Thursday, November 24, 2011

December 15, 1970: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Friends with David Crosby

The cover to David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name lp
Among the many fascinating Jerry Garcia recordings that circulate are a rehearsal and a performance from the Matrix in San Francisco, dated December 15, 1970. While there are some reasons to think the rehearsal and performances are actually from the next night, the memorable aspect of the tape is that it features a collaboration between Jerry Garcia and David Crosby, along with Phil Lesh and one of the Dead's drummers. All of them were recording regularly at Wally Heider's Studio in San Francisco, working on David Crosby's solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name, among various other projects. The players seem to have decided to have a little fun at the Matrix on the side, a more or less unprecedented event amongst the crowd who recorded at Wally Heider's.

My focus for this post is not on the specific details of the rehearsals and the performances at The Matrix, but on how Jerry Garcia's performances with David Crosby are not only singular in Garcia's solo career, they represent a distinct fork in the road that Garcia ultimately chose not to pursue. Garcia's career apart from the Grateful Dead followed certain steady paths that Deadheads take for granted, and I want to point out not only how singular that path was, but how Garcia had the opportunity to follow a more typical solo career for 70s rock musicians, and how his brief foray with Crosby represents Garcia's brief stab at performing in a solo context more similar to the individual member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, an approach Garcia seems to have categorically rejected.

Put simply, Garcia would always have been welcome if not actively encouraged to collaborate on stage performing original music with the members of CSNY or the Airplane, among many other friends, but Garcia chose to emphasize his guitar playing by performing 'bar music' in a setting similar to a jazz musician. The December 1970 shows with Crosby had neither a precedent nor an antecedent in Garcia's solo career, and I am going to consider them from that point of view.

The Matrix, December 15-17, 1970--What Do We Know?
The Matrix advertised 'Jerry Garcia and Friends' for three nights, December 15, 16 and 17, 1970. According to a vault tape identified in Deadlists, the third night features a brief set by the Grateful Dead themselves. The existing rehearsal tape, about 45 minutes, and the performance tape, about 67 minutes, are on a tape dated December 15, 1970. However, a remark by Crosby on the rehearsal tape about overblowing the limiters "last night" suggests that the rehearsal tape is actually from December 16. The whole subject of dating Matrix tapes is problematic, but the essence of it is that the owners of the Matrix taped everything, but due to the expense of recording tape they did not keep everything, instead simply taping over previous tapes while only preserving the 'best' stuff. The evidence (for many groups) seems to suggest that the tape boxes were only generically accurate--that is, the tape might say "Jerry Garcia December 1970" or list the first night (December 15) even though the actual tapes preserved were from a different night. I would assume that the 'rehearsal' tape and the performance tape are from December 16 or 17, and that the other nights no longer exist, nor is there reason to assume that the rehearsal and performance are from the same night. (Update: a Commenter points out that there is good reason to think that the dates may be Monday thru Wednesday, December 14-16, rather than Dec 15-17, so the December 15 may even be correct).

The 45-minute Grateful Dead set from the third night (December 17) is interesting in its own right. Did Garcia and Crosby play a set along with the Grateful Dead at the Matrix on that night? Did the Grateful Dead play sets before or after the Garcia/Crosby sets on the first two nights. It's entirely possible. We have to remember that our only evidence is two possibly mis-dated tapes, and no eyewitnesses or newspaper reviews. Why would the Grateful Dead have played a set at the Matrix? I'm glad they did, of course, but it's very out of character for them. I would have to assume that they had a reason, like trying out new equipment. Update: thanks to a commenter, we can definitively say that the December 17, 1970 listing for the Matrix is spurious, as the extant tape is just a mix of other tapes, albeit possibly mixed by the Dead themselves in a prelude to Skullfuck.

For that matter, do we have any certainty that Mickey Hart was actually the drummer for the Crosby sets? Garcia, Lesh and Hart tended to be the members of the Dead regularly advertised at the Matrix, but has anyone heard Hart's voice on the tape? It appears that Bill Kreutzmann played drums when the Garcia/Crosby ensemble played Pepperland a few days later (there's even a photo), so I'd be inclined to think that Billy played at Matrix. I recognize that "anything is possible," but it seems unlikely to rehearse one drummer only to play with another.

The Matrix shows had been on a Tuesday through Thursday run at the Matrix. On Monday night, December 21, the 'Acoustic Dead' were booked at Pepperland in Marin. An eyewitness did attend this show, and reported that Garcia, Crosby, Lesh and Kretuzmann played a set similar to the extant Matrix one. Although are correspondent had to leave early, the other members of the Dead were present, and it seems likely that the full band played a set. Since the Grateful Dead were booked for New Year's Eve at Winterland, contracts would have prevented them from advertising a show so near to New Year's (not to mention the December 23 benefit show at Winterland as well). Presumably, since Winterland may have already been sold out, Bill Graham Presents was able to overlook the advertising of an 'Acoustic Dead' show, particularly since it's not even certain the band played acoustically at all. I think that the Matrix shows with Crosby were a dry run for the more formal performance at Pepperland.

Jerry Garcia's Solo Career
By the time most Deadheads became really big fans, myself included, Jerry Garcia's solo career had already established its own arc. Garcia's initial solo album was seen as a separate expression of Grateful Dead music, albeit performed by Garcia himself (and Kreutzmann on drums). The main songs on Garcia were staples of the Grateful Dead concert repertoire. Garcia had also released the Hooteroll album with Howard Wales, however, and that seemed to more indicative of his live interests outside of the Grateful Dead. When Garcia played live, whether with the New Riders, Howard Wales or Merl Saunders, he never played any material that the Grateful Dead played, and the Grateful Dead never played anything from Garcia's side bands.

While Garcia's solo career took on more substance in the mid-70s, he maintained a very definite split between his solo performances and the Grateful Dead. Although there were commercial realities that made it prudent for the Jerry Garcia Band to perform few numbers associated with the Dead ("Friend Of The Devil", 'Deal" etc), by and large the repertoires were kept separate. Here and there a few cover versions crossed over (like "Let It Rock"), but for the most part the JGB and Grateful Dead were distinct musical entities. If Garcia had been willing to play "Casey Jones" and "Scarlet Begonias" with his own band, they would have been even more popular, but he chose a different road. When Bob Weir started to play out with Kingfish and later his own band, he followed Garcia's model. Weir played a few songs associated with his Dead performances ("One More Saturday Night," "Minglewood" etc) but by and large Weir's solo career also featured music distinct from the Grateful Dead.

