Monday, March 29, 2010

Stockton Ballroom, Stockton, CA April 28, 1967-The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead concert at the Stockton Ballroom, in Stockton, California on Friday April 28, 1967 has always had an air of uncertainty to it. The concert had originally been known from a poster advertising the show (above). However, over the years there had been some question about the provenance of the poster as an artifact (copies may have been made after the fact, apparently) so the existence of the show couldn't be confirmed. Nor did there seem to be evidence of a tape or a review confirming the event.

On the other hand, a Friday night show in Stockton, a small but important city in the Central Valley, about 80 miles East of San Francisco, seemed like a very plausible 1967 venue. On, commenter Ernie Reed had said
I remember Viola Lee, Golden Road and Cream Puff War because I knew them from the 1st WB album. My ear was still commercially tuned but remember being floored by Viola Lee...Jerry with no beard, talking with folks in the lobby...
Eventually, I found a reference from Jerry Garcia about the show, in an interview with Ralph Gleason in the May 14, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle, so it seemed fairly certain that the Stockton show took place.  Nevertheless, an intrepid researcher finally found a reference to the show in the April 26, 1967 edition of the Lodi News-Sentinel, accessible on Google News (Lodi is another Central Valley town, not far from Stockton--John Fogerty wrote a famous song about it, occasionally performed by the New Riders).

It seems that the Grateful Dead performance at the Stockton Ballroom (on 9650 Thornton Road) was an event sponsored by the Pacific Student Association, the student organization of Stockton's University of The Pacific. The dance was part of an annual week of events celebrating Mardi Gras (yes, in April). The theme of the week was "A Thousand Clowns." Friday night began at 5:30 pm with a barbeque on campus, then at 7:30 the "Mardi Gras Queen" and "Ugly Man" contestants were introduced at the school auditorium. Prizes would also be awarded for a special beard growing contest. The Grateful Dead performance was later that evening.

The Stockton Ballroom was some miles from campus. While it appears that regular people could gain admission to the show, the event was sponsored and produced by the Student Association, so that explains why there was almost no publicity and no review of the concert, as it was more of a dance. I can see from YouTube videos of the Stockton Ballroom (from 2009, not 1967) that the facility is pretty small, with room for perhaps 1000 people, but the show would have been subsidized somewhat by the school, and in any case the Dead weren't doing anything else that night. Since it was a school event that started late (after the beard-growing prizes were awarded), there did not seem to be room or a need for an opening act.

The University of The Pacific was founded in 1851(as California Wesleyan College) in Santa Clara, and was California's first college. It was also the first California college to admit women, which it did when it moved to San Jose in 1871. The school has had a substantial history since then, and after a number of mergers it moved to Stockton in 1925. The school is particularly well regarded for its affiliated professional schools, including McGeorge Law School, which is located in Sacramento (about 50 miles North).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Atwood Hall, Clark University, Worcester, MA December 2, 7 or 16, 1967 (Tour Itinerary November-December 1967)

My recent research into the tour itinerary for the Grateful Dead for March and April 1969 turned up direct evidence of a missing Grateful Dead show at Atwood Hall at Clark University in Worcester, MA in late 1967. The Dead played tiny (capacity: 658) Atwood Hall on April 20, 1969, and a tape survives, where Jerry admits (right before "Morning Dew") "last time we were here, it was a colossal disaster."

The comment thread for the archive recording of the April 20, 1969 includes a detailed memory from a Clark student who saw both the 1967 and '69 Atwood Hall shows
I was a Freshman in the fall of '67. The Dead made their first appearance at Atwood Hall in late '67 or early '68. They performed a lot of material from Anthem although it had not been released yet. I was sitting near the center aisle when all of I sudden, maybe 40 minutes into the set, Paul MacGalliard goes running down the aisle towards the stage. That's funny, I thought. I wasn't used to seeing Paul, a man of significant size, move so fast. I was working with the theater group, learning stage lighting, and Paul, who was a year or two ahead of me, tolerated me and taught me the ropes. Suddenly I realized that all of the little red lights on the guitar amps had gone out. The Dead had blown out the power, but I was so entranced, I didn't even notice. The stage lights were still on, they were on a different circuit. The band members all picked up percussion instruments and just kept playing. (Maybe this was not the first time this had happened). They kept jamming until Paul threw the breakers and the power came back.

The Dead played a while longer until the circuits heated up and they blew the power again. It was no use, they excused themselves, and promised to come back, which they did in April of 1969. We had new power lines in Atwood, installed especially for them.
The writer is not certain of the date, and attempts to speculate later in the thread, but we now have more information than we did at that time, so I will make another proposition here. The Grateful Dead came East in December 1967, and there is no evidence that they left California in early 1968, so all theories point towards a late 1967 show.

