|Merl Saunders's 1973 Fire Up album included a live track from February 6, 1972|
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 III: Performance History 1969: An analysis of John Kahn's participation in the somewhat casual Mike Bloomfield Band, with Nick Gravenites and others, who played regularly at Keystone Korner.
- John Kahn IV: Performance History 1970: while continuing with Mike Bloomfield, John Kahn starts to jam with Howard Wales at the Matrix, and then with Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
- John Kahn V: Performance History 1971: as Kahn's work with Bloomfield faded away, the Garcia/Saunders group started to become a regular band. At the same time, Kahn's session work expanded
- John Kahn IX: Bottom Line, NYC July 1974: For various reasons, I skipped ahead and wrote about an East Coast by Garcia-Saunders at the Bottom Line in July 1974, in conjunction with some Maria Muldaur dates. Kahn was in both groups
John Kahn, early 1972
John Kahn played a steady run of shows with Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders in the first three months of the year. The band lineup wasn't absolutely stable, as Bill Kreutzmann seems to have substituted for Bill Vitt on some occasions, and the great conguero Armando Peraza apparently played on some March dates. The Winter dates were all at local nightclubs, save for a KSAN radio broadcast. However, Kahn and Garcia did not play another Bay Area show until June 30.
Everybody knows that Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead undertook their massive European tour in the Spring of 1972, so they wouldn't expect to see any Garcia/Saunders gigs during that time. What is considerably less well-known, however, was that John Kahn relocated to Woodstock, NY during this period and joined the Butterfield Blues Band. Kahn had done a session in Woodstock for Geoff and Maria Muldaur around December 1971, and re-connected with Paul Butterfield, for whom he had auditioned once before. Kahn helped Butterfield put together a band and did at least two tours with him. It seems that the brief run of Garcia/Saunders shows from Jun 30-July 11 was to accommodate Kahn's schedule, since he didn't live in the Bay Area anymore.
More surprisingly, Kahn actually got Merl Saunders to join the re-cast Butterfield Blues Band. Kahn only quit the group because of uncertainty about the finances of the band, a subject I will get to momentarily. It's important to realize, however, that as of mid-Summer 1972, John Kahn lived in Woodstock and was putting together a new Butterfield Blues Band, and that Merl Saunders was a member of the group as well. While the Garcia/Saunders band might have played the occasional show, they very nearly ceased to exist in the middle of 1972.
|Geoff and Maria Muldaur's 1972 Reprise album Sweet Potatoes, with John Kahn on bass|
Although I am not 100% certain of the date, I believe that in December 1971 John Kahn went to Woodstock, NY to record an album at Bearsville Studios for Geoff and Maria Muldaur. Kahn was in the East at that time to play Carnegie Hall and possibly a few other dates with Brewer and Shipley. They had had a big hit with "One Toke Over The Line," and took a band on the road for a few dates (Kahn may have played "The Tonight Show" with Brewer and Shipley as well, but I don't know when). The only date I know for sure is December 3, 1971 at Carnegie Hall, but I do know that Kahn played the next weekend (December 10-11) in Boston with Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. It seems a fair assumption that Kahn spent some time in Woodstock recording at Bearsville around that window.
Woodstock, NY is about 100 miles due North of New York City and had been an artists retreat for Manhattan long before Bob Dylan moved there. By the 1960s, however, the place was famous as the Summer home of the likes of Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison and numerous other musicians, painters and poets. The famous 1969 festival had been originally scheduled to be held near the town, but ended up being held 45 miles to the West, in another county. Woodstock's leading citizen was one Albert Grossman, the legendary manager of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Janis Joplin, Mike Bloomfield and many others. By 1971, Grossman had built a state-of-the-art recording studio in Woodstock, and was developing his own label, Bearsville Records, distributed by Reprise. The idea was that instead of just managing a band, Grossman would "verticalize" the product, recording and releasing it as well as providing management.
Geoff and Maria Muldaur had both been members of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, who had been a popular group in the mid-1960s. Indeed, Garcia and others had seen the Kweskin band at The Cabale in Berkeley on March 11, 1964, and it had been a key influence in the formation of Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band. Maria was still in high school at the time (then Maria D'Amato), and would not have sang at the Cabale, but she was playing old-timey music on the East Coast (with David Grisman among others), and that is how she connected with Geoff Muldaur and the Kweskin band. When that group faded away for reasons too strange to explain here, the shrewd Grossman signed Geoff and Maria as a duo. Geoff was a fine singer, writer, pianist and arranger, and Maria of course was not just a wonderful, versatile singer but photogenic and charismatic as well.
