Rick Griffin advertising the Grateful Dead with various support acts on March 24-26, 1967 at the Avalon Ballroom)
The Grateful Dead played a weekend of shows at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco on March 24-26, 1967. Although the Dead had been a popular underground band for almost 18 months, they were now a "real" group with a debut album on Warner Brothers. Although release dates in the 1960s can only be approximated, their album had been officially available the week before, and the Dead had played Winterland and the Fillmore along with Chuck Berry. Now they were following those Bill Graham produced shows with a Friday-through-Sunday stand at the Avalon, promoted by Graham's chief rival, Chet Helms.
The Dead played with a variety of opening acts throughout the weekend. The support act for Sunday night (March 26) was Quicksilver Messenger Service, who had headlined the Avalon on Wednesday and Thursday (March 22-23) and then played Santa Cruz on the weekend. I am not aware of a tape or an eyewitness account of the Grateful Dead's performance on March 26 (I would note that the Dead's performances on March 24-26 are not noted at all on Deadlists, though they are on Dead.net).
However, I have been aware of and now can confirm one very interesting fact about that Sunday evening: Eric Burdon and The Animals had a rare night off from their first American tour, so they went to the Avalon and took the stage on the Dead's equipment, and played their own brief set. It was a rare event indeed for the Dead to allow another band to take over their stage entirely--I can only think of The Beach Boys on April 27, 1971 as a comparison--so it is worth looking at the intersection between the second, psychedelic Animals and the Grateful Dead.
Eric Burdon's late 60s work tends to be lumped into the category of dated psychedelia, but the second iteration of the Animals, known officially as Eric Burdon and The Animals were a formidable live band. They also were not only one of the first popular British bands to embrace California psychedelia, they toured America relentlessly in a period when very few English bands did so, and as such were the very first avowedly "psychedelic" bands that many Americans heard live. Thus the Animals' surprise appearance at the Avalon on March 26 was not just a fun get-together for new musical friends, but an important moment that indicated that San Francisco music was about to go International.
The "British Invasion" of the mid 1960s, led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, had--not to put too fine a point on it--shown that white kids could play the rhythm and blues they had already heard on black radio stations. The Invasion spawned thousands of bands, and one of them was The Warlocks. While the principal inspiration of the Warlocks was The Rolling Stones, in general Jerry Garcia and the others seemed interested in the harder edge of the British Invasion, not just the Stones, but groups like The Yardibirds, Them and The Animals.
The Animals were from the rough and tough industrial city of Newcastle, and they strove to play rhythm and blues in as uninhibited a fashion as possible--hence the name. Lead singer Eric Burdon had tremendous pipes, and The Animals hit it big in 1964 with an electric reworking of an old folk blues, "House Of The Rising Sun." Many folk musicians--Bob Dylan included--knew the song well, but were knocked out by Alan Price's swirling organ and Burdon's emotional singing. The Animals also had a big hit in '64 with John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom." It was remarkable indeed that anyone could have an American pop hit in 1964 with a John Lee Hooker song, much less one as sexually provocative as "Boom Boom." The Animals played songs in under 3 minutes, so they were radio friendly, but they owed a lot to American music and they seemed consciously designed to scare parents, so it's no surprise that long haired outlaws like the future Grateful Dead felt an affinity to them.
Eric Burdon And The Animals
The Animals were one of the most popular British Invasion bands, and after they hit the charts in early 1964, they followed up with many hit singles over the next two years. Their oft-covered songs include "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Gotta Get Outta This Place" and "Don't Bring Me Down." The band toured relentlessly, including several trips to the United States. By mid-1966, however, the Animals were burned out, feeling like pop star puppets when they wanted to play serious music. The Animals decided to break up on the eve of a May 1966 American tour, but agreed to meet their obligations to their management and make the massive tour.
The Animals Summer 1966 tour was a long and tiring slog across America, but some remarkable things happened near the end. During a brief break in August 1966, Eric Burdon took a few days off to visit San Francisco. He spent a remarkable weekend at the Fillmore and the Avalon, probably attending some of the shows there on August 12 and 13. The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were playing the Fillmore and Big Brother and Bo Diddley were playing the Avalon, and Burdon suggests (somewhat indirectly) that he saw parts of both events. Eric Burdon was the lead singer for one of the coolest British bands, and he would have been treated as genuine royalty by all the San Francisco musicians.
Burdon for his part was completely transformed. 60s rock in the UK was still very much part of the "entertainment industry" and the wide open feel of the San Francisco ballrooms made Burdon certain that his future lay in California. Many English rock musicians would move to California once they were famous, but Eric Burdon seems to have been the first (he would move to Los Angeles at the end of 1967). Burdon was always a man who wore his emotions on his sleeve, so he would capture his experience in the now-dated but then quite sincere "San Franciscan Nights" (which was not released until August 1967).