According to Dennis McNally (pp. 231-235), the band was recording in New York at the Olmstead Studios on 48th Street, with Dave Hassinger as the engineer. Ramrod, Bill Kreutzmann and Bob Matthews had driven the equipment truck cross country, and the band was in the Chelsea Hotel and then at a house in Englewood, New Jersey. Given the band's always precarious financial condition, it would make sense that they would play a few weekend gigs while recording, because they would have needed the money. With this in mind, let's review the known dates for late 1967:

November 10-11, 1967 Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles Buffalo Springfield/Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer
November 12, 1967 Winterland
The Dead were recording in Los Angeles before and after the November Shrine shows, and probably flew up for the Winterland show (which was a benefit of some kind). I am still looking for some confirmation of this show beyond the listing in Deadbase.
December 8-9 Psychedelic Supermarket, Boston
See my post for an explanation of this long-lost show
December 13 Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
I have a lot of questions about this date--see below
December 22-23 Palm Gardens, New York Grateful Dead/The Gray Company/Aluminum Dream/Group Image
December 26-27 Village Theater, New York Grateful Dead/Peggy Emerson/Take Five
The run-down Village Theater would become the Fillmore East the next March.
December 29-30 Psychedelic Supermarket, Boston

The timeline suggests that the Dead had finished recording in Los Angeles by November 19, and possibly earlier, and if we give the crew a week to get across the country, it seems clear that the band's equipment was in New York by Thanksgiving. I do not know exactly when they started recording. With the exception of the problematic Shrine show on December 13, the Dead seem to have stayed on the East Coast throughout December.

Given the clear memory of the Clark U. student, and given the tendency of colleges to schedule big events on Saturday nights, it seems most likely that the Grateful Dead played Clark University on either Saturday December 2 or Saturday December 16. I am more inclined to believe December 2, since December 16 seems a bit late for school to still be in session. It is also possible that because of end-of-term scheduling, a show would have been allowed on a weeknight. If that were the case, then Thursday December 7 seems the most likely, as Worcester was only 45 miles West of Boston.

The Shrine, Los Angeles December 13, 1967-Did It Happen?
The listing for the Shrine show has been listed in Deadbase for many years, and as a result it has been taken for granted by Dennis McNally and others. Is there any independent confirmation of this show? I have done a lot of research into Shrine rock shows in the 1960s (as yet unposted), and I have never found any sign of this show. December 13 was a Wednesday, and weekday Shrine shows were very rare, and unheard of in 1967. At this point, I'm fairly unconvinced that the Dead played in Los Angeles on December 13.

If someone can find confirmation that the Dead played the Shrine on December 13--and its still well within the realm of possibility--the Dead would have had to fly in with their guitars, play the show on someone else's equipment, and fly out. This isn't completely unreasonable. If the Dead's equipment was in the East (and that seems incontrovertible, per McNally), band members may have wanted to go home for a week or so, so a flight to LA, a paying gig and a week in San Francisco to catch up at home might make some personal sense.

I'm hoping someone from Los Angeles, or has done newspaper research on the period, has some memories or insights on one side or the other of this question.

Grateful Dead Tour Itinerary March-April 1969

A poster for the Grateful Dead's performance in Las Vegas on March 29, 1969 (h/t Brad for the scan)

I have been constructing tour itineraries for the Grateful Dead for brief periods of their history. There is so much information circulating on websites and blogs (including my own) that go beyond published lists on Deadlists and that these posts make useful forums for discussing what is known and missing during each period. So far I have reviewed
Rather than go in strictly chronological order, I am focusing on periods where recent research has been done by myself or others. Over time I hope to have the entire 1965-70 period. My principal focus here is on identifying which dates have Grateful Dead shows, which dates might have Grateful Dead shows, and which dates are in dispute or may be of interest. Where relevant, I am focusing on live appearances by other members--mostly Jerry Garcia, as a practical matter--in order to get an accurate timeline.

What follows is a list of known Grateful Dead dates from March and April 1969. I am focused on which performances occurred when, rather than the performances themselves. For known performances, I have assumed that they are easy to assess on Deadlists, The Archive and elsewhere, and have made little comment. As a point of comparison, I am comparing my list to Deadlists, but I realize that different databases may include or exclude different dates (I am not considering recording dates, interviews or Television and radio broadcast dates in this context).

My working assumption is that the Grateful Dead, while already a legendary rock band in 1969, were living hand to mouth and scrambling to find paying gigs. Even by 1969, most paying performances were on Friday and Saturday nights, so I am particularly interested  in Friday and Saturday nights where no Grateful Dead performances were scheduled or known.

I have linked to existing posters where available. Anyone with additional information, corrections or memories about performances during this period is encouraged to Comment or email me.

February 27-March 2, 1969 Fillmore West Grateful Dead/Pentangle/Sir Douglas Quintet
The month of March began with an epic 4-night stand at The Fillmore West. The band recorded the shows on state-of-the-art 16-track equipment, creating part of Live/Dead. The entire run was released in 2005 as a 10cd set called Fillmore West 69: The Complete Recordings.