Geoff and Maria recorded their album Sweet Potatoes at Bearsville Studios most likely in late 1971, since it seems to have been released on Reprise Records about March 1972. The core band included Kahn on bass, Billy Mundi on drums, Geoff Muldaur on keyboards, Bill Keith on pedal steel and Amos Garrett on guitar. Numerous guests play on various tracks, leading me to think that the core band recorded the basic tracks, and then overdubbing followed later, typical of the recording practices of the time. While Maria Muldaur would have been a regular presence in the studio, given that Maria and Geoff had a six year old daughter at the time and Geoff was the producer of the album, she may not have been in the studio as much while Kahn was there. Nonetheless, it was an important album for Kahn.
|The 1973 debut album by Paul Butterfield's Better Days|
Kahn had flunked an audition for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1968. At the time, the Butterfield Blues Band were a major Fillmore headliner, but by 1972 fashion had somewhat passed them by. The quality of Butterfield's bands and performances had remained high from the very beginning, as one of the first successful American white blues performers. However, by the early 70s Butterfield seemed to be treading water, and he had not put out a new album since 1970. His harmonica playing was still the gold standard, however, so it was no surprise that he was invited to play on Sweet Potatoes at Bearsville. Kahn and Butter reconnected, and Kahn ended up helping Butterfield form a band, moving to Woodstock in the process.
Details about the Butterfield Blues Band's activities in 1972 are extremely hard to find. According to Kahn, he did "a couple of tours," which I take to be in the Spring and Summer of 1972. I have only found one date for Butterfield in 1972, and I think Kahn was out of the band by then (it was at Hofstra on November 11, with The Byrds--anyone with any live Butterfield dates for 1972 is eagerly encouraged to put them in the Comments or email me). According to Kahn, he also played some local gigs in the Woodstock area with producer/pianist John Simon, an interesting guy in his own right (he produced Cheap Thrills and The Last Waltz, among other things). Somewhere along there, however, Kahn helped put together Butterfield's next band, called Paul Butterfield's Better Days.
According to Kahn, he did more than one tour with Butterfield, but he quit after the first Better Days tour. I take this to mean that Kahn did a Butterfield Blues Band tour in the Spring, flew back to San Francisco for two weeks of shows with Garcia/Saunders, and then did a Better Days tour with Butterfield. Since the Better Days album was released around February 1973 and does not feature Kahn or Merl Saunders, I assume they must have left the group before the Fall, and the Garcia/Saunders touring schedule seems to suggest they had both relocated back to the Bay Area.
The band members for a Spring Butterfield tour are unknown to me, but I can piece together the first iteration of Paul Butterfield's Better Days, from mid-1972. The lineup most likely would have been
- Paul Butterfield-vocals, harmonica
- Geoff Muldaur-vocals, piano
- Amos Garrett-guitar
- Merl Saunders-organ
- John Kahn-bass
- Chris Parker-drums
Jerry Garcia, mid-1972
After the New Riders of The Purple Sage and the Garcia/Saunders group, it seems plain that Jerry Garcia was interested in developing ongoing ensembles to work on his music, rather than just having casual jam sessions at local clubs. After quite a few shows with Saunders and Kahn, he nearly lost them in mid-1972 with the formation of Paul Buttterfield's Better Days. Paul Butterfield was still a major deal in 1972, and he was backed by Albert Grossman, the most highly powered of high-powered managers of the era. Garcia had found two willing compatriots to play nightclubs with him, and he was about to lose them to a better paying alternative. Membership in a Butterfield ensemble with a big name manager offered the lucrative potential of a hit album with serious money. Futhermore, Kahn had ambitions as a producer and arranger, and Grossman could provide those opportunities as well through Bearsville Records.
In the Summer of 1972, the Grateful Dead's contract with Warner Brothers was expiring, and the band was being wooed by both Warner and Columbia. The Dead shocked the industry by choosing to go independent at a time when it was unthinkable for major bands. The key date, per McNally, seems to be a position paper by Ron Rakow dated July 4, 1972. I am not sure at what point they rejected Warner and Columbia, but the decision seems to have been made in the Summer. While most analysis of the Dead's record company negotiation focuses on the band's desire for independence--and rightly so--I am now seeing Jerry Garcia's position in a parallel light. From Garcia's point of view in mid-1972, he had just lost his band to a better offer that he was in no position to match.
