Very good work. I managed to get the address for Kepler's and come pretty close for The Underground. Given the tendency of Use Permits to stay in force (Restaurants remain Restaurants, etc), its likely that one of the current establishments on the block was The Underground, either Oak City or the place next to it.

    I recall the Menlo Park Discount Records well. As a further GD note, in my High School-early College period (1975-76), the manager of that store was Steve Marcus, who went on to become manager of the Grateful Dead Ticket Services.

    Through a mutual friend, Steve was always awesome about finding tickets, too, and I've never forgotten that.

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  3. It appears that the Oak Creek Apartments, the site of Perry Lane, is actually in Palo Alto.

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  4. Apparently the address of The Chateau was 838 Santa Cruz Avenue, between Evelyn and Crane. It is now a commercial strip.

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  5. Perry Lane wasn't on the site of the Oak Creek Apts. It's in Menlo Park. Take a right on Leland Ave. off Sand Hill by the SU Golf Coarse. Next Right. Not the same place, but it's still there.

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  6. Yes, I was misinformed there for a few decades about Oak Creek--one of those Palo Alto myths.

    I gather that Kesey's old cottage has long since been torn down--do you have any idea of the old lot number?

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  7. Actually Perry Lane is not in Palo Alto, but adjacent to Oak Knoll School and as the author pointed out was in un-incorporated Menlo Park.

    Jerry Garcia also taught banjo lessons at Guitars Unlimited.

    Keplers books had possibly the best collection of rock-art posters in the US.

    Palo Alto should be proud though...both Tuck & Patti and Michael Hedges started out playing in a coffee house/theatre called the New Varsity where you could hear them several times per week free.

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  8. Okay, to start with Greil's name is Greil NOT Griel! I was NOT the manager of Discount Records I was a lowely employee. The manager was Don Carville, who is now about 75 and I spoke with him a few weeks ago...concerning New Riders:

    Well, I was at the first New Riders gig at Peninsula School (I thought it was late 1969 and John Dawson agreed, but, hey it was the 60's!!!)and remember it being in front of the handball wall (which is still there!) Also I remember that it was John Dawson, Jerry Garcia, David Nelson, Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh. John Dawson told me many years later that it was maybe their 5th or 6th time playing in front of people in that configuration. Florrie Forrest, archivist for Peninsula School, told me that she has a handbill for one of the gigs which was actually a fundraiser for school tuition for Jerry's daughter, Heather.
    Peninsula School History:
    All five Marcus children attended Peninsula at one time or another.
    Greil graduated with John Dawson and Bob Matthews and was a classmate of Bill Kreutzman's for a while.
    My sister Anne graduated with Bob's brother Pat Matthews, I graduated with Bob's other brother Scott Matthews. Joan Baez also went to Peninsula School. Up until two and half years ago we still had our house at 931 Peninsula Way.

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  9. And, the 1961 "concert" with Jerry and Bob Hunter at Peninsula School was for the eighth grade graduation in the school auditorium. I was 8 1/2 and had a habit (unknown to anyone in my family until now) of sneaking out of the house at night and just sitting in the school yard watching the stars. I heard some folk music coming out of the auditorium and went in just as they were playing Michael Row The Boat Ashore (my favorite song at that time!) Years later when I was working for the Grateful Dead I told Jerry about it and he said, "Man, that was our first paying gig...and they never paid us!" Hunter remembered too.

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  10. Steve

    This is amazing information. There was definitely a June 1969 show at Peninsula with the New Riders. Its amazing that you were there. More amazing that there was a flyer. Do you recall what the billing was (Jerry Garcia, Marmaduke & Friends or what)?

    As far as Peninsula goes, my Mom taught there from about 1950-55, so depending on the dates of your family's attendance, there's a chance she was one of the teachers (also your brother and my sister are pals, but that is outside of the scope of the blog).

    Very interesting to find out that Bob Matthews went to Peninsula. I'm surprised that Bob Weir didn't go there--his Mom knew many of the Peninsula people (she supposedly once told Hal Stallings "can you get him to stop playing that guitar and do something that makes him some money"). Bob Matthews brother Scott isn't the drummer/producer guy, is it?

    Sorry about Greil's name, I'll fix it. As to the Discount Records part, I remember going to Discount Records, and as far as I was concerned you were the manager, so its my blog and I'm letting it stand.

    thanks for chiming in

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  11. Hal Stallings was my eighth grade teacher!

    Bob Weir went to Menlo Atherton for a short time and in the 1990's got an "diploma" from The Pacific High School in the Palo Alto hills.

    The founders of the school found a 500-600 acre plot of land six families to buy (including mine) and as a finder's fee they got 10-20 acres for the school.

    And my sister, Anne, took guitar lessons from Jerry at Guitars Unlimited in 1964, I think.

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  12. okay, the above post was from me, not Susan! I didn't realize that she was logged in!

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  13. The friend I allude to who snuck into the equipment room at the 1969 or '70 NRPS show was Josh Stallings.

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  14. his sister, Lisa, was in my class.

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  15. I went to Menlo College from fall '64 to spring '66. I'd hang out at Guitars Unlimited after school. I remember waxing ecstatic about Mike Bloomfield with Jerry on more than one occaision.

    One night in St Michael's Alley (on University, I think?) in Palo Alto I met Pigpen. He turned a friend and I on to a frequent jam session at the house of a "David X" in East Palo Alto. We'd go and give Pigpen a ride since he didn't have a car.