I have written elsewhere about how Garcia in particular was influenced by the unique twin acoustic guitar sound of Pentangle.

I know of no Grateful Dead concerts for Friday and Saturday March 7-8, as well as Friday March 14, but since I believe they were working on both Aoxomoxoa and Live/Dead it seems reasonable to think they played fewer gigs.  

March 12, 1969 Fillmore West San Francisco State Strike Committee Benefit
This event is known from Deadbase. The SF State Strike was an important event in local politics, and its not surprising that there was a benefit at Fillmore West. However, I would want to wait for confirmation that the Dead actually played, not because I find it unlikely but because the Dead were inevitably rumored to play every free concert or benefit, and that didn't always turn out to be the case.

March 15, 1969 Black and White Ball, Hilton Hotel, San Francisco
Dennis McNally wrote about this event at length (p. 304). The Black And White Ball was a fundraiser for the San Francisco Symphony, and the social event of the "High Society" Season. The chair of the entertainment committee was Bob Weir's mother, so the Dead played, probably in an effort to make the event more attractive to the younger members of the wealthy set.

The Dead arrived on time but Bear caused a delay in setting up, so the band started late. They played for about an hour, and were not apparently well received. Apparently all the band members wore costumes (Pigpen and Jerry were pirates). The event was not a success and the local society columnist did not speak kindly of the band, calling them "The Ungrateful Dead." The Black And White Ball was not held again for almost twenty years (although when the Ball returned on May 1, 1987, Bob Weir was one of the featured stars [h/t Brad for the poster scan]).

March 17, 1969 Winterland, San Francisco, CA Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Sons of Champlin/Red Mountain Monster Jam Benefit for Olompali
This recently discovered event was a Monday night benefit for residents of the Chosen Family commune at Rancho Olompali, homeless and broke after a fire and a drug bust. A Berkeley Barb article suggested that the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were expected to show up, and the Winterland venue suggests that this was not idle speculation. Since we have no other information, its possible that it featured some sort of "Mickey And The Hartbeats" configuration rather than the full Grateful Dead, but its definitely on the calendar.

March 21-22, 1969 Rose Palace, Pasadena, CA Butterfield Blues Band/Grateful Dead/Jethro Tull
The Rose Palace, at 835 S. Raymond Avenue, was built in 1964 to accomodate construction of floats for the New Year's Day Tournament Of Roses Parade. Since construction took place in the barn-like structure from October through December, the building was empty the rest of the year. In the late 1960s and early it was used for weekend rock concerts. I do not know what the capacity was. The building is still intact, but owned by a private firm that constructs Rose Parade floats.

This must have been some show. The Dead were playing monstrously good music at the time, and Jethro Tull, then on their first American tour, still a stripped down quartet with Martin Barre on guitar, could definitely rock the house. While the 1969 Paul Butterfield Blues Band did not equal up to the 1966 version--few bands ever have--guitarist Buzzy Feiten and a fine horn section always sounded great (this was the lineup that played Woodstock, more or less). According to Deadlists, Butterfield (the biggest name on the bill) closed the show.

March 27, 1969 Merced, CA
This date only persists because of a mislabeled tape. I am leaving it in here, however, on the remote chance that the Grateful Dead really did play Merced on a Thursday night, and the mislabeled tape (from the next night) still had a grain of truth to it. Merced only had fairly small venues, but a Thursday night gig would have made sense for the band, as Merced is relatively near Modesto.

March 28, 1969 Student Center, Modesto Junior College, Modesto, CA
Modesto, about 90 miles East of San Francisco, made a good Friday night gig for the Dead. While Modesto is not in itself large, it is the center of a large and lucrative agricultural area, so a fair number of people lived in driving range of the concert. It was also more or less on the way to Las Vegas.

Modesto Junior College was opened in 1921, very early for a California Junior College (most were opened in the late 1950s and early 60s). The College is located at 435 College Avenue in Modesto. The Student Center, on the East Campus, still seems to be intact, and I assume there was (and may still be) a ballroom type facility.

March 29, 1969 Ice Palace, Las Vegas, NV Grateful Dead/Santana/Free Circus (two shows 8:00-11:30)
The Dead had only played Las Vegas (or Nevada), once before, on a date I have determined to be September 16, 1967.

Apparently, Bear dosed the promoter for the show, so for his first acid trip he had to introduce the Grateful Dead on stage (judge for yourself on the tape).

Around this time (per McNally p.305) the Dead had a band meeting in which Mickey Hart introduced his father Lenny as a possible business manager who could address the group's perpetual financial distress. The Dead would come to regret this association.

April 4-6, 1969 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco Grateful Dead/Flying Burrito Brothers/AUM
These were the last rock shows at the Avalon for about 35 years. The Sunday night show (April 6) was broadcast on KPFA-fm, one of the earliest examples of such a broadcast that I know of.  I have written at length about these gigs elsewhere.

