Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jerry Garcia Album Economics, 1973-74 (John Kahn XIII)


The front cover of the 1974 Live At Keystone album on Fantasy Records
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 general, I have been looking at John Kahn's performance history without Garcia (for the complete John Kahn history sequence, see here). However, for this post I am going to take a different approach and look at some of the economics that buttressed Kahn and Garcia's professional relationship. In particular, I am going to show how the 1973 Live At Keystone album and the 1974 [Compliments Of] Garcia album were the cornerstones of Garcia's commitment to his musical enterprises outside of the Grateful Dead.

Grateful Dead Records and The Butterfield Blues Band
As I discussed in a previous entry [yes, I know I skipped part VII--I'll get to it], throughout the middle of 1972 the Grateful Dead were negotiating with Warner Brothers and Columbia in anticipation of their expiring Warners contract. The Dead surprised everybody by choosing to start their own label and become completely independent. While the band remained under contract to Warners through about March of 1973 and the delivery of Bear's Choice, they seem to have chosen independence in the late Summer of 1972.

The Grateful Dead's choice to run their own record company is usually analyzed in terms of the band's need for independence, and that was surely the dominant factor. Nonetheless, it's meaningful to note that by early 1972, Garcia had had a pretty good thing going with Merl Saunders and John Kahn, playing Bay Area clubs. Unfortunately, Kahn then up and moved to Woodstock, NY and helped Paul Butterfield put together his new band. Sometime in the Summer of '72, Kahn invited Merl Saunders to join him, so Garcia found himself in the Summer having lost his band to Paul Butterfield.

Butterfield had the backing of a powerful manager (Albert Grossman), access to a studio and a record deal. Garcia would not have been in a position to make a counter-offer to Kahn and Saunders, since any plans Garcia may have had would have had to be mediated through both Warner Brothers (or Columbia, if they signed with them) and the Grateful Dead themselves, since Garcia's activities would have affected the band's relationship to their record company.

I am asserting that one very powerful imperative for Jerry Garcia to approve of the Dead's bid for independence was his recognition that he could not keep a good working band together without offering the members some kind of financial rewards beyond the occasional nightclub payout. In Summer '72 it looked like he had lost his band and would have to start over, and I don't think he wanted to be stuck behind the eight ball in the future. As it happened, Garcia was given a reprieve because Kahn and Saunders distrusted Butterfield's manager's financial proposals and returned to San Francisco. Happy as Garcia must have been, both John and Merl must have been frustrated, since they may have thought they had just passed on a chance to make some real money.

The back cover to the 1974 Live At Keystone album on Fantasy Records
Live At Keystone-Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, John Kahn, Bill Vitt (Fantasy Records, early 1974)
The credits on the Live At Keystone album are very revealing. First of all, contrary to popular belief, the cover and the record label credit the album to "Jerry Garcia-Merl Saunders-John Kahn-Bill Vitt," not just Garcia and Saunders. The inside album cover says "produced by Garcia, Saunders, Kahn and Vitt." As a practical matter, I suspect Kahn and Saunders did most of the actual production, which would have mainly consisted of listening to mixes (with some help from Bob and Betty, perhaps), but that is not my point here. Listing all four of the band members as the artists and producers indicates that the revenue was shared equally between them. The album was effectively a live Jerry Garcia solo album, of sorts, but Garcia had not only split the artist's money, but split the producer's money as well.

Under Garcia's name in the credits it says "Guitar, Vocals" and adds "courtesy of Grateful Dead Records." Grateful Dead Records could not have existed prior to March of 1973 (in the corporate sense), so the fact that permission was granted by them means that Garcia must have made this album deal very soon after the expiration of the Warners contract. Fantasy Records was Merl's label, and Garcia had already helped record two albums for Saunders (Heavy Turbulence and Fire Up). However, Garcia's participation in the records would have been capped by Warner Brothers, who would have objected if Garcia had too great a presence on those albums, particularly vocally.

The likely timeline scenario for Live At Keystone looks like this me:
  • Summer 72: Kahn and Saunders join the Butterfield Blues Band
  • Fall 72: The Grateful Dead choose to go independent, while Kahn and Saunders return
  • March 1973: Garcia is free of Warner Brothers 
  • April or May 1973: Garcia agrees to do a double album for Fantasy
  • July 10-11, 1973: Bob and Betty record Garcia/Saunders/Kahn/Vitt at Keystone Berkeley
  • Fall 1973: Kahn and Saunders mix the album at Fantasy, with periodic help from Garcia, David Grisman (who overdubs a mandolin part) and perhaps Bob and Betty.
  • Early 1974: The Live At Keystone album is released
The key date in this timeline is April 1973. While I am assuming a little bit about the date, I am not assuming much. If the contract was signed around April 1973, Saunders, Kahn and Vitt would all have received advances from Fantasy Records for the album, instead of just Saunders and Garcia. I have no idea what kind of money would have been involved, but it seems reasonable that all four members would have gotten a check in the range of $5,000-$10,000. That was real money in 1973. I think Garcia had promised his band they would make an album on Fantasy and they would all get paid, and in so doing made a commitment to Kahn and Saunders in particular, so they would not go looking for other bands.

