Sunday, February 7, 2010
Jerry Garcia, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Peninsula School 1961-71
In my extensive post about the history of Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead from the point of view of Menlo Park, the town just North of Palo Alto, I mentioned that the New Riders of The Purple Sage had played Peninsula School in Menlo Park in 1969 and 1971. A Commenter informed me that the Riders had also played around May, 1970, and to prove it he sent in a remarkable photo of Mickey Hart and Marmaduke playing outdoors. Palo Alto resident Michael Parrish was a Cubberley High School student at the time, who took the opportunity to go to this Tuesday afternoon benefit show. He knows it was on a Tuesday between the April and June 1970 Grateful Dead Fillmore West shows, and so far it appears that April 28, 1970 is the most likely date.
This seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore the intersection between the Grateful Dead and Peninsula School.
Peninsula School, 925 Peninsula Way, Menlo Park, CA
Peninsula School was a K-8 school founded in 1925 and by all indications is still going strong. It was always a place for forward looking, free-thinking people, and by the 1950s it was the private school of choice for the progressive, ban-the-bomb, anti-McCarthy type parents who were common in the South Bay (if few other places). This isn't speculation on my part--my Mother was offered a teaching job at Peninsula School in the early 1950s, thus escaping Long Island and allowing her to marry my Father, leading directly to (among other things) this blog.
In the 1960s, while Peninsula parents were somewhat older than the Beatniks and proto-hippies who would make up the Grateful Dead, they weren't scared of them. Students who attended the school included John "Marmaduke" Dawson, writer Greil Marcus and me (albeit not at the same time). When the New Riders played Peninsula, Dawson alluded to the fact that Bob Weir had briefly attended the school as well (Weir apparently attended many schools briefly). Dawson would have completed 8th grade around 1961, and Weir's timing would have had to have been similar.
Given the tiny world of those of an open mind in the South Bay, its not surprising that there were many connections between the Grateful Dead and Peninsula school.
1961: Bob and Jerry
Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia were attempting to be a folk duo, and there first gig was at Peninsula School. Supposedly they received 50 dollars for a performance, a startling amount for the time.
1960s: Sara Ruppenthal Garcia
It is my understanding that Jerry's wife Sara was a music teacher at Peninsula. It was common at Peninsula for there to be a lot of part time music, art or what-have-you instructors, the wife, daughter or brother of someone connected to the school. Peninsula was the type of school where "music class" consisted of singing Woody Guthrie songs instead of "God Bless America," heady stuff indeed for the 1960s.
Since I attended Peninsula School from Nursery School through the 1st grade (approximately 1962-65), it is at least remotely possible that Sara came into my class and led the sing alongs. I have no way of confirming any of this, but its fun to think it might have happened.
June 3 1969: Jerry Garcia and John Dawson
John Dawson had written some songs, Jerry Garcia had a new pedal steel guitar and David Nelson didn't have a band. Garcia and Nelson decided to sit in with Dawson at his Wednesday night gig at a place called The Underground Hofbrau on El Camino Real in Menlo Park, starting May 7, 1969.
Outside of The Underground, 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.
April 28, 1970 New Riders of The Purple Sage
As we can see from the photo, the New Riders played a Tuesday afternoon outdoor benefit at Peninsula School. Notwithstanding Dawson's ties to the school, the New Riders were about to join the Grateful Dead on their first National tour (starting on May 1), so they were probably looking for a gig to work out the kinks. At the time, the New Riders consisted of John Dawson on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, David Nelson on lead guitar and harmony vocals, Dave Torbert (ex New Delhi River Band, as was Nelson) on bass and harmonies, Garcia on pedal steel and Mickey Hart on drums.
May 28, 1971 New Riders Of the Purple Sage
The New Riders played another afternoon show at Peninsula, another sign of John Dawson's close ties to the school. The Grateful Dead and The New Riders had a huge show at Winterland that night, but they had squeezed an afternoon show in anyway. Michael Parrish also attended this show, and was quite surprised when he arrived to find no Garica. The normally reliable Garcia was so sick that the Winterland show was canceled (and rescheduled for May 30). The Riders played the gig as a quartet, however, the only known time that they played without Jerry during his tenure in the band.
The history of The Grateful Dead, The New Riders and Peninsula School seems to end at this point. The New Riders album was released a few months later, and they too became a successful touring band, much too big to play relaxed afternoon benefits in Menlo Park without causing a ruckus.