Sunday, January 9, 2011

February 24 and 26, 1969, The Matrix, San Francisco: Mickey Hart and The Heartbeats

(a clipping from the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook section from Monday, February 24, 1969)

The performances of Mickey Hart and The Heartbeats (not sic) at The Matrix on February 24 and 26, 1969 are "known" because they have been listed on Deadlists and elsewhere for some years. Their listing is a result of being publicized in the San Francisco Chronicle, the primary source for research into 60s Grateful Dead performances in the Bay Area. With that being said, nothing else is known about these concerts. Since I have uncovered the actual listings, I thought I would post them and speculate a little about what they may or may not mean. In the event that some reader actually recalls these events or has some access to a recording, then we perhaps may learn something about the shows beyond mere speculation.

San Francisco Chronicle Datebook Conventions
Each day in the San Francisco Chronicle Entertainment section, there was a Datebook box (excerpted above) that listed events that were opening on that day. While one function of the box was to highlight events that were opening on that evening, it also provided a space of flexible size that could be modified based on how many column inches were filled by articles or ads. While the box favored major events or events that were promoted by Chronicle advertisers, it could be expanded as needed with press releases when an extra inch or two was needed. Although The Matrix was no longer a Chronicle advertiser by 1969, the paper would often list the club's bookings to fill space, as Matrix listings made for more interesting reading than most clubs. This was particularly true on days of the week where there wasn't much happening, such as Mondays.

The Matrix Datebook listing for Monday, February 24 (above) says
ROCK CLUB--Mickey Hart and The Heartbeats (Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesch and Bill Sommers) and Frumious Bandersnatch at the Matrix, 3138 Fillmore

Monday night was usually "jam night" at The Matrix, so it is not so far fetched that members of the Grateful Dead were apparently hosting some sort of relaxed jam session at the club. Although The Matrix wasn't a Chronicle advertiser, there wasn't much else happening that night, so it's not surprising the Chronicle listed the Matrix event. Where, however, did they get the name "Mickey Heart and The Heartbeats?"

The Chronicle, like all papers, got most of its material from press releases issued by the venues or promoters. Thus, the spelling of the listing must of come from The Matrix itself. Given the contrary spelling of "Heartbeats" (as opposed to "Hartbeats"), the misspelling of "Lesch" and the use of "Bill Sommers," it opens some odd papyrological questions that I will parse here.

Mickey Hart and The Heartbeats
When the group members agreed to this gig, they must have told the name to the Matrix booker. However, although the person seems to have known how Mickey Hart spelled his name, the band or their manager probably did not specify the spelling of "Heartbeats." It probably never occurred to anyone. It's worth noting that at the prior incarnation of this lineup, in October 1968, the "group" was billed as "Jerry Garcia and Friends" and the name "Mickey Hart And The Hartbeats" comes from some onstage banter by Garcia, and no one had thought twice about how the name should be spelled.

It does beg the question of why the band wanted to play a show without Weir, Pigpen and TC. In Fall '68, there had been some tension in the band, but it had clearly been resolved. However, it's important to remember that the Grateful Dead had a big weekend booked at Fillmore West in the coming weekend, and may not have been able to play under their own name. Certainly, Graham's standard contract would have prevented any "Grateful Dead" booking. It's possible, then, that the Matrix show was a full band performance, or close to it, and the booking was just a polite dodge to honor the Graham contract.

I think the band was recording Aoxomoxoa at this time, and I wonder what their motives were for having band members perform (in any configuration) prior to a Fillmore West gig, in the midst of recording session. One possibility is that the band simply wanted to perform in public prior to recording live. Given how well we know they played that weekend, if the full band played at The Matrix, they must have rattled the walls.

Phil Lesch
I'm sure this is just a misspelling, but it leads me to believe that someone at The Matrix took information over the phone.

Bill Sommers
Seeing Bill Kreutzmann's name listed as Bill Sommers is in many ways the most curious item. This can't be sloughed off to a misunderstood conversation, like the spelling of "Heartbeat" or "Lesch." When The Warlocks first started, Weir and Kreutzmann were too young to play in bars. Kreutzmann somehow obtained a draft card with the name "Bill Sommers," so some early Grateful Dead publicity lists Bill Sommers as the Grateful Dead's drummer. This peculiarity probably accounts for Kreutzmann being listed as "Bill The Drummer" on the first Grateful Dead album.

By 1969, however, Kreutzmann's name was known and he was over 21 years old. Why was he listed as "Bill Sommers?" Honestly, I think this was some kind of in-joke, but this pranksterish naming convention leads me to wonder what this booking was all about.