April 11, 1969 University Auditorium, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
By early 1969, outside of California the Grateful Head had mostly only played psychedelic hippie ballrooms. They now started to show some signs of trying to expand their audience. Although neither of their first two albums sold well, FM radio was starting to happen around the country, and plenty of young people had heard of the Grateful Dead, even if they had hardly actually heard them. This show at the University of Arizona initiates a series of college shows, where the band played university venues. These mostly appear to be smaller places, but Universities still had "entertainment" budgets that supplemented ticket sales (directly or indirectly). I assume the same booking agent arranged all the college shows the band played in the next ten days.

Dennis McNally observes that simply playing college campuses in 1969 was inherently political, as protests against the Vietnam War had spread far beyond Berkeley, but the Dead were used to playing in turmoil. Rob Eaton's vault notes apparently say "Student Union Building, University of Arizona." The University of Arizona Student Union was reconstructed in 2000, replacing a building that had been built in 1951. I have to assume that the University Auditorium was a ballroom type facility that no longer exists. The Dead had only played Arizona once before (June 22, 1968 in Phoenix). According to McNally (p. 309), the hosting organization was The University of Arizona Student Peace Association.

April 12, 1969 Student Union Ballroom, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT Grateful Dead/Spirit of Creation (two shows 8pm-10pm)
Salt Lake City was hardly a hotbed of the blues or rebellion, but its convenient geography made Salt Lake City a popular stop in the 1960s. SLC was part way to everywhere--San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver among them. The University of Utah Ballroom was apparently quite small. This was the Dead's first appearance in Utah, although I have written elsewhere about the surprisingly large number of interesting concerts in Salt Lake City and Utah in the lat 1960s. 

April 13, 1969 Ballroom, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
If the Dead played a still extant facility, it would be what is now called Glenn Miller Ballroom, capacity 1200 (probably more for "festival seating"). In any case, even if it was a previous building, it probably would have been on a similar scale.

The Grateful Dead had not played Colorado since September 1967, when they played the Denver Family Dog as well as a free concert in the park. The Denver cops had cracked down hard on the Denver Dog (Canned Heat in particular suffered a notoriously destructive drug bust), so many bands stayed out of Colorado for a while. The Dead in particular would have been a high profile target, so Colorado residents had to wait until 1969. Fortunately they would return many times thereafter.

In Denver or Boulder, Jerry Garcia went to a music store and bought a Zane Beck pedal steel guitar. His first public performance would be about a month later, with John Dawson at the Underground in Menlo Park on May 14.

April 15, 1969 The Music Box, Omaha, NE Grateful Dead/Liberation Blues Band
The Dead took a time out from their College Tour to play a Tuesday night in Omaha's Music Box, a club that held only about 500 people. The Dead had played Omaha before, opening for Iron Butterfly on February 4, 1969 (whatever you think of "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida", the Butterfly were way bigger than the Dead). Given the timing of this show, the promoters must have booked the Dead for a return visit before Iron Butterfly even finished their set.

Omaha is on  I-80, in between the Rockies and the Midwest. Similar to Salt Lake City, it made a convenient stopover for bands on tour. Certainly since the Dead had come into Omaha in February, not exactly a trip to Hawaii, they must have made a long winter a little more interesting for whatever hippies there were there. Since the band's equipment was traveling by truck, a Tuesday night stop in Omaha, between Denver and St. Louis, made sound geographical and financial sense.

April 17, 1969 The Quadrangle, Washington University, St. Louis, MO Grateful Dead/Alvin Pine
This was a Thursday afternoon show, outdoors in St. Louis. According to McNally (p. 309), there were noise complaints from blocks away.

April 18, 1969 Memorial Union Ballroom, Purdue University, Lafayette, IN Grateful Dead/George Stavis
McNally (p. 309) says that the Purdue campus paper reported that the students were riled up over raises in the student fees, but "[student] leaders prevented any disturbances which might have ensued by keeping the band playing."

April 20, 1969 Atwood Hall, Clark University, Worcester, MA Grateful Dead/Roland Kirk
The Dead had played 4 shows at Boston's Psychedelic Supermarket in December 1967, but they had not returned to Massachusetts since that time. Worcester is about 45 miles West of Boston on I-90, and the band had apparently played there before as well, in late 1967.

