Friday, December 31, 2010

2119 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA: The Keystone Berkeley

(a photo of 2119 University Avenue [at Shattuck] in Berkeley as it looked in 2009. Only the arches hint at the structure of the Keystone Berkeley club that was located at the site 15 years earlier. If you can still see the outlines of the Jimi Hendrix mural around the entrance, you may need medical attention)

Recent discussions on the vagueness of Jerry Garcia Band history in the late 70s and early 80s has reminded me of the unique relationship between Jerry Garcia and the Keystone Berkeley. I am only able to discern parts of the story, but the facts as they can be seen are quite remarkable. People who were not attending Garcia Band shows in the 70s and early 80s may not realize what an unprecedented arrangement Garcia and his various aggregations seemed to have with the Keystone Berkeley. To outline some of the key points that I will illuminate in my post:
  • Jerry Garcia played the Keystone Berkeley 206 times between 1972 and 1984, a number that dwarfs any other venue he played at in any configuration
  • Garcia shows at the Keystone almost never sold tickets in advance--they were available day of show only, in a venue that officially held about 500 people
  • Paradoxically, Garcia shows at the Keystone were almost never sold out, in my experience, anyway. You would see people buying tickets and getting in well after the show had started
  • Garcia never came on stage until after 11:00 pm, usually well after 11:00 pm, and shows ran right up until 2:00 am (last call), making for very late weeknights
Planning to see a Keystone Berkeley show was often fruitless, as shows were often canceled, added or re-scheduled with regularity--one of the attractions to the club and Garcia of not having any advance tickets that would need refunding. The band also came on so late that the next day was a write-off, and it was rarely a weekend, so that often at 11:00pm on a cold Tuesday the idea of staying up til 3:00am just seemed like too much, or no one would go with you, or your car was out of gas, or whatever. Missing a JGB Keystone show wasn't a big deal, however, since the Garcia Band would usually be back the next month.

On the other hand, one Sunday night--May 24, 1981, as it happened-- my roommate and I were sitting around at 11:00pm, talking about the Dead, and I mentioned that Garcia was playing Keystone. My roommate said "are there tickets?" I said, there's always tickets, and off we went. 10 minutes later we found a good parking space near Shattuck and University, paid our money at the door, and there we were. Shortly after we arrived, the band made its way on stage and Jerry kicked it off with "Sugaree," which made for a lot better Sunday night than watching re-runs of "MASH."

Jerry Garcia had achieved rock star status by 1967, and by the mid-70s he was starting to achieve some of the material rewards that went along with it. Yet when Garcia played the Keystone Berkeley, he was just another local guy playing a dive--and trust me, it was a dive--and the crowd happened to be whatever yahoos were able to blow off work or school the next day. That's the reason that every Keystone tape has that laid-back, drifting feel where time seemed to have no meaning. If time had meaning to you, Deadhead or not, you weren't at Keystone Berkeley drinking beer at midnight on a Tuesday waiting for Jerry to come on stage.

The Keystone Berkeley was a sawdust covered dump in a sketchy area of town that sold overpriced, watered down beer to a crowd of doubtful lunatics who were never going to be employee of the month, if they even had jobs. God, I miss it.

Keystone History, Part 1: The Keystone Korner
Freddie Herrera opened a club called the Keystone Korner at 750 Vallejo Street in San Francisco. The club was just a few blocks off of the "entertainment" district on Broadway. It had previously been a rock club called DenoCarlo's, and various local bands had played there in  1968, including a regular Monday night residency for Berkeley's Creedence Clearwater Revival. Herrera took over the club in 1969 and tried to make it into a topless dancing place, but it was too far from Broadway to capture the tourists and sailors. Fortuitously, Nick Gravenites wandered in, and he was looking for a club that he could use for various ends.

As a result, starting in mid-1969, The Keystone Korner became a rock club, often featuring various expatriate Chicagoans who had relocated to San Francisco, including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Bloomfield and Gravenites played there almost every other weekend from September 1969 through March 1970, and the little venue was sort of like their clubhouse. The first call bass player for the Bloomfield/Gravenites band was John Kahn, which I believe to be an important part of the story.