By the mid-70s, it was fully established to Deadheads that Garcia and Weir's projects outside of the Grateful Dead would feature little or nothing from the Grateful Dead's huge catalog of songs. By the same token, a song or cover that was appealing from Garcia or Weir's bands only occasionally popped up in a Grateful Dead set. This assumption of separate repertoires was so embedded that most Deadheads took it absolutely for granted. However, Garcia's insistence on keeping his Dead and solo careers was very much in contrast to music industry orthodoxy during that period, an industry orthodoxy practiced by close musical friends of Garcia's, like David Crosby.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Solo Careers
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were an important group for reasons that extended beyond their fine music and extraordinary success. The debut album Crosby, Stills and Nash instantly went to number one in 1969. It was a surprise when Neil Young joined the group, and a surprise when the band changed their name--how often does a band with a number one album change their name? Neil Young had released his brilliant second album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere in May 1969, and he had his own backing band, Crazy Horse. It seemed strange that he would toss that aside to share singing and writing duties with three other guys. Befitting the name of the band, it was put about in Rolling Stone and the like that Young's solo recording and performing career would continue alongside of CSNY.

Young's dual role was unprecedented, but in fact it set the template for the record industry in the next decade. Since Neil Young could be in a band and be a solo artist, that made it plausible for Paul Kantner or Jerry Garcia to do the same. Albums like Blows Against The Empire or Garcia were not seen as "breaking up the band" but as an extension of the groups themselves. Neil Young and CSNY weren't the first band to have a guy with a solo album, but they were the first to indicate that a solo and a group career could thrive simultaneously. Not surprisingly, the other members of CSNY set out to recording their own albums. David Crosby and Graham Nash started recording in San Francisco at Wally Heider's, along with their friends in the Dead and the Airplane, and this lead to the so-called PERRO sessions (Stills, meanwhile, recorded in Florida and London).

In the context of Jerry Garcia, the point to consider with respect to the solo careers of the members of CSNY was how their 'solo' material was integrated into the band. When CSNY set out on their all-conquering tour in the middle of 1970, they put on lengthy shows that featured all of their leaders. The album Four Way Street (1971) is a good representation of the breadth of their material. While the highlights of any CSNY concert were always the group's own classic songs, members of the band did their own solo material at CSNY concerts: Neil Young performed "Southern Man" and David Crosby sang 'Triad," and so on. When CSNY went on 'hiatus' for a few years, and the individual members started to perform on their own, all of them played CSNY songs in concert: Neil would play "Helpless," Crosby and Nash would sing "Marrakesh Express," Stephen Stills' Manassas would play "49 Bye Byes" and so forth. It was assumed by fans and critics alike that all of the material from CSNY members was eligible for either solo or group performances. Needless to say, the willingness to play their most popular songs was good business--Jerry Garcia's insistence that he would never play the songs he was best known for in his own concerts was yet another way in which he stood apart from his peers.

David And The Dorks (Jerry And The Jets)
Looked at in the context of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Garcia and Crosby's brief collaboration was very orthodox for the time. The extant sets at the Matrix includes a few new Crosby songs ("Cowboy Movie," "Wall Song," "Laughing"), a couple of Crosby classics ("Triad" and the rehearsal "Eight Miles High"), a Garcia original ("Bertha"), and some blues numbers, including a Grateful Dead standard ("Deep Elem Blues"). If the 'band' (laughingly called "David And The Dorks" by Garcia, onstage, and "Jerry And The Jets" by Crosby) had gone on tour, that indicates a cross section of what kind of music they would have played.

Based on the material played and Crosby's comments on the 'rehearsal' tape, the Matrix excursion seems like a Crosby project. It appears that Crosby wanted to play some of his new material live, and encouraged Garcia, Lesh and a drummer to back him. From that point of view, Garcia's participation is reminiscent of the New Riders--someone else's material, with Jerry as a sideman. However, unlike Garcia's tenure in the New Riders, he leads the band on a few songs clearly of his own choosing. I have no doubts that Crosby would have been amenable to whatever Garcia wanted to perform, and would have been more than willing to split vocals evenly with him if that had been what Garcia wanted. Whether or not Garcia saw the Matrix enterprise as a 'Crosby venture' or a 'joint venture,' Garcia would have been free to step up to the microphone to whatever extent he felt like it. Thanks to CSNY, music business orthodoxy was less fixated on the supposedly unbreakable partnership of a rock group and heading towards looser, temporary solo or duo arrangements.

Garcia and the Dead were always in a cash squeeze--what if Garcia, Crosby and Nash had decided to tour for a few dates? Crosby and Nash, as members of CSNY, were huge, and Garcia was at least a genuine rock star himself. If they had played some new material along with "Long Time Gone" and "Casey Jones," not to mention "Teach Your Children," it would have been very popular indeed. Do you think Crosby and Nash could have handled the harmonies on "Uncle John's Band?" Yeah, I think so. Garcia could have made a ton of money playing a half-dozen dates with Crosby and Nash, and he would have made really good music besides. And it's not like Garcia wasn't already playing with Merl Saunders on the side, so it wouldn't have even been more work. Certainly the record company would have loved it (Warner Brothers and Crosby and Nash's label, Atlantic, were linked corporately). Yet Garcia took the opposite tack of every other rock star in the 1970s, and kept his solo career separate.

I love the December 1970 Matrix tapes with Crosby, not least because I really like Crosby's solo album, and mainly just for the tremendous version of "Cowboy Movie," perhaps my favorite Crosby song. No one has ever asked Crosby what the specific impulse was to play with Garcia at Matrix and Pepperland, but I'm glad they did. From this vantage point, however, it's interesting to see Garcia on the edge of conventional rock stardom. Crosby, Paul Kantner, Garcia and others are recording daily at Wally Heider's working on each other's material. Indeed, some Garcia material was even recorded with All-Star lineups at the PERRO sessions. Yet he chose to record his solo album by himself, and their were no more live experiments with anyone else's original material.

I think the most revealing part of the Matrix rehearsal is when the band stops in the middle of "Cowboy Movie." There is something that David Crosby doesn't like, and they keep repeating the same phrases over and over, as Crosby strives for some unseen goal. In the time it takes to get Crosby's take just exactly perfect, Garcia would have been deep into his solo, and for Crosby's sake they kept stopping. I grant, it's a rehearsal, but by all accounts Garcia's interests in his side bands were about playing, not rehearsing, and I don't see Garcia leaning towards an ensemble that needs to rehearse difficult songs, however good they may have been, when Garcia could just be improvising.

Jerry Garcia's career outside of the Grateful Dead was longer and more productive than many musicians who didn't have a full-time band, so most Deadheads have not reflected on Garcia's choice to keep his own music distinct from the Dead, despite the implied financial penalties of doing so. In the 60s, rock bands were supposed to be like the Beatles, one for all and all for one, and a "solo album" meant that someone had left the group. Of course, record companies preferred solo albums for a variety of economic reasons, and in the 1970s, CSNY opened the door for artists to have a solo and a group career in parallel. Very few successful rock groups have included solo artists who kept their solo music separate over a long period of time--REM is the only major one that immediately comes to mind.

Yet it's plain in retrospect that Garcia made a very conscious choice to keep his own music separate from the Dead. There he was, regularly dropping by Wally Heider's to record both his own music and the music of Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, David Crosby, Graham Nash and others. The allure of playing live with some of those guys wasn't just some sort of fantasy, because we know that for a few dates in December, Garcia and Crosby actually had a little band, even if they only played three or four dates. And that band sounded great, and could have made a lot of money out on the road, even on a brief tour.