If Garcia had wanted to find a way to engage in a paying project for Saunders and Kahn, he would have had to negotiate through Warner Brothers, who may not at all have had his interests in mind. Even if Garcia now had to form a new band--and at that point looked like he would have to--if he was an independent, he could exercise his franchise any way he wanted. There were plenty of reasons for the Dead to go independent in 1972, but Garcia turns out to have had a big reason of his own, namely that he had just lost his band to Paul Butterfield.
The Garcia/Kahn partnership was rescued by Kahn's discomfort with the financial terms proposed by Butterfield manager Albert Grossman. Grossman was a wheeler-dealer of legendary proportions, and all his clients, from Bob Dylan on downwards, were frustrated about where the money had gone. Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites had both been Grossman clients as a result of Electric Flag, and Gravenites in particular was unhappy with his contractual situation (often using Quicksilver manager Ron Polte as a front to get around it). Presumably Gravenites tipped Kahn off, and considering that Kahn's parents were both successful Hollywood talent agents, he was no babe in the woods. Kahn bailed out of Better Days after the first tour but before they recorded, and returned to San Francisco by the Fall of 1972, and Saunders stayed out West as well.
Garcia, Kahn and Saunders returned to a steady stream of gigs at the end of 1972. I am convinced, however, that Garcia took the risk of losing his band very seriously, and had no intention of letting it happen again. The Grateful Dead were under contract to Warner Brothers through about March of 1973, and the release of Bear's Choice. However, if you look at the Live At Keystone Album, recorded in July 1973, Garcia's participation is courtesy of Grateful Dead Records. The album was released on Fantasy Records, Merl's label, and the artists and production are jointly credited to Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, John Kahn and Bill Vitt. Garcia's name was what sold the album, but the credits guaranteed that all the members of the band got an actual payday, presumably including 5-figure advances plus royalties. Since the album was recorded in July, the deal would have been done in March when the Warner contract expired, so this means that one of the first thing Garcia did with his independence was insure that his band got paid.
Paul Butterfield's Better Days was quite a good band, and in fact I would love to hear them with Merl and John, if such a tape existed. Nonetheless, I'm happy that Garcia and Kahn's partnership remained intact. Given Kahn's move to Woodstock in 1972, however, I think this year was the one when Garcia committed himself to his own endeavors and particularly to Kahn when he returned. From 1973 onwards, Garcia seems to have made a conscious effort to insure that Kahn had no financial reason to jump ship to another artist. From the end of 1972 onwards, Garcia and Kahn were partners.
Annotated 1972 John Kahn Performance List
January 7, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
There is some ambiguity about this show, but I am not using this thread to speculate about the provenance of specific gigs.
January 14-15, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
There is no certainty that Tom Fogerty was playing with the Garcia/Saunders at the time, as there was almost no coverage of the group in the press, and no tapes.
January 19-20, 1972: Lions Share, San Anselmo, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
From January 21 through January 29, Jerry Garcia went on his first non-Dead East Coast tour with Howard Wales. Although Kahn had played on the Hooteroll album, Wales had his own band by this time, with his old friend Roger "Jelly Roll" Troy on bass and vocals, so Kahn had no place. It's hard not to draw the conclusion that Garcia was implicitly taking Kahn for granted by touring the East without him, and it must have made Kahn's move to Woodstock seem more financially prudent to him.
February 3-5, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
There is some suggestion that the first two nights may actually have been at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo. However, I think that the third night (Feb 5) was most likely at Keystone Korner, because the crew could then have just toted the equipment over to 60 Brady for the next afternoon's studio broadcast.
February 6, 1972: Pacific High Recorders, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
This KSAN live broadcast at the studio where Workingman's Dead was recorded was the first that most people in the Bay Area had actually heard of the Garcia/Saunders aggregation. Tom Fogerty was not present, and Bill Kreutzmann played drums. This leads me to suspect that Kreutzmann subbed for Vitt more often than may have been realized. Vitt was also the drummer in The Sons Of Champlin at the time (then calling themselves, regrettably, Yogi Phlegm), so he may have had a lot of conflicts.
February 11-12, 1972: Bojangles, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
A Phil Elwood review in the San Francisco Examiner reports that Kreutzmann played drums and that the great Armando Peraza played congas. Peraza was a North Beach legend, who would become a permanent member of Santana in the 1970s. Peraza's connection to Garcia may have come through trumpeter Luis Gasca, who is a story in himself. Bojangles was a club at 709 Larkin Street.
