Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Keith And Donna"-Keith And Donna Godchaux (Round Records RX-104 March 1975)

Keith And Donna, Round Records RX-104, 1975
Keith and Donna Godchaux's album Keith And Donna was released in March, 1975 to little acclaim, even in Deadhead circles. When the album is mentioned at all, it is generally alluded to as a sign of casual self-indulgence by the Grateful Dead, releasing an uncommercial, unfocused album that had no chance of succeeding, and a mark that Jerry Garcia's Round Records label was just a vehicle for stoned vanity project. I do not believe Keith And Donna has ever been re-released on cd, but in any case few Deadheads have ever heard the album. In fact, the songs are unfocused and the production is rather muddy, so despite the presence of Jerry Garcia on every track, its not much of an album. People interested in Keith And Donna's own music are better served by finding live performances of the Keith And Donna band, who performed for about 8 months in 1975.

However, I am going to make the rather radical claim that the Keith And Donna album was a serious effort to make a successful commercial album, and even more radically, that doing so was a pretty good idea. In any record making enterprise, there is a tremendous amount of luck involved, regardless of best efforts, and in the end the Keith And Donna album was neither a musical nor financial success. Nonetheless, I think it was well worth the financial risk that Garcia took to get the album made, and Warner Brothers, or anyone else who would have been willing to back the Grateful Dead had they not gone out on their own in 1973, would have made the same decision and actively encouraged Keith And Donna to make the record just as readily as Garcia. Just because a project doesn't succeed doesn't mean that the idea was ill-conceived, and I am going to make the case that within the context of the 70s music business, Keith And Donna was a calculated risk that Garcia and any other financial backers took seriously as a sound investment.

the back cover photo to the Keith And Donna lp
Recording Keith And Donna
The Deaddisc site, as always, has all the details about the recording of the Keith And Donna album. In an interview with Blair Jackson, Donna said
Almost all of it was recorded at our house in Stinson Beach. Bob Matthews brought in a Neve board and we had our nine-foot Steinway there and we had our whole living room set up as a recording studio for a while. Jerry was just a couple of minutes away, so it was real easy to get together and work on it.
Since most of the recording was done at the Godchauxs' home, however long the album took, the costs would have been considerably lower than if a regular studio had been used.  Thus the album project was relatively low-cost from the beginning. The album was mixed at a professional studio (His Master's Wheels in San Francisco, formerly Pacific High Recorders, at 60 Brady Street) by experienced hands (including Merl Saunders), but the basic work was done at the Godchaux's house, so the number of takes and the amount of tinkering wouldn't have mattered that much.

Of course, I don't think the album sounds that good. This may explain why Bob Weir custom built a studio in his basement rather than just using his living room. This is not a minor point. Mickey Hart was the first member of the Dead to have a studio, in his barn in Novato, and Keith and Donna attempted to set up a temporary studio in their living room. It didn't sound that great, so Weir has to have learned from that when he built his studio in his basement. Jerry Garcia and John Kahn, by extension, must have learned from Weir's experience when they bought a Neve Console to set up a recording studio to make at Front Street (Le Club Front) to make Cats Under The Stars. Keith And Donna were working band members with their own studio--Hart was on hiatus in the early 70s--and however unsatisfying the recording sound may have been, it was part of an ongoing effort to make the Grateful Dead self-sufficient.

The Early 70s Music Business
There was a lot of money being made in the record business in the early 70s--a lot. Even a modestly successful record could pay back its costs pretty quickly. Who got screwed in the early 70s was the artist. However, if the artist owned the record company, the equation was very different indeed. I have no idea about the business arrangement between Jerry Garcia and any other partners in Round Records (presumably Ron Rakow) and their artists, but it had to have been better than a conventional deal with Warners or Columbia or the like.

For various reasons I won't go into here (mostly involving distribution and cash flow), Round Records did not work out, but it was still a good idea. Labels like Sub Pop and others would finally make independent, DIY records a profitable enterprise in the 1990s, so the Dead's idea was good in principle. A Keith And Donna album recorded cheaply would not have had to sell a lot of albums to break even.

The general thinking of record companies in the early 70s was to sign a lot of artists and record a lot of albums, figuring that one of them would hit. It may seem easy in retrospect to hear a record like "Stuck In The Middle With You" by Stealer's Wheel and say, wow, that was obviously a hit, but whoever signed that band probably just heard a crummy demo on acoustic guitars or something. Whenever a band had a modest following and broke up, it was common for companies to sign the singers or songwriters or lead guitarists in the band, just in case any of them had some good ideas that they hadn't used yet (sometimes the company could force this, using something called a "Key Man" clause). Jim Messina had left Poco, for example, and became a much bigger artist with Loggins And Messina, and Billy Joel had been in the Hassles (on UA) and then Attilla (an organ-drum duo who released a "heavy rock" album in 1969) before hitting it big as a solo act, so you never knew.

Singer Songwriters
Popular music in the 1970s was skewed towards more introspective, personal music with a more melodic, acoustic feel. This had been inspired by Crosby, Stills And Nash's debut album, but by the early 1970s the best selling album was Carole King's Tapestry. James Taylor was big, so was Cat Stevens, so were Loggins And Messina, Linda Ronstadt was catching on and so was Jackson Browne. From that perspective, a married singer and piano player writing personal songs, in a California rock style with just a bit of Southern soul made perfect sense. Leon Russell was a huge act at the time, with a lot of airplay on both AM and FM radio, and Keith And Donna's music seemed headed in that direction.

Since record companies released thousands of albums every year, the hardest thing for a record company was getting some attention for any of them. FM djs still had a lot of say over what records they played on their shows, but with hundreds of records arriving at a radio station each week, it was hard to cut through the clutter. However, Keith and Donna Godchaux were in a world famous band,  Donna made for a photogenic album cover (this means more than you might think when sorting through a stack of new LPs) and Jerry Garcia would be on the record, so Keith And Donna had a better chance of getting some notice than an album by two unknowns with no pedigree. If Warner Brothers or Columbia had signed the Grateful Dead in 1972, they would have been happy to give Keith And Donna a contract as part of the deal. In fact, compared to a Mickey Hart soundtrack to a martial arts film (which Warners had paid for previously), they would have been pretty optimistic about it.

Given the timing of the release, the Keith And Donna album was probably conceived in the Summer of 1974. At the time, I have to suspect that the Godchauxs had some unfinished songs, and the suggestion was made that they could make an album by adding a couple of cover versions. It's easy to listen to the finished album now and say "who thought any of those songs would hit it big?" However, most successful songs--and therefore records--begin in a pretty raw form. True record men could listen to a poorly recorded demo and think "with the right production, that could be a hit," and you wouldn't hear it yourself. So while Keith and Donna's demos may not have sounded great, they wouldn't necessarily have sounded worse than, say, what Bob Weir and John Barlow had started with for Ace.

(Denny Siewell drumming with Paul McCartney and Wings at a soundcheck in Tivoli Gardens, Copehnagen, early 70s--from Denny Siewell.com)

Denny Siewell and Chrissy Stewart
When the Grateful Dead made the decision to stop touring after the Fall of 1974, I think they hoped that their solo recordings would provide enough of an income that they could all continue to make music around the Bay Area without having to tour constantly. That is why I think there were solo albums planned for all of the band members, including Hunter, so that everyone would have a source of income. It may not have worked out that way, but I don't think it was a vanity project. My principal evidence for the seriousness of the Keith And Donna enterprise is on the back of the album, where it says "Denny Siewell-drums, Chrissy Stewart-bass." Siewell and Stewart play drums and bass on six of the eight tracks (John Kahn/Bernard Purdie and Bill Wolf/Jim Brererton are the other two bass/drum combos). Who were Siewell and Stewart?

Denny Siewell was an established New York session drummer, so well regarded that Paul McCartney invited him to join the original version of his band Wings. Siewell played on several McCartney and Wings albums, and was part of the first tours that McCartney made after leaving the Beatles. The best known of McCartney's songs that Siewell recorded with Paul was "Live And Let Die." Siewell left Wings in August 1973 (before Band On The Run--Paul played the drums himself for that album), and returned to lucrative studio work in New York and Los Angeles (you can read more extensively about Siewell's career on his own website).

The cover to Spooky Tooth's 1973 Island album Witness
Eric Christopher "Chrissy" Stewart had been in the Irish band The People, who had changed their name to Eire Apparent when they toured America supporting the Jimi Hendrix Experience. They shared management with Hendrix and Eric Burdon (the story is too byzantine to go into here) and as a result EIre Apparent played numerous shows across North America in 1968-69, and Hendrix produced their first album. After that band broke up, Stewart ended up in the reformed version of the English group Spooky Tooth. I am the only person who liked the reformed Spooky Tooth better than the original, but in any case Stewart was a member of the Tooth for the albums You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw and Witness. To my ears, Stewart was a fine example of the sort of English bass playing where a funky Duck Dunn/James Jamerson style of soulful playing was converted to a rock context. Stewart played low and simple, but he was a powerful bassist. Since he had left Spooky Tooth by 1974, I assume he had at least temporarily relocated to Los Angeles to work in the studios.

How did Denny Siewell and Chrissy Stewart come to play on most of the Keith And Donna album? Neither of them had a pre-existing friendship with anyone in the Dead, to my knowledge, and Siewell in particular would not have come cheaply. It's one thing to suggest that professional studio musicians may have done something as a favor to a friend, just for fun, but that would at most explain a single track at a convenient location, like Stephen Stills sitting in on BeeGees albums recorded in Miami (really, he did). But Siewell and Stewart didn't know the Dead and weren't based in San Francisco. If they came to the Bay Area to play, much less to the Godchauxs' living room, it was a paid trip and they didn't play for free. Since we have to assume Round Records paid for their services, its a clear sign that Round took the project seriously and backed it up by hiring a top-of-the-line rhythm section.

My own theory is that Siewell and Stewart never came to Keith and Donna's house in Stinson Beach. I think the tapes were completed with a different rhythm section, and the sound was unsatisfactory so the bass and drums were re-recorded. I think Siewell and Stewart were hired to do the overdubs, and they did it in a studio in Los Angeles. Someone like John Kahn or Merl Saunders probably oversaw the sessions. It would be a lot cheaper to hire Siewell and Stewart for a day or two to overdub parts than to have flown them to Stinson Beach, put them up in a hotel and have them hang out for weeks on end while arrangements were worked out and so on. In any case, if I am correct and Siewell and Stewart were just overdubbing, it's still a sign of seriousness on the part of Round Records: if Keith And Donna was just a cheap vanity project, some muddy bass and drums wouldn't have been a big deal. It they were hoping for FM airplay and some record sales, however, a punchy bottom was critical.

If Siewell and Stewart dubbed over pre-recorded parts--a pretty common practice, by the way--it does beg the question of who played bass and drums on the original recordings. Its possible that the problem with the original recording was not the performances per se but the sound, so it may have been some established friends like John Kahn and Bill Kreutzmann on many of the tracks. I suspect that Kahn's bass part on "River Deep, Mountain High" was overdubbed as well, because drummer Bernard Purdie was another super-heavy player who would not have been likely to be hanging out at Stinson Beach. Bill Wolf, an engineer who also had played bass for the Rowan Brothers, seems like a more likely candidate to have actually been on the original sessions in the living room (drummer Jim Brererton is unknown to me).

Regardless of whether Denny Siewell and Chrissy Stewart went to Stinson Beach or overdubbed parts in a Southern California recording studio, their very presence on the Keith And Donna album was implicit proof that Round Records took the project seriously indeed. The album did not succeed, and the inherent cash flow problems of Round Records very well would have doomed it even if it had started to sell. Nonetheless, when viewed in the context of the 70s record industry, Keith And Donna was a sincere effort by Jerry Garcia and Round Records to find a source of income for band members that did not lock them into large scale touring, however frustratingly the project itself turned out.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

November 23, 1969, Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA: Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish/Pacific Gas & Electric (canceled?)

(A handbill advertising two shows at The Boston Music Hall on Sunday, November 23, 1969, featuring The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and The Fish and Pacific Gas & Electric. The show was probably canceled)

Periodically the Universe brings forth strange artifacts for our contemplation. A recent auction for a handbill for this hitherto unknown handbill for two Grateful Dead concerts at the Boston Music Hall on November 23, 1969 raises a host of questions. The most important question is whether the shows took place at all. My assessment is that they did not, which is why the handbill is so rare--it's an advertisement for a show which was ultimately canceled. However, while I would love to be proved wrong and discover that the shows did actually occur, the fact that the shows were ever planned at all sheds some interesting light on the Dead's late November 1969 plans.

The Handbill
The handbill advertises two shows at The Boston Music Hall on Sunday, November 23, 1969, featuring The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and The Fish and Pacific Gas & Electric. The ad says "The groups that rocked The Coast will now rock Boston." Both the Dead and Country Joe and The Fish had played Boston numerous times and would have been very popular. Both also had current albums, and the just-released Live/Dead was probably getting heavy play on WBCN-fm, Boston's leading rock station. Pacific Gas & Electric was a Los Angeles band, with a new album on Columbia.

The handbill advertises two shows, at 6:15 pm and 9:30 pm. With three bands, even a short set by the opening act would insure that both the Dead and CJF would play about 45 minute sets. Outside of hippie enclaves like the Fillmores, shorter performances were common, even for San Francisco bands.

The Boston Music Hall
The Boston Music Hall was at 270 Tremont Street. It was built in 1925 as the Metropolitan Theater, but in 1962 it became the home of the Boston Ballet and its name was changed to the Boston Music Hall. It seated more than 3,600 people, so it was a substantial auditorium. The Music Hall primarily featured opera and symphony as well as ballet, but shows by popular artists, including rock bands, were not unknown. It is not surprising, however, that the show was booked for a Sunday night. Weekend dates were probably typically reserved for regular performances by the Boston Ballet or other regular performers.

The venue is now known as the Citi Performing Arts Center.

The Planned Concert
The Boston Music Hall was a reserved seat show, and a close look at the handbill shows that seat prices ranged from four to six dollars. Six dollars was a lot for a rock show in the 60s, even with the guarantee of good seats. Two shows of 3600 plus at high prices was a substantial booking indeed. While rock shows at the Boston Music Hall in the 60s were not typical, they were not unheard of. Just a few weeks after this scheduled show, Janis Joplin and The Butterfield Blues Band played the Boston Music Hall. Janis and Butter played on Thursday, December 11, another sign that weekends were typically reserved. I would note that Janis was a huge rock star in 1969, and Butterfield wasn't small, so it gives some idea of the scale of the intended rock concert. Two shows on a Sunday night in Boston was intended as a major booking, well worth flying out for.

In late 1969, Country Joe and The Fish were as big or bigger than the Grateful Dead. Their first two Vanguard albums (Electric Music For The Mind And Body and I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die) had been huge hits on the underground and in the early days of FM radio. Country Joe and The Fish were front and center at every anti-war protest and political rally, and that endeared them to many people who found it attractive that a band they really liked shared their political views. The group's fourth and current album, Here We Are Again, had not had the impact of the first two, but it was still a good record. The band had undergone numerous changes (see here for a better picture of the dizzyingly complex story of Country Joe And The Fish), but Joe McDonald and Barry Melton still lead the group and were as engaging performers as ever.

The Grateful Dead had been famous, or infamous, since well before they released an album. However, that had not translated much into record sales. Their first three albums had found their adherents, but only those lucky enough to see the band had really been drawn to them. This was starting to change with the release of Live/Dead, giving every FM radio listener in the country a taste of what they had been missing. The album had just been released in November 1969 (60s release dates are murky), so in an odd way the Dead's popularity as a band was just starting to catch up with their fame. Since both the Dead and CJF were longstanding San Francisco legends, it made sense to pair them up. 7200 plus tickets was a lot of tickets, particularly at high prices, so two headliners would be needed to make it happen. Note that neither band's name is higher than the other on the handbill. The bands probably didn't care, but I'm sure their booking agents did.

I don't know why there was a third band on the bill, but I think Pacific Gas & Electric may have touring with Country Joe and The Fish, so they needed to be booked as well.

Grateful Dead Touring Schedule, November 1969
I have already done a detailed touring itinerary for the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia for November 1969, and there was no trace of this show. However, the band's presumed activities on the weekend would make sense if a substantial East Coast show was canceled. The presumed Dead activities for the weekend were:

November 21, 1969 Cal Expo Building "A", Sacramento Grateful Dead/Country Weather/AB Skhy/Commander Cody/Wildwood KZAP Birthday Party
KZAP-fm was the progressive FM station in the Sacramento area. The Cal Expo was part of the California State Fairgrounds.

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
Crack research staff found this date, advertised in the Berkeley Tribe. 

We can be confident that the Friday, November 21 event occurred. It was mentioned in the SF Chronicle, and a tape endures. The Family Dog appearance by the New Riders Of The Purple Sage was recently discovered, but I had wondered why the Dead did not play anywhere on a Saturday night (November 22), after they had saddled up the horse the night before.

Country Joe And The Fish Touring Schedule
Country Joe And The Fish's touring schedule for November 1969 was murky, but there were definitely booked shows throughout the country. They had played Cal Expo themselves on November 15, and they had booked a show in Kansas City on November 29, followed by an appearance at a rock festival in Palm Beach, Florida. So national touring was at least contemplated for that week, whether or not it actually happened.

Summary
Pending further evidence, here are some propositions for what may have happened. I have no more evidence than I have presented here, and that ain't much, so any other suggestions or long-ago memories from Bostonites are very welcome. 

Hypothesis #1
The show was booked, and both the Dead and Country Joe and The Fish planned to fly East and play other shows during the weekend, not necessarily together. However, the Boston show fell through due to poor advance ticket sales, and any shows surrounding the Sunday night show were canceled.

Two big shows in Boston would have been well worth flying out for. However, if the Dead were going to fly out for a Sunday night show, they would surely play a weekend show somewhere on the East Coast, albeit not too near Boston. Country Joe and The Fish would have done the same, albeit most likely in a different city, and the bands would have convened in Boston. However, once the Boston Music Hall dates fell through, the financial justification for flying East fell through as well, and wherever the Dead had planned to play that weekend fell through as well.

The cancellation left a hole in the Dead's touring schedule for the weekend of November 21-23. They seemed to have managed to hook onto the KZAP Birthday party in Sacramento, but weekend activities for Saturday, November 22 would already have been planned and the Dead could not find a paying show. The last-second booking of the New Riders at the Family Dog was a low risk, low reward event to keep the compulsive Garcia busy as much as anything.

Hypothesis #2
Here's an alternative proposition. The Grateful Dead were scheduled to play three nights at the relatively small Boston Tea Party on December 29, 30 and 31. This would have been a big event in Boston. The booking at the Boston Music Hall may have violated the contract with the Boston Tea Party, so the show at the Music Hall was canceled. Although Country Joe And The Fish were popular, they could not have carried two shows at Boston Music Hall by themselves, so they dropped out as well.

The net result for the Dead's touring schedule would have been the same, as it would have created an opportunity for the band to play Sacramento on Friday, November 21, but too late to find a Saturday night show.

Hypothesis #3
It is remotely possible that the Dead played Sacramento on Friday, November 21 and then flew to Boston the next day. If we assume that the New Riders did not play the Family Dog on November 22-23, which is plausible enough, I guess we could imagine that the Dead played two shows in Boston on Sunday, November 23.

If the Grateful Dead did play two shows at the Boston Music Hall on Sunday, November 23, it has escaped our notice until now. I find it extremely unlikely that there was no tape, review or ad of the show, and that the band just flew home the next day. But hey--it's my blog and I can hope.

Conclusion
I personally find Hypothesis #2 the most likely. The show was booked, and handbills were printed, though possibly never circulated, but the show was blocked by a conflict with the Boston Tea Party New Year's Eve event. Any interesting speculation or long-buried memories are more than welcome in the Comments.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

October 31, 1986 Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/Kingfish with Bob Weir

my notes from Oct 31 '86 Oakland
One of the remarkable things about Grateful Dead historiography is the startlingly high level of documentation. Thanks to Deadlists, Dead.net, Deadbase, TheJerrySite, Weirworks, The PhilZone and numerous other sites, there are numerous links to tapes and very accurate setlists for most shows by the Dead and the various spin-off bands featuring Dead members. Once we get into the 1980s, there is very little that has not been taped and integrated into the various sites and databases. However, a peculiar side effect to the admirable effort to categorize all Grateful Dead knowledge is the tendency for tapes to become decontextualized. While this is inevitable, some concerts take on a different meaning when considered in their moment, independent of whatever fine music may have been preserved.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Jerry Garcia Band/Kingfish concert on Halloween 1986 at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland. The setlists and tapes circulate, and others do a better job of analyzing tapes, so I will generally step aside from the music and consider this unique event in the framework of its time. There are quite a number of things about this concert that set it apart from events at the time, and the post will allow me to consider some interesting aspects of this period that are rarely remarked upon today.

Backdrop: Jerry's Coma
In a typical year, the Grateful Dead were usually on tour during Halloween, often in the Northeast. Halloween equals skeletons, and skeletons equal the Grateful Dead, so the synergy has been self-evident since 1967. Once Jerry Garcia lapsed into a coma on July 8, 1986, the balance of the year became anything but typical. The Grateful Dead generated a lot of cash from touring, but touring was their only meaningful source of income in the mid-80s. With Garcia's health uncertain, all tour dates for the balance of 1986 were canceled. The various sound and lighting professionals who worked Dead tour scrambled to find other paying gigs, and some of the individual members of the band went on tour by themselves. The unique 'Ranch Rock '86' event, featuring multiple bands with Dead members, including a rare electric appearance by Robert Hunter, was one of the byproducts of Garcia's absence.

Although information was hard to come by in the pre-Internet era, there was a little bit of coverage by Joel Selvin in the San Francisco Chronicle as well as elsewhere. After several weeks it was clear that Garcia was going to recover, but the timing of his return to performing and the Dead's return to touring was still unsettled. The seminal event for Deadheads was the Jerry Garcia Band performance at The Stone in San Francisco, on October 4, 1986. A low-key JGB show at a familiar haunt was a lot less of an effort than a long, stressful Grateful Dead concert or tour, and it made perfect sense. I did not go, but I heard from various people that it was a joyous occasion, with a happy Garcia making good but not spectacular music, much to the relief of the entire community.

Surprisingly, however, Garcia's return to active duty did not presage a flurry of Dead shows. One of the admirable features of the Grateful Dead's self-definition was that every Grateful Dead show was planned as the maximum Grateful Dead experience, with a full complement of band members, sound equipment and lights. When the balance of the year's Dead tour had had to be canceled following Garcia's coma, the sound and light equipment and their accompanying crews had to commit to other rock tours. Thus the Grateful Dead would not have been able to play without their preferred sound and lighting rig, and the band implicitly refused to undermine their own credibility by doing otherwise.

As a result, the Jerry Garcia Band spent much of the Fall of 1986 playing The Stone in San Francisco. I have discussed Garcia's professional relationship with the Keystone family of clubs at great length elsewhere, but in general they were the easiest place for the Garcia Band to have a quick, profitable performance. Nothing could be more valuable to an operation whose principal source of income--Grateful Dead concerts--had been abruptly interrupted. By the end of 1986, however, the "Keystone Family" was down to just The Stone, since the Keystone Berkeley and Keystone Palo Alto had closed. Thus the Jerry Garcia Band played The Stone 9 times between October 4 and December 21, 1986.

In fact, prior to the Grateful Dead's return to performance on December 15, 1986, Garcia made 18 performances. While a few were benefit performances and personal favors, the Halloween show at the Henry J. Kaiser (capacity: 7,000) was far and away the biggest show that Garcia played in the Fall. From one point of view, it may seem surprising that Garcia played a large hall on October 31 show, just 27 days after his return to performing, and less than 4 months from the hospital. The presence of Bob Weir and Kingfish on the bill leads me to think that the purpose of the concert was to provide cash for Grateful Dead operations for the next few months, until regular touring revenue started to return.

If my thesis is correct, it implicitly suggests that the Dead were unwilling to have a Grateful Dead show without their full complement of lights and sound. I think their experiences with "outside" sound systems over the years were poor enough that they refused to consider it. It is also an interesting indicator of Garcia's commitment to the Grateful Dead that he played a high profile rock show so early in his recovery, apparently because the band needed the cash. It is easy to assert platitudes like "The Grateful Dead are like a family, man, and Garcia would never let down his brothers," but bands have broken up over lesser things. And while the Grateful Dead were (and are) like family, try borrowing several thousand dollars from your brother while he's recovering from an illness, and see how that goes. Garcia's commitment to the Dead was so integral that no one seems to have even commented on it.

Bob Weir And Kingfish
Kingfish had formed in 1974, and Bob Weir joined the group later in that year, performing and recording with them while the Dead were on hiatus. Although Weir had dropped out of the group in mid-1976, leader Matthew Kelly had kept the group going ever since, if somewhat intermittently. At various times in 1984, '85 and '86, Weir, Brent Mydland and Bill Kreutzmann had performed with Kingfish, although not usually at the same time. In late 1984, Weir had done a number of shows with Kingfish where they performed their own set, Weir had played solo and then joined Kingfish for a reprise of their older material. Kingfish had undergone various personnel changes over the years, but Weir returned for a few more shows with the band in early 1986.

When Garcia had lapsed into his coma, it might have seemed like a perfect idea for Weir to temporarily hitch his wagon to Kingfish, and perhaps it would have been. Unfortunately for Weir, however, he had injured his shoulder in a mountain biking accident, and his musical activities were limited to singing. Weir did perform at the Ranch Rock event as vocalist, and sang with a jazz group called Nightfood, featuring drummer Brian Melvin and bassist Jaco Pastorius, but in general Weir had had to lay low during Garcia's hiatus, which can not have helped his own or the Dead's cash flow. Thus when Weir and Kingfish were booked with the Jerry Garcia Band, it heralded Weir's return to active duty performing as well as Garcia's, even if it was fraught with considerably less tension.


Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, CA, near Lake Merritt
Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, 10 Tenth Street, Oakland, CA
The Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center was the name of the newly remodeled Oakland Auditorium Arena near Lake Merritt. The Oakland Auditorium had been built in 1913. Strictly speaking, the Oakland Auditorium was a smaller, seated venue in the same complex, rarely used for rock shows, while the Arena had been used for trade shows, sports events and even a rodeo (Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, in the early 20th century) as well as major rock events. Nonetheless, by the 1980s just about everybody in the Bay Area called the Arena the "Oakland Auditorium." Although the Dead had played there a few times in the past, after Winterland closed the Arena became the Grateful Dead's new Bay Area home court. The Dead's first BGP promoted shows at the venue were on August 4-5, 1979.

The Oakland Auditorium looms large in Grateful Dead history, because the beginnings of a promoter-sanctioned camp out began in 1980, when BGP casually allowed numerous traveling Deadheads to put up tents on the lawn across from the Arena. The story is too long to go into here, but suffice to say that outdoor camping was perfectly viable in Oakland in December, and a new tradition was born literally overnight. By 1986, however, the neighborhood around the Auditorium did not appreciate the Deadhead invasion every time the band played a run there, and the band would soon graduate to the much larger Oakland Coliseum Arena few miles away. In Fall 1986, however, the Oakland Auditorium Arena was still the Grateful Dead's home court, and a concert there headlined by Garcia and Weir definitely counted as a home game.

Bill Graham Presents, The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia
The Grateful Dead had had a long professional and personal relationship with Bill Graham. Whatever their earlier points of contention may have been, by the mid-80s the Grateful Dead and BGP had a close working partnership. It was both appropriate and lucrative for the last two intact survivors of the San Francisco 60s to depend on each other. However, although Jerry Garcia genuinely liked Bill Graham, he had a somewhat different professional relationship with BGP. As I have documented elsewhere, Jerry Garcia had his own set of loyalties for his performing aggregations. In particular, Garcia had worked regularly with the same club promoters since the 70s, particularly Freddie Herrera and the Keystone family. Garcia had played a fair share of shows for Bill Graham Presents, but only in cities such as San Rafael, where one of his favored clubs was not operating. There were very few exceptions to this practice (I will eventually address all the exceptions, but not in this post).

By 1986, however, Freddie Herrera's Keystone Berkeley had closed, so Garcia would not have been faced with a question of loyalty for booking a show with Bill Graham in Oakland. Given the need for money, would Garcia have played the Oakland show if Keystone Berkeley had been open? Its impossible to say. Nonetheless, with only the Stone remaining, I don't think its a coincidence that Garcia played an Oakland venue rather than a San Francisco one, even if the Oakland Auditorium was the best choice for a proxy Dead event in any case.

October 31, 1986
The Kaiser Convention Center Arena was full on Halloween, though I am not certain that the show was actually sold out. The atmosphere was extremely positive, as you might expect, but it was different than a regular Dead show for any number of reasons. For one thing, there seemed to be almost no one from out of town. Most runs at the Kaiser had been filled with people making the trek from wherever to see the Dead "at home," and it made the Kaiser crowds among the most interesting to query (if you were me, and the internet hadn't yet
been invented). Also, I think a lot of Deadheads who rarely went to Garcia shows because they saved their money and time for the Grateful Dead made an exception for this show. Finally, a lot of people were not able to go The Stone either because it was a nightclub or because the late night hours of the club made it an ordeal. In my own case, I had to be at work at 6:00am in those days, so even a weekend event that went until 2am was very difficult for me. All in all, everybody was happy to be in Oakland that night, no doubt starting with Jerry and Bob.

Although BGP had provided their usual full, professional sound system, the stage was generally bereft of the paraphernalia of a Dead show. The elaborate backdrops and painted amplifiers were nowhere to be found, and the "backline" of equipment was considerably smaller as well. There was a pro lighting rig--it was BGP, after all--but it wasn't the multi-faceted extravaganza that was par for the course at a Grateful Dead concert. I am never late, but that isn't true of all Deadheads (or members of the Grateful Dead, I might add). Mine was a fortunate habit, however, since there was no opening act and a quick glance at the equipment on stage made it clear that the Jerry Garcia Band would be opening the show.

I had seen the Jerry Garcia Band and Kingfish at concerts twice before, on October 17 and December 19, 1975. While that was 11 years prior to the Oakland show, 11 years isn't much in Jerry time, so I wasn't surprised to see that Garcia was preceding Kingfish. In both previous shows, after some opening acts (Clover and Keith and Donna), Garcia had played his usual show, without an encore, leaving the harder rocking Kingfish the duty of getting the crowds to let it all hang out. I do know that when the Jerry Garcia Band had toured the East with Bobby And The Midnites in 1982, the bands had alternated closing sets. This may have had something to do with the load-out, but in any case Garcia was rare among rock stars in that he had no stake in closing the show even though he was the headliner (does anyone know if Garcia closed the June 8, 1975 Garcia/Kingfish show in Palo Alto? Amazingly, I didn't go).

The Jerry Garcia Band played one extended set on Halloween at the Kaiser, to a rapturous reception. My impression was that much of the crowd mainly felt relieved, although perhaps I was just projecting. There was nothing particularly special about his choice of songs or Garcia's soloing, but he played with a lot of feeling if not with stunning dexterity, and that was enough. Garcia never played encores at the Keystones, and sometimes didn't play encores even at concerts, but there was no way he was getting away with that on this night. After thunderous applause, the Garcia Band returned with "Werewolves Of London." It wasn't a special version, and indeed it was more of a fun song than an interesting song, but in any case it was a Halloween encore celebrating Jerry's return--"A Day Of The Dead" indeed. Jerry said nothing to the crowd, as per his practice, but there was no need, not on this night. I saw Jerry Garcia on Halloween, and his hair was perfect.

After the usual "short break," Kingfish came on stage, without Weir. Really, this had to be quite daunting. It's tough to follow the headline act in any case, but to follow Jerry Garcia returning from a coma, on Halloween? Very difficult indeed. Over the years, Kingfish had had various members, with Matthew Kelly as the only constant. The band had a consistent sound, but its personnel changed over time. Keyboardist Barry Flast was Kelly's main partner, singing many of the lead vocals. Flast was from Boston, and had been in a group (with Billy Squier) called The Tom Swift Electric Band. It's likely that the Tom Swift Electric Band had opened for the Grateful Dead in 1967 at Boston's Psychedelic Supermarket. Other vocals were handled by Anna Rizzo, formerly of the Berkeley groups Sky Blue, Grootna and Country Joe's All Star Band. The lead guitarist was Steve Kimock, a relatively new addition to the Bay Area scene. Bass and drums were handled solidly by Steve Evans and Jimmy Sanchez, respectively.

Although Kingfish personnel had changed dramatically over the years, to Matt Kelly's credit their sound remained consistent. Kingfish had a spare, rocking sound with just enough extended soloing to keep Deadheads engaged. They played their usual mixture of covers and originals. At the time, I was very interested in hearing Steve Kimock play, since I recognized his name as a hot new player in the area (he was from Pennsylvania, I think), but I had not yet heard him. Ironically, I though Kimock was the weakest link for Kingfish. Kimock, at least at the time, was already a very fluid, melodic player, but he lacked the stinging drive that had been provided by his predecessors Garth Webber and Robbie Hoddinott. The rest of Kingfish didn't really "space out" very well, as it wasn't their sound, so Kimock's solos seemed out of place to me. Kimock could probably fit in well with the band now, not that he has any need for that, but at the time he sounded like a mismatch to me. Of course, he was coming on right after Garcia, so that was a pretty high bar to jump over.

After about 40 minutes of Kingfish, Bob Weir joined the band. At some club shows, Weir had played a solo acoustic set, but this wouldn't have been good night for that. Weir jumped right into it with "Festival," and then "Winners." Weir always insisted on keeping his solo material separate from the Grateful Dead, but by the same token his original material outside of the Dead wasn't always that strong. Then Weir and Kingfish played some classics from their old Kingfish days, like "Youngblood" and "Battle Of New Orleans" (sung by Weir, per my notes, whereas previously it had been sung by the late Dave Torbert), and then a few other numbers.

I recall enjoying Weir and Kingfish well enough, but I can tell by my own notation (the down arrow on the last song) that I actually left before it was over. It was Friday night, probably past 1:00 am by that point, and I would have been up since 5:00 am or so. Although it wasn't options expiration, I had probably had a fairly intense day at work (for those who care, I think I was the Sell Clerk at the X15/AMI pit) and I was probably simply wiped out.

Some searching today reveals what I missed for the last few numbers. It was probably nice, but I was happier to have taken the quick drive around Lake Merritt and gone home. In any case, I can tell from my last note, listing "Minglewood" as the last song before I left, that I wasn't paying attention at that point, since it seems Kingfish didn't actually play it. Jerry was back in black, the Garcia Band had played a nice show and I had seen my share of Weir shows over the years, so it was definitely time to call it a night.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

July 2-3-4, 1974, Bottom Line, New York, NY: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders & Friends (John Kahn IX)

(an ad from the June 20, 1974 Village Voice for a Roosevelt Stadium concert on June 30, 1974, featuring Seals & Crofts, Maria Muldaur and others)
(an ad from the June 20, 1974 Village Voice for a concert at the Atlantic City Convention Center on July 5, 1974, featuring Seals & Crofts and Maria Muldaur. h/t Streets You Crossed for the clips)

(Note: My lengthy series on John Kahn's live performance history is only on Part IV, but for research reasons I am jumping ahead to do this piece now. Eventually Parts V-VIII will appear and complete the story up to this point) 

By mid-1974, Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders were a regular attraction in Bay Area nightclubs and concert halls, yet they were little more than a rumor elsewhere. In fact, the Garcia/Saunders aggregation had made their East Coast debut the year before, playing a private party on September 5, 1973 and the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ the next night, but they still had not played New York City proper. Rather oddly, they played a three night stand at Manhattan's Bottom Line club on July 2, 3 and 4, 1974. These three dates have always glared out at me as a strange anomaly, but a closer look at newly discovered evidence makes the Bottom Line shows seem fairly logical.

I had always vaguely assumed that Garcia, Saunders and their group had been flown to New York for some kind of showcase, but I could never figure out for what. Thanks to the exhaustive chronicling of Tri-State Area rock ads in the wonderful All The Streets You Crossed blog, however, it is clear that only one person--Merl Saunders--needed to be flown in for the Bottom Line shows. I had known that the Grateful Dead were ending their tour in Springfield, MA on Sunday, June 30. However, I did not realize that not only was John Kahn on tour with Maria Muldaur during this period, it appears that the Muldaur tour had a break between Sunday, June 30 and Friday, July 5.

Given that Monday night (July 1) was "musician's night off," when clubs are closed, Tuesday through Thursday (July 2-4) was a prime opportunity for Garcia and Kahn to book a show and make a little money. By using Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and with Garcia crew members  Ramrod and Steve Parish already on the tour, the four of them could meet Kahn in New York. All that would have been required was Merl, and he must have been flown in for the shows. An organ would have been rented, and since the Garcia-Saunders band did not use their own PA, save for Jerry's guitar and amp and Billy's drums, the Dead's equipment could begin the long journey home to California.

Maria Muldaur On Tour
Maria Muldaur had released her self-titled debut album on Reprise Records in late 1973. However, the album did not really take off until some months later, when the David Nichtern song "Midnight At The Oasis" became a hit single. The song peaked at #6 in April, 1974, spending 14 weeks on the Billboard charts. As I discussed in Part VII of this series (not really--I haven't written it yet), Maria Muldaur had been touring in support of the record since at least October 1973, and John Kahn had been a member of her band since December of that year. Muldaur had had an engagement at the Boarding House in San Francisco from December 27-31, 1973, and not only had headliner Country Joe McDonald canceled due to an accident, but her bass player got food poisoning, so Kahn had been drafted at the last second. Kahn learned "20 songs in an hour," according to Muldaur, and saved the day with his exceptional bass playing.

In the 1970s, the record business was extremely profitable, and both companies and artists focused on touring as a means of increasing record sales. The Grateful Dead were a dramatic exception to this, and never more so than in the 1970s. As the 70s dawned, FM radio featured somewhat quieter music, and the most successful albums were by "singer-songwriters," a euphemism for melodic, mellow music that was shorter and more accessible than the harsher, longer and louder music of the 60s. While Crosby, Stills and Nash kicked the trend off, the Dead themselves benefited, in that the "country-rock" sounds of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty received more FM radio airplay than either their previous or future efforts.

In the early 1970s, solo artists tended to be more prominent than new bands, all of them singers if not actually songwriters. While these solo artists toured with full electric backing bands, few of them had a permanent working band. The few that did have a regular working lineup, like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, tended to be on the harder rocking side. Most artists toured intermittently and hired sidemen for each tour, or each leg of the tour. The band members received a weekly wage while on tour, but had no equity stake in the success of the album. This suited artists and record companies, since profitable bands wouldn't break up because the drummer was mad at the organ player, or other such "creative differences." Backing musicians had greater freedom to pick and choose their opportunities, but they had fewer financial and creative chances to hit it big. As a result, most 70s solo artist worked with a rotating cast of players, adding and subtracting different musicians as circumstances warranted.

When John Kahn had joined Maria Muldaur's band, it had featured guitarist David Nichtern, who had written "Midnight At The Oasis," pianist Jeff Gutcheon and drummer Bobby Mason. I do not know who Kahn replaced as bassist. As I discussed in Part VI (pretending, for a moment, that I have already written it, ha ha), Kahn had met Maria when he had played on the 1972 Pottery Pie album recorded with her then-husband Geoff Muldaur. However, Geoff Muldaur had been the driver on that project, and Maria and John seemed to have had little contact. Once Kahn joined the band on an emergency basis at the end of 1973, however, he seemed to take over as the regular bassist for her group.

Unlike "road dog" aggregations like Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band or the Grateful Dead, who toured constantly, Maria Muldaur seems to have focused on playing periodic engagements in key markets. She headlined a week in Denver from January 29-February 2, 1974 at the Ebbetts Field club, and seemed to have played a few other engagements too, but she does not seem to have been on the road continuously. Thus while Kahn would have been busy dividing his time between Maria and Jerry, the conflicts would not have been insurmountable. In any case, if Kahn had not been available for a date or a leg of a tour, another bassist would have simply substituted for Kahn, possibly the same one that he replaced in the first place.

By mid-Summer of 1974, "Midnight At The Oasis" was a sizable hit, and Maria Muldaur's management would have been looking to cash in somewhat on her success. Thus Maria performed as part of multi-act shows at some more sizable venues. On June 30, 1974, while the Grateful Dead were in Springfield, Maria Muldaur was on the bill in Jersey City at Roosevelt Stadium, where the Dead would play five weeks later. Seals & Crofts ("Summer Breeze") headlined, with America, Maria Muldaur and the newly-minted Souther Hillman Furay Band filling out the day. After the Bottom Line shows on July 2, 3 and 4, Muldaur was second on the bill to Seals And Crofts at the Atlantic City Convention Center on Friday, July 5, along with openers England Dan & John Ford Coley. All of the artists on both shows were on record labels associated with Warner Brothers, yet another marker of the prevalent promotional strategies of the time.

I have yet to uncover any performances by Maria Muldaur between July 5 and July 21, and I doubt that there were any. Per the practices of the day, Muldaur's touring would have been financed by advances from her own future royalties, so essentially she would have been loaning money to herself in order to perform live, so exposure was more important than merely playing lots of shows. On July 21, 1974, however, she opened for the Grateful Dead at the Hollywood Bowl, and a fine audience tape exists. Her band for July 21, besides Kahn (whom she introduces as "The Captain, John Kahn") and pianist Gutcheon, features guitarists Amos Garrett and Stephen Bruton, and a drummer whose name I didn't catch. The band plays excellently, but rather sloppily, not at all like a road-hardened band who has been knocking it down night after night. Was this the same lineup that played the East Coast earlier, or were Garrett and Bruton last second replacements for David Nichtern? Either possibility would be par for the course.

Thus the Garcia-Saunders show at the Bottom Line in Manhattan was perfectly logical from the point of view of the musicians. John Kahn was going to be in the New York area the entire week, and Garcia was already on the East Coast. Since Kreutzmann, Ramrod and Parish were already there too, and everybody's instruments, all that was required was Merl Saunders and a rented organ, and the gig was on. Under the circumstances, its not surprising at all that Maria Muldaur made her first guest appearance with Jerry Garcia on July 2. Singer Ellen Kearney, a friend of Muldaur's, also dropped by. Another guy dropped by one night, a guy named John Lennon, to thank Merl for being the first to record "Imagine." He was invited back to the next night's soundcheck to rehearse a few songs, but he did not show. Garcia had speculated that the Hell's Angels hovering around the backstage area may not have seemed welcoming, but a forthcoming book promises to identify Lennon's activities in great detail, so maybe we will know what took precedence over  sitting in for "Money Honey" or something similar.

Update: it seems that the actual dates for the Garcia/Saunders Bottom Line shows were July 1-3, rather than July 2-4. As definitive proof, thoughtful reader Paul sends in his ticket stub from July 1, 1974
A ticket stub from the Saunders/Garcia show at New York's Bottom line from July 1, 1974


Appendix: The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line was on 15 West 4th Street in Greenwich Village. It had opened in February, 1974, right in line with other rock clubs around the country that were nicer and more attractive than the sawdust covered dumps where bands had usually played. This reflected both a more serious attitude towards the music by rock fans and a gradual shift to an aging, more well-to-do audience willing to pay a little more money and buy drinks in return for a nicer concert experience. During this time, record companies were focused on showcasing their new acts, so playing clubs like The Bottom Line or The Roxy in Los Angeles were essential for creating a "buzz" that would increase FM radio airplay and thus record sales. Like most big city nightclubs, The Bottom Line tried to stay open most nights of the week, and given that it was New York, almost all the performers were "name" acts with albums to their credit.

Despite the Grateful Dead's growing popularity on the East Coast, Garcia and Saunders only played single late shows on each of the three nights. The early shows featured Steeleye Span and Pousette Dart Band. Steeleye Span were an English folk-rock band, then on Chrysalis Records, broadly in the vein of Fairport Convention, while the Pousette-Dart Band was, at the time, a string band from Cambridge, MA (they would later release soft-rock albums in the mid-70s). None of either the groups' members would likely have been in the club when Garcia and Saunders performed, since touring musicians would not waste a night in Greenwich Village sitting around the place they were playing. Manhattan stays open late, however, so Garcia, Kahn and the rest of the gang probably did not reach the stage any time before midnight, still free to take their time to give the Village their first taste of Keystone Berkeley.