The Grateful Dead were together for 30 years, more or less continuously, and performed long after the bands that had been their peers were just a memory. Part of the Dead's enduring appeal was that they had played at so many important rock events in San Francisco and the United States that they became a living link to a remarkable time, like the Roman Coliseum or the coelacanth. This leads to a peculiar prosopographical problem, however: the Dead's legendary status causes them to be assigned to every important rock event in the 60s, and the evidence does not always point that way. Despite years of extensive Dead scholarship--far more advanced than any other band besides The Beatles and a few others--some 60s performance dates that have been in Deadbase or on Deadlists for years are far less settled than they appear.
KMPX-fm in San Francisco was the first "Underground" rock station, broadcasting album cuts and hip music and setting the stage for a radio revolution. It began broadcasting on February 12, 1967, with a midnight-to-six shift (the dj was Larry Miller) and by early April program director Tom (Big Daddy) Donahue was broadcasting rock 24/7. It revolutionized the San Francisco scene, rock music in America and the FM dial in general. By 1968, KMPX was one of the most successful stations in the Bay Area (along with its sister station, KPPC-fm in Pasadena), with hip advertisers and the 100% support of all the bands, who recognized that KMPX was playing their music when the AM stations would never do so. Bitter relations between the owners and the hippie workers, however, caused the staff to go out on a very high-profile strike on the morning of Monday, March 18, 1968.
According to Deadlists, Deadbase, Dead.net and various other sources, the Grateful Dead played in support of the strikers on three occasions:
- March 18, 1968 outside the radio station
- March 20, 1968 at the Avalon, and
- April 3, 1968 at Winterland
March 18, 1968
What can be stated for a fact is that Traffic, who was playing Winterland for two weekends, played on Monday morning between 9am and noon, and Jerry Garcia played with them at least for one song. I have written about this at length, and we can be certain of the performance since art student Andrew Wong took some great photos (well worth a look). Since I wrote that post, I have discovered that the location of the temporary stage was Pier 10 in San Francisco, roughly at Washington and Embarcadero.
Garcia's morning guest appearance with Traffic seems to have been converted to a full on Grateful Dead appearance, when little evidence actually suggests that. Even the best placed sources seem to have gotten some of the details garbled, and subsequent references are even less accurate. I am not concerned with worrying about how some of the facts may have gotten misread than with trying to clarify what is known versus unknown.
Dennis McNally, who had the best access to people who were actually present, writes (p.257)
At 3am on the Monday after the Carousel opened [the weekend of March 15-17], the staff of KMPX went out on strike, walking out of the warehouse at Green and Battery Streets that housed the station to gather around a flatbed truck parked in the street. There members of the of the Dead, whose gig had ended only a couple of hours before, Steve Winwood, and others began to play. The strike became a party.Since we know from Wong's photos that Garcia and Traffic played in daylight, McNally's description seems accurate but his timeline seems off (remember the state of mind at the time of the people who probably told McNally the story).
John Fogerty, the driving force of Creedence Clearwater Revival, recalled a more plausible story in a 1998 interview, with some telling differences. At the time, Creedence had just changed their name and not yet released their first album. They played regularly at a bar called DenoCarlo's at 750 Vallejo, later well known as the Keystone Korner. Creedence's demo of "Suzie Q" got regular play on KMPX, so they were enthusiastic supporters of the station. Fogerty (quoted in Werner, Up Around The Bend, Avon Books, 1999 p.69):
We heard about it, we were playing at Deno and Carlo's, and we rushed right over to the station and set up all of our equipment. We were the band, in fact, we were the only band until the next morning about nine o'clock, more famous people got there like the Grateful Dead. But actually, Creedence Clearwater played there at one in the morning and people talked about the noise.As we will see, Fogerty has a lot more accurate picture of the sequence of the events. However, in Fogerty's version it is the Grateful Dead who showed up some hours later, when in fact it appeared it was just Jerry Garcia (and possibly Mickey Hart). Yet the image of the Grateful Dead jamming on a flatbed truck on Green Street at 3am is so engaging that it has simply overtaken the otherwise very interesting real story. Keep in mind, however, that Fogerty was surely long gone by the time Garcia actually appeared, so he too only heard second hand about events later in the morning.