But Garcia passed on the CSNY model of solo artist, and never returned to it. Sure, here and there he sat in with some famous friend and took a guitar solo, or something like that, but I can't think of an onstage collaboration with a peer where Garcia played original music along with songs in the Dead repertory. Garcia was a nice guy, a great guitar player and a rock star, so he would have always been welcome to work with any of his famous peers in any format, but he chose not to make a plan of it. Garcia's twenty-five year commitment to his glorified bar band carved a path out of the wilderness, all the more impressive for the fact that the path began right next to the main highway of rock stardom, which Garcia willfully avoided for his own muse.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

August 19, 25, 26, 1967: Grateful Dead "Lake Tahoe Tour"

The poster advertising the opening of Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe, July 1967
In August of 1967, the Grateful Dead played three shows in the Lake Tahoe area in California. Lake Tahoe is a huge freshwater lake straddling the California/Nevada border, about 200 miles from San Francisco and 60 miles South of Reno. On Saturday, August 19, the band played Lake Tahoe's main venue, The American Legion Hall in the town of South Lake Tahoe. The next weekend, on Friday and Saturday, August 25 and 26, the Dead played Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe. If you just peruse Deadlists or a similar database, these just seem like casual California shows that were part of the Dead's never-ending touring, and in some ways they were. Nonetheless, the Lake Tahoe rock scene in the 60s was unique, and a closer look at it will lend some interesting perspective to these performances.

Lake Tahoe had always been San Francisco and Northern California's playground, and there is a long American history of entertainment in resort areas. The Catskills in New York or the 'Silver Circuit' in Nevada (Las Vegas, Reno, North Tahoe) have lengthy post-WW2 traditions. One peculiar feature of Lake Tahoe, however, was that there was gambling on the Nevada side of the lake (usually referred to as 'North Lake Tahoe'), so the casinos focused on the high-end trade there. The California side (usually referred to as 'South Lake Tahoe,' although the geography doesn't quite fit that) was more of the family side. After Lake Tahoe boomed following the 1960 Winter Olympics, the California side of the lake was left for "the kids," because the adults wanted to go to Nevada and gamble. As a result, for a resort area, the California side of Lake Tahoe in the 1960s had a peculiar focus on rock and roll that is largely undocumented. I am in the process of sorting it all out, and the Grateful Dead's week in Lake Tahoe in 1967 makes an interesting snapshot of a unique American rock scene, and it will shed some light on why the Grateful Dead returned to Kings Beach Bowl more than once.

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe, straddling California and Nevada, is one of the West’s largest, deepest, clearest and most beautiful lakes. The lake sits six thousand feet above sea level, and the Truckee River feeds the lake, flowing into and then out of the lake. Truckee, California, about 12 miles North of Lake Tahoe and 30 miles West of Reno, was an original train stop on the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1899 the Duane L. Bliss Family built the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company. The Southern Pacific Railway actively encouraged tourist attractions along its rail lines, and Lake Tahoe became a popular resort for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Many families in both the Bay Area and the Sacramento/Central Valley area would buy or rent second homes in Lake Tahoe, and they would spend much of the Summer and many Winter weekends at Tahoe. Part of Lake Tahoe's specialness was that it was a great resort for both Summer and Winter. After 1960, when the Winter Olympics were held at nearby Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe boomed again, particularly for Winter sports. Since the Lake was on the California/Nevada border, parents could go over to the Nevada side and gamble, leaving their teenage kids to fend for themselves.

Lake Tahoe Music in The 1960s
The first person to catch on to the vast quantity of teenagers in Lake Tahoe was a guitarist named Jim Burgett. He started putting on dances at the South Lake Tahoe American Legion Hall (at 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd [US 50], South Lake Tahoe, CA) in 1958. The story is complicated, but by the mid-60s Burgett was holding dances at the Legion Hall seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For any teenagers spending a week, a month or a Summer in Lake Tahoe, every night was Friday night, and with the parents often away in Nevada anyway, the Legion Hall dances were the only show in town. Burgett's own band played most nights, but on occasion he hired out of town acts as well. When the Fillmore bands became popular, he would often hire them to give his own band a night off (Burgett also played six days a week at Harrah's Tahoe, believe it or not). The Jim Burgett saga is amazing, and well worthy of a book, which fortunately he is planning to write.

North Lake Tahoe, about 20 miles away, was less crowded and hence had less activity. However, the North Lake Tahoe set considered themselves cooler than the South, and a venue opened in North Lake Tahoe as well. Kings Beach Bowl, a converted bowling alley on North Lake Avenue, was opened in the Summer of 1967, but it was mostly only open on weekends. The sons of the owners had a band, and their dads created a place for them to play. Although the teenagers were not the bookers, they advised the booking agents on what was cool in Sacramento (where they were from) and San Francisco, so some very cool Fillmore bands played Kings Beach Bowl in 1967 and 1968, including Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield.

The Grateful Dead, August 1967
In August, 1967 the Grateful Dead had just finished a run through Canada with the Jefferson Airplane, and they were working towards their second album. Their temporary base of operations that Summer was generally thought to be Rio Nido, but the band seems to have taken the Lake Tahoe gigs as a sort of vacation. Apparently, Jerry, Mountain Girl and her daughter Sunshine spent the entire week in Lake Tahoe, and I suspect many other band members did as well. Anyone with urgent business could have driven the four hours back to San Francisco, but Lake Tahoe is so nice that there would have to be a pretty good reason to do so.

One odd story about the Lake Tahoe shows that I have read (although I am unable to track the quote) was that Jerry and Mountain Girl hated the motel where they were put up, so they simply went camping for the week between shows. Lake Tahoe was still empty enough in those days that it wouldn't have been too hard to find a place to camp, albeit somewhat unofficially, and it still would not have been hard to come into civilization for rehearsals, cigarettes or other essentials. Jerry had apparently been camping a lot as a child and was comfortable in a tent. This had to be the last time Garcia could consider doing such a thing.

Since Lake Tahoe was a resort area, it was probably part of band's contracts that housing was provided. However, there were a lot of tacky little hotels, the kind of places that made Motel 6 look good (I think my family stayed in a few). The general idea of Lake Tahoe was that it was so nice that you wouldn't want to spend a lot of time indoors, so the motel was just a place to sleep. For a mom with an infant and a guy who wanted to practice guitar all day, however, the woods were probably more fun than sitting in a little motel. Given the number of Bay Area teenagers in Lake Tahoe during that (or any) Summer, I can't help but think that at least one of them passed by Jerry and MG in the hills and thought "hey, the dude looks like Jerry Garcia."

We know that Robert Hunter re-connected with the Grateful Dead in Rio Nido the next week (ca. September  3), and we know that Mickey Hart had met Bill Kreutzmann, but not yet met the Dead, so the band was still in its original state. I assume much or all of the "Family" was up in Lake Tahoe, but since there is very little information about these shows, I can't quite say. Nonetheless, I do have some interesting context in which the shows can be considered.

