Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1972-73 Muleskinner/Old And In The Way Timeline

In 1974, an album mysteriously appeared without fanfare at World's Indoor Records, my primary local album emporium. It was a Warner Brothers album called A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam by Muleskinner. The members of Muleskinner were
  • Peter Rowan-guitar, vocals
  • Clarence White-lead guitar, vocals
  • David Grisman-mandolin, vocals
  • Richard Greene-violin, vocals
  • Bill Keith-banjo
along with guest musicians
  • John Kahn-bass
  • John Guerin-drums
Even at the time, I knew that Rowan, Grisman and Greene had been in Old And In The Way with Jerry Garcia and John Kahn. Old And In The Way had stopped playing by the end of 1973. I assumed that the Muleskinner album was an outgrowth of Old And In The Way. When the Old And In The Way album came out in 1975, it seemed to confirm that feeling.

Although Old And In The Way was long defunct by the time the album came out, it had a huge impact on modern bluegrass. Furthermore, both David Grisman and Vassar Clements, who had been known only to bluegrass aficionados prior to the album, have since become (rightly) revered as titans of modern acoustic music, and that has made the Muleskinner album seem all the more prescient. In 1994, Sierra Records released a cd of the first Muleskinner performance, a live television performance on February 13, 1973. The group was put together on an ad-hoc basis to be paired with Bill Monroe on a KCET-TV (Los Angeles public TV) special. Monroe's bus broke down, however, and the ad-hoc band played a bunch of familiar material to fill out the entire hour.

The group was so happy with their performance, they played a week at the Ash Grove in March, and then found time to record the Muleskinner album. Tragically, Clarence White died in June 1973, and any continued performances were moot. Since banjoist Bill Keith--an old friend of Rowan and Grisman--had returned to the East Coast before even the Ash Grove shows, a Commenter suggested that Jerry Garcia effectively "replaced" Bill Keith and Muleskinner became Old And In The Way. This is an intriguing theory, but an Emptywheel style timeline shows us a different picture.

I have constructed this timeline to demonstrate the interrelationship between Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Peter Rowan, with respect to the formation of Old And In The Way. I am not making an effort to be precise about dates except for 1973.

1968
Peter Rowan and David Grisman are in the Elektra Records "psychedelic folk" group Earth Opera.

Richard Loren quits being the booking agent (through APA) for The Doors and Jefferson Airplane and moves to Europe.

Chris Rowan and Lorin Rowan, Peter's younger brothers, are aspiring singer-songwriters in Wayland, MA, near Boston.

Clarence White joins The Byrds, effectively becoming Roger McGuinn's partner throughout the next five years, as various members of the rhythm section come and go.

1969
Earth Opera breaks up. David Grisman's activities are vague at this time, but he isn't making any money or recording much. Still, he seems to have met Richard Loren, who has moved to New York, and formed a production partnership with him.

Peter Rowan moves to California and joins Sea Train, who are based in Marin County. During 1965-66, Violinist Richard Greene had been in Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys with Peter Rowan and Bill Keith.

Chris Rowan goes to London in Spring 1969, and tries to make it as a singer/songwriter. He does not succeed.

1970
In early Summer, David Grisman visits California to reconnect with old friend Jerry Garcia, and plays on the forthcoming American Beauty album.

David Grisman and Richard Loren had formed a production company. Grisman already knew the Rowans through their brother, and Loren and Rowan agreed to manage the Rowan Brothers, with Grisman as producer and musical director. The Rowans are both writing and singing songs in a sort of hippie Everly Brothers style that seems to be in tune with newly popular group like Crosby, Stills and Nash.

September 20, 1970: Grisman and Loren visit the Grateful Dead at Fillmore East. Loren and Garcia hit it off, and Garcia suggests to Grisman that the Bay Area has a good rock club scene that might provide a good platform for the Rowan Brothers to develop their music. Grisman ends up on stage playing mandolin with the Dead during their acoustic set (per McNally p. 404-5)

October 1970: The Rowan Brothers, David Grisman and Richard Loren move to Marin County. The Rowans meet members of the Dead at a demo session at Wally Heider's in late 1970. Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann back the Rowans for some demos (some of which have turned up on a 2004 Taxim Records cd Now And Then).