The Matrix
The first "hippie nightclub" in San Francisco was The Matrix, at 3138 Fillmore. It was actually a beer and pizza joint that didn't allow dancing (by law), but it was a place for longhairs to hang out while local bands played whatever they felt like playing. A lot of cool 60s San Francisco bands played The Matrix, particularly on weeknights. Jerry Garcia took to jamming there regularly, and the basis of what became the Jerry Garcia Band started as a regular Monday night jam session at the Matrix in early 1970. Garcia, Howard Wales, Bill Vitt and John Kahn made up the regular crew, and after Wales ultimately left and was replaced by Merl Saunders, that "group" started to play out a little bit. Nonetheless, the Matrix was the original home base of the Garcia/Saunders group, just as Bloomfield and Gravenites anchored the Keystone Korner.

However, in Spring 1971, the Matrix closed. Garcia and Saunders would need another place to call home, and they seem to have chosen Keystone Korner. The first Garcia/Saunders Keystone Korner show was April 1, 1971, but their first extended run was in May 1971, after the Matrix had closed. Bloomfield and Gravenites had largely stopped playing Keystone Korner by this time. I have to think John Kahn's familiarity with the club may have been in a factor in encouraging Garcia and Saunders to play there regularly.

Keystone History, Part 2: The New Monk
In the 60s, there was an infamous beer joint in Berkeley popular with fraternity boys called The Monkey Inn, known as "The Monk," and located on 3109 Shattuck, between Prince and Woolsey (the site today seems to be the La Pena Cultural Center at 3105, just next to the Starry Plough at 3101). In 1968, the place moved closer to campus, to the corner of University and Shattuck Avenues. The new club at 2119 University was called The New Monk. It had local rock bands headlining on weekends, but most of the time it was just a beer and pizza place for college students.

In the middle of 1971, however, The New Monk started booking higher profile club bands. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders played there on June 4 and 5, 1971, and then again on June 26 and June 27. At the end of August, Keystone owner Freddie Herrera officially announced that he would be buying the New Monk. It's my belief that Herrera had been booking the New Monk already for some months. Garcia played Keystone Korner 20 times in 1971, so clearly it was the preferred venue, but Herrera's takeover of The New Monk put it on Garcia's radar..


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Keystone History, Part 3-The Keystone Berkeley
Herrera ran both the Keystone Korner and The New Monk throughout 1971. In March, 1972, the New Monk changed it's name to Keystone Berkeley, to distinguish it from Keystone Korner in San Francisco. The first Keystone Berkeley show I have been able to find was March 2, 1972, with the Sons Of Champlin. The first Garcia/Saunders show at Keystone Berkeley was soon after that, on March 8, 1972.

Garcia/Saunders played Keystone Korner 19 times in 1972. However, in July of '72, Herrera sold the Keystone Korner to Todd Barkan (former pianist for Kwane and The Kwanditos), who turned it into a jazz club. Garcia and Saunders did play two dates for Barkan on July 7-8, 1972, that had been previously scheduled, but from the Summer of '72 onwards the Keystone Berkeley was Garcia's go-to choice for casual gigs with all his side bands, and he played a dozen shows there in 1972. Other Dead spinoff groups played there as well, particularly during the 1974-76 period.
(The March 1974 Keystone Berkeley calendar)
A Note On The Name
The New Monk was re-named the Keystone Berkeley in March 1972 to distinguish it from the Keystone Korner. At some point in the mid-70s, the name was changed to The Keystone, since Keystone Korner had no connection to it, and in any case didn't book rock acts. However, everyone called it "the Keystone, in Berkeley," or just "Keystone Berkeley" but strictly speaking it was "The Keystone."

Of course, in early 1977 Herrera and his partner Bobby Corona opened the Keystone Palo Alto (about which more below), and the official name of the Berkeley club reverted to Keystone Berkeley.

Keystone History, Part 4-Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone
The Keystone Berkeley was one of the leading rock clubs in the Bay Area. However, the sort of band who could headline the Keystone on a weekend was about at the level to be 2nd or 3rd on the bill at a Bill Graham show. There was intense competition between Bill Graham Presents and Keystone for acts, and much accusations were thrown about, usually directed at BGP for threatening not to book acts, etc. Generally speaking, however, acts that played Keystone did not play Graham shows and vice-versa, or not in the same year, anyway. The Jerry Garcia Band was a complicated exception, but in the mid-70s at least Garcia did not often play BGP shows.