The American Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe, at 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd, circa 1965. For a great story on the history of Jim Burgett and The Legion Hall, see the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
American Legion Hall, 2848 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA
By 1967, Jim Burgett had been putting on shows at the Legion Hall for almost a decade, and his shows were an institution with teenagers who regularly visited Tahoe. By this time, Burgett controlled the lease for the American Legion Hall, and his band played seven nights a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Since every night was Friday night for a teenager in Tahoe, the dances were generally packed. Burgett's band were also regulars in Harrah's Tahoe, where they played six days a week. Think about that for a second: six days and seven nights a week, for three straight months.

Burgett's band played a mixture of rock and soul, and they are remembered fondly by Tahoe teenagers in the 60s. Like many Nevada musicians, they were established professionals who could play a wide variety of styles. They probably played some poppier material in the Harrah's lounge, but at the American Legion Hall they played a lot of Motown, Stax and songs like Eric Burdon's "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place," although of course that was merely ironic in lovely Lake Tahoe, since no one actually wanted to leave.

However, when outside bands were available, Burgett would book them, both to give his own band a break and to provide some variation for the regulars at his dances. Sometimes Burgett's band would be the opening act, or they would back a singer, but I think in the case of the Grateful Dead Burgett may have simply taken the night off. A long-gone Comment thread on a Lake Tahoe tourist site recalls the Dead rocking the Legion Hall until about 3 in the morning. While I'm sure the audience wasn't exactly straight, part of the appeal of the Lake Tahoe scene was the fact that it was not a bar scene. Parents were very comfortable letting their teenagers go to shows in Lake Tahoe, because there were no bars (although I'm sure plenty of beer was consumed in the parking lot) and relatively speaking, no older people. Some of the people going to the rock shows were probably in their early 20s, but in general the adults went to the Nevada side to drink and gamble, so the California side was judged safe for teenagers.

From people who were around at the time, the teenagers traveled in packs. If a family owned or rented a house in Tahoe, the kids in the family would invite all their cousins or school friends up for a week or two. When the parents went off at night to gamble, the teenagers went out on their own, and Jim Burgett's dances at the Legion Hall were the prime, if not the only, destination. Older siblings usually had the obligation to drive and look after the younger ones, so once again the dances were a good way for big sisters to keep an eye on their proverbial little brothers without having to spend too much time with them.  Many comment threads on Facebook and elsewhere recall the Dead's 1967 show at the Legion Hall, but details are naturally foggy.

Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Avenue, North Lake Tahoe, CA
Kings Beach Bowl was a gutted bowling alley on the California side of North Lake Tahoe. North Lake Tahoe, was a smaller and more latterly developed area than the Southern end. Originally South Lake Tahoe, CA had been for families and North Lake Tahoe, NV for gambling, but the California side of North Tahoe had grown up as well. According to one resident, the North Tahoe people saw themselves as "real," if part-time, residents than the more touristy South, and generally thought they were cooler. The Kings Beach Bowl was even smaller than the American Legion Hall, and was only open on weekends, but the North Tahoe teenagers thought that they were cooler. In any case, Kings Beach Bowl had the hip bands from the Fillmore, all of whom were familiar to the Bay Area teenagers who populated Lake Tahoe in the Summers. I have been working on a fairly complete chronology of the Kings Beach Bowl adventure, but I will save that for another blog, and just present a thumbnail sketch of the venue.

The operators of Kings Beach Bowl were Dave Jay and Allan Goodall. Allan Jay's sons were in a Sacramento band called The Creators, and they were friends with Allen Goodall's son. The senior Jay and Goodall put together Kings Beach Bowl so that The Creators would have a place to play. The members of The Creators were Warren and Gary Jay, and Skip Maggiora, Dickie Pomeine [possibly "Dickie Pomin"] and Pat Payton. For a light show, they hired some Sacramento college students who called themselves The Simultaneous Avalanche. The Simultaneous Avalanche had begun the Summer working for Jim Burgett at the American Legion Hall, but moved to Kings Beach Bowl "in search of fun and adventure" (according to the Avalanche's Rick Schultze, via another friend). The Creators and The Simultaneous Avalanche, all friends, were regular attractions at Kings Beach Bowl, with visiting headliners bought in from outside on most weekends.

Unlike the larger and more established Legion Hall in South Tahoe, Kings Beach Bowl was only open on weekends. However, while Jay and Goodall used a professional booking agent, they took the advice of their sons and their friends as to what bands to book. As a result, not only did some very hip Fillmore bands come through Kings Beach Bowl in the Summer of 1967, but some interesting touring bands like Buffalo Springfield and even Jimi Hendrix also found time for an extra gig at Kings Beach.

Kings Beach Bowl was just a converted bowling alley, and hardly a special building. Nonetheless, eyewitnesses recall it fondly. I only know of one photo of the inside, from when the Buffalo Springfield played on August 18-19, 1967 (I even know where you can find it). Most of the attendees were based in North Tahoe, but largely came from the Bay Area and Northern California, so they had heard of all the Fillmore groups. For many, it was the first chance to see these groups. The commercial area of North Lake Tahoe was so quiet and safe that parents had no problem allowing teenagers and their friends to go to shows on their own.

Kings Beach Bowl only presented shows on weekends, unlike the American Legion Hall, which was open 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In 1967, when it opened, Kings Beach only began on June 15. The Grateful Dead would have been the last or next to last event presented, as I still have not been able to determine if Kings Beach was open Labor Day. I believe that bands were housed in a nearby vacation home for the weekend. Lake Tahoe houses at the time were not opulent, but they were usually spacious and secluded, just the thing for a band who liked to travel with all their crew, girlfriends and families and engage in various extracurricular activities. Since Allen Goodall worked for the Sheriff's department, there were not problems with the cops.

August 25-26, 1967, Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/The Creators
What happened on the weekend of August 25 and 26, 1967? No one remembers. However, the Grateful Dead came back for two more weekends, so it must have been a good time.

As soon as the band returned to the Bay Area, they seem to have gone to Rio Nido and begun work on "Dark Star." I estimate that Phil Lesh picked up Robert Hunter in Palo Alto that week too. putting Hunter up at the Russian River so he could hear the band rehearse and put lyrics to "Dark Star," so it was a pretty momentous week. Somebody must have remembered something, however, because the Dead made plans to return in the Winter and the next Summer.

The poster for the Feb 22-24 '68 shows at Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe
February 22-24, 1968, Kings Beach Bowl,  North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/Morning Glory
After the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, Lake Tahoe became a major Winter Sports destination. However, families were less likely to spend entire weeks there during the school year, and in the Winter mobility was limited, so there were fewer entertainment options. However, Winter holidays were still big family events in the Lake Tahoe area, so it was no surprise that Kings Beach Bowl put on an event over the Washington's Birthday weekend. In ancient times, both Lincoln's (Feb 12) and Washington's birthdays (Feb 22) were National holidays, and they were celebrated on whatever day of the week they happened to fall (sometime later they were replaced by the always-on-Monday 'Presidents Day'). In 1968, Washington's Birthday was on a Thursday, so that suggested a great ski weekend for February 22 through 25.

The Grateful Dead and The Morning Glory (a Marin band) headlined three nights at Kings Beach Bowl, with the accompanying "Trip Or Ski" poster. The assumption was that many people would come to Lake Tahoe to ski, and they would need something to do at night. Since the Dead were working on Anthem Of The Sun at the time, Dan Healy recorded the three nights. Among other things, the Kings Beach weekend was one of the first times Betty Cantor worked on the live recording of a Grateful Dead show. Note that the poster (above) has no directions beyond saying "North Shore." The geography was so simple, and there was only one main road (North Lake Avenue), so an actual address was unnecessary.

Two of the nights were released in 2001 as part of Dick's Picks Volume Twenty-Two (the February 22 tape had problems). The Dead's tapes are the only known live recordings from Kings Beach Bowl. I have no idea how well attended the Trip Or Ski event was, but I know that Kings Beach Bowl repeated the experiment in Winter 1969, albeit without the Dead, so it must have had some success.

July 12-13, 1968, Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/Working Class
Kings Beach Bowl had another season of shows in 1968. However, although a good time was had by all, the relatively tiny venue was getting priced out by the growing popularity of Fillmore bands. At the same time, some groups who had appeared the year before. like Quicksilver Messenger Service, were now touring nationally, so they were less available.  The Grateful Dead played that weekend, however, so clearly the band enjoyed the Kings Beach vibe. By 1968,  not only was the American Legion Hall still going strong, but there was another, larger venue in South Lake Tahoe, called The Sanctuary. This, too, is another story, but suffice to say the Dead had three choices of venues to play in Lake Tahoe, and they chose the smallest one, so clearly the circumstances at Kings Beach Bowl were to their liking.

The house band at Kings Beach Bowl in 1968 was a Sacramento band called The Working Class. Over that July weekend, The Working Class revised their membership and evolved into a group called Sanpaku. Sanpaku was a very interesting group in its own right, as I can say with authority since I am Sanpaku's self-appointed historian. The band has some very interesting memories of the July weekend with the Dead, but we will need to wait until the book comes out.

Aftermath and Prequel
After 1968, Kings Beach Bowl largely closed down, except for the occasional show. In 1969, even the loyal Grateful Dead would have been too big to play there in any case. In the Winter of '69, snow caved in the roof of The American Legion Hall, and Jim Burgett moved his operation over to the much larger Sanctuary, which he took over and re-named The Fun House. Thus Lake Tahoe moved from three venues in Summer 1968 to one in Summer 1969. The Fun House had a successful run into the early 70s, but the Grateful Dead had long since moved to larger venues.

Although the week of August 19-26, 1967 seems lost to the mists of history, I think the scenario goes something like this: the Grateful Dead and their family (literally and figuratively) were looking for a holiday week in Lake Tahoe, although why exactly they needed a "break" from Rio Nido isn't plain. The band had a successful gig in South Shore, and were put up in a cheap hotel for a few days. The hotel was so unappealing that Garcia and Mountain Girl actually went camping, a remarkable detail on its own terms. If the camping week was capped off by a relaxing weekend in a North Lake Tahoe vacation home, as I think it was, it must have led to some very fond feelings towards Kings Beach Bowl and its operators. Thus for the brief time as a San Francisco/Fillmore enclave in the 60s, the Dead chose Kings Beach Bowl as their preferred destination.

Poking around the web on various message boards and comment threads, one finds that numerous people have fond memories of the Lake Tahoe scene, particularly Jim Burgett's dances at the American Legion Hall. However, one very commentator piqued my interest, and although like all internet comments they have to be considered with some reservations, it's a fascinating tidbit. Specifically, one old Tahoe hippie recalls seeing the Grateful Dead at the American Legion Hall in the Fall of 1966, well after Labor Day. There were less than 50 people present, and it was so laid back that Pigpen actually wore guns on stage, in an old West styled holster.

This crazy story is not as far fetched as it sounds. Jim Burgett was kind enough to respond to a few questions, and he told me that while he held the master lease to the American Legion Hall, outside of the Memorial Day to Labor Day window he often leased it to outside promoters. In many cases, Burgett and his band were on tour, so Burgett only had a general idea of what was being presented at at the Legion Hall (he knew a concert promoter would be using it, for example, but he might not know who the bands were). Thus some San Francisco entity could have leased the Legion Hall to put on a Dead show, and found out that the audience wasn't there in the Fall. I even have some clues as to who the promoters might have been, but that is too long a tangent to go into here. Hopefully I will have sorted out more of that story when I tell the entire Lake Tahoe 60s rock story on my other blog.

Most Deadheads know about the Trip Or Ski shows in February of 1968, because of the poster and Dicks Picks. However, the Grateful Dead seemed to have packed a surprising number of shows into a few years at Lake Tahoe, and as old memories are slowly recovered--you know who you are!--we look forward to finding out more.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jerry Garcia Band Drummers Top 10 List

The cover of Marvin Gaye's 1971 What's Going On album. Paul Humphrey played drums on the title track.
The Grateful Dead had a rare career arc, in that they used their initial success as a rock band to expand their opportunities to collaborate with other musicians. Many rock groups benefit from their members' work with other musicians, but usually those occurred prior to the band's formation. The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia set the standard for working with an ever wider circle of musicians, enriching their music in the process. Powerful music embeds the musical experiences of its members, even if it is not explicitly stated, so that Bob Dylan, Branford Marsalis and Hamza Al-Din all became part of the Grateful Dead's music.

Of all the Dead's members, Jerry Garcia performed the most outside of the band, so the experiences of the musicians he played with in turn became embedded in his music, and that too became part of the Grateful Dead. From 1970 to 1995, Garcia had a working band of some sort where he could play electric guitar on a regular basis, going under various names; Garcia-Saunders, Legion Of Mary, Reconstruction and The Jerry Garcia Band. All these bands played rock music with a sort of R&B feel and a jazzy approach. The core of the band's repertoire was American popular music, whether rock, rhythm and blues or blues. The various Garcia bands were not exactly Top 40 bands, but for the most part they improvised cover versions of songs that people recognized, like bar bands everywhere. Garcia's uniqueness was that he made a major project out of a bar band after he was already famous.

Garcia's various bands were always anchored by bassist John Kahn, and Garcia generally worked with individual keyboard players for extended periods of time if the circumstances were right. The drum chair in Garcia bands was less stable, however, not only because of Garcia's need for flexibility but the difficulty of keeping a good drummer on permanent standby. While Garcia ultimately worked with a wide variety of players, in general his drum chair was filled by exceptionally good musicians who were experienced professionals in their own right. In the interests of contemplating my hypothesis that the music made by Garcia's bandmates was implicitly part of the music of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, I looked into some of the more popular recordings that Garcia's drummers had worked on prior to or during their tenure with Jerry. It's an impressive list.

Jerry Garcia's Drummers: Top 10 List
Since the various Garcia band drummers were mostly exceptional professionals, it's not surprising that many of them played on a variety of hits. Good drummers usually gravitate to the studio, because they are such rare finds. Given that the Garcia bands played a lot of popular cover versions, it seemed appropriate to try and find the best of popular music that his drummers had recorded. Appropriately enough, my list turns out to be a survey of many of the popular music styles of the mid-60s and mid-70s. Although Garcia drummers thrived with the improvisational freedom they were offered in the band, many of them had played on some of the biggest and most memorable hits of the decade. If Garcia's bands were made up of the musicians' recording past, the bands already had a rich history.

Jerry Garcia is by any account an important figure in American music. Firstly, and most importantly, for the great music he made, particularly in concert, but also for what he stood for and for what he was supposed to (or reputed to) have stood for. It is traditional to frame Garcia as a maverick, or at least a leader amongst mavericks, separate from the mainstream of American popular music. The Grateful Dead certainly carved their own path, and Jerry Garcia's own solo career was equally singular. And yet a review of the recorded work of Garcia's drummers reveals that Garcia was intimately connected to the best of American popular music from the late 1960s onwards, making his contribution to American music surprisingly more integrated than it may initially have appeared.

What follows is a list of huge, memorable hits from 1968 to 1976 where the drummer later played with Jerry Garcia in one of his "bar bands" (Garcia/Saunders, Legion of Mary, Reconstruction, JGB). All the songs are good for what they are, instantly memorable to those of a certain age, and huge hits. This list is an expression of the musical depth of Garcia's bands, rather than a "Best Of" or "Best Selling" or "Greatest Hits" list, although such lists might be interesting in their own right. The song list is meant to be considered as a whole, and the songs are listed in chronological order (note: release dates are approximate, and chart listings are the highest reached on Billboard pop charts).

"Dance To The Music"-Sly and The Family Stone (Epic, Jan '68, #8)-Drums: Greg Errico
Joel Selvin, channeling saxophonist Jules Broussard, described it best: "There was black music before Sly Stone, and there was black music after Sly Stone. Simple as that." With "Dance To The Music," Sly and the Family Stone burst onto world consciousness, with everything great about James Brown and Stax/Volt supercharged by psychedelic guitars and open minds. Music all over the world was never the same after this, and it was all for the better. A black and white band playing black and white music better than anyone black or white: dance to the music, indeed.

Greg Errico (sometimes spelled Gregg on the backs of albums) was from San Francisco, and he was an original member of Sly And The Family Stone from their formation in December 1966. He had been friends with Mickey Hart prior to that, as he shopped at Hart's drum store in San Carlos, and Errico reactivated that friendship when he quit Sly in late 1971. He played on various Grateful Dead related projects with Hart, Garcia and others, and was a substitute drummer for Garcia a few times in the 1970s, Errico was a full-time member of the Jerry Garcia Band for the Summer 1980 tour and a period during Fall 1982 as well.

The 45 for Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright," with Paul Humphrey on drums
"Feelin' Alright"-Joe Cocker (A&M, Apr '69, #33-1972) Drums: Paul Humphrey
Joe Cocker was in the first wave of English acts who became popular from FM radio rather than AM radio. One of the most popular tracks on Cocker's debut album was his soulful remake of Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright." What had been a folk-tinged lament on the second Traffic album became a furstrated exhortation in Cocker's hands, while still retaining some of Mason's original ambiguity. Cocker's album With A Little Help From My Friends had been mostly recorded in England with the likes of Jimmy Page and Steve Winwood, but "Feelin' Alright" was recorded in Los Angeles with a crack team of session men. A good choice too--the song got huge airplay on FM radio, and still does, and I hear it on TV commercials and movie soundtracks to this day. Oddly enough, the single was re-released in 1972 and reached #33, but it was always an "FM hit."

I have written in detail about the fantastic musical career of drummer Paul Humphrey, who drummed for Garcia in late 1974, so I won't recap it all here. Suffice to say he had recorded literally thousands of sessions throughout the 1960s and '70s. The great bassist Carol Kaye described how she and Humphrey created the amazing introduction to Cocker's recording of "Feelin' Alright:"
Paul immediately struck up a semi-samba funk drum part and I went a contrasting way with a rhythm for a bassline. The chorus features the bass playing mostly down beats while Paul was accenting up beats, then we switched places for the verse. It was that simple.
"Okie From Muskogee"-Merle Haggard (Capitol, Sep '69, #41, #1-Country) Drums: Ron Tutt
This bit of country fluff became one of Merle Haggard's greatest hits. Ironically, Haggard intended the song as a sort of joke character study, but the song was taken as a non-ironic expression of "True American" principles. The wily Haggard, pride of Bakersfield, remains a complex guy, but he can write a simple song better than anyone. Besides its huge popularity, the song took on an afterlife with hippies, and there have been all sorts of funny variants, like the Youngbloods' "Hippie From Olema" and Kinky Friedman's "Asshole From El Paso." "Okie From Muskogee" was even performed by the Grateful Dead and The Beach Boys at the Fillmore East (on Apr 27 '71), as it was apparently a regular part of the Beach Boys repertoire.

Ron Tutt, from Texas, was already a successful session drummer in California, Memphis and Dallas when he joined Elvis Presley's stage band.  By the time of Tutt's first show with Elvis, on July 31, 1969 (at the International Hotel in Las Vegas), Tutt had almost certainly recorded "Okie From Muskogee" with Haggard. The light, tasteful drumming for "Okie" was in complete contrast to driving Elvis' huge stage orchestra through lengthy versions of "Suspicious Minds," which in turn was diagonally opposite to jamming with the Jerry Garcia Band. Tutt could drum for anybody, playing any music, and do it seemingly better than anyone else. He was Jerry Garcia's drummer from December 1974 through June 1977 (with a brief 1981 encore).

The 45 for Sly And The Family Stone's 1969 "Thank You" single, with Greg Errico on drums
"Thank You (Falettinme Be Micelf Again)"-Sly And The Family Stone (Epic, Dec '69, #1) Drums: Greg Errico
Sly And The Family Stone had pschedelicized James Brown's music, but there was more to come. Much of black music from the 70s onward drew from a heavy funk vibe, and the Family Stone started that off too. "Thank You" still sounds modern, thanks to Larry Graham's thumb-popping bass, offset by Greg Errico's snapping drums.  Not only was this song absolutely huge on both rock and soul radio stations, it was hugely influential, too, as it was the foundation for funk music, one of the major tributaries of R&B up through this very day.

"One Toke Over The Line"-Brewer and Shipley (Kama Sutra, Dec '70, #10) Drums: Bill Vitt
Brewer and Shipley were a folk-rock duo from Kansas City, by way of Los Angeles, who ended up recording their albums in San Francisco with Nick Gravenites. Gravenites used ace San Francisco musicians, including Jerry Garcia on one occasion (the song "Oh Mommy"). However, Gravenites' "house" rhythm section was John Kahn on bass and either Bill Vitt or Bob Jones on drums.  This ode to crossing the line was a huge hit in 1971, and is not just a memorable song but a memorable phrase from the decade. The song was released on the excellent Tarkio album in February 1971, much of which received considerable airplay on FM as well as AM radio.

Bill Vitt was originally from Sacramento, but after he playing in regional rock bands he moved to Los Angeles, where he was a session man from about 1967-69. He relocated to the Bay Area in late 1969. He became the substitute drummer for Mike Bloomfield, when regular drummer Bob Jones (who was also his landlord) had a conflict. As a result, Vitt had played with John Kahn, then the bassist for the Bloomfield band. Vitt in turn bought Kahn over to the Matrix to jam with Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia. Besides being the regular drummer for Garcia/Saunders from 1970-73, Vitt was also the drummer for The Sons Of Champlin during the same period (when they were called Yogi Phlegm). Vitt has remained an active musician to this day, and recently released an album.

"Stoney End"-Barbara Streisand (Columbia Dec '70 #6) Drums: Ron Tutt
Barbara Streisand is immensely popular, and has a reputation as American popular music's best singer. Mostly she performs in a highly orchestrated style, in a traditional approach that owes much to show tunes and Las Vegas as well as pop. In 1970, however, producer Richard Perry made a Streisand album in which she sang in a more uptempo, contemporary style. The biggest hit was the title track, her version of Laura Nyro's "Stoney End," which had a kind of R&B feel. If there was any doubts about Streisand's status as a singer, she showed conclusively that she could sing with power and soul any time she wanted, even if she generally tended towards a more restrained approach.

Deadheads who might say "I don't know 'Stoney End'" are probably wrong. If you check it out, you'll realize you have heard it many times on movie soundtracks, TV commercials and on the muzak at the Whole Foods. I'm no Streisand fan, or Laura Nyro either, actually, but even I think it's a great song. Since Barbara was top-of-the-line, her producer could have hired anyone, and he hired Ron Tutt. Tutt plays in a completely different style than he did with Merle, Elvis or Jerry, and of course he's completely great. He really could play with anybody.

"What's Going On"-Marvin Gaye (Motown, Jan '71, #2, #1-Soul) Drums: Paul Humphrey
Amidst all the fine songs on this list, Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" may be the finest. Gaye was a bright light in Motown's hit factory in the sixties, and then it turned out that he was an even better writer and producer than singer, and that's saying a lot. Everyone has heard "What's Going On,"and if you don't like it, you should probably seek help. Paul Humphrey's drumming is great, as is everyone else on the track.

Although I can't imagine Jerry actually singing 'What's Going On," I have always thought that it would have made a great Garcia/Saunders jam, but it was not to be. The Grateful Dead did actually perform the song once, on September 24, 1988 at a Rainforest Benefit at Madison Square Garden, with Daryl Hall and John Oates handling the lead vocals.

"Burning Love"-Elvis Presley (RCA, Aug '72, #2) Drums: Ron Tutt
Ron Tutt was Elvis Presley's drummer for almost all of his live performances between July 31, 1969 and June 1977 (he missed a tour in 1970 plus a few other dates here and there). Tutt did not play on every Elvis studio track during that time, by any means, but he did play on "Burning Love." "Burning Love," while easy to parody, was Elvis's last really big hit, and The King's last true rock hit. Tutt, whose career as a drummer would be important and interesting if he had never played with either Elvis or Jerry, anchored the stage shows of two of American music's most iconic figures.  

The 45 for The Pointer Sisters "How Long (Betcha Got A Chick On The Side)", with Gaylord Birch on drums
"How Long (Betcha Got A Chick On The Side)"-The Pointer Sisters (Blue Thumb, Jun '75, #20, #1-Soul) Drums: Gaylord Birch
Oakland had been a great California city, primarily because it was the terminus of the first Transcontinental Railroad, and many other rail lines besides. After World War 2, however, when people could afford private automobiles to drive themselves across the Bay Bridge (opened in 1936), Oakland slowly shrank in importance. Still, along with its thriving container port, Oakland had two major exports in the early 1970s: great sports teams and innovative funk music. Along with the Oakland A's, Oakland Raiders and Golden State Warriors, champions all, Oakland had some popular and influential funk bands. Tower of Power were originally from Fremont, but had relocated to Oakland by the time they burst onto the world in 1970. Herbie Hancock's groundbreaking Headhunters album and band had an Oakland rhythm section, with bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Mike Clark. On the popular side were The Pointer Sisters, four Oakland sisters who had learned to sing in church and played catchy soul music, while still keeping it real with some lowdown Oaktown funk.

The Pointer Sisters were first discovered by Elvin Bishop, who started using them as part-time backup singers when some of them were still in High School. In fact, Elvin alludes to them on the Oct 10 '68 Mickey And The Hartbeats tape, when he says he has some backup singers who "sing like Angels." Through working with Bishop for the next few years, the four sisters (Anita, Bonnie, June and Ruth) started to get known. Not only did they sing like angels, but they were tall, attractive, elegant and great dancers. How could they miss?

They didn't miss. The Pointer Sisters were signed to Blue Thumb Records and released their first album in 1973. They had a great hit with a funky, swinging version of Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can-Can" ("Now is the time for all good men/to get together with one another"). The Pointer Sisters' secret weapon was bandleader and drummer Gaylord Birch. Birch had played in many Oakland ensembles, but he was well-known, by Mike Clark most of all, as the funkiest of Oakland drummers, and that's saying a lot. Birch led the Pointer Sisters band from about 1973 to 1976. He also had stints with Cold Blood and Santana. He played on a Merl Saunders session with Garcia in 1974, but he did not play live with Garcia until he joined Reconstruction in 1979. Birch had an encore appearance in the Garcia Band in 1985, as well (Oct 7 '85 through Feb 2 '86). I am working on a more complete Gaylord Birch musical biography, but check out any Reconstruction tape --the man could lay it down.

"How Long (Betcha Got A Chick On The Side)" was the Pointer Sisters' biggest and most memorable hit. Anita and Bonnie Pointer, along with producer David Rubinson, wrote the song. It is catchy and hummable, but at the same time Birch drives it along with an irresistible dance beat, pushing and pulling so you can't help feeling the funk. Once again, this is a song that many Deadheads will assert that they don't recognize, until they actually hear it. In some cases, younger listeners may actually recognize the song from a sample (by Salt N Pepa) or a cover (by Queen Latifah), as the song prefigures modern rap and R&B music in all of the best ways. Although the Pointer Sisters have had a variety of ups and downs, they are still together, representing for Oakland and looking and sounding great. Gaylord Birch passed away in 1996, unfortunately, but he had a great musical legacy.

"Fooled Around And Fell In Love"-Elvin Bishop Group (Capricorn, Feb '76, #3) Drums: Don Baldwin
Guitarist Elvin Bishop had first come to San Francisco as a member of the groundbreaking Butterfield Blues Band in early 1966, but when he left the Butterfield band in mid-1968, he moved to the Bay Area for good. The versatile Bishop always had a "soul" side to go with his blues, and his albums owed as much to R&B as Chicago, even if that was only known to his loyal fans, most of whom resided in the Bay Area. In 1976, however, Bishop busted out wide with "Fooled Around And Fell In Love," sung by Mickey Thomas. Bishop had usually had a co-vocalist in his band--prior to Thomas it had been singer Jo Baker, later in Stoneground--but when he switched to Capricorn, that premise was temporarily dropped for an Allman Brothers style approach. Bishop reverted to his roots with this song, however, and had the biggest hit of his career.

"Fooled Around And Fell In Love" is fun, catchy pop, but if you are of a certain age the song title is an ubiquitous phrase. At this point, the phrase is a conventional English idiom, often heard in commercials or sports writing (as in "the defensive co-ordinator fooled around and fell in love with the nickel defense"). Although I don't think the song is deep, and it wouldn't even make my Top 10 of favorite Elvin Bishop songs, it is instantly memorable and a pop classic by any formulation.

Elvin Bishop had been signed to Bill Graham's Fillmore Records label, distributed through Epic, for his first three albums (The Elvin Bishop Group, Feel It! and Rock My Soul), from 1969 through 1972. Bishop reformulated his soul stew into a more Southern rock feel, appropriately enough since he had grown up in Tulsa, OK, and signed with Capricorn in 1974. His lineup from that period onwards was anchored by second guitarist Johnny Vernazza, bassist Fly Brooks and drummer Don Baldwin. Baldwin was still the drummer in 1976 for the Struttin' My Stuff album which featured "Fooled Around And Fell In Love". Baldwin remained Bishop's drummer through at least 1979, by which time Melvin Seals had joined. Seals went on to the Jerry Garcia Band, and Baldwin joined Thomas in Jefferson Starship. Eventually, Baldwin joined the Jerry Garcia Band, presumably brought in by Seals, from 1993-1995.

"Fooled Around And Fell In Love" isn't as great a song as "What's Going On" or "Dance To The Music," but it's just as iconic, and one of Jerry Garcia's drummer played on it as well. Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead are usually invoked as American musical outlaws, working outside every kind of mainstream in order to find success on their own terms. Garcia's paradoxical desire to start and continue a "bar band" playing cover versions after he became famous is usually invoked as one of the many ways in which the Dead were in opposition to American popular music. And it's very true that the Grateful Dead's economic history charts a willful course to refuse to take many paths that had already been trod on. From a business perspective, the Grateful Dead had more in common with a Pirate ship, and Jerry was their Blackbeard.

Yet from a purely musical perspective, Jerry Garcia's 25-year excursion as the leader of an enormously successful bar band that mostly played covers put him right in the mainstream of American music. Rather than limit his musical partnership to his fellow pirates, brilliant as they were, Garcia tapped into the best that American music had to offer from the 60s to the 90s. Not only did he play great songs, albeit in his own inimitable style, but his drummers had played on some of the best an most memorable pop music of the rock era. I assure you, I just picked 10 songs that I liked that I thought everyone would recognize, but you can make your own list of songs and it too will be great. Ron Tutt, Greg Errico, Bill Vitt, Gaylord Birch, Paul Humphrey and Don Baldwin weren't just great drummers, they were essential participants in great American music, and as such they were a hidden pipeline from AM radio to Jerry Garcia's music.

The Ron Tutt Hall Of Shame
Great drummers often gravitated to the studio, where their skills insured that they worked regularly. Ron Tutt was a first-call session man in both Memphis and Los Angeles, so he played on too many records to count. I have identified some legendary classics above, but like all widely-recorded drummers, however well he played, he couldn't help it if some of the songs he played were legendary turkeys. One reason I did not focus my list on "Greatest Hits" was the discovery that Tutt had played on some of the hits that I most disliked from the early '70s. If you were not listening to the radio in this era, you may not recognize these songs, but they were all extremely popular, I can't stand any of them and Ron Tutt was the drummer for all of them.

"Easy Come, Easy Go"-Bobby Sherman (Metromedia 1970, #9)
Bobby Sherman was popular with teenage girls, and he kind of created the market for the likes of David Cassidy, which was not a good thing.
"Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves"-Cher (Kapp 1971 #1)
Not as dumb as "Halfbreed," but close.
"Peace Train"-Cat Stevens (A&M 1971 #7)
Never could stand Cat Stevens.
"Rock The Boat"-The Hues Corporation (RCA 1974 #1)
This song was the first disco song to cross over to mainstream pop radio. I absolutely hated this song in High School, although I have to admit then when I occasionally hear it now, it seems harmless compared to these other four songs.
"Piano Man"-Billy Joel (Columbia 1974 #25)
Many people like Billy Joel, but I am not one of them.

Ron Tutt played on all these songs. Are any of these the dumbest hit single a drummer for the Jerry Garcia Band ever played on? In my opinion, no. That dubious award would go to the Starship's execrable "We Built This City" (RCA 1985 #1), with drums by Don Baldwin. All of this shameful pop candy, however (don't think I've forgotten "Sara"), serves to prove my point. Trivial, repetitive, cloying songs that appeal to the lowest common denominator are an essential part of American popular music as well, and Jerry Garcia's drummers were tapped directly into that just as they were for the good stuff. For all of his reputation as a musical pirate, Garcia had a much more intimate relation with popular American music than most of us recognize. His drummers had played on the best and worst of American music, so even when they were jamming out to "Mystery Train" or "The Harder They Come" or anything else, Jerry's pulse was connected to the likes of Elvis Presley, Sly and The Family Stone, Marvin Gaye and the best and worst that American popular music had to offer.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

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

The front cover of the 1974 Live At Keystone album on Fantasy Records
Jerry Garcia's musical history outside of the Grateful Dead is remarkable for its breadth and longevity. Notwithstanding the Grateful Dead's extensive touring schedule throughout its 30-year history, Garcia played a remarkable number of shows with his own aggregations for 25 of those years. Garcia's principal right hand man for his own endeavors from 1970-1995 was bassist John Kahn, who besides playing exceptional electric and acoustic bass also took care of the musical business of the Jerry Garcia Band. Kahn hired and fired musicians, organized rehearsals and often helped choose material. Although Jerry approved every move, of course, without Kahn's oversight Garcia could not have participated in the Jerry Garcia Band. In many respects, the Jerry Garcia Band (under various names) was to some extent the Jerry Garcia and John Kahn Band; if Garcia had not met Kahn he would have had to be invented.

Most Deadheads are at least generally aware of Kahn's importance to Garcia's non-Dead music. However, Kahn is usually viewed through the filter of Jerry Garcia and his music. For this series of posts, I am looking at Jerry Garcia through the filter of John Kahn. In general, I have been looking at John Kahn's performance history without Garcia (for the complete John Kahn history sequence, see here). However, for this post I am going to take a different approach and look at some of the economics that buttressed Kahn and Garcia's professional relationship. In particular, I am going to show how the 1973 Live At Keystone album and the 1974 [Compliments Of] Garcia album were the cornerstones of Garcia's commitment to his musical enterprises outside of the Grateful Dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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