Friday, September 3, 2010

March 18, 1968: Pier 10, San Francisco-KMPX Strike Rally (also: March 20, 1968 Avalon)

(headline from the March 19, 1968 San Francisco Chronicle)

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, 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
With all these sources listing the concerts (admittedly, does not list the March 18 event), the nature of scholarship is such that everyone takes for granted that these shows are "settled fact" when in fact quite the opposite is the case. This post is an attempt to look at what is known about any Dead performances on March 18 and 20, 1968, which turns out to be considerably different and far less than one might originally think.

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.

Eyewitness Accounts
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.
I will quote him here:
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
Many Grateful Dead chronologies list Monday, March 18 as a Grateful Dead performance, when in fact it should be a Jerry Garcia guest appearance with Traffic. Still, it's historically important and interesting to Dead fans even if it strictly belongs on Garcia list per se. However, the tendency to assume that the Grateful Dead played all important San Francisco events extends to the KMPX Strike Fund Benefit held on Wednesday, March 20. I have yet to find any evidence the Dead played the Avalon that night.

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:
Gleason lists Blue Cheer, Kaleidoscope, Charlie Musselwhite, Jeremy & The Satyrs, Frumious Bandersnatch and Santana Blues Band. Either of the bills sound pretty cool to me, but neither of them included the Grateful Dead.

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 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, but even they didn't play all of them.

Well, maybe they did play all of them.
The Berkeley Barb's Jef Jaisun reported (in the Friday March 22 Barb) that the Grateful Dead and Kaleidoscope played the Avalon to a packed house.


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  3. March 20 saw, according to out old friend Jef Jaisun, Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope (who had already played two sets at the Straight Theater that night) and other play at the Avalon. I have the others listed as Charlie Musselwhite, Santana, Blue Cheer, Jeremy and The Satyrs and Frumious Bandersnatch. Another interesting snippet: "Further support from the bands came when Jerry Garcia of the Dead walked into the station and demanded the return of a tape of their new single and also asked that none of the Dead's other material be played on the air."

    The full article will no doubt be en route to you in a short while. If nothing else, a most reliable confirmation of the March 20 performance.

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  5. The April 3 show (Superball) saw invitations sent out to Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company, The Doors, Eric Burdon and The Animals, Quicksilver Messenger Service.

    My understanding is that the actual performers were: Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, It's A Beautiful Day, Electric Flag, Mother Earth, Youngbloods

  6. Clover also probably played at the Avalon on March 20, 1968

  7. Ross, what's the source of Jef's information about the Dead playing the Straight on March 20? Was that another KMPX Benefit?

  8. A fascinating story....shows lost & found!

    The "tape of the new single" that Garcia requested from the station must have been the Dark Star single - wasn't released until April.
    It's interesting that he asked them not to play any other Dead material, as the Dead hadn't released anything in a full year! (I wonder if KMPX had been re-broadcasting the 2/14/68 show?)

  9. I think only Kaleidoscope playing the Straight Theatre on March 20, 1968 not the Grateful Dead.

  10. The Charlatans

    wasn't Dan Hicks in that group? Hell, if Dan had played like Me n My Uncle instead of gypsy jazz he might have been a superstar and living in a Marin mansion near Bobby Weir.

  11. It was indeed only the Kaleidoscope who played the Straight (originally advertised to play 9:30 to 1:00 but they ended up playing two short sets and various "underground" films were shown - so there was no second act). You should by now have the article that was written by Jef - who continued to write about the KMPX strike each week.

  12. Regarding The Charlatans, Hicks was indeed in the band as was Mike Wilhelm who covered Me & My Uncle on his self-titled album available only through Zigzag here in England.

  13. Ok, I lost the pronoun reference to the Straight. Now I understand--Kaleidoscope played the Straight and went over to the Avalon, while the Dead turned up as well. At least some of the Dead (Jerry and Phil, presumably) would have been in the City mixing Anthem Of The Sun.

  14. The point was really about the arbitrary nature of rock music popularity, really. The Dead are millionaires as is Steve Jobs (whose fortune depended on pimping Macs and rock mp3s) while many other musicians-- from that time--as talented, or more so--now might be found meandering down Mission st. the cold, cold ground. Many 'heads lack political awareness and are just into the nostalgia act.

    (that said...Jerry and Phil were somewhat talented, at times. I wouldn't say that of Weir.)

  15. KMPX was well known for playing demo tapes, which was all many bands had in the 67-68 period. I know they played a Blue Cheer demo, which accounts for how that band became well known around the Bay Area.

    I wonder if KMPX had been playing a studio demo from the Anthem sessions? It would fit in with what they had done for other bands, and it would explain what Jerry was preventing them from playing. It would be very interesting if some rough mixes of Side 1 of Anthem had been played on the radio.

  16. Hmm, that's an interesting thought...
    As it happens, we do have a couple circulating tapes of Anthem studio rehearsals (mostly instrumental, usually dated Nov '67) - although I find it hard to believe anyone would've given them to a radio station to play; in fact that seems quite unlikely. No 'rough mixes' of Anthem ever circulated that I know of.

    There's also the question of how far along with ANY mixes the Dead were in early March '68. As far as I know, there's no Dead sessionography, so I don't know how long they tinkered with the Anthem mix, or just when the main live/studio combination work was done. (Knowing the Dead, it would've taken quite some time.)
    I had presumed most of the mixing wasn't done til after the March Carousel runs were done - at least til after 3/17, the last show I know was used in the final mix. The Dead had quite a few shows in March '68, which might've cut down on studio time (although, they may have done some work with Tom Constanten that month, since he was with them at the March 11 show). Early April is a much emptier period for shows - and they still tried out a studio in Miami!

    This is an area for further investigation, unless there's a studio-sessions rundown already somewhere I haven't seen.

  17. The demos that KMPX played were usually only a song or two. My speculation was that there was a rough mix of "Born Cross Eyed" or something like that, not the whole album, and particularly not the live stuff.

    Although I suppose its distinctly possible that they gave KMPX a song or two from the "Great Northwest Tour." Perhaps that might explain some of the surviving fragments--they were spliced out to give to KMPX, and Garcia got them back after the strike. It's a thought.

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  19. There is another account in the Rolling Stone article "FM Workers Strike For Rights" (April 27, 1968).

    "At 3:00 on the morning of Monday, March 18, the entire staff of the nation's best rock & roll station walked out on strike - and right into the midst of an impromptu block party."
    It's a fairly lengthy article that goes into a lot of detail about the issues between the workers & KMPX management, which I'll skip here, for these details:

    "The community turned out in force for a benefit at the Avalon Ballroom on March 20, where music was provided gratis by the Grateful Dead, Charley Musselwhite, Kaleidoscope, and three other bands. The Family Dog made the hall available without charge - even the light show was donated - and the strike fund netted $1800. Even more successful was the KPPC-strikers' benefit at the Kaleidoscope in Los Angeles with Jefferson Airplane, Tiny Tim, several local bands and Sioux Indian war dancers.
    "There was also a weekend fair (not to be confused with the first-night party of 500 people dancing in the street) outside the KMPX offices near North Beach, which was highlighted by Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead jamming with Traffic. It was supposed to be a street fair, but the San Francisco city fathers refused the strikers a permit, ostensibly because an announcement read over the air before the strike had caused an unauthorized closing of Haight Street two weeks earlier, so the action took place in a nearby parking lot."

    The Grateful Dead are also listed among many bands who "requested that KMPX and KPPC do not play their records as long as they are being operated by strikebreakers."

    One remarkable aspect of this is that the closing of Haight Street on March 3 directly led to the authorities refusing the KMPX strikers a street permit (so they claimed).

    The details of the Garcia/Traffic jam seem slightly different than in other accounts - it's odd that a Monday event would be called "a weekend fair," but the writer specifies that it was a distinct event from the first-night party, and that it took place in a parking lot outside the KMPX offices.

    This doesn't seem to match an impromptu move to Pier 10 on Monday morning, since the "fair" sounds like a preplanned event involving a request for a permit. In fact, this article seems to imply that the Garcia/Traffic jam took place on the following weekend!

    The Dead, of course, were in Detroit the next weekend, so this leaves something of a mystery. It makes me wonder if Traffic's street concert was on another date than the 18th, and two different events have been conflated by later memories.

  20. The April 3 event has a poster that lists it not as a strike benefit, but a celebration of KMPX's first year

    1. Kewe, the April 3 show was organized by the Strikers. The idea of a celebration of the first year of KMPX was to remind the listening community of what KMPX radio meant to the local scene.

      A recent book by Michael J. Kramer, The Republic Of Rock (Oxford Press 2013), has the most detailed analysis of the KMPX strike that I have ever read. Among many other things, he discusses the April 3 Superball Benefit. I highly recommend the book (after all, where else would you find out about the Fillmore Far East, in Saigon during the Vietnam War?).

  21. In case you're interested, here's a documentary about the 1968 San Francisco Student Strike. Enjoy!