Reporter George Gilbert covered the story for the San Francisco Chronicle, and his story appeared on Tuesday, March 19. Although Gilbert has a reporter's perspective, he gives a clear idea of the timeline of events.
It was almost 3 a.m. at KMPX-FM and everybody, despite the crisis, was grooving to James Brown.
Rocking on the balls of his feet and staring at the groovy chicks dancing in the studio was Augustus Owsley Stanley III, the Henry Ford of LSD.
The Grateful Dead arrived and offered their help. Ten or 15 hippies wandered about with sad, lost faces. Five hundred more waited outside.After a brief background on the station, Gilbert continues
Exactly. But back to the show. Voco [KMPX chief engineer Abe Kesh], his black beard brushing the microphone, told an astonished audience that the staff was striking and everybody left the station at 50 Green Street and at five minutes after three o'clock in the morning the amplifiers were plugged in and the Creedence Clearwater band came alive. So did lot of people on Telegraph Hill, only a few decibels west.Fogerty's basic story is confirmed by Gilbert. When the strike was declared at 3am, Creedence was rocking and rolling on the back of a flatbed truck on Green Street. But their celebration was shortlived. On a Monday morning, even Baghdad-by-the-Bay has its limits.
[The cops arrived and told] the throng, now well over 500, to tune it down. Creedence Clearwater frowned. So did everybody else. The two cops left quickly and everybody cheered. But the cops returned in a little while with two seargeants. And the dance on Green Street was over.
"Everybody come over to Pier 10," somebody shouted from the makeshift bandstand. "We'll resume there."
Everybody did but somebody forgot the amps and 500 disgruntled hippies went home for the night.For the balance of the article, Gilbert returns much later in the morning, and talks to a KMPX picketer, who happens to be extremely pretty (San Francisco rock fans will be delighted to know it was former Charlatans singer Lynne Hughes), and there is some general discussion of the finances of KMPX.
Nonetheless, Gilbert's article sorts out the essential points. The Grateful Dead came over to KMPX after their Carousel show (on March 17), probably intending to play. Creedence kicked off the show, but the cops shut it down. A plan to move the event to Pier 10 was stalled, and not surprisingly it did not re-start until daylight. I have to presume that by morning some or most members of the Dead had gone home, but Jerry was still around. It remains unclear who else played besides Traffic (Harvey Mandel and Mickey Hart are visible back stage), but it was probably a great morning.
The actual events are a great rock and roll story: the staff of the first FM rock station goes on strike, and the first local band to play in support of them at 3am turns out to be one of the biggest selling bands of the era. The Grateful Dead were probably ready to go on next, but the cops intervened--even so, Jerry Garcia hung around to jam with Stevie Winwood and Traffic, in itself an amazing event. Yet myth and confusion have changed the story to make it conform to the theme that the Grateful Dead played "every" important event in San Francisco rock history.
KMPX Strike Fund Benefit, Avalon Ballroom March 20, 1968
For one thing, the circulating poster (above) only lists All Men Joy, Blue Cheer, Ace of Cups, Black Swan and Creedence Clearwater. Ralph Gleason mentions the show in Wednesday column, and offers a different lineup:
Now, I agree it's possible the Dead just "showed up" and played anyway, but that is always the explanation offered, and I need something a little more concrete to go on. At this time, the Dead were working on Anthem Of The Sun as well as opening the Carousel and then leaving for Michigan, so they had to be pretty busy. On the Dead.net page, several people list themselves as having attended the show, but the only comment seems to be a description of seeing Creedence at the Green Street event.
Given that Jerry Garcia played on Pier 10 on Monday and that the Grateful Dead played a KMPX strike benefit at Winterland two weeks later (April 3), I think fond and foggy memories have simply converted all three events to Grateful Dead concerts. I personally think any week that begins with Jerry Garcia and Traffic jamming downtown would be a great week, so the fact that the Dead apparently did not play the Avalon on that Wednesday doesn't minimize it. I'd love to find out that the Dead played the Avalon--frankly I'd love to know which bands played Wednesday, regardless of the Dead--but for now I'm settling for the Garcia/Winwood Monday morning wake up. The Grateful Dead probably played more great 60s events than any other band of the era,
Well, maybe they did play all of them.