The Internet Archive Reviews section for the surviving tape has some pretty detailed memories by eyewitnesses who attended the shows. They are well worth reading in their entirety, but among the interesting comments:
  • The Dead flew from Indiana, but their equipment came by truck. One writer says that the show was probably scheduled for Saturday night--as the poster says, and would be logical--but if the Dead's travel plans changed they would have simply re-scheduled the show for Sunday.
  • The drive from Purdue (Lafayette, IN) to Worcester was about 950 miles, and I don't think I-76 was complete so its unlikely the crew could have done it in a day. The band, meanwhile flew into Logan airport in Boston. Bear has a good reputation (confirmed by David Lemieux) for accurately dating his tape boxes, so I am going with the idea that the show was originally scheduled for Saturday April 19 and re-scheduled for Sunday April 20. 
  • Atwood Hall was a typical University theater, with a capacity of only 658.
  • Roland Kirk was unhappy with the billing and waved a gun around at the Dead before the show. Good times.
April 21-23, 1969 The Ark, Boston, MA Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead had not played Boston since December 1967, but they returned for a Monday-to-Wednesday stand at the city's newest rock venue, The Ark. The Psychedelic Supermarket, by now called The Unicorn, was on its last legs, but the Boston Tea Party (at 53 Berkeley Street) was still going strong, even though it was somewhat small for the exploding rock business. However, after July 11, 1969 and a fire at the Tea Party, the Boston Tea Party moved to the site of The Ark, which was just around the corner. Thus the Grateful Dead New Year's Eve shows in Boston (December 29-31, 1969) at the Boston Tea Party were actually at 15 Landsdowne.

Recently there has been some question as to how big The Ark/Tea Party actually was. If anyone is visiting Boston, they could drop into the House Of Blues at 15 Landsdowne (across from Fenway Park) and check it out. Its possible that the venue has been remodeled (even likely), but there may be old photos there that give a good perspective. For some time between the 70s and the 90s, 15 Landsdowne was known as The Avalon, and there may be photos around from that era as well.

April 25-26, 1969 Kinetic Playground, Chicago, IL Grateful Dead/Velvet Underground/SRC
The Kinetic Playground was Chicago's own psychedelic ballroom (I review its history here). The Dead had played the venue earlier, on January 31-February 1, 1969.

This memorable pairing of two sixties opposites was covered in depth in Richie Unterburger's fine Velvet Underground chronology (White Light White Heat). The first night, the Velvet Underground played an extended set, and as a result the Grateful Dead were limited (by their standards) to one set. The next night, of course, the Dead came on before the Velvets and played an extended set, thus limiting the Velvets. Whether this was a result of some imaginary "feud" or just poor scheduling (I suspect the latter), it makes for a great sixties story.

As if the New York/SF pairing of the Velvets and the Dead wasn't enough, SRC was a famous powerhouse Detroit band, if lesser known, so three great bands from three great scenes were represented. It must have been some evening.

April 27, 1969 Labor Temple, Minneapolis, MN Grateful Dead
As was true of many cities on this tour, the Dead had played there earlier. The band had played Minneapolis's Labor Temple on February 2, 1969, and they returned just 10 weeks later. Although they were still psychedelic rangers, the band was starting to show signs of behaving like a professional bands, playing  a city and then returning a few months later to capitalize on the buzz. 

Some of the music from the Labor Temple and The Kinetic (April 26) was released on Dick's Picks 26. The Grateful Dead returned home to Winterland on the weekend of May 2 and 3.

April 4-6, 1969 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco: Grateful Dead/Flying Burrito Brothers/AUM

The live broadcast of the April 6, 1969 Avalon Ballroom show provided one of the best of the 1969 Grateful Dead shows that were widely circulated in the earlier days of tape trading, and it provided one of the best recorded examples of the early Flying Burrito Brothers, a much rarer commodity (as well as an AUM tape). Although I think the KPFA-fm (Berkeley) show was broadcast in mono--I'm not certain--it may be one of the earliest live remote broadcasts of a rock concert. Oddly enough, a peculiar twist in the history of California tended to obscure the fact that the Dead and Burritos shows were recorded on the same night. As a result, it is hard if not impossible to verify my assertion that the Flying Burrito Brothers were a significant catalyst for Jerry Garcia, almost certainly because of this weekend's run of concerts.

The Flying Burrito Brothers, led by co-singer/writers Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, along with pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow, bassist Chris Etheridge and drummer Michael Clarke, only released two albums in their original incarnation (1969's The Gilded Palace Of Sin and 1970's Burrito Deluxe), yet these fine but poorly sellling albums have had a huge mythology built upon them. The early death (on September 19, 1973) of the hard-living Gram Parsons has helped ingrain the myth that Parsons was at the center of everything: the myth says that he introduced the Rolling Stones to country music, transformed the Byrds (on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo), invented country rock with The Flying Burrito Brothers (who spawned the Eagles and ultimately Garth Brooks) and "discovered" Emmylou Harris. Even Parsons' death was the subject of a movie (Gram Theft Auto), and he remains a fascinating figure.

All this is true, up to a point, although John Einarson's 2008 book Hot Burritos (Jawbone Press) shows that the less flashy Chris Hillman had a considerably larger role in the Byrds and Burritos migration towards soulful country-rock than has usually been assumed. In any case, thanks to the KPFA broadcasts and the 2007 release of the double cd Gram Parsons with The Flying Burrito Brothers Live At The Avalon Ballroom 1969, we have a very good idea what the Burritos sounded like when they opened for the Dead (note, incidentally, how Gram Parsons name figures more prominently in the re-release). The cd features the Burritos complete sets, recorded by Bear himself, from April 4 and 6, 1969. Besides great songwriting, Everly Brothers-style harmonies from Hillman and Parsons and a soulful rhythm section anchored by Chris Etheridge, the revelation in the performance is the unique pedal steel playing of Sneaky Pete Kleinow.