Adding to the confusion, in Ralph Gleason's Monday Chronicle Ad Lib column, he doesn't mention The Heartbeats playing The Matrix. Now, he didn't have any obligation to do so, and he probably wrote up the column on Sunday afternoon, so maybe he didn't have access to the press release announcing the performance at The Matrix on Monday. Still, note that Gleason does mention the upcoming Matrix bookings, saying "at The Matrix tomorrow night through Thursday: Frumious Bandersnatch," with no mention of the Wednesday Heartbeats show (Johnny Cash at Chico State sounds like it would have been fun, by the way).
Come Wednesday, however, Gleason mentions the Heartbeats show (above, from February 26, 1969). We can tell by the spelling that Gleason has access to the same press release, since "Sommers" and "Heartbeats" are giveaways. He has spelled "Lesh" correctly.

Until we get either eyewitnesses or tapes, we are left with a variety of fascinating unanswered questions:
  • Given the recording underway, why did members of the Dead even want to play The Matrix at all? A full band rehearsal of some kind seems more likely than a spacey jam session. 
  • Why the Bill Sommers listing? It's clearly a joke, but in reference to what?
  • Why play a Monday and a Wednesday? A Wednesday band warmup preceding Fillmore West seems more likely, and the contradictions in Gleason's listings suggest that maybe the Datebook copy editor got the listing wrong, and the band played Wednesday but not Monday. We can all think of numerous explanations for either interpretation of course, but in general Gleason had a vested interest in listing interesting performances at The Matrix, and in the event of a late change the Matrix would have called him at home (he knew everyone), so his failure to list the show for Monday isn't trivial. I grant it's all speculation on my part, but the sole justification for the February 24 listing is the reference in the Chronicle Datebook--what if it's just a mistake?
Of course, I can add yet another strange twist to these shows. One of the most perpetually fascinating Garcia tapes is a 1969 tape with Garcia at The Matrix playing banjo with the bluegrass group High Country. The tape has it's own history which I won't detail, but it's excellent traditional bluegrass, featuring David Nelson on guitar (who was an "adjunct" member of High Country) and band founders Butch Waller and Rich Wilber.

Traditionally, the Matrix tape was dated February 19, 1969, but it has since been shown categorically that the Grateful Dead were playing the Fillmore West on Wednesday, February 19. This begs the question of what the actual date of the Garcia/High Country bluegrass show might be. The subject of dating Matrix tapes is a difficult subject in its own right, but in general, while every Matrix show was taped, nowhere near every recording was kept, due to expense. Tapes were constantly recorded over. The limited evidence suggests that dates on Matrix tapes were more like approximations, since an original tape label may have listed a show that was taped over in succeeding nights.

With that in mind, I am inclined to think that Garcia and High Country played around February 19, but not on that actual date. It's not hard to think that Garcia had his bluegrass excursion on either February 24 or 26. Whether High Country played in support of the Heartbeats--whoever they might have been--or were the evening's "headliner" of course remains unknown.

What is lost amidst these papyrological ramblings was the Grateful Dead would spend the weekend at the Fillmore West, playing epically memorable shows that would form the basis of the band's iconic Live/Dead, and all of which would be archivally released by the band in the next century. Even the Frumious Bandersnatch, who were either playing with the Dead at The Matrix, or on alternate nights (depending on how you read this), ended up replacing the Sir Douglas Quintet at the Fillmore West and opening some of the classic shows.

10 comments:

  1. I wonder if these might have been low key rehearsals for the weekend shows, all of which were recorded for Live Dead. BTW, it is clear that the Dead themselves did use the name Mickey Hart and the Hartbeats on at least one occasion for the Family Dog bill (I think it was the Thanksgiving '69 weekend shows) when both Mickey Hart and the Hartbeats and Bobby Ace and the Cards off the Bottom were listed as part of the bill.

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  2. Crypt, I have to say a full band "public rehearsal" seems likely to me as well, more likely than a noodly jam session. Of course, i can't marshal any direct evidence. I hope someone or some tape finally surfaces.

    I think the use of the Hartbeats/Bobby Ace names were for the April 1970 Family Dog shows. I think they couldn't advertise "Grateful Dead" because of the obligations of the contract for shows with BGP (Fillmore West April 9-12, 1970)

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  3. This has always been one of the most tantalizing dates for me. What could the Hartbeats have been playing, the night before the Live/Dead run? I suppose we'll never know, unless more Matrix reels turn up.

    I hadn't considered that the 'Heartbeats' name might have been used just to escape Bill Graham's ire. As the whole band hadn't played at the Matrix since Dec '66, it's hard to imagine them convening there for what would essentially be a 'free show', just to rehearse for the Fillmore West run. (And are there any other examples of them using a small club show as a 'rehearsal' for a more important show? I don't recall any.) They had been touring regularly; in fact had just had a fantastic show in Vallejo that weekend.
    Yet on the other hand, you're right that it's also hard to imagine why they'd have a little Hartbeats revival just then.
    One question is, if Pigpen & Weir weren't there, were there other guitarists in town who'd use the opportunity to jam with Hartbeats, as in '68? Probably plenty of them - a show like this was practically designed to be an invitation to a jam session.

    It had not been that long since the last Matrix shows around Christmas '68. I would imagine the Dead were diligently recording in Jan '69 - at least, they didn't play many shows that month, and the new studio 16-track had arrived in December '68, so they had the motive & opportunity to spend lots of hours in the studio that month. And for the first half of February they were on tour in the East. So I wonder whether these February Matrix shows weren't intended as a chance to enjoy themselves, rather than a chance to rehearse!

    It seems this was the end of the Hartbeats experiment - I don't recall any later shows without Weir & Pigpen except for that one-off Family Dog show with Howard Wales on 8/28/69 (a mysterious event in itself).

    The Dead were not to appear at the Matrix many more times - there was a short set in support of NRPS on 7/30/70 (possibly misdated), and apparently even a couple more Hartbeats shows on 7/27-28/70, not listed on deadlists. (We can only imagine, but I'd suspect more completely 'acoustic' sets along the lines of the April Family Dog shows.)

    Garcia, though, found it quite a useful location - the New Riders would play there later in '69; the jams/shows with Howard Wales there started around April '70; by September '70 Merl Saunders had become a regular (along with other Garcia "friends", probably including Vince Guaraldi); and in Dec '70 there were the "David and the Dorks" shows with Crosby.
    One thing I don't get a sense of from any of these Matrix appearances is that they're a rehearsal for something down the line...they all seem to be performances just for the sake of performing.
    From the Hartbeats Oct '68 shows on through '70, lots of these were billed simply as "Jerry Garcia & Friends" or such - he's the common thread. And so, just as I doubt the '68 Hartbeats shows were "auditions" for other guitarists to replace Weir, I also doubt the Feb '69 Matrix shows were rehearsals for the live recording. I'd speculate it was something like the 2/19/69 show where they just jammed for hours...
    But, with no tape, we can only guess. Possibly the band did say, "Those Avalon shows in January weren't that great, let's have a little rehearsal show first this time..."

    A secondary question to pursue is, when was the last time the name "Bill Sommers" was given to the press? I know I've seen other surprisingly late examples - for instance, the band used the name "Bill Sommers" in the KSAN documentary on the Dead in 1969 (interviews recorded Dec '68).

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  4. Most of the principals are still alive, of course. If someone could just get some time to do some oral history with Lesh, Kreutzmann and Hart he/she might be able to uncover some things. This might even be the kind of thing that one might remember, just because it's so odd and falls so close to the titanic shows starting on 2/27.

    I have absolutely zero idea what these listings might mean, without knowing more of the context of the FW run (2/27-3/2) ... were they feeling pressure to get things right? This might have led them either to want to rehearse or to want to blow of steam with some goofing around. Were they pre-flighting the 16-track live recording setup? That's always good policy, and maybe this was a dry-run for the recordists as well as/instead of the band.

    Corry, this is a great post that exposes a real, bona fide mystery. I hope we can learn more!

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  5. This from left field, but could it have not been Kreutzmann but actually have been Bill Summers, the percussionist from Herbie Hancock's Headhunters band? The band was formed around SF musicians Paul Jackson and Mike Clark, in 1973.... On Summer's bio, He states two interesting facts. He was at UC Berkeley majoring in Ethnomusicology from 70 to 74, and that he has played with "Gerry Garcia". See this page....
    http://www.billsummers.net/history.html

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  6. I love the Headhunters theory, though I don't think it's the case. Summers was friends with Merl Saunders, and I also think he was part of the Luis Gasca/Cesar's 830 crowd, so there was plenty of early 1970s connections for him.

    Bill Summers played on the same Merl Saunders LP that Garcia played on (Fire Up), but not on the same tracks...Jerry and The Headhunters, what a great thought.

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  7. June 2, 1973 has always been one of my favorite billings, and one of those shows for which I'd take substantial risks over time travel to be able to see:

    June 2, 1973 (Saturday), Marin Civic Auditorium, San Rafael, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders / Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters / Pointer Sisters. Solid!

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  8. My local record shop here in Ann Arbor had a second hand bootleg CD that purported to be these shows--I gave it a listen; really bad sound quality, but some interesting jams (forget what tunes they played). I didn't buy it, but I will swing by today and see if it's on the shelf. FWIW, I think a Lesh-Garcia-Kreutzman trio would have been a way more interesting band than any incarnation of the Grateful Dead.

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  9. Here's an interview w/ Mickey Hart where he talks about the project:

    http://www.digitalinterviews.com/digitalinterviews/views/hart.shtml

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  10. My coworker Paula says the Johnny Cash show in the Chico State gym was indeed fun.

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