Good bands played Keystone Berkeley, but they were generally on their way up or their way down. When they were hot, they played for Graham. A lot of Bay Area heavyweights played Keystone between record deals or else just as they were getting their new band together, looking to graduate. Garcia's part-time status was unique, essentially, to Garcia, but it must have frustrated Bill Graham no end.

In early 1977, Herrera and his partner Bobby Corona took over a club called Sophie's, at 260 S. California Avenue in Palo Alto, and re-named it the Keystone Palo Alto. The Jerry Garcia Band had already played Sophie's 7 times (in various incarnations) in 1975-76. Keystone Palo Alto allowed Corona and Herrera to book acts for two nights rather than one, and made them a better competitor to Graham. In 1980, Corona and Herrera opened The Stone in San Francisco, at 412 Broadway, and this allowed them to book touring bands for three nights, making them direct competitors to the Bill Graham hegemony (I have written about the rock history of 412 Broadway elsewhere).

Once Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone opened, Garcia could spread his shows out amongst the three clubs. Every few months, he typically would play one night at each club over three consecutive nights, but this would vary based on which acts were playing the three clubs. If there was a popular act playing one of the other clubs on a certain night, Garcia would sometime play an extra night at a different club (e.g., if Tower of Power was booked at Keystone Palo Alto on a weeknight, Garcia would play two nights at The Stone instead of one in Palo Alto). As far as I know, both Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone stuck to the pattern of only offering Garcia tickets on the day of the show and starting at 11:00 pm or later (I have seen a Keystone Palo Alto ticket stub from 1985, so Palo Alto--typically-may have had it's own arrangement).

An Economic Assessment of Jerry Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley
The Keystone Berkeley was an economic entity designed to sell beer. Technically, it was a restaurant, which by California law meant that it had to serve food but could then also serve food and wine. I guess a few people bought fries or Chardonnay, but basically the Keystone sold beer on draft, by the gallon. The club was open six or seven nights a week, even when only local bands played for a dollar cover charge. There were usually two acts, and they often played two sets each, as far as I know, in order to extend the evening. Bigger acts had tickets available in advance, but the Keystone was more oriented towards getting people to wander in and hang out and listen to music, drinking beer the whole time. Once, for example (On Oct 6 '83) I saw the latterday New Riders for free at Keystone Berkeley, with the provision that you had to buy two beers (which you paid for at the door in return for drink tickets). That was a pretty clear assessment of where the money was.

The odd set up of Garcia shows at Keystone Berkeley makes perfect sense when considered from the point of view of beer sales. People would line up at Keystone Berkeley for the day's show starting in the morning. Why, I don't know, since everyone usually got in, but Berkeley was tolerant and a lot of people had come from far away. In any case, the doors would open at 7:00 pm or something, and the drinking would begin immediately. I think there were a few tables in the tiny balcony behind the soundboard, and some benches around the sides of the main floor, so perhaps these were desirable, but the point was that Jerry attracted a crowd that came early and liked to party.

Since everyone was drinking beer and not the harder stuff, and there was some food, the crowd at the Keystone was always pretty drunk, but not totally gone. Of course, for a Garcia show some other substances dominated, but in any case with no Whisky or Tequila in play, the whole thing was manageable in a rowdy sort of way. There was always an opening act, usually a solo guitarist type, keeping the patrons entertained while they drank. In the later years, they were usually local blues or folk guitarists (like Steve Hayton [sp] or Mike Henderson), but they never seemed worth getting there early for. Of course, having made this determination, the next time I showed up at 10:45 for a JGB show I discovered that I had just missed a set or more by Ramblin Jack Elliott (Jan 24 '83), so some interesting players may have opened on occasion. Nevertheless, the point was to get people there early and keep them drinking beer, and the laid back nature of the Garcia audience was custom made for the Keystone's business model.

