Jerry Garcia's musical history outside of the Grateful Dead is remarkable for its breadth and longevity. Notwithstanding the Grateful Dead's extensive touring schedule throughout its 30-year history, Garcia played a remarkable number of shows with his own aggregations for 25 of those years. Garcia's principal right hand man for his own endeavors from 1970-1995 was bassist John Kahn, who besides playing exceptional electric and acoustic bass also took care of the musical business of the Jerry Garcia Band. Kahn hired and fired musicians, organized rehearsals and often helped choose material. Although Jerry approved every move, of course, without Kahn's oversight Garcia could not have participated in the Jerry Garcia Band. In many respects, the Jerry Garcia Band (under various names) was to some extent the Jerry Garcia and John Kahn Band; if Garcia had not met Kahn he would have had to be invented.
Most Deadheads are at least generally aware of Kahn's importance to Garcia's non-Dead music. However, Kahn is usually viewed through the filter of Jerry Garcia and his music. For this series of posts, I am looking at Jerry Garcia through the filter of John Kahn. In particular, I am looking at John Kahn's performance history without Garcia. Kahn's extensive studio career has been largely documented on the Deaddisc's site, so I don't need to recap it beyond some specific references. The posts so far have been:
- John Kahn I: Performance History 1967-68: A review of John Kahn's migration to San Francisco, his transformation from an acoustic jazz bassist to an electric R&B bass player and some history of his early live work.
- John Kahn II: Performance History 1967-68-T&A R&B Band and Memory Pain: A closer look at the history of Kahn's two original bands during this period
John Kahn and Mike Bloomfield
Drummer Bob Jones, an integral part of T&A and Memory Pain with Kahn, recalls when he met Bloomfield, which was probably when Kahn met him as well. Many bands rehearsed at the Sausalito Heliport, including the Dead, Country Joe and The Fish, Electric Flag and many others. As a result, it was a good place for unaffiliated musicians to hang out and jam. As a result, all sorts of musical connections were made. Jones recalls
Some time after or during Memory Pain, Chuck Steaks invited Kahn and I to an [Anonymous Artists of America band] jam at their ranch in Novato. Mike Bloomfield came to this jam as well. It was at this jam that the event occured that I described to you when Mike stuck his head in [and complimented my singing and drumming, and joined in the jam].
This was my first meeting with Mike. I cannot speak for John but I think it may have been his first meeting too but I cannot swear to it. Mike hired me at this meeting to play on the Fillmore records so he was pretty impressed (as evidenced by the first thing he said to me).
Mike Bloomfield was a great musician and America's first great guitar hero. By late 1968, he had already left the powerful and influential Butterfield Blues Band for the Electric Flag, and he had left the interesting but unsatisfying Flag in mid-1968. He had also been a major part of Al Kooper's Super Session album, released to great fanfare in July of '68. Bloomfield was a restless soul, striving to make great music but uncomfortable with his own success, and yet everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. As discussed in a prior post, Bloomfield and Kooper agreed to play a weekend at the Fillmore West, and Bloomfield asked Kahn to play bass. Kahn had jammed with Bloomfield a few times since they met, probably at the Heliport (I now don't think Kahn played at the Palace Of Fine Arts in August '68, but that is a side issue), but being part of the headlining band at the Fillmore was a big deal for an aspiring musician.
The Fillmore West shows were a great musical success, with the highlights released on the February 1969 Columbia album The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper. This album was John Kahn's first appearance on an album, and it was a fairly high profile record. For reasons that appear to have been due to Bloomfield's abrupt departure from Electric Flag, he seems to have owed Columbia some albums. The exact genesis of Bloomfield's plans remain murky, but the essence of it was that in early 1969 Mike Bloomfield formed a band and John Kahn joined the group as bassist.