Sneaky Pete (1934-2007) was already 34 years old by 1969, quite aged by Avalon standards. He had spent most of the 1960s working as a stop-motion animator (he was a key animator for Gumby) while playing pedal steel in bars and studios with the "Bakersfield" country music crowd. The Bakersfield sound, led by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, rocked harder and owed considerably more to Chuck Berry and the blues than Nashville country, which was why Jerry Garcia and other rockers liked it so much. Einarson's book includes an interesting interview with guitarist Bernie Leadon (ex-Burritos and ex-Eagles) who describes the complexity of Kleinow's approach to the steel guitar.

Sneaky Pete Kleinow was one of the first genuine practitioners of "rock" pedal steel guitar--I think Poco's Rusty Young was the only other one at this time. Although Kleinow could play all the country licks as well as anyone, the Avalon tapes show that his pedal steel was the Burritos lead instrumental voice, and Kleinow took full advantage of feedback and the dynamic range of amplified music. The Burritos were singing in what could be described as a "hippie Bakersfield" style, with Kleinow's unique steel guitar riding high. It sounds great on the cd, and it must have sounded pretty awesome on the Dead's sound system. I think Jerry liked what he heard--he bought a Zane Beck pedal steel guitar in Colorado the next week.

I'm not suggesting that Garcia's interest in pedal steel guitar and Bakersfield happened in a blinding flash after hearing the opening solo on "Close Up The Honky Tonks." Garcia had owned a Fender pedal steel in 1966, but had found it difficult to set up and tune, and sold it (to Banana Levenger of The Youngbloods). Certainly the Dead had dabbled with some hard driving country music since 1966, with songs like "Silver Threads And Golden Needles," and "Beat It On Down The Line" has a kind of Buck Owens/Don Rich feel to it (I know its a rocked-up bluegrass song; that's the essence of the Bakersfield sound). In an earlier post, I pointed out how the set up of rock concerts in the day encouraged bands to hear their opening acts (they didn't have much choice), and as a result Garcia was drawn to the sounds of Pentangle, who opened for the Dead at Fillmore West the month before.

Nevertheless, I'm convinced that Garcia's ears opened wide to the possibility of rock and roll pedal steel after he heard Sneaky Pete live, and when a chance to buy a pedal steel presented itself in Colorado, he jumped at it. I think Garcia's experiments with playing pedal steel live with the Dead in June 1969, particularly on seemingly inappropriate songs like "Hard To Handle" was an attempt to try on Sneaky's approach. Kleinow could have soloed on "Hard To Handle," but Garcia lacked the technique, having only played for a few months. The presence of John Dawson and his batch of newly-written songs in turn gave Garcia an outlet to work in a Burritos-like setting.

I think what Garcia got from Sneaky Pete and The Flying Burrito Brothers was a sound, and he heard the possibilities of the sound. He could have played electric guitar or banjo with Dawson, and that would have sounded great, too, but I think the sound of an amplified pedal steel on a huge  system flipped a switch in Garcia's ear, and made a passive curiosity about the instrument an urgent need. I'm sure if the Grateful Dead had been booked with Poco, and Garcia had heard Rusty Young, the same thing might have happened, but I'm convinced it was the Burrito show this weekend that re-activated Garcia's interest.

The long history of 20th century competition between San Francisco and Los Angeles was at its worst in the sixties, and while I don't think it affected the musicians themselves, many writers and partisans for the next twenty years or so rarely considered the history of Los Angeles and San Francisco bands relative to each other, so no one ever seems to have asked Garcia about the Burritos. While matters have improved (once Los Angeles gave back the Oakland Raiders, it was clear they were ascendant), and West Coast music is now seen more correctly as part of a whole, the habit of dividing the state has left the Burritos/Garcia connection unexplored.


The Avalon Ballroom
The Avalon Ballroom, at 1268 Sutter (next to the Masonic Temple at 1290 Sutter), had been the home court for Chet Helms and the Family Dog from 1966-1968, yet despite the many legendary performances there the Dog ran into financial difficulty and gave up the lease on the Avalon. In early 1969 other promoters (under the name Soundproof) took over the Avalon and presented a series of shows in the Winter and Spring. All the San Francisco bands loved the Avalon, the Dead in particular, and some fine music was made, but this venture too ended unhappily. As far as I know, these Dead/Burritos/Aum shows in April 1969 were the last rock shows at the Avalon Ballroom for about 35 years.

