|A poster for the September 26, 1973 Buffalo concert by the Grateful Dead|
Everyone has heard (or can hear) the tapes of the "horn section" shows on the Archive, so I don't need to analyze them musically. However, this post will consider the economic and musical motives and decision making of the Grateful Dead and its members with respect to bringing a horn section on tour. According to Martin Fierro, the horns were not well received, but I think the principal barriers to repeating the experiment were economic. Whether you think it is a good thing or a bad thing that the Dead never went out again with a horn section is moot, and in any case up to you. This post will look at the September 1973 'horn section' tour in its context. As a practical matter, I have included a tour itinerary for the month of September (part of my tour itinerary series), presented below, since it helps to keep the events in mind.
The Grateful Dead, Fall 1973
The Grateful Dead had extracted themselves from their Warner Brothers Records contract around March, 1973, and to the surprise of the entire industry the band had gone completely independent. Jerry Garcia in particular had engaged himself in a wide variety of musical activities, and was in the process of starting his own record company, Round Records. The Dead had a pretty steady income from touring, so that provided the cash to fund their various other endeavours. It seems that the economic plan was that touring would provide cash flow, and album sales would provide profits. It was a good plan, even if it was somewhat naively optimistic.
In September, 1973, amidst the usual heavy pace of Grateful Dead touring, the following projects were known to be underway:
- The Grateful Dead had mostly finished recording Wake Of The Flood, slated to be the first release on Grateful Dead Records
- Jerry Garcia had recorded a live album at Keystone Berkeley in July, 1973 with Merl Saunders, John Kahn and Bill Vitt. Saunders and Kahn were mixing the album with Bob and Betty, to be released on Fantasy Records (Merl's label) in early 1974
- Ned Lagin had moved to California to work on various electronic music experiments with Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia and other members of the band, in the project that would become known as Seastones
- John Kahn was beginning to select songs for Garcia's second solo album, which would be recorded in February 1974
- Jerry Garcia was working with his bluegrass band Old And In The Way, and there had been an abortive plan to make a studio album with them
The Grateful Dead and Horn Players
Being a rock fan was more atomized in the early 1970s. All we knew was what we read in Rolling Stone, watched on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert or saw in person. Networks of tapers, much less internet message boards, were all but science fictional. Thus to those fans who saw the Grateful Dead in September 1973, it must have seemed quite surprising to have two horn players join the Grateful Dead on stage. Looking backwards, however, it was not unprecedented. Horn players had sat in with the Grateful Dead a number of times in the 1960s. Charles Lloyd had played flute and tenor sax with them a few times, at the Human Be-In and likely at the Rock Garden in 1967. Contrary to popular belief, Lloyd was not the only flautist who sat in with the Dead, as Sanpaku's Gary Larkey sat in on a few occasions in 1969. There are a few other instances of flute and/or sax players sitting in as well, including August 3 and August 28, 1969, even if we haven't definitively identified them.
In the 1970s, however, fans had few sources of information, and almost no tapes circulated, so seeing a horn section with the Grateful Dead would have been a big surprise. The only real clue to fans would have been the Hooteroll? album, where Martin Fierro and a trumpet player (Ken Balzall) had been part of the mix. Sometime in the summer of 1973, the Grateful Dead had included a horn section in the recording of "Weather Report," but Deadheads would not know that until Wake Of The Flood was released in October. Martin Fierro had sat in with Garcia and Merl Saunders on July 19, 1973, but only the most super-connected of Deadheads would have heard about it. Thus from the point of view of East Coast Deadheads in 1973, a saxophonist and trumpeter appearing on stage with the Grateful Dead would have seemed quite abrupt.
Martin Fierro and Joe Ellis
Martin Fierro (1942-2008) and Joe Ellis (1941-2008) were the horn section for the 1973 edition of the Doug Sahm Band. Fierro, at least, had been part of the Sir Douglas Quintet a few years earlier. Fierro was from El Paso, TX. Whether or not he knew Sahm from Texas, when Fierro moved to San Francisco in 1969 he rapidly connected up with the expatriate Texas musicians who had moved to San Francisco. Fierro had played with Mother Earth, a band full of Texans, appearing on their albums and possibly touring with them as well. According to Fierro, he met Garcia at a "drum circle" type jam in Golden Gate Park in 1969.
