Tuesday, October 5, 2010

March 26, 1967, Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead with Eric Burdon and The Animals

(A scan of FD54, the Family Dog poster by 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 Animals
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.

12 comments:

  1. Speaking of the inadequately explained Beach Boys appearance on 4/27/71....

    Looking in Keith Badman's Beach Boys diary, he has an interesting note for April 24, 1971:
    "The Beach Boys have now signed with the Millard Agency, who have offices at the Fillmore East and in San Francisco, Bill Graham affiliated..."
    Could be there's a connection with their surprise appearance at the Fillmore East shortly after!

    But according to McNally, the Dead had met the Beach Boys on tour at Duke University on April 24 (where the Beach Boys, the Butterfield Blues Band, and Mountain were also playing), and the Dead had invited them to the Fillmore 'party'.
    So Bill Graham's not involved in this account...

    (Bizarrely, the 4/24 Duke U date is not mentioned in Badman's Beach Boys tour diary, which I assume is an oversight, since several witnesses verify they were there.)
    An interesting question lingers: would the Beach Boys have been paid for their few songs at the Fillmore East? (According to Badman, they were getting $125,000+ per show at the time.)
    The Beach Boys were playing in Indiana on 4/26, and Massachusetts on 4/28. So another thought is, whether it was the band or Graham that made the invitation, it seems the Beach Boys liked the Dead so much that (like Fleetwood Mac did in Feb '70) they'd go out of their way to appear at the Fillmore with them...
    According to one hazy audience memory of the 4/24 show, the Beach Boys said "that they had waited 4 years to play with the Dead." (Four years previously had been the Monterey Festival, which the Beach Boys had famously not appeared at - they may have been kicking themselves ever since! They'd certainly gone through an image makeover since then...)

    Badman's book doesn't help with these questions, but simply reports on 4/27: "The Beach Boys are surprise guests during [the Dead's] show, which is broadcast on FM radio. [??] ...A reporter notes Bob Dylan watching from the sound booth and hears him remark aloud, 'You know, they're fucking good, man.' Despite later reports, the Dead crowd do not welcome the Beach Boys warmly: there are loud cries of 'Bring back the Dead!'..."

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  2. The Beach Boys big concern at the time was that they were perceived as "unhip," whereas the Dead were hip. I have always assumed that they appeared with the Dead at Fillmore East to establish their underground credentials. They had all recently grown long hair and beards, and if you listen to the tape, during Good Vibrations one of them (Mike Love?) talks about singing the song high on the bus with the Buffalo Springfield. He seems desperate to prove that the Beach Boys are cool pot smokers, not just stuffy jocks from Hawthorne.

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  4. I looked in the Badman book, and I agree it must be an oversight that he missed the Duke date. Nonetheless, since the Beach Boys "surprise" appearance was broadcast on FM radio, it was hardly unplanned. Both the Beach Boys and the Dead were on Warners (the Boys were on a subsidiary of Reprise, but they shared a corporate parent).

    When a show was broadcast on commercial FM, a band's record company--in this case Warners--would buy the advertising time from the radio station. Between Warners wanting to make the Beach Boys "hip" and Graham's agency signing the Beach Boys, the entire thing has the look of being pre-arranged publicity for the upcoming Beach Boys East Coast tour (through May 9).

    Now, the Dead would probably have had veto rights, so I'm sure they were willing participants. But the Beach Boys don't just appear on an FM broadcast of the Dead at Fillmore East and take over the stage by accident.

    Besides the Animals in 67 and the Beach Boys in 71, were there any other examples of an entire band coming on stage mid-set while the Dead left?

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  5. Despite later reports, the Dead crowd do not welcome the Beach Boys warmly: there are loud cries of 'Bring back the Dead!'..."

    The 'heads were right, specially considering the Beachboys later support for like...Reagan (at least some of 'em....the singer...whoever has uttered some pretty right-wing stuff). That someone smokes a bit of pot at times does not a freak make. That said Brian Wilson's music-- at times-- was pleasant, sort of Beatles-esque.

    It was probably a Warners' insider deal anyway--and your notes make it fairly evident that the Dead were definitely a career driven and opportunistic as the moptop types, at least by the 70s--Rock Inc.