I only became conscious of the Keystone's peculiar business arrangement with Garcia when some friends in my dorm with fake ID's attended the January '76 JGB show where Keith and Donna debuted (Jan 26 '76; they had no idea who would replace Hopkins until Keith walked on stage). However, I have no reason to believe that things were much, or any, different from 1972 to 1975. For example, have you ever noticed that no one has any ticket stubs for Garcia shows at the Keystone Berkeley? That's because there weren't any. You couldn't buy tickets in advance, and they just stamped your hand when you went in. This also meant that the entire evening was pretty much an all-cash transaction at the door and at the bar, always attractive to businesses who don't like to leave complicated paper trails.

Jerry Garcia shows at the Keystone Berkeley were advertised in the paper and the club's monthly flyer, but they were often changed. Garcia would be booked for two or three days in a row, and one would be added or dropped at the last minute. Since no tickets were sold in advance, no money had to be refunded. I have to think this was one of the key attractions to Garcia. He could book shows at Keystone Berkeley, knowing that if there were last minute complications in his schedule he could simply add or subtract dates as needed. Of course, from an historian's point of view this makes things very difficult, as there were so many changes, but the flexibility was essential to Garcia's willingness to playing the club.

Since the Keystone Berkeley was generally open every night anyway, it wasn't catastrophic if Garcia canceled or re-scheduled a date. The opening act would just play anyway, and maybe another local act would be booked, and a few beer drinkers would wander in, but that was what the Keystone would have booked anyway, so it was worth giving Garcia the opportunity to play. By the same token, if a local band was booked on a weeknight, and Garcia abruptly wanted to add a show, it seems the Keystone just kept the local band's booking and made them into the opening act.

The 1980s
By the time the 80s rolled onwards, Garcia was playing at The Stone and Keystone Palo Alto as much as Keystone Berkeley. In fact, JGB played more shows at The Stone than either of the other two, both because The Stone was nearer Marin and because it had fewer really good bookings to conflict with Garcia's dates. I also think that as the Grateful Dead became bigger, Garcia's schedule became more rigid. There were fewer dates at the Keystone Berkeley, and indeed all of the Keystones, but there were fewer last second additions and subtractions of dates either.

Changes in the rock market and the parking situation in Downtown Berkeley caused the Keystone Berkeley to close in Spring 1984. Garcia's last shows at Keystone Berkeley were March 21-22, 1984, and the club closed soon after. Between March 8, 1972 and March 22, 1984, Garcia had played an incredible 206 times at the Keystone Berkeley, in a variety of bands. I do not believe there is a single venue that the Grateful Dead played more than 50 times, and Garcia quadrupled that at Keystone Berkeley, a fact that many Dead scholars take for granted. The Garcia configurations that played Keystone Berkeley were:
  • Garcia/Saunders
  • Old And In The Way
  • Great American String Band
  • Legion Of Mary
  • Jerry Garcia Band
  • Reconstruction
Garcia continued to play for Bobby Corona and Freddy Herrera at Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone, but the two clubs closed as well in 1986 and 1987, respectively. Starting in 1987, the Jerry Garcia Band started to perform regularly for Bill Graham Presents. Granted, the JGB was bigger than they had ever been, but the loyal Garcia could have worked for Bill any time, but he stuck with the Corona/Herrera partnership as he had since 1971 until they went out of business. The loyalty Garcia showed to the Keystone family is remarkable in its own right, and to my mind largely unremarked upon.

"Backstage" At The Keystone Berkeley
No discussion of the unique circumstances of Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley would be complete without explaining the stage set up. The club had a conventional setup, a rectangular room with the stage at the far end, opposite from the bar. There was a little balcony for the soundboard and a few tables (members of the Dead would sometimes watch the Garcia Band from the soundboard). Backstage, such as it was, was a big room behind the bar. It can be viewed on the inside cover of the Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders Live At Keystone album. I never tried to go back there (not my style), but people have many legendary tales.

However, in retrospect, the remarkable thing about the Keystone Berkeley was that there was no backstage per se, as the stage was on the opposite end from the bar and the back room. Thus the band--including Garcia--had to walk through the audience to get to the stage.  It was actually on the East Coast where the Dead became really huge, and Garcia became larger than life. Nonetheless it was still astonishing that the Dead could headline Madison Square Garden, and a few weeks later Garcia would play this bar where he had to walk through the crowd to get to the stage.