Fierro had recorded with Garcia and Howard Wales in Fall 1970 on the Hooteroll? album, apparently because Fierro had met Wales in El Paso while the organist was touring with Lonnie Mack. Fierro was also in a part-time band called Shades Of Joy, who opened for the Dead a few times (including February 27 or 28, 1969 and March 5, 1971). Shades Of Joy had a reputation as a pretty far-out improvisational band, featuring Fierro, organist Joachim Young and guitarist Jackie King. I have to assume that Fierro's ability to play with Wales and his jamming with Shades Of Joy gave Garcia confidence that Fierro could play productively with the Dead.
Joe Ellis was raised in Sacramento, but he had moved to San Francisco in the early 60s after a year at Julliard. He was an established jazz trumpeter, touring with Stan Kenton and Ray Price, among others. He also started the Latin Jazz group Ellis Island in the 1970s. He is a familiar name from the backs of albums, for those of you old enough to recall learning about musicians that way. Like many players, I assume Ellis worked paying gigs like the Doug Sahm Band in order to play his own jazz the rest of the time. Sahm was a sophisticated musician, but the horn parts for his band would have been easy for a player of Ellis' caliber. However, Sahm would have paid more than a jazz gig in some cafe, so it was a good way to make a living in music while still playing what you wanted. Stan Kenton was one of the most sophisticated arrangers in jazz, so Ellis would have been well equipped to handle the music of the Grateful Dead.
The Doug Sahm Band, Fall 1973
Doug Sahm had been a somewhat successful recording artist in the 1960s, as leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet, and had had hits with "She's About A Mover" (1965) and "Mendocino" (1968). The talented but mercurial Sahm had moved from Texas to San Francisco, but he had never broken through to the next level of success. As a Bay Area resident, Sahm had become friendly with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. By 1971, however, Sahm returned to his Texas roots and moved to Austin.
By 1973, Sahm had signed to Atlantic Records, who were heavily invested in him and had high hopes for his solo career. That year, Sahm released two solo albums on Atlantic Records. Earlier in the year, he had released his first Atlantic album Doug Sahm And Band to great acclaim, not least because Bob Dylan sang and played on the album, along with Dr. John and many other luminaries. Later in 1973, Sahm would release Texas Tornado, mostly recorded at the same sessions.
Record company orthodoxy at the time was to put bands out on the road opening for better known acts, in the hopes of broadening their audience. Ideally this not only sparked album sales, but created some buzz by getting new fans to request songs on their local FM radio station. As long as a band had a good live act and was willing to tour a lot, there was a lot of potential in this business model. English bands in particular found great success by crisscrossing the country, first third on the bill, then second and finally headlining. Such acts as Dave Mason, Savoy Brown, Climax Blues Band and particularly Foghat won over their fans one concert at a time. A record company using this marketing strategy generally gave their bands "tour support," essentially a cash advance against royalties that allowed bands to afford to be able to tour, even if they were not actually netting any money.
The Doug Sahm Band opened eight dates for the Grateful Dead, from September 11 through September 26. Since the Sahm Band had at least 7 members, the tour only makes financial sense if Atlantic was helping out, but given the fact that Sahm released two albums that year they surely were. A glance at the surviving posters for the mini-tour show that the Sahm Band was only mentioned on one, at The College of William And Mary in Virginia, even though we know they opened all the dates. It's important to remember, however, that posters were no longer an important part of promotions by 1973. Any posters were mostly ceremonial, as the principal advertising was on FM radio and newspapers. The Doug Sahm Band was surely mentioned in any FM radio ads for all the concerts. Each show has an early start time, accommodating the extra band and making a marathon event out of each night.