The Flying Burrito Brothers
The Flying Burrito Brothers were a wonderful, important band, but the original group only released two albums, neither of which sold well, and yet there are more books about them than most bands with many more albums. Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman had been in The Byrds for the album Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (in 1968) and left, forming a songwriting and singing partnership that was a unique blend of the Everly Brothers, Buck Owens and Bob Dylan, and they formed a band that merged country, soul and rock and roll. Bassist Chris Etheridge provided a soulful bottom (distinct from the country sound extant at the time), and the groundbreaking pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow was the principal instrumental voice. They used various drummers in the studio, finally settling on ex-Byrds drummer Michael Clarke as a permanent member.

Gram Parsons (1946-73) only released five albums while he was alive, as part of the International Submarine Band (Safe At Home-1968), The Byrds (Sweetheart Of The Rodeo-1968) and The Flying Burrito Brothers (1969's debut album The Gilded Palace Of Sin and 1970's Burrito Deluxe) and his two solo albums (1973's GP and the posthumous 1974 Grievous Angel). A  number of live and studio demo recordings were released after his death. Nonetheless, Parsons has earned a reputation as a catalyst--introducing the Rolling Stones to country music, transforming the Byrds into a country-rock band, inventing a hybrid "country-rock" sound with the Flying Burrito Brothers which eventually spawned the Eagles, and laying the groundwork for alt-country as a duo with Emmylou Harris. The charismatic yet troubled Parsons also undermined every personal and musical relationship he ever had, dying under mysterious circumstances on September 19, 1973 (this spawned a movie, called Gram Theft Auto, based on road manager Phil Kaufman's book Road Mangler Deluxe).

Writer John Einarson has reconsidered the Gram Parsons legacy with the Flying Burrito Brothers, making a persuasive case in his 2007 book Burrito Deluxe (Jawbone) that Burrito co-founder Chris Hillman deserves much of the credit for the Burritos musical success, just as the underrated Hillman had done for The Byrds, Manassas and Desert Rose Band. Einarson makes the point that the early, legendary Burritos played very few live shows, and what few they played tended to be very sloppy. Kleinow's work as an animator initially discouraged the band from live work, and the erratic Parsons wasn't fond of rehearsal. They also had difficulty finding a permanent drummer until Michael Clarke came on board. Their debut album had probably just been released when they played The Avalon, and the fine recording and relatively disciplined performances suggest that this was a rare weekend indeed for the band.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fillmore West February 27-March 2, 1969 Grateful Dead/Pentangle/Sir Douglas Quintet

Jacqui McShee and Bert Jansch of Pentangle, on stage at the Fillmore West, March 1, 1969 (photo by and courtesy of Michael Parrish)

The Grateful Dead's monumental 4-night stand at the Fillmore West from February 27-March 2 passed into legend long ago, as the primary source material for Live/Dead. The tapes circulated for years, but any speculation about the power of the band at their best was put to rest when the entire run was released as a 10-cd set in 2005 (Fillmore West 69: The Complete Recordings). This was the Grateful Dead playing at their best in a comfortable environment, and recorded by state-of-the-art equipment. Its hard to think there would be more to say about the Grateful Dead's music that weekend, but there was another very critical musical event during that weekend that had a profound influence on the Grateful Dead's music, namely the revelation of hearing the opening act Pentangle.

Pentangle, who only existed from 1967-73, is mostly forgotten these days by all but their fervent fans--of whom there are quite a few--and in any case they are fairly or unfairly lumped together with English folk-rock bands like Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span. Much as I love the Fairports, Pentangle doesn't sound like them or anyone else. However, the band's relevance to the Grateful Dead is that they apparently dramatically influenced Jerry Garcia and the Dead's interest in performing acoustic music live. Pentangle had a unique lineup for the time, with two phenomenal acoustic guitarists and an amplified rhythm section, underlying the brilliant vocals of singer Jacqui McShee. Pentangle played disciplined arrangements and yet improvised freely, seamlessly merged numerous styles of music, performed brilliant originals and surprisingly arranged cover versions--does this sound like a band we like?--and did it all sitting down, with two acoustic guitarists.

It would take almost another year before the Dead broke out their acoustic format, with Garcia and Weir playing acoustic guitars and singing over an amplified rhythm section, but according to various references the band got the idea from hearing Pentangle. One thing about the Fillmore West shows that seems to have been forgotten is that the format in the 1960s was very different than today. Most rock concerts, and all Fillmore West shows, had 3 or 4 bands. At the Fillmore West, all three acts played a set, and then all three acts played another set, so the Dead would have performed third and sixth (last). The audience would sit through all the sets (if they liked the bands), but the business of the Dead playing a few long sets in a row did not come in until early 1970. One of the byproducts of this arrangement was that the headline act had to be "in the house" when the other bands where going through their second round, so musicians had little choice but to hear each other play.