In the 1980s, more and more people either visited the West Coast or outright moved to the Bay Area to be nearer the Dead. Seeing Garcia at the Keystone was a must-do. Typically, visitors or new arrivals would be thrilled to discover that "tickets were still available," not realizing they always were, and spend all day in line. One of my friends, a Manhattanite himself (hi Bobby), took a special pleasure in finding some newcomer near stage right (the steps to the stage were there) and getting him to look at the stage just as the lights went down. As the eager eyed Deadhead peered backstage, looking for Jerry amdist the hubbub, my friend would wait and say "hey, look behind you" and there was Jerry walking right past them (and Steve Parish and Keystone security staff, too, of course). Every time the astonished visitor would say "he couldn't do this in New York [or wherever]," and indeed he couldn't. Right up until the end, for all it's hassles, rowdiness and late hours, Jerry Garcia at Keystone Berkeley was a singular event that had no parallels in the Dead world.

Aftermath
Sometime in the late 90s, I was in Berkeley on a hot day, walking on University back towards campus. I was fading, so I ducked into a drugstore to grab a soft drink or something. As I stood in line inside the Thrifty Jr store, I had a weird moment of recognition. I looked around, and realized I was in the remodeled Keystone Berkeley. Where I was standing would have been right in front of the stage. For a moment all my memories came rushing back, about things passed, ne'er to be seen again.

I walked away in a different mood. I couldn't see the outline of the 40-foot high mural of Jimi Hendrix that had adorned the entrance in the 80s, but I knew it was there.

21 comments:

  1. This is a really, really important post, Corry. So much to process.

    Quick question ... do you have a list of opening acts? I wasn't really aware that there were any except the handful that I have seen advertised in calendar listings and such.

    I had honestly never observed that there were no KB tickets floating around, and now I know why. Remarkable.

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  2. I myself was surprised when I looked into this how far reaching it was. Since I used to live in Berkeley, I knew the weird setup of JGB at Keystone Berkeley, but I realized most scholars only knew bits and pieces. And even I didn't realize Garcia had played Keystone Berkeley 206 times.

    As for the opening acts, i doubt they are listed anywhere. From 1976 onwards, the JGB openers were never (or almost never) advertised, even though they were always there. It was usually some guy with an acoustic guitar, there to fill time while beer was consumed. If you ask people, they will vaguely recall that there were opening acts, but never who they were or if they were any good.

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  3. Very enjoyable post....which illustrates how loyal Garcia could be to certain venues. (It seems the Keystone was the Matrix of the '70s.) The personal memories also add a lot.
    It also puts perspective on Garcia's comments about how frantic New York audiences were, how they went "aaahh!" and wanted his time...while back home, he could stay in the casual bar-band style he was used to.
    When our tape trail picks up, Garcia had a following of boozy fans (who'd, you know, actually line up for a show) - I'd be curious to hear more of those early Matrix Monday-night shows where he'd play to maybe ten people who wandered in! Musically, it's the difference between "Side Trips" and "Live at the Keystone"...

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  4. Another person (unknown to me) has a much more impressionistic description of the JGB-Keystone scene.
    http://deadheadland.com/2010/12/25/long-strange-trip-jerry-garcia-at-the-keystone/

    I read this and realized that I had a context that most people didn't, so it kind of inspired the post. As usual, what I thought would be a brief note mushroomed on it's own.

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  5. Corry:

    Another great post. My frame of reference for the Keystone Berkeley was 74-77, and during that time it was even more casual than the scene you describe from the early 1980s. The line, if any, would form around 730 PM, and there might be 20 people tops lined up when the doors opened. I would usually get there a little early to snag a table near the front (it sounds like the tables were largely a thing of the past during the later era, but they pretty much filled up the floor when I was going there, with standing room in the back near the pool tables.

    I think one of the appeals to Garcia of playing places like the Keystone was that it was a cash only business, and he and his bandmates would have spending money right away. Although the total paydays were doubtless a lot smaller than a Dead gig, I suspect the percentage flowing into Garcia's pocket was a lot more, and immediate.

    Clearly the man was also a creature of habit, and found it convenient to be able to walk into a completely familiar place and know where to eat dinner, pee, whatever. The Keystone Berkeley was probably the closest and most convenient of the Herrera dives for Garcia to drive to, an easy drive across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

    For the bulk of the shows I saw at the Keystone Berkeley, there wouldn't be an opening act, unless it was a double bill, like the many Asleep at the Wheel/Commander Cody shows I saw. Garcia would usually come on about 10 PM, and there would be a long break between sets. He seemed to time it pretty well to end just around the 2 PM closing time.

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  6. Crypt, your descriptions of the 1974-77 era are very interesting. By the early 80s, Garcia never came on before 11:00, and usually much later. Of course, that allowed the Keystone to put it an opening act and sell more beer. The tables were definitely gone by the late 70s.

    I think the "all-cash" deal was a big part of the Keystone's attraction to Garcia. Musicians often only get occasional paydays, even if those paydays are sometimes sizable. A little bit of walking around money, even for Garcia, was probably pretty meaningful.

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  7. For the record, as of today I count 213 Garcia appearances at 2119 University: 209 as Keystone (Berkeley), 4 as New Monk.

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  8. 415 total with Freddie Herrera (Keystone Korner + 2119 University + Keystone Palo Alto + The Stone)

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  9. Very interesting to push some of the cobwebs away from my experience at Keystone in Berkeley around 1979. It was so much fun to have such a casual place with such exceptional music! As I recall, the stage was low to nonexistent? When I saw Jerry with David Grissman in Portland, it cemented my interest in his particular jamming style on non-Dead stuff, so Keystone was heaven on earth even though the beer was weak.

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  10. jonp, I assume you mean you saw Old And In The Way in Portland in May of 1973? I'd certainly love to hear more about that show, which seems particularly obscure. For example ... was there a fiddle player?

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  11. My friend Steve, girl friend (now wife) Janet and I were there for the June 1971 gig with Saunders and Tom Fogerty, the weekend the Fillmore West closed.

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  12. Brule, it's extremely interesting to find eyewitnesses. Do you recall who played drums?

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  13. "Skunk Cabbage with Vassar Clements and Western Union.
    Sunday March 3rd, 1974."

    i want to hear that.

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  14. We never watered down the beer!! Miller Lite was just crap! And, btw, the only "food" we served was popcorn. What a blast it was!

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    1. I rember you were friends with Angel and Ellen who worked there when Paul was the bartender and how about those party in the room behindthe bar if walls could speek.

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  15. Nadja, what a great comment. Is it really true that Keystone Berkeley qualified as a "restaurant"--thus preserving the right to sell beer--because they served popcorn? That is so awesome.

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  16. I remember it all very well. I was security when they changed from the New Monk to Keystone. I use to park my Purple Chopper in the back room so it was safe. I remember Jerry and the Dead with Tom Fogerty from Creedance popping in and having an impromptu concerts. We would close the doors and everyone who was already there viewed a Grateful Dead concert. It was great times working there. Bringing back a lot of great memories. My name was Duke, I was a BIG biker.

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  17. What was the name of the next door(?) hole in the wall that served incredible Thai food '83-'84)? I think it later moved across the street? Does it still exist?

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  18. fyi, I just came across this contact sheet of "Musicians and Bay Area notables" at the GDAO archive site -- including (in the lower left) a couple of pics of Freddie Herrera. It looks to be from 3/23/75 perhaps?

    http://www.gdao.org/items/show/826728

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  19. Saw Jerry Garcia Band there once in 1980 or 79... it was very good. I think Steppenwolf played there in 80.

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  20. Per a commenter above: there was a regular size stage, about four feet or whatever. There was a pole near the front of the stage though, a beam as it were. Hammy guitarists like randy hansen would love to do slide guitar on it. Overall, a dark, smelly place- ie, heaven for Garcia and JGB fan-types. I remember seeing Joe Satriani's band (The Squares!) there, and many other local punk, new wave and metal acts. And always getting my drink-ticket coke, of course. Sigh, memories. The parking lot scene out back... etc...!

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