Sam Cutler's Booking Agency was handling Doug Sahm as well as the Grateful Dead, and the economics of bringing a horn section on tour only make sense if the horn players were already on the tour. Taking two extra musicians and their gear would not necessarily have made good business sense for the Grateful Dead, but since Fierro and Ellis were already on the tour, the economics were different. The Dead didn't "need" an opening act on the tour, as I doubt Doug Sahm sold that many tickets, but with Atlantic helping with expenses, the tour made sense for Sahm and got the horn players out with the band. Incidentally, I am confident that Fierro and Ellis were paid for their participation onstage with the Dead, although I have no idea how much. Musicians are professionals, and don't work for free. Just like a carpenter or web designer, they will help a friend for free for fun, but regular work entails getting paid. If there was a one night jam, nobody got paid, but if players are on stage every night it would have been paid for. However, in this instance, the Dead only had to pay Fierro and Ellis to play, not cover their expenses.
Opinions vary on the Grateful Dead's experiment with horns, but it's important to remember that the whole experiment wouldn't have been possible without the Doug Sahm Band opening the tour. There had to be an exact confluence of events: a band with a horn section opening the tour, a cooperative booking agent and record company support for the band. Within a year, there wasn't even any opening acts on Grateful Dead shows anymore, much less a band with horns supported by the record company, so whatever the Dead's plans might have been, the experiment would have all but impossible to repeat.
Some people, myself among them, thought the horn section was well worth trying, even if the musical results were not entirely satisfactory. Others, probably the majority, may have appreciated the experiment in the abstract, but they didn't really like it. I myself wish it had been done again, but with entirely different players. Unfortunately, the economics as described above did not repeat themselves.
In 1973, the Grateful Dead in general and Jerry Garcia in particular were in a period of great experimentation, both the impetus for and a byproduct of their independence from the record industry. Garcia was playing with a bluegrass group and a funky bar band along with the Dead, there was an electronic music experiment afoot with Ned Lagin, and numerous album projects were in the works. Touring with a horn section was something that successful bands had done or would do over the years. Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, to name just a few famous examples, periodically toured with horn sections in the 1970s. The additional musicians made the arrangements of the songs quite different for those who had seen the bands numerous times.
Unlike the Stones and Springsteen, however, the Dead were about improvisation, and they needed a much higher level of performance to justify the guests. While Fierro and Ellis were good players, any solos they took were essentially subtracting from Garcia's, and that was a trade-off that most listeners didn't want. On top of that, while Fierro had a soulful tenor sax sound that fit in well with the Garcia/Saunders aggregation, I don't feel that he was inventive enough for the Dead. I also think that the tenor sax didn't have a harmonic "space" to play with the Grateful Dead. This is one reason that I think that the most successful reed players with the Dead tended to play flute (like Charles Lloyd or Gary Larkey) or soprano sax (like Branford Marsalis). Tenor players had a harder time fitting into the mix, regardless of their talent level.
Another factor in the Grateful Dead using a horn section on stage was the problem of monitors. The Dead had as extensive experience as anyone with electric instruments, but the technology wasn't really in place yet for merging acoustic instruments with electric ones. One reason that the Dead gave up acoustic performances after 1970 was the difficulty in amplifying the instruments and hearing them on their onstage monitors. The singers had problems with monitors as well. Much of Deadhead criticism of Donna Godchaux (sexism aside) had to do with her off-key harmony singing. Yet she had no such problems with the Garcia Band, since they weren't so loud. The first time out, I'm sure that even the Dead sound crew couldn't get the monitors right. For playing horns in a jazz-like setting, the musicians have to hear the other players, particularly Lesh, Weir and Godchaux, and if they had problems doing that it would not be easy to improvise comfortably. Technology would solve the problems eventually--they were certainly resolved by the time Branford Marsalis started to sit in--but the technology may not have been up to it in 1973.
Garcia, Weir and Lesh were all big jazz fans. Lesh had even been a trumpet player as a teenager. I think they all must have liked the idea of bringing a horn section on the road. I have to think they were conceiving of it as a once-a-year thing, where they would bring horn players on the road for a leg of a tour once each year. This would have made it fun for the Dead and made the shows special for those who saw them. Perhaps with different guests, with a soprano sax player such as Wayne Shorter (Weather Report) or Steve Marcus (Larry Coryell's Foreplay) the concept would have worked. The first time out, however, catching everyone by surprise, the good but not great Fierro and Ellis did not quite pull it off. A formal horn section on tour was never repeated, but it's a credit to the 1973 Grateful Dead that it was tried at all.