February 25-26, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
Armando Peraza is billed on all Garcia/Saunders shows through March. It's a shame that there's no taped evidence, as he was formidable indeed. Many years later he played with Garcia, Weir and Tower of Power at the Kaiser in Oakland (Jan 23 '88) and he absolutely dominated "Turn On Your Lovelight."
March 3-4, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
March 8-9, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
March 10-11, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
March 15-18, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
It's important to remember that other than the Feb 6 KSAN show and the brief Elwood review of Feb 11 (Bojangles), we have no evidence of what Garcia played during this period, who was in the band, or anything else.
Spring 1972-Paul Butterfield Blues Band tour
I have pieced together some fragmentary information here, and I think that Kahn was on two Butterfield tours. One must have been in the Spring, while the Dead were in Europe. I have no idea of who might have been in the band, or what material they might have played. I don't think Butterfield even had a working band at the end of 1971, so it's very hard to speculate, even for me.
June 30, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
This brief 12-day stretch of Garcia shows seems to have more to do with Kahn visiting from Woodstock rather than Garcia's heavy touring schedule with the Dead. I assume that this Keystone gig was a warmup for the higher profile show the next night in San Jose.
|The San Jose Civic Auditorium, at 135 W. San Carlos St, as it appeared in July 2011. I saw Ted Nugent here!|
Although Garcia/Saunders had regularly played San Francisco, Berkeley and Marin, they had rarely played anywhere else. Interestingly, their only previous South Bay show had been a sort of jazz festival at Stanford University the previous year, and once again they were playing an all-ages concert at San Jose's venerable Civic Auditorium, built about 1940. This show also inaugurated an informal tradition of having Garcia test out a venue that the Dead would play a few months later. The Grateful Dead played the San Jose Civic on August 20, 1972.
An eyewitness reports a two-set show with Tom Fogerty on guitar, and probably Vitt on drums. That suggests that Fogerty was a member of the ensemble for the brief July run.
July 7-8, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
The Keystone Korner had been sold by Freddie Herrera to Todd Barkan, a pianist (formerly in Kwane and The Kwanditos) who would turn the venue into San Francisco's pre-eminent jazz club. However, there was a pre-existing booking for Garcia and Saunders, which Barkan honored. They didn't even advertise, just put the band's name up on the marquee and the shows were packed, a clear sign of Garcia's burgeoning popularity even then.
July 11, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
Per the comments, this date may be spurious.
Summer 1972; Paul Butterfield's Better Days tour
I have to assume that after the July 11 Keysone Berkeley show, Kahn returned to Woodstock and toured with the first lineup of Paul Butterfield And Better Days, bringing Saunders with him. However, my assessment of the dates are just triangulation, and I await further evidence.
August 18, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
This one-off show is more speculative since I don't know what Kahn's prospective touring schedule might have been with Butterfield.
September 22, 1972: Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders/La Familia with Luis Gasca/Dakila Farmworkers Benefit
Garcia appeared at this Farmworkers Benefit at Berkeley. He had to fly back from the East Coast to do it, but I now think that Garcia had a pattern of flying back to the West Coast to work on albums while playing shows at the same time. Garcia would have been working on Europe '72 at this juncture.
Once again it appears that Luis Gasca was probably the connection the booking. Whatever Kahn's touring schedule might have been with Butterfield, it does appear that he and Saunders had returned at this time.
October 6-7, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
October 12, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
November 4, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
November 8, 1972: Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty/Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks/Fletcher Bros/Natural Act
Garcia headlined this benefit at Longshoreman's. Tom Fogerty was on the bill, so I take that to mean he probably played some or all of the gigs in the Fall, even where he was not billed. This show was a benefit, for what I am not exactly certain, but it indicated another new pattern in Garcia's performances. Whereas in the 1960s, the Grateful Dead were on every benefit, Garcia's new band allowed him to play such events without involving other members of the Dead.
December 5, 1972: Boarding House, San Francisco, CA; Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty
The Boarding House was very small, capacity 330. Musicians loved it, but no one got paid very much.
December 20-21, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty
December 27-28, 1972: Lion's Share, San Anselmo, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty
One show from this set of performances was recorded and broadcast on KTIM-fm in San Rafael.
December 29, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogert
Note that Tom Fogerty is once again billed regularly as a member of the group.