    Yo maybe an Altamount post! Actually I respect slightly some of the freaks who played at Altamount--the Stones especially took the stage in a wild chaotic situation and focking rocked (see you tube for some altamount..gimme shelter...ahyeahh). Word is Jerry was having a bad trip, or maybe all of 'em, and wussed out--even though they more or less arranged the entire gig, and angels, etc.

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  6. There were occasions when the Dead became the backing band for a guest, but I can't think of other times when they left the stage for a guest band. (Granted, it may have happened at other shows in the uncharted fogs of '67...)

    The Beach Boys were indeed desperate to prove themselves as 'hip'. So it's interesting that, whoever's idea it was, they'd latch themselves onto the hippest band around.
    The Boys were not doing too well commercially at the time, and I've also read that their new manager Jack Rieley was the one who remade their image & organized their guest appearance with the Dead, in pursuit of hip credentials (and a bigger audience).

    I'd never heard, though, that 4/27/71 was broadcast on FM radio. I thought that was Badman's error, since I don't recall FM tapes of that show ever circulating. Are you sure it was?

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  7. Actually, you're right--Badman may have simply assumed that the circulating board was an FM broadcast, since most bands don't have "circulating boards" that aren't FM-sourced.

    I like your hypothesis that their new manager linked them up with Bill Graham in return for getting them on stage with a hip band. It wasn't a "coincidence" that Bob Dylan was backstage and quoted about how cool the Beach Boys were.

    To be fair, I think the Dead probably enjoyed themselves and were willing participants in all of this. All bands are commercial enterprises, so that in itself presented no conflict, and most musicians have more in common with each than not, regardless of the type of music they play.

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  8. Great post, thanks. It reminded me to pull out a bootleg of the Animals '64-'67 BBC sessions. I noticed one of the songs on the track list is called "Gratefully Dead". The only info with it is "'67 B-side". I haven't listened to it enough to get a full grasp of the lyrics but it sounds like its a take on the SF hippie scene at the time(?). Its a cool simple little blues tune with a basic repeating riff and some spoken word "rapping" at the end. I found the name quite interesting and seemed to fit the subject here. Any info out there on this song?

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  9. "Gratefully Dead" was the b-side of the English 45 of "San Franciscan Nights." It was recorded around the same time, probably March/April 1967 in Hollywood, so it would have been right after the March 26 guest appearance.

    I was aware of the single, but I had never connected the recording date to this event. Eric Burdon has always been a more impressionistic writer and performer, so I think the single was "inspired by" the Grateful Dead rather than "about" them, but its still interesting to see that it was fresh in his mind when the band recorded it.

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  10. That must be the earliest musical allusion to the Dead that I know of. Indeed, the Animals must have been one of the few English groups in the '60s to regard the Grateful Dead as something other than a joke....

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  11. Of course, all the English bands couldn't have heard the Dead prior to the release of the 1st album, and I wonder how much or if any of the English groups were aware of them.

    Burdon named checked the Dead again on "Monterey" (who could forget "The Grateful Dead/Blew everybody's mind/Jimi Hendrix, baby/Was out of sight"), and for all I know Burdon was the first and second lyrical reference to the Dead.

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  12. How much English groups were aware of the Dead in the '60s could be a subject of its own....not one I'm qualified to write, though!

    But I believe many London bands circa '67 had something of a San Francisco fetish...some people visited SF to check out the 'scene'. And of course, bands who crossed through on tour would have brought back stories. In general, I've read San Francisco rock music was rated pretty low by the more 'professional' English groups!

    So I think many musicians would have heard *of* the Dead, without ever having heard them. Besides that, the Dead had some notoriety (within the US, at least) as Ken Kesey's acid-test band, or Owsley's band...so possibly more stories circulated about their LSD associations than about their shows! (Owsley may have been more well-known than the Dead were....)

    Sam Cutler's book has some amusing comments about how the Stones regarded the Dead. Very poorly, as you'd expect! Cutler mentions that he knew nothing about the 'real' Dead & their music until he became their manager...

    But at the time, of course, the Dead were very underground - they had few records, were not very commercial, and until 1970 or so only toured outside California in very limited areas. So I would guess they had zero musical impact on the larger rock scene. Their 'disappearing act' at Monterey, swallowed up in-between Hendrix & the Who, probably epitomizes their lack of importance in the '60s!

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