The Mike Bloomfield Band, 1969
Members of the Mike Bloomfield Band casually refer to it by that name, but they were almost never booked under that name. It does appear, however, that Bloomfield's participation and Columbia Records contract defined the group, but Bloomfield preferred to share the credit. The group was usually known as Mike Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites and Friends, or Bloomfield/Gravenites/Naftalin, or variations thereof. The basic band was
- Nick Gravenites-vocals
- Mike Bloomfield-lead guitar, vocals
- Ira Kamin-organ
- Mark Nafatalin-piano
- John Kahn-bass
- Bob Jones-drums
January 30-February 2, 1969: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Chuck Berry/Bloomfield-Gravenites-Naftalin/Initial Shock
Chuck Berry was headlining a weekend (Thursday-Sunday) at the Fillmore West, and the Bloomfield-Gravenites-Naftalin aggregation supported them (Initial Shock may have backed Berry, but I'm not sure of that). Columbia recorded the shows, so some good tapes circulate of these performances. A horn section was added for the shows, along with a conga player. The additional musicians were
- Noel Jewkes-tenor sax
- Snooky Flowers-baritone sax
- Gerald Oshita-alto and baritone sax
- John Wilmeth-trumpet
- Dino Andino-congas
February 6-February 9, 1969: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Bloomfield-Gravenites-Naftalin/The Byrds/P,G&E (no Byrds on Feb 9)
The Bloomfield band returned to Fillmore West to headline the second weekend over The Byrds. Columbia was there to record the proceedings. Bloomfield had a famous self-destructive streak, and he did not show up on Friday, February 7. Ironically, the Columbia engineers would roll tape on the Byrds for a few numbers each night to set their levels, and on the 7th The Byrds had to play an extra long set to cover for Bloomfield's absence, as they waited for him to show up. When the Byrds tape was discovered many decades later in the Columbia vaults, it was a true find for Byrds fans, as the extended set forced the Byrds to play some rarely performed numbers (released in 2000 on Columbia as The Byrds At Fillmore West February 1969). However, it was not a good night for Bloomfield fans.
By general accounts, Bloomfield was not in great shape throughout the second weekend, and the promise of the first weekend was not met with a more relaxed and confident band. Tracks from the first weekend were used on a few albums, but the second weekend was not apparently very productive. The Mike Bloomfield album Live At Bill Graham's Fillmore West and side 1 of the Nick Gravenites album My Labors were recorded at the first Fillmore weekend, so Kahn appeared on both albums. Some tracks, heavily modified, may have been used on the Bloomfield album Its Not Killing Me as well.
February 17 (?), 1969: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites/Sons Of Champlin/Ace Of Cups
This show was a benefit. It was scheduled for "Chinese New Years"and could have been any time between February 17 and 20.
March 15, 1969: Boston Arena, Boston, MA: Super Session with Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper/Lighthouse
Kahn specifically recalled playing this show in Boston with Kooper and Bloomfield. Skip Prokop of Lighthouse probably played drums. The ensemble was scheduled the previous night (Mar 14) at The Rockpile in Toronto, but did not play.
Boston Arena, built in 1910, was on 238 St. Botolph Street. It holds about 6,000. It is currently known as the Matthews Arena.
March 27-30, 1969: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Butterfield, Bloomfield & Friends/Birth
I'm not certain of the exact configuration of performers at this show. I believe that the Bloomfield band played with special guest Paul Butterfield, but I don't know this for a fact. I have to assume that John Kahn played bass for these shows, but I have no confirmation yet.
Around this time, Bloomfield was in the studio with Nick Gravenites working on the album that would be released as Its Not Killing Me. Bloomfield was not very interested in his obligations to Columbia Records. Nick Gravenites, an experienced producer, seems to have been the principal driver of the project. Kahn participated in the album, although exactly on which tracks isn't clear. Gravenites was a great producer, but he was a true bluesman, not formally trained, and I would suspect that Kahn helped write horn arrangements and other more formal musical contributions. Kahn would have been a particularly useful part of the team in this respect.
