Thursday, May 13, 2010

April 15, 1970 Winterland, San Francisco Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service

(A clip from Ralph Gleason's On The Town column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, April 15, 1970)

By 1970, rock concerts were big business, and by any definition The Grateful Dead were rock stars. It may have been true that in 1970 many more people had heard of the Dead than had actually heard their music, and many of those who had heard their music had only the most passing acquaintance with it, having heard the occasional album track on FM radio or a bit of a record at a party, but the same is true of the Dead today. Rock stardom can project fame well beyond the music. In any case, thanks to Rolling Stone magazine, the local dailies and underground newspapers, the doings of the Grateful Dead were fairly well covered. Thus it remains remarkable how many 1970 Grateful Dead concerts remain quite mysterious.

Many Deadheads are familiar with a stellar board tape of the April 15, 1970 Winterland show. Save for a few clips and fades, the 99-minute tape appears to be a largely complete show. The lengthy set includes a number of unnamed guests during a jam after the drum solo, including a guitarist, an organist and a conga player (at least). Further research into this show reveals almost nothing--there is a sensational, memorable recording that has circulated widely, but barely a peep about the show otherwise: I know of no poster, review or photo, and only the barest of eyewitness accounts remain. This post attempts to draw conclusions from what little information is available about the promotion of the concert itself.

The Concert
I know of no poster or ads for this concert. The only reference to this show that I could find was two references in Ralph Gleason's column in the San Francisco Chronicle, briefly on Monday April 13 and then slightly more on April 15, the day of the concert (above). Gleason writes
Tonight the Jefferson Airplane, the Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead have their own dance at Winterland--"Three Bands for Three Dollars"
Gleason's phrasing distinctly suggests that the Dead, Airplane and the Quick are promoting their own show, and certainly this show never appears on any lists of BGP shows. However, on one of the Archive comment threads, an apparent eyewitness ("Evan S Hunt") writes
It Didn't Matter that the next day was a school day. I had boycotted all my classes. Many SF Bay Area college and university students had taken part in the drill to do the same. And while we struck, Apollo 13 astronauts were lorst into space. That morning heard a one time, last minute official public announcement on KSAN-FM that Bill Graham was throwing a midweek special.

About 5000 people emerged from out of the shadows and ponied-up the $5.50 GA charge. This is that show. This entire show appeals in that it was one of those shows when the band sits 'round the fire and moves as it wishes. No pressure, no hurry, no worry. Just get up and play and have fun. In 1970, the Grateful Dead was the kind of band that Bill Graham could ask to slip a little show in here and there to help with the bottom line. Was home well before 6 a.m. It didn't matter anyway. I had no classes that day, or the next. I slept until 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

And the killer portion of this whole episode was that I had previously attended all the GD's shows at Fillmore West in the previous seven days.
Long ago memories can be a tricky thing, with people conflating concerts in their mind, but there are a number of crucial reasons to find every word of this entirely believable. First of all, he has the date of the Apollo 13 crisis exactly correct, and the Student Strike of 1970 (too lengthy a digression to enter into here) was also a quite memorable event. Combined with the fact that the Dead had just played four nights at Fillmore West, I have every reason to believe Evan Hunt's memory of this show as a last second announcement. His memory begs an important question: who promoted this show? Why was Bill Graham on the radio pushing a last minute show, without tying it to his regular productions?

Bill Graham Presents, Circa 1970
There is a lot of mythology about Bill Graham and the Fillmores, most of it promulgated by Bill Graham. In reality, however, though the Fillmore Auditorium, Fillmore East and Fillmore West were cornerstones of the rock concert industry, that same industry had exploded to the point that those venues were no longer viable. In late 1969, Graham acknowledged that the land under the Fillmore West had been sold to Howard Johnson's, and the building would soon be demolished to build a hotel. At the same time, I am convinced that Graham was professionally afraid of a well capitalized competitor (such as Concerts West or Los Angeles-based Concert Associates) coming into San Francisco and pushing him out of business. This may seem unlikely now, but it wouldn't have seemed unlikely to Graham at the time. Winterland was simply another building for rent, and a big player with sufficient capital could lease the hall and instantly threaten the Fillmore West.

The whole subject of the San Francisco concert industry in 1970 is worth several posts on my other blog, but I am making the case here that Graham was both poking around for different business models while constantly reminding any out-of-town competitors that he was a local magician who owned the territory. By Spring 1970, the Airplane were bigger than ever (behind Volunteers), and more people had learned about the magic of The Dead (thanks to Live/Dead) and Quicksilver, whose first two albums were FM classics. Why have a "stealth" show, with little advance warning, in such a big hall?

One thing to consider is that the Grateful Dead had just headlined four memorable nights at the Fillmore West (April 9-12, Thursday through Sunday) with the Miles Davis Quintet (actually a sextet, since Airto Moreira had joined as percussionist). Thus contractually, the Dead at least would not have been allowed to advertise a show until the Fillmore West run was over. The Airplane and Quicksilver were less constrained, but the Quick would have just come back from the East Coast, and the Airplane were about to head East themselves. I suspect that means that both bands may have had uncertain schedules, so the show couldn't have been promoted as an Airplane/Quicksilver show, with the Dead added at the last second.

Gleason suggests that the three bands were putting on the show themselves. All the San Francisco bands, particularly the Dead, had a complex personal and business relationship with Bill Graham and Chet Helms, where they liked them personally yet competed with them financially. I suspect the Dead and the others wanted to put on their own show because they felt they could make more money than if they played Fillmore West, but the show could not have been promoted until the Dead's Fillmore West appearances were done. This suggests the Dead as instigators of this event, since the other two probably would have simply promoted the show in advance.

Yet Evan Hunt's memory--which seems quite clear--was firm about recalling Bill Graham announcing the show on the radio. Why would Graham announce a show by a band that had just headlined his hall, with some groups who were attempting to compete with him for the concert dollar in San Francisco? Since I've given you what little information there is about the show, anyone is free to supplement, rebut or transform my suggestions, which follow.
  • The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver wanted to put on a show in San Francisco, and the Airplane came along for the ride. The show was financially motivated--the bands thought they could make more money as the promoters of their own show. Wednesday April 15 was an open date and Winterland was an available hall. The student strike may have made the date seem especially propitious.
  • Since the Dead were booked at Fillmore West on April 9-12, their own show could not be publicized until the Fillmore West run was complete.
  • Putting on a large, professional rock show wasn't a lark; it required a professional crew and equipment. The best in the West was Bill Graham's Fillmore West operation, so the bands hired Bill Graham and his staff. There was no Fillmore West show on April 15 (John Mayall opened the next night at Fillmore West), so the crew was available. Graham was at least considering different business models, so acting as a crew for hire while another promoter (in this case the bands) took the financial risk was worth trying on for size.
  • While the Dead and the others were competing with Graham, their scope as competitors was limited to their own shows, but the threat of outside promoters was considerably more ominous. Graham needed to demonstrate to any potential competitors on both Coasts that these were still his bands, and more importantly insure that three hometown heroes did not hook up with major players in New York or Los Angeles.
Thus on April 15, 1970 the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service put on a show at Winterland to compete with Bill Graham Presents, and appear to have hired Bill Graham in order to do it. All of this is speculation on my part, if informed speculation: anyone with additional insights, information, objections or new ideas should post them in the Comments.

I will speculate on the guests at the April 15 Winterland show in my next post.

3 comments:

  1. This show is indeed incredible and worthy of whatever attention we give it. While the GD set is rightfully legendary, I consider this the last great Airplane set as well.

    One quick note: Evan Hunt has an incredible memory for these things, and I trust his recollections to about 99.9%.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Although no other promoters seem to have used the Fillmore West or Winterland after Graham locked them up, he apparently did allow the bands or worthy causes to use them on occasion - the 2/23/70 Grateful Dead bust benefit at Winterland, the 3/3/71 Airwaves Benefit and the 12/23/70 benefit for Bear come to mind. I went to the 3/24/71 show with the Dead, the Sufi Choir and Yogi Bhajan at Winterland (on a Wednesday night!) and it clearly was not promoted by BGP. Also, the 10/4,5/70 shows at Winterland were also promoted by the bands and similarly billed as "Three Bands for Three Dollars." Unfortunately the music (at least on the broadcast 10/4 show) was not nearly as good as that from 4/15.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was at a show at Winterland in which these three bands played, don't know if it was this date or not cus I can't remember. Don't know if these three bands played at Winterland on any other dates? Anyway I also don't remember anything about the show except the music was amazing and it lasted til the wee hours ~ it was a long time ago..........

    ReplyDelete