September 1973 Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Tour Itinerary
What follows is an itinerary of Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia performances for September 1973 known to me. For other posts in the Tour Itinerary series, see here.
September 1 or 2, 1973: Bluegrass Park, Camp Springs, NC: Bluegrass Festival, including Old And In The Way (OAITW did not play)
JGMF discovered that Old And In The Way with Jerry Garcia was advertised for this North Carolina bluegrass festival, but they do not appear to have played. The fact that Garcia even tried to schedule an East Coast bluegrass show the same month as Garcia/Saunders's East Coast debut and a tour with a horn section is remarkable. I think the logistics of getting Garcia to and from the show were too daunting. Bluegrass festivals were and are run on a shoestring, and they could not have afforded to fly Garcia in and out.
September 1-2, 1973: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
A recent find by JGMF shows Garcia and Saunders booked at the Keystone Berkeley, putting paid to any fantasies about bluegrass festivals. Since these shows were hitherto unknown, doesn't it seem likely that September 1 was the debut of Doug Irwin's Wolf guitar?
September 5, 1973: SS Bay Belle (New York City Harbor), New York, NY: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders/Bo Diddley/Elephant's Memory/Mission Mountain Wood Band
The Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders band made their East Coast debut at this Hell's Angels party on a boat that sailed around the New York City harbor. Some tickets may have been available to civilians, but most opted to stay safely ashore. There is some film of this event in the movie Hells Angels Forever. I assume that Garcia was well paid to perform at this event.
The SS Bay Belle show was apparently Garcia's debut performance with the Doug Irwin designed Wolf guitar.
September 6, 1973: Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders
Garcia and Saunders made a more conventional debut at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, about twenty miles from New York City. I believe this event was the first performance by Garcia for John Scher, who generally booked the Capitol. Scher had promoted the Grateful Dead's July 18, 1972 Jersey City show. He became the principal promoter of the Dead and in the New York Metro area.
Keep in mind that the Garcia/Saunders Live At Keystone lp had not been released yet, and the audience would have had very little idea what to expect. There were a couple of live tracks on the first two Merl Saunders albums, but for most fans at the Capitol every song would have been a complete surprise. Bill Kreutzmann played drums for the two September shows. In my mind, the fact that Fierro did not sit in at the Capitol was a sign that he was not yet in town.
September 7, 1973:[venue], Harpers Ferry, WV: Bluegrass Festival, including Old And In The Way (OAITW did not play)
Once again, Old And In The Way was booked but did not play. Since Bill Graham was promoting the Dead at Nassau, he would not have wanted his star attraction tied up at a bluegrass festival a few hundred miles away.
September 7-8, 1973: Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY: Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead's East Coast tour kicked off with two weekend shows at a large hockey arena, the Nassau Coliseum in suburban Long Island. Bill Graham promoted the shows, a rare East Coast venture for him. Nassau Coliseum was the biggest venue the Dead had played in NYC Metro up to this point. I wonder if the shows were sold out? The Nassua Coliseum, capacity 16,000, had just opened in 1972 and the Dead had played there in March of '73.
New York arenas often had prohibitive expenses for overtime and the like, so there was an incentive to run neither long nor late. I assume that is why the Doug Sahm Band did not open these shows, and thus why Fierro and Ellis did not join the Dead for the second sets.
|A poster for the Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm concert at the College of William and Mary, September 11 1973|
The Dead played a Tuesday night at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. At the end of the show, Weir announced from the stage that they would be playing the next night as well. For the second night, the chairs were removed, so I assume the first night had reserved seats. The Doug Sahm Band is mentioned on the poster, and six hours of music were promised. Fierro and Ellis made their debut with the Dead, playing on several songs in the second set both nights. They would play much of the second set for the balance of the tour.