At this juncture, it's worth pointing out a certain parallel between Nick Gravenites and John Kahn with respect to their professional relationships to Mike Bloomfield and Jerry Garcia. Bloomfield let Gravenites organize his various projects in a way that was comparable to how Kahn would organize the Jerry Garcia Band in the next decade. Bloomfield was only interested in touring on the West Coast, and mostly just in the Bay Area, and he was more interested in playing live than rehearsing. When there was a scheduling conflict with a backing musician, a substitute was found, and the results were part of the improvisational flavor of the music.
The Bloomfield-Garcia comparison can only be taken so far; Garcia's limitations for his performing had more to do with Grateful Dead obligations than anything else, whereas Bloomfield willfully tried to keep his enterprises on a casual scale, sometimes to the detriment of the people he worked with. For the purposes of my posts, however, it is interesting to see that the peculiar part-time role Kahn played for Garcia for 25 years had a precursor in the Gravenites/Bloomfield arrangement.
May 31, 1969: Exhibition Gardens, Vancouver, BC: Mike Bloomfield & Friends/The Youngbloods
Bloomfield was still a big star, and he seems to have consented to do a show in Vancouver. It would have been a relatively quick in-and-out trip, and it doesn't seem to have been part of a "tour." There's a chance that this show was on March 31, 1969, not May 31, and I have never been able to confirm either date.
The Bloomfield band doesn't seem to have played many shows during this period. I think Kahn was working in the studio on various Bloomfield related projects, but I haven't quite figured out how he was making a living. Kahn had moved to Forest Knolls in Marin by this time (near Lagunitas), so he seems to have been getting by. Kahn, Bloomfield and others seem to have worked on a film soundtrack in Los Angeles during this time (Medium Cool), and this would seem to have been Kahn's first taste of doing sessions in his native Los Angeles.
June 15, 1969: Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites/Southern Comfort/Womb/Marvin Gardens/Joy of Cooking/Last Mile/Lazarus/Cookin' Mama Benefit for The Alameda Youth Council
By May 1969, Bob Jones had formed a band called Southern Comfort. Besides Jones on drums and lead vocals, the other members of Southern Comfort were guitarist Fred Burton (who had played with Kahn in Memory Pain), tenor saxophonist and vocalist Ron Stallings (a member of T&A with Kahn, and later in Reconstruction), trumpeter John Wilmeth, organist Steve Funk and bassist Bob Huberman. Kahn was still close to Bob Jones, and continued to hang out and write songs with him, some of which turned up on the 1970 Southern Comfort album co-produced by Kahn and Nick Gravenites. However, while Kahn was friends with most of Southern Comfort, his primary focus remained the Bloomfield band.
As Southern Comfort's gig schedule increased, however, the needs for a substitute drummer to fill in when Jones had a Southern Comfort show increased as well. Jones's dual obligations to the Bloomfield band and Southern Comfort would play an important role in John Kahn's future.
The Family Dog on The Great Highway was Chet Helm's new venture out at Ocean Beach.
Some posters suggest that Bloomfield & Gravenites were backed by Southern Comfort, but Bob Jones has assured me that did not occur, to his memory. Since Southern Comfort and the Bloomfield band appeared to share a booking agency, some promoters may have thought the groups crossed over, but despite Bob Jones presence in both they were separate aggregations.
In the case of the August Family Dog show, Southern Comfort was sharing the bill with the Bloomfield band, so Jones could play both sets. However, Jones does recall that on one night the party got out of hand and he left early, so he can't say who sat in on drums that night in his stead.
September 19-21, 1969: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield/Nick Gravenites
The Keystone Korner was a little San Francisco club on 750 Vallejo Street, a few blocks off Broadway. According to Joel Selvin, Nick Gravenites stumbled onto it one night when owner Freddie Herrera was trying to make it pay as a topless club, but it was too far from the action. Gravenites had another idea, and the club soon became a sort of clubhouse for the expatriate Chicago blues players like Gravenites.