1971
By 1971, Grisman, Loren and the two Rowans and possibly others are living communally in Stinson Beach, while working on their music 

July 2, 1971: The Rowan Brothers open the Grateful Dead's show at Fillmore West, with a band featuring Garcia on pedal steel, Kreutzmann on drums, Grisman on mandolin and engineer Bill Wolf on bass. The tape circulates and a few tracks were actually released in 2004.

July 1971: Garcia uses his advance to buy a house in Stinson Beach for himself, Mountain Girl and their family. The house (which they call Sans Souci) is not far from the Rowan house.

Summer 1971: According to McNally, Garcia wanders down the hill to visit, and is turned away by the gardener, who suspects Garcia of being a pot dealer. Eventually, all is happily resolved, and Garcia takes to hanging out. Notice that as of this time, Garcia had already recorded a demo and played live with the Rowan Brothers, but he only started hanging around them socially when he moved nearby. Besides renewing his old friendship with David Grisman (they had first met in 1964), Garcia becomes particularly friendly with Richard Loren.

Fall 1971: By Fall 1971--the exact date isn't clear until we see the Garcia business papers--Garcia had asked Richard Loren to manage his non-Grateful Dead affairs. With a solo album, and an ongoing partnership with Merl Saunders and John Kahn, Garcia's music is taking on an identity of its own. The fact that Garcia has his own manager is not lost on the rest of the Dead family, because if Garcia ever chose to cut back Grateful Dead touring to favor his own, the rest of the band's income would suffer. To my knowledge, this never happened, but it doesn't mean that band members did not consider it. This may help account for the considerable slack the band cut Garcia with respect to his refusal to rehearse and other proclivities.

November 7, 1971: Jerry Garcia plays his last show as a regular member of The New Riders Of The Purple Sage. He will guest a few times in the ensuing years, but Buddy Cage takes over the pedal steel guitar chair. This had been planned for some time, but Garcia seems to have played on the first few weeks of the New Riders tour with the Dead because their debut album had just been released, and the Riders profile would be considerably higher with Jerry in the chair. In any case, stepping down from the New Riders frees up lots of time in Garcia's schedule.

1972
Columbia Records wins a bidding war with Geffen, and signs the Rowan Brothers to a substantial advance. Grisman and Bill Wolf produce the album at great expense in San Francisco. Grisman's production and musical parts are credited to "David Diadem," for reasons that Grisman has never explained.

Late 1972: Sea Train begins to fall apart, and Rowan and Greene leave the group (Sea Train releases one more album, Watch, but that is irrelevant here). Presumably Peter Rowan begins to spend a lot more time at his brothers' house, if he had not already been living there.

Late 1972: Columbia releases the Rowan Brothers self-titled debut, hyping it with a quote from Jerry Garcia where he says "These guys could be the next Beatles." The quote is real, but taken out of context. In any case, it guarantees that no one can take the Rowans seriously, and they are doomed to the fate of Moby Grape.

Late 1972: According to many now apocryphal stories about the founding of Old And In The Way, Garcia, Grisman and Peter Rowan have taken to hanging out and playing bluegrass together at either Sans Souci (Jerry's) or the Rowan house. All three of them need a break from their various stresses of  their "rock lives:" Garcia dealing with the hugely popular Dead, Grisman producing a now over hyped band, and Rowan who is effectively jobless.

If you look at the Dead's touring schedule for 1972 and 73, there would not have been that many opportunities for the three of them to actually get together. In order to have formed Old And In The Way, the three of them had to have begun playing well before March 2, 1973, when Old And In The Way surfaces in public. Garcia in particular has not played banjo seriously for many years, and would have needed a fair amount of practice time to get his chops up.

November 3, 1972: To promote the album, the Rowan Brothers start performing live. I know of very few performances. Interestingly, David Grisman switched to keyboards, saving his electric mandolin for a solo or two. John Douglas played drums, and Bill Wolf played bass. One show we do know of, however, is November 3-4, 1972 at Winterland, opening for Hot Tuna and the New Riders. JGMF found a newspaper review that said Garcia played two numbers with The Rowan Brothers on the first night (as well as with the Riders).

December 12, 1972: The Rowan Brothers opened for the Grateful Dead at Winterland.


1973
January 1973: If you accept that Garcia, Rowan and Grisman had to take what opportunities they could to play bluegrass together, this month seems like a crucial month for them to start working out what they might want to do. During this period, Garcia/Saunders played 15 shows in 23 days (Jan 15-Feb 6), so bluegrass was not Garcia's only extracurricular activity.

February 9-28, 1973: The Grateful Dead are on tour, meaning there are no opportunities for bluegrass (yes, I know there is a gap between Maples on Feb 9 and Madison on Feb 15).

February 13, 1973: A KCET-TV program is scheduled to feature Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys. The hour long program is scheduled to feature a live half-hour of Monroe, with an opening live "tribute" set by younger musicians. The group assembled is the basis of the "Muleskinner" group, but they do not use the name Muleskinner. Monroe's bus breaks down in Stockton, and the openers play the entire hour instead. The band for this show was
  • Peter Rowan-guitar, vocals
  • Clarence White-lead guitar
  • David Grisman-mandolin, vocals
  • Richard Greene-violin, vocals
  • Bill Keith-banjo
  • Stuart Schulman-bass
While most of the songs were bluegrass standards, Rowan's "Land Of The Navajo" was a recent song that would only become well known through the Old And In The Way record. Fortunately, video and audio of the entire show remains (and has been released). Intriguingly, Grisman is introduced as "David Diadem," for whatever significance that may hold.

Its important to recognize that the musicians went to great lengths to perform this show. Clarence White was a member of The Byrds at this time, and according to Christopher Hjort's definitive chronology (So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star, Jawbone 2008), The Byrds were at Cornell University on February 10 and Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY on February 16, so White had to log some serious air miles to make the broadcast. Grisman and Rowan lived in Northern California, as probably did Greene, and they would have had to drive down. Keith usually lived on the East Coast, so he most likely had to make a special effort as well. Its a sign of how much respect they had for Bill Monroe and each other that they made that effort.

February 24, 1973: Clarence White plays his last live performance with The Byrds, as the original band is getting back together. Roger McGuinn cancels all further dates, effectively making Clarence White a free agent, if an unemployed one.

March 2, 1973: Old And In The Way's public debut was a live KSAN-fm broadcast from the Record Plant in Sausalito. That same night they played at The Lion's Share in San Anselmo. If you look at Garcia's schedule in the preceding months, its clear that the genesis of Old And In The Way took quite some time.

March 3-14, 1973: Old And In The Way plays 4 more shows.

March 15-April 2, 1973: The Grateful Dead are on tour.

Late March 1973: I believe that the Muleskinner album is recorded in this period, as is the band's one week stand at the Ash Grove. Hjort has the recording in April with the Ash Grove dates on April 17-22, but that conflicts with known Old And In The Way dates. The Sierra Records liner notes say that the group played The Ash Grove "a month later" (meaning March), which fits my timeline better. There's also reason to think that the album was recorded even later, in May or June. Bill Keith was present at the recording sessions, but apparently did not play at The Ash Grove (I wonder who played banjo?).

April 12-May 9, 1973: Old And In The Way played 13 shows.

mid-1973: Clive Davis is forced out as the head of Columbia Records, and the Rowan Brothers are dropped by the label (along with many other Davis proteges). Although Grisman and the Rowans are presumably still friendly, the Rowan Brothers cannot support a producer.

July 15, 1973: Clarence White died after being hit by a drunk driver at 2am in Palmdale, CA, while White was loading equipment into his car. It would take me 10,000 words to explain how great a player Clarence was, and I'm not even a guitar player (apparently it takes even more if you can play). Suffice to say, any plans that Grisman, Rowan and others may have had for "Muleskinner" would have been put permanently in abeyance with Clarence's untimely death.

Some Conclusions-Old And In The Way
Old And In The Way may have been a surprise to Bay Area Deadheads when they debuted in March, 1973, but the circumstances leading up to the band had been brewing for some time. The musical reasons for the partnership of Garcia, Grisman and Rowan have been discussed at great length by all the participants over the years, but I am interested in pointing out how essential the Rowan Brothers were to the formation of Old And In The Way. The Rowan Brothers
  • Inspired David Grisman and Richard Loren to produce and manage them
  • Caused Garcia to suggest that Grisman, Loren and the Rowans move to Marin, and
  • Introduced Garcia to future manager Richard Loren
The happy accident of Garcia's new house being near the Rowan compound in Stinson Beach
  • Built up the relationship between Loren and Garcia
  • Renewed the friendship between Grisman and Garcia
  • Connected Peter Rowan to Garcia, through his brothers and Grisman
Since the Dead were on tour in February of 1973, and Old And In The Way debuted on March 2, Old And In The Way must have been planned in January. That means the Fall of '72, if not earlier, was when the bluegrass picking started in Stinson Beach, giving time for Garcia to work on his banjo chops in private.

Some Conclusions-Muleskinner
The first "Muleskinner" performance was February 13, 1973, but it must have been planned in January, if not before. So whatever plans were hatched for Muleskinner, they were simultaneous with Old And In The Way. Once The Byrds stopped touring (February 24), every member of Muleskinner did not have a regular band. Whatever Grisman and Rowan's hopes and plans may have been for playing with Garcia, they would have known that bluegrass would take a back seat to both the Dead and Garcia/Saunders. Thus I think the recording and the week at the Ash Grove represent a plan by Grisman, Rowan and Greene to have an ongoing performing and recording career parallel to but separate from Jerry Garcia.

A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam-Muleskinner
The Muleskinner album came out in 1974, with no fanfare. In fact, it appears (from the liner notes to the 1994 cd) that the "Muleskinner" name was made up after the fact. The appearances by the group in 1973 used some other name, probably just the names of the performers. The album itself has a very unfinished feel to it. There are several bluegrass standards, a few Rowan originals from Sea Train and Grisman's Opus 57, which was a sort of bluegrass standard in some circles. The album sounds like a demo to me, or tracks that would have been considered for an album, but not all used. The album was dedicated to Clarence White, which leads me to suspect that White's participation was a big part of the concept, and once he died the project ended.

The album was produced by Richard Greene and Joe Boyd. Boyd was a legendary producer (of Pink Floyd and Fairport Convention, among many others), who in the early 1970s was working out of Los Angeles mostly doing film music. How Boyd came to work on this project is unknown to me. While several of the songs are traditional bluegrass, a few of the numbers feature electric bass and drums and Clarence White on electric guitar. The bass and drums are kind of static, suggesting that they were overdubbed later. If you look at the timeline above, you will see that John Kahn was not connected to the Muleskinner crowd until after Old And In The Way, leading me to suspect that the overdubs were done in late '73 or early '74 (John Guerin, by the way, is an exceptional session drummer, who must have been doing these simple parts as a courtesy). I suspect an unnamed bluegrass musician provided most of the standup bass parts on the record, and Kahn only overdubbed a few.

The most distinctive aspect of the album are a few "semi-electric" bluegrass style tracks with overdubbed electric guitar and simple bass and drums. Clarence White's guitar sounds like a pedal steel, a sign he was using the patented "b-bender" to get that sound (too long a story to go into here). This hints at some sort of plan to make a sort of country-rock/bluegrass hybrid, that Clarence would have been uniquely qualified to execute. I suspect that when he died, the project ended, and Rowan and Grisman focused on Old And In The Way.

In an alternative universe, where Clarence White never got hit by a drunk driver in Palmdale, Grisman, Rowan and Clarence could have revolutionized country rock in some unknown way, while Old And In The Way thrived in parallel. Jerry and Clarence were old friends going back to the early 60s, so they would have been welcome on stage in each other's bands whether electric or acoustic, but none of that was to come to pass. Don't drink and drive.

13 comments:

  1. Great stuff! I would imagine Richard Greene would be in a good position to clarify the timeline on this. Anyone spoken to him lately?

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  3. Yeah Cali-hippies encountered some bad joss eastside--Gram OD'ed in Joshua Tree, and Clarence White was run down by some drunk in Palmdale, a hundred miles north or so (that club, on sierra hiway I believe, later became a rock place, then...disco/latin, and razed a decade or so ago)--before the long-hairs arrived Zappa and pals had played some nasty dives around Palmdale (mostly r- & b, not so much rock). The Cali-psychodelic country thing didn't really do it for me (Id rather listen to Satriani ...or Coltrane...than fiddlers whatever)--but Clarence was quite a picker. Grisman too, Ive got a CD of his dawg music around.

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  4. Regarding the late March 1973 "Muleskinner" gigs at the Ash Grove, I can confirm that there were shows at least on Saturday, March 24 and Sunday, March 25, 1973. An LA Times music guy wrote on Sat. 3/24/73 (1) that the band was there "through Sunday." I'd take that to mean that there were definitely shows on that night and the Sunday night (3/25).

    The article begins by describing the group's time at the Ash Grove as "this week's main attraction" at the venue, and it is clearly based on observation of a concert performance (he describes the band, the players, the playing, etc.). I don't know when his deadline would have been for the Saturday paper, but it sure sounds like there was probably a show on Friday night, and probably some of the weeknights before that. But unless someone can turn up a listing, for now all I am confident about is Sat-Sun.

    Oh yeah: he never says "Muleskinner", but calls them "The Bluegrass Band". It'll be interesting to see when the "Muleskinner" appellation took hold.

    Opening act, BTW, is given as folksinger Jim Ringer (accompanied by Mary McCaslin).

    Reference
    (1) Richard Cromelin, "At The Ash Grove: All Stars Run Slightly Amok," Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1973, p. B6.

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  5. D'oh, I knew I'd forget something. Bill Keith was playing banjo. So Cromelin is reviewing the following:

    The Bluegrass Band
    Richard Greene [- fiddle];
    Peter Rowan [- guitar];
    David Grisman "(recently with Rowan's younger brothers' band)" [- mandolin];
    Clarence White [- guitar];
    Bill Keith - banjo.

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  6. Re 11/3/72 and Grisman playing with the Rowans, how long did this configuration of the Rowan Brothers last? I am trying to piece together some Grisman and Rowan Brothers information, and it'd be good to know when the path diverges (in terms of performing together, not working together in other capacities).

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  7. The big mystery with respect to the Rowan/Grisman collaboration is the 5/25/73 date at Bimbo's. Was Grisman still part of it? I don't know. Of course, since Old and In The Way were there, he probably sat in anyway, but there are so few actual live dates it's hard to say.

    The key event would be Clive Davis's firing from Columbia, as the dismissal of his various pet acts would have followed shortly after.

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  8. I found something like nine Rowan Bros. gigs between 11/3/72 and 5/25/73. NB that RB were billed against OAITW on 4/16/73 (RB @ Keystone, OAITW @ Boarding House) and with them on 4/30/73 at the Orphanage. So clearly by 4/16/73 they were prepared to gig without Grisman.

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  9. Can't comment much on provenance, but I found this:

    http://www.burritobrother.com/afterthebyrds.htm

    "Shorty after that [2/13/73] show MULESKINNER had a one-record deal with Warner Brothers. A month later the group (minus Bill Keith) did a radio show and appeared a full weekend at the "Ash Grove" as the "Bluegrass Drop Outs"."

    It also gives this tidbit: "From March 27, to April 14, 1973 MULESKINNER recorded the studio album for Warner Brothers. They called John Khan in from Marin County to play bass and they finished the entire recording in two weeks. "

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  10. The Kahn tidbit actually fits in with some other things I am learning. So Kahn's first bluegrass studio bass playing was with Muleskinner, not Old And In The Way.

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  11. nice to see some talk about chris and lorin rowan. i've known all three brothers since the mid 70's and have played with chris and lorin a few times. i even had then do a house concert at my old place on long island a few years back. they still sound great and i highly recommend seeing them when you can. this is from the day at my house.

    [IMG]http://i838.photobucket.com/albums/zz303/davmar777/RowansHouseConcert029Small-1.jpg[/IMG]

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  12. A little tidbit on the birth of OAITW. A piece in Rolling Stone (1) has some interview material from the March 2, 1973 Lion's Share gig. In it, Garcia says "we got together a little over a month ago." So that definitely suggests January '73, while Garcia was gigging a ton with Merl.

    (1) Grissim, John. 1973. Garcia Returns to Banjo: Splendor in the Bluegrass. Rolling Stone, April 26, 1973, p. 14.

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