Knowing what we now know about Garcia/Saunders shows, the Live At Keystone tracks were chosen to emphasize Garcia. There were 10 tracks, 8 of them with Garcia vocals and two instrumentals. Actual Garcia/Saunders shows at the time had a different ratio, but clearly the album was consciously made to sell as many copies as possible. The inclusion of exactly 10 tracks, no more, no less, was also a financially sound decision for reasons to complex to go into here. It was not a mistake that the one "original" track was called "Space" and was "composed" by all four band members.

As a side note, given the planning associated with the album, and the enforced delay caused by the expiration of the Warners contract, the experimentation with Sarah Fulcher and George Tickner as band members were not casual exercises at all. Nonetheless, by the time the contracts were signed, they seem to have decided on a quartet. The one additional beneficiary from the arrangement would seem to have been Merl Saunders, who was already under contract to Fantasy. By contributing a double album with a major rock star, Saunders would have had considerable leverage with his record company. How Saunders used that leverage--renegotiating his deal, getting a new advance, etc--would have depended on his representation, but there's no question Merl benefited greatly from having the Garcia/Saunders live album on his own label. Garcia had a different plan for Kahn, however, and it worked in concert with the plan for the Live At Keystone album.

The cover of Garcia, the first release on Round Records (June 1974)
Garcia-Jerry Garcia (Round Records RX 101-June 1974)
The first release on Jerry Garcia's Round Records label was his own solo album, Garcia, in June 1974. No one has adequately explained why he gave it the same name as his first solo album, but in any case promotional copies at the time were stamped "Compliments Of Garcia" and that became the de facto name of the album, so I will call it Compliments for narrative clarity. The album was produced by John Kahn, who selected the songs and recorded the tracks in Devonshire Studios in Los Angeles. Garcia only came in at the end of the process, recording his vocals and guitar solos over previously recorded tracks.

John Kahn directed the studio sessions for Compliments in February of 1974 at Devonshire Studios. I believe that Garcia was not present for the recording of the backing tracks, where Kahn used a core band that mostly included Merl Saunders on organ. Garcia showed up to perform the vocals and guitar parts, as directed by Kahn. Kahn finished the album without Garcia, adding strings and horns, choosing songs and editing, and the record became the first release on Round Records, the label started by Garcia and Ron Rakow.

Given that Garcia had chosen to allow Kahn to produce the album by choosing the songs and the musicians, Kahn could work on the album without Garcia. This was convenient, since Garcia would often be on tour with the Dead. However, the process of choosing songs would have taken a relatively long time, and Blair Jackson alludes to a lengthy process in his discussion of the solo album with Kahn (p.247), although no exact timeline is described. However, I think that given Garcia's commitment to the Grateful Dead, the process must have been pretty long because it was intermittent.

The decision to form Round Records seems to have been made in Summer 1973, and the decision to assign John Kahn to produce it must have been made after that. Kahn would have spent the back half of 1973 choosing songs and presenting them to Garcia, and then working on arrangements for those songs that appealed to Garcia. Thus the entire time that Kahn and Saunders were working on producing the Live At Keystone album, Kahn was also planning the Compliments album. Garcia, through Round Records, would have paid Kahn an advance to produce the Compliments album, and Kahn had the potential to earn royalties as a producer if the album was a hit.

Jerry Garcia's Commitment
Garcia nearly lost John Kahn and Merl Saunders to a more substantial record deal in 1972. Given a reprieve, Garcia voted in favor of the Grateful Dead's independence and then created his own record company on top of it. His first two enterprises were financial commitments to the musicians he had been working with in the previous three years. Saunders, Kahn and Vitt all would have gotten an advance and possible royalties from the Live At Keystone album, and Saunders would have additionally benefited from the album being on Fantasy. Kahn, in turn, got to produce Garcia's album, with the accompanying advance, while Merl got session fees for performing on the record.

More than the financial rewards associated with Live At Keystone and Compliments, Garcia's actions would have indicated a commitment to John Kahn that working with Garcia would allow Kahn to make a living without having to join another band full-time. Of course, Garcia would not have not objected and probably encouraged Kahn to play or record with other artists, but Garcia had nearly lost his partner in 1972, and his first two projects after he became a free agent were expressly designed to cement his partnership with Kahn. In return for his commitment, Garcia was rewarded with a musical partner for the next two decades.


12 comments:

  1. Outfuckingstanding.

    One quick comment. You say "the Live At Keystone tracks were chosen to emphasize Garcia. There were 10 tracks, 8 of them with Garcia vocals and two instrumentals. Actual Garcia/Saunders shows at the time had a different ratio"

    Maybe more instrumentals, but recall that there were effectively no Merl Saunders lead vocals in the Garcia/Saunders band until 1974, when they started doing "Wondering Why", "My Problems Got Problems" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On". So I am not sure the Garcia-dominance was a conscious emphasis as much as an accurate reflection of what the 1973 band was about.

    Not sure Merl stepping forward more 1974-1975 (e.g., vocally) has anything to do with your narrative, but it might. Once they became a "going concern", Merl could afford to make the investment in singing more (and Garcia probably wanted him to share the singing load, as well). He was no Sarah Fulcher, but then again, who is?

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  2. Thanks for the compliment. I admit I didn't check Garcia/Saunders setlists for 1973, and relied on my faulty memory about when Saunders started singing. Still, I think the Live At Keystone album was sequenced to emphasize Garcia's performance of rock songs, with fewer instrumentals than there might be normally. It would probably be an interesting thing to consider, but I'm not actually going to be the one to do it.

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  3. In order to maintain a readable narrative for this post, I left out any discussion of Old And In The Way. However, if you consider your recent discovery that OAITW attempted to record their studio album around March 1973 and fit it into the timeline, it adds another layer to the story.

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  4. Always a pleasure to read. I do agree with your view of how the business of keeping his band together, drove these decisions. It is also a year of very varied musical experimentation for Garcia. Besides the above and OAITW, remember he brings horn players out with the Dead in the fall

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  5. DLeopold, I agree that it was a very interesting period indeed. The whole business of using horns on the September tour has never really been discussed. People forget that Martin Fiero played with the Grateful Dead before he played with Garcia/Saunders (I realize he played on Hooteroll before that).

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  6. Actually Fierro played with Garcia before the Dead according to Blair Jackson's Fierro obit on dead.net. http://www.dead.net/features/news/general-news/rest-peace-martin-fierro It looks as though they met in 1969 and Garcia invited him to come down to the Matrix to play with him and Wales (who Fierro knew from El Paso...small world).

    Perhaps Fierro coming on tour with the Dead (and playing on Wake of the Flood) was also part of the Garcia jobs program from his other band members

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  7. The only hard evidence for Martin playing with Garcia before the GD is the July 19, 1973 Great American Music Hall show. I assume this also prefigured Martin playing on the GD's Wake of the Flood, but can't be sure.

    DLeopold, thanks for joining the discussion (I say as a commenter). The more the merrier! I do have some doubts about Garcia inviting Martin to the Matrix to play with Wales in 1969, but that's the story we have and there's probably no way to evaluate it one way or the other.

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  8. Martin Fierro was in Doug Sahm's band (as was Joe Ellis), and Sahm was hanging out with the Dead at the time. Sahm was booked through Sam Cutler's agency. All the horn players on WOTF were regulars with Sahm (although they all had other gigs).

    Since the Fierro memory of playing in the park was done decades after the fact, I have always assumed that it was 1970, not '69, that Fierro was invited to jam with Garcia and Wales at the Matrix.

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  9. Doug Sahm opened all the horn shows, so it would have been easy to have Fierro and Ellis play on certain songs. I wonder if they were paid extra, which I assume they were since they were playing prepared parts rather than simply sitting in and jamming.

    Fierro also thought he met Garcia in the park in 68, so we know his dates are off.

    But I'm afraid I got everyone off topic from a great post. I have been reading this quartet of blogs (JGMF, Hooterollin, and GD Guide) since the beginning of the year more or less, and have found the material fascinating. I am an archivist by trade (check out alhirschfeldfoundation.org) and really enjoy the exploration your guys do. Keep it up!

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  10. Who says we are off-topic? On this blog, Hooteroll is always our primary topic!

    Thanks for the kind words. Glad to have you aboard.

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  11. Some of the wanderings are the most fun. Thanks for joining in!

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  12. Great article! I'm gonna check it out... Jerry’s music lives on with his world-embracing love and energy. You'll probably like this psychedelic portrait I drew of him to honor his legacy on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/08/touch-of-grey-jerry-garcia-in-memoriam.html Feel free to drop in and tell me about how the Deadhead movement affecting your life and appreciation of music.

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