Eric Burdon and The Animals and America
After The Animals played their last show in September 5, 1966, they returned to the UK. Most narratives focus on how bassist Chas Chandler had found Jimi Hendrix playing in Greenwich Village, and how he brought him back to England, and that is a remarkable if oft-told story. Eric Burdon, meanwhile, formed a completely new band, originally called The New Animals, which ultimately, bowing to promotional reality, became Eric Burdon and The Animals. These were the "psychedelic" Animals, who had big hits with "When I Was Young," "San Francisco Nights," "Monterey" and "Sky Pilot," who toured relentlessly across the States and around the world in 1967 and 68, investing their British Invasion credibility in the new currency of psychedelia.
I take the position that the second, psychedelic Eric Burdon and The Animals were considerably more important in the late 1960s than they are given credit for today. Admittedly, their four albums were spotty, and it is easy to look at the dated nature of some of Burdon's lyrics and the production techniques and chuckle about the times, but I maintain that the importance of Eric Burdon and The Animals lay in their relentless touring. For many people outside of a few underground meccas like San Francisco or New York, Eric Burdon and The Animals were the first "name" band they heard who stretched out their songs live, and made little effort to play songs "just like the record." The Animals stature was such that they could play anywhere in the United States, and throughout 1967 and '68 they refused to play a popular set of classic Animals hits, a very daring move for the time.
In March 1967, the Grateful Dead had just released an album, but they had never played beyond the West Coast. They had plans to tour America and inflict their mutant psychedelic blues on a waiting world. The Dead's plans were just a Dream, or perhaps a goal; Eric Burdon and The Animals were already doing it. After a visit to San Francisco, Burdon had given up a successful pop formula to embrace a considerably riskier underground proposition. The Dead had liked the Animals enough before--how could they not love them now?
Eric Burdon and The Animals in California
Our lengthy research into the murky touring history of Eric Burdon and The Animals was profoundly transformed when Antion Meredith got in touch with us. Meredith, then known as Vic Briggs, was one of the guitarists for the Animals, and still possesses a remarkable memory (as well as some useful notes for his forthcoming autobiography), so he was able to transform our spotty list into a detailed roadmap of how Eric Burdon and The Animals introduced freewheeling danger to unsuspecting American youth (as well as unsuspecting Australian, New Zealand, British, Italian and Swiss youth) long before and initially in greater numbers than the stalwarts of the San Francisco scene.
The few preserved live performances of Eric Burdon and The Animals display a smoking hot band with a twin guitar lineup and Burdon's always lively singing. Guitarists Vic Briggs and John Weider offered nice contrasts, with the bluesier Weider set off against the jazzier Briggs. An early performance on German TV (January 21, 1967) shows the Animals freewheeling off songs like "Roadrunner" in a style that may remind you of Quicksilver Messenger Service, until you realize that no one in the band had ever heard Quicksilver.
Although Eric Burdon and The Animals had been touring America since February 3, they did not get to the West Coast until March 18, 1967. The band then played 8 nights in a row in California, finishing by headlining at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday, March 25. I asked Vic Briggs about the March 26 appearance at the Avalon, and he clearly recalled it, since it was the first time he (and everyone else in the band save Burdon) met the Grateful Dead. Briggs in particular became good friends with Jerry Garcia, and Garcia has cited Briggs in the past as one of his favorite guitar players.
March 26, 1967
Its not certain how many acts there were that night at the Avalon. The poster, never a reliable source in any case, suggests that Quicksilver was supporting the Dead in place of The Charlatans and Johnny Hammond, but perhaps they played too. Briggs, in fact, does not recall Quicksilver there that night, but he admits he was not there for the whole show. In any case, the band's guest slot was pre-arranged, since one of the Animals crew had brought their guitars. Thus Burdon must have called on his pre-existing connections with the Dead and gotten invited to the show.
The Grateful Dead were a big deal in San Francisco in 1967, but Eric Burdon and The Animals were a much bigger deal. It must have been surprising indeed on a Sunday night at the Avalon to have the Dead invite another band on stage. When it turned out to be a band that had headlined the Bay Area's biggest venue the night before, that too must have been something. Remember that in March 1967, while the currently released Animals single was "When I Was Young," a powerful bluesy song (and the first recording of the new lineup), no one would have known yet that the New Animals were more San Francisco than London, and it must have been quite a jolt. Briggs does not recall jamming with the Dead onstage that night, although in fact I think he played with Garcia many times in private.
I can think of only one other instance where the Grateful Dead invited an entire band onstage, and that was the Beach Boys performance at the Fillmore East on April 27, 1971. While that event has never been adequately explained to me (I assume Bill Graham facilitated it), the surprise appearance of Eric Burdon and The Animals at the Avalon stands out as a clear signal that San Francisco musicians felt themselves to be leading the coming wave. Even Briggs does not recall what songs they played, but it must have lent a strange feel to the set to have it bracketed by a few songs from Eric Burdon and The Animals. At this distant remove, its unlikely that there's a tape, but perhaps deep in a basement in Oakland somewhere someone has a trace of this.