Pentangle would have played 8 sets at the Fillmore West, and while Garcia and the boys may or may not have seen the first one, I'll bet they didn't miss the rest of them. I don't usually link to concert recordings, but hearing Pentangle live is a revelation (Berkeley Community Theater May 29, 1970). They are impossible to quantify, and bassist Danny Thompson (later better known for working with no-relation Richard Thompson) and drummer Terry Cox are as much a part of the music as acoustic guitar giants Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, and McShee (and Jansch) provide perfect vocals without drowning the band. They can cover old folk songs ("Sally Go Round The Roses"), jazz standards (Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat") and originals (the twenty-minute opus "Pentangling"). Pentangle's song "Cold Mountain" is done to the tune of "Dark Hollow", and even includes the "I'd rather be in some dark hollow" verse," and save for McShee's angelic vocals its pretty close to what we recognize as the Dead's arrangement.

So if one of the best recordings of one of the best runs by the Grateful Dead wasn't enough, a fantastic opening act had a big effect on the future of Grateful Dead music, showing them that improvised acoustic music with a rhythm section was viable in a concert setting. Pentangle reforms once in a while for a few concerts, most recently in 2008, to a rapturous reception, fitting for what I believe to be the only rock band that can be creditably certified as having influenced both the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin.

Oh yeah, by the way--the Sir Douglas Quintet opened the show (a tape floats around from Feb 27), and they were really good too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

616 Divisadero, San Francisco, CA-Harding Theater (Sep 23 and Nov 6-7, 1971)

616 Divisadero Street in San Francisco, the former site of The Harding Theater, as it appeared in March 2010

Many Grateful Dead fans only know venues as part of a tape label. For many decades, I was only aware of San Francisco's Harding Theater because of a widely circulated KSFX-fm broadcast from November 7, 1971. I knew nothing else about the venue, and I didn't know where it was. I learned over the years that the Dead had played November 6 as well, and I even learned (only in this century) that the New Riders of The Purple Sage had played there on September 23, 1971. That apparently thinly-attended performance seems to represent one of the first instances of the Dead using one of their spin-off bands to check out a venue. Very recently, I learned of a lengthy weekend long benefit in Halloween 1970 for the nearby Both/And jazz club (at 350 Divisadero), where the New Riders may have played. Big Brother may have played there at that time (ca. November 1) as well, possibly as part of the same event.

Whatever the story of the venue, however--I had read somewhere that it was a converted church--after the November 1971 Grateful Dead shows the Harding Theater dropped off my radar. Without thinking about it, I had assumed that the venue was long-gone, converted to condos or office buildings like so many properties near the Haight Ashbury. Due to the miracle of Google, however, and blogging in general, I did recently discover the address of the long-gone Harding Theater.

Thus I was quite surprised by a recent check of the address on Google Street View to see that the building at 616 Divisadero was apparently intact. A recent trip to San Francisco confirms this, as the above photo attests. Even more remarkably, the site of the former Harding Theater was just across from a Cafe where I have eaten and drank coffee many times (The Bean Bag Cafe, at 601 Divisadero), so the venue had been staring me in the face, but I wasn't listening.

A close-up look at the building reveals that it is for lease, which according to a local resident, it has been for many, many years. Although its hard to tell from the outside, the building does not look large by modern rock concert standards, so it probably had little chance of being viable as a music venue. Divisadero Street is a main thoroughfare on the downtown side of the Haight Ashbury, and the Harding was just West of Alamo Square, on Diviz (as the natives call it) between Hayes and Grove. The parking situation is never attractive on Divisadero, and although there are some cool places on the street now (like The Bean Bag), it was probably somewhat sketchier back in the day. The City seems to be taking steps to improve the street, with a nice tree-lined central strip, so perhaps the Harding Theater may have a "Furthur" story to tell.

A photo of 616 Divisadero in San Francisco, the former site of the Harding Theater, and 628 Divisadero, the current site of The Independent nightclub, in March 2010

As if to add to my myopia, the Harding is next door to a building that has been a long-time music venue in San Francisco where I have seen many shows. 620 Divisadero, sometimes advertised as 628 Divisadero, became the second site of the Both/And jazz club, probably in the late 1970s (after it moved from 350 Divisadero). Since Use Permits tend to remain in force, the establishment has presented music more often than not the last few decades. In the mid-80s, 620/628 Divis was a club called The VIS, where I once saw fiREHOSE (after seeing Humble Pie earlier that evening at The Stone, thus getting 20 years of rock history in one night). From the late 1980s until well into the 1990s, the venue was called The Kennel Club (I saw NRBQ and many other bands there). By now its called The Independent (at 628), and it still seems to be thriving, more or less.

Did I ever go to The Bean Bag, or the Kennel Club, and listen to the Harding Theater tape as I drove home over the Bay Bridge? Even though I probably didn't, I could have, with no inkling that the building was waiting quietly for me the whole time. Given the passage of time, its startling how much history remains intact.

Update: It turns out that the Harding Theater was built in 1926, and is still remarkably intact inside (see here). After it ceased being a music venue in the early 1970s, it was a Church and Community Center until 2003.  The San Francisco Planning Commission declared the building an historic landmark in 2006.