    One night leaving the jam Pigpen and I were waiting for my roommate to get in and unlock the car. Pigpen was writing in the mist on the window of the car with his finger. I was watching and asked, "What the heck is "Gratefuldead"?" He said they had to change the name of the group because the bass player they'd thrown out had formed a group called the "Morlocks" and they didn't want to be confused with that group.

    Andy Z

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  16. This is a fantastic site - thanks for all the great info and discussion.

    Does anyone know the address of the purple house in Palo Alto (Waverley at Channing) mentioned above, where Garcia lived in '65?

    I live a few blocks away and would love to check it out but I don't think it's purple anymore.

    Paul

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  17. The purple house is long gone, turrets and all. It is a condo development now. The address is 653-681 Waverley.

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  18. Hey, Corry, you never corrected the spelling of Greil's name! I do NOT think that the Scott Matthews I knew is the same as the percussionist...

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  19. Sorry, Steve, got it now. Too bad Scott Matthews isn't the drummer...that would have been too Six Degrees to believe.

    I have another post about Bob Matthews on my other blog--http://hooterollin.blogspot.com/2011/09/studio-recordings-by-bob-and-betty.html

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  20. Wow, talk about memory lane. I went to Peninsula from 4th to 8th grade, graduating in 1969. Lark Stallings, Danny Marcus, Scott Thompson, John Rigter, George Myers, are a few classmate names that come immediately to mind. Jerry Hearn was Stu Harwood's teaching assistant when Jerry drove John & I up to the City for our first ever Grateful Dead concert at Winterland. Oh boy! $4 at the door, as I recall. That was the first of many GD and Jefferson Airplane concerts for me, after I got my driver's license. The Dead also played around Palo Alto as others have said, but it was the '60s so I don't remember all of it :-) and I was too young for some of it.

    At our Peninsula School class graduation in 1969, we had our own rock band: Mark Calloway, Greg Marcus, Lark Stallings, and... and... can't remember the 4th one. But I still have the tape recording I made of it on my Lafayette reel-to-reel tape recorder.

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    1. I wrote the above post. My ID was garbled beyond recognition cuz my Google account was too old. Let's see if this works.

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  21. Max, thanks for the interesting commentaary. You don't recall seeing a proto-NRPS in June '69 by any chance. do you. There also may have been a 1967 rock show at Peninsula that may have featured the New Delhi River Band with David Nelson.

    I'm still in touch with Lark Stallings through his brother. I don't know if Lark would be pleased or appalled that there is a 1969 tape of his work...

    thanks for the perspective.

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  22. Me and my two brothers attended Peninsula School at various times in the mid-late 60s. I saw Jerry Garcia performing on pedal steel at Peninsula school in the late 60's on a weekend during the day, outside in front of the main building, for a what I believe was a spring festival. So that must have been some configuration of NRPS. I was a kid, but I remember that my mom pointed my attention to Jerry, because he was already a bit famous from the Grateful Dead, and so she new who he was. It was a very laid back scene without a lot of fan-fare, because he was not an icon yet, just a well known local musician in the San Francisco rock scene. However for whatever reason I always remembered this, as I must have been at least somewhat intrigued by this music and the 'vibe' of Jerry and the NRPS.

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  23. Sean, thank you for your interesting comment. It sounds like you may have seen the June '69 show with Marmaduke and David Nelson, just before the New Riders became a "real band."

    If you went to Peninsula in the late 60s, it may be that Sara Ruppenthal Garcia (probably called Sarah Katz at the time) was your music teacher.

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  24. My Mom bought the house at 2100 Santa Cruz ave in 1964 as rental property originally and lived there herself until 2002. It was a victorian style house built in 1910 with shake tiles on the exterior. It was sold in '02 demolished and rebuilt .

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    1. Pat, thank you for the final closure on the story of The Chateau.

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  25. I lived in 2100 Santa Cruz Ave. from 1975-76, and Pat's mom was my landlady. I have a few pictures of the house, mostly because I got married there, in 1975. It was a little smaller than you think though. Maybe eight bedrooms. When my wife & I moved in, we got a suite on the lower level, which people told us had been "Pig Pen's room." I guess it was....

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    1. Robert, thanks for joining in. It's fascinating that you have pictures of the house, because I'm not aware of any in existence. I'd love to post one, or post a link to one if it was on a Flickr type site (you can email me at corrarnold at gmail dot com)

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  26. I'll send you one via e-mail to see if it works. I warn you, though, we may have a lot of pictures from when we lived & got married there, but the house was in the background (it was situated in a way that it didn't photograph well...)

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  27. Thanks for this great post! I was in Menlo Park recently on business and had some spare time, so I used this post as a guide for a walking/driving tour of some of the sites you describe. It's amazing (and a little sobering) how much everything has changed in the past several decades with the gentrification of Silicon Valley. One update: a photo posted recently on Facebook confirms that Magoo's Pizza was at 639 Santa Cruz. Long-time MP residents commented that the business on the corner that is now the Left Bank restaurant was the Menlo Theater.

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    1. Jeff, thanks for the compliments. I had always sort of thought of this post as a guided tour, but you may be the first to actually take me up on that.

      I'm pretty sure I saw the same Magoo's photo on Facebook (how many can there be?). I agree that Magoo's is definitely not 635 Santa Cruz, but based on the photo I now think it was 641 Santa Cruz. 641 is called Bistro Vida now.

      I have a new post about Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Stanford Grateful Dead landmarks coming up on my other blog in September, where I summarize some of the new information.

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