The Bloomfield band played the Keystone Korner just about every other weekend from late Summer 1969 until the early Spring of 1970. Their shows were dutifully announced in Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column, but there was relatively little publicity otherwise. Bloomfield was still a big name at this time, and the idea of a genuine guitar hero making regular appearances at a tiny little club in San Francisco was yet another thing that set San Francisco apart from other rock markets. Once again, part of the peculiar Garcia Band mojo seems to have been pre-figured by Bloomfield, and I have to think that Kahn was paying attention to what did and did not work.
September 26-27, 1969: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield
Our knowledge of these Keystone Korner shows comes from Ralph Gleason's column. I don't find any significance in the fact that Gleason listed the bookings under slightly different names each time (Mike Bloomfield, Bloomfield & Gravenites, Mike Bloomfield & Friends). Nonetheless, it does point up the casual nature of these bookings. While there's every reason to think that Kahn played every booked show, there's no guarantee that he did, nor is there any likelihood that the band didn't have various substitutions at different chairs on occasion. This doesn't exclude Bloomfield, who was notorious for not showing up, presumably leaving Gravenites to front the band (which he was very capable of).
Southern Comfort had another show on September 26, at the New Orleans House in Berkeley, so another drummer must have filled in for Bob Jones. Jones, not surprisingly, doesn't recall who took his place, and may not have known anyway, but it's revealing with respect to Kahn's education as Jerry Garcia's straw boss. The Bloomfield band didn't rehearse much, mainly because Bloomfield wasn't that interested in rehearsing per se, but as a practical matter it allowed for much more fluid booking policies. The basic trade off of the Bloomfield band seems to have been that it was better to have superior musicians with minimal rehearsal than to have lesser players with lots of times to practice. For part-time players like Bloomfield or Garcia, it would have been hard to keep quality musicians occupied, so a built in system to allow substitutes showed an inherent preference. Kahn can not have missed the lesson, as it seems to have driven the hiring for the drum chair for Garcia/Saunders throughout the early 1970s.
However, by all accounts the Keystone Korner was kind of like the Mike Bloomfield clubhouse, and he enjoyed playing there. Ironically, Bloomfield's regular appearance at clubs like Keystone Korner lowered his status in the Bay Area, and by the mid-70s he was just another guy playing rock clubs. This was probably fine with Bloomfield, but it made playing in his band less lucrative for his sidemen.
October 3-4, 1969: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield
The clip above is from the "Opening Today" section of the October 17, 1969 Chronicle.
October 24-25, 1969: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites
Southern Comfort were at the New Orleans House this weekend, so another drummer must have sat in for Bob Jones.
November 6, 1969: Gym, College Park High School, Pleasant Hill, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Friends/Country Weather/Bronze Hog/Sanpaku/Orion/Daybreak
November 7-8, 1969: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites
November 14-15, 1969: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites
November 21, 1969: Centennial Coliseum, Reno, NV: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites
November 29, 1969: Lanai Theater, Crockett, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites
Crockett, CA was a peculiar little sugar town on a distant part of the Bay, 10 miles North of Richmond. The venue is a fascinating mystery, but it does seem like Quicksilver manager Ron Polte tried to make an old movie theater in Crockett into a rock venue. I have been to Crockett, although not recently, but it is a small out of the way place even now, and it must have been quite remote in 1969. The town is on the Northeast corner of the San Pablo Bay, on the Carquinez Straight. Crockett, despite being unincorporated Contra Costa County, has always been the corporate headquarters of C&H Sugar, so the area around Crockett was always an important commercial area. Perhaps the Lanai Theater served to entertain the local workers, maybe during WW2 or earlier, but I know nothing about the venue.
I doubt this show was well attended, but it was probably a weird ghost town scene nonetheless. The Bloomfield site reports that Gregg Thomas (of Mint Tattoo) played drums instead of Jones.
December 5-6, 1969: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites
December 13, 1969: Loma Prieta Ballroom, San Jose State College, San Jose, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites
The Loma Prieta Ballroom was a newly opened room in the San Jose State student union. The capacity was a little less than 1,000, although who knows how many students really fit in there.
December 26-27, 1969: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites