Thursday, October 27, 2011

May 10, 1969, Rose Palace, Pasadena, CA: Farewell Cream movie/Grateful Dead/Kaleidoscope

This 1969 Rose Palace poster has mistaken dates (May 10-11 instead of May 9-10)

The Grateful Dead played at the Rose Palace in Pasadena on Saturday, May 10, almost two months after their debut performance there. There are a number of interesting facts about the second Rose Palace show. The most interesting fact is that for perhaps the only time, the Grateful Dead were second billed to a feature film. According to the poster, the "headline" act was a showing of the Farewell Cream movie, from Cream's final performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London on November 26, 1968. Uniquely, the Farewell Cream movie was not shown in theaters but rather in rock venues, mostly as the feature attraction. As important as Cream was, it's still crucial to remember that outside of San Francisco the Grateful Dead were still second on the bill to a movie. The Dead were famous, or infamous, but they still weren't that big a draw.

Cream
Eric Clapton is a huge star today, and every Clapton fan knows and probably likes Cream. Nonetheless, the enormity of Cream's impact on the rock music market tends to be taken for granted, given Clapton's numerous other triumphs. Cream was the first band who showed that thanks to FM radio, if a band had a good album and exciting live performances, they could sell a seemingly infinite number of albums without benefit of a hit single. This was truly revolutionary, something that had never happened in the music business prior to Cream. There had been hugely successful albums before, but their sales were built on an edifice of hit singles. The idea that albums could sell endlessly with little airplay on AM radio completely transformed the record industry.

Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce had formed Cream in England in the Summer of 1966, and their debut album Fresh Cream was released in December. The band had achieved some popularity, but save for a few Spring 67 shows in New York they had not toured America. Cream began their American tour on August 22, 1967 at the Fillmore. Since Cream was used to playing 45 minutes, at most, in the UK, it was a shock to have to play two hour-long sets in San Francisco. Their solution was simply to jam out every song, and the results were sensational. In between recording dates in 1967, Cream played relatively small rock clubs in the States to rapturous acclaim.

Cream's second album Disraeli Gears came out in November 1967. Although there were some modest AM hits ("Sunshine Of Your Love" and "Strange Brew"), almost every track on the album instantly became a staple of the newly emerging FM rock radio. Every concert that Cream played in the United States was a major rock event, with fans coming not to hear the hits but to hear instrumental virtuosity from the three members. This was an important transition for rock: the members of Cream were treated like jazz musicians, did not really have hits, and were hugely successful.

Cream's third album, Wheels Of Fire (released May 68), was a double album and was even more successful. Cream played larger and larger venues when they toured, almost always selling out. Record companies started to look for bands who could really play, and figured that those sort of albums would get played on FM, not AM, opening the door for bands like the Grateful Dead, who no longer had to look for a hit (not that they were trying). Ironically enough, Cream's three members were all mad at each other, and the band decided to break up. This too was unprecedented--how could the most successful act in rock decide to break up at the height of their powers? Cream agreed to make a final album and go on a "Farewell Tour" of America in Fall 1968--yet another first. For their last tour, Cream played the largest venue in every city (e.g the Oakland Coliseum) and sold them out, once again breaking new ground for the rock industry.

The final Cream concert was at Royal Albert Hall in London on October 26, 1968. The event was professionally filmed, and turned into what may be the industry's first "rockumentary." The movie was 80 minutes long, mostly performance footage interspersed with rather artificial interviews with the three band members. With no precedent, the decision was made (by who, I'm not sure) not to market the movie through theaters, but through rock venues. I think only a small number of prints of the movie were made, and this too would have cut down on the expenses. Also, 60s movie theaters would have had a hard time broadcasting the Cream concert sound properly, so rock venues made sense for a lot of reasons.

By 1969, Cream was more popular than ever. As a result, there were people all over the country who had never seen them live, and apparently never would. Cream had a new album (Goodbye), and they were rock's biggest attraction. How big were they? When they played suburban Pasadena, the Grateful Dead opened for their concert movie.

The Rose Palace Friday and Saturday, May 9-10, 1969
The concert poster for the May Rose Palace shows garbles the dates: it says "Friday and Saturday May 10&11," when in fact the shows were Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10. The interesting bookings also tell us something about the strategy of the Millard Agency, the Dead's bookers at the time. The Farewell Cream movie was the headline act, at least according to the poster, and Santana was booked on Friday, May 9, with the Grateful Dead on Saturday May 10. The great Southern California band Kaleidoscope was on the bill both nights, about which I have more to say below.

The Millard Agency was the booking company associated with the Bill Graham empire. Millard's specific emphasis was on finding new venues in California for the Fillmore bands to play. Groups like the Grateful Dead were well known in California, but really only by name, since so many people had seen the iconic Fillmore posters. Millard was willing to work with promoters who were booking new venues outside of the big cities, often in suburbs like Pasadena. Santana, at this time, had been signed to Columbia and had probably begun recording their first album, but it was not  released until August 1969. Some hip LA fans might recognize Santana's name from some Fillmore West posters (they had headlined in February of '69), but the band had played Southern California the first time a month earlier, opening for Procol Harum at the Rose Palace on the weekend of April 11-12. Santana, too, was making a return visit, showing a careful strategy by Millard to build an audience over time for both bands.

Both Santana and the Dead had gigs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (May 9-10-11). The Dead played San Mateo County Fairgrounds on May 9, yet another case of Millard helping to get a show booked in the suburbs. On Saturday, with the Dead in Pasadena, Santana played a rock festival at a football stadium in Stockton, with a roster of other Millard bands from the Fillmore scene. On Sunday, May 11, The Dead and Santana played outdoors at a stadium show in San Diego, only the Dead's second appearance in San Diego and Santana's first. Both Santana and the Grateful Dead were popular live attractions all over California in the 1970s, but it wasn't an accident.

The cover of Side Trips, Kaleidoscope's first album on Epic (1967)
Kaleidoscope
Kaleidoscope were a remarkable and unique band from the Claremont area. Four of the five members (all but the drummer) were remarkable multi-instrumentalists, and Kaleidoscope took a layer of old-time American music and built a framework of world music on top of it, driven by an electric rock beat. They all but singlehandedly invented World Music, about twenty years too early. Musicians in every town were awestruck by them, but audiences simply weren't ready. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin has called them his favorite band ever--when Page was playing the Fillmore with the Yardbirds in May 1968, he would walk 12 blocks over to the Avalon to hear Kaleidoscope's sets.

Kaleidoscope released four albums, all glorious, none of which smelled remotely like a hit. The story is too long to tell here, but David Biasotti's wonderful Pulsating Dream site has the complete tale. There were various personnel changes and management struggles, and guitarist David Lindley tried to keep the band going against great odds, but he finally gave up in 1970. Of course, Lindley's subsequent career with Jackson Browne and as a solo artist has been marvelous, but Kaleidoscope were as good as anybody who ever played in the 1960s, Grateful Dead included.

The May 10, 1969 Rose Palace show may have been the first time that the Grateful Dead shared a bill with Kaleidoscope. This detail is significant since Kaleidoscope's manager at the time was one Chesley Millikin, an Englishman who played an important if amorphous role for the Dead over the next several years. I know that Millikin was instrumental in helping to book and arrange the Europe '72 tour, but I don't quite know whether he was employed by the band, Warner Brothers, an agency or some sort of free-lancer. Nonetheless, seems to have been a key adviser to the Dead, and he seems to have come into the band's orbit through Kaleidoscope.

I don't even precisely know what role Millikin served in for Kaleidoscope during 1969. The Kaleidoscope story has the typical overlay of bad deals with the record company and indifference to the band's virtues that so typified the era. David Lindley, by far the best known member of the group, has nothing nice to say about Kaleidoscope's management or record company, but he doesn't name names. I have no idea whether Millikin was a "good guy" or a "bad guy," if such terms have any meaning, but in any case the Dead seemed to have benefited from Millikin's experience.

The Show
According to the Archive, the Dead seemed to have played for about 100 minutes. I have to assume that the Dead actually came on after the movie. I think the order of battle would have been Kaleidoscope, Farewell Cream and finally the Dead. Since Pasadena was fairly suburban, I don't think the show would have run exceptionally late. I have some reason to believe that a Southern California band called Southwind may have played, but possibly only on Friday with Santana. I suspect there were a lot of teenagers there to see the Cream movie who may not have planned to stay for the entire show, but I'll bet at least some of them were glad they did.

An alternate handbill for the May 10, 1969 Rose Palace show, with Southwind opening
Update: The Yellow Shark weighs in with a neat alternative handbill, not only getting the dates right, but confirming that Southwind was on the bill. Southwind featured guitarist Moon Martin, who wrote such hits as "Cadillac Walk" (for Mink DeVille) and "Bad Case Of Lovin' You" (for Robert Palmer).

Update 2: An eyewitness correspondent brings us a striking picture of the event. It turns out that the Dead did play before the Cream movie.
I was at the Rose Palace concert.  I was 17 at the time at it was my first time seeing the Dead live.   I can tell you that your assumption  that the Dead must have played after the Cream film is incorrect.  The bands played in the order advertised;  Kaleidoscope opened, then the Dead, then the Cream film.  The Kaleidoscope were terrific and the Dead blew minds.  After the Dead played, the audience was reminded to stick around for the Cream film, and someone in the audience shouted out "What a bringdown:"  which was the title of a song of Cream's and an appropriate comment given the Dead's performance.  The film was not good at all (and I was a fan of Cream).   Yes, Pasadena was a suburb, but so is everything in Los Angeles, and it was no big deal to get in the car to go see them, even for a 17 year old.   I remember seeing them a few years later at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium as well.   
What struck me in those early days was how casual everything was.  That night there was a delay while the Dead resolved an equipment malfunction (a regular occurrence in those days), and Weir jumped off stage and went out to the lobby to buy a hot dog.  Their equipment was not tie-dyed; it was flat black, with the word DEAD on the sides.   In those days they would play a few songs to warm up, and then delve into the Dark Star thru Lovelight opus (as on this night), or Alligator/Caution or the full That’s it for the Other one.   The songwriting of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty was still a long way off, and even Aoxomoxoa had yet to be released (but would be shortly).   But I remember that period, 1969, as their peak as a performing band, and I saw them many times thereafter (I moved up to the Bay Area in 1972 and saw them at Winterland regularly).     In those days, they were psychedelic storm troopers, on a mission to blow minds.   Those days aren't coming back, but it's nice to hear the tapes occasionally.  There were only a few hundred people at that concert, and it holds a special place in my memory.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

John Kahn Live Performance History 1972 (John Kahn VI)

Merl Saunders's 1973 Fire Up album included a live track from February 6, 1972
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 II: Performance History 1967-68-T&A R&B Band and Memory Pain: A closer look at the history of Kahn's two original bands during this period
  • John Kahn III: Performance History 1969: An analysis of John Kahn's participation in the somewhat casual Mike Bloomfield Band, with Nick Gravenites and others, who played regularly at Keystone Korner.
  • John Kahn IV: Performance History 1970: while continuing with Mike Bloomfield, John Kahn starts to jam with Howard Wales at the Matrix, and then with Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
  • John Kahn V: Performance History 1971: as Kahn's work with Bloomfield faded away, the Garcia/Saunders group started to become a regular band.  At the same time, Kahn's session work expanded
  • John Kahn IX: Bottom Line, NYC July 1974: For various reasons, I skipped ahead and wrote about an East Coast by Garcia-Saunders at the Bottom Line in July 1974, in conjunction with some Maria Muldaur dates. Kahn was in both groups
This post will focus on John Kahn's live performance history for the year 1972.

John Kahn, early 1972
John Kahn played a steady run of shows with Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders in the first three months of the year. The band lineup wasn't absolutely stable, as Bill Kreutzmann seems to have substituted for Bill Vitt on some occasions, and the great conguero Armando Peraza apparently played on some March dates. The Winter dates were all at local nightclubs, save for a KSAN radio broadcast. However, Kahn and Garcia did not play another Bay Area show until June 30.

Everybody knows that Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead undertook their massive European tour in the Spring of 1972, so they wouldn't expect to see any Garcia/Saunders gigs during that time. What is considerably less well-known, however, was that John Kahn relocated to Woodstock, NY during this period and joined the Butterfield Blues Band. Kahn had done a session in Woodstock for Geoff and Maria Muldaur around December 1971, and re-connected with Paul Butterfield, for whom he had auditioned once before. Kahn helped Butterfield put together a band and did at least two tours with him. It seems that the brief run of Garcia/Saunders shows from Jun 30-July 11 was to accommodate Kahn's schedule, since he didn't live in the Bay Area anymore.

More surprisingly, Kahn actually got Merl Saunders to join the re-cast Butterfield Blues Band. Kahn only quit the group because of uncertainty about the finances of the band, a subject I will get to momentarily. It's important to realize, however, that as of mid-Summer 1972, John Kahn lived in Woodstock and was putting together a new Butterfield Blues Band, and that Merl Saunders was a member of the group as well. While the Garcia/Saunders band might have played the occasional show, they very nearly ceased to exist in the middle of 1972.

Geoff and Maria Muldaur's 1972 Reprise album Sweet Potatoes, with John Kahn on bass
Geoff And Maria Muldaur
Although I am not 100% certain of the date, I believe that in December 1971 John Kahn went to Woodstock, NY to record an album at Bearsville Studios for Geoff and Maria Muldaur. Kahn was in the East at that time to play Carnegie Hall and possibly a few other dates with Brewer and Shipley. They had had a big hit with "One Toke Over The Line," and took a band on the road for a few dates (Kahn may have played "The Tonight Show" with Brewer and Shipley as well, but I don't know when). The only date I know for sure is December 3, 1971 at Carnegie Hall, but I do know that Kahn played the next weekend (December 10-11) in Boston with Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. It seems a fair assumption that Kahn spent some time in Woodstock recording at Bearsville around that window.

Woodstock, NY is about 100 miles due North of New York City and had been an artists retreat for Manhattan long before Bob Dylan moved there. By the 1960s, however, the place was famous as the Summer home of the likes of Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison and numerous other musicians, painters and poets. The famous 1969 festival had been originally scheduled to be held near the town, but ended up being held 45 miles to the West, in another county. Woodstock's leading citizen was one Albert Grossman, the legendary manager of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Janis Joplin, Mike Bloomfield and many others. By 1971, Grossman had built a state-of-the-art recording studio in Woodstock, and was developing his own label, Bearsville Records, distributed by Reprise. The idea was that instead of just managing a band, Grossman would "verticalize" the product, recording and releasing it as well as providing management.

Geoff and Maria Muldaur had both been members of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, who had been a popular group in the mid-1960s. Indeed, Garcia and others had seen the Kweskin band at The Cabale in Berkeley on March 11, 1964, and it had been a key influence in the formation of Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band. Maria was still in high school at the time (then Maria D'Amato), and would not have sang at the Cabale, but she was playing old-timey music on the East Coast (with David Grisman among others), and that is how she connected with Geoff Muldaur and the Kweskin band. When that group faded away for reasons too strange to explain here, the shrewd Grossman signed Geoff and Maria as a duo. Geoff was a fine singer, writer, pianist and arranger, and Maria of course was not just a wonderful, versatile singer but photogenic and charismatic as well.

Geoff and Maria recorded their album Sweet Potatoes at Bearsville Studios most likely in late 1971, since it seems to have been released on Reprise Records about March 1972. The core band included Kahn on bass, Billy Mundi on drums, Geoff Muldaur on keyboards, Bill Keith on pedal steel and Amos Garrett on guitar. Numerous guests play on various tracks, leading me to think that the core band recorded the basic tracks, and then overdubbing followed later, typical of the recording practices of the time.  While Maria Muldaur would have been a regular presence in the studio, given that Maria and Geoff had a six year old daughter at the time and Geoff was the producer of the album, she may not have been in the studio as much while Kahn was there. Nonetheless, it was an important album for Kahn.

The 1973 debut album by Paul Butterfield's Better Days
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Kahn had flunked an audition for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1968. At the time, the Butterfield Blues Band were a major Fillmore headliner, but by 1972 fashion had somewhat passed them by. The quality of Butterfield's bands and performances had remained high from the very beginning, as one of the first successful American white blues performers. However, by the early 70s Butterfield seemed to be treading water, and he had not put out a new album since 1970. His harmonica playing was still the gold standard, however, so it was no surprise that he was invited to play on Sweet Potatoes at Bearsville. Kahn and Butter reconnected, and Kahn ended up helping Butterfield form a band, moving to Woodstock in the process.

Details about the Butterfield Blues Band's activities in 1972 are extremely hard to find. According to Kahn, he did "a couple of tours," which I take to be in the Spring and Summer of 1972. I have only found one date for Butterfield in 1972, and I think Kahn was out of the band by then (it was at Hofstra on November 11, with The Byrds--anyone with any live Butterfield dates for 1972 is eagerly encouraged to put them in the Comments or email me). According to Kahn, he also played some local gigs in the Woodstock area with producer/pianist John Simon, an interesting guy in his own right (he produced Cheap Thrills and The Last Waltz, among other things). Somewhere along there, however, Kahn helped put together Butterfield's next band, called Paul Butterfield's Better Days.

According to Kahn, he did more than one tour with Butterfield, but he quit after the first Better Days tour. I take this to mean that Kahn did a Butterfield Blues Band tour in the Spring, flew back to San Francisco for two weeks of shows with Garcia/Saunders, and then did a Better Days tour with Butterfield. Since the Better Days album was released around February 1973 and does not feature Kahn or Merl Saunders, I assume they must have left the group before the Fall, and the Garcia/Saunders touring schedule seems to suggest they had both relocated back to the Bay Area.

The band members for a Spring Butterfield tour are unknown to me, but I can piece together the first iteration of Paul Butterfield's Better Days, from mid-1972. The lineup most likely would have been
  • Paul Butterfield-vocals, harmonica
  • Geoff Muldaur-vocals, piano
  • Amos Garrett-guitar
  • Merl Saunders-organ
  • John Kahn-bass
  • Chris Parker-drums
When the Better Days album came out on Bearsville in early 1973, the organ was handled by Ronnie Barron and bass by Oakland's Billy Rich (ex-Whispers, ex-Buddy Miles Express), so they must have joined the group early enough to record the album. Other than this deduction, I am unable to pin down any dates for Kahn and Saunders's tenure with Paul Butterfield. 

Jerry Garcia, mid-1972
After the New Riders of The Purple Sage and the Garcia/Saunders group, it seems plain that Jerry Garcia was interested in developing ongoing ensembles to work on his music, rather than just having casual jam sessions at local clubs. After quite a few shows with Saunders and Kahn, he nearly lost them in mid-1972 with the formation of Paul Buttterfield's Better Days. Paul Butterfield was still a major deal in 1972, and he was backed by Albert Grossman, the most highly powered of high-powered managers of the era. Garcia had found two willing compatriots to play nightclubs with him, and he was about to lose them to a better paying alternative. Membership in a Butterfield ensemble with a big name manager offered the lucrative potential of a hit album with serious money. Futhermore, Kahn had ambitions as a producer and arranger, and Grossman could provide those opportunities as well through Bearsville Records.

In the Summer of 1972, the Grateful Dead's contract with Warner Brothers was expiring, and the band was being wooed by both Warner and Columbia. The Dead shocked the industry by choosing to go independent at a time when it was unthinkable for major bands. The key date, per McNally, seems to be a position paper by Ron Rakow dated July 4, 1972. I am not sure at what point they rejected Warner and Columbia, but the decision seems to have been made in the Summer. While most analysis of the Dead's record company negotiation focuses on the band's desire for independence--and rightly so--I am now seeing Jerry Garcia's position in a parallel light. From Garcia's point of view in mid-1972, he had just lost his band to a better offer that he was in no position to match.

If Garcia had wanted to find a way to engage in a paying project for Saunders and Kahn, he would have had to negotiate through Warner Brothers, who may not at all have had his interests in mind. Even if Garcia now had to form a new band--and at that point looked like he would have to--if he was an independent, he could exercise his franchise any way he wanted. There were plenty of reasons for the Dead to go independent in 1972, but Garcia turns out to have had a big reason of his own, namely that he had just lost his band to Paul Butterfield.

Denoument
The Garcia/Kahn partnership was rescued by Kahn's discomfort with the financial terms proposed by Butterfield manager Albert Grossman. Grossman was a wheeler-dealer of legendary proportions, and all his clients, from Bob Dylan on downwards, were frustrated about where the money had gone. Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites had both been Grossman clients as a result of Electric Flag, and Gravenites in particular was unhappy with his contractual situation (often using Quicksilver manager Ron Polte as a front to get around it). Presumably Gravenites tipped Kahn off, and considering that Kahn's parents were both successful Hollywood talent agents, he was no babe in the woods. Kahn bailed out of Better Days after the first tour but before they recorded, and returned to San Francisco by the Fall of 1972, and Saunders stayed out West as well.

Garcia, Kahn and Saunders returned to a steady stream of gigs at the end of 1972. I am convinced, however, that Garcia took the risk of losing his band very seriously, and had no intention of letting it happen again. The Grateful Dead were under contract to Warner Brothers through about March of 1973, and the release of Bear's Choice.  However, if you look at the Live At Keystone Album, recorded in July 1973, Garcia's participation is courtesy of Grateful Dead Records. The album was released on Fantasy Records, Merl's label, and the artists and production are jointly credited to Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, John Kahn and Bill Vitt. Garcia's name was what sold the album,  but the credits guaranteed that all the members of the band got an actual payday, presumably including 5-figure advances plus royalties. Since the album was recorded in July, the deal would have been done in March when the Warner contract expired, so this means that one of the first thing Garcia did with his independence was insure that his band got paid.

Paul Butterfield's Better Days was quite a good band, and in fact I would love to hear them with Merl and John, if such a tape existed. Nonetheless, I'm happy that Garcia and Kahn's partnership remained intact. Given Kahn's move to Woodstock in 1972, however, I think this year was the one when Garcia committed himself to his own endeavors and particularly to Kahn when he returned. From 1973 onwards, Garcia seems to have made a conscious effort to insure that Kahn had no financial reason to jump ship to another artist. From the end of 1972 onwards, Garcia and Kahn were partners.

Annotated 1972 John Kahn Performance List
January 7, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
There is some ambiguity about this show, but I am not using this thread to speculate about the provenance of specific gigs.

January 14-15, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
There is no certainty that Tom Fogerty was playing with the Garcia/Saunders at the time, as there was almost no coverage of the group in the press, and no tapes.

January 19-20, 1972: Lions Share, San Anselmo, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
From January 21 through January 29, Jerry Garcia went on his first non-Dead East Coast tour with Howard Wales. Although Kahn had played on the Hooteroll album, Wales had his own band by this time, with his old friend Roger "Jelly Roll" Troy on bass and vocals, so Kahn had no place. It's hard not to draw the conclusion that Garcia was implicitly taking Kahn for granted by touring the East without him, and it must have made Kahn's move to Woodstock seem more financially prudent to him.

February 3-5, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
There is some suggestion that the first two nights may actually have been at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo. However, I think that the third night (Feb 5) was most likely at Keystone Korner, because the crew could then have just toted the equipment over to 60 Brady for the next afternoon's studio broadcast. 

February 6, 1972: Pacific High Recorders, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
This KSAN live broadcast at the studio where Workingman's Dead was recorded was the first that most people in the Bay Area had actually heard of the Garcia/Saunders aggregation. Tom Fogerty was not present, and Bill Kreutzmann played drums. This leads me to suspect that Kreutzmann subbed for Vitt more often than may have been realized. Vitt was also the drummer in The Sons Of Champlin at the time (then calling themselves, regrettably, Yogi Phlegm), so he may have had a lot of conflicts.

February 11-12, 1972: Bojangles, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
A Phil Elwood review in the San Francisco Examiner reports that Kreutzmann played drums and that the great Armando Peraza played congas. Peraza was a North Beach legend, who would become a permanent member of Santana in the 1970s. Peraza's connection to Garcia may have come through trumpeter Luis Gasca, who is a story in himself. Bojangles was a club at 709 Larkin Street.

February 25-26, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
Armando Peraza is billed on all Garcia/Saunders shows through March. It's a shame that there's no taped evidence, as he was formidable indeed. Many years later he played with Garcia, Weir and Tower of Power at the Kaiser in Oakland (Jan 23 '88) and he absolutely dominated "Turn On Your Lovelight."

March 3-4, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders

March 8-9, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders

March 10-11, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders

March 15-18, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
It's important to remember that other than the Feb 6 KSAN show and the brief Elwood review of Feb 11 (Bojangles), we have no evidence of what Garcia played during this period, who was in the band, or anything else.

Spring 1972-Paul Butterfield Blues Band tour
I have pieced together some fragmentary information here, and I think that Kahn was on two Butterfield tours. One must have been in the Spring, while the Dead were in Europe. I have no idea of who might have been in the band, or what material they might have played. I don't think Butterfield even had a working band at the end of 1971, so it's very hard to speculate, even for me.

June 30, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
This brief 12-day stretch of Garcia shows seems to have more to do with Kahn visiting from Woodstock rather than Garcia's heavy touring schedule with the Dead. I assume that this Keystone gig was a warmup for the higher profile show the next night in San Jose.

The San Jose Civic Auditorium, at 135 W. San Carlos St, as it appeared in July 2011. I saw Ted Nugent here!
July 1, 1972: Civic Auditorium, San Jose, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
Although Garcia/Saunders had regularly played San Francisco, Berkeley and Marin, they had rarely played anywhere else. Interestingly, their only previous South Bay show had been a sort of jazz festival at Stanford University the previous year, and once again they were playing an all-ages concert at San Jose's venerable Civic Auditorium, built about 1940. This show also inaugurated an informal tradition of having Garcia test out a venue that the Dead would play a few months later. The Grateful Dead played the San Jose Civic on August 20, 1972.

An eyewitness reports a two-set show with Tom Fogerty on guitar, and probably Vitt on drums. That suggests that Fogerty was a member of the ensemble for the brief July run.

July 7-8, 1972: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
The Keystone Korner had been sold by Freddie Herrera to Todd Barkan, a pianist (formerly in Kwane and The Kwanditos) who would turn the venue into San Francisco's pre-eminent jazz club. However, there was a pre-existing booking for Garcia and Saunders, which Barkan honored. They didn't even advertise, just put the band's name up on the marquee and the shows were packed, a clear sign of Garcia's burgeoning popularity even then.

July 11, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
Per the comments, this date may be spurious.

Summer 1972; Paul Butterfield's Better Days tour
I have to assume that after the July 11 Keysone Berkeley show, Kahn returned to Woodstock and toured with the first lineup of Paul Butterfield And Better Days, bringing Saunders with him. However, my assessment of the dates are just triangulation, and I await further evidence.

August 18, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
This one-off show is more speculative since I don't know what Kahn's prospective touring schedule might have been with Butterfield.

September 22, 1972: Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders/La Familia with Luis Gasca/Dakila  Farmworkers Benefit
Garcia appeared at this Farmworkers Benefit at Berkeley. He had to fly back from the East Coast to do it, but I now think that Garcia had a pattern of flying back to the West Coast to work on albums while playing shows at the same time. Garcia would have been working on Europe '72 at this juncture.

Once again it appears that Luis Gasca was probably the connection the booking. Whatever Kahn's touring schedule might have been with Butterfield, it does appear that he and Saunders had returned at this time.

October 6-7, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders

October 12, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders

November 4, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders

November 8, 1972: Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty/Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks/Fletcher Bros/Natural Act
Garcia headlined this benefit at Longshoreman's. Tom Fogerty was on the bill, so I take that to mean he probably played some or all of the gigs in the Fall, even where he was not billed. This show was a benefit, for what I am not exactly certain, but it indicated another new pattern in Garcia's performances. Whereas in the 1960s, the Grateful Dead were on every benefit, Garcia's new band allowed him to play such events without involving other members of the Dead.

December 5, 1972: Boarding House, San Francisco, CA; Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty
The Boarding House was very small, capacity 330. Musicians loved it, but no one got paid very much.

December 20-21, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty

December 27-28, 1972: Lion's Share, San Anselmo, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty
One show from this set of performances was recorded and broadcast on KTIM-fm in San Rafael. 

December 29, 1972: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogert
Note that Tom Fogerty is once again billed regularly as a member of the group. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Tour Itinerary March 1969

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 March, 1969. 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.

March 1969
In March 1969 the Grateful Dead were primarily focused on finishing the Aoxomoxoa album at Pacific Recording in San Mateo. As a result, their performances were confined to easy weekend trips, allowing them to make a little money while still staying around town to work on the record. At the same time, since the band was in town they made a few benefit appearances on the side, and I suspect that March '69 was a month where any rumored or reported Garcia sightings are more likely to be true than not. Given Garcia's predeliction for performing live, I suspect that he tried to drop in around town at the Matrix or somewhere, even if I can't yet prove it.

I have linked to existing posters where available.

Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Tour Itinerary March 1969
February 27-March 2, 1969: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Pentangle/Sir Douglas Quintet/Frumious Bandersnatch
This weekend stand at Fillmore West was the basis of both Live/Dead and the Live At Fillmore West 10-cd box set. I myself have gone on at length about the importance of Pentangle to Jerry Garcia's concept of acoustic music performed live, so I won't repeat myself or others. Suffice to say, it was a concert weekend for the ages.

Sir Douglas Quintet opened the first two nights (Thursday 27 and Friday 28) and the last one (Sunday 2), but were replaced by Frumious Bandersnatch for Saturday (March 1), per an eyewitness. The reason given was "illness" but I think it may have been some obscure dispute between Doug Sahm and Bill Graham.

The Datebook listing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, March 10, 1969

Given the Grateful Dead's always precarious financial position in the 1960s, I always start by assuming that a weekend where I don't know about a show simply means that I haven't looked hard enough for it. However, while the weekend of March 7-8 features no Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia appearances to my knowledge, I think it's relatively unlikely the band played that weekend. The group had to stick around the Bay Area because they were working on Aoxomoxoa, so that means that any weekend adventures couldn't be too far away.

However, the Dead were booked in San Francisco (at the Black And White Ball) the following weekend, Southern California the weekend after that, and then the Central Valley and Las Vegas at the end of the month. Contract riders would have likely prevented them from playing an advertised show anywhere around those places on March 7-8, particularly in San Francisco. I suppose Sacramento is possible, but I have a pretty good idea of Sacramento rock history and I'm not aware of a Grateful Dead show there in March 1969. It's remotely possible they played The Sound Factory that weekend, or attempted to, as I don't know who played there on March 7-8, but I can comfortably eliminate UC Davis for various reasons I won't belabor here. I think March 7-8 was just one of those weekends where the Dead were unable to book a show.

Of course, with no Dead show since Sunday March 2, how long do you think Garcia could go without playing somewhere? With that in mind, I note that there was a jam session at the Matrix on March 10, a typical enough event at the club on Mondays. Of course, I am just grasping at straws here, but I don't think my suggestion is far-fetched, if admittedly unprovable.

An excerpt from Ralph Gleason's March 12, 1969 SF Chronicle "On The Town" column
March 12, 1969: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: It's A Beautiful Day/A.B. Skhy Blues Band/Cleveland Wrecking Company Benefit For The San Francisco State Legal Defense Committee
Both Dennis McNally and Deadbase have the Grateful Dead listed as performing at the SF State Legal Defense Committee benefit at Fillmore West. McNally was always carefully sourced, so I am confident that he would not have listed them without some indication that the band in fact played the event.

However, I still consider this show unconfirmed, because it has been my experience that every free concert, benefit or "Event" in San Francisco in the 1960s was always suggesting if not assuring that the Grateful Dead were invited or expected. An article that says they were "expected" didn't always translate into an actual appearance by the Dead, so I'm not taking it as a proven event yet.

With my hesitation aside, I would note that the Dead's contract with the Black And White Ball would probably have prevented them from advertising a show in San Francisco. The three bands on the bill could hardly have filled Fillmore West on a Wednesday night, so a "stealth" headliner makes a lot of sense. The San Francisco State College student body was on strike, and it was a highly charged political event in San Francisco. Rock Scully, among many others in the Haight-Ashbury, had been a graduate student (in English) at SF State, so there were plenty of social connections between the Dead and SF State, which was the primary precondition for the band to perform at a benefit.

Also, if the Dead did actually headline the benefit, I would note that A.B. Skhy was second on the bill.  This may be the first time that A.B. Skhy was booked with the Dead, and if so it might have been the first time Garcia had gotten to hear Howard Wales.

March 15, 1969: Hilton Hotel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: The Black And White Ball
The Black And White Ball had been the San Francisco Symphony's principal fundraiser for many years, but it had not been held in some time.  The event was re-instituted for 1969, and the head of the entertainment committee was Bob Weir's mother. A careful reading of the Society Pages during the late 1960s showed me that the common entertainment for Debutante Parties and the like was a pair of alternating acts: a big band for the grown-ups to dance to, and a rock band for the younger folks. These were relatively well-paying gigs, so danceable Fillmore bands like The Sons of Champlin or The Loading Zone regularly played debutante parties and other such events, paired with a big band and playing alternating sets.

Thus Mrs. Weir's decision to hire her son's band was not mere nepotism. For a major event that had a ticket price of $17.50, a Fillmore West headliner was appropriate, not a Fillmore West opener. Young people, even well-to-do ones, were not going to pay 5 times the going concert price without some main attraction. Of course, the Grateful Dead completely botched the entire event. McNally (p.304) has a detailed discussion of the entire debacle. Owsley's endless fiddling caused the band to come onstage late, and it was all downhill from there. The Dead were not warmly written up in the society pages to follow, although Chronicle columnist Herb Caen gallantly said that Mountain Girl was the prettiest girl there.

The revival of the Black And White Ball did not go well, and the event was once again mothballed for nearly 20 years. If I remember correctly, when the event returned in 1988, Bob Weir made a guest appearance. The event finally hit its mark, and was a major City event for many years to follow.

Barb Mar 14 '69
March 17, 1969: Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Benefit Jam For Olompali with Garden Of Delights/Red Mountain/others

Rancho Olompali, and the mansion on the grounds, had a long and complicated history dating back to 1843. In the Spring of 1966, the Grateful Dead had even lived in the crumbling old house, hosting a series of unforgettable parties (Girl From Mill Valley, anyone?) before they moved on. By 1969, the mansion was owned by Don McCoy, a wealthy hippie friend of the Dead's who had formerly lived at 715 Ashbury, and it housed a commune known as the Chosen Few. Early in March, there was a massive drug bust and then a mysterious electrical fire that burned down the mansion.

According to both the Chronicle and the Berkeley Barb, members of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Sons Of Champlin were expected to jam at this hastily assembled benefit for the busted Commune members. Without an eyewitness or tape, it's impossible to say for sure what happened. Considering that Glenn McKay's Headlights was on the bill, that definitely points to Airplane involvement along with the Dead. Given Garcia's penchant for jamming, the Winterland show sounds like an opportunity for some kind of Mickey And The Hartbeats or Hot Tuna action. A Garcia/Bill Champlin/Jack Casady/Hart jam sounds mighty tasty to me, but there I am, just grasping at straws...

I have written about the event here and here. The Sacramento band Sanpaku believe they played at this event, but their recollections are rather vague.

A newspaper ad for the March 21-22, 1969 show at the Rose Palace in Pasadena
March 21-22, 1969: Rose Palace, Pasadena, CA: Paul Butterfield Blues Band/Grateful Dead/Jethro Tull
The Rose Palace, at 835 South Raymond Avenue in Pasadena, was built in 1964 to accommodate the construction of floats for the Rose Parade held every New Year's Day. The rest of the year, it was occasionally used for other functions. In 1969 and 1970 it was used for rock concerts. The first event seems to have been the weekend before (Iron Butterfly/Steve Miller Band/Blues Image). Recollections on The Archive for the Saturday, March 22 show suggest that it was a large, cavernous building, probably Winterland sized. A commenter on the Archive for March 22 recalls Owsley using the show for some interesting sonic experiments with stereo.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band had been the best American rock band in 1966, and their early performances at the Fillmore had been hugely influential for the Dead, Carlos Santana, Country Joe and The Fish and many others. By 1969, however, Butterfield's original front line (guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop and organist Mark Naftalin) had moved to the Bay Area, and his band was an entirely different set of Chicago musicians, probably featuring guitarist Buzzy Feiten. They were still an excellent group, and Butterfield was a bigger name than the Dead (outside of San Francisco, anyway), so he closed the shows. Opening was Jethro Tull, on their first American tour.  They were a tremendous live band and must have given the crowd a nice jolt.

March 27, 1969: Merced County Fairgrounds, Merced, CA: Grateful Dead
This date appeared on Grateful Dead lists for many years because of a tape labeled "3/27/69 Merced." Further research revealed that the tape was the same performance as the next night in Modesto, and was just a mislabeling of a different master tape. As a result, the Merced show has been considered a spurious date. However, I have some new information, and I am going to make a case that the Grateful Dead played the Merced County Fairgrounds on Thursday, March 27,1969.

It was generally well known that Bob Weir was adopted, and in 2004 Joel Selvin revealed the remarkable story of the family of John Parber, Weir's birth father, whom Weir finally met in 1996. Weir's half-brother Jim Parber was a fine musician, but he had died in 1991 after an extended battle with cancer. Jim Parber had been an aspiring guitarist and poster artist as a Merced teenager, so I wrote a post speculating on the likelihood of Jim Parber having seen the Dead in the Central Valley in the 1960s.

It was pure speculation on my part, as usual, but this time it turns out I came pretty close to the mark. One commenter was a Parber family friend, and he recalled Jim Parber attending Dead shows in the 1960s, itself a pretty remarkable thing to think about. The Commenter specifically recalled seeing the Dead with Jim Parber when they played Merced County Fairgrounds. Merced County Fairgrounds was the principal venue in the county, and it's not likely a Merced teenager would confuse the event with some other event. I take this as pretty solid evidence that the Dead really did play Merced on March 27.

Here's my thinking: the Grateful Dead had booked a Saturday night show in Las Vegas (March 29, below), and looked for Central Valley shows that would fit in with the schedule. They booked a Merced show on Thursday March 27. It may not have been a great payday, but if the band was on its way to Las Vegas anyway, it made business sense. Thus, while the "other" March 28 Modesto tape was mislabeled, it was mislabeled because the band really had played Merced on that date.

March 28, 1969: Student Center, Modesto Junior College, Modesto, CA: Grateful Dead
There is a tape of this event--two in fact--so we have good reason to think the event occurred. Nonetheless, I am not aware of any documentation of this event--a poster, an article, a review, even an eyewitness account. Modesto isn't large city, and Modesto Junior College was probably not a big school at the time.  My current theory is that this was a student event, some sort of Spring Dance.

If the Student Association was having an event, it would have been partially funded by the school as well as tickets, so they could have afforded a little better band than a small gym might otherwise be able to accommodate. If it was a "Spring Dance" or something, it probably wasn't advertised much beyond the school itself, and it's even possible that the Grateful Dead's name wasn't attached to the event at all. If the Dead had booked a Merced show on a Thursday (27) and Las Vegas on a Saturday (29) they would have wanted to play anywhere on Friday night. They may have taken a Junior College dance for less than the going rate, possibly not advertised, just to cover road expenses. I have no idea whether the "Student Center" was the gym or some kind of student union building, but it sounds more like the latter.

A poster for the Grateful Dead/Santana show at the Ice Palace in Las Vegas, March 29, 1969
March 29, 1969: Ice Palace, Las Vegas, NV: Grateful Dead/Santana/The Free Circus
The Grateful Dead and Santana played an ice skating rink in Las Vegas on Saturday night. I believe this event drove the bookings in Merced and Modesto the previous nights. At this time, Santana was a popular San Francisco band, and they had played around California a bit, but their first album had not even been recorded (it would not come out until August). Both Santana and the Dead were booked by Bill Graham's Millard Agency, so the bands shared a lot of bills. The Millard Agency specialized in finding new concert opportunities around California and the West Coast for its San Francisco-based clients. This show seems to be a good example.

The Ice Palace was in downtown Las Vegas somewhere, but I'm not sure where. It appears to have been long since torn down. One interesting thing about the event is the notice on the poster that the show will be from 8:00-11:30 pm. It does seem surprising that 24/7 Las Vegas was putting a curfew on a downtown rock show. The time limit may have been because the show (or the permit anyway) was directed at teenagers, or it may have been Vegas distrust of hippies who didn't gamble or buy drinks, but it does mean that the show would not have run late. I do not know who The Free Circus were, or if they were a band or some sort of "act" (it being Las Vegas and all).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

December 5, 1977: Keystone Palo Alto, Palo Alto, CA Robert Hunter and Comfort (Alligator Moon)

KFAT, 94.5 FM in Giroy, CA--note the U. Utah Phillips reference
On December 5, 1977, Robert Hunter and Comfort played the Keystone Palo Alto, at 260 S. California Avenue in Palo Alto. The show is remarkable for the fact that the first set was broadcast on the legendary KFAT-fm, out of Gilroy, CA (94-oink-5 on your FM dial), and more remarkable in that the broadcast seems to have included the bulk of the new album that Hunter and Comfort were working on at the time, Alligator Moon. Since the Alligator Moon album was never released, the live version broadcast from Keystone Palo Alto seems to be the best evidence of what it was supposed to sound like. I think the "Alligator Moon" suite was Hunter's best songwriting for his own performance, and I have continually found it mystifying that the work has never been released. This post will talk about what little is actually known about the recording of the album and the December broadcast from Keystone Palo Alto, in the hopes of encouraging the powers-that-be to consider officially releasing the "Alligator Moon" suite in either its studio or live incarnation.

Robert Hunter and Comfort
I have written about the live performance history of Robert Hunter and Comfort at some length elsewhere, so I will only recap it briefly here. Robert Hunter had returned to performing in late 1975 with the band Roadhog, mostly made up of old friends from his folkie days in the early '60s. They were an enjoyable aggregation, but Hunter seemed to be mainly getting his feet back on the ground as a performer, and Hunter stopped playing with Roadhog about Halloween 1976. In mid-1977, Hunter joined Comfort, who appear to have already existed, and brought along his old friend Rodney Albin from Roadhog. The 1977 lineup of Comfort was
  • Robert Hunter-vocals, guitar
  • Kevin Morgenstern-lead guitar
  • Rodney Albin-violin, mandolin
  • Richard "Sunshine" McNees-keyboards
  • Larry Klein-six string bass
  • Pat Lorenzano-drums
  • Marlene Molle-vocals
  • Kathleen Klein-vocals
Although there is a tape for a Robert Hunter and Comfort show purportedly from May 77, the group does not start appearing regularly in Bay Area clubs until a July 29-30 booking at The Shady Grove in San Francisco. The band seems to have kept a fairly low profile throughout 1977, mostly playing some comfortable gigs in the Bay Area in clubs where Hunter had played before. I believe that the low-key activity was because the band began working on recording an album during the second half of 1977 and the beginning of 1978, and they planned to tour behind it starting in Spring 1978.

The Alligator Moon Album Project
As far as is known, the Alligator Moon album would have consisted of five regular tracks and then an entire "Alligator Moon" suite of six songs. I assume that the regular tracks would have been on side one of the LP (remember those?) and the title suite would have been on side two, following the music industry practices of the time. The indispensable Deaddisc site lists the proposed tracks for Alligator Moon, albeit with the six songs in the Alligator Moon suite listed first:
  • Mesa Linda (Hunter)
  • Domino, Cigarette and Melina (Hunter / Morgenstern)
  • Domino (Hunter / Morgenstern)
  • Blue Note (Hunter / McNeese)
  • New East St. Louis Blue (Hunter / McNeese)
  • Cigarette (Hunter / McNeese)
  • She Gives Me Love (Hunter)
  • Drunkard's Carole (Hunter)
  • Hooker's Ball (Hunter)
  • Jesse James (Hunter / Melton)
  • Promontory Rider (Hunter)
In the end, only three recordings, "Promontory Rider," "Drunkard's Carol" and "Hooker's Ball" were released, on the 1984 Relix Records retrospective album Promontory Rider. "Jessie James" is known from the 1975 Barry Melton album The Fish (on United Artists) as well as many fine live versions, while "She Gives Me Love" remains unknown to me

[I was fortunate enough to hear recently from former Comfort keyboard player Richard McNees, who had numerous insights. With respect to "She Give Me Love," he pointed me to comments he made on the excellent Grateful Dead song finder site:
"When we were doing the collaboration, I think the deal was Kevin [Morgenstern] and I each would write three songs. I submitted three songs based on Bob's [Hunter] pretty random poetry that he had given to me to work from. He then took the songs and molded the lyrics and story. He only used two of the three, which became "Blue Note" and "New East St. Louis Blue". None of the final lyrics were the ones I selected from his poetry. It is a wonderful example of his genius as a writer that he could do that - populate what was mostly abstract thoughts and images with characters, romance, adventure and a stroke of drama. Pretty exciting stuff.
"The third song, which I called "Shades and Shadows" (from the raw poetry) was never done by him, although Kathleen Klein and I performed it a few times in a small venue on our own. He might referring that song as "Cigarette" as it was written for but not used in the suite. And the reason there are no words is it did not get reworked by him or appear in the final version.

"The song was closer to jazz, and was also in a 6/8 time signature, like New East St Louis, though more ethereal. And it was tailored in my mind for Kathleen's voice. I may want to use that one some day as I think it is a good song, particularly for jazz, and the lyrics are quite good and are unfiltered by reworking - more like poetry which goes real good with jazz."]
The key to the album was the linked suite of six songs that made up the "Alligator Moon" suite itself. To my ears, the live version from December 5, 1977 represents Hunter at his best, evocative without being too specific, contemporary yet timeless and steeped in Americana of all sorts. Comfort are more like solid musicians than virtuosos, but that is appropriate to Hunter's voice and music, as he generally left the peculiar chords and 5/4 rhythms to Garcia. "Alligator Moon" was written for Hunter to perform in his own unique style, and by 1977 Hunter had enough experience under his belt that he could really pull it off. Music for five of the six songs in the suite were written by members of Comfort, so it was a true group effort.

According to the never-reliable Relix liner notes for Promontory Rider, the Alligator Moon album material was produced by Bob Matthews and engineered by Betty Cantor at Front Street studios, and this has been generally confirmed by Betty Cantor in an interview. The interesting part about this is that Alligator Moon would have been the second album recorded at Front Street, right on the heels of Cats Under The Stars. Indeed, Le Club Front was originally the Jerry Garcia Band rehearsal space, and it got turned into a recording studio to facilitate Cats. Eventually the Grateful Dead took over the studio space, but in late '77/early '78 it was still Garcia Band property, so that means that Garcia was at least indirectly sponsoring the recording of the album. What happened to the record?

The back cover to Robert Hunter's 1984 album Promontory Rider, which included three songs from Alligator Moon
Unanswered Questions
According to Hunter, he was never satisfied with the studio recording of the "Alligator Moon" suite. He did allude to the fact that some live versions of the suite did a better job of capturing what he was intending. I can't help but think that one of those versions must have been the December 5, 1977 show, as Betty Cantor herself was mixing from the remote truck, along with Bob Matthews. We know this for a fact, because Hunter name-checks them from the stage during the broadcast ("we've got Bob and Betty doing our sound tonight") and nobody does a better live mix than Betty.

[Richard McNees sheds some light: 
on hearing it recently for the first time in many years, I think there needed to be corrections to everyone's vocals and can understand that it wasn't possible.  After hearing the live version it is so much better.  Only thing is there is hole at the end of "The Blue Note" where the tone of the piece really shifts]
One question that has never seemed to have been asked, however, much less answered, was what label was Alligator Moon supposed to have been released on? I would have to think that Arista Records would have been the most likely candidate, but that is not necessarily a sure thing. Of course, Arista were releasing albums by Garcia (Cats) and Bob Weir (Heaven Help The Fool) during this period, so a Hunter album isn't farfetched, but I don't think there was a contract. It seems like Garcia was willing to finance the album on spec, a lot cheaper proposition if it was recorded at Club Front by Betty than at a regular studio, and they probably intended to sell it to a record company afterwards, a common enough industry practice. Since Comfort stayed home, for the most part, they could record when the Garcia Band wasn't using the facility, because the Dead were on tour, so the project made financial sense

[McNees:
I'm not sure about the financing, but the band was salaried (Very nice touch) and the checks came from the Dead. And the final destination label was never discussed with me. I sorta thought  "if we build it they will come."
Bob Matthews summoned me to a Dead concert in 1987 and told me Alligator Moon was his favorite thing he had done (up til then).  Quite a compliment]
If Hunter was unhappy with the studio recording, and Garcia had financed the project, Hunter would have been more free to shelve the project. I don't know exactly when the album was recorded, but I suspect it was late 1977 and early 1978. They may have booked their March-to-May 1978 tour in anticipation of supporting the album, or at least creating some buzz about its impending release, but once the album was on the shelf, it was just another rock tour. Ozzie Ahlers replaced Richard McNeese on keyboards in early 1978 , and given that McNees wrote some of the music, I wonder what that had to do with it. Perhaps McNeese was expecting to be working in a band with an album forthcoming, and once Hunter shelved the record McNeese may have had less reason to stay.

[I was close, but didn't have it quite right. McNees:
the band which was once a writer's collective performing each other's work, to a backup band.  I am primarily a writer and I wanted to write.  That's why I liked Bob, Kevin and Marleen in the first place.  So I had to go]
The KFAT Fat Fry
The Keystone Palo Alto broadcast a live show every Monday night back in the late 70s and early 80s, as part of an institution known as The Fat Fry. There was a legendary psychedelic country station called KFAT in then-tiny Gilroy, CA (pre-Cisco Systems), whose story is too bizarre to believe (read it and weep--radio was like this once, but only once). Every Monday night a local live attraction would play the Keystone Palo Alto and their first set would be broadcast on KFAT, audible all over the South Bay, and even in Berkeley if you were lucky. To some extent, this was to advertise the bands themselves, and to some extent this was to promote the Keystone Palo Alto.

On the piece of the live tape that I have, Hunter cheerily name checks all his friends and family listening in the radio audience and jokes about the junior high in Palo Alto that he attended in the 1950s (Wilbur). At the end of the set, he encourages all the listeners to come down to the Keystone Palo Alto for the second set. This was a serious plea--the Fat Fry broadcast generally ended about 11:00, but there was always plenty of music left, and if you lived in the South Bay dropping by was very plausible.

I recognize that if Hunter was unhappy with the studio recording of "Alligator Moon", and that since there was no deep-pocketed record company to finance a re-recording, the album needed to be shelved. A lot of time has passed, however--why not release the album now? Since no record company ever owned it, shouldn't Hunter control the rights? [Richard McNees says that Ice Nine control the rights, which is good to hear.] Of course, Comfort's partnership agreement may have not made it so easy to release the album once the band had broken up, but usually any frustrations or wounds heal after a few decades. My solution is even better--why not release the first set of the show from Keystone Palo Alto on December 5, 1977, with Bob and Betty doing the sound and the complete "Alligator Moon" suite? Of course, we don't know that anything resembling the original tape still exists, since Hunter tapes weren't guarded with the care that Garcia or Grateful Dead tapes were, but it sure would be nice to hear "Alligator Moon" the way Hunter, Comfort, Bob and Betty intended it, even if just for one Monday night in Palo Alto.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall 1968, Pacific Recorders, San Mateo: Marmaduke Demos (New Riders Roots)

John Dawson, circa early 70s
The conventional story about the birth of the New Riders of The Purple Sage has been told many times, usually by members of the band itself: Jerry Garcia bought a pedal steel guitar in Colorado in April 1969, and shortly afterward old Palo Alto friend John Dawson came over to his house to hear Garcia play it. Dawson brought his own guitar and played his own songs, and Garcia liked the sound, so Garcia started to play along with Dawson at his Wednesday night hofbrau gig in Menlo Park. Old friend David Nelson joined in, and by the end of May the trio had hatched a plan to form a new country rock band. 

This story is true, at least as far as I know. It continually surprises me, however, how often that various events in Grateful Dead history that seem to be settled fact turn out to have an entirely different context that causes me to think of events in a different light. The "Birth Of The New Riders" saga has always been presented as a serendipitous, chance occurrence, as only Garcia's random purchase of a pedal steel guitar and Dawson's casual presence at a Dead rehearsal caused the New Riders to arise fully formed.

Recently, however, I was fortunate enough to hear an extensive interview with Grateful Dead engineer Betty Cantor, thanks to the good offices of David Gans. Cantor talked extensively to Gans about the recording of Aoxomoxoa, Live/Dead and Workingman's Dead, among other projects. While we can anticipate that Mr. Gans will share the best parts of this interview in the future, on the Deadhead Hour or on KPFA, a passing remark from Ms. Cantor caused me to re-think the entire genesis of the New Riders.

In the context of talking about how she learned to work in the studio, Cantor talked about the different things she did, such as setting up microphones. Then she added, most unexpectedly,
Plus we did a lot of demos down there, with Marmaduke, John Dawson, before the New Riders. I got to be the drummer! To keep John in time. He was great, great songwriter, great player, couldn’t keep time real well. So I just had to play snare, high hat, kick, keep in time. I got to be the drummer on the demo, it was real fun.
I am pretty knowledgeable about the New Riders, but I knew nothing about any demos with just John Dawson and a rudimentary drummer. Of course, I realized that the tape had probably been erased, as professional recording tape was expensive, but it forced me to consider the context: why were the Grateful Dead recording John Dawson demos in late 1968 or early 1969?

The cover of the 1969 Grateful Dead album Aoxomoxoa
Now, the Grateful Dead's contract with Warner Brothers gave them unlimited studio time, even though the cost of that studio time would be owed back by the band through royalties. The band went over the top during the recording of Aoxomoxoa. From September through December 1968, they recorded at a new studio in San Mateo called Pacific Recorders, helping to put together the studio itself while recording a complete album on 8 and 12-track machines. The planned album was supposed to be called Earthquake Country. After three months, however, the band discovered that they could get one of the first state-of-the-art 16-track Ampex tape machines, and decided to simply re-record the entire album. Over the next few months they recorded what we now know as Aoxomoxoa, along with several shows at the Avalon and the Fillmore West, which later became Live/Dead and the retrospective Live At Fillmore West box. By the end of the process, the band was $180,000 in debt to Warner Brothers, serious money in 1969, particularly for a band who had never had anything resembling a hit.

How did the Grateful Dead use all this studio time? According to Cantor, there was a lot of experimentation, some of it quite serious, some of it just goofing off. According to her, almost none of the experimenting was preserved, for good or for ill. Although she doesn't specifically say so, I know that one of the reasons for that was the expense of recording tape. I know that the recordings of the Avalon on January 24-26, 1969 that were not used for Live/Dead were simply erased and recorded over for Fillmore West a few weeks later. It may seem odd that a band willing to go over $100,000 in debt would be cheap about tape, but I have a feeling that the studio would bill through Warner Brothers but the band had to pay actual cash money for the recording tape, and the Dead always had a cash squeeze.

Nonetheless, it seems that the Dead were using their own studio time to record demos for one of their friends. There's no other way to interpret the Marmaduke recordings in San Mateo than to think that the Dead had plans to make music with Dawson, probably by getting him a record contract. It may have been that the Dead had studio time booked when the band had shows scheduled, so recording Dawson's demos may have been a way to make use of the time when the band wasn't there. Like many good engineers, Betty Cantor could play a little music (she apparently was a good piano player), but Bob Matthews would have only used her on drums if no one else was available. I have to think that manager Lenny Hart had a plan to sign John Dawson to a record contract, but it's clear that if Dawson was recording demos, the band was on board with the plan. However, knowing that Dawson recorded demos in late 1968 puts the New Riders genesis in a totally different light. Garcia's new pedal steel guitar may have put Dawson's songs in a new context, but Garcia and Dawson had apparently already been trying to make Dawson into a singer/songwriter already.

The cover to the 1986 Relix lp Before Time Began
I was thinking about the presumably lost Marmaduke demos, and I realized that there was a piece of the puzzle that I had completely overlooked. In 1986, Relix Records released an archival New Riders lp called Before Time Began (Relix 2024), which included two inexplicable John Dawson demos with clearly inaccurate recording history. I realized that these two mystery tracks must have been the end result of Dawson's demos for the Aoxomoxoa sessions.

Relix Records
Relix Records was the recording wing of Relix Magazine, a Brooklyn based music publication. The magazine and label focused on the Grateful Dead family, Hot Tuna and related San Francisco bands in the 1980s, when there was very little interest in those groups elsewhere. The record label released a lot of interesting music, but it was run on a shoestring basis, like many independents. I suspect that the label generally operated on a cash basis, paying out money as they got it, which was probably much appreciated by its artists. Certainly artists like Robert Hunter and Jorma Kaukonen released several albums each with the label, so they must have been happy with how they were treated.

Back in the day, I was intensely bothered by the fact that the liner notes and recording information for Relix releases were scant, and often startlingly inaccurate. For example, a Kingfish album released in the 1980s clearly included material that must have been recorded in the 1970s, but there were overdubs from current band members, with no explanation of the process in the notes. There was even a track left off the liner notes. At the time, I thought that Relix staff was inattentive, but I now think the mistakes were so persistent that they did them on purpose. At the very least, Relix had a vested interest in not correcting their mistakes, although I am left to speculate why that might have been.

Before Time Began featured four songs ("Henry", "All I Ever Wanted", "Last Lonely Eagle", "Cecilia") by the New Riders Of The Purple Sage and two ("Garden Of Eden", "Superman") by John Dawson. The four NRPS songs were apparently recorded in November 1969 at Pacific High Recorders in San Francisco,  with a lineup of Dawson, Nelson, Garcia, Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh. The two Dawson songs are identified as having been recorded at Pacific Recording in San Mateo in July 1968. The tracks are said to have been recorded "with the help of Garcia and some members of Doug Sahm's group." Based on the information I now have, I am much better able to make a plausible hypothesis about the Dawson demos released on the album.

First of all, I think we can safely dismiss the July 1968 date for the Dawson demos. The Dead were not in Pacific Recording at the time, and I put no credence in dates from Relix liner notes. Since Betty Cantor recalls recording demos with Dawson, I think late 1968 makes much more sense. It also make sense that after Marmaduke and Betty--sounds like a cartoon duo, doesn't it?--recorded some demos together, a few of the tracks were re-recorded and built up into legitimate demos. I have to think that Lenny Hart, at least, played the demos for some record company guys--maybe Clive Davis heard about Dawson from these demos, long before the New Riders. In any case, they must have had no takers, but that in itself seems odd, since record companies were signing every band in San Francisco.

The way Betty Cantor described the recording process at Pacific Recording, there was a tendency to get a good take and then experiment with mixes and overdubs, without really saving anything but the final copy. The vagueness about the backing musicians, as "Garcia and some members of Doug Sahm's group" may stem from the fact that there was a variety of overdubs and "punch-ins" (recording over a musical or vocal part, often for just a few phrases or a verse), and no one recalls who actually played what. Of course, there may be other reasons that no one remembers who played what.

While I'm sure Garcia helped with the Marmaduke demos, I have to take the Relix liner notes with a grain of salt. The label had a vested interest in claiming Garcia's involvement, so the fact that he isn't particularly audible suggests to me that Garcia was involved in the arranging or the mixing, but didn't have a big role in the actual performances on the demos. I have been told that some pedal steel guitar parts are played by Lowell "Banana" Levenger, of the Youngbloods. Banana was an old pal of Rick Turner, who became a key player when Alembic was formed shortly after Aoxomoxoa (by Turner, Owsley Stanley and former Ampex engineer Ron Wickersham), so that may have been why Banana was present, if indeed he was. It's also true that Garcia owned a Fender pedal steel guitar around 1967 which he sold to Banana, so perhaps Banana was playing Garcia's old instrument, a strange coincidence that would fit right in.

Doug Sahm and some of his band members had moved to San Francisco from Texas after a 1966 pot bust, a very scary proposition in  Texas. Sahm had numerous band members, some of them sort of rotating in and out, so it's hard to say who might have played on the demos. Also, most of the Sir Douglas Quintet, including Sahm, were talented on numerous instruments, so it's even harder to say which members might have actually been on the recordings. The interesting Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm connection in 1968 was that Sahm was on Mercury, and he recorded extensively in that label's San Francisco studios on Mission Street. And who was the house engineer at Mercury West? Why, Dan Healy, of course, so there were plenty of connections between Sahm and the Grateful Dead.  Hence, finding the Sir Douglas Quintet over in the South Bay helping out in the studio isn't surprising.

In 1968, Mercury Records made a big splash by announcing that they had signed 12 bands in San Francisco on the same day. The most famous of these was Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet, but they signed plenty of obscure artists. Mercury also recorded some demos for a Pigpen solo album in 1969, believe it or not, so they must have been sniffing around the Grateful Dead when the band's contract was ready to expire in 1969.  Mercury, like many labels, was signing everyone in San Francisco, including some really forgettable artists. With this in mind, considering the Dan Healy/Doug Sahm connection, I find it strange that no record company was interested in John Dawson's demos. Even the Grateful Dead would not pay to record their friend's demos without having some plan, however harebrained, to find a way to allow Dawson to record a real record.

Conclusions
Until we get more information, I'll end with a series of propositions. I'm hoping for some proof or contradictions from anyone with more information or some clever ideas.
  • The "Marmaduke Demos" on Before Time Again were recorded in late 1968 at Pacific Recording
  • The initial demos featured just John Dawson and Betty Cantor on drums, but these were probably superseded and may not have survived
  • The two surviving demos were probably built up with a variety of overdubs and punch ins, so it might not be clear who played on what track, even if anyone was in a state to remember
  • The Grateful Dead family was interested in turning John Dawson into a recording artist as early as 1968, and willing to spend their own studio time to do it, even though nothing ever came of it, so the New Riders project can be seen as a solution rather than a random idea
  • When Garcia played pedal steel to Dawson's songs for the first time in April 1969, he not only probably knew the songs, he had been actively working on trying to record Dawson
  • Garcia's pedal steel guitar was a new sound for Dawson's music, but it was the sound that was new, not the songs. I maintain my working hypothesis that for Garcia, the New Riders was really about the sound of the band rather than the notes and melodies themselves