September 15, 1973: Providence Civic Center, Providence, RI: Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm Band
Bill Graham promoted this Saturday night show in Providence. The original poster lists two nights, the 14th (Friday) and the 15th. Presumably the 14th was canceled due to lack of interest. Although the Providence Civic Center is quite large, with a capacity of 15,000, the fact that only one show was held seems to be a sign that the East Coast pattern of everyone within driving distance going to every show they could get to was not yet in place.
I think the weekend booking was a misstep by Graham. If he had known that he could only book one night, the Dead might have played somewhere else on Friday. The Grateful Dead were bigger than they had ever been on the East Coast, but still not huge yet. However, this tour may have been one of the first where the Grateful Dead had very specific requirements for the arenas having to do with concrete flooring to support their sound system. The full 'Wall Of Sound' wasn't in place yet, but it was getting close. I note that the band was just playing hockey arenas, with no moderate sized theater shows stuck in between on weeknights. It may also have taken a considerable amount of time to set up and take down the system, so there may had to have been a couple of days between venues. That may account for skipped Fridays or Saturday nights on open dates (e.g. Friday Sep 14 and Saturday Sep 22).
September 17, 1973: Onandaga War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm Band
The Dead played a Monday night in Syracuse. The Onandaga War Memorial Auditorium, built in 1951, had a capacity of 8,200.
September 20-21, 1973: The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA: Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm Band
The Philadelphia Spectrum, built in 1967, had a capacity of 18,000. I believe it was the largest indoor arena the Dead had headlined at this point in their career. The Grateful Dead had headlined the Spectrum twice before, on Sept 24 '72 and March 24 '73, but they had never played two nights. Philadelphia loved the Dead, however, as did New Jersey, so it's no surprise that the city was one of their early strongholds.
The Dead played a Thursday and a Friday night at The Spectrum. I assume tickets were not sold for the Thursday show until the Friday show was nearly sold out. Nonetheless I find it strange that they band did not play anywhere on Saturday night, or even Sunday. The choices for dates are strangely off for this tour, and I think either some dates must have fallen through or there sound system setup hampered the Dead's flexibility.
September 24, 1973: Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA: Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm Band
The Dead played the very large Pittsburgh Civic Arena on a Monday night. I wonder how much of the 17,500 capacity was filled? Was there a conflict with the arena, so that they couldn't play Saturday or Sunday night? The hockey (NHL) and pro basketball (ABA) seasons would not yet have been underway, so I'm inclined to think that logistical problems associated with the sound system's size forced the bands into some unfavorable days of the week.
September 26, 1973: War Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm Band
The Dead's little tour ended in Buffalo on a Wednesday night. The War Memorial had a capacity of 18,000 as well. However, cities like Buffalo were used to getting big acts on weeknights, so the event may have been pretty well attended. The poster (up top) lists "Grateful Dead and Friends" and advertises a 7pm start, an early time that implies an opening act to the concertgoers.
The horn section experiment ended after this night. Whether or not the band liked the concept musically, going forward they would not have an opening act, nor play the sort of arenas that allowed for six-hour shows, so they never really had a chance to repeat the experiment even if they wanted to. It is remarkable, however, that in the midst of all the Grateful Dead and Garcia were working on in mid-1973, they took the time to consider reconfiguring their live show in a very radical way.
September 30, 1973: Community Center, Stinson Beach, CA: Old And In The Way
The Grateful Dead tour ended on a Wednesday, and the band members presumably flew home on Thursday. By Saturday night, Garcia was playing a bluegrass show at the tiny Community Center in Stinson Beach, near his house. The group was preparing for a sort of mini-tour, and Owsley was going to record them (and did), so this was probably a refresher gig of sorts.
For the month, Garcia had played ten dates with the Grateful Dead, eight of them with two extra members, two shows with Merl Saunders and one with his bluegrass group. In many ways, September of 1973 is one of the most radically diverse months of Garcia's career, and it is often dismissed because Deadheads don't like Martin Fierro. I myself agree that the horn section experiment was not a musical success, but it's still a remarkable effort for a largely improvisational band to bring along two extra players just to see how it would work out.