Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Bassist: 1969-70

Who played bass for the the New Riders Of The Purple Sage from their inception in August 1969 until Dave Torbert joined the band in April 1970? There are a usually a variety of answers to this question, all quite contradictory, with very little supporting evidence of any type. Although to some extent I am recapping information that has been discussed intermittently here and elsewhere, I think this is a worthwhile exercise. There is some conventional wisdom about the early history of the New Riders, mostly promulgated by the band members, and much of it demonstrably wrong. Besides addressing the surprisingly curious question of who initially played bass for the New Riders, I am using this post to demonstrate how much we supposedly "know" about the early New Riders is contradictory and vague.

This post will retell the story of the early New Riders from the point of view of who may have played bass. In order not to get sidetracked, I will include links to posts that put them in context, and I am appending a list of early New Riders shows below, for those who have not memorized their early schedule. This is somewhat of an artificial exercise, but it will point up how little is actually known about the New Riders from 1969. At many points I will interpolate questions that remain to be answered and may never be. Anyone with answers or interesting speculation is encouraged to Comment.

John Dawson At The Underground, Menlo Park
John Dawson had been a folk singer for most of the sixties, and in early 1969, he started writing songs. On or about April 13, 1969, Jerry Garcia purchased a pedal steel guitar at a music store in Boulder, CO. Later in April, Dawson visited Garcia in Larkspur, and played him his new songs so that Garcia could noodle along on his new steel guitar. Garcia was taken with the songs, and when he found out that Dawson was playing Wednesday nights at a Hofbrau in Menlo Park called The Underground, he decided to sit in. David Nelson joined them on electric guitar, and the little trio played intermittently for several Wednesdays.

I know someone who attended one of the shows, and they were just a trio, without a bass player. Why was Dawson visiting Garcia? Did Garcia invite him, or did he offer to drop in? They had been friendly several years earlier in Palo Alto, but had they been in touch since? How quickly did Nelson get involved? Was that the immediate plan, or did it happen later?

Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck
In June of 1969, Garcia, Dawson and others play a few shows under various names. There was one at Peninsula School in Menlo Park, probably for Heather Katz (Garcia's) tuition, and another at California Hall. There seems to be some whiff from McNally that these were a tryout of the New Riders "concept," and old Palo Alto friend Peter Grant may have played banjo along with them. A setlist exists for the California Hall show. Per someone who took careful notes, the band appears to have been Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Tom Constanten, and there were contributions by Nelson, Dawson and Grant (on pedal steel). The setlist has a lot of Bakersfield-type material, but no Dawson-written songs. Was the California Hall show similar or different to the Peninsula show?

Jerry Garcia, Marmaduke and Friends
The first public "New Riders" appearance was opening for the Grateful Dead at Longshoreman's Hall on July 16, 1969. The show (per Blair Jackson) was apparently a shambles. The first publicized show by the band was at the Bear's Lair Coffeehouse at UC Berkeley, on August 1, 1969, where the band was billed as Jerry Garcia, Marmaduke and Friends with Mickey Hart. Who played bass?

There are two contradictory stories about the New Riders first bass player, both of them retailed by different band members over the years. The most common story is that Garcia decided to back Dawson as an excuse to play pedal steel and brought in Nelson, and Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh were brought in so that the New Riders could open for the Dead, so the band could get paid to be its own opening act with just two extra bodies. A great story, but not really true.

In 1969, the New Riders only opened for the Dead between 5 and 10 times, only 3 or 4 of which were booked shows where they had a chance of getting paid, and only 1 or 2 of those out of town. I have discussed at length elsewhere the Dead's strange foray to the Aqua Theater in Seattle on August 20, 1969, which included a rain out and a guest appearance at a biker bar, where the Riders may or may not have appeared. The Dead also played a rock festival in Oregon right afterward (August 23), and the Riders are rumored to have appeared. This journey was the New Riders only out of town trip, so while the band may have thought it was a good idea,  they only went out of town once with the New Riders in 1969.

However, the New Riders played numerous shows in Bay Area nightclubs from August through November 1969. Jerry Garcia's name was always listed in the ads or press releases, and Mickey Hart's sometimes, but never Phil Lesh's. It does make me wonder why club owners wouldn't promote Phil's name, if he were going to play. The New Riders played very small places in 1969, and the Dead themselves were not really that big (though infamous), so given that, it is not surprising that I have never found a detailed account or review that identified Phil Lesh as a member of the band, nor has any reliable eyewitness asserted it. I'm not ruling it out--just pointing out that the various quotes from band members years later were eliding the real history of the New Riders, so some vagueness about the history of the bassist would be par for the course.

Bob Matthews
Alternative versions of the early history of the New Riders have Grateful Dead engineer Bob Matthews as the bassist. In a 2009 interview with Blair Jackson, Nelson recalled
I remember going up to Jerry’s house in Larkspur with John and we had [Grateful Dead sound engineer] Bob Matthews fill in on bass and we practiced John’s tunes, and then we thought, “Hey, let’s get a gig! We can get Mickey to play drums!” So we played two or three nights there at the Bear’s Lair student union [on the UC Berkeley campus]
Nelson clearly places Matthews as the rehearsal bassist, but does that mean Matthews played the early shows as well?  Granted, 40 years have passed, but just like old family stories, a standard story is treated as gospel without question, when in actuality the known facts do not support it. For example, the proto-New Riders played two shows on the same night, rather than two or three nights, and Nelson doesn't even mention the Longshoreman's show two weeks prior.

It's easy to leap to the conclusion that Bob Matthews was the initial bassist for the New Riders, and Phil Lesh replaced him. Since various band members recall Lesh in the group, he must have played with them at some point, but that begs another set of questions: did Phil replace Matthews outright, or did they alternate shows depending on unknown factors? Did Phil play a lot of New Riders shows, or just a few?
SF Chronicle, August 6, 1969

The Tapes (Aug 7 '69 Matrix and Sep 18 '69 Cotati)
We are fortunate to have tapes of two excellent early New Riders shows, one from The Matrix on August 7, 1969 (the group's fourth show) and another from the Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati on September 18, 1969. Both of these shows are excellent, and quite different, as Garcia's vocals are uniquely prominent in Cotati. Why only two tapes? Who made them? Keep in mind that we have no idea what the New Riders played, much less sounded like, between Cotati and the balance of the year, as there are neither tapes nor reviews. Did Garcia sing a bunch of Buck Owens songs, or play banjo? If I asserted that he did--I have no idea--how would anyone disprove it?

My theory is that Owsley recorded the tapes, but he only recorded shows that he was present at. Owsley's concept, as far as I understood it, was that his tapes were "sonic journals" of how any band he mixed sounded in the house, but he only taped when he mixed himself. Of course, we have no idea who mixed the sound for the New Riders on most nights, if anyone, nor if they had any crew to speak of in 1969. By mid-1970, the Dead and Riders crews had been merged somewhat, but back in 1969 who had been assigned to drive the van to obscure clubs in Berkeley or Sonoma?

I do know that when the New Riders played Mandrake's in Berkeley, a waitress recognized Owsley. Owsley lived in Oakland, and despite his reclusiveness he was well known around Berkeley folk clubs. Thus the Mandrake's waitress recognized him, but had no idea who the Riders were beyond Garcia. I think Owsley saw the New Riders at Mandrake's because it was near his house, leading me to hope that there might be another New Riders tape yet to surface, but I don't think he was a regular attendee at Riders shows. The waitress recalled that "When Owsley was sound man for the Jerry band at the club, he was traveling under the assumed name Durand as the FBI had an all points bulletin out for him and apparently wanted to talk with him about something." I remain hopeful that the Mandrake's shows are in Owsley's secret stash, but with the FBI on his tail I doubt Owsley wanted his appearances effectively advertised in the paper.

SF Chronicle, September 17, 1969
In any case, sharper ears than mine might listen to the tapes and determine whether or not Phil Lesh or the presumably more rudimentary Bob Matthews played bass. However, it's important to recall that we only have two tapes, which says nothing about numerous shows over a period of months. It's also important to consider that if my theory is correct and Owsley dropped by do the sound occasionally, it seems likely that those would be the nights that Phil would have made sure to be there. Some crew members might know who played, but we don't know who the crew was, and in any case some of the most likely candidates (Ramrod and Rex Jackson) are no longer with us.

Robert Hunter
Other variations of the history of the New Riders have Robert Hunter as an early bassist, replacing or being replaced by Matthews. Hunter himself has sorted out the timeline clearly, but this is often ignored in order to tell a more folksy tale of the New Riders' genesis. In fact, whether Matthews or Lesh or both had been the bass player in 1969, neither were seemingly available for duty in 1970. Lesh, apparently, wasn't really interested, and Matthews must have had too many obligations producing Workingman's Dead, as well as other technical obligations. Nonetheless, Nelson, Dawson and Garcia were keeping the New Riders concept alive, even if the band played no shows (save one booking on January 19, 1970, possibly canceled).

Hunter seems to have been drafted in early 1970 to replace Matthews as the New Riders "rehearsal bassist." In recalling the composition of "Friend Of The Devil" in 2006, Hunter also recalled his peculiar status as stand-in bassist.
I was living in Madrone canyon with the Garcias. The NRPS had asked me if I wanted to play bass with them and it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I worked up that song on bass, added a few verses plus a chorus and went over to where David Nelson and John Dawson were living in Kentfield and taught them the tune...
We ran back upstairs to Nelson's room and recorded the tune. I took the tape home and left it on the kitchen table. Next morning I heard earlybird Garcia (who hadn't been at the rehearsal - had a gig, you know) wanging away something familiar sounding on the peddle steel. Danged if it wasn't "Friend of the Devil." With a dandy bridge on the "sweet Anne Marie" verse. He was not in the least apologetic about it. He'd played the tape, liked it, and faster than you can say dog my cats it was in the Grateful Dead repertoire.
Although I learned all the tunes, I never did play a gig with the NRPS, who were doing strictly club dates at the time. For one reason or another I never quite fathomed, though I have my suspicions, I got shut out. Either that or I misread the signs and wasn't inclined to push. Nothing was ever said. In any event, a fellow named Dave Torbert showed up about that time. Just as well. One dedicated songwriter in the band was enough.
Hunter seems to have played a useful role for the group, but when Dave Torbert was invited to join the band any ideas Hunter may have had about being in the Riders were over. By 1970, Hunter had not been an active performing musician for several years, and would have been a very basic bass player, whereas Torbert was not only a solid, soulful bassist but an experienced performer as well. After getting his start in The Good News, Torbert had spent 18 months playing with Nelson in the New Delhi River Band. If Nelson had wanted Torbert all along, as Hunter seems to imply, why had Nelson even suggested to Hunter that he could become bassist? Whether Hunter was aware of it or not, the NRPS was playing few or no gigs at the time, and I have to presume that Lesh still covered the duties, although that too remains mysterious (note that Hunter says "I never did play a gig with the NRPS, who were doing strictly club dates at the time").

Dave Torbert
David Torbert joined the New Riders in April, 1970, in time for the Riders public debut as the Grateful Dead's opening act. The first Dead/NRPS tour commenced on May 1, 1970, so the New Riders played a flurry of gigs in April to get their sound and equipment together, and not least, to acclimate Torbert. Torbert was a fine bassist and singer, and cool and handsome to boot, so his arrival presaged the elevation of the New Riders from "Jerry Garcia nightclub experiment" to a real band. Yet the stories surrounding Torbert's arrival were shrouded in a vagueness that was never resolved.

After the New Delhi River Band broke up in early 1968, Torbert and Matt Kelly had gone on to play in a number of bands such as Shango and Horses, the latter even releasing an album. When Horses ground to a halt in early 1969,  Torbert went to Hawaii to surf and Kelly went to England. In England, Kelly hooked up with a band called Gospel Oak, and he called Torbert to join him in London. On his way to England in early 1970, Torbert stopped at his parent's house in Redwood City, CA when Nelson "coincidentally" called him and asked him if he wanted to join a band with Jerry Garcia.

Coincidence? Really? Dave Torbert is in California for one day, and that's the day that Nelson called his parents? Torbert, to his credit, called Kelly and asked him if he could take Nelson's offer, and Kelly (also to his credit) encouraged his friend to catch the wave while it was breaking. Nonetheless, Torbert took the offer and joined the New Riders, leaving Hunter to wait several years for his performing reappearance.

Some Reflections On The History Of The New Riders Bassists
For rock historians, and indeed for all historians, often nothing is more useful than some lingering bitterness that airs hitherto unknown grievances. An unhappy bass player, an aggrieved ex-wife or a slighted road manager with a score to settle are often the best source for finding out what may lay beneath various decisions beyond the usual "creative differences." The Grateful Dead stuck together for 30 years, and the remaining members and crew stick together even to this day. While sharp eyes can discern various disputes and disagreements, solidarity takes presence over the airing of grievances. Even those who have long since left the fold only speak well of the past, particularly of anything to do with Jerry Garcia, lending a new interpretation to the old phrase "don't speak ill of The Dead."

Put another way, most people in the Grateful Dead's extended family are still friends, or still share mutual friends, so just like any family, stories are recalibrated in order to save every relative's feelings. Bob Matthews and later Robert Hunter were drafted as bassists to help with rehearsals, but the talents of both were elsewhere and I think that their bass playing was found wanting. For Nelson and Garcia, an unrehearsed Phil Lesh had to be superior to a full-time engineer who moonlighted, but no one wanted to say that in an interview, so the story has been glossed over.

By the same token, the story about Nelson coincidentally calling Dave Torbert's parents on the only day that he was in town sounds like a story designed to assuage his close friend Robert Hunter's feelings. It apparently worked, as Hunter and Nelson are still friends, but by 2006 even Hunter seems to have realized that Nelson was planning to hire Torbert, but needed Hunter for rehearsal and as a last resort. Not very flattering, but no friend wants to tell Rolling Stone magazine their real motives.

My own view is that once the New Riders project took on a real life, Nelson planned to bring Torbert on board. Dawson knew Torbert well from Palo Alto, so he would have been supportive. Garcia must have known as well, but Garcia was legendary for avoiding uncomfortableness of any kind, so it's no surprise that he never hinted to Matthews or Hunter what the plan was. I also think that Phil Lesh played most of the 1969 New Riders shows, but Matthews filled in occasionally, amidst his recording duties. It was in the interests of the whole band to have Lesh on call, yet with a substitute available as needed. As Matthews role as an engineer became more important, particularly after Owsley got busted in New Orleans, he must have realized that he was dispensable and focused on the studio.

In February of 1970, with Matthews focused on Workingman's Dead and Lesh uninterested in continuing the experiment, Nelson must have recruited Hunter as a stopgap, knowing that his real plan was to engage Torbert. Hunter had played a little bass with Nelson and Garcia in his bluegrass days, but he wasn't really a bassist. During the early 1970 period that Hunter rehearsed with the New Riders, they only booked one show that they may not have played, so Torbert aside, Hunter couldn't have impressed the rest of the band at the time. When Torbert became available, the band was set. All that remained was for Garcia, Nelson and Dawson to continually repeat a series of vague stories that spared the feelings of their friends, leaving the truth so vague that is has become nearly impossible to recover.

All of this is all but impossible to sort out. For all the rightful importance assigned to the New Riders of The Purple Sage in the arc of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, their early days are surprisingly bereft of actual information. Among those that were there at the time and are still around, and there aren't that many, have 40+ years in between to cloud their recollections. The charm of the early New Riders was that they could play a show at a tiny place in Berkeley or the Marina District for a few hundred beer drinkers, and those people could hardly be expected to recall who the bass player was by the time of the next century.

Appendix: New Riders Performances, 1969
May 7, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
May 14, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
May 21, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
June 4, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
June ?, 1969 Peninsula School, Menlo Park [billing unknown]
June 11, 1969 California Hall, San Francisco Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Duke
June 24, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
July 16, 1969 Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco Grateful Dead/Cleveland Wrecking Company/Ice
August 1, 1969 Bear's Lair, UC Berkeley Jerry Garcia, Marmaduke and Friends
August 6-9, 1969 The Matrix, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage
August ?, 1969 Lions Share, San Anselmo, New Riders Of The Purple Sage
August 13, 1969  Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Lost City Ramblers/New Riders of The Purple Sage "Hoe Down"
August 19, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway New Riders Of The Purple Sage
August 20, 1969 El Roach Tavern, Ballard, WA Grateful Dead/others (possibly NRPS)
August 21, 1969 Aqua Theatre, Seattle, WA Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Sanpaku
August 23, 1969 Bullfrog 2 Festival, Pelletier Farm, St Helens, OR Grateful Dead/others (possibly NRPS)
August 28, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway Grateful Dead/Mickey And The Hartbeats/NRPS
August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway Grateful Dead/Commander Cody/New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Rubber Duck Company
September 18, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati New Riders Of The Purple Sage
October 9, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA New Riders Of The Purple Sage
October 14-16, 1969 Mandrake's, Berkeley New Riders of The Purple Sage
October 17, 1969 Loma Prieta Room, Student Union, San Jose State College, San Jose New Riders Of The Purple Sage/The Fourth Way
October 22, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Lazarus
November 3-4, 1969 The Matrix, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage
November 6, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati New Riders Of The Purple Sage
November 13, 1969 The Poppycock, Palo Alto New Riders Of The Purple Sage
November 18, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/David LaFlamme "Square Dance"
November 19, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Barry McGuire & The Doctor Naut Family
November 20, 1969 The Poppycock, Palo Alto New Riders Of The Purple Sage

November 22-23, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Anonymous Artists Of America/Devil's Kitchen
November 27, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Lamb/Cleveland Wrecking Company/Deacon and The Suprelles/Rafael Garrett Circus
November 28, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati New Riders Of The Purple Sage
January 19, 1970 Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band Benefit For Center For Educational Change

Friday, March 25, 2011

February 28, 1969 Fillmore West: Grateful Dead/Pentangle/Sir Douglas Quintet/Shades Of Joy (Martin Fierro)

The Grateful Dead's four night stand at The Fillmore West from Thursday February 27 through Sunday March 2, 1969 stands as one of the premier events in Grateful Dead history. For once, The Dead played at their creative best when state-of-the-art recording equipment was hooked up and rolling, and we have been savoring the results ever since. The weekend stand was the heart of the seminal 1969 Live/Dead album, and the entire run was released this century as Fillmore West 1969. The Dead capitalized on the home court advantage and played some shows for the ages.

Fantastic as the Dead's performance was, however, the weekend had even more resonances. One of the opening acts, the English group Pentangle, had a profound effect on Jerry Garcia, which he commented on at various times. In a past blog post, I discussed how in the midst of playing some of the finest music of his career, Garcia found the time to listen to Pentangle's unique configuration and adopt it for his own approach to live acoustic music. Pentangle, their musical talents notwithstanding, had discovered the value of two amplified acoustic instruments supported by a tasteful rhythm section, and Garcia consciously adopted it as the approach to the acoustic Grateful Dead, as well as other ensembles, like the Garcia/Grisman band.

As if stunning live electric music and a transformational acoustic opening band weren't enough, a close look at Ralph Gleason's Chronicle review the Monday afterward reveals yet another amazing fact about the weekend. On one night, The Shades Of Joy, an additional opening act, featured future Legion Of Mary member Martin Fierro on saxophone and vocals, years before he would play with Garcia and Merl Saunders. Garcia very likely didn't even see the set, but it's yet another sign of what a portentous weekend it was that the local act opening the show included a player who would be a big part of Garcia's sound a few years later.

The Shades Of Joy
The Shades Of Joy were a familiar name on bills at rock clubs in the Bay Area from 1969-71, but I don't know much about them otherwise. They did release a self-titled album on Fontana Records in 1969. The band members on the album were
  • Millie Foster-vocals
  • Martin Fierro-saxophones, flute, vocals
  • Jackie King-guitar
  • Jymm Young-keyboards
  • Edward Adams-bass
  • Jose Rodriguez-drums
Fiero was from El Paso, TX, and in early 1969 he would have been relatively newly arrived in San Francisco. Around this time he had been working with the Texas musicians in the group Mother Earth, but I do not know if he was a regular member of that band. Fierro (1942-2008) apparently met Garcia while jamming with conga players in Golden Gate Park (per Blair Jackson's liner notes to the Legion Of Mary cd), but no date was given.

The only other name familiar to me in The Shades Of Joy was Jymm Young, who played keyboards with various Bay Area groups in the early 70s, including Boz Scaggs and Santana. Young was also known as Joachim Young, and his most heard contribution is the B3 organ work on the Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like An Eagle." I don't know where Young came from or how he ended up in San Francisco in 1969 in the Shades Of Joy.

Fillmore West 1969 Configuration
Although the Fillmore West typically advertised three acts in 1969, they often had four acts on Friday and Saturday nights. While the three acts "on the poster" would do three rotating sets (with the headliner playing, essentially, 3rd and 6th), on weekend nights an additional act would play a single opening set. This served to extend the show, encouraging people to come early and buy more popcorn and soda.  Many of the openers were discovered at the Tuesday night Fillmore West "auditions." The mostly forgotten practice of adding a fourth act accounts for the numerous bands who describe opening shows at the Fillmore West whose names never appeared on a poster.

Given that Gleason's review was published on a Monday (March 3), I think he was reviewing the Friday, February 28 show, because there was an additional act. An eyewitness to the March 1 show reported that Frumious Bandersnatch had replaced the Sir Douglas Quintet, so I think the review was more likely of the Friday show than the Thursday one (Feb 27). update: A Commenter makes a good case for Gleason having seen the first set of Thursday, February 27 rather than Friday.

Ralph Gleason, Chronicle March 3, 1969
Gleason's review of every act for the evening is quite enthusiastic. About the Shades Of Joy, he says
Shades Of Joy is a local group (a spin-off of several other local units) which features wild free form modern jazz saxophone playing by Martin Fierro, a roaring R&B rhythm section and two voices, Martin and Millie Foster, who is much better in this role than as a pure jazz singer. It's an exciting and interesting group. 
Sir Douglas is really delightful. He got everybody dancing for for once (just as Pentangle had all the musicians listening) doing his standards "Mendocino" and "She's About A Mover" and merging his regular group with some members of Shades Of Joy.
It is rather a wild experience to see a group featuring a saxophone soloist who looks like the leader of a Third World Student picket line accompanied by a drummer who looks like he just got in from the cattle drive. Is there still hope?
It's interesting to see that Gleason noticed that all the musicians were paying attention to Pentangle. Elsewhere in the review, Gleason says "when [the acoustic guitars] are heard over the loudspeakers, there is no distortion, just a huge guitar sound," articulating what I believe to be the sound that captured Garcia's attention. For the Shades Of Joy, who probably came on at 7:00pm or so, it is Fierro that captured Gleason's attention. Fierro and others appear to have joined Doug Sahm on stage, prefiguring how he would join Sahm's band within a few years, and indeed share the stage with the Grateful Dead on some September 1973 shows when Sahm opened for the Dead.

Those who saw the Friday night show were probably so overwhelmed by the Dead (not to mention Pentangle) that they probably forgot Shades Of Joy earlier in the evening. Some of those people must have seen a Garcia/Saunders show a few years later, when Fierro was a member of the band--I wonder if they remembered then, or if there memories were permanently deleted?

Some Doug Sahm Apocrypha
Doug Sahm was a brilliant musician and a character-and-a-half, but he could be exasperating. Our eyewitness to the Saturday March 1 show reported that Doug Sahm was announced as being "sick" and his place on the bill was taken by Lafayette's finest, the Frumious Bandersnatch. Perhaps. Elsewhere, however, Doug Sahm has claimed that he was once fired by Bill Graham for bringing a 13-piece band onstage without asking. Sahm was a great teller of tales, so there's no telling how much of that story was true, and since Sahm (who died in 1999) is no longer with us, it's hard to know for sure what he may have been referring to.

Nonetheless, I can't help but connect the dots here. It appears that Sahm opened at least one night, and probably two, but was not present on the Saturday night. We also know from Gleason's review that several members of the Shades Of Joy were onstage with him. Perhaps inviting the extra musicians on stage disrupted some protocol, and Graham pushed Sahm off the bill? Its entirely possible. Given the number of amazing things that happened at the Fillmore West this weekend, perhaps this obscure bit of Sahm storytelling was part of the saga as well.

Appendix: Gleason On The Dead
By request, here are Ralph Gleason's comments on the Dead's performance:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Grateful Dead Tour Itinerary January 1968

Poster for the January 17, 1968 GD/QMS show at The Carousel
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 Dead.net 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 performance dates for January, 1968. 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 by 1968, were living hand to mouth and scrambling to find paying gigs. 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.

Grateful Dead Tour Itinerary January 1968
The Grateful Dead had ended 1967 with a show at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston on December 30, 1967. They had flown home to San Francisco, expecting to jam with Quicksilver on New Year's. The story goes that after returning from a long flight, band members ate some special brownies, and--due no doubt to chocolately goodness--fell asleep. There are no known Grateful Dead performances for the first two weekends of January 1968, and there are a number of possible explanations for that: the Carousel Ballroom and the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper strike.

The principal source for concrete information about the Grateful Dead, the Fillmore and the whole psychedelic ballroom scene has been the San Francisco Chronicle, specifically the columns of Ralph Gleason. Gleason was one of the Chronicle's leading columnists, writing about music on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Gleason was one of the first writers to take "popular" music seriously as Art--Gleason had interviewed Hank Williams in Oakland in the 1950s, and he was a big fan of anything new and good: Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Elvis Presley or the Jefferson Airplane. Gleason was a big supporter of Bill Graham and the Fillmore, and indeed he was instrumental in getting Graham a Dance Permit, without which the Fillmore would not have survived.

Since the influential Gleason wrote extensively about the Fillmore bands, the Chronicle regularly filled out the Entertainment section with promotional photos and press releases of bands playing the local ballrooms and elsewhere. In the Chronicle Entertainment listings, little rock clubs like The Matrix got equal footing with art galleries and hotel ballrooms, an invaluable boon to researchers like me. The other major papers in the Bay Area had no Gleason, and were not so invested in covering the San Francisco scene in any detail.

All of the most thorough writers about the Dead and the San Francisco scene--Blair Jackson, Dennis McNally and Charles Perry, most prominently--leaned heavily on a thorough study of the San Francisco Chronicle microfilm archives. In particular, Gleason's insightful and detailed coverage has been essential in tying dates to various bits of folklore. A story retailed by Bill Graham or Jerry Garcia that might be hard to pin down to a specific time could be compared to Gleason's regular notes and observations, and it would be possible to triangulate when certain things were most likely to have occurred. Without the Chronicle, much of San Francisco's rock history would just be a smoky legend.

On January 6, 1968, the writers and staff of the San Francisco Chronicle went on strike. They remained on strike until about February 15. A brief "scab" version of the Chronicle was put out, but regular columnists like Gleason and Herb Caen went out with their fellows. As a result, there was no record of the doings of the San Francisco rock world for about a six-week period. The Berkeley Barb covered Berkeley and periodically mentioned goings on in the City, but the paucity of information for January 1968 stems from the Chronicle strike. Besides covering all the local events, Gleason usually remarked in passing when the major San Francisco bands were on tour, but no such information was forthcoming during the strike. This has left a critical gap in our knowledge of the Dead's activity during the months of January and February 1968.

The Carousel Ballroom, 1545 Market Street, San Francisco, CA
Throughout late 1967, the Grateful Dead and the other San Francisco bands had felt that the profitable ballroom operations of Bill Graham and Chet Helms were profiting on the back of the local bands. The groups began to look for a venue of their own, an early attempt to take control of their own destiny. Searching for a venue to rent for a Halloween concert in 1967, Dan Healy came across the former El Patio Ballroom at Market and Van Ness. The Dead and Quicksilver put on a concert there, and in conjunction with the other major Bay Area bands (Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company and Country Joe And The Fish) made plans to run their own ballroom. 

The Carousel was owned by Bill Fuller, an Englishman who owned a string of ballrooms in America and England. In the 1960s, they mostly catered to an Irish clientele. The Carousel featured a dance band (jazz orchestra) most weekends, but various special acts played concerts, particularly Irish performers. At some point in early 1968, the San Francisco bands made an agreement with Fuller to lease the hall. Without Gleason and the Chronicle, its hard to determine the exact chronology of events. In March, Gleason reported that the bands had taken over the hall and would put on regular performances. Since there was no Chronicle during the previous several weeks, it's hard to be certain whether the first two shows at the Carousel were "contract" shows where the bands rented the hall or whether the collective of groups had taken hold of the operations. I know there was at least one show at the Carousel that was a contracted show (Buck Owens played the Carousel on March 9, 1968), but I cannot tell if that was the only one.

January 17, 1968: Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
Ron Rakow has commented that the bands were absolutely clueless about promotion when they first took over the Carousel. The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver were planning a big tour of the Pacific Northwest, so they kicked it off with a Wednesday night show at the Carousel. No San Francisco bands played the Carousel for another month, thus diluting the value of the inaugural performance. Of course, I have no idea if anyone else played the Carousel in the intervening time, either. A fine tape of this show endures, but we know nothing else about the performances. On the tape, Jerry does say (approximately) "it's nice to be back in San Francisco after a long while playing in other places."

What were the Dead doing from January 1-16? Did they not perform at all on the weekends of January 5-6 and 12-13? Keep in mind that without Gleason we have no good source. Since the band was planning on competing with Chet Helms and Bill Graham, it's no surprise that they didn't play the Avalon or the Fillmore (those bookings are known from posters). I wouldn't rule out a performance out of town, however, in a place like Sacramento, San Jose or Stockton. I'm sure the Dead were rehearsing during this time, but that wouldn't have taken up all 15 days. The Dead had no money at the time, and could not have turned down a paying gig. In my mind, January 12-13, 1968 is a likely candidate for an as-yet unfound show.

handbill for the January 20, 1968 GD/QMS show in Eureka, CA
January 20, 1968: Eureka Municipal Auditorium, Eureka, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service began their Pacific Northwest tour with a Saturday night concert in the coastal city of Eureka, CA, 272 miles North of San Francisco, and the County Seat of Humboldt County. The Eureka Municipal Auditorium, located on 1120 F Street and completed in 1936, was a delightful little hall with a capacity of 2,300. Because the Dead were working on what would become Anthem Of The Sun, tapes of the concert endure.

Although far Northern California is a hippie paradise now, it was probably not such a place then, and I don't think the town of Eureka was too happy with the concert, as the Dead never played there again. At the time, the area's economy was driven by logging and fishing at the time, rather than growing certain crops (ahem). There was a thriving 60s rock scene in the Northern California/Southern Oregon scene, with some pretty good groups (such as The Neighborhood Childr'n, from Ashland, and The Living Children, from Fort Bragg), but the far Northern circuit stayed pretty isolated from the Portland and San Francisco scenes.

In 1998, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart wanted to play a Benefit concert at the Eureka Municipal Auditorium, but the permit was denied. The Eureka police chief had been a patrolman working security at the 1968 concert. He explained
Look back in the archives of the Eureka paper and you'll see there was a big bust at the Grateful Dead dance. I was an officer at the time...We had people all over the outside and so many inside the fire marshal was getting the hiccups," the chief recalled. "We had people selling and using marijuana that night. I caught one guy selling LSD tabs. After that we wouldn't allow the Grateful Dead to come back to Eureka."
The ironies of the Grateful Dead being banned from Eureka after 1968 are too immense to list here, so I will leave you to contemplate them for yourself.

January 22-23, 1968; Eagles Auditorium, Seattle, WA--spurious
Some fine tapes have circulated for many years, ostensibly from Eagles Auditorium with the dates January 22 and 23. Without recapping research already done excellently, there is no sign of concerts at Eagles Auditorium in Seattle on these days, and every sign of shows on the weekend (January 26 and 27). The 22nd and 23rd were a Monday and a Tuesday, nights when it was very unlikely to have a concert.

However, the dates beg an important question: what were the Grateful Dead doing from Saturday January 20, when they played Eureka, until Friday January 26, when they played Seattle? Where did they go? [update: this is a fine hypothesis I have here, but it turns out to be completely without merit. Thanks to some Commenters, we know that the Dead flew to Eureka, and in fact there was commercial air service from SFO to McKinleyville, near Arcata. This means that the band flew to the Eureka show and returned, and then flew to Seattle, so they never spent any time at large in the Northwest between Jan 21 and Jan 25]: Some things to consider:
  • Driving the equipment back to San Francisco (272 miles) and then North again to Seattle (800 miles) makes little sense
  • There was no meaningful commercial air service out of Eureka at the time, and
  • The band was dead broke, so they hardly could have afforded to put up 10 or so people in hotels, and closer to 20 if you include the Quicksilver boys
The band must have gone to Oregon or Seattle, where someone put them up. But where? Ken Kesey's family farm in Pleasant Hill, OR seems like a likely choice, but Kesey's probation may have made him hesitant to turn the place into an impromptu party. However, whether the band hung out in Eugene, Portland or Seattle, they were there with all their equipment (and Quicksilver). They must have rehearsed, if not played some sort of party or something...why haven't we heard anything about this? Even if they just laid low for a week, shouldn't someone in Oregon or Seattle have a story about it? [there are no stories because the Dead were back home in San Francisco]

handbill for the GD/QMS show on Jan 26-27, 1968 in Seattle, WA
January 26-27, 1968: Eagles Auditorium, Seattle, WA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
The Quick and The Dead played Eagles Auditorium on the weekend. Eagles was Seattle's own version of the Fillmore, and all the touring bands played there. Built in 1924 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles as “Aerie #1.”  The order was popular in the early 20th century.  The building is now known as Kreielsheimer Place and mostly hosts Theater performances of the Seattle ACT.

I have always assumed that the tapes from January 22-23 have always properly belonged to January 26-27, unless you want to take the hypothesis that the Dead were camped out at Eagles and played for themselves on Monday and Tuesday. The Tour Of The Great Pacific Northwest was, to my knowledge, the first and last time that the Dead followed the conventional promotional practice of printing a blank posters and handbills and filling in the date and venue for each stop.

January 29, 1968: College Center Ballroom, Portland State College, Portland, OR Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/PH Phactor Jug Band
Portland was a major hippie outpost, and had a thriving concert scene, even if it mostly featured out of town bands working their way up and down the coast. The main venue was Portland's Crystal Ballroom, where the Dead would play a legendary weekend on February 2-3, but prior to that they played some weekday college shows. I concede that the confirmed Portland shows on a Monday (29) and a Tuesday (30) put the "mystery" tapes of Jan 22-23 in a different light. Perhaps the band played college dates in Seattle on January 22-23, and the tapes were mislabeled as Eagles? It's an interesting hypothesis, but no research supports that.

The College Center Ballroom, at 1825 SW Broadway, was built in 1957. It has been remodeled various times, but it is still in use, currently called the Smith Memorial Student Union (SMSU) Ballroom. The capacity must have been under 1,000. PH Phactor Jug Band were a hippie jug band.

Handbill for the January 30, 1968 U of O. Dead/QMS show
January 30, 1968: EMU Ballroom, University Of Oregon, Eugene, OR: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/PH Phactor Jug Band
The tour continued on at the University of Oregon the next night. The bands played the Erb Memorial Union Ballroom, at 1222 E. 13th St in Eugene. Depending on the configuration, the official capacity was either 765 or 965, although more may have been packed in there. The show was presented by SDS, but that means less than it may seem. Any campus event would have required a sponsor, and Students For A Democratic Society was probably the best-organized group on campus. I doubt there were any political implications to the event, beyond the usual hippie solidarity. The casual handbill suggests that this event was organized at the last minute.

The next Dead/Quicksilver show was Friday, February 2, at Portland's Crystal Ballroom. What did the Dead do? Where did 15-20 hippies and a truckload of equipment go for three days? This is not so casual a question as it might seem. Cops liked to bust hippies, and Portland cops were no exception, and the notorious Grateful Dead were a tempting target. Portland in the Winter isn't New Jersey, but it isn't Malibu either. Somebody had to be willing to put the bands up, and most hippies were poor and could not absorb such a crew. Once again, many of the signs point to Kesey's farm, but that is only a hypothesis on my part.

The Tour Of The Great Pacific Northwest is fondly thought of by Deadheads, since it formed the basis of side 2 of Anthem Of The Sun, and so many great tapes survive. Those tapes form the clearest picture of the power of the early Dead on a nightly basis, showing how they must have gone from town to town and truly acted as a signpost to new space, as Garcia aptly put it some years later. Yet numerous questions remain, mainly about their itinerary. The Dead had as many nights off as booked shows on this tour, and their activities remain a mystery. I find it odd that given the amount of time and the expirations of various statutes of limitations no one has surfaced with a tale of some weeklong parties with in Oregon or Seattle with the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver, in their prime and ready for adventure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

John Kahn Live Performance History 1970 (John Kahn IV)

Jerry Garcia's musical history outside of the Grateful Dead is remarkable for its breadth and longevity. Notwithstanding the Grateful Dead's extensive touring schedule throughout its 30-year history, Garcia played a remarkable number of shows with his own aggregations for 25 of those years. Garcia's principal right hand man for his own endeavors from 1970-1995 was bassist John Kahn, who besides playing exceptional electric and acoustic bass also took care of the musical business of the Jerry Garcia Band. Kahn hired and fired musicians, organized rehearsals and often helped choose material. Although Jerry approved every move, of course, without Kahn's oversight Garcia could not have participated in the Jerry Garcia Band. In many respects, the Jerry Garcia Band (under various names) was to some extent the Jerry Garcia and John Kahn Band; if Garcia had not met Kahn he would have had to be invented.

Most Deadheads are at least generally aware of Kahn's importance to Garcia's non-Dead music. However, Kahn is usually viewed through the filter of Jerry Garcia and his music. For this series of posts, I am looking at Jerry Garcia through the filter of John Kahn. In particular, I am looking at John Kahn's performance history without Garcia. Kahn's extensive studio career has been largely documented on the Deaddisc's site, so I don't need to recap it beyond some specific references. The posts so far have been:

  • John Kahn I: Performance History 1967-68: A review of John Kahn's migration to San Francisco, his transformation from an acoustic jazz bassist to an electric R&B bass player and some history of his early live work.
  • John Kahn 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.
This post will focus on John Kahn's live performance history for the year 1970.

John Kahn, Early 1970
1970 was a critical year in John Kahn's musical history, because that was the year he started playing with Jerry Garcia. Despite many mutual acquaintances, Garcia and Kahn apparently had not met until they played together with Howard Wales. Appropriately, they seem to have met on stage.

In early 1970, John Kahn was a regular member of the Mike Bloomfield Band, who played more or less every other weekend at Keystone Korner. He also recorded with Bloomfield, and worked regularly with producer Nick Gravenites. As the record industry had moved into San Francisco, Gravenites found himself in demand as a producer. Gravenites produced Bloomfield (he was also Bloomfield's lead singer) and he also produced other acts, such as Brewer And Shipley. However, for John Kahn's career, the most important act that Gravenites produced turned out to be a San Francisco band called Southern Comfort. Although Southern Comfort's 1970 debut album was Kahn's first production credit, shared with Gravenites, the importance of Southern Comfort was of an entirely different nature.

Southern Comfort
Up until 1970, Kahn's principal musical partner had been drummer Bob Jones. Jones and Kahn were also close friends. Kahn had played bass and Jones had played guitar in the T&A R&B Band in 1967. When that group broke up, Kahn persuaded Jones to play drums at jam sessions, because the untrained Jones had a great feel and didn't overplay. Jones had gone along with it as a courtesy to his friend, but in fact once other musicians heard Jones play drums, he was very much in demand, and his career was made. Jones has summed up his career as "Kahned into drumming." Jones and Kahn had put together a group in 1968 called Memory Pain, but after it faded away both of them became Mike Bloomfield's rhythm section in early 1969.

In mid-1969, Bob Jones and Memory Pain guitarist Fred Burton formed the band Southern Comfort. I do not know why John Kahn did not join the group, but I suspect it was because Kahn had no interest in being a member of a "regular" band. Although Kahn had moved from Mill Valley to the Forest Knolls/Lagunitas area by late 1969, Kahn and Jones still got together regularly to write, jam and hang out, so Kahn was part of the social circle of Southern Comfort, even if he wasn't in the band. Southern Comfort wanted to play rock in a sort of Stax/Volt style, but they also had a plan to be San Francisco's "House Rhythm Section." similar to the role of Booker T and The MGs at Stax in Memphis. Southern Comfort's lineup was:
  • Fred Burton-lead guitar
  • Ron Stallings-tenor sax, vocals (later in Reconstruction)
  • John Wilmeth-trumpet
  • Steve Funk-keyboards
  • Bob Huberman-bass (later replaced by Art Stavro, then Karl Severeid)
  • Bob Jones-drums, vocals
Southern Comfort started playing around the Bay Area in June, 1969. They played the usual Bay Area clubs, like Berkeley's New Orleans House and San Francisco's Keystone Korner, and also opened shows at The Family Dog, Frost Amphitheater, and elsewhere. If there was a conflict between Bloomfield and Southern Comfort dates, another drummer played with Bloomfield. Southern Comfort's horn section sometimes played with Bloomfield. Since Bloomfield rarely rehearsed, these casual arrangements were plausible.

National record companies had moved into San Francisco in a big way, and many acts were sent to San Francisco to record. Nick Gravenites, a fine singer and songwriter in his own right, had established himself as a producer who worked well with musicians, sharpening up their songs and getting the best performances out of them. John Kahn worked with Gravenites, not only adding his excellent bass playing, but writing and arranging horn and string parts, a role that Gravenites background in a Chicago steel mill had not prepared him for.

In the late 1969/early 1970 period, Gravenites was producing an album for the songwriting duo of Brewer And Shipley, released later in 1970 on Kama Sutra Records as Weeds. All of Southern Comfort and the Bloomfield Band play on the album, along with a few other San Francisco regulars like Nicky Hopkins and Richard Greene (confusingly, Fred Burton was a Nom Du Rock: earlier albums credit him by his real name, Fred Olson). Meanwhile, Columbia had signed Southern Comfort in late 1969, and Gravenites was contracted to produce them as well. Kahn and Gravenites ended up sharing production credits on Southern Comfort's 1970 debut album. I don't know the actual history, but I assume the somewhat overcommitted Gravenites let Kahn do a lot of work on the Southern Comfort album, so he shared the credit with him. Kahn also co-wrote some songs on the album, and played a little piano as well, so he was an important part of the Southern Comfort album.

While Kahn's first co-production credit was an important professional milestone for him, the most important factor for Kahn's career turned out to be Bob Jones's advance for the album. All the Southern Comfort band members received modest advances, but for hand-to-mouth hippie musicians, 5 figures was real money. Jones's parents persuaded him that rather than buy a cool car or a bunch of gear--typical musician stuff--he should really buy a house. Jones took his parents' advice and bought a modest two-story house in Fairfax. Since Jones was single at the time, he needed a tenant. Thus thanks to his Southern Comfort advance and his parents' advice, Bob Jones ended up renting the downstairs of his house to fellow drummer Bill Vitt.

Bill Vitt
Bill Vitt was from the state of Washington, and had been in various bands in the Seattle area. Good drummers always work, and Vitt was apparently a busy studio musician in Los Angeles during the 1967-69 period, but for whatever reasons Vitt chose to relocate to the Bay Area in late 1969. I don't know the exact timing, but I know that Vitt was Bob Jones's tenant in early 1970. Vitt and Jones have different styles, but they are both excellent drummers who can play well in a wide variety of settings. Although in fact the upstairs and downstairs were effectively different units, two of the most in-demand session drummers in the Bay Area lived at the same address.

When Jones had a conflict with a Bloomfield gig, usually due to Southern Comfort, Vitt played the show in his place. Vitt and Jones apparently more or less alternated sessions for Gravenites projects like Brewer And Shipley, with Kahn holding down the bass chair, so both the Kahn/Jones and Kahn/Vitt combos were steady as a rock. Vitt was a jazzier, trained drummer, and Jones played simply and with great feeling, but they were both fine players.

Like most musicians, however, Vitt liked to play for his own sake. He seems to have worked steadily in the studio, but in order to have some fun on the side, he started playing regularly at the Monday night jam sessions at The Matrix. Monday night was the traditional musician's night off, and The Matrix had been San Francisco's hippie hangout since the day it opened (August 13, 1965), so The Matrix was the obvious place for musicians to jam. A few people would show up and the players would split the take, generally enough for cigarettes and gas, but jamming was its own reward. Generally the Matrix "billed" someone to lead the jam, but different musicians showed up. Certainly Jerry Garcia had showed up regularly, if only intermittently over the years. In early 1970, Howard Wales took over the role as bandleader for the Monday night Matrix jams, probably on February 16, 1970.


(a typical Chronicle listing for a Monday night jam at The Matrix. This one is from March 16, 1970. Howard Wales had taken over the jam by then, and Garcia may have already started to drop in)

Monday Night Jams At The Matrix, February-April 1970

Initially the Monday night jam was just Howard Wales on organ and Bill Vitt on drums. This may sound sparse, but in fact the organ/drums combo was a nightclub tradition. A true genius like Wales can fill a lot of space with a Hammond organ, and Vitt was a very interesting player when given the freedom. At some point, Wales seems to have invited Jerry Garcia to join in. Garcia had played the Monday night jams various times over the years, and he had jammed with Wales before (we have a record of the August 28, 1969 jam at the Family Dog), so it was a good choice. March 2 and/or March 9, 1970 seem like likely possibilities for Garcia guest appearances, and March 16 and March 23 less so, based on the Dead's touring schedule. Garcia would not have been billed at the Matrix, as he simply would have shown up at Wales's invitation.

Keep in mind that in March 1970, Garcia was finishing Workingman's Dead, touring frantically with the Grateful Dead, trying to find a bass player for the New Riders and dealing with the fallout of firing Lenny Hart. Its revealing that in what had to be his only spare time, Garcia chose to spend a Monday night or two at the Matrix jamming his brains out. It's easy to fret over Garcia's various habits, but its a working schedule like Spring 1970 that reminds you that the man was All Music, All The Time.

Wales and Vitt invited a symphony bass player named Richard Favis to sit in with them on at least one of the Monday nights. According to Blair Jackson, however (p. 186) it did not work out. Vitt then had the idea of inviting John Kahn. Vitt had played with Kahn in the Bloomfield band, and had played with him in the studio. Also, although most musicians were off Monday night anyway, and the Bloomfield band was irregular, Vitt must have known that Kahn would have been steadily available. Vitt was right. Vitt, Wales, Kahn and Garcia made a sympathetic band, if a somewhat avant one, and Kahn and Garcia's path were inextricably linked.

Garcia's first advertised billing at The Matrix in this period was Monday, April 20, 1970. I have to assume that Garcia had played at least some of the previous Mondays in order to figure out that he would make a permanent go of it. Thus the first musical meeting of Kahn and Garcia would probably have been March 30, April 6 or April 13.

I should note here that in 1990s interviews discussing Howard Wales, both Garcia and Kahn completely garble the timeline of their meeting. Garcia says that he and Kahn had played with Wales "for a year" before they talked to each other, and Kahn says that they were playing with Wales "back in like, 1968." I don' fault them for forgetting some dates from twenty-something years previously, but I have done a lot of research on this, and the memories of both of them were simply off the mark in these cases.

Garcia, Kahn and Vitt played most Monday nights for the next several weeks. Some of the music from the May 18, 1970 show was released on the 1998 Jerry Garcia/Howard Wales album Side Trips, and it is strange music indeed. In a 1991 interview, Garcia told David Gans
About half the set I'd be whispering to John, I'd be saying, 'Hey, man, what key are we in?' Howard didn't have tunings or anything, he just played. Sometimes he would do these things that were so outside that you just couldn't - unless you knew where it was going, you had no idea where to start.
Although weird jamming was one of the Grateful Dead's calling cards, it was pretty far from the straight ahead blues of the Bloomfield Band, so it must have been an enjoyable stretch for Kahn as well.

Merl Saunders
The Mike Bloomfield Band had stopped their biweekly residence at the Keystone Korner by the Spring of 1970. Although Bloomfield very much enjoyed the Keystone Korner, he was never comfortable with settling into too much of a routine. The group still played occasional shows in the Summer, but the Bloomfield band members were left to their own devices. Jones had Southern Comfort, and Kahn was spending more time in the studio with Nick Gravenites's various projects. I know that Kahn had met Merl Saunders in the studio, and I know it had to be in the Spring or Summer of 1970, but I'm not precisely sure which project it was.

Saunders had been an organ player in the Bay Area for some time. His organ trio had been popular in the area around 1968, and they toured Japan and Asia that year as well. He had spent time on Broadway in New York, working with singer Jon Hendricks. I believe that in 1970 Saunders was musical director for a show on Broadway in San Francisco, a sort of "performance musical" called Evolution Of The Blues. It had been Hendricks's show, but I think it now featured someone else (possibly Oscar Brown, Jr) (update: wrong. This was Melvin Seals, a few years later. No wonder I couldn't confirm it). In any case, Saunders was an experienced musician, and had played his share of sessions around town over the years, so its not surprising he would have found his way into the studio.

(a scan of the credits for Danny Cox's self titled 1971 ABC-Dunhill album)

I think that Kahn and Saunders met playing demos for an album by Danny Cox. Cox was an African American folk singer from Kansas City, and he shared management with Brewer And Shipley. Kahn had actually played a little on Cox's 1970 debut album Birth Announcement, but Kahn, Vitt and Saunders all played on Cox's 1971 album. Given the timeline, I think that the three of them were doing demos for Cox's album in 1970, whether as album preparation or to show a record company, I'm not sure. Demo sessions were quick run throughs of songs, with few or no overdubs, just to give an artist, an agent or a record company an idea of what the material sounded like. While Kahn and Vitt were the "A-team," presumably Mark Naftalin or Nicky Hopkins were unavailable, so Merl must have gotten the call instead.

In the Summer of 1970, Nick Gravenites was producing the Brewer And Shipley album that would be released as Tarkio (a great album, by the way). Kahn was the regular bassist, while Jones and Vitt alternated drum duties. The album was recorded at Wally Heider's in San Francisco during the famous PERRO sessions, with the Airplane, the Dead and others regularly in residence. Indeed, when Brewer And Shipley needed a pedal steel guitar player, they went down the hall and asked Garcia, who obliged them on August 21, 1970 by playing on two tracks ("Oh Mommy" and "Fifty States Of Freedom"). The recording of the two songs would have been the first time Garcia and Kahn appeared on a track together, although they were not likely to have been in the studio at the same time (only Garcia's part on "Oh Mommy" was used).

Merl Saunders has said that he first met Garcia at Wally Heider's while playing on a Danny Cox album. Since Cox shared management with Brewer And Shipley, I think Gravenites was producing both artists, and sharing studio time in some way. I think Saunders met Kahn on the demo sessions for the Cox album, and through Kahn, Garcia met Saunders.

Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders At The Matrix
According to Jerry Garcia, Howard Wales was not comfortable with success, and when people started to show up at the Matrix to see the Monday night jam sessions, he started to become uncomfortable. Also, as we have discussed at length elsewhere, somewhere around June of 1970 Alan Douglas of Columbia Records came around looking to sign up Howard Wales in order to get access to Garcia. In any case, Howard Wales dropped out of the Matrix shows with Garcia by the end of the Summer, as the last booked performance was August 24, 1970.

Garcia and Kahn were enjoying themselves, however. Although the Dead were touring as furiously as ever, and Garcia was in the New Riders as well, not to mention hanging out all day at Wally Heider's, finishing American Beauty and a hundred other things, Garcia still wanted a weeknight bar band. Kahn suggested Merl Saunders, and since Garcia had apparently already met him, the shows must have started up pretty quickly. Some detailed research has suggested that the first Garcia/Saunders show, with Kahn and Vitt on board, was at The Matrix on September 7, 1970. By October, Garcia and Saunders have gone beyond Monday nights, and the Garcia/Kahn partnership is underway, although it must not have seemed so prominent at the time.

Jerry Garcia and John Kahn
By the end of 1970, John Kahn was a member of two part time groups, the Mike Bloomfield Band and Garcia/Saunders. Both of them only worked according to the schedule and interests of their star lead guitarists, both of whom had a distinct interest in playing imaginative cover versions in San Francisco bars. Neither group even had an official "name," and neither had any formal recording plans. At the same time, Kahn was a first call bassist in the San Francisco recording scene, even playing the occasional Los Angeles date, and he had his first production credit on the Southern Comfort album.

According to Kahn's friend Bob Jones, while Kahn and Garcia were like-minded in many ways--well read, inquisitive, sociable--one thing that he thinks the two found particularly intriguing about each other was their knowledge about music that the other was interested in. Garcia loved jazz and blues, but had never played it, except in a Grateful Dead context, whereas Kahn had knowledge and experience of both. Conversely, Kahn enjoyed and was interested in bluegrass, which he had heard through Mike Bloomfield (Bloomers tastes ran wide indeed), but he hadn't known anyone who had really played it. Thus a life changing partnership for both men was formed out of The Matrix and Wally Heider's, but at the time it appeared to just be part of the exciting mix of the time.

Annotated John Kahn 1970 Performance List
Ralph Gleason column, Chronicle, January 23, 1970
January 23-24, 1970: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA:    Mike Bloomfield-Nick Gravenites
The band was usually Mike Bloomfield (ld gtr), Nick Gravenites (gtr, vcls), Ira Kamin (organ), Mark Naftalin (piano), John Kahn (bs), Bob Jones (dr, vcls). Anyone, including Bloomfield, sometimes missed a show. If Jones was booked, then Bill Vitt took over on drums. If Kahn was unavailable, Doug Killmer (from Crowfoot) played the date. Other members weren't generally substituted for, and friends and guests often sat in.

January 30-31, 1970: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA:    Mike Bloomfield-Nick Gravenites/Big Joe Williams
I wonder if the group backed Joe Williams? It's possible.

February 6-7, 1970: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA:    Mike Bloomfield-Nick Gravenites

February 11, 1970: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA:    Paul Butterfield/Elvin Bishop/Mike Bloomfield-Nick Gravenites/Charlie Musselwhite   Magic Sam Benefit
Chicago blues guitarist Magic Sam had died unexpectedly, and this Wednesday night benefit was held for his family. Butterfield, Bishop and Bloomfield jammed at the end of the evening, reprising the classic lineup of the Butterfield Blues Band. I don't know if Kahn played for the jam.

February 21, 1970: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA:    Mike Bloomfield

February 28, 1970: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA:    Mike Bloomfield-Nick Gravenites

March 27-28, 1970: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA:    Mike Bloomfield-Nick Gravenites

March 29, 1970: Old Stable Grounds, Mill Valley, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Mike Bloomfield & Friends
This was a casual outdoor show in Marin.

March 30, April 6 or April 13, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Monday Night Jam with Howard Wales and Bill Vitt
Wales and Vitt had been leading the Monday night Matrix jams since mid-February. Retellings are murky, but it appears that Garcia dropped in, and then became a regular, joined by Richard Favis and then John Kahn. Whether this happened over two Mondays or several is uncertain. Garcia could have appeared in early March, and then come back in late March (the Dead were on tour mid-month), or may not have played until April. Kahn could have played the Matrix as early as March 30 or as late as April 27. My own guess--speculation only--was that Garcia dropped in on March 30, Favis was tried on April 6 and then Kahn on April 13. I am assuming that Garcia was actually billed on April 20 because he had decided the Wales sessions were worth pursuing as an ongoing enterprise.

April 4, 1970: Exhibition Hall, Fresno, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Friends 
There may have been other Southern California shows for Bloomfield around this time.

April 10, 1970: Gym, Mt Tam High School, San Rafael, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Friends
SF Chronicle April 20, 1970

April 20, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales
This was the first date that Garcia was actually billed on a Monday night at The Matrix, although he had already dropped in numerous times over the years.

April 27, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales
Kahn had to be part of the ensemble by this time.

May 18, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales
Some of this evening's performance was released on the fascinating 1998 Side Trips cd.

May 25, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales

June 1, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales

>June 4-7, 1970: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Southern Comfort
No one seems to have remembered to ask John Kahn when he first saw the Grateful Dead. However, at this Thursday-thru-Sunday stand at Fillmore West, not only was Kahn newly linked to Garcia, but Southern Comfort, the band he had co-produced, was opening the shows. I have to think Kahn was there at least one of the nights. 

June 8, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia, Howard Wales & Friends

June 15, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia, Howard Wales & Friends

June 19-20, 1970: Honolulu Civic Auditorium, Honolulu, HI: Mike Bloomfield & Friends/John Lee Hooker/Elvin Bishop/Boz Scaggs
I assume that John Kahn played bass for these Mike Bloomfield-headlined shows in Hawaii, but I can't yet confirm that. 

June 22, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia, Howard Wales & Friends
Update: We now know that Howard Wales did not appear to have played this Monday night show. This must have been when he started to get nervous about the number of people who were showing up. How do we know this? Well, Bill Champlin (of The Sons) recalls being invited to come play guitar by Bill Vitt, because Garcia spent so much time fooling with a new effects pedal that things got too loose, so Bil brought his Gibson and an amp.

Champlin was surprised to find out when he got to the Matrix that jazz great Vince Guaraldi was the keyboard player for the night. At the time, Guaraldi liked to play electric keyboards in a loud fusion style, and Garcia made a great foil. Other guests that night included soprano saxophonist Vince Dehnam and guitarist Curley Cooke.

June 29, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Monday Night Jam
The Garcia-centric research associated with Howard Wales and the Matrix (I'm the most guilty) has paid no attention so far to the fact that Wales seems to have had the date even without Jerry. I have to assume Kahn and Vitt played along with Wales, just as a trio or perhaps with guests.
Listing from the June 29, 1970 SF Chronicle
Update: Thanks to a hardworking Commenter, it appears that the listings should be
June 29, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Howard Wales, Terry Haggerty and Friends
June 30-July 2: The Matrix, San Francicsco, CA: Howard Wales and Harvey Mandel
It seems pretty likely that Kahn played with Haggerty and Wales, since he played with them six months later at Pepperland. At this time, the Sons Of Champlin were on hiatus. It's more speculative to assume that Kahn was also the bass player when Harvey Mandel was there, but it's still a reasonable proposition. Mandel would have been on a break from Canned Heat, or perhaps he had just left the band, but in any case it's unlikely he had his own band, so somebody would have sat in on bass--why not Kahn?

July 5, 1970: Brown's Hall, Mill Valley, CA: Mike Bloomfield & Friends
Once the Bloomfield band stopped appearing on weekends at the Keystone Korner, live shows were more infrequent. Brown's Hall was a small local auditorium.

July 6, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia & Howard Wales

July 13, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Monday Night Jam

July 20, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Howard Wales & Friends
Howard Wales was actually booked on this date, so I assume that Kahn was there. Intriguingly, on Monday July 27 (and July 28) The Matrix advertised Mickey Hart And The Hartbeats with Jerry Garcia. I wonder who that was (surely a good subject for a different blog post)?

August 3 and 10, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Monday Night Jam
At this point, I'm no longer certain that Wales had the Monday night gig, but no one else seems to have been named (Monday August 17 was a benefit show).

August 24, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia & Howard Wales
I have a feeling that this show was the one where lots of people showed up at the Matrix to see Jerry Garcia, and Wales apparently got uncomfortable. Keep in mind that while the Dead had been on tour, KSAN and other stations would have been playing the heck out of Workingman's Dead, and interest in Garcia had probably increased exponentially.

September 7, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia & Friends
Extensive research has suggested that this is the night Merl Saunders first played with Garcia, Kahn and Vitt. It would be a perfect touch if they hadn't rehearsed, which seems likely for a Monday night at the Matrix.

September 14, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia & Friends

>September 20, 1970: Fillmore East, New York, NY: Grateful Dead
While not a John Kahn date per se, this is still important to the story. Garcia's old friend David Grisman had visited San Francisco in the Summer (and played on American Beauty), and Grisman and his producing partner Richard Loren came back stage to see Jerry at the Fillmore East. Grisman ended up on stage during the Dead's acoustic set, but more interestingly, Loren and Garcia had hit it off. Both Grisman and Loren would move West, and by Fall '71, Loren would become the manager of Garcia's non-Dead endeavours. Grisman, Loren and Kahn were the key participants in defining the parameters of Garcia's own music for the next 25 years.

October 12-14, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders & Friends
Garcia, Saunders, Kahn and Vitt played a Monday through Wednesday booking at the Matrix, a clear sign that Garcia saw the group differently than the Howard Wales Monday night jam-fest.

October 19, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders & Friends
This Monday night show was advertised in the Berkeley Barb, and hitherto we have dismissed it on the grounds that the Dead were touring the East Coast. I wouldn't be so quick to rule it out. Garcia seemed to be flying home every week, so it's possible the date was played.

October 26, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia & Friends
This Monday night show appears to have been with Howard Wales, rather than Saunders. It was related to the recording that Garcia and Wales (and Kahn, Vitt and others) were doing for the Hooteroll album.  It's not impossible the other players from the album (Curley Cooke, Ken Balzall, Martin Fiero) played this date as well.

November 2, 1970: Harding Theater, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia & Friends
The Grateful Dead seem to have flown home from the East Coast for Janis Joplin's wake. Garcia was billed as a performer at this two-day benefit for the nearby Both/And jazz club (at 350 Divisader--the Harding was at 616 Divis). If Garcia played, which he very well may have, Kahn would have been on board. 

November 3, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders

December 21, 1970: Pepperland, San Rafael, CA: Grateful Dead with David Crosby/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Howard Wales/others
The last live sighting of John Kahn in 1970 is also one of the most mysterious. The Grateful Dead headlined a show at San Rafael's Pepperland (a great story in itself). A reliable eyewitness reports that among the opening acts were an acoustic duo featuring Kahn and a bluesy guitarist. I have to presume this was someone Kahn was working with in the studio, but it's a mystery as to who he might have been (Howard Wales apparently did not play).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

December 12, 1981 Fiesta Hall, San Mateo County Fairgrounds, San Mateo, CA: Grateful Dead/Joan Baez/High Noon "Dance For Nuclear Disarmarment"

On December 12, 1981, the Grateful Dead played a low profile benefit at the relatively small Fiesta Hall on the San Mateo County Fairgrounds. The show was advertised as "Dance For Nuclear Disarmament with Joan Baez and Friends." I forget how it was billed exactly, but Jerry Garcia and other members of the Grateful Dead were listed as the guests. The implication of the billing was that this show would be another version of the two benefits the Dead had played earlier in the year, where the "Acoustic Dead," with John Kahn on bass, had headlined over a variety of acoustic performers. Fiesta Hall was tiny, with a capacity of around 2,000, and the show sounded like fun. As it turned out, it was indeed fun, but it wasn't what we expected.

The configuration of the "Dance For Disarmament" was very odd. Since audience and soundboard tapes circulate, I am using this post to describe the event itself and to emphasize the particularly unique aspects of the show, and I will limit my comments on the music. Most shows from the early 70s onward fit into some very basic models. The two acoustic benefits in 1981 (Apr 25 at Berkeley Community Theater and May 22 at the Fox-Warfield) but the Dance For Disarmament fit neither the traditional molds nor the newer "Acoustic Benefit" model. There are some parallels to the Dance For Disarmament in 60s and early 70s shows, but none later. Nothing like the format for the December 12, 1981 show was ever attempted again, so in some back door kind of way it must have been a significant show. To my knowledge, no member of the Dead has ever made a meaningful comment about the event.

The significantly unique events on December 12, 1981 were:
  • Brent Mydland played grand piano in an electric Grateful Dead set
  • The Dead played a single electric and a single acoustic set
  • One of the opening acts was a band featuring an active member of The Grateful Dead
  • The Dead backed up another artist for an entire set
  • Jerry Garcia walked off stage during the show and left the rest of the band to finish the set

(a recent photo of Fiesta Hall at the San Mateo County Events Center)

Fiesta Hall, San Mateo County Fairgrounds, 1346 Saratoga Dr, San Mateo, CA
The San Mateo County Fairgrounds are located on Hillsdale Boulevard, between El Camino Real and Highway 101, about halfway between San Francisco and Palo Alto. As such, the Fairgrounds would have been a regular part of the landscape in the days when the fledgling Warlocks were working the joints on the El Camino in the Fall of '65. Indeed, the Fairgrounds were practically within walking distance of The In Room on the Old County Road in Belmont, the next town South. Since I assume that all the Dead members drove themselves to the show, only Brent Mydland would have needed directions. Everybody else in the band would have known where it was. Even though Mickey Hart had never played the In Room, Drum City, his father's drum shop, had been near the El Camino in San Carlos, the next town South of Belmont.

The Grateful Dead had played the San Mateo County Fairgrounds before, on May 9, 1969, but almost nothing is known of that show. They are listed (in Deadbase and elsewhere) as having played The Hall Of Flowers at the Fairgrounds. There is no such building by that name today, but there are several buildings, and any or all of them may have been re-named. Fiesta Hall is a modest sized pavilion with a capacity of about 2,000. It was mostly used for trade shows and other such events, but relatively rarely used for rock concerts. I did see Journey there in 1975, but at the time Journey were an unsigned band without a record contract, albeit an unsigned band with two former members of Santana and Aynsley Dunbar (plus two guys from Frumious Bandersnatch).

Jerry Garcia and Joan Baez
Joan Baez had gone to Palo Alto High School (preceding Bill Kreutzmann, Ron McKernan and me), where she had become locally famous for refusing to participate in "duck and cover" nuclear attack drills. After her family moved to Boston in 1958, she became Nationally famous as the clear voiced siren of young white folk singers. She mixed modern activism with traditional folk music, singing and playing in a simple, personal style that made her accessible to young and old alike. More serious practitioners of folk music thought of her as a trivial artist who had turned her looks and a few well known songs into a career.

One of those serious practitioners of folk music was Jerry Garcia. Blair Jackson speaks about the resentment Jerry Garcia had for Joan Baez's success (p.54), when he felt he was the superior musician. This was particularly frustrating for Garcia, as his girlfriend Sara Ruppenthal was friendly with Baez, who had returned to the Bay Area. In fact, Baez invited Sara to accompany her on a European tour, but this was obviated when Jerry got Sara pregnant, and marriage and motherhood replaced a tour of European venues for her.

By 1981, Joan Baez was more famous than ever for committed activism, first against the Vietnam War and by the late 1970s against nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Although Baez had had periodic successes, particularly with the 1975 album Diamonds And Rust, by the early 1980s she was much better known as a political figure than as a record or concert attraction. Many musicians had taken up the cause of nuclear disarmament by 1980, and Joan Baez was among them. In 1981, Joan Baez and Mickey Hart were dating, so it's not surprising that Joan managed to persuade the Dead to play a Nuclear Disarmament benefit.

In 1981, the Grateful Dead were a top-selling act at major East Coast venues, and sold a fair number of tickets on the West Coast as well, but without the "Grateful Dead" name they were not a huge draw. Granted, just the name "Jerry Garcia" sold out Fiesta Hall with almost no advertising, but while there were a few people outside looking for tickets, the scene was not mobbed or out of control. Since Jerry Garcia played the Keystone clubs constantly, the area's desire to see him play was fairly sated. It must have given Garcia a certain amount of satisfaction, however, for Joan Baez to need him to sell out her benefit. Back in the early 1960s, it would have been the other way around, and I think the competitive side of Garcia is often overlooked when compared to his many other interests. In fact, Garcia's actual feelings about the concert was of considerable interest to me after the show ended.


(my notes from the December 12, 1981 Grateful Dead show, written up that evening. At the time--and still--I was more interested in who performed and what instruments they had played, rather than setlists)

High Noon with Mickey Hart
Fiesta Hall was a rectangular building with the stage in the center of one of the long sides, rather than at the far end. Thus the crowd was spread widely, but everyone wasn't too far from one side of the stage or the other. The show was general admission, and sold out, but it wasn't particularly crowded.

We entered the concert expecting a performance by Joan Baez and then an acoustic set by the Grateful Dead, along the lines of what they had done at Berkeley and the Fox-Warfield earlier in the year. I no longer recall if Mickey Hart or High Noon was advertised, but perhaps they were. In any case, when High Noon opened the show it was still surprising. High Noon had debuted at the May 22 Warfield benefit, seemingly put together to back Country Joe McDonald. The band had played Bay Area nightclubs throughout the Summer, mostly featuring the songs of Jim McPherson. Joan Baez had guested regularly with the group, singing a song or two at many club dates.

High Noon had a one-time lineup, suggesting that the group was re-activated for just this show. The lineup was

  • Mike Hinton-lead guitar
  • Jim McPherson-guitar, vocals
  • Merl Saunders-organ, electric piano, synthesizer, vocals
  • Chuck Rainey-bass
  • Mickey Hart-drums
Regular High Noon members Norton Buffalo (harmonica), Bobby Vega (bass) and Vicki Randle (congas) were missing from the lineup. Guest bassist Chuck Rainey was a session legend. I recognized him from one of my favorite jazz guitar albums, Larry Coryell's Fairyland (never released on cd, sad to say). High Noon played a brief, enjoyable set, featuring songs I recognized from having seen them before, including Merl's version of Nina Simone's "Do I Move You." Chuck Rainey was great, although mainly playing in a funky, laid back style, befitting a legend.

The New Riders Of The Purple Sage had opened numerous Grateful Dead shows when they featured Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart during the 1969-71 period, but despite the profusion of Grateful Dead spinoff bands since then I can only think of one other time where any of them opened for the Grateful Dead. At the "Bob Fried Memorial Boogie" at Winterland on June 17, 1975, both Kingfish and Keith and Donna opened for the Grateful Dead (billed as Jerry Garcia and Friends), but other than that time this High Noon appearance was the only time I can recall where a Dead satellite band was the group's opening act. 

High Noon with Joan Baez
After several numbers, and probably about 30-45 minutes, High Noon invited Joan Baez and Bill Kreutzmann on stage. Kreutzmann played some percussion, as there were not two drum kits set up, and Joan played acoustic guitar and sang. She was popularly received by the crowd. I was not a Joan Baez fan, so I retired to a sort of ante-room where I could get a soft drink and relax. We could still hear the music in a muffled sort of way. Joan performed the song "Diamonds And Rust" and a few others.

After Joan Baez had played a few numbers with High Noon, the band left the stage for her solo performance. This was still more or less what I had expected.  I could still hear her from the room we were in, not well, but well enough to know if some surprise special guests were announced or something. Joan Baez is like cauliflower--appealing to some people and not to others. She plays basic songs in a very simple way that emphasizes her voice, which many people find lovely. She has a nice voice, in fact, but I feel she interprets a lot of songs the same way, so somehow a Bob Dylan song about nuclear war and a song about a farm dog end up sounding the same. Baez is not much of a guitar player, and her performances have a pretty static beat, with no reference to the swinging rhythms of the blues or even old-time folk music. Other people like her, however, and the crowd seemed to enjoy her solo performance.

Joan Baez and The Grateful Dead
After Baez finished her solo set, we worked our way back into the crowd in anticipation of the Dead's set. As expected, the Dead's acoustic configuration was being put in it's place, with a grand piano for Brent. There was an extra microphone up front, but I assumed that was in anticipation of a Joan Baez guest appearance--I was hoping for some Dylan songs. So it was quite a surprise when Joan and the Grateful Dead came out together. As a footnote, it was interesting to see Phil Lesh on bass, since John Kahn had played standup bass at the previous two acoustic Dead benefits that year. To my knowledge, the full Grateful Dead had not backed up their opening act since Bo Diddley on March 25, 1972, and this too was extremely rare.

Joan and the Dead launched into "Me And Bobby McGee," with Weir and Baez singing a duet. I recognized that it was a "first" in the sense that there hadn't been (to my knowledge) an acoustic version of the song, but it was a terrible version. Joan Baez was simply not enough of a guitar player to stay with the Dead, and she tethered their rhythmic interplay into a static clunk. Garcia took a tentative, miserable little solo, but I cheerily wrote it off to the usual startup hiccups. We had at least gotten a sort of first-time event, which meant there had been at least some kind of rehearsal. Anything could still happen, and that is what made Grateful Dead concerts exciting. My mind was already starting to sort through possible Bob Dylan songs.

It turned out that Joan Baez had been working on an original album, mostly featuring songs she had written, with the Grateful Dead as her backing band. The bulk of the acoustic set was six original Joan Baez songs. Baez, however, had made her fame as an interpreter of other people's songs, and had written relatively few herself. While I have always agreed with her political views--we Palo Altans stick together that way--didactic politics do not often make for good songs. Now and again someone like Joe Strummer can come along and write a successful "political" song ("turning rebellion into money"), but it is generally a failing enterprise. Suffice to say, Baez's songs were tendentious and clunky, lacking either tuneful hooks or insightful lyrics. You can look up the list yourself (on the archive), but there's a reason the album was shelved, even though the Grateful Dead played on it.

Worse than the dopey lyrics, however, were the simplicity of the songs and Baez's conventional strumming. The Grateful Dead knew how to accompany folk music, but to work their magic they need freedom to roam on the instrumental sections, and neither Baez's songs nor her playing allowed that. Bob Weir was accompanying her on vocals on many songs, and seemed to be enjoying himself, but Garcia and Brent seemed extremely frustrated by the music. Garcia's solos were lifeless and seemed to lead nowhere, and Brent's few stabs at participation seemed to add nothing. With three guitars, a bass and two drummers playing simple music, a grand piano seemed superflous and Brent seemed to know it.

After Baez played three of her own songs, she sang the old chestnut "Barbara Allen," but her painfully simple rhythm left no room for the Dead to accent it. Then Garcia and Weir joined her on the Everly Brothers classic "Bye Bye Love," but Garcia couldn't find a way to get in a good solo. This was followed by two more Baez songs that went nowhere. Garcia and Weir joined in for a version of Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy," yet another first, but it was another dry hole. Baez just doesn't have a feel for anything with a rhythm resembling blues or rock, and with her prominent vocal style, Garcia was left with no place to solo. It could be difficult to ascertain Garcia's mood based on his facial expression, but he seemed very frustrated and wasn't smiling, and this mood was reflected in the unhappy look on the face of the usually animated Brent Mydland.

Baez and the band started up yet another new song, entitled "Lady Di And I," and Garcia abruptly unstrapped his acoustic guitar and walked off on stage left, handing his guitar to a stone faced Steve Parrish as he disappeared behind the amps. No one on stage batted an eyelash or acknowledged Garcia's departure. I can't remember who soloed on "Lady Di And I." Weir and Baez duetted on Paul Simon's "The Boxer," and the group left the stage. At some point it had been made clear that the Grateful Dead were coming back to play an electric set, but Garcia's departure was mystifying. It didn't look planned. Was he ailing, or just frustrated at the unimpressive performance that he had just participated in?

I had seen Jerry quick to walk off stage as a drum solo began, but those often seemed to have as much to do with non-musical needs as anything else. Once I had seen a clearly ailing Garcia walk offstage after "Playing In The Band," only to have the Dead play most of "Passenger" without him (Stockton January 18, 1978), but Garcia and the boys were playing great that night, and Jerry came back strong after his little break.  We'd have to wait and see for the electric set to try and determine the reasons for Garcia's departure from the stage during the Joan Baez set.

The Grateful Dead
Fiesta Hall was a civic building, and while the vibe was relaxed, it was clear that the show was not going to go on forever. Since High Noon, Joan Baez and the acoustic Dead had all played sets, it seemed likely that the Dead would only do one electric set. Of course, single electric sets, while not unheard of, were also a departure from Grateful Dead orthodoxy, so once again there was an air of interesting uncertainty. For me, at least, this uncertainty was tempered with the possibility that Garcia was ailing, since I had never seen him walk off a stage so abruptly.

However, the Dead's crew quickly reconfigured the band for the electric set and the boys came out ready to rock. Matt Kelly was onstage to start the show, and Garcia rocked hard as they went into "New Minglewood Blues." The Dead essentially just played a modified first set for the electric portion of the show. There was no real jamming, and the set ended with a somewhat unique "Cold Rain And Snow">"Around And Around">"One More Saturday Night." Matt Kelly, himself a South Bay native (he grew up with Bob Weir in nearby Atherton), played harmonica on the first two numbers and the last two (he may not have been audible on "Saturday Night").

The grand piano remained on the stage from the acoustic set, so Brent played it on a few numbers. Normally the Dead did not have a grand piano on stage with Brent, so I think this was the only time he ever played a grand during an electric set. While not essential on its own terms, the main pleasure for me of seeing the Dead was watching the variations, so this was yet another detail that set the show apart. After a healthy 9-song, 50 minute electric set, the Grateful Dead left the stage, and the crowd started to cheer for the obligatory encore.

Encore: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
Joan Baez and Bob Weir led the band back onto the stage for the encore. I believe there were the expected thank yous and exhortations from Baez, although I no longer recall specifically. I do specifically recall, however, that when they started up Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," neither Garcia nor Brent Mydland was on the stage. Baez sang the song, with some help from Weir on the choruses, but only Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann and Hart joined her on stage. I read this as confirmation that I wasn't imagining Garcia and Mydland's frustration with the music. Both of them seemed healthy and lively for the Dead's electric set, and didn't even come on stage for the encore.

I was extremely pleased that I had attended the show, but I didn't want to hear Joan Baez with the Grateful Dead again, and based on Jerry's and Brent's actions, it didn't seem like I would ever have to worry about it. How wrong I was.

Joan Baez and The Grateful Dead, Oakland Auditorium Arena, December 30, 1981
A few weeks later, the Dead began their 5-night stand at the Oakland Auditorium, leading up to New Year's Eve. The BGP deal at the time was that various surprise guests would typically join the Dead on New Year's Eve. Although we did not know it at the time, the surprise guest was going to be Joan Baez, and she made an unexpected guest appearance on Wednesday, December 30. The Dead had played a pretty good first set that night, but during the break the stage setup was reconfigured, a definite sign that something was up.

Joan Baez played a brief solo set, and there was a roar of recognition from the crowd. I did not join in, nor did I when the Dead joined her to start the second set,  This time, Brent was nowhere to be seen, and Garcia was playing electric, while Weir had switched to acoustic. Once again, this was a performance configuration unheard for a long time in the Grateful Dead universe (Weir on acoustic, no keyboards, last seen in 1970). Unfortunately, the band launched into a lifeless "Me And Bobby McGee." Garcia stared off into the middle distance, and took a brief, plodding solo that went nowhere. My friend (who shares my first name) flatly asserted "that was Garcia's worst guitar solo ever," and he may have been correct.

The Dec 30 set was mercifully brief, just six songs. "The Boxer" was bracketed by two new Joan Baez songs, and then they played the traditional folk classic "Merry Month Of May." This is a wonderful song, but she did it in her personal, Joan Baez style, leaving Jerry with no room to explore, and he just went through the motions. The set finished with another new Baez song (six songs total). It seemed all too clear that Baez would be a special guest on New Year's Eve.

Indeed she was. On New Year's Eve, after a brief, enjoyable set by The New Riders Of The Purple Sage, in itself historic because it turned out to be the last time they would open for the Dead, the crew set up the Dead's equipment in the Joan Baez configuration. My friend and I weren't prepared to suffer through this again, so we retired up to the bar. The third and final Joan Baez set was the only time I skipped out on a Dead or Garcia set by going to the bar. The music was audible up there--there may have even been video--but we talked about The Who or something while we waited it out (for the record, the set was six songs: "Me And Bobby McGee", "Bye Bye Love", three new songs and the traditional "On The Banks Of The Ohio").

In retrospect, a deal was probably struck where the Grateful Dead would play the Dance For Nuclear Disarmament show in return for a guest appearance by Joan Baez on New Year's Eve. Since the Dead had been recording with her, relations were probably initially good. Once the San Mateo show had taken place, the band was probably committed, and anyway, since Joan and Mickey were dating, the non-confrontational Dead were just going to suffer through it. Sometime in 1982, Joan and Mickey broke up, the album was shelved and everyone more or less forgot about the collaboration. The tapes for Dec 30 and 31 don't appear on the Archive, and it's probably just as well, although if you listen to the final "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" on December 31, Joan sings the song and Garcia and Brent were once again not on stage, presumably both in Limos heading onto Interstate 980 towards the Richmond Bridge. It's hard not to draw a conclusion from that.


A Worthwhile Result
For me, the experience of seeing the Grateful Dead was expressed in a series of remarkable moments. Those moments, sometimes rare and sometimes voluminous, were the product of expectations and assumptions, so often an event that may have been mundane in retrospect were still quite powerful at the time. Retrospective Deadhead scholarship, like this blog, has its place, but that is quite different than the sudden arrival of the unexpected moment that supercharges an event. Although  I felt that the Joan Baez/Grateful Dead collaboration was a true musical low point for the band, it still resulted in one of my best Grateful Dead concert moments.

After the opening set on December 30, I was relieved that the Joan Baez episode was over for the night. Weir quickly handed off his acoustic guitar and strapped on his Ibanez, but Brent was nowhere in sight. He had not been onstage for the Joan Baez set, and perhaps there was no pre-arranged signal for him to know when to return. Nonetheless, Weir counted off "Feel Like A Stranger," and the Dead launched into the second set proper.

Perhaps the band thought Brent was onstage, but in any case they didn't pause. Of course, I had never heard "Feel Like A Stranger" without keyboards. Amazingly, Phil Lesh planted his feet and played a thunderous Jack Casady style bass riff, filling the empty hole created by Brent's absence. The song took on a different, lively sound as a five piece, with Phil effectively acting as a lead instrument. It wasn't that I wanted Brent to leave the band, but suddenly after a very poor, unimaginative set I was hearing the Dead at their most inventive best. The sudden inversion from low to high had an electrifying effect on me, and that justified the whole evening.

As the Dead got near the end of "Stranger" and Brent still hadn't appeared, it crossed my mind that the call-and-response vocal part at the end would have to be dispensed with. When the band got to the outro, and Weir sang "Gonna be a long hot, silky, silky night," Jerry himself stepped up to the mike and sang Brent's part in answer. The crowd erupted, so I wasn't the only person who was thinking this.  Happily, although it wasn't a particularly great night, my clearest memory wasn't the flat set with Joan Baez (and Jerry's "worst guitar solo ever"), but the huge burst of energy from Phil's hot bass run and Garcia's surprise vocal intervention. Brent returned for the next song, and the rest of the set was enjoyable but unspectacular, but I'd already had